The Scarlet Thread - Pt. 5 The Wandering

The Scarlet Thread/Luminescent
Pt. 5 “The Wandering”

This is part five of our blog series, “The Scarlet Thread.” Here’s how it’s gone so far. God rules, according to the story of Creation. We sinned and ruined Creation, according to the story of Adam and Eve. God works despite our sinfulness, according to the story of Joseph. We can be freed from the slavery to our sin, according to the story of the Exodus. And NOW, I want to share with you the story of the Israelites Wandering.

Quite frequently the Bible uses different metaphors and pictures to illustrate a truth. In the story of the Exodus, the Bible uses the picture of the Israelites wandering for 40 years in order to illustrate a dull, powerless Christian life. This is something I hear very often in ministry. It is common for someone to say they feel like their spiritual life is stuck in a desert, or a wasteland. There’s no passion, no power, and really no life to their spirituality. I think you know exactly what I’m talking about, because I believe this is something everybody experiences at some point in their Christian life. The story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness just might hold the key to get you out of your figurative wilderness. It goes like this…

The wilderness came after the Israelites were delivered from the Egyptians. In a very real sense, the Wilderness wandering was self-imposed. It’s not like they spent 40 years completely lost without a map. They actually knew exactly where they were supposed to go, they were just not allowed to go there because of their lack of faith.

When I was in kindergarten, I experienced something similar. My school was about one mile from my house. One day, when my mom came to pick me and my brothers up from school, she had gone inside to see a teacher while we waited in the van. After a couple minutes, I also ran inside to grab something I had left. When I came back out, the worst thing imaginable to a kindergartner happened. The van was gone. My mom thought I was hiding behind the seat (something my brothers and I did regularly) and so she started on the way home.

I knew where my house was, and so I started walking in that direction. The only problem was, there was a man out on a run, coming in my direction. At that point, I panicked! I wandered back into the parking lot, and began sobbing. The whole ordeal felt like an hour, when in reality my mom quickly realized I wasn’t in the car and turned right back around to get me. I knew the direction I was supposed to go, but my fear kept me from moving in the direction.

This is what happened to the Israelites. Moses has even seen the Promised Land they were meant to travel to. But their lack of faith (fear), kept them from entering. I’m guessing you know exactly what that is like. After all, isn’t fear the most human thing about us?

See, God delivered them from Egypt, then gave them the 10 Commandments. They were on their way to Canaan, the Promised Land. Just before they arrived, they sent their spies to check it out. The spies said, “Nope. They’re big. They’re strong. They’re fortified.” God said, “Go take it!” And they said, “Mmmm, nope.”

These were God’s chosen people; the famous Israelites! They had already been through so much. God had come through on a Promise He made a couple hundred years ago. He had brought them all this way, and at this point, they officially lost their faith in Him. As a result of their lack of faith God says, “Ok, I’m going to send you back into the wilderness for 40 years until every one of you who rejected the Promised Land dies.”

Sounds harsh, right? But it’s what God determined was necessary in order to bring the Israelites to a place of faith. Sometimes He deals with people in ways we don’t fully understand. But when we look at God’s actions in light of the big picture we can see that what He does is always for our good and His glory.

So when it comes to The Scarlet Thread, what does the wilderness represent? First off, it does not represent being lost in our sins. Remember, the Israelites were delivered from the sin masters already. So for us, the wilderness comes AFTER we’ve become a Christian. The Wilderness then represents the carnal Christian. A person who has been redeemed and forgiven by Christ and yet refuses to surrender to God’s authority. If you are not currently experiencing a beautiful relationship with God in which He reveals sin, you repent, you enjoy talking with Him, you see blessings and thank Him for them, then you might be living in the Wilderness.

Your wilderness is the twilight zone between enslavement to sin and living the full, Christian life. The Israelites enjoyed neither the comfort of their old slavery nor the milk and honey and beauty of the Land of Promise. They were dumped in the middle. Perhaps you feel the same way. It really might be the most miserable place to be for a human. The Israelites had caught a glimpse of the beautiful Promised Land. They had seen the fruitful trees, the green fields, the strong cities, the clean waters. They KNEW it could all be theirs. And yet they turned away.

They also remembered having a bed to sleep on in Egypt. They remembered that they had food to eat and water to drink back there. It was a place they called home, but they could never go back to. The pain of wandering is great because you feel like there is no place to belong and knowing every day in the wilderness is a day that could have been spent in Canaan.

Remember, they were brought OUT of Egypt in order to be brought IN to Canaan. God’s plan was for them to enjoy Canaan. And yet, they cheated themselves out of it because they had no faith. Can you imagine, today, a Christian being filled by the magnificence of the Holy Spirit, God pouring His power into them? Jesus Christ completely redeeming them and now their record is perfect. A Christian is capable of so much. But can you imagine them refusing, whether by ignorance or deliberate rejection, the beauty, glory, and power of that life?

The Israelites were promised so much, yet they chose the Wilderness. And a Carnal Christian is someone who has Christ living in them and pretends like He is not there. If you have determined that you won’t have an intimate connection with God, and that you will only take what you like from Christianity and leave the rest, then you have chosen the wilderness.

But take heart! There is good news if you are in the wilderness! There is a cure!

Three things you’ll need to do.

1. Admit you’ve lost faith. The Israelites had faith enough to free them from Egypt, but they lost that faith. They had enough faith to be saved, but along the journey, they started complaining and wishing they were back in Egypt. So they wandered for 40 years and many of them died without ever admitting to their faithlessness.

2. Appreciate the Manna. Every day, while they wandered, God sent manna for them to eat every morning. It literally just showed up laying on the ground every morning. They named it manna, because that literally means, “What is it?” And this is where it gets crazy. They described the Manna in Exodus 16:15, 31 as tasting like fresh oil and honey. Meaning Manna was a reminder that God was presently with them, but also calling them to the Promised Land. (It flowed with milk and honey). It was a small wafer that wasn’t really enough to fill them up completely.

