The “BIG Story” [v143]


The “BIG Story”

Everyone likes a good story—that’s why movies are so popular, and the ‘industry’ is growing by leaps and bounds because of the new ‘distribution channel’ called the Internet. It is giving many ‘independent’ filmmakers that would not have ever had a chance in Hollywood, to create the stories they have ‘bound up’ inside them, and have many people watch and comment on them—potentially ‘affecting’ tens of millions of people.

[ Here’s a couple of video “awards” sites with some of the best work of ‘independent’ producers:

Vimeo’s 2010 Video Awards:

Top 10 viral ads of all time: ].

In particular, I think I can say that all of us like a story about a ‘hero’—characters like Hercules, King Arthur, Batman, James Bond, Luke Skywalker, and Indiana Jones. I think that we all, deep down in our ‘souls’, want good to prevail and to ‘triumph’ over evil. We all are looking for that ‘hope’, and we want to ‘be’ like our hero—and we can!

Every one of us has a life—and individual ‘story’ that we are ‘writing’ right now, that intersects with many others and their ‘stories’.

Most of the time, most of us are only looking at the things we are involved with ‘in this moment’—but there’s always a ‘bigger picture’ playing out around us. Kids usually only think about what they want right now, whether or not it’s ‘fun’—whereas their parents take a longer-term view, trying to prepare their children to be successful adults (and adults also have to do that for themselves, so they will have a successful ‘retirement’!).

Well, I’d like to suggest that we all are a part of a ‘bigger story’, one that has been going on since the dawn of creation. It’s the really “BIG STORY” about how God created the universe, the Earth, and everyone that has ever been. But more importantly, the “BIG Story” is about how He has ‘revealed’ Himself to us, and has offered us a ‘relationship’ with Him—and He invites every one of us to find their ‘place’ in His big story, so that our individual stories can have as much meaning and impact as possible.

My church, Faith Covenant, has just finished a 14-week Sermon Series entitled, “The BIG Story,” that traversed the entire span of the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—giving us a sense of the ‘breadth’ of Scripture, an understanding of some of the prominent characters, and how the two “testaments” are ‘connected’ with each another. Most of all, it presented God’s character, qualities, and promises, so all of us can have a ‘hope’ to be with Him for eternity!

[ Here’s some excerpts from, “Know Your Bible,” the supplemental book we were given that provides brief summaries of all 66 books of the Bible (it’s only 95 pages long): ].

[A ‘fun’ listing of the Books of the Bible, scored to ApologetiX’s “La Bible” song, a parody of Los Lobos’s “La Bamba” song (2:15)]:

[ Note on authorship: Most of the following text presented will be word-for-word excerpts (unless noted) from Pastor Ken Larson’s and Pastor Dennis Carlson’s sermons at Faith Covenant ].

GOD “CREATES” [Week 1]
(Genesis 1 – Creation)

– So, where does the “big story” begin? It has its start with creation. The Bible begins by saying, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—an all-encompassing phrase that includes the stars and galaxies, sun and moon, the earth, and all life—plant, animal, and human—and God has left ‘evidence’ of His presence in the created order for all to see.
[Slideshow of creation images put to Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” song (2:41)].

– Some very intelligent people have concluded that the world had an accidental beginning, and that all life forms evolved over the course of millions of years. When one considers the number of factors that had to be present for complex organisms to live and reproduce, the mathematical odds of them all developing simultaneously at just the right place in the galaxy is so remote as to be impossible.
[Clips take from “Privileged Planet” produced by “Illustra Media” (4:37)].

– What we are talking about here is “worldview”—how we see the very basic nature of life, and what are the implications of that view? Every philosophy of life has to answer basic questions, and they revolve around three elements: origin; purpose; and destiny. Some of the things we all want to know are:

– Where did we come from?
– Why are we here? How are we to live?
– Is there such a thing as “morality”—right and wrong?
– Something is ‘wrong’ with our world—what is it?
– Is history ‘headed’ anywhere?
– What happens when we die?

– The Biblical view of this “big story” is that our Creator has provided a solution to our penchant for selfishness and evil that focuses on the ‘work’ of His Son, Jesus. This story assures that history is ‘aimed’, that it’s headed somewhere, and that at some point in the future, God will right every wrong, wipe out every disease, and usher in an eternity of joy.

