This morning we are concluding our series on “Seeking the Heart of God.” Our topic is “Where is the Spirit leading.” Spring is (hopefully) just around the corner and as we look forward to the warmer weather and new growth of spring, so we look forward to what God is doing. At CCC we’re beginning a roll out of refreshed CCC core values. We believe these are our priorities for this season and we’ll be giving them quite a bit of focus this year. This sermon will be a primer or introduction to the roll out of our new values.
As we discuss values and where the Spirit is leading my tendency is to want concrete plans. What does God want me to do today? Tomorrow? What is the specific plan? Sometimes God is very specific, but other times he is much more general. This morning we’re going to look to few different passages and see how the Spirit leads us.
We’ll start in Galatians
“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[e] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Gal 5:16-26)
What does it mean to be led by the Spirit? Sometimes we’d just like God to bless the plans we have already made without him. Other times we’d like him to write in the sky a nice tidy schedule for us. Usually he does neither, yet the Bible does give us a path forward.
As we see in the passage from Galatians there is a clear distinction between the life of the Spirit and the life of the flesh. The life of the flesh is marked by the feeding of sinful desires and a pervasive pursuit of those things. The life of the Spirit is marked by the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible explains this as the difference between an old life and a new life in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). These two different lifestyles lead to totally different results.
When we want to be led by the Spirit, we choose to follow the Spirit and we find ourselves being led by him. The Spirit leads us to a lifestyle of fruit and the lifestyle of fruit of the Spirit leads us to him. “Life by the Spirit is neither legalism nor license – nor a middle way between them. It is a life of faith and love that allows a person to be led by the Spirit.” This lifestyle is both a choice and a submission. We are led and we choose to follow. The soldier chooses to join the military and then gives everything in unquestioning obedience to the mission. Likewise, this is the call of Christ. “…since believers have been made alive by the Spirit, they must follow. Indeed, they are to get in line with him or keep in step with him.” The Holy Spirit is always present and always moving.
So, what does the Spirit lead people to? Let’s look at a passage in the gospel of John.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)
Primarily the Spirit leads people to truth. “…”all truth” is the communication about and from Jesus. The Spirit is the agent between the Son (and Father) in heaven and believers on earth.” The truth the Spirit leads people into is the person of Jesus. When people follow the Spirit, they inevitably draw closer to Jesus. In short, in the simplest terms, the Spirit leads people to Jesus.
How can we be led by the Spirit? Live a lifestyle of obedience to God – the result will be the fruit of the Spirit. Remove yourself from a lifestyle gratifying your desires or sinful fulfillment. Everyone makes mistakes, but a consistent, wilful disregard of Jesus and desire to sin will gradually lead away from him.
Be an assertive disciple and a submissive follower of Jesus. Some people in the gospels ran after Jesus just for a chance to see him, touch his robes or have a word with him (blind beggar-Mark 10:46-52, Zacchaeus – Luke 19:1-10). Others ignored him and hoped he would stop upsetting their worlds that didn’t need a saviour. It sounds surprising, but not everyone wants a saviour. If you want to be led by the Spirit, aggressively chase Jesus down and then willingly submit to him.
It’s not so much about a 5 year plan for your life, rather it’s about following the One who will lead you where you need to go.
Spirit lead and help me follow.
 Barker and Kohlenberger III eds, Expositors Bible Commentary Abridged Edition: New Testament, 1994, pg 739
 Barker and Kohlenberger III eds, Expositors Bible Commentary Abridged Edition: New Testament, 1994, pg 743
 Arrington and Stronstad eds, Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary, 1999 pg 94
This time we are continuing our series on “Seeking the Heart of God.” The last few sermons we have been focussing on the community aspects of the body of Christ. This time we are going to look at two things that we do alone in order to help us hear from God: silence and solitude.
First, we’re looking at the concept of silence. It seems strange to talk about silence in the context of Christian community. Is not silence the opposite of good communication? Let’s examine silence in the context of using it as a spiritual discipline, but first let’s stop and see where we’re at in culture.
In our world we’re constantly surrounded by noise and distraction. If we have a quiet moment, we pull out our phones, turn on the tv, call someone, or make plans to go for coffee. On the other side of distraction is the desire to make ourselves heard. In almost every way our culture tells us to make ourselves heard, to express ourselves, to create, to put ourselves out there. Silence is portrayed to be risky, passive, unproductive. In many ways as a culture we’re profoundly uncomfortable with silence.
