We have come upon one of the great seasons of the Christian faith.  The Lenten season is one that is celebrated by Christians around the world.  It is a time where Christians choose to fast from certain things in order to focus their attention more on Christ and what He has done for us through the cross and the empty grave.

Different people choose different things from which to fast (give up or not partake in for a time).  Some people choose certain types of food or drink… others may choose to lay down social media or TV…

Our family has chosen to partake in a “Daniel Fast” for the Lenten season. We are doing this to help our family not only grow closer to the Lord, but also to help clean up some of our eating habits.

Whatever one chooses to “give up” during Lent, I have learned from times before that just giving something up for a while doesn’t do what this season is intended to do.  Lent is for us to purposefully draw closer to the Lord and refocus on what He has done and is doing in our lives. This is not done by just giving up something.  We have to purposefully redirect that attention towards Christ.

While it is not necessary that a Christian partake in Lent, I would encourage any follower of Jesus to take part in this wonderful season. I would encourage you to spend some time finding out what is one thing that takes your attention away from God, and then give it to Him in this season.  Fill that time with prayer and study of the Bible.  I have found some good resources that would help one refocus on Christ as we approach the greatest season of the year.

He Reads Truth / She Reads Truth

These are some really good websites that come with Bible studies and devotionals to help followers of Jesus spend time in God’s Word.  They have apps for your smartphones or tablets also.  Some of the plans do cost (the Lent devotionals are $2.99 and well worth it), but they also have free studies.

YouVersion

YouVersion is an app for smartphones, tablets, and computers that allows you to access the Bible in just about any translation you could imagine.  It also has many devotional plans (FREE) that help followers of Jesus in their time in the Word.  They have a multitude of devotional studies for the Lenten season.

Whatever you do, my prayer for each of you is that you draw closer to Jesus and what He is wanting to do in your life this Lenten season.

John 17 is commonly known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It is a beautiful scene of the Son of God praying like never before. It takes place just moments before Jesus is betrayed by one of His closest followers, arrested by the mob, taken through a mock trial, and sentenced to crucifixion.

This prayer can be broken up into three sections: Jesus praying for Himself (v 1-5), Jesus praying for the disciples that had followed Him while He walked the earth (v 6-19), and Jesus praying for believers that would come as the current disciples shared the gospel (v 20-26).

It is interesting to me to think that while Jesus prayed here in the first century, He was praying for me. Not only was He praying for me, but Jesus was praying for every single person who would hear and respond to the gospel from that time forward. Long before I was a thought in my parents’ minds, I was on Jesus’ prayer list.

Another intersting point of this prayer is that it was prayed long before I became a follower of Jesus. It is easy to pray for those who are “in the family.” How do we do in praying for those who do not yet know the Lord? As followers of Jesus, we should do as our Savior did for us. We should be praying for those who do not know (or yet want to know) the Lord.

The 3 Things That Jesus Prayed For Us

1. Unity (v 21)

Jesus prays that those who place their faith in Him would be a unified people. Though they would come from different walks of life, they would have a common bond in Jesus. Just as the the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are individual in person, they are one in nature and make up the Trinity (Along with the Holy Spirit) that we know as God. Jesus prays that believers would share in this unity, and a result of this unity would be that others would see the truth of the gospel.

2.  Tools For the Mission (v 22-23)

Jesus knows that the future of the mission of God would be carried out by these believers. This mission of telling others the good news of the gospel would need tools to be carried out. Jesus prays and shares His glory with those who trust in Him. This glory is the strength that we need to carry out the mission. Every believer is given everything they need to take the gospel to those who have not heard it.

3.  Security (v 24)

Jesus prays that those who would come to believe in Him would be held and kept secure by the power of God. We do not have to worry about losing our salvation if we have truly received it. If we have been saved by God, then our lives will demonstrate it by taking part in the mission that God has given His church to do. There may be bumps in the road and moments where we fall short, but we will never fall out of the grasp of God’s gracious hand.

It should be an encouragement to us to know that Jesus Himself was praying for us before we were thought about by anyone else. If that’s not enough, then know this: Jesus is still praying for you.