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “REDEEMS” [Week 2]
(Genesis 3 – The “Fall”)

– The “piece de resistance,” the culmination of God’s creation, was that of human beings—which occurred on Day Six of creation’s story, at the end of Genesis.
– There are at least five ‘truths’ that guide our whole understanding of the world and “social order”:
– Human beings were created in the “image” of God
– Man and women were created to be “complimentary” in God’s good social order
– Marriage is between one man and one women in God’s good design
– Work is good
– We need a day of rest—the Sabbath—each week

– Some how we need to come to terms with the mystery of “free will” in this narrative, and in our own human experience. So then, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if God had not given us free will to make bad choices? Of course not! No one would want to be robbed of our human dignity and choice in that way. Similarly, true love is not real unless it is given and returned freely between two people.

– So, we obviously want this gift of free will, but we’re pretty quick to ‘blame’ God for giving it to us when we mess up—as did Adam and Eve in the Garden when they ‘messed up’.
[Slideshow of Jane Ray’s book, “Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden,” scored to ApologetiX’s song “It’s Not Eden,” a parody of Five For Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” song (3:40)].

– The ‘Reality’ of Sin: Examples are plentiful in the Sunday paper—“Charges filed in cop death”; “Dapper thief hits Troy bank”; DNA helps cold case squad solve 1987 Detroit murder”; and even ‘good things’ are not left untainted: “Detroit Symphony strife continues.”

– There’s clear evidence that our current ‘voyeuristic’ society does not take sin seriously: September, 8, 2010 MSN article titled, “Seven Deadly Sins” used these for examples—Lust: Celebrity cheaters; Pride: Sports stars with major confidence and game; Envy: Cool cars and celebrity homes; Sloth: Famous for doing wrong; Wrath: Celebrity revenge; Greed: Wall Street and CEO’s; Gluttony: Chocolate clothing and most expensive burgers.

– The ‘Anatomy’ of Sin: Sin generally ‘looks’ pretty good, even pretty ‘reasonable’. Often it begins with something good in God’s given order, but then Satan, in his sly designs, ‘twists’ it to negative ends in our lives, and very often in the lives of others, too—just as he did with Eve when he dangled the ‘forbidden fruit’ in front of her and said that it would make her like God.

– The ‘Consequences’ of Sin: With broken relationships come the terrible tandem of ‘shame’ and ‘blame’—which Adam and Eve tried to do when God came a ‘calling’—and the ultimate consequence was the banishment from the perfect Garden of Eden, and it meant physical death.

– The ‘Remedy’ for Sin: Sin must be ‘dealt with’, and Jews do so, to this day, on “Yom Kippur,” the Day of Atonement, to restore their relationship with God. A ‘perfect’ little lamb, a “scapegoat,” is used to symbolically ‘lay’ the sins of the people onto, and then send it into the wilderness far away from them.

– As the “BIG Story” unfolds, it is clear that the blood of sheep and goats might have been a short-term way to deal with sin, but they could never truly take away the sins of the people. God had a plan of redemption from the beginning—through His Son, Jesus Christ.

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “CALLS” [Week 3]
(Genesis 12 – “Covenant”)

– God is continually ‘calling’ us, attempting to get through to us. He is, by nature, an initiator (creating everything; reestablishing a relationship with Adam and Eve).

– God is always calling to us in big and small ways, He uses a variety of ‘means’ to catch our attention. He ‘broadcasts’ His presence and power through nature; He has left us a written ‘record’ of his actions in the Bible; and He ‘speaks’ to us through the circumstances of our lives and the people around us. (Are you listening?). He does this on three ‘levels’: Calling; Promising; and with a Covenant.

– When God “called” Abraham, He asked him to strike out for a new territory—meaning Abraham was to give up the sources of his personal identity: place; community; and family. It also meant forsaking worship of the gods he grew up with. This was no minor request. God asked Abraham to throw his lot in completely with Him, to leave and not look back.

– God asked Abraham to take a risk, but it was one that offered unparalleled blessing. God “promised” to:

– Make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants
– His descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the skies
– He and his family would be blessed and protected
– A homeland for all time
– Eventually, the whole world would be blessed through his family line

– God’s pledge of faithfulness is ‘secured’ for us by way of a “covenant.” The covenant with Moses defined how the community of God’s people should live with each other, and how to worship Him. The covenant with David was about a descendant of his always sitting on the throne of Israel. In making these covenants, God voluntarily ‘bound’ Himself to His word, and clearly stated what He would do.
[Clip from the movie “Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade” (6:15)].

– Faith in what God has said is the key for us. Just like the book Indian Jones’ father made for him, we have a book put together that details God’s call, promises, and covenant—and the record of how He stood by His word at every turn for those who followed Him.

– Are you giving yourself space to ‘hear’ God? Are your spiritual ‘antennae’ extended to pick up His messages?

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “RESCUES” [Week 4]
(Exodus 12 – Passover)

– Just about everyone has heard the story of God parting the waters of the Red Sea so that the people of Israel could leave behind the slavery in Egypt, and cross over to safety and freedom. All this happened after God had to ‘coerce’ Pharaoh’s compliance by sending 10 plagues.

