Useful articles which covers Biblical principles for a better christian life.

By Dave Urbanski.

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This Sunday was our Easter service, and Pastor Scott focused our attention on the Apostle Thomas, who has been — perhaps unfairly — stuck with the nickname “Doubting Thomas” ever since that momentous Sunday about 2,000 years ago.

You know the story. Jesus appeared to his disciples on the third day, having risen from the dead just as he had promised. Problem is, Thomas wasn’t with them. Where was he? Pastor Scott posited that Thomas may have been doing something else at that moment. An errand? Well, given the disciples were heartbroken and bewildered that their Master could have succumbed to crucifixion after a triumphal entry into Jerusalem just a week prior — and terrified of Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders who were looking for them — Pastor Scott offered also that Thomas may have just needed to get away, that he “had enough of this.”

Naturally the disciples were overjoyed that Jesus was alive again, and they excitedly told Thomas about the miracle of all miracles when he joined them again. But Thomas wasn’t convinced, telling them “unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

And there you have it: “Doubting Thomas.”

Curiously, though, Thomas and his fellow disciples — and many other eyewitnesses — saw Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead just a few days before, on what we now call Palm Sunday. Wouldn’t you expect everybody’s “faith in Jesus” to sit securely on bedrock from that point on, having seen such an astounding sight?

It wasn’t enough for Thomas. To be fair, though, it seems there’s a strong possibility raising Lazarus may not have been enough for Jesus’ other friends and followers, either — until he showed up in their midst, alive again. At least Thomas possessed the honesty to express his feelings after the upheaval of Good Friday.

Pastor Scott emphasized that Thomas suffered from a malady we all share to some degree: As frail human beings, we often rely on our spiritual experiences to strengthen our faith in God. For example, the Lord brings you through a trial, and you’re full of faith due to what God has done in your life. But that only lasts so long — because when life gets hard again and another trial comes, we hope God will show up in the same way so our faith can stand strong again. Which led to Pastor Scott’s question: “How many more experiences do you need to finally have faith in the Lord?”

The answer — just one more! Truth is, we’ll never have enough experiences to shore up our faith, finally, once and for all, because the impact of experiences on our spiritual lives doesn’t last.

Instead, Jesus told those around him just before raising Lazarus that the key to living effective spiritual lives is to believe in Jesus. Just believe.

And wouldn’t you know that Jesus showed up again to the disciples? He appeared to them despite the locked door that keep them “safe” from the outside world, that kept them “safe” from the threats upon on their lives. And this time, Thomas was with them, too.

Jesus made a beeline to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

Of course, Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God!” But Jesus knew where that was coming from: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Our reliance on experience — our insistence even to put our own fingers into Jesus’ nail and spear wounds before we “believe in him” once more — limits our relationship with God. Such a way of Christian living results in us possessing but a sliver of who God is instead of a much bigger, grander, and finally truthful picture of who he is.

Therefore, “do not disbelieve, but believe.” Just believe.

By Dave Urbanski.

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During our final Sunday studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Pastor Scott focused on the “Secret of Contentment” as we examined verses 11, 12, 13, and 19 in chapter four.

Here are those verses: “11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. …19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

A consistent theme in Pastor Scott’s message was that desires can create damaging mirages in our lives, minds, and hearts — false beliefs that once our desires are met, satisfaction will finally arrive for good. But even when we meet a goal, make that purchase, marry that spouse, get that promotion, satisfaction rarely lasts. We almost always want more, and our desires resume. And then desires can turn into expectations … which can become demands … which then can lead to anger and conflict. So how do we avoid such a dangerous, vicious cycle?

First, Pastor Scott showed the relationship between having a need and being content, which actually hearkens back to an “anything/everything” concept from a recent study of ours where Paul in Philippians 4:6 speaks to not being anxious about “anything” but in “everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And that idea is repeated in verses 11 and 12 as Paul notes “…in whatever situation I am to be content” and “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

In other words, we are to practice being content in ALL parts of our lives. But this isn’t easy, is it? Instead we want control, we want things to break in our favor — and sometimes we even want revenge. We want what we want when we want it, and we hang on so tight to that. If we look at our hearts as a room, Pastor Scott said one side is encompassed by the desires of our hearts, and they can be dangerous. In fact, they’re so powerful at times they can take over the entire room! Therefore we need to curb our desires and practice placing boundaries over them and in front of them.

Which bring us to learning the virtue of being content, which Pastor Scott said is like learning a skill. That’s right! We weren’t born with this ability. We have to master it. And how? Practice! (And God is happy to help if you let him.) In truth, contentment is a CHOICE to experience joy right now, today, as opposed when our next desire is satisfied. And even more, it’s a skill to be practiced in all kinds of conditions — low or high emotionally, thin or flush financially, healthy or not physically.

That brings us to a key point: Paul uses “hunger” as an example of a state in which we must learn to be content. Most of us in America don’t know what real hunger is, but when we’re faced with it, working through hunger can be very difficult. But Paul’s message here is that it IS possible to learn to be content while hungry — or when battling any physical affliction. Pastor Scott noted that the solution lies with something other than a sandwich or a salad. The answer, in fact, is spiritual! He shared that discontent while hungry is a signal that we probably need to evaluate our character. That’s why the practice of fasting can be so beneficial, he added. Because when we specifically say “no” to food for a period of time (“No, you don’t control me.”) we’re saying “yes” to God. Again, it’s a practice, a skill, an intentional choice to open up our hearts and souls to the Lord and grow deeper spiritually.

Verse 13 ties in with this theme, as it describes us doing “all things” by the power that Jesus  gives us. Indeed, we’re dependent on the Lord, and we’re out of our depth without him. But through him, we actually can do things that are outside of our own abilities. However, Pastor Scott reminded us to keep this idea in context, as it’s also about contentment. Verse 19 sums it up by repeating the truth that God will “supply” us with everything we need — but not according to the world’s values or standards … instead according to his “riches in glory,” which no eye can measure.

For me, the best part of Pastor Scott’s message was the end when he reminded us that amid the struggle between needs, desires, and contentment, the Lord wants to give us freedom. He gives us all free will to accept him or reject him, and when we become Christians, the Lord gives us freedom from the weight and consequences of sin. No more guilt. We are free finally to live as we were meant to live. But more than that was Pastor Scott’s reminder that this freedom also means we don’t have to hold on to resentment or anger — gripping them tightly as actual NEEDS and stewing inside those self-made prisons, those self-afflicted cages. Truth is, if we struggle in this area and are still sitting in those jail cells, Jesus already has unlocked and opened the door. So what are we waiting for? We can forgive others, walk out of our cage, and let others go free, too. We’re free to be content in his forgiveness and can finally release those destructive desires to him. 

This promise, this gift … is for all of us … today … now. Therefore let us release our ungodly desires so we can make all the room in the world for desiring God … and finally rest in contentment with the freedom he so abundantly offers us. 

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In our study Sunday focusing on Philippians 4:8-9, Pastor Scott had us consider the idea of junk food — but not the Doritos, Nilla Wafers, and Breyers ice cream we consume from time to time. (Or maybe more than from time to time!)

Instead he pointed out that in our world today, the potential for “junk food” to enter our minds and invade our thoughts is greater than ever. Pastor Scott added that Christians often aren’t viewed as intelligent people, but the truth is that Christians ought to be the very BEST thinkers on the planet. The Scriptures are full of examples of the mind as the focus. Jesus said we should love God with all of our minds … 1 Peter notes that we must grow in knowledge … Romans 12 emphasizes the renewing of our minds. In short, thinking — the mind — is important in our walk with the Lord.

The question Pastor Scott posed was, “What does God want in our minds and in our thoughts?” Just as we’re to be intentional about what food we eat when we’re trying to get healthy and stay healthy, we also must be intentional about — and even “pre-determine” — what things we allow in our minds … or else we’ll grab the most available option, which isn’t always the best for us.

Verses 8 and 9 read as follows: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

At the end of verse 8 is a key phrase with respect to our study: “think about these things.” What things? Well, things that are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … commendable … excellent … and worthy of praise. You know what they are. And in fact they are the “nutrients” — as Pastor Scott put it — for the very best thinking. We’re also promised that if we “practice” these ways of thinking, the “God of peace” will be with us.

The important point to remember is that there’s one person who exists above and over things that are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … commendable … excellent … and worthy of praise: His name is Jesus. And as we practice thinking about the things Paul instructs, we must fix our eyes and hearts on Christ, who ultimately will provide us with mental, spiritual, and emotional health and cast away our anxiety.

Pastor Scott reminded us that when our anxiety train is on the move, leaving us spiraling downward into more and more negative possibilities that haven’t happened yet, it’s difficult to “argue” ourselves out of such a state. But he added a great suggestion for how to combat this: We can jump our anxiety train to another track! We can intentionally begin thinking about things that are true … honorable … just … pure … lovely … commendable … excellent … and worthy of praise. Is it a magic formula that obliterates our anxiety upon command? Of course not. But again, there’s a reason Paul said we must practice such things. It takes work. It takes effort. It takes trying again, with the Lord’s help, when our good thoughts go off track.

But at the same time let’s also ask God to do spiritual checks on our hearts so he can help us put full stops on things in our lives that are contributing to our anxiety. We can think of them as “strongholds.” Check out the encouragement that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 is in this respect: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”

That’s where God wants us — relying on HIS power to destroy strongholds in our lives that  want to defeat us. But we have to work on changing and improving our way of thinking so that our minds are completely set on Jesus.

And then the God of peace will be with us.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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On Sunday Pastor Scott took us through Philippians 4:6-7 in part 2 of his series on managing anxiety — and the words that start things off make up one of the most well-known phrases in Scripture: “Do not be anxious about anything.”

Isn’t it interesting that Paul’s phrase here regarding anxiety isn’t a suggestion, but a command? But still you might be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to obey this command when I’m terrified or my world is falling down around me?” Well, the answers follow with the rest of verses 6 and 7.

First, God’s got us covered here, because the command to not be anxious about “anything” covers every kind of situation. The next part of verse 6, in fact, says “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Let’s repeat that: In everything. That means no matter how large or how small the situation is that’s causing your anxiety, the Lord knows about it.

And let’s look again at the word “anxiety.” Critically it’s the same Greek word used for the “good kind” of anxiety found in Philippians 2:20 when Paul describes his helper Timothy as a leader who “will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” But the way “anxiety” is used here in chapter 4 is negative; it describes what could become a dangerous situation — when our emotions threaten to overwhelm us. 

We all know what that’s like, don’t we? It’s far different than a “concern” (such as getting done those income taxes due next month, right?) No, instead we’re talking here about crippling emotions that literally lead to the loss of vitality in our lives.

To underscore this, Pastor Scott took us to another well-know passage of Scripture when Jesus used this same word for anxiety — and in the negative sense — a whopping 6 times! It’s found in Matthew 6, verses 25 through 34, and is part of his grand Sermon on the Mount. Christ tells his listeners, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Indeed, Pastor Scott reminded us that often we focus on the trivial rather than on the big issues of life, and that can take us off track. But the crucial point in this passage is that we must “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” It’s very much like Pastor Scott’s eye-opening analogy of God’s grace being like a bathroom shower: It’s always available to us, but we have to be willing to stand under the Lord’s grace and let it wash over us. In the same way, we can’t expect God’s eagerness to help us with our anxiety to be at its most effective if we’re not also seeking the Lord in our lives, can we?

Back in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, after telling them God’s power is ready to fight their anxiety in every situation, the apostle instructs them — and us — that “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

In short, God wants us to hand over our anxieties to him so he can take care of them. But it requires an act of the will on our parts, being obedient to what the Lord wants. Yet his burden is so simple and so light, isn’t it? He’s not asking you or me to defeat the dragons and monsters in our lives. No. All we have to do is let the anxieties go — to admit they’re too big for us to handle — and let God deal with them and diminish their power in our lives.

Pastor Scott reminded us of how often we pivot away from this simple act of faith in favor of human-powered peace that never gets the job done. And then we end up in addictive patterns and even disorders — and finally we wonder where God is. Well, he hasn’t moved! He’s been right with us in the suffering the whole time — and just wanting us to let go and allow him to work in us instead of us relying on failing, worldly ways.

We then find the result of that act of faith in verse 7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

But again, first we must pray — and do so passionately (“supplication”) — and offer thanksgiving to the Lord. In other words, focus on what he’s already given to us … not on the what-we-don’t-know part of anxiety that’s the core of its power over us.

Pastor Scott offered 5 principles of dealing with anxiety based on verses 6 and 7 that can compliment our study together from last week. They are as follows:

1) Anxiety can be good or bad

2) We can exchange anxiety for God’s peace

3) Prayer is the secret for accessing God’s grace

4) God’s peace is practical


5) You can trust God with anything!

But let us not forget, as Pastor Scott reminded us, that those principles must be practiced. They’re not one-and-done things. Every day we must pray. Every day we must give thanksgiving. Every day we must trust the Lord. And then every day the Lord will add his goodness and peace to us!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we delved Sunday into chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians — and the theme Pastor Scott will take us through: Anxiety — he pointed out four principles in the first five verses that will prepare us to tackle anxiety in our lives.

Verse 1 reads, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” You’ll notice right off the bat the word “therefore,” which — as we’ve learned before — references something previously discussed. And what would that be? Well, the Sunday prior Pastor Scott brought us through the end of chapter 3, in which Paul emphasizes our citizenship in heaven, the fact that Jesus will transform us from the inside out to be exactly like him, and Christ’s unmatched power to do such things — and all things.

Makes sense that Paul would follow up such a mind-boggling theological truth with his instructions to open chapter 4. In other words, “Since we have such amazing things to look forward to through Christ’s grace and love when this life is over … let us lean on him and trust in him (stand firm) TODAY for our needs.”

Pastor Scott shared that the balance between standing firm (the Greek translation can be thought of as “planting our feet”) and love that Paul describes in verse 1 is the first principle we need to practice in order to tackle anxiety. We do this through wrestling in our hearts between comfort and standing firm. And that practice likely requires many of us to pull back from our natural search for earthly comforts in the midst of difficulties and focusing harder on disciplining ourselves to look to the Savior who already has registered our citizenship in heaven.

Verses 2 and 3 reveal the second principle: resolving relational conflicts. The verses read, “I entreat Euodia, and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” We all know how unresolved conflict can interfere with our lives. Paul does, too. Here he entreats (or implores, even begs) individuals in conflict to “agree in the Lord.” To literally place their differences below their shared love for Jesus. We must seek to do the same before we tackle anxiety in our lives.

In verse 4 we find the third principle: practice joy. The verse reads, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” So how do we do this if we’re facing problems? Pastor Scott shared that our focus must not be on the problem … it must be on the solution in the Lord. That will help get rid of worry and see the grace that God is already providing us.

The final principle Pastor Scott described is lowering the intensity. The idea is found in verse 4, which reads, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…” Pastor Scott noted that “reasonableness” can be thought of as “gentleness.” Some of us can get pretty steamed when problems pop up, and no one likes dealing with those who head off the deep end emotionally when things go wrong. But the key here is the end of the verse: “The Lord is at hand.” Who is able to lead us down the path of gentleness in the face of problems when our typical reaction is intense anger or overreaction? Jesus, of course. He is near us when the chips are down. Lean on him … and then we can practice lowering the intensity of our emotions.

To that end, Pastor Scott pointed out one important common feature of these four principles: All of them involve acknowledging and depending on the Lord. This isn’t a do-it-yourself project! Like all things in the Christian life, our first steps always must be toward Jesus. And after that first step, we must continue to keep our eyes on him, walking by faith, trusting in his ability to lead us as we dispense with our earthly, ultimately frail abilities and efforts. 

Let us let go of control, because he’s the one in control. He knows our path and our destination, and he will take us there. 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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The first sentence in the passage we studied together Sunday reads as follows, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3: 12)

And what is the “it” and “this” Paul refers to in this opening sentence? The answer is the ideas Paul discusses in previous verses — namely righteousness through faith in Christ, becoming like Jesus, and sharing in his sufferings as well as in his resurrection from the dead.

Pastor Scott emphasized that Paul exhibits a great deal of humility here, noting he’s far from perfect and has not “obtained this” in his life — but instead he’s decided to “press on” and make “my own” what Jesus has given him. The truth that we can take part in Paul’s mission means we must make it “our own” as well. To make following Christ personal to us, waking up each day and asking the Lord, “What can I learn from you today? What do you want me to do today?”

Also, check out the very end of verse 12 in which Paul notes, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Pastor Scott has emphasized to us frequently that Paul’s efforts aren’t transactions with God. They’re not, “Lord, if I do this for you, can you please forgive me? Can you please save me?” No. Instead the Lord initiates. Jesus first made Paul “his own” through grace and faith — and now enveloped in that eternal relationship, Paul naturally desires to reflect God’s love in his own life (“make it my own“). May we all follow suit!

So, the first secret to being a spiritual “winner” is to “press on.” In the original Greek it denotes intense concentration — an intentional, aggressive pursuit of a goal. Verses 14 continues this idea, repeating the “press on” idea as Paul adds, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is dispensing with things that interfere with our “upward call” to the Lord. Because some of those things aren’t necessarily bad — they even may be good! But nothing is more important that our relationship with Jesus, and we must continually examine our hearts and ask God to shine a light on them, seeing if anything — even something good — is distracting us and pulling us down or taking us even a bit off course.

The second secret is to focus, and verse 13 spells it out: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead …” And what is the “one thing” we must focus on? The “upward call,” of course! Jesus shared the same words in Luke 18:22 with the rich young ruler: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But the rich young ruler, despite wanting eternal life, couldn’t part with his money.

The third secret is to lean forward. Verse 13 calls it “straining forward.” And part of that urging from Paul is “forgetting what lies behind.” That can mean to stop spending so much time thinking about the past, since we can’t change things that have already happened — and instead pushing forward and developing new patterns of thinking and behavior through God’s help.

The fourth secret is to “join in” — as Paul notes in verse 17, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” It’s the idea of partnering with other believers and learning from the examples of mature Christians and doing as they do, observing their spiritual successes so we may be “imitating” them and having the same successes.

Finally, verse 20 describes the fifth secret which Pastor Scott called “confirm your identity”: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our true home is not here on earth, and when things in this world conspire to bring us down — again, pull us away from our “upward call” — we need to stop and remind ourselves of who we are: Believers in Jesus who are serving him in a marathon, not a sprint, toward his kingdom. Therefore, let us never forget, or even minimize, who were are or what our “upward call” is.

Spiritual Audit

Written by Dave Urbanski

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During this Sunday’s study of Philippians 3, we saw the Apostle Paul having just communicated his long list of accomplishments that should place him at the top of humanity’s heap.

Indeed, Paul was a “blameless” Pharisee — “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so zealous in his devotion to the law that without a second thought he persecuted the emerging Christian church that was threatening Israel’s religious order. But none of Paul’s earthly, mortal qualities mattered compared to what he found when the Lord knocked him off his horse on the road to Damascus and opened his eyes to the truth: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (v. 7)

Pastor Scott helped us take Paul’s confession to a personal place and asked us what’s important to us. What do we value? What do we strive for, day to day? And the interesting challenge here is that even when we value good things (e.g., loving our family, helping others), they don’t come close to who Jesus is. And problems can emerge when we’ve devoted too much emotional energy to even good things, because when they go bad, it can crush us. (And then we inevitably head straight for our savior for help when he was the one we should have been looking at the entire time!)

Pastor Scott also noted that Paul drew a distinction between his past Christian life (i.e., past tense “counted as loss,” verse 7) and his present Christian life (i.e., present tense “count everything as loss,” verse 8) in terms of his own spiritual audit. In other words, Paul continued, day in and day out, to assess his own spiritual state even after having been saved for quite some time. And if we, as Pastor Scott suggested, do a spiritual audit every day, we’re much less likely to get off track with the Lord.

And why would Paul count everything as loss? “Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” he writes in the continuation of verse 8. The idea of “surpassing worth” is a concept Paul repeats three additional times in his letter to the Philippians, and in a nutshell it can come down to one word many use to describe this entire book: JOY. (Or if you like acronyms, Jesus first, others second, you third.) Indeed we always find joy when we put Jesus first and then others right after him.

Paul goes further in the remainder of verse 8, sharing that “For [Jesus’] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Rubbish? That’s not the typical descriptor of things we value and hold dear, is it? But as believers, when we honestly look at even the good things we cherish in our lives, isn’t Jesus far beyond them? For that reason, let us not keep Jesus in our back pockets and simply pull him out when we need him. Instead let us place Jesus at the forefront. He’s the one who will never waver, who will never disappoint or go wrong.

Paul adds some indispensable salvation theology in verse 9 when he points out that being “found in” Jesus results in true righteousness that “comes through faith” in him — as opposed to his own frail and failing efforts. Paul knew that even his devotion to the law as a Pharisee comes up way short of what God requires — and striving for it is a fruitless exercise. So he instead places his reliance upon Jesus, who has already conquered sin and death and made a place for him (and for us) in God’s kingdom.

Arguably the key point Pastor Scott made on Sunday was drawing a distinction between knowing Jesus by observation — in the way a student learns, for example — and knowing Jesus by experience (“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” v. 10).  Sure it’s important that we learn all we can about the Bible, about the life of Christ. But if we ignore or minimize knowing Jesus experientially — talking to him every day, continually casting our cares upon him, asking him to help us and reveal his will for our lives — we’re missing out!

Of course, knowing Jesus experientially — as raw and real a relationship as any we have on earth — can lead to “sufferings” or “becoming like him in his death,” as verse 10 points out. But the other side of that is attaining “the resurrection from the dead” as Jesus did. And what is more important than that?

Are you overdue for a spiritual audit? If so, take stock and move forward toward the Lord. Because the main goal isn’t just to know about Jesus — it’s to know Jesus.

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In our study Sunday of Philippians 3:1-6, we learned about “joy stealers.” It’s a concept to which all of us can relate, since life is frequently full of circumstances that conspire to bring us down emotionally.

Of course there are relatively little things that happen, such as a messed-up order at a drive-thru that you don’t discover until you’re halfway home — and now you have to decide if you’re going back as you navigate terrible traffic.

But there are big things, too, such as the loss of your job, the loss of your health, a broken relationship, or the death of a loved one.

Pastor Scott shared that as we battle day to day with three main negative emotions — anger, sadness, and anxiety — they all have their positive counterparts on continuums. The opposite of anger is love, for example. The opposite of sadness is joy. And the opposite of anxiety is peace. And for us the key to managing those negative emotions is by putting the positive ones into practice.

When Paul composed this letter to the church he founded in Philippi, he was in house arrest in Rome. But Paul told his brothers and sisters in Christ that he was experiencing joy despite his imprisonment. Paul’s love for his church was stronger than any anger in him; his  peace in Christ overcame his anxiety as a prisoner who could die at any moment; and his joy in the Lord was more powerful than sadness over his circumstances.

Two things Pastor Scott noted especially stuck out: First that the act of rejoicing in the Lord is a COMMAND. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” (v. 1) The act of rejoicing is not necessarily a response to good things happening around us. It certainly wasn’t for Paul! Instead it’s a testimony to the fact that we can look a negative circumstance right in the eye and rejoice in the Lord despite it. And it means that joy is not grounded in circumstances but in God himself. As Pastor Scott noted, God’s character and providence levels out our sense of well being. And the second thing he said that stuck out was that the act of rejoicing TAKES PRACTICE. In the same way we must practice the act of loving God and loving others and practice the act of seeking peace in our lives, we also must practice the act of rejoicing in all circumstances.

Another interesting point Pastor Scott shared was from the second sentence in verse 1: “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” The Greek word for “safe” is taken from the word for “asphalt,” which implies sturdiness and confidence. Very much like the image of guardrails you might see at a bowling alley that prevent the ball from rolling into the gutters. In other words, when you put rejoicing into practice, you hit the pins EVERY TIME you roll the ball — and there’s no way you’ll be left in life’s gutter.

In the remaining verses, Paul tells his fellow believers that they must put no confidence in the flesh, and he declares that belief in Christ — and not in things such as circumcision — is the key to salvation. Nothing else will last except Jesus, and we must put our trust in him instead.

Therefore let us move forward this week in joy despite our circumstances and confidence in our future based on who Christ is, and not on what we do.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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No matter how Christians participate in the act of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ, three elements are always present:

1. Compassion (Do you care?)

2. Faithfulness (Are you reliable?)

3. Availability (Are you ready?)

In fact, these three qualities have always been present in believers through the centuries in the process of advancing the gospel — and we were reminded in our study this past Sunday on Philippians 2:19-30 of these qualities being present in two particular individuals.

In the passage, Paul describes Timothy and Epaphroditus — two men who were about to impact the early church.

Most of us know of Timothy, an important disciple of Paul’s. Two books in the New Testament bear his name, in fact — letters Paul wrote to him near the end of Paul’s life and that include all-important principles that we believers must pay attention to.

But here in the letter to the church at Philippi, Paul introducers his brothers and sisters to his disciple and co-worker, telling them that Timothy — as he has been charged with reporting to Paul how the church is doing — possesses all the necessary qualities to advance the gospel.

First, Paul says in verse 20 that Timothy is “genuinely concerned for your welfare.” That’s compassion, right there — the first necessary quality we must possess. In fact, Pastor Scott shared that the Greek word for “concerned” is closely related to “anxious”! That might surprise you — particularly because in chapter 4 Paul tells us not to be anxious about anything. But the thing is that word for “anxious” is the same word Paul uses Philippians 2:20, therefore we must conclude that there’s a “good” and “bad” kind of anxious. When anxiety ends up controlling us, that crosses a line … but in Philippians 2:20 it reflects the kind of concern that drives us to do positive things — such as keeping in physical shape so we can stick around for our loved ones and being responsible with our finances and working hard in school and on the job so we can be in the best position to care of our loved ones.

The Greek word for “concerned” also is found in Galatians 6:10, which instructs us to do good to everyone, especially the household of faith. Indeed, part of expressing compassion as Christians means that we must care for people we don’t even know! Verse 21 of our Philippians passage warns us, however, that some folks out there wearing the Christian mantle really are looking after their own interests instead of Christ’s. The point? If you’re putting the needs of Jesus first, that automatically means you’re also looking out for needs of others.

In verse 22, Paul tells us that Timothy possesses “proven worth” — in other words, faithfulness! The related Greek word seen elsewhere in the New Testament reflects the idea of someone having gone through trials and, in the end, being gifted with something to share and teach and pass on. Romans 5:3-4 uses that same word and encourages us that trials and related suffering actually strengthens us and provides us proven character. Here’s the thing: We’re all growing. But we don’t need to wait until we’ve “arrived” at some lofty point to gain the credentials to help others. We don’t need to wait until we’ve got our “act together.” (Hint: None of us will EVER get our act together this side of heaven. Let that myth go!) Instead, in the midst of our growing in Christ — and with the knowledge we’ve gained from the trials we’ve already gone through — we can help others who are going through what we’ve already endured! Don’t be afraid to reach out in this way. It’s a major secret ingredient that energizes fellow believers toward their own missions.

And in verse 23, Paul says he has “hope … to send” Timothy, which Pastor Scott said reflects the third quality we all need in order to help advance the gospel: availability. Remember, we must always ask ourselves these three questions: Do I care? Am I reliable? Am I available?

Paul then switches gears and introduces us to his second disciple — Epaphroditus — and the qualities he has demonstrated to advance the gospel. And he’s every bit as faithful and enthusiastic about it as Timothy, in fact getting sick almost to the point of death in the process of doing so! But through the sacrifice of Epaphroditus, very good things came about.

Pastor Scott first broke down some very interesting points about the idea of reliability, which are voiced by Paul in verse 25 when he describes Epaphroditus:

First, Epaphroditus is a “brother” (i.e., a familial relationship with fellow believers). Second, he’s a “fellow worker” — and Pastor Scott broke down the Greek words here that give us the English equivalent of “synergy” … and the idea that collaborating with other believers can result in a sum that’s much greater and more valuable than the individual parts! Third, he’s a “soldier,” which connotes a believer who’s willing to help wage spiritual battles that often manifest themselves in physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Finally there’s the description of Epaphroditus as a “messenger” — which in the Greek equates”apostle” and helps us see that, in a sense, we’re all apostles and messengers in our journey toward Jesus.

In terms of the compassion of Epaphroditus, we see at the end of verse 25 that he cares for Paul’s needs and in verse 26 that he was “distressed” after learning the Philippians learned he was seriously ill. In short, Epaphroditus is a caring and concerned believer! 

In verse 28, Paul says he’s “eager to send” Epaphroditus to the church in Philippi, which connotes his availability — the second quality we’re learning that believers who advance the gospel possess. What’s more, the word “eager” here is translated as the word “anxious” that we previously discussed — clearly the good kind of anxious that denotes concern for others but that doesn’t control us emotionally.

Let us ask ourselves, are we in that place that Timothy and Epaphroditus were? Are we compassionate, reliable, and available?

Before you answer those questions, remember the crucial theological points Pastor Scott shared that place all of this in perspective: the advancement of Christ’s gospel ultimately does not depend on us! We must not view our efforts in such a ministry as a make-or-break enterprise, with the Lord pacing on the sidelines, gnawing at his fingernails in the hopes that we will come through for him. No! Our God is infinitely more powerful than that. In fact, he doesn’t need us AT ALL. As Pastor Scott reminded us, Jesus himself said the gates of hell cannot destroy the church. Instead, we know that the battle has already been won; we’re simply invited to take part in the unfolding play. We know the ending, but we don’t know how the scenes will play out. So it’s our privilege to be invited to step into the drama and live it out in real time.

That said… what an ADVENTURE the Lord has given us! Think about it. Lots of adrenaline-seeking individuals post incredible videos of themselves traveling to the ends of the earth to base jump, fly through the air in wing suits, climb the tallest mountains, and travel the deepest points in the ocean — but none of that compares to the adventures we can have once we avail ourselves to the mission of advancing the gospel. There’s nothing like it … and nothing more important or eternally meaningful.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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We just went through the theology of complaining in our study last Sunday, which covered just one verse from the second chapter of Philippians (verse 14): “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”

And as Pastor Scott pointed out — both during his sermon and after our midweek meeting about his message — this all-important verse doesn’t mean Christians aren’t allowed to discuss negative things. We have to! If there’s a problem, it needs to be solved — and that means talking about negative things. Even more than that, there will be conflict in friendships and marriages and in groups, and they need to be solved and resolved, too. It’s all about being real in a world that’s really messed up.

This past Sunday, we dug into a bit of verse 14 again but focused mostly on the remaining verses in the passage through verse 18. They read like so: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

The word “blameless” in verse 15 is important to break down. There’s a difference between being “blameless” and “sinless.” As Pastor Scott noted, we’re not sinless! Instead being blameless is the result of how Christians live out their lives amid a crumbling culture; when we shine Christ’s light and strive to do the right thing, we take on the characteristics of being blameless. Consider when we’re around others who sometimes apologize to us when they use foul language or tell dirty jokes — because they know we’re not like that or are about those things. That’s a sign of our blamelessness. 

Another eye-opening moment occurred when Pastor Scott told us about the ancient Greek word related to the phrase “crooked and twisted”— it’s called “scolios,” which of course points to the familiar English word “scoliosis,” a painful condition when the spine is twisted. So when we’re talking about a “crooked and twisted generation,” we can safely say that generation’s condition involves some degree of pain! The way nonbelievers live is not “fun” or “cool” — when push comes to shove, it hurts. And not necessarily physically (although that can be part of it) but also spiritually and emotionally. And when pressure comes, they can’t handle it and get crushed.

That illustration ought to inform us about the plight of others with whom we share this planet — because as the rest of verse 15 states, we “shine” in their midst “as lights in the world.” Again, they see we’re different, they see we’ve changed, and they notice something about us that deep down they desire.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that such a positive response isn’t alway how things go. In the drama of temporal meeting eternal, mortal flesh doesn’t always turn the right way. In fact, some folks when exposed to the light of life, which originates with Christ, don’t want any part of it. They don’t want their sin laid bare. They don’t want their bankrupt deeds revealed. And yes, some want no part of God when given the chance to turn to him.

But also, as Pastor Scott suggested, let’s also ask ourselves in what manner we’re shining our light: Are we doing it annoyingly, right into others’ eyes … or are we helpfully guiding others’ paths, making sure they don’t trip? Let it always be the latter.

Another important point comes from verse 16 where Paul hopes we’re “holding fast to the word of life.” Pastor Scott pointed out that we have two cultures existing in front of us each day: that of the world and that of the Kingdom of God. And when we fall into the habit of spending more time digesting the culture of the world — such as cable news — then that gets in the way of the culture that will ultimately endure: the one belonging to the Lord’s kingdom.

In the latter part of the passage, we got a picture of Paul getting personal with his brothers and sisters in the Philippian church — and with us! This part, as Pastor Scott noted, is the WHY of what Paul has been communicating: He wants to make sure his efforts haven’t been in vain or a waste of time. He’s interested in the state of these peoples’ souls. As we should be! The race we all run as believers in Jesus of course means we want to impact as many people as possible; but there’s another side to it. Our love for other isn’t all about numbers; it’s about the heart, too! How is our heart in relation to the Lord? How are the hearts of others’ we love and have spent time with doing? That’s a factor only Jesus can measure.

Pastor Scott also shared another crucial historical reference from verse 17, breaking down what Paul means by being “poured out as a drink offering.” In Jewish sacrificial law was the act of pouring out wine — and it hits the ground or a burned lamb or bull, and it’s gone for good! Never again drinkable. In short, it’s a way of expressing that we are “all in” for the Lord, and other things, even possessions we value here and now, must fall by the wayside. 

Finally in verse 18, Paul urges us to “be glad and rejoice with me.” Remember, Paul is in prison and facing death on a daily basis — but it is indeed well with his soul, as the hymn writer once said. As Paul rejoices despite his suffering and the world’s hatred, so should we rejoice.

In that light, Pastor Scott emphasized that we are all in this together, struggling and triumphing as one people of God. As we began this all-important passage with the command to stop our grumbling and disputing, we close it literally with worship. And if you’re truly worshiping, it’s impossible to be grumbling and disputing and complaining. So let us worship and rejoice and move forward in our lives accordingly.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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This past Sunday we focused on just one Bible verse — and it’s one we all know well, either from our own study of Scripture … or because we’re all quite familiar with the subject matter.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” — Philippians 2:14

Who among us hasn’t been guilty of that? Of complaining?

But while we as believers certainly have joined the chorus of complaining from time to time, we really don’t need to be singing that tune! Pastor Scott broke down the verse and explained to us that Christians instead ought to be thinking differently than nonbelievers and focusing on solutions to our problems rather than on the problems themselves.

Indeed, there are biblical reasons to avoid complaining.

The first is recognizing that God is working positively in our lives, no matter what our circumstances might be. God always has a bigger plan in mind and is using events in our lives to teach us — about patience, about forgiveness. The bottom line is that we live in a broken, fallen world, and not everything is going to go perfectly. Therefore we must continually tell ourselves the truths that God is in control, God is good, and God is loving.

The second reason to not complain is that the seeming setbacks we deal with are opportunities for God to work in our lives. Think about Paul in prison: He didn’t view that “setback” (to put it mildly) as the end of things for him. Instead it was a beginning — and an opportunity, he wrote more than once, to advance the gospel!

In this vein, Pastor Scott brought up one of the many Old Testament accounts of the Israelites complaining about their circumstances in the wilderness. And he pointed out a very interesting tidbit. They complained about the same three things that children always complain about: the food, the living conditions, and the leadership. Truth!

One question we need to ask ourselves: What is the opposite of complaining? Pastor Scott said the answer is trust. When our complaining increases, how much are we trusting in God’s authority? Probably not much. Therefore when we notice our complaining is increasing, we need to do a spiritual check and realize that our level of trust in the Lord isn’t as high as it should be.

Another key point Pastor Scott made is that there’s a big difference between complaining AT God and complaining TO God. He used David’s Psalms as an example of a “good kind of complaining.” In Psalm 142, we see David pleads to the Lord for mercy — an outcry for God to take burdens from him. And the thing is, God wants us to go to him in need. He waits and waits and waits for us to come to him in prayer. As believers, we need not bottle up those raw emotions. Instead we can go straight to the Lord’s throne and ask him to work in our lives.

Another compelling moment came with Pastor Scott introducing the Greek word for “disputing” in Philippians 2:14 — and it’s “dialogismos.” Indeed it’s closely related to the English word “dialog,” except it runs deeper than that. Pastor Scott checked out all the places in Scripture where the word “dialogismos” shows up and told us that it’s related to our “inner dialog” — our thoughts and inner discussions we have with ourselves.

The word “dialogismos,” for example, is found in Luke 5:22 when Jesus heals the paralyzed man on the mat and then rebukes the Pharisees for their inner thoughts against Christ’s rightful ability as the Son of Man to forgive sins. 

See, our internal dialogue can really get us into trouble and get us going in the wrong direction. But as believers, we need not entertain our problematic inner dialog because Jesus is in control of our lives, and he knows what he’s doing!

Therefore let us continually keep in mind these important principles as we move forward:

  • Complaining can be a spiritual indicator of a “heart” problem. So let’s be ready to do a heart check!
  • Complaining TO God (but not AT God) is a good thing. No, the Lord won’t necessarily take away every problem we want to get rid of — consider Paul and his thorn in the flesh the Lord wouldn’t remove — but instead works in us through all kinds of circumstances, even negative ones.
  • The opposite of complaining is trust.
  • And complaining and negative thinking is not befitting of Christians.

Indeed, it’s often difficult for us to know why God does and allows certain things to happen in our lives. More often that not, we have no idea what God is doing. Therefore let us ask him to help us trust in him more and more each day.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we got back into Paul’s letter to the Philippians amid the outset of 2022, we looked at a verse Sunday that is often misunderstood.

It’s found in chapter 2, verse 12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Many Christians have wondered concerning this verse, “Does that mean we have to work for God’s forgiveness? I thought we couldn’t work our way into heaven.”

As Pastor Scott pointed out, the answer to that question is an unequivocal “no.” The idea of “work out your own salvation” doesn’t mean we have to make an effort to be saved or earn God’s favor. Instead the full passage we examined is about how we live and behave day to day now that we are part of God’s family (after all, Paul wrote his letter to his “beloved” in the Philippian church — those who already have given their lives to Jesus and accepted his gift of salvation).

But let’s look again at the passage, which also includes verse 13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Pastor Scott equated this passage to engaging in a “spiritual workout” that maximizes the health of our souls — in the same way that a physical workout maximizes our physical health.

But first we must consider a familiar word that opens the passage: “Therefore.” As we’ve studied at other times, we know “therefore” signals that the words which follow it are based on previously discussed principles. And what are they in this case? Earlier in chapter 2, Paul tells us that as believers in Jesus moving forward in our faith, we must have the same mind and put others first — because that’s exactly what Jesus did by coming to earth in the form of a servant and dying for our sins.

And after Paul writes “therefore,” he offers what Pastor Scott noted are six guidelines for living in light of those spiritual truths. They could be summarized as, “How to have a great spiritual workout.”

1. Find a Good Trainer

Why would someone want a trainer for a physical workout? Because it’s hard work! And having someone come alongside you helps you improve — and having an expert next to you will help you strengthen your workout weaknesses. As believers, we know that Jesus is our best trainer, and he wrote our training manual (the Bible), and he’s always with us. Plus, he deeply desires that we ask him how to grow in our faith and grow closer to him! So let’s do that, and ask Jesus to be our trainer.

2. Check your motivation

Paul tells his brothers and sisters that they should be obeying God even more now that he’s absent from them, and that points to an important principal: Doing the right thing, especially when no other humans are watching. It’s about integrity. And it says a lot about where we are spiritually when we’re willing to obey God when there’s no human audience to impress. 

3. Do the work

We already noted this very important principal, but it bears repeating: Working out our own salvation isn’t about working our way into heaven, which is impossible. Instead it’s about the work it takes to live as Christians day to day, which takes effort and intent. One of the interesting points that Pastor Scott brought up is that the Greek word Paul used to describe such a workout implies trying to dig something out of a mine.

Think about that: Miners can dig all day and come up with nothing. It can be tedious, exhausting, and frustrating work. But they have to keep at it, because every now and then, they’ll come up with a gem! A big payoff. And there would be no reward if they didn’t engage in the hard work day to day when it seems like nothing is being accomplished. Living the Christian life can feel like that, too. But we must continue to dig.

4. Your own salvation

God teaches different things to different people. While we’re all headed to the same place (heaven), we’re all on our own pilgrimage, our own journey, our own salvation. That part is personal to each one of us, and that should signal to each one of us to not compare ourselves to other believers. However, in the midst of our personal faith journeys, we all need to come together as one when we gather in church and share our stories — our triumphs and our struggles — and encourage one another.

5. With fear and trembling

In short, we need to take this stuff seriously! Sin has the power to damage and corrupt us. So we need to battle against sin, and that takes effort. It’s a fight, a race, and we need to engage in it every day as we battle our enemies: Satan, the world in general, and our own flesh. It’s not about being “scared of God”; rather it’s about taking seriously the fact that God is more awesome and holy that we can possibly fathom — and to take seriously the work involved to live our lives in light of God’s greatness.

6. Take your supplements

Verse 13 reads, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Here the passage shifts to the idea that at the end of all our human efforts to live in the way the Lord commands as members of his heavenly family, we can take heart that it’s NOT all about what we do! The bottom line is that God is the one working in us, and it’s all about HIM. And the Greek word word for “work” in this case denotes “energy.” And how do we get energy as believers? We rely on God! We work hard, but we rely on the Lord to give us what we need so we can exert the necessary energy. So take your spiritual supplements the Lord provides.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Life is full of surprises.

Sometimes the surprises are wonderful and exciting and put smiles on our faces and make us thankful to be alive.

But life also brings surprises that don’t make us feel very good. They can be relatively small disappointments such as getting stuck in traffic, opening an envelope with a bigger-than-expected, or missing a game or performance we were looking forward to attending. Then there are significant negative surprises such as losing a job or the death of a loved one.

We live in a broken world, therefore we always will experience our share of not-so-wonderful surprises. The question is: How will we respond to them?

Pastor Scott offered us some insights in regard to this all-important question as we took a look at the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and the super big surprise that hit Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, before that first Christmas two millennia ago.

In short, Joseph learned that Mary — his wife to be — was pregnant; and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. As Pastor Scott explained, in Bible times couples who were to be married took a crucial step called “betrothal.” It was pretty much equivalent to marriage, barring the consummation aspect, to the point where couples actually had to go through a divorce process to break off the betrothal.

Imagine the pain, the utter gut-punch Joseph must have felt when he was hit with that awful surprise of Mary’s pregnancy! Of course he undoubtedly assumed she cheated on him. What other cause could be behind something like that? Shame. Betrayal. Hurt. Embarrassment. Joseph must have been feeling a wide range of negative emotions as a result of this surprise being sprung upon him. 

And so the question — “What do I do now?” — naturally became prominent in Joseph’s mind. A lot of men would have made public spectacles to save face and inflict pain upon the women who caused them such anguish. Revenge. An eye for an eye.

But Joseph didn’t do that.

Scripture says (v. 19) Joseph was a “just man and unwilling to put her to shame,” and therefore he “resolved to divorce her quietly.” He trusted God with this problem and knew the Lord was in control, no matter what.

However, God — as he often does — had a different and better plan. A “third option,” as Pastor Scott put it. And it was yet another surprise in Joseph’s life.

Matthew tells us in verses 20 and 21 that while Joseph was sleeping, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.'” Matthew added that this news was meant to fulfill what the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah (7:14): “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.”

What do you suppose Joseph was feeling now? Maybe he was unsettled (to put it lightly) by the Lord visiting him in a dream; maybe he was relieved that Mary had been faithful to him all along, and now he could feel good about marrying her; maybe he was nervous about the responsibility that was being placed upon him. But maybe God captured it best when his angel told Joseph “do not fear” moving forward with his plans to take Mary was his wife.

Do not fear.

And so that’s what Joseph did, as the remainder of the passage tells us — although consummation didn’t happen until after Jesus was born. On that note, Pastor Scott reminded us that Jesus’ other name “Immanuel” is translated “God with us.” And since Jesus is with us, what do we have to fear?

The Lord’s visitation with Joseph gave him a massive godly perspective. All at once. Boom! For us the Lord’s perspective likely comes through other means — and one of them, as Pastor Scott noted, is what happens to us when we attend church services with other believers. Gaining godly perspectives is one of the divine benefits of coming to church, not just because of the message coming to us from up front, but even more through how we interact together. Maybe you’ll have a chat with another church member and receive prayer — and insight. Maybe you’ll connect with other believers in ways you didn’t expect — hey, surprise! (Again!) Or maybe when you’re gathering with other Christians, whatever disappointment you may be experiencing in that moment won’t seem quite as grim when you can unburden yourself and let your brothers and sisters know what you’re going through.

As we excitedly await Christmas Day and remember the grand plan the Lord unfolded in bringing the Messiah to Planet Earth, ask yourself right now, “Do I really believe these truths put forth in Scripture?” If your answer is “yes,” then you and I can be like Joseph and respond to surprises — even difficult ones — knowing that Jesus is “with us” just as he was with Mary and Joseph, even before he was born.

