TREAT PEOPLE WELL:

The Bible has much to say about human behavior and the way we should treat each other. There are thousands of specific directions for doing so, but they can all be summarized in what we know as the Golden Rule. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

When we treat others as we want to be treated, we will be honest, kind, trustworthy, and loving. We all need honestykindness, etc., from other people, so we should be equally concerned with giving those things to other people. When God first gave the law to Moses, He included hundreds of instructions about the way the Israelites were to treat each other (Leviticus 18:320:23Deuteronomy 18:9). They were immersed in a world that was violent, godless, and wicked. When God chose them to be a holy people, set apart for Himself, He was very specific about what was allowed and what was forbidden (Isaiah 41:8–10Deuteronomy 7:6Exodus 19:6).

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In other words, all the laws God had given to Israel could be summarized in two commands: love God above all else, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we do those two things, we don’t need the other laws. We will automatically obey them as part of loving God and loving others.

Every culture has its own mores and social customs. Part of treating others as we wish to be treated is to honor those customs so as not to offend. When missionaries move to another part of the world, they are careful to study the customs of that culture and blend in as much as possible. They know that they cannot effectively share Christ with someone they are offending. For example, in cultures where women wear head coverings in public, a female missionary will wear a head covering so as not to offend the culture she wants to reach. In some cultures, people sit on the ground to eat. Even though the missionaries may prefer to sit on a chair, they will set aside preferences in order to love their neighbors as Christ loves them (John 13:34).

Jesus is our model. He is fully God, deserving of all honor and glory (Colossians 2:9John 1:1). Yet, because He loved the human beings He had created, He set aside His rights as God to take on human flesh and come to earth to live among us (Philippians 2:5–11). He voluntarily accepted the limitations of a fleshly body in order to connect with us. He lived as we live, hurt as we hurt, and fought temptation as we do (Luke 4:1–13). In doing so, He gave us an example of how He expects us to treat others.

Treating others as we would be treated means we must be willing to set aside our own preferences, rights, and desires in order to serve those in our lives. As a mother loses sleep, sacrifices financially, and cares for the children she loves, so we are to give up our own comforts for the good of others. Jesus did exactly that. When our focus is on treating others as Jesus would, we don’t need a hundred specific laws telling us not to murder, steal, rape, abuse, or lie. A heart filled with the love of God would never treat others that way. When the heart is right, right actions will follow (Matthew 15:191 Peter 1:22).

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

PRACTICAL WAYS TO DEPEND ON GOD alone:

Depending on God is basic to the Christian life. We trust in, or depend on, God for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9). We depend on God for wisdom (James 1:5). In fact, we depend on God for everything (Psalm 104:27) and in everything (Proverbs 3:5–6). The psalmist teaches the Lord’s reliability with the three-fold description “the LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer” (Psalm 18:2).

Depending on God alone does not mean we act foolishly. Jesus did not need to jump off the pinnacle of the temple to “prove” that He depended on God (Matthew 4:5–7). There is a difference between trusting God and putting God to the test. Depending on God alone doesn’t mean we dispense with God’s gifts. For example, a person with strep throat may refuse to go to the doctor, saying (hoarsely), “I am going to depend on God alone to heal me.” Or a person driving a car may close her eyes and release the steering wheel, saying, “I am going to depend on God alone to drive me home.” These actions would be foolish. God has provided us with doctors and medicines to help heal us. He has given us the wits to steer a car. We can still depend on God as we visit the doctor, knowing that all healing ultimately comes from God; and we can still depend on God as we drive, knowing that all safety ultimately comes from God.

We depend on God all the time, and there are times we can do nothing else. The Lord gives us the faith we need to make it through those times. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego couldn’t sway the will of the king, and they couldn’t lessen the intensity of the burning fiery furnace. They only knew that they could not bow down to a false god. They were thrown into the fire depending on God alone for the outcome (Daniel 3).

