the big catch

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(See Matthew 4:18-22) Imagine Jesus walking on the beach of the lake called the Sea of Galilee. He sees two brothers, Simon (whom he had called Peter) and Andrew his brother, throwing a net into the sea, since they were fishermen. And at that time he commanded them, “Follow me, and I promise to make you into fishers of people.” Realizing who Jesus was, they immediately left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, repairing their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him too.

Our story of the big catch begins here – not in the bustling, crowded city of Jerusalem, but in a remote beach setting in Galilee. There would never have been a big catch in Jerusalem if there had not been a command and promise by Jesus that day on the beach. These four fishermen would have caught only fish if they had not obeyed Christ’s command and trusted in his promise that day.

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(See Luke 5:1-11) But something happened once while the crowd was mobbing him so they could hear the word of God, he was standing again on the beach of Lake Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee), and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets. After getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And after he stopped speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Teacher, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.“ He didn’t realize that Jesus was using this experience to teach them what he had promised to teach – how to fish for people. When they had obeyed him and put the net on the other side, they caught so many fish that their nets started to rip. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw the miracle, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, because I am a sinful man!” Because Peter and all who were with him were stunned at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s work partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

This is the first of two lessons that Jesus taught Peter and the other disciples about fishing for people. That day, the disciples learned that God will provide the location and the power, but he expects his fishermen to provide the net, the patience, the effort to haul in the catch, and to follow his instructions.

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(See John 21:4-11) On a day after Jesus’ resurrection, just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Throw the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they threw it, and then they were not able to haul it in, because of the weight of the fish. John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

This miracle is similar to the first one, but took place three years later. Jesus used this miracle to remind the disciples that they were going to be involved in the big catch soon – the people catch. The same principles of people catching are being taught by this miracle. But this incident seems to give a powerful hint as to when the big catch would take place. Why 153 fish? The Bible does not say, so we should be careful about speculating. There is an interesting coincidence. The year was 33AD. Not too many days from this incident, these disciples would be gathered together in Jerusalem as part of a larger group, waiting for Pentecost. That larger group numbered 120. 120 + 33 = 153.

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Jesus had commanded his disciples to gather in Jerusalem and to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to manifest. Then they would know that it was time to drop their net. He had described that event as a second baptism, and reminded them that John’s baptism was in water, but this second baptism was going to be in the Holy Spirit. The lessons that Jesus had taught his disciples to get them ready for the big catch had all taken place in water. But the real catch was not going to be in water. The whole group was going to be immersed in the Holy Spirit, and the miracle would manifest. Remember the principles of the big catch: that God will provide the location and the power, but he expects his fishermen to provide the net, the patience, the effort to haul in the catch, and to follow his instructions.

To put it another way, the big catch happens because God provides the hook, and his servants provide the bait. The hook is the miracle that draws the crowd. The bait is the gospel message about who Christ is and what he has done. The book of Acts demonstrates that the hook keeps changing, but the bait remains the same. The way God manifests his power to get people’s attention changes all the time, but the gospel of Jesus Christ stays the same. The pattern that we learn about in the book of Acts is not a constant repetition of Pentecost, but a people who patiently wait for the Lord to manifest his power, then seize the opportunity to let down their nets with gospel preaching.

The Jerusalem church was literally born in a day, but it happened that way because the disciples were willing to wait on the Lord to provide the location and the power, and they provided the witness.

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Another thing that we learn in the book of Acts is that this great megachurch that went from 120 to 3000 in one day, and 5000 not long afterwards – faced disaster after disaster in the years that followed. In fact, in less than forty years, this megachurch was out of business. Famine, persecution, and church conflict kept taking their toll, and finally all the Christians fled Jerusalem for Petra just prior to the siege and war that destroyed the temple in 70AD.

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But the megachurch was not God’s ultimate plan. God’s ultimate plan was for the gospel to go with these Christians as they scattered throughout the Roman empire.

