Thursday, May 28, 2009

Revelation- Our First Love

This week we looked at what will probably be our last "YouPick" series topic for at least a while with upcoming VBS, camp, revival, etc.  I hope to do this again either later in the year or next year.  I admit it has been a bit challenging to prepare messages of topics given to me by the students instead of how I normally do things.  It has been good though as it has stretched me a bit.

For this final talk I spoke on a topic that I had originally tried to ignore and that was the book of Revelation.  This was actually the only topic that more than one student submitted but to be honest at first I was intimidated by the thought of preparing one sermon out of the book of Revelation.  I mean, where do you even start.  You definitely can't cover the entire book in one night.  But after talking about it and praying and studying, we only looked at 7 verses.  I began the night giving the background behind the book and about what was going on in John's life as he was exiled.  I encouraged the students to not be intimidated by the book when reading it and to not look to deeply at the numbers, symbols, and prophecy but to focus on Jesus Christ.  I talked about the seven churches that are addressed and we focused primarily on the church at Ephesus, aka The Loveless Church.

If we look at Revelation 2:1-7 we see Jesus address the church at Ephesus which is the first of seven churches addressed.  Verse 1 begins with some statements that can tend to be confusing because it begins with the use of symbols.  We see mentioned 7 lampstands and 7 stars.  The 7 stars represents the messengers who represent the 7 churches and the fact that Christ holds them in His hands means that He controls the church and its leaders.  The 7 lampstands represents the 7 churches.  The number 7 itself represents completeness in the Bible and so these 7 churches are representative of all churches.  Ok now that we got that covered as we read on verses 2-7 we see both good and bad pointed out.

The Good
-He states that He knows their good deeds, the church at Ephesus did not tolerate evil and they exercised spiritual discernment.
-He also states that they remained faithful to God and had the right driving motive- Jesus Christ
-He says in verse 6 that they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans.  The Bible never says specifically who the Nicolaitans were except it leads us to know they were a heretical group.  According to Irenaeus they were followers of Nicolas who was selected as a deacon in Acts 6 but that he was a false believer and heretic who led a group of people astray.  This group was known for living in immorality and tried to assault the church with sensual temptations.  The church at Ephesus did not tolerate their actions and did hated their deeds.  As Christians we are to hate the sin, but still love the sinner.

The Bad
-Jesus says that they have lost their first love which was their love for Jesus Christ and for each other

Lost their Love for Christ
-We all maybe at one time or another have went through a season where we become mechanical Christians or just going through the motions.  When we were saved we were full of love for Jesus and wanted to do everything we could for Him, but over time we lose that fire.  Just knowing about God isn't enough, we must know Him intimately and deeply.
Lost their Love for Each Other
-Out love for others depends on our relationship with God.  If there is someone you can't seem to love, then you may have left your first love

Verse 5 tells us that losing your first love is the first step to destruction, but it also tells us what to do when we recognize this fault.  We are to Remember, Repent, and Repeat.  Remember the time when you were first saved and the love you experienced.  Repent for falling away and losing the fire and love for other and for Jesus.  Repeat- do the deeds you did when you were first saved and seek to grow closer to Christ daily.

You never truly love anyone/anything until you first experience the true love of Jesus Christ and are saved.  I encourage you today to examine yourself and see if you may have lost your first love, the love for Jesus Christ.  If you have never accepted the love of Jesus and have never been saved, then I encourage you to take that step today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jonah

We continued our YouPick series this week, taking suggestions from the students on what they want to hear.  I gave them the option to vote last week to talk about the life of Jonah or the life of David.  The vote was almost even and since I have a series I can do on David at some point I thought we would look at Jonah.  I kicked off the night with a Lo-Depth Bible study video on Jonah that I got from Bluefish that is hilarious.  The point of the video is that if you don't go in-depth in the Bible then you are not getting the whole picture.  I know that when we think about Jonah, we usually only think about him being swallowed by the fish which is the basis of the first 2 chapters of Jonah.  But chapters 3 and 4 have a strong message as well.  So I broke up the night into 2 parts:

What We Usually Know About Jonah (Chapters 1 & 2)
-God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people that God is going to judge them for the way they have been living
-Instead Jonah goes to Joppa where he gets on a ship going to Tarshish in hopes of running away from God
-God sends a storm
-The people on board pray to their gods while Jonah is asleep down below
-They ask him to pray to his god and he realizes it is his fault that the storm is taking place
-He has the crew throw him over and the storm calms
-God arranges a fish to swallow Jonah where he will stay for 3 days and nights
-While inside the fish he prays, crying out to God and even praising Him, and then God orders the fish to spit Jonah out

The main point of this is to not run from God.  If God is calling you to do something for Him, or to stop sinning then God will do whatever it takes to get your attention.  This can be very scary so we should not even give Him the option, we should be obedient.

