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The Church and Its Mission

February 28th, 2016

Sermon: The Church and Its Mission

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19-23, ESV)

Theme: The mission of the church is grounded in the person of Christ, accomplished through the presence of Christ, and pursued for the glory of Christ.

Introduction:

The disciples had been huddled together in secret behind closed doors because they still feared the Jewish religious authorities. John usually simply calls them “the Jews” but he did not mean all the Jews in the world, for all of the disciples were Jews, as Christ was a Jew. He specifically meant the religious leaders who had had Christ crucified. This was the day of the resurrection. They had already heard that Christ was risen and several, two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene, and Peter, in fact, had already seen him (Luke 24:33-35). John says that he had not yet seen Christ but that he had already believed that he was risen, emphasizing the mystery of faith that embraced and trusted even when the mind could hardly follow the details of the story (John 20:8).

Luke’s account helps us to lock the time as Easter Sunday evening (Luke 24:36-43). John used the Gentile reckoning of time here, with the day beginning in morning, rather than the Jewish perspective that would have considered this already the evening of the second day of the week. His gospel is particularly targeted for the Gentiles. Following this passage is the account of Thomas, who was not there on that evening, who questioned the resurrection, but we are too hard on him - calling him Doubting Thomas. They all felt something similar, the cruel crucifixion of Jesus still imprinted on their minds, and knowing too well that they could be next. Under these circumstances, their meeting together affirms their commitment and determination to remain faithful to Jesus, even though they had not grasped the necessity of the resurrection.

“Peace be with you!” Christ suddenly stood in their midst, passing through the locked doors without any problem whatsoever. We are told that Christ’s resurrection body was a “spiritual body” and it did not have the same physical limitations that our physical bodies have (1 Cor. 15:20, 42-43,53-54). The new spiritual body which we will receive will be glorious, powerful, imperishable, and immortal. Yet his body was still able to be touched and felt, and he ate food for them, giving many convincing proof that he was not a ghost, but really and genuinely resurrected (Luke 24:39-43).

He said, “Peace be with you,” again. The double emphasis on peace shows both the sensitivity of his heart to their fears as well as the continuation of his sinless character. He was still the same divine Person, loving, sensitive, patient, and compassionate. He did not chastise them for their fear, rather he spoke peace to them, giving them assurance.

This was not a time for detailed instruction. They were not ready for it, indeed their minds were overwhelmed with the realization that Christ had risen from the dead. There has been quite a bit of discussion over the centuries as to why God waited for fifty days after the resurrection until the Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost. But for our purposes this morning we might simply say that the disciples minds alone would give sufficient reason for this delay. They had a great deal to absorb and to contemplate. In fact, if we think about it, we come to the conclusion that even after 50 days their behavior can only be understood as the result of the Spirit working in and through them.

But Christ did say something. It was brief and to the point. He told them three things actually. First, he let them see that he was truly resurrected and they touched him and handled him and were convinced that he was alive. Then he said just three things and that summarized the mission his followers would have. He taught on their mission several other times that we are told about, but this is the first post-resurrection teaching: What did Christ tell them on the night of that first Easter about their mission and our mission as his followers? The sermon is built around three words: Person, Presence, and Potential

• Their mission would be grounded in the reality of Christ as a Person
• Their mission would be empowered and enabled by his Spirit’s presence
• Their mission would be to free mankind from the chains of the curse of sin

1. Our mission is grounded in the Person of Christ

“Peace be unto you” - He repeated again these words to teach that our peace comes through Christ. He had died on the cross and rose from the grave on that very day, and now our peace with God has been purchased. This was not a mere greeting, rather it was the announcement of a new age in salvation history. He is our peace and he will be peace to all in the world who will trust in him. Peace with God, peace with ourselves, through his Spirit peace with others, and peace for all eternity.

His Divinity: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We need to work our way backward through John 17 to understand what Christ meant. This statement was a repeat of something he said to the Father the night before his crucifixion. “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). The context of the earlier statement helps us to understand what it was that Christ meant and how we are sent like Christ.