Who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and Hd is sitting in the place if honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:34 NLT)

May we as the church be encouraged to be faithful and carry out the mission that God has given to us – to take the gospel to those who need it in word and deed.

I recently shared a message with the church I serve as pastor on Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage, Jesus tells about an event that will take place in the future. It is a wonderful event for those who have faithfully followed Christ. It is also a traumatic event for those who haven’t.

Jesus says that those who are welcomed into heaven are not just those who say that they are followers but show it by their actions. He gives some pretty specific ways that people either demonstrate their faith or don’t.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. (Matthew 25:42-43)

Jesus said that the demonstration of our faith will determine whether we are in or out. This is not to be mistaken as salvation by merits. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).  But that faith is also one that will show itself to be true through actions in our lives (James 2:14-26).

I found this scene that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 very sobering. We can talk a big game about believing in Jesus and being associated with Him. The truth is (from His mouth) the proof is in the fruit. We can say whatever we want, but it is only true when you can back it up.

I had wondered why this was the only place where this was talked about in such detail… that is until I read Job 31.

In Job 31, one can see this man who was having a “rough week” making a final appeal about why the trouble he was experiencing was not a result of sin in his life. In his appeal, Job exclaims…

if I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused eyes if the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless has not eaten of it (for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow), if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or the needy without covering, if his body has not blessed me, and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep… (Job 31:16-20)

The sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler (Job 31:32)

After reading this chapter, my mind was blown. There it was in plain sight. The ways in which Jesus said that true faith is demonstrated was done by Job in his life.

God’s standards never change.  The Bible tells us that He is an unchanging God (Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).  When it comes to His standards, we should not be surprised when He says that those standards do not change either. God still demands that His followers be those who are transformed by the love of God to the point where it effects their actions.

I was reading in the Old Testament book of Job recently. You know, the guy who was on top of the world… and then it all came crashing down around him? Yeah, that Job.

The story of Job is one that always gets me. You have a guy who is enjoying a great life. He has pretty much anything that he could want. He was not snobby about it though. He knew that his blessings came from the Lord. He was a God-fearing man.

With this man doing “what was right,” all of the sudden his world falls apart as he loses everything in the matter of a few days. All of his wealth…gone. Children…gone. Support of his wife…gone. Job was not having the best of weeks.

In Job 2, we see three friends enter the scene to comfort Job during his time of trial. A good portion of the book of Job is these friends trying to comfort and counsel their friend. For the most part, the advice that these friends give is what we might hear from our friends in time of need. Sadly, most of them thought that Job was lying and hiding sin in his life, and the pain he was going through was punishment for that.

While the book of Job is filled with much advice from the friends, I think that the best counseling that they did came at the end of Job 2.

“And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:13)

I am one that does not like to see people hurt. The only thing that might bother me more seeing someone hurt is not being able to do something about it. I have been told that I am a “fixer.” I want to fix the problems that I see when I see them. Sometimes, in my “fixing”, I can make things worse. This is what happened with Job’s friends. They started out great but didn’t leave it there. They tried to do more.

One of the best ways we can help those who are hurting around us is to do what Job’s friends did at the end of Job 2 – just sit with them for a while. The best comfort we might be able to give someone is to let them be reminded that they are not alone. You don’t always need words for that. Presence speaks volumes. 

As you see those around you hurting, take the time to be a good friend and remind them that they are not alone. You may never know the power of just being there with them through those times.

We have been going through a sermon series at the church where I serve as Pastor this month called “Rethinking the Church.”  If you were to ask the common person on the street what they thought of when they heard the word “church,” you would get a variety of answers.  It is for this reason that I believe that we should look to the Bible to give us a clear understanding of what the church should be.

The church is to be a group of people that come from different walks of life and encourage one another as we seek to fulfill God’s purposes here on the earth. This is called community.

As the Bible shows us that the church is to be a community that is dependent upon one another, the question may come up “Why?” Why is it so important that the church be a community that shares life together with one another?

I would answer that question by saying that the church community is important because it is a part of God’s plan in building us into who we are supposed to be.

