Spring Conference 2016

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Saturday Message

 

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A Chosen Generation

By Daniel Pitts

1 Peter 2:4-12

Key Verse 2:9

 

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Part 1: The Living Stone

Peter wrote this letter to the struggling early Christians scattered throughout the various regions. These early believers were facing much persecution and suffering during this time, to the point that they were displaced from their homes for their own safety. This must have been very discouraging for many in the young church who could live their past normal lives like everyone else if they would just renounce their newfound faith. We present-day Christians may also encounter rejection and persecution because of our faith and love for Christ. In the Western world we don’t necessarily face physical harm or death, but we are faced with fear of rejection from our peers and culture. In times of hardship, what do people need? Who do they turn to? They look for someone to sympathize with them. We look for a way to ease our discomfort and make the situation easier for us. These early Christians needed a home, some comfort and encouragement.

 

So what did Peter, an apostle charged by God to be a spiritual leader in the church, do to counsel them? According to v.4 he urged them to “come to him, the living Stone” – In other words, “come to Jesus”. Why? Read v.4. When we are faced with hardship, we turn to any number of other things for comfort. We search out people who will agree and sympathize with us and tell us nice things to encourage us. Sometimes we look for anyone who will listen to us talk about our problems and share a little in our misery. Sometimes we turn to entertainment or other modes of pleasure or compromise to help ease our problems. However, Peter advises us to go to Jesus, the living Stone. He reminds us in v.4 that Jesus was the first one “rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him.” (OG) He is able to ask and expect us to follow him and be rejected by others because he went through it first. We can trust him to comfort and encourage and provide for us because he truly understands what we are going through as we struggle to serve him.

 

Jesus is also “the living Stone.” What does this mean? Read v.6. First, Jesus is a chosen and precious cornerstone or capstone. A cornerstone is the most important stone in a building. Back in the day a very large, square stone with very straight sides would be placed at one of the corners of the building to be built. This cornerstone was used as a base for all the rest of the construction. The subsequent walls were built following its straight sides. They would also be built up on its flat surface, ensuring that they would not lean or collapse. As in a building, God chose Jesus as his cornerstone, the most important foundation of everything he builds. Everything God builds – his Church, his relationship with us, our salvation – is founded on Jesus. The end of v.6 reads, “The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” As sincere Christians, our faith and hope is directed by our cornerstone, Jesus. Someone read Isaiah 28:16. I read Romans 9:33 (NASB) “just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” When we as believers are met with rejection and persecution, it is easy for us to feel defeated. It’s easy to take it personally and get self-conscious and despair at the prospect of doing anything for God. After all, it seems like a lose-lose situation where nothing will get done. However, we are not called to live comfortably like everyone else in this world. We shouldn’t be living for this world and its acceptance. What we are called to do is serve God and follow Jesus. We are assured that when we trust Jesus and follow his direction, though we may face some temporary discomfort, we will not be defeated or disappointed in the end when we spend eternity with him. This is great encouragement!

 

Read v.7-8. As we said, when Jesus came into the world preaching repentance and the good news of the kingdom of God, those who had no mind to repent and put their hopes in the kingdom of God rejected him. Their lives’ plans had no need for Jesus so they rejected him, handing him over to be beaten, mocked, and ultimately killed on a cross. When people follow their own perceived life directions, they reject Jesus in the same way. They follow twisted paths of meaninglessness that deviate from that which Jesus provides. Cornerstone Jesus becomes “a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Many people believe in God but do not accept Jesus. By not accepting Jesus, we cause ourselves to trip and stumble around as we follow a path we made for ourselves, one we think is right. These are not paths that lead to eternal life. We need to examine ourselves in self-reflection, and be honest with ourselves about where our cornerstone lies. We must be sure to accept Jesus as our cornerstone and follow him to the salvation and blessings only he brings.

 

We must also remember that Jesus is not only a stone that God chose, but a living Stone. He came and lived the perfect life and died, but God raised him from the dead and established him as the foundation of His work. As Christians, we do not worship someone who is dead. Rather, we worship someone who has defeated death. And Jesus is not only the living Stone because he lives, but also because he gives life. Read v.5. Here we see that we are also “like living stones.” When we come to Jesus, we find life. God also works in us, building us into a spiritual house. When we face rejection and suffering as we live for Jesus, God uses it to help us mature and grow in our own spirit. Our heart becomes a temple where God can dwell. God is holy so he wants to live in holy people— those being built up in their relationship with Jesus. As a body of believers, we are also being built collectively into a spiritual house— the church. As believers, we are called to “be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.” “Holy” means set apart for God. Each of us is special and precious to God, like Jesus. The role of Jewish priests was to intervene between God and the people, offering up sacrifices and prayers as they were the only ones allowed to enter the temple. Since Jesus died and fulfilled Levitical law, we no longer have to sacrifice animals to atone for sin, and we are allowed to approach God in His temple being built in us. As Christians, our most basic identity is as priests of God. Our primary function is to likewise offer prayers and sacrifices. We do so by giving our lives to Christ, engaging in praise and thankfulness, and following the example of our high priest Jesus by caring for others’ needs and sharing his good news with them.

