Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Prophecies of Christmas - Emmanuel

Isaiah 7:10-16 “Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven."
But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!"
Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”

Matthew 1:18-25 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

The History Lesson: 
Isaiah was born into an influential, upper class family. In his 60 years (from 740-680 BC) he rubbed shoulders with royalty and gave advice against foreign alliances, encouraging Judah to trust the Lord. He also says much about the redemptive work of the Messiah and says more about the person and work of Christ than any other book of the Old Testament. He attacked the social ills of the day as he say saw those abuses as symptoms of spiritual declension. Most of his life was lived in Jerusalem and tradition says he was martyred during the reign of Manasseh. He saw the northern kingdom carried off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Ahaz was king in Judah. The northern kingdom (Ephraim) and Syria (Aram) were rebelling against their overlord, Assyria. They were attempting to force Judah into their alliance, even if it meant disposing Ahaz and substituting a puppet king in his place. What was Ahaz to do? Isaiah was given a word from the Lord that Ahaz should just trust in the Lord and all would be well. Ahaz was inclined to trust in Assyria - again, an outside nation, rather than God. He said the right words, but God knew his heart; so when Ahaz wouldn’t ask for a sign, God gave him one. And the sign was this - “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” This prophecy referred to a young woman who was unmarried at the time, and within 12 years the people against Ahaz were indeed forsaken and taken over by Assyria.

How it was Applied:
That may have been the end of those words, but it wasn’t. Another person echoed those words, and said that passage from Isaiah was Messianic; that the Anointed One was foretold to have been born of a virgin, and that His name would be Emmanuel, or God With Us. In his book Matthew gives us the “Jewish” slant of the life of Jesus. He wrote this Gospel to Jews to answer their questions about Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be their Messiah. So in Matthew 1:22-23 we find this: “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."

An old segment of the church get really caught up in the wrong part of this prophecy. They get stuck on the virgin birth, and begin to postulate that must mean something else for Mary and how she was born. They raise Mary to a place between us and God, when this verse really emphasizes God with us and that the Mediator has come - His name is Jesus for He shall save the people from their sins. The wonder of Jesus is not really how He was born, but that He was born. A little baby, in the middle of an oppressed, tiny country, in a manger because there was no room in the inn; yet it was God incarnate. John 1 says that He was in the world and that He came to His own. Would we have done any better? The Jews were caught up in the Law, in tradition, in their synagogues. How they did things were so important, because God had given them the Law. What they couldn’t understand was how a man could fulfill the Law, and in its fulfilling the Law was replaced with a New Covenant. They didn’t get the “God with us” part. We look back and see how plain and simple the Gospel is, that Jesus did what no man could, and in doing that left us the promise that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name”. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

And God is still among us. Revelation 3 says that He stands at the door of our heart and knocks, and if we open up to Him He will come in. God is with us…today; but is He in your heart? People in Israel of long ago were staying in an inn, snoring through the night without realizing what was happening in the shed out back. People passed Mary and Joseph as they made their way down to Egypt. They would travel through Nazareth, perhaps even picking up a yoke from Joseph the carpenter without realizing that one of the kids running around the place was the Son of God. They never noticed nor gave it another thought that they were in the presence of deity. People are out in this city shopping till they drop, planning Grey Cup parties, working and doing the stuff of life - all passing by the One who can answer their deepest longings and questions. They put it off because they are so busy, too important, they don’t feel the urgency of the hour. They missed the very presence of the Creator of the Ends of the Earth in their midst. So we go out, just as the disciples did, and tell people about what we have seen and experienced: indeed, the Son of God is with us. Don’t miss His presence in your life because you are too busy or too upset with Him. Understand that God can be in your life in all that you do.

Applying it Today:
Our culture has materialized so much of life. We have to find that balance between living in this world as salt and light and living an incarnational faith. Christians have always looked at the world and seen the Gospel wherever they find themselves. They early church used a fish, as in the Greek the acrostic Jesus, Christ, God’s  Son, Savior spelled “FISH” (Icthus). We have crosses on or inside our buildings. What if we came to North America today and it was totally secular? How would we talk about the Gospel? This holiday season let us remember that God is with us.

When you look at a Christmas tree, remember the wood of the manger that rubs up against the wood of the cross. Jesus was lifted up on a tree, and in being lifted up brought salvation near for us all.

