Monday, October 16, 2017

“The Lord’s Prayer in the Psalms” – Provision – Psalm 86:1-4

After the Korean War ended, South Korea was left with a large number of children who had been orphaned by the war. We’ve seen the same thing in the Vietnam conflict, in Bosnia, and in other places. In the case of Korea, relief agencies came in to deal with all the problems that arose in connection with having so many orphan children. One of the people involved in this relief effort talked about a problem they encountered with the children who were in the orphanages. Even though the children had three meals a day provided for them, they were restless and anxious at night and had difficulty sleeping. As they talked to the children, they soon discovered that the children had great anxiety about whether they would have food the next day. To help resolve this problem, the relief workers in one particular orphanage decided that each night when the children were put to bed, the nurses there would place a single piece of bread in each child’s hand. The bread wasn’t intended to be eaten; it was simply intended to be held by the children as they went to sleep. It was a “security blanket” for them, reminding them that there would be provision for their daily needs. Sure enough, the bread calmed the children’s anxieties and helped them sleep. (

Let me ask you a question.  How well do you sleep?  Oh, I know some of you have physical problems that keep you from sleeping well.  Your back hurts or your knees hurt or something else but most of us don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from or if we will be able to eat tomorrow.

If you do, we have a food pantry just for that reason and we would love to help you with that problem.  See any church member after the service and they will help you with that.  But for most of us, we go to sleep knowing that there is at least something in the cabinet or the fridge that we can eat tomorrow.  God has blessed us by providing our next meal and so when we read the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew chapter 6, we often skip over the part about the daily bread without much regard but a closer study of what that means could very well change how we pray and even break the barrier that keeps our prayers from being as powerful and effective as they should be.

So, as we continue with our focus on the Lord’s Prayer, let’s look at it again in Matthew chapter 6, verses 9-13 and we will focus today on verse 11 but we will then get a good look at an example of it in the book of Psalms.  I know you have it memorized but let’s read again the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13.

"This, then, is how you should pray: "'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us today our daily bread. 12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'

11Give us today our daily bread.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  I’m asking God to provide me with something to eat.  It seems the simplest of all of them and yet interpreters have given any number of meanings to it.  Some people say it is actually referring to the Lord’s Supper or Communion.  We know that the Lord’s Prayer is often used in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper and rightfully so and some people say this petition is meant to mean the spiritual food a person gets from that ordinance.

Other people say this is talking about the Word of God which is the bread of life for believers.  Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 that says, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”  We know that the Bible is truth and we feed on it to sustain us every day like hungry people eat bread, or, as I heard the other day, like a fat kid eats cake. Christians feed on the Word and we are thankful for it.

But then some people interpret this verse to mean that bread stands for Jesus Himself.  In John 6, Jesus referred to Himself as “the bread of life” and as such we should be sustained and strengthened by the Living Bread.  What more do we need besides Him?

In my mother’s favorite hymn, All That Thrills My Soul Is Jesus, the fourth verse says,

Every need His hand supplying,

Every good in Him I see;

On His strength divine relying,

He is all in all to me.

All that thrills my soul is Jesus,

He is more than life to me”

So, is the verse referring to the Lord’s Supper, the Bible or Jesus Himself?  In my opinion: yes!  Yes, and more!  It is referring to everything we need to survive and thrive in this world and the next and all of it comes from the merciful and gracious hand of God and when we realize that and even more importantly, when we start to pray like that, we will start to see our prayers change, our prayer life change and the effectiveness of those prayers increase.

We learned last week that according to Jesus and what we call the Lord’s Prayer, there is a method, a manner, an order to prayer that makes our prayers most effective.  We saw last week that while any prayer is good and God hears every prayer, a prayer that begins with honest and heart-felt praise is recommended by Jesus.  Start your prayer by praising God just for Who He is and what He has done.  We then saw in Psalm 100 an example of what that looks like to shout for joy to the Lord and give Him praise no matter what kind of kind of circumstance we find ourselves in.

Today we see that Jesus says the next part of our prayer should be asking for God’s provision in our lives and where it says, “Give us our daily bread” is way, way more than just asking for food.  I’m sure that when Jesus was instructing His disciples on how to pray and He got to this part, His mind would have gone back to the story of the manna in the wilderness in Exodus 16.

The children of Israel were starving and God sent them manna from Heaven and without it, they would have died.  God provided water when they needed it.  He provided shelter, clothes, protection, guidance and strength to endure.  He provided everything they needed to survive and even thrive and we need to realize that…nothing…has…changed.  He still provides everything we need and this prayer is not so much an asking for Him to do it but more of an acknowledgement that He is the Provider.

It is vital to the health and effectiveness of our prayer lives that we really understand this so turn to the 86th Psalm and let’s get an illustration or two (or four) of what it really looks like to acknowledge God as the great Provider.  I don’t know about you but I need illustrations.  I’m not smart enough to just retain most things I am told without illustrations so we go to the book of Psalms for the illustration of this verse in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us our daily bread” and then we will look at the first four verses of Psalm 86 and we will get four illustrations of it.

In Psalm 86:1-4, David says, Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; 3have mercy on me, LORD, for I call to you all day long. 4Bring joy to your servant, LORD, for I put my trust in you.”

So, here you are, a member or maybe a regular attender of Christ Fellowship.  Maybe you have been a Christian for fifty years, you study the Bible, you have heard a million sermons on prayer and yet you find yourself unsure about how prayer works.  Well, don’t feel bad.  I don’t think anybody really knows exactly how prayer works and the good news is that we don’t have to.

Because, while I don’t know how it works, I do know that part of the secret to powerful and effective prayer is to start with praise and part of the secret is to humbly pray for God’s provision just like David does here.  When we pray, are we giving God new information about us?  No, of course not.  He already knows it.  When we pray, are we giving God orders about what we want, like at a drive-through window?

