What does it mean to be a Christian?

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Are you a Christian, a follower of Jesus? If so, what does it mean to you? These two questions are crucial because when people do not fully understand what it means to be a Christian they normally give up on Jesus or live a life that has nothing to do with Jesus. The lack information regarding what it means to follow Jesus is a serious issue in our churches nowadays.

We live in this day of easy believism in which many people are taught on how to make a decision with Jesus in order to be saved but few are taught on how to make a commitment with the one who can save them. They are told that to go to heaven they just need to raise their hands for Jesus, spending the rest of their lives doing whatever they want. But they are not taught that Jesus saved us in order to give a good life in heaven, not on earth. They are not taught that between conversion and resurrection they will face hardship and suffering for following Jesus.

Sadly, when these so-called Christians suffer because of their faith in Jesus, they normally quit reading the Bible, they quit praying, they quit sharing the gospel, they quit repenting, they quit their churches and eventually Christ. However, followers of Jesus never quit their faith in him because they know that everything that matters is not easy but hard, costly but rewarding. It’s all about Jesus.

In this talk, I would like to look at Mark 8, verses 34-38, to help us to understand that salvation costs you nothing but discipleship costs you everything. Salvation occurs in a moment but discipleship takes a lifetime. Salvation is something done to you by God and discipleship is something you do with God. My hope is that by the end of this talk we decide to be

  1. Deny yourself by loving Jesus (v.34a)

In Mark chapter 1, we see Jesus calling four people to follow him, a small number of disciples, right? In chapter 8, however, Jesus feeds four thousand followers, a growth of 100,000%. By now it seems that he had a successful ministry but in chapter 8, verse 27, Jesus asks a question to his disciples that changes everything. He asks, “Who do people say I am?”. The answer given by them shows that people had no idea of whom he was. Jesus then asks his closest disciples, “Who do you say I am?”. The answer given by Peter is, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus then begins to teach that he was going to suffer, be rejected, be killed and rise from the dead after three days. This kind of teaching could mess up Jesus successful ministry, so Peter advises him to stop saying those kinds of things. But Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan!”.

Why was Jesus so rude with Peter if he was just trying to help?

Peter and many other disciples were not following Jesus for the right reason. Some followed him because he could give them food, as we can see in John 6:26. Others followed him because he could give them the power to see Israel restored as a great nation again, as we can see in Acts 1:6. And some followed Jesus because of money, as we can see in John 12:6. Many of those who were following Jesus, including some of his closest disciples, were not following him because they love him but because Jesus could give them what they love. However, Jesus says in Mark 8:34 that his disciples should deny themselves if they wanted to follow him.

How can we deny ourselves?

We deny ourselves when we submit to the will of God in everything. When it hurts, when you get ridiculed, when you lose your friends, your family, your job, your possessions and even life for loving God with everything you have.

Jesus himself is the perfect example of self-denial for loving God with everything. When he was in the garden, just before being killed on the cross, he prayed “Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” Why was Jesus able to deny himself? Because he loved His glorious Father in heaven by unloving himself.

Jesus wants to be followed by those who love him more than they love anything else in the world, including themselves. We can only love Jesus with all our hearts when we let go our selfish desires to focus instead on the interests of Jesus. To focus on the interests of Jesus we need to stop thinking like kids. Let me illustrate my point.

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.” Kevin then turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”

Unfortunately, Kevin was so selfish that he could not understand that the best option was to be Jesus. In the same way, regarding following Jesus, some of us behave like kids sometimes. Instead of loving Jesus with all our hearts, we love ourselves with all our hearts. Instead of giving, we only think about taking. Instead of carrying about the needs of others, we only care about our own needs.

Christians deny themselves by loving Jesus with all their hearts however, fake Christians love themselves so much that they use Jesus to fulfill their desires. 

Do you love Jesus more than you love yourself? If not, in what ways can you increase your love for Jesus and in what ways can you deny yourself?

Christians are those who love Jesus by unloving themselves but also those who live for Jesus by dying for themselves… 

  1. Die for the world by living for Jesus (v.34b)

In verse 34, Jesus tells that those who want to be his followers need to deny themselves but also take up their crosses. Although, people wear crosses around their necks to adorn themselves nowadays, crosses were instruments of death during Jesus time. An instrument reserved only for criminals, like the electrical chairs used by Americans nowadays.

What did Jesus mean, practically speaking, when he said we need to carry our crosses?

Jesus wanted them to understand basically two things. One, to be a follower of Jesus means to live. To live a life of rejection, suffering and even death but knowing that all these troubles were going to be temporary because, in the end, they would live again with Jesus in Heaven. Two, to be a follower of Jesus means to die. To die for the things of this world such as possessions, power, pleasures, fame but knowing that they are temporary loses because, in the end, they would gain much more in heaven.  

How can I die for this world to live for Jesus in a practical way?

Well, we only have one life to live so let’s not waste it by putting into practice two things.

First, while your feet are on the group keep your eyes to the sky. We don’t belong here but in heaven. In other words, while you are still alive, don’t let the pleasures of this world blind you. Therefore, don’t exchange eternal joy for a few years of pleasures in this world? Put to death what is earthly in you so you can gain real pleasure and joy here and in heaven.

Second, risk is right because it is better to lose your life than to waste it. We are not here on holiday, we have a mission to fulfil. Jesus died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. Therefore, don’t be afraid of anything, including death for Jesus. Not even death can separate us from Christ. On the contrary, Paul says in Philippians 1:21 that, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”. John Piper explains this verse by saying that, “Death is gain because death means more of Christ. And more of Christ is gain because he is better than anything this life can give you”.

Let me share a real story of a practical example of what it means to carry your own cross.

Jim Elliot was an American. He became a Christian at a young age and after university, he became a missionary in Ecuador, South America. He, with a few other young missionaries, wanted to reach a tribe of Indians who lived in a remote region beyond civilization. The tribe was known for its violence so no-one ventured in their territory but they were people for whom Jesus had died to bring them forgiveness and salvation.

