Monday, January 20, 2014

A Love that Endures

Ex 13:21-22
21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.  ESV
Nu 21:21-23
Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22 "Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory." 23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.  ESV
Mt 22:36-40
36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." ESV

This past Friday night LuLu and Ayanna bravely and successfully ministered to the rest of the youth and the youth staff with their sermons. I think many ministers can attest to the fact that when they hear Pastor or another staff member ask them if they are willing to minister the primary message of any service (Sunday school, Kids Church, Youth, or a primary service English or Spanish), they respond similarly to Ayanna’s point about FEAR. At the end she redefined FEAR and coupled with Lulu’s message saying “What if we would just do it,” I can say they ministered to me and for that I’m grateful. We have another young person slated to tag team with Jesus, Matthew Medina, and I am excited to see how God will use another one of our youth. These three young people are only the beginning of the beginning in answered prophecies and prayers over this church. I would lump them with the rest of ministers here under Pastor Sibley and say that we are all part of the first fruits that God will harvest through this congregation to impact global ministries. It’s one thing to see God doing what He plans in others, but it’s another to see and allow and it in your own life (preaching to myself). So if you would allow me, I would like to address the Jesus church tonight.  I ask that you stay with me as I attempt to build a foundation.  What I plan on bringing to you tonight is the only way we are going to see God fulfill his plans for this church.  I would like to speak to us tonight about a fuel that fuels the fuel. Prayer, fasting, reading God’s word, praise and worship unto the one true God are very important fundamentals in living in God’s kingdom. They fuel us, yet even they need their own fuel. A Love that Endures.
We are the Jesus church. We are a church that claims, and not only claims but “is”, to be led by the Spirit of the one and only true God of the universe.  We are not the first, we won’t be the last and here in this present day I thank God we are not the only ones contending for the Faith! Thankfully only minor similarities exist between the story of the Exodus and that of our own.  If anyone can claim to be led by God I think the Israelites had a perfect case. I have not personally ever seen God demonstrate His power in such a magnificent way.  I’ll shed all pretense of humility to say that I do beg God for such demonstrations.  As a “recovering” gamer, where the phenomenal is the norm and the drive for the game play, I have begun to translate my addiction to the realm of some creative author’s mind to a desire to be in the realm of and mind of THE AUTHOR of reality, the author and finisher of our Faith! I pray that we would all be able to see and be used in relation Mark 16:17: “17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."
The Israelites were on a mission planned and executed by God. He heard the cries of the Israelites and decided enough was enough. He saw a land that deserved a nation who was more faithful to Himself.  It was land that would become a key a geographical location through trade between continents, enabling the Israelites to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, called to minister to those who would travel through their lands.  So it was His will to take them out from Egypt’s oppression and enact a larger plan that was beyond the Israelites.
I would like to remind us tonight that what we see and what we know is just a piece of the puzzle as God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Where the Israelites only saw freedom, God saw opportunities that would impact a larger population.  So it is here in Castroville.  Tuesday night Brother Sibley poured out his vision and burden as he has done so in front of the church in the past, reiterating the words of prophecy spoken over this church.  Castroville is not a primary trade route but as Pastor may detail at some later time, we do have opportunities to be a part of a revival larger than us.  God forbid that we would lose track of the larger vision only to be content with a facility that’s air is better controlled, acoustics are less chaotic and whatever else you could possibly become satisfied with. We will be moving into a new building that has more desirable restrooms, I hope that’s not the only reason that we want to move into it! These amenities are blessings for sure and something we ought to thank God for but let’s not lose sight of the grander plan! Let us also remember that there is still a road to travel before we get there.
Israelites experienced many things upon their journey to the Promised Land. They experienced divine intervention from God to provide food and water, divine protection from militaries and miraculous interventions to overcome obstacles that would prohibit the advancement of God’s plan. Before I speak on that, I would like to also remind us that obstacles came to the Israelites when they were not expecting it and even attempted to be honorable in paths they sought to take.
I’m referring to the second text.  King of Sihon.  Going to read it one more time: Nu 21:21-23 “Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22 ‘Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory.’ 23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.” ESV
At this point of the story of their exodus, the Israelites have already received judgment from God six chapters prior because they did not trust God to hand the Promised Land over to them.  He made very strong decrees due to their lack of faith and though it is not mentioned I’m fairly certain they were no longer being led by that magnificent pillar from the first text.  We would attribute the primary reason for the judgment to be the lack of faith. In a moment I would like to present a more fundamental reason in my own personal opinion.  First I want to point out a word of warning and or caution.  Preventative maintenance if you will.