Is that what David was doing in this first verse, giving God an order?  “Hey, you listen to me and you answer me, Mister!”  No.  I may not understand prayer but I do know that method doesn’t work and it is not what David was doing.  We can tell by how he follows it up. “Lord, I am poor and needy.”

In our prayers, we should first come to God with praise and then asking for His provision because we all, like David, are poor and needy.  All of us, no matter our bank accounts or our wallets.  No matter how big of a house we live in, God is the Provider of all things and we need to come to Him with that mindset.  We should come like King David who was not informing God but admitting to God his helplessness and hopelessness without Him.

It was something David truly knew and understood and I say that because we see in 2 Samuel chapter 9 that David provided for somebody else who was helpless and hopeless.  You’re going to need to keep your Bibles open and ready because we are going all over the place for more illustrations of what asking God for provision looks like.

In asking for His provision, we should go to God in four ways; ways that we see in the first four verses of Psalm 86 and illustrated in different parts of the Bible.  In verse one, we see we should go to God humbly.  That’s the first way.  David said he was poor and needy and He knew what it was to be poor and needy from being a shepherd to running from Saul in the mountains to being chastised by God and he proved he knew what it was to be poor and needy by the way he treated Mephibosheth.

Do you remember the story of Mephibosheth?  Do you remember all the miracles he did and all the sermons he preached and all the wonderful ways he helped people?  No, you don’t because Mephibosheth never did any of that.  He never did anything.  Mephibosheth was lame.  He was crippled and helpless and in that society, he was useless and if somebody didn’t have mercy on him, he would die from hunger, thirst or exposure.  He couldn’t do anything for himself.

But look at 2 Samuel 9:6-8.  David asks around for any descendant of Saul’s and Mephibosheth is brought to him.  It says, 6When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, "Mephibosheth!" "At your service," he replied. 7"Don't be afraid," David said to him, "for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table." 8Mephibosheth bowed down and said, "What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?"

Oh, that ought to be our feeling when we go to God in prayer!  “Oh Lord, what is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?"  When we truly understand Who God is and who we are, we should be amazed that the Creator, the Redeemer, the Deliverer and Sustainer, the Great I Am would even consider us.  If you want your prayers to be effective, realize Who you are praying to and then come to Him humbly!

Now, go back to Psalm 86 and look at the second verse.  In verse one, we see we should come humbly before God.  In verse 2, we see we should come completely.  Verse 2 says, “2Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God.”  He asks God to guard his life, his breath, his being, who he is and what he has and he trusts God with everything completely.  If God so chooses, God can take David’s life or bless it or curse it or forget about it but David trusts God completely for everything.

Now, turn to Daniel chapter 3.  I know I’m not giving you a lot of time to look these up.  Maybe you just want to write them down and look at them later if you can’t find them as we read them and that’s okay.  But in Daniel chapter 3, we see one of Christ Fellowship’s favorite verses, I would have to say.  We quote it often around here.  In Daniel 3 we see the story of the three Hebrew boys who wouldn’t worship any other god besides Jehovah God and so they are threatened with the fiery furnace by old King Nebuchadnezzar and do you remember what they said?  

Daniel 3:13-18 says, “Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" 16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, "King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Woo!  How ‘bout THEM boys?  Huh?  That is what I mean by trusting in God to provide for your life, your breath, your being and who you are and all you have.  That is trusting God completely and that is what it looks like to ask God for your daily bread.  Come to Him humbly and come to Him completely.

Going back again to Psalm 86, David next asks God for mercy.  Look at verse 3. “Have mercy on me, LORD, for I call to you all day long.  David is not saying he deserves help because of the length of his prayers.  He is asking for mercy as he makes it a daily habit, an hourly habit, even a minute-by-minute habit of asking for mercy, not because he deserves it but because God is merciful.

His prayer life is such a part of who David is that he basically does it all day long.  He has a running conversation with God as he goes about his day.  We are told several times in the Bible to pray without ceasing or pray at all times and in all circumstances.  If you want a powerful and effective prayer life, you have to go to God humbly, completely and here we see we need to come daily.

In Luke chapter 2, Jesus is just a baby and His parents take Him to the temple where they meet Simeon, who prophesied about Jesus there and then they meet an older woman named Anna.  In Luke 2:36-38, it says, 36There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

What a blessing for Anna to be able to see baby Jesus and what a blessing for his parents to hear what she said about Him.  But it says she never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  I know, some of you are thinking that if you have to fast and pray and stay at church 24/7 then you’re out.  You can’t do that, can you?  Well, nobody can do it 24/7, even Anna, but we can all be known for our daily praying.

For Anna, praying wasn’t just something she did.  It’s who she was.  It was what she was known for.  Her worship defined her and it ought to define us.  When people talk about us, they can say we are weird or ugly and that’s their opinion but if our prayer lives are powerful and effective then they will have to recognize us as people of prayer and that is a fact because we go to God humbly, completely and daily.

Lastly, I want you to see that we should go to God in prayer expectantly.  As we ask for His provision for everything we need to live and thrive in this world and the next, we should ask for provision humbly, completely, daily and expectantly.  Look back at Psalm 86 one last time.  Verse 4 says, “4Bring joy to your servant, LORD, for I put my trust in you.”

When you approach the throne of grace humbly like Mephibosheth, completely, like the Hebrew boys and daily like Anna, do you think that is a prayer God hears?  Do you think God wants to answer a prayer that starts with praise and then asks - like that - for provision?  Again, I don’t know everything about how prayer works but I think it’s safe to say you have God’s ear at this point and the better you know Who He is the more you will begin to pray more along the lines of His will and that will bring joy as you pray expectantly.

Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Who, for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Jesus, of all people, was a man of prayer and it was because He was a man of prayer that He prayed so expectantly that He knew that God the Father would provide everything He needed and He could have joy even knowing that the cross was before Him.

Jesus prayed, “Not my will but yours” (Luke 22:42) and expected God to provide everything Jesus needed to survive and thrive in this world and the next and so can we.  Go to the throne of grace humbly, completely, daily and expectantly and see your prayer life become powerful and effective.  Let’s do that right now as the music plays.

If you don’t have a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus then that is where you need to start.  You can’t expect a powerful prayer life with somebody you don’t know.  Ask Him to be Lord of your life today.  Repent of your sin and ask Him for forgiveness.  Then start in a life-changing relationship today.  Why wait?

Monday, October 9, 2017

“The Lord’s Prayer in the Psalms” – Praise – Psalm 100

I want to do an experiment.  I’ve not done this before and I’m not sure how well it’s going to work but I have a pretty good idea.  I’m so blessed to be able to have my two dogs in the worship service and I really appreciate you letting me do that.  Today, I want to use them in an experiment.  They love these Milk Bones and I want you to watch their reactions when I offer them one.

I want you to watch how they concentrate on them and how there is nothing that could distract them from their dog biscuits once they see them.  There is nothing more important in this world right now to them.  I think it’s safe to say I have their full attention.  All their thoughts, hopes and wishes are in my hand.

That is what it should be like for us when we pray.  When we really pray, we should be completely tuned in to God and zoned out of everything else.  Our focus should be on God and what He wants for our lives even as we go to Him with our requests.  Those requests should be made with confidence because He tells us to come boldly into His throne room in Hebrews 4:16. But I think we will find as we study prayer more deeply that God’s ultimate purpose for prayer is not so you have a number to call when you need something but the ultimate purpose of prayer is for God’s glory and when everything you say in your prayers is backed up with that mindset, the more powerful your prayer life will be.

Have you ever been in a so-called conversation with somebody and you realize that they are only partly paying attention?  Does it seem like they are really only participating when they are talking?  What’s worse is when that person only wants to talk about themselves and when you try to steer the conversation elsewhere they always bring it back to them.  Well, I have heard enough people pray in my life to know that must be how God feels sometime.

So, do you ever feel like your prayer life is weak and ineffective?  If it feels that way, then it is weak and ineffective and it is weak and ineffective because your walk with God is weak and ineffective.  Your conversation with Him can only be as powerful or as weak as your relationship with Him and your relationship grows stronger as you learn to trust Him and obey Him.

Do you remember that old hymn, “Trust and Obey”?  It says in one of the verses:

Then in fellowship sweet
We will sit at His feet
Or we'll walk by His side in the way
What He says we will do
Where He sends we will go
Never fear, only trust and obey

Oh, that’s good stuff!  Do you want that powerful and effective relationship with Him?  Do you want your prayers to be powerful and effective?  James 5:16 says, The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Well, to be righteous means to be right with God.  So, you can either be perfect or be forgiven and obedient.  I’ll have to be the latter.  But because I am right with God through His Son Jesus and I have been forgiven and when I am trusting and obeying Him, I can expect my prayer life to be powerful and effective.

But there is a good way to pray and there is a better way to pray.  Did you know that? The good way to pray is, “Aaaahhh!!! Lord, please help me!”  Sometimes that’s all we have time for or all we are able to do and that works.  God hears that prayer.  But there is a better way to pray and Jesus told us as He told His disciples who asked Him about it in Matthew chapter 6:9-13.  The Lord’s Prayer is found there and is a skeleton upon which we will fill in and flesh out what our fervent prayers should look like.

The Lord’s Prayer was never intended to be repeated as a prayer itself.  The disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them a prayer but to teach them how to pray and so Jesus gave them this outline.  For the next few weeks we will fill in that outline through the psalms as we see what true prayer really looks like. So, first turn to Matthew 6:9-13 and then we will look at Psalm 100 in a few minutes.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from the evil one.

I want you to use your imagination with me for just a minute and imagine that you are a private in the Army and the Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis has come to your platoon to show the new weapons system that has been developed.  It is fairly easy to use but there is a method to it and if used correctly, it will absolutely change the way wars are fought.

Its name is the Patriots Right and Your Every Responsibility weapons system, more commonly known as P.R.A.Y.E.R. and all you have to do is cock it, take the safety off and fire and it will completely wipe out the enemy.  But because you weren’t really paying attention when Mattis was demonstrating it, you get into battle and don’t use it correctly.  You pull the trigger but nothing happens and so you finally use it to poke the enemy in the eye or use it as a club but it doesn’t really seem very effective and you finally just give up on it.

That’s just how real prayer is.  There is a method to it and when used correctly, it is the single most powerful weapon on the planet because it is the power of Almighty God, the power of the Creator of the universe and the risen Savior of the world.  Here in Matthew, Jesus gives us the outline for using prayer and it can be broken down into four steps.  The first two verses are praise.  Verse 11 is asking for provision, verse 12 is asking for forgiveness or pardon and verse 13 is asking for protection.

Today, we are going to look at the first step to real and powerful prayer.  If you want your prayer to be heard and for it to be effective, Jesus says to start out with praise to God.  So, what does true praise sound like or look like?  Well, I invite you to turn way left in your Bibles to the middle of the book; to the book of Psalms, specifically Psalm 100.