– The last plague was traumatic: every firstborn male, human and animal, in every house died—even in Pharaoh’s palace. But, among the Israelites who painted the lamb’s blood on the doorframes of their homes, there was no death. Finally, Pharaoh told Moses to take the people and leave.
[Clip from the movie, “Moses,” produced by “The Bible Collection” (6:18)].

– Like the Egyptians, we’re surrounded by ‘gods’ but with one important difference—we think we control ‘them’. We believe that we’re ‘in charge’ because we have so many choices, but the truth is that, just like our ancient counterparts, we are the ones who are controlled.

– The truth is, we need to be ‘rescued’ every bit as much as the Israelites. The first Passover, which freed Israel from slavery was a picture, a ‘foreshadowing’, of a much larger event that took place 1,500 years later. The Israelites were rescued by the blood of an innocent, sacrificial lamb. We are rescued when we claim the blood of a different ‘lamb’—the one named Jesus. Through faith in Him, we can take a path to freedom, purpose, and joy.

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

(Joshua 3 – Crossing the Jordan River)

– God wants to know if you ‘trust’ Him—completely thrown your ‘lot’ in with Him. He also tested Joshua and the Israelites to determine if they trusted God to provide for them in the ‘face’ of huge odds against them—crossing the Jordan River as the initial step to conquering the land He was going to ‘give’ them.

– Crossing the Jordan was not going to be easy—it was at flood stage, and the rapidly flowing water would drown most that would venture in. But God told Joshua that, if the priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, would go into the water first, He would cut off the flow of the stream until all crossed.
[Clips from volume 1 of “That The World May Know” series produced by “Focus on the Family” and directed by “Ray Vander Laan” (6:17)].

– The challenge of the crossing was a sign. It was a sign for the Canaanites who lived in Jericho that their god of water, sea, and storm, Baal, was not ‘strong’ enough to keep them safe from the Israelites. It was a sign for Joshua that now he knew that God would be with him just as He promised. It also confirmed Joshua as the Israelites’ leader, and tangible proof that the God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, would enable them to conquer Canaan and make it their own.

– God promised to provide for His people, but they had to take a ‘step of faith’ to see His power unleashed.

– For all of us, there is a ‘Jordan’ to cross, and to get to the ‘other side’ we have to go “all in.”

– So, what’s your “Jordan River”? Where is God calling you to trust Him more? How will you respond?

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “BLESSES” [Week 6]
(2 Samuel 7 – “Davidic Covenant”)

– We find King David with a dilemma, and a desire. He looked at his surroundings—he was king; his people were at peace; and he lived in a really nice palace. He knew that he was enormously blessed. By contrast, the symbol of God’s presence, the Ark of the Covenant, was kept in a tent. It just didn’t feel right to him, so he decided to build a great temple to honor God, who had so graciously blessed him.

– It seemed to David that this was the time and place for him to do this. They weren’t ‘worrying’ about just surviving as a nation—things were ‘perfect’ to do this.

– That very night the Lord came to the prophet Nathan and gave him a message for David. God recognized the genuine desire for David to honor Him, but this was not to be his job. The Lord wanted Nathan to tell David that He had never lived in nor had He asked for a grand temple. Then came the most astounding promise of all: God would establish a dynasty from David’s family that would last forever—and one of his descendents would finally build a great temple to honor and glorify the God of Israel.
[Clip from the movie, “David,” produced by “The Bible Collection” (4:08)].

– King David could have chosen to sulk or pout when he found out that God didn’t want him to build a temple—but he didn’t. All David could do was to be even more amazed at God’s generosity to him. He was ‘blown away’ when he realized that God was making a ‘covenant’ with him—just as He had with Abraham and Moses. He would not be just a king in a line of many, but the first of a lasting dynasty. His name would forever be associated with Israel and her God.

– David was blessed beyond imagining—how about you? Here in the U.S. most all could mention basic necessities like food and clothing as ‘blessings’. Others could add transportation, health, and the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution (being governed by a system of laws and not the whim of a dictator).

– Followers of Jesus can include more ‘blessings’: the forgiveness of their sins, the assurance of Heaven, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

– Whatever blessings God bestows on us, they are always a matter of grace—we don’t deserve them [ed. It has been said that grace is unmerited favor, or “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” It has also been compared to “mercy”: Mercy is not receiving what we deserve (death for our sins), whereas Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve (Heaven/eternal life with God)].

