Refocus on God’s House

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

Have you ever lost focus on what’s most important?Think back over your life and you can probably recall times where you got off-track. I certainly can recall times I’ve lost focus. It reminds me of a movie that one of you lent our family recently – The Wizard of Oz. How many have seen that movie? You will recall that Dorothy is living in Kansas and her home gets hit by a tornado despite the fact that she didn’t live in a trailer park. Her home gets lifted by the twister into the sky with Dorothy and her dog Toto still in it and she arrives in a magical place call the Land of Oz. Her house actually lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. All we see left of the Wicked Witch of the East is her legs and feet encased in ruby slippers. Then the slippers that were on the Wicked Witch of the East magically are placed on Dorothy by the Good Witch Glenda before the Wicked Witch of the West can grab them. The slippers are nice, but Dorothy’s main concern is to get back to her home in Kansas. She is directed to the Wizard of Oz who is believed to be able to help her. But the Wizard of Oz lives way off in the Emerald City. So Dorothy has to find her way to the Emerald City by following the yellow brick road. She is warned not to get off the path because dangers lurk everywhere.

If I were assessing my life, I would say that there were times I have gotten off the yellow brick road. Of course, I am not travelling to see the Wizard of Oz, who (spoiler alert) was a fake. My “yellow brick road” is to see Jesus. That is your path too if you believe in Jesus. However, we get side-tracked all the time. Sometimes it is something appealing and pleasurable and you soon find yourself further and further away from the righteous path you were on. Sometimes we are bored and we chase another trail. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has said, “Sin is always, in some sense, a life of boredom.” Or as Eric Geigerhas taught, “If we are bored, we are not looking at the Lord.”I tell my own kids, “Boredom is always a choice.”

Sometimes we get off the path because it is dark and we have not used the lamp God has provided. Recall what David says in Psalm 119:105 (KJV), “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” If you feel that you are in the dark, get back into God’s Word. I’ve discovered nothing pulls me back onto the path more than reading God’s Word and studying God’s Word, particularly with other believers. I confess after we gave birth to Restoration Church this past June, I had some post-partum ecclesiastical blues. I was missing Aaron & Nikki and the rest of the Restorers. So what did I do? I went away to a local retreat centre for a couple of days and saturated myself in God’s Word. God’s Word helped me get back on His path. God’s Word will help you get back on His path.

Whatever the reason why we have left the path, whether for a short-time or long-time, we need to refocus and return to the path. The Good News is that you can today. This is what the short little Book of Haggai is all about. And it is the book that we will be studying from now until Christmas. You can read all about the background of Haggai on the back of your sermon notes because it is probably a book most of us have not spent a lot of time in.

Let me give you the background. Almost from the beginning of their nation, the Israelites had a hard time staying on the pathway with God. They spent 40 years wandering around in the Desert of Sinai after God miraculously rescued them from Egypt. This is described in the Book of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They finally made it to the land God had promised as described in the Book of Joshua, but soon they rebelled against God and so God would send them enemies as punishment as described in the Book of Judges. Whenever this would happen, suddenly the Israelites would have a change of heart and return to God. So God would raise up a deliverer who would rescue them from their enemies. These small “d” deliverers pointed to when Jesus would become their ultimate Deliverer. Now these deliverers were needed for 400 years because the Israelites were in a terrible pattern of forgetting God. They even wanted a king like the other nations. God warned them not to be like everybody else but still gave them a king. And this led to the Israelite kings oppressing the people. Some kings were good and others bad, particularly in the Northern 10 tribes of Israel where they were all bad and did evil in the sight of the Lord by promoting idolatry. This lasted for another 300 years as described in 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles until the Northern Tribes were captured and taken off by the Assyrians. God had essentially said, “You have rejected me so you will have trouble in your own home. But after prolonged unfaithfulness, you are going to lose your home. God kicked out His unfaithful wife.” Israel’s southern tribal brothers, Judah and Benjamin, didn’t pay attention. So around 150 years after the Northern Tribes were captured, God sent the Babylonians to capture the Jews and take them off into exile for 70 years. The Books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Esther describe this time period.

And so finally after 70 years, the first Jews, numbering around “50,000 people are allowed to go back to the land of Palestine under the decree of King Cyrus in 538 BC. The first thing they did upon return was build an altar for sacrifice like Noah did coming out of the ark. Then they started laying down the foundation of Temple, but by 535 BC, three years later, the work stopped because of threats and a legal suit.”[1]The people lost their focus on God and started rebuilding their own stuff. Fifteen years after first putting their sandals back on the soil of the Promised Land, God sends the prophet Haggai to remind them to refocus on God and explains why they were living unproductive lives. This was God showing grace, despite being neglected. So let’s dive into the epic saga right here in the Book of Haggai and read about this message from God to His wayward and forgetful people in Haggai 1:1-11. Read Haggai 1:1-11!

The first phrase of Haggai both grounds the book in history and gives us insight into the mood of the people, “In the second year of Darius the king,The book starts of by saying that Darius was king. Darius was not a Jewish king. He was the king of the Medes and Persians. John MacKay explains, “’In the second year of King Darius’ reign’ is in itself a sad indication of the changed circumstances of the Lord’s people. They were back in the Land of Promise, but were still far from regaining their independence.”[2]Walter Kaiser puts it this way, “The times of the Gentiles had now dawned.”[3]In other words, there was not a Jewish King on the throne – no man from the line of David ruled God’s people. Darius was not a God-fearing man. Can you relate? Is much of our government tilted away from the things of God? Nevertheless, the reign of Darius was for the most part a peaceful time. Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai and he records a vision of angels patrolling the earth and reporting back in Zechariah 1:11, “We have patrolled the earth and behold, all the earth remains at rest.” It could be said that the whole world was at rest and at peace.”[4]God can still be blessing when our man or woman is not on the throne.

For instance, God’s people were back in Palestine after 70 years of exile. God had fulfilled His promise in Jeremiah 27:22, “’They shall be carried to Babylon and remain there until the day when I visit them’, declares the LORD.”Have you ever returned home after being away for awhile? I recall going to school and then living in the United States for 9 years. I enjoyed my time there and learned a lot and even found a wife. Then I returned to Canada and was surprised at how much had changed in my home country’s values. The Jewish exiles had returned home as well and found that much had changed. “Disillusionment had set in after the first exhilaration and the sense of adventure had passed.”[5]So they went to rebuilding. There is nothing wrong with rebuilding as long as you are rebuilding the right things. You don’t want to rebuild things that created a problem for you and your ancestors before. The Jewish people spent their time rebuilding their own homes and farms.

We know this about the farms because of the second phrase in Haggai 1:1, “On the first day of the sixth month.” We may gloss over this phrase, but it is significant. It meant it was harvest season and should be the time for the Feast of the New Moon. The problem as we read from Haggai 1:5-6 is the issue God had with His people, “Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvested little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough, and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.” The harvest wasn’t going so well. They were very unproductive. Has that ever happened to you? You feel like you are working so hard but having so little to show for it? You never have enough time or money? You play sports or go on vacation or go up to the cottage and for a few moments, it is enjoyable, but then you have to go back and you are not satisfied so you are living for the next high? “One possible reason we seem to be getting further behind is that God is trying to capture our attention.”[6]

Why? Why are so many of us not living with maximum productivity and satisfaction? Because we are not putting God first!We have lost our focus. We have left the path – the yellow brick road. This is clearly what God says to His people in Haggai 1:2, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘This people says, ‘The time has not come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” It wasn’t a full rejection of God; it was just putting God off. They had actually laid the foundation of the Temple down 15 years earlier and then took their tools home with them. Maybe their family were the ones complaining that they were at the Temple so much and neglected them? We don’t know for certain. Like any project list, we have all said, “I’ll get to it someday,” so we kick the can down the road. I loved what Paul Kristensen, our former Treasurer used to say before he and his wife Nedra moved from Cambridge, “After kicking the can down the road enough times, the can gets rusty.” That is why we are pursuing The Master’s Plan 4.0 and recreating our property here. As our FEB President, Steve Jones, has said, “Your church’s future is in the harvest … so if your church has no harvest, does your church have a future?” We know that over the next few years, we need to increase our overall engagement in evangelism and hope for at least 150 new followers of Christ attending Temple. Would you pray for and join us in trying to reach at least 150 new followers of Christ?I heard yesterday that only 12% of Canadians go to church. That means that in Cambridge, a town of 130,000, 115,000 people do not go to church. These are your neighbours and classmates. We have a lot of work to do to rebuilding the Temple of the Holy Spirit, which is the people of God and 4.0 is one of our tools to do so. Are you eager for people to know Jesus?

Let’s go back to Haggai’s day! Now there were lots of excuses that the Jews could come up with to delay rebuilding the Temple. ProfessorMark Bodagives some of those possible excuses that the Jews would have rationalized,1) The Theological Reason – They were waiting for the appearance of the Messiah to begin the project, which we now know would come 500 years later when Jesus taught in this Temple; 2) The People Reason – They were waiting until more exiles arrived to help out. 3) The Government Reason – their Persian overlords could stop the work at any time.It might have been a time of peace on one hand, but on the other hand there were international influences that could affect their economy and personal lives very quickly. 4) The Financial Reason – There were insufficient financial and material resources.”[7]“The people seemed to be thinking, ‘If God wanted His house to be rebuilt, He should have made us wealthier.”[8]Or as Peter Verhoeff suggests, “The people just saw the time for rebuilding was inconvenient.”[9]They wanted to get back on their own two feet first. Can we relate to any of these? Maybe we are holding back from putting God first because we know Jesus is going to come back soon so what is the point when everything is going to burn anyways? Maybe others of us are on the sidelines because we are waiting for others to step up or arrive since we have done our part in the past? We laid down the foundations. Or maybe we are nervous that the government will shut us down? Or maybe we see this as an impossible financial hurdle so why even try? Temples are expensive and massive projects and we live on a fixed income, which I am guessing that the majority of us do. Or maybe we are just starting out as a couple or trying to recover from student loans or a wedding or a loss of job or a recent move so we are waiting to get back on our two feet before serving and giving?

Whatever the excuse, God’s people had neglected God and His house of worship. However, the people did have time for fixing up their own homes. Verses 3-4 record Haggai’s declaration, “Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?’” The people were not simply being practical by putting up the necessary shelters. No, instead they erecting showcase homes. But there was nothing to show off God.

So God, in His mercy, says again in verses 7-8, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD.” Notice is was about God’s glory. God is giving them another chance after once again putting Him second or third or fourth in their lives. Remember, this wasn’t too long after returning from exile and many of their relatives were still there. We can forget God even after a time of discipline or constant warning signs. We must get back to worshipping Him by putting Him # 1 in our lives.

