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An Economy of Abundance

This week, for the first time since living in Penhold, we planted a garden. I mean, last year we did plant a little flowerbed with a few veggies in it, but we’ve never had a real garden space at this house until this year. Which has been has been bit disappointing to us – previously we’ve always had large gardens and we love fresh peas and corn and carrots and beans and all that. But landscaping is always a multi-year process (for us anyway) – everything takes time and we just hadn’t gotten to the point where we were ready for the garden. But finally, this year, having dug up our entire backyard anyway, we were finally ready to plant a garden.

So that’s what we did on Saturday and now we’re all pretty excited to watch those tiny little seeds sprout and grow and then ultimately produce a whole bunch of really good things to eat! 

And it’s always amazing to me how one little seed produces so much! For example, if you plant just one little bean seed, that little bean seed will grow and produce a plant with about 20 bean pods – and each of those pods hold about 6 beans – so that’s roughly 120 beans produced by planting one little bean seed. That’s a pretty good return on investment! You plant 1 and get 120 back!

Corn is even better. You plan one little kernel of corn and you get a plant with at least one (maybe even 2 or 3) corn cobs with each having between 500-1200 kernels each! That’s a really impressive return!

Tomatoes are even more amazing. In each average-sized tomato, there are between 150-300 seeds. That’s per tomato – and each tomato plant grows a lot of tomatoes! Now we probably wouldn’t get this with our short growing season, but in the commercial greenhouses, one tomato vine will grow about 200 tomatoes in a season. So even at 150 seeds per tomato, that’s 30,000 seeds all produced from one little tomato seed. Incredible.

And then, just as one final example, consider an apple seed. If you plant one single apple seed, you can grow a beautiful apple tree. That apple tree, once’s it’s fully mature, will produce on average (depending on the variety) about 500 apples each year. Each of those 500 apples will hold about 10 seeds – so that 5,000 seeds per year. Now perhaps that’s not as impressive as the 30,000 tomato seeds, but this apple tree will continue producing these apples year after year for at least 20 years or more. That means, that over the lifetime of that apple tree – from one little apple seed – will grow over 100,000 other apple seeds.

And I bring all this up because I think it’s a wonderful illustration of how the economy of God is an economy of abundance. And I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a minute, but first, let me back up and remind us all of what we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks.

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The Substitute

For the past two weeks we’ve been theming our messages around the phrase – “No Pain – No Gain” as we try to understand why Easter matters. I think most of us get it, that Easter is not just about bunnies and chocolate eggs and such, but rather it’s a remembrance and a celebration that Jesus Christ died and rose again to life. That part is pretty well understood I think – especially if you’ve had any connection with church for any length of time.

But what might not be so universally understood is why that matters. Why is it important to you and I,  that some 2000 years ago, a man named Jesus died and came back to life again? What difference does it make in your life today?

That’s what we’ve been trying to wrap out heads around in this series – No Pain, No Gain – Why Easter Matters.

And I think we’re starting to get an idea of the gain side of the equation. In our first message, we identified that one thing that everyone of us wants – but very few of us find. And that is complete and lasting satisfaction.

We can certainly be satisfied for a few moments here and there. There is an element of satisfaction in many pursuits in life – from accomplishing great things, or having fun and exciting experiences, enjoying great food and great friends – these all give us a sense of satisfaction. But nothing is lasting. The satisfaction we do get quickly fades away and we’re forced to chase after something else – something more.

It’s like no matter how wonderful the meal is – we find we’re always hungry the next day. But what if we could find true, lasting satisfaction? Satisfaction that didn’t fade away. What if we could live in a state of being fully, completely satisfied in life?

Well, we discovered last week, that that’s exactly how God intended us to live. When God created Adam & Eve – he created them to live fully satisfied lives. He provided for their every need – both their physical needs as well as their spiritual and emotional needs. And for a time, Adam & Eve enjoyed the most satisfying life you can imagine.

Table of contents for No Pain, No Gain - Why Easter Matters

  1. Finding Satisfaction
  2. The Origin of Death
  3. The Substitute
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The Origin of Death

Last week we began a new Easter sermon series entitled “No Pain – No Gain: Why Easter Matters”. And we started off illustrating the principle of no pain – no gain as we talked about how our muscles grow. We had Jake & Micah up here straining their muscles as we talked about how it takes the pain of tearing those muscle fibers in our bodies order for our bodies to repair the damage and make the muscles stronger than they were before. That’s how muscles grow.

But our purpose wasn’t to talk about body-building. There is a spiritual truth that we wanted to discover. Somehow all this talk of straining our muscles in order to grow strong, somehow that ties in with the meaning of Easter – believe it or not. And though we haven’t fully laid that all out yet, last Sunday we tried to define the gain that we’re talking about in this catch phrase “no pain, no gain”.

