Sunday, April 26, 2009

Waiting Part 2 - HOPE


Romans 5:1-8 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Life has times of waiting, times when God seems silent. We know from last week that as we “wait right” God will do a work in and through our life not otherwise accessible. But it is hard to “wait right”. What kind of things help us in these dark times? Psalm 23 talks about the valley of the shadow of death. What can help me through these confusing times? One answer is to look to the promises of God. They are found throughout the Scriptures, and one word in particular has great meaning. It is HOPE. Hope gives us the ability to see God at work around us. Today I want to focus on Hope – the Hope we have as Christians that help us through the tough times and help us keep our stick on the ice in good times. Before we do that, let us look quickly at 2 other words in this passage that help shape our understanding of Hope.


Faith - Faith is rooted in the past. It is focused on the power of God. Notice that the verbs used with faith are in the past tense. It is not that faith is something we do once, and then are done with it. It is in the past because it is connected with our salvation and provides the change necessary for us to see God. It is focused on the power of God which raised Jesus from the dead.Verse 1 - Faith justifies! It provides peace where there was enmity. It changes our position. It puts us in a place where we can experience grace ongoing in our life.Verse 2 - Faith provides a connection to Grace, precluding Hope.Understand that faith is not a magic formula. Words have no power or force in and of themselves (it is not an incantation). Faith is not just a ritual prayer saying, “God forgive me. Be my Savior and Lord.” There is much more depth to it than that. Faith does say that, but if you truly believe that and it is your choice, your life will change. Understand that it is faith that is the foundation of who we are in Jesus. What separates our next door neighbour who is far from God and living under judgement for sins and you and I who have made the decision to follow Jesus? It is that faith, that choice to follow Jesus! Before we move on, let me give you a working definition of faith as the Bible understands it: Faith is following Jesus by living intentionally (by our choices) regardless of circumstances or emotions, having an eternal perspective in the present. Hebrews 11:1, 2 Corinthians 4:18 Next week we will unpack this definition more fully.


Grace - Grace is rooted in the present. It is focused on the presence of God. I love that phrase “this grace in which we stand”. Grace is about 2 things: acceptance and freedom. Have you ever been in a relationship where you are loved unconditionally? Often we find this love in our family; and all too often we don’t find it there. Sometimes it is a best friend who sticks by us, through the many highs and lows of life. In Christ there is an acceptance that goes beyond anything we could expect. Grace is based on God’s Agape love, a love that is everlasting and will never leave us. It is something in which we stand – a place of security knowing that if God is for us, who can be against us?If we experience that grace, that acceptance, we will know true freedom. It is a freedom to be all we can be in Jesus – to be what we were created for. I have mentioned before that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We are constrained because of what we have. When the Carpenter of carpenters comes into our life, though, He brings His whole toolbox with Him. Sin has us cooped up in life like a lion in a zoo. We may be eating and sleeping, but we are not really living. Only when that lion is loosed into the wild savannah is he truly free to roam the wild plains. Bars no longer cage. When we experience the grace of God we will know the Truth of freedom in Christ. Understand that grace goes before our faith. We talk of prevenient grace. Romans 5: 8 says that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s grace was calling us long before we responded to it at salvation. Faith is not a work, it is a response to God’s grace.


Hope – Hope is rooted in the future. It is focussed on the promise of God. The word “hope” in the New Testament is almost always connected to the second coming of Jesus. The specific phrase here is “we exalt in the hope of the glory of God.” A word study of “glory” helps us to understand the definition as “revelation”. When we see the phrase “the glory of God it is referring to God being revealed for who He is. We sing, “In our life Lord be glorified”. That means “be revealed in our life, Lord”. Let us show those around us who You are by our thoughts, words and deeds. The ultimate glory or revealing of God that is yet to come is Jesus’ return. He said He is coming back soon, and that we should be ready for it. He promised that He will return for us, and as you read several of the passages like 1 Thessalonians 5 we see that it is about the culmination of our relationship with our Creator. While we live and have breathe in this world there is a tension between the now and the not yet. We have a dual citizenship. We are human, but we also have a spiritual citizenship in heaven. There is a part of us that connects to friends and family and ministry here, but there is the part that longs to be with God forever. Paul summed it up well when he said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Let’s look at this promise of God.