We are sent with the same understanding as Christ had of who he was: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name - the name you gave me - so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). The power of the name of God is not some magical incantation, rather it is the knowledge that Christ has come from the Father. “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me” (John 17:8). This is the meaning attached to being protected “by the power of his name.” Christ Jesus carried the name of God upon him. He was God in human form, so he came with this knowledge and assurance of who he was, and we also go with this assurance.

His work on Calvary: So what is the protection he spoke of? In the understanding of Christ as carrying the name of God, is our salvation secure. What he has purchased for us through his death - our forgiveness and adoption as God’s sons and daughters - is affirmed because of who he was and who he is. This revelation and confidence protects us from deceptions from the devil and from his accusations.

His character and example: The Son was sent into the world with to bear witness to the love and holiness of God. Albert Barnes wrote:

“As God sent me to preach, to be persecuted, and to suffer; to make known his will, and to offer pardon to men, so I send you.” This is the design and the extent of the commission of the ministers of the Lord Jesus. He is their model; and they will be successful only as they study HIS character and imitate his example.

There is only one standard for Christians - that is Jesus Christ himself. To be a Christian means to be a Christ-follower. Christ when he was on earth said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow after me.” In this phrase, Puritan scholar Adam Clarke saw a reference from Christ to the Jewish custom of rabbis taking and making disciples.

“If any man would come after me” - The disciple must voluntarily decide to follow his teacher (rabbi) by his own free will, not by coercion, other than the coercion of conscience.
“Let him deny himself” - The disciple must renounce all false things - idolatry, false loyalties, old religions, prejudices, errors, sins - and must separate himself from his intimate friends and acquaintances. He must consider himself dead to these things, and this is the idea the Lord referred to when he said, “let him deny himself.” The Jews would use the phrase “re-born” and Christ said that we must be born of the Holy Spirit to follow him (John 3:5). The decision to become a disciple of Christ is not something added to all of the other matters of life, rather we must choose him to the exclusion of all other things.
“And take up his cross” - The Jewish disciple must bear the yoke of the Jewish Law, and the Christian disciple must bear the yoke of the cross of Christ, that is “easy” in its grace (Matt. 11:29). This means the bold profession of Christ crucified, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). The believer takes up his cross, meaning that he assigns himself over to death, so that he might live in Christ. Taking up the cross means to admit your own failure, not to pay for our own sins, but to trust that Christ paid for them in his death.
“And follow after me” - The disciple must be faithful to death, and the one who follows Christ must not turn back, but loyally follow despite persecutions, rejections, and even martyrdom.

2. Our mission is enabled by the Spirit’s presence in us

He breathed on them symbolizing the coming of the Holy Spirit - not by touch but by the gospel the Spirit comes into people’s lives. To use symbolic gestures was common for prophets. It was also symbolic of God’s breathing in Adam to make him a living soul - the Greek word for “breathed” is used only here in the New Testament, but it was also used for the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, that was the Apostles’ Old Testament, for God breathing into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life. Just as God’s breath in Adam made his body come alive, so the Spirit’s breath in us makes us spirits come alive.

There are different ways that people have tried to understand the Spirit’s indwelling. Many of these are not really biblical in their concept. For example, some have the idea of the Spirit of God is only “among us” and not “within us.” Some think of the Spirit like some nice presence among us - not a person, but a feeling or an atmosphere. Some cling to the Old Testament understanding of the Spirit coming upon us for brief periods and then leaving us. Some think of the Spirit merely in terms of power, not in terms of his presence. But the biblical idea is that the Spirit of God indwells the church, each believer. He seals us in security, fills us with himself, and shares the heart of God, the love of God, the guidance of God, as well as the presence and power of God.