Jim Elliot and his four friends thought the best way was to try to make friends with them. They made contact by flying a small aircraft down their river bank. They made contact from their airplane with the tribe by using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts. After several months, the men decided to build a base a short distance from the Indian tribe. There they were approached several times by small groups of Indians and even gave an airplane ride to one curious man. Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the tribe, but then a larger group of Indians arrived who were vicious and they killed Elliot and his four companions on January 8, 1956. After his death, an entry was found in his diary: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep gaining what he cannot lose.”

Real Christians carry their crosses by dying for the things of this world to live with Christ in heaven while fake Christians work hard to gain the things of this world.

Do you believe that Jesus is worth abandoning everything for? Do you believe that Jesus is so good, so satisfying, and so rewarding that we will leave all we have and own an all we are to find fullness in him?                                             

Christians are those who love Jesus by unloving themselves and live for Jesus by dying for the world.

Conclusion

Do you agree with me that there’s something worse than death, and that’s a wasted life? We all, sooner or later, are going to die so make your life count. Spend a few minutes today thinking about what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and then follow Jesus. Think about the consequences of following Jesus in this world and if you are not a Christian yet, don’t wait any longer. I don’t want you to miss this opportunity of following Jesus and wasting your life in vain.

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Why does holiness matters to God?

Why does God want us to be holly

If you had to define holiness for an unbelieving friend, how would you define it? As a child who grew up in a Christian home, I used to think holiness was about keeping some rules from the Bible. However, when I became a teenager, my definition of holiness began to change. At the age of 14, I was so naughty that, one day, my parents, hoping that I could become a holy teenager, decided that I was going to live, for six months, with my uncle, a Baptist minister, in another town.

When you are kicked out of your house at the age of 14 by those who love you, it is time to think more careful about the way you live, right? Well, that’s exacly what I started to do. As soon as I moved to my uncle’s house I began to follow all the rules of the Bible, even though I didn’t understand why the Bible was full of “do’s” and “don’ts”.

During my first two weeks, living with my uncle, I became an angel, a proper holy boy. But everything changed when I made so friends in the town. Things got bad! So bad that I was known as Satan in town. My nickname was certainly a reflection of whon I was becoming like. Even though I moved to a new town and lived with a holy man, I was getting worse. What was wrong with me?

Well, many people told me that I had to be holy but never explained why. People told me what I should and shouldn’t do but never told why. We can only be holy when we understand the reasons why holiness matters to God. Today I am not known as Satan but as a Christian because I understood what it means to be holy.

In this talk I want to look at Leviticus 11:44-45 to give you two reasons why we need to be holy. I don’t want to tell you must do to be holy but rather what it needs to happen in your life before you try do things. So, I hope that you leave this place today transformed. So, why does God want us to be holy?

First, holiness strength our relationship with God. 

  1. Holiness strengthen our relationship with God (verse 44)

In Leviticus 11, from verses 1 till 43, God gives a list of forbidden food to his people. In verse 44, God says that they should restrict eating those food simply because He is holy.[1]

What is the connection between holiness and food? How could this food restriction help God’s people to be holy?

When you invite someone to go out on a date, the most important thing is not the food but the relationship you are about to start with the person invited, right? Therefore, God was not simply giving new rules to be followed by His people, but giving them an opportunity to have a relationship with Him. God wanted his people stop eating out with Satan to start eating out with Him. Food was not the end but a mean to an end. Let me unpack it giving you two examples.

One, in Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect place created by God and enjoyed a perfect relationship with Him there. In this place, they could eat whatever they wanted, with only one restriction. They could not eat the fruit from tree of knowledge of good and evil. In the Garden of Eden, they had perfect meals with the company of a perfect being, God. However, one day, Adam and Eve decided to eat out with Satan and the forbidden fruit was the meal chosen. Having had the forbidden meal with Satan, mankind got separated from God to start a relationship with Satan.

Two, in Matthew 4, during Jesus’ temptation, we see Satan trying to start a relationship with Jesus. After 40 days and 40 nights without food, Jesus was tempted by Satan to change a stone into a loaf of bread. How could that be a temptation? If Jesus had the power to do that, why didn’t he do it? Is it a sin to eat when you are hungry? Not at all! Food was not the problem but the relationship that Satan was trying to build. However, Jesus never wanted to be separated from God. He replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that come from the mouth of God”. Jesus was saying, “I only have a relationship with my Father and I only do what my father asks me to do”.

Sin separates us from God and connects us to Satan. Holiness separates us from Satan and connects us to God.   

How can I be a holy person if Satan is always around, tempting and provoking me?

Before I met my wife, I was part of an unhealthy relationship with a girl. I went through a lot with her until we finally broke up. I then met Aluanna, my wife, at university and we began a relationship. We both spent a lot of our time together eating out. Food was certainly part of our relationship. One day, we went to a restaurant with friends to keep strengthening our relationship. As soon as we began eating and drinking my ex-girlfriend arrived in the place. We tried to pretend she wasn’t there but we couldn’t pretend for a long time. Why? Because she decided to join us. Yes, she sat with us without being invited.

She wasn’t there because of the food or drink. She was there to provoke my future wife and to tempt me to come back to her. What an awkward situation, right? What would you do in our shoes? Well, I don’t what you would do but my wife and I simply ignored her. And as a result, my ex-girlfriend left us alone when she realised that the relationship between Aluanna and I was much stronger than any temptation or provocation.

In a similar way, Satan is like an old girlfriend who hates your new relationship with God. He will tempt and provoke you to break the relationship you now have with God. But when if he realises that your relationship with God is stronger than any temptation or provocation, he leaves you alone.

How is your relationship with God? Are you giving him all your attention or are you sharing it with Satan? Spiritually speaking, are you having meals with Satan or God? What are the sins in your life that separate you from God? What are the godly things that separate you from Satan?

Holiness strength our relationship with God but also strength our faith in God. 

  1. Holiness strengthen our faith in God (verse 45)

In verse 45, God gives us another reason why his people should be holy. He says that they have been rescued from Egypt.

What did he mean by that? What’s the connection between been rescued and holiness?