God is doing the same kind of thing today. Sometimes he brings together large churches, at other times he sends people out to plant the gospel in places where there is no church. Sometimes we have great success, at other times we do not. What matters is that we stay faithful at the task.

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The fish are still out there. We may have to wait a lot for the next big catch, but God is still able to make it happen. His power is still present. He has taught us what we need to know to be involved in the next big catch. God will provide the location and the power, but he expects his fishermen to provide the net, the patience, the effort to haul in the catch, and to follow his instructions. We don’t know what hook he is going to use next, but we do know what bait he has given us to use. That never changes. Paul said “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” It was God’s power to save the Jews in Jerusalem, and the Greeks in Greece, and the Romans in Rome. It is God’s power to save the Filipinos, the Kiwis, the Japanese, the Malaysians, the Burmese, the Thai, the Indians, and even the Americans.

So, if you want to be ready for the next big catch, pull out your net and make sure that your presentation of the gospel is ready. Then, when God tells you where to witness, you can pull in a pile.

 

installation service for PACCI officers

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Here are the notes to my installation service for the Philippine Advent Christian Conference officers, on may 17, 2017.

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29  “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30  and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31  “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.


προσχετε αυτος – Hold
yourselves accountable!


The word translated “be on guard” is προσχω which combines the verb “to have or hold” with the preposition for “to”
or “with.” The idea is to hold yourselves as a team to the same standards. That
entails not only keeping yourself strong and mistake free, but also having the
same concern for the other members of your team. I charge you to hold
yourselves to your agreed standards. These include:

  • maturity
  • integrity
  • credibility
  • authenticity
  • holiness

 

ποιμανειν τν κκλησαν – Shepherd
the church!

 

A shepherd’s
job description
is that he risks his life in
order to…

  • feed the flock
  • provide rest and security for the flock
  • prevent straying from the flock
  • restore the lost to the flock


When
Paul told the Ephesian elders to shepherd the church, all of these activities
were implied. So, today I charge you to take on that shepherding responsibility
for the conference and its churches.

 

γρηγορετε τν λκων – Watch out for the wolves!

 

Paul also warned of dangers that the
Ephesian elders would face. There would be dangers from outside the church and
dangers inside the church. Paul described those dangers as wolves.

 


  • Wolves
    in wolves clothing

  • Antichristian religions

  • secularism

  • Politicians and parties seeking
    endorsement

  • Wolves
    in sheep’s clothing

  • movements demanding exclusive loyalty
    and betrayal of others

  • theologies watering down the gospel

  • philosophies dangerous to the
    conference’s identity

  • people seeking to divide and separate
    the conference.

How Christian growth happens

prayer or quote pic (193)

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 NASB

11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits.

The teacher of the Hebrews had already said much about Christ.

First, he identified Jesus as the eternal Son of God.

  • · The ultimate spokesman for God (1:2).
  • · The appointed heir of all things (1:2).
  • · The creator of the world (1:2,10).
  • · The radiance of God’s glory (1:3).
  • · The exact representation of God’s nature (1:3).
  • · One member of the trinity declared to be the Son of the Father (1:5; 5:5).
  • · Heir of an eternal kingdom passed on from the Father (1:8).

Then, he is identified as greater than the angels.

  • · No angel was begotten as God’s Son (1:5).
  • · The angels were commanded to worship the Son (1:6).
  • · No angels were enthroned and given the promise of victory (1:13)

Then, he identified Jesus as the High Priest of the new covenant.

  • · To qualify, he had to be made temporarily lower than the angels (2:7,9).
  • · He suffered to become the author and source of salvation for many sons (2:10; 5:9).
  • · He had to be fully human to become a merciful and faithful high priest (2:17).
  • · He is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (3:1).
  • · He is the one who can bring us into God’s rest (4:8-11).
  • · He has passed through the sky as our great high priest (4:14).
  • · He is a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek (5:6)

Then, he identified Jesus as greater than Moses.

