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.

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!

Listen to sermon here:

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.”

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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.

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  • 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: