Red Stone Fellowship meets on Sundays at 10:00 am.
236 Hollis Rd. Lexington, SC 29073      (803) 351-2503
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And then Jesus told them, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone." Mark 16:15

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The Prescription for Powerful Peace

August 1, 2021

Plugging the Leak in Your Joy

July 25, 2021

   Opening Passage: Galatians 5:22-25 (NLT) — 22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
   Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

   In 1937 architect Frank Lloyd Wright built a house for industrialist Hibbard Johnson. One rainy evening Johnson was entertaining distinguished guests for dinner when the roof began to leak.
   The water seeped through directly above Johnson himself, dripping steadily onto his bald head. Irate, he called Wright in Phoenix, Arizona.
   “Frank,” he said, “you built this beautiful house for me and we enjoy it very much. But … the roof leaks, and right now I am with some friends and distinguished guests and it is leaking right on top of my head.”
   There was a pause on the line, and Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly replied: “Well, Hib, why don’t you move your chair?

   This morning we’re going to be talking about Joy
   Galatians 5 says that one of the fruit of the Spirit is JOY … and I had not realized until I started doing the research for this lesson how central Joy and Rejoicing were to the people of God
   I. What I discovered was that the Word of God seems to focus heavily on Joy.
    In the Jewish Encyclopedia Kaufmann Kohler stated that no language has as many words for joy and rejoicing as does Hebrew. In the Old Testament there are 27 different words that are used primarily … for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship.
   Hebrew religious ritual (says Kohler) demonstrates that God is the source of joy.
   In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration. The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life. Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.
   The psalmist says in Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
   The New Testament stresses this as heavily as the Old did:
   1 Thessalonians 5:16 commands us to “Always Be joyful.”
   Romans 12:12 says we should “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying.”
   And Philippians 4:4 states “Rejoice in the Lord always ... and again I say Rejoice!”
    Now, I’ve always been intrigued by that last quote there from Philippians 4 … “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
   What intrigued me was that Paul felt compelled say it “again”. Why would Paul feel he had to repeat himself?
   Then I realized, as a parent (and as a pastor) I repeat myself quite a lot to my children and my congregation. And, I repeat myself … and I repeat myself … and I repeat myself. Why do I feel I have to do that?
   Because my children nor my congregation aren’t listening! They’re not paying any attention to me!
   There are many Christians who struggle with this idea of having “joy” in their lives. Their problem is THEY DON’T HAVE ANY JOY!
    The evangelist Billy Sunday noticed this absence of joy in the lives of many people he preached to, and he observed: “If there is no joy in your religion, you’ve got a leak in your faith.”
   In other words - if there’s no joy in your life - you have a problem. You’ve got a leak someplace and you need to find a way to deal with it. In a world that is often discouraging and frustrating, how can a Christian keep the Joy of the Lord as their strength?
   II. Now, some will point out that the reason they have no joy in their lives is because they don’t have a reason to be joyful.
   Life seems like it’s just fallen apart around them.
   They aren’t satisfied with their job … if they even have one nowadays.
   Their family has problems.
   Their health isn’t good
   Their car has gone in for repairs for the 10th time this year.
   They just can’t see a “reason” for being joyful.
   And, in today’s society I can’t blame people for feeling that way. It’s hard to be joyful when life is going against you at every turn. It’s hard to be joyful when you’re
   … struggling with troubles,
   …or overwhelmed by pain,
   …or unsure of your future.
   But there’s a problem with THAT approach to life. If we wait till everything to turns out the way we want them to in our lives … if we’re not going to be joyful until all the leaks are patched in our lives … THEN we’re NEVER going to experience JOY. Or, if we do have joy, it will be a rare occurrence.
   In John 16:33 Jesus Himself warned us that "… In this world you will have trouble..."
   Now, the good news is this. You don’t have to wait until you’re Happy with your life to have joy in your life. The kind of joy God wants you to have in your life WILL bring you happiness. But the pursuit of happiness will not always bring you joy.   

   I read where someone said “All squares are rectangles … but not all rectangles are squares”
   I believe the same kind of concept exists in Scripture: “God’s Joy will always bring happiness … but the pursuit of happiness will not always bring joy.”
   Why would that be?
   The word happiness actually derives from the English word “Happenstance” which means “something that HAPPENs because of a circumSTANCE”
   Therefore – what we think of as happiness is an emotion that is caused by our circumstances. Worldly happiness is almost always reliant upon some situation or event to make us feel good.
   If something good happens … we’ll feel good
   But if something bad happens … we won’t.
   By contrast … God’s kind of Joy does not depend upon your present situation. In fact, God’s joy often can exist despite our circumstances.

   A person once asked his friend … “How are you doing?”
   His friend was upset about something that had happened in his life and replied “Oh … all right – under the circumstances.”
   To which the 1st man replied “what are you doing there? What are you doing UNDER your circumstance.”
   God doesn’t want us to be UNDER our circumstances
   God wants us to be OVERCOMERS and get on top of those circumstances.
   He wants to give us the ability to have control of our lives.
   He wants to set us free from the chains and the shackles that life and the devil can impose on us.
   In John 8:36 Jesus said: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
   III. That’s why Scripture so often tells us to rejoice …even when it doesn’t make any sense. Rejoice … even when you don’t feel like it.
   James 1:2-4 tells us to “2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
   In 1 Peter 4:12-13 Peter tells the Christians of his day: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
   What are these scriptures saying???
   They’re saying – If the roof is leaking and you can’t get someone to fix it right away… MOVE YOUR CHAIR. They’re saying change your perspective … check your attitude … and take some control of your life – by rejoicing –.
   A pastor shared this story “At the first church I served, I was visiting one of the ladies in the nursing home. She had had a stroke some time before and the entire left side of her body and face were immobile.
   She was very difficult to visit with because when I would try to share news from the congregation she would cry. If I shared sad news, she cried.
   If I shared good news, happy news, exciting news … she cried. Everything I shared with her brought about the same heart rending response. She couldn’t help it.
   But one day, when I stepped into her room I found her writing letters with her good hand. She was writing letters of encouragement to the people back at the home church.
   Here was a woman who was in a nursing home
   A woman crippled by a stroke
   A woman who’s only form of verbal communication seemed to be crying
   And she refused to let that destroy the Joy of Christ that laid within her.”
   She took control of her situation by doing the only thing her body would allow her to do for her God.”
   In the Bible there’s the story of Paul and Silas.
   They were ministering in the city of Philippi … and they were arrested.
   Acts 16:22-24 tells us that “22A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.”
   They really hadn’t done anything wrong.
   All they had done was preach the love of Jesus and healed a demon possessed girl.
   BUT NOW… here they were mistreated, abused, beaten and imprisoned.
   How would you have responded to that???
   It’s not right….
   It’s not fair…
   You could almost hear them as they shout threats and curses from the inner dungeon.
   BUT … Wait a minute … that’s not what it says.
   Acts 16:25 tells us “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
   Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into the darkest cell in the prison and fastened in stocks… and what do they do??? They pray and sing. They hold a mini-Revival in their cell. They could have allowed their situation to have control of them. They could have sat in that cold prison cell and screamed and hollered “Woe is me!!”
   But instead of wollering in their stuff … instead of letting their situation get the best of them … they took control of their situation. They prayed and sang songs and rejoiced in the goodness of God!! The end result was that Paul and Silas witnessed to a literal “captive” audience. And they ended up baptizing the jailer and his entire family into Christ.
   God’s kind of Joy is NOT AN EMOTION that happens to you. God’s Joy is His tool for you to use to take control of your life. As Nehemiah said in 8:10 “… The Joy of the Lord is your strength.”
   III. Well, how can I do that? How can I lay hold of the “Joy of the Lord”?
   Well … we need to lay hold of THE SOURCE of God’s joy
   Galatians 5:22 says that “The fruit of the SPIRIT is … joy …”
   In other words … God’s Spirit is the source of God’s Joy. So, the more I’m filled with the Spirit of God … the more of God’s joy I’ll have in my life.
   Ephesians 5:18 says: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” How do I do that?
   1st – Ephesians 5:19 says to speak to one another “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.”
   Surround yourself with music that glorifies God … and God will give you His joy.
   That’s what Paul and Silas had done in their prison cell.
   2nd – Ephesians 5:20 says to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
   Spend a great deal of your time in prayer thanking God for what He’s done … and God will give you His Joy. I suspect that was what Paul and Silas were praying about while they were in jail. They were reminding themselves of all the good things God had already done in their lives - the miracles they’d seen and the lives that had been changed.
   3rd – Ephesians 5:21 instructs us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
   Find a way to serve others … and God will give you His joy.
   When their prison doors flew open and their chains fell from their wrists, Paul and Silas could have run away and saved themselves. But instead, they stayed and preached to their jailer and ultimately baptized the man and his family into Christ. They served the needs of this man and they ended up bringing both he and his family to Christ

   For the Christian, Joy is more than an emotion. Joy is a tool God gives us to overcome our circumstances, to empower us to rise above the pain and the sorrows of this life.
   Hebrews 12:2 says “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne.”
   Jesus overcame the pain and disgrace of the cross - He rose above the horror of His crucifixion - BECAUSE He didn’t focus on His present situation. INSTEAD He focused on the JOY that was waiting for Him
   Fanny Crosby wrote over 8000 hymns. Songs like “Tell me the Story of Jesus, write on my heart every word”, “Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine”, and “To God be the Glory, great things He has done.”
   But Fanny Crosby had been blind since she had been a baby. When she was 8 years old she wrote this poem:
   “O what a happy soul am I! Although I cannot see,
   I am resolved that in this world contented I will be;
   How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t!
   To weep and sigh because I’m blind, I cannot and I won’t.”
   Are you wollering in your stuff today? Are you caught up in your own little “woe is me” pitty party? After listening to this lesson this morning … my question to you is “WHY?”

The Unknown Quality of Love

July 18, 2021

Opening Passage: Galatians 5:22-25 (NLT) — 22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
   24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
   Summary: Believe it or not, love is hard for the world to define. Even psychology and psychiatry have difficulty explaining it. But God doesn’t. Why is that so?
   OPEN: A visiting Revivalist was impressed by an older couple in the church where he was holding Revival. The wife seemed to be half-turned toward her husband holding both his hands in hers. Every time he looked toward them he was impressed by the fact they were holding hands.
   After the service and remarked, “You two are an inspiration. Acting like teenagers in love! You even held hands all through the service.”
   The wife, with an annoyed look, snapped back, “That’s not love, preacher. It’s the only way I can keep him from cracking his knuckles.”
   APPLY: The wife had declared… “That’s not love…”

   I. Well then … Foreigner recorded a song titled “I Want to Know What Love Is.” A pastor told me one day that love is an emotion based on data collected. OK … but I still had the question … what is love?
   Years ago, there was a woman named Helen Keller. She had completely lost her sight as a child because her doctor had given her wrong medication. Just three months shy of her 7th birthday, she met a woman that changed her life - a teacher named Ann Sullivan.
   Helen tells about their 1st meeting:
   “The morning after my teacher came she led me into her room and gave me a doll. When I had played with it a little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word, D-O-L-L. I was excited when I finally spelled the word myself. And I ran downstairs to show my mother.”
   Several days later, Miss Sullivan spilled cold water onto Helen’s hand and THEN spelled out the word W-A-T-E-R. In this way, Helen Keller learned to spell 100s of words.
   Then one day Sullivan spelled out the word LOVE in Helen’s hand. Perplexed, Helen spelled back “W-H-A-T I-S L-O-V-E?”
   You’d think that as much as people SENSE the need of being loved and TALK about being in love, that there would be an “easy” definition of what love is. But apparently there isn’t.
   ILLUS: Some time back, there was a book written based upon an extensive study of the topic of love in psychiatry and psychology, and the authors wrote that “in spite of a few remarkable contributions, we can definitely state that love has NOT been the object of much psychological or psychiatric research.
   Most of what we know about it comes either from our limited private experiences or from the insights that poets, novelists, playwrights, and artists...
   With rare exceptions, in the indexes of most psycho-analytic, psychiatric, and psychological books and textbooks we do not find an entry for the word love.
   And even such important cultural media as the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Columbia Encyclopedia has no articles about this subject.”
   Why? Why would love be so hard to define?
   I believe it is because the psychiatric world wasn’t looking at love as an “objective reality” that could be measured. It was looking at love and seeing an emotion. It was seeing it as a subjective experience that came in different ways to different people. I suspect since they couldn’t measure love analytically, they found it hard to study and hard to explain scientifically.
   II. And yet God apparently believes that love can be understood, because God made LOVE the law of His Kingdom
   James wrote in chapter 2 vs. 8: “ Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
   John wrote in 1 John 3:11: “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
   Paul wrote in Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
   Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:22: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
   And, of course Jesus said in John 15:9-12 9“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”
   And so … by listening to those verses … I hope y’all have figured out that God commands us to LOVE one another.
   God believes love is definable and measurable and that it can be understood and obeyed.
   But if God believes this …why would worldly disciplines like psychology and psychiatry have such a difficult time explaining Love?
   I suspect there are a couple of reasons:
   1st – I don’t believe they think about love the same way God does. To them love is a warm fuzzy feeling you get when you look at that certain someone … a physical attraction for a person or an animal or an object.
   AND a couple years ago Scientists showed several people pictures of their loved ones while charting their brain waves with an MRI - and they discovered 4 different parts of the brain literally lit up the screen.
   But they were still studying the effects of the “emotion” of love.
   God has an entirely different concept of love. To God love is not so much something that happens to us. It’s not something that we experience. Love is something we DO.
   John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world, that he (what?) He GAVE his only begotten Son…”
   When God loved us … He got involved with us. He DID something. He didn’t talk about love. He did love.
   And that is what He asks of us.
   We read in 1 John 3:16-20: “16We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
   18Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. 20Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.”
   When God commands love He is not commanding us to act or react to how we feel. He’s not commanding an emotion. He is not commanding us to have a warm fuzzy feeling towards one another.
   He’s commanding us to love one another.
   He’s commanding lights … camera … action.
   When we read that famous passage about love from I Corinthians 13:4-7 we’re not being told about the “emotion” of love. We’re being told what love DOES and DOESN’T do.
   “4Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."
   These are NOT descriptions of an emotion. These are descriptions and measurements of what love really looks like. And I believe that’s why disciplines like psychiatry and psychology have trouble defining love. They’re focused on emotions … God focuses on actions and deeds.
   Now, you might suspect that I’m ridiculing the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology. I’m really not. These sciences are looking at love as they look at many other human behaviors. They’re looking at what people experience and what they do naturally.
   And that is the 2nd reason I believe psychiatry and psychology have trouble defining love. They are trying to understand what people naturally do.
   One author observed:
   "Contrary to the sentiments expressed so often when we say ’I love you,’ love is NOT simply passion, affection, close ties, and friendship.
   Love is more accurately described by words like unconditional and sacrificial.
   They take us beyond a view of love as easy and natural.
   True Love causes pain, and we by nature back away from pain.
   Love requires sacrifice, and we by nature avoid such sacrifice.
   Love demands unconditional commitment, and we by nature fear committing ourselves so completely.
   Love exposes our fragile natures."
   Marbury E. Anderson in James W. Cox, The Minister’s Manual: 1985, New York: Harper & Row, 1984, p. 149
   LOOK AGAIN at Galatians 5:22 “But the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”
   In other words: Love is the fruit of God’s Spirit within me. It isn’t something that we do naturally. It is the result of God’s Spirit working within my heart and mind.
   The Apostle John said it this way in 1 John 4:7: “Dear friends, let us love one another, FOR LOVE COMES FROM GOD. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
   What that tells me is that God’s kind of love doesn’t generally come naturally to you and me. Love in its purest form comes from God. And without God’s kind of love in our lives, our own concept of love will be a pale echo of His.
   So if true love doesn’t come naturally to us… what does? Colossians 3 (1-10) tells us what is really “natural” for men and women. It goes thru a whole litany of sinful behaviors like anger, rage, malice and slander, and filthy language… and then it says “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”
   III. The Bible teaches that even the nicest person has a selfish streak … just below the surface.
   It’s kind of like the story I read about a zoo that housed a lion and a monkey in the same cage. A visitor marveled at this and asked “How do they get along?”
   The zookeeper responded “Well, usually ok… but occasionally they have a disagreement and then we have to get a new monkey.”
   What was that zookeeper saying? He was saying that things were generally going to be ok until that lion began acting like a lion.
   Common sense tells us unless lions can be made to stop acting like lions
   * that zoo was either going to need a good supply new monkeys
   * or they’d have to stop putting those monkeys in the cage with the lions.
   And the Bible tells us, that UNLESS the Spirit of God guides us in our lives …
   Unless He continually teaches us to love one another we will revert to our old selfish, self-centered nature. The lion is going to eventually come out and somebody’s going to get hurt.
   ILLUS: I read a story where someone said … “Now, I personally like to think of myself as a pretty nice guy. How many of you think of me as a “nice guy?” Yeah. I’m easy going. Easy to get along with. I’d generally give you the shirt off my back… BUT NOT the food off my plate.
   My wife discovered this shortly after we were married. She playfully reached over with her fork and took some food off my plate. I was not happy about that. I didn’t like the idea of sharing my food with anybody – even the woman that I married – the woman I had said I wanted to share my whole life with. I was willing to share just about everything with her… except the food on my plate.
   I didn’t growl at her. I didn’t snap at her. I just got edgy and irritable. I became “unpleasant” Why? Because - just beneath the surface – I’m just as selfish as the next guy.”
   God says we are ALL selfish… just beneath the surface.”
   And so the Bible repeatedly tells us again and again and again… “Love one another”
   IV. But God doesn’t just “tell us” to love one another. He gives us His Spirit to help us learn how to love His way.
   Galatians tells us that love is part of the fruit of having God’s Spirit within us.
   When you and I became Christians we formed a “contract” or a covenant with God.
   Our part of the contract was …
   1. Believing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
   2. We acknowledged that we were sinners and we wanted to repent of our past and start fresh and new … living for God.
   3. We confessed that Jesus was now going to be our Lord and Master of our lives
   4. And we were buried in the waters of baptism and rose up to live a new life.
   That was how we “signed” our part of the contract with God.
   Then God “signed” the contract by putting His Spirit inside our hearts. The Bible tells us part of the Spirit’s job is to “mark us” as belonging to Christ.
   When you see a married man or woman, you’ll often see a wedding ring on their finger. It’s usually a beautiful ring and it has one significant purpose. It marks the person who wears it as “belonging” to someone. So also, the Spirit’s presence in our lives “marks” us as belonging to Jesus.
   BUT the Spirit also has another function. He doesn’t just sit dormant in our hearts like a pretty knick knack on the shelf. Noooo… when the Spirit comes into our lives He becomes actively involved in our walk with Christ.
   1. He helps us when we pray
   2. He helps us to understand God
   3. He comforts us when we’re distressed and discouraged
   And He also does something else… He convicts us of sin.
   In John 16:7-8 Jesus said: “… It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
   In other words … part of the Spirit’s job is to - occasionally - make us uncomfortable. His job is to remind you and me when we’re not reflecting God’s love in our lives.
   But there is a condition. In Galatians 5:16 Paul tells us that in order for the Spirit for do His job properly we NEED to: “…Walk in the Spirit...”
   What does that mean? What does it mean to “walk in the Spirit?
   It means we have to consciously spend time in God’s presence. We need to continually walk in His Spirit. That means spending time in prayer/ Bible Study/ worship / church attendance. It means spending so much time with God that you and I learn how He thinks … learn what pleases Him and because we spend so much time with Him we begin to start copying Him in how we treat others. We begin to “think” like Him and we begin to “act” like Him.
   When we walk close to God … when we deliberately seek to walk in His Spirit … then we can learn God’s kind of Love. His kind of love is different than what the world is used to because God’s kind of love is something you give … not something you receive.
   CLOSE: Dale Galloway wrote a book called “Dream a New Dream” and he told this story:
   “Little Chad was a shy, quiet young fella. One day he came home and told his mother, he’d like to make a valentine for everyone in his class. Her heart sank.
   She thought, “I wish he wouldn’t do that!” because she had watched the children when they walked home from school. Her Chad was always behind them. They laughed and hung on to each other and talked to each other. But Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she decided she would go along with her son. So she purchased the paper and glue and crayons. For three whole weeks, night after night, Chad painstakingly made thirty-five valentines.
   Valentine’s Day dawned, and Chad was beside himself with excitement! He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag, and bolted out the door. His mom decided to bake him his favorite cookies and serve them up warm and nice with a cool glass of milk when he came home from school. She just knew he would be disappointed -- maybe that would ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think that he wouldn’t get many valentines -- maybe none at all.
   That afternoon she had the cookies and milk on the table. When she heard the children outside she looked out the window. Sure enough here they came, laughing and having the best time. And, as always, there was Chad in the rear. He walked a little faster than usual. She fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. His arms were empty, she noticed, and when the door opened she choked back the tears.
   “Mommy has some warm cookies and milk for you.”
   But he hardly heard her words. He just marched right on by, his face aglow, and all he could say was: “Not a one -- not a one.”
   Her heart sank.
   And then he turned to his mother and added, “I didn’t forget anyone, not a single one!”
   You see, we ALL need to understand that God’s kind of love is when we learn to focus less on “getting love” … and learning how to do a better job giving it away.

The Puzzle of Powerful Patience

July 11,2021

Opening Passage: Galatians 5:13-26 (NLT) — 13For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
   16So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
   19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
   22But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
   24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
   How many of you like to put together jigsaw puzzles. MaryLu and I enjoy sitting at the table after Chris has finally gone to bed and spend some quiet/together time working on a good challenging puzzle.
   I read the following article a couple weeks ago.
   “Everything I needed to know about life, I learned from a jigsaw puzzle.”
   1. Establish the border first. Boundaries give a sense of security and order.
   2. When things aren’t going so well, take a break. Everything will look different when you return.
   3. Working together with friends and family makes any task quicker and more fun.
   4. The creator of the puzzle gave you the picture as a guidebook
   5. Don’t force a fit. If something is meant to be, it will come together naturally.
   6. Perseverance pays off. Every puzzle goes together bit by bit, piece by piece.
   7. Anything worth doing takes time and effort. A great puzzle can’t be rushed.
   One of the things that seems to be repeated in those observations is: when you put a puzzle together, patience is the key. Unless you’re putting together one of those children’s puzzles with only 8 pieces, you’ll rarely put a puzzle together overnight. In fact, it will usually take you several days to several weeks and possibly several months depending on the puzzle.
   BUT if you are NOT patient you may end up trying to force pieces in where they don’t belong. You might find yourself being increasingly unhappy even when you make a little progress. And you may find yourself getting so frustrated you’ll either walk away from the puzzle altogether or take it all back apart and put it back in the box. Patience is the key!
   In our opening passage this morning, in Galatians God tells us that one of the most noticeable marks of a spirit-led Christian is patience.
   A mature Christian is a patient Christian.
   And the less patient you are … the less mature you are in your Christian walk.
   Now God isn’t talking here about our level of patience when putting a jigsaw puzzle together.
   Nor our patience when we have to wait in line at grocery store or Post Office.
   Nor is He addressing our need for patience when some yahoo pulls out of front of us as we’re driving down the road, and nearly causes an accident.
   The Bible teaches us that we should be patient in all those situations. All of you know how patient I am. But as important as it is for us to be patient at times like those, there is an even more important situation in which God desires us to be patient.
   In our text this morning God is telling us that we MUST be patient with our Christian brothers and sisters.
   The church in Galatia had some serious problems … one of which was that there were people in the church that couldn’t get along. Look again at Galatians 5:15 “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
   There were people in that church who were engaged in back biting and sniping at one another. Like most of us today, they might not have done this to each others’ faces ... more likely they did it behind one another’s backs. But the point remains that Paul knew they were “biting and devouring each other.”
   So, Paul tells them they have a choice to make: …
   1. They could be led by God’s Spirit
   2. Or they could wallow in the sinful behaviors of the flesh
   Then Paul goes on in Galatians 5:19-21 to describe those “sinful behaviors”. And he says that they are obvious: … “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
   Then he goes on to say
   “Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”  

   This church had problems. Problems like sexual immorality and drunkenness. And they had problems with fighting and arguing amongst themselves, hatred, discord, dissensions, and factions. And he says he’d warned them before about these behaviors. That’s found in 1 Corinthians 6 (9-10).
   But then Paul goes into detail about how being led by the Spirit is an entirely different proposition. He talks about the fact that a church ought to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc … other words … “Loving you neighbor better than yourself.”
   We talked last week about how those huge trees are rotten and hollow on the inside. Paul described what every church really knows what it should be on the inside:
   A church is supposed to be a place where people Love one another unconditionally.
   Where they work at creating an atmosphere of Joy.
   Where they promote Peace between each other.
   Where they are Patient with one another.
   And on, and on, and on…
   This morning I want to focus on our need to be patient with one another.
   The Greek word here “Makrothumi” means “Slow to anger” (makro SLOW, thumos= ANGER)
   Or, as the KJV calls it “Loooooong – suffering”
   ILLUS: I recently read the story about a kindergarten teacher who was helping one of the children put on their boots.
   They worked together to push and pull and tug … and it seemed like she’d never get those boots on him. The boots just didn’t seem to want to go on. They FINALLY got the 2nd boot on when the little boy looked up and said, ‘Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.’
   She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool together as they worked to get the boots back on—this time on the right feet.
   He then announced, ‘These aren’t my boots.’
   She literally bit her tongue and controlled herself as she asked, ‘Well, why didn’t you say so?’
   Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off … and then he said, ‘They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear them.’
   She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again.
   Then she said, ‘Now, where are your mittens?’
   He sweetly looked up at her and said: ‘I stuffed them in the toes of my boots…’
   Now, that’s a prime example of LONGGG suffering. That is patience in the presence of repeated frustration.
   AND why was that teacher willing showed such patience?
   Because - this little boy was only a Kindergartner. He didn’t know any better than what he did. He wasn’t trying to be rebellious or mean spirited. He was just immature.
   In the church you’re going to find lots of people who are young in their faith. They’ll have less maturity than you’d expect them to have. But unless they’re being rebellious or mean spirited, God calls you and I to be patient with them.
   In the church … if a member, or group of members is mean spirited or rebellious, that calls for discipline. And (in the church) whose job is it to bring about that discipline? That’s right, the Elders and the preacher. God puts this in the hands of the Elders because they are family men who have proven that they know how to raise their kids to honor God. That includes discipline. But even when they discipline members of the church, Elders must be gentle and show LOVE and PATIENCE.
   WHY? Because the church is made up of many different kinds of people.
   They have many different backgrounds and degrees of faith.
   Because that is true, Ephesians 4:2-6 advises us to “2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
   5There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.”
   God’s objective is to take people from many different walks of life - people who have struggled with many different kinds of sins - THEN save them and join them together … like they were pieces of a puzzle. His goal is to take these people of various shapes and sizes and colors and fit them together to form a glorious picture of unity that can impress even the most jaded skeptic or critic.
   Ephesians 4:15-16 tells us that our goal should be to speak… “15Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16He makes the whole body fit together perfectly (like the pieces of a puzzle). As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
   II. Now the problem is patience DOESN’T come naturally to most of us.
   Galatians says that true patience comes by allowing the Spirit of God to control me. If I walk with the Spirit of God… I will eventually become a patient person.
   Galatians 5:22 & 25 tells us “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, PATIENCE… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
   If I’m going to be the patient person God wants me to be then I need to allow God’s Spirit to train me.
   SO… how does God’s Spirit train us to be patient?
   1st He does so by reminding me that God has had to be patient with me.
   In the 3rd chapter in his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes in vss 12-14: “12Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
   The Spirit reminds us in Romans 2:4 that it’s “… the riches of his kindness, tolerance and PATIENCE, (that) leads you toward repentance …”
   The Bible tells me that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
   So, now, I have a quiz for you? Since the Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory … I want a show of hands. How many of you here today are IMPERFECT people? (everyone raised their hands).
   God is patient with YOU … and ME. If He weren’t patient with us, we might as well pack up and go home … none of us would have a prayer of getting into heaven. Because God loves us and is patient with us … He forgives us - even though we have sinned and dishonored him.
   Therefore, when people in the church irritate us, cause us to become annoyed, or rub us the wrong way… we need to imitate God by remembering what we’re told in Colossians 3:14 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU.”
   Now, why do we get irritated with the people around us? Because they’re just like us … they aren’t perfect people either.
   We sometimes forget that the longer they’re in the church … the longer they’re in the presence of Jesus the “cleaner” their hearts will get and the more like Jesus they’ll become.
   But, because we forget this, we often grow impatient with that “cleaning process” that other Christians have to go through… and we don’t want to wait on God to bring about those changes.
   ILLUS: I once read the story where 2 guys were talking and their conversation drifted from politics to sports to cooking.
   One of them said, “I got a cookbook once, but I could never do anything with it.”
   The other one said, “Too much fancy work in it, huh?”
   The first one said, “No, that wasn’t it. The problem was that each of those recipes began the same way - ‘Take a clean dish.’”
   The reason other people irritate us is that there’s a spot on their lives … that’s not clean enough for us. And often that spot in their lives needs to be addressed …
   Well, in Matthew 7:5 Jesus said “… first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
   In other words we first need to examine our own hearts to make sure the reason we’re irritated with our brothers and sisters in Christ isn’t because of our own self-righteousness, judgmentalism or haughtiness. If we don’t do that first, we’ll end up beating our brothers and sisters to death with the plank that in our own eye while we try to remove the specks out of theirs.
   But now notice, Jesus does expect us to help remove those specks … particularly if they are causing damage to our fellow Christians. That doesn’t come naturally to most people. When we’re irritated with someone else, we have a tendency to clam up and just simmer in silence … OR we’ll talk to someone else about our irritation, perhaps in the hopes that THEY will talk to the one who so annoys us. But Jesus doesn’t go in for 3rd party interventions:
   Jesus said in Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
   If you have a problem with anybody in this church … what are you supposed to do?
   2. GO TO THEM
   Now, I’m not addressing this issue because I think that we have a problem here. In fact, this is one of the gentlest, most loving congregations I have ever encountered. This is a place where people can feel safe. That has a lot to do with the leadership here. And it has a lot to do with the fact that most of you know how to love like you should.
   But even in the best of churches, we need to be reminded of the need to be lovingly patient with one another. Remember … God’s objective is to take people who come in many shapes and sizes and fit us all together into one body for His glory.
   ILLUS: The story’s told about a dad who’d come home late one night. He’d had a hard day at work and all he wanted to do was sit down and relax. He picked up the evening paper and headed for his favorite easy chair by the fireplace.
   About the time he got his shoes untied - plop! - into his lap dropped his five-year-old so.
   "Hi, Dad. Let’s play!"
   The man loved his boy dearly, but he really needed to rest a while. But how could he disappoint his son’s need to play with him?
   Just then, his eyes fell to a picture on the front of one of section of newspaper. There had been a recent space mission and the newspaper carried a huge picture of earth. Suddenly an idea occurred to him, and he asked his son to fetch a pair of scissors and some transparent tape.
   Quickly, he cut the picture of earth into various shapes and sizes then handed the pile of homemade jigsaw puzzle pieces to him.
   "You tape it all back together, Danny, then come on back and we’ll play, okay?"
   So the boy scampered off to his room and dad breathed a sigh of relief. He suspected that with such a jumbled mass of puzzle pieces, the boy would be tied up for 20 or 30 minutes. But in less than ten minutes the boy bounded back with everything taped perfectly in place.
   Stunned, the father asked: "How’d you do it so fast, Son?"
   “Aw, it was easy, Daddy.” The boy turned the picture over and pointed to a picture of a man on the back of the sheet. “When you put the man together, the world comes together."
   That’s our goal in the church to put people together in the church in such a way that we build the kind of congregation God wants us to be. A church that is a praise and a proclamation of the power of God.

Spiritual Fruit or Religious Nuts

July 4, 2021

Opening Passage: Mark 11:12-25 (NLT) — Jesus Curses the Fig Tree — 12The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
   15When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
   18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
   19That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.
   20The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”
   22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
   There was a sign posted outside a church in Texas that once read, “God is looking for spiritual fruit … not religious nuts.” Unfortunately, religious nuts abound everywhere … but in and out of the church … spiritual fruit is rare. The importance of bearing spiritual fruit in your life cannot be overstated.
   Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:20 “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” The Scriptures repeatedly address the importance of bearing fruit. In fact, the New Testament refers to bearing fruit over 50 times.
   What the Scripture so clearly emphasized, Jesus illustrated in a dramatic experience during the very last week of His life. The week began with His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem that served as a bold and deliberate announcement that He was the Messiah. The week ended with His crucifixion … but in between … Jesus took the opportunity one last time to teach His disciples the importance of bearing fruit.
   These verses today stand as a word of warning from the Scriptures. God is concerned with the fruit in your life. Listen to the Words of Scripture and see that God will judge those who fail to bear fruit.
   Mark 11:12-14 12“The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.”
   I. The Reason for His Judgment
   As Jesus was returning to Jerusalem from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit.”
   Under Mosaic Law, any Jew who was travelling and had a layover had the right to eat fruit that was growing by the road. When Jesus saw this fig tree in leaf, he decided to go and eat some of its fruit.
   We know from the context of Scripture that these events occurred around the Jewish Passover time. The Passover was held during the late spring. The prime fig season was not for a month or two after Passover, therefore, you might not expect there to be fruit on the branches.
   However, if a fig tree was in a protective ravine, such as those around the Mount of Olives, it would be sheltered from the cold and would receive abundant moisture, and therefore would produce its fruit early. So it is altogether possible that there could have been fruit at this time.
   More importantly though, in Israel, the fruit on the fig tree always preceded the full development of leaves. The leaves on this tree were a signal that it was producing fruit.
   Verse 13 says, “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves because it was not the season for figs.”
   Now listen, the tree had all the outward signs of life. The tree had all the outward signs of vitality. The tree had all the outward signs of fruit, after all, it was covered with leaves. But it did not have fruit.
   Remember, in that climate, fruit proceeds full foliage. The leaves were an advertisement of abundance.
   Was Jesus being unreasonable to expect fruit when it was not the season for figs? Did Jesus not know there was no fruit on that tree before he got there? Was Jesus taken by surprise?
   Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, was not taken by surprise by the lack of fruit … because Jesus Christ was the Creator and he was Sustainer of that tree.
   What Jesus was doing was acting out a parable for the benefit of His disciples. Often Jesus spoke in parables. On this occasion, He acted out a parable so His disciples could learn a valuable lesson. Jesus had a spiritual truth to teach the disciples, and He wanted to put it into terms their minds could understand.
   And here is the truth: fruitlessness brings judgment. Did y’all catch that? Fruitlessness brings judgment.
   Verse 14 says, “Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Some have wrongly assumed that Jesus cursed the tree out of vengeful anger. But there are no words of anger here in Mark 11 or in the parallel account in Matthew 21. Jesus was simply judging the tree for giving the outward appearance of fruit, but not actually having any fruit.
   Now, here in vss. 15-19 the narrative seems to shift suddenly, doesn’t it? 15When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
   18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
   19That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.”
   I would like to clear something up here. Most people interpret this story as the people were disgracing the temple by turning it into a “den of thieves” … which they had … and they had been doing it for quite some time. Right? But I believe the true purpose of Jesus turning over the tables and clearing the temple was to let the people know that the OLD way of doing thing were gone.
   You see … in just a few days Jesus was going to be crucified … SO … what he was telling the world was that the “GREAT I AM” has arrived … and things were going to be different from now on. The “OLD” church has to go away and let the “NEW” church begin.
   Looking deeper into this story is that the world was so apostate in the days of Jesus … just as it is today. And the Bible tell us that because the New Testament church of today is as rotten to the core as it was back then that Jesus is going to cleanse the temple again at the end of the Tew Testament era.
   Far from an interruption in the narrative, here Mark provides an illustration of the danger of showing leaves without bearing fruit.
   Notice in vs. 17 that Jesus never missed a teachable moment. “As he taught them, he said, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ But you have made it a den of robbers.”
   The cleansing of the temple is a continuation of Jesus teaching on fruit bearing. Rodney Cooper said in the Holman New Testament Commentary (Mark, 187). “The religious system of the day had plenty of leaves but no fruit. Its surface piety was seen by the tithes and prayers and fasts, in the ritual purity that kept out women, lepers, blind beggars and those possessed with demons. The foliage of the religious leaders offered much promise … but no fulfillment. As the figless tree could not satisfy Jesus’ appetite, so the religious system could not satisfy the spiritual hunger of the people.”
   The religious system of that day had gotten so used to doing the “same ole things the same ole ways and getting the same ole results.
   1. Under the leaves of their showy religion were barren and cold hearts.
   2. Under the leaves of their showy religion was hidden a hypocritical heart.
   3. Under the leaves of their showy religion were hearts long on activity but short on adoration
   4. Under the leaves of their showy religion were hearts that talked the talk … but did not know how to walk the walk!
   In any great forest you will find many huge trees. They tower above other trees and appear to be the very picture of strength and maturity. However, loggers will not bother to cut some of these giant trees down even though it would appear they would have two or three times as much wood as smaller trees.
   Why do the loggers leave them? Huge trees are often rotten on the inside. Although they appear to be strong, their hollowness makes them weak. This is the essence of hypocrisy – appearing strong on the outside … but being rotten and hollow on the inside.
   Friend, let me ask you a question today. Is the tree of your life filled with showy leaves but lacking in fruit? How are you on the inside … are you like the inside of those huge trees … rotten and hollow? More plainly, are you giving the outward appearance of being a Christian, but all the while failing to produce fruit?
   II. The result of the judgment
   Vss. 20-21 tell us 20The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”
   Peter looked with astonishment at the fig tree. But Why? He had seen Jesus raise the dead, heal the sick, and free the demon-possessed. Why was he so amazed?
   I believe it was because of how quickly the result of the judgment was enacted. I believe it was because of how soon the tree had withered. There is a message in this for you my friend! You may be living a double life thinking that judgment is a long distance from you. You may be bragging of your leaves but not bearing fruit thinking that you are safe from judgment. Galatians 6:7 tells us “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that also shall he reap.”
   i. If you are sowing seeds of sinful living, you will reap corruption
   ii. If you are sowing the seeds of wickedness, you will reap destruction.
   iii. Your leaves may hide your fruitless life from human eyes, but they cannot hide your fruitless life from Heavenly eyes.
   iv. If you are hiding behind the leaves of hypocritical religion, you are in jeopardy of God’s holy judgment.
   III. The Remedy for Judgment
   There is a remedy for this judgment. You see, Jesus is not lurking around the corner waiting to condemn you; He is here today wanting to cleanse you. He is not lurking around the corner waiting to reject you; He is here today waiting to redeem you.
   What is the remedy? Jesus declares in vs. 22, “Have faith in God!!!”
   i. To bear fruit you must stop having faith in yourself and have faith in God.
   ii. To bear fruit you must stop having faith in your possessions and have faith in God.
   iii. To bear fruit you must stop having faith in people who are like the blind leading the blind, and have faith in God.
   iv. To bear fruit you must stop having faith in the temporal and carnal and have faith in God.
   If you have true, genuine faith in the Father … you will produce fruit.
   You will move beyond the casual and become completely committed.
   You will move beyond hypocrisy and begin to pursue holiness.
   You will move beyond fake religion and walk in a faithful relationship with Christ and you will produce fruit … he will see to that.
   IV. The Fruit of a holy life.
   a. The Scripture is filled with repeated calls to holiness.
   Hebrews 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
   1. The child of God must seek holiness and detest evil. The child of God must pursue purity and flee wickedness.
   2. If you seek the fellowship of the Lord … then you must follow Him in Holiness.
   ii. I Peter 1:15 adds, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written ‘Be holy, because I am holy.”
   1. Brothers and sisters, if you are using the title “Christian” … you are called to be conformed to the character of Christ … not the character and conduct of this carnal world.
   2. The root of the word “holiness” means to be different or distinct. The holiness of God demands a holy life in you. This requires a conscious separation from evil and a continuous devotion to moral living.
   3. God’s holiness should produce in you the fruit of a living conformity to the character of Christ.
   4. Does your life have the fruit of a life conformed to Christ? The title “Christian” means to be “Christ Like,” doesn’t it? So, if you’re not trying to live a life that represents … what gives you the right to carry his name?
   b. Holiness sounds scary to many Christians. They, and perhaps you, believe that if you commit to the holy life you will pass from bearing fruit to being a spiritual nut.
   c. But holiness does not need to be scary. It is more than just “organ music, long prayers, and religious-sounding chants. It’s almost as though holiness [has become] the private preserve of an austere group of monks missionaries, mystics and martyrs. But nothing could be further from the truth.
   I couldn’t be in greater agreement with Chuck Colson’s statement in Loving God: “Holiness is the everyday business of every Christian. It evidences itself in the decisions we make and in the things we do, hour by hour, day by day.” (Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart: 268, 269.)
   d. When the world is at its worst, Christians should be at their best. What this world needs is for you to be who you claim to be … a living breathing demonstration of what it means to truly be a Holy Christian.
   e. If you are not living a holy life, there is a good chance your religion is nothing but leaves. It’s like preaching an awesome sermon … then leaving the church to go hang out in the muck and the mire and the gutters with the rest of the world. If that is true, if you can’t practice what you preach … if you can’t talk the talk and walk the walk .. you are in jeopardy of God’s judgment.
   V. The Fruit of a Loving Spirit
   John 13:35 says “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
   b. It is not your Bible knowledge, or your orthodoxy, or your church attendance that marks the fruit of your life. It is your love.
   c. How is the fruit of love in your life? 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all my possessions to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
   d. Without love you are not producing fruit; you are nothing but leaves.
   VI. The Fruit of Humble Service
   a. Service to others is the hallmark of the Christian faith. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
   b. We are not saved to sit and soak and sour until the Second Coming. We were saved to serve, and not just to serve on a Church Committee, but to serve the needs of others. Serving on a committee is good, but it can oftentimes be a substitute for truly serving the needs of others.
   c. There are so many Christians who are busy building up their spiritual muscles but never using them. You may know the Bible from cover to cover, but if you aren’t applying it to loving your Brothers and Sisters and if you’re not applying it to true Christian service, your life is nothing but leaves.
   VII. The Fruit of Personal Witness
   a. The Lord is calling His church to be a faithful witness for Him. He doesn’t need pews filled with people who can answer every question in Bible Trivial Pursuit. What He wants is a good witness to His work in their lives.
   b. I pray you do not go to heaven empty handed. Let me ask you a sobering question. If you died today, and your body were placed in a casket here at the front of the church, is there anyone who could look in your casket and say, “I thank God for you. He used your witness to bring me to a saving faith.” Can anybody say that of you??
   c. The hope of winning this world for Christ is not for more sermons, and more pastors, and more books, and more tapes, or more seminars. The hope of winning the world to Christ is through a dedicated, committed congregation sharing a personal witness for Christ in their day-to-day lives. You cannot leave the work of missions and evangelism to be done by career professionals! Without the fruit of a personal witness, your life is nothing but leaves. So … what can you tell an unbeliever about what Christ has done in your life? Better yet … what cay you show an unbeliever about what Christ has done in your life by the way you live your life??
   VIII. The Fruit of a Simple Faith
   a. In Mark 11:22 Jesus closed out his teaching on the fig tree by simply saying “Have faith in God.” Faith is by far the most important fruit our Lord wants in us.
   b. In Luke 18:8, Jesus asked a probing question. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Let me ask you that question personally. If Jesus came today, would He find true Biblical faith in you? Will He find you following after Him and confessing Him to your family and friends as Lord and Savior of your life? Would he find you to be like David … a person after God’s own heart??
   c. In these days and times the biggest risk in your life is not that you will forsake Christ … your biggest risk is that you will forget Christ. Your biggest danger is not that you will regard Jesus as untrue; your biggest danger is that you will become to regard Him as unnecessary.
   d. Without the fruit of simple faith, your life is nothing but leaves.
   I end today where I started. “By your fruits you shall be known.
   In 2 Corinthians 13:5 and 2 Peter 1:10-11 we are commanded to examine ourselves. “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith” … or not. Will you examine your life right now? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to inspect the tree of your life? Are you settling for showing your leaves, but not ever producing fruit? Or are you going to take these six lessons and learn how to produce the fruit in your life that we are commanded to produce? I hope you will not just sit there, I hope you will not leave the same as you were when you came here this morning. I hope you will choose to learn and act on what you’ve learned here today.

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

June 27, 2021

   Opening Passage: Mark 15:8-16 (NLT) — 8The  crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.
   9“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10(For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”
   13They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
   14“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
   15So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
   16The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment.
   Summary: To say we should let our conscience be our guide seems so reasonable. It almost makes sense. But God never said we should do that. Instead He said we should seek to have a clear conscience. How can we accomplish this?

   This is the final week of our series: “Stupid things even Christians believe. This week we’re focusing on an old piece of advice: “Let your conscience be your guide.”
   Have you ever heard that said? Of course, we all have. At the core of this proverb is the idea that our consciences will never be wrong. The problem is – that’s not always so.
   Do you remember the story about Palm Sunday? Many churches acknowledge this as a special Sunday because this was the day that Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on donkey and began His final week of ministry.
   When He entered the city, the crowds went wild. Here came as the hope of Israel… the future King of Israel.
   The man who’d fed 1000s with a little boy’s lunch.
   The man who’d healed the sick, the lame, the leprous and the blind.
   The man who’d raised the dead.
   With Him as King… no power on earth could stand against Israel.
   He was the KING of Israel, the POWER of God, the LEADER who would deliver them from Rome. And to honor Him, the people spread Palm branches before Him.
   John 12:12b-13 tells us 12b“A large crowd of Passover visitors 13took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, "Hosanna! ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!"
   Hosanna… Hosanna… Hosanna.
   Hosanna meant “Lord, save us.”
   The people believed that Jesus was sent by God to be their deliverer and for a few days they thanked God and sang His praises. Because they truly believed this man was their deli
   But by the end of the week, things had drastically changed.
   The same crowd that shouted Hosanna on Sunday, was calling for His death on Friday.
   They gathered and watched as the Sanhedrin had Him arrested and delivered Him to the Romans to be crucified.
   The crowds that once cried “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!" (Now) cried out, "Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!"
   In John 19:15 Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?"
   The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar!"
   How could these people praise Him on one day, and curse Him just few days later?
   How could they do something so evil as to call for the death of a man who’d done no wrong?
   Why hadn't their conscience convicted them of the wickedness of what they were doing?
   Why hadn't their conscience GUIDED them?
   Well… it had.
   Their conscience WAS guiding them.
   Their conscience was telling them that…
   A REAL king of Israel would never allow Himself to be arrested by the Romans.
   A REAL King of Israel would never be condemned by the Sanhedrin.
   A REAL king of Israel wouldn’t have been defeated so easily.
   That’s what their “conscience” was telling them.
   And if the Sanhedrin and the Priests believed He was to be crucified well, so be it.
   That’s what their conscience said to them.
   And their conscience was wrong.
   You see, our conscience is not a mystical force.
   It’s just a part of the soul that God created within us to help us make decisions ... AND everybody has one.
   Romans 2:14-15 tells us “14Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.”
   So many people have asked me “What about a native tribe out in the middle of the Congo that’s never hear about God?” There’s your answer right there ... “by nature they do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while THEIR CONSCIENCE ALSO BEARS WITNESS” … That passage tells me that everybody knows right from wrong. It’s our choice which road we decide to travel.
   God created the conscience to be our inner voice ... And everybody’s got one.
   Even those who are pagans, who don’t believe in God, have a conscience. Everybody is guided by a force within them that helps decide right and wrong. Everybody has that voice inside them that convicts them of guilt and shame when they've done things they shouldn't.
   It’s like an inner GPS. It helps you know where you are AND where you should be going.
   But like GPS units, your conscience can be fed the wrong information and you can end up going places you really don’t want to go.
   You do realize that GPS can give you the wrong information don’t you?
   ILLUS: Several ago there was a story about a 67-year old Belgian woman who followed her GPS directions and ended up going 800 miles in the wrong direction!
   It happens! GPS units are dependent on the source of information they get. And it also happens with our conscience. Your conscience feeds on what you give it.
   It’s possible to program your conscience to accept things that you shouldn't.
   It’s possible to program your conscience to steal and cheat and hurt and kill.
   The Bible talks about this as “searing your conscience”.
   And that happened on a large scale in the last century.
   It happened with Nazi Germany.
   Hitler said: “I freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality. …We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.”
   (Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias, p. 23)
   That’s one of the reasons Hitler worked so hard to undermine and destroy the church in Germany. As long as preachers preached Godly morals, the conscience of the people might be awakened, and the people would turn against Hitler, undermining his evil.
   The point is: Your conscience can be seared.
   It can be warped.
   It can be bent out of shape.
   It all depends on who you listen to.
   That’s why the very first verse in the book of Psalms says this in Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”
   That verse is saying that we shouldn't hang out with the wicked, the sinners, and the mockers.
   Why? Because those kind of people can warp you.
   They’ll bend your conscience out of shape.
   You’ll begin to think like they do.
   You’ll begin to talk like they do.
   You’ll begin to act like they do.
   And, eventually, you’ll end up just as lost as they are.
   All you have to do is watch those people long enough and you’ll see they’re way off course.
   You just have to pay attention to how these people live their lives and how their choices affect their lives … and the lives around them. If you pay attention long enough, you’ll see the results of their thinking ... and they don’t care who they take to hell with them.
   You just have to pay attention.
   Remember that woman from Belgium I mentioned earlier?
   Her GPS led 800 miles off course in Europe.
   Now, how could she not notice she was lost?
   Well, she wasn't paying attention to her surroundings … she wasn’t paying attention to her direction.
   When asked how she could have gone the wrong way for two days … Traveling OVER 800 miles … Through 5 different countries …
   She said: (and I quote) “I was distracted.”
   She listened to the wrong authority and ended up WAYYY off course.
   And God tells us the same thing.
   Be careful who you listen to because the wrong people will take your life way off course.
   Pay attention to where these folks are going and ask yourself the question “Do I really want to end up where they’re going? Do I really want my life to turn out like theirs?
   Now, you’d think religious people would be the best folks to hang around, right?
   You’d think church folks would help me shape my conscience, right?
   I mean, that’s why we come to church isn't it?
   So, you’d think religious people would be the best influences?
   But, if you will remember … it was the religious folk who whipped the crowd into a frinzy calling for Jesus’ crucifixion.
   It was the Pharisees and the priests and the Sanhedrin who were the ruling religious leaders of the day.
   And Jesus never had much good to say about any of those people.
   At one point, in Matthew 23:13, Jesus addressed them and said “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! ...”
   These men were self-righteous, arrogant and proud and generally had no love for people.
   But they did love money, and power and prestige.
   Jesus warned His disciples not to be like them.
   Those were not the kind of people a Christian would find much wisdom around.
   When Paul wrote Timothy, he warned him about “religious people”
   In I Timothy 4:1-3 he said some of those “religious people” had consciences that were seared. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose CONSCIENCES HAVE BEEN SEARED as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”
   In this case, these teachers were teaching that a person could be more holy if they decided not marry or if they avoided certain foods.
   In other words, there are religious teachers out there whose consciences are seared. They are warped people. They’re so warped they will tell you all kinds of stories. And the sad thing is that so many people, who call themselves Christians, believe all that warped line of thinking.
   ONE of the ways you could tell who they are is that they taught things that aren't in Scripture. They preach and teach their hearts out trying to convince you to believer their warped doctrine. If you’re ever in one of those type of situations, ask this one question … “Can you show me where that is in the Bible … please?” That question usually stops the conversation because their lies are not found in Scripture. Sure, they’ll want to refer you to this book or that article … BUT … if it’s NOT found in the Book with the title “HOLY BIBLE” of the front of it … 9 times outta 10 it’s a lie straight from the mouth of the devil himself.
   You see, those are people Paul said we ought not to hang around with… even if they look religious.
   So where do you go to fine tune your conscience?
   If you can’t depend upon certain “friends” and “acquaintances or relatives, or even on certain “religious” people – to help mold your conscience, where and with whom could you possibly spend your time to make sure your conscience will do what your conscience is supposed to do?
   Paul said in Acts 23:1 “I have lived my life BEFORE GOD in all good conscience up to this day.”
   And in Romans 9:1 he wrote: “My conscience bears me witness IN THE HOLY SPIRIT…”
   What was Paul saying?
   He was saying that He spent most of His time with God.
   He spent it in prayer and Bible study.
   Now, think about this: if you want to shape and mold your conscience so you can trust it … then doesn't it make sense to let the One who made your conscience… influence it?
   Of course it does.
   David said it this way in Psalm 119:97 “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.
   Vs. 102 I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for YOU YOURSELF HAVE TAUGHT ME.”
   What’s David saying?
   He’s was saying, that studying God’s word made him wiser than his enemies.
   It gave him more understanding than his elders.
   And it kept him from every evil path.
   In other words: it molded his conscience.
   It made it so that he could trust his “instincts” on what was right and wrong.
   It made it so that he would become a man after God’s own heart.
   David was basically saying… it’s all in who you listen to.
   And you can’t get ANYBODY who’s as good to listen to as God Himself.
   Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn't go to church, and listen to the sermon, and take communion, sing songs of praise, etc. etc.
   What it is saying is this: if you’re not listening to God … all that’s worthless.
   If you’re not listening to God, paying attention to God, focusing on God, looking for God… then church can become an empty exercise.
   I've seen where people just put in their time … “Well … I’ve got nothing else to do this Sunday. I might ride over and see what’s going on at the church.” They go through their religious exercises. They pray, they sing, they listen… and they go home no different than when they came.
   Or you’ll encounter people who come to church and say they “weren't being fed.” Or imply that their needs weren't met. Or it’s obvious they weren't entertained. I don’t care if you’re getting “entertained” or not … I do care if you’re getting “fed” or not. If you feel like you’re not getting fed here at Red Stone … please let me know and we’ll get the prayer warriors rockin n rollin and see if we can’t get that straightened out.
   Because church is meant to be a place where WE feed each other, and where WE meet each other’s needs. And God forbid we show up to be entertained. Until you listen to God’s leading, you’ll fall prey to those kinds of traps.
   You gotta start with God, or you’re not going to understand what God’s will is.
   ILLUS: Years ago, when the telegraph was the main form of communication, a local telegraph office advertised for helpers. A number of young men came into the office and they were all told the same thing: Sit down and fill out this form … and wait to be summoned into the office.
   After a fairly long period of time, one of the young men got up and went into the office.
   The other boys were confused.
   The employer hadn't come out to ask this man, or any other, to come into his office.
   They were even more confused when the boss came out and said the job had been taken.
   One of them spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair.”
   And the boss responded: “the last several minutes while you have been sitting here the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code:
   If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’
   None of you heard it or understood it. He did. The job is his.”
   You have to listen to God.
   You have to pay attention to God.
   You have to focus on His message to you.
   And what is that message?
   Cleanse your conscience.
   And how do you do that?
   Hebrews 9:14 says it this way “The BLOOD OF CHRIST, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, (will) Cleanse Our Consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
   And just how do we have the blood of Christ cleanse our consciences?
   I Peter 3:21 tells us it’s when we’re buried in the waters of baptism.
   “Baptism, which corresponds to (Noah’s flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as AN APPEAL to God FOR A GOOD CONSCIENCE, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”
   It’s when we believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that He came to die for our sins. And when we decide to repent of our sins and confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And when we allow ourselves to be buried in the waters of Christian baptism… it’s then that our appeal for a good conscience is answered by God. It’s then that our sins are buried and we come before Him with our consciences cleansed of the acts that led to death.

     A good conscience is a good thing. But a conscience that isn't influenced by God’s reasonings and thinking can still fall short. Unless you and I are truly Christians, and unless we allow God’s thinking to affect our consciences, there will always be something missing.
   Mark Lowry tells of a movie he saw about Jesus. He tells how irritating it was when the crowd in the movie cried louder and louder and louder for Christ’s execution?
   He tells how he responded to that part of the movie? He cried out “NOOOOOOOOOOO”
   And that’s what good men should have done.
   That’s what moral people should have done.
   That’s what people with a “good conscience” should have done.
   That’s how we are tempted to think that scene should have been played out.
   But if there had been good, moral men there with a good conscience, and they succeeded in stopping the crucifixion of Christ – then you and I would be condemned to hell.
   God’s thinking at the cross was different than what decent moral men would have thought. Because Jesus had been sent by God to die in our place.
   And it’s that offer from God that we present to you this day.

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judge

June 20, 2021

   Opening Passage: Matthew 7:1-6 New Living Translation (NLT) Do Not Judge Others
   1“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.
   3“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.
   6“Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.
   Summary: Almost everybody can quote Jesus' statement: "Judge not". But are they quoting Him properly? Is there something in His words that say more than most people think?
   OPEN: One day Little Tommy was out on the playground during recess and was picking on the other children on the playground. One of his favorite ways of taunting the other kids was making ugly faces at them.
   Mrs. Smith was the teacher in charge of supervising recess and she saw Tommy doing this. She took him aside and said “You know, Tommy, when I was a little girl, I was told that if I made ugly faces, my face would freeze and always stay like that."
   Little Tommy looked up into her face and replied, "Well, Mrs. Smith, you can't say you weren't warned."
This morning we’re going to be talking about “judging”.
   You know, there are people in this world who know very little about Jesus or Christianity but they can quote you one thing Jesus did say on this topic. You know what they’ll quote?

   That’s right: “Judge not lest ye yourself be judged.”
   They may not know anything else Jesus said … but they are quick to remind you that they do know He said that.
   And the reason people remember that comment is that they get very uncomfortable about other people telling them what is Biblically wrong in their lives. In fact, our culture is so troubled by this idea of being “judged” that we have several proverbs warn us about it.
   George Eliot said “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
   “God doesn't propose to judge a man until he’s dead… so why should you?”
   “Only God is in a position to look down on anyone.”
   And of course, God Himself said in I Samuel 16:7 “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
   Now why would this be such a problem?
   Why would this “judging” stuff be so universally disliked?
   Why would it be so evil that it is even condemned by God?
   Well - because almost everybody does it.
   Almost everybody judges someone else at one time or another in their lives about something.
   Often times it’s the very people that will quote Jesus: “Judge not lest ye yourself be judged.”
   What makes this worse is that most of the people who quote Jesus on this… misquote Him. Did you realize you can parrot Jesus’ words EXACTLY and still misquote Him?
   How’s that possible?
   You can misquote Jesus by only quoting PART of what He says.
   For example, just a couple of sentences after Jesus says in vs. 1 “Judge not …” Then He goes on to say in Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
   Now … is Jesus talking about real dogs and pigs here?
   No, He’s talking about people who act LIKE dogs and pigs.
   People who have no respect for sacred things and who will destroy things that are precious to you. And then they’ll turn on you and chew you up and spit you out … just because they can.
   So now, here’s the question: How do you know who’s a dog and who’s a pig?
   Oh No!! This brings us back to that judgement thing. To decide who’s a dog and who’s a pig you have to make a “judgment” call … don’t you?
   You have to judge a person’s character and actions and decide whether or not you can trust them.
   And that makes perfect sense if you think about it.
   Let’s say you’re going on a long trip and you need someone to house sit for you. You have two friends that come to mind to do this for you. One takes great care of everything they own. Everything in their home has a place and everything is in its place. Their home is immaculate.
   Your other friend is a nice person – but they’re a slob! When they eat they leave their crumbs and scraps and wrappers laying all over the place.
   Now - who you gonna ask to take care of your house while you’re gone?
   You have just made a value-judgment based on the character of your friends.
   And you cannot live a normal life without making judgments about who you can trust and who you can’t.
   Jesus didn't really mean we shouldn't make judgments about people - He just meant we should be VERY careful how we do it. Notice the entire quote on judging in Matthew 7:1-2 … “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
   In other words – if you’re HARSH with others, God will be harsh with you.
   But if you show MERCY to others… God will show mercy to you
   In the same way you judge others, you’ll be judged.
   James explains it this way in James 4:11-12 … “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who SPEAKS AGAINST HIS BROTHER or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is ONLY ONE LAWGIVER AND JUDGE, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you— who are you to judge your neighbor?”
   You see, the Bible is warning us against the tendency to play God.
   But there is only ONE lawgiver and judge.
   Who’s that? (God)
   There’s only ONE God and (contrary to your personal belief) … you ain’t Him.
   Don’t you go trying to take over His job.
   Like that one quote we mentioned earlier says: “Only God is in a position to look down on anyone.”
   (Sarah Brown quoted by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. in "P.S. I Love You")
   But here’s the problem: most people don’t think that way.
   Most people believe they have the right to sit in judgment of others.
   If others don’t live like we think they ought to live, or they don’t think like we think ought to think – many of us feel that it is our “Christian Duty” to let them know how wrong they are. We can be tempted to say some unkind things about them, can’t we?
   ILLUS: A pastor shared this story … “Back in my first church I went to a high school basketball game.
   Who are those guys on the floor in the black and white striped shirts? (Referees)
   Well, the Referees in this game were not thinking the way I thought they should have been thinking, and they weren't making calls the way I thought they should have been making those calls.
   So, I insulted them.
   I belittled them.
   I questioned their intelligence.
   Do you realize that God rebukes us once in a while?
   That’s what happened to me that night.
   No one around me seemed to notice what I was doing … but God did.
   And I got nudged that night. Into my mind came the realization that … “I’m a preacher, a representative of the most High God. And here I am insulting people I don’t even know. I don’t do that anymore.”
   Now, here’s the question of the day … why do people “judge” others?
   I mean, this was an important enough subject that God repeatedly addresses how evil it is. If God condemns this harsh type of judging … what in the world would give us the “RIGHT” to do it?
   Well, we do it because (frankly)…
   We’re smarter than they are.
   We’re more insightful than they are.
   We’re more holy/ righteous/ spiritual… than they are.
   We’re just a BETTER person than they are.
   And because that is true … then in every conflict … if you’re in the wrong (pause) the other person is MORE wrong than you are ... right? And this must be a true statement because look how many people want to argue with you over what the Bible says and doesn’t say. It must be true because look how many people you want to argue with you over what the Bible says and doesn’t say. Let me take a moment to remind you … the Bible doesn’t need me or you to defend it … God’s Word speaks for itself and stand alone in it’s own defense.
   Now Jesus understood this tendency to judge others in our conflicts … so He set down what I call the “90% Solution”
   Let’s say here’s Fred … he and I, are angry with each other. I’m willing to be ‘big’ about this and admit that I may have some fault in this conflict … but he has more. I see the problem as being 10% my fault and 90% his.
   Now … on the flip side … Fred sees the problem as 90% MY fault and 10% his.
   Essentially we both see the other as having planks and logs coming out of each other’s eyes. But the speck in our own eye is insignificant compared to the fault of the other.
   We have “judged” each other and found the other to be more at fault than ourselves.
   So Jesus says – quit doing that.
   Take the log (what your adversary sees as being 90% your fault) out of your own eye… then you've opened the way for the two of you deal with the other guy’s fault.
   ILLUS: Now, let’s say that you don’t think you have ANY fault in this matter at all. That’s easy to remedy. You simply say to the other person “I have offended you” - which is true. Even if you haven’t done anything wrong … the other person is offended by you. So you state the obvious. “I have offended you. Would you forgive me for offending you?”
   By humbling yourself and doing this, you've removed the log from your own eye, and NOW you can work at solving the conflict.
   What’s the point?
   The point is that God’s not into our condemning those we disagree with.
   Henry Ford once summed up God’s thinking this way: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” (from Henry Ford’s diary). Our philosophy around here is if you bring me a problem … bring a solution with you.
   This especially is true when it comes to church discipline.
   Have you ever heard of “excommunication?”
   It’s where a church is called upon by God to confront and discipline sinful members who refuse to repent and change their immoral lifestyles.
   To the amazement of many people … excommunication is Biblical, and an example of it is recorded in I Corinthians chapters 5 and 6.
   Apparently there was a young man living with his step-mother. It’s such an immoral situation that Paul says “even the pagans don’t do this!”
   Now, the church at Corinth was trying to be non-judgmental. They knew about the man’s sin, but chose to look the other way in the false hope that he might be convicted on his own of the evil choice he’d made.
   But Paul told them – they weren't doing anybody any favors. If they ignored the man’s sin, he’s going to hell – and they’d be at fault. His blood would be on their hands. And others in the church would see the church “approving” or “enabling” his sin and they’d be more likely to engage in their own kinds of sins.
   Why did the church choose to look the other way? Because the church apparently didn't care.
   This is worth remembering: A church that won’t stand against immorality doesn't stand for much of anything. Such a church has no message and such a church embarrasses its Savior.
   But the story out of I Corinthians 5 has a happy ending. The man, that the church ultimately ostracized, repented and wanted to come back. And they brought him back in. He was forgiven and reinstated as a fellow brother.
   You see, that’s the point of BIBLICAL excommunication.
   A Godly church doesn't want to destroy people.
   The church doesn’t want people wollering in the same ole mud hole … it wants people to climb out of that hole and repent.
   When Jesus “forgave” people’s sins He said on many occasions “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
   ILLUS: There’s been a few times in my 12 years as a pastor that there have been people who have lived immoral lifestyles and MaryLu and I have had to call people in on a couple occasions for a private conversation. Now I’m not going to give you any of the details of those situations, because – frankly – that information in private and confidential.
   But we sat those folks down and explained to them that if they didn’t change, not only would they not be able to be part of this congregation, but they’d go to hell … and we didn't want that!
   We’d do whatever we had to do to help them.
   We’d get them counseling; we’d work to help them change their lifestyle.
   We wanted to help. We wanted to keep them.
   But, if they weren't willing to attempt to change … then there was nothing else we could do to help them. They made their choice to walk hand in hand with the devil and it became evident we couldn’t convince them to change.
   Our objective was to confront a sinful member of the church with mercy and love and hope for repentance. Because we understood that God says in Matthew 7:2: ‘with the measure you give, you shall receive.
   Now, one more observation.
   Christians can be some of the most judgmental people on the planet.
   Why would that be?
   Because we have become convinced of the truth of God’s Word and of the need to stand up for Him in a world that is often hostile to the things we hold dear.
   And so, we can get a bit snarky once in a while.
   Snarky? My definition of snarky is: Opinionated, self-righteous and rude.
   I've noticed this ”snarky” behavior on Facebook … by a lot of Christians.
   If someone is saying something that another disagrees with they get snarky with each other, don’t they? Someone says on Face Book “the Bible says” … and all these sidewalk theologians start coming out of the woodwork “debating and arguing” over what the Bible says. I call them “sidewalk theologians” because a true Christian wouldn’t get wrapped up in such childish behavior, would they?? … especially on social media so the world can see God’s children fussing and arguing.
   They call each other names.
   They question the other person’s integrity or intelligence.
   They get real close to cursing at each other… but they wouldn't do that because Christians aren't supposed to curse. Christians ARE supposed to be the example for the world to see,
   But actually – what they've done is worse than cursing.
   Do you know why it’s worse than cursing?
   Did you know we’re ALL made in the image of God. Each and every one of you is made in God’s image. The Bible says in Genesis 1:26 that we are made in the image of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
   If we insult, mistreat, or belittle others … do you know who we've really insulted, mistreated and belittled?
   That’s right – we've insulted, mistreated and belittled someone who is God’s perfect creation and made in “THEIR” image.
   Even those who are not living as they should – even those who have made bad decisions and have lived immoral lifestyles - are made in God’s image.
   ILLUS: One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is found in Luke 7 (36-8:3) where Jesus has been invited to the home of Simon the Pharisee. Simon doesn’t really like Jesus … but I think he invited Him in order to find a way to insult Him, and right off the bat … that’s exactly what Simon does. Normally, a gracious host would wash the feet of his guests – but not Simon. He quietly snubs Jesus and tries to make him mad.
   But Jesus is God. Insults from men like Simon are mere annoyances.
   He just ignores Simon’s jabs.
   Now, this gathering is a big affair. Anybody who is anybody has come to Simon’s house. In the confusion of the moment, a prostitute slips into the house. She just wants to see this Jesus everybody has been talking about. She just wants to get close enough to see Him … and then slip out the back door.
   But when she gets close, she begins to realize how shabby and dirty her life has been. Here’s a holy man of God, and she doesn’t deserve to be around Him. And she begins to cry … and her tears streak down and smear the dirt that Simon refused to wash off Jesus’ feet.
   Now she’s embarrassed and she gets down on her knees and anoints his feet with the perfume that she uses to make herself smell good as a prostitute … and dries his feet with her hair.
   And Simon sees all this and says “I gotcha Jesus! You say you’re a prophet? And you don’t even know the filth of the person who’s washing your feet. I’ve gotcha ... busted … hands down!!”
   And in his mind he considers how he can best humiliate both Jesus and this prostitute in front of all his other guests.
   Now, we need to understand that Jesus has been insulted by experts ... the best of the best … and Simon is an amateur. To Jesus, Simon wasn’t nothing more than a punk. Jesus can handle being insulted by the likes of him.
   Jesus can handle insults against his own character. But He’s not about to put up with an arrogant attack on this woman’s sorrow. With the precision of a surgeon Jesus proceeds to cut Simon to his heart and reveal the hypocrisy that lay within.
   “Simon, I have something to tell you.” Says Jesus.
   Simon responds: “What is it you want to tell me (pause) teacher.”
   Jesus then tells his story.
   “There were once 2 men who owed a money lender a great deal of money. One owned 5000 denarii (@ $50,000). Another owed 500 denarii (@ $5000). Neither could repay their debt, and so the money lender – thinking to cut his losses, cancelled the debt of both.
   Now, Simon, which would love the money lender more?"
   Simon just couldn't help himself.
   He was a good Pharisee and he just couldn't help showing his wisdom to this upstart teacher. So he responded “I suppose the one who owed the most – loved most.”
   Jesus responded: “Very good Simon, you have judged correctly.”
   Then Jesus literally turned His back on Simon and faced the woman.
   He turned away from the judgmental, self-righteousness of the Pharisee to the simple repentance of this woman.
   In Luke 7:44-50 we’re told the rest of the story: “44Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
   47“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
   49The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
   50And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
   You see, judgmental folks don’t love much … because they don’t think they've been forgiven much. After all, if you don’t need to be forgiven … then you’re obviously more righteous than everybody else.
   You’re obviously more qualified to pass judgment.
   You’re obviously in a position to advise God.
   But if you've been forgiven much… you understand the value of mercy.
   And you understand the value of showing that same mercy to others.