God with us. Yesterday. Today. Forever.

Realize, too, that — as Pastor Scott reminded us — what began as a disappointment for Joseph was actually God “redirecting traffic” in his life so he could end up at the correct destination.

He’ll redirect the traffic in our lives, too — if we let him!

What’s changing in your life today? What’s gnawing at your heart? What’s unsettling your soul? Whatever it is, the Lord speaks to that very thing and says, “I will be with you.” Whatever you do, wherever you go, no matter what missteps you may take: “I will be with you.” Whatever disappointments you’re struggling with, Jesus can bear them — and again he tell us, “I will be with you.”

Written by Dave Urbanski

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It’s so cool that the verses we studied on Sunday from Philippians 2 get right to the heart of a subject that’s central to our lives — and coming up on the calendar: The Wonder of Christmas!

Pastor Scott began by repeating verse 5, which we looked at last week: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …” The reason is because this verse sets up the rest of the passage, verses 6 through 11: “… who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This passage gets to the crux of the wonder of Christmas because it describes not only who Jesus is but also the plan for how he burst upon humanity — and he did so in utter humility, born where donkeys, lambs, and cattle took shelter. Of course, most folks know that part of the Christmas story — but the amazing theology within that story isn’t primary in the hearts of most people. But Pastor Scott broke it down for us.

First we saw that Jesus remained “in the form of God” when he came to earth. He kept his divine essence, from his conception through the Holy Spirit all the way to his birth and then throughout his life. He was still 100 percent God and remains 100 percent God to this day. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus said in John 8:58, describing his existence from the beginning of time.

However, in coming to earth Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men …” This was the beginning of his sacrificial legacy. Remaining 100 percent God — but taking on complete humanity (100 percent man). Jesus experienced the full range of humanity. He got tired and hungry and thirsty. He got angry. He became sad. He faced temptation. And as an infant born in Bethlehem, he did what infants do: He cried. The act of taking on humanity and emptying himself (“kenosis” in the Greek) means that Jesus freely gave up the privileges associated with divinity, particularly the glory of God. And that was manifested by the literal circumstances surrounding his birth: Mary and Joseph hunted down by King Herod who would have no other monarchs around him and ended up killing countless infants Jesus’ age; the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy, even though God — not Joseph — brought it about; nowhere for the couple to stay amid their lengthy journey from Nazareth, forcing them to take refuge amid dirt, hay, smelly troughs, and smellier stables for Jesus’ birth. 

Not a very regal entrance upon the world’s stage for the King of Kings — at least to human eyes. But as usual, the Lord looks deeper, and in his infinite wisdom that turns lives around (and upside-down if necessary), Jesus was born in humility — and lived the rest of his days on this planet stooped down in service to us.

Pastor Scott also emphasized that Jesus gave up his independent authority and took his cues directly from God the Father — by “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (verse 8) While this truth focuses on Jesus’ adult life, it’s part of the obedience that marked him ever since that very first Christmas when God’s grand plan to redeem his creation took flight.

Pastor Scott also offered a keen illustration about the word “redeem” — as in the idea of redeeming a coupon which allows us to get something or receive some kind of benefit, whether it’s a discounted meal or a free cup of coffee. However, he explained that in Jesus’ case, the redemption is curiously different. When we turn in a coupon, we’re involved in the redemption process. But in Jesus’ case, we’re not! While God the Father is the one establishing the Jesus “coupon,” he’s also the one receiving the benefit or “payment.” Literally God pays himself through Jesus’ sacrifice so that God’s holiness is maintained — and in the end, we benefit if we believe in Jesus and his sacrifice for us.

That’s such a humbling illustration for us to take in — we humans who always want to view ourselves as having earned the right to do or be this or that. We humans who hunger for being worthy. We humans who find it hard to not take credit. Therefore, we need to put away any images of us “turning in a Jesus coupon” as a way of entering heaven as if we could even “grasp” such a thing in our hands. Even that act is out of our reach. It’s already been done. We play no part in the transaction. The Lord did it all. And our part is simply acknowledging that truth, confessing and repenting, and accepting his forgiveness.
I loved Pastor Scott breaking down the idea expressed in the chapter’s last verses — that the only way to true greatness is Jesus’ way: Through humility. But that’s not the world’s message, is it? No way. Especially for those of us on social media, we see folks posting things over and over to “dunk” on others to make them feel bad, insignificant, less-than, and defeated. The sad notion that you have to go out each day and knock people down to gain “cred” and fame. 
Jesus’ way is far different — and stands in stark contrast to the world’s way. Because Jesus was humble on earth, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” It’s the same for us, too: We need to let the Lord be the one to bestow greatness upon us; and we should not be pursuing greatness for ourselves.

In the cosmic mystery of Christmas, God let us see how small we really are compared to how big the Lord really is by giving us Jesus to believe in and emulate. Therefore, as we celebrate the wonder of Christmas, let us — as verse 5 commands — have this as our “mindset” and be sure that at his name we bow our knees and with our mouths confess that Jesus is Lord so that God the Father rightly will receive the glory he so richly deserves.
That’s the wonder of Christmas.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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When Pastor Scott led our study Sunday covering the well-known passage of Philippians 2:3-5, he offered insights regarding Paul’s God-inspired words to his brothers and sisters that furthered our understanding of relationships, especially in a practical sense.

The passage reads, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …”

Certainly the passage instructs us to act selflessly and put others first. Not an unfamiliar concept for believers in Christ. But Pastor Scott went deeper and revealed that verses 3 through 5 actually offer us the “secret ingredients for success in life.” 

In fact, he said the verses are “strategic” not only in regard to how we conduct ourselves relationally, but also in the sense that they show the way toward the best long-term, even eternal, outcomes resulting from our relationships with others.

And even though the word doesn’t appear in the passage, Pastor Scott focused intensely on the idea of “honor” as a key action.

For instance, verse 3 reads “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Carrying out those instructions means treating others as special. Interestingly, Paul isn’t specific about WHO he means by “others” — which signals that he means EVERYBODY. And that potentially opens up a can of worms, wouldn’t you say? Or at least a big challenge! Because we all have folks in our lives we’d prefer not to treat as special. People we’d rather not honor, for a variety of reasons. 

Pastor Scott’s illustration of demonstrating honor toward a police officer who tells pedestrians when they can and cannot cross the street was a great example of this idea. In other words, we don’t personally know the officer, but we show honor to the officer by virtue of the position the officer holds, and we therefore do as we’re instructed. Indeed, Pastor Scott emphasized that we can honor those we don’t necessarily respect since they haven’t necessarily earned it — and we do so by simply choosing to give that honor in humility. And such an action shows more about us than about those we honor. (Practical point: Pastor Scott also emphasized that the command for children to honor their parents appears frequently in Scripture, which tells us that learning to honor others starts when we’re young and in the home.)

Verse 4 tells us, “let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Pastor Scott called attention to numerous examples Jesus set for us, as well as his teachings, that amplify this verse: Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, allowing the little children to come to him. The idea of doing more than what’s expected of us. 

Jesus also is well-known for doing the unexpected, such as the time at the end of Luke 7 when a “sinful woman” did the unthinkable: She entered a Pharisee’s house where Jesus was eating and made a scene! She “brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

So, how would you react if you were in Jesus’ position? You’d probably feel a little embarrassed, a bit put on the spot, and maybe you’d hope it would end quickly so everyone could just forget it ever happened. But that’s not who Jesus is. And he doesn’t let the moment slip away. In fact, he chides the Pharisee for ordering the woman gone from his house and instead shows compassion to her, and even tells her that her sins are forgiven. Talk about turning a situation on its head! But again, that’s who Jesus is, and that’s what he keeps doing, even today, in all of our lives.

Finally in verse 5 we have Paul telling us to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …” Remember the idea of “mindset” from our previous study regarding the earlier verses in chapter 2? It’s the same idea here, and it means having a mindset that’s based in a good attitude. It means taking everything Paul has just told his church to do, and sealing it inside us as a way of life. A daily goal.

It means doing away with grumbling, complaining, arguing. It means bringing joy into the room. And it all starts with showing honor to others and undergirding that effort with humility.

And let’s not forget that God showed honor to us first! How? Pastor Scott reminded us that the Lord created us in his own image, redeemed us, and adopted us into his family. He honored us even though we don’t deserve to be honored. God made a choice, a decision despite the fact that we are sinners. Christ died for us and rose again to save us from our sins, giving us an open door to eternal life — and all we have to do is accept the gift he’s offering. We haven’t earned God’s honor and never will; no “transaction” is possible, as we saw in last week’s study.

So wouldn’t you say that, in addition to honoring others and putting others first, we also should obey the command to honor God as well by how we relate to him and how conduct our lives? Let us this week look for ways we can carry out the instructions in verses 3 through 5, not only in regard to relationships with others but also in regard to our relationships with the Lord.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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In our study this past Sunday of Philippians 2:2, it was important to look back at our previous study of verse 1 — because verse 2 and verse 1 are connected.

Verse 1 reads, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…”

Remember that the word “so” — the very first word of verse 1 — indicates a reaction to Paul’s previous teaching that we’re all soldiers on a mission, marching and moving forward while engaged in conflict, both spiritually and sometimes even physically. 

And in order to successfully engage in such a mission, our emotional health needs to be optimal — and with that Paul notes in verse 1 that we are strengthened deep down by the Lord (and each other) through “encouragement in Christ” as well as “comfort from love,” “participation in the Spirit,” and “affection and sympathy.”

Which brings us to verse 2 — part of the same sentence — in which Paul continues by saying “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

Verse 2 is the “then” part of an “if-then” proposition. It’s Paul’s charge, his “marching orders,” if you will.

In other words, once you’ve filled up at God’s “spiritual gas station” with all the gifts Christ bestows upon his beloved children (verse 1) — then demonstrate your renewed strength by being united with other believers as you go forth (verse 2).

Our world and our nation — and even the church itself — is quite divided today. It seems people are primed and ready to argue, fight, and tear each other down at every opportunity. How can Christians fix this amid even a divided church? By following Paul’s specific instructions: “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” And we can start doing so right here at Calvary Chapel Living Hope!

As Pastor Scott said, when we’re all invested in the same mission, big things happen. So maybe if we’re all of one accord at our church in central New Jersey, that mindset will spread to other churches — and then watch out!

So how do we get there?

Pastor Scott broke down the words in verse 2 to show us how — and they all come down to the importance of developing deep, meaningful relationships. As we’ve seen in previous studies, we know we can’t optimally live the Christian life by ourselves. We need each other. The idea from a previous study of us standing side by side in a long line with our arms linked is a powerful image of strength. Think about that picture for a second: How much fear do you imagine yourself feeling with your arms linked in a line with fellow believers? Seems the answer is zero. That kind of unity is galvanizing and confidence inspiring. And it seems that’s exactly what the Lord had in mind when he inspired Paul to compose verse 2.

And Pastor Scott broke down the verse by describing four words that get deeper into the idea of unity.

The first is “same mind,” which in Greek is rendered as “phraneo” — and it’s all about bringing emotions and beliefs together. The result becomes our core belief — our “mindset” as we pursue the same mission.

The second is “same love” — and this particular rendering in the Greek is the familiar “agape” type of love or supernatural love. The love of God. (How interesting that the Greeks didn’t have one word for love as we do in English; no, they broadened it with multiple words describing love — and “agape” is the highest form.) And to bolster our unity, we must strive to give each other the “agape” love that the Lord freely gives to us. But it isn’t easy, is it? Agape love requires sacrifice. It requires an attitude of giving without expecting anything in return. When God gave us his only son, Jesus, the Lord knew we would never be able to repay him. But that’s the idea around salvation, isn’t it? There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love, his forgiveness, his mercy. It’s not a transaction we’re so used to making day to day here in our consumer-driven world. No, instead it’s’s a one-way offer of love we can either accept or reject. A gift. And the more our mindsets are focused on living and loving as sacrificially as possible, the more successful our mission will be.

The third term — “full accord” — is all about being united as we walk together in faith. Not unlike the previous image of standing in a line together with our arms linked, Pastor Scott offered an equally powerful image of being “yoked” as oxen are. It can impede a mission if the we’re yoked and going in different directions — not much progress forward is possible. But Pastor Scott noted that if we’re all following Jesus, the direction forward is guaranteed: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

Finally we come back around to the words “one mind” at the end of verse 2 as we saw in the beginning of the verse. Pastor Scott emphasized that the repeated theme is meant to get us focused again on going in the same direction. He added another great illustration, too: An orchestra getting tuned up. Anyone who’s ever witnessed classical musicians in concert knows that before they actually play a song together, they’re playing individually amid cacophony. No unity, no beauty. But once they tune up, the music they make together sounds amazing. 

May we move forward together as one body, having one mind, and one mission — and begin by individually deciding to take part in the heavenly orchestra and by tuning to the same note. To link arms in one long line. To be yoked to Jesus as he leads us onward as we live life 100 percent for the purpose he has for us.

Then get ready for big things to happen.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Pastor Scott delivered some compelling illustrations on Sunday to amplify the continuation of our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

The first was the idea of baggage. You know what a pain baggage can be every time you carry multiple duffle bags, storage bags, suitcases, and other objects to an airport — and what a feeling of relief you get when you finally set them down. Now imagine carrying around a ton of baggage in your life all day, every day. Pastor Scott pointed here to the idea of emotional baggage — results of past trauma, abandonment, abuse — that can keep us from optimal emotional health. Now imagine the feeling of setting such baggage down … finally.

Pastor Scott also offered a great (and humorous) illustration of a spiritual “gas station” — a place where all of us need to continually go to “fill up” with God’s grace. The funny part (that has a serious side) was his question to all of us: “How long do you wait when you’re running low on gas to fill your tank back up?” And the truth is, most of us wait until we’re almost empty — even when the light flashes on that we’re almost out. That may be fine (albeit stressful at times) when we’re operating an actual car … but when it comes to our spiritual lives, Pastor Scott asked us how long we all wait to seek the Lord’s grace and power and covering. Is it when we’re running on empty? When it’s more likely we’ll make bad decisions in a state of spiritual exhaustion? Or will we get filled up frequently?

His illustrations were all connected to the themes found in verse 1 of Philippians chapter 2: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…”

The word “so” — the very first word of the verse — indicates a reaction to Paul’s past instructions to his brothers and sisters in the church at Philippi, which described to them the idea that they (and we) are soldiers on a mission, marching and moving forward while engaged in conflict, both spiritually and sometimes even physically.

And in order to engage successfully in such a mission, our emotional health needs to be optimal, doesn’t it?

At this point Pastor Scott shared 5 ancient Greek words from the verse 1 that give a glimpse into what’s necessary to get that emotional health from the Lord.

The first word — “paragoleto” — is the idea of calling someone to come alongside you and help you. Of course, we can always call on Jesus to be with us and help us in times of need, but the Lord also gifted us with fellow Christians who can end up being his hands and feet for us — and as we’ve seen in previous studies, God designed his church to be just that: a body of believers working together and standing side by side, even amid the chaos of life.

The second word — “parmutheon” — is the idea of consoling others with our words and actions; asking “how can I help you?” Pretty self explanatory, as it goes without saying that such a call of duty must be part of our lives with fellow believers.

Then there’s “koinonia” — the idea of fellowship in the same spirit with other believers. But Pastor Scott said it can go much deeper than that. It can be the idea of getting alone with the Lord and asking him, “God, please fill me up.” It was here that Pastor Scott ramped up the idea of carrying emotional baggage — even to the point where it can become part of someone’s identity. And I believe his most compelling point was his commentary on Jesus’ question to a sick person: “Do you want to be well?” How interesting. On first glance, we see such a question, and it sounds like a no-brainer: Of course someone who’s sick wants to be well! But Pastor Scott noted that when we examine the subject in a deeper way, being unwell in one way or another can become part of our identities that we may have a hard time letting go of. It can even be attractive or enabling in some ways because of how others respond to us in our sickness. We’re used to the discomfort. We’re used to the baggage. We’re used to the constant weight we carry around needlessly. And then it can get scary when such oppressions are lifted from us: Now what do we do? Change, even positive change, comes with risk and uncertainty. May the Lord work on all of us who are struggling in that way!

The fourth term is “splonkna,” which Pastor Scott said means “from my gut.” Something we feel deep down. It’s the Greek word translated to “affection” in verse 1. The idea that God loves us and is just waiting to throw his arms around us in compassion. In Mark 1:40-41, a leper said to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.” With that, Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.'” Pastor Scott connected such compassion to the Lord beckoning us to his spiritual gas station: “Come to this pump over here. I want to help you be stronger.” He also noted the widow in Luke 7 who also lost her son and was grieving — and the idea that we can rely on the Lord’s compassion so we don’t have to grieve alone.

However, Pastor Scott also pointed out that the hurt we feel as a response to pain can become baggage if we deal with it unproductively. And that can spell trouble for us emotionally over time, which is something we don’t want in our lives.

Finally there’s the word “oiteirmoi,” which is the idea of grace and mercy. We can always come to God and say, “I feel inadequate today, Lord. Please give me your grace.” And indeed, Scripture says the Lord’s “mercies are new every morning.” So why don’t we take advantage of that? Let’s deal with the baggage we’re carrying and fill up on God’s grace and mercy every day, every hour, every minute. Or else it will be much more difficult for us this side of heaven and perhaps greatly hinder the effectiveness of our relationships here and now.

Do you have emotional baggage strapped to your shoulders, in your hands, and under your arms as you wobble down life’s path? Is your spiritual gasoline down to the “E” with the red light on? May the Lord help all of us to set down the baggage and fill up with his grace, mercy, and power each and every day.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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It’s not easy to take a stand for Christ when others pressure us to sit down and keep quiet. But fortunately the Apostle Paul has a solution for us in the final four verses of Philippians chapter 1.

As Pastor Scott pointed out Sunday, Paul offers four principles — or pillars — that hold us up in a sturdy way as we step out and up for Jesus in all circumstances. It’s instructive also to notice that Paul in verses 27 through 30 uses terminology that reflects soldiers in the heat of battle: opponents, destruction, conflict. Certainly we’re not wearing uniforms and carrying real weapons as we contend for the gospel, but Pastor Scott noted it sure can feel that way sometimes — which is why we need to know how to equip ourselves to successfully stand.

First of all, we must maintain a clear FOCUS. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” Paul writes in verse 27. The key words here are “manner of life.” It’s an all-encompassing phrase reflecting how wide and deep and far Christ can go in our lives — if we let him. And it challenges us to live up to the words we speak about Jesus. Do things in our lives match up with Christ’s message? It’s a question we must continually ask ourselves — a constant self-check and FOCUS — because others are watching us and asking that same question.

Secondly, we must BE PART OF A TEAM. Christianity isn’t a solo sport, ideally, and Paul knows this. He tells the Philippians that he wants them “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Think about it: If you’re facing a really difficult, hard, scary situation, what would you prefer — standing in front of it alone … or with fellow believers in a big line right next to you? No contest, right? Pastor Scott offered an eye-opening illustration about how redwood trees grow hundreds of feet tall yet with very shallow root systems. Standing alone these trees would get knocked over by strong winds — except that their roots grow OUTWARD and join the roots of fellow redwoods, forming an incredibly strong base upon which they can stand up against almost anything. Few things are more inspiring or confidence instilling than being with a bunch of brothers and sisters engaged in the same battle — in fact, joined at the hip with the same root system. Going it alone? That’s for the birds!

Third, we must not be frightened by those who stand against us and against the gospel. We must BE COURAGEOUS! Why? Well, A LOT of people don’t like the gospel message. It’s offensive. It tells people they are sinners who need saving. For that reason, maybe they’ll ridicule you, put you down, and laugh at you. Such treatment is hard for some Christians to take. The easier route is to fit in to what society deems acceptable and “cool.” And as we’ve seen over and over again, the world generally is not kind to Christianity or Christians. Jesus, as we know, predicted such treatment — and he experienced the worst of it. Have you ever noticed that folks can bring up pretty much any other religion or religious figure in conversation without much of an issue — but when Jesus is mentioned, sparks fly? Why is that? No matter what language is spoken, there’s power in Jesus name — and authority — even 2,000 years since he departed this world in bodily form. And folks either embrace or bristle at his name. The question is, do we have the courage to speak his name to others? 

Finally, in order to successfully stand even when others want us to sit down, we must RECEIVE THE GIFT. What gift? Well, Paul uses the phrase “it has been granted to you” — an act of grace toward us — and then continues saying “that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (verse 29) So how is suffering for the sake of Jesus a gift? It’s a great question, and the answer is that while no one relishes the idea of suffering — in fact, if we’re living life correctly, we do plenty of things to PREVENT suffering! However, amid our collective existence on a broken planet, suffering inevitably will come our way in one form or another, no matter how diligently we strive to prevent it. And for Christians, when suffering happens, the Lord uses it as part of a refining process. As Pastor Scott pointed out, we can’t really learn patience until we’re faced with a person who tries our patience. And it’s a learning process. It takes time and walking through it before we emerge on the other side a different person. And also, experiencing suffering provides windows to our hearts and souls through which others will see how we respond to difficulties, pain, and loss. Not that we have to pretend or act like we’re happy when there’s good reason for sadness, not at all. But others’ faith in Christ — or interest in him — can be increased if they see we’re handling suffering honestly with Jesus in the center of it.

Summing things up in verse 30, Paul says our job is to be engaged in the same conflict he’s endured. And Paul faced down a LOT of conflict for the sake of Christ. A lot of ridicule. A lot of suffering. Indeed, it takes FOCUS and COURAGE to walk the path Paul took. But it can be more successfully navigated when we’re part of a TEAM that engages with the battle at hand and thrives amid receiving the GIFT that comes through suffering for Christ. That’s how we move forward, and that’s how we grow. 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Did you know there’s a secret ingredient to staying emotionally healthy?

Paul describes it in the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians, and it was the main thrust of our study of verses 20 through 26 on Sunday.
“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” Paul tells his brothers and sisters.

As we know, the apostle is very much in danger of execution. In the very moment he pens his letter, he’s under house arrest in Rome and could at any minute succumb to the axe by the emperor’s decree.

Like any of us, the possibility of death dials into focus what’s truly important to Paul, and he’s determined to live whatever number of days he has left on earth by honoring Jesus “whether by life or by death.” Whichever outcome is fine by him. There are advantages to both. If he lives, he will continue to preach the gospel and lead others to Christ; if he dies, he will be with the Lord for all eternity.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” he continues in verse 21. “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

The ultimate win-win. And as Paul embraces this truth, his emotional life follows suit and stabilizes. Pastor Scott expanded on this idea by describing to us our hearts as the place where our emotions dwell. One part of the heart contains the “desires of our heart” — our longings, hopes, and dreams. Another is where raw emotions dwell (happiness, sadness, anger, etc.). Yet another is how we react to circumstances and develop beliefs. But in the center of the heart is a space with a chair … and if we’ve invited Christ into our lives and let him guide us, he’s sitting in that chair and running our whole emotional show.

However, Jesus only sits there if we let him. He’s not a party crasher. He wants to be invited to sit in that center chair — and take center stage. And sometimes he’s not sitting there because we’ve squeezed him out when we give reign to ungodly desires and emotions, which typically lead to sinful behavior.

So, when Paul notes that he wants to honor Christ in his body, Pastor Scott said the idea is to magnify Jesus — to make him bigger. To have him sit in the center of our hearts.

One of the coolest parts of Pastor Scott’s sermon was his breakdown of another verb Paul uses in this passage: to depart (“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”) He explained that “depart” in ancient Greek can be viewed illustratively in a number of ways: A soldier leaving a camp and going off to the next place; the ropes holding a boat to a dock being released so it can sail away; a farmer removing the yoke of the oxen when their work is over. It’s quite the image. It signifies the end of work labor and movement toward something great.

If we’re believers in Jesus, like Paul we know where we’re headed when we die. And like Paul, we need to be about making a difference for Christ’s glory while we’re still walking on this planet. How do we do that? Well, Paul explains toward the end of the passage in verse 25: “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

For Paul, it is a joy to see his fellow believers grow in their faith. And he longs to be with his brothers and sisters in Philippi. It should be the same with us. We should be about devoting our time and energy and resources to others, believers and non-believers alike, and encouraging them toward Christ. And such actions naturally lead to joy. 

Pastor Scott also rightly pointed out that when we give too much time and attention to our difficult emotions, we become more self-focused. Life becomes all about me and my pain. But when we make the active decision to let Jesus sit on the throne in the middle of our hearts, our emotions can be in check, and we can become more useful to him.

Many people — even some Christians — live life mainly to be entertained until it ends, Pastor Scott added. So … how are you living your life today? May we all be locked in on our mission to magnify Christ in our bodies, place him on the thrones in our hearts, and devote ourselves to making a difference for him as we reach out to others.

Written by Dave Urbanski.

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Sadness is an emotion we all experience in this world, and it’s always as a response to the loss of something we value. Depending on the severity of the loss, our sadness can manifest itself as disappointment — and then all the way up to despair or even depression when we’re dealing with things like the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the loss of a job. 

In a deeper way, the degree of sadness we experience indicates what’s important to us in the moment. And in a practical way, as Pastor Scott noted, Christians in the midst of sadness need a plan to deal with it.

In the passage we studied Sunday in the first chapter of Philippians, we find Paul encouraging the church members in the midst of sadness over his imprisonment — which can naturally lead to doubt, despair, and anger. But he told them there is much to be joyful about. 

Yes, Paul wants to help them — and help all of us as well — get a change in perspective.

Verses 12 to 14: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

As Pastor Scott shared, Paul was living with the elite guards and soldiers of Rome during his house arrest — in fact, chained to them, shift by shift, 24/7. For most of us, that’s not an ideal way to live. But Paul sees this as a prime opportunity, and he probably spent most of his time with these guards sharing the gospel of Christ. Can you imagine? Those guards were a captive audience as much as Paul was a prisoner — and he turned what could’ve been a cause for disappointment, despair, and even depression into a cause for joy. Sure, he’s no longer traveling freely from city to city sharing Jesus, but because of his “new audience” there are converts to Christ in the imperial guard! And the impact they’re having on Roman leaders is profound.

It’s certainly an example of what happens, as Pastor Scott emphasized, when we hold on loosely to this life — and when we embrace the power and freedom and joy at our disposal that comes with setting our minds on “things above” (Colossians 3:2). Indeed Paul emphasized that “my imprisonment is for Christ.” It’s really the ultimate perspective of life itself for Christians, isn’t it? If our lives are “for Christ,” then the all the emotional bumps on the road are simply more opportunities to shine the light of the gospel.

Pastor Scott also emphasized another important point: All of the things that go into turning sadness to joy involve a DECISION to rejoice. It doesn’t just magically “happen.” But armed with knowledge and wisdom and examples from Scripture, part of our plan for dealing with sadness is recognizing that God’s in charge and then making a choice to put ourselves under the lordship of Christ, which will lead to joy.

Paul’s expectations had to change when he was under house arrest. And as Pastor Scott pointed out, when expectations change, often audiences change as well. It’s the same for all of us.

Another thing Paul rejoiced about was that his brothers in Christ grew bolder in their faith as a result of seeing him thrive in his imprisonment. It’s a testament to the fact that others are watching us and are affected spiritually by how we respond to adversity. And that can mean us delivering encouragement to other Christians by how well we surrender to the will of God.

Paul even refuses to be bitter over fellow preachers of the gospel who “proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” (v. 17) Wow! That takes some strength of emotion and steadfast decision-making on Paul’s part — but it all falls under him finding reasons to rejoice. In other words, these wayward preachers still might lead others to Jesus. And for Paul, that’s everything, so he puts away bitterness and finds a reason for joy in the salvation of others.

It all leads up to the final part of Sunday’s passage — Paul’s remarkable proclamation that “to live is Christ.” But before that point, we see he’s acknowledging the prayers of his fellow believers, which tap into the very power of God — and that he’s confident it will lead to his deliverance. However, it appears Paul doesn’t necessarily mean he’s confident he’ll be released from house arrest (although that certainly would be cause for much rejoicing). No, Paul realizes he’s already ULTIMATELY delivered. “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death,” he writes at the end of verse 20. 

If Paul lives, his life is about Jesus; if he dies, he’s with Jesus in the deepest way possible: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (v. 21) Talk about the ultimate win-win.

Some of us have nonbelievers in our lives who seem very happy — and maybe it’s genuine. But as Pastor Scott pointed out, every nonbeliever experiences spiritual depression in some way or another without realizing it because their sin is not addressed by turning over their lives to Jesus in repentance — and they’re not maximizing their joy. But Pastor Scott also noted that even Christians can experience spiritual depression because they’re still tied in some way to the things of this world, and far too often Jesus is not primary.

Are there things in our lives that we’re grasping hold of too tightly? That we’re placing too much importance on? That have become, in a sense, “gods” to us? That block us from experiencing Jesus as completely as possible? Paul made his decision. Even his imprisonment was for Christ, and he turned it into an evangelism extravaganza. Amazing! But what about us? What have we decided? What do we value, ultimately?

May the answers to those questions lead us to a place where we’re living completely for Christ and maximizing our joy.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we make our way through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we found ourselves on Sunday observing the apostle and evangelist right in the middle of a big case of “the feels.”

But the emotions Paul wrote about in verses 7 through 11 aren’t exactly like the feelings the world loves to elevate. In fact, they’re quite different and deeper — because what exists in the heart of the Christian has its roots in the love of Jesus.

Pastor Scott talked a lot about our hearts on Sunday. Not our physical pumping stations in the middle of our chests, but our eternal hearts that hold who and what we love. And in verse 7 Paul notes his deep love for the Philippians: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace.”

Indeed, the main thing we all share as believers in Jesus is our salvation by his grace through faith — and Pastor Scott described the relationship we have with one another as us literally sitting around a big table and in a sense “eating” or “ingesting” grace. Sharing. Encouraging. Fellowshipping. Christ’s grace abounds, and there’s more than enough for all of us. And more than that, we’re not dining alone. No, we’re built for community, and we as the body of Christ get to go through this life in good times and in bad with other dinner guests at the Lord’s table. And we will feast forever — and without charge. An amazing picture.

But how does Paul — now imprisoned — feel such a connection to fellow believers in Jesus when he’s so often alone? As Pastor Scott pointed out, Paul learned that one key to being not just emotionally stable, but also spiritually and mentally well, is what we’ve chosen to place in our hearts. Certainly Paul could have been angry, sad, or anxious about his plight, but he holds the church in Philippi in his heart, and that is one important balm for his difficulties. And it’s certainly indicative of intense emotions, as verse 8 notes: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Paul describes another aspect of love in verse 9 when he tells the church, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” How interesting! Pastor Scott noted that the love Paul describes in this verse is none other than the agape love that God literally has for us — and at the center of it is what many might call rather non-emotional elements: Knowledge and discernment. But make no mistake: Our love must have both for it to be effective.

Pastor Scott offered a great reminder that increasingly in our world today folks possess a serious misunderstanding when they often declare, “My experience determines what’s true — for me.” But God’s love is absolute. And so is his truth. It’s true for me, for you, for everyone, yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore love in such instances means telling folks the truth, loving them enough to communicate to them that there is only one truth — and that’s found in Christ.
So it should come as no surprise that the love behind knowledge and discernment has nothing to do with gooey, gaga-eyed love that makes our hearts race, leap, and go pitter patter. It’s the love that will keep us in check, for instance, if there are things in our lives that are displeasing to God — and help us get rid of them.

Another cool bit of imagery Pastor Scott shared is the idea of the Lord’s agape love “abounding” — that there’s so much of it at the ready that it will spill over from our hearts to others. Abundance. Overflowing. We’re not love providers, just creations blessed enough to take part in sharing what God has freely given us so that we can freely give it to others. Exactly like the disciples amid Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000. They first distributed the loaves and fish — and then came back with a dozen baskets of leftover food. Abundance. Overflowing. More than enough for everyone. That’s Christ’s agape love for us!

This week may we be patient and kind with people and then see what the Lord does in our hearts. May we venture out and practice the “distribution” of the Lord’s overflowing love, and in the process may we undergo God’s refinement as we use our knowledge and discernment to approve of what is excellent so that we may be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11)

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Did you grow up amid a “family business”?

When you think about it, most small businesses (and even big businesses) have their foundations in family. When one person starts a business and has a family, often sons and daughters and other relatives get involved and work for the family business. And it’s no surprise why: The owner of a family business can count on employees who are relatives to be particularly loyal, hard working, and in possession of a bigger vision than run-of-the-mill employees.

That’s because when you’re in the family — and the family business does well — you and every other family member benefits.

It was much the same for Jesus on earth. Growing up the son of a carpenter, Jesus most definitely learned his family’s business and helped his earthly father, Joseph, to succeed for the benefit of his earthly parents and siblings. But Jesus also was about the business of another family — the family of his Heavenly Father — which was about the spread of the gospel that would become the salvation of the world.

And just as it was for Jesus being about his father’s business, we believers in Jesus also must be about our savior’s business while we walk this planet. Some of us are students, others are employees, and still others are in charge of family businesses. But those statuses are secondary to our true vocation: Workers in our eternal family’s business established by Jesus Christ.

Pastor Scott offered us a great tip in this regard from John 5 after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and was then accused of wrongdoing. Jesus’ response? “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” In other words, if we put our efforts into what we can see God already doing, we will have success. Indeed, that’s part of where the excitement of the Christian life dwells.

And what kind of workers are we in God’s “family business”? Well, Pastor Scott defined our vocations as “distributors of the gospel” — the Good News. We don’t “convert” anybody. We have no power to make anyone believe Jesus is the Son of God. No, all that power belongs to the Lord alone. All we have to do is plant the seeds of the gospel so that those who ARE ready to receive the words of life can do so and believe.

But have you noticed that despite our very limited responsibility here, being a “distributor” of the gospel is far from an easy task! Sharing the gospel with others can be HARD! Personal sin and needing an eternal savior is not something most folks are ready to hear — or want to hear. Evangelism is not viewed by non-Christians as a good thing. Christians who spread the word of Christ often are viewed as “holier than thou,” “close minded,” “judgmental,” and even “hateful” — hateful that we believe the words of Jesus, who made it clear that he is the only way to heaven. No other belief, no matter how sincere, will cut it. (Not the basis for winning popularity contests, is it?)

So while God is ultimately the one who changes folks’ hearts, the Lord wants to bring us along in partnership and speak his words to others so that they might believe. And no, it’s not an easy job — but man, what an exciting and adventurous job it can be! Think about it: Carve out some free time in your day and then ask God to lead you to others he wants to hear the gospel — and watch what happens. I know from personal experience that such a prayer is the world championship winner of affirmative answers from the Lord. And where will that lead you some random afternoon? Only the Lord knows! Perhaps it will end in conversations that never get off the ground because folks you meet aren’t interested in Jesus — but maybe you run into one person who is ready. And wow — such an encounter will be life changing, not only for the hearer, but also for you. That’s part of what an adventurous Christian life can be!

We know from last week’s opening study of Philippians that it was like that for Paul in his evangelistic efforts. Every encounter for him — Lydia, the jailor — was an opportunity to spread the gospel. 

And this past Sunday, we saw a bit more of Paul’s heart in verses 3 to 6: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Here we see three attitudes that make our family business more effective: Thankfulness, joyfulness, and confidence.

Paul in this passage talks about remembering — and Pastor Scott reminded us that our memories may not so pleasant and create problems for us in the here and now. They can make us angry, sad, and anxious depending on what kinds of negative things we’ve gone through. But Paul had what Pastor Scott called a “selective memory.” Paul certainly had some painful memories of his own to deal with, but still he made a decision to thank God amid his memories. Thankfulness and gratitude, as we’ve been learning, are key processes on the way toward spiritual health. Paul CHOSE to remember thankfulness and gratitude; and only the Lord knows how many things we could name on a gratitude list if we placed pen to paper. (Speaking of — what’s stopping you from making that list right now?)

Paul follows that with the second crucial attitude: Joyfulness. As we were reminded of last week, joy is much deeper than happiness because joy can happen no matter how difficult our present circumstances are. Let us, therefore, focus on joy as we express our gratitude for how much the Lord has given us.
Third up is confidence. There’s nothing wrong with having confidence in yourself — but watch out! If you become too “successful” in the process, you might begin to think, “What’s the point of God when I can do it all on my own?” And of course, none of us can go through life that way. Instead we must learn the humility of getting out of the way and letting Christ’s light shine. But Paul was confident solely in the Lord: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Such an attitude produces hope — the idea that none of us are “done” while living on earth. Yet God knows all of this is working within us and will give us opportunities to grow.

Pastor Scott also pointed out the “God factor” in each of the three attitudes (thankfulness, joyfulness, confidence). Each is based in what the Lord can do through us. So if you’re discouraged today about anything falling under this umbrella (finances, work, etc.) then we must always come back to the idea that each of us is in possession of a partnership in the gospel with the Lord. And then when we get together as a church body — watch out! When we’re actually being the church, great things can happen. The kind of genuine “real church” stuff that leads to growth and service and actually being the people of God.

Who doesn’t know Ephesians 2:10? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” That potential block of free time you can spend spreading the gospel. How great is it that the Lord already knows about “your idea” and is setting up every encounter for you in advance! 

Indeed, God is at work — and all we must do as workers in his “family business” is follow his lead.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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We began a brand-new study of a book of the Bible on Sunday, and Pastor Scott gave us some compelling background that led to Paul writing his letter to the Philippians.

And that background starts in the book of Acts, which offers us so much history of the early church. In chapter 16, we encounter the story of Paul arriving in Philippi amid his second missionary journey. Interestingly Paul and his companions experienced a lot of doors shutting in their faces prior to arriving in Philippi — even the Lord not allowing them to speak the gospel in certain places. Why did that happen? Why wouldn’t God want a city to be evangelized? Well, of course we know he does — but timing and circumstances also play a role in how God’s plan works, and clearly the Lord had something else in mind for Paul & Co., who just needed to obey.

The answer in this case came through a vision Paul received in the night — a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And it’s in Philippi, a major city in Macedonia, where Paul learns about family ministry. Indeed, the first time Paul uses the word “household” is his writings is in his letter to the Philippians! There he encounters Lydia, a religious woman who doesn’t have Jesus — but through Paul’s witness she becomes a Christian … and her entire household does as well, after which Paul is invited to stay with her family.

Things get tough, though, for Paul after he exorcizes a demon out of slave girl whose practice of divination had been bringing money to her owners. With that Paul and Silas are beaten and flogged and thrown into jail, their feet placed in stocks in the innermost part of the facility to ensure they won’t escape. But they are not the inmates anyone was expecting. Rather than grumbling and complaining about their circumstances, Paul and Silas begin praying and singing praises to God while behind bars. Everyone was listening. Can you imagine? And with that, an earthquake hits, and the cells open, and prisoners’ bonds were broken. As Pastor Scott said, a crisis has come into the jailer’s life. His world was shaken, literally and figuratively. He knew that escaping prisoners meant his execution, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul had a different idea, and hollered to the jailer: “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” But the jailer was still afraid and fell down before Paul and Silas before asking them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”That’s how quickly people can come to the end of themselves. Like a flash of lightning; a clear moment when we realize we cannot go on without God. And Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Again … “household.” More family ministry! So they “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” What a gift!

As Pastor Scott reminded us, our salvation doesn’t depend on our own good works or performance or anything else but what Jesus did for us on the cross. All we need to “do” is believe in him. More than that, the magistrates apparently had enough of earthquakes in connection with Paul and Silas and ordered their release. But Paul wasn’t satisfied — he wanted an apology for their unjust treatment  … and got one before they left Philippi. Fast forward 11 years, and Paul is under house arrest in Rome. And it’s here that he writes his letter to the church in Philippi, whose members are afraid of what may happen with Paul now in chains. What will become of him? Will he be killed? They’re sad, anxious, and angry. So Paul addresses those emotions in the letter to the Philippians.

Pastor Scott emphasized the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is different — it is not dependent on circumstances, which means joy can be experienced in the worst of times. So crucial to our well-being, Paul uses the word “joy” 16 times in the epistle’s 104 verses! 
In addition, Paul address his letter to all the “saints” in the church — and as we know, that term has been misused forever as a way of describing someone who does good things … or doesn’t do bad things. But Pastor Scott underscored that all Christians are saints. And again, our sainthood isn’t dependent on our personal righteousness. God chooses to look at us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness, which is perfect.

Pastor Scott also told us that the letter to the Philippians is the only one in the Bible that names church leaders — overseerers and deacons — in the opening salutation, which is an acknowledgment of the structure of a church. And in this case Pastor Scott said the idea of church leadership here seems to emphasize the Lord’s power in each of us through spiritual gifts we have to offer to the church.

Finally, we stopped at verse 2 of Philippians which offers us two crucial words to all of us: “Grace” and “peace.” Pastor Scott told us that the word “joy” we had just discussed actually is rooted in the word “grace” — and added that the word “grace” is manifested three ways in Scripture: saving grace, which we don’t earn; the grace of spiritual gifts that empower us to do ministry; and grace to endure trials … in the same way the Lord told Paul his grace is sufficient to deal with his thorn in the flesh. And for that reason we all can experience “joy” through the grace God provides for us. And concerning the word “peace,” Pastor Scott told us that it represents the “center” of where the Lord wants us. So that when hard things happen and anxiety hits, we can ask God to give us the “peace that passes all understanding.”

Bottom line, though: To experience grace and joy and peace, we must choose to do so. Therefore, choose wisely today! 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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We have come to the end of our study of Genesis. And chapter 50 may offer us the most robust set of truths we can apply to our lives that we’ve seen thus far in the first book of the Bible.

Pastor Scott kicked things off by noting that we all have the potential for allowing past negative experiences to rob us of a vital, joyful present. We typically react to such negative experiences by building a figurative wall around ourselves to protect us from future harm — it’s our safe zone. And even the idea of venturing outside or past that wall can result in anxiety — so we tend to stay put. But while we may avoid pain as a result, we also risk missing out of wonderful experiences and emotional, mental, and spiritual growth.

And that’s exactly what Joseph’s brothers were experiencing after their father Jacob died:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So, they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

The regret of Joseph’s brothers, and Joseph’s loving and forgiving reaction to them is the foundation for a number of principles we can adopt when we find ourselves in similar situations — whether those situations are similar to what Joseph’s brothers were experiencing or similar to what Joseph was experiencing.

#1 — Admit there might be a problem by taking responsibility and not blaming others.

#2 — If possible, go directly to the person or persons you’ve wronged and ask forgiveness.

#3 — Extend compassion to those who ask your forgiveness. Pastor Scott made an important connection between Joseph’s compassion and the compassion that Jesus shows throughout the Gospels — particularly Christ’s message to his disciples after his resurrection that he would send “the comforter” after his ascension into heaven (i.e., the Holy Spirit). How amazing that God’s intention for the Holy Spirit is to be a comforter for us! We certainly need that in our lives, don’t we?

#4 — In verse 18, Joseph’s brothers fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Pastor Scott offered us a valuable insight, saying that when we don’t deal with fears in our lives, they become our masters — our bosses. Instead, let us obey Jesus who over and over commands us to “fear not.” We may sometimes respond that we cannot help the emotion of fear, but so often it comes down a choice on our part — and we must ask the Lord to help us move into our fears and choose to deal with them. And he will!

#5 — In the same way that Joseph tells his brothers, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” we must acknowledge that whatever is causing us to fear in our lives cannot take the place of the Lord. However, over time it very well may control us to the point that’s a kind of god — a kind of idol — that we’re bowing down to. This may be Pastor Scott’s most hard-hitting and important warning for us. For when we see that our fears and anxieties are taking over and controlling what we do on a day-to-day basis, we know they have become “first” in our lives when God should be first in our lives. Let us ask the Lord to get rid of such idols and invite him back to the center of our hearts!

#6 — In verse 20, Joseph told his brothers to not be troubled even though they meant evil toward him many years ago, because the Lord was (and still is) in control — and turned it into something good. Pastor Scott reminded us that “The God Factor” is always our “ticket out” of regret, anxiety, bitterness, and hatred. He’s always on the throne of our lives, working through our decisions, both good and bad, and turning them into goodness in our lives.

#7 — Pastor Scott drew from verse 21 to give us our seventh and final principal: Joseph told his brothers, “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And then he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Indeed, the three points of action in this verse will keep us going in times of trouble: There’s nothing to fear since God is for us; God will provide for us, and the Lord will bring comfort to our hearts! Let us not be trapped by our pasts and instead move forward — and out of our comfort zones and into the adventurous, joyful lives God has for us


Written by Dave Urbanski

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We arrived at a poignant moment Sunday toward the end of our study about the life of Joseph when his father Jacob was about to die.

As we saw in the beginning of chapter 48, Joseph got the message that “your father is ill,” after which he took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to be with Jacob.

And from this moment until his death, Jacob indeed offered his loved ones “words to live by.”

First off, Jacob — who was energized by the encounter and suddenly sat his withering body up in bed — said “God Almighty” (the powerful reference to the Lord as “el Shaddai”) appeared to him, blessed him, and said the Lord would make his descendants fruitful and give them land as an “everlasting possession.” Then Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons.