The promise is broad. Advertisers will print a big word like “FREE” that attracts your attention, but when you read the fine print you find you have to spend money to get something “free”. That doesn’t sound like free to me. I worked in a warehouse and we would get calls from different supplies. If we ordered a case of their packing tape at a slightly expensive cost we would get a free camera that we could keep for ourselves. Well, sure enough, a camera came. It looked like one you would get in a box of cereal. What kind of deal was that? God’s promises are up front, and not for some cheap little plastic camera. God promises an eternal love. He promises an eternal presence. Look at John 14:1-3 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” Look at Romans 8:35-39 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Read the last 2 chapters of Revelation. The promises of God are vast. We experience so much grace today, but in your times of silence, of waiting, rest in these promises.

The promise is sure. We often see in advertising today promises. Your teeth will be white, your car will go far, your money will double. So often these promises are merely advertising jingles, designed to make you buy a product or service. Ever been let down by those pie crust promises? They are easily made and easily broken. There is little accountability to keeping the promises. Witness the scandals that have rocked the financial world in the last while. The promises of God, in comparison, are rock solid.Hebrews 6:9-20 contains an extended passage where the writer states the unchangebleness of God and how sure His promise is because it is rooted in the very character of God. Hebrews 6:19 says “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil”. Hebrews 10:23 says “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful”. As you read through the Bible, watch for God’s faithfulness to His promises.

The promise is empowering. Every passage that talks about hope, about the second coming of Jesus makes reference about how we should live today. Because Jesus is coming soon, you should be pursuing holiness. Because we understand how life will end, we don’t have to get caught up in the temptations of money, sex and power. We can separate ourselves from the things of this world and go about doing God’s business. We can be free from pursuing empty promises and find true fulfilment that was created in us from God. We can be all we were meant to be. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Look at the process in this passage in Romans again: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” It almost seems to start with hope and end with hope! You have the firm belief that Jesus is coming again. And maybe when life comes crashing down on you, you pray even more fervently, “Now! Come now, Lord”; but that assurance of eternal life will keep you close to God. Satan and the world will try to cast doubt on your hope, as he did back in the Garden of Eden. Don’t listen. Know God’s promise is sure, and you will persevere in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our spiritual life started and continues by faith. We stand in grace and exalt in our hope. Know that Jesus is coming again - let the truth of that encourage you to continue to pursue the holiness and plan of God for your life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Waiting


Matthew 25:1-13 Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'
Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'
But the prudent answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.'
But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'
Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

Last week we talked about Peter, about his transformation from a guy driven by emotion and fear to being a leader of the church; a man rock solid in his faith and the church. We talked about that transformation, and today we are going to zero in on one part of that change. Before I go into this study I want to make sure you know why you’re here. First, God has brought you here by divine appointment. It’s not because of me or your mom, though it may look like that. God has something here for you each time you come. There are two things you can take away. You may take them both, or just one or the other, and next week it will be the other way around. The first thing is what you take for yourself. God is in the business of making you like Himself. As we look at the Word and consider the claims of Jesus God speaks to you about you. Maybe it is something you need to do or to change or to consider. But you may be here and you’ve got it all together. You may not need what God brings today. In that case let me suggest that God wants you to take this stuff for someone else. Maybe you never really knew how to talk about sanctification or faith or hope, or how to express it to someone else. You can take what we talk about here and share it with others. It helps sharpen your understanding and confidence, so you can build into someone else’s life. I’m glad you’re here, and I pray there is something here for you to take on your journey to Christ-likeness.