And to reinforce that problem of priorities and the refocus the people on what was most important, God connects the dots of their daily lives to worship in verses 9-11, “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountain, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” Everything was unproductive. Both the people and their livestock were infertile. And they even lacked dew that kept everything alive during the dry season. “The crime of the people was that they left the house of God desolate, their punishment was that their land was left to drought.”[10]Notice the natural and national implications. Could that be true today in our country and world? Could the infertility, great gap of rich and poor, the violence and the debt and environmental problems and injustice and anxiety and depression and you “fill in the blank” be a natural consequence of not putting God first? As Walter Kaisersays, “No one cheats God without cheating himself at the same time.”[11]

But there is hope! We can refocus on God. We can return to Him. We can remember Him once again. You see, God was reminding them of something that is really important to remember. And on this Remembrance Day, we may have glossed over. Did you catch how God describes Himself? “The Lord of Hosts!” “It is actually the title for God Haggai uses 14 times in the two chapters of his book.”[12]It was to remind the people that God was the God of Angel Armies. He was the Lord Almighty and He had the power and resources to defeat any enemy and provide for any shortcoming.

Jesus Himself is the Lord of Hosts. He is the great Warrior God that wants us to worship Him. And yet, instead of calling on His angel armies, 10,000 strong, to fight with Him, Jesus gave the greatest sacrifice of all time. He left home and laid down His weapons.

It reminds me of Desmond Doss. Desmond Doss[13]was a devoted young man to God, to his church and to his young wife. He was trying to build his life and worked at a lumberyard in Lynchburg, Virginia. He married in 1942 and voluntarily went off to war, but as a medic because of his pacifist beliefs.  He carried no gun and killed no man. He served with distinction but had his greatest moment of refocus when he found himself on the island of Iwo Jima. His job was to tend to the wounded. In one particular battle, the battle of Okinawa,he saved the lives of 75 wounded infantrymen atop the area known by the 96th Division as the Maeda Escarpment or better known as Hacksaw Ridge. All night long he kept going back for the wounded and lowering them to safety on the beach below. Doss was wounded four times in Okinawa, including suffering a left arm fracture from a sniper’s bullet and at one point had seventeen pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body.He lived to tell the story of His refocus on saving the wounded.

And yet, there was somebody else who laid down His power and went back time and again for the wounded. He Himself was wounded and actually died so that those He was rescuing could go home.His name is Jesus.He allows those off in another country to return Home and put God first in their lives – in our lives, so that we could refocus on God.

And this is why the greatest remembrance we could ever make is that of what Jesus did. Our communion service is about remembering His death. It is remembering this sacrifice. This table is for those exiles who Jesus has brought back. It is for those who are putting Jesus # 1 in their lives. And if you are not putting him first, today is a day of repentance. Let’s eat with a renewed sense of His Voice calling us back to refocus on Him.

[1]Paul Benware, Survey of the Old Testament(Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), 239.

[2]John L. MacKay, Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi: God’s Restored People(Glasgow: Christian Focus, 2010), 15.

[3]Walter Kaiser, Mastering the Old Testament(Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992), 252.

[4]MacKay, 16.

[5]Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi – Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries(Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 37.

[6]Kaiser, 256.

[7]Mark Boda, The NIV Application Commentary on Haggai and Zechariah(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 89.

[8]Kaiser, 254.

[9]Peter A. Verhoef, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Books of Haggai and Malachi(Grand Rapids: William B. Eermans Publishing Company, 1987), 55.

[10]Thomas V. Moore, Haggai and Malachi(London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), 63.

[11]Kaiser, 256.

[12]MacKay, 19.

[13]Source: Accessed November 10, 2018.


Do You Rescue Your Sinful Brother?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

How do you know you are a saved child of God? Write this down on the sermon notes we provided or somewhere you will remember. Post this somewhere when you can see it often as reminder of what God has done for you. Maybe it would be helpful to discuss this with others at the dinner table today why you know you are a child of God. If you don’t know that you are a saved child of God, you can today by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ. What is holding you back? God loves you so much!

As we conclude our series in 1 John, test yourself from 1 John 5:16-21 to see whether you are a child of God. We are going to discover that how we pray about others and how we deal with sin reveals our true Christianity. But also our relationship to the devil and our relationship to Jesus Christ shows whether we are true child of God. To put it a more memorable way, we must elevate our intercession, we must eliminate our idolatry, we must alleviate and show we have immunity to the devil’s grip and we must illuminate our intimacy with Christ. Examine the areas in your life of intercession, idolatryimmunity from the devil and intimacy with Jesus.By the end of this sermon, I want you to have assurance that you are saved or if you are not, you have the opportunity to be saved. Let’s read 1 John 5:16-21 as we wrap up 1 John. Read 1 John 5:16-21!

How do you know that you are a saved child of God? It will become evident in how you pray, your addictions, your fight against the devil and your knowledge of the truth about Jesus Christ. Let’s start with intercession – how we pray for others. Praying for others in itself is an indication that you are a child of God. It shows that you have the love of God in you because you truly care about others. You’re observant. You are watching out for others. The first phrase in verse 16, “If anyone sees his brother…” That alone is a great assessment tool. Do you notice what is going on in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ or do you think it is just Jesus and you? Recall the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan. The religious in the story were either too busy or couldn’t be bothered to help their brother in the ditch. The Good Samaritan noticed his half-brother and took care of him. Are we looking out for our brother or sister?The late John Stott reminds us, “If any man sees his brother sin and does nothing about it, he cannot say he is his brother’s keeper?”[1]

I want to say right up front that this passage and particularly verse 16 is one of the hardest verses to explain in all of Scripture, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” Doesn’t that immediately raise a question in your mind: what are the sins that lead to death?I certainly don’t want to commit those, especially if prayers are ineffective against them. Well, John doesn’t list those sins so we are left to speculate. Most scholars have nailed it down to three categories: As Daniel Akin explains, “Three main views have been put forward: 1) A specific, deadly sin (high-handed sin as described in Numbers 15:30 when you know that what you are doing is wrong and you cavalierly go ahead and rebel anyways. To be high-handed is to be defiant against God!); 2) Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as mentioned in Mark 3:28-30 in attributing Jesus’ work to Satan (which if you are worried about committing that one you are safe because to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit means that you don’t care at all about God and His Spirit’s work of conviction of sin. Being here today, unless you were kidnapped, probably is a good indicator that you are not a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit); 3) Total rejection of the gospel and Jesus Christ.”[2]Howard Marshall leans to this third option, “Sin that leads to death is deliberate refusal to believe in Jesus Christ, to follow God’s commands and to love one’s brothers.”[3]In fact, this is where our Roman Catholic friends at Council of Trent in the 16thCentury got the idea of categorizing sins into either mortal or venial sins. Venial sins are ones that according to Catholic theology weaken their relationship to God whereas mortal sins threaten separation from God. Mortal sins according to Catholics are grave, deliberate and committed with full knowledge that it is a sin. They include breaking the 10 Commandments (idolatry, murder, stealing, adultery, dishonouring your parents, bearing false witness). Examples from Scripture of those who sinned leading to death would be Ananias and Sapphira who lied to God about how much they were going to give to the church and because they lied they both kieled over dead (Acts 5:1-11). Another example are those who took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and 1 Corinthians 11:30 says they fell asleep (an euphemism for having died). However, notice that all those who died due to these sins were considered believers because they had the Holy Spirit in them, and part of the body of Christ.

It would be our belief here that all sins have wages that lead to death (Romans 6:23). Certain sins have more physical or relational consequences as we learn from 1 John 5:16. But I think it best not to categorize sins in your mind so as to rationale picking one sin over the other because I can do this sin since it is not going to lead to death, but I can’t do this sin because it is going to kill me. It only takesone sin to make us a sinner in need of absolute redemption through Jesus Christ.

I personally believe these sins leading to death are the ones that lead to physical death and not spiritual death. They most likely aren’t high-handed sin, or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit or rejection of the gospel. That last one, all of us have done at least for a short while in our lives and people were praying for us to be saved. I believe sins that lead to death are ones specifically oriented to how we manage our bodies or temples of the Holy Spirit that God has given us. Furthermore, I am not talking about the 7 deadly sins.  So what are the sins that lead to death? I would not start a new denomination over this because John is ambiguous about these sins that lead to death. We can only speculate. However, I think that these sins are the natural consequences of the abuse of our bodies. For example, excessive eating! If I keep eating all the excess Halloween candy and put on a whole bunch of weight and end up dying of clogged arteries, that may be an example of a sin that leads to physical death. Other examples could be the abuse of drugs leading to an overdose, the abuse of alcohol leading to cirrhosis of the liver, the use of tobacco leading to lung cancer, or sexually transmitted diseases leading to AIDS. You might wonder if they had such vices in the ancient world. Drunkenness and sexually transmitted diseases are mentioned throughout the Bible from Genesis 9:21 and Revelation 2:22-23 respectfully. Another example of abusing your body would be to test or presume upon God and be reckless such as jumping off the church roof. There was also capital punishment and possibly John thought that a person who committed a capital crime should still be executed, but gets to go to paradise with Jesus like the thief on the Cross did (Luke 23:42-43).

It makes us wonder, but I’ve skipped the most important part of this verse and the command to pray for sins NOT leading to death. Praying for your brother and sister is the mark of a true Christian and child of God. It shows you care about others in God’s family. If you weren’t a believer, you wouldn’t pray for others. It goes beyond the platitude, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.” We are actually praying for people, not just promising to pray for people. A great practice is to pray with the person right on the spot when they have a request otherwise you may forget to pray for them.

Last week, I challenged you to pray for two people who are not children of God for every sick Christian you are praying for. How did you do? Along with praying for the fully lost is to pray for the wayward and wandering. We need to pray for each other all the time that we do not give into sin and if we do, we repent quickly.  As F.F. Bruce once said, “The intercession of a fellow Christian may be the most effective means of inducing repentance.”[4]Are we praying for each other that we would get caught in sin quickly so as to not do more harm? That we would feel conviction? That we get a bitter after-taste for sin? We need to pray for each other all the time to be holy and overcome temptation. I desperately need that from you and you need it from me. Certainly, there are times that we need to verbally and gently confront our brother or sister in Christ so that they are restored (Galatians 6:1), but we can also lessen the amount of time and messiness we have to confront a sinning brother or sister in Christ, if we ask the Holy Spirit to confront them first. God promises in the first part of 1 John 5:16 such intercession will result in life. That is spiritual life – a renewed purpose in light of eternity. I want you to stop right now and think of that person in your life who is stuck in a sinful pattern. Maybe their sin is affecting you? Now, you are quick to charge in and confront them with their sin. Do you lecture, nag and argue with them? How’s that working for you? Are you seeing any life changing transformation in their life? But what would happen if you spent more time praying for that person? Praying for the Holy Spirit to confront them, to convict them of their sin and to bring them to repentance? Do you think that God can do a better job of bringing them to repentance than you can? I think He can! Let’s commit ourselves to praying more and saying less for those who we see stuck in sin.It does mean that we don’t confront face to face, but we should be on our faces in prayer first.