Here are some practical ways to depend on God alone:

1) Pray. Prayer is, among other things, an acknowledgment of God’s power, promises, and provision. When you pray, you demostrate dependence on God. The biblical command is to “present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

2) Honor the Bible. The Word of God has information, instructions, examples, and promises for New Testament believers. Read from the Bible every day. Check everything against the truth of the Word (Acts 17:11). And when there is a conflict between what the Bible says and what anyone else says, go with the Bible. “I will listen to what God the LORD says” (Psalm 85:8).

3) Do right. At all times, in all situations, do what you know is right, and leave the results with God. Jochebed did right by saving her baby, Moses (Exodus 2:1–10). Daniel did right by defying the king and praying to the Lord (Daniel 6). David did right by standing up to Goliath (1 Samuel 17). In each case, their dependence on God alone was rewarded.

4) Be a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1 says to offer up your body as a “living sacrifice” to God. Acceptable sacrifices are purified from sin and dedicated to God. When you become a living sacrifice, you live for the Lord. You cease fighting for your own rights and give up trusting in your own strength. As you learn to become a living sacrifice for God, you will discover the truth that, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

5) Abide in Christ. The Christian life is not a now-and-then rendezvous with God. It is making God your dwelling place, living with Him. Jesus put it this way: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4). Depend on Christ as a fruit-laden branch depends on the grapevine. The branch attached to the vine is fulfilling its purpose.

6) Refuse to worry. God cares for His children, even more than the grass that He clothes with flowers and the birds that He daily feeds. Yes, you have needs, but “your heavenly Father knows” (Matthew 6:32). Learn to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Keeping some of the anxiety on yourself is to doubt God’s care.

One day, the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus answered with an illustration: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2–4). One quality of children is that they are dependent on others for their well-being. God’s children should share that quality of depending on their loving Heavenly Father for everything they need.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

ALWAYS REMEMBER GOD IS IN CONTROL:

Before we can learn to trust that God is in control of all of life’s circumstances, we have to answer four questions: Is God really in control? How much control does He have? If He is not in complete control, then who/what is? How can I learn to trust that He is in control and rest in that?

Is God really in control? The concept of the control of God over everything is called the “sovereignty” of God. Nothing gives us strength and confidence like an understanding of the sovereignty of God in our lives. God’s sovereignty is defined as His complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent, God does what He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. God is in complete control of every molecule in the universe at every moment, and everything that happens is either caused or allowed by Him for His own perfect purposes.

“The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand’” (Isaiah 14:24). Nothing is random or comes by chance, especially not in the lives of believers. He “purposed” it. That means to deliberately resolve to do something. God has resolved to do what He will do, and nothing and no one stands in His way. “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10). This is our powerful, purposeful God who is in control of everything. That should bring us great comfort and help to alleviate our fears.

But exactly how much control does God have? God’s total sovereignty over all creation directly contradicts the philosophy of open theism, which states that God doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the future any more than we do, so He has to constantly be changing His plans and reacting to what the sinful creatures do as they exercise their free will. God isn’t finding out what’s going to happen as events unfold. He is continuously, actively running things—ALL things—here and now. But to think He needs our cooperation, our help, or the exercise of our free will to bring His plans to pass puts us in control over Him, which makes us God. Where have we heard that lie before? It’s a rehash of Satan’s same old lie from the Garden—you shall be like God (Genesis 3:5). Our wills are only free to the extent that God allows us that freedom and no farther. “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35). No one’s free will trumps the sovereignty of God.

Some people find it appealing to think that Satan has control over a certain amount of life, that God is constantly revising His plans to accommodate Satan’s tricks. The book of Job is a clear illustration of just who has the sovereign power and who doesn’t. Satan came to God and, in effect, said, “Job only serves you because you protect him.” So God gave Satan permission to do certain things to Job but no more (Job 1:6–22). Could Satan do more than that? No. God is in control over Satan and his demons who try to thwart God’s plans at every step.

Satan knew from the Old Testament that God’s plan was for Jesus to come to the earth, be betrayed, crucified and resurrected, and provide salvation for millions, and if there was any way to keep that from happening, Satan would have done it. If just one of the hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah could have been caused by Satan to fail to come to pass, the whole thing would have collapsed. But the numbers of independent, “free will” decisions made by thousands of people were designed by God to bring His plan to pass in exactly the way He had planned it from the beginning, and Satan couldn’t do a thing about it.

Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). No action by the Romans, the Pharisees, Judas, or anyone else kept God’s plan from unfolding exactly the way He purposed it from before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1 says we were chosen in Him before the world was even created. We were in the mind of God to be saved by faith in Christ. That means God knit together Satan’s rebellion, Adam and Eve’s sin, the fall of the human race, and the death and crucifixion of Christ—all seemingly terrible events—to save us before He created us. Here is a perfect example of God working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

Unlimited in power, unrivalled in majesty, and not thwarted by anything outside Himself, our God is in complete control of all circumstances, causing or allowing them for His own good purposes and plans to be fulfilled exactly as He has foreordained.

Finally, the only way to trust in God’s sovereign control and rest in it is to know God. Know His attributes, know what He has done in the past, and this builds confidence in Him. Daniel 11:32b says, “The people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” Imagine that kind of power in the hands of an evil, unjust god. Or a god that really doesn’t care about us. But we can rejoice in our God’s sovereignty, because it is overshadowed by His goodness, His love, His mercy, His compassion, His faithfulness, and His holiness.

But we can’t trust someone we don’t know, and there is only one way to know God—through His Word. There is no magic formula to make us spiritual giants overnight, no mystical prayer to pray three times a day to mature us, build our faith, and make us towers of strength and confidence. There is only the Bible, the single source of power that will change our lives from the inside out. But it takes effort, diligent, everyday effort, to know the God who controls everything. If we drink deeply of His Word and let it fill our minds and hearts, the sovereignty of God will become clear to us, and we will rejoice in it because we will know intimately and trust completely the God who controls all things for His perfect purpose.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

TRUST THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD:

Many places in Scripture extol the faithfulness of God. Lamentations 3:22–23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” So, what is faithfulness?

The Hebrew word translated “faithfulness” means “steadfastness, firmness, fidelity.” The opposite of being faithful is to be ever-changing or wishy-washy. Psalm 119:89–90 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations.” Here faithfulness is equated with God’s Word. God speaks never-ending truth. If God spoke something a thousand years ago, it still stands. He is faithful to His Word, because His Word is an expression of His character. The promises He made still hold true because He does not change (Malachi 3:6). We see this illustrated from a human perspective in a couple married for many years. When the wife lies on her deathbed, her husband sits nearby holding her hand. He won’t leave her, even though she no longer recognizes him. He is faithful to the promises he made to her. In the same way, God remains faithful to His promises, even though we are often unfaithful to Him (2 Timothy 2:13).

We learn to trust the character of a person by getting to know that person. We would not entrust our bank account to a stranger we met in line at the post office—we have no experience with him. We don’t know his character. Before we know God, we are afraid to trust Him. We don’t yet know who He is or what He may do. We learn to trust God by getting to know His character. There are three ways we can get to know Him: studying His Word, reviewing His working in our own lives, and learning to follow His voice.

When we study God’s Word, a pattern emerges. We learn that God never changes and never lies (Numbers 23:191 Samuel 15:29). We learn through Scripture that God has never failed in the past (Isaiah 51:6). He was always true to His Word as He worked in the lives of the ancient Israelites. When He said He would do something, He did it (Numbers 11:23Matthew 24:35). We begin to build trust upon His proven character. We can trust that God will be true to Himself. He will never cease acting like God. He will never cease being sovereign, being holy, or being good (1 Timothy 6:151 Peter 1:16).

We learn through our own history that He has never failed us, either. One command God often gave the Israelites was: “Remember” (Deuteronomy 8:2Isaiah 46:9). When they remembered all God had done for them, they could more easily trust Him for the future. We need to intentionally remember all the ways God has provided for us and delivered us in the past. Keeping a prayer journal can help with this. When we recall the ways God has answered our prayers, it equips us to continue asking and expecting answers. When we come to Him in prayer, we know that He always hears us (1 John 5:14Psalm 34:15). He provides what we need (Philippians 4:19). And He will always make everything work together for our good when we trust Him with it (Romans 8:28). We learn to trust God’s future faithfulness by remembering His past faithfulness.

