Spread the word

Just this past weekend, we had a chili cook-off at my church. And after eating and some music, we listened to a pastor from South America speak to us about this organization that he created. This organization goes into numerous countries starting seminaries where every student has to start and plant his own church. Well, a while back, they had an audit, and for each church to be recognized as a church, it had to have at least 50 people, and had to have planted at least 3 other churches. There are upwards of 70,000 churches that were started thanks to those seminaries around the world. But I don’t want to talk about them.
If your church had an audit like that, would it be considered a church? Could you look at them and say, “Yes, we have at least 50 people and we have planted at least 3 churches”? I hate to say it, but mine wouldn’t. There are a lot of churches that are all about inviting. Invite people to this, bring someone to church next week, invite, invite, invite. Why? Why do we go out of our comfort zone, to invite someone to someplace where they might feel out of theirs? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for bringing people or inviting them to church. But that can’t be our main focus. I know of churches that will invite everyone they can think of, and if those people don’t like it, they forget about them, and that’s the end of that. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. God didn’t call us to have people come to us! He didn’t say to call them up and ask them to come over. There are two different passages I want to talk about.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) Jesus didn’t say to just stay at your church, he said to go. To make disciples of all nations, we can’t just sit and call people up. We need to go out and do it. “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b) This verse tells us that we start at home, then work our way out. If you live in Sacramento, California, you aren’t going to start witnessing to people in Guatemala first. Instead, start in Sacramento, then go to all of California, then the United States, then the world. So many people focus so hard on witnessing to the world that they forget about witnessing to their own neighbors.
What does this have to do with inviting? Well, Jesus tells us to go, and then he also tells us that we need to start where we live. So instead of inviting people to church and then just seeing if they come or stay, go to them. Tell them yourself about what God has done for us, and what He has done for you. We serve a great God, and we need to be telling everyone about him. So lets spread the word.

What media do you have?

Media is a huge factor when it comes to our lives. On a daily basis, we get so much media influence, even without us realizing it. The news, the radio, magazines that we see when we are about to pay at the grocery store, billboards. All types of media that we come in contact with. And some of it is good, but there are some bad types as well. As Christians, we need to be filtering out the bad parts, and cutting them out of our lives.
This is also something that I need to work on, because I don’t only like Christian music and I like scary movies. Now, is it bad to listen to country music, or rap, or r&b? No. Is it bad to like scary movies? No, I don’t believe so. What is bad, is what we feed our soul with. Lets start with the music. I want to ask you something. What if you listened to noting but Eminem and Avenged Sevenfold for a month. Those two are the only music you could listen to. Would you be in the same place spiritually as if you listened to Christian rap (yes, it exists) and Skillet? Probably not, because you aren’t feeding your soul with music that worships God. You don’t have to give up the genre of music that you like because you are a Christian. There is Christian rock, rap, hard rock, screamo, everything. It’s not all hymns. Now, I’m not saying all music but Christian is bad, because its not. But the music that we listen to shouldn’t be cussing, or only be talking about drugs, sex, alcohol, and gangs. We don’t need that in our hearts, and we can choose to keep it out.
Now for our movies. Anyone that knows me, knows that I love movies. I have at least one movie from pretty much every genre of movie. Comedy, action, thriller, horror, musical, I like them all. But just like music, what are we filling our hearts with? Are we watching things that honor God, or are we watching things that don’t. Are we watching something with people loving each other, and clean humor, or are we watching scenes with drugs, and sex where you have clear views of pretty much everything? Now, as I said earlier, I like all types of movies, and I also said that this is something I need to work on. I have been choosing to watch movies that don’t have those sex scenes, and if I want to watch a horror or thriller film, I try to find ones that don’t have nudity, or ones that cuss a lot. That is my personal choice. But I feel like I don’t have the distractions with those things in the movie.