Manna was God’s way of calling the Israelites back to Him and back to the Promised Land. Every day they had a reminder of what they were missing. What they had in the wandering was not enough to satisfy. It was simply a call to surrender to Christ and enjoy Him completely.  So what is your manna? Is there a place or time when you regularly feel convicted and challenged to make things right between you and God? Thank him for pursuing you that way. And listen to His calling!

3. The last thing to do is annihilate your unbelief. God sent the Israelites into the wilderness to wander around until all of the unbelieving Israelites died. For you, God is working to kill off your unbelief as well. He’s proving Himself to you every day. He’s sending out regular calls to come closer and deeper into Him. Perhaps you are in your own wilderness, feeling unsatisfied with where you are. Wishing you could have your sin and also wishing you could have a satisfying relationship with Jesus. Leave behind your unbelief. Listen to God’s call to you. Surrender to Him. And follow Him into the Promised Land of an empowered, fulfilling life in Christ!

The Gift

In 1905 William Sydney Porter, an author that most of us would know simply as O. Henry wrote what many considered to be a Christmas masterpiece: the Gift of the Magi. It's a story of Jim and Della Young. A young couple who were desperately poor, but on Christmas Eve they wanted to get each other gifts out of the tremendous love they had for one another. Della is grieving over the fact that she can't give her Jim a gift that reflects her heart’s love for him. She looks at the money she's been saving over all these last weeks and she looks and there's only a $1.87 to give him.  The most prized possessions that this couple has - she has her beautiful waist-length hair and he has a gold watch passed down to him from his father, and from his grandfather before him. So Della’s looking in the mirror on this Christmas Eve and weeping about the fact that she doesn't have the money to get him a gift.  While she's looking in the mirror an idea occurs to her - she'll sell her beautiful hair. She goes to the hairdresser, she sells her hair, she gets $20, so now she has a total of $21.87.   She goes out looking for a gift to give him and she finds this beautiful simple little gold chain that can go on Jim's watch. She goes home and gets dinner ready. She's got this little gold chain and she's excited to give him a gift but also terrified at “What will he think when he sees me? When he sees my hair is gone?” Jim comes in the door and he just stops in his tracks and has the strangest look on his face. Della says “Honey I know it's different, I know it's strange, and I know it's not what you expected, but I can explain.  I love you so much I sold my hair to get you this little gold chain for your watch. I hope you can still love me like this.” She's worried and Jim says “Honey I love you so much. I could never love you less for anything. You'll understand why I was so surprised when you see your Christmas gift.”  He hands her the gift and Della opens it up and it was the series of little jeweled, fancy combs that she had seen in a store window some months before.  Della makes the point, by the way, “Where did you get the money for these combs?”  He'd sold his watch.

I told my daughter Aubrey that story.  I was just kind of kicking around some things in my mind and I said “Have you ever heard the story of the Gift of the Magi?” I told Aubrey this whole story and I said “What do you think of that?”  She was like “Aw dad, ya know...”  I didn't know if she'd heard much of what I had said.  About 15 minutes later I hear her in the other room telling her little brother, Vance, the story and she gets to the end of the story and she says “Isn't that terrible!?” I’ve got to confess to you I was thinking the same thing.  Isn't that terrible!?  Like the worst Christmas story ever?  Like well, you had a little bit and now you got nothing - Merry Christmas!   I find it interesting that the author didn't view it that way at all. He ended his story by saying this, “and here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise, yet of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise.”

This morning we are starting a brand new series that, God willing, will last for the entire month of December very simply called Christmas Stories. There are some amazing Christmas stories out there. From Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, to “The Little Match Girl”, to the famous, famous one that most of us read to our kids on Christmas Eve - “The Night Before Christmas”.  Y’all it is my heartfelt belief that the most beautiful, magical Christmas stories are found in the first four books of this New Testament.

Today's story begins in an incredibly unlikely place with an unlikely audience. It doesn't begin with Mary, it doesn't begin with shepherds, it doesn't begin with Joseph, it doesn't begin with a manger. Our story begins before there was Earth, before there was man, before there was a material universe as we know it. Our Christmas story starts when there was only God and His angels.

 John 1:1 this morning. How many are glad you're here? Say Amen! 
John 1:1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

Now most of you, if you've been in church any time at all, or you've been around the scripture at all, you know that when the Bible refers to the Word in this context its talking about Jesus Christ. If this language sounds familiar, I believe it's because this language in John 1 is Genesis language. In the beginning Genesis says, in the beginning God created, in the beginning God gave life, and what John 1 is telling us is that there in the beginning when God was, and he was creating, and he was giving life, so was Jesus!  Genesis tells us that in the beginning God was. John tells us in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God the same was in the beginning with God. l I can't fathom it. I can't properly describe it. I can't paint a picture for you. All I can say is God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son, all 100% God yet distinct personalities, for eons before planet Earth ever came around, God was doing life with God. God the author of joy, the author of peace, the author of life, the author of love, was doing life with God. Jesus was there and the angels were watching. Genesis tells us in the beginning God created, but John 1:3 says all things were made by Jesus, and without him was not anything made that was made. Colossians paints an even straighter picture when it says for through Jesus God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth he made the things we can see and the things we can't see, such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, authorities, in the unseen world everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus. Oh listen! We're very prone to only think of Jesus in terms of what He did on earth. Understand Jesus was integral to the whole process of creation. When the universe was spoken into existence it was spoken by the lips of Jesus. 

