Graceful Gratitude

Graceful GratitudeAs we approach Thanksgiving Day, it’s natural for people to think about thanking. This shouldn’t be the case for Christians though…

Christians should be so full of thanks that every day is a day of thanks-giving!

There is a power in thankfulness. There is something attractive about gracious people. There is a security and a peace that comes from knowing just how many blessings have been lavished on me by my Heavenly Father.

Beginning this Sunday, I am going to share a series of three messages from three verses in the book of Colossians. We are going to look at the power of being people of graceful gratitude.

If you don’t have a church home in Cedar Springs, I would be so honored if you would join us. If you cannot make it in person, check out our live broadcast on Periscope at 10:30am (search for user @craigtowens).

5 Ways To Live As A Free Servant

Peculiar not popularWe Americans love our freedom! But “freedom” is often misused and even abused—

  • We have sexual freedom … but not the “freedom” to say no.
  • We have freedom of expression … unless it’s “offensive” to me.
  • We have freedom of speech … unless I think it’s “hate speech.”

Freedom usually means: I am free to do what I want when I want to do it, but you are free to only do what I agree to. In other words, “freedom” has become subjective and selfish. For Christians, citizens of Heaven who are passing through Earth, the Bible calls us to use our freedom in a different way.

[1] Make sure your freedom is based in reverence for God (1 Peter 1:17). God is the One who will judge our actions. The Amplified Bible adds, “conduct yourselves in reverent fear of Him and with profound respect for God.”

[2] Live good lives, shown by your good deeds (1 Peter 2:12). The word good here means beautiful, useful, beneficial. In other words, the emphasis is more on action than on talk. George MacDonald wrote, “The time for speaking seldom arrives, the time for being never departs.”

[3] Do good to silence foolish talk (1 Peter 2:15). Notice the contrast between doing (the citizens of Heaven) and merely talking (the citizens of Earth). Good doing always trumps good talking.

[4] Live as free servants (1 Peter 2:16). That sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? A free servant?! But this is the same word used to describe Jesus in Philippians 2:7. It’s also how Jesus lived. In fact, the only time Jesus said, “I have set you an example” is when He was being the lowest of servants.

[5] Never forget the Cross (1 Peter 2:21-24; 4:1-6). Because of what Jesus did on the Cross for us, we die to sins and live for righteousness. Because of the Cross, we are to live differently from Earthlings.

When we live in this peculiar way, it gets noticed:

Simple question: If you are a Christian, are you living the way Peter instructs you to live?

We will be continuing our Aliens and Strangers series next Sunday, and I would love to have you join me. If you cannot be with us in person, tune-in to our Periscope broadcast (search for @craigtowens).

Christians As Priests

Priesthood of ChristiansThere are some extraordinary pictures in the Old Testament that take on new life when viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ. One picture is how God chose the Jewish people out of all the people on earth, how He then chose the tribe of Levi to serve as His priests, and then how He chose Aaron from the Levites to be the high priest.

The Jewish people, the Levites, and then Aaron became God’s special possession because He chose them; it’s not that He chose them because they were special. God did this to give us a picture of what He wants to do with all of us.

Although the Levites were chosen as priests, God tells all of Israel—

You will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:6)

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. That the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

When the Apostle Peter is speaking to New Testament Christians, he uses the same type of language. He calls all Christians:

Christians are ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ that are to carry out their priestly roles while on Earth. 

Peter also talks about where Christian priests are to minister. In the Old Testament, the priests had a set location where ministry was done. But Peter says we are living stones built on the Living Stone (2:4). That means that the place of worship today is not brick and mortar, but flesh and blood.

Christian priesthood is mobile, adaptable, empathetic, and responsive to the the needs of the people.

If you are a Christian, here are some good questions to ask yourself:

We will be continuing our series about how citizens of Heaven should live on Earth (a series we’ve called Aliens and Strangers) this Sunday. If you don’t have a home church in the Cedar Springs area, please come join us. If you cannot visit us in person, you can watch our Periscope broadcast (just search for user @craigtowens).

A Perspective On Problems

False ideas on problemsWe were blessed to have a special guest speaker yesterday morning: Jeff Hlavin. Wow, what a great word he shared with us! He continued in our series called Aliens and Strangers, on how Christians are to live in this world as citizens of Heaven. Below are a few notes I jotted down.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Using this verse as his introduction, Pastor Jeff shared four false ideas about problems:

  1. Problems are bad and are an interruption to our lives.
  2. All problems can be avoided by hard work, careful planning and clear thinking.
  3. Good Christians don’t have problems.
  4. My problems are a result of sin or are a sign of a lack of faith/maturity.

Instead I should see from a biblical perspective that…

“The Holy Spirit is the greatest Change Agent in a Christian’s life. I can only resolve this tension by obedience. … The devil tries to invoke turmoil in my life, but I can overcome this turmoil by submitting to God (James 4:7).” —Jeff Hlavin

“Trials develop spiritual/emotional/mental muscles that we need to have to soar into the place God has for us.” —Jeff Hlavin

If you would like to download a copy of the outline Pastor Jeff handed out to us, click here → Perspective on Problems Outline ←

We will be continuing in our Aliens and Strangers series this Sunday, and I’d love to have you join us. If you cannot attend in person, check out our broadcast on Periscope by searching for @craigtowens.