In our world of distraction, words and connectedness, choosing intentional silence is counter intuitive. If we are always talking, distracted, in motion, surrounded by noise, we rarely stop to listen deeply. Is it any wonder that we might struggle to hear from God? Or even to hear ourselves think? Here like in many ways, God is counter cultural. Counter intuitive. God says “…in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isa 30:15) This is not what we are used to hearing. Yet, “Only silence will allow us life-transforming concentration upon God.”
Author Mark Buchanan speaks of his own process of learning to be silent. “There is a deeper lesson here. God is teaching me quietness of heart. I didn’t realize, until I started experiencing this, how clamorous and anxious my heart generally is. Inside, I’m a schemer. A constant chattering goes on in my head. I mutter to myself like Gollum. But as I quiet down, my heart does as well. Quietness allows room for God to speak or be silent. Both are gifts. Quietness stops crowding the Holy Spirit, elbowing aside God’s gentle presence. The end of striving makes room for dwelling.”
Ultimately, silence is about trust and listening. If we trust God, we can be comfortable with silence. We can be with people who speak or don’t. We can rest in God’s presence whether he speaks or not.
Our second word for this morning, solitude, is closely related to silence. Like silence, solitude seems counter intuitive. Is not solitude the opposite of community? While being deliberately isolated without returning to community is dangerous, intentional solitude for periods of time is healthy. Jesus certainly practiced periods of solitude and silence amidst his hectic ministry schedule. Jesus’ begins his ministry with a period 40 days of solitude in the desert (Mark 1:12-14). This period grounded him and prepared him for the intensity of the coming three years of ministry. Even as Jesus launched into ministry, we might expect that he would go hard 24/7, knowing he had only 3 years to complete his task on earth. Yet, this is not the model he practiced. He continued to withdraw from the crowds to be alone and to pray. “But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16).
Sometimes he was alone and sometimes he was with the disciples, but they continued to withdraw. “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (Mark 6:31-32). Indeed, the gospel of Mark reports 9 times that Jesus withdrew either alone or with his disciples to be with God. His effectiveness with people was grounded in these periods of silence and solitude with his Father. The key is that Jesus’ relationship with his Father was his most important priority, not his ministry to others.
This all may seem a little backwards. How do you hear from God? Two of the best ways are silence and solitude. The point of these practices is to focus on God and recharge our connection with Him. If we are empty ourselves, we have little to offer other people. If we are constantly distracted, we can become blind to the realities of our culture that draw us away from God. If we are constantly speaking, we can miss what God and others are saying. Silence and solitude with God re-center us and correct our priorities. Again, we follow the model that Jesus himself lived. It is often in silence and solitude that we are best able to hear from God.
Is this practical in our world? It is difficult, but I think it is possible. More than possible it might just be essential. Here are a few practices and suggestions for silence and solitude:
Just as Jesus found his strength for ministry in silence, solitude and prayer before the father, so we must find ourselves in God’s presence. Place yourself in an atmosphere to hear from God and you most likely will.
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, pg 164
 Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God, pg 154
This time we are continuing our series on “Seeking the Heart of God.” We’re going to look at how people are invited to share life in Christ through the body of Christ. There is amazing potential as consider the invitation into relationship. We’re looking this time at Ephesians 2:11-22.
“11Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit” (Eph 2:11-22)
The key to unity in the body of Christ is the reconciliation offered by Jesus. Through Jesus all people can be reconciled to each other and to God. The unifying factor is that all followers of Jesus are in Him. The Apostle Paul in verse 21 uses a building metaphor to explain this concept. Ephesians 2:21 declares that with Jesus as the cornerstone, the building rises and becomes a holy temple. The Bible teaches us that all believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 6:19). Together all believers make up the church, a holy temple.
In the Old Testament the Jews worshipped in a physical temple, a building. The temple was the dwelling place of God on earth and represented his presence with his people. In this temple, access to God and forgiveness of sins was regulated by the priestly system and the sacrificial system. If you want a great explanation of this read Hebrews chapters 9 and 10. In summary, after the death and resurrection of Jesus people are no longer limited to the physical building of the temple. We have direct access to God the father through Jesus. We are invited directly into the relationship of the Trinity.