It was quite a moment, as Pastor Scott explained, noting that Joseph was the eleventh out of a dozen sons of Jacob — and now Jacob is moving Joseph to the number 1 position and giving him a “double portion” of blessings.

What’s more, when Joseph brought his sons to Jacob so he could bless them, Jacob crossed his hands and gave the first blessing not to Manasseh, the older son, but to Ephraim, the younger son! Indeed, Joseph was upset by this outside-the-box breach of protocol, but Jacob knew what he was doing, saying that Manasseh “also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”

As Pastor Scott emphasized, Jacob’s nontraditional action reflects how God deals with us in sometimes nontraditional ways as well. Outside the box. Not what we — or anyone else — expects. And because of that, we can rejoice. In fact, we’re all the “Ephraim” and are blessed by the Lord who leapfrogs over men’s rules and traditions to give us what we don’t deserve (grace) that astounds us and everyone around us. All of which ultimately brings God more glory.

Jacob also saw the big picture as the breadth of his expiring life lay before him. Because as it happens, Jacob also was the younger son, as well as his father Isaac. God’s sovereignty and powerful, el Shaddai movement in the lives of people just like us was coming to fruition.

Another important moment happened when Jacob gathered his sons around him and gave them prophetic words of blessing — but also it was instructive because we saw that not every son would be living so well in the end. Case in point was Reuben, who — as we saw previously in Genesis — was guilty of sexual immorality. And because of it, Reuben would be hindered in receiving Jacob’s blessing. In the same way, Simeon and Levi — who slaughtered innocent people earlier in Genesis due to angry and vengeful spirits — also were hindered in receiving Jacob’s blessings.

But Judah, another brother who also behaved immorally earlier in Genesis — including coming up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery — managed to receive Jacob’s blessing because Judah later demonstrated a broken and contrite heart in the face of his sins. And it’s all a big hint for us: Because if we, too, are to receive God’s blessings, we must not let our sin get in the way. So, let us confess and be forgiven so we can move forward with the Lord!

Lastly, Jacob spoke to Joseph before he breathed his last and said, even though he would be dying soon “God will be with you.” As Pastor Scott noted, that had been the motto — the central theme, in fact — of Jacob’s life. And we certainly would benefit greatly if it became a central motto in our own lives!

Jesus already promised that he’s with us always, until the end of time. So, let us live like we know he is with us always. Let us lay hold of the abundant life God promised us. And not based on material things the Lord may give to us, but abundance in the sense of deep meaning and love and generosity toward others. Let’s let the Lord lead us like he is Our Shepherd, and we are his sheep. Let us trust God in such a way, knowing that whatever happens in our lives, it ultimately is well with our souls.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we continue looking at the life of Joseph, we find him dealing with the consequences of the famine that has swept over the land. The people were desperate. No food means no life. Pastor Scott made a keen connection to the fact that today we’re living through our own kind of famine — a spiritual famine. Thing is, there’s no lack of abundance in terms of the availability of God’s word, the Bible. Anyone can quickly access it, read if they want to … but fewer and fewer people are reading it as time goes by. 

And here’s some news that may (or may not) be a shocker: A recent study found that about 60% of people between the ages of 18 and 39 who consider themselves born-again Christians don’t believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. That’s scary. And that’s indicative of a culture that has been drawing in and negatively influencing the younger generations to the point where they’re tossing aside very basic, very standard Christian theology for beliefs that may feel good and are acceptable to the culture at-large, but ultimately are false.

Indeed, many of us — in the church even — are spiritually malnourished. How much emphasis are we placing on short-term cures that leave God out but ultimately leave us unsatisfied and unhealthy? Are we dining at a spiritual McDonald’s instead of “eating right” with the Lord’s commands in Scripture?
Another very crucial part of the famine story in Genesis 47 is the fact that the desperate Egyptians are giving everything they had to Joseph in exchange for food … their money, their livestock, their land, and even their lives. They became servants to Pharaoh so they could live another day. 

Interesting, isn’t it? When you’re hungry and thirsty and on death’s door, you’ll exchange ANYTHING in order to live. It ought to be the same way with regard to our relationships with Jesus. He wants EVERYTHING from us. Our time, our finances, our careers, our priorities. Everything. But more often than not, we put off giving Jesus everything in our lives because we’re not under the kind of stress one feels at the point of starvation! So we put it off. “I’ll be more committed to the Lord tomorrow,” we tell ourselves. 

But Pastor Scott really brought home the truth that this is one thing we cannot put off. And he challenged us to look into our own hearts and emotions for clues that we’re not where we need to be in our relationships with Jesus. Are we angrier than we ought to be? Are we way more anxious about things in our daily lives? If so, it likely means there are areas in our lives that we’re not giving over to God and letting him control; grain we’re keeping for ourselves in our own crumbling storehouses. Jesus told us that if we try to hang on to our life, we will lose it. And there is nothing on earth worth the price of our own souls. We must give everything over to the King.

Also, in verse 27 we see that amid the famine, Joseph’s father and brothers are thriving in the land that Joseph gave to them. Why is that? They submitted to Joseph and called upon him for help, and Joseph responded by giving them the best part of the land upon which to live and work. In the same way, as Christians we must be the subculture that lives differently than the rest of the world going in the wrong direction, submitting ourselves to the Lord’s direction and trusting in his guidance and plan for our lives. And indeed, by doing so we will avoid the pitfalls of our culture’s short-term pleasures and “solutions” and thrive through God’s power and provision.

Finally, we see Jacob reaching the end of his life and making Joseph swear that he’ll bury him in the land of his forefathers rather than in Egypt. And it’s, again, a reminder for all of us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners and just passing through. Jacob had a bigger picture of what God was doing — and we must have that same long-term view!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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In our study of Genesis 47 this past Sunday, Pastor Scott introduced us to a pair of crucial concepts we can put into practice immediately: The “wise appeal” and offering blessings to others no matter where we are in life.

As for the wise appeal, we see that Joseph has prepared his brothers to stand before Pharaoh, explain what they do, and what they need. And sure enough, Joseph’s wise preparation resulted in exactly what he said Pharaoh would provide: the best of the land of Goshen — and landing the plum assignment of watching over Pharaoh’s livestock while remaining separate from ungodly Egyptian culture.

The trick is that Joseph made sure each step of his brothers’ appeal to Pharaoh was planned in advance to get the best response from him. This isn’t slick or dishonest; but it is wise.

And all we have to do when it’s our turn to make our wise appeal to those in authority, whether they’re parents, teachers, or bosses, is implement three principles:

#1 — Tell the authority figure, “I understand you want me to because —” Our first goal is to prepare authority figures to hear from you by acknowledging their positions on issues you’re dealing with, to put them at ease, to help them feel like they are understood.

#2 — Tell the authority figure, “I have a problem with that because —” You then must respectfully express your desire. Joseph’s brothers were able to do that with Pharaoh, telling him they lacked pasture for their flocks.

#3 — Ask the authority figure, “So, could you please —” The key is to ask rather than demand, complain, badger, or harp on. It’s the best approach for receiving a positive response. And sure enough, Pharaoh lets Joseph’s family dwell in the land of Goshen.

The other aspect to Pastor Scott’s message was Jacob’s unusual gesture of blessing Pharaoh, the ultimate earthly power as far as the eye could see — and who is most definitely not used to being in such a position, especially from a man of Jacob’s background.

Thing is, though, Jacob realizes he has power that Pharaoh doesn’t by virtue of the fact that God has gone before him throughout is life, which still has been difficult at times. But that’s OK! Just as Jacob realized he had blessings to give despite his far-from-perfect past and broken state, so can we bless others even if lives sometimes have been an up-and-down experience.

We live in a broken world — but don’t let that stark truth deter you from blessing other people. Don’t let it keep you down or distract you from the goal to be a blessing to others who may need exactly what you can give to them today, right now.

Pastor Scott also pointed out Paul’s inspiring declaration in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So, death is at work in us, but life in you.

Indeed, our outer shells are nothing compared to what we have inside due to the power of Jesus. It’s nothing we’ve accomplished; it’s all what God has bestowed upon us. And all we have to do is let go of any doubts or hesitancies that Jesus’ power and love resides within us and allow the Lord to do the work in others through us.

And this idea goes far beyond mere salvation from hell and living eternally with God after we die. It’s about being an ongoing, continual blessing to others now. It’s our mission while we sojourn upon the earth. We all have something to offer, even if our external jars of clay are crumbling and decaying.

So, let us remember that our time together at church is a launching pad for work we’ve been called to do in the lives of others the rest of the week. And let us be ready to give away to others what the Lord freely gave to us, at any time and in any place.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we continued our study in the life of Joseph this past Sunday, we saw more high drama in Genesis 46 — and got some deep insights courtesy of Pastor Scott.

The center of the action is the first face-to-face meeting of Joseph and his father Jacob; the pair had not seen each other in many years — since Joseph was a teenager! In fact, Jacob figured Joseph was dead. But there his son was, in the flesh. And aside from the incredible joy Jacob must have felt was the amazing fact that his long-lost son was about to save him and his entire household.

One key point Pastor Scott noted is the relatively small number of people in Jacob’s household who make their journey to be in Joseph’s care — only 70. Yet from this tiny group over the course of four centuries would become the people of Israel and number 1 million. God sure was up to something!

Then after Joseph and Jacob finally meet and their tears were shed and their embraces were exchanged, Joseph reveals his plan to his brothers: They are to tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds and tend livestock — since shepherds are “an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Huh? That doesn’t seem like such a good thing, does it? But we must acknowledge that Joseph didn’t rise all the way to second in command in Egypt because he’s stupid, either! He has a plan. Joseph knows that when his brothers tell Pharaoh their occupations, it will result in them living in the land of Goshen — which Pastor Scott shared is in the delta of the Nile River. Literally the very best land for crops, and his family will get to live there. The very best of life for them!

And we can also see it’s the beginning of God “setting his people apart.” The Lord doesn’t want Joseph’s family to get too close to Egyptian culture, for the Egyptians do not know the one true God and — like many in the known world at the time — they worshiped every “god” that came down the pike. No, Joseph’s family — the future Israelites — would be set apart.

As Pastor Scott noted, this is where things come into focus for us as we meet the challenge of being “in the world but not of it.” It’s all a matter of how we balance “separation” (pulling away with other believers in church for a time to gain strength and insight for the daily struggles the world throws at us) and “assimilation” (living out our faith where others can see us and be influenced by us).

The rub, of course, is that it can be a tricky balance, and none of us navigate it perfectly. Sometimes we pull away from the world too much and default to “church things” during the week and avoid our interactions with non-Christians to the point that we become anemic witnesses. Then if we assimilate into the world too much, we can adopt way too many of the world’s perspectives that we’re actually compromising on a regular basis — perhaps even to the point that if we were placed on trial for being Christians, a judge and jury couldn’t convict us for lack of evidence.

A difficult balance, indeed.

One of the remedies Pastor Scott suggested that really stood out was that rather than simply improvising this difficult balancing act “as it comes up,” instead — like Joseph — we should figure out a plan. Pastor Scott’s football analogy really hit home, because that’s literally what good offensive squads do: They huddle up before the play, agree on it, and each member of the team knows exactly what needs to be done. Everybody has a special role; and the play works a lot better if each member of the team executes his job. Surely not easy — because nobody’s perfect — but when a football play is executed perfectly, it’s difficult to stop.

In the same way, Pastor Scott added that we practice the craft of taking a breath in (as we huddle together in church) and then exhaling (executing our play as we take on the world and reach non-believers whom God has placed in our lives).

We need to balance both — the separation and the assimilation — as we daily fulfill God’s special mission for us as individuals, and as a church body.

But remember: If we’re fulfilling our individual and collective missions from the Lord in the way he’s called us to carry them out, we’re going to run into trouble. Jesus said the world would hate us for sharing the gospel, which is an offense to the world. (No one enjoys being told they’re sinners and they don’t measure up to God’s ultimate standard.) And sure, it’s no fun to be the object of scorn even if we’re kindly and respectfully sharing the Christian faith — but we can take comfort in that even if we’re scorned and demeaned, the Lord is planting seeds. Nothing is wasted as he works out all our actions — just as he worked out all the actions (even the wrong ones) of Abraham and his descendants — for his good and miraculous purposes.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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How can we cope with and most effectively experience life in a chaotic world? We live in tumultuous times: a pandemic that just doesn’t seem to quit, isolation and despair and death surrounding it — to say nothing about the deepening divide between American citizens as more and more of us turn to alcohol, drugs, violence, and suicide as outlets. 

“Self-defeating activities,” Pastor Scott called them during our Sunday study together.

Of course, the answer is Jesus — always! But as Pastor Scott also noted, such a seemingly “simplistic” solution isn’t always going to be received well by others who are in deep need, especially if they don’t have Jesus in their lives.

So how can we help them? And how can we help our fellow brothers and sisters — and yes, even ourselves? The answer again is Jesus — but by going deeper into Jesus for those in deep need.

And one of the ways we can go deeper is again by looking at our continuing journey in the life of Joseph. Because as we’ve already seen a number of times, many circumstances in Joseph’s life parallel events in Jesus’ life. In a very powerful way, Joseph truly points to Christ’s future arrival in Israel.

In Genesis 46, we saw that Jacob, the father of Joseph, is processing the news that his son — whom he long since believed was dead — is alive! What’s more, Jacob is going to move his entire family to Egypt to be with Joseph — and at a time when Jacob was well beyond years that folks typically make such a life-changing sojourn.

But the Lord, once again, comes through — and speaks to Jacob in a dream, saying “‘Jacob, Jacob.’ And [Jacob] said, ‘Here I am.’ Then [the Lord] said, ‘I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.’”

Wow! We see Jacob’s unhesitant obedience to God, answering “here I am” — indeed, a lesson for all of us to be ready whenever God speaks to our hearts. And we again see a parallel with Christ, who told his disciples after his resurrection, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

That’s the key to dealing with the chaos in our world. Throughout his life, Jacob has literally “practiced the presence of God” — operating as much as he could with the Lord foremost in his mind. And because of that Jacob readily obeys God in this latest communique and is in a prime position to live out the Lord’s amazing commands to him, even near the end of his life. In the same way, Jesus’ disciples were bolstered not only be seeing him alive after he had been executed — parallels again with Joseph — but also by Christ’s promise that he would be with them always. Talk about a boost of confidence!

Therefore, it’s imperative that each of us keep our connections with God strong and vibrant. We ought to “practice” the Lord’s presence in our lives. If you’re a Christian, you became one in an instant when you believed in Jesus for the first time; but trust is a daily task in aftermath of that wondrous moment of belief. It’s something we learn over time, even despite missteps and failures. 

Acting out that belief that Jesus is always with us amid our chaotic world is important for another reason that Pastor Scott shared: Each believer in Christ has a unique mission, and each of us must try our best to fulfill it. Sometimes that takes courage as we look into the face of uncertainty and fear, particularly in these challenging times. And that’s why we must lean on the truth that Jesus is with us through it all — and already knows the outcome!

When we’re in God’s presence, we have order despite chaos, we have joy despite disappointment — and his “being there with us” makes all the difference. And it goes beyond the truth that God is everywhere — because it’s an active choice to enter into his presence. It’s a different experience. And again, it’s something we must choose to do on a daily basis.

So, don’t be content with living on the outskirts of God’s house when he’s long since prepared a place for you inside it and is waiting on you to finally answer his invitation to enter! Go beyond your mere status as a Christian — and live like a child of God who knows deep down that the Creator is with you always.

Indeed, as our own church’s motto declares: Take Jesus home.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As believers, when we fully embrace and understand the providence of God, our lives will change.

Not only will such an understanding change how we think about the Lord, it also will change how we think about others — and how we think about ourselves. It’s like receiving a big dose of spiritual vitality directly into our souls.

Joseph understood the providence of God — we can clearly see that after having observed his remarkable life unfold before us in the book of Genesis. And in the Lord’s providence, Joseph — and we as well — see God’s sovereignty, his compassion, and his wisdom.

Sovereignty is obvious part of the Lord’s providence. Certainly, Joseph knew who was in charge of his life — whether he was in the depths of prison or on top of the heap as Pharaoh’s ruler in Egypt. We don’t see Joseph spending a lot of time wondering why things have seemingly taken a turn for the worse; instead, he kept moving forward after he got knocked down as the Lord gave him life and breath. Pastor Scott suggested we all ask an important question: Lord, what haven’t I turned over to you yet? May we let go of that which is temporal — no matter what our circumstances — and continually hand things over to God, who’s ultimately in control of everyone and everything.

When we got into chapter 45 again, we picked up at the point where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, all of whom thought he was gone for good. When it started to sink in for them that Joseph was right there in the flesh — the brother they betrayed and allowed to be sold into slavery — they were quite disturbed. Understandably so.

But Joseph was not vengeful; far from it. Rather, he exhibited compassion (the second element of God’s providence). “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Again, God is in charge — his sovereignty on display.

One of the incredibly freeing things about living in God’s providence is that we no longer are at the center of our lives. While some folks might have a hard time giving up that “status” — whether due to selfishness or some other sin — it’s actually quite a relief. It seems on par someone who very reluctantly is heading to a doctor for a mysterious ache or pain — and the relief that comes by finally handing over control to the physician whose medical expertise really should be driving the situation.

We also saw the amazing overflow of God’s provision for Joseph’s brothers through the generosity of Joseph and Pharaoh — underscored by Joseph instructing his brothers to refrain from quarreling during their journey back to their father Jacob. Wisdom! Another element of God’s providence, which helps us to see the goodness, mercy, and grace that the Lord pours down upon us every day. (I mean, what would believers truly have to argue and fight about when their eyes are focused like lasers on what God is giving to them?)

By the end of the chapter, Jacob’s spirit is revived by the news that Joseph is still alive, and Jacob declares his intention to see his long-lost son before he dies. Truly a dramatic ending and chapter, too, as Pastor Scott pointed out — full of emotion and forgiveness and reconciliation. Cue curtain fall! 

But you and I are still on stage, aren’t we? We’re still part of this grand, divine drama that God has written. So, what is our place in it? What are our roles? But just as important, have we allowed the Lord to revive our spirits as he revived Jacob’s spirit? As Pastor Scott noted, the words in Hebrew describing the miracle of Jacob’s soul coming back to life are the same Hebrew words used to describe the Lord breathing life into Adam. It’s that powerful — and all of us have access to it!

So now, if life has been bringing you down recently for whatever reason — big or small — why not make it a point to turn from the temporal things and to the One who provides living water, who restores our soul (Psalm 23), who quenches our thirst forever. 

And remember: You and I are but dust. We see only infinitesimal pieces of the tapestry God has been weaving since before time and the universe began. Let us be reminded today and in all of our days that God is writing the drama of life and exhibiting his wisdom, his compassion, his sovereignty over all things in the process. Indeed, by the power of his incredible providence.

May we all rest in that truth right now.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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This past Sunday we were introduced yet again to an astounding truth from the life of Joseph that we can apply to our own lives right now. And this time — as Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers — we encountered the jaw-dropping parallels between circumstances in Joseph’s life and in the life of Jesus.

Certainly, the prophets of the Old Testament — Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, to name a few — point to facts and circumstances in the life of Christ so that his divinity and lordship may be known and verified. But in addition to the traditional prophets, God drops in many more clues and hints and downright poetic parallels in the full narrative of the Old Testament that can be seen in the life of Jesus.

We’ve already encountered some of them in our study of Genesis — in chapter 3, for example, after the fall of man, God tells the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve that “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” And we know the “he” the Lord refers to is Jesus.

And we’ve also seen a number of parallels between things that happened to Joseph and circumstances in the life of Jesus:

  • Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him; Jesus’ brothers — the Jewish leaders — also plotted to kill him.
  • Joseph found himself talking to a pair of criminals in jail, the cupbearer (who found life) and the baker (who was executed); Jesus was on the cross between two criminals, one who believed in him and found life, and the other who did not.
  • Joseph’s brothers who betrayed him ended up bowing to him and acknowledging his superior office; the New Testament tells us that one day all people will bow before Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord.

But we’re just getting warmed up!

At this point in the drama that’s unfolding in chapter 43, Joseph has been testing the integrity of his brothers to see if their morals have changed for the better. And they have — and Joseph is moved by this. He’s also overcome with emotion having seen his youngest brother Benjamin in the flesh — so much so that he retreats to a chamber to weep in private.

Then Joseph has a silver cup of his placed in Benjamin’s sack to see how his brothers will react when they’re accused of stealing it. And lo and behold, one of Joseph’s brothers — Judah — does something similar to that of a New Testament figure with a name that’s almost the same: Judas.

“Oh, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears …” Judah said to Joseph amid this moment of crisis. Not unlike what Judas did in the Garden of Gethsemane — a moment of complete betrayal, as Judas’ kiss identified Jesus, and the temple guards arrested him. But then the parallels end — because Judah does something sacrificial and offers his life in exchange for the life of his brother Benjamin!

Judah. The brother whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery in chapter 37; the brother who in chapter 38 left his family and one day thought he was having sexual relations with a prostitute, and it ended up being his daughter-in-law. This same Judah was a changed man by chapter 44 — and Joseph recognized this.

In chapter 45, Joseph’s weeping reaches a breaking point: His brothers don’t know who he is, they don’t see him — and they are missing out on so much in life after betraying him, suffering in the aftermath, and now failing to recognize him.

And as Pastor Scott pointed out, this closely parallels Jesus’ weeping for Jerusalem in the New Testament: “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’” (Luke 19:41-44)

So, Joseph tells his brothers who he is. And this moment of truth is difficult for them to digest. They don’t recognize Joseph. Much like — yes, another life of Jesus parallel! — the disciples who encountered the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus and didn’t recognize him until the very end of their time together.

And Joseph speaks to his brothers in such a comforting and compassionate and merciful manner: “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Wow! Indeed, Joseph shares with his brothers that God had a bigger picture in mind all along — and his brothers are part of that intricately woven tapestry.

In fact, we see later in Joseph’s big reveal to his brothers that he has a place for them and their families right there with him, a place where he will be their provider amid the famine, where they will be safe and have life. Much like Jesus telling his disciples that he is preparing a place for them in his Father’s house — a mansion with many rooms!

How cool is it that the Lord worked all this out in Joseph’s life and then put so many similarities in the life of Jesus — which acts as a sign to all of us that God’s eternal words are true and trustworthy.

So, let us ask ourselves this week: What are we not getting or seeing or understanding about what God is doing at this moment in our own lives? What truths is God trying to reveal to us that we may not be perceiving? Are there things that are our eyes closed to?

May the Lord open them up.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Last week we got a look at Joseph’s positive and robust attitude that kept him moving the right direction despite difficult circumstances. And this past Sunday we saw yet another one of Joseph’s positive traits: his integrity.

As Pastor Scott shared, exercising integrity allows us to do three important things in life: 1) Resist temptation, 2) Exercise strength to face challenges, 3) and behave honestly.

Joseph certainly showed his ability to resist temptation by avoiding the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife, going so far as to run out of her house rather than being around her one second longer! He also showed his strength in the face of immense challenges — most notably being thrown in prison for years after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him. And Joseph was incredibly honest, telling the baker hard truths and not taking credit for helping Pharaoh but instead giving credit to God alone as the one who interprets dreams.

And now with the Lord having delivered Joseph from prison to become the governor of Egypt under Pharaoh, we witnessed a massive turning of the tables. With a famine engulfing the region as Joseph correctly predicted, his long-lost family is in trouble. So, we read that his father Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers — save for Benjamin, as Jacob feared harm might come upon him — to Egypt to buy grain so they won’t starve to death.

Do you remember the dream Joseph had years earlier that got him trouble with his brothers — that they would one day bow to him? Well, it came to pass as his brothers all prostrated themselves before Joseph in their plea to acquire grain! Thing is, though, while Joseph’s brothers failed to recognize him after more than 20 years apart, Joseph recognized them! Uh oh.

At this point, one naturally might assume someone in Joseph’s position would take revenge on his brothers. Certainly, Joseph had the power to put them to death with a single command and wave of his hand. But he didn’t. No, instead Joseph tested their honesty and integrity. And amid various tests Joseph put them through, his brothers had the chance to examine their hearts and experience a reckoning in regard to their sinful treatment of Joseph when he was but a teenager. 

It was an important moment: they were enduring the uncertainty of waiting to see what Joseph would do. Would he kill them? Throw them into prison? Turn them away and leave them in hunger? As Pastor Scott noted, we all endure periods of waiting and uncertainty — and it’s rarely fun. But as believers in Jesus, we can be confident that he knows the outcomes and is holding our lives in his hands. And as Christians, we can rejoice that God has forgiven us of our sinful pasts through the blood Jesus shed on the cross.

But Pastor Scott shared something else all of must take to heart, no matter where we are in our spiritual lives: If one believes in Jesus but is living a sinful life, that person is asking for trouble. Because the Lord loves us and wants us close to him, he will discipline those he loves — and that can result in serious and even unpleasant circumstances as God motivates us toward repentance. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be better to act now in repentance so we don’t live in unnecessary fear of “what might happen”? To live in the promise of Isaiah 41:10? “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

As we made our way into chapter 43 and encountered Joseph’s brothers telling their father everything that had happened to them, Pastor Scott noted yet another game-changing moment: Jacob reluctantly agreed to let his sons return to Egypt with Benjamin and face Joseph, and he told his sons, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man.” In other words, “El Shaddai” — the God who fulfills promises.

Are we passing the integrity test in our own lives? We must remember that our feeble human strength not sufficient to live lives of integrity, filled with instances in which we resist temptation, face difficulties, and operate in complete honesty. We can’t do it on our own. We need the strength only El Shaddai possesses. Only he can bring about deep change in us.

That principle is present in Jesus’ words found in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” 

We are indeed dust; living and breathing at this very moment only because God allows us to live and breathe at this very moment. So, let us acknowledge this truth, come before the Lord in humility, and practice leading lives filled with continual repentance — and integrity.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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One of the wonderful things we’re seeing develop in Joseph’s life is his attitude. And as we learned this past Sunday in our study of Genesis 40 and 41, Joseph’s strategic and God-focused attitude is making all the difference for him and for others.

At this point Joseph’s in a fairly decent position with influence and responsibility — if you call being condemned to prison “decent”! I doubt any of us, all things being equal, would have anything positive to say about Joseph’s unjust stint in the slammer. No one wants to be a prisoner; and Joseph certainly doesn’t belong there given the fact that Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him — when in fact she was the guilty party! Talk about a moment when even believers in the Lord will naturally wonder, “Where is God in this situation?”

But as we’ve also learned, the Lord was “with Joseph” — in the false accusations, in the injustice, in the nightmare and shame of prison.

And we got a hint of God’s presence in a tangible way when Joseph, lo and behold, was placed in charge of all the prisoners — just as he was placed in charge of Potiphar’s house. God’s hand was on Joseph, and that was even obvious to non-believers around him.

Then God worked another miracle: Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were jailed as well, and Joseph was charged with looking after them. And we can assume based on Joseph’s track record that he did a great job — above and beyond the call of duty. See, Joseph got to know them quite well — so well that after they both experienced disturbing dreams, Joseph asked them why they seemed troubled. Not your everyday question from a fellow prisoner.

But as Pastor Scott explained, it was a heart-opening question. And a simple one. Sometimes that’s all we need to do in our personal relationships — you never know when someone has been hoping and badly wanting to unload their burdens. Maybe we can help take others’ problems into the light of a biblical worldview that they couldn’t see before. What about you? Whom has God brought into your life? Just as God brought Joseph and the two prisoners together, he also brings people into our lives in strategic ways for his purposes. Divine appointments!

So, Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream (he would be restored to his position) and the baker’s dream (he would be put to death), and both interpretations came to pass. When Joseph gave the good news to the cupbearer, he asked him to pass along a good word about him to Pharaoh — but the cupbearer failed to do so.

Now, for many folks, this could be their final coffin nail. It was yet another disappointment for Joseph during his time in Egypt, and he could have just given up on God. But he didn’t. As Pastor Scott noted, Joseph’s emotions trailed behind his beliefs. And that kind of God-focused attitude was exactly what kept him on the path God had for him — for another two years!

By chapter 41, Pharaoh had disturbing dreams as well — seven skinny, ugly cows devouring seven plump cows; seven skinny, ugly ears of grain devouring seven plump ears of grain. What could these dreams possibly be about? Indeed, no one — not even magicians and wisemen — could figure them out. And then the cupbearer reentered the picture and recalled to Pharaoh how Joseph correctly interpreted his dream and the baker’s dream.

That’s all Pharaoh needed to hear. He summoned Joseph, whose attitude again came into play, telling Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” And the Lord did just that. Joseph told Pharaoh his dreams meant there will be seven years of abundance in the land followed by seven years of famine — which led to mass storage of grain so the Egyptians could survive. Naturally Pharaoh was grateful, and as we’ve seen previously, Joseph again was placed in charge. He became Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

What a change from prison life! And we’re talking the culmination of 13 long years of up-and-down — but mostly down — circumstances as a slave in a foreign land. But at the end of it, since Joseph didn’t give up on the Lord, he received a signet ring and gold chain around his neck and held a special office of authority in Egypt.

Is there a famine in your land today? Do you feel like a slave to your circumstances? Are you feeling like you want to give up on God and send your faith packing? Remind yourself of Joseph’s life and what he endured and what kind of attitude he placed ahead of all his troubles. And the same God who was with Joseph the whole time also is with you and me. Today. Right now. And God isn’t far away. The Lord is right there with us in all of our trials. And as hard as it may be sometimes, we must be willing in our pain and disappointment to take the difficult step of asking, “What is God doing in this situation?” Or maybe we need to ask, “Is Jesus truly who he said he is?” Or perhaps, “Is the Bible truly the word of God?” Whatever question you need to ask of God, fear not. The Lord knows what question you have for him before you even knew what it was! And then ask away — and expect God to reveal some incredible, life-changing truths as you take that next step on the path he’s placed before you.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Joseph’s gut-wrenching circumstances and Godly decisions amid them in Genesis 39 are incredibly valuable examples that all of us can apply to our lives.

Whenever we go through hard times and want a bit of comfort — thinking deeply about what Joseph lived through is a good idea to get a sense that someone else endured incredibly difficult things so we don’t feel as alone. Imagine being hated by your own siblings so much they want to kill you, then being betrayed by them, and then sold into slavery and taken to a foreign land. Everything you had and everyone you knew is gone, probably forever. You don’t know anything about where you’ve ended up. You’re completely alone — and no one is coming to your rescue. Your life, practically speaking, is over. That’s what happened to Joseph. And taking some time to fathom the waves of sadness and grief he must have gone through very likely will put our own troubles in perspective.

But what made the big difference here is that the Lord was with Joseph.

And the same God who was with Joseph in his awful circumstances, the same God who showered grace upon him, the same God who gave him favor in bad times … is our God, too!

Indeed, while Joseph was betrayed, sold into slavery, and taken to a foreign land — the man who bought him was Potiphar, the Egyptian captain of the guard. Only God could have orchestrated that. And wouldn’t you know that Joseph excelled while serving Potiphar, who saw that the Lord was with Joseph and eventually placed him in charge of entire household — which God blessed for Joseph’s sake.

Joseph also had a part to play in God’s grand story: he positioned himself to be in the very best place to receive the shower of grace the Lord wanted to pour down upon him. And as Pastor Scott reemphasized this past Sunday, we also have to be “positioned” under God’s grace shower to experience it; we can’t be camped out in the living room escaping watching TV.

And what five principles did Joseph follow amid his difficult circumstances that we can value and incorporate into our own lives?

First, we must integrate our faith into our daily lives. When we do, as Psalm 1 says, we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Just like Joseph.

Second, we must share with others the grace God has given to us — it’s one of the ways we’ll end up advancing in life. “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” (2 Corinthians 8:7)

Third, we mustn’t get sucked in by sin. This is huge. Sin — especially sexual sin — is always out there ready to overtake us, and we must commit ourselves to avoid it. Partaking in it hinders our ability to receive and pass on grace to others.

Joseph knew this very well. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph reply is amazing: “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

But this wasn’t just a one-time proposition; Potiphar’s wife was after Joseph on a daily basis. And one day it got so bad that when she grabbed for his garments, they came off — as Joseph fled! That’s commitment to God and the righteousness he calls us to. And it certainly reflects Scripture’s command to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Now here’s the kicker: Joseph did the right thing by fleeing from Potiphar’s wife — but bad things happened to him anyway. She lied and told Potiphar that Joseph tried to have sexual relations with her — and had Joseph’s garments to “prove” it — and with that, Potiphar threw Joseph into prison.

Which brings us to principle number 4: God’s sovereignty overcomes our darkest moments.

This had to be a huge blow to Joseph. Just when things were looking up in Potiphar’s house, and he was excelling, Joseph suddenly finds himself in prison over a trumped-up charge. Yet another betrayal! And it happened after he made a righteous and Godly choice. It’s certainly a stark example of a bad thing happening to a good person. There’s no explanation for it — and often many of us wonder how God can possibly be on our side and looking out for us if he lets something like this happen.

But when we think this way, we’re misunderstanding God. His promises haven’t changed. He will be with us. He’ll be with us when we’re prospering and excelling in life, and he’ll be with us when times are bad. When we’re betrayed. When we’re treated unjustly.

And wouldn’t you know that despite being thrown in prison, Joseph ends up at the top of the heap there, too? Because God is with him, Joseph is soon placed in charge of all the prisoners because those above him saw — just like Potiphar — that the Lord was with him. Joseph doesn’t mope and feel sorry for himself amid his horrific circumstances — and God turned them around in a big way.

As we saw Sunday, one of the big secrets to Joseph’s success is the fifth and final principle: Don’t focus on the results; focus on being faithful.

In our own lives, if we focus on results, we start doing things that impact results, such as cutting corners and stepping on other people on the way to the top. Instead, we must obey the Lord and leave the results up to him. Our job is to just be faithful.

And God certainly took care of the results while Joseph was in prison, just as he did while Joseph was in Potiphar’s house. The final sentence of Genesis 39 reads, “And whatever [Joseph] did, the Lord made it succeed.”

So, let’s integrate our faith into our daily lives, share God’s grace with others, not get sucked in by sin, believe that God’s sovereignty overcomes our darkest moments, and focus on being faithful rather than on the results. Now those are some Godly principles to live by!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we continued our study of the life of Joseph in Genesis, our look at chapter 38 uncovered a parenthetical account of what became of Judah, one of his brothers. It’s a sad story about drifting from God — and the bad things that typically happen when we do.

As Pastor Scott emphasized, all relationships take work so that they may grow and thrive. Each person in a relationship needs to focus on the other, remain accountable, and continually demonstrate love. It’s not easy. And human relationships aren’t perfect because humans aren’t perfect.

But when it comes to our individual relationships with God, one party is doing it right all the time — and it’s not us! Indeed, each of us imperfect humans must work hard at our relationships with God to stay connected to him. The Lord doesn’t force himself on us; we need to decide each day to enter into God’s presence and commune with him.

Judah didn’t do that. He doesn’t really have a strong connection to God. He leaves the protection of his home, meets a friend who’s not a Jew, and ends up marrying a woman from another land. Sound familiar? How many believers have done the same thing? Any of us could be Judah and drift away. And problems certainly happened for Judah.

Judah’s wife gave birth to three sons. And God put to death his firstborn, Er, for being wicked. And God put to death his second son, Onan, for not following through on his duty to give a son to his older brother’s widow, Tamar. In short, Onan didn’t mind having intercourse with Tamar but knew a son wouldn’t be connected to him, so he “would waste the semen on the ground.” 

As Pastor Scott pointed out, the awesome holiness of God should scare us — especially the fact that he cannot tolerate sin. And the fact that he blesses us and gives us life is only due to his mercy. “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed (holy) be your name.”

Not wanting death to come to Shelah, his third son, Judah sent Tamar to her father’s house to remain a widow until Shelah was old enough for her. But Judah didn’t follow through on his promise to Tamar. Over the course of time, Judah’s wife died — and then one day after Judah’s grieving was over, he was on his way to work. When Tamar found out, she disguised herself as a prostitute to entice Judah since he still had not given his son Shelah to her in marriage. And Judah had sexual relations with the disguised Tamar, not knowing who she was, and Tamar became pregnant.

When Judah found out Tamar was pregnant through immorality, he said “let her be burned.” Of course, Judah didn’t know that Tamar was the “prostitute” he met on the side of a road. When Tamar was being brought out, she sent word to Judah that the signet, cord, and staff he had given her as collateral after their sexual act belonged to the man who impregnated her. Judah was caught. He identified the items and confessed, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And Judah didn’t have sexual relations with her again.

As Pastor Scott pointed out, if we go down the wrong roads sexually, we end up losing a lot. Proverbs 5 tells us, “Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.” In other words, sexual danger is out there — it’s all around us. We must be careful not to get involved in it.

As it turns out, Judah’s comeuppance may have been a turning point for him. As Pastor Scott noted, we’ll soon learn that he went back and reconnected with father and brothers. And even better, Judah’s father Jacob later in Genesis blessed him and said he will be like a lion — the Lion of Judah. And that term is an identifier with Jesus, who descended from Judah’s line.

And wouldn’t you know that it was one of the twin children — Perez — born through Judah and Tamar’s sinful act, who would continue the genealogical line to Jesus? Despite their moral failure, God miraculously turned it into something good. It’s yet another demonstration of the Lord’s mercy to all of us.

Of course, a much better way of going through life is to stay close to God and stay away from sin and listen to all the Lord’s words to us. 

Are we, as Pastor Scott suggested, creating “mile markers” for ourselves as we move forward in life? And are these markers showing that we’re moving away from God or moving closer to him? When we see warning lights flashing before us as we journey, do we take the detour the Lord has made for us — or do we continue toward the danger? May we “obey the rules of the road” instead, so that we’ll arrive at our destination in good shape!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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When we left off in Genesis 37, we were introduced to 17-year-old Joseph who found himself in the middle of an exceptionally bad case of sibling rivalry. His father Jacob favored him over his 11 brothers, Joseph got a great-looking robe in the deal — and then Joseph decided to ally himself with his dad rather than look the other way when his brothers didn’t do a good job in the fields. In short, Joseph’s brothers hated him.

This past Sunday we started looking at what happened next: Joseph’s dreams.

Thing is, Joseph — perhaps showing youthful exuberance — didn’t keep his dream to himself. Instead, he told it to his brothers: “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”

His already steamed brothers replied, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” And according to the Scriptures “they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”

But as Pastor Scott pointed out, another way of looking at Joseph’s reaction to his dream is that he wasn’t craving power or dominance over his brothers — he was simply excited and wanted to share the vision God gave to him. And we can learn something from Joseph’s reaction, too: We should expect big things from the Lord!

Do we not limit God from time to time? View him from our own mortal perspective — and then end up believing somehow that the Lord is no more powerful than we are? No more merciful than we are? No more loving than we are? If our God is no bigger than our own assumptions and limitations — if he can’t explode from and rise above our faulty, flawed, tiny boxes — then it’s not surprising why we sometimes react to him in faithlessness rather than faithfulness.

Then Joseph had yet another dream — and it didn’t appear to get any better for him, because it turns out he dreamed that “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” And this time Jacob also heard Joseph describe his dream and asked, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And the Bible says his brothers were jealous of him, “but his father kept the saying in mind.” 

Perhaps Jacob also is open to how big God can be — which indeed reflects important moments from his life we’ve already seen. Indeed, as Pastor Scott emphasized, we also must maintain the wonder of God in our lives, and always be ready to ask the question — in good times and in bad — “What is the Lord doing right now?”

And that very well may be what Joseph soon began to ask as well, as the next part of the chapter describes how his brothers plotted to kill him and ended up stripping Joseph of his many-colored robe and tossing him into an empty cistern containing no water. With how big and grand the Lord has been so far in Joseph’s life, how will Joseph view God now, in what must be a shocking circumstance? To make matters worse, his brothers managed to talk themselves into selling Joseph into slavery rather than killing him as a way not only of getting some money but also to make it seem as though they did the “more honorable” thing by not killing their own brother. Finally, his brothers concealed their deed by dipping Joseph’s robe in goat’s blood and convincing their father Jacob that Joseph had been devoured by an animal.

What possibly could have Joseph been thinking now? What is God doing in his life in this awful circumstance? He’s cut off from his father Jacob and his family and headed to Egypt as a slave and will end being there into adulthood. But as Pastor Scott reminded us, God had his hand on Joseph — and when the Lord has his hand on you and me, nothing that happens in life will change that. Nothing will get in the way of what the Lord wants to do in Joseph’s life — or in our lives.

Therefore, let us all be sure to ask ourselves more and more frequently, “What is God doing right now?” The more we ask that question — and the more God reveals his answers to us — the closer we’ll be to the Lord and what he has in mind for us in our lives. And that is the very best place to be.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we shift in Genesis 37 to the life of Joseph, we see yet another family situation filled with conflict and sibling rivalry — in this case, it’s the teenager Joseph versus his 11 brothers who grow to hate him and eventually plot to kill him. (Which hopefully pales in comparison to squabbles you’ve seen over who gets the last ice cream cone and control over the TV remote!)

Pastor Scott shared a number of crucial truths on Sunday that — even with an ancient biblical account that may look far different than our 21st-century realities — is quite applicable to our lives. Whether or not we struggle in our relationships with our siblings, or even if we don’t have siblings at all, we all have to face conflict and other challenges in our relationships with others.

In this chapter, we find that Joseph — who was 17 at the time — gave a bad report to his father Jacob about his brothers. Naturally his brothers didn’t like that, and the bad blood began to boil over. Not that it’s ever a good thing to tattle — and there’s no evidence that Joseph did that with respect to his brothers — but the more important thing is that Joseph made a decision that day: He aligned himself with truth and with his father rather than protecting his brothers.

Is that something you can relate to? Being in the position of having to choose the truth over a lie — and maybe others getting angry at you for doing so? Joseph’s brothers hated him for telling the truth about them. Sometimes doing what’s right comes with an emotionally painful cost. But remember that it’s never as costly as turning a blind eye to the truth and not standing up for it.

What’s more, we see in this chapter that Joseph received a “robe of many colors” from his father, who “loved Joseph more than any other of his sons.” Ouch. In a family with more than one child, it most definitely hurts when a parent openly favors one child over the others — even if there’s good reason to do so. And that probably applies to Joseph’s brothers. But still, one wonders if Jacob tried harder to show more love to his other sons and demonstrated favor toward them in other ways, would they have reacted in such anger toward Joseph later on? It’s an important question to ask ourselves, whether we are a parent or a son or daughter.

But just as crucially, as Pastor Scott shared, Joseph receiving the robe from his father symbolizes important truths in our relationship with God. Since the Lord is a perfect father to each one of us, he literally has a “robe of many colors” he wants to give each of us. And these robes are all different, as they are made especially for each one of his children. But the question is, will we reach out and receive God’s gift? And even if we do receive God’s robe, do we check it at the door of culture, as Pastor Scott asked us?

Are you in a state of heaviness today? Are you angry or discouraged — even reluctant to put on the “garment of praise” the Lord has given you? Do you even wonder if you are worthy of such a gift? Stop right there and rest easy: None of us is worthy. God gives each of us his gifts because he loves each of us — not because we’ve done anything to earn his love.

And remember God’s safety net: the church. We gather with fellow believers at Calvary Chapel Living Hope because that’s where we can get support and prayer and learn how to manage difficulties in our lives and how to receive grace and forgiveness. And it’s also where learn how to throw off our selfishness by being servants to one another.

On this day, may we each put on the “robe of many colors” the Lord has given us, practice kindness and compassion, walk in humility, and exercise gentleness and patience as we serve each other — especially our fellow siblings in the house of God. 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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It’s safe to say that after Sunday’s study on Genesis 34 — a difficult and sobering passage of Scripture — we’re all taking stock of our hearts.

There was a rape. There was an attempt to selfishly brush it aside and mask it with tenderness. There was a deal between factions that was full of deceit and treachery. There was vengeful murder on a large scale. And there was a reckoning of the heart amid the untold carnage and damage.

Pastor Scott introduced us to a number of human hearts on display in Genesis 34. The first is Shechem, a pagan and the son of Hamor. Shechem raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. If that wasn’t awful enough, Shechem thought he could make it all better though tender feelings for Dinah — and a desire to marry her (as if that could fix anything). So he asked his father to make it happen, and Hamor thought he could make a deal with Jacob to give Dinah to Shechem in marriage — in fact they would enact a kind of “trade”; Hamor’s daughters to Jacob’s sons, and vice versa. One big happy family, right?

But it was not to be.

Instead Jacob’s sons dealt with Hamor and Shechem deceitfully, making circumcision for all the males in Hamor’s city a condition of the deal — and then afterward when all the men in the city were “sore,” Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi drew their swords and killed all the men in the city, including Hamor and Shechem, and took back Dinah. What’s more they stole everything in the city, taking “their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.” 

Simeon and Levi — the second and third hearts on display in Genesis 34 — didn’t enact justice. No, they carried out deceit, murder, revenge, and theft. A completely over-the-top punishment that didn’t fit the crime.