So, we had great services last week, no what? What did the disciples do? They spent their time fasting and praying and worshipping and in the Scriptures. They were waiting for God to show up. So, as they waited upon god’s timing, they focussed on the basics of the faith. Let’s talk about those periods of life when we are waiting for God to show up. We know He is always there, but we are praying fervently for something and waiting for an answer. We are wanting more of Him, but don’t seem to be hearing from Him. Everything seems to be going along pretty well, but we seem to be in a delaying period. The airplane is circling the airport waiting for their turn to land…

The value of waiting right. It is when God is silent, when we are in the in between times of His interaction with us, that we have the chance to prove our faith; to express our faith, to exercise our faith. You come visit me at my house and as you sit in my living room you look up and see on a shelf a circular saw. As you sit I regale you with stories of how wonderful my saw is and what projects I will do with it; but it is brand new, still in the box. You are not too impressed. Why? You are leery because I have never tried out my saw. I never put it to use, to see if I could cut a straight line. Quite a while ago I had a Mercury Grand Marquis station wagon. If you looked at it when I sold it you would have noticed a neat little slot cut in the trim above the passenger side rear wheel. I had leaned a piece of plywood against the car and needed to cut it in half. The saw blade was a bit further out than I realized and so the car was sold with a slot the width of a saw blade in it. Sometimes when we actually go out to do something, it doesn’t go as expected. Our mastery of the tools we own aren’t quite what we led ourselves to believe.
So it is with our faith. Often God is silent so He can get out of the way so we can see what our faith is actually made of. Does it bend precipitously under the slightest pressure or is it rock solid through the toughest gale? Is it something we just put on when we think we need it or do we carry it around like the pencil in the ear, always having it ready for when we need it?
I have one of those all in one weight machines in my basement. I know purists will say right away that that is my first problem. I really need free weights to get the most out of my exercises. The fact is, if I want a bigger bicep, I have to exercise it. I can’t just look at my arm and visualize and 18” arm and then it will happen. I have to get on that machine and do flys and Preacher Curls and work my arm, 3 times a week for a long time. With right eating and no injuries, I could do it. One reason I don’t have 18” biceps is because I haven’t done it. It’s easy to talk about my weight machine, the specific exercises, and even walk around wearing baggy shirts and shorts. It’s easy to say, but to actually do it is much harder. And it shows in my physique. So, how’s your faith? Have you exercised it lately? Are you exercising it in small things so it grows? It is easy when times are good to talk about Jesus and faith, but do you still cling to Him in the tough times?
After Jesus died and was resurrected, there was a waiting. The disciples and followers of Jesus focused on the basics and did those simple things, those little things that ground us in the faith. And there came a time when the waiting was up! Finally, God showed up, and in a big way!

The result of waiting right. So God shows up! The thing we have been waiting for happens, even if we didn’t know what we were waiting for. What we will discover, though, that as we were busy focussing on the basics and doing the little things well, as we were waiting right, we are now ready for God to use us.

  • We are prepared - Our time spent on the basics has prepared us for God’s presence. Often when He shows up He does a new thing. Remember Pentecost? That’s where the ministry of the Holy Spirit was inaugurated for Christians. Jesus promised He would not leave us comfortless, but would send the Comforter. So the Comforter comes, the disciples spoke in tongues, and in a few short years the Gospel was sent to the Gentiles. Talk about a new thing! Only those current in their faith, though, were able to plug in to what God was doing. As we spend our waiting time becoming all we can be in Christ, He can then lead us on because we get it. If we just sit around and cruise in our faith during the waiting, we run the danger of becoming aligned with the grumblers and complainers. Think of the stories of Israel coming out of slavery in Egypt, and proceeding to the Promised Land. Again and again you see people who couldn’t get with the program God had set. They couldn’t see or hear what God was doing because they weren’t tuned in to Him. Where was their faith when things got difficult? It was way back there somewhere, miles from where it should have been. Only 2 of the 12 spies sent into the Promised Land had a faith that said, “We can do it because God is with us.” And only those 2 entered in. Wait right, so you are prepared for God’s coming.
  • We are available - God loves to use people for His ministry. Saul became Paul and traveled the world after spending some 3 years in the wilderness waiting for God. Remember when Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby? Two people who had been waiting for God there whole life to show up, were ready to proclaim their simple message. Simeon blessed the baby and was used because he was available and ready. When you are prepared, you are available and ready. Remember the 5 virgins who were out of oil and not prepared and as a result got left out? Be prepared and available to God.
  • We are used. Life with God is an adventure. We will find that we were waiting for the big thing, the new thing, the public thing, but in our day to day life God has brought His kingdom near. Every day we live is a celebration of the incarnation. We don’t have to wait for Christmas or Easter because jesus is in our lives today. The miracle of His presence changes us, so that when we look back through that time of waiting, we find that we have actually become so much more than we realized. It is actually those dry times, those times of darkness, those times of waiting that we are most greatly refined. It is one of those paradoxes of the spiritual life. The times we feel most alone, we feel most sad or put down, those are the times our faith grows the most. As you go through that, and do the basics, clinging to God, He will use you in mighty ways to speak to those around you. Stay the course - God will never leave you nor forsake you.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Story of Peter


