Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Practices of Our Faith - Sanctification

Philippians 2:1-16 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…”

From the church of the Nazarene Manual (pp 34-35) 

X. Entire Sanctification
13. We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect. It is wrought by the baptism with the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service. Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness. This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.”
14. We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace. We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the impulse to grow in grace. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christ-likeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavour, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost.

We have started a new sermon series. The theme is the best practices of our faith. Each Sunday in the series I want to take one word or key thought that is central to our Christian faith and examine the breadth and depth of it as we understand it as Nazarenes. Last week we looked at salvation and focussed on 3 stories: Nicodemus, Paul, and Peter. Today is sanctification. At some point we will look at sanctification from an historical perspective, but as we focus on the best practices of our faith I want to do it in the context of application. “This is sanctification, but what do I do with it today? How do I engage it in my life where I am at?”
What is sanctification? It is the ability to live holy lives. Who defines holy? Holiness is the character of God. The Bible says God is Holy… it also says God is love. As we look at what holiness means to you and I, it is more than an absence of sin; it is the presence of love. Jesus Himself said that in Matthew 22 when He said the Law and Prophets can be summed up in 2 commandments: Love God with all you got and Love your neighbour as yourself. An online source on Wesley puts it this way: “Entire sanctification is defined in terms of "pure or disinterested love." Wesley believed that one could progress in love until love became devoid of self - interest at the moment of entire sanctification. Thus, the principles of scriptural holiness or sanctification are as follows: sanctification is received by faith as a work of the Holy Spirit. It begins at the moment of new birth. It progresses gradually until the instant of entire sanctification. Its characteristics are to love God and one's neighbour as oneself; to be meek and lowly in heart, having the mind which was in Christ Jesus; to abstain from all appearance of evil, walking in all the commandments of God; to be content in every state, doing all to the glory of God.”
There is the sense that we are saved to something. The event we talked about last week was the beginning of something; not an event in isolation of life. We are saved to be holy. We are saved to be changed into the likeness of Christ. This is one of the things that John Wesley emphasized; that set him apart from his Anglican background. Romans 8:28-29 says “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…” These verses tell us what God’s plan is for His children. We are not saved to go to heaven; that is a by-product of our salvation. We are saved to be conformed to the image of Jesus, Christ-likeness. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Sanctification is the work of God in our life subsequent to salvation that makes us more Christ-like. Petar Neychev, studying at European Nazarene College put it this way: “Sanctification ends up being a process of becoming better in loving. This is why it seems so natural for Wesley to come to his conclusions concerning sanctification’s nature and expression – love inevitably involves a choice, therefore one might choose to not live a life of perfection – sanctification can be lost. Secondly, love is never static, as it involves interaction, which in itself is dynamic – thus, one either grows up towards loving more, or does not. Thirdly, love is not legalistic. Thus, it is clearly no contradiction for Wesley that one that is entirely sanctified is still prone to sin (although not regular, usual, or repetitive). And finally, love is to be maintained, therefore the Christian life is to be lived with a maintenance mentality, as opposed to once-attained – attained-forever.”

See the graphic at the top? Sanctification is that spiritually-based movement to Christ-likeness that starts at salvation, and is completed upon our death when we shall see Jesus face to face. Increasing sanctification is the work of the Spirit in response to our decisions of faith, of surrender. God reveals sin and attitudes, and so we confess our sin and continue to follow Jesus. At some point we get it. The Spirit does that 2nd work of grace and we pray, “Not I, but Jesus. Let me be a living sacrifice to you, Lord.” Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” How do we engage that process into our lives?