            Though maybe a bit of an extrapolation from this story, because I am not saying we have walked outside of the original plan of God such as the Israelites have, I do want to submit to you that whether you are walking in the original plan of God or if you are on plan “xtdwvqqi3r2fkrep,” you can count on finding opposition and resistance no matter how polite and accommodating you may be to a people who have absolutely no regard for the things of God.  I liken this part of the story to the experience of getting our church name changed.  Sure there are plenty of differences to prove they are hardly analogous but I think the principle is the same: Try moving forward within the plan of God without expecting resistance.  Whether it is from complete strangers, to coworkers, to family and friends who you count as loved ones, someone, somewhere will fight you.  Where at on the timeline is completely dependent on the story God is writing for your life but as for our church moving forward, literally, in Jesus’s name, the first resistance has already started.  It took us, what, a year to get the bank to follow through? A fairly easy battle all things considered, I guess it would be better related to the Egyptians army where at the proper time God let the waters take out the enemy without a single sword or arrow being used by the Israelites (as far as difficulty goes).  Yet, as we move further forward we need to be prepared and understand that resistance should be expected from the outside no matter how well we attempt to deal with them! That’s not really the problem though because God fights our battles; when He is in control he will ensure the victory for His people and His plan! The problem comes when the resistance is on the inside!
            The whole reason for the Israelites having to be in the specific situation we read was because God was unpleased that 10 of the 12—16.6­­666….%– of the people who just witnessed the most awesome display of God’s power yet denied God’s ability to go forward and influenced the entire congregation.  As pastor recently preached, the force that can stop the plans of God here in the Jesus church is not outside of these four walls, it lies within us who are supposedly the called of God!  I don’t know the full count of “family units” that exist in the church but I think our % is much higher than what Joshua and Caleb had to deal with.  Praise God that we have a church body who as far as I know is in unity about moving forward, ready and excited to claim the promise of God for our city.  I’m looking forward to new Sunday school class rooms, the larger sanctuary.  I’m REALLY looking forward to having the same A/C that the rest of the church is enjoying while going animal on the drums! If you are not on board spiritually or financially I would like to personally plea with you to be willing to submit to the plan God has for this congregation and support it!  Without you the plan is modified, detours and unplanned rerouting, yet with you there is less reason for delay, a more direct route which means the timeline is expedited!
            But who, what, when, where, why is it possible for any number of people to fall astray from the plan of God and cause delay? How could the Israelites turn their backs on God so fast with the golden calf, then later with the spies’ ordeal that ended in a 40 year detour? I believe the answer is not their faith, I think something else fuels faith after a certain time in every believers life.  If you remember my third text, then you know the answer—Love. Yet I think there is more to it than first meets the eye.  It’s my opinion, and Pastor can correct me if I’m wrong, that their Love for God was not sufficient to sustain the level of faith God required of them in order to claim the full promises of God.
            What it will take for us to see God’s plan with our
1. Church
2. Ministries
3. Our own personal lives
            Mt 22:36-40
36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." ESV
            First, I hope that we all can agree that Jesus is our Lord and our God! If you are going to Love God at all you must Love Jesus, our redeemer, our savior!  This means that Jesus is the Author of our faith! Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is sitting on the ONE throne in heaven! Between John chapter 14 and 15, we see Jesus say multiples times, if you Love me, keep my commandments. 
The greatest commandment given was to Love God. As most of us know the word in the Greek for Love in this verse is a form of Agape. It’s the only type of love that can be commanded of someone. It refers to holding something in high esteem. To agape, it is choice without emotional attachment (and sometimes not visibly logical either).  To love in an agape form is to sacrifice convenience if need be as well.  I think there a few reasons why God chose to use this style of love.
God wants people who will use their brains and be good stewards with what He has given us while at the same time using stepping out on Faith in God’s promises! Pastor and the board have been in discussions regarding the building plan for some time. During these discussions Pastor mentioned several times that at least 2 different ministers spoke a word from God telling him that he was planning to small. The board and the Pastor knew the finances of the church, the difficulty and cost of such project and whatever else they considered and had what they felt were realistic plans.  So as Pastor was receive these messages from God I’m not entirely sure what was going through his and the boards mind. I know they didn’t sensationalize the words and began planning a 1000 member auditorium! Yet, pastor and the board wrote up mock plans in that they felt were faithful to God’s direction!  God took that act of faith and said, “To help you out, here’s an architect who understands growth and he’ll work on a design that enables cheaper expansion! While also giving you what you claimed by faith.” I’m sure that there is more information that they could share showing that they are simply acting on what God has provided for them, an act of agape love towards our God which is an act of Faith; and God honors faith!