Genesis tells us in the beginning God gave life, but John tells us in Jesus was life. He elaborated in John 5:26, the Father has life in Himself and He has granted that same life-giving power to His Son. Here's the picture I want you to get. Long before the manger, long before Christ came down and did miracles, long before the cross, listen! There was Jesus in heaven sharing life with his Father, speaking the universe into glorious existence, breathing life into His creation, and there drinking it all in were the Angels. Every day their greatest joy was seeing what Jesus would do that day. Every day the point of their life was hearing what Jesus would say. Everything about Him is so glorious and magnetic. There's not an earth yet, there's not a universe as we know it yet, there's just God and that's enough! It was glorious and there was peace. I think we kind of lost the true meaning of the word peace.  We think of peace as like an absence of war and absence of conflict.  The Jews had a word for peace in the Hebrew it was Shalom. Listen Shalom meant life as it's intended to be. Not just an absence of conflict but a presence of beauty, and glory, and wonder. It was life as God created life to be! In wrapping their life around God the Angels have peace but they would soon learn a lesson that they never should have had to learn. They would learn that no God, means no peace.

You see there was perhaps the brightest of the Angels, an archangel we believe, musical, beautiful, named Lucifer.  And Lucifer, The Shining One, determined at some point that the only thing greater than the glory of God and the peace that came with it would be if he could be God. If he could sit on the throne, if all would bow the knee to him.  Lucifer rebelled against God and a third of the Angels, we believe, rebelled against God. Jesus said in the New Testament I was there and I was watching when Satan fell like lightning from heaven. I watched angels become demons. I watched Lucifer become Satan. He went from The Shining One to The Accuser. Listen when this happened, when there's no God, when there's no glory, there is no peace. We don't know how long, in terms of time that went, after that event but we do know the time passed.  The angels once again marveled. They're standing there watching God, watching Jesus, and He does something brand-new! He decides to create the earth. He creates man and woman. He makes them in his own image. He gives them a garden. He gives them a place. He shows his glory to them. Adam and Eve, wrapped around God, made in the image of God, they are drinking in His glory and they are showcasing it to the world. It was glorious and there was peace, but that Shalom, as you know, didn't last long.  The enemy, this fallen angel, takes them down the very same path that he'd gone. He makes an offer: you don't have to worship God, you can be God! Why bow the knee to him when the world can bow the knee to you? Instantly he says your eyes will be open and their eyes are opened! They get what they wanted but they lose what they have, and they learn the lesson - no God, no peace.

Here's the thing that occurred to me during this study that I don't know that I've ever articulated to a congregation before. I don't know that I've ever really consciously like done the math on this. If I understand my Bible right, while angels are unimaginably powerful, they are not omnipotent.  OK? Here's what this means:  you saw angels in the Bible.  If you're simply thinking of like sweet little cherubic naked babies with wings, that ain't the Bible version of angels!  Read your Old Testament and see one angel wiping out an army. Read your scripture and find Roman soldiers, the most battle-hardened, bloodthirsty men on the earth at that time fall down in terror at the presence of one of these shining ones. Angels are incredibly powerful but they're not all powerful. They know a lot, they've been watching mankind for generations, but they're not omniscient. They don't know everything and I find it amazing that in the Bible you find this this tremendous scripture which tells us in 1 Peter 1:12 that the angels desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel. So when man rebelled against his creator the angels must have wondered “What on earth is coming next?”  They knew what the truth of Romans 3:23 - all have sinned, all mankind has sinned and come short of the glory of God. They knew Romans 3:17 - the spirit of it, the way of peace they have not known, and I wonder if they didn't think something like this, “Surely God will abandon this fallen creation. Surely just as Lucifer is cast down, without ever a chance or a hope of being restored, perhaps He will destroy this earth and its inhabitants and start again.”  But I think these angels must have marveled when God didn't. For the next 4,000 years of human history, they would see a story of divine interventions. Adam goes against God, he tries to be God, he falls and now he's naked. Now he's self-conscious, now he realizes I don't have any peace.  I'm going to spend my life trying to find peace in all these places but I don't have it anymore. I'm naked as the day I was born. And God, instead of shunning him, has the first bloodshed that we ever see in the Bible. When God takes one of these little creatures that he's created, kills it, and wraps Adam in the skins. The angels are watching and wondering. We see Noah, when God looks down on the earth, and man has gotten so corrupt that God says, I'm going to judge it, I'm going to wipe it out. The Angels say you're justified in that God; you’re a God of justice. Yet we see this man named Noah, who found Grace in the eyes of the Lord, and we see that God does a whole new thing with this group of people and the Angels marvel. You see Abraham, who decides to take matters into his own hands.  He goes and gets Hagar, they have Ishmael, and it seems like the line that God is creating through Abraham is over. But then God comes down and tells Abraham and Sarah, I'm giving you Isaac. I'm going to make a way where there is no way and the angels see it all.  They see for thousands of years all these divine interventions for Israel, all these divine interventions for mankind, they start hearing prophecies. God tells men, I want you to write this down because one day... You know about the old covenant, do this stuff and avoid this stuff and you can earn eternal life, but I'm telling you there's a new covenant coming that no man can earn. I'm going to write my law on men's hearts. God says I'm sending a Savior one day and He's going to be a Jew, He's going to be from the tribe of Judah, and they're going to pierce His hands and His feet, Psalm 22. Isaiah 53 says they're going to lay stripes on His back to redeem a people and the Angels hear it, the angels see, and the Angels wonder what He means. Divine interventions and prophecies. Another thing that the angels see for all these centuries, are occasional Christophanies - times when Jesus leaves the throne in heaven and makes a trip down to earth. We see it before the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah when Christ comes down and talks to Abraham. We see it when Jacob, the patriarch, wrestles with an angel all night and at the end of that wrestling match he's afraid that he'll die because he's looked in the face of God. We see it in the fiery furnace when there's three Hebrew children who are being persecuted, we think to death, but the fires can't burn them and when Nebuchadnezzar looks into the fire he says I see not three, but four, and one of them as the appearance of the Son of God. And the angels must have wondered “Jesus why?  Why are you doing this? Why are you going down there? What's the point of all this?”