Everything Happens for a Reason

June 13, 2021

   Opening passage — Romans 8:17-28 (NLT)17And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
   18Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)
   26And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
   "Everything Happens For A Reason" seems Biblical... but it's not. Do you know why it's not true? And do you know what God actually teaches about His purpose and promises in our lives?
   Over the past couple of weeks we've been talking about stupid things that even Christians believe. Of course, these things that people believe don’t seem “stupid” to them at the time. In fact many of these things people believe seem perfectly reasonable… almost Biblical.
   And that is particularly true of the statement we’re going to be looking at today.
   That statement is: “Everything happens for a reason.”
   Have you ever heard someone say that? Have you ever said it? I think I may have too. It sounds almost Biblical… but it’s not. And we’ll explain why in just a moment.
   Now, when people say “everything happens for a reason” they mean well.
   What they’re meaning to say is: God takes care of everything in a believer’s life. And since, God takes care of everything then nothing happens by chance. Thus, everything happens for a reason. Everything that happens in your life is ALL part of God’s plan.
   Someone who believed this kind of thinking once said to Dr. J. Vernon McGee, "I have been studying the Bible, and I believe I am absolutely safe in God's hand. No matter what I do, or how dangerous it may be, he is going to protect me. If I stepped out into a busy street against a red light I would be perfectly safe if my time had not yet come."
   Dr. McGee replied, “If you are foolish enough to step out into traffic against a red light at the rush hour, brother… your time has come!
   Some time ago I saw a post on Facebook which said: “Everything happens for a reason.
   Sometimes it’s because you’re stupid and make bad decisions.”
   ILLUS: Now, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is relatively harmless until you run into someone who thinks it’s a good thing to say a funeral.
   There’s a true story of a woman who was leaving an evening church service and fell down the flight of steps outside the church and broke her hip. She had hip surgery, but instead of healing, she got progressively worse and until - a few short days later – she died.
   At the visitation, the preacher stood beside the bereaved husband. And many people came up to the man who’d lost his wife to offer their sympathies.
   • Some tried to console the husband: "God must have had a plan for this, so accept it."
   • Another said, “It was God’s will and we must live by it."
   • Still another said, "Somehow God planned this to test your faith!!"
   • And still another said, "There is a silver lining in every cloud. You will find God’s reason behind this eventually."
   Do you know what each of those friends was saying?
   They were saying: “Everything happens for a reason.”
   That almost sounds pious, until you consider the flip side of their meaning:
   “Your wife died… because God had planned for her to die.”
   Does that sound like a good thing to tell someone?
   Of course not!
   And the preacher left that funeral home filled with anger. He raged against their "babbling" (as he put it) and he went to his study and rewrote the beginning of his funeral sermon.
   The next day, he began his message with these words:
   "My God does not push old ladies down church steps!!!"
   Then he proceeded to explain that God cannot be blamed or accused for all the brokenness of this world. “If God is the author of death, how, how can He be at the same time the author of life as shown thru the resurrection we celebrate each Sunday…
   Is God the God of the living, or the God of the dead? You cannot have it both ways.”
   (Tim Zingale, speaking of a funeral conducted by the late Maurice "Mo" White)
   But now, the question is this: how did people arrive at this kind of thinking?
   How could they possibly come to the kind of theology that would imply that God would push little old ladies down church steps?
   A pastor shared this story … “Back when I attended a secular University, I took several classes in Philosophy. Of all the things I learned in those classes the one concept that made the most lasting impression on me was explained to me by an Assistant Professor.
   He told me that the best way to understand how people think something through is to compare it to a mathematical equation.
   He explained that most people reason like this:
   “Proposition 1: A equals B
   Propositions 2: B equals C
   Conclusion: Therefore A must equal C”
   The professor then explained that by the time people have arrived at their conclusion it is hard to shake their convictions because they believe the conclusion to be the logical outcome of the propositions they started with.” Thus, in order to point out where their conclusions were wrong you needed to show where one or more of their propositions were faulty.
   When it comes to the “everything happens for a reason” mentality, the reasoning goes like this:
   1. God has a plan for our lives.
   That’s true.
   2. And God has made various promises to us … such as he wrote in Psalm 91:11-12 “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
   And that’s true.
   Therefore since God has made us that promise, and God has a plan for us, the only logical conclusion (they reason) is:
   God will protect us in all things.
   And therefore, anything that happens to us is part of His plan for our lives, right?
   Wrong!! Now, the problem is – this line thinking is sooo close to true Scriptural teachings that it actually makes sense.
   So, let examine each of their propositions for a few moments.
   First, it IS true that God has a plan for your life.
   One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ephesians 2:10 which tells us that (once we become Christians) “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
   God has things prepared for you and I to do.
   He has a plan for our lives, a purpose for us to accomplish.
   And once we accept that… once we believe it… once we have faith that this is what God has in mind for us ... then we’re capable of doing all kinds of things, right?
   ILLUS: There was a recent study done by researchers at Stanford University who tested 900 participants. They found just “thinking” about God has a powerful impact on people’s willingness to “seek out and take risks ... because they view God as providing security against potential negative outcomes.”
   In other words, even for people who weren't driven by faith who were simply “THINKING about God” - there was a belief that God was THERE for them. And therefore (since He was "there") they felt more willing to take certain risks in life they wouldn't have otherwise considered.
   Years ago the question was asked: “What would you do if you believed you could not fail?”
   That study from Stanford essentially was saying that – if you believe God approves of that dream then you’re more likely to take a shot at doing it. Because you BELIEVE God will have your back.
   But in Scripture, God does you one better. In Scripture, God essentially says “Not only will believing I’ve got your back make you more confident, but if (what you plan to do) is in My will, then…
   I WILL have your back and I WILL be there for you.
   Our faith in God’s faithfulness makes us live our lives in an expectation of the fact that He has a plan for our lives… and it’s going to be something exciting. It’s kind of like children sitting around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. All those gifts lie under the tree and they can’t “see” what’s inside the gifts. But they just “know” it’s going to be something great.
   In 2 Corinthians 5:7 God tells us – as Christians – “We live by faith, not by sight.”
   So, when we do THIS right …
   When we live as those who believe God has a plan for our lives ...
   When we live as those who believe that God has the power to put that plan into effect …
   And when we step out in faith and do things that just don’t make any sense …
   Then we live our lives looking for something we can’t see.
   We live by faith, not by sight.
   Or, another way of saying this is:
   “An attitude of Faith will succeed even in the face of Facts.”
   ILLUS: Dr. Karl Menninger once observed, “Attitudes are more important than facts.”
   The great men and women of Scripture had the attitude that God had a plan and they obeyed. Once they accepted that God had a plan … and that God had the power to make it work ... Nothing else mattered.
   When Moses faced the might of Egypt what did he have in his hand?
   A shepherd’s staff.
   Really? That’s all he had?
   That shouldn't have worked? But it did.
   When David faced Goliath, what did he have in his hand?
   A sling and a rock? Seriously? That’s all he had?
   That shouldn't have worked. But it did.
   When Gideon and his 300 soldiers faced an army of 135,000 men, what did they have in their hands?
   Trumpets and torches. That’s it? That’s all they had?
   That shouldn't have worked either, but it did.
   Those things shouldn't have worked!! BUT they did!!!
   The enemy was bigger that they were. Stronger than they were!
   But the God of those faith-filled people was stronger than their enemy.
   And because of their attitude – because they BELIEVED God had a plan, and that God had the power to back up that plan - they became victorious.
   So when you and I believe God has a plan for our lives and that He has the power to back up that plan with His power. And if that plan is according to the Will of God, then we really can’t lose!!!
   Now the FACT that God has a plan for your life goes hand in hand with the FACT that God has given you all kinds of promises.
   The Bible is filled with 1000s of promises that God has made.
   I could preach for years just on the promises God has made to you and I!
   And one of the most famous and beloved those promises is found in our text this morning:
   Romans 8:28 “… we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
   God will work for the good of those who love Him and obey him.
   In HOW MANY things will God work for the good of those who love Him?
   In ALL things!
   Almost sounds like “everything happens for a purpose” doesn't it?
   But now, let’s ask a couple questions here.
   Is this verse saying that ALL things are good?
   No, it doesn't, does it.
Is this verse saying that God “caused” all things to happen in your life?
   Again, no – that’s not what it says.
   But what it IS saying is this:
   It doesn't make any difference.
   It doesn't matter if what has happened in your life was caused by God or not. And it doesn't matter if what has happened in your life is a good thing or a bad thing. No matter what has happened in your life you need to remember ONLY one thing … you serve a BIG God who has BIG plans for your life.
   And no matter WHY something has happened in your life … ALL things (good things/ bad things/ things caused by God/ things not caused by God) ALL things will work together for your good ... if you’ll just give him the reigns.
   I will state categorically: Not everything in this world happens for a reason - unless you’re going to say that the reason is that people are sometimes stupid and make bad decisions.
   Remember the story of Cain and Abel?
   Cain and Abel offer a sacrifice to God, and God rejects Cain’s offering.
   How does Cain respond to this rejection?
   He gets angry and he kills his brother.
   Was that’s God’s will?
   Did God cause that to happen?
   Let’s fast-forward a few centuries to the days of Moses.
   The Israelites come to the very border of the Promised Land and they send in 12 spies to scout out the land. Two were good and 10 were bad. The two faith filled men came back and said that this land was everything God had promised and all they had to do was go in and take it. But the other 10 were afraid and said that they were like grasshoppers in comparison to those giants. And their fear spread throughout the camp and the people refused to go into Palestine.
   Was that God’s will that they would refuse to go in?
   Did God cause that to happen?
   A few centuries later we read about a great king of Israel named David.
   David sees the wife of Uriah bathing on a nearby rooftop and sins by having her come over to his palace, committing adultery with her.
   Was that God’s will?
   Did God cause that to happen?
   Answer to all of these are NO!!!! Sin is NEVER in the will of God and God didn’t “cause” any of these things to happen.
   Sometimes the reason bad things happen to us is that people make bad decisions and do stupid things because of those decisions.
   Sometimes it’s because others make bad decisions that affect us.
   Sometimes it’s because the people around us are sinners and they do sinful things ... and if I dare say … sometimes we’re influenced by their sin.
   Or, sometimes the reason things happen to us is that we live in a fallen world.
   But God says – it doesn't matter why something happened ... I can make all things work together for good in your life IF you love ME, if you are obedient to My word and if you are called according to My purpose.
   It helps to realize that Romans 8:28 isn't just a one verse out in the middle of nowhere.
   It’s part of a whole chapter of things God wanted us to see and understand.
   And the backdrop for the promise we just read is found in Romans 8:17-18: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
   What that is saying is this: as a Christian you’re going to suffer ... or, as Jesus said in John 16:33 – in this world you will have trouble.
   And that suffering isn't always going to be part of God’s “plan” for our lives.
   I mean, sometimes we’ll suffer because we've sinned and God needs to correct us.
   But other times our suffering will happen because we live in a fallen world. Or because we live amongst sinful people that won’t like us.
   Not everything that happens, happens because it is God’s plan for our lives.
   The “everything happens for a reason” mindset ends up blaming God for stuff He doesn't do.
   He doesn't push little old ladies down stair cases.
   He doesn't make it so we make bad choices in our lives.
   He doesn't cause bad people to do bad things.
   God doesn't do stuff like that.
   God doesn't make it so that everything happens for a reason…
   But What God Does Do is…
   He makes everything that does happen… have a reason.
   When you and I act in faith.
   When you and I commit our lives to Him.
   When you and I believe what we do in prayer.
   When we humble ourselves in His presence.
   Then God makes everything that DOES happen… to have a reason.
   What happens in our lives will mean something, because God will MAKE it mean something.
   CLOSE: One of the best illustrations I can think of to help us understand this concept comes from Scripture. The Bible tells us of one of the greatest kings of Israel.
   His name was David.
   David was a great king, a man after God’s own heart.
   And a very righteous man.
   In fact, you can tell the kind of righteousness he had by reading the book of Psalms (of which he was the major author)
  And he became a great warrior and a great leader.

     Not only did he face and killed Goliath, but even after he became King… he led armies against enemies of Israel.
   But then one day, David didn't go to war with his armies.
   He stayed home to watch the bed and bath channel on the rooftop across the way.
   He saw Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop - and he wanted her.
   So he sent for her… and slept with her… and he had a good time.
   In fact, you get the impression he had several nights of pleasure her.
   But then, one day Bathsheba says “David, honey, I need to tell you something. Please don’t be upset … BUT … I’m pregnant.”
   And now David has a problem.
   Bathsheba is a married woman and if it’s found out that he’s the father of her child, he would lose his prestige as a king… and she’d lose her life. They’d stone her to death.
   So David decides on a plan.
   All this time, her husband has been on the war-front. He’s not slept with her.
   So David sends for Uriah to come back to Jerusalem to be a messenger for him. While Uriah is there, David suggests he go to spend some time with his own wife.
   But Uriah is a righteous man. More righteous than David.
   And he refuses to go to his wife because he feels it would be unfair to his brothers in arms if he should enjoy the pleasures of home while they are suffering on the battlefront. And Uriah sleeps at the door of the palace.
   Now things are getting serious.
   David sends Uriah to back to his general with sealed orders.
   The orders? The general was to put Uriah at the front where the battle was the thickest. And when the time was right, the general was to draw back all of the other soldiers and leave Uriah to die. And that’s what they did. And Uriah died.
   So David has succeeded in covering his tracks. No one will now know that he and Bathsheba have committed adultery, and he is now free to take her as his wife.
   Then … there was a man knocking at the door. He was the prophet of God named Nathan. And Nathan had urgent news for the King. He told David there had been a “poor man who had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.”
   But next door to that poor man was a wealthy farmer who had a friend come and visit. And even though this rich man had sheep and cattle of his own, “he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
   And the Bible says in 2 Samuel 12:5-6 “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
   And then Nathan spoke some of the most powerful words ever said:
   Nathan said to David in vs 7, “You are the man!”
   And Nathan told David, the child would die and the sword would not depart from his house because of the evil that he had done in the eyes of God.
   David had been stupid, and he’d made some bad choices…
   But then … David made a different choice.
   Unlike many of the other kings in the Old Testament, David humbled himself under the hand of God. He repented of his sins. In fact he wrote an entire Psalm dedicated to asking God’s forgiveness for this evil thing he had done. Some of the words of Psalm 51:1-2; 7-12 say: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin… wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
   When David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah, one of his best friends, killed because of his lust for sex and power. He had been stupid and he’d made a bad decision.
   But God took what David had done … which was evil… He took that which David had done … which was NOT a good thing… and made it so that even this evil thing could be turned to good. These words, spoken by Joseph, are recorded in Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
   You see – because David humbled himself before God …
   Because David stopped making excuses and hiding his sin …
   Because David truly repented and changed his life …
   God showed Himself faithful and made it so that all things worked together for good (even these bad things/even these things God did not create).
   Did you know there is a difference between repentance and Truly repenting?
   “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”
   Do you believe that?
   Does anybody know who the next King of Israel was after David?
   Does anybody know who Solomon’s mama was?
   Do you see what God did there?
   He took the evil that David had done, and because David repented of that evil, God made “all things work together for good”, so that even this 2nd child of David and Bathsheba became a King of Israel. A king who stood for God.
   The point is this: We all mess up. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We’re all broken people who do things we’d just as soon forget. Not everything we've done was done for a “reason” … it was just something we decided to do. But God can take that which we've done… and make it have a reason. He takes what we've messed up and makes it valuable.
   But first we must give those things to Him.
   And the first thing we must give to Him… is ourselves.

Karma or Christ

June 6, 2021

   Opening Passage: Galatians 6:7-10 (NLT) — 7Don’t be misled — you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.
   Many religious people - and even Christians - believe in some form of "karma". What's wrong with that? And why should we not accept that view of God?
   This month we’re exploring “stupid things even Christians believe”, and this morning we’re going to be examining a theology that is seemingly common to every religion on earth.
   So many people, in so many religions, believe this particular theology because it seems to make so much sense to them. And it seemingly makes so much sense, that even many faithful Christians can be drawn into it.
   This false theology can be summed up by the proverb: “What goes around comes around”.
   Or another way of saying it is: “You get what you deserve.”
   One of the common manifestations of this false thinking is the Buddhist concept of “Karma”.
   Karma essentially teaches that all people do bad things. Those bad deeds cause suffering … and no one wants to suffer. So, in order to undo the damage from those “bad deeds” … people need to do “good deeds” to balance out the damage of the bad deeds in their lives.
   Visualize it like a balance scale.
   On one side of the scales are your bad deeds and on the other side are your good deeds. If your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you have good Karma and you will be blessed. If your bad deeds outweigh the good you’ll have bad Karma … and you will be cursed.
   Now the thing about “Karma” is that it actually sounds Biblical.
   In Galatians 6:7 we’re told “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
   Yeah. What goes around … comes around. “You get what you deserve.”
   Sounds like Karma to me! How about you? Sound like karma to you?
   But there is a difference in the mindset between Karma and Christ, and that’s what we’re going to explore this morning.
   To the Karma mindset, one can usually tell when another person’s karma is good.
   If life is treating them right, if they have good health, if they have a good job and lots of money: they've got “good karma”. With good karma they avoid suffering and experience blessings.
   However if life is gone south on someone … if their relationships are in the tank, their finances are a mess, and they are depressed all the time, … that’s because they have bad Karma. They've done bad things and now they are suffering because of it.
   In either case – you deserve what you get.
   There is a story told of a group of missionaries and their families who had been killed in a bus accident near a village in a Buddhist country. Within minutes, the bus was ransacked and the bodies pillaged for loot.
   The reason? Those who died were only receiving their karma, and there is nothing wrong in taking what is left from one who is paying his or her dues.
   (“Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message”, p. 122)
   Now, before you think – “Well, that’s just dumb”, you need to realize, a lot of religious people tend to think like that. They think it makes sense. After all, good people deserve blessings and bad people don’t. Other words, if you’re in trouble, if your life is in the gutter … the fault is probably yours.
   God knew how appealing this would be to folks … and so He shared the story of man named Job. If you remember the story, the first chapter of Job introduces us to a righteous man, a good husband and daddy. A holy man who could be counted on to do the right things. And he is exceedingly blessed by God.
   But before long everything starts going wrong for him.
   • His riches disappeared.
   • His 10 children died.
   • His health deteriorated.
   • And his wife turned into a bitter shrew of a woman.
   As if that weren't bad enough … his friends came over to “comfort him”.
   Well… they weren't really there to comfort him.
   They were there to correct him, and to condemn him.
   In the book of Job, these three friends observe Job’s suffering … and tell him that:
   1. All suffering is a result of sin.
   2. The greater the sin the greater the suffering.
   3. Therefore Job, you deserve what you’re getting, and you need to repent.
   This can all be summed up by his “friend” Zophar’s comment in Job 11:14-15: “IF you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, THEN you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.”
   In other words: it’s YOUR fault, Job.
   You've sinned, and that’s the reason you’re suffering.
   BUT… if you’d just put away that sin, if you’d just allow no evil in your tent, THEN, you’d be OK!
   Now, of course, from the beginning of the story WE know that’s not true.
   That’s NOT why Job is suffering.
   But these 3 friends don’t know THAT part of the story so they’re allowing their Karma kind of theory to guide them in their advice:
   You got what you deserved Job.
   You've got suffering… because you have sinned.
   What goes around, comes around.
   So, they judge Job and condemn him without ever knowing the REAL reason he is suffering. And by the end of the book God restores all that Job had lost and then commands the 3 friends to go to Job and ask him to offer sacrifices so that God won’t punish them for their foolish statements.
   The moral of the story: you don’t always know why people suffer … so cut them some slack. And find ways of ministering to people, helping them in their time of sorrow. Because … neither you (nor I) have a full understanding of why anyone is suffering. So … God calls us to do what? Reach out to them..
   We all make these kinds of judgments. We see a man on the street with a sign that says “will work for food” and we just know he won’t work and the money won’t go for food. We see a person living out under a bridge and presume to know how they got there – bad choices. We see a man pushing a shopping cart down the street and we know how he got there.
   Now, we may be right, and we would be advised to be cautious on how we help out folks like these, but we need to remember that God places a high priority on our helping the poor and destitute. When we give to them – God notices.
   That’s one of the major contrasts between Karma and Christ.
   Karma says: you’re getting what you deserve… and so I’m not obligated to help you.
   Christ says in Matthew 7:12 – do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
   Now, the flip-side of this Karma kind of thinking is: people who are “successful” and lead a “charmed life” are blessed by God. I mean, God wouldn't allow bad people to be blessed, that just doesn't make any sense, does it?
   So … if bad people should not be blessed and good people should be blessed, THEN all successful people MUST BE … blessed!
   Sounds kind of reasonable doesn't it?
   That kind of reasoning was rampant during the days Jesus.
   We’re told the story in (Matthew 19) of a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus ultimately tells him to sell all that he has and come follow Him. But the rich man loved his riches and went away sorrowing.
   Then in Mark 10:25 Jesus turned to His disciples and said "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
   When the disciples heard this, they were greatly ASTONISHED and in Matthew 19:25 they asked, "Then who in the world can be saved?"
   Now, why would they ask that question?
   Why would they have been ASTONISHED that the rich would have a hard time getting into heaven?
   Well, they asked the question (and they were astonished) because, to their minds, the rich were blessed people. Obviously, God had already judged them worthy of His blessings. So, IF anybody is going to make into heaven … it ought to be them.
   Successful people are blessed people. And if we want to be successful as well … we need them on our side.
   ILLUS: From childhood, we learned this kind of thinking. Remember when you were kids and you’d be with your friends and they’d want to play a game? You’d have two captains, and everyone one else would line up waiting to be picked.
   And who were the first kids to be picked?
   That’s right - the attractive, athletic, intelligent type.
   If you were a geek or a gangly loser, you were always last.
   But why were those other kids picked first?
   Because they were winners!!!
   You always want the winners on your side!
   By some perverse sense of logic, successful people are even seen as winners by some Christians.
   The early church had that problem. James wrote in 2:8-9: 8Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
   In vss 2-6 James says “2For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
   5Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? 6But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?
   The temptation was to honor the rich.
   They were successful, they were blessed.
   They were winners… and many in the early church wanted to be winners too.
   A pastor shared this story of a Doctor and his family who had visited the church A few years back. They were looking for a new church, and they were a good looking, friendly family. And they really WERE a nice, godly family and would have been a GREAT addition to this congregation.
   But they eventually chose to attend another congregation they felt was a better fit for their family.
   But the day they visited here, one of the members of the church sided up to me and smiled and said: “Hey, we have a doctor in to church today.”
   And I just looked at him for a moment and didn't say anything
   Then he said: “Oh, we’re not supposed to be impressed by that are we”
   But for a few moments… he was.
   This Doctor represented success… the blessings of God.
   James tells us – that’s not how God thinks.
   James 2:5 says “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”
   The moral of the story: Just because people come from the nice side of town and wear nice clothes and drive nice cars … doesn't mean they’re nice people.
   The Bible is clear in Romans 3:23 where it says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And some people have been doing it for so loan that they have gotten really good at sinning.
   Being rich oddly gives them the ability to sin a lot … and to cover their sin more efficiently.
   Now, I've just spent the better part of this lesson telling you that Karma is NOT good doctrine. But now we’re going to reread our text for this morning: Galatians 6:7-10 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
   Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
   You reap what you sow.
   If you sow to your sinful behavior, you’ll reap destruction.
   BUT if you don’t grow weary in doing good… in proper time… you will reap the harvest of eternal life.
   What goes around comes around.
   Sounds almost like Karma… doesn't it?
   But here’s the difference:
   Karma-kind of thinking believes the judgment has already been made.
   You've either been judged and found WANTING… that’s why you suffer.
   OR you've been judged and found WORTHY… and that’s why you’re blessed.
   But the judgment has pretty much already been made.
   The only way to stop suffering (according to Karma) is to work off our bad deeds … with good ones. IF you do enough good, you can pay for your sins … and THEN you’ll be blessed.
   By contrast, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:10 … none of us are worthy.
   We've all sinned.
   We've all been found wanting.
   You remember this thing kids used to do (form an “L” with thumb and first finger and put it on your forehead)? What did it mean? Loser
   We've all been losers!
   None of us is worthy of blessings from God.
   Unlike in the Karma thinking – we can’t do enough good to offset the evil we've done in our lives. We can’t do enough good to be worthy of God’s blessings.
   Karma is all about tallying up enough brownie points so that you just MIGHT get blessings. Bad deeds can only be offset by doing enough good deeds to balance things out. BUT no matter how many good deeds you do you can never be sure you've done enough to undo the damage of your past.
   Therefore, there’s no confidence that you've “made it”.
   There’s no joy, no real hope, no sense of freedom … just a continuous sense of doubt … and fear.
   And you can tell when a Christian has bought into the Karma mindset.
   You ask a believer if they are sure they’re going to heaven.
   Most will reply: “I hope I've been good enough…”
   What they’re saying is Karma. I hope my good deed have outweighed my bad. That way I can go into the presence of God and DESERVE heaven.
   Now, the Bible DOES teach that we have all done bad … and that the bad in our lives has to be paid for. It has to be taken away for us to be acceptable. But neither you nor I can pay for our bad deeds with good deeds. Neither you nor I can make our lives acceptable by how many good things we do.
   What is the ONLY way you can get into heaven?
   That’s right – by the blood of Jesus Christ.
   Your good deeds will not buy you a place in God’s presence.
   So if you someone asks you if you are going to heaven … you need to say “YOU BET I AM!!!”
   But not because I deserve to be there.
   I’m going to heaven because of the blood of Jesus.

   As Galatians 3:27 says “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
   It isn't by MY righteous garments that I’m saved. It’s because I've put on Christ.
   It’s critical that we understand this. Because if we don’t … we’ll never really understand why other people reject Jesus.
   You see, the problem for most people is that they really still believe in Karma. They sense the rightness of doing enough good to offset the bad they've done.
   They’d rather do it themselves … and they think they can … given enough time and enough chances to do good things.
   The very idea that Jesus would have to do it for them, offends them and offends their sensibilities. They feel THEY have to do the good things to deserve God’s attention.
   But in their heart of hearts, they sense they’re not quite doing enough. They’re often unsure and uncertain. They understand that what goes around comes around … but they’re not quite sure what’s coming around.
   And they’re never quite sure they've been good enough … to be good enough.
   CLOSE: There’s the story of a man who lived by that standard. He had no place in his life for God or His rules. He had a deep contempt for Christians and this Jesus they said they believed in.
   He figured he was good enough on his own.
   Of course … his standards were kind of low.
   He was a womanizer.
   A heavy drinker.
   And a dedicated partier.
   And he was a fairly popular singer and song-writer - one of his bigger hits at the time was "I won't go hunting with you Jake, but I'll go chasing women."
   This man was also a prominent radio personality and would interview important people on his program. When a young preacher named Billy Graham came to town to hold a revival

this man invited Graham to be a guest on his show.
   In order to gather more material for his show - where he intended to poke fun at this young preacher, he decided he would show up at one of the revival meetings. Early in the service Rev. Graham announced, "There is one man in this audience who is a big fake."
   Now, Rev. Graham would have been right no matter who was in the audience. There was bound to be at least one person in the audience who was a big fake. But this man was convinced that he was the one the preacher was talking about.
   After the Revival had ended, the words continued to haunt him until a couple of nights later he showed up drunk at the preacher's Hotel door around 2AM demanding that the preacher pray for him!
   But Graham refused, saying, "This is between you and God and I'm not going to get in the middle of it."
   But the preacher did invite him in and they talked until about 5 AM in the morning
   And shortly afterwards, this hard bitten, doubting man gave himself over to Christ.
   His name was Stuart Hamblin and his life was changed almost immediately.
   He quit drinking, quit chasing women, and quit everything that was 'fun.'
   Soon he began to lose favor with the Hollywood crowd.
   And he was ultimately fired by the radio station when he refused to accept a beer company as a sponsor.
   Sometime later, a long time friend named John Wayne took him aside and told him, “All your troubles started when you 'got religion,' was it worth it all?”
   And Stuart simply answered, "Yes."
   Then Wayne asked, "You liked your booze so much, don't you ever miss it?"
   Stuart smiled and said, "No."
   John Wayne then said, "I don't understand how you could give it up so easily."
   And Stuart's response was, "It's no big secret. All things are possible with God."
   To this John said, "That's a catchy phrase. You should write a song about it."
   And this was the song that he wrote:
   “The chimes of time ring out the news, another day is through
   Someone slipped and fell, was that someone you?
   You may have longed for added strength, your courage to renew
   Do not be disheartened, I have news for you.”
   "It is no secret what God can do.
   What He's done for others, He'll do for you.
   With arms wide open, He'll welcome you.
   It is no secret, what God can do...."
   That’s the difference between Karma and Christ.
   Karma says: “you’re getting what you deserve. You've slipped and fell and now there’s a price you have to pay.".Christ says: “You've gotten what you deserve… let me pay the price. You can’t do it on your own. Let me help

Can Faith Fix Anything

May 30,2021

   Opening Passage:1 John 5:3-4 (NLT) — 3Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. 4For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.
   It has always impressed me how many great songs and hymns have been based upon various Scriptures. As I was thinking about our text this morning where it says “this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” and I recognized an old popular hymn. Does anybody else know which hymn this would be?
   “Encamped along the hills of light,
   ye Christian soldiers, rise,
   And press the battle ere the night
   shall veil the glowing skies.
   Against the foe in vales below
   let all our strength be hurled;
   Faith is the victory, we know,
   that overcomes the world.
   (CHORUS) Faith is the victory!
   Faith is the victory!
   Oh, glorious victory,
   that overcomes the world.”
   The title is “Faith Is the Victory.”
   That’s what the verse in our text today said: “…this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

   That’s a great promise!!!
   God’s telling us that our faith is a MIGHTY thing!
   It gives us power in this world we wouldn't have otherwise.
   Hebrews 11 is the great chapter of faith and Scripture tells us that as well. The author of Hebrews tells us about the faith of men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses and several others. And in vs. 32-35a the writer goes on to say … “32How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.35aWomen received their loved ones back again from death.”
   Do you believe that this morning?
   That’s the kind of power I want in my life. I want a powerful faith that can OVERCOME this world and give me victory.
   Can I hear an AMEN??

   But, hold on a minute … there’s a fly in the ointment.
   The author of Hebrews doesn't stop there with the words we just read. In vss 35b-38 he goes on to write … 35b“But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.36Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons.37Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.”
   I read where a preacher reflected on this part of Hebrews 11 and wrote: “I guarantee you that no one ever taught me this side of faith in Sunday school. Imagine what would happen if they did.‘Okay, children, today we’re going to learn how trusting God might get you torn in two, thrown into jail, hated by your friends, and will force you to drive an old beater the rest of your life.’
   It would certainly thin the herd.”
   And I wouldn't blame the herd for thinning out. Would you?
   Nobody I know is interested in a faith that would lead to pain, struggling, torment and death. Most people want a power in faith that gives them confidence – not fear.
   That’s why certain kinds of faith preachers only dwell on something called the “prosperity gospel.” They teach their followers that all they need to believe and have enough faith… and their faith will fix everything … and everything will be OK.
   It’s a popular message. It draws the crowds. And it’s often preached by TV evangelists because it is a crowd pleaser. People come, they put their tithes in the mail, and they buy that preacher's books and tapes.
   Some of the more highly recognized “prosperity preachers” are folks like Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, and Kenneth Hagin. And the list could go on and on.These kinds of preachers sell a god that is channeled through visualization, positive thinking, and – a real popular one – “Name it and Claim it.”
   "Name it and claim it" is all about naming what you want, claiming it before the throne of God – and then being so intense about your faith that you WILL receive what you've named and claimed, that it will be yours.
   Preachers like this draw in people by the 1000s because there are people out there who feel helpless in this world and they want a God who will step in and FIX what is wrong. A god that would give them healing and security, and success.
   Now, the thing is, I believe in a God who can DO all those things.
   Don’t you?
   I believe in a God, just like the God that Hebrews describes.
   A God who can enable me to conquer kingdoms.
   A God who can shut the mouths of lions and quench the power of fire.
   A God who can make me strong when I am weak.
   How about you? Are you with me this morning because I BELIEVE in that kind of God!

   But what I DON’T believe in are the false teachings of charlatans who sell a fake faith that teaches people that all they need to do is pull a few levers and punch a few buttons and God will dance to their tune … do what they want done the way they want it done. They teach their followers that all they need do is follow their teachings and they can get God to bend to THEIR will – not the other way around.
   And if it doesn't work… why then – it’s YOUR FAULT… not God’s.
   If you had only learned to visualize success like they taught.
   If you had only learned to practice “positive thinking” the way they told you to.
   If you had only had properly named it in true faith, and then claimed it in true faith.
   If only… you’d had ENOUGH faith.
   If you it didn't get what you’d prayed for … it was your fault.
   You just didn't have enough faith.ILLUS: I once heard a radio call-in program on a Christian radio station. The host was had a soft gentle – grandfatherly voice. He was so reassuring and comforting. One of his callers that night was a woman who said that she’d been attending one of those kinds of churches we just talked about. She explained that she was blind. And some of the people she went to church with said that if she had enough faith, God would heal her of her blindness.
   She was confused and a bit hurt by their comments.
   Was the problem really that she didn't have enough faith?
   The radio host smoothly comforted her and then asked if she had one of those white sticks the blind use to find their way around.
   She said she did.
   “Well, next time someone says to you that if you had enough faith, God would heal you of your blindness… you take that white stick and you rap them up side of the head. Then you tell them: ‘You know, that wouldn’t have hurt if you’d had enough faith.’”
   The whole mindset behind those kinds of preachers and churches is that faith is the tool you can use get what you want. And if the tool doesn’t work… it was because it was YOUR fault. You obviously didn’t have enough faith.
   Because if you had enough faith… then you’d
   … be healed
   … become successful

   … get that job you wanted
   … you’d never suffer, never feel pain, … all would be right with the world!!!
   For these false teachers – faith fixes everything.
   True Faith never lets you down.
   It makes it so we never suffer, we never fail.
   Well, if that’s true…
   Did Paul not have enough faith?
   He was beaten and stoned and run out of almost every town? It was said that when Paul entered a new town the first thing he did was check out the jail because he knew that before all was said and done he was going to wind up there anyway.
   Did the Apostles not have enough faith?
   Every Disciple except John died a martyr’s death.
   Did Jesus not have enough faith?
   He ended being beaten beyond recognition, crucified on the cross and died a terrible death.Just before he was betrayed Jesus spent a long time at the Garden of Gethsemane praying about His impending crucifixion and death. Do you remember what He prayed in Luke 22:42?
   “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
   You see, Godly faith is different than what these other preachers preach.
   Those preachers teach that TRUE faith is when you hand God a sheet of paper and it has all your requests written on it… and then you believe ( you actually EXPECT) God to do what you want.
   That’s not Biblical Faith.
   Biblical Faith is when you hand God a blank sheet of paper, and then you tell God – not my will, but YOURS be done. Here’s a blank piece of paper. I TRUST you to fill it in with things You want done in my life. Granted, I’ll still make my requests known to God. I’ll still tell Him what I’d prefer to see done in my life. But I won’t feel like I can corner God into a promise He didn't make.
   Jesus NEVER taught the “name it and claim it” kind of foolishness.
   Jesus told His followers in John 16:33 "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

   Jesus never taught us that a life of faith would be filled with peaches and cream.
   Jesus never taught that a life of faith would always be painless and comforting.
   What part of that phrase don’t they understand?
   If you don’t understand that one basic truth… you’re going to be one disappointed puppy.
   In fact, misunderstanding that truth can lead to warping your attitude toward God to the point that you end up building a wall between yourself and Him. A wall that may ultimately intimidate you to the point that you walk away from God.
   ILLUS: A couple years ago I talked with a guy on Facebook. He said he was a Christian… but it seemed he was always a little argumentative about things, and one of the things he wanted to argue about was some of the promises of God.He seemed to focus on the promises about God’s faithfulness in the Psalms - and he seemed to be offended that it promised that the Psalms painted God as being willing to protect us from our enemies. He didn’t accept that because he’d experienced too much pain and suffering in his life.
   I got the impression that his wife had divorced him.
   And that some of the churches he’d been in --- had been rough on him.
   Life had been harsh and uncomfortable… and he was angry.
   He was too religious to turn his back on Church … but you could tell he was angry with God. God hadn’t answered his prayers when HE had thought God should have. And so He didn't think God cared whether he believed or not. HIS faith saw NO VICTORY, because HIS faith didn't stop the world from beating up on him.
   But his problem was that he wanted God to do things on HIS terms and on HIS timetable.
   But, please let me be the one to tell you … God doesn't work that way.
   If you look at the stories in the Bible you find that God’s people sometimes had to wait years to see how God was working in their lives. I found one graphic on the internet that said it this way:
   • Joseph waited 15 years
   • Abraham waited 25 years

   • Moses waited 40 years
   • Jesus waited 30
   So … if God is making you wait on him to move or answer your prayers … please let me be the one to tell you … you’re in VERY good company.
   My point is this:
   Our faith IS the victory that overcomes the world.
   Our God does mighty things in response to our faith.
   Our God IS faithful.
   But He doesn't do things on our terms, or on our timetable, or in our way.
   That’s NOT how it works!
   CLOSE: But let me tell you how it DOES WORK.
   One of the best stories about how our faith ought to be is found in the Old Testament. It’s the story of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego.
   In Daniel 3:1 we’re told that 1“King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.”
   Everybody was commanded to bow down to this image, but Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego refuse to do that. They were hauled before the King who said they would have one more chance to bow down to his idol - or they’d be thrown into the fiery furnace… and die.
   In Daniel 3:16-18 their response was classic: “16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
   In other words … our God CAN rescue us.
   But if not - EVEN if He doesn’t rescue us - we still won’t bow down to any earthly gods.
   And of course we know the rest of the story.
   The king was furious and commanded that the fire be made 7 times hotter and had these three young men cast into the fire.
   And God rescued them from the flames.
   They were saying their faith was the victory that overcame their world.
   The King could kill them, but he couldn't kill their faith.
   Their God was big enough to rescue them.
   But if not… they still believed and they would not disobey Him in this matter.
   They had no intention of trying to manipulate God to do things THEIR way.
   My question to you this morning is “What gods do you serve?” So many of you here this morning and watching on Face Book serve the gods of negativity, doubt and fear. I have heard so many of you say “I know God’s going to heal me … BUT!!! … the Dr. said … ” How many of you serve the god of gossip. I have listened to some of you do nothing but sit around here and talk about people. How many of you serve the god of selfishness and self centeredness … it’s all about “ME” … I want to be first … I KNOW I’m right. Instead of asking someone for help … you TELL them what you want or what you need.
   I could go on … but do you get the picture?? So many of us serve earthly gods … and don’t even realize it … or we have become so conditioned … we don’t care anymore,
   Centuries later, other believers were faced a certain death.
   They had stood against an enemy in France. But the enemy (Hitler’s forces) steadily pushed them back. The Blitzkrieg, the Panzers, the Luftwaffe and the skill of Nazi’s forces were just too much for them. And eventually they found themselves defending a strip of beach on the shores of Dunkirk.
   There was no way they could escape.
   It was only a matter of time before Hitler’s forces crushed them.
   They managed to send a message back to England.
   And it consisted of only 3 words.
   In England, everyone knew what these men were saying: “Our God is able to deliver us (pause) BUT IF NOT we still will not surrender. We will die standing against this foe. We will not give up.
   (Charles Colson BreakPoint October 2001)
   Scholars still puzzle over why Hitler did not crush the forces of France and Britain while he had them cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk. It really made no sense. What possible reason did he have for holding back?
   Well, we know the answer to that question.
   We know why Hitler stayed his hand.
   These men had surrendered themselves into the power of their God and they were willing to do their duty and die EVEN IF their God did not rescue them. And God rescued them in one of the most dynamic rescues of WWII.
   Over the next 9 days England mobilized every ship, yacht and dinghy they could find and they rescued 336,000 men from certain death.
   Why were these men rescued?
   Because their faith was the victory that overcame their world.
   And that is what God calls us to as well.
   To have a faith that stands firm even in the face of certain loss and death.
   A faith that overcomes the world.
   But you can’t have that kind of faith until you first belong to Jesus Christ … lock, stock and barrel.

The Church That Makes God Sick

May 23, 2021

   Opening Passage:Revelation 3:14-22 (NLT) — The Message to the Church in Laodicea

   14“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:

   15“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference

   20“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

   “Because you are neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. This translation does not really capture the full thrust of the passage (excuse the pun but it was fully intended). The Greek word used here for spit actually means to vomit. Christ is feeling so sick that he wants to throw up.

   I like the way the Message puts it – it says “I know you inside and out and find little to my liking. You’re not cold, you’re not hot – far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant. You make me want to vomit.”

   Gross isn’t it – but here is an example where Christ felt ill to the bottom of his stomach. He was so sick about what was going on in the church of Laodicea that he felt like throwing up.

   The question that remains is what was it that made him feel so sick? What would you say if I told you that it was a bunch of Christians that made him feel this way? Have I caught your attention yet? What if I told you they were a bunch of Christians who resembled us in this building or resembled those watching this lesson on Facebook in their living rooms? That’s way more than you or I would ever care to imagine, isn’t it? Have I got your interest now?

   15“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference

   20“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

   22“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

   As for all the other churches we’ve studied over the past 6 weeks, I want to look at 4 things in this letter under 5 headings.

   1) Picture of the city
   2) Picture of Christ, the author
   3) Picture of the Problem
   4) Picture of the Solution
   5) Picture of the Promise
   So let’s start with a bit of background on Laodicea.
   1) A Picture of Laodicea
   Laodicea was about forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and about one hundred miles due east of Ephesus. It was in a fertile valley along with Colosse [co-laas] and Hierapolis [her-rap-o-lis] And the great Roman road stretching to the inland of Asia from the coast at Ephesus ran straight through its center. This made Laodicea an important center of trade and communication.
   Laodicea was actually known for 3 things.

   1) it was known firstly for its wealth. It was the financial and banking center of the whole region and had money to burn. So wealthy was Laodicea that after the great earthquake of 17 A.D., which destroyed it, the people refused imperial help in rebuilding the city, choosing rather to do it entirely by themselves. It would be like one of our cities refusing government aid after a natural disaster and replacing all the buildings and infrastructure itself. It was rich beyond imagination and had no need of any help

   2) much of its wealth came from the production of a fine quality of famous glossy black wool which would be exported throughout the known world.

   3) It was also famous for its school of medicine and particularly for a special ointment known as "Phrygian [fridge-ee-ann] powder." This was famous for its ability to cure of eye defects.

   But for all its fame, Laodicea was also known for something else. Its horrible water supply. Despite its wealth, it did not have a local water supply sufficient to provide for its population and so an aqueduct was built to bring water from a hot springs 6 miles away. On its journey overland to Laodicea, it cooled until it was lukewarm when it arrived. Remember this because it takes on significance later.

   2) A Picture of Christ

   Let’s turn back to the letter and start our dissection of it. As with the other letters, Christ is the author. It was a direct revelation given to John and written down for us. Here in the introductory words Christ introduces himself with a 3-word pictures.

  These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation

   He says of himself that he is 1) the Amen, 2) the faithful and true witness and 3) the ruler of God’s creation. In every letter so far, the introduction used is a key to the interpretation of the rest of the letter – so remember these things carefully.

   1) In vs 14 Christ calls himself the "Amen." We are all familiar with this word. We enthusiastically utter it after grace or a long prayer and occasionally it is said when we want to express our agreement with a meaningful statement. But it is also a word that Jesus used frequently. In the more modern versions of the gospels, he begins many statements with the words, "Truly, truly, I say unto you." The King James Version renders it, "Verily, verily." Actually, in Greek, that is "Amen, Amen." It indicates that Jesus is saying something extremely important and always marks a significant truth. So when you come to this word in the Gospels, pay careful attention because Jesus himself is underscoring that what he is saying is not only true, but it is an important truth. Here Christ is introducing himself as the one who tells the truth.

  2) Christ goes onto elaborate on this claim by claiming to be the faithful and true witness. He not only tells the truth, but he tells all the truth. He does not hide anything

  3) The third phrase is not, as the NIV version puts it, "the ruler of God’s creation." It is really the word "the beginning of God’s new creation." It is the same word that the Gospel of John opens with in John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,". Two verses later John 1:3 he says, "All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made."

   Jesus is the origin, the beginning of God’s creation. All in this creation and the new creation came from the hands of Jesus and so it is not surprising that he would know what is best for us or what we need.

   3) Now, here’s a picture of the problem

   Sadly, Laodicea joins the ranks of Sardis as not having any commendations from Christ. He instead condemns them. And these words will equally apply to us if the cap fits. He clearly says in vss. 15-17 … 15“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked

   There were 2 problems in this church which affect many churches meeting this morning in this city, around the US and around the world.

   1) Firstly, there was a problem with their commitment. This was a church that was lukewarm. Now in this instance, we might be tempted to think of a spectrum with hot as being spiritual and cold as being totally unspiritual. That is not a correct interpretation here. Can you imagine Christ saying, I’d prefer a person to be totally unspiritual, than sort of lukewarmish. No, this is not the right interpretation. The temperature image is not found anywhere in the Bible, and we must be careful not to impose our analogies on the Bible. The whole image of the cold, hot and lukewarm Christian here probably relates to the water supply of the Laodiceans that was lukewarm and almost undrinkable

   Think about it, how many of you love a hot cup of tea or coffee or coco. How many of you like it when it is lukewarm or at room temperature? What about a cold drink of Mountain Dew. Would you prefer it cold or lukewarm? You see in the image of the water, hot water is useful and so is cold, but lukewarm – it just makes you GAG?

   As humans we hate extremes. We’d prefer to be nice and comfortable, rather than hot or cold. But just as water is only useful if it is hot or cold, so to, in God’s economy, lukewarm, comfortable Christians are useless and actually are nauseating to him. God requires people who are useful to him. People who have zeal, passion, purpose – not lazy, fat, spiritual slobs who grace the pews of so many of our churches.

   But how do I know if this church is lukewarm. How do I know if I am lukewarm, you ask …

   Do you have a heart for seeking God? If not, you’re LUKEWARM
   Do you have a heart for communion with God in corporate prayer? If not, you’re LUKEWARM
   Do you have a heart for a lost and dying world? If not, you’re LUKEWARM
   Do you give of yourself so that others can see Jesus in you? If not you’re LUKEWARM
   Do you place knowing and doing the will of God before all things … including your personal wants and desires? If not you’re LUKEWARM

   The Laodiceans had a problem with commitment, how is your commitment going today?
   The conductor of the community orchestra was almost out of his mind. At every single rehearsal, there had been at least one member who had been missing. Planning for a well organized concert was almost impossible. At the last rehearsal, he called for attention and said, "I would like to thank the first violinist for being the only member of the orchestra to attend every rehearsal." The violinist smiled shyly and humbly said to the conductor, "Well, it seemed the least I could do since I won’t be at the concert tonight."
   Are you making Jesus sick today by your commitment (or lack of)?

   2) The second problem with the Laodicean church was that they were evaluating themselves by the world’s standards rather than God’s standards.
   Vs. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
   In the world’s eyes they were doing fine. They were wealthy, self sufficient, comfortable, accepted. Remember how I spoke of Laodicea being a wealthy banking center.
   The church was materially rich also. It is likely they had a lovely building with all the modern conveniences, a new drum set, a video projector, a great sound desk. But the church Christ desires isn’t meant to be a country club run for the benefit of its members. His church is to be salt – something that makes a difference in the world. Christ’s church is to be a light – shining in the world which is blinded to God’s purposes.
   Instead of being spiritually rich, they were bankrupt in all aspects. Remember the three things that made this city famous – their wealth, their eye ointment and their fine cloth. Well Christ is saying to them that in actual fact, in his reckoning, they are poor, blind and naked and there’s nothing they can do can change this. Interesting isn’t it … how personal this letter was.
   A United Press release in a mid-western city in America told of a hospital where officials discovered that the firefighting equipment had never been connected. For 35 years it had been relied upon for the safety of the patients in case of emergency. But it had never been attached to the city’s water main. The pipe that led from the building extended 4 feet underground and there it stopped! The medical staff and the patients had felt complete confidence in the system. They thought that if a blaze broke out, they could depend on a nearby hose to extinguish it. But theirs was a false security. Although the costly equipment with its polished valves and well-placed outlets was adequate for the building, it lacked the most important thing --WATER!
   Like the Laodiceans, we can trust in things which can not help us in times of emergency. What are you trusting in? Would Christ say of you that you are poor, blind and naked, just like the Laodiceans?
   So we see the problem of the church – they lacked commitment and they were relying on their worldly possessions. We are often as guilty of these things as were the Laodiceans which is scary considering the violent reaction of Christ. So, what is the solution to these problems?
   4) A Picture of the Solution
   Christ is a wonderfully gracious God. He always provides a way of escape from judgement and if we continue to read this letter, we will see it for ourselves in black and white.
   Let’s now look at vss. 18-20 18So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.
   20“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”
   If we want to be spiritually useful (hot or cold) and spiritually rich, we need to buy 3 things. I just love how Christ makes this so relevant to the situation at Laodicea – what are the 3 things we need – gold, clothes and ointment – lovely isn’t it they are exactly the three things most important to Laodicea.
   Note, however, that the Laodicean varieties are useless. We need the spiritual versions which are only available from Jesus. He is the only distributor of these commodities and so it doesn’t matter whether we are materially rich or poor, being persecuted or not, here in America or anywhere else – we all need the same 3 things and we can all get them from God. So what are they and what do they stand for …
   1) we need to buy Gold refined in the fire. These Christians had money and plenty of Gold, but their gold was no good. The gold they needed was to be refined by Christ’s fire. Peter interprets this image for us in 1 Peter 1:7. Speaking about persecutions, he says “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The Gold is faith which only Christ can give. Faith in his word, faith that in him all things are possible.
   2) The white clothes is quite a contrast to their spiritual nakedness and the black cloth famous at Laodicea. White clothes always speaks of righteousness. We are all morally naked before God. We all have things that we would like to hide, to cover up, but Christ sees them – he sees us in our naked sinfulness. But what does he offer us? He offers His righteousness. It is by his righteousness that we are seen to be justified by God. Not our own self-righteousness.
   3) Lastly we are to buy ointment for our eyes so that we can see … so we can see how spiritually destitute we are … so we can see the truth of Scripture. We need this ointment to be able to see what a sorry state we are in and to see our desperate need for a Savior. This illumination of truth is always through the Holy Spirit.
   3 things we need faith, righteousness and spiritual sight. And they’re all available if only we ask.
   How compassionate is our Lord, even though we may be Lukewarm, he provides a way of escape. He does rebuke us at times, but as he says in vs 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. He loves us and so disciplines us. He wants us to repent and turn back to him.
   The next image in vs 20 is a graphic one showing a God who is desiring his church to let him into their lives. He is standing at the door, knocking. Wanting to come into our lives. The context here is not for new Christians, though the image is certainly a good one for them also. The context here is for people who are already Christians, though lukewarm ones. Christ is pleading for them to open their heart’s door to him. To open their lives up to him fully so that he can come in and commune with them – literally dine in intimate fellowship with them.
   Some of us when we accepted Christ … we opened the door and said "come on in the house, Jesus ... but stay in the living room. Don’t wander around." We give God permission to occupy parts of our life, but the rest is off limits. We say, "Jesus, you can have Sunday morning and maybe one night a week at a Home Group, but stay out of what I do in my free time. Jesus, I’ll give you my emotional troubles, but you can’t have my sexuality... Jesus, you can have some input on my career ... but don’t tell me what to do with the money I make from that career. Don’t start messing with my credit card."
   Christ wants all of us and believe me, we don’t have to be worried about giving him everything because he is the Amen and the faithful and true witness, remember? Christ is willing to help us get back on track – to receive us back and forgive us, in fact he is desperate to do so. But this needs a genuine and unconditional commitment from us. Are you willing to do that this morning? Are you willing to make a stand and stop being lukewarm?
   5) A Picture of the Promise
   If you are, Christ has a special promise for you this morning. He says in vs 21 “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” We will share in Christ’s future reign in his kingdom. This is the highest honor that God could bestow on us and it is yours if you are faithful and obedient.
   • Do you have a problem with commitment this morning? Or are you focusing on your material security rather than your spiritual wealth in Christ?
  • Do you need to grasp hold of the faith, righteousness and spiritual insight that God offers you today?
  • Do you need to open your whole life up to God for him to control?
   If you do – do something about it now. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The Open Door of Opportunity

May 16, 2021

   Opening Passage:Revelation 3:7-13 7“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.

   This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:

   8“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. 9Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue — those liars who say they are Jews but are not — to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.

   10“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. 11I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.

   13“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

   A little trivia quiz this morning … How many entry doors are in this building?

   Don’t turn around and count – just take a guess and write it down.

   Second, how many cabinet doors are in the kitchen?

   Put a number down.

   Okay, now exchange your papers with a neighbor

   Just kidding – you can mark your own

   How many entry doors in this sanctuary? (4) How many cabinet doors?

   Now how did you know that? Well, people who are bored with the sermons … I’m told … will count just about anything … how many doors, how many chairs, how many lights, how many pieces of paneling – you name it! If they get bored with the preacher … they’re gonna count something. I stand up here every Sunday a notice that some of y’all are counting sheep.

   That was an easy question, wasn’t it? Second question - how many doors are in this entire church building? _________ – did anybody get that? That was worth coming for this morning, wasn’t it? Now you know exactly how many doors are in here

   Did you know that a lot of doors are mentioned in Scripture as well?

   Both in the Old and the New Testament, the Bible talks about a number of doors, often with very different meanings. For instance, in Revelation 3:20 Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” This is the door of intimacy with Christ - We usually apply this passage in an evangelistic sense, and yet it was written to a church of believers. It illustrates for us the willingness of Jesus to pursue believers who have grown cold in their relationship with him. The imagery is of Jesus knocking at the door of a church and waiting for the church to re-open that door so that a vital relationship can be re-established.

   Can you feel it? Can you feel Jesus knocking on the door of your heart saying “Let me in. We were friends once. I’m willing to renew that friendship … no matter what it takes … if you’re willing to do the same.”

   Another type of door mentioned in scripture is the door of salvation For instance in John 10:29 Jesus said: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus was teaching the remarkable truth that he is the only way to salvation. Inside that door or gate, there is safety and everything we need.

   There’s a third type of door mentioned in scripture – the door of opportunity. For instance, Paul says in Colossians 4:3 “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”

   Doors are mentioned a number of times in Scripture, and they refer to the ways that God gives wonderful opportunities to preach the Gospel, and also how he prepares willing ears to listen and eager hearts to receive it. Throughout history, people have found that God has a unique way of providing opportunities for fruitful service, and hearts ready to accept the Gospel.

   This morning we’re looking at the sixth of seven churches in the book of Revelation. This church is located in Philadelphia – obviously, not the one in Pennsylvania, USA. This one was in Asia.

   Philadephia – The City

   Philadelphia was a city strategically located on the road from Rome to the east and was a strong fortress city. It was a city of major influence in the area and was located on the edge of a great volcanic plain which was fertile as a result and perfect for grape growing. It was the center of worship of the Greek god Dionysius, the god of wine – no surprise really.

   Its proximity to active volcanoes was a constant threat and, in the most part, the people lived outside of the city due to the threat from falling buildings within the city walls.

   Philadelphia, however, was more than just a gateway to the east or a fertile valley, it was also an “open door of opportunity – spiritually speaking.

   If we read Christ’s letter, you’ll see what I mean. Let’s read today’s passage again.
   Revelation 3:7-13 (NLT) — The Message to the Church in Philadelphia

   7“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.

   This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open:

   8“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. 9Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue — those liars who say they are Jews but are not — to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.

   10“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. 11I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name

   13“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

   In Philadelphia, there was a small bunch of Christians who were faithful to the task. They were neither large in number, powerful or influential, but they were significant to Christ, who takes the time to write them a letter.

   Christ - the Writer

   In this Letter, like those we’ve studied before, Christ introduces himself in terms which are relevant to the audience. Here Christ says three things about himself.

   1) He says he is holy – morally perfect and without flaw or blemish. Holiness is an important attribute of God

   2) He is true - the one behind everything, the one who is completely trustworthy and reliable.

   3) He holds the Key of David. Now this is an interesting description which refers back to the book of Isaiah.

   In Chapter 22, Isaiah condemns the city of Jerusalem. They had just been delivered from their enemies camped outside their city, but they showed no gratitude for their divine rescue. The charge laid before them is that they were self-sufficient - trusting in their weapons, their efforts in strengthening the city walls and their stores of water. He then turns his attention to an individual – Shebna, the chief steward of Jerusalem, who was guilty of a similar sin as the city itself.

   He was guilty of seeing himself as indispensable, a “Mighty Man.” Vs 17 says “For the Lord is about to hurl you away, mighty man. He is going to grab you,”

   He apparently paraded through the streets in a mighty chariot and prepared for himself a splendid grave. As a result of his unfaithful service, he is replaced by Eliakim [el-lie-a-come].

   Now the significance of the image is that the chief steward of the city held the key of David – this was the master key not only to the city but also to the palace. He was second only to the king and controlled who could come and who could go – who had access to the king and who didn’t. He was the one who opened the doors and shut other doors. Listen as I read it from Isaiah …

   In vs 20-24 we read 20“And then I will call my servant Eliakim [el-lie-a-come] son of Hilkiah [hill-kie-ah] to replace you. 21I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. 22I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them. 23He will bring honor to his family name, for I will drive him firmly in place like a nail in the wall. 24They will give him great responsibility, and he will bring honor to even the lowliest members of his family.

   In Revelation, we see this image continuing in vss 7-8. “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.”

   Here Christ is claiming to be the new Eliakim [el-lie-a-come] – the one who holds the palace key to, not an earthly door … it was the key to heaven’s door. Christ opens and closes the doors which allow people to enter the kingdom – he is in control of the opportunities which we have and no opportunity is not appointed by him.

   The Church’s Condition

   Philadelphia was a blessed city. They were living in the land of opportunity, but why were they so blessed? The answer is found in vs 8 … “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

   How the Greek reads is like this. “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you a door that is open, and no one is able to shut it, because you have little power, have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

   Christ is giving reasons for the opportunities that are before the Philadelphians and I see here 3 reasons – all beginning with W. This is the path to get opportunity, the address at which we could find it. It is, in one of today’s terms, the internet address to opportunities that God has opened for us. That website could be called www.opportunity.God. You need the www before you can get the opportunity. It doesn’t work unless you have the www first. So what are the 3 W’s.

   1) Weakness - This was a small church with seemingly no prestige. It regularly got beaten up by the local Jews who had condemned them. But because it was weak, they relied upon God. They knew who’s work it was and didn’t try to wrongfully use his authority. – It’s a lesson for all of us fiercely independent people isn’t it?

   2) Wordly –They were wordly – They were consumed by the Word, they were devoted to the Word, satisfied by the Word and thriving on the Word. They kept God’s Word, which meant that they knew God’s Word and we could likely conclude that they therefore spent time studying God’s Word. Are we Wordly or are we Worldly in our focus?

   3) Wavering–Not. Here was a church who no matter what they were faced with, refused to give up on their faith. The ridicule, the peer pressure, the opposition or even the possible persecution they faced could not make them waver. Instead they were faithful to the end.

   www – Weak, Wordly and Wavering-not were the reasons given for the giving of the open door – the opportunity to preach the gospel to their neighbors, to their friends, to people passing through the city.

I want to ask you today whether you have a door of opportunity open for you? If you do, are you making the most of every opportunity? I must admit that I fail so often and let opportunities slip by. We need to pray for each other that we be bold enough to take the opportunities God gives us opportunities and hopes we step through those doors and run with them.

   I read this humorous story of a guy who prayed this prayer every morning: "Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is." One day he found himself on a bus when the biggest, ugliest, burliest biker sat next to him. The bus was nearly empty, but this guy just had to sit next to our praying friend. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could exit the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears and began to weep. He then cried out with a loud voice, "I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Won’t somebody tell me how to be saved?" He turned to the Christian and pleaded, "Can you show me how to be saved?" The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, "Lord, is this a sign?"

   Are you looking for a "sign" to start witnessing? And if you are saying, I don’t have any opportunities, then why not? Which W are you lacking? Weakness? Are you trying to do it all on your own instead of waiting for God’s power? Maybe its Wordlessness. Is your life based completely and solely on God’s word - following the principles laid out in his Word? Or maybe it is just that you are Wavering instead of Wavering- Not

   How can we expect God to give us opportunities if we don’t rely on him, his word and his name? Remember the W’s come before the opportunity – www.opportunity.God.

   Promises and Blessings.

   It shouldn’t surprise us that when we are given wonderful opportunities for service, there is usually also new opportunities for selfishness, pride, defection or compromise. Satan hates you with a passion and will try to undermine any and all spiritual progress.

   An organization in Montana once offered a bounty of five thousand dollars for every wolf captured alive. Two hunters named Sam and Jed decided to head for the hills and make some money capturing wolves. Day and night and night and day they scoured the mountains and forests searching for their valuable prey. Exhausted after three days of hunting without any success, they both fell asleep.

   During the night, Sam suddenly woke up to find that he and Jed were surrounded by a pack of fifty wolves, with flaming red eyes and bared teeth, snarling at the two hunters and preparing to pounce. Sam nudged Jed and said, "Hey Jed, wake up! We’re gonna be rich!"

   Sometimes when we are surrounded by what appears to be many difficulties, when, in fact, we may be surrounded by many opportunities. Christ recognized that often opportunity and opposition go hand in hand and gave the Philadelphian church 4 specific words of comfort.

   1) First, he promised to humble their enemies and open their eyes to the truth. Vs 9 reads “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars--I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”

   The first opponents of the church were the hostile Jews. This was the continuation of the tension we see between the early church and the Jewish community who believed that they were the people of God by birth and religious heritage. Christ echo’s Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:28-29 that “28For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. 29No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”

   God is not pleased by outward rituals but is pleased by inward attitudes. In the end of time, the Jews will recognize the distinction between a real follower of Christ and their brand of religion.

   2) The second thing promised to this church was that he would keep them from the hour of maximum trials.

   Vs 10 says “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from (or more accurately, out of) the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.”

   A couple of things to note here. This tribulation was going to be global in nature – it was to come upon the whole world. It was also to test those who live on the earth. This is not just talking about the Christians in the church here. This phrase is repeated several times through the book of Revelation and refers to believers and unbelievers.

   The hour of trial is understood to be a time of intense trouble that will fall on the world before Christ comes again. It is called elsewhere in Scripture the “day of the Lord” or the “Great Tribulation.” But just how the Christians are protected from it is a matter of debate. Those who believe in a Pre-tribulation rapture, would see that this passage and others like it teach that the Christians will be taken out of the earth (raptured up) before the great tribulation and so will be protected from all that it involves by their absence.

   Others who hold to a post tribulation rapture believe that this promise is not to remove the Christians from the earth, but to offer protection to them while on earth.

   This verse cannot prove or disprove either argument on its own and so we won’t dwell on it. It is sufficient to say that we have a marvelous promise here – Christ will protect his own because of their obedience to him.

   3) The third promise I see here is the promise of strength and security.

   Jesus said in vs 11-12 11“I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it.”

   Remember what I said about Philadelphia being in a volcanic area. Often the only parts of the city left standing after a severe quake were the huge stone temple columns. If you were to visit the ancient ruins you will notice that often all that is left standing are the pillars.

   In the Jerusalem temple which was destroyed in 70 A. D., there were two great pillars in front of the building, one called Jachin [jack-ken] (which means "established or permanent"), and the other Boaz ("strength"). Pillars were synonymous with strength and permanence. Christ promises to set his believers up in such a secure fashion that can never be moved.

   "Never again will he leave it," says Jesus. This promise of Jesus to never go out again is a reference to the experience of these Philadelphians who had to frequently flee the city because of the earthquake tremors that came. When you labor for me, says Jesus, you will reach a place where you will not have to go out ever again. It is a picture of security, permanence and strength.

   This is the promise to those who overcome. To those who are faithful. The faithful are also said to have a crown which can be lost if they waver. This does not speak about salvation, but future rewards and opportunities for future service.

   4) And lastly, Christ promises a new name which is representative of our character. Revelation 3:12 says “I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.”

   If we overcome, we will be given 3 names

   a) the name of God – shows we will be godly. This is the purpose of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our lives.

   b) We’ll be given the name of the city of God. The last 2 chapters of Revelation speak about the New Jerusalem being like a bride being prepared for her husband, Christ. This new name speaks of the loving intimacy that Christ has for his faithful.

   c) We’ll be given a new name that no one knows. Names in the Bible symbolize one’s character or role. Before Jesus was born in Bethlehem an angel appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary would have a son, who was to be called “Jesus." Why? "Because he will save his people from their sins," When we get to heaven, we will each have a new ministry, a new area of service and this will come with it a new name symbolic of this new ministry.

   What wonderful promises,

   • Our enemies will be humbled,
   • We’ll be kept from tribulation
   • We will be strengthened and made secure.
   • We’ll be given a new name

   These are the promises that were available to Philadelphia and are also available to us – if we’re faithful in taking the opportunities he sets before us

   Perhaps you are discouraged because you don’t have the opportunities of witness that you know you should have. Well Christ’s message for you is www.opportunity.God. Be Weak in Christ, Be Wordly and Be Wavering-Not

   Perhaps Jesus has an open door for you. Do you have the faith in Him to step through it? Faith like the Philadelphians. If you have these, these promises are yours.

   Revelation 13:13 reminds us that He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

   Stop! Look! Listen! Hear the Spirit. Think through these letters. Go back and listen to these letters and study them. Pay attention to them, because they are spelling out your future destiny.

Dear Sardis You are Dead

May 9, 2021

Opening Passage:Revelation 3:1-6 1“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive — but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 3Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

   4“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.

   6“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

   Do you wanna hear some amazing statistics? Imagine a company that has more than 500 employees and has the following record:

   29 accused of spousal abuse,
   7 arrested for fraud,
   19 accused of writing bad checks,
   117 directly or indirectly bankrupted,
   3 done time for assault,
   71 cannot get credit card due to credit,
   14 arrested on drug related charges,
   8 arrested for shoplifting
   21 current defendants in lawsuits,
   84 arrested for drunk driving in past year

   WHAT BUSINESS? What organization? Who would hire such a group? In 2004 this was the record of the 535 members of the United States Congress.

   Now I’m not bashing anybody because I am not naive enough to believe that our politicians today are much different than they were back then, but what this shows us is that sometimes the most respected of groups don’t really live up to their reputation

   The church should be one of the most respected of all the groups in society, but unfortunately, many do not live according to what they should be. Many churches today are dead.

   This morning, we are going to be looking at another of the Letters of Christ to the churches in Revelation. Today we are looking at a church who is on a life support system, just barely clinging to life. In fact many parts of its body are already dead. It is the letter to Sardis and it goes a bit like this. “Dear Sardis, You are Dead.”

   Well actually there is a bit more to it than that. Their story goes something like this: Dear Sardis, You are Dead. They were spiritually dead, - not physically, though some may have looked that way. They had very little life in them and unfortunately there are many churches meeting today which are just like Sardis - they are going through the motions, like religious robots. It is all a sham because there is no real spiritual life in their hearts. Can the same be said about this church? Are we alive or dead?

   A DISCOURAGED PREACHER told his congregation one Sunday morning that the church was dead and that next week he was going to preach their funeral service. When people arrived the next week, the curtains were drawn, solemn music was playing, and a casket had been placed at the front of the church. The pastor preached his message and then said, ’Some of you may not agree with me that this church is dead. To convince you I am going to ask each of you to view its remains’. Each one came to the casket to see the dead body that was laying there. But when they looked in the casket, they found that a mirror had been placed there instead.

   Whether Red Stone church is dead or not will be determined by the spiritual health of each one of you. It is not dependent upon the health of its leadership or the pastor anymore than it is dependent upon your personal Spiritual health.

   So this morning, I want you to ask yourself the question as to whether you are more alive or more dead? If you are more dead than alive, I’ll have someone call the paramedics and they’ll meet you at the door as you leave the service this morning.

   Did you hear the one about the church that was so dead that when a member actually died during a service the paramedics carried out 5 people before they got the right one? I hope that is not the situation with you here this morning, but if it is, we need to be honest enough to face facts and deal with the problem.

   Before we launch into the letter, let’s spend some time praying ...

   Lord, we ask that you would come here this morning and speak to us from your word. We ask that you make it relevant to our personal situations here today. Help us not to look at others, but to focus on our selves this morning and we pray that if we are in need of reviving this morning, that you breathe into us your breath of life. Amen

   As with all the letters we have looked at so far, we want to look at four areas.
   1) The church
   2) The Picture of Christ
   3) The Commendations and Condemnations
   4) Promises to those who overcome

   First … let’s take a look at the church of Sardis. 500 years before John wrote this letter Sardis was one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world. A man named Croesus [cree-sus] lived there and was consider the wealthiest man in the world - the Greeks called him Midas.

   Sardis was virtually not open to attack by her enemies. The city was built on a mountain spur about 1500 ft above the valley floor. You could only approach it from the south side on a very steep and difficult path. The other sides were cliffs.

   But even despite its natural defenses, it was defeated twice in its history, once by the Persians and again by the Greeks. It is interesting that both times that Sardis fell, it was not from the front, but from the cliffs at the back. The people of Sardis were so confident, that they didn’t feel it necessary to guard the three cliffs around their city. But it was where they were confident and self-assured that they fell.

   The Persians were under Cyrus and they attacked the city for a year without success until the night a Persian soldier on the backside saw a soldier from Sardis drop his helmet over the cliff. Thinking no one was watching the soldier made his way down the cliff to retrieve the helmet. The Persian traced his path and then that night took a band of soldiers and entered uncontested by the sleeping city.

   Second, we want to look at vs. 1 and see the picture of Christ. “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”

   As with all the letters Christ sends to his seven churches, this one begins with a description of the Author. In fact, as you may recall from previous lessons on these letters, the description Jesus Christ gives of Himself in the opening line of a given letter gives a critical message to the particular church addressed in that letter. So there is need to understand Jesus’ description of Himself in our text. Here Christ describes himself as possessing or holding 2 things

   a) Seven Spirits of God

   This phrase only appears in the book of Revelation (1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6). The phrase is a reference to the Holy Spirit. But what about the 7? Maybe because 7 is the perfect number of God? Maybe it is related to the fact that the descriptions are in the context of 7 letters to 7 churches? It would be easy for our human minds to imagine that as the Christian church spread and grew after Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit would be spread thinner and thinner to try to cover all the churches

   At Pentecost, where all the action was in that one place, all the power of the Holy Spirit was concentrated in that one place and in that one place great things happened.

   But as the churches spread, so did the Holy Spirit. Now this is not right because the Holy Spirit as part of the Godhead shares the characteristic of being omnipresent (being everywhere at the same time), but maybe this is what John is trying to emphasis here with the description of the 7 spirits of God, that the Holy Spirit is present in each of the 7 churches and so all his power is available for their use anytime.

   b) The Seven Stars are interpreted for us in Revelation 1:20 where we are told that the 7 star.s are the 7 angels of the 7 churches. The word “Angel” used here means “messenger” and there are differences of opinion about whether this refers to a heavenly being, an earthly messenger or perhaps the essential spirit for the churches. Whatever the true meaning is, Christ is saying that the message comes from him as he has their messenger in his hand

   3) Commendations & Condemnations
   The letter to Sardis is unique in that there is nothing at all Christ commends them for. There are no positives in this letter, only negatives. And the negative was that although they had a great past and a fantastic reputation, they were dead.

   In Revelation 3:1 - 3 we read 1“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3Remember therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

   How do you know that a body that once was full of life is dying? Organs cease to function and begin to shut down: kidneys, lungs, heart. One thing after another starts malfunctioning and just stops. Dying churches are the same: praying stops, giving stops, God’s Word is no longer relevant, there is no sharing of faith, service is lifeless and irrelevant and people attend when there is nothing better to do. Churches like that offer nothing to a lost world. People in that state offer nothing to a lost world.

   An artist was once asked to put on canvas what he considered to be the picture best symbolizing a decaying and dying church. After several months, he returned and reported that he had finished the task. The hour finally arrived when the painting was to be unveiled and several people standing around the easel had already given their description of what they thought the church would look like.

   Some had said it would be a rundown building in great need of repair and paint. Weeds would be growing in the church yard, and the front door would be bashed in and there would be some broken windows.

   Everyone in the group seemed to have a similar picture in mind. However, when the cloth was removed, a hush fell over the group. Everyone was stunned. Before their eyes was an absolutely beautiful church building. The grounds were well kept nice and neat and the exterior of the building was in excellent condition. After a few minutes, one person stepped forward and said to the artist, "I thought we asked you to paint a dying church?"

   The artist smiled and invited everyone to step closer to the painting. He pointed through the windows to the empty pews and to the collection plate on the table. There was nothing in the plate but "cobwebs."

   The church that has cobwebs in its collection plate is a church that is decaying and dying. Without the giver, there is no giving. Without the giving, ministries cannot be conducted by the church. Without ministries being conducted, the mission of the church cannot be carried out. If the mission of the church is not carried out, the church has no purpose and therefor it is dead.

   Sardis had a great reputation as a church. They had a fantastic name and if we were church shopping in that day, we would have no doubt have ended up at Sardis. We are not told why they had a good name or how they got it. It may have been as a result of their lovely building, their vast numbers, their comprehensive programs, their inspiring worship. We are not told and so we can assume that it doesn’t matter.

   What does matter though is what Christ said to Sardis and he is saying the same thing o Red Stone Fellowship, that reputation means nothing, It doesn’t matter what happened in the past and it doesn’t matter what other people think about our congregation. What matters is what Christ thinks. They had a name all right, but they were dead.

   What is your reputation? Are you known as a Christian at work? Do others see you as a righteous and good person? Be careful, because although you have a good name, you may still be dead in God’s eyes. The Greek word for “name” here is (onima) where we get the word “nominal” from. Although we have the name Christian, it doesn’t stop us from being nominal Christians

   So why was Sardis dead? Notice that we can’t find any reference to Sardis having problems with persecution or false teaching. Sardis was not aggressive in its witness to the city. There was no persecution because there was no invasion of the enemy’s territory. Other words … the “Christians” wouldn’t get off their duffs and do what they were called to do!!

   The church in Sardis was "a perfect model of inoffensive Christianity." The city saw the church as a respectable group of people who were neither dangerous nor desirable. They were decent people with a dying witness and a decaying ministry. Satan didn’t need to send any attacks on the church or any false teachers there to lead them astray because the church just wasn’t a threat

   Are we a threat to Satan? Is he keenly trying to hinder our advances for the gospel by sending persecution and false teaching into our midst? Or are we on our death bed like Sardis, posing no threat to anyone at all. Someone once said that the hospital is not on the initial hit list for an invading army. The invalid and the infirmed usually don’t pose much of a threat.

   In Acts 19 (13-16) the Seven sons of Sceva were going from town to town casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They ran into a demon that bucked them. When they said “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” the demon shot back with “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” The possessed man beat the starch out of the seven sons and they went running away stark buck naked.

   “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Are you a threat to the devil and his demons? Are you so tied to God that you’re a threat to the enemy’s agenda? Does the devil and his demons know your name? Or … are you living and compromising in so many gray areas of your life that your name isn’t important to the enemy?

   We can find some other hints about the problem if we look at the commands given by Christ to this church... Christ gives 5 sharp imperatives to the church as a solution to their deadness. They are not just instructions - they are urgent commands.

Listen again as I read Revelation 3:1-3 and see if you can pick them up

   I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

   Did you see them??? 5 commands for the church and us. Wake up! Strengthen! Remember! Obey! Repent! They are all unavoidable – those are commands and are all in the active voice which means that the people of Sardis must actively do these things, not someone else.

   Wake up! Strengthen! Remember! Obey! Repent! are all in the present tense which means that they require continuous activity. It is not a case of wake up and go back to sleep or remember and then forget or even to obey and then don’t worry. They must all continue to happen - even in the lives of alive Christians today. This is the way to escape from the graveyard.

   a) Wake up! First we must wake up and be on the alert, be ever watchful. This would be particularly relevant to a city who suffered two defeats from failure to keep a watch. The church of Sardis and possibly some of us here this morning need to wake up and see the seriousness of our condition. Some of us need to really wake up and realize our need for a Savior!!!

   Once awake, we need to keep watch for those things which may lead us astray, those things which lull us into a state of compromise.

   Vs. 3 says But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

   This was a common theme of Christ. No man knows the day nor the hour (Matthew 24:36).
   Matthew 24:50 says “The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know,
   Matthew 25:13 tells us “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
   Mark 13:32-33 says “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.

   b) Strengthen! - We are to strengthen or literally “establish” what life is left. Even in Sardis there was some hope - some things had a few remaining breaths left. The fire had gone out, but there were still some coals and ashes. How do you start a fire from a few coals? You blow upon it. They needed the wind from Heaven to blow upon them and revive them before it was too late. The life of a Church is not in its popularity - programs - possession - personality. The life of a Church is in a Person; the person of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When He is gone the fire will go out. When He comes, He will fan the dying embers into a mighty flame. How do we know that the Holy Spirit is available to us? Christ has promised he will send him - remember Christ holds the 7 spirits.

   c) Remember! - Remember what you heard. Remember what made you turn from your sin initially. Remember the basics of the faith and practice them.

   d) Obey! - Obedience is always a key. Obeying what we know to be true - those things which we remember as being important. Obeying the Word of God.

   e) Repent! - They needed a change in direction if they were going to survive and it needed to be now. That is what repentance is … allowing the Lord to make changes in your life. Helping you to turn away from all the wrong stuff and the gray areas in your life.

   Are you ready for Christ’s return or will you miss it? The dead church will be caught off guard. Are you being watchful, remembering that which is important and obeying God’s instructions? Or are you like the church in Sardis with a need to be woken, strengthened, remembering, obeying and repenting?

   4) Promises to those who Overcome

   The letters of Christ always end on a positive note with promises for those who overcome. For even though most in Sardis were dead, there were some who were alive and they were the hope of the church.

   Vs. 4-5 tell us “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.”

   For those who are found alive, who have not compromised their stand and are not stained by the things of this world, they will
   a) walk with Christ - He will welcome their fellowship and

   b they will be dressed in white clothes fitting of their moral purity. The word used for white here is the same as that used of Christ’s appearance when he was transfigured - he was bright and shone like the light (Matthew17:2).

   c) not ever, never, never, ever, under any circumstances will their name removed from the book of life. That’s the meaning here - it is the strongest negative available - talk about security in Christ.

   d) Those living will also have their name acknowledged before God and his angels. My name will come from Christ’s lips as being righteous. Matthew 10:32-33 says “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33“But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven”.

   So how do you think we as a church are doing? Is our corporate pulse strong? Are we living or dead or lukewarm? Not sure??? Well, here is a bit of checklist.

   • Live churches are constantly changing. Dead churches don’t have to.
   • Live churches have lots of noisy kids. Dead churches are fairly quiet.
   • Live church’s are always desperate for more money so they can make a difference in the kingdom. Dead churches take in more than they ever dreamed of spending.
   • Live churches are constantly improving for the future. Dead churches worship their past.

   • Live churches move out in faith. Dead churches operate totally by human sight.
   • Live churches focus on people. Dead churches focus on programs.
   • Live churches are filled with tithers. Dead churches are filled with tippers.
   • Live churches don’t have "can’t" in their vocabulary. Dead churches have nothing but “can’t”.
   • Live churches dream great dreams of God. Dead churches relive nightmares.
   • Live churches have strategies about reaching the lost. Dead churches focus on the mundane.
   • Live churches evangelize. Dead churches fossilize.