What We Usually Forget About Jonah (Chapters 3 & 4)
-God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh a second time to deliver His message
-Jonah does what God has him to do
-The King of Nineveh issues a decree throughout the city for the people to mourn, pray to God, and stop living evil lives
-God sees their change and so He decides not to carry out His judgement on the city
-Jonah gets angry with God- partially because he didn't like the people of Nineveh and also because he became prideful and did not want what he had predicted to not come true.  He was worried he would look like an idiot
-Jonah goes to the east side of the city to watch and see what happens to the city (quite funny when he already knew that God had decided to not destroy them)
-While sitting God arranges a leafy plant to grow over Jonah's head and shade him which he enjoys
-Then God arranges a worm to eat through the stem of the plant, killing it, and arranges a scorching wind to blow on Jonah
-Jonah gets angry again and says that he would rather die than live like that
-God then tells Jonah that he should not be angry, and that instead he should have compassion on the people of Nineveh because they are living in darkness

This really stood out to me when reading it this time.  This is why we need to re-read scripture even though we may know what it says.  The last part of chapter 4 really made me think.  It made me think about if I'm burdened enough for people living in darkness.  People living in sin and even people who may be one heartbeat away from Hell.  It's easy to be frustrated with people you see living in sin, but we must be burdened for them.  I challenge you to examine yourself today: 1st see if God is leading you to do something, or not do something and are you running from God?  2nd ask God to give you a greater burden for those living in spiritual darkness

Monday, May 18, 2009

Suffering- If God is so good then why is there bad in the world?

This week I had the opportunity to preach on a Sunday morning before the entire congregation for the first time.  It was very humbling preparing and delivering the message God laid on my heart.  It's very exhausting to preach three sermons back to back but I loved every moment of it.  This experience definitely gave me a greater appreciation for pastor Wayne.

On Sunday nights the youth are doing a Bible study called "The God Questions" where we look at different questions that are asked and answer them in order to be able to better defend the faith.  One of those questions is "If God is so good then why is there bad/suffering in the world?"  This can be a tough question to answer, and not one we normally like to look at but is what God led me to preach on this week.

The main scripture used was John 16:33 where we hear something from Jesus that can be a little disturbing- You will suffer.  He doesn't say this to discourage us to encourage us to be prepared so we won't be blind sided.

We know that suffering and evil goes hand in hand.  The evil in the world is what brings us suffering.  There are 2 types of evil- natural and moral.  Natural evil is the kind of evil that occurs naturally- tornadoes, floods, sickness, etc.  Moral evil is inflicted on one person by another.  This accounts for about 95% of all evil in the world.

Some people ask if God created evil.  The answer to that is definitely NO.  God created man and woman with free will so that they could choose to love Him or not.  This is the only way genuine love could occur because if God forced us to love Him, then it would not be genuine.  With the freedom to choose, humans unfortunately chose to bring about evil in the world.  We read this in the first few chapters of Genesis and the account of Adam and Eve.  So some people then ask the questions- "If God knew we would sin then why did He create us?"  I believe we can best answer that question like this:  When parents are deciding whether or not they want to have a child, they are not promised anything.  They are not promised that the child would be perfectly healthy, born without birth defects.  They are not promised that they child would never experience heart ache.  They are not promised that at some point the child would disappoint them.  But they still choose to have the child.  Why?  Because they want to have a genuine love relationship with the child that is created in their own image and the love and joy completely outweighs any potential pain.  That is the same reason that God chose to create us, because He desired to have a loving relationship with each and every one of us.