God has a plan of bringing redemption to our fallen world. Sin has entered in and wreaked havoc on everything. It has messed up our relationship with God, our relationship with other people, nature, and everything else.

God did not desire all of this destruction that has been left in the path of sin. This is why, from the beginning, He had a plan to make things right. He planned to come Himself and make things right. This is why Jesus Christ came to earth. He lived the life that we were supposed to live. He died our death – paying our penalty of sin. He arose from the grave to give us hope and assurance that His plan was at work.

Before Jesus left this world, He charged His followers (the church) to continue the mission that He began. We see that most clearly in what is called the Great Commission.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

This is a mighty task that we as the church have been given. We are responsible for taking the message of the gospel to all who need it. There is no place under the sun where this gospel is not needed. It seems that everywhere you turn there are people who are living in the shackles of sin’s clutches.

It would seem easy enough to understand that we as followers of Jesus Christ would need to take this gospel to those who we come in contact with and who need it so desperately. The question that continues to pop up in my mind is “why don’t we?”

I think sometimes the greatest hindrance that we have to doing what God has tasked us to do is a lack of boldness.

Boldness

If you were to look up the word boldness in the dictionary, it would say something like “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger or rebuff; courageous and daring.” Sadly, this is a term that has dropped in its usage over the past 200 years.

The presence of danger or resistance has been around since sin entered into our world. We do not like danger or resistance. We would like to have a comfortable life, but Jesus warned us very plainly that in this world where sin is present, that would not happen.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

It is because of the ever-presence of danger in our sin-filled world and the amazing task to share the gospel with all who need it that we need the church. The church is to be a place where this boldness needed to carry out our task is shared and grown in our lives.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14)

 

Paul wrote to the church at Philippi about the situation that he was in. He was in prison for his commitment to the task of sharing the gospel with people. No doubt there were many who were concerned for him. Not only concerned for Paul but for themselves. Would this fate come upon them?

Adversity is not something that many would willingly put on their “to-do” list each day. Most of us strive to steer clear of any adversity that would try to come our way. It is seen as a type of plague that we should stay away from at all costs.

Adversity can be a good thing though. Adversity can actually build and reveal the quality of what is inside of us.

Paul states that the adversity that he was going through at the moment of writing (imprisonment) was actually serving to advance the gospel message to places and people it had never been before.

There is a teaching that is becoming more and more popular today that if one follows Christ then everything will be fine and dandy for them. They should not face any kind of adversity if they just have enough faith. That is a good definition of one ancient Hebrew phrase that Dr. Chuck Kelley (President of NOBTS) likes to use: “bologna.”

If Jesus said that this world will be filled with tribulations and adversities of all kinds, who do we think that we are to say that isn’t so?

God can use any adversity that comes against the church to accomplish His plan, and more importantly He will.

How does God use adversity in the life of the church?

God uses adversity to build boldness in the life of the church to accomplish the mission.

And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  (Philippians 1:14)

 

Paul said that most of the Christians who had heard about his circumstances were not fearful or scared, but that they were speaking more boldly the gospel message.

There have been people from the very beginning days of the church who have believed that if they can simply persecute or instill fear in the church, then they could shut it down. The truth is that the church has only become bolder in its mission when it faces adversity.

When adversity comes against the church and the church seeks the Lord, the Holy Spirit rises up a boldness to stand strong. We realize that God gives us armor for the fight and the ability to stand strong together as the Body of Christ.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  (Ephesians 6:13)

When people see the church standing not in their own strength but in the strength of the Lord, it causes a curiosity as to what does the church have that is missing from everywhere else. This gives the church the opportunity to share the great gospel of Jesus Christ with those who need it.

Adversity is never a fun thing. It will tend to last much longer than anyone would desire. It will cost more than many would like to pay. But for the church, it is a builder of boldness to accomplish the mission that we have been given.

The church is so much more than just a place where we come to sing songs and listen to a person speak. It is a community where we come together under the banner of Jesus Christ and bear one another’s burdens. We see the Holy Spirit build boldness in each member to be faithful to the task of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who need it.