This month we will hear scripture that foretold the birth of our Saviour, read the words Gabriel shared with Mary about her pregnancy and be reminded of different reaction to that news. Sermons will share that during this time in Israel’s history, being pregnant while engaged was shocking but claiming to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, while being a virgin, was even more difficult to try to explain. Someone will tell us that Mary was in an unenviable position and another will say Joseph’s was not much better because both were subject to cultural and religious expectations regarding pre-marital activity; any breech of expected behaviour could have had dire repercussions.
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.”
When a potter bakes a pot, they check its solidity by pulling it out of the oven and thumping it. If it “sings,” it’s ready. If it “thuds,” it’s placed back in the oven. Max Lucado once shared an analogy where he compared the potter’s test to the testing that Christians undergo daily. He suggested our response to the testing/thumping reveals our spiritual maturity. How we react to our day-to-day circumstances reveals whether we merely listen to the Word or whether we do what it says (James 1:22).
James’ letter to Jewish Christians living outside of Jerusalem offers encouragement while sharing some of the basic principles of the Christian walk. He was well aware of the verbal or even physically abuse they encountered because of their belief in Christ. He wanted to suggest that their circumstance are temporary compared to what lies ahead. He wanted them to remember that “there was a crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12); love that is expressed in their response to being thumped. James was not telling them to sing and dance whenever they faced adversity but recognize that our relationship with God can be strengthened if we trust that God’s plan for us is greater than our daily circumstances.
How do you respond when you are in a traffic jam or when your children are fussing as you try to get them ready for school? What is your reaction when your spouse makes a banking mistake or forgets a day you consider special? What do you say to the clerk who puts sugar in your coffee despite your specially saying no sugar or to the waiter who mixes up your order? Do you say or do things that you know are considered offensive to that person and to God? The testing is about an accidental blurting out of some regretful comment but is linked to consistent inappropriate behaviour when life’s little things trip us up. This testing occurs in environments and situations beyond our control. The thumping may not seem as dramatic as being told you have cancer, but never the less it puts our faith to the test. These trials constantly question whether we love God and His creation unconditionally and in all circumstances. Our response can be as God desires when we pray, study His word, and seek spiritual strength to grow with each thumping.
The potter does not throw the pot out when it does not sing, but puts it back into the oven to allow it to develop as it should. The joy associated with the testing we face is the promise that Jesus will not abandon us when we fail a thumping. The Holy Spirit will convict us, prompt us to repentance, and lead us to forgiveness. We are allowed back into the family and can be strengthen by our trial. God does not expect us to giggle foolishly when we face trials but desires that we not lose hope and trust our thumping will only make us stronger.
Have you ever prayed, “send me Lord” but in fact were afraid God would send you? Where you afraid that He would pull you off your comfy couch and send you to some desolate land where simple comforts of life do not exist or are very limited? Does such a thought actually prevent you from praying; “send me” because you know in your mind that you are not ready to go? God will not send us somewhere when He knows it is not in our heart to go. For now God would be more pleased to send us out of our living rooms and across the street to our neighbours.
“Lord I am just a ________ but I accept the calling of the Great Commission that you have put before me. I will need the Holy Spirit to me give me courage and strength to do Your will. I am as ready as I will ever be Lord. Where do you want me? AMEN”
The two-word phrase “the gospel,” is derived from the Greek word “euangelion.” Though not a commonly used phrase today, on occasion one hears its use within Western English speaking society as a metaphor that attributes the quality of truth to a particular set of assertions. While the roots of the phrase pre-exist its use in the New Testament, the quality that it denotes when it is used to qualify a grouping of ideas is derived from its use in the Bible.
Within Christianity, the phrase has been used to describe various view points as to what Christians should be doing to improve their surroundings and in so doing, working to steadily usher in the Kingdom of God on earth. However, theologically this is an incorrect premise. 2 Peter 3:10 tells the reader that the earth is destined for complete renewal, so no amount of effort on man’s part will hinder what is in store for the earth on the Day of the Lord. Other Christians take the perspective that the gospel is about loving one’s neighbour, commonly referred to as “the social gospel.” The responsibility for Christians to love their neighbour is foundational; it is one of the two core commands pronounced by Jesus, yet it is a command for the right conduct of those who have become children of God, and while it is good news for those who are in need of social assistance, for those who are concerned for the environment; for social equality; for social justice, etc.; it is not the good news of The Gospel.