In Philippians 4:8, it says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” What this verse is telling us, is to focus on the good. If there is anything in our lives that doesn’t fit into these categories, we don’t need to be thinking about them. And when there are songs only talking about drugs, or portraying sex as just some game, or getting drunk and beating your girlfriend, that isn’t noble, pure, or admirable. Same with watching movies that show women as something to look at, and showing that they are all unintelligent, with big boobs, and only good for one thing. That’s just not right. Women are to be our companions, and to be respected. We need to get out of the mindset that these things don’t affect us, because the bible tells us that they do. It talks about how we can’t have two masters (Matthew 6:24), and in the context used in the bible it’s talking about how we can’t serve both God and money, but I believe that it applies in this situation as well. We can’t serve both God, and society at the same time. It isn’t possible. Because society says that it is ok for us to watch these movies that have nudity, and that its fine for people to curse, and that nobody cares if we have girls as an image of just something that’s good for sex. But God doesn’t. He told us all of this in the Bible. He tells us not to curse, and not to lust after people, and that we should honor and respect our wives, and to only have sex with one person. But those things aren’t popular anymore. They aren’t the social norm, or the standard anymore. But we need to remain strong in Christ.
So I have a challenge for all of you. Follow me in getting rid of the music and movies that we know God doesn’t approve of. Don’t just not watch or just not listen to it. Get rid of it. The bible says that “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away…” not “just don’t use that hand anymore.” So just get rid of those movies and that music.

How do we take it?

     There is something that just hit me pretty hard, because I would love to sit here and tell all of you that I am telling you this because this is what I do, but in reality, I am telling you all this just as much as I am telling myself this. So, here it goes. 

     What is it like when you read the bible? Do you read the bible? And if/when you do, do you simply read it, or do you actually study it, take in the meaning, and act on it? There are two different stories in the bible that talk about this, and they each show a different aspect. The first story is found in Nehemiah chapter 8. This story takes up the whole chapter, so I’m just going to paraphrase it. But first, here is the background story. Nehemiah had just finished organizing people with rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, and Ezra comes in, because he was a religious teacher, and he takes the book of the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and begins reading it to the people. Now, in this chapter, it talks about what happens when Ezra is reading the word to everyone. It specifically says that he is reading it to 42,360 people, plus 7,337 male and female slaves, and 245 male and female singers. So in total, he is reading these five books of the bible to 49,942 people. So Ezra stands in front of almost fifty thousand people, on a podium, and begins reading the book of the law, from daybreak until mid-day. (Nehemiah 8:3) So he is standing and reading this, and then when he is finished reading it, everyone starts shouting “Amen, Amen” and bowed to the ground with their faces to the ground. (8:6) After that, everyone began to weep because they knew that they hadn’t been keeping the commandments, but Ezra told them not to weep, because “this day is holy to the Lord your God” (8:9) Then they all went away and had food and drink, and gave food and drink who didn’t have any, and the bible says that they were joyful, because they now understood what the Law says. It also says later on in the chapter, and into chapter 9 that the Israelites began to follow what the Law says, and they confessed their sins to the Lord, and started following Him again. 

     The second story is found in Jeremiah chapter 36, and once again, it is the whole chapter, so you get another paraphrase. Jeremiah was a prophet, and one day God told him “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah, and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now. Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, they will each turn from their wicked ways; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin.” (Jeremiah 36:2-3) So Jeremiah wrote everything that God had told him, and he told his scribe, Baruch, to take it into the temple, and read it to the people of Judah. (36:5) When he read it to the people, one of the men that heard it, went and told the officials about what he had heard, and they sent for Baruch so that he could read it to them as well. So Baruch came and read it to the officials. When they heard what God had said, they decided that the King must hear about it. So the King had the scroll brought to him, and he told his secretary to read it to him, while all the officials were standing beside him. As the secretary read it to him the king would cut off pieces of the scroll as the secretary read every three or four columns. After cutting off the pieces of the scroll, the king, Jehoiakim, would throw it into the fire until the whole scroll was burned. After this had happened, God told Jeremiah to write it again, so he called Baruch to write it over again. 

     So these are the two different ways that people can take in the word of God. The first one is how the Israelites did when Ezra read them the Law. They took it in, and took it to heart. So much so that they started weeping because they knew that they had been doing wrong. And then not only did they do that, but they began to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. They confessed their sins, and began following him again. The other story shows that King Jehoiakim took the word, and couldn’t care less about it. So much so that he tore it off from the scroll with a knife, and threw it in the fire. Even though there were people around him encouraging him not to do that, he threw the word of God in the fire. Now, which are you? Are you one of the ones that takes the word to heart? Do you realize what it is that God is telling you, and do you change yourself because of it? Or do you just (figuratively) throw it into the fire? Do you just say whatever, and not let it impact you in the least? The bible says that after the king had heard and burned the entire scroll, neither the king, nor anyone in his presence mourned, or tore their clothes. It didn’t touch them at all. 

