patience

Getting Over The Fear of Sharing Your Faith

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Getting Over the Fear of Sharing Your Faith

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I walked into Walmart the other day and saw a bunch of Halloween candy, so I guess Halloween is coming up again. That seems a little early to me, but maybe it’s a piggy-back on things to stuff in kid’s school lunches – which also starts up soon. These two things, Halloween and starting school have something in common, of course, and that is that they can both be sort of scary. One is scary because of all the strange costumes, dark themes, vampires, zombies, and the pressure to do things that terrify you, while the other is, of course, Halloween.

I went digging around on the internet to learn about some different things that people are afraid of. So what I’m going to do is put some things up on the screen and you tell me if they are scary or not scary, ok? Now, we’re not going to make fun of anyone though because we can’t really pick what we’re scared of, can we?

For example, I’m scared of heights. I don’t like being high up in places, but I don’t know why (Acrophobia). Anyone with me?

Here are some others, so you say scary or not scary.

  • Fear of Spiders (Arachnophobia)
  • Fear of taking a bath (Ablutophobia).
  • Fear of Loud Noises (Acousticophobia).
  • Fear of Needles (Trypanophobia).
  • Fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia).
  • Fear of Chickens (Alektorophobia).
  • What about fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (Arachibutyrophobia).
  • Fear of slime (Blennophobia).
  • Fear of clocks (Chronomentrophobia)

Today I want to talk about something else that is kind of scary for a lot of people, and that is sharing our faith with others. Even with people we are close to, like our family, friends, and coworkers, it seems like we can talk about any other topic under the sun – even controversial things like politics, climate change, alternative medicine, or genetic engineering, we can talk all day long – even arguing about the existence of God seems to be easier – but when it comes to sharing our own personal faith story, what we believe and why and how it changes our life, many of us lock-up.

A lot of questions go through our minds:

  • How do we start talking about Jesus with someone that knows nothing about Him, or is full of misconceptions about Christianity?
  • What if they’re an atheist?
  • What if they’re part of a different religion?
  • How do I bring it up in conversation without sounding like a salesman?
  • And how can we tell the whole story without leaving out important parts?

Christians have an understanding that we are supposed to hold each other accountable, but for a lot of friendships, there’s an unwritten rule, especially with non-believers, that we’re always supposed to be nice, funny, only say kind things – and just ignore the bad stuff, right? How do we break that barrier? Maybe in a very, very close friendship, we can say, “Hey, what’s going on?” but it seems awkward to press more than that. And if that’s the case, how can we tell them that Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned” and that includes them, and that Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death…” and Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment ”, and Matthew 25:41 says that to some Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” where Revelation 20:10 says “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. That doesn’t sound very nice. How do you bring that up in conversation? What if we mess it up, or they misunderstand, or they get upset with us, and we lose them as a friend? So we think it’s better to just keep quiet and hope God will do something.

And even if we do get up the courage, when should we do it? When is the right moment? Is there a right moment? Should we just blurt it out whenever we want to? You know… get invited over to their house for dinner and say, “This meal is very nice, please pass the ketchup – oh and by the way you’re all sinners who are doomed and need Jesus.” That’s a little weird, right?

Should we invite them to church first, or tell them about Jesus first? Maybe we should wait for them to ask us. But what if they never ask? Then what?

And say all the stars do align, and it’s the perfect moment, at the perfect time, and they are sitting in rapt attention waiting for us… then what should we say?

Sharing our faith can be a little difficult sometimes, and scary, and sort of complicated when we think about it, so today, in light of the topics we’ve been covering in 1 Corinthians lately, I want to tell you four things to remember when you want to share your faith in Jesus Christ with someone, and then next week, I’ll give you a simple tool to use.

Show Them Love Before You Share the Gospel

The first thing I want you to know about sharing your faith is that you need to show them love before you share the Gospel. This is something that a lot of people get wrong. We all know the Great Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”. Sometimes we think that means that it’s our job to simply go out and tell the gospel to people wherever they are, even if we don’t know them.

If you walk in downtown Ottawa on any given night you’ll see people handing out tracts, yelling on street corners, or even simply standing there holding a sign with a bible verse on it. I remember one time I was downtown and saw a very surly, unhappy looking man standing on the street holding a sign with John 3:16-18 on it, which says,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The happiest message in the world held by the grumpiest person imaginable. Mary Poppins taught us that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine goes down”, but I don’t think this guy saw that movie. So I started to wave at him. I waved and waved until we locked eyes. And I continued to wave until he waved back at me. I wanted this guy to give some sort of human contact to the message he was trying to spread. Eventually, he begrudgingly raised his hand, to about waist level, and gave me a bit of a wrist twist indicating that he acknowledged my existence. But his face didn’t change.

Certainly, sometimes God calls people to be public preachers and missionaries that speak to strangers. Some people are called to stand before crowds and preach to the masses, but that’s the rare exception and not usually how He works. God is a very personal God, Jesus is a personal saviour, and the Gospel, though universal, is a very personal one. Every individual needs to make a decision for or against Christ. Which means most of the time, like 99.9% of the time, God works through close relationships to spread His message. In fact, those crowd preachers aren’t that effective unless they have spent time preparing some way to personally connect those they speak to to some kind of church group.

God did not write a message in the sky, but sent Jesus to be one of us, to live among us, to tell us the message personally. The disciples were all handpicked to be with Jesus. He physically touched the sick and leprous. Even when Paul went from city to city preaching the gospel, he would sit with people in marketplaces, take time for questions and home meetings, spending hours with people, and then when he left he appointed elders who everyone knew personally.