It makes me think about how a military victory is won. When the military confronts dug in rebels, they don’t send solders first. They soften up the rebels first. They call in the Air Force. We need to pray for rebels to soften up their hard hearts before we do hand-to-hand combat for their souls.

But what about praying for the sins that lead to death? We are told not to do that. So what is a practical way we can pray for somebody who has abused their body? “Lord, I pray that you would be merciful and compassionate to them and let them not suffer much pain. Teach them everything that you want them to learn. May they be a faithful witness to the end! And may they know of your great, never-ending and loving presence right now. Amen!” Notice you still pray for them. You are compassionate towards them. You care for their needs. You love them. You are just not praying for their full restoration here on earth.  They have assurance and you have assurance that if they “believe in the name of the Son of God they may know that they have eternal life” as 1 John 5:13 promises.

But what if you don’t know whether the sins they have committed are ones that lead to death or not? Why not be on the safe side and pray for their full restoration? God will work out the details. Intercession is evidence that you are saved.This is so important that this coming week our Staff are taking Tuesday and Wednesday to get some training on how to do restorative prayer for people.

Why am I spending so much time on a passage that we can’t interpret conclusively? It’s because I have seen people pray for the healing of somebody, when it was simply their time to die. Their time in this world has taken its toll and their body is succumbing to the curse of sin and death. But those praying can’t accept it and pray for them to live. Then when they actually do die, there is a profound crisis of belief. We can conclude God isn’t powerful enough to heal or even that God doesn’t exist. I have met many disillusioned people because they thought their prayers weren’t answered. Could they have been praying for restoration from a sin that leads to death? We don’t ultimately know, but I don’t think we are taught to always pray for healing. We are not commanded to in Scripture to pray for everybody’s healing and Jesus certainly didn’t heal everybody while we was on earth. This is why we should pray that God would do whatever is best for Him and His glory. That shows you have the Father’s heart.

Intercession isn’t the only evidence that you are a child of God. So is your avoidance of idols. This is mentioned in verse 18 and then reinforced explicitly in verse 21. Verse 18 declares, “We know everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning.” We studied this more in-depth in 1 John 3:6-9, “No one who abides in Christ keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” Does that describe you? Do you hate sin? Only a child of God hates sin. 1 John 5:21 puts it simply, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Warren Wiersbe defines, “An idol as a lifeless, useless substitute for the real thing.”[5]It is a “pseudo-saviour!”[6]It is a counterfeit. And counterfeits are often what we get addicted to because we substitute how we should really feel for something that can’t quite give us the feeling of the real thing. And this is why anything that we pursue other than God will not satisfy. A true child of God has come to the conclusion that the love of the Father is better than the love of the world.They may still sin, but they are not controlled by a stubborn habit.

It is these stubborn habits that may be an indicator of the devil having a foot-hold in your life. This leads us to the third area to test whether you are a child of God – immunity from the devil. It isn’t just intercession or idolatry you need to examine but how immune you are from the devil. Let me explain from the last part of 1 John 5:18 and also 1 John 5:19, “But he who was born of God protects him and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” I need to clarify what the word “touch” means because it can be misleading and seem to contradict the rest of Scripture. For example, we are told in Ephesians 6:10 & 16, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil… In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” If the devil can’t touch you, then why put on the full armor of God and pick up a shield that extinguishes the darts of the evil one? Why be worried about the devil who is like a lion looking for whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8)? Well, the word for “touch” in 1 John 5:18 means to “lay hold of,”[7]as Mary tried to do with Jesus after He rose from the grave. You see, the devil can’t possess you. He may tempt you. He may discourage you. He may accuse you. He may harm you like he did to Job, but he can’t have you. Your spirit firmly belongs to God as His child and the Holy Spirit has sealed you to be with God for all eternity (Ephesians 1:13-14). You should take comfort in the fact that because you are a child of God the devil is fighting you, but cannot ultimately destroy you. As someone has said, “There are two types of people in the world: one that the devil has to fight and the other he can ignore.” Let’s be ones the devil has to fight. You see, you and I have immunity. At one time, we were infected by the devil, but we have been set free. What had infected us, didn’t kill us and now we can fight him off through Jesus Christ. As 1 John 2:13-14 declares twice, “… you have overcome the evil one.”

And we have this immunity from the devil because of our intimacy with Jesus. He protects us. Verse 20 declares, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” The devil is the father of lies, but now we know the truth. We know Jesus and having an intimate knowledge of Him is eternal life (John 17:3).

So how do you know you are saved? First, you pray for people! Next, you run away from addictions, sin and pseudo-saviors! You resist the devil and he flees from you! You get closer and closer to Jesus.

A week ago, we watched in horror as a gunman went into a synagogue and killed 11 Jews. After an exchange of gunfire with police, the gunman was wounded. He was rushed to the hospital and there continued to make threats while medical personnel worked on him, the gunman kept screaming, “Kill all the Jews!” Ironically, the three people who tended to him were all Jewish.[8]The ones saving him were also the ones he wanted to kill. This reminds me of Jesus who prayed for you and me just days before we humans killed Him. Our sins led to His death and yet, He still prayed for us, He cared for us, He overcame the devil and He showed us what was true. Do you know this Jesus?Has He saved you? Has He rescued you as a brother caught in sin?

[1]John Stott, Epistles of JohnTyndale NT Commentaries(London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 185.

[2]Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – 1, 2 & 3 John (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2014), 144.

[3]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John – NICNT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 248.

[4]F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1970), 125.

[5]Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 2(Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 531.

[6]Akin, 148.

[7]Stott, 193.

[8]Source: Accessed November 1, 2018.

What are You Asking God For?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

What are you asking God for? Write it down right now! Would anybody be willing to share what they are asking God for? I can go first! I am asking that I would be a holy man and that we would be a holy church. I didn’t say that I would be a holier than thou man or we would be a holier than thou church. I don’t want that at all. We have done that and got the t-shirt or should I say we got the sackcloth because God has humbled us. I want to be humble and holy. Why would I pray for holiness? Because Hebrews 12:14 makes it very clear, “Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” I want to have peace with others and I want to see the Lord. I want to see Him work. I want revival. I want to be a part of something that can only be explained by God’s doing. I know if the Lord’s presence is palpable here, He will be so attractive to people that the lost will be found, the broken will be made whole and disciples will multiplied. I know if God is doing the work and we are cooperating with Him, then we can reach at least 1% of the world turning the broken into whole people who multiply Christ-followers. That is a God-sized task for such a small group of people as Temple.

So what are you asking God for? This will help you assess not only your own desires and motives, but also reveal what you believe about God. Here are some self-assessment questions adapted from Spence Shelton.[1]He asks, “What do most of your prayers really centre around (circle all the ones that apply):

  • God and His character?
  • The nations and your neighbours (those who do not know Jesus yet)?
  • The orphans, widows and poor?
  • The government?
  • Your family and or small group?
  • Your physical needs (financial or health)?
  • Applying God’s Word to your life in practical ways?
  • Your problems?

You see, what you pray for often reveals what you believe about God. Do you see God as the Lord? The Saviour of the world? The Protector of the marginalized? Sovereign over all things including the government even if your person didn’t get voted in? Head of your family? Shepherd of this church? Provider of your needs? Healer of your hurts and sicknesses? Omnipresent and always with you wherever you go? And or Omnipotent able to do the impossible? You may see God as all of these, a few of these or even none of these. Your prayers though will reveal what you think about God.

Today, I want us to take a test from 1 John 5:13-15 to discover how our prayers may be the best gage for our beliefs.I’ll say that again: our prayers may be the best gage for our beliefs. And this is why 1 John 5:13-15 is so important. 1 John 5:13-15 will demonstrate who Jesus is, what He has given you and what you should ask for. Let’s read 1 John 5:13-15 to demonstrate who Jesus is, what He has given you and what you should ask for! Read 1 John 5:13-15!

John is concluding his first letter to the Ephesian believers in the last part of the first century AD and so in 1 John 5:13 he wants to reassure his readers of their salvation. Yes, there have been a lot of tests for his readers to examine their lives. Those tests include seeing whether they acknowledge and confess their sin to God but also repent of that sin. Those tests also include believing that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. Those tests include believing the truth rather than the lies of the devil. Those tests include not having a love for the world but obeying the word of God. And those tests include loving your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And so after taking these tests maybe you feel a little uncertain about your salvation. These tests are not meant to discourage, but encourage you. What we need to do is admit our sin, confess it to Jesus and trust Him to be faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. We need to ask God to give us a greater love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and then do something that would make them feel really loved – take them out for coffee, get a gift, write an encouragement card, give them an appropriate hug, or do a task for them. All these things demonstrate an internal transformation that shows itself in external ways. It shows that you believe in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God. As we read in 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know you have eternal life.” By believing in the name of Jesus you can have confidence that you have eternal life. I meet a lot of people who hope that they will get into heaven. They are trying hard and hoping their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds. But for those who believe in Jesus Christ, you can have an unshakable confidence and hope that you have a new life now with Jesus that will last for all eternity even after you die. This is a repeated message throughout the New Testament and is guaranteed by the promise of God. Check out some of these verses that reinforce God’s promise of salvation:

  • Jesus promised, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)Notice that Jesus’ true sheep follow Him. They obey and prove themselves to be part of His fold.
  • The Apostle Paul concluded, “And I am sure of this, He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
  • The Apostle Peter proclaimed, “Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)
  • Jesus’ half-brother Jude was convinced, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen!” (Jude 24-25)At one time, Jude didn’t even believe in Jesus (John 7:5) and now he was banking on Jesus to make him and us blameless.

Because Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth, lived a perfect life in a human body, died on a Cross and was raised from the dead, you can have eternal life. You can know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Jesus wants to spend eternity with you. Do you know who Jesus is? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you know that He has given you eternal life and will never take it back?