     Like I said in the beginning, I am not only writing it for you. I’m writing it for myself also. There are times when I read the bible, and I just don’t feel anything, either because I’m not paying attention to what I’m reading, or I’m distracted, or my heart isn’t in the right place. And there are times when I don’t read it in general, because I’m distracted, or some other reason. So know that if you are like that, you aren’t alone. Just know that God wants us to draw closer to Him, and to do that, we need to be in the word, and not just read it. Because when Ezra read it to the people, he didn’t just read it like it was story time. It says in Nehemiah 8:8 “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” He read it and explained it to them, so that they knew what was being said, so they had a giant bible study. That is what we need to do, we can’t just read it, because if we do, then we run the risk of being like Jehoiakim, because he just read it. It was a bad story to him. We all need to be like Ezra and the Israelites, and study the word. 

The power inside us

Disclaimer for this message: Some of the things in this message are kinda weird, and people don’t usually think about it. If you think I’m crazy while reading this message, keep reading till the end. 

     Today I was thinking about something that I learned from a good friend of mine at a camp that I worked with. When I say that I learned it from him, I mean that I knew it, but I had never come to realize it, if that makes any sense whatsoever. And if it doesn’t, then I just have a very odd mind, and that is one of the things that makes me unique.

     This thing that I realized/learned, is that we have authority. I’m not talking about authority to hire/fire people, or to send our kids to their room. I’m talking about spiritual authority. Here is an example. You are driving down the highway, and some guy cuts you off. Naturally, you get mad. And then you are late for work…more mad. Your boss is having a bad day, so they just keep yelling at you…more mad. And just one thing after another happens during the day to make you just more and more mad. Well, if you are anything like we like to say that we are, you pray about it, and ask God to help you calm down. The reason that I say that if you are like we like to say we are, is because most people, me included, don’t always pray when we are mad, sad, upset, etc. Well, if you pray about it, you usually just ask God to help you with whatever you are going through. So instead of asking God to do it for you, which He will. The Bible says specifically “ask and you shall receive” (Matthew 7:7) but, why can’t you just make it go away? Now, know that I’m not saying that you should try to do it on your own, because you can’t do anything by yourself. But we can do all things through Christ.(Philippians 4:13) The Bible tells us specifically, that Jesus gave us power when he ascended into heaven. In Acts 1:8 it says “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then again in Luke 24:49 “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” In both of these verses, it shows us that God will be sending us power. Now, the verses tell us two very important things about this power. 1. It comes only through the Holy Spirit. The verse in Acts tells us that we will “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes…”. So we can only have this power if we become a Christian. 2. This power comes from Heaven, and its not just just going to come to us, and be central, if that makes sense. It’s just just going to be in one part. This power is going to clothe us, its going to just cover us, or wash over us. 

     So now that can we do with this power that God has given us? Well, to some, he has given the power to heal. For example, there are many stories of men and women being healed by the laying on of hands. For those of you who don’t know, laying on of hands, is when a person, or a group of people lay hands on a sick person, and pray for them, and then command in God’s name, that this person be healed. Now, as with all of these examples, it doesn’t happen every time, because it might only be our will, and not the Father’s that it would happen. And if it’s not in God’s plan that the person be healed, then they won’t be.

