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By Pastor's Blog
Why do we celebrate Resurrection Sunday? To answer this question, we need to go back to the beginning. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, we discover that the original couple rebelled against God, and sin enters the world and humanity. Human beings had sinned. God justly demanded payment for the penalty of their sin.
Here is a problem. Human beings are unable to satisfy the just demands of God. This problem is more sobering due to this reality. God cannot overlook sin because God cannot violate His word or character. Humanly speaking, it would seem that God was confronted with an irreconcilable dilemma. How could God be true to His own character and word concerning sin and rescue His created people, guilty of sin, unable to rescue themselves?
Here is God’s solution. God solved this seemingly irreconcilable dilemma through the unique work of the unique person – Jesus Christ. What was the unique work of Jesus? Jesus came to do one work, salvation. God worked through Christ so that He could “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ” (Rom 3:26).
Salvation requires divine action and human reaction. Unless Jesus was the unique person He was, He could not have done the unique work He did. God’s salvation is for all people, but it is found only in one person. Jesus Christ is salvation.
For us to truly understand the work of Christ in salvation, we need to understand His humiliation and exaltation (see: Philippians 2:5-11). Our Savior began His trek from the heights of undiminished glory of His divine identity. His descent into self-imposed humiliation began formally with the incarnation. Jesus took on flesh, that is, the flesh of our human race. He did not cease to be God but put humanity upon His divinity.
If the Second Person of the Trinity had not emptied Himself by “adding” a human nature to His divine nature, thus becoming the unique God/Man, human beings, you and I, could not have been saved. The virgin conception was apparently a theological requirement making it possible for the Messiah to be shielded from inherited sin as He entered into a sinful race of humanity. The Messiah needed to be separated from the sin of sinful humanity while still being a member of it.
We discover accounts from the life of Christ in the gospels. The gospels are not a biography of Jesus’ life but a recounting of certain historical facts about Jesus’ life in order to explain how what Jesus has done is good news for us. Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to the will of the Father even in the face of the ignorance, scorn, and rebuke of sinful people. These people could never be saved from impending death apart from His faithful obedience to the Father. Christ’s life on earth is the perfect picture of the irony of unconditional love (see: Rom 5:8).
There is no reconciliation with God apart from the death of Christ. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21a, “For our sake he [the Father] made him [the incarnate Son] to be sin who knew no sin [on our behalf]….” Christ’s work in taking away our sin was an exercise in simple, yet profound, exchange. God legally placed the penalty of our sin upon Jesus Christ, who willingly bore it for our sake. Catch this. Our sin cannot be at two places at the same time. Since Christ bore our sin. We, who receive Him, are free of sin (see: John 3:16). Jesus paid the penalty of our sin on the cross. In fact, Jesus stated from the cross unequivocally, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). The Father sent Jesus and arranged for Him to die to rescue us from eternal death (see: Rom 3:23; 6:23).
Jesus took our guilt upon Himself and thereby removed that guilt from us. Jesus also bore our shame and thereby removed sin’s shame from us. The Scripture rarely mentions the humiliation of Christ without contrasting it with His exaltation. That is because Christ’s humiliation and exaltation must be viewed together to get a well-rounded understanding of the work of Christ. I have shared a piece of 2 Cor 5:21. Let me share the whole verse, “ For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ took our guilt and shame “so that” unrighteous people, who need to be forgiven of sin, due to being unrighteous, in Him, are made righteous; right with God.
The resurrection inaugurated Christ’s exaltation, the second phase of Christ’s saving ministry. Jesus never anticipated His death without proclaiming His subsequent resurrection. The apostles never preached the efficacy of Christ’s death without stipulating the resurrection’s triumph. In fact, no resurrection, no gospel – no good news! The resurrection is the linchpin that secured salvation (see: 1 Cor 15). Here is the gospel truth. The resurrection of Christ indicates that God’s plan for the salvation of the human race, you and me, includes our resurrected bodies (eternal life).
We began by looking at the problem all of us face due to sin. Then, we have looked at God’s solution – Jesus Christ and His salvific work. Indeed, the salvific work of Christ offers us a life like no other – the life we have been created to experience with God.
A genuine Christian is a person who has honestly surrendered their life to Christ. They have turned away from their sin and placed their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and have received the gift of eternal life, God’s extravagant love. Today, these words echo as accurately as when John wrote them, “ To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). In a genuine sense, believers have risen in Christ! Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Passion Week