 

Part 2: Our Identity in Christ

Our identity is found in Christ, but who are we in Christ? Let’s read v.9. Here we are described in four different ways: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession. In the Old Testament God gave this privilege to the Jews, making them his own special people (Ex. 19:5-6). But since Jesus came and died for our sins, we are now redeemed by his blood and become like spiritual Israelites. First, we are a chosen people. There is nothing we can do to merit God’s favor or choose to turn to him in our fallen sinful state. John 15:16a “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…” By His divine sovereignty and grace, God has chosen each of us to be his people, his person. When we are chosen on Earth by a team or a school or a job, it is because we are special and valuable to them. Even more so, God chooses us because we are valuable and special to Him. He chooses us to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His special possession. In v.5 we talked about what it means to be called to priesthood. Our job isn’t to walk around in flowing robes all day singing hymns; we are called to be servants of God, offering our lives up in prayer and sacrifice. Above we saw what it means to be a “holy” priesthood, but we are also a “royal” priesthood. When we Christians accept Jesus and his forgiveness of sins, we are adopted into God’s family. We become children of the king, ourselves royal and loved by him.

 

Peter then reminds us that we are a holy nation. As we defined earlier, “holy” means set apart or consecrated to God. The Israelites were set apart from everyone else as God’s special people. God gave them laws to follow to differentiate them from other nations and signify them as His. Now, everyone who trusts in Jesus is chosen by God to form this holy nation (1 Pet. 1:2). We form the collective body of believers, Christ’s church. As Christians, we are set apart from all the other people of the world for God. We are also His special possession, or a people belonging to God. There are two kinds of people— those who belong to God, and those who don’t. We are God’s property; He own us! When Jesus came, he paid the price for our sin with his death. Therefore, he bought us and we belong to him. Those who have not put their faith in Jesus have not yet been bought by him and are owned by their sin. As God’s possession, our purpose, our use, is to love Him and love others, introducing them to the love of God that they may be redeemed as well.

 

Now that we know our identity as one precious to God through Jesus, what does that mean for our lives? Someone read v.9b-10 (that you…). Peter reminds us of our lives without God. We ourselves once lived in darkness, belonging to sin and Satan without mercy. But now, God has called us into his wonderful light, that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light,” had mercy on us, and made us his people that we may declare his praises. We do so by sharing the love we have found in God with others, following the example of our Lord Jesus, praying for others and teaching them his word. Read v.11-12. Our namesake as Christians is to be followers of Christ, not of sinful desires or humanism or secularism or anything else. When we call ourselves Christians, we bear the name of Christ and our actions reflect how others see him. If you don’t want to strive to live a life conforming to Jesus and pleasing to him, call yourself something else. The Christian life is not one of excusing sin, but one of repentance and bringing glory to God rather than our own desires. We know that good works do no save us, nor can they in themselves save others, but here the Bible tells us that they should be a reflection of God’s love and grace in our lives. We should be intentional and edifying in our speech and actions, that we may lead others to glorify our Father God as well.

 

In conclusion, we have an identity in Christ as a chosen generation. We also have a calling to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. And we have a responsibility to live as his holy people so that others may see Christ in us and give glory to God. Let’s read out key verse again.

 

Sunday Message

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A People Belonging To God: Living Sacrifices

By Joseph Magno

 

Romans 12:1-9

Key Verse 12:1

 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

 

In The first 11 chapters of the book of Romans one of the main themes is the mercies of God and the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. In chapters 12-16 Paul teaches us how to live as Christians— how we are to live in light of the saving power of the gospel. Verse 1 of chapter 12 says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” What then are the mercies of God? Mercy is God’s undeserved favor and love to sinners. The gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins. But as we know it is much deeper than that. What Christ did for us is a lot more than salvation from our sins. What then are some examples of the mercies of God are:

 