As soon as Adam and Eve finished their meal with Satan, they realised they had made a huge mistake. Their food was poisoned, they were about to die spiritually and they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. However, in Genesis 12, God calls Abraham and promise to give him a new kind of new Garden of Eden, a place where people could have a relationship with God. Abraham believed in the promise but died without seeing it fulfilled. But that is not all, some of his descendants didn’t see it either. Others even end up in a different land, Egypt, where they worked as slaves for more than 400 years. Would you believe in the fulfilment of this promised after such a long time?

God’s people were about to lose hope in God’s promise but one day, He chose Moses to tell Pharaoh, a kind of king in Egypt, to free more than one million slaves, God’s people. As you might have realised, to free this number of people would result in an economic crisis in Egypt so Pharaoh had no intention to let them go. God then sends plagues to Egypt to change Pharaoh’s mind but God harden Pharaoh’s heart so he wouldn’t be able to grant Moses request. Would you believe in the fulfilment of this promised when everything seems to be getting harder and harder in your life?

After nine attempts, Pharaoh was still convinced that God’s people should remain as his slaves. But God was about to send a plague that was going to change Pharaoh’s mind and soften his heart. Moses then meets Pharaoh and says that he should let God’s people go free, otherwise, at midnight, every Egyptian’s oldest son would die. Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses. God then instructed Moses to tell the people that the only way to escape this plague was to take a perfect lamb, kill it and put the blood the door-posts of their houses so death could pass over them. On the other day, all first born of the Egyptians all died and Pharaoh finally allowed God’s people to go to the promise land.

Why didn’t God fulfil his promise while Abraham was still alive? Why did he take so long to fulfil His promises? Why didn’t God harden Pharaoh’s heart instead of softening it? Why did he choose the hard way? To teach us a lesson… 

God’s promises are always fulfilled at His time, in His way, for His own glory and our spiritual maturity.

Why should I trut Him? But why should I have faith in God if He never gives me what I need?

The Hebrews spent a long time wondering why God was taking so long to fulfil His promises. Some doubt that God would even fulfil his promise. Howerver, in the end, they God was glorified and their faith was much stronger. In the same way, we all get discouraged when life is hard and we keep waiting for God’s help, but we need to keep in mind that God is in control. Our lives can only be what God intends it to be with faith in Him. God is our spiritual father and we are His spiritual children. Our father God wants us to trust Him and rely only on Him. We need to understand that God is working in us while we wait in faith. Let me give you an illustration of what I’m trying to say.

A pastor who I admire said that when his 4-year old son learned how to ride his bike without the training wheels, said, “Dad, I’m doing good on my bike. Now I need a motorcycle.” Okay? The pastor said, “You are four. You do not need a motor. Maybe later. Maybe later.” So, he’s thinking like, “Later today.” “No, much later than that.” And the pastor tried to explain to him, “You’re not ready yet.” So, as you get to know the Father, sometimes you will feel like, “Father, I need this.” And Father says, “not yet”. Trust your Father. Wait. In time, you’ll see that your Dad was right.

What are the promises that God didn’t fulfil in your life yet? Are you ready to see them being fulfilled in God’s way and at His time? Are you willing to glorify God no matter how hard life is for you now?

Conclusion

Holiness is much more than following some rules from the Bible, it’s a life changing process that connects us to God while separates us from Satan. Holiness is about faith in Jesus and a relationship with Him.

If you are a Christians, are you living a holy life? Have you separate all your life from the things which don’t separate you from Jesus? If you are not a Christian yet, why is it so hard for you to separate and distance yourself for the things which brings you to the most important thing you could ever be connect with? Only Jesus can help you to be a holy person. Don’t wait anymore! Repent from your sins and separate yourself from them. Have faith in Jesus and start today a relationship with Him in holiness.

[1] God gave them a specific menu which they could not choose due to many reasons. Let me point two. First certain animals were used by countries around Israel in their pagan worship so God didn’t want his people bringing into their worship system any of those animals associated with paganism. Second, certain kind of animal were unhealthy to be eaten. It is known, nowadays, that pigs can carry viruses and parasites that causes diseases when they are not cooked properly so God was protecting them.
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Why Is Communion So Important?

To understand how important this meal was, we need to do a short Bible overview. Genesis 1-2 tells us that God created us to rule, multiply and enjoy life in the Garden of Eden for His glory. However, in Genesis 3, Eve and Adan sinned and they were kiked out from this perfect place. In Genesis 12, God promises to Abraham to give him decendents who would live in a kind of new Garden of Eden, the promised land. Abraham great-grandson, Joseph, ends up in Egypt, instead of in the promise land, and his people became slaves there for more than 400 years.

 

When people had no more hope in God and His promise, he called Moses and told him to ask Paraoh, a kind of king in Egypt, to free more than one million Hebrews. As you might have realised, to free this number of people would result in a economic crisis in Egypt so Paraoh had no intention to relise his slaves. If that was not enogh, God harden Paraoh’s heart so he wouldn’t be able to grant Moses request. God then sendes plagues to Egypt. After nine attemps, Paraoh was still convinced that God’s people should remain as his slaves. But God was about to send a plage that would change his mind and soften his heart.

 

Moses meets Paraoh and says that unless he let God’s people to go, at midnight, every Egyptian’s oldest son and all male animals that wew born first to their mothers would die. Paraoh didn’t listen to Moses. God then instructed Moses to tell the people that the only way to escape this plague was to take a perfect lamb, kill it and put the blood the door-posts of their houses so death could pass over them. On the other day, all first borns of the Egipicians all died and Paraoh finally allowed God’s people to go to the promisse land.

 

Since then, Jews celebrate Passover as a holy event in which they are reminded the time when God spared their lives from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

 

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What was the most memorable meal you ever had? Can you also remember where you had it, when you had and even who prepared it? Why was it so memorable? Was it the tast? Was it the people who were with you? Let me share with you a story about the most memorable meal I ever had. 