All this transpired for centuries. The angels desired to look into it.  They decide to try to put all these puzzle pieces together. What is Christ doing? What is the point? Until one day those same angels come to approach the throne of Jesus Christ, like they had done every day for all eternity, and when they come to approach the throne of Christ, Christ isn't on the throne. He's gone! Where could He have gone? Where would the Son of God be?  For the first time in the history the Trinity, in a sense, is broken up. There's the Father, there's the Spirit, but where's the Son? The rumor echoes through the ranks that Gabriel has made a visit down to Planet Earth to some folks. The rumor begins to echo through the ranks that Jesus has gone down to earth and that He's in a city called Bethlehem.  I picture in my mind the angels, who lived on the glory of God.  It woke them up in the morning if they sleep there, and put him to bed at night. They had drunk it in. It’s the greatest thing in their life just being in the presence of Jesus.  They long to see Him, and they want to know what's going on, and they make their way to Bethlehem, and what they find is indescribable.

Max Lucado wrote a little book called God Came Near, he said these words a lot better than I could:
The omnipotent in one instant makes Himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierce-able.  He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent on the nourishment of a young girl. God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The Creator of life being created. God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys and a spleen.  He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother. He came not as a flash of light, or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter.  The hands that first held him were unmanicured,  calloused, dirty. No silk, no ivory, no hype, no party, and no hoopla. Angels watched as Mary changed God's diaper. All my life I've pictured every dealing of the angels with Jesus as being glory in the highest!  Glory! I wonder if their first response at that wasn't more like Aubrey’s, “that's terrible! Jesus why would you leave glory and come down to earth in a stable with animals, and filth, and manure? God why would you leave the praise of all the created order, all the angels, all of us singing your worth, to come down like this? Why would you lay aside your glory?”  Do you remember the scene in the scripture when Jesus tried to wash Peters feet and Peter said “no, no, no, no, no! It's inappropriate. That feels weird. You're God!”  Can you imagine how the angels felt seeing Jesus like that? I don't know how the final puzzle piece slid into place. I don't know when the moment of divine insight came. I don't know exactly what it looked like when they got it, that aha moment from God of what he was doing, but we know that they did because of Luke 2.

Turn back with me one last time Luke 2:8

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord [by the way folks, think Shekinah glory that filled the Old Testament Tabernacle, that filled the Old Testament temple, to where the priests had to leave it was so bright and glorious!] the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,

If you've been at Calvary any time you know we've talked about the fact that most of us, like when you think of Moses, you picture Charlton Heston. Most of us when we picture this scene think of three or four angels with their hands raised like we've seen in a thousand Christmas programs. I want you to understand what when the Bible says that there were these shepherds, God pulls back the curtain between the physical and the spiritual, and lets them see. The Bible uses the word multitude. That Greek word is pl├ęthos which we get the English word plethora. It is used to describe ,in the bible, the sand grains on the seashore, it is used to describe the stars in the sky. I believe there were perhaps millions of angels, spread out over all the mountainside.   What they've realized about that baby in a manger is so critical and so beautiful that they all showed up! Here’s what they sing “glory to God in the highest and on earth peace [Shalom] goodwill [God's favor] toward men. They realized that God has laid aside His glory. Jesus has laid aside His privilege and He's made this journey all the way from heaven to a cattle trough, to bring fallen men back into a relationship with God. He has made a way, once again, for them to taste the glory of God.  For us to taste the glory of God! And once again have Shalom. Once again have peace.

One evening many years ago an actress by the name of Mary Martin, Jenny and I were talking about this I believe she's from Weatherford , Mary Martin was about to go on stage for a production of South Pacific. Just before she stepped out on stage, she received a note from the famous lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Here's what it said: “A bell is not a bell until you ring it. A song is not a song till you sing it. Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay; love isn't love till you give it away. Love isn't love until you give it away.”  So on the surface when I look at Jim and Della I say that is the worst Christmas story I've ever seen. They gave up everything.  Do you know why they were wise? Because giving your heart is the greatest gift in the world and it brings the greatest return in the world. Two thousand years ago, listen to me, God gave us His heart. He sent His son because love isn't love till you give it away.

Let me ask you a question this morning. You may be here today and the truth is, for some time God's been pursuing you about something. You've seen evidence of His goodness in your life, you've had wake-up calls in certain areas that you know something's off and it needs to be made right. Maybe you've ignored them, maybe you've pushed them to the background. Maybe you're not a believer yet but something's happening in you that's pulling you that direction. Maybe you're not a believer yet and you've been skeptical and maybe you've been angry. By the way, every atheist I've ever met is a person who's been hurt terribly in life.  You may be here and there's some things happening with you, including this service today, that you just can't explain.  Love isn't love till you give it away.

I want to tell you something, listen, 2,000 years ago God showed you how He felt about you.  Not the new, improved, cleaned up version of you. He knows exactly what you are and that's the person he gave his son for. He gave him away, for you! What would it look like this very morning for you to reciprocate? What would it look like this very morning for you to take that step of faith toward your Creator and say God I want to trust you, I want to love you. I want to go from my love being somewhere in the realm of my mind and my theology and I want to express it you.  You know what? For a bunch of us it means we need to get out of our comfortable little safe lives and do the one thing that Jesus did, which is serve other people. Love isn't love when it's just a theological statement.  Love isn’t love when it's just attending a church service. Love isn't love because you sing it and talk about it. Love isn't love till you give it away. What is God calling you to do? What is that step of love that he's challenging you in today?