Jacob — the fourth heart on display — was not pleased by his sons’ actions, telling them that they’ve brought “trouble” to him. But all Simeon and Levi could say in response was, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” Yet amid his trouble, Jacob in chapter 35 demonstrates that his heart is open to God’s leading — and he listens to the Lord, who tells him:

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.

Four hearts on display — and four outcomes based on where those hearts were directed.

Shechem’s misdeed demonstrates the dangers of the power of male sexuality when it is not in line with God’s “one flesh” design in marriage according to his guidance. Shechem was selfish. Levi and Simeon took justice into their own hands and ended up killing every male in a city and plundering it. Their hearts were set on vengeance and acted out in anger. The hearts of Shechem, Levi, and Simeon show what can happen to any of us if we don’t allow God’s Holy Spirit to continually fill us and show us the way. When we let worldliness to creep in, we can be consumed with sinful tendencies that we’re soon acting out — and then we’re in a dangerous place.

But Jacob’s heart is open to the Lord’s leading. He listens to God, travels to where he’s instructed, and — once again — builds an altar to the Lord. A physical reminder to serve God always in the deepest part of his heart.

We must do the same.

As the Lord instructed Jacob, for the sake of our spiritual health, we must do away with everything that gets in the way of communion with God and continually renew our hearts so they stay open to him.

What words are God speaking to you right now? No matter what you’ve done or thought, the Lord is waiting for you to come to him in repentance so he can fill you up again with his love and grace. 

Written by Dave Urbanski

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One thing we have to accept this side of heaven is that whenever God touches us, at times it may not feel very good. But even more importantly, whenever the Lord intervenes and blasts through into our lives, we must realize that whether his touch is painful or not, it’s ALWAYS good and FOR our good.

Jacob found this out in famous fashion as we learned this past Sunday from Genesis 32.

He was on his way back home — the land of his fathers he left long ago in fear of his life after he deceived his brother Esau. So, in his fear, Jacob is back to his scheming ways. A smart man, he decides to divide his camp so that in case Esau’s men attack one of Jacob’s camps, the other can escape and be spared. 

Pastor Scott pointed a number of crucial truths from this passage that we can apply to our own lives. And it’s the fact that if we live a deceptive lifestyle, it will lead to fear — and that fear will in turn feed the need to be more deceptive, and on and on. A vicious cycle. Jacob doesn’t like obstacles, so he cuts corners. Then his mind races, and the fear sets in, and he’s continually assuming the worst. Everything is negative. A disaster is right around the bend, just waiting for him. Who would want to live like that? And we don’t have to if we live lives of integrity before the Lord!

But something good comes from Jacob’s internal struggle, and he turns over his distress to the Lord and prays for deliverance from Esau — and significantly, Jacob reminds God (as if God needed reminding) of his promises to him of a fruitful life. Jacob also takes practical action and sends generous gifts of animals ahead of him so that Esau might accept him.

And then came the moment we all know: when Jacob was alone, God came and wrestled all night with him. But Jacob wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing. And with that, Jacob was renamed “Israel” — and his hip was touched and went out of joint, resulting in a life-long limp.

What can we conclude from all of this? When the Lord wants to do something deeper in our lives, it often will involve us wrestling with a problem, wrestling spiritually with the Lord until we break through and come to new realizations — and the beauty of a new dawn breaking. But sometimes when God does something deep within us, pain is involved. In Jacob’s case, now with a hip out of joint, every time he leans on his cane, he’s reminded of what the Lord did, and that he must depend on God for everything in his life. As Pastor Scott said, it’s not about Jacob’s hip; it’s about Jacob’s heart.

God wants to do something deeper in you and in me — to the point where we’re renamed and are changed from the inside out. If the Lord is working on you, it might not always feel good — but you can rejoice because God disciplines and refines those he loves. Like Paul and his thorn in the flesh, the Lord’s grace is sufficient when he’s bringing us through pain. When we are weak, God is strong. 

“…but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Jesus told one parable in particular that spoke to everyone about their lives. I find the parable fascinating because it’s very real to us today. Now He told it in two different parts. He described the parable and then he told its meaning. I’m going to bring those two things together first here so that you can understand them and what it looks like.

You see Jesus said this. There was a sower that went out to sow. And he cast the seed out and it fell onto the soil. Now the seed He says represents the word of God and as the seed is being cast out, it falls on four different kinds of soil. The soil represents the heart of people.

The second kind of soil (and this going to be particularly important for Jacob’s life) was a soil where the seed was cast and it fell onto the rocky soil. So it grew up quickly. But when the sun came out it was so hot it scorched because it didn’t have the roots necessary. When we don’t have the roots necessary then the challenges of life cause some problems. In fact let me take you right into the parable and show you that. It says there – The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and once receives it with joy. (These are Jesus’ words here.) But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution come because of the word, they quickly fall away.

When you’re done today I hope you’ll be constrained or compelled to have your roots go deeper.

We’re going to see that Jacob lacked that. So when the pressure grew he lost it. That’s a good word to describe Jacob. He really lost it in our passage.

Let me bring you up to speed as to where we are; remember Jacob had been working for Laban for twenty years. Now he has this impression that it’s time for him to leave. Things aren’t the same as they have been in the past. It’s just time for him to move on. We talked about that desire sometimes that we have. It’s time to move on. We talked about that last week. So he takes that desire to the Lord and the Lord affirms that in his heart. Yes, He says, you can go back to your father’s country. And He says these five words: And I will be with you. We need those words. Because when we know that God is with us it helps us to trust Him. It helps our roots to go deeper into the soil. So that when the problems, the challenges, the thlipsis of life come, we know that God is with us, even in the midst of the scorching sun that takes effect on our lives and puts pressure.

Now verse 20 we get to the place where Jacob makes the mistake. The pressures of life get too much for him. His root isn’t deep enough. If his roots were deeper, he wouldn’t do what he’s about to do. You see he knows the Lord. When he left his home, he had determined that he was going to live for the Lord. He had the special experience with God, with His head on the rock pillow and seeing this stairway with angels ascending and descending but in verse 20 –it says And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean. Now he’s under significant pressure. And under the significant pressure when any of us find ourselves hemmed in, we tend to resort to self-defeating, unproductive patterns that maybe we engaged in the past and Jacob falls right back into those patterns!

Now I want to draw some applications we go back to Jesus’ parable. Because see the real challenge for all of us is that when we face trials, when we face pressures in our lives, what are we going to do with them? Do we just start yelling at people and we start berating people? Are we going to experience a lot of anxiety? Turn back to patterns that we have left behind to serve the Lord?

How do we develop those strong roots that sustain us in times of trials, problems?

Turn to the Lord and seek His plan, his way (not ours) and dig into the word to see what the Lord is saying in our lives. Then we trust Him in and with the challenges of our lives as we live out in obedient surrender to Him.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Safety is not our goal.

As Pastor Scott shared his heart on Sunday as it related to Jacob’s experience in Genesis 31 of obeying God’s call to pick up his life and sojourn back to the land of his fathers, the truth that the Christian life is one of risk and adventure hit home.

Moving into the unknown isn’t always a comfortable thing. Whether it’s a new job, new school, new house, or new city, those kinds of changes typically bring stress and uncertainty. We wonder, “Will I be able to handle it?” or “What if things don’t work out the way I want them to?”

But there’s another kind of risk and uncertainty in the lives of Christians — or at least there should be: Our roles as missionaries. Of course, those who’ve chosen mission work as a vocation certainly face risk and uncertainty on a daily basis, particularly if they live in a country and culture that’s different from what they’ve known all their lives. However, even if we’re not “professional” missionaries, as Christians we still have mission fields to work in — and that’s part of what makes the Christian life so exciting.

After Pastor Scott’s reminder to live life with abandon — particularly when it comes to our roles as missionaries — I find myself challenged and spurred on to ask, “How often do I ask God who he’s placed in my life today? Much of my day-to-day time — and I’m sure all of us can relate in one way or another — is spent moving from one task to the next; one problem to solve to the next problem to solve; one hill to climb after another hill to climb. 

But what might happen when I’m reminded to say to the Lord — as Jacob did — “here I am”? In my own experience, I don’t ever recall God not responding affirmatively if I pray, “Father, I’m open today to whatever and whoever you bring on my path. Help me to open up and be sensitive to others’ needs — and put the words in my mouth so that they may see you.” But again, how often am I open and willing to put my own list of things to do behind what God might have me do? Certainly not often enough!

Indeed, as Pastor Scott shared, we are pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers in this world. As Christians, our priorities and the way we live our lives mean we’ll never truly fit in — and that can be difficult. Sometimes it can even feel lonely and disappointing.

But there’s another side as well: the adventure! Think about something as simple as having a conversation about the Lord with a complete stranger you meet in a store or in the gym or at a park. Now maybe even reading that last sentence feels a little uncomfortable. (Confession: It’s a little uncomfortable for me to write it!) But on the other hand, how cool is it be open to such conversations, not as a once-in-a-while thing, but as a lifestyle? Imagine waking up every day and praying, “Lord, I don’t know what you’re going to do today, but I’m open — give me the words to say and people to say them to.” Then just watch what happens next.

Safety is not our goal. Comfort is not our goal. But a hum-drum life filled with no risks, no adventure, and no out-and-out joy that God can bring when we’re open to him is not our goal, either. So today, let it be your prayer (and my prayer) to have the Lord help us to take risks in his name and according to his will. To reach out beyond ourselves and our daily cares, knowing that he wants us a whole lot more than he wants stuff crossed off a list. 

And always remember that as God promised Jacob — and Jesus promised all of us — “I will be with you.”

Written by Dave Urbanski

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How can our messiness be transformed into messages? How can God turn the messiness of our lives — our unpredictable left turns, our head-on collisions, and even our self-inflicted speeding tickets along the way — into messages of his love for others?

As we saw in our study together Sunday, the story surrounding Jacob’s highly dysfunctional family is a prime example. And once again, the Bible pulls no punches — it doesn’t attempt to hide the sins of multiple wives, deception, dishonesty, jealousy, selfishness, passivity, pleasure as a primary objective, and the daily attempts to orchestrate and manipulate life in directions against God’s will rather than letting him do the driving.

Even though Jacob had two wives — Rachel and Leah — let’s not entertain the idea that God was OK with it. As Pastor Scott told us, just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s the Lord’s design. If anything, the polygamy grieved God not only because it was a direct sin against him, but also because of the resulting envy and sorrow and anger that polygamy brings among his beloved creation. God wanted — and still wants — the very best for us, and when we invent ways of doing life that ultimately aren’t the best for us, of course it saddens the Lord to see the pain that such decisions bring.

Yet out of that incredible messiness, Leah — the wife Jacob didn’t want — bore sons who would form the tribes of Israel. And that genealogy went all the way to Jesus — our salvation. 

Whenever we attempt to deemphasize God’s role in our lives and do things our own way, the Lord isn’t hamstrung. He has no limits — and there are no limits to how high and deep and wide his love is, despite our lack of love for him. As Pastor Scott noted, God works in our lives despite ourselves and despite our humanistic tendencies. He’s the maestro who orchestrates to perfection amid our bum notes and out-of-tune instruments. 

So, if you’re in despair because you don’t think God is working in your life, or you’re stuck in sorrow over bad decisions you’ve made or bad habits you just can’t seem to break, be encouraged — for just as God worked through the messiness of Jacob’s family to ultimately bring about our salvation through Jesus, the Lord certainly can do that and more in our lives. And whether you’re aware of it or not, he is!

More than that, despite whatever pit you perceive yourself to be in today, believe it or not God wants your life to be a shining beacon to those who still don’t believe in him. Ask God today how he can help you give him the glory by sharing your life with others in all its messiness. If you need to repent of the path you’ve been on, then repent — and then move forward. If you don’t see that God is working in your life, ask him to reveal to you the good things he’s doing — and then move forward.

Your messiness can — and will — be a message to others, too!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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In our study together Sunday on Genesis 28, we examined the moment Jacob left his home and what that meant for his spiritual life. Of course, when any of us head off on our own, it’s a momentous occasion with many implications — but among several cool things Pastor Scott shared is that we don’t have to be just entering independent adulthood for the biblical truths we learned to apply to us. 

That’s because whether we’re moving into our own place for the first time or going away to college — or whether we’re moving toward marriage, moving into a new job, or moving into a new home — God brings change and challenges to us every morning. And the Lord’s newness is another opportunity to trust him.

We’ve already seen that Jacob isn’t exactly the league leader in integrity or honesty. His deception with Isaac pretending to be his brother Esau to underhandedly win his father’s blessing was awful. Now Esau wants to kill Jacob, and Jacob is forced to leave home. But the miracle of Scripture is that we all can see ourselves to some degree in Jacob’s sin. Maybe we haven’t carried out that sort of deception, but as Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

So, it’s a good thing that, as Pastor Scott said, the hearts of believers in Jesus have two things going for them: A conscience and the Holy Spirit.

And we got a chance to see Jacob’s heart awakening to the Lord as he set out on his own. Much had to be on his mind and heart. Perhaps homesickness. Maybe fear. Uncertainty about the future. And then one night as he falls asleep, God spoke to Jacob in a dream and reassured him that he’d walk with him through his life, multiply his offspring over the face of the earth, and bless him.

Then God said something quite stirring in verse 15 which may sound familiar: “For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Yes, Jesus promised his disciples after his resurrection that “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Not surprisingly, Jacob was changed. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it,” he said before being filled with awe: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He then stakes out a place for the Lord and makes a promise — all expressions of God now having first place in his life. What a transformation!

No matter where we are in life — just starting out on our own or deep into the journey — we need that kind of newness, that kind of transformative experience with the Lord, don’t we? But a lot of times what we’re missing is being deliberate about what place God holds in our lives. Pastor Scott called this a “faith of convenience” — and wow, how true that can be. And actively putting God first through our daily decisions and thoughts isn’t about paying lip service to him or appearing righteous — it’s actually about what’s good for us. Isn’t that amazing? Following the Lord and obeying his commandments can seem on the surface like living in a cage, but it actually sets us free and sets us on the very best path. God isn’t looking for human beings to ask, “How high?” when he says “Jump!” No, instead God wants a relationship with us and wants the very best for us.

So, where does that leave us? In truth, we all have to figure out how we will handle what God has entrusted to us. Have we staked out areas in our lives that belong to the Lord? That demonstrate he’s more important than anything else? If not, let us pray about what that will look like and get to it!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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I have benefitted tremendously over the years from apologists who’ve offered rock-solid evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The proofs they’ve shared never cease to be exciting and encouraging — not only for the tools they can become during conversations with those who haven’t yet come to faith, but also when my own faith needs a boost.

Pastor Scott’s Easter message offered another kind of proof and evidence that’s equally important: What does Jesus’ rising from the dead 2,000-plus years ago mean for us on a practical level? Nuts and bolts. Day to day. Where the rubber meets the road.

To start we looked at the words of three individuals in the Bible who share our faith: Peter, Paul, and John.

We know from Scripture that while Peter arguably possessed the most faith of any of Christ’s initial disciples, he also ended up denying his master three times following Jesus’ arrest — and after having proclaimed him the son of God when his friends still had doubts. But later when the 12 got word on the third day that Jesus wasn’t in his tomb any longer, Peter ran with John to the place where Jesus had been laid to rest, charged past John right into the empty sepulcher, and immediately believed! Jesus’ resurrection was everything to Peter — as it should be for us. He even began his first letter telling us that God the Father’s mercy made us “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

As Pastor Scott emphasized, those two words that make up part of the name of our church — “living hope” — offer infinitely more than human, false hope. Those who hope to “feel better” through drugs and alcohol, sexual immorality, rebellion — and even through what may seem like righteousness through monetary offerings, baptism, membership, and service at church — are relying on false hopes. In the end what we strive for and hope for in our frail humanity doesn’t come close to Christ’s living hope, which is way bigger and more powerful than what we can possibly fathom. It’s time to let our false hopes go!

Now Paul came to faith in a completely different way than Peter — and in fact began making a reputation for himself not as an evangelist but as a persecutor of Christians. But one day God literally knocked this very learned Pharisee right off his high horse and blinded him — and all so he ultimately could see Jesus. Soon Paul was traversing the known world with the gospel message — and with the same energy he formerly exuded to persecute believers in Christ. But while Paul didn’t see the resurrected Jesus in the flesh like Peter did, he knew the event came to pass because Jesus literally spoke to him and told him what he must do in his name. And that kind of power compelled Paul to write the following in the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Think about it: Raising someone from the dead takes a kind of explosive power no human being possesses. A supernatural strength that can only come from God. Yet that kind of otherworldly power is at our disposal right now when we ask the Lord to help and guide us! No more guilt or regret, either. Christ’s forgiveness washes all of that away with the same force that raised him from the dead. Losses, disappointments, dead dreams and visions? Give them over to Jesus and watch him bring those dead things back to life! So indispensable was Christ’s resurrection that Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In other words, worthless. Rubbish. To be pitied. But since Jesus has been raised, our faith is constantly empowered with his power.

Then we looked at John — author of one of the four Gospels along with other New Testament writings — and we were reminded through John’s recollections after Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, he proclaimed that “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live …”

Which brought us to the other immensely practical element of Jesus’ resurrection: Life.

As Pastor Scott shared, there are three forms of the word “life” in the Ancient Greek language found in the New Testament — and they all represent different levels of life. The first level represents “life” as a child understands it: What are my wants right now and how can I get them? The second level is what parents often find themselves in when corralling their kids: How can best act responsibly with my children for their ultimate and best benefit? But interestingly, the word “life” in the latter verse isn’t either of those forms in the Greek. No, it’s a form of the word “life” that denotes another dimension of thought — a spiritual level of “life” that has us asking how God fits into everyday events. In other words, this is the kind of life Jesus died and rose again to usher us into!

But still the Lord doesn’t simply want to grant us eternal life and then ignore our lives in the here and now as if they don’t matter. He also wants you and me, as Paul records in Romans 12:2, to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Jesus wants us to change the way we think so that more and more we’ll be transformed from the inside out — and not at some distant point in the future, but right now.

As you ponder Jesus’ resurrection from the dead this Easter, remember that his rising gives us a “living hope” that will never pass away, power that this world cannot comprehend, and the highest level of life that we can know. And it’s right here for all of us as we humbly call upon his name.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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During Pastor Scott’s message Sunday on Genesis 27 that focused on the dysfunctional family of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob, he noted that many of us also have been or are part of dysfunctional families as well and acknowledged the difficulty that brings into our lives. But when you think about it, because of sin in the world and in our hearts, every family is dysfunctional to some degree. It’s not something any of us can escape. And this chapter in Genesis really hammers home the pain that sin — and accompanying dysfunction — can bring. Yet it also makes clear the power of God’s redemptive plan.

As we learned in this chapter, Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob are a mess. Isaac knew he should pass on his blessing to Jacob according to the Lord’s prophecy, but instead he subverted God and favored Esau. Rebekah knows what her husband should do, but instead of confronting the issue directly, she chose to be conniving instead of honorable. Esau is a manly hunter whose father is wrapped around his finger, while Jacob plays along with Rebekah’s plan to steal the blessing of Isaac from Esau. It all points to lack of faith and trust in God — a very common, very human tendency we all share to “help God out” and do things our own way rather than letting God act in his own timing.

We saw that, incredibly, Rebekah convinces Jacob to masquerade as his brother Esau and offer Isaac food and drink he requested — so duplicitous given that Isaac is over 140 years old couldn’t see very well anymore. Rebekah connived, Jacob lied, and Isaac fell for it and blessed Jacob instead of Esau. When Esau found out, both he and Isaac naturally were distraught and angry. And there was no blessing left for Esau, who subsequently determined to kill Jacob. And then Rebekah told Jacob to leave town so his brother might somehow forget about the deception and not kill him — and Jacob would never see his mother again. What a mess! Yes, their family is just a little bit dysfunctional. And their collective sin — and the consequences of it — is sad to behold.

But what about you and me? Are you one of those individuals who didn’t get a blessing from a parent for one reason or another? The answer is yes for so many of us. And guess what? The answer was very likely the same for many of our parents — and for their parents, and on and on and on. And what has that done to all of our perceptions of God as “father” when our own models of fatherhood may not have been the best? It’s a broken image, at best.

However, there’s good news amid the heartbreaking reality: As believers in Christ, we can look to the Lord as our true Father — a God full of comfort and compassion who can’t wait to pour out all his goodness upon us. And amid our interactions with our family members right now, the relationships we have with Jesus — as we draw on his strength and let him work in our lives — can help all of us overcome our sin natures so that there’s much less tension and more cohesiveness in our own families. 

All children deserve a blessing from their parents. That’s where we get that first taste of acceptance and value — affirmation that all of us are individually unique and special. Mothers and fathers who do this have a powerful effect on their children, and we all need it. But if you’re struggling today and if you don’t feel loved, don’t forget that Jesus already does. In fact, he loved you and valued you before you were born! He can fill in the gaps in our lives. Also remember that our church is also part of your family — it’s a place where others can minister to you, deep in your heart. And keep this in mind as well: Through the power of Christ, you can pass on blessings to others — even your parents, others in your family, all those you come in contact with.

What are we seeing in our world today? What are the attitudes we can observe on places like social media? On the streets? You already know, don’t you? Anger. Frustration. Selfishness. Putting others down. And how do we as believers fit in to that? First, if we’re among those who’ve been furthering ungodly conflict, we need to stop it — right now. Second, when others attack us, let’s remember that we already have the blessing … which will remind us to be generous and merciful and humble — and do our best with God’s power to redirect others’ attitudes and get them thinking about Jesus.

One passage that Pastor Scott’s message got me thinking about was the Apostle Paul quoting Psalm 14 in his letter to the Romans: “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”

That’s quite a downer verse. But when I feel unworthy or get caught up in comparing myself to others, I read a passage like Romans 3:10-12 — or examine the sin-soaked family drama recorded in Genesis 27 — and I feel comforted. No, there isn’t any difference between us and others who we believe have a lot more of it together. Sure, aspects of their lives may be appear to be better, but in the end, the only thing that matters is what stands as righteous before God. And none of us have anything in that regard that stands up in God’s sight, no matter how hard we try.

But praise God that Jesus stands in that gap for us, looks beyond our sin and dysfunction, and takes us in as his very own adopted family members.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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How in tune are you to the mercies of God in your life?

As we discovered in our study of Genesis 26 on Sunday, as we grow in our understanding of the Lord’s mercies and are ready to experience them, it increases our gratefulness, our hope — indeed our quality of life.

This particular chapter is about Abraham’s son Isaac — and we see that God wants to bless Isaac just like the Lord blessed Abraham. But one of the things we notice about Isaac is that he avoids conflict — and that he wants peace. And as we know in life, conflict is inevitable and peace between human beings isn’t always possible.

And right off the bat we see Isaac repeating the sin Abraham committed — lying — by telling King Abimelech that his wife Rebekah is his sister. Of course, Abimelech soon saw right through Isaac’s deceit and confronted him and rebuked him. Amazing that once again the Bible openly acknowledges that man of God is absolutely subject to correction from a pagan — and it teaches us that the world is watching God’s people to see if indeed they live godly lives and practice what they preach.

But even after this sin, God blesses Isaac with great wealth. So much so that Abimelech told Isaac to leave since had become mightier than him. Amazingly sometimes the Lord pours out his blessings upon us even when we do wrong — and it’s an illustration of the biblical principle that ultimately God’s blessings aren’t dependent on what we do. It’s not a transaction between us and the Lord.

Rather it’s completely dependent on God and how he wants to pour out his blessings, his mercies, upon us.

It seemed wherever Isaac went and whatever he did, God blessed him. After he successfully dug wells in the Valley of Gerar and then moved on to Beersheba, verses 24 and 25 tell us that “the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, ‘I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.’ So, he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.”

Even Abimelech recognized what was happening and paid Isaac a visit — and he is as shocked as we are! “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” Isaac asked the king. Abimelech saw how the Lord was blessing Isaac and wanted to make a pact with him, which Isaac did, again moving again toward his goal of peace in life.

However, we see in the final verses of the chapter that total peace won’t come for Isaac, as his son Esau at age 40 “took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite,and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”

What is it that you’re seeking in life? Is it peace? Is it security? Is it safety? Is it adventure? Is it wealth? Whatever motivates you, don’t lose sight that it should be pursued with the filter of desiring God’s blessings — which we don’t always “deserve” and aren’t always what we planned on.

And as Pastor Scott emphasized, a deeper understanding of God’s mercies and why he pours them out on us will lead to good things — particularly an increased desire to seek after them. The Lord wants to pour out his blessings so that we will recognize and appreciate what a good and loving father he is — and be drawn to him. Such an understanding changes how we think and act. It’s the difference between “being good” — as part of a transaction — and being in relationship with the Lord because He is good! And that’s when the blessings can really flow.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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God wants to bless you. How many of you are already blessed? Alright. So you already experienced the blessing of God. God wants to bless you more. The word ‘blessing’ is this idea of gift. God wants to give you gifts. He wants to bless you with these gifts. When we say bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name, when we’re saying, “Lord, I want to bless you,” what we’re saying is I want to give you gifts. I want to give you gifts of worship. I want to give you gifts of song. I want to give you gifts of praise. I want to give you the gift of my heart, my life. That’s blessing the Lord when we use it that way.

Now we’re going to look in Genesis 12 at a man who was blessed, Abraham. God had a particular blessing attached to his name that was his packaged blessing. Abraham’s blessing. We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to get some illustrations for how God would have us be blessed. But that was his blessing. Each one of us could stand up and talk about the blessing that God has given to us and how He’s worked in our lives.

Let me just point out that one of the reasons that God wants to bless us is because He wants us to be wowed with His greatness. So that we will say, “Praise the Lord for the blessings He’s given us.” That’s one of the reasons. Think about blessing, not just from your perspective for a moment, about the things you get. But think about it from God’s perspective. Why is He blessing? One reason is to wow us with His goodness so that we’ll be impressed with Him and we’ll worship Him and we’ll praise Him. That’s one of the reasons He blesses us.

That’s what we’re going to see in Abraham’s life today. And that’s what God wants to do with each of us. Just imagine God has all these blessings with your name on them ready to give them to you. He wants to pass them onto you in your life.

Now in case you misunderstand me here, when I talk about the gifts that God gives and the blessing that He wants you to have more of, I don’t want you to think that everything then is going to be rosy, everything is going to be fine. So I’m going to take you one verse into next week. Next week’s message will take us into the next verses. I just want you to read verse 10. Notice it says in verse 10 – Now there was a famine in the land. You’re going, “Whoa, wait a minute! I thought he was being blessed.” You’ve got to understand we live in a world that’s broken. We as believers experience pain and challenges in our lives, just like other people experience pain and challenges in their lives. There are certain decisions that we make and choices that we make that free us up from some of the pain that other people experience because we’re following the Lord and His directives. But that doesn’t mean that we escape all of the pain in the world. You’re going to have challenges, you’re going to have struggles, relational struggles, health struggles, financial struggles. You’re going to experience those.

You see you just have to understand that the blessing of the Lord is not all about everything going well. It’s about God giving you gifts that are appropriate in that moment. And sometimes the gifts that God gives you are those gifts of encouragement, those gifts of comfort. The blessings that He gives to you are the ones that are hope. Those ones of encouragement that God wants you to have inside of your heart. That’s what we’re going to see in this passage.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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What are your motivations? What drives you to do what you do day to day?

The Bible has a few things to say about human motivations. For example, each one of us tends to believe our own moves and decisions come from places of goodness and justice (“All of a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord”—Proverbs 16:2). It’s also very easy for us to be people pleasers rather than God pleasers (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Or as James notes in the fourth chapter of his epistle, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Who among us can’t relate to that latter observation? How often do we pursue happiness or pleasure, only to find that it doesn’t last or that the objects of our pursuits are sorely lacking? Instead the Scriptures repeatedly implore us to take the narrow road that leads to God himself — and in the end the Lord will meet our needs and much more.

On Sunday Pastor Scott gave us two lists — one that spells out external motivations and another that looks at internal motivations — and noted that as believers in Jesus, we should be driven by internal factors. Specifically, rather than being motivated by things like fear of punishment, peer pressure, desire for fame, power, and control, the tendency to compare and compete, Christians should instead have internals on our minds and hearts — motivations such as love and loyalty, gratitude, the desire to serve the Lord and make the world a better place, personal growth, a sense of accomplishment, and responsibility and integrity.

And we also learned Sunday that three important decisions Abraham made in Genesis 14 were based on internal motivations. For example, love and loyalty to his family likely drove Abraham to leave the safety of his home to rescue Lot, who had been taken captive after making a bad decision to move in close proximity to Sodom. And Pastor Scott said something that really hit home: As Christians we should be embarking on rescue missions of our own every day! Not necessarily physical rescues — although they certainly can and do happen — but spiritual rescues. Missions of the heart based on love for others and our motivation to see them be made whole inside and out by believing in and trusting in Jesus.

We also saw Abraham was motivated by gratitude when he gave Melchizedek king of Salem a tenth of what he’d won in battle (decision #2) and by personal integrity when he declined to take anything away from the king because Abraham had made an oath to the Lord not to (decision #3).

Such examples from Scripture beg the questions: What is driving you? What is motivating you?

As we grow in our faith, we should be noticing that internal motivations such as love, integrity, and gratitude are driving us. We should be making it a practice to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us — to bear the burdens of others, to help the weaker among us. To be rescuers.

So, here’s a challenge for all of us this week: Will you ask the Lord to shine his spotlight on your heart and show you the forces that are driving you? And that if externals such as fear, peer pressure, or the desire for power and control are motivating you, ask God to help you put such motivations aside.

The Lord will always honor such a prayer request!

Written by Dave Urbanski

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What do you say to those who’ve made a mess of their lives through bad decisions, and now things have become really complicated for them?

The answer, as we learned Sunday, is actually quite simple: Instead of doing the wrong thing at their next opportunity, they simply need to do the right thing. Of course, doing so doesn’t mean all our problems disappear; rather step-by-step movement in the right direction results in things slowly beginning to change, and God in his grace begins to bless those decisions.

From our study in Genesis, we know that Abraham made a pretty big mess of his life. He went to Egypt and promptly lied. Rather than trusting in God, he thought his own scheme would be a better idea, and instead it multiplied his problems. And this was alongside (and despite) his great wealth, which underscores the fact that lots of money and possessions don’t eliminate your problems — riches simply bring different problems associated with those riches. But after God rescued Abraham, at the beginning chapter 13 we see he traveled back to Israel — “to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.”

This was a crucial moment for Abraham — and is a decision all of us can relate to in one way or another. When things go wrong or we sin, sometimes the best remedy is grabbing hold of our roots and calling out to God. What Abraham did reflects what his descendent David shared with us in his poem of repentance, Psalm 51:10-12: 

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

What Abraham was learning reflects the important point that Pastor Scott noted in his message Sunday: When you choose to trust the Lord, you always get the better deal! God’s way is always the best way.

In this chapter we also see that Abraham and Lot, amid disagreements over land, decided to go their separate ways. And this time it was Lot’s turn to make a bad decision, as verses 10-13 tell us that he liked what he saw east in the Jordan Valley. It reminded him of Egypt — again, references to Egypt in Scripture often mean a return to the world and its ways. And lo and behold Lot ended up moving his tent “as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” Oh boy…

Instead of letting himself be guided by God, Lot let his eyes tell him what to do. And again, isn’t that just like us to varying degrees? How often have we gone after the more attractive option — the thing that would make us feel better or give us more pleasure — only to find that our choice was anything but beautiful?

As Pastor Scott emphasized, there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the greener pastures of the Jordan Valley — it’s what they were next to. If that pretty thing we desire doesn’t itself bring us new problems, our woes may come from what resides right next to that object of desire.

On the other hand, Abraham trusted in Lord and learned that doing so always gets you the better deal. In verses 15 through 18, God tells Abraham “for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” And Abraham did so — and once again, when he settled, he “built an altar to the Lord.”

Indeed, Abraham was learning and progressing in his faith. And so can we — and it’s all about going back to our very beginnings of faith, trusting in God, and making a series of right decisions — ones we know are pleasing to the Lord, regardless of what they look like.

And just as God was only too pleased to give Abraham endless land and more offspring than he could possibly count, the Lord also wants to give you and me every good thing. In fact, he wants to do amazing things through us! 

But it all starts with taking that single, right step of faith. Then another. And another. Won’t you put your best foot forward today in faith? It will be the start of something phenomenal!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

— Proverbs 3:5-6

Written by Dave Urbanski

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When our faith is strong, we’re better able to cope with life — even when difficult things are happening to us and around us. But when our faith is weak — watch out! In those times, we tend to feel more anxious, angry, and disappointed with our circumstances.

As we learned from an episode in Abraham’s life found in Genesis 12, not even heroes of the Bible are immune from reduced faith in God, periods of weakness, and bad decision-making.

It’s important to point out that Abraham’s weakened faith in this chapter preceded an awesome experience: God himself promised Abraham that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on all the world’s beaches. Seriously, if God had shown himself to you in such a way, would you need reassurance ever again that the Lord is taking care of you, providing for your needs, and keeping his promises? Perhaps we would respond by saying, “Of course not!” But also, we shouldn’t forget that none of us has ever walked in Abraham’s sandals, and all of us can probably recall numerous occasions when our faith in God was low — despite all the amazing things he previously had done for us.

Well, Abraham’s weakened faith coincided with a famine — surely a difficult circumstance. It shows, however, that the Lord allows not-so-pleasant things to happen to us even when we closely follow him and obey his commands. One thing that stuck out in Pastor Scott’s message was the key detail that Abraham departed the famine-ravaged land for Egypt — and that a flight to that country in Scripture often meant a move toward the world and its solutions, rather than a focus on the Lord and his solutions.

It certainly rings true, given that Abraham immediately made a really bad decision: Looking to save his own skin, he convinced his wife to pretend they were brother and sister so that the Egyptians — who were likely to take Sarah from him — wouldn’t be tempted to kill him. Doesn’t that sound oddly familiar? Not that any of us have been in such a situation in today’s world — but many of us can probably recall times when we acted out of fear, and perhaps even sinned in the process, instead of trusting God for the outcome. And again, you’d think someone like Abraham who experienced what God personally showed him wouldn’t need to make decisions out of fear ever again — but he did. And we certainly do, too.

Oh, and then came the consequences! Besides the awful plagues, there was what had to have been a humiliating confrontation from Pharaoh, who by then figured out Abraham’s scheme — and you had the pagan telling the child of Israel, “You sinned!” What a gut punch that had to be. Of course, we likely can relate to this also: How many times can we recall our bad and faithless decisions resulting in terrible — even embarrassing — circumstances? Like, crawl-under-a-rock, cartons-of-eggs-on-our-faces humiliation.

But as Pastor Scott also pointed out, God has a plan even when we mess up. Truth is, the Lord is infinitely bigger than our worst sins. He’s able to take us from where we are and still do great things. God did that with Abraham when Pharaoh let him go, and again, all of us can probably relate to the Lord getting us out of sticky situations — even when we deserved the worst results.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Our study of Genesis 25 this Sunday brought us to the end of Abraham’s story and the beginning of his son Isaac’s story — and it offered us more than a few crucial truths we can apply to our lives.

First, we saw that Isaac and Rebekah weren’t able to have children because Rebekah was barren. But they also were people of prayer, and Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife — and God answered Isaac’s prayer, enabling Rebekah to conceive. Right off the bat, a quite simple illustration: How often do we come to the Lord in prayer with our needs? How often are we doing life “on our own” as if we are in control and in the driver’s seat? And how often does God remind us that we ultimately rely on him for our needs?

In this vein, Pastor Scott referenced a pair of verses that work well together. Isaiah 65:24 reads, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” James 4:2 reads, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” We do not have because we do not ask — and even before we ask, God already has an answer waiting for us. 

How many of you are still struck by Pastor Scott’s illustration of answers waiting for us in heaven that we haven’t asked God about in prayer? And to think that all of us in one way or another are going to find out in eternity that aspects of our lives on earth could have been different had we approached the Lord in prayer about specific things? Now, that may sound tragic on some level — but I find it pretty exciting! I’m alive right now and can begin to explore the blessings God has prepared for me that are literally waiting for me. How cool is that?

The chapter moves along with a scene featuring Esau and Jacob — the combative twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. And it’s a sad one. Esau comes in exhausted after shooting game as Jacob is making stew, and Jacob says he’ll give Esau some — for a price. Esau’s inheritance from Isaac, to be specific. And unbelievably, Esau — who “despised his birthright” — agrees! As Pastor Scott observed, Esau “magnified his current situation and minimized his future benefit.” And isn’t that what we often do, when we get involved in things we shouldn’t be getting involved in — or when we clamor “I want what I want when I want it”?

Esau sold off his inheritance for some food. He threw away his future so he could get rid of hunger pangs! As Christians our eternal futures are secure, but don’t we in some respects toss away God’s blessings that he’s just waiting to give us in favor of temporary, cheap substitutes? We must remind ourselves daily who we are in Christ and what he’s given us so we can accept his blessings and let them change our lives

Pastor Scott also reminded us that it all comes down to the fact that you and I are already “winners” of the greatest “sweepstakes” ever. We all hold the winning ticket because of what Jesus has done for us. Yet, our fallen natures still compel us to earn our way into heaven. Perhaps we find ourselves focused on “being good” and giving money away and doing our devotions — and not that we shouldn’t do those things; we should! But maybe, just maybe, in parts of ourselves we don’t often see, we’re doing those things as a transaction with God. “I do this for you, Lord, and then you can do this for me.” No, no, and for a third time, no!

Let us not view God as tightly holding on to blessings — or even eternal life — and us as constantly prying apart the Lord’s fingers so that he’ll release those things to us. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Just as the Publisher’s Clearinghouse people pursue winners of their prizes, even more the Lord pursues us with his blessings — that’s how much he wants us to experience them! We just have to stop running away from the Lord and what he wants to give to us. Let us slow down, turn to him, ask, and accept.

Finally, while we are truly “winners,” many of us may feel like “losers.” And that’s OK. In fact, as Pastor Scott said, that’s the first step is becoming a winner. Because the truth is, we’re all losers, we all fall short. But when we become Christians, we become winners because of what Jesus did for us. And that should cause us to live differently — and with our heads held high. Because we know who our father is.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Our culture sells us way short when it comes to marriage. 

It emphasizes romance and emotions with regard to marriage — but marriage isn’t about romance and emotions.

It looks down upon those who aren’t married, as if they’re second-class citizens — but God values us all the same whether we’re married or not.

It also cheapens marriage by holding up divorce as an option when a couple “just isn’t into it anymore” as well as sex before marriage — but we know that isn’t the way the Lord operates.

As Pastor Scott pointed out Sunday as we studied Genesis 24, it is not easy to be married. But as Christians — whether we’re married or not — we all must value marriage and lift it high as an expression of love and commitment that God himself ordained.

And whether we’re married or not, we can apply the five principles Pastor Scott drew from the account of Abraham’s servant finding a wife for his son Isaac.

First off, Abraham instructed his servant to find a wife for Isaac not from the Canaanites where he lives but “to my country and to my kindred.” That’s the first principle: Narrow the pool. As Christians, we should only marry other Christians. But it’s more than that. We should be marrying like-minded Christians, those who place Jesus at the very front of their lives.

Then Abraham’s servant when he reached his destination, prayed that God would bring to him the maiden who would become Isaac’s wife. That’s the second principle: If we’re looking to get married — or have any other life decisions to make — we must pray that the Lord will lead us and provide.

Abraham’s servant also went to a well where women were gathering water — which bring us to the third principle: We must go to the figurative wells in our lives if we’re looking to get married — in other words, be a part of the day-to-day lives of other Christians. Be a part of a church, for example. If we’re in college, be a part of a campus ministry group. Or be involved in Christian activities such as missions and service. Thing is, this applies to all of us, whether we’re looking to get married or not. We all must be part of a church that will help us grow in our spiritual lives — and not merely because we hope we’ll meet a spouse there! We don’t know what today holds for us, or tomorrow, either. The Lord may have someone in mind, or he may not. Either way, our primary mission is to serve God and grow closer to him, whether that’s in singleness or in marriage. But drawing from the well of fellowship is a principle all of us should follow.

The fourth principle is to consider character when choosing a spouse. The person may be a Christian and may even love the Lord like you do, but is this person’s character full of good qualities? Does he or she persevere when times are tough? How does he or she treat others? In the passage, Abraham’s servant watched the actions and behavior of Rebekah, the maiden the Lord brought to him, to ensure she possessed quality characteristics. We should do the same — and that often comes only after spending a lot of time observing how another person lives his or her life amid a wide variety of circumstances.

Finally, the fifth principle is that decision making of all kinds is a spiritual experience for the Christian. Abraham’s servant placed the Lord in the center of all of his steps before he found Rebekah and after he found her. God must be our destination, the well from which we draw love and life, the one with whom we communicate and lean on day by day for help and guidance, and our example when it comes to character.

Let the Lord be the center or our lives at all times whether or not we’re looking to get married — and may we always support, uphold, and value the gift of marriage.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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In Genesis 23 when Abraham grieves over the death of Sarah and buries her, we’re reminded that death is the destiny for everyone.

And attending a funeral certainly should be a reminder of that. It can be easy, however, as a funeral attendee to feel somewhat “spared” from the pain that the departed’s loved ones are going through — and while that’s true for the moment, the reality is that such pain is more than likely an inevitability for all of us. And certainly our own deaths will come in God’s timing unless Jesus returns while we’re still here.

Abraham pointed out in verse 4, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you,” and that’s true for all of us, too. We’re just passing through this place called Earth. It is not our forever home. And believers in Jesus Christ can take comfort that through his death and resurrection, we’re adopted into his eternal family and have a forever home in Heaven that he’s at this moment preparing for us. How can our mortal minds begin to comprehend such a glorious thing?

But because we are human and have a natural attachment to this life, when we experience a loved one passing away, we are saddened by the finality of that person’s departure. And even if that that person was a Christian — and the separation is merely temporary — God has designed us to grieve in order to get through the loss. On a personal note, grief is difficult for me. It’s not that I’m embarrassed to cry; it’s that when I cry — and I mean really cry — it’s a full-body experience that’s taxing emotionally and physically. However, I also know that once the tears end, I feel so much better. Lighter. Relieved. I think that’s how God must have designed grief to be for us — a way to release the pressure valves in our hearts, as Pastor Scott mentioned, so we can cope when necessary, and then move forward. So, no, I don’t relish the idea of going through grief, but having experienced it, I know it’s necessary to navigate for the good of my own heart, soul, and spirit.

Another great reminder from our study together Sunday is that we all must make the daily decision to value: To value this very day, this very moment you’re reading these words, in fact; and to value those we love. We are not privy to God’s timetable, and we don’t know how long we have in this life, and we don’t know how long we have the people in our lives. So, let us seize this day to the extent we’re able by the grace of God, and make the most of this gift of life he’s given us. Let’s love our family. Let’s love our friends. Let’s love our neighbor. And let’s love strangers.

I’m glad Pastor Scott brought up the maxim, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” I’ve always bristled at that saying, because it seemed like yet another excuse to leave God out of the picture. So, I concur with Pastor Scott’s retort: “If you’re not heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.” We all need the Lord, and if we’re not focused on Heaven — our true home — we may miss opportunities to share his love with others or bolster our own faith.

Finally, let us practice the discipline of holding loosely to the things of this world. Let us not allow ourselves to get locked in. Of course we should enjoy the gift of today that God has given us, as well as the people he’s surrounded us with — but never to the extent that it’s anything close to a be all, end all proposition. Jesus is our be all, end all — and he can’t wait to see us face to face.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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After these things…

That’s one of the important phrases that loudly and clearly resonated from our Sunday study of Genesis 22, which contains the famous account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice.

Indeed, it’s one of the Bible’s most well-known messages — but what many people so often miss are the rich details and poetic parallels that can help us increase our understanding of the passage and the broader truths it carries.

First off, I was right there with Pastor Scott when he said he couldn’t have done what Abraham did. Many of us are parents, and our first reaction is, “No way would I be able to obey the Lord and be willing to sacrifice my child.” And that’s where the phrase that starts off chapter 22 — “After these things” — becomes so important. Those three words point to the fact that God has brought Abraham through many circumstances and problems already — he’s experienced fear, loss, deceit, weakness, triumph … and along the way his faith in God has increased with each experience.

We tend to look at Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and say, “No way.” But if we view this account in a vacuum — without considering the context surrounding it — we’ll miss the bigger picture. Abraham had his mountains to climb prior to that moment, and God brought him a point in chapter 22 where his faith was strong enough that he was able to obey the Lord’s heart-wrenching command. And what about you? What mountains has God placed before you to climb? What has he brought you through to this point in your life? Wherever you are in your journey with Christ, God will use the faith you’ve already acquired through trials and triumphs to help you take your next step of faith. God only asks us to place one foot in front of the other — not to ascend to the top of Mount Everest in a single bound! Just to take the next step. And amid that next step, we can look back and see how far the Lord has brought us.

Another phrase that stood out Sunday: There is no Plan B.

One of the difficult things God brought Abraham through was his son Ishmael departing with Hagar earlier in Genesis. But why does the chapter 22 describe Isaac as Abraham’s “only son”?