   So … going by that list … how are we doing as a church? Remember that the church is made up of individuals and it can never be spiritually strong unless the individuals within it are spiritually strong.

   So what is your spiritual pulse like today? Is it beating strongly or is it nearly gone? Are you facing the same criticism today that Sardis faced - that of having a name, but being nominal or dead? - that of not being a threat to Satan, because we are a perfect model of an inoffensive Christianity? Is Christ calling you to Wake Up and keep watch and establish what little life you have left, Remember the basics of the faith, Obey what the Bible commands and Repent of our failings? Christ is calling each and everyone of us to DO exactly that … continuously!!

   Be warned that if we fail to take seriously this message, we will remain spiritually dead … and we will miss Christ’s return. We need to listen and take on board the criticisms levelled at Sardis, because I think that many of them apply to us to some extent today. But for those of us who are alive and living pure, Christ promises a wonderful reward - eternal life and all that it brings. The choice is ours - life or death … which will you take? He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Jezebel in the Church

May 2, 2021

   Opening Passage: Revelation 2:18-29 18“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh]. This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze:

   19“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.

   20“But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman — that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet — to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. 21I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.

   22“Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.

   24“But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them — depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you 25except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come. 26To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, to them I will give authority over all the nations

   27They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots..

   28They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star!

   29“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.

   As with all the other churches that we have studied, Christ’s letter to this church had four elements 1) an introduction from Christ 2) commendations 3) condemnations 4) promise to those who overcome.

   Before having a look at what Christ is saying to the church in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh], let’s go on a whirlwind tour of the city itself.

   Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] was situated in a valley that connected two other valleys. It had no natural fortification at all and although at this time a Roman garrison was stationed there. Their aim was not to defend Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh], but to delay the invaders long enough for Pergamum, the capital up the road, to be prepared for the coming attack. Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] was dispensable in the economy of the day.

   Though not easily fortified, Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] was on a major trade route and was well known for its trade guilds - there were carpenters, dyers, sellers of goods, tanners, weavers, tent makers, etc. … all making a living from their trade.

   You might remember Lydia in Philippi. She was a trader of fine cloth and came from Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh]. She was, in fact, one of Paul’s first converts when he visited Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] on his second missionary journey in (Acts 16).

   Now these guilds were somewhat similar to our trade unions 15 to 20 years ago. It was very difficult for the blue collar tradesmen and women to make a living unless they were a part of one of these guilds.

   They differed from trade unions in that they were linked with the worship of other gods. Each guild had its particular guardian god and as a member, you would be expected to attend all its functions and participate in its activities which included offerings, feasts and often immoral behavior. The members of the church in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] were torn between making a living on the one hand, which meant having to be part of the guilds, and on the other hand staying faithful to Christ and his standards.

   As always, Christ reveals himself in a special way to the church being addressed. We have seen in the past that the description used is always relevant to the situation they are in. Here, Christ’s description of himself has 2 parts.

   In vs 18 he describes himself as the “Son of God.” This is the only place in Revelation that this title is given to Christ, though it is used often throughout the gospels. It comes straight out of Psalm 2:7-9 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

   The context of this Psalm is that kings and rulers of the earth plot against the Lord and his anointed. It is nothing short of Satanic rebellion against God. However, God promises that God’s Son has authority over the world. God will make all nations His inheritance and the ends of the earth His possession. When the church in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] heard the name “Son of God”, they would be reminded that Christ has ultimate authority in a world which is hostile to him. In Matthew 28:18 c Christ has all authority over everything and everybody whether we like it or not.

   The second part of his revelation is in a description about his appearance. We are told in vs 18 that He has “eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like burnished bronze.” The image is again straight out of the Old Testament - from Daniel 10:6 “His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people.”

   Here Daniel sees a vision of a man who tells him of kings and nations that would terrorize and persecute the people of God. But Daniel was not to fear - why? Because although kings and people of the earth are hostile to God and his church, Christ is sovereign - even over the hostile rulers.

   The images of flaming eyes also reminds us that God’s eyes are penetrating, seeing everything, knowing everything. -

   Jeremiah 16:17 says “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes.”

   Hebrews 4:13 tells us “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

   Christ sees everything and here, in vs. 18, his eyes are flaming … He is angry with what he sees.

   His feet are also of bronze. Bronze was the hardest metal known of at that time and is often used of to speak of judgment. We see in this passage that Christ was angry - so angry that he was preparing for judgment. We’ll talk of this more in a minute, but before we do, God recognized that there were some good things in this church.


   Christ says that this church was to be commended for they

   1) were a loving church

   2) they were a faithful church
   3) they were a serving church
   4) they were a growing church - their patience and works were more now than ever.

    Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds like an ideal church - what could Jesus have been angry with? What could have prompted the use of the name “Son of God” and the images of fiery eyes and feet of bronze

   The answer is in the next verse. Vs 20 tell us “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”

   Then we read about the CONDEMNATION OF THE CHURCH in vs 20-23.

   20“But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. 21I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality

   22“Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.”

   C There was a woman who Jesus called Jezebel who was calling herself a prophetess, but was misleading the people.

   A farmer once walked into a restaurant and asked the owner if he could use a million frog legs. Desiring to putting frog legs on the menu more frequently, the owner asked the farmer where he could get so many. The farmer said, "My pond is overflowing with them. Their croaking is driving me up the wall and I’d love to get rid of them." The owner told the farmer to bring him as many as he could.

   A week later the farmer returned with an embarrassed look on his face. He held up two scrawny frogs and said, "I was wrong about a million frog legs. These two frogs were making all the racket. I never knew two frogs could cause so much noise."

   Just one person was corrupting the whole church in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] - but one is all that it takes.

   What is a prophet? .... The simplest definition of a prophet is one who speaks for God. This can either be foretelling the future or forthtelling the Word of God. A true prophet has authority because their words come from God either through direct revelation or straight from the Word of God. A false prophet has mislaid authority which does not come from God. This so-called prophetess in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] was not a prophet at all. Why? Because what she was proclaiming as coming from God was contrary to God’s word.

   Like an apple with a worm in it. This church looked good on the outside, but inside it was rotten. We often look at other churches and say - God is really doing something in their midst - that is a growing church. Look at all the people flocking to their services. They are reaching out to the community and really making an impact. People are changing

   But as the old saying goes, “You can’t judge a book by a cover.” We rush to hear speakers of big churches thinking that they must have it all together because their church is growing. We soak up everything they say and accept it because they must know what they are talking about..

   Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh], was a growing church - a thriving church, filled with love and faithfulness - but they were rotten to the core because they were following the wrong doctrine.

   What was this wrong doctrine that this prophetess was teaching? We read in vs 20 that it led people to practice fornication and eat food sacrificed to idols - both of which were clearly condemned in the Word of God. It is likely that this prophetess was teaching that it was alright to be part of the trade guilds - “After all,” she’d say “you need to make a living and God doesn’t expect you to starve. Don’t be worried, - God has told me it’s alright - It is alright to go and be a part of the guilds and participate in the immoral and idolatrous worship that occurs in their meetings - after all we live by grace and are not under the law anymore, right?”

   Further indication of what was going on is indicated in the fact that Christ called her Jezebel. The name Jezebel conjures up thoughts of a very seductive women using her flair to entice men into her bed.

   The real Jezebel was nothing like this. She was a queen of Israel at the time Elijah was a prophet. She was a wicked woman and was the pagan daughter of a pagan king and had no business being married to Ahab, the King of Israel. When she became queen, she turned first the heart of her husband, then the hearts of Israel, to the worship of Baal [ball]. In 1 Kings 17 her first official act, as recorded in Scripture, was to kill the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 17:4). She was no seductress - her ways were blatantly against God. She did away with God’s spiritual leaders and replaced them with the prophets of Baal [ball]. She was definitely not to be trifled with. While Elijah was happy to face up to 850 prophets of Baal [ball] and Asherah [ash-u-rah] on Mt Carmel, you might remember that he fled when he heard Jezebel was after him.

   Jezebel replaced God’s word as given through his appointed prophets with a counterfeit one given by the prophets of Baal [ball] and Asherah [ash-u-rah]. She sought to replace the worship of God completely with the worship of other gods and introduced idolatry once again to the people of Israel.

  Do you see the similarities here between the Jezebel of Old Testament times and the prophetess in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh]? Both tried to replace God’s authoritative word with a poor substitute. How often do we do a similar thing?

   There are some other similarities between the two. Both were given opportunity to repent. Jezebel had Elijah proclaiming the truth about God, but she refused to listen. The prophetess of Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] also was given the chance to repent, but she refused. God is a gracious God, even when it comes to such vile offenders who do so much damage.

   Another similarity exists in their judgements. Jezebel of the Old Testament was condemned by God - listen to it in 1 Kings 21:23-24 “And also concerning Jezebel the LORD says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”

   And again in chapter 22 vs 23 “So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the Lord has pronounced your doom.”

   She was sentenced to death and those who followed her and her husband were also condemned to die. Compare the judgements pronounced on the Jezebel of Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh] in Revelation 2:22-23 “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23“I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.’

   The prophetess is condemned to sickness - some interpret this as death. Her children - those who grew up following this doctrine would eventually find punishment and death because they were following a false gospel. Serious stuff isn’t it?

   It reminds me of a little ditty ...

   A sailor on duty got frantic when he fell off his ship into the cold Atlantic. After floating hours in the sea, He was saved and was hoisted aboard the Titanic.

   It is no good getting saved by a ship that is bound to sink and it is no good following teachers whose doctrines are bound to be condemned.

   How can we tell whether a teaching or a doctrine is from God or from a Jezebel? Here are some things we can look for ...

   First — Jezebel doctrines teach that something evil can be good. Homosexual marriages are okay as long as they are based on love. Seeking after material possessions is okay as this is a sign of God’s blessing. Staying out of church is okay as long as you are in communion with God and relying on his spirit’s revelation. All these are evil, but seem to be good.

   Paul warned the Ephesian elders against such false teaching in Acts 20:29-31 29“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

   Secondly, the doctrine of Jezebel hates God’s true Word. Jezebel hated Elijah and tried to destroy all the true prophets who faithfully spoke God’s word. Christians who are bound by Jezebel’s doctrine similarly have no regard for God’s word. They would rather experience God rather than study his word. They would rather worship God or fellowship with other believers than sit under biblical teaching. They are unmoved by proclamations of God’s judgment and poo poo any such teaching as gloom and doom.

   Ahab said about Micaiah [ma-kye-uh], God’s faithful prophet, in 1 Kings 22:8 “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad”. Jezebel prophets prophesy only good things - peace and prosperity (Jeremiah 23:14-17). They never prophesy judgement. It is unbalanced, unbiblical and wrong.

   Thirdly, the doctrine of Jezebel deludes people completely that they are right. Ahab, when he was trying to determine whether to go to war against Ramoth Gilead [gill-le-add], consulted God’s prophet Micaiah [ma-kye-uh] and all the other prophets in the land who were led by Zedekiah.

   We read what Zedekiah said in 1 Kings 22:11-12 “This is what the LORD says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans [air – mee-ans] until they are destroyed.’” 12 All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.”

   These false prophets said they spoke from God. Did you hear their words ... “This is what the Lord says” and Ahab believed them completely. But they were wrong as Ahab later found out. Their prophesies did not come from God and they did not come true at Ramoth Gilead for there Ahab was killed and his army defeated. Ahab should have listened to Micaiah [ma-kye-uh].

   Christians bound by the Jezebel doctrine always believe they are 100% right. They cannot see the deception at all. It is like members of other cults or religions - they believe sincerely that they are right - but this doesn’t make them any closer to the truth.

   Scary isn’t it!!!! It is scary, because how do we know what is right and wrong. Who is telling us the truth and probably more critical to us individually is how do we tell what is the truth?

   There is really only one answer to this question and it is to discover what is found in this Book. This Book is God’s word … no other special revelation is needed. No other insight or special word from God is required. We’ve got all we need in this Book right here. It is God’s word - complete and finished.

   2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

   How many times do we accept teaching at face value and not check it to see whether it is right or wrong? Do you hear something on K-Love or His Radio Praise and trust it or do you go and check it out for yourself in the Book? How many times do you check out what good ole Rev. Dooley is saying and see whether it lines up with the Word of God?

   I read where a pastor told this story:

   “Those of you who came along to the seminar the other week on Spiritual Gifts - how many of you believed all that was said at face value. Have you checked what was said? This is a bit of an issue for me - the whole tongues and charasmatic gifts thing. Many evangelical scholars say that tongues, prophecy and the other charasmatic gifts are not for today –Many other godly leaders in the church today disagree completely and maintain that these gifts are for today.

   But here’s the bottom line … “They both can’t be right, can they?? So who is right?”

   Just using this as a topic … What do you think? How have you formed your opinion about the gifts of the Spirit? Have you checked out Scripture for yourself to see which viewpoint is right … or are you relying on what “someone” says? If you are doing this, you probably have about a 50% percent chance of being misled.

   Me – “well - I don’t know” and I am doing some study to see which view lines up best with Scripture. Don’t trust what any man, woman or child tells you about the things of God or the enemy – always look to the Book for your answers.

   Reputation and size of the congregation just doesn’t matter when we are trying to determine the truth. If it did, some of the sects and cults would be worth a second look.

   We have seen that Christ has condemned false prophets or teachers and those that follow them. But for those who overcome God has some promises in vs 24-29.

   24“Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira [thigh-a-tear-uh], to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25Only hold on to what you have until I come.

   26To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’— just as I have received authority from my Father. 28I will also give him the morning star. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

   To the overcomer, those who don’t get misled by false teaching, God promises two things ..

   1) He says that he will give authority over the nations. This is significant because remember the introduction and description of Christ as the Son of Man and having traits of the Man Daniel saw. Both images remind us that God has given Christ ultimate authority over all nations and now he says that he will give this authority to the church and we will reign with him. We don’t have to be worried about the world as it presses in on us. We have authority over it.

   2) He says that he will give them the Morning Star. The Morning Star is Venus, the brightest star in the sky and the pre-curser to the new day. In Revelation 22:16, the morning star is identified as Christ himself. The overcomers are therefore promised Christ himself. This will be the greatest reward of all.

   So where are we, will we be overcomers or are we part of Jezebel’s following. Do we need to confess our accepting of false teaching? Do we need to search the scriptures to confirm everything that we hear? God expects us to be students of the word. That is the only way we will not be deceived by false teaching.

   Some years ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone .wrong with the chimes and they were harsh sounding to the ear. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch

   We tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all of the music of the world

Words to the Compromising

April  25, 2021

   Opening Passage:Revelation 2:12-17 12“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the one with the sharp two-edged sword:

   13“I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.

   14“But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam [bay-lum], who showed Balak [bay-lack] how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. 15In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans [nick-o-lay-tians] among you who follow the same teaching. 16Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

   17“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.”

   When the postal authorities investigated, they found the mail that was missing. Most of it was in Frank’s attic. You see, over a six-year period he stashed away 15 tons of other people’s mail. They discovered over 1200 bags of undelivered mail in Frank Sosienski’s attic.

   Question: a mail carrier is supposed to… what? Answer: Deliver the mail. Truth is, a mail carrier who doesn’t deliver the mail hasn’t done a very good job of being what they’re supposed to be or doing what they’re supposed to do.

   Now, another question: a Christian is supposed to … what? Well, in this day and age there are many people who have their own opinions of what a Christian is, how Christians can act and they have their own ideas of what a Christian is called to do. But one pretty good definition is that a Christian is someone whose faith is in Jesus Christ and is faithful in obeying him and serving him.

   But that’s not always easy, is it? We can be honest enough with each other to confess that following Jesus and serving him is not always easy to do, is it. It’s a jungle out there. There are so many people out there that just wanna chew up and spit you out if you just mention the name of Jesus.

   There are a lot of people in our lives who make it difficult to be nice. There’s times we really don’t feel like being forgiving. And there’s situations in business and at work and on campus and at school, in our own families and even in our church families where … well, let’s just say sometimes we may be tempted to be about as Christian as Frank Sosienski was in delivering the mail. But, most people would say it’s OK … let’s let it slide, just this once. What harm could it do?

   John, the author of the book of Revelation, was writing from the island of Patmos, where he was exiled. He addressed his writing to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. This was during a time when the Roman Empire figured a good way to unite the people they ruled was to make them worship the Roman emperor. The problem was, the Jews and Christians had been taught that there was only one God, and that worshiping anyone or anything other than God the Father was wrong.

   Now the Jews had an advantage here — sort of a "grandfather clause". The Jews had received permission to refrain from worshiping the emperor, because they were seen as an ethnic group. But these Christians — they weren’t a specific ethnic group. These Christians were made up of all kinds of people, from all sorts of nations and races they were becoming converts to this new so-called religion of Jesus worshipers.

   So, John writes to these Christians, telling them to "hang in there". We do know that some of these folks tried to find ways to do both — to do the emperor worship thing and to remain part of the church. You can imagine what family and friends and co-workers and neighbors might have said: "Look, we’re not against religion or anything, but you don’t want to look like some kind of weirdo, do you? This emperor stuff is just something you’ve gotta do if you’re going to get ahead. If you get all involved in that Jesus stuff you’re not going to get invited to this Friday’s orgy. People aren’t going to hire you if you take this Christian thing too far. And there’s something else …" (and the list goes on and on)

   The letter to the Pergamum believers acknowledges the struggles they were going through and encourages them to stand firm and not compromise their stand.

   The start of this letter to the Church in Pergamum paint us a perfect picture of Christ.

   This letter is the third of 7 recorded letters written to 7 churches. The letters were given to John by Christ, while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Christ introduces himself to the Pergamum believers in vs 12 when he says of himself “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

   It is probably fitting to use a sword here since the sword would have been a common implement of death in Pergamum. But here the usage is more likely that it is to be used as an implement of judgment rather than condemnation.

   Other parts of Scripture use this metaphor also. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s word convicts … and spurs us into action.

   While here in Revelation, this is God’s word written specifically to the Pergamum church, it is also meant for all of us as well - so let’s pause and ask God to speak to us individually right where we are at today. PRAY

   While here in Revelation, this is God’s word written specifically to the Pergamum church, it is also meant for all of us as well - so let’s pause and ask God to speak to us individually right where we are at today. PRAY

   Let’s paint a picture of the City. Pergamum is the third of the 7 cities located about 16 miles off the coast of the Aegean [uh-gee-an] Sea and was famous for several reasons.

   1. Pergamum was the Roman capital of the province of Asia and was a great administrative center.

   2. It was the site of a great library said to contain more than 200,000 parchment scrolls. In fact, the name Pergamum comes from the same word as Parchment because this is where parchment was first invented.

   Until that time, all writing had been done on papyrus [puh-pie-ruhs] which was made from reeds that grew on the banks of the Nile. The Egyptians had a monopoly on the making of papyrus [puh-pie-ruhs] and a great library of their own at Alexandria.

   As the story goes, the king of Pergamum, in an attempt to enhance the reputation of his own library, tried to hire away the chief librarian and famous scholar from Alexandria. But the king of Egypt got wind of it, had this poor librarian put into prison to keep him from leaving, and then cut off the supply of papyrus [puh-pie-ruhs] to Pergamum.

   Well, Pergamum had to do something, so they came up with something new, a process by which the skins of animals could be pressed and treated to retain writing. And that was the invention of parchment ... all because of an international incident created over the hiring of a librarian.

   3. Probably more significant to us than the library was Pergamum’s spiritual state. We have mentioned before the practice of emperor worship. Well the very first temple erected in honor of a living emperor was built in - guess where - Pergamum in 29 BC to honor Caesar Augustus. For this reason Pergamos was given the special honor of being called "Neokoros [knee-o-chorus]," which means "temple warden”. The pressure to conform to worship of the emperor would have been significant in Pergamum.

   4. Lastly, as with all other cities of it’s day, Pergamum had a serious fetish with other gods and had at least 4 great temples that we know of - one for each of the 4 greatest gods of the Greeks. They had a temple for (1) Zeus. He was supposed to be the head of all gods. (2) Dinoysisus [den-noy-si-sus], the god of wine and drama. (3) Athena [uh-thee-nuh], the goddess of Wisdom in art and war. (4) Aesculapius [ask-key-lay-pee-us], the god of healing.

   It is interesting that the symbol for Aesculapius [ask-key-lay-pee-us] [es-kuh-lay-pee-us] was a snake. Who knows what the symbol for the medical fraternity even today features? Yep!! A snake!

   Here was the magnificent temple of Asklepios [ask-lea-pi-ous] Aesculapius [ask-key-lay-pee-us], was a pagan god whose idol was in the form of a serpent. The inhabitants were known as the chief temple keepers of Asia. When the Babylonian cult of the Magians [may-gee-ans] was driven out of Babylon, they found a haven in Pergamum. "

   And: "The title of the Magian [may-gee-an] high priest was “Chief Bridge Builder” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts. In Latin this title was written “Pontifex Maximus” … the title now used by the Pope. This title goes all the way back to Babylon and the beginnings of the mother-child cult under Nimrod of (Genesis 10) and his wife Sumerimus [sue-meri-mus]. Later, Julius Caesar was elected Pontifex Maximus and when he became Emperor, he became the supreme civil and religious ruler and head of Rome politically and religiously with all the power and functions of the Babylonian pontiff."

   A prominent part of this worship of other Gods was a massive alter built on a hill overlooking the city. It was the altar to Zeus and was about 325 square feet and about 4 stories high!!!

   This wasn’t a very Christ honoring city and even Christ testifies to this fact in vs 13 where he says “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.” Can you imagine such a place? But the truth is it was not a dark, gloomy, shadowy city. It was not something you see in a Halloween picture. It was the opposite.

   It was a busy, active, center for learning and fine arts. A cultural, religious, thriving city. And yet Jesus said it is ‘where Satan lives.’

   There is nothing wrong with fine arts, knowledge, or a growing city. The problem was that they were required to worship the emperor and they were steeped in worshiping other false gods.

   Remember the snakes at the Asklepios [ask-lea-pie-ous]? The Asklepios Center was where the sick would come for healing but they would not admit anyone terminally ill because that would tarnish their reputation. This temple of sorts contained many non-venomous snakes which would slither un-contained throughout the facility. The sick would spend the night in the temple lying on the floor. It was believed that if a snake touched you or crawled on you that you would be healed.

It was also believed that the dreams you had while at the facility would be an answer to your healing. It was bathed in cultic, superstitious beliefs. The people were looking to serpents to heal them instead of God. Anytime you seek a snake instead of the Lord Jesus Himself, you are going the wrong way.

   We don’t really know what Christ was referring to by Satan’s throne. It may have been the fact that there was a great altar built to Zeus. It may have been that here Rome was idolized and the emperor worshiped. It was symbolic of the fact that Satan exercised real power. Pergamum was the head quarters of satanic opposition and a Gentile base for false religions.

   Many of us feel as though we live in situations like the people of Pergamum. We feel like we’re living beneath the throne of Satan. The world’s hatred and men’s evil deeds affect our everyday lives. Drug deals that go down in the local parks, homosexuality, transgender, fornication and prostitution run rampant, financial and political corruption in all levels of government – all those things affect us. But stuff like that shouldn’t bother me because it used to be someone else’s town where the murder occurred. It used to be someone else’s teenager who got pregnant … not mine.

   But now it’s close to home and we can’t run from it. Evil has set up camp in our backyards. We are living where Satan rules. And to complicate matters, the lines between good and evil have become blur. Life is filled with so many gray areas. There appear to be no black and white decisions. Technology, science, psychology, and sociology have caused our generation to questioned morality and tolerance. Sin is protected by political correctness. Shacking up and living in sexual sin has become an alternative lifestyle. Our motto has become ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.’

   You see … the lesson here is that Satan wants to be the lord over your life. Like the Roman Emperor he demands your worship and allegiance. Don’t mix the worship of God the Father with the things of this world … that’s called “idolatry.” That’s the very essence of Satanic worship.

   On in vs.13 we start to see a picture of the church coming together. But even in Pergamum, great as it was, evil as it was, there was a church and Christ writes to it to commend it. He writes in vs 13 “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives”.

   He commended them first for holding fast to his name. The Greek here carries the idea of seizing the name and holding fast to it. They would not trade His name for anything or link it with the pagan gods of Pergamum. They refused to budge the views on his person. They held firmly to that truth.

   Secondly he commended them because they did not renounce their faith even in the midst of persecution. We don’t know much about Antipas, but tradition has it that he was roasted in a brazen bull. It seems clear that at some time in the past, persecution had touched these people personally, but they remained firm.

   Despite the evil times in which we live, we have the opportunity every day to uphold Jesus’ name and his standards. Are we faithful in doing this? Do we stand up against blasphemy of his name in our circle of friends? Do we refuse to accept the commonly held views about Christianity and Jesus?

   Now we’re going to look at a picture of the Church where this went wrong.

   Vs 14-15 tell us about the things that were wrong — 14“But I have a few things against you, because you have those there who hold the doctrine of Balaam [bay-lum], who taught Balak [bay-lack] to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans [nick-o-lay-tians], which thing I hate.”

   We discussed that group in the church of Ephesus. The Nicolaitans [nick-o-lay-tians] loved to lord over their subjects. They were big on being the boss. Satan had not come at this church as a roaring lion but rather as a slithering snake, the deceiving serpent that he is.

   It was not all peaches and cream in the Pergamum church. Because, just as now, there were some in Pergamum who want to mix black and white together so they can make their sin a grey area in their lives.

   Balaamism [bay-lum-ism]

   First of all they had some of their members held to the teaching of Balaam [bay-lum]. Note that the church as a whole did not believe in this doctrine, but they did continue in fellowship with those that did

   What is Balaamism [bay-lum-ism]?.

   You can read about Balaam [bay-lum] in Numbers, chapters 23-24. Balaam [bay-lum] was a prophet who had been hired by Balak [bay-lack], the King of Moab, to curse Israel, but when he tried to do so he found he could not. Every time he tried to curse them, God would not let him curse his people. So, in order to achieve the end for which he had been hired, he paid beautiful maidens from Moab and Midian to parade before the young men of Israel, tempting them into sexual immorality. Since these women were worshipers of idols, by that means he introduced idol worship into the tribes of Israel. Thus he corrupted and enticed them into sin.

   Balaam [bay-lum] probably encouraged the idea that since Israel was God’s covenant people, they could do as they pleased. At Pergamum there were some who held that one could be a Christian and live like the world at the same time. They were not the slightest bit concerned with worshiping the emperor and offering incense to him or with eating food offered to idols, or even participating in the sexual orgies which were such a part of the pagan worship. They were Christians in name even though they lived in the world and, after they started calling themselves “Christians”, they acted no different than they did before. This was a dangerous doctrine then and it remains so today.

   Vance Havner said "There have never been more Balaamites [bay-lum-ites] in our churches than now. We call them ’worldly’ Christians." The Balaamites [bay-lum-ites] in our churches today see nothing wrong with the practice of pornography and fornication among Christians. They are those who accept young people living together without marriage. They happily watch movies which have sex and violence in them and take others along with them. They compromise the Christian stand to the detriment of those ensnared in the sin they accept.

   The second group condemned by Christ is the Nicolaitans [nick-o-lay-tians]. Though it is difficult to know exactly who these people were, it appears they claimed to have a special relationship to God. They professed to be the beneficiaries of intimate revelations that were not given to others, and that they therefore had an inside track with God. The special knowledge they possessed gave them freedom from the law and so they happily participated in sexual pleasures and eating food offered to idols. They presumed to take the place of the priesthood in Judaism and carried that error into the Christian church.

   Probably both of these false teachings worked together. One appealed to physical lust, and the other to the ambition for power exercised in a religious way. It is seen still today in the supremacy of pastors who are lifted up above the congregation. They are men who claim to have more intimate relationships with God and therefor are regarded as better than the rest of the people.

   The problem was that some of the Christians at Pergamum were being corrupted. They were trying to be accepting and tolerant, but this opened the door to corruption.

   Now, there is a dilemma here. We know that the company we keep is very important and that if we are not careful that which is bad can easily rub off on us. When you wear white gloves to work in your garden, you expect the gloves to get dirty, not the soil to get glovey. So too we should expect that we will get dirty when we hang around dirty people. In a round about way the Bible teaches “If you keep laying down with dogs, eventually you’ll get up with fleas.”

   That is not to say we should cut all ties with unsaved people, because how else would they be saved (Romans 10:13-15). But we need to be on our guard so that we don’t become corrupted ourselves by our association with them.

   Living in Satan’s town was no excuse for the Pergamum Christians and living in a sinful world is no excuse for us.

   Paul asked a couple questions in Romans 6:15-16 15Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.

   Do we happily live in the grayness of today’s society or do we maintain that there is a difference between black and white, good and bad, right and wrong? We need to keep our standards high and constantly be on the lookout for Satan’s desire for us to compromise our high standards.

   An old Nazarene Evangelist was once reported to have prayed the following prayer every morning. “O Lord, give me a backbone as big as a saw log and ribs like the sleepers under the church floor. Put iron shoes on my feet and galvanized breeches on my body. Give me a rhinoceros hide for skin and hang up a wagon-load of determination in the gable-end of my soul. Help me to sign the contract to fight the devil as long as I’ve got a tooth - and then gum him until I die.”

   We need to be as faithful as this old codger - continually fighting Satan and his attempts to corrupt us.

   The Picture of the Remedy

   For those of us who are compromising our stand today - Christ has a remedy for us in vs 16 “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

   This command is written in the very present tense which means that it is a command to repent immediately. We are not encouraged to linger in Satan’s ways, but to repent as soon as it happens, change our mind, our actions and our attitude immediately for Christ will not be patient with us and will not linger coming to fight against us.

   The Balaamites [bay-lum-ites] and Nicolaitans [nick-o-lay-tians] were to repent immediately of their deeds and the church was to repent of its failure to deal with the problem in the first place. God was calling them to no longer compromise on what was true, condone what was ungodly or crave anything that wasn’t pure.

   The consequence for not repenting is that we will face God’s word - his sword - this time in judgment and condemnation. His word is a powerful opponent - it calmed storms, healed sick people, drove out demons. Our Lord’s admonitions are never mere suggestions. They are to be taken seriously and acted upon with speed and determination. If we are living in compromise today, Christ is telling us to pull up our socks and repent – QUICKLY!!!

   The Picture of the Promise

   As is typical of these letters, Christ ends with a promise to those who heed his warnings and respond in repentance. Vs 17 says “To him who has an ear and hears what the Spirit says to the churches - To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

   Two promises are given...

   1) Hidden Manna is promised. You would remember that the manna was given to the people of Israel during their desert wanderings. It was God’s amazing provision and showed his concern and provision for his people. The picture of Manna here was relevant to those who argued that eating food offered to idols was acceptable. “If we were to find food not offered to idols, we would have to pay double the price - We can’t afford to be that fussy they would say.” The manna reminded them that God could be trusted to provide for his faithful.

   The reference to Manna here, however, is more than a reference to physical food. It is the hidden manna - that which cannot be seen by man. Jesus called himself the bread of life and contrasted himself with the Manna of old John 6:47-51 ... 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
   While the manna sustained the physical life for a time, the bread of life, Jesus, came to give life … a life abundant (John 10:10). The bread that is Christ is all sufficient for us through all situations but is only available to us if we repent.

   The reference to Manna here, however, is more than a reference to physical food. It is the hidden manna - that which cannot be seen by man. Jesus called himself the bread of life and contrasted himself with the Manna of old John 6:47-51 ... 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
   While the manna sustained the physical life for a time, the bread of life, Jesus, came to give life … a life abundant (John 10:10). The bread that is Christ is all sufficient for us through all situations but is only available to us if we repent.

   The hidden manna therefore is a promise to those that overcome and refuse to compromise. God Promises to reveal himself and be our spiritual nourishment until that day we can eat with him in heaven.

   2) The second promise is for a white stone with a new name on it. White stone was mined at Pergamum and was a commercial product. We are not sure what is meant by this white stone, but there were many customs of the day which may be relevant.

   a) Black and White stones were used by juries in courts. If they believed that a person was guilty, they symbolized this by offering their black stone. If they believed they were innocent, they would offer their white stone. The White stone therefore may speak of our innocent status before God once we are forgiven.

   b) White stones were also used as medallions in the Olympics and other sporting events and were also given to members of a conquering army. The White stone here may therefore be a symbol of our triumph of faith.

   c) White stones were also used as tokens (tickets if you will) into banquets or feasts or used as place cards at the dinner table. The White stone then would be a ticket ensuring that we could participate in the heavenly banquet with Christ.

   d) They were given to a man freed from slavery as proof that he had been made a citizen of the province. The white stone then speaks of our citizenship of heaven.

   e) White stones were sometimes carried around as lucky charms - often with a name of a protective god. If this was the meaning, the White stone would speak of the assurance we have that Christ would protect us.

   Whatever the meaning, the white stone spoke of the redeemed position we have through a relationship with Christ. The stone is also important because it has a name on it - a New Name. Names in biblical times were significant as they spoke about the character of a person. New Names were given to many people through the Bible with their new name speaking about their character or their role. Abram became Abraham - “Father of many nations;” Sarai [su-rye] became Sarah - “Mother of nations;” Simon became Peter - “The Rock;” James and John became Boanerges [bone-er-gess] - “Sons of Thunder.” The new name given to us will represent our new nature.

   We see here the personalness of our relation to Jesus in the world to come. In this world, the individual is often lost in the masses. A specific Israelite was ordinarily lost in the identity of his tribe. Individual Israelites that came out of Egyptian bondage were swallowed up by national distinction. Contemporarily speaking, many a precious individual is lost in the crowd of the assembly to which they belong. Such identity- handicaps will forever be removed in glory

   But with those who repent and become part of God’s family, there will be a closeness to Christ. Jesus will know us personally, and interface with us personally. A sense of Divine acceptance will be realized that will belong alone to you.

   Do you not see what powerful incentives Jesus has given the church in Pergamum to repent? History confirms they did not take the word of the Master seriously. And today not much of the ancient city remains. Yet, I cannot help but believe there were some a remnant who heard what the Spirit was saying to the churches. Such people repented, and once again pressed forward to obtain the prize. Today, those triumphant souls are with another of their number, Antipas, who lost his life that he might forever gain it. How blessed is the soul who listens to the Lord! Eternal blessings will be realized, and cursing avoided.

   So where are we at ... We live in a time and a place where it is so easy to compromise our stand. It is easy for us to get caught in the grey brigade. I’m not talking about those who are old, but those that, like the Balaamites [bay-lum-ites] and Nicolaitans [nick-o-lay-tians], try to live with one foot in both camps. If we are guilty of living a compromised Christian life, Christ calls us to repent … NOW!!! Quickly … without hesitation. The rewards for doing so are that He will sustain us (physically and spiritually) and will give us eternal life signified by a white stone and a new name.

   Where are we at as a church? Where are you at as an individual? Are you compromising? Do you need to repent? Are you assured of your hidden manna? Are you sure of your white stone and new name?





Words to the Suffering

April 18,2021

   Opening Passage:Revelation 2:8-11 (NLT)8“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:

   9“I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. 10Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.

   11“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.

   A little boy was leading his sister up a mountain path and the way was not too easy. “Why this isn’t a path at all,” the little girl complained. “It’s all rocky and bumpy.” Her little brother kept on up the mountain, pausing just long enough to call out “Sure, but the bumps are what you climb on.”

   Remarkable isn’t it that we can look at problems and difficulties with such different perspectives. To one, they are obstacles, as big as a mountain - almost impossible to overcome, but to another they are an asset and merely a mole hill. We all suffer, and we all face problems in life - every single man on earth has - even the successful and godly ones.

   Think of the heroes of the faith - Abraham had some pretty major bumps to overcome. He was told to leave his homeland and all he held secure. He arrives in Canaan and no sooner had he pitched his tent, than he was in the midst of a famine. Then he had problems with his greedy nephew who took all the best land, he had wars to fight, his wife couldn’t bear him a child and so he agreed to have a child with his maidservant. Finally the clouds rolled away and things were looking up - Isaac was born. But then Abraham was told to go and sacrifice him. Abraham’s life was not easy, neither was Joseph’s, Moses’, David’s, Daniel’s, Paul’s or anyone else you’d care to mention.

   How about you? How is the road you are travelling? Does it seem rough and windy? Well take heart, because Christ has a message for you - a letter of encouragement, a personal message for you to take to heart and lift you up.

   But before we start, let’s pause and ask God to speak to us individually right where we are at today. PRAY

   In the last book of the Bible - Revelation, there are recorded 7 letters written to 7 churches. The last time I spoke, we looked at the first of these letters and today we are going to focus on the second. We’ll end up covering them all in the next month or so. You’ll find the second in Revelation Chapter 2.

   Chapter 2 vs 9 let’s read it again ...

   Letter to Smyrna – “I understand your suffering.”

   The second church on God’s list was Smyrna, a little over 2-1/2 miles from Ephesus and in many ways was a lot like Ephesus.

   Smyrna literally meant “myrrh” - a fine perfume and this was quite fitting for Smyrna which was a wealthy and beautiful city. It was destroyed in the Second Century, but was rebuilt in the Third Century by Rome and was one of the few planned out cities in Asia Minor. It was a modern and architecturally aesthetic city. It had an excellent harbor, lavish temples, a famous stadium and one of the largest public theatres in Asia Minor. It still exists as Izmir [is-me-ear], Turkey

   Though it was a beautiful city, it was also a pagan city with worship of many of the gods of the Roman and Greek pantheon including Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Dionysius [day-o-nishious], Mercury. In addition to this, it was a close ally of Rome and was one of the first Asian cities to require its citizens to worship the emperor.

   Emperor worship had been around for a couple of centuries to some degree or other. All people in the Roman Empire were required to worship and pay homage to the emperor. To refuse this led to persecution or even death.

   The church of Smyrna was probably an off shoot from Ephesus and it’s to these believers Christ writes.

   Christ begins his letter to Smyrna as always, by introducing himself to the church. Here he shows his relevance to the church in their current situation. His introduction to the Smyrnaeans [smur-nay-uns] is two fold.

   1) He begins with a description of the one who is the First and the Last. This is nothing more than the title given to God.

   Isaiah 44:6 says “This is what the LORD says “Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.”

   It has the same meaning as “I am the Alpha and Omega” which John had heard God say just a few moments earlier in Chapter 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “I am the One who is, and who was, and who is still to come, the Almighty One.”

   The significance is that God is eternal, he’s always been there and will be always there into the future. He is the first and the last.

   2) But that is not all, Christ is also the One who has died and come back to life. He is the living proof that resurrection is possible and that there is a life after death.

   We’ll see clearly the significance of this introduction soon.

   Strengths of the Smyrna Church - Commendations & Comfort

   1) Suffering for Christ’s name

   Now Christ goes on to commend the church. He actually has no condemnations for the Smyrnaeans [smur-nay-uns] - the only church which isn’t condemned for something. Christ had only glowing words of commendation for this church

   In vs 9 He says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

   These people were suffering. The words here speak of pain and real pressure. See where it says affliction or your version may have suffering of tribulation. That’s the Greek word [ƒáƒÜƒÙƒàƒãƒÙƒã] which means pressure or crushing. The church in Smyrna was feeling pain and distress from outward circumstances which were pressing in on them, wanting to crush them. Can you relate to this? Do you ever feel that sometimes the outward pressures are just getting too much? These guys at Smyrna were

   The word for poverty used here is ƒàƒäƒçƒÓƒÕƒÙƒÑƒn which meant extreme poverty, as would characterize a beggar. This was real poverty. The other word used for poverty in the New Testament was ƒàƒÕƒÞƒØƒã which meant the absence of anything excessive. The church in Smyrna didn’t just lack riches (ƒàƒÕƒÞƒØƒãƒw, but they lacked even the bare essentials (ƒàƒäƒçƒÓƒÕƒÙƒÑƒwƒ|

   From what we know about the political and religious situation of the day, it is quite probably that many of the Christians were slaves or from the lower classes of society which might account for the financial state of some. But for others, it was outwardly imposed. What I mean by this is that Christianity in the Roman Empire was illegal - it wasn’t one of the recognized religions and was illegal up until Constantine became the emperor in 313AD

   Because Christianity was illegal, Christians were easy prey for Jews and pagans. They were open to abuse and persecution - especially those that would not submit to the worship of the emperor..

   They were suffering because they were Christians and were commended by Jesus for their readiness to suffer affliction and poverty

   It is a challenge to us to think how far we would prepare to suffer for the gospel. Would you suffer for the Gospel to the point of death? Well, OK … maybe just to the point of a severe beating? Okay, how about a bit of name calling – now that’s what I call real suffering. Or how about someone not sharing their packet of chips with you - now that’s real persecution. How much suffering would you be willing to bear and who from?

   The persecution of the Christians by the Jews was an extension of their rejection of Christ as the Messiah. Jesus wasn’t right and so how could his followers be. Here they are described as Satan’s henchmen - hindering God’s work in the church, persecuting those who would seek to do good and doing everything possible to create disharmony.

   I wonder whether there are any people in this church who Christ might identify as belonging to Satan’s synagogue or as being his tools to disrupt the work of the church. Don’t look around and point the finger at others but look at yourself. Have you been hindering the work of God in this church, at your workplace or in this city by slandering the work of others? Have you been making it difficult for them to carry out the work God has laid on their hearts? Are we getting behind the leaders of this church or are we just continually complaining about what they are or are not doing? Are we criticizing the work of other churches or ministries just because they are not doing things the way we think they should be done?

   We need to be operating as a well-oiled machine, all of us pulling in the same direction, having the same desires, reaching for the same goals and supporting the various and diverse work of God in this church and beyond. God is bigger than Red Stone Fellowship church. Just because we feel uncomfortable with something doesn’t automatically mean it is not of God. I encourage you not to slander and play down the work of others in the extension of the Gospel, but to lift it up and support it and support those doing it.

   Another thing to notice here is that although the Smyrnaeans [smur-nay-uns] were afflicted and poor in material things, they were described here by Christ as being rich spiritually. It is surprising how often this is the case. Spiritual wealth does not depend on physical wealth, but on the right heart attitude and being in the right relationship with God. How is your spiritual bank account - if it is low, you may need to adjust at your attitude to and relationship to God. Instead of trying to adjust the Bible to fit your life … maybe it’s time to adjust your life to fit the Bible.

   2) Jesus knows what we’re suffering
   There is something else interesting in the words of Christ here. Listen again, “I know your afflictions and your poverty — yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” How does he know? Well just look back to the introduction

   1) He knows because he is God - the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. There is nothing that happens to us that God does not know about in advance - he is always there.

   2) He knows because he suffered too. He was the One who died, who under went intense suffering. He understands. He was persecuted and rejected by the Jews. He was poor and died on the cross a pauper. He knows because he shared in their sufferings … just as he suffered in ours.

   Who do you turn to when you have struggles or when you are in the midst of suffering? Who is best to comfort you?

   There is a story about a boy who had lost his right hand in an accident. He felt so badly about it that he did not want to see anyone. His father said, “I’m going to bring the minister in to see you,” but the boy said “No, I don’t want to see him.” The father brought him anyway. When the boy looked up, he saw that the minister had no right arm; there was an empty sleeve. He came over to the boy and said “I haven’t any hand either. I lost mine when I was a boy, and I know how it feels.” It wasn’t hard for the boy to get acquainted with the minister who knew how it felt.

   Who would be best to comfort a newly diagnosed cancer patient? Most likely a cancer survivor who’s been there. How about a couple struggling with their kids, their marriage, their workplace? Well probably someone who knows what it is like to struggle in the same way is the best comfort you could hope for.

   Christ is one who has suffered much - probably more than any of us combined could imagine. And even though you could argue that he hasn’t been in the same situations as you, he knows you so intimately that he knows what you are feeling and what you are going through - better even than another person who has had a similar experience.

   4) Do not be Afraid
   Christ continues in vs. 10 ...
   10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

   The implications of this verse would have been worrying for the church of Smyrna. Instead of Christ saying, “Trust me and I’ll make all your troubles go away,” he is saying, “You will be facing more troubles in the near future, some of you will even face death.”

   How could a loving God sit by and let his people suffer? It is the same question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Notice who is causing the bad things though. The devil. We live in a world where Satan is the prince. He has influence and control - for a time - and this influence can be brought to bear on us. Remember the afflictions that the Smyrnaeans [smur-nay-uns] were suffering was brought to bear from outside - from those who were controlled by Satan.

   God allows Satan to have his way, sometimes to refine us, sometimes to strengthen us and sometimes because that is what is appointed for this time.

   Look what God told Satan in Job 2:6 "All right!" the LORD replied. "Make Job suffer as much as you want, but just don't kill him." (CEV) This doesn’t mean that God ceases to maintain control. He does have control over the world and of Satan. See that it says – “You will suffer persecution for ten days.” Though probably not a literal 10 days, but it was a defined period. The suffering wasn’t going to be eternal - it was temporary and the time of suffering had an end. And that end was near. The period of suffering was just 10 days, fairly short in the scheme of life. and eternity.

   A hospital administrator was once startled to see a patient fleeing down the hall out of the operating room, his loose hospital gown flapping in the breeze behind him. He stopped the fleeing patient and said, “Do you mind telling me why you ran away from the operating room?”

   The patient looked at him with startled eyes and said, “It was because of what the nurse said.”

   The administrator asked “Oh? What did she say?”

   She said, “Be brave! An appendectomy is quite a simple procedure.”

   The administrator looked a bit confused and said, “Well, what’s so bad about her saying that? It is quite simple. I would think that would comfort you.”

   The patient screamed at the administrator “Are you kidding, the nurse wasn’t talking to me; she was talking to the doctor.”

   Some fears are well founded, but the fear of suffering shouldn’t be for Christians. Christ has control of the circumstances and was urging the Smyrnaeans [smur-nay-uns] not to be afraid of Satan or what he could do, but rather be concerned about the one who controls the future.

   5) Reward for Faithfulness - A Promise

   Note also Christ’s promise in vs 10 “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” A crown - of Life if there was ever a suitable reward for a poverty stricken people it was riches like a crown and for people facing possible death, the reward of life must have been fairly appropriate. If this weren’t clear enough, Christ repeats it in vs 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”

   There is another life beyond this earthly life which is far more important because it is eternal. Christ is saying, worry about that life, not your short one here on earth For if you overcome and keep the faith in the face of these temporary persecutions and afflictions, yours will be the crown of life for all eternity.

   What is the crown of life? In short, we can’t be exactly sure, but we do know some things about it ...

   The crown here is a ƒãƒäƒÕƒÖƒÑƒÞƒßƒã crown - the victor’s crown given to a victorious athlete or military conqueror. It is not the ƒÔƒÙƒÑƒÔƒØƒÝƒÑƒn the royal crown worn by kings. The ƒãƒäƒÕƒÖƒÑƒÞƒßƒã crown is a reward given to those who are victors. What form it takes we are not sure, but it seems to be an additional reward given to the faithful.

   There are 3 victor’s crowns mentioned in the Bible for believers. All are rewards for faithful stewards and all are given by Christ presumably when we are called to account for our lives.

   We read about the Crown of Life in James 1:12 – “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

   The second is the Crown of Righteousness in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 – “7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” - this is given to people who long for the appearing of Christ.

   And in 1 Peter 5:2-4 we learn about the Crown of Glory “2Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.3Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.”

   How faithful are you? To know and trust God is enough to give us eternal life, but for the high achievers in faithfulness, God has other special rewards in store. Be encouraged, your efforts for God won’t be unnoticed.

   God will reward those who stand firm despite difficulties, we can be assured of that. We can also be assured that he will not make us bear more than what we and he can bear together.

   Now cast your mind back to the introduction of Christ in this letter. He said “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” We can now begin to piece all the pieces of the puzzle together. The Smyrnaeans [smur-nay-uns] were facing suffering even to the point of death and were being encouraged to look beyond the present circumstances to the eternal life God can offer.

   1) To face the suffering, they needed someone who understood. Who knew what they were going through and who had been there - The First and the Last knew. He was able to relate to them through his own suffering and death.

   2) And for the promise of resurrection and a second life to have any meaning, it had to come from one who knew what they were talking about (i.e. someone who had come back to life already) and someone who was able to carry through with the promise. This narrows down the field doesn’t it - the only person who has died and come back to life is Jesus and the only one able to give life is God in the person of Christ Jesus.

   So the introductory words take on a huge significance “I am the first and the last, I was dead and came to life again.” I am able to sympathize with you in your suffering and am able to deliver you from this world of suffering into a life eternal … so don’t be afraid.

   Are you suffering today, feeling that the outward pressures are too much to bear? - Well Jesus has a message for you - it is the letter to all those who suffer.

   In this letter, he says ...
   1) I knows what you are suffering and can sympathize because I’ve been there.

   2) You do not have to be afraid, because I have everything in control

   3) If you stand firm, I will give you a reward - eternal life and a crown of life..

   Jesus said … If you have ears, listen and do what I am saying – and you will overcome anything, and if you do overcome you will not be harmed by the second death.


Everything But the One Thing

April 11, 2021

   Opening Passage: Revelation 2:1-7 (NLT) The Message to the Church in Ephesus — 1“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:

   2“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3You have patiently suffered for me without quitting

   4“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 6But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.

   7“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”

   How often do you wait for the mailman to come - expecting a message, a parcel, a letter? It maybe the day that your final results are in the mail - your acceptance (or denial) letter from collage … which will determine your future. It may be that you are expecting a letter from your girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, etc. They maybe are  traveling  and you are hanging out for their next postcard and so ... you wait and wait and wait ... patiently of course

   As time ticks by, no postman comes - or maybe you missed him. That was it … he came when you ran to the store to grab something to drink - so you dart out to the mailbox just to check - Nothing. The disappointment - what can you do? Well … nothing to do … except wait … and wait you do. It seems like the hours go by … until finally … you hear something that sounds like the mail carrier’s vehicle..

   Once it has been delivered, you race to the mailbox again - and you grab the mail and start sorting through it - a Big W catalogue, a bill, a flyer advertising kitty litter and there it is - the letter. It may not look fancy, but it is the words inside that are important – so you open it and read it right there … standing in the middle of the street in front of the mailbox.

   What do the neighbors think when they see you go all gooey and glassy eyed? Have you ever thought about that one? No, I didn’t think so - you’ve got no shame at all, do you??

   You take it inside and you read it again and then again before bedtime and then its waiting for you when you get up the next morning - what a way to start the day.

   What was important about that letter? Was it the paper it was written on? Probably not unless it was a note written on a $100 bill. Was it the nice mail carrier who delivered it on time? Undoubtably - not. What was it? It was the person writing it and this is all you care about - their words which were meant just for you.

   If you’ve got your Bible, let’s turn to Revelation Chapter 2 and we’re starting at verse 1. We’re going to be looking into the first letter … it was addressed to Ephesus.

   Before opening the letter, let’s quickly get some background - This is what you might call the briefing before the mission. To help us, lets answer some questions...

   Whose revelation was it? Revelation was given to Jesus Christ from God

   For What Purpose?

   1) To show his servants what is to come.

   2) It’s purpose was to bless the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.

   Who Wrote it, Where and When?

   1) John the servant of God wrote it (cs 1, 4, 9). There is not much debate that this was the Apostle John.

   2) Where: on the Island of Patmos. John had been banished to the Island of Patmos and was likely in a labor camp working the mines because of his faith. Victorinus [victor-in-ous], the first commentator on the Book of Revelation, stated that John worked as a prisoner in the mines on this small island. When the Emperor Domitian [doe-mission] died in A.D. 96, his successor Nerva let John return to Ephesus.

   3) When: written during a period of intense persecution of Christians - likely during the reign of Domitian [doe-mission] (90-95AD).

   The First Vision & The Command to write
    In the first few verses we see John having a vision. He was in the spirit on the Lord’s day and all of a sudden, his thoughts were broken by a voice like a trumpet which commanded him. Revelation 1:11 says “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum [per-ga-mum], Thyatira [thigh-a-teara], Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

   It is interesting that the 7 churches which God writes to are all in Asia. Why? We really don’t know why these were chosen and not 7 others. We do know that they were all in the same area and therefore accessible to each other. We also know that they all had problems and we also know that probably every church down the age has had these same problems. The 7 letters seem to be representative of the problems we face as the church of Jesus. They are as much for these 7 churches as they are for us today.

   The one speaking was brilliant. He looked a bit like a man (Son of man), but that was about all that resembled a man. His head and hair were while and pure, his eyes were like blazing fire, even his feet shone like bronze. His face was like the sun. His voice was like the sound of rushing waters or a trumpet. Out of his mouth, his words were like a sharp double eged sword. He stood among 7 lampstands (which he tells us in vs 20 are the 7 churches to whom he is about to write) and in his hand were 7 stars (7 angels - one for each of the churches). An awesome sight for John who had seen the risen Lord Jesus - all he could do was fall down in fear - as if he was dead.

   But the words came again in Revelation 1:17b-18. “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

   So, John Wrote 7 letters direct from the mouth of the risen Jesus Christ. They were addressed to 7 churches in particular, but also to us as the wider church. If we were ever to hang out to receive a letter, it should be a letter from Christ … and here are 7 letters … direct form the mouth of the risen Savior. Are you ready to open the first and see what it has to tell us?

   Chapter 2 vs 1 says Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands: ...

   Letter to Ephesus is about everything but the One Thing … it’s about keeping the main thing the main thing

   The first church on God’s list was Ephesus..

   Ephesus was the greatest of the cities in Asia, even though Pergamum [per-ga-mum] was the capital of the region. It was a great commercial center and a great port of the day even though it had problems with the silting up of its river. It still shipped many tons of produce into and out of Asia.

   Ephesus was also a great religious center with the famous temple of the Roman God Artemis located there. Artemis was also known as Diana and was the goddess of love and fertility. The temple of Artemis was classed as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world up along the pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon. Religion and magic were terribly confused in Ephesus and magic was the most popular there.

  Paul spent 2 years there establishing the church with Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos and Timothy spent time there as did John in his old age until he was exiled to Patmos.

   Strengths of the Ephesus Church - Commendations

   1) “deeds, toil & perseverance” - These guys knew how to work and had been working to the point of physical exhaustion. They were not just working for wealth, it was for the Gospel and it was hard work in the climate of idolatry and magic - but they stuck to their guns because they knew it was right.

   How hard do we work in our church? So often churches run on the sweat, blood and tears of a dedicated few. They provide the music, teach classes in Children’s Church and evening Bible study, provide the morning snacks, hand out the bulletins … while the majority of the church does little else but keep a pew warm.

   How hard do we work at keeping our Christian lives untainted in the world in which we live? Do we become like the rest of the kids at school when it suits or do we put the Christianity thing in the closet when we are at work?

   How hard do we work to keep our relationship with God pure by regular and meaningful quiet times, times of prayer, guarding our thoughts by what we watch on TV?

   2) Another strength was their “intolerance of wicked men & false prophets.” When Paul had established the church there many years before, he had warned that savage wolves would try to come and destroy the flock of new believers. He had urged them in Acts 20:31 to “be on your guard!” and they had been. They had tested all that had come their way, compared their teaching against scripture and succeeded in keeping their ways pure.

   One particular group they had opposed were the Nicolaitans [nico-laya-teens]. These were a group who tried to make compromises between the pagan way of life and that taught by Paul and the church. It was likely that they taught that sexual laxity was okay as was worshipping the pagan gods.

   How are we at testing those who might try to lead us astray? Do we, like the Bareans, go home and compare Dooley’s teaching against the rest of the Scriptures … or do we just follow along happily and naively letting him lead you around like a sheep on a rope.

   How often do we stand up against those who make compromises? For the Nicolaitans [nico-laya-teens] amongst us who say we can have one foot in the world and one foot in the church … as children of the risen King we say... you can’t do that! You’re either ALL in or you’re ALL the way out. Being “lukewarm” is not an option.

  Hard-working, persevering, discerning - these are outstanding marks for any church and as this letter was being read, I’m sure the Ephesians beamed and started to pat each other on the back.

   But … they … like all of us … had their weaknesses: One was an area of condemnation.

   But this wasn’t the end of the message. Jesus has a bone to pick with these Church goers. The Lord tells us in Revelation 2, vs. 4 “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first.” Some translations say that “you’ve lost your first love.”

   Basically … you’ve allowed your life to get too busy for God. You’ve allowed too much stuff to get in the way of your relationship with the Father. Something as simple of, as some of you are in the habit of doing … you’re too busy talking … not listening. You’re so busy with your stuff that you couldn’t hear God speaking to you … no matter how hard he tried. Look how many of you are too busy to come to church this morning.

   Do you know what busy mean? Being Under Satan’s Yoke.

   In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, a Russian peasant named Tevye asks his wife a simple question “Do you love me.”

   Love him? Golde had never even met Tevye until the day of their arranged wedding. Now, after 25 years of marriage he wants to talk of love? It sounds so, so ... ridiculous, so foreign that she thinks he must have indigestion and should go and lie down for a while.

   Tevye repeats the question however more earnestly this time.

   “Golde wonders at his thinking, then explains how hard she has worked as his wife - cooking his meals, washing his clothes, having his children.

   Still, it doesn’t satisfy Tevye and he asks again.

   This time, Golde falls back on the obvious: she’s his Wife!

   Even so, Tevye persists - does she love him?

   After some reflection, she answers that she does indeed love him, realizing that her life hasn’t been just meaningless busy work. She has worked so hard because of her love for Tevye.

   Our greatest strengths can often be our greatest weaknesses and for the Ephesians, they had got so busy that work and protecting the faith had replaced their love for the Lord.

   “Do you love me?” Christ was asking.

   “Yes we rooted out all those who teach heresy - of course we love you!”

   “True. But do you love me?”

   “We fearlessly proclaim your word in spite of persecution.”

   “Yeah – Yeah!! I know. And that’s all good. But do you love me?

   He’s asking you that question right now … “But do you love me?” It really easy for us to answer that question with “I DO love you, Lord!” Here’s one of those big BUTs … each and everyone of us have to answer that question … BUT … be really careful how you answer that question because Jesus already knows the real answer.

   Do you love him enough to do what he’s asked you to do? Do you love him enough to partake of his “Daily Bread” by studying your Bible every day? Do you love him enough to get off you duff and not refrain from the gathering of the saints as many are in the habit of doing? I could ask you 100 questions along the lines “Do you love him enough?”

   Do you love me? When the Ephesian’s looked really hard at themselves, they could only answer that question but one way … their answer was that they didn’t really love God. As with us, without love, the things the Ephesians were doing were worthless.

   Paul writes to the Corinthians about this same problem in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3 where it says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

   Picture a couple that has been married for 50 years. “Things have really changed” she says to her husband. “You used to sit so close to me.”

   “Well I can remedy that” he said, moving next to her on the couch.

   “And you used to hold me tight”.

   “How’s that? he asked as he gave her big ole a hug.

   “Do you remember you used to nuzzle my neck and nibble on my ear lobes?”

   He jumped to his feet and left the room.

   “Where are you going?” she called out to him! “I’ll be right back”, he said “I’ve got to get myteeth"

   Just like the Ephesians and this old couple we might have slipped a long way from where we were at our conversion. Back then we truly did love God - we expressed it in all sorts of ways and told him of our love all the time. Now we are just too busy doing his work - we just work and survive. We need to re-kindle that love and find ways to keep that fire burning.

   If we can keep it burning to the end - God promises that we will join him in heaven to eat from the tree of life. It sounds worth it to me - how about you.




The Reality of the Resurrection

April 4, 2021

   Opening Passage: Luke 24:13-53 (NLT) — The Walk to Emmaus 13That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.

14As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16But God kept them from recognizing him.

   17He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

   They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”
   19“What things?” Jesus asked.

   "The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

   22“Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

   25Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

   28By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

   32They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

   Jesus Appears to the Disciples 35Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. 36And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 37But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!
   38“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? 39Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” 40As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.

   41Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he ate it as they watched.

   44Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. 47It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ 48You are witnesses of all these things.
   49“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”
The Ascension 50Then Jesus led them to Bethany, and lifting his hands to heaven, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. 52So they worshiped him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy. 53And they spent all of their time in the Temple, praising God.”

   Christ’s post-resurrection appearances establish its historical reality, its prophetic reality and its evangelistic reality. It really happened - to fulfil God’s plan, promised in the Old Testament. Therefore, it is GOOD NEWS for us, to live and to proclaim.

   Christ has died … Christ is risen … Christ will come again.

   Do you believe it? {Extract a strong affirmation from the congregation.  

   If you truly believe it, you are a step ahead of the original disciples in those early hours and days after the first Good Friday and the first Resurrection Sunday morning. They found it very hard to believe.

   Christ had died – they had no trouble believing that. They’d seen it happen with their very own eyes! The crucifixion of Jesus had become the hot topic of conversation during that Passover weekend, when visitors from far and wide had come to Jerusalem for the festival. Not even David Beckham, one of the world’s greatest football players, could have knocked Jesus off the front pages of the Jerusalem Times that day!

   Yes, Christ had died – they could definitely say that. Of course, the initial reaction of the disciples was to see the death of Jesus as the death of His mission … the death of his earthly ministry because they had held high hopes that He would ‘redeem Israel’, that He was the long promised Savior who would free His people from oppression. But, well, now He had been laid in Joseph’s tomb and ALL those hopes were surely gone.

  How do we know that this is how they felt? They’ve admitted it! We read in our opening passage about how two of the disciples spent the first Resurrection Sunday afternoon. These two disciples, after all was said and done, were headed home. They were walking to a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem. Along the way they met someone they did not recognize and Luke records their conversation.

   When asked what they were talking about, Luke says, “they stood still, their faces downcast.” They were really gloomy. “We had hoped that Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel,” they said to the stranger, “but our priests handed Him over to the Romans for crucifixion and nothing happened to stop it. Our hopes died with Him.”

   “Furthermore,” they continued, “to make matters worse, His body has gone missing from the tomb where He was placed. To be sure, some of our companions reckon they’ve seen angels who told them He was alive – but they were only women, so what would they know.”

   I’m loosely paraphrasing this, of course, but this is the gist of what they were saying. Even though the evidence was already beginning to mount that Christ had risen, they still didn’t believe it. They disbelieved it to the point that they didn’t recognize that the person to whom they were saying these things was in fact Jesus himself … standing right in front of them.

It’s tempting for us, isn’t it, to shake our heads and think, “what dodos those guys were! Not recognizing Jesus – they must have been blind!!” If we thought that, we’d be in good company. It’s what Jesus thought. He rebukes them for being “foolish and slow of heart not to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”

   The word for “foolish” in the original Greek is related to the source of our word “wits”, as in using your wits to figure something out. They weren’t doing this, showing a theological stupidity that Jesus says was unworthy of them. They should have known better.
   So, yes, it is tempting to scoff at those two disciples for their lack of wits …for their lack of understanding.   

   However, I’d caution against being too hasty to give in to that temptation. For one thing, the passage indicates that “they were kept” from recognizing Him, that God was not yet ready for them to realize that it was Jesus. Only later were their eyes opened, but first they had a lesson to learn.

   For another, if the truth be known, I have to identify with them, rather than judge them. I acknowledge that I, too, need God to open my eyes to the truth, as He did for them later that evening. I know, for instance, how slow I was to believe in Christ when I was young, and even in the 23 years since becoming a Christian I know how slow I’ve been to understand things God’s been trying to teach me. Like those early disciples I should know differently, I ought to grasp the resurrection power of God in my life, but the reality is that, like them, I too am slow to understand all that the Bible has to teach me.

   I suspect that most of us are a little bit slow at grasping things from Scripture too, if we were to be honest with ourselves.

   Christ is risen! For the first disciples this was a slowly made, though joyous, new discovery. But because they have shared with us the story of their discovery – even including the embarrassing details such as not recognizing Jesus – we have a great deal of teaching in the Bible about the reality and meaning of Christ’s resurrection.

  It seems to me that there are 3 key themes in the many passages of the New Testament that refer to the resurrection – themes that are present in Luke 24 as well.

   First, there is the historical reality of the resurrection: - it really did happen!

   Second, there is the prophetic reality of the resurrection: - it happened to fulfill God’s plan, as predicted in the Old Testament and by Jesus Himself during His earthly life.

   And third, there is the evangelistic reality of the resurrection: - because it happened, we can be sure that Jesus is Lord and Savior, that He is the King of Kings and that we too can look forward to being raised unto eternal life through Him.

    I’m going to talk briefly about each of these 3 themes.

   1 - The Historical Reality of the Resurrection

   Luke was an historian. It mattered to him that the Christian faith was based in sure knowledge of events that actually happened, as reported by people who were witnesses. This is true of all that he wrote about the life of Jesus in his gospel and about the early church in the book of Acts. You only have to look at the opening verses of his gospel to see that what I am saying is true of Luke – he was a theologian and as well as a historian.

   And so it is with his account of the resurrection. He relays the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus because it actually happened. The fact that it is the story of two “yahoos” who didn’t recognize Jesus when they saw Him surely adds credibility to the account. If I were making something up about something like this, I don’t think I’d include such an embarrassing version of the experience of the eyewitnesses

   Similarly with Luke’s story of when Jesus appeared to the disciples later that first Resurrection Sunday evening, they were startled, they were frightened, they didn’t believe what they saw … at first. OK, it would be startling if you were all sitting here this morning and suddenly someone appeared without coming through the door!

   But Jesus confirmed that He was not a ghost, that He had a physical body, by eating some fish. It really was Him – in a new body, but a real body. The whole account reads, not like a made up story designed to impress us, but simply as an accurate account of what happened.

   Christ is risen – it really happened. It is an established fact of history.

   2 - The Prophetic Reality of the Resurrection in our opening passage we read twice where Jesus was saying to the disciples, “why are you so surprised? This is what the Bible said was going to happen.” 

   Both to the two on the road and to all the disciples gathered in the room, Jesus gives a Bible study that I would love to have heard. He goes through all of the Old Testament and shows them how the suffering, death and resurrection of the Christ, the promised Savior, was predicted; it was all part of God’s plan.

   Some of you have heard in past Sundays where I’ve mentioned passages in Isaiah and the sacrificial system in Leviticus, where I’ve talked about how those parts of the Old Testament teach us about Christ. There are many, many more Old Testament passages of course – as it says here in Luke, Jesus included references from all three sections: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. He would have included Psalm 16, as well as Psalm 22 – from which comes His words in vs. 1 while he was on the cross he shouted, “My God! My God! Why have your forsaken me?”

   Just to pick one more – He might have included a reference to Joseph. The youngest son of Jacob was sold into slavery by his treacherous brothers – he “died” in a sense – but was protected by God - “raised again” if you like. Eventually those brothers bowed down before Joseph, who says that what they intended for evil, God had intended for good.

   This is the way God does things! He turns seeming disaster into victory, so that His plans come to be completed. It is all through the Bible, and is fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus knew that, which is why all through the latter part of His ministry on earth He kept telling His followers, “I’m going to die and then rise again – it will happen.”

   Christ is risen – it really happened because God planned it to happen, it’s His way of bringing salvation to His people.

   3 - The Evangelistic Reality of the Resurrection

   Which brings me to the third and final theme, the evangelistic implications of the resurrection. It is not just an historical event, as important as it is to grasp that fact. It is not merely an intellectual curiosity that the death and resurrection of Jesus were foretold long before they happened. No, it has an on-going significance for us as we live our lives today.

   Jesus is alive! Think about it. Death could not hold Him; He has overcome death, hell and the grave and lives even now and forever more. And because He lives, we too can have eternal life. His resurrection, His victory over sin and death, have paved the way for us to share in that same victory. Because Jesus has been raised, we who trust in Him can look beyond our deaths and have the confident expectation of dwelling with God for ever. We too will be raised with Christ.

   When the incarnate Son of God emerged from the tomb, He was still a man. He had a real body, as we discussed earlier. That means that as a man – the perfect man – He has gone before us into heaven. The first man has already gone to heaven! We who have faith in Him will follow in His footsteps.

   As the apostle Peter was later to write in 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT) — The Hope of Eternal Life — 3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4and we have a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

   This is GOOD NEWS for us all. That is what the term ‘evangelistic’ means – it refers to good news. It is good news for us to hear, good news for us to believe, and good news for us to live out and proclaim with our lips and in our lives.

   I don’t know where each of you stand in relation to this good news. For all who do believe it I praise God. My message to you is this: let us encourage each other to really believe it. If Christ is the risen Lord, then our lives cannot any longer be tied down to the things of this world. As Paul said to the Colossians in the 3rd chapter, vs 1 “since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

   That’s telling us to put to death in your life things like immorality, greed, malice, selfishness, etc replacing them instead with compassion, forgiveness and love.

   The great thing is that in this struggle of live, right and wrong … we have the power of God to help us. The same power that raised Christ from death is available to us through God’s Spirit to change us from what we have been to what God intends us to be. Living for Christ is not meant to be a burden, but a blessing – the blessing of friendship with the living God. That’s why Luke records Jesus as raising His arms to bless the disciples just before He went back to heaven – the priestly blessing of grace and peace.

   Some of you here today may not have totally accepted this good news yet. Can I encourage you to do so? Jesus died and rose again so that you can be born anew and have eternal life. His resurrection proves that He is the Lord of all things. It proves that He has overcome all of our spiritual enemies – the guilt, the loneliness, the hurt, the fears that come from the fact that we are all by nature rebels against God, destined to die cut off from Him. Through the Cross and the Grave He has overcome sin and death, and has gone before us into the very presence of God to prepare a place there for all His people.

   You, too, can be one of His people. It’s a gift, a free gift that God is offering to you, right now. Christ has done it all for us – we don’t have to pay for our rebellious ways, because Christ has already paid that price for us; we don’t have to do anything to earn our way into God’s favor, because Christ has earned it for us. All we have to do is to say to Jesus, “thank you. I accept your gift.”

   All we have to do is to believe, to believe that:
   Christ has died …… Christ is risen ……. And that Christ will come again to take us into the full experience of all that we now hope for.

   Brothers and sisters … it’s time to pray. Will you say this prayer with me? Lord God, open our eyes to see the full reality of the resurrection of Christ. Enable us to embrace with all our hearts the truth that He is Lord. He is Lord, He is risen from the dead and He is Lord. Let every one of our knees bow and let our tongues confess to the world that he was born a virgin birth, he had died, he is risen and he will come again to take his children home, because Jesus Christ is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

  Scripture of the Day — Matthew 28:1-7 New Living Translation (NLT)
The Resurrection
28 Early on Sunday morning,[a] as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.
2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.
5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
Matthew 27:65 New Living Translation (NLT)
65 Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.”




The Truth About Easter

                                                                                                       March 28, 2021

   Opening Passage -  Acts 12:1-4 (NLT) — James Is Killed and Peter Is Imprisoned — 1About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover.
   We are approaching the time of year that most people know as the Easter season. I’m certainly not here to burst anyone’s Easter bubble, but I am here to tell you the truth about “Easter” to the best of my ability.
The opening passage was from the New Living Translation … Now let’s read it from the King James Version. Acts 12:1-4 (KJV) 1Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)***
   4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions [qua-turn-ee-uns] of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
   Vs. 4 is the only passage in the King James Bible we find the word” Easter,”
   I have read behind many commentators on this word, “Easter” and most of them say something along the line, that it’s a miss translation, but I don’t think that’s a true assumption. I think that the HOLY SPIRIT had the holy men that penned down the Bible put exactly what HE wanted them to pen down. Listen as we read vs. 4 again.
   4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions [qua-turn-ee-uns] of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
   So let me say that Easter has absolutely nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The word Easter is as pagan as it gets. Its derived from the pagan goddess “Ishtar” or “Astoreth” a so called female deity which is as false a deity as they come.
   To us who are sincere believers in the resurrection of our wonderful Lord & Savior Jesus Christ, it’s the time of year we recognize his resurrection, not a so called [Astoreth] or ~Easter~ as what its called today.
   Listen as I read the text again; Acts 12:1-4 1Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
   4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
   I want us to notice what it says in vs. 3, it says, “then were the days of unleavened bread”
   We need to be aware that the days of unleavened bread, does not began until the Jewish Passover has run it’s course.
   Leviticus 23:4-6 says “4In addition to the Sabbath, these are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the official days for holy assembly that are to be celebrated at their proper times each year.
   5“The Lord’s Passover begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6On the next day, the fifteenth day of the month, you must begin celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival to the Lord continues for seven days, and during that time the bread you eat must be made without yeast.”
   What all that tells us is that the days of unleavened bread begins the day after Passover. Therefore, king Herod was not even thinking about the Jewish Passover at all, in fact he couldn’t care less about any of the Jews Holy Days, he was going to wait until after “Easter.”
   So, we have been taught that Jesus rose from the grave on the day of Passover … and according to what we just read … ‘EASTER” and the Jewish PASSOVER (the Christian Resurrection Sunday) are not one & the same, are they? According to what we just read … Easter is on Monday … not Sunday.
   Just always remember that the days of unleavened bread start the day after Passover. Therefore, according to Leviticus 23 (5-6) its impossible for “Easter & PASSOVER” to be on the same day.
   There may be someone listening that might think this information is wasting air time, but I don’t think so. Evidently the HOLY SPIRIT thought it was important to point out these truths in Scripture or it wouldn’t be here in our opening passage.
   According to the book "Pagan Traditions of Holidays", p. 9 the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, is the one for whom Easter is named. In reality, she was Semiramis [sa – mere – a – miss], wife of Nimrod, and the real founder of the Satanic Babylonian Mysteries. After Nimrod died, Semiramis [sa – mere – a – miss] created the legend that he was really her Divine Son born to her in a virgin birth. She is considered to be the co-founder of all occult religions, along with Nimrod
   “Easter” has nothing to do with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Rather, this day in the pagan tradition celebrates the return of Semiramis [sa – mere – a – miss] into her reincarnated form of the Spring Goddess. The pagans even have an equivalent to our Good Friday! It is called "Easter Friday", and has historically been timed to be the third full moon from the start of the New Year. And since the marrying of pagan Easter to Jesus’ resurrection, Good Friday is permanently fixed on the Friday prior to the so called Easter.
   Easter is steeped in the Babylonian Mysteries, the single most evil idolatrous system ever invented by Satan! All throughout the prophetic Scriptures, we see God declaring His final judgment upon wicked Babylon!
   **Yet, every year, Christian pastors, along with their Christian followers, talk about "Easter" as though it were some sacred Christian event.**
   However, many independent and non-denominational preachers have begun referring to this day of celebrating Jesus’ resurrection as "Resurrection Sunday", not Easter Sunday … in order to separate one of the Holiest days of the year from such a disgusting pagan celebration.
   The Babylonians celebrated the day as the return of Ishtar (Easter), the goddess of Spring. This day celebrated the rebirth, or reincarnation, of Nature and the goddess of Nature. According to Babylonian legend, a huge egg fell from heaven, landing in the Euphrates River. The goddess, Ishtar (Easter) broke out of this egg.
   Later, says the tradition, the feature of an egg nesting was introduced, a nest where the egg could incubate until hatched. A "wicker" or reed basket was conceived in which to place the Ishtar egg.
   The Easter Egg Hunt was conceived because, if anyone found her egg while she was being "reborn", she would bestow a special blessing upon that lucky person!
   And because this was a joyous spring festival, eggs were colored with bright spring colors.
   And then of course … there’s the Easter Bunny
   Realize, we are dealing with a legend here, and an occult legend at that. These types of legends traditionally play loose and fast with facts.
   Therefore, "Easter" -- or Ishtar -- was also a goddess of fertility. Since the bunny is a creature that has a lot of babies several times a year, it symbolized the sexual act; and the egg symbolized "birth" and "renewal".
   And together, the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg symbolizes the sex act and its offspring, Semiramis [sa – mere – a – miss] and Tammuz [tom – ooze].
   It is a very serious spiritual matter, when Christian churches incorporate "Resurrection Eggs" as part of their Easter celebration. At the very least, these churches are confusing the minds of their young children, by blurring the dividing line between pagan symbols and their meanings and Christian meanings of Resurrection Day.
   Young children who participated in "Resurrection Eggs" in church will be conditioned later in their life to accept the fullness of the pagan tradition revolving around the same symbols. At worst, a church participating in the pagan Easter tradition by promoting "Resurrection Eggs" and perhaps an Easter Egg Hunt, is guilty of combining Christianity with paganism, the very lethal cocktail the Lord Jesus will always reject!
   Remember this verse … 2 Corinthians 6:17 "17Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you."
   If your church has "Resurrection Eggs", that is a church you should consider leaving immediately If the Pastor is Liberal enough to use "Resurrection Eggs" and the word “Easter” in his Resurrection Day celebrations, he is probably Liberal in Doctrine and Theology, but may not be far enough along for you to see it yet.
   Easter -- the day of Ishtar -- is celebrated widely among various cultures and religions on earth.
   The names of these different countries I’m about to read to us now come from the book ["America’s Occult Holidays", Doc Marquis and Sam Pollard. p. 13]
1. Babylon - Ishtar (Easter) also called the Moon Goddess
2. Catholics -- Virgin Mary (Queen of Heaven)
3. Chinese -- Shingmoo
4. Druids -- Virgo Paritura
5. Egypt -- Isis
6. The Pagan Ephesians – Dianna ***
8. Germans (Ancient) -- Hertha
9. Greeks -- Aphrodite/Ceres
10. India -- Isi/Indrani
11. Ancient Jews -- Ashtaroth (Queen of Heaven)
13. Rome -- Venus/Fortuna
14. Scandinavians -- Disa
15. Sumerians – Nana
["America’s Occult Holidays", Doc Marquis and Sam Pollard. p. 13]
   Brothers & sisters please; let us be careful as the time that we know as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is about to be here, let us not allow satan any glory at all, especially now in this season.
   Jesus said in John 12:32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
   Let us rise up and be ye separate from this world and lift JESUS up for the world to see so that through Him many may be saved!! AMEN??