When I was a child, during school holiday, my family used to visit my grandparents who lived by the beach. It was an amazing place to spend the day in the water but also to get to know exotic people. The town was very close to an indigenous tribe who allowed tourists to visit them. I loved to interact with them. One day, I was invited to have a meal with a group of people who lived locally. I always loved food so I couldn’t refuse the invitation. As soon as we started to eat, I realised they were very interested in my opinion regarding the food. They constantly asked me if I was enjoying the meal. The meal was so good that I couldn’t stop eating to answer but just nod my head.

When we all finished, I was asked, one more time, whether I liked the food or not. I then said that it was certainly one of the best meal I ever had, mainly because of the meat. I then asked the cook what kind of meat we had and she asked me to guess. I said, “cow meat”. She replied, “not really! The rest of the meat is still in the fridge, go to the kitchen and find out”. When I opened the fridge, I saw the head of a monkey staring at me.

That was certanlly an unforgettable meal, right? After that day, I learned an important lesson. When it comes to food, we need to understand before proceeding.

The Bible is full of stories involving meals. The Lord’s Supper, also know as Communion, is the most memorable meal in the Bible but many Christians have no idea why. Communion is a meal of a great importance but we need to understand before proceeding. In other words, we need to fully understand it before having it.

In this talk, I would like to look at Mark 14, verses 12-26, to help us to understand why Communion is so important for Christians. My hope is that by the end of it, we all can not only understand its importance but have it with you. Let me share with you the first reason.

  1. Communion points us to God’s old covenamnt with his people (12-16)

Before we look at verses 12 to 26, we need to understand the context of this passage. Mark says, in verses 1 and 2, that the religious leaders had already a plan in place to arrest and kill Jesus. In verses 3 till 9, a woman prepares Jesus’ body for his death, by anointing him with an expenseve kind of perfume. In verses 10 and 11, Judas agrees to betray Jesus promising the religious leaders that he would lead them to Jesus. In Chapter 14, Mark reports a series of remarkable events about Jesus’ final moments on Earth. However, from verses 12 to 16, he reports about the preparation of Jesus last meal, something that doesn’t seem too remarkable.  

Why was the meal so important that Mark had to record it? 

To understand how important this meal was, we need to do a short Bible overview. Genesis 1-2 tells us that God created us to rule, multiply and enjoy life in the Garden of Eden for His glory. However, in Genesis 3, Eve and Adan sinned and they were kiked out from this perfect place. In Genesis 12, God promises to Abraham to give him decendents who would live in a kind of new Garden of Eden, the promised land. Abraham great-grandson, Joseph, ends up in Egypt, instead of in the promise land, and his people became slaves there for more than 400 years.

When people had no more hope in God and His promise, he called Moses and told him to ask Paraoh, a kind of king in Egypt, to free more than one million Hebrews. As you might have realised, to free this number of people would result in a economic crisis in Egypt so Paraoh had no intention to relise his slaves. If that was not enogh, God harden Paraoh’s heart so he wouldn’t be able to grant Moses request. God then sendes plagues to Egypt. After nine attemps, Paraoh was still convinced that God’s people should remain as his slaves. But God was about to send a plage that would change his mind and soften his heart.

Moses meets Paraoh and says that unless he let God’s people to go, at midnight, every Egyptian’s oldest son and all male animals that wew born first to their mothers would die. Paraoh didn’t listen to Moses. God then instructed Moses to tell the people that the only way to escape this plague was to take a perfect lamb, kill it and put the blood the door-posts of their houses so death could pass over them. On the other day, all first borns of the Egipicians all died and Paraoh finally allowed God’s people to go to the promisse land.

Since then, Jews celebrate Passover as a holy event in which they are reminded the time when God spared their lives from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

Communion points us to God’s old covenamnt with his people but also…

  1. Communion points us to God’s new covenamnt with his people (17-26)

From verse 17, Mark continues to report a lot of remarkable things. Jesus says, in verse 18, that one of his disiciples is going to betray him. In verse 30, Jesus says Peter was going to deny him three times before sunrise. But what really calls our attention is how Jesus celebrates the Passover. As we read from verse 22 till 25, we realised that Jesus was not celebrating Passover as the Jews used to celebrate. Jesus shares the bread with them and says that is his body and offered some wine and says that wine is his blood.

Why did Jesus change the way they celebrated the Passover? What was he trying to say?

During the Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus took two symbols associated with Passover, bread and wine, and used them with fresh meaning. Let me expalain it.

Since Adam and Eve sinned, human beings are born with a kind of spiritual virus, called sin, that infect our minds and hearts. This virus turn us into some sort of spiritual zombies. Think about them for a second. Zombies are creatures who seem to be alive but they are dead. They wander aimlessly and are basically controlled by their fleshly desires. They are slaves to their dead state of mind and being.

In the same way, before Christ in our lives, we were controlled by our flesh, by our worldly desires and we were slaves to our own lusts and passions. We couldn’t help but follow all our desires. Not free to do whatever we want, but slaves controlled by what we want. Only with a new heart and mind we can be healed. We needed a heart and mind transplant. Let me illustrate it.

My father in law was someone full of life but one day his doctor told him that both of his kidneys were not working propely. Soon he began his treatment, spending hours every week on a kidney dialysis machine. The man who was full of life and energy, became a depressing person who suffered chronic fatigue and blackouts. People around him could already see that he had lost his smile. They could see him dying before their eyes. Only a transplant could give him life.

Although, that was a sad period in my father in law family, something beautiful happened. Different from may people on the same condition, he didn’t have to be added on a donor’s waiting list to receive another kedney. One of his brothers, decided to save his life by donating a kidney to my father in law. After the transplant, my father in law became a man full of life again.

In very similar way, we were sinners dying in our sins. However, God decided to send a donor to save our lives. He sacrificed himself for us by dying in our place. He sent His only son, Jesus, to save us from hell by paying for our sins, as a sacrifice on the cross. That’s is why we celebrate Communion. Jesus gave us his body and blood as a donor who chooses to lose something important to save someone important. We celebrate Communion to remember what Jesus did for us on the cross.

Communion is a great reminder that points us to God’s old and new covenant with his people.