Eph 2:22 continues this line of thought: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us what was accessible only through the temple in the Old Testament is now present in every believer. People are now the dwelling place of God through the Holy Spirit. Individually we are all temples of the Holy Spirit, and together we make up the body of Christ, a holy temple, the church.
We talk about individual believers, but you can’t have a building made of one stone. You need many stones crafted, shaped and placed intentionally to build the walls. When people accept Jesus as their saviour, to continue the building metaphor, they are like a stone placed in the wall of the building. Many stones fitted together, with different sizes and different roles, make up the building. Each stone relies on every other stone for the building to be stable. Every stone is part of the building that God is creating, the body of Christ. As we are built together, we share in the plans that God is writing. The Apostle Peter writes: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Pet 2:4-5)
Spiritually, Jesus is the master craftsman. We “are being built” into this house, this dwelling place, this holy temple. As people live life in Christ, believers are continually being crafted and shaped together towards maturity by life in Christ. Life in God, with God and through God is what shapes the body of Christ.
So, whether followers of Jesus are called sheep (John 10:14-16), stones (I Pet 2:4-5), branches (John 15:5), or body parts (I Cor 12:12), Jesus is behind it all and each person is invited into the life of Christ that is shared amongst all followers of Jesus. Through Jesus is the life that God has designed people for.
This time we are continuing our series on “Seeking the Heart of God.” We’re talking about the body of Christ and how people work together in unity and can encourage each other. This happens on two levels, the personal level and the congregational level. We’re going to look at a few different passages and draw together some thoughts about why we need people in the body of Christ.
First let’s look at the big picture of the body of Christ starting in Ephesians 4:11-16
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:11-16)
As these verses explain, the body of Christ is meant to work together in unity, each part serving its purpose. The emphasis is two-fold: 1) that we need every part in the body of Christ and 2) that the church is to be growing towards maturity. The key ingredients in the growth towards maturity are truth and love. These lead us closer to Christ who is the head of the church. In Paul’s view the church cannot grow in an individualistic manner, i.e. there cannot be a bunch of diverse parts growing separately which get slapped together, hoping that it works. The body of Christ is meant to grow together. Each part shapes and encourages other parts in the body of Christ just as when a child grows, the body grows in unison.
This coordination and unity in the body of Christ is only possible through Christ. “Christ is at once the One into whom all Christians grow and out of whom the church consolidates itself in love. This process depends on the interrelationship of the various parts of the body. The whole is continually being integrated and kept firm by each separate ligament.” As explained in this passage, immaturity is accompanied by risks: childish attitudes and the danger of being caught up in fashionable but false teaching. Gradually leaving childhood behind, the result of growth into maturity is that believers grow into completeness in Christ.
Secondly, we look at friendships within the body of Christ. We need friends and many verses in the Bible speak about the importance of friendships. Proverbs says: “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” (Prov 27:9) I hope you have experienced this kind of friendship in life. Some people have many friends, and some have few. The important part is not how many friends you have, but that you have some friends that you trust and can share life with. Someone has said you don’t need to tell everyone everything about your life, but you need to tell someone. Do you have someone you can go to when you need advice, prayer or spiritual encouragement? (Facebook doesn’t count) On the other hand, who are you reaching out to and encouraging? I know personally that without people I would not have grown. We’re truly better together. We need specific friendships and these friendships provide the links and connections that form the body of Christ.
For faith to grow, people don’t necessarily need to go to a church of a given size, but they do need to meet with other believers. The writer of Hebrews lays out three key actions in this passage that nicely sum up this message: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:24-25)
Spur one another on to love and good deeds
Believers make each other better when they lead others towards love and good deeds. The word that is translated as spur “usually has a meaning like “irritation” or “exasperation” So, we can say the Bible tells us to irritate others towards love and good deeds 😊
Don’t give up meeting together
Evidently, even at an early date after Christ some believers had given up the habit of meeting with other believers. It is dangerous to expect that one can grow spiritually without the love, support and correction of a community of believers. The devil wants to tear down and destroy the body of Christ. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. “(I Pet 5:8. The Christian who is alone is at far higher risk of being defeated in spiritual warfare, falling in temptation or failing to grow. So, don’t give up meeting together.
