Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship

Lifting Up Christ, Transformed by His Love; Serving Others

Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship - a small church in southern Saskatchewan which promotes authentic worship of God, is Christ-centered, and holds the Bible as being divinely inspired and authoritative.

SERMON – 2 CORINTHIANS 6:1, 2

 God's Favour in 2016

January 3, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            Paul has just finished a section of Scripture in which he has been speaking of the ministry of reconciliation (restoration of relationship between God and humans), and he begins chapter 6 by urging his readers not to receive God's grace in vain.  He is stating that this is the period of God's grace to us; we have received his favour and salvation through the life and death of his very own Son.

            However, Paul is also urging us not to receive this grace (favour) in vain.  What does receiving God's grace in vain look like?  Well, according to 5: 15, it would be to continue to live our lives for ourselves, rather than for Jesus.  Also, according to 5: 17, we have become new creations, so we deny God's grace if we continue to live according of our old nature, rather than our new one.  It means that we walk our talk – that there is consistency between what we believe and how we live.  So while God's favor is revealed to us in his Son, that favour (grace) must be received and transform us to not be in vain. 

            So what should characterize a life that does not receive God's favour in vain?  It should be a life that is lived for God rather than self.  It should be a life that gives him first place. A few years ago Stephen Covey wrote a book entitled, First Things First, in which he developed a system of time organization that allowed a person to open up time in their lives for what they believed was most important, rather than always being at the mercy of urgency.  For the Christian, the principle of “first things first” is essential in our spiritual lives and our walk with God.  God asked ancient Israel to give him first place in their lives - to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind” – and he continues to ask that of us today.   However, the speed of our lives and of our culture, as well as our own self interests, can squeeze us into the trap of continually responding to urgency and to the lie that we just don't have time for God.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:33 not to worry about all the things the world desires and pursues, but to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

            So how can we experience the favour of God in 2016?  By giving him first place in our lives and here are five practical ways we can do that:

            First: Give God the first part of every day.  The principle of putting God first in our lives is evident when we give him the first part of each day (hour).  While quiet time with God can certainly be effective at other times of the day, there seems to be something special about the morning connection with God – even if only a short time.  It communicates a desire to put him first on our lives and in our first waking moments.  The Psalmist declares in Psalm 5: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” Psalm 88:13 says: “But I cry for your help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”  Jesus himself modeled the value of morning prayer by often rising before the sun to get away by himself in order to commune with his Father.

            Time with God in the morning helps us to bring proper perspective to our day.  We can submit ourselves to his will and seek direction for the decisions and activities we will be involved in during the day.  It is also usually the best time of the day where one can find solitude and quiet to enhance communion with the Lord.  Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 19th century said of morning devotions, “It should be our rule never to see the face of men before first seeing the face of God…He who rushes from his bed to his business without first spending time with God is as foolish as though he had not washed or dressed, and as unwise as one dashing to battle without arms or armour.”

            If it is at all possible, seek to spend time with God in the morning, before launching into your busy day – it will pay back dividends. (Planners)

            Second: Give God the first day of your week.  It seems that all too often in today’s evangelical world church attendance has come to be considered merely an option of the Christian life.  However, in his call to perseverance, the author of Hebrews exhorts the church: “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”  While it may be possible to be a Christian without attending church, in my own life experience and in observing others, I have not known many who grow in their spiritual life outside of regular participation within the gathered community.  The Christian life is intended by God to be experienced within the context of community.

            Regular church attendance is important because it involves our most significant act – that of worship.  We should set aside the first day of the week – the day of Christ’s resurrection – to give to God the worship he alone deserves.  Worship is the highest calling of the church and in the corporate setting it is unique from private/personal worship.  And as the gathered people of God we draw encouragement from each other to face the challenges of life.  Making church attendance a priority also allows for time to receive instruction and to grow in knowledge and discernment of our faith.

            Giving to God the first day of our week is not only about church attendance but also about a day of rest.  The fourth commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  While we are not under the Law and the Sabbath is not a part of our covenantal relationship with God, the principle of Sabbath-keeping should remain an influence in our lives. Cease from you labour one day a week – this is God’s economy and I believe that He will bless you for it.  A good question to ask when setting boundaries for the Sabbath is “Am I accomplishing anything with this activity?”  One author of a book I read suggested avoiding activities that are designed to accomplish.  I think this is a fair question and a reasonable standard for NT Christians – but not law!

            Third: Give God the first portion of your income.  Consistent giving of a portion of our income back to God is a biblical principle; in fact, there is a strong correlation between giving and spirituality.  In a book entitled The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, author Ron Sider questions why Christians in the wealthiest part of the world are such poor givers.  Statistics show that the wealthier we become, the less we give in proportion to our incomes.  Giving by evangelicals has dropped to around 3 - 4% in recent years.  It seems we are increasingly being enticed by our culture to spend more and more on ourselves.

            One of the problems we have when it comes to consistent giving is that we tend to want to give to God out of what is left over at the end of the month rather than taking our offering off of the top.  Giving to God first requires that the portion we have decided to give has priority and comes off our budget first.  This was clearly communicated in the principle of the first-fruits in Exodus 23: 16, 19.  The Israelites were to give to God the first-fruits of their grain harvest as an offering to the Lord and as an acknowledgement that the harvest was from the Lord and really belonged totally to Him.  A positive way which can help us become consistent in our giving is to come to the point of acknowledgement that everything we have comes from God and is really his.  Regular and prioritized giving is a practical means of showing God’s ownership over our lives.

            How much should we give?  It is very difficult to make an argument for the 10% tithe based on the NT.  It’s just not there – but the principle for consistent, generous, even sacrificial, giving is.  However, it is my personal opinion is that if God expected 10% from the Israelites of the ancient world that is a reasonable percentage for us to aim for as well – we are far better off that they!  Remember that God loves a cheerful giver.  An offering given begrudgingly does not bring honour to God as the source of all blessings.

Fourth: Give God first consideration in every decision you make.  Another practical way to give God first place in our lives is to involve him in our decision making process.  Each day we make many decisions that influence our present circumstances and also have an effect on future outcomes.  Giving God fist consideration as we wrestle with a decision acknowledges his lordship over our lives and our willingness to submit to his agenda for us.  We need to enlist his wisdom as we face each day and the demands placed on us.  Are the decisions we are making honouring to God?  Do they reflect an attitude of Christ-likeness? 

A very practical question to ask ourselves when facing a perplexing or difficult decision is, “What would Jesus do?”  While it has been trivialized by Christian marketing, it is still a very good question to ask ourselves.  If our goal as Christians is to become like Jesus, to have our character and nature shaped and moulded by his divine nature, then seeking the mind and character of Christ in our decision making will help us respond in ways that bring him glory.

I have often been tempted to believe that God is only to be enlisted in the major decisions we face in life.  However, I continue to learn that the God who knows and loves us better than anyone, who knows the very number of hairs on our heads, is also interested in the decisions we find ourselves facing on a daily basis.  In this New Year, remember to give him first consideration in your many decisions.

Fifth: Give Jesus Christ first place in your heart.  This, no doubt, is the most important way we can gain the favour of God in 2016.  If we give Jesus first place in our hearts, the first four points of this message will more naturally flow out of our lives. The heart is the seat of our affections – Jesus said that where our treasure is will be where our heart is also.  Is Jesus the treasure of our lives that we are willing to give first place and forsake everything else?

Dr. Eric Frykenberg, veteran missionary to India, was asked what the most difficult problem was he faced.  Without hesitation, he answered, “It was when my heart would grow cold before God.  When that happened, I knew that I was too busy and that it was time to get away.  So I would take my Bible and go off to the hills alone.  I’d open my Bible to Matthew 27, the story of the Crucifixion, and I would wrap my arms around the cross.”  And then, Frykenberg said, “I’d be ready to go back to work.”

            Giving Jesus first place in our hearts requires us to put him first in everything, including our time and work, in order to grow in our relationship and to keep our affections set on him.  The cost of discipleship is to place the love of Christ first in our hearts, above all others.

            As believers, we’ve already been given God’s favour through Jesus, in that we have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ - we cannot earn this righteousness.  But after receiving salvation, we are to live in such a way as to please God – to gain his favour.  So what I am suggesting here is that we can experience God’s favour by giving to God the first place in our lives, and that by putting him first in everything we do will bring upon us His blessings.  The old saying “you can’t out-give God” is true, and those who put God first in their lives will reap blessings and rewards from heaven.  So as we embark on a New Year, let’s seek to give God the place he deserves in our lives.  Let’s give him the first part of our day, the first day of the week, the first portion of our income, the first consideration in our decisions, and the first place in our hearts.

 

January 10, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

JUDGES 9: One Bad Dude

When you look back over the course of history, there have been many bad kings and rulers - men, and some women, who have gone to great lengths to unleash evil and corruption while holding onto power. Even in the past century, we have had our share of despots: Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, and the current Kim Jong Un of North Korea. These rulers have stopped at nothing in order to seize and maintain their hold on power, and life is cheap for any who would oppose them. The thirst for power corrupts and it corrupts completely.

As Christians, we can often wonder, why does this happen? Why does God allow these people to seize power? Why does he seem to sit on the sidelines and allow the kinds of evil that are perpetrated by these rulers? There is not a simple or easy answer to these questions, but I can tell you up front that from a biblical perspective it all flows from the consequences of sin. But the question that we should ask ourselves is, “do they really get away with it?” Doesn’t evil faithfully pay its wages?

Our text from Judges this morning is the story of one bad ruler. His name is Abimelech, Gideon’s illegitimate son, who deceitfully seizes power and then goes on a rampage. Abimelech’s story is really a continuation of the Gideon cycle, and it reveals the consequences of the mistakes Gideon had made in his later life. Gideon’s sad ending had left his nation in a spiritual vacuum, which was quickly filled with a return to idolatry. God was forgotten, and so were his just ways and things soon got ugly. We sometimes wonder why these stories are a part of God’s inspired scriptures, but they would not be here if they were not supposed to teach us something. The theological significance of this chapter 9 is to teach the doctrine of divine retribution (dic. – “return for evil done”; pay back), which is the essence of just punishment. God is only mentioned in three places in this story, and these places provide the keys for understanding. Here’s what we can learn from this text today (borrowed): God makes sure that unrepentant people will face pay day some day for their evil deeds. God is inherently just, and evil will not go unpunished. So let’s begin to consider this story:

First: The Rise of Abimelech (9:1-6). The rise of Abimelech is a grisly story of conspiracy and mass-murder that can rival anything in history. Remember that Gideon had seventy sons from a multitude of wives, but the text also reveals that he also had a son from a concubine who lived in Shechem. A concubine did not have the status of a wife, often remaining with her parents, and Abimelech was probably spurned by his half-brothers because of his mother’s lower status. Because of feeling like an outsider and because of his own selfish desires for power, he craftily approaches his mother’s brothers and family with the idea of backing him as ruler – would they rather serve 70 rulers or just one who also happens to be one of their own flesh and blood? This arrangement seems good to the clan and they take the proposal to the leaders of the Shechem. Since Abimelech is “one of them,” the citizens of Shechem are inclined to throw their hats behind his bid. And to help finance his bid for power, the leaders of Shechem provide Abimelech with seventy pieces of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith – one shekel for each of the sons of Gideon – they were not considered of much value.

Abimelech uses the money to hire a band of worthless (idle) and arrogant men – mercenaries – men who will kill for money. He takes his army of ruthless men to Ophrah, the home of Gideon’s sons and carries out a ritual style execution of all seventy sons “on one stone” – less one brother, who is able to hide and escape. The brutality of this mass-murder is hard to conceive of, but the grab for power is best served with the annihilation of all other potential candidates. With the deed done, the leaders of Shechem (Beth Millo) are prepared to crown Abimelech their king. Why would that act of mass-murder not make them wonder about this man’s character? But they seem blinded by the desire to make this hometown boy their king and the power that would bring to their city. “The lust for power can and does lead to the most outrageous actions in the business world, in family struggles, and even in the church of Jesus Christ. People will do terrible things when they are consumed by the desire to come out on the top.”

Second: The Indictment of Abimelech (vs. 7-20). In a move that required great courage, the surviving son of Gideon, Jotham, climbs up the slope of Mt. Gerizim and delivers a prophetic fable to the people of Shechem who have gathered and crowned Abimelech king. On the slope of the mountain is a rock outcropping that would serve as a podium for Jotham and the geography allowed for the creation of a natural amphitheatre. He tells them a fable that involves a group of trees who went in search of a king. They approach an olive tree, a fig tree and finally a grapevine – all productive and valuable trees in Israel. They all are unwilling to accept the offer because they would rather remain in the service they already provide. In desperation, the trees finally approach a thornbush and invite him to be their king. The thornbush produces no fruit, little to no shade, is full of sharp thorns and is a fire hazard – of little value. However, the thornbush is quite willing to accommodate the trees, but set down some conditions. If they want him to be their king, then they must come and take “refuge in my shade” – a sarcastic line because thornbushes produce little shade and their thorns are hardly an attractive refuge. On the other hand, if they don’t make him their king fire will come out and destroy even a large forest. The point that Jotham makes is that those who are foolish enough to choose an unworthy candidate as their king should be cautious of the destructive potential of their choice. It also needs to be pointed out that at no time had God expressed his will that Israel even have a king.

While the meaning of the fable should’ve been obvious, Jotham makes sure the people of Shechem understand. With a series of conditional statements, he suggests that if they had acted honourably and with integrity and fairness towards Gideon’s family and in the making of Abimelech their king, then let this arrangement be for good. However, verses 17 and 18 make clear that he does not believe that – he comments, “and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian” – and now you have revolted against his family and murdered his sons!

Clearly, in making Abimelech their king they have not acted honourably or in good faith with Gideon’s family. Consequently, verse 20 turns out to be a prophetic curse – “But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech.” While Jotham is not credited with being a spokesman for the Lord (listen to me; God listen to you – vs. 7), the rest of the chapter reveals how this curse actually plays itself out. Wisely, Jotham immediately flees after pronouncing his prophetic fable. The indictment against both Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem is delivered.

Third: The Demise of Abimelech (vs. 22-57). After ruling for a mere three years, God sends an evil spirit to stir up dissension between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. This is very interesting – this only the second time God is mentioned so far. We’re told the “who” sent the spirit – God sent this evil spirit. The Lord is the architect of the estrangement between Abimelech and men of Shechem. We are also told the “why” (24) – to avenge the bloodshed of Gideon’s seventy sons. What this reminds us is that while God seems in the background of this story, he is not out of the picture. He is still calling the shots even while he seems to be sitting on the sidelines.

What is even more interesting is seeing God using an evil spirit. That’s an interesting one for our theology, isn’t it? While whether this is some sort of demon, we can’t be sure, but I tend to think it probably was. What this shows is that God has ultimate control over the agents of darkness as well as light. No doubt, the demon was quite willing to unleash his evil work.

The problem begins with the men of Shechem setting up ambushes and robbing passers- by in order to interrupt the economy. Then an opportunist by the name of Gaal and his brothers moved to Shechem and attempted to use the unstable situation to gain power for himself, but Abimelech soundly defeated him in battle. While the people of Shechem thought that was the end of it and returned to their fields the next day, Abimelech was not done, and in the spirit of revenge his father had exhibited, he ambushed the people and totally destroyed them, the city and burned down the tower of Shechem killing over a thousand others (fire out). In a final act of defiance, he spreads salt on the city – and attempt to make the place infertile and uninhabitable.

He then moved on to a place called Thebez, probably an ally with Shechem, and repeated the scenario. Again, the people of the town retreat to a fortified tower and climb up to the roof in order to escape the carnage. As Abimelech approaches the tower door to set it on fire, a woman throws upper millstone (1-2 ft. in diameter; 2-4 in. thick) and scores a direct hit on Abimelech’s head. He is mortally wounded and knows it, and demands his armour-bearer to run him through with his sword so it could not be said of him that he died at the hands of a woman. In the ancient world it was considered a disgrace for a man to be killed by a woman – this is the second time in the book of Judges – remember the story of Sisera and Jael!

The final two verses provide the concluding interpretation of this story. The curse has been fulfilled – God has repaid (retribution) Abimelech for his wicked deed in the slaughter of Gideon’s sons, but he has also used Abimelech to repay the leaders of Shechem for their all their wickedness in initially collaborating with Abimelech in those murders. Unrepentant sin does not go unaccounted for. In the end, the evil manifest in this story is brought to justice by the Lord.

Why do we have this ugly story in the Bible? Let’s look at some principles we can learn:

The exceeding sinfulness of sin. “Once the tide of evil builds, nothing can contain it in the end.” The Gideon/Abimelech cycle shows the continuing downward spiral of Israel at this time – everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The covenant failure of Gideon – the making of his golden ephod which paved the way into idolatry and his sexual relationship with a Canaanite woman – leads to the complications that are played out in the life of Abimelech. Sin is difficult to control. So often we think that sin can be contained, that minor offenses can be overlooked. But sin is not like that; once it gets a foothold in our lives, it soon snowballs on us. This story is a perfect example of that truth. How many people have become addicted to porn just because they thought they could handle just a quick look? Or maybe allowing for a little offense to fester that turns into a full-blown root of bitterness?

God is in control. While God’s name is not mentioned much, we are assured that He is firmly in control of this situation. While he remains behind the scenes for the most part, he misses nothing. In the world we are experiencing today, some may wonder if God has lost control. Has He lost control, is ISIS working outside of his sovereignty? This passage teaches us, “never!” Nothing in our world, nothing on our nightly news, is outside his control – nothing. We need to take comfort in that, and not let our hearts become full of fear.

* God will bring his justice on every act of evil. Evil and those who practice it will receive their just reward – divine retribution. However, we need to come to the point of recognizing that he doesn’t always stop all the carnage, but that his retributive justice will ultimately be served on the unrepentant. Sin will be judged, because we have a just God. Evil will not get away with murder.

God makes sure that unrepentant people will face pay day some day for their evil deeds. Virtually every tyrant of history had the evil they did come back on themselves – as did Abimelech and the men of Shechem. It’s a lesson/truth that humans fail to learn, but it should be a comfort for those of us who know Jesus Christ. There will be a day of reckoning for evil doers, and for us, Jesus has taken God’s retribution against evil on Himself – for our freedom and forgiveness. On the cross is where God took all the intensity of his wrath and launched it against human sin. And it is there that we find ultimate mercy and grace – we simply need to receive and live it.

 

 Sermon - Judges 10

The Absurdity of Idolatry

Pastor Dennis Elhard

January 17, 2016

“One hundred decoys were placed on the Izu islands of Japan to encourage endangered albatrosses to breed.  For more than two years, a five-year-old albatross named Deko tried to woo a wooden decoy by building fancy nests and fighting off rival suitors.  He spent his days standing faithfully by her side.  Japanese researcher Fumio Sato, talking about the albatross’s infatuation with the wooden decoy, said ‘He seems to have no desire to date real birds.’ ”

            Is this not a true picture of the nature of idolatry – to disregard, to show no interest in the real God, and instead to become infatuated with something other which is entirely false?  We spurn the truth and become enticed with a lie.  Idolatry can be defined as anything that we pursue, desire, or love more than the God who created us and calls us to himself.  It is anything that stands between us and loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Now that covers a pretty wide swath, doesn’t it, and daily we face things that would woo us away from putting God first in our lives.   And idols often are like the wooden albatross, they appear to be the real thing – or to offer the same benefits.  But they are fake, and in many cases even absurd, because they can never actually deliver on what they appear to promise and in the end leave us feeling very empty and unfulfilled.

            Our text for this week reveals again another collapse into the sin of idolatry by Israel – and the cycle begins again.  There are two words that dominate and are often repeated in chapter 10:  “served” – 5X and “save” – 4X.  These words present to us the issue at hand, and I offer a couple of questions to help reveal what is at stake.  Who is the God (god) that Israel will serve?  Who is the God that can actually save Israel?  We see a dialogue between the people of Israel and the Lord in this text, and these would seem to be questions the author of Judges wants to put forward.  These are questions that are also very pertinent for us as well.  We can fall into the same mindset as the ancient Israelites very easily.  Here is the truth we all experience: Who can actually save us and who we want to serve are not always the same.  The desires of our flesh continually cause us to be infatuated with chasing and serving idols.  So as we move into our text this morning, we see another start to the repeated cycles in Judges.

            First: Relative peace (1-5).  After the carnage brought on by Abimelech, Israel enters a period of relative peace and stability.  In the first 5 verses we are introduced to a couple of minor judges – minor in the sense that little information is given of them and that the cycle pattern so obvious in the other judges is missing (Shamgar - 3: 31 – What is the author’s purpose?).  They do cover a significant amount of time – 45 years if chronological.  But what we do get a sense of in these verses is a time of relative peace for Israel,

            After Abimelech came Tola.  We are given his genealogy and where he lived (Ephraim), along with the simple statement that he saved Israel – saved from whom, or from what?  Did he save Israel from the mess left behind by Abimelech, by establishing order and justice?  The Hebrew word translated as “save” most often refers to some sort of military victory, so it is possible that he was raised up by God to save Israel from the invasion of some unstated enemy.  We really can’t sure, but during Tola's time there seems to have been a period of stable government that saved the nation from the continuing disintegration into which it was sliding.

            Next there was a judge by the name of Jair – he lived in Gilead, on the east side of the Jordon River. Nothing is said about what he did or accomplished, only that he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys and each ruled over a town.  What this tells us is that Jair was a very well-to-do man and held great deal of prestige.  Like Gideon, he had all the trappings of kingship – a harem (30 sons?), the means to support his wives, sons who ruled a dynasty of thirty towns, and donkeys that served as symbols in the ancient world of royal-type power.  While it appears that Jair’s time of leading brought peace and security to Gilead, his pampered sons offered little resistance to the invasion of the Ammonites. The judgeships of Tola and Jair provided a breathing period, a time of God's grace in which the people had the opportunity once again to mend their ways and turn back to God wholeheartedly. But they failed to do so.

            Second: Resurgent sin (vs. 6-10).  After the deaths of these two men, it appears that Israel quickly and completely descends into sin.  These verses offer the most detailed description of that apostasy in the entire book of Judges.  The cycle of sin begins with the same repeated words, “Again Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (6X).  The evil is clearly described as the worship of other gods.  Not only are they serving the Canaanite Baal’s and Ashtoreth’s, they are also bowing down to the gods of every nation around them.  The list of surrounding nations and their gods show the syncretistic mindset that has become rooted within Israel.  The extent of their descent was evident in their worship of the Ammonite gods, which included Milcom, who was worshiped by child sacrifice.  It appears that they were willing to worship almost anything or anyone rather than the Lord.

            This blatant apostasy kindled (hot) the anger of the Lord, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines on the west and the Ammonites on the east – who that year shattered and crushed the Israelites – strong language to indicate brutal oppression.  For eighteen more years this went on and the nation was in great “distress” (bound, tied up).  Israel finally gets to the point where they seek the God of their forefathers – eighteen years of stubborn rebellion before their will is finally broken!  Can you imagine that?  Well, we should be able to, because there are some ways that all of us are stuck in long-term rebelliousness.  Who can actually save us and who we want to serve are not always the same. 

            Sin had raised its ugly head again in Israel, and like the cycles before, God responds by sending an oppressor.  Finally, Israel remembers their true God, their covenant God, and cry out to him – confessing their wilful sin in two specific ways: forsaking the Lord and serving idols.

            Third: Rebuked idolatry (vs. 11-15a).  From the Lord’s response, it appears that he is not fully convinced of the sincerity of their confession.  The Lord lists seven nations that he has already saved Israel from (not all from Judges), an interesting correlation with the grouping of the seven nations whose gods they were serving – suggesting the widespread scope of Israel’s apostasy.  The Lord presents a very logical rebuke – Look, I have saved you seven times already when you have cried out to me, have I not?  But each time I have you soon forsake me and bow down to other gods, so this time I will no longer come to your rescue.  And with divine sarcasm, the Lord says: “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen.  Let them save you when you are in trouble!”  Isn’t that a fair response from the Lord?  He is not to be called on only in emergencies!

            But once again, the Israelites respond to the Lord by acknowledging their sin, even taking responsibility for their actions and throwing themselves at the mercy of the Lord.  This is the first time in the book of Judges that Israel has actually acknowledged and confessed their sin. They even turn their words into action by throwing away their idols and serving the Lord.  But is this true repentance or an attempt to manipulate? 

            That is a question that is very difficult to answer from the meagre amount of information we are given here.  Gary Ingrid in his excellent commentary says: “There is a great difference between regret and repentance.  Regret touches the emotions; repentance touches the will.”  True repentance by definition involves a turning around – a change of mind, a change of will.  He goes on to say: “Regret is remorse over the consequences of an act; repentance involves recognition of our wrong relationship to our God and a reordering of our lives around him.”  You see this so often in our culture when someone will express sorrow over something they have done, but will never admit to wrongdoing.  Israel did all the outward things that would suggest they were truly repentant, but was that also the condition of their heart?  How often we need to check that the things we say and do as Christians are true expressions of our hearts.  How could we ever be so foolish as to think that God cannot see right through our insincerity?

            Fourth: Relenting Grace (vs. 16b-18).  “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”  I love how the NIV words this, and this is the line that jumped out at me when I first read over this text – the amazing mercy of God!  However I found that there is a differing of opinion as to what this phrase actually means (Two commentaries; two differing views).  The Hebrew word literally means “to be short; by ext. impatient, frustrated (“became impatient” – ESV).  This would suggest negatively that God is acting out of frustration and impatience over Israel’s trouble, and that would imply that their repentance was insincere and only an attempt to manipulate God.

            On the other hand, this could be a beautiful expression of the graciousness and compassion of a faithful God over his people.  Even if their repentance was not 100% authentic, this God who has covenanted with his people and loves them dearly can no longer bear to watch over their suffering, and is moved to act.  I lean to this interpretation – not because Israel deserved his mercy, but because that is the character of God we serve – He could no longer bear their misery.  So in relenting grace, he makes a way for Israel’s deliverance once again. 

            The final verses see the Ammonites gathering for war, and the Israelites doing the same.  There is a problem however; Israel has no military leader to rally behind.  Obviously the pampered sons of Jair were unsuitable, so the call goes out for someone to lead the army and to whom they would be willing to submit to as ruler.

            So we see in our story today, the beginnings of another cycle.  There is the repeated fall into the sin of idolatry, God then allowing enemy nations to oppress Israel, and the cry to the Lord for deliverance.  The fall into idolatry and the resulting dialogue with the Lord is the most detailed here of any of the major judges, and we are confronted with the widespread lure of idolatry among Israel.  They pursue every possible pagan god until things are so bad that they finally remember the God of Israel.  Why?  I have trouble understanding these continual cycles of repeated idolatry.  Can’t they line up the dots?  In every cycle, it’s the same, and it seems absurd.  They fall into idolatry, they are oppressed by their enemies, and in this case they suffer for 18 years before they turn to the Lord.  In those eighteen years, were they not crying out to their pagan gods for deliverance?  Did they deliver?  And yet the Lord has repeatedly saved them when they have sought his help.  Who is the god(s) that Israel wants to serve?  Who is the God that can save Israel?  The absurdity of it all is that they desire to serve the gods that cannot save them.  (Comment Gideon and Isaiah 44). 

            The application this morning is obvious.  We too spurn the truth and become enamoured with a lie.  The natures of the idols we serve are the same as those of Israel.  They cannot save us – in fact, they can often destroy us as we pursue the promises that they cannot deliver on.  They are wooden albatrosses that appear to be something other than what they really are, and push us farther and farther away from God.  Yet we are the ones who have turned away from the Lord to the materialistic gods.  “We are the ones who have disobeyed his Word in seeking the gratifications of our flesh.  And yet when the consequences of worshipping these other gods come upon us, we want God to deliver us immediately.” 

            Who can actually save us and who we want to serve are not always the same.  This is the absurdity of idolatry.  We want to serve the impotent, when the power of God is at our disposal.  How absurd!  How wicked our flesh and our desires.  God help us put away our idols!

 

                                                                                                      

Sermon: Judges 11:1-28

Lord Over All

January 24, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            “God rules in the affairs of men.  Napoleon, at the height of his career, is reported to have given this cynical answer to someone who asked if God was on the side of France: ‘God is on the side that has the heaviest artillery’.”  Then came the Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon lost both the battle and his empire.  Years later, in exile on the island of St. Helena, chastened and humbled, Napoleon is reported to have quoted the words of Thomas a Kempis: ‘Man proposes; God disposes.’  This is the lesson with which history confronts us all.  God is able to work his sovereign will – despite man.”

            This is the truth that we are confronted with as well in our text for this week.  God’s sovereignty is at work, his will is being accomplished whether humans are in line with it or not.  This is true in nations of the world, it is true in governments and it’s also true in your and my life.  God is ultimately sovereign over all his creation, and he is never caught off guard.  And he doesn’t need the approval of men to determine his ways, nor do his ways necessarily align with our expectations.  A truth we can learn from this passage is this: Whether we call on God or not, he is sovereign over all the outcomes. 

            This morning we continue on in another cycle of the book of Judges – this is the fifth major cycle.  The spiral continues downward and the apostasy grows – everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  Last week we talked about the first three stages of this cycle: the descent into sin via idolatry, the resulting rise of outside oppression, and Israel’s cry to the Lord for deliverance.  For the first time in these cycles, there is some semblance of repentance on Israel’s part – they even put away their false gods.   The Lord’s compassion is aroused, and so the next step in the cycle is the rise of a deliverer - today we are introduced to him; his name is Jephthah.

            First: An adverse beginning (vs. 1-3).  Jephthah is introduced as a “mighty warrior” – this is the very same title given to Gideon in his first encounter with the Angel of the Lord.  The author gives us a bit of a history of this man, in order to reveal some of his troubled background.  He is the product of his father’s adulterous tryst with a prostitute – a strike against him right from the start.  His father, Gilead, also has a wife through whom He had other sons.  It seems that Gilead does take responsibility for Jephthah and raises him.  However, after the father dies and the other sons grow up, they run Jephthah out of town – the reason?  They were unwilling to have Jephthah share in any of the inheritance because he was the “son of another woman” - illegitimate.  So Jephthah escapes northeast to a frontier country named Tob.

            This story has a number of parallels with the story of Abimelech.  He was the son of a concubine – a second class wife (another woman), and was no doubt ostracized by Gideon’s 70 sons.  The lack of acceptance by his half-brothers no doubt helped to motivate his grab for power.  The other parallel with Abimelech is Jephthah gathering together a group of “adventurers” as his followers.  This is the exact same term used for the kind of men that Abimelech hired as his followers (9:4).  The word used by the NIV, “adventurers” is somewhat curious because it misses the author’s negative assessment of these men. One who is an “adventurer” is often held in a more positive light in our culture.  But this group was not Robin Hood and his merry men.  The Hebrew word translated as “adventurers” means “empty, idle, worthless” (adverb).  Jephthah is the “leader of a group of vagrants, morally empty men, and is thus pictured in the same terms as Abimelech.”  Basically, they are living as outlaws on the frontier edges of Israel.

            This time, however, was not entirely without purpose.  It was there that Jephthah became a great warrior – where his military skills were practiced and honed.  It is also this experience where Jephthah learned leadership.  He took this group of misfits and turned them into a formidable force.   He developed his leadership skills and gained a reputation.  And it was this reputation that captured the interest of the people who had once rejected him.

            God was orchestrating the events of Jephthah’s life, and he orchestrates the events in our lives.  Times of rejection and seasons in the wilderness can be used by God to teach us to trust in his will and to learn the things we need to learn.  He can take the ugly things that happen to us, either by circumstance or by others, and use them to train us for the next thing He is preparing for us to do.  Just because others reject you doesn’t mean that God cannot and will not use you.  God is sovereign over all our outcomes, no matter how poor our beginning and he uses them for His purposes.  Will you trust him in your wilderness experience even today?

            Second: From outlaw to leader (vs. 4-11).  In this section we see the unexpected call of Jephthah.  The “some time later” of verse 4 probably refers back to 10: 17-18.  The elders of Gilead, now aware of Jephthah’s military reputation go to the land of Tob to make Jephthah a proposal.  Now as this story unfolds, is there anything you notice different?  For the first time, God is not the one who is raising up the deliverer for Israel.  Instead of waiting on the Lord to raise him up, the elders take matters into their own hands - it is entirely a human initiative.  The text doesn’t specifically reveal the Lord’s displeasure with this, however the fact that He had “raised up” a deliverer in all the past cycles would suggest he would not be entirely happy with this.  But we know that whether humans call (wait) on God or not, he still controls the outcomes.

            The elders offer to make Jephthah the commander of the army, but he is not impressed with the offer.  “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house?  Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?  These are reasonable responses.  Given their history, why should he go?  “People do not go to those they have rejected for help, nor does the victim of rejection help his rejecters.” To command the army was not enough for Jephthah, he wanted more and so the elders sweeten the offer.  They acknowledge what Jephthah said about them was true (rejected him), and then offer to make him commander and head (ruler) over all the people living in Gilead.  Jephthah repeats the offer to make sure he heard right; the elders vow their word before the Lord, and then Jephthah accepts the offer.  There was an opportunistic streak in Jephthah, and he was fully prepared to take advantage of the situation for his own purposes.  And his final consent to play the role of deliverer is motivated more by self-interest than concern for the people’s suffering.  He has driven a hard bargain because he is more interested in being ruler than in those he is to rule.

            The formality of “words before the Lord” in verse 11 seems like empty ceremony, and all the references to God thus far mere platitudes.  Is God actually engaged in this process of installing Jephthah as leader of the people?  While in the past cycles the Lord played a decisive role in raising up deliverers, here He is relegated to the role of silent witness to an human initiative driven by desperation and opportunism.  And yet, while the elders who should’ve know better, pursue this arrangement without seeking the Lord, and Jephthah accepts it with less than honourable motives, it is the Lord behind the scenes who is pulling all the strings.  His purposes for Jephthah and for all Israel will be fulfilled.

            So Jephthah moves from outlaw to leader – a move that he certainly didn’t expect, nor did he ask for.  However, when the opportunity arose, he seized it – although with not the purest of motives.  Yet even in this we see the providential hand of God.  He is giving the people the leadership they deserve.  We see this principle at work regularly on the book of Judges, and we can see it in our world today.  Even in the church there are opportunists who desire positions for wrong reasons, and often they merely reflect the spiritual condition of the congregation. 

            Third: An articulate negotiator (vs. 12-28) – God’s sovereignty over history and nations.  I began this message with a story about Napoleon, who after being humbled in battle recognized that God, not artillery, is the final determiner of outcomes.  In this section we see that Jephthah also possessed significant skills in rhetoric (argumentation).  His first move as leader was to send a message to the Ammonite king, questioning the reason for his aggression against Israel.  The king goes a long ways back in history with the complaint that Israel had stole this land from the Ammonites when they had come out of Egypt – and wants it back peaceably! 

            Jephthah’s long response details the actual history of that time, and it appears he knows Jewish history quite well.  The fundamental issue is whether the Creator God has the freedom to allot territories and boundaries in the world He has made, or whether humans are in charge of its living space.  Let’s break this section down into three arguments made by Jephthah:

* Check your history (vs. 15-22).  The first point that Jephthah makes is that Israel had not been the aggressor.  All the territories they sought to travel through, they asked for permission.  Each time they were denied so they circled around these nations – requiring much more time and distance.  Coming up the eastern boundaries of Edom and Moab, they came to the land between the Arnon and Jabbok Rivers – which was in the possession of Sihon, king of the Amorites.  Israel asked for permission to travel through their land, but the king refused and sent out is army to battle the Israelites – bad move.  God gave the Amorites into the hand of Israel and they took possession of the land.  Israel took none of the land of the Edomites, Moabites or Ammonites.  In fact, God specifically forbid them to do so (Deut. 2).

            The most obvious glitch in the Ammonite king’s view of history is that Israel had taken my land from between the rivers.  In fact, Israel had defeated the Amorites when they had taken possession of it.  At that time the land in question was not even possessed by the Ammonites!

* Check your theology (23-25).  The issue of land rights was not only on the basis of who was there first, but whose god had given the land and in his ability to preserve the possession of the land for his people.  Jephthah argues that it was Israel’s God who had given them this land, and therefore the king had no claim over it.  He asks, “Don’t you possess what your god Chemosh gives you?”  Then we will possess what our God has given us.  It’s a very logical argument –especially in the ancient world – and would be clearly understood by Jephthah’s adversary.  However, he does make a couple of mistakes.  Chemosh is the god of the Moabites, not the Ammonites. Also and more importantly is a theological error.  In his argument, Jephthah seems to reduce the Lord to the level of a pagan god.  He localizes Yahweh like all the other nation’s gods.  The territory of the Ammonites does not come from their god, but also from the Lord, who is Lord of all nations.

*Check your logic.  For three hundred years now Israel had possessed this land, and during that time you (Ammonites) have done nothing to try and re-capture it.  After that much time, there is no longer any basis for a land claim.  Israel never took the land from you in the first place, and after this much time any claim you may have is null and void. 

            A pretty good and articulate argument put forward by Jephthah, and his view of history is backed up by scripture, but it all fell on deaf ears.  The king of Ammon paid no attention to it.

            This little history lesson is reminder to us that God is in control of history and the nations.  And again, he is in control of the outcomes.  He used nations to both oppress and free his people in the ancient world.  I remind you again that he maintains control today, no matter how much unrest there is – God knows it; he allows it; and he will use it for his purposes (ISIS –revival).

            Whether we call on God or not, he is sovereign over all the outcomes.  Jephthah represents a strange mixture of faith and foolishness.  One minute he is recalling the theological history of Israel and the next serving his own interests.  But in this passage, we see the sovereignty of God at work – whether we seek his help or not.  God’s will and his purposes will be established and his rule over the nations will never end.  That brings me comfort!

 

Sermon: The Paradox of Time: Friend or Foe?

January 31, 2016

Speaker: Bryan Watson

 

Good morning.  For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Bryan Watson. 

The Scripture passage I’ve chosen for today is from Ephesians 5:15-16. 

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

Today is January 31.  It seems like just yesterday I stood before you, behind this very pulpit, and announced that it was the first Sunday of advent.  That was November 29, last year.  63 days have past since then.  Today, as I stand before you, we are 1/12 of the way through the year. 

Time is a confounding thing.  We can never really enjoy the present time, because it is always either in the future, or in the past.  If you are waiting for something good to happen, time does not move fast enough.  If, for example, you are lamenting getting older, then time goes too fast.  One moment, you are looking forward to Christmas.  Blink, and it’s in the rear view mirror!

I don’t think that’s the way God originally intended it.  When we look at the character and nature of God, He is eternal.  Eternity past, He always was.  Eternity future, He always will be.  He is not bound by time. 

Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.”

When Moses was told by God to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses wanted to know what to say if the Israelites asked him who sent him.  God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you shall say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”  What more descriptive phrase could there possibly be about God’s eternal nature than “I AM?”  Before the world began, God could say, I AM.  When Moses walked on the earth, God could say, I AM.  Here in 2016, God says, I AM.  And long after you, me, and this present earth are gone, God will say, I AM.  I certainly can’t say that.

So if God’s nature is eternal, and He created the world perfect, and even the days of the creation week in which He made everything were perfect, what happened to time that it became so confounding to us?

I believe the problem with time started in Genesis 3.  You know the story.  Adam and Eve are walking in the Garden of Eden, when they are confronted by the devil in the form of a serpent.  I want to read the account to you again, and listen carefully.  Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[a] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And the clock has been ticking, and we have been dying, ever since.  Everything, even time, is under a curse now, and it all started with the devil saying, “Did God actually say…?”, casting doubt into the authority of God’s Word.

And that is what the dash is all about on a gravestone.  You know, that dash that sits between a person’s birthdate and their death date?  That’s their life.  And it has an end.  For you math students out there, this is not a ray that extends indefinitely.  No, it is a line.  It does come to an abrupt stop, and so do we, thanks to that little episode in the garden.  And it is good for us to remember that our time here is limited. 

Psalm 90:9-12 says,

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span[a] is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.

But praise be to God!  The all-knowing, all-powerful God of Creation, while delivering His verdict and penalty, also developed the plan by which He would make it all right again, as He prophesied in Genesis 3:15, when speaking to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrated a month ago, and whose victory on the cross we will celebrate in 2 months.  This Jesus bruised the serpent’s head and struck a fatal blow to death, when He took our sin upon Himself, paid the ultimate sacrifice for us, and rose again from the dead!  Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

So what now?  We just believe, and just like a sitcom on TV, everything is neatly wrapped up? The end?  No, it’s not that simple.

You see, God has won the victory, but the battles are still going on.  Last Saturday night, if you had been at Alpha, you would have heard an amazing analogy that the host, Nicky Gumbel, told.  Referring to World War 2, Nicky said that the war was effectively won on D-Day, the Battle of Normandy, on June 6, 1944.  After that battle, victory was essentially guaranteed, but the war in Europe still continued until VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945.  Applying that analogy to Christianity, Nicky says that Christ’s victory through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection is like D-Day.  The great battle.  Victory is assured.  Nicky says that Christ’s return, when He comes again in glory, is like VE Day, marking the final end of the war.  In between, in World War 2, there still continued to be battles.  And today, even though victory is assured through what Christ did 2,000 years ago, we are still fighting battles during that little finite dash that represents our lives.

You see, I am a believer in Jesus Christ.  I know that I have been redeemed, and that I will have eternal life in Christ when I die.  And I know that nothing can take that away from me. 

Romans 8:38-39 says,  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And John 10:28 says, I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

But even though I am redeemed, I still live in a fallen world, and I still battle with my flesh. 

Paul said in Romans 7:19, For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.

Psalm 14:3 says, “They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.”

I guess that would include you and me.

And right on cue, the devil uses the same tricks he used in Genesis 3, but this time he says them about Romans 8:38 and John 10:28.  “Did God really say that nothing shall be able to separate us…?”  “Did God really say that He gave you eternal life, and you shall never perish…”  And that niggling little doubt creeps in.

And that is where God has turned time on its head and turned it into a great gift.  As a mortal human being, even though I know I am redeemed, I still get discouraged, and I still have my doubts.  And God, knowing this, gave me the gift of a day, a literal 24-hour rotation of the earth that allows me to have a mental reset. 

Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.”

That’s where the great hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness comes from.

So even though I stumble and fall on a daily basis, every morning He gives us the sunrise, that we may have the mental break to start again.  A new day.  A clean slate.  Just like His mercy.  And so I get up again, and start again, and get into His Word again, because I’m forgiven.

And knowing that we need progressively larger resets, God has given us the gift of the week.

Exodus 31:16-17 says, “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

He has also given us the gifts of months and years.  Exodus 12:1 says, “Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,2 “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. “

And we use these things, don’t we?  When a new week begins, we mentally feel like the past week is done, and now we have a new week to work with. 

And tomorrow, when we turn the page on the calendar to February 1, we know that January is done, and we have a whole new month just waiting for us to make progress on something.

And how many of us set major goals each January 1, with the old year being complete, and fresh new year in front of us?  How merciful that God would understand His creation enough to know that in our fallen state, we need these resets.

And now, back to that dash I spoke about earlier.  What are we going to do with it?  What is that dash going to represent for you?  I wonder, when I stand before Jesus, and we examine the record book of my life, and all the garbage is burned up, what will be left on the page?  What am I doing with my dash?  What are you doing with your dash?

I like to think of the year as a sidewalk made up of 365 or, as in 2016, 366 blocks of wet cement.  Each day, I get to work on one block of cement… creating designs, imprints, and markings.  At midnight on each day, the block I am working on hardens for eternity.  It is over, and what’s done is done; but what’s done is done for eternity.  And I’m on to the next one.  What will it look like at the end?

I heard a story once about 1000 marbles.  I don’t know the original source, but the story goes like this…

1000 MARBLES

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it's the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it's the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the backyard patio with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other.

What began as a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it.

I turned the dial up to listen to a Saturday morning talk show I heard an older sounding gentleman, with a golden voice. You know the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whoever he was talking with something about "a thousand marbles".

I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say...

"Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much.

Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital."

He continued, “Let me tell you something Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities."

And that's when he began to explain his theory of a "thousand marbles." "You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic.

The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years."

"Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900 which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime.

Now stick with me Tom, I'm getting to the important part."

"It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail", he went on, "and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy."

"So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round-up 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away."

"I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight."

"Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time."

"It was nice to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again.

You could have heard a pin drop on the radio when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work that morning. Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. "C'mon honey, I'm taking you and the kids to breakfast."

"What brought this on?" she asked with a smile. "Oh, nothing special, it's just been a while since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? I need to buy some marbles."

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m slowly starting to lose my marbles.  The question is, what am I going to do about it?

Oh, and lest you think that I’m being too morbid about all of this, let me explain to you the final gift of time that God gives, and that comes at the end of the dash… when the final cement brick is hardened, and the final marble is thrown away.  And that is, the victory of death.

You see, as I mentioned we live in this fallen world, a world that is groaning because of the curse.  Romans 8:21-22 says “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

But on that day, when our time comes, we will finally be set free from the curse and will rejoice with Him in paradise.  As it says in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

I’m going to close by reading the lyrics to the song, A Little More Time To Love by Steven Curtis Chapman.

"A Little More Time To Love"
 

There’s a little boy looking at me in the mirror
He’s asking where the time has gone
Was it here just long enough to draw these lines on my face?
Well I’m not sure I’m much wiser
But some things are clearer
And it’s getting clear that I’m not here for long
So what am I to do with my few minutes here in this place?
And we hear the world sigh with its aches and its pains
We see the grass wither and watch flowers fade

But oh, there’s a day that is coming
When everything will be new
And oh, God will dry every tear
And everything sad will be made untrue
And oh, it’s gonna be a celebration
All of creation longs for
And while we’re waiting for that day to come
We’ve got a little more time to love

I want to invite you, if you have never given your heart to Christ, but you would like to know the joy of living for Jesus Christ today, come and find me, or any of the leadership of the church, and we would be happy to help you make that commitment.  If you are part of the leadership of the church, would you please stand up so that people know who you are?

Any one of these folks would love to help you make a commitment to Jesus today.  

 

February 7, 2016

Where is God in This Crazy World?

Speaker Bryan Watson

Is it just me, or does the world seem a little insane these days?  Just think about what we’ve seen in the news over the past month:

  • An earthquake in Taiwan leaves several dead and hundreds missing.
  • Missile threats from yet another rogue nation, this time in the form of North Korea.
  • More economic crises loom, as the bottom falls out of oil prices and we see the repercussions of that in Alberta.  We see deficits in Saskatchewan as a result of that.
  • We see airlines slipping off of runways, cruise ships stranded at sea for days, airlines with the side blown out of them through terrorism
  • ISIS is on the move, and seems to be unstoppable
  • Every day, it seems another young mother in the US goes missing and turns up dead.
  • And right here we see murder trials of people who were entrusted with children
  • And election rhetoric.  Whether you are looking at the news in the States, or in Saskatchewan, or just before Christmas, in Canada.  Who’s had enough of all the election rhetoric already?
  • School shootings
  • A new storm of the century every month.

Do you ever find yourself asking: what’s wrong with this world?  Where is God?  Does God care?  Why doesn’t He do something about it?

Let me answer those questions for you, one at a time.

What’s Wrong With This World?

In order to understand what’s wrong with the world, we need to compare it to what the world should look like.  I’m always amused, yet disappointed when people try to skip over Genesis when they try to understand current events.  Without looking at the foundation, you can never understand the reality of a structure.  In the same way, without understanding the book of Genesis and its relation to our current times, you cannot understand our current times.

I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard this before, and I know I’ve spoken about this before, but let’s stop and think about Genesis for a moment:  not just as a Sunday School topic, but let’s really think about the truth of what we find there.

First, we have a perfect God.  A Holy God.  A God whose Holiness and Perfection is so pure, that no spot of darkness can be in His presence.  It’s not possible.

Perfect God then makes Perfect Earth.  If a perfect God calls something “very good”, then it must be very good indeed.  The garden.  The heavens.  The seas and the forests; the flowers and the fruits; the birds, fish, and animals.  No death.  No dying.  No animals eating other animals.  It is into this world that God, instead of just speaking him into existence, formed Man by His own hand, and breathed His own breath into man’s nostrils, giving him life.  And from this perfect man, God made the first woman, Eve.  And she was perfect, too. 

And God gave them a precious, but dangerous gift:  free will.  God didn’t want robots loving Him, he wanted people loving Him because they wanted to love Him.  But it didn’t take long for man to rebel against God.  We know the story… Eve was tempted by the devil, she ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, and then she gave some to Adam, and he ate, too.  They ate freely: the devil didn’t make them do it.  And the world was cursed because rebellion is not holy or perfect, and so it could not co-exist with God.

How do you think God felt, after He gave man free will and had it thrown back in His face?  I bet it hurt.  A lot.  Some of you are veterans… is it fair to say that it hurts to see people in this country abuse the freedom that you and your comrades sacrificed for?  Yet, we have the freedom to abuse our freedom, and that’s what God has given us, too.  But the price was the curse of a fallen world filled with groaning.  That’s what is wrong with this world.

So, Where is God?

If you asked 100 people, you’d get several different answers.  Some would say that God doesn’t exist.  Some would say that God created the world, but now is dead.  Some would say that God created the world, and just lets it continue on its own uncaringly, like winding a watch and letting it run.

But I think that God is, and always will be, who He always was.

In Revelation 1:8, Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  That means that He was there at the beginning, and will be there waiting for us at the end.

Psalm 55:19 says, “God, who is enthroned from of old, who does not change…”

In Malachi 3:6, God Himself says, “I, the Lord, do not change.”

And in the New Testament, James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

So, we know that God is there, and that He does not change, but…

Does God care? 

Some people think that He is a cruel God for allowing this wickedness on earth.  So, let’s examine God’s character:

To be fair, a thorough study of God’s character would take several weeks.  I have approximately 10 minutes, so I am going to study God’s character trait of love.

1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Now, my math teacher taught me the law of substitution: if A = B, and B = C, then A = C.

So, if God is love, then whatever love is, we know that God is like that, too.  Where do we read about love?  1 Cor 13.  There it says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

So, using the law of substitution, we could also read it like this: “God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud. 5 God does not dishonor others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs. 6 God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 God always protects, God always trusts, God always hopes, God always perseveres.  God never fails.”

So, if God was there in the beginning, is here with us now, and will be there for us in the end, and God is all these things that love is, and God is never changing, then I think it’s fair to say that God sees His fallen creation, and cries a billion tears every day over what we have done with the gift He has given to us.

Why Doesn’t God Do Something About It?

There are two answers to this question.  God has done something about it, and God will do something about it.

Sometimes people say that it isn’t fair that all these bad things are happening, and that they are having to live in this fallen world as a result of Adam’s sin.  I think it isn’t fair that God sent His only Son, innocent and holy, to die a gruesome death on a Roman cross in order to offer salvation to this world that continues to be fallen as a result of my sin.  But He did exactly that:  The Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

So, through His death on the cross, He built a bridge across the canyon of sin that has separated us from God since Eden.  And the reason that is important is because of what is waiting for us on the other side:

John 14:1-3 says, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions;[a] if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 

Finally, Revelation 21:4 says, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Conclusion

So let’s recap: 

  • The world, which God made perfect, is in chaos.  It is in chaos because of the sin of man, not because of anything God has done.
  • God knows what is going on, and He is very concerned about it.  Even more troubling to Him than our pain on this earth is the risk of being separated from Him forever.
  • Because God cares so deeply, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly went to the cross to pay the price that we couldn’t pay, so that we could be with Him in heaven.  But we have to choose to believe in Him and accept His forgiveness.  That is the only way we can get there.  There is no other way.
  • And if we accept that gift, God will one day take us to live with Him in paradise, a place that is so good that our fallen minds cannot even imagine it.  And it is for eternity.  If our life were an inch, eternity would be the distance from here to the sun and back, over and over and over again.  We can bear the pain of this little inch for the glory of eternity.  For those of us who have accepted Christ, we wait eagerly for this joy.  If you have not accepted Christ, you can do so today, and book your reservation at the King’s table.

 

February 14, 2016

The Greatest Commandment

Speaker Bryan Watson

I’ve titled my message this morning, “The Greatest Commandment”.  And it is a message about love.  Neil has already read the scripture passage, and this is the basis for my message.  When the legalistic Pharisee was trying to trick Jesus into saying which one of their hundreds of laws was the most important, Jesus boiled it right down to the following:

·         You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  That is the greatest commandment.

·         You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  That is the second greatest commandment… closely related to the first.

That’s it.  It’s as simple as that.  Those are two very profound statements, and entire libraries of books could be filled with the different viewpoints of what it means to love your neighbour.  It seems simple, but we make it so complex.  And though you might be tempted to think that these are two separate ideas, my desire today is to show you that you actually cannot separate the two.  You have to take them as a unit. 

Let’s start with the first statement.  The greatest commandment, according to Jesus:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 

We need to take this commandment seriously.  We can’t just gloss over it.  The writers of 3 of the four gospels recount this incident.  It is found in Matthew 22:37.  Mark records it in Mark 12:30.  It is also recorded in Luke 10:27.  Since the gospels form the heart of Christianity, and the main subject of Christianity, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has proclaimed this commandment, it is worthy to be considered foundational to how we live our lives.  This is belief in action.  This is the crossroads of faith and acts.

As Christians, we know that we are not saved by good works, but rather by belief in the resurrected Christ.  That is given to us in John 3:16, the heart of the Gospel message:  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Yet James 2:20 says that faith without works is dead.  Does this contradict John 3:16? Do we have to produce good works in order to be saved?  Or is just believing enough?  And what about Jesus’ commandment to love the Lord with everything we have?  Where does it fit in?

Well, I think that all of these verses complement each other.  And here is how:

The foundation for everything in Christianity is faith in Christ as the Resurrected Son of God.  If we don’t believe that, then we can just pack it up now and stop wasting our time.  This is what being a Christian is about.  Period.

But if we believe something, does that not cause us to act in a certain way?  What James is saying is that action is evidence of your faith… not a substitute for it, nor the cause of it.  When I say that I love my wife, is there evidence of it?  I hope so!  The evidence is demonstrated in that I provide for her, care for her when she is sick, comfort her when she is sad, and rejoice for her when something good happens for her.  It is a response to my love for her, not a substitute, or the cause of my love for her.

So, Jesus’ command to love God is meant to spur us to action to demonstrate our emotional and spiritual love for God, consistent with what James is saying.  It doesn’t make any sense at all to say that we love God and then not back it up with action!

So then, what does it look like to love God in this way?  Well, Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

What else does He say about this?

·         “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me.” – John 14:21

·         “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” – John 14:23

Given the number of times He repeats this, do you think we should pay attention to it?