     Another is the casting out of demons. Now, there are a lot of people, Christians and not, that believe that demons exist, and then there are a lot that don’t. Just so all of you that are reading this know, I do believe in the existence of demons. I do believe in demonic possessions. The reasons behind that, are that both demons, and demon possessions happened in the bible, and if we are going to accept the presence of God and His angels, then we need to accept the fact that there is a Devil, and he has his angels, or demons. And when we have this power that God has given us, we are able to cast out these demons. Now, the demons in us won’t always be one that makes us have seizures, or foam at the mouth, or turn our head all around and talk in a creepy voice, like they do in the movies. These demons can be tempting us to do what we know is wrong. It could be a demon of hate, which would cause you to be in that really bad mood for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Or it could be a demon of lust, which would cause you to look at men/women a certain way, or to look at porn. Or it could be a demon of deception, which just makes you want to lie about things that it doesn’t even matter if you lie about it. We have the power to cast those out! And once again, we don’t have to go with the movies. We don’t need to have a priest come in and do an exorcism, or dump holy water on you, or do any crazy rituals. You just tell the demon that in the name of Jesus Christ, leave. But don’t just say it, you have to say it knowing and believing that it will work. You have to have faith. But then, when you do that, you do have to pray to God. Pray that He would take the place that that demon or that spirit had. Because if you don’t then that’s just an empty space, and it can come back. 

     I have had personal experience with this. (the second part) I was just having a really bad day, and I just started praying, and I said (paraphrase) “I command this demon of anger that is in me, just be gone, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the name of God. Get out of me.” And then I prayed to God to take that spot, and I honestly felt a lot better when I was done praying. I wasn’t angry anymore, and I had a smile on my face, even though I was just really mad. I’m not just telling stories of things that I’ve heard from a friend of a friend. This is biblical. There are demons out there, and God has given us the power to get rid of them. But just like the disciples, we need to have God’s help. We can’t do it all on our own. 

What’s the difference?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YztvjePz0uk

     I was thinking about things that people deal with in the faith, and one of the things I thought about was that for some reason, in the process of becoming more and more Christian, we become less, Christ-like. 

     While watching this video, I get the same reaction no matter how many times I watch it. No matter how many times I watch it, and no matter if I know what is coming or not, it still hits me hard knowing that that is what people think about Christians. “Bible bashers” “Crazy” “Hopeful of something that isn’t going to come” “Nothing good”. These are some of the words used to describe Christians. Why is that? Well, I think that the main reason that we, as Christians are described as this, is because some of the times, this is how we portray ourselves. When you see someone who isn’t a believer doing something obviously wrong, you tell them its wrong, and they are sinning. You share the bible with new people, and tell them that if they don’t accept Jesus, they are going to Hell. You hold posters telling the world that God hates gays, and that the end is near. All of these things are examples of trying to be Christian, but becoming less Christ-like. 

     Now, none of us, including myself are perfect Christians. We all sin. That’s the cold, hard, fact. But the word Christian, literally means “Christ follower”. So to be a Christian, we are supposed to be a follower of Christ, which means that we would be Christ-like. So, how is it then, that in the process of trying to be a “good Christian”, we become less Christ-like? When we do things like telling people who aren’t even believers yet, that they are going to go to Hell if they don’t repent right now, is a great example. Now, is it important that they know the Gospel, and that if they don’t accept Christ into their hearts, they will go to Hell? Yes. But that’s not the first thing that they are going to want to hear. If you weren’t a Christian, and someone was trying to “sell their faith” to you by saying that you were going to go to Hell, if they didn’t come to church with you, would you want to join their religion? Heck no! You would look at them like their crazy, and keep walking. So to become more like Christ, we need to actually look in the Bible, and see how Christ himself, talked to non-believers. “When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16) In this verse, it shows that Jesus was just treating them like normal people. He was hanging out with them, talking to them, eating with them. He didn’t just go up to them and say “Believe in me, or you are going to Hell.” They never would have believed him, or they would have just ran away. Instead he loved them, and then he could talk to them. That is the way to becoming more Christ-like. Love. Notice in the video, more than once, it described Jesus as loving. We need to love our neighbors. (Mark 12:31) And our neighbors aren’t just other Christians, that’s everyone. Believers and non-believers, alike. 

     So, if we are supposed to be Christ-followers, why is there a difference between the way that people see us, and see Christ? 

What’s your identity? Past

     For the past few days, we have been in a series called “What’s your identity?” talking about who or what we put our identity in. We went from putting our identity in our appearance, to putting it in the relationships that we hold, to putting it in what we believe, each time coming to the conclusion that we need to put our identity in Christ. God calls us beautiful, and He is the relationship that will never leave us, or forsake us, and when we have a relationship with Christ, everything is better. Today is our final message in this series, and we are going to be talking about something that a lot of people do. We put our identity in our past, and what we have done in our lives, mostly our past sins. 