Encourage one another
The previous thoughts are concluded with an emphasis on encouragement. Believers in the body of Christ are accountable to each other and to Christ; believing that they are to help each other move close to Christ, encouragement is what is called for. If I may combine and paraphrase two passages we’ve looked at today, we are to spur one another on to love and good deeds by speaking the truth in love.
By being honest with others, sharing our lives with others, by encouraging people, we help others grow and it all adds up to the body of Christ growing towards maturity in Christ. As you engage the path, be encouraged that though it may be rough at times, it leads to maturity and it leads to Christ. So, get out there and grow!
 Barker and Kohlenberger III eds, Expositors Bible Commentary Abridged Edition: New Testament, 1994, pg 769
 Barker and Kohlenberger III eds, Expositors Bible Commentary Abridged Edition: New Testament, 1994, pg 989
Our topic for today is: “God is up to something good.” The idea is that we do not have to convince God to be good. In human thinking our tendency is to judge people for their actions as in so and so is a good person, because they treat people well and do good things. The perception of goodness flows from the actions we observe. Then we try to apply the same logic to God. If he is good, he will do good actions that we can observe. However, that logic does not exactly work with God. God is not good as a result of what he does. God is good and as a result goodness flows from him. He is good and is up to good things, we just have to being paying attention to see them.
Let’s look at Ephesians 1:3-14 and see what it has to say about God’s goodness
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known[c] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:3-14)
First, let’s look at the big picture of what God is up to. Apart from time people were chosen to be in relationship with God, before the earth as we know it existed. People are created in the image of God and were chosen in Christ before their physical bodies existed. Through Jesus all people are invited into this relationship. This is something good!
People who are in Christ are one with him. To be in Christ is to be part of every blessing of Christ. God’s goodness invites us into relationship with him. Followers of Christ dwell in the relationship of the Trinity right now. “Christ dwells for ever in the infinite love of God, and as we are in Christ, the love of God for Christ is in a wonderful manner ours.’” God’s goodness is expressed in love for people. Through the act of creation and inviting people into relationship, God is up to something good!
Even before the fall of people in the garden of Eden and sin, people were predestined to be adopted into God’s family. Adoption into God’s family is made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. Because of Jesus sins can be forgiven through him. This plan and process of redemption and salvation is part of the mystery of God. But we may ask, what exactly is this mystery? “For Paul, the essential mystery was the way in which God through Christ brings men and women back into fellowship with himself. More than that, it is the way in which he brings into a restored unity the whole universe that has been disordered by human rebellion and sin.”
On a large-scale Jesus is bringing restoration and unity to the whole of creation. As people understand God’s purpose, they are not blind and aimless followers, but become participants in his good work of redemption and restoration right now.
We’ve looked at the big picture and hopefully we’ve seen a little bit of the mystery and wonder of God’s Good plan. Basing our concept of God only on observable circumstances will lead to an artificially small concept of God. We must base our concept of God on both observable circumstances and spiritual realities. Knowing the blessings and promises that God offers to all people and that followers of Jesus possess, as we have read in this passage, illuminates our view of God’s goodness. If God is good, the Christian life should be one of joy. “Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being. Hope in the goodness of God is joy's indispensable support.” With God, what is promised, will be.
In God people are chosen before the creation of the world, they have redemption, salvation, knowledge of the meaning and propose of life, abundant life now and the guarantee of inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. His plans and purposes according to these promises are being worked out every day in people’s lives. Hope in God, look for his goodness, and you may just see that God is up to something good.
 Foulkes, F. (1989). Ephesians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 10, p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Foulkes, F. (1989). Ephesians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 10, p. 60). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Foulkes, F. (1989). Ephesians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 10, p. 64). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Dallas Willard http://www.dwillard.org/articles/individual/personal-soul-care
For over 20 years now, it has been the tradition of our congregation to set aside the first week in January as our “Week of Prayer”. None of the regular ministries relaunch until we have had time as a Body to seek the heart of God together; to seek His will for our church and its ministries , our community, our families and individuals who make up this terrific family of God.
Last week, we enjoyed this gathering and seeking God together, reflecting the words of Matthew 6:33 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.”(NLT)
If you grew up in the church, seeking God is a normal activity for a believer, but have you ever asked yourself WHY we have to seek God?