Do you appreciate what God does for you?  Do you enjoy being with Him and witnessing His glory and power?  Then just tell Him.  Expressing our love for God in praise doesn’t just tell God, it actually completes the enjoyment and appreciation.  Expressing praise is part of the enjoyment.  This part of the prayer ought to flow out of you like water through a hose.  We don’t know who wrote Psalm 100 but he obviously can’t contain his praise.  Just look at the very first word.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

I want to read it again and I hope you see that the psalmist is praising God just because of Who God is and what He has done and not because of who the psalmist is or what the psalmist has done.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Do you see how he praises God just for who God is and what He has done?  This first part is not about you.  If you have a hard time thanking God for who He is, then you don’t know who He is.  In whatever circumstance you are in, you should want to SHOUT your praise to God for His goodness, mercy, grace, love and forgiveness.  Without all of that, whatever you are going through would be immeasurably worse.  You shout for a football game that means absolutely nothing.  You should want to shout for all that God has done, is doing and will do in your life.

Now, I know that this psalm is not a prayer.  It’s actually a song but it involves the kind of praise that we should incorporate into our prayers.  Look at verse 2.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Now, obviously, this is talking about praising God when you are in a good mood, right?  When all is well, worship with gladness.  Praise God with joyful songs when you are happy.  Right?

Actually, this makes no such qualifications.  Every time we seriously pray, we should realize who God is and who we are and that should bring us joy to the point where we can pray with gladness and joy because we are talking to the Creator of the universe and Almighty God.  When we do that, we will start to see power in our prayer life just like Paul and Silas did in Acts 16.  In Acts 16, it tells of Paul and Silas being thrown into jail for something they had not done.  Not only were they thrown in jail, but they were whipped and put into stocks that would keep them from moving or finding any comfort.

How would you feel about that if it were you?  I have to admit, I’m afraid I would be seething mad.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I’m in pain.  My rights have been taken away.  Most people would be miserable and mad.  But in beautiful verse 25, it says that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them.

I don’t know what they were praying or singing but there is power in that kind of joyful, praising, worshipful prayer.  In the next verse it says that there was suddenly a violent earthquake and the foundations of the prison were shaken and the doors flew open and the chains were loosed.  Talk about “Chainbreaker”!  Tell me there’s not power in prayer.  Tell me again how you have it so bad you can’t pray.

Paul later went on to say, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

You ought to SHOUT that to God in prayer! “Thank you Lord for what you are doing in my life and while I may not be comfortable, I know that because of my relationship with you that I can do all things through Him who gives me strength!” And maybe that means that God will remove you or release you from your trouble like He did with Paul and Silas that time or…maybe He just gives you the strength to get through it praising Him because you know that the other prisoners are listening to you.

Because they are listening.  Other people hear your prayers and they want to know what kind of God you worship.  Do you worship a God that you only pray to asking for help and protection as you cry out in pain or do you, in the midst of pain, shout to God your praise just because of who He is and what He has done in spite of who you are and in spite of what you have done?  That’s a powerful way to start your prayer right there.

We all remember the story of Daniel in the lions’ den but do you remember what got him there?  He was caught praying and giving thanks to God.  What did Daniel have to praise God for?  He was in captivity in a foreign country, his country had been conquered with its capital city of Jerusalem in ruins and yet Daniel risked everything to praise God.  He must have been convinced of the power of prayer and especially the power of praise in prayer.

Or how about good old Job?  One day Job was the richest man in the world, blessed by God with everything he could want including seven sons and three daughters and the next day he lost everything including all his children and what did Job do?  It says as soon as Job got the word, he got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:20-21)

Evidently Job, too, knew about the power of praise in prayer.

We know that the night before Jesus was arrested, He ate the Passover meal with His disciples, including Judas, and it says that as He took the bread, He gave thanks and as He took the wine, He gave thanks. (Luke 22) Jesus is eating what He knows will be His last meal with the very person who has betrayed Him sitting there with Him and yet Jesus gives thanks.  There must be power in praise. Why else would Jesus tell His disciples to pray starting with praise?

Let’s spend some time right now just praising God for who He is and what He has done.  Remember, this is not about you.  Praise God for His grace and mercy.  Praise Him for His love and forgiveness.  Praise Him just for being who He is and even though you don’t understand Him, you will trust Him and obey Him because He is God.  Do that right now, as the music plays.

If you don’t have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus then all you have to do is believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven and by His sacrifice on the cross, all your sins can and will be forgiven if you just ask.  Repent – turn away – from those sins and ask God to be Lord of every aspect of your life and open up the power of prayer in your life today.  Do it now.  Today is the day of salvation!  Thank you, Lord!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

“What Next After Being Saved?” – Matt. 28:18-20

Hey, really quickly before I get started, I have another announcement to make.  This may not be the best time to say this but I want you all to know about something that has been going on with me personally.  I didn’t want you to hear it from somebody else and I don’t want you to make a big deal out of it but I have been dating a real sweet lady for a while now and it looks like it may develop into something more and so I want you to know about her.

She, too, has been married before.  She has several kids.  She’s about my age and most of the time she actually lives in California.  Some of you may have heard of her before.  She’s been in several movies.  Her name is Angelina Jolie.  Have y’all heard of her?  No, seriously, after Brad Pitt left her, she was really torn up and needed some counseling and so I was there for her.  She knew how much I love kids and we just started spending some time together and then one thing lead to another and we have been dating for several months now.  It’s nice.

Y’all believe me, don’t you?  Okay, I know most of you believe me but some of you may not and so I want to level with you.  I’m just kidding.  I’m not really dating Angelina Jolie and let me tell you how you can know that I am not telling the truth about this.  While it is entirely plausible that I could be dating her and me not dating her has nothing to do with me being short, fat, bald, poor and thousands of miles away, how you can tell that this is a made-up story is that I supposedly went months without telling anybody, right?

Because if I was really dating Angelina Jolie the beautiful, glamorous, movie star, trust me, I would have mentioned it before now.  I would have told everybody after the first phone call.  I would tell everybody.  I’d put it on Facebook.  Shoot, I might even put it on my business card.  Can’t you see it?  Todd Blair, Pastor, Christ Fellowship, Lake Bridgeport, DATING ANGELINA JOLIE!