When you see the lights, think of the stars in the night sky and how the Wisemen followed one star to Jesus. On top of the tree we often see an angel, not unlike one who came with the proclamation of the Good News and of peace toward men to the shepherds. When you see the gifts decorated with colourful paper and bows and ribbons, be reminded of the greatest gift, that God came among us and gave His life so that we would have relationship with Him restored anew. When you see the candy cane be reminded of the purity of the lamb dying on the cross, His blood shed so that like a Shepherd He could rescue His beloved sheep.

Let the dark nights remind us of what we were saved from, that God pulled us out of darkness, of being slaves to sin, and set us free. You see that jolly old Santa, a marketing icon given its final form by the Coca Cola company, know that Jesus died for him as much as the next person. When you see the colourful decorations, think of that celebration when we shall see Jesus face to face.

I am not saying that we “spiritualize” everything. I am saying we need to relate our faith to the culture today, because God is with us today. His presence is more than history, it is beyond history. His presence is more than building and hymns and choruses. It is more than stuff, it is beyond stuff. Live your life in the truth that God is with you, in your life, right now, and throughout your week. Open your life and your mind to that understanding, that truth. Surrender to Him and let Him do a miracle this holiday season in and through you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Greatest Gift

Philippians 2:1-11 “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.”

We just celebrated Remembrance Day. King George V of the United Kingdom in 1919 formalized what we know of this day because the armistice for WW1 was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The Great War was over and there was recognition of the great cost of war. Jesus talked about that cost in terms of love. He said that the greatest love a man can have is to lay down his life for another. In war, that is what happens. Whether we agree with war or not, whether we support the aims of the conflict or not isn’t the issue; the issue is for Jesus was the price one was willing to pay for love.
I have fond memories of Christmas as a kid growing up. I remember going down early with my twin and walking into the living room which was lit only by the lights of the tree. Work socks were full of stocking stuff, presents around the tree wrapped in bright and coloured paper. I remember one year getting a long red metal toboggan. It went fast and was one of my favourite gifts. It was used over several years and had the dents to show it. Some of my Christmas memories and desires a kid has morphed into some of the traditions we do today as a family. We have a little plastic train that we put under our tree. It goes round and round on track that gets duct taped together. We have a wonderful box that has a drawer for each of the 24 days in December leading up to Christmas Day in which we put a little something for the kids. Each morning they are up and looking in it for that day’s treat. I have also had some wonderful gifts. A few years ago I got an M500 Palm Pilot. It was great to have an electronic Calendar and Adress Book to take with me. Unfortunately, one day I had stuck it in my back pocket and upon sitting down I cracked the glass. I can still use it to play music, but since I can only see half of the screen and it doesn’t respond to the stylus well, it sits idle much of the time. More recently I received a newer Palm Pilot. It had more memory and was easier to sync with my online Calendar. Now if I could only find it, it would be great! It’s black, about this big… let me know…
What’s my greatest gift? Though Bonnie didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper on Christmas, she really is the greatest gift I have received on this earth. Greater than Bonnie? Well, the only thing is what others have already called the Greatest Gift. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. The gift God gave us that resulted in the ability to have a relationship with Him is rooted in His character. God gave us the gift of love - Love is the Greatest Gift there is. God set the example of Love, and of giving love. All the gifts that Bonnie has given me, that I have given her and the kids, is all about love. We love so we give. And we give love in so many ways.
As we enter this Christmas season I want to live you with a few thoughts about giving love this year because it models what Jesus has done in you and I. Because we have been given these things, we can and need to turn around and give them to those around us.

Love means we give freedom. God gave us freedom, freedom to choose. We have freedom because we were created in the image of the God of Love. We have the freedom to choose to accept the gift that God so freely offers, the gift of salvation. Jesus died while we were yet sinners, not while we were good enough. He holds that gift out even now to those who are yet sinners, those who are old in their sins, and those still young. You and I need to reach out in love and offer the gift of freedom to those around us. Freedom doesn’t mean we condone or we think grace is cheap; it means we see the value of the individual who was created in the image of our God. It means we refuse to pass judgement on them, because God is not finished with them yet. We need to offer it while people are in the midst of being wrong, in the midst of sin, in the midst of our messy lives. Jesus saves, not us. We are not called to throw the Bible or the Law at people, we are called to throw love at them. We give people the freedom to say, “Not now, Jesus” and still be all we can be to them. What does that look like? I think it looks like compassionate ministry. Jesus said when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, when we invite the stranger in, clothe the naked and visit the sick and the prisoner we have done that to Him. We need to see people in need as Jesus sees them. He sees them as the prodigal’s father sees his son who has gone astray out in the world. God longs to see the lost come home. Jesus says that our faith has to be in our actions of love or it is not faith. So we give people the freedom to make mistakes, to be who they are. In the midst of that we share the Good News we have experienced as we are able. We love them because they are our brothers and sisters. Give the gift of freedom this season.