Jesus says in John 13:35 something that we all need to remember,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Loving the person comes before we bring them to church or share our story with them. The way that they know that we have Jesus in our hearts, and the way that they will know that Jesus is real to us, is by the love we have for them and others. So that’s where we have to start – loving.

So before you share your faith, ask yourself:

  • Do I love this person?
  • Do they think I love them?
  • Do I want to tell them about Jesus because I love them or for some other reason?
  • Have I shown them love by helping them, caring for them, eating with them, telling them the truth, and being their friend?

Remember to Pray

The second thing I want you to remember when you share the gospel with someone, is to pray. I read a great inspirational Instagram quote this week which said, “When prayer becomes your habit, miracles become your lifestyle.” And whole I don’t want to dig into the finer points of that too much, it does make a point. We must pray first and often because we don’t know when these divine appointments will come. God promises in the Bible that He will give us the words we need, the wisdom we need, the timing we need, and the help we need when we come to talk to our friends about Him. But even more important is that the Bible says that the Holy Spirit must do the work in our friend’s heart before they can hear anything we say! Remember 1 Corinthians 3:7, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

You probably remember the Parable of the Four Soils that Jesus told. It’s the story of a farmer who goes out and spreads seeds on all kinds of different ground – hard ground, rocky ground, thorny ground, and good ground. The seeds represent the Gospel of Jesus and the different grounds represent different types of hearts.

Many people have hard hearts, like the hard ground. The seeds of our message just bounce off and never grow. God says in the Bible that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin (John 16:8) and change their hard heart into a soft one (Eze 36:26-27). We can’t do that. We can’t argue, bribe, or convince anything to give up their sin and believe in Jesus – only the Holy Spirit can do that – which is why we must pray.

So first we show them love, and then pray. Pray God will soften your heart to hear him. Pray that you will feel compassion for the lost, not just judgment. Pray that you will want to witness to them. Pray for the boldness to speak truth. Pray God opens doors of opportunity. Pray God sends more workers to help you. Pray against Satan and the demons who are working against you and the person you are sharing with. And pray that when you present the message that God will make the person’s heart soft so they can hear the words that God gives you.

 

Tell Them YOUR Story

The third thing to remember about sharing your faith is that you need to start with your story. We sometimes think we need to start with apologetics, which is the defence of the faith. And while apologetics are great, and RightNow media has some excellent training videos that I think everyone should watch, you don’t need to have a perfect defence of the Bible in order to share your story – because it’s your story. They can argue up and down about the existence of God and science vs faith, but they can’t argue about your story – and it is your story that is going to touch them the most.

When you speak, you don’t have to speak in generalities about “God” and “The Bible”, but you can speak very specifically about what you know about God and His Son Jesus and what you know from the Bible. Tell them what it means to know that you that you are a sinner who needs a Saviour. How you went from an unbeliever to a believer. Tell them what it’s like for you to be a Christian. Tell them what God has been doing in your life, what you are learning at church and from the Bible, what miracles you have seen lately.

Which leads to the important point that you need to have an active relationship with God, right? If you don’t know the joy of worshipping the One who saved you from sin, if knowing God doesn’t affect your daily life, if you aren’t learning anything, and you haven’t seen any miracles, then you don’t have much of a story to share, right? That could be a reason you’re not – simply because Jesus doesn’t really matter to you one way or the other. But when you have a growing, dynamic relationship with Him, where your daily devotions have meaning, your prayers are being answered, He is close to you in struggles, you are growing in maturity as God kills more and more sin in your life, and your worship is meaningful and expressive – then you’ve got something to share.

You don’t have to make anything up, or memorize the Billy Graham Four Steps to Peace with God, or tell far flung missionary stories, or try to copy what your pastor or parents said – just tell them what it’s like for you.

  • What does it feel like to know you’re forgiven from you’re your sins?
  • What’s it like to talk to God in prayer and know He speaks to you personally in the Bible?
  • What’s it like to know that you are loved no matter what you do?
  • What’s it like to have the Holy Spirit inside of you telling you right from wrong every day?
  • What’s it like to be afraid of something, or sad beyond measure, or furious with anger, but then pray and know that God is literally working in your heart at that moment to take care of you?
  • What’s it like to know that Jesus has a plan for your life and that even when bad things happen you know they’ll work out for the good?
  • What’s it like to be part of His church? What’s it like to sing worship songs?
  • What’s it like to memorize Bible verses and have them spring to mind at just the right moment?

This is how evangelism works, and has always worked: individuals sharing what God has done and is doing in their lives. God is writing a story in your life and that’s the one that He wants you to tell.

Be Patient

And the fourth thing I want you to remember is that you need to be patient. The Bible is replete with verses about waiting for God, waiting on God, and being patient as God does His work. So be patient and keep talking to them. Keep serving them. Keep being their friend. Keep praying, but don’t stop sharing your story with them.

Here’s a tip I heard somewhere: When you have coffee or see them at work and they say, “How are things?” You can say, “Well, I’ve had some interesting things going on at work, in my family, and with my faith, which would you like to hear about?”

Think about it this way, if you saw a cool movie or bought an amazing product, you’d tell them, right? Then why not tell them about something cool or amazing that happened in your spiritual life? It’s mostly fear that keeps us from doing that, which is helped by prayer, and when I or others have done it, I can’t remember a single person saying it blew up in their face. Why? Because we’re not forcing it. We’re not making it up. It’s not coming out of nowhere. It’s part of us, and that person cares for us, so it’s natural for them to listen to something like that.

They may not get saved the first time you tell them. They may not be ready to turn from their sin. They might be afraid, or confused, or have more questions, or something else. So be patient with them, keep loving them, keep praying for God to open their hearts, and keep talking to them about what God is doing in your life.