If you are married, you know how it is.  You want everybody to know.  You’re proud of your spouse.  You’re proud of being married to that person and you should want people to know.  Now, what’s even more ridiculous than me dating Angelina Jolie and not saying anything about it is people who claim to be Christians, who the Bible calls the bride of Christ, and yet never tell anybody…about Jesus.  That’s unthinkable.  If you truly have a relationship with the Savior of the world, you will want to tell others about Him.

You don’t have to know everything about Jesus to tell others what you do know, do you?  I know that quite a few of you regularly tell other people about this church and that’s good.  You invite people to Christ Fellowship often and yet I bet you have no idea how many light bulbs are in the Fellowship Hall.  I bet you don’t have a clue what longitude and latitude we are or how many boards there are in the back deck.  And do you know why you don’t know that stuff and yet still invite people?  Because you don’t have to know.

All you have to know is that our church is, as the inmate said, the church that helps people.  All you have to know is that Christ Fellowship preaches, teaches, sings and talks about the truth of the Gospel, that we love people and love Jesus and our goal as a church is to do whatever it takes to lead people to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus.  Now, if you can tell others about this church, why can’t you tell them about Jesus?

Sure, I know you have to start somewhere and I know not everybody that sows will reap and all that stuff but at some point, we all have to do better; we all have to start saying the name of Jesus to people who are not Christians.  At some point, you have to say His name.  Don’t answer out loud but how long has it been since you started a conversation about Jesus with somebody that was not a believer?  Well, as the chili commercial said, “Well, pardner, that’s too long!”

Let’s look at the last few verses of the book of Matthew today and we will see the last few words Jesus spoke to His disciples while still on the earth.  Yes, I know you have heard and read and have listened to sermons many times on these verses but you are going to hear it one more time, at least.  Matthew 28:18-20 is the Great Commission but we go back over it again today because it has become the Great Omission in too many lives.  Too many people claim to be disciples of Jesus and have gone their whole lives going to church and singing in the choir and giving ten percent in the offering plate as it goes by and yet have never once witnessed to anybody.

That’s exactly the type of person that is going to die and see God just long enough for Him to say, “Get away from Me.  I never knew you!” (Matt. 7)  I love you all too much NOT to tell you that and I will explain why I say that after we read Matthew 28:18-20.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So, we know how people get saved by now, right?  How are we saved?  Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace and through faith.  We know who can be saved.  We know that nobody is too good or too bad and that everybody can be saved.  Revelation 22:17 says, let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”  We also know that not everybody is going to respond to the Gospel message in the same way.  Some will accept it and others won’t.  Jesus told us that in His parable of the soils in Luke 8.

Today we answer the last question in our sermon series, “What next after being saved?”

Let me ask you a question.  How many of you like to have fun?  Of course you do.  That seems like a dumb question but we all know some people that put a little more priority on fun than others, right?  When I go on vacation with my family, we sometimes like to play a game where you search for things as you go or you do things as you go, all in the name of fun.

We make a list of things like sing or dance in public, ask a stranger to scratch your back, get your picture taken with a cop, fall down or tell the biggest lie.  Stuff like that.  You get points for doing each one and everybody votes on how many points you get depending on how much effort you put into it and the one with the most points wins.  It’s a whole lot of fun but the only problem is that it takes a lot of energy to have fun.  Sometimes you just want to relax.

It’s the same with making disciples.  When you see the light bulb go off in somebody’s head and they realize they are a sinner in need of a savior and they ask Jesus to forgive them and to be Lord of their lives, that is the most fun you can ever have.  Period.  That’s a great feeling to know you helped change somebody’s eternity! But it takes some effort – just like everything else in this life. 

So, if you were to ask, “What next after being saved?”, the answer would be, “Go and make disciples.”  We have talked before about what a disciple is.  A disciple is simply one who learns from Jesus and then tells others what they know.  That’s it.  You don’t have to know everything about God and the Bible.  You don’t have to know the difference in pre-trib or post trib.  You don’t have to know what happened to the dinosaurs or if all dogs go to Heaven.  You just have to learn something from Jesus and then tell somebody else.

How cool is it that the main thing Jesus tells us to do is also the most fun thing in the world?  That’s great.  But it takes some effort…and it takes some love.  I’ll tell you what you do.  You mix all of your effort together with all of your love.  Put it in your hands and say to God, “Lord, this is all I have.  Will you please do the rest?” It’ll be like Jesus feeding the 5000 with a few loaves and fishes but He will do it.

That doesn’t sound too hard, does it?  Take the effort to tell people what you know just because you love them.  Yet, I have seen two different polls this week that both said 98% of professing Christians don’t ever tell anybody else how to be saved.  Only 2% are really carrying out the Great Commission.  I bet there are at least 98% of the people that want to complain about the shape our country is in.  I bet 98% are concerned about the eternity of their children and grandchildren.  I bet at least 98% of professing Christians want God to bring a revival to our community but only 2% are obedient to make disciples.

Gee, I wonder why we don’t see revival around here.  But the good news about the Good News is that it’s not too late and it’s not too hard.  I want to share two surprisingly easy ways to do it.  You can witness to somebody biblically or relationally or both.  Let’s look at the biblical way first.  Grab your Bibles.  You might want to underline or circle or highlight a few verses but they are easy to remember.

This is just one way.  There are lots of others.  But this way is easy to remember and tells people the minimum they need to know to become a Christian and start to be a disciple themselves.  First, they need to recognize they are a sinner.  Explain that sin is simply anything that displeases God.  Point them to Romans 3:23 that says we are all sinners and all fall short of God’s glory.  Then point them to Romans 6:23 that says the wages of sin – what we deserve for our sin – is eternal death and separation from God in Hell.  That’s bad news, isn’t it?