– When things are difficult and it seems the Lord is ‘absent’, be patient and give your faith a chance to mature [ed. It took over 40 years for Moses!]. Develop an ‘attitude of gratitude’ and you will come to recognize that God is at work all ‘around’ you, all the time!

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

(Isaiah 40 – Messianic Promise)

– Obviously, the real issue is not the ‘promising’—promising is easy to do. It’s in keeping the promises where the real challenge is found—and again, this is where God has always been faithful.

– Isaiah is a prophet—one who ‘speaks’ for God—and the prophet’s role can be summarized by the dual tasks of “telling forth,” and “forth telling.”

– In the first role, “telling forth,” Isaiah is often found both declaring the righteous demands of God, and how far God’s people have fallen short of that ‘mark’. But, when Isaiah switches to “foretelling,” he tells of a hope, a comfort, and a promise of ‘restoration’ that will the focus of the coming Messiah. This dichotomy was wonderfully captured by Handel in his “Messiah” oratorio.
[Typographic animation of the Isaiah verses from Handel’s “Messiah” created by Mark Besh (5:46)].

– God has promised that He will never leave or forsake us, and that He is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” He promises that if we open the ‘door’, He will come into our lives and ‘sit’ down at the table with us in the most personal of ways—like two best friends sharing a meal together.

– God has always fulfilled His promises. He made a way in the wilderness for His people to return to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. Five hundred years later, he fulfilled all of His prophetic promises in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ. God will also be with you thru any circumstance you are experiencing today, and fulfill His promises to you in the future.

– God’s Old Testament PROMISES + His New Testament FULFILLMENT = Salvation thru Jesus the Messiah

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

(John 1 – John the Baptist)

– Throughout the pages of the Old Testament, there’s been a sense of expectation—of something coming. Through multiple ‘voices’, God had promised a time was coming when He would be seen and experienced in a brand new way. This era began, after 400 years of prophet ‘silence’, with the appearance of a man who lived separate from society, and delivered a powerful message of both warning and hope. His name was John the Baptist.

– John was really the last of the prophets in the Old Testament ‘mode’. He was both like and unlike his predecessors: He was commissioned by God, and received his message directly from God; He came from outside the established institutions of power and influence; His message was aimed at peoples ‘hearts’, and intended to evoke a change in how people lived. The difference was that he talked about what God would do in the future—and there was an urgency about his message.
[Clip from movie, “Jesus of Nazareth,” directed by “Franco Zeffirelli” (1:38)].

– God was about to do something the likes of which no one had ever seen, and the leaders of Israel—who should have been the most eager because of their exposure to the Scriptures, and the most ‘in tune’ with God—were ‘frozen inside’. They were depending on their positions and presumed ‘holiness’ when, in fact, those were exactly what were in their way. So, John the Baptist spoke words that were meant to ‘cut the legs’ out from under them, so they would see their true condition, turn to God, and open up their ‘hearts’.

– John spoke of “repentance”—to change one’s thinking. Biblical repentance includes five elements:

– A reckoning with your past
– A change of mind
– Contrition of your ‘heart’
– Change of conduct
– Turning over ‘control’ of your life to God
[Clip from movie, “Jesus of Nazareth,” directed by “Franco Zeffirelli” (3:45)].

– John had to get the people ready for a new ‘movement’ of God, so he invited the Israelites to examine themselves and open up their ‘hearts’ toward God. We all must do the same—and there’s no telling what Jesus may do in and through you!

– What do you think Jesus has in mind for you in the next year? If you knew exactly what He wanted you to do, would you be willing to do so? [ed. Even go to “________” as a missionary?]. Is there something hold you back?

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “TEACHES” [Week 9]
(Matthew 5 – “Beatitudes”)

– Of the great ‘teachers’ who have even lived, on stands at the top of the heap—Jesus of Nazareth. Even the many people who don’t consider themselves His followers, they still recognize how profound were His words.

– Jesus’ single longest teaching is called “The Sermon the Mount” (commonly called the “Beatitudes”)—and it took place at the beginning of his public ministry, when His popularity was soaring.

– Much of what Jesus taught was not, strictly speaking, “new.” Yet, the way He put things together, and how He drew out the deeper meanings of the Old Testament stories and teachings left people astounded.
[Clip from movie, “Jesus of Nazareth,” directed by “Franco Zeffirelli” (2:41)].

– In fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount turns upside down the values and practices of every human culture. Jesus points His followers to a way of life that is challenging and difficult—it’s a different kind of wisdom.

– A few examples: Don’t let your anger ‘simmer’; If insulted, don’t retaliate; Love your enemies—pray for them; Make sure money doesn’t become your ‘god’; Be careful about judging others—you may not have all the info; Build a strong foundation on God’s truth.