There may come a time when you think that you’ve said it too many times – don’t believe it. I’ve heard of people who were exposed to the gospel the first time and gave their life to Jesus right there – and I know people whose friend or spouse told them about Jesus for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years before their heart was soft enough for the seed of Jesus’ story to take root. So keep on praying for them. God isn’t finished with them yet.

Yes, sharing our faith can be a little scary sometimes, but my message to you today is to keep loving them, keep praying for them, and keep talking to them about Jesus. That’s what God wants us to keep doing, and that’s how people get saved, so that’s what we should do.

God’s Temple: The Church Needs To Stay United – OR ELSE!

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Let’s start with a quick review and then close of the section of 1 Corinthians 3 that we’ve been studying for the past few weeks.

If you recall, we’ve been looking at Paul’s threefold illustration to describe why the Christian church needs to ensure that they remain united. Remember that in this section Paul is addressing the major problem that the Corinthian church is facing, that being divisions among them. They were a divided church.

They had divided over many issues, but to make matters worse, without telling them, the church had decided to claim different teachers and apostles as the leaders of their various factions. And so Paul begins by calling them children, chastising them for their immaturity and telling them that he’s disappointed that he can’t talk to them like mature believers, but instead has to deal with a bunch of fighting.

It’s almost like the school teacher walking into the classroom, or a parent coming into the children’s room, and seeing them brawling in the middle of the floor. That’s not why they came in, and they really don’t want to deal with it. They had a whole lesson planned out, something amazing to tell them, a story to share, a wonderful new experience to give them – but now they have to give the same old lecture about why they need to get along, why fighting is bad, how they should be treating each other better, why fighting hurts their heart, etc.

They had so much more planned for them, but now they have to backtrack and talk to them like their toddlers. That’s how Paul starts chapter 3.

And so, to teach these immature believers why what they are doing is so serious, Paul uses three illustrations. His first is to liken the church to being a farmer’s field where God is the owner and everyone else is a worker. There’s no reason to elevate one over the other because it’s God who gets the glory anyway! We covered that a couple weeks ago.

Next, he likens the church to being a building that is being built by the actions of the individual believers in the church. He warns them that a day of fire (or day of trouble) is coming and that it will test what their church is made of – so they’d better make sure that their church is made of solid stuff. We talked about that last week.

Today, we read the final of this trifecta of illustrations where Paul says the church is God’s temple. This is the most poignant of the three and it comes with a threat.

You Are God’s Temple

Open up to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and let’s read it together:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

It’s really interesting the way that Paul starts this. He takes the previous illustration about the building and reveals that they’re not constructing just any building, but are, piece by piece, deed by deed, prayer by prayer, song by song, visit by visit, charity by charity, are building God’s temple!

He seems almost flabbergasted that they wouldn’t know this. “Guys! Don’t you know who you are and why it is such a huge deal that you are united under Jesus? It’s because your church, your family of believers, is the very place where God resides. Yes, as we read elsewhere, every believer is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time, when Christians are together, they remain one, single temple. It’s an amazing concept.

He doesn’t say, “Don’t you know that you are all temples”, so you should all act like it. No, Paul changes from talking about individuals to talking to them as a collective. The “You” there is plural. He’s saying, “You are all God’s temple, collectively.”

Now, the temple, in the Old Testament, was the very location of the presence of God in the world. At the time this was written, around 54AD, the Temple in Jerusalem was still around. It would be destroyed in only 16 years. Consider what Paul was saying here – and what it meant to the people listening.

They looked around the city of Corinth and saw many, many temples. Huge, beautiful places of worship that were said to be the temporary homes of the gods. And many of the Jewish people in the church had been to see the Temple in Jerusalem, experienced the solemnness, the gravity, the power, and the presence of God in the temple. They had seen the priests walking around, had witnessed the sacrifices, and perhaps even watched as the High Priest made his procession towards the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place on earth.

And now Paul was saying that God had moved. Just as He has moved from the Garden of Eden into the Tabernacle, and from the Tabernacle into the Temple, so now God had moved again – not into another building, but into the hearts of believers. Just as the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem once housed the presence of God, so now, the temple curtain had been split, and now every believer carried the very presence of God with them everywhere they go. The Christian heart, in a very real sense, is the Holy of Holies.

Anyone Who Destroys

Which is where that really scary passage in the middle there comes from. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” This goes back to the temple priests who, if they did something against the temple, violating God’s rules about treating it with the utmost respect and keeping it special and holy, would be put to death. 1 Peter 2:9 says Christians are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” . In other words, every believer is given similar joys and responsibilities to what the temple priests had!

  • When you visit your Christian friend, you are coming as a priest of God.
  • When you share the gospel with your neighbour, you do it as an ambassador for Christ.
  • When you bring a casserole over to a sick family, you are acting out your duty as a temple priest.
  • When you worship in song, run the a/v, hand out bulletins, give encouragement, pray over someone, help in their garden, attend their wedding or funeral, or just shake their hand in the street, you do it as someone with the Holy Spirit inside you, a representative of God, a part of the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation.

It’s a huge deal.

Therefore, in the same way as God took seriously an Old Testament priest marring or disrespecting the physical temple, so God takes just as seriously Christians who violate the sanctity of His spiritual temple, that is, the body of believers around you.

So, to divide yourself from the church by choosing not to gather with fellow believers, or through fighting, jealousy or neglect, you risk incurring God’s wrath. To hurt a fellow believer is like profaning or blaspheming the temple of God.