Of course, we’re not trying to gain muscles in this instance, but rather the gain that we’re after is something that every person on the planet wants – it’s that sense of deep, inner satisfaction in life that seems so elusive for so many of us.

We talked about how Solomon tried to find satisfaction in all kinds of ways. He looked for satisfaction in wealth, power, hard work, women, pleasure – but he found it all to be meaningless. Nothing gave him true, lasting satisfaction.

The Rolling Stones echoed that sentiment. They couldn’t get no satisfaction either – even though they tried and they tried and they tried and they tried. They just couldn’t get no satisfaction.

And I think most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves – would have to agree that money, fame, pleasure, power and all those things we chase after – while they may be pretty exciting for awhile – none of them give us deep, lasting satisfaction.

And we got a hint of why that is in Ecclesiastes 3:11 – which says..

[God] has planted eternity in the human heart. Ecclesiastes 3:11

In other words, there is this built-in awareness that there is more to life than the here and now. We exist for a much more significant purpose than to just gather wealth, power, and prestige for the 80 years we live on this planet.

God has created within each of us with a deep inner longing to fulfill out our eternal purpose. And until we discover and live out that purpose, every person on earth has this inner feeling that something is missing in their life. And all of us try to find that missing thing just like Solomon did. We chase wealth, power, pleasure, control, or whatever else that we think will fill that need… But something is always lacking. Like the Rolling Stones lament, we can’t get no satisfaction in those things. Because true satisfaction is only found when fulfill our eternal purpose.

And the Bible tells us that we are created and designed to be connected with our Creator – to have a genuine, loving relationship with Him. That’s what we’re created for. That’s our eternal purpose – to be unconditionally loved, to be accepted and embraced by our Creator, and to live in loving community with Him. That’s our purpose. That’s when we find real, lasting satisfaction.

This is the only thing worth gaining. Because everything else is temporary. We compared our life to the game of monopoly – when the game is over, it all goes back in the box. When our life here on earth is over, none of our wealth, the pleasure we’ve enjoyed, or our great achievements – none of that matters. All that matters then, is our relationship with our Creator.

And we closed last Sunday with a good news/bad news. The good news of course, is that God wants us to find satisfaction. He’s not out out trying to make your life miserable or difficult – but He wants you to find ultimate satisfaction in Him. He wants you to have true joy and delight – not just temporary pleasure. It pains God to see us settle for just a few fleeting moments of fun and pleasure here on earth – while missing out on an eternity of joy and delight with Him.

And that leads us into the bad news. And we didn’t have the time to talk about this last week, but talk about it we must.

Even though life with God is what we are created for and we simply cannot find satisfaction in any other way – most people will never know that satisfaction. By default, there is a barrier that keeps us from that satisfaction. It’s not an impassible barrier, (as we’re going to find out next week) – but it is the one thing that keeps us from fully realizing the satisfaction and joy and delight that God created us for.

So to understand this barrier that keeps us from the satisfaction that we were created to enjoy, I want to take us right back to the beginning of time – back before this barrier existed.

The Bible opens with a brief account of Creation. We certainly don’t get all the details, but it includes enough to give us a vivid picture of what life on earth was like for the very first humans – who were of course, Adam & Eve.

Table of contents for No Pain, No Gain - Why Easter Matters

  1. Finding Satisfaction
  2. The Origin of Death
  3. The Substitute
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Engaged in a Great Work

Today we continue looking at the story of Nehemiah – and if you’ve been tracking with us for these past several weeks, I imagine you’re really starting to appreciate what an effective leader Nehemiah really was.

And you might not expect that from your average cup-bearer. It’s easy to forget that less than a year  previous to all this, Nehemiah was spending his time hanging out with the king in the comforts of the palace – sipping wine and eating snacks. As the cupbearer – that was his job – tasting food and wine before it was served to the king. It was a pretty good gig – but not really the kind of job you’d expect to springboard you into such a position of leadership.

And yet, here he is, heading up this huge project in Jerusalem – facing all kinds of opposition from the enemies around him, dealing with one crisis after another. And so far, he seems to be doing a pretty fantastic job.

It’s always interesting how God throws these little curveballs into our lives. He takes us from our comfortable, predicable life, and he leads us into the wild unknown. And most of the time, we feel completely under-qualified to do whatever it is that God’s called us to do. We should be the last one God chooses to do this – and yet God chooses us anyway.

I imagine that Nehemiah felt that way quite often – completely under-qualified to be the guy in charge of this huge project. Perhaps that’s why he spent 4 months in prayer before even bring up the idea to the king – perhaps he was wrestling with God – “Why me, God? I’m just a cup-bearer. Isn’t there someone else more qualified for this job?”