Be An Encourager

March 21, 2021

   Opening passage - Hebrews. 10:25 “Let us not give us meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
   Acts 4:36-37 36For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.
   INTRO.- ILL.- Chuck Swindoll in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life tells about a man getting ready to make an around-the-world voyage in his homemade boat. Without exception everyone on the pier was vocally pessimistic. Everyone was telling him everything that could possibly go wrong. “The sun will broil you.” “You won’t have enough food.” “That boat of yours won’t withstand any storms.” “You’ll never make it.”
   A man standing nearby heard all these discouraging words and decided instead to offer some words of encouragement. As the little boat began pulling away from shore, he went to the end of the pier and began waving both his arms wildly and shouted, “BON VOYAGE! YOU’RE REALLY SOMETHING! WE’RE WITH YOU! WE’RE PROUD OF YOU! GOOD LUCK, BROTHER!”
   Brethren, this story is so similar to our lives. In a sense, all of us are in a little boat. We are on a long journey, not knowing if we are going to make it or not. And as we push out to sea, there are very few people who stand there giving us encouragement. Most are only critical or negative.
   That’s a pretty sad commentary on life, but often, it’s very true for most of us. THERE ARE A LOT OF DISCOURAGERS IN LIFE BUT VERY FEW ENCOURAGERS!
   Many people are better at discouraging others than encouraging them.
   ILL.- Many people are quick to say things like:
   “That will never work.”
   “We’ve never done it that way before.”
   “I can’t see anything good in that.”
   “Why did they do that?”
   “Well, that was really dumb.”
   “Why doesn’t somebody do something to change things?”
   “I wish he’d stop doing that.”
   And so on.
   Nothing but criticism and negative thinking and negative talking about a lot of things.
   ILL.- One three-year study found that most school teachers were 75% negative and critical in dealing with their students. The study also indicated that it takes four positive comments to offset the effect of one negative or critical comment.
   Now, brethren, there is also the other side of the coin.
   ILL.- On May 24, 1965, a 13 1/2 foot boat slipped quietly out of the marina at Falmouth, MASS. Its destination was England. It would be the smallest boat ever to make the trip. Its name was TINKERBELLE. And its pilot was Robert Manry. He had been a copyeditor for the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER for ten years and was bored, so he took a leave of absence to fulfill his secret dream.
   Robert Manry was afraid, though not of the ocean. He was afraid of all those people who would try to talk him out of the trip. So he didn’t tell many people, just a few relatives and his wife Virginia, who was his greatest supporter and encourager.
   The trip was anything but pleasant. He spent many sleepless nights trying to cross the shipping lanes without getting run down and sunk. Weeks at sea caused his food to become tasteless. Loneliness caused him to have hallucinations. His rudder broke three times.
   Storms swept him overboard, and had it not been for the rope he had tied around his waist, he would never have made it back on board. Finally, after 78 days alone at sea, he sailed into Falmouth, England.
   During his many nights, he fantasized about what he would do once he arrived in England. He expected simply to check into a hotel, eat dinner alone, then the next morning see if the Associated Press might be interested in his story.
   But word of his approach had spread far and wide. To his amazement, three hundred vessels, with horns blasting, escorted TINKERBELLE into port. And 40,000 people stood screaming and cheering him to shore.
   Robert Manry became an overnight hero. And his story has been told around the world. BUT ROBERT MANRY COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT ALONE! Standing on the dock was an even greater hero, his wife Virginia. She had refused to be critical and negative about her husband’s trip. She gave him constant encouragement which enabled him to pursue and complete his dream!
   And, brethren, the world needs a whole lot more people just like Virginia Manry! Amen?! Both men and women alike who will give others the needed encouragement for life and it’s obstacles!
   Barny the preacher was just such a person. DID YOU EVER READ ABOUT BARNY THE PREACHER IN THE BIBLE?
   Acts 4:36 says “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement.”
   The Living Bible say “There was Joseph (the one the apostles nicknamed ‘Barny the preacher.’”
   Barny the preacher was actually Barnabas, the one who encouraged others. He was apparently a great optimistic man...a positive enthusiastic encourager of others!
   Barnabas had a very important ministry even though he wasn’t an apostle. His name is mentioned at least 25 times in the book of Acts and 5 other times in the epistles.
   Not everyone can be bold like Peter, Paul or John were. But everyone can become a Barnabas! And we certainly need more encouragers like Barnabas!
   PROP.- I want to consider several passages from the book of Acts to see how Barnabas encouraged others and hopefully, we can learn from him. Barnabas encouraged others in certain ways.
   1- Encouragement in finances
   2- Encouragement in fellowship
   3- Encouragement in failure
   He sold a piece of property he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
   Why did he do that? Because he had a generous heart! He wanted to share with others, with those in need. And giving money to those in need is real source of encouragement!
   ILL.- A mother wanted to teach her little girl a lesson about giving. She gave her a dollar and a quarter for church. She said, “Put one in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself.” As they were leaving the church, her mother asked her what she had put in the offering plate. “Well,” the little girl said, “I was going to give the dollar but just before the collection was taken the man said that we should be cheerful givers. I figured I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter and kept the dollar, so I did.”
   Brethren, I think that’s exactly the way a lot of people think and do, but that’s not what the Scripture says nor is it the way giving works.
   Jesus said Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The greater blessing belongs to the person who gives from a heart of compassion.
   Romans 12:13 tells us to “Share with God’s people who are in need.”
   Hebrews 13:16 reminds us “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
   Proverbs 11:24-25 says “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
   When we share with those in need God will never let us down! He will also take care of us and bless us.
   ILL.- When Santa Clara, CA, financial analyst Chris Gross heard about the Oklahoma City bombing which took place in April, 1995, he couldn’t get that shocking incident out of his mind. He didn’t’ know any of the victims and he’d never been to Oklahoma City, but he felt he just had to do something.
   So, in a move that stretched his lifestyle to the limits, the 26-year-old man pledged every cent of his salary that year - $53,874.08 - to launch a scholarship fund for the children of those who died there.
   He said, “Donating my salary was a sacrifice, but I thought it was a statement and might encourage others to follow.” DID YOU HEAR THAT? “It might encourage others to follow.” Chris Gross then challenged his employer, Santa Clara’s Applied Materials Inc., to match his donation, and they did. His goal at that time was to raise $1 million dollars.
   Brethren, the interesting thing is that Chris Gross isn’t a rich man. He had at that time a 9-year-old car and had saved a few thousand dollars for a down payment on a house.
   Gross said, “These children may never know me, but they will know that someone out there really cares.”
   I don’t know if Chris Gross is a Christian man or not, BUT HE DID WHAT A CHRISTIAN SHOULD DO! The only difference might be is that most Christians would probably give their money to help others through the church or through some mission’s organization.
   Brethren, giving money in any form to someone in need is a tremendous source of encouragement to them!
   HAVE YOU EVER GIVEN MONEY TO SOMEONE IN NEED? To some college student or some single person who was having a tough time paying bills and buying food? a young couple with children having difficulty making ends meet? anyone with a special need?
   ILL.- Many years ago I rolled my Plymouth Horizon. I was preaching at that time at the First Christian Church of Iberia, MO, was married with two small children. The car was a mess and had to be repaired before it could be driven. One of the elders in the church loaned me an older model Oldsmobile to drive until I could get mine fixed or get another vehicle.
   The next Sunday after church was over and nearly everyone was gone that same elder pulled out his billfold and handed me a $50 bill and said, “Here! You’re going to need this.”
   What an encouragement he was! And his encouragement was not just in the form of money, BUT THE MONEY CERTAINLY HELPED!
   Brethren, there are times when we all have the ability to give something to someone in need and when the opportunity arises we should give it! Giving to people in need can be a tremendous source of encouragement and it is doing what Jesus wants us to do.
   Barnabas was also an encourager in Christian fellowship. After Saul was converted to Christ, the Scripture says in Acts 9:26 “When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple.”
   Those Christian people were afraid of Paul. They had heard of his persecution of Christians, his murderous ways. They did not believe the stories about his conversion.
   Acts 9:27 tells us “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”
   BARNABAS BELIEVED SAUL AND BELIEVED IN HIM. He believed that he had truly given his life to Christ. And it’s always nice when someone believes you and believes in you. Barnabas gave Saul the kind of Christian fellowship that he needed.
   Romans 12:10 tells us to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”
   Is there some Christian brother or sister out there who needs your support, your encouragement and your fellowship? I’m sure there is and you need to find that person and give it to them!
   ILL.- A Public Broadcasting special on TV showed one time Dr. Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, with a box labeled, “contents of President Lincoln’s pockets on the night of April 14, 1865.” And that was the night that Lincoln was assassinated.
   There were five things in that box:
- a handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln.”
- a country boy’s penknife.
- a glasses case
- a purse containing $5
- some old newspaper clippings.
   The librarian said, “the clippings were about the great deeds of Lincoln. And one of them actually reported a speech by John Bright which said that Abraham Lincoln was ‘one of the greatest men of all time.’”
   Today, we know this is true; that Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all time, but back then, in 1865, millions of people had a different view of Lincoln. His critics were fierce and many. Often, Abraham Lincoln was a lonely man.
   Sometimes that’s the price of being a leader. Misunderstood. Left alone. Criticized. Joked about. Of course, these things happen to other people as well. A person doesn’t have to be in a high position in order to be misunderstood and lonely.
   Brethren, do you know of someone out there who is lonely? Or all alone? Some widow or widower who is all alone? Someone who just lost a loved one in death? Or is there someone you know who is misunderstood by others? Or perhaps someone who is downcast over losing a job? Or losing money? Or losing a friend?
   Why not be a Barnabas to them and give them your friendship, your fellowship, your support, your prayers, and your encouragement?
   And there is something else that Barnabas did for Paul that not many people like to do.
   In Acts 11:25, 12:25 the Scripture reads “Barnabas and Saul” and then suddenly in Acts 13:42 it reads “Paul and Barnabas.”
   What took place? What happened? There is a good possibility that Barnabas the encourager gave Paul the priority in their ministry, because suddenly Paul got “top billing.”
   Without any hint of jealousy, he allowed Paul to take the leadership and set the pace for their missionary journey. That could be called “encouragement in followship.”
   Many people don’t like the idea of following somebody else. They want to be up front and lead the show, but Barnabas was willing to let Paul lead.
   Is there someone you know who needs your backing? Your followship? Then, like Barnabas, you need to give it. And it will encourage him or her on to greater service in the Lord. And you’ll be blessed for it too.
   Not everybody can be a leader, but everybody can be a good follower! And a good encourager!
   1- Encouragement in finances
   2- Encouragement in fellowship and followship
   Or we could say, encouragement in spite of failure. (Acts 15:36-39)
   Paul and Barnabas agreed on the importance of this missionary trip but they couldn’t agree on who to take with them.
   Sometimes we think that disagreements exist only the modern day church but this is not true. Paul and Barnabas were human beings just like us.
   Paul didn’t want to take John or Mark with them because he had deserted them earlier in their ministry.
   The ministry was too important and the work was too demanding to have someone along they couldn’t depend on.
   ILL.- One writer suggested that their conversation may have went something like this:
   Paul: Mark? We can’t take him. He failed us the last time.
   Barnabas: But that was the last time.
   Paul: He’s likely to do it again. You can’t trust him. He’s a deserter.
   Barnabas: But he’s had time to think over what he did. We’ve got to give him another chance. He’s got the makings of a good missionary.
   Paul: Barnabas, do you feel this way because he’s your cousin?
   Barnabas: That’s not fair, Paul. You know that I’ve tried to help other people who were not my relatives and you’re one of them! I believe that we need to give Mark another chance and give him encouragement.
   Paul: But we need some who can stand up against persecution, angry mobs, beatings, and even imprisonment. I just don’t think we can trust him.
   Barnabas: But Paul, I have talked to him about his mistakes and failures and I am sure he won’t do it again. He needs encouragement and we need to give it to him.
  Barnabas probably quoted Jesus about forgiving one another seventy times seven in Matthew 18 (21). And Paul may have quoted Proverbs 25:19 says “Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.”
  When Paul couldn’t agree with Barnabas, He took Silas and went in one direction and Barnabas took Mark and went in another direction.
   WHO WAS RIGHT IN THIS DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN PAUL AND BARNABAS? I’m sure that both were right on some points and both were wrong on some points. No one is right about everything.
   We do know, however, that later on John Mark did make it in the ministry. And Paul forgave him, loved him and accepted him.
   2 Timothy. 4:11 says “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
   Brethren, the important thing to remember is this: Barnabas wanted to encourage Mark in spite of his failure! And what a tremendous lesson for us! Is there some Mark out there who has failed? Who has fumbled, really dropped the ball? Someone who has really blown it in life and in a royal way?
   Are you big enough, strong enough in the faith, forgiving enough to forgive them and try to encourage them to do right? To keep on, keeping on?
   ILL.- Scottish minister, Henry Drummond, once said, “How many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely characters of those who profess to be inside.”
   Barnabas encouraged others in spite of their failure and we need to do the same thing.
   ILL.- Jan Paderewski was a famous Polish composer/pianist who lived from 1860 to 1941. One time he was scheduled to perform at a great concert hall in America. It was evening to remember - black tuxes and long evening dresses, a real high-society deal.
   That evening a mother was present with her fidgety 9-year-old son. Weary of waiting, the boy squirmed constantly in his seat. His mother was in hopes that he would be encouraged to practice the piano if he could just hear the great Paderewski.
   As she turned to talk with some friends, her son slipped away, drawn to the ebony grand piano on the huge stage. Without much notice from the audience, the boy sat down at the stool, and stared at the black and white keys. He placed his small fingers on the keys and began to play “chopsticks.”
   Soon the crowd hushed and frowned at the boy. Irritated by his actions, they began to shout, “Get that boy away from there!”
   Backstage, the master pianist, Paderewski heard the shouting. Hurriedly, he grabbed his coat and went out on stage. Without a word of announcement, he stooped over behind the boy, reached around both sides of the boy and began to play the piano with him. As the two played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy’s ear, “Keep going. Don’t quit. Keep on playing. Don’t stop.”
   AND SO IT IS WITH US. We hammer away at life, which may seem about as important as playing “chopsticks” to some people.
   And while many complain and criticize us or what we are doing or what we are not doing, along comes some Paderewski or some Barnabas who says, “Keep going. Hang in there. Don’t quit. You can do it. The Lord will be with you. With the Lord on your side you can make it.”
   Brothers and sisters, are you an encourager like Barnabas? Or are you something else? Above all, people need encouragement in life. Life can be awfully tough and mean. So be an encourager. Let Christ fill your heart and fill with you with encouragement for others.

Here I Am ... Send Him

March 14, 2021

   Opening passage— Jonah 1:1-5 (NLT) — Jonah Runs from the Lord — “1The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
   3But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
   4But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
   But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.”
   Have you ever heard the story of “Wrong Way Roy”?
   His name was Roy Riegels. Sports fans listen up! You’ll appreciate this. He was playing in the Rose Bowl of 1929. Roy was an All-American center from the University of California, Berkeley. His team, the “Golden Bears,” were facing the Georgia Tech “Yellow Jackets.” Roy was playing both offense and defense. It was toward the end of the first half when a Tech player fumbled the ball. Roy picked up the loose ball and started running toward the goal some 65 yards away. There was only one problem: it was the wrong goal! The opposing team’s coach, Georgia Tech head coach Bill Alexander, watching this said, “He’s running the wrong way. Let’s see how far he can go.”
   Fortunately, one of Roy’s teammates, Benny Lom, took off in hot pursuit of Wrong Way Roy and tackled him just before he crossed over the wrong goal line!
   Half-time came and you can imagine the shame and embarrassment of Roy. He left the field, no doubt with head hanging low to the locker room. He probably thought he was finished in that game and in football in general. Everybody in the stadium was wondering what Nibs Price, the Cal coach, would do with Roy Riegels.
   As the team sat in the locker room, the coach remained quiet. The only sound was that of Roy, sitting in the corner and crying like a baby. Finally, the coach stood and announced to the team, “Men, the same team that started the first half will start the second half.”
   Roy Riegels lifted his head, his eyes red and his cheeks wet with tears, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you. I’ve ruined the University of Southern California. I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.” Coach Price reached out his hand and said, “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.”
   Wrong Way Roy Riegels got up and went out to play one of the most inspiring individual efforts in Rose Bowl history.
   Perhaps you feel like Wrong Way Roy right now. Perhaps you knew what it was to walk with the Lord, but you turned your back on Him. Or God called you to do a certain thing and you went in the opposite direction. Satan said, “He’s running the wrong way. Let’s see how far he can go.” While the Lord, like Roy’s coach, is in effect saying, “Get up and get back on the field!”
   Here I am, Lord ... send him!!
   Today, we have before us the story of Wrong Way Jonah
   He was given a job to do and he got on a boat that was going went in the opposite direction. You might say Jonah was the original “Chicken of the Sea.”
   He found out it is impossible to run from God. He also found out that God gives second chances! And the Lord accomplished this through a storm, and a whale, and a worm.
   I have always loved animals of all kinds. In fact, I had two aspirations as a young boy: to follow in my daddy’s footsteps and work in the construction business or to study and become a herpetologist
   Over the years, I have gone through every phase of animal. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards in all shapes and sizes, and snakes galore horses and dogs. When the kids were small we used to breed Belgium Shepherds … we also had a few mutts. Fish, freshwater and saltwater … I recently had a 180 reef tank that had over 40 different kinds of fish and 30 different types of coral … not counting all the hermit crabs and starfish scattered throughout the tank. Had a few silver dollars and a couple horseshoe crabs. Even went through a phase where I had a few cats! I used to love cats. Got to where I’d rather have a cat than a dog. Animals are amazing!
   Isaiah 11:6 says, “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.” The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God — a living knowledge of God, ocean-deep and ocean-wide.
   God is in control of the animal kingdom. He cares about animals! He was angry when Balaam beat his donkey. He cares about every sparrow that falls to the ground. And, when necessary, He uses animals to accomplish His purposes.
   On Palm Sunday a pre-selected donkey was called to carry Christ into Jerusalem. Another donkey spoke and rebuked the prophet Balaam. Ravens hand-delivered food to the prophet Elijah. Bears came out and attacked teens who were mocking the baldness of Elisha.
   I’ve read stories about dogs that saved people’s lives. One was a beagle that dialed 911 when its owner fell ill. Apparently, the owner taught his dog, Belle, to bite his cell phone if he had a diabetic seizure. And a man whose SUV plunged 40 feet when backing out too far from his driveway. He told the dog, Honey, to “go get help.” She ran half a mile to a friend’s house and brought them back.
   Maybe this is why dogs are getting their own TV network now. It’s called “Dog TV” and it is a channel you can leave on for your dog while you are gone. I’ve always known TV was going to the dogs but this confirms it. I’m not sure what the content will be: fire hydrants, tight shots of toilets, and cats running. There will not be a network for cats. They wouldn’t watch it anyway.
   I remember reading about a school of porpoises that saved a man’s life. He fell off a boat and they helped him to a buoy which they circled until help came. I guess you could say they drove Him to the buoy. He ended up writing a book about it, “The Porpoise Driven Life.”
   Here now, is the story of how God used a whale or great fish to swallow a prophet. It was like sushi eating in reverse: fish eats man. When you hear Jonah’s story, you immediately think of the whale. But only three verses deal with the fish. G. Campbell Morgan said, “Men have been looking so long at the great fish they have failed to see the great God!” Perhaps no other book in the Bible is as ridiculed as the Book of Jonah.
   Now, when you bring up the story of Jonah and the whale, critics balk. I personally have no problem with the miracles of the Bible. If you can believe Genesis 1:1, (In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.) the rest will be a snap. The most important proof is that Jesus Himself validated this story!
   In Matthew 12:39–40, in response to the Pharisees’ demand for a miracle sign, Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (NKJV).
   So not only did Jesus validate the story of Jonah in the whale as a miracle, He also used it to illustrate His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead!
   The Prophet Jonah ... What a prophet he was. The place from which he prophesied was the bottom of the sea. The pulpit from which he preached was the stomach of a fish!
   This is the story of a man with a mission; he was given a job to do and he refused. It’s also a story of God’s long-suffering and patience and willingness to forgive those who stop running from His will and plan for their life but instead would turn around and embrace it!
   The title of the message today is “Here I AM ... Send Him!”
   There were other lesson titles that I liked: “The Hard to Swallow Truth about Obedience,” “When Bad Decisions Eat Up Your Prophets,” “All’s Whale that Ends Whale,” and “Reverse Sushi” ... “Revenge of the Tuna.”
   But the book of Jonah could be summed up as follows: God said “Go,” Jonah said “No,” and God said “Oh? Really?” Jonah reluctantly obeyed and a great revival broke out in Nineveh. It took God longer to prepare His servant and get him to obey His call than it did for the entire godless city of Nineveh to repent.
   The sad things is that things haven’t changed much, have they? It still takes longer to get Christians motivated to share the gospel than for sinners to repent. When we go into the biker  community, we spend far more time “rallying the troops.”
   For starters, it’s reminding and sometimes convincing Christians of the Great Commission. The church is so focused on having concerts, conferences, and awesome worship services, but is negligent in evangelism. Jesus did not command us to have concerts or conferences, but He did command us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel!”
   Let’s read about how God’s call came to Jonah
   Jonah 1:1–3 “1The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
   3But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.”
   Have you ever tried to run from God and His will for your life? Like Wrong Way Roy, you were going the wrong direction. Thinking you had a better plan than God did. Perhaps it was certain truths taught in Scripture you didn’t want to follow. It may have been the calling of God on your life to do something. It might have even been a calling to serve Him, but you said, “No.”
   And much to the disappointment of Jonah, God loved the people of Nineveh! They were a huge city. Its streets were 20 miles long and its walls 100 feet high. The walls around Nineveh were so wide that 3 chariots could be driven side by side. Nineveh was not only great in size but also in wickedness.
   V2. For their wickedness has come up before Me.
   Literally, “Their wickedness has reached a high degree or the highest pitch.” Nineveh was like an overflowing septic tank that “stunk to high heaven”! This verse shows us that God is acutely aware of the wickedness of man.
   What kind of people lived in Nineveh? Answer: really, really wicked ones. Nineveh, a city of the Assyrians, was legendary for its cruelty. In Nahum 3, we read about the dead lying in the streets—dead bodies, heaps of bodies, everywhere. People would stumble over them, scramble to their feet, and fall again. “All this because Nineveh, the beautiful and faithless city, mistress of deadly charms, enticed the nations with her beauty” (Nahum 3:4). She taught them all to worship her false gods, enchanting people everywhere.
   Graphic accounts of their cruel treatment of captives had been found in Assyrian records. The Ninevites were well known for their savagery in plundering cities where they burned boys and girls alive and tortured adults, tearing the skin from their bodies and leaving them to die in the scorching sun! The Ninevites made the Nazis look like lightweights in comparison.
   Archeology has uncovered monuments they built to their own cruelty that say, “Many within the border of my own land I flayed, and spread their skins upon the walls,” and “I cut the limbs off the officers, the royal officers who rebelled.” Another monument stated, “Three thousand captives I burned with fire!” Even another cruel Ninevite wrote, “I cut off their hands and their fingers and from others I cut off their noses, their ears and their fingers and of many I put out their eyes.” Add to this the fact that the Ninevites were the vowed enemies of Israel.
   So, you can understand Jonah’s reluctance when God says in vs 2, “Arise, go to Nineveh.” Or literally, “get up and go!” He “got up and went” alright—in the wrong direction! Instead of going 500 miles northeast to Nineveh, Jonah attempts to go 2000 miles west to Tarshish. Pretty much as far from Nineveh as you could get. A lot of us are on boats going to Tarshish while God is saying “Go to Nineveh!” aren’t we??
   Listen, there are really only two roads in the Christian life: one leads to Nineveh, and the other to Tarshish. One road is the will of God, the other is disobedience to His will.
   What road are you on today: the road of obedience to God or the road of disobedience?
   So, what was the real reason Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh?
   1. Perhaps Jonah went to Tarshish because he was afraid he would be unpopular. He could not bear the idea of being laughed at or rejected. Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the real reason.
   2. Maybe Jonah went to Tarshish because he was unconcerned. He just did not care about these people. Their plight did not move him in the slightest. Perhaps, but again, I don’t think that was it.
   3. Then again, maybe Jonah did not go because he thought it would be difficult. He did not want to inconvenience himself, and this would be very hard to do. Again, I don’t think that was it. I suggest a fourth possibility, which I believe is the real reason Jonah did not go.
   4. He did not go because he was certain it would succeed! This is shown by what he says to the Lord in chapter 4, vs 2, after God pardoned Nineveh, “So he complained to the LORD about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people’” (Jonah 4:2 NLT).
   So much for the idea of the Old Testament versus the New Testament God. Where the “New Testament God” is loving and compassionate and the “Old Testament God” is angry and hostile. A Person who says this has not read the whole Bible. Here we see the God of both testaments who is “gracious and compassionate” and “filled with unfailing love” (see Jonah 4:2).
   The fact is, judgment for Nineveh suited Jonah just fine. After all, they were the enemies of Israel and they certainly deserved it! He actually enjoyed the fact that his enemies were about to be destroyed. There may even be some of us who might take some perverse pleasure in knowing that certain people who really bother us are going to hell. Where do we get off with an attitude like that?
   We all deserve God’s judgment!
   In Matthew 5:43–44 Jesus did not say, “Hate your enemies, and hope judgment comes to them soon.” He said “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies! Bless those who curse you!”
   Last week we talked about “How Much Do You Have To Hate Someone Not To Tell Them About Jesus?” In many ways, Jonah was a racist. Jonah hated the Ninevites. He did not want “those people” to come to God. They were enemies of Israel and they hated God.
   Is there a particular person you feel a hatred for or don’t want to come to Christ? For some it could be a Muslim, “They believe in a different god and there are those Muslim terrorists!” There of course is truth to that, but here is the question: Does God love them and want to save them? God does, and He is saving many from Islam.
   For another it could be homosexuals. They might say, “That’s wicked and sinful and wrong!” Yes, homosexuality is a sin, but like all sin … if they repent and turn away … it’s forgivable.
   But for many of us, it’s not that we hate people; we honestly just don’t care! Otherwise we’d do something. We’re safe and secure in our eternal destiny. We say, “Let them take care of themselves.” But the verbs in verse two are imperatives. They are commands. “Go” and “preach.” This was not to be done tomorrow but today. Now, where have we heard this kind of verbiage before?
   Answer: from Jesus Himself in the Great Commission.
   Matthew 28:19–20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (NKJV). There are two important things to note here about the Great Commission.
   1. They are a command. It was never a mere suggestion of Jesus that we, His followers, carry the gospel into “all the nations.” It was, and is, a command! We are ordered by the High Commander to “GO!!” The commission of the church is not to wait for the world to show up. The commission of the church is to go into the world. Jesus did not tell the whole world to go to church ... he told the church to go into the world and compel them to come in (Luke 14:23).
   2. These words are directed to every follower of Jesus! If you “claim” to be a Christian these words, this command is directed towards you. These words were not directed merely to the original twelve disciples, nor are they meant today for only those we might call “the professionals”— pastors, evangelists, and missionaries, etc. They are for every follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. If I am His disciple, I am commanded to go and make disciples of others. If I am not making disciples of others, I’m not really being the disciple He wants me to be!
   So, here is my question to you today: Are you doing your part to fulfill the Great Commission? Are you going into all of your world and telling people about Jesus?
   These words are from Jesus Christ to you! He saved them for the end of His earthly ministry. These were His final words before He ascended to heaven. They are a big deal to Him and should also be a big deal to us! Jesus orders every one of us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.”
   Let me say something that may surprise you. If you are not seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, that can be a sin! But how? It is a sin of omission. to James 4:17 says, “Therefore, him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (NKJV).
   Chuck Swindoll tells a true story about an incredible case that came before the courts:
   There was a man walking on a boat dock. He tripped over a rope and fell into the cold deep waters of the harbor. He came up sputtering and yelling for help, and he sank again. He obviously was in serious trouble. His friends were too far away to help; some did not even hear him. But only a few yards away was a young man on his dock sunbathing. The man yelled, “Help, I can’t swim! Help, I’m drowning!” The young man, an excellent swimmer, only turned his head to watch. The drowning man floundered in the water, sank, and came up sputtering in total panic. He finally disappeared beneath the water, never to come to the surface again. The family of the drowned man was so outraged by this callous indifference. So they sued the sunbather who sat by idly.
   The court ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility whatever to try and save the other man’s life. They agreed with Cain’s words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
   Chuck Swindoll writes, “Indifference may not be illegal, but it is immoral.”
   In the Gospel of Mark we have a variation on the Great Commission, in vs. 15 “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’” (Mark 16:15 NKJV). Jesus did not say, “Go into all the world and live as good examples.” Needless to say, He wants us to do that, to indeed practice what we preach. But in the Great Commission we are specifically to “GO” and preach the gospel ... ALL of us!!
   How do people primarily come to faith?
   Answer: through the preaching of the gospel.
   1 Corinthians 1:21 says, “Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.” Not through “foolish preaching” but the foolishness of preaching. In other words, God has chosen verbal communication.
   Romans 10:14 says, “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (NLT).
   After hearing this message to “get up and go,” what did Jonah do?
   V3. But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
   You simply cannot escape from the presence of the Lord!
   Adam and Eve, like Jonah, listened to the Word of God. In clear detail they were told how they should obey and follow the Lord. They refused to obey God, and after they sinned, what is the first thing they did? Genesis 3:8 tells us “Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD.” This is like playing peek-a-boo with a small child. God even plays along in Eden saying, “Oh Adam, where are you?” What fools we are when we think we can hide from God.
   Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” says the Lord.” The Psalms had already been written at this point, so perhaps Jonah knew this one that David prayed in Psalm 139:7–10 … “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
   That verse offers comfort to the believer, reminding us that we are never alone. But in Jonah’s case it offers truth—God will never let His children out of His sight. Thankfully, we simply cannot escape the presence of the Lord. But Jonah was going to try anyway.
   V3. Jonah found a ship. “He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish.”
   Fact is, Jonah was looking for it. Satan opened all the doors for Jonah’s disobedience. It is amazing how skilled Satan is in manipulating situations. Circumstances, sometimes directed by the enemy, can lead us the wrong direction!
   There will always be that nonbeliever ready to get romantically involved. Ladies, there will always be that “caring guy” ready to hear about your husband problems. There will always be that way to make easy money, even if it seems illegal. There will always be a ship waiting to take you in the wrong direction.
   Sometimes when we are engaged in such activity we might even delude ourselves to think that God Himself is opening the doors. Scripture must always be our guide in these things. Donald Barnhouse has said, you may “find your ship” and it may sail right on time, but if you are en route to Tarshish when God has called you to Nineveh, a storm is brewing. And sooner or later you are going overboard!
   V3. So he paid the fare, and went down into it. “He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.”
   Know this, it’s very expensive to sin.
   If you ever run away from God, you’re always going to pay your own fare; and you’re never going to get where you thought you were going to get when you put your foot on the boat.
   Every step away from God is always a step down into the pits of hell.
Ô First Jonah went down to Joppa, and then he went down into the ship.
Ô Then he went down into the sea, and he went down into the fishes’ belly.
Ô Then he went down into the deep.
   It’s the life of running from God—down, down, down! The same thing happened to King David. David started going down when he looked lustfully at Bathsheba bathing. He went down further when he called for her to come to his palace. He went down further when he committed the sin of adultery. He went down even more when he murdered Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. He went down even further when he tried to cover his sin. He kept going down, down, down, until he repented!
   God will ALWAYS have the last word!
   Let’s read Jonah 1:4–5, “But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep” (NKJV).
   V4. But the Lord sent out a great wind.
   The Lord sends a mighty storm to the prodigal prophet. We will all have our storms in life. I believe there are three kinds of storms we will face in our lives as Christians: protecting storms, perfecting storms, and correcting storms.
   1. Protecting storms. This happened right after Jesus performed the miracle of fish and loaves. The people wanted “to make Him king by force.” So Jesus got His boys out of town as fast as possible. He was protecting them from the excessive devotion of the people. They were safer in that storm with Jesus than on the shore without Him. There out on Galilee a storm came, but Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side.”
   2. Then there are perfecting storms. Look at all of the trials and tribulations that young Joseph went through. Sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape, and wrongly imprisoned. These were perfecting storms. Joseph had done nothing to bring those things on himself. The very opposite was the case, but the Lord allowed calamity to come into his life to mold and make him into the man that he needed to be. He ultimately became the second most powerful man in the world of his day.
   3. Correcting storms. That was certainly what Jonah was experiencing. He brought this on himself for sure. Now because Jonah is His child, God chastens him. Hebrews 12:6 says, “Whom the LORD loves, he chastens” (NKJV).
   First He tried the staff, now the rod—not to destroy but to teach a lesson! Thank God for storms like this. They are a reminder that God loves us! Listen, God did not have to send this storm. The Lord could have let Jonah go on in his rebellion. He could have just cut him off. This was a loving storm if you will. The storm was a sign that God wasn’t finished with Jonah yet.
   So maybe you are in a correcting storm. You have taken a trip behind God’s woodshed. God is simply saying, “You are my child and I will do what it takes to get you right.” David said in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” Jonah knew better, but these men did not.
   V5. Every man cried out to his god.
   Man is invariably a religious creature. Theirs was an emergency religion. When things were going well they did not care about their gods. But when the storm hits and things were beyond their control, they cried out to their gods! The men effectively draw straws and find out that this has all come on them from Jonah!
   The Bible says in Jonah 1:8–9 “8Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?”
   9Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
   They were blown away. They had heard of the Lord God of Israel. The God who parted seas and drowned armies. They wondered, “Why would you run from a God this powerful?” But that’s exactly what Jonah was doing—running from God.
   Nothing is more pathetic than a Christian who has lost his or her testimony. It’s even worse than the person who never had one.
   Jesus said in Luke 14:34, “If salt has lost its saltiness, it’s no longer good for anything.” Sometimes nonbelievers have more faith than believers! After Jesus was crucified, His followers were devastated! They had lost all hope, they were disappointed, disoriented, and disorganized. Yet the nonbelievers remembered what Jesus said would happen after He died. In Matthew 27:63 they said, “We remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day” (NIV). They remembered His words of rising, when the disciples apparently forgot them!
   Sometimes nonbelievers have a better idea of what we believe than some Christians do. Have you ever had a nonbeliever call you out on your bad witness?
   I read a true story about a bar that was being built in Texas. The local Baptist church started a campaign with petitions and prayers to stop it. Work progressed up to a week before opening and lightning struck and it burned it down! The bar owner sued the church saying they were responsible because of their prayers. The church denied any responsibility and any connection to their prayers and the fire. The judge read through the plaintiff’s complaint and the defendant’s reply and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that now does not!”
   The only thing worse than being called a hypocrite is actually being one.
   Jonah was totally being called out for his hypocrisy. Jonah admits he is a Hebrew prophet on the run and they need to throw him overboard. Apparently, they did not need much convincing, because overboard Jonah goes. But the Lord was ready with his custom-designed watercraft. We read in Jonah 1:17, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (NKJV).
   Prepared means “ordained, called,” and we will talk about this more next time and how stubborn Jonah was. We will also look at the message Jonah preached that produced a revival. Not just any revival, but the largest in human history. We will talk about how God could use us to bring something like this to America. But let me close by asking you this:
   Are you running from God?
   Maybe God has told you to do a certain thing and you have refused. Maybe you were raised in a Christian home but you have run in the other direction. These sailors called out to their gods, but there is only one true God who can save us. Call out to him right now.

How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone?
March 7, 2021

   Opening passage — Ezekiel 33:1-9 — Ezekiel as Israel’s Watchman — 1Once again a message came to me from the Lord: 2“Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. 3When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. 4Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. 5They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. 6But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’
   7“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. 8If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. 9But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.
   Every week, I sit down and work on my Sunday morning lessons. As I was working on this particular lesson, as I was organizing the outline, I thought of a good title for this particular lesson … the title should be “How Much Do You Have To Hate Someone?”
   The idea was that you’d have to hate someone really bad not to tell them about the love of Jesus. Because if you didn’t tell them about Jesus, they might end up in hell because you might be the only one that might be able to reach them about him.
   How much do you have to hate someone NOT to tell them about Jesus? Without Jesus they will spend eternity in Hell.
   The fact of the matter is: if we don’t tell others the truth about Jesus and the coming judgment … I hope and pray somebody else will.
   A pastor told this story … I recently talked with a young man who told me about a book he’d read. The book told about a man who had died on the operating table for a few minutes and then came back to life
   The man who wrote this book told about his experience and what he’d seen and felt. He told about seeing heaven and what it looked like.
   And he also told about hell - and one of the things he said was that he discovered that EVERYBODY goes to hell. Then, they would stay there until they’d burned off all their sins.
   I smiled at the young man and said: “I much prefer the Bible’s version.”
   Now, the book that boy read was basically teaching that Hell wasn’t a place that could be avoided. (PAUSE) It was a place that had to be endured … by EVERYBODY … saint and sinner. But the book also said that after some time, EVERYBODY would get their turn to turn in their get outta hell free card ... and eventually they’d go to heaven.
   Now that book’s teaching has a certain appeal. I mean everybody realizes they have sins that need to be punished. And everybody realizes hell probably exists and they probably deserve to go there.
   But hey – this is GREAT concept … right??
   While I might deserve to go to hell, I don’t have to stay there. After a while EVERYBODY gets out of hell, and, no matter what we’ve done (or haven’t done) in this life, we ALL get go to heaven singing “When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder … I’ll be there.”
   Can you imagine the thrill of pleasure that must exist for people like Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Kaddafi, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and murderers, rapists and child molesters that inflicted pain on others without any remorse.
   Well … all that sounded great for a minute ... didn’t it?
   But like I said, I can understand the appeal of such a teaching.
   BUT the appeal is deceptive. The appeal is wrong … it’s a lie straight from the pits of hell.
   Because not only is Hell real and not only are real people going to go there, BUT if they go there… they’re not getting out.
   A couple weeks ago we talked about Luke 16 where it tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. And in the midst of the story the rich man has a conversation with Abraham. The Rich man says in Luke 16:24-26 “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.
   "But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
   No one who goes to Hell will ever get out.
   Once you’re there… you’re there ... forever and ever and ever. Can you wrap your mind around how long forever is?
   Now I don’t know HOW the man - who wrote that book - saw what he saw. It could have been a hallucination, or simply wishful thinking that intruded on his subconscious, or it might even have been a deception from Satan. I don’t know.
   But I DO know that what he said he saw WAS NOT real.
   Hell is real, and ONE of the scariest things about hell is that if you go there – you might as well tell your spouse you’ll not be home for supper ever again because you’re not getting out.
   I realize there are many people who’ve died on the operating table and many have come back with stories about what they’ve seen. But whenever I hear about their “experiences” I kind of wonder.
   Because I’m convinced that what they say they’ve seen – isn’t real.
   There’s a website I visited while preparing for this sermon. It’s called And it listed the thoughts of various people who’d had near-death experiences and the site categorized their thoughts by topic.
   The end result only confirmed what I already suspected was true.
   Many of those gone thru these “near-death” experiences ended up with various views about what goes on heaven/hell/God, etc. And these different people didn’t ALL arrive at exactly the same conclusions and the Bible says that our God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33-40).
   In addition, very few of their experiences were close to being anything we’d call Biblical.
   Some of them embraced “astrology” (the idea that stars and planets control our destinies). That’s called “heresy.” Can you say that? Heresy. It’s not true. It’s a false teaching. To believe in astrology and horoscopes is to accept something God hates. It’s heresy.
   Then others believed in reincarnation (live & die and live & die - over and over again - until you get it right). This is called “heresy.” Can you say that? Heresy. It’s not true, It’s a false teaching. TO believe in reincarnation is to accept something God hates. It’s heresy.
   And apparently one of other things, that many of those who went through these near-death experiences believed, was that hell is pretty much a “state of mind”. “Hell is not real”, they say.
   But it is.
   My point is this: as much as you and I would like to be able to do so… we can’t trust the observations of people who’ve had near-death experiences.
   Now, I doubt those folks intended to deceive or mislead us. I believe they ACTUALLY BELIEVE they saw these things. But everything they SAID they experienced is pretty much subjective. And a lot of their reflections were nothing more than “wishful thinking” - how they HOPED death will be like when that time comes.
   Another thing to realize is that – those who believe they’ve had these near-death experiences have only been “dead” for a few minutes, and they’ve supposedly gained great insights into the afterlife.
   Now, by contrast, Jesus HAS been on the other side - not for a few minutes or even a few hours. Before He came down and walked upon this earth - and died and was buried and rose again - Jesus had been in heaven since before the creation of the world
   He knew what heaven was like – because He’d lived there.
   And Jesus knew what Hell was like because He’d seen it firsthand. He’d seen the misery and the hopelessness and despair of those condemned to eternal punishment.
   Jesus came-and He died on the cross for us and he went down there so that we wouldn’t have to.
   Now, it’s interesting to note that Jesus tells us more about Hell/ than anyone else.
• He said in Mark 9:43 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.”
• And in Mark 9:47-48 “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
• And he tells us in Matthew 13:42 “Those who were condemned would be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
• Then to put the icing on the cake he says in Matthew 25:41 "(They would be told to) ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
   How much do you have to hate someone not to tell them about Jesus?
   How much do you have to hate someone not to warn them of the coming judgment?
   You ARE your Brother’s watchman!!!
   Jesus loved you and me so much that He told us about Hell... because He doesn’t want us to go there. He wants you to know AND BELIEVE that hell’s a bad place. And He definitely wants you to know enough about the place that you decide for yourself that you don’t want to go there.
   The real tragedy of hell isn’t that it’s real, or that it’s a bad place.
   The real tragedy is you don’t have to go there to begin with … because it wasn’t created for you.
   Did you catch what it said in that last scripture?
   Who was Hell PREPARED for? Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. I don’t see your name or mine anywhere in that Scripture.
   But now - wait a minute.
   IF Jesus said hell was real, and that I could end up there. And He goes into great detail telling me WHY I don’t want to go there. WHY then would Jesus tell me that hell wasn’t even prepared for me?
   Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels.
   But if Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels, how is that I could end up there too? In fact - WHY would anybody end up there? IT WASN’T DESIGNED FOR US to begin with!!! Right??
   Well, it appears that people will go to hell because ... they end up going with the one they belong to. If I go to hell it will because I belong to Satan. If I belong to him… I go where he goes.
   I’m sure y’all remember the game we all played as children … follow the leader? If you wind up in hell it’s because you followed your leader … straight into the pits of an eternal burning hell … where there is a weeping and gnashing of teeth.
   AND if I go to heaven it will because I belong to Jesus. I’ll go heaven - as a follower of Christ - because that is where my Master is. I’ll be GOING HOME to be with Him.
   If I go to Hell, it’s because I’m going home with my master Satan.
   If I go to Heaven, it’ll be because I’m going home with master Jesus.
   The choice of who I decide to follow is left ENTIRELY up to me … nobody else.
   You will go with who you belong to.
   In John 8:41b-44a Jesus has a discussion with some Jews who don’t like Him much. In fact they were already plotting to kill Him. Somewhere along the line, these people suggest Jesus is illegitimate and Jesus responded by telling the crowd they were illegitimate.
   41bThey replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.”
   42Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. 43Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! 44For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.
   God doesn’t hate us. He doesn’t want us to go to Hell.
   John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” But John 3 ends with these fateful words in vs 36: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him."
   What do you mean … His wrath remains???
   Why would the wrath of God remain on us?
   Because we’re sinful people. God’s wrath is upon us the moment we’re born. Psalm 51:5a says “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity.”
   We do bad things, we say bad things, we think bad things because Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately wicked. Who can understand it?”
   Or as Romans 3:23 says "ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
   ILLUS: A little experiment in math will prove this point. Let’s say we have a GOOD person here in the congregation named Fred. (He’s as nice as he can be). Do you think he ever sins?
   Well, yeah, probably.
  How many times a day do you think that “GOOD” person has a bad thought, says something he shouldn’t say or does something that is wrong?
   Well, let’s be generous and say he might do something like that - on average - 3 times a day.
   3 sins a day for 7 days is = 21 sins a week
   21 sins a week times 52 weeks is = 1,092 sins per year
   Let’s say Fred lives til he’s 70 and then God started counting his sins at age 10. That’s 60 years times 1,092 sins = 65,520 total sins in his lifetime.
   Over 65 thousand sins … AND THAT’S A GOOD PERSON!
   Romans 6:23 tells us "...the wages of sin is death..."
   What do you get wages for?
   You get wages because you’ve worked for something. You’ve EARNED those wages of sin.
   You’re getting what you deserve for the things you’ve thought, said and done.
   Some people say that they only want what they deserve in this life.
   So many people believe that their "works" will get them into heaven.
   They believe that what they have DONE will EARN them a place with God
   They’re WRONG!!!!!
   If you believe that … then you have earned you a place in hell ... not heaven.
   And frankly … they won’t really want what they’ve "earned"!!! That’s a paycheck that I surely don’t want to collect on!!
   Because what they’ve "EARNED" is a place in hell.
   If they got what they deserved … they’d be in hell anyway. BUT … God doesn’t hate us.
   He loves us so much that He tells us about Jesus.
   And He loves us so much that He offers us Jesus.
   God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son ... so we wouldn’t get what we deserve.
   Romans 6:23 says "the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
   So let’s see: I can count on my works ... and earn death.
   Or I can reach out to God ... and receive the FREE gift of Salvation and have eternal life.
   Hmmm. That’s a no brainer.
   Work and face hell, or accept His free gift and get heaven?
   Which should I do?
   It’s not even a contest!
   One man put it this way:
“He paid the debt didn’t He didn’t owe.
I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song
Called "Amazing Grace"
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”
(Ellis J. Crum)
   So - here’s the deal.
   Hell is real.
   And, it breaks my heart, but a lot of people strongly suspect they might end up there.
   So, if most people suspect they might end up in hell, and God doesn’t want them there anyway... why would anyone choose to go to hell?
   Well, they’ll go there in part because nobody warned them. Nobody explained to them how critical or how important this was.
   Ezekiel 33:7-8 says "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.”
   God says: I want you to warn the people. I want you to get them to understand how critical this is … how important … it’s a matter of life and death. God says I want you to continue to beat those dead horses UNTIL they understand.
   That’s why Jesus spent so much time warning people about Hell.
   But how do I do that?
   How do I warn them?
   ILLUS: Several years back a group called "Evangelism Explosion" focused on asking people one question: "If you died today... would you be SURE you’d get into heaven?"
   You know how most people replied?
   "I THINK I MIGHT. But I’m Not Sure!"
   Because deep in their hearts they know they’ve done the wrong things … thought the wrong stuff and said enough bad things to make them doubt.
   Sometimes it’s enough to ask that simple question.
   Sometimes it’s enough to touch that nerve and put people on the spot.
   I heard a true story about a soldier during WWII. He said he was in a town in Germany … standing on a street corner when this little old gray hair man approached him and asked … “If you died right now, would you go to heaven or hell? Think about that. Have a good day.”
   After that day, the soldier became a Christian. About 40 years later he was speaking at a Christian men’s conference (something like Promise Keepers) where there were about 50/60 thousand men in attendance. He told the story of the street corner in Germany.
   While he was telling the story someone from the crowd shouted “That was the corner of A Street & B Street in Suchnsuch town in Germany!! That old man did the same thing to me!!”
   The speaker was amazed. Jokingly he asked if there was anybody else in the crowd that had the same experience.
   Hundreds of men stood up.
   The best way to tell people about Jesus is to tell them how Jesus has changed your life. Tell them about what a difference your faith in Him has done for you.
   Another good way is a video teaching series we have here at church. It’s called the Share Jesus Without Fear In several short lessons you can share with someone what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and Salvation. You don’t even have to know anything about anything to share your faith. If you can plug in a DVD, you can share the gospel. And you don’t even have to do it all yourself. If you want, just open the door for them and shove me on through and I’ll teach them. But the key thing is: Share Jesus.
   Ultimately it helps to be able to tell people how to accept God’s free gift of salvation.
   It used to be called the “5 finger exercise”.
   (Hold up the index finger) 1st – Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
   (Hold up two fingers) 2nd – Do you believe that you are a sinner, and are you willing to turn away from the way you used to live?
   (Hold up three fingers) 3rd – Are you willing to confess Jesus as the Lord and Owner of your life?
   (Hold up four fingers) 4th – Are you ready to seal the deal by being buried in the waters of baptism and rising up as a new Christian?
   (Hold up all fingers and thumb) 5th – Are you ready to throw your past life away and learn how to live for Jesus?
   CLOSE: A preacher once told of having a rap session with some high school teenagers. He said that he’d told them they could ask him any question on any subject, and he’d try and answer it.
   As the session drew to a close, one girl toward the back who had not said anything, raised her hand. He said: “I nodded, and she said, ‘The Bible says God loves everybody. Then it says that God sends people to hell. How can a loving God do that?’
   I gave her my answer, and she came back to me with arguments. I answered her arguments, and she answered my answers. The conversation quickly degenerated into an argument. I did not convince her, nor did she convince me. After a few more questions I dismissed the session.
   After the session I approached her and said, ‘I owe you an apology. I really should not have allowed our discussion to become so argumentative.’ Then I asked, ‘May I share something with you?’
   She said, ‘Yes.’ So I told her about Jesus. When I got to Romans 3:23 and explained that all of us were sinners … she began to cry. This high school Sr. admitted she had been having an affair with a married man. The one thing she needed was forgiveness.
   When I finished the presentation of the Gospel, she became a Christian.
   But the reason she did not believe in hell was because she was going there.
   In her heart she knew she had sinned. Her conscience condemned her, but rather than face the fact of her guilt she simply denied any future judgment or future hell.
   (Cocoris, Moody, 1984, p. 163)
   Sometimes, all people need is someone who is willing to risk telling them about Jesus and they become convicted of their past and their need to build their future around Jesus.

The Keys to Heaven and Hell

February 28, 2021

   Opening passage– Matthew 16:13-20 (NLT) – Peter’s Declaration about Jesus – “13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
   14“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
   15Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
   16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
   17Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
   20Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”
   Is Peter the only one who got the "keys" to the Kingdom of Heaven? And what does it mean to "loose and bind" as Jesus told them they could do?
   A husband and wife arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up their car, but they were told that the keys had been accidentally locked in it.
   They went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver’s side door. As the wife watched from the passenger’s side, she instinctively tried the door handle and discovered it was open.
   "Hey," she shouted to the technician. "This door is open!"
   "I know," answered the young man. "I already got that side."
   What is the purpose of these keys? They were made to lock and unlock doors.
   I have a whole bunch of keys on my key ring. I have keys to my house, the jeep, the church building, etc. I even have keys stuck in a drawer that I have no idea what they go to.
   Now, I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing more frustrating for me than to go to unlock a door and find that I haven’t got the right key. Has that ever happened to you?
   So I have a solution to that problem. You know what it is? That’s right, I make spares. They’re not on this keyring. They’re hidden all over the place, right where I know where they’re at, so that if I misplace these keys, I’ve got backups.
   So I’ve got spare keys that I don’t carry on this key ring. But there’s another set of keys that aren’t on this key ring. I don’t’ have them in my pocket, and they’re not hidden around the house or in my jeep. That set of keys is the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
   In Matthew 16:19 Jesus told Peter (and by extension – the rest of us) “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
   Now, there is a church that doesn’t believe you and I have these keys. The Catholic Church teaches that ONLY Peter received those keys.
   That’s one of the reasons we see St. Peter sitting at the Pearly Gates, letting people into heaven.
   Here’s a cartoon image of Steve Jobs standing before St. Peter who’s rifling through his IPad of names and Jobs is telling St. Peter “I’ve got an app for that.”
   It is believed that Peter is sitting before the gates of Heaven because ONLY he has the keys to let us in. Now, the Catholic Church rightly understands that keys represent authority.
   If I have a key it means that I have been given a certain authority. If I give you a key to my home … that means you have authority to enter my home. If I give you the keys to my jeep … that means you have the authority to drive my Jeep. If the church gives you a key to the church building … it means you have the authority… well, you get the idea.
   The Keys Jesus talked about with Peter were to serve two purposes:
1. What was bound (or locked up) on earth would be bound in heaven.
2. And that which was loosed (or unlocked) on earth would be loosed in heaven.
   And Peter did exactly that with those Keys.
   • On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and they began to speak in unknown languages they’d never spoken before. A large crowd gathered to see this new thing … and guess who stands up to preach a sermon? That’s right: Peter.
   3000 people repented of their sins and were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
   • Several days later, Peter and John are going to the Temple to pray when they met and healed a crippled man. Again a large crowd gathered … and guess who stands up to preach? That’s right: Peter
   And as a result of Peter’s boldness, the church grew to more than 5000.
   • In Acts 10 (vss. 1-33), Peter is sent by God to the household of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, to preach to him and to a large crowd of Gentiles that had gathered at his home. Before the day is done Peter - and the 6 friends who came with him - baptized everybody in the audience.
   Why did Jesus give keys to Peter???
   Because he knew Peter would use them.
   Again and again in the book of Acts, Peter was the “point man”.
Ø Peter opened doors for the crowd at Pentecost

Ø He opens the doors for the crowd at the Temple
Ø And he opens the doors for the crowd at Cornelius’ home.
   But Peter WASN’T the only follower of Christ given permission to bind & loose … lock & unlock. In Matthew 18:1, Jesus’ disciples come to Jesus and ask Him: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
   For the next few verses Jesus explains that
• The Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t about power… it was about being as humble as a child. (vs. 2-10)
• The Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t about building my authority… it was about bringing the lost sheep back to the shepherd. (vs. 11-14)
• And the Kingdom wasn’t about getting even with people who have wronged me but about bringing sinners together so they could work for God (vs. 15-20)
   At the end of the chapter, in Matthew 18:18-20 Jesus told ALL His followers: 18“I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
   19“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
   They all had authority to use those keys. And those keys to the Kingdom of Heaven were all about locking and unlocking things on earth - and Peter wasn’t the only guy who was allowed to drive the bus.
   If I give the keys to my jeep to you that means YOU have my permission to drive it. It does not mean anyone else does UNLESS I give that permission to them as well. If I give the keys to one guy and let him drive first (like Peter did) that’s a privilege. But in Matthew 18 – Jesus is telling us “everybody can drive the bus.”
   Peter might have opened the doors at Pentecost.
   But Philip opened the door for salvation in Samaria.
   And Paul and Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and Titus opened the doors in Greece and Turkey.
   Church Tradition tells us:
• Matthew opened the door into Ethiopia.
• And Thomas opened the door in India.
   And since that day, many brave missionaries have opened the doors for millions of people to hear about the love and forgiveness of God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
   The keys of heaven were given to Peter … but God made sure ALL his children had copies to ALL the keys of heaven.
   Those same keys may not be on your key ring or mine, but we have been granted authority by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to bind and loose – lock and unlock.
   Now… what does all that mean?
   It means we have the power to unlock and lock things.
1st - it means we have the ability to unlock the doors for people to come to Christ. Just like Peter, James and John - and Paul and Barnabas and Silas.
   Now, those men had the big names.
   But their keys were no bigger than ours.
   They’ve had their turn at driving the bus … but they’re dead now. Now it’s your turn (and yours/yours…)
   When our Lord returned to heaven, He was speaking to Gabriel. After discussing the ministry of redemption, Gabriel had a question for Jesus. He asked: “And now that you have done all this for men, what plans have you made to carry the message of man’s redemption to the ends of the earth?”
   Jesus said, “Well, there is John, James, Peter, Andrew and the others. That little group of men that I called and whom I have now commissioned to take the message to others.”
   But Master,” replied Gabriel, “suppose James and John, Peter and Andrew and the others just don’t go? Suppose they stay where they are? What other plans have you made?”
   Jesus replied: “There is no other plan… I’m counting on them.”
   There is no other plan.
   If you and I don’t talk to other about Jesus, they may NEVER hear about salvation.
   Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave us our marching orders in Matthew 28:19-20 “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
   In fact, God is so impressed when we do this that He asks in Romans 10:14-15 “14But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!"
   And so God has given you the keys to unlock salvation for:
• the people you work with
• and the people you’re related to
• and the people you ride with
• and the people you live just down the street from’
   Your job is to unlock the door. Then it’s up to them if they walk through it to accept Christ.
   Your power to lock and unlock thing means you have the keys to unlock the power of prayer. God hasn’t given you this privilege without giving you some tools.
   Jesus said in Matthew 18:18-20: 18“I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
   19“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
   A pastor shared this story … “Years ago I was passing by a trailer park in the small community I was preaching in.
   I was just talking to God, when suddenly it struck me that I knew NOBODY in that park.
   I remember almost jokingly saying to God “You know I’ve never talked to anybody in the park. “God would you allow me to speak to someone there?”
   Within a week’s time a lady in that trailer park called – right out of the blue – and asked me to come talk with her.
   Now I have to admit – that shocked me.
   I hadn’t expected God to answer the prayer … but I ask a lot more of those prayers like that now because I know that you and I have power in prayer to unlock doors.”
   The last thing I noticed is the Keys of the Kingdom give us authority to lock the door on Satan. Revelation 12:11 tells us we overcome Satan and we have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
   Satan doesn’t have power over us if we cling to the blood of Jesus… and if we share our testimony. Those are our keys: His Blood – Our Testimony
   We need to understand that we’re in a battle against Satan. The keys we have - give us power over Him.
   Jesus said in Matthew 16:18: “Upon this rock (Upon the words of Peter’s testimony that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
   Now the odd thing about Jesus’ statement was this:
Gates don’t attack.
Gates swing on hinges.
   About the only way a gate is going to hurt you is if you get your finger stuck in one when it closes.
   So, if the gates of hell aren’t attacking us, what does it mean for Jesus to say “…the gates of Hades will not overcome the church?”
   It means: one of the reasons Jesus created the church was to attack the gates of Hell.
   He intended the church to take the fight to the enemy.
   We (the church) are the tool that He intends to use to take Satan down, to tear his strongholds apart.
   The church is a training ground for war – but not a war like the ones we’ve fought in Iraq and Afghanistan or other hot spots around the globe.
   Paul writes 2 Corinthians 10:4-5: “4We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”
   We’re fighting Satan, and we have been given the weapons to get the job done. And Jesus said the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against us!
   So Satan’s domain has gates. His citadel has doors that are barred and locked. And guess what – every locked door has a key.
   But who has the key to that gate?
   Who is it that can unlock the gates of Hell?
   Sorry – not me.
   Not you either.
   We don’t have the keys to the gates of Hades. We have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
   Our keys allow us to:
• unlock salvation for others.
• lock and unlock things through Prayer
• use those keys to lock Satan out of lives by the Blood of Jesus and Sharing Our Testimony
   BUT we don’t have the keys to hell!
   So if we don’t have them – who does?
   In Revelation 1:18 Jesus declared: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
   Who has the keys?
   Jesus does.
   Jesus is the one who died on the cross to open the gates. The gates of hell can’t prevail against Him and His kingdom BECAUSE He’s already broken the power of sin and death.
   That’s the one key you and I don’t have…
… because that key was purchased on the cross.
… that key was used in the grave
… and that key unlocked the very gates of hell and death.
But you and I DO have keys.
   If you have your key ring with you today… take them out now.
   Take the key to your car and hold it.
   The next time you put that key into the ignition of your car will you remember that God has given you the key of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” As you turn that key in the ignition will you say to the Lord, “I’m going again into my world; help me to tell someone about you.”
   Now hold your house key in your hand. Visualize yourself putting it into the lock on your front door. Each time you come to that door will you again commit to the Lord that you will use the key of the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of your testimony. As you open your front door will you say to the Lord, “you have opened the door of salvation to me–I promise to tell others what you have done for me.”
   LJ, Butch & Jeff gave their testimonies yesterday at breakfast. Do you know how much power was in those words? Nobody can argue with your testimony. Someone can stand up here and quote all the Scriptures they know … anybody can (and will) argue with you because that’s not what the Bible is saying to them. NOBODY can dispute your testimony because what you’re saying is what the Lord has done for you personally … and, no matter how lame you may think your testimony is  …  there’s power in it.
   Now take a third key in your hand.
   If you have a post office box key hold it, or any other key you will use frequently and picture yourself at your mailbox. Will you make the commitment to the Lord that each time you use that key it will be a reminder to pray for the lost. Will you pray something like this, “Jesus, I’m picking up the mail again today and there are some messages in this box for me. But as I do, I’m addressing some prayers to you Lord–the return address isn’t for me. . .its for my friend, a neighbor, my son or daughter. Lord they need the message of salvation delivered to their hearts; make the way for them to be saved.”
   Now hold your set of keys in your hands. Will you make this your prayer, “Lord you have given me the Keys to the Kingdom; keys which can be put to use right where you need them the most. Now Lord, when I hold these keys in my hands, I want you to know that I’m available. I will do whatever you ask to open the door for those who are lost. With these keys I own hell. With your keys Lord I will conquer hell in the name of Jesus.”

The Root and the Fruit

February 21,2020

   Opening passage — Luke 16:19-31 (NLT) — Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus — 19Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.21As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
   22“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet. The rich man also died and was buried, 23and he went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.
   24“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
   25“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’
   27“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
   29“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
   30“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
   31“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
   We are continuing with part 2 of our series “The Realities of Heaven and Hell.” If you missed last week I urge you to go to our Face Book page and listen to last weeks lesson or go to our website and read it.
   If I’m not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), why is it that the Rich man in Luke 16 and the Goats in Matthew 25 (31-46) went to hell because they DIDN’T DO good works? That doesn’t make any sense ... or does it?
   A Sunday School teacher had spent a great deal of time teaching her young class about the fact that doing “good works” could not buy them a place in heaven. To drive home her point she asked her class, "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would I get into Heaven?"
   "NO"! the children all answered.
   "If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would I get into Heaven"?
   Again, the answer was "NO"!
   "Well," she continued, "then how can I get to Heaven?"
   In the back of the room, a 5 yr. old boy shouted out … "You gotta be dead"!      (from a true story related by a young woman named Tina Miller)
   In this morning’s lesson we’re talking about two people who died.
   The Bible tells us that one man went to Hell… and the other man went to Paradise or Abraham’s bosom.
   I read where a preacher said he could only find one time that Jesus ever spoke about Heaven. Jesus said in John 14:2 “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
   But by contrast that same preacher counted at least 11 times Jesus spoke about Hell.      (Stephen Cook –
   Now if I’d have been Jesus, I think that teaching about Heaven would be MORE important than talking about hell, don’t you? After all, why wouldn’t my audience want to hear about what awaited them in heaven and … what it would be like. But Jesus apparently believed we needed to know more about hell than we needed to know about heaven.
   (PAUSE)      Here in Luke 16 we have Jesus telling us the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. Out of the 36 parables that Jesus spoke about, this is the ONLY parable Jesus ever told about the afterlife. He was explaining to His disciples what life would be like … after we die.
   And once again, there seems to be a heavy emphasis on Hell.
   We’re told in detail by reading Luke 16:23 It’s a place of torment “In hell, where he was in torment…”
   Luke 16:24 says it’s a place of thirst and agony and fire “… have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
   Luke 16:26 tells us it’s a place where there is no hope, and from which there is no escape.  “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
   Or as Mark 9:48 describes it as a place where "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
   As I was preparing for this sermon a question came to my mind: Why did Jesus tell this parable?
   I feel like the title of this morning’s lesson should be “Why should I care?” As I began looking through the various outline I could use, I happened upon this one in Luke 16, and was struck by the clarity of Jesus’ answer to that question "Why should I care?”
   Jesus’ answer to that question was basically this:
   You better care!   You better care, because no matter who we are, you and I are going to spend eternity in one place or the other.
   Jesus said “You and I are either going to spend eternity in heaven with Him … or spend eternity in hell with that other guy.”
   And Jesus is also telling us - Hell is real – and you don’t want to go there.
   Now, all that leads up the hard part of this lesson for me.
   As I was examining this text I was struck by something made me uncomfortable.
   There was a teaching here that seemed to contradict everything I’d ever believed about the coming judgment and the afterlife.
   To introduce you to this conflict I had, I’m going to give you a quiz.
   Question #1: Why did the rich man go to hell?   (wait for a reply)
   The parable basically implies the rich man went to hell because … he didn’t help Lazarus.
   Now for question #2 - which goes back to last Sunday’s lesson where we read about the last judgment where Jesus separated the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25.
   Do you remember why Jesus sent the “Goats” (those on His left) away into eternal punishment?
   Jesus explains this to us in Matthew 25:41-46. "41Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
   44“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
   45“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
   46“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
   So … the rich man goes to hell because he didn’t help Lazarus (and probably others like him), AND the goats go to hell because they didn’t help others who were like Lazarus.
   Ahhh… excuse me. We’ve got a problem here.
   The Bible explicitly teaches me that I am saved by grace… not works.
   Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
   So, I can’t be saved by my good works, BUT Jesus tells us the Rich Man in Luke 16 and the Goats in Matthew 25 went to hell… because they DIDN’T DO GOOD WORKS!
   That doesn’t make any sense! Which is it?
   Since - when I die - I either go to Heaven or Hell, and Jesus teaches me that I can go to hell because I didn’t do good things, why does the Bible teach that I can’t be saved by Good works?
   Well, it teaches that because both things are true:
   1. I cannot be saved by my good works. It doesn’t matter how much good I do. I can’t force my way into heaven by MY self-righteousness. I can’t accumulate so many brownie points on earth that I can approach the pearly gates, tip my hat to God and walk in without so much as a “HOWDY” – because I’ve been such a good person He couldn’t stop me if He wanted to. I deserved heaven. I bought heaven. I worked so hard I earned my spot in heaven. It’s mine and no one can take it from me.
   I’m sorry, that defies all Scripture and all common sense.
   2. But … I can go to hell if I don’t do good works … that’s what the story of Lazarus and the rich man, and the story of the sheep and goats is all about.
   This is how it works.
   ILLUS: I imagine all of us have been to a funeral or two. As you approach the casket you’ll see numerous floral arrangements, and these floral displays use two different kinds of flowers.
   § First there are the bouquets of cut flowers.
   § And there are planters.
   § There’s generally more bouquets than planters because the florist can create a more impressive splash of color with those arrangements of cut flowers than they can with a planter.
   However, both of these floral arrangements (the bouquets and the planters) have beautiful flowers and both mean a lot to the family of the deceased.
   BUT NOW … wait about 6 weeks.
   What happens to the cut flowers after that period of time? (they die)
   What about the planters? (they are usually still alive)
   Why did the cut flowers die?
   They died because (unlike the planted flowers) they DIDN’T have any roots.
   Both sets of flowers had pretty fruits … the flowers and the blossoms … but the cut flowers died because they had no root.
   It was the root that gave the plant its life … not the fruit.
   But both sets of flowers were on display at the funeral because of their fruit.
   That’s why the mourners purchase them.
   They want the flowers to be on display.
   That’s what gives the gift its value.
   You’ll never go to a funeral and see a bunch of stems sticking out of a planter with no flowers.
   The root gives the flower its life, but the fruit (the pretty flowers) give the flower its usefulness in that setting.
   Now let’s look back at the screen at Ephesians 2. It tells us in verses 8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
   But then, in verse 10 it says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do (what?) good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
   Why does verse 10 say we were saved (we were created in Christ Jesus) to do good works???
   But the previous verses tell us we’re not save by those good works.
   So, we’re not saved BY good works. But we are saved to DO good works.
   You and I were not saved just so we could sit around and twiddle our thumbs all day. We were not saved to sit in a padded seat and go through our religious motions every week and smile up at the preacher like you’re really soaking all this in, but really you’re wondering what’s over there on those tables for MaryLu’s birthday dinner.
   We were saved to get up off our backsides and DO SOMETHING!
   James 2:14-26 says, “Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead” Vs. 14 ... 14What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? (Romans 10:17) Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
   17So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
   18Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
   19You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
   21Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
   25Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”
   In Matthew 21:8-9 we’re told that “Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.”
   In Luke 13:6-9 we have Jesus telling another parable. "6Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. 7Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’
   8“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
   The fig tree had no figs. … It was bearing no fruit. … Without that fruit it was worthless.   It was worthless because it wasn’t fulfilling the reason it had been created to begin with.
   We are HIS workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do what? … Good Works.
   The fig tree was planted to bear good fruit … and we were saved to bear good fruit.
   That’s why Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us that we shouldn’t skip church. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
   One of the major reasons we should commit ourselves to meeting with each other is so we can help each other fulfill our purpose in Christ. So we can “spur one another on toward love and GOOD DEEDS.”
   But we’re not doing these “Good deeds” in order to be saved.
   It’s not the good deeds that gives us eternal life.
   It isn’t the fruit that saves us.
   It’s the ROOT that saves us.
   So, why then should I do good deeds?
   You see … I don’t have to do good works to be saved … I do good works BECAUSE I am saved and going to glory to be with my Savior.
   You know, there are lots of well meaning Christians who mistakenly do good works out of fear. They’re afraid they won’t “DO ENOUGH” to please God. They visualize God holding some kind of tally sheet that keeps track of their good deeds and their bad ones. And if the good deeds don’t outweigh the bad … then they go to hell. They do what they do out of fear.
   But now … notice what the “Sheep” did in Jesus’ story in Matthew 25:34-40. 34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
   37“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
   40“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
   These righteous people didn’t bear their good fruit in order to be saved, they bore their good fruit because they loved Jesus. They bore fruit, because they loved the Root. They bore good fruit, because they belonged to the root (Jesus)
   I asked a couple questions several weeks ago … “How many of you know I love my wife?” How can you tell? Because of the way I treat her. I can watch and listen to you guys (and you can do it too) and see how you treat other people (especially your spouse and children) and know exactly where your heart is concerning your relationship with the Lord.
   God doesn’t grade us on HOW MANY good works we do. He’s just looking to see if we’re doing something for Him.
   We’re not saved because of our fruit, we’re saved because we’re attached to the Root. So, how do you get “attached” to this root?
   1. You need to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God
    John 3:16 says For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever BELIEVES in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
   2. You need to believe you’re a sinner and you need to REPENT. And what does REPENT mean … to turn away from ALL the thoughts. words and deeds … all the stuff that you are doing that you know displeases God.
   Acts 2:38 instructs us to "REPENT and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
   3. You need confess Him as your Lord, To make Him the owner and ruler of your life. You need to tell others your story … tell others what Jesus has done in your life.
   Romans 10:9 says that “If you CONFESS with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
   4. You need to be buried in the waters of BAPTISM and raised up a new creature.
   Romans 6:3-4 tells us “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
   5. Then you need to LIVE for Him.
   Romans 2:7 tells us that To those who by PERSISTENCE IN DOING GOOD seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
   CLOSE: A man named Paul Leonard told a story about paying his way through Ohio State University back during the Depression. His father had died during his senior year in high school, and his mother had become blind.
   He wrote: “By night I was a taxi driver, and during the lunch and dinner hours I waited tables in a campus-dining hall. I made enough money to pay my expenses, but I had to always pinch pennies.
   At lunch one day I was serving a table where faculty members were seated. As I returned to the table with my tray held high, the unthinkable happened! I slipped on a spot of gravy on the floor and watched helplessly as the plates slid off the tray, spilling onto an especially well-dressed man, one of my professors.
   My heart sank. What could I do to atone?
   I grabbed a towel to clean up the food, but I only spread the mess over more of my professor’s suit. He locked his eyes on me and asked, "Mr. Leonard, what are you going to do about this?"
   "I’m so sorry sir. I’ll pay to have your suit cleaned," I responded.
   "I don’t believe this suit can be dry cleaned, do you?" my professor countered.
   It was badly stained. I could tell that. And who was I to question his judgment?
   He had every right to be irritated. "Whatever it takes, sir." I answered.
   Later that afternoon in his class I heard the dreaded words: "Paul Leonard, I’d like to speak to you for a moment." After everyone else had left, he said simply, "Mr. Leonard, I believe it is only fair that you buy me a new suit."
   "Yes, sir," I managed to say.
   I agreed to meet him at a downtown Columbus men’s store the following day. I recognized the name of the store, and exclusive men’s clothier [store] specializing in custom-tailored suits. I also knew that I could cover the expenses only if I were able to make payments over several months of work and scrimping.
   "Oh there you are," the ever-proper professor remarked. He had arrived early. He already chosen the fabric and the tailor had already taken measurements. My professor, a regular customer, had apparently vouched for my trustworthiness because the clerk nonchalantly accepted the professor’s remark, "Mr. Leonard will be responsible for the bill, as I have indicated.
   More than a little disorientated, I turned to follow my professor out of the door. Then he stopped. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.
   "Yes sir," I responded. "It will take time, of course, but I…"
   He interrupted me with words directed to the clerk. "Let’s see that Mr. Leonard is fitted for a suit just like mine. And put them both on my bill."      (from an article in “Lookout” magazine in 1990)
   Paul Leonard didn’t deserve that suit. He didn’t have the money for it and he had done nothing to deserve it. In fact, by all rights, he would have ordinarily walked away from that clothing store a much poorer man. But because of the mercy of his professor he received a gift. A far greater gift than he would ever been to obtain on his own.
   But now, what if Leonard had picked up his suit… and never wore it? Or, if he did wear it - he used it to work out in the yard or change the oil in his car. By his actions he would prove to his professor that the gift meant nothing to him and that the price for the suit was of no consideration to him.
   What he would do with that gift would reflect how much he loved and appreciated the kindness of that professor. In the same way, the way we treat the free gift of our salvation will reflect how much we love and appreciate the mercy of our Father.
   It wasn’t Leonard’s appreciation that bought him that suit … it was the mercy and grace of someone else who paid the price.
   In the same way – it isn’t the fruit that saves us, it’s the Root.
   Do you understand what the Root is?? It’s the blood of Jesus that was shed on the Cross for all of us at Calvary.