In regards to our local ministries, must learn that agape speaks to a strong commitment that supersedes other cares.  What I mean by this is simply stated by my favorite verse in the scripture:
Lk 9:57-62 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." 58 And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." 60 And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."  61 Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home." 62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  ESV
You see if we are going to follow God and to perform the ministry that God is calling us to we must be willing to set aside conveniences and things that we care about.  God wants and deserves our all. It’s hard to get hyped up emotionally for God when he said here’s a rock for pillow, forget going to your loved ones funeral and saying bye to those who remain!  I may personally take this scripture to an extreme that I feel is biblical but please hear my plea: to fulfill the ministerial needs that will inevitably come we will need all hands on deck and consistency no matter what are mood is or what the environment around us dictates! If God has called you to do something for his Kingdom (music, Sunday school, preach, bible studies, service in general) then know that conflicts will arise.  It’s not mere distractions but it’s what really matters to us! I can’t (or more like won’t) say skipping a single event breaks this scripture; if it does then I’ve sinned against it simply to go on a date with an extremely beautiful preacher girl only to have a bible study at Starbucks and fall more head over heels in love! But am I putting non-kingdom minded people and situations over God’s kingdom on my list of priorities? Jesus said that we must seek first the kingdom and His righteousness; that God’s kingdom comes first and there is nothing that He takes backseat too.  This does not mean that serving God is drudgery! You get what you put into it! You want a fun exciting ministry than it’s up to you to bring the fun and excitement!
            In our own personal lives within our families and relationships amongst ourselves, we must learn that God comes first. He told us to love Him, and that if we did love him to keep His commandments.  There is no point to keeping His commandment if you have not yet first become a citizen within his Kingdom.  Same book,
Jn 3:3ff Jesus answered [Nicodemus], "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. ESV
I was at Bible College when I first heard it and I think this helps me understand a lot when dealing with separation of church and state. The Bible is not written to anyone but the believers. It was not written to an unbeliever who had no interest rather to the believer who needed guidance and instruction as to how to continue on their path in God! So unless you get entry part done the rest of the Bible won’t do you any good.  It would be as though I started to live by the rules of Russian as an American without holding any citizenship and no means to even go because in God’s kingdom, there are no passports or visas.  It’s citizenship or nothing at all. After you got this down then I strongly recommend you follow the direction of the Pastor in regards to your walk with God.  Here’s a hint, attend bible studies / bible reading, pray, fast, get involved and become faithful in attendance and finances. 
It’s easy to see a list of things to do and say well, that’s what I have to do and start checking things off however there’s 2 more things I want to throw at you that deals again which our Church, Our Ministries, and ourselves!
The second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves! This again is agape. It’s not new to the New Testament church, it’s found first in Lev 19:18b…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. ESV It’s nothing new and we saw Jesus quoting this, stating that on these 2 commandments hangs all of the law and prophets! Everything, EVER-Y-THING, is based on these two things.
However how can we do such a thing as a church? Well, if you are a really a faithful servant of God and you believe in the power of prayer, that’s a good start. Churches have neighbors (other churches regardless of denominations). I personally pray that all the pastors in town get a revelation of truth.  Keep their churches until they get kicked out once their organizations realize what happened, come here and we send them to start new churches or takeover others that need real pastors! In regards to neighboring UPC or other Oneness churches, participating in fellowship and prayer can mean a lot! As a youth group Sis pearl keeps tabs with Floresville and we have participated with them and will likely do so again in order to encourage one another. Our sectional youth leader, Nathan Caruthers whom some of us are already familiar with when he served here under Pastor, is seeking to bless the Bro. and Sis. Jean in Uvalde by organizing a rally and outreach that our sectional youth participate in and there are ways to get involved besides just youth rallies—shameless plug, if you would like to see about helping their church, see Pastor Sibley and or get in contact with Bro. Nathan, now back to your regularly scheduled programming!  If we want to grow our church we must learn to love other churches as our own and not become selfish in our endeavors to grow!
The second commandment is practically the heartbeat for all local ministries.  We’re talking about serving people through Blessed threads and bible studies and all the face to face ministries we have available and that will become available.  I really don’t know how to break this down more potato head style, what’s the point in being part of any ministry if you’re not in it for the people you’ll be impacting?! Cleaning the church might be the only thing that is not directly connected to people yet it’s so important to be a good steward of what he has given us and it’s probably the most underreported first impression a person gets. They expect churches to be clean so it’s not new when it is but if a church was rundown, it doesn’t matter how nice the people are, they will feel awkward! At least I was when I visited; I reserve the right to be wrong. So all things considered, if you don’t like people, we still have opportunities for you but just know that you still are impacting people.  I’ll let pastor and God deal with the rest of your issues.
