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Looking to Jesus One Day at a Time

This sermon was delivered by Pastor Joel Littlefield at New City Church, Bath, ME on March 11, 2018.

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Give us this day our daily bread.”

Every word in this little sentence carries meaning for us and we’re going to take it one piece at a time, looking with eyes towards Christ.

GIVE

Matthew 7:9  “Which one of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

God is that supreme Giver. Jesus is making a comparison between earthly fathers who are sinful, and a perfect heavenly Father. If you being evil can give good gifts, how much more…

This is not a blank check for whatever we want. It’s a pre-written check that says, “I will do all my will, all that is my good for you, and accomplish what I desire for you.” 

The greatest motivator for coming to God is not that He gives us what we want, but that He will accomplish what is good for us. He invites us to join Him in that desire through prayer.

We’re asking for His will and not ours. We’re not expecting that He should, or even would, give us something that is outside of His sovereign will.

To say “Give” is not to demand from God, but to humbly request. Whether it’s for food, or clothing, or some other daily provision, we come at His mercy. And whether He gives or not, whether He gives when we ask for it, or not at all, He knows what we need before we ask. And if we ask for something that we do not need, even if it seems like the most practical and pressing thing, to say “Your will be done” Is to walk in true freedom.

The greatest of men must be beholden to the mercy of God for their daily bread, –  Matthew Henry

GIVE US

This is a reminder that we come, not just for ourselves, but with the whole Church of God in our minds. Think of Jesus who thanked His Father for the bread, then multiplied it for others to eat.  Admittedly, It’s hard to think about more than just ourselves when we’re the ones in need of bread. But it’s still Christlike to do so. And it’s the very mindset that belief in the Gospel will give you.

When you know your Heavenly Father cares for you eternally, and has given you eternal life through Jesus, then you are truly free to care for others. 

When you pray, give us this day, you’re coming with a willingness to carry others burdens through your fervent prayers.

The word “us” is also a reminder of our need to be around other people. If you’re never in a situation that calls for an “us” kind of prayer, then you’re missing out on a very important aspect of the Kingdom, that is, that you are part of the family of God. You’re not alone in your needs.

To say, “give us” this day, is ultimately to come to God with a mind having been saturated with the Gospel, so that we come with a mind for the good and provision of other, and not only ourselves. Remember that the Gospel takes those who were once alienated from God because of sin, and joins them together as one family through the blood of Jesus.

THIS DAY

I want you think of what kind of discipline it would take for you to pray only for what you need today, and do not worry for a moment about tomorrow or next week, or your plans for the summer. I don’t mean don’t plan at all. But when it comes to trusting Jesus, you know as well as I do that’s it’s enough to worry about today alone.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

They do not gather into barns. The birds of the air do not have a retirement plan or 401K or money that’s earning interest in the bank. They simply have what they need each day.

“We are here taught to acknowledge our entire dependence on God for the supply of our daily necessities.” JC Ryle

Exodus 16:4 “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

The Lord wants our trust daily. He will test you until you trust Him with the kind of trust that rests in Jesus. Do not strive in your own strength, but walk in the Spirit. To rest in Jesus is not a call to laziness, but to the most productive lives we could ever live. Trusting Jesus for the needs of each day means you will work hard at loving others, laying down your life for others, all for His glory and praise.

OUR DAILY BREAD

It’s the meat of our request. It’s not extravagant. Bread is the food both of beggars and of kings. It was a staple in the Jewish diet and Jesus used it in many of His teachings to paint a picture of provision for the body as well as for the soul. Now which is more important? Which one can we truly not live without? Bread for the body, or bread for the soul? Here’s a hint – Jesus said that He is the bread from heaven who came to fill us with eternal life. He is the fulfillment of that Manna story in the wilderness. He is the miraculous provision in the midst of our sin and grumbling. He is the Sabbath rest that gives us rest from our toil trying to keep the law perfectly, and in whom we can rest daily for all that we need.

The ultimate sense of this prayer is to trust. Trust in Him. Trust in what He provides and nothing else. Go to Him for bread because He is the Bread from Heaven.  He gave His very flesh to be beaten and bruised so that poor and weak sinners without a shepherd could be saved and filled to never hunger again.