But then tell them that the Good News, literally the Gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ is found in good old John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  All we have to do is believe in Jesus but that belief goes way beyond just believing that He lived and then died on a cross.  That belief will manifest itself in a changed life; one that continues believing and changing to be more like Jesus every day.  It’s not perfection but it is changed.

That’s easy.  We can all remember three verses.  Bookmark them in your Bible and have them ready for the other person to read when they show an interest.  That’s all you have to do.  They may or may not believe right then but if you are prayerful through this, God will give you what you need at that moment and their decision is up to them and the Holy Spirit.

Now, the other way is by giving your testimony.  Honestly, you’ll probably use this first before you go through the biblical way and so you must, must, must have this down.  All you are doing is telling the other person your story and that story has three aspects.  It needs to include what your life was like before you became a Christian, how you came to know Him and then what your life has been like since.  It’s not complicated and there’s no magic way but there is a right way and a wrong way.

Let me illustrate the wrong way by first telling you my plans for becoming a millionaire when I retire from pastoring.  I’ve told some of you this before but if I ever do retire, I’m seriously thinking about how to start my own business just listening to people.  I even have a name picked out: Ears To You.  I’ll go to nursing homes or peoples’ houses or businesses, wherever I can and just listen to them talk about themselves.  I guarantee it’s a money-maker because everybody loves to talk about themselves but nobody wants to listen.  In my job all I will say is, “Yes” “Really?” and “Tell me more.”  Then I’ll charge you a dollar a minute and leave.  Money in the bank. I tell you my plans because nobody wants to hear your life story when you give your testimony.  It’s the number one, biggest mistake that everybody makes.  I know it’s important to you.  I know it’s truth and it’s powerful and it really shows what God has done in your life but if you can’t tell it in less than a minute or two, it’s not your testimony.  It’s your biography.  That goes in your memoirs. 

Your testimony is not about you.  It’s about Jesus and what having Him in your life has done for you and the others around you.  I’m sorry to tell you this because I know you want to talk about all the good things God has done in turning your life around but the person you are witnessing to needs to only hear a one or two sentence version of what you were like before, then tell them how you came to know Jesus, which is telling them how they can know Jesus and then what your life has been like since.

I went on a little weekend retreat a couple of weeks ago with another church’s men’s group.  It’s a long story why I was there but I was sitting at lunch across from a guy I didn’t know.  He had said something about God to somebody else and so, just to avoid some awkward silence between us, I asked him to tell me what God was doing in his life.  He said, “Well, the weekend’s not long enough.”  I said, “Okay, just give it to me in a few sentences while I finish my sandwich.”  I said, “You have three minutes.  Go.” No kidding, twenty minutes later, he paused just long enough to take a breath and I acted like I had something I had to do and I got up and left.  I felt bad because I know it was meaningful to him but he was boring me to death.  The guy actually followed me around trying to tell me more.  It started to make mad.  I enjoy hearing about what God is doing in your life as much as anybody but when you start out, “I was born at a very young age and when I was two, my mother took me to so and so church and at four, we moved and then…” Just stop.

Let me give you an example of what a good testimony should be.  I’ll make up a scenario.  I used to be a drug-dealing, alcoholic, bank-robbing outlaw biker who went by the name “Slash”.  I spent years and years in prison.  I did a lot of mean and nasty things but none of it ever brought satisfaction or contentment.  I had no joy or peace.  I was miserable and about to kill myself but I met a man in jail who explained that Jesus loved me even though I was a sinner.  He explained that sin was anything that displeased God and he told me that if I would just repent – turn away from that sin – that God would forgive me and that if I would make Jesus Lord of my life that I could be forgiven and spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  Since then, my life is not perfect.  I still have problems and I still sin sometimes but when I do, I ask God for forgiveness and now I have joy and peace even in the difficult times because I know God loves me and He is in control.  Is that something you would be interested in?

Ninety-nine percent of the time that’s all you have time for.  Any more than that and you will lose them.  If they ask for more then you tell them all about it but let them ask.  Again, your testimony is not about you.  It is about what having Jesus in your life has done for you and others around you.  Customize it to fit you.  Make it your own.  But keep it under three minutes because rarely will even the most dramatic story be beneficial after that.  Save the whole story for when I come visit you in the nursing home as CEO of Ears To You.

For some of you, even telling somebody else the bare minimum of your life scares you to death.  What if I mess up?  What if they don’t respond?  What if I can’t answer their questions?  Look back at Matthew 28:20. Jesus tells His disciples that He will always be with them.  For us, we have the Holy Spirit living in our lives all day every day and His main job is to guide us and help us as we go making disciples.  James tells us to ask for wisdom and we will get it.  We just have to be willing.  But now, as the music plays, I would love to pray with you about whatever is on your heart today.  Maybe you don’t have a testimony because you have never asked Jesus to be Lord of your life.  You have never truly trusted Him today.  You know how.  Do it right now.

Monday, September 25, 2017

“Why Not Be Saved?” – Luke 8

How many of you have a Facebook page?  How many of you don’t have one but wish you did?  How many of you have one and sometimes wish you didn’t?  I enjoy Facebook sometimes.  It’s good to see pictures of my friends and family and we can keep up with what folks are doing.  I’m afraid, though, that what Facebook has taught us more than anything is that some people have way too much time on their hands.

I just have no patience for some things on there. I don’t want to see pictures of abused animals or kids – ever.  I know it happens but I don’t want to see graphic pictures of it.  If you think that if you type “Amen” into a post that God will bless you with lots of money, you don’t understand God…or money.  And if you send me another request to play Candy Crush one more time, I will take your life.

But there are some things on there I don’t really understand.  I see them every time I go on there.  There are all of these little surveys you can do to find out what kind of bird you would be or what kind of food you are.  Evidently you answer some questions and it will tell you who you were in a previous life or what color your aura is.  My aura?  I don’t think I have an aura and if I do develop one, I’m going to the doctor to have it removed.  Aura!

But if Jesus were on Facebook, He might give us a survey to find out what kind of soil we are. Yes, soil.  It doesn’t sound very interesting at first but it is actually the most important question one can ask.  We need to know what kind of soil we are because our very eternity depends on it.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with knowing what 60’s rock anthem you are if you have that kind of time but what we really need to know is the spiritual condition of our hearts and Jesus brings that out in our passage this morning in Luke chapter 8.

Jesus is well into His ministry and is teaching and preaching and healing as He goes around the country and He has developed quite a following as you can imagine.  He has said some incredible things and done some incredible miracles including raising the dead to life and so lots of people are interested in Him, wondering what He is going to say or do next.  It’s life-changing for some and a pretty good show for others and Jesus sees that not all of them are going to accept His teaching and so He tells them a story - a parable - to illustrate that fact.

Turn to the third Gospel; the Gospel of Dr. Luke, if you will, and let’s see what kind of soil we are in verses 4-8 and 11-15.

Luke 8:4-8 4While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." When he said this, he called out, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.  Verse 11."This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

Back in the early ‘90’s, I worked at a feed store in Arlington. One day, I watched a man pull up in front of the store in a nice, new van.  He got out and walked in.  He was well-dressed in slacks and a nice shirt.  He was well-groomed and a big man, well over six feet and muscular.  I thought he might be a salesman of some kind because he had something in his hand but I was surprised as he started to talk.

He introduced himself and explained that his family had done business with this store for years (although I had never seen him before) but that times had gotten tough and he was needing to make a few bucks today.  He then set this brass tea pitcher thing on the counter and asked me how much I would give him for the pitcher.

Well, I looked at it and knew right off the bat it was not something I needed or wanted.  I’m still not sure exactly what it is and I think it may be broken or at least missing some pieces.  So, I nicely explained it was not anything I really needed and I wouldn’t give him anything.  He got a little closer to me and a little more forceful and said, “I really need some money.  I’m not asking for much.  Just give me something.”

Again, I explained I didn’t want or need it but he wasn’t going to settle for that.  Now he leaned over the counter I was standing behind and sound in a loud voice, “You don’t understand!  I need some money and I need it right now!  How much are you going to give me?!”

Now, at this point I did not know what was on this man’s mind.  I didn’t know his heart but the one thing I did know was exactly how much money I had in my wallet so I got my wallet from my pocket and opened it up and there was one 1-dollar bill in there.  I opened it in front of him to show him and said, “This is all I ha…” and before I could finish my sentence, he grabbed the dollar bill, slammed the pitcher on the counter and screamed, “Thank you!  Have a nice day!” and walked out of the store.

That’s a true story and my mother keeps this pitcher at her house to remind her to pray for me.  Now, just like how I did not know this man’s mind or heart, we also cannot know anyone’s mind or heart when it comes to salvation, nor are we supposed to.  This passage is not for you to be able to tell if somebody else is a Christian.  This passage is so you will be able to tell if YOU are a Christian.  Our job is not to judge somebody else’s salvation but it most definitely is our job to know for sure that WE are saved.

So, as we look through this passage closer, try not to think of other people that you know who might fit into each soil type or heart type but, instead, see only where you fit.  There are four types of soil listed here by Jesus and they represent the conditions of the heart that people have as the Gospel is presented to them.  It is the same Gospel given to each one but each one has a different reaction.

Now, let’s backtrack for just a second and remember the first two sermons in this series that were entitled, “How Are We Saved?” and “Who May Be Saved?”  The answer to the first question is, we are saved by grace and through faith as Ephesians 2 tells us.  The answer to the second question is, anybody can be saved, even the most sinful, vile person on the planet.  This week we see that the same Gospel is given to everybody and yet there are different responses with most hearing and yet not being saved.

Have you ever wondered why some people don’t accept the Gospel?  Do you wonder why some people are saved and others are not?  How about the question of “once saved, always saved”?  So many people struggle with that doctrine, yet the Bible is clear on that and Jesus explains it simply right here.  All of that is in these few verses so let’s look closer, starting where Jesus is explaining the parable in verses 11 and 12.   "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”

In Luke 22:66-71, Luke describes the trial of Jesus and says, “At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67"If you are the Messiah," they said, "tell us." Jesus answered, "If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God." 70They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied, "You say that I am." 71Then they said, "Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips."

Yes, the chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there in front of Jesus, asking Him if He is the Messiah, the Christ and when He verifies it…they kill Him.  They don’t want to hear the Gospel and when it is presented, as Jesus had been doing for three years in their presence, as it says, “the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”

Jesus compares these men’s hearts to the hard-packed ground like the paths that the farmer would walk on when he scattered his seed.  In those days, the farmer would have a sack of seed on his shoulder and as he walked along the path between the fields he would just scatter it out with his hand.  So, obviously, some of the seed would be wasted as it hit the hard-packed path.  The birds would snatch it or it would just be trampled underfoot.

When it comes to the Gospel and the fact that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man gets to the Father except through Him, do you think the chief priests and the teachers would have listened if Jesus had just explained it better?  Maybe He should have told them another parable or something.  No, I think that’s part of the reason Jesus didn’t say much during His trials.  No sense wasting His breath.  Their hearts had never been softened and tilled up by the realization of their sin.  They had never repented or asked forgiveness, not truly.

2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”  There’s no sense in pointing out the right direction to a blind man.  That’s what it’s like telling the Gospel to a man with a hard heart.