On the flip side, Jesus says in John 14:24, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.”  So now, we’ve also learned that if we are not obeying Jesus in this command, we are actually rejecting the command of God the Father.  Pretty heavy stuff.

And one more tidbit about obedience being the evidence of love:  Jesus says in John 14:31, “but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  Likewise, if we do as Jesus commanded, we are providing evidence to the world that we love Jesus.

So, at this point, we know that we are supposed to love God in an “action” kind of way, and we also know that this act of loving God… the obedience to this command… is evidence that we act in response to our love for Jesus.

But what does this act of love look like?  HOW do we “love God”?  What IS this command?

·         Well, Jesus goes on to clarify in John 15:12.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Ohhhhhh.   Isn’t that interesting?  The greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love your neighbour.  And the way you do the first is to do the second!  We love God by loving one another, the way that Christ loved us.

And this is reinforced by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, when he says in Galatians 5:14, For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And again, James tells us in James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Now, if the entire law is fulfilled in the concept of loving my neighbour as myself, then what does that look like when I examine the basis of the law, the 10 Commandments?  Let’s look at just a few of these commandments, as they relate to loving our neighbour:

·         You shall not murder.  So far so good, right?  Well, Jesus says in Matthew 5:21-22 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a]and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment.

·         Or… If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. – 1 John 4:20

Is it fair to say that sometimes we hate?  That sometimes our anger, even if unspoken, gets the better of us?  Oops.  Strike one.

·         You shall not commit adultery.  Well, maybe we’ve never cheated on our wives, so at least we’re ok on this one.  But, Jesus says in Matthew 5:28,  “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Strike two, I guess.

·         You shall not steal.  Well, have you ever wasted your employer’s time by not giving a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay?  Have you ever knowingly been given too much change back at the store and didn’t speak up?  Have you ever cheated on your taxes?

Strike three.

So far, we are murderers, an adulterers, and a thieves.  And that’s just 3 of the 10 commandments. 

This whole “love your neighbour” thing really isn’t working out too well for us, is it?

Based on this, are you fulfilling Jesus’ command to love your neighbour?  And through that, are you demonstrating your love for God? 

But I love Him… don’t I?   And you love Him too, don’t you?

·         1 John 5:2 says, By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.

I can’t do it.  The fact of the matter is, that we cannot do this on our own.  We are completely incapable of lovingeach other Him the way He requires.  And by extension, we are completely incapable of loving Him.

Paul, in Romans 3:12, quotes from both Psalms and Ecclesiastes when he says,

“They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

So then, who is capable of loving God?  How can we love Him?  Who is capable of loving his neighbour?  Once again, Jesus is the only way…

1 John 4:19 says, We love because He first loved us.

He loved us enough to die for us.  And pay for our sins.  And cover our shortcomings.  And wash us in His blood so that we can be clean before the Father.  He covers that gap… the breach between who we are and who we were meant to be. 

He loved us first.

He erases our murderous nature.

He cleanses our adulterous heart.

He forgives us, the thieves, and tells us that we will be in paradise.

And therefore, He makes us capable of loving our neighbour, through His power, not ours. 

So, what does it look like to love our neighbours?

When Jesus was answering the Pharisee, he gave the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In short, the Samaritans and the Jews typically don’t get along.  But, one day, a Samaritan happens upon a Jew who was robbed and left for dead.  The Samaritan binds his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays for his care.  And Jesus declares him to be the man’s neighbour.

So, what does that mean to us?  Can we find someone who has a need, and fill it for them?

Can we make a meal for someone who is sick?

Can we shovel the driveway for someone who is hurt or weak?

Can take care of some basic need for somebody who has lost a loved one?

Can we be prayer warriors and pray for those in need?

Can we do it for people who wouldn’t normally be inside our circle of friends and family?

I think we can show this love, because He first loved us.

 

Sermon - Miscellaneous Scripture

Holiday Musings

March 6, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

I am going to something this morning that is different from anything that I think I have ever done.  This is not a typical sermon – in fact probably not technically a sermon at all.  There’s no real structure and I’m going to meander a bit – not everything will necessarily have an obvious connection.  I just want to share with you some thoughts and experiences we had on our holidays.

To start off I want deal for a few moments on a question that some of you may be asking, “Why does our pastor need a month of holidays?”  Now I don’t know how many of you get four weeks off – probably quite a few of you – but I don’t typically hear of you taking them all off at once.  Over the last number of years, I have become convinced that I struggle from a light deprivation syndrome.  I have become increasingly aware of hours of sunshine, or maybe better stated, the lack of them.  As the days of grey extend, (shorten) I find myself becoming more and more conscious of the lack of sun, and I begin to feel a sense of frustration rising in me.  I can’t really explain it – I just know I experience it.  This country produces a lot of cloudy skies – at least more that I am used to – and it doesn’t seem I’ve been able to make the adjustment.

I also have a real love for beautiful weather, and what we have experienced in Arizona and California is incredibly beautiful weather.  As a Canadian prairie boy, sometimes I can hardly comprehend what we experience in the south-west US – it seems so foreign to the reality I‘ve known all my life.  But I need to tell you how I define what a beautiful day is – blue skies, bright sunshine, warm temperatures (25 C), little to no wind, and no bugs – and these were the kind of days we experienced over and over.  In Palm Springs, we had one cloudy day in 17, one windy period – which was mostly overnight, and typically warm to hot temperatures.  Every morning we would get up, the skies would be blue, the sun was warm and the flags hung straight down.  To me, that is as close to paradise on earth that I can come.  Arizona offered us the same fare – although there were a couple of cloudy days there, but still warm.  This is like having a second summer to me and I’ve found that it’s good for my body and soul.  According to my definition of a beautiful day, we maybe get 30 days a year in this area that would fit that description (pessimistic?).  This is a key reason as to why we asked for an extended time of vacation in the winter – I can’t tell you how good I feel down there, and I believe it helps restore my soul, and I thank God for the opportunity to go.

  Since we have returned many of you have welcomed us back – to which I have often responded, “It’s good to be back.”  As I reflected on my words I thought, “That’s only a half truth!”  In all honesty, I am not glad to be back to snow, winter, and cold.  I would much rather be enjoying the warmth of the sun in Arizona. What is good about being back, however, is to be around people that we care about.  It’s good to be back with you again!  It’s good to be reunited with this body of believers.  Thanks for your prayers while we were away!

The spiritual battle that I have to contend with now is the battle for contentment.  When the grey days come, can I rise above them and find peace?  I’m sure the same feelings will surface, it’s just part of the way I am wired, but can I trust the Lord in the middle of them?  Paul tells the Philippian church in 4:11-12: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  The context of these verses is about being content no matter the extent of one’s basic necessities – so discontent with weather seems pretty trite.  But the principle of contentment in all things remains – whatever our particular circumstances may be.  This is a battle for contentment I have not won, and God has not yet called me to Arizona.

Can any of you identify with this battle for contentment?  Weather may not be your battleground, but some other issue.  Somehow we need to get to the place of surrender and trust.  Ask the Lord specifically to rise above your area of discontent to find peace and fulfilment.

Awe - One of the things we experienced on our trip was the sense of awe at the creative majesty and diversity of God.  In many ways the desert is a fascinating place – full with incredibly strange looking plants.  I am particularly drawn to the Saguaro cactuses – there is no other place that they are found in the world.  I was also continually awed by the irregular and striking formations of the mountains in both California, Arizona and New Mexico. During one stretch of highway in New Mexico the road straddled a section with hardened black lava flows on one side and a stunning escarpment that produced sheer cliffs on the other.  It was breathtaking!  We were in awe at the creative power and majesty of our God.  (Pictures)

The newest issue of the Men of Integrity devotional has a week of readings this month that focus on recovering a sense of awe.  One is entitled “Yawning at beauty.”  The author retells his frustrating experience of taking his youngest son to the national art galleries in Washington, D.C.  While the father is enthralled with what he was seeing, the kid was bored out of his mind.  He states: “He yawned, moaned, and complained his way through gallery after gallery.  He was surrounded by glory but saw none of it.  His eyes worked well, but his heart was stone blind.  Sadly, many of us live this way every day.”  (read Psalm 96: 11-13)

When was the last time you were truly awed by God’s creation – maybe even brought to your knees or to tears over an experience of his majestic creativity?  Our busyness and frantic lifestyles often leave us with little sense of awe – little time to “smell the roses.”  Our views of creation can become utilitarian – that it exists to serve and fill our practical needs – to only provide the things that sustain out life.  But it is much more than that!  The beauty of creation is designed to reflect the glory of God.  The author of the devotional goes on to say: “The glories of the physical world don’t reflect God’s glory by happen stance.  No, God specifically and carefully designed the physical world to reflect him, that is, to be the gloryscope that our poorly seeing eyes so desperately need... God fashioned his world in such a way that it would bring his glory into view.”   So creation is not an end on itself, it has a specific purpose of reflecting the majesty and glory of God.  We were blessed to be the beneficiaries of many such experiences.  The challenge for me and for some of you is to see the aspects of winter that also display his beauty and diversity.

Creation is a good reminder of how big God is, and how small we are. My challenge to you is to search for and to be awed by God’s creation in some way this week.  If you find yourself awestruck, take a moment to ponder and relish the experience and then give glory to God.  Too often we are so rushed and stressed that we are blind to the glory of God right in front of us.  And sadly, it often takes some sort of trauma to really open up our eyes.  For me it was an encounter with cancer.  After a few months of being in and out of hospitals and through many medical procedures, I came out with an awe and fresh awareness of the physical world.  I drank in the beauty of creation like I had never had before (shop).  Friends, don’t wait for some kind of trauma to wake you up to the beauty God has placed around you.  Be in awe of God’s creation; if you have lost that awe, seek to find it again.  If you can go to (on a trip) Arizona, great, but you don’t have to – it’s really all around us.  I admit that winter can often blind my eyes to God’s creation, but I pray that he would help me/you to embrace the seasons – to find God’s majesty in each day.

The American election – some comments - Trump could introduce a lot of instability on the world stage.  We should be in prayer for that election and our government leaders.

During our time away, Donna and I did some praying and talking about our future with this congregation.  This has been a difficult year for us, and we have, to be honest, wondered if our time here should be winding down.  I have been in communication with the leadership team in regards to this for a few months now.  Curiously, our attempt at bringing in an associate pastor has not been fruitful, and I have no answers as to why that is.  While we came home from our holidays without any real sense that we should offer our resignation, I do believe that the church is entering a very important time of transition.  I will be 65 in a little over two years, and it’s my desire when I reach that age to reduce my work time to 50%.  I believe that it is time to start passing the baton.  I have shared with the leadership that I have this sense that the church has gone as far as it will go under my pastoral leadership, and that we need a younger man to continue to move it forward.  And I don’t say that with any “sour grapes” or resentment, we are full and richly blessed by what has happened in this church during our time of service here – and all the praise goes to God!

As the church has grown, I also feel that I know longer have the energy to be doing all the work that needs to be done.  Sermon preparation takes the majority of my time and energy; I just don’t research and write sermons quickly.  There has also been a significant increase in administration work.  Consequently, some of the pastoral work has been neglected – primarily visitation.  One of things that the leadership have embraced and we are working on is a significant reduction in my preaching schedule – there will be more about that at the annual meeting.  However, while that will bring short-term benefits, it still doesn’t solve the long-term problem.  I do not want to leave this congregation without a shepherd, so I am asking you this morning to be in faithful prayer to the Lord for his choice to come and take this work over.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of this time of transition for LEF.

So to end, we want to again thank you very much for your prayers while we were away. We were very blessed to do what we did and we are so thankful to our great God for that.  We ARE happy to be home with you folks and we will pray along with you for God’s leading for this family of believers, who He loves more than we can imagine! 

 

Sermon - Judges 11:29 - 12:15

Rash Words

March 13, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            Who can underestimate the power of words?  In the book of James, the tongue is compared to a small spark that has the potential to set a whole forest on fire producing mass devastation.  Who hasn't had words spill out of their mouths that they wish they had never said?  And who hasn't said things that got blown way out of proportion that they are still dealing with the consequences of?   Who hasn't, in the heat of the moment, made rash vows and promises that they now desperately wish they had never made?   Many of us are still dealing with something we said and continue to have to assume responsibility for those words.  Rash talk, imprudent words, and things said “off the cuff” often come with a high price – even a tragic price.

            The two events that we are going to consider today certainly fit into that category.  Words foolishly and rashly said come with tragic outcomes.  As we continue to move through this book, the downward spiral of life in Israel continues.  As they move farther and farther from their God and the laws he has set before them, the “people of God” descend into moral chaos and pursue their own agendas.  The results are ever more and more tragic.  As we complete the cycle of Jephthah today, we are faced with one of the most gut-wrenching stories in the Bible – at least in my estimation.  It is a tragedy in every sense of the word!  Here’s the lesson for us from today’s passage: Foolish words said in haste and ignorance can produce devastating consequences.  Here are two stories from the life of Jephthah that make that very clear:

First: Hasty words said in ignorance brings tragedy to one (11:29-40 - Read).  Jephthah makes a vow to the Lord that was both rash and unnecessary, and it reveals a spiritual ignorance.

A. Triumph on the battlefield.  If you remember, the Ammonite king had mustered his forces in an attempt to drive the Israelites out of the land he claimed belonged to him.  Jephthah attempted negotiation, but the Ammonite king ignored him. In verse 29, the text says the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah – it was divine enablement to enter the battle. (Discuss – OT Spirit)  So while God did not choose Jephthah (human initiative), he uses him to accomplish his purposes.  Jephthah then goes throughout the countryside gathering and rallying an army.  As he advances against the Ammonite forces, the scripture records that he made a vow to the Lord.  If God would give him victory over the Ammonites, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came out the door of his house to meet him when he returned home in victory.  What a foolish and rash vow!  Did he not think this through at all – the possibilities he was opening up? 

A question that has been debated for centuries is whether Jephthah knew full well that the vow he made included the possibility of human sacrifice.  How could he not – his very words allow for that possibility?  Now in the ancient world it could be possible for an animal to be the first thing out the door, but even then, not the probable thing.  It seems he leaves the door open for “whatever.”  (Whatever, it; impersonal, personal) And if so, how could he make that vow knowing that the God of Israel strictly forbids human sacrifice (Deut. 12:31)?  Was he that ignorant of God’s law – he seemed to know Jewish history pretty well. 

The vow is both rash and manipulative.  It is rash because it seems he has not clearly thought through the implications and possible outcomes of what he has promised.  It is manipulative in that he is trying to coerce God into giving him victory – which he desperately wants because he will then be proclaimed ruler. A vow is a conditional promise – usually of a gift to be made to a god.  The attempt to bargain with God – which Jephthah is good at – and to manipulate him is a familiar Canaanite practice that has infiltrated Jephthah’s thinking – as has human sacrifice.  It seems to me that Jephthah knew full well the possibilities he was presenting in his vow – it seems that he was looking for an extraordinary offering.

The text gives a very short account of the actual battle.  Israel, under the leadership of Jephthah routs the Ammonites and destroys twenty of their towns – a complete military victory.  It appears that God has honoured the vow, but that is not in any way the case.  The Lord brings victory through Jephthah because he is interested in delivering his people from an oppressor.

            B. Tragedy on the home front.  As Jephthah returns home in victory, the first out the door to greet him is his daughter dancing to the sound of tambourines. This is his only child, and he is devastated with the horror of the situation.  As the reality of what he has done hits home, he seems to blame her for his “misery” and “wretchedness.”  If Jephthah had only intended an animal sacrifice, he would not have been so devastated when his daughter came out the door.  Who did he expect to come out?  The practice of young girls going out to greet returning victors was common in that culture and is attested in the celebrations for David and Saul.

            What is incredibly powerful is the daughter’s response to her father’s vow.  She says, “God has given you victory over your enemies so you must do what you have promised (out of your mouth).”  Now I don’t know how old this girl was, but she showed extraordinary character and a lot more faith in the Lord than her father did.  Her simple request was to have two months to roam the hills and mourn her virginity with her friends.  She would never have the opportunity for marriage and motherhood.

            When she returns, the text says simply that “he did to her as he had vowed” (burnt offering).  There have been many attempts throughout history to argue that she was not actually sacrificed, but banished from her home and made to live in perpetual virginity, but the language of the text does not support that.  Luther bluntly said: “One would like to think that he did not sacrifice her, but the text clearly says he did.”  What a gut-wrenching story! 

            This story is not only horrible (shocks!) but is also a tragedy in at least two ways.  First, the vow made by Jephthah was absolutely unnecessary.  It reveals a lack of faith in Jephthah.  He had the experience of the Spirit of the Lord falling on him, which gave him divine power and enablement to defeat the Ammonites.  He had all he needed, but Jephthah thought it necessary to coerce the Lord even more.  Secondly, while making a vow to the Lord is a very serious thing, God had provided in the Law of Moses a means of exemption for someone who had made a rash vow (Deut. 23: 21-23; Lev. 27: 1-5).  Here is the problem with Jephthah – there is a spiritual ignorance about the Word of God.  The loophole had been graciously provided by the Lord to redeem his daughter and it appears he must’ve been unaware of it – a great tragedy indeed.

            You may ask, “Why didn’t God intervene and stop this horrific act (Issac)?  We will never be able to answer that satisfactorily, but scripture does teach us that God does not always save us from the consequences of our foolish actions.  This was not God’s doing – he had already provided Jephthah with the means to defeat the enemy through the power of his Spirit.

            What does this story teach us today?  Our words, said in haste and ignorance, can get us in to a heap of trouble that can even last us for a lifetime.  As believers, we are to be particularly cautious about making vows – especially to the Lord.  Because when we do, he expects us to carry them out.  In fact, Jesus encourages us to not make vows at all.  Because in reality vows are really ways by which we try to bargain with God for Him to do for us what we want – and He will not be manipulated in that way.  How many times have you made a promise or vow to God in a time of distress – and then when things got better forget all about it?  I believe that scripture teaches us that God takes these vows seriously and its sin to ignore them.  I bet we all have done it at one time or another.  Maybe this morning, we all need to revisit those vows, repent, and renew our commitment to see them through.  (my vow)

            Hasty words said in ignorance cost Jephthah the life of his one and only daughter/child.  We must be very careful with our words and honour the vows we have made – Lord and others.

            Second: Hasty words said in anger bring tragedy to many (12: 1-7 – Read).  The violence only escalates in this next story.  Anger and jealousy trigger nasty words causing untold strife.

            A. Too many words lead to war.  The men of Ephraim rally their forces and cross the Jordan River to confront Jephthah.  Their complaint – the same as was with Gideon – they are upset that Jephthah engaged the Ammonites without calling them to join in the battle.  I wonder if they would’ve been so upset if Jephthah had lost the war!  Because of this the Ephraimites threaten to burn down Jephthah’s house with him in it – aggressive words and intent.  Initially, Jephthah defends his actions – he and his people were under siege, he had called the Ephraimites but they had not responded (no reference), and so he put his own life a stake and engaged the Ammonites.  He credits the Lord for his victory, so why he wonders, have you come to make war against me?  The truth is, that’s a really good question.

            The Ephraimites, it seems, are inclined to be contentious, they are one of the more powerful tribes of Israel and apparently just a little arrogant.  Why they do this seems a bit of a mystery. (quote) “Instead of congratulating Jephthah for his accomplishment and thanking him for delivering them from the Ammonite threat, in their jealousy and wounded sense of self-importance the Ephraimites are determined to destroy the deliverer.”  The text makes very clear (10:9) that the Ammonites had crossed the Jordan and had engaged the Ephraimites on earlier occasions – they should be happy they didn’t have to send their sons into the battlefield.  What is even more curious is that while the Ephraimites did not join the battle against the Ammonites, they were more than willing to fight against their tribal brothers.  It makes no sense.

            Jephthah, however, was not as accommodating as Gideon had been, and when the Ephraimites made a slanderous remark about the lineage of the men from Gilead (renegades; illegitimate), the battle was on (too many hasty words!).  Jephthah and his men handed the Ephraimites a massive defeat that day – one they deserved for their jealousy and aggressiveness.

Have you noticed that God is not involved this battle in any way?  He is not mentioned anywhere – it is an intertribal feud that he has not sanctioned.  Ignorance has raised its head again; ignorance of the responsibility to watch their brother’s back. The downward spiral has turned things inward.  The enemies are not just external; civil war has now come to Israel.

B. One word prolongs the slaughter.  Once again, the fords of the Jordan River are used to enhance the win.  The Ephraimites had used this strategy twice before themselves.  Jephthah’s men capture the fords, and as the fleeing men of Ephraim attempted to cross over, the pronunciation of one word sealed their fate.  Their tribal dialect made them pronounce the word “shibboleth” differently and their true identity would be immediately revealed.

However, as in the story of Gideon, the level of vengeance seems to escalate beyond what the conflict justified.  The battle had already been won on the battlefield and these men were fleeing in full retreat – the wanton slaughter seems entirely unwarranted.  A ghastly figure of 42,000 men of Ephraim lost their lives that day.  Pride and jealousy came with a high price!

As with the vow of Jephthah, this war was entirely unnecessary. But jealousy, envy and all manner of evil can consume God’s people.  It is still evident in the church.  While we don’t go to war, we get tangled up in petty, unimportant and unnecessary fights.  And while no one dies, many are wounded emotionally and physically – often with long term effects.  And all too often in the church the punishment does not fit the crime.  How can we be more gracious with the brothers and sisters we disagree with?  As a family of believers we need to be careful and considerate with our words to each other.  Words spoken in haste can have lasting damage.  Let’s be careful with our speech; in the war of words there have been too many tragedies in the church already with far too many casualties.  And all too often they are unnecessary.

            Third: A time of relative peace but with questionable motives (8-15).  The mention of the minor judges warrants just a few comments.  One wonders why the author inserted them.  They seem to suggest a time of relative peace in Israel; there are no enemy invasions that are noted.  But the reference to many sons and daughters suggests a few things.  These men practiced polygamy, were well to do, and tried to make their families appear like dynasties. (comment).  It seems like all these references to many offspring suggests that “judgeship is always on the verge of turning into kingship.”  The interests of these men seem to be in their self-interests, living the lifestyle of kings, rather than on delivering the nation.

Foolish words said in haste and ignorance can produce devastating consequences.  What tragedy we see in these stories – the misuse of words and the consequences of them.  Let’s take care in the words that come out of our mouths.  Let’s think before we speak.  And let’s use our speech to bring words of healing to our spouses, families, church family, and to our neighbours.

 

SERMON – JUDGES 13: 1-25

A Most Unusual Birth Announcement

March 20, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            So this morning we begin the cycle/story of Samson – the last of the cycles of the judges.  The downward spiral continues to spin lower.  Of all the judges in this book, Samson is by far the most well known.  Some of his feats are legendary; others however are more like debauchery.  The author of the book of Judges gives more information about Samson’s life and events than any of the other judges – a full four chapters are dedicated to his life.  And yet he is the one judge who did not actually deliver his people from their oppressors.  Another interesting fact about this man is that his confrontations with the Philistines were always without any help from his countrymen or without any kind of army, he fought all his battles single-handedly.  He was a man, we all know, of incredible strength – given to him by the Holy Spirit.

            The actions of God in Samson’s life begin before he was even born, as our text for today makes very clear.  The announcement of his birth also contains a number of miraculous events.  Samson would be no typical man and his call from God was no typical call.  This story reminds us that, “As Christians, our new life also comes from a miraculous birth and calls us to live a life “set apart” for God.”  As we go to the story, we will use as our outline the actions of the angel:

            First: The angel’s first appearance (Vs. 1-7): Announcement of a miraculous birth and the call for separation.  The cycle of Samson begins with the all too familiar words, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  As the cycle continues, the Lord gives them over to an oppressor – the Philistines in this case, for forty years (longest time; however the Philistine domination had been going on for a while already (10:7), and it’s quite possible that the time of Samson actually overlaps at least some of the time of Jephthah – the fighting on the eastern front and Samson on the western front).  However, can you see what is missing in the typical progression of the cycle here?  It is strangely silent.  There is no cry from the people to be delivered from the Philistines.  This is an important element in the Samson cycle.  It probably suggests that the Israelites have grown very apathetic, unmotivated, uncaring in regards to the Philistine occupation.  It may even suggest that they have begun to accommodate the Philistine’s culture and religion.  However, what we see beginning now is the Lord raising up a deliverer for his people.  Even though there is no cry for help, the Lord intervenes because of His mercy, His kindness and His covenant faithfulness.

            The story of the birth announcement begins in verse 3.  A man from the tribe of Dan had a wife who was barren.  Since children were considered a sign of blessing from the Lord, to be childless brought with it an element of shame.  It also left the wife vulnerable to the husband’s whims since children were often a part of the marriage contract.  However, in the scriptures, a woman’s inability to conceive often provided opportunity for the Lord to then supernaturally provide a child – as with Samson where his miraculous conception is one element that demonstrates the supernatural aspect of his life.

            One day an angel appears to the woman (unsolicited) and tells her that her barren days would be over – she would conceive and have a son (prophet – awesome).  But he also laid down some strict guidelines for her during her pregnancy.  She could not drink anything alcoholic, nor eat anything unclean, nor could his hair ever be cut because he would be set apart as a Nazirite – and he would begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines (David).  The woman goes to her husband (Manoah) and tells him of her experience, and to his credit, he does not outright dismiss his wife’s story.  She does not tell him that the boy would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines, but does say he would be a Nazirite from his birth (womb) to his death. 

            So what is this “Nazirite vow?” (word means “dedicated; consecrated;” read Numbers 6).  A Nazirite vow was a special vow of dedication/commitment made to the Lord.  It was voluntary and usually temporary – for a set period of time.  In Samson’s case, however, he was set apart involuntary in his mother’s womb and dedicated for life!   So “Samson was not a Nazirite by personal commitment but by divine command.”  The Nazirite vow included 3 basic prohibitions:

- To refrain from consuming any wine or alcoholic drinks – or anything from the grapevine.

- To refrain from cutting one’s hair during the duration of the vow.

- To avoid contact with a dead body.

Also, the angel made it very clear Samson’s mother was not to eat anything ritually unclean.  Now this law was for all Jews and the fact that the angel had to remind her about it seems to indicate the general disregard there was for the Law in Israel that time.  So the Nazirite vow began with her pregnancy and would be life-long for her son.

            Second: The angel’s second appearance (8-16): Confirmation of the announcement. It seems that while Manoah did not belittle his wife’s story, neither was his fully convinced about it.  What he wanted from the Lord was two things: confirmation and more information.  So he prays to the Lord and asks for the angel to come again – his reason for the request is that he wants to receive instructions on how to raise the boy and what would be his work – or mission/purpose.  In spite of his obvious lack of faith, the angel graciously appears again.  But notice that he appears first to the woman again, and she has to run and find her husband.  However, in the conversation that he has with the angel, he is not given any more information than what his wife had initially received – he repeats the instructions and emphasizes her obedience to them.  Manoah had to learn that he didn’t need to have all the answers at that point.

            The offer of hospitality to the angel is much like the story of Gideon.  In the ancient world, proper hospitality demanded that Manoah provide a meal for his guest.  It would also seem that this offer would buy him more time with this mysterious person.  The angel is willing to stay, but refuses the offer of food – instead he tells Manoah to offer the goat as a sacrifice to God.  The text tells us that at this juncture the couple still don’t realize that this is an angel – the “Angel of the Lord” – who many believe is the pre-incarnate Christ.  So the angel comes again to appear to Manoah and confirm his message, but offers little in the way of more information.

            Third: The angel’s miracle (vs. 17-23): Confirmation of divinity.  As with Gideon, the true identity of the angel is confirmed through a miraculous event.  Again, God graciously reveals Himself to this couple to show whose presence they were really in.

A. Divinity revealed.  Manoah wants to know the angel’s name, and the reason he wants it, he says, is to give honour to the angel – not immediately, but only after his word proves to be true – a reason that only reveals his continuing lack of faith.  Also in the ancient world, knowing someone’s name was believed to give a person power or influence over the other, so possibly this was Manoah’s attempt to manipulate the angel for his purposes.  However, if it is a ploy, it doesn’t work.  The angel answers his question with another question – and then adds, “My name is beyond understanding.”  (Heb. “wonderful” – you couldn’t comprehend it.)

            Manoah takes the goat and some grain and offers them on a rock as a sacrifice to the Lord.  As they were watching and the fire blazed up, the angel miraculously entered the flames and ascended up to heaven (the Lord; amazing – to be wonderful: same root word).  This event immediately opens their eyes to the true identity of their guest, and they fall on their faces – a typical, appropriate human response to the presence of God.  Again, like Gideon’s response to being in God’s presence, Manoah is convinced they will both die – an idea well formed in the Hebrew mind.  However, his wife presents a very logical argument to him that alleviates his fears.  God would not reveal his will and promise to us if his plan was to kill us! 

B. Promise fulfilled. The final two verses bear witness to the fulfillment of the angel’s announcement.  We are told that the woman gave birth to a son who she named Samson, that he grew and was blessed by the Lord, and that even at a young age, the Spirit began to stir within him.  As the story of Samson unfolds, he is an enigmatic (puzzling) figure.  What we learn from today’s story is that Samson had a great beginning in life. His conception and birth was miraculous, his birth was announced by an “angel of the Lord” and confirmed by another miracle, he was set apart to the Lord by a Nazirite vow, and he was loved by his parents who were God – fearing people.  And yet his story, as we shall see, is one of wasted opportunities and disappointed hope.   How can that be?  And yet we see that story repeated so often of children raised in good Christian homes who turn their backs on the faith.  It is one of the most difficult and heart-breaking tragedies Christian parents will ever face.  However, we also need to realize that Samson’s bizarre actions did not foil God’s purposes for his life – which we shall also see.

            In closing I want to bring out three points that serve as principles and application:

- Separation: Samson’s Nazirite vow was to set him apart as dedicated to God - it required an element of separation. (Amish)  The idea of separation used to carry a lot of weight in evangelical culture.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him.” (1 John 1:15).  “Come out from them and be separate.” (2 Cor. 6:17).  These are biblical ideas, but the problem was that this kind of separation took the form of a set of rules of what was and was not acceptable conduct for a Christian – it was formal and legalistic, and many had a dubious biblical basis – for instance from my background: dancing, drinking, movies, wearing makeup, playing cards, playing pool, bowling – are just a few.  Too often these prohibitions produced only an empty legalism rather than a joy-filled faith.  Contemporary evangelicalism has for the most part rejected these ideas.

            However, as is typical, the pendulum has swung too far, and now the church has come to reflect the culture’s values.  There is little difference in the choices we make, because we have bought into the values of our “world.”  Does the Bible say it is sin to go to a movie?  No!  But does that mean I can go to any movie?  (Discernment – would I be OK if Jesus was sitting right beside me and watching it with me?)  There needs to be a call again to live a separated life – yet to still be lights in a very dark world.  One commentator states: “The irony is that at the very same time that evangelical churches are growing, our morality is plummeting.”  He goes on to define a separated Christian in this way:” A truly separated Christian is a believer whose heart and life are set apart to God and who lives for Him.”  (Not isolation, not assimilation; in, not of)

- Apathy:  What is striking about this passage today is the apparent apathy that has encompassed the Israelites.  After experiencing God’s grace and good gifts in the past, how have they become so spiritually dull?  One possibility is that they do not know God’s Word and his Law anymore?  This seems to be hinted at in some of the responses of Samson’s parents to the angel.  When we no longer know God’s Word, we lose our spiritual compass. This is one of the problems of the contemporary church and why our morality is lowering – we simply don’t know God’s Word.  It’s not being read and it’s not being preached from the pulpit. 

            This passage calls us to an attitude check.  Have we grown apathetic in our Christian life?  “Has compromise with the world caused us to be unresponsive to God’s Word, to his standards of morality, to his promises and expectations for our lives?”  Apathy is a huge issue in our churches today – we are bored with God, bored with the Bible and bored with church.  Who cares?  My iphone and facebook are way more exciting.

- Grace: God’s amazing grace is a continuum that runs all through the book of Judges.  Today we see the Lord raising up a deliverer for his people when they least deserve it.  They didn’t even ask for his help.  (quote) “This intervention in the days of Samuel demonstrates the tremendous long-suffering grace of God so that, in spite of Israel’s lack of response, he will act purely out of faithfulness to his covenant with them.”

As Christians, our new life also comes from a miraculous birth and calls us to live a life “set apart” for God.”  Through the Holy Spirit, all of us who are believers have also experienced a miraculous birth, so let’s shake off our apathy and live lives that are set apart for his honour and glory.  What might be one thing that you could do this week where you know that you need to raise the bar in order to separate yourself from the world?  

 

SERMON – 1 CORINTHIANS 15: 1-11

Resurrection: Fact of Fiction

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            There have been days throughout history that have been described as “a day that changed the world” – you’ve probably heard the phrase.  A day when some momentous event occurred that rocked the world, which changed the course of history, and often even changed the way we think about the world.  These events tend to get indelibly etched in our memories, and we can clearly remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news.  In the modern world, the instantaneous capabilities of media also make these events universal in scope.

If you would ask someone what day they think changed the world, you would probably get any number of answers.  For Americans in particular, you would probably hear December 7, 1941 and Pearl Harbour.  Some would suggest November 22, 1963 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  As a ten year old Canadian boy I remember where I was when I first heard that news.  For many of us today, our minds would go back to September 11, 2001 and the destruction of the twin towers in NYC.  These were defining moments in our history. 

So is there really one day, one that stands out above all the others, that changed our world forever?  I will declare to you this morning that the day that really changed the world is the day that Jesus was raised from the dead.  There is no other event in history that comes close!  While there was no media to send the news all over the world and then scrutinize it to death, it has changed the world forever.

There are many sceptics and critics of the resurrection out there, that’s nothing new – and it is a phenomenal event well outside of normality.  Some like to relegate it to the world of myth, like Homer’s The Odyssey, or Santa Claus. Most say it’s impossible. However, there is an empty tomb and no one has ever been able to produce evidence to the contrary.  So often sceptics of the resurrection demand that Christians produce proof, but the scoffers have neither produced any evidence that it did not occur.  In our text for this morning, the apostle Paul boldly declares that the resurrection is the gospel truth.  And He gives us reasons how we can know it is the truth:

First: We know the resurrection is true because the gospel declares it (1-2).  Paul wants to remind the Corinthian believers about the gospel that he had preached to them.  The word gospel literally means “good news.”  What does the gospel declare?  The gospel in a nutshell is given in verses 3 and 4: Jesus died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day.  Paul wants to remind the people of the good news message that he had preached to them, and also remind them about three very important aspects of that message to their lives.

Which you received. It was a message that they had received.  Paul had come preaching the power of the resurrection and they had received that message into their hearts and minds.  This reminder was important because there were some in the Corinthian church who were questioning the bodily resurrection of believers.  Paul reminds them that the resurrection of believers is based entirely on the bodily resurrection of Jesus – which they had already accepted and believed.

Which you have taken your stand.  Paul reminds them that they have taken their stand on this gospel – they had established themselves as believers.  In that culture receiving Christ would usually have required them to take stand – sometimes at great cost.  Most of the apostles lost their lives defending the truth of the resurrection.  The early believers staked their lives on it, even when faced with persecution.  We know that many in our world today continue to place their lives in jeopardy because of the truth of the resurrection.

By which you are saved.  It is the truth of the resurrection that is the power of the gospel message.  It is the basis, the foundation, of our salvation – if Jesus had not died and rose again, we would be lost in our sins.  The gospel doesn’t hold out any hope other than salvation by faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.  This is the unchanging message of the church and it is the message that the church was founded upon.

            Without the resurrection there is no gospel, no salvation, no forgiveness, and no Christian church.  And as Paul said, if that’s true, we are of all people most to be pitied.  So the declaration of the resurrection is absolutely fundamental to the gospel message, and that message has been proclaimed and received for over two thousand years.  How could a message that is grounded in an actual historical event ever perpetuate continual deception over that amount of time?  Paul reminds the Corinthians that when the gospel is reduced to its essence, it is an event in history.

            Second: We know the resurrection is true because the scriptures foretold it (3-4).  The fundamentals of the gospel - the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – were established in the prophetic words of the OT.  The resurrection was “according to the scriptures” – it was not something made up, or conjured up in the minds of Jesus’ disciples – it had been foretold in the scriptures – some that had been written hundreds and thousands of years before Christ’s birth!

The OT foretold the two basic truths critical to the gospel: First, it prophesied that Christ would suffer in his death. (Psalm 22: 16-18; Isaiah 53: 4-7).  These scriptures are pretty graphic depictions of what the servant Messiah would have to suffer in his vicarious death for the sins of the world.  Second, the prophets also foretold that Christ would be raised from the dead.  Psalm 16: 9-10 says: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”  While David wrote this psalm it cannot refer to him, because you can visit his tomb in Jerusalem even today.  Isaiah 53:11 states: “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied.”  While this is not a definitive statement about the resurrection, it would certainly seem to allude to it.  There are other prophesies that point to Jesus’ death and resurrection in the OT, and Jesus upheld this fact himself.  After his resurrection, he appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus who were lost in their confusion over Jesus’ apparent death.  Luke 24:27 reads: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus is all over the OT; and we know the resurrection is true because the scriptures foretold it.

Third: We know the resurrection is true because eyewitnesses testified to it (5-8).  In any court of law, eyewitness accounts carry a lot of sway.  And when you have multiple eyewitnesses that verify the same thing - that makes their testimony that much more compelling. Paul makes a list of those who had actually seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes, and his list is not even complete!  Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve (upper room – 2x), more than five hundred at the same time – most of whom were still alive, James, the brother of Jesus, the apostles, and lastly to Paul himself.  He did not include the women who were the first witnesses, nor did he mention the two men on the road to Emmaus that I referred to earlier.  The fact that there were many people still alive from the group of five hundred suggests that they were still available to provide proof and answer the questions of the sceptics.

If the resurrection was nothing more than a sinister plot, how could this many people continue this deception – especially when facing persecution and even death?  How often are people willing to put their lives on the line for a lie? 

When the late Charles Colson, one-time Watergate criminal-turned-founder of Prison Fellowship, was challenged about the truth of Christ’s resurrection, he responded, “My answer is always that the disciples and 500 others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus risen from the tomb.  But then I’m asked, ‘How do you know they were telling the truth?  Maybe they were perpetuating a hoax.’ ” Colson says, “My answer to that comes from an unlikely source: Watergate.”  He writes: Watergate involved a conspiracy perpetuated by the closest aides to the president of the United States — the most powerful men in America, who were intensely loyal to their president. But one of them, John Dean, testified against Nixon, as he put it, “to save his own skin” — and he did so only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on!  The cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks, and then everybody else jumped ship to save themselves. Now, all those around the president were facing was embarrassment, maybe prison. Nobody’s life was at stake.

But what about the disciples? Twelve powerless men, peasants really, were facing not just embarrassment or political disgrace, but beatings, stoning, execution.  Every one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead. Don’t you think that one of those apostles would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned? That one of them would have made a deal with the authorities? None did. Men will give their lives for something they believe to be true; they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

Fourth: We know the resurrection is true because lives are changed by it (9-11).  There is one final evidence no one can deny and that is the lives changed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In these final verses, Paul testifies to his own experience of Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus.  The power of that encounter dramatically changed the pathway of his life.  He was not only a sceptic of the resurrection, but an active and tenacious persecutor of the followers of Jesus.  Paul never forgot his background and it made him more appreciative of God’s grace in his life.  He was transformed powerfully by the encounter he had with the resurrected Christ, and he became arguably the greatest Christian the world has known. 

Countless lives have been and continued to be changed by the resurrection.  As established before in this message, the resurrection is the foundation of the gospel message and there have been innumerable books written that are personal testimonies of the gospel’s power to change and transform lives – and many more changed lives that have not been written about.  One of the most powerful evidences of the truth of the gospel for me personally is how I’ve seen it change people and their lives – and of course, how it changes my own life.  How about you?  Has your life been changed by the truth of the resurrection? 

During our holidays I read a book by a lawyer and academic.  He argued that by using all the standard categories for acceptable evidence in a court of law, the evidence for the resurrection would stand up to any of them.  The evidence would produce a positive verdict.  The evidence is really overwhelming – read quote from Prof. Thomas Arnold.

To close this morning, I want to give you a clear presentation to the gospel message.  The Bible declares that we are all sinners – “For all have sinned a fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin creates an unbridgeable gap between humans and God, because God cannot tolerate sin.  We cannot in any way be good enough, righteous enough, to bridge that gap in our own strength.  The only one who can bridge that gap is Jesus Christ (exclusive).  To bridge that gap between you and the Father, you must repent of you sins, and receive by faith Jesus as your Saviour and Lord. “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.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified...”  It’s really as simple as saying, “yes, Lord, I repent of my sinfulness, I put my trust in you, and I want to follow you for the rest of my days.”  But you must say it and mean it from your heart – you cannot fool the Lord.  And if you say it from your heart, the Holy Spirit will come into your life and begin to transform you into the likeness and character of Jesus.

If you have never taken this simple step, won’t you please consider it this Easter morning?  God loves you and is waiting for you.  Don’t keep putting it off –we are never sure of the time we have left on this earth. 

 

Sermon: Judges 14:1-20

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

April 3, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            There’s hardly a better place to find a catchy phrase than the song titles from the world of country music.  The song by this title came out in 1980 and it talked about the regrets of a guy who was finally coming to the realization that his lifestyle of the bar scene and one night stands had left him feeling empty and without finding real love.  The true love he was seeking had eluded him in the places he was looking for it.  It is all too often that we as well look for love and fulfilment in all the wrong places.

            As we continue on in story of Samson, our text for this morning finds him also “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  And this story, in essence, is only part one – as we shall see.  Samson was a man set apart by God from before his birth, and yet he was also a man who struggled his whole life with issues of character.  From his chosen and privileged beginning, he doesn’t turn out to be the person we would’ve imagined.  You see, one of Samson’s greatest weaknesses is that he loved women – especially foreign women; particularly Philistine women.  And his attraction for these women got him into all kinds of trouble.  He was driven far more by fulfilling his desires than he was in discipline and character development.  Today’s story, and really all of Samson’s life story, continues to model a principle of truth for us – The things we do that cater to our selfish desires (whims) can trigger a landslide of consequences.  We’re going to see this played out in this failed attempt at marriage.  We’re going to look at this story from the perspective of Samson’s self-serving attitudes:

            First: What I see I want (1-4).  Isn’t this a battle we all face at times – it’s called the lust of the eye.  We are continually seeing things that trigger a desire to possess – and we’re not happy until we get what we want.  It’s not merely seeing something that we like and thinking “that would be cool to have,” no it’s much deeper that that – it becomes a drive that is not satisfied until we possess it.

            All the problems that are narrated in this chapter and the next stem from this first episode, which begins with “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman.”  He is obviously stricken by her – at least her looks – because he promptly goes back to his parents and demands that they “get her for me as my wife.”  We can only imagine something of his parent’s horror to his blunt demand – this was not what they had envisioned!  They ask an obvious question of Samson – is there no suitable woman among your own people?  Why would you want a wife from the “uncircumcised Philistines?” – A most derogatory and scornful label. 

            The issue is two-fold here; his parents knew that the Israelites were not to intermarry with any of the Canaanites – God had clearly commanded it in the law (Judges 3:5-6).  Here this “set apart” son of theirs was demanding a foreign wife.  However, even the possibility of this liaison reveals how reconciled Israel had come to be with Philistine domination.  The other issue is that usually in ancient Israel, the parents would decide on whom their children would marry.  But Samson says to his parents, “Get her for me” I want to choose.  Right off the bat we see issues with Samson’s character – it appears that he has a total disregard for authority in his life.  He seems oblivious to God’s Law and he’s disrespectful towards his parents and their grief over his wishes. 

            These issues are made evident more clearly in the latter part of verse 3.  Samson abruptly says again to his father, “Get her for me.  She is the right one for me.”  The NIV’s translation of this Hebrew phrase – “right one for me” – obscures the meaning somewhat.  It literally means she is “right in my eyes.” (ESV)  The ultimate justification for Samson was that she “looked good,” and he wanted her – “what I see I want.”  If you remember, that has been the spirit of the times throughout Judges – “everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” and Samson pretty much personifies that attitude.

            Verse four is an insertion by the author that is to help interpret these events.  Unknown to both Samson and his parents, the Lord was going to use this situation in order to bring about a confrontation with the Philistines. I must confess these situations in Judges where God is at work behind the scenes working out his purposes by using sinful humans are sometimes difficult to reconcile.  So does the writer’s insertion make Samson’s marriage to a Philistine right?  While God uses Samson’s poor choices, that does not mean that he approves of them.  While God is sovereignly working out things according to his will, “this marriage represented not only a betrayal of his calling, but also direct disobedience to God Himself.”

            Second: What I want I’ll take / have (vs. 5-9).  In this section, we see Samson’s callous attitude towards his Nazirite vow and his determination to do whatever he wants.  Somehow Samson persuades his parents to arrange this marriage for him and they head out to Timnah together.  Apparently, they somehow get separated and as he approaches some vineyards a young lion attacks him (vineyards?)  The Spirit of the Lord comes (rushes) upon him and with his bare-hands seizes the lion and tears it apart as if a young goat.  Now this is a feat that’s pretty difficult to comprehend, but it’s the first exhibition of the kind of physical strength this man would possess when he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  After the incident he rejoins his parents without telling them of his encounter.  (Why? He produced a corpse - ritually unclean?)

            Samson and his parents go to the household of the Philistine woman and his parents negotiate a marriage.  For the first time Samson talks to her and he “liked her.”  Now this phrase also obscures the meaning because the Hebrew phrase here contains the same word as in verse 3 – she was right, good, pleasing in his eyes.  Simply put, “God and his law are not important to Samson, only what is “right” in his eyes.  What I want, I’ll have. 

            When the time came for the actual wedding (up to a year), Samson and his parents are once again on their way to Timnah, and once again Samson slips away to revisit the scene of the lion attack (denial).  Curiously and unusually, he finds a hive of bees in the corpse of the lion producing honey (maggots).  He scoops some out with his hands and had a feast and took some along to give to his parents –again not revealing the source of the honey.  This is a flagrant violation of his Nazirite vow.  He was not even to be near a corpse, let alone be eating food found in contact with the corpse.  Not only that, he made his parents unclean because food contaminated by a carcass also brings ritual defilement to any Israelite.

            What I see I want, and what I want, I’ll have.  It seems that the only thing that matters to Samson is the satisfaction of his own desires and appetites. We see the portrait of a man “who is a law unto himself, who believes that he is the exception to any rule.  He is a man who runs all the stop signs.”  However, this attitude is not exclusive to Samson.  We live in a culture today that often glorifies this kind of mindset.  We are encouraged to live according to our senses – if it feels good, do it!  If you want it, go for it!  We are bombarded and persuaded by commercials to desire the things we see – and appearance is everything.  Sex is used to sell everything imaginable, and we are encouraged to gratify every urge of our flesh and inclination of our hearts.  There is little respect for authority and little interest in self-discipline.  It’s a hedonistic attitude that takes us far from what God wants for us.

            Third: When I’m cheated, I get even (10-20).  The rest of this story is, in my estimation,  more than a bit bizarre.  It reveals more of the character of this man and of the Philistine culture.  While Samson’s father goes to meet with the bride and her family, Samson prepares a customary feast for the bridegrooms.  The word for Feast here is revealing – it is the Hebrew word “misteh” which in the rest of scripture refers to a banquet that is associated with, and even has a focus on, drinking wine.  Is this another indication that Samson broke another Nazirite vow?  Did he himself not indulge?  The use of the word here is ominous, but not conclusive. 

            The thirty men that he was given as “companions” were probably provided from the bride’s side.  It is not entirely clear of the purpose of them, especially of so many.  Some suggest that these men were from the clan or village and who were called forward to support the marriage, but may have also provided some measure of security and support for the bride’s family.  Samson, maybe to establish some superiority over his groomsmen, wants to tell them a riddle.  Apparently, riddles and word games were a common form of entertainment in the ancient world – especially around feast times.  The riddle appears the product of some light-hearted sparing between Samson and his companions – at least to begin with.

            The riddle is based on Samson’s experience with the lion, and so he knows his companions have virtually no chance of guessing it – so he make the stakes pretty high – thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes (Fancy, embroidered clothing; equiv – three piece suits). After 3 days, things start getting out of hand and the companions get desperate – so desperate they even threaten the life of the bride and her family (ruthless).  They want her to entice Samson to tell her the secret of the riddle.  She sheds tears the whole week before Samson finally succumbs to her pressure on the final day.  In fear of her life and her families, she informs the “companions” of the riddle’s answer.  Samson knows immediately how they got their answer, “If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”  In other words, “if you hadn’t messed with my wife, you would never have solved my riddle; hence you cheated.”

            What happens next is quite shocking.  In a fit of rage, Samson goes down to the Philistine city of Ashkelon, over 20 miles away, and kills thirty men, strips them of their clothes and brings them back to pay off the debt from the riddle.  When I’m cheated, I get even.  What is most shocking is that he did this under the power (rush) of the H.S.  Again, this is hard to reconcile. How could a man’s anger and desire for vengeance be facilitated by the enabling of the Holy Spirit?  We must always remember the underlying purpose of God in Samson’s life – 13:5b; 14:4.  The means were not necessarily approved of, but they were used by God for his sovereign purposes.

            Samson returns to his father’s house “burning with anger.”  Consequently, his bride is given to his best man.  Now this was not uncommon – if the marriage had not been consummated, it was not considered fully legal.  Because the father didn’t want his daughter to be abandoned and publicly humiliated, he gave her to the best man.

            Samson initiated a foolish riddle and when he lost the game, he came unglued.  Yeah, the opposition cheated and played for keeps (we can understand the dilemma of his bride), but in his fury thirty men lost their lives.  And his desire for revenge cost him his wife.  How deep is your desire to get even when someone deceives you or gains something of yours by cheating?  It’s tough to not want to even up the score – that’s human justice.  But Jesus said in the SM, “if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have you cloak as well.” 

            The things we do that cater to our selfish desires (whims) can trigger a landslide of consequences.  Samson was looking for love in all the wrong places.  He had no business chasing after Philistine women; he had been “set apart” by God in the womb, and was to live his life under the Nazirite vow.  And all through this chapter we see him toying with the vows that were to separate him: touching and eating from a carcass; drinking wine, and demanding to marry a non-Israelite.  He was undisciplined and carnal.  These all flew in the face of God even as he squandered his mighty resources – the stirring and power of the Holy Spirit.

Turning our backs on God in pursuit of our selfish desires can unleash a landslide of undesirable consequences and heartbreak.  We are constantly tempted by the values of our culture to live only for the desires of our flesh.  But we will never find love or meaning in any of those places.

 

                                                                                                                                     

Sermon: Judges 15:1-20

On Foxtails and Jawbones

April 10, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            This morning we conclude the story that began in chapter 14 last Sunday with the attempted marriage between Samson and a Philistine woman who was “right in his eyes” (whole period of Judges).  While she may have looked good, the whole thing turned into a debacle which unleashed a series of events that looked more like a Hollywood movie.  The saga continues today as we continue to see the consequences of Samson’s desire escalate to almost epic proportions.  Again, there is not much that is pretty in today’s text – it’s not very flattering for Samson, for Israel, or for the Philistines.  It plays out as tit-for-tat cycles of growing violence and destruction and just plain old mayhem.  We seem to see Samson “missing the point” of his God-given calling and empowerment.  Instead of using his abilities for God’s purposes and for the deliverance of his nation, he resorts to using his power for his own selfish desires and vendettas.  What we see so clearly in today’s text is this: Acts of revenge nearly always lead to cycles of escalating responses.  Let’s turn now to the four “R’s” we can see in the story:

            First: Revenge – Always a questionable motive (1-8).  The theme of this section is clearly revealed in verses 3 and 7.  Samson is out to settle up the score.  After losing his riddle challenge to his “companions,” Samson in a rage pays up his debt and returns to his father’s home.  He has left the marriage celebration without consummating the marriage and his father-in-law assumes he no longer wants his bride – so unbeknownst to Samson he marries her off to the best man.

Sometime later (unknown), we pick up story at the time of the wheat harvest.  As Samson’s anger dissipates, he has a change of mind, and decides he wants his wife after all. With a young goat as a gift - apparently a young goat was the ancient equivalent to a dozen roses or a box of chocolates – he sets out for a conjugal visit.  But when he gets to the front door announcing he wants access to the woman’s bedroom, her father won’t let him in. He tells Samson that he was sure he was never coming back and had given his wife to “his friend.”  He quickly offers the woman’s sister, who is more beautiful, in order to pacify Samson.  Samson is not interested in the new offer, and he declares that this time he’s fully justified (innocent) in the harm he’s about to inflict on the Philistines (v.3). It is interesting that he doesn’t lay the blame on the father but is focused on the Philistines who cheated on the riddle.

Samson’s plan for getting even involved mass destruction of property.  In an act that was both ingenious and cunning, Samson somehow rounds up 300 foxes.  Can you imagine the just the logistics of that?  Many commentators suggest that these were actually jackals, which is from the same Hebrew word, because trapping that many foxes would require not only great amounts of time but also a great deal of territory since foxes hunt individually while jackals hunt in packs.  Even so it would require some skill to capture that many animals.  And tying their tails together with a torch between them would be no small feat either.  Letting them loose in crops that were ripe for harvest created wide spread losses and damage in the fields and the vineyards.  It was a devastating blow to the Philistine food supply.

When the Philistines found out the “who” of this destruction and the “why,” instead of seeking out Samson for payback, they ruthlessly attacked the easiest target – burning the woman and her father alive (ironic).  Samson fury turns to rage and he responds with a threat that he will not stop until he gets his full revenge for the atrocity.  He attacks the Philistines – single-handedly again – and viciously kills many of them, and then escapes to seek asylum in a cave.

What we see here is the escalation of violence that is ramped up with every engagement.  All this is the result of a personal vendetta by Samson, and a response in kind by the Philistines.  The whole story is a classic example of conflict escalation, fuelled by anger, pride, jealousy and fear. One wrong leads to another and the ante gets upped with every conflict.

One of the terrible things about the cycle of revenge is that it’s often difficult to stop, and when we get on the treadmill of personal revenge and retaliation, it becomes hard to get off.”  Evening up the score generally means that the bar gets raised with every additional act or encounter.  We often see this pattern as human relationships disintegrate, whether in marriage and the family, or in the board room, on the factory floor, between social groups and races, and even sometimes in the church of Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re in an escalating situation right now – if you are, you need to put a stop it as a follower of Jesus.  The cycles of revenge never end well.