By Pastor's Blog
We are a day into Passion Week, which is the time from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday kicks off the week as Jesus enters Jerusalem in the triumphant entry (Matt 21:1-11). Also included in Passion week is Holy Monday, where Jesus cleansed the temple (Matt 21:12-22). Then, there is Holy Tuesday. On this day, Jesus was issued various challenges by the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt 21:23-23:39). Spy Wednesday happened during this week. Here Jesus was anointed with spikenard during a meal (Matt 26:6-13). However, it’s called Spy Wednesday because it’s the day Judas conspired with religious authorities to betray Jesus (Matt 26:14-16). The next day, Maundy Thursday, is when Jesus celebrated the Passover with the disciples, known as the Last Supper. Jesus instituted communion on this day (Lk 22:19-20) and washed His disciple’s feet (Jn 13:3-17). Maundy is derived from the Latin word for “command,” referring to Jesus’ command to love and serve one another.
Passion Week is so named because of the passion with which Jesus willingly went to the cross in order to pay for our sins. First, Jesus chose to endure torture at the hands of Roman soldiers. Then, He carried His cross through the streets of Jerusalem to be crucified. Finally, He died and was buried. Then, we have Holy Saturday, where Jesus “rested” from His work of providing salvation. As Jesus died, He called out, “It is finished!” There was no further price to pay; sin had been atoned for, and salvation delivered to all who receive Him as Savior.
Passion Week culminated on Easter Sunday, also known as Resurrection Sunday, because Jesus was resurrected (Matt 28). His resurrection is most worthy of being celebrated (see: 1 Cor 15). In fact, Christ’s resurrection should be celebrated every day, not just once a year. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrates that we can indeed be promised eternal life as we receive Him as Savior and Lord. Now, that’s worth celebrating.
As we find ourselves in Passion Week, it would be worth noting this week’s events. Of course, much more occurred than even I have mentioned. However, what is most noteworthy is God’s profound act of love. In John 3:16, we discover these words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
In John 3:16, we have the gospel in a nutshell. God gave His Son by sending Him into the world and by giving Him over to death. The good news is that “whoever believes in Him” has eternal life, which is life on a higher plane. The believer receives this life now and will enjoy it fully in the life to come, throughout eternity.
As we proceed through this week, keep in mind all that Christ willingly did and endured. Meditate on His love for you that was expressed on the cross. Consider the wonder and power demonstrated through His resurrection. He died for our sins and was raised for our salvation (Rom 4:25).
We have so much for which to be thankful. God does not merely say He loves us but demonstrated it by coming, living a perfect life, and dying on the cross. The loving sacrifice of Christ once and for all has paid for our sins.
We have so much to celebrate. We worship a risen Savior. He is preparing a place for us. He has given us the gift of His very Spirit that indwells us. We have life in Him today that will be thoroughly enjoyed as we enter into eternity with Him. In fact, to all who receive Him as Savior and Lord, this promise rings true, “He is with us always” (Matt 28:20). Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

