Gardendale Nazarene

to live completely for Christ...

Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Nothing is Wasted

Last Wednesday night was our second week studying Galatians. We wrapped up chapter 1. This section of Galatians is Paul's testimony of the change in his life brought about by Christ.

We looked at Paul's statement the other night and discussed five traits in his testimony that we also see in our testimonies. One of these points has stuck in my mind this week.

Galatians 1:18 reads, "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and remained with him fifteen days."

HistereĊ is the Greek word we translate as 'to visit.' HistereĊ means 'to swap stories.' I can't get rid of this image. Can you imagine the stories Peter told Paul in those fifteen days?

In my mind, I see them up late as Peter recounts the heartbreak of the night he denied Jesus then the emptiness of that long Saturday. The hope of running to the tomb that Sunday morning. Then, with tears running down his face, he recounts the story of jumping out of the boat a few days later when he realized Jesus was standing on the shore.

This little verse brings up another point. Think about Peter for a moment. How would you describe Peter?
  • He was a fisherman, thus we can assume he was poor.
  • He had little education.
  • He was impulsive in actions and words.
  • He knew Jesus personally.

What about Paul? How would you describe him?
  • He was well educated by the best teacher around.
  • This education probably meant that he was from a wealthy family.
  • Paul calculated his words and actions.
  • He zealously attacked the Church.
  • He never knew Jesus personally.

These are two very different men. I find the beauty of the story in the way that God used each of them to shape history for Him.

Peter was sent to the Jews. Paul was sent to the Gentiles.

God used them in particular ways. God took their past and used it for His glory.

The same is true for you. No matter your background, God wants to use you. God doesn't throw out your past. He uses it to shape your future.

In the story of the changed life, nothing is wasted. God wants to use you and your story. I pray that we are open to God's desire to use us.

Renovation of Our Hearts

Last Sunday morning, I gave you two points as we began our new series and looked at the renovation of our hearts.
  • Recognize in ourselves the idea systems of evil that govern our present age. Replace in ourselves the evil systems with the Kingdom and culture that Christ embodied (Philippians 2:1-11).
  • Recognize that all the essential parts of life are organized around God, as they are restored and sustained by Him (Colossians 1:9-14).

As I mentioned on Sunday, I struggled to narrow down which Scripture reference to include with each of these points. One of the passages I looked at was Colossians 3:1-17.

This week, I keep coming back to this passage, specifically Paul's statement in verses 12-14:

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."

At first glance, this seems like a list of standard Pauline traits. Notice what Paul says to us- "as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved."

We are God's chosen ones. God's holiness is present in us. We are loved and this love is the basis for our love for others. We cannot be God's chosen ones and not love. There is no way around this. God is love and if we are His, we love too.

What does this love look like?

We are to have compassionate hearts. Lives marked by kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We bear with one another and forgive one another (just as we have been forgiven).

Wrapping this section up, Paul alludes to the prevailing Greek thought. The ancient philosophers believed there was one great unifier that 'binds everything together in perfect harmony.' This unifier gives balance and proportion to the soul. Paul speaks here directly to the thought of his day, "...put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony..."

Sunday, we will look at the Renovation of the Church. It is my prayer that we come prepared for worship and that 'the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God' (vs. 16). Amen.

Trusting God's Narrative

I recently had a writer friend contact me. On his blog, he writes devotionals based on sermons he has heard in the past. He contacts the preacher to make sure he is accurately representing the thought of the sermon he is using. He was working on a devotional and found his notes from a sermon he heard me preach in January 2004.

My first thought was, "Man, I'm getting old. That was thirteen years ago!" My second (and more terrifying) thought was, "Oh no, there is no telling what I said. Do I still agree with twenty-seven-year-old John?"

The sermon was on the temptations of Jesus in Luke 4. This got me thinking about what I would preach differently today compared to 2004. This led me to a central thought on temptation in general.

When you read through the temptations of Jesus, the part of the story that stands out to me deals with narratives. This is what I mean-

Each of these temptations involves the devil changing Jesus' story.
  • With the stone to bread temptation, the devil is asking Jesus, "Are you going to trust Your Father to provide for you?"
  • With the kingdoms of this world temptation, the devil is asking Jesus, "Are you going to trust God in the way He understands power (servanthood and a cross)?"
  • With the pinnacle of the temple temptation, the devil is asking Jesus, "Is God going to protect His Son or has He abandoned You?"

God is the one who directed Jesus' life and the devil's real question is, "Do you really trust God's narrative for Your life?"