But, as we’ve seen so far, God knew what He was doing in choosing Nehemiah. Even though he wasn’t an engineer – the wall and the gates were quickly being repaired. Even through he wasn’t an army general – the people were safe from the attacks of the enemy. Even though he wasn’t an economics expert, he averted a major financial crisis.

It is clear that Nehemiah was the exact right person for the job that God called him to do. And I hope thats an encouragement to you this morning. God doesn’t make mistakes.

When God throws you a curve ball and you feel completely under-qualified for the task that lies ahead, know that you are the exact right person for the job that God has called you to do. You might not realize it, but He’s prepared you for this through all the things that you’ve experienced already – and He’s promised to stick right beside you as you go through this new challenge.

It’s ok for us to be under-qualified to do whatever God’s called us to do – because God is completely over-qualified to do it. He doesn’t even need us – but he chooses to work through us – giving us purpose and fulfillment and bringing glory to Himself.

And that’s what we’ve seen so far in this story. Nehemiah may not be the most qualified, but God is definitely working through Him to accomplish great things for God’s glory. In fact, today we find out that the project is nearly complete. The people have been working hard and with enthusiasm – their enemies haven’t been able to slow them down or discourage them – and now the walls have been repaired and all that’s left to do is to setup all the gates.

Now of course, their enemies haven’t given up either. It seems that everyone in this story is pretty persistent – good guys and bad guys alike. They’ve not yet run out of creative ways to hinder the work, and so we’re going to see a few more attempts in this chapter. So let’s take a look. Here’s what it says in Nehemiah chapter 6 – starting at verse 1.

Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. 2 So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. Nehemiah 6:1-2a

Now at first glance, this doesn’t seem to be all that threatening. In fact, this could be seen as a gesture of goodwill. The plain of Ono was located northeast of Jerusalem – kinda half-way between Jerusalem and Samaria. And as such, it would be like the neutral zone between these two disagreeing parties. It was like these guys were inviting Nehemiah to come and meet them for peace talks in this neutral territory. We see that sort of thing today when all the world leaders meet in some neutral country to discuss peace treaties and trades disputes and all that other good stuff.

In fact, if this story were to happen today, we would read something like “So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the ski resorts in Swiss Alps.”

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The Results of the New Nature

I want you to think back to your high school or college days. For some of us, that won’t be hard. For others, you might have to dig way back in the memory bank. And I want you to think about your best friends from back then. Maybe one or two or three of your closest friends back in the day. Got those people in your mind?

Ok, now here’s a second question for you to ponder. Are those people still your best friends today? If I had asked you to name your top one/two/three best friends today, would those still be the same people you would name? I’m guessing that the older you are, the more likely you have different best friends now.

Relationships always change – friends that were once close, over time, can become distant. People move away. Your lives take different directions. You just grown distant over time.

And at the same time while you grow distant from some people, there are other people that you grow closer with. You’re always meeting new people and making new friends. And some of them grow to be very close friends.

But relationships always change. Even our relationship with God changes over time. I imagine most of us experience times of our lives when our relationship with God is super close! It’s awesome! You love praying and reading His Word. His presence is very real in your life and you just love serving Him and just being with Him.

And then there are other times, when we just feel distant from God. He becomes almost like a Facebook acquaintance. We know in our heads that God hasn’t gone anywhere – the Bible tells us He’s right there with us all the time… but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

That’s frustrating to me. I hate those times when I feel distant from God. I want a relationship with God that grows closer all the time – not more distant. And I think that’s what God wants too. From everything I read about in the Bible, it sure seems that God wants to have that close relationship with us too. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me so that I could feel distant from Him. He didn’t send the Holy Spirit to empower and dwell right within me so that our relationship could grow cold. No! God wants to be my closest ally and my most faithful friend.

So how do we live in that continuously close relationship with God? Can we avoid or at least minimize those times where we feel distant? How do we make sure we’re growing closer – and not moving apart? How do we do that?

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Naaman & the Barrier of Pride

Which is harder to do? To forgive someone who has hurt you deeply? Or to be the one who has to ask for forgiveness?

That’s a tough one, isn’t it? Both I think, are extremely difficult. Confessing our wrongs and asking for forgiveness does not come naturally to us. Nor does offering forgiveness when someone has wronged us. Both are difficult things to do.

And today, as we continue in our series – the Exploits of Elisha – we’re going to see just how difficult – yet also how rewarding it is to do both.

If you have your Bible or your ipad or your smart phone with you, turn with me to 2 Kings chapter 5.

2 Kings – chapter 5 – starting at verse 1.

The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.
2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:1-3

So we begin our story with a few introductions.

Table of contents for The Exploits of Elisha

  1. God’s Looking for F.A.T. People
  2. Elisha & the Widow Woman’s Oil
  3. The God Who Still Does Miracles
  4. Naaman & the Barrier of Pride
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