  • · Moses was a servant in God’s house, but Jesus was its builder (3:3-6a).

But now the teacher of the Hebrews takes a little break. He confesses that it is hard to go on with his lessons, because his listeners are failing to apply what they hear.

  • · “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (5:11).

o The word translated “dull” is νωθρς which means to ‘be backward’ in something, or ‘not applying oneself’ to something, sluggish, to the extent of appearing to be stupid.

  • · “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God,” (5:12a).

o The word translated “elementary principles” is στοιχεον which means one item in a στοῖχος ‘series, row’, ‘part of a complex whole.’

  • · “you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant” (5:12b-13).

o The word translated “infant” is νπιος, ‘a child in an early period of life’, and it is the same word that the apostle Paul used in Ephesians 4:14: “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”

  • · “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

o The word translated “mature” is τλειος, meaning ‘free from any deficiency, omission, or corruption.’ It is the same word that the apostle Paul used in Ephesians 4:13: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

So, Now the teacher explains how Christian growth happens. How do we get from infants in Christ to mature in Christ.

  • · To explain the idea of Christian growth, the teacher needs to change his metaphor. So he stops talking about infants and milk, and he now talks about a building and its foundation stones.
  • · “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation” (Hebrews 6:1a).
  • · The building of the Christian life is founded upon three major foundation stones: Repentance, Faith, and Instructions. These are the elementary principles that the teacher mentioned in 5:12, and the “elementary teaching about Christ” that he mentioned in 6:1.

o Repentance is μετνοια, ‘a serious change of mind and heart about a previous point of view or course of behaviour.’ When a person has truly repented, his heart and mind is now predisposed to follow Christ. Repentance from “dead works” entails a new commitment to do living works, following Christ’s example and teachings.

o Faith is πστις, which includes belief in, confidence in, trust in, and faithfulness to something. Faith towards God is placing yourself entirely in his hands, obeying his will, and trusting in his plan.

o The instructions that make up the third foundation stone consists of teaching about how your repentance from sin and faith in God will now affect your life today, your future hope, and your attitude toward unbelievers. The teacher lists four different instructions.

  1. § First, a new believer must understand that to follow Christ, he will have to undergo some baptisms. These probably include water baptism as a sign of the believer’s identity in Christ, Holy Spirit baptism for empowerment and guidance, and perhaps baptism into suffering to develop perseverance.
  2. § Secondly, a new believer will be gifted with certain spiritual gifts and ministries, and these were usually accompanied by the laying on of hands.
  3. § Thirdly, a new believer has a new confidence that although he will die just like all those in Adam will die, his future inheritance is sure because of Jesus’ promise to raise him from the dead.
  4. § Finally, a new believer understands that unbelievers all around him are in danger of being destroyed in the final and permanent judgment. This awareness brings with it an urgent need to reconcile unbelievers to God in Christ.

So, now let us depict what the teacher has said visually:

foundations

So, to summarize:

CHRISTIAN GROWTH HAPPENS WHEN A BELIEVER HAS REPENTED FROM ALL THE DEAD WORKS OF HIS LIFE, PUT HIS FAITH, TRUST AND CONFIDENCE IN GOD, SEEKING ALWAYS TO BE FAITHFUL TO HIM, AND HAS BEEN INSTRUCTED ABOUT THE BAPTISMS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, THE LAYING ON OF HANDS FOR MINISTRY. HE HAS PUT HIS HOPE ENTIRELY ON THE RESURRECTION BY CHRIST AT HIS RETURN, AND HAS A PASSION TO REACH THE LOST DUE TO THE TERRIBLE AWARENESS OF THE FINAL JUDGEMENT THEY WILL FACE IF THEY ARE NOT SAVED.

