Salvation describes more than getting to heaven. We receive more than a location when we receive Jesus as our Savior. We receive the opportunity to live in God’s presence and interact with Him. Revelation 22:4 says, “they will see His face.” Imagine standing before God and seeing his face! That’s heaven, face to face interaction with God, forever. Do we really want that?
Scripture spurs us to pursue God’s presence intentionally. To succeed, we have to pursue Him with our mind and our activities. Our whole life must shift, like turning from facing away from God to facing toward Him.
God created every person to interact with Him, face to face. But, that’s not the way we live. Everyone has done things God didn’t want us to do. Behavior like that separates us from God. We can’t interact. Basically, we’re cut off, alone in the world. We weren’t made to live this way. Worse, there’s no human cure for our dilemma.
God loves humanity so deeply He does more than sustain our world and our lives. He pursues us. He’s taken up the task of repairing our relationship, Himself. Through Jesus Christ, God offers us a way back to Him.
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Note: This message was completely unplanned and impromptu. I had planned another sermon for this Sunday and was fully prepared. During the music before the preaching time, God redirected me to share the Gospel. I didn't know why. In the few moments before approaching the pulpit, God gave me the whole outline to follow. When I was done, a longstanding member responded to the invitation, saying, "I know why you preached that; God did it for me." After years of uncertainty, he was ready to settle his relationship with God and put all doubts to rest.
Doing God’s word isn’t easy. Obedience is tough work. Distractions and hindrances line the path. But, when we succeed, we experience amazing, transforming joy. It starts with one step. Don’t wait; it’s show time!
Charlotte’s story launches this sermon, a performer struggling to move from behind the curtain onto the stage. She only needs to take one step.
“Walking out on that stage would distinguish her from stagehands, from make-up artists, from technicians. It was a defining moment. Out there, she couldn’t talk about performing, she’d have to do it. She couldn’t claim the ability, she’d have to use it.”
From the example of Jesus’ life, this Scripture shows us that our residence and our occupation should conform to God’s will.
Sometimes, Christians seek God’s will in parts of their life, but not in all their life. Reality reveals that some areas of our life are “off-limits” when it comes to real spiritual practices. That’s not ideal, but it’s true. In two areas many Christians prefer not to consider obedience because of the significant consequences they foresee. They simply don’t want to go there. These two areas are allowing God to choose where we live and go and to choose what we do with our lives, including choosing our occupation.
God guides us with both general and specific instruction. General instruction applies to every Christian equally, no exceptions. Specific instruction targets the hearer’s life alone. It is tailored to God’s individual purpose for one, single person. As with all instruction, when God begins specifically guiding our lives, we face hindrances. Our ambitions, possessions, comforts, routines, and conveniences all become very personal when God takes control of those things into His own hands. Surrendering our place of residence and our occupation to Him is a huge step of obedience.
The resource mentioned in this message, the God's Will Worksheet, may be downloaded below.
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Early in the history of God’s people, leaders often were also shepherds or herdsmen. But, by the time Jesus was born, culture had changed. God’s people had been exiled and partially resettled in the Promised Land. Roman rule had established itself firmly in control. Rulers came from circles of influence, power, and wealth. And, somewhere down the food chain, shepherds wandered the hills with their flocks.
God’s choice to announce Jesus birth and proclaim Him as the Christ to shepherds in the hills, at night, teaches a principle: God uses people whom most would overlook. These men wielded no power or influence. In fact, they lived solitary lives away from society. With their sling, rod, staff, flute, and dogs, they relentlessly nursed, protected, and provided for their flocks of sheep. They lived in tents, not palaces.
When God lit up the Judean hillsides with His glory, He revealed that His attention is infinite, not forgetting anyone; His creativity is unlimited, not hindered by human social structures; and His ability is endless, able to order events in any way He chooses. Through the shepherds, we learn about ourselves, too. Each person is useful to God, noticed by God, and included in His plans. Ordinary is no hurdle when God chooses to use someone. His will is our opportunity.
Joseph, Jesus’ earthly step-father, was a simple, ordinary carpenter. He didn’t appear before Jesus’ birth and disappeared after Jesus was twelve. We know little about Him; yet, his story is in God’s narrative of redemption. Many portrayals of Joseph gloss over the raw material and picture an almost perfect man. Instead, Joseph was a champion who faced overcoming the shape into which his world had molded him.
Joseph was righteous, but still a man. He didn’t recognize God at work when Mary was found to be with child. He had followed Jewish customs to seek betrothal. To him, betrothal had become betrayal. The costs were high for him, as well as Mary. God’s plan was risky, and on the surface, not very God-like.