After all, doesn’t the bible tell us that:
Both are true, yet there is a sense in which God’s presence is not always with us; when His manifest, conscious, trusted presence is NOT our constant experience.
There are seasons in our lives when we become neglectful of God; giving Him little or no thought. There are seasons when we struggle to trust Him. When the storms and trials of this life overwhelm us, it’s in those times when God remains unseen… or at least “unperceived” by us as the great and loving, all powerful God that He is.
We must SEEK God in order to clear the clutter away and renew our spiritual perspective, so that the “eyes of our hearts may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18) to see God in every season, everyday.
During my devotion time, about 20 years ago, God showed me a picture that I believe illustrates the concept of why we seek God so well. In this vision:
He showed me a picture of people DANCING in the RAIN. There was no music to be heard,
but they danced with delight as the rain gently fell on them.
Off to the side, there were others watching quietly, but they were holding white
knuckled to large, multicolored umbrellas to avoid getting wet.
The dancers implored these umbrella holders to join them, to “DROP their umbrellas
and come DANCE with them in the RAIN”, but they refused.
I prayed about this picture and felt that these people holding umbrellas representing the many faceted circumstances and issues that can prevent us from experiencing the full joy of our salvation. Things that, at times, we hold onto so tightly… and yet God’s word tells us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). From the moment we received the deposit of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us at salvation, God has been calling His people to DROP their cares (unbrellas) at His feet and trust His love, His word. It releases in us the Spirit of God already deposited in our hearts, so that we may mature strong in our faith and full of the JOY of our salvation.
As Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:17, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that you may know Him better.”
To KNOW GOD… this is REAL LIFE… this is why we SEEK HIM!
3 THINGS WE NEED TO RELEASE THE SPIRIT OF GOD
We need a revelation of how BIG/ MIGHTY God is
We need a revelation of how LOVING God is
We need a revelation of how to WALK in GOD’s LOVE
Are you daily enjoying the refreshing of the rain of God’s presence in your life?
Are you holding onto hurt, disappointment, discouragement or unforgiveness, etc.?
What color is your umbrella?
Could God be asking you to DROP YOUR UMBRELLA...
and COME DANCE with Him in the rain of His abiding presence today?
Lord, God, help us to lay aside what hinders us in knowing You. As we SEEK You, give us today a fresh revelation of your Greatness, Your Unfailing Love and teach us by Your Holy Spirit to Walk in Your Love, always. May the JOY of our salvation be renewed in the revelation of WHO YOU ARE in every situation, every season of our lives. Amen!
This morning we are kicking off our annual week of prayer emphasis. Our theme for this week is ‘Seeking the heart of God.’ This also is going to be the theme for the first sermon series of the new year. This morning and each evening of the week of prayer we will be focusing on a topic related to this theme and then in the coming Sundays each topic will be the focus of the Sunday morning sermon.
This morning I want to look at a couple snapshots of how we are invited into relationship with Jesus.
We start in the garden of Eden. God created Adam and Eve in his image (Gen 1:26-27). As beings created in God’s image, Adam and Eve were created for relationship with God. We know from Genesis that Adam and Eve walked together personally with God in the garden. However, with the fall into sin in the garden, the relationship was damaged. Ever since then people have been looking for love in all the wrong places. We were not capable of finding our way back into right relationship on our own, but God had a plan to restore the relationship between himself and people. This plan consisted of Jesus coming to earth in human flesh. We just finished the Christmas season and were reminded that the name for Jesus, Immanuel, means God with Us. What does it mean to be invited into relationship with Jesus?
Last fall we went through the 7 I Am statements of Jesus found in the gospel of John. Let’s return to the gospel of John 10:14-15.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
The picture of Jesus as the good shepherd is all about relationship. We are all looking for relationship because we have been created for relationship. The church father Augustine said: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” All our restlessness and cravings can only be satisfied through a relationship with Jesus. We are invited into relationship. The good shepherd is calling. Do you hear his voice?
Continuing to look at the gospel of John let’s look at John 15:1-5 and 9-11.