Discipling with a mother’s touch

Discipling with a mother’s touch

1 Thessalonians 2:1-9

1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit;

4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness– 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

One of the foundational objectives of all Christians is to make disciples. Jesus commanded that we all take on this responsibility, and so we must ask ourselves what we are doing to make disciples of all nations every day.  But the Bible also gives us examples and instructions on how to disciple. Today we look at one of the passages where the apostle Paul describes his discipling ministry. In this passage, Paul told the Thessalonians that his missionary team discipled them with a mother’s touch. Let’s examine what he said more closely.

A mother boldly loves her children despite the pain and hardship her investment costs her (1-2).

 

  • My mother often said, “When they are small, they step on your toes, when they grow bigger, they step on your heart.” She knew that raising kids is hard work, and it is often painful and costly.
  • Paul reminded the Thessalonians that his team’s mission work in Thessalonica “was not in vain” — it was an investment of hard and costly work that paid off. We learn from 1 Thess. 1 that…
    • They brought the gospel to Thessalonica with full conviction, and displayed God’s power among them.
    • The Thessalonians learned the character of the mission team.
    • The Thessalonians became imitators of Paul’s team, receiving the gospel with joy despite the suffering it caused them.
    • The Thessalonians became an example of faith for other believers to follow in the regions of Macedonia and Achaia.
    • The Thessalonians turned from idol worshippers to true servants of the living and true God, and put their hope in the resurrected and returning Christ.
  • Paul reminded the Thessalonians that his team “had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi” – In Acts 16:9-40 we discover that …
    • Paul was in Troas when he saw a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come over to Macedonia and help the people there.
    • When they arrived in Philippi, they waited several days for an opportunity to preach the gospel.
    • They finally found a group of women that had come together. They shared the word with those women, and one of them – Lydia – came to Christ, and led her household to Christ, and opened her home for the mission team to use as their base while in Philippi.
    • They encountered a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit of divination. They cast the spirit out. The owners of the slave girl had Paul and Silas arrested, the crowds rioted and beat them, and then they were thrown in jail.
    • Paul and Silas prayed and sang for joy while in jail. I think I know why they were joyful. I’ll tell you in a minute.
    • At midnight, while Paul and Silas were singing, an earthquake shook the foundations of the jail house, and everyone’s chains were broken.
    • When the guard of the jail woke, and saw what had happened, he was about to kill himself. But Paul stopped him, and led him to Christ instead. Now, it is just my opinion, but I think Paul knew that this man was going to became a Christian the moment he saw him. He had seen in the vision at Troas a vision of a man from Macedonia. I think he saw that man.
    • After being released (and apologized to) the team left Philippi and headed to Thessalonica.
  • Paul’s team “had the boldness … to tell the Thessalonians the gospel of God amid much opposition.”
    • The Greek word for boldness here is παρρησιάζομαι to ‘speak without a sense of constraint’. The mission team challenged the people of Thessalonica to change their minds about Jesus.
  • In Acts 17:1-10a, we discover that…
    • They went to the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews from the scriptures.
    • Some of the Jews were persuaded, and so were a great many devout Greeks.
    • But the Jews who were not persuaded caused a riot, and had several of the believing Jews arrested. They were eventually fined and released, but they feared for the safety of the mission team, so sent them away by night to Berea.

A mother honestly loves her children without pretending to be someone she is not (3-6).