How serious is this? Let’s go to another passage that works in a similar way. Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Does not forgiving someone mean you will lose your salvation? Or, does not attending church mean you’re not going to heaven? No, because your salvation is not bound to your actions, but to your faith.

What this is talking about is your daily relationship with God, the cleaning away of the cobwebs of your soul, the retuning of your spiritual radio so that you can remove the static of sin and hear God more clearly. This is the action of daily repentance for your sins against others, and granting forgiveness for the sins they have committed against you. If you don’t do that, then you do not understand forgiveness, and God will hold back his hand of forgiveness toward you.

In the same way, someone who is not in right relationship with their brothers and sisters in Christ, won’t be able to see or hear God well, will still have a stain of guilt in their soul, will grow more bitter towards God as they grow more bitter towards others, will be a worse image of Christ for the world to see, will be walking in darker places, will be abiding in death instead of life, and will be under the judgement and discipline of God. Does that sound like a temple priest? No, because it’s a high standard.

Unity is Critical

Believers shouldn’t divide from one another. Why? Because they are God’s Field, God’s Building, and God’s Temple. Each of those illustrations is a collective one. We are meant to be together. The only bad thing on earth before the fall of man was that it was “not good for man to be alone.” (Gen 2:18) Even in the perfection of Eden, before the Fall, standing full in the presence of God, it was not good for man to be alone. Why? Because we are designed to be together.

Therefore, as individuals in the church, each of us have the responsibility to ensure that we remain united! Unity should be the number one, overriding characteristic that shows people how Jesus has changed us. Jesus says in John 13:35,

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In fact, multiple times in scripture, it is how we treat our fellow believers that shows the condition of our heart. One of our assurances of salvation is that we have a drive to love our fellow believers, the brothers and sisters that make up our forever family.

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15)

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” (1 John 2:9)

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he 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: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)

After praying for the disciples during the Last Supper, He prayed for us. And what was the central theme of that prayer: unity.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

How will the world know that Jesus is the Saviour, sent by God? One huge way is by how the people of the church treat one another. And Paul reveals why? Because the presence of God is no longer in a building – He’s in us. We are God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. When people want to visit God, know forgiveness, be ushered into His presence, and be told about the message of salvation – they can come to us: the people of God’s church.

What this Means, Practically

So, what does this mean, practically? It means we live out our faith and obedience to God by loving the people of our church first. Over and over in the Bible we are told to do good, but not just to everyone, we are to begin first with the body of believers around us (Gal 6:10).

It means, of course, forgiving one another as you have been forgiven (Eph 4:32), and keeping a short account of wrongs. But it also means, as 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”, having one another into each other’s homes – even the people you don’t know or who are difficult guests.

How about this one from Colossians 3:12-13:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

See that? He reminds us that we are God’s chosen ones and then says that because of that, we need to be patient with one another, bearing with one another. That means when someone in the church is rude, difficult, judgemental, or anything else that annoys us, we… bear with them in love! Why? Because God bears with us all the time.

And there are so many more, but let me give one more from Hebrews 10:24-25,

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

We talked about what “the Day” means last week, right? The day Jesus comes back, and the days of trouble that will inevitably come to our life. So, how do we get ready? Stir one another up towards love and good works, encourage one another, and not neglecting to meet together.

Why? Because, to quote an old maxim, “United we stand, divided we fall.” That’s how God has set it up from the very beginning.

We are God’s Field workers, each one as valuable as the next.

We are God’s House, built by the individual actions of each person here.

And we are God’s Temple, the holiest place on earth, full of priests who proclaim salvation through Jesus alone.

How do we show it? By our unity and mutual love.

Simeon & Waiting (Advent 2015)

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Welcome to the Season of Advent. Over the past years I’ve really appreciated the this season-before-the-season because I think it’s a wonderful tool and jumping off point for what Christmas is all about. I appreciate the Advent wreath that has one candle lit each week – and having to wait seven days to see the next… and then another seven days to see the next. I think it’s good practice. That’s what Advent means… it simply means “coming”. Something is coming and we are to wait for it.

I think what I appreciate most about the Season of Advent is that instead of jumping straight into the craziness of Christmas, our forefathers had the foresight to set aside four weeks where all believers could take some time the practice something that many of us are not very good at: waiting.

I created a little video the other day this week to help illustrate this point.

Black Friday vs Advent

We, as a culture, are not very good at waiting. In fact, we’ve almost turned waiting into a dirty word. While the Christian church is talking about the people who waited whole life-times to see Jesus – after waiting for hundreds of years between prophecies, and thousands of years since Adam and Eve were promised the coming of one who would “crush the serpents head” – the culture around us is ramping up to higher and higher speeds.

This year was even more ridiculous as I noticed more and more pre-black-Friday sales. We can’t even wait for Black Friday anymore! That’s nuts by even the world’s standards. A presale for the big presale to kick off the Christmas sales season.

The Christian church talks about slowing down and reflecting, preparing ourselves to meditate over the story of Jesus Christ’s birth and life; taking a whole month to get our homes and hearts ready. I feel like, as we sit here today, we’re in the eye of the storm. It’s calm right here, but everything around us is swirling with as much noise, lights and commercialism as they can muster. It’s quite a dichotomy.

We sit here and say “wait for the coming of Jesus”, while everyone else says get everything you want right now! Black Friday is all about “getting it now”. Don’t wait until Christmas! Don’t even wait until the store opens! Camp outside and we’ll open extra early for you, so you can stampede over your neighbours to get things you don’t really need for the same price they’ll be in two weeks and then again on Boxing Day. And then go home and sit in front of your computer all night, credit card in hand, so you can get the best of Cyber Monday. Sure, get people some gifts, but you know you’re not going to get what you really want for Christmas, so use this day to buy those things for yourself!”