Second: Rejection – The culture of compromise (vs. 9-13).  The Philistines rally an army and advance into the territory of Judah as a response to Samson’s attack.  The men of Judah come out and ask the reason for this deployment, and are told that they are seeking to capture Samson – “to do to him as he has done to us.”  In the spirit of accommodation and compromise, a contingent of 3000 men from Judah finds Samson in the cave and asks him, “What have you done to us?”  We’re subservient to the Philistines and we don’t want to rock the boat.  Samson states that he “merely did to them what they did to me,” but agrees to be tied up and delivered to the Philistines as long as his own countrymen don’t kill him. (All 3 parties concerned about what’s been done to them!)

Samson is rejected here by his own people.  They are only interested in pacifying the Philistines, and are more than willing to hand over Samson and bend to their demands.  What has happened to Judah?  The book of Judges opens with God saying that Judah would be first to go and conquer their land.  They were the only tribe that obediently drove the Canaanites out of their allotted land and they were the largest and most powerful of the tribes of Israel.  And yet we have heard virtually nothing about them since the very beginnings of Judges, and what we see in this story is a group of men sold out to compromise.  From their very own words, the men of Judah have become content to be ruled by the Philistines; they would prefer the status quo over upsetting the Philistines for any reason.  Their spiritual condition is shocking – complacency.

Here are a couple of significant things that stand out about these Judeans (Inrig):

- They had become thoroughly compromised to the spiritual status quo.  The men of Judah were angry with Samson that he had stirred up the Philistines and brought potential trouble to their peaceful and compromised existence.  What have you done to us?  We were quite content living under the fist of these idol-worshippers.  Life’s pretty good.  This illustrates that it is possible for believers to get to the place “where compromise is more comfortable than commitment to the calling of God.”  The Christian church of our day is ripe with compromise – in our core doctrines, in our biblical values, and to the morality of the surrounding culture.  Compromise is easier and much more comfortable – let’s water down our message to appease our culture.

-  Compromised people do the enemy’s work for them.  The men of Judah were fighting the battle of their conquerors.  Instead of defending Samson, they offer to go and capture him themselves. Samson is not only rejected by his own people, but endures the humiliation of their compromise.

Third: Ravage – The saga of Jawbone Hill (14-17).  What a tale of Spirit power?  As the Men of Judah lead Samson – bound with new ropes – out to the enemy, the blood-thirsty Philistines give up a shout.  The Spirit of the Lord rushes onto Samson with supernatural strength; his ropes snap like charred straw and with a fresh jawbone of a donkey ravages 1000 Philistine soldiers.  It must’ve been something to see! (jawbone breaks Nazirite vow)

You have to wonder why, with a force of 3000 men, that as the men of Judah witnessed this carnage, why they were not inspired by Samson to rise up and join him to throw off the Philistine dominance.  They had a clear opportunity to win their freedom, but fear and compromise kept them on the sidelines - sad indeed.

Samson likes poems, and he comes up with one after his great victory: “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them.  With a donkey’s jawbone, I have killed thousand men.”  (Hebrew word repeated: donkeys – sounds like heaps; I’ve piled them in heaps).  What is the issue with this poem?  Samson takes all the credit for this great feat – “I,” “I.”  “Samson breaks into a chant of self-praise that makes no mention of God.” (Comp Deborah – chp. 5).  After the rout, Samson tosses the jawbone away, and the place becomes known as “Jawbone Hill.”

Fourth: Refreshment – A divided heart (18-20).  For the first time we hear Samson pray and acknowledge God in his victory.  And if he would have stopped there, it would’ve been a great prayer of faith and of recognition of the Lord’s empowering.  However, what follows and the tone of his request reveals a divided heart – a curious mixture of faith with complaint.  “You’ve given me this great victory, are you now going let me die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?”  May/June timeframe in Israel means hot weather, and Samson has expended an enormous amount of energy – and he is very thirsty.  In another act of great mercy and grace, the Lord provides refreshment through a miraculous source of water.  The attitude is wrong, but God’s grace is bigger, and He always remains committed to his covenant promises.

Acts of revenge nearly always lead to cycles of escalating responses.  In matters of motivation, Samson is really no different from the Philistines.  He is motivated by revenge and retaliation and he commits heinous crimes in his anger.  The whole episode of this text seems to be nothing more that reprisals and counter-reprisals – the Judahites were not much better. The point is that God’s people were working according to the same principles and “exhibiting the same behaviour as the unbelieving, “uncircumcised” Philistines.  Is it possible that God’s people today might be doing the same thing?”

 

SERMON – JUDGES 16: 1-31   

Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places – Part Two (Why, Delilah?)

April 17, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            Several years after he had left the White House, former President Bill Clinton appeared on the CBS television program 60 Minutes in an interview with Dan Rather.  As they moved to the inevitable questions about his infamous dalliance with one-time White House intern Monica Lewinsky, an action that put his marriage, his presidency, and his legacy at risk, Rather asked, “The central question is why?”

            Clinton responded, “I think I did something for the worst possible reason – just because I could.  I think that’s just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything – when you do something just because you could.”  As one of Clinton’s close associates and advisors later reflected, “I am still mystified by the Clinton paradox.  How could a president so intelligent, so compassionate, so public-spirited and so conscious of his place in history act in such a stupid, selfish and self-destructive manner?”  A good question and a maybe a good question that we could all ask of ourselves for some of the choices we’ve made in life.

            As we finish up the story of Samson today, “just because I could” seems to be a fitting life motto for Samson.  The trouble is that such a standard leads to a dead end of self-destruction.  Samson seems driven by self-interest, self-gratification and selfish desire.  His supernatural strength gave him boldness and meant that he feared no-one, and that he could do pretty much what he wanted –“ because he could.”  He had power, just like the president of the United States, power to get what he wanted.   But all this power and privilege got him into trouble, and led to his ultimate undoing. This morning we see that: Playing with temptation inevitably leads us down a pathway to all the wrong places.   And a life lived in all the wrong places will end up in even worse places.  So as we turn to our text now we witness an ending of a sad tale.

            First: The downfall of Samson – playing with temptation (vs. 1-21).  This section is divided into two episodes that both involve Philistine women.  These episodes confirm Samson’s great strength and his weakness for women, particularly foreign women, and his propensity to toy with temptation.  He is a man with a pretty lusty eye and appetite, and as lust so often does, it leads to his downfall.  How many men (women) do you either know or have heard about who have had their lives, their marriages, their families, their careers destroyed because of sexual indiscretions?  It is epidemic in our culture today.

A. One night in Gaza: sex and strength (1-3).  While the account of Samson’s little tryst with a prostitute reveals another one of his incredible feats of strength, it also reveals his weakness for women and his sexual appetite.  This little episode is tucked in between the stories about the woman Samson wanted to marry and the woman he apparently “loved.”   Gaza was one of the five major cities of the Philistines, and for Samson to even go there was a pretty bold move.  The text says he “saw” there a prostitute (Timnah – lust of the eye) and paid to spend the night with her – another indication of his almost complete lack of regard for God’s law.  The people of Gaza knew well who Samson was and they were sure this was their chance to trap him in the city overnight and kill him in the first light of dawn.  But Samson gets up in the middle of the night, and when he sees the gates of the city locked up tight, he merely rips the gateposts out of the ground, and carries the whole assembly – gates, posts and crossbars – out of the city (how did the guards sleep through that?) and carries them maybe as far as twenty miles (2000 foot ascent).  These gates were massive and they were heavy – it was possibly Samson’s most incredible display of his superhuman strength.  Why he does this is unclear, while it is impressive it doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose – maybe just “because he could.”

            What was Samson doing in Gaza anyway?  It required a fair distance to be travelled, and so it certainly seems to suggest some intent – looking for love in all the wrong places?  Sex and strength – the strong man is a moral weakling.  (Quote:)  “This is the paradox.  The brave man who could strangle a lion cannot control himself. He can break the fetters with which his enemies bind him, but he ends up the prisoner of his own appetites.”

B. Four nights with Delilah: sex and seduction (4-21).  The story of Samson’s downfall through his relationship with Delilah is one of the best-known stories in the Bible.  It’s a blend of love, sex, violence and treachery that reads like a modern blockbuster – all the things we love to watch!  It’s also a pathetic story in many ways - it is built on revolving plots of deception and selfishness by both parties.  Samson wanted sex: Delilah wanted money and was willing to use sex in order to get it.  There are plenty of those kinds of scenarios going on in our world as well.

            Some time later we are told – not sure when – Samson meets and falls in love with Delilah.  She is from the Valley of Sorek, which is near to his home town.  The Philistine leaders hear of this relationship and approach Delilah with a proposition – they obviously had some foreknowledge that this woman could be bought.  They want her to lure (seduce) Samson into revealing the source of his great strength, in order to bind him up and “subdue” (afflict) him.  If she would be willing, they were prepared to offer her literally a fortune. (5 lords = 5500 shekels = 140 pounds of silver – millions).  The Philistines seem to think that the secret behind Samson’s strength is some kind of magic, and that some secret charm or material with magical properties would be the solution to their problem.

            Apparently it doesn’t take Delilah long to decide to come on board with the plan, and over four separate nights she attempts to get Samson to reveal the secret of his superhuman strength.  Since you probably are familiar with this story, I’m not going to go over the details of each attempt.  Suffice to say that each of the first three times, Samson deceived Delilah when telling her the secret of his strength.  This deception only served to have Delilah ramp up the pressure to discover his secret – it was worth a lot of money to her.  She complains that he is lying to her and has made her to look like a fool.  While Samson has been toying with her through his deception, he is also toying with temptation.

             The irony in all of this is that after three attempts, Samson seems oblivious to what is actually happening!  What is he thinking?  Was he really that stupid?  (quote: Inrig) “I may be slow, but it seems to me that if every time I told a secret and then woke up tied with thongs or ropes or with my hair woven to a loom, I might get a little bit suspicious that the other person may not have my best interest at heart!”  I guess sin and lust clouded Samson’s thinking.

            Finally, in desperation, Delilah turns to her most wily, feminine guilt trip – in the same way his wife had done (14:16), Delilah question his love for her. How can you say you love me and not confide in me?  She nags and presses him day after day until he is “tired to death” (sick, annoyed).  She has worn him down and so he tells her everything.  Instead of breaking off the relationship, he allowed it to break him.

            The secret was his hair.  While he had violated the other Nazirite vows, this one seemed the most important and he had kept it.  So Delilah calls back the Philistines one more time and as Samson sleeps on her lap, his hair is cut off and his strength and the Lord leave him – his Nazirite vow had come to an end (subdue: afflict, torment).  Samson must’ve been some kind of sound sleeper!  When Delilah’s call went out again that the Philistines were here, his strength was gone, he was seized and his eyes were gouged out.  He was shackled, taken to Gaza, where he turned a grain mill.

            We see in this section Samson playing with temptation and finally getting burned by it.  He was in a sinful relationship with no doubt a very beautiful woman who seduced him but didn’t love him.  Because they are both prisoners of themselves, they exploit each other in the name of a "love," which is no more than self-indulgent lust.  There are three principles about temptation that we can take from this section (Inrig):

1. “Moral compromise always makes us vulnerable.”  If Samson had not got himself tied up in this sinful relationship, he would not have been open to this temptation.  Anytime we make a compromise morally, we crack open the door to the desires of our flesh and the fiery darts of the Evil One.  It often takes on a more subtle form in our lives, like the things we read, the things we watch and the thoughts of our mind.  And the compromises will increase as we continue down that slope – whether it is tax evasion, theft, or pornography (Elaborate: flee, radical action).

2. “Temptation comes to us in attractive packages.”  I’m pretty sure that Delilah was no slouch when it came to beauty – and Samson was hooked by what he “saw.”  Sin never comes wrapped in something that is unattractive –there would be no temptation then.  That little lie could put a good sum of money in your pocket; the new lady at the office is a knock-out!  However, beauty is only skin deep, and what looks good on the outside doesn’t necessarily reveal what’s on the inside – any honest used car salesman can tell you that!  Samson found that out the hard way.

3. “Temptation comes when we choose the wrong company.”  I heard my mother say this many times, “Birds of a feather flock together.”  And as much as I didn’t like hearing it again, I knew there was truth to it.  When it came to women, Samson had a great capacity to choose the wrong kind.  His relationships with these women brought him much strife and eventually brought him down.  We need to be cautious with all our relationships, especially with unbelievers.  While we need to be in relationships with them, we must be always aware of who is influencing who.  We can get drawn away from Christ very quickly through the influence of wrong kinds of company.

            Second: The demise of Samson – crashing the party (vs. 22-31).  Samson finds himself in a sad state of affairs.  But verse 22 sets both an expectant and ominous tone.  As he was grinding at the mill, Samson’s hair began to grow again. 

            The rulers of the Philistines and their people gathered together for a great sacrifice and party to their god Dagon.  Dagon was considered a god of the grain, and Samson’s demise was thought to be Dagon’s retribution for the fiery destruction of their crops.  But Samson had not fallen into the Philistines hands because of their god Dagon, but because Samson’s sinfulness had caused the God of Israel to abandon him.

As the drunkenness and revelry increased they called for Samson to be brought out to entertain them.  The “entertainment” provided by Samson was probably connected to his blindness – such as putting obstacles in his way to strike or trip him, and then mocking him.  After his “performance,” you know the story.  Samson has his servant put him between the supporting columns of the temple, and with a prayer and one last show of God’s empowering strength; he brings the roof down on the entire assembly – killing thousands and him.

His prayer is revealing (28).  Many commentators suggest Samson made his peace with God and his final feat showed great faith in God – but there are differing opinions.  The prayer reveals mixed allegiances.  He is praying to the Lord; he acknowledges his strength comes from the Lord, but the last half of the prayer reveals a heart motivated by revenge.  It is an egocentric prayer – it is dominated by first-person pronouns occurring four times.  It’s about his revenge, his eyes, not the Lord’s honour and glory.  We see again a double-mindedness in Samson’s prayer – an element of faith along with a good dose of self-centeredness.  Revenge has been a theme that we have seen repeated in each of the last 3 judges: Gideon, Jephtheh, and Samson.

            Playing with temptation inevitably leads us down a pathway to all the wrong places.  This is certainly a statement that rings true in the life of Samson. He had everything going for him and the supernatural resources of the Holy Spirit to make it happen, but he became a man in pursuit of his own pleasure, and often it seems, “just because he could.”  He was preoccupied with himself and his own selfish desires, and he turned his back on God’s Law and his Nazirite vow with regularity.  Sexual purity was clearly not a concern to Samson, and his choices of looking in all the wrong places got him into continual trouble.  In the same way, playing with temptation will take us to all the wrong places – especially sexually.  We are called to flee, and God will help us with a way out – 1 Corinthians 13:10.

Where do we find God in the saga of this man’s life?  Was he pleased with his pursuits and heart of revenge? All these things are against God’s law and his nature.  So why did the Holy Spirit empower this guy?  We must read and interpret this story through the angel’s declaration for the purpose of Samson’s life: “he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (13: 5b).  Were God’s purposes served by Samson?  Yes they were.  Was God pleased with the life he led?  No he wasn’t.  But in God’s faithfulness to his covenant and in his grace for his people Israel he used this flawed vessel to drive back the Philistine domination.

This is not only the end of the Samson cycle; it is the conclusion of the cycle’s section of the whole book.  The decent has spiralled downward and the issues of character and morality have become increasingly flawed as we have looked at each one of these “deliverers.”  From Othneil, who was a model judge and married a model Israelite woman, all the way to Samson who repeatedly violated his Nazirite vows, chased after foreign women and never married any of them.  It is a sad commentary of the people of God during those times – and there is much to identify with in the times we live in today – everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

 

SERMON - ISAIAH 40: 1-11

Voices of Comfort

May 1, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

Have you ever received some bad news that made your heart sink? Have you ever had to swallow the bitter pill of consequences for some of your behavior? We probably have all experienced receiving some bad news to one degree or another. Sometimes the news is of a very serious nature and we are at a loss at how to respond. Sometimes the bad news comes as a result of own our sinful ways and we now have to face the consequences. When our world begins to crumble around us, where do we turn?

In chapter 39 of Isaiah, King Hezekiah and the nation of Israel received some very bad news. Israel would be invaded by the Babylonians who would destroy Jerusalem and many of the people would be killed or carried off as captives. The consequences of the nation's sin would be realized in a terrible fashion. But after these words of judgment come words of comfort. The Lord had not forgotten his people and he would come and save them. In today's text we have a message of comfort from the Lord. We all have times in our lives when we need and seek comfort. When bad news comes and bad things happen we need to seek our heavenly Father who comes as our source of true comfort.

Let’s briefly set the context. Chapter 39 closes with the prophecy of coming judgment. Suddenly, with the beginning of chapter 40 the message moves from one of judgment to one of comfort. Not only does the message dramatically change, so does the time – there’s a leap of some 150 years between these chapters (no break). The judgment declared in chapter 39 is nearly fulfilled and the scene switches into the future to the captives in Babylon who are now nearing the end of their exile and are receiving a message of comfort from God. What is happening here is what is known as “prophetic perfect”, where the prophet speaks of future events as if they were a present reality – the use of present tense while referring to future events. It was message of comfort:

First: Comfort Announced! (vs.1-2) “Comfort, comfort,” God’s voice is heard calling out a message of comfort. In Hebrew, the repetition of a word is used when deep emotion is meant to be conveyed. It reveals here the heart of God for his people – though they were judged severely he still calls them his own. “Speak tenderly” literally means to speak from the heart, in the same sense of a young man who is trying to woo his girl. Proclaim to Jerusalem that her hard service (military term: warfare) is over; her sin paid for by what she has received from the Lord's hand. The hard times of the Babylonian exiles are almost over and the amends for their sin have reached their time of fulfillment. Notice the pattern here: Bad news is given, judgment is executed, but when the penalty is served, God comes with a message of comfort and forgiveness for his people.

Comfort announced; forgiveness extended; tender speech. Today we, the church, the people of God, enjoy the perfect fulfillment of this comfort and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Yet, in a sense, we too live in a type of exile while we wait for the coming of Jesus in his glory. Our exile is not one of punishment, but one of waiting and patient endurance. The apostle Peter says we are “strangers in this world,” sojourners traveling to a better place. Yet we find comfort because we have received God's great mercy in Christ. Our comfort was announced to the young girl who bore our Savior; he then took our judgment and paid the price for our sin.

Second: Comfort in God’s Revealed Glory. (vs. 3-5) Verse 3 introduces the first of three voices – who are God’s messengers. The voice is calling in the desert to prepare a way for the Lord. To “prepare” brings the idea of the removal of obstructions. Make a straight highway, raise the valleys, bring low the hills, make the rough places level – make smooth travel for the approach of the visiting King. In the ancient world, a visit of royalty included all manner of elaborate preparations. Think also of the preparations that go into any royal visit in this country. Anywhere the Queen goes is meticulously planned and every route and road are repaired and secured for her motorcade. The call is to prepare a way through the desert for the King, because God is coming to rescue his people and take them back to their land. Through this His glory would be revealed to all “mankind.” (There is comfort in his deliverance)

The gospels identify this voice as John the Baptist – now a new and greater fulfillment of the prophecy. He called the people to prepare their hearts for the coming Kingdom of God and his Messiah. The glory of the Lord was revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – he was the essence of God's glory. God's comfort comes in his revealed glory – to us, through his Son, who is “the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb. 1:3), and who is coming again in power and glory to establish his kingdom of righteousness. The question for us this morning is, “Are we making preparations for his coming?” “The faithful among people prepare his way and make straight his highway when they yield to him their complete loyalty.” There you will find comfort in his glory.

Third: Comfort in God's Enduring Word (vs. 6-8). A second voice calls, “Cry out!” Isaiah responds, “What shall I cry?” Tell them that men are like grass and flowers, here today gone tomorrow. There is no permanence to life on earth – we are but a flash in the pan – like petals on a flower. I like flowers – I love their color and beauty, but sometimes they seem so transient. You carefully plant, and nurture, and wait and wait until they finally bloom and then it’s all over – die or frost. Humans with their highest devotion and ambitions are really like grass and flowers; the breath of God blows on them and their done.

In contrast to the fading nature of humanity we have the enduring nature of God's Word. While grass withers and flowers fall, the word of our God stands forever. God is the only enduring reality in a constantly changing world. While humanity in general does not like to be reminded of their frailty, those of us who believe in the eternal nature of God's Word can gain great comfort from it. His Word, his revelations, and his promises provide us with a solid foundation amid the shifting sands of time. Remember Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away but his words will remain. To gain comfort from God's enduring Word requires us to be in his Word and to know it. Are you regularly feeding on his word? Spiritual life flows out of inspired scripture. There is just really no alternative and it is the primary means by which we can receive his comfort.

Fourth: Comfort in Good News (vs.9). When our children leave our place to return to their homes, we ask them to let us know when they arrive. We find great comfort in receiving the good news that they have arrived safely – I’m sure that you have all experienced something familiar. It also reminds me of the scenes of great relief and rejoicing when the good news of the end of the World War’s was announced.

The translation of verse 9 is difficult. The NIV suggests a messenger brings the good tidings to Zion and Jerusalem, other translations (I prefer) interpret that Zion and Jerusalem themselves are the messengers. They are called to go to a high place where the third voice shouts out loud to the surrounding towns that they shouldn’t fear because there is good tidings, “Here is your God!” Your God is coming!

How fitting that the word “gospel” literally means “good news!” What message can provide more comfort than that of salvation through Jesus Christ? It is the message of reconciliation between God and humanity, and it is why we exist as a church and as a fellowship of believers. There is certainly is comfort in good news – God has come and rescued us.

Fifth: Comfort in God's Arms (vs. 10-11). Verses 10 and 11 both speak beautifully of God's arms, and are illustrated for us through two images - the Warrior and the Shepherd. In verse ten God comes as a warrior in power, who comes with a ruling arm. Here is a picture of a triumphant warrior coming to save and to bring rewards. To the exiles this comforting message revealed that God's sure power would bring about their release and they would return to Jerusalem as his spoils of battle. To us it is a reminder that when Jesus returns, he will come as a mighty warrior sitting on a white war horse leading the armies of heaven. He will come as judge and establish the rule of his kingdom. He will come to save his people.

Verse 11 brings about an abrupt change and a contrasting image – from a warrior to a shepherd. Isn't this a beautiful image of God? (verbs: tends, gathers, carries, leads) He cares for his flock, and gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. Notice the change in the image of the arms. His arms go from strong, ruling arms to gentle arms that gather his people. When Jesus came to earth the first time he came as a gathering and leading shepherd - “I am the good shepherd.” And as the good shepherd he laid down his life for his sheep.

There is a perfect balance between strength and tenderness here. Our God is a warrior and he is a shepherd. His arm is powerful; his arm is gentle. Can you find comfort in his strong arms –that protect, deliver? His ruling arm tells us that he will come again as a conqueror to gather his people. His power assures that nothing can thwart those plans. He will come with his reward for each believer – life eternal. There is also comfort in God's power and sovereignty in knowing that he knows about everything we experience. Even when life on earth gets difficult it does not mean that things are out of control in heaven. Whatever we experience he has allowed.

Can you find comfort in his gentle and gathering arms? The shepherd image reveals the character of the heart of our God. He loves mercy and he loves to care for his children. If you are in need of comfort this morning imagine his arms around you holding you close to his heart. He is willing to pick you up and carry you through life's storms.

When bad news comes and bad things happen we need to seek our heavenly Father who comes as our source of true comfort. God announced his message of comfort to the exiles and he has announced his comfort to us in the person of Jesus. There is comfort in his revealed glory – he has/will come and deliver you. There is comfort in his Word – it endures forever and it is life to us who believe. Ask God to give you a hunger for scripture, and that you will delight in its message – the message of “good news! And finally, there is wonderful comfort in his strong arms. He is a warrior and he is our gentle shepherd – our source of comfort.

 

SERMON – JUDGES 17 & 18

Sowing to Idolatry Reaps a Harvest of Sin

May 8, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

Introductory material: outline and context.

As I had talked about way back in the introduction to the book of Judges, we live in a world today - especially in our western culture – that has for the most part turned its back on God. The culture by and large rejects the idea of absolute truth, and consequently we do pretty much whatever feels good – or whatever seems right in our own eyes (experience - subjective truth). Sound familiar? The message of Judges is as current as today’s newspaper. We have become a culture whose foundational ethic has become – “everyone does what seems right in their own eyes.” Judges paints for us a picture of the consequences of that ethic during the period of the judges in ancient Israel and it is not a very pretty picture. (Quote:) “These closing chapters are actually very dark indeed. They show the depths to which even God’s covenant people can sink when once they begin to disobey his instructions and trample his grace and mercy under their feet.” What we see in the events of these two chapters today is this: As we ignore the Word of God, we quickly find ourselves on the pathway of escalating spiritual compromise.” What began as one man’s foolish disobedience eventually results in the whole scale idolatry of an entire tribe of Israel.

First: The sin of self-made religion (vs. 1-6). The spiritual adultery of pursuing others nation’s gods and worshiping their idols was apparently not enough for one Israelite man, he decided to make his own religion and idols. Micah’s story starts off on the wrong foot. Apparently, his mother had a fairly large sum of silver which disappeared (1100 shek; Delilah). In her anger she uttered a curse, within the hearing of Micah, on the thief. The curse shook him up enough that he returned the money to his mother and confessed his guilt. Surprisingly, his mother responds with a blessing: “The Lord bless you, my son!” “My son may be a thief, but at least he’s an honest one!” She may have also been trying to counteract her earlier curse.

The mother then “solemnly consecrates” the silver to the Lord for her son to make a graven image (carved; wood or stone) and a cast idol (poured metal). However, the mother seems to have a heart of a thief also, because she only gives two hundred shekels to the silversmith. What happened to the other nine hundred? Did she not consecrate it all to the Lord? When the idols are fashioned, they are put in Micah’s house where he had erected a shrine – complete with an ephod, some other household idols, and had installed his son as a priest. All of these things were an abomination to the Lord – a blatant disregard of the Lord’s commands. Let’s just make a list of the issues of disobedience presented in these few verses:

- Micah was a thief – stole a large sum of money from his own mother. (Dishonouring parents)

-Micah and his mother collaborate in making an image and an idol with silver consecrated to the Lord. This is a clear violation of the second commandment (Ex. 20:4 – make yourself no idols)

- Micah had made a shrine – a place of worship – Deut. 12 says that worship of God could only happen in the place that he designated. Micah had also fashioned an ephod (like Gideon) – something that only priests could wear and only when serving at the temple.

- Micah had installed (consecrated) one of his own sons as a priest. Only Levite men from the line of Aaron could serve as priests.

It’s easy to see why the author of Judges includes his assessment of the situation in verse 6: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (what is right in his own eyes). Micah proved to be a classic example of that philosophy and attitude; he ignored the Word of God. God had clearly laid out in Deuteronomy 12 the proper means and place for acceptable worship. And it is interesting that this story takes place in the hills of Ephraim, not that far from Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord stood – so Micah had no excuse in terms of distance.

How do we fashion our own idols? One way is how we view God. We like to make him as we want him to be, rather than who the Bible reveals him to be. We like to think of God as a great doting grandfather; we would rather not see him as a holy God who will judge his people. But is that how the scriptures present God? Is He nothing more than a cosmic marshmallow?

It is easy to see the idols of our culture – money, power, sex, sports, and all the toys of our society. But what about the things even in our Christian culture than can become idols? Religious idols can become the most dangerous of all. Your marriage can become an idol; your family can become an idol – this is an issue in the evangelical world. Even the success of our church can become an idol, or our service for the Lord, our financial generosity, our biblical knowledge, or our spiritual gifts. These, of course, are all good things in and of themselves – but if they become the priority of our lives – if they push God to the side or puff us up with pride, they lead us into the sin of idolatry. Where does God not have first place in your life today?

Second: The attempt of legitimacy (vs. 7-13). So often when we have idols in our lives we’ll try to find something spiritual that would help us legitimize them - this was true of Micah. While the statement about everyone doing what was right in their own eyes served as the author’s assessment of Micah’s shrine, it also serves to set up the next episode of the story. There was a young Levite who had been living in Bethlehem who left that town in search of something different or better. Now Levites were the tribe of Israel that were specially set apart to serve the Lord. They were given no inheritance of land, but were given designated cities to live in by God. Bethlehem was not one of those cities, so this young man was already living in disobedience. On his journey, he finds himself at Micah’s house. When Micah finds out that he is a Levite and is looking for somewhere to live, he sees a golden opportunity and seizes it. He offers the Levite to be his “father and priest,” and he would provide him with a salary and room and board. The Levite, who himself is a self-serving opportunist – as we shall see – willingly accepts the offer. So Micah installs (consecrates) the Levite as his priest – ah, now he has respectability! Notice his words in verse 13 (read). Now he fools himself into thinking that this Levite would provide legitimacy and prestige to his shrine. All will go well with me; the Lord will cause me to prosper because now I have a Levite as my priest (Idolatry, wrong place, wrong priest). All this did was provide a veneer of worship of the Lord over raw paganism.

This is so typical of the many forms of syncretistic religion that we see today. Take a little of this religion, a little of that, add little of Jesus and we create our own religion. The little bit of Jesus helps to provide some legitimacy to our beliefs. This is not biblical Christianity; this is not biblical faith. Jesus does not share your allegiance with other gods or idols! Are there ways that you have attempted to add a little Jesus in order to legitimize your idols?

Third: The desire to take the easy way out (18: 1-10 read). As the author continues the escalating story of Micah’s idols, he once again reminds his readers that these were the days where there was no king (human; divine? A king would bring a centre of authority to the nation). The chapter tells the story surrounding the events that bring about the migration of the tribe of Dan. The Danites, like every other tribe of Israel, had been allotted a portion of land in Canaan. However, according to 1:34-35, the Danites couldn’t drive out the Amorites from their allotment, and were forced back into the hill country. Consequently, the tribe of Dan had no inheritance and desired to move. This desire to move revealed their disobedience and lack of faith in the Lord who had allotted them their original territory – and who had promised to drive out the Canaanites. So rather than trusting in the Lord and rallying against the Canaanites, the Danites look for an easier way out – which leads them to the encounter with Micah and his shrine.

They first send out five spies to explore the land (from Zorah) – looking for potential sites. On their journey, they stumble across Micah’s house and spend the night. They are surprised to find the Levite there and inquire about what he’s doing. When they find out he is functioning as a priest, the spies ask him to enquire of God in regards to the success of their venture. The Levite gives them the green light “from the Lord.” The spies’ journey a hundred miles north and find a city and a people that are peaceful and unsuspecting with no close allies – look like easy pickings! So back to the Danite tribe with the message of “let’s go,” and take this good land “that God has put into your hands.” So 600 warriors set out for the city of Laish, and they again come to Micah’s house. The five spies remember the priest and Micah’s shrine and stop by with a plan. With the 6oo soldiers at the gate, the spies walk in and help themselves to all the idols and the ephod. At first the young priest tries to resist them, but when they make him a better offer, this opportunistic priest jumps ship in a heartbeat. The offer is appealing, “Wouldn’t you rather be the priest of a whole tribe than merely one household?” “Then the priest was glad” and he was out of there! There is an old story about a preacher who had received a call from a larger church. But was it God’s will? Somebody from his present smaller church called to talk about it, and the pastor’s little girl met him at the door. “Where are your mom and dad?” “Oh, Dad’s upstairs praying about the move, and mom’s downstairs packing!”

The Danites were a tribe in spiritual trouble; they should’ve destroyed the shrine of Micah in the name of the Lord instead of stealing its fixtures. When Micah finds out what has happened, he gathers up some neighbours and goes after the Danites, demanding his gods and his priest be returned. It became quickly apparent that he was no match for their warriors and he retreated when they threatened him. Micah, who was portrayed as a thief, is himself the victim of theft. What goes around comes around. What kind of religion has a god that can be manufactured and then stolen? “Imagine being able to steal a religion – gods, priest, and all!” Imagine risking your life to defend a god that cannot defend himself. These were pathetic times.

(Read 27-31) The Danites with their religion in tow move north and attack the unsuspecting and peaceful city of Laish. (3X author points this out). They are an easy target because they are relatively isolated and have no close allies. After rebuilding the city and settling down, they set up their idols and shrine – an abomination to the God of Israel. Only now is the identity of the young Levite given – Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses. He is a descendant of Moses, maybe even as close as a grandson. He turned his back on the Word of God, and fell deeply into spiritual compromise. You may have a great legacy of faith, generations of believers, but you and I need to give God our hearts, our obedience.

Verse 31 sums up the whole affair precisely. “They continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.” This story reveals the sordid tale of how one man’s/families syncretistic worship eventually resulted in the idolatry of an entire tribe. On the surface, the migration of Dan looks like a success story, but it was spiritual suicide. The bent to idolatry never left Dan. When the kingdom of Israel split after Solomon’s death, the northern king Jeroboam established two golden calves and said to the people, “Behold your gods, O Israel.” One of those calves was placed in Dan – a stumbling block for the whole nation. The legacy of idolatry has devastating results. In the list of the tribes of Israel in 1 Chronicles 3-7, the tribe of Dan is absent. In the list of tribes in Revelation 7, Dan does not appear. It seems that they have been erased from the future blessings of God to Israel.

As we ignore the Word of God, we quickly find ourselves on the pathway of escalating spiritual compromise.” The Danites took the easy street – turned their backs on God’s Word, became disobedient and turned to idols. How often do we choose the easy path? We love our comfort and our ease, but they can so easily become idols in themselves. We like a no-cost discipleship – an easy believism – where all the blessings of God are ours with little to no cost to us. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The Christian life is not easy street, that’s the pathway of idolatry that leads to compromise and destruction. (Narrow and wide gate) What might be some ways that you are compromising God’s Word in your life?

 

                                                                        SERMON - JUDGES 19-21                                        

The Mess of Immorality

May 15, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            This morning we have before us what is probably the most grisly and disturbing story in the whole Bible.  There is really nothing that is “good” in it; however it is in the Word of God for a purpose, and the scriptures never shy away from telling things like they are.  Sin is not glossed over nor is it sanitized.  The nation of Israel during the period of the Judges has hit rock bottom, and we have watched its descent during our journey thorough this OT book.  I told you at the outset that this would not be a feel-good kind of series, that there would be things here that would shock/disturb you, and today you could say we’ve found the bottom of the pit.  The theme of today’s message could be the theme of the entire book: When the Lord is rejected as king, the morality of his people crashes.  Today we have three chapters; three points; three R’s:

            First: Rape – murder (Chp. 19) – When people lose their moral centre/authority, they soon adopt a culture of sexual license, which in turn quickly descends into moral collapse.  We have in this chapter a story of horrific proportion, and it begins with a familiar refrain – “In those days Israel had no king.”  We also have a story of another Levite – one of three links to last week’s episode (Hills of Ephraim, Bethlehem).  This Levite had a concubine who was unfaithful (angry) to him and returned to her father’s place in Bethlehem.  After four months, the Levite has a change of heart and travels to Bethlehem to woo her back.  Her father welcomes him with open arms and lavishes on him a party of feasting for four and half days.  Finally on the afternoon of the fifth day of this excessive hospitality, the Levite takes his concubine and leaves for home.  Since it is late in the day, they don’t get too far.  While the Levite’s servant wants to stay in Jerusalem, the Levite refuses because it’s a “foreign” city.  He would rather go on to Gibeah – a town belonging to the Benjaminites and presumably safer – a decision that turns out to be oh so fatally wrong – and highly ironic! 

            It was customary for travellers to enter the town square and wait for an invitation to spend the night as someone’s house – it was the ancient code of hospitality.  However, there are no offers – an ominous sign – until an old farmer comes home late that evening.  He approaches the travellers to question their situation and offers them his home – “Only,” he says, “don’t spend the night in the square.”  The Levite gratefully accepts the invitation, and after getting refreshed and fed, things suddenly turn very sordid.  Some wicked men (sons of Belial) of the city surround the house and start pounding on the doors.  They wanted the man who the farmer was hosting to be brought out so they can have sex with him – obviously, these are homosexuals – or at least bisexuals – this is clearly the insinuation here. While the old man recognizes this as disgraceful/vile, he instead offers his virgin daughter and his guest’s concubine to this mob.

How could he do that – his own daughter and his guest’s concubine?  (read vs. 23-24)  Look I want to tell you something - “If someone came to my door when my daughters were home, the only way they would’ve ever touched them would’ve been over my dead body!”  This story virtually parallels the story of Lot and the angels in Genesis 19:4-8.  How could these men make this offer of their daughters?   Somehow in those days the place of a woman was often very low – they were sadly treated like commodities – however, it was disgraceful to molest a man.  The old farmer, who initially appears to be the model host ends up being the one with the idea of volunteering his guest’s concubine to the lustful mob (unimaginable) – but the Levite himself, is the one who pushes her out the door.  She is raped and brutalized all through the night and left for dead on the step in the morning.  The callousness of this Levite man is seen in the fact that he went to bed and slept through the night and almost tripped over his concubine on the way out the door in the morning – telling her to “get up; let’s go.”  Sickening – the woman is abused to death.

The Levite, while looking for revenge, continues his callous disrespect for this woman by dismembering her body and then sending the parts throughout the tribes of Israel.  This savage act does produce its intended response – “such a thing has never been seen or done ... in Israel.”

This is such a horrific story.  You are probably feeling a little sick to your stomach because of this woman’s plight, but you’re probably feeling a little anger as well – towards the mob of rapists and her callous husband.  Sexual license leads to sexual depravity – it’s all round us today – child pornography, sex trafficking, wife swapping, gang rape, date rape, even the sense of entitlement that I have the right to have sex whenever I want it – even if I have to drug my partner/victim.  There is also a link between sexual license and violence, revealed in the growing fascination with sadomasochism portrayed in the book/move Shades of Grey.  When the good gift of sex is removed from the parameters set by God, it can very soon get ugly and debased.

Homosexuality – I don’t have the time to get into this today, but let me say just two things.  First, we see this morning that homosexuality is nothing new.  Second, I have not found one instance in the Bible where homosexuality is painted in a positive light.  And yet, the church (even evangelical), seems to be plunging headlong into the affirmation of the gay lifestyle – too many are confusing compassion with affirmation (NIVAC comment; Michael Coren).  I do need to make it very clear that homosexuality was not the only immoral part in this story: gang rape, murder, Levite’s forcing concubine out the door, the farmer’s daughter, dismemberment.

Second: Revenge (chp. 20) – When the heart is set on revenge, the retribution can be taken to extremes.  The distribution of the body parts strikes a nerve in the Israelite nation, and all the tribes assemble before the Lord – producing a fighting force of 400,000 men.  The Levite is called to testify as a sole witness, and while is testimony is basically true, he skews the story somewhat in order to protect himself.  He claims that men of Gibeah were out to kill him and that they raped his concubine leaving her for dead.  He does not acknowledge his own guilt in forcing his concubine out the door, and stresses only the threat to himself.  The Israelites are united in rising up to bring about justice and mobilize their army.  There are a couple of problems here; the Israelites are so bent on revenge that they overlook due process.  In a situation with so much at stake, they only hear from one witness.  They also don’t do their own investigation and try more diplomatic means in approaching the Benjaminites.  They go in demanding the Benjaminites hand over the perpetrators to be put to death.  The Benjaminites take this as a threat to their whole tribe and refuse to hand the men over – there is no recognition of guilt and so the war is on!  The Benjaminites rally an army of 26,700 men – including 700 expert marksmen with slings. 

At the initial assembly, the Israelites had already decided what they were going to do – “give them what they deserve for all this vileness done in Israel.”  So on the eve of the first battle, they go before the Lord and ask Him, “Who should go first?”  Notice they don’t ask of the Lord what they should do or if they should – they’ve already decided that on their own.  While their action can be justified in principle, they haven’t inquired of the Lord.  All the Lord responds is that Judah should go first – no promise of victory.  At the first battle they are soundly defeated by a much smaller army (slings?); they rally their spirits and this time get the Lord’s permission but again are trounced – a total loss of 40,000 men in two battles.  Why did the Lord tell them to go ahead and then allow them to be massacred?  That’s a hard question.

Before the third and final battle, the Israelites humble themselves and go before the Lord with fasting and tears.  This time the Lord promises victory, the Benjaminites must be punished for this evil. This time they set an ambush that fools the Benjaminites and they rout their brothers and set the city on fire.  25,100 Benjaminite men were killed that day – 600 escaped to the desert.  Verse 48 recounts the bone-chilling, cold-blooded details of the systematic mass slaughter of the women, children and animals of the Benjaminite tribe – the virtual annihilation of an entire tribe.

The losses for the Israelites in the first two battles were possibly because of their motivation – revenge, and because they had not sought the Lord’s counsel from the beginning.  On the other hand, the offenses of the Benjaminites did not warrant the treatment they received.  The price for revenge; the price for harbouring wickedness in the camp became huge.

When the heart is set on revenge, the retribution can be taken to extremes.  There is no restriction on revenge here since the punishment inflicted on the Benjaminites clearly outweighs the crime.  While God allowed for their punishment, the Israelites got carried away in the heat of the battle and the thrill of victory.  They had initially wanted revenge for the atrocity that took place in Gibeah, but now they were out to also revenge the loss of 40,030 of their soldiers. Ugly!

We have seen this theme of revenge come up often in Judges: in the lives of Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, and have seen how it can so easily escalate and become excessive – in this story it is excessive to the extreme.  There is such a danger latent in our desire for revenge.  We are called to let it go, to forgive, and let the Lord repay – he is perfectly just, we are not!

Another application of this story has to do with the Benjaminites refusal to deal with the sin in their camp.  They should’ve dealt with the perpetrators of this horrible incident – but it seems the Benjaminites had become thoroughly Canaanized.  How often do we let blood relations cloud our vision regarding righteousness?  Sin is allowed to continue in the family just because they are family.  God’s holiness and his laws are far greater than our family allegiances.  Our little Johnny who is terrorizing the teacher at school should not be defended by his parents.

Third: Remorse (chp, 21) – When vows are made in the heat of the moment, they can lead to deep regret and greater sin.  Folks, it doesn’t get any better, we move from the repulsive to the bizarre.  When Israel assembled together, they made three vows.  First, they vowed they would not go home until the atrocity was dealt with and the evil purged.  Second, no one would give his daughter in marriage to a Benjaminite.  Third, any among the tribes who failed to assemble before the Lord would be put to death.  While these vows sound honourable, they were in fact foolish.

After some reflection on what had just transpired, the Israelites suddenly have a change of heart and begin to mourn the fact that they have virtually annihilated an entire tribe – and not only that, their vows regarding their daughters have eliminated the opportunity to rebuild the tribe through the 600 survivors.  They come before the Lord weeping and offering burnt sacrifices – even, it seems, laying the blame at the Lord’s feet – “Why has this happened to Israel?” – Code words for why did you allow this to happen?  How can we provide wives for our brothers?  Notice, the Lord is silent – so when everyone does what is right in their own eyes, they come up with a plan.  Who didn’t come to the assembly?  After they do a count, it is recognized that no one came from Jabesh Gilead.  Here’s our answer – send the army to that city and apply the herem to them – total destruction of everyone – but save the virgins for the Benjaminites.  Here is one of the saddest ironies of this book ( herem: set apart for total destruction, annihilation – an act of devotion to the Lord).  The application of the herem was commanded by God in the book of Joshua and the beginning of Judges.  The Israelites were to “totally destroy” the Canaanites – men, women, children and animals and they invariably failed to do so.  And yet, horrifically, against their own people, the herem “is executed with a determination and a thoroughness surpassing anything evidenced in Israel’s wars with the Canaanites elsewhere in Judges.”  This was true against Benjamin and now against the city of Jabesh Gilead.  Why would they be willing to annihilate each other and not the Canaanites?  It seems almost incredible that they could try to remedy the effects of one massacre of their own people by another, but that is where sin always leads.

The slaughter of Jabesh Gilead yielded 400 virgins who were given to the surviving Benjaminites as a peace offering.  But that left them 200 short! (The Lord made a gap?) Another scheme soon emerges.  There’s a festival to the Lord soon in Shiloh, so the Benjaminites should hide in the vineyards and when the young girls come out to dance they can run out and seize (pounce) one of the girls and take them back to their land.  In this way, the families will not be giving their virgins to the Benjaminites – they were abducted.  While this made this legally justifiable, it was morally reprehensible. And here’s another irony – what began as an effort to avenge the rape and murder of one woman ends with the forcible abduction – which amounts to the sanctioned rape - of 600 young virgins. Can you imagine the emotional pain for those young girls?  However, they eventually contributed to the restoration of the tribe of Benjamin.

The making of vows is discouraged in the NT – Jesus says it’s not a good idea.  Vows made in the heat of the moment can get us into difficult situations and remorse.  We saw this with Jephthah and his daughter and we see it here.  However, there was provision in the Law of Moses for those who made rash vows – why didn’t the Israelites make use of that provision?  It seems that pride will lead us to fulfilling our vows, no matter the cost, instead of humbling ourselves, admitting we made a foolish mistake and doing what is necessary to get us released from that vow.

This story traces the process by which a family problem escalates into a national catastrophe; it was a mess of immorality, and yet the way the book ends is anticlimactic.  The Israelites go home to their tribes and get on with their lives.  But the author gets in the last word – his take on the whole affair – “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  I think in some ways there is collective sigh of relief that it’s over, and I think that the author designed it that way.  Through the whole book we have watched this ever-widening descent into sin and now that the lowest of lows has been reached, we are done.

It is not a pretty ending and it’s not a pretty book.  But its message is clear.  Judges comes to us as a solemn warning of the seriousness of sin.  When we reject the Lord as King, when we turn away from his Word and his laws and we do what is right in our own eyes, the outcome is tragic – the morality of his people crash.  We see this clearly in our surrounding culture and we are seeing it among God’s people – the church.  “The church is always facing the pressures of the world, which is trying to squeeze it into the culture’s mould.”   The ongoing threat to Israel was the adoption of the Canaanite practices and culture; the threat of the contemporary church is the accommodation of the practices and values of our surrounding culture – and it is happening at an alarming rate.  We have come to think that we can have all of what the culture has to offer and eternal life too – we are sadly mistaken.  God still takes sin seriously and we better too. 

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...”  (Heb. 12: 1-2)

 

 Sermon: Hebrews 12:1-3

   Go the Distance

June 5, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

                                                                                 

            OK, I lied.  At the end of my last sermon on Judges I said we were through.  However, you may also remember that as I concluded the message, I had said that I kind of regretted using so much text and not having more time for some concluding thoughts about the book.  I did think it would’ve been good to have an overall review of the book and be reminded of some of its key themes.  However, I’m not going to use this morning as a concluding message specifically, but I am going to use some of the book’s characters to segue into today’s text.

            After finishing the series on Judges, it occurred to me later on in the week, that in the short conclusion I had missed something very important – that being the NT perspective of the some of the judges.  And that led me to the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews - (Hall of Faith) – the only place where any of the Judges are mentioned on the NT.  In this chapter, the author recounts the faith of many of the great people of the OT all the way back to Abel.  By verse 32, he is exhausted at recounting all these stories, and merely begins to list some OT characters, and low and behold, what do we see?  He writes: “And what more can I say?  I do not have the time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah...who through faith...conquered kingdoms, whose weakness was turned to strength; and became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”  The NT perspective is very interesting here and somewhat perplexing.  We have seen that the author of the book of Judges did not paint these men in a very positive light, and yet here they are being commended for their faith.  There is more about their character failures than their faith in Judges.  So why are they commended here?  In each of these men was a measure of faith – at least what God could see.  Each of them battled against overwhelming odds, so that, humanly speaking; there was little chance of victory.  They did need to exercise faith to enter into battle.  One commentator suggests that: “The inclusion of such figures as Samson and Jephthah is a reminder that living faith can co-exist with massive imperfection” (cautious).  I just wanted to bring this before you so you know that the NT’s take on these men is not as negative as what you may have been left thinking as we journeyed through Judges – the author of Hebrews sees very clearly that despite their imperfections, they were used by God.

            The 11th chapter of Hebrews is an amazing list of the great deeds of those who had faith, however, it ends recounting the faith of those who suffered greatly because of their faith.  Both those who were delivered and those who suffered are commended.  Even though the OT people did not receive what was promised, they still walked in great faith.  And with the backdrop of all of these great examples of faith in history – including, surprisingly, a number of the judges, the author of Hebrews turns now to his immediate readers in chapter 12.

            To make his point, the author of Hebrews makes use of a common analogy in the ancient world – that of a race.  He pictures a great outdoor stadium where a great crowd is assembled to watch the race and cheer on the participants.  This “cloud of witnesses” are those who through faith have gone before and have completed their course, and now stand as models and witnesses to the Christians who come after them.  From this text today, we see that: The Christian life is a race which requires endurance and a commitment to go the distance.  In a culture that “does what is right in their own eyes”, the Christian life becomes an antithesis – a race to be run that goes the opposite direction and embraces what others consider foolishness.  These 3 verses in Hebrews 12 are about running a race (grammatical structure).  While they are a call to join in the race, they primarily answer the question of how we are to run this race.

            First: Run with freedom – “Some things in life must be rejected if we are to run effectively.”  The writer says: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  If you are entering a race, you want to rid yourself of everything that may slow you down.  The Greek word translated here as “hinders” often carries with it the idea of weight – so could refer to anything that weighs us down – encumbrances or even distractions.  It could refer to the Greek custom of stripping off clothes to run unencumbered.  Runners want to be careful not to wear clothing that fits too tightly and inhibits their movement.  Another sense of the word can be understood as a reference to excess body weight/fat.  It’s obvious that too much weight is a great hindrance to a runner, and can “hinder” the chances of crossing the finish line. 

There are many distractions in life that can act as hindrances to our running - the demands on our time – too many irons on the fire, our hobbies, our possessions, our misdirected goal and desires, and our Facebook, and Twitter accounts.  Whatever hinders us from running the race must be thrown off in order for us to run freely and to run triumphantly.

            Running with freedom also entails throwing off the “sin that so easily entangles us.”  Using the imagery of loose-fitting clothing again, it is so easy to get all tangled up when trying to run a race.  (Quote) “How easily we are ensnared by sin, that self-centered orientation that adds weight to the spiritual athlete!”  Sin will always trip us up, and put distance in our relationship with God, so we must reject those things that interfere with our running. Let’s throw off the sin in our lives so we are free to run.  We throw off what hinders and entangles us through rigorous training and discipline.  Anyone who competes knows that these elements are necessary for success.  Our training must be consistent and use the exercises of the spiritual disciplines: reading scripture, prayer and participation in worship/community.

            Second: Run with endurance – Like a long distance run, the Christian life is difficult and therefore takes sustained effort.  The life of following Christ is not a short sprint but a long distance run that requires endurance and persistence.  “Let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.”  The NIV uses the word “perseverance” here, while many other translations us the word “endurance.  I was wondering what the difference was in these two terms.  Endurance has to do with the power to last, to put with, or to bear.  Perseverance is only slightly different and is defined as “never giving up on what one has set out to do.”  Both meanings are applicable here.  We are running a race, which suggests we have a course to complete or a goal to reach, in which perseverance and endurance must overcome the desire to quit.  In any long-distance race there comes a time when our bodies are screaming at us to throw in the towel. The pain can be overwhelming, and the only way we can continue is through endurance and perseverance - and to be able to do that we must be “all in!”

            The Christian life can be difficult – Jesus never once promised us a rose garden – and Satan can tempt us to want to bail out.  At the preaching workshop I recently attended, the instructor said that the Christian life is like the military.  It is easy to get in and doesn’t cost you anything, but once you’re in it costs you everything.  However, in order not to discourage you, while it can be difficult, it is also the most fulfilling, meaningful, joyful and purposeful life you can possibly live – and eternity is thrown in as well. 

            Third: Run looking to Jesus – If we are going to run this race faithfully and successfully we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  This is not a race we can run on our own.  We need someone greater and stronger who has already run the course and who we can look to as an example when the going gets rough.   Jesus is the author (originator, leader) and the perfecter (finisher, completer) of our faith.  He’s a model for us of endurance in that He endured the cross  and the hostility of sinful men.  And yet he completed the course and in fullness of joy is seated at the right hand of God’s throne.  We are to consider – a word that is used in calculation, or to “take account of” – him who endured vicious opposition, so that we do not “grow weary” (collapse) or “lose heart” – these words were sometimes used for the exhaustion of a runner.

Jesus, then, is the model, in that while he suffered, he held onto the hope of future reward, as these readers are also to do.  The recipients of this letter are early Christians in Rome who are coming under persecution.  The author is encouraging them to continue in the race, to endure hardship, and to not fall away – instead they should look to Jesus.  This letter was probably written just before the horrific persecution of Christians that took place under Nero.  They had not shed blood yet, but many soon would.  Even in those circumstances, to stay the course would mean going the distance and crossing the finish line.

A guy by the name of Bryan Wilkerson tells this story: The first half of the New York City Marathon is a party.  You’re swept along by 28,000 runners and the crowds lining the streets. You’re touring the ethnic neighbourhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. You feel like you could run forever.  At mile 13, you cross over into Manhattan and start heading north, away from the finish line. The crowds are thinner now.  The party’s over.

At about mile 16 or 18, you hit the wall. You’re absolutely miserable. Physically and psychologically, you’re busted.  I remember passing one of the first-aid stations, where runners were lying on cots — pale and gaunt, with IVs dripping into their arms.  I thought, Those lucky dogs.  At that point I began to despair. I imagined myself having to go home and tell everybody I didn’t finish.  Why did I ever sign up for this race?  What made me think I could do this?

That’s when it hit me: one way or another, I had to get to Central Park.  I had no car, no money.  I would have to get there on my own two feet.  So I might as well keep running.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Don’t think about the next six miles; just think about the next step. Gradually the miles will pass. And when you cross that finish line, it feels like glory — even when you’re in 10,044th place.

Some of you may be hitting the wall right now — feeling like you can’t go on, like you’ll never make it.  Following Christ is harder than you ever imagined it would be, and you’re thinking about giving up — about doing something foolish.  Don’t do it!  (talk to somebody, immerse yourself in the Psalms, ask for prayer and pray yourself.)

There’s no magic to endurance racing. It’s all about making it to the finish line.

Maybe for some of you here this morning, you’re not even in the race.  You may have made some profession of faith at some point in your life, but now all the distractions of this world have you contently sitting on the sidelines.  Maybe you have decided you love the things of this world, maybe someone has made a snide remark to you about the Christian faith, and you’ve decided to back away.  I feel I need to warn you this morning – God is not content with an ankle deep Christians; if you are not “all in,” you are not in at all.  .
            The Christian life is a race which requires endurance and a commitment to go the distance.  In this text we are being called to live the Christian life as a well-run race.  And it would seem that we do that by making the right choices in the face of opposition to the Christian worldview and message.  It is the opposite path to what we have seen many of the judges took.  They made poor choices by embracing the worldviews/religions of those around them.