First understand that the power sanctifying us is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. Romans 6:1-4 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” That newness of life is holiness. This is of great encouragement to us. We know how hard it is to be holy, to hold every thought and action captive to the character of God. Do you think that is harder than raising the dead? No! As we travel this journey we come to recognize that death is a part of life. Everyone dies. It is inevitable. We are assured of eternal life in the Resurrection. We had a funeral at our church this week; a 91 year old man whose life was celebrated by friends and family alike. Each of us has that moment coming, and we in a sense eagerly await it, for we will be with loved ones gone before us, and also in the very presence of the Creator God for all of eternity.
When we read verse 8 of Romans 6 we understand that sanctification is about living with Jesus. If you are a guy, you can imagine what it would be like to have your spouse or girlfriend beside you. What if she was there 24/7? Would it change what you looked at on TV or what presented itself around you throughout the day? Would it change what kind of words you used? Would it change some of the places you went to? What if we had that sense of Jesus being with us? Ted Haggart was the pastor of a mega church and listed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 influential evangelicals in America. The next year his crisis hit and he confessed to purchasing drugs and of sexual immorality. In the privacy of his life, when he was doing those things, do you think he had a sense of Christ’s presence? We have to have that sense that salvation is not just an event that happened 2, 10, or 50 years ago; it is current in our day to day life. Live with Jesus not just each and every day, but each and every moment. Where does Jesus live? Where did we invite Him when we got saved? Right here, in our heart, and that goes with us everywhere.
How do we do that? Sanctification is about choice, about intention. Why did you come to church today? Was it because you’ve done it for years, or because you wanted to meet God and His people, and worship Him in music and word and deed. Did you come to exercise your spiritual gifts? The problem we have as Christians is not that we pursue sin, but that we stop pursuing God. When we stop intentionally trying to please Him and trying to listen and obey the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction, the door to following our own desires down the path that leads to sin swings wide open and beckons us in. Making no decision is the same as saying no to the choice. Bonnie asks, “Will you go to the store for me?” I sit there absorbed in the newspaper and don’t respond to her question. She asks again and the question slowly begins to enter my consciousness, but time still goes on. She finally pokes me with a sharp stick and I respond absolutely. Until I said, “Yes” I was saying, “No!” I have to be intentional around Bonnie - I want to hear her and respond to her, but sometimes if I don’t make that choice, I go off somewhere in my own little world. It’s the same with God, and the point is this: go through each moment with a conscious intention of following Jesus with all you got. That is sanctification. You are filled with the agape love of God by the Holy Spirit because you have made the decision to follow Him. You have surrendered all of yourself to His will. You get into the Word. You spend time in prayer and devotions and meditations because all these things add to your understanding of God, of His will and character, and of what He is calling you to be and do today.
There is an intentional doing, which consists mostly of acts of love to God or our neighbours in one form or another. There is also an intentional “not doing”, which consists of putting aside the selfishness and sin which so easily besets us. Living without sin is not the goal, loving God as best as we can is. We do that every day in how we treat ourselves and those around us. Husbands, love your wife as Jesus loved the church - He died for it. Help your spouse be all she can be. Wives, love, support, and encourage your husband in his role. Help him to be all he can be spiritually and otherwise. Parents, don’t exasperate your children. Children, obey your parents in the Lord. So many of the encouragements are about family relationships, but they expand from there and apply to all of us. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the standard by which we should be living our life.
The passage we read from Philippians earlier gives us the challenge to work out our salvation - that is the application of sanctification. And in a very specific way - don’t grumble or dispute. We should be walking in the unity of the Spirit. Today, as we close in prayer, renew your commitment to Jesus Christ. Is He talking to you about a bad attitude, a habit, a broken relationship? Give it all to Him. Offer your life as a living sacrifice, and ask Him to change your mind, to change your heart. Ask Him to sanctify you anew in His grace.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Best Practices of our Faith - Salvation

When you look at the news there are tragedies all around us. We have just ended the season of West Niles. There is the pandemic flu coming. There are accidents and violence. Families struggle and relationships are a mess. Parents are estranged from children, spouses separate from one another, children suffer, and evil men have their way. In our lives there is an emptiness in spite of all the stuff we try to cram into that empty place. We cry out to God for help, for salvation, and our Deliverer comes. Sometimes we don’t even know what we need to be saved from, but Jesus comes and the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father, and we are saved.