Not exactly the true meaning of Christmas, is it?

Advent is the time where Christians are encouraged to remember that waiting is a good thing, that patience is a godly virtue, and that being first and getting the most is actually not good for our souls. Advent tells us to stop for a while, listen to what is going on around is, reprioritize what matters: our relationship with Jesus and others. It reminds us that a relationship with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, or with anyone else, isn’t built with speed – but requires time and patience.

I recognize – because I’ve felt it in myself – that there is a temptation to start ramping up for Christmas. It’s hard not to leave the eye of the storm and get sucked into the whirlwind of activity. But I want to encourage you to relax for a moment this morning, realize where you are, appreciate a moment dedicated to God – and then consider extending this moment for the rest of the season. We are here, today, worshipping Jesus, remembering His coming, His birth, and our salvation. I just want us to hang onto that and let it fill the rest of the season.

Waiting

Let’s talk a little about waiting. Have you ever had to wait for something? We all do. What kind of waiter are you? Are you the kind that can sit and wait, or are you more like the people in the video that mash on the button over and over and over until it changes? Can you wait for an elevator without hitting the button two or three times? Can you send a text to someone and then turn off the phone and wait for a reply, or do you have to text them back a few times to remind them that you texted them?

What about waiting in line at the grocery store, or a theme park? Do you size up the lines and see if you can find the fastest one? If your car or something else in your home breaks down, do you need it fixed that day? Have you ever had to put off a project wait for a replacement part? How well did you do then?

Christmas is a time when there is an inherent impatience built in. Some of us even have an advent calendar where we count down the days. We wait for the Christmas season to come – some of us start waiting in August. When do you start playing music? I started before Remembrance Day. I couldn’t wait anymore. We order gifts and then have to wait for them to come. We have relatives that we want to see, but we have to wait until they arrive. There’s a tonne of things that Advent, that “Come”, during this season, that we have to wait for, isn’t there? And sometimes that waiting is hard.

God Plays the Long Game

God doesn’t seem to have a problem with being patient – nor does He seem to have a problem making people wait. He seems to really like the “long game”, where everything takes much, much, much longer than we would ever expect or desire.

He had the power to create the universe in an instant – but He took six days whole days (unless you’re an evolutionary creationist, in which He took considerably more time), and then took a day off! He told Noah there would be a flood coming 120 years before the flood came. God told Abraham that he would have a son 15 years before he fulfilled the promise . God’s people were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years before He raised up Moses. And then God sent Moses away for 40 more years, and then had his people wander the desert for 40 more years.

David spent years waiting for God to fulfil his promise that he would become King of Israel. God established dozens of Kings in Israel after that, over more than 200 years, each getting worse than the last, and then God sent the Israelites into the Babylonian exile for 70 years!

It was over 700 years after Isaiah prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, and 400 years after the last Old Testament Prophet, Malachi, died that the prophecies about Jesus started to come true.

God has absolutely no problem with waiting. He always comes through, but it’s always in His own time. He never rushes. It’s almost as though He believes that the act of waiting itself has benefits! Strange concept for us today, isn’t it?

Simeon

Today, I want to take a little time to look at a man in the Bible who is known as the man who waited. God gave him a promise, but he had to wait for his entire life – almost the very, very end – before he saw it fulfilled. He waited for decades before the promise came to light.

His name was Simeon and his story is found in Luke 2:22-35. This story occurs forty days after the shepherds have come to see Jesus in the stable, right after Jesus was born:

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”

A Brief Bio

We don’t know a lot about Simeon. For example, we don’t know how hold he is. He could be 30 or a hundred. But, judging by him statement of “departing in peace”, most people assume that he lived a good many years and died shortly after seeing Jesus.

We don’t know his job, either. He may have been a priest, or he may have been a spiritual layman who listened well to God.

One thing we do know is that he was a good waiter. The descriptors we have of this man talk mainly about his attitude and spiritual understanding. He “was a righteous and devout” man, who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (meaning the time when God would rescue His people) and had “the Holy Spirit upon Him”.

He was a man of good integrity with a bona-fide faith in God. He didn’t come to temple out of habit or religious duty. He came because he took his faith seriously, loved God and God’s people, and wanted to live it out every day. He lived every day in eager anticipation that God would speak, act and help His people.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. A lot of people were waiting for the Messiah. King Herod was a cruel dictator and the Romans made life miserable for the defeated Israelites. Even their religious leaders made life miserable. Pharisees had turned their religion into a grueling set of rules, regulations and tasks, and their love for God had run cold.  The Sadducees spent their time reinterpreting the scriptures, denying the miracles God performed, and rejecting the prophets.

A corrupt government filled with unbelievers and a corrupt religious system that made one choose between overwhelming rules or a powerless, spiritless, sterilized God. But there were still some who had faith – and they waited hopefully for a time when God would finally straighten it all out. Simeon was one of these people.

 

Waiting Well

What I want to do with this story is to pull out one simple truth: there are two different ways to wait for something… worthwhile waiting and worthless waiting.

Waiting does have value, as clearly God thinks it does, but we can negate that value by refusing to accept the value that comes during the waiting time. Worthwhile waiting is the kind where we use the time to prepare ourselves for the advent, or coming, of the thing we are waiting for. Worthless waiting occurs when we allow that time to turn our hearts towards things like bitterness, sloth, procrastination or greed.

Me encouragement to you today is to embrace waiting, and allow the time in between to build your character, skills, faith, and heart. Don’t waste it.