– If you really grasp what Jesus is saying in the ‘sermon’, it may seem impossible and impractical. After all, who among us can avoid all bit of selfishness, never use a curse word, and be loving, prayerful, and generous in every situation? The answer is—none of us!

– If that discourages you, let me offer a word of hope. I believe Jesus was very intentional in what He said and how He said it, because He knew that His message would ‘drive’ us in three directions:

– To the ‘cross’, where we find God’s grace and forgiveness

– Our need for the Holy Spirit who lives inside each believer, and is an endless source of ‘power’ and creativity

– Underscore our need for one another—to help us live a conspicuously Christ-like life, and encourage us when we’re ‘down’, and pick us up when we fail

– When we are depending on Jesus, open to the Holy Spirit, and connected to one another, then we can become what Jesus said we are—“the salt of the earth…and the light of the world.” Salt is a preservative, and light chases away the ‘darkness’ and exposes what is really there. Being “salt” and “light” in your ‘world’ is putting the Beatitudes into action.

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “LOVES” [Week 10]
(Luke 10 – “Good Samaritan”)

– There are people of non-Christian religious persuasions and those with no faith at all who demonstrate compassion. It’s also true that if you look down the ‘corridors’ of history, you will find that it’s the followers of Jesus who have done more to feed the hungry, heal the sick, educate the ignorant, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless, and welcome the stranger than any other group. The active demonstration of compassion and mercy is at the center of “The BIG Story.”

– A “lawyer” (expert in matters pertaining to the Jewish legal code) asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Of many other things Jesus mentioned to this man, He finally said that this man needed to love God and love his neighbor. The man then asked, “And who is my neighbor?”

– If we asked the average person on the street to identify their neighbor, they might name the people who live around them, acquaintances at work, family members, or people they go to church with—and that’s exactly how the “lawyer” would have defined his neighbors—limiting his ‘liability’ to whom he would have to love.

– Jesus then tells a story about three men as they approach a men left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The first, a “priest,” passes by, then a “Levite” (part of the religious hierarchy) does the same. But the “Samaritan” (despised by the Jews) stops, dresses the man’s wounds, and takes him to an inn—and pays for his care out of his own pocket. The Samaritan looked beyond ‘labels’ and barriers to see a human being in need.
[Shortened version of “Samaritan” video produced by “Modern Parables” (3:59)].

– This parable has a very wide scope. In the application of love it draws no distinctions beyond need. All are candidates. Our tendency sometimes is to lower our ‘liability’ for loving others. We find reasons to not get involved with people—it might be uncomfortable, costly, or ‘taxing’.

– It is ‘costly’ to love. It is risky. There are no guarantees as to what it will involve or what the results will be. But, love is not something we must disperse in minute quantities as if the supply will diminish. The Samaritan loved lavishly, and so should we.

– “The BIG Story” that we’ve talked about is a story of love. Love evident in creation. Love demonstrated in guidance, protection, and leadership. Love brought God’s Son to earth as one of us. The love shown to us by a merciful God is what we’re called to extend to a world in need. Jesus’ words are simple, “Go and do likewise.”

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “SAVES” [Week 11]
(John 19/20 – Crucifixion/Resurrection)

– There are lots of people who have ignored the “free gift” that God has offered to anyone willing to accept it. This gift is right at the heart of “The BIG Story.” What is it? It is a different kind of life, a new quality of life that comes only through faith in His Son, Jesus. You see, God saved us by His grace, and we can’t “take credit” for it—it’s a gift. This is quite amazing especially when you realize that, for us to receive this gift, someone had to die.

– Christ’s death was not an accident or a tragedy, but a part of God’s plan. Why did it happen? It was necessitated by the fact that a holy God has to take a stance against the disobedience of people who most often choose their own way.
[“From The Heart” parody video produced by “Faith Living Church” (2:30)].

– We may laugh at the antics of the chess player in the video, who decided he was going to give himself an advantage by making up his own rules. It just “felt right” to him, regardless of how it impacted someone else. Playing our own ‘chess game’ is exactly what’s been going on since the Garden of Eden—when Adam and Eve decided to “become like God” and live on their own terms, rather than living within God’s parameters. So, the ‘pattern’ was set.

– God gave people broad, expansive guidelines by which to live their lives. He afforded them all kinds of opportunity to live and form relationships, and to be creative and explore the words of the world. The only things He prohibited were the actions that hurt us or others. But that’s exactly what we do! We decide that we’ll go our own way, make up our own rules, and the results have been obvious. God’s judgment on our independence, on our SIN, is death and separation. So, someone had to make a ‘way’ for people to find forgiveness, so that the broken relationship between us and God could be repaired. That “someone” was Jesus—Who gave His life on our behalf and in our ‘place’ on the cross, so that all our sins could be wiped away in the ‘flood’ of God’s forgiveness. So, Jesus died ‘for’ us, and ‘because’ of us!
[Clip from “The Gospel of John,” produced by “The Visual Bible” (3:29)].