  • We raised our children in an environment very different from our own, by Penny did quite well because she never tried to be another friend for our daughters. They didn’t need another friend. They needed a mother who cared enough about them to challenge them to live right.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come from error (3).
    • The Greek word is πλάνη ‘a wandering/roaming from the standard route’. The team preached the truth about Jesus. They didn’t falter from that standard.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come from impurity (3).
    • The Greek word is ἀκαθαρσία filth, dirt, impurity. The team preached from pure motives.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come from deceit (3).
    • The Greek word is δόλος ‘cunning that relies on deception for effectiveness.’ The team did not have to trick anyone, because the truth was enough to change people’s minds.
  • Paul said that his team’s exhortation did not come with flattering speech (5).
    • The Greek word is κολακεία ‘flatter’. The team did not have to appeal to anyone’s ego. The only thing they needed to know about their audience was that it was composed of 100% sinners in need of Christ.
  • Paul’s team’s exhortation did not come with a pretext for greed (5).
    • The Greek word is πλεονεξία ‘motivating force for gaining something beyond an acceptable standard’, greed, avarice. The team had nothing to gain from their audience except building the kingdom of Christ.
  • Paul’s team’s exhortation did not come with seeking glory from men (6).
    • The Greek word is δόξα the primary idea is one of ‘appearance’, then of ‘opinion’ based on what seems good or impressive, with ‘esteem’ as product] glory, honor. The team’s investment of their time and effort was temporary. They were interested in changing people’s minds about Christ, not gaining glory for themselves.

A mother tenderly loves her children, knowing that they need a gentle touch (7).

 

 

  • Paul said that his team “proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.”

A mother sacrificially loves her children, pouring out her life so that they can have what they need (8-9).

 

  • Mothers are among the hardest workers on the planet, yet ironically, they usually get no salary from the hardest work that they do.
  • Paul said, “we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives” (8).
  • He said, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (9).
    • in hendiadys κόπος καὶ μόχθος trouble and toil = exhausting toil.
    • What kind of troubles did Paul face? (2Co 11:23-28 NLT) I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have travelled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.
    • Paul told the Corinthians, “All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory” (2Co 4:15 NLT).
    • But what if you face the ultimate trouble? What if you die on your mission? (2Co 4:14) “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you.”

The New Testament mentions a few mothers who were also exceptional disciplers:

 

  • John Mark’s mother (Acts 12).
  • Rufus’ mother (Romans 16).
  • Timothy’s mother (Eunice) (2 Timothy 1).

 

These ladies had what it takes to influence their children to commit their lives to Christ. We need disciplers like that.

 

We, the church of Jesus Christ, are called to make disciples, wherever we go, whatever we do. We can learn much about discipling by looking at a mother’s love, and caring for others with a mother’s touch.

thoughts at a baptism

 

36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were acutely distressed and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “What should we do, brothers?”38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”40 With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!”41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:36-42 NET).

 

Today we have some candidates who have come forward in this special service to be baptized.  I want to share a few thoughts with you based on this passage in Acts chapter 2, which records the fact that after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, some three thousand people decided to be baptized and were added to the church fellowship.  My thoughts are addressed directly to the candidates.

 

  1. You are not being baptized because of who you are. You are being baptised because of who Jesus is. This baptism is not a reward for being good or faithful or obedient. People who are clean do not need to be washed. The three thousand people on the day of Pentecost learned that Jesus was God’s Christ and their Lord but that they had been responsible for putting him to death on the cross.  It is a horrible thing to think that you are responsible for someone else’s death. Every culture on the planet condemns its murderers – particularly if they kill someone who is innocent or important. Here at these waters we all come to the realisation that we are responsible for killing the most innocent and most important person who ever lived.
  2. You are not being baptized because someone else needs it. Peter told the three thousand “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This baptism is not a family ritual that you participate in as a rite of passage, or to show your appreciation for your parents’ or grandparents’ faith. No, on that Pentecost Sunday, there were three thousand individual decisions to testify of their personal need for forgiveness.  They were being added to the church, but the church was not the reason they were being baptized.  Each of them had made a choice to die to their old life, and live a new life for Jesus. When they were buried in that water, they chose to bury their old lives in it. When they were raised from that water, it was to live new lives for Jesus.
  3. You are not being baptized because you are promising to give yourself to God. The promise for today is coming from someone else. On the day of Pentecost, Peter told the people gathered about what had happened to Jesus. He died, was raised to eternal life, ascended to heaven, and was “exalted to the right hand of God, … having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father” (Acts 2:33).” They had just experienced a miracle in which large crowds from many different areas had heard the gospel being proclaimed in their own languages. This miracle was the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter told the three thousand that day that God promised them the same Holy Spirit. I am telling you the same thing. Don’t expect to be the same after today. You are not just giving your life to God. He is giving his life to you.