The Boulevard Ministry with Holly & Ruben Alvarez

Holly and Ruben Alvarez have been attending Calvary Baptist Church since 2010 and reside in Grand Prairie, TX with their two boys. Ruben serves on the deacon committee and security team.  He and Holly both serve faithfully in the Park and Boulevard areas of Kid City. Quality time is incredibly important to the Alvarez family. They enjoy anything they can do together including vacations, movies, games, playing outside, and visiting local attractions.  When they aren't spending quality family time, Holly and Ruben host game nights at their home to fellowship and do life with one another.

The Boulevard 

Holly and Ruben have been serving the in the Boulevard ministry, specially designed for preschool and kindergartners, for approximately six years. It wasn’t long after they joined Calvary that the Alvarezes knew they wanted to get involved and the Boulevard seemed like an ideal place to start. 

They believe the Boulevard ministers to kids who are at the beginning and best stages of their lives.  It is where they start truly understanding and learning more about Jesus and His love! The Alvarezes say they absolutely love this age. The kids come in so ready to sing, play, and learn. Everything is new and exciting for them. For Holly and Ruben, it is like seeing things for the first time all over again through the kids eyes. 

Holly says the more she works with children the more she feels like understands God's love for all of His children. In fact, Holly's favorite verse since she was a little girl has been Matthew 9:14 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Even now it reminds her that there is a meaningful purpose behind the children's ministry. Especially knowing those little minds are the future.

Ruben says serving in the Boulevard has been confirmation for him that this is where they should be. There is a need for children's ministry and they want to be a part of it! Ruben feels like the Boulevard builds up his own faith just by being there, seeing the kids each time, and showing them all about God’s love for them. 

The Alvarezes also feel like serving in the children's ministry holds them accountable. Not only to those kids, but to others, themselves, and more importantly to God. It helps them to stay grounded and involved in each other’s lives. It's another way to share life with one another.

Preparing to Love Well at Our Thanksgiving Gatherings by Scotty Smith

Preparing to Love Well at Our Thanksgiving Gatherings


And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:16-19

Heavenly Father, this portion of your Word highlights the wonders of your love, the heartbeat of the gospel, and the essence of your being. You are love. We praise, bless, and adore you for being so generous, merciful, and grace-full.It also underscores our calling to love all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations, all the time—including our upcoming Thanksgiving gatherings. Relationships expose our need for the gospel more than anything else. At a time when our world, communities, and many of our families, are divided along political, spiritual, or cultural lines, may your love be supersized in our hearts and midst.

Because of your great love for us in Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of the risks of love. As this Scriptures says, we can “know and rely on the love God has for us”. May your perfect love continue to drive out all our fears—including the fears related to the loving in stressed, awkward, or broken family stories.

Help us love our family members in fresh and creative ways. Give us thick skins, so we won’t take things too personally. Give us big hearts, so we’ll love family members for who they are, not who we want (need) them to be. Fill us with your kindness, compassion, patience, and forbearance. Nobody in our families is beyond the need or reach of your grace—including us.

Replace our irritation with intrigue, and our hair-trigger reactions with long-fused respect. May we “roll out the red carpet,” more than we roll our eyes; listen more than we launch, and cherish more than we challenge. Whatever culinary delights show up on our Thanksgiving menu, may the greatest feast be your welcoming heart and Fatherly kindness. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ tender and triumphant name.

Reprinted from The Gospel Coalition, Inc.. Copyright 2017 Find the original article here at

The Scarlet Thread - Pt.4 The Exodus

The Scarlet Thread
Pt. 4 The Exodus
John 8:34-36

Let’s do a quick recap of the last three posts from this series: God rules over all of creation. Mankind sinned and ruined the perfect relationship. God is powerful enough to pour out grace despite our sinfulness.

We ended the last post with Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt for food and Joseph forgiving them. He invited his entire family to live in Egypt with him. But eventually the pharaoh who favored Joseph died, and the next one was afraid of all of those Israelites living in their country. So he made a deal. If you want to live here, you have to work for us. But this pharaoh was sneaky. He broke the deal and made slaves out of the Israelites.

This sets the story up for one of the most meaningful sections of the Bible. The story of the Exodus. Exodus means, “A mass departure of people”. It’s the story of how Israel escaped their enslavement. For a long time, I thought this was just a story about Israel’s history, and it didn’t have a lot to do with me. I was dead wrong. I have since come to realize that the story of Moses and the Exodus has within it the keys to a full, Christian life.

Think about it: hundreds of years have passed since Joseph brought his family to Egypt. Several generations have now been born into slavery. All these people knew in life was to serve the Egyptian Empire. As each pharaoh died, the successor was even crueler. Doubling their work. Even killing their children. There was no hope for the Israelites. They didn’t have the power to overthrow such an empire as Egypt. They didn’t have the weapons to attack. They didn’t even have the motivation to try to escape. They were hopelessly enslaved to their sin.

A thousand years later John, the author of the Book in the Bible, explained that this is the human condition every person is born with. We are all born into slavery. (John 8:34)

The thing about slaves is they only do what their master commands. Before a person is redeemed by Jesus Christ, they must obey the sin nature in themselves. They can’t resist it. That’s why this world is in such a corrupt state. Because this world is enslaved just like the Egyptians were. The Scarlet Thread in the story of the Exodus begins by telling us we were born into slavery.

The Scarlet Thread then moves on to introduce us to a deliverer named Moses. Moses was actually found and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter. She found him floating in a basket down the river. She named him Moses which means, “Drawn out” and also “Son”. Because she drew him out of the water and adopted him.

Moses eventually realized he was actually a Jew just like the slaves, and chose to identify with them instead of as Egyptian royalty. When he tried initially to help the Jews they rejected him, and because of his choice, the Egyptians rejected him. This was now a man who had no place to go. He was an outcast. And so he went into exile for 40 years, working for a shepherd in no-man’s land.