There these men, still hiding behind locked doors in fear, would find a new reality in their lives that would change every thing about them. They had tried to be faithful disciples of Jesus, but at the cross they all fled in fear. For a brief period Peter stood to fight, but eventually on that evening he was cursing insisting that he was not a disciple of Christ. When the Spirit came this changed. They who were cowardly would be filled with courage. Those who were divided and quarrelsome would find unity. Those who were weak and doubtful would experience inner strength and conviction. Those who were impatient and often confused would find knowledge and peace. And in this new reality of life in the Spirit they would go forth.

All that we do must first be supported by becoming new in him. We are not to go out and achieve things in any other means. We are first to be something new, some ones who are made new in him. We cannot go out and just act like him without him living within us.

Whenever we find ourselves exhausted, tired of acting like a Christian, tired of putting up with others, we are trying to do in ourselves what we need to learn how to do in the Spirit. The purpose of the church is to bring glory to God, and we cannot do that without him doing it in us and through us. There are five functions of the church: evangelism, worship, discipleship, service, and fellowship. We need him to work in us and through us to do all of these.

Evangelism: we cannot share the gospel in the world without the Spirit enabling us - not just to bring conviction to the heart of the lost, but also to guide us to say the right words in the right way. To be led by the Spirit in who and when and how we share.
Worship: we need the Spirit to inspire our worship otherwise we’re just going through the motions singing songs. Someone may like Christian music but still not worship God. The Spirit is the one who “tunes our hearts to sing his praise.”
Discipleship: our teaching needs the guidance and inspiration of the Spirit.
Service: it is never enough just to do work sincerely, rather even as we help those who are hurting, we need to do so in the name of Christ and by the Spirit of Christ.
Fellowship: our fellowship is more than just earthly friendship, more than people just doing things together that they enjoy. It is the leadership of the Spirit that unites us together.
None of these things can we do unless the Spirit is within us, guiding us, empowering us, changing us, transforming us.

3. Our mission makes people free from the curse of sin

Christ is our message: He said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” He did not say that only one of them, or only a few of them could forgive sins. He did not center this in Peter, rather he spoke to all of them of a unique position they held as apostles. Ephesians speaks of the church when it says, “the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20).

They forgave the sins of others by preaching the gospel, not by any power that they had in and of themselves, nor by any power given by God. God only can forgive sins (Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 51:4). The apostles were in a unique position in that they were there at the founding of the church and their message would shape for all times the church’s message. What was the meaning of Christ’s ministry, what has he entrusted to us, what terms and under what conditions will he forgive men their sins. All of these things were laid down by the apostles.

They could not have done this if they had not first received the Spirit, so the order in which the Lord spoke these words is instructive. In and of themselves the apostles were as much subject to fits of rage and anger as any other person, perhaps even more so. James and John Christ called the Sons of Thunder because they wanted to call down curses upon cities that rejected Christ. Peter tried to take off the head of a servant of the high priest at the arrest of Jesus. Paul was a persecutor of the church, giving approval to the stoning of Stephen, describing himself as a violent man. That was who they were in themselves. Would you trust these men to set the parameters of the gospel, to set the boundaries of the gospel for all times, until the return of Christ? They could not do this in themselves - they could only do this by the power of the spirit. So Christ stressed repeatedly to them to wait until they are clothed with power from on high.

What have we humans done with the gospel over the centuries? The Roman Catholic Church for centuries said that they and they alone can grant forgiveness. They have taught that you don’t need to believe in Jesus, just so long as you believe in the Church. They have added sacraments and confusing conditions that even the priests cannot explain. They have sought to limit the gospel’s boundaries and moved it from whoever believes, to only those who join us.

But others have done as much - the false cults that say that they and they alone are the saved and forgive ones. And what about those who teach that you can lose your salvation by the simplest sin? They teach that you are saved by faith but kept saved by works, which means that you are really saved by works. One sin and you are lost. And all of this is added to the gospel. What about those churches that have gone the other way and polluted the observance of the Lord’s Supper? I have heard recently of some churches in Germany that have included pre-schoolers in the Lord’s Supper. They have removed any standard what so ever - now you just have to be alive - no repentance, no faith, no Christ.