I know there are people here that are waiting for something. You’re waiting for healing, for love, for a relationship, for forgiveness, for release from pain, for your next position, for an answer. You’re waiting until you are old enough to do something, or strong enough, or wealthy enough, or brave enough. You’re waiting for someone to respond to you, or waiting for the right moment to do something. You’re waiting for marriage, a baby, for your kids to grow, or your parents to finally see how much you’ve grown. You’re waiting for retirement or a new job. You’re waiting for the government to fulfil their promises, or the next election cycle so you can hear all new promises.

We all here, today, are waiting for something. Christians here today are waiting for Jesus to return. We can sympathize with Simeon who saw corruption in his leadership, corruption in his church, his family, and his own heart, corruption all around him, and longed for the time when God would send the Messiah. We’re there too. We can’t wait until Jesus comes again to make it all right.

But right now… we wait. We wait for big things and small things, relational things and practical things, life-changingly important things and mundane things.

So my encouragement to you, on this first day of Advent, is to wait well.

Simeon waited well. Consider those descriptors again. He was “righteous and devout” and “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He was given the promise that something would happen – he would see the Messiah – buy year after year, as he waited, his waiting didn’t lead him to sin, but to faith. His waiting was worthwhile because it was focused on God.

He didn’t hold himself up in a cave and wait for God’s promise to come true – he continued to go to the temple and do what was right. He didn’t spend his life bragging gthat he had some kind of special knowledge – instead he allowed that knowledge to spur him in to righteous and devout actions.

Waiting for God to fulfill his promise didn’t make him bitter, but drove him to a closer relationship with the Holy Spirt. Waiting for the promise didn’t make him doubt his faith, but drove him to a greater commitment.

Above all, his waiting was active – not passive. He kept doing the good things he was supposed to do – praying, serving, attending, giving, studying, caring for others – while he waited!

Application

That is my my simple application for today. Waiting is a spiritual exercise. Waiting is a gift from God. Whatever God has given you to wait for, the gift isn’t just the receiving at the end, but the entire time of waiting in between. Use that time to grow closer to God. Don’t waste your waiting time.

Sometimes we sit there and hammer God with the desire for instant gratification. “When God? Why not now, God? How about now, God? Now? What about now?”  It’s like banging on that button over and over as though it is going to make the light change – make God act faster. It’s not. All it’s doing is creating bitterness and anxiety in our hearts.

And God does what that little crosswalk sign does. He says, “Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.”

This world hates to wait. They won’t wait for marriage before they take the benefits of marriage, which causes them much trouble. They won’t wait until they have the money before they buy things, which puts them into debt. They buy lottery tickets hoping for an instant fix to all their problems. That’s not how it works. That’s not how God designed it.

No, instead, God wants us to build our faith and dependence on him. He says in Hebrews “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Waiting gives us the opportunity to build our faith. And it is by faith that we are saved, and by which the next verse in Hebrews says, “we receive our commendation” from God, and “understand that the universe was created by the word of God”.

At the end of that chapter in Hebrews, after giving a list of people who lived by faith alone, it says, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us they would be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39-40)

If we want that “something better” – which is a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and a commendation from God – then we must learn to wait.

Let us, as we wait for Christmas, (or whatever you are waiting for), be like Simeon, and trust in the God who makes us wait.

“The Growing Seed” – Having Patience when God Seems Inactive

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I’m back from vacation and looking forward to catching up on my posts. I had a wonderful holiday and I’m very thankful to the church for allowing me to be able to spend time with my family taking a break. I hope you are all able to do the same this summer.

Podcast Audio:

Planting & Growing

21 Mark 4 26-29 - The Growing Seed
Our Deck Garden

My family is growing things this year. We went out to the store and bought seeds and little plants, each one of us has their own planter on the deck, and we’ve started a little garden in the back yard. There’s no rhyme or reason for what we planted. I’m growing hot peppers, Anita has flowers, Ethan has garlic onions and spearmint, Edison has carrots, Erica has corn, and Eowyn is growing cucumber.

Our plan was simple: take the seeds and plants, stick them in some dirt, and hope for the best. It’s been going pretty good, actually, and we are excited to see if there will be anything we can eat in a couple months.

Now, I said “I’m growing hot peppers…” but that’s not quite accurate is it? I bought the pepper plant, I bought the soil, I chose the planter, and I stuck it in the dirt – but I’m not “growing” it, am I? No, that’s something don’t really have much control over.

I can do my best to choose the right soil – which is something I’ve learned is important since we planted a Venus Fly Trap in regular potting soil and almost killed it because it needs to be in sand and peat-moss – and I can do my best to give it the right light and spacing and all the rest, but what I can’t do is make the plant grow. That’s up to forces beyond my control.

Parable of the Growing Seed

Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like that.

“And he said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’” (Mark 4:26-29)

We’re still in the Gospel of Mark and if you remember our context, Jesus was having a shore-side teaching time where He told the Parable of the Sower (or the Parable of the Four Soils). He then took a few people from the group somewhere else and explained the parable to them – and told them a few more parables.

This parable, called “The Parable of the Growing Seed” is similar to The Parable of the Sower, but instead of putting emphasis on the soil (that is, the person hearing the Word of God), Jesus puts the emphasis on the power and mystery captured in the seed itself.

In the Parable of the Sower, the seed is scattered, and Jesus tells us that our response to the message will be dependent on the condition of our heart. Here, Jesus zooms in beyond the soil to the seed itself, reminding us that the Kingdom of God, the Spirit of God, and the Word of God is not dependent on us to make it active, but has its own power. It’s not about the goodness of the soil, it’s about all of the power and potential that is within the seed. Good soil, by itself, produces nothing – it needs good seed.