As communicated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which is the clearest, concise and most precise explanation, The Gospel is simply:
- Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures;
- Christ was buried;
- Christ was raised to life on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Romans 10:9 communicates that if a person declares with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God raised him from the dead, that they will be saved. While The Gospel is simple and it can be stated in a few short phrases, man’s comprehension and subsequent response to it requires the supernatural intervention of God’s Holy Spirit, who grants the gift of faith to a person, enabling them to act in accordance with Romans 10:9.
When I was 13 years old, I recognized my need for Jesus and I responded to an offer to confess and repent of my sin, declaring Jesus as my Lord, believing in His death and resurrection as the sole means by which I am forgiven. Yet, it was not until I was 26 years old and at the end of myself, that I surrendered my life to Jesus. Today, 33 years later, my awareness of my need of Jesus and my gratefulness for the salvation that I have received continues to increase. Without Jesus, I am lost: spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. With Jesus I have hope: hope for today and for tomorrow; hope for my family and for those whom God has allowed me to have influence with; and I have hope for eternity.
I have heard it said that the Church is the hope of the world, and while the phrase sounds good, I am not sure of its theological soundness. My understanding is that The Gospel is the hope of the world, and the Church has been assigned the task of communicating it to the world. The Church is the chosen tool of God with which He communicates His message of hope and He has given it clear, concise and precise orders – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” God has not given this directive to anyone else, so the hope that the world needs will come only from the church. As such the church must be focused on communicating The Gospel. Though there are many “good” activities that the church could be involved in, if the communication of The Gospel is not its primary intent, if The Gospel does not permeate everything that the Church does, then it is abdicating its primary purpose and the world is lost.
Last Sunday I listened to a message about love. The love specifically spoken about was the illogical, unusual love that comes from a determined act of the will, from a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own; agape love. It is that love which took Jesus to the cross and also allows us to love Him with our whole being. Agape love can create a desire in us to be concerned about the salvation of those we encounter daily. Ongoing agape love is a gift that is available to those born again, to those who have been spiritually reborn because they chose to believe in Jesus.
Questions often arise as to what do we need to believe about Jesus and Sunday’s speaker shared the following questions in the hope of getting listeners to question their own understanding and possibly connect or reconnect with God.
- Do you believe that God created everything that exits and that He intentionally created humanity to have a daily and eternal relationship with Him?
- Do you believe that when we enter into this relationship we can love God, the Holy Sprit and Jesus with all our heart, mind and soul and that we can also love all those around us?
- Do you believe that in the process of loving as God desires it can cause others to praise His name?
- Do you believe that there are things that we can do or say (sins) that are hurtful and offensive to God, to those around us, and even to ourselves and, that it is God’s desire that we do not partake in those activities?
- Do you believe that sin is so offensive to God’s Holy nature that unless we stop or find a way to be forgiven of sin our eternity with Him will not happen and a dire outcome awaits us?
- Do you believe that in order to reconcile the damage caused by sin Jesus was sent to earth to show us that a love exists, an agape love, which allows our behaviour to be forgiven and our eternity with God assured?
- Do you believe that Jesus purposefully allowed himself to be arrested, brutalized and murdered and by His own power rose from the grave showing that He has authority over all life and death?
- Do you believe the Holy Sprit can help us resist the temptation to sin and although we will never be free from the ability to sin, we can be freed from the desire to do so?
- Do you believe that we can be born again, born of God’s Holy Spirit, so that our lives will be transformed?
- Do you believe we must be born again, reborn with God’s spirit, so that daily we can experience God’s gift of illogical agape love?
- Do believe that there is nothing we personally can do, no amount of good deeds, no amount of community aide, no amount of sacrifice, which alone will cause God to allow us into heaven with Him?
- Do you believe that while we are on this earth unexplainable joy, remarkable peace, soothing comfort and wonderful hope are possible and that it stems from our belief in Jesus?
- Do you believe that not everyone will be brought into God’s kingdom and there is judgement and eternal separation from God for those who do not believe?
- Do you believe that we can be saved from the death caused by sin, which is eternal separation from God, and that our past and future transgressions can be forgiven when we believe and trust in Jesus’ promises and truth?
We may disagree on some aspects of the way we do church however we must not disagree on what Jesus shared which is YOU MUST BELIEVE IN HIM.
Examine yourself on these questions and if required, seek an understanding from your priest or pastor or a Christian brother or sister willing to discuss God’s expectations. Do not rely on your love or abilities but believe. Let God know what you believe and pray asking that agape love drives you to seek a stronger relationship with Him and creates a desire within you to share His truths with those you encounter.