Christ wrote no books and he entrusted all of this into the hands of the apostles. Through the Spirit through the apostles came the Christian message: “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). “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me though he were dead, yet shall he live, and anyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

What this means for us: As we seek to follow Christ today, as we the church fulfills its mission, we must keep Christ first. We proclaim him, trust him, live him, worship him, and follow him. We seek to know him intimately through his Spirit, we listen to him and obey him. And as he fills us with himself then we take his love and share it with others, sharing the wonderful news that in him we have life, peace, forgiveness, and purpose.

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How to Finish Well

December 27th, 2015

How to Finish Well

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

Introduction:

For thousands of years human society has been fascinated with racing. In the typical track and field event, the majority of the competitions have something to do with racing.  In the Olympic summer games, out of 48 track and field events for both men and women, 32 of them have to do with racing. We bring human competition down to its most basic form in a foot race - who can run the fastest?

But we do not only race on foot, rather society has invented every kind of imaginable racing. We race boats, cars, horses, dogs, cows, camels, sheep, rats, pigs, and even turtles. We have summer games where we make people race in difficult ways - we put children in sacks and have them hop to see who is the fastest, we tie legs together and have three-legged races, we have people race on their hands while someone holds their legs. We even race those things that are not known for their speed - such as sailboats, kayaks, canoes, turtles, lawnmowers, and tractors. We have swim races of both fast and slow strokes, and even walk races.

But one thing that every race has in common is a finish line. There comes a point in every race, whether long or short, when the last line is cross and the winner is declared.  Those who have won stand honored in a ceremony, they receive medals, and they know that they enjoy a fellowship that is unique. Some races, especially the longer ones, it is a competition with oneself, to improve on your time, to do your best under difficult circumstances. And you receive congratulations and respect just for finishing it and for doing your best.

In the Bible, the Christian life is often compared to a race. Paul especially enjoyed doing so, but he was not the only one. The ancient Greeks, in the 8th century before Christ, invented the Olympic sports competition, and the games played a large role of the Mediterranean culture of the First Century.  Our text today from 2 Timothy is an example, where Paul compared his life of following Christ to running a race.

Someone has said, “To begin well is an advantage, but to finish well is an imperative.” This applies to our own life as well. There may be any number of reasons why someone may have gotten off to a slow start in life and in the Christian faith. All manner of things have influenced each of us and slowed down our advancement for a number of reasons, and there may be some excuse for these weaknesses. But there are less excuses for not finishing well.

In this text of Paul, we find three key thoughts in verse 7 that we need to adopt in our lives in order to finish our race of faith well. This sermon in one sentence would be:

To finish well the Christian life we must live daily with an awareness of the movement of God in the world, with attentiveness to every task God gives us to perform, and with an attentiveness to our personal relationship with God.

Three thoughts we will focus on: (1) The good fight, or what God is doing in the world; (2) The specific relationships, gifts, roles, and tasks He has entrusted us with; (3) Our relationship with Him.

The place of faith: There is an important insight we get from this passage. The tense of the three verbs in verse seven is the Greek perfect. Paul wrote, ” have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The perfect tense was used, as it is in English, to show that some action taken in the past has an impact on the present and on the future.

For example, someone might say: “You have filled the room with the scent of flowers.” It is similar in German, zum Beispiel: „Sie haben das Zimmer mit Geruch von Blumen gefüllt.” Of course, with scents and aromas we understand that their presence would linger, but we may also say something like, “You have made a mess of this day,” or in a more positive way, “You have blessed us with your presence.” And we mean that the effects of the action will remain for a while.

When Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight” he meant that his life and his faith in Christ in the past had carried through into the present, and would carry on into the future.  The commitments of his past had carried through to the present. And this means that the work and victory of Christ in our lives has a lasting effect upon us and upon the world.

And all of this begins with faith. We can say that faith is by its very nature an attitude of heart that sets other things in motion. Once we start believing God, once we begin trusting Him, loving Him, obeying Him, then we begin to see life differently, and we begin to be used of God to do His will, to join Him in His mission. God is then able to use us to make a difference in this world, and He is able to use us beyond our lives.