You see, the Son of God has made you a child of God who can ask for and receive anything that benefits God’s family! Or to put it in a more succinct way,Jesus has given you a Heavenly Father who hears you and responds favourably to you. This is a difference maker. Someone once asked me why pray? I responded simply because you have a Father in heaven. This is what we find in 1 John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence, which we have before Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests, which we have asked from Him.” Notice how God is not a distracted father. There are so many upsides to being a pastor’s kid, but one of the downsides that my wife and kids have had to deal with is that my work is so mental. I am always thinking about my sermon or a preferred future or an administrative detail or praying for you that I am not fully engaged with them. I am distracted and thinking about church. I’m grateful that my family shares me with others, but it isn’t always fair to them. Others of you may find parents or spouses or kids who are distracted by their commitments or their phones, which is why a good practice is to have digital fasts where you go offline as a family for a designated time maybe one day a week or for a whole month. We are too distracted. Maybe some of you are distracted by your device right now. God isn’t like this! He is never distracted. You are His child and He always hears you. You don’t have to stand on your head or wave your arms for Him to see or hear you. You don’t have to be well-behaved or get straight A’s for Him to be fully attentive! You don’t have to do something amazing to get His attention! That is what other religions teach. No, you have become God’s child because you believe in God’s Son.And because you are His child, you can have confidence to ask whatever you want. It was like when my dad would be in an important meeting at church in his study. My Dad’s Study had two doors to enter his study. I often would go through the back door thus avoiding his assistant. I could barge right in through the back door and interrupt his meeting and ask for anything I wanted. I had total access to him and he would stop what he was doing and listen to my request and grant it if he thought best. Think about how much greater you have access to God the Father in heaven. You can have confidence, which literally means, “freedom of speech”[2]to “boldly approach the throne of grace to find mercy and grace in your time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Now, just because God hears you, does God give us a blank check? Does God give us everything we want because He is so rich? Is becoming a child of God like winning the Megamillions jackpot of over $1.5 Billion? No, as a child of God you don’t get everything you want! God lavishes His love on us but doesn’t spoil us. “His love is not a pampering but perfecting love,” as James MacDonald says. In fact, God gives us possessions to meet our family’s needs, but also to meet the needs of others and especially those in God’s family. This makes our Father look good. I once heard this advice, “Give your children enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing.” That “something” is to serve God and His family. God loans us money to honour Him.

This explains why sometimes God may make us wait before granting our request. God wants to maximize the impact of His investment and gift in you. He wants you to recognize your great need for Him as your Father. As Ole Hallesbury has said, “Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only he who is helpless can truly pray. Your helplessness is your best prayer.” George Mueller understood this. His mission to take care of orphans often faced desperate situations. You see, George felt called by God to run His mission totally on faith in God’s provision. So George never asked anyone for donations. Many times it would seem that the children would have to go without. For example one day, George gathered the orphans together to pray because they had run out of milk. That very morning a milk truck broke down in front of the orphanage and the milk was given to the children rather than spoil. This is why George Mueller taught, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.”[3]

Sometimes God is not willing to act in the timing we think He should because He knows the waiting will form our character. Just like George Mueller and the orphans. God wanted to teach those orphans to trust Him that He would provide. I believe God is going to provide for us a church as well. Let’s not panic but pray. Sometimes though God is not willing because He wants us to get right with Him first. If one of my children has disobeyed me and then asks me to buy them something, I will say that we need to reconcile first. This is the principle we find in the Old Testament in Isaiah 1:15 – our sin can get in the way of God answering affirmatively – “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.” Obey before you pray!We husbands especially need to pay attention to obeying God and loving our wives and children, otherwise we can have our prayers hindered if we don’t live with our wives in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7).

And so we want to form our prayers around God’s Word. We want to pray with our Bibles open and our hearts and hands ready to obey. As John Stott said, “Every true prayer is a variation on the theme, ‘Thy will be done.’”[4]It will help us pray prayers that will be heard and answered affirmatively. I love what Howard Marshall teaches, “When we learn to want what God wants, we have the joy of receiving his answer to our petitions.”[5]This way 1 John 5:15 comes true in our lives, “And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”

This week I sat down with a man trying to figure out God’s will. God’s will is often not as nebulas as we make it out to be. We just need to get closer to the Father’s heart. R.A. Torrey remind us, “All that God is and all that God has is at the disposal of prayer.” It is God’s will for us to ask and He to grant what will benefit Him and His family. We just need to start asking for the right things that reveal His righteous character. I’ll give you an example from our prayer lists. How do we often pray for people? Do we just pray for the sick? I don’t say this cavalierly and I know what it is like to have people like my father, whom I adore, be diagnosed with cancer, but I think we need to recalibrate our prayers. Steve and Allen Kendrick in their book The Battle Plan for Prayer write, “Too often we pray for the sick saints to stay out of heaven rather than praying for the lost going to hell.”Our Father may want to call His children home and we are praying for them to stay here. In this praying tug of war between God the Father and us, who will win? God! Sure, we can pray for the sick. We are told to pray for the sick (James 5:14-15). But that should not dominate our prayer life. Instead, we should be praying that more people become His children. We should be praying that more people believe in the name of the Son of God and receive eternal life. What if we committed to pray for two people who need to become God’s children for every child of God whose sickness is fast-tracking them to see their Heavenly Father?

So let’s end this sermon with prayer, but just before I do I want you to go back to the thing that you are asking God for. What does that original prayer reveal about who Jesus is and what He has already given you? Can you assess it and describe what you think about Jesus? Do you treat Jesus like a cosmic snack dispenser that you just pop in your prayer and you get what you want? Or do you ask Him what He wants done? That is what a mature child does.

This reminds me of what God has done for us at Temple. A little over 6 years ago I arrived and 13 days into my role as one of your pastors, we served with a lawsuit because a former deacon and teacher in our Academy had abused some children and was now serving time in jail. The plantiffs were looking for damages and since their abuser was in jail, they decided to sue the church. I still recall thinking that we would have to sell the property and start over, but two years passed and the plantiffs came back to us asking for a lot less money. We called a day of prayer and fasting and that night our Elders and Deacons met to pray and study the Scriptures once more about lawsuits and reconciliation. It was then that I remembered I received a letter addressed to our treasurer. I gave it to him and proceeded to explain the plantiff’s offer. Meantime the treasurer opened the letter and told us that we received an unexpected bequest for the exact amount of money that the plantiffs were asking for. A holy hush came over the room. We knew that God wanted us to give that money to the victims as an act of love. We didn’t have to and we certainly could have used the money elsewhere. We were in debt. But we wanted to do what our Father commanded and love others. It is the same with why we are building when we are behind budget. God has provided and we need to seek those who are outside of the church. The Master’s Plan 4.0 is not for us but for those who aren’t here yet. And in those 6 years we have baptized 81 people, added 220 new members many of who are Heritage students that we seek to train while they are in Cambridge and release to further God’s Kingdom. We have become debt-free after being debt for 60 years. We have doubled our budget, grown 15% in our Sunday morning attendance, adopted new Guiding Principles, mentored 5 interns (3 now in full-time ministry and we are about to add another fully funded through our Timothy Internship program), we’ve added Staff, sent out our own home-grown missionary Christina Mayer to the Czech Republic, planted Restoration Church and have received over $7 million for recreating our property. Our Father cares about us. He will take care of us. We just have to get close to His heart. Let’s do that now.

It would be wrong to talk about prayer and not pray, so in groups of 3 or 4, answer the following two questions:

  • Are you a child of God?
  • What could we pray for to benefit our Father and His family?

[1]Source: Spence Shelton, “A Proper Understanding of Group Prayer,” Christianity Today, February 28, 2011, October 24, 2018.

[2]Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 2(Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 528.

[3]Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – 1, 2 & 3 John (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2014), 142.

[4]John Stott, Epistles of JohnTyndale NT Commentaries(London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 185.

[5]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John – NICNT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 245.

Are You Born of God?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

What are you thankful to God for? Shout out some things you are thankful to God for… I am thankful for God sending Jesus Christ His Son to make me a part of God’s forever family. In other words, I’m thankful I’m born of God. I’m born again. Are you born of God?Are you born again? Every one here has been born physically, but have you been born spiritually? Are you a child of God?

Lots of people would say that we are all children of God, but they do not realize that to truly be a child of God you have to be born of God. It sounds a little weird to our culture and it is going to sound weirder and weirder to them. I am starting to feel more like a stranger or alien in this world. I feel like as a Christian in Canada that I might soon be put in a zoo to be observed as an endangered species. An example was this week, I was waiting to meet somebody for lunch and a man came up to me and asked me about my iPhone. Then he has asked me my name and proceeded to ask me if I grew up in Cambridge. I told him my name as well as telling him that I grew up in Chatham, Ontario. He introduced himself as Norberg and then asked me if I worked for a local company. I told him that I worked across the 401 at Temple Baptist Church as a pastor. When I disclosed that I was a pastor, I braced myself because when people find out I am pastor that usually becomes the awkward moment. He said that I didn’t look like a pastor and I should wear a clerical collar. He then asked me if I was gay. I told him that I am not and am happily married to my wife and we have 4 children.  He then asked me how I became a pastor. So I told him about how God let me see my own hatred as murder when I was a teenager and it made me appreciate God’s grace in my life and that I needed to extend it to others. I thought that by this time after asking me about my name, my hometown, my sexual preference, my place of employment and my vocational beginnings that it would be fair for me to ask him a question, so I asked him whether he went to church. He said that was too personal a question and that each person has their own beliefs.

Norberg went on to say that just going to church doesn’t make you good. I agreed with him. Then I said, “Well, I think it is amazing that Jesus would predict He would die this horrible death on a Cross and then rise again and He pulled it off. That is a guy I want to follow.” Norberg looked at me and said, “That is a crazy story, you must be smoking dope.” He made the sign of a joint and walked away. And to think, it isn’t even October 18thyet when the use of marijuana becomes legal in Canada. When you all let me out of my study from preparing my sermons, I get into the craziest conversations.

However, being an endangered species as a Christian does not mean we should fear. We learned this truth last week as we studied 1 John 4:15-21 that “Trusting Christ’s perfect love will drive out fear and hatred.” We forget that love drives out fear. I recall watching a documentary on Hate Groups. The reporter befriended the Hate Groups and White Supremacists and took the risk to live with them. By the time this cappuccino-skinned female reporter was done asking her questions such as “Should I be expelled from this country?” the attitudes of those in the Hate Groups changed. They actually left the Hate Group. Love drives out fear and hatred.  How much more Christ’s love!