     A lot of people do this, no matter who they are, or what they have done. It can be really hard to let go of our past, knowing what we have done, and wondering how it is that such a perfect God could forgive someone like us. So, I want to tell you a couple stories. 1. There was a young boy, and his mother introduced him to drugs. He did drugs for most of his life, and he was a young teenager the first time that he was arrested. Through most of his life, he was in and out of jails and prisons, getting let out, and within a month, arrested again, always for drug related charges. When he was in his early thirties, he decided to get clean, and with the help of God, he changed his life, and now he has been clean for over a thousand days, and is constantly being a blessing to men who were in his situation, by being a mentor for them, and leading a men’s house. He doesn’t live in his past. He know’s what he did, but he also know’s that God has forgiven him for what he did. And now he is using that to help others. 2. There is a man who has a pretty good life. Good job, nice house, wife, couple kids. But one day he made a mistake. He let things go a little too far with his secretary, and he ended up cheating on his wife. Nobody except for him and the secretary know. But he just can’t let it go. He thinks that there is no way that God could forgive him for that. 

     These are two situations, one of them, I know to be true, and the other, could be any of you. It doesn’t have to be the exact sin, but it could be anything. Cheating, stealing, drugs, alcohol, lying, anything. No matter what the sin is, it can stay with us. And there is that voice in the back of your head that tells you that there is no way that God could forgive you for doing that. It says in the Bible, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) It says right there, that if we confess our sins to God, he will forgive us of our sin. But he won’t just leave it at that. He is going to purify us from all unrighteousness. He doesn’t want us to go back into that sin that we were living in. He wants us to get away from it. Then it says in Acts 3:19 “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” In this one, it says that we need to repent and turn to God. Repent doesn’t mean that we need to just confess what we did that was wrong. We need to confess, but then we also need to turn from it. Turn from your sin, and turn to God. Then it tells us that when we do that, our sins will be wiped out. When I hear that phrase, “wipe out” I think of when people are surfing, and they wipe out, or they fall and the wave comes crashing down on them. Its like they are gone. Obliterated. Your sins aren’t there anymore. And then it says “that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” God will make us feel better! We don’t have to feel guilty because we did whatever in the past. God has wiped our slate clean, with the blood of Jesus. Because Jesus died on the cross, we don’t have to worry about it. If we repent from our sins, then God will wipe the sins away, and give us peace. It describes that in Ephesians 1:7, when it says “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” And God isn’t one to just forgive us, but then remember every single thing that we did that is wrong. He isn’t going to say that we are forgiven in life, but then when we die, ask why we did all of that. It tells us in Hebrews 10:17 “Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Once they are gone, they are gone. God won’t remember them anymore. All He will see is His son. One last verse that is really comforting to me. It says that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) “As far as the east is from the west…” Those are two completely opposite directions, and they keep going forever. You can just keep going all around the world, and keep going east, or keep going west. And they never meet. That is how far our sins are from us when we have been forgiven by Christ. He isn’t going to forgive us, but then they sneak back up on us. Now, that doesn’t mean that the temptation won’t sneak back up, because it probably will, but then we have to resist the temptation, and beat it. 

     So in this, we are talking about holding our identity in our past sins. But when you look at these verses, once we ask God to forgive us, the sins are gone. Wiped out. East from west. Forgotten. So then what are we holding our identity in? The point to be made in each of these four messages, is that if we hold our identity in anything but God, we aren’t really holding it in anything. Looking back at the past few messages, if we hold it in our outward appearance, God gave us our looks. And he made us beautiful. We mentioned in that message that man looks at the outside, but God looks within. The outside doesn’t mean anything. In the second one, we talked about our friendships, and relationships. Relationships are great, God made them himself. But we can have some bad ones, and if we hold our identity in those, then what are we living for? We are saying that our life is the sum of who we know. Once we die, and even when we are living, that isn’t worth anything. And then yesterday, we talked about how people hold their identity in their religion. If it is a religion, you are holding your identity in yourself, because you aren’t living for God. And today, talking about holding our identity in our past sins. They are just that. The past. If you have repented from your sins, then God has wiped them away, and they are gone. So you are holding your identity in nothing. So remember, God has fearfully and wonderfully made you; He will never leave you, nor forsake you; He is our Heavenly Father; and he will no longer remember our sins. (Psalm 139:14/Deuteronomy 31:6/ Matthew 6:9/Hebrews 10:17) 