 

LORD, thank you for these who have decided to testify of their faith in you today by being baptized in water.  Thank you for your decision to cleanse them from their sins, raise them to new life, and empower them with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tough times prove our destiny

I read a lot of stories. One of the things I like about stories is how the characters come to life in my own mind because of the things they experience, and the thoughts they have. When I reflect on the stories, I compare the experiences and thoughts with my own experiences and thoughts.

The stories I like best are those where the heroes encounter a lot of troubles and challenges, but overcome them to accomplish their mission at the end.  The difficulties, plot twists, and even the failures and missteps are all part of the story, and they keep things from getting boring.

I have been reading through and studying some passages in God’s story – the Bible.  I have been trying to understand why God allows suffering, trials, temptations, difficulties, challenges – tough times – to pepper our lives and our stories.

When I looked at Jesus’ parable of the planter and soils in Matthew 13, I asked whether going through tough times implies that I am not a Christian. I discovered that my identity depends on who planted me, not on how difficult the soil is. In fact, Jesus tells us in that parable that God intentionally puts some of his seed in rough soil.  So, I should not be surprised to undergo challenges. The existence of those challenges serves to prove my identity as a Christian, not to disprove it.

When I looked at 1 Peter 1, I asked why God puts me through tough times – what is his ultimate plan for me, and why do I have to go through tough times to experience his ultimate plan.  Peter changes the metaphor, and says that God is a refiner. He puts his gold through the fire so that it comes out refined – purer.  Peter taught that Christians have a future we will inherit which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

When I looked at James 1, I asked how should I respond when tough times come. He says that I should respond with joy, because God is maturing me with the process. I should ask God for wisdom in how to respond, and trust him to give me that wisdom.

Today, I want to look at one of the passages where the apostle Paul talks about tough times.

Romans 5:1-5 JDV

1 Consequently, now that we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have also obtained admission by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we delight in the expectation of God’s glory. 3 Not only this, but we also delight in the things that we suffer, knowing that the suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, more expectation. 5 And what we expect does not disappoint us, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

 

Paul was one of those heroes that we read about. And, like the heroes in the stories, he encountered a lot of suffering, trials, temptations, difficulties, challenges – tough times – throughout his life.  He had tremendous success as an evangelist and church planter, but he also paid the price for that success. This is how he described his life:

“with much greater labours, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:25-28 NET).

His life was chock full of tough times and ended in imprisonment and death by the sword. He described that life as a gruelling race that he fought to the finish, and his death as being poured out as an offering to God (2 Timothy 4:6-7).

So, I would say that Paul knew something about the topic of tough times that believers face.  Here is what he says about tough times in Romans 5:

First, he says that TOUGH TIMES CANNOT STEAL WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN TO US.

Paul was not a Pollyanna.  He did not paint the Christian life as a fairyland where Christians are guaranteed lives of health, prosperity and constant success.  Like Jesus, and James and Peter, Paul made it quite clear that Christians would face lives filled with challenges, and difficult choices. But Paul did say that in the midst of those hard races, there would always be some gifts that every Christian has that the tough times cannot take away.