Jesus says: ““I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5)
And jumping down to verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)
This is one of the 7 I AM statements of Jesus and in it Jesus teaches that he is the true vine and his followers are branches in the vine. In verse 10 we learn that as branches in the vine, we are invited into the fellowship of God the Father and Jesus the son. We are invited to be part of the vine, interconnected with Jesus into the Trinity. It is an amazing privilege to be part of Jesus, the true vine, in fellowship with God the Father. We are invited into relationship, to have the lifeblood of the vine flowing through us.
Finally, let’s spend a few minutes looking at Ephesians 3:14-19.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:14-19)
In the first three passages we see that we are invited into relationship with God the father through Jesus. Here we see explained that it is the Holy Spirit indwelling followers of Jesus that allows believers to experience relationship in the Trinity as they respond to the invitation of relationship. “It is the constant assumption, or specific emphasis, of the teaching of the New Testament, that strength for the Christian life comes by the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” The purpose of this relationship is that we know the love of Christ, which leads to the fullness of God. “As Orthodoxy says, though we are created in the image of God, we have still to attain the likeness of God. We are always on the move and never wholly satisfied. The finite world cannot satisfy us completely, because we are spirit and directed towards a goal that lies beyond the world.’ As God’s kindred spirits, we find our hearts restless until they rest in him. Our goal is to participate in the filial relationship between Father and Son.”
Going right back to Genesis and bringing it full circle we see that we are created by God for relationship with him and we cannot find satisfaction apart from him. We are invited into relationship. As we enter this week of prayer, our theme is ‘seeking the heart of God.’ Let’s begin the year with minds and hearts open to what Jesus is inviting us to.
 Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.
 Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, p. 315). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Foulkes, F. (1989). Ephesians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 10, p. 109). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, pg 75
Here we are, with just 3 days until Christmas. We race from party to party, cooking, hosting, eating, cleaning, then we go from events to concerts to the malls and back. Sometimes we get so caught up in the rush of the season we forget to slow down and spend time with Jesus. The question is, this Christmas, what have you come to worship? What has captured your attention? In order to worship Jesus at Christmas, we must look at him, not at the cultural expressions that have come to be associated with Christmas. Let’s look at Psalm 84 and look at a few ideas about spending time in God’s presence
· “How lovely is your dwelling place,
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young--
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.[c]
· 5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[d]
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
· 8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield,[e] O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
· 10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
· 12 Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
This lovely Psalm is written by the sons of Korah. The sons of Korah were the gatekeepers and custodians of the temple (1 Chron 9:19-21) Essentially, they were the church janitors. Rather than being upset at their relatively humble station, they rejoiced at the blessing of being in the temple constantly. They rejoice that they got to spend time in the temple, the symbolic location of God’s presence on earth. This psalm overflows with the joy of relationship with God. In the Bible we notice that from the very first, God is relational. The promise of Christmas is found in the very name that was given to the saviour Jesus – Immanuel – meaning ‘God with us’ (Matt 1:23, Isa 7:14). Jesus came to earth to dwell with people because he desires a relationship with people.
Just as the sons of Korah found joy in their relationship with God through their work in the temple so we can find joy in a relationship with Jesus no matter what we are doing this Christmas or throughout the year. At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus, the one who came to dwell with people, the one who we can have a relationship with right now
The sons of Korah worship God and the psalmists express that they can’t live without desiring to be with God. The Psalmist declares: “How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2). What a beautiful cry! His very soul desires to be with God. There is a deep cry and a deep desire found there. Though the Psalmist surely recognizes the physical beauty of the temple he most desires the ‘living God.’ The Psalmists desire the living God because of the opportunity to dwell with Him. As verses 10-12 show it is better to spend one day dwelling in the presence of God than a thousand days somewhere else, doing something else.
The Psalmists are constantly looking at God and because their focus is on him, their priorities are shaped by their relationship with God. If this season (or any season) is threatening to overwhelm you, you can take comfort in knowing that anyone can go to God and find rest with him. “Have you found rest in God, or are you still wandering and restless, as so many people are? God offers you peace. Even the swallow found “a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar.” Jesus doesn’t have any prerequisites - we don’t have to have a big party, expensive gifts, or eloquent Christmas letters to approach him. All we need is an open heart and a willingness to be in relationship.