Love means we give hope. There is hope in this life and the next. God has shown us that we can change. As Nazarenes we believe that the power of God is at work in us through the Holy Spirit changing us into the likeness of Jesus. Isn’t that a wonderful truth? When we extend people freedom, we do it knowing that God can change them. They say first impressions are lasting impressions. The truth is people change. Pastor Debbie works in the prison system which is designed to rehabilitate people. One of the biggest factors for a successful reintegration into society, into community upon their release is some connections with people. Who will give them a chance? Who will give them hope, or who will just see them and judge them as they were? We believe God changes, right? How do we put that into practice? I look forward to pastor Debbie sharing her ministry in the federal penitentiaries with us, and allowing us to enter into her ministries in practical ways in the months and years to come. There are people in our city caught up in cycles of addictions and abuse and ministries like the Bridge on 20th work hard to provide hope to those people. They provide resources and tools to help them get out of those destructive patterns, and we can join with them in giving that hope. The work of Christian Counselling Services headed up by Bee Jay Carter speaks hope into their clients. Your Best You speaks hope to women who have been pushed down by people and the world so they have a hard time seeing worth and value in themselves. This season, give hope.

Love means we give joy. The Psalmist especially speaks of the joy of our salvation. So often we look at what is not working, what is wrong, what we haven’t got. We need to look at what we do have, what is right. That is what Philippians 4:8 means when it says “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Life is messy. It is depressing. It is hard. But God is love, and even “though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The message of hope we give in freedom is joy. We have the answer to life. We know the last chapter and it is wonderful. Doesn’t an eternity in the presence of your Creator give you even a smidgen of joy? God has given us joy. Give the gift of joy this season. Let people see your excitement about God and His ability to change us both today and in the life to come. My dad said his funeral needs to be a celebration. He knows when he sees Jesus face to face he will be changed. There may be temporary grief, but he is entering an eternity without any sorrow or sadness or pain or grief. Let the joy of the season be the joy of your salvation.

God is good, God is great, God is love. We have been given the Greatest Gift in the life and death of Jesus. We celebrate the incarnation over the next 6 weeks, and in a few months the death and resurrection. We experience in so many ways that gift in our faith, in our day to day walk with Jesus. Turn around and give that same gift of love this season to those around you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Remembrance Day Service - 2009

Ephesians 6:10-20 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Christianity has a long history. We may not be familiar with church history over the last 1900 years but we know the stories from the life of Jesus. We know the older Hebrew stories. When I say King David, what stories come to mind? Throughout the Scriptures are admonitions to remember. The Jewish feasts and celebrations were all about remembering key events from the past. We are called to make markers in our life so when we are going through rough times we can look at something tangible and be reminded of God’s faithfulness, even when our emotions are going haywire.

Today we want to remember our Canadian heritage around the world. Canada’s military has pursued peacekeeping activities and defended freedom internationally for a long time. Do we remember what the Canadians accomplished in wars gone by? What about WW2?

At the start of WW2 an agreement had been announced for a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan to be centered in Canada. This project alone trained more than 131,000 aircrew personnel for the Commonwealth. Canada contributed 72,800 pilots, navigators, aerial gunners and bombardiers, and flight engineers. These Canadians saw service in almost every theatre of war.

The First Canadian Army was the senior Canadian operational formation in Europe during the Second World War. By the end of 1943 Canadian formations in the UK consisted of three infantry divisions, two armoured divisions, and two independent armoured brigades.
Canadians were instrumental in the capture of Caen in 1944. They also won another major victory in the closing of the Falaise gap later the same summer. In the costly and difficult battle of the Scheldt estuary that autumn, the Canadians cleared the sea passage to Antwerp, already in Allied hands. In the bitter battle along the Hochwald Ridge in February 1945, Canadian losses were extremely heavy. This battle opened the final attack across the Rhine, which was a prelude to the unconditional surrender by Germany on May 7, 1945. A part of the army had been instrumental in Sicily and Italy before joining the rest of the Canadian army in north west Europe.