We, too, are running a race, and we are told here is how we should run. 

- By throwing off all hindrances and sinful entanglements.

- With perseverance and endurance.

- Looking to Jesus as our model and our prize.

Church, let us commit to go the distance and win the prize.

 

                                                                                          Sermon: Luke 7:36-50                                                                 

A Surprising Dinner Engagement

June 12, 2016

 Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

After John Jefferson robbed a Krispy Kreme Doughnut store in Kingsport, Tennessee, he bought dope.  But he couldn’t enjoy it because he was plagued with guilt. Months later, even after moving to Kansas, the guilt remained.  So Jefferson decided to confess.  He called Detective Cole of the Kingsport Police Department and identified himself as the robber.  “I couldn’t take it anymore,” Jefferson said in an interview. “I was sick and tired of the way I was living. I didn’t want to die in a crack house, and I didn’t want to smoke crack anymore.”

After pleading guilty, Jefferson served a six-year sentence. Upon his release, he tried several times to return to the Krispy Kreme store and repay the money he had stolen, but he kept turning around before he could get there. Finally, Jefferson called Detective Cole again and asked him to accompany him to the store. Though he had stolen $300, Jefferson returned $400 to the robbery victim, who asked him to donate the money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Jefferson said, “I felt like a million bucks when I walked out of that place,”

This man obviously had a conscience.  After committing his crime, he was not able to shake the feelings of the guilt he felt.  He came to the place where he needed to confess – in order to clear his conscience and to find forgiveness.  And not only was he willing to confess and face the penalty – on his release he also desired to make restitution, even paying back more than he stole.  Since he understood the gravity of his crime, he recognized his need to be forgiven and to set things straight, and so his offer of restitution was greater than his transgression.

While this is not a perfect parallel to our story today, it does illustrate the basic principle.  And the principle could go something like this: The more we understand our need for forgiveness, the greater will be our response of love.  This is a touching story that reveals the compassion of Jesus for the lost.  It is also a story that shows the amazing power of forgiveness in a person’s life.  The context for the story is revealed back in verse 34 – where Jesus is being accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” In placing this story after that accusation, Luke is offering proof that the claim is indeed true.

First: An unexpected intruder (vs. 36-38). A  Pharisee invited Jesus to his house to have dinner together.  While it was considered virtuous in that culture to invite a teacher over for dinner, especially if he was from out of town, the story also seems to suggest that Simon invited Jesus as a curiosity – he had heard that he was a prophet and wanted to see for himself.  Jesus accepted the invitation and was reclining at the table when a woman from that town – an unexpected intruder with a jar of perfume – came up and stood behind him.  She began to weep profusely and her tears were falling on Jesus’ feet.  So she knelt down and begins to wipe Jesus’ exposed feet with her hair, and then proceeds to kiss his feet and anoint them with oil.

Now there is a lot at play here in these first few verses.  She is referred to as having “lived a sinful life,” and you get the sense that it probably included some form of sexual misconduct – she may have been a prostitute, but it doesn’t say that, or an adulteress, or that she lived a loose moral life in general.  Her access to the dinner was not uncommon as they were often held in open courtyards surrounding the house and uninvited guests could come and stand around the edge in order to observe the proceedings – without partaking in the meal.

Her access to Jesus’ feet was made possible by the way in which people ate their meals in the ancient world.  Reclining at the table was in fact just that – guests would lie on large cushions in front of a low table – supporting themselves on their left elbow.  Their feet would face away from the table like spokes on a wheel – thus, the woman “stood behind him at his feet.” 

The fact that his woman brought with her a jar of perfume reveals that she was on a mission – and by her actions she is an example of great courage and great humility.  To come to a banquet hosted by a Pharisee was a bold move by a woman with her reputation – and when she let her hair down in order to wipe Jesus feet - that would have been considered promiscuous. But she also revealed a great deal of humility.  For a woman who bore the shame of her reputation to even come to this dinner, and then openly weep and kiss Jesus’ feet shows a true brokenness.  I mean, how many people’s feet are you willing to kiss?  I have to work hard to get my wife to even rub my feet!  And no doubt the jar of perfume was the most expensive thing she owned.

When the host, Simon, observes all this going on, he thinks to himself, “this guy is no prophet, if he were he would know what kind of woman he is allowing to touch him.”  While Simon had shown respect for Jesus, he was a yet a skeptic, and now his skepticism has been confirmed in watching this all unfold.  Allowing a sinner touch him would make Jesus unclean, according to the law and a true prophet would know this and not allow it. 

So here we have an unexpected intruder, a bold woman and humbled woman, who interrupts the typical standards of decorum at an ancient dinner party.  What would Jesus do?

Second: A parable of explanation (vs.39-43).  What happens next must’ve blown Simon’s mind!  He has just come to the conclusion that Jesus is no prophet because he doesn’t know what kind of woman is touching him, but in what follows Jesus reveals to Simon that he knows what he’s thinking!  His “answer” (40) was to something unspoken.  In a gentle way, Jesus addresses Simon, “I have something to tell you,” and what he told him came in a parable.

The parable is simple and to the point.  There were two men who owed money to a creditor.  One owed fifty denarii (1= day’s wages) and the other owed 500.  Neither could pay, so he graciously forgave (cancelled: extending grace) their debts.  The question Jesus poses is “which one would love him more?”  The answer is pretty obvious and Simon answers correctly.  It is the one who had the greater debt who would love the creditor more and be more thankful.  I wonder how quickly Simon realized that Jesus’ parable was based on his ability to read Simon’s mind, and what the point of the story was intended to mean to him.

Third: Much forgiveness; much love (vs. 44-50).  The point of the parable is clear – where there is much forgiveness given, the response will be great love; where there is little forgiveness, there is little love.  Jesus continues his dialogue by comparing the actions of Simon with the actions of the woman.  When Jesus had come to Simon’s house he had not been offered water to wash his feet, which was a common act of hospitality, especially since everyone wore open sandals and feet would get very dirty.  Nor did he offer a kiss of greeting or anoint his guest’s head with olive oil – both also very common practices.  While these practices were not required, they were a very typical code of hospitality, and would give the guest an extra sense of welcome and status.  Simon had offered none of these common greetings to Jesus; however, the woman had washed his feet with her tears, had kissed his feet, not his head, over and over, and had poured expensive perfume onto his feet.  Jesus’ explanation to Simon made it clear who the one was in the parable who loved more – the woman’s debt was greater, Jesus acknowledges her sins are many - but so was her love and appreciation. 

A common misinterpretation of this story is that the woman’s acts of love were the reason for her receiving forgiveness – and the reading of verse 47 and 48 seem to suggest that.  However, that is in conflict with the point of the parable – there the response of love is clearly the result of receiving forgiveness.  While the text is not clear on this, I’m of the opinion that the woman probably had an earlier encounter with Jesus where she had received his forgiveness (another witness).  This would seem to help understand her intense weeping, and her coming prepared with the jar of perfume.  Since she has been forgiven so much, this is her opportunity to show her deep love and gratitude to Jesus.  In that case, the statement by Jesus in verse 48 is given as a confirmation of her forgiveness.  

The other guests at the dinner are stunned by these events and wonder, “who is this who can even forgive sins?”  That is only possible in the realm of God.  Interestingly, Jesus tells the woman that her faith has saved her, and that she should go in peace.  Obviously, in her quest for forgiveness, she has been motivated by faith in Jesus.

Some of the things we can learn from this story are found by looking at the characters.

*Simon the Pharisee.  In the parable told by Jesus, Simon is obviously the one who has been forgiven little and therefore loves little.  As a Pharisee, he thinks he is in little need of God’s forgiveness – he’s a righteous man and he has the law to prove it.  Consequently, his love for God and others is as small as his perceived need of forgiveness is.  He sees separation from sinners as an act of righteousness, and is shocked by Jesus’ acceptance of them.  What Simon fails to see is that his need of forgiveness is almost as great as the woman.  Jesus continually challenged the Pharisees for their shows of external righteousness while their hearts were corrupt.  “People who assume they are righteous will never experience much love for Jesus, since they are so unaware of their sinfulness.” In what ways are we like Simon?  Many of us who were raised in the church and in Christian homes need to be wary of the Simon mentality.  We have lived relatively clean lives and sometimes look at sinners with disdain rather than with the love of Christ.  We begin to think that God need not waste his forgiveness on us.  We need to set aside our self-righteousness and look for ways to bring the compassion of Jesus to the lost.  Would we be willing to make room for sinners in our midst?

* The woman.  The woman in the story reveals a person broken by her sinfulness and in desperate need of forgiveness.  In contrast to Simon, the woman knew how sinful she was – she was carrying a large burden of debt, and she was the kind of person that Jesus came to seek and to save.  She has responded with faith and in receiving forgiveness has a heart full of love that she puts into action.  Doing what she did required great courage and humility, but her love and gratitude compels her.  She also represents the hope that sinners, even notorious ones, can find God. 

            If our love for God is not full, if it’s grown a little cold, it’s probably because we have lost the truth about what he has done for us – we are all sinners at various points in our walk towards holiness.  We need to periodically remind ourselves of where we’ve come from and how we have gotten to where we are.

*Jesus – friend of sinners.  This story teaches us that the label the Pharisees put on Jesus was very true.  We see Jesus’ great heart of compassion for “sinners” in this touching story.  He reached out to them, and they were drawn to him.  Do we really have hearts of compassion for the lost like Jesus did, or are we more like the Pharisees who view them through eyes of scorn?  We will never have much of a witness if that is the case.  Jesus was the master at loving the sinner without tolerating the sin.  Never once did he condone the lifestyle of this woman, but neither did he condemn her – instead, he brought her out of sin into a life of wholeness. (Video)

            The more we understand our need for forgiveness, the greater will be our response of love.  Those who love little have lost the sense of their own need for forgiveness.  Somehow, we can’t let the message of the gospel become routine.  We continue to stand in need of God’s forgiveness – even daily.  Our capacity to love deeply is determined by our capacity to embrace the forgiveness we have received and are continuing to receive.  May the passion of the woman’s love for Jesus be fuelled in each of us!

 

 

             Sermon: MISC. SCRIPTURES           

Church is Not Enough

 FATHER’S DAY: 2016

June 19, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

                                                             

            Last year sometime, Harvey Ronald gave me a book that he thought I might find interesting.  I have a lot of books I want to read, so it kind of sat around the house for a while until Donna picked it up and read through the first few chapters.  She said to me, “you need to read this book – even just the first forty pages or so.”  So I took up the challenge – forty pages would not be a big commitment of time, but ended up reading the entire book last fall.  It has a message that is of deep concern to me and one of great importance to families and to the church.

            So the message this morning will be a little different – it might sound more like a book report.  I’m going to share a fair amount of statistics with you and much of what I’m going to say comes from the content of this book.  But I feel what this book says is very important and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to share it.  And with this being Father’s Day, it would provide a good context even though it really deals more with families and parents in general.

            The title of the book is Church +Home and it’s written by a man named Mark Holmen.  He was a pastor but now heads up a ministry/movement called Faith@Home.  Apparently there are a number of Canadian churches who would identify themselves as being a part of this movement, however, I’d never heard of it before.  The central argument of this book, or the thesis, is this: “What happens in the home is more important and influential than what happens at church when it comes to faith formation and behaviour.”  What happens in the home is significantly more important in passing on the faith to the next generation that what happens in the church setting – hence the title of this message, “church is not enough.”  This is not meant to be a knock or attack on the church.  The church is called to come alongside and be a life-long partner (not replacement) with parents to help them raise their children in the faith.  So let’s unpack this:

            First: The Problem.  If you have been reading any Christian material over the past few years, there has been a re-emerging theme.  This theme is the recognition that churches in general, including evangelical churches, have been losing their young adults en masse.  In fact, a report brought out by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and other partners was entitled Hemorrhaging Faith – comparing this reality to a massive loss of blood (internal). 

            The statistics that reveal this phenomenon are quite staggering.  Listen to some of these:

- “The Southern Baptist Convention reports that they are currently losing 70 to 88 % of their young people after their freshman year in college – and the young people may never come back.”

- In another study, “90% of youth active in high school church programs drop out of church by their second year of college.” (Dawson MacAlister – national youth leader)

- (Haemorrhaging Faith - Canadian) “By young adulthood only 1 in 10 respondents raised in Catholic and Mainline traditions reported attending religious services at least weekly – compared to 4 in 10 raised in Evangelical traditions – still a sixty percent loss.

            So based on these statistical findings, “anywhere from 60 to 90 % of the children enrolled in our church programs today are going to disengage from the Christian faith when they are young adults.”  That’s disheartening!  Clearly, something isn’t working!

            According to this book, and according to its central argument, the problem is that the Christian faith is not being taught and passed on in the home setting.  While this loss of faith can’t be entirely attributed to the home environment, I think it does have a lot to do with it.

- Only 12% of youth have a regular dialogue with their mother on faith and/or life issues.

- Only 5% of youth have a regular dialogue with their father on faith and/or life issues. (That’s 5 out of 100 families’ folks, where the dad actually talks about faith issues with their kids!!)

- Only 9% of youth have experienced regular Bible reading and devotions in the home.

- Only 12% of youth have experienced a servanthood event with a parent as an act of faith.

            This next statistic is the one that gripped me the most, and is probably why you are hearing this message this morning.  In his research George Barna found this: “We discovered that in a typical week, fewer than 10% of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together, pray together (other than mealtimes), or participate in an act of service as a family unit.”  Even fewer, 1 out of 20, have any type of worship experience together with their kids in their homes.  This is a staggering statistic, and probably one of the main reasons we are seeing such high dropout rates among our young adults – there is nothing spiritual happening in the homes during the week of the vast majority of church going Christian families.  Other research revealed this attitude: “Many 18 to 29-year-olds believe Christianity is hypocritical because the version of Christianity they experienced was something that was done only at church and not at home.”  Holmen sums it up the problem this way: “Faithful Christlike living isn’t happening in our homes today.”  Consequently, our kids become disillusioned and walk away.

            So how did we get here?  Holmen offers two answers to that question.  The first is (quote) “as individuals who live in a land of plenty to do, have, be and achieve, we have gotten caught up in doing more, having more, being more and achieving more – as a result we have forgotten God.”  The second answer is that “when we either don’t have the time or forget altogether to fulfil our responsibility, our solution is to have someone else do it for us.”  And this is where the church comes in.  Parents have shifted the responsibility that is theirs onto the shoulders of the church – and the church has by and large accepted the role.  We have become program driven – especially in our ministries to children.  There has been an explosion of a great variety of programs and materials for children – and many of them excellent in quality.  Consequently, many parents have seen these programs as opportunities to pass on the role of faith-nurturing to the church. “Just as parents take their children to a soccer coach to learn soccer and to a piano teacher to learn piano, they bring their children to the local church to learn faith.”

This was never to be the role of the church – it was to have a supportive role, not the primary role. And Holmen wonders where it has got us?  After 40 to 50 years of program driven spiritual education, our kids are walking away from the faith in droves. 

Second: The Command.  So what is the biblical mandate in regards to this issue?  Well it seems pretty clear, and it comes as commands – let’s look at three passages:

Deuteronomy 6:4-10: (read).  This is the classic biblical text in regards to this issue – almost always used at child dedications.   It is clear here that the responsibility to pass on the faith to the next generation lies with the parents.  Talk to your children when you sit, when you walk, when you lie down and when you awake.  The idea suggested is that faith influencing is an ongoing activity that is both intentional and pervasive (Impress- repeat over and over).  However, this doesn’t rule out a more formal/set time of instruction as well.

            The home is to be the centre for conserving and passing on truth.  Moses understood that the greatness of the nation Israel depended on the teaching of the commandments in the home.

Psalm 78: 4-8: (read). Again here, we have a clear admonition of the parent’s responsibility to “tell” and “teach” the next generation about the Lord so that they would put their trust in Him – that they would not forget his deeds and would keep his commands.  This spiritual instruction is intended to counteract a stubborn and rebellious spirit.

Ephesians 6:4: This is explicitly to fathers: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Here we are reminded that the responsibility for the teaching of the faith lies at the father’s feet.  It doesn’t mean that you have to do it all; it just means that you’re responsible to see that it happens.

            While the scriptures seem to focus on telling and talking, remember that talk without action is meaningless – and your kids will see through that in a heartbeat.  A faith that is caught is one that is observed and lived – as parents we have to “walk our talk.”

            Third: The Challenge, The challenge, then, before us today, is for parents and grandparents to pick up the ball and become proactive in the task of passing on the faith to the next generations.  That task belongs in the home while the church comes alongside as a support, as a secondary level of instruction and as a cheerleader.  Why is this true?  Because parents are two to three times more influential on their children than even the best church program.

            During his time as a youth pastor, Holmen was confronted with this truth.  He gave a national survey to his youth group in which youth were to identify their “Most Significant Religious Influences.”  What this survey revealed shocked him.  Numbers one, two, and three were mom, dad, and grandparents respectively.  The Youth leader was way down the list - having about a third of the influence of the parents.   

            We are challenged to pass on our faith in the home setting in two basic ways:

1.  Modelling – From the study, Haemorrhaging Faith, here are a couple key viewpoints of young adults: “My parents model a love for church, prayer and Scripture.”  “My parents are changed by their time with God.”  “If young adults remember their parents as being consistent in regular church attendance, prayer outside of table grace, and Bible reading, these spiritual disciplines are more likely to occur in their lives. 

            Holmen tells of a time he co-led a workshop with a man by the name of David Anderson.  Anderson asked the parents, “How many of you here today wish your teenager had a stronger faith?”  Every hand in the room went up.  Anderson responded, “While it’s good that we all desire our teenagers to have a stronger faith, the reality is that what we see in our teenagers’ faith is simply a mirror image of our faith.  So the issue is not their faith, but our faith.”

2. Instructing – More key viewpoints of young adults.  “My parents speak openly about their faith and invite dialogue.”  “My parents include us in faith practices.” 

            The “including in faith practices” would refer to the more formal practices that we have generally called family devotions – or some would suggest family worship.  If faith is passed on primarily through what occurs in the home, these are key – but will be difficult to initiate because of our hectic lifestyles.  However, I would challenge you to make the effort.  The readings this week in the Men of Integrity devotional are on much the same topic.  The author suggests that family devotions consist of three elements: scripture reading, prayer and singing, and he offers some very practical ways to do them.

            The Faith@Home ministry also offers a number of resources to help families and churches to become more faith at home focused.  They encourage churches to put on “Take it Home” events at least once a year that train, challenge, and motivate parents to provide spiritual activities/disciplines for their children.  Some of the events deal with family blessings, family devotions, my church, prayer, acts of service, my Bible – to name a few.  In fact, they encourage all of the ministries of the church to add a Faith@Home emphasis to their purpose. The book even suggests a Faith@Home senior’s ministry and told of hosting an event entitled “How to Be a Meddling Grandparent.”  Parents and grandparents still have influence in the lives and of their children, and we should seek creative ways to exert that spiritual influence.  Some seniors told how they used internet and texting to send scripture and inspirational stories to their kids and grandkids.  Holmen writes: “I firmly believe that we need to have Faith@Home focused seniors who are empowered and released to meddle in the spiritual lives of their children and grandkids.”

            So what do you think?  Is this emphasis something that we would like to introduce to our church?  We would need someone who has a vision and call of God to head it up.  Why would we bother?  “What happens in the home is more important and influential than what happens at church when it comes to faith formation and behaviour.”  Do we care enough about our kids?

 

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth

June 26, 2016

Bryan Watson

 

Good morning! It’s great to see you all here today.

7 So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood….

… Sorry… I got confused by the weather… that’s the wrong sermon.

The scripture passage for my message is from Ephesians 6:10-18. For those who are familiar with it, it talks about the Armor of God. Let’s look at it now.

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[a] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—

Today, I’m going to focus on the first piece of armor mentioned… the belt of truth.

Now, in order to understand the importance of the belt, and how it relates to the other pieces of armor, we need to know a few things about it.

The first thing we need to realize is that a Roman soldier’s belt isn’t just an ordinary belt. It filled some vital functions, without which, the soldier would be completely disarmed.

The first thing the belt did was to hold a scabbard, without which there would be no place to carry the sword. That’s kind of important, don’t you think?

The second thing that the belt did was to hold in place thick strips of leather which hung down from the belt to protect the lower parts of the body. The belt also provides the anchor point to which the other pieces of armor, specifically the breastplate, are fastened so that they are held in place during a battle.  In essence, everything else is dependent upon the belt.

So, how does that fit in with what Paul calls the Belt of Truth? Well, in order to understand that, we need to understand what Truth is. I’m going to be looking at it from a Biblical perspective, not from modern society’s perspective, where “your truth may be right for you and my truth is right for me.” That’s nonsense from the Biblical perspective, and it’s nonsense from the perspective of the soldier’s belt as well. Just imagine a soldier saying to his commanding officer, “Well, sir, it’s ok for the other soldiers to wear their military-issued belts, but it doesn’t really look good on me. I’d much prefer to use the silk belt off my housecoat. It’s nice-looking, it’s comfortable, and the color goes well with my skin tone.” Do you think that’s ok??? No!!! A soldier’s belt is a soldier’s belt, and truth is truth!

So, what is the truth? Well according to the Bible, John 17:17 says, “Your Word is Truth.” Folks, we need to KNOW the Word of God if we are to know the truth. Furthermore, in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

So, right off the bat, there are two things that we can identify as being truth. God’s Word is Truth. And Jesus Christ is the Truth.

So, thinking about the Belt of Truth, if the soldier’s belt is the foundation for his armor, then it is reasonable to say that Jesus, and the Word of God, being truth, are the foundation for the rest of the Christian faith. The belt of truth is the foundation for the armor of God. If your faith doesn’t begin with Jesus and the authority of the Bible, then you are going into battle unarmed. Satan is well aware of this. The truth is imperative to the victorious life in the believer’s battle with Satan. Satan doesn't have to destroy the church physically. He only has to mislead us when it comes to what the truth is.

  • John 8:44-45 - The devil is a liar and there is no truth in him

Now for those of you who are entering the waters of baptism today, I would like share with you a few of the lies that you are likely to hear. They are very clever lies, but they are lies just the same. More importantly, however, I would like to share with you, from the Word, some of the truths that you need to know to counter those lies. In essence, I want to help you get started by putting on the Belt of Truth.

Now, I’m limited by time and the visions of barbecued hamburgers, so I’m only going to share 5 lies and their corresponding truths with you today.

The first lie: I've done things so bad that I can't be forgiven. Grace can't reach that far.

Satan would have you believe that you are so far gone that you are beyond God’s forgiveness. That He is so angry with you that you are condemned and He wants nothing to do with you. I want you to remember that THIS IS A LIE. The truth is that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.

Turn in your Bibles to Romans 8:38-39: For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When the devil tells you that you are beyond forgiveness, you remind him of what God did with Jacob, a liar and a thief; Judah, who committed incest; Rahab, a prostitute; David, a murderer and adulterer; all of whom are in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

The second Lie: God doesn't care about us. The devil would be thrilled if you believed, “God isn’t angry at me. He isn’t happy with me either. In fact, He doesn’t care about me at all. He just wound the world up and let it go.” The truth is that God loves us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  You know what else? God cares about us and wants us to prosper.

Let’s look at Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

How incredible is that? The God who created the universe cares about YOU, and thinks about YOU, and cares about YOUR FUTURE, and gave up His Son for YOU. For YOU.

Don’t you DARE listen to the devil when He tells you that God doesn’t care.

The third lie: I can't help myself. I'm stuck in sin. I can't help but give in to temptation.

 

Have you ever heard someone say, The devil made me do it? That’s a lie! Every time someone gives in to some form of temptation, there was a fork in the road… a choice to be made… and they chose the path of least resistance, like water flowing down a hill. But the truth is that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, but He will give us a way of escape.

Let’s go over to: 1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

And there is a second truth that we need to remember when we are being tempted. Go to Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The fourth lie: I keep failing. One of these days, God is going to give up on me.

This is a lot like the first lie, but you are going to hear this one a lot. You see, just because you are saved doesn’t mean you aren’t going to stumble and fall. And Satan is going to be right there to whisper in your ear, “See? See? God is going to give up on you.”

But here’s the truth he doesn’t want you to know: God has begun a good work in you, and He will finish what He started.

Turn to Philippians 1:6. ". . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."

And do you know what else? When the devil tells you that God has abandoned you, you can tell him to look up Hebrews 13:5: For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And for good measure, you can hit him over the head with John 10:29: My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and NO ONE is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

The fifth lie: Now that I'm saved, I can just live life as I've always done. I don't have to change. Not really. God will just forgive me anyway.

This is the concept of cheap grace. Do what you want, because you can always ask for forgiveness later. Folks, Grace is not a license to sin.

Truth: Romans 6:15-18 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

This is repentance. This is turning away from our old selves, and making Jesus the Lord of our lives. When Jesus addressed the woman caught in adultery, He didn’t say, “Go, and try not to get caught next time.” NO! He said, “Go, and sin no more.” And that’s what He is saying to us today. Go, and sin no more. Our salvation cost Him something. It should cost us something as well.

Now, I said that I was going to give you 5 lies, but I LIED!!! I’m actually going to give you a bonus… a 6th lie that you need to be aware of. And since you are being baptized today, I would say that you have already dealt with this one, but for everybody else, here is the bonus… the 6th lie:

Lie: I’m a good person. I don’t need Jesus. There is more than one way to God.

Folks, this is perhaps the most dangerous lie of all. It’s like saying, the water conditions are great, so I can swim outside the safe swimming area, and I don’t need a life jacket. But we don’t see the rip tide. We don’t see the storm on the horizon. We don’t see the shark just below the surface.

What does the Bible say? Turn to Romans 3:23. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Who is all? It’s ALL. All means all. Everybody. Everybody falls short.

So then, what can we do?

Well, let’s look again at John 14:6. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Don’t let the devil fool you into complacency. We all need to be saved by Jesus, just as these 6 people are doing today through baptism.

In closing, I’ve presented to you some samples of what the belt of truth looks like. And I’ve given you some ammunition, if you choose to use it. But you can’t stop there. You will be told other lies. Ground yourselves in the Word. Take these truths to heart.

I’ve also extended an invitation for those of you who would like to know Jesus as your Saviour. I invite you to come and speak with me afterwards. Or find Pastor Dennis and speak with him. We’d love to speak with you and show you how You can start following the truths of Jesus Christ today.

                                 

Sermon: Ephesians 6:10-13

Armour Up!

July 3, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

In December 2004, a single question from a young soldier touched off a media firestorm. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had come to deliver a pep talk to the troops at Camp Buehring in Kuwait. But the usually unflappable secretary found himself blindsided by a bold query. As news cameras rolled, Army Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Combat Team asked Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to armor-up our vehicles?”

Specialist Wilson clearly felt he was being sent into battle without proper protection. As Christians, however, we shouldn’t have that fear. Our Supreme Commander generously equips us with the belt of truth, the breastplate of Righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.  But it’s up to us to put them on and put them to use.

This morning we begin a church-wide emphasis and memorization challenge for the summer months that is focusing on the “Armour of God.”  I hope that many of you adults will take up the challenge as well to exercise your memories in order to retain God’s Word.  It is a healthy spiritual discipline.  Last Sunday at the park Bryan actually got the ball rolling by speaking about the “belt of truth” – the first part of the armour mentioned in the text.  Today, however, we’re actually going to step back and look at the context that is given by Paul which identifies the necessity of the armour – so we are going to consider verses 10–14a.

The context of this passage is found in that it is the conclusion to the letter – “Finally.”  In this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul has crafted a beautiful masterpiece declaring the glory and power and grace of Christ and of lifting up the unity of his body, the church. Now he wants to end well, and rally his readers to embrace and live out what he has taught them - and to do that he puts to use a military analogy – in particular the armour of the soldier.  In fact, in many aspects, Paul’s conclusion resembles the exhortation generals would give to their troops before battle.   The point being made in these verses is that we are in a battle.  If we desire to move forward in our spiritual life, we will be engaged in a war, and as soldiers we will need armour and weapons.  Here’s what we can learn from these verses today: The battles in our lives are ultimately against a spiritual adversary, and so we need spiritual armour to stand our ground.  The outline of my message will be based on the 3 imperatives that appear in the text:

First: Be strong in the Lord (vs. 10).  Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power – (“strength of his might” ESV).  The words “mighty power” is the same Greek words that are translated as “mighty strength” back in chapter 1: 19.  There the strength Paul is referring to is the power God exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at his right hand.  This is resurrection power, and that power/strength is available to us to empower us in our life battles against our spiritual enemies.  This is so amazing to realize!!!!

“Be strong” is also written in the present tense – so it refers to an ongoing empowerment, not a one shot only. His power to help us overcome is a present reality.  So this instruction is not for a quick fix, but of a life spent drawing our strength from Christ.  The phrase “Be strong in the Lord” also makes clear something else.  The strength that we are going to need must find its source in the Lord.  The strength we need in this battle is not from within ourselves.  We cannot expect victory or even engage in any kind of spiritual warfare outside of the power of God.  But since we are “in Christ,” we have his resources at our disposal.  In what follows Paul gives us the means of how to achieve the goal of being strong in the Lord – our second imperative.

Second: Get dressed for battle.  In order to be ready, in order to stand strong we need to be prepared and dressed in battle fatigues.  And even though the victory is secure, it has to be won through battle.  Consequently we are at war each and every day – and so we are to:

A. Put on the full armour of God and stand against Satan’s scheming (Vs. 11-12).  We are to put on the full (whole) armour of God – not some of it, or part of it – but the full armour.  We need the complete outfit- the soldier must be protected from the head to foot.  We need maximum protection, and need to reduce the areas of vulnerability as much as possible.  The need for our armour is essential because of the tactics of our enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us that, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like roaring lion looking for someone devour.”  Satan is a great deceiver, and that is probably his most usual mode of operation.  He is a crafty master of strategies and schemes designed to trip us up in our spiritual lives – and also his tactics so often reflect his deliberate attempts to destroy the unity of Christ’s body – the church. 

The purpose of putting on the armour is to “stand” against the plans and designs of the devil.  The idea of “standing” is a very important theme of this passage.  It is repeated four times in the NIV text.  It is a military term for “holding one’s position.”  You may have noticed that the pieces of armour that are listed in this “armour of God” passage are primarily defensive in nature – except the sword.  They are designed to protect the soldier in order that he can “hold is position” against the offensive challenges of the enemy.

In verse 12, Paul offers an explanation for why the focus of our warfare is spiritual in nature.  We do not struggle (wrestle) against “flesh and blood” – ancient terminology that simply refers to other human beings – who are obviously physical.  No, our battle is not with other humans – even though they may be pawns in the devil’s plans, but against rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and evil spirits in the heavenly realms.  It is difficult to differentiate the difference in these terms – even in the Greek (synonyms), but they almost suggest a hierarchy of evil beings (demons) under the control of Satan – but not sure about that.  However, Paul makes clear who our real enemies are.  We are often tempted to think that our enemies are actually human and then seek to fight them with worldly weapons.  But what Paul intends to communicate is this: “Our struggle is not with human beings, but with evil spiritual forces.”

We generally make two mistakes in thinking about Satan – we either ignore him or give him way too much print – even supposing he can control our wills.  Flip Wilson coined the phrase, “The devil made me do it!”  While it brought a lot of laughs, it’s not true.  Satan cannot control your will – he can’t make you do anything, but he can surely bring about a great amount of temptation.  However, the choice remains yours and mine to make.   The scriptures do teach us that he is real and that he does tempt us in a myriad of ways.  And, as Hank Hanegraaff writes, “it is crucial to note that though the devil cannot interact with us physically, he does have access to our minds.  He cannot read our minds (not omniscient), but he can influence our thoughts.”  How this communication happens is unexplainable, but it is indisputable.  He is a great tempter and the great deceiver, and we must have our armour on in order to thwart his plans

B. Take up the armour of God and stand your ground (vs. 13).  Paul for emphasis now repeats his command to armour up – with a slight variation.  The NIV repeats the phrase verbatim, but the Greek actually uses a different word in vs. 13 for “Put on” (clothe, dress).   The Greek here means to “take up,” “lift up” or to “assume.”  We are to take hold of this armour so that when (not if) the day of evil comes – which probably means our time of trial or temptation, we will be able to “stand our ground” (to resist, withstand).  Standing your ground in a military battle was crucial to victory.  In the day of battle, Roman soldiers were to stand their ground and not retreat.  As long as they didn’t break their ranks, their legions were considered virtually invincible.  This is the picture Paul is giving here, that we stand our ground against our enemy, and even to stand as brothers and sisters together.  If we hold our positions, we too can be invincible.  Remember, also, that James tells us to, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  There is victory to be had! 

There is an element of preparedness in verse 13.  To engage in the battle we must be prepared - “And after you have done everything, to stand.”  It is our responsibility to be prepared – to put on the armour and have it in place, to do everything we can.  As was said at the beginning of the message, it’s up to us to put on the pieces of armour and put them to use – and we do that by standing strong.

Third: Stand firm (14a).  “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”  The purpose of the armour of God is to help us stand firm in our faith – this is the primary theme of this passage today.  We are to stand our ground and stand against the devil and all of his demons and all of his schemes.  Our spiritual armour is our means to do this. 

Last week Bryan spoke about the belt – and its critical and foundational role to the integrity of the armour.  In our spiritual armour, the belt is truth, and it is foundational to our ability to stand our ground.  We must know the truth and we must live in truth.

Standing firm requires great strength of character – even when we are fully armed.  And life is full of set-backs, difficulties and trials, so it’s no easy road to travel. 

(Quote) “If you seek a religion to make you comfortable, despite all its focus on peace and benefit, Christianity is not it. This is no religion for the weak or the lazy. Passive Christians cannot do the will of God; the very label "passive Christian" is an oxymoron. A battle is going on, and contrary to our deception, we do not live on neutral turf.  We either live for God or against him. The choices we make either reflect God's character or the character of sin. As Leon Morris points out, you can drift into sin, but not into righteousness.”
            The battles in our lives are ultimately against a spiritual adversary, and so we need spiritual armour to stand our ground.  “As Christians, we need to be prepared, as if for battle, for right living doesn’t just happen and opposition is certain.”  So let’s armour up; being strong in the Lord, putting on our armour, and standing firm, both as individuals and together, and resist the tactics of the devil – God has given us what it takes to prevail.  And we will look at this armour closer in the coming weeks.

 

                                        Sermon: Ephesians 6:14b-15                                   

Breastplates and Boots

July 10, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

The whole concept of armour is really not all that familiar in our modern world.  I guess the closest thing to it would be the riot gear that police or military personal put on when trying to quell a public disturbance of some kind. But it really belongs more to the ancient world where battles were engaged in hand to hand combat – and protection of the body was essential.  Also, the weapons of that time were much more primitive than modern weaponry.

However, in the Apostle Paul’s world, this kind of imagery would be well understood.  Paul, himself, was probably in Rome under house arrest when he wrote this letter – surely Roman soldiers were a common sight to him, maybe even as his guards.   The imagery of putting on armour is also one very much borrowed by Paul from the OT – where God is the one putting on the armour.  And yet this whole idea of God’s armour is full of irony.  The metaphor of military armour clashes with what they represent – which is the very nature of God and his redeemed people.  But the metaphor works because we are in an invisible war against spiritual powers, and we need spiritual realities to fight them off.   So this morning we are going to consider the breastplate and the boots – in spiritual language, righteousness and peace.

But before I begin with the pieces of the armour themselves, I want to discuss briefly about how we need to interpret this important passage of scripture – because it has been used at times in questionable ways.  In the past couple of decades there has been a rise in interest and focus on the demonic in the culture and in the church.  This has sparked a lot of interest in the Christian world about the subject of spiritual warfare and of casting out demons.  I remember as far back as my college days at TWC (40+ years), when I first heard about this, and the opposition that arose when one of the Profs there started casting out demons from a number of students.  As I said last week, we tend to have this imbalance when it comes to Satan – we either ignore him entirely, or we start looking for a demon under every rock.  Consequently, this new interest in spiritual warfare spawned a host of “deliverance” style ministries – many claiming that Christians could be demon possessed and that large numbers of believers who had problems in their lives – be it depression, anxiety, lust or addictions,  were in fact under some kind of demonic possession.  The cure then, was a deliverance intervention where the demonic could be exorcised, with the bonus being that (in some cases) no-one was then personally responsible for their problem.

The passage about the armour of God became a key text in this movement.  People were told to “put on the armour of God daily” in order to keep the devil and his minions at bay.  They were taught to pray this text out loud as they visualized and imagined themselves actually putting on each piece of the armour.  It almost carried with it an air of superstition – that by simply reciting these words, they would have God’s protection from the powers of evil.  But that is not what this text is teaching – it’s not about only saying the words, it’s about living according to those attributes.  Let me give you an example of what I mean – you may get up and put on the belt of truth, and then the first person that you meet, you knowingly deceive; you may declare that you are putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and then treat your spouse like dirt or blow your cool with someone at work!  Has your visualized armour protected you?  The armour of God is not a magical incantation – it comes from the very nature and character of God that we must put on and live accordingly.  So I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to pray through the passage, in fact it’s a good one to memorize, but that we understand reciting it is not magical, but calls us to live according to these God-like qualities. 

One commentator says: “The armour of God is not about deliverance, but about discipleship.”  This problem was cleverly illustrated in a book by Randy Alcorn where Lord Foulgrin says in a communiqué to his demonic understudy: “We can short-circuit discipleship by telling them they can break patterns of sin simply by uttering magic words requiring no ongoing acts of obedience.  Who needs accountability and discipline to establish new patterns of purity when they can simply cast out the demon of lust?”  So let’s turn now to our text.

The list of the armour of God is connected grammatically to the last imperative from last week’s message.  Verse 14 begins with, “Stand firm then,” and the armour tells us how to do that.  The first piece of armour, and necessarily first, is the belt of truth.  Truth is the foundation for all the other pieces – it holds together all other virtues.

Second armour piece: Breastplate of Righteousness (14b).  After the belt was secured, the soldier put on his breastplate.  The breastplate was key part of the soldier’s armour – for obvious reasons.  It protected the chest and abdominal area where most of the body’s primary organs are, particularly the heart.  The breastplate was usually made from bronze with a leather backing and it could cover all the way from the neck area to the thighs.  A wealthier soldier would often also have a coat of mail on his breastplate – made from iron rings or chain, for extra protection. 

The breastplate of our spiritual armour is righteousness.  As the purpose of a breastplate is to guard the most vital parts of the body, so the Christian protects himself by righteousness. The breastplate of righteousness is how we guard our heart, and Proverbs 4: 23 says: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  So what is “righteousness?”  It’s a religious word – don’t hear it on the street!  But you see it often in Scripture.  Righteousness stands for uprightness and integrity of character – it is a life lived according to the will and laws of God.  Priscilla Shirer defines it this way: “Righteousness is upright living that aligns with the expectations of God.”  Since the word obviously comes from the word “right,” it could also be defined as simply as “living right.” (God’s perspective)  So how of we guard our hearts? – by living rightly in accordance with God’s will and paradigm.

In his book called The Covering, Hank Hanegraaff fleshes out some of the meanings behind the breastplate of righteousness.  First, “the breastplate of righteousness protects us against self-righteousness.”  Since our own attempts at righteousness are considered by scripture as “filthy rags,” we can quickly get rid of any ideas that we can become good enough for God.  And yet so many people believe that in our culture –even our churches. My uncle recently wrote me these words:  “Too many people still believe that if they do their best they'll be OK.  I have yet to go to a funeral where it wasn't assumed that the departed is now in Heaven.”  Let me make this clear this morning – only those who have received Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord have been made righteous by his blood and will enter eternity.  There is no other way!

We have no means to make ourselves righteous before God, but God sees us as righteous when he looks at us through the precious blood of his Son.  This is what is called “imputed righteousness” – a righteousness that is given us through the glorious grace of God through Jesus.  Living right from Gods perspective protects us from the deception of self-righteousness.

Second, we put on the breastplate of righteousness by becoming slaves to righteousness.  Paul wrote: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching too which you were entrusted.  You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6: 17-18).  If you want to get good or better at anything – sports, music – you can’t just go through the motions and take on the appearances of something you’re not.  You can only get better through discipline and practice.  So it is with the Christian life, we can only grow through the practice of spiritual disciplines. “Spiritual disciplines are, in effect, spiritual exercises.  As the physical disciplines of weightlifting and running promote strength and stamina, so the spiritual disciplines...promote righteousness.” 

“Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, is often quoted as saying, ‘The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.’  In much the same way, says Donald Whitney, ‘Christians are called to make themselves do something they would not naturally do – pursue spiritual disciplines – in order to become what they’ve always wanted to be, that is, like Jesus Christ’.”  In becoming slaves to righteousness through discipleship, we can escape our slavery to sin.

Third armour piece: The Boots of Peace (15).  The third piece of equipment for the Roman soldier was his footwear.  These were the caliga – a military type of half sandal/half boot that had thick leather soles and boot with a kind of lacing that went up the ankle almost to the calf.  Another feature of these military shoes was that they had iron spikes protruding from the bottom of the soles.  These provided a better grip when standing their ground as well as better traction and mobility when on the move.  Good footwear would also help the soldiers not be distracted by what they might step on as they advanced on an enemy.  It is said that the Roman army placed much importance on good footwear and that it was key to their success because it allowed for rapid deployment and the ability to cover long distances.

“Stand firm then . . . with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Shalom – harmony, well-being, wholeness).”  This verse is difficult to understand – to really nail what Paul is trying to say here – and that is indicated by the many ways it is rendered in the different translations.  The phrase “gospel of peace” is probably a key – through the gospel message, God has reconciled us to himself.  Before Jesus, we were his enemies, but now we are at peace with God because of the cross, and with our fitted shoes of peace, we can stand our ground against the attacks of our enemy. We have spikes to give us a sure foothold; we have God on our side, and we need not fear our enemy or even life’s storms.

Having our feet fitted with the gospel of peace means we can also have peace with others.  “While we cannot make everyone love us, we can love everyone.”  Lacing up our shoes of peace can help us to move confidently through the conflict that so easily arises in the church.  Again, our enemy loves to attack the unity of the church, and we need spiritual armour to take our stand.

Another possibility of the meaning here comes from the OT – and Paul was probably drawing from that imagery here.  Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news (gospel), who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation . . .” The word “readiness” has the idea of preparation – that we should be always prepared to be a people who are ready to do the Lord’s bidding, and will proclaim the good news of the gospel and the peace it brings. Sharing the good news of Christ advances the cause of God against his enemies – and when we have his peace, we can do it much more naturally.

Breastplates and boots; righteousness and peace - two very important pieces of our armour.  Is your life characterized by right living – according to God’s definition?  Are you growing in your spiritual life?  What spiritual discipline do you struggle with the most?  Do you have peace, supernatural peace?  We are living in times that can stir up in us a lot of fear – we need to lace up our shoes of peace and take our stand against the spiritual forces at work in our lives, our communities and our world today.  God help us armour up!!

 

     

Sermon - Ephesians 6:16-17a

Shields and Helmets

July 17, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            This morning we are going to consider the next two pieces of the armour of God – that is the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation.  They also are very critical pieces for the defensive protection of the soldier.  To enter into an ancient battle without them would have been almost suicidal.  To enter into combat with the enemy of our souls without our protective armour places us in an unwinnable situation.  He is far more powerful than human determination and resolve; therefore we need the spiritual armour of God to win this war.  We also need to remind ourselves that this passage teaches is that we are at war – an invisible war – you may think you’re not, but if you’re a believer, you are!

            Fourth armour piece: The Shield of Faith (vs. 16).  “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  The Roman army was one of the most advanced armies in the ancient world, and one of the reasons for that was the sophistication of their armour design.  And one of their most significant pieces of armour was their shield.  These shields were relatively large, typically about four feet high and two and half feet across – and usually either rectangular or oblong in shape.  They were made of wood with leather (hide) attached to the front.  One commentator described them this way” The shields “consisted of two layers of wood glued together, covered with linen and hide and bound with iron.”  Iron often made up the rim.  Consequently, these shields would not be light when carrying them around all through a battle. 

            However, one of the features of its size was that it was big enough so that a soldier would able to hide behind his shield and have his entire body covered.  When standing in rank shoulder to shoulder, some of these shields actually interlocked and formed a solid line of defence.  “As the legionaries closed rank, the front row would hold their shields forward while those behind would hold their shields above them – making them virtually impenetrable.  Not only was this a defensive posture, but was used to advance the army towards the enemy.  Another feature of the Roman shields was their use of leather hides for the fronts.  This leather would then be soaked in water in order to quench any fiery arrows that may strike and imbed themselves in the shield.  Pretty “high-tech” stuff!

            The shield of our spiritual armour is faith.  Faith, then, offers us the greatest protection from the assaults of our enemy. So what is “faith?”  The Greek word for faith is pistis and the NIV Concordance defines it as “faithfulness, belief, trust – with the implication that actions based on that trust may follow.”  Scripture also provides us with a definition of faith: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1)  Tony Evans describes faith in this way: “Faith is acting as if God is telling the truth (which He is!).  It is acting as if something is so, even when it appears not to be so.  And it’s doing this because God said it and you believe it.”

            As the ancient shield enveloped the body, so faith envelops our entire being.  It may be considered the most important piece since it doesn’t only protect the whole body, but all the other pieces of armour as well.  In ancient warfare, “the shield was prized by a soldier above all other pieces of armour.  He counted it a greater shame to lose his shield than to lose the battle; and therefore he would not part with it even when he was under the very foot of the enemy, but esteemed it an honour to die with his shield in his hand.”  Our shield, our faith is arguably our most important piece of armour.  Once again, from the eleventh chapter of Hebrews we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

            Faith means putting our absolute trust in the Lord.  “The Flying Roudellas, who were trapeze artists, said there is a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one who lets go, and the catcher is the one who catches.  As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go.  He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air.  The flyer must never try to catch the catcher but must wait in absolute trust.  The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.”

            Scripture offers us many examples of a faith that acted as a shield of protection.  We need only look to the book of Daniel where Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego told the king, “We don’t need to give an answer to you, because our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and even if he doesn’t, we will not serve or worship your gods” – and we know that God supernaturally protected them.  Even Daniel in faith continued to pray openly to God against the king’s edict and was thrown into the lion’s den.  His “shield of faith” protected him from the lions all through the night.

            The life of Job is even a greater testimony of faith, since “the greatest demonstration of faith is trusting when we don’t understand.”  Because of a cosmic tug o war between God and Satan, Job lost all of his possessions, his children, his health and even his wife suggested he, “curse God and die.”  And yet while Job asked all the “why” questions, he never received an answer, however, he remained steadfast in his faith – in 13:15 he states: “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him.”  When the circumstances of life deal us an unfair hand, will we still trust in God?  Or is our faith in Him dependant on “letting the good times roll?” 

            The kind of faith that will protect us in spiritual warfare shouldn’t be confused with mere knowledge – or a head faith.  People who are sick may know of a certain medication that will help them, they might even agree with the fact that this medication has worked for thousands.  But until they actually take it, they reveal that they really don’t believe in it.  Faith calls us to action.  We may believe everything about Jesus Christ intellectually, but until we receive Him we have not acted on or exercised true faith - and that kind of faith must come from the heart.  Faith must also believe in something and that “something” must be rooted in truth.  Faith must be connected to truth in some way, because it is true that people can have faith in something that is not true – how sad!  So faith by itself can be dangerous – if not grounded in the truth.

            In this verse, Paul identifies the role/purpose of the shield of faith – it’s to fend off the flaming arrows of Satan.  Dipping arrows and darts into pitch and lighting them on fire was a common tactic in ancient warfare.  The shield that was soaked in water provided an adequate protection against setting the shield on fire.  The arrows on fire were intended to distract and destroy.  Arrows would be lobbed into the camps to destroy tents and equipment.  The soldiers would get distracted from the battle by putting out fires.  This is a strategy of Satan in all of our lives, and we need to learn to recognize it.  In this culture, we can get so distracted by all the things demanding our attention.  While they may even be good things, art they really the important things?  Have you learned to prioritize the things that are really important to you?

            Satan also intends to destroy us.  His flaming arrows can be arrows of temptation.  While Satan cannot read our minds, he can influence our thoughts – he is the master of temptation and he knows your areas of weakness.  The shield of faith can protect us from the arrows of Satan.  When we trust God no matter what – no matter the circumstances; no matter whether I can understand why; when it makes no sense to us, we will quench the arrows of our enemy – through faith in the saving blood of Jesus Christ and in the promises of God.

            Fifth armour piece: The Helmet of Salvation (vs. 17a).  Last week we looked at Isaiah 59:17, where we see that the Lord Himself wears the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation when he goes into battle, so Christians share that divine equipment.

            The Roman soldier’s helmet was made of bronze with leather attachments to secure it to the head.  It was also usually equipped with cheek pieces and was an essential piece of armour for battle that offered at least some protection from blows to the head. The idea of helmets is much more familiar to us today.  There is a great proliferation and variety of headgear for everything imaginable – every kind of sports and potentially dangerous activity.  The importance of the helmet is obvious – the protection of the head and brain from serious injury or even death. 

            The helmet of our spiritual armour is salvation.  The Greek word for salvation means to save, deliver or rescue.  As a spiritual head protector, it is a covering that protects our minds so that we do not become disoriented in the midst of spiritual warfare.  So often the battles that we must face each and every day take place in the battleground of our minds.  Satan is after your mind; he is after mine – when we lose proper perspective to the truth that we have in Christ, we become vulnerable to the attacks of our enemy.   It is in the mind first that we battle anger, lust, fear, resentment, hurt, and offense.  When these become regular patterns of thought, they become more entrenched and more difficult to dislodge. 

            Another important aspect of our mind is in the area of attitude.  Our bad attitudes begin in the mind.  I just realized the other day that I am an “introverted pessimist” – that’s my basic personality.  I think that I knew that already, but hadn’t put the terms together before.  However, this part of my personality presents some real problems on a daily basis when it comes to my thought life and my attitudes.  I need the mind of Christ daily; I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind on a regular basis.  So often I want God to change my circumstances – give me a full glass, not one half empty.  Priscilla Shirer states: “Sometimes the greatest miracles God does are not in our circumstances, it’s in our minds.”  When we change our thought life and attitudes with the spirits help we can find real contentment and “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

            So what does protecting the mind have to do with salvation?  Through the cross of Christ we have been rescued and delivered from sin and judgment – we are redeemed and were bought with a heavy price.  But salvation also means that we have a new status – we have been adopted as children of the Most High God.  Through salvation we have a new identity (baptism); we are now “in Christ.”  When we put on the helmet of salvation – protecting our minds – we are to function out of this new identity.  The helmet blunts the blows of Satan who tries to undermine this identity and desires to make you think you are nothing but worthless scum – a failure, a disgrace, unlovable.  He will often work with your flesh to tempt you into sinful choices and actions.  He is a deceiver, and his calling card is lies.  We must remember that – and this.  We have the helmet of salvation at our disposal – we’ve been rescued and delivered for God’s glory, and he loves us as his children and he has laid up for us an eternal inheritance.

            So armour up! Take up the shield of faith regardless of what life throws at you – it will protect you from what the Evil One wants to achieve in your life.  And put on the helmet of salvation to win the battle for your mind.

 

Ephesians 6:17-20

Of Knives & Knees

July 24, 2016

Bryan Watson

“A soldier all dressed up still has no place to go without communication with his commanding officer.”

Good morning.  Our scripture text for this message is from Ephesians 6:17-20.

17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

So, this morning, we are going to be concluding our series on the armour of God.  To recap, I opened this series at the lake during our Baptismal service, with a discussion on the Belt of Truth.  Since then, Pastor Dennis has provided some excellent background context on the armour of God, and has delivered messages about the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shoes of Readiness, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Shield of Faith.  Our soldier is nearly complete, and so today, I will be speaking about the Sword of the Spirit, along with a short discussion on prayer, because we saw Paul wrap up his description of the Armour of God with a plea for his audience to pray.

While all of the other armour is defensive in nature, the sword is different.  The sword is used to attack and subdue the enemy, not just repel him.  The fact that God places a sword in our hands indicates that He wants us to go on the offensive.  So, what is the “Sword of the Spirit?”  Well, Paul says it’s the Word of God. 

So, before we get too far into this, I want to talk about the “Word of God.”   

§  One way that God gave His Word to us is in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  John 1:14 says The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

§  Another way that God gave His Word to us is in the form of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.  2 Timothy 3:16 says, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

·         The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1600 years, by about 40 people.  These people ranged from nomads to shepherds to kings to prophets to fishermen to palace noblemen.   It’s broken down into 66 smaller books, and despite the range in centuries, and the diversity of authors, it has such a consistent theme that truly one Spirit is behind it.

·         Again, despite a 1600 year range between the writing of the first book, Genesis, and the last book, Revelation, the Bible ends the way it begins, with the sun and moon being gone, and God being the only source of light.  God said, “Let there be light” on the first day in Genesis 1:3, but He did not make the sun and moon until the fourth day, in Genesis 1:14.  Then, in Revelation 22:5, it says, There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  That’s the first chapter of the first book, and the last chapter of the last book.  Amazing.

The best example of how to use the Word of God as a sword was given by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ Himself, when He was tempted by the devil in the desert.

·         When the devil tempted Jesus when He was hungry, Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

·         When the devil tempted Jesus to throw himself from the temple roof to promote His own glory, Jesus replied, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

·         Finally when the devil tempted Jesus to worship the devil in return for power, Jesus said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”

Jesus knew the Word of God.  He had His sword with Him.  All three times He responded to the devil, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy.  Do we have our sword with us?  Are we into God’s Word enough to know how to combat the enemy with the Word

I want to illustrate this point with a bit of an object lesson. 

I want you to imagine a person who is a Christian.  They go to church occasionally, and sincerely enjoy the service when they do.  They read the Bible occasionally, and they know enough about it to know that Genesis comes before Revelation.  They may be able to quote a verse or two from memory.  For that person, the sword looks something like THIS:  a very small, but still effective, blade.

Scripture is still effective for that person, but the enemy can get in pretty close, because the foundation of God’s Word isn’t as great as it could be.  When temptation comes, when tragedy strikes, when disappointment invades, this person will know how to look it up in scripture, but it’s not committed to memory, and they need to have a Bible handy to find what they are looking for. 

Now I want you to imagine another Christian.  This person attends church faithfully, with a heart full of worship, and a longing to learn.  They read their Bible every day, not just to “check a box”, but to learn and understand what they are reading.  This person also goes a step further and commits scripture to memory.  For that person, the sword looks something like THIS.