One Word

RedemptionWhen it comes right down to it, there is really just one word that makes Christians peculiar. Just one word changes our citizenship from Earth to Heaven. One word took us from a path where our sins had us headed toward an eternity in Hell.

Jesus stepped in where He didn’t have to go. Jesus became our sin to pay-off our sin debt. Jesus took us back from satan’s possession, and made us a part of His Father’s family.

Jesus redeemed us! 

I wonder if we truly understand that word redemption?

Peter is speaking to us as “strangers here in reverent fear” on Earth, and he calls us to live up to God’s call—Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44-45). He asks us to obediently follow God’s Word (1:22), to get rid of Earth-bound things (2:1), and instead taste that the Lord is good (2:3).

Why? Because we’ve been “redeemed from the empty way of life…by the precious blood of Christ” (1:18-19) We don’t live holy lives to try to earn redemption, but because we have been redeemed we are now capable of living holy lives!

To help illustrate his point, Peter quotes a couple of verses from Isaiah 40. In this chapter, we are invited to weigh the greatness and love and knowledge and power of God against the things we can provide for ourselves on Earth. Please check out the video below, where I go through this 40th chapter of Isaiah.

If you don’t have a home church in the Cedar Springs area, please join us this Sunday at 10:30am for our special guest speaker Jeff Hlavin. Pastor Hlavin will be continuing in our series on Aliens and Strangers. If you cannot join us live, tune-in to the Periscope broadcast (search @craigtowens on Periscope).

A Whole New Revelation

The Word and the SpiritHow would you like to have better insight than prophets like David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Daniel? How would you like to have a greater revelation of who Jesus is than even in the angels in Heaven? You can!

Peter tells us aliens and strangers how we should live on Earth as citizens of Heaven (1 Peter 1:13-16):

  • Our minds prepared for action
  • Self-controlled (another translation says sober)
  • Fully hopeful of God’s promises
  • Obedient children
  • Not conformed to the world’s standards
  • As holy as God is

If that sounds like a challenging list, it’s because it is a challenging list! But notice an important word that starts verse 13: Therefore. This tells us we must look at what came before the therefore to know how to respond to what comes after the therefore.

In the verses preceding (vv. 10-12) we read about Old Testament prophets and New Testament preachers. But notice the similarities between these two—They both spoke about grace and salvation, and they both spoke with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The Word of God was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is the same Holy Spirit that wants to give you a full revelation of what is in the Word.

The prophets searched carefully, but they never got to see Jesus come to Earth and fulfill the prophesies. The angels in Heaven have seen the story played out, but they don’t know what it is to have received a complete pardon for their sins that would have damned their souls to Hell.

That’s why Spirit-filled Christians who regularly study the Word of God have better insight than the prophets, and greater revelation than the angels!

What about you?

  1. Have you invited Jesus into your heart?
  2. If you have, are you regularly reading your Bible?
  3. If you are, have you allowed God to baptize you in His Holy Spirit?

This combination not only makes you peculiar to Earthlings, it makes you peculiar to prophets and angels too!

If you are in the Cedar Springs area and don’t have a home church, please join us at 10:30am Sunday morning. If you cannot join us in person, you can tune-in to our live broadcast on Periscope (search for @craigtowens).

To view the slides from this message, click here.

The Joy Of Trials

Drawing othersA quick show of hands: How many of you would consider your difficult situations a blessing from God?

Probably not a lot of hands went up, but it’s true.

Peter lists six blessings of God for which we can bless Him (see 1 Peter 1:3-3-9):

  1. God’s great mercy
  2. New birth
  3. Living hope
  4. An inheritance that can never perish
  5. God’s shielding power
  6. Trials

Trials?! Yep!

Peter is quick to tell us that trials only last for a little while, but they are sent our way to prove that our faith is genuine. He says that trials result in praise, glory and honor from God to us, and that successfully going through our trials lead to “an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

In trials you probably don’t feel like praising God, but our God-breathed soul is made up of more than just emotions. We also have been given a mind and a will. So here’s what I would suggest—in your trials, use your mind to reflect on the blessings of God. Then use your will to open your mouth. When you you do this, you will experience the emotion of an inexpressible and glorious joy.

In other words: you are more likely to act yourself into feeling than you are you feel yourself into action!

Look at how David did this in Psalm 34. In a huge trial…

  • …he used his mind and will: I will extol the Lord at all times.
  • …then his emotions kicked in: My soul will boast in the Lord.
  • …his worship helped others: let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
  • …and this pointed everyone to God: Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.

Seeing your trials as a way to bless God not only benefits you, but it draws others to God’s sustaining power as well.

If you live near Cedar Springs and don’t have a home church, it would be great to have you join us this Sunday as we continue in our Aliens and Strangers series. If you can’t make it in person, you can tune-in via Periscope (search for @craigtowens).

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