First Living

By Pastor's Blog
I want to look at an example from the Book of Acts of a believer who knew what it means to make Christ our first love and His kingdom our first priority. If we were to pick an individual in the first century who would make a significant contribution to the expansion of Christ’s church, the individual we will look at more than likely would not have been one of them. At least, not before he came to Christ.
This man was born in Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia, in southeast Asia Minor. He was a strict Pharisee who was educated at the feet of the Gamaliel, an influential Pharisee, and an expert in the law. We first find this man in Jerusalem, where he was present and consented to the death of the Christian martyr Stephen. He then began a vicious campaign of persecution against Christians.
This man was on a mission to capture Christians in Damascus when he suddenly saw a blinding light and fell to the ground. He heard Jesus speak to him. He was then led by the hand to Damascus, where a Christian named Ananias met him. This man was cured of his blindness, believed in Jesus for salvation, and was baptized.
Upon becoming a believer, other believers were skeptical due to the whole persecuting Christians part of his life. But then, a man named Barnabas took Him under his wings. Later in Syrian Antioch, the church identified the clear calling of the Lord on this man’s life and sent him and Barnabas as missionary-church planters.
Of course, I am talking about Paul. He wrote 28 percent of the New Testament. He wrote 13 books of the New Testament, nearly half. Also, he planted at least 14 churches. Yet, he wrote of himself, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:9-10a). Paul is not speaking negatively or poorly of himself. He knew what he had done, who he was while realizing who he had become in Christ.
The verse we are going to explore together is found in Acts 20. Paul has called the Ephesian Elders to meet with him. Paul had stayed in Ephesus 2 ½ years – longer than he had stayed anywhere else on his missionary journeys. He tells them that he is heading to Jerusalem, where he has been warned prison and persecution awaits him.
What’s at the core of Paul’s obedience? What’s at the heart of Paul’s decision to put Christ first? We discover the answer in verse 24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Paul expressly counts the cost and does it in terms of his life. Paul states the choice and his decision in the form of relative worth. In the face of impending prison and persecution, Paul makes his life of no value in the sense that he does not choose to preserve it at all cost. Rather, he chooses to pursue the Lord Jesus’s purpose for him: “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul calls this pursuit “finishing the course” or “finishing the race” and “the ministry.”
Here’s the point: No matter the outward circumstances, even if they include impending threats, our conduct should consistently fulfill our one calling as disciples making disciples, as those who love Christ above all else and make His kingdom first priority; this is first living. The Lord’s will for each of us is to become all He intends us to be. His grace is for our growth. We have been programmed for greatness. Sanctification means growing more and more into the likeness of Christ (His love, character, purpose, and priorities). For me, I understand that I am a work in progress. I’m not what I used to be; I’m not what I ought to be; but praise the Lord, I am on my way to becoming all that God intends me to be.
Imagine the urgency Paul felt as he looked into the faces of the Ephesian Elders, whom many he had personally been involved in their coming to Christ and growing in the Lord. Among them surely was a converted silversmith, who prior to hearing the gospel had made a living making images of false gods as part of Ephesus’ tourist industry that in part included one of the wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Artemis. There would have been converted Jews. Perhaps, leaders of the city who had received Christ. There were people who had been given peace in exchange for the broken pieces of their lives. There could have been transformed criminals, liberated leaders of the cults, and Roman officials who had made Christ king of their lives. We can picture all these people, new in Christ, being entrusted with the church’s leadership. Paul knew that as God had done in him, He would do in them. This is true for us as well.
I have been asked what my life verse is on several occasions. To be honest, I am not entirely sure, but a verse I aspire to is Acts 20:24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” I do not have to survive; I have to know Christ and make Him known! I just want to thrive in Christ as one engaged in “First Living.” What about you? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

First Step

By Pastor's Blog
I want to look at the first step to placing God first in our lives and with our finances in particular. Christ proclaimed these words, recorded in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). Here is the overriding principle we are going to explore together. If we are generous, God will repay us in the same measure.
I am so thankful to be a part of a genuinely generous church family. Crosswinds is a giving church, giving to one another, our community, region, and beyond. For some, this writing will be an encouragement to continue in generosity. For others, it will be a challenge to restart or begin a lifestyle of generosity. For all of us, may it lead us to commit to biblical generosity.
Interestingly, this call to commitment was presented by Paul nearly 2,000 years ago. We are going to explore 2 Corinthians 9:6-15. Let’s look at the text in context. Paul had sent Titus and two brothers to make sure the Corinthians had prepared their offering for those in need in Jerusalem so that he and they would not be ashamed when Paul arrived with the representatives from Macedonia. He now encourages them to be cheerful givers.
We are going to look at the principles of cheerful giving. Let’s begin by looking at verses 6: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” There is a spiritual law at work in giving. The familiar farm illustration states both the positive and the opposite negative idea. The negative point emphasizes the truth that when a person makes it a habit to give only a little. Then, he or she can expect very little in the way of blessings. The positive point is that the personal rewards are great for those who habitually give generously. Paul is applying the “Law of the Harvest” to the sharing and giving of our material resources.
Paul continues in verse 7: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerful givers give generously and as they have decided in their hearts. Giving comes from making a choice – a purposeful and deliberate decision.
I am encouraged by these words Paul writes: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (v.8). Cheerful givers give because they love God and others. All of God’s blessings are available to us when we give cheerfully to His work because we become partners with Him. “As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (v. 9). Cheerful givers understand that their acts of generosity endures forever. The cheerful giver’s acts will bring eternal blessings to those who receive and to those who give.
Then, Paul reaches back and picks up on the theme of sowing and reaping, and in what sounds like a prayer and a blessing, writes: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (v.10). Cheerful givers experience a multiplied ability to be generous. When we give ourselves and our money to God’s work, He multiplies the results beyond the expectations of natural cause and effect (see: Matt 14:14-21). Paul is reminding the Corinthians and us about the provident nature of God very much in the spirit of Jesus, who in the sermon on the mount told His followers not to be anxious about food or clothing or shelter because “your heavenly Father knows that you need all things” (Matt 6:32). Paul assures us of this: God will provide us with enough not only to meet our needs but also to help others. When anyone insists they are not able to give generously to the cause of Christ, they are contradicting these statements from Scripture. It’s important to remember God does not define generosity by amount, but sacrifice, not merely money, but our time, talent, (yes) treasure, and testimony.
Then, Paul addresses God’s purpose in lovingly giving to us: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God” (v. 11). Cheerful givers understand that the purpose of God’s giving to us is that we, too, might be givers. Cheerful givers are blessed by God for their generosity. Those who experience the generous spirit of God’s people often, as a result, offer thanks to God Himself.
Paul concludes his thoughts on a cheerful giver by reminding us that giving has spiritual results: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you” (vv. 12-14). Cheerful givers acknowledge their generosity is a blessing to others and brings glory to God. The gift from the Corinthians will not only supply the needs of the poor in Jerusalem but also will glorify God by causing those Christians to give many thanksgivings. Being cheerful givers proves our love for God and others. Paul makes it clear that what looked like a money-raising project was, in reality, a kingdom-building event. One of the things most needed in giving is the ability to look beyond the gift to what God will do with it.
Then, Paul writes this final statement in verse 15: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” Cheerful givers understand that their generosity was ultimately exemplified by God through Christ. God’s “inexpressible gift” of His Son establishes the pattern and motivation for our own generosity (see: John 13:34-35). Here it is in a nutshell: Being a cheerful giver positions you to be blessed as a giver, to be a blessing to those who receive, and bring glory to God by advancing His kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

First Fruit

By Pastor's Blog
I want to write about what it means to give God the first fruits of our lives, our very hearts, and be challenged to do so? As we explore Christ’s teaching, we discover that Christ taught on many things. It probably would not surprise any of us to learn that He taught about the kingdom of God more than any other topic. What might surprise some is that second only to His teaching on the kingdom of God, Christ taught on money. Now, why would Jesus teach on money second only to the kingdom of God? Because money has the unique power to reveal the condition of the human heart.
Jesus taught: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21). Certainly, these words of Christ can include our time, talent, and testimony, but most assuredly our treasure or simply stated our money.
Whether 1st century Palestine or 21st century Finger Lakes Region, money for many is the number one rival with God in the human heart. In our culture, everything we seek, directly or indirectly, is found in either money or Christ. We need to realize that money is the counterfeit. Here is the simple truth. Even if the church had all the money it could use, money would still have to be preached because money is a life-transformational issue.
Understand me. Money is not evil. It is not immoral to have possessions. In fact, one of the ways God blesses His children is through provisions. However, money presents each of us with a test that reveals the condition of our hearts.
Paul writes to his young protégé Timothy: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” ( 1 Tim 6:10). This verse does not speak against wealth. In fact, the love of money does not differentiate between rich and poor. Instead, the love of money is “a root of all kinds of evil” because it destroys faith.
All of us ought to answer a crucial question is whether we trust in God or money for our personal security? Money is not evil but does serve as a powerful test of the condition of our heart and, ultimately, our faith. This is why God calls us to the principle of first fruits. It’s not until we as believers understand our call to love God first, to place Him and His kingdom as our first priority, and embrace the foundational truth of His profound love and care for us, as well as, He is with us that we can live under the principle of first fruits.
What is the principle of first fruits? Believers are called to give the Lord the first fruits, a TITHE (10%). But unfortunately, teaching first fruits or tithing is often reduced to a mere message on personal belongings and income stewardship. Yes, this is part of it, but at its core, it’s a spiritual issue allowing us believers to live in empowered freedom and kingdom impact rather than being enslaved by our old walk and ways before coming to Christ.
The traditional and biblical means of funding God’s work as well as exercising faith in giving is through returning God’s tithe to the local church. Firstfruits (Tithing) is a biblical practice where a person returns a tenth of their income to demonstrate their trust in the Lord and, in doing so, support His work. The commandments found in the Old Testament dealing with tithing emphasize the amount (one-tenth…which is what a tithe means) of what is to be returned to Him (i.e., Lev 27:30-32). The Old Testament speaks of giving and specifically tithing in terms of amount and intricately spells out the process. The New Testament takes tithing and giving to a new level. The New Testament deals with tithing by emphasizing the heart behind the gift (i.e., Acts 2:44-45; 4:32).
The early church prescribed a tithe. They taught that it was an absolute minimum, which was to be given from one’s total income. This understanding of the tithe has been present in the church from its conception to this present day. However, let me be clear. Everything we have belongs to the Lord: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). Therefore, my giving of a tithe is a bare minimum because God is the true owner of 100% of my finance and possessions, and I am called to trust Him in all things.
When we boil it all down, firstfruits is about putting God first, trusting Him, and genuinely giving Him our heart. This releases the floodgates of God’s blessing on our lives (not always material, but far richer…peace, power, wisdom). Far more than a financial issue, at its core, firstfruits is a spiritual issue allowing us believers to live in empowered freedom and kingdom impact rather than being enslaved by our old ways of living before coming to Christ. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