Conclusion

In the past, we were all slaves of sin just like the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt. The Hebrews needed a saviour who could free them in the same way we need a spiritual saviour who can free us from sin. A lamb and its blood were the mean of salvation for the Hebrews and Jesus body and blood the mean today for our salvation. Physical death pass over the Hebrews in Egypt and spiritual death pass over those saved by Jesus.

Communion is a great reminder of whom we were in the past, sinners heading to hell with Satan, and whom we are now, new creatures heading to Heaven with Christ. We, Christians, were all zombies, dead in sin but now new creatures changed through the sacrifice of a donor who gave us his body and blood for free. We, Christians, were all slaves of sin in need of a saviour who freed us through a sacrifice so powerful that death couldn’t hold.  

By know you might have understood what communion is and how serious it is to take part of it. If you are follower of Jesus search your heart to see how your relationship with Jesus and your brothers and sister in Christ is before taking communion. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I urge you to give your life to him today and join the church family by taking communion, an important and memorable meal.

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What’s wrong with this world?

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Unfortunately, many people have died in an enormous fire at a west London tower block where residents had repeatedly complained about fire safety. Why? Tragedies happen when we ignore warnings. Despite the fact that we live in a city full of safety regulations and warning signs, accidents can still happen when warnings are ignored. The Bible warns us many times so we can avoid spiritual accidents that can kill us for all eternity. How can we avoid them?[1]

In this talk, I would like to look at Mark 9, verses 38-50, to help us to see three warnings and three lessons given by Jesus to his disciples. My hope is that by the end of it, we all can learn what to avoid doing as Christians and most importantly, what things we need to put into practice in order to be spiritually protected. Let’s see what they are.

  1. Avoid working for a tribe by working for Christ (38-41)

Context: Mark tells us that there was a man who he decided to work for Jesus but was not chosen by him. This man probably saw the things that Jesus had done and began to use Jesus’ authority to cast out demons, in other words, he told bad spirits to leave people’s body. John, a disciple, told Jesus that this man was not part of their group, therefore he should be rebuked. However, instead of rebuking the man to stop him, Jesus rebukes John saying, “Do not stop him”.

Question: Why did Jesus say it? Wasn’t John doing the right thing as this man had no authorisation to work for Jesus?

Answer: The answer is in verse 39 and 40. Jesus says that even tough that man was not one of the chosen disciples, he was still doing God’s work. Jesus was making a clear point. He wanted his disciples to understand that anyone who is working for him recognise God’s power and authority in Jesus. However, anyone who sees the work of God in Jesus and instead of celebrating it, rejects it is against Jesus. Let me illustrate it.

Illustration: When I was a child, I only engaged with people from my classroom or my brother. I only spoke with my classmates or my brother. I only played with my classmates or my brother. They were my tribe. One day, during the break time, my brother was playing football when someone started to make fun of him. A guy older, taller and stronger than him. As his big brother, I ran towards the guy to defend my brother. I didn’t do it because I was a courageous and brave boy, but because my brother was part of my family and my classmates, came with me. How could I lose this fight with so many helpers? For my surprise, as soon as the guy started to beat me up, all my classmates and even my brother left me alone. My tribe left me! My luck was a guy from a different class who came from nowhere to separate the fight and save me. My helper was not from my family or from my classroom. In other words, he was from a different tribe. That day I understood that who is not against me is for me. In the same way, anyone who works for Jesus is part of his group. It’s part of the Church. It is part of his big family.

Lesson: So, to work for Christ is a blessing but to work in isolation is a curse.

Application: Those who put their trust in Jesus and understand that he is God who can to Earth to save us from hell by dying on a cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day to give us eternal life in Heaven for free are known as Christians. Therefore, even though we belong to different local churches, all of us, Christians, need to work together for the good of God’s Kingdom instead of working only for our own ministry, local church, denomination, network or theological tribe.

“Tribes must be our home, not our prisons”, says Mark Driscoll. Jesus died not for a specific group of people but for his people, the whole church. He didn’t die for an individual or tribe. Tribalism slows down evangelism. We have a common enemy and a common mission, right? Therefore, let’s fight Satan together, make disciples together and work for Christ together.

Challenging questions: Are you working with other churches for Christ? Are there people working alone in your church?

Link: But how do we work for Jesus? We teach about Christ. Let’s look at verse 42.

  1. Avoid false teaching by teaching about Christ (42)

Context: Jesus clearly makes his point in verses 38-41 by saying that we need to work together for him. However, in verse 42, Jesus warns his disciples of the danger that is to work against him. He says that in the same way an adult is responsible for a child, those who work for Christ are responsible for new Christians. He even says that, it would be better to have a mill-stone hang round a neck and drown into the sea than to make one of his to stumble.

Question: What did Jesus mean by that?

Answer: Jesus was saying that a disciple must be careful about what he/she teaches to others. He wanted his disciples to understand how serious it is to help someone to fall into sin. A millstone was a large and heavy stone with hole in the middle. It had a bar of wood through it and when pulled by a donkey, turned wheat into flour. The punishment paid by someone who teaches something wrong would be like swimming with a millstone hanging aroung his/her neck. In other words, if someone eventually lose faith due to a wrong teaching, the consequence is spiritual death, not only for the learner but teacher as well.

Illustration: Do you remember the tsunami on December 26, 2004 off the west coast of Indonesia? About 230,000 people were killed by that tsunami. Do you remember the pictures of the surge of water and the waves pounding the coastline? Well, a tsunami is an exaggerated picture of what Jesus said, but the point is that you false teachers leave a mass of destruction once they strike, just like wild waves of the sea.

 Lesson: So, to teach about Christ is a blessing but teaching wrongly about him is a curse

Application: Does it mean that we can only teach about Jesus when we become doctors in theology? No, that’s not what the text is saying. I believe that Jesus wanted us to avoid the methods used by false teachers. Let me point two ways false teachers normally wrongly teach others about Jesus.