And we can also learn to trust Him by learning to distinguish His voice from the others that compete for attention. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). We who belong to Jesus need to cultivate the ability to hear Him. He speaks primarily through His Word, but He can also speak through other people, through circumstances, and through the inner confirmation of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). As we carefully read and meditate upon Scripture, the Holy Spirit often quickens our hearts to a verse or passage and helps us claim it and apply it to our current situation. What the Spirit shows us in His Word is to be taken by faith as His message to us. We build trust by claiming His promises and applying them to our lives.

Above all things, God loves for us to demonstrate faith (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is trusting in the character of God before we see how He is going to work things out. He has given us His Word, and His promises still stand. As we see the ways He brings His promises to fulfillment, our trust in His faithfulness grows. Just as our trust in other people grows with daily interaction, our trust in God grows the same way. We trust Him when we know Him, and to know Him is to trust Him. When we know Him, we can rest in His goodness, even when we don’t understand the circumstances that seem to contradict it. We can trust that God’s plan for us will prevail (Proverbs 19:21). As a child trusts a loving father, we can trust our heavenly Father to always do what is right.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon

EXPERIENCING JOY IN YOUR CHRISTIAN LIFE:

Joy is something we all long for but that often seems difficult to grab hold of. Experiencing joy should be a part of every Christian’s life. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, produced by God’s work in us, and it is part of God’s will for us.

We know that even the most mature of God’s people experience periods of joylessness. For instance, Job wished he had never been born (Job 3:11). David prayed to be taken away to a place where he would not have to deal with reality (Psalm 55:6–8). Elijah, even after defeating 450 prophets of Baal with fire called down from heaven (1 Kings 18:16–46), fled into the desert and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19:3–5). If these men struggled, how can we experience consistent joy in the Christian life?

The first thing is to realize that joy is a gift from God. The root word for joy in the Greek is chara, which is closely related with the Greek charis for “grace.” Joy is both a gift of God as well as a response to the gifts of God. Joy comes when we are aware of God’s grace and relish His favor.

With this in mind, it’s evident that one way to experience joy is to focus on God. Rather than dwelling on our difficulties or those things robbing our contentment, we can dwell on God. This is not to say we should deny our discontent or stuff negative emotions. Following the example of many of the psalmists, we can pour out our hearts to God. We can tell Him bluntly all the things that ail us. But then we submit those things to Him, remember who He is, and are happy in Him. Psalms 3131843, and 103 are good examples.

The book of Philippians has much to say about joy, even though Paul wrote the epistle from prison. Philippians 4:4–8 gives some guidelines for experiencing joy in the Christian life: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! . . . The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Here we see the importance of praising God, remembering that He is near, praying about our worries, and keeping our minds focused on the good things of God. We can experience joy when we intentionally praise. David wrote that the study of God’s Word can bring us joy (Psalm 19:8). We experience joy by communing with God through prayer. And we experience joy by keeping our focus on godly things rather than on difficult circumstances or discontentment.

Jesus also gave some instructions regarding joy. In John 15 He talked about abiding in Him and obeying Him. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9–11). One of the keys to joy is living in obedience to God.

Another way to experience joy in the Christian life is through community. God gave Elijah rest and then sent a man, Elisha, to help him (1 Kings 19:19–21). We, too, need friends that we can share our hurts and pains with (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12). Hebrews 10:19–25 says, “Brothers and sisters . . . let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Because of the grace of God, we know we can approach God confidently in prayer (Hebrews 10:19). We know we are cleansed of our sin (Hebrews 10:22). And we are joined into a new community, a family of believers. With our fellow believers, we hold firm to our faith, trusting in the character of God. We also encourage one another. Christians do not belong to this world (John 17:14–16Philippians 3:20). We long to be with God, finally restored to our original design. Life can be lonely and discouraging. Others help remind us of truth, carry our burdens with us, and strengthen us to continue on (Galatians 6:10Colossians 3:12–14).

Joy is meant to be a hallmark of the Christian life. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and a gift of God. We best receive this gift when we focus on the truth of who God is, commune with Him through prayer, and rely on the community of believers He has provided.

Prophet Nathan’s Sermon