– Christ died on the cross for us, for all the things that would separate us from God. He was buried, but on the third day God raised Him from the dead. His resurrection was God’s way of vindicating everything Christ did and said. It means that His teachings are true. It assures us that His sacrifice was sufficient to secure our forgiveness. It tells us that this is the greatest example of love we’ll ever know! It promises us that the One who gave Himself for us will never abandon us—and the empty tomb proclaims that the same power which raised Jesus from the dead, flows freely into the lives of those who know and trust Him right now!

– The ‘gift’ God offers is a life of freedom and vitality—and it comes to us because of the cross and the empty tomb. Will you receive it?

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “EMPOWERS” [Week 12]
(Acts 2 – Pentecost)

– The wind is a powerful force when harnessed and channeled for the benefit of humankind. With the wind, the ancient mariners explored the world, and immigrants came to our young nation from overseas in sailing ships. Farmers have used wind to pump water and grind their grain, and today we are seeing wind turbines being used to power our homes.

– In the Bible, there is a “mighty rushing wind” that is referred to in the weeks just after Jesus’ resurrection—and it is referring to the Holy Spirit of God. After He came upon the disciples on the day of “Pentecost,” the disciples were transformed from a cowardly, largely uneducated rag-tag band of followers of Jesus to be at the vanguard of the largest spiritual transformation ever on the face of this earth. From a group of about 120 to start with, in spite of tremendous persecution, they took the world by ‘storm’ (the Holy Spirit’s ‘wind storm’ that is). Such that, 300 years later, the Christian faith had become THE officially sanctioned religion of the entire Roman Empire.
[Typographic animation of Acts 2 by “Saint Rock Media” (2:53)].

– To carry on Christ’s mission here on earth was understandably a daunting task for the disciples—one that they were never intended to do on their own, but rather ‘through the presence and power’ of the Holy Spirit at work within them. So, as Jesus returns to Heaven, He tells His disciples to just ‘hang out’ for a while in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to ’empower’ them. As it turns out, this is only a matter of 10 days later following Jesus’ ascension.

– In Jesus’ long farewell conversation with His disciples, He teaches much about the various “gifts of the Spirit”—Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the ‘barometer’ in a person’s life whether or not they are ‘filled’ with the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

– There are number of foundational principles about the ’empowerment of the Spirit’, but there are three ‘major’ ones: For whom; To whom; and For what.

– For Whom: The Spirit is given to ALL ‘categories’ of people—men and women; young and old; servants and free people—cutting across gender, age, socio-economic divides.

– To Whom: EVERY nation, tribe, people, and language under Heaven—all ‘God-fearing’ people will be gathered and unified in hearing the same message of the great things God is doing.

– For What: Salvation through Christ Jesus. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit is the clear declaration God has spoken through the entire history of humanity—that His Son, Jesus, took our guilt, sin and shame upon Himself, dying on a cross of which we deserved, so that we might know forgiveness of sins, and enter into a new life of God’s Kingdom values, which the Holy Spirit empowers us to live out.

– The New Testament teaches us that ALL Christians have the Holy Spirit. But, it is equally clear that not all Christians ‘avail’ themselves of this ‘power’. [ed. It’s a bit like the sailing ships of the Pilgrims]. We need to raise our ‘sails’ and set them right by God’s grace and guidance to fully catch the ‘wind’ of what God’s Spirit is wanting to do in our lives, and in our world.

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “INVITES” [Week 13]
(Acts 17 – Paul in Athens]

– When Jesus finished up His earthly ministry, He was direct about His expectation that His followers would go, tell, and invite others to faith. We can gain a lot of insight on how we should go about doing this from the Apostle Paul and his experience in the Greek city of Athens in the first century.

– Paul was “deeply troubled” (a phrase that was used then to describe a seizure or epileptic fit) because of the plethora of deities he saw in Athens, and because of the ‘glory’, which belonged only to the God of the Bible, was being offered to ‘lifeless’ pagan idols.

– To present his ideas about the nature of the one true God, Paul ‘connected’ with people when they were most ‘comfortable’—he went to the market place and the synagogues—meeting them on their own ‘turf’.
[Shortened video of the “Hallelujah Chorus” performed by “Chorus Niagara” at “Welland Seaway Mall” (2:30)].