You see, God’s love is the most powerful thing in the universe. And as we will learn today from 1 John 5:1-5: God’s love makesus His children andmotivatesour trust and obedience in Him to overcome the world. I’ll say that again: God’s love makes us His children and motivates our trust and obedience in Him to overcome the world. Many of us feel so marginalized. It probably goes back to the time of Constantine when the Church and State created an unholy union and since that time we have thought we should be in the majority. However, do you do know that we Christians aren’t meant to be in the majority?  Recall the Scriptures, which say that following Jesus is the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14) and Jesus promised that as the world hated Him, it would also hate us (John 15:18). And so why would we would believe in Jesus, which causes us to be thought of as crazy and smoking dope by people at school, our workplaces and in the community? As we know from 1 Corinthians 1:18, “The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Many don’t see the Cross as a life preserver because they don’t believe they are drowning. They think we are crazy to believe in Christ, get baptized and spend a perfectly good Sunday morning in church with a bunch of hypocrites. So why would we would choose the path of being rejected by the world? Because isn’t it better to be a child of God and be a part of His forever family than to be loved by the world for a millisecond in comparison to eternity? This is why I am so thankful to be born of God. Let’s read from 1 John 5:1-5 on how God’s love makes His children and motivates our trust and obedience in Him to overcome the world. Read 1 John 5:1-5!

Warren Wiersbe tells the story, “A woman visited a newspaper editor’s office, hoping to sell some poems she had written. ‘What are your poems about?’ the editor asked. ‘They’re about love!’ gushed the poetess. The editor settled back in his chair and said, ‘Well, read me a poem. The world could certainly use a lot more love!’ The poem she read was filled with “moons” and “Junes” and other sticky sentiments and it was more than the editor could take. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘but you just don’t know what love is all about! It’s not moonlight and roses. It’s sitting up all night at a sickbed or working extra hours so the kids can have new shoes. The world doesn’t need your brand of poeticallove. It needs some good old-fashioned practicallove.”[1]1 John 5:1-5 does not give us poetical love; it gives us practical love. That practical love begins with our belief and results in our behaviour.What you believe will drive your behaviour. This is why 1 John 5:1 is important, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.” Notice that very first word “whoever.” As Daniel Akin reminds us, “John begins with an all inclusive word: ‘Everyone.’ No one is excluded.”[2]Being born of God and becoming one of His children is not like a club. In fact, it is like one of those families that are always willing to take in a stranger and adopt them as one of their own. It is like one of those families who invite you over for Thanksgiving and feel like you are one of the family. But in order to become a child of God, you have to believe in the Son of God!This is not just mental ascent, but that you believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Christ and Saviour. It is this belief in Christ that invokes a love for the Father and for all His children. Therefore, God’s love makes us His children! It was His choice to pursue you. Do you believe Jesus is the Christ and Son of God?

If you do, five things will happen from this passage. Here are five benefits from believing that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God: 1) You will be born of God (v. 1); 2) You will want to love others (v. 1); 3) You will want to obey God’s commandments (v. 2); 4) You will not think that God’s commandments are burdensome (v. 3); and 5) You will overcome the world (v. 4-5).Those are some pretty amazing life-changing and world-changing benefits. And to think it all comes from God’s love. God’s love makes us His children and motivates our trust and obedience in Him to overcome the world. And here is where God’s love has the trickle down or better yet, flow-through effect. We become God’s children and because we are now in God’s family, we start to love others in God’s family more and more. This is actually the number one rule in God’s family – to love one another. And as time goes on, this rule or command does not feel so much like a rule but normal. Furthermore, because you are growing in your love for others and not so focused on yourself, you have less and less passion for things of this world – pleasure, power, prestige and possessions and thus you overcome the world. Have you experienced this to be true? Have people noticed the difference God is making in your life? I do not mean to make this sound overly simple or five easy steps, but to show you how God’s love makes us His children and motivates our trust and obedience in Him to overcome the world.

Let me break it down a little further. When you respond to God’s love because He first loved you and you believe in Him, you get a new heart. You become a new person. As Daniel Akin says, “Jesus did not come to die on a bloody cross to make us kinder and nicer persons. He came to dramatically, personally, radically and eternally transform us and make us new people. This is why He gives you the very nature of His divine self as you enter into His family.”[3] This is what 1 John 4:15-16 teaches, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love, which God has for us. God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God and God abides in Him.” In other words, God comes to live inside you through His Spirit and now you have His love filling your heart because God is love. And this changes everything. You actually start to love people you never have before because God your Father loves them.

There are people in life that I love because my earthly father loves them. Last week, I was at a preaching seminar because I want to become a better preacher. One of the men at the seminar was Pastor Doug Blair who pastored in Pembroke and Sarnia. He is an old friend of my dad’s. I love Doug, not just because he is a funny guy, but also because of my dad’s love for him. How much more should we love people because our Heavenly Father loves them? Isn’t this exactly what the last clause in 1 John 5:1-2 teaches, “Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this, we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments”? Love becomes a continuum. God loves us and makes us His children. We then grow in our love for His other children and this causes us to love God more. God loves us – We love God’s children – Our love for God increases.

So what about God’s commands not feeling like rules? You might think some of them feel like rules to you. Well, I want to start by quoting John Stott, “Love for God is not an emotional experience so much as moral obedience.”[4]We don’t always feel like loving others but once we do, it becomes more of “It’s not, ‘I have to,’ but ‘I want to.’”[5]Many people don’t understand this and think that God and Christianity are all about the rules.Permit me to use a silly illustration to prove my point and show you how commands can start to feel less like commands. Many of you know that I love baseball. Imagine if we are playing in a game and we are down 2-1 in the last inning. I come up to the plate and manage to get a base hit. I am on first base. Then you come to the plate and you smack a ball in the gap, which means you are running for extra bases. Now you are a lot faster than me. I’m kind of fat! So you catch up to me as I am rounding second base and yell, “Jon, run! Run! Run!” Imagine if I stopped and said, “Why are you yelling at me? You’re so bossy!” You would think that I was crazy. But you yelling at me, “Run! Run! Run!” are imperatives. They are commands. And yet they don’t feel burdensome. They are for my good and for the whole team’s good. If we both score, we win the game.

You see, this is exactly what is happening with God’s command to love one another. The command to love one another is not only for our good, but the whole family’s good. It doesn’t feel burdensome. For as Pastor John Piper says, “What you desire to do with your whole heart is not burdensome to do.” God’s command to love one another should not feel burdensome. In fact, it causes us to have victory – victory over the world. Isn’t this what 1 John 5:4-5 promises, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” I actually think the NIV is clearer in verse 5, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” And this explains how “Everyone born of God has overcome the world.”[6]God’s love makes us His children and motivates our trust and obedience in Him to overcome the world.

God’s love is literally victorious. It produces a great faith and obedience in us. What an amazing plan of God and an amazing victory by Jesus. Jesus loved us when we were still sinners and because He died on a Cross and rose again from the grave for our sins, we become born of God when we believe and trust in Jesus. This turned us from rebels who despised God’s law into God’s children who delight in His law. We now see His laws as freedom and directions to bring about the most good, not only in our lives, but also in the lives of others. This is because the law is centered on love. Love doesn’t make the world go around but it makes us turn the world around. It gives us victory. It produces thanks.

This is why the Communion Table has been called the Love Feast. We love God and we love others. Friends, you need to take a test right now. Turn to 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, “Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eat and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reasons many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep(a euphemism for death). But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” This is the warning so here are the test questions:

  • Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God?
  • Do you love your fellow Christians? (If not, you should repent and reconcile with them ASAP.)
  • Do you keep God’s commandments? (If not, you should confess your sins and repent by obeying Christ once again.)

If you answered, “Yes” to all three questions, you are welcome to join us in Holy Communion.

[1]Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 2(Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 523-524.

[2]Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – 1, 2 & 3 John (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2014), 120.

[3]Akin, 122.

[4]John Stott, Epistles of JohnTyndale NT Commentaries(London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 173.

[5]Akin, 125.

[6]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John – NICNT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 228.

Do You Fear?

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What do you fear the most?Take a moment and tell the person next to you what you fear the most! I’ll let you know what I fear the most, but first I need to tell you what I fear the second most. I suffer from acrophobia or what you may know better as the fear of heights. Anybody else here afraid of heights? This past summer I had an opportunity to test this fear. My children wanted to go zip-lining and they convinced me that I should give it a try. I wanted to help my children conquer their own fears and I didn’t want to appear wimpy so I agreed to go with them. However, secretly I was counting on one of them backing out after they climbed up and saw how high up in the trees the platforms were. So we arrived at the zip-lining place and put on our harnesses and helmets. No one backed out after putting on the gear as you can see it was all smiles from this picture.IMG_6043 Then we went through a training session and learned that the two-clip system required that one clip always being fastened to a line to ensure safety. That made me feel a little better, but that confidence was soon lost when we climbed higher and higher up the stairs to the first platform and I saw that you had to walk across a rope bridge to start the course. I thought sticking with the stairs would be great. God even gave me the last name Stairs so I think that’s a sign that I should stick with them. The problem was that two of my children, Josiah and Jessie, had already made it across the rope bridge. But I took solace in the fact that it was Luke’s turn. I thought that he may turn back and as a good father I would comfort him and accompany him down the stairs and through the walk of shame. Lo and behold, Luke made it across the rope bridge onto the platform to the first zip-line no problem. And worse, Jessie and Josiah were already zipping across from tree to tree.  So now I had to get across the rope bridge. Here is where my memorizing Bible verses comes into play. You know that I’m not great at memorizing as demonstrated every week when I lead you through our Bible Memorization effort but I have discovered in the times you need it, God will bring verses to mind if you have hid them in your heart. So I got real quiet and said to myself over and over, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). With the Lord’s help, I made it across to the platform just in time to see Luke zipping across from tree to tree and now I’m stuck. There is a little kid behind me and I ask him whether he has ever zip-lined and he said sensing the fear in my eyes, “No mister, but you don’t need to be afraid.” So not to be outdone by my kids and because there was really no turning back, I launched forward. Here is a picture of me at my bravest. IMG_6041

What helped me overcome my fear? Was it having the right resources and equipment? Lots of people think they can’t do something because they don’t have the experience or resources. In my case, I didn’t overcome my fear by trusting in the harness. You can see that I am holding on for dear life. You don’t overcome fears just by having all the resources. So maybe you overcome your fears by visualizing the process and reward? Lots of people say you should just focus on the goal and reward and that will help you overcome your fear. For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, you overcome it by giving that sales pitch that gives you the big promotion and vacation. Motivational speakers will even tell you to take a picture of the reward – a new car, a new house or as one of my friends in sales did, a picture of Florida to visualize the goal. However, there was no reward at the end of the course for me to visualize. So what helped me overcome my fears? It was the love I have for my children. In fact, I tell that story to teach us how to overcome fear. It isn’t courage! It is love.  Behind courage is the push of love. Love overcomes fear! If you knew that I was going to be killed by a shooter walking through those doors, you would overcome your fear and try to stop him, right? Love overcomes fear! This is a profound truth and it is what we find in our Bibles in 1 John 4:15-21. You already told the person next to you that you are afraid of something. For some of you, it is paralyzing you. You can’t go any further. You are afraid to start that new relationship. Some of you are afraid to go after that job. Others of you can’t bring yourself to have that conversation. Still others of you are so tight-fisted with your money that you are missing out on blessing somebody or God’s work because you want the security of having enough. Today, God wants to help you overcome your fears. Not only so you can achieve your goals, but more importantly, so you can love others. That fear you have may even turn into hatred for somebody else. You are jealous because others are succeeding while you are living in fear. God wants you to overcome your fear so you can love again. It will most likely be a process so my hope and prayer today is that you will launch forward and do things that you have never done before because God has overcome your fears. Let’s read how to overcome our fears from 1 John 4:15-21! Read 1 John 4:15-21!