When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, we do not need to be discouraged if provision doesn’t come in the manner we want it to. What matters is that we trust the Father who sent living bread from heaven to save us. And He would do that, shouldn’t we then trust Him with everything?

We come at His mercy, selflessly and confidently, trusting him for TODAY and looking ultimately to Jesus for all things.

The Proof of Forgiveness

This sermon was delivered by Pastor Joel Littlefield at New City Church, Bath, ME on March 18, 2018.

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First, I want to clarify the definitions of the two key components in this text, then we’ll address what Jesus is saying to us about it, and how this affects each of us today.

First, what is forgiveness?  We can look at it two ways. To experience forgiveness is to be released from bondage or imprisonment.  Second, to be the one to forgive is to pardon the offended, or to let go as if the offense had never been committed, and no longer hold anything against them. And let’s just say right off the bat that just because Jesus teaches it, doesn’t mean that doing it is easy.

I also want you to know that Jesus’s teaching on forgiveness is not just a moral lesson. The main goal of this text or this message is not to get you to be better at forgiving. And I’m not saying that if you forgive everyone in your life and become the most generous person in the world that God will forgive you because of it. Forgiveness from God is never earned by good works, but it is always transformational, leading to good works.

Whether we are the ones forgiving a wrong, or the ones in need of forgiveness today, there is a greater issue that Jesus is bringing up and it’s that you and I have trespassed against God. And if not pardoned, we owe God a greater debt than what we could ever owe to anyone.

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The second word in play here is the word debt. In short, we know this is referring to sin. It’s a sin debt. People who don’t think of sin as debt at all probably also don’t believe in a God who judges sinners or that everyone who is not forgiven of sin will one day pay for their debt with their life by eternal banishment from the loving and favorable presence of God.

Think of it like this. God gave all mankind life at creation. Instead of giving him worship and glory, we rebelled and sinned, and now we’re in debt and the payment is death.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable that we call “The parable of the unforgiving servant”. As with all parables, Jesus is painting a picture of a certain truth about the Kingdom that will be very clear to all those God is giving an ear to hear it, and will remain mysterious to the hard of heart.  Peter comes to Jesus and says, “How many times do I have to forgive a person who wrongs me?” And Jesus says, not just seven times, as Peter had hoped, but 77 times, and proceeds with this story of what the Kingdom is like.

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The Kingdom of God in this parable is described as having a King. That King has servants.  Notice that there is a record of account between the King and every servant. Everyone owes the King something. They are indebted to Him.

Jesus narrows in on one servant that owes the King 10,000 talents. That is the modern equivalent of approximately 7 Billion dollars (20 years wages x 10.000) Impossible to pay that back, right? And because he was unable to pay, the master demanded that he be sold with his wife and his children and all their possessions in order to pay the debt. In other words, sin costs you everything. The next moment the servant is on his knees imploring his master for mercy and patience, and suddenly with a great act of grace the master forgives all the debt.

Just as he’s leaving his master with this great burden now lifted, he looks over and sees one of his fellow servants, a man just like him, who owes him only a couple hundred dollars in today’s equivalent. What does he do? He seizes him and grabs him by the throat to demands that he pay his debt immediately. The fellow servant pleaded with him, just as he had done with the King earlier, but the servant had no pity on his fellow man and he cast him into prison until he could pay.  When rest of the town caught wind of this unforgiving servant they brought the news to the master. Notice what the master said.

“You wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also will your Heavenly Father do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

So that we do not misunderstand this sermon as just a moral lesson, and think that the way to be right before God is to forgive others (a work), let me clarify what this is saying in light of the rest of Scripture.

God is THAT King. The servants are all the peoples on this globe and everyone in this room this morning. We have all owed God because we have all sinned against him, and the debt is greater than 7 billion dollars. In fact, it’s an eternal debt that none of us can pay. The message of forgiveness goes out to all this morning.

Forgiveness in Jesus, through faith in the finished work of the cross, is the only payment sufficient to carry our debts away and cast them as far as the east is from the west.