This person will still be attacked by the enemy, but there is a greater likelihood that the enemy will be kept at a distance.  When temptation comes, they can recall    1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

When they are flipping the channels on the TV, or surfing the internet, and they are ambushed by immodesty or worse, they instinctively recall Psalm 101:3, I will set nothing wicked before my eyes. And they will change the channel.

When tragedy strikes, they automatically fall back on Romans 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

When disappointment invades, they are well trained to reach for Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

<HOLD BOTH BLADES>

If you were the enemy, and you looked at these two individuals, which one would you be most likely to NOT attack?

Now, lest you think I am up here preaching as a hypocrite, I want to confess to you this morning that my own personal sword doesn’t look anything like this.  I am somewhere between the two.  That’s one of the reasons I admire my wife so much.  She has done an incredible job of basic training with the Bible, and her swordsmanship is fantastic. 

Psalm 119 gives some great insight into the Word of God, and why it is so important to know it, understand it, and memorize it. 

V11: Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.

V105: Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.

V130,133: The entrance of Your Words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.  Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.

I also want to provide you with a word of caution, however.  People who collect memorabilia understand that not everything that is presented as authentic is actually authentic.  Not all swords are authentic.  Andnot every use of scripture is authentic.  Going back to the passage where Jesus was being tempted by Satan, the devil actually used scripture to attempt to convince Jesus to throw Himself from the temple roof.  So, you truly need to consider the context and the source before you accept it.  This is another great reason to study the scripture, and not just treat it flippantly, because the devil himself can quote scripture. 

This reminds of a story I once heard about a man who was faced with a dilemma, and wanted to know what God wanted him to do.  So, he picked up a Bible and flipped to random scriptures.  The first one said, “Judas went out and hanged himself.”  He flipped to another random scripture, and this one said, “Go therefore, and do likewise.” 

Context!  If you are a student of the Word, you will avoid this trap.

If the armour of God protects us, how are we most likely disarmed?  Since the armour comes from the Word, all the enemy has to do is remove the Word from us.  How does he do this?  Does he break into our homes and steal our Bibles?  No.  All he has to do is keep us from opening our Bibles.  He does this through:

·         Busyness – I have so much to do.  I know I should read the Bible, but I’m just too busy today.

·         Distraction – I sit down to read the Bible, and something on the news catches my eye.  The next thing I know, an hour has gone by, and now I don’t have time to read.

·         Fatigue – I’m too tired.  I’ll just sleep in.

We don’t realize that our busyness, distraction, and fatigue are all parts of the spiritual battle that we are in, and putting on the armour can protect us from these things.  We need divine protection so that we are not too busy, too distracted, or too fatigued.

I believe that is why Paul closes his message about the Armour of God with a call to prayer.  We’ve talked a lot about prayer in this church over the past few months, but I believe it is something we need to keep talking about.  I know I preached about it on May 22, so I’m not going to repeat that sermon, you can check it out online.

But I do want to take just a few minutes today to share a little bit more about prayer.

As a SaskTel guy, I appreciate this little anecdote:

Three preachers sat discussing the best positions for prayer, while a telephone repairman worked nearby.

"Kneeling is definitely best," claimed one.

"No," another contended. "I get the best results standing with my hands outstretched to Heaven."

"You're both wrong," the third insisted. "The most effective prayer position is lying prostrate, face down on the floor."

The repairman could contain himself no longer.

"Gentlemen," he interrupted, "the best praying I ever did was hanging upside down from a telephone pole."

As I mentioned back in May, there are as many different theories about prayer as there are books in a book store.  Everybody has their way, some technique or time of day that seems to work best for them.  Personally, I like praying early in the morning before anybody else is up in the house.  In winter, when it is dark until later in the morning, I will light a candle.  For me, there is something almost monastic about reading the Bible and praying by candlelight.  But I think Nike, that great philosophical think tank, came up with the best technique for prayer.  Just Do It.  Just Do It!  God can handle our clumsy prayers.  He’s not the Queen, where a specific protocol must be observed, where we must sip our tea with pinky extended.  He is our Father.  He is merciful, and He longs for our fellowship.  Just pray.

In 1991, my Dad died of cancer.  He was 54, and I was 18.  That was 25 years ago.  I have now spent more of my life without my Dad than I did with him.  I have no home videos of him.  I have no letters from him.  I have some photos on the wall and in my photo albums, but that’s it.  I have not spoken with my father in 25 years, and the fact is, I no longer really remember what his voice sounds like.  I no longer recognize his instruction, and when faced with situations in life, I don’t even think to ask what my father would do, and I don’t really know, anyway.

Why would we willingly allow our relationship with our Heavenly Father to go down that path, when we have another choice available to us?  How can we possibly recognize His voice, if we aren’t in prayer?  How can we possibly understand His instruction if we aren’t reading and meditating on His Word?  If Jesus is nothing more than a picture of the Last Supper on the wall, how can we possibly know what He would do in any situation?  Merely wearing a WWJD bracelet without any other faith foundation is about as helpful as me wearing a What Would Allan Do bracelet?  The fact is that I don’t know!  I don’t know what he would do because I haven’t spoken to him since 1991.

So rather than just speak about it, today, I want to give you the opportunity to practice this right where you are.  Using the Lord’s Prayer as an example, I’m going to close the message by modelling each part of the prayer for you, and then I’m going to pause to allow you a moment to silently pray this part of the prayer yourself, in your own words.  Doing this, we’ll work our way through the example of The Lord’s Prayer.

Let’s pray:

“Our Father, Who Art In Heaven, Hallowed by Thy Name”

Lord, You are above all.  You are Holy, and You are perfect in all Your ways.  You are far above anything here on earth.

<Now you try it, silently, where you are.>

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Lord, take control.  This world is lost without You.  Have Your way with us, Precious Father.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Father, help me to have what I need today.  Peace.  Hope.  And help me through the specific situations that I am thinking of now.

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Lord, forgive me for my sins.  Disobedience.  Anger.  Forgive me for the specific things I am thinking of now.  I know I have offended you.  And help me to forgive those who have offended me, especially the people I am thinking of now.  Help me to let go of my anger and hurt.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus, every day the enemy wants to make me stumble, through my eyes, through my greed, through my selfishness.  Protect me, Lord, and help me to make right choices, and to recognize when I have a choice.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever”

Lord, I know that You can do all these things, because You are powerful over all.  And You deserve all the praise and honour.  Let every knee bow to You, for You are eternal.

Amen.

 

SERMON – MISC. SCRIPTURES

Who Are You to Judge?

July 31, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

Some of you here this morning have probably experienced this scenario. A fellow believer has made some choices in their life that would seem to contradict what the Scriptures say. In an effort to help them see the error of their ways, and to get them going in the right direction, you carefully and humbly try to speak truth into their life. The response you received sounds a lot like this, “Who are you to judge me?”

Judgement of any kind is not an idea that is well-received in our culture today – even in the Christian culture, so many are resistant to any kind of a personal challenge. Consequently, there is also a lot of confusion around the issue – are we to judge our fellow brothers and sisters, or is it entirely something that is “hands-off?” At times, it seems that the Bible itself is on both sides of the issue, which muddies the water even more. It is an important issue and I hope that I can offer some light today – though I am entering this with trepidation.

This is a true story of which I was personally made aware of. An adulterous affair was found out – which they almost always are – and when the husband of the wife involved confronted her, this was her defence. “You can’t judge me because you are a Christian and Jesus said ‘Do not judge’!” The man was a brand new Christian at the time, and was really unsure of how to respond. So I’m going to ask you this morning? Do you think this is this a correct understanding/interpretation of what Jesus was saying? Did Jesus really mean to convey that a believer has no recourse to speak the truth and confront obvious sin? There are so many Christians today, who when challenged about something in their life immediately play the judgment card – in order to shut you up and humiliate you. But is what they say true? The use of this verse from Matthew is a classic case of ripping scripture out of context. You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say if you ignore the context – but your interpretation will be wrong. There is so much of this going on today – so let’s take a look at what some of the scriptures have to say about the subject of judging. And the first will be this text from Matthew.

First: Do not judge as a (hypocrite) (Matthew 7: 1-6 - Read). “Do not judge or you too will be judged.” Is this just a blanket statement on judging? From the context, what is at issue here? The issue is one of hypocrisy. The real problem is that the accuser is a hypocrite. He is judging others while doing the same things himself. Jesus uses a humorous figure of speech here – why are you looking to find the speck or splinter in your brother’s eye, when you got a plank sticking out of yours. You hypocrite, how can you judge someone else when you are even more guilty of the same thing. Jesus even uses extreme exaggeration to make his point – it would be like a man involved in a full-blown affair judging another man who admitted to having a lustful thought. You hypocrite, how can you ignore the plank in your own eye, and be looking for the speck in your brother’s – do not judge as a hypocrite!

But “Do not judge” does not forbid all judging of any kind. In fact in verse 5 it says to first remove the plank from your own eye, (why?) in order to be able to see clearly to then remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Quote) A mark of the discipleship community is the responsibility that disciples have to remove the speck of sin from each other’s lives – but only after having purged the plank from their own eye. Verse 6 is even more curious – to not give the dogs (Gentiles) what is sacred and to not throw to the pigs (unclean) your pearls requires an act of judging or discerning who fits into those categories. So I ask you, is the initial statement by Jesus – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” – a blanket statement that can be used to put aside any humble challenge to you by a brother or sister? That would not be fair to the context. What Jesus is saying here is do not judge as a hypocrite. (Read Rom. 2: 1-3 – You who pass judgement on others do the same things - do you think you’ll escape judgment?)

Second: Do not judge as one with authority. We are never to assume the place of God in another person’s life – he is the ultimate and final judge.

*John 12: 47-49 – Read. In John 12, Jesus makes it very clear that he did not come as a judge of the world, but to save it. Even those who rejected him, he would not judge while he was in this world. However, his word, his message, his gospel that they rejected would condemn them on the last day. Why? - Because Jesus’ words were not his words, but his Father’s – the words of Almighty God. In John 3:17 Jesus also made it clear that he did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.

If Jesus did not come to judge/condemn the world, and if our greatest calling as Christians is to become like Jesus Christ, then our role as believers is not one of judgment and condemnation. If that was not Jesus’ purpose, it’s certainly not ours. The kind of judging I’m referring to is self-righteous and punitive; it is assuming an authority that we don’t possess. I once read this on an email thread: “I define ‘evangelical’ as a large, loud group of generally likeminded gatekeepers to a door that they neither own nor built but are nevertheless skilled at slamming.” That stung! While I think it an unfair overstatement - swipes with too broad a brush – there is an element of truth in it. We must be very careful at becoming too judgemental.

*James 4: 11-12 – Read. In the passage, we are warned about speaking against our brother – in the context of slander. When we slander, we judge both the person and the law – the law referring to the law of “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Slander is hardly a means of loving your neighbourIn judging the law we put ourselves above the law, and it is James’ reasoning that only the one who gave the law is qualified to judge the law. And God is the only Lawgiver.

If God is the only Lawgiver and Judge, who can either save or destroy, who are we – by what authority – who are you to judge your neighbour? It sounds like a done deal. God alone/only has the right to judge in the ultimate sense. I don’t think that God has given us any right to judge the eternal destination of our neighbour (in the ultimate sense). We do not fully know our neighbour’s heart, only God knows. Nor should we judge our neighbours motives because we don’t know what all they are dealing with. We are not to judge in the ultimate, eternal sense because that is the realm of God alone – we have no authority to slam doors.

Third: Sometimes judging is necessary in order to confront/expose sin (1 Cor. 5: 9-12) A man in the Corinthian church was involved in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife. Paul is shocked that the church has not dealt with this sin. He had wrote them earlier to not associate with sexually immoral people – not referring to those outside the church, but those on the inside, and yet this was allowed to continue. In verse 12 he makes it very clear that we have no business judging those on the outside, but asks, “Are you not to judge those inside?”

Before we move on, I want to talk a bit about this word “judge.” It has a harsh feel to it. The Greek word translated as “judge” has a wide range of meaning. It certainly can mean “to pass judgment on” in a judicial sense of the word. But it can also mean to “decide,” “consider,” or to “discern the correctness of a matter” – not having as condemning a tone. I believe that this is the kind of tone that we should think of when it becomes necessary to “judge” one another. (Admonish) What kind of scriptural parameters can we find to judge when it is necessary?

*In the church. Paul makes it very clear that we are to deal with sin in the church, and as the church. If we claim to have fellowship with Jesus and his bride (church), we need to be willing to hear words of challenge and discernment from our brothers and sisters. Accountability is an important aspect of living in a holy community. Back in Matthew 7, Jesus went on to say that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit,” and so if your fruit begins to rot, some fruit inspection will be necessary. The church has a biblical mandate, both corporately and as individuals, to judge sin in the camp. In this case of sexual sin, Paul uses some pretty harsh terms: do not associate with him; do not even eat with him, expel him from among you. This is certainly not a place we would want to have to go, but the point is that scripture does give the church the authority to judge sin within its own camp.

*By the word. 2 Tim. 3:16 says this: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God maybe thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If discerning or correcting is necessary in any situation, it must be based on the Word of God. Your opinion about someone’s choices and behaviour doesn’t matter – any attempt to correct or challenge must be based solely on scripture. It is the word of God that judges sin – it is sharper than any two-edged sword – and without the Word, we have no authority to speak into anyone’s life. If you ever feel like you need to bring correction to someone, make sure you can back it up with the clear teaching of scripture.

*With a gentle prod. Hebrews 10:24 says: “And let us consider how we may be able to spur (stir up - ESV) one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together. . .” If we need to bring some discernment, correction or rebuke into someone’s life, we do it with a gentle prod. We need to show humility – no one will receive anything from someone who comes across as self-righteous and judgmental. A gentle prod, a gentle poke that says I care about you enough to talk to you about some of the choices I see you making. Now, typically, no one likes to get a poke of any kind, but sometimes, if we’re honest, we need something pointed to get us moving – just like a stubborn horse – and that’s really the meaning behind the Greek word translated here as “spur.” And also we need to remember that in judging, we are acting in God’s stead, and therefore exceptional care and restraint must be observed.

So if we go back to the beginning, was the comment “you can’t judge me because Jesus said “do not judge” a valid one? Certainly not! It was feeble attempt to deflect the seriousness of the sin at issue. Do not judge does not mean do not expose sin, but do not be a hypocrite. So if someone says to you, “who are you to judge,” or “you can’t judge me,” what could you say in response? The first thing you can say is that quoting those words of Jesus is a complete misinterpretation of the context (gently!). Jesus is not banning all judging here, but judging as a hypocrite. The second thing that you can say is that I’m not the one judging you, it is the word of God that judges you – all you are doing is reminding them of that. You will then need to be sure you have scripture to back up what you are saying! You could also remind them that it is the responsibility of the church to judge those in the camp – and to keep Christ’s bride pure. Finally, you could just share your concern and that you want to see them go forward in their walk with the Lord – and willingly admit that you are not judging them out of your own perfection.

Judging one another is not the general prerogative of a Christian, but it is sometimes necessary in order to expose and confront sin, or to spur on a struggling believer. It is something that we do only with fear and trepidation, but we do it out of love for one another and for the glory of the bride – His church.

 

Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures

Seeking Healing

August 14, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            You’ve probably heard about the stories where people refused medical care on the basis of some kind of religious grounds.  We’ve heard stories of families who refuse to take their child to the hospital because they believed that God was going to heal the child.  There are also people who refuse to accept blood transfusions that can save lives on the grounds of religious belief.  There are some Christians who think going to see a physician is an act of unbelief – that we should just pray and trust God with our health.  Is this true?  What does the Bible teach about what to do when we are in the need of healing?

            This message today is a response to another request I received to speak on a “burning issue.”  The question was phrased something like this, “How do medicine/doctors reconcile with biblical healing?”  Again, I will barely scratch the surface here; to do the subject justice would require way more research that I can accomplish a weekly sermon.  It’s certainly is a question worthy of consideration as Christians living in such a highly technological world of medical science.  Is God still God when it comes to healing, or have we put our trust in bio-science and pharmaceuticals? So let’s consider what scriptures say about healing and medicine.

            First: God is the source of all healing.  The Scriptures are unequivocal in this claim. God is the creator and source of all life and in Him is the power to restore life and health.  He has also created the body with the incredible ability of being able to heal itself.  In the gospels, Jesus, who is God in the flesh, revealed Himself as one who heals.  He came with a healing ministry that served as a sign that the Kingdom of God had come.

            A mere three days after the Israelites had been miraculously delivered by God through the Red Sea, they came to a place where the water was bitter and immediately started to complain.  God graciously and miraculously sweetens the water, but then issues a decree to them – if they would keep God’s laws, he would not allow any of the diseases of Egypt to infect them, for He says. “I am Jehovah Raphah (raw-faw) - the Lord, who heals you.”   The Lord made this clear declaration to the Israelites that He was the source of all their healing.  We find another verse in Deuteronomy 32: 39: “There is no god besides me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”  God’s role as healer is even more prominent in the writings of the prophets, where appeals are made to God to come and heal both individuals and the nation.  God is the source of all healing, he was for ancient Israel and he remains so today – whether humanity recognizes his role or not.

            Second: Medicine – Scriptures teach us that medications have their place.  Although there is not really a specific/direct word on the use of medicines, there are enough instances that refer to their use and to their benefit that a reasonable assumption can be made.  God is not against medication, in fact he can and does use medicine to produce the outcomes he desires. 

            The Scriptures actually make many references to trees and herbs and oils that were used for their health and medicinal properties.  Natural sources were the only option of medicine for the ancient world and were used extensively.  In Jeremiah 8:22, we find these words, “Is there no balm (medicine) in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?   These are rhetorical questions wondering why no healing has occurred to God’s people.  The “balm/balsam” was a healing resin that was drawn from the terebinth tree, and Gilead was known as the source of it in Israel.  While these questions do not deal directly with the issue at hand, they are metaphors that suggest a basis for the existence and validity of both medicines and physicians.  The assumption is that healing should be available to the people, but they are not receiving it because of disobedience.

            I briefly want to give you four other references from scripture regarding the use of various substances for the purposes of medication:

Isaiah 38:21 - “Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover.”  King Hezekiah was about to die – he was told to put his house in order.  He sought the Lord, and God graciously gave him another fifteen years – the poultice of figs was used to bring healing.  Was it symbolic?  Or did it help in the healing – probably both.  Figs do posses medicinal properties.

*Luke 10:34 – “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”  This is from the story of the Good Samaritan, who graciously helped out someone injured badly, and who he normally would have no association with.  The wine would have been used to help to cleanse the wound (alcohol), and the oil to help soothe the pain and to help begin the healing.

*1Timothy 5:23 – “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”  Here is the apostle Paul telling Timothy – his understudy – to take a little wine to help with his variety of ailments.  So wine has medicinal properties both externally and internally.  Interesting, isn’t it?  You would have thought that Paul would have prayed for Timothy and he would’ve received healing by now.

*James 5:14 – “Is any one of you sick?”  He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith shall make the sick person well.”  What is the meaning of the oil here?  Is it medicinal, or is it spiritual?  I remember hearing Chuck Swindoll say that since olive oil was in widespread use for its medicinal properties, he believed it symbolized the use of medicine.  He thought what James was saying here was to “call for prayer and take your medicine!”  There’s probably something to that.  “The anointing process is seen to encourage the proper use ... of medicinal techniques, for it finds the minister applying a token amount of traditional medicine to the sick person.”  However, I also believe that the oil symbolizes spiritual consecration.  The oil consecrates – sets apart – the person for God’s special attention and care, and for the concern of the community of faith.  Whatever the oil symbolizes, however, we need to understand from the text that the oil itself doesn’t heal, the prayer of faith does.

            Another aspect of the place for medicine is found in Ezekiel 47:12 – “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. . . Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”  (Also: Rev. 22:2) While this is a picture of the future, I believe that it confirms the idea that God has put healing agents in creation – in particular plant life.  In my estimation, this only makes sense – that the God who created all of life would put into that creation the properties necessary for healing, and history and medical research has found this to be true.  Virtually every plant possesses some properties that are important to nutrition and healing.  It’s truly amazing.  The sad thing is that in the world of western medicine, natural sourced medicine is outside of the mainstream and is given very little attention.  Just think if natural medicines were given the money and research that pharmaceuticals are given – we may have a cure for cancer.  Unfortunately, vast sums of profit drive our medical research and those profits are only found in the patents of chemically derived drugs – because plant sourced medicines cannot be patented.

            An interesting little tidbit along this line comes from the Greek word from which we get our word “pharmacy.”  The Greek word “pharmakon” refers to “sorcery, magic – with a focus on the use of drugs or potions.” (poison) Interesting?  I don’t want to push this too far - I recognize that pharmaceutical drugs have their place and have benefitted many – however, we do need to be careful and proactive in researching what we are putting into our bodies – there may be a much healthier and natural alternative.  Many pharmaceuticals carry with them a host of nasty side effects.

            So I believe that we can conclude that medicines do have their place – the use of them does not reveal a lack of faith since many medications can be found in creation itself.  Scripture reports the existence and use of medicine and in no instance is it shown in a negative light.

            Third: Physicians: In the Bible, the portrait of a physician is not always a positive one; however they are generally recognized as playing an important role.  There are actually very few references to physicians/doctors in the OT – we saw one of them in Jeremiah earlier.  The reason for this is probably because knowledge about the human body was very limited in these times and so the physicians of the day were often involved in the use of magic and the occult.  They were often seen as negative alternatives to God, or as people with worthless advice.  So healing was tied up with witchcraft which the Israelites were to have nothing to do with.

            In the NT, physicians were seen in a more favourable light.  In Matthew 9:12, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  Of course, he is referring to his own mission as a spiritual physician, but the principle stated also implies that the physician does have a role in treating illnesses. The most obvious example of a physician was Luke, the writer of Luke and Acts.  While he never identified himself as a physician, Paul exclaims in his closing remark in Colossians: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor” sends greetings.  We are given no information about Luke’s practice, but neither is there any indication that gave up his work as a physician, and probably put it to use many times in his missionary travels.

            There is also a reference to physicians in the story about the woman who had bled for twelve years and came to Jesus for healing.  In Mark 5:26 we read the woman “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”  While Mark seems to get in a little dig here about the futility of doctors, the point is that when the doctors can do no more, Jesus has the power to heal. 

            There is no explicit statement in scripture about whether or not to visit a doctor.  In fact, I would suggest, especially from the NT, that it was assumed.  As Christians, however, when we go to a doctor, we go with the mindset that he is acting as God’s agent, who can help us to regain our health and strength.  We hold and believe that all healing comes from God, but that He can use our doctor to bring that about our recovery.  I believe that God has given medical science and every doctor every insight they have gained – regardless of whether they recognize or affirm that truth or whether they do not. 

            What about alternative forms of healing: yoga, acupuncture, reflexology, etc?  Many of these practices have their roots in Eastern religions and philosophies.  As Christians, we need to be very careful of our participation in these.  The god of these religions is a universal, nebulous source of cosmic energy, not the personal God of the Bible – so who is being glorified in the practice of these healing religions.  Some have been found to have some basis in science – and may have something to offer, but the word is caution – this may be the haunt of demons. 

            One of the things that these eastern religions do share with the Bible is a more holistic philosophy of healing.  Our western medicine focuses more on the physical - seeking to deal with the symptoms rather than the cause.  The more holistic approach of scripture deals with not only the physical, but with spiritual, emotional, relational and communal health and wholeness.

            So what can we conclude then?  Scripture teaches us that God is the source of all healing, but he often uses physicians, medications and natural substances to bring about that healing.  (my story)  It also teaches us, especially from James, that prayer is our most effective weapon against illness.  And we must not forget the supernatural – God continues to heal supernaturally today, there are many testimonies of that, and so we need not be ashamed to ask for that in faith.  We then leave the results up to the Lord and his will – whether he heals or not, his purposes for you will be played out in his time and on his terms.

 

Sermon: Romans 5:8-10

Raising the White Flag

August 21, 2016

Bryan Watson

 “One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.” 
― Elisabeth Elliot

 

Good morning. Our Scripture text for this message is from Romans 5:8-10.  I’ll be reading from the NIV.

Romans 5:8-10New International Version (NIV):

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

 

Throughout the summer, we’ve been taking a close look at the armour of God.  Shield and swords, helmets and belts, we’ve been learning about the significance of each piece of armour.  We’ve been watching and waiting in anticipation for our friend Christian to finally give Larry… I mean, the devil… what he’s got coming to him.  Like a great inspirational drama, we watch as the underdog is transformed from a 98 pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face into a mighty warrior wielding justice in his or her hands as the world is set right once again.

Admit it… we’re all inspired by stories of great turnarounds and successes, which is why movies like Rocky, and Facing the Giants are so inspirational.  Because deep down, we all recognize that desire for great transformation that will somehow turn us all into giant-slaying, dragon-taming warriors who vanquish the foe while receiving the admiration and praise of all those who once thought us too insignificant to matter.

But the question I have is: what was the great turning point in all of these stories?  Is there something more?  Something deeper, under the surface, that served as the catalyst without which the turnaround would never have happened?

I think there is.  I think that before any of these battles were won; before Christian, here, turned the tables on the devil, that there was an act of surrender.  I think that, consistent with God’s teaching that the last shall be first, and the weak shall be strong, and the servant of all shall be the greatest of all, I think that the one who surrenders will be the one who is victorious.

Let’s unpack this a little bit, so that you’ll see where I’m coming from.

What Is Surrender?

What is surrender, anyway?

According to Google Search, Surrender means to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

 The common visual that we have of surrender is of a military setting, with one side raising a white flag, while laying down its weapons and submitting to its enemy. 

To Whom Do We Surrender?

So, what does this mean from a Christian perspective?  Who is our enemy, and to whom are we supposed to surrender?  If we are to surrender to God, then by definition, does that mean that we are enemies of God?

Well, let’s see what the Bible says about this.  Romans 5:10 says, For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Let’s go back to that “turning point” that I mentioned earlier.  There is a “pre-turning-point” and a “post-turning-point” in each of our lives.  According to this passage in Romans, before we got to the turning point in our lives, we were enemies of God.  While we were still covered in our sin, we were heading in a direction completely opposite of the one that God desired for us.  Our fallen human nature left us in a state where we were in rebellion against Him.

Romans 6:16 says Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[a] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

So, to whom did we belong before the turning point?  God?  Or His enemy?

In His mercy, however, God, not wanting to destroy us, offered us a way out.  A chance to surrender.  He gave us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, then later nailed to a cross, receiving the execution that you and I deserved as enemies of God.  His blood being the only cleaning agent that can wash our sin away, He offers to do that for us if we just surrender. 

John 3:16 sums this up: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And so the opportunity to seize the turning point in our life is placed before us by a God who loved us, even while we were His enemies.

This is our opportunity to surrender.  To raise our white flag to Jesus.  But what does that look like?  What does it mean?

We know that a military surrender is almost always preceded by armed conflict and one side is beaten to the point of surrender.  But with spiritual surrender, it is by our willingness, not by God’s force. 

God does not do hostile spiritual takeovers.  We will be pursued by God because He loves us, but He is not going to force Himself upon us against our will.  Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

What Are the Terms of Surrender?

When you boil it all down to the basics, the terms of surrender are really an agreement between the one is surrendering and the one who is the victor, outlining what each side will do in order to achieve peace.  It is often characterized by the surrendering party relinquishing weapons, power, and wealth, and sometimes citizenship and identity, in exchange for peace and provision.

We’ve seen it in the Old Testament in the forms of tribute being paid from one kingdom to another, or even captivity and attempted assimilation, as seen in the captivity of Israel by Babylon.

So, what does that look like in the form of spiritual surrender?  Well, I’m going to point out some specific behaviours that demonstrate our surrender to God, but I also want to be careful here.  I am not saying that our salvation is dependent upon our works.  The Bible is very clear on this…  Ephesians 2:8 says 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

However, I am saying that our works should be a demonstration of our surrender to God.  It should be a response to God’s grace.   James 2:20 reminds us that faith without works is dead.  If we aren’t living like we’ve surrendered to God, then I would suggest to you that we haven’t surrendered.  I’m sorry, but if it walks like a duck….

So, let’s go back to the terms of surrender.  What should it look like if we have surrendered to God? 

Going back to Scripture, I believe the main indicator that we have surrendered to God is that we have turned our backs on sin:

In John, chapter 8, a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus.  After dealing with the hypocrisy of the religious elite, Jesus asks the woman, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?[j] Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and  sin no more.”

Go and sin no more.  Straight from the mouth of Jesus.  He didn’t say, “Go ahead… do whatever.  Just remember to come and get right with Me before you die.”  No, He said, go and sin no more.   That reminds me of a comedian I once heard mocking Christianity.  “When I was a boy,” he said, “I had a fascination with another boy’s bicycle.  Oh, how I wanted a bike like that.  As the days and weeks went by,” he said, “I no longer wanted a bike like that.  I wanted that bike.  But I knew I couldn’t just take it.  We were churchgoing people, and stealing another boy’s bike was wrong.  So to solve the dilemma, I made a point of asking God for forgiveness after I stole the bike!”

That’s not really surrendering, is it?  But how often are we like that?

Resisting the sinful nature requires us to live a courageous life, because it doesn’t happen all on its own.  If you leave your garden all to itself in spring, are you getting vegetables, or are you getting weeds?

We are called to live courageously as part of our surrender.  Between Deuteronomy Chapter 31 and Joshua chapter 1, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous 7 times.  7 times!  Do you think it was important?

·         It doesn’t take any courage to let out a stream of profanity when things don’t go our way.  But it does take courage to hold our tongues, and speak blessing instead of cursing.  Sometimes we just need to put a cork in it!

·         It doesn’t take any courage to yell at our spouse or give them the silent treatment.  But it does take courage to show love and compassion and patience, and to not let the sun go down on our anger.

·         It doesn’t take any courage to sit and look at pornography or justify trashy TV or magazines.  I’ve got some colleagues that are all into Game of Thrones.  “I don’t watch it for the nudity and sex,” they say, “But it’s got a good story.”  Who’s kidding who, here?  If you’re watching that stuff, can you honestly say that Jesus is on the throne of your life?  What if He was also sitting on the couch beside you?  Rather, it takes courage to turn off the TV, and surf away from the garbage dump of life.

·         And speaking directly to myself, it doesn’t take any courage at all to tie into a bag of potato chips when I am feeling stressed out, but it does take courage to turn to the One who longs to be my comforter, and does a better job of it than the bag of chips.

And I’m not trying to be legalistic about these things.  I’m not your judge.  But if you belong to Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, and if the Holy Spirit is telling you something, then part of surrendering means obeying the Holy Spirit.

In John 14:26, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, said 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

We are called to live differently from the rest of the world.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  

2 Corinthians 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Remember how I mentioned that sometimes the terms of surrender result in a loss of citizenship and identity?  We, too, are to gain a new identity through our surrender to Christ.  Philippians 3:17-21 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

So, I think it’s quite clear that as part of the terms of surrender to God, we are called to believe and obey.

What about the terms of surrender from God’s perspective?  What has God agreed to do for those who have surrendered to Him?  Well, let’s continue examining the Bible to see what it says about this.

The first, and most important, thing God grants is eternal life.

Romans 6:22-23 says, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 God willingly becomes our King and Master, and cares for us as a King cares for His subjects.

2 Chronicles 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Matthew 25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

God adopts us, and treats us like His children.

Galatians 4:7: Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Matthew 6:31-33 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

1 John 3:1 says, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are." 

So what does it all mean?

It’s a beautiful thing when our King is our Father and our Father is our King.  But it doesn’t start out that way be default.  We may be created in the image of God, but we’ve inherited a sinful nature.  The only way to get past the sinful nature is to surrender at the cross, and allow God wash us clean by the blood of Jesus.

As part of the terms of surrender, we are called to walk in willful obedience.  We are called to invite Him to take His rightful place on the throne of our lives as King and Lord and Master.  And God, in His mercy and faithfulness, will adopt us as children and make us citizens of heaven.

If that’s where you are at today, then I invite you to come and speak with Pastor Dennis or myself, or any of the church leadership after the service.  We would love to speak with you about how you can raise your own white flag and come under the protection and guidance of the King of Heaven and Earth.

Rocky can’t hold a candle to that.

 

Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures

Faith and Politics: The Impolite Discourse

September 4, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            It has often been said that two subjects you don’t want to mix in polite company is religion and politics – presumably because the mixture can be so explosive.  I suppose it’s because people often hold strong opinions about these issues and they will quickly come to light in conversation.  The saying was further popularized by the Peanuts comic strip in 1961. The character Linus said, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people... religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

            But as followers of Jesus Christ, how do we mix the two?  What is our role in politics today?  Do we have a role?  Some Christians believe that we should separate ourselves from the world’s systems which include the realm of politics. But is that really a biblical idea?  This morning’s message is another response to a question given to me by someone from the congregation, so we are going to spend some time exploring the question, what is our role in politics today as Christians?   In a nutshell I would suggest this: As followers of Christ and as good citizens, we have a responsibility to participate in our political systems.  I have come up with three ways by which we have a role to play in the world of politics.  I’m sure there are others, but these three seemed to me to be of most importance.

            First: We have a responsibility to choose good leaders.  As citizens of a democracy we have the great privilege, the opportunity and the responsibility to participate in the process of choosing those who will govern us.  But along with that privilege comes the responsibility to carefully choose good leaders. 

            In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is reviewing the covenant terms between Israel and God before they crossed the Jordan to possess the Promised Land – read 16:18-20.  Here we see this principle of choosing good leaders established – they were to appoint judges and officials for each tribe in each of their major towns.  These were to be men who would not pervert justice, show partiality/bias, nor were they ever to accept a bribe – which would blind them and twist their words.  Bribing is the epitome of injustice.  It is also interesting to note that no legal training was required for these judges and officials, because integrity of character took precedence over technical skills as a qualification of office.

            This also hold true in the NT.  In the book of Titus 1:5-8, Paul is instructing Titus to appoint elders in every town where there was a church. He then proceeds to define what an elder should look like.  Again, the issue here is one of character – good leaders and good rulers are people who reveal and exhibit good character.  While skills and gifting are an asset, the Bible continually holds up character as the fundamental quality of good leadership.  People of character can be trained to lead, but the reverse is not quite so easy.

            Of course, these biblical passages do not work as direct parallels for today, because the Bible pre-dates democracy – so these leaders were appointed, not elected.  And in the case of the NT, the quote from Titus is referring to leadership in the church, not the government.  However, I believe the principle remains the same – we have a responsibility to choose good leaders.  It is a serious responsibility to appoint or to elect wise and just leaders.

            Having the responsibility to choose good leaders implies that we also have the responsibility to vote.  One of the ways that we can bring the Kingdom’s point of view to our culture and to our government is through our vote.  (Quote) We are called to take part and participate under whatever government system we find ourselves under.”  In his book Culture Shock, Chip Ingram states that “of the sixty million evangelicals in the US, only twenty million voted in the last election.  That means two-thirds missed an opportunity to put God first and cast a kingdom vote.”  We can only wonder what difference that might have made?

            We have a responsibility to choose good leaders – by voting we also have the opportunity.  Do some homework on your candidates for every level of elections.  What are the values they uphold – do they line up with yours?  What kind of character have they exhibited in their past?  Remember character is more important in leadership than competency.  One of the biggest problems I have with Donald Trump is that I don’t trust the man’s character.  Sometimes I’m not against his policy, but his rudeness is disturbing.  I watched a number of debates among the Republicans and when challenged on his platform, all he could do was respond with name-calling and insults.  One of the huge problems for American Christians is that they have no good leaders as options for the White House, so they will need to fill the Congress with good leaders.

            Second: We have a responsibility to be a prophetic voice.  I remember hearing Chuck Colson, who I believe himself was a prophetic voice, say that the church has a role in the world to be a prophetic voice to the government and to the culture.  We (the church) are the body of Christ, and therefore the presence of Christ in the world today – and we have divine authority to be the voice of God to our world.  Colson wrote a book entitled, Who Speaks for God?  Of course his inspired Word speaks for him and the church needs to declare the truth of His Word prophetically to the culture.  Our problem has been that we need to speak the truth in love and in action – so often our past attempts at engaging the culture have reeked with condemnation. 

            Sometimes, however, a spade needs to be called a spade.  Back in the book of Mark we read of an incident between John the Baptist and King Herod – (read 6: 17-20).  John challenged the morality of the king, and spoke God’s truth into the situation, and consequently paid the ultimate price for being a prophetic voice.  It’s interesting – the whole OT records the ongoing tension and conflict between the prophet and the king.  If the church is to take up her role as being a prophetic voice to the government, there will be ongoing elements of tension. 

            In the Matthew 5: 13-16, Jesus challenged his disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  The properties of salt were for preservation, flavour and purity.  As a prophetic voice to culture and government, the church acts as an agent of preservation and purity against the moral decay that so easily gains the upper hand.  The other metaphor is one of light.  Light symbolizes openness and transparency.  It acts as a guide that dispels the darkness, and the purpose of the light is that others “may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”   We are to be salt and light in word and deed, and in both our personal life and in our corporate life as the body of Christ.  Colson states, “Christians are called to bring biblical influence to every part of society, including political structures.” 

            As a prophetic voice, then, we are to articulate Christian values and truth in a responsible way to the secular world.  What is the truth about human sexuality?  What is the truth about abortion or the environment?  We need to communicate biblical truth to our governments – in the spirit of “thus says the Lord” – but in a respectable and yet firm way.  How many times have you personally communicated your concerns to your MP or MLA?  How many times has the church challenged our governments on the decisions they are making? (EFC).  “We are called to be the rudder of society by teaching and living the truth.  That is the job of the church.” (Ingram)

            Third: We have a responsibility to pray for our government leaders.  Of all the things that speak to the Church’s role in politics today, this is by far the most important.  Paul makes this very clear in his letter to Timothy – (read 1 Tim 2: 1-4).  We are to pray for rulers (kings) and for all those in authority – even to offer thanksgiving for them, which is a remarkable comment in the age of Roman emperors.  The reason we are to pray for our leaders is so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness. However, Paul is not merely concerned with our comfort, but for a political climate that is conducive to the spread of the gospel.             Another reason we are to pray for our leaders is that it pleases God, who desires all people to be saved – which is aided by a political climate that allows people the freedom to hear the good news.

            Another very familiar text about this subject comes from the OT - 2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by 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 sin and will heal their land.”  Surely, these words were written specifically to the nation of Israel, but I think that the principle remains for God’s people today.  If we take this call to pray for our nation seriously, he will hear and answer our prayer.  How serious do we take our responsibility to pray for our nation and our leaders?  And the scriptural command to pray for them holds true whether or not we agree with who is in power.  “The scripture is clear: whoever is in office is ultimately established by God.  And the first requirement of the church and of individual believers is to pray for them.”

            Now I’m going to honest with you this morning – I am not very enthralled with our Prime Minister – to me it seems there is more show than substance.  But if that is my final word on him today, then I stand in opposition to the clear teaching of scripture. We are called to bring this man before the throne of God regularly – for wisdom to govern and for his salvation.  Paul's exhortation to pray for "those in authority" stands opposed to the tendency of some Christians to criticize or ridicule them.  The pastor of one mega-church in the Chicago area rightly admonished the congregation when they hissed at a mention of then President Clinton. The verses from 1Timothy should cause all of us to review our attitudes to leaders. (NIVAC)
            You know in a democracy, you generally get the government you deserve.  We have a Liberal government today because they most closely reflect the values of Canadian culture.  Our main weapon against the moral freefall of our country is prayer – because it is people’s hearts and attitudes that need to transformed – it is really a spiritual battle - and then that change will be reflected in our political hallways.  Our government, or any government, is not beyond the arm of God, they are an area of God’s activity and control. 

            Psalm 72 is a “royalty” Psalm that exalts the king.  In verse 15 of that Psalm, we read: “Long may he live!  May gold from Sheba be given him.  May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long.”  Shortly after PM Trudeau was elected the EFC sent out a prayer card for the new PM based on this Psalm – I thought it was a prudent idea and I would like to read it now.  (read)  Maybe if we prayed blessing over our PM, instead of cursing, we might see unexpected changes in our government – I must admit that I am as guilty as anyone when it come to this.

            As followers of Christ and as good citizens, we have a responsibility to participate in our political systems.  We are responsible to choose good leaders, to be a prophetic voice to our government, and to pray for wisdom, direction, and for their salvation.  How many times do you and I pray for our nation and for our leaders?  This is a biblical mandate, and maybe if we all took it more seriously, we would see the kind of changes happen in our country that we desire.  What can you do to become more involved in the roles we are called to in the political arena?  Send an email, write a letter, make a phone call and most of all – pray for Canada – that the Lord would truly have “dominion from sea to sea!”

 

 

 

Sermon: 1 John 1:1-4

Introduction to 1 John

September 11, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

            This morning we are going to begin our journey through the NT book of First John.  As most of you know, preaching through a book of the Bible is my favourite method of preaching – it is in my opinion the best way of preaching scripture and what I believe is of most benefit to you.  Learning what the Bible teaches in a systematic way rather than a scattered way will increase your overall Bible knowledge.  I finished up Judges the end of May, so it’s time to work our way through another book.

            1 John is a short book – letter really – it only consists of five chapters, but it is packed with theological truth and practical material.  It is the first of three letters attributed to John, which belong to the section of the NT called the “general epistles” – which is defined as all the letters of the NT not written by Paul.  So as usual, I am going to make some introductory remarks broken down into the following categories:

* Author – The book of 1 John is one of the few NT letters that does not have an author identified within the text.  However, from the very early history of the church it was attributed to the Apostle John – the apostle who spent three years of his life under Jesus’ teaching.  There are many literary similarities between this letter and the gospel of John – such as complementary themes and the common use of words, so it is easy to see a common penmanship.

* Date – Most believe that these letters represent some of the latest written material in the NT – only Revelation was probably written later.  They are generally considered to be written somewhere between the years 80 – 95 AD – up to six decades after the death of Christ.

* Audience – Again the letter itself does not identify a specific group of recipients.  It is believed that John had located himself in the area of Ephesus, and that the letter was intended for the Christians in and around the region of Ephesus.  However, others think that it served as a circular letter to several churches in the region of Asia Minor (western Turkey).  What does seem clear is that he was writing to a congregation(s) that was/were beginning to tear apart from within.

* Purpose – Why did John write this letter?  He actually comes right out and gives us several key statements in his letter that explicitly state why he is writing. 

- “We write this to make our joy complete” (1:4)

- “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” (2:1)

- “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” (2:26)

- “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13)

So in making use of these purpose statements, my workshop teacher suggested this as a theme/title of the whole of the book – “How can we know we have eternal life and live with fullness of joy?”

            While John’s primary purpose was to encourage the church to hold to the truth and know the joy of the Lord, he was also writing to bring correction to false teaching that had sprung up from within the congregation itself.  The church was facing some sharp disunity.

* Themes – There are a number of very important themes that run through this letter.  John makes a couple of definitive statements about God – “God is light” and “God is love.”  Some have used these statements as the basis to outline the entire book.  Certainly, anyone who has read this letter recognizes one of its main themes and repeated words is “love.”  In fact, it has the one of the highest densities of the word “love” in the entire Bible – second only to the Song of Solomon (based number of occurrences per 1000 words). 

            However, there are also three re-occurring themes that we find in this book, and it’s these three themes that I will generally follow as an outline.  John does not write in a tight, linear fashion like a Paul does in book like Romans.  John moves from one theme to another more freely, sometimes without apparent logical connections – therefore, the book is hard to outline.  But there does seem to be pattern of three revolving or circular themes in the book.  They can be stated in this way:  Genuine believers hold certain truths about Jesus; genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands; and genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for one another.  Some commentators have suggested that these three themes provide a kind of test for the believer: the test of doctrine; the test of obedience and the test of love. (‘This is how you know”)  These themes provide for many practical applications for us today in the world we live in – both within the surrounding culture and within the culture of the church.   May the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit be with all of us as we take this journey together.

1 John 1: 1-4 (Read) – The Prologue

            As was noted earlier, John begins his letter without any of the usual personal introductions or salutations to his readers.  He jumps right into his message – in much the same manner and form that he does in the gospel of John.  (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”).  While the introductions are not parallel, they are certainly complementary – especially in style.  In these first four verses, John is laying out an introduction to some of the themes that he will work through later in the letter. 

            First: The testimony of an eyewitness (vs.1).  Through the verbs and the repetition of words in this section, John is making his case by focusing on the reliability of his eyewitness testimony.  “That which was from the beginning” echoes the intro to John’s gospel and it may refer to Jesus’ pre-existence or it may refer to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – or maybe he has both in mind.  What follows is the repeated experiences John had with Jesus as a first hand eyewitness – that which we have heard, seen, looked at (Gr. Look closely at – theatre), our hands have touched (conclusive proof of material reality) – concerning the word of life. 

            John is making his case that he has every legitimate right, even the authority to say the things he is about to write.  In every one of the first three verses he makes the claim of seeing and hearing the divine life that walked among them.  Why does he say the same things over and over again?  He wants make it very clear that he was an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Can you imagine what that was like for the disciples as this truth gradually dawned on them?  - that this person walking and eating and living in their midst was not just a prophet sent from God – but God himself – right there in front of them – who they could see, hear, touch and converse with!  I’m not sure that they fully grasped the totality of that reality until after his death and ascension.

            John uses rich language to describe his experience with Jesus.  The verbs that he uses in these first few verses: seen (3x), heard, looked at, touched, testify, proclaim – they all speak to the reliability of his testimony.  These all come from his close proximity to Jesus over three years.  He saw Jesus teach with authority, walk on water, perform miracles, raise the dead; he watched him die on the cross, he was given the responsibility of caring for Jesus’ mother, he spoke with Jesus after he was raised from the dead, and it was John who reclined on Jesus’ chest.  How much more of a reliable witness could you ask for? 

            Virtually all of the NT was written by eyewitnesses.  This truth reminds us that the Christian faith is not a religion based on apparitions, mystical experiences and knowledge.  Christianity is rooted in the events of history, and verified by many, many eyewitnesses.  Jesus was real person who lived and experienced real events which have been documented by the NT writers.  And these documents were not written hundreds of years after the fact, plus the NT manuscripts pass the test as the most reliable documents of any ancient writings – by a landslide!

            All of these testimonies of the physical senses are “concerning the Word of life.”  The “Word” is that which was from the beginning. The Word was a person – Jesus Christ.

            Second: The appearance of the divine life (vs.2).  Verse two is actually a statement that should be in parenthesis.  Some Bible versions show it that way – and some will have a long dash at the beginning and end of the verse.  The NIV, however, does not make that clear.  But John introduces the idea of the word of life at the end of verse one, and now wants to clarify what he is referring to as an aside.

            John again returns to his authority as an eyewitness - this life, this “Word of Life” has appeared, has been revealed and we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim it to you.  John makes two declarations of truth about this “life” in this verse.  First, the life that appeared is divine in its origin; it must be if it is eternal.  “We proclaim to you eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us (in time).”  The other point he wants to make is that this “life,” which they had seen, heard and touched, walked with them in the fullness of humanity – this was the very life of God incarnate in the flesh.  In this verse, he is laying down the groundwork about the truth of the nature of Jesus which he will use to stand against the false teachers in the church.  Remember one of the themes (tests), “genuine believers hold to certain truths about Jesus.”

            Third: The proclamation of that life (vs.3-4).  The parenthesis ends with the second verse and John now revisits the themes he began with in verse one.  In the more literal versions, verse 3 begins in the same manner as verse 1 – “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (ESV – all one sentence).  The proclamation was that the life, which was divine in nature, had appeared to many, and John was an eyewitness extraordinaire.  The proclamation based on what was seen and heard ends by stating two purposes.

            The first purpose is that in believing the proclamation about the life of Jesus and the message of the gospel, they could enjoy fellowship together – apparently this fellowship had been broken or was at least strained.  But the fellowship was not just horizontal – between believers, it was also vertical and actually found its source in the Father and the Son.

            The word “fellowship” comes from the Greek word koinonia which means “common” or “shared” – the idea of sharing or participating in a common life together.  (quote) “Christian community is partnership in experience; it is the common living of people who have a shared experience of Jesus Christ.”  Surely, our fellowship as a church also revolves around our shared beliefs about Jesus and our shared values.  This is the fellowship we enjoy together and it is sweet, and it is sourced in the divine life that appeared, lived as one of us and died for us all.

            Verse 4 offers another purpose for the writing of this letter – “We write this to make our/your joy complete.”  The reception by this church of the proclamation of what John had seen and heard and touched would make his and their joy complete.  Again, this is one of the purpose statements in this letter.  Do you want a joy that is complete rather than partial?  According to this verse, this book has something to say to you.  We will also learn from 1 John that sin is a joy killer – it may bring a measure of fun for a season, but ultimately it will steal your joy. 

            The proclamation about the life of Jesus, which is backed by reliable witnesses, will produce a sweet and blessed fellowship among those who believe and receive the gospel, and it will also produce joy, a fruit of the Spirit, in fullness. (Marty)  “God wants Christians to live with fullness of joy in this world.” So today we begin this journey through 1 John, and let’s see how the book answers this question, “How can we know we have eternal life and live with fullness of joy?”

 

Sermon: 1 John 1:5-10

I. Obeying God - Genuine Believers Are Obedient to Christ's Commands

A. No Darkness At All

September 18, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

                                                           

            One of things that we learn about heaven and the new city of Jerusalem in the book of Revelation is that there will be no night there – no darkness at all.  The reason that there is no night is because of the ever-present glory of God – so the sun and moon will be redundant.  Paul also tells us in 1st Timothy that God lives in unapproachable light – a divine light that is so intense that mere mortals could not possibly exist in its presence.  One of the wonderful things about light is that it has the ability to overpower and dispel the darkness – both in the natural and the spiritual.  Darkness can only get a foothold when light recedes.

            While the spiritual light of God will always dispel the darkness, we have in a sense the control over the amount of light and darkness we allow to enter and exist in our lives.  From our text for today, the apostle John uses the comparison of “walking in the darkness” and “walking in the light.” In John’s mind, they are two very distinct and separate pathways, but not, apparently, to some of John’s opponents who are dividing some of the churches.  John begins the letter by stating his position clearly: Walking in darkness is a life of deception; walking in the light is a life of fellowship and purity. 

            First: The Message – No darkness at all (vs.5)  In the first four verses we looked at last week, John proclaims the historical verification of what he had seen, heard and touched – the Word of Life who had appeared and to whom he now testifies – Jesus Christ.  In the Greek, verses 4 and 5 are connected with the word “and” – “We write this to make our joy complete,” and “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”  Notice that it doesn’t say that God dwells in light, but that God is light – it is a part of his essential being.  The revelation of God as light is common and is found all throughout scripture in both the Old and New Testaments.  It reflects an OT background where “light” symbolizes knowledge, truth and purity.  We use the term “shedding light” to refer to revealing what is true, or to “bring light into a situation” is to reveal knowledge.  But light also has a moral component – as in purity and perfection (holiness).  Light also has the capacity to reveal – it reveals our spiritual condition and unveils who is living in darkness.

            So how does the truth that “God is Light” help to make our joy complete?  It reminds us that God “is the starting point of everything,” and that in knowing him we have eternal life.  If we are going to have fullness of joy it must start with the right view of God.  Do you truly know God?  There are many distorted and competing views of God floating around in our Christian culture today –many are blatantly unbiblical.  Do you recognize them? (3 views)  “The Christian life ultimately stands and falls on a right understanding of God.” (Marty)

            In him, there is no darkness at all.  Darkness is the opposite of light – if light is truth then darkness is ignorance or error; if light is moral purity then darkness is evil – a lot of evil takes place in darkness or at night.  Darkness, whether we want to admit it or not, is the natural condition of our hearts.  But in God, there is no darkness at all.  This statement is John’s initial declaration that becomes the foundation of what now follows.

            Second: Three false claims that come from the darkness.  In the following section John is addressing false claims that his opponents are making that undermine the truth that God is light.  The structure of this section introduces the three claims with the words “If we claim” (say – v.6, 8, 10).  The three claims are countered with an opposing/contrasting statement.

A. The denial that sin breaks our relationship with God.  (Read vs. 6)  The opponents of John claimed that they had fellowship with God (light) and yet their lives didn’t give any indication of that fellowship (darkness).  They did not believe that sin impacted their relationship with God.  John, however, offers a strong contrast against this idea:

* Walking in darkness.  To “walk in darkness” is to allow darkness to define one’s life.  The opponents claimed to have fellowship with God while they practiced the deeds of darkness – and they believed these deeds had no effect on their spiritual life.  So what is darkness, and the deeds of darkness, referring to?  In Romans 13:12 we read: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us set aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”  John says that living this way and yet thinking that one has fellowship with God is living apart from the truth – yes, but stronger language that that - a flat out lie!  One commentator said it this way: “Religion without morality is an illusion.  Sin is always a barrier to fellowship with God.”  

            It is my pastoral concern that we are seeing some of the same kind of attitudes in the contemporary church.  It’s this notion that I can claim to have a relationship with God and yet continue to live in a sinful lifestyle - the idea that the God of grace has somehow become a God who will tolerate a certain level of sin – or sometimes that sin doesn’t even matter.  If we believe that, John tells us very clearly that we are deceiving ourselves.  And along with this notion comes a huge resistance to any kind of exhortation or admonishment.  So to point out to someone that their choices/lifestyle does not line up with their confession of having a relationship with Jesus is immediately branded as intolerance – “You’re being judgmental!”  Nevertheless, we called to identify and lovingly confront those who are in error – because, to claim fellowship with God when walking in the darkness of sin is to believe a lie.  Let’s not deceive ourselves!

*Walking in the light. (Read vs. 7)  On the other hand, if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another and receive cleansing for our sins.  The OT often described “obeying” God’s commands as “walking” in them.  Walking in the light is also living a life that is pleasing to God and open to the Spirit and to others (ongoing).  It does not try to conceal the darkness of the heart, but exposes it to the light.  Walking in the light brings two results: fellowship with one another and cleansing of sin.

            One of the proofs that we are walking in the light is that we will have fellowship with other people (joy).  Light brings fellowship; darkness brings division and dissension.  If we know and follow Jesus it will show in how we relate to one another as believers.” (Marty)  The goodness of the light of God builds and strengthens relationships with God himself and with others in his kingdom.  When we are genuinely walking in the light, our desire and joy will be to be a part of the community of faith.  Walking in the light also brings cleansing from sin (ongoing), and God does more than forgive; he erases the stain of sin (Stott). 