I told you my second worst fear, but I haven’t told you my worst fear! My worst fear is that I would so fail the Lord that I would show myself not to be one of His. I feel this deeply because I am a third generation pastor and have been exposed to so much truth that I feel more responsible when I sin. Have you ever sinned and wondered whether you are truly a Christian?One of the reasons we are studying the Apostle John’s first letter to the Ephesian believers is that we want everybody to take the test to see if they are truly Christians. And one of the great tests that everybody has to take if they truly engage this letter is seeing their sins as a darkness and a dividing line. Your sin is a darkness that divides the line between you being a believer in Christ or not. This is clear from 1 John 3:4 & 6, “Everyone who practices sin, also practices lawlessness and sin is lawlessness … No one who abides in Him sins, no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” If that causes you to sit up in your chair and pay attention that is a good sign that the Holy Spirit is working in your life. If you hate your sin rather than cherish it, be encouraged because a non-believer wouldn’t even care. We can right now, “Confess our sins to God and He will be faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Today you can have the assurance of being forgiven and clean. CONFESS YOUR SINS TO JESUS!

However, some of us may wonder if we have gone too far in our sin. We wonder if we have sinned too much or committed too great a crime against God. And so we live in fear. Some live in fear and give up. Maybe this explains why you don’t see some people who used to sit in the same pews you are sitting in now? They have come to the conclusion that they will never live up to God’s standard so why even try. Others of you live in fear of being found out. My friends, you are in a precarious position because if you care more about being found out by other human beings rather than seeing how your sins nailed Jesus to a tree. In reality, you are putting people before God. That’s what you should be scared about.

Others live in fear and don’t leave the church, but feel sidelined for ministry or wonder if they might have to do some sort of penance before God. If you live in fear, then I have some good news for you: TRUST CHRIST’S PERFECT LOVE TO DRIVE OUT YOUR FEAR AND HATRED!Let’s break down this summary statement of 1 John 4:15-21 word for word. First, trust! We find the word trust behind the phrase in verse 15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God abides in Him and he in God.” To reiterate this point look at the context in 1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” But notice trust alone does not overcome fear and hatred. It is trust in an object. Just like in the picture of me zip-lining (pic of me zip-lining), notice I didn’t trust in the harness even though I should have. I didn’t overcome all my fear because I didn’t trust in what was designed to carry me. And here is a truth for all of us, whether we have been a believer for a short time or a long time.Trust Christ continually.He is the Son of God and big enough to carry you and conquer your fears. And so we must stick close to Him. We must continue to abide in Him. And He with us. This is what verse 17 declares. As Warren Wiersbe remarks, “The secret of our boldness is, ‘As He is, so are we in this world.’ (1 John 4:17)”[1]I have a friend who was a former rugby player and is built like a tank. I am less fearful when he is around. Now, think about the fact that the all-powerful Son of God is constantly with us, and abides with us. We just have to trust Christ continually.

Notice that His presence perfects us. The connecting words “by this” in verse 17 refers back to His abiding presence. And so the “by this” connects Christ’s abiding presence to His perfecting love. How is Christ’s love perfecting? This is extremely important and I didn’t understand it until I meditated on it. Many of us would say that the most perfect love we ever experienced was when we got married on our wedding day. It gave us confidence because we knew that our spouse would be abiding with us for life. However, that perfect love has had an on-going effect. Our spouse’s love is perfecting because it speaks truth to us when we are wrong and they still loves us. Often your spouse is the only truly honest person in your life. They hold up a mirror in your life so you can see reality. But if our spouse’s love is perfecting, how much greater is Christ’s love? We can have complete confidence because of Him. Verse 17 declares, “By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgmentbecause as He is, so also are we in this world.” God sees Jesus as perfect and through Him, He sees us as perfect. He took it upon Himself to pay for the greatest penalty we could occur – our sin problem – and He paid it. Verse 18 goes onto say, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” You overcome fear when you know you won’t get hurt. I told you I’m afraid of heights, but I’m not afraid of jumping off this platform onto the floor because I know I won’t get hurt. Now, think about the worst thing that could happen to you: being punished in hell for all eternity. Jesus took that penalty so you no longer need to fear punishment. “For a Christian sentencing is not future; it is past.”[2]But as Howard Marshall reminds us, “If a person is afraid of God, this is because the love of God has not yet filled his heart and driven out all fear.”[3]That is a test question you and I need to take!

If you trust Christ’s perfect love to drive out your fear and hatred on the grand scale – with your biggest fears and hatreds – then God will help you have His confidence with lesser fears. In fact, Christ’s perfect love has driven out fear and hatred in my life to the point that I can lovingly and boldly speak the truth to people. My dad has even testified to you that his biggest fear was whether I was tough enough to be a pastor. I am actually not tough enough, but Christ’s perfect love is enough. “The perfect love that casts out fear, casts out hatred also.”[4]It even helps with the lesser fears such as heights. I can now go zip-lining and know that if I die, I will abide with God forever. My punishment is paid for. Jesus’ perfect love is casting out fear and hatred. And this causes you to realize that people’s opinions of you matter less. This is why I think the Apostle John transitions to loving one another in verses 20-21, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” How does driving out fear lead to loving our brother? The connecting verse is verse 19, “We love because He first loved us.” When we come to the settled understanding that Jesus loves us and our punishment has been paid, we can love those who hurt us and we start to see others as brothers who Christ loved and paid their penalty as well. Perfect love casts out fear and enables us to love more perfectly.We no longer smother those we fear losing, we no longer hide from those we fear will hurt us, we no longer manipulate those we fear will control us. No! Those fears are gone and now we can love others for their sake and not our own! As Daniel Akin says, “Since God’s love is no longer visible in the presence of the incarnate Christ here on earth, God is manifesting His love as it is now displayed in His people.”[5]

Friends, only love will help you overcome fear and pain. I watched this with my wife. Ladies, is childbirth painful? It looks like it is. So why would you ever go through it? You endure it for the love of your child.

Did not Jesus go through tremendous suffering so that you and I could be born of God? It is Christ’s perfect love that drives out fear and hatred!

And don’t you think that we need that, especially after the week we had? Some of you battled anxiety and fear. What happened this week? Many of us were glued to our screens as we watched the riveting testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh as Kavanuagh is trying to be confirmed to be the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States. Many women are living in fear and anxiety because of the abuse that they have experienced. Many men are living in fear and anxiety because they have harmed women or maybe they have not harmed women but are afraid of being accused. You see, the Gospel has the answer. Christ’s perfect love drives out fear and hatred. If we treated each other with love and saw each other as not somebody to be used, that would change everything. Men, and especially young men, you need to treat women with respect. As my grandfather taught my dad, “Treat a girl in such a way that you can still preach to her.” You see, only love will drive out fear in our interpersonal relationships as well as change our culture. Trust Christ’s perfect love to drive out your hear and hatred.

[1]Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 2(Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 522.

[2]Wiersbe, 521.

[3]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John – NICNT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 224.

[4]John Stott, Epistles of JohnTyndale NT Commentaries(London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 170.

[5]Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – 1, 2 & 3 John (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2014), 117.

Do You Love with God’s Love?

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Where do you find love?You might think I am asking about the person who you can always depend upon to make you feel loved. Maybe your spouse? Maybe your Mom & Dad are the ones you run to when you want some love? Maybe it is a friend? Actually, that is not my question or I would have asked from whom do you receive love the most? That question should be a given – you receive love the most from your family and friends, but the reality is that even though your spouse may be a great mate, they still are not 100% loving or sometimes parents don’t provide all the love you need. Maybe some of them are no longer with you or for you college students, you feel your parents are still trying to control your life? Where do you find love? Are you putting too high of expectations on the people around you to love your perfectly? Where is your source of love? From within? Do you just will yourself to love? You say to yourself, “I am going to love this person no matter what!” I’ve tried that and it works for only a short season. Is that true of you as well? Do you feel like you lack the resources to love others, especially difficult people in your life?

If so, we find the answer to where we can find love in 1 John 4:7-14! Today we are going to learn both the source and motivation for love. In fact, if you and I were to think of love as water, then we are going to learn what is the spring of love, what is the pipeline of love and what is the propulsion of love. I think we can all admit that we need to love more. This is why we need to know where to get love, what motivates love and how to show it to others. Whether you are married or single, old or young, male or female, we are called to love one another. How are we to love?  Let’s find out from 1 John 4:7-14. Read 1 John 4:7-14!

Daniel Akin in his commentary summarizes this passage when he states, “This is beautiful logic: 1) God is love; 2) Those who have been born of God and know God are God’s children; 3) God’s children have God’s nature; 4) God’s children therefore will love.”[1]Simple eh? Got it! Let’s sing the last song and go eat. Do you think that now you know this information it will lead to your transformation and you will be the most loving person ever? This is a great summary of the passage but does little to stimulate our actions to love. As Bible teachers, we can sometimes tell all the facts and information about a passage and forget to apply God’s Word. So I am going to attempt to do both explain and apply this message today all the while keeping the focus on God. This is why I want us to understand that 1 John 4:7-14 calls us to this truth and action: Since God is our foundationof love and God’s Son is our motivationof love, we must become the demonstrationof God’s love through God’s Spirit.

Let’s start with God being our foundation of love. Have you come to the conclusion that you are falling pretty short in being able to love people? You speak that unkind word or say something in a harsh tone, even though you read your Bible that morning and prayed to be more loving. Maybe you have been inconvenienced once again. Maybe you are so tired of being beaten down by a bully in your life? Have you come to the end of your ability to love? You have hit a dead end like driving up Franklin Boulevard hoping to cross over the 401 and the little GPS voice telling you are supposed to go over the bridge but you can’t. You’ve hit a wall, a roadblock. Or maybe you have run out of gas to love anymore? The answer and solution comes from the truth that God is our foundation of love. He is the source of all love. This is what we read in 1 John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love another, for love is from Godand everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God for God is love.” I want to focus on the phrase “for love is from God” as I think it is the cornerstone of the verse and lays a foundation for being born of God and knowing God. It fits with 1 John 4:19 which Lord willing we will study next week, “We love because He first loved us.”

Love comes from God. I believe this to be a universal statement. Every person, whether they believe in and acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God come in the flesh or not, is able to love only through God being their source of love. They may not know where that loves come from when they fall in love with their future spouse or when they bring that second baby home from the hospital and think that they could never love that second baby as much as their first baby. All the love in the world that you and I receive and give originates from God. This is extremely important to understand. You see, we cannot fathom the tremendous affect of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit in the world today. But that will be grasped some day by many. People in Hell will know what it is like to be void of God’s loving Spirit. You see, the worst part about Hell is not the darkness and heat, it’s isolation. Without God’s love being manifested, there will not only be separation from God, but separation from each other because people will have no love for God or each other. In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis captures this idea by concluding that people in Hell will want to get further and further away from each other. Contrary to some people’s thinking, there will be no party in hell. It will be the most lonely and isolated place in existence full of people who become greater and greater recluses. The reason why is that there will be no love because the loving manifest presence of God is not there. As we talked about last week, this Biblical idea is in complete contrast to the Gospel of Inclusion that says love wins. In hell, there is no love to win. That is why Jesus described hell as a place of darkness where there will “be a weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30) Nobody will want to be around anybody even if they could. There is no love in hell! I repeat the second sentence of 1 John 4:7, “The one who does not love does not know God.”

But in contrast, the one born of God knows God and experiences God’s love and becomes a more loving person. In short, when we love, God is in us, God is shown through us and His love is perfected in us. God’s love changes us inside and those around us outside. This is why Daniel Akin remarks, “If your life is not characterized by a God-like love, a love that even cares for its enemies, then you don’t know God.”[2]Or as the late John Stott said, “Love is as much a sign of new birth as is righteousness.”[3]You may think you are keeping all the rules and killing it when it comes to Bible study, but if you don’t love others, you need to question whether you are truly born again. True Christians, whether new to the faith or not, are ones that are growing in their love for others. This is because they know God and love is a family trait in God’s family.Even the world expects us Christians to be loving. Love is family trait in God’s family! It has always been this way! As D.A. Carson in his excellent little book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of Godwrites, “In eternity past, God the Father loved the Son and God the Son loved the Father. There has always been an other-orientation to the love of God. All the manifestations of the love of God emerge out of this deeper, more fundamental reality: love is bound up in the very nature of God.”[4]God is love as verse 8 declares. “Only God is completely loving.”[5]His love is inexhaustible and it is what we draw upon, often unknowingly, to love others. Pastor John Piper has given us an apt illustration, “Love is from God the way heat is from fire and the way light is from the sun.” This is why one of the best prayers we can ask God is, “Father, give me Your love for this person.”

Okay, but I need to address the skeptic. I admit, “The belief that God is love is very difficult.”[6]It is one of the favourite attacks of the atheist. How could there be a loving God and He still allow evil? We find John’s response in 1 John 4:9-10, “By this the love of God was manifested in us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be propitiation for our sins.” Before I unpack these two verses, I don’t want us to stumble over the word propitiation so I need to define it. Daniel Akin explains, “Propitiation teaches us that God’s holiness required satisfaction and that God’s love provided satisfaction.”[7]Or as PastorTimothy Kellersummarizes, “The gospel is that Jesus lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died.”If atheists are honest, they will see that love attacks evil as demonstrated first by God squaring off with evil head on at the Cross. The only truly innocent person ever to live was Jesus and He was murdered. It raises the question whether God was truly loving if He sent His Son to earth to be murdered by us evil people. What father would do that? Only a Father who wanted more children and knew that He would resurrect His Son. We know from these verses, God was at His most loving at the Cross. His Son died for us so that we might live through Him and love again and even become His demonstration of love in overcoming evil. We all had a love problem. Yes, there was love in the world but it has been tainted with selfishness ever since the Fall when the first human beings rebelled against God. Even what many would call the most pure love between a new bride and groom is tainted with selfishness as the new lovers say that the other makes them feel loved. There is nothing wrong with feeling loved until that is your goal because love is supposed to be other-centered.This is the pure love that comes from the deep well of God’s love.

And so since God is our foundation of love, God’s Son becomes our motivation for love. Our motivation to love is not so that we will be loved back, though that is often the case. Sometimes it is not. You and I have both experienced times when our love was not reciprocated. This is why Jesus has to be our motivation for love. 1 John 4:11 expresses this so well, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” I forget where I learned this, but Jesus raised the bar on love. Before the cross, the greatest command was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) But now, we are not to love our neighbour as ourselves, but to love as Christ loved us. Recall Jesus’ words in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”Loving yourself is too small and too selfish. Loving as Christ loved means sacrificing yourself completely for others who hurt you.

And this leads us to a third understanding of love. If the first understanding was that God is the foundation of our love and the second understanding is that God’s Son is the motivation of our love, then the third understanding is that we must become the demonstration of God’s love through God’s Spirit. I get this third understanding directly from 1 John 4:12-14, “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” These are revolutionary verses. My friends, love is not an idea or concept. It is less a noun and more a verb. It is action! And when we love, which somebody has defined as “doing what is best for another person,”[8]it shows that God lives in us through the Holy Spirit and is perfecting His love in us. Wow! Think about that. Every time you respond with love to that difficult boss or teacher or family member, God is showing Himself in greater ways. Though God is invisible, His love becomes very visible when we love.

The atheist says that God’s love and evil in the world cannot exist together and they are right in one sense. What they don’t see is that love is actually overcoming evil both in the hearts of people and in the wicked behaviours we see all around us. Think about when Dylan Roof who showed up a Bible Study. He sat there at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 for nearly an hour under the Word of God before shooting and killing 9 African-Americans. Dylan was white. Instead of rioting, the church members forgave Dylan and within a month the Confederate flag, a symbol of racism, that had flown at the South Carolinian capital for 54 years was taken down. Love overcame. Love only comes from God.He is our foundation and motivation so the we might be the demonstration and perfection of His love.

Do you see? Our as verse 14 declares, “… Testifies that the Father has the sent the Son to be Saviour of the world.” Every time you draw on the Holy Spirit living inside you to love others you conquer evil. You let people know of the inexhaustible source of love God Himself! Need more love? Seek God!

[1]Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – 1, 2 & 3 John (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2014), 103.

[2]Akin, 103.

[3]John Stott, Epistles of JohnTyndale NT Commentaries(London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 161.

[4]D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God(Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 39.

[5]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John – NICNT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 213.

[6]F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1970), 108.

[7]Akin, 108.

[8]Author unknown.

Do You Test the Spirits?

This sermon can be watched or listened to at!

Do you test the spirits?  Some of you are thinking, now you are talking Jon, “Of course, I test the spirits – whiskey, rum, bourbon and craft beers – I test them all.” No, that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about your listening, not your liquor. I am talking about your doctrinal alignment, not your drinking alcohol. In fact, we hope Temple is a safe haven for alcoholics as we are on mission with Jesus to turn broken people into whole people who multiply Christ-followers. That is why your pastors, elders and deacons have chosen to forego their freedom to drink so people won’t stumble, but overcome their addictions. This is one of the ways we seek to love another. So we are not talking about testing the spirits of alcohol, but the spirits that are behind every message you hear. Today we need to gain a deeper understanding of whether we are listening to our Saviour Jesus Christ or to Satan the jealous counterfeit.

Of course, all of us believe we are listening to God over the Devil. I doubt any of you would claim that you purposely listened to Satan’s Sizzling 100 Top Hits on the radio or Deep Thoughts by the Devil on a TV show or podcast. Why would we ever want to listen to Lucifer? Well, let me ask you, would you recognize a false teaching if you heard one? Have your traded one heresy for another by overcompensating such as abandoning legalism for easy-believism? Meaning you don’t have to obey Christ, just trust in Him to get you into heaven. Greg Morse calls this “Same-As-The-World Christianity.”[1]If I asked you what the number one heresy or false teaching was today what would say it is? Is the number one heresy today the prosperity gospel?That’s massive and plays particularly well in Third World countries, but there are still enough filthy rich televangelists who know how to milk money out of our pockets here in North America. Jesus taught in Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple,” so if people are offering you your best life now, rather than in the new heavens and new earth or if they promise that your donation is “like having a Discover Card, which offers you a cash back bonus,”[2]then you need to run away from teaching. Apparently, according to Lifeway Research 38% of Protestant churchgoers in the U.S. have not runaway. They say, “My church teaches that if I give money to my church and charities, God will bless me in return.”[3]But of course that is States side! None of us Canadians would fall for such teaching, eh? Yet here is the twist, you will be blessed if you give to God’s work since Jesus said in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than receive,” but not necessary by gaining more money. Instead, you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ by understanding how He gave us so much and yet suffered for it. The prosperity gospel is prevalent and pervasive, but I don’t think it is the number one heresy in the world today.

Maybe the number one heresy today is Pelagianism? That is a big word and comes from the 4thCentury British monk, Pelagius, who advocated the belief that everyone is born with a blank slate and innocent.Is the number one heresy today a denial of original sin?In other words, God responds to people after they make the first move out of their own free will because they are basically good.[4]Again this infiltrates a lot of people’s thinking when in reality the Bible says, There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks GodAll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:9, 10, 23) Peleganism is a popular heresy, but I don’t think it is the number one heresy in the world today.

Or maybe the number one heresy today is the heresy of works righteousness?This false teaching proposes that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, then God will let you into heaven. Many religions and even those who claim to be Christian Churches advance this heretical thinking, despite verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9 which declares, “For it is by grace that you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Self-effort always creeps into our minds thinking we need to try harder and do better to get right with God, but instead life is about trusting and surrendering our will to God. Works righteousness is widespread, but it isn’t the number one heresy today.

