In the beginning, God gave us weeks. Then He gave us instructions on how to use them. When Jesus came, he gave us freedom to use weeks at our own discretion. The early church chose to gather on Sundays because Jesus came back to life on the first day of the week. On that day, he shared the good news with his disciples and they acknowledged that it was with great sacrifice that the gap between us and God was bridged. The same thing happened again a week later. Over 100,000 weeks later, the same thing is still happening.
The death of those we love is confusing and severe. Where are they now? What will the future for them and us be like? Will we see them again? Today we learn what happens when a follower of Jesus dies and we discover that though clarity on what lies ahead does not remove the sorrow, it adds to our sorrow, divine hope.
Religious pluralism is a reality in cities. For followers of Jesus in Denver, as in ancient Thessalonica, a natural question is: How should I live among those who don’t know and follow Jesus and what if anything should I say to them about our my Lord and Savior, Jesus? This message is designed to answer this question by looking to the example of the Apostle Paul. More importantly, you will discover a gospel reality that can set your heart on fire to live and speak as a loving and faithful ambassador for God in our city.
The 3rd verse of Joy to the World is probably the least known verse. Often when we sing the song, it’s left out altogether. Verse 3 is distinct from the other verses because it doesn’t take its inspiration from Psalm 98, but rather Genesis 3 – the curse. But it does take the form of a Psalm: the first 2 lines are a plea to God Himself, and the second 2 lines are a promise from God to His people. What is your plea to God today? And what is His promise, into that plea? In this world we will have troubles, but take heart! Jesus has overcome the world. And that is cause for true joy.
If, after loving and befriending a neighbor, they asked you to explain the good news (the gospel) what would you say? If you are not a follower of Jesus do you know what Christians believe? If you are a follower of Jesus are you prepared? One of the privileges and responsibilities that Christians have is to relay God’s message with others when they inquire. While the opportunities may be few and far between, when the time comes we must be ready. Paul was prepared, not with a prepackaged outline or a memorized speech but with the facts about Jesus. In this message, you too will be equipped so that when the opportunity arrives, instead of being ashamed, you will be ready.
According to a recent study conducted by Heart + Mind Strategies and the Barna Group, most Christians in America “feel a sense of distrust from society, and even fear, on account of their beliefs.” In our country’s shifting spiritual climate some are responding by separating from culture while others accommodate to become like our culture. In today’s message we discover that Jesus offers His followers a third path. The way of grace and truth. The pursuit of friendships in which we both listen and speak the truth in love. It’s an approach John Inazu (Associate Professor of Law and Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis) calls “Confident Pluralism” and it’s a 1st century framework for following Jesus that every 21st century follower of Jesus must embrace as well.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage comes from taking hold of a higher purpose that empowers perseverance in the midst of fear. Why did Paul head courageously into Jerusalem to be with those who did not accept him during his last visit and had previously killed Jesus? What fuels a follower of Jesus to be with people who oppose our Lord outside a 1st century temple in Jerusalem or in a 21st century school hall, neighborhood sidewalk or across the ocean on a village bench? Further, what could possibly empower us to overcome fear in order to testify, to speak the good news that Jesus is Lord with them? In this message we discover one of the magnificent purposes which ignited Paul and will equip you to shine the love and beauty of Christ even among those who misunderstand or are hostile toward Jesus and His messengers.
Paul continues his 2nd missionary journey, and travels to Athens, the birthplace of modern western thought and democracy. In a proud city of extraordinary architecture, art, and culture – one designed to display its great history, people, and ideas, Paul becomes “greatly distressed” by what he observes – in a way reminiscent of God himself, whenever God-given artistry and ability is not attributed and celebrated as grace and gifts from him alone. Since Paul has been transformed by Jesus himself, he is able to deeply understand Athens, and at the same time love Athens with the love of Jesus himself. In so doing, he gives us a clear example of how to engage in our highly nuanced, pluralist culture… blank Starbucks holiday cups and all.
Sometimes we all get stuck – stuck in traffic and stuck in unhealthy reoccurring thoughts, attitudes and habits. Like the struggling prey of a python, our unsuccessful attempts toward liberation can lead us to despair. In the Apostle Paul’s first visit to the ancient Macedonian city of Philippi, we meet a young girl, a business woman and a law enforcement officer who all find themselves entrapped. The good news for them is great news for us – our stuck-ness need not remain. True deliverance beyond tolerable recovery is available because a loving and infinitely powerful Deliverer is at hand.
Do we enter the family of God based on what we do for Him or by trusting in what He has done for us? The good news (gospel) is that God sent His Son Jesus because He loves us apart from what we do or do not do for Him. After we believe this message by faith, our process of transformation begins in His way and His timing as He conforms us to become more like our Lord Jesus. This is amazing grace. In today’s message from Acts 15 we discover that this unconditional love of God is so foreign to the human way of thinking that people often add requirements beyond faith in Jesus. When people do this we must follow the example of Jesus’ first disciples by lovingly, yet firmly, affirming, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” for God’s sake, our sake and the sake of the world.