A church; what is a church? What are the "ingredients" of a church? Who are the persons who are making a church alive? First we have the Pastor. The pastor is a person of wisdom, knowledge and extreme compassion and if we are look closely, we realize that out of his heart will flow rivers of living waters; he is the chosen authority over the church and we have to follow him and respect him for he is the living representation of the Light of Jesus.
Then, we have the panel of elders. Through this panel, decisions are made. This panel is composed of people of all ages; and in the event division tries to knock at the door of this panel, we can hear someone say:" Let's pray!" And all of a sudden, the division is gone and the work begins.
Then we have the congregation. The gathering of different generations, the gathering of different
opinions and different times, therefore different timing. This is where we are. We are mixed. We are all together in a same room, sometimes not willing to listen to one another because we might not allow ourselves to understand one another.
Then we have the most precious people: our beloved seniors. They have so much to tell us. Sometimes they tremble for us and if we allow ourselves to take their hands and put them over our hearts, we will be able to hear their stories, their battles and their victories. Even though they do not have the same timing than ours, we will be able to receive from them the blessings that only our wonderful seniors can give to us, the newer generation. Our role then is to comfort them, to be with them, to support them to let them know as often as we can:" I am so happy the Lord blessed you; through you the Lord is blessing me. But I do not want you to be scared about my future; you are the image of Passover, you are the image of warmth and cool, even though sometimes you might have an attitude, I receive that this attitude has a purpose: You do not want me to go on the bumpy road you had to discover and you want to protect me. Therefore, be blessed, Grandpa, be blessed Grandma, I love you as the Lord loves you, without any condition because for me you will always be the living Light Jesus has given you, this Light we are all using to exhort you.
The question is why do we come to church? What motivation do we have to come to church? Is it by will or by tradition? What does the church bring us? Are we willing to listen and act following the guidance of our pastor? Do we only hear a sermon or do we listen to it?
The scriptures I have chosen relate to our will. The story of Jonah sleeping in the boat has a different meaning than the one where the apostles fell asleep; and I wanted to share with you this difference in order for us to understand what is going on in the event a church does not grow. But before I do that, I would like for us to be honest with ourselves and admit certain things that we have chosen to hide inside.
I am going to start with our habits, our circle of friends, I should say the limited circle of friends we decided to have, based on our own visual opinion on the appearance of the ones we have met during the past months or years. As I mentioned to you before, I would like for us to be honest with ourselves today because I feel that honesty is the base of our own self-esteem, therefore the basis of the communication we have to have with one another. The reason is that first of all we have to understand what Jesus was saying when He said to us:" Love your neighbor as yourself".(Mat 19:19b). He meant know yourself and do not lie to yourself pretending that you can be or you can do when you know that you will find excuses not to do or to be. It is always easier to say": I would like to do that" than doing it. Therefore, if we want to love our neighbor as ourselves, we first have to admit who we are truthfully, and from this stage, we will be able to understand and love our neighbor. We can't just pretend, otherwise it is only superficial. This is one of the main components of the difference between being asleep or being alive. Obviously, we cannot see the difference if we are not honest with ourselves, and reaching out to others.
Now isn't it true that we have a tendency to listen to the philosophy, that is to understand with our mind instead of letting the Spirit guide us, meaning reading the Bible in which all answers are found? The question is who do we trust, God or men? If we pretend that we love the One we do not see, if we have decided to follow Christ, if we have made a covenant with Him as our personal Savior, our guide, our leader, our comforter, our protector, our counselor, why do we have this preferred tendency to reach out and to listen to a philosopher? Because we decided to forget that the Word of God is true, that the Word of God does not fade away, the Word of God does not come from the brain of men but from God Himself to the Spirit of men. The scripture is an absolute rule of faith and practice, and was designed for the man of God, the minister as well as the Christian "who is devoted to God, because it is profitable for doctrine" (2 Titus 3:16); in other words, it has been dictated by God to men for them to follow.
If we consult the scripture, which was given by inspiration of God, and follow its directions, we shall be made men of God, "perfect, and thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Titus 3:17). There is no occasion for the writings of the philosopher, nor for rabbinical fables, nor popish legends, nor unwritten traditions, to make us perfect men of God, since the scripture answers all these ends and purposes. Beloved, we should love our Bible more and keep closer to the Word than ever; then we shall find the benefits and advantages and at last attain the happiness therein promised and assured to us. If we choose not to follow what Jesus is saying to us, we are against Him; He Himself said :" he who is not with Me is against Me"(Luke 11:23); being asleep or alive is a question of faith, therefore a question of obedience, a question of allowing ourselves deep into an intimate living relationship with the first born over all creation (Colossians 1:15b), our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15a) who is not only our Lord but the Savior of all men and women, inasmuch as they believe in Him.