I’ll give you a hint. This past April, Netflix released a show about the true story of Pastor Carlton Pearson, who was one of the first African-American preachers on TV and pastor of a mega-church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, until he claimed he heard from God. Here is the summary of the show Come Sunday; “Bishop Carlton Pearson was an evangelical rock star…until he shared questions with his mega-church congregation about what he saw as a biblical contradiction…. Namely the subject of God’s love vs. what his church taught about the existence of an eternally burning hell… and the idea that all who don’t believe and accept Jesus as Saviour are doomed to roast in the afterlife. He couldn’t reconcile a loving God with teachings about an eternal rotisserie. Pearson says he heard God’s voice say Jesus is enough for all the world’s salvation, even those who don’t ever hear His name. Pearson tossed the hellfire doctrine from his trove of beliefs and embraced a new theological worldview—the Gospel of Inclusion.”[5]The Gospel of Inclusion teaches that all roads lead to God but as any mountain climber knows there is usually only one way to summit a mountain. I’m glad many of you realize this as you took a survey this week. Here are the results! (Survey results)

Lest you think that the Gospel of Inclusion is just a TV Show and there is not heresy in 2018, I want to show you a video that I showed on the campus of the University of Ontario Institute for Technology in the Spring of 2011: I understand Rob Bell’s frustration with judgmental Christians and his wrestling with eternal punishment, but what wrong conclusions did Rob Bell come to? Does love win? Love does win, but what Rob Bell doesn’t understand is that love doesn’t force people to be with God forever when they don’t want to be. People must follow Jesus Christ. He doesn’t rescue people from God but from their sin, from their selfishness and from Satan. Without hell, you can believe and do whatever you want. There are no consequences – Hitler is in heaven; Stalin is saved and ISIS is in paradise with those they beheaded. But instead we need to understand that hell is less of a torture chamber and more of an isolation ward. Many times I have visited people in the hospital, even some of you, in isolation. Doctors sometimes keep people quarantined when they are infectious. Are the doctors cruel to keep the sick from their family and friends? Is it wrong to keep people who have the plague away from the healthy? What many don’t understand is that evil is infectious! God is kind in keeping people who don’t want Him and prefer evil away from those who want God and want love. This is why God commands us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as we learned from 1 John 3:23 last Sunday. This is why we are giving you an opportunity at the end of the service to believe and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to God but through Jesus! (John 14:6)

This is in direct opposition to the number one heresy in the world or at least in Canada today – the Gospel of Inclusion. Thankfully, some of you are like the members in Bishop Carlton’s church or the university students, and after watching the Rob Bell video, could sniff out the heresy. Often the faithful will say that something doesn’t sit well with them. They might not be able to fully identify or refute a teaching, but their spirit testifies with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 1 John 4:6), that something is false. We need discernment or what I call being heresy-sensitive. In order for us to become more heresy-sensitive, we are going to be studying the next two weeks on the subject of who Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the Father are. This week we will focus on who Jesus and the Holy Spirit are from 1 John 4:1-6 in comparison to our archenemy the Devil. Let’s read 1 John 4:1-6 now to discover that to have God dwell in you, you need to believe God dwelt amongst us in the man Jesus Christ.Or to put it another way, to have the Holy Spirit, you must believe Jesus wasn’t just a spirit. Let’s read 1 John 4:1-6! Read   1 John 4:1-6!

Do you believe everything you are told?If you do, you are in trouble. You need to be discerning without being critical. Being gullible can be devastating as anybody who has ever been conned before knows. Did you know that there are spiritual conmen and con-women out there? This is exactly what we read in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit.” Do you hear the loving and fatherly tone of the Apostle John? He calls the Ephesian believers he is writing to “Beloved” – a term of endearment. And then, John says,  “Do not believe every spirit.” You see, “Behind every prophet, every proclamation, there is an energizing spirit.”[6]That energizing spirit could be the Holy Spirit or the devil! This is why “We are all to be doctrine detectives, theological investigators.”[7]Notice though I didn’t say, “watch dogs.” The difference between a shepherd and a watchdog is that a shepherd is looking for what is right about the sheep and the watchdog is looking for what is wrong about the sheep. Shepherds come across harmful threats as they inspect and show affection to the flock, whereas watchdogs are always critical. I want to applaud all those of you who love apologetics. We need you to defend the Faith, but my encouragement to you is try to assume positive intent and when you make assessments of teachings and teachers remember Jesus’ warning, “The same measure you use, will be measured unto you.” (Matthew 7:2)

So here are 3 ways to increase your faith and your heresy sensitivity: 1) “Evaluate the message AND the messenger by the Word of God;”[8]2) Confess that Jesus Christ is THEGOD MAN! 3) Listen to the inner and greater voice of the Holy Spirit! Let’s start with the first way to increase your heresy sensitivity: evaluate the message and the messenger by the Word of God. Heretics use the Bible to teach their views for their own glory; whereas true teachers teach the Bible so we can be used by God for His glory! One of my mentorsDr. Rick Bakerput it this way, “False teachers use the Scriptures to authorize their own agendas. Authorized teachers explain the Scriptures to advance God’s agenda.”I’ll repeat that, “False teachers use the Scriptures to authorize their own agendas. Authorized teachers explain the Scriptures to advance God’s agenda.”  My friends, I stand here very much a weak and sinful preacher and so if you examine any person’s life there are weaknesses and failings including mine. However, we need to not only examine whether the message aligns to the character and Word of God, but also ask if the messenger is living out these truths he is teaching? You can tell by their family. If a preacher’s wife and children think of their husband and children as a poser, who does not live out what he preaches, then that is a big clue as to whether they are worth listening to. Sure, the Word of God is true no matter who delivers it. Even a donkey spoke a message from the Lord to Balaam in the Old Testament (Numbers 22:22-35). But our goal should be to listen to those who you can inspect the fruit of their life over time. Let me speak to all of you who listen to preachers on the radio, TV or your podcasts. I think we have a problem in our day. Many often select the teaching of somebody who you don’t know who is a big name preacher over somebody you do know such as your faithful Elders, Pastors or local church Bible class teacher. And what we are finding out is that these edited sermons and celebrity preachers are not living out what they are preaching. Our own church knows that the home grown and known can also fall, but I would encourage you to inspect your church leaders’ lives and listen to them first. I welcome the hard questions about what I do with my time and money. One good thing from the tragic fall of Pastor Bill Hybels, who founded Willow Creek Community Church, is the corrective to his teaching. He often proclaimed, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” It doesn’t! As Bill’s friend James Emery Whitehas correctively said, “Everything rises and falls on integrity.”I believe this is what John was teaching in 1 John 4:6, “We are from God, he who knows God listens to us, he who is not from God does not listen to us.” Evaluate the message AND the messenger by the Word of God.

So if the first way to increase your heresy sensitivity is to evaluate the message and the messenger by the Word of God, the second way is to confess that Jesus is the God man. This comes from 1 John 4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Apparently there was a heresy going around just a few decades after the Son of God had physically walked on earth that Jesus appeared to be human but was really only divine. He was just a ghost and therefore His sufferings were not real. I liken this a little bit to how the hospital treated my father at his pre-op for his surgery this week. The hospital apparently lost his computer file and told him he didn’t exist even though he was standing in the hospital at the time. In John’s Day, the heresy was called Docetic-Gnosticism, which means “seems like” and “knowledge.” It was taught that Jesus was just an illusion but it really didn’t matter literally because matter or the physical was bad. Knowledge and concepts was believed to be the ultimate, not the physical. This heresy became full-blown by the fourth century and was officially condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Heresy dies hard because the New Testament writers had already made clear that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and “ForIn Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Even the tense of the verb “come” in 1 John 4:2 is in the perfect tense meaning that “coming” has ongoing results. Christ has come (not came) in the flesh and therefore, still has a body up in heaven. You and I will see Jesus some day in His flesh.

I think it is important to go back to what the Church has agreed upon as what is true about Jesus at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD):

  1. Christ has true and proper deity.
  2. Christ has true and proper humanity.
  3. There is a union of humanity and deity in Christ.
  4. There is proper distinction of deity from humanity in Christ.

“Tragically demons have a better theology as they recognized the deity of Jesus when He was on earth, than some professing Christians, pastors, teachers and theologians today.”[9]The greater tragedy is that “Those who deny the Son have neither the Father nor the Spirit.”[10]You see, “False belief is as much a sin as unrighteous behaviour or lack of love.”[11]This is why we need to confess that Jesus Christ is THEGOD MAN! He is the only One in the universe that is fully God and fully man!

And this leads us to the third way to increase our heresy sensitivity. Not only do we need to evaluate the message and messenger by the Word of God and not only do we need to confess Jesus Christ as THEGOD MAN, but we also need to listen to that inner and greater voice of the Holy Spirit. Here is where it gets personal. 1 John 4:3-5 describes the choice to listen to the Holy Spirit or the world outside, which is full of demons, “And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.” Remember I mentioned the same-as-the-world Christianity. Many people through the years have said that they have heard from God. They have had a mystical experience but instead of following and obeying Christ more, they abandon what they were faithfully taught from the Scripture. The big test to determine whether a message is from God the Holy Spirit is that whether it magnifies Jesus Christ. Jesus told us in John 16:13-14, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”You and I need to listen to the inner and greater voice of the Holy Spirit. As 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 instructs, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Truth and time will often go hand in hand when somebody tells you that they have heard from God. Does what one says comes from God come true?

What did come from God is Jesus and He is true! This past summer we visited a cemetery in Nackawic, New Brunswick because I wanted my kids to see where a number of our relatives were buried. We noticed at the cemetery a tombstone with the name Philip Stairs. Now, that is not the same Philip Stairs I know and listen to. Can you imagine if the cemetery workers got the wrong Philip Stairs and tried to bury the one still alive? My friends, many people have got the wrong Jesus. They think Jesus was a good teacher and had some positive things to impart to us. Others think Jesus was a champion of the poor. Still others think Jesus founded a new religion. All those are partially true, but many people do not understand that Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh so He could be the perfect human to die in our place for our sins. And the best part is that this Jesus isn’t dead, He is alive. He has risen from the grave. He is the exclusive Lord and is the one and only way to God. His Gospel is inclusive because He is inviting for you to believe in Him. But to be included you have exclude all other gods and stop pursuing your own selfish ways. Jesus as God’s Son has come in the flesh for you.

Do you believe in this Jesus?Then prove it! Be baptized to demonstrate His death, burial and resurrection. Confess Him as the God man. Then evaluate messages and messengers by the Word of God and listen to His Spirit who will come to live inside you.

[1]Source: Accessed September 11, 2018.


[3]Source: Accessed September 10, 2018.

[4]Source: Accessed September 10, 2018.

[5]Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – 1, 2 & 3 John (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2014), 92.

[6]Akin, 92.

[7]Akin, 94.

[8]Akin, 95.

[9]John Stott, Epistles of JohnTyndale NT Commentaries(London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 155.

[10]I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John – NICNT(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 208.