It’s a work of the Holy Spirit to bring a man to repentance and faith in the cross, and to the realization that because of Jesus’s blood shed for us we are debt free.

No guilt. No record of sin held against us.

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Here’s the application. If you leave this room today and find that in your heart you cannot love those who hate you, that you will not forgive the person who has wronged you, that you will not stop trying to avenge yourself for all that the unjust and unfair people of this world have done to you, then you are only proving the very thing that this servant proved to his master. You do not know the forgiveness of God and you do not understand the Gospel, and you are still in debt with no hope of ever paying.

There is no purgatory. There is no reincarnation to try this all again. There is only one life and one hope for this life, and that is to be purchased by the blood of Jesus to belong forever to Him, to be forgiven of all sin and filled with His mercy. And with that mercy God transforms a person to go and do likewise.

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Missionaries to Our City

New City Church is on a mission to make disciples, equip the church, and renew the city. God has made us a family of servant missionaries through faith in Jesus. And that is why we, in addition to our Sunday gathering, have a vision to launch City Groups throughout our region, to help us to live out our God-given identity.

Family

It is vital that a City Group functions as a family. And just as every family on earth is unique, each City Group will take on the uniqueness of its members while carrying the common and uniting vision of New City Church. Whether the group meets once a week or once a month it is essential that meals, fun outings, cookouts, or some form of informal gathering be a regular part of our journey together. Spending time laughing, eating, and enjoying each other’s company as a family will create a bond between the group that few other things can. As a family we will endure trials together and discover our weaknesses as well as strengths and gifts. The lives of married people, singles, students, parents and grandparents will be seen in raw form and we will be better for it. As life on life happens the group will learn to pray for each other, comfort, encourage and even rebuke sin with far less hypocrisy. Because God is our Heavenly Father we are no longer orphans, but sons and daughters through Christ, and brothers and sisters. City Groups help us to live as such.

Servants

Jesus came as the ultimate Servant. He went to the cross in our place and took our sins upon His shoulders. Through faith in Him we are no longer slaves to our sin, but to righteousness. We are free to live for His glory, not only as individuals, but as a family. A City Group is committed to becoming better servants as we grow in the Word, prayer and accountability. Each group’s emphasis will depend on the season and specific missional focus of each group. One season might call for a focus on prayer and fasting as they prepare for missions in the park or to the local schools. Another season might bring the group through deeper study in the Bible in order to grow or be challenged in an area of recognized need, like marriage, missions, justice or forgiveness. It can fluctuate, and that’s the beauty of it.

Missionaries

God is a missionary God and His Word is calling us to action, to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. We are called to be a blessing, and to live as salt and light for this earth. That is why City Groups exist, to glorify God by letting our lights shine in our city. We all have neighbors who need Jesus. Schools, teachers, city officials, housing developments and recreation facilities are places to be a blessing in Jesus’ name. City Groups gather, not just to grow as a family, but to go as a family; to be on mission in our city.

The mission of a City Group should be both proactive and reactive. For example, if a members neighbor just lost their home to a fire, a City Group can spend a couple weeks praying for the family and gathering practical items to serve and love them. It may be beneficial to help with clean up, do a yard sale or fundraiser for the family, or pitch in as a City Group and make meals to lighten the load. For that period, that becomes the mission.

A City Groups needs to be in regular prayer over the city and its people, deciding where to actively serve and bless. It could be cleaning a school playground once a month, helping at the soup kitchen, tutoring children through the school year or building an ongoing relationship with the local PD. Every place a City Group chooses to adopt as its mission is an opportunity to see the hurting, hear the broken, to love and offer hope and call the lost to salvation in Jesus.

It’s The Next Step

If you have been gathering with us on Sundays and have wondered what’s next for you, if you’ve wondered how you can grow deeper with Jesus and with your church family, this is it. We believe that by regularly living in community with believers, making disciples and using our gifts and talents to serve our greater community, we will find the greatest fulfillment in life.

If you’d like to join a City Group, please contact us.

Aren’t There Already Enough Churches?

 

One of the most common questions a new church planter might hear is, “Aren’t there already enough churches in this town?”

And because it’s important for me as a planter to know why I’m planting, and because those who are asking deserve a good answer, I’ve given it a lot of thought.

Most cities and towns in America have numerous Churches, each differing in style, denominational affiliation, size and scope of mission.

It’s no different in my city of Bath, Maine. There are already 6-7 well established Churches here. So how can I justify coming to a small town of under 10,000 people and planting another Church? It comes down to the fact that I’m asking a different question altogether, one that I believe is far more important; one that will lead to far greater Kingdom impact.

I’m asking, are there still lost people in this city? And the answer is a resounding YES. There are souls to be saved, disciples to be made, Christians to be strengthened and sent out with the Gospel.

That is why New City Church, though only one among many, is needed in Bath. It’s because the mission is large, the harvest is plentiful, and there is not one church or ministry that can do it all. In fact, it was Jesus himself that commanded us to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more laborers in each harvest field. Praying this way keeps us focused on the vastness of the harvest as well as the constant need for more laborers. Thinking this way will keep Churches from becoming stingy, territorial and bitter.

New City Church has come to labor in the fields. We joyfully acknowledge that there are others here who have labored longer and have been faithful to the mission of the gospel. But we also know that the work is far from over and that the surface of souls won for Jesus has barely been scratched.

The vision is different, but not for the sake of being different. God has spoken something uniquely to my heart as a planter, as He does each and every church-planter. My family, the elders and congregants that God will call me to lead and shepherd are all unique. Our gifts are different. Our backgrounds are different. And God will use these differences to reach people that the Church down the street isn’t reaching. Just as they will reach people we simply cannot reach, and that’s ok. That is God’s design and it’s beautiful.

We also recognize that in many cases there is an “old wine skin” mentality. The Spirit of God is on the move everywhere, seeking to bring freshness and newness of life in the hearts of man. Many times it just the newness of something that people, most often Christians, are unwilling to accept.

Fortunately, in large part, that has not been the case here in Bath. Though not all have come with open arms, many have. Pastors and leaders from both denominational and non-denominational tribes have welcomed me and my family, prayed with me in my church office and in the local coffee shop. I met with a long term minister/missionary and founder of a local Christian camp who expressed gratefulness to our vision and mission here. One retired ministry couple of a well known local church called to say they have been praying for more help in Bath and offered to introduce me to their team so as to pray together. These have all been like breaths of fresh air and have brought more excitement to our mission. But for those who still don’t quite understand why we need more Churches here in Bath, or in any place for that matter, may you search the face of Christ and find compassion for the lost.

As New City Church continues to build a core and pray through the early phases of our mission, we will seek to emphasize three areas that we strongly believe represent the new skin into which God’s Spirit can flow.  Disciple-making, deeply theological but relevant preaching of the Word that strengthens the body, and a sense of family togetherness that stretches outside of the church walls with the Gospel to the lost world around us. By the power of God’s Spirit and through faithfulness in prayer, I believe New City Church will greatly impact Bath for the Glory of God.

Building the Core Team

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” Acts 4:32

A core team is the backbone of a Church plant. How that core team actually looks and takes shape is going to be different depending on several factors. The culture, the sending-church, the background and planting style of the Church-planter and his family will all play into how the core team begins and then moves through each phase of the church-plant. But whether it’s one family or five families to begin with, there is always a core team. The quality of that team effects both the momentum and the spiritual health and stability of that church as it grows.

Last week, at New City Church, we met for the first time in our small meeting space in Bath. Several believers showed up whom we had never met before. There were about 18 in total, including children. I led us through a time of worship, prayer, a short study and then communion at the Lord’s table (My vision is to incorporate the four pillars of Acts 2:42 into our early gatherings). It was truly a Spirit-filled time that will only get better and better as a family begins to form. The evening unfolded and I found myself thinking often, as I looked about the room,

“Who is the core team here?”

“Who are the few You are sending or have sent to partner with my family on this mission; a mission that, without your Spirit, will be impossible to accomplish?”

“Who is just here to get, and who is here to give their lives for the mission of making disciples in this city?”