On an individual level, we cannot become so self-absorbed that we become a stench in the nostrils of God. What good is a Christian who has no passion to do anything for God’s kingdom (which is 98% entirely based on your relationship with other people—yes that’s a made up number but I went with my gut instinct if that counts for anything and I think it’s somewhat close). If you have no desire to love your neighbor as yourself, then you don’t deserve anything you have. It was taught to me at college that to really live by this scripture, when it comes to food and clothing, if I’m not willing to buy 2 of whatever I want and give 1 to someone under a bridge with no strings attached, then I don’t deserve to have one for myself. Strict / harsh, maybe but I would like to point out I’m 27 years old with my own house and car and though I’m not perfect and we don’t preach / believe a prosperity doctrine, it’s very hard for me to stand up here and tell you there is not some truth to this as I’ve obeyed this and many at the sound of my voice could testify to that. Now that I ruined my heavenly reward, my prayer is that you take what I’m saying and earn up 100 fold times what you would have normally received by showing God that you really do love your neighbor as yourself!  Mt 5:43-48
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ESV
Folks, it’s not enough to love those equal to yourself. There is no sacrifice there. I’m sure each of us can list examples where we did go above and beyond to give of ourselves to help someone. If you never have, then you never received a revelation of loving your neighbor as yourself. There is a Christian comedian by the name of Jeff Allen. He wasn’t always Christian and during the trials that brought Him to God, someone told him that “The smallest package in the world is human wrapped around himself.”
            All of this was about Agape love and unfortunately I don’t think this really answers the entire problem of what we found in the Exodus story. Half of it, yes, but not all of it.  I’ve discussed with you the dos / don’ts and things regarding an agape style love that is sacrificial in nature and not particularly emotional. Well, in obedience to the Passover plague people did as was asked and was permitted to God on a journey that God had planned and ordained yet the same people who obeyed God were the people who eventually turned on him.  They definitely did have a lack of Agape love but I think they lacked something more.
            I was praying after Pastor asked me to speak and one word came to me for my topic, love. In my mind I’m thinking, you gotta be kidding me for 4 reasons. 1) I just did one last year with the men and guy youth which only like 5 people attended, I’m not bitter I promise ;) 2) What more could the congregation learn about love that Pastor hasn’t already hammered into us 3) I’m not married so it has nothing to do with that. 4) Michael was watching the Christian music channel and I guess there’s a show about a young couple who decided to travel the entire globe and preach at different preaching points.  Being non-apostolic I was not surprised when they said they kept being drawn to teach God’s love, in my mind I’m saying, yeah because that’s all you know.  Which is fine and dandy but now here I am being told to teach on love. Next time I make light of a preacher / sermon I’ll pick something about revelation to see if God gives me a prophetic vision ;).
            I did find something I think is very worthy of notating and something I think is possibly not preached enough, at least in this manner.  Phileo love is the Greek word which refers to emotional love.  It gets the bad rap of being something with rash decision making.  Yet I’m not sure after this last few times of studying that I’m entirely willing to agree at the risk of contradicting myself.  I say this because of a few scriptures (remembering I’m still talking about what it takes to move forward in God).
Here are a few examples of scripture where phileo is used rather than agape (keep in mind agape is only type of love that can be commanded, phileo is more emotional which it’s difficult to command someone to be emotional).
Mt 10:37-39
7 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. ESV
Jn 16:27
for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. ESV
            1 Co 16:22
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! ESV
Rv 3:19
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. ESV
We were commanded to agape God yet here we see example after example where an expectation of something beyond agape exists.  I would like to submit to you that the real reason Israelites fell and the real fuel that we need to move forward in all things Godly is this: We need a personal relationship with God to where we become emotional attached to Him.  Bro. Norris wrote in his book “I AM: A oneness Pentecostal theology” that God uses covenants as a means to relate to us.  Each covenant is a deeper relationship and that it is impossible to know anything about God until you enter a relationship with Him.  Not being attached makes sin too easy. There is no consequence (or so you think) for running away and doing your own thing which just so happens to be totally against God.  But if you ever grow beyond the place where it’s no longer something you have to do simply because God is God and He can demand whatever He wants, and it turns into a personal relationship where you are invested into His being and His purpose, you will not be easily shaken and you can be part of the generation that see’s God’s promises fulfilled for the church, for the ministry and for yourselves!  We have to get a hold of this for ourselves! Every last one of us! Otherwise we are nothing more than the Israelites who God passed judgment on and kept them from the promises He had ordained for them.  We need a Love that Endures (a mixture of agape and phileo is probably where it’s at)!
There was another church that I think had similarities to ours and earned God’s love (agape love). I’m still talking about what it takes to accomplish Gods will for our church, our ministries and our own personal lives!  I could break this down and do another extrapolation of an analogy but I’m asking that you do that now, let this resonate in you and let God speak to you from this.
Rv 3:7-13
7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: 'The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie — behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' ESV

**Unfinished thought that I typed only to remind myself to cover this, the following is not what I said verbatim.**

You know, I’m wondering if was supposed to simply preach that God loves you. Not sacrificially because he said he would, but because he really does with an emotional connection like a friend.  Jesus told his disciples that he called them friends