First Stewardship

By Pastor's Blog
I want to look at what I call “first stewardship.” Stewardship is a responsibility delegated from one person to another, coming with authority to discharge the responsibility and accountability to do so. As God created people in His image, He made us stewards of His creation as well as with our time, talent, treasure, and testimony. Once we realize that God is our first love (Matt 22:37) and that God and His Kingdom are our highest priority (Matt 6:33), we understand what it means to be His steward.
You may ask, “What is at the heart of believers being able to put God first and as our highest priority, and, therefore, grow in our ability as stewards?” We will look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church
 to answer this question. The Apostle Paul stayed in Ephesus for nearly three years between AD 53-56, making it one of the most extended places he stayed during his missionary journeys. Ephesus was not a place friendly to the gospel of Jesus Christ – but Paul stayed the course, and a church thrived in the city. Paul had a deep love for the church in Ephesus. Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church was written around AD 62.
In Ephesians 3, Paul writes of the prayer he prays for them. What does Paul pray for his beloved Ephesian brothers and sisters? Interestingly, Paul does not pray for greater obedience among them, greater fruitfulness, doctrinal depth, or even the spreading of the gospel. This is not to say that these are not important. They’re very important. But, Paul prays for a strong foundation in Christ that enables and empowers our growth in the Lord and stewardship of our time, talent, treasure, and testimony. Paul prays that believers will know how much Jesus loves them (Eph 3:16-19). Paul realizes that it’s important not just to have the love of Christ but to know the love of Christ.
“Knowing” in the Bible is not merely cognitive. It is profoundly relational. For instance, sexual intimacy in the Bible is described as a man “knowing” his wife. I like how Johnathan Edwards illustrated what it means to know God in a biblical sense. Edwards explained that you can know the exact chemical makeup of honey or taste it. Both are ways we can “know” honey. But, only taste is the knowledge by which honey is experienced. If you have ever seen a child try honey for the first time, you’ll get Edwards’ illustration. Therefore, Paul is praying that believers would taste the love of Christ.
It’s fascinating that the ancient king and songwriter, David, challenges us with these words in Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” We’re challenged to taste or personally experience the Lord. We are called to come to the Lord and walk in His goodness. Indeed, knowing God is intellectual, but it is also more. It is also relational, where we realize that the love of Christ, with its “breadth and length, and height and depth” (Eph 3:18), is so expansive because God is boundless, endless, and without limits. This is who God is and how He loves you, me, and everyone else. The love of Christ is as expansive as God Himself.
If we are to grow in Christ and our being His stewards, we must embrace God’s love for us. Our growth in Christ, and as stewards of our time, talent, treasure, and testimony, will go no further than our confidence that God loves us, way deep in our hearts. Think about it. God created You to love you. We will delight in God only as far as we have tasted His love.
 How do we experience God’s love? We experience God’s love as we look to Jesus, being filled with His Spirit, walking with Him.
You might ask, “But how can God love me as messy as I am?” It’s our messiness that makes Christ’s love so awe-inspiring and transforming. God’s love is like a waterfall, and our failings, messiness, and lack of understanding are like a pebble. A pebble can’t slow the falls that make up Niagara Falls. I mean, every minute, 5.9 million cubic feet of water goes over the crest of the falls. This is just a tiny picture of the magnitude of God’s love for us.
When we boil down our lives, we realize that it is not our performance but God’s love at its core. The high point of our life is not our goodness but God’s love. The true destiny of our life is to dive deeper and deeper into the endless love of God – knowing Him and making Him known. We grow in Christ and in being His stewards of our time, talent, treasure, and testimony, as we embrace God’s love for us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