And this has two important applications in Evangelism and Spiritual Development.

Evangelism

First, let’s talk about the implications on evangelism – which is simply Christians sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. Sometimes we get confused thinking that the reason someone gets saved – or doesn’t – has to do with something we’ve done or not done.

Jesus makes it clear that sharing the gospel and saving souls is not about now clever or winsome we are in telling the story, how savvy, simple or spectacular our delivery is, or how deeply it touches the emotions. The delivery has far, far less to do with it than we think. History has shown us that revival does not come because of something people do, or a new form of technology, but simply because God chooses to work in the hearts of Christian leaders and laity.

During the Great Awakening at the beginning of the 18th Century, preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield looked at the dry Christianity and dying churches around them and their hearts broke. They prayed and sought God, and they started to gain a new understanding the Gospel and God’s Redemptive Plan. And so, instead of simply continuing on through the rituals and ceremonies they were so used to and hoping God would do something about it, they broke from their traditions and changed the way they spoke to people about God.

Jonathan Edwards

Instead of writing and reading long, dense, theological discourses where they would argue the finer points of scriptural interpretation – which was the standard way of preaching then – they started to try to help people see that the deep theology of their sermons wasn’t meant simply to be held in their minds, but had a deep effect on their souls. They changed from teaching people about God to telling them why it was so important that they needed to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.

Their sermons now stressed the importance of commitment, repentance, and fleeing temptation, and feeling the change that comes when a Christian makes gives one’s life to Jesus. It wasn’t about getting overwhelmed with emotions (something that both Edwards and Whitfield denounced) but having one’s heart overtaken by a love for God and His Word.

And that love isn’t something that we generate within ourselves. Which is what Jesus’ parable is all about. We can scatter the seed – tell others our personal testimony of faith, share deep theology, give emotional alter calls or appeal to their intellect – but it is not within our power or ability to change hearts or “get people saved” – that is strictly God’s province. We have the responsibility and privilege of sharing God’s truth and “scattering the seed on the ground”, but the “sprouting and growth” of the kingdom takes time and happens in a mysterious way in which we “know not how”.

There will be times that we share our faith, and the person looks close to giving their life to Jesus, but it never seems to happen – and we are driven crazy as to how they can hear the message but never commit. And there are other times when someone comes up and tells us that our life and faith has influenced someone so deeply that they become a disciple of Jesus – and we had never even shared the gospel with them. That’s God at work, using the seeds we are scattering, and growing them in His own mysterious way.

Spiritual Development

A second point we can get from this parable is about God’s timing in our spiritual development. Jesus says, “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

We’ve talked about this before, so I won’t belabour the point except to say, don’t be surprised when things aren’t happening the way you want them to, in the time you want them to. Let me pull out a few applications here.

First, Jesus says, “The earth produces by itself…” which is another reminder that spiritual development, whether that be our own, our friends, our church’s or our nations, isn’t something we are in charge of. We may desperately want to make it happen, but we simply can’t. We can’t make ourselves instantly mature, get rid of all our sinful temptations, make ourselves pray all the time and love bible study and being around Christians. We can’t put our hearts in God’s microwave, set it to 30 seconds, and have it come out ready for worship, super-forgiving, amazingly generous, and able to hear his voice with perfect clarity. It just won’t happen.

We are all on a journey, and there are stages. Like a plant, we all grow according to the soil we are in, dependant on gifts that come down from the heavens (the rain and the sun for plants and grace and mercy for us), and over a period of time. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not perfect yet. Keep striving, keep repenting, keep depending on God, keep drinking in His grace, keep asking for His mercy, and trust that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Second, Jesus says, “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” He is teaching us about being patient and remembering that things happen in stages. The story of salvation happened in stages. From Adam to Abraham, Moses to David, Isaiah to Mary and Joseph, and all the people in between, God took thousands of years to bring the world to the right time when Jesus was appointed to come (Galatians 4:4; Romans 5:6). It took over three decades for Jesus to grow, live, die and be resurrected. It took time for the apostles to spread the church in their part of the world, and it’s taken two thousand years to have it touch each nation. And we are now living in the time before the end when God is having patience with us (2 Peter 3:9) giving people time to come to repentance.

Conclusion

So if there a couple things we can take from this parable, let the first be an encouragement to not despair if there are times when it looks like God is inactive or far away. He is not. His schedule is not our schedule, and throughout the scriptures we are encouraged to be patient as we wait for God (Gal 5:22; Psalm 27:14; 37:7; Lamentations 3:25; Isaiah 40:31). That patience shows that we trust him (Prov 3:5-6).

And the second take away can be that our time of waiting is not a time where we sit and do nothing, but one where we are active in prayer, good deeds and sharing the gospel with others (Matthew 25), scattering the seed wherever we can. Soon enough, “when the grain is ripe” God will come and “put in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Waiting & Preparing

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I shared this devotional at a Christmas Eve Service last night:

Over the past month both our churches have been celebrating the season of Christmas by using Advent candles. They are a wonderful tool to remind us that the story of Christmas doesn’t just surround the baby in the manger, but encompasses the whole gospel.
I’ve been preaching a sermon series where each week we’ve gone over a different theme that the candle represents. Today we lit the Christ candle at the centre of the wreath. The outside candles, which represent Hope, Love, Peace and Joy, surround the Christ Candle to remind us that all of those things are ultimately and perfectly found in Christ. Without Him at the centre, none of those things are truly possible.

The Advent Tradition
The church has kept the season of Advent for hundreds of years. The idea is that instead of jumping straight into Christmas, the forefathers of the church put together four weeks where everyone could take some time to practice two important things that we don’t normally do unless we have to: Waiting and Preparing. To hone these disciplines so we can learn more about God, His Son and ourselves.