In verse 6 of our passage in Luke, Jesus says that some of the seed fell on rocky soil.  The person hears the Gospel and he receives it with joy but he has no root and it doesn’t last.  In verse 13, Jesus says that in time of testing they fall away. Sometimes you might see a flower grow in the crack of a sidewalk or somewhere strange and it will bloom faster and prettier than a flower planted in a nice flower bed but it doesn’t last as long.  When the sun beats down on it, it’s lack of roots make it unstable and unable to handle stress. People can react to the Gospel in a similar way.

Would you say that Judas Iscariot was a true believer?  Would you say he was a Christian?  Of course not.  But think about it.  He walked with Jesus for three years.  He ate with Him, ministered with Him, prayed with Him and even preached in His name.  But when things got difficult, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, doing the devil’s work and is now in the devil’s hell.  How is that possible?  It’s a superficial acceptance of the Gospel that changes a person outwardly and temporarily but not down to the roots.

With that person there is no real repentance, no remorse over sin, no contrition, no brokenness and no humility.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  Oftentimes this person came to Christ for what he thought he could get in the way of personal benefit but when he sees the price it will cost him, he won’t pay it. (John MacArthur)

The man with a rocky heart might have the outward appearance of being saved but falls away in times of testing.  Jesus said in Matthew 24:13, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  That person won’t be perfect but he will be changed.  A true believer is a changed believer and continues to allow God to change him as the years go by.  I’m afraid the 21st century church is full of Judases.

In the 14th verse of our parable, Jesus explains the third soil type and that the seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures.  At the end of 2 Timothy, Paul asks his friends to come help him quickly because his one-time friend and fellow missionary Demas has deserted him “because he loved this world.”

The rich, young ruler in Luke 18 came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved and Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.  Why did Jesus tell him that?  He never told anybody else that.  I thought we were saved by grace and through faith.  Jesus told him that because Jesus knew that man’s heart was full of thorns; thorns like worries over riches and pleasures.

I have told some of you before that when I was a kid, my dad bought this little camper trailer.  With three kids, he needed a place to get away and study or maybe just get away and I don’t blame him.  It wasn’t very big but he was proud of it, as he should have been.  There’s nothing shameful about having stuff.  The problem was, some neighbor kids got into it and messed up some stuff and he was afraid somebody might steal it so he had to put an extra lock on it.  Then it needed insurance and tags and then the lights didn’t work and then it was just one thing after another and it just got to be too distracting for what it was worth.

It’s easy to do that with anything, isn’t it?  That’s the problem with having stuff.  It doesn’t fulfill us but only brings worry and greed and distraction and when that is in our life, Jesus goes from first in our life to well on down the list until the Gospel just gets choked out.  Someone that professes to be a believer and a follower of Jesus but doesn’t come to church and is not broken by the sin in their life and is not bearing fruit like a believer should obviously has a “weedy” heart.  Where Jesus should be, they have the weeds of stuff, sports, entertainment, money or career and that is eternally tragic.

But Jesus wraps it up on a positive note as He explains the one good soil.  Make sure you fall into this category.  He says in verse 15 that the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”  As I said, I hope you don’t try to think of people you know who fit into these categories because we can’t really know someone’s heart but the Bible knows their heart and reveals those to us.  When it comes to good soil; a good and noble heart, free from rocks and weeds, I think of the Apostle Peter.

I mentioned Peter a couple of weeks ago and we know he wasn’t perfect.  Even after expressing to Jesus that he knew Jesus was the Messiah, Peter still denied Him three times.  He was impetuous, violent, confused and just flat wrong at times but he had a noble and good heart, tender to the Lord and for His ministry.  The good soil that Jesus is talking about doesn’t mean it was perfect, it just means that it had been prepared; tilled up by trials and temptations but not distracted by worldly things.  He was all of that before he met Jesus but the heart of Peter - and therefore how he acted - was changed by his relationship with the Lord.

God talks about changing our stony hearts in Ezekiel 36:26. I like how the New Living Version puts it.  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  That’s what happened to Peter.  That’s what happens to everyone who hears the Word, retains it…and then what happens?  They produce a crop, according to Jesus in verse 15.

Now, what does that crop look like?  What does it mean to be fruitful?  Obviously, He is talking about spiritual fruit and spiritual fruit is the inevitable product of a spiritual life (MacArthur) and the fruit of the Spirit is described by Paul in Galatians 5 where he says, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control.”  I bet some of us ought to run through those again and see how well our lives match up.

A tender, responsive heart is also obedient to God.  Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commands.”  (John 14:15) Obedience is fruitfulness.  What was the last thing Jesus told us to do before He ascended back to Heaven?  In Matthew 28, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples and teach them to obey me.” (My version.)  Good fruit makes more fruit.  Everywhere it goes, as it goes, it plants seeds.

That’s the Gospel.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and in Him and through Him we have eternal life with God the Father in Heaven.  We have lasting joy and peace in this life even in the difficult times but we have to be faithful and fruitful.  We have to tell others.  If we don’t, who will?  We have to be obedient to everything the Bible says.  No, none of us are perfect but when we mess up; when we sin, it should pain us.  We should hate that more than anything and we should immediately ask God for forgiveness and to help us never do that again.

Don’t be thinking about anybody else right now.  If that’s not how you are living your life, then maybe the soil of your heart has never really been tilled and prepared.  Maybe the weeds of materialism and stuff and the worries of this world have kept you from really putting all your faith and hope and trust in Jesus.  If that is true of you today, then I would love to pray with you right now as the music plays.

Some of you may think you would be too embarrassed to come down and pray because you are just now realizing that you are not a true believer and you have said you were or assumed you were or thought you were for all these years.  But there is nothing more joyful in this world than for a person to realize that and then have their lives changed.  Do that today.