Even now as I type, I am asking God and trusting Him to pour out His Spirit on our city and to bring to it the laborers whom He desires to be a part of New City Church and the harvest of souls on Maine’s mid-coast.

Emphasis on the Word Team

So, why not go about this alone? Why not drag my family through days and days of intense spiritual battle, even go right up to the front lines of Gospel ministry, firing and being fired at, all by ourselves? The reason seems pretty  obvious when the question is posed that way, doesn’t it? The thought of battling without comrades in arms, fighting without backup, armor bearers and soldiers with common goals and objectives is simply absurd. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar to the nightmarish thought of trying to parent and raise my children without my bride, my partner and best friend. We get each other. We know the mission. We understand each other. That’s what a Church-plant needs.

“For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:5

But it’s more than just needing partners in Church-planting. It’s understanding that the Church is a family that leans upon one another and on Christ together. When a core team comes together that gets that, that understands the importance of suffering together, rejoicing together, succeeding, failing and praying together through all of it, then you’ve got something unstoppable. Why? Because that’s the Church that Jesus promised to build, and the gates of Hell cannot prevail against His Church.

Set Apart by the Spirit

We are taking the next several months to ask God to show us who our core team is. Many are here in our city already, praying for God to move in their community, and God is answering. Some were at our first meeting and have been praying for years for more light to come into the darkness here. Some, perhaps, will come from other places as the Lord works providentially through His Church and through unexpected means. As a dear friend and mentor of mine told me before planting, “Your core might be in the harvest itself.” That just might be.  But however they come, it absolutely must be as the Spirit sets them apart for the work. Neither He, nor we, are looking for perfect people, or particularly gifted people for that matter, but simply those who recognize their weakness without Him. We long for New City Church to be a family who serves alongside one another for the glory of God and the making of disciples in this city.

Pray For This Process

So if you’re wondering how you can be praying for New City Church, and for my family, now you know. Please pray that God’s will would be done in this phase of core team building. I’m putting no time frame on this. It’s up to God when we’re ready to move from this phase to the next. Pray that during this time we would be protected from the schemes of the Devil who would just as soon have us wiped of the face of the earth. Pray that God would be magnified and His Church multiplied in this city.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s current motto says, “Better Together”. That’s something we’re choosing to take serious from the get go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praying for First Converts

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There are a lot of details going into the the new Church plant in Bath. But details are just details. And I know God will work those out. Something that is consuming my mind, though, and rightly so, is the thought of who the first convert to Christ might be. I’m asking God to begin to prepare that heart even now. He knows every person there, every circumstance and every pain felt in that city. He knows the brokenness and the sin that abounds in every land. And I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the remedy to all of that.

I think of Paul’s journey to Philippi and how God used his boldness and his preaching to convert three particular souls to Christ, and from them, the Church at Philippi was born.

Maybe there is a wealthy, religious and influential business woman in Bath, like Lydia, the seller of purple, whom Paul met at the river praying. She was broken and lost. Paul witnessed God open her heart to believe the Gospel. She and her whole household got saved that day.

Maybe there is a troubled or demon possessed teen there, like the girl who Paul met in the streets of Philippi. Her fortune-telling brought monetary gain to her employer, but Paul would not have it. He cast the demon out, was accused of disrupting the city and was thrown into prison. That young girl was used and abused for God knows how long. She was changed by the truth of Jesus that day.

Perhaps the first convert will be a public official, like the Philippian jailer whom Paul met in prison. Paul worshiped God in the darkness of the cell and all heard it. God did a miracle before the jailer’s eyes. The shackles were removed from Paul and the jailer’s heart was changed. He saw the shackles of sin in his own heart that needed to be removed. “What must I do to be saved?”, he asked. And he was baptized, he and his entire household.

The first three converts in Philippi was a seller of purple, a demon possessed girl and a jailer. Paul wrote back to that city and the Church there some years later with these words.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV)

However it all works out, I cannot wait to see what God does through the power of His Spirit and through the proclamation of the Gospel in that city. May God send laborers into that harvest.

This blog was published a couple months before we moved to Maine to plant New City Church.