Heaven and Hell - For Real??
February 14, 2021

   Opening passage — Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT) The Final Judgment
   31“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
   34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
   37“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
   40“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
   41“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
   44“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
   45“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
   46“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
   I think this statement is a NO BRAINER … Heaven is more popular than Hell … for obvious reasons. But just what does Heaven mean to us? And is Hell really as bad as we’re told?
   An extremely nervous patient came to his dentist for a root canal. He was brought into the examining room and made comfortable in the reclining dental chair. The dentist then injected a numbing agent around the patient’s tooth and left the room for a few minutes while the medication took hold. When the dentist returned, the patient was standing next to a tray of dental equipment.
   “What are you doing by the surgical instruments?" asked the surprised dentist.
   Focused on his task, the patient replied, "I’m taking out the ones I don’t like."
   When it comes to reading and studying the teachings in the Bible, there are people who like to pick and choose the parts of God’s Word they can keep and the parts they can throw away.
   For example, there are lots of folks who love the idea of Heaven.
   A recent Gallup poll (2007) showed that 86% of Americans believe in Heaven.
   And most of them think they were going to be going there.
   And why shouldn’t they believe in heaven?
   Heaven’s going to be a great place to be.
   The Bible describes it as a place filled with all the excitement and satisfaction of a great banquet. It will be as overwhelming as a visiting a majestic city filled with awe-inspiring structures. It’s going to be as beautiful as a royal wedding … where you and I get to be the guests of honor.
   In addition, Revelation 21:3-5 tells about a new heaven and earth … and God declares “3I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
   5And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”
   He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"
   Considering the alternatives… who wouldn’t want to go to heaven?
   A few years back USA Today surveyed the Richest People in America and asked them what they would pay the most for? You would think the #1 choice for these wealthy Americans would’ve been things like beauty, intellect, power or even love.
   BUT the #1 desire for these rich people – was to have a place in heaven.
   (The article said the rich would pay on the average $640,000 for the assurance of a place in heaven)
   Often times – at funerals – people will comfort one another with words like these:
   · “They’ve gone to a better place”
   · “He’s gone over to the other side”
   · “She’s “gone home
     “He was such a good man … we know where he’s at”
   Statements like that reflect a hope for a future where we’ll see our loved ones after death. It’s comforting to believe in a future where we’ll live forever, because - in our heart of hearts -everybody knows Death isn’t natural.
   We need to understand … originally … God didn’t create us to die … we were supposed to physically live forever on earth. But … then sin came on the scene … and … well … similar to what Paul Harvey says … you know the rest of the story.
   Our loved ones shouldn’t have died. We don’t want to die. But … can I be honest with you? Life is terminal … none of us are going to get out of this alive.
   And so there’s great comfort in the words that Jesus spoke in John 14:2-3 “2There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”
   Heaven is one of THE great promises of Jesus because Heaven is the cure for all of our fears. In Heaven there will not be any more death, or sorrow, or tears, or pain. It will be a place of ETERNAL life and pleasure.
   And Jesus promised us that this place is real … and when He comes back, that’s where He’s taking His children.
   Matthew 25:46 says “the righteous will go into life eternal.”
   Heaven is the cure for all our fears… and Jesus is the ONE who brought that cure to us. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us “14Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”
   So, just about everybody’s in favor of heaven.
   But not everyone is all that excited about Hell.
   In that Gallup Poll we mentioned earlier 86% believed in Heaven, and most of them thought they were going to go there. But in that same poll only 69% of those interviewed believed in Hell. And just one-half of 1% of Americans expected to go to Hell upon their death. (Barna poll in 2009)
   Hell’s not a popular idea.
   Now granted… there are people that we think deserve hell more than others, don’t we? These folks are people like Osamma Bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein. Or folks closer to home: domestic terrorists, rapists, child molesters and (sadly to say) some of our politicians.
   Brutal, sadistic people deserve to burn in hell for all eternity. And most every culture has some understanding of that.
   · Buddhists believe in 7 "hot hells" which await the evildoers - each flanked by 4 torture chambers that include a fiery pit and a quagmire.
   · Tibetan Buddhists also speak of eight cold hells and certain "Frontier" hells for those guilty of lesser sins.
   · Hindus believe in 21 hells – which are temporary abodes where their bad karma (the evil one commits during a lifetime) is burned away.
   · Jainism (an offshoot of Hinduism) believes in 8.4 million hells where humans are punished for their sins. Those guilty of unpardonable sins are kept in a bottomless abyss forever. (U.S. News & World Report 3/25/91 p. 64)
   Most everyone believes at least SOMEBODY ought to go to hell … as long as it’s not them.
   But there are others who contradict the bible because they don’t like the concept of an eternal punishment … at all.
   There’s a preacher named Rob Bell that created a stir when he wrote a book rejecting hell.
   In a video promoting his book Bell asked,  "Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? · And if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? ...
   · What kind of God is that, that we would need to be rescued from this God?
   · How could that God ever be good? How could that ever be good news?"
   And the book description on the publisher’s web page reads,
   "Rob Bell ... argues that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering."
   Rob Bell is a very convincing speaker, but I’ve heard about his teaching to know that he starts with his feelings: what HE thinks is right, what HE thinks ought to be, what HE thinks is reasonable… and THEN he tends to force Scripture to bow before his wisdom.
   Good preachers don’t do that. Good preachers don’t start with what THEY think or what they feel is true, they start with what the Bible SAYS is true.
   Good preachers believe the Scriptures are God’s Word and that God’s Word doesn’t have to bow before them or anybody else … it don’t matter how smart you think you are … you’ll never outsmart God. You see, God doesn’t need to explain Himself to anyone. If you wanna know something … read his word … it stands alone and needs no explanation if you study it correctly.
   He’s God … they’re not … and that’s the way it’s going to be all day long for eternity.
   A good preacher knows that and HE bows before God and His Word.
   But, from what I understand,  Rob Bell has never really been a “good preacher”.
   Let’s take for example his accusation:
   How could a God who condemns people to eternal punishment ever be good?
   How could that ever be good news?"
   Well, let’s ask the question a different way: Let’s say a man has been convicted of rape, child molestation, and murder. He’s a cold-blooded killer… an evil man who took pleasure in the pain he inflicted on someone else.
   Now enters the judge.
   He has the ability to lock this animal up for all eternity. But he doesn’t do that… Instead, he fines him and sets him free.
   Would you call such a judge “good?”
   Would you ever call such a decree “good news?”
   Psalm 7:11 declares “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.”
   In fact, Jesus taught that one of the Spirit’s jobs was to confront people with God’s judgment. John 16:8 tells us “When the Spirit comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
   There’s a judgment coming … and it’s not a judgment you want to be on the wrong side of.
   Jesus said in Matthew 5:22 “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
   He also said in Matthew 5:29-30 “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
   And Matthew 10:28 tells us “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
   Do y’all understand that? Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body. Christians should NEVER EVER be afraid of death because if we’re truly the Christians that we claim to be, we have that blessed assurance of where we’re going after this physical vessel expires. Don’t fear the devil … because Jesus gives us power and authority over him and his evil … it is written in the Word that he’s already been defeated. But we are to fear … we are to be very respectful of the one who can kill the body and destroy the soul. It is appointed unto man once to die (Hebrews 9:27) and NOBODY has control over your soul but GOD!!! Toby Mac said “I don’t wanna gain the whole world and loose my soul.” I’m telling ya folks … hell is not going to be a pleasant place to be. I would rather slop the hogs in heaven for eternity than to spend one second on the throne in hell.
   Mark Twain once said: “I’ll take Heaven for the climate and Hell for society.”
   Well, that would be nice, but if you never hear anything I say … hear this … Hell’s not going to be a place for “society”.
   Your “Friends” may be there, but they won’t have any time for you. At least 5 times in Jesus’ ministry He talked about Hell being a place of “Weeping and Gnashing of teeth.”
   For example, in Matthew 13:41-42 Jesus said “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
   Weeping and gnashing of teeth.   Weeping and gnashing of teeth.
   Over and over again, Jesus stresses the fact that hell will not going to be a walk in the park. Hell is going to be hotter than SC in the middle of summer.
   It will quite literally be … hot as hell … and you don’t want to go there. You don’t even want to joke about it. So many people ask “But why would God send anyone to hell?”
   Well, let’s start with the basics.
   #1 – you nor I deserve to go to heaven.
   Romans 3:10 tells us "There is no-one righteous, not even one.” I’m not righteous enough to impress God. The Elders of any church aren’t righteous enough to impress God. Sunday School teachers aren’t … and you aren’t.
   And Romans 3:23 “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
   And the Psalmist agrees in Psalm 143:2 “Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.”
   So … since none of us deserve to go to heaven … by default, there’s only one other place to go … and God doesn’t want any of us to end up there.
   2 Peter 3:9 says “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
   God so much didn’t want to have anyone spend eternity in hell that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever should not perish but have everlasting life.
   One person said it this way.
   Insurance companies cancel auto insurance.
   Schools expel children.
   Banks deny credit.
   Because we make choices and then we experience the consequences.
   These entities don’t exist to cancel ... expel ... or refuse! They exist to offer services: protection, education and resources. But when people reject their services or treat them lightly, there are consequences.
   Have you ever heard of “Life lock”? They”re a company that – for a small monthly fee - guarantees they’ll be able to protect you against “identity theft”. MaryLu and I are members. If someone ever does steal my identity, I know it will be devastating. But my identity is protected. And if I hadn’t signed up for it and something would have happened it will be too late. My life will have been destroyed. There are consequences to rejecting their offer.
   In the same way – there are consequences to rejecting God’s offer of heaven. The only reason anybody will ever go to hell is because they CHOSE not to go to heaven.
   But in order to get to heaven I have to do it God’s way. I need to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God. I need to accept the fact that I’m a sinner and I need to repent and be submissive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to change my life. I need to be willing to allow Jesus to own my life and control my decisions. I need to be willing to “sign the contract” by being buried in the waters of baptism and rise to walk in newness of life. I need to be willing to live my life for Jesus from that day on.
   In order to enter heaven, I have to do it God’s way … and how do I learn to do it God’s way? By coming to church (if not this church, get involved in a church somewhere) … read and study your Bible, get hooked up with a good Bible study class. Change your friends list by finding some truly Christian people to start hanging out with.
   I can’t force God to let me in the front door. I can’t force Him to accept me because of my own self-righteousness. I can’t presume that I can do so much good that God couldn’t keep me out if I wanted to.
   Getting into heaven will happen only because I signed up for that destination and I took the time and invested the energy to read and study the map and learned how to get there.
   And the way to sign up … is to belong to Jesus … lock, stock and barrel.
   Jesus said in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world, he that follows me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.”
   John 10:9 says “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me shall be saved.”
   John 10:11 tells us “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.”
   Jesus said in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in me - though he were dead, shall live.”
   He also said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me.”
   BUT in John 8:24 we read “If you don’t believe that ‘I am He’ you will die in your sins.”
   Adrian Rogers once recalled hearing about a nightclub called “The Gates of Hades”. The story goes that a newcomer to the city was looking for this nightclub and he stopped a policeman to ask directions.
   It just so happened that there was a church on that same street called “Calvary Church” and when the man asked the policeman for directions, the cop replied:
   “If you want to get to the Gates of Hades, go down that street … go past Calvary… and you’ll find the Gates of Hades.”
   What about you? How long have you been walking past Calvary and walking down the same ole streets that leads to weeping and a gnashing of teeth? If you are … I sure hope and pray you’ll turn around and go back to Calvary. It’s the ONLY way you’ll be able to find your way to eternity in heaven.
   There is only way to go to hell … that is to go past Jesus and reject His offer.

The Gomer in Me

February 7. 2021

   Opening passage — Hosea 1:2-3 (NLT) — 2When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” 3So Hosea married Gomer and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son.
   It has been said that when God saved us God took His greatest risk. Because the truth is the investment that came along with God bringing us into relationship with Himself is something that cannot be fully comprehended. Our relationship with God is often something that is devalued, underappreciated and taken for granted. You see, we need to fully comprehend that God is a God of relationship. And it is His desire to bring you and me back into relationship with Him.
   We need to understand that Relationships require commitment … Relationships require mutuality (it’s a two way street) … Relationships require sacrifice and the rendering of expressions and concern and care.
   God has been faithful at keeping his end of the bargain. The problem has not been with God … but the problem is always with us.
   Because we are wishy washy—we have our own agendas—we are prone to unfaithfulness. When the truth is that Jehovah, God—the Creator of the Universe—our Savior and Redeemer—looked beyond our faults and He supplied our needs. Nowhere in the scripture will you see God’s love demonstrated in such a profound way as it is exemplified and given in the book of Hosea.
   The book of Hosea is like the sketch of an autobiography that is written by Hosea about Hosea. Here we have a very interesting story that gives us a very vivid and clear-cut picture about the love of God for the people of God throughout time and eternity. Here God tells Hosea, the prophet, to go and marry a woman named Gomer. You will discover that Gomer is a prostitute, Gomer is a Harlot.
   Hosea is a man of God; called and equipped to carry the Good News of the coming Messiah throughout Judea. Upon deeper and further investigation, we discover that Hosea represents God; and Gomer represents and depicts the people of God … who have a wicked tendency and a hellish inclination to stray and to be unfaithful to Him and reject His love and Salvation.
   Here we have a pattern of a woman of loose living and a shallow understanding of the value and virtue love.
   But the prophet marries this woman of loose living—this prostitute—in hopes of loving her out of her old ways. But much to his dismay, despair, and detriment, to add insult and injury to his already miserable situation, he soon discovers how entrenched and immersed she is with her own ways and old lifestyle.
   In other words: • she comes home late • she wakes up in strange and unfamiliar places • she favors other lovers and runs after other men • she sells her body and gives herself for money • she stands in the red light district at the corner on Two Notch and Beltline even though she is married to the Pastor of the largest local church • she performs cheap favors for men and makes a living on her back rather than cultivating her mind.
   What does Hosea do and what is his response? He doesn’t have his attorney issue a divorce decree—He doesn’t put a hit out on her—He doesn’t run over her with his SUV—He doesn’t beat her or abuse her.
   But the prophet, her husband, goes after her and nurses her back to health. Why? Because he loves her. Over and over again, she is unfaithful; but the prophet, is faithful to the commitment of the marriage.
   Now before you point your religious scalpels and point your pious finger and become too hard on Gomer, I know you are saying ‘Wow…how can a woman who has a husband to love her like this be that unfaithful?” Before you beat down Gomer the Harlot—let me take this opportunity to remind you that there is some Gomer in you.
   Now Dooley!! Why in the world would I say something like that about you—because • You prostitute your principles • You misplace your priorities • You compromise your convictions • You settle for the suitable • You contradict and ignore your calling.
   You may not be known as a CALL GIRL, STREETWALKER, LADY OF THE NIGHT, LADY OF PLEASURE, SCARLET WOMAN, SOILED DOVE … but you do lie on your income taxes, throw rocks and hide your hands, disrespect your elders, slander and ridicule your government officials … and your spiritual leaders. You lie, cheat and steal.
   If I dare … let’s go a step further—Do you steal from God? Of course you do. Malachi 3:8-9 says 8“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
   “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
   “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me.
   You misuse and abuse your body. You need to understand that your body doesn’t belong to you!! Look at all the junk we put in our bodies on PURPOSE!! We smoke, we vape, we drink alcohol, we eat junk food, we take drugs, we push our bodies beyond our physical limits … and we start another laundry list of all the stuff that we do to our bodies that is wrong. His word says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “19Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”
   You run after the world and the things that you think the world can give you to give you temporary pleasure and worldly gain. His word says in Matthew 6:33 to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
   Before you look down your nose on Gomer the prostitute, you need to examine the Gomer in you first.
   Galatians 3:22 ‘…the scripture has confined that all are under sin’ 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.
   I John 1:8 ‘…if we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.
   Ecclesiastes 7:20 ‘…there is not a just man in the earth that does good and does not sin’ 20 Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.
   Contrary to popular belief … there is sin in me, there’s sin in you and there’s sin in this church … because there’s a Gomer in each and every one of us.
   Webster’s Intercollegiate Dictionary defines a prostitute in the following way: “One who solicits and accepts payment for sexual intercourse. One who sells his abilities or name to an unworthy cause.”
   Looking at the definition literally, I know physically that doesn’t apply to any of us; But spiritually, it applies to each and every one of us.
   When was the last time you found yourself looking, lingering or lusting after some worldly pleasures? A magazine on the checkout shelf … the body build of a woman in the checkout line … you guys look at the girls jogging across Lake Murray Dam instead of watching the road … you fell in love with a motorcycle you want to buy … you’d rather go fishing on Sunday mornings than come to church …
   When was the last time you found yourself taking payments from the Devil—in the installment plan? Instead of jumping into sin … you eased yourself into it. You accidently click on a pornographic site. You allowed the devil to peek your interest. So … a month later you went back and checked it out again. Then you started checking it out more often and more often and more often.
   When was the last time you found yourself in a rendezvous with the world and the things of the world, performing worldly intercourse with Satan and his cronies? A threesome with your flesh and your selfish desires that were driven by the Devil?
   When was the last time you sold yourself and your abilities to the paymaster? And you compromised your name to satisfy and gratify your fleshly desires?
   There is some Gomer in all of us. No matter how long you’ve been going to church—we all have a tendency to break our commitment with God and to literally break God’s heart.
   John 8:7 says 7So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That is why it doesn’t matter if you go to church or not, EVERYBODY is unqualified to judge and pre-judge other people—for the truth be expressed if it were not for the faithfulness and favor of God—not the house, job, Harley, wife, husband—we would have nothing … we would be nothing. If it were not for that faithfulness and untirelessness of God with you when you got on His last nerve time and time again … you would be in the same position as the one you judge.
   You’ve got to understand that God is an awesome God and that is why every available opportunity you have, you should thank God for using you, despite you. You ought to thank God for blessing you, despite of the Gomer that’s inside of you. You ought to thank God for working on you, despite of the messed up issues of your life. God brought you here today to let you know that even when things go wrong and when you mess up and when people look down on you and even when you stray, God is going to keep on loving you. He’ll continue to love no matter what you do. But the Bible teaches in various places and ways that God is waiting on something to happen. What is it that he is waiting on? He’s patiently waiting on you to learn how to love Him back.
   Here we have the story of the man of God on an assignment who God tells him to go and take a wife that’s a prostitute.
   I. It is an unthinkable request. It speaks of the extent that God would go to in order to engage us into relationship with him. He asks Hosea to do something that would be viewed as taboo for the culture in which he lived. The man of God … to marry a prostitute?
   That is a disgusting, unthinkable request. But nonetheless, God says go and proposition her. Hosea is known as the sandwich board prophet—who walks the streets with the sandwich board on declaring ‘thus saith the Lord’. And God says to him while he’s prophesying, “Hosea, I want you to take a wife”. Well, OK God, where is she? Is she on the Usher board, the Choir Department, the Praise Team?
   ‘Nu uh, there she is Hosea, on the corner.’ Where God? I don’t see her. There she is—with the fish net stockings that are torn; there she is in the 4 inch heals; there she is with the wig.
   I know you don’t recognize her because yesterday she was a blonde and today it’s red, tomorrow it will be pink—but that’s her. She’s got lipstick running down her cheek. That is the woman I want you to take as your wife. And I want you to go and proposition her.’
   Gomer was accustomed to being propositioned. She was used to men propositioning her for their own ill gotten desires. But when Hosea goes and propositions her … he wasn’t the least bit interested in her body … he was after her heart.
   You need to understand that when God comes after you, He comes after something that you have never been offered before. Before he came after us, we were used to short-term encounters with no depth and no meaning; we were used to chaos and instability. We’ve gotten used to all the hurts and disappointments in our lives. But when Jesus come in our lives, He brings us joy, peace, assurance and stability.
   Do you wanna know what I love about God? It’s when you have been rejected, abused, been through hell and hot water—He will show up and give you what you never had before.
   Gomer wasn’t used to boundaries, accountability and commitment. She had been with so many people that she couldn’t remember any of the names or faces. Her reputation was bad and her bad reputation preceded her. She hadn’t lived life … life had chewed her up and spit her out. And this is why it is so difficult for people to conceive, to fully understand the love of God—because with our limited line of human thinking … you cannot imagine somebody wanting to invest in you after all that you have done.
   When MaryLu and I first started dating I was telling her some of the stuff about my past … I was giving her bits and pieces as we went along. I think if I had poured it all out at one time … I would have finished my lunch by myself. The woman didn’t hesitate to get a background check done on me!!! The lawyer called her a couple days later and said “ Mary you need to dump dude and move on to bigger and better things.” It’s unthinkable that somebody so amazing as she is wouldn’t care about what I’ve done and who I did it with. But that’s a prime example why we serve a God that says ‘whosoever will … let him come’.
   God specializes in qualifying the unqualified; calling the outcast; using the unusable; wanting the unwanted and recycling the messed up.
   God wants to love on you—no matter your mistakes, mishaps and failures. You’ve done whatsoever with whomsoever, wherever and however … and he still loves you … unconditionally … no strings attached!!
   It is unthinkable that God would like somebody as dirty as Gomer and say, ‘I want you and I need you to be part of My family.’ The you that you think nobody wants. The you that is still looking for something that man cannot give you … God will give you ALL you need.
   And when he marries her, Gomer is unfaithful in the relationship. The Prophet Hosea made a commitment to love her beyond her pain and her issues. For Gomer doesn’t just have one issue …Hosea’s got his hands full because she’s got lots of issues.
   He provided for her stability ... the first time she’s ever had a house. She is used to the hotel and temporary dwellings. She’s got a house now; she’s never known the environment that she knows now. But she’s still unfaithful in the relationship.
   How can Gomer have it all—how can Gomer have a husband that invests in her when nobody else would … and still be unfaithful? I’m using Gomer’s name here … but I’m really asking you this question—how can Gomer have all that God has blessed her with and still be unfaithful and ungrateful and wander and stray?
   Maybe she was still being controlled by her pimp. Because the pimp represents that thing that has controlled her for so long, that although she has everything that she needs and should want, she is still bound by the past that manipulates her future. When the pimp calls, she sneaks out of the bed with her husband to goes back to her old life. When the pimp calls, she loses all sense of reason. When the pimp calls, she forgets how far she has come from her past. She relapses and then goes back into what she thought that she had broken away from.
   And that is how we treat God. We allow Satan to pimp us. We say that we love God and we enter into relationship with Him and we come to the altar and we cry, shout, whine and we dance. But when the pimp calls … we forget about the privileges God has given us through Jesus and His blood.
   How is it that you can do what you want to do and tell people how much you love God, but when the pimp calls, you are unfaithful in your relationship to God again.
   Romans 6:12-16 commands us 12Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
   15Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
   Question: What is it that is pimping you? What is it that is so strong in your life that it will take priority over your relationship with God? What’s his name? What’s her name? What’s the organization’s name? What’s the football team’s name? What’s the Club’s name? What’s the chronic’s name? What’s the job’s name? What’s the drugs name? What is it? What is it that is so strong in your life that it takes priority over your relationship with and your responsibility to God? Please tell me—what’s pimping you?
   Nevertheless, when it happens … when Gomer, the love of his life, is unfaithful and strays, it breaks his heart. When you, the love of God’s life—the apple of God’s eye, strays….it breaks God’s heart. How can it not? After all that Hosea had done to make the relationship work; after all the investments; after all the time spent pouring into Gomer and to top it off … Hosea had to borrow money to buy her off of the auction block … Gomer keeps sneaking away at night;. How could it not hurt him?
   It breaks God’s heart. How can it not? After all that He’s done to make the relationship possible, let alone what He’s done to make it work … God asks, ‘Why do you keep breaking my heart?’
   God says all of the gifts I have placed inside of you and you are just a pew warmer. All of the ways that I made for you and you are too busy to tell me thank you. Every job I give you and you don’t even have it in you to give 10 percent back to me. All of the things that I have blessed you with and now you are too sophisticated to lift up your hands and say ‘Lord I bless you’ … why do you keep breaking my heart?
   Some of you Gomers in this room (and those Gomers watching on FaceBook) should not leave today without saying ‘I’m getting it right today … I’m tired of being and part time Christian. I’m tired of being unfaithful to God … I’m tired of leaving here the same way as I was when I came in ... If nobody else will give Him glory. If nobody else will show up and tell Him thank you … I will’.
   You mean to tell me that a holy God will tell a prophet to marry a filthy, dirty unholy woman? You mean to tell me that a Holy God would tell the prophet to have a relationship with a public spectacle like Gomer? And then, you mean to tell me that God would tell Hosea to have a child with a woman who would be unfaithful? Whenever God engages us in relationship to Him, He always births things out of us … still knowing that we are going to be unfaithful.
   Look at all the gifts; look at the things God has birthed in and through you and you are still unfaithful to Him. WHY??? You keep going back and forth and back and forth to your old life and all your old ways. Why would a Holy God do that for somebody like me? Because He says, ‘I love you and I give you unconditional redemption’.
   What do you mean preacher? God’s love is not measured by your love AND I’m glad it isn’t. Because your love is conditional. Because your love clocks in late and leaves early. Because your love comes asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ But the Bible says in Romans 5:8 says that ‘…while we were yet sinners...Christ died for us’ He loved me while I was still hurting Him back in my drinkin and druggin and my running around days. He loved me while I was still walking on the cob webs of carnality over a burning hell. No matter what I did … no matter where I went … no matter who I was with … he still loved me. God loved me while I was still dipping and sipping and tipping. While I was still doing my own thing—He still loved me.
   • And the theme of Hosea that he represents in the text is a picture and depiction of God’s patience. You see, God kept putting up with it.
   Hosea would go out every day—go out to work in ministry and do God’s work—and he would come home in the evenings only to find his son in the crib, crying unattended—dishes in the sink and the house a mess. And he would think, ‘oh man, she’s at it again’.
   And his wife would be out on the street corner, jumping in this bed and jumping out of that one. She would come home at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, beat up, black eyes, bruised—but he never would condemn her—he would just bring her in, tuck her in, feed her, give her something to drink and put her to bed.
   The next day he would go out again, doing God’s work—calling out to God—and he would come home and again she was nowhere to be found. Some nights he would be in the bed and he would reach out for her and she wouldn’t be there. He said, ‘I loved her and provided a house and a home for her and she would be there’ ... but she wasn’t.
   You may be wondering why I’m bringing this up. You may be asking what does this have to do with me? God says, ‘every day I’ve been looking for you—I see you every now and then stopping to come around me when things are going south … but I was looking for you more than when it was just convenient for you. I’m looking for you. I’ve been good to you. I’ve blessed you. I got you in school. I kept you in your right mind. I gave you a house and a car. But do you love me enough to the point that you can say good-bye to your pimp?’
   God says that He’s been patient with you. I thank God that when everybody else gave up on me … He never did!!! He said that He would keep on loving me. He says He is going to keep on loving you … until you learn how to love Him back.
   We are all akin to Gomer because we all have the same blood type: blood type A. A for Adam. (Federal headship of Adam—free moral agent—sin in the garden) That is why you need blood type J. The only way to get it is to be born again. Jesus is the only Man in human history to know no sin and have no sin.
   M.R. Dehaan, in his book ‘Chemistry of the Blood’ simply defines it as when a mother conceives and gives birth to the child, while the mother’s umbilical cord is attached to the child and the placebo surrounds the child…the child receives no blood from the mother. All of the blood that is in that child’s anatomy, 100% of it comes from the father and the father alone. That is why from natural birth, we are all children of Adam. But because Adam sinned, we are born into sin.
   But the blood that ran through the veins of Jesus, that was the blood of His Father, Jehovah … the living God. That means having a new birth, where the old life has no more power and no effect because the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “17This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” When I got save I became a new person. When you got saved you became a new man, you’re a new women, you’re a new child. So while the first Adam would give me death—the 2nd Adam, Jesus, can give me life eternal in heaven!
   God says that I want you and I need you---that one day you are going to outlive the foolishness of this world. That is what it means when he says in 1 Corinthians 13:11 ’when I became a man…I put away childish things.’ Since you have become a Christian … why are you still holding onto all those sinful things? God could have divorced me; could have given up on me. But I thank God--that John 3:16 says ‘God loved the world so much that He gave it ALL.’
   Is there anyone here today who can say … from this day forward, I won’t let anything get in the way of You, Lord. Not a sorority, fraternity, boyfriend, girlfriend, things, problems, job, people, Motorcycle Clubs desires, drink, smokes, vapes, drugs etc.
   I am going to read to you “The Fellowship of the Unashamed” … and I want to ask you listen to it very carefully.
   As of today, Lord, I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense and my future is secure.
   I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, chintzy giving and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity.
   I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer and labor by power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear.
   I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the table of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
   I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until Heaven returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he comes. And when he comes to get his own, he will have no problem recognizing me. My colors will be clear… so help me God.
   Will you stand on this with me … starting today?

Defining Moments

January 31, 2020

   Opening passage — Joshua 24:1-33 (NLT) — The Lord’s Covenant Renewed — 1Then Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God.
   2Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods. 3But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan. I gave him many descendants through his son Isaac. 4To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir, while Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
   5“Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I brought terrible plagues on Egypt; and afterward I brought you out as a free people. 6But when your ancestors arrived at the Red Sea, the Egyptians chased after you with chariots and charioteers. 7When your ancestors cried out to the Lord, I put darkness between you and the Egyptians. I brought the sea crashing down on the Egyptians, drowning them. With your very own eyes you saw what I did. Then you lived in the wilderness for many years.
   8“Finally, I brought you into the land of the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I destroyed them before you. I gave you victory over them, and you took possession of their land. 9Then Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, started a war against Israel. He summoned Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10but I would not listen to him. Instead, I made Balaam bless you, and so I rescued you from Balak.
   11“When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.
   14“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
   16The people replied, “We would never abandon the Lord and serve other gods. 17For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. 18It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”
   19Then Joshua warned the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”
   21But the people answered Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!”
   22“You are a witness to your own decision,” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.”
   “Yes,” they replied, “we are witnesses to what we have said.”
   23“All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
   24The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.”
   25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day at Shechem, committing them to follow the decrees and regulations of the Lord. 26Joshua recorded these things in the Book of God’s Instructions. As a reminder of their agreement, he took a huge stone and rolled it beneath the terebinth tree beside the Tabernacle of the Lord.
   27Joshua said to all the people, “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God.”
   28Then Joshua sent all the people away to their own homelands.
   Leaders Buried in the Promised Land
   29After this, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. 30They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
   31The people of Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him—those who had personally experienced all that the Lord had done for Israel.
   32The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought along with them when they left Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the plot of land Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor for 100 pieces of silver. This land was located in the territory allotted to the descendants of Joseph.
   33Eleazar, son of Aaron, also died. He was buried in the hill country of Ephraim, in the town of Gibeah, which had been given to his son Phinehas.
   What is a defining moment? When a choice you make or an incident happens that will from that moment define some aspect of your life!
   We have many of these moments throughout our physical lives. Examples: when we move from children to teenagers; when we get married; take our first job; our spouse dies; our parents die; a terminal disease invades our body, etc.
   We also have many defining moments throughout our spiritual lives. When we become a Christian; begin to allow Christ to live through us instead of trying to live for Him; when we come face to face with our first trial as a new believer; when we are totally wrestled down and face a storm; when we discover the reality of a truth we have heard all our lives; when we begin to know Jesus in a vital relationship; these are just a few, many more will occur before our journey ends;
   Defining moments are not rare as some may think … but when they come … they are defining.
   As we come to the end of our study in Joshua, "Where the promise becomes a reality." Chapter 24 is what I would call a defining moment in the life of the nation. Joshua is going to call on them to MAKE A CHOICE OF WHO THEY ARE GOING TO SERVE. I would say that is a defining moment wouldn’t you? The choice they will make will define them as a people.
   Joshua 24:15 says “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
   This will be the choice before them, chose then this day who, not what, you will serve, the gods beyond the river, or Jehovah God.
   Several defining moments up to now;
   A. When they faced the Jordan; here is where they trusted God to stop the flooding river so they could occupy the promise land, it defined them as a people who could trust God to provide a way where there seemed to be no way, THEY WERE DEFINED AS A CROSS OVER PEOPLE AT THIS POINT IN THEIR LIVES; Cross over to our inheritance: i.e., “come to me; rest in me; abide in me;” Either we stay in the wilderness and be defined as a wilderness person, or we cross over and become defined as a cross over people.
   B. When they faced Jericho; an impossible task, far beyond their ability to penetrate the fortress, and it stood as the barrier to the promise land; they were defined as a people who were STRONG IN THE LORD, AND IN THE POWER OF HIS MIGHT … other words let God have the battle.
   Have you been defined this way as you faced your Jerichos? Or are you trying to help God get things done, or have you given up and gone back to wilderness living? Our Jerichos will define us as to what kind of CHRISTIAN SOILDERS we really are.
   C. When they faced their first defeat at Ai; It defined them as a people who, when depending upon their own resources, would be defeated no matter how small the task. But when faced with defeat they were not done in by that defeat. THEY WERE DEFINED AS MORE THAN CONQURERS THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED THEM. We are not defined by our defeats either … but how we respond to them says a lot about our character. In faith and hope trusting in God’s Grace to bring us up and out of any and all situations and circumstances. We are either CONQURERS or COWARDS.
   D. Another defining moment was when they faced the Kings … as a matter of fact Joshua describes them as seven nations greater than themselves … but through it all … they persevered. We as a believers are either persevering or we are retreating, which defines you when you are faced with overwhelming odds. The enemy uses defeat or something that causes you much worry to try to discourage you. When this happens, do you press on or do you pass out?
   Now they are facing another defining moment, this moment is unlike the previous ones, they are not facing a flooding river, or a formidable fortress; They are not faced with their own defeat, or with seven nations ganged up against them.
   They are faced with success … they are faced with settling down in a land that God has brought them to. Living and resting on the inheritance God promised them.
   The New Testament puts it like this in 1 Corinthians 15:58 says "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
   Other words … Press on; Don’t let any immorality be named among you because immorality and impurity is not becoming of the saints, lift up the hand that hangs down and get down those knees that you think are weak; don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together, shall we continue in sin? Now that you are here at this point, having received your inheritance … are you ready to build on your inheritance and live out of it? Joshua says, “LISTEN UP!!!”
   From this moment on they will make a choice that will define them. Will they continue to be a people who SERVE GOD or SERVE THEMSELVES? Will they continue to DEPEND on God or will they DEPART from this dependent relationship? Will they continue to walk by faith or will they want to go back to walking by sight? Will they live as the covenant people of God in the midst of this pagan culture or will they succumb to the influence of paganism? Will they live dependent in the face of all the difficulties they will face as humans, problems, temptations, rejection, peer pressure, hurt, etc?
   For us it would be, am I going to allow Christ to continue to Extend, express, and exhibit Himself through me every minute of every day of the week?
   This is my position in Christ, secure, and standing in grace. When I am faced with temptations and problems will I live as a Saint? When the: kids are driving me up the wall, will I go over the wall? My teenagers are very close to having a contract put out on them; I’ve lost my mate; rejected by my family; fouled up at work and lost my job; a family that hurts me constantly; I want you to tell me … How do I serve God and not my own interest?
   THESE ARE THE DAYS OF DEFINING MOMENTS THAT WE ARE LIVING IN. The choices we make in the middle of today’s chaos will define us very clearly to the watching world.
   What is brought to light to help them when they were faced with this defining moment?
   1. In (vss.1-13) THEY WERE REMINDED OF THE PROVEN CHARACTER OF GOD. If anyone is to make a decision to serve God and not themselves this is where their choice must start; what do they hear about Him?
   a. He is the God that came beyond the river; without any prompting on the part of Abraham, without any prior knowledge of God, God came into Ur beyond the river to bring Abraham into a relationship with himself. He did not let the river stop him, nor did he let Abraham being an idol worshiper didn’t stop Him. He wanted a relationship with him so He went beyond the river. God came beyond the river of the Cross where His son died to bring you and me into a relationship with Himself.
   b. He is also the GOD THAT CARED BEYOND REASON. In vs. 3-4a God lead Abraham out of Ur and showed him the land throughout the course of his life. “3But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan. I gave him many descendants through his son Isaac. 4To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.”
   Abraham stumbled and fell on different occasions … he tried to help God out, he lied to kings; his wife even laughed at God’s promise … but God kept on caring for him; day and night; season after season; never abandoning His plan and never forgetting His promise. He cared beyond reason. Romans 5:8 says "even while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."
   You saints in Christ Jesus Though you might forget me, I will never forget you, a nursing mom could forget her child before I could forget you. I have loved you with an everlasting love. No one ever cared for me like Jesus; HE CAME BEYOND THE RIVER and HE CARES BEYOND REASON.
   c. He is also the God THAT CREATES OUT OF HIS OWN RESOURSES; He made a way where there seemed to be no way; he sent Moses … he gave them manna from heaven … he gave them water from a rock laying in the sand; The Bible is filled with God creating out of His own resources to deliver us;
   d. He is the GOD, WHEN THEY CRIED OUT RESPONDED; 4c-7b; Exodus 2:23-25; 3:6-9; Ps. 107:4-6; 10-14; 17-20; 23-29; 43; The God who came beyond the river, who cared beyond reason, who creates out of His resources, and when cried out to he responds.
   e. He is the GOD THAT CARRIED THEM INTO THEIR REST; after 600 years of wandering they finally were able to rest; In spite of their rejection of Him, constantly grumbling, wanting to go back, He brought them to the promise land; HIS CHARACTER IS PROVEN; HE CAME BEYOND THE RIVER, HE CARED BEYOND REASON, HE CREATED OUT OF HIS RESOUSES, HE RESPONDED TO THEIR CRY, HE CARRIED THEM TO REST;
   2. THEY WERE CHALLENGED TO MAKE A CHOICE; just two verses … vs. 14-15, “14Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
   It does not take long to make a choice; here is the challenge, to fear God, bring Him on line, and put away the gods beyond the river; Serve God or serve your own interest? They would either be A CONQURER OR BE CONQURED, THEY WILL EITHER BE A VICTOR OR A VICTIM? IT ALL DEPENDED ON THE CHOICE THEY WOULD MAKE.
   It does not sound like a big challenge but it is … it’s the biggest challenge of your life. What about the hurts you have not forgiven, is it not a challenge to give them to God and forgive the hurter? What about the relationships you have not trusted God with? We are challenged daily to either serve God or ourselves; THIS DEFINING MOMENT INCLUDED THE CHARACTER OF GOD THAT WAS PROVEN, A CHALLENGE TO CHOSE; AND;
   2. A COMMITMENT THAT WAS SHALLOW; (vss.16-28); note they had the right phrases but lacked the personal relationship with God. They were not willing to put away the gods beyond the river. Matthew 6:24 tells us we cannot serve two masters; they had seen his work, but had not known His warmth; they had sight of Him but did not KNOW HIM. That difference between them and Joshua.
   He had a meeting that mattered; at seven they prayed a prayer, from 9-27 they could not keep a commitment to Him, at 25 He made a commitment to them; fast forward to vs. 31 which says “31The people of Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him—those who had personally experienced all that the Lord had done for Israel.” And then lets look and see what to Judges 2:10 says 10After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.” You see … they had gotten so wrapped up in all this worldly stuff that they had forgotten the warning Joshua had given them back in vs.19 & 20; “19You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”
   We all have many defining moments throughout our Christian life. As we face them, remember we are faced with a choice in most cases. So as Joshua challenged the nation of Israel I challenge you to: ‘choose this day whom you will serve’, that choice will define your belief system and will set a course for the rest of your lives.

Deception ... Truths I Have Learned

January 24, 2021

   Opening passage — Joshua 9:1-26 (NLT) — The Gibeonites Deceive Israel — “1Now all the kings west of the Jordan River heard about what had happened. These were the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who lived in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far north as the Lebanon mountains. 2These kings combined their armies to fight as one against Joshua and the Israelites.
   3But when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4they resorted to deception to save themselves. They sent ambassadors to Joshua, loading their donkeys with weathered saddlebags and old, patched wineskins. 5They put on worn-out, patched sandals and ragged clothes. And the bread they took with them was dry and moldy. 6When they arrived at the camp of Israel at Gilgal, they told Joshua and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant land to ask you to make a peace treaty with us.”
   7The Israelites replied to these Hivites, “How do we know you don’t live nearby? For if you do, we cannot make a treaty with you.”
   8They replied, “We are your servants.” “But who are you?” Joshua demanded. “Where do you come from?”
   9They answered, “Your servants have come from a very distant country. We have heard of the might of the Lord your God and of all he did in Egypt. 10We have also heard what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River — King Sihon [see-hon] of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan (who lived in Ashtaroth). 11So our elders and all our people instructed us, ‘Take supplies for a long journey. Go meet with the people of Israel and tell them, “We are your servants; please make a treaty with us.”’
   12“This bread was hot from the ovens when we left our homes. But now, as you can see, it is dry and moldy. 13These wineskins were new when we filled them, but now they are old and split open. And our clothing and sandals are worn out from our very long journey.”
   14So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord. 15Then Joshua made a peace treaty with them and guaranteed their safety, and the leaders of the community ratified their agreement with a binding oath.
   16Three days after making the treaty, they learned that these people actually lived nearby! 17The Israelites set out at once to investigate and reached their towns in three days. The names of these towns were Gibeon, Kephirah [kefareea], Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim [kee-ree-i-th – geer-eem]. 18But the Israelites did not attack the towns, for the Israelite leaders had made a vow to them in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.
   The people of Israel grumbled against their leaders because of the treaty. 19But the leaders replied, “Since we have sworn an oath in the presence of the Lord, the God of Israel, we cannot touch them. 20This is what we must do. We must let them live, for divine anger would come upon us if we broke our oath. 21Let them live.” So they made them woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community, as the Israelite leaders directed.
   22Joshua called together the Gibeonites and said, “Why did you lie to us? Why did you say that you live in a distant land when you live right here among us? 23May you be cursed! From now on you will always be servants who cut wood and carry water for the house of my God.”
   24They replied, “We did it because we — your servants — were clearly told that the Lord your God commanded his servant Moses to give you this entire land and to destroy all the people living in it. So we feared greatly for our lives because of you. That is why we have done this. 25Now we are at your mercy — do to us whatever you think is right.”
   26So Joshua did not allow the people of Israel to kill them.” Amen?
   Did y’all know that there are two major “issues” in Scripture: #1. The issue of Deliverance and Salvation … and #2. The issue of Lies and Deception. Deception is a danger to us all and this danger is personified throughout the Bible. In Joshua chapter 9 we see an entire nation of people affected by deception.
   Why should deception be such a major issue in our lives? I think there are three reasons.
   First off … who is the master of deception: Satan; the master deceiver. If we as believers fall victim to any type of deception, you can take it to the bank he is behind the plan … because what is another word for deception? A Lie. We need to understand that any type of deception is a lie. John 8:44 (Revelation 12:9) tells us that the devil is the father of all lies. “44For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies."
   Who is the devil … where did he come from? He came from heaven. Lucifer was the supreme archangel … the highest on the totem pole of angels. God created him to lead the worship in all of heaven … but pride got in his way. In Isaiah 14:12-14 notice how many times the words “I will” are used. 12“How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world.
   13For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and I will set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north.
   14I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.”
   Because of his sin of pride, God permanently removed Satan from his exalted position and role … the top, the #1 angel in heaven … and God banished Satan to become the ruler of this world and the prince of the power of the 1st heaven … the atmosphere that surrounds the earth.
   Ephesians. 6 11 tells us to “Put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” That we may be able to see the strategies and the schemes of the devil coming at us and through the power of God’s Word we’ll be able to stand against all those fiery darts thrown at us by the devil and all his cronies. We need to understand that all of his schemes are overflowing with deception and evil … and his main plan is to get you in his clutches so he can take you straight to hell with him. What a prize that will be for him … someone who has proclaimed to the world that “I AM a Christian” … but in secret continues to live for the devil. Talk about a major deception??
   His mission is to get us to fall from our steadfastness … to turn our backs on God’s grace. To get us to be like Peter by taking our eyes off of Jesus and to fall into traps that are disastrous or detrimental, not only to ourselves, but also to the church and the Kingdom of God. You see, Satan has been on this mission since he fell from grace and was thrown out of heaven … and he will be on his destructive mission until he is thrown into the eternal lake of fire on judgement day.
   We need to totally grasp that his mission is to make the Truth (the Gospel) appear to be or sound like a lie … to make the Word of God sound like it is full of fabrications and contradictions … and to make a lie to appear or sound like the truth.
   Paul’s letters are filled with warnings about being deceived by the enemy. Much of his material in the letters address issues of deception ranging from his lies about righteousness, the resurrection, suffering, sanctification, grace, legalism, the second coming, the structure of the church, the family, false teachers and the false circumcision … this is just a few of the issues of deception Paul covers in his letters. Paul tells us very plainly that the enemy will tell you the absolute truth … but, then. he’ll take it and twist it and turn it so that when he’s through with the truth … it’s all lies … and you have been sucked into believing it all.
   John address deception very heavily in all he wrote, Peter devotes much of his letters to the issues of deception. We should ask ourselves, “Is this really something I should be concerned about? Should deception be a major issue with us as a church?”
   30-40 years ago … the way I was living (and some of y’all from back then) … I never would have believed I would still be here … but surprisingly … at 66 years old … here I am. I was born and raised in church … after I left home I hopped in and outta church for about 20 some-odd years … got saved in 1998 (at age 44) … was ordained in 2009 … and I haven’t missed a Sunday Service in 12 years.
   But come to think of it … after all this time  … with all my church going … I don’t ever remember hearing a lesson, a message or a sermon (however you want to term it) on deception. I’ve heard many messages on salvation, on suffering, on the second coming, on marriage and the family, but no message can I ever remember on the subject of deception. But there is always a first time … and I guess today is it.
   From Joshua chapter 9 I learned some truths on deception, and I hope you are interested in this issue, since we are all subject to deception. I mean since we have all been deceived at times … and at times we have all deceived others, right?? Tell me again, how big was that fish that got away??
   Reading and studying on this topic I have realized that every day I get up I have the possibility to be a victim of some form of deception and this thought wakes me up and puts me on my toes … makes me more attentive to what’s going on around me and exactly what people are saying to me … and I hope it will peek your interest as well.
   There were five things I learned about deception from Joshua 9;
   1. From this passage I learned Satan has two major ways of defeating me;
   One is an apparent deception, and the other is a hidden deception like the one found in vs. 1, “Now all the kings west of the Jordan River heard about what had happened. These were the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who lived in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far north as the Lebanon mountains.”
   And following that is vs. 3 “But when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai,”
   Both of these examples are meant to do us in; both are dangerous to us and both are designed to keep us from walking in the newness of life, they are designed to keep us from walking in a true dependence on God.
   2. THE TIMMING OF DECEPTION — (vss. 1-2) When did the deception come? In chapters 6 & 7 we see how Joshua and his fighting men defeated the cities of Jericho and Ai. If you’ll notice, the deception came right after the victory. They were blessed by crossing the Jordan on dry land and entering the promised land as God had promised … and right after the blessing comes the battle. Please Lord, don’t ever let us forget that.
   Have you ever been on a marriage retreat? What a wonderful, relaxing time, Right? But not long after you get back home … the same ole problems, the same ole situations are facing you again. With the tranquility of the retreat and its blessings … some have been targeted for his deception; this is a pattern all throughout scripture. It is usually always in the middle of, or after a great deliverance or battle. It is when we are feeling our strengths; when we think we have it all together; we slack off … kick our feet back … but the moment we drop our shield of faith … the fiery darts of the enemy start to fly.
   3. The techniques; (vss. 3-13) These Gibeonites changed their appearance; they appeared harmless, honorable; and honest. Joshua and the leaders, would never have fallen for this deception had this not been the case; they knew how to deceive; Satan used these techniques through them to stop the progress of the taking of the land. Every time I have been deceived and found it out, these three things would be taking place; and it always kept me from experiencing God’s best. It kept me from exchanging my life for His.
   4. The fourth lesson I learned about this issue; WHY THEY WERE TAKEN IN; vs.14 tells us they did not seek the council of the Lord. They made their decisions based on what they saw … never consulting the Lord.
   How many of us has done that? Many times we have made our decisions, got things rolling … and then ask for God’s blessing … instead of asking for his blessing first. Matthew 6:33 instructs us to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God …” Before we are to make ANY decisions, we are to seek God’s input first.
   5. The fifth lesson I learned; once they were taken in they were tied to them. In vs. 15 we see where the leaders made peace and made a covenant; they swore an oath. It is awful hard to disregard this verse. Some of us are suffering today because of our being taken in by deception. We are locked into debts, relationships, dependencies, and many other hard places to walk because we were taken in … because we did not ask God about the issue first.
   6. The sixth lesson … TRUSTING GOD!! What do you do after you have blown it? What do you do after your ill mannered heart has made the decision and you realize there’s a HUGE “OOPS!!” in there some where.
   Look what they did; they admitted it (vss. 16-19) … they accepted it … (vss. 20-21) … and they allowed God to come online (vss. 22-27). Romans 8:28-29 tells us 28And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
   All of us have been deceived in one way or another. Here again I ask the question …  what will be your response? Are you going to let the deception stop you from allowing God’s grace to come to you or are you going to admit it, accept it and let him work good in your life? I hope after today I won’t be quite as susceptible to deception.

Conditioned for the Conquest

January 17, 2021

   Opening passage — Joshua 4:1-14 — 1When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2“Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”
   4So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen — one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder — twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”
   8So the men did as Joshua had commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River, one for each tribe, just as the Lord had told Joshua. They carried them to the place where they camped for the night and constructed the memorial there.
   9Joshua also set up another pile of twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, at the place where the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant were standing. And they are there to this day.
   10The priests who were carrying the Ark stood in the middle of the river until all of the Lord’s commands that Moses had given to Joshua were carried out. Meanwhile, the people hurried across the riverbed. 11And when everyone was safely on the other side, the priests crossed over with the Ark of the Lord as the people watched.
   12The armed warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh led the Israelites across the Jordan, just as Moses had directed. 13These armed men — about 40,000 strong — were ready for battle, and the Lord was with them as they crossed over to the plains of Jericho.
   14That day the Lord made Joshua a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites, and for the rest of his life they revered him as much as they had revered Moses.
   We’re going to start by covering a few things in chapter 4 then move on to chapter 5.
   After they cross the river we would expect Jericho to be conquered in short order. We think that Jericho is immediately on God’s mind. Not so, they spent some 10 days here at Gilgal and some 6 days before they saw the walls of Jericho fall down. In all there are 39 verses and 10 days between the crossing of the Jordan and the conquering of Jericho.
   I am sure the children of Israel were anxious to begin their conquest of the promised land. But God had other plans. This is a reminder to us of God’s words in Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”
   In other words we think we know best. We decide we want something done or we want a situation to be changed and we want everything to suit us and we want it now. When we don’t see immediate answers to our prayers we begin to doubt to grumble and complain. But we must realize that it is all in His timing … not ours.
   God is in the business of preparing us for the task he has called us too. Remember It took 40 years for the children of Israel to be ready to enter the promise land. After Moses left Egypt it took 40 years for God to prepare him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Even Jesus was 30 years old before he began his ministry If you get a chance to do some research you might be surprised to realize just how long it took God to prepare people in the Bible for the tasks he called them too. We must learn to trust God and wait upon Him. We must learn to allow God to prepare us for the task He has called us to. We must open our hearts and minds to hear His voice and to follow Him. We must be obedient to His Word.
   As we look at this it is a picture for us with a huge difference, for them, God had to get them ready, for us He has gotten us ready.
   2 Peter 1:3 says "He has given us everything we need for life (with all of its complexities and circumstances) and he has given us godliness, (our response as a believer to these complexities and circumstances).
   Victory does not come because we need to be more prepared … but when we accept the victory that has already been won. Romans 8:37 reminds us that “we are more than conquerors."
   2 Corinthians 2:14, He always leads us in triumph. Every believer here today has been conditioned for the conquest.
   Their conquest was a Promised Land, our conquest is a Promised Life, and abundant life … our promise is the ability to live His life.
   So today we are going to look at what took place in their midst to get them ready for the conquest, and at the same time we are going to see what God has done in Christ for us so we are conditioned for the conquest.
   1. There was a crossing that had to be completed. (v1-14; v1;v10;v11;v13); Before there could ever be a conquest, they had to complete the crossing. They had to enter into what God had done; he had cut off the water for them to pass; once the crossing had been completed, there were three things that happened that would have an impact upon them when they started the campaign;
   a. There would be REMINDERS of the crossing; we read about the stones taken from the middle of the river (vss. 2-7). They were to be for a sign among them; the sons and daughters would ask; What would be the answer?
   In vs. 7 we read the waters were cut off before the ark of the Lord; They would take something from this experience that would be eternal reminders of their passage from the wilderness to Canaan.
   So what does it mean for us to pass from our wilderness life to a life in Canaan? It means Jesus Christ’ death on the cross; if we call ourselves Christians … we died with him. We died not only to the penalty of sin … but we also died to the power of sin ... I must accept my death … not only in him … but with him.
   What are the reminders for me? On the day I crossed over I took away some reminders. Freedom; rest; a new focus; a new insight; when I learned He had cut the waters off for me. This truth is important when we are faced with the circumstances and complexities of life; in our marriages, in our jobs; in our relationships to accept our death; there will be reminders of this;
   b. When they had crossed over they were ready for war; (v11-13) They put on their armor … they put on Christ who is the armor;
   c. When they crossed over and it was completed, the relationship with Joshua changed; (v14); they never had the same attitude toward him ever again. With us it is the relationship with Jesus that changes; He’s no longer part of my life … he’s no longer just my Lord … He IS my Life.
   No longer do we live by lists … but by His life in us and through us. We are not slaves anymore … but friends. We are already conditioned for the conquest because He has finished the work on Calvary; we have reminders of our having entered into that work; we have been readied for the battle; and we have a whole new relationship.
   2. There was a crossing that must be finished; but secondly there was a “coming up” that freed them; (v15-24); 4 times this phrase is used; as a result of the Priest coming up;
   a. they were SAFE and SECURE on the other side on dry ground; (v16-18a)
   b. they were SEPERATED from the wilderness (v18b);
   c. the STONES now meant something to them; those stone were raised to walk in newness of life. Until you have been freed from the wilderness, it is only talk … but when you have been freed … you become living letters known and read by all men.
   So … we saw in chapter 4 how it was God’s Part to condition us for the conquest. It was the Crossing that was finished & the Coming up that freed them. We saw how God did everything necessary so they EXCHANGE the wilderness life for a life lived in a new territory called Canaan. The land He had promised to them nearly 600 years earlier.
   What was God’s part? He cut off the waters, and He brought them across on dry ground and up out of the depths of the riverbed. And then He causes the waters to come back to separate them from the wilderness life forever.
   Is there a chapter 4 in your life? Do you still have wilderness areas in your life that have to be crossed and conquered? You and I have been conditioned for the conquest ... and with His help and His Grace alone … we can make it across our Jordans and live the Promised Life that we have been promised.
   Now, (if you will) please turn to Joshua 5:1-15 (NLT) — 1When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.
   2At that time the Lord told Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise this second generation of Israelites.” 3So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the entire male population of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth.(jybeth-hairaloth)
   4Joshua had to circumcise them because all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died in the wilderness. 5Those who left Egypt had all been circumcised, but none of those born after the Exodus, during the years in the wilderness, had been circumcised. 6The Israelites had traveled in the wilderness for forty years until all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died. For they had disobeyed the Lord, and the Lord vowed he would not let them enter the land he had sworn to give us — a land flowing with milk and honey. 7So Joshua circumcised their sons — those who had grown up to take their fathers’ places — for they had not been circumcised on the way to the Promised Land. 8After all the males had been circumcised, they rested in the camp until they were healed.
   9Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.” So that place has been called Gilgal to this day.
   10While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. 11The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. 12No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan.
   13When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”
   14“Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”
   At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”
   15The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.”
   As we move into Chapter 5 we are going to see what their part was and our part is in the EXCAHNGE. Someone said to me the other day that they understand some of what God has done for us in Christ at the cross, but what do I do? What is my part in this tremendous deliverance?
   Today in chapter 5 we will see our part in being freed and being able to walk in a DEPENDENT relationship with God in the everyday circumstances of life. How we can allow the promises of God to become a reality to us here and now.
   1. We must realize a condition that now exist; (a pertinent truth) Chapter 5:1 tells us beyond and near; all the kings; hearts melted; no spirit; they were paralyzed with fear. What an encouraging thing for these Israelites to realize. This land, occupied by bigger and stronger people than themselves, was going to be theirs, because the Lord had done such a marvelous thing in their behalf.
   Their day was over. They were by all counts defeated. The only thing that could stop them now … was themselves. With all they had been through throughout out their journey they would be the only ones who could stop them. The only thing that will keep us from exchanging our lives for his is ourselves. You can blame it on your spouse, a church member, a mother, a father, a child, but in reality you are the only one who will stop the exchange. You are the one who will decide you cannot forgive someone, you cannot give up your control of your self control of your life, and you cannot give up trying to “fix” other people. God has given us everything we need, He has given us His life to meet the circumstances of this life, and we must make the exchange if we are to realize victory.
   This is a pertinent truth. we have ALL met the enemy … and that enemy is us! You and i are the only ones who can keep us from being a selfer, from allowing Jesus to extend express and to exhibit his life through us.
   2. The second thing they were going to have to do as their part in the EXCAHNGE; REMOVE THE CIRCUMCISED FLESH; ( a painful ordeal) (v2-9) What was this circumcision all about? It was a way they were reminded that they had a covenant relationship with God. They had, as it were, exchanged their life for His. Everyday when the male Israelites looked at this part of his body they were reminded of this exchange. That he did not get life from his flesh … but from his covenant relationship with God. God did something for them that would remind them everyday of this.
   1. Who was to do this? V2-3;tells us Joshua handled the physical part … but Jesus handled the Spiritual part. Jesus made it possible for our flesh, our old ways to be removed in Him (Colossians 2:11-14).
   2. Why were they to do this? (V4-6); the entire time spent in the wilderness was spent uncircumcised, with the crossing over came a new relationship with God. He would no longer be just a cloud or a fire … but He would become their life here in the promise land. They had not listened to God and they spent the whole time uncircumcised. I said it was a painful ordeal, there are some observations about that as well.
   a. It was worth it; to know of your covenant relationship in the heat of battle, to put off the flesh and walk in the Spirit is a painful ordeal for us, especially when we want to do our own thing our way.
   b. it weakened them; 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us In our weakness He is made strong; 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
   c. Without it the REPROACH (disgrace) of the independent living  of the old life remains, the life of being a “selfer” is still there; it becomes a disgrace to us personally. If we say we are trusting God … and all the time we are living still out of the old flesh patterns, the old ways of handling life when we get rejected … we are a disgrace to the power of God and the power of the resurrection. It is a painful ordeal, but out of the pain of putting off the flesh comes a powerful relationship;
   3. Our part, Realize a condition exist, a pertinent truth; Remove the circumcised flesh; a painful ordeal and; reclaim and celebrate your identity; (our position is of ultimate importance). The Passover was where they were not only delivered from the death angel but they were delivered because they were identified as being under the blood. They were marked out for deliverance … not death. Once they were circumcised, and the flesh was removed they could then celebrate their new identity.
   Many people don’t understand the concept that our identity is so central to our behavior, how we act and react to life, the things we say and do … and once we begin to understand our new ID in Christ as a saint … we begin to have a desire to act out of that new ID.
   Our part in our participation of the exchanged life is to celebrate our new ID in Christ. How do we do this? We begin to live as the saints we are; free; and not in bondage; in faith and not in fear; resting and not agitated; we begin to live out of the exchange.
   Note vs. 11, there was a significant change in what now would satisfy their appetite. “The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land.”
   4. Our part in the exchange is to realize a condition that exist. The truth of the matter is that we have to remove the circumcised flesh. It’s a painful ordeal but it must be done in order to reclaim and celebrate our new ID.
   A position that makes all the difference is to recognize the Captain for who he is and what he does; He wasn’t there not to take sides but to take over.
   WHILE he was by Jericho figuring out the strategy of what HE was going to do; he looked out and what did he see? He saw Jericho … with all of its fortifications and then when he looked up, he saw the Captain … King Jesus. Jesus was standing opposite of him, not in opposition to him, with sword drawn, and in vss. 13-15 we see that Joshua went up to Him and asked “Are you friend or foe” He said, “I did not come to take sides, but to take over; take off your shoes so there is nothing between you and me.”

Standing at the Jordan   Transition Time

January 10,2021

   If you will, please open your Bibles to Ezra 10. This chapter is talking about where the Levitical priest had sinned by marrying pagan wives and starting at vs. 18-44 they start naming names ... and how dangerous it that … pointing fingers? I need you to look closely to vs. 26 where it says "And of the sons of Elam were Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah."
   This verse is buried twenty-six lines deep in the midst of a long list of laborious names. You can see that seven names are listed, a father and his six sons. However, nothing is said about them — who they were, what they did, how their lives mattered. Nothing. Just their names. But, the Bible teaches us that names are important. A name defines you, and Proverbs 22:1 says that a good name is to be desired above great riches.
   So, if you were to use the Strong's Hebrew Dictionary, the Easton Bible Dictionary, and the Hitchcock Bible Names Dictionary, and look up the meaning of each of these names … what you would find would be worthy of your consideration.
Elam — a secret hidden by distance in the highlands
Mattaniah — the gift of hope from the Lord; the hope laid up in heaven
Zechariah — The renowned Lord has remembered
Jehiel — God's life will be seen in me
Abdi — serviceable, servant of the Lord
Jeremoth — elevations; uplifted beyond the fear of death
Eliah — The Mighty God, the Lord who works in wonder and power

   Putting the meaning of these seven names together in one continuous thought produced the following treasure: "There was a secret hidden in the heavens, far away from the sight of man. It was a gift of hope, laid up in heaven for us by the Lord. At the perfect moment, in the fullness of time, the Lord remembered the gift and brought it forth for us to have and to behold. Because of this His name is now renowned throughout the whole earth. His life has now been made manifest in and through us, making us useful unto every good word and work, and lifting us far above the power of sin and death. He is the mighty God, who works wonders of love by His great power."
   Next time you’re whizzing through the Bible on your way to a place called Hurry Up and Get Nowhere … STOP and take a break. Slow down and read with an inquisitive mind, a curious soul, and an investigative hunger. You might stumble upon a buried treasure or two if you’d just take the time dig a little deeper.

Opening passage — Joshua 3:1-13 (NLT) — The Israelites Cross the Jordan — 1Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia Grove and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing. 2Three days later the Israelite officers went through the camp, 3giving these instructions to the people: “When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, move out from your positions and follow them. 4Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you. Stay about half a mile behind them, keeping a clear distance between you and the Ark. Make sure you don’t come any closer.”
   5Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
   6In the morning Joshua said to the priests, “Lift up the Ark of the Covenant and lead the people across the river.” And so they started out and went ahead of the people.
   7The Lord told Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses. 8Give this command to the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the banks of the Jordan River, take a few steps into the river and stop there.’”
   9So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says. 10Today you will know that the living God is among you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ahead of you. 11Look, the Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River! 12Now choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13The priests will carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a wall.”
   Have the promises of God become a reality to you? As we see God’s covenant people posses the land, we can learn how the promise became a reality to them and apply the promise much of the same ways to our lives. These things were an example to us.
   1. This is just as a significant time as when they stood on the banks of the Red Sea.
   2. Standing at the Red Sea was going to end 430 years of slavery, standing on the banks of the Jordan river was going to end, 40 years of wilderness existence.
   a. The end of 40 years of walking in a circle going nowhere fast;
   b. The end of striving and never arriving;
   c. The end of walking by sight
   d. The end of independent living
   e. The end of never being assured of victory over the enemy
   f. The end of being constantly reminded of past failures
   g. The end of fear
   h. The end of a self centered existence where life was all about them;
   3. It was the END for MOST of them, but not for Gad and half the tribe of Mannassa. They would never occupy the land. The Promise of God would be only words and never substance to them. These people opted out of God’s plan … they opted out of Him carrying out His purpose through them. They would opt for something much less than the fullness of joy, peace, a meaningful relationship, and enjoying the milk and honey of being in fellowship with Him. How many people do you know today, who are the covenant people of God, that have settled for less than his best for them?
   4. But for those who were going to CROSS OVER, the end of the wilderness was just three days away. Just think in three days they would be going on the greatest adventure of their lives. They did not know what lay ahead, but you and I can now read about it. I don’t know if they would have believed the things that were going to happen even if God had been specific. He had told them he would be with them but I don’t think they even had a clue of the great work He was going to do on their behalf for them to posses this land. They would see walls of fortified cities fall before their very eyes, they would see mercy and Grace in a defeat, they would see the enemy terrified of them, and they would begin to enter God’s rest.
   a. Transition time is for the most part a bittersweet experience. It can be freedom and fear all at the same time.
   b. It is scary to go from trusting our own resources and ourselves for life, to trusting God for life.
   c. From our own do-it-yourselves projects to trusting God to do it all for us and through us.
   Maybe today will be your transition time, going from religion to relationship, from trying to trusting, from self-reliance to God reliance. The issue before us in this passage is what was going on with them in this transition time, before they crossed over from wilderness living to Cannaan living? I want us to see four things that took place in this transition time. i believe we can relate to these things as well before we can cross over.
   1. Vs. 3:1 says “Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia Grove and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing.”
   a. It was uncrossable; just like the Red Sea; flood stage; no resources; they had to wait there for three days and look at this uncrossable river. You ever had an uncrossable river in your life? A thing, an incident, a person that you just cannot forgive, something or someone you just cannot get around it or over it … you can’t even dig under it? It may have been when you were small, or it might have been recently, but you have not been able to go on in your Christian life because of this uncrossable river.
   b. The Jordan stood between them and freedom from the wilderness; it was the last physical barrier to cross before the promise becomes a reality. What do they do now? What are their options when all they can do is sit there and watch the water rise? There is NOT one thing THEY can do to get across in and of themselves. They either trust God to get to the other side … or they turn around and go back and stay in the wilderness. what do you do with your Jordan? Do you have a past that has embittered you, a past that is enveloping you, a marriage or divorce that has so affected you, a root of bitterness has sprung up inside of you and that bitter root is root defiling every relationship.
   c. Do you have a child that is breaking your heart and there is nothing you can do to fix them. The uncrossable rivers in our lives, all the things that come up that we cannot handle, the unresolved anger, the hurt that happened 20 years ago, the mistakes that you wish you had not made. We cannot change our fixes, but God can fix and make our changes. Face the Jordan, not with despair, but with hope for deliverance.
   2. Vs. 2-3 they had to Focus on God; “2Three days later the Israelite officers went through the camp, 3giving these instructions to the people: “When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, move out from your positions and follow them.” Other words … "Go after it" He will be their solution to crossing over the Jordan. Scripture reference to this; (Isa. 26:3;43:2;16&17; Ps. 56:3-4;23:4;16:8). So … I’m sure your question is “How do I focus on God?”
   Through His word, prayer, and making a choice; This is what you see the early covenant people doing; When Nehemiah was faced with the wall he called on the Lord, his focus was on God. Get our focus off of your stuff and onto God.
   3. In vs. 5 Joshua told the people “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.” Other words we have to face ourselves … you have to consecrate yourselves; set yourselves apart. 2 Corinthians 6:17 tells us to “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.” Romans 12:2 says “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
   Why should we separate ourselves from the world? Vs. 5 says “For tomorrow you will see great wonders among you … if you set yourselves apart from the mindset of the wilderness.” Separate yourselves.” It is time to leave it all behind.
   What am I really like? Am I a wilderness junkie or a person of faith? Am I so hung up on my past stuff that I have no hope for a future? It was time for them to leave walking by sight and to start to begin to walk by faith. Trusting God not only as their Savior … but also as their Life.
   4. Face it, focus on God, face themselves, and a Fact they needed to know. Vs. 10 says Today you will know that the living God is among you because vs. 13 says that God was going to cut the water off when the priest rested their feet in the water.” Nothing was going to happen until they were willing to rest their feet in the water … it is called faith people … it is called believing what God promised. They must trust god to do what he says, so if they want the waters cut off they must believe that if they put their feet in the water it will happen.
   2 Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” Do y’all understand that passage? God isn’t going to do anything until you take that first step. Read it again … “If my people will … then I will.”
   Standing at the Jordan. What a defining moment in the lives of God’s people. A moment when they faced reality, do we go on or do we go back to the wilderness?
   Today may be a defining moment for you as you face your Jordan. Do we allow ourselves to summit and let God to change us … or do we just stay in that same ole rut that we’ve living in for the past however many years? Will you believe that God wants you to walk in a newness of life, no longer walking in the wilderness, but crossing over and possessing all the possessions He has given you? I believe he does. Will you believe that with me today?

An Overview of Joshua

January 3, 2021

   Opening passage — Joshua 1:1-9 (NLT) The Lord’s Charge to Joshua — 1After the death of Moses, the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you — 4from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ 5No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.
   6“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
   In Romans 6:4 (KJV) we read that we were “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” … ‘raised to walk in a newness of life.’
   What does this mean? Does it mean a believer has an improved life? Could it mean this newness of life is something I can achieve? Or perhaps it means that I will be doing better at life. In other words I want be using profanity as much, or maybe smoking and drinking less. It may mean that I will be reading my Bible more, praying more, or even being a better husband etc. Is it something I have to work at or is it something I will be WALKING IN?
   Just what is this “walking in newness of life”? In a word it is dependence, total dependence upon God, a life of faith. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
   “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith (dependence) in the Son of God.” When we became His by new birth, we were not just reconciled to God by the death of Jesus, but we were saved by His life. Saved from what? His blood, (death) saved me from my sins, my death with Him saved me from myself. How can I depend upon Him to live His life in me and through me to meet the circumstances of life for me … if I’m all wrapped up in “ME”? He can’t because “I’M” too much in the way. This ‘walking in newness of life’ could be termed the ‘saving life of Christ’.
   I have discovered that God is committed to taking me from this ‘independent life of self’ to the ‘dependent’ life of Christ. In other words, God will spend the rest of my life taking me from the natural man, who had habits and patterns of making life work through my own natural strength, wisdom, intellect, ability, to complete dependence upon Him for all of these. Just like Jesus said about His Father, “I can do nothing without Him.” I now can say that about Jesus and myself. Jesus had a tremendous amount of natural ability but failed to depend upon it for one moment. God wants us to ‘posses’ our relationship with Him. He has pursued us for a relationship, and now He wants us to ‘posses’ that relationship, to walk in the newness of life that is ours IN Christ. Only when we are actually walking in dependence upon Him for life, can we say we possess our possession.
   Many are still trying to ‘achieve’ Christianity rather than ‘receiving’ Christ into their life. I see this as ‘trying to get somewhere that I already am’. You see, as a Christian, I cannot be any more in Christ than I currently am. I cannot be a “better” Christian because I’m already a Christian. I can mature … but I can’t get anymore saved, anymore forgiven, anymore a son, anymore a believer than I already am. As a believer ALL ALL I HAVE TO ‘DO’ IS TO POSSES WHAT IS ALREDY MINE. For the promises of God to become a reality in my life … all I have to do is posses them.
   This means I will have to give up on the self-life and posses the Christ life that is mine by the new birth.
   This is what Joshua is all about, the promise becoming a reality. This is an account of a people who had been wandering in a wilderness for many years while the promise, that was theirs, laid waiting to be possessed. One day they got the word, they would go in and posses what had been theirs all along. What an exciting time for them. Why did they not go in and posses what was theirs?
   I have been asked so many times “Why did God make the Isrealites wonder around in the desert for 40 years … after all … it was only a 12 day trip from Egypt to the Promised Land? In a few words: Joshua 5:6 says it was because “they disobeyed the Lord.”
   How tragic is that? To be given something from the Lord … and never receive it! What was it they did not hear? They either did not hear or they did not understand that they could depend upon Him to cross the Jordan, they could depend on Him to face the giants and to conquer the land. You see … He wanted to prove Himself to His beloved but … all but two refused. They did not hear Him say in essence that there was no obstacle that would stand in the way of the promise becoming a reality. So they made a choice to stay in the dessert. It was forty years of STRIVING … but never ARRIVING … a prime example of FEAR … instead of FAITH. We need to understand that the ONLY obstacle standing in the way of God’s promises becoming a reality in your life … is you.
   This morning we’re going to start a 6 part series on “Joshua … Where the Promise Became A Reality.” Here is an outline of the ‘promise becoming a reality’;
Chapter 1-5: Entering the Land (application: we must receive the promises not achieve them)
Chapter 6-21: The Conquest of the Land: (it will take believing God in order to take the possession that is already theirs)
Chapter 22-24: Remaining in the Land; (Resting in what is theirs/ours)
   The Key Words: Possession, Possesses, Possessed; appear at least 20 times in 24 Chapters; this took about seven years, it was a journey … not a jog;
   Presence or some form of this word: God said He would be with them, it was not only promised it was experienced because they took Him at His word;
   Power: They was a consistent display of His power as He went before them and dispossesses the Canaanites.
   People: Just like you and me, no super human beings, no fictional characters, and just ordinary folks listening and following a supernatural God. They experienced the conflicts that come with possessing the promise.
  Given: over twenty times some form of this word is used in connection with the idea of them possessing the land, do you think God was trying to communicate something to them? Do you think he’s trying to communicate the same message to us?
   Our KEY VERSE this morning is vs. 3; “Every place you place the sole of your feet I have GIVEN it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.” Isn’t that an awesome promise?? Throughout Scripture this verse comes into play over and over again.
   KEY QUESTION: Why was it so important to God for them to poses their possession? IT WAS IN THIS LAND WHERE HE WOULD BRING TO PASS HIS PLAN AND PURPOSE OF REDEMPTION WOULD BE CARRIED OUT. It was centuries later when this happened but possessing this land was a huge step in the process of the plan of redemption. Why is it so important for us to posses what is ours by the New Birth? And what is ours? A relationship with Him that is vital to us, a dependent relationship. It is in this dependent relationship that He can Extend His life through us, Express His character through us, and Exhibit His Power though us.