Three keys we find here to exercising faith and handling opportunities in such a way that they last beyond today. Three keys are here to finishing well the race of life, whether we are talking about finishing the year of 2015 well, or finishing the entire race of faith.

1. Fight the Good Fight

This means that we fight God’s fight, not our own. There are numerous selfish battles we can get engaged in - trying to vindicate ourselves, trying to prove others wrong, trying to get back at those who hurt us. None of these are the good fight, however, that Paul was writing about. Paul was saying that he had put aside as his pursuit in life his own lustful and prideful ambitions, and taken on the purposes and mission of Christ.

God is active in our world,

John 5:19-20: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.

The whole story of the church is the story of God moving in the world. He is the one who has created the hunger in people’s hearts and the heartfelt conviction that Christ answers that hunger.  Just as He did with Christ, so God also shows us what He is doing and He is the one who invites us to join Him on His mission.

We live on this earth amid spiritual conflict but God‘s victory is assured. The scripture describes that there are more angels who are with us than those who are opposed to us: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). He also says that He who lives in us, that is Christ Himself, is greater the evil one in the world. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The Cross of Christ is our victory. On the cross He defeated the devil by destroying through His death the accusations against us here on earth. He died for our sins so the debt is paid. It says that Christ, “…having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 1:15). So we are invited to join a winning fight - one that has, in fact, already been assured.

The good fight is what we do here on earth as we follow Christ. We engage in His battle, as He leads and enables us. There are many lessons we learn in this fight, a few of which are:

You must train for the fight. We must take our Christian life and our calling as His people seriously. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

You must get back up when you are knocked down. We will each experience defeat and must learn how to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness, and then how to continue to follow Christ.  Ephesians 6:13-18, “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

You must rely on your team, or your Christian family. We cannot do our best for God without a supportive Christian community. Philippians 1:27, “Contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.”

To finish well any race, you must make sure you are running on the right track, headed in the right direction, running for the right team. Sports competitions are filled with stories of players who in the heat of the contest got confused and ran the wrong way, scored a goal for the opposite team. Unfortunately some Christians have done similar things. Fight the good fight, fight the fight of Christ, not the fight of pride, lust, vindication, revenge, or personal insecurity.

2. Finish the race that God has given you to run

Paul said, “I have finished the race.” He was referring to the specific race that God had given him to run. He said at another time,  ”I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” … (Acts 20:24).

What responsibilities, relationships, and opportunities has God entrusted into your hands? What races has God given you to run? We should see all of these matters as different parts of the same race, for we need to see life simply, not more complex. Every God-given responsibility should fit together nicely with all of the other God-given responsibilities. They are not competing interests in God’s mind, rather they perfectly fit together if we will let Christ be Lord over our lives.

In my own life I have learned to be a: pastor, a husband, a father, a brother, and a son.  But I have also learned to be a neighbor, a friend, a relative, a fellow church member, and a fellow citizen. Just as each race has different parts, so the race that we run for Christ also has different aspects. But Christ is still Lord overall.

Races are completed well by doing your best at each stage of the race.  A runner I went to school with, Mike Casey, his best race was the 400 meters, and he set a state record, as I recall, in high school. He went on to be a runner at Rice, but his high school record was around 48 seconds, as I recall. After he set the record he was interviewed and he said he was able to breakdown the race section by section. I recall he said that he was worried that he had begun the race running too fast and then he hit his stride on the middle part, and he still could finish strong. For all of us others, we had to laugh. We were just trying to imagine being able to run any part of that race at that speed. But he had learned to do his best at every stage.

I believe what we learn from this passage, and in the Bible itself, is that excellence in one area of life influences all other areas of our lives. Clearly we must prioritize, and Christ’s command, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33) means to see everything in life under the headship of Lordship of Christ. If it doesn’t fit there, then don’t get involved in it.