First, they teach wrongly in order to confuse you. The snake used this method to tempt Eve by saying, “Did God really say it?”. The idea is to make you doubt something that is very clear in the Bible. It confuses you so you end up not trusting the Bible. Second, they teach wrongly in order to manipulate you. The snake used this method as well by saying, “You can be your like God”. They say what you want to hear. It twists the Bible to fit it to the desires of your heart. In both cases, the outcome is the same, sin. They help people to stumble by teaching the Bible in a wrong manner. What irony, right?   

Challenging questions: Are you ready to recognise a false teacher? What are the things you want people to tell you, even though you know it is a lie? What are the things you still don’t understand but never asked a mature Christians to explain for you?

Link: Disciples must not cause young believers to lose their faith. They must not do it by what they teach but must not do it by their example as well. How do we do it? We live in Christ. Let’s look at verse 43-50.

  1. Avoid living in sin by living in Christ (43-50)

Context: Verses 38-41, Jesus warn us how bad it is to work in isolation for him. Verse 42, he warns us about the fearful punishment kept for those who block the spiritual progress of others. Now, from verses 43-50, Jesus warns us about the seriousness of our sins by saying that it would be much better to have parts of our bodies, that lead us into sin, cut off than to end up with the whole body in hell.

Question: Why did he tell his disciples to amputate parts of their bodies? Should we take it literally?

Answer: Jesus did not want his disciples to cut their bodies but instead, he wanted them to know how bad sin is to save their lives from hell, eternal separation from God. Jesus tells his disciples that the bad things that people do are worse than illness. These bad things do not only cause pain and trouble but people can go to hell because of those bad things. Nobody wants to lose part of his/her body but when a person’s hand, eye or foot becomes bad, sometimes a doctor decides to cut it off so that illness does not destroy the whole body. Let me tell you a story to illustrate it.

Illustration: In 2003, a man called Aron Ralston had gone hiking, alone. While he was climbing down a narrow slot in a canyon, a stone rolled, crushing Ralston’s right forearm and pinning it against the wall. For five and a half days, he struggled to get free until he was forced to do the unthinkable. Using a blunt knife from his multi-tool, he began amputating his arm in order to save the rest of his body. In a spiritual way, when sin is not removed from our lives it destroys us for all eternity in hell.

Lesson: So, to live in Christ is a blessing but living wrongly in him is a curse

Application: Sometimes a person says, ‘It does not matter if I do bad things.’ But that person is wrong. These things do matter. Jesus died because of them. He died so that God would forgive people. So, people must not continue to do bad things. The bad things that people do are worse than illness. This is because these bad things do not only cause pain and trouble but also leads us to hell. God does not want this to happen. He wants to forgive people. But God will only help people who change their minds. They must want to change their lives. Jesus said we need to be like salt. Why? Because salt gives flavour to food, making it better and it prevents things going off. In other words, believers in Christ are like salt, making the world a better place to live and preserving it from going further bad than it already is.

Challenging questions: Have you been like salt in your community? What are the things you need to amputate from your life?

Link: We work for Christ, we teach about Christ and we live in Christ.

Conclusion

We are all exposed to many dangers in the world and the most serious is the one concerning our eternity destiny. Hell is eternal separation from God. He is love, peace, mercy, grace and good. Therefore, those who are not in Heaven with Him then, will be able to experience the opposite. That’s why Jesus warns us to work for him, teach about him and live in him. Jesus warns us for the sake of the salvation of many and for our own protection. Is Jesus your saviour? Is he your protection?

[1] How many warning signs do you see per week? Many, right? We live in London and the number warning signs we have here is huge. They are everywhere we go. Mind the gap! Slippery floor! Beware of dogs! No overtaking! No entry! We see them on packs of cigarettes, drinks, medicines. Why do we have so many of them? We live in a city that is filled with danger and warnings help us to be protected. But it is not only in London we see warnings signs. The Bible is also full warnings that can help us to be spiritually protected?

 

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What Easter doesn’t tell you

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What is Easter? Is it about bunnies? Is it the time when kids can eat as many chocolate eggs as they want? Well, even though I love chocolate eggs and bunnies, Easter has absolutely no connection with our modern traditions. So, what is it all about? It is all about Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. But who is Jesus, why do we celebrate his death and why did he rise from the dead? Today I want to answer these three questions in order to explain why we celebrate Easter.

Jesus is known as a good man who cared about the poor, a good teacher who communicated in a simple way difficult teachings and a good healer who helped the blind to see and the paralysed to walk. But good people don’t die on a cross, right? So, why was Jesus crucified?

Many people thought he was a liar or a crazy man who deserves to be killed because he claimed to be the son of God. But if Jesus was really the son of God, wouldn’t he save himself from the cross? Well, not really. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus did not come to be saved but to save us. Let me explain.

God is perfect and Heaven is a place where only perfect people can live in. However, we are not perfect. We all make mistakes, we all lie to one another and our minds are full of bad thoughts, right? In other words, because of our imperfections, we need to live far away from God for all eternity. The name of this separation between God and humankind is hell. We should spend eternity in hell. However, the son of God came to save us from hell by dying on a cross to pay for our mistakes, for our sins. But that was not the end.

Jesus died on a cross but rose from the dead after three days making the resurrection of those who follow Him possible. Because Jesus lives, we can have eternal life in Heaven. Maybe you find difficult to believe in it and I totally understand it. However, there are three reasons why we can all believe that Jesus is still alive.

One, many godly men predicted that Jesus was going to die but rise from the dead. Jesus himself said many times that he would be rejected by his people, die on a cross to pay for our sins and rise from the dead after three days. Two, many people saw, touched and had meals with Jesus after his resurrection. The Bible says that Jesus appeared to more than 500 people who saw him alive after the crucifixion. It wouldn’t be possible to convince so may people to lie, right? Three, many of these people were killed because they kept saying that Jesus rose from the dead, killed for their faith in Christ. I personally wouldn’t die for a lie, would you?

Jesus is God’s son who died on a cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. That is good news, right? That is the gospel of Jesus. That is what Easter is all about. That is the reason why we celebrate Easter. The questions we need to raise now are who Jesus is for you? Is Jesus your saviour or a liar? Do you believe Jesus is still alive or that he is just a dead crazy man?