It is not walking by rules but in a relationship that is ours to possess;
It is not walking by a list but walking by His life in us; (Christ in us is OUR HOPE OF GLORY)
It is not walking and being conquered, but walking as more than conquers;
It is not walking in cowardness but waking by faith and being courageous;
It is a walk where the promise of God says “I CAME TO GIVE YOU LIFE” becomes a reality;
   When we are possessing our possessions, we are experiencing everything He has given us in the Death and Resurrection of Christ; Total Forgiveness, always standing in Grace; more than a conquer.
More next week

A Forecast for a New Year

December 27,2020

   Opening passage— Jude 1-25 (NLT) — Greetings from Jude — 1This letter is from Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.
   I am writing to all who have been called by God the Father, who loves you and keeps you safe in the care of Jesus Christ.
   2May God give you more and more mercy, peace, and love.
   The Danger of False Teachers
   3Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. 4I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
   5So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful. 6And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. 7And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.
   8In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. 9But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.) 10But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. 11What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion.
   12When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.
   14Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation after Adam, prophesied about these people. He said, “Listen! The Lord is coming with countless thousands of his holy ones 15to execute judgment on the people of the world. He will convict every person of all the ungodly things they have done and for all the insults that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
   16These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.
A Call to Remain Faithful — 17But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. 18They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. 19These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.
   20But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
   22And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. 23Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
   A Prayer of Praise — 24Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.
   There was a time in my life where I’ dreamed of being a weather forecaster. Growing up, watching the news was part of my daily schedule. Keeping up with the weather forecast was part of my job when I was building houses.
   My favorite part of the newscast was not the sports segment, but the four to five minute weather segment. Patterns come and patterns go. Storms come and storms go. There is always a new development.
   God has allowed part of the dream to come to fruition in my life. He’s allowed me to preach this morning and grant you the forecast for this church for the upcoming new year. For some of you, I know you’re fixing to turn your hearing aides off … some of you won’t care one way or the other, but some of you, you will be motivated to make a difference for Jesus Christ.
   Friends, the forecast is simple. For the Christian in the house – a person who has genuinely trusted Jesus Christ to be his or her Lord and Savior – your forecast is Sonny. Heaven will be your home. Therefore, your ultimate forecast is a beautiful life and a beautiful eternity in Heaven. For that, you must be thankful and also, you must desire to see others go to Heaven as well.
   But, I do question the salvation of individuals who do not want churches to grow or to see other people come to know Jesus. If you’re truly a Christian, you’ll want to see others come to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
   For the unbeliever in the house – a person who has never trusted Jesus to be their Lord and Savior – your ultimate forecast is one of storms, fierce, eternal storms. As a matter of fact, your forecast is an eternal damnation in a Devil’s Hell. You may have good days – you may even have fun from time to time – but your destination is secured through your unbelief in Jesus Christ. The sad thing is this – there are church members in this room today that have never genuinely trusted Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. Some may ask “But Pastor … how can you make a statement like that today?” I can make that statement because I see your actions and I hear your words and I promise that your actions DO speak louder than your words. You see … it’s one thing to talk the talk … it’s an entirely different matter when someone can talk the talk and walk the walk at the same time.
   For the church universal – this church and every other Christian church – the forecast is not as cut and dry. You see, every church is filled with two types of people – those who are Saved and going to heaven, and those who are Lost and going to hell. There’s no in between. The devil owns the fence!!! There are saved people on the attendance rolls of any church – and – there are lost people on the rolls of the same church.
   That is why so many churches struggle to maintain. We are constantly fighting over nonsensical issues, never being truly concerned with what is really important – winning lost souls to Jesus Christ. For the church, the forecast is cloudy. Cloudy, with a 50% chance of Storms.
   Today’s text comes from a book that is right in the vestibule of the book of Revelation, the book of Jude. Jude composed his text as a response to the Gnostic cult that was in the midst of being formed in the newborn Christian church and Christian culture. Gnosticsm was a full blown pagan cult attack on Christianity, questioning everything about Christianity. It always had excuses instead of answers. This same cultic behavior is present in our churches today – and especially in the world. Let’s go ahead and dig in this morning.
a. “To those who are called”
b. “To those who are sanctified by God the Father”
c. “To those who are preserved in Jesus Christ”
   Ephesians 1:3-14 (NLT) — Spiritual Blessings — 3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
   9God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
   12God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.
   1 Peter 2:9 also refers to believers as a “Chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s very own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
   TODAY – If you’ve trusted Christ Jesus to be your Lord and Savior – Simply BE – BE what God wants you to BE! Red Stone, BE the church that God wants you to be! BE the Christian that God wants you to be.
   We’ve been called, set aside, and preserved in Jesus Christ – quit all that negative talking, quit complaining, quit griping, and GET TO WORK. There are people dying and going to hell everyday … 5 minutes out that door. The Kingdom of God is at hand!
   II. Jude is CONCERNED at the BEHAVIOR of people of the CHURCH
   Jude is concerned to the point of quickly writing to remind believers as to where they came from and how God has put them where they are.
   The terminology of “common salvation” refers to the fact that we are all saved the same way.
   Ephesians 2:8-9 “We are saved by grace through faith, not of works lest any man should boast.”
   Notice in verse 4 – “For certain men have crept in unnoticed”
   How is your church attendance record? ave you ever thought about the fact that Satan has a perfect attendance award in every church that has ever existed? If you look around this morning, he may be sitting right there … next to you. He creeps in unnoticed. Within this particular context, it refers to doctrinal issues. Within other contexts, Satan creeps in through other avenues – senseless avenues which paralyze the ability of any church to win the lost to Jesus Christ.
   So, Jude REMINDS the people … who is really in charge … and who really isn’t!
   You see … we need to completely understand the FACT that God doesn’t play games. Look at …
1. Sodom and Gomorrah
2. Satan
3. Cain
4. Baalam
5. Korah
   We shouldn’t play around with God either.
   It breaks my heart and grieves me and my family to the point of no return to see “Christians” and I do place that word in quotations, take their eyes off of the cross and place them on their own selfish wants and desires. Friends, when we when we get all soaked up with our name and our desires … who and what we are … our status in our little world … when we become more concerned in all that than His Name and His Will – doomsday is ahead for our families and ultimately this and any other church that chooses to disobey God’s Will.
   Notice in vs 12-13 how Jude describes the Apostates (unbelievers, fraudulent individuals, the church pretenders)
   12When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.
   Enoch says in vs. 14 “Behold the Lord comes with 10,000 of his saints to execute judgment on all.” The bottom line, the Lord is coming to convict.
   So, Jude DESCRIBES the BEHAVIOR flaws
• People are Grumblers
• People are Complainers
• People are more concerned about self and selfish desires
• People who speak swelling words – try to make themselves look good
• People who try to look good to take advantage of others
• People who are sensual – they cause divisions
• People who are without the Holy Spirit
   Now we can truly see why the forecast is CLOUDY with a chance of Storms in the church’s future.
   III. Jude COMMANDS the Church to look to CHRIST JESUS
   Jude 20 says “Build yourselves up on your most holy faith.”
* Get into the Word of God – study
   2 Timothy 2:15 – Study hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.
* Get into the Word of God – memorize Scripture
   Psalm 119:11 – I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
   Psalm 119:105 – Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
   Psalm 23:1 – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
   Joshua 1:9 – Be strong and of good courage, do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
   Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding: In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths

b. Pray in the Holy Spirit
* Look Up to God
   2 Corinthians 10:4-6 - 4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
c. Keep yourselves in the Love of God
* When dealing with ignorance, instead of getting angry, remember that the person or person(s) that you are dealing with are simply tools of Satan who need Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
* When you hear of people saying the following:
“Our church has grown way too much” or “Our church has grown way too fast” or “We are seeing way too many new people in church” – don’t get mad at ‘em for saying such foolishness – pray for them that God will save their souls or pray for them that God will restore the joy of His salvation again in their lives.
• Don’t get mad – give God a chance to make a difference
d. Look to the mercy of Christ unto Eternal Life
* The words of John Newton say it all:
“Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, that SAVED a WRETCH like me, I once was lost, but now am found. Twas blind, but now I see.”
   Jude doesn’t say fight – Jude says LOOK TO JESUS.
   Jesus was not liked among His fellow countrymen. Jesus was not respected among the religious right. Jesus wasn’t wanted by his own family. See, Jesus brought about change. People don’t like change. Churches don’t like change. I wonder if churches are filled with followers of Christ or are just filled with Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes – all of which are the ones who nailed Jesus to the cross.
   o He’s able to keep you from stumbling
   o He’s able to present you faultless before His presence with exceeding joy
   o He is wise
   o To Him be the glory and honor and majesty forever and ever AMEN
   What is your eternal forecast this morning? Have you ever trusted Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?
   Matthew 7:21-23 says – 21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
   Don’t be caught up in that boat because it's sinking fast.
   LOOK TO JESUS – LOOK TO JESUS. He can and will find you, save you, change you, rearrange you and make life worth living.

Christmas Questions

December 20,2020

   Opening passage — Matthew 1:18-25 (NLT) — The Birth of Jesus the Messiah — 18This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
   20As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
   22All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
   23“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
   24When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
   Luke 2:1-20 (NLT) — The Birth of Jesus — 1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
   6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
   The Shepherds and Angels — 8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
   13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
   14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
   15When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
   16They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.”
   How would you react to a sermon composed entirely of questions? Are you intrigued when the questions refuse to give you answers, leaving you puzzling over the text for yourself? Are you cross - isn’t it the preacher’s job to explain things? - Isn’t the preacher not doing his job properly? Are you mystified? How would you react to a sermon composed entirely of questions?
   Do you recall the past sermons you have heard over Christmas time? What WERE their messages? Is it easier to remember a sermon you agree with, or a sermon that angers you? Is it a bad sign that so few come to mind - something to be ashamed of - something not to admit to the preacher? Can the preacher remember his own sermons of a year ago? Or is the lack of conscious memory a good sign - a sign that they have blurred into one another, blurred into your very self, shaping who you are today? or is this a non-question? Do you recall vividly one particular Christmas sermon that still shapes who you are today? And what if you were doing it? What would you say if you were giving a sermon at Christmas time?
   Would you focus on the mangy stable round the back of that Inn with no room and preach a prophetic message on justice and homelessness? Would you call to mind the homeless on the cold streets of Columbia and liken them to the Messiah with no place to lay his head? Would you tell the story of the Holy Family’s desperate escape to Egypt to save their lives from the murderous king Herod, and compare that with the plight of asylum seekers huddled not in Egypt - but in Columbia, the scars of torture on the bodies? Or is this all to moralistic and grim - oh so worthy, but just a bit too uncomfortable?
   What of the Prince of Peace? Could you preach on that? Would that go down better than an uncomfortable sermon on the injustices of the world? Such a needed sermon - but can you find the time to write it - when your own Christmas’s are so busy - so stressed? Can the baby Prince of peace bring peace to the preacher - or is he only for others, for those who hear? Is it hypocritical for the preacher to preach a sermon they know they struggle with in their own life? Or is it irresponsible to neglect areas you know others need out of cowardice, out of fear of appearing a hypocrite? Would you preach or refrain, refrain or preach? Are you glad it’s not you standing up here now? What would you say if you were giving a sermon at Christmas time?
   Would you look to the wisemen? Were there three of them? Were they actually kings? Why do the carols say one thing and the Bible another? Does it matter what you say? Will the congregation notice anyway? Or will they scour their Bibles like the Bereans, spotting your inconsistencies and your sloppiness? How much will focus on the interpretation of the text, on the known wisdom that you have crammed up from all the commentaries you’ve read on the matter? How much of it will be practical and actually applied to people’s lives?
   But what of her life sitting next to you? Is it the same as yours? Will a lesson from the shepherds that is so relevant to a man at work in a city office mean anything to a teenage girl at school? Will an application about the scholarship of the Wisemen designed for those struggling with their Doctorate Degree mean anything to a retiree who left school over six decades ago? How can these texts be applied to the lives of so wide and varied a group of people? How can they be applied to my life? How can they be applied to your?
   If it was just me - which Christmas text would I be looking at? Which would challenge me the most? And what of everyone else here? What would speak to each one of them? Which text - wisemen? Shepherds? Prince of Peace? Stranger in manger? Word made flesh? Isn’t it the preacher’s job to choose? Is it the preacher’s job to stand up there and ask us questions all morning? Why doesn’t the preacher give us any answers? How would you react to a sermon composed entirely of questions?
   What of the wisemen? Do they endorse astrology, when the rest of the Bible seems so against it? Or are they a sign that whatever our mistakes and whatever the strange philosophies we experiment with God can find us in them? Do you read your horoscope in the mornings? Would you admit it to the preacher if you did?
   Which is more trustworthy - mystic meg or the Archbishop of Canterbury? Leo and Libra or the Bible and prayer? Is it all just harmless fun? Why did the wisemen look at the stars anyway?
   Am I following a star? How is God guiding me? Have I ever resisted his guidance? Am I comfortable with this talk of God speaking to them and God speaking to me? How DOES God speak to me? How does he speak to you? What does he say? What is the star God wants you to follow? Will he call you on a journey that lasts years like the wisemen? Or call you to take a short stroll down the hill like the shepherds?
   What of the Frankincense, Myrrh and Gold? What would Joseph and Mary have made of them? Are the Jews, Hindus, Romans and half the world right when they say that "incense owns a deity nigh"? Why do 5 billion nine hundred and forty million people of every race and religion love the stuff and 60 million English cough at the faintest whiff? What would Joseph have made of it? Or the baby Jesus? If not with incense, how do I show that I acknowledge Jesus with God?
   What does it mean for the baby Jesus to be ... God?? What does it mean for our Creator God to be a tiny 6 or 7 pound baby crying for his milk? How it is that this little baby, who has 10 million angels at his beacon call, would cry so desperately for his momma’s breasts? How can it be that this King of kings and Lord of Lords, who sits on the highest throne in heaven, step down from that throne to be wrapped in swaddling clothes and be laid in a feeding trough in a stable in a town called Bethlehem? How can God be so vulnerable?
   And what of the Gold? Was that a treasured birthing present kept to adulthood to remind Jesus of these strange visitors to his cradle? Did it’s enduring presence help Jesus understand he was special - he was a King with a destiny to save his people? Or did the Gold rapidly go, on bribes to cross the borders or buying bread in Cairo - keeping Jesus and Joseph and Mary alive when no one else was there to help them? What is it like to be a refugee running away from a dictator who kills little children? Can we appreciate their plight when we have SO much? Do we get too many presents at Christmas? How would our children react on Christmas morning if they only got three presents … Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?
   Myrrh? What sort of person gives a herbal embalming fluid to a baby at it’s birth? The baby Jesus … born to die? Does the church talk too much about death? Or not enough? Are you comfortable with the fact that no matter how it’s measured up … life is terminal … one day you too shall die? Does faith help you through that truth - or do you come here to escape from that truth?
   And what of those for whom Christmas is so painful - when death is not the death of Jesus on the cross, but the death of a loved one whose absence is all to noticeable around the holiday table? How do you preach Christmas to them? And what of everyone else? Can one sermon speak to the lives of so wide and varied a group of people? which sermon?
   Maybe the shepherds offer a better solution? Do they call to mind happy memories of childhood nativity plays and two year old sheep going "baaaah"? Or do you preach on them as rejected outcasts, people forced into a cold smelly job nobody else wants, then rejected by the religious establishment because they have no time to be ritually clean? Is the shepherd’s outcast status something that unites us all? Do we all sometimes feel on the edge, unwanted and rejected by others? What do we make of a God who picks not millionaires … but shepherds? "What can I bring him poor as I am? If I was a shepherd I would bring a lamb, If I was a wiseman I would do my part, yet what I can I bring him? Oh!! I know!! I could bring my........?? What I can I bring him?"
   Or if not shepherds, do you preach on Mother Mary? What would have happened if she had not said yes to God? Have you said yes to God? Were you ever Mary in a Nativity play? Did you wish you were? Why is she the most popular one that all the children want to be? What’s wrong with being a sheep - baaaah? And which Mary would you preach on? The toddler Mary in the nativity play? The statuesque Mary of Renaissance art? or the teenage mother, far too young to be a mom, a child with her own child? Which Mary would you preach on?
   Or should you have preached on Joseph? Are there too few sermons for men? Is that why there are less men than women in our churches today?
   And what of the ultimate Man - the Word made flesh? What does it mean for God to be a baby crying for his milk? And what does it mean for me and for you? Was the Word with God? Is the Word God? "and to all who received him who believed in his name he gave power to be children of God" - what does that MEAN? Why do the carols bang on about that so much? "Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in" "be born in us today" "born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth" - What does it all mean?
   Has Jesus been born in you? Have you been born again? Do you even understand the question? How would YOU preach that to people today? What could you say that would help people understand THEIR need of the Word made flesh?
   What events led to you becoming a child of God? How did you come to believe in his name? Have you come to believe in his name? What does that question mean for you?
   Would you rather go back to the soft focus nativity play? Or does the challenge of the homeless Jesus, the asylum seeking Holy Family seem less of a challenge in the light of the challenge to believe in his name, to be born again? Which would you be more COMFORTABLE preaching on? Would you have rathered somebody else had to preach today? Which would you remember if someone else preached? Why?
   After all these questions, would you rather just cut the sermon, give gold, frankincense, myrrh or a big fat check? anything to get this over with? Do you now need a sermon on the peace that the Prince brings? Which sermon would you have preached? And which sermon would you have rather listened too? And how would you react to a sermon composed entirely of questions?

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Part 7 of 7
December 13, 2020

   Opening passage — Matthew 18:21-35 (NLT) — Parable of the Unforgiving Servant — 21Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
   22“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
   23“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
   26“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
   28“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
   29“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
   31“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
   35“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
   One of my favorite stories concerns a man who was bitten by a dog, which was later discovered to be rabid. The man was rushed to the hospital where tests revealed that he had, in fact, contracted rabies. At the time, medical science had no solution for this problem, and his doctor faced the difficult task of informing him that his condition was incurable and terminal.
   ‘Sir, we will do all we can to make you comfortable. But I cannot give you false hope. There is nothing we can really do. My best advice is that you put your affairs in order as soon as possible.’
   The dying man sank back on his bed in shock, but finally rallied enough strength to ask for a pen and some paper. He then set to work with great energy.
   An hour later, when the doctor returned, the man was stilling writing vigorously. ‘I’m glad to see that you’re working on your will.’
   ‘This ain’t no will, Doc. This is a list of the people I’m going to bite before I die.’
   Many of us live and die with that kind of list, written in our minds, if not on paper.” [Gary Inrig. The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Meant. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991) p. 63]
   It is easy for us to proclaim the virtue of forgiveness. It’s easy for us to say “I forgive you.” But the reality of forgiveness is another matter all together, isn’t it?
   C.S. Lewis put it so well, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word … until you have something to forgive.”
   But why is forgiveness so hard? First, forgiveness is difficult because it is not natural. The natural human impulse is to get even, to exact revenge. Forgiveness goes against the grain of human existence.
   Secondly, forgiveness is hard because it’s not fair. To forgive without just repayment offends our sense of justice. We want to be vindicated. Romans 12:19 says “Vengeance is mine!! I will take revenge; I will pay them back, says the Lord.” … But don’t we ALL want to say … BUT God!!! I just want my little piece of satisfaction!! Can I have it … PLEASE???
   Today in our last lesson on the series “The Stories Jesus Told” the apostle Peter also struggled with the issue of forgiveness. In Matthew chapter 18 Jesus has been dealing with the subject of a brother who has sinned. As Peter listens to the LORD teach he fastens onto one aspect, “What does this mean about how much I must forgive someone who has wronged me?” Peter directs his question to the Lord asking in vs. 21, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
   We need to understand that in this verse Peter makes two mistakes that should be apparent to us. First, he assumes that his brother will sin against him … and not he against his brother. And secondly, Peter wanted to set some kind of limit on forgiveness. In all fairness to Peter … he felt that he was being generous in his limit. He asked if forgiving seven times would be sufficient.
   We need to understand that the Rabbi’s of the time taught that one must forgive three times. This is drawn from a misunderstanding found in Amos1:3, which says that God would revoke punishment against them for three transgressions but not for four. “Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke its punishment, …” Therefore, based on that passage, they taught that God himself never forgave more than three times. To Peter’s credit he is more than doubling what the Rabbi’s taught.
   I believe that Jesus dumbfounds Peter with his reply in vs 22. "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” The term “seventy times seven” is literally “seventy seven” and that’s a little unclear, because according to some commentaries it could also mean either “seventy plus seven” or “seventy times seven.” But, no matter what translation or commentary you’re reading … I think the meaning is the same. It is a call for unlimited forgiveness. By the time you have forgiven someone that many times, you are in the habit of forgiving and won’t need to set limits.
   In answering Peter’s question Jesus told a story that has come to be known as the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.” I call it the “Parable of the World’s Worst Prison.”
   In this story Jesus deals with man’s two greatest needs with regard to forgiveness. In the first part of chapter 18 (vss. 21-27) He deals with those who need forgiveness and in the second half (vss. 28-35) he targets those of us who need to forgive others.
   But before we examine the Parable we need to remember three things.
•Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. We may forget, but your forgiving can be sincere even if you do remember. When God forgets our sins, I’m not sure if they completely slip out of his memory .... but I DO know the Word promises that if they are sincerely confessed before Him … He simply no longer holds them against us.
•Forgiveness is not justifying, excusing or understanding why the person acted toward you the way he or she did.
•Forgiveness is our emotional response to the offender. Pardon deals with the consequences of the offense. Unless we have the authority we may not be able to pardon the offense, but we can always forgive.
   In vss. 23-26 we find that Man’s First Great Need IS Receiving Forgiveness
   “23Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, "Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
   Here is a man that owes an enormous debt. A talent was a weight of money equal to six thousand denarii. One talent was the equivalent of twenty years wages, figured at a wage of $20,000.00 per year that would be more than two billion dollars. The point was that his debt was inconceivable. There is no possible way that he could ever repay it.
   Confronted by the consequences of his actions he pleads for more time. A careful reading of vs. 26 reveals that this man still did not get it. He still was not willing to say that he had done anything wrong.
   Vs. 27 reveals that it is the character of the master not the character of the servant that produces the release from debt. The master made a decision based on compassion. “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.” The master forgave his servant out of compassion for him and his family.
   We must see ourselves in this if we are going to be helped by this parable of Jesus. We must see that the sum of our offenses against God through the years constitutes this kind of a debt, an absolutely impossible amount. Our rebellions, our selfish acts and thoughts, our willful choices, our lovelessness toward one another, and the hurt we have caused others, our pride, our anger, our lusts, our bitterness, our hates, and our lies; all these add up through the years to a staggering debt we owe God and it all adds up to a debt which we cannot pay.
   But then there comes the good news, the wonderful, good news of the Gospel; that we can be "Forgiven, in Christ’s name."
   I suspect that some of you here this morning have done something to someone and you have never asked for forgiveness According to Matthew 5:24 “If your brother has something against you … go and be reconciled to your brother.” I want you to notice that there is nowhere in this passage that says to send them a text, an email, an Instagram. It doesn’t say send them a Facebook message or make a phone call. It especially doesn’t say bash them publicly all over social media. It says GO!!! It says GO to that brother or sister and look them in the eye, say I’m sorry (and mean it with all your heart) and ask them to forgive you … and then ask them how can we work this out. Is there anyone that you need to “go” to this week?
   In vss. 28-35 we see Man’s First Great Need Is Receiving Forgiveness
   Man’s Second Great Need with Regard to Forgiveness is to Extend Forgiveness
   "28But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me what you owe!’ 29So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35"So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."
   You would have expected the man who was forgiven so much to go out and joyfully share his experience with others, but he did not! Instead, he arrested a man who owed him a much smaller amount (it is still a significant amount about four month’s wages but it pales in comparison that which he has been forgiven of) and threw him into prison. There was obviously something wrong with this man’s heart and that is the major emphasis of this story. Although he has the legal right to demand payment, he certainly has no moral right. It is impossible to receive forgiveness gratefully from one end and to refuse it vengefully to another.
   The consequence of failure to forgive is that the servant was thrown back into prison, along with his family and all of them would suffer.
   Is the Lord suggesting that God the Father will employ torturers to teach us a lesson on forgiveness? That those who fail to forgive will be eternally punished? No. The point being made here deals with the present not the future consequences of unforgiveness.
   We need to understand what is being said here in v. 32. To use the Lord’s words to accept God’s forgiveness and then to refuse to forgive another is not just unfortunate, it is “wicked.”
   Let me say this as strongly as I know how. What happened to this man will happen to each of us unless we learn to totally and completely forgive. The torturers will come and take us away if we do not extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
   The world’s worst prison is not Alcatraz or Devil’s Island, because those places can only confine our bodies. The prison that Jesus is describing shackles our souls, and the saddest part is that by the choices we have made, by the choice of the unforgiveness in our hearts … we put ourselves in this prison.
   What is this most horrible of prisons? It is the prison of an unforgiving spirit. The alternative to forgiveness is in the end, a ceaseless process of hurt, bitterness, anger, self-destruction, resentment, and worst of all … an eternal separation from God. Matthew 6:15 says that if we don’t forgive others … God won’t forgive us. We need to understand that God cannot allow an unforgiving spirit in heaven.
   Ray Stedman tells a powerful illustration of the effect of the prison of bitterness. He says, “I had a striking illustration of that occur a number of years ago. A woman in her eighties told me that, fifty years before, her aunt had said something insulting to her, and this woman had never forgiven her. Fifty years later she could recount the event to the precise detail, and she felt all the same bitterness, anger, and resentment welling up within her as when it originally occurred. It was no wonder to me that, by this time, she had become a bitter, crotchety, quarrelsome, unhappy woman who could find no happiness in life whatsoever. She was still in the hands of the torturers fifty years later.” [Ray Stedman. “Breaking the Resentment Barrier.” Matt 18:21-35.]
   “Corrie ten Boom likened forgiveness to letting go of a bell rope. If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Miss ten Boom said forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.
   It is like that with forgiveness. When you decide to forgive, the old feelings of unforgiveness may continue to assert themselves. After all, we’ve stored up a lot of ammunition against that person and over time that ammunition has gained lots of momentum.
   But if you affirm your decision to forgive, that unforgiving spirit will begin to slow down and will eventually be still. Forgiveness is not something you feel, it is something you do. It is letting go of the rope of retribution.” [Ted Kyle and John Todd. A Treasury of Bible Ilustrations. Chattonooga, Tenn: AMG Publishers, 1995) # 423] [VIDEO CLIP – “Luggage” - NOOMA]
   Conclusion — Almost always when we think about forgiveness the Holy Spirit flashes names and faces across our minds; people who we either need to ask for forgiveness from or extend forgiveness to.
   We are going to close the lesson a little different today. I know you’re all watching on FB this morning, but I still want to ask everyone to bow your head and close your eyes. I want to ask you a few questions and if you would like to raise your hand in admission to these questions … please feel free to do so.
   Do you need to ask for forgiveness from someone? Can you think of a person right now that you have wronged and you have not yet owned up to it? Are you ready to make that decision today? Then raise your hand.
   Do you need to extend forgiveness to someone who has wronged you? Is there someone who wronged you, and you have never been able to let go of it? Are you ready to forgive the debt? Then raise your hand.
   Do you need to admit you’re a sinner and ask for the forgiveness of God the Father? If you have never done so, now is the right time. He stands ready to forgive if you will but ask Him? Then raise your hand and repeat after me …
   Heavenly Father … I come to you in prayer asking for the forgiveness of my sins. I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that Jesus is Your Son, and that He died on the Cross at Calvary that I might be forgiven. Father, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead that I might have eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. I ask You right now to come into my life and be my personal Lord and Savior. I repent of my sins and I will worship you all the days of my life. Because Your Word is Truth, I confess with my mouth that I am Born Again and cleansed by the Blood of Jesus. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
   If you prayed that prayer out loud (not under your breath) and meant it with 110% of your heart … you’re saved.

How Wise Are You In The Use Of Money

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Part 6 of 7

December 6, 2020

   Opening Passage — Luke 16:1-15 (NLT) — Parable of the Shrewd Manager — 1Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. 2So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order, because you are going to be fired.’
   3“The manager thought to himself, ‘Now what? My boss has fired me. I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. 4Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.’
   5“So he invited each person who owed money to his employer to come and discuss the situation. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe him?’ 6The man replied, ‘I owe him 800 gallons of olive oil.’ So the manager told him, ‘Take the bill and quickly change it to 400 gallons.’
   7“‘And how much do you owe my employer?’ he asked the next man. ‘I owe him 1,000 bushels of wheat,’ was the reply. ‘Here,’ the manager said, ‘take the bill and change it to 800 bushels.’
   8“The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. 9Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.
   10“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? 12And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?
   13“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”
   14The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 15Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.”
   I hope that you know today that you can trust God, but when it comes to the handling of money, how much can He trust you.
   This morning as we continue our emphasis on stewardship we are going to be looking at one of the most unusual parables ever told. Today’s parable talks about money, specifically the wise use of money.
   In the parable before us today Jesus catches our attention by seemingly recommending the financial practices of a crook. A modern telling of this story would go something like this. “A middle-aged man is in trouble with his boss. He has helped himself to his employer funds one time too many and now he is facing the music. In fact, he has been told to clean out his desk. He is given a few days to clear up his accounts, but he knows that after that … he is finished.
   The man is humiliated. He knew that at his age in life it would not be easy to find another job –particularly at the pay scale of his old job. He probably could keep going for a while on unemployment benefits, but what about after they ran out? He was facing financial disaster.
   Then he hit upon an ingenious plan. He was in charge of collecting debts owed to his employer. So … he decided that he would call each of them in and offer them a deal. He told them that he would be leaving his present position to search out new opportunities. And in order to keep their good will he was offering them a deal that they just would not be able to refuse. If they paid their bills immediately, they could settle for 60 cents on the dollar. Of course he assured them with his fingers crossed that he had been authorized by his employer to make them this offer, and he hoped they would remember this act of good will when he came to their company to submit his resume. He used his boss’ money to buy the good will of his possible future employers.
   Now did this man do wrong? This question brings us to the problem of this morning’s text. Why did Jesus pick this man to be an example? The most common features of our Lord’s parables are their shock value. They surprise and startle and this parable certainly does that.
   Jesus begins “The Parable Of The Shrewd Steward” in vs. 1-2, “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. (2) So he called him and said to him, "What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be my steward.”
   The main character in this story was a “steward” which means he is an employee; he is responsible for using his master’s business and assets. Today we would call such a person a “financial manager.” In his position he’s to use that which has been entrusted to him to further his master’s interest and not his own. It would seem though that the temptation was too great for him for the accusation that he has “wasted” his master’s funds is the same word used to describe how the Prodigal son has “squandered” his wealth. This helps us to see that the servant is not just guilty of making some bad investments … but that he had misappropriated the master’s funds to his own purposes and pleasures. Not surprisingly it is not too long until his master finds out about what he is doing. His master summons him and asked for an inventory of his goods and an audit of his books. In modern terms he was told, “Give me all your records and clean out your desk. Your fired!”
   In New Testament times a man who was a steward for another, was entitled to use some of the master’s money to meet his and his family’s expenses, but his priority was always to be furthering the master’s purposes. So the question for us today is, “After my family’s needs are met, what do I usually do with most of the extra? Do I look primarily to satisfy, my own desires for more and more? What percentage of the remainder is used to further God’s purposes?”
   Does it come as a shock to you that you are a steward and as a steward you don’t own anything. You may possess many things but you do not own them. God does!!
   Psalm 50:10 says “For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” The thing that we seem to forget is that the Lord owns all the forest and the hills. The forest and the hills are here for our enjoyment … for us to use and take care of. Our name may also be on a piece of paper concerning those forests and hills … but we still don’t own them.
   The man in the parable was in trouble because “he forgotten that stewardship involves not only responsibility and privilege but it also involves accountability … Christians have a tendency to forget that one day an account will be given to the Lord.” [Warren Wiersbe. Windows on the Parables. (Wheaton,Ill.: Victor Books, 1979) p. 83]
   The Apostle Paul warns all believers in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
   Facing a future without his position, the soon to be ex-manager contemplates his options. In vs. 3-4 we are told, "Then the steward said within himself, "What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. (4) I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.”
   What is an out of work manager to do? Modern companies generally tell fired employees to clean out their desk immediately, or they may even have it done for them. But this man is given a window of opportunity. His dismissal, although imminent, is not yet public. Until that time, there is room for maneuvering. As he contemplated his options, he came to the conclusion, that He is not physically able to do manual labor, and that he was to proud to beg, but apparently he is not too proud to steal!
   But he realizes that time is short, every minute counts, so he develops a plan to put himself on good terms with those who owe money to his master; to provide himself with friends who could help him out when he was unemployed. Vss. 5-7 reveals that, "So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, "How much do you owe my master?’ (6) And he said, "A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, "Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ (7) Then he said to another, "And how much do you owe?’ So he said, "A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, "Take your bill, and write eighty.’
   “What the steward is probably doing is discounting the face value of notes by suspending the interest charges. Since these charges are not legal within Jewish law, his master has no ground of action against him. … the debtors… would accept the offer gladly. He has therefore tied his master’s hands effectively, stayed within the bounds of legality, and ingratiated [surrounded] himself with people he wants to remember him kindly.” [Gary Inrig. The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Meant. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991) p. 112]
   In the first part of vs. 8 Jesus gives the conclusion of the parable. The disciples were probably waiting to hear how the crooked steward got what was coming to him. I think they were very surprised by when Jesus said, “The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd.” I think there may have been some good-natured laughter at having been caught so off guard.
   Notice that it is the master … not Jesus who commends this man for his shrewdness. The master in this story does not say that he is pleased by his steward’s actions … but is none-the-less, impressed.
   It is obvious that Jesus is not commending this man for being under-handed or dishonest. But the shrewd manager is an example to us in that he saw clearly what the issues were, he cared about the outcome and he did something about it.
   In the second half of vs. 8b and vs. 9 Jesus begins to apply the principles found in this parable.
   First, We Are Called To Use Opportunities Wisely (vv. 8b-9)
   “And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. 9Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”
   So, what does that mean? It means that when you die … you’re not taking any of it with you. It means not to store up your treasures on this earth. It means to use your worldly wealth… your money, your time, your talents to help other people. Use what God has given you to make friends and build relationships … whether they are Christian friends or worldly friends because by doing this … you’re storing your treasures in heaven.
   The idea that followers of Christ are to be shrewd is a little unsettling. What does it mean to be “shrewd.” When we think of shrewd individuals we may think of the lawyer who knows all the loopholes and is careful to stay just within the realm of what is legal; not at all concerned about moral principle or true justice. Or we may think of the businessman who knows how to exploit his competitor’s weaknesses or a customer’s ignorance.
   Good businessmen, either then or now, see the possibilities and seize the opportunities in the world around them. They are even willing to sacrifice present comforts for the prospects of future rewards on their investments.
   William Barclay sums it up pretty well when he said, “If only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.” [William Barclay. The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Bible Study Series. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975) p. 208]
   Don’t miss the significance of the last part of vs. 9b, “that when your possessions are gone, [when you’ve given your ALL] they will welcome you into an eternal home.” Have you given your all? What stuff are you clinging onto? What stuff is your treasure on this earth?
   What we need to understand here is that Jesus is not referring to debt … he’s referring to here is death. Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:7, “For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we will take nothing out.”
   Shrewdness about money, will force us to realize that although money can be powerful … it is temporary and it is only limited to this world.
   The only wealth that will endure is that which has been invested in others for the sake of Christ and his gospel.
   Not Only Are We Called to Use Opportunities Wisely ……
   Secondly, In vss. 10-12 We Are Called To Use Material Possessions Faithfully.
   10“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? 12And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” You see, here’s the underlying question … why do you expect God to keep giving to you and giving to you when you are deliberately NOT taking care of his stuff? He’s not.
   In the Bible there seems to be two under-laying principles concerning stewardship. In 1 Corinthians 4:2 the first requirement stated, “Moreover, it is required in stewards that they be found faithful.” The second is an explanation of the reward; found here in the NKJV of vss. 10-12, “10He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. 11Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?”
   “Mammon” which is sometimes translated money, refers not just to money but to all our earthly possessions.
   To quote Barclay again, “ … what you get in heaven depends on how you use the things of earth. What you will be given as your very own will depend on how you use the things of which you are only a steward.” [Barclay. p. 209]
   We Are Called To Use Material Possessions Faithfully…
   Third, We Are To Serve God Completely
   Vs. 13 "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
   In his commentary, Ray Stedman writes about this verse: “Jesus’ emphasis here is on the word “and.” You cannot serve God “and” money…. He is saying you cannot live to make money and live to serve God at the same time…. If the reason you are living is to make money for the sake of the things money can buy, then that is your god, and you do not and cannot serve the living and true God. (On the other hand), you can love God, and He can gift you to make money, as He has done for many.
   There is nothing wrong with making money or being wealthy, even being a millionaire or a billionaire. But the proof that you love God first, and that money only is an instrument of your love for him, will be that you use that money to help others without seeking recognition for yourself. That will indicate you love God and you are rightfully serving him with the money He gives you.” [Ray Stedman. “Get Smart With Money.” Luke 16:1-14.]
   The point is that we have to keep our priorities straight. Wealth is to be used, not served. The truth about money is that we can either be stewards of it … or we can be servants of it. The follower of Christ is called to yield himself totally to the service of God.
   There is no such thing as a part-time Christianity. You’re either a Christian or you’re not … you’re all the way in … or you’re all the way out … there is nowhere in between. You can’t be a Christian on Sunday’s, Bible study nights, at church gatherings… and live in the world the rest of the time. Being a part time Christian is like a woman being a little bit pregnant …you’re either are or you’re not … period.
   Jesus has been speaking to the disciples but the Pharisees have been listening and their response is anything but spiritual for we read in vss. 14-15, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they mocked Him. (15) And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
   Some translations of the Bible say that they sneered at him (the Greek word means to “turn up one’s nose”). These supposed men of God were greedy lovers of money and to make matters worse they justified their hypocrisy with Scripture. Not unlike some of the Prosperity Preachers of our day. They bent God’s word to support their lifestyles, adding their own interpretation to what God had said.
   Singer/Songwriter Ray Boltz has written a song entitled “Thank You.” It starts out with him having a dream of being in heaven, and you are standing there beside him. As you are standing there in heaven someone calls your name. Someone walks up to you and says, “Friend, you may not know me,” then he said, “but wait–you used to teach my Sunday School when I was only eight. Every week you would say a prayer, before the class would start. One day when you said that prayer, I asked Jesus in my heart.” Then in the second verse Ray sings, “Then another man stood before you; He said, ‘Remember the time? A missionary came to church, His pictures made you cry. You didn’t have much money–But you gave it anyway. Jesus took that gift you gave, And that’s why I’m in heaven today!’ Thank you for giving to the Lord. For I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord. I am so glad you gave.”
   I encourage you to manage God’s resources in a way so when you arrive in heaven, there will be people there who will say, “Thank you for giving to the Lord.”

The Man God Called A Fool

The Parable of the Rich Fools Jesus Told Series
Part 5 of 7
November 29, 2020

   Opening passage — Luke 12:13-24 (NLT) — Parable of the Rich Fool — 13Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”
   14Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
   16Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
   20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
   21“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
   22Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. 23For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. 24Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds!”
   Last Sunday we began Stewardship month here at Red Stone. These next three lessons are based on being “Good Stewards.” I hope you come to understand the principles of Stewardship. Stewardship is based on the realization that everything we have belongs to God. I hope that you will come to truly realize and seek to understand the principles that being a steward of your time, your talents, your finances and of the Gospel is what God has called us to be. Stewardship becomes “using the resources that God has given in our lives to accomplish His purposes.”
   I feel a little like the pastor who stood before his congregation and said, “I have good news and bad news! The good news is that the church has all the money it needs … The bad news is that is still in your wallets.”
   It seems appropriate as we begin our stewardship emphasis to deal with “The Man That God Called A Fool” in our series “The Stories That Jesus Told.” The man in today’s parable is pronounced a “fool” (aphron) by God. The remarkable thing is that this person that God calls a fool, we would very often call a success. A fool in biblical language was not a description of mental ability … but of spiritual discernment. The question that I would like for us to consider today is; “Why did the Lord consider this man a fool?” And perhaps an even more sobering thought is, “Am I a fool in God’s eyes?”
   Jesus is in the middle of a sermon, when he is suddenly interrupted by a man who is dissatisfied over what he considers to be an unfair division of his father’s estate between himself and his brother. I find it oddly comforting that even the Lord Jesus Christ could not keep everyone’s attention. One such man says in vs. 13, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
   Apparently this young man is the younger of two brothers. According to Jewish law, his older brother would have been the executor of the estate and would have received the largest portion of the inheritance and usually would have tried to maintain the estate intact.
   This man really didn’t ask Jesus for a decision on what would be a fair division of the estate, he just demanded, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”
   Jesus did not answer as he was expected to do. In vs. 14 he says to the man, "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" Jesus refuses to be sidetracked from his mission of seeking and saving the lost.
   Instead Jesus does not make a legal judgment but a moral one. Jesus knew that this family feud over inheritance was only a symptom of a greater problem … greed. In fact the “you” in verse fourteen is plural indicating that both brothers have a problem with greed. As long as both brothers are suffering from greed no settlement would be satisfactory.
   Jesus tells him that the most important thing is not for him to solve his inheritance problem but that his heart needs to be changed. But if we are honest, “How often have we gone to God asking him to change our situation rather than asking him to change our heart?” I would dare say that most of our prayers are that God would solve a problem in our lives. Perhaps our prayer should be, “God here is my problem, please change my heart?”
   Then in vs. 15 Jesus uses the occasion as a “teachable moment” and says, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
   When he says, “take heed and beware” he is literally saying “be on guard against all kinds of greed.” The area of danger for this man was “greed” or “covetousness” (pleonexia) and it means “the lust to have more than one’s fair share, a grasping for more that is never satisfied” or to put it another way covetousness is “wanting more of what you already have enough of!”
   “How Rich We Are”
   “From the standpoint of material wealth, Americans have difficulty realizing how rich we are. Going through a little mental exercise can help us to count our blessings. Imagine doing the following, and you will see how daily life is for as many as a billion people in the world:
1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blanket and pads for beds.

2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.
4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
5 Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
6. Place your “house’ in a shantytown.
7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and book clubs. This is no great loss because now none of you can read anyway.
8. Leave only one radio for the whole shantytown.
9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.
10. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.
11. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to the money lenders.
12. Lop off twenty-five or more years in life expectancy.
   By comparison how rich we are! And with our wealth comes responsibility to use it wisely, not to be wasteful, and to help others. Think on these things. [Steve Williams]
   Proverbs 21:26 speaks to this very problem when it says, “They are always greedy for more, while the godly love to give.” (NLT) Ecclesiastes 5:10 says this about the greedy, “Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness.” (NLT) But is that not exactly what we think?
   Do you know what’s the prime motivation behind every Casino? It is greed. All their advertising feeds and further magnifies that Greed. Gambling is based on the age-old hope of “getting something for nothing.” And those of you who go to casinos, play the lotteries and the 50/50s play right into their (if not your own) sense of greed.
   Jesus now addresses the subject of greed by his warning in vs. 15, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of His possessions.” But Greed tries to convince of just the opposite, “that life does consist in what we own.”
   This parable gives us five reasons that show us how foolish this man and his way of thinking was!
   First, We Are Fools When We Do Not Give God The Credit For Things He Has Done.
   Vs. 16 says “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.”
   This parable is addressed to the multitude, for it says that Jesus spoke this parable to them (plural), underline that word in your text. I think that it is important to note that this parable does not condemn this man for being rich. And to his credit it would appear that this man had come by his wealth honestly.
   Notice that Jesus did not say, “A certain man worked very hard and accumulated a great fortune.” He said, "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.”
   The man worked, that is true, and he may have even worked very hard. But apart from the blessing of God, he could have encountered blight or drought and he would have had no harvest at all. But, we need to understand, as this farmer looked at his amazing harvest, he did not see the hand of God at all – all he saw was his own effort.
   Warren Wiersbe puts it this way, “The material blessings of life are either a mirror in which we see ourselves or a window through which we see God.” [Warren Wiersbe. Windows On the Parables (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1979] p. 113.]
   But don’t we do the same thing today? How do we look at the blessings in life that we have received? Do we think of God? Are we humbled that God has chosen us to receive such blessings?
   We Are Fools When We Do Not Give God The Credit For Things He Has Done And…
   Secondly, We Are Fools When We Make Plans … But Leave God Out.
   Vss. 17-18 tell us "And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ (18) "So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.”
   There was nothing wrong with his desire to build more barns, it was both wise and prudent. The problem lays in the fact that there is no thought of sharing. In the original Greek of this parable the personal pronoun “my” occurs four times and “I” eight times. Even in the English we see the pronoun “I” five times and “my” four times. Notice he how he says my crops, my barns, my goods.
   It’s all about what “HE” has. We need to understand that his major malfunction is that he’s confused between ownership and stewardship. He forgot that he was not the owner … but only the possessor and the steward. All that he had belonged to God. So it is with us, It is not ours to own … it is ours on loan.
   We Are Fools When We Make Plans But Leave God Out And…
   Third, We Are Fools When We Live Only For the Moment. Vs. 19 “‘And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."‘
   In this verse although he addresses himself as “soul” it is the physical life that he is really concerned about.
   This man thought that when he put his plan into being that he would have it made for years to come. But all of this is based on the fact that this man expected to control the fate of his future crops. He envisioned the future as continually expanding and under his control. But nothing could be further from the truth.
   The book of James speaks to just such an attitude in chapter, vss. 4:13-16 when he says, “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; (14) whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (15) Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."(16) But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
   The Bible does not discourage us from looking to the future with great expectation. However, as we make our plans, whether in business, in relationship or in our personal lives, we are to do so from the perspective that ultimately God is in charge. In other words, we need to plan with humility.
   I wonder what this says about our American concept of retirement. I am not against retirement, I would like to be able to do so one day. But perhaps God would have us to look at it differently; perhaps to see it as a time when we have more free income and greater time on our hands than ever before to do some for the kingdom of God.
   We Are Fools When We Live Only For the Moment And…
   Fourth, We Are Fools When We Store Our Treasure In The Wrong Places. vs. 20 "But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” When you’re dead and gone … who’s going to get all your stuff. There are more important things we need to be about than accumulating and making our “STUFF!” a priority in our lives.
   According to Scripture a fool is a man who leaves God out of any consideration. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”
   This man is a fool not because he verbalized this thought … but because he has lived his life as if God did not exist. He lived his life as “HE” saw fit and didn’t allow God to be a part of it.
   He is a fool in that he did not recognize that his material blessings came from God, nor did he recognize any obligation to God in the use of his possessions. Fools leave God out of their lives.
   “George W. Truett, a well-known pastor, was invited to dinner in the home of a very wealthy man in Texas. After the meal, the host led him to a place where they could get a good view of the surrounding area. Pointing to the oil wells punctuating the landscape, he boasted, “Twenty-five years ago I had nothing. Now, as far as you can see, it’s all mine.” Looking in the opposite direction at his sprawling fields of grain, he said, “That’s all mine.” Turning east toward huge herds of cattle, he bragged, “They’re all mine.” Then pointing to the west and a beautiful forest, he exclaimed, “That too is all mine.”
   He paused, expecting Dr. Truett to compliment him on his great success. Truett, however, placing one hand on the man’s shoulder and pointing heavenward with the other, simply said, “How much do you have in that direction?” The man hung his head and confessed, “I never thought of that.” [Our Daily Bread, October 24, 1992 -
   David Gooding said “Heaven is scarcely a reality to a man who is not prepared to invest hard cash in it and in its interests; but by the same token it becomes more of a reality to the man who is!” [David Gooding. According to Luke: A New Exposition of the Third Gospel. (Eerdman’s, 1987) p. 241]
   To be a fool is to have missed the point of life. In vs. 20 Jesus says, “this very night your soul will be demanded of you.” The Greek verb translated “required” or “demanded” (apiteo) is literally a commercial term meaning “to demand back or require back” - conveying the idea of life as a loan that must be repaid to God upon demand.
   He goes on in the second half of vs. 20 to say, “Then whose will those things be which you have provided?”
   The great philosopher Solomon made comment on this very problem in Ecclesiastes 2:21-23. Write this reference in margin of your Bible. “For though I do my work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, I must leave everything I gain to people who haven’t worked to earn it. This is not only foolish but highly unfair. (22) So what do people get for all their hard work? (23) Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night they cannot rest. It is all utterly meaningless.” (New Living Translation)
   Since you cannot take it with you, there is no need to wear ourselves out accumulating it. Everything you have will one day be left behind. It is yours now to use or to abuse, but one day it will be taken from you and you will stand before the Lord and give an account of how you used it.
   Jim Elliot, a missionary who was killed by the Auca Indians to whom he went to minister, stated it well when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
   We Are Fools When We Store Our Treasure In The Wrong Places And…
   Fifth, We Are Fools When We Will Find Ourselves In Conflict With God’s Plan For Our Lives.
   Vs. 21 "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
   Riches have one major weakness, they have no purchasing power after death. The “rich towards God” are those who use what God has given them for others. There are numerous examples in Scripture. People such as the centurion who build a synagogue for the people to worship in (Luke 7) and the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus where Jesus often found rest (Luke 10) were rich toward God. The way we become rich towards God is to invest in His church and in the lives of His people. But don’t misunderstand me; it is not that the church needs your resources in order to survive, but that your generosity will add a richness to your life that you would otherwise miss.
1. We Are Fools When We Do Not Give God The Credit For The Things He Has Done.
2. We Are Fools When We Make Plans But Leave God Out.
3. We Are Fools When We Live Only For the Moment.
4. We Are Fools When We Store Our Treasure In The Wrong Places.
5. We Are Fools When We Will Find Ourselves In Conflict With God’s Plan For Our Lives.


We Are To Be Stewards Of Our Resources

The Parable of the Three Servants
The Stories Jesus Told Series
Part 4 of 7
November 22, 2020

   Opening passage— Matthew 25:14-30 (NLT) — The Parable of the Three Servants — 14“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last — dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
   16“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
   19“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
   21“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
   22“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
   23“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
   24“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
   26“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate,27why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
   28“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
   This morning we are in the 4th lesson of our series on the parables called “The Stories That Jesus Told.” If I were to ask you, “What is the most well known parable?” You would probably answer, The Good Samaritan. If I were to ask you, “What parable most displays the love of the Father?” You would probably say, The Story of the Prodigal Son. If I were to ask you “What is the most terrifying of the parables?” You would probably say, The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which we examined last week. But if were to ask, “What parable has the most to say about how we live our lives each day?” We would have to say it is the parable that we are going to examine today called “The Parable of the Three Servants” or better known as “The Parable of the Talents.”
   For the next few weeks we will be looking at stewardship related issues. I feel that I should say, “When you go to a doctor for your annual check-up, he or she will often begin to poke, prod, and press various places, all the while asking, “Does this hurt? How about this?”
   If you twitch in pain, one of two things has happened. Either the doctor has pushed too hard, without the right sensitivity. Or, more likely, there’s something wrong, and the doctor will say, “It’s not supposed to hurt there! We’d better do some more tests.”
   So it is when pastors preach on financial responsibility ... certain listeners always twitch in discomfort … sometimes criticizing the message and the messenger. Either the pastor has pushed too hard. Or perhaps there’s some-thing wrong in the life of the listener.
   In that case, I would have to say, “My friend, we’re in need of the Great Physician because it’s not supposed to hurt there.” [Ben Rogers -]
   With that said, let’s turn our attention this morning to the parable found in Matthew 25, The Parable of the Talents.
   Let me speed things along by giving you a synopsis of the story before we look at it in detail. In this parable a man was going on a journey so he called his servants and divided a large sum of money called talents between them. He gave five talents to one servant, two talents to another and one talent to yet another servant. Having distributed the talents, the master went on his journey with the expectation that his servants would be faithful while he was gone.
   When the master eventually returned, he called his servants to give an account of their stewardship. Two of the servants were found faithful returning double the amount that they had been given. The faithful servants were recognized and rewarded. The third servant however, had done nothing with what had been entrusted to him.
   I want you to understand that this story is addressed to us. We are like these servants who are awaiting the return of their master and this story has some lessons for us about what we are to be doing in the meantime because, as Christians, we are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.
   Today we are going to discover five amazing principles about being a steward.
   The First Principle of Being A Steward is to realize that, What We Have Is Not Our Own. Vs. 14 says "For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.”
   What these servants were given was not their own … it still belonged to the master and it is called “his goods” and considered “his property.” Their job was to manage what they were given.
   Likewise we must remember that everything we have belongs to God. We are told in Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.” And in Haggai 2:8 we find, “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
   Everything belongs to God and until we recognize this truth we will not be good managers of what has been entrusted to us. The biblical word for our “position” is “steward.” It’s not your time, your money, or your abilities. Everything you have is on loan from God … you own nothing. I have heard the old timers say they are “living on borrowed time” because they knew their time on this earth belonged to the Lord.
   What We Have Is Not Our Own and…
   The Second Principle of Being A Steward is to realize that, We Are Given All That We Can Handle Vs. 15 says “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.”
   This parable has been confusing to many people because of the word “talents” in the King James Version. To us, the word “talent” means an ability: like a talent to sing … a talent to work on motorcycles. But in the original Greek language, the word “talenton” referred to a huge sum of money.
   It’s value was depending on whether it was a talent of copper, silver or gold. Some commentators say a talent is 6,000 denaria. One denarius is what a man would earn in one day … so 6,000 denaria would be 20 years’ income! To put this into terms of our economy, using a minimal hourly wage, a talent would be the equivalent of about $300,000.
   It may cause us to wonder why each of the servants in this story did not get an equal amount. The master gave to one servant five talents, to another, two and to another, one.
   We might say, “Hey!! Wait a minute!! That is not fair!!” But we have to realize that the master knew his servants. So, he gives to them, “each according to his own ability.” Our job is not to complain if someone has been given more than us … our job is to make the most out of what we have been given.
   If we cannot be a Moses, we can be an Aaron. You may not be gifted like the Apostle Paul, but you can be among those unnamed saints who ministered to him from their substance.
   Now back to the story. The Master gave the first servant five talents, which is about $1.5 million; the second servant received two talents, approximately $600.000; and the third received one talent, or about $300,000. Even though there is a big difference between the five talents and the one talent, the man who received one talent was still entrusted with a huge sum of money.
   Vss. 16-18 show us that the master was correct in his assessment of his servants.
   “Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.” (17) "And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. (18) "But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.”
   The first two servants went immediately to work and through their work doubled their master’s investment. The third servant was not equally faithful; he went off and buried his blessings.
   We Are Given All That We Can Handle and….
   The Third Principle of Being A Steward is to realize that, We Will Be Accountable for What We Have Done With What We Have Been Given. In vs. 19 we read “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.”
   No one likes to even think that they are going have to be audited by the IRS. But, we ALL have to understand that one day we’re going to be audited by God … whether you’re a Christian or not. While most of us believe that on an intellectual basis we don’t live it out in our lives. The Apostle Paul’s warns Christians in Romans 14:12, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”
   Wouldn’t it be a shame to be unprepared when we are called to give this accounting? 1 John 2:28 further warns us, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”
   We Will Be Accountable For What We Have Done With What We Have Been Given and…..
  The Fourth Principle of Being A Steward is to realize that, What We Do With What We Have Been Given Reveals Our View Of God.
   •The Report Of The First Two Servants
   Vss. 20-23 tell us "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ (21) His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ (22) He also who had received two talents came and said, "Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ (23) His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’”
   First of all, both of the first two servants received the master’s praise – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I realize that there are many people believe that every Christian will hear Jesus says, “Well done” when he or she gets to heaven. I don’t believe that is true. I do not think that Jesus will say “Well done” unless we have done well.
   Secondly, both servants received the promise, “I will make you a ruler” and both servants are invited to “enter into the joy of the Lord.”
   I think that it worthy of noticing that although we may think that the amount entrusted to these servant’s is immense, but if we look back at the screen … vs. 23 says that the Lord counts it only as being faithful over a “few things.” Jesus said in Luke 16:10 "If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities.”
   •Let’s read The Third Servant’s Report in vss. 24-25.
   24“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
   The true character of the third servant was revealed as soon as he opened his mouth. I want you to notice that the third servant talked more than the other two combined. The first two servants use a mere sixteen words each to report their gains, but the lazy servant used 51 words in an attempt to justify why he had basically done nothing.
   The servant that had been given the one talent hid the money and returned the entire amount to the master. He hadn’t lost it or spent it. It was all there, but the master was furious.
   We are surprised, perhaps even shocked at his behavior. But in Jesus’ time, the opposite would have been expected. They were surprised not at the steward’s behavior but, at the master’s reaction. Burying valuables was a commonly accepted way of protecting possessions. To the listeners of that day, the third steward was behaving properly and responsibly. To them the other two stewards acted recklessly. To attain that kind of return would have required a high risk investment. [Mark Trotter. “What Are You Waiting For: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus.” (Nashville: Abington Press, 1992) p. 86-87]
   A.W. Tozer was right when he said that what we think about God is the most important thing about us. If we view God as a tyrant then we’ll filter everything through this lens. Some of you may be secretly angry with God because you think He did something, or didn’t do something that you think He should have. As a result, your view of Him is twisted. Your preconceived notions prevent you from seeing Him as a God of grace, and as a result you refuse to serve Him with what He’s given you.
   Let’s look briefly at where a faulty view of God leads.
   •It Leads to the Blame Game.
   The very first words of the third servant’s mouth were designed to deflect the blame.
   In vs.24 the third servant’s first words were "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” He says, “I always knew that you were a hard man.” He reveals that he thought of the master as harsh and hard, just looking for an opportunity to punish.
   Unfortunately, that is exactly how some people view God. They don’t see God as the loving heavenly father portrayed in the parable of the Prodigal Son, they see him as a hard hearted heavenly tyrant.
   Notice the master’s response to this man in vs. 26 “But his lord answered and said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.”
   The master is not agreeing with the man. He is simply saying, “If that is what you thought of me. Alright, then why didn’t you act on that basis?”
   The problem is that the man never intended to act as his servant. He was pretending to be … but he was not. The master accused the servant of being “wicked.” The word means ‘evil, hurtful and malicious.” The third servant deliberately misrepresented both his master and himself. Instead of owning up to his guilt … he behaves as if the master should have given him credit for being so cautious.
   •A faulty view of God leads to Fear. The third servant said in vs. 25 “And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.” An improper view of God always leads to fear. His fear became an excuse for his failure to even attempt anything for his master. God would rather you attempt something great for Him and fail … than to have never attempted anything at all.
   What We Do With What We Have Been Given Reveals Our View Of God and…
   The Fifth Principle of Being A Steward is to realize that, What We Do With What We Have Been Given Has Benefits Beyond this Life.
   Because he did not use responsibly what he had been given, he lost it all according to vss. 28-30, “So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.” (29) "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (30) And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
   As true servants of the Lord we want to be found serving Him to the limit of our capacity, so that when he returns, we will be found worthy.
   When the Lord returns … He is going to ask you only one question, “What Have You Been Doing With Yourself?” How many of y’all within the sound of my voice are ready to stand before the Lord and answer that question? In less than the twinkle of an eye your day is coming!!!
   So what does all of this mean? Mark Trotter has some insightful words in his book on the parables. “It’s like a master on a long journey who is delayed. He entrusted his teachings to his disciples. Some lived by his teachings, applied them in their daily lives, and as it were, invested them in the world. Some merely talked about their faith, especially to those who believed the way they did. Sometimes they didn’t even do that. They didn’t do anything. They buried their faith, saying, ‘After all religion is a private affair. It’s a personal matter. It’s really between you and God. Religion is to be there when you need it. So it’s here someplace, buried underneath all this stuff. Of course, I can’t find it right now, but I know it’s here someplace. At least I know where to look if I ever need it.’
   That person doesn’t fare very well in this parable. It’s clear where Jesus comes out. Religion, he says, it’s not to sit on, or bury, or shelve or can or preserve, or even to pass to some-body else. Religion is to invest, use, spread, splurge, risk.” [Mark Trotter. p. 89]
   That is what the Lord is saying in this parable. What I have given you I expect you to spend, to use, to invest in the world so that the world is a better place because you were here!
   “I have given you My Son,” says the Lord Most High. “What have you done with Him during your lifetime?”

What Happens When We Die
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus
The Stories Jesus Told Series
Part 3 of 7

November 15, 2020

   Luke 16:19-31 (NLT) — Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus — 19Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
   22“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the heavenly banquet. The rich man also died and was buried, 23and he went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.

      24“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
   25“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’
   27“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
   29“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
   30“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
   31“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
   Sometimes “The Stories that Jesus Told,” which he called parables, relayed uncomfortable and even unwelcome truths. Such is the case today as we’re going to look at the subject of “What Happens When We Die.” The story we are going to examine today has come to be known as the “The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.” We find this story in Luke chapter 16, beginning in vs 19. The real subject of the story is found in verse 22 where we read, "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.” Death is never a very pleasant subject, and perhaps it is our reluctance to discuss it that causes so many misconceptions about what happens when we die.
   Over the last twenty-two years of being a pastor I have had the occasion to be involved in over 35 funerals. I have to admit that I have had some pretty interesting experiences, but nothing as funny as the true story of the experience young preacher I read about.
   “A man died who had no friends and only distant relatives who lived in another state. The funeral home called this young preacher and requested he do a simple graveside service. They told the preacher that nobody would be present at the service except the funeral home directors and the men who worked at the cemetery.
   On the way to the unfamiliar cemetery, the young preacher got lost. Finally, he saw a little church with a cemetery and he assumed it was the right place because he saw three guys leaning on their shoves next to a large pile of dirt near the back of the church. The hearse was nowhere in sight, so he figured they has already given up on him and left. He quickly got out of his car and walked to the grave. He said to the workman, “I see that you’ve already buried the vault, let’s pause and let me say a few words and pray.’ The workmen removed their hats, and he began the service. Afterwards, one of the workmen smiled and said, ‘Preacher, I don’t know who you are but that’s the best funeral service for a septic tank I’ve ever heard.” [David Dykes. “What Happens After You Die.” www. GreenAcresBaptist]
   But honestly when I preach a funeral message, it is always with the realization that it is a great responsibility, for I realize that I represent Jesus Christ and am charged with the responsibility to proclaim the good news of the forgiveness of sin and the salvation that is possible to all that call upon him.
   The story I want to share with you today begins by looking at the difference between the lives of the two men, one rich and one poor; it is not only a contrast between their circumstance in this life … but of their destinies in the life to come.
   In verses 18-21 we are introduced to two men, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” (20) “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores (21) and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”
    In the book by Herbert Lockyer. “All the Parables of the Bible” (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1963) p. 293] he said “The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen, the beggar in rags; the rich man lived in a stately mansion; the beggar was laid by sympathetic friends at the gate of the mansion; the rich man had a healthy, well-nourished body, the beggar was full of sores; the rich man fared sumptuously [luxuriously] every day, the beggar lived on crumbs from his table; the rich man had physicians to care for him, dogs licked the sores of Lazarus.”
   Yet both men died and death changed everything. In verse 22 we read, "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.” All that we are told about the beggar is that “he died.” Nothing is said about his burial. And the fact that we are not told of his burial leads us to believe that when Lazarus died his body was probably carted away to the city dump and burned along with the trash.
   The rich man also died. And although we are not told so, we can imagine that he was given a glorious send off, the finest funeral that money could buy. Expense was not an option.
   As both men died and passed through death’s portal an amazing reversal occurred. The beggar died and angels carried him into God’s presence. The rich man also died but no angels carried him into God’s presence. A split second, in the twinkle of an eye, after he died he woke up in a terrifying place called Hell. I want to suggest to you the possibility that this man was shocked to find himself in this place.
   I believe that a few moments after death the rich man changed his mind about a great many things.
   First, I believe he changed his mind about what was important in life.
   He probably considered himself a religious man; he may have been faithful to the synagogue and had given lots of money to religious causes. The revelation of where each man ended up after death would have astonished Jesus’ original audience and shattered their long held assumptions about wealth being a sign of Gods’ favor and blessings.
   You see, we all need to understand this man’s problem. The rich man had lived without God in this world, so he will live without Him in the next. But not only did the rich man having no share with God, and thus lose God – forever, he lost even those things which had in this life.
   I believe he changed his mind about what was important in life and ….
   Secondly, I believe He changed his mind about the reality of eternity.
   We have before us the only place in the Word of God where we are told the actual thoughts, emotions and words of someone who is in Hell. The rich man’s experiences sets before us reveal to us some terrifying realizations.
   • Hell is real. We don’t like to think about the reality of Hell and we often hear the statement, “I don’t believe that a good God will send anyone to Hell.” That statement is based on error and inconsistency of the highest order. We never make the statement, “How could a good judge sentence a mass murderer to death for his crimes?” We don’t say that because the judge is not responsible for the man being sentenced to death, the man’s actions are the cause of his sentence. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 11:22, “Therefore consider the goodness and the severity of God …”
   “A new U.S. News poll shows that more Americans believe in hell today than did in the 1950’s or even ten years ago. But … most now think of hell as ‘an anguished state of existence rather than a real place.” [“Hell Hath No Fury.” U.S.News & World Report. Jan 31, 2000. p. 46].
   George Barna, the church statistician, reports that even among people who claim to be born again Christians, 10% say they believe in reincarnation. [George Barna. The Barna Update. “Americans Describe Their Views About Life After Death.” www.]
   But frankly folks, if Hell is not real, and everyone is eventually going to go to heaven anyway, then why are we here? We might as well close the doors to all the churches and go home … there’s things you’d rather be doing besides sitting here listening to me, right?

   •With that thought in mind we need to realize that hell is terrible. Some people have an image of hell that is not based on reality. For instance, Mark Twain said, “I’ll take heaven for the climate and hell for the society.” People would not be so flippant about hell if they understood the reality of it.
   Through the experiences of this man, Jesus gives us a glimpse into hell. It is brief but powerful enough to blow apart many of man’s misconceptions about hell.
   One of the misconception is hell is a state of nothingness. So many people in the past, as well as so many still do today, have the misconception that we just cease to exist … hearing, seeing and feeling nothing. In this story we are made to understand that hell is a real place of conscious anguish. This man was not dreaming. His hell was not on earth. He was consciously aware of his surroundings – he could feel, he could speak, experience thirst – and was in anguish. In verse 24 he pleads, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Folks … when we breathe our last and our heart stops beating … it’s ALL over.
   Liberal Bible scholars have been telling us for decades that what the Bible says about hell is only symbolic. William Evans points in his book “The Great Doctrines of the Bible” … “Is the fire spoken of literal fire? It is an accepted law of language that a figure of speech is less intense than the reality. If “fire” is merely a figurative expression, it must stand for some great reality, and if the reality is more intense than the figure, what an awful thing the punishment symbolized by fire must be.” [William E. Evans, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974) p. 262]
   But in fact, this is not the only place that the Bible uses vivid language to describe hell. In Matthew 25:30, Jesus describes hell as a place of “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell is also described in Mark 9:48 as a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. In Revelation 20:15 the Final Judgment is described as a “lake of fire.” Every description of hell is one of suffering, torment and agony. In this parable we see the word “torment” used four times, and it speaks of definite pain.
   I know I make mistakes and I mess things up … thank You Lord for Your grace, mercy and forgiveness … but I’m not taking any chances on having to spend eternity in a place like that. How about you? Does that sound like a place you’d like to spend infinity?
   Beyond the fact that hell is a place of constant, conscious anguish, we also see that hell is a place of profound regret. A tragedy greater than the one being described here today is hard to imagine. To miss an opportunity for something good is bad. To miss the greatest opportunity of all – the chance to go to heaven – is terrible. But to miss it forever, and to know that you have missed it forever, is almost unbearable. One of the greatest torments of hell will be everlasting regret! Hell is final.
   A second misconception about hell is in not realizing that the choices we make in this life fixes our destiny in the next. There are no second chances after death. Surely one of the most fearful horrors of hell is the undying memory of what could have been. Abraham responds to the rich man in verse 25 with the words, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”
   This story also addresses the misconception that there is some kind of purgatory, that after we spend some time in hell, we will be able to pass go and collect our $200. Some people actually believe their loved ones can be prayed out of hell into heaven. Vs. 26 says very plainly “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
   The gulf that could have been bridged while alive is now un-crossable. The gulf is un-crossable because Scripture makes it clear that our time on this earth is the place for personal decision: one’s eternal destiny is determined by what one does and believes while on this earth. There is no purgatory, no reincarnation, no chance for relief, no way out, no end, no kidding. Once the time comes for you to cross from this life into the next … it’s too late to change your mind and it is too late to repent. Hell is a place without hope … a place of TOTAL separation from God … for all eternity. I believe the rich man changed his mind about the reality of eternity and…
   Third, I believe he changed his mind about prayer. He began to do something he had not done before … he began to pray. Oh, I don’t mean that he had never prayed. I suspect that he had done what we sometime call “saying his prayers.” Perhaps he had gone to the synagogue and recited his prayers. Yet, never in his rich life had he really prayed.
   Let’s read vss. 27-31 27“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
   29“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
   30“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
   31“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
   How about you? Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? Looking at some of your lifestyles … the things you’re doing in your lives that displease God … evidently you’re not listening to Moses and the prophets … you’re not listening to your pastor … but most of all … you’re not listening to Jesus. If you know that you know that Jesus rose from the dead … He went to hell in your place so you don’t have to go … and you’re still not persuaded to allow the Holy Spirit to make heavenly changes in your lives so you don’t go to hell … something is seriously wrong in your heart.
   But this was different now, he prayed convinced that there was a reason to pray and something to pray for. It says in verse 23 that “in hell he lifted up his eyes” and verse 24 says that he “cried out.” And in vss 27-31 he says, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, (28) for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) "Abraham replied, ’They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ (30) ’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ’but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ (31) "He said to him, ’If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
   We don’t see the rich man reveling in fellowship with his friends, he is very much alone. He didn’t say, “I’m glad my brothers will be joining me here. We’ll have a wonderful time together.” In fact, the rich man expresses concern for his five brothers who are still alive and he asks that someone be sent back to warn them that their choices in this life have consequences in the next.
   This man knew that even now his brothers had the same attitude that he had about all this Jesus stuff and his wrong attitude and wrong beliefs had brought him to his present state ... burning in hell He is concerned that they do not end up in this place. Implied in the rich man’s argument is that Moses and the Prophets and the word of God was not enough. The rich man is saying, “I didn’t have a fair chance. I was not sufficiently warned, otherwise I would not be here. My destiny is God’s fault not mine!” He is saying that God’s warning through his Word wasn’t enough … it was inadequate and impotent.
   This verse teaches that God will not give people supernatural signs and wonders to get them to repent. This verse also teaches that a person can avoid hell if they listen to God’s Word and repent. They have all the information they need; they just need to heed to the information they have. Only one thing will prevent this man’s brothers from joining him in hell, to hear the Word of God and respond to it in faith by being obedient to what it says.
   God has spoken in His creation. He has spoken in history. He has spoken in His word. Above all he has spoken in his Son, the writer of Hebrews 1:1-2 states, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, (2) has in these last days spoken to us by His Son….”
   Therefore no one is without responsibility and no one has a valid excuse. I believe the split second the rich man died … he changed his mind about it all. He’s burning in hell saying “If I had only listened to what Rev. Dooley was trying to tell me ... if I had only gotten up on Sunday mornings and went to church … if I had only spent my quiet time alone with God … if I had only … if I had only …
   No matter who you are or what you have done, you are not yet in the position of this man who prayed … but he prayed too late …
   There is a story that I love, I have told it before so if you have heard it bear with me. The story goes that “One day, when Vice-President Calvin Coolidge was presiding over the Senate, one senator angrily told another to go “straight to hell.” The offended Senator complained to Coolidge as presiding officer, and Coolidge looked up from the book he had been leafing through while listening to the debate and wittily replied. “I’ve looked through the rule book,” he said, “You don’t have to go.” [Crossroads. Issue 7, p. 16].
   The good news today is “You really don’t have to go to hell.” You can heed to the Word of God, repent and be saved.
   Once we have that matter established in our own lives then we must think of others. I have heard so many people say “I hope I’m going to heaven.” The Bible says that we can have that “Blessed Assurance” to know that we’re going to heaven. If you’re not sure where you’re going to spent eternity … you’ve got a very serious problem and you need to get that problem remedied.
   The reality is that every one of us here today and everyone watching on Face Book know people who have no idea where they will spend eternity. Some of you even know people who are positive that they are going to hell. And yet you refuse to say anything to them about their eternal destiny. When you keep your mouth shut you are basically shouting at the top of your lungs, “You can go to hell!” Is that really what you mean to be saying? Think about it.