B. The denial that sin exists in our nature (read vs. 8).  The second denial takes the matter one step farther.  Not only does sin not break our fellowship with God, but there is the claim to be without sin altogether – to be sinless.  So the very fact of sin is denied – the truth that sin is an inherent part of our fallen nature from our very birth.  Remember what David said in Psalm 51:5: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Scripture clearly teaches us that we were born with a sinful nature – a pervasive rebellion against God.  Just think, if you are a parent, when was the last time you had to teach your children to be disobedient?                Many of us were required to read the book Lord of the Flies when we were in high school.  The book was a bit disturbing, but revealed a great truth – that in fact, we have within our nature an inherent bent for evil.  How a group of proper English school boys marooned on an island quickly find themselves descending into savagery – even the murder of one the boys.  The evil continues to spin out of control until an English officer lands on the island to discover the extent of their depravity.  The boys seemed unable to rescue themselves; their redemption had to come from the outside – sound familiar? 

This, however, is not typical fare for our films and books.  Many more of our stories and songs portray a scenario of the inherent goodness of humanity.  If we could just all find that goodness within us we could create a pristine world of utopia – of love and peace.  Just think about the words of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”  This is the religious philosophy called “humanism.” Humanism teaches that humans are inwardly and fundamentally good, and that it’s primarily our environment that steers us into evil.  We see this so prevalent today among so many who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions – it was my upbringing, my environment, my disease (stigma of addictions) that is to blame for my actions.  The Bible insists that we are creatures who are given moral choices for which we are responsible. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  The concept of sin is not one that is recognized in our culture or even, sadly, in many of our churches.

Instead of denying our sin, we need to confess it.  Verse 9 provides the contrast that is the proper response to the reality of sin in our lives (Read).  When we first received Christ we confessed and repented of our sins.  But even as believing Christians we continue to sin – therefore we need to continue to confess our sins to the Lord.  This is a well known and comforting verse.  God is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse us from our sin. But take note of the condition (if) – receiving his forgiveness and cleansing is dependent on our confession.   Confession means to “agree with God” – to acknowledge and accept his assessment of your situation or status.  Do you make confession a regular part of your prayer life?  “Walking in the light is demonstrated not by denial of sin, but by confessing it and abandoning it!”

C. The denial that sin shows itself in our conduct (vs. 10).  At first glance the wording of verse 10 seems to say basically the same thing as 8.  But there is a different shade of meaning.  The denial by John’s opponents is not only of the sin nature, but of sinful conduct – “we have not sinned.”  This is even more blatant than the first two, because it is a direct challenge to scripture and to the gospel itself.  Paul says in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” - a pretty clear statement on the comprehensive nature of sin.  All through the OT Scripture also points to the common condition of sin from the fall in the garden all the way to Christ.  The gospel itself was necessary because of human sinfulness – if our sinfulness was something we could’ve rescued ourselves from Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross.  To suggest that we have not sinned in our conduct and actions is a direct affront to God’s explicit word and makes him a liar.

To suggest we have not sinned reveals another problem – that we deny our sin rather than going to God and confessing it.  There is always a danger that we will try to justify ourselves by claiming that we didn’t actually sin – we are masters at manufacturing excuses and justifications for our actions.  “My boss is a jerk – I had a right to blow up at him”  “My spouse is neglecting me, why shouldn’t I look for happiness somewhere else.  God wants me to be happy, right?  When the light of God exposes sin, we need to be ready to confess and repent.

Walking in darkness is a life of deception; walking in the light is a life of fellowship and purity.  “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  How foolish to think that he would tolerate the darkness of sin in our lives, and how foolish the pathetic human philosophies that would try to deny the existence of sin in the human race.  We are lost in our own devices.   But the good news is that sin can be overcome by the power of the blood of Jesus!  God has provided a way of salvation from sinfulness for each one of us – all we need to do is receive it by faith and surrender to him our hearts/ lives.  Stop denying your sin and start confessing!  Walk in the light!

 

Sermon: Matthew 21:28-32

If Not Us, Then Who?

September 25, 2016

Bryan Watson

 

Our scripture passage for this morning is from Matthew 21:28-32.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

The title of my message this morning is: If not us, then who?  If not us, then who?  The parable in Matthew that I just read basically shows that there are two types of people when it comes to doing God’s work:  those who do, and those who do not.  There’s obviously an element of hypocrisy thrown into the parable for good measure, and ironically, I find that at different points of my life, I can identify with both of these sons.  I can absolutely refuse to do something that God is impressing upon me to do, with all kinds of excuses, but then eventually I just get it done. 

On the other hand, there have been times where I am on fire for something in one moment, but then turn my back on it the next, even if it was the right thing to do.

But when all is said and done, what mattered wasn’t what our initial response was, but what we did in the end.  Did we finally answer the call?  Or did we make God look for someone else?

There’s a cute little story that I’ve heard a few times, and you’ve probably heard it, too.  I don’t know who the author is, but it’s got a great lesson in it:

There were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

So, my challenge to you this morning is simple:

Get up, and get moving.

Get out of the stands, and get into the game.

Stop thinking that you don't have to do anything, because somebody else is going to do it.  We’ve already seen that Nobody probably will.

The world already has enough Christians who are either watching from the sidelines, or whose motivation is to do nothing more than collect the participation ribbons of life.

Where did we get the idea that it's ok to be mediocre?  Where did that come from?  It sure didn't come from God! 

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

So, we are made in God’s Image.

We are made after His Likeness.

We are made to have dominion.

That doesn't sound mediocre to me.  That doesn't sound like a creation that is intended to be "just good enough". 

Could you imagine what Langenburg and the surrounding area would be like if each and every one of us, as Christians, aspired to make a difference?

 

HOME

And home is the first place where we should aspire to make a difference. 

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  And just a verse or so later, He says, “Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies.”

Men, are we giving ourselves up for our wives?  Are we putting their needs and desires ahead of the football game, or TV, or golf?  Men, I believe that we will be held accountable for how we cherish our wives. 

And this is a two-way street.  Just before that, beginning in verse 22, Paul says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” 

Are we doing that?  Even when we don’t feel like it, or when we feel like we aren’t being respected in return?  Or if we feel we aren’t being treasured and cherished and loved?  Who said this is conditional???  You just do what God says and let Him take care of the rest. 

And regarding our children, Moses is talking about God's laws when he says in Deuteronomy 11:19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  

And in Ephesians 6:4, Paul writes “Fathers,[b] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

What if we actively got involved in our kids' lives and trained them up according to God's word???

According to Mark Holmen from Faith At Home Ministries, do you know who the #1 influence is on the spiritual development of kids?

How many think it’s the pastor?  Raise your hands.  Well, I admit that you are awesome, Pastor Dennis, but I’m sorry, it’s not you.

How many think it’s the Sunday School teachers?  Nope.

Youth group leaders?  No again.

Yes…Young Adults Leaders… !!!   Nope.

As important and as influential as those things are, The number 1 influence on a child’s spiritual development is:  Mom & Dad.  Mom & Dad.  Followed by Grandparents, and I bet Aunts and Uncles fall right in there as well.

Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle: Are you teaching your kids how to read and study the Bible?  Are you teaching them how to pray and discern God’s will?  Are you teaching them how to bless each other, how to pray before meals, how to serve?  Are you having a daily devotion time with them?

Do you know how to teach them?  Do you need to be taught yourself?  It’s ok if you need to be taught.  That’s what the church is here for.  That’s why we have spiritual mentors.  That’s why becoming a Faith at Home church is a topic that just won’t go away.

This church wants to equip you to fill this need in your children’s lives, but it doesn’t remove the responsibility that YOU have to BE the one who develops and nurtures the faith of your children.

And for you kids who are here, you’ve got a role to play in this as well.  Ephesians 6:1-3 instructs you to obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”[a]

 

WORK

What about at work?  What would this area look like if every Christian, whether he or she was an employee, or a business owner, obeyed the commandment to work as if you were working for the Lord?

Colossians 3:23-24: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

I believe that not only are we to do our very best at our work because we are "working for God", but also because if the world knows we are Christians, they are watching us.  I know that every day the people I work with are bringing out their hypocrisy meters to see how I measure up.  Sooner or later, I hope that one day someone will see the fruit on the tree of my life and want to know more about God because of it.  And rest assured, I'm not saying I'm perfect in any of these areas.  I struggle as much as anybody to not destroy my testimony with the stupid things I feel obligated to say and do sometimes.

GIVING

 How are we doing as it relates to our giving?  You know, every organization that we care about, whether churches, missions, or other organizations, need money to operate.  Money can be such a powerful force, either for good or for evil.  I believe that if we truly understand God's economy, we will start thinking of ourselves as stewards of HIS money, instead of thinking of it as OUR money. 

But Bryan, it takes every penny I have just to survive.  I can't give anything away.

Well, I'm not saying that I understand HOW this works, but consider the following scriptures, and follow them to their natural conclusions...

Luke 21:1-4 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 6:38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Note that it DOESN'T say, "give to a registered charitable organization, so that you can get a tax receipt, so that you can get a tax refund poured into your lap."  No, it doesn't say that.  If God is bringing a need to your attention, folks, please don't let the prospects of a tax receipt be your guiding factor.  Just give, and let God be the God of your finances.  It doesn't have to be a charitable organization.  It could be a widow who needs her car fixed.

And it doesn't just have to be money.  It could be clothing, or the use of a vehicle, or a meal, or your time, or instruction.

I remember when my wife, Lori, had neck surgery years ago while we were living in Regina.  We were given so much food by people from our church, that I literally did not have the freezer space anymore.  People were coming over and taking my kids out for donuts or to the mall to take their minds off of things.  It was wonderful!

 

OTHER THINGS (Blank Slide)

There are many, many different ways in which we can influence our world AS CHRISTIANS, and it doesn’t always have to be at church.

WE live within the broadcasting area of a Christian radio station..  Do you have any idea... Any idea at all... How blessed you are to have this?  I spent over 2 decades in Regina, and we would have loved to have had a Christian radio station there.  But we couldn't get one in Regina because the will wasn't there, even though Regina is more than 10 times the size of Yorkton.  Yet, what are each of us doing to support it?  To be fair, they are not a non-profit.  But I can assure you that they are making a difference in this area, but they are also competing against the notion that some businesses will not advertise with them because they are Christian.  Are you shopping at the businesses that support the Rock?  Are you letting them know that you are listening to a program that they sponsor?  Or are you just casually enjoying the tunes and the odd program here and there?

At various levels, we are always going through elections.  I believe we are currently going through a municipal election cycle.  Are we getting involved?  Are we checking out the candidates to make sure that our elected representatives model the values that we say are important to us?  Are we helping with their campaigns?  At the very least, folks, we have an obligation to go out and vote.  We have been given such a privilege to have the right to have input into who forms our government.  Even whisper about this idea in some countries, and you will disappear!  Don't waste this opportunity to shape our government, at all levels, by getting involved. 

Or perhaps you are called to BE part of the government.  Or part of the leadership of any organization.  There are few things more noble than sticking your neck out to make a difference in leadership.  I spent 4 years as the President of Saskatchewan Home Based Educators, helping to shape the regulations around homeschooling in the province.  It's humbling to think about the impact that your actions have on others.

Folks, our young people need Christian coaches in their lives.  Not people who will take advantage of them for their own gratification.  Get involved.  Be a coach.  Be a big brother.  Be a mentor.  It's not so much about the sports or activities, which are great, but you will have an opportunity, however brief, to pour something into the life of those young people.

The list goes on and on and on.  What are your opportunities?  Do you have a neighbor who needs help, and you can cut their grass or shovel their driveway, and thereby be given an open door to tell them about Jesus?

Can you teach a class in something, woodworking or photography or art, and have a chance to mentor someone?  What is God calling you to do today?

What about being a prayer warrior?  No matter where you are in life, or what your current abilities are, there is always room for more prayer warriors.  Jesus commanded us to pray.  Jesus TAUGHT us to pray.  He wouldn’t do that if prayer didn’t matter.  It matters, and we may never know how or how much until we finally get to Heaven, but it matters.  He said it, and I believe it.

And in a small way, we’ve got a perfect opportunity to put some of this into motion.  Pastor Dennis would never say this because he would think it is self-serving.  But I’m not a pastor, so I can say it:  October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  You know how to show Pastor Dennis and Donna that they are appreciated at LEF?  By everybody grabbing a handle and lifting that burden of responsibility that comes with being a small-town pastor.  We’ve got a lot of people here who are already doing many of the things I have mentioned.  But there are still many opportunities to do things, especially right here at LEF, that we can show Pastor Dennis and Donna that they are appreciated here.  And we don’t have to limit it to October, but if you are thinking about starting, October would be a great time to do it!

So, in closing, I would like to read a passage for you from the book of James, chapter 2.

James 2:   What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works...     For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Now, just to clarify… we ARE NOT saved by our works.  We are saved by our faith in the grace of Jesus Christ.  But our works should be an outward demonstration of our faith.

So go out and make a difference.  If not us, then who???  Because if we don’t, it’s possible that Nobody will.  But it’s also possible that Somebody will.  And we wouldn’t want to leave it to just Anybody, because that could be the worst choice of all.

Let’s pray.

Thank You for gifts and talents. Thank You that each of us has different gifts and talents to meet the needs of this world. Give us wisdom to recognize our opportunities. Give us courage to take advantage of the opportunities. Help us to hear the words, Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant.

 

Sermon: 1 John 2:1-6

The Test of Obedience

October 2, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

Our text this morning provides a test.  It is the test of obedience.  Words like “obedience” and “commands” are not popular terms at all these days.  No one wants to be commanded to do anything, nor do we like the idea of being required to obey commands or rules.  We tend to bristle at the whole idea.  One commentator said it this way: “We have built a world based on free choices, not on obedience.”  Choice has become one of our culture’s highest virtues – close to idolatry I would say.  The voices for choice cry for the choice to end the life of the preborn, to end the life of the aged, and to choose one’s gender – these are just some of the obvious, but the desire for choice pervades almost everything in our world today.  The clamour for choice often puts the individual in the seat of God.  Today the cry for choice trumps the call to obedience.

            As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, is this in any way a biblical idea?  Well, I’m afraid to say, the apostle John would have none of it!  Scripture teaches that obedience is a concept that remains key to the life of a genuine Christian, and we are going to see that stated very clearly in our text this morning.  We have deluded ourselves in much of western Christianity and have come to think that the call to obedience is not necessary, or is only a “good option” (worthy goal), or worse, that any call to obedience is nothing but a form of legalism.  Church, we need to get this straight in our hearts and minds – obedience matters and it matters a lot!  In fact, your salvation is staked on it!  We learn this from our passage today: Jesus is our advocate when we sin, but our lives should be characterized by obedience to Him.

            First: Jesus, our defender (vs. 1-2).  John begins chapter two by calling his readers, “My dear (little) children.”  He is well advanced in years when he wrote this letter, and he speaks to them as a spiritual father using this term of affection.  This reveals the pastoral heart of John, as well as his authority over them.  John then provides another purpose statement for his letter – “I write this to you so that you will not sin.”  That he makes this purpose statement suggests that not sinning is a possibility.  “God’s purpose in giving us this letter through John is to move us toward a life that is increasingly free from sin.” (Marty)  Many of us have been conditioned to be resigned to fact that we sin, and can never be perfect, and so we might as well just get into the habit of confessing our sins.  While confessing is important, God’s desire and plan for us is that our lives would not be characterized by sin, that we would have victory over the sin in our lives, and live in increasing righteousness.  And that shouldn’t surprise us because we are told in both the OT and NT that “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  God is at work in every genuine believer to conform them into the likeness of His Son, who is the Holy One.  While we won’t achieve perfection, our lives should reveal increasing righteousness and decreasing sinfulness.

            BUT, if we do sin, and we will, we have one who will stand with us as our defender before the Father – He is “Jesus, the Righteous One.”  We learn two things here:

1. Jesus is our advocate.  The Greek word translated by the NIV as “speaks in our defence” is the word “parakletos” – the same word used by John in his gospel to refer to the Holy spirit.  The word means one who comes along side as a helper, or an advocate.  We learn in the book of Hebrews that Jesus is our merciful High Priest who intercedes for us before the Father.  Because he became like us he knows our weaknesses in every way – the perfect intercessor.  Jesus is not pleading our innocence before God, but reminds the Father of his blood that was shed for our forgiveness.  What an amazing thought that Jesus, along with the HS, is interceding on our behalf, for our sins, before our heavenly Father.  What grace! 

2. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  Here is another amazing thought.  Jesus is not only our High Priest and advocate; he is also the sacrifice that was offered for our sins, and the sins of the whole world.  A number of translations have the word “propitiation” here instead of “atoning sacrifice (NIV).  There is much debate among biblical scholars and commentators about what John is referring to here.  Propitiation means to “appease or conciliate – an offering that turns away the wrath of God directed at sin.”  The “atoning sacrifice” focuses more on the covering or wiping away of sin in the meaning of Jesus’ death.  Many contemporary theologians shy away from the idea of God’s wrath being appeased in Jesus’ death, but I disagree.  I believe that both aspects were a part of Jesus sacrifice – propitiation and covering of sin for our forgiveness.

            If we sin, we have an advocate who speaks to the Father on our behalf.  However I believe, based on 1: 9, that his advocacy is dependent on our confession.  We must confess our sins to expect Jesus to intercede on our behalf.  And because of Jesus’ sacrifice the Father’s wrath has been appeased and our sins have been removed – not only ours but the sins of the whole world (universal in scope; not application).  He is our Saviour and our defender. 

            Second: The tests of the claim to know Jesus (vs. 3-6).  Verse three begins with the word “and” in the Greek – clearly connecting verses 2 and 3.  Jesus is our advocate and atoning sacrifice, and what comes now is the test that reveals whether we really know him or not.  The word “know” is very important in this section – it appears four times.  It refers to an intimate kind of knowledge or understanding – not a casual one.  This is evident because the word is also used to refer to sexual relations. 

            Verse 3 begins with a Greek phrase that we are going to come across often in 1 John – 10 X in the letter – unfortunately here the NIV obscures it.  The phrase ‘we know that’ is usually translated by the NIV as “This is how we know” (“By this we may know” – ESV), and it occurs again at the end of verse 5 in today’s text.  I like the NIV’s rendering as “This is how we know” because it makes it easily understood that he is about to present us with a test.  So what are the tests that reveal that we know Jesus – are true believers?

            A.  Obeying his commands. Verse 3 then should read, “This is how we know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” (Oh, oh, there are those two words: obey, command)  So here’s the test; John is essentially saying, “Do you want to know if you are a believer (that’s one who “knows” who God is)?  Look at your life!  Do you keep God’s commands?” (Marty)  Verse 4 re-states this truth in an even more direct and hard-hitting way – “The man (or woman) who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  This is the second time that John has used the word “liar” in a short space.  In chapter 1 those who claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in darkness (life of sin) are liars, and now those who claim to know Jesus and yet don’t do what he commands are also liars.  This is tough language, and intended to have some shock value.  There is no question in John’s mind that sin and obedience to God are irreconcilable.  For John, (quote) “the test of the knowledge of God is moral conduct.  There is no knowledge of God that does not also keep his commandments.” 

            Again, John provides the opposite scenario.  If anyone obeys his word, their love for God will grow and be made complete – reach perfection.  By perfection, John has in mind the growing maturity of the steadfast believer.  It is interesting that this verse seems to suggest that if we obey the commands of the Lord, we will grow in our maturity of our love towards Him.  The second test of the claim to know Jesus is this:
            B. Walking as Jesus walked.  “This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus walked.”  To be “in him” is to know him and have fellowship with him.  To “live in him” means to “abide” in him or to “remain” in him – it is relational language.  There is no ambiguity here.  “If we claim to know God, if we claim to be Christians, if we claim to be saved, we must live as Jesus lived.” So how did Jesus live?  He lived his life in total obedience and submission to the will of his Father in heaven, even to the point of accepting death on a cross.  We, too, must live to please God, and not ourselves.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

            So where do you land on the spectrum of obedience to Christ this morning?  The tests given in this passage are meant for us to examine our own lives.  Do you harbour sins that you think are no big deal?  The message is clear – unambiguous.  “If you claim to know Jesus, to be a Christian, and do not follow his commands, you are a liar, and the truth is not in you – these are not my words!  Do you think that Jesus cares about obedience?  There are so-called Christian books that are on the shelf today that suggest any call to obedience or any challenge to live godly lives are legalistic and flat out deny the gospel of grace.  What did Jesus say?

- “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and HS, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  (Matthew 28)

- “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14 & 15 – 6X) (Explain commands)

- “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” (stood the test)  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like the foolish man who built his house on sand (destroyed).

            So what do you think, does Jesus care about your obedience?  Not only does he care, he demands it!  If we think we can claim to follow Christ, to know Christ, and yet continue to walk in sin, we are only deceiving ourselves – and we are quite good at self-deception!  God is urging us all to take a hard look at ourselves and evaluate things from his Word - his perspective.  “Relationship to God requires moral behaviour worthy of God.”

            I want make this perfectly clear right now.  Obedience to God does not bring about justification – or salvation – which comes from faith alone, but obedience as a pattern of life does give evidence that one has truly been born again. Nowhere do the scriptures recognize a salvation that does not produce obedience/good works.

            So I want to address a couple of common but destructive teachings that are being perpetrated in the church today. (Marty)  The first misconception is this; I’ll bet you’ve heard it: “Christianity is not about rules, it’s about relationship.”  Is this true – given what we have just considered from 1 John and the very words of Jesus?  Certainly, Christianity is about relationship, but not at the expense of obedience.  In fact, the Bible teaches that true, genuine relationship with God will produce obedience and good works!  This idea flies in the face of the whole NT where Jesus commands his followers to obey everything he commanded them            Second, this passage also contradicts the common idea that someone can “become a Christian” by receiving Christ as Saviour, and at a later time decide whether to receive him as their Lord.  (Marty) “This is actually false teaching.  It is utterly contrary to the very nature of the gospel.  Obedience is not an option for Christians.”  Obedience – which is surrendering to his Lordship – is the test of whether you actually “know him” – language referring one who is a true believer – that is exactly the point that John is making here.  If you don’t obey him, you don’t know him; and if you don’t know him He is not your Lord; and neither can he be your Saviour.   If someone’s heart’s desire is not interested in pleasing God, it’s a fairly clear indicator that they really don’t know him. (Sinners prayer)

 

            Jesus is our advocate when we sin, but our lives should be characterized by obedience to Him.  This is the test, the test of obedience.  Notice that I am not promoting sinlessness here – that’s why we need an advocate.  I am referring to someone who claims to be a believer, but whose life is characterized by sin more than righteousness.  John says those who live that way don’t know him and are not in fellowship with him.  Is your walk with Jesus resulting in increasing obedience and righteousness?  That is the evidence that you know him and have eternal life.  We need to examine ourselves and make sure that Jesus is our Saviour AND Lord.

 

Sermon: 1 John 2:7-11

The Test of Love

October 9, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

In a boiler room, it is impossible to look into the boiler to see how much water it contains.  But running up beside it is a tiny glass tube that serves as a gauge.  As the water stands in the little tube, so it stands in the great boiler.  When the tube is half full, the boiler is half full; if empty, so is the boiler.  How do you know you love God, or how can you measure your love for Him?  You believe you love Him, but you want to know.  Well, look at the gauge.  Your love for your brother/sister is the measure of your love for God.” 

            I believe that there is a lot of truth offered in this little analogy.  It is true – our love for God can generally be measured by our love for our brothers and sisters.  That can make us a little uncomfortable, can’t it - it certainly does me?  And our text for this morning from 1 John pretty much affirms this idea.  In fact, Scripture elsewhere wonders how we can suggest that we love God who we haven’t seen when we don’t love the brother we can see.  John provides with another test today – another test that proves the genuineness of our faith.  This is the test of love.  Here’s what we learn: From ancient times God has called his people to love one another, and it remains a test of our walk in the light. 

            First: The old is new (vs. 7-8).  John seems to indicate a change in theme by once again using a term of endearment towards his readers – “Dear friends (Lit. “Beloved”).  While he is making very direct statements, he keeps his tone kind and pastoral.  He wants to make it clear that what he is writing to them is not a command that is new – something they had never heard before – but something old – even from the beginning.  (Text) “This old command is the message you have heard.”

            So often we desire something that is new, fresh and exciting, and yet the struggles in our Christian life do not come from not having enough guidance from God, but from putting into practice what God has already clearly told us.  As Christians we need to recognize that we often need to go back to the basics of our faith and to be rooted in its foundations.

            So what is this old command that John is referring to?  He never actually tells us, but we can figure it out from the context – it’s the command of brotherly love.  The “oldness” of this command can be understood in two ways:  First, it was given by God way back in the Law of Moses – Leviticus 19:18 says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.  I am the Lord.”  So this command of loving your neighbour as yourself was a part of the OT Law and covenant.

            But the “oldness” of the command can also be a reference back to the words of Jesus himself – and the beginning of the gospel message.  John was probably writing these words some sixty years after the life of Jesus – so this is a message his audience was familiar with.  John was probably referring to the words of Jesus in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  So this old command is also a new one.  It is new because it has been fulfilled in Christ.  And the truth of this commandment has been modelled by Jesus and is also being formed in John and his audience.

            Another reason for John calling this a new command is because it is a new age – one where the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.  This is a reminder that “everything has changed with the resurrection of Jesus.”  We are in what the NT calls the “last days” – yet two thousand plus years after Jesus it doesn’t appear today that the darkness is passing – it seems to us it is growing.  However, the resurrection sealed the fate of darkness forever – its time of influence is limited.

            What John wants us to understand here is that the command to love one another is not something new – it has always been God’s will for his people, but Jesus fulfilled that command in his life and even more so in his death – he offers us a perfect example and a new emphasis.

            Second: The amount of light we possess is revealed by our love for each other (vs. 9-11).  John Stott wrote: “Light and love, darkness and hatred belong together.”  These are the contrasts that apostle John employs for his next test – the test of love.

            Verse 9 in the NIV begins with these words – “Anyone who claims.”  This phrase reveals a grammatical link back to the text from last week – in verse 4 and 6.  These are all actually the same phrase in the Greek text.  So in that sense this is the third test - obedience, authenticity, love.  So here John now makes specific the command he was referring to in verses 7-8. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” (liar?)  To claim to be in the light means to be in fellowship with God and with one another (1:7), so whoever makes that claim but does not love his brother (fellow believer) is really not in the light at all, but in darkness – out of fellowship.  “Christians love one another.  Period!  We are not given a choice in whether or not we will love other Christians; it is at the heart of walking in the light.” (Marty)

            How do we understand the word “hate” in this context?  Most commentators suggest that it is more than our common understanding of the term.  We think of hate in terms of those deep, strong emotions of detesting someone, but the meaning may be broader here – some suggest that hate it is “the absence of deeds of love,” or the “failure to obey the love command.”  This brings a much broader field of application the word.  Thus, anytime we fail to act in love to our brothers and sisters, we are acting in hate.  That brings the impact of John’s teaching much closer to home, doesn’t it?

            So do you claim to be a Christian?  To see if your claim would hold up in a court of law, take a hard look at how you treat your fellow believers.  “Would others call your actions, words, and attitudes toward them ‘love’?  Is your pattern of life to put their needs above your own?   When other Christians are in crisis, do you look for ways to care for them?” (Marty)  Do we really love one another, or is our real focus on ourselves?  You know, Jesus taught us to love our neighbour as ourselves, so it’s not wrong to have a focus on meeting our needs, but it is wrong to focus only on our needs.  In fact, Jesus desires us to have an equal focus on the needs of others.

            In the style we see so common in 1 John, verse 10 provides a contrast or alternative.  “Whoever loves his brother lives (abides) in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”  Those who love their brothers and sisters walk in the light, and that light keeps them from falling or wandering.  There is another possible meaning here.  The Greek word used for “stumbling” is used elsewhere to refer to a stumbling block.  So loving our brothers’ keeps us from stumbling and also keeps us from being a stumbling block to others.  

            Those who love their brothers abide in the light - they have fellowship with God.  “Fellowship with God naturally flows out of fellowship with other believers (and vice-versa).  Does God seem distant?”  Perhaps it is because you have stepped out of the light and entered the dark path of a fractured relationship.  It is true that when we allow division to come into our relationship with our fellow believers, it will have an impact on our relationship with God.

            In verse 11, John returns to his test in verse 9.  Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness (apart from God), walks around in darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going because of his blindness (spiritual – distorted vision).  Lacking in love towards our brothers and sisters reveals that we are living in a state away from the light of God.  We have no idea of where we are going, and it could end up being disastrous.  The point or we could say the test, that John is making is this passage is this: “the way I treat my brother will show whether I am walking in the light or in the darkness.”

            A black pastor tells this story: “It was my third year with the ministry.  I got a call from a prominent white Christian leader asking me to go to lunch with him. As we’re sitting down to eat, all of a sudden this guy started crying. He explained that God had blessed him — his children were healthy, he was known throughout the country. But, he said, “I’ve had a hard time sleeping throughout the night.” And I was thinking to myself, “Why is he telling me this? I’m not a therapist.”

      “I just came back from an annual conference on the other side of the country,” the man told me.  “A bunch of us got together to discuss reconciliation and cross-cultural ministry. Usually, when black leaders come into the meeting, we make them feel right at home and let them be part of the decision-making process.  But to be honest with you, the decisions are made before your leaders ever get there.  I’m used to hearing the jokes and the use of the N-word.  But this time, when the jokes were going on and people were saying things, it didn’t sound right to me.”  “How can I get over this?” the leader asked me, sobbing. “How can we be friends?”  I was silent for a moment then asked him, “Do you like football?” He seemed a little puzzled, but he said yes.”  “I do, too,” I told him. “I used to coach high school and college ball, and I have a lot of friends who play pro. I love a good game, and I love to cook out. So here’s what we do: I need to get to know you, and you need to get to know me. Why don’t you come over to my house?” I was the only black in my suburban neighbourhood at the time. I said, “Bring your wife and meet my wife, and we’ll just sit and talk and get to know each other. I’ll barbecue some steaks, and let’s start there.”

      He said, “You want me to come to your house?”  “Yes,” I said. “If you want me to sit here and clear your conscience for all the junk you did, I can’t do that.  Friendship is not cheap. It takes time and commitment.” I gave him my home phone number and told him to give me a call.

      I never heard from him again.

      This is a sad story – a sad story of the unwillingness to reconcile relations based on race between two Christian leaders.   It is sickening that this stuff takes place in “Christian” conferences (relatively recent).  While this story is rooted in race, it is played out in many other ways among Christians.  We refuse to get past our prejudices, our pre-conceived notions, our anger or our hurt, and seek reconciliation.  Someone’s personality rubs us the wrong way and we are put out.  (quote) “Love becomes a genuine value only when it is tested, only when we must reach beyond ourselves and love someone we do not wish to love.”

      The question can become: “Do you need to like your brother (sister) in order to love him/her?  No!  We are created with a vast variety of personalities – and frankly, not all mesh that well.  But we still have the capacity to love them if we will choose to do so.  Love is an action, a choice – so just because we don’t have the “warm fuzzies” about someone does not get us off the hook to love.  We are commanded (not an option) to love our brothers and sisters – if one cannot love his fellow believers, it is doubtful he will truly love his neighbours. 

      Do you want to know what it looks like to love one another?  Let 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 be your love gauge (boiler / Love is patient).  The measure of your love for your brother will be the measure of your love for God.

            From ancient times God has called his people to love one another, and it remains a test of our walk in the light.  Here’s the test for today in a nutshell.  If you claim to be a Christian, if you claim to have fellowship with God, the evidence of that love will show in your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  To refuse to love, is an admission of walking in the dark – apart from fellowship with God and with his people.  What does the gauge on your love meter read this morning?  Is there someone you need to get right with?  Is there an apology that needs to be given?  Is there a personality you need to give grace to?  This is a test!  Consider it carefully.

 

Sermon: 1 John 2:12-17

A Dangerous Love

October 16, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

Thomas Linacre was king’s physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England, founder of the Royal College of Physicians, and friend of the great Renaissance thinkers Erasmus and Sir Thomas More.  Late in his life, Linacre studied to be a priest and was given a copy of the Gospels to read for the first time.  Linacre lived through the darkest of the church’s dark hours under the papacy of Alexander VI, the pope whose bribery, corruption, incest, and murder plumbed new depths in the annals of Christian shame.  Reading the Gospels for himself, Linacre was amazed and troubled. “Either these are not the Gospels,” he said, “or we are not Christians.”

            This story illustrates the truth that we are learning from I John – our Christian confession must be evident in the way we live our lives.  If it is not, “we are not Christians.”  Remember that one of the main questions that John is answering in his letter is, “How can we know we have eternal life?”  Or how can we be assured that we are genuine Christians?   And a theme that he keeps returning to is: “you will know that you are saved by looking (examining) at your life.” 

            Today’s text seems to take us on a sudden change of direction.  For those of you who remember from the introduction, John does not always write in tight logical arguments.  John Stott refers to our passage today as digressions – one on the church and one on the world.  However, it would be wrong to suggest that they are not connected with what has gone before.  The theme for our text this morning is this: Loving the world puts people in pursuit of pleasure and status, but genuine believers know God and are able to overcome the evil one.  

            First: The descriptions of a genuine Christian (vs. 12-14).  This is a difficult section to interpret and to understand John’s purpose in writing it the way he did.  Not only does the theme suddenly change from verses 9-11, but so does the style of writing.  Most of the newer translations put this section into a different format – a kind of poetic style.  This makes visual the change and reveals the parallelism in the text.  There are three kinds of people addressed, and then the pattern is repeated again.  There is a lot of repetition of word and phrases in order to strengthen emphasis.  Some commentators see this section as a digression and some as a parenthesis – for the purpose of assuring John’s readers about their own relationship to Christ.

            So who are these three groups – dear children, fathers, and young men – that John is addressing?  And why is there no reference to women?  Some commentators suggest that the three groups refer to different chronological ages; some think they are meant to distinguish different levels of spiritual maturity.  However, they may also be a stylized way to refer to all Christians.  The words “fathers” and “young men” are masculine terms in the Greek, however, even when mixed groups were in view, Greek writers would always use the masculine gender.  It was just the way it was in the ancient world – masculine words were used even in reference to groups of mixed of gender.  My teacher suggested that John is referring here to three categories of people - “children,” “parents,” and “young people,” in order to communicate that he is addressing the entire congregation.  There is good merit for this interpretation.

            If we assume that John is addressing the whole congregation here, then the descriptions he gives would be true of every genuine Christian and they would give assurance to them of their standing before God.  “I write to you,” and here are the reasons why:

Because you have received forgiveness for your sins “on account of his name.” (Name’s sake).  Forgiveness of sin is the hallmark of every true Christian.  But notice the end of the statement – our sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake.  We would assume that forgiveness would be for our sake and salvation.  But our salvation is ultimately for Jesus’ glory – Eph. 1:12 says we were chosen, “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”  “John is saying that we have had our sins forgiven for the exaltation of God’s name.”

Because they have known/know God.  The word “known” here is the same Greek word we saw back in verse 3 – which refers to an intimate/relational knowledge of God.  To the “fathers” it is because they have known him who is “from the beginning”(repeated).  I think this is a reference to Christ and his pre-existence, but also may refer to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  What this seems to indicate is that there is a long standing, mature faith at work in these people.  To the children John is writing because they have known the Father – God.

Because they have conquered the evil one.  To overcome the evil one (Satan) there needs to be a measure of spiritual transformation in one’s life.  You don’t win battles with him in your own strength.  John’s audience had obviously shown progress in this battle.  The “young men/people” are able to do this because they are strong in faith and have the word of God living (abiding – tapped in) in them.  This victory does not promise that believers will be removed from the heat and peril of the battlefield, but it does assure them that if they are faithful they will overcome the devil.   Strength comes as we immerse ourselves in God’s Word.  (Marty) “The more the Word of God “abides” in us, the more we will worship and serve the God of the Bible rather than a god of our own making, and the better prepared we will be to fight the evil one’s attacks just as Jesus did when he was tempted in the wilderness.”  (Summer memory work!)

            What John has been doing in this section is to assure those who are faithful that these descriptions are true characteristics of a genuine Christian.  Therefore they have assurance of their position: their sins are forgiven; they know the Father; and they have overcome the evil one.  But along with assurance, John is also setting them up for what is about to follow.  Some commentators suggest that in verses 12-14 John gives the “reason” for why he is writing, while 15-17 give the “content” of what he is writing.  In other words, I am writing these things for this reason, but ultimately for this purpose – that you:

            Second: Do not love the world (vs. 15-17).  Since these things are true of you as believers, this must also be true of you.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Up to this point John has been using indirect commands in his letter (vs.3), but this is his first direct command.  This is important because it reveals that this is a thematic peak in the letter.  This is a key emphasis John has been building up to.  He has painted a very black and white picture here and it comes as a warning. Two choices stand before everyone—even in the church: Either we love the Father or we love the world – there is no middle ground.

            But what do we mean by the word “world?”  It is key here because it is repeated 6 times in verses 15-17.  The Greek word is the word kosmos from which we get our word “cosmos.”  Typically we understand the term as referring to the entire universe, but in scripture it also can refer to simply the earth.  But John’s use of the word is unique.  When he speaks of the world, he means the world system that is in competition with God – that is under the grip of the devil.

            To understand the meaning behind this word is important.  I remember during my childhood hearing references to this text frequently, and quite frankly, the memories are mostly negative.  To my young mind, I understood this text to mean that only that which was “spiritual” was acceptable to God – everything else was sinful.  To kid who loved sports, that was bad news.  While sports are not spiritual, are they inherently sinful?  What of the person who loved gardening – was that not worldly - or the person who loved photography, wasn’t that worldly?  What it all boiled down to me as a kid was this – “anything that was fun was worldly.”

            But that is not what this text is saying, and we don’t want to get that confused.  The world here is the world that is under the control of Satan, which opposes God and draws people into rebellion against God.  In verse 16, John briefly defines the things of the world as the “cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.”  The cravings (lust; desire) of sinful man (flesh) can refer to the selfish outlook that seeks its own ends, or to any desire, any sinful interest, that draws us away from God.  “Although our hearts have been made new, we still inhabit unredeemed flesh.”  And that unredeemed nature makes us vulnerable to pursue the desires of the flesh. 

            The lust of the eyes is often associated with sexual lust, but can mean anything that entices the eye.  This is related to the sin of covetousness – seeing something, or something my neighbour has, and wanting it – be it his wife, his house, his vehicle, his combine – whatever.  We see it and we want it!  It was the desire of the eye that got Eve into trouble in the Garden; it was the lust of a wandering eye that got King David watching Bathsheba bathe when he should’ve been off at war leading his army.  It is the lust of the eye that traps so many into pornography.  (video)  We are enticed by thousands of advertisements to make us want something – television, internet, magazines, billboards, etc.  What are some of the ways you and I can minimize our exposure to these?  “To put your flesh to death you have to let it starve.” (M)

            The “boasting of what he says and does” (pride of life) is basically the attitude of arrogance that is based on what we possess.  “I’m successful, I have everything I want, and I don’t need God or anyone else.”  This boasting will be reflected in whatever status symbol is important to us or seems to define our identity.  Anytime we are spending money on things that are designed to bring attention to us or to our financial status we are acting out of the pride of life.  All of these things do not come from the Father, but from the world.  We are reminded in James 4:4: “Anyone who chooses to become a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

            John provides two reasons for not loving the world – first, because “the love of the Father is not in him,” and second because “the world and its desires are passing away.”  The choice is clear – if we love the world the love of the Father is not in us.  The second reason not to love the world is because it’s passing away now and will eventually be destroyed taking all the things we love with it.  However, the person who “does” the will of God lives (abides) forever – notice the it says “does,” not“knows” or “believes,” but does (a term of action).

            So what do we make of this “Do not love the world or anything in it?”  As one commentator put it, John seems to be teaching a doctrine of separation – one that draws a sharp line between us and the non-Christian world.  To John, the world is a dangerous place for the Christian.  We are called to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world.  We are to be “salt” and “light” – the agents of change and purity in the world – not the people of compromise and accommodation. However, the unfortunate truth is that we have too often become the church of compromise.  Loving the world is spiritual adultery.

            How do we avoid loving the world and all its enticements?  Prov. 5:9 says: “Keep away from her, and don’t go near the door of her house.”  If you have problem with pornography, get rid of all possible means for it to come into your home.  Be intentional. Be careful. Don’t play with fire.  If you have problems with gluttony, stay away from the buffet lines, and church potlucks. JBe intentional. Be careful. Don’t play with fire.  If you can’t control your urge to shop, stop browsing the mall and the internet for the latest stuff.  Be intentional. Be careful. Don’t play with fire.  If you have a problem with ______ - fill in the blank! 

            Loving the world puts people in pursuit of pleasure and status, but genuine believers know God and are able to overcome the evil one.   What are the areas in your life where you struggle with “loving the world?”  Do you deal with misplaced/inappropriate desires?  Are you trying to see how close you can get to the line without crossing it?  Deal directly with it.  Loving the world is a dangerous love.  If you’re a believer you have the power within you to conquer your love of the world. 

 

Sermon: Matthew 24:23-25

Lessons from the Pumpkin Tree

October 23, 2016

Bryan Watson

 

Good morning. 

Our scripture passage that forms the basis of this message is from Matthew 24:23-25.  I am reading from the NIV.  In this passage, the disciples have asked Jesus about signs of the end, and Jesus is teaching them about the end times.  Jesus says,

23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

As I begin the sermon today, there are two things that I want you to remember about this scripture passage:

First, that the intent of the deceiver is also to attempt to deceive the “elect”: those who are already Christians.  So we, as Christians, can’t just rest on our laurels.  We need to stay vigilant.

Second, Jesus has “told us ahead of time.”  So, there is a foundation that we can go to to make sure that we aren’t deceived, and that is His Word, the Bible.  The truth of Scripture will always stand.

Have you ever seen a pumpkin tree?  (refer to photo) Well, a couple of years ago, I happened to have one, and I was very grateful for the big, beautiful pumpkins that my pumpkin tree produced that year.  Now, you may think that pumpkins grow along the ground on vines, but I have photo evidence that they grow in trees!  In fact, the pumpkins in this photo are approximately 14 inches around, and are about 6 feet off the ground.

Now, whenever I’ve shown this picture of my pumpkin tree to other people, they claim it is a hoax.  First, they accuse me of photoshopping the picture, but I have not altered it in any way.  Next, they accuse me of manually placing the pumpkins or the vines in the tree.  However, I have never touched the tree, the pumpkins, or the vines.  Nor has anybody else.  No, this is a natural occurrence, and I can claim, with the photo as proof, that I have a pumpkin tree.

The funny thing is, I have had a number of my adult friends walk away scratching their heads, saying, “Well I’ll be!  I always thought that pumpkins grew on vines along the ground.”  Despite the fact that for their entire lives they’ve seen pumpkins growing along the ground, this simple photo has actually caused them to doubt what they know to be true.

This is exactly the method that atheists use to get us to doubt the Bible, especially about the events of creation week, or miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea, or Jesus feeding the 5,000, or the Resurrection.  Throw out a photo of some rock layers, produce a little bit of “science-speak” (or worse yet, produce a total fabrication like Haeckel’s embryos or Piltdown Man), and instantly you can create doubt in the minds of people who once believed in Creation.  After all, if I can get people who have actually seen a pumpkin patch to doubt what they believe about pumpkins, how much more possible is it to get people to doubt the acts of Creation Week when they were not there to witness it?

Or produce a documentary about how the Hebrews during the Exodus could have crossed the Red Sea at a shallow spot in a dry season, and all of a sudden you’ve got people doubting the ability of God to produce a miracle, without considering the fact that the Egyptian army actually drowned in this sea in pursuit of the Hebrews.  So, what… their chariots got stuck and they just hung around there waiting for the waters to slowly rise because they didn’t want to get their feet muddy? 

Deception.  Deceit.  It’s all around us, trying to distract us from the truth of what we know in the Bible, like some kind of spiritual illusion or sleight of hand.  And this makes perfect sense, because we know what Jesus said about the devil in John 8:44.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

I’ll come back to the pumpkin tree a bit later, but for now, I want to speak with you about a few of the deceptions that we can expect to face in this life, and how we are to handle them.

Each one of these deceptions is an attempt to fulfill one of our basic needs as people.    

This is not a comprehensive list, so be prepared to recognize other forms of deceit.

The Deceitfulness of Wealth

One of the biggest deceivers in the world today is the deceitfulness of wealth.  In this life, we live under an economic system that uses money as it’s means of value and exchange.  The Bible is certainly not against working for a living.  In fact, it sees this as an honourable pursuit.  In the NIV, the word “prosper” is used 84 times, almost always in conjunction with God’s blessing.  So, I think it’s fair to say that God wants us to prosper.  But there are many forms of prosperity, and prosperity is not exclusive to wealth.  So, we need to be careful not to take it out of context and make wealth an idol.

I think this is where so many popular ministries get into trouble.  I’ll speak about doctrine a little later, but for now I will just say that we need to beware of any teaching that would place wealth as the primary goal or driver of our lives.  That puts wealth in the place of God, and turns it into an idol.

I think the best illustration of the point I am trying to make was made by Jesus Himself, so rather than beat around the bush, let me read for you the words of Jesus Himself, from Luke 12:13-21.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Are we rich toward God?  When is enough, enough?  If our relationship with God is taking a back seat to our pursuit of “just a little more”, then maybe we need to ask ourselves if we are being deceived. 

Ecclesiastes 5:12 says,

The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
    whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
    permits them no sleep.

We need to remind ourselves of Christ’s promise in Matthew 6:33 when He says that we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

 The Deceitfulness of Power

Another common deception that we see so prevalent in the world today is the deception of power.  Somehow we think that if we can control everything, we can control everything.  And make no mistake, we want to be in control.  It’s a frightening thing to not be in control.  We want to be the greatest.  We want to be first.  And heaven help the person who gets in our way.  The buffoonery that we see in the US Presidential Election is a prime example.  I’ve seen nothing about ideas or policy or anything like that, but the only reason given to vote for either candidate is because the other one is the bigger idiot.  The quest for power has reduced the election to nothing more than a nightmare reality show.

But it’s not just the US Presidential election where we see the quest for power at play.  In the business world, often the climb up the corporate ladder is the goal, and the rungs of the ladder are made up of the people that had to be stepped on in the climb to the top.  And when you finally get there, you discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall all along.

But the most classic example of the pursuit of power came from the disciples themselves.  As we read about the situation in Luke 22:24-27, listen closely to Jesus’ prescription for the problem.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

The antidote for the deception of power is to lay our quest for power at the foot of the Cross, and become servants.  Again, listen to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:7-11.

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Deceitfulness of Leisure/Pleasure

We live in a culture that is driven by the weekend.  “Work hard, Play hard,” is the motto that we live by.  And make no mistake, there is nothing inherently wrong with leisure.  God made us to work, but He also instructed us to rest.  In the 10 commandments in the book of Exodus, God tells Moses 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, 

The problem comes when we take leisure to an unhealthy level. 

(Despair.com photo)  Like this demotivational poster says, “Hard work pays off over time, but laziness always pays off now.

Are we sacrificing our relationship with God in the pursuit of “down time”?  Are other relationships suffering because of our own pursuit of pleasure?

I remember in the first year that Lori and I were married, I still wanted to spend a lot of time playing computer games.  But that wasn’t Lori’s interest.  Many days, after work, I would spend time playing some type of simulator game, for hours, while she spent the evenings just as much alone then as she did when she was single.  Eventually, we had a crucial conversation about this, and thankfully, I listened.  I realized that I was sacrificing my relationship with her on the alter of Police Quest.

Maybe it isn’t computer games for you.  Maybe it’s TSN, or Oprah.  Or golf.  Or maybe it’s worshipping St. Mattress on Sunday morning instead of coming to church.  Whatever it is that takes the place of relationships with others or with God, be careful that you are not deceived.

Like it says in Proverbs 6:9-11,

How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
    When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

The Deceitfulness of Lust

A few years ago, while we were still living in Regina, we were out Christmas Carolling with a group from our church.  A local care home that was affiliated with the church knew that we were coming, and they had prepared refreshments and dainties.

About the second carol in, I allowed a casual glance over at the dainties table, and I saw the biggest, most desirable butter tart that I had ever seen.  At about 4 inches across, it was the size of a small meat pie, and the golden syrupy centre looked done to perfection. 

I wanted that butter tart.  I HAD TO HAVE that butter tart.  All through Silent Night, I could think of nothing but that butter tart.  It became my obsession.

When the carols were sung, I quickly breezed by all of the friendly seniors who wanted to chat and shake hands, and finally, I had the object of my desire.  Holding the butter tart in my hands, I studied it carefully.  It was everything I had ever wanted in a butter tart, and finally, I could resist no longer.  Sinking my teeth into the flaky goodness, and chewed slowly and deliberately.  MINCEMEAT!  Recoiling in horror over the reality of what I had just done, I had to get rid of it quickly and hide the evidence.  I couldn’t take the second bite.  The thing I wanted the most became the thing I wanted the least.  Like ammonia on my tastebuds, I had to get rid of this thing. 

Spying the garbage can, I knew what I had to do… but I was busted!  A little old lady spied my dilemma, and it seemed like she intentionally positioned herself between me and my only escape… the garbage can.  No matter where I moved to in the room, she stood guard between me and the trash like mother bear protecting her cubs.  I was going to eat my poison whether I liked it or not.

I want to read a passage from Proverbs 7 for you, beginning in verse 6.  It’s a lengthy passage for a reference point in a sermon, but I think it’s important to hear it all.

6 At the window of my house
    I looked down through the lattice.
7 I saw among the simple,
    I noticed among the young men,
    a youth who had no sense.
8 He was going down the street near her corner,
    walking along in the direction of her house
9 at twilight, as the day was fading,
    as the dark of night set in.

10 Then out came a woman to meet him,
    dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
11 (She is unruly and defiant,
    her feet never stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the squares,
    at every corner she lurks.)
13 She took hold of him and kissed him
    and with a brazen face she said:

14 “Today I fulfilled my vows,
    and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
15 So I came out to meet you;
    I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed
    with colored linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
    with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
    let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money
    and will not be home till full moon.”

21 With persuasive words she led him astray;
    she seduced him with her smooth talk.
22 All at once he followed her
    like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer[a] stepping into a noose[b]
23     till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
    little knowing it will cost him his life.

24 Now then, my sons, listen to me;
    pay attention to what I say.
25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways
    or stray into her paths.
26 Many are the victims she has brought down;
    her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is a highway to the grave,
    leading down to the chambers of death.

Folks, that’s lust.  It is soooo appealing until finally you get what you were after, and then the reality of the situation sets in, and you have to live with the consequences. 

If the object of your lust is sex, then you have to live with the broken relationships, the shame, and possibly, the diseases.

If the object of your lust is vehicles or combines, then you have to live with the debt.

If the object of your lust is the buffet line, then you have to live with the eventual health concerns and the high insurance rates.

If the object of your lust is a butter tart, you may have to live with mincemeat.

The Deceitfulness of False Doctrine

The deceitfulness of false doctrine is perhaps the most dangerous deception of all.  It masquerades as truth, and maybe even is 95% true, but it’s the 5% that will kill you in the battle of spiritual warfare.

2 Corinthians 11:14-15 reminds us that 14 …Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Dennis was quoting someone who was speaking about the philosophy that God wants you to have Your Best Life Now.  “If I’m supposed to have my best life now,” he said, “then I guess I’m going to hell.”  Personally, I’d prefer to have my best life in my next life, with Jesus in Paradise.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11-14, 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (THE KJV USES THE WORD “DOCTRINE”) and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

He also tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3 that the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

I believe we are in that time now.  We need to be aware of what we are being taught, whether by books, by teachers, by televangelists, and even by preachers.  The body of Christ is to be built up, and we are to have knowledge of the Son of God.

How Do We Protect Ourselves From Being Deceived?

I don’t want to over-complicate this, so let me give you three ways in which you can protect yourself from being deceived.  In no particular order…

First, use common sense. 

Proverbs 3:21-23 says,

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
    preserve sound judgment and discretion;
22 they will be life for you,
    an ornament to grace your neck.
23 Then you will go on your way in safety,
    and your foot will not stumble.

If you play with fire, you’ll get burned.  So don’t play with fire.

If you drink and drive, you could kill someone.  So don’t drink and drive.

If you make a face it will stay that way.  So don’t make faces.

Use some common sense.

Second, compare everything with Scripture.

1 John 4:1 says  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.

We need to compare things to what the Bible says.  If you find an idea that doesn’t agree with scripture, then the idea is the faulty thing, not scripture.  In today’s society we are tossing out Scripture left and right in order to fit our own man-made ideas of truth.  What a fatal mistake.  Luke 21:33 says Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Hold on to the inerrancy of Scripture.  Psalm 119:105 reminds us that Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Finally, listen to the Holy Spirit.

If we are Christians; if we have truly accepted Christ as our Saviour; if we have relationship and not just head knowledge, then we know that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is given to us as our helper.

Jesus promised us in John 14:26 that the Father would send a helper, the Holy Spirit, to teach us all things, and remind us of everything that He said to us.

In having the Holy Spirit within us, as Christians, we can have confidence that God will give us wisdom and understanding beyond our own means, but it is still up to us to confirm it against Scripture, and then to act upon it.

As for the pumpkin tree, the photo is real, but is easily explained when we consider what we know about vines.  At some point in Spring, a vine, upon reaching the tree, grew up the trunk and then out along a branch, where several blossoms grew into the pumpkins you see in the photo.  Just another example that truth never changes, and that seeing isn’t always believing.

 

Sermon: John 9

I Don't Know Much, But I Know I Can See

October 30, 2016

Brendon Galger

 

Have you ever been heard someone pose the question “what book would you like to have if you were… stranded on a desert island? Or if you could only have one book for the rest of your life?” And the somewhat cliché Christian answer of the bible comes up.  Their reasoning is that it is the only book you can read over and over and over again that will continue to reveal new meaning and insight each time. John chapter 9 where Jesus heals the man blind from birth is the perfect example of this idea.  There is of course the miracle itself, Jesus revealing his divinity by restoring sight. There is how miracles right in our midst can be doubted.  Probably the most discussed is the tension over healing on the Sabbath and the Pharisees attempt to discredit Jesus.  As prominent as the neighbors or the Pharisees, or even Jesus are, in the actual telling of the story the only person who appears throughout the whole chapter is the bind man.  This morning I would like to focus on him.  We start off not knowing much about this man, not even his name. Christian tradition refers to him as Celidonius.  Scripture doesn’t even give us that much.  We know he was blind and that the blindness was not due to sin.  Pretty slim back story.  But as the man grapples with what has happened to him and he interacts with people we learn a lot more.