Matthew 16:13-19 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

What do we know of Peter? He’s a fisherman, and several stories of him and Jesus are related to that. A few times he and his fellow fishermen get a bountiful catch after meeting Jesus. Then there’s the time he tried to walk with Jesus on the water. Remember the story of the transfiguration up on the mountain? What about the time of the washing of the feet, where he wanted Jesus to wash all of him? Peter was cutting off the servant’s ear when Jesus was arrested. Remember the breakfast on the beach, where Jesus challenged him 3 times to feed His sheep, restoring Peter after his 3 time denial? What other stories can you think of that focus on Peter?


It’s funny, that the stories that first came to mind were all in the Gospels. We see another side of Peter, though, in Acts. In fact, the first 12 chapters are all about Peter and how he had changed! In the Gospels he was impulsive, putting his foot in his mouth every other day by going to extremes in his devotion to Jesus. He was the one jumping out of the boat or throwing his whole body into the washbasin. In Acts, after being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see him preaching 2 sermons, raising a young girl from the dead, being arrested several times for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, being rescued by an angel, preaching in several regions, initiating ministry to Gentiles, and eventually becoming the head of the church in Jerusalem. Did you get a sense of the change in Peter’s life? Did you see his transformation from a man driven by emotion and feelings, to one driven by the Gospel, by a love of God, by a Risen King?


What happened? A big part was the resurrection of Jesus. Peter’s faith in Jesus being the Christ, the son of the living God, became rock solid. There was no more wavering in his understanding of what God was about and doing in the world. There was the day of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit was given to the followers of Jesus. There was the Church, his support and encouragement from his friends.


Seek the presence of God. Peter spent 3 years walking with Jesus, hearing His voice and teachings, listening to His explaining the meaning of His stories, and saw many miracles. Through Peter seeing Jesus die and resurrected, He understood that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Jesus was the King. There was nothing his King couldn’t do. In Matthew 16:16 Peter made his confession of who he thought Jesus was, but in Acts we see Peter live out that confession. As we celebrate this Easter Sunday the resurrection of Jesus, we understand that it was all about God restoring us to fellowship with Himself. It is all about His presence in our life. However you can do it in whatever situation you are in, pursue God. When someone sets out to be a carpenter or an accountant, what do they do? When I graduated high school I was heading for Chartered Accounting. Math came easily, and I had some interest in it. I was looking at a 4 year degree, with a co-op option that allowed me to get some experience in the field. After that there were exams to be studied and passed. One thing I have come to understand about being an author is that it is like any other profession - to be good at it you have to work at it. Of some 10,000 people who want to right, probably only a tenth of them will actually put some effort into it and sit down regularly to write. Of those, only a percentage will put effort into attending conferences and put some money into learning the craft. Of those, only a percentage will go further and read books and learn the craft. When all is said and done, only a handful of those 10,000 will make it because they have taken the time to be the best they can be. What about Jesus Christ. How much effort and time and resources do we put into getting to know Him, to understanding the revelation of God, the Kingdom of God? God waits for us every day as we go out the door for the invitation to go with us. With a minor adjustment of attitude and priority, Jesus can easily be our constant companion throughout each and every day. This is the foundation of salvation - God’s presence. You want to stay close to God for life, and not fall away as some have done, seek the presence of God. Love God with all your heart, soul, and might.


Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is no secret to the Christian walk. It is all about relationship. We relate to the Holy Spirit in Truth. There is a walking in step with the Spirit; a leading and guiding to Jesus; a Comforter. When we look at the story of Peter, we understand the impact of the Holy Spirit in his life. Starting at the day of Pentecost there was a power in His life, in his preaching that only came as a result of the power of the Risen Lord. Remember the story of the angel getting him out of prison? The supernatural was at work in his life, protecting and guiding until Peter was once again in the presence of His Lord and Savior. Ephesians 5:18-19 talks of being constantly filled with the Spirit. We are called to holiness, and that will only happen as we allow the Spirit to have free reign in our life. This involves understanding our gifts and what God created us for. There is a freedom that comes to being all you can be in Jesus. When you read the book of acts you see the power of the Spirit working in and through the disciples and apostles. Remember the story of Peter where he had that dream and was commanded to eat the unclean things. Imagine what that meant to the church of his day! It was only in obedience to the Spirit, though, that the church grew. You and I wouldn’t have the Gospel if Peter said, “No” and everyone followed his example. Follow the Spirit, not the church or tradition. God may want to use you to do a new thing. Want a life that changes the world? Seek the guidance of the Spirit.


Seek the fellowship of the Church. Peter’s faith was not lived in isolation. Indeed, all his work was for those around him. At times he certainly helped and led others. At other times he was in need of others’ help and prayer. The church, the body of Jesus - it is amazing that wherever one goes there is a commonality of fellowship that extends beyond filial and platonic relationships. Bonnie found 5 new friends recently. They are ladies from different parts of the United States, but within a few short days they became fast friends. It is not about talents or any kind of comparison with each other. It is about the bond of love, the oneness of our faith. One sad thing I have noticed is that people tend to leave the church when they have problems in their lives. That’s the very opposite of what should happen. Too often we shoot our wounded, or are afraid of being judged, when the body should instead be about grace and love. At our Good Friday service we had 6 different churches together. Each of those other pastors I consider a friend. And though our theology may have different emphasis or fine points, the central truth is that we are all one in Christ. We are all on that same pilgrimage of becoming more Christ-like in all we think, say, and do. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that “two are better than one because they have a good return for their labour. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” Though short times of isolation can be beneficial in our relationship and dedication to God, don’t let things go unresolved in the body. We have to talk and work things out; otherwise Satan gets a foothold in our lives and can mess things up. Love your neighbour as yourself.


Seek the Presence of God.

Seek the Guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Seek the Fellowship of the Church.
Take these to heart, and understand who your King is, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Gospel


John 3:1-21 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."
Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, 'You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can these things be?"
Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

Everybody loves a great story. There are classics in literature that many people recognize as great writing. Sometimes it is because of the characters, people we get, we relate too, we are right there with them in the setting. Sometimes it is the action. The author has written a dense novel so there are no slow moments. Ever read a book and that you take it with you wherever you go because you can’t put it down. One danger of writing is having a saggy middle. A good start, and a bang up end; but the author has only one idea. To make a novel means they have to stretch that idea out over chapters; when they should have just written it as a short story. The characters have to be doing something more than just making toast. There are a lot of elements to stories that authors have to contend with, if they truly want to write a great book. One such story is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, known as Palm Sunday. It is filled with characters and action; children and animals and greenery. Quite the thing! Most of us know the details and we also know it is part of a much bigger and grander and longer story that reaches back before time began.

There’s God – a big Creator, who makes man in His image. Unfortunately that image gets marred and so the relationship is broken between the Creator and His creation. That brokenness was a result of sin – anything that we have done that goes against the character of God. God has a plan, though, to restore that brokenness, for He created man to have a wonderful relationship with Himself. First, He raised a people from one man and woman. He made an agreement with them that though their offspring He would raise a people He would call His own, and out of those people, He would bless the whole world. He did wonderful things for these people, but they struggled to be true to Him. His plan led to His Son becoming one of them; and His name was Jesus. Jesus came so that through His death and resurrection we all could have that broken relationship with God, our Creator, restored. God did the work, all we have to do is accept that and follow Jesus. That is our choice: do we want to ask God to be our Leader and Forgiver?