What Does Real Compassion Look Like
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The Stories Jesus Told Series
Part 2 of 7

   Opening passage -- Luke 10:25-37 — Parable of the Good Samaritan — 25One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
   26Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
   27The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
   28“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
   29The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
   30Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
   31“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
   33“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
   36“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
   37The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
   Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
   There is a funny story about St Peter admitting people at the gates of heaven. St Peter asks one man who appears, ‘Why should I let you in? Tell me one act of kindness you have committed during your life.’
   The man said, ‘I saw a rough looking gang of bikers harassing an old lady. I walked right up to them, told them they should leave her alone and punched the gang leader right in the nose!’ St Peter said, ‘WOW!!! That was very brave of you. When did that happen?’ The guy said, ‘About 30 seconds ago.’”
   This story introduces in a humorous way the relationship between good works and going to heaven, that we find in the story that we are going to consider today in our series “The Stories that Jesus Told.” Today we are going to look at what has come to be known as the “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.” We find this very familiar story in Luke chapter ten, and it is told in response to a question asked of Jesus by a Jewish lawyer. The story begins in verse 25 where we read, “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
   We are told that this man is a lawyer; but he is not the kind of lawyer who goes to court in a civil or criminal case. This “lawyer” is an expert in Old Testament Law … he’s an Old Testament scholar. The question asked of Jesus by this lawyer is: “What do I have to do to have eternal life?” Basically, he is asking, “What must I do to have a place in heaven?”
   When he asked Jesus the question about eternal life, he was asking what Jesus saw as the essential requirements of the Law. Much like the rich young ruler of Matthew 19:16 he seems to be saying, “What good thing must I do in order to have eternal life?”
   I can just see Jesus smiling as he throws the question back in the lawyer’s lap in verse 26: “He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" Jesus restraints from giving the man an answer and rather says to him, “You know the law, what does it say?”
   In verse 27-28 the lawyer answers Jesus, "… You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and "your neighbor as yourself."’ And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."
   Jesus answers by saying you have answered “rightly” or “correctly.” The word translated “rightly” is from the word (orthos) from which we get the word orthodox. Jesus was saying, “Okay, your beliefs are orthodox … but now try to do what you believe.” And Jesus goes on to say, “Now do what you believe and you will live.” The word translated “live” here is not (bios) which would indicate health or biological life but it is the word (zoa) which means full or meaningful life.
   So … I think it sounds like Jesus is telling us to practice what we preach … if we believe it … do it … and we shall have life. Is that not what he’s saying here?
   Some are troubled by this answer but we need to understand that Jesus is not saying that this man could be saved by the law. He is reminding the man what the law says. The law requires not only that one keep the law, but that he keeps it perfectly. James 2:10 says “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”
   You see, we need to understand that the law must be kept without omissions or failures. To be justified under the law one must be perfect. Jesus wants the lawyer to see that the law cannot save anyone because no one can keep the law perfectly.
   Some of you still believe deep down that there is something you can do to gain eternal life.
   I want to take a little survey. I want everyone in this room to raise their hand if you have never broken one of the Ten Commandments in any way, shape or form. Anybody? Okay so, all of us have already forfeited the chance to win our spot in heaven, haven’t we? We all need some help, don’t we?
   The good news is that you and I can’t do anything to gain eternal life. Jesus has already done it all. You don’t do anything to inherit something; that happens because you are a member of the family.
   Now the Old Testament lawyer did what lawyers do so well he looked for a loophole in the law. In verse 29 it says, “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" He is using an evasive tactic that is still being used today when he said, “Define what you mean by neighbor.”
   Why did the lawyer ask this question? Luke says that he wanted to “justify himself,” that is he wanted to make himself seem right in his relationship with God. The lawyer measured himself against both commands and he figured that he met the first one well enough, but his keeping of the second one depending on how you defined “neighbor.” He was asking, “Who and how much do I have to love?”
   We are often like the lawyer in that we try to reduce God’s commands to something we can live with. We would like to believe that loving my neighbor means loving people who love me, or at least loving people who are lovable. Loving my neighbor thereby comes to mean; doing nice things for people who will probably do nice things back to me. That is probably what the lawyer thought too.
   The lawyer’s original question was “What do I have to do to get in?” But Jesus’ answer tells him what someone who is already in looks like. Like many of us, the Lawyer knew the right answers. But he was totally unprepared for Jesus’ story about what compassion looks like in real life.
   Jesus defines neighbor with a story … but notice that Jesus did not call this story a parable, so it could be based on the report of an actual occurrence.
   The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem was well known for its danger. It was very steep and treacherous because of the many places for robbers to hide. In fact it was so bad that the name of the road was “the way of blood.” So this is a very believable story to those who were listening.
   In this story Jesus tells us three things about compassion.
   First, Compassion Is Demonstrated On the Basis of Need Not Worth.
   In verse 30 we read, “Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”
   Our compassion is to be driven, not by the “worth” of the recipient … but by the need. Jesus just says, “A certain man…” Today we would probably just say, “Some guy…” The man is robbed and wounded and left for dead. He needs help in the worse way. The fact that this man is stripped of his clothing makes it impossible for passersby to determine if he is a Jew or a Gentile. A person’s cultural identity was revealed by how they dressed.
   As the unknown victim lay beside the road a series of three individuals came along the way. The first passer-by is introduced in verse 31, “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.” A priest came down the road, but when he saw the man he crossed to the other side and continued his journey. The priest has been excused by some down through the years, by saying that he didn’t want to touch the man because he might have been dead, and this would have made the priest ceremonially unclean and he would have been unable to carry out his duties. But I want you to notice it says that both he and the Levite who came along next are coming “down the road” … therefore they were leaving Jerusalem and had already performed their duties.
   This is one of the most shocking aspects of this parable when Jesus told it. The priest was considered the holiest person there was among the Jews. He was taught the Scriptures. He was entrusted with offering sacrifices for the sin of the people. He was allowed to go further into the Temple than “regular” people were. If anyone was going to reflect the character of God, it would be the priest. But he went on his way and left the man unaided.
   The second passer-by is introduced in verse 32, “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” The Levite at least went over and looked at the man, but perhaps it was no more than the current practice of “rubber necking” at the scene of an accident to see what had happened. He too did not feel a need to do anything to help.
   The first two passersby probably just didn’t want to get involved. They didn’t want any trouble … especially from the guys who beat this guy up. They weren’t monsters. They were regular folks: nice, ordinary people who loved their kids and tried their best to get by in the world. They saw the need, and yet did nothing about it. Both men of these men, saw the man but ignored the need. These two religious professionals; were caught up in a life-less religion. They played at church, but it did not affect the way they live. Do you play church … or do you live what you believe?
   Not Only Is Compassion Demonstrated On the Basis of Need Not Worth but …
   Second, Compassion Is Measured by the Obstacles that Must be Overcome to Exercise it!
   Now the story takes a most unexpected twist for in verse 33 Jesus says, “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.” Given the mutual hatred between Jews and Samaritans, it would have been more likely to have expected the Samaritan to finish the guy off and if the injured man were conscious he would have been likely to have refused the aid of the Samaritan, no matter how good his intentions were.
   Today we call this story “The Parable of The Good Samaritan.” The very phrase, “good Samaritan” has become part of our common language. But this was definitely not a phrase used by the Jews of Jesus’ day. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have even considered saying the words “good” and “Samaritan” in the same sentence. To the Jews that heard this story the phrase “good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron, two words that cancel each other out like, “Jumbo shrimp” or “pretty ugly.”
   Notice with me three obstacles that hindered the Samaritan showing compassion.
   •He Overcame the Obstacle of Being Unappreciated.
   It would have been shocking for Jesus to have told the people that this man was helped by just an ordinary man. But it is not even a Jew helping a Jew, but rather a Samaritan helping a Jew who had been ignored by his fellow Jews.
   There is no a logical reason for the Samaritan to rearrange his plans or to spend his money to help an “enemy” in need. Of all the people who passed this injured man by … the Samaritan had the least reason to help, he was considered a no-account in his society before this incident and his good deed would not change his status in the community at large.
   Yet when the passage says that “when he saw him, he had compassion,” the Greek word used here for compassion is (splanchnizomai) [splanch nizo my] and it’s a very vivid one. It comes from a word that refers to the intestines, or bowels. It sounds pretty gross! But it’s the equivalent of what we mean when we talk about a “gut feeling.” A gut feeling is one that comes from the deepest part of who we are.
   The Samaritan saw the same pitiful man lying in agony beside the road and his heart churned within him so that he could not pass by without helping. That’s the way compassion affects us. It stirs us; it troubles us, it keeps us awake at night until we do something about it.
   When that Samaritan looked at that suffering man lying half-dead by the side of the road, something happened in his gut; something that made it impossible for him to walk away. He didn’t decide to help this guy on the basis of how worthy he was. He helped him because of how needy he was.
   With that being said …this verse comes to mind. 1 John 3:17 says “if someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?”
   In verse 34 we are told, “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.”
   He doesn’t pass by on the other side. He moved toward the injured man. You must move toward people to express compassion, in order to build relationships. It is not something that just mystically happens, it takes a special concentrated effort. It often is not convenient. But I don’t want you to forget that the Samaritan is moving toward someone who, if he was conscious, would despise him; someone who, no doubt, would not do the same for him if the situations were reversed.
   •He Overcame the Obstacle of the Possibility of Being Misunderstood.
   In each one of his acts he demonstrated compassion as he responded in a practical, timely and unselfish way. He put him on his own donkey which meant that the Samaritan walked. But it should be remembered that his act of placing this man on his donkey and leading him down the road to an inn was open to misinterpretation. A Samaritan transporting a Jewish victim of a mugging would be the equivalent of an Indian riding into the frontier Fort with a scalped soldier draped across his horse; he probably would never get the opportunity to tell what had happened!
   •He Overcame the Obstacle of Personal Inconvenience.
   It is important to recognize that he took the time to take care of him. We may not be able to help everywhere, or help everyone, but we can help somewhere and try to do a meaningful work of service.
   The Samaritan’s work did not stop with just helping the man and transporting him to a place of safety for we read in verse 35, “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’
   Everything this man had done cost him something, either in time, inconvenience or resources. Since travelers did not usually carry bandages with them, this man may have had to tear strips from his own clothing to bind this man’s wounds. The oil and wine that he used to clean and treat the wounds would have come from his own meager food supply. And then this man really went the extra mile, he took this man to an inn and saw to it that the innkeeper looked out for the recovering victim. He also promised that he would return and fully reimburse the innkeeper for any additional expenses that he incurred in caring for this man. He left money to take care of this man’s needs and he put no limit on how much he would spend to see the wounded man taken care of. There is nothing more the Samaritan could have done to show his compassion for this man.
   Compassion Is Measured by the Obstacles that Must be Overcome to Exercise it and …
   Third, Our Compassion Demonstrates Our Relationship With God!
   At the conclusion of His story he asks the lawyer one additional question in verse 36, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves.” The literal reading of this verse would be, “Which of these three became a neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves.” The lawyer almost chokes on his words here. He cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” and so he responds in verse 37 with, "He who showed mercy on him." And for the second time Jesus seems to tell this man to do something in order to inherit eternal life when this verse continues with Jesus saying to him, "Go and do likewise."
   Why does Jesus say this? Because he realizes that this man will not turn to him for salvation until he turns from his dependence on “doing” something to earn eternal life.
   The lawyer is left without any of the excuses or the vindication that he wanted. The second question that the lawyer had asked was, “Who is my neighbor?” the question had been turned on him and is now, “What kind of neighbor am I?”
   In 1 John 3:16-18, in surely one of the most convicting passages in the Bible we read, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (17) But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (18) My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
   James in his practical principles for living the Christian life says in James 1:15-17, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) Therefore faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”
   Compassion demonstrates whether we have a relationship with God or not.
   In this story Jesus is separating the person who has a real relationship with God from the ones just merely going through the religious motions. We saw what the religious folks did when they saw this man bruised and battered by the side of the road. They kept walking. In fact, they crossed to the other side of the street and kept walking.
   The point of the Lord’s parable is powerful. Loving my neighbor is not merely a good idea, or socially appropriate behavior … it is evidence of my relationship with God. Our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationships to the people in our lives. We cannot have a real relationship with God and not act in love toward other people.
   But don’t misunderstand me; you don’t have to be a Christian to be kind and respectful to other people. Too many people confuse kindness with salvation. I have so heard people say of some who has died, “I know brother so-n-so is in heaven. He was such a good person. He was so kind to people and was willing to help no matter who or what.”
   First of all, let me clear about one thing … there are no good people in heaven … only saved people. Being kind or doing good works will not get you into heaven, only knowing Jesus and being in relationship with him will get you into heaven.
   Perhaps you have identified with this man’s question, “What must I do to go to Heaven?” The answer is the same … stop trying to inherit Heaven by doing stuff. Instead, believe on Jesus; trust that Jesus has already paid the penalty for you.

What To Do If WE Mess Up Big Time

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Stories That Jesus Told Series

November 1, 2020

   Opening passage -- Luke 15:11-32 (NLT) — Parable of the Lost Son — 11To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
   13“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
   17“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
   20“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
   22“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
   25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
   28“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.30Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
   31“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
   It has always troubled me that some of you seem to remember my stories better than you remember my lessons!
   I console myself with the knowledge that even Jesus had that problem, for people seemed to remember better the stories that he told than the sermons that he preached. I believe there is a good reason for that, and that is because a good story connects with us as listeners. Jesus, of course, realized how powerful good stories are and he used them frequently in His teaching ministry. Today we’re starting a series titled “The Stories That Jesus Told” … the Parables or stories Jesus told as he taught His followers.
   The story that I want us to examine first in our series shows us “What to do when we mess up big time!” It is really a story about how to relate to our heavenly Father. Unfortunately how we relate to God as our heavenly Father is based to some extent on how we relate to our father in this life. If you have a good father then we do not have a problem, but if your father was absent or if our father was present but we did not enjoy a good relationship then that carries over into our relationship with heavenly God. Jesus wanted to present that our heavenly Father is not a father who is just waiting for us to mess up so he can thump us on the head, instead he is a loving father who is ready to welcome us home.
   The story that Jesus told about God as the loving heavenly Father is found in Luke 15:11, where in it says, “Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons’” and is often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son … but in reality it is a story about the love of God and his acceptance of those who have made bad choices, and those of us who have messed up big time. Jesus has some important things that he wants to teach us about God the Father.
   First, God Loves You So Much That He Allows You To Make Your Own Choices!
   Verse 11-12 says “Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’
   One of the things that disturbs us about God is that He refuses to step in and stop us (or others) from doing what is wrong. God has given us the awesome gift of free will. We think that we would like for God to be more controlling – at least in the lives of other people. We would like to have Him force them to do the right things and stop them from doing the wrong things. I wish God would make them treat me better!! But God knows that the moment He forces us to do His will, it means absolutely nothing to anyone … not even Him.!
   Verse twelve continues with, “So he divided to them his livelihood.” The father granted his wish and gave his son what he wanted. The Greek text shows the anguish of the father, it literally says, “He divided to them his life.”
   The father gave into his son, not because he was a permissive parent – not because he did not care what happened to his son – but because he was giving his son what he thought he wanted. Sometimes the worst thing God can do for us is to allow us to have what we THINK we want. But you see … God loves us so much that He allows us to have what we think we want – in the hope that someday we would want something better!
   The truth is that in his pursuit of pleasure, pain would be this young man’s constant companion until the images of this world’s allurement are replaced by the images of a home where he was loved and valued.
   This story shows us Three Ways the Prodigal Son Offended His Father.
   1. In vs. 12 he Asked For His Inheritance early
   "Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’
   He asks for his inheritance in a legal but highly unusual request. The boy was in effect saying, “Dad I do not want to have to wait around to get what is mine, and since you haven’t died soon enough to suit me, I want what is mine now” I think that it is interesting that this young man’s fall began the moment he started demanding his rights.
  2. In vs. 13a we see where he Sold His Inheritance!
   “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together…” In today’s terminology we would say, “He liquidated his assets.” He not only received His inheritance early … but sold it! In the culture of the day you did not sell the land that belonged to your family. Apparently giving no thought to how his selfishness would affect the entire household, he took one-third of the family resources and left home to live it up.
   He left home to live it up. He was not simply moving out to live on his own, I think we can safely say he had no intention of ever returning.
   3. Finishing up vs. 13b He Squandered His Inheritance.
   We read that he “… journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.”
   The word translated “prodigal” here means “loud” or “wild.” It suggests a life of wild parties, loud music and bright lights. And the word translated “wasted” means “to blow away” – the same word used to describe “separating grain from the chaff.” So, quite literally it means “He took it and he blew it on wild living.”
   Some would seek to justify this young man’s actions with old clichés like “Well boys will be boys.” “Every boy needs to get out and sow some wild oats once in a while!” The terrible part is that many forget to add, “We will reap what we sow!” Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows that he will also reap!”
   Yes you can come back to God but we will come back worse than when we left, scarred by sin and with the memory of wasted years.
   We can look at this young man and see the foolishness of his choices before he even begins. His errors seem so clear to us, and we can see the results of his destructive lifestyle before they even come about. But when you’re in the middle of such a situation, it is not so easy to see. It’s so much easier to be on the outside looking in … than to be on the inside looking out. The ways of the world look so appealing and people seem so full of life and having such a good time. And the bad thing is that what happens to others will not happen to us. After all we are smarter than they are, right?
   But as always in life, sooner or later, choices have consequences. The money eventually ran out and at the same time a famine fell upon that part of the world bringing this young man into truly desperate straits.
   Vs. 14-16 give us the truth about sin, “But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. (15) Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. (16) And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.”
   Sin leads us away from the Father’s house by promising us something we “think” will satisfy us. Sin promises us freedom but brings only slavery… it promises success but brings only failure… it promises life but “the wages of sin is death.” The problem becomes the longer that we are in that “far country” – the longer we rebel against God – the hungrier and emptier we will become.
   I think there are Three Steps To Returning Home.
   The first step on the road home is to Wake Up To Our True Condition.
   Vs. 17 says “But when he came to himself, he said, "How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!”
   When his money ran out, he no doubt told himself that this was just a temporary set back. But finally, things got bad enough to get his attention. The combination of being forced to hire himself out as a slave and seeing that the pigs were better cared for than he was, caused him to do some clear thinking about his situation.
   The first step home is the realization of how far away we have roamed. Our road home begins when we realize that we are headed in the wrong direction and we need to turn around and head back to God. It says, “when he came to himself” – that means that when he began to see things as they really are. All sin is really a form of insanity. Repentance begins with seeing things straight.
   In vss. 18-19 we read The second step on the road home is Confession.
   “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, (19) and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."”
   He did not excuse his behavior as understandable. Too often we start out confessing our sin and end up excusing it!
   “A radio news series about honesty in America talked about excuses. The commentator said that people use three types of excuses when guilty of wrongdoing.
   •The first is outright denial—a rejection of any involvement. Sometimes this is done even though the person is obviously guilty.
   •The second is the “It’s not my fault” excuse. The person looks around for someone he can blame. (Often it is a loved one - a husband or wife or parent. Sometimes it’s the boss.) [Did you realize the “Blame Game” started with Adam and Eve? (Genesis 3:8-12) The Bible tells us that in the cool of the evening God was walking through the garden and asked Adam if he had eaten of the forbidden tree. Adam replied “Yes … — but Lord … It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”]
   •A third form of excuse is the “I did it, BUT …” approach. In this instance the person blames circumstances for his shortcoming. Either he’s been struggling with some illness or the assignment wasn’t clear or the car’s been giving him trouble.”      []
   Confession is not the same as being sorry we were caught. It is being sorry we sinned. To confess means to own up to the fact that one’s behavior was not just the result of bad parenting, poor genetics, jealous siblings or a chemical imbalance caused by too many Twinkies.
   In Psalms 51:4 we read David’s great confession after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”
   True confession then is ….. no deals….no negotiations…no strings attached.
   The third step on the road home is found in vs.20 … Repentance "And he arose and came to his father….”
   The sign that he had truly repented was when he turned from his wrong choices and headed home. Recognition of his sinful choices was good, but it was not enough. Confession of how wrong he was, was good but it was not enough. All of these things are no good unless he is willing to turn around and return to the Father.
   Proverbs 28:13 says it this way, “He that covers his sins shall not prosper: but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
   God Loves You So Much That He Allows You To Make Your Own Choices And….
   Secondly, The Father Is Willing and Anxious To Accept Those Who Return Home.
   We read in vss. 20-24 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. (21) And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (22) "But the father said to his servants, "Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. (23) And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; (24) for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
   When the son left, the father did not chase after him. The father did not fall apart. He did not give up hope and when he returned he did not retaliate by withholding his forgiveness.
   Everything about the reception given this son by his father is significant. A kiss in Palestinian culture is a sign for full acceptance and friendship. And the father didn’t stop with a kiss and a hug. He called for a robe, a ring, and sandals. That robe stands for honor; the ring stands for authority-for if a man gave to another his signet ring it was the same as giving him his power of attorney. The shoes stand for a son as opposed to a slave, for children of the family had shoes and slaves did not.
   Someone once asked Abraham Lincoln toward the end of the American Civil War, “How are you going to treat the rebellious Southerners when the War is Over?’ He replied, “I will treat them as though they had never been away.” That’s what this father did, that is what God is willing to do for you here today!
   Roy Angell once told a beautiful story about a widow during the first World War who lost her only son and her husband. She was especially bitter because her neighbor, who had five sons, lost none of them. One night while this woman’s grief was so terribly severe, she had a dream. An angel stood before her and said, ‘If you could have your son back again for ten minutes ... what ten minutes would you choose? Would you have him back as a little baby, a dirty-faced little boy, a schoolboy just starting school, a student just completing high school, or as the young man who marched so bravely off to war?
   The mother thought for a few minutes and then, in her dream, told the angel she would choose none of those times. ‘Let me have him back,’ she said, ‘ when as a little boy, in a moment of anger, he doubled up his fists and shook them at me and said ‘I hate you! I hate you!’ Continuing to address the angel she said, ‘In a little while his anger subsided and he came back to me, his dirty little face stained with tears, and put his arms around me. ‘Momma, I’m sorry I was so naughty. I promise never to be bad again and I love you with all my heart.’ ‘Let me have him back then,’ the mother sobbed, ‘I never loved him more than at that moment when he changed his attitude and came back to me.’ [Roy Angell. Shields of Brass. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1965) pp. 70-71]
   Jesus says this is how God feels about each of us.
   The Father Is Willing and Anxious To Accept Those Who Return Home And ...
   Third, as we see on vss. 25-32 The Father Expects His Children To Rejoice Over the Return of the Fallen.
   "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. (26) So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. (27) And he said to him, "Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ (28) "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. (29) So he answered and said to his father, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. (30) But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ (31) "And he said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. (32) It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."’
   The elder brother really did not understand his father any better than his younger brother had. He considered himself nothing more than an unappreciated servant to his father. He expressed this when he said, “Look I have been slaving for you for years, and for what?” He is angry and resentful that the father has not catered to his wishes and rewarded him as he thinks he deserves.
   The awful possibility exists that we too can be in the Father’s fields as servants but not in his house as sons and daughters. We may be moral and respectable but not really know the father who is loving, accepting and forgiving.
   How many of you have read this story before today? Have you ever noticed the story of the Prodigal Son does not have an ending? We do not know how the elder brother eventually reacted to his brother’s return. We can imagine possible endings to the story. Perhaps the older brother finally gave in and forgave his brother. He shared the inheritance with him and they both lived in the father’s house as brothers once again. Or in our world it is easy to imagine that the older brother became increasing bitter against the father and left his house, never to be reconciled either with his brother or his father.
   Sometimes we are like the elder brother and we are not too happy to see the father forgive someone other than ourselves.
   The Three Truths that Jesus wants us to understand about the Father are:
   1. God Loves You So Much That He Allows You To Make Your Own Choices
   2. God Loves You So Much That He is Willing and Anxious To Accept Those Who Return Home
   3. The Father Expects His Children To Rejoice Over the Return of the Fallen.

The Gift of the Sabbath

Part 5 of 5   October 25,2020

   Opening passage — Exodus 20:8-11 (NLT) 8“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
   There are 613 commands in the Old Testament and there are 1,050 commands in the New Testament … for a total of 1663 commands in the Bible. We don’t hear a whole lot about 1,653 of those commands … but we all hear whole a lot about the first 10 of them. I guess it’s human nature, but we sure judge each other by how well others keep the 10 commandments, don’t we??
   SO, which of the 10 commandments is optional? It’s sad to say that for many Americans, all of them! You can hardly go through a day without hearing the Lord’s name being misused. We see all the time people lying, stealing, cheating, adultery pornography, flirtation (just to name a few). To most people (including a lot of Christians) it’s acceptable, — as long as it doesn’t get too bad … right? And then we have coveting — “I want” and “I need” keeps the economy humming right along, doesn’t it?
   Most Christians would not routinely steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, use profanity or play with pornography — at least not without feeling guilty and trying to improve their performance! But when it comes to the second commandment … Exodus 20:4 …  4“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.” … most of us seem to have a problem, don’t we? How many excuses do we have and how many things do we have … how many Gods do we let get in the way of taking the time to commune with our Father and his Son?
   Exodus 20:11 tells us “11For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”
   Is keeping the Sabbath optional? In today’s society the correct answer is yes … it is optional according to most of the American population. In fact, to most people, keeping the Sabbath never crosses their mind. BUT … according to the Bible … breaking the Sabbath is no more optional than running a red light.
   The Jewish Sabbath was sundown Friday to sundown Saturday because the Jews worshipped the Creation. Christians worshipped on Sunday, because it was the day of Christ’s resurrection.
   Let’s think about this for a second … when the early church was first started, many Christians were slaves, and they had to work all day Saturday and Sunday. Worship might have been Sunday evening for many Christians. So, how would Christians keep the Sabbath?
   By the fourth century, Christianity had taken over the Roman Empire, and there was a law against working on Sunday. By the ninth century, Sunday was called the “Lord’s Day,” a sort of Christian Sabbath. The Westminster Confession of 1648, which influenced the Puritans and the Presbyterians and to some degree, many Reformed Christians, said of Sunday, “This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up THE WHOLE TIME in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.”
   Did they get it right? Should that be the standard for Christians?
   I grew up in a home that was not quite that strict, although we went to church pretty much every Sunday. We couldn’t do homework, and we didn’t shop. Sunday afternoons were usually spent at my grandparent’s house. All the kids were playing or fighting, playing baseball or football with the other neighborhood kids. Sometimes, if we didn’t go to grandma’s house our family would hang out at the house and play cards or other games together. It may have been legalistic to some people, but it was sure a break from our normal activities and had its benefits.
   You see, Jesus affirmed God’s law, but he was not legalistic about the Sabbath   as some of us are. Jewish leaders were upset when he picked grain as he walked through a field (Matthew 12:1 & Mark 2:23), and when he healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6 & Luke 13:10-17) they really flipped out. We read where His response in Mark 2:27 was “The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.”
   Well then, are we obligated to observe the Saturday Sabbath? A related question is whether we, as followers of Christ, are obligated to obey ANY of the commandments? If we are wondering whether we can rebel against what God says, the Apostle Paul is quite clear in Romans 6:14, “Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? No way!”
   I’ve talked to so many people that say the Bible says they can’t eat this and they can’t eat that. People have told me the Bible says that it’s a sin to put tattoos on your body and rings in your nose and ears (among other places). I’ve heard that you’ll die and go to hell if you go to a movie theater. And to put the icing on the cake … some say boys and girls can’t swim in the same water at the same time.
   Folks … WAKE UP!!! We are not UNDER THE LAW. Our obedience is not to a list of rules, but to the will of God for us. In other words, we don’t ask, “What does the law require of me?” but rather, “What does God want me to do?” The Ten Commandments help us determine what God wants for us … and as followers of Christ … we are to submit and yield our will to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
   The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 7:6, “We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
   I think Paul was saying that we don’t keep the Sabbath in a legalistic way; we keep the Sabbath as the Holy Spirit leads us. At the same time, we are to take very seriously God’s commandment to observe the Sabbath, because we trust him to have our best interests at heart.
   HOW DO WE KEEP the SABBATH HOLY? How can we implement the principle and practice of Sabbath into our lives today?
1. Set aside a regular time to relax from the pressures of everyday life. (Does that sound good to you?)
   God built into his creation a rhythm of rest. Exodus 20:11 says, “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
   Did God need rest? No way!! But we do! At the very beginning of the Scriptures, God gave people a maintenance schedule.
   There was a pastor in a small town, where the main employer manufactured parts for trucks and cars. The business was seasonal, and to avoid hiring too many employees, the plant went through extended periods of mandatory, 70 hour work weeks. People who worked at the plant told me that when 7-day-a-week overtime went for more than a few months, there was more scrap and more accidents at work. Marriages also suffered; stressed employees would not go home after work, as might be expected, but they went to the closest bar.
   God gave us a maintenance manual: Take a break from busyness, stop multi-tasking, put your phones down, cut your computers off and take time to relax and reset.
   Secular journalist A.J. Jacobs spent a year of his life living quite literally according to the laws he found in the Bible. Some of his practices were very legalistic, although he found himself drawn to forgiveness, prayer, and the Sabbath. Christianity Today asked him, “What did taking a Sabbath do for you?” He replied, “I had been a workaholic, so I would work 24 hours a day. The first thing I would do when I woke up was check my Blackberry. The Sabbath is a great thing, because the Bible is saying you can't work. You can't check e-mail. You have to spend the day with your family. It's a real smell-the-roses type of day. I found it to be a day for joy, for just really reconnecting with my life and realizing that work is not everything. I loved it, but it was a huge struggle. I had to do it in stages. I still practice the Sabbath now. I'm Jewish, so I do it on Saturday. It's a day where I spend time with the family and refuse to work.” (CT, January 1, 2008)
   Does our rest have to be on Sunday? God gives us lot of flexibility: Romans 14:5 says, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
   Did y’all get that? To me, that passage is telling me that I can set aside one day a week as my Sabbath or I can if I can’t set aside a whole day … then I can set aside some time EVERY day and it’s OK. You see, our Sabbath doesn’t have to be on Saturday or Sunday … or any other day of the week. The bottom line is that passage tells me that I am to live EVERY day as my Sabbath. God knows we all have work to do … stuff keeps us busy. I think that passage says that we are to set a cut off time everyday to say I’m done.
   When I was building houses, I carried two phones with me during my work hours. I turned my work phone on at 6:00 am every morning Monday – Friday. I turned it off and threw in in the passenger seat of my truck every evening at 6:00, except for Friday it was 12 noon. No matter what came up after hours, I’d deal with it the next day.
   So, when do you unwind? When do you let go of stress and busyness?
   I have good news for you: Your Heavenly Boss told you to take some time off … every day and every week! It is not optional; he is the Lord! Don’t feel guilty and please don’t disobey him!!
   What should you do with that time? Are you going to be stuck on your phone, or sitting around, feeling you should be doing something? You probably need a plan, and your plan should involve a CHANGE OF PACE. If you are active all week, take a nap, watch TV, go fishing, or read a book. If you sit most of the time, get out and exercise, or work in the garden. If you constantly stare at a screen, turn everything off and take a quiet walk with your spouse. If you really enjoy mowing the lawn or doing the laundry, go ahead; if you don’t enjoy it, plan ahead, so that your lack of clean socks or the angry stares of your neighbors don’t force you to get to work. One of the greatest gifts that the Father gave us was the freedom of choice and you have a lot of freedom to choose, but don’t cheat yourself!
   My quiet time is between 6:00 & 10:00 every morning. I get up, read and post the devotions on Face Book, then spend the rest my quiet time reading and studying the Word. Touched by An Angel comes on at 8:00 and Chris and I spend the next two hours every morning in front of the TV while I’m working on the Sunday lesson, presentation and bulletin. Then, one day a week, Chris and I get in the jeep and go dirt roadin. Turn the phone off, turn the praise and worship music up and cruise the dirt roads around here, or on the rivers or in the mountains. Taking some time out of our regular routine to do some brainless activities. It don’t take a whole lot of smarts to drive down a dirt road, ya know?
   2. Here’s where most of us fall short. We fail to make worship a priority in our lives.
   As I said earlier, Jesus was no legalist when it came to the Sabbath. Yet we read in Luke 4:16, “Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, AS WAS HIS CUSTOM.” It was his custom to go to church every week. What is your custom on Sunday mornings?? Need I remind you that “Christian” means “Christ-Like?”
   When we come together for church and worship every week, we are making a statement to ourselves, to our families, to the members of the church and to the world: “God is the center of my life.” The center of my life is not work, not recreation, not even family. In fact, God is even more important than the activities I might enjoy during my time off from my daily schedule.
   Weekly worship also makes a statement to our children, and to all those around us, about the priority of God in our lives. One writer tells how his pious parents left their hay in the field on a Sunday, to go to church. They lost most of the hay that was cut, but the impact on the family was priceless.”
   In the Old Testament, keeping the Sabbath was a spiritual thermometer for God’s people. It was a sign that they valued their covenant-relationship with God, as well as the responsibilities they had toward the people around them. Exodus 31:12-16 says, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a SIGN between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.”
   The Sabbath has practical impact as well. Our worship is preventive maintenance. During worship we reflect on our lives, eliminate confusion and confess our sins. We encounter God and renew our faith and passion. We gain perspective on our problems and pressures and receive guidance from God.
   One of the best church ads I have ever seen is, “After the week you’ve had, you need a church like ours.” I hope our church is the kind of church that resets us for another week. Some have said they come here to get their “Jesus Booster” every Sunday.
   Sunday worship is also maintenance for the Bride of Christ, the church. Weekly worship is critical for a healthy, vibrant church that makes an impact in the world.
   To some, weekly worship is a challenge because they allow so much stuff to get in the way. Sports and recreation have taken over traditional worship times. Some people worship on Facebook or gather their family to worship. That can be a good thing, although it does not provide as many opportunities for people to share gifts of teaching, music, caring, or encouragement. That is why Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
   Look around you this morning. Who do you know that is normally here pretty much every Sunday that is not here today? We all know how it is when people are missing from church; you miss them. When you are the one who is missing, we miss you, too.
   How do we keep the Sabbath? Relax, worship, and…
   3. Get a taste of heaven
   The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 has a great statement about the Sabbath: [God’s will for me is] “that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath.” (Note to preacher: Q. & A. #103, based primarily on Hebrews 4:9-11. The H.C. is a Reformed Confession.)
   What would you like to do in heaven? In heaven, will you spend time with your family, or will your family be much larger, and more perfect? Will there be unimaginable beauty, fantastic music, and an endless array of interesting things to do and see? Will you worship?
   “The Color Purple” is a Pulitzer Prize winning book about racism, inequality, hypocrisy and violence against helpless people. The movie, based on the book, ends with powerful scene, in a small country church. The pastor is sharing communion with the congregation. The elements are being passed down the rows, from white hands to black hands, from poor to wealthy, from oppressors to the oppressed. It seems surreal, and it is, except for the grace of God. Will the worship of heaven be anything like that?
   What is your ideal Sunday like? Is worship part of it? (If not, what does that say to you?) Is reconciliation and harmony part of your vision?
   Does your ideal Sunday include a family dinner or family outing, some games together, or an intimate conversation? Will you enjoy the beauty of nature? Will you create something? Will you take the time to visit or call someone in need of company? Will you plan for deeds of mercy and love? Will you have intimate fellowship with God in private prayer? Will you spend time with a small group from church?
   Or is your ideal Sunday spending time in front of a TV watching sports? While watching the game, are you sitting on the couch surfing the internet? Are you sifting through Face Book?
   Your ideal Sabbath might tell you something about how ready you are for heaven! Your vision of heaven will carry over into the rest of your life. As the catechism says, “that EVERY DAY of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin ALREADY IN THIS LIFE the eternal Sabbath”
   We keep the Sabbath when God is at the center, and when he is at the center of our lives, we can’t help but worship and love him. People are a priority, especially family and church family and people in need. We enjoy the good things of God, and give thanks for his good gifts, and for the time he gives us to enjoy them.
   We can establish healthy rhythms. This week, you might want to take some time to reflect on your schedule and adjust priorities and patterns. A healthy life includes productive times and rejuvenating times.
   We can make worship a priority. Maybe you change your commitments and plans. Also, when you come to worship, come prepared with a passionate desire for God, readiness to participate with others, and high expectations.
   So, here’s the question this morning … What day is your Sabbath … Saturday? Sunday? Or another day of the week? If not a whole day … what part of your day is your Sabbath?
   You see … taking your Sabbath time is like tithing. Paul basically said to make a covenant with God on the amount you are to give and when you’re going to give it. And he goes on to say DO IT FAITHFULLY!! God will bless the faithfulness more that he’ll bless the amount.
   We need to understand that it’s the same with your Sabbath. Make a covenant with God as to when you will celebrate his Sabbath and be FAITHFUL about it.
   Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Are you doing that? Are you keeping “YOUR” Sabbath holy? Look at what you’re doing on “YOUR” Sabbath. You see, this is a day (or a time during your week) that you set aside in agreement with God. You made a promise to God that “I’m gonna do this!!”
   This covenant with God is like my marriage covenant with my wife … I love you … I honor and respect you … I will always be faithful to you. Do you love, honor and respect your Father in heaven? Are you faithful to him by keeping your Sabbath holy? I sure hope so.
   We can strive for a taste of heaven … right here on this earth … not just one day a week … but every day of every week. We can spend time with God, do our work for his glory, love our families, and show his grace to everyone we meet.
   The Sabbath is a gift from God, which we should accept with joy and gusto.

Honoring God's Name

Part 4 of 5     October 18, 2020

   Opening passage — Exodus 20:7, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
   The NLT says it this way … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
   Ezekiel 36:16-28 — 16Then this further message came to me from the Lord: 17“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by the evil way they lived. To me their conduct was as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth. 18They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them. 19I scattered them to many lands to punish them for the evil way they had lived. 20But when they were scattered among the nations, they brought shame on my holy name. For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land!’ 21Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations.
   22“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. 23I will show how holy my great name is — the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.
   25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
   28“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.
   The Coca Cola name is so valuable, that if anyone uses the name without permission, they can be sued. Is God’s name not more valuable??
   God’s Name represents…his essence…his reputation…his promises
   God’s name is his REPUTATION: all that God is and has done.
   He is the God of creation, and Psalm 124:8 says, “Our help is IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, the MAKER of heaven and earth.”
   He brought his people out of Egypt, and Psalm 104:8 says “He saved them FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE, to make his mighty power known.
   He saved us through Jesus Christ, and Jesus understood that his death would bring glory to the name of God. In John 12:27-28, Jesus said, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, GLORIFY YOUR NAME!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified my name, and will glorify it again."
   At Pentecost, Peter invited his hearers to enter into a relationship with God, through faith. Acts 2:21 assures us that “Everyone WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD will be saved.
   In Philippians 2:10-11 Paul said that when Christ returns, AT THE NAME OF JESUS every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
   God’s name is the most valuable name in the universe, because it stands for God himself.
   God’s people must honor and protect the name of God above all other names. It represents the One who saves us, and it represents our faith and hope. That is why God said in Exodus 20:7, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
   • Obviously, We should not SPEAK the name of God lightly or without meaning
   The third commandment does not refer to vulgar language. Vulgar language is offensive to God, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, 5:4, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths…Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place.”
   This commandment is that we not speak of God lightly or without meaning.
   We hear God’s name spoken without meaning all the time (“O my God” or “Jesus Christ.”) It is strange: A common word for manure is not allowed to be broadcast on TV, but using the name of God in an inappropriate way is totally acceptable to the censors.
   The Jews were so serious about not taking the name of God in vain, that they would not even say “Yahweh” (or Jehovah), for fear of using the Name in vain. When they came to his name in the Scriptures, they said “Lord.”
   Keeping this commandment implies that we take seriously God’s actions, and the gravity of our relationship with him. For that reason, we don’t use casually words like “hell,” “damn,” or “mercy.” Even words like “God bless” might be said without meaning, and without recognizing that God can bless.
   Jesus pointed out that substitute words for God should also be avoided, when trying to give weight to a promise. He said in Matthew 5:34-37 34But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
   Perhaps the worst place to speak the Name of God without meaning is worship! If God’s people say or sing all right words, while they are not giving their best to God, God would rather have them shut up! God says in Malachi 1:10-14, 10“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.
   12“But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty. “When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. 14“Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”
   If we are going through motions, not truly recognizing God, not offering our best, we are not honoring God. If we leave this sanctuary unchanged and dishonor God in the world, GOD’S NAME is dishonored. The commandment goes beyond what we say.
   • We must not dishonor the name of God by our ACTIONS.
   Let’s read Ezekiel 36:16-21 ... (Emphasize “I had concern for my holy name.”) … “16Then this further message came to me from the Lord: 17“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by the evil way they lived. To me their conduct was as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth. 18They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them. 19I scattered them to many lands to punish them for the evil way they had lived. 20But when they were scattered among the nations, they brought shame on my holy name. For the nations said, ‘These are the people of the Lord, but he couldn’t keep them safe in his own land!’ 21Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations.”
   You are going down the road, and some yahoo cuts you off for no reason. Maybe they make an obscene gesture as many of them do. Then you see a fish on their vehicle. Maybe it even has a cross embedded in it. Not cool! Is it? Are you embarrassed that they represent Jesus in that manner?
   No matter where we are, what we’re doing or what we’re saying … we represent God to the world. Do you use the Name of Christ (Christian) when referring to yourself? Did you know that your actions reflect his brand?
   As Alexander the Great was celebrating one of his victories, his guards dragged a young soldier before him. The man had been charged with deserting his post, and now he was to receive his sentence. The normal sentence was death, and the young soldier was on the ground, trembling.
   Alexander asked, “Soldier, what is your name?” Weakly, the man stuttered, “Alexander.” “What is your name?” Alexander bellowed. “Alexander,” the young man whispered.
   In a flash, the great ruler was upon him, lifting him by his tunic, staring him in the face. “That’s my name!” Alexander roared. Then softly, he said, “Soldier, you shall live. But from this day on, you must change your conduct, or you must change your name.”
   If we take the name of Christ, but we cut corners in business dealings, gossip unkindly, or only live morally when it is convenient, what are doing to the name of Christ? If we are uncaring, judgmental, self-centered, or downright nasty, while claiming to live for God, what effect will it have? Romans 2:24 puts it bluntly: "GOD’S NAME is blasphemed among the nations because of you." SOBERING thought … isn’t it?
   Trying harder is good, of course, but it might not be enough. Words slip out. Anger flares. Good intentions slip. At the core of our being, we are not as perfect as God. It is not as easy as zipping our lips! Jesus got to the root of it, when he said in Mark 7:21-22, “From within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”
   The problem is within us. Swearing comes from our desire to impress people with those colorful little four letter words Coarse language comes from vulgar thoughts. Anger originates from deep inside. Shameful actions come from greed, self-centeredness, or rebellion against God.
   God’s commandments reveal our sin, not so that we will wallow in our unworthiness and failure, but so that we will return to him.
   God says in Ezekiel 36:21, “I was concerned for my HOLY NAME.” God’s people had profaned his name by their actions. What will God do? He promises to clean them up and show the holiness of his name by his mercy!
   Let’s read Ezekiel 36:23-29a … 23I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. 24For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.
   25“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
   28“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. 29aI will cleanse you of your filthy behavior."
   This is an amazing text, because God revealed to Ezekiel what only became clear in the New Testament. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:5, "…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water [cleansing] and the Spirit.” Cleansing from sin is through the blood of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was given to all believers at Pentecost. Through the blood of Jesus and the Spirit within, hearts are be changed.
   Christians live every day by water and the Spirit.
   We confess our sins and failures, and we repent of them as we become aware of them, and we become clean, as we accept forgiveness through Christ.
   We allow the Spirit of God to penetrate deeply into our hearts and minds. The Spirit gets to the root of why we dishonor God, our brokenness and sinful nature. We pray for deliverance, and God delivers us, for the honor of his Name.
   We fill our lives with God and his goodness. Paul instructs us in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.”
   We practice honoring God by word and deed, supporting each other. Colossians 3:16-17 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
   God shows us how great he is, as we read the Bible. The Name of God becomes alive and holy to us.
   We are in awe of the blood of Christ, that washes not only our mouths, but all of us, to the depths of our hearts. We want to be clean!
   The Holy Spirit of God purifies our heart, our mind, our will. The Holy Spirit of God even purifies our mouth and actions, if we will only let him. As Christians our greatest desire is to honor his Name.
   With joy, we bear the Name of Christ, to the glory of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Accept No Substitutes

Part 3 of 5   October 11, 2020

   Opening passage— Exodus 20:1-6 — (NLT) — 1Then God gave the people all these instructions: 2“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
   3“You must not have any other god but me.
   4“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
   Catholics and Lutherans take these as one commandment (splitting #10 to make a total of 10), but most Protestants take them as two: the first is “no other gods,” and the second is “no manmade image of God.”
   It would seem that few of us would be in any danger of breaking this commandment! Do we take some of our kids’ Play Doh to make what we think an image of God might be, so we can worship it? Is it wrong to have a cross or picture of Jesus on the wall?
   This commandment prohibits substituting any image of God for God himself. When we do that, the image we create distorts his character, and misleads us.
   It took less than 40 days for the Israelites to break the commandment against making images of God.
   In Exodus 32:1-6 (NLT) we read the story of The Gold Calf 1When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
   2So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”
   3All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
   5Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”
   6The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.
   Moses has gone up Mount Sinai, to meet with God, and to receive the Ten Commandments, engraved by God himself. He has been gone for 40 days and nights. For the first 7 days, there was smoke and fire on the mountain, but that has ended. The people are getting restless. Moses represented God to them, and Moses is nowhere in sight.
   The people have only been away from Egypt for a short time, and they are still inclined to worship multiple gods. They “gather around” Aaron (not in a friendly way, I suppose), and demand, “Come, make us gods who will go before us…”
   Aaron panics. He doesn’t yet have a copy of the Ten Commandments, but he remembers very clearly the first words of God from the mountain, “You shall have no other gods before me.” What is he to do? He makes an executive decision: He will try to steer the worship of the people toward the true God.
   Remember, Aaron is in panic mode. The people are out of control, and they are demanding that he make gods for them. So he forms a golden calf, and he says, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” Wow! How stupid can you get? Did this hunk of metal bring the ten plagues on the Egyptians, part the sea, destroy the Egyptian armies, supply water from a rock, and send manna daily? Yahweh (or Jehovah) did that!
   Aaron hoped that the bull calf would point them toward God himself. Although he said, “These are your gods…,” there was only one bull calf, not more than one. Aaron went on to say, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to Yahweh (or Jehovah),” which was the name God himself had given to Moses. Was Aaron talking about multiple gods, one god, or the one true God?
   In the Hebrew language, “el” is the word for god, and “elohim” is the plural. Yet since the true God is the ultimate God, he is almost always called “Elohim” in the Old Testament. (In Hebrew, that is not as strange as in English; it implies the ultimate in god-ness.)
   I think Aaron was trying to make a bridge between the demand of the people for gods (elohim), and the God who brought them out of Egypt (Elohim). He was hoping that when they worshipped the golden calf, they would think of the one true God, Yahweh, who brought them out of Egypt by his mighty hand.
   If Aaron’s intentions were good, his plan was doomed. Maybe he had forgotten the second commandment, “You shall not make a graven image.” Maybe he thought that breaking commandment #2 was better than breaking #1. We don’t know what he was thinking, but we do know his actions were disastrous.
   Aaron chose, as an image to represent God, a young bull, probably because a bull represented strength, potency, and life-giving power. You could say those things about God, I suppose, although God’s strength and power are not to be compared with those of a bull.
   I suppose Aaron was rather proud of himself, when he presented the bull to the people. He thought the people might get the connection: Yahweh is powerful, and Yahweh gives life. To steer them in the right direction, he said, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to Yahweh.”
   Unfortunately, the people made a different connection to the potency of the bull. Exodus 32:6 tells us “So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”
   The Hebrew word translated “revelry” is the same word used to describe Isaac romantically caressing his wife Rebekah. I think you get the drift of the kind of party this was.
   Once Aaron presented the calf as an image of God, the image took on a life of its own. Images are powerful, and they can distort the image of God. That is why God said, “You shall not make an image [of me].”
   The commandment goes on to say in Exodus 20:5-6 (NLT) — 5You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
   As we noted last week, God is not jealous OF other gods or images; he is jealous FOR his people, who will be led astray by images. In fact, false images have harmful effects for generations to come, as the story of the golden calf illustrates. This mistake could have destroyed the future of the entire Israelite nation, and God punished them severely, to preserve the future of his plans for them.
   If we lose sight of who God is, the effects might continue for generations. Proof of that can be seen in nations with a Christian heritage, where the worship of God has become a ritualized memory, and morality has declined as a result.
   God also reminds us that he shows love (Hebrew hesed, steadfast or covenantal love) to thousands who love him and obey him. God says very clearly, “If you set aside your false images, and seek me with all your heart, you can be restored to a life-given relationship with me” (1 Samuel 7:3).
   Should we not have a cross on the wall of the church, or a picture of Jesus, or light candles? We should not worship those, of course, but most of us are not tempted to substitute those for God.
   The images that tempt us are MENTAL IMAGES.
   Every person has a mental image of God. Even people who do not believe that God exists have a mental image of the god they do not believe in.
   Quick question: Does God understand smart phones? Why do you even have to think about that? Do you think of God as an old man, like Michelangelo’s artwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?
   Some people have a mental image of God as harsh and judgmental, ready to condemn every little mistake. Others think of him as pretty laidback, like Morgan Freeman in the movies.
   Some people have an image of God like Santa Claus: keeping track of who is naughty or nice, and bringing gifts for all the nice ones, like themselves.
   Some people think of God as a distant, impersonal force, or as their own consciousness within, or a collective consciousness.
   The way in which people view God shapes moral behavior.
   Bill Hybels told how he sat next to a young lady on a flight from Chicago to California. She was quite open about her lifestyle, which included actions which were both immoral and illegal. Eventually, he asked her, “How do you square your lifestyle with God’s will, his wisdom, and his word?” She replied, “Well, MY God is the grandfatherly type, who loves me and takes care of me and tells me I’m OK…He doesn’t much care what I do.” Her image of God led her astray—or did her lifestyle distort her view of God? Sometimes it’s hard for us to see it … but the two are connected!
   Even Christians might be tempted to create an image of God that reflects their own thinking. Author Anne Lamott is quite perceptive about how that works. She said “You can pretty much assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
   God is very clear: Don’t create images to represent me, and don’t worship any image that might distort who I am as God.
   We all have mental images of God; how else could we conceive of him? Yet we must never substitute an image of God for God himself.
   If you are married, you know how that works. If you think you have your husband or wife all figured out, it is a sure sign that you don’t really know them at all ... because there is always more to know.
   To keep this commandment, we begin by evaluating the images we have of God. Are they true images, or are they biased in some way?
   Many of us grew up in religious homes, and we were taught things about God. Singer and entertainer Madonna once said, “I think the church pretty much stays with you so that whatever is drilled into you when you were growing up, whatever your picture of God was, I think you die with that in your head.” Maybe we do, but hopefully, we understand God differently as we grow in maturity.
   The image we have of God might be culturally biased. Some of us have seen pictures of Jesus, with blond hair and blue eyes. Strange image for a Jew, don’t you think?
   We have personal biases, which might influence how we see God. The God of many people could be described as “the God I would like to worship.” He is probably a God whose greatest goal is to make us happy! If he doesn’t meet our expectation, we feel like he has somehow let us down. Well, it is our image of God that has failed us, not God.
   We are influenced by politics and identity. We have to be reminded that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He is neither a liberal or a conservative. He might not agree with everything we assume to be true about free enterprise, socialism, or democracy. Imagine that!
   To keep the commandment about not substituting our own images for God, we must continually seek to know God better.
   A good place to begin is with the Bible—the entire Bible, not just the parts we like to read. We are a New Testament church, but we can’t limit our knowledge and Bible studies just to the New Testament. Our goal should not only be to learn how to have a better life, but to know God better … and it takes the entire Bible to accomplish that.
   God is revealed in the Bible through his actions and words. He is the powerful Creator of the universe and humanity. He reached out to Abraham, to make covenant that will last forever. He freed his people from the bondage of Egypt and cared for them in the wilderness. He is powerful and holy, and sometimes scary, yet showing love to thousands. He taught his people about both personal morality and social justice. He brought his people into a good land, and when they disobeyed, he sent them into exile.
   Yet God remembered his covenant, and in the fullness of time, God himself (the Son) came to earth. God was revealed in a man named Jesus, it says in John 1:1, 14 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
   When we read about Jesus, we understand the grace and truth of God more fully. We understand love, in that God sends his Son to save us. We understand God’s justice, as Jesus dies for our sins. We understand the power and glory of God, as Jesus rises from the dead.
   Then, God comes more personally to us, in the person of the Holy Spirit. As we live by the Spirit, we understand the goodness of God, as we see the fruit of the Spirit in ourselves: love, joy, peace, etc. We get a taste of what it will be like to live with God forever, in an eternal life of righteousness and fellowship with God and his people.
   When we are continually learning to know God better, worship comes alive! We have a continual hunger and thirst for God—the true, One and only, living God—and we will not be satisfied with substitute images.

No Other Gods

Part 2 of 5   October 4, 2020

   Opening passage — Exodus 20:1-3 (NLT)—1Then God gave the people all these instructions: 2“I am the Lord your God, who  rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. 3“You must not have any other god but me.”
   Isaiah 44:6-22 (NLT) —6This is what the Lord says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God.
   7Who is like me? Let him step forward and prove to you his power. Let him do as I have done since ancient times when I established a people and explained its future.
   8Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!”
   9How foolish are those who manufacture idols. These prized objects are really worthless. The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put to shame.
   10Who but a fool would make his own god — an idol that cannot help him one bit? 11All who worship idols will be disgraced along with all these craftsmen — mere humans — who claim they can make a god. They may all stand together, but they will stand in terror and shame.
   12The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool, pounding and shaping it with all his might. His work makes him hungry and weak. It makes him thirsty and faint.
   13Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood and draws a pattern on it. He works with chisel and plane and carves it into a human figure. He gives it human beauty and puts it in a little shrine.
   14He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain.
   15Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship! He makes an idol and bows down in front of it!
   16He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
   17Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. “Rescue me!” he says. “You are my god!”
   18Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.
   19The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”
   20The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
   21“Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you. 22I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”
   The first commandment seems like an easy one. I doubt that any of you is a secret worshipper of Baal or Zeus. You don’t kneel before a Buddha in your garden or have a shrine to Hindu gods in your bedroom. How then is this commandment relevant for us?
   WHAT is a god? A god is whatever people worship, trust and serve. People WORSHIP gods, they TRUST gods to give them benefits, and they SERVE gods by their actions. Gods do not always take a physical form; they can be anything people WORSHIP, TRUST, or SERVE.
   What might people WORSHIP? The origin of the English word “worship” is “worth-ship.” Worship is putting value to people or things.
   A likely candidate for a false god in today’s world is the god of “More.” Americans value More: more toys in their garage, more rooms in their houses, more money in their paychecks, more exotic vacations, more fun on their weekends, more pleasure and excitement, more activities for their kids—more, more, more of everything.
   Some people are not as materialistic. They place greater value on freedom, health, or approval and affirmation. Those are good things! Other people place high value on power and control, fame, or success and security. Those can be good things too.
   Even good things can become like gods, if the value we place on them rivals the value we place on the God of the Heavens and the things he values. If my physical health is more important to me than my spiritual health, or I dream more about being a successful pastor than I do about people coming to Christ, I am in danger of worshipping another god. If making your family look good is more important to you than bringing your children to Christ, you might be in danger of worshipping a false god.
   What might people TRUST?
   Reader’s Digest presented a poll in 2018 of the 100 most trusted people in America. The top 4 were actors: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep. Nobel Prize winners and Supreme Court Justices were farther down the list, along with sports stars. Apparently, celebrities are trusted.
   Of course, there is little danger that Tom Hanks will rival God for our trust. We are more likely to place too much trust in a retirement account, as a guarantee of a secure financial future. We might trust our fitness regimen to ensure our good health. We might place our trust in the government (or maybe not!), or in a political leader or ideology that promises to fix everything that is wrong with the world.
   The most dangerous rival to God in our lives might be the god called “I.” Jesus warned about placing too much trust in our own ability to guarantee our future. He told the story of the rich man who trusted in what he stored in his barns, only to die and have nothing. He said in Luke 12 :25 “Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Do you think your worry about things be a sign of misplaced trust?
   What masters might people SERVE?
   Most of us spend a good share of our time and efforts working. We serve the boss or the company, and we serve our need to support ourselves and our families. We are not serving those as our gods; in fact, we can serve God through our work, as we support ourselves.
   Jesus warned in Matthew 6:24 about another kind of service, however: “No one can serve two masters … You cannot serve both God and money.” Some translations use the word “mammon” … which I think better fits this passage. You see, the word mammon refers to our wealth regarded as an evil influence or false object of worship and devotion. It was taken by medieval writers as the name of the devil of covetousness.
   If we live for work and the rewards it brings to us, or we are consumed by our pursuit of money and financial security, God will not be #1 in our lives because we have that covetousness spirit about us.
   People can take the place of God too, if they become our masters. Some people are driven by their need to meet the expectations of others. Some are desperately trying to earn the approval of a parent, even a parent who has died! Some feel compelled to measure up to the standards of their social group. Others are slaves to their own ego, and their unquenchable need to prove their worth.
   Then, there are evil powers that command the service of some. But Paul said Romans 6:12-14 “12Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”
   Some people serve bad habits, addictions, or sins that have become rooted in their lives.
   The gods we worship, trust, or serve, are not likely to be physical idols. They are anything or anyone who is a rival to God in our lives — that compete for our worship, trust, and service.
   In Exodus 20:3-5a God gives us, 3Thou shalt have no other gods before me … 4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth ... 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them … But…
   WHY does God insist that we not have other gods?
   Is God insecure? Is he jealous of those other gods? They aren’t really gods! In Jeremiah 16:20, God says, “Do men make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!"
   God is not jealous of other gods; he is jealous for us! He’s jealous of our attention!! Like a devoted husband or wife, his love and commitment to us means that he will not tolerate anyone who threatens our relationship with him. God loves you so much that he wants an exclusive relationship! No other gods for you!
   But what does it hurt if we have a little action on the side? Maybe we are driven by our desire for pleasures or possessions, or our lives are consumed by work. Why should God care? It doesn’t hurt him, does it?
   God cares about the other gods we have allowed to creep into our lives because he loves us, and he knows that worshipping, trusting, or serving other gods will harm us.
   The prophet Isaiah put it this way in Isaiah 45:16-24a … 16All craftsmen who make idols will be humiliated. They will all be disgraced together. 17But the Lord will save the people of Israel with eternal salvation. Throughout everlasting ages, they will never again be humiliated and disgraced.
   18For the Lord is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. “I am the Lord,” he says, “and there is no other. 19I publicly proclaim bold promises. I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner. I would not have told the people of Israel to seek me if I could not be found. I, the Lord, speak only what is true and declare only what is right.
   20“Gather together and come, you fugitives from surrounding nations. What fools they are who carry around their wooden idols and pray to gods that cannot save! 21Consult together, argue your case. Get together and decide what to say. Who made these things known so long ago? What idol ever told you they would happen? Was it not I, the Lord? For there is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. There is none but me.
   22Let all the world look to me for salvation! For I am God; there is no other. 23I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to me. 24The people will declare, “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.”
   Isaiah talks about the idols people make for themselves, perhaps out of wood or clay. Our idols are constructed of different materials: bank accounts, nice stuff, recognition, power. The point is the same: These things will not “save” us from wasting our lives. They will not bring ultimate joy and fulfillment to us.
   God reminds us in Isaiah 45:21 … “21Consult together, argue your case. Get together and decide what to say. Who made these things known so long ago? What idol ever told you they would happen? Was it not I, the LORD? For there is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior. There is none but me.”
   It doesn’t matter what anybody says, other gods will not bring us salvation from our Father in heaven except through his Son, Jesus Christ. They will not bring forgiveness and make us righteous. They will not bring wholeness to our lives, and they will not give us eternal life. They will only get in the way of our relationship with the God who loves us and wants to save us for all eternity.
   HOW can we keep this commandment?
   Our first thought might be to eliminate God’s competition — but the competition doesn’t compare! If we truly understand God, we will say (as Isaiah predicted we would in chapter 24 vs 24a), “In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.” (In the Lord Alone by The Maranatha Singers
   Our strategy for keeping this commandment is to put God in his place, as the only true God. When we are worshipping God, trusting God, and serving God, other things will remain in their place, not overriding God’s place in our lives. We are intentional about elevating our experience of God, through WORSHIP, TRUST, and SERVICE.
   Worship is key to putting God in his place. When we worship, we are reminding ourselves that God is above everything. He alone is the Creator and sustainer of life, the holy and righteous One, the Redeemer and Savior. He alone will judge all things, and he alone is able to give eternal life.
   To put God in his place, we must worship with all our heart and soul and mind. When we spend time in nature, we take time to let our heart rejoice in the greatness of God. When we enjoy the blessings of life, we thank God for them. When we spend time with our family or friends, we celebrate God’s love with them.
   Of course, we also worship at church. We do more than just sit and stand; we actively participate in the worship. How we participate may depend on our style of worship. Some people are naturally expressive, while others are more meditative. Churches often reflect the style of the people who belong. Whatever our style, we don’t just watch, or reluctantly take part; we are focused on the goodness, grace and righteousness of God.
   Music is a big part of worship, and in our church, we sing (some louder than others, but we all try). Congregational singing is an expression of worth-ship; I don’t sing the praises of my car or my bank account, or even my wife. (That might not be a bad idea sometimes … but that’s another sermon.)
   I sing the praises of God, to please him and to encourage others, but especially to remind myself that he is worthy of my highest praise. That’s why the music should always be about the love of God and the forgiveness of Jesus. NO song should ever be about us.
   Worship is not just music; its whatever reminds us that God is worthy. Its giving, even if we do it online. Its seeing people in the sanctuary as God sees them — precious in his sight. It is bowing in prayer before the only One who hears and answers in power. It is hearing the word of God, as he speaks through his word and Spirit, and obeying the One who has redeemed for himself.
   When we worship, we remind ourselves and others that God alone is worthy of our worship.
   We TRUST God
   What actions show trust in God?
   When we speak up against injustice, knowing that what we say is unpopular. When we make a courageous moral choice, knowing it will cost us dearly. When we do the right thing, even though it makes us unhappy. When we give more money or time than is convenient. When we speak the truth in love, knowing it might be risky to do so.
   Some say actions speak louder than words, and these are actions which speak to us! They knock false gods off their pedestals — the false gods of worldly approval, money, and powerful people. They remind us that our lives are in God’s hands, and his hands are able to keep us from falling.
   We SERVE God
   Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Work as though the Lord God was your boss … which he is!!!
   When you go to work, think about how you can do your work … for the glory of God. The quality of the work you do, the way you serve your boss and your company, the way you treat people, and the way in which you make the world better — do it all to serve God. Quit griping and complaining about your job. Do your job to the best of your ability because, first and above all, you are serving your Father in heaven. He’s your boss!! Who do you think got you that job?? Looking at some of the people I know … y’all didn’t get your jobs based on your looks.
   When you come home to your family, love them as God loves them. Serve their needs, discipline your children, give them a vision of a life with God. Do that in obedience to Christ.
   When you give financially, when you volunteer your time, or when you spend time with people who share your interests, do it to benefit others, but even more, do it as service to God and obedience to his Word.
   When you see your neighbors, or go to the gym, or enjoy the good things of life, serve God as an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
   As you set goals for your life, consider the call of God on your life. What can you do to support God’s passion for justice, truth, and compassion for those in need? What can you do to bring people to Christ, and help them grow as disciples? Who are the people God has called you to serve, in his name. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We serve God by serving others.
   As we worship, serve, and trust God, we find our place in the glorious plan of God, and we fulfill our potential as God’s people, loved and chosen by God for his glory.

Why the Ten Commandments

Part 1 of 5

September 27, 2020

   Opening passage— Exodus 19:1-6 (NLT) — The Lord Reveals Himself at Sinai — 1Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. 2After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai.
   3Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
   Exodus 20:1-2 (NLT) — 1Then God gave the people all these instructions: 2“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
   A TV personality had as a guest on his show a congressman, who was advocating for the displaying of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. When asked why the commandments should be put on display, the congressman answered, “Well, the Ten Commandments is not a bad thing for people to understand and to respect. Where better place could you have something like that than in a judicial building?”
   Then the congressman was asked, “What are the Ten Commandments,” and he struggled to come up with 3 of them! Maybe a better place for the commandments would be on his desk! (This was on The Colbert Report, and the guest was Congressman Westmoreland. The clip is probably available online.)
   We might laugh at the congressman, but his predicament reflects how the Ten Commandments are viewed in today’s culture. Many people think the Ten Commandments are a good thing to have around, but they don’t take them very seriously in their own lives. Others think they are outdated or irrelevant in today’s world.
   As we begin our five-week journey of the Ten Commandments, we want to think about this question: Why should we live according to the ten commandments?
   The commandments do not begin with “Thou shalt not …” Exodus 20:1 basically tells us they begin like this: “GOD spoke all these words…”
   These are not anonymous words posted by one of your “friends” on social media — something like “Ten Rules for a Better Life,” or “Ten Ways to Make the World a Better Place.” These are the words spoken to all of us by “the Lord our God.” These are the words of the only wise God, the One who created the universe, gave his life to humanity, and knows how life works. These are the words of Yahweh (Jehovah), who took on Pharaoh and the gods of the Egyptians in the ten plagues, and by his “mighty hand.” Eight times in chapters 3-14 of Exodus He delivered his people from bondage. He is the ONLY holy and righteous God, who will judge all people.
   If we don’t begin with God, the Ten Commandments are only ten suggestions, or ten rules we might want to follow. Yeah … Whatever.
   What do you mean Yeah … Whatever? You see, we gotta understand, that God wanted his people to take his words seriously, so he gave Moses a message to pass on to them. He told them who he was, he defined their relationship to him, and he was clear about his expectations.
   We read in Exodus 19:4-8: 4‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
   7So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. 8And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.
   Not a problem!!! Reading that it sounds like the people were pretty confident in their ability to obey God’s commands, right? Little did they know … God knew they weren’t really taking him seriously, so he put on an awesome display of his power and holiness.
   Let’s read Exodus 19:16-25: 16On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. 17Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. 20The Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses climbed the mountain.
   21Then the Lord told Moses, “Go back down and warn the people not to break through the boundaries to see the Lord, or they will die. 22Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must purify themselves so that the Lord does not break out and destroy them.”
   23“But Lord,” Moses protested, “the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. You already warned us. You told me, ‘Mark off a boundary all around the mountain to set it apart as holy.’”
   24But the Lord said, “Go down and bring Aaron back up with you. In the meantime, do not let the priests or the people break through to approach the Lord, or he will break out and destroy them.”
   25So Moses went down to the people and told them what the Lord had said.”
   Might I suggest that you Google images of Mt Sinai and you’ll see that the top of the mountain is still charred black from the fire of God.
   Why did God put on a sound and light show, designed to evoke shock and awe? The answer is immediately after the list of commandments.
   Exodus 20:18-20 tells us 18When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.
   19 And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”
   20 “Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”
   You see, God wanted the people to “fear” him.
   What does it mean to “fear” God? Does God want us to be afraid of him, cower in hopeless dread of what he might do to us, or even hide from him? No, that is not what Moses meant. In fact, he said, “Do not be afraid…the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” If we are afraid of God, it is because we don’t understand that he is for us, not against us … or … do we fear God because we are rebelling against him?
   Fear of God can be a good thing, because it can keep us from sinning. Without a healthy fear of God, without a healthy respect of God, people are inclined to say, “I know God says so-and-so, but I am going to do what I want to do anyway. God will just have to understand.”
   No!!! That’s not the way this relationship works. Before this relationship works properly, YOU have to understand the awesome holiness of God! Fear and respect of God might keep you from making a big mistake! You don’t lie, commit adultery, or fudge on your tax returns, not because you don’t want to, but because the thought of disobeying God and facing his wrath is horrifying. That is healthy fear!
   I had (and still do) have a healthy respect for my daddy. I loved my daddy and I knew that when I crossed his boundaries or was just out right disobedient … I knew the wrath of his belt every time it came in contact with my behind. I feared and respected my daddy enough to try not to make him cross with me … but sometimes it seemed like I failed more often than I succeeded.
   When we don’t fear God, we might be driven by other fears or pressures. A young person might fear rejection or loneliness, and join in sinful activities to fit in. A businessman might be driven by fear of failure and commit dishonest acts to get ahead. Someone might be afraid to speak out, in the face of destructive lies or abusive behavior.
   G.K Chesterton said, “We fear men so much, because we fear God so little.” When our greatest fear is to go against the commands of God, the pressures we face will fade in comparison. Jesus said it more graphically in Luke 12:4-5: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
   In 2003, actress Patricia Heaton walked out of a raunchy American Music Awards show. When she was asked why she walked out, she said, “When my final judgment comes, I don’t think I’ll be answering to Barbra Streisand.” In the end, we will all stand before God.
   Of course, fear is not the best motivation for obeying God. As we learn to know God better, we are motivated by our love for God, and we trust his love for us. God’s love is even clearer as we understand his love through Jesus Christ and live in a love-relationship with him. 1 John 4:14-18 says, “14Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
   God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
   18Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”
   As we grow in love for God, we want to know and obey his commands, because we love him, and we know that his commands reflect his love for us. We study his commandments, to understand his good and perfect will for our lives.
   We want to live by God’s commandments because they are GOD’S commandments. This brings us to a second reason to live by God’s commandments:
   Let’s look at Exodus 19:5-6. 5Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.
   God’s people were chosen to belong to him, and to bring salvation to the world!
   God had “carried them on eagles’ wings,” to bring them to himself. They would be his “treasured possession,” with a special place among the peoples of the world.
   God’s people would be “a kingdom of priests.” Priests are intermediaries between people and God, and the people of Israel were chosen by God to bring salvation to all peoples.
   God’s people would be “a holy nation.” Holy means “set apart,” and they were set apart by God to display his holiness: his righteousness and goodness. They would be a light to the nations.
   God’s plan was wonderful, and they had a part to play in its fulfillment! God said in vs. 5 (Exodus 19:5), “IF you obey me fully and keep my covenant,” you will be “my treasured possession…a kingdom of priests…a holy nation.” Their obedience was not about earning their salvation; their salvation was by God’s gracious choice. Yet only through obedience and keeping God’s covenant could they fulfill their role in God’s plan.
   As Christians, our role in God’s plan is even clearer. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter echoes these verses from Exodus, as he tells Christians, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
   Like God’s people in the Old Testament, we are chosen to be God’s priests, to share the Good News with others and to bring people to him. We are “holy,” set apart to reflect the holiness of God. God has a plan to save many people through us!
   What must we do to fulfill our role in God’s plan? Peter goes on to say in vs 12, “12Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.” Live as if the eternal salvation of people depended on it!
   Because so much is riding on how we live in obedience to God, we commit ourselves to knowing how God wants us to live. The Ten Commandments are not the only directions God give us, but they are vitally important for us to know, if we are going to glorify God and fulfill our role in the world.
   So, we are motivated to live by God’s commandments because God gave them, and because they help us fulfill our role in God’s plan. There is one more reason to live by God’s commandments:
   At the conclusion of a high school graduation ceremony, students might throw their caps into the air, yelling “Free at last, free at last.” They leave home for college, thinking, “Free at last, free at last.” Then the choices come, and the consequences come, and those young people have to figure out what a life of freedom looks like. They find that doing whatever they feel like might not lead to the kind of freedom them envisioned. Hopefully, they figure out, sooner rather than later, the rules and principles that will guide them to true freedom.
   Exodus 20:1-2 tells us 1Then God gave the people all these instructions: 2“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
   “Egypt, the land of slavery.” Now that God has brought them out of Egypt, they can cry out like Martin Luther King did, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” But what does a life of freedom look like, for thousands of Israelites in the wilderness? How will they live in freedom in the Promised Land, so that they can thrive as individuals and as a nation?
   When freedom comes to oppressive societies, there is celebration in the streets. People assume that freedom is as easy as toppling over a few statues and allowing people to choose their own destiny.
   Too often, the reality falls short of the dream. Freedom is not possible if leaders lie and take bribes, thieves steal, gangs kill and people riot in the streets.
   Freedom is destructive if marital and family ties do not hold society together. People in affluent areas are not free to live fulfilling lives if they are slaves to work, or always comparing what they have to what others have. The Ten Commandments applies to all of those problems!
   Some people think the Ten Commandments are oppressive, restricting the freedom of people. That was not the goal; God wanted his people to be truly free! The Ten Commandments are our guide to living in freedom in our personal lives, in our families and communities.
   As we look at the commandments in depth, we will see how each one sets us free:
1. No other gods, because gods like money, sex or power will take over and ruin your life.
2. Don’t have false images of God, or you will become, like your gods, dead and powerless.
3. Don’t misuse God’s name, because without a holy God, life is “whatever.”
4. Observe the Sabbath, and enjoy the freedom to take a day off and worship God and rest, without guilt.
5. Honor your parents, and you and your culture will flourish.
6. Don’t murder, but build people up, and you will preserve the value of life.
7. Don’t misuse your sexuality, and you will be blessed with gifts of intimacy and faithfulness.
8. Don’t steal or defraud, and you will have a solid basis for economic stability.
9. Don’t lie, and you will have integrity and more solid relationships.
10. Don’t covet, for as the Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
   Of course, rules alone will not set us free. The commandments remind us that we need God’s help to keep them. In fact, we need to be transformed, as Christ sets us free from our own sinful nature and the forces that can enslave us.
   In the eighth chapter of John, vs 32, Jesus said to some who believed in him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They didn’t understand; they thought they were already free. Then in vs 34 Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)
   Only Christ can set us free. Only through the grace of Christ can we become truly righteous. Only through the power of Christ can we overcome the sin that oppresses us: things like greed, lust, ego, and anger. Only through Christ can we fulfill the spirit of the law, and become free to enjoy the blessings God has for us.