  • Righteousness (1) – not the righteousness we give to God, but the righteousness he gave to us, not by our works, but by virtue of the shed blood of Christ. Our right standing with God is something that no struggle can take away from us.
  • Peace (1) – not the peace that comes from never experiencing trouble, but the peace with God that helps us to stay true to him in the midst of the struggle. A right relationship with God that trusts him to take care of all the sins in our past, and all the temptations we face now, and knows that he will, so we will have a spotless future.
  • Grace (2) — the armour in which we stand that makes it possible for us to “delight in the things we suffer.”  God’s grace toward us helps us to understand that the tough times are not judgments from an angry God. His judgment upon our sins is atoned for by the blood of his Son.
  • The Holy Spirit (5) — God’s Spirit alongside us and inside us who answers our prayers for wisdom, and helps us to see the finish line, no matter how tough the race gets. He also helps us to respond to suffering with the love of God, a love that is willing to pour our lives out for those who despise and reject us.

Secondly, Paul says that TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO CHANGE US.

There was a philosophical battle going on in the time of Paul. The philosophers argued over what made a person manly.  They would look at paintings and carvings that depicted strong men in battle (like Hercules, fighting the Hydra). Some would say that the paintings described the struggle to conquer your surroundings, and that success made you manly.  Others would say that the struggles were part of the inner struggle to control and tame yourself morally.

Paul appears to have borrowed language used by some of these philosophers to describe how Christians should understand the tough times that they face.  He scribes a cycle of experiences which begins with an expectation of God’s glory (2). This may mean that we expect God to be glorified in what happens to us now, or it may mean that we expect to be ultimately glorified by God in the future.

The challenge comes when we suffer tough times.  This suffering directly contradicts our expectation. We have a choice. Either we despair and renounce our expectation, or we trust God and endure the suffering, refusing to unload our expectation.  Living out that choice to patiently endure tough times produces godly character.  The result is that we end up back where we started, with more expectation.  The expectation is preserved and enhanced by the experience.

So, how do tough times change us. They can change people by making them cynical and pessimistic, or they can strengthen their resolve and make them even more optimistic.  For Paul, tough times are a means of making our faith stronger.

Thirdly, Paul says TOUGH TIMES DEMONSTRATE OUR DESTINY.

Christians can be identified because we are the ones who “delight in the expectation of God’s glory” (2).  That means that what we want in life is for our heavenly Father’s reputation to be enhanced, and for his will to happen.

So, when something happens to us or to our loved ones which we cannot see as fitting into that frame – we choose to trust that God knows what is happening, and has allowed it for his greater glory. “What we expect does not disappoint us” (5), because we expect God to make sense of it all later. Until then, we trust our heavenly Father, and that brings him glory.

In Philippians, Paul described our faith reaction this way:

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NET).

Our expectation is challenged by tough times. Instead of becoming anxious and worrying about it, we choose to pray and God gives us peace in the midst of the struggle.  Our minds and hearts get peace, and God gets the glory for the strength we display.

Tough times prove our destiny. They give us an opportunity to display something within us which is stronger that the challenges we face.  Without the competition, the athlete would have no way of showing her strength. Without the conflict, the soldier would have no way of showing that he has been well trained. Without tough times, Christians would have no way of proving that God has given us something stronger than those tough times.

Tough times are not eternal. We are not going to be struggling with sin and sorrow and tragedy forever. But we will be able to look back on these tough times in the future and see that “our momentary, light suffering (was) producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

tough times prove our maturity

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I am not a huge fan of topical sermons. I think there is a danger of coming to the Bible with my mind already made up on a topic, and reading into the texts of scripture just what I want to hear. It is for that reason that I prefer messages like those of Dr. Flanagan of late.  He is approaching the entire Gospel of Luke, and trying to get at what Luke had in mind in the entire book, and relating each section to the book’s purpose as a whole. That is a safer practice, because it puts what God has to say above what I want to hear.

Nevertheless, I admit that there is a place in the church for topical preaching.  Sometimes I need to come to the scriptures with my questions, and seek God’s answers. That is what I have been trying to do with this series on tough times.  We have been going through some tough times as individuals, and as a church. I want to get God’s perspective on these tough times.