– This “flash mob” attempts to expose people to some of the world’s greatest music in a “random act of culture.” Only God knows how much of the Gospel message presented by “Hallelujah Chorus” from the great oratorio, “The Messiah” by Handel penetrated into the ‘hearts’ of the listeners between bites of their Big Macs, but it was a very accurate summary of the “Good News” about Jesus and what He came to earth to do.

– Something like this might ‘open’ someone up to considering the message about Jesus, and at some point you might be able to have a conversation about their eternal destiny. Be sure you use Paul’s example: not beginning with condemnation or criticism, and not coming off as if you have all the answers. Paul ‘congratulated’ the Athenians for their interest in spiritual things, and this allowed him to keep the conversation going.

– Paul also found a ‘point of contact’ with the Athenians. He found an altar with the inscription, “To an Unknown God” [ed. Just so the they didn’t leave any god out of the ‘mix’]. This provided Paul with an ‘opening’ to introduce Jesus as that “Unknown God,” and challenge them to consider a divine presence that was greater and grander than anything they had yet imagined.

– What are the connection points in the lives of the people you know? What are their interests or hobbies? What are their pursuits and passions? As you familiarize yourself with their lives, it will open up points of contact that communicate to them that you know about their ‘world’, and care about them. This us likely where you’ll find openings to talk about spiritual issues.

– When talking about these things, just be yourself—just let the words ‘flow’ out of you. Paul was able to talk about God in a very natural way. He picked up on what he saw around him, and could ‘weave’ things in that were appropriate to the situation. [ed. You DON’T have to know all the answers—people will respect you more if you say you don’t, but will find out and get back to them].

– Most importantly, whether you are looking for a chance to be a witness for Jesus or not, HOW you conduct yourself, all the time, can either be a help or a hindrance. So, you need to be careful about how you live your life, because you can draw people ‘toward’ or push them ‘away’ from Jesus. [ed. Paraphrasing, it’s been said that, “you might be the only Bible your friends will ever read”].

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

GOD “WELCOMES” [Week 14]
(Revelation 20 – Heaven/Getting ‘Ready’)

– All throughout human history, civilizations all over the world, both primitive and advanced, have believed in a life after this life. They have recognized an ache in their ‘hearts’ that can’t be satisfied in this life. Australian aborigines pictured Heaven as a distant island beyond the western horizon, while early Finns thought it was to the east. Central American and Polynesian cultures believed that the departed traveled to the sun or moon after death. The embalmed Pharaohs in Egypt’s pyramids were buried with boats and maps so they could navigate the future world. Romans believed that the righteous would picnic in the Elysian Fields.

– How do we know that the Bible’s teachings on Heaven are any more reliable than the beliefs of the Polynesians, Egyptians, or the Romans? Can we be sure it’s not just wishful thinking, a kind of “pie-in-the-sky” myth that has no connection to reality? There is a one word answer to that question: Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead, it validated all of His words and deeds. On at least three occasions, He predicted not only that He would die, but how it would happen. If He was right about that, it stands to reason He was right about everything else. So, we can trust in His promise that there is a place prepared for every believer.

– So, what does the Bible say about what Heaven will be like? It’s a place with no sorrow, pain, crying, or death. It will indeed be “paradise.” It will be a new Eden, full of freshness, vitality, and joy.

– So who will be there? The thing is, nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that, in the end, everyone gains Heaven. If that were true, then Jesus came for nothing—it was unnecessary. If that were the case, we could live any way we wanted, ignoring God’s ‘call’ to repentance and obedience—and still be welcomed into Heaven. But, the truth is that our choices here have consequences, both for today and for eternity. Jesus made this clear by saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” If there is some other way to Heaven, the Bible says nothing about it. All of us have a choice to make about Jesus, and that decision has ramifications for all eternity! It also means that we need to be ready for whenever He comes.

– Do you know what Jesus said about the end times? Well, first off that “no one knows the day or the hour.” Jesus left the subject intentionally vague so that instead of focusing on a date, His followers would be in a constant ‘state’ of readiness—always alert.

– So, are you ready? Are you vigilant? Are you about your Savior’s ‘work’, or are you engaged in mere busy work? Are you watching over your life to make sure that it’s invested in the right places and not frittered away on trivial things? Are you growing in your faith? Is your knowledge of God’s Word increasing? That’s essential because that’s the ‘standard’ by which we must evaluate our lives.

– None of us know when Jesus will return, so the attitude of the late British writer and philosopher, C.S. Lewis, might help: “The greatest thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.”