As Pastor Scott explained, perhaps it’s because Isaac is directly connected to God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah — and Ishmael, while indeed Abraham’s biological son, is connected to Abraham and Sarah’s human attempt to make God’s promise happen by having a child through Hagar. And at this point, with Ishmael gone and Isaac left as Abraham’s only son, there is no “Plan B” if Abraham sacrifices Isaac. Had Ishmael still been around, it may not have required as much faith on Abraham’s part to obey the Lord — and things seem to have been orchestrated by God in just the right way in order to bring about the most faith within Abraham.

Another crucial phrase: God will provide for himself the lamb

It’s so helpful to meditate on the poetic parallels between Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and God’s willingness to sacrifice Jesus. Both sons carried wood on their backs and ascended hills to places where their sacrifices would be carried out. Both were bound. But the difference is that the Lord halted Abraham prior to the sacrifice — and God allowed Jesus’ life to be taken. No doubt our human hearts cannot fathom the depth of sorrow the Lord endured over his only son’s death on the cross — nor can we do anything to “repay” the Lord for the gift of eternal life that Jesus’ death and resurrection has given us.

In both cases God provided for himself the lamb. After Isaac was spared, Abraham found a ram caught in a thicket; and Jesus — the Lamb of God — was offered up for our sakes.

As we each ascend our new mountain today, let us remember that God will provide for us — even when it appears all hope is lost, and there’s nothing but sorrow waiting for us. Let us remember that Jesus is our everything: There is no “Plan B” for us. He is our only answer. Our salvation. The way, the truth, and the life. And finally, let us remember that we each have our own “after these things” stories of God bringing us through tough times. Let’s harness those things we’ve gone through so that we can take the next steps of faith upward to the summit of the next mountain with confidence.

We are God’s church — and nothing will stand against it. No matter who is in the White House, no matter what world leaders do, no matter how strong and scary viruses are, we are still advancing the kingdom of God. The score is settled; we are on the winning side. So, let us complete the race before us with strength and joy.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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In Genesis 21, we have a front-row seat for watching God at work — and not just in one person’s life, but several.

From Sarah’s perspective, we see that God has finally fulfilled the promise he made to her — that she would have a son. Thing is, Sarah had to wait 25 years for this promise to come to pass. For most of us, that’s a really long time — and over the course of a quarter century, it might be hard for us to continue to have faith that the Lord will do something in our lives. But the length of time really isn’t the point here; it’s the idea of waiting on the Lord for however long he calls us to wait. The cool thing is when God’s promise was fulfilled in Sarah, she was 90 years old — far past the age when women give birth. A miracle. And when it finally happened, Sarah was so tickled that the boy was named Isaac — which literally means “laughter.”

Waiting on the Lord can be really difficult. It can bring about disappointment with God when things don’t go our way or happen fast enough — or occur as we hope they might. But as Philippians 1:6 promises, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Even if a promise of the Lord takes years and years to come to pass, we must not miss what God will do in our lives during that period of waiting as we continually exercise faith in his goodness and care for us.

From Abraham’s perspective, he’s dealing with a painful reality — a reminder that the presence of Ishmael, the son he had with his slave woman Hagar, is the result of his human (i.e., faulty and short sighted) solution to a divine promise. And years later, as Isaac was weaned and the older Ishmael laughed at him, Sarah wanted him gone. This pained his father Abraham, but the Lord told him to do what Sarah asked. In a deeper way, this shows God pruning something from Abraham’s life so that he can enjoy God’s promise — that Abraham’s offspring shall be named through Isaac, and even that the Lord will make a nation through Ishmael.

Indeed, in our own lives there have been — and perhaps still are — things the Lord wants us to let go of so that we can clearly see and enjoy the promises he has for us. The task of letting go is never easy, but it’s also a step of faith God wants us to take. What is the Lord telling you to let go of in your life today? Just as he was up to something really special in Abraham’s life, God is also up to something special in your life — but you have to let go of things that are inhibiting your growth.

From perspective of Hagar, who was sent away with Ishmael, what else could she do but weep in the wilderness and assume she and her son would die there? And weep she did. But as difficult as that circumstance was, we discover that God (again) demonstrates his love for Hagar and Ishmael, as Hagar lifts up her eyes and suddenly sees a well. Water in the desert. Life.

Of course, we know full well that God directed Hagar and Ishmael being sent into the wilderness, but a longer view reminds us (again) that a lot of misguided human decisions led to this moment — particularly Ishmael being conceived in the first place. As a slave woman, Hagar didn’t likely view any of it as very God-directed, either. But again, God is always at work, usually unbeknownst to us, and the same was true in the case of Hagar and Ishmael, as the angel of the Lord told her, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Finally, as Pastor Scott shared in his second shorter sermon Sunday, the two other people in this divine play — Isaac and Ishmael — have perspectives of sorts to share with us as well, and they’re found in Paul’s retelling of their circumstances in Galatians 4. Paul is talking to his readers about the promise of freedom we have in Jesus Christ — a far cry from the life of spiritual slavery they had been living. But the questions Paul poses to the Galatians he asks us today: Are you going to continue to live as though you are slaves, in bondage to sin (Ishmael)? Or are you going to live as free people — people of the promise — rooted in Christ (Isaac)?

Much of life is based on how we perform — what we do well and what we don’t do well. Our schools are based on performance. Our jobs are based on performance. But God is not performance based. However, it’s easy and typical to turn to the notion of God loving us based on how we perform. And when we’re in that spiritual state of mind — chained to slavery of a performance-based view of God — we will spend our lives in fear and in pain and hopelessness amid our problems. But if we approach the Lord based in the truth of his unconditional love for us — holding fast to his very promises of forgiveness and adoption into his eternal family through Christ— we will live as free people. So, today — and for the rest of our days — let us hold fast to that promise.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Abraham did it — again.

You’d think that after all he went through after insisting to Pharaoh that Sarah — his wife — was his sister in Genesis 12, Abraham lies about the very same thing to King Abimelech in Genesis 20. It was over fear that the pagan people of Gerar would kill him otherwise.

Lying often follows fear, doesn’t it? And even Abraham — a man of great faith in God, the father of Israel, and the Lord’s favored son — seems to be very slow to learn in this area.

But as God is so adept at doing, he provides a way through this sticky situation. Not only does he prevent Abimelech from sinning with Sarah, God also speaks to this pagan king in a dream and tells him to give Sarah back to Abraham — and Abimelech does so.

Still, there’s much more happening under the surface in this chapter. As Pastor Scott noted Sunday, this biblical account very much mirrors the idea of believers going to work in a non-believing environment — a challenge most Christians face daily. Abraham’s work — tending his animals in a nomadic situation — leads him into a pagan land, and then fear sets in. Then Abraham lies about Sarah, and his lack of integrity got Abimelech’s people in a lot of trouble. Abraham finally explains to the king in verse 11 that he said Sarah was his sister “because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’”

And this brings up an interesting notion: Just because people you work with aren’t Christians doesn’t mean that they aren’t upstanding people with integrity. King Abimelech had a great deal of integrity and wanted to do what was right. God recognized this, too. And just because your coworkers aren’t believers doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t working in their hearts — indeed, he is! And therefore, it’s important to learn from Abraham’s sin that non-Christians are watching you — and in fact you have the opportunity to be a signpost for Jesus so that others who God may be drawing to himself will be able to see their savior a little more clearly.

Also, did you catch the intellectual contortions Abraham goes through with the king, even after the truth is revealed, explaining to him that Sarah is technically his sister since she’s “the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife”? Wow. So, out of fear and self-protection, Abraham can call Sarah his sister when it suits him? The jury may be out as to whether Abraham has a handle on this integrity thing by this point in Genesis.

It also shows that sin often is no accident; it’s not usually something we simply wander into. That’s true in life, and that’s true in our work, too. And it appears Abraham was basically saying, “There are not godly people at my job, so I don’t have to play by the same rules I play by when I go to church.” But as we all know, God responds with a big NO to that. Even when we’re afraid, even when we’re stressed and under pressure, and most importantly, even when no other human is watching, we must do right as Christians at all times.

But even if you’ve sinned and messed up and blew it on the integrity question, the Lord can still heal you and forgive you — all you have to do is confess, repent, and move forward. And keep planting your flag for Jesus in your pagan land.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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The passage in Genesis 18 we studied Sunday illustrates how we are to respond to those struggling with sexual sin.

In short, Abraham pleaded with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah because he figured there had to be a few righteous people among the wicked there — and God heard Abraham’s cry, and said he’d spare the cities if he could find even 10 righteous souls within their borders.

It’s a stirring moment. We see God’s determination to bring justice to this situation because of the sexual sin among those in Sodom and Gomorrah, but we also see the Lord’s compassion and mercy as he held back his powerful hand and was willing to hear Abraham’s appeal.

As believers in Christ, a huge part of our mission also must be justice and compassion — both of them, all the time.

It should come as no surprise that the opportunities to exercise justice and compassion in response to sexual sin are more than numerous in 2021. Our culture has steadily declined with regard to sexual morality over the decades — but in recent years, the pace of the decline has been rapidly increasing.

While LGBTQ and transgender issues dominate the headlines and gain ground and acceptance in the public square, let’s not pretend that heterosexual sin is somehow “not as bad.” It is. So, whether we’re dialoguing with someone struggling with lust or promiscuity toward the opposite sex or with lust or promiscuity toward the same sex, our response is identical in both cases: “I love you. Tell me more about your story. Let’s talk about it.”

That’s compassion.

But depending on the person, compassion may be easier to exercise than justice. Some believers may have a much harder time “laying down the law,” so to speak, for fear of offending others. As Scott noted, if a lesbian couple were to come into our church, our response would be to welcome them with open arms and love them and pray for them and do everything we can to lead them to Christ. But if that couple were to come to our church with an agenda — to promote the LGBTQ lifestyle or try to convince church members to side with them — then justice would be the appropriate response as we would tell them that such behavior isn’t appropriate at Calvary.

Beyond our approach as believers to those wrestling with sexual sin, let’s acknowledge how difficult it is to wrestle with sexual sin, in the first place! Our culture tells us, “If it feels good, do it.” And “don’t push away your desires.” But desire doesn’t determine right and wrong. Just because you desire something doesn’t mean that “getting” that something is a good outcome.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” — James 1:13-15

A common argument justifying sexual sin is “that’s how I’m wired” or “I’ve been this way since I was born.” But as Pastor Scott noted, all people have bad wiring in one way or another. It’s our sin nature, and it puts us all on a path toward wrong behavior, whether it’s sexual sin or anger or lying or cheating or stealing. That’s why we all need Jesus. And in the end, we must let Christ work in our lives and help us wrestle with our faulty wiring, every day.

In regard specifically to homosexual behavior, the Bible is clear that it’s sin — just as a heterosexual affair is sin. Some may hit back, however, with a common argument that “Jesus didn’t speak about homosexual behavior; therefore, you can’t say it’s wrong.” But that’s a fallacy: As Scott also pointed out, Jesus didn’t speak about wife beating, either — but that doesn’t make wife beating fine and dandy. Besides Jesus did speak about the issue. In Matthew 19:4-5, answering a question about marriage and divorce: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” The standard Christ set for sexual expression is in the context of marriage between men and women. Period.

But do you believe God’s grace is big enough to handle all these sexual challenges? If not, you’d better believe it! God forgives and empowers each of us — whether our struggle is heterosexual or homosexual sin. Or any struggle! When Paul said he asked the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh, God’s answer was “my grace is sufficient for you.” It’s sufficient for you and me, too!

You may wonder if people can change their sexual desires — or even if God can change them. Well, do you believe a thief can be cured of his desire to steal, or that a greedy person can change toward becoming generous? Of course, they can! (And don’t forget that all of us are constantly tempted to do all sorts of things, every day — and the Lord empowers us to say no to those temptations. It’s part of our life this side of heaven, and it’s a universal struggle.)

Indeed, Paul talks about this very thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

As such were some of us — but no longer!

God can change anyone from the inside out and take away unwanted desires. But even if he has another plan in mind for you; a purpose for the thorn in your flesh that you won’t fathom here on earth, the Lord promised that his grace is sufficient for you as you manage them every day.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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As we’ve seen from previous chapters in Genesis, the Lord isn’t squeamish about telling us the difficult-to-face truths — particularly with regard to how we treat each other.

Abraham’s family, we can safely say, doesn’t model a loving, stable, sacrificial home life — quite the opposite. In fact, his family life resembles a lurid soap opera, full of sin and selfishness and bad choices. Abraham’s wife Sarah couldn’t have children, so she lobbies for Abraham to impregnate her servant, Hagar. Abraham unwisely agrees. Of course, it all leads to anger, blame, contempt, doubt, and strife.

(Side note: Do you see how such unvarnished storytelling only strengthens the Bible as authentic? After all, if ancient people had actually fabricated Scripture, why would they use story after story of believers’ non-belief and failure? Not a very effective “marketing campaign,” is it? But then again, the Lord isn’t looking to “sell” us anything! The truth is always free.)

Yet in the midst of all the pain Abraham’s family members inflicted upon each other, God keeps meeting them at their lowest points and lifts each of them up. First Hagar — who now knows down to her bones that God has truly seen her — and then Abraham, who’s encouraged by the Lord to think much bigger. And now we come to Sarah in Genesis 18.

But first we’re thrust into an intriguing scene during which Abraham sees three men standing in front him — and one of them (denoted by the capitalized word “LORD,” or “Yahweh”) actually is God himself. However, Abraham apparently doesn’t know this, as he refers to the “man” as “Lord” — not all capitalized letters — which is another way of saying “Mister.” Abraham then implores the men to sit for a spell, after which Abraham and Sarah wait on them hand and foot.

The cool thing about this passage is that it underscores the stark differences between eastern and western culture when it comes to hospitality. Did you catch Pastor Scott explaining how in America when people knock on our doors, we’re all about the task at hand — and perhaps even reducing as much as face-to-face interaction as possible in those moments? But it’s the complete opposite in eastern cultures — in other words, efficiency and sticking to the task is decidedly not of the essence! Instead, relationships are where it’s at. And indeed, we see Abraham and Sarah putting the visitors’ needs way ahead of their own, and no matter what tasks they were up to, they’re putting to the side their work for the moment and attending to their guests and welcoming conversation, no matter how long it takes.

In that vein, let’s not forget Pastor Scott’s exhortation for all of us — that hospitality can be incredibly strategic and effective as a way of drawing others closer to Christ! As the New Testament book of Hebrews notes in chapter 13, verse 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” All of us can simply open our homes — and hearts — for others. Just like Abraham did.

Now as for Sarah — despite her tendency to place blame on others and manipulate situations to her advantage — she’s a woman who loves God and who’s considered by others who came after her in the Bible as someone to look up to. In fact, she’s a member of the “Faith Hall of Fame” as noted in Hebrews.

But as Genesis 18 points out, doubts can take over the minds and hearts of even the godliest among us. And in Sarah’s case, she laughed at the Lord’s promise that she would bear a child — not a far-fetched reaction given her age and barren condition. Then Sarah even lies to God, denying that she laughed when she did. And don’t we lie to God sometimes, too? And more than that — why? Doesn’t the Lord already know what the truth is before we can fathom or understand it? But like Sarah, we also are afraid of God’s plan; we want others to like us, and we compromise; we take life’s matters into our own hands instead of trusting the Lord to lead us.

Then God simply and patiently asks Sarah and us: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Brothers and sisters, God’s purposes will be completed in you. He who sparks life itself into being where no life existed before is more than able to help and guide you through life. But even more, God wants you to be part of his spiritual family.

He wants to be your father — and he wants to be your friend. Believe it.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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There is something much bigger in life awaiting you!

Existing as a human being on Planet Earth means we’re saddled with endless limitations, not to mention a sin nature that doesn’t take a vacation even after we’ve become Christians. Plus, the never-ending cares of life have a funny way of wiggling their way through the cracks: Bills, childcare, bills, job responsibilities, bills, to-do lists, bills, car repairs, bills — you get the picture. (Did we say “cracks”? Maybe “gaping chasms” is more accurate!)

But God doesn’t view our temporal challenges the way we do. In fact, the Lord wants all of us to set our hearts on things that exist in his heavenly realm and rise above the cares and concerns of this world! Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to live? Hey, I’m game — are you?

The thing with God is that he always has something waiting for us that’s bigger than we can possibly fathom. A glorious plan he hopes we’ll latch onto. And isn’t that what all of us need in our lives? Direction from the Lord toward something bigger?

Now, as we’ve been studying the life of Abraham in recent chapters of Genesis that we’ve studied with Pastor Scott, we’ve encountered a man we can truly relate to. Abraham may be the undisputed, heavyweight DAD of the Kingdom of Israel, but he had flaws — sometimes really serious issues — that probably sound familiar to us. He was married to a woman he couldn’t have children with (Sarah), so he unfortunately agreed to have a son by someone else (Hagar). But what’s different about this familial train wreck is that fact that we see the Lord at work amid the wreckage.

How does such a notion hit you? Has your family life been less than perfect? Have things with your marriage turned out less stellar than you wanted? Do you dread reengaging with and reentering less-than-savory situations? Well, look no further than this portion of Genesis, and you can watch God step into the lives of people just like you and me and work his miracles.

In chapter 17 we saw Abraham doing well in his work live — his vocation — but like a lot men today in the same position, he abdicated his responsibilities at home and proved an inadequate leader there. But amid the difficulties, God still managed to reveal the steps we need to take if we’re in such a position — and the inspiration to THINK BIGGER.

What are those steps? First, we need to recognize how big God is. One of the difficulties of being stuck upon our earthly plane is that we continually fall victim to challenges and emotions we weren’t meant to take on. But the Lord is certainly big enough to take on those things. (So, give them over to him, already!)

Second, we must recognize how small — yet valuable — we are. In this chapter we saw God once again reminding Abraham of his eternal promises — primarily that he will become the father of many nations. In fact, this is the point where the Lord conducts a famous renaming: “Abram” to “Abraham” (which means father of multitudes). But it also seems quite poignant that God has remained so patient with Abraham all this time, after having repeated his promises to him over and over. We have the benefit of getting the low down well past the rear-view mirror, but Abraham was living it all out in real time — and clearly latching on to God’s pledge that he would have an heir, a son, was quite hard for him to fathom. (OK, right now, imagine you are Abraham at 99 years of age with a wife who can’t give birth and declare in all honesty that you wouldn’t have doubted God the same way Abraham did! Thought so.)

And this chapter also reveals the third step we must take in order to get to the next level of the kinds of lives God would have us life — and that is simply to take the necessary next steps that will take us there! It means saying “yes” to the Lord’s leading, even when the result may be difficult and uncomfortable.

So, are stuck in a rut? Adrift without a paddle? Stranded on the highway without a drop of gas in the middle of the night — and wondering when help will arrive? Do not fear. Such temporary difficulties are just that: Temporary. And the present opportunities for you and me to rise above the mundane bumps in the road of life and really start living on that “other” level are there for the taking.

Truly, the Lord has stored up really cool and exciting things we can be up to — things that will get us exclaiming that the mundane stuff we’ve been focused on aren’t worth more than the absolute minimum focus and energy. But getting there starts only with acknowledging how big God is, how small — and nevertheless meaningful — we are, and finally putting one foot in front of the other so we get to where the Lord wants us to go.

Ready? I’ll race ya.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Do you need a spiritual tune-up? As we saw this past Sunday in our study of Genesis 15, Abraham sure did.

We already know from Pastor Scott’s previous messages that Abraham has been through quite a lot in his journey with the Lord. Some failures, some triumphs — and many challenges. And just as it often is with us, fear and doubt has creeped into Abraham’s heart amid the pitfalls and potholes of life. But God already knew his child needed something, as verse 1 reads, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”

Abraham pulled no punches with the Lord upon hearing this. He didn’t act like he had it all together or that things weren’t so bad. No, Abraham wasn’t afraid to let it all hang out, as he told the Lord in verse 2 and 3, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

Isn’t this interesting? God in chapter 12 promised Abraham that he would “make of you a great nation” (verse 2) and that “to your offspring I will give this land” (verse 7). In chapter 13, after Abraham settled in Canaan, the Lord told him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted” (vv. 14-16).

Obviously, God clearly communicated to Abraham — despite his age and his wife Sarah being barren — that he would have offspring. A lot of offspring! Did Abraham simply forget? It’s not clear, but as Pastor Scott said, such doubt — even after steadfast promises from the One who never breaks them — is a common human flaw. We see it throughout Scripture. The disciples over and over allowed fear and doubt to overtake them — the storm on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus in the boat with them, for example, despite what they knew about their Savior. Perhaps you find yourself in that same boat, with the troubles of 2020 having worn you down. But as we saw in Genesis 15, the Lord was as patient with Abraham as he is with us.

At that point God brought Abraham outside and reminded him of promises he’s already made. And the Lord gave Abraham yet another “window” illustration in verse 5: “Look toward heaven,” God told him, “and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” (Of course, he couldn’t — there are too many!) “So shall your offspring be.” And then the Scriptures tell us that Abraham believed the Lord, who counted it to Abraham as “righteousness.”

That last phrase, as Pastor Scott emphasized, foreshadows the connection between faith and righteousness that Jesus fulfilled in the New Testament. The Lord was pleased with Abraham not for a specific thing he accomplished, but for Abraham’s simple act of faith. In the same way, Christ paved the way for us to spend eternity with him — not because of good things we do, but through our simple act of faith in Jesus righteousness on our behalf!

The next few verses offer more insight regarding God’s heart for Abraham — and for us. Didn’t Abraham just express faith in the Lord’s promise that he would have heirs? Yes! But what happened next? Abraham questioned God yet again! After the Lord told Abraham he’d possess the land, Abraham actually asked, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” Wow!

But the Lord wasn’t giving up on Abraham and went out of his way to prove yet again how trustworthy he is by making the most serious of covenants with his child — the kind that results in death if one party doesn’t keep it. But the thing about this covenant — just as it is with our relationship with God through Jesus — is that it was an unconditional, one-party deal. And that one party was the Lord himself, as he told Abraham in verse 18 “to your offspring I give this land.”

God without a doubt has Abraham’s back through his never-ending love and grace. The Lord wants a relationship with Abraham despite Abraham sometimes doubting and questioning the Lord. Despite Abraham sinning. Despite Abraham forgetting. And the cool thing is that we can substitute our names for Abraham’s name in chapter 15. Because the Lord loves each one of us just as much as he loves Abraham — and has so many amazing things in store for us. So, as 2020 draws to a close, and when the busyness of life starts to mess with our heads, may we all approach the throne of grace and ask the Lord to give us a spiritual tune-up. May we pray, “Lord, I want to live my life serving you. Please show me how to renew my faith in you right now — and each day after!” No matter how 2021 pans out — no matter what circumstances come up, good or bad — let all of us rely on God’s promises as the days and weeks and months go by. For just as the Lord kept his promises to Abraham, so he also will keep the promises he’s made to us.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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Did you know that as believers in Jesus, we have a secret weapon for those all-too-familiar times when the chips are really down relationship-wise?

As Pastor Scott noted Sunday, we can always first utilize three tools at our disposal:

  • Confront without being mean
  • Ignore without becoming angry
  • Get help without whining and complaining

But when we’ve exhausted those avenues and the mistreatment at work keeps going and the bullying at school doesn’t stop, we can pull out the secret weapon — and that’s outlined in 1 Peter 2:19: “For it is commendable when someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.”

We have Jesus as our example for this instruction, since he suffered for us all yet committed no sin. No retaliation. No revenge. And just like Jesus, we must turn over our sorrow and pain to the One who always judges justly rather than lashing out and attempting to take control.

We saw this truth played out in Genesis 16, didn’t we? It was a real soap opera-like drama between Abraham, Sarah, and Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant Hagar. First off Sarah — who is barren — apparently grew impatient and told Abraham that she’ll give him Hagar so she can get pregnant with his child. But rather than talking to the Lord about it, apparently Abraham forgets — again — God’s promise of countless offspring and just goes along with Sarah’s idea. And as you can imagine, all sorts of problems commence.

Hagar looked down upon Sarah and developed a bad attitude, then Sarah blamed her problems on Abraham rather than looking in the mirror, and Abraham washed his hands of the entire situation and failed to practice godly leadership. In short, Satan produced what Abraham figured was the best idea before waiting on the Lord’s best solution. Then we see in verse 6 that Sarah dealt harshly with Hagar, which resulted in Hagar running away. A huge mess!

But since God has a big heart for those who feel alone and mistreated, as usual God played his familiar role of pursuer, and an angel of the Lord found Hagar and counseled her with a rather jaw-dropping instruction: Return to Abraham and Sarah.

Hagar must have been thinking, What? Go back to the very source of my problems? To all that emotional abuse? That’s nuts! Thing is, though, God always has a plan. And when the Lord’s directions seem crazy to us, we need to trust that he has our best in mind. And in this case — and perhaps with us in various situations — God knew Hagar needed to grow and work things out in her heart and develop a better attitude toward Sarah.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Think about your own life. What is God asking you to endure? And what fruit do you imagine your efforts may bring? Don’t forget the example Pastor Scott shared about him talking to a young person who was at his wits end about his annoying little brother. The kid wondered what the point was of going through all his trouble, and Scott reminded the kid that learning how to deal with his annoying little brother will one day help him when he’s older and inevitably in another situation with a person who’s difficult to get along with: Character development! And such an example isn’t just for young people. We all know that every time we face a challenge and see it through with God’s help, it’s going to come in handy the next time a challenge comes along. So, don’t shy away from difficulties — walk right into them with God as your help and guide!

Furthermore, we see in Genesis 16 that the angel of the Lord who found Hagar revealed to her that seeing things through will result in her having a son Ishmael, which literally means “the Lord hears.” And Hagar is so moved by God meeting her personally that she declares, “you are a God of seeing.” How true! In the same way, none of us should ever feel as though we’re going through life alone — even when there’s no one else visible: Because as the Lord found Hagar, he will find us. God see all of us, and he knows better than we do the problems and challenges we face — and how to get through them.

So, don’t forget your secret weapon of bearing up under difficulties and doing the right thing despite the obstacles in front of you. But while certainly God brings many things into our lives that he wants us to endure, many other things he does not want us to carry. Therefore, let us be done with them. Let us cast our cares of retaliation and revenge and anger upon the Lord, who alone can deal with them — and deal with our hearts. Let our complete focus be on God and his goodness — and let him handle those things we cannot.

And remember — as Abraham often failed to do — that the Lord doesn’t always accomplish his purposes in the timeframes we desire. But in his time God will see us, hear us, and find us. As we’ve been learning over and over again through the Lord’s message in Genesis, he wants so desperately to give us unimaginable blessings. All we need to do is trust him.

Written by Dave Urbanski

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You don’t have to be a Christian to be familiar with the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11 — when God put a stop to people speaking the same language, caused confusion among them, and dispersed them throughout the earth.

But as with most elements of Scripture, there’s way more going on — and much that is applicable to our lives — if we have ears to hear.

On Sunday Pastor Scott talked about pride — and identified it loudly and clearly in verse 4: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

Let us make a name for ourselves.

How interesting that this very attitude, which is all-encompassing amid our present-day culture, also was alive and well way back in the time of Genesis.

Pride is a problem for us, just as it was for the people building the tower. They were puffed-up, discovering they could build a city and a tower and put all the focus on themselves — and essentially become famous. They could make a name for themselves. Superstars! But where did God fit in with all of that? The answer, as usual, was nowhere. It’s a familiar human pattern: Pride grows within us, we want to be our own gods, and we push the real God to the margins. We build our towers and our walls, try to make a name for ourselves, and keep the Lord out of our lives.

Pride often is the central factor in what becomes our worldview as well — and such pride, which places each of us in the center, can lead to and justify all sorts of bad behavior. That’s what took place in the hearts of those who were building the Tower of Babel.

But what’s amazing is how God responded to them. It’s common to confuse the Lord’s discipline for punishment — and along the way God’s gotten a bad rap. Sometimes in our weak moments we fear the Lord will do “X” to us if we do “Y” when in reality God employs discipline as part of his loving relationship with us. He’s constantly steering us in the right direction. For the people building the tower, God saw their way of looking at the world — their prideful attitudes — and knew they needed an adjustment. So, the Lord took something away from them — their ability to communicate with each other — in order to stop their selfishness in its tracks.

Something else Pastor Scott shared rings so true for us today: It’s way easier to listen to God’s whispers and obey them — especially if we don’t share his passion for the places where he wants to take us. Indeed, it’s a lot more difficult when the Lord has to take drastic action to get our attention!

If you’re a Christian, and you’re wrestling with pride and the temptation to make a name for yourself and push God to the sidelines, you’re not alone. Christ’s saving grace in our lives doesn’t mean Jesus is all finished molding us into the people he wants us to be — that’s an ongoing, lifetime process. As Pastor Scott said, the Christian life means daily self-examination. It means waking up each day and asking God, “Am I on the right track? Is there any pride hindering me from doing what you want me to do?”

How about we all put away our bricks and mortar and cease building our towers and walls? Even more, let us tear down those human-made fortresses that keep God out — and instead be open and vulnerable before the One who will never betray us, who will never crush us as we take such a step of faith.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” — Psalm 139:23-24

Written by Dave Urbanski

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If you think about it, God is always speaking to us — always in communication with us, always reaching out to us. And He does so whether we listen to him or not.

As we saw this Sunday in Genesis 8 and 9, Noah most definitely was a listener to God. He walked with God. One of the interesting things about their relationship was that God did a whole lot of speaking to Noah when he was building the ark — but not a whole lot after he and his family and all the animals were riding out the storm.

But even though God wasn’t saying much after the rains ended and the waters receded, Noah didn’t sit around assuming the Lord would miraculously move his limbs in the correct direction, like a marionette does with a puppet. No, instead Noah acted — but it was action influenced and shaped by everything already at work in him spiritually. All the wisdom he obtained from the Lord over the 120 years he spent heeding God’s instructions while building the ark, all the encouragement from the Lord as others wrote him off as crazy — all of that was operating when Noah made the decision to let birds fly free so they might give him clues about the condition of the ground. In other words, Noah put himself in the best position possible to hear from God when the Lord finally did instruct him to leave the ark.

We have to do the same thing. And it’s deeper than merely listening to what God is saying and then doing what he tells us to do. Noah did both of those things, of course, but Scripture tells us Noah also was righteous and blameless in God’s sight. And that goes a long way toward putting oneself in a great position to hear from God. So, ask yourself: Is God pointing out sin in your life? If so, he wants you to get rid of it so there’s nothing hindering you from hearing what God has to say. If you want to see God work in your life, you need to deal with the issues God is pointing out to you — and once you do, you become more clearly in tune with what God wants and how to navigate all sorts of situations you’ll encounter. God wants to empower all of us with his guidance — but that becomes impossible when sin blocks and hinders what otherwise could be a clear pathway to hear from the Lord.

Psalm 66:16-19 reads, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”

We also learned a second principle on Sunday: That when we start over in our lives, we must build an altar. What does that mean, exactly? Well, Noah did that very thing after he and his family and the animals exited from the ark and stood on dry land again. And the Lord was pleased with the altar Noah built and the aromas emanating from it — and God responded with promises to Noah. Of course, the principle isn’t about building literal altars in our back yards — but it is about recognizing and acknowledging God and declaring that he comes first in our lives.

And what about those promises God made? We know about the sign of the rainbow — a reminder that the Lord has promised he’ll never again cover the earth with a flood. But the reality is that God has made many more promises to us. Pastor Scott noted that a researcher who studied the matter found that God made 7,487 promises to us in the Bible! That’s a tremendous number — and should offer us comfort that the Lord loves us and cares for us. Indeed, a big part of having a vibrant relationship with God is remembering and relying on the promises he’s made to us.

Putting ourselves in the best position to hear from the Lord by eliminating sin and doing what he’s telling us to do; declaring with our whole hearts every day that God comes first in our lives; remembering and leaning on the Lord’s promises. Let’s get busy doing these things so we can all strengthen our relationships with God!

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Who are your heroes?

Perhaps they’re fictional characters on a movie screen or comic book. Perhaps they’re real people you’ve looked up to — or better yet those who’ve helped or mentored you in your life. We all have heroes in one way or another.

This past Sunday we looked at Genesis 6 and were introduced to perhaps the very first hero in the Bible — Noah. The guy who constructed the ark. And quite simply, Noah was a hero because he walked with and obeyed God. And he did so in the face of every visible fact in front of him that easily could have influenced him to do otherwise.

Put yourself in Noah’s place for a moment: You’re living in a world that’s become quite wicked and that has turned away from the Lord. But you don’t join the crowd: You keep walking with God. You keep talking to him, believing in him. You maintain your integrity and keep doing the right things. It’s hard sometimes, though, to see people you know going one way — and you proceeding down another path alone. But staying close to God is more important to you, so you keep at it. And you find favor with the Lord.

Then one day God tells you to build a massive ark. You don’t know why. You don’t even know what an ark is, much less a flood. But as you’ve been doing, you continue to believe and obey the Lord, so you start cutting the wood. But this is no weekend project: Scripture says it took Noah 120 years to build the ark. Now that’s persistence — and still in the face of every snicker and sarcastic remark from those who passed by. After a while Noah likely was viewed as little more than that “crazy guy” in the neighborhood.

And then rain came — and the importance of every step Noah took to do what was right and to obey God came to fruition.

What about you? Does God also have an ark for you to build? Has the Lord been whispering to you about an important task, a crucial mission he wants you to carry out? It might be something really big and countercultural — and even something you don’t completely understand, just as Noah didn’t completely understand why God had him build an ark. Or maybe you’ve been sensing God’s nudging in regard to things you need to change in your life — things you’ve been holding on to you need to let go of.

You can do all those things! Despite whatever cultural or personal obstacles that stand before you, God wants you to have a spiritual breakthrough. But remember that it won’t come because of your own strength, or smarts, or will. Just as you’re being led by God to do what seems to be an impossible task, you need to get on the path with the Lord and let him “take the wheel” and give you the strength to steer your ship in the right direction. All you have to do is ask.

Noah walked with God. Noah did all that the Lord commanded. He maintained his integrity and endured what must have been intense pressure to finally, once and for all, throw away his hammer for good and join the crowd. But he didn’t. And we must not, either.

You know what else is compelling about Noah’s ordeal? When he and his family and all the animals were safely on the ark, his task of trusting the Lord wasn’t over — not by a long shot. Sure, they were sheltered from the storm, but it took 371 days for the water to recede — and that’s a long time to wonder if you’re ever going to step on dry ground again!

As Pastor Scott observed, we’re going through something like that ark experience right now. We don’t know how much longer the pandemic will restrict us — or even if life will return to normal. The longer it takes, the easier it is to lose hope. And a crazy election just happened, and none of us is sure what will take place in the streets of our nation in the next hour much less after next January’s inauguration. So much uncertainty. It’s tiring and frustrating — and there is more suffering going around than we can possibly know.

But amid it all, there is one thing we can count on: God is still on his throne, he hasn’t moved, and he knows exactly how things will go — and he’s not the least bit worried. The key for us — like Noah — is to walk with God. To do what he’s commanding us to do, even if we don’t understand it completely, even when others look at us funny or talk about us behind our backs.

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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God is the ultimate storyteller, and the Bible is God’s epic tale.

We’re seeing that story unfold in Genesis as we’ve already traveled through an amazing six days when God created the heavens, the earth, the oceans, plants, animals, and then finally you and me — and then we witnessed the terrible fall when sin entered our world and our lives, leaving the Lord no choice but to drive out Adam and Eve (and by extension, all of us) from the garden of Eden.

No doubt you’re keenly aware that human beings are adept at messing up the good things God gives us. But since God is love — and exhibits more love than we could ever comprehend — He is all about saving us. Bringing us back into the fold. Redemption.

In fact, we see the Lord began to weave together His grand story — which culminates with Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross — in Genesis itself. In the third chapter, God tells the serpent who initiated the fall of humanity that he “will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It’s the very first reference in Scripture to what Jesus will do in the future: Although the son of God will be beaten and scarred and put to death (bruising his heel), Christ’s act of sacrifice will crush Satan (bruising his head) — and it’s an ultimate defeat. Now and forever.

But the Lord is just getting started telling his story. In Genesis 4, as we saw Sunday, the Lord introduces us to the offspring of Adam and Eve. You know their names well: Cain and Abel.

This next part of God’s epic drama digs deeper into the fallen human heart — specifically Cain’s. In many ways Cain is a lot like us. While God speaks to Cain (can you imagine that?) and gives him every opportunity to have a relationship with him, Cain holds back what he’s willing to sacrifice to the Lord. You can relate, right? We’re often unwilling to live within God’s boundaries in the belief that we can show ourselves a better, more exciting time, and then we go our own way and fall on our faces in sin. Perhaps Cain also believed that if he sacrificed the “really good stuff” to the Lord, he’d be left with nothing — despite the fact that God created Cain and everything around him. It’s all the Lord’s anyway, isn’t it? So why was Cain (and why are we) so reluctant to give back to God what he already owns and simply entrusted to us for a short time?

The result is that God doesn’t accept Cain’s paltry sacrifice — and it’s further complicated by the fact that the Lord loved Abel’s sacrifice. And now we have the fraught emotions of jealousy and anger entering God’s story. Comparing ourselves to others. Feeling sorry for ourselves. But it wasn’t as though the Lord tossed Cain on the garbage heap — God corrected and counseled him and gave him an opportunity to approach him in the right way: “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’” (verses 6-7)

But instead Cain transferred his anger at the Lord to his brother Abel and killed him. His own flesh and blood. Of course, as with all sin, murder never makes things better; it only makes them worse. And Cain felt the full brunt of his sin’s consequences.

Like Cain, many of us struggle with anger. And while Ephesians 4:27 tells us that being angry in and of itself isn’t necessarily sinful, it’s a dangerous emotion because it can open the door for all kinds of damage and, indeed, evil. Anger can be so hazardous to us that the Lord commands us further in Ephesians to not let the sun go down on our anger — to resolve it quickly, that very day in fact. Perhaps the most telling illustration is the rest of the Ephesians verse which implores us to not give the devil a “foothold.”

Anyone who’s scaled a rock wall or took part in outdoor rock climbing knows what that means. For climbers, a foothold is more or less a new lease on life. It’s a long way up the rock, and you might be tired — but if you can rest all your body weight on a little sliver of stone, you can hang out a while and resume your climb when your energy returns. Footholds are valuable in such endeavors. And they’re valuable for Satan, too. He’s so committed to destroying us, in fact, that he’ll search high and low for that little, tiny spot — that opening, that point of vulnerability — where he can dig in and stay as he continues his climb into our lives.

Indeed, Cain’s sin cost him just about everything, as he told the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” But God’s story continued on amid Cain’s brokenness — and more people filled the earth as the years passed, and certainly brokenness continued among God’s creation.

But Genesis 4 ends in a very hopeful way. The narrative turns back to Adam and Eve, who had another son, Seth, who in turn had a son named Enosh. And we discover that “at that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

We sin. We suffer for it. And hopefully we cry out to God in those moments. Often the Lord uses the darkest times to get through to us, to jump start our relationships with him. Sometimes it’s painful, but as anyone who’s gone through such moments, the pain is worth the restoration of a relationship with God.

So let us heed the words of the One who is the apex of God’s story in the Bible — Jesus — who told his followers to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and then all the other things we need in life and fret over will be added to us. And we can call out Christ’s name right now — he’s made himself completely available to his children, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He never takes a coffee break, and he’ll never hang up on us.

Dial that number, beloved.

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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The Bible has a lot to say about increasing the quality of your personal life. And believe it or not, we can begin to see that topic unfold in the third chapter of Genesis, which we took a deeper look at Sunday.

Genesis 3 isn’t a pleasant chapter. It’s all about how sin entered the world and how death in its many forms was the consequence. But we also discovered that understanding how to live our best lives also means knowing what the opposite looks like.

Spiritual death. In verse 7 and 8, after the man and woman eat the fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the coolof the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

Something good and pure was changed in an instant to something inappropriate. The man and woman saw something they hadn’t seen before, and it can’t be undone. All of us can relate to that. Neither can we undo things we’ve seen that we shouldn’t have seen, nor can we undo things we’ve done that we shouldn’t have done. Like us, the woman and man gave into the temptation to “be like God” and do things their own way, and sin entered the picture and suddenly created a death experience where there had been none — and created a sin nature inside each one of us where there had been none. And what did they do next? They sewed fig leaves together to create loincloths to cover themselves — and they hid from God. Which says a lot about how sin causes us to hide not only from God but from each other. So that no one will know who we really are. Sin is the death of intimacy.

Spiritual life. But there is a solution! Romans 5:17 talks about what happened in the garden — and who came to wipe sin away: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

When we come to Christ, we have spiritual life. Despite our sin natures, despite our tendency to be like God, despite our selfishness that we live with all the time, Jesus gives us a new life — and the road toward a better quality of life, starting right now.

Emotional death. Verses 9 and 10 tell us “the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’”

The man and woman began life as naked and not ashamed. But when they sinned, they were ashamed of their nakedness. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is the result of doing something wrong and knowing you need to apologize and ask forgiveness. But shame is much worse. It says, “You’re a bad person, you don’t deserve any love.” It’s damaging to us. The man and woman also hid because they were afraid — and many people live their lives driven by fear. It’s all a terrible case of emotional death.

Emotional life. But there is a solution! 1 John 4:16-19 says “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”

By abiding in God through faith in Christ, emotional healing can take place in our lives. Fear is cast away. And our new lives in Jesus means shame has no place within us.

Still, verses 11 through 13 show that the man and woman — and indeed all of us — have a long way to go! Notice how they respond to God when he questions them: “He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

Does that sound familiar? The man and woman blame each other and other forces for their downfall. The man blames the woman, and the woman blames the serpent. But sin didn’t have to occur. They both made their own choices. And they responded the way we all do at times: Instead of owning up and examining our part in sin, we tend to blame other people and other things.

Relational death. Next God tells the serpent and the woman the bad news. To the serpent God says he “will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This points to a future event — the crucifixion — but signals also that while sin is still present, the penalty for sin is paid for through Christ.

To the woman God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” This describes what we all know too well: Interpersonal conflict. Control issues. Domination. Specifically, in marriage. We all know the tendency is for relationships to go bad — and that’s part of the curse that sin created.

Relational life. But there is a solution! 1 Peter 4:7-11 commands us to “be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms: if anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God; if anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

God wants to empower us through Christ to increase our quality of our lives with respect to relationships! And we do so by living sacrificially, giving to each other, speaking words of life to each other. All of us must understand the grace God provides and apply it to our lives so that we may experience what God wants us to have.

Economic death. Next God tells the man the bad news: He will experience pain and sweat as he toils through “thorns and thistles” just to be able to eat — and will do so for the rest of his life. That’s also something we all can relate to. We all have to work, and work can be very challenging, whether it’s the task at hand or the people we encounter as we struggle to get through our days.

Economic life. But there is a solution! Ephesians 6:5-8 says, “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

When Christ lives within us, we have a new purpose as we work. Jesus is our boss. And his burden is light. And we’re freed up to have a new vision in our jobs — an eternal vision that’s part of our sanctification as we work for the Lord and not merely for others, not merely for a paycheck.

Physical death. Verse 19 says that God told Adam one day he will “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” No sugarcoating needed. The presence of sin means physical death is now an inevitability. And it awaits all of us.

Physical life. But there is a solution! 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that since Christ has been raised from the dead, so we will be. Because of Jesus, physical death is merely a passageway to eternal life. Rather than a massive full stop, it’s now a blip on the screen. No more need to fear death for those who believe in Christ!

Eternal death. Verses 20 through 23 tell us that God blocked Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of life which would allow them to live forever in their sinful state and drove them out of the garden of Eden. No more opportunity for eternal life.

Eternal life. But there is a solution! 2 Timothy 1:10 says “but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Believers in Jesus have eternal life!

Genesis 3 is full of negative stuff. It’s about death. The dire, eternal consequences of sin. But while that is all very bad news, we can praise God that he offers us good news in its wake — the ultimate solution through his son Jesus, who came to wipe sin away, adopt us into the family of God, and grant us not only eternal life but also a much better quality of life we can start to experience right now.

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”—1 Peter 5:8

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”—John 10:10 

Satan wants to take away our joy, kill our relationships, and annihilate our hearts. That’s why he’s called “the enemy” in the Bible.

But you’ve probably noticed that he rarely accomplishes any of his evil in overt, obvious ways. Instead Satan is subtle and tricky and deceptive. And that’s why we need a plan to combat the devil’s sneak attacks.

On Sunday we looked at one of the most famous passages of Scripture: Genesis 3 — the fall of humanity. The moment sin entered the world. And the very first verse of the chapter gets right to heart of Satan’s methods, noting that “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”

First off, God created the serpent. Not only that, the serpent was part of the Lord’s creative process that he deemed “very good” in Genesis 1. Which goes to show that Satan uses good things to get us into trouble. Even “very good” things. Indeed, 2 Corinthians 11 points out that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.” And what looks better or more inviting than such an entity?

That is, until he starts speaking — and getting us to ask if God really knows what he’s doing.