First Priority

By Pastor's Blog
I can’t think of a topic that makes people squirm more than stewardship. Stewardship is a topic many would rather not tackle, but everyone needs to because we all need Jesus as Lord of every area of our life. Stewardship deals with our time, talent, treasure, and testimony. It begins with an understanding that Christ is to be our first love and that this impacts our priorities in life.
Matthew records these words of Jesus in his Gospel: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Christ is giving a summary of His teaching as found in Matthew 6:19-32. He has been addressing our ambitions, what we seek after. He has shared four alternatives: two treasures, two conditions, two masters, and two desires, all to clarify that Christian ambition is seeking after the things that bring glory to God. This makes sense if Christ is our first love.
When Christ is our first love, His priorities are our priorities. He is our first priority. Therefore, we “seek first the kingdom of God.” In other words, we give God our total loyalty. Seeking God’s kingdom is pursuing the rule of God and His righteousness. This righteousness is what makes available to us, through Christ, our being justified (being made right with God), and the continuing work of Christ’s Spirit to sanctify us (making us more like Christ in His love, character, purpose, and priorities).
When we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” He is our first priority, and His will directs all other priorities in our lives. We surrender all to God, and He moves in our lives, providing for our needs as we trust Him. We do so believing that He will give us the best. With the Spirit’s leading and power, this frees us to act in alignment with God’s kingdom agenda.
It’s important to understand that seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness is not first and foremost about doing better, but being mindful that we are in Christ, part of His kingdom, and covered in His righteousness. The outworking of this reality, the reality of being loved by God and loving Him above all else, is having Him as our first priority. This is seen by His kingdom priorities being ours since we are in Christ and part of His kingdom.
We can make God our first priority, not due to our own goodness and performance, but due to being in Christ. Christian’s often look at their growth and kingdom service in four ways. First, God, then me. This thinking realizes that God does all the work to save me, then I do all the work to show Him how grateful I am. Secondly, God, not me. Here again, is a belief that God has brought me salvation, but then, God, not me, does everything else as well. The problem with these first two understandings is that the Bible clearly states that our growth and kingdom service is a matter of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
This leads us to the third understanding common among Christians: God plus me. This belief is that we are saved by God and proceed in our growth and kingdom service by living in an equal partnership with Him. Yes, in a sense, we partner with God, but He is the senior partner. But, I believe there is a better understanding.
The fourth understanding, and the biblical one, is God in me. All four understandings get it right that God does everything to save us. The differences occur in how we then grow in Christ and serve as part of His kingdom. The Scriptures teach that by His Spirit, we are united with Christ. We place our trust in God as we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” This allows us to grow and serve by His grace. Our Lord lifts us up in Christ and fuels and fills our efforts by His grace. This happens when we love God above all else, making Christ our first priority.
What we put first in life matters. If we choose to put God first in our living and giving, we will live fuller lives, touch more lives, and reach a greater number of people with the love and message of Jesus Christ. Making Christ our first love and our first priority releases us to be God-honoring stewards of our time, talent, treasure, and testimony in a way that glorifies Him, blesses us, and benefits others. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

First Love

By Pastor's Blog
Stewardship might be a topic many would rather not tackle, but everyone needs to because we all need Jesus as Lord of every area of our life. Stewardship deals with our time, talent, treasure, and testimony. It begins with an understanding of who is to be our first love.
We discover in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This command was initially recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5. It’s repeated twice daily by faithful Jews. It encapsulates the idea of total devotion to God and includes the duty to obey the rest of God’s commandments.
To “love the Lord your God with all your heart,” “soul,” and “mind” is not a command requiring rigid compartments of who you are as a person but rather together refer to the whole person. Therefore, we are called to love God with all that we are and have. Another way to say this is that God is our first love.
Jesus seeks total devotion from His disciples. The eighteenth-century pastor, theologian, and evangelist John Wesley described this as Christian perfection. He wrote, “What then is the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body?… It is the loving of the Lord his God will all his heart, and with all his soul, and will all his mind. This is the sum of Christian perfection: it is all comprised in one word, Love” (Wesley in his sermon “On Perfection”). Love for our neighbor is the practical outworking of love for God.
Don’t get hung up on the word “perfection.” It’s not that we love perfectly as much as that it’s receiving God’s love, and loving Him genuinely is essential to our being sanctified (becoming more and more like Christ in His love, character, purpose, and priorities). When we have God as the first love in our lives, led by His Spirit, it sets us on the right trajectory to live in alignment with His will for us. Such a life glorifies God, blesses us, and benefits others. What we put first in life matters. If we choose to put God first in our living and giving, we will live fuller lives, touch more lives, and reach a greater number of people with the love and message of Jesus Christ.
Let me give an example. From time to time, I will have a married couple come to see me in the hope of gaining some insight into how to improve their marriage. Most of the time, it’s apparent that they want me to give them a thing to do (i.e., go on a date night) or some magical pill. However, a flourishing marriage takes intentional focus and actual work, but it begins with a growing relationship with the Lord. I can tell this is not what a couple expects when I ask, “How is the condition of your soul?” or, “How is your relationship with God?” and in return, I get a perplexed look.
Remember what I wrote earlier, “Love for our neighbor is the practical outworking of love for God.” Our spouse is not different than any other “neighbor” (“neighbor” meaning all others). If we are to love our spouse, we must first receive God’s love and love Him back. In fact, we must love God above all else. Only then can we see the relationships in our lives flourish.
To grow in our love for someone takes significant time with that person. It requires an awareness of them and intentional prioritization of them. It’s no different with God. Amidst the hecticness of this world, it can be challenging to make loving God first an active priority. This is why we need His help to love Him in this way. Through admitting the depth of our weakness and dependency on His Spirit, we grow in Christ. Our growing in Christ leads us to an ever-growing love for God. The result is a solid base for living in alignment with God’s will for us; we can honor Him as good stewards of all He has entrusted to us for His glory. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

What’s Your Response?