Salvation: It is a process (rarely happens outside of context) that results in a defining decision. That decision requires humility, but it is a response to God’s work in the heart of the unbeliever.

Let’s look at 3 stories to understand this important truth:

Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) - "You must be born again"
So here we have our first story. In the middle of the night one of the spiritual leaders of Israel comes to Jesus. He comes at night because he doesn’t want to be seen. Jesus does not have a good reputation within the cultural and religious leaders. John was a problem, and then John gave way to Jesus. But the things Jesus said not only challenged the current religious teachings; they were connected to the Old Testament in a very real way. The leaders didn’t know what to make of it. So here comes Nicodemus… and he doesn’t start with a question. He assents to the power he sees in the miracles of Jesus. Jesus cuts right to the chase, to the heart of all. He starts off with a rather startling statement, “If you want to see God, the kingdom of God, you must be born again.”
The culture was all about connecting to God. They knew they were God’s people, His kingdom. The nation was trying to figure out sin and righteousness, trying to understand and obey the Law, the only way they knew how to get to God. And Jesus says that phrase oft repeated, “You must be born again.” In our discussion of salvation we need to start with the words of Jesus. He is the fulfiller of prophecy, the very deity incarnate, so when He speaks, we seek to understand. This phrase has been used for decades by evangelicals in connection with salvation. We can hear Billy Graham speaking to a stadium crowd, waving his Bible, making the declaration, “You must be born again.” He didn’t have to deal with the post-modernists who try to say there are many ways to God, that there is a truth in every religion, every revelation, and no ultimate truth; the hippies were saying that in their day. They can say what they wish, but my Bible doesn’t agree. Jesus said Himself, “I am the way the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me!” Understand, though, that another’s salvation is something we leave up to God. He is the One that peers inside the hearts of man. Salvation is a personal thing, between a person and God and we don’t know what. One who is saved, though, will be changed by that salvation; but that is next week’s message.
“You must be born again.” He doesn’t say you must be born into a good family; or you must be handsome or pretty, or that you must even be a nice person. He says you must be born again. Birth is an event, but also a process. For you and I it is a roughly 9 month gestation period followed by the event of birth. The event itself changes us in the most dramatic ways. From a place of darkness we enter the light. We become more alive than we would have ever thought possible… if we had the where-with-all to think. Given a choice, we wouldn’t be able to see the benefit of birth. We wouldn’t know that we were doomed to die if we stayed where we were. And so at the right time, God moves things along in the way prescribed back in the Garden. And so the non-Christian, the unbeliever, the one who is far from God does not always see the need for God. He does not recognize his or her doom if they stay in their present state. And God comes along and draws them to Himself, so that at the right time, they recognize the Salvation God offers, they believe in Him, and they are born again.