John Chapter 9: As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.[a] The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

A lot happens in just a few verses, it is very quick to read. The man's journey to the pool… less than one sentence “so the man went and washed,” Most likely it took much longer to happen.  Scholars believe that the pool would have been approximately 1000 yards away.  That is over half a mile.  Difficult for many of us, exceptionally difficult if you were blind.  First reading this I envisioned the pool to be a kind of stagnant puddle, or dugout sort of thing.  It was in fact much grander.  Made of stone and a monument to the engineering of the time. It would have had beautiful stone stairs leading down to the water.  Again, not great if you are blind. Pretty easy to see that this little one sentence dip in the pool would have been a bit physically trying.  Imagine for a moment the agony he experienced during that walk. Physically? Emotionally? Can you picture what would have been going through his mind?  “Who was this man who touched my eyes?”, “Does he have God’s power?”, or even "is this a cruel joke?” Maybe he was just dazed and not thinking at all. I don’t really know, but in half a mile there was plenty of time to dwell on it.  After this the actual healing occurs.  The end of verse 7 in my bible reads “and came back seeing” exclamation point.  What an understatement! Exclamation point indeed!  This man’s life had just been fundamentally transformed.  Decades of life dependent on others, in a time where people with disabilities were feared and shamed.  Instantly undone with a bit of spit and mud.  Hard to fathom how over whelming it would be.  I have worn glasses for years.  But since I only need them to see far I don’t always wear them.  It had been about ten years since my last pair of new glasses.  Probably time to get checked out again.  I really didn’t think they did much for me and wasn’t really thinking I would need anything other than updated frames.  Optometrist: you know better here better now number one number two all that.  Ok here is without glasses… and here is your old prescription… and here is what I think you should have… wow!… it blew my mind.  I thought I could see.  I couldn’t quite see the copy write on the eye chart bugs bunny style, but it sure felt close.  My new glasses came, and when we got home I stood on the deck looking at the trees in the yard and the flowers in the garden.  Blue was blue! Green was green! The sharpness of everything, it was amazing.  I had no idea what I was missing, as far as I knew I could see fine, more or less. The blind man was given an entirely new way to experience the world.  I just got the fuzziness cleaned up.  I picture him standing and staring at his hands.  Hard to imagine having your entire life changed in an instant.  This change however, did not touch everyone the same.

 Verse 8: His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!” 10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” 11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!” 12 “Where is he now?” they asked. “I don’t know,” he replied.

Seems impossible that people could doubt that this was the same man. How could such a miraculous thing happen and people remain skeptical?  How often do we do this? Someone is healed and we say either they never really were sick or the sickness just ran its course.  Denying the hand of God.  We can do this spiritually as well.  Someone has enough curiosity to checkout a worship service, or go to an alpha course, or men’s breakfast and we say oh well that’s just the logical thing to do.  The facts led them to that.  This man had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life and he himself couldn’t even understand it, let alone the neighbors.  Listen to his simple testimony in verse 11.  He’s not even really sure who Jesus is yet. When they question him about Jesus he says “I think he must be a profit” as in only someone from God could do this but I really don’t know a whole lot.  How often do we expect people to have their theology figured out before they have an encounter with Jesus? While they are still spiritually blind.  1 Corinthians 2:14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.  Remember this man made no profession of faith before Jesus touched him.  But boy is that faith growing now.  Let see what happens next when this new faith is put to the test.

 Verse 13: Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees,14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them. 17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.” 18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.”

Not exactly shunned and persecuted by his parents.  But they defiantly are not very supportive.  They are afraid of the consequences of angering the Pharisees.  How many of us experience that with our own families and friends.  People may not be antagonistic to your faith but they don’t really understand what the big deal is.  And they don’t exactly encourage you to go deeper.  That doesn’t seem to slow him down much though.

Verse 24: So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this,[b] because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.” 30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” 34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

He implies that he is a disciple of Jesus or at least wants to be; now remember that he still doesn’t know who Jesus really is.  He’s still not clear on everything but the change he experienced is enough to compel a desire to know more about Jesus and learn from him.  Is there space at LEF for that? For people to belong before they have it all figured out?  To have an opportunity to learn from Jesus before they really know who he is? The lack of support from his parents was disappointing. The Pharisees on the other hand were a real threat.  Getting kicked out of the temple does not sound like much to us, but in that time, it had serious consequences. Not only would he be shunned by the people but he would be cut off from ritual life which in effect meant being cut off from God.  That moment with Jesus must have really changed him to take such a risk.  He truly believes in the power of Jesus.  There is no questioning his conviction.  But he doesn’t do everything right either.  We can tell by his words that he is frustrated with the Pharisees.  They are wrong, that is a fact, but like himself not long ago, they are blind.  Can we be like that? We know the TRUTH and get indignant about it.  Remember back to Corinthians, people without the spirit can’t accept things from the spirit.  The man continually affirms that his healing was by Jesus, he could have said it a bit nicer though. We are never called to back down from what is true. We do however need to remember that that truth comes from God and not our own cleverness.  Often we attempt to frame it like faith in Christ is the logical outflow of intense research and study rather than a loving God who has pursued a relationship with us. Rather than just simply saying “I don’t know much but I know I can see”.

Verse 35: When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?[c]” 36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” 37 “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!” 38 “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus. 39 Then Jesus told him,[d] “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see[e] that they are blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” 41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

It’s only after this second encounter that he comprehends who Jesus really is.  I asked Dennis if this was salvation. He felt safe in saying so.  Sometimes we hold this idea that a person experiences conversion or they say the sinner’s prayer and then the changes start.  I’m not discounting that, scripture tells us that is totally possible. The New Testament records many times people hearing the gospel, believing and being baptized. But I would ask you to consider that sometimes it goes perhaps a bit more slowly.

So how do we know if we are blind? Some ailments like a missing limb are plainly obvious.  Others like cancer are deep and unseen until they destroy.  Others yet, like leprosy are not visible at the start but the progressive nerve damage leads to injuries which scar and disfigure.  Spiritual blindness is much the same.  It never shows up the same for everyone.  I’m going to show you a picture now of a man blind from birth, you tell me if it is obvious.  This was just over 10 years ago. Not long after this picture I had an encounter with Jesus that compelled me to want to learn more.  I’m not really sure how long it was until I understood who he really was and what that meant for me.  Sometimes I can doubt the changes that have happened since then.   Like the neighbors I wonder if I am that same man or just look like him. I went searching through old pictures to see if I could spot the difference.  I wanted to look into the eyes of a blind man… a dead man.  Gazing at him confirmed for me that he is gone and someone new is in his place.  But sight is not fully restored.  Like my physical sight where sometimes I take off my glasses thinking they are not really that necessary, only to put them back on, and be shocked.  Maybe you can’t look back at your old self.  I pray this for Shaun, that there will not be a time when he does not know God. Or maybe your 10 years is more like 30 or 40, and too hard to remember. How then can we do a spiritual eye test? We need to continually hold our lives up to scripture.  It’s only by knowing what sight truly looks like, that we can fully gauge how blind we really are.  And it is only through a relationship with the one that gives sight, that we can do anything about it.

 

Sermon: 1 John 2:18-27

Knowing the Truth About Jesus

November 13, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

When asked, “If you could select any one person across all of history to interview, who would it be?” talk-show host Larry King said he would like to interview Jesus Christ. When asked, “What would you like to ask him?” King replied, “I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”

            When Ravi Zacharias requested permission to quote Larry King, King responded, “Tell him I was not being facetious.”

            Obviously, the truth of a virgin birth would prove the incarnation – that Jesus was in fact, the divine God of the universe come in the flesh.  That proof, King said, would be the event that would define all of history for him and for many others.  The truth of the incarnation has been a stumbling block for many throughout the years since Christ.  They cannot or will not believe the Scripture’s claim – and consequently some concoct all sorts of theories about Jesus that in effect deny this truth.  That was true in John’s day as well – many false teachings/teachers were at work in and out of the early church. But knowing the truth was key for the church and is for us, and what we have before us today is another test – the test of doctrine.   John Stott states: “The fundamental doctrinal test of the professing Christian concerns his view of Jesus.” Today we see:  Knowing the truth about Jesus is central to the Christian faith and to the unity of the church.    So we are going to give consideration to the consequences of heresy, the nature of this heresy, and the necessary safeguards against heresy.

            First: The consequences of the false teachers (vs. 18-19).  From these verses we see that the consequence of false teaching is division in the church.  John begins by picking up the theme of the verse before – “the world and its desires pass away.”  He makes the claim that this is the “last hour,” and that the antichrist is coming, and many have already come.  What is the “last hour?”  While it seems that many of the NT writers believed that Jesus’ second coming was imminent, the last hour/days represents the period of time between Jesus’ resurrection and his coming again.  The Antichrist is often considered a person (Man of lawlessness) who will become powerful in the last days, but it is evident here that the word (only in John) also represents all those who oppose Christ.  So John reminds the church that they had already heard about the antichrist – Jesus had also warned his disciples that there would be many false Christ’s and teachers – and that many antichrists had in fact already come.  This is how they would know that it was the last hour – the proliferation of false teaching and teachers.  If we jump ahead to verse 26 and connect it with this verse we see John’s purpose clearly: “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.”  John does not want them to be deceived.

            As in the ancient church, there is much false teaching circulating around the church today.  And while some of it is quite blatant, some is much more subtle.  But what is more troubling today even is the extent and sophistication of the media to get out it out and get it heard.  The only way we can protect ourselves is to know the truth.  The only way to spot the counterfeit is to fully know and recognize the real thing. 

            False teaching results in division.  Those who were holding to and teaching the heresy left the church.  They did not really belong (of us) anyway because if they had belonged they would’ve remained.  “Those who have actually been a part of the divine life will without fail continue to persevere in the community.”  For John the fact that they had left showed their true colours and proved they were never a part of the true fellowship of the church. Through division, the work of antichrist had been successful in John’s own church.

            So what does this say to us today and for those who may have left the church?  I think that it is true that some leave the church because they were never really “of us.”  They had never truly repented and surrendered their lives to Christ as Saviour and as Lord.  Some leave because of exposure to false teaching and leave because the church is unwilling to accommodate this teaching – they refuse to listen to sound doctrine.  Some leave because they have been somehow offended – they are not antichrists but neither are they willing to obey Christ and work towards reconciliation.  I don’t want to push this too far this morning, only to say that this passage seems to teach that those who are genuine in faith will stay in and with the church – recognizing it as the bride of Christ – imperfect as she is.  If they truly had belonged, they would have remained.

            Second: The nature of the heresy (vs.20-23).  In these verses John gets specific about the teaching of the antichrists.  However, before he does that he reminds his readers that in contrast to the antichrists they have an “anointing from the Holy One”, and know the truth – knowledge. (Anointed: set apart, presence/work of HS; Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth).  Since they know and have the truth already, anything outside of what they have been taught is a lie.  John seems to like this word (lie), and has no problem using it to describe his opponents.

            He goes on to define the liar in verse 22.  “Who is the liar?  It is the man (or woman) who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah).  Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son.”  The denial is not just that Jesus was the Messiah waited for by Israel, but more so that they denied His son ship.  Later on John makes this more specific in declaring that they denied that “Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh.”  In their dualism mindset – that makes a complete division between the spiritual and the material – the idea that a divine God could inhabit a material body was incomprehensible.  Many commentators believe that the antichrists taught that “Jesus was born and died a man, and that ‘the Christ,’ by which they meant a divine emanation, was with Him only during his public ministry, descending on him at his baptism and leaving him before the cross.”  This teaching was especially pushed by a man named Cerinthus, who in effect denied the full divine and human nature of Jesus. “In a word, they denied the incarnation – God with us; God come in the flesh.  This was the teaching John identifies as that of the antichrist.

            So why is this all so important?  Why is it so critical to know the truth about Jesus?  Well John states it very clearly in verse 23: “No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”  To deny the Son is to forfeit the Father, but to confess the Son is to receive the Father.  If we don’t believe the truth about Jesus as revealed in the scriptures, we don’t know God – and consequently we do not have salvation or forgiveness that comes from the Father.  God through the apostle John is teaching us that knowing and believing the truth about Jesus is life and death stuff.  As I quoted Stott earlier, it is the “fundamental doctrinal test of the professing Christian.”  What you know and believe about Jesus matters, and it matters a lot!

            The question of the identity of Jesus is a watershed issue in our world today – and always has been.  Many concede he was a good man and a great teacher, but when his divine nature is brought up most quickly backpedal.  But if the incarnation is not true, if Jesus was not the divine Son of God, if he did not rise from the dead, most of his teachings become little more than lofty platitudes.  The denial of the truth about Jesus is also nearly always at the heart of the various cults.  “Every religion other than Christianity and every cult ever conceived has stripped Jesus of his divine nature.”  The Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons, the Unitarians, Christian Science, Religious Science and a host of pantheistic religions all misrepresent and deny the truth about Jesus as taught in the Bible.  Muslims also deny Jesus was the Son of God – believing that He was a prophet, but subservient to Mohammed.  And of course, Judaism also denies Jesus as the divine Son of God and the promised Messiah.  Knowing the truth about Jesus is critical to our life and our salvation as the true people of God.  John makes this unequivocally clear.

            There is another application principle in this section.  The false teachers tried to fit the person of Christ into the philosophy of the surrounding culture.  Dualism, the separation of spirit and matter, was a foundational premise of Greek philosophy.  The antichrists tried to come up with a Christ who would fit into the prevailing philosophy of their world.  How often is the church of today trying to accommodate the values and philosophy of the world and trying to blend it with biblical Christianity?  We must evaluate the culture through the lens of scripture, rather than interpreting scripture through the lens of the culture.

            Third: The safeguards against heresy (vs.24-28).  These verses offer a couple of safeguards against the threat of false teaching.  John is concerned to strengthen and encourage those who have stayed true to the faith.  The first is to:

*Remain in the truth of the Word.  “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you” – no new teaching, no new enlightenment, no new mystical revelation.  The word “remains” is a favourite of John’s – it means to stay, abide, dwell – it reminds us of Jesus’ analogy of the vine and the branches and the call to remain in Him.  (Quote) “The word is practical and warmly personal; it is definite and understandable.”  When we remain in Christ we are nourished by him and begin to produce fruit for him.

            Remain in what you have heard and if you do you will also remain in the Son and the Father.  What they heard was the Word of God through the teaching of the apostles.  Cling to the gospel that was passed on to you and you will receive what has been promised – eternal life.  Today the Word of God comes to us primarily through the scriptures and the teaching of the scriptures.  Immerse yourselves in these and you will safeguard yourself against false teaching.

*Remain in the anointing of the Spirit.  While remaining in the word is more objective (real, factual), remaining in the Spirit is more subjective (Experiential, feelings).  Both are important to knowing the truth.  Verse 26 is one of the four main purpose statements of this letter.  John is concerned about warning his faithful church members about those who would lead them astray.  Stott writes: “It is possible for Christians to be deceived by false teachers, as is implied here...”  John’s antidote here is to remain in the anointing they had received from the Holy Spirit when they first believed.  They did not need anyone teach them because the anointing would lead them away from deception and into the truth.  (Teaching? – other from what they first received) Just as these believers had been taught, John exhorts them to remain in Jesus – abiding in his words and in the anointing of his Spirit.

            The Word and the Spirit are essential to our Christian growth and to our ability to spot false teaching.  The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God and the Spirit is the one who illuminates that truth of them to our hearts.  Pray for Holy Spirit guidance and illumination every time you open your Bible and you will be guided into all truth.

            Knowing the truth about Jesus is central to the Christian faith and to the unity of the church.   We must be aware of the amount of false teaching and teachers there are today – and most of them have media access to spread their misconceptions.  Some are sincere, but sincerely wrong.  False teaching results in division, and unfortunately that is sometimes necessary.  While unity is a high pursuit for the church of Christ, there comes a time when leadership must sacrifice unity for the sake of the truth - always sad, but true.

            Knowing and believing the truth about Jesus is essential to our salvation.  You don’t know God if you deny the truth about his Son.  I hope you all know and believe the true Jesus.  And as his children we are called to remain in the truth – revealed in the scripture and in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Do you know the Word well enough to recognize the spirit of the antichrist?  If you truly know Jesus you will be able to identify the imposters.

 

Sermon: 1 John 2:28 - 3:3

Confident, But Also Prepared

November 20, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

So this morning we begin the second cycle of three of the three repeated themes, or tests, in First John.  We have been through the first cycle of the test of obedience, the test of love and the test of doctrine.  Remember that these tests are for the purpose of helping us know that we have eternal life.  So then today we begin the section in the outline simply called Obeying God #2.  This section goes from 2: 28 – 3:10, but I have divided it two for sermon purposes.  This first section is not entirely focused on the concept of obedience, but it’s more focused on the future coming of Jesus and what that means for the believer.  John has been writing some pretty “in your face” stuff to expose the antichrist element, and to challenge the remaining church family.  But now he seems to take a little softer note to offer some encouragement – and he does so through reminders about the return of Jesus. Here’s what we learn today: As children of God, we can be confident when Jesus comes again, but His return should also motivate us to be prepared.  So let’s take a few moments in order to consider what we possess as Christians – particularly in light of Jesus’ coming again and in order to help us to remain faithful.

            First: Our confidence (vs. 28-29).  Notice that John begins this section again with the words “dear (little) children” – as he did in last week’s text (2: 1, 7, 12, 13) I point this out again to show this man’s heart as a pastor – he loves these people deeply – though his message to them has been almost blunt at times.

            He exhorts them to “continue in him” (Jesus).  “Continue” is the same Greek word as “remain” so it is a repetition of the final phrase the vs.27. I just want to expand a bit on this word again because it is so important to John’s writings.  Many translations interpret this word as “abide” – it means to stay, dwell.  A good word picture that Jesus used was of the branch and the vine.  In that context to remain meant to stay attached or connected.  In that way the branch receives nourishment from the vine and is able to produce fruit.  It is the same way in our relationship with Christ; we are to abide in him by communicating with him, growing in knowledge and intimacy with him, keeping his commands – in that way receiving the nourishment of his life and Word.  But there’s something else that I want to point out to you – Jesus said in John 15: 4 – “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”  To me, the implication seems very clear here that to remain in Jesus involves a choice – it is a choice we make when we receive Christ and it is a choice we must also take the initiative in and continue to make daily.

            The exhortation to remain in Jesus comes with a purpose – “so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”  If we remain in Jesus we will be confident when he is suddenly revealed.  The word “confident” is another important one in the NT.  It defines the new relationship believers have with the Father and was symbolized when the temple curtain was torn in two the moment Jesus died on the cross (access).  In Hebrews we are told that we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence.”  While the word confidence can mean “boldly,” it does not mean presumptuously, arrogantly, flippantly or even casually. It means we can come before God with assurance and we can also have precisely that when Jesus returns in the fullness of his glory.

            On the other hand, for those who are not abiding in Christ or have rejected him outright, the sudden return of Christ will be a horrifying event.  It will be a dreadful day for those disobedient to his will.  The NIV’s translation “unashamed” seems to miss the force of the Greek here.  Other translations use the term of “shrinking away” (from, back).  The idea is that of one shrinking back from horror and fear. (Rev. 6: 15-17)  And yet, for those who are abiding in Christ, the day of return will have the opposite effect.  Listen to these assuring words of Jesus: “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud of great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Christ’s return will produce two reactions – some of confidence; some of absolute terror and shame.  If Jesus would come today, what would your reaction be?  Would you stand up in confidence?  Are you abiding in him?

            Verse 29 provides another kind of “mini test” of who belongs to God.”  Since we know that God is righteous, we know that everyone who lives righteously is born of God.  (Quote) “If you want to know if someone is saved, if you want to know if someone is abiding in Christ, look for family resemblance.”  Notice it says “everyone who does” – righteousness must be shown in conduct; mere desire to be righteous will not do.  Right living or godly living is the evidence that someone has been born of God – born again, or born of the Spirit of God, who indwells the person and empowers them to become more and more like Jesus.

            Second: Our Identity (vs. 3: 1-2). In the beginning of chapter three John moves from the confidence that we have as Christians to the identity that we have in Christ.  It seems that the thought of humans being born of God leads John to an “outburst of wonder” at whole idea.  This is a well known and beautiful verse: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God.”   The phrase “how great” (what manner, what kind – NIV doesn’t translate “Behold”) meant originally, “Of what country?”  Stott writes, “It is as if the Father’s love is so unearthly, so foreign to this world, that John wonders from what country it may come.  The word ‘always implies astonishment’.”  In his astonishment of God’s love in calling us his children, John reiterates what he just said – “And that is what we are!”  We have the identity of being the God’s children.  John – after fifty or so years – can still barely comprehend that truth – for him there remains an amazing “wow factor.”

            Does the truth of this statement astonish you today?  Does this reality grip truly your heart?  (Quote: Marty)  “Many of us can’t understand John’s feelings, because we do not understand our sinful state prior to God saving us.”  The whole idea of the depravity of sin is so downplayed in our contemporary Christian culture.  My teacher gave this illustration:  If we took the four worst mass murderers in history: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin., and imagine we extracted all the evil out of them and created a single super-evil person.  We would view him as evil-incarnate, an absolute monster.  “And that is exactly what God sees when he looks on those who have not had their sins forgiven: monsters, rebels, His enemies.”  Scripture teaches us that we were by nature children of wrath: “we were God’s enemies; we were dead in our sins; we were ‘slaves to sin’;” and we were headed for the Lake of Fire.  Jeremiah tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all else, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”  (Quote) God didn’t save us because he saw something worth saving; he saved us despite the fact that we were still sinful rebels and his enemies.”  That truth is what astonishes John and gets him excited about his identity as a child of God.”  Until we understand the depth of our sinfulness and how repulsive it is to God, we will never fully understand God’s lavish love for us and what He has done for us in Christ Jesus.

            Now that we are children of God, we are aliens to the world.  They do not know or recognize us because they did not know or recognize Jesus.  They can’t relate to us, neither will they appreciate us.  Jesus told us as much – so we shouldn’t be surprised.  He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. . . If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

            Verse two brings with it a wonderful promise – again “dear friends.”  John repeats the wonder of our identity as children of God, but then acknowledges the limitations of his own knowledge as to what we will be in the future kingdom.  But this he knows, “that when he (Jesus) appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  We may be misfits in the world today, but when he returns we will be like Jesus, and we will see him face to face.   Can you imagine the joy on that day, when the veil over our eyes is removed and we see our Saviour.

            To “be like him” is not to be misinterpreted as that we will take on deity – that we will become “little gods” as the false teachers of our day claim.  We will be like him in that we will be free from sin and have resurrected, eternal bodies, but we will not share in his divine nature or his divine essence.

            If you have received Christ as your Lord and Saviour, you have an incredible identity – you are a child of the Most High God.  His love for you is so great that it cannot be measured.  I hope you give that thought some consideration this morning.  Let it astonish you again!  And as a child of God, you also possess an inheritance – eternal life in an indescribable destination.

            Third: Our hope (vs.3).  “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”  What is this hope?  It is that we are children of God and when Jesus returns we shall be like him and see him face to face.  “What a day that will be!”  When the NT talks about hope, it is not about wishful thinking, but a “settled confidence in God’s promises.”  Hope is based on fact, not imagination, and those who have this hope purify themselves.  Do you have this hope?  If you do, how are you purifying yourself?  What are you doing to prepare to meet Jesus?

            We all know the importance of preparation for a big event.  Think back to your marriage and all the months of preparations.  Planning is key to the success of an event. And no one would show up at their wedding filthy and dressed in rags.  All successful farmers plan their growing year: what to plant where, the seed and fertilizer needed, the equipment necessary.  Different occasions demand different kinds of preparation. “And no occasion should lead to more careful preparation than our scheduled meeting with the Lord Jesus.” 

            How are you preparing?  John is telling us here (and the HS) that we prepare through purifying ourselves.  (Quote) “He is pointing to a life of intentionally pursuing holiness.”  Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly.  That exhortation suggests that it involves effort on our behalf; it involves having a plan. So how do we purify ourselves? – by being obedient to the truth - the Gospel.  Obedience to the gospel means that we not only believe what Jesus did for us on the cross and through the resurrection, but that we also confess him as Lord.  And we purify ourselves by doing the kinds of things that will transform us into the likeness of Jesus. On that day, when we meet Jesus, the pure One, we want to be as pure as we can possibly be.  We need to actively pursue “bringing every area of our lives under his sovereign authority.”

            Jesus said in the SM: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”  Our hope in seeing him “as he is” is worth every ounce of effort we put into training ourselves to pursue purity.  A final reminder, however, righteous conduct (pure living) is not a condition for salvation, but a consequence of it.

            As children of God, we can be confident when Jesus comes again, but His return should also motivate us to be prepared.  As a people who are loved by God, we can have confidence, we have a solid identity, and we have a hope beyond our wildest imaginations.  Next Sunday, we enter the season of Advent – a season of preparation and joy as we remember his coming.  We have this marvelous hope.  Where is there an area of your life where you could grow in purity?  How could you prepare your heart for his coming?  Do whatever is necessary to “abide.”

 

                                                                           Sermon: Isaiah 9:1-7

                                                                        What Are You Waiting For?

                                                                            November 27, 2016

                                                                                 Bryan Watson

 

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.

Darkness.  The people walked in darkness.  Stumbling.  Tripping.  Falling.  Fearful.  You don't know what is in the darkness.  But when we imagine things in the unknown abyss of the darkness, they are rarely good. 

Isaiah uses the metaphor of darkness to illustrate the spiritual condition of Judah at that time.  .  This was a time of the Divided Kingdom, with Israel and Judah being two separate groups.  For the context of this message, when I say either Israel or Judah, I really mean both, for together they make up the body of God's chosen people, and their spiritual journeys mirror each other closely; especially considering that disobedience to God resulted in the destruction and captivity of both nations. 

Shortly before Isaiah's birth, the dark condition of Israel was described in 2 Chronicles 15:3, 5 For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands.

This darkness, this being without the true God, largely continued on up to and through the time of Isaiah, though it was broken up from time to time by kings who did follow after God.  But through the ups and downs of the reign of each king, the line generally trended down.

Generally speaking, Israel had forsaken God.  The people instead placed their confidence in other things, like wealth, war, superstition and occult, and the worship of idols.  The poor were oppressed, sexual immorality was commonplace, as was drunkenness and perversion. 

Being that this is the first day of Advent, and we have another month of the daylight hours getting shorter as we approach Christmas, I can't help but see the comparison between the spiritual condition of Israel and the graphic illustration of the literal darkness that we experience this time of year.  We have darkness more than we have light.  We can't see.  It can be oppressive and depressing.

Yet, peering into this darkness, Isaiah sees a light.  Not just any light… this is not the common candle.  He sees a “great” light.  A light so powerful that the very shadow of death itself flees from before it.  It is a light from above, because it shines upon the people of the land. 

Isaiah was so sure of his prophecy that he spoke of a future event as if it had already happened.  “Upon them A LIGHT HAS SHINED.”

What, or better yet, Who was this great light?  Isaiah gives us a few clues in chapter 9 verse 6:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Let’s unpack these clues one at a time:

1.    Unto Us A Child Is born, Unto Us A Son Is Given.

As one of my favourite carols asks, What Child Is This?

Isaiah 7:14 tells us the child will be the Son of a virgin, and His name shall be Immanuel.  We know that Immanuel means “God with us,” giving us an indication that this child would be divine in nature. 

In the first chapter of Matthew, we read that Mary was found to be with child before she and Joseph came together.  As per the angel’s instruction, the child was given the name Jesus.  Now, without going into a long explanation about Hebrew linguistics, just know that the name Jesus means “God saves.”

This is not the first time that God has revealed a portion of His future plans through the announcement of an upcoming birth.  The births of Isaac and Samson and John the Baptist were all foretold by angels.  But this is the only one that included a virgin birth.  Isaiah foretold it, and it was fulfilled in Jesus.

But there is something else that we need to note about this passage before we move on.  Did you notice that Isaiah actually uses two statements to describe the birth of the child?  First, “A child is born.”  This would indicate a physical birth, and reveals His humanity.  But the second statement, “A son is given,” indicates one who existed prior to the birth, in order that he could be given.  This reveals His divinity.  Combining the two statements, you have the God-man, Immanuel, God with us.

2.     And The Government Will Be Upon His Shoulder.

Now, what does it mean to have the government upon your shoulder?  I find that half the time the government is either on my back, or stepping on my toes, so what is the difference if a shoulder is involved?

To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know exactly what this means.  There are a lot of different opinions, and the thing about eschatology, or the study of end times, is that most of the events are still in the future, and so we are looking at them through the window of “what may happen” as opposed to the more concrete past, which is “what did happen.”

But I will tell you what I think about a small part of it, allowing for the possibility that I could be wrong.

The first thing I think when I read this phrase is that the term “The government” is a lot broader than a local council or territorial government.  I think that Isaiah is referring to “the world” as a whole, and he’s telling us that whoever this Light is, is the ultimate authority over the world.  That includes today, even with the hundreds of different countries and governments around the globe.

In Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

In Luke 10:19, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, says, “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…”, indicating that He is in authority over authority!

And again, in John 17:1-2, Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.”

That sounds like a lot of authority.

And speaking of a future time, right in the very next verse in Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah writes,

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end…

So, the One who is this Light will have ultimate authority.  The government will be upon His shoulder. He will pick it up and carry it Himself.  The evidence, as I interpret it, points to this being Jesus.

3.    And His Name Will Be Called Wonderful, Counselor

In today’s modern English, the word “Wonderful” has lost most of its impact. 

“How are you today?” 

“Wonderful.”

Wonderful seems to mean “pretty good”.  “Better than average”.

According to the dictionary, it means “amazing” or “astonishing”.  That which causes “wonder”.

In the original Hebrew, it was the word pe-le.  This word occurs 3 times in the Old Testament.

·         Psalm 88:10 – Will You work wonders for the dead?  Shall the dead arise and praise You?

§  Folks, raising the dead is truly astonishing.  That is better than “Oh… pretty good.”

·         Isaiah 9:6, which we are currently looking at: And His name will be called Wonderful.

·         Isaiah 25:1 - O Lord, You are my God.
I will exalt You,
I will praise Your name,
For You have done wonderful things;
Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.

Here we see that “wonderful” is being ascribed to the things done by the Lord God.  Again, evoking a sense of astonishment.  Notice as well that the word “counsels” is also combined with the “wonderful things” God does.  “Wonderful” and “Counsels” in this verse is very close the name “Wonderful Counselor” in Isaiah 9:6.

So, what about “Counselor”.  Where does that fit in?  Well, according to Tim LaHaye’s commentary, the word “counselor” is often used in parallel with “king.” 

Micah 4:9 says, “Now why do you cry aloud?
Is there no king in your midst?
Has your counselor perished?

So, by combining these descriptive words, “Wonderful” and “Counselor”, we can make a reasonable assumption that this “great light” that the people have seen in Isaiah’s prophecy is an “astonishing King.”

Who fits the description of “Astonishing King” better than Jesus Christ Himself?  According to John 19:19, when Jesus was crucified, Pilate had a sign placed over His head on the cross which said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  And in Revelation 19:16, in John’s vision of Jesus, “on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”

4.    The Mighty God

The next description of the one who is the great light is that He is “The Mighty God.”  Putting the word “mighty” in front of “God” indicates that this one is different from the inanimate wooden and stone idols that the people served as their household gods.  This is the “Mighty” God.  The only God with superior power and strength.  Whoever this light was, was deity.

And John 1:1 gives us another clue as to the identity of this deity.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”

And we know that the Word is actually Jesus, because John is referring directly to Jesus in John 1:14 when he says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”

So, by considering both of these verses together, the only logical conclusion is that Jesus Christ IS The Mighty God.

5.    The Everlasting Father

In Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word for Everlasting is basically the equivalent of “eternal”.  One who has always existed, and who will always exist.  Genesis 1:1 says that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  He was there before anything existed.  He created it out of nothing.  As the Creator, He would be the Father.

That was the beginning… eternity past.  What about at the other end of history?

In Revelation 22:13, Jesus says, “ I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”  In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

So on one hand, we have God Himself filling the role of Eternal Father, and yet we also have Jesus claiming to be eternal as well.  How can this be, if they are two distinct and separate entities? 

Well, without going into a long and arduous study of the Trinity, let me just point out the following verses, where Jesus claims to be God:

John 8:58 - Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” declaring not only his eternal nature, but using the name that God Almighty used for Himself in Exodus 3:14, when God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.  Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.”

And in John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and My Father are one.” which very closely resembles Deuteronomy 6:4, when Moses is delivering the law to the Israelites, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God.  The Lord is One.”

So, Jesus and The Father are One.  Let’s continue on with the final name given by Isaiah, and see if that helps our understanding.

6.    The Prince of Peace

What are some things we know about a prince?

·         A prince is a son.  And what does Isaiah say?  Unto us a child is born.  Unto us a ____________   is given.  Luke 2:7 says And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  

·         What else do we know about a prince?  He is not only a son, but a son of a king. 

§  Psalm 10:16 says The Lord is King forever and ever;

§  Psalm 24:8 says Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.

§  Psalm 47:2 says For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.

There are many other references to God being the King.  But in this context, I think it’s safe to say that Isaiah is referring to the Prince of Peace being the Son of God, who, as we know, is Jesus.

This is supported by Matthew 3:17, at the time of Jesus’ baptism, And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

And again in Matthew 17:5, at the Transfiguration, God Himself says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

And in Matthew 26:63-64, during Christ’s trial, we read, “ But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said…”                   

So, Jesus Christ, being the Son of God, is by default the Son of not just “a” king, but “The” King.  He is the Prince of Peace.

So what do we have so far?  What, or Who, is the Great Light?·         A child is born: Jesus.

·         A Son is given: Jesus.

·         And the government shall be upon His shoulder: Jesus.

·         And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor: Jesus

·         The Mighty God: Jesus

·         The Everlasting Father: Jesus

·         The Prince of Peace: Jesus.

There is one final direct piece of evidence that I would like to submit for your consideration.  Without all the other names that Isaiah has given to us, the fact is that God Is Light.

JOHN 1:3-6All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it.

In John 12:35, Jesus referred to Himself as the light when He said, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.

1 John 1:5 says, "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all."

And Revelation 21:23: "The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light."

And we know this Lamb to be Jesus Christ.

So, who is the Great Light for whom they hoped and waited?  The Messiah, Jesus Christ.

I believe that many people missed His coming the first time because they either didn’t believe, didn’t recognize the signs, or just plain weren’t watching.

What about us?  What are we waiting for?

Let me re-read a paragraph from earlier in my sermon about the condition of Israel in those days, and see if it fits our society today.

Generally speaking, Israel had forsaken God.  The people instead placed their confidence in other things, like wealth, war, superstition and occult, and the worship of idols.  The poor were oppressed, sexual immorality was commonplace, as was drunkenness and perversion. 

What about 2 Chronicles 15:5 - And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands.

Does this sound like us today?  Are we watching and waiting for His return?  Matthew 24 is filled with references to the return of Jesus Christ.  Are we prepared? 

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,[a] but My Father only. 37 But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour[b] your Lord is coming.

Mark 13:35-37 35 Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— 36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

Folks, the number of scriptures and prophecies that tell of His return are many, and we don’t have the time to go over them all.

But I say this to you because we, even today, are in a time of Advent.  A time of waiting and watching and hoping.  Let us use this advent season to not only experience the joy of His birth two thousand years ago, but let us use this to remember to be ready for His return.

What are You waiting for?

 

Sermon: 1 John 3:4-10

The Incompatibility of Sin

December 4, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

At a middle school in Oregon, some girls were putting on lipstick and then pressing their lips to the mirrors, leaving dozens of lip prints.  The principal called the girls to the bathroom and told them how the lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian, who had to clean the mirrors every day.  To demonstrate how difficult it was, she asked the custodian to clean one of the mirrors. He took out a long-handled brush, dipped it into the toilet, and scrubbed the mirror.  Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirrors.

      When tempted to sin, if we could only see the real filth we’d be kissing, we wouldn’t be so attracted to it.  As I touched on a couple of weeks ago, we tend not to see sin as God sees it.  We have a much “lower” view of sin – in other words, we tend to lower the bar.  But if we truly saw the despicable nature of it, we would not be so quick to dismiss it or not take it more seriously.  In our text for today, John brings some clarity to this issue.  He strives to make the point that sin is entirely inconsistent with the Christian life.  His focus on the theme of sin is made clear in that the word “sin, sinning, sinful”  (all from the same Greek word) are repeated 10x in these seven verses. 

      This section of scripture is closely connected to what we looked at last time.  In verse 3 John has said that “everyone who has this hope in him (of seeing Jesus face to face) purifies himself, just as he is pure.”  So in today’s passage John is fleshing out and driving home what it looks like to purify ourselves in anticipation of meeting Jesus face to face.  And purifying ourselves starts with a proper view and understanding of sin. Today we learn that, A life of sin is completely incompatible with the life of someone who has been born of God.

Another connection with the text we looked at last time is in the repetition of the word “appear,” in relation to Christ’s appearances. (expand)  What, then, is a biblical view of sin?

First: The nature of sin: lawlessness (vs. 4-7).  The ESV translates verse 4 this way:  “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”  Sin then is defined here as lawlessness.  It is, also, as the NIV says breaking the law.  But it is also more than that.  Lawlessness defines sin as rebellion (Stott: defiant violation) against God and His laws and is connected with Satan’s rebellion against God.

The English word “sin” is an interesting one.  It actually comes from the world of archery.  A “sin” refers to an arrow that “misses the target.”  But does that meaning actually give an accurate or comprehensive definition of sin?   John’s opponents seemed to teach that to the enlightened among them, sin was only a matter of indifference.  Today we excuse our sins as mere unfortunate mistakes, or personality problems, or by our need to accommodate the surrounding culture.  In contrast to these low estimates, John declares that sin is more than just “missing the target,” but essentially an active rebellion against God’s known will.  To commit sin is to offend a rule or word given by God.  The nature of sin is rooted in rebellion; this is lawlessness, a total disregard for the commands of God.  We need to understand this, because the first step towards holy living is to recognize the true nature and the wickedness of sin. (Stott)

The solution for sin is found in verse 5.  John appeals to the knowledge that his readers already possess – that the purpose of Christ’s first appearance was so that he might take away sin.  His death on the cross took our place on the cross vicariously – he was our substitute, and our sin was placed on his shoulders.  He was able to do this because he himself was sinless (pure – vs.3).  As a lamb without blemish, he could offer himself as a sinless sacrifice and remove all our sin.  Jesus Christ is the only solution for our sin, and he offers to the repentant heart complete forgiveness.

The incompatibility of sin.  Verse 6 reveals the incompatibility of sin with the Christian life.  “No one who lives in him (abides) keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”  We are engaged in warfare with sin and therefore cannot live comfortably with it.  This makes it clear how absurd it is for a follower of Jesus to live a lifestyle of sin.  We are taught here that the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming was to get rid of sin, “so it makes absolutely no sense for those who belong to him to continue in sin.”  This is the logical deduction given here.  If Jesus is without sin, we can’t abide in him and continue to sin, because if we do, it only proves that we really have not seen him or that we really know him. 

(Marty) What these verses teach is the “fundamental incompatibility of sin and being a Christian.”  It is not teaching that we can attain a sinless perfection, but it does suggest that sin is not God’s plan for us.  “Yes, we do sometimes sin, as 1John 1:9 and 2:1 make clear, but that sin is to be abnormal, not a normal, let alone constant part of our experience.”  Many of us have been taught to think that we are “sinners like everyone else, who just happen to be saved by grace, and that we sin many times each day and that is just the way it will be until we are with the Lord.  But this stands in opposition to NT teaching.  As new creations of God we are new people who now should take delight in God’s commands and reveal a life that is being visibly transformed by the power of the Spirit at work within us.  We have been given the power to live lives that are pleasing to God, and sin should be losing it grip over us.  Is that true in your life?  Isn’t that a question we need to be asking ourselves?

The nature of sin is lawlessness.  The nature of sin is not merely “poor choices”: the scriptures teach it is outright rebellion. On the other hand, John says: “do not let anyone lead you astray.  He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”  (ESV) “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”  The proof is in the practice.  Many think just because they said a sinner’s prayer at one time that they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  However, their life does not line up with their profession.  It seems to me that John is arguing that a practical righteousness is an authentic righteousness. “So, if we claim to know Christ and yet do not ‘practice righteousness,’ we have no basis for claiming to be righteous.”

Second: The source of sin: the devil (vs. 8-9). In verses 8 to 10 we see a repeat of the pattern of verses 4-7.  In the Greek the beginning of verse 4 and verse 8 are virtually identical – “Whoever makes a practice of sinning.”  In this instance, however, those who make a practice of sinning are of the devil.  “There is no ambiguity here!  Those who practice sin belong to the devil.”  Why? - Because the devil himself has been sinning from the beginning (his rebellion), and so it is the essence of his character and the basis of his activity.  Those, then, who continue in sin, reveal that they are of the same character as Satan.  He is the origin of sin.

Muhammad Ali once said that he had come up with a way to resist temptation. Wherever he went, he always carried a small box of matches. “Whenever I go to a party and I’m tempted by a beautiful woman, I simply pull out one of the matches and strike it,” Ali said. “Then I put it out with my fingers and remind myself, ‘Hell is a lot hotter than this.’”

The solution for sin is found in the second half of verse 8, and that solution is found in the purpose of his appearing.  “The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”  (Stott) “If the characteristic work of the devil is to sin, the characteristic work of the Son of God is to save.”  Jesus came to undo the work of the devil and free us from our slavery to sin.  While the devil is still at work, he is a defeated foe and in/through Christ we can be freed from his tyranny.  If the whole purpose of Christ’s first appearing was to destroy the works of Satan, how can we as his followers compromise with sin – we will be fighting against the works of Jesus.

The incompatibility of sin. Again, in verse 9 John draws the logical conclusion.  “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains (abides) in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God.”  Again, this is not suggesting that we can somehow reach perfection – a sinless state.  However, it clearly says that our lives should not be characterized by sin, or be defined by habitual sin. In fact, sin should be progressively losing its grip in us as we grow in Christ.  Sin is incompatible with the life of a Christian.

According to this verse, what causes the fundamental break with sin that is to characterize every Christian?  It is the new birth – to be born again by the seed of God (sperma).  A child was believed to inherit his or her father’s nature through the seed.   John is using this image to make his point; those who are born of God through conversion reflect his character now in them.  Through John God is saying that He has passed on his DNA to us, as it were.  Something has “fundamentally and tangibly changed us at the core of our being.”  In 2 Cor. 5:17 it says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  No one who has the DNA of God continues in sin, it is incompatible with their new nature.

Third: The test of parentage (vs.10).  The section concludes with another, “This is how we know” phrase - the language of testing used by John so often.  This is the test of parentage but also falls under the test of obedience.  “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”  (sister)  Notice the test only allows for two groups – no middle ground.  (Stott) “Our parentage is either divine or diabolical.” 

The test appears straight forward.  There is a clear and simple way to distinguish between the children of God and the children of the devil.  Look at their lives!  Those who are children of God have had the core of their nature transformed – and it will inevitably show.  Children of God do what is right, in other words, they obey his commands.  So once again we come to the crucial role of obedience as the evidence of the life that is born with the seed of God and transformed.  Another evidence of transformation is how we treat other believers – which provide the focus for the next passage.

      A life of sin is completely incompatible with the life of someone who has been born of God.  We’re in Advent.  We are in preparation for his coming, both in the future, present and past.  Part of the preparation for meeting him face to face is understanding the nature of sin and getting serious about the sin in our lives.  Let this Advent be a season of repentance, and you find true joy at Christmas this year.

 

Sermon: 1 John 3:11-18

The Call to Love One Another

December 11, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

Some of you may be familiar Ken Davis – he’s a Christian comedian, a pretty funny guy!  He writes: I learned some lessons about vacuuming one day.  First, I learned that our cat is terrified of vacuum cleaners. That kept me entertained for about an hour.  As I vacuumed in one direction, a stripe would appear. Going the opposite direction would create a stripe of a different shade.  Entranced, I striped the whole room. Then I went crossways, creating a checkerboard pattern.  I got so carried away that I dusted the furniture and straightened the entire house.

      I was embedded in the easy chair, working on a crossword puzzle, when my wife, Diane, came home from work.  She struggled through the door with a bag of groceries under each arm, kicked the door shut with one foot, and then took in the house with an expert glance.  Her mouth dropped open.  Slowly the bags slipped from her grasp and dropped to the floor. “Who did this?” she asked.  “I did,” I said.  Without warning, she attacked.  Diving on me before I could get out of the chair, she smothered me with kisses and hugs. The kisses grew more passionate. We broke the chair. It was wonderful!

      The vacuum cleaner taught me an important lesson that day: Love is expressed with more than just words. (end quote)  Indeed love is more than words: it is action; it is servanthood, it is placing the interests of others over our own.  A wonderful lesson learned from a vacuum cleaner!

The final line from last week’s text introduces the subject for today – “Nor is anyone (a child of God) who does not love his brother.”  This is the second go round with this theme and here John elaborates on his thoughts.  Back in 2: 9-11, he states that those who hate their brothers are blinded and live in darkness.  In our text for today, the ante is starkly pushed up.  Those who do not love their brothers and sisters (in Christ) are murderers, of the devil and do not have eternal life!  This is serious stuff that we need to take seriously.  What this passage teaches us this: One of the most fundamental aspects of the Christian life is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to refuse to do so puts us in with some bad company.  Do you want to know what real love is?  Well this morning’s text will shed some light on that for all of us.

First: The message from the beginning (vs. 11).  “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”  First of all, John is making it clear once again that this is a message that they should already know – the congregation has been clearly taught this truth as a key component of the gospel which cannot be downplayed or ignored.  The idea of referring back to the beginning is something that John has brought up before: 1:1; 2:7 (read).  So what does the “beginning” refer to?  As I pointed out in the first message on this theme, the command to love your neighbour is as old as the Law itself – found in the book of Leviticus.  But John could also be referring to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and teaching – it was a consistent part of his message.  The point he is making is that they had heard this over and over, from their Jewish upbringing, from Jesus’ and the apostle’s teaching, and that they should know this is basic to their life of faith in Christ.  The call to love one another is nothing new – it is as old as the Law and of the teachings of Jesus.  Neither is loving one another an option. 

Second: The tragic example of Cain (vs.12-15).  John introduces his call to love one another by first providing a negative example.  “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.” (Greek literally means “butchered”- grisly)   Cain was the first son of Adam and Eve; Abel was the second.  Cain became a farmer and Abel a keeper of livestock.  When they brought their offerings to the Lord, Cain brought the firstborn of his flock while Cain “brought some of the fruits of the soil.”  God accepted Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s, who then in a fit of jealousy and rage brutally murdered his younger brother.  The issue seems to be that Able brought his very best to God (which he is worthy of), while Cain offered a run-of-the-mill portion of his crops.  (Quote) “Cain embraced a ‘come just as you are to worship’ attitude, while Abel came prepared to worship a holy and infinitely worthy God.”  Instead of repenting and bringing an acceptable offering, Cain chose murder.

The illustration of Cain is meant to have shock value.  Murder of a brother was considered one of the most hideous crimes possible in the ancient world.  The point made is that those who refuse to love their brothers and sisters are being compared to Cain.  Many of us need to wake up from our foolish delusion that we can love God and yet refuse to love certain brothers and sisters in Christ.  And why did he murder his brother – because Abel’s actions were righteous while Cain’s were evil, who the text says, belonged to the devil and was a murderer. 

John then warns his readers that they can expect the same kind of treatment from the world – who in a sense Cain represents.  “Don’t be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.”  Jesus gave us the same message when he said, “if they hated me, they will hate you also.”  Those who practice doing what is right are scorned by the world; they think our beliefs are foolishness.  Have you experienced that?  Our righteous behavior also exposes their unrighteousness – and darkness cannot stand light (Cain/Abel).  “Righteousness draws hatred from the devil and hatred from the children of the devil.”  We tend to be not popular!  “John is concerned to make it clear that hating others is characteristic of the world.”

In the other hand, verse 14 states unequivocally; “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.”  Here again is the test, if someone has truly been saved, they will love other Christians – period!  Listen to this again: “Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”  To hate a brother/sister in the community of faith is to be guilty of murder, and to be guilty of murder is to forfeit eternal life. 

John is borrowing these ideas directly from the teaching of Jesus in the SM.  Jesus said there that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to punishment, and anyone who calls his brother a fool is in danger of the fire of hell.  This is all very strong language.  Those who don’t love their brothers/sisters remain (abides) in death, are murderers, and are lost eternally.  The implication here is stark, it is black and white.  Those who don’t love their brothers are in the line of Cain.  The stakes are incredibly high!!

So here we have another simple test of whether we are genuinely saved: Do we love our fellow believers?  So I ask you this morning – do you?  I’m not referring to a feeling, that’s not biblical love – a biblical love is an active love.  It is seeking the good of another person and putting their interests above your own, even if you may not like the person.  As you think about some of the relationships you may struggle with – even in this room, ask yourself this question – “Do I demonstrate love for so and so by how I treat him or her?  Your answer to that question may even determine your eternal destination.  Too many Christians do not take this call seriously.

Second: The perfect example of Christ (vs. 16-18).  As John so often does in this letter, he provides a contrast to bring clarity to the issue.  In contrast to the tragic example of Cain is the perfect example of Christ.  Again, we see this phrase, “This is how you know” – this is the test, and in this case, this is also how love is defined.  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (3:16).  To “lay down” generally describes “setting aside” something, such as a garment.  Jesus’ act of setting aside his own life for our benefit is the highest expression of love, and its ultimate definition.  So what is real love?  It’s not Hollywood; it’s not romance; it not warm, fuzzy feelings.  The cross defines love in its purest form.  Love is denial of self for another’s gain.

We are called here to that same kind of love for other believers.  “It is a self-denying, other-centered care for our fellow Christians.  Love is putting their welfare above our own” – even, it appears from this text, if it requires our very life.  (Ill. Concentration camp – Priest: “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers”)

However, relatively few are actually called to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters, so John provides a more concrete example.  If we have at our disposal the goods of this world, and see a brother in need and yet turn our backs on him, how can the love of God be in us?  Plain and simple, it isn’t.  In some Jewish thought, withholding goods from someone in need was equivalent to starving him or her.  We prove our love for God through loving our brothers/neighbors; conversely we prove we really don’t love God when we turn our backs on them.  The love of Christ must deliver us from the most insidious of sins: indifference.  In the same way that faith without action is dead (James), love that only consists of words and not action is useless.  (Quote) “Love is not about words, it is about deeds.  And God is calling us to stop talking about loving others and truly do it.”

            Shane Claiborne, who spent a summer in the slums of Calcutta with Mother Teresa, wrote the following about one of his experiences: People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Did she glow in the dark or have a halo? She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery — like a beautiful, wise old granny.  But there is one thing I will never forget — her feet were deformed.  Each morning during Mass, I would stare at those feet.  I wondered if Mother Teresa had leprosy. But I wasn’t going to ask, of course.

                  One day a sister asked us, “Have you noticed Mother’s feet?”  We nodded, curious. She said, “Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds those (for herself).  Years of wearing bad shoes have deformed her feet.” 

            That is the kind of love that places our neighbors’ needs above our own.  That is an example of the self-sacrificing, self-giving love of Jesus.

            So in this call to love our brothers and sisters practically, what is the extent of our obligation?  We live in a world of information, and many of us receive continual solicitations for donations.  What are our obligations according to this text?  (Some principles)

* We need to start with our own immediate family.  We should look after all those who may be in need in our local church – that is the focus of this text

* We should be careful about pushing the responsibility onto the government.  Looking after own is supposed to be a witness to the world.

* We need to distinguish between genuine needs and wants – the basic necessities of life.

            One of the most fundamental aspects of the Christian life is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to refuse to do so puts us in with some bad company.  Loving others, particularly our brothers and sisters in Christ, is one of the two “Great Commandments” of Christ.  It is essential to our faith and to our witness.  Genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each other.  “What evidence is there that you love your fellow believers here in our church?”  “Failure to actively love other believers is tantamount to hating them.” (Hate? Me?  ) Do we really understand how critical this is in our Christian walk?  Do not ignore the warnings here – it is evident that God takes this very seriously. 

            Another way to prepare for Christ’s coming in the season of Advent is to seek reconciliation on our relationships – whether in our natural family or our church family.  Is there someone you need to reconcile with?  Is there someone in this church family to whom you need to begin to show genuine Christian love?  Now would be a great time – remember it is not an option!

 

Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures

Why Do We Buy, Buy, Buy?

December 18, 2016

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

We are now entering the final week before Christmas and the countdown of days to get all our Christmas shopping done.  The stress is beginning to ramp up.  Why do we feel a need to buy such a "Mount Everest" of stuff at Christmas?  Imagine this conversation between a husband and wife, as they get ready for church a few weeks before Christmas.


            "We have to buy a gift for Susan's great aunt, what's her name, because Todd said
she's coming to the party.  I think maybe one of those cheese and meat things would
be OK."  "We can't forget the guy who sorts the mail at my work either.  Do you think a $5.00
Starbucks gift card would work?"  "Yes, in fact, we should get a bunch of gift cards because you never know who will show up.  Just throwing a ten dollar bill in one of those silly money holder cards is so thoughtless."
            "We also need to get the kids a few more things. We've spent so little time with them
this year—I think they may feel a teeny bit neglected--at least that's what their
therapist keeps hinting at. We have to show them that 'mommy and daddy really do
love them,' in practical ways."  "Yes that's so true.  Oh, and if your brother's coming we have to give them something from Nordstrom's this year—or at least wrapped in a Nordstrom's box—or we'll spend months hearing how cheap we are again."
            "Well just wait until they feast their eyes on your gift!  No one will ever think I'm cheap
again!"  "Really? Oh goodie, goodie! What did you get me?  Oh I can't wait to brag to my
mother about it.  She always thinks my wonderful doctor brother-in-law is so amazing
to my sister. All she talks about is their twenty-one day tour of Europe last month.  They think they are so special. I hope my present tops that!"  "Oh it does! But you're just going to have to wait until the party, babe.  One thing's for sure, you're going to feel like a queen when you get it!  And your girlfriends are going to be so jealous that they aren't married to your wonderful husband."  "You are a wonderful husband.  And I love how you spoil me!