I can think of another man who came to earth and was rejected by His own people. I can think of an outcast who wanted to free His people but was instead turned away. Moses is a shadow of the Christ, albeit an imperfect shadow. Moses was drawn out of a river, but he was then sent to draw the Israelites out of slavery. Israel couldn’t save themselves. They needed a deliverer, but they were so stubborn and lost in their own slavery that they initially resisted their deliverer.

This happens so often in reality, doesn’t it? Even many of us were perhaps too stubborn to accept that we needed a deliverer. We thought maybe we could save ourselves. But slaves need a deliverer, and for the Israelites, one was sent. For us, the One has also been sent. (John 8:35)

The struggle to be free from the slavery of sin is great. The sin nature doesn’t want to let go. But there’s a point in this story that is so important, if you don’t get it, nothing else will fit into place. Jesus Christ is the One who sets us free. Moses had a battle with Pharaoh. He brought plagues and still Pharaoh didn’t want to let the people go. Time and time again God had to battle the sin nature represented by Pharaoh and Egypt.

You know what Israel did during this time? Watched in anticipation. You know what they didn’t do? Try to do God’s job.

So after several terrible, awful plagues from God, Pharaoh decides to release the slaves. They pack up and start heading out. Only to have Pharaoh change his mind and start chasing after them. Your sin nature does not give up easily. When God began working in your heart, or when He does begin, your sin nature is going to pursue you viciously. (John 8:36)

Moses finally led them across the Red Sea where God once and for all delivers them from the slave masters. The crossing of the Red Sea is symbolic of the deliverance God gives His children from the sin master over their lives. This is a beautiful part of The Scarlet Thread that we should celebrate.

The Red Sea is interestingly named, because it was when Jesus shed His blood that our slave masters were defeated. When you put your trust in Christ and His sacrifice to save you from the slavery of your sin, you are figuratively passing through His blood that was shed in your place. And whoever the Son of God sets free, He is free indeed!

But that’s not quite the end of their story. Did you know the Israelites wished they were back in Egypt? The slave masters were dead. They were free people, but they still longed for the days of Egypt, because to them they felt a sense of security. Now that might sound crazy to you, but that’s not totally unheard of.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln established the Emancipation Proclamation that said “all slaves are and henceforth freed from slavery.” But there were slaves who were born into slavery that knew no other way of life. They didn’t know where else to go. In a sense, the lifestyle of slavery meant security for them. And so they remained on the farms and fields. They were proclaimed free, and yet they chose to remain put.

I think there are many Christians who don’t know they have a choice. I think many people believe they are still slaves to sin. All the while God is saying, “I’ve declared you free. You don’t have to go back to that sin. You can enjoy the abundant life of freedom.”

So here’s what I challenge you to do. I want you to memorize this verse. “If the Son has set me free, then I am free indeed.” Say that to yourself. When you’re tempted, remind yourself of that glorious Gospel. You are free from the slavery of sin. But within you is a desire to return to your sin. My word to you is this, if you have passed through the blood of Jesus by putting your trust in Him to save you and free you, then you are free! There’s nothing left for you in Egypt. Live your life of freedom! Enjoy the costly liberty bought for you by Jesus Christ Himself.

"What Is Heaven Really Like?" Brian Loveless Sermon

Take your bibles this morning if you would, turn to Revelation 21.  The heaven scene; always one of the most powerful moments at Judgement House. When people have come from that hell scene; it's hot, and it's dark, and it's terrible.  They walk down that long hallway in what we call the Long Building, the Winnie Long building, and they come down through heaven. They have that little white robe placed around their shoulders to symbolize a new body. They get to line up there in the heaven scene and Daniel comes by to every single person in there, and just speaks some word of encouragement. You know my wife, Jenny, she noted a long time ago... I honestly had not even noticed this, and she caught it, and when she told me this it moved me so much... she said you know no matter how anybody kind of laughs off the drama,  no matter how they sort of poke fun at the hell scene, whatever, she said when they get to heaven everybody wants to see Jesus. Everybody wants to see Jesus.

I found one exception to that last night. I went through one scene early on, as most of you know I was in Florida for the first night, and had a hard time getting back, but we made it back.  I decided to walk through with Brandon, our worship pastor, and just kind of see the thing and get my heart tuned into it. So we went through with a group and there was one mother. She took her little girl down into the hell scene, which I'm always a little “ahh, ehhh, you sure you want to do that?” but she took a little girl, little girl did great through the whole thing, but definitely we could tell as we were climbing the steps out of the basement, that little girl was very happy to get out of that hell scene. Her mom leaned over and she said she said “Honey, are you excited to see Jesus?” and the little girl goes “nope!” “Nope!” I think what she was thinking is “I don't want to go to heaven or hell; I just want to get out! I want like some chicken nuggets and climb in the car and let's get out of here.”

Here's the thing this morning, if we can kind of unscrew the Halos for just a minute and get really, really honest in church today; I wonder how many Christians, if the truth were known, aren't really all that excited about heaven; if the truth were known. Now let me be careful to say I think everybody is thankful to make it to heaven. I mean the alternative is pretty awful. I definitely don't want to go to hell, I want to go to heaven, I want to be in that good spot, I want to be with Jesus absolutely, I want to make it to heaven.  I'm just not quite as thankful for the idea of spending eternity there. I wonder how many children feel like heaven will steal away their favorite toy or take their favorite pet. I wonder how many men honestly feel that heaven will somehow steal their masculinity. I wonder how many wives and mothers feel that heaven will steal away their family, it'll somehow take away their husband and children in a way that they can't comprehend. I wonder how many Christians in general feel that heaven will somehow steal their identity. It will reduce them to just one member of a mob of white robed robots, fully content, fully happy to strum a harp for all eternity.