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God’s gift to the world

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It’s Christmas, a time of the year when people experience different feelings. Do you remember the last time someone gave you a gift during Christmas? What was the feeling you had? If you remember I believed you felt glad and loved. On the other hand, if you cannot remember I assume that Christmas has been a time when you feel the opposite, right?

It doesn’t matter what category you fit into, Christmas is a celebration that should make all of us feel glad and loved by what God has given us rather than what people have given us or not given us. It’s a celebration that can make all of us feel loved and happy forever. But what is the real meaning of Christmas?

I want to share a story with you that explain what Christmas is about. A story recorded in the book of Matthew 1.18-25. It tells the story of Jesus birth, the greatest gift given by God to all of us for all eternity. But why is Jesus the greatest gift given by God to us? Three are the reasons.

Firstly, Jesus was protected as a gift.

Have you ever asked yourself why gifts are normally wrapped? There are two reasons. One, when gifts are not wrapped, we easily find out what the gift is and all the anticipation and surprise disappear. Two, gifts are better protected when they are wrapped, mainly if the present is made of fragile material.

According to verse 18 and 19 Jesus did not come as a strong man but as fragile baby, a gift that was protected by Mary and Joseph. How do we know that?

Imagine a woman at the age of Mary finding out that she is pregnant but not of her fiancé just a few days before her wedding? What some women today would do? I personally know many women who would have aborted rather than facing the responsibility of protecting the child. However, Mary kept the baby safe, even though she could not understand what was going on.

Joseph also was like a wrap in Jesus life. According to the law of his time, if a man found something shameful about his wife, he would have the right to leave her and she would probably be stoned to death. But he did not want to expose her to public disgrace and have Jesus killed in his mom womb.

What would you do to protect Jesus, God’s gift to the world? Would you be able to defend him? Many today confess the name of Jesus but they abandon him as soon as they face any kind of difficulty.

Secondly, Jesus was promised as a gift.

A long time ago my family decided to go to a shopping centre, during Christmas. At that time my daughter was five years old. As soon as we reached the main entrance she saw Santa Claus asking kids what they wanted for Christmas.

We patiently waited in a queue, for 15 minutes so she could make him a request. As soon as she made her request I asked her, “What did you ask him for Christmas”? She then pointed to a doll in a shop window and said, “I asked him that doll, but I know you are the one who buys it every year, so could you buy it now dad?”

Why did not she believe in the promised of Santa Claus? How can a five-year child doubt the promise of an old man? Maybe she already knew that human beings do not keep their promises very often.

God’s gift to this world was different. He was promised not by Santa, but by God through many of his prophets, including Isaiah who said, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”.

The word Immanuel means God with us. God did not only promised but actually fulfilled it among us. In other words, God was the giver, sender and the gift in itself.

Do you believe in Jesus was God among us? Someone who was promised by God’s prophets many years before his birth? Or do you prefer to believe in human beings the lies?

Thirdly, Jesus was expected as a gift.

Let me share a story with you. When I was a child I used to visit my grandparents who lived by the beach. As I didn’t know how to swim I always played very near the edge of the beach. But one day I saw a beautiful girl swimming far from where I was. In order to impress her I tried to swim towards her but I end up drowning. For a few seconds, the only thing I expected was the possibility of being saved.  I was eventually rescued by a coast guard. The girl was not the gift that I expected the coast guard was the one.

We live in a world full of dangerous attractions. Sin is something that maybe seems beautiful and pleasant however it kills us all. The Bible says that we are all sinners who deserve eternal death, hell. We are all in need of a saviour.

Joseph, in verse 25, named the baby Jesus, which means God saves. Jesus was expected by his parents as one who would rescue us from sin. He was a gift sent by God to save us from hell.

Is Jesus your saviour today? Or are you waiting for his second coming in the future? If that is your case let me tell you something. Jesus was born as a saviour in the past but he will come back as a judge in the future. There is no reason to expect his future second coming if you don’t have him as a saviour today.

Conclusion

Jesus is surely God’s greatest gift to this world. There is no reason to reject a present like Jesus. Is Jesus the gift you want for Christmas? If is that what you want say, I am sorry God for rejecting your gift for such a long time, please help me to put my trust and faith in you this Christmas and thank you for sending us your son Jesus Christ to save us.

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Living water in a dying land

Living water in a dying land

The national census says Christianity is the major religion in the UK. Politicians, like David Cameron, say that Britain is a Christian country. The queen Elizabeth II said recently that Jesus is the king she serves. It is tempting to believe that we live in a city where Christianity is alive and fulfilling its mission, right?

Well, in reality, believe it or not, Christianity in London is in decline. Even though 48% of the population identify themselves as Christians, less than 10% still attends church. According to some specialists, more than one church a week could close to worshipers in the next few years. It is possible that churches can be vanished from the UK in the future if you do not do something very quick. It is time to get to work. It is time to bring life to this dying land. Let me explain what I am trying to say.

Do you know what a dam is? It is basically a barrier built across a river to store water for when is most needed. Besides the positive effect of it, when water is over accumulated it can prevent a river to flow water to other areas in its course. The result is that nothing can grow or live in these areas due the lack of water.

 Our local churches are like spiritual dams. We can positively enjoy Jesus presence among ourselves but we cannot have him only for ourselves. We need to allow God’s “living water” to flow to the dying land of London. We need to tell people about Jesus. But how can our churches do it?

In this talk, I would like to look at John chapter 4, verses 1-26, in order to show you that the many people will listen to the gospel in the UK if we simply break down the three barriers that Jesus broke. Let us see what they are and how to break them.

  1. Break the territorial barrier through a missional approach

 In John 4:1-4, the author says that Jesus, in order to avoid friction with the Jewish religious leaders, decided to leave Judea in the south of Israel and head north, to Galilee, in the north. Samaria was in the middle of these two regions. However, strict Jews avoided passing through Samaria due a great hatred between Samaritans and Jews. They would instead go east, crossing the Jordan River. Why did Jesus choose to go through Samaria even though it was not a natural route taken by the Jews? Wasn’t Jesus aware of it?