In next verse of Genesis 3, the serpent strikes up a conversation with the woman — while the man was right there with her, as a matter of fact — and started to throw doubt into her head: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” The woman’s first mistake was entering the conversation in the first place: she answers the serpent’s question — and then it all goes downhill from there. The serpent convinces the woman that God is wrong — or perhaps that the Lord didn’t mean what he said or in the way she thought. Doubt creeps in. Conflicting voices. And maybe, just maybe, there’s more fun and interesting stuff to be had by eating of the fruit of this tree — and we’ll “be like God” and know good and evil.

That’s the kicker, isn’t it? When it comes right down to it, that’s where all sin begins and ends, right? We don’t just want to be like God; we want to be God. To be in ultimate control. To do what we want when we want and with whom we want. We’re hopelessly addicted to living as if we have the power. That we’re the captains of our ships. The drivers behind the wheels of life. But every time it’s the same outcome: A shipwreck — and a crash and burn.

And that’s exactly what happened when the man and woman ate of that tree: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Boom. Just like that. Paradise and perfection in a garden with not a care in the world — and then we somehow manage to mess it up in an instant. And impact of the man and woman’s sin is felt to this very day while we, too, toil and struggle and sweat — still looking for a way of our own making. To go it alone without God’s help. To taste fruit that’s no good for us in the end.

Again, it’s key to realize that the fruit looked good! Outwardly there wasn’t anything wrong with it that the man and woman could detect. The only thing is that God knew the facts and told them so. But just like with us today, often what God says — what we know to be true — falls on deaf ears. We don’t trust God to meet our needs. We think he’s holding out on us. And before we know it, Satan has enticed us into sin using something that looks good, seems to offer pleasure, fun, good times. Therefore, it’s a wise idea to ask yourself, “What does Satan use in my life to start the conversation?” (Then don’t have it!)

And did you notice that the first question Satan has for the woman is about God? Satan loves to talk to us about God, about religion. Problem is, the devil doesn’t want us to pursue a relationship with God. No way. That doesn’t work for Satan. Because once we’re intimate with the Lord, it becomes much harder for Satan to entice us away from God’s embrace. Instead the devil will try to start one of those familiar chats: “Did God really mean that?”

The answer, of course, is yes. And it gets back to that age-old falsehood that the Lord is some cosmic killjoy who’s only interested in us following a bunch of rules and then bashing us over our heads when we break them. Seriously — does it make any sense for God to go through the effort of creating an entire universe for us and for our enjoyment just so he can be crabby and mean and petty? There would’ve been much simpler ways for God to scratch that itch if that were indeed his nature — and we know it isn’t.

God sets limits for amazingly loving reasons — and gives us the power to stay within those limits — so we can live our best lives possible and be in the best positions to have an incredible, exciting, adventurous relationship with him.

That’s why it’s so important to teach limits to young people — it helps them learn to handle disappointment and to find contentment within them. If, on the other hand, we give children no limits, they will find their pleasures and identities outside of them.

Proverbs 14:12 reads, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Such was the fate of the man and the woman in the garden when they decided their way was better than God’s way.

May we daily live in the awareness that Satan is right around the corner and ready to lay his lies and distortions on us. May we daily live with humility knowing that not only is God’s way infinitely better, but it’s also anything but life sapping. In fact, the Lord’s way is life giving — and if we’re willing to listen to his “no,” he has an eternity full of “yes” just waiting for us. And we can embark on that abundant life right now.

Just be careful who you’re talking to.

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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Marriage is under attack today and has been for a long time. There’s no arguing that. But while we can easily point to outside forces such as our anti-God and I-want-to-do-what-I-want-to-do-when-I-want-to-do-it culture, plenty of negative forces are at work within married people themselves that undermine their unions: Neglect, busyness, laziness, selfishness. Too many people aren’t doing the work they need to do to keep their marriages strong.

So, let’s take a look back at what we learned Sunday as we examined more of Genesis 2 — specifically that God created marriage and four principles we can use to keep them not just alive but thriving.

Principle #1: God created marriage. He designed it for us. And if you believe God created marriage, then doesn’t it stand to reason that we should follow his plan and his design and his instructions for marriage? You’d better believe it.

Principle #2: God designed men and women to be companions. In our previous study in Genesis, we talked about God’s personal touch as he created man — whom he formed from dust like a potter forms clay on a wheel until it’s something beautiful and useful. Indeed, the Lord’s touch is deeply upon his human creation. But when all other possibilities for the man’s companion were exhausted, God got creative again. Verse 22 tells us that while the man slept, the Lord took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

With that, the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” God again was very personal in his creation of the woman — and the word “made” in this context actually means “built,” as in the process of building an altar. A sacred process! And the Lord built the woman to be the perfect complimentary companion for the man — and were designed to fit together not just sexually but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Principle #3: God designed men and women to be united in “one flesh.” Verse 24 reads, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This verse is talking about sex, plain and simple — and God designed it! But most folks look at sex as a biological function that can be reduced down to pleasure. But that’s like changing a lightbulb in the rain. Lightbulbs weren’t designed to operate around water, and the likelihood of getting zapped is quite high. Sex is very much the same way; we can argue until we’re blue in the face that it’s just physical, but God designed as something much more — it’s a spiritual activity. And when we relegate what’s ultimately a spiritual activity to the lesser rung of the physical, we’re messing with God’s system.

The Apostle Paul warns us about this in 1 Corinthians 6 and refers back to Genesis as well: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’”

Sex is actually devotion — a uniting of two spirits with Jesus right there with you. That might sound strange, but it’s true. When he sees a married couple enjoying sex — the context within which he designed it — that pleases him. Just as God stated his creation was “very good,” Jesus says sex in proper context is a wonderful work of creation.

Principle #4: God designed marriage for deep intimacy and closeness. Verse 25 reads, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Obviously, this verse is saying that neither the man nor the woman was embarrassed to be unclothed around each other — but it’s also saying way deeper things that that. In marriage, we’re also unclothed from our emotions — and our mates are supposed to be so close to us that they know more about us than anyone else. It means husbands and wives accept each other and are there for each other, differences and all.

Maybe you’re telling yourself that these principles don’t describe you — that you’ve been hurt and damaged by others … maybe even as part of a marriage. Well, God is not surprised by your reaction! It’s OK. In fact, the Lord is holding nothing back. In Genesis 3 we’ll discover that this wonderful creation God put together was, in fact, damaged by human beings. Our disobedience brought brokenness into the marriage relationship, into family relationships, and into our relationships with God.

The Good News, however, is that the Lord is in the business of redeeming us and restoring us — all of us, no matter where you think your life is right now, or if you’ve convinced yourself that your life is beyond repair. Maybe you’ve experienced extreme and horrific loss. The Lord knows about it. And he has an eternity’s worth of incredible gifts for you in the midst of that pain and loss that he wants to give you starting today. Count on it.

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As we got deeper into chapter 2 of Genesis this past Sunday, we discovered that God’s creation of people says a lot about our individual relationships with each other, our individual relationships with God — and particularly the Lord’s answer to the problem of our loneliness.

And it should come as no surprise that it all started when God got personal.

One of cool things Pastor Scott pointed out is that the Hebrew name for God changed from chapter 1 to chapter 2 — and that change reflected the nature of his creative processes. In chapter 1, God’s name is “Elohim,” which means “God almighty.” And indeed chapter 1 showed us that God created the universe just by speaking it into existence. Sheer power. But in chapter 2, God’s personal name “Yahweh” is added — and not surprisingly it coincides with the Lord’s very personal process of creating us. You and me!

We also saw further evidence of the uniqueness of our creation in chapter 2. For instance, verse 7 says God “formed” us — and the verb used here is the same one used to describe the work of a potter. It’s an important visual: As we know, making pottery out of clay by hand on a wheel takes thought, imagination, creativity, and precision — and more than that, no pieces of pottery created in this way are exactly alike. And of course, in the same way, each one of us is unique because of the Lord’s careful work in each one of us!

Verse 7 also says that God “breathed into [the man’s] nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” If we take a quick look back at the Lord’s other creations in chapter 1, we won’t find such a description of animals and plants coming to life. Now, of course, they all were alive — but not in this special way. It’s the Hebrew idea of nephesh chayyah … that each one of us is a living soul. And let’s not forget what Jesus did for the disciples after his resurrection — he breathed on them, after which they received the Holy Spirit. God’s breath of life in us is yet another reason why we’re special to the Lord.

But there’s another side to our creation we must keep in mind, and it’s cause for humility. While we’re created in God’s image and are special and precious, the Lord created us from the dust on the ground. Yes, we are the crown of God’s creation — but we must also remember where our roots are!

And here’s another tidbit of truth before we get to God’s answer for loneliness: The next passage in chapter 2 tells us that God created work! Can you believe that? It’s true. Verse 15 tells us that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” So, no — work is not a consequence of the Fall. In fact, we already know that God also worked — for six days creating the universe — and showed us how wonderful and beautiful and satisfying work can be. Yes, the Lord gave work to us, both for our enjoyment and for its benefits to us. After all, doing work is how our character is developed, how we learn thoroughness, perseverance, cooperation. So many qualities that help us throughout our lives. Parents especially must emphasize this truth to young people — that duties like chores aren’t merely tools to get things done around the house!

OK, now for the key passage: After the Lord commanded the man to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he recognized that “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” God then brought all the animals to him to name — yet no helper for him could be found among them.

See what’s happening here? The man wasn’t “alone” — but he still didn’t have his helper. So, first off, we see there’s a huge difference between being physically alone and feeling lonely. Sometimes being physically alone is good and needed. Jesus often would purposely get alone so he could spend time in prayer; and sometimes we need to get alone, too, for the same or similar reasons.

But what about when we feel lonely? Well, the world has an “answer” for that — and often the solution is finding someone to hook up with sexually until the lonely feelings subside. Problem is, they rarely do. The temporary satisfaction that might be gained is just that: Temporary. Fleeting. And then we’re right back to square one, hoping to find someone — anyone — who will bring ultimate comfort. And if you think that loneliness is satisfied by marriage, that might mean you haven’t been married yet! It’s not only possible but quite typical that, particularly during seasons of difficulty, one can feel lonely while married. And sadly, sometimes married people — even Christians — attempt to cure that lonely feeling by having affairs or getting divorced. Loneliness is a condition of the heart. It’s not just something single people experience!

Another place many of us feel lonely nowadays is on social media. We hop on our accounts each day hoping to feel more connected by gaining more “friends” or “likes” or “retweets” or “follows.” But such things are just ways to feel artificially connected — then sadness can creep in that no one cares, and no one understands. Despair. Rejection.

Loneliness. Again.

So, what is the opposite of feeling lonely? The answer: Feeling loved! And as we’ll see this coming Sunday, marriage certainly was designed as part of the solution for feeling loved in this world. But again, when we get right down to it, spouses aren’t the be all and end all of love. No husband or wife will ever love perfectly, right when we need it. And again, sadly, when many people leave marriages, the reasons are that their spouses aren’t loving them enough or in the right way — but that’s an unfair expectation because that never was the job of spouses. That’s God’s job, and God’s job alone!

Our loneliness problem is aided most completely by a personal relationship with the Lord. Again, he’s provided marriage and family and the church to lessen feelings of loneliness, but none of those wonderful gifts will ever be enough. Not completely. Not 100 percent of the time. Only God himself is enough.

And what the Lord does is fill our empty cups to overflowing — so much that we, in turn, have the capacity to reach out and be that person placed in someone else’s life by God to provide comfort. But still it all starts and ends with God!

So, whether we’re single or married, an extrovert or an introvert, each one of us must have a plan and address the issue of loneliness in our hearts. Why? Well, besides comforting you in your loneliness, God wants to do some amazing things in you and through you in the process! So the next time you feel lonely, resolve to live by the truth only God can truly comfort you — and what you’ll discover as you draw closer to the Lord is that he’ll draw closer to you — and with love so big that it fills in all the cracks, holes, and empty spaces.

The answer to loneliness is God alone. Seek him … and you will find him.

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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What do we do with the Sabbath day?

As we continued in our study of the Book of Genesis this past Sunday, we read from chapter two, verses one through three, which describes what happened on the seventh day of creation — when God’s work was done:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

First off, let’s remember that just because the Lord finished his work creating the universe, that doesn’t mean he stopped being creative. In fact, when people accept Jesus into their lives, those also are miracles of creation — for as the Bible says, with new Christians the old has passed away and the new has come. We are new creations in Christ!

But there’s quite a bit of meaning behind God’s decision to rest on the seventh day — and it’s important to remember that he set aside that day of rest for us. For our benefit.

One way we can think about a day of rest is that it’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on what God has done — to look around us and acknowledge, “Wow. God has made a beautiful world.” To pause and count all the blessings the Lord has given to us. To be thankful.

God also gave the Sabbath as one of the many signs of his relationship with his people. Ezekiel 20:12 reads, “Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” God provided other signs of his covenant with us — promises we can count on — from the Lord’s pledge to Abraham that his descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky and that through him all nations will be blessed to the sign of the rainbow so Noah will know that the Lord will never again destroy the earth by a flood.

Remembering and observing the Sabbath also has been a way for God to teach his people who he is — and for us to learn godly qualities such as humility, generosity, and righteousness. But here’s the other side of it — and for many it’s a tough truth to swallow … but oh so important to keep in mind: WE CAN’T DO IT! The reality of God’s laws and requirements for his people is that, in the end, they’re impossible for us to follow perfectly.

But as always, the Lord has a plan. The prophet Jeremiah notes the following:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This promise of a new covenant points directly to Jesus. Instead of an endless cycle of animal sacrifices to cover our sins, Christ became the once and for all sacrifice on our behalf — and because of his work on the cross and resurrection from the tomb, by believing in him God deposits Jesus’ righteousness into our spiritual accounts. We are saved! And the Lord remembers our sin “no more.” No more shame. No more guilt. No more sorrow over the fact that we can’t keep our end of the bargain. When we surrender and hand it all over to Jesus, he welcomes us into God’s family forever.

But what of the Sabbath day when Jesus appears on the scene? What role does it play?

As we know from the Scriptures, when Jesus introduced the new covenant to us, it included some head-turning moments involving the Sabbath. In Luke 6, we see Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath — and Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is that “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Wow! That was probably something very new for the Jewish leaders to hear. Jesus also inquired of them on another occasion, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” With that he healed a man, and the Pharisees were not happy — and they plotted to kill him.

But the larger truth Jesus teaches us is that he represents the new way of living. The law — including the Sabbath — is the old way of doing things. Those old ways are still important because they’re part of God’s story, and that story culminates with Jesus — but with Jesus, God has given us something new. Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law; rather he came to fulfill it!

It used to be that Israel’s high priest would approach the holiest place in the temple to come before God — but now that Jesus is our high priest, we can come directly to God through him. When Jesus died on the cross, the tabernacle curtain in the temple was torn in two, representing the end of a barrier between us and the Lord. Just a few of the signs of God’s new covenant with us.

In the early church, keeping the law was a HUGE issue among Jewish believers. And understandably so. They built their lives around keeping the Old Testament law — but with Jesus bringing a new covenant, how are they supposed to live day by day? The Apostle Paul was especially attuned to this. In fact, Paul was a Pharisee and an expert in the details of the law. His answer in New Testament was helpful for his brethren and for us today: The old law — including the Sabbath — isn’t necessary to keep anymore. Jesus is the new law. We must follow him now.

And while Christians today generally don’t observe the Sabbath, it’s still important — particularly as the Sabbath, like the rest of the old law, has been fulfilled in Jesus. Christ, in fact, is our Sabbath. Jesus promises us rest if we follow him. He promises us peace as only he can give.

And at this moment in history, rest and peace have been hard to come by. We’re dealing with racial strife, a bitterly divided America, violence in the streets, controversy surrounding a possible new Supreme Court justice, a presidential election that may make the fraught contest of the year 2000 look like a walk in the park — to say nothing about a worldwide pandemic that has taken many lives, many people’s means of employment, and many people’s hope.

In the midst of all that, Jesus still wants to be our Sabbath rest. He still beckons, “Come to me.” And as we heed his call and rely on him, has there ever been a time you’ve experienced when Christ’s invitation may be welcomed by those who don’t yet know him? As you let Jesus be the rest for your soul today, also ask God for opportunities to point others to the rest and peace that only Christ can give.

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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You are somebody important!

On Sunday we took a look at the sixth day of God’s creative process as described in the first chapter of Genesis — when the Lord made animals of the land, and when he created human beings.

We immediately see a stark difference in God’s handiwork when it comes to the “beasts of the earth” and us: Plainly spoken, we’re different than the animals. You and I were created in the image of God.

The Lord said in verse 26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

We are the climax of God’s creative process. His crowning achievement. And why is that? Since we’re made in God’s image, we share some of God’s attributes. We possess the ability to love, to exercise wisdom, to offer grace — just like God does. Of course, none of us puts these attributes into practice perfectly; we’re not God. But the very fact that we have these abilities immediately sets us apart from the animal kingdom. Thing about it. While a dolphin is a very intelligent creature, it doesn’t have the smarts or creative ability to write a book — but a human being does. A chimpanzee can’t wear business suit, strike deals, employ thousands, and build skyscrapers — but a human being can. And while we certainly have affection for our pets and derive pleasure from the affection they give us, we don’t approach our dogs and cats when we need love and care and counsel and grace and forgiveness — instead we go to people who can give those things to us, just as we go to the Lord.

You are somebody important because God has stamped his image upon you.

And when we become Christians, the idea of “image” becomes even more striking. As we’ve just seen, each human is automatically created in God’s image, with God’s attributes, regardless of whether or not that person decides to follow Jesus. But when we do come to know Christ, a radical change takes place — and we immediately are set on a path toward being conformed to the image of Jesus. It’s also a sign that God is still in the creation business — as the Bible tells us, our kinship with Christ and adoption in the family of God is part of us becoming new creations. God wants to be something powerful within each of our lives. He wants to heal our pain, he wants to redeem our pasts, he wants us to become whole.

And here’s another reason why you’re somebody important — and it’s practical and strategic: As the Lord is restoring us day by day in our journey toward becoming more like Christ, he allows his grace to pass through you to bless others! Isn’t that amazing? Perhaps you feel inadequate right now. Maybe you don’t feel worthy to be a blessing to those around you. But don’t believe it. You can be a vehicle through which grace passes — and be part of incredible change in yourself and in others. A lot of people are despairing right now and are looking for comfort, for relief, for answers. And you can be part of their solutions — if you only allow God to work through you.

And here’s something else that’s pretty cool about the first chapter of Genesis — and it appears to underscore how special and important we are to God. After the Lord’s various creative endeavors during the first five days of creation, we see the phrase “and it was good.” That was God’s standing evaluation of things … until the sixth day when he created human beings. After we came along, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” From “good” to “very good” — in a day. It’s just a difference of one word — but our presence seems to point to a new level of satisfaction within the heart of God.

The Lord created you in his image. He’s given you his attributes. As a believer in Jesus, you’re now being conformed into the image of Christ himself — and because his power is within you, you can be a vessel for incredible change, not just within yourself, but also for those around you. You are somebody important!

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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On our first Sunday looking at the first chapter of Genesis — the first day of creation — we discovered that the magnificence of creation itself cries out, “Worship me!” But who is me? Of course, we know “me” is our Lord Jesus Christ, the author of all creation — but still many people actually worship creation itself rather than the One who brought it all into existence. The bottom line: Every day we have a choice to make … will we worship creation or the Creator? Will we put “things” at the top of our lists … or the Person who made all those things possible?

This past Sunday we looked at the next few days recounted in Genesis 1 and learned more about God’s creative process — and his unfathomable power to hold together everything he’s created. And what should encourage all of is that if the Lord can bring the universe into existence and keep it all functioning, doesn’t it make sense that he has the ability to bring about amazing, wonderful things in each of our lives?

Verses 6 through 8 read: “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

Let’s look again at some science that underscores the detail God used in his creative process. When we consider what makes up our atmosphere, we probably first think of oxygen. True enough! But the fact is that it’s only 21 percent oxygen — the rest is mostly nitrogen. But if more oxygen took up our atmosphere, things on earth would tend to burn up or blow up — and catastrophic regularity. Not fun! And you know what else our atmosphere does? Working with gravity it presses down and keeps water upon our oceans, lakes, and streams. And who wants to live on a planet where we can’t access water because it can’t stay put? And furthermore, according to our human perspective the atmosphere is pretty huge — about 60 miles wide. That’s quite a vertical haul into the sky, especially considering most commercial planes only ascend about five miles up! But did you know that in the much larger, cosmic perspective, if the earth were the size of an apple, our atmosphere would only be the thickness of an apple skin — which is pretty thin! Yet that’s all that separates us from the uninhabitable environment beyond our atmosphere. OK, let’s review: God created our atmosphere — which in the cosmic perspective is just a tiny sliver of thickness — with just the right amount of oxygen and with just the right amount of size to press down and keep water on the planet for us.

God holds all things together.

And speaking of water, verses 9 and 10 say, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” We can’t have life without oxygen, and we can’t have life without water, either. Besides the obvious — drinking water sustains us — the Lord also built some amazing properties into that water we drink. Did you know that because water freezes from the top down instead from the bottom up, ice forms over lakes and provides insulation so that fish can survive in the winter?

Continuing in verses 11 through 13: “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.”

The Lord saw to it that his creation of vegetation — which is sustained because of God’s initial creation of our atmosphere and water and the nutrients in the earth’s soil — is strategic. Vegetation also has the ability to reproduce itself. (You see where this is headed, don’t you?) God has it all figured out and is putting all the pieces together as he’s painting his masterpiece.

Want some more hard facts? There’s a principle in mathematics called the Fibonacci Sequence. It’s a series of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 — and on to infinity. The key is that each number is the sum of the previous two. But what’s really cool is how the Fibonacci Sequence is seen in nature. According to, we can see the sequence in flower petals: “Most have three (like lilies and irises), five (parnassia, rose hips) or eight (cosmea), 13 (some daisies), 21 (chicory), 34, 55 or 89 (asteraceae).” And further, if we observe flowering plants, they tend to follow a spiraling pattern that’s related to the Fibonacci Sequence. It’s remarkable how much of the Lord’s creation has his very fingerprint on it.

God holds all things together.

Then the fourth day came — verses 14 through 19: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”

The moon is just the right size and just the right distance away from us to create the ocean tides. It’s our closest neighbor; at a bit over 300,000 miles away we can get to it with rockets in a few days. The sun, however, is quite a bit farther away: 93 million miles. Not that we’d ever want to travel anywhere close to it, but the sun sits in space at just the distance from our planet to provide us with the correct amount of heat and light so that we can survive. The stars God created are uncountable as far as our abilities go, and they’re far away. The closest star to us after the sun is four light years away, meaning that we’d have to travel at the speed of light — 80,000 miles per second — for four years straight to get to it. Unfathomable!

Oh, and another word about the Fibonacci Sequence: Not only can we can see its spiral pattern in something as tiny as a flower, but also we can observe it in something as huge as the Milky Way — and in other galaxies and celestial bodies. Again, God’s fingerprint.

And yet, God made it all in a day. With the wave of his hand, by the command of his voice, he brought it all into existence.

Our study together on Sunday concluded with verses 20 through 22: “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So, God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’”

The first chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians reminds us of Jesus’ creative power — and the grip he has on us: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

God holds all things together.

As we’ve seen from our study, it doesn’t matter how large or how small — God created all of it, and he holds it all together for us. And what that also means is that Jesus can do just as many miraculous things in our lives. He reminded us in the Gospels that God clothed the lilies of the fields with such splendor — and will do much more for us!

So, if you’re feeling weak today or under heavy burdens, give it all to Christ. He who created the microscopic, intricate patterns found in flowering plants and in the massive Milky Way and brought it all into existence can create new life in us — today. Cast your cares upon him. He loves you — and is already holding everything together for you!

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Written by Dave Urbanski

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We began a new book of the Bible in our study together Sunday — and we went all the way back to the beginning. Back to our roots. The book of Genesis.

Studying the first book of the Bible is going to do a number of really valuable things for us. First, it will help us understand the whole of Scripture — for as we see the heart of the Lord at the very beginning of time, our understanding of the story he tells in the rest of the Bible will become clearer.

Second, the process of pondering the Lord’s words in Genesis will help us understand why worshiping him is so important. And worship can get confusing at times. Indeed, the message heard loud and clear in the face of creation is “worship me!” But who is me? If you look around at your environment today, you might find a lot of folks putting everything else first in their lives — except the One who created it all. In fact, a number of people, believe it or not, literally worship things in nature! Now, of course experiencing wonder at what the Lord made is an appropriate response to his infinite greatness — but let us never place the things God has created above him.

The third thing studying Genesis can do for us is — so long as we apply its words — is the enhancement of our personal worship experiences. As we grow to understand what worshiping the Lord is all about, the goal will be that our own personal worship will grow, increase, and be energized each day.

And if that weren’t enough, Genesis also will reveal God’s desire for an intimate relationship with each of us. And that’s the best news of all! So, if you don’t feel very close to God at the moment, hang on and don’t give up — because God has a plan … and the answers.

Let’s review the first five verses of chapter one:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

How powerful the first four words of the Bible are! “In the beginning, God …” Together they are an incredible comfort, really. Because in sum they say that at the start of all things was God — and he chose to put all things in motion. That includes each of our lives. Talk about power and might! Indeed, the word for “God” in verse 1 is “Elohim” — which means “strong one.” It certainly took the strongest One who ever was or ever will be to bring the universe into being — and at the same time as he’s putting things together on a cosmic scale we cannot fathom, he’s wants intimacy with each of us. Amazing.

And a few crucial notes before we continue in the passage:

First, if by chance you’re thinking that God stopped creating after the seven days he spent bringing the universe into being, think again. The Lord has been in the creation business every second ever since! We’re not talking about new stars or new planets — we’re talking about hearts in human beings. Remember what King David wrote in Psalm 51? “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” No matter how messed up you are on the inside — or how good you may think you look on the outside — God wants to create something new and special inside you! In the same way, the word “create” in Scripture is the same word used for “salvation.” In other words, we all become new creations when we become Christians! The Lord never exited the creation business. He still makes all things new today.

But a few words about the cosmic state of our planet: Consider the fragile, exacting position of the Earth as it sits in space: It orbits the sun in such a way that if it were any closer to our solar system’s star, we’d all burn up … and if it were any significant distance away from the sun, we’d freeze. But instead we sit in this amazing spot astronomers call the “Goldilocks Zone.” There’s no other place like it that we know of in the universe — and God in his power and wisdom knew it would take such a spot to sustain life on this planet!

Now as we continue on in our passage, verse 2 tells us that “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In other words, God still had some work to do; he wasn’t finished creating yet. But check this out: Remember when we talked about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we studied Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians a few weeks ago? We learned that as the Spirit of the Lord enters our hearts, God becomes personally involved in our lives. And here’s the amazing thing: The Spirit of God who hovered over of the face of the waters when the universe came into being is the same Spirit who lives in each one of us! That’s the kind of power and love God has placed at our disposal and is prepared to unleash in all of our lives — if we only let him.

Finally verses 3 through 5 tell us, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

It’s important to keep in mind that at this point the Lord hadn’t yet created the sun, moon, or stars … which begs the question, “Where’s the light coming from?” The answer? The glory of the Lord is what lights up the heavens. And along with that, we all must understand and embrace the notion that when Jesus comes into our lives, he gives us that same light from the Lord that made things bright before there ever was a sun, moon, or stars.

As we reflect this week on what we’ve learned from looking at the first five verses of Genesis, let’s all keep in mind at least this one question: Every day we have a choice to make … will we worship creation or the Creator? Will we put “things” at the top of our lists … or the Person who made all those things possible? Let us all choose wisely — and experience the light of the Lord in our lives and the power of his Spirit that brought the universe into existence.

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Written by Dave Urbanski.

This past Sunday we completed our study of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians — and it’s amazing to consider that when we began it months ago, we also commenced life with the rest of the world in dealing with the coronavirus and were unable for the first time to meet together as a body of believers.

Fittingly, however, 1 Thessalonians has provided us with many insights on how to deal with challenges — and is that not what we’ve all faced for the last several months, in one way or another?

On that note, here are the last two verses we’ll examine in detail from the very first book of the Bible the Apostle Paul ever wrote (chapter 5, verses 23 and 24): “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Would you believe that God actually wants to give us rest and not more work or yet another list of things to do? That’s part of what the Lord means when Paul prays that God will sanctify us completely. In a way our heavenly Father wants us to take a kind of vacation so he can peel off — spiritually speaking — all the things that entangle us in this life.

So … how are you doing today? If you’re tired due to what our world has handed you lately, you’re not alone. There is weariness everywhere. But God really does want to give us rest — but he doesn’t mean the absence of conflict or challenges; rather the Lord means peace and strength and energy in the midst of difficulties.

Now here are a few other important points: Who do you imagine is doing the sanctifying in you? Well, of course God is behind it. The “God of peace,” in fact. And our passage says the Lord “will surely do it.” What a promise that is — one we can count on! But at the same time, it’s crucial to keep in mind that we also need to come to God in this process — not just be passive about it.

And the Scriptures also say that God will do the sanctifying in us “completely.” It’s fair to say that such a word means not just in our spirits and souls, but also in our bodies, minds, and emotions — through and through, truly rested holistically. But it’s no surprise that we would need such a reminder, as we tend to divide ourselves up into separate compartments: If we’re feeling physically ill, we see a doctor; if our minds or emotions are bothering us, we may see a counselor; and if we’re feeling spiritually out of sorts, we may visit a pastor for advice.

But God wants to be all of those things to us!

The Weary Test

As we came to the end of our study of 1 Thessalonians, we also took some extended time to examine chapter 5, verses 12 through 22 — a look at various characteristics that Christians share. Of course we’ve been through these points recently, so they already may be fresh in your mind; but here’s something to do right now: Read through this list, and ask yourself if you need work in any of these areas … and then ask God to guide you the rest of the way so you can actively move toward him. Let’s get started:

  1. Are you gaining as much as you can from the authorities in your life? (1 Thessalonians 5:12) Would you believe that in addition to what we owe to authorities, they in turn can give a lot to us? It’s true … so take advantage of that!
  2. Are you able to practice peace on a daily basis? (5:13) Remember that Jesus said to come to him, and he will give us rest. (Did you catch that? Getting rest from Jesus is an active process — we come to him; he doesn’t necessarily just toss rest upon us if we don’t ask for it!)
  3. Do you feel confident to help other people deal with their issues? (5:14) Relationships can be tiresome! But God wants us to do something to address those challenges — and perhaps that means when we give our patience to others, we will get it in return. Consider this another instrument to add to your relational toolbox.
  4. Are you pursuing goodness? (5:15) If we continue to harbor a justice mentality — or worse, repay evil for evil — we’re never going to be at peace in our lives. So, the next time you’re in traffic and someone cuts you off, why not give that driver the benefit of the doubt? In so doing, you can do away with anxiety and tension so you can be freed up to focus on doing good in Jesus’ name.
  5. Is your joy level high? (5:16) It’s important for us as believers to be able to see God’s joy — and it’s not close to the same thing as happiness. Joy can come to us in all situations; even during hardships. Ask the Lord to help you sense his joy; it’s one of the many things he’s waiting to give to you!
  6. Are you accessing God’s grace each day? (5:17) The Bible says we must pray without ceasing, and that God knows the answers to our prayers even before we ask him. But again, we have a part in it: To access God’s grace means we must reach out for it; in fact, that’s part of the Lord’s amazing love relationship with us — he’s thrilled when we come to him! And he’s just waiting for us to access all the riches at his disposal and ask him to help us; and remember … we must ask BIG!
  7. Are you experiencing a lot of gratitude? (5:18) We must give thanks in all circumstances; as we’ve learned, the act of gratitude is recognized by medical professionals the world over as a vital component of excellent mental health — clearly God was on to something here!
  8. Are you unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit in your life? (5:19) “Do not quench the Holy Spirit,” the Scriptures say. So often we’re so busy doing other things that we regularly push away the promptings of the Holy Spirit; but even if that has defined us to date, that doesn’t mean we’re destined to continue like that. So, let’s get busy and start responding to what the Spirit is telling us every day. And again, all of us have the power to unleash (or quench) the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives: it’s all up to us.
  9. Are you hearing God speak? (5:20) The Bible says that we should not despise prophecies but test everything we observe and hear. That takes practice! And if we’re out of practice, all we need to do — and boy is this becoming a theme — is ask God to help us do so. Seriously, why wouldn’t our Lord — who longs to spend time with us — give us the power to hear him speak to you and me?
  10. Can you tell the difference between what’s good — and what looks good but is really bad? Why would we look at two similar plates of food but decide to eat the dish containing maggots? It’s our sin nature, unfortunately, along with our world’s system that deftly sells such meals to us. But it’s our job to hold on to what is good — and determine the difference between good and bad.

And now as we conclude 1 Thessalonians, let’s look at Paul’s final words that come after verses 23 and 24: “Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

We know what Paul means by a “holy kiss.” It’s a sign of being connected with each other in the spirit of Christ; something we long for today as our separation continues. Next, Paul wanting this letter read to all those in the Thessalonian church reflects a confidence and hope in their spiritual progress — which we can apply to our own lives as he and all the saints cheer us on.

And of course, we all need the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” to be with us — every day. It’s what will give us vitality instead of weariness in a world that battles against that minute by minute. Surely, we need the Lord every day — but we must do our part and reach out to him!

Therefore, let us all take hold of what Jesus so desperately wants to give each of us. And without delay.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski.

As we finish our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verses 21 and 22: “Hold fast what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

Why would anyone want to choose evil over good? When we look at the news, we know that people do so every single day — but why?

Pastor Scott used a food illustration to paint a stark image of what choosing evil looks like: Let’s say there are two dinner plates in front of us, each containing a delicious-looking slice of lasagna. But after turning over one of the slices, we discover it’s infested with maggots and worms — but the other slice is just fine. Yet we choose to eat the infested slice!

It sounds crazy — not to mention gross — right? But in many ways that sums up choosing evil over good. So, again, why do we do it? What’s attractive about a slice of lasagna infested with maggots, especially when there’s a perfectly healthy option on the table for us?

Well, first off, every one of us has been born with a sin nature. No one comes into this world with a blank slate. And our sin nature is like a magnetic pole that leads toward danger — and ultimately destruction. James 1:14-15 says “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

This is the reason, after all, why we become Christians. By believing in Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins, the Lord gives us new lives and hearts that live on with him into eternity. But our sin nature is still with us on this side of heaven, enticing us toward earthly despair and destruction.

And there can be a fine line to it all. For example, the desire for pleasure isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it can be — particularly in our teen years — if such a desire leads us to try substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, as doing so can lead to addiction that affects the rest of our lives. Pursuing wealth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if it leaves relationships trampled upon and discarded. The desire to win can be distorted when we end up cheating and living a dishonest lifestyle. And these examples don’t merely represent damage we can see; there’s also damage to our spirits we must account for.

If that weren’t enough, there’s a second factor working in concert with our sin nature, and that’s the world system and its values. It’s Hollywood telling us we can’t be happy unless we’re rich and famous and beautiful. It’s the political realm saying the only way out of trouble is by embracing this party or that candidate. It’s our culture telling young people they’re not normal if they haven’t tried this or that.

This is why coming alongside young people is so important. Those of us who’ve lived a little longer and have more life experience can help our young brothers and sisters in Christ avoid the plate of lasagna with maggots and choose a healthy meal. (And often it’s because those of us with more experience under our belts know how sick we became after making that meal choice!)

And here’s some really good news. When we become Christians, besides being welcomed into eternal life, another thing happens that counteracts our sin nature: The Holy Spirit takes up residence inside each one of us! And when that happens, we’re empowered to rise above temptations and challenges — to choose good over evil.

We all truly have the ability to follow the Lord and avoid pitfalls that inhibit our earthly and spiritual lives. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” True pleasure and happiness can be found by living under God’s commands and within the limits he’s set up for us — boundaries that exist in order to protect us.

But most people don’t choose to live like that — wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, the Bible says. Only a few find the narrow road that leads to life.

Psalm 119 begins with the following words: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” Why? Because walking in such a way leads to good things happening to us!

The Bible is our instruction manual for how to live life in a way that’s most pleasing to God — and it just so happens that that path is the healthiest way for us, too. Therefore all of us — especially when we’re young — must avoid responding to God by saying, “I don’t need an instruction manual. I can do it on my own.”

“How can a young man keep his way pure?

By guarding it according to your word.

With my whole heart I seek you;

let me not wander from your commandments!

I have stored up your word in my heart,

that I might not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O Lord;

 teach me your statutes!

With my lips I declare

all the rules of your mouth.

In the way of your testimonies I delight

as much as in all riches.

I will meditate on your precepts

and fix my eyes on your ways.

I will delight in your statutes;

I will not forget your word.”

— Psalm 119:9-16

Listen to the Sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski.

As we begin to wrap up our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 through 22, and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verses 20 and 21: “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

So, let’s take a look by going to the Scriptures and seeing what they have to say about prophecies.

First off, prophecies are found throughout the Bible. Arguably the most well-known prophecies are the ones that foretell the coming of Jesus and his saving work on the cross. But not all prophecies necessarily discuss the future. Prophecies can be a declaration of God’s word that’s relevant to a personal situation.

And indeed, the Lord speaks to us through his word. We know that Scripture is like a sword that cuts through our own thoughts and intentions so we can hear the heart of God speaking to us — and that’s when good things can happen.

But prophecies also can be God speaking to us in relevant ways through other people — such as preachers, friends, spouses, and family members. All of us can offer prophecies — you don’t have to hold the office of “prophet” to do so. For an example that’s relevant to all of us, what we experienced on Sunday when Pastor Scott declared to us God’s word and shared what his study of the Scriptures taught him over the previous week was a prophecy. We must dispense with the notion that prophecies are only dramatic moments when the Holy Spirit comes over someone and inspires a “prophetic word”; that’s actually not the norm. It’s more common that a friend during a Bible study mentions an insight that speaks powerfully to us — that’s also a prophecy.

Prophecy can be words of affirmation — for example, when others speak God’s word into our lives and help us if we’re feeling worthless and missing the truth about how much God loves us. God can use all of us to pass on his grace to others. What is God teaching you today? Maybe the Lord will use what he’s teaching you to speak to others and help them with whatever they may be experiencing or struggling with. And then perhaps that will cause others to think more about how God is speaking to them. In these cases, prophecies can be very important in our lives — and we must take to heart what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 20 “Do not despise prophecies.”

Then there’s the second part of the Scripture we looked at on Sunday: “But test everything.”

Of course, we must always evaluate prophecies to make sure they are in line with God’s word. We may run into situations when others give their opinions with regard to our lives — whether it’s about buying a new car, taking on a new job, or what to do about a relationship — and human opinions aren’t always correct! Sometimes we use God’s word to support our own ideas. That’s why we always must test what we hear others say and ask, “Is this from God or not?”

Because in the end, the standard is always God’s word. Which of course underscores the importance that we know God’s word and how to study it — and figure out what God is saying through Scripture. And most definitely not “what Scripture means to me.”

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 through 22, and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 19 — and as with the last several verses we’ve examined over the past few weeks, it’s yet another short one. Just four words: “Do not quench the Spirit.”

But also, as usual, there’s a whole lot behind those words. So, let’s break it down, as we’ve been doing, by looking at what Scripture has to say about the key words in this verse.

First, what is “the Spirit”? For an answer to that question, let’s go back to very beginning of the Bible in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, verse 26: “Let us make man in our image.” Our image. While the Scriptures indeed say the Lord our God is one God, within that oneness are three distinct persons or personalities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the mysteries of the Trinity are beyond our finite human understanding, but we are given glimpses to work with. For instance, the Father gives prophecies that his son Jesus fulfilled. Christ implemented what his Father established. But what about the Holy Spirit? Where does he show up and what does he do?

Well, we know from the Gospels that when the angel tells Mary she’s with child, she asks how could that be since she’s a virgin — and the angel replies that it’s through the Holy Spirit’s power that she will bear a son. The Holy Spirit makes things personal. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove. The Holy Spirit makes things personal.

While we look to God as Father and to Jesus as head of the church, the Holy Spirit makes things personal as he guides and leads us in everyday life — and empowers us to make good choices.

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that he must leave them, and despite their sorrow, he adds, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment … I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (vv.7-15)

You see, the Holy Spirit isn’t just working in your life and in the lives of other Christians: He’s reaching out to everyone. So be mindful of what you say and do around others, because you don’t want to inhibit what the Spirit is doing in their lives.

And that brings us to the other word from verse 19 we will examine: “Quench.”

In the context of the Scriptures, “do not quench the Spirit” literally means “don’t put out the fire of the Holy Spirit.” OK … but how do we keep that fire burning strong? Well, a fire needs three things to keep it burning: fuel, heat, and oxygen. In many ways it’s the same with the fire of the Holy Spirit. The fuel is the word of God, which the Holy Spirit illuminates for us and makes come alive within us; the heat is prayer, especially the “listening to God” kind of prayer; and the oxygen is a willing heart.

That third element needed to keep the Holy Spirit’s fire burning is important: Because believe it or not, you have the power to restrict or unleash the spirit of God in your life! Your willing heart will help do it.

And here’s another especially exciting thing the Holy Spirit can do in each of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 9-12, he reminds his fellow believers that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” and that “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

That means, literally, that the Lord has something incredibly special in mind just for you. A unique freshness he wants to bring to you through the Holy Spirit — a work in your life that fits your specific situation, your special characteristics, your unique history, and all the factors around you! The Holy Spirit makes things personal.

So, we must put into practice listening to the Spirit. Because after all, there are a lot of other voices shouting at you and whispering for your attention — and heeding their call, if not in step with God’s calling, will lead to places you don’t want to be. The Enemy is constantly trying to drown out the Spirit’s calling in your life.

Who are you listening to?

As we consider the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in our lives, remember finally that it’s never wise to take the self-guided tour through life — especially when the Holy Spirit is right there and ready to guide us into all truth. We all have unlimited access to the Spirit’s guiding hand which personalizes what we need and empowers us to take the steps we need to take.

So, do you have big mountains to climb? Struggles in front of you that seem too daunting to deal with? Then you need the power of the Holy Spirit in your life — and you need more of it, all the time, every day.

Just reach out and ask him. The Holy Spirit has been waiting…

Written by Dave Urbanski

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 18, which is yet another short, simple phrase: “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

But as we’ve been discovering, short verses can carry a great deal of depth and meaning.

Now as we look at the idea of gratitude, of course we realize that the way God looks at gratitude is different than the way the world looks at it. But that’s not to say the world doesn’t value gratitude. In fact, a secular journal once deemed gratitude the most important mental exercise you can do for psychological and emotional health!

But how are we as believers to look at gratitude — the act of giving thanks? First, let’s consider a definition: Gratitude is the outward expression of something going on deep inside you. Gratitude is what’s inside our hearts — thankfulness and appreciation and gratefulness are what comes out.

On that note, as we dig into this very short verse, we immediately see the importance of a single, small word: “in.” The verse reads “give thanks in all circumstances” — not “give thanks for all circumstances.” You see the difference? God would seem to understand that it’s difficult to give thanks for a trial or challenge or deep pain in our lives. However, as we continue to mature in our faith, we come to a place of depth where we can see God doing complex work in our souls and realize that IN a particular trial or hardship, we can experience amazing growth. And that is something to give thanks about!

As we grow from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, if we’ve experienced the challenge of dealing with limits, we get to learn how to see the good amid hard circumstances. Now, here’s another definition: Gratitude is a condition of the heart that fosters the tendency to focus on good. It’s actually something we can learn, improve upon, and even excel at!

So how do we get better at being grateful and giving thanks? Well, let’s look at three things that pull us away from and rob us of a state of gratitude — and three things that will bring us back.

The first distraction is complaining. We all are guilty of complaining to various degrees when things we lack loom large in our lives. As the Israelites found a way to complain about their desert circumstances despite all the necessities God was giving to them every day, we also find a way to complain. But how do we get rid of complaining? The key, according to Deuteronomy 8, is to remember the Lord and all the good he’s done in our lives. We must make it a habit and a practice to remember God’s goodness. And when we’ve gotten the hang of such a heart focus it becomes our “gratitude therapy.”

The second distraction is anxiety. Now whether anxiety is the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains or simply circumstances that have become overwhelming and continually cycle over and over, becoming scarier with each turn, the Lord has an answer when anxiety is threatening to undo us. It’s found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6 through 9:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learnedand received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

And do you know what’s interesting about the phrase “in everything” found in verse 6 of Philippians 4? It’s the same Greek phrase — “in all circumstances” — found in 1 Thessalonians 6:18! We’re looking at the same goals here

Now the key, according to Scripture, for moving from anxiety to gratitude is prayer. Because when we lift up our anxieties to the Lord, then the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And again, this is a spiritual practice that we can all improve upon and get better at in our own lives.

The third distraction is anger. When we allow anger to rule our hearts, we’re focusing on the bad and the pain in our lives. And like the other two distractions we’ve looked at, we’re all guilty of letting anger take hold of us to different degrees — but above all we can’t stay there. Otherwise we become people who don’t reflect God’s goodness at all.