National Back to Church Sunday

Because of Who He Is

September 20, 2020

   Opening passage— Colossians 1:15-20 (NLT) — Christ Is Supreme — 15Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16for through him 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, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.
   17He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. 18Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.
   19For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
   How many have seen the game show Family Feud. The producers survey 100 people on a particular question and place the top five answers on a board and cover them up. Then five members from a family go against another family and try to guess the answers. Whoever does the best gets the points.
   The question on one of the shows was “What excuse do most people use for not showing up for church?” The top five answers were:
1.Weather, too hot or cold or rainy.
3. I don’t like the songs they are singing these days.
4. It’s hunting or fishing season somewhere.
5. I really don’t like that preacher.
   I have spent all week praying and studying and meditating about today’s lesson. If you are here for “Back To Church Sunday” I don’t want you to think that I am picking on you or singling you out. That’s God’s job, not mine. I just thank God that all of you are here this morning to worship God and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
   What I do want us all to look at this morning and have some self examination as to why we do come to church. Not why we don’t.
   There are all kinds of reasons why we don’t come to church. Statistics tell us that around 80% of people in this country claim to be Christians … while only about 20% regularly attend church services. I think much of it is due to the way we do church.
   Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found all their churches had a bat-infestation problem. "I got so mad," said one pastor, "I took a shotgun and shot at them. I missed and it made holes in the ceiling. The trustees are still upset with me."
   Another pastor said, "Well, I tried trapping them alive. Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church."
   The third pastor said, "I haven't had any more problems since I took action." "What did you do?" the others asked, amazed. "I simply baptized them and received them into the church and I haven't seen them since!"
   We love to look at numbers and measure our success by how many people we baptize and how many members we have verses how many are or become committed to the Lord in our churches. We fuss and fight and get mad when we don’t get our way because we forget about Who is supposed to be the One Who’s supposed to get their way. In case you don’t know who that is … that would be Jesus Christ … the head of the church.
   This morning, I want to look at some scripture that tells us why we come to church. Why we come on a regular basis and worship God.
   Hebrews 10:19-25 tells us 19And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
   23Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
   We could stay right here this morning and look at how being part of the local church helps us stay strong in our faith and how the fellowship that we have in the local church is God ordained. We are told very plainly here that we should not neglect meeting together to worship corporately. This isn’t just me standing up here asking y’all to attend church … this is what God’s word tells us.
   Vs 24 tells us to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. That part of church ... I believe … is the reason that we should gather together and worship our God through Jesus Christ is because of who He is.
   You see, when you truly understand who it is you worship, who Jesus Christ really is, you can’t help but follow his commands and gather together and worship him. This is why we should all make the gathering together with other believers in corporate worship a priority in our life.
   In our opening passage this morning, Paul is writing to the church of Colossians encouraging them. He tells them that he is praying that they will be filled with joy and have patience and endurance in their Christian life.
   Then he reminds them of just who it is they worship. First thing he says is … Jesus Is Lord THE of Creation. THE Lord … THE only One!!
   Let’s look at Colossians 1:15-17 again … 15Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16for through him 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, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.
   17He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
   The Gospel of John begins with John writing in chapter 1, vs.1 (John 1:1) that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and through Him all things were made.
   Look around you. Can’t you see the power and majesty and elegance and beauty of creation? The one we worship created this wonderful world and He the only One who holds it all together.
   Have you ever feel like things are just going to hell all around you. That so much is out of your control. Everything is a mess, isn’t it. We don’t trust our banks, our politicians, people marching in the streets protesting this and that. They tell us that climate change is going to kill us all ... and we’re scared to death at the thought of all of these things. Well … can I be honest with you this morning? It’s not like we’re gonna get out of this thing called life alive anyway, are we?
   We don’t know who to believe anymore, do we? Folks let me tell you, I’m putting my faith and my trust in the One, the only One who can hold all of this together. The One who created all of this. He is the ONLY One that I’ll trust and believe in.
   I don’t care what the officials say. I will come and worship Him because of who He is. Because He lives and He is the Lord of everything. He is the Lord of all creation. If we believe that, then how can we NOT worship Him.
   Next we see that not only is Jesus Lord of creation, He is also Lord Of The Church
   Let’s look at verse 18 again: 18Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.
   I believe that this is the biggest reason people leave or stop coming to church. Either they themselves or the church that they are attending forget who the Head of the church is. Everybody here has either experienced or heard the horror stories of what happens to people and churches who get the “It’s All about Me” syndrome.
   The pastor and music director in the Old First Church From Over Yonder did not get along at all. And the music leader would get his point across by his song selection after each sermon.
   One week, the pastor preached on commitment and how we should dedicate ourselves to service. Right after the sermon, the music director led the choir in singing, "I Shall Not Be Moved."
   The next Sunday, the pastor preached on giving and how we should gladly give to the church and the work of the Lord. The music director then led the song, "Jesus Paid It All."
   The next Sunday, the pastor preached on gossiping and how we should watch our tongues. The following hymn was "I Love To Tell The Story."
   The pastor became so disgusted over the situation and the next Sunday he told the congregation he was considering resigning. The choir then sang "Oh, Why Not Tonight."
   When the preacher resigned the next week he told the church that Jesus had led him there, and Jesus was taking him away. The choir then closed the service with an old favorite song, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
   Folks … I’m not sure what your line of thinking is … but I know Jesus had nothing to do with that situation. They had allowed Jesus to cease to be the Head of the church.
   We come to church first and foremost to worship God through our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. The church serves many functions but the primary function must be the gathering of believers to worship our God.
   Even Jesus had trouble with his own Apostles. Matthew, Mark and Luke record the same story about a conflict between Peter and Jesus.
   Jesus had just told his Apostles that He was going to Jerusalem and that there He would die. Peter took him aside and started rebuking him for saying such things. You see Peter thought that he knew what was best. Peter was like some people I know … he thought he knew what was best for Jesus and the group.
   Jesus looks at Peter and says this in Matthew 16: 23 23 “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
   You see, here’s the problem … The church is full of humans and humans see things from the wrong point of view. That’s why man can never be the head of the church. We should come and worship our God because Jesus is Lord of the church. That’s who He is.
   Lastly we see that Jesus is not only Lord of creation and lord of the church, He is also the Lord Of You And I
   Let’s look at verses 19 & 20 again 19For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
   We should look forward to spending at least 1 hour a week worshiping and thanking and serving the one who died for us in order to be reconciled with God. Through Jesus Christ we are reconciled with God.
   We’ve talked about this reconciliation several times. How we are separated from God by our sin and that God chose to correct that separation through reconciling that separation through a sacrifice. Jesus Christ was that sacrifice. Jesus Christ, through his blood on the cross, through his death for our sin created the forgiveness of our sin so we could be reconciled with God.
   Folks we should come and worship God because of what he did for us on the Christ. If you are here and claim Christianity, you should be excited about coming to worship him and thank him for who He is and what He did for you.
   If you can’t get excited about the one who is Lord of creation, one who holds all things together. If you can’t realize who the true head of the church is. If you can’t get excited worshipping the one who gave his life so that you would have life, I challenge you to re-examine your commitment to God through Jesus Christ.
   Folks we have all kinds of church models out here today. I’m not going to get into what is right and what is wrong. I can tell you though that we must gather together to worship the one who is Lord of creation, Lord of the church, and Lord of your life. We gather together to worship because of who He is.
   I want you to be honest with yourself because God already knows the true answer to this question. Is He Lord of your life this morning? If He’s not … then what are you going to do about it … sit there on your duff and do nothing … like some are in the habit of doing?

The Unknown God

The Book of Acts Series Part  of 10
September 13, 2020

Series Recap:
   1) The Promise (Acts 2:1-13) The Holy Spirit was given to 1. enable us to experience God. 2. to empower us to live for God. 3. to make us a part of a kingdom.
   2) The Dividing Force (Acts 2:22-33) Without the resurrection, the story of Christ would be just a beautiful story with a bad ending. 2. Without the resurrection, it would have meant that Evil had won. 3. The resurrection is the prelude to the second coming.
   3) The Central Call (Acts 2:36-41) Repentance: 1. involves a genuine sorrow for sin. 2. includes a genuine turning from sin. 3. results in a genuine love for God.
   4) What Does It Take to Be A Church (Acts 2:42-47) The early Christians devoted themselves to: 1. The Apostle’s teaching - learning. 2. The Fellowship - worship. 3. Breaking Bread - friendship. 4. Prayer
   5) Pray Expectantly (Acts 12:1-16) If we are going to pray expectantly, we must: 1. Pray passionate prayers. 2. Pray persistent prayers. 3. Pray believing prayers.
   6) How Do You Know (Acts 13:1-12) We fall prey to the distorions of false prophets when: 1. We do not take evil seriously. 2. We do not take truth seriously. 3. We do not take doctrine seriously.
   7) The Purpose of it All (Acts 13:44-48) The purpose of the church is to become: 1. A Faith-centered community. 2. A God-centered community 3. A World-centered community.
   8) The Scourge of Legalism (Acts 15:1-5) The problem with legalism is: 1. It turns a relationship of love into a religion of laws. 2. It turns people from encouragers into fault-finders. 3. It emphasizes outward conformity rather than inner transformation.
   9) For Those In Quest (Acts 17:1-12) The Bereans show us that a quest becomes noble when: 1. We receive the Good News with eagerness. 2. We examine the Scriptures to see if it is true. 3. We are transformed by the truth.
   And today (#10) we’re going to be talking about The Unknown God (Acts 17:22-31) When attempting to reach people of other faiths, we recognize that: 1. There is some truth in all religions and there are good people who follow them. 2. God has placed a longing for himself inside every human heart. 3. Jesus is the universal Savior.
   Opening passage — Acts 17:22-31 (NLT) — 22So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
   24“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
   27“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his off spring. 29And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.
   30“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
   This is a confusing time in which to live. It was not long ago that America was a place where we, for the most part, understood each other and understood where other people were coming from. We shared common standards of ethics, and whether or not we followed those ethics, we understood them and agreed with those standards of conduct. Very few people disagreed with what was considered the obvious truth. It wasn’t that those things never happened, but when they did, people at least recognized that those things were wrong. It breaks my heart to stand here and say “Those days are no longer with us.”
   There was also a time when we basically considered ourselves a “Christian” nation in that the majority of the people in this county generally identified with the Christian faith. There was a feeling that the principles on which our country was founded (freedom, democracy, law and morality) were principles which came from the Christian Scriptures. We did not see a problem with the fact that the laws of the land came from the laws of the Bible. The Ten Commandments were seen as a good thing. Prayer, even in our schools and at public events, was welcomed and deemed important. The Bible was seen as the “Good Book” … rather than a dangerous document. Things have radically changed … haven’t they?
   NBA Jason Collins of the Washington Wizards came out as gay and was immediately propelled to rock star status and was called on the phone by the President. Chris Broushard, an ESPN reporter was interviewed and stated that he and Collins were friends, played ball together and met each other socially, but that he felt homosexual activity, like adultery and fornication, was a sin and rebellion against God. He stated that he and Collins knew they disagreed on this and were still friends and tolerated each other’s viewpoint about the subject. Broushard was denounced by the media and it may have affected his position with ESPN.
   As Christians we want to say, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But that is unacceptable to those who insist that if we really accept them we should also accept and approve of their bad behavior.
   It should be clear that our culture has rejected Christianity as a part of what defines us as a nation. We no longer welcome it as the primary religious influence on the nation. And in its place there has come a confusing array of multi-culturalism, diversity, and belief systems and religions from other parts of the world. In our society today … Eastern religions, Islam, the Kabbala, even animism are all seen as equal to, and as relevant as, Christianity. You can hear people say things like, “All religions are different paths to the top of the same mountain.” Oprah was noted saying that “there was more than one way to heaven.” Worshiping the unknown god would apply describe the culture of our day.
   It is interesting that in the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, we were given a complete lesson in the ancient Greek gods and everyone found that fascinating. But if the ceremony had instead been lessons in the New Testament and the Greek Orthodox faith, which has had a more profound impact on Greek culture and guided it for much longer, there would have been international outrage.
   All of this is troubling to those of us who profess faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ who is Lord of heaven and earth. The world says that Jesus is just one way among many. We come into direct conflict with the world when we say that he is THE ONLY WAY. He is the only way that we can come to God.
   The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “5For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.”
   There are not many mediators, there is only one. Jesus himself said in John 14:6-7, 6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”
   There is only one true path up the one true mountain, and if you’re not on the one true mountain … you’re making a very difficult climb up a very difficult mountain. Because of Jesus’ claims, we do not recognize other religions as equally valid. We believe that Jesus Christ is the exclusive and universal Savior of the world.
   How do we exist in such a liberalistic culture which often seems more open to any religion other than Christianity … and, at worst, appears hostile towards it?
   How do we arrive at a place where we can have a conversation with those of other moral systems and other faiths while remaining true to the Christian faith? I think there are three primary ways, and the first is this: We recognize that there is some truth in all religions and there are good people who follow these religions. We do not see other religions as completely evil, nor do we see them as being completely in error. We share some common beliefs with other religions, such as the fact that we believe there was a divine origin of the world — it was created and not a result of accident. There are also some common moral laws we share — it is wrong to cheat, steal and kill, for example. In many of these religions there is not only a desire to believe in a god, but a desire to come into contact with this god — to know and be known. When we are talking with people from other faiths, we can at least begin by talking about the things on which we agree. We need to show respect for their beliefs and be more anxious to build relationships with them … than we are to point out where they are wrong … that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. It’s his job to do the convicting … it’s our job to lovingly plant the seed.
   It is also important to remember that there are many good and sincere people who follow these other religions. And we must always remember that they may even be seeking a deeper truth.
   You see … here’s our problem. Just because they may be following another religion … we don’t have a clue how God may be working in their hearts. Instead of looking at their fault … what we need to find is a point of common ground … rather than major on your differences. After you have gotten to know them, earned their trust and built a relationship there will be plenty of time to talk over the differences and lead them to a fuller understanding of the Truth.
   Consider the example of the apostle Paul. When he arrived in Athens, it was like the opening ceremony of the 2004 Greek Olympics. It says in Acts 17:16 “16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city.” He was surrounded by statues of the Greek gods, some of which were grotesque or sensual, but instead of talking against all of these, he found a point of reference that could reach them and help him get his point across.
   In Acts 17:22-28 we see that Paul began his sermon like this: “22So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
   24“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
   27“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”
   Paul not only used one of the shrines to help present his case, he quoted their poets and philosophers, and in that way won over some of those who were wanting to find the truth.
   Only then did Paul press his case further. He said in vss. 29-31 (Acts 17:29-31) “29And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.
   30“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
   Paul did not water down the truth at all. He proclaimed it fully, but he began at a place where he found an opening rather than jumping in with both feet and angrily pointing out where they were wrong. The response of the Greeks would have been quite different if he had been blunt and condemning in his approach.
   People need to know that you take them seriously and that you care for them personally before they will listen. As someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
   The second way we approach people of other religions is: We recognize that God has placed a longing for himself inside every human heart. Just as God has made moths to be attracted to the light, so God has made every human being with an attraction to himself.
   Missionary Don Richardson, in his outstanding book Eternity in Their Hearts, traces how God has worked in the cultures and customs of the world, purposely planting things there that would ultimately help people understand the truth of who he is.
   The book is full of intriguing stories as Richardson traces the history and legends of several tribes, which Missionaries have used to reveal the Gospel to people who were desperate to understand and know the true God. Like the people of ancient Greece who had a monument to “the unknown god,” Richardson calls them “Peoples of the vague God.” They don’t need to be condemned for following the wrong God, they need someone to fill in the blanks for them — someone who will bring their vague concept of God into sharp focus. As they look through that lens they will see the person of Jesus standing before them and beckoning them.
   I believe that God has placed in the heart of every person a desire to know him. And these are not just vague longings that can be satisfied with “spirituality” or just any religion. These longings can only be satisfied when they are touched by truth and reality — the God who made the world and sent his Son to take away their sins. There is something that happens in the hearts of people when they are presented with this truth.
   In Steven Spielberg’s film about a slave ship called Amistad, the Africans revolt and are subsequently imprisoned. The African prisoners are given a Bible with pictures in it by the abolitionists. The Africans had no idea what the book was, and they could not read in their own language, let alone English.
   Yamba, one of the Africans, is intently looking over the Bible in the prison when Cinque [sink] says to him, “You don’t have to pretend to be interested in that.”
   “Nobody’s watching me,” Yamba says. “I’m not pretending. I’m beginning to understand.”
   He sees a picture of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt and says, “Their people have suffered more than ours. Their lives were full of suffering.” Turning to a picture of Jesus he exclaims, “Then he was born and everything changed.”
   “Who is he?” Cinque [sink] asks.
   “I don’t know, but everywhere he goes, he is followed by the sun,” Yamba says while pointing to the halo around his head. “Here he is healing people with his hands. Protecting them. . . Being given children.”
   “What’s this?” asks Cinque [sink] pointing to a picture.
   “He could also walk across the sea,” Yamba explains. “But then something happened. He was captured. Accused of some crime. Here he is with his hands tied.”
   “He must have done something,” reasons Cinque [sink].
   “Why?” Yamba asks, “What did we do?” Yamba continues, “Whatever it was, it was serious enough to kill him for it. Do you want to see how they killed him?”
   “This is just a story, Yamba,” Cinque [sink] replies.
   “But look,” Yamba says. “That’s not the end of it. His people took his body down from this. . . thing. . . this. . . [Yamba makes the sign of the cross.] “They took him into a cave. They wrapped him in a cloth, like we do. They thought he died, but he appeared before his people again. . . and spoke to them. Then, finally, he rose into the sky. This is where the soul goes when you die here. This is where we’re going when they kill us. It doesn’t look so bad.”
   How did Yamba figure all that out by looking at a collection of pictures? The Holy Spirit was guiding and directing him to the truth — just as he will anyone who genuinely wants to find God and searches for him. You see, Yamba was being drawn like a moth to the flame.
   Jesus said in John 10:16 “16I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”
   The third way we approach people of other religions is: We recognize that Jesus is the universal Savior. Christianity is not the religion of white Americans. It did not arise out of the cultures of eastern Europe, even though it has transformed them. The first Christians were all Jews, as Jesus himself was a Jew. It was from Israel that the Good News spread throughout the Roman Empire and around the world. Jesus was not just for the Jews, even though that was very difficult for the earliest Christians to understand. Jesus Christ is the living Savior of the whole world. He died for every person in every country in the world. He is as relevant today as he was two thousand years ago. Both young and old have had their lives dramatically altered by a relationship with him. Rich and poor, slave and free, intellectuals and uneducated, the punk rockers and socially elite, athletes and Geeks alike have encountered Jesus Christ and have found in him a transforming life experience. He is the God of the Bushman in southern Africa, the Asian in a remote village of China, the Hispanic in Central and South America, the executive in Washington D.C. and the teenager walking the streets of a mid-American town. Everyone needs Jesus, and everyone has access to him. He is the Savior of all and for all.
   Acts 4:12 says, “12There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” This is not something about which we need to be embarrassed, even if we are pressured by a culture that holds tolerance and inclusiveness as its primary doctrines. In our society’s attempt to create a politically correct world, there are those who want everything to be the same, and nothing to stand out or make claims of superiority. We use the phrase “Cutting the tall poppy” to describe this trend. The idea is that in a field of poppies, you cut the tall ones so that none of them stands out over the others.
   I heard that there is a trend in some educational circles to mark a student’s grade in light pencil if they get an “A” or a “100” on the test so that those who did not get a good grade will not feel badly. That’s what is called “cutting the tall poppy” … all participants get a prize
   This is why people are uncomfortable with the claims of Christianity. I was having trouble with understanding the adverse reaction to the Ten Commandments being placed in court rooms. After all, doesn’t everyone agree that it is wrong to kill and steal? But then someone reminded me that the first commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
   AND that’s the problem! In today’s thinking you can’t have just one God, or one which stands above the others. Cutting the tall poppy in spiritual matters means that you try to make all religions the same.
   But we, as Christian are not parading around feeling superior to others (at least we better not be), we are supposed to be offering the bread of life to anyone who will take it. We are not keeping it to ourselves and saying, “We have it and you do not.” We are saying, “This is not exclusively ours, it is for everyone.” Someone has said that telling other people about Christ is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. We repeat the words Isaiah said in chapter 55, vss. 1-2 (Isaiah 55:1-2) “1Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink — even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk — it’s all free!
   2Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.”
   The Tampa, Florida City Council always had ministers say a prayer at their meetings. They insisted that it was not an unconstitutional religious act since they even let people of other faiths say the invocation from time to time. But a group known as “Atheists of Florida” decided they should have equal treatment. Ed Golly, the chairman of the atheist group, offered to have someone from his organization say the invocation. Councilman John Dingfelder agreed to let an atheist take a turn, but some of the other council members walked out when Michael Harvey arrived to say the invocation as scheduled.
   I think it would have been interesting to have them come and hear their invocation. Whom would they invoke? To whom would they address the invocation, and what petition would they make to the void? It would have been a perfect time to help people see how half-baked life is without a living God with whom you can talk to and have a relationship with. Jesus Christ is for everyone. There is no cost and there are no barriers … except for the ones we build ourselves.
   Paul said in Romans 10:13 “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Then in vss. 14 & 15 he asks these questions … “14But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?”
   In our passage this morning Paul stood downtown Athens with all these statues of all these Greek gods and goddesses all around him … and he said with boldness … “Men of Athens.” Paul had no excuses for not going … the Bible says he went. There was ONLY one reason Paul went … that reason was Jesus. And, just like Jesus … everywhere Paul went he had a message about eternity.
   Mark 16:15 … Luke 14:23 … Matthew 28:19-20 & Acts 1:7-8 tells us (actually, those passages commands us) to “GO into the world and preach the Gospel to ALL creation.” What message can anybody possibly share with the “Men of Athens” if they are not "going"? Peter said in Acts 3:6 "Silver and gold, I have none … but I will share with you what I do have” (Acts 3:3-16). If we are truly the Christians we claim to be … we all have a story to tell about what Jesus has done in our lives. Are you going to stay home and let your light sit under a basket (Matthew 5:15) … or are you going to be like Paul … go where God’s called you to go and stand up (even though the enemy surrounds you) and boldly say “Men of Athens?”
   Let us be people of open hearts and minds … but let us also present the truth with courage and passion, because the Word of God is the gift of eternal life with the Father.
   There are so many people out there waiting on you show up and tell them how they can change their destiny about eternity.

For Those in Quest

The Book of Acts Series Part 9 of 10
September 6, 2020

   Opening passage — Acts 17:1-7 — (NLT) — Paul Preaches in Thessalonica 1Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis [am-fu-pulas] and Apollonia [a-po-lonia] and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. 3He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.” 4Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.
   5But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd. 6Not finding them there, they dragged out Jason and some of the other believers instead and took them before the city council. “Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,” they shouted, “and now they are here disturbing our city, too. 7And Jason has welcomed them into his home. They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”
   My favorite part of Paul Harvey is the last segment of the newscast that he calls “For What It’s Worth.” One day he gave this interesting story: “Our For What It’s Worth Department hears from Hershey, Pennsylvania — where the woman in the Mercedes had been waiting patiently for a parking place to open up. The shopping mall was crowded. The woman in the Mercedes zigzagged between rows — then up ahead she saw a man with a load of packages heading for his car. She drove up, parked behind him and waited while he opened his trunk and loaded it with packages. Finally he got in his car and backed out of the stall. But before the woman in the Mercedes could drive into the parking space, a young man in a shiny new Corvette zipped past and around her and he pulled into the empty space, got out and started walking away. ‘Hey ’ shouted the woman in the Mercedes, ‘I’ve been waiting for that parking place’ The college-ager responded, ‘Sorry, lady; that’s how it is when you’re young and quick.’ At that instant she put her Mercedes in gear, floor-boarded it, crashed into and crushed the right rear fender and corner panel of the flashy new Corvette. Now the young man is jumping up and down shouting, ‘You can’t do that!!!’ The lady in the Mercedes said, ‘That’s how it is when you’re old and rich ’”
   As I thought about that story I realized again that maturity does not necessarily come with age. You can be young and foolish, and you can just as easily be old and foolish. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Just when I think that maturity comes with age, or that you learn to be less foolish with time, I get to the end of another day and want to kick myself for some foolish thing I have said or done. Age does not equal maturity — maturity comes in another way.
   In the story we read in the Scripture today, the Bereans were a group of people who manifested in spiritual maturity. They possessed a certain character that was marked by excellence. Paul described them as “noble.” They were engaged in a spiritual quest — a spiritual adventure, a search for spiritual truth. Unlike most people of that day (as well as a lot of people today) they were open-minded — unlike other groups that Paul had tried to reach. Instead of opposing him, they eagerly heard him. They searched the Scriptures to see if what he was saying was true, and the truth they discovered transformed them ... it changed the way they were thinking … it changed the way they talked and acted … and it changed the way they lived their lives.
   I have known many people who have been on a quest, but they never seem to find what they are looking for. In fact, with some people you have to wonder if they want to find it at all.
   I have known people who are searching spiritually, but who believes it is impossible to really know spiritual realities. Paul spoke in 2 Timothy 3:7 of those who were, “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” If you are not willing to find the truth, then your quest is not a noble one.
   What makes a quest noble? We can follow the example of the Bereans here. The first thing that is necessary for a quest to be noble is when: We receive the Good News with eagerness. The people from Thessalonica had opposed the message that Paul brought. In fact, they followed him from place to place stirring up trouble. It was not that the Thessalonians did not have the opportunity, for in Acts 17:2-3 the Scripture says, “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said.”
   And some of them did believe and receive the message, but the majority opposed him, and not just a little. They stirred up a mob and hired them to spread lies. They refused to listen to anything he had to say. They closed their minds and their hearts.
   Paul had patiently explained the truth to them over a period of time. He reasoned with them and explained the Good News to them. And it was not just empty talk. He proved what he had to say about Christ from the Scriptures. But it was all to no avail. Their hearts were hardened to the message of Paul, even though it was some awesome good news.
   There are those who are always eager to hear the good news, and those who are eager to always hear bad news. There are those who are glad to hear a word of faith and hope, and those who are glad to hear a word of skepticism and doubt. There are those who delight in the truth, and those who delight in the lie.
   Several years ago Israel was all abuzz when Madonna arrived in the holy land on what the newspapers described as a “spiritual quest, including visits to the graves of revered rabbinical [holy] sages.” It seems Madonna is into Kabbalah, a form of Jewish spiritualism. She was joined by fashion designer Donna Karan and Marla Maples, an ex-wife of Donald Trump. According to the Associated Press: “Liora Goldenberg-Stern, a culture writer at the Maariv newspaper, said Madonna would be welcomed by Tel Aviv’s rich and famous, which has embraced Cabala. ‘It’s a social thing, very trendy.’”
   Madonna was raised as a Roman Catholic, but has now adopted the Hebrew name Esther, wears a red thread on her wrist to ward off the evil eye and refuses to perform on the Jewish Sabbath. She has also incorporated Jewish symbols into some of her music videos.
   The sad thing about this story is that here is a person who is familiar with the Christian faith, but who has chosen to trash the truth of Christianity and pursue a spiritual journey which promotes irrational things such as tying a red string on your wrist to ward off the evil eye — as though a piece of colored string could protect you against the power of evil. She has chosen to reject the truth and flaunt her hostility and distaste for Christianity, even though she is familiar with it.
   There are many today who belong to what I call the ABC crowd — Anything But Christianity. They are open minded to anything, as long as it has nothing to do with Christianity or Christians.
   Jesus taught about the importance of our willingness to receive the Word of God into our lives in the parable of the sower. The sower sowed the seed on different kinds of ground, each of which responded differently. He explained it like this in Luke 8:11-15 “The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Now there is a formula for spiritual nobility and growth: Hear the Word, receive the Word, retain it, persevere in the Word and produce a crop.
   To be a person of nobility on a genuine quest you have to at least be open minded. You have to receive the message, which is the Good News with anticipation and eagerness, and eventually go on to retain the seed and ultimately produce of crop of righteousness. To be a person of nobility you can’t be a person who is not willing to listen to the Word of God. You have to be wiling to listen to the  thoughts and opinions of your true Christian friends. When you get involved in a conversation and think you have to prove you’re the one who’s right … brothers and sisters … you just proved just how wrong you are.
   To be a person of nobility you recognize when something has the ring of truth … and you want to know more. Cultivating spiritual hunger is important. A noble person is eager to receive all that God has for them — even if it means going outside of their personal comfort zone. Our culture teaches us to be skeptical and nurse our doubts, but at some point you have to be open to faith and the spiritual realities of life.
   But how do you keep from making a serious mistake? How do you know when something is genuine or just sounds good? That leads to the second point. A quest becomes noble when: We examine the Scriptures to see if it is true. Never be afraid to investigate the Bible; it can stand up to the toughest test of intellectual scrutiny. We don’t want to be gullible and just eagerly accept anything that comes down the spiritual pike because it sounds good, we want to discover whether or not it is true. In 1 John 4:1 the Bible says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
   Following the news of former Beatle George Harrison’s death, Anne Curry interviewed Anthony DeCurtis on the Today show. DeCurtis is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine, and he talked at length about Harrison’s search for a meaningful spiritual life. In the interview, Anne Curry made the statement: “Apparently Harrison was the most spiritual of the group [speaking of the Beatles]; in a recent interview, he said, ‘Everything else in life can wait, but the search for God cannot wait.’” We know that his search for God led him in many directions, especially the eastern religions, but we don’t know if in his quest he was ever really open to Jesus Christ, whether he accepted Jesus as one religious leader among many others.
   Actor Woody Harrelson recently said, “I’d been nursing this emptiness for far too long … Four or five years ago, I came to the conclusion that I’d made a huge mistake in turning my back on religion, because there were seeds in it that were extremely important to me. Then I set out in search of my soul again. . . In rejecting religion, I had also discarded spirituality. I’ve found a bright new reason for living.”
   But, we know in today’s world, “religion” or “spirituality” can mean almost anything. In fact, it can mean some of the strangest stuff you have ever heard. Just a fuzzy kind of religious or spiritual feeling is not enough, even if those feelings are sincere. Your “feelings” must be grounded in the truth of the .Word of God.
   I am always amazed by those who are always in quest, but never arriving anywhere. Luke 8:10 says people are always searching, but never finding. Seeing, and yet they still do not see, and hearing and they do not understand. Truth, by its very nature, is specific. When you’re searching for the truth in anything you have to land somewhere. And when you hear something that sounds good … you had better check it with the Scriptures to see if it is true. It may be the latest spiritual click which everyone is trying, but if it is not based in reality, what good does it do?
   God has given us a reliable document to go by, it’s called the Bible, by which we can measure and assess what is true and what is not. If we did not have the Bible, there would be no way to judge what is true and what is not, except by our own faulty intuition. Let me tell ya something … the Gospel according to David Dooley is a very scary thing.
   One of the biggest mistakes people make in their faith walk is when they just casually pick up the Bible and read a verse here or there … be a student of the Word. In John 8:31-32 Jesus said to those who believed in him: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,”
   We know four things from this statement of Jesus: 1) There is such a thing as truth. 2) Truth is knowable. 3) The only way to know truth is to study Jesus’ teachings. 4) This truth is freeing.
   In your thinking and experience, you may have had trouble with the church, you may question the behavior of some individual Christians, or you may question the actions of Christians in history. But you see, here’s the problem … you have to get beyond all that and study the person of Jesus — his ministry, his teachings and his life. It is there you will find Truth, and it is the Truth by which all other truth is measured and evaluated.
   The Bereans received Paul’s message eagerly … but they still checked it out. They still examined it to see if it was true. That is the same thing that you should do whenever you hear anyone proclaiming what they claim is the truth of God — including this pastor. I know most of you love me and trust me … but don’t just take my word for it. Something that is true can stand the test of investigation. Don’t just go on your feelings, study the Word and see if it is there. That is necessary for a quest to be noble.
   The third thing that makes a quest noble is when: We are transformed by the truth. I know a lot of people who believe all the right things. If you investigated their beliefs it would be difficult to find anything to disagree with. But they have never let the truth they believe transform them. We need to understand that truth is not static. If the truth has not transformed your life, then truth has not done its work, and, at that point, you might as well not believe in the truth at all.
   When we hit the streets, we go to biker bars and events all over this state. We go into these places to talk and witness to the people that are there. Every once in awhile we would run into someone who knew the Bible and could quote more Bible verses than we could combined. And they could not only quote them, they truly believed them. But as we talked it was plain to see that they lived in a topsy turvy world … their lives were a disaster ... because they refused to allow the truths they said they believed to transform their lives, therefore those truths failed. And that is true not only for someone who frequents a dive, it is true for a person in a business suit who congratulates himself for believing the Word, but who has never let it transform him.
   The Bible says in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Our minds, our wills and our attitudes all must go through the transformation process.
   The Biblical word for this is sanctification. Sanctification is God’s work in us through his Word and Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:3-4 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” If the Bible’s information does not lead to transformation it lacks application. We have to allow the information in the Word of God be applied to our lives. When there is no application of the truth, you might as well believe a lie.
   Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Jew who was converted to Christ, has been called “the voice of the underground church,” because he has helped Christians around the world to be informed about the persecution of believers who live under oppressive regimes. In the 1940’s, he was jailed and tortured by communist officials in his home country. While he was in prison he spoke boldly about his faith to his atheistic captors. He spent 14 years in prison, and in his writings tells this story about one of his experiences: “The political officer asked me harshly, ‘How long will you continue to keep your stupid religion?’ I said to him, ‘I have seen innumerable atheists regretting on their deathbeds that they have been godless; they called on Christ. Can you imagine that a Christian could regret when death is near that he has been a Christian and call on Marx or Lenin to rescue him from his faith?’ The atheist began to laugh, ‘A clever answer.’ I used Lenin’s books to prove to him that, even after becoming prime minister of the Soviet Union, Lenin himself prayed when things went wrong. I continued, ‘When an engineer has built a bridge, the fact that a cat can pass over the bridge is no proof that the bridge is good. A train must pass over it to prove its strength. The fact that you can be an atheist when everything goes well does not prove the truth of atheism. It does not hold up in moments of great crisis.’”
   A noble quest prepares you for a time of crisis. But you have to be willing to receive the truth, investigate the truth and be transformed by the truth. 1 John 3:2 tells us “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

The Scourge of Legalism

The Book of Acts Series Part 8 of 10

August 30, 2020

   Opening passage — Acts 15:1-5 (NLT) The Council at Jerusalem — 1While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.
   4When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
   What an interesting story about the early church The Word of God has just spread to the Gentiles, other non-Jews and people from other lands …. and they have responded enthusiastically to its message. There were thrilling stories of healings, miracles and dramatic conversions. These new converts were in love with God and filled with joy because their sins were forgiven, and they had experienced the indwelling presence of God in their lives. They were also enjoying the fellowship of other people who received Jesus Christ into their lives and were growing in the faith with them. Even the persecution they faced from friends and family didn’t cause them to reconsider their decision to follow Jesus.
   But then something happened which they were not prepared for. A small group of zealous, Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came to pay a visit. They were born Jews and had carefully followed the Jewish faith, observing all the laws of Moses and the traditions of Judaism. When they accepted Christ as their Messiah, they assumed that they should continue to follow all the Jewish laws and traditions. And to some extent they were right, at least concerning the moral code, but Jewish tradition had interpreted Mosaic law and added considerably to it. When these Jewish Christians came to Antioch, they tried to impose these rules on the new Christians who hardly knew who Moses was. The first thing they said to these new Christians was: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This was not exactly good news to the adult male Gentiles.
   Instead of helping to open up the way to Christ, they put boulders in their path. They made the way to God more difficult, instead of more accessible. They created unnecessary obstacles, instead of removing them.
   This often happens in the life of a new Christian. Some people feel it is their business to remind others of all the do’s and don’ts of being a Christian. They put shackles around the feet of new Christians so they cannot dance with the Savior in the new life he has given them. They become the religious police, investigating new believers to make sure they’re staying on the straight and narrow and not doing anything wrong ... according to their standards.
   It was important for these new believers to understand that to come to Christ means a whole new way of living, and that there are moral laws that are important to observe. But the danger was that they made it appear that a person is saved, they made it appear that in order to be made right with God … they had to keep the law. They made it sound like a person’s relationship with God was dependent on how well they abided by all the religious rules and regulations, rather than by the free gift of his grace through Jesus Christ.
   Legalism is seeing the Christian life as a list of things to do, and an equal, if not larger, list of things which you are not permitted to do. It makes it appear that one is justified before God by one’s own obedience, rather than the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Legalism acts as though a person earns their salvation, rather than receiving it as a free gift of God. Legalism sees the Christian life as a list of rules rather than spiritual principles that enable us to enter into kingdom life. Legalism majors on prohibitions rather than emphasizing positive transformation. Legalism looks at the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law. It looks at outward observances rather than an inner change of heart.
   Legalism is a scourge in the church because it is not authentic Christianity. Why is legalism such a problem in the church? There are several reasons, but the first is: Legalism turns a relationship of love into a religion of rules. Primarily, our relationship with God is supposed to be a relationship of love, rather than an adherence to a list of rules and regulations.
   I want to be careful here, since we live in a society which often has the opposite problem of the one which are talking about today. In our culture, we have emphasized grace to the point where many people seem to feel that obedience to a moral code is not really necessary.
   To talk of moral failure in our society today is sorta out dated. Our culture does not have a problem with legalism as much as it does legalism’s opposite … something called “Gracism.” Gracism is an overemphasis on grace to the point that we believe it is not important whether we obey God or not.
   You see, the problem is that we carelessly live any way we please, believing that we live by grace and that God automatically forgives us for anything and everything. I have heard pastors teach that we don’t have to ask for forgiveness because we were forgiven at Salvation and any sin after our Salvation is automatically wiped away.
   It’s sad to say but it’s like we almost rejoice in our brokenness and use it as an excuse. We have talked so much about the love, grace and mercy of God that we cannot imagine him being so mean as to judge our sin.
   So, let me say that rules are necessary, and the laws of God are good. In fact, the purpose of the laws of God are not to hinder us and make our lives difficult; they are the guidelines which show us how to get the most out of life and enjoy it to the fullest extent (John 10:10). If you want to be an unhappy person break any or all the laws of God. It is a formula for certain disaster. God’s laws are the result of his love.
   But we cannot mistake God’s laws as being at the heart of our relationship with him. Neither can we make the mistake of thinking that we are made right with God by obeying his laws … or the rules we have added to them. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian faith. We are not saved by never sinning, rather we are made right with God by confessing our sin to him (and to each other). It’s through confession that we receive his forgiveness as a free gift, which was made possible by the atoning death of our Savior Jesus Christ. And when we receive this free gift, we find a new love for God growing in our hearts. The whole reason for the creation of the world, and the reason for Jesus Christ coming to earth to die for us, was that we might have a relationship with God, and he with us. The whole Gospel is wrapped up in John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God wants your love and wants someone like you to love. That is why you are here. That is your divine purpose on earth.
   But there have always been those who misunderstood and tried to take this relationship of love and turn it into a code of conduct. The Pharisees were the perfect example of this. The Teacher’s Commentary tells us: “The Pharisees were earnestly concerned with the Law and with keeping its minutest detail. But the Pharisees tended to emphasize the ‘oral law’ of the Torah [the first five books of the Old Testament]. This oral law was composed of a vast number of interpretations and explanations of the Old Testament, which over the years continued to grow and grow. Tragically, the oral law increasingly focused on trifling details.
   For instance, the command not to work on the Sabbath was expanded and illustrated with hundreds of explanations and exceptions. According to the Pharisees, a person was allowed to spit on rocky ground on the Sabbath. But he could not spit on soft or dusty earth; the spittle might move the dirt and that would constitute plowing, for it might make a furrow ” If it made a furrow it could be considered plowing, and plowing was obviously a type of work — all because you spit in the dirt.
   That’s legalism at its ridiculous extreme. Paul told the Colossians in chapter 2, vss 20-22 (Colossians 2:20-22): “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle Do not taste Do not touch.’ These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.” The biblical principle can be summed up as: All things in moderation.
   We don’t want to take this beautiful relationship that we are privileged to have with God and reduce it to an absurd list of rules. Jesus has come to love us, not to turn us into religious robots who are all alike.
   Saint Augustine used to say, “Love God and do as you please.” By that he did not mean that you could love God and sin all you want. He meant that when you love God, your pleasure is to do what gives God pleasure. It should please you to do what pleases him. You don’t need a list of rules to make you do that, it is an obedience that comes from the heart. One lover is doing what pleases the other Lover. You make a point to do what please you spouse, don’t you??
   The second problem with legalism is: Legalism turns people from encouragers into fault-finders. I have known Christians who would never consider going to a movie, dancing or having a glass of wine … but think nothing of being mean and critical of those who do. They come across as proud and arrogant and cause conflict wherever they go. Bean counting rule keepers do not attract people to Jesus.
   So often the world sees us as finger pointing, guilt-mongering, fault-finders … rather than people who are holding forth the Word of life.
   And I have to admit that is how I have come across at many times in my life. We should be people who are interested in helping others become transformed into the people God wants them to be, but sometimes we are guilty of merely shaming them. Here is how the world often sees us.
   This is a picture of Gladys, Ruth Buzzi’s character as the little old lady from Laugh In who loved to go around wacking people with her purse when they upset her. She kept a scowl on her face, her hair pasted down, and had really bad taste in fashion. I keep seeing the “Church Lady” — Dana Carvey’s character on Saturday Night Live — when I think of this.
   The world paints us as rigid and joyless. They think we don’t know how to have a good time. But these characters who portrayed Christians are not without some legitimacy ... are they? We have often been pointing our finger at the people of the world instead of putting our arms around them and loving them and praying the Holy Spirit will lead them to Christ. Legalism turns us into uptight people who turn others off to Christ rather than turning them onto him. Our task is to be encouragers.
   How is it that our disposition can be so sour when Philippians 4:4-5 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” It is the joy of God that should be our badge of distinction, not our anger and judgmental spirit.
   If we had read the whole 15th chapter of Acts today, in vs. 19 (Acts 15:19) we would hear James respond to the intrusion of these legalists by saying, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”. He would say the same thing to us today: “Don’t make it difficult for people to turn to God.” Don’t miss the obvious reality that someone is turning to God because you are so anxious to get them to observe laws or get caught up in all this Christian tradition. Open the way instead of standing in the way with your list of rules. Moral law is important, and they will get there soon enough, but we don’t have to try and be the Holy Spirit for people. The Holy Spirit can change people quiet well and a whole lot easier without our help.
   In the end, the leaders of the church wrote a letter to the new Gentile converts, and vs. 29 (Acts 15:29) said, “Avoid idol worship and sexual immorality. Other than that, enjoy your new life in God.”
   When the church becomes a place filled with religious police, it is no longer safe to be … you can’t be genuine … and you can’t be authentic … and you can’t be honest. People start pretending to be someone they are not and wearing masks so that they won’t be judged. Jesus warned us of this in Matthew 7:3-5, “3And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
   In other words … I believe what Jesus is saying here is how can we stand in judgement and tell someone all the stuff they are doing wrong in their lives when we don’t have it all together? How can we stand there, like Sister Sue (better than you), and tell them how to fix their broken lives when we’re just as messed up and broken as they are? We need to clean up our own back yards before we can stand there and tell someone how messy their back yard is. Right??
   The third way that legalism is a problem is: It emphasizes outward conformity rather than inner transformation. Here is the real problem with legalism — it misses the point of the Christian life. Christianity is a relationship with God to be enjoyed … not a set of rules to keep. At the heart of the Christian faith is a loving God who wants a relationship with us — a relationship based not on fear, but on love and trust. God loves us even when we fail. But his purpose is not to get us to conform to a moral code written on tablets of stone. Rather, his purpose is to change us inwardly so that our obedience comes willingly from the heart.
   In the scripture today, the legalists who arrived in Antioch telling everyone to conform to the law of Moses somehow missed the fact that God had changed the heart of these people. The legalists were demanding outward conformity and didn’t see that there had already been an inner change and transformation.
   God’s purpose had always been to create a heart within us that was in love with him and eager to do his will. God said, through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31 vs. 33 (Jeremiah 31:33) “‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”
   It is very hard for us to get it into our heads that we are not made right with God by being “good people.” If we could do that, we would not need a savior, we could save ourselves, right? We are made right with God through the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross and nothing else. Nothing you could do would be good enough to earn your forgiveness and entrance into heaven. The hymn says, “Could my tears forever flow, Could my zeal no longer know, These for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and thou alone. In my hand no price I bring; Simply to thy cross I cling.”
   The Bible makes it very clear in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” Paul wrote in Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
   Jesus Christ is not interested in your outward conformity to a moral code … he’s interested in transforming your heart. It is an inside job. And when your heart is transformed, you will fall in love with God and want to do his will. It will not be a burden, but a delight. Demanding that people obey rules can’t begin to touch what God is really wanting to do for them. Just keeping the law misses the point completely.
   A pilot was taking his family in a light seaplane into British Columbia. When he attempted to land offshore in the ocean, the plane’s pontoons caught and flipped the plane into the icy waters. The pilot and his family managed to get out of the plane, but it quickly sank, and they had to swim a half mile to a small island. They were injured from the crash, and had to survive three cold days before being found. Another plane saw them, quite by accident, as it was flying over.
   An official search was initiated at the time of the accident because of the distress signal, but the searchers arrived at the scene just as the airplane was sinking and assumed no one survived. The man in charge of the rescue called off the search almost immediately.
   When the family was eventually brought back safely, the official in charge of rescuing people defended his decision to call off the search, by saying: “They (the people whose plane crashed) did all the wrong things; they left the scene of the accident and left no indication which way they had gone.”
   Here was a man who could follow rules, but who could not follow the leading of his heart. Technically, he had followed the rules and done things correctly (since he had read in a manual that you should never leave the scene of an accident, and if you did, you should somehow indicate where you have gone), but no one in their right mind would believe he did the right thing.
   I have known a lot of people who were extremely good at following all the rules — double dotting all the “I’s” and double crossing all the “T’s,” but who missed the bigger picture of kindness, love and decency. You can be exactly right when it comes to following the rules, and all wrong when it comes to following the heart of God. Jesus warned us not to be like the Pharisees whom he described in this way in Matthew 23:3-4: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

The Purpose Of It All

The Book of Acts Series Part 7 of 10
August 23, 2020

   Opening passage — Acts 13:44-48 (NLT) — Paul Turns to the Gentiles — “44The following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord. 45But when some of the Jews saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said.
   46Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. 47For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’”
   48When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers.”
   There’s a book out by Erwin McManus about the church entitled An Unstoppable Force. There’s a pretty hard statement near the beginning of the book where he said: “The indictment that we must receive is that the Christian faith as we express it is no longer seen as a viable spiritual option. Masses gave the church a try and left wanting. We accuse them of not being willing to surrender to God; they accuse us of not knowing him. It’s a very sad fact that people are rejecting Christ because of the church. Once we were called Christians by an unbelieving world, and now we call ourselves Christians and the world calls us hypocrites.”
   And why shouldn’t they? I mean after all … aren’t we still doing the same things the world is doing? Fussing, fighting, getting divorces at the same rate as the world, drinking, smoking, cussing, pornography … and the list goes on and on. What makes some us any different from the happenings in the world?
   Is it possible that it isn’t the nation that is becoming dangerously secular … but the church? The truth is, in the worst of ways, we have become a group of religious individuals. We are the founders of the secular nation.
   What an indictment!!! But I believe that he may be putting his finger on where the problem possibly lies. The world is drawn to Jesus and we saw that when millions went to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But, in reality, the world is often put off by the church.
   We have to take an honest look to see why this is happening. Are we fulfilling the mission and purpose of the church, or have we missed it in some significant way? Are we turning people to Christ or turning them away from him? Are we just talking the talk without walking the walk? These, and more like them, are some very uncomfortable questions … but they are questions that we, as Christians and we as a church, all must face and give an answer to.
   In order to answer the question, we have to ask ourselves what the purpose and mission of the church is, and then ask ourselves if we are fulfilling that purpose. I see at least three purposes of the church in the passage that we are looking at today.
   The first is: We are to become a faith-centered community. Let me begin with the word “community.” We are not called to be a group of individuals who happen to meet here a couple hours on Sunday morning and who otherwise lead our own lives and doing our own thing. We are called by our Father in heaven to be a community. We are called not to ride the roads alone … but as a group.
   To break the word apart, we have a common unity. We do not live just for ourselves or our own particular family anymore. Those of us that wear the title Christian stamped on our foreheads, we are called to live for, and with, each other. Your spouse, your children, your family and friends come before self.
   We share a common love for God and each other. We have a common goal of modeling the Christian life for the world to see that’s attracting them to the world to God. We were individuals who have now become a community, and are becoming more of a community with the passing of time. We live for each other as well as for Christ.
   It does something to you when you realize that these are the people with whom you will be spending eternity. We are part of a spiritual family with God as our Father. So if you think you can be a Christian by yourself, without a community, without a spiritual family, you are badly mistaken according to the Word of God. The Bible gives us this amazing statement in Romans 12:4-5: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
   You do not belong to yourself, but to the body of Christ. We can never fully have a meaningful relationship with others unless we are fully committed to or relationship to God. But we can never be fully committed to God unless we are a part of a Christian church community.
   But this community is nothing if it is not a believing community. In the scripture today, the very people who were supposed to believe the message rejected it. Listen again to vs. 46 (Acts 13:46) as Paul says, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”
   Here’s an interesting question … Why did Paul always go to the Jews first? Because they were the community that was supposed to believe the message and live it out in the world. Instead, they not only rejected it, they fought against it. When a community does that, they lose out on the eternal life that God wanted them to have. They did not reject the message because they could not understand it, because Paul was proving to them from the Scriptures every day that Jesus was the Christ. The writer of Acts tells us that it was not because of misunderstanding Paul’s words that they became hostile to his message, but because of their jealousy that everyone was being drawn to Paul and the message that he had come to bring.
   We need to be discerning, but we want to be careful not to reject God’s truth just because it is coming from someone else. We want to be open to everything God has for us. We don’t want to resist our faith, we want our eyes, ears and hearts to be open to see, hear and believe God whatever he has to say to us. We do not want Jesus to say to us, as he said to some in Luke 24:25: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”
   The interesting thing in this story is that the people who were supposed to believe, didn’t, and the people who were not supposed to believe did. It says in vss. 47-48 (Acts 13:47-48) “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”
   How is the world going to believe the Gospel if we act as though we do not believe it ourselves — if we are not excited about what God has done in our lives. How is an unbelieving world going to believe the Gospel if we are not personally changed by it? When we become a faith-centered community we are able to believe and trust God even when he is leading us in new directions. When we are a faith-centered community, we are able to believe God for the supernatural. We believe God for big things. We are committed to the idea that there is nothing which God cannot do — and when that happens people are drawn to God.
   The second purpose of the church is: We are to become a God-centered community. This is so important, because it gets at the root of what ails us. This is not about you The Christian life is not about God doing things for you and answering all your prayers. The church is not about getting your way and having people take care of you. Our central focus is on God — his will, his heart, his desire for us, and most of all … his glory. When we focus on ourselves, we focus on our goals and desires. When we focus on God, we are to focus on his will for us and the world. This is where we get our reason for being.
   Erwin McManus says, “The real tragedy is not that churches are dying, but that churches have lost their reason to live.” In the scripture we read today, we saw a little dying synagogue that had lost its purpose, and therefore had lost its reason to live. They had missed the heart of God for the people right around them. When people started to flock to hear Paul’s word, they were jealous and outraged. They were content with their own little group. They had missed their mission because their focus was on themselves and not on God. God’s heart was going out to the lost people right around them and they had somehow missed it.
   A pastor was asked to be on a committee to help three declining churches in the heart of a large city to merge. At one time they had been large, thriving churches, but the neighborhoods changed and most of the members had moved to the suburbs. Each week people would drive in from the surrounding areas and go to church where they had gone for years, but the churches were dying. During the meeting he asked the people from the churches a series of questions: Are there any people from the inner city in your church? Have you tried to reach the people in the neighborhoods surrounding your church buildings? Do you plan to do anything to reach the people around you?
   To each question there was a resounding, “No.” He really upset several members of the committee when he said, “Then, for me, the question is not how you should merge, but whether you should continue to exist at all.” The meeting took on a somber tone at that point, and he felt like an unwelcome guest.
   This is true for the individual as well as the church. When you lose your focus on God and begin to focus on yourself and your stuff you find that you are not an important enough reason to live. Even if you get your way, it is not ultimately satisfying. You can never come to the end of the things you want and desire. Doing life your way becomes difficult, destructive and dysfunctional. Life becomes unfulfilling. But center yourself in God and you find that some of the greatest longings of your heart are being met. You find God making you a new person.
   A pastor and his wife were struggling with an issue that involved their extended family. They reacted poorly in a phone conversation with a family member. The next morning, after having their separate devotions, they came to eat breakfast together. And as they were setting the table, she remarked how convicted she felt about how they had responded. God had spoken to her during her devotions, and they had to take appropriate action to correct the situation.
   As they began to talk about it, he said, “You know, this is the benefit of living the Christian life and putting God at the center. Instead of justifying ourselves, we heard God speak to us as we came to him in our quiet time this morning — even though it was not what we wanted to hear. Our hearts were changed because we had taken the time to wait on God. People without Christ never take the time to come to God and receive correction when they need it. They just keep going in their self-centered way.” And they did not stop there — they had to do the difficult thing and make things right.
   I have seen the same thing happen collectively in the church. We had our minds made up about what the right thing was to do, but when we looked to God, we found ourselves being redirected. And even those who felt so strongly one way were able to sense God’s leading and yield to it. When we focus on God, we realize that it is not about getting our needs met by the group, but doing the will of God wholeheartedly and with passion. That is why Jesus said in Mark 12:30 the greatest commandment was to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And when we do that as a community of faith it has an enormously powerful effect on our lives and the lives of the people around us.
   The third purpose of the church is: We are to become a world-centered community. When the church came to the place, historically, that it began to grow, it discovered it began to have political power. It could exert influence. And so it began to focus on itself and do the things that would benefit and prosper itself. The church became an institution rather than a movement. We began to have a fortress mentality when we were intended to be a revolution. The bureaucracy of the church began to be more important than our original mission.
   What is our mission? Let’s remember the words of the Lord Jesus when he said in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” He also said in  Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Our focus is not to be on preserving the church, our focus is to be on reaching the world ... and the question this morning is “Are we doing that?”
   You are not here to promote your own well-being. You are not here to promote your pleasures and plans. You were created to fulfill the purposes of God. This involves dying to self in order that you might come alive to God (Luke 14:27). You were called to be a servant of our God Most High. And in order to be a servant of God you have to serve other people.
   McManus says, “You cannot wash the feet of a dirty world if you refuse to touch it. It is in serving that the church finds her strength. When she ceases to serve the world around her, she begins to waste away.”
   That is why the ministries of this church are important. We go to people to whom no one else is going. We touch them and love them when they have been forgotten by most everybody else. To many churches … they are the invisible people of the community.
   A pastor shared this story. “I have lived here for eleven years now, but it was not until we started the wagon ministry that I realized there was a homeless problem in our community. I did not understand the extent of abuse, poverty and the drug and alcohol problems here in our own community until I began to be with the young people who come here on Saturday nights. I did not fully realize the extent of broken families until we began our apartment ministry. It wasn’t until I, and some of the rest of you, got our hands dirty that we began to understand the social and spiritual problems that had been right under our nose.”
   In our scripture today, Paul reminded the Jews of God’s word through Isaiah the prophet: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Here is the reason for the establishment and existence of Israel. They were to be a light to the world. They were to embody the Word and laws of God, be models of the life of God, the torch bearers of the light of God. The people of Israel were not the chosen people because they were special, but because they had a special purpose. God chose them for the purpose of being a light to the rest of the world. God’s purpose for the church is to be found in the purpose of Israel. We are to be those who hold the laws and Word of God in sacred trust. But we are not to keep them for ourselves, we are to share them with the world.
   We do that in two ways. First, we lovingly speak and share the Word of God with the world, and secondly, we model the Word of God in the way we live as individuals and as a community. If we won’t do it, God will find someone who will, as he did with the people we read about in the scripture this morning. When the Jews refused to believe and respond to the Good News, then Paul, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit went to the Gentiles — people who were untaught and spiritually unenlightened. And the scripture says, “they were glad and honored the word of the Lord.”
   God has made us to be a light and to bring salvation to the ends of the earth — beginning here at Red Stone. But you can’t be a light when you are hiding under a bushel. Jesus said in Luke 8:15-16, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.”
   We were called to go out to the world. What good is a candle in a well lit room? Go out into the world of darkness if your light is going to do some good.
   I want to close with a story I read. The pastor said “When I went to Honduras, through your generosity, I was able to take over 100 Evangecubes (see to the churches there. Evangecubes are little cubes that tell the story of the Gospel with pictures. I remember going to one little church and showing the people how to use them. After they learned how to unfold the cube and share the message with other people, one man stood up and said to the other people in the church: “We can do this. Most of us can’t read, so if there were words we couldn’t use this. But there are no printed words so all of us can do this. We are going to go out into our community and rob the devil’s kingdom of souls he has been holding in captivity and bring them to Jesus ”
   Now here was a man who was uneducated and could not even read. He had been an alcoholic and there were deep wounds in his head where he had been in a machete fight. I want to ask you a question. How does he “get it” when millions of Christians in the United States with all kinds of education and resources don’t get it? How does he get it when people trained in theology and who are leaders in the mainline church don’t get it? How does this man in Honduras get it when Christians in our community don’t get it? There can only be one answer: We are overlooking the obvious.

How Do You Know?

The Book of Acts Series Part 6 of 10

August 16, 2020

   To recap the first half of our series ...

   Week 1 The Promise (Acts 2:1-13): The Holy Spirit was given to us to 1. enable us to experience God. 2. to empower us to live for God. 3. to make us a part of a kingdom.
   Week 2 The Driving Force (Acts 2:22-23): 1. Without the resurrection, the story of Christ would be just a beautiful story with a bad ending. 2. without the resurrection, it would have meant that Evil had won. 3. the resurrection is the prelude to the second coming.
   Week 3 The Central Call (Acts 2:36-41): Repentance: 1. involves a genuine sorrow for sin. 2. includes a genuine turning from sin. 3. results in a genuine love for God.
   Week 4 What Does It Take to Be A Church (Acts 2:42-47): The early Christians devoted themselves to: 1. the Apostle’s teaching - learning. 2. the fellowship - worship. 3. The breaking of bread - friendship. 4. Prayer
   Week 5 Pray Expectantly (Acts 12:1-16) If we are going to pray expectantly, we must: 1. Pray passionate prayers. 2. Pray persistent prayers. 3. Pray believing prayers.
   Opening passage — Acts 13:1-12 (NLT) — Barnabas and Saul Are Commissioned — 1Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. 2One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” 3So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.
   4So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus. 5There, in the town of Salamis, [sa′-la-meese] they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John went with them as their assistant.
   6Afterward they traveled from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7He had attached himself to the governor, Sergius Paulus, who was an intelligent man. The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God. 8But Elymas [elee′-mus], the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Barnabas and Saul said. He was trying to keep the governor from believing.
   9Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. 10Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? 11Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.
   12When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

Several years ago the Wichita Eagle newspaper ran an interesting story.
   There was a pond in the middle of a housing development that was kept stocked with fish. Evidently, a child had thrown a toy basketball and it rolled into the pond. One of the residents saw the ball bouncing around in a strange manner in the water. When he went to investigate, he saw a large flathead catfish had obviously tried to swallow the ball, but which had become stuck in his mouth. It must have looked like a yummy piece of something that catfish like, but his eyes were bigger than his mouth. If you are not a fisherman, you may not know that catfish like deep water and usually swim near the bottom, so the poor catfish was trying to get down to where he normally lived after he came to the top for a meal. He was totally exhausted from trying to dive, but was unable to because the ball would always bring him back up to the surface. The man who found the catfish pulled him to the doc with a long handled net and tried numerous times to get the ball out, but was unsuccessful. He finally had his wife cut the ball with a knife, while he held the fish, in order to deflate the ball and release the catfish.
   That was one gullible catfish! He would obviously swallow anything. When I read that story I thought of the man we read about in the Scripture today, Sergius Paulus. He was swallowing whole, hook, line and sinker, what the false prophet named Bar-Jesus was telling him, like so many people do today. Bar-Jesus, or Elymas the sorcerer as he was also known, used trickery and deceit to draw people to himself. His name literally meant “Son of Jesus,” so you have to wonder if the stories of Jesus had reached that place even before Paul came, and whether Elymas wanted to identify himself with the man who had done miracles.
   Whether this is the case or not, he certainly tried to build himself up as a man of wisdom and power. But when Paul came and began to teach the truth, Sergius Paulus and others began to be drawn to the truth, and Elymas became envious of the following they were getting. Subsequently, he opposed Paul and his message. He contradicted the message of Paul and was fulfilling the role of false prophet.
   Back in those days false prophets were nothing new. They existed in the Old Testament era, just as they are present in our world today. In fact, there was a man who was a graduate of the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio who would qualify as a false prophet. He returned to his alma mater and preached that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and was not divine. That is heresy. He wrote a book entitled Affirmations of a Dissenter, in which he denied many of the basic and historic beliefs of the Christian faith. He is a false prophet, even though he was a bishop in the Methodist denomination.
   He claims to be talking about Christianity, but his beliefs place him outside the historic Christian faith. He is promoting another religion. I am glad to say he is no longer a bishop. But there are many like him at large in most denominations. And the problem is that we seem to overlook heresy, accept it and become comfortable with it, priding ourselves in our diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness.
   Why are false prophets so successful? How do they get away with the things they say and do? I think there are three prominent reasons, among others, that make people fall for their distortions and swallow them whole.
   First of all, I think we fall prey to their distortions because we do not take evil seriously. We need to understand that Jesus took evil very seriously, because he knew it had the power to destroy a person’s soul. Evil can draw us in and ultimately send us to hell long before we realize that we are hooked. That is why Jesus taught us to pray: “Deliver us from evil.” Actually, in the original Greek we find the definite article in that sentence of the Lord’s prayer: tou ponerou — the evil one. So Jesus was not just saying “Deliver us from evil” … according to the Greek translation he was actually saying, “Deliver us from the evil one — the devil.”
   When you’re getting to know someone, the first thing you grasp onto is their name, right? We all need to fully understand that evil is a person and he has a name … his name is Satan (the Devil).
   We like to say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” and that is true. But there is someone else who has a plan for your life, and the Scriptures say in John 10:10 his plan is to “steal and kill and destroy.”
   In other words, there is a serious threat to your eternal soul lurking around out there. Evil is to be taken seriously. It is a very dangerous and a real threat. We have to understand that and see it for what it is. Paul was not afraid to call evil by its real name. He said to Elymas [elee′-mus] in vs 10 (Acts 13:10) “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” So much for tolerance!
   Galatians 5:19-21 tells us “19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
   So many of us refuse to take evil personal. Why is it that so many churches depend on bingo and bake sale raffles to raise money for church projects? Why is it that you’re standing there watching as a member of the opposite sex walks towards you … and as they walk by you, you turn to watch them walk away? Why is it that so many churches want to substitute halloween parties with harvest festivals?
   Evil is dangerous … no matter what form it may come in or how innocent it may seem. Someone may justify it by saying that they play the lottery to support education … but the bottom line is that they’re still gambling … and, according to my Bible, that’s still sin.
   This is why the Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8-9 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”
   Do you know what the problem is with all of this is? We like evil. We are charmed by it. We are entertained by it. Instead of fleeing temptation, it’s like we welcome it. We are fascinated and drawn to it. Instead of praying to be delivered from temptation, we almost hope for it. When we’re doing something we know we shouldn’t be doing … we find it exhilarating. When we step over that line our palms get sweaty and our heart starts racing. In other words, we don’t take it seriously and many of us don’t see it as a threat. We don’t see evil for what it really is … eternal damnation!!!
   What is most at threat is the condition of our souls and what evil does to us. The main thing it does is that it interferes with our relationship with God. But it also interferes with our relationship with others and the world around us.
   You may have read the story about Glen Campbell defending himself against another drunk driving charge. Campbell was arrested near his Phoenix home after causing a minor traffic accident. He pleaded guilty to extreme drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to 10 nights in jail. But he made a public statement in which he said: “I wasn’t really that drunk, I was just over-served.” Campbell also said he didn’t remember anything because he was “in a blackout mode.” It gives his hit song, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” a whole new meaning.
   The 68-year-old singer said, “Everybody says it’s the devil, but it isn’t, it’s God’s way of telling you to slow down.” What? And you haven’t learned that in 68 years? Somehow I don’t think that is taking evil seriously.
   When we don’t take evil seriously, we are open to any fool thing the devil tells us. This is how false prophets get into the church and convince people that sin is not really sin, and that God just overlooks all the things we do. This is how Jim Jones and many other cult leaders got their followers to do unspeakable things in the name of God. The Bible says in Isaiah 5:18-20 “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes ... Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” If you don’t recognize how this is happening today, then you may be more influenced by evil than you realize.
   Secondly, we fall prey to the distortions of false prophets because: We do not take truth seriously.
   In one of the Peanuts comic strips it is the first day of the new school year. The teacher told the students to write an essay about returning to class. In her essay, Lucy wrote, “Vacations are nice, but it’s good to get back to school. There is nothing more satisfying or challenging than education, and I look forward to a year of expanding knowledge.” Obviously, the teacher was pleased with Lucy’s response and complimented her in front of the class. In the final frame, Lucy leans over and whispers to Charlie Brown, “After a while, you learn what sells.”
   We live in a culture where we learn “what sells” … the truth is defined by what others want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 says “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.”
   Truth has fallen on hard times, and even academic institutions are questioning whether truth is real. In fact, the number of people in our culture who believe that absolute truth actually exists is decreasing almost daily. Therefore, we do not value truth or seek it. We are losing our ability to recognize it. But there IS such a thing as truth and we need to pursue it.
   Jesus said in John 8:31-32 “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” There is real truth, and we need to seek the truth. If you are not actively seeking the truth and committed to the truth, then you are susceptible to the lie and the teaching of false prophets.
   Go home and study your Bibles. It is essential to become familiar with the Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus. That is where you will find the truth. You have to put forth the effort it takes to discover and to comprehend the truth found in the Word of God.
   Jesus said in Matthew 13:19 “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”
   I have actually heard of churches that tolerated heresy being preached from their pulpit without even seeming to notice. They will tolerate someone preaching things that go against the core doctrines of our faith, but cause an unholy uproar if there’s some change in the church’s decor or a change in the order of their worship service. When the truth is no longer important … then values are turned upside down.
   If I were the devil, let me tell what I would do. I would not just promote bars and brothels. I would be more subtle to be really effective. I would get some of my people to start to attend churches. You see … the devil doesn’t care if you read your Bible … he could care less if you go to church or Bible study. What scares the hell out of the devil is if you start believing that Jesus stuff.
   I would have them do everything they could to flatter themselves — work hard, give a lot, and groom the favor of as many people as they could. I would seek to have them placed on committees, then I would have them begin quietly to sow dissension. I would pit people against each other. I would look for ways to cause conflict between these so-called Christians. I would get normally good people to get upset and do things unbecoming the life of a Christian.
   But there is more I would do. I would send my people to seminary to become pastors so they could mislead people spiritually. I would have them lead people away from the Scriptures and get them to trust their own opinions on spiritual truth and moral law. I would send some of my people to teach in seminaries and others to become bishops and leaders of the church who would corrupt minds and cause people to question the faith. I would make these spiritual leaders more loyal to the institution than to the truth of the Gospel.
   In fact, I am convinced that is exactly what our spiritual enemy has done. That is why the Bible says in 1 John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
   The enemy is not always on the outside of the church. He has invaded God’s territory and is on the inside of the walls as well. The strongest opposition that Jesus faced was from the established religion of the day. In fact, it was the religious leaders who crucified him. False prophets appear to be true prophets, that is why they are so dangerous. They use partial truth to disguise the lie. In fact, there is no lie so dangerous as the one that contains a part of the truth.
   The third point is, we fall prey to the distortions of false prophets because: We do not take doctrine seriously. How easy it is to dismiss this. We say, “There are just so many opinions out there, how can you really know what is true? All of them believe they have the truth.”
   This is part of the curse of this age of technology. It used to be that we suffered from a lack of information, but today we suffer from having too much information at our disposal in a nano-second. How can you possibly sift and sort through all the information that is out there? Just enter the word “religion” in an internet search and see what comes up. It is absolutely overwhelming — philosophies, cults and Christianity side by side.
   You can believe almost anything you want today, except if you start getting specific. But the Christian faith has very specific truths on which it is based. Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
   Jesus was specific about what we were to believe about him. Truths like this are called doctrines. It is true that different churches have different doctrines and beliefs, but, if they are truly Christian churches they all share the same core doctrines. These core doctrines are the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, the infallibility of Scripture, the existence of evil and the evil one, the unchanging moral law, mankind’s need of the necessity of salvation and God’s provision for our salvation by grace through the atoning death, burial and eternal resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
   We may have a friendly disagreement with some churches on how baptism is conducted or whether to baptize infants, but we agree on the core doctrines about baptism. Many may differ on the subject of speaking in tongues, but we love each other and agree on the basic issues of our faith. Denominations may have a difference of opinion on how we view free will, but we are committed to our fellowship with them and agree on the essentials of the faith.
   C. S. Lewis said, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.” If these basic doctrines are true, then they demand the commitment of everything we have and are. If they are not true, then there is no meaning in life nor any hope for the future.
   But these scriptural truths have proven to be the one thing that has transformed the lives of countless people throughout the ages. The great German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer realized the importance of sound doctrine when he wrote: “False doctrine corrupts the life of the church at its source, and that is why doctrinal sin is more serious than moral sin. Those who rob the Church of the gospel deserve the ultimate penalty, whereas those who fail in morality have the gospel there to help them.”
   There are serious effects of teaching error. The teaching of false doctrine has corrupted and ruined more lives than it is possible to count. By teaching that the Bible is unreliable causes us to have no reliable source of information about God ... we have no sure reference to guide our moral conduct.
   If we teach that Jesus was a good man, but a man like everybody else … you take away the hope of salvation and eternal life. Correct doctrine is important.
   If you think that false prophets and false religions are not an issue today, let me tell you about a story that appeared in the New York Times on June 24, 2004. It was entitled “A Crowning at the Capital Creates a Stir,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg a Times reporter. In a ceremony that took place in Washington’s Dirksen office building on March 23, 2004, Sun Myung Moon wore a white silk stole and a red velvet robe for the occasion where he was crowned and declared himself to be the Messiah or Christ. Several congressmen were present and looked on while a congressman (Representative Danny K. Davis, of Illinois) wore white gloves and carried a crown for Mr. Moon and his wife. The senators and congressional members present had been invited to attend what was called a “Peace Awards Banquet.” Some lawmakers said they left prior to the ceremony and were unaware it had taken place. Others who stayed were uncertain as to its meaning. But the Capital rooms are reserved only by the signature of a senator. The 83-year-old Moon is the founder and leader of the Unification Church, a cult which tries to pass itself off as a Christian sect.
   The article stated that in the acceptance speech of Mr. Moon, he stated: “Emperors, kings and presidents had declared to all heaven and earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”
   Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said, “You had what effectively amounted to a religious coronation in a government building of a man who claims literally to be the savior.” Oh, something else you should know: Mr. Moon is a media executive and owns the Washington Times newspaper and the United Press International wire service.
   The New Testament writers felt it important to admonish the believers to be careful to follow the true faith. Jude 1:3 says “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” That would be my suggestion as well.

Pray Expectantly

The Book of Acts Series Part 5 of 10

August 9, 2020

   Opening passage — Acts 12:1-16 (NLT) — James Is Killed and Peter Is Imprisoned — 1About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.
   6The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.
   9So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. 10They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.
   11Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”
   12When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John, where many were gathered for prayer. 13He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!”
   15“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.”
   16Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.”
   It was around 1870 when New York City had one of the most hotly contested mayor’s races in its history. The incumbent was Mayor John Tweed. Everybody called him “Boss Tweed,” and it was a name that suited him well. The time came when he ran for reelection, and Boss Tweed’s political machine began to roll. It represented politics at its very worst. His entire organization was corrupt to the core. But there were a number of committed citizens who decided that they were fed up with this kind of politics and decided to fight city hall.
   In the beginning they seemed to be making a difference, but as the campaign drug on, the cost of the commitment of time and energy became more than most people were willing to pay. Many of the good people who initially believed in the importance of what they were doing began to drop out. The fight was ugly and many of them did not have the stomach for it. So when the election was held and the results were counted, any hopes for good city government were dashed — Boss Tweed had been reelected. The next day the New York Times ran an editorial and analyzed what had happened. The article summed up the situation with these words: “The good people quit being good before the bad people quit being bad.”
   I can’t tell you how many times I have seen that happen. One thing I have noticed is that evil and its followers have a determination that is often absent in the followers of good. We give up and give in at the most critical point. And nowhere is this battle won or lost more than in the battleground of prayer. Prayer is difficult. It is a learned behavior. It takes time and effort to learn how to be effective in your prayers … and so many people give up on prayer … and many times they give up just before the battle is really over.
   We throw in the towel long before the enemy does. The battle is long, laborious and ugly, and we get worn out and drop out before the battle is done. The problem is that we often give in just before the moment of victory. We give up when we stop expecting to win. We need to pray and live life expecting things that we’re praying about to happen.
   This was the problem that we read about in the twelfth chapter of Acts. This passage is so comical and at the same time so human. Peter had been arrested and chained between his guards, and the church had gone to prayer. Their prayers were almost cries of despair … rather than prayers of faith and hope.
   And when the angel came to deliver Peter, even Peter experienced the shock of unbelief. He thought it was all a dream. When he was freed from the prison he went to the home where everyone was praying. A young girl named Rhoda went to the door, but when she heard Peter’s voice she didn’t open the door, rather, she went screaming into the house saying that Peter was at the door. The people who had been praying for his release did not believe her, in fact, they said she was crazy. Then they got into a theological discussion: “If it is not Peter, who is it? It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter was still standing at the door still knocking and wanting to get in. And when they finally answered the door, the Scripture says they were astonished. Astonished? WHY??? Hadn’t they been praying for his release? … and there he stood. But when God answered their prayers, they couldn’t believe it.
   There are several things we can learn from this story. The believers were doing many things right. In fact, their prayers were answered. Peter was released and was standing at the door … in spite of the fact that they never expected to see him again. And with good reason.
   Peter had been arrested and taken into the Fortress of Antonio. He was being watched around the clock by four squads of four soldiers each. Peter was bound with two chains between two soldiers. The fortress gates and doors were all secured and sentries stood beside them. It was impenetrable. Herod had already killed James by beheading him, and sought to win further points with the Jewish leaders. King Herod was extremely cruel, killing all rivals to his throne, including his relatives, wife and sons.
   He was a political animal and would do anything to reinforce his political power. So killing Peter would not trouble him in the least, and he could never have been diverted from his plan. So there was good reason for the believers to have been unbelieving at this point. It certainly looked impossible.
   What amazes me is that Peter was able to sleep that night — on a stone floor, in chains, between two guards. He is at peace because he knows he is in the will of God. In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s little book, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, he tells the story of Ivan who suffers through all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day, as Ivan prays with his eyes closed, a fellow prisoner sees him praying and scoffingly says, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Ivan slowly opened his eyes and said, “I do not pray to get out of prison, but to do the will of God.” That must have been the prayer of Peter before he fell asleep.
   The Christians who prayed for Peter did most things right, and there are several things we can learn from them. The first is this: We must pray passionate prayers. The scripture says that the church was praying “earnestly” for Peter. I think that is a rather mild translation of the word. The Greek word that is translated “earnestly” here is the same word that can also be translated as “fervent.” It literally means to stretch out — like a runner exerting himself during a race as he stretches out toward the finish line. It is the same word used to describe Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke says in his gospel, vs 44 (Luke 22:44): “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
   So this is the kind of prayer that they were praying — it was passionate prayer. They did not casually throw out a little prayer like: “O God, please bless our brother Peter and make him comfortable in prison. And don’t let those mean guards hurt him too badly.” No, they were vigorously calling out to God, and I imagine that they were doing so with tears. They were laboring in prayer.
   In contrast, we pray polite little prayers rather than passionate prayers. So often church prayers come from a ritual book or are planned and proper. They lack the zeal to which God responds. Passion catches the heart of God. It tells him that we are earnestly seeking him.
   There were some Korean students that attended Doctor of Ministry classes at a Christian collage. They were mystified by the way they pray at the school. It all seemed so calm, so measured, so controlled and unemotional that they could not relate to it. It did not seem sincere to them. They told one of the students how they got up with the members of their church every day at 4:00 a.m. to pray for two hours or more before they went to work. One of the Korean men said: “When we pray, we pray with tears.”
   Passion involves emotion in our prayers as well as intellect. It is tied to desire. Passionate prayers are prayers from the heart. When I think of people who prayed with desire, I think of the woman who pressed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9:18-22). There must have been many people who were ill in the area, but only she was healed because she passionately pursued Christ. I think of the blind man who called out to Jesus until he was heard, even though people told him to be quiet (Mark 10:46-52). I think of the woman who wanted her daughter delivered from an evil spirit and would not take no for an answer (Mark 7:24-30). These people were driven by a passion and their prayers and petitions reflected it. Ours should as well.
   The second point is that, if we are going to pray expectantly: We must pray persistent prayers. Je