I believe this is at the heart of what temptation is. Dallas Willard writes, "This is the basic idea behind all temptation: God is presented as depriving us by His commands of what is good, so we think we must take matters into our own hands and act contrary to what He has said."

We deal with the same temptations that were presented to Jesus. Do we really trust God's narrative of our life? Are we willing to stand in the truth of who God is, even when taking matters into our own hands would seemingly be easier?

My prayer is that we learn to stand in the face of temptation and rely on God to narrate our lives. He loves us beyond anything we can imagine and His life is our life.

This Sunday, we are beginning a new series titled, Renovate: Holiness of the Heart. I am excited about this series and I pray that we open ourselves to what God wants to do in our lives and church through these upcoming messages. You can download a sermon schedule with the passages here.

God is doing great things in the lives of His people. Come join us Sunday as we open our hearts to Him.

Who shall seperate us?

Romans 8:31- 37 reads:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

In this passage, there is one central question, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" At the heart of this question is Paul's statements on the security of the believer. We are secure in the love of Christ and Paul presents five statements that prove that there could be no separation between the believer and the Lord:

  1. God is for us (vs. 31). When I think of this point, I think of the power as a child of knowing your parents believed in you. I can remember the tough situations I dealt with as a child and the knowledge that my parents were behind me brought a great deal of confidence to my struggles. If I can receive hope from my parents being in my corner, how much more would I receive from my heavenly Father?
  2. Christ died for us (v. 32). If God loved us enough to give His own Son, do we not know that He will give us more. Again, I look at this statement from the eyes of a parent. Just because my child wants something, it might not be the best for them. What I do for my children grows out of my love for them.
  3. God has justified us (v. 33). God has declared us righteous in Christ. As the world changes around us, we can stand in the hope that God's work in Christ is complete and that work is taking place in His people as well.
  4. Christ intercedes for us (vs. 34). On Sunday I mentioned the divine conversation between the Spirit and the Father (vs. 26). This conversation includes Jesus as well. Not only is the Spirit helping us pray in our weakness, Christ is praying for us as well.
  5. Christ loves us (vv. 35-39). This passage is a reminder for us when we go through trials. God assures us that the difficulties in life are working for us and not against us. The trials we face in life can feel isolating, but Paul reminds us that God does not leave us. In fact, there is nothing that can separate us from Christ's love.

Each of these statements are statements of hope and life. I hope you will take a great deal of peace in these words of Paul.

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vv. 38-39). Amen!

Beauty and the Church

I saw something beautiful this week.

Wednesday afternoon my family and I went to see our students at primary camp.  It was great to see them at camp and the excitement of them showing me what they had learned during the week.  

This is the first year we have joined with the Mid-South District for our Children's Camps.  The incident I watched transpire did not involve any of the children from our church, but I was reminded of the importance of these types of experiences.  

I went down to the creek to see Aiden Day and Will Rickman jump off a rock into the creek.  This is one of the favorite activities of the campers.  This was at the beginning of afternoon free-time for the campers and the creek soon filled up with kids.  Many of them were jumping off the rock, but most were participating in one of my favorite childhood activities– catching crawdads.  

After about thirty minutes of the kids playing in the creek, one of the girls called out for her counselor.  She had jumped into the creek and her bathing suit had come apart.  She squatted down in the water while the leaders developed a plan.  

What I saw happen next was beautiful.  

A small group of girls began forming at the edge of the creek as they realized what had happened.  As their little minds began processing their friend's predicament, they had a decision before them.  

This little girl, who's modesty was in the hands her friends, looked on patiently.  Then the girls sprung into action– looking for something for her to wear, deciding who's towel was going to be sacrificed in the water to help cover their friend.  

It was a simple moment and I don't think those girls ever considered making fun of their friend's situation.  But, I stood there incredibly proud of a bunch of little girls, most of whom I don't know.  

I watched them walk into the water and help get a towel around their friend and walk out of the water together.

The only word I could use was beautiful.  However, as I have reflected on the incident, I could also call it the church.  

The people of God are called to be people of love and support.  To resist the temptation to respond as the world would respond.  To put ourselves in the place of our hurting neighbor and treat them as we would want to be treated.  

That's what I saw from a group of second and third-grade girls and it affirmed in me the importance of the church.  These girls have learned how to respond in love.

I have a feeling we all are faced with opportunities to choose love and friendship.  The world needs to see the love of our Father and even the smallest gestures are beautiful.  

Go!  Be beautiful and use opportunities to hurt as opportunities to love!

Pastor John