By Pastor's Blog
Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, opens with a brief description from Matthew, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying” (Matt 5:1-2). This may be a brief description but leads us to two fundamental questions. The first, “What is the Sermon on the Mount?” I believe John Stott answers this question best when he wrote, “The sermon is the nearest thing to a manifesto that Jesus ever uttered, for it is His own description of what He wanted His followers to be and do. The second question is, “How are we to receive Christ’s teaching?” We are to listen with a willingness to obey.
Of all the teachings in Scripture, the Sermon on the Mount has captivated many, even those who have yet to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. Even those who follow other religions value the self-evident truth contained therein. These people see Jesus as a moral teacher. It’s like this account from the Christian missionary, theologian, and author Stanley Jones’ life.  A Hindu professor once said to Jones, “the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount and the cross I am drawn to.” Similarly, a Muslim Sufi teacher told Jones that he could not keep back the tears when he read the Sermon on the Mount. The complication with these statements and thoughts of Christ is that it is impossible to separate the Jesus of the sermon with the Jesus of the Scriptures as a whole. Thus, the main question we are confronted with by the sermon is not so much “What do we think of the sermon’s teaching?” but “How do we understand and receive the teacher?” Here is the question we all need to ask ourselves, “What will my response be to the Sermon on the Mount and Christ?”
Matthew concludes his account of the sermon in a similar brief description as he opened it, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:28-29). We read that the crowd was amazed. I believe they were amazed for two reasons.
The first reason the crowds were amazed was the content of Christ’s teaching. I propose that the crowd listening to the Sermon on the Mount did not expect what they had just heard. Although the Old Testament prophecies pointed to Christ’s coming as a descendent of David, the child of a virgin, and the suffering Servant, at the time of Jesus’ sermon, there were great misunderstandings about His mission and even the promises of God. When Jesus taught, He dealt with the wrong concept of Himself and the culture of His kingdom. They awaited a warrior king who would overthrow the Romans. Jesus doesn’t teach rebellion against a people, but a revolutionary counter-culture to the worlds based on Christ’s character, love, purpose, and priorities. This is why, by the end of the sermon, the crowd came away amazed and likely stunned. In the Sermon on the Mount, all that the crowd had been wrongly taught, all they had falsely expected about the Christ and His kingdom, had been clearly corrected. Still, today, when people are introduced to the Christ of the Scriptures, they often find Him to be much different than what had been taught and expected.
The second reason the crowds were amazed was the manner of Christ’s teaching. Jesus taught as “one who had authority” and “not as their scribes” or “teachers of the law.” Jesus did not quote other authorities as did the rabbis. He did not even say, “Thus says the Lord,” as did the prophets. Rather He spoke with direct authority, “I say to you” (see Matt 5:18, 28, 44). Jesus called people to be loyal to Himself and declared that He would be their judge (Matt 7:21-23). Jesus spoke as one who knew what He was talking about. A.B. Bruce notes, “The crowd is recognizing that teachers of the law spoke by authority, while Jesus spoke with authority.” In fact, Christ speaks as the authority.
Jesus spoke as the Christ, God incarnate, Savior and Lord. Jesus insisted that He had come not “to abolish the Law and Prophets,” but “to fulfill them.” He asserted that all the statements and predictions of both law and prophets found their fulfillment in Him. Here is an important point to not overlook. Jesus, in varying degrees, in His sermon, teaches that He inaugurated God’s kingdom and had the authority to admit people into it and impart its blessings on them. Jesus makes it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that works, or mere lip-service, does not admit one into God’s kingdom. This only occurs to those who are genuinely devoted to Him. Here is the point, Jesus did not only teach the way to salvation but as Savior and Lord grants it. Therefore, Jesus taught that He was one with God.
Since Jesus claims to be the Christ, God incarnate, Savior and Lord, He can’t be accepted as merely a moral teacher. If Jesus was who He claimed to be, the Son of the Living God, then we have a  personal decision that must be made. As we look at the Sermon on the Mount and Christ Himself, we need to respond with sober seriousness.
The sermon has looked at Christ’s teaching of God’s kingdoms’ counter-culture. It has laid out the standards, the values, and the priorities of the kingdom of God. The crucial question all of us must ask ourselves then is, “What will my response be to the Sermon on the Mount and Christ?” When everything is said and done, we can sum up the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching as a call to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, enter into a genuine lifesaving relationship with Him, and be a part of the Christian counter-cultural. So, will you receive Christ as Lord and Savior? Will you enter into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Will you choose to be a part of the Christian counter-culture? I hope you will. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus

By Pastor's Blog
In the final words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, we discover that Christ does not add any new instruction but rather desires for we, the hearers, to make a proper response to the teaching He has already given. In Matthew 7:21-27, Christ confronts us with Himself by setting before us a radical choice between obedience and disobedience. Christ calls His followers to be fully devoted. Now, we are not saved by works. We are saved by grace and grace alone. Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation (Rom 4:25). With this understanding, we are not saved by works, but those who are saved participate in kingdom works.
We begin our look into this radical commitment of receiving Christ as Lord and Savior with these words of Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:21-23). Christ is not diminishing a verbal profession of faith. A verbal profession of faith is indispensable (see: Rom 10:9-10). He s speaking of lordship. After Christ’s death and resurrection, the early Christians knew what they were doing when they called Him “Lord.” To call Christ “Lord” is to affirm His divinity. It was a divine title, a rendering in the Greek Old Testament of the Hebrew for “Jehovah.”
Those Christ is speaking about made a public profession, and that is good. But, they were not true followers of His. Sure, they did “signs and wonders,” but Christ and Paul both warned that false Christs and false prophets would do these things (Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9-10). Christ’s profession will be like theirs’s in that it is public but quite different in that it is truthful – “I never knew you; depart from me.” This group may claim to do many miracles in their ministry, but in their everyday behavior, the works they did were not good but evil. Jesus was not Lord of their life.
Today as believers, we make a private profession of faith in conversion (coming to Christ for salvation) as well as a public profession through baptism and testimony. We regularly attend worship services, where we sing to praise “our Lord.” We serve as ministry partners in His name. But, this must be done with evidence of our sincerity by doing kingdom works and living in obedience. Again, we are not saved by works, but those who are saved participate in kingdom works.
Here is what we learn from Christ: First, the person who professes faith in Christ, doing the will of God, will enter the kingdom of heaven. Second, the person who professes faith but does not actually follow Christ will be turned away by Christ Himself. Our words will not save us on that day. (Rom 10:9). Our deeds will not save us on that day. (2 Thess 2:9) Genuine faith in Christ is evidenced by our walk from one form of Christlikeness into a greater form of Christlikeness.
Then, Jesus concludes His sermon with these words: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt 7:24-27). The contrast in the previous paragraph we just looked at was between “saying” and “doing,” here, it is between “hearing” and “doing.” Both the wise man and the foolish man got on with their building. A casual observer would not have noticed the difference between them. Only when a storm beat down on their houses was the difference revealed.
Let’s bring it into our context. In the same way, professing Christians (both the genuine and the counterfeit) often look alike. Both appear to be building lives as believers, but the actual deep foundations of their lives are hidden from view. The real question is whether they will put into practice the teachings of Christ, and only the storms of life will reveal the truth. John Stott rightly proclaims, “Neither an intellectual knowledge of Him nor a verbal profession, though both are essential in themselves, can ever be a substitute for obedience.” But, again, it is important to remember that Scripture is clear that salvation is offered by the sheer grace of God through faith. What Jesus is stressing, however, is that those who truly hear the gospel and profess faith will obey Him, expressing their faith in their works.
Here is what we learn from the wise and foolish builders: First, one put Christ’s words into practice, while the other did not (see: 1 John 2:3-4). Second, one was a wise man, while the other was foolish (see: Prov 8:35-36). Third, one built his house on the rock, while the other on sand (see: 1 Cor 3:11). Jesus is the only way to God and salvation. You can try to build a different foundation than Christ, but like the foolish man, building on sand, the storms of life will bring devastating results. To build a foundation on the rock, Christ, like the wise man, does not make us immune to storms but allows the believer to stand firm amidst them. Fourth, we learn, one’s house remained while the others fell (see: Prov 10:25; 2 Cor 4:8-9). Because God’s power is at work within believers, they may suffer, but they need never be crushed or destroyed. It has been said, “Common trials can bring uncommon grace; God is faithful to His followers.” Overall the point has been made clear that choosing to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior is a radical commitment.
Christ presents us with an alternative, either we follow the crowd, or we follow Him. The prevailing purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to present us with this alternative, so we will be placed in a position to choose. Here is a decision far more important than any other choice in our life…On which foundation are you going to build? Will you receive Christ a Lord and Savior, being fully devoted to Him? I pray you will. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!