Paul (Acts 9:1-19) - “I am God”
Then we come to Paul; formally known as Saul. Before Acts chapter nine he was a man pursuing God. He had studied the Law and was so sure of himself. He was strong, and used his strength to pursue those who said God was different from His. He would track down the Christians and kill them. And in the middle of his mission of self righteous judgement, God grabbed him for His purposes. Jesus appeared in a blinding light and Paul’s life changed forever. Paul went to the high priest and got official letters from them saying he could arrest followers of the Way and bring them bound to Jerusalem. And so down the road he goes with his men. Do you see him marching? So proud and full of the rightness of his task he was. He was the man of the Law, and the Law demanded judgement. None would find mercy in him for the Law must be satisfied. And then the light shone down on him from heaven. And the voice cries out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul hears and asks who it is he persecutes, and Jesus says, “It is I.” Saul is blind and enters the city of Damascus blind, being led by the hand. For three days he neither eats nor drinks, and he finds peace with God. The God who met Saul on the road to Damascus was the God of history; the fulfiller of prophecy; not some opinion or fly by night theological creation. When you meet Jesus, you meet a man of history as well as a God of eternity. When you meet Jesus He reveals himself as God before you and lays open your soul to your sins. In a very real sense that exposure to your true self, your fallen nature, your sinfulness could sear your spiritual eyes just like Saul’s. When you meet Jesus you may see Him in all His glory, the light of heaven falling around you… and you will know this: You are a sinner. This is the one truth you need to understand about yourself if you are to become a Christian, a follower of Jesus. You have to come face to face with your humanity, your fallenness. Sin is anything that goes against the character of God, and there is no one who has not sinned.
The problem people have is that they think they are not too bad; they haven’t reached the threshold of sin and wrong, beyond which one is judged. Any sin, though, is enough to separate you from God. I am not just talking about ultimate judgement or issues of heaven and hell; I am talking about today. If you have not asked Jesus to forgive you of your sin, you are not forgiven. Jesus’ death on the cross is not applied automatically to all people, both in history and the future. Jesus’ forgiveness is applied upon an individual recognizing they are a sinner and can’t ever be good enough to get to God. That’s why God came to us. So we ask God to forgive us of our sins; we are specific, for our sins are specific. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us. Have you ever come to that point? There are people who have gone to church all their life. They have served on boards, taught Sunday School, and done good works of service; but they aren’t born again - they were too proud to admit that they themselves were sinners, that they were far from God all the while they were working for Him. Church is about community, but at the heart of that community is that we are all sinners walking along this path of life, pursuing the God who extends His grace and offers salvation rich and free. All we have to do is reach out and take it. We do that by admitting we are a sinner, far from God; and we recognize that Jesus is Lord. If our only message was “you are wrong, you are a sinner”, we would be preaching the Law, for that is what the Law does. Jesus offers forgiveness from the condemnation. Listen to the third story.

Peter (Matthew 16:13-19) - "I will change your life"
We have Peter, who is man with a menial job. He is a fisherman, his brother is a fisherman, and his friends are fishermen. He is working at his trade when along comes the Messiah. His brother is excited for Peter to meet Jesus. Jesus calls to Peter and says, “Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men.” And Peter does follow Jesus. For some 3 years he follows this itinerant preacher, balancing his following with looking after his family I don’t know how that worked, but I do know God provided what Peter and his family needed. Jesus dies and is resurrected. Wonder of wonders, and they wait. The Holy Spirit moves and Peter becomes not only a preacher, but the head of the church in Jerusalem. How does one go from fisherman to head of a church? In peter’s case, it started with his conversion. Peter believes that Jesus is the Messiah, but that doesn’t save him. He is not born again at that point. We see the progression of salvation as Peter interacts with Jesus and learns. Finally, in Matthew 16, it clicks. Previously, Jesus warns His disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees”. He is saying beware of the teachings that push the Law, that teach that it is the Law that saves. Jesus finally turns to His disciples and asks them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” After receiving the answers Jesus then asks for their statement, “But who do you say that I am?” It is Peter that answers, and I believe this is the moment for Peter when he is born again. His statement is simple, “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God!” Peter knew he was a sinner. He was confronted with it again and again. Jesus needs more than just recognition of fallenness. Jesus asks for belief, for faith. In our fallen state we need to recognize that it is Jesus who has the answers, and so we surrender our lives to Him. We make Jesus our Lord. When we recognize we are sinners we recognize Jesus as Savior, as our Forgiver; but when we recognize Jesus as the answer, as the Messiah, we make Him the Lord of our life.
There’s the joke about the one armed fisherman who said it was this big (lift one arm up). Get it? Without the second arm, the other end of the fish, our claim means nothing. So as it is with salvation you need both statements. You need both halves to make the whole. You are a sinner, and so surrender your life - Jesus becomes your Savior and Lord! This is the heart of the Good News. Even though life is a mess and we are powerless to make things ultimately okay, God has already provided the Way. He has already done the work. Are you feeling crushed? Are you spent? Are you tired of trying to do it on your own? Here is the invitation from Jesus Himself: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
Some people come very close. They struggle with pride which makes them think it is shameful to come forward in a church, shameful to admit they are weak. A man martyred for his faith said many years ago, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”. Don’t let the pride of the years stop you from having a vital relationship with Jesus.