I want to pose this question this morning in our short time together and the question is this: what is heaven really like?  Okay? What did the authors of scripture, the men who heard from God, and proclaimed God's message all those years ago, what did they have to say? What did God have to say about what heaven is really like? We're going to read one of the most definitive passages about heaven in the Bible here in just a moment. Before we get to that let me just set the stage by saying in 1 Corinthians 2 we find a man talking about heaven who was incredibly well suited to that task, the guy named Paul. The Apostle Paul, as many of us know him, had some insights about eternity that were given to him in his lifetime that no other human had experienced. To the point that Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:9, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

If I can paraphrase that, Paul was saying nobody's ever seen or heard anything like this. Nobody's even been able to imagine anything quite like what God has waiting in heaven for his people. Okay?  He says ditch your five physical senses, you can't even come up with it. That sounds like a conversation ender, right? It sounds like Paul is saying “hey I know stuff about heaven you don't even bother dreaming of.” Then comes the next verse 1 Corinthians 2:10 “but God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit”. Okay?  You can't come up with it with your eyes. You can't come up with your ears. You can't come up with it with your feelings. The culture can't tell you what eternity is going to be like, right?  Movies will throw you off. Jokes about St. Peter at the gate won't give you any proper information. Only the Spirit of God can reveal it and Paul says he already has to a great degree.
Here's the idea; Paul said if you want to know what eternity is going to be like be real careful about asking the culture, why don't you ask the book? Be real careful about looking to what people think might happen, go to what God says will happen. Friends listen, I think for a lot of us we've looked to the culture to such a degree that we've come up with a distorted view of heaven. We've come up with harps and halos. We've come up with St. Peter at the gate. We've come up with one day we'll all be angels trying to earn our wings and let me just say none of that's biblical though it is cultural. Somebody wrote this “make no mistake, one of Satan's favorite tactics is feeding us an unworthy, dull, distorted view of heaven. he knows will lack motivation to tell other people about Jesus when our view of heaven isn't that much better than our view of Hell.” Wow. Then he says this “if you lack a passion for heaven, I can almost guarantee it's because you have a weak, deficient, and distorted theology of heaven. A robust, accurate, biblically energized view of heaven will bring you a new spiritual passion.”

So here's the question what is heaven really like? This week, God willing, I want to talk about the ultimate place. Next Sunday in another abbreviated service I want to talk about the ultimate people.
How many of you still with me now? Say Amen.  In John 14:1(-2) Jesus said to his disciples ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” You know, growing up I think I kind of always pictured creation as being solely a work of God the Father, right? 
God the Father speaking the universe into existence; God says let there be light and light explodes into being. God says let there be an earth, let there be planets, let there be stars, let there be the cosmos, let all these things come to be and exploded into being, but here's the thing.  

The Bible tells us in Colossians, the Bible says without Jesus was not anything made that was made.  Christ had this massive role in speaking the universe into existence. the same Jesus that came down to Planet Earth 2,000 years ago, and lived in a human body, and did miracles, and spoke those powerful words, that same Jesus was the one who said let there be light, that there be trees, that there be animals, let there be creativity, let there be art, let there be music, let there be passion, let there be love; the same Jesus.  I want you think about this for just a minute, Jesus said to his disciples I'm leaving but I'm going to prepare a place for you. I'm going to take you and bring you to that place one day. What do you think heaven will be like if Jesus the creator of all that is, spent the last two thousand years getting it ready for us? On earth Jesus was a carpenter and I want to suggest to you this morning he still knows how to build. Look in Revelation 21:1. We're going to do a fair amount of reading and then we're going to be done today. Revelation 21:1. John says this, God's given him a vision, heavenly things, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”

Before we go any further, I always had the view for years that God was going to take the present world and obliterate it, replace it, start over, okay? He was going to take this entire world that we know and erase the board and bring about a new one. I've come to a different belief about that. One author wrote this “the newness of the heaven and the earth shall be like our own. We will be the same person in eternity and have the same body and the same soul that we have now, but these will be made entirely new. The same will be true with regard to the new heaven and the new earth.” In other words when you think about God making a new heaven, and a new earth, in eternity for us to live in, don't think replacement, think renovation, okay? He is going to take away the curse!  He's going to take away the sin! He’s going to take away the erosion! He’s going to take away all the effects of that fallen angel, Lucifer's activities!  He's going to make it perfect. When the Bible says there'll be no more sea, that doesn't mean there won't be any more bodies of water on this new earth. What it does mean is revelation talked constantly about out of the sea will come the beast, out of this world system that's so corrupt that it's so banged up will come the Antichrist, and all these events and basically John is saying that's gone. That’s done there's a new heaven there's a new earth.
Revelation 21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

If you were to go on and read verses 9 through 27 God describes an eternity where we are not only on a brand-new renovated earth that's perfect, we're not bored, and we're not sitting on clouds, and we're not just strumming harps, we are doing the activity of Jesus Christ the king. There’s still work but now its holy work. There’s music and its perfect music. There’s art and it's dedicated to the lamb. And now on this brand-new earth that we get to travel, that we get to live on, there's a new Jerusalem. It’s like heavens come down to earth and it is literally a city in the sky above a newly renovated earth. I want to encourage you, read that chapter.  For time’s sake we won't read it today. Read it this week, meditate in it.

I want to close out our time with it with a book that I've recommended numerous times. It was given to me by somebody who was going through a season of grief and it blessed their heart. It’s called In Light Of Eternity by Randy Alcorn.  I don't usually read this much, but this so touched me I want to read to you a little bit today:

How about you- when you get to heaven, how astonished will you be by the tangible existence of what the Bible told us about beforehand?