I had a good friend who passed away a few years ago, Dr Bill Wilkerson of Henderson, Texas. Bill was a great example of finishing well in every area of life. After he passed away I thought about the many different hats he wore. He was a Christian, a deacon in his church, a medical doctor, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, a mission volunteer, an encourager, a learner, a giver, a receiver, a healer, a sufferer, and a victim. He was plagued with a debilitating illness the last several years of his life, and the last race he ran - the last race most of us will run - was the race of sickness. Yet in all of these things he handled them well, giving a Christian example. I remember him for his patient, gracious, sincere spirit.

Races for Christ are run poorly by being too concerned about yourself, too selfish about your choices. Of course, we all need to take care of ourselves. We need our rest like everyone else, but that is not what I am talking about. Rather the words of Paul echo here in my head: “nor do I count my life dear unto itself” (Acts 20:24). God gave us strength that we might use it for Him.

Spurgeon wrote:

If by excessive labour, we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master’s service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of Heaven! It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed. (Quoted by John Piper in his book Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity)

What has God entrusted into your hands? Your job, your wife, your husband, your child, your home, your neighbors, whatever it is, finish well there.

3. Keep the Faith

The final thing that Paul mentioned was that he had kept the faith, meaning that he had been faithful in his relationship with God, and not just in his ministerial duties.

Our relationship with God provides the strength we need to continue running the race.  Keeping this relationship fresh helps us avoid slumping into bitterness and resentment.

How easy it is to let this relationship with God, which should be the center of our life, fall into disrepair and neglect. We cannot put anything ahead of our personal life with God. Take time to pray, to speak with Him, to read devotional thoughts and especially scripture about God. Take time to worship Him.

Paul mentioned a reward that awaits us who love His appearing. We love the doctrine of His return because we love Him. The reward he spoke of is not salvation. Salvation is given as a gift we receive through faith, not through our devotion. There will be no bragging in heaven, so we will not be showing how shiny our crowns are etc. It will be about Christ. But there will be recognition for faithfulness.

The scripture says that “We shall each receive the praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5), and that is a promise to us all who believe. What is this reward that we will receive. I have read of some who have tried to make some sense of the different passages that speak about rewards. But I personally believe the heart of all rewards for our faithfulness here on earth is just to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)

Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy the truth and sell it not.” Do not discard the central reality of the gospel - the relationship you have with God. Through Christ you are reconciled to Him and all the grace gifts that we receive through Him - peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, etc” - these are merely attributes of Him. We receive none of them apart from receiving Him, and we grow in none of them apart from growing in our relationship with Him.  We become more joyous, peaceful, kind, etc. as we grow to know Him more and more.

A speaking contest was once held - both young and old were invited to join in. The judges chose different famous passage of literature and the field was narrowed at each round. Finally only two contestants remained - a young man and an elderly man. The last passage of literature was selected from the Bible, Psalm 23.

They took turns and the young man went first. He was a gifted orator and raised his voice and lowered it at just the right points to give meaning and emphasis to the words. The people were impressed and they applauded as he finished.

But then the elderly man took his turn. This time was different than his other readings, because he was a man of devout faith. His hands shook a bit as he held the script. His eyes moistened, and not artificially so, but from real faith and love. His reading would have seemed plain in comparison to the young man, but there was something deep and profound in his voice. After he finished it rather than applaud the people were moved at the thought of God being their loving Shepherd and silent and worshipful.

The young man summed it up the best when he said, “I knew the psalm, but he knew the Shepherd.”

That is the most important legacy we will leave on this earth. That we knew the Shepherd and loved Him as He loved us.

As this year of 2015 closes out - let’s finish it well. Let’s finish it fighting the good fight of the Lord’s work. Let finish it by valuing the people He has placed around us, the opportunities He has given us, and the responsibilities to which He has called us. Let us especially look to Him, our Savior, the author and finisher of our faith, and worship Him.

As life goes on, let us also commit ourselves to finish well, doing the will of God to the end, loving those He has entrusted to us, and growing closer to Him day by day.

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