The reality of war is filled with violence and pain and death. But the heart of WW2 was a struggle for freedom. Freedom from oppression. Freedom from fear. Freedom to make choices in life. Freedom to live and to love. Isn’t that something worth fighting for, worth dying for? Many of us have relatives involved in the armed forces. My grandfather was drafted in WW1 but never got off Canadian soil before the war ended.

Many of our soldiers who fought did not return, and we remember them today. We remember that our freedom was bought at great cost, by those who paid the ultimate price. And they did not die in vain, for we all share in the freedom they brought us. The Global Symposium of Peaceful Nations recently named Canada as the most peaceful country in the North and Central America and Caribbean region and put it eighth place worldwide on its global peace index. Canadian ambassador Gary Doer accepted the award at the symposium in Washington last Sunday.

We look around today and we still have wars and rumours of war. Our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters are serving in Afghanistan and other places around the globe. Violence and death reigns in some of those places, but our soldiers go to bring Hope to the vulnerable; Help to the powerless. As I read testimonies and letters of soldiers from the past, they talk about their service in that currency of Hope; Hope that they would make a difference; Hope that because they are there in those places freedom may come.

Many of those soldiers had a faith they took with them. It wasn’t a faith based on an institution, but faith based on a relationship with a God of Hope. Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospel of John says that “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed!” So we remember those soldiers who have died in the pursuit of freedom. We remember the price that was paid for our freedom. Know this, though, that there is a place inside each of us that no enemy can touch. No one can put bonds or shackles or imprison that place. It is that place where the breathing part of us resides; the part of us distinct from these fleshy bodies;  the part of us that gives power and reason to these physical bodies; and at the core of that place resides a connection to the eternal. It is in that place that we can meet the Creator, the One that made us with a Purpose. Jesus said that He came that we might have life, life abundant. In the midst of war or peace, you can have a hope of the eternal - Jesus Himself said what is arguably the most well-known verse in the Bible - For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not die spiritually, but have eternal life.

So we remember and we pray God’s blessings on those gone before us, and for an enduring Hope in our own lives, on this Day of Remembrance.

That is the words I shared with the legion and residents of 2 seniors facilities this past week. There is hope. For you and I, though, the call goes beyond hope. You and I are on the front lines of another battle. We are called to become more like Jesus as we mature in the faith - what is at the heart of Jesus' finished work on the cross? To overcome and destroy the work of Satan. He fought a spiritual warfare that dogged Him his whole life. From Herod trying to kill Him as a baby to Pilate allowing Him to be crucified, He was constantly involved in a spiritual war. We can’t even try to understand it as just a mental or spiritual conflict, for Jesus died in that conflict. It affects our physical world. So the call for us today is to speak, “Peace” and “Hope” to those around us, but it is also to roll up our sleeves and step forward ourselves to the front lines. The enemy is coming against us to take captives, to destroy. Who will stop them? A prophet of old speaking the words of God said, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.” There is a gap in our world today. The forces of hell array against us in this church, in this city, in this nation, and around the world. And the challenge is for you and I to step up and offer our services to the King of Kings. is now happening. Your Best You small group is on and another conference is slated for the last week in January downtown at the Bridge On 20TH. Christmas is coming. There are many other opportunities to engage the enemy. Follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, cinch up the armour of God and in pray, let us go out and stand in that gap.

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Their hope in God and their trust in His Word carry them through their daily battles. “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 119:114.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Best Practices of Our Faith - Evangelism Part 2

John 1:1-14 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (NASB)

Salvation: Lewis Chafer notes 33 gifts given to us in the salvation instant. In Volume 3 of his 8 volume Systematic Theology work he explains the changes salvation brings in details. This is who you are in Christ! You can do amazing things - this is on top of all the other neat strengths and gifts He has given you as an individual.

There are 3 priorities I want to leave with you about sharing your faith. Too often we can get caught up in programs or details or ourselves or fear when we try to share your faith. Relax and be yourself, but think about these 3 things.