So, this Christmas what are you looking at? Where is your heart steering you this season? The essential element of Christmas is relationship – with Jesus and with people. Inevitably if you look to the externals and cultural aspects of the Christmas season for fulfillment you will be disappointed. Only relationships will endure, and only Jesus can satisfy. Only in a relationship with God can we find contentment, peace and refreshment. CS Lewis said in Mere Christianity “But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else…”” When you experience a taste of dwelling with God, it is a place you want to go back to again and again. Just as the sons of Korah looked to God and found joy in dwelling with Him, so too can we. This Christmas look to Jesus and you will find him, and you just may find that he is what you were looking for all along.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 691). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 CS Lewis Mere Christianity pg 227
We’ve finished looking at the 7 I AM statements of Jesus in the gospel of John, but we have one more statement in this series. This statement is found in John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am.” This statement is not considered one of the 7 I AM statements because the 7 I AM statements are called the statements with predicates; meaning that each statement describes something about the subject of the sentence, namely Jesus. This statement does not have a description of the subject. There is no metaphor or analogy to elaborate on. Yet, this statement is no less profound than the others. In many ways, though we are stepping back in the gospel of John to look at this statement, it both summarizes and introduces the rest of the I AM statements.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’[c] 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”[d] 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John 8:51-59)
The key phrase is “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” As we can see, this statement provoked a strong response. The Jews picked up stones intending to kill Jesus. The reason this statement was so offensive to the Jews is that by saying I AM, Jesus is referring to the divine name of God. This goes back to the Old Testament and how God revealed himself to Moses (Exodus 3). As God was calling Moses to lead his people through the burning bush incident, Moses is doubtful about his abilities to lead the people and the credibility of the message that God has spoken to him.
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:13-14)
God assures Moses that this will be enough to convince the people. This phrase is significant because it is revealing more about God. In Old Testament times, the name of a person revealed much about who that person was; specifically, their personality and characteristics. In the Bible, there are many names used for God each revealing something about his character and nature. The name I AM is revealed here in Exodus for the first time in the Bible. This name is the root of the name Yahweh.
“Unlike previous names, ‘Yahweh’ does not limit God’s nature to any particular characteristic: he is what he is. Furthermore, his nature does not change. He is the God worshipped by earlier generations (the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob) and generations yet to come (this is my name for ever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation).”
Because this is the core name used for God, Jews would not pronounce the name, in order to avoid the possibility of misusing the name of God as per the 10 commandments.
With this background, we can start to see why this usage by Jesus was so significant. “…when Jesus said to ‘the Jews’, ‘before Abraham was born, I am’, he was identifying himself with God. He was not only pronouncing the name of God, which Jews normally did not dare to utter, but, even worse, he was claiming to be God.”
For an orthodox Jew, this was blasphemy, punishable by death. Many rejected Jesus’ claim outright. For those who are familiar with the Bible and Christian teaching, this does not seem so far fetched, as it is understood that Jesus is God and as God has existed in the Trinity for all time. However, for the Jews present that day it surely seemed to be a fantastical statement. How could this ordinary looking man be God? Yet, is this not the challenge we face today? Can we take the Bible at face value? Do we believe the statements that Jesus gives? Both in Exodus as God reveals his name, and here in the gospel of John as Jesus reveals that he is God; people are challenged with the revelation of God.
What does this passage mean for people today? First, we see that the name of God reveals that he is the same throughout all of history. He is eternal and unchanging. He is the steady foundation.
Secondly, we see that Jesus reveals himself to be God. Jesus is not ‘a god’ he IS God. By identifying himself with the divine name of God, Jesus reveals that he is God, eternal and unchanging. John reveals this in the very first words of the gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
The rest of the I AM statements make sense as we view them through this lens. Jesus is not directly using the divine name in the 7 I am statements, but he is making clear reference to God and revealing more of who he is. Understanding this, we can see that each of the I AM statements is filtered though the revelation of Jesus as God.
As only God can be the I AM, so Jesus who is himself God, is the only one who can be:
 Arrington and Stronstad eds, Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary, 1999 pg 55
 Alexander, T. D. (1994). Exodus. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 97). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Kruse, C. G. (2003). John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4, p. 140). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Pastor Michael Stone
In ministry I get excited when theology comes to life in practical ways resulting in changed lives and passion for relationship with Jesus.