So how do we move from anger to gratitude and giving thanks? The key, according to the Bible, is to become a giver! This is illustrated quite profoundly in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel when Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw a dinner in Jesus’ honor — and each of them gave something to the Lord. Martha gave to Jesus through her service; Lazarus gave to Jesus through his presence and intimacy as they conversed; and Mary gave to Jesus through her incredible generosity — perfume worth an entire year’s wages! And we also see in that passage that Judas’ attitude was diametrically opposed to Mary’s, as Judas wasn’t happy about the gift of perfume, saying the money could have been used as alms for the poor. But as he so often does, Judas completely misses the point, and we’re told that Judas said what he did “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’”

So, as you strive to live a Christian life that’s filled more and more with gratitude, don’t get discouraged when you fall short or if you have a bad day. Because it’s also true that even a little bit of gratefulness goes a long way. Therefore, put expressions of gratitude into practice — even if it’s only a little bit sometimes — and harness the truths of Scripture that will help you dispense with the distractions of complaining, anxiety, and anger and lead you to remember the Lord in all things, pray, and become a giver.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

When we attend a professional sporting event, before the game begins everyone rises to their feet as the national anthem plays over the stadium speakers. Some of us put our hands over our hearts, hats are taken off, and respect for the anthem is observed. Then after we sing out “and the home of the brave!” and fireworks light up the sky, we sit back down, continue eating our hot dogs, and the game commences — and we won’t usually think about the national anthem until the next time we’re at a sporting event.

Too often Christians view prayer the same way. Perhaps there are weeks that go by during which the only time we pray is at church. Just as we do with the national anthem, we stand with the rest of the congregation and “pay our respects” to God in prayer — and then we go home, and maybe we don’t think too much about God until the next time we gather with our brothers and sisters.

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 17, which says something very different about prayer. It’s reads, “pray continually.”

Now before we get to the notion of praying without ceasing, it’s a good idea to look at what prayer is. As usual, there’s no better example than the way Jesus prayed — and the Gospels tell us he gave specific instructions for how we are to pray. In Matthew 6, Jesus prefaces what’s commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” with the following instructions: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The time you spend in prayer is not an informational meeting for God. He knows what’s going on with you already. And more than that, the Lord already has the answers to our prayers as well. Isaiah 65:24 reads, “Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” So why pray in the first place? Well, James in the fourth chapter of his epistle has something to say about that: “You do not have because you do not ask.” In other words, some of the answers to prayer you seek won’t come unless you ask God for them — which should motivate all of us to pray a lot more than we do at present.

Now let’s look at the first part of the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus prefaces by saying “pray then like this.” Indeed, Jesus is giving his disciples a model for prayer.

Then Jesus begins his prayer with “our Father in heaven.” Why does he use the word “our” instead of “my”? The answer is packed with meaning for all of us: No Christian is an only child. We’re surrounded by other children of God, other brothers and sisters in Christ. And that fact also reflects God’s design for us to live in community. And while living in community is hard at times, the beauty of it is underscored by the truth that there are things God wants to give us and have us experience that will only happen when we’re part of a community of believers.

Then Jesus uses the word “Father” to describe his relationship with him as the. Jesus uses the personal, intimate word “Father” all the time in the Gospels — except when he was suffering on the cross and quoting the Psalms in his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” During that one moment in history, Jesus referred to his Father as “God” to describe the position he was in as a sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus then notes in his prayer that the Father is “in heaven.” That’s a great way of showing that God lives above the limitations we experience on earth — and that we need his power and love and presence down on earth with us.

“Hallowed be your name,” Jesus prays next. And what does “hallowed” mean? It’s another way of saying “holy” or to describe something as separate from us. While Jesus reflected the closeness and intimacy and love that God has for each of us, there is a balance with regard to our relationship with our heavenly Father: He’s a holy God — and we are not. So, acknowledging that important fact is necessary and wise for us all as we come before the Lord in prayer. It’s a way of reminding ourselves how sacred this opportunity is.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” Christ prays next. As we look at the will of God, it’s crucial to understand that there are two types of will: God’s unconditional will, and God’s conditional will. As for his unconditional will, it will be accomplished no matter what we do or don’t do. God will do what God will do, and there isn’t anything that will stand in his way. But then there is his conditional will — and that’s where we come in, particularly when it comes to prayer.

While God is sovereign and will do what he wants to do no matter what we do on earth, there are some things the Lord wants to bring about with his creation based on their behavior or decisions — in other words, it depends on us. So how do we know what God’s conditional will is? We can’t! Which is again more motivation for us to be in prayer continually, as sometimes God uses our prayers to accomplish his conditional will! How amazing is that?

So, don’t treat prayer any longer like singing the national anthem before you witness a baseball game; instead make it part of your daily life. Pour out your heart to God, hour by hour, minute by minute. Ask the Lord continually to work in your life and in the lives of others. Be in constant relationship with God and live out the truth of the Scriptures that Jesus is there with you always. And realize that we have no idea what joys and treasures the Lord is just waiting to bestow upon us and others — until we ask him.

Written by Dave Urbanski

Can you believe our entire study from this past Sunday’s teaching is based on just two words?

It’s true. The verse as we continue our look at various traits that define us as Christians is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. It reads, “Rejoice always.”

That’s it! It’s indeed as short a verse as you’ll find in all of Scripture — but it’s also as deep and wide and long in weight and meaning as any truth in the Bible as well.

Let’s start by looking at the Greek word for “joy,” which is “chara.” It’s a noun that denotes the awareness of God’s grace — or “grace recognized.” (Interesting that the primary definition of “joy” immediately flows to “grace,” isn’t it?) There’s a valuable reason for that stands front and center in the life of the Christian — and one that will change your entire disposition in life. Here it is: When you pursue pleasure as the ultimate goal, you will always come up empty. We weren’t designed that way. Life’s miniscule pleasures were never meant to give us ultimate fulfillment. Instead the Lord, our Creator, allowed only himself to be that source of fulfillment.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If God desperately wants a deep relationship with each of us, why would he allow us to be fulfilled by anything that takes the focus away from him? Which is why, rather than pursuing pleasure, we must instead pursue grace — and as the Greek word denotes, by recognizing grace, we will find joy.

And indeed, at the end of joy is the Lord himself — exactly the way God designed it!

Since the idea of grace has entered the picture so powerfully, let’s dig a little deeper into it. Here’s another jaw dropper: Turns out the Greek word for “grace” is “charis” — which as you no doubt will notice is very close to “chara,” the Greek word for “joy” we just discussed! (See how this is all fitting together? It’s no accident.)

It’s important to keep in mind that there are two types of grace: Our “salvation” grace and our “daily” grace. Let’s look at salvation grace first — the grace by which Christ saved us. This type of grace is a free gift; it’s nothing we deserve or have the ability to earn. And it follows that “recognizing” this grace — remember that word earlier in our discussion? — leads right to joy. And why wouldn’t it? Being the recipient of God’s saving grace is nothing less than joy that never ends.

Now let’s look at the grace we need every day — that we need each hour, each second, of our lives. This grace might strike a bit closer to home, simply because it relates directly to the things that have happened to you today — to the things that are happening right now as you read these words. If you’ve been in any kind of sustained pain, for example, you know exactly what this means. Let’s say you find yourself struggling to swallow normally or to breathe easily: You’d better believe that, even as a Christian — in our temporary, limited bodies — we require grace from the Lord on a minute-by-minute basis.

But the key here is to not stop — but rather to carry that awareness of needing the grace of God in every moment all the way to the ability to see grace everywhere.

We all know it’s easy to see God’s goodness and grace when things going well. If we see an accident on the road, it’s appropriate to thank the Lord that he spared us from that calamity. And if you received a promotion and a raise at work, of course you should thank God for the grace he bestowed upon you. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know from personal experience that it’s much harder to perceive grace in the hard times! When you find yourself a victim of that accident … when you don’t get the promotion or raise. And we naturally ask ourselves, Can I receive grace in those hard moments? The answer is, “Absolutely, yes you can.”

 How? Well, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 12, verse 9, that when he wanted the Lord to remove an affliction from him, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Are you able to see God’s grace right alongside the problems and trials you experience in life? Because your path to growth will likely run right alongside rejoicing always in God’s grace amid challenging times. Remember James’ words in his epistle: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Applying that truth to your life will lead you toward seeing God’s grace everywhere!

Another great way to think about joy to take a look at our physical health. When we go to the doctor, we’re quizzed on different risk factors in our lives — and rightfully so, as counteracting them is good for our health. Well, the spiritual life is much the same: Often there are risk factors that can derail our spiritual lives: Anger, materialism, greed, lust. You name it. All of these things, and more, can creep into our souls and send us in the wrong direction.

But the great thing about joy is that it can counteract the terrible, constant assaults those negative elements wage in our lives. Joy is like our “core strengthening exercise” that can ward off the disease of sin before it sets in and seeks to destroy us.

Make no mistake: Living the Christian life is no guarantee of painless living. In fact, anyone who tells you differently isn’t telling you the truth. Take it from the Apostle Paul, who describes in stirring detail in 2 Corinthians 6 what living the Christian life actually looks like when you allow God to have his way. Paul says he endured “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Does that sound like fun to you? But hang on — let him finish:

“… by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Possessing everything. Paul, of course, wasn’t talking about material possessions. He was communicating about true riches, treasures that thieves cannot steal, that moths cannot devour — the joy of eternal life. And that joy can start for all us, right now. Lay hold of it, brothers and sisters.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” — Philippians 4:4

Listen to the Sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:15

What does it mean to “do good”? That’s the big question we explored this past Sunday as we continued to look at various traits that define us as Christians.

To take a closer look at doing good, we should start in the first chapter of Genesis where the Hebrew word for “good” — transliterated as “TOB” — is used seven times! You know the story: God was creating the Earth, and the Lord saw that it was good. Not just that it looked good on the outside with wonderful things such as fruit-bearing trees — but also because the seeds from the fruit of those trees created more trees and more fruit. The trees worked. They provided food and nourishment and sustenance. The trees weren’t merely a wonder to behold, they also were good — down to their core.

Then God created man — and the Lord said this particular creation of his was very good. Imagine that: You and I are the height of God’s creation! But things took a really bad turn in Genesis 3 when man sinned, which precipitated our fall. Brokenness came into the world, and our “TOB” gave way to problems such as disease and racism and sexism and hurtful relationships. We began to experience pain and suffering. But God had a plan for redemption through his son Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and opened the door for us to enter God’s kingdom through trusting alone in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is indeed Good News as all things in our lives become new in that salvation moment.

OK — so how do we get to real goodness in our day to day lives?

Well, the process starts with pursuing holiness. A good way to put flesh and blood on that concept is to recall the story of Jesus encountering the rich young ruler in the Gospels. This young man had everything the world had to offer — but he also lacked one thing money couldn’t buy: Eternal life. So, he went right to Jesus, called him “good teacher,” and asked him what he needed to do about that problem. Jesus responded in a very interesting way (as Jesus typically does!) with a question of his own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

You see, Jesus didn’t want this rich young ruler to get the idea that he could earn his way to heaven with actions. And in the rest of this story, the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus replied that he needed to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor — and then to follow him. In that moment he didn’t want to do what he needed to do to inherit eternal life — to put aside the things of this world and trust Jesus by following him. And that’s where holiness starts.

And being in this relationship with Jesus also means that doing good and goodness takes on new meaning. Indeed, Scripture says the Lord long ago prepared good for us to do. Not goodness to earn God’s love (because the Lord loves us freely) but because goodness comes from God! As Christ’s workmanship we are prompted to do good as an outgrowth of our relationship with him (Ephesians 10:2). Again, goodness doesn’t equal actions or behavior to earn God’s love or acceptance, and it’s certainly not about being nice. Instead it’s a state of being deep down in our core.

Have you ever prayed and asked God to point out the ways he wants you to change so he can increase his goodness in your life? To shine his spotlight on sin he wants you to dismiss? If there’s any prayer we can pretty much guarantee God will answer in the affirmative, it’s that one! And responding to God’s nudging in these areas of change means choosing virtue. That’s the next step in figuring out goodness.

And the third step in that process? To champion generosity. That means sharing our lives with others, giving of ourselves, and exceeding what’s expected as we take on such challenges. We all know about the story of the Good Samaritan (again, that word “good”) — and what did the Good Samaritan do? He had compassion on a man who was beaten and robbed on a road, a man who was from a different place, a man who gave his time and his money to help this man. That’s a lot of what goodness looks like — and we can do the same thing.

We’ve also learned during our Sundays together that there are three types of people in the world: Takers (those who are out for themselves), “balance the scale” folks (“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”), and givers.

But be forewarned: If you resolve to be a giver, eventually you’ll get hurt (if it hasn’t happened already). At some point you’ll be taken for granted and even mistreated. So, the question is: What will you do with that pain when you experience it? The answer has some theology behind it, but plenty of practicality, too: When you share your goodness with others, you must do it for God and not for others or yourself! Besides being of the correct spiritual mindset, doing good as unto the Lord goes a long way toward reducing the importance of how others react to the good we do for them. That’s because — unlike people who are imperfect — God will never hurt us or mistreat us, ever. Keep that attitude in mind as you “seek to do good to one another and to everyone,” as our latest verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 charges us.

Have you asked the Lord to give you opportunities to do good? With family members, friends, and even strangers? The kind of “TOB” goodness detailed at the dawn of creation is now ours to share freely with others because of Jesus being at work in our lives. And all we need to do is ask God to lead us toward that next moment — and he will provide it. And perhaps the most exciting part is that doing good things for others that the Lord gave us to do in advance, will draw to God those we’re reaching out to. How exciting to be a part of that adventure stretching toward eternity! Let us be about that kind of goodness this week — and for the rest of our days.

Listen here to the sermon audio and read the sermon pdf

Written by Dave Urbanski

This past Sunday we continued our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 — a special passage of Scripture that offers us 10 principles that characterize us as believers and help us know what it means to serve the Lord.

We’ve already looked at the principle of Christians living well under authority along with the idea of living peaceably. And this past Sunday we encountered our third principle: How to be wise people helpers. That principle is found in verse 14: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Believe it or not, there are other very good reasons for us to come together as a church each Sunday besides singing songs, praying, and listening to a sermon. One is that simply being together enables us to stimulate each other to rise to the next level in our growth in Christ. That’s the idea expressed in Proverbs: “Like iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

In order for us to be wise people helpers — not only in church but also with our families and with those we encounter outside of church — this verse gives us three tools we should be using, along with one “secret weapon.” Let’s check them out.

In verse 14 Paul begins by telling his readers to “admonish to idle.” Being idle in this sense means not working, not doing one’s part, and taking advantage of others — in short, someone who’s out of order or out of step with the Lord. “Admonish” here means to bring the truth through changing someone’s mind. But when you consider the word “admonish,” you may have been conditioned to define it as being harsh with others or hitting them hard, but actually Paul is communicating the idea of gentleness — lovingly coming alongside our brothers and sisters and saying, “Hey, I think you need to consider this.” And again, being in the position of doing this is just one of the reasons we come together in person as a body of believers.

The second tool is “encourage the fainthearted.” And in the Greek, it’s the idea of comforting and consoling someone whose soul is diminished — someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by life. Certainly, we’ve all been there in one way or another. And when we’re hurting or down, isn’t it wonderful when a believer comes alongside us and offers encouragement? Also, remember that giving comfort isn’t necessarily about problem solving. Often it’s simply about being a listening ear. And when we can be that kind of encouragement to others, good things can happen in the body of Christ.

The third tool is “help the weak.” And by “help” Paul doesn’t mean drive-by assistance and then you’re off doing your next task on your list. It’s the idea of being a support in an ongoing basis — which implies commitment. If there are those who can’t walk by themselves easily right now, we must come along and support them for as long as they need so that they can enjoy this life.

And now for the “secret weapon.” And while it’s a very effective weapon, it’s not always easily practiced. The last part of verse 14 says “be patient with them all.” Patience. How many of us struggle with exercising patience? It’s a very common issue. But unless we can develop more patience in our lives, our relationships will suffer — because after all, patience is like a great shock absorber in our interactions with others. And it’s one of the fruits of the spirit.

So how do we come to a place where we’re consistently exercising patience? There are three things we can do: remain calm, extend time, and endure pain. All of three of these efforts will help you build up your ability to exercise patience as you come alongside others. One thing to keep in mind as we use these three tools — admonish, encourage, and help (along with deploying our secret weapon of patience) — is that we’re all made in the image of God…yet we’re all unique people. This means that when you encounter someone with a need, and one of the tools at your disposal isn’t working, you may need to change the tool you’re using! Different people may require that you use different tools at different times. And above all we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He is the ultimate Comforter, and He literally uses all of these tools to build up each of us.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

This Sunday we continued to look at 10 principles from our passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22. We started off our journey the previous week with a discussion about authority — verses 12 and 13 — which is one of the foundations of the Christian life. Because if we don’t understand authority and don’t put it into practice, we will end up in places we don’t want to be. We could develop an integrity problem, which is why God wants us as believers in Jesus to live well under civil, spiritual, and parental authority.

And this past Sunday we talked about a second principle — and it’s literally from a five-word sentence at the end of verse 13. And this is all it says: “Be at peace among yourselves.”

Peace and living peaceably is more than stress management. In fact, the idea of peace from the Greek words in this passage is that it’s a verb! An action. Now, of course, in English the word “peace” is a noun. But when we look at it here through a spiritual lens, it’s a verb — so we then add verbs to it and strive to “live in peace” and “practice peace.” And then we begin to see why having peace and being focused on peace is such an important part of what it means to be connected to God.

Our discussion about peace has three parts to it. The first is the idea of release. Every time we move toward peace, we’re releasing something. For example, releasing anger toward another person or releasing control of certain things. Or maybe we’re releasing guilt. Perhaps we come to a point in our lives when we discover that we can’t try to balance all the scales of right and wrong and that we need a savior — and that’s when we release guilt and receive what Jesus provides.

Again, the peace of God is not stress reduction. This is so important to keep in mind. Because instead God’s peace is, in face, him giving us something. He allows particular challenges in our lives and then gives us peace that floods over us amid those challenges. Like Psalm 23 says, the Lord prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t make our enemies disappear. They’re still around us. But in the midst of our troubles, God’s peace abounds. He gives us that daily grace and energy despite our problems

Indeed, peace is also something we must put into practice on a daily basis. That’s the second part to peace. In fact, our life’s mission in many respects is to live in peace. Are you having a problem with one of your children? Well, did you know that God allowed this child in your life so that God could do something special in your heart? To do something that actually benefits you? So whether it’s a difficulty in a personal relationship or somebody cut you off on the road or you got a bill you weren’t expecting or you’re experiencing an ache or a pain that brings up anxieties, God is using all those things so that you will seek after his peace — to put into practice living in peace each day.

Finally, God’s peace is something we need to receive. His peace is, in fact, just one of the things we receive when we come to faith in Jesus — and it transforms our lives and our relationships. There is no more self-condemnation. And we don’t need to keep on saying that we can’t forgive this person or that person, but instead we can allow God to work in our lives. The Lord’s peace is so big and powerful that it fills up every nook and cranny in our hearts.

Yet the question remains: Will we allow God to give us his peace? It may sound like a strange question, and we may initially assume the answer is, “Of course! Why wouldn’t I want such peace in my life?”

But look at what Isaiah 26: 3 says: “You keep him in perfect peace   whose mind is stayed on you,  because he trusts in you.”

Is your mind focused on the Lord right now? Are you trusting in him every day, hour by hour, minute by minute? And is God’s peace something we’re prepared to receive and put into practice? And are you viewing Christ’s peace as merely a stress reducer — or are you willing to receive it and let it wash over you in the midst of your problems and challenges?

God has created in us the need to attend worship services together. In times like this, gathering together can help us regain our sanity. There’s just something about being together that calms us down, makes us feel connected and whole, and simply allows us to breathe again.

Research shows that people who regularly attend church report stronger social support networks and less depression. They smoke less and lead healthier and even longer lives. In a very real and physical way, church is actually good for your health.

Here are some benefits you’ll experience by attending church with others:

  1. You will connect with God. Entering a house of worship, whether it’s a school, or a barn, or a traditional building you are instantly elevated to a sense of opening up to God and trying to understand His message. The simple act of walking in the door to be with God’s people brings you closer to Him.
  2. You will experience gratitude. By practicing gratitude, you can reframe negative or frustrating situations into learning opportunities. Gratitude helps you to realize how blessed you are. Attending church can help you open your hearts and eyes to see the things you have.
  3. You will be connected socially. Social distancing wears on a person. At church you find friendly people and you actually make and strengthen good friendships.
  4. Your family is strengthened. Families who attend church together report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with life. Why? Church reconnects you to your shared beliefs. When you commune with God at church on Sundays, you’re reminded of your pledge in marriage and your brother-sister connection is reinforced even with your children.
  5. You will feel reverence. When you attend church, you’re transported to a place of worship and peace.  It gives you a space to pray and to express humility and gratitude. It allows you to feel at peace and gives you respite from the hustle and bustle of your daily life.
  6. You will have an opportunity to give back. Church offers an opportunity to donate your time and money to causes you believe in. You can also help out through interaction to share God’s grace and love with others.
  7. You will discover the lessons in your trials. How many times have you been struggling in a particular area and found that the sermon or message applied directly to your situation? Church helps us “get it,” whether we are ready for it or not.
  8. You will learn and practice forgiveness. It can be hard to let go of disappointments, frustrations and annoyances. There’s no better place to be reminded of the gift of forgiveness that we’ve already received than by going to church, and your heart can’t help but be softened in the process.
  9. You will experience refreshment through worship. There’s something special about worshiping together. Participating in hymns and spiritual songs uplifts you and gives you messages you might not otherwise hear. It’s amazing how open your heart can become through worship, and how sometimes, even the weight of the world can be lifted off your shoulders the moment that first song begins to play.
  10. You will find deeper meaning in life. When you go to church, you’re given a greater sense of purpose and meaning. You can see the history of what has led us up to this point, and the promise that lies in our future even beyond this world. Church helps you revisit the larger narrative of life and the reasons to hold on and keep the faith.

(These 10 ideas were adapted from an article written by Ruth Soukup and can be found at

Written by Dave Urbanski

We’ve come upon an incredible passage of Scripture in our study of 1 Thessalonians. In fact, verses 12 through 22 of the book’s fifth chapter are so rich with meaning and power that we need to look at them over the next several weeks bit by bit. This past Sunday we looked at the first two verses, which talk about authority in the lives of Christians: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Indeed, all of us in the church are under authority in one way or another. That’s how God designed it. But sometimes the idea of being under authority — not just in the church, but in our lives in general — doesn’t sit well with us. Some folks develop a mantra that they don’t respect authority. Of course, when earthly authorities fail in their duties and end up hurting people, it can be very natural to lose respect for them. But the Lord has another way of looking at these issues, and his word will help us know where to draw the lines.

First, let’s look at civil authorities. Paul wrote about them in chapter 13 of his letter to the Roman church:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

Paul wrote these words when the Roman Empire was ruling over the known world and began persecuting the church. Not a good thing at all. Yet Paul says God instituted earthly authorities to carry out his will. How are we to make sense of that? How do we reconcile that? In short, it’s something we as believers must hold in tension. For example, while the Roman Empire was brutal in countless cases, it also benefitted the early spread of Christianity through its establishment of trade, roads, and shipping.

Now, in our present situation — in the era of the coronavirus — what do we do when our government says we cannot meet as a church? How do we as Christians respect and subject ourselves to such authority? Again, it’s something we must hold in tension. In our country, we have a Democratic form of government that’s ultimately in hands of the people. But still we must support those in leadership, even when we disagree with what they decide. So, for instance, last Sunday night I exercised my First Amendment rights and spoke out with other pastors in calling for reform in our government. But still we must obey the law. It’s a constant tension we must examine and grapple with — and of course ask the Lord’s help when we do so.

Now let’s take a look at spiritual authority.

Christians are different from others because we say, “I am going to place myself under the authority of God’s word.” We do what Scripture instructs. We go to God’s word first when we have questions and then do our best to apply the Bible’s principles to our lives. And we do so even when what we’re commanded to do goes against culture. That’s incredibly challenging, particularly given the times we’re living in, when social and cultural pressure is so pronounced and constant. And then there are those who decide they’re not going to adhere to what God’s word says — and they end up elevating their own wisdom over God’s. That’s called humanism. But we all know that human wisdom in the face of God’s wisdom is flimsy at best.

In addition, spiritual authority doesn’t belong to a person — rather we’re all vehicles through which the Holy Spirit’s authority is able to be carried out. Pastors, for example, are only a Godly authority as they rely on God and his word. If they don’t, their authority doesn’t mean much. Also, submission to earthly authority means we accept the wisdom, power, and peace that comes from God through others. No, it doesn’t mean obedience — but it does mean having the wisdom to listen and be open to hearing from others, particularly those who’ve lived on this planet longer than us.

In fact, that’s one of the benefits having older Godly people among us. They’ve been through experiences we haven’t, and they can offer solutions to problems we may never otherwise have considered. Let me challenge you again to seek out such people — to be open to their counsel and experience. Let them help you grow and develop as a person and as a Christian. We all need others in our lives with more wisdom and experience who will look out for our best interests. Don’t miss that! Because when the world creeps in, and we start to think we can do whatever we want, and we can do it all on our own, God will use others — those with spiritual authority — to speak into our lives and pull us away from the thin ice we’re skating on.

Finally, there’s the issue of authority in family life. Parents and children are often at odds in this realm. But parents can begin to shape their children by modeling being under the authority of the Lord themselves. Watch what happens when you to God, “My answer is yes,” and your children are watching. Now that’s countercultural! And for young people, God will do some amazing things in your lives when you choose to submit to the authority of your parents, just as you submit to the authority of the Lord.

Being under authority isn’t always easy, but God designed those relationships — through our government, through our church, and through our families — to protect us, to help us grow, and ultimately to become closer to him.

Written by Dave Urbanski

This past Sunday we talked about the rapture.

One of the first things we covered is the fact that the word rapture doesn’t appear in the Bible. But that’s OK. The word trinity doesn’t appear in Scripture, either, but that doesn’t diminish the complete legitimacy of the trinitarian nature of God when it comes to our faith as Christians.

We also looked at what the word means. Rapture communicates the idea of being “snatched away” without warning — in the same way a thief comes in the night and suddenly takes away what he wants, and you never knew what hit you. That’s what the rapture of the church will be like. Suddenly. Instantaneously. No emergency broadcast system. (Sounds pretty exciting so far, doesn’t it?)

Then there’s the how. How will the rapture happen? Well, Paul tells his readers in 1 Thessalonians 4, verses 15 through 17, the following process. First, Jesus himself will descend from heaven with a “cry of command.” If you recall the gospel account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb, he literally gave an order to his deceased friend to “come forth.” And with that, Lazarus — dead as dead can be — walked out the tomb. That’s what Jesus will do when he comes for the church in the rapture. And what will his command produce? Well, all the Christians we’ve known who’ve died (and those we’ve never known) will rise first. And what about believers who are alive when the Lord comes back? This is the exciting part, assuming we’re alive when it happens: We’ll be “caught up together” with the now formerly dead in Christ “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Given all the strife and worry and disease and fighting and killing and hatred going on in our world at this very moment — and turned up to an intensity few, if any, of us have ever known — wouldn’t it be glorious to suddenly leave all our troubles behind and be with Jesus forever? It without a doubt will be the most amazing thing to ever happen on earth, save for Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead and ascension into Heaven. And some of us, someday, may get to experience it.

Another way to understand the rapture is the biblical account of Jesus’ last moments on earth, which took place a good month or so after he rose from the dead. In the book of Acts, we’re told the disciples asked Jesus when he would come again, and his reply was that no one knows the hour or the day. It’s a hidden entry on God’s calendar, and one of our only tasks is to live each day as if “this will be the day.” Even more clues about the rapture came when Jesus was blessing his followers on the mountain amid that Acts passage — and he was taken from them into the air and covered by clouds. Boom! Gone. What an indescribable sight that must have been. But then two man dressed in white — angels — appeared and asked why they were staring into the sky — and that Jesus would return one day in the same way he departed from them. (So, if you’re wondering what it will look like when the Lord himself descends with a word of command, we might want to consider what Scripture says about his ascension.)

Our passage in 1 Thessalonians also tells us that as a church we should “encourage one another with these words.” Indeed, beyond all our present troubles, the promise this passage brings is the best kind — especially for those of us who’ve lost loved ones in the Lord. The rapture means we’ll get to see once again those we’ve lost to death. And all of us together will be with the Lord — always. Which also explains the early part of the passage which says we should “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Paul continues with his discussion of the rapture in chapter 5 and gives yet another clue — that when people are feeling full of “peace and security,” a “sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Ouch. That is a sobering truth to digest. But fortunately, as believers in Jesus, we can put on the “breastplate of faith and love” and the helmet of “the hope of salvation.” We have nothing to fear, as “God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”

So, let us live like the rapture could arrive at any second. Indeed, it could happen right now — exactly at the moment you read these words — but also let us live without distractions. Let us live the truth that we all have purposes in Jesus moving forward — right now — that can be marked by our witness and spread of the gospel.

Get ready to fly.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

In our continuing study through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, we find the apostle in chapter 4 getting down to the nitty gritty of what it means to live the Christian life — particularly for those who are brand-new believers, as those in the Thessalonian church were.

The first phrase to notice in verse 1 is “how you ought to walk.” And the Greek word for “walk” here and throughout the Bible means how we live — our conduct. For Christians our walks aren’t about lists of dos and don’ts that we live by legalistically and then cross off to determine how well we’re living; it’s about freeing ourselves up — leaving our sin behind — to be completely on the cutting edge of availability in service to God.

There’s a sense of mission in how we walk — how we live — as Christians. And Paul reminds his brothers and sisters in that he’s already gotten them started on exactly how since they “received” (verse 1) such instruction from him already. Much like the Israelites who “received” the Law and the Ten Commandments from the Lord in the Old Testament, when we “received” Christ into our lives — as the Thessalonians did — it signaled the beginning of forward movement. The start of a walk. The opening up of our hearts to Jesus and trusting him — as verse 1 says, “more and more” each day. And that pleases God.

And on that note, exactly how else do we please God? On Sunday we discussed several examples in the Scriptures outside Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: First, we must have faith (Hebrews 11:6). Second, we must be spiritually minded (Romans 8:6-8). Third, we must fear God (Psalm 147:11). Fourth, we must follow Christ’s example (Matthew 17:5). Fifth, we must obey God (1 Samuel 15:22). Sixth, we must give God the sacrifices he wants (Hebrews 13:15-16).

Now here comes Paul’s first point in our passage: Our sanctification is God’s will for us (verse 3). And what does sanctification mean? Well, as you might expect, it’s literally the essence of our Christian walk. It’s the process of becoming holy. It’s not having reached it or mastered it — it’s about the journey, the movement forward. And while that certainly means change, it’s something all of us can do and should embrace.

What’s Paul’s next point in verse 3? “That you abstain from sexual immorality.” Pretty straightforward. When it comes to sexual purity, God wants to be right in the midst of our efforts in this area. In other words, since sexuality and purity are big and powerful issues in all of our lives, the Lord wants all the more to help us. And part of that happens when we’re being sensitive to God’s leading and instruction — because if we’re not, and we blow off God’s voice, we very well may veer into the carnal, the worldly ways of “anything goes” sexuality. But if we’re listening for God’s leading and desiring to follow him, God will empower us to grow and become strong in the area of sexuality.

Holiness sometimes can be a difficult concept to completely understand. Of course, walking in holiness pleases God — and that’s always a good enough reason to keep our steps going in that direction. However, the Lord himself says that walking in holiness also is “for our own good.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13) Holiness is also for you and for me. What a gift!

So, as we journey on our walks, remember that even when we trip and fall, we can get up. If we become out of step with God, we can listen to his voice, make an adjustment, and get back in rhythm with the Lord. Because the Christian life lived to the hilt, to ultimate, is an epic journey, an adventure to end all adventures — but if we’re not seeking after holiness on our walks, we miss the most amazing stuff the Lord has for us. And by all means, don’t miss it.

“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”—1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

At this point in our study of 1 Thessalonians, we know Paul has been alone for a long time. He only got to spend about three weeks with the church he established in Thessalonica — so he sent Timothy back to find out how his brothers and sisters were doing in their faith. And when Timothy brought back an encouraging report — that the Thessalonian church was strong and vibrant — Paul was very excited.

That’s what’s on Paul’s mind and heart in verse 6 of chapter 3 when he shares how much he longs to be with them in person. And isn’t that something all of us at Calvary Chapel Living Hope can relate to? The coronavirus has socially distanced and separated us physically — and indeed we all long to be together again.

And why is that? Well, Paul answers that in verse 7: “for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.” For Paul — and for us, too — it’s not merely that we miss an emotional connection in friendship after not being together in person for so long; even more it’s being able to experience each other’s faith up close and personal because that actually comforts us! Learning more about each other’s faith stories inspires and spurs us on to greater heights of our own faith.

In verse 8, Paul writes, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” To live — that’s our vitality and empowerment. Knowing that someone else is growing in their faith or that someone has come to know Jesus — how exciting! Knowing that God is at work in others’ lives inspires us and helps us to flourish in our own faith

Can you tell Paul is pretty much overflowing with joy right about here in his letter? So much so that in verse 9 he asks his Thessalonian church what thanksgiving he and his companions can return to God for having the privilege of witnessing the faith they’ve grown in! But that’s not all — he also reveals an important truth, revealing to his readers that part of their being together also will include Paul and his companions supplying what is lacking in the Thessalonians’ faith. (Can you imagine being visited by Paul and him supplying what is lacking in your faith? How amazing is that prospect?)

But of course, it’s a mutual thing. And Paul already acknowledges that the Thessalonians — so very young in their faith — have nevertheless helped him grown in his faith! (Can you imagine Paul confessing to you that your growing faith has inspired his own faith? Can you see a pattern here?) Indeed, that principle applies to us at Calvary Chapel Living Hope, too.

As we come to verse 11 Paul prays, “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you.” I think we can apply such a prayer to our own situation — that when it’s time for us to resume gathering together in person as a body of believers, it will be through the power of the Lord that it comes to pass. And not through the power of earthly authorities. In fact, if perhaps we’re doubting that elected officials will never change their way of thinking — just watch and wait: God has more than enough power to change the minds of mayors, governors, and presidents!

Verse 12 reveals the idea of being in the state of “abounding in love.” Now if you were to picture what that might look like, consider a “love tank” that’s so full it begins overflowing. Can you imagine? Love pouring out everywhere like a flood. And you know what happens during a flood: Water invades every space we can think of, and even nooks and crannies we forgot existed — or never knew existed! On earth such a force of nature is a disaster for sure — but spiritually speaking, an overflowing tank of love filled by God is a cause for celebration!

That’s what Paul is talking about in verse 13: “so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

When we’ve experienced this kind of love from God, it develops and increases our holiness. And what do we mean by that? No, holiness isn’t about following a list of rules. It’s about living our lives demonstrating the love God has given us. And how do we do that?

Well, in the second-ever book Paul composed — his letter to the Galatians — he talks about that. Holiness, in fact, leads to more of nine awesome things. Namely, to more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self-control. When we’re in that state, we’re in a very exciting place of being finely in tune with the Holy Spirit, letting him guide and direct us — even if that means just sitting in God’s presence and letting him fill us.

May we all strive to this point in our spiritual lives. Because that will unlock the door on the path toward even greater things happening in our walks with the Lord.

Listen to the sermon here:

Join us for this special testimony of Don Brien. One year ago his son Caleb took is life. Today Don will share how God has worked in and continues to work in his heart. Watch Don on Facebook live by clicking on the image above.

Written by Dave Urbanski

One of the most powerful prayers we can utter as Christians is as follows: “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”

That’s straight from the Bible. Mark’s Gospel describes a moment in Jesus’ ministry when a father wanted healing for his son who was being attacked by a spirit. Jesus told the desperate dad, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The dad’s reply? “I believe; help my unbelief!” And then Jesus healed his son.

Those words from that father should be encouraging to us. They demonstrate that belief is God can be hard! And, in fact, God wants more from us than merely belief; he wants faith. And we should want faith, too.

What does it look like to strengthen and grow in our faith? The passage we studied Sunday in the first five verses of 1 Thessalonians 3 gives us a glimpse of what real faith is. The Greek word Paul uses here for “faith” is “pistis” — and it implies something deeper than just agreeing with a concept or philosophy. And as we will discover, faith — real faith — is about truth and trust and action.

One of the big errors people make when thinking about belief and God and circumstances is that when we believe something is fair and just and reasonable — and it doesn’t come to fruition — then we tend to assume God isn’t real or has left us. But the sticking point is this: Fair and just and reasonable to us. It’s much easier to believe when circumstances line up with what we deem as part of the best plan.

But God doesn’t base his plan for the world and what happens to people day to day on what we believe should be done! No. It’s about what God decrees should be done — and we need to have the faith that he will carry it out.

There are three components to faith we will look at: Truth, trust, and action.

Let’s look at truth. When we study the Scriptures and truths it heralds, that increases our faith. The Bible’s teachings keep us grounded in the facts about God. And while truth certainly is crucial to faith, it’s not everything that encompasses faith.

The next component is trust. And it actually builds on the truth about God we already know. It’s about taking what we know and applying it to the unknowns of our lives. And there are sure a lot of unknowns, aren’t there? None of us know what’s going to happen from day to day. For a lot of us, simply waking up and getting out of bed is an act of trust. Trust is way more than agreeing with a concept; it’s admitting we don’t know what the day holds and moving forward with God’s strength anyway! It’s a state of being, not of belief alone.

The third aspect of faith is action. In James’ epistle, he discusses faith and works. And James drives it home for us: Mere belief isn’t enough to make faith complete! We actually need to “do something about our belief.” It means asking God every day, “How can I serve you?”

And let’s not forget our 5 takeaways from our Sunday study on how our faith can be strengthened — or in the Greek, “sterizo,” which suggests the idea of placing stakes in the ground in order to strengthen and hold up a young tree.

The first takeaway is to share with others what we’ve learned from our own failures. Ouch! No one wants to be that vulnerable and lay bare his or her weakest moments. But consider this: Peter did it! One of his lowest moments was denying Jesus three times before his crucifixion, yet Jesus foresaw Peter’s fall and told him to make sure that when he gets back on the road of faith to help his brothers.

Isn’t that amazing? Some may dismiss Peter as a screw-up. But perhaps more than anyone in the Bible, his life and ministry are open for us to examine and learn from. In truth, we are Peter! We falter just like he did. But Peter was willing to let others learn from his failures, and most definitely Peter did. Late in his life, the fisherman who once sank in the lake because he couldn’t maintain faith that Jesus was right there with him and of course denied his master three times managed to face down the Roman empire and led the young church there while penning two books of the Bible. You are Peter. I am Peter. We all are Peter.

The second takeaway: Interact with others while using our gifts. God has given each one of us talents and abilities and strengths. It’s our responsibility as believers to find out what those strengths are and to share them so that all of us can be mutually encouraged.

The third takeaway is recognizing that faith comes from God and allowing him to strengthen us. There’s a reason why Jesus is called the “author and perfecter” of our faith — it’s because he’s ultimately in charge of it. Sure, we have roles to play, but remember this: Faith isn’t something we whip up on our own power; rather it’s something we open our hearts to!

The fourth takeaway is living out our faith daily and being patient and relying on God in the process. There are a lot of benefits to waiting on the Lord — and often it means him doing something deeper in our hearts.

And finally, takeaway number five: Allow suffering to build your faith. That may seem strange to say, but for any of us who’ve been through hard times, we all know that it’s during those seasons of difficulty that God does his deepest work in us. Count on it.

Finally, remember this over the remainder of the week: We must all grow in our faith, for if we don’t, our faith can get left behind and replaced by other structures, idols, and falsehoods. Instead, let us all agree together to believe with every fiber of our beings that God has things in mind for us that far exceed what we can possibly imagine. So let us, again, turn to the Lord and cry: “I believe! Help me in my unbelief”

Our series on 1 Thessalonians — titled “Real Christians in Challenging Times” — had been planned for a quite a while before we finally began it a few weeks ago.

But who could have known that when we started it, our church — and our world — would begin battling a pandemic that has closed schools and businesses? That has put millions out of work? That has overwhelmed doctors and nurses? That has struck fear in hearts and minds? That has forced friends, family members, and coworkers to stay separated from each other?

It is indeed a challenging time. But it’s also an exciting time to be part of God’s plan for the planet. And we’ve been learning through our study of 1 Thessalonians that the Lord has given his sons and daughters in Christ many resources to deal with life’s challenges.

This past Sunday we looked at seven verses in chapter two. And at this stage of state-mandated social distancing measures — which have been in effect for a little over a month — we can all relate the Apostle Paul’s longing to be with his brothers and sisters in the church at Thessalonica. Check out what he writes in verse 17: But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.”

Wow! We at Calvary Chapel Living Hope sure can relate to Paul’s longing. We were torn away from each other by the coronavirus — and we certainly want to be together again and see each other face to face. Paul’s term “torn away” in fact implies the idea of being orphaned. (It can feel like that sometimes, can’t it?) But he also uses the word “heart” — and we know that just as Paul couldn’t see his church family, he still shared a heart connection to them that’s beyond flesh and blood presence. And we have a heart connection with each other just like that!

And keep this unexpected blessing in mind too: Since we’ve started “virtual” small groups which meet online, we have more people in them than we had before the pandemic hit! Something else to consider: Before this crisis happened, a survey came out saying that 72% of people feel lonely. Can you imagine what those people who don’t have a church home are feeling right now? Where do they go for support? Where do they go to safely be vulnerable? Where do they go when they need prayer? Let us keep them in mind and in heart as we move forward to stay connected as a church body, even though we can’t be together in person.

In verse 13, Paul writes: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” Let’s look at the word “received.” The idea here is the same as when Jesus in Gospels tells his listeners that whoever welcomes one of these children welcomes him. It’s that kind of welcoming in and taking to heart, just as if you’re caring for a little boy or girl. That’s the degree to which the Thessalonians received the power of God’s word in their lives!

And God’s word is also “at work” in them. Which means that, just like the Thessalonians, God through his word empowers us and encourages us, especially when we’re frustrated or need energy to complete a task the Lord has given us to accomplish.

We’ve indeed covered a few more resources in this passage: First, our connectedness to each other; second, God’s word at work in our lives. And there is a third resource: Sharing the gospel with others. What does sharing the gospel mean to you? What has your experience been when you’ve tried it? It’s not always easy to do, that’s for sure. We’re treading on very personal ground with others since it means more or less telling them there’s sin in their lives (like there’s sin in everybody’s life), and they have an eternal need: Jesus.

And how many times have you heard non-Christians declare that they don’t need Christ in their lives? That they’re happy with the way things are? Well, remember — that may be true! God’s “common grace” falls upon everybody to one degree or another, and people who’ve been rejecting God still may be the recipients of his grace and mercy. It can be quite a concept for Christians to wrap their heads around, too, because seeing others living apparently happy lives without God can make our gospel efforts seem pointless. But take heart — they’re not! One of the biggest misunderstandings about the gospel is that it’s supposed to make us “happy.” Not true! The gospel is supposed to save us and launch us into an amazing relationship with God — one that certainly may take us to great heights of happiness … but also through dark times when we suffer, emotionally and physically. The gospel of Jesus rescues us from sin that would kill us eternally. It’s not built to make us temporally or materially “happy.”

When you’re faced with the other common misconception about the gospel — that God looks at our lives with a scale and determines that if we’ve done more good things than bad, he welcomes us into heaven — remember that’s also not true. Not even the person who’s done the most “good” things in life is worthy of heaven because everyone is still stained by sin. And Christ is the only one who can clean that sin from our lives as we put our trust in his finished work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Keep that in mind as you share the gospel with others.

And there’s one more thing we can examine from this passage. In verse 18, Paul tells the Thessalonians that Satan “hindered” him from coming to them. So, who is Satan, and what does he do? For starters, he’s a liar, an accuser, a tempter — and yes, a hinderer. He puts roadblocks in front of our best efforts so that hopefully (in his mind) our thoughts will stray from God and hurt our faith in him. But remember: Whatever hinderances or roadblocks Satan puts in front of us, God still wants to empower us — and to remember that when all is said and done, Satan will never destroy the church. Jesus said so. No amount of political unrest or persecution — and not even the coronavirus — will prevent the church from moving forward.

Consider what Satan and his angels may have realized after the pandemic forced churches to stop meeting in person around the world: Sure, all the churches may be empty … but instead churches opened up in every home. Nothing will ever stop or destroy Christ’s church. Count on it.

Written by Dave Urbanski

What was it like to be a follower of Jesus on the morning he rose from the tomb?

The Bible tells us that it all started when the sun was just coming up. The sky probably was still pitch black. But then an earthquake rumbled, an angel came down from heaven, and the guards were paralyzed with fear and fell down like dead men. At that point a group of women including Mary Magdalene visited the tomb where the angel told them Jesus is risen, just as he promised.