What’s your identity? Religion

     For the past couple days, I have been writing in a series called “What’s your identity?”, which is talking about the different things that we use to identify ourselves. First, we talked about our appearances, and how God made us in His image, and how we are all beautiful, and then yesterday we talked about our company, meaning friends and family, and how the relationship that we need to be putting the most stock in is the one with God. So, today, I want to talk about something that people did in biblical times, but we also find ourselves doing now. We find our identity in our religion. An example of that, is when you hold such a high standard to being a christian, that nothing else matters, and not in a good way.

     When we hold too much stock in Christianity, it stops being what it was meant to be. It is meant as a relationship. In the beginning we were in community with God, and we had a close relationship with Him. But then we sinned, and we couldn’t be in community with Him anymore. But since Jesus came and died on the cross, we can. And He wants us to. But what happens when we start to have that be our identity, as a christian? 

     Well, there are two possible outcomes with that. The first is that you grow closer to Christ. If you hold your identity in Christ, then you know all of what God says about us. You most likely pray every day, and you read your bible every day as well. You know what God wants you to do, and you have a close relationship with Him. The second is that you become like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. You know what God says about us. You most likely pray every day, and you read your bible every day as well. The only difference between the two, is that you don’t have a genuine relationship with God. In the second situation, you could end up saying that you are a Christian, but then going out and talking bad about people, and doing exactly what you are telling people that they shouldn’t do. You would be just like the Pharisees. In today’s world, they would be model Christians on the outside, but inside there was nothing. This is what Jesus says about them in Matthew 23, “You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You won’t go in yourselves, and you keep others from going in. You Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses are in for trouble! You’re nothing but show-offs. You travel over land and sea to win one follower. And when you have done so, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.” (v. 13-15) They are hypocrites. They do everything so that other people can see what they did, and praise them, not God. And they do everything they can do to convert someone, and teach them to do exactly what they are doing. That’s not to say that with the first situation, you don’t sin. That’s to say that when you do, you go to God about it. You know what you did wrong, and you feel bad about it, and you pray to God. You have a real relationship with God. 

     When you keep your identity in Christ, make sure that it is all about God. That’s who we need to be focusing on, and take His word to heart. Don’t be like the Pharisees who was thinking “What can I do today?” But think “What can God do through me?” God is the one that is working through us, and He is the one that we need to be holding our identity in. God is the creator, and He made us perfect. Remember, we are God’s. 

What’s your identity? Company

So as the second part of our series, I want to talk about how a lot of times, people identify themselves with who they hang out with. And in some way, society does the same thing. For example, the saying “guilt by association”. Meaning, you didn’t have to do it, but because you were seen and you hang out with they people who do it, you must do it too. This happens a lot in High School. If you hang out with the jocks, then you must be a jock. Or if you are a nerd or a geek, then you must be a nerd or a geek.

What is it about our friends that we like, that makes us hang out with them? Sometimes it could be their sense of humor, or their interests, or maybe something a little less deep, like they are popular, or good at sports. Whatever it may be, we hang out with them for a specific reason, and that helps us identify with them. But there is a difference between identifying with them, and identifying by them. We don’t want to identify ourselves by saying, “I’m their friend.” Let’s put it this way. If you were to die right now, and you could identify yourself with ONE THING, would you want it to be the fact that you were this person’s friend? One of the main things that people identify themselves by is their company. For example, “I’m so-and-so’s kid”. Or “I’m this person’s boy/girlfriend” Or maybe, “Oh, yeah. I’m this guy’s best friend.” But is that where we want to be?

In our last message, we talked about how God made us in His image, and how “He fearfully and wonderfully made us”. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, I would encourage you to do that. In this one, we are going to talk about how we like to identify ourselves by who we hang out with. And there are usually three people that we do that with. Either our parents (when we are younger), our boyfriend/girlfriend, or our friends. Well, yeah, its good to have friends, and parents are awesome, but what happens when they leave? Or what happens if they do something to hurt you? Friends move away, and eventually, everyone dies. That’s the sad truth. The only one who won’t hurt you, leave you, or die, is God. He is always there for us, no matter what. The bible says in Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” It says right there that God will never leave us or forsake us. And He won’t.