So can anything good come from suffering?  Of course if you let it.  Here are 5 ways that God uses suffering in our lives.
1) God Uses Trials to Direct Me -or- Draw Me to Him- when we suffer we usually cling to God.  When 9/11 occurred people packed out the churches because it got their attention and they decided to cling to God, for a season at least.
2) God Uses Trials to Inspect Me -or- Test Me- we read in James 1:2-3 that when our faith is tested....  A test is given with the desire for success.  God gives us tests with the desire for us to succeed and grow from it.  Sometimes maybe even to see where our loyalty lies.
3) God Uses Trials to Correct Me- David wrote in Psalm 119:71 that God used trials to correct him.  We have to be corrected when we mess up.  When a child see their child doing something wrong they discipline them, if not then they make a huge mistake because the child will continue to repeat the mistake over and over.  God corrects us because He loves us and doesn't want us to repeat the same mistakes.
4) God Uses Trials to Inspect Me- this may be a situation we never realize is taking place.  Such occurrences might be like car trouble stalling you and you end up missing a traffic accident.
5) God Uses Trials to Perfect Me- This doesn't mean we become perfect, but instead we are being molded and shaped to be more like Jesus Christ.  Romans 5:3-4 tells us that our character is strengthened when we suffer.

If you are suffering or going through a tough season right now, be encouraged.  We read in Hebrews 13:5 that God will never leave us nor forsake you, He will never abandon you.  What a wonderful promise!  God is walking beside you through every tough moment, crying with you, wanting to hold your hand along the way.  Also we learn in Romans 8:18 that when we someday get to Heaven that our suffering will be nothing in comparison to the wonder that we will be surrounded by.  When we are spending eternity worshiping God, we won't even care about the pains we endured on earth.  If you are suffering right now know that God wants to pull you out of the pit, but you must first be willing to reach up and take hold of His hand first.  You have a choice to make: you can allow difficult times to either make you bitter, or they can make you better.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Don't Steal From Your Parents

Ok, the title is a bit different and your obvious first thought is "well yeah you shouldn't steal from your parents".  We began a series call "YouPick" where the students submit ideas on things they want me to cover on Wednesday nights for the next month.  When compiling the list of ideas submitted, for some reason Proverbs 28 stuck out at me even before I started looking into it.  Of course if I preached on the entire chapter we would have been there for a couple days.  When I read it I felt that God made verse 24 leap out at me and knew that was what I was supposed to speak about.  Before reading the verse I asked the students to quietly think about their relationship with their parents, step-parents, grand-parents, adopted parents, guardian, etc.

The first thing I pointed out is that nobody likes to be compared to a murderer because we think that murderers are the worst people ever.  Because in our society today we categorize sins when in actuality murdering someone is the same as saying you hate someone, and is the same as driving over the speed limit, and is the same as cheating on a test, and is the same as lusting over a guy/girl, and is the same as dishonoring your parents.

There are two ways to look at the part of "stealing from your parents" and the first is the obvious one: actually stealing items/money from your parents.  Some would never think of doing such, while others might not think twice.  But taking it a step further, when a child mooches off their parents, then I believe it's the same as stealing.  If a child expects that their parent is to give them gas money, a cell phone, iPod, etc. just because they're supposed to, then in my mind that's stealing.  I challenged the students to not expect their parents to give them things, but to appreciate them when they do.

The second way we looked at stealing is when a child steals their parents joy.  A child takes away the parents joy of being a parent when the child disrespects, talks back, dishonors, doesn't do what they are told, or does do what they are told not to do.  This is a way that a child can steal from their parents.

Exodus 20:12 tells us to obey our parents.  If we disobey our parents, then we are ignoring the law.

Proverbs 28:9 says that if we ignore the law then God detests our prayers.  This is something we should all avoid.

John 14:15 says that if we actually love God then we will keep His commandments, which means we will obey our parents.  We we disobey our parents, it means that something took the place of our love for them, and for God.

So as we ended the night I had the students take a moment to pray and see what God may be speaking to them about in regards to their relationship with their parents.  I told them that if they aren't honoring their parents, then maybe they need to go home and apologize and admit where they have been wrong.  Maybe they need to go home and thank their parents for what they do for them.  I closed by telling the students that if they really want to honor their parents then they need to start praying for them if they don't already.

So thats how the first night of the "YouPick" series went.  If you're a teen and reading this then I hope you will really think about your relationship with your parents.  If you are a parent then I want to thank you for all that you do and want you to know that I went to bat for you last night.