That was amazing enough — but then as the women began running to tell the disciples the wonderful news, Jesus suddenly was there in their midst. Boom! He literally interrupted their emotions and invaded their presence: “Do not be afraid,” he told them.

Can you imagine being one of those women — the first believers to see him risen from the dead? What did he look like? What did he sound like? Did he seem different? The same? They had front-row seats to the most important event in all of human history — and in that moment their lives were forever transformed. How could they not be? This Jesus was so much bigger than they ever could have imagined. And it of course gave them an entirely new meaning for living as Christ-followers.

But how does that affect you and me? Well, just like the women who literally ran into Jesus, we need to recognize how big God is, especially when he interrupts us.

Around the middle of the day, Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They, too, had visited his tomb and didn’t find his body. They were downcast and upset. Even though they’d heard the news that the women saw Jesus alive, their countenances didn’t reflect the amazing news. And then suddenly there was Jesus, walking with them! But they didn’t know the true identity of this fellow traveler.

You know what else is interesting about his passage? These two disciples were walking in the wrong direction! Away from Jerusalem and all the action surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. But Jesus still came to be with them. And isn’t that just like us? We tend to move away from the Lord and drift in our thinking, too. It’s our sin nature pulling us like a magnet away from God and transporting us into selfishness. And yet, Jesus is right there in our wanderings away from him.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus also were victims of dashed expectations — which is also a lot like us. We’ve all had our share of disillusionments. We’ve had ideas in our heads of what our marriages, relationships, finances, and careers were supposed to be — but then in the aftermath maybe they haven’t been what we’d hoped for.

But then here comes Jesus, interrupting us in the middle of our wanderings — and turning our negative, ungodly thinking inside out! And just as he went through the Scriptures with the two disciples and showed them God’s huge plan to redeem the world, he also shows us that God is so much bigger that we ever could have imagined.

Of course, the pair of disciples still didn’t realize this guy who’s blowing their minds is Jesus, but they wanted to spend more time with him. So about 3 p.m. or so they all headed inside for a bite to eat and a rest. Then as Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks, the two disciples’ eyes were opened, they recognized Jesus — and then he disappeared. Incredible!

But as it turns out, God gave them just what they needed: A momentary glimpse of the risen Lord. And that’s all they required to get moving — and that’s all we need too, isn’t it?

The first day of Jesus’ rising ends in the upper room in Jerusalem where the disciples — hunted by Roman soldiers and accused by the Jewish leaders of stealing Jesus’ body — were behind a locked door in total fear. What would they do? Where would they go? How will they survive when so many are out for their hides? And then suddenly Jesus interrupted their fearful debate and stood among them — just like he interrupted the women at the tomb in the morning; just like he interrupted the disciples on the road to Emmaus later in the day.

That’s what Jesus does to us, too. He has our lives in his hands, and all he wants is our attention, our devotion. And when he doesn’t get it or our eyes are focused elsewhere, Jesus thankfully interrupts our tiny thoughts that blind us to his presence, charges in — and changes us!

As the Lord himself stood in the upper room, he knew his friends were startled and scared. “Peace be with you,” he told them, also encouraging them to dismiss the doubts that were invading their minds. But soon Jesus would remove all disbelief that he was really there with them — just like he proves to us all the time that he’s right here with us.

The truth is that just like the disciples needed to experience Jesus in this way to empower them to do the amazing things in the church that the Lord had planned for them, we need that same touch from Jesus to accomplish our mission. And through the Bible, he’s telling us the same things: “Peace be with you” and “be not afraid.”

If you come away with one thought after our virtual Easter gathering this week, let it be this: Let Jesus interrupt you! Invite him to swoop into your life and tell you “be not afraid.” Ask him to give you new insights as you read the Word he wrote! He’ll do it all if you just ask.

Happy Easter, Calvary Chapel Living Hope!

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Written by Dave Urbanski

Entering the Living Room of God

What do imagine the living room of God looks like? Or better yet, feels like? Could it be that it feels like the very best experiences we’ve ever had with friends and family over the years — times infinity? Every loving hug from your parents. Every birthday celebration. Every Christmas morning opening presents. All in the brightest technicolor you’ve ever seen — and your heart is full to overflowing, forever.

With that in mind, the passage we covered this past Sunday — 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 — is full of family metaphors. We find the Apostle Paul relating to the church in Thessalonica like a dad and a brother — and even as a mother! His words have great implications and applications to our own lives and in the life of our church. Let’s take a look once again.

In verse 7, Paul tells the Thessalonians he treated them with gentleness, like a “nursing mother taking care of her own children.” This reflects a sense of warmth and the act of cherishing others — the same way Jesus cherishes us. Verse 8 talks about Paul’s affection for the Thessalonians — so great that he and his coworkers were ready to share with them “not only the gospel of God” but also their own lives since the fledgling church “had become very dear” to them. That kind of love is reflected an agape love that we at Calvary Chapel Living Hope should have for one another — which always sees the value in others.

In verse 9, Paul calls the Thessalonians “brothers” and reminds them how hard he worked on their behalf; not differently than a family member — especially parents — will go to any lengths for relatives. And in verse 10, Paul says his conduct was “holy and righteous and blameless” — which is what Christians should be able to count from each other on as we live life together.

Finally verses 11 and 12 show Paul saying, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” We don’t come to church just to get something; we come together with a sense of mission as we serve, encourage, and care for each other.

Clearly, we believers in Jesus are connected to each other as a family — and it’s with this family that we all enter the living room of God. And while we have connections to each other individually as well as in earthly family units, all of us also are connected to God — who provides our ultimate example of love.

As we concluded Sunday’s service, we looked at seven attributes of God that reminded us not only of who he is but also about what he gives to us:

  1. God is loving. When it comes to entering God’s living room, often we want to move on — but believe it or not, God wants us to move in. God is inviting us in because he loves us!
  2. God is gentle. Gentleness is not a synonym for weakness; rather God uses gentleness as a strength in our lives.
  3. God is righteous. Perhaps you’re thinking right now that you are unworthy to enter God’s living room because you don’t measure up to God’s righteousness. Well, it’s true. None of us measures up; but it’s not true that you’re unworthy — only because of Christ’s righteousness can we enter God’s living room with boldness and confidence. And now that we trust in Jesus, and he lives in our hearts, God no longer looks at our sin. All he sees is Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice.
  4. God works hard. In our day-to-day lives we tend to focus on the work we’re doing — but God is looking at the work he’s doing in us.
  5. God encourages us. We’re the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is our comforter and encourager — and who is with us always.
  6. God comforts us. In the Gospels, Jesus once said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Do you believe that God does nothing but demand things of us? Well, it’s not true. More than anything God just wants to be with us — and for us to spend time with him. And that can be done by coming before God’s presence with the simple expectation that he will give us rest and comfort — and that we can experience that with him.
  7. God points the way. The Bible says the only way into this amazing living room of God is through Jesus Christ. And if you haven’t let Jesus be that entryway yet, you can ask him to be your Lord and Savior right now.

Amid the heightened challenges we’ve been facing, amid the social distancing that’s made it impossible for us to be in the same room as a church, all of us nevertheless can still look to God and come into his living room together. We don’t need a physical building for that, and we don’t need to be in the same physical space, either. Let us instead thank the Lord for the challenge he’s placed before us in this strange but exciting time, let God lead us to connect with each other in every way we can, and encourage each other with words from 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

See the sermon video here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

Entrusted with the gospel

The word “gospel” means “good news.” You might say that it’s a rescue package — and all you have to do to receive it is to believe in Jesus. As Christians we have the rescue package. The solution to the problem of sin that runs rampant through this world. And we know this because when we became Christians, we recognized our own brokenness and sin and asked Jesus to forgive us and come into our hearts. That’s the gospel. It’s for you, it’s for me, it’s for everybody.

In this strange and scary time, all of our lives have been turned inside out and upside down in one way or another. The COVID-19 virus is of course something all of us are trying to stamp out and avoid contracting. But in another way, it’s a sobering reminder of the reality of sin — the sin that’s blemished and damaged our world. In fact, the Bible says that when sin came into our world, the whole world groaned. COVID-19 is a sign that our planet and those who live upon it are broken. But the exciting and encouraging reality is that all of us as believers have the rescue package. The solution. The cure. The antidote. The vaccine. And it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus came into our broken world to rescue us. And when we accept Jesus into our lives and hearts as Savior and Lord, we receive not only his salvation and eternal life — but also something very powerful in our lives right now. Just as a hiker may encounter another hiker on a trail who’s hungry or injured — and then gives that hungry or injured hiker nourishment or care from within his backpack — we as believers can do the same thing as we walk our spiritual paths carrying our rescue backpacks. And all we have to do is open them up and freely offer what’s inside to outstretched hands and hearts.

You may say, “How can God give me that? I don’t have the righteousness for that.” Exactly right! You don’t have that righteousness. None of us has it. But as believers in Christ, we rely on Jesus’ righteousness, not our own. You also may say, “I’m not qualified for this — to be entrusted with the gospel.” Again, true — in and of yourself, you aren’t qualified. But God is.

As we read in Sunday’s passage — 1 Thessalonian 2:1-6 — Paul in verse 4 tells his fellow believers that he and Timothy and Silas “have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” That’s true for all of us: God has approved us to be entrusted with the gospel — the good news. We are worthy of that trust because the Lord is worthy; we are qualified and passed God’s test because Jesus already passed it for us.

In that spirit, let’s remind ourselves from this passage from Paul’s letter the four elements that characterize being entrusted with the gospel:

  1. The first is that the gospel is full, not empty. Paul in verse 1 tells the Thessalonian church that “our coming to you was not in vain.” There is life and fullness in their message.
  • The second element is that the gospel is about boldness instead of fearfulness. In verse 2, Paul says that despite their sufferings, he and his proclaimers of the gospel delivered it boldly. That’s because the gospel is the antidote for anxiety and the ultimate answer to life — and having that rescue package makes every other difficulty much, much smaller.
  • The third element is that that there’s complete genuineness and sincerity in the gospel and in how we deliver it and proclaim it to others. Paul declares in verse 3 that he and his fellow workers weren’t lying or seeking flattery or money. May we have that same spirit as we proclaim the good news.


  • Finally, in verse 6 Paul says he wasn’t after glory for himself. As we are entrusted with the gospel, we must remember that it’s not about us or building ourselves up. It’s about others. It’s about being selfless.

In these trying times when so much is up in the air — our health, our finances, our jobs, and even our day-to-day connection to each other as a church — let us remember that we each carry a rescue package. And it isn’t just for us; it’s for others. Our world is waiting for us who’ve been granted an everlasting vaccine from the effects of sin to share it with them. There’s even more isolation, loneliness, and anxiety out there these day for those without Jesus in their lives. But the exciting thing is that the Lord is inviting us to be the deliverers of his message rescue to them.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

What does spiritual vitality look like in our lives?

The theme we’re examining as we go through 1 Thessalonians as a church is “Being Real Christians in Challenging Times.” It’s not hard to figure out how such a theme applies to all of us right now, is it?

On Sunday we continued our journey through the very first book of the Bible the Apostle Paul wrote and got into verses 5 through 10 of chapter 1. Starting off we’re introduced to the idea of being “imitators” and “examples.” Verses 6 and 7 say, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”

If we’re serious about living out our Christian faith, we will look at those around us we can imitate or take after. Particularly in the first-century church, persecution and danger lurked everywhere for believers in Christ — and naturally they had to have been asking themselves, “How do we live under pressure as believers?” Well, one of the best ways to do so — then and now — is to be a good imitator. But here’s the other side of that coin: Once we become imitators and have a grasp of how the Christian life should be lived, we then become examples. In this circle of the spiritual life, we who’ve been blessed with instruction and understanding must do the same thing for others coming after us!

Further, the importance of spiritual vitality shines through the passage as we see four related traits of believers: They are centered on others, they are Bible powered, and they endure under pressure and exhibit supernatural joy. Let’s look at those traits.

In verse 5 Paul tells the Thessalonians that he and his companions came to them for their sake. That’s what it means to be centered on others. In times of crisis and persecution, many people focus on themselves — but as believers in Jesus, we’re called to look out for the needs of others as more important than our own. So, if you’re feeling pressure from outside forces today, it’s time to get into God’s word and see the best path to relief from anxiety — especially during a crisis like COVID-19 — is to reach out to others who may be in need.

In verse 8 we read that “the word of the Lord sounded forth from” the Thessalonian church. What a tribute to the young church from the Apostle Paul! He recognized that his flock was all about the business of “echoing out” the Good News of the gospel. And one incredibly important thing to remember — particularly now when any number of people you know are looking for answers — is that more than likely you are the gospel, and people see the gospel in you. Long before they crack open a Bible! That’s a sobering but exhilarating idea.

Following that same thought in verse 9, we find Paul looking into the pasts of believers who — like most people of their time and place — worshiped idols made of stone, wood, or metal instead of the true God. But do idols have to be things we can touch? Of course not. For us, idols are anything we worship or bow down to. How does such a definition impact your own life? Well, is your idol the stock market, your personal financial security, your health? Thing is, the stock market — for all the power it’s been exuding lately — has been in free fall and is incredibly unstable at the moment. There are so many things we can’t control — but we do know the Lord is the one who’s in control of all things. And that has to be part of our communication of the gospel.

Finally verse 10 says we’re to wait for Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. We learned Sunday that the Greek word for the verb “to wait” takes on the meaning of to “remain up.” Interestingly last week we talked about having steadfast hope — and the Greek meaning for that idea is to “remain under.” In this latest passage, we see that the idea of “remain up” is closely related to our lives not being bound to earthly things since we’re waiting for Jesus, the Son, to come back from Heaven. These days people are waiting for a lot of things besides Jesus Christ: They’re waiting to start socializing again, they’re waiting for the COVID-19 infection rate to reduce, they’re waiting for their kids to go back to school and for the economy to improve — all very important things. But as Christians we have supernatural joy about what Jesus is going to do in our lives whether there’s a deadly virus going around the world or not. And we always should wait on Jesus to deliver us as we “remain up” in our worship of him.

Listen to the sermon here:

Hi Friends, we want to share some links to resources to help you keep growing spiritually even while we can’t meet together in person on Sunday mornings.

Worship at Home with Contemporary Christian Music

K-Love Radio: 106.9 FM. They also have an app.

Star 99.1 FM Radio. You can also listen online through their website.

Pandora online music. Search for Contemporary Christian music stations. I also enjoy Instrumental stations like Jim Brickman and David Lanz.

Devotions and Bible Reading Plans

YouVersion App. The Bible App, and The Bible App for Kids. Read devotions and group plans to read through the Bible, including: The Bible Project Reading Plan

The Bible Project: Videos for each book of the Bible and topical videos

First Five Bible Study App, short but meaningful daily devotions

Faith and Fun For Kids

God’s Big Story: 15-minute podcast for kids that tells Bible stories in very creative and fun ways.

Adventures in Odyssey Club: Daily devotions for kids, and unlimited streaming of more than 800 Adventures in Odyssey radio drama episodes. Great content for the whole family. Free Trial to test it out.

Free Audio Books – Parents can pick and choose free audio books for their children.

20 Virtual Field Trips: Art Museums, Zoos, Aquariums, and more

Strengthen Your Family

Visionary Family Ministries : is offering FREE streaming access to six video Bible studies along with participant workbooks. The Scriptures shared in these studies have the power to transform family relationships.

Weekly Family Devotions from The Bible Project: Sign up at this link to receive weekly Video, summary teaching, and Scriptures to discuss together.

Please share more ideas and links in the comments! Thanks!

Written by Dave Urbanski

The coronavirus suddenly has affected every one of us. And not just at Calvary Chapel Living Hope, but in every church across America and across the globe. And at this time when the earthly foundations of our everyday lives begin to buckle under, each of us must ask ourselves, “What empowers you to keep going in life?”

The passage in our brand-new series we covered on Sunday in 1 Thessalonians answers that question.

One of the interesting aspects of this book of the Bible is that it’s the very first letter the Apostle Paul wrote. He did so after a series of journeys and escapes from persecution, and one of the spots he landed in — for a mere four weeks — was Thessalonica in Greece. After his stay, Paul was in Corinth for over a year, waiting for his companions Silas and Timothy to bring him news of how the churches they planted were doing. Finally, Paul’s friends showed up — and brought him amazing news: The church in Thessalonica was flourishing! With that, Paul put pen to parchment and sent his fellow believers an inspiring, encouraging message.

Paul writes in verse 2, “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.” That gets to the very heart of what we’re looking at today: What empowers us to keep going is life is God’s power. This gospel power through prayer enables each of us to grasp God’s supernatural strength so it can be unleashed in our lives.

Verse 3 continues, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Faith. Love. Hope.

Let’s look at faith first. Paul doesn’t mean merely a belief system. Real faith goes beyond that; it’s as an active, living force in our lives — and we need that kind of faith, because we don’t have enough of it on our own. It’s the kind of faith from God during dark times. Through anxieties. Through hardships. Through job losses. Through divorce and loss of friendships. Through death and through disease. Exercising that real faith means taking bigger and bigger steps toward God each day, even when the path appears too daunting. Because with God, all things are possible! And when we’re faced with what seems impossible, we need to move forward and give it all over to God. Note to self: Get more faith.

Now let’s look at love. Of course, we’re talking about agape love — the love associated with God’s unconditional love for us. But like faith, this kind of love is more than a feeling or an emotion; it’s a power God grants us so it can be used. So we can put it into action. Love must be our motivation, each day. We must act not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others. Note to self: Get more love.

Finally let’s examine hope. The Greek word for hope means to “remain under.” And Paul spells it out so well, telling the Thessalonians that their endurance (or steadfastness) was “inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Think about that: When you consider the struggle to just get through the day, to deal with school closings, and curfews, and reports of the coronavirus spreading deeper into our communities — that all takes endurance and steadfastness. And where does such strength come from? Hope that God has given us!

God is working in all of our lives right now. He’s been there in the good times, and now for all of us, this is a bad time. But he’s here all the same. God allows us to live in challenging situations in order to stretch us. We don’t merely agree with a belief system, we don’t merely feel love, and we don’t sense hope like it’s 50-50 proposition and we’re crossing our fingers and we’re “hoping for the best.” No. Faith, love, and hope from God is rock solid. And with those powers inside of us, God wants to do incredible, supernatural things in our lives. Let us believe on that as we move forward in these days to come.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

Are you a giver or a taker?

As you no doubt know, givers think about others and look to their well-being while takers think about themselves and how they can take advantage of others. (There also are “matchers” who will do for you as long as you do for them.)

But as Christians, we’re givers. We have no choice. Indeed, we’re all born as takers and inherit a sin nature, but Christ has come into our lives and turned us into givers. And God is the ultimate giver: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at commitments of faith as revealed in Nehemiah: First, obeying God, then the marriage relationship, and then letting God control our business and financial lives. This past Sunday we examined the fourth commitment — taking care of the house of the Lord. And that “Are you a giver or taker?” question most definitely came into play.

We noticed in Nehemiah 10:32-38 that a whole lot of work and people-powered service went into the care of the temple. There was financial giving so the temple could run, of course, but also there were feasts, festivals, offerings — as well as the giving of wood, crops, and cattle. And the key word: Firstfruits. In other words, the Israelites gave back first a portion to the Lord what the Lord freely gave to them.

In terms of principles, our church operates in much the same way. At Calvary Chapel Living Hope, our short- and long-term goals are the same: Evangelism, discipleship, and mobilization. But to continue focusing on those goals requires that we all be the givers that God has turned us into through Jesus.

While giving certainly isn’t all about money and finances, that is a part of what our giving and service means. But also it’s crucial to know deep in our souls that when we give to the church, we’re really giving to God. We’re really serving God. And when we give, we also give away our selfishness.

We started off our time with the question, “Are you a giver or a taker?” But we also explored a second question: “Are you a leader or a follower?” And the answer to that question has huge implications for how we function as the body of Christ — and not just at Calvary, but globally. In short, we’re all leaders, and we’re all followers. Obviously we all follow Jesus, who is Head of the church and guides and leads us. Pastors provide leadership as well, as the one who teaches, guards, and equips the flock.

But all of us also are leaders! When we became Christians and accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, when our hearts turned toward following God, when the Holy Spirit empowered us, all of us were given spiritual gifts. Which means that by identifying your spiritual gift and letting God unleash it, you are impacting the church. In fact, the exercise of your spiritual gift (or gifts) will change the course of the church!

But it all starts with your willingness to be a giver.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

What does it mean to be committed to the Lord?

That’s the question we’ve been exploring over the last couple of weeks in our study of Nehemiah. We’ve been encountering the Israelites rediscovering their spiritual lives and declaring they want to make changes and be committed to God.

We initially looked at how they learned to be obedient to the Lord — the first commitment. Then we looked at valuing and raising up the marriage relationship — the second commitment.

Then this past Sunday we investigated how to operate in our business and financial lives — and it comes from this verse in Nehemiah 10:31: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.”

Let’s first look at the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. As believers in Christ, we’re not under the Law as the Israelites were in Nehemiah. But the Old Testament nevertheless contains valuable principles we can apply to our lives today.

The Jews honored and celebrated the Sabbath. As Christians, we do not. But why? The answer has to do with covenants God set up between himself and his people in the Old Testament. There was God’s “rainbow” promise to Noah that no more floods will cover the Earth; there was God’s promise to Abraham that all nations of world would be blessed through him, which extended all the way through to Christ. Then there were the covenants of circumcision and keeping the Sabbath day to set apart the Israelites. And then we find the prophecy in Jeremiah 31, in which God tells the Israelites that he will write the Law on their hearts — a sign of a new covenant to come in Jesus.

With the coming of Christ, there’s a shift from the Law to grace. There will be no more temple sacrifices needed — Jesus made one sacrifice on the cross for all and for all time. Through Christ’s covenant, we are now the temple where the Holy Spirit lives, giving us the closest possible relationship with the Lord. As for the Sabbath day and keeping it holy, as believers in Jesus, he instead gives us the rest we need, and we’re no longer required to keep the Sabbath day.

So, what do we do with a passage like Nehemiah 10:31, where we find the Israelites declaring they won’t do business on the Sabbath day? Well, the idea of Sabbath-like rest is still very valuable — and can apply to how we go about our financial lives. And namely it’s about Who is ultimately in control: God! If the Lord is responsible for our livelihoods, then we will be trusting him and letting him impact the way we work at our jobs and businesses. Do you bring your work home all the time? Do you labor 24/7? Is your mind constantly on money — how much is coming in, how much is going out? Where does God fit into all of that? By finding time to rest from our labors, we’re saying to God, “I trust you. May your will be done in my financial life.”

The verse in Nehemiah also talks about leaving the ground fallow every seventh year — which is a principle that farmers still use. It’s about using the Earth in a respectful, healthy, sustainable way and not continually robbing from it. But that also requires trust in God. Leaving the ground fallow one season so it can replenish itself means that we won’t be able to use it for a while — but again, it comes back to the question: How much am I trusting God and believing that he will sustain me?

Finally, the verse talks about cancelling all debts every seventh year. This is a valuable principle that shows us not only caution in terms of loaning to others but the power of giving to others. When we do things like loan money to family and friends, for example, that can forever change those relationships — and often in negative ways. But when we freely give, we don’t have to worry about those relationships changing negatively — as all good gifts ultimately come from the Lord.

So let us take time to rest from our labors as we trust in God to provide for us and deepen our relationships with him; let us honor the Earth that God has given us and be good stewards of it; and let us freely give to each other as the Lord freely gives to us.

Listen to the Sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

Previously in Nehemiah we looked at the Israelites as they learned what it means to obey God and keep his commandments. For them — and for us, too — that’s the first commitment: To know God and obey him.

This past Sunday we encountered the second commitment to God — and it has to do with marriage. The verse we focused on — Nehemiah 10:30 — talks about a commitment the people made to God, as they promise “not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.”

Valuing and raising up the marriage commitment is as important for us as it was for the Israelites. But just as the Israelites came out of a culture devoid of God, we find ourselves in the same predicament. Our culture today clearly doesn’t value marriage the way God does. Divorce and sexual immorality aren’t just rampant; they’re the norm. And sadly, it’s not so different a lot of the time with Christians and the church.

These days our culture — and many Christians, too — view marriage through four lenses: Experience, passion, culture and school, and entertainment. So … what has your experience taught you about marriage? Perhaps you come from a broken home or saw your parents fighting all the time. Or perhaps you’ve been divorced or are in a difficult marriage right now. All of which probably tells you that marriage maybe isn’t such a great thing or a wise choice. Or maybe you’re viewing marriage through the lens of passion. In other words, sexual attraction. And if that’s your criteria for choosing a mate, you will find yourself ultimately disappointed.

Then there’s the influence of culture and school — both of which are driven by humanistic values rather than biblical values. Scripture says “in the beginning, God” — the Lord is the One who is in control. But with humanism, things happen by chance and evolve. It’s about how we feel. These days if you approach sexuality and marriage from a biblical foundation, those in our schools and in our culture say there’s something wrong with you. You’re out of date. Behind the times. And worse, if it’s discovered that you don’t endorse the trend of “gender fluidity” and LGBTQ acceptance, you’re seen as an enemy. Of course, we’re not talking about doing away with compassion for those caught up in such values, but at the same time it doesn’t mean we compromise ours.

Finally, there’s the lens of entertainment. And we don’t have to say much about that, do we? For many years now, movies and television and the media in general have been celebrating sexual freedom and liberation, and it’s sold to us every time we look at a screen — and a biblical view of marriage is nowhere to be found. That’s a lot of daily pressure on Christians.

But just as the Israelites have decided they want a new commitment to God and want to do marriage right, we believers today must do the same.

For young people especially, don’t fall in love — you’ll only fall overboard! Instead, plan your love life. Ask God to provide a person for you who isn’t merely a Christian but also who’s on fire for Christ and growing in faith. Don’t make your marriage choice based on physical attraction and compatibility. That’s the world’s criteria — and it’s an unstable foundation. Why? Because people change over time. The person you’re so compatible with now may develop new interests over time, and you’ll find yourselves not enjoying the same things you enjoy together now. What’s more, the person you’re attracted to physically at present may not be so physically attractive to you five or 10 years down the line. Equating sex and attraction is a recipe for disaster. It’s the world’s way. But God designed sex for something much better: Spiritual oneness. It’s part of your devotion to God with your spouse. Sex is actually a spiritual activity. It’s about deep commitment and connection. And that will last.

So, ask yourselves: Is the person I want to marry kind? Is that person sacrificial? How does that person treat others? How devoted is that person to the Lord? While we live in a broken world, God is still in control — and he gave us principles to help us grow and keep us close to him. Let’s all approach marriage valuing as highly as God values it.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

The movie Chariots of Fire is based on a true story, in part about Scottish runner Eric Liddell — a Christian who’s looking to compete in the 1924 Olympics. But Liddell’s sister — also a Christian — puts pressure on him to return to China as a missionary.

And at one point, Eric tells his sister that he’s finally decided to go to China — but that he first has a lot of running to do.

“I believe that God made me for a purpose — for China,” Eric tells his sister. “He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Eric’s passion for running has hit a noble height: He doesn’t run for his own glory or to feel proud of himself or for the personal thrill of winning. He runs because he recognizes God has gifted him with fleet legs and feet — and when he exercises that gift, he senses God cheering.

Cheering on his creation that he made for a specific reason and purpose.

In our passage in Nehemiah 10:28-29, we find the Israelites have reached a point in their spiritual lives where they want to make an oath to God to keep all the commands he’s given them in the Law of Moses. But their decision to obey is not due to a desire for reward or fear of punishment or even their growing wisdom, trust, or gratitude to the Lord. They’ve been down those roads with God already — and now they’re experiencing passion for him.

They want to obey God out of love for him.

Each of us faces the same question every hour of every day: Will I obey God? But there’s another important question: Why will I obey God? What is our motivation for doing what he wants us to do?

Make no mistake, it’s always better to obey God than disobey God — no matter what your motivation! But as we grow in our spiritual lives, we should be arriving at a place where obeying God means much more than hoping good things will come to us as a result of obedience … or merely to avoid pain or heartache … or not wanting to anger the Lord.

Hopefully, we’re on a road of learning that there’s real wisdom in obeying God — and more, that he’s even taken us through hard times and difficult circumstances to show us how trustworthy he is. Maybe we’re even at a point where we gratefully obey God because of how much he’s done for us.

Again, all great motivations. But the best place to be in our relationship with God is when we obey out of love.

It’s very much akin to a long marriage at its peak, with a husband and wife who have been and continue to be committed to each other. They’ve been through thick and thin together — and they discover they don’t love each other because each does nice things for the other … or that they’re compatible … or that they’re constantly full of pleasant feelings. No. Instead their love has deepened as a result of their commitment. And the intense feelings they experienced early in their relationship have blossomed and matured into delight for each other.

It’s the same in our relationship with God. Psalm 34:7 spells it out: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

And finally, in a deep and long marriage, there’s always sacrifice … laying down our lives for the other. Giving things up … even good, legitimate possessions and experiences and pursuits. Again, it’s the same way in our love relationship with God. There will be good things we will say “no” to — things we sacrifice. But when we’re deeply committed to the Lord, the result is more depth … indeed, more of God.

Which is exactly where we ought to be.

Listen to the sermon here:

Written by Dave Urbanski

Listen to the sermon here:

How do you respond to someone who says, “My sins are too great to be forgiven?” What if you are that person?

Well, God has an answer — and it’s all about how big and great and powerful he is … and also about how much smaller we are and utterly helpless without God we are.

Consider the long prayer from the Levites in Nehemiah 9 we went over Sunday. It encompasses these truths — and watch out, because they’re truths that will set us free. Free to surrender and receive God’s boundless love and free to let go of the lie that our sins are too great for God to handle.

First, let’s recall God’s attributes that the long prayer described. Namely, that God is far greater than we can imagine (vs. 4-5) … that the Lord keeps his promises (vs. 7-9) … and is faithful (vs. 10-11) … and is personal with us and communicates to us (vs. 12-14) … and is compassionate toward us and cares for us (v. 15) … and is forgiving, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love (vs. 17-18) … and is good (vs. 19-25). But another aspect of God’s love is that he disciplines us (v. 27). And in those times when we cry out for help? You’d better believe that God listens to us (v. 27). Not only that, he delivers us, even after warning us (v. 28). Indeed, the Lord is forever patient with us (v. 30) … and is gracious and merciful (v. 31).

Wow. What a portrait of just a few of the Lord’s amazing attributes and qualities! And have you noticed those qualities also have a major common denominator? Us! His people. They’re all about God covenanting with his human creation. And that brings us to our attributes — indeed, our failures. The prayer in Nehemiah touches on them, too, and it’s not a pretty picture — but it’s a true, accurate image of us. And we need to acknowledge that very human portrait so that through it we may grow closer to God. First off, we’re arrogant, stiff-necked, disobedient, poor listeners, forgetful, and rebellious (vs. 16-17). Yikes! Talk about a list of unappealing attributes to kick things off! But the prayer isn’t finished laying it out. In addition, we’ve even committed blasphemy (v. 18) and turned our backs on God (v. 26) and have done evil (v. 28). And verses 29 and 30 underscore how sinful we are in all of those respects.

So back to the original question: What if someone, maybe even it’s you, believes his or her sins are too great for God to forgive? Well, given that short list of our shortcomings, it’s no wonder we can get caught up in thinking stuff like that from time to time. But latch on to this: Isn’t that kind of thinking a way of elevating ourselves just a bit — or rather bringing God down to our level and measuring God’s abilities through our human lens? We must cast such temporal, faulty thinking aside and refocus on God’s attributes, which ultimately are unmeasurable by all our human efforts and intellect.

In the end, the question isn’t, “How can God forgive the truckload of sins I’ve committed over the course of my life — they’re too big and too many — because just one act of one of our human failures previously described (oh, and there are more!) separates us from the Father. But even facing that dire truth, the Good News is that all those amazing attributes of God flow freely, all the time — and God, in his unending patience, is just waiting for us to turn that nozzle on so his love can wash over us. Won’t you let that happen today, right now?

The verse we’re memorizing as a body — 1 John 3:1 — captures this perfectly: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.”

Let it flow.

Written by Dave Urbanski

Listen to the sermon here:

In today’s passage, we find the Jews desiring to start over with the Lord. To turn over a new leaf. To begin a new chapter, get clean, put their wanderings behind them, and move forward with God.

What they were after is what we all need today: Spiritual renewal.

But what does that mean? And how and when do we do it — and why?

A helpful way to look at the process of spiritual renewal is through four components: Confession, Separation, the Word, and Worship. You might say they represent the “how” of spiritual renewal.

Let’s take a quick look at them:

  1. Confession: Everybody does wrong. All the time. We can’t help it. It’s part of our sin nature. But while the world often says we’re doing OK as long as we keep more tokens in the “good ledger” than the “bad ledger,” Christianity is far different. The way of Jesus starts with admitting and taking responsibility for our sins, our mistakes, our transgressions — so we can be forgiven and have the slate wiped clean. Which sets us up for spiritual renewal.
  2. Separation: We were created for community, but there are times when we need to pull ourselves away from the world — a world that often corrupts and stains us — so we can effectively refocus on God. In the Nehemiah 9 passage, the Jews fasted and donned sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. Why? They were ways of physically reminding themselves that sometimes with comfort comes complacency. When we get hungry due to fasting, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves why we’re fasting and to harness God’s power over our fleshly desires. Same thing with sackcloth — itchy, uncomfortable clothing — as well as covering their heads with dust. Who doesn’t want to get rid of all that stuff and get clean?
  3. The Word. In the third verse of Nehemiah 9, the Jews spent a notable part of the day — about three hours it turns out — reading from the Law. While confession and separation are about removing things that don’t belong in our lives, the Word is about filling ourselves up. It’s another strategic step in spiritual renewal. (Do you have a method in place for getting into the Bible daily? If not, why not try John Piper’s Solid Joys app? Or something similar you enjoy? It’s so easy with today’s technology to get connected to God’s Word in an instant. Why not give it try today?)
  4. And for our fourth element, we have … Worship. Nehemiah 9 also says the Jews spent time in worship during the time they spent in confession. Here’s an encouragement: We can confess our sins while we’re worshiping God. One needn’t follow the other or go in a particular order. Confession can give way to worship when we feel the joy of God’s forgiveness; worshiping God can remind us of his love, which can lead to confession when we’ve fallen short.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “When do we exercise the process of spiritual renewal? Once a year? Once a month? Weekly Daily?” How about this for an answer: Continually! It’s more than a task on a time sheet; it’s a lifestyle. We should strive to be in a constant state of mindfulness regarding God’s desire to renew us — continually. Do you have a quiet time at night? Great! But why wait until bedtime to ask God to forgive you for this or that? Or to pray for others? Not that we shouldn’t have such a time set aside — but we also can adopt a continual attitude of spiritual renewal throughout the day. (Sort of like living as if God really is by our side always — as he is!)

Finally, it will help us if we also ask why: Why do we need spiritual renewal? Answering this question will assist us during those times when we’re on auto pilot and forget why we’re doing it in the first place.

Simply put, the reason we need spiritual renewal is because it clarifies our purpose, our mission, our identity in Christ. Like food and drink in preparation for a race, it gives us the energy we need to live as believers in this world.

So, come partake. Taste and see that the Lord is good. You need not call ahead for a reservation; you always have a place at his table of spiritual renewal. Plus, his gathering place is never closed, and your money’s no good there.


Written by Dave Urbanski

Listen to the sermon here:

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that in the rush and activity and cares of day-to-day life, it’s incredibly easy to forget about God.

From the simple act of heading to work or school all the way to complicated circumstances involving relationships, finances, and health, our limited, mortal minds and hearts aren’t always geared toward God as much as they should be.

This can be especially prevalent when things are going well, right? How many of us tend to put the Lord on the back burner when life is rich with success and happiness — only to come back to God for help when things take a wrong turn.

In today’s passage (Nehemiah 8: 13-18), Ezra reads from the Law to his fellow Israelites a command from God to “live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month.” And why? So they all will remember what they went through during their desert wanderings — and that God was the One who brought them out of captivity and into the Promised Land.

Ezra may have read from a passage like Deuteronomy 8:10-18, which reminds the Jewish people to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands … Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” 

But instead what we find in this Nehemiah passage is the people heeding the command to build temporary shelters so they will remember the Lord — and verse 17 says, “The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.”

Remembering and thanking God is a joyful act, isn’t it? True, the world we live in combined with our sinful natures makes it easy to forget the Lord. But there are things we can do to counteract that — even using the technology that often sidetracks us.

We can use apps and email sign-ups to provide moments every day to get into God’s word, even with the expectation that the Lord will show us something great, something life changing. We can apply what we’ve learned each day, whether that means encouraging just one person, talking to somebody who’s in need or lonely, or integrating our faith into everything we do.

But the bottom line is this: Remember the Lord. Always.

Written by Dave Urbanski

Listen to the sermon here:

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength “, now if you want to exercise this Joy in your life, Nehemiah is going to go on in the passage and tell us how to do that. How do we maximize this joy, how do we exercise this joy solution when our hearts are heavy?

This what Nehemiah told the people they needed to do:
1) Go and celebrate God’s grace by enjoying a meal together, allowing God to bring joy into their hearts to deal with the mourning, regrets and the grieving that’s going on.
2) Share God’s grace with others, by sharing their food with others and shifting their focus from their pain to others who can be blessed.
3) Finally they’re going to understand God’s word by listening intently and seeing that He is at work in their past, present and futures. Joy at its depth is understanding God and what He’s done for us.

Today is the day we’re going to embrace the joy of the Lord in our hearts. Today is the day we’re going to be different people. We’re going to think about the future, we’re going to allow God to forgive us for the past, and when the grief and the loss and the pain that we experience in our hearts reveals itself, we are going to rely on the joy of the Lord as our strength.

And that joy’s going to grow to be so strong that we may not forget the regrets and the mourning, but the perspective of having the joy of the Lord as our strength allows us to be able to have compassion on others, to be able to give a testimony about the things we’ve done in the past that we regret, and bless others in the midst of that.

Written by Dave Urbanski

Listen to the sermon here:

There’s nothing like anticipating something great: A movie we’ve been dying to watch, seeing a friend or family member after a long time apart, or waiting for that great meal as the ingredients coming together waft through the air.

God wants us to come to Him and His word with that same sense of wonder and anticipation — that the Lord will reveal something life-changing and profound when we open the Bible and let Him speak to us through it.

This passage in Nehemiah describes a group of people who very likely were eagerly awaiting the public reading God’s word. It was a huge moment because no one had “Bibles” to carry around back then — much less instant access to verses on the Internet. So, the occasion was momentous and profound.

And think about it: Centuries upon centuries have passed since then — but we’re reading the same truths. And we have access to the same power of God.

How? Exactly how Nehemiah’s people accessed it: Reading God’s word, believing it, declaring it — and last but not least, obeying it. When we as Christians combine our faith and belief in Jesus and the reading of His word, great things will happen — not just in our own lives, but in our church, in our communities, in our country, and in our world.

God wants to unleash his power in our lives today — right now. It’s all there for those of us who believe. But we have to want it — and take that first step by opening up God’s word. Won’t you do that today?

Written by Dave Urbanski

Link to the Sermon here:

Now that it’s the year 2020, why not pause for a moment right now as you’re reading these words and briefly reflect upon what you accomplished in 2019.

Did you make more money or increase your assets? Did you get a promotion at work or a better job? Did you improve your health? Did you make strides in your relationships with people — or in your relationship with God?

Today’s passage deals with a similar theme, as it’s about an important milestone Nehemiah reached.

But while achieving visible goals is important, we also must remember that God looks at our hearts, too, and sees deeper ways we’re growing and changing — strides that often aren’t measurable.

Nehemiah has just built the wall of Jerusalem and set the doors in place — a huge accomplishment! But afterward he shifted his focus. First, he solidified the wall by appointing gatekeepers to look after it. Then he celebrated the milestone by appointing musicians and Levites to lead his people in the worship of God. 

Whatever measurable goals we reach, let’s follow Nehemiah’s example by solidifying and celebrating them according to God’s will. 

What does God want to accomplish in your life in 2020? What changes does he want to make in your heart? Whatever those things are and wherever God leads, let’s all make sure to take the necessary steps to keep the Lord at the center of our “to-do” lists.

We all need the ability to focus. It’s not just about focusing on getting things done and doing, but God has this call on our lives, the call to be more like Christ.

In the midst of the challenges in our day or the struggles that we face, it’s the focus that helps us to remain centered in our relationship with the Lord. When we’re centered in our relationship with Christ, then God is able to do more work in our hearts.

Our passage today is about distraction.

Nehemiah is distracted in three ways: opportunities, criticism, and fear. I think those are things that we face in our lives. Sometimes we don’t even know what’s going on with the distractions. We just kind of go with them and we don’t realize what they are doing.

We can admire Nehemiah as a leader that we can emulate because of his ability to say NO. “No, I’m not going to do this,” He’s has pondered and realized that the distractions aren’t helpful and he takes a stand to remain steadfast in what God had for prepared for him to do.

When is it acceptable for Christians to feel anger? We live in a world full of social injustice. Through this sermon you will learn about Nehemiah’s righteous anger and how through his anger he was close to God’s heart. “When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. ” You will learn when it is justified to feel angry and how to handle it, to become part of a solution. “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?

Why do we act with integrity? We’re act with integrity because we know that we serve a God that’s concerned about justice in our world. We know that we believe in a God that’s concerned about the hearts of people, the needs of people, and that He’s chosen us to be part of the solution to those challenges.

Pastor Scott – “So I go away from this message that I read in Nehemiah with a feeling of the need to be part of the solution. So I asked myself, what does that look like? What does it mean to be part of the solution?

So I listed ten things that you might consider in your internal staff meeting and ponder for yourself. I suggest you want to do these things and make them convictions in your own life. “

Never compromise your faith.
Share the gospel with excitement.
Live boldly.
Love unconditionally.
Be a light in your home and in the world. Be kind.
Give generously and sacrificially.
Speak out.
Be courageous.
Where God leads, take action.

What does Spiritual Protection look like? When is it needed?
Wow, what an amazing  practical teaching about this subject for each of us. We tend to either take these things for granted or we don’t even understand them. If we focus on “the doing” continually, we might miss the truth that we need to believe in order to gain the spiritual benefits from God’s protection.

As Pastor Scott further explained with his diagram below “The problem, though, with all the doing and action and activity that we often look at, is that we can in some ways become so focused on the activity and the action and the doing that we do that we miss out on the believing that we must have as well. If we focus too much on the application without the depth, the belief, then we end up in a place where we almost become humanist. I need to do this myself. I need to protect myself and so on. That’s why at the very center of my circle I put the blood of Christ. It is because of the blood of Jesus Christ that we have protection. “

Discouragement is one of Satan’s best tools to weaken believers. We all need to have a plan. Nehemiah faces the discouragement from outside forces as well as from internal challenges. His solutions are ones that we need as well. As you listen to this sermon you’ll discover tools that will help you face difficulties in your life right now. And don’t forget to pass this message on to someone you know who might be discouraged.

Our words can bring life or death! So we don’t want to be like Tobiah and Sanballat who used sarcasm and mean words. But how can we be more careful? Pastor Scott helps us with the Edification Test from Ephesians 4:29. As he goes through Nehemiah 4:1-6 he also draws out principles to help us not only when we are tempted to use unwholesome language but he also helps us with principles from Nehemiah’s life for dealing with mean words that are directed at us.

Stop, take a deep breath.

Reflect on how the hand of God is working in your life. God is always working in your life, even when it feels like a time of silence. God loves and cares for you. The gracious hand of God is on you. 

Pastor Scott teaches today’s message from Nehemiah ch 3.  Word by Word he goes through the chapter and applies insights that you will be able to incorporate into your daily life. You will learn about the rebuilding of gates, how God loves all his people, and how God uses the family.

Imagine the most selfish, negative and bitter person you know. Most of us can easily identify someone.  Can you identify any of these undesirable traits in yourself? Have you ever had a poor, destructive attitude?

How would God want us as Christians to act?

Pastor Scott teaches about different life attitudes in today’s, insightful sermon. Our journey through Nehemiah continues (Ch2 11-20).  While listening to this message you will learn about four positive ways Nehemiah faces challenges. He has an attitude we can all learn from.

You will learn about the attitudes of rest, evaluation, communication, and perseverance. You will want to evaluate your attitudes and relationship with God. Practical applications are given through out this message

This week you will face opposition; are you ready? How do you handle the opposition? Do you take it personally or plan revenge?

God wants us to do neither. As Christians we have different ways of handling our daily struggles.

Today you will learn, from Pastor Scott’s teachings, how God equips us to deal with opposition. Continuing our study of Nehemiah we look at two different people and how they opposed Nehemiah. Pastor Scott gives practical ways you can handle confrontation. You will learn the difference between carnal desires and Godly desires.  God has equipped us all with the Holy Spirit, so we can all do what is right.

God knows your struggles and through trusting Him we can meet our challenges with confidence.

How do you define success? By your accomplishments or by attaining your goals? Success should not be outcome based. The best way to measure achievement is by asking and being able to say YES to the following question: Am I doing what God wants to me to do today? 

We need to measures ourselves compared to God’s