One of the other things that we like to identify ourselves by is our relationships. I think everyone has done this at least once in their lifetime. That proud feeling you get when you say “Yeah. That’s my girlfriend/boyfriend.” We all like to, because for some reason, it makes us feel good to say that you are with that one person. But regardless of how it makes us feel, and how much we like/love that person, that’s still not what we should identify ourselves by. There is only one relationship that we need to hold to the highest esteem, and that is the one with Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Sometimes things happen, and relationships end. No matter how bad we don’t want them to, they do. And sometimes they are our fault, and sometimes they are the other person’s fault. But there is one relationship that will only end if it’s our fault. And that is the one with God. He will never leave us, as seen by the verse in Deuteronomy. He wants to be with us forever, and that’s why Jesus came down and died on the cross. So that we can have that relationship with Him.

So, instead of identifying yourself by relationships that can end, we need to be saying “I’m God’s, and He will never leave me.” He loves us so much that He sent His son to die on a cross for us, and He wants to be in a relationship with someone like me. How awesome is that?

What’s your identity? Appearance

     So during group tonight I was struck with this idea for a new message series. This one could hit hard with a number of people, but it can hit with a lot of jr. high or high school students because of some of the things I’m going to be talking about. So, in this series, we are going to be talking about our identity, and what we hold in our identity, as well as what it is. 

     In this first one I want to talk about our identity being in our looks. I know that this describes a lot of girls, but there are guys who do this also, so it’s not just a few people. Everyone likes to look good, right? And there is nothing wrong with that. But that isn’t what we need to be focusing our lives on. Now, there are two types of people who do this, and I want to address both of them. The first is the person who wears all the new things, and has all the newest and best. We all probably know someone like that. These people will spend countless hours going through the stores trying to get new clothes, and then wear them once or twice, and then never look at them again. It is ok for us to take pride in our appearance, but there is a point when we have to say too far. Speaking as both a guy, and a youth leader, I can say this. If someone is your friend, or your boy/girlfriend, just because of what you look like, then you don’t need that person in your life. Yes, physical attraction is important for relationships, but that definitely isn’t the most important thing in one. 

     The second type of person is the one who, to put it bluntly, hates the way they look. This person will think of, and try to do anything they can do to change the way they look. And sometimes they can end up getting depressed, and actually hurt themselves because of their looks. By hurting themselves, I don’t only mean cutting themselves, or attempting suicide. I also mean things like eating disorders. When you have an eating disorder, you are hurting yourself. This person will look at models, actors, and people around town or school and think to themselves “why can’t I look like them?” And then if they try and fail, they just hate themselves even more. They think that if they at least look like what society considers to be attractive, then they will be happy. Well, let me tell you right now. Being good-looking doesn’t make you happy. And just like I mentioned earlier, if they are your friends or with you just because of your looks, then they don’t know the real you. 

     So, I want to tell you something. And this is to all y’all. (everyone. everywhere. yes, even you) You are beautiful. And you are loved. I don’t have to know you, I don’t even have to know what you look like. You are beautiful. Beauty is not only a physical attribute. Numerous times in the Bible does it say that girls don’t need to be all dressed up, and have make-up on to be beautiful. God made us all beautiful. And he made us the way we are on purpose. In Psalms it says “I will praise the Lord because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) We are made wonderfully by God. It says “you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (v. 13) I don’t know how many of you who are reading this know anything about knitting, but when you do it, you have an idea of what you are going to do, and then time and purpose, you do it. Nothing is an accident. So God made us exactly this way on purpose. And He thinks we are awesome. It says so in Genesis. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) That’s what the bible says after God created man. God made us in a very specific way. It says that He made us in His image. (Genesis 1:27) So God made us in His image, and then after creating us, He said that it is “very good”. After the rest of creation, God would call it good, but we are “very good.”