When I looked at Jesus’ parable of the planter and soils in Matthew 13, I asked whether going through tough times implies that I am not a Christian. I discovered that my identity depends on who planted me, not on how difficult the soil is. In fact, Jesus tells us in that parable that God intentionally puts some of his seed in rough soil.  So, I should not be surprised to undergo challenges. The existence of those challenges serves to prove my identity as a Christian, not to disprove it.

When I looked at 1 Peter 1, I asked why God puts me through tough times – what is his ultimate plan for me, and why do I have to go through tough times to experience his ultimate plan.  Peter changes the metaphor, and says that God is a refiner. He puts his gold through the fire so that it comes out refined – purer.  Peter taught that Christians have a future we will inherit which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

So, today I want to explore another text which treats the subject of tough times.

James 1: 2-8 NET

2    My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials,

3     because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4     And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.

5     But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

6     But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

7     For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

8     since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

Some of you have probably wondered why I took so long to get to this passage.  For many, it is the go-to passage on the subject, and for at least three good reasons.

  1. The audience is similar. James is writing to churches.
  2. The context is similar. The churches are facing hard times – I mean really hard times – as in some are being persecuted and killed.
  3. Some gospel songs and choruses are based on this text, so it is easier to remember.

So, what is James telling Christians in this passage that relates directly to my questions about tough times in my context today? Here is what I find.

First, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO MATURE US.

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James says that tough times come into our lives “so that (we) will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.” (4).  In other words, just being a disciple of Christ is not enough. God wants disciples to be discipled. He uses other Christians to do that, but he also uses tough times as part of the process.

James tells us not to be surprised when “all sorts of trials” come to us.  God is producing the character quality of endurance by allowing those tough times to affect us.  He is testing our faith.  He is not testing to see if we have faith. He is proving the existence of our faith by means of the trials.

True Faith + Tough Times = Endurance

True Faith + Tough Times = Maturity

Secondly, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO PROMOTE PRAYER FOR WISDOM.

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James gives a prescription for those believers who want to know what to do when things get tough. He says “if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God.” (5).  Notice that James does not say our first prayer should be “Lord, take this problem away from me.!” No, our first prayer should be “Lord, what are you teaching me through this trial?”

We human beings can endure all kinds of hardship as long as we are aware of the purpose for the pain. When we lose sight of the purpose, even the slightest hardship can be our undoing.

Thirdly, TOUGH TIMES ARE ALLOWED IN ORDER TO PRODUCE STRENGTH.

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James gives these battle hardened soldiers in the churches he is writing to some good strategic advice. When they pray, “(they) must ask in faith without doubting.” (6).  I know a lot of preachers have taught this text as if it is saying that if you ask God to deliver you from your hardship, you have to really believe or God is going to let you keep experiencing the hardship until you do.  I do not think that is what James is saying at all.

Let’s look at the text again:

5           But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.

6              But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind.

7              For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord,

8              since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

What are we encouraged to ask for in this text?  Wisdom (5).

What, then, should we expect to receive (7) if our prayers are answered? Wisdom!

A prayer for wisdom is a request for insight that will help me endure the tough times I am going through.  If I pray for this wisdom, I should expect the Lord to give me wisdom enough to endure the tough times.

What happens when a double-minded person goes through tough times? Either they only ask for deliverance, or they ask for wisdom, doubting that God would ever give them this wisdom. They are unstable, immature.

The reason this is so important is that God does not guarantee me or anyone else that he is going to fix things.  What he guarantees is that he will give us wisdom enough to endure the tough times in peace. But this wisdom and peace is not automatic. With each new trial, the potential for wisdom and peace is there, but we have to keep asking for it.

Paul said something similar:

“Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NET).

Again, notice that the outcome is not “God promises to fix all my problems.”  The real outcome is that even though we go through tough times our hearts and minds will be guarded from anxiety and given peace!

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LORD, mature us. Show us how to respond to all the tough times we face with a determination to know your wisdom as we face them.  We are not praying for easy lives. We are praying for you to make us into strong people.