Of course, Jesus was aware of it. Actually, John says, in verse 4, that Jesus was not there by accident, but that he “had to go through Samaria”. Whenever John uses this verb “have”, it involves God’s will and plan. Jesus had a heavenly mission to accomplish there. He had to meet the Samaritan woman and her people in order to share the good news with them. But how did he do it? He broke the territorial barrier. What do I mean by that?

The territorial barrier, are places we do not want to go to share the gospel. So instead of going to these mission fields, we send out a missionary to go or invite people to come to our local churches. I am not saying that we should not do these things. That is not my point. My point here is that we should not rely on others to do what Jesus commands us to do. So what is the right approach?

We need to break this barrier through a missional approach. In Mathew 28:19, for instance, Jesus tells his disciples to “go” but this word should be translated “as you go”, referring to the day-to-day activities we all engage in life. We need to meet nonbelievers where they are, in the context of everyday life. We are all missionaries in this world and our mission field is wherever we put our feet. I know it is hard to do it in some places, but it is not an impossible mission.

When I went to my previous barber shop for the first time I was decided to have that place as my mission field. So every single time I had my hair cut there, the gospel was shared in that place. Just before, I moved, from Brazil to London, my barber invited me to meet his family and share the gospel with them during work hours. That was a possible and reward mission.

Have you been sharing the gospel in places where you do not want to? If so, you are ready to break the second barrier.

  1. Break the social barrier through a multicultural approach

From 5-10, John sets the scene for this narrative by saying that at midday, Jesus tired from the journey sits by the well of Jacob and began to talk to a Samaritan woman. But this conversation would never happen due four social barriers. Let us see what they are.

One, there was a racial irreconciliation between Jews and Samaritans. That is why she said, in verse 9, “How can you a Jew ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” Two, there was a gender issue. A man would not talk to a woman in public. According to some scholars, religious Jews even used to close their eyes whenever women were walking in the street. Three, there was a religious matter between Jews and Samaritans. We can clearly see it in verse 20 when she asks Jesus about the correct place where to worship. Four, there was a moral barrier. She had been married five times and was living with a mam she did not get married with. Her reputation among her own people was not good at all. Maybe that is the reason why she was drawing water alone at 12 rather than with the other woman in the morning.

Why did Jesus choose to engage with the Samaritan woman even though it was socially unacceptable for a male Jew to do so? Wasn’t Jesus aware of these four social barriers?

Jesus was aware of it all but he ignored the racial, gender, religious and moral differences on purpose. He wanted to tell her the good news and for that to happen, he had to break the barrier that divided them. How did Jesus do that? He broke the social barrier.

People tend to share the gospel only with those who look like them. The issue is that we can relate to people who look like us, but we can never forget that Jesus commands us to make disciples of all cultures. How can we do it?

We can do it through a multicultural approach. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands us to reach the “nations”, a word that could also be translated as “people groups”. In other words, people groups made in God’s image, just like us. People groups separated from God because of sin, just like us. People groups who need to be reconciled to God through Jesus, just like all of us, Christians who were reconciled one day.

There are people from all kinds of backgrounds in England. Just in London, foreign-born people constituted 37% of London’s population, more than three million people. So let us keep in mind that we serve a global God with a global mission in the global city of London.

You might not be able to share the good news with someone different from you in another nation but surely you can do it at your doorstep, right? If so, you are ready to break the third barrier.

  1. Break the spiritual barrier through a gospel-centred approach

From verse 10, Jesus began to use figurative expressions such as, “the gift of God” and “the living water”. We can assume that Jesus was talking about the same subject as in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John chapter three. He wanted both, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, to know that he was the Christ. But she did not understand what Jesus meant, taking everything he said literally. That explains why she asked him for the “free living water”, in verse 15. But Jesus changes the subject abruptly by pointing the woman’s sin. Why would he do something so politically incorrect?

Jesus moved the conversation in order to challenge her. He needed to expose her spiritual condition otherwise; she would not make the right connection. He had to tell her that she was a sinner, by revealing her past and present sins, to break the spiritual barrier.

The spiritual barrier, are the subjects we do not want to talk about when sharing the gospel. So people tell others about God’s love for the world but do not explain why and how God loved the world. They present only part of the gospel, the easy one. We need to present the good news with the same boldness and compaction that Jesus had for the Samaritan woman. But how do we do it?

We can do it through a gospel-centred approach. Jesus, in Matthew 28:19-20, commands us to teach everything he has taught. We cannot hide anything, including the bad news. We need to use God’s Word to show graciously that we are all sinners who deserve eternal death, but that God can forgive us and give us eternal life through Christ. We need to confront sinners by giving then the bad news in order to present the good news. Let me illustrate what I am trying to say.

Supposed you are a doctor and one of your patients need to start a cancer treatment urgently. Would your patient accept to go through a treatment just because you told him that you care for him? I do not think so. What is the point of going through a treatment without a reason for it? On the other hand, if you tell your patient that he needs to start a treatment due his serious health condition, I am pretty sure he would not say no.

What is the point of telling people that Jesus can save them if they do not understand why they need to be saved? It is time, to be honest with those who are heading towards hell.

 Conclusion

I want to conclude with two challenges. The first one is for those who do not know Jesus. In this passage, Jesus explained the difference between physical and the spiritual water. One helps our bodies when we get thirsty. But it only gives us temporary satisfaction. The other helps our thirsty spirit. But the water that Jesus offers gives us permanent satisfaction. In other words, Jesus offers for free eternal life in Heaven. If you haven’t, drink the living water by putting your trust in Jesus, Would you like to try this water now?

The second challenge is for my brothers and sister in Christ, missionaries in this world. Let us go to places where we normally would go. Let us relate to people, we normally would not relate to. Let us share the true gospel with people without hiding why the good news is so good. Let us break the territorial, social and spiritual barriers that hold the living water that this dry and dying land need so much.

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