– This “BIG Story” ‘journey’ started in Eden with Adam and Eve, and we are ending with a ‘vision’ of a new Heaven and a new Earth. It began with God inviting the first human beings into a relationship with Him, and it ends with Him welcoming all His children to His ‘side’ forever. Over and over again God has acted to save, restore, and guide. He still does—and the ‘story’ goes on. There are more ‘chapters’ yet to write, more ‘scenes’ for you to have a part in. Then, one day, the night will be over and the dawn of the never-ending light of eternity will shine down on us. What a great day that will be! So, until it comes, make sure you are ready for Jesus’ return, and be about the ‘task’ of helping others be ready, too.
[Spoken presentation of “Name Above All Names,” arranged by “Camp Kirkland” and “Tom Fettke” and performed by Faith Covenant members, “Melissa Saxton,” “Laurie Cole,” “Linda Braun,” and “Diane Allen” (5:30)].

“Movie” of the sermon Powerpoint slide presentation (30 seconds):

Remember, at the beginning of this ‘newsletter’, when I mentioned that most of us want to ‘be’ like our hero? Well, that’s pretty much the Christmas ‘story’. God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth to be our ‘HERO’, and to SAVE US from eternal damnation—but to also leave us with an EXAMPLE of how to live our lives.

So, what does this mean for you?

If you have read my previous ‘newsletters’, and are beginning to understand some of the ‘truths’ I’ve presented, it probably means that God is working ‘on’ you to help you correct your old misunderstandings—and He may even be ‘PREPARING’ you to take, what I’ve termed, a ‘step of faith’ in believing in God’s Son, Jesus, for your eternal salvation.

As I said last month, this just might be YOUR ‘season to reason’ for yourself where you want to spend ‘eternity’—and with Whom!

[Excerpts from: Pastor Ken Larson; Pastor Dennis Carlson]

NOTE: If you are looking for a good Bible-based church to investigate the Christian faith, consider visiting Faith Covenant in Farmington Hills:

All of the ‘topics’ presented in this “sermon series” are expanded upon on “THE SEARCH FOR MEANING” web site:


(Note: If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at:

I am glad to organize and distribute more ‘stuff’ if y’all will send it to me… Thank you’s to:

Terry Longo

“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8].

“Another year is dawning,” prayed the hymnist, “dear Father, let it be, on earth or else in heaven, another year with Thee.”

The Lord has brought us through another year, for which we’re thankful. But we’re not promised another one on earth. If the Lord chooses to take us home at some point in the future, that’s not a bad prospect. Paul said he’d rather be “present with the Lord.”

Note that he didn’t say “in heaven.” Yes, he was going to heaven, but his primary focus was seeing Jesus. The golden streets are real, but they simply lead to the throne where Jesus is. The Celestial City is awaiting, but it would be hollow without the presence of Christ. We can’t wait to bathe in the Crystal River, but it’s only possible because we’ve first bathed in the fountain filled with blood. And while we’re eager to see the loved ones who have preceded us, we want to see our Savior first of all.

Whether on earth or in heaven, may your New Year be blessed!

“The dear ones in glory, how they beckon me to come…But I long to meet my Savior first of all.” [Fanny Crosby]

[“Turning Point” – Dr. David Jeremiah]

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten…so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” [Psalm 90:10, 12]

Ever since God issued ten commandments, we’ve understood there’s something special about that number. It serves as the base of our numerical system. Ten is the sum of the first four numbers (1 + 2 + 3 + 4) and the first two-digit number. It brings us full circle. We view ten as complete and perfect, which is why we often say, “On a scale from one to ten….”

Ten years make a decade. And since we only get about seven of those in our lifetimes, this should get our atTENtion. Verse 10 of Psalm 90 says that our current earthly lives are zipping by. Our years are “soon cut off and we fly away.” But God is from “everlasting to everlasting,” our “dwelling place in all generations” (verses 1-2).

Starting the year without Christ is like jumping into a dark, unknown patch of the future. But with our Lord, it’s like taking a step with Him who holds the future.

Lord, remind us that You are our eternal life. Turn our atTENtion to the importance of each day–each year–each decade, and to make our lives count for Christ.

“O Father, let Thy watchful eye still look on us in love, that we may praise Thee year by year, with angel hosts above” [From the eighteenth-century hymn, “The Year is Gone, Beyond Recall.” Francis Pott, lyrics].

[“Turning Point” – Dr. David Jeremiah]

To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.” When God takes something from your grasp, He’s not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better… The ‘will’ of God will never take you where the ‘grace’ of God will not protect you.

[Sent by Terry Longo]

“It’s our ‘job’ to DO right; it’s God’s ‘job’ to make sure it COMES OUT right.”

[Woodrow Kroll]


Hope you enjoyed some of these insights—share them with your friends and colleagues—so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from, and more to share with!  Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me”
[Revelation 3:20].



Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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