  • God offers us justification and redemption through Christ ( Romans 3:24)
  • Jesus’ sacrifice provides us atonement from our sins (3:25)
  • God takes the judgment that we deserved on himself (3:25; 4:25)
  • God is forbearing and patience with us (3:25)
  • Our transgressions are forgiven and our sins covered by the blood of Christ (4:7)
  • Our sins are not counted against us (Romans 4:8)
  • God gives us spiritual life (4:17)
  • God makes peace between us and him (5:1)
  • God pours his love into our hearts (5:5)
  • He has given us the Holy Spirit (5:5)
  • He saved us from his wrath – we all once objects of God’s wrath – now we are part of his redeemed (5:9)
  • He reconciled us to himself (5:11)
  • He gives us eternal life (5:21; 6:23; 8:11)
  • God gives us new life (6:4)
  • He frees us from condemnation (8:1)
  • God adopts us. He makes us his children, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ and we have the privilege to call him Abba Father – (Daddy) (8:17-17)
  • God shares his glory with us – everything that is his is ours (8:17)
  • The Holy Spirit intercedes for us (8:26-27)
  • In all things God works for our good (8:28)
  • He conforms us to his likeness (8:29)
  • He is always for us (8:31)
  • God provides his love from which we can never be separated (8:35-39)
  • He offers us his kindness (11:22)
  • God gives us irrevocable calls and gifts (11:29)

 

And as we know God’s mercy and love is forever and ever.

 

The word “Therefore”, then, in verse 1 is a conclusion of what Paul spoke of before. God brought us into the fellowship of God’s people. Once we were in the world and now we are part of his kingdom. In view of receiving so much from God, we are great debtors to God. In view of God’s mercy, Paul says this is how you should live. This should be our response to God’s indescribable mercy. He says in verse 1. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— this is your true and proper worship.”

 

From 1 Peter 2 we learned that as Christians we are also priests of God. From our study of the book of Hebrews we learned that priests offered animal sacrifices to atone for sins and for other offerings. That was the old testament sacrificial system. But when Jesus died and became the perfect sacrificed Lamb of God, God now desires that we no longer sacrifice animals but we place ourselves on the altar. This is our supreme act of worship to God. This is why Paul urges all Christians to offer their body as a living sacrifice. This is pleasing to God. Our life should please God. What is a life pleasing to God? The life that worships God and offers itself as a living sacrifice for his glory.

 

What then does it mean to offer our life as a living sacrifice? First, we must look at the Lord Jesus and see how he offered his own life as a living sacrifice. The whole life of Jesus— He was a living sacrifice in everything he did. He left all his power, glory and majesty in heaven to come to this earth to live among us and to save us. He loved God and he loved others. He lived as a shepherd and friend to sinners. He opened the eyes of the blind man. He made the lame walk. He gave us back our lives, our dignity and our identity as children of God. We were like animals, we drank, we slept, we committed indecent and shameful acts. But in Christ Jesus, and through him, we now think as spiritual people; and we are dignified as human beings. Jesus’ whole life was a living sacrifice. He sacrificed himself for the sake of others. Another example is Paul’s life. Paul walked in the footsteps of Jesus. He preached the good news, shepherded people, prayed for them. Most of all he made the name of Jesus great, so the whole world knows who Jesus is and what he did. In the light of this then, how should we live our lives as living sacrifices? We should follow in Jesus’ footsteps as well as Paul’s who in turn followed in Jesus’ footsteps. We should offer our lives to God and to the work of God. We should pray to God like Abraham, like Samuel, like Isaiah, like apostle Paul, and like the many other great servants of God throughout history who said, “Lord, here I am. I am ready to serve you and do whatever your will is for my life.

 

Now let’s read verse 2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” What is one of God’s greatest hopes for us while we live our Christians lives? He hopes that we become more and more like his son, Jesus Christ. When I read the different bible versions on Romans 12 verse 2, it was interesting to note that some versions say “to be transformed” and other Bible versions say “let God transform you.” I think this is because it goes both ways. God transforms us. However, we also need to give our best effort to seek God and to pray for his divine intervention. But does spiritual growth happen over-night? It takes years of spiritual discipline, Bible study, God’s discipline, discipleship, and spiritual molding and shaping. We grow by accepting the word of God in our hearts. Because the word of God is like a seed that can take root in our hearts and has the potential to renew our minds. We are also renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. Colossians 3:10 says, “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

 

Now let’s read verse 3. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” This is Paul’s first statement regarding the church. Before he talks about our relationships with one with another, he begins with these words: “Don’t think of yourself more highly that you should. But think of yourself with sober judgment.” What’s he talking about? He’s talking about the way we see ourselves and each other, and how we treat one another. He’s talking about self worth. Do we actually think of ourselves more highly than we should? Well, we probably do sometimes. Actually there is nothing wrong with thinking highly of ourselves, if we do it with sober judgment, according to our faith. It’s when we think “more” highly of ourselves than we ought to, that gets us in trouble and blinds us to see our real worth and the real worth of others.