     In 1 Samuel 16:7 it says “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God looks at our heart, and that’s all that matters. If you have a hard time thinking that God could use you, think to some of the stories in the Bible. Moses stuttered, David was short, Esther was a woman in a man’s world, and Mary was a (around) 15 year old virgin girl. God looks us, the real us, and says that we are beautiful, and we are His. 

     No matter who you are, where you are, or how old you are, remember this. God has fearfully and wonderfully made you. And we are all beautiful. 

Why don’t we?

     There is a song that I really like but unfortunately, it isn’t played a lot anymore. That song is called “What if Jesus came back like that” by Collin Raye. In this song, it gives us three different situations, all of them asking what if Jesus came back like that. In the first scenario, he is a hobo that came into town on a no freight train, and he lives underneath the county bridge. In the second, he is a baby that is born addicted to the drugs, and the only way that he would survive is if someone takes him home and loves him. The third is exactly the same as he came the first time. Silent night, star shining on a manger in Bethlehem. But the main part of the song isn’t about the scenario, it’s what if Jesus, the Son of God, came back to us like that? 

     Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a barn in a small town. He was a carpenter’s son. He was poor. To them, he was lower class. And because of all of that, people didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. There were people who didn’t love him. That is what the song is asking. What if Jesus came back as an undesirable in our life? Would we just ignore him? Or would we talk to him, and help him out. So in this message, I want to talk about a couple different things. Firstly, God calls us to love one another. When we love people, it doesn’t have to be the type of love where we hug and kiss everyone. That would be kinda weird. But instead we need to have the characteristics of love that are shown in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil be rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (v 4-7) These are the definition of love. If we are doing anything that is not described by that, we aren’t showing love to someone. Now, this can be hard to read, but it is just as equally hard to write, because it would be a lie to say that I always do this with people that I love. 

     So, if we can’t even show love to people that we love, how can we show it to people that we don’t, specifically, the “undesirables” in the world? I would like to say that it’s easy, but that would also be a lie. It can be really hard to love someone. But the best way to explain it is this. Be there for someone. Don’t judge them. If they want to talk about bad things that they have done, don’t jump on them and say (or think) bad about them. If they continue to do these wrong things, be patient, and be there for them. God loves them just as much as he loves us. Now, this ties into the second thing I wanted to address today. What do we do when we see these people in church? Many of us would like to say that we are the first one to greet them, and say “welcome to <insert church name here>! We’re glad you could make it. My name is <insert name here>.” But we don’t do that all the time, do we? Why? Some of the main reasons that we wouldn’t is because it makes us feel uncomfortable, or we are busy, or we’re late, or we are talking to our friends. Well, yeah. It’s going to make you uncomfortable sometimes, but God doesn’t want us to stay in our comfort zone. And as far as being busy and late, when aren’t we? And let’s face it, our friends will be there when we are done talking to the new person at church. And yet, something still keeps us from doing it. You get that thought in your head, that one that we have all heard a dozen times. “Someone else will talk to him.” Well, why can’t you be the someone else? There are people all over that don’t come back to church, because everyone at the church thought that someone else would go up and talk to them. And then nobody does, and they go home without breathing a word to anyone, besides the person who was assigned the job of greeter that morning. 

     Another song that I really like is called “My Jesus” by Todd Agnew. There are a couple lyrics in that song that really hit me hard when I think about churches. It says “Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church, The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet.” I wonder how many churches are like that. They wouldn’t let someone in, or they would just ignore someone because they weren’t dressed in “church clothes”, or their hair was dirty, or they didn’t look like they had a good night’s sleep. Well, maybe they slept under a bridge that night. And contrary to how some people like to see him, my Jesus, the Jesus of the bible, as he died on the cross, was torn, beaten, dirty, and bloody. 

     In the bible, it talks about a concept that combines the two of those into one main idea. In Matthew 25:40, it says, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” So when we love these people who nobody wants to associate with, or when we talk to that new guy at church, we are really doing it to Jesus. God wants us to love one another, that’s why it says when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he answered “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31) God wants us to love each other just like we love ourselves. And the last sentence that Jesus said wasn’t “there is no suggestion greater than these.” He said commandment. 

     So next time that you see someone at church that is new, and needs someone to talk to, just go up to them. Love them, just as the Lord has loved you.