Joseph disliked God’s plan. God had to take an opposed and fuming Joseph and remold him into Jesus’ earthly father. Joseph went further; he disagreed with God’s plan. In fact, he plotted to oppose and stop God’s plan. None-the-less, God redirected Joseph to become a key figure in every Christian’s history.
The Christmas story shows us that God uses people who are opposed to the way He works. He is unhindered by opposition.
Luke 1&2, John 2, Matthew 1
The Christmas story shows us that God uses people who are overwhelmed by His plans. He is unstopped by overwhelm.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, was overwhelmed by God’s message that she, a virgin, would bear His son. All that she knew of herself and her world was shaken. These things couldn’t be. But, she believed in God. So, He guided her through overwhelm to change her world.
Mary intensely experienced God and learned that He could use her only if she remained submissive to Him. Through the angels announcement, her virgin conception, Joseph’s acceptance, Elizabeth’s greeting, the shepherd’s story, Simeon’s blessing, Anna’s attention, and Jesus’ youthful disappearance God helped her embrace His plans.
“Overwhelm” describes experiencing something that overpowers one’s thoughts, emotions, or senses. It’s the gap between human capacity and divine activity. People react to overwhelm differently: intellectually, physically, or emotionally. Mary reacted intellectually and learned that she needn’t make sense of God’s will to obey it.
Ultimately, Mary embraced God’s work in her life. At a wedding in Cana, she pushed others into an experience that would affect them like hers had affected her. She had learned that she could grow in her faith by continually examining God’s activity.
Listening guides coming soon.
Luke 1:5-23, 57-59
The Christmas story illustrates that God has a place in His plans for ordinary people who have honest doubts about Him. Doubts are hesitations behind our “official” statements. They relate to what we really believe about God, not what we know we should believe about God. There’s a difference.
Most people are ordinary. Others see them as unlikely to pull far ahead of the pack or to attract attention to themselves. They have some doubts. They need encouragement that God can still use them.
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, had serious doubts just beneath the surface. Though a priest, He wasn’t sure God could really do what He said, even when told by an angel. That’s a strong doubt.
Doubt arises when a person reacts with hesitation or withdrawal when God displays or reveals Himself to them in a manner contradictory to their real beliefs about Him. People see God’s power as non-existent, invisible, manipulative, miraculous, or infinite. When His revelation and our beliefs collide, doubts can weaken our trust in Him and obedience to Him. The can even threaten our participation in His plan.
God overcame Zechariah’s doubt and altered the emotions, conversations, and thoughts of those around him… pretty significant world-change. The first steps to seeing God work similarly in our lives is to discover where we are in relationship to God, then to move where He is. Luckily for us, God is undeterred by our doubts.
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The pattern of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism teaches a powerful truth: mastering God’s Word protects me when the devil distorts it to trick me.
Jesus’ temptation by the devil is anticipated and intentional. The Holy Spirit led Jesus toward the temptations He faced, likely for our benefit. The choice of a lonely place is also intentional. Jesus was isolated, much like we will be when the devil tempts us.
Temptation is the use of a trick to lure a person a way from following God. The devil tempts both Christians and non-Christians. Temptation is more useful for him than a direct approach. Most would see the futility of following the devil if he came right out and said, “Dump the Father and follow me, instead.” So, he cleverly tempts through our vulnerabilities. He targets vulnerable Christians who lack mastery of God’s word, but highly value Scripture. He manipulates this combination into tricky temptations.
Mastery describes immersing ourselves in Scripture until we know its contents and understand the heart of God. It means storing God’s word in our hearts so God may constantly use it to speak to and guide us. Finally, mastery includes adjusting our lives to our knowledge of God. Knowing His ways and following Him is the best protection we have against the devil’s schemes.
The story of Jesus’ baptism calls Christians to abandon gray areas of unclear, indistinct, half-hearted, casual Christianity and to pursue every step to righteousness.
In the story, Jesus gives some potent instruction both with His words and His actions. He teaches that every step matters in the pursuit of righteousness. The story reveals itself to be about more than baptism. It’s about Jesus pursuing a life purpose: fulfilling all righteousness. His words, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” reveal His intentions. Jesus traveled over 80 miles, likely on foot, to fulfill this one piece of righteousness. How far would we go?
Evidently, Jesus wants each of us to go all the way in our pursuit of righteousness, too, not half or most of the way. He helps us discover that righteousness requires certain things along the way. It isn’t just what we choose; there’s a plan.
Great Commission Christians live the story of Jesus baptism and its principles in their own life by following the common steps and the personal steps to righteousness described by Scripture. Then, they reproduce Jesus’ story in others by teaching them His principles and guiding them along the way toward righteousness, too.
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