Will you be surprised to see that heaven is an actual place? It's a location that has been traveled to and from by Christ (the Bible tells us in John 6 and Acts 1), by angels and in rare circumstances by people prior to their deaths (2nd Kings 2, 2nd Corinthians 12, Revelation 11).
Where is heaven? It is referred to as “up” in location. It could be a place in the universe beyond the earth. Or it may exist entirely outside our space-time continuum.

Will you be amazed to see an actual city in heaven? Heaven is described as a city in Hebrews and Revelation. The normal understanding of city is a place of many residences and near proximity with inhabitants under a common government.

The city at the center of the future heaven is called the New Jerusalem. The city's exact dimensions are measured by an angel (in Revelation 21) and reported to be cube-shaped, with each side measuring nearly 1500 miles. A city in the sky shaped like a cube!

While these proportions may have symbolic importance, this doesn't mean they aren't literal. In fact, revelation 21 expresses the exact dimensions with care and emphasis that they are “man's measurements” (Revelation 21:17). If the city really has three dimensions (and there's no reason it couldn't), what more could we expect God to say to convince us?

The base of the city adds up more than two million square miles. A metropolis of that size in the middle of the United States would stretch from Canada to Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the California border. Big city!

Even more astounding is its 1,500 mile height. That would be 780 thousand stories high. Perhaps this is the reach of the city's tallest towers and spires, rising above buildings of lesser but equally impressive height.

The dimensions of that city often are cited as proof that it isn't a literal city at all. A theology professor once told me he writes, “No one can breathe 1,500 miles off the ground; there's no oxygen.” Why would it be a problem for God to make it so our new bodies don't require oxygen or to extend the atmosphere the new earth above 1,500 miles?

Others say there can't actually be 12 gates of the city made of single pearls (revelation 21:21)”If the pearls are that big, how big are the oysters?” but again, why would this be a problem for God? An omnipotent Creator can certainly make pearls as big as he wants! Our limited vision of heaven flows out of our limited vision of God.

Will you be amazed to see heaven's earth-like beauty? The New Jerusalem will be filled with visual magnificence, including streets of gold so refined and pure that it's clear as glass, buildings of pearl, emeralds, and precious stones.

Heaven has light, water, trees, fruit. It contains some animals - including wolves, lambs, and lions –
Trying to go one-handed hang on...

Even before the Millennium there are enough horses in heaven for the armies of heaven to ride. Other animals aren't mentioned in these passages, presumably because they don't play a role in Christ's second coming. But it seems likely that since there are innumerable horses in heaven, there are all kinds of other animals too.

Apparently within the vast and beautiful New Jerusalem we'll find the personal dwelling places Jesus has prepared for us. Like the current earthly Jerusalem, the city will be a melting pot of ethnic diversity, with those of “every nation, every tribe, every people, every language” but unlike today's Jerusalem all these people will be united by their common worship of King Jesus.

The cities gates are said to always be open, people will travel in and out, some bringing glorious items into the city. This outside travel suggests the city is not the whole of heaven, but merely its center. The gates that are opposite each other will be 1,500 miles apart, allowing access from every direction.  Even the inside will be a huge area to investigate. The gates will lead out to an entire planet, the new earth, and a cosmos with vast realms to explore. Why did he make this vast universe? It had to be for something beyond decoration. Perhaps we'll travel it.

Perhaps it will be a center for arts and culture and large gatherings and events... maybe even some great restaurants since we know that in heaven we'll be eating and drinking (Jesus said so in Luke 22:30) we'll be feasting (Matthew 8:11). Heaven's capital city will have all the advantages we associate with earthly cities but none of the disadvantages. No crime, no litter, no smog, no sirens, no seaminess, no corruption. The streets can be walked safely.  Every stranger could soon be your friend heaven will be a vibrant community a new place populated by new people.

Many assume heaven will be unlike earth. But why do we think this? God designed earth for human beings. And nearly every description of heaven includes references to earthly things – eating, music, animals, water, trees, fruits, and a city with gates and streets.

The Bible speaks of the new heavens and the new earth - not as non-heavens and non-earth. “New” doesn't mean fundamentally different, but vastly superior. If somebody says, “I'm going to give you a new car,” you’d get excited. Why? Not because you have no idea what a car is, but because you do know.

I'm almost done. A new car doesn't mean a vehicle without a steering wheel, seats, doors, and tires. If it didn't have those, it wouldn't be a car. The new car is a better version of what you already have. Likewise, the new earth will be a far better version of this earth. That’s why we can anticipate it.
 I want you think about this. Niagara Falls, some of you been there, right? Lake Victoria, the Grand Canyon, the world's greatest mountains and coastlines, all these will just be rough sketches of heaven.
If we think of heaven as a place where disembodied spirits float around-which is never depicted in the Bible-we can't get excited about it. It is not a non-earth we long for-it's a new earth. And we long not for a non-body but for a new body.

As Lord Digory explained to the children in C.S. Lewis’s classic work The Chronicles of Narnia: “our own world... is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world.”

My friends our own world is only a shadow or copy of something real in Jesus world. That’s heaven. That’s the new earth. Listen we'll do the best we can in that heaven scene but we can't come close. I made this comment the other day and it's not original to me, most anything good I've ever said, I stole from somebody. Most people think of life as a dot.  I only get one. I better cram everything into this life. I better guard my resources and live for today, because I only get one life.

God says don't imagine that your life is just a dot. Death is not a period but a comma in the story of your life. God says think about a dot with a line on the end and an arrow on that line. Eternity is the life we are created for. This is the trial. This is the war. This is the shaping place. This is the refining point. But one day my friends, for those of us that know Jesus Christ, that's what this weekend is all about. We're going to that place where the Creator of all that is good has designed his masterpiece.

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