But what is faith? We all know the definition of Faith by reading its description in the book of Hebrews 11:1. But we have to understand what it means. Remember that when we have a question, the Bible is the answer.
Let's look at the book of James , chapter 2 verse14:"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give him the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that there is one God. You do well.
Even the demons believe-and tremble! 20But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
Therefore, as it is written, it is by faith we have grace and not only by the works we do. Let's ask ourselves the following question: "Because we have grace by faith, if by the absence of works our faith is dead, what happens to grace?"
As I was sharing with you earlier, we have this tendency to listen to philosophers, therefore we are acting on what a man or a woman is telling us based on human philosophy, on human understanding. The Bible talks about the consequences of our decision; before we look at the Word of the Lord, let's not forget that at the time we are making a decision according to our flesh, because we believe in men rather than listening to God, we are acting on the behalf of persons, we have decided to judge others, we want the respect from someone, we want to be the ultimate authority; brothers and sisters, this is pure obedience to the works of the devil. This is rebuking our own covenant.
Let's look at it for it is contained in the same book, James 2, verse 12:" So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment; let's be merciful; if we allow ourselves to judge any of our brothers and sisters, we are deceiving ourselves, we are falling asleep under the temptation of the evil one. We are falling asleep in our own comfort zone and no one can come in. We have traditions and because we cultivate our traditions, therefore our attitude stands. The more of an attitude we have, the more blindness and deafness we will experience; our heart will never understand that if we finally realize what we are doing and that we decide to turn around and open our eyes and ears, our hearts will finally realize that there is One with whom we made a covenant, the only One who can deal with any situation and heal our brothers and our sisters, as well as ourselves: his name is Jesus the Nazarene, better known as Jesus the Christ, Jesus the crucified, Jesus the only one who has been raised from the dead and told us before any other words :" Peace be with you", the Son of the only Father and Creator of all things, to whom He gave all authority.
But we have our traditions, our habits, our attitudes and most of all our fear. We do not want to admit that we have fear because we do not want others to know about it. And it is unfortunate to admit, if we decide to be honest with ourselves that we do not have fear of God as it should be but fear of men. It is well known that when things are going well, God is way behind us, Jesus is also way behind us sometimes when we say to someone :" God bless you"
Today, let's make a commitment, let's forget all of that, let's walk in faith, with open eyes, with open ears, with an open heart. Forget philosophers, let's listen to Jesus, let's take a time off with Him, let's have the courage to listen to what He has to say to us, let's have the courage to go out of our house to a land He wants us to go to; for this land, wherever it is located, is our destiny, where we belong, where the Father has built our storehouse, where we are going to be able to live for Him, with Him and Him with us.
But what is the difference between Jonah and the Apostles?
Jonah fell asleep because he had fear of the Lord and decided to disobey the Will of God. He wanted to escape according to the will of his flesh instead of doing things according to the Will of God. By making the decision of being disobedient he became the object of division, because he did not want to have anything to do with the gentiles; he wanted to deal with his own business and not bother with anybody else if they were not from the Lord. Even though they were asking him to be saved, he refused and became the troublemaker, the divider amongst people.
The Apostles were asked to watch over with Jesus, to pray to the Father but even though their spirits were willing, their flesh was weak.
Therefore, if we allow ourselves to follow our flesh, to follow our weakness, and to live in our comfort zone and decide to stay in our comfort zone, we cannot be the true followers and workers of the Church who was created in the beginning, and the family of the children of God will stay divided with false doctrines, fornicaters, false prophets, rituals, etc. Unfortunately, the family will never grow due to the fact that we will never be ready when the time comes, even though the Lord called us a long time ago through Jeremiah, saying:" Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding" (Jer 3:22).
Let's not allow ourselves to stay asleep instead of being ready to receive our rewards from the Lord. What do we want? To dine with Him and Him with us, to sit on His throne with Him or to be left behind when He is coming back? Let's seek our Jesus, the only one who answers our prayers, the only one who knows our faith and rewards us with grace; He is the healer yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let's be alive in Him, with Him and Him with us. For our tendency to judgement is not worthy to be shared, let's accept to receive and we will see that the mercy or our Lord always triumphs over judgement unless we found ourselves fighting against Him. Let's forget the loud speaking philosophers who said that Jesus was one of them. Jesus is born of God; the philosophers are born of the flesh. My Jesus, your Jesus is not a philosopher because a philosopher cannot say to a lady who was bleeding for years:"
Your faith has made you well"(Mat 9:22) and on top of it He said to her:" "be of good cheer", meaning be happy, have joy in your heart, I have heard your prayers of faith. A philosopher cannot say to a little girl who was dead:" "Little girl I say to you arise (Mark 5 41b)" and she was raised from the dead and walked before all; a philosopher cannot say to a paralytic :" take your bed and go to your house" (Mat 9:6b)!! I would like to spend days with you to impart in you the blessings of the Lord but I just want to invite you to be with Him as He is with you, I just want to invite you to dine with Him as He wants to dine with you, I just want you to sit with Him on His throne. Why? Because I, Bernard, a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, having received His grace upon me, truly I say to you on His behalf: "My children I believe in you. "You are the salt on the earth." (Mat 5:13) Do not lose its flavor. I say to you that because you had the courage to come to Him and ask Him to rescue you, the courage you had was the beginning of a life you never knew before. Go out into the harvest and do not be afraid of men for men are waiting for you to receive from Him, through you. Tell them the same phrase He is telling you today:" I believe in you" Ask and it will be given to you (Mat. 7:7), Ask and you will receive" (John 16:24). If you were blind in your heart before, "receive your sight, your faith has made you well" (Luke 18:42)
Children of Pakistan, receive your sight, your faith has made you well. The manifestation of His presence is real. One of you, Rahida Bibi has received her rewards not too long ago because she stayed on His promise. The promise of the Lord is for all of you. The promise of the Lord does not have more favor to someone or someone else. The promise of God is for all. It is the "undefiled and incorruptible inheritance that does not fade away" (1st Peter 1:4) and the best news you had to receive today is that you, the children of Pakistan are included in this inheritance. You are no longer in the darkness but you are in His Light, you are the Light. He is the Light through you! Alleluia!! He never left you behind and our beloved Rashida has a testimony for you how God has had compassion on her. She believed in Him, always, without falling back. She knew that His love was for her. She knew that she was not left alone but that He was with her, within her, giving her the strength to proclaim His Holy Name. She went to see a man recently. This man has been hard on her for years. Her house was destroyed, her physical life was destroyed but not her Spiritual life.
No one can take away what the Lord gave you. No one can take your soul away because you gave everything you had to Jesus. He saw her and as the scripture says:" Pray to your father who sees you n secret and He will reward you openly (Mat 6:6). Jonah decided to sleep in the bottom of the boat, Bibi stayed alive on the top of the mountain, glorifying His name. The Apostles were found asleep by Jesus, the day He was going to be delivered to the Romans, Rashida has been awake all this time, waiting in faith. She was rewarded for the man to whom her husband owed money, gave back all of the monies owed to him, forgiving her husband through her as Rashida told her that she had forgiven him. He said to take the money and to start rebuilding her house. Not knowing it, this man told her the same phrase Jesus told the "paralytic man:" take your bed and go to your house" (Mat 9:6)The Lord is alive and well through us. He has prepared "the table before us in the presence of my enemies". To close my sharing with you today, let me invite you to read all together, the following scripture. The words are the aroma of our lives, the presence of the Lord, the representation of the blessings He has poured upon us: Psalm 23. In my next message to you, I will develop this scripture with you. Let's read or listen by closing our eyes.
When you are done reading:
Let me invite you to the table He has prepared for you; the table is Jesus. If today and I hope that we have newcomers today, you want to have a living, talking relationship with Jesus, or if you need help to wake up, I would like to invite you to this Holy table, leading you to either receive your identity as children of God or to rededicate your life to Him.
Take the first sermon on salvation and lead them to repeat. Here is a short version: Invite the congregation to pray as well:
Father I come to you today.
I believe in my heart that Jesus is your Son,
That He died on the cross for me,
That my redemption has come
And that I am now on the road to glory.
Jesus, I believe in my heart that by shedding Your blood for me
I am now pure for I have been cleansed by it.
Today, I make a decision.
My life is no longer my own
I give it to you Jesus.
Wherever you lead me
I will follow you.
Be my Lord and Savior
I repent for my sins with all my heart.
I am now a child of God,
I am now part of You as You are part of me.
I call you Lord and it is in Your name that I pray today.