What people need to know to be saved:
They are a sinner, but Jesus is the Savior.
They must surrender (because they are a sinner) and let Jesus be Lord.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Psummer Psalm Pseries - Psalm 150: Praise

Psalm 150
1Praise the LORD!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty expanse. 
2Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. 
3Praise Him with trumpet sound;
Praise Him with harp and lyre. 
4Praise Him with timbrel and dancing;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. 
5Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with resounding cymbals. 
6Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD!

Eric Liddell was a missionary in China with the London Missionary Society. He had quite the life getting there. He had been born in China to missionary parents, but from ages 5 - 23 he spent in England and Scotland in school and university. He became quite the sportsman, leading rugby and cricket teams and setting several records as well for racing. In 1923 he set a British record for the 100 yards at 9.7 seconds, a record that stood for 35 years. He twice won the annual Scottish Amateur Athletic Association’s sprint contests in the 100, 220, and the 440 yard, only the 4th runner to win all three in a single year.
At the 1924 Olympics in Paris he won the bronze medallion in the 200 m finals and gold in the 400 m. The 400 was his second choice as he did not run the 100 because it was on Sunday. The day of the 400 metres race came, and as Liddell went to the starting blocks, an American masseur slipped a piece of paper into Liddell's hand with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30, "Those who honour me I will honour." Liddell ran with that piece of paper in his hand. He not only won the race, but broke the existing world record with a time of 47.6 seconds.By the end of the following year Eric Liddell was in China, teaching as a missionary.
By 1941 things were getting dangerous in China because of the Japanese/Chinese war so he sent his pregnant wife and 2 daughters to Canada to stay with her family. In 1943 he was interned at a Camp with other missionaries as well as some people from the regular population. He gave up an opportunity to leave the camp, letting a pregnant woman take his place. He died of an inoperable brain tumour 5 months before liberation. Everywhere he went he was a leader and a man of integrity. That’s what stands out to me as I read of his life. Whether it was in sports or ministry or a prisoner, the love and light of Jesus was his reputation in life. He was a man of integrity and lived his faith for all to see.

As we look at this Psalm, then, we look at a bigger picture of life. The Psalmist in these 6 verses gives us quite a variety of approaches to praising God, and so we will dwell here for a few minutes.

1) The first phrase we have connected to praise is location. In God’s sanctuary (in our bodies/life, for we are the temple of God). In the Old Testament there was a very specific place to worship - the temple. You hear that in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan lady at the well. Jesus expanded on that and post resurrection God’s sanctuary became our the hearts and lives of His followers. This can be connected to the purposes of our lives. In the movie based on the life of Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire, we see Eric’s sister challenging him about running and races when there were so many needs in the world around them. Eric Liddell replied, “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure.” Where in your life do you feel that? Where in your life do you feel that deep down sense of not just God’s presence, but of His pleasure? John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us abundant life - and that abundance is connected to why we are here; to why we were created.
Sometimes Bonnie asks me the question, “If I could do anything in my life, anything at all, what would it be?” It is a challenge that is answered out of what we do with Jesus every day. If we answer that question from our self (outside of Jesus); out of our wants and desires, we not only miss that connection we have to the eternal, but we misunderstand what is at the heart of happiness. There’s that bumper sticker that says “He who dies with the most toys wins”, and how empty and sad is that? We need to connect to our creation in Jesus, to the purpose that Philippians 3:12 states that we were laid hold of by Christ for. It is out of that purpose, that relationship with our Creator, that we can answer that question and find true contentment and happiness. Praise the Lord in and through your life.