Initiative: We read in 1st John that we love, we are capable of love, because God first loved us. Go took the initiative to restore the broken relationship with us. It is called the incarnation; where God became flesh, God became man. He went out of His comfort zone, gave up His rights and privileges, and became one of us. John 1:12 says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The book of Romans tells us while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us. God modeled initiative with us; we can follow in His steps. I have seen some studies where they asked non-Christians whether they would go to church and what it would take to get them there. It was amazing how many said they would go if they were invited by a friend, and it was equally depressing that most of them said they had never been invited. Take a chance this year and invite a friend out to something. Maybe it won’t be a morning service, maybe it will. Maybe it will be our Christmas banquet, or another special meeting we do for fellowship. Maybe it will be a special Bible study or something we hold in our house. If you want me to come and do a study for some people who need Jesus, all you have to do is ask and I will be there (At least in Saskatoon). There are some great studies we can get for those wanting to discuss religion, or who want to know more about Christianity.
How many of us started going to church because our grandparents or friends invited us? Billy Graham Crusades were so successful not just because Billy preached from the Bible, but because many of the people were there because some Christian friend or family member took them. You are the only link to Jesus for some of the people in your life. Take the initiative, and pray for the opportunities.

Intentional: When football is played, 12 guys line up against 12 guys (The NFL has its roots in the CFL so...). Do they go out on the field and wander around, wondering if something might come their way? No! They have set plans on both offence and defence. Even if they aren’t catching the ball they go out and run a pattern to draw the defence away from where the ball is going. While watching the Riders play yesterday, I heard that Hamilton’s offensive line has not allowed a sack of the quarterback in the last 3 games. Those guys on the offensive line have a job to do, even if they never plan on touching a ball for the entire game. Without them, the quarterback is in big trouble.
So it is with witnessing. That word witness is about having a testimony of an event. When we talk about witnessing for our faith, we are referring to what God has done in our lives. You have to be intentional; intentional about understanding your story and intentional about witnessing. God has a playbook for your life. Quarterbacks carry all their plays on a little wrist thing - yours is here in this book called a Bible. Get to know your Playbook inside out.
There are 3 stories in life. The first is God’s story. We talked about that last week. That’s the story of God redeeming people. It begins in creation with the creation of man in His image, runs through the Fall in the Garden of Eden and then what God did to restore that broken relationship. It is about Him becoming a man so that in dying for our sins we are given the freedom to follow Him as we turn to God in faith.

The second story is your story. It has 3 parts. They are:
1) Life before God
2) How you met Jesus; how you “got saved”
3) The change that God has done in your life since

When I was a kid I know I lived for myself. I had good ethics because I grew up in a good family concerned about community, but I had no hope nor footing in life. One day after church I went home and gave my life to Jesus. I had heard the stories of God in the Bible, and I came to understand that for hope and a footing, I needed Jesus to forgive my sin and I needed to follow Him. Jesus has never left me since. I have had good times and a few rough times in the past 40 years since Jesus came into my life - but I have never been left on my own, and I have come to understand fully why I am here on this planet. Life is messy, but God is love.
That is my story in a nut shell. You need to be able to articulate that story for yourself. You don’t have to dwell and relate just how bad or sinful you were; we get it. You need to share that encounter with God where you realized you needed Jesus. You can simply lay out the way to Jesus as you explain what happened in your life. The third part is where you talk about what Jesus has done in your life. What has He done. This is a good exercise in to help look at the reality of God in you.
As we read both the Old and New Testaments we see again and again lives changed by Jesus and God’s grace. The book of Acts again and again shows God at work. How does that compare to your story - what is your story? One question I like to ask new people I have met whom I know is a Christian is how they came to be following Jesus. That is your story. Take some time this week and write out your story. Keep it simple, and just follow those three parts.

Listen: The third story is the other person’s, the one who doesn't know Jesus yet. You have been challenged to be praying for a few people who need Jesus. How well do you know their story; their struggles? In order to know that you have to ask questions, but then you have to listen. Understand that it is God who saves. We can’t talk someone into heaven. We simply share what God is doing and has done in our life, and then ask people where they are at. We listen. We want to know where they are at so we can pray for them, and provide the answers to many of life’s problems through Jesus. We want to be a real friend, not just have an agenda to “Reach them” for Jesus. Yes, they do need Jesus and they probably don’t know it, but it is easier to love someone into the kingdom than to talk them in. In your listening, the Spirit can give you the right words to share and the right things to do to help. If you are too noisy and full of yourself, you can miss God’s message. You can and will miss the key needs they have. Is their marriage falling apart? Don’t push that away just because you want them to “get saved”. God will meet them in the midst of their crisis. Listen and let God lead you. It is a holy thing to see someone begin to follow Jesus. It is amazing that He uses us as part of that process.