That is the Gospel. That is the story of salvation in a nutshell, that is found in this book, which is the story of God’s redeeming love for us. There are four sermons in Acts, 2 by Peter and 2 by Paul. They are found in Acts 2, 3, 13, and 17. They contain this God story. They all use Scripture from the Old Testament and talk of God at work in the ancient times. They talk about how Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus. When it comes to Jesus, they reference His miracles, His death on a cross, and His resurrection. They application they have is a call to repentance, to turning away from sin.
I think too often we start with that last point, the fact that we are sinners. We need to balance that fact with the story of God’s grace, of God working down through the ages to provide a way for us to reconnect with Him. The Gospel is Good News. The Gospel is Grace. I want to suggest 4 things that explain this Grace. Then I want to refer to Jesus conversation with Nicodemus which we read earlier. Lastly, I want to leave some thoughts about what this means for you and I.

1) The Gospel begins with the story of creation. It talks of a God so immense He created all that we see, but most importantly He created you and me. He created you and me to have a relationship with Him. This is good news. Jesus said that He came so that we could have abundant life. This is a picture of a shepherd looking after his sheep. You are special - not just because I say so, not just because you may think so, but because the God who created all the wonders of this world and universe took the time to create you and He says so; and He knows you even now - whether you are close to Him or far away; whether you call Him friend or unknowable.

2) The Gospel becomes inaccessible with of the story of sin. Something happened a long time ago that broke that relationship. As a result, you are not strong enough to get to God. You cannot be good enough to get to God. You are not smart enough to get to God. There is nothing you can do to get to God in or of yourself. The reason is because you are marred. Because of sin, you are far away from God. Anything against the character of God is sin.

3) The Gospel becomes viable with the story of Jesus. Because you and I couldn’t do anything to fix what was broken between us and God, God took the initiative. He covered all the bases, paid all the debt owing, provided all the necessary things for our relationship with Him to be restored. He did it all. Through Jesus’ life, death on a cross, and resurrection we now have the opportunity to reconnect with our Creator. He has done it all - all the work is done.

4) The Gospel is your life. There is a decision you have to make. Though the Gospel is now viable and accessible, it isn’t yours until you make a decision. The decision is whether you are going to follow Jesus or not. When you follow someone you learn from them and become like them. It starts with a decision to accept the truth - the truth that you need to change. That change involves asking forgiveness for your sins, and then walking through life dropping the bad and taking on the good. To put it simply, it is loving God with all you got, and your neighbour as if he were you.

There are a lot of details that could be added, but those come with time, as we get to know God better. Paul said it is all about being “in Christ” or having “Jesus in us”. It is simple to say, but it will change your life to live those words.

I want to mention 3 things about this passage from John 3. First, this is part of an ongoing conversation. Jesus started off by saying, “You gotta change - You gotta be born again.” Though the terminology didn’t make sense to Nicodemus, he knew it was about faith and our relationship with God.
Secondly, the key verses are 16-18: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Jesus says here if you do nothing, you are under judgement. God is reaching out to you. If you ignore that, you have made your choice. Notice though, and thirdly, Jesus’ mission. Man is already judged - we don’t need to do that. Jesus came to save, to redeem, to restore. Our mission is the same. We are not called to judge, but to pursue Christ-likeness. This leads me to three closing thoughts about what Grace looks like:

1) Grace gives us the Freedom to ask questions because it is a dialogue. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do I shy away from the hard stuff because I don’t know if God can handle it? What kind of God do I believe in if I don’t think He can handle the hard stuff? If I truly believe my faith is about a relationship with the Creator, I better be dialoguing with Him.
2) Grace gives us the freedom to grow because it is a journey. None of us have arrived, and we won’t until we see Jesus face to face. We are not here to judge, but to extend grace. We had a great discussion about legalism and the law at our small group on Thursday. My task is to extend grace to those people around me, not judgment. God is the one responsible for that, but while we have breath in our bodies grace is where we live.
3) Grace gives us the freedom to be ourselves because God loves us. Yes, following Jesus means our lives will change. We are bent to holiness if indeed we are pursuing Jesus. His Spirit is at work in us even if our bodies are dead because of sin. But Jesus died while we were yet sinners! Are you struggling with something? Ask me to pray for you, ask us all to pray for you. We all have struggles of one kind or another. We all are striving to live in obedience to the Spirit, and experience tells us that it usually doesn’t happen overnight. We are all on this same pilgrimage, this road leading to Christ-likeness. Lest us walk with each other.