2) The Psalmist then opens up the location of praise to the mighty expanse - in the whole world around us. The second part of this first verse is connected to the first. As we praise God in our life, in who we are, we will begin to praise Him wherever we go. Remember those verses from Psalm 139? Whether heaven or hell, whether light or dark, God is there with us and knows us in those places. His promise again and again in the Scriptures comes forth that He will never leave us nor forsake us. And so we have Eric Liddell reminding us in his own words that which we have come to know as being “missional”. Worship is co-existent with life. He said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ, or we repel them from Christ.” Where is the hope in Christ, if it does not come from us? Who will share Jesus with our neighbour if we do not? Who will help the homeless if we do not join?
Praising God is about recognizing God’s worth, about living within His priorities, His kingdom. His is a Kingdom of Grace, so we extend that Kingdom of Grace wherever we are. Our mission field is the world around us. Our reach is extended through the missions programs of our churches and of our families as they go places we cannot. They become extensions of our faith, of our witness as we pray. God is so great and mighty and what a privilege to be found useful by Him because of His grace. And this is the next point, which is both obvious and mysterious at the same time.

3) For His deeds - He has done mighty things! As we read the OT stories we see God at work down through the ages. One of the 2 courses offered this fall which we are facilitating here is Tracing the Story of God in the Bible. You can see God at work in history, His love and grace at every turn. You also see righteous judgement which flows out of His holiness. Those deeds are obvious, and the people God used, well, there’s the mystery. Abraham founded a nation, but told Pharaoh Sarah was his sister because he was afraid. David’s sins are legendary. Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land because of his sins. Ananias and Sapphira were struck down dead when caught in a lie. The mystery is that God uses ordinary people, people who struggle not just with small things, but big things. God chose to use a person to help found two world-wide charismatic movements back in the late 60’s even though he struggled with homosexuality. Nobody could deny God’s power was there, but why him? A Campus Crusade for Christ worker struggled with that, because he did all the right things and said all the right things, and went to all the right places, but he didn’t receive the same kind of power from God. God is Sovereign, and His grace unfathomable.
Never compare yourself to another, but look to God for who you are and where you are going. That is the truth that comes out of this. It also helps us to understand perhaps God’s greatest work - Salvation. God has done a work in you that is better than any of us deserved. That is grace, and He offered it while we were yet sinners. And God is still doing that work - whether you are 6 or 86. Praise God for saving us from our sins, for deliverance from our bondage to sin. Ezekiel 36:26 talks about God removing our heart of stone, and replacing it with a heart of flesh. Romans 6:20 talks about us being slaves to sin, and it is from this bondage we are saved. Salvation is not just eternal life - it is much bigger than that. Our salvation is to result in sanctification; to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Jesus Christ; to be changed so that we may love more completely. For those who think love is mamby-pamby, you couldn’t be more wrong. Have another look at the tough love in the life of Jesus; of the tough love of God as He bared His holy arm in the Old Testament. Stand up, take a stand, love, and praise the Lord.

4) With instruments - stuff at hand. Lastly, we are encouraged to make some noise; a joyful noise about our faith. Half the Psalm (3 verses) focuses on this. It is ironic that probably more churches have split over the issue of music than any other thing in the last 50 years. Look at the words: trumpet, harp and lyre, timbrel and dancing, stringed instruments and pipe, and cymbals… twice. How can we allow the differences of culture break our fellowship? It ultimately doesn’t matter what we use, as long as in sincerity we give it to God. Practically anything can be an instrument, a tool in praise to god. Eric Liddell used his ability to run as a means of both worship and outreach. My twin brother Dan uses his fondness of remote control planes to connect with unbelievers so that he may be a bit of spiritual salt in their lives. Whenever we come against differences we need to find what is most important. God has said it is not the sacrifices nor the offerings, nor the buildings or programs that pleases Him. It is the heart that is after Him. Let’s make it our goal this year to echo that verse that challenges us in whatever we do, in word or deed, to do all to the glory of God. Whatever it is we are involved with, do it to reveal who God is. Do it to reveal God’s character in you. Speak with blessings to those around you  that you may glorify His name.
Whatever your circumstances, whatever your situation, praise the Lord.
Listen to this encouragement from James 1: 2 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” Know that God is sovereign; that He who began a good work in you will finish it. Know that God is in control. Live your life within those parameters and God will use you greatly. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”