Waiting
As a culture we aren’t very good at waiting, are we? In fact, we’ve almost turned waiting into a dirty word. Consider how the commercial industry begins the Christmas season. While the church is saying it’s time to reflect, pause and prepare ourselves for celebrating the amazing story of Jesus Christ… to take a month to get ready… to meditate over one aspect of the gospel for an entire week… everywhere else seems to be ramping us up with as much commercialism, noise, and craziness they can. The inaugurating the season is called“ Black Friday” which is an all night shopping spree.
“Don’t wait… get it now. In fact, don’t even wait until the store opens! Go ahead and camp outside and we’ll open extra early so you can stampede over people to be first to get what you want. Then you can stay up all night on Sunday night so you can be there at midnight for the beginning of Cyber Monday, another sale to begin the season.” Most people aren’t even buying presents for others, but are actually buying for themselves!
Not exactly the “true meaning of Christmas”, is it? Jesus teaches us that being first, getting the most, and filling up our homes and credit cards isn’t what life’s all about. Instead Jesus calls us to stop, listen and prioritize what really matters: our relationship with Him and with each other. And that can’t be done at the pace this world wants us to move – it requires time and patience.
So, I hope you’ve had a chance to practice waiting lately–that you’ve embraced not getting what you want when you want it, but having to wait for it. I know my kids are learning this… as they look at the presents under the tree… they know Christmas is coming… counting down the days. We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve, so we’ve been getting the countdown for a long time now… 30 more days until we get to open a present… 10 more days… 3 more days…
That’s good practice for building our relationship with God because He doesn’t work on our schedule… but instead invites us to step outside of our agendas and live by His timetable instead.
So I hope you’ve been able to slow down, evaluate your priorities, and reawaken the lost art of waiting. And if you haven’t then let me encourage you to do that tonight. Instead of ramping up for tomorrow, just relax tonight and embrace the concept of Christmas EVE… the day before the day. Why did you come here tonight? What is at the heart of your celebration? Consider those around you and how you’ve been caring for them over the past days. Have you been pressuring them to live by your agenda or have you been able to take this “holiday season” and actually have it be just that… a “holiday”. A holy-day, set aside to be different and special. It’s never too late to learn to wait.

Preparation Candles
The other thing Advent asks of us is to Prepare. Each week we have a different candle to light, and a different theme to ponder.

Hope
The first candle was Hope and for 7 days we were invited to ask some big questions. Where does my hope lie? When things around me and inside me are falling apart, what do I look to in order to gain strength, and does it work? What do I think about the life-path I’m on right now? Where is it leading me? Is the path that I’ve chosen going to lead to a better place, or have I settled for that I know in my heart will ultimately reduce me to rubble?
And where is God in all of this? The week of Hope is meant to help us prepare our hearts to realize that if our hope is built on anything other than the foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, then it will fail us. To not have our hope in something temporary, but in a living hope that is assured because of a living Christ As 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

Love
The second candle was the Love candle. We are invited to prepare our hearts by pondering our need for Love, what our desire for love leads us to do, and where our love comes from. Many here today have a love deficit in their hearts. You don’t feel loved. You can’t remember the last time your heart was bursting with the knowledge that you are loved… not because of what you can produce, or a gift you’ve given, or something you’ve done… but just because of who you are.
To those people, let me tell you this: You’re right. You don’t get the love you deserve from the people around you. You are worth more and should be valued for who you are… not just for what you can do for people. But people can never do that for you. Maybe temporarily, but there is no human who can give you the kind of love you need.
That’s why it’s so important to know that God loves you. There’s nothing you can give Him that He doesn’t already have. There’s nothing you can do for Him that He can’t do better. There’s nothing He needs from you because He is perfectly sufficient. And so, His love for you is a matter of choice, not self-interest.
He designed you before you were born, wrote out your future, gave you experiences that shaped you into who you are, and has promised to walk with you throughout your life. He wants to be with you because He loves you. He loves you so much that He couldn’t leave you stuck in your sin, but traded His life for yours, and now invites you into a relationship with Him so that you can know Him even more. In Him is where love is truly and completely found.

Peace
In the third candle was Peace – something we all desperately want, but none of us can find. That’s because peace isn’t found in our circumstances… but in a person. You may think that you can do something today to have peace tomorrow, but it won’t work. You can save and plan for years… enough money to buy your own island, move there, and bring only your favourite people… or go all by yourself… and you still won’t find perfect peace there.
Jesus came into the world during a very difficult time in Jewish history. His life never got easier, but only harder, busier and more complicated. And yet, He had throughout it a supernatural peace because of His relationship with His Father. He now invites you and I to share that peace. So that no matter where we are, or what we’re doing, we can know peace. Isaiah 9:6, a prophecy about the coming of Jesus says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is the only one qualified to bring us true peace.

Joy
And finally, when we lit the final candle we pondered the theme of Joy. We sing about it in many songs! Joy to the world, the Lord is Come. That’s the whole message of Christmas! We say Merry Christmas because it means “Have a Joyful Christmas”! Because there is no better news than that because of the coming of Jesus Christ, the blind can see, the lame can walk, the captives can be set free, and anyone who believes in Jesus Christ can spend eternity in the presence of God. This is a season of Joy!
Jesus gives to us the greatest joy, and in turn we give that joy to others. I hope that’s what you’re feeling tonight. Joy because of a relationship with God where you know He loves you… because of the Hope that He has given you… all because of His Son, the Prince of Peace.
D

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