 

So what’s the solution to this? Listen to what Paul says: He first says, “By the grace given me”. Then he says, “Think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” In other words, you ought to think of yourself clearly and sensibly, with the right sort of judgment— a judgment not based on worldly standards but based on faith. This is Paul’s secret in how he thinks of himself. He doesn’t compare himself with others, and sees that he had been given a greater role than others. He doesn’t look down on those whose portions seem to be less than his own. He does not judge by his great wisdom, or his superior skills and such. Rather, he says: “by the grace given me”, and that’s his way of saying that he views himself not based on his accomplishments, but entirely based on the grace of God in his own life. Whatever he is and does is owed to the grace of God. That was Paul’s faith, through which he saw himself and all others in the church with the right kind of judgment. This is the first rule for a healthy church to function properly, where all its members, you and I, view ourselves and one another with eyes of faith based on the grace God poured on each of us.

 

Now let’s read verses 4-5 again. “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” What this means is that the church is like the human body with hands and feet, eyes and toes. The church has a unity in its diversity just as the human body is one with many organs and limbs. Paul goes even further about the church as a body. His point is not just unity in diversity, but Paul tells us how profoundly related we are one to another. He says: “and each member belongs to all the others.” What on earth does that mean? It means that our unity goes much deeper than just belonging to the same body. It means that we literally belong to each other. Therefore, the church is so much more than all of us being parts of one body. The church is being part of each other. It means that my hand and my eye are not just parts of the same body. There is a deeper unity which Paul describes here. He says the hand is a member of the eye and the eye is a member belonging to the hand.

 

Then in verse 6 Paul explains to us how this is supposed to work. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” What he’s saying is that the benefits that pour out from one member to another pour out from the unique gifts that each member has. The gifts we have, and how we choose to use them, determines in a big way how we are a blessing one on another.

 

In verses 6-8, Paul now lists several kinds of gifts that believers in the church have, which are supposed to be used to bless each other, and to build up the church. There are 7 here (although Paul mentions many other kinds of gifts in his letters to different churches). But here he mentions 7— and here they are. There is the gift of (1) “prophesy”, the gift of (2) “service”, the gift of (3) “teaching”, (4) “encouragement”, (5) contributing to the needs of others (that is, the gift of “giving”), (6) “leading” is one of the gifts he lists here, and finally the gift of (7) “mercy”. There are at least 4 of these gifts that at the same time are Christian virtues— virtues that every Christian should have if that Christian is walking by the Spirit, and in obedience to the will of God. They are “serving” because the Bible tells us all to “serve one another in love” (Gal.5:13). Then we have “encouragement” because the Bible tells us to “encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13). Then of course we all must engage in the gift of “giving” or “contributing to the needs of others” because the Bible tells us to “share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28). And finally there is the gift of “mercy” which every Christian should have because Jesus tells us to “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36) We realize from this that the gifts that God distributes among his children are not necessarily packaged in neat categories that make one person distinctly gifted from another, nor does one member have them while another does not. But the gifts that God gives us, are given us “according to the grace” of God (6).

 

No member is gifted in the same way or with the same measure as another member. But we are all gifted for the sake of blessing one another, and for building up the church. God may bless you with an unusually tender heart to show mercy where others would falter. Or he may bless you with an unusual sense of joy in giving to others generously. Or he may bless you with an amazing inclination to offer encouragement to everyone, especially to those who really need it. You may even be blessed to know when and where encouragement is most needed. As God has blessed all his children with his gifts flowing from heaven into our hearts, so do we pour out these gifts and extend them for the building up of the kingdom of God.

 

There is something else we must consider very carefully when it comes to God’s gifts to us. God’s gifts are not meant for safe keeping and for storage. They are meant to be used for the glory of God and for the blessing and edification of the church. If we are in Christ, we certainly have gifts; that is an absolute! Why? Because the Holy Spirit gives us gifts according to the grace of God. Some are given to be teachers, others to show mercy, and others are givers and so on. Some are prophetic gifts. Paul absolutely tells us to use them! If you are not sure what your gift is, pray about it, seek God earnestly and God would reveal it to you. Still if you are not sure, your brothers and sisters in Christ probably have an idea of where your God-given gifts are, and would be glad to tell you. So we need to pursue and to find the gifts that God has endowed us with. And then, we certainly need to use them for the glory of God.

 

In conclusion, may God help us to deeply know God’s immeasurable mercies in our own lives and then to joyfully and willingly offer our lives and all our gifts and talents to God to fulfill his will and purpose in our lives. And may God help us to be transformed by the power of his word and Spirit more and more into the image of Christ our Lord. May we come out of this conference knowing for certain our true identity in the Lord, that we are a chosen people, a people chosen to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord and to his glory. Amen.

 

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