            By the way honey can I use your emergency credit card to go shopping?  Mine are all maxed out and I still have so much to buy."  "Sure you can sweetie.  After all, giving is what Christmas is all about, right?"
            Has Christmas become nothing more than a contest to see who can buy the most presents, spend the most money, and impress the most people? Are we using Christmas as a way to get our way or make up for something we lack?  Are we placing too much emphasis on gift giving?  Not only does giving put a lot of demand on our finances, it also puts a lot of pressure on trying to find just the “right gift” for everyone.  Is Christmas becoming more of a burden that a blessing for you?  Let's all honestly ask ourselves, "How can we make Christmas different this year?"  I would like to offer three suggestions:

            First: Buy less for ourselves.  By using the term “ourselves” I am thinking about our immediate families and our close friends.  We don’t typically buy Christmas gifts for ourselves, but if you let be known what you want, I guess you are in a sense.  But maybe pare down the extent of your gift giving – this can save money, time and stress at Christmastime.  In our own family, the past few years we have drawn names for all the adults – so now at our gatherings we each only get one gift.  We still indulge the grandkids, but that is a rite of passage for grandparents!  But it really simplifies things and takes away a lot of the pressure of buying for so many – it does, however, certainly shorten up the time needed for gift opening!

            Another aspect of this is to seek to simplify things.  Giving gifts that are simpler and less expensive can be just as rewarding – especially if you can give something that is hand-made.  Those kinds of gifts are particularly special.  The truth of the matter is that very few of us really have need of anything, and that makes gift buying all the more difficult.  Our kids are almost drowning in toys and consequently have difficulty focusing on any one thing and soon lose interest in them all – as the Grinch says: “gifts become garbage!”  Also, too many possessions are a danger to our spiritual life.  “Possessions can become a tyranny in our life so that we are full of greed.”  So this Christmas, let’s buy simpler and let’s buy less!

            Second: Give more to those who are less fortunate (Luke 12: 32-34 Read).  Jesus reminds us here of the distractions of our possessions.  His advice?  Sell them and give the proceeds to the poor.  In that way we are investing in a wallet that will never wear out – in a treasure laid up in heaven, that is secure and worth far more than anything on earth.  For where our treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Convicting) Where is your treasure this morning?  It’s not necessarily money; it is whatever your heart most desires.  And we can tell what our heart truly desires by observing what we give priority to in terms of our time, energy and wealth.

            Giving of these things – time, energy and wealth - to the less fortunate builds up our investment in the treasures of heaven.  The true spirit of Christmas is that of giving to the poor and those who are less fortunate.  Unfortunately, the consumerist mindset that has inundated our culture has made Christmas more and more self-serving.  This year, find a charity of your choice and give a generous gift – from all the money you saved from buying less!  Don’t walk by the next Salvation Army kettle you see!

            Third: Focus more on the greatest gift of all.  What is the best Christmas gift you have ever received?  Was it something material or was it something relational?  This morning, I want us to consider the greatest gift of all.  Sometimes through all the festivities, parties, socializing, gift giving and feasting, we can all too easily lose sight of what this season is really all about – and yet that, friends, is the greatest gift of all.  (Mini movie)

            As is made clear in this little movie, Jesus is the greatest gift of all.  What is even more amazing; more incredible is that the greatest gift is also a free gift (Read Isaiah 55: 1-2).  Come and quench your thirst, satisfy your hunger – all without money. Why spend your money on that which does not satisfy, when the things that will are free?  Of course these are spiritual metaphors of food and drink, but they are things that will ultimately satisfy us.  God is telling the people of Israel to find their satisfaction in him, and ultimately in his Son, Jesus, who would come in the fullness of time – the greatest gift of all, and a gift without cost to you and to me.

            Make sure your celebrations this year includes a focus on the greatest gift of all.  Read the story of his birth to your children, and teach them why this time of year is so important – and so full of joy.  Give the nativity set the prominent place in your home, not Santa Claus.  The Saviour has been born, and the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest!”

            So make Christmas different this year and lighten your load: buy less for yourselves, give more to the less fortunate, and focus more on the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ.

 

 

Sermon: Matthew 2:1-12

What Do We Do Now That Christmas Is Over?

January 1, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house,                                                        

Every creature was hurtin’ even the mouse.
The toys were all broken, their batteries dead;                                                                                

Santa passed out, with some ice on his head.

Wrapping and ribbons just covered the floor,                                                                         

While upstairs the family continued to snore.
And I in my T-shirt, new Reeboks and jeans,                                                                                      

 I went into the kitchen and started to clean.                                                                                             

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,                                                                         

I sprang from the sink to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains, and threw up the sash.                                                                                             

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a little white truck, with an oversized mirror.
The driver was smiling, so lively and grand;
The patch on his jacket said ‘‘U.S. POSTMAN.’’                                                                                       

With a handful of bills, he grinned like a fox.
Then quickly he stuffed them into our mailbox.
Bill after bill, after bill, they still came.
Whistling and shouting he called them by name:
‘‘Now Dillard’s, now Broadway’s, now Penny’s and Sears
Here’s Robinson’s, Levitz’s and Target’s and Mervyn’s.
To the tip or your limit, every store, every mall,
Now chargeaway-chargeaway-chargeaway all!’’                                                                                         

He whooped and he whistled as he finished his work.
He filled up the box, and then turned with a jerk.
He sprang to his truck and he drove down the road,
Driving much faster with just half a load.                                                                                                            Then I heard him exclaim with great holiday cheer,
‘‘ENJOY WHAT YOU BOUGHT . . . . . . . YOU’LL BE PAYING ALL YEAR!’’

            Other than spending the next few weeks (months) trying to pay off your Christmas spending, what are you going to do now that Christmas is over?  Many of us can struggle with a kind of “after Christmas syndrome.”  I know that I sometimes can.  You plan and anticipate and wait, and then it’s here and gone in what seems like a flash.  The gifts are all unwrapped and your trash can is full.  Many of your family and friends are on their way home from the holidays.  The tree maybe already taken down along with all the other decorations and another Christmas has come and gone leaving you with the post-holiday blues.  Do any of you ever experience that?   Do you ever wonder if it’s really worth all the hype?  It’s all over so fast!

            What do Christians do, now that Christmas is over?  Do we just become blue?  Do we simply settle back into the old routine?  Do we pack away the Christmas spirit – put it up until next year?  A family was driving by the church a few days after Christmas when the little boy noticed that the nativity scene had been taken down.  He said, innocently enough, ‘‘I see they’ve put Jesus away for another year.’’ Unfortunately, all too often that is what happens. Jesus gets put away with all the wrappings, nativity scenes, lights, ornaments, etc.
            So what do we do now that Christmas is over? Well, there are some travellers who can show us what to do now that Christmas is over. Their story is found in Matthew 2:1–12. It is the account of the Wise Men, or the Magi.

            Who were these guys anyway?  The Magi were not kings, but probably served in the royal courts.  According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the magi were a tribe of people within a larger tribe who served as a hereditary priesthood – much like the Levites did for Israel.  They were pagan astronomers who also worked in science and the magic arts.  In the ancient world many believed that the stars could accurately predict the future, so the skies were watched constantly – particularly for any anomalies. These Magi probably came from either Persia or Babylon, and maintained a place of tremendous prominence and significance.

            It is curious that God would choose pagan priests to seek for and worship his Son.  But it is apparent that His own people (priests and scribes) were too spiritually blind to see the significance of these events unfolding right before them.  So in what way can these Magi show us what we should do now that Christmas is over – something we do all throughout the year?  Well, they teach us that we can seek Christ throughout the year (2: 1-2). 

            I have a little window sun-catcher that has these words on it, “The wise still seek him.”  That is as true today as it was in the time of the Magi.  The text reveals that the Magi were on a mission.  They had been captured by a phenomenon in the night sky, and through their research of ancient literature, which included the Jewish scriptures, they became convinced this was the sign of the Messiah – and they were seeking to find the “King of the Jews.” (Numbers 24:17) Their seeking was well after the miraculous birth had actually taken place.  We, too, are called to be seekers of Christ, and not just at Christmas time.  So what can we expect if we genuinely seek Christ?

            First: When we genuinely seek Christ it will require some things of us.  The Magi chose to seek the Christ child, but to find him required some things from them – and this will be also true for us.

A.  It takes effort to seek Christ.  There is no doubt that the Magi’s search required a great deal of effort.  They studied the ancient writings for hours in order to discern the meaning of the star.  If they came from the vicinity of Babylon, it was a journey of some 900 miles – several months of arduous travel.  No doubt they had to deal with some difficult people along the way, especially the self-absorbed and unpredictable King Herod.

            Why do we think that we can make progress on our spiritual journey without expending any effort?  Why is it so easy to “coast” spiritually?  Are we so concerned with “works righteousness” that we think we need to do nothing?  It takes some effort to truly find Christ, to worship Christ and to grow in him. As Paul says in Philippians, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  (Run the race with endurance; press on)

B. It takes time to seek Christ.  The journey to find the child took a great commitment of time – to Bethlehem and back could’ve taken up to a year for the Magi.  How much time are you and I willing to spend in seeking Christ?  It’s not just a onetime experience, nor is it something that can be rushed.  Seeking Christ requires an ongoing commitment of time if we are to grow in him and in order for us to be transformed by Him.

C. It takes sacrifice to seek Christ.  The magi made great sacrifices to find the Christ-child.  They journeyed through dangerous and hostile lands; they offered extravagant and expensive gifts, and as we have already seen they sacrificed time and energy.  The Christian walk is a sacrificial walk that makes seeking Christ as our highest priority.  Are you willing to sacrifice something in order to seek Christ more in your life?

            The Wise Men model for us that seeking and finding Christ will require something from us.  While God provided them with a sign, they had to get on their camels and ride in order to see the fulfillment of the prophecy, and to reach their goal of worshiping him.

            Second: When we genuinely seek Christ, we will find him.  This is a beautiful promise from scripture.  Those who earnestly seek the Lord will find him.  In Jeremiah 29:13, we read these words: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  To those who take seriously their quest to find God, he promises to reveal himself. Again in Proverbs 8: 17, it says: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”  What a wonderful assurance of God’s desire for us to find and know him.  This is not some sort of hide-and-seek game.  He is not trying to be elusive, but he wants us seek him and desire to know him with all of our hearts – he wants us to show that we are serious in our quest.

            Third: When we genuinely seek Christ, we will be richly blessed.  Not only will we find him, we will also be blessed.  When the Magi saw the star stop over the place where the child was, the scripture says they were full of great joy (vs.10).  They had found what they were seeking, and were overjoyed at the realization of their journey’s purpose.  Finding Christ will bring joy into our lives like nothing else can.  Are you experiencing the joy of finding, and knowing and growing in Christ?

            Not only were the Magi blessed with joy, but they were richly blessed as they experienced his presence.  In coming into the presence of the child, verse 11 tells us that they “bowed down and worshiped him.”  While the star made them believe that he was something special, it is very doubtful that the Magi really understood the true identity/divinity of the child,.  And yet as they came into his presence, they fell to their knees and offered him their gifts that were fit for a King.  The presence of Christ brings blessing to the people.

            I love this verse from Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (ESV)  When we genuinely seek Christ, and worship him with all of our hearts, we will experience the fullness of his joy, and the peace and glory of his presence.

             We have given consideration as to what we can expect if we genuinely seek Christ now that Christmas is over and we as stand on the threshold of 2017.  But let’s now look at the question of how do we seek him?  In the past I have often challenged you with these things on the first Sunday of a New Year.  The New Year is often thought of in terms of new beginnings. But to make a new beginning requires some sober thought on the past.  It is a time to examine our lives, to see if we are living according to our professed values and priorities.  Are we living lives of integrity, where our walk lines up with our talk?  Was there growth in our spiritual lives in 2016?  Are we producing more fruit?  Are we less angry, less prideful, less materialistic, more patient, more kind, more joyful, more loving – less stressed!  If you can’t say yes to at least some of these, then you need to be pro-active in making the kind of choices that will help you to grow spiritually.  It really comes down to our choices – really, if we’re honest about it!  So here are a few things we can do:

* Pray.  How often do you talk with God?  You will not grow in your spiritual life without prayer - period.  You cannot build a relationship without communication.  Men, how often do you pray with your wives?  Now, there’s a New Year’s resolution worth making.  Step up, men, and do it!

* Spend time daily in God’s Word.  The reading of scripture is crucial to your spiritual growth – I know, I’m a broken record on this.  But I stand on the truth of it.  This would be another good NY resolution.  If you started once and failed, don’t let that discourage you. Take up the challenge again – if you falter, even for a month, just pick it up where you left off.  Find a time and a place where you can have a regular quiet time with the Lord.  Ask the Lord to give you a hunger for his Word and that he would speak to you through it.  Read systematically.

* Attend church regularly.  In a number of surveys that I have seen recently, where people were asked about their church attendance, twice a month was considered to be regular.  My, how we have lowered the bar!  In my growing up world, regular meant every Sunday, unless you were sick or away.  Why should we attend Church? - First and foremost, to worship.  Worship is the highest calling and most important service of the believer.  We gather as a community of faith to worship and be edified, and it is a command of scripture.  Church attendance is an important aspect of your spiritual growth, and without it your spiritual life will die (Ill. live coal).

            We seek and find God by making spiritual disciplines and activities the priorities of our lives. (All of our hearts)  These things do not come natural to us in our flesh.  It is very easy to let them slide, or to ignore them, but our growth will be stunted – even leading to spiritual backsliding.  Christmas Day is over, but let’s make 2017 a year in which we seek the Lord like the Magi, because if we seek him we will find him and be blessed richly by him.

 

Sermon: 1 John 3:19-24

"Blessed Assurance"

January 8, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

The word “assurance” is defined in the dictionary in this way – “making sure or certain”; or “a positive declaration inspiring confidence.”  Would that be a word that you would use to define your relationship with God this morning?  Are you confident of His love?  Do you have a deep assurance about your salvation?  You can have that assurance, and God wants you to have it.  However, many of us struggle with this issue of assurance in our relationship with God – and a feeling of uncertainty can so easily creep in.  Usually it is our own hearts and consciences that do most of the condemning, but Satan, our enemy, does his part as well.

            In John Stott’s comments about our passage this morning he says that the text’s “suggestion seems to be that it may not be either an unusual or an infrequent experience for the Christian’s serene assurance to be disturbed.”  Our constant struggle with sin can quickly cast doubts on our standing with God.  We can too easily heap condemnation on ourselves.  From our text today, we learn this: We can have assurance from God even when our hearts condemn us and blessings when they don’t.  We will have a wonderful assurance if we can answer the two questions that will be posed in this message.

            The passage today begins again with this oft repeated phrase – “This is how we know.”  It occurs twice in today’s text, in the beginning statement and again in the ending statement.  This is the sixth and seventh occurrence of the phrase so far in the letter.  It is the language of testing and of proof – as we have seen John continually uses this phrase to both warn and encourage his readers.  This is how we can know that we are truly a Christian, that we are truly a child of God, that we are truly saved.  Remember again John’s stated purpose in this letter – that your joy may be complete and that you may know that you have eternal life.  I am using these two statements to form the outline of the message today – and I will pose them to you as questions.  The answer to these questions can bring full assurance to our relationship with God.

            First: How do we know we belong to the truth?  Verse 16 begins: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth.”  What does the word “This” refer to?  Whenever this phrase occurs it is always a question as to whether it is referring to what comes before the phrase or after.  Typically it refers to what follows, but in this instance, it seems to be referring to what comes before (then - NIV).  If that’s the case here, then how do we know we belong to the truth?

            A. Because we love with action and deeds.  In the section we looked at last time, John had made an impassioned plea to love our brothers and sisters.  Jesus has modelled that love for us in His life and in His death, and as His followers we are called to love the same.  It’s a love that is revealed in action and deeds, not in words and good intentions.  What John is saying here is that we know that we belong to the truth when that kind of love is evident in our lives.  We are genuine believers when our lives are characterized by a practical love for each other.  This is one way that we can gain assurance that we “belong to the truth.”  Is this evident in your life?

            B. Because God assures us that we belong to the truth (even when our hearts condemn us).  For when they do, God is “greater than our hearts and knows everything.”  This verse (20) is grammatically confusing; let me try and state it another way - We can have assurance before God even when our hearts try to condemn us because God is greater and knows everything about us.

            Many commentators suggest the heart here is a reference to the conscience.  While the conscience plays a very important role in revealing sin and wrong choices in our lives, it is not infallible, and its condemnation may often be even unjust and unwarranted.  In those cases we can appeal from our conscience to God, who is greater and more knowledgeable, and as Stott says, can “be more merciful towards us than our own heart.”  It’s amazing to think that we can bring more condemnation on ourselves that even God does!

            In this week’s Men of Integrity devotional Erwin Lutzer writes: A woman said to me, “Pastor Lutzer, I had an abortion, and the little girl would be about three years old now if I hadn’t aborted her.  When I walk into a mall and see a girl who is about that age, I’m just absolutely overwhelmed with guilt.”  I asked her, “Did you confess your sin?”  “I’ve confessed it a thousand times,” she replied.  Lutzer goes on to say, “Out of her deep pain and regret, this dear mother was caught in a cycle of confession, guilt, confession, guilt, and so on.  She needed to not only accept God’s forgiveness, but also his cleansing.  She didn’t need to wallow in the past every time she saw a little three year old girl.  She needed to affirm God’s promise to forgive.”

            “However overwhelmed with guilt our hearts may make us feel at times in the face of such failure, we need to turn to God and remember that He is faithful and just to forgive those who confess their sin.” (There is a condition – 1 John 1:9)  While we will not excuse ourselves of any sin, neither will we needlessly accuse ourselves.  The point being made is this – Regardless of how our hearts condemn us and question our status before God, a look at our changed life in how we treat others will be enough to convince us and remind us (overrule) that the God who has and is changing us is greater than our hearts.  We can know we belong to the truth because we love our brothers and sisters with actions and deeds and because God assures us we belong even when our own hearts accuse us otherwise.

            Second: How do we know that He lives in us? (vs. 21-24).  Practically speaking, this question is not much different from the first.  “This is how we know that He lives in us” – the question is answered by what comes before the phrase and after:

            A. Because our hearts do not condemn us.  If we are in a place in our spiritual walk where our hearts do not condemn us – because we know we belong to the truth, we are blessed with two benefits from the Lord.  First, we have confidence to come into his presence.  As NT believers, we have the awesome privilege of coming into the presence of our heavenly Father.  And we can come “confidently” – the word means with boldness (frankness) and assurance that we will be received.  Israel was never granted that privilege – except the priest once a year.  Because He lives in us, we are purified and made holy through the blood of Christ.

            (Marty) Second, since our hearts do not condemn us we can have confidence, which will lead to God responding to our prayers.  “But wait, doesn’t God always hear and respond to our prayers?”  You may have heard claims such as these – “There is nothing we can do or fail to do that will make God feel or act different towards us,” or “There is nothing we can ever do to win God’s favour.  While there is certainly nothing, absolutely nothing we can do to earn our salvation, Scripture does teach that as Christians our actions impact how God responds to us.”  For instance, in 1 Peter it is made clear that if a husband treats his wife poorly, it will hinder his prayers.  And it is the prayer of a righteous person that has power (James 5:16). 

            If our hearts do not condemn us, we can come into the Father’s presence with confidence and we can “receive from Him anything we ask.”  This is a tremendous promise, and yet one that we can find confusing when our prayers go unanswered.  I don’t have the time to go into this today, but I do want to point out that John repeats this same idea later in the letter – 5: 14 – “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Notice the addition in this verse – “according to His will.”  (in harmony)

            B. Because we obey his commands.  The reason that is given for receiving what we ask for is because we “obey his commands and do what pleases him.”  We have seen already in I John the necessary role of obedience in the life of a genuine Christian.  Many believers have bought in to the lie that once you are “in” it doesn’t really matter how you live.  But that is contrary to the clear teaching of scripture.  The idea of “pleasing Him” is another call that is found repeatedly in the Bible.  Our lives, our choices, our priorities should consistently come under the scrutiny of whether they are pleasing to God.  Because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing to him we can have confidence and be assured that we will receive answers to our prayers.

            In verse 23, John reminds his readers what exactly he is referring to in “his command.”  The commands of God (Jesus) are basically twofold - and this is nothing new – Jesus taught basically the same things in the “Great Commandments.”  The command of God is to believe in the name of His Son, and to love one another.  It all comes down to these two fundamental commands (Rom. 13: 8-10).  “Our focus needs to be on actively loving both God and the family of God.  As we do, we can rest assured that we live in (abide) God and God lives in us.” (Marty)

            We know that he lives in us and we in him because the fruit of that relationship is obedience to his commands.  But “God is not waiting to pounce on us when we sin.  Quite the contrary, he gives us the privilege of confessing our sin and finding forgiveness and cleansing.”  But he does expect the pattern of our lives to show we are pursuing obedience and holiness.

            C. Because the Spirit reveals it to us. John ends this passage with his first reference to the Spirit in the letter.  “This is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”   The introduction of the Spirit is both climatic to today’s passage and prepares the reader for what is coming next.  Everything that we have seen in this text is dependent on the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Nothing in our spiritual life is accomplished without the transforming power of the Spirit.  We cannot love one another without the power of the Spirit; we cannot obey God’s commands without the Spirit’s empowering us to do so; we cannot even escape the condemnation of our own hearts without the work of the Spirit within us.  The Spirit within us bears witness that we are God’s children – that we belong to the truth.  He is the one that produces the fruit of character as we abide in the vine of Christ and as he transforms our hearts.  The Spirit produces objective results in our lives that in turn give us the assurance that we belong to the truth and are living in him.

            We can have assurance from God even when our hearts condemn us and blessings when they don’t.  Do you have assurance in regards to your relationship to God?   Do not accept your conscience’s condemnation if you have confessed your sin to God.  His promise is to forgive, but do not continue in that sin.  True confession must also include repentance – a turning away from sin.  You can have assurance with God; you can know you belong to the truth, and you can know that he lives in you – just look at your fruit.  Are you growing in love towards your brothers and sisters?  Do you have a clear conscience before God?  Are you walking in obedience to his commands?  Do you have confidence in his presence and in your prayer life?  We have the possibility to live with a blessed assurance, a certainty of God’s blessing and salvation.  What a great way to begin the New Year!

 

Sermon: Hebrews 10:5-10

Why Did Jesus Come?

January 15, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

We have just celebrated the miracle of the incarnation – the all-powerful God of the universe being born in a manger in Bethlehem; coming to live among his people – God in flesh appearing.  The Messiah has arrived in the fullness of time.  We've heard the Christmas stories again; we have sung the carols and listened to Christmas music.

            The simple beauty of the nativity story – the Bethlehem manger, the angels, the shepherds, the star and the wise men should be enjoyed for what it is – God's miraculous intervention into history by being born a child.  But the stories are not ends in themselves; they serve a higher purpose, to teach us the amazing reality of the incarnation – God with us.  But even the incarnation had a purpose that was already determined before creation.  So what was that purpose?  Why did Jesus come to earth in the form of a man?  The text that we will consider this morning from the book Hebrews teaches us that: Jesus came to do the will of the Father and to offer his body as the perfect sacrifice for all time.

            The author of Hebrews has up to this point been proceeding through the argument that reveals that Christ is superior over the entire OT sacrificial system.  The OT worship and sacrifices were but a shadow of the real thing because they offered no lasting effectiveness.  In the five verses that we are going to consider today the point is being made that Jesus is the superior sacrifice and the only sacrifice capable of removing our sin and cleansing our consciences – and that is the reason he had to come – and be born, and live, and die and rise again.

            You might be wondering – yes, but why bring up this subject now?  Do we have to think about his death when we have just celebrated his birth?  Well, no we don't have to, but the reality is that without his sacrifice there would be no reason to celebrate his birth.  But there is another reason as well – so let's turn to the text.  Verse 5 begins with these words: “Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:”  I wondered about this phrase because I was pretty sure that Jesus is nowhere quoted in the gospels as saying the words that follow – that is actually a quotation  taken from Psalm 40: 6-8 and applied to Jesus.   So what does this mean?  It seems that the author of the book of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is suggesting that these are the words Jesus said to the Father at the time of his incarnation – when he left heaven and came to the manger.  And through these verses, Jesus reveals his reasons for coming.  I would like to suggest three of them based on this passage:

            First: He came because of the Father's dissatisfaction with the sacrifice of animals.

While it is true that it was God who instituted the animal sacrifices of the OT, it is clear from this text that he did not “desire” (gr. To want, will, wish- 5X in text) them nor did they please him.  But they were a necessary step in the unfolding revelation of God's plan of redemption.  However, scripture is clear that God takes no pleasure in rivers of animal blood and piles of animal carcasses. (Exceptions: offering/aroma pleasing to the Lord. God was pleased with the hearts of the worshipers).  God's dissatisfaction with animal sacrifices was primarily based on these two things:

            A. They were ineffective for dealing with sin.  The animal sacrifices were a necessary step in order for Israel to be able to maintain a covenant relationship with God.  God is holy and his holiness means he is intolerant of sin. Sin is a barrier to a relationship with the Almighty.  It is also stated in Hebrews (9:22) that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sin.  So the shedding of animal blood provided an atoning cover for the sins of the people, and they were able to maintain a relationship with God through them.  But while they were effective as a temporary covering, they had no power or ability to remove sin and to cleanse the conscience.  So in God's eyes the animal sacrifices provided only a temporary solution, but were ineffectual in dealing with the issue of sin - because it says in verse 4: “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

            They were also ineffective because it was necessary for these sacrifices to be ongoing.  Since they could not take away sin but only cover it, they had to be repeated over and over.  It was prescribed that two sacrifices had to be offered daily – morning and evening, with more animals on the Sabbath days and even more on the feast days.  Once a year the whole nation had to gather for the Day of Atonement in which the guilt of their past sins would be covered over in a special ceremony.  Rather than the removal of their sins, this Day was annual reminder of their ongoing sinful condition.

            B. People were using the sacrifices with incorrect assumptions.  God's dissatisfaction with the animal sacrifices stemmed from the fact that people were assuming that merely going through the ritual of the sacrifices was all that was required to satisfy him.  He was displeased with the sacrifices because the people thought they could appease God with the offering without the sacrifice of an engaged and repentant heart.   However, ritual done apart from a sincere commitment to God's will always fall short.  How often do we see this attitude continue in many churches today?

            So Jesus came because the Father was dissatisfied with the sacrifices of animals – they were ineffective in dealing with sin and they were leading people into ritualistic observance.  The OT system was divinely inspired, but it was only preliminary.

            Second: He came to do the Father's will – and he came willingly.  Jesus came to earth and took on a human body according to his own will.  But while he came willingly, his purpose in coming was to carry out/ to do his Father's will.  Many times throughout the gospels, we hear Jesus saying that “I have come to do the will of my Father.”  Well, what was the will of the Father?  I think this passage tells us his main purpose and will in sending Jesus.  Jesus says to the Father, “because of your dissatisfaction with animal sacrifices, you have prepared a body for me.  So here I am – I am willing to come and do your will.”  The will of the Father was to send his Son to earth - fully divine, fully human – to be sacrificed as a sin offering for all time - one that takes sin away and will never have to be repeated.

            In order for the atoning sacrifice to be effective and lasting, the sacrificial victim must be one who is capable of consent, and must of his own will place himself in the sinner's position, and Christ did so.  On the other hand, the animals were unwilling victims whose blood was powerless to cleanse.

            The author of Hebrews interprets what Jesus meant when he was willing to do the Father's will.  He “set aside” the first system of the OT and replaced it in favor of the new covenant in Jesus' blood – who offered a better sacrifice.  The Greek word translated in the NIV as “set aside” literally means “to kill” or “put to death.”  Strong language, for sure, but reminding us of the superiority of the Jesus' sacrifice over the animal sacrifices of the OT.  Jesus came to bring about the will of the Father – the new covenant of grace.

            Three: He came so that through the sacrifice of his own body, we could be made holy before God.  Verse 10 tells us that according to the desire of the Father, we who believe are made holy - receive salvation - through Jesus' sacrifice once for all.  Through Jesus we are sanctified – we are given a position of holiness through which we are now acceptable to God – we can be in a relationship with him.  That is the great gift that we are given – it is the ultimate reason that we celebrate Christmas.  Jesus' incarnation (meaning) and sacrifice are the reasons that we can be offered God's free gift of salvation and eternal life.  His sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice – it has the power to save us from our sin, and it will never have to be repeated.  But even though the Father was dissatisfied with the animal sacrifices, and the Son was willing to do his will, the Father's ultimate purpose to offer us life came with such a high cost.

            “Back in the days of the Great Depression, a Missouri man named John Griffith was the controller of a great railroad drawbridge across the Mississippi River.  One day in the summer of 1937 he decided to take his eight-year-old son, Greg, with him to work.  At noon, John put the bridge up to allow ships to pass and sat on the observation deck with this son to eat lunch.  Time passed quickly.  Suddenly he was startled by the shrieking of a train whistle in the distance.  He quickly looked at his watch and noticed that it was 1:07 – the Memphis Express, with four hundred passengers on board, was roaring towards the raised bridge!  He leaped from the observation deck and ran back to the control tower.  Just before throwing the master lever he glanced down for any ships below.  There a sight caught his eye that caused his heart to leap into his throat.  His son, Greg had slipped from the observation deck and had fallen into the massive gears that operate the bridge.  His left leg was caught in the cogs of the two main gears!  Desperately John's mind whirled to devise a rescue plan.  But as soon as he thought of a possibility he knew there was no way that it could done.

            Again, with alarming closeness, the train whistle shrieked in the air.  He could hear the clicking of the locomotive wheels over the tracks.  That was his son down there – yet there were four hundred passengers on the train.  John knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his left arm and pushed the master switch forward.  That great massive bridge lowered into place just as the Memphis Express began to roar across the river. When John lifted his head with his face smeared with tears, he looked into the passing windows of the train.  There were businessmen casually reading their afternoon papers, finely dressed ladies in the dining car sipping coffee, and children pushing long spoons into their dishes of ice cream.  No one looked at the control house, and no one looked at the great gear box.  With wrenching agony, John Griffith cried out to the passing train: “I sacrificed my son for you people!  Don't you care?  The train rushed by, but nobody heard the words of an anguished father.”  This is a stark reminder of the words found in Lamentations 1: 12: “Is it nothing to you, all who pass by?”  I wonder how often our heavenly Father feels the kind of agony that this father did.  “I sacrificed my Son for you people – so that you could live! And yet you pass by without notice or care.  Does this mean nothing to you? 

            Jesus came to do the will of the Father and to offer his body as the perfect sacrifice for all time.   He came to be a sacrifice.  He was born for the ultimate purpose of being sacrificed.  Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins.  He offers the gift of a relationship with God and of eternal life – all you have to do is receive his gift by faith.  Receive his gift today – don't be like those who passed by unknowing and uncaring.

            Even for those who have received his gift of salvation, this is powerful reminder of God's great desire to redeem a people for himself.  He was willing to pay the ultimate price.  Sometimes we hear this message so much that the reality of the cost becomes lost.  May we always remember the Father's heart in why Jesus came to earth.   

 

Sermon: Numbers 6:22-27

The Blessing

January 22, 2017

Bryan Watson

Good morning.  The scripture passage on which I based this message is from Numbers 6:22-27.  You've all heard it many times before, but perhaps you didn't know where it came from.

Numbers 6:22-27 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”’ “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

When I was a young man living in Regina, I had a Pontiac 6000.  It was a nice little car, but it had a couple of quirks.  One quirk was that it ran like a cat.  Not "cat" as in "Caterpillar" heavy machinery, but rather a pussycat.  And not because it "purred" like a kitten, but because it didn't like water.  If the streets were the slightest bit wet, that car would spit and sputter and stall at every stoplight.  It was a true “fair-weather” friend.

But the other quirk it had was also weather related, and that is, when it turned cold, the circuit board in the steering wheel that controlled the horn would warp.  And so, every time I would turn the wheel to the left, the horn would honk.

Now, back then, I had to be in the office by 6:45 in the morning.  So I had to be out the door by 6:15 or so.  As fate would have it, I had to turn left to back out of the driveway.  Honk.  Honk.  And within 100 feet of the house, the street curved to the left.  Honk.

And this continued on until I get to my co-worker, Bill’s place.  He's standing in his driveway waiting for me when I turn left to pull in.  Honk!  Bill gets in, "What's your problem.  You didn't see me in the driveway?"  

Then we're at the stop light in, you guessed it, the left turning lane at Albert Street and Sask Drive.  The light turns green and the car in front of me proceeds to turn left with me following closely.  Honk!  Honk! 

I was amazed that morning at how friendly the folks in Regina are, waving and wishing me a great day!  The moral of this true story is found in Proverbs 27:14 Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.

Today, I want to talk about how we can bless each other with words.  Now, for sure, there are other ways we can, and do, bless each other with acts of kindness.  Meals, gifts, acts of service like shovelling the snow off of someone's driveway, or giving someone a ride to the doctor... these are all ways we can bless each other.  But today, I want to focus on the way we bless each other with words. 

The 1828 Webster's Dictionary defines this aspect of blessing as follows:

BLESSING: Benediction; a wish of happiness pronounced; a prayer imploring happiness upon another.

1.    A solemn prophetic benediction, in which happiness is desired, invoked or foretold.

We all desire to be blessed.  As children, we long to hear the approval and affirmation of our parents.  Husbands long to hear the appreciation of their wives, and wives long to hear the love and adoration of their husbands.  Employees long to hear the approval of their bosses.  Parents long to hear the appreciation of their children.  The list goes on and on.

JACOB AND ESAU

In Old Testament times, when a son or a daughter received a particular blessing from their father, it was seen as a rite of passage; a particular moment when a boy became a man and a girl became a woman.  Often, this blessing included inheritance rights, as the firstborn son would receive double the inheritance of any of the other sons, as well as the mantle of family leadership.

The story of Jacob and Esau gives us a great example of this.  You can read the detailed events for yourself in Genesis 27, but let me give you a few highlights.

Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac.  They were twins, but Esau was the firstborn, and as such, had firstborn rights.  Isaac was getting old, and determined that it was time to give "The Blessing" to Esau.  So, he instructed Esau to go and prepare a special meal that Isaac would eat, and then give his blessing to Esau.  While Esau was out hunting game for the meal, Jacob and his mother Rebekah quickly prepared another meal.  Jacob disguised himself to be Esau, and presented the meal to his father, Isaac, deceiving him.  Isaac gave the blessing intended for Esau to Jacob.

When Esau got back and found out what happened, he was absolutely devastated.  As I mentioned, these blessings weren't given out flippantly, and nor could they be revoked.  Listen to the pain in this brief exchange:

Genesis 27:34-38 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

Many years later, Jacob himself provides blessings to his children and a couple of his grandchildren upon his deathbed.  He blesses each one of them with a prophetic blessing.  You can read about this in Genesis 49.  I will tell you in advance, however, that some of the blessings these sons received was more a prophecy of “reaping what you sow” as opposed to how we think of blessings.

In the end, we all want to be blessed.  That's why the Benediction is one of my favourite parts of the worship service.  It isn't because it marks the end of the service, although on Sundays when we are having the fellowship meal, I start to shift in my seat a little bit. But really, it’s because I long to hear the blessing.  “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace."  Whether it's that or whether it's one of the other great benedictions that are prayed over us as a people, I long for those words to be pronounced over me

Gary Smalley and John Trent, in their book, "The Blessing" write, "Spoken words of blessing should start in the delivery room and continue throughout life.  Yet the 'lack of time' and the thief's motto, 'I'll have time to tell them tomorrow,' rob children of a needed blessing today.  'Oh, it's not a big deal,' you may say.  'They know I love them and that they're special without my having to say it.'  Really?  We wish that explanation worked with many of the people we counsel.  To them, their parents' silence has communicated something far different from love and acceptance."

Like the story about the couple who were married for 50 years and finally ended up in the counsellor's office after some difficulty.  "When was the last time you told your wife that you loved her?" asked the counsellor.  The husband replied, "I told her on our wedding day that I loved her, and if I ever change my mind, I'll let her know."  Do you think that wife felt blessed?

MARK HOLMEN, in his book “Church & Home” recounts a story about Rolf Garborg.  I want to read that to you now.

Do you want to know if that had an impact?  Holmen, in his workbook called, “Take It Home”, expands on this story by saying, “My daughter has been hearing this blessing every evening since she was two years old.  When I was leaving for a trip to speak in Canada, I went into my now eleven-year-old daughter’s room at 4:00 A.M. to give her a kiss goodbye.  I didn’t think she would wake up, but o my surprise she did.  And when she saw me, she reached out her arm from underneath the covers and extended it to me and then in her groggy, half awake voice she said the following words: ‘Daddy, as you go on your trip may the Lord bless you and keep you.  May He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord look upon you with favour and keep you safe.  I love you, Daddy!  Amen.’”

I wish I could say that we had done that with our daughters, but it’s not too late.

NOT MAGIC WORDS

One thing I want to make clear here is that saying a blessing over someone is not a magic phrase. It's not an incantation or some genie-like lamp that we rub and everything just magically works out exactly as we say.  I do believe, however, in the power of prayer.  And I believe these blessings, given in the right spirit, do please God and cause both the one who is doing the blessing and the one who is being blessed to turn their hearts toward God, which sets the spiritual conditions in which blessing may occur.  After all, it is God Himself who instructed Moses in the book of Numbers about how to bless the people.  Using that example as our model provides us with the tools we need to bless others.

So, who should be blessing who, and how should we do it?  Well, the good news is, there's no real right way or wrong way to do this.  But we have a manual <the Bible> that provides us with some examples. 

We've already discussed the example that God gave to Moses in the Book of Numbers and how Mark Holmen and Rolf Garborg used it in their own families.  But let’s revisit that one more time from the aspect of a parent blessing their child.  What would that look like?  Well, for a young child, or even an older child who is comfortable with it, probably after getting tucked into bed, you’d place a hand on their shoulder or forehead and recite the blessing… The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace. Good night, I love you, Amen.”’

 For an adolescent or teenager, if they are uncomfortable with it, or just simply at that stage where Mom and Dad aren’t cool anymore, then maybe you don’t want to do this after “tucking them in.”  But I’m sure that God will provide a way and time if you keep your eyes open for it.  Mark Holmen says, “after they are asleep…”, but the problem with that is that your bedtime may be about 4 hours before theirs now.

And there are a lot of other examples of blessings that we could be saying.  The apostle Paul was a master of this, as the closing remarks of his letters shows.  As I read a few of these, you will automatically think of them as a benediction being given by a pastor to his congregation.  Let's think outside the box a little bit and consider how we may apply them in other circumstances.

Psalm 121:7-8 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.

1 Corinthians 16:23 – The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

2 Corinthians 13:14 – May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Galatians 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit…

Ephesians 6:24 – Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Philippians 4:19 – My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:23 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 – Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.

And we shouldn’t just limit ourselves to these examples…

What if parents said this to their children before an exam or some other stressful event in their life:  Philippians 4:7 “May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

What if we prayed this over our children or grandchildren every day as they head off:  Romans 12:2 May you not be conformed to this world, but may you be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

What about husbands blessing their wives?  In our family, I have to leave early enough in the morning that Lori is still asleep when I leave.  But before I leave, I can gently place a hand on her shoulder and say, “May you feel my love today as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  May God help me to have such a love.  For you are worth more than rubies, and my heart trusts you.”  That’s a combination of Ephesians 5:25 and Proverbs 31:10-11.

What if wives blessed their husbands every day?  Based on Ephesians 5:22-24 and Psalm 1:2-3: May God give you the wisdom to lead, just as Christ is the head of the Church.  May your delight be in God's law, that you may be like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in season, whose leaf does not whither, and may whatever you do prosper.

What about our brothers and sisters in Christ right here in this congregation?  Should we be blessing each other?  I would say, yes.  It means a lot to me, personally, when someone like Neil or Darwyn say a blessing over me… especially right before I am about to preach.  It gives me a sense of peace.  But it can get kind of awkward to pronounce a blessing on someone if you are over at their house for a visit.  It shouldn’t be awkward, but it is. 

I like the Jewish greeting of “Shalom”, which means “Peace.”  A simple blessing of “God bless you,” at somebody’s house shouldn’t be uncomfortable.  After all, we say it every time someone sneezes!

But I think we should work towards become a congregation that is comfortable with blessing each other.  And a great way to start that is to include a small blessing in our emails to each other, and to pray a blessing, like the ones I listed from Paul’s letters, over the names on the prayer cards that were handed out a while back.  Talk to Pastor Dennis or Donna if you need one.

You see, we all have the opportunity to be a blessing to one another.  And when it comes to children, I don’t think we have to limit this to our minor children.  I bet adult children would love to receive a blessing from their parents as well.

Now, maybe you are in a situation as either a minor child or an adult child, where you are just not going to receive a blessing from your parents.  Maybe they can’t because they have already passed away, or maybe they just won’t.  Maybe you’re in a situation where waiting for a blessing from another family member is looking impossible right now.  Maybe this entire sermon has actually been a discouragement to you.  What then?  Like Esau said, “Have you but one blessing? Bless me, even me also.”  Well, for those of you in this situation, I give you this blessing, right now.  From Isaiah 40:31 –

“But those who wait on the Lord

Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”

So, may your strength be renewed, may you mount up with wings like eagles, may you run and not be weary, may you walk and not faint.  Amen.

Now for a disclaimer:  I have only scratched the surface of the idea of blessing others.  Reciting these blessings with our family and our church family is a great start, but there are things we should do beyond words in order to make being a blessing become a reality.  We would be wise to remember the words of James in James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

For today, however, I wanted to give us a place to start.  Let's start by giving the blessing to our family and brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whether it's saying a blessing over a child as they are going to bed, or blessing a friend on the phone or in an email, let's start taking it outside these four walls.

On the back of your bulletin in the sermon notes section, write down the name of someone you would like to begin saying a blessing for, and some thoughts about what you would like your blessing for that person to be.  How would you like to be blessed?  Maybe that’s something you can communicate to another.  I’ll give you a few seconds to think that through, but I also encourage you to treat it like a homework assignment.

As you leave the sanctuary today, there is going to be a sheet of paper with a couple of common blessings available to you.  Take one or more.  Tape them on the lightswitches of your child's bedroom.  Tape them by your phone.  Tape them below your loved one's picture on your fridge.  But don't take it and not use it.  And by the way, even if you think they are sleeping, say it anyway.  You never know who is listening.

 

Sermon: 1 John 4:1-6

Testing the Spirits

January 29, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

This morning we come to our second text in 1 John that reminds us again of this crucial truth: genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus – certain non-negotiable truths. It is imperative that we hold these things to be true if we are truly born of the Spirit of God. Many of the things that Christianity holds to be true about Jesus Christ are unique from any other world religion or cult. These beliefs set us apart – and can make us unpopular. The world and its system values tolerance, but the teachings of Jesus and of scripture point to incarnation – foolishness to many - and promote exclusivity – intolerance to many.

The fact of the matter is that there are many competing spirits/voices in the world today who promote corrupt views on Christ. The explanations of who he really was have run the gamut of virtually every conceivable possibility. As I mentioned in my first message about this theme, it matters what we believe about Jesus, and it matters a lot. In fact, our eternal destination depends on it. We see from our text for today that there is a spirit of truth and a spirit of deception at work in our world, and it is vitally important that we learn to identify the true one. In order to confirm the origin/source of a spirit, it may be necessary to apply a test – and this is John’s message for us this morning. The test of whether a spirit is from God is whether the truth about Jesus is confessed and whether the Word of God is listened to. How can we test the spirits?

First: There is the call for discernment (vs.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.” John is basically repeating the message of Jesus here reported by Mark 13:22 - “For false Christ’s and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect.” John is warning that false prophets (who claim to speak spiritual revelation) are about, and their message must be tested. We must be able to discern what we are being taught.

The floor of the Princeton gym was being resurfaced, so Princeton basketball player (and later United States senator) Bill Bradley had to practice at Lawrenceville School. His first afternoon at Lawrenceville, he began by shooting fourteen-foot jump shots from the right side. He got off to a bad start, and he kept missing them. Six in a row hit the back rim of the basket and bounced out. He stopped and seemed to make an adjustment in his mind. Then he went up for another jump shot from the same spot and hit it cleanly. Four more shots went in without a miss. Then he paused and said, “You want to know something? That basket is about an inch and a half low.” Some weeks later, I went back to Lawrenceville with a steel tape measure. I borrowed a stepladder and measured the height of the basket. It was nine feet, ten and seven-eighths inches above the floor, or one and one-eighth inches too low.

Can you imagine that? What did it take for him to have the ability to discern the slightest error in the height of that basketball rim? How many shots did he have to take from that position on the floor to be able to detect that minute deviation? Thousands, I would imagine. If we make an analogy out of this with our need for spiritual discernment, what does it suggest? In order to discern even the smallest error of false teaching, we better be well practiced in the Word of God. In order to discern the falsehood, we must be well acquainted with authentic. (MC) “The funny thing about false teaching is that it usually sounds right! It’s compelling! It makes sense! Often, it is right...mostly, that is. But woven into the truth is enough false teaching to sink a ship.”

Test the spirits; test the teaching – is what is being taught from God – does it line up with scripture? Do not believe every teacher, every pastor, or every sermon – there are false teachings everywhere.

Second: There is the test of the content of the teaching (vs. 2-3). Again we come to this phrase that John has repeated so often in this letter, and is repeated twice in this passage today – “This is how you know (can recognize).” This is the language of testing, and John provides us with a means to test the spirits. Here’s the test itself: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already on the world.” Back in chapter 2 the issue was “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), and here the denial is clarified more to “denying Jesus has come in the flesh.” This is a clear reference to the incarnation – the belief that Jesus is the divine Son of God – that he willingly left heaven and came to earth as a human being born in a manger.

The opposition in John’s day denied the full humanity and full deity of Jesus, and this has been an issue of contention all throughout history in and out of the church. In the context of John’s letter, there were teachers on both sides of the issue – some who suggested that Jesus only “appeared” to be human – some sort of divine apparition, and so they denied his full humanity. Others denied his full divinity - suggesting that he was human only, but that the “Christ spirit” came upon him at his baptism, but then left him just before his crucifixion.

The doctrine of the incarnation – Jesus as the divine Son of God remains a stumbling block today. Every world religion and cult without exception denies that Jesus is the Son of God who has “come in the flesh.” It is the unique claim of the Christian faith. Peter recently sent me an email from the website The Christians.com that had an article about a church in Scotland that opened up their pulpit to an Islamic woman. Listen to this:

A passage from the Koran that denies one of the central tenets of the Christian faith was sung aloud at a cathedral service in Scotland. The passage from Surah 19, which specifically denies that Jesus was the Son of God and says He should not be worshipped, was sung during a Eucharist service at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow to mark the feast of the Epiphany. A video of the recital was posted on YouTube showing a girl singing the passage in a typical Islamic style. It narrates the Islamic account of the birth of Jesus, which includes the claim that Mary was “ashamed” after giving birth, and the infant Christ miraculously spoke from the cradle – something not found in Christian scripture. She then concludes by singing verse 35, which states in translation: “It befitteth not the Majesty of Allah that He should take unto Himself a son,” and then verse 36, which has the infant Jesus saying: “And lo! Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. That is the right path.” The cathedral praised the reading in a Facebook post, calling it a “wonderful event”.

Now, according to the teaching of John, are Muslims of the spirit of God, or of the spirit of the antichrist? I would say today’s scripture makes that very clear!

However, the denial of Jesus Christ as the Son of God in not is any way limited to the Muslims – it is equally denied by Buddhists and Hindus – and every other world religion. This truth is also denied by every quasi-Christian group. The Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus was God’s first creation, in fact before he was born of Mary he was the archangel Michael. Angels are not divine, they are created beings. Next time the JW’s come to your door, ask them this question, “Who is Jesus?” Then show them this text from 1 John – and if their answer is anything other than “the Son of God who has come in the flesh,” you know the spirit of their teaching is not from God. The Mormons believe that Jesus was the first-born of God’s many “spirit children,” and Lucifer was his brother. They also believe that Father God was once a man who progressed to godhood, and that divinity is possible for every human. This is not the God/Jesus of the Bible.

This truth about Jesus remains under attack to this day – and it is important that we hold to this doctrine. In the NT, even the demons recognized the fact of the incarnation. We cannot waiver on the identity of Jesus, because the whole foundation of our faith will collapse. (Stott) “The fundamental Christian doctrine which can never be compromised concerns the eternal divine – human person of Jesus Christ – the Son of God.” “The person of Christ is central.”

It is also important for me to make clear that this test of doctrine – that Jesus has come in the flesh – is only one test. While it is a necessary test, it is not a sufficient test. It was a very important test to the context of John’s time because the nature of Jesus was under attack. However, John has also made clear in this letter that there is also the test of obedience and love that are necessary for the Christian life. There are many false prophets / teachers in the church today who would never deny the incarnation of Christ. So it is not an absolute test – and we do see other distortions of the scriptures coming from a variety of directions. Here’s a few:

- There is a growing popularity in the church of the idea of universalism – that in the end everyone will ultimately be saved. This is an effort to fit God into our preconceptions. “Many people want a God who is all love and would never want anyone to suffer.” But is that what the scriptures really teach? What is the whole counsel of God on this issue?

- There is a growing movement among some evangelical leaders and churches to accept the gay lifestyle. Where is the scriptural basis for this?

- Many evangelicals have taught that in order to be saved one must simply admit they are a sinner, tell God they’re sorry and invite Jesus to be their personal Saviour. My teacher told of one incidence he witnessed where a worship leader made that invitation and then added, “Don’t expect your life to change much when you do…” My teacher said he wanted to stand up and shout “Heresy!” This is teaching salvation without transformation – is that biblical? “You cannot confess, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and not expect your life to change; and you cannot be saved without confessing ‘Jesus is Lord’.”

I know, these examples have no direct connection with confessing that Jesus has “come in the flesh,” but they do pertain to the principle in John’s admonition to test the spirits. These teachings, and many others, undermine the truth of the gospel. We cannot allow ourselves to become gullible; we must test the content and the spirit of the teachings.

Third: There is the test of the response to the teaching (4-6). Each of the verses, 4-6, begins with a different preposition and is followed by the words “are from” – which indicates a source that is then identified.

*You are from God (4). John is referring to his audience here. They are from God and have the power of the indwelling Spirit. Because of that they have been able to overcome (triumph) the false teachers who have not succeeded in deceiving them. We must remember that we have the Holy Spirit in us and He that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world. By being vigilant, the Spirit can and will protect us from the deception that is everywhere.

*They are from the world (5). They, of course, refer to the false teachers (ings). They are from the world; they are the spirit of the antichrist. They speak the viewpoints and the opinions of the world’s value system, and so the world likes them and listens to them. False teaching will usually come from people who are trying to fit God into their own image and conceptions of what he should be like – they create a god of their own making and their own desires.

*We are from God (6). Who are the “we” here? Most believe John is referring to the apostles – their oral and written teachings. Those who know God will receive and listen to the apostle’s teaching (NT). Those who do not know God will neither receive nor listen to the teachings of scripture. They don’t recognize the truth and they don’t want to hear it. As Luther once said, “When we speak from the Spirit of God, the majority snore.”

This, then, is the test – this is “how we know” the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Our response to the Word of God indicates who we belong to, and whether or not we will listen indicates whether or not we really know God. It almost seems to suggest that the true people of God will recognize the true Word of God.

The test of whether a spirit is from God is whether the truth about Jesus is confessed and whether the Word of God is listened to. Jesus Christ is the only point of communication between heaven and earth. Let’s test the spirits, stand on the truth about Jesus, and contend with the sword of the Spirit – his Word.

 

Sermon: Isaiah 43:10-12

One

February 5, 2017

Bryan Watson

 

Good morning.  First of all, I also want to give credit where credit is due, so I want to acknowledge Steven Curtis Chapman, as it is his song One True God which provided some of the inspiration for this message.

The scripture text for today is from Isaiah 43:10-12. 

10 “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
Nor shall there be after Me.

11 I, even I, am the Lord,
And besides Me there is no savior.
12 I have declared and saved,
I have proclaimed,
And there was no foreign god among you;
Therefore you are My witnesses,”
Says the Lord, “that I am God.

We live in an age where "choice" seems to be a religion unto itself.  Everything requires a choice, and we need lots of options.  Even buying groceries can be an overwhelming ordeal.  Take milk, for example.  I remember as a kid my Mom telling me, "Go to the store and buy some milk."  That's was it.  I'd get on my bike, I'd ride down to the grocery store, and I'd buy milk.

Now, however, think of the choices that have to made:

-    Wallins in town... or Co-op in Churchbridge... or Yorkton?

-    If I decide to get it in Yorkton, then do I go to Superstore, Walmart, or Co-op?

-    Soy milk, or cow's milk?

-    Skim, 1%, 2%, or Whole?

-    Beatrice or Foremost?

-    1L or 4L?

-    Great, got the milk.  What's next?  Beans.

-    No-name, Clark's, Heinz, Bush's?

-    Tomato sauce, molasses, maple syrup?

-    Which one is on sale?  Buy 1, or buy 3 and save?

-    You see where this is going?  When I have a grocery list with 25 items on it, it can get overwhelming.  Yet, heaven help the person who tries to limit my ability to choose.  Yes, choice has almost become a religion unto itself.

What about faith and salvation?  How many ways are there to be saved?  The world has approximately 7.5 billion people in it.  2.2 billion of those identify as Christians.  That leaves 5.3 Billion people who admittedly are not Christians.  Can they all be wrong?   Or do they know something we don't know?  As part of our homeschooling journey, we worked through a book called the "Handbook of World Religions."  It listed 50 different religions that people subscribe to, and both Jedi and Pastafarianism were not included in the list, although they are recognized as religions in Canada, so I know it is not an exhaustive list.  But just listen to some of these religions:

-    Asatru: A reliance upon ancient Norse myths and legends.  Salvation is attained by striving to live a robust, free, brave, honorable life.  They don't really know what to do with the afterlife, however, so beliefs vary.

-    Buddhism: Eventually reaching a state of nirvana (a series of rebirths through reincarnation until a state of perfection is reached, which brings an end to the suffering cycle.)

-    Dadaji: God is within as an inner guide.  Look within to find God, Truth, and Love.

-    Juche (choo-CHAY): North Korea's state religion.  The ruling family, currently led by Kim Jong Il, is to be worshipped.  Salvation is solely material and consists of deliverance from the need to rely on others.

-    Scientology: Man is basically good.  Salvation consists of the deliverance from the endless cycle of lives by ridding the mind of negative mental thoughts and eventually becoming a free immortal spirit.

I haven't even touched on the many other religions listed in the book, some familiar, some not, such as:

-    Satanism

-    Druidism

-    Falun Gong

-    Gnosticism

-    Hare Krishna

-    Hinduism

-    Islam

-    Jehovah's Witnesses

-    Mormonism

-    Native American Spirituality

-    Humanism

-    Taoism

-    Unitarianism

-    Voodoo

-    Wicca

-    Zoroastrianism

-    and many others.

Can they all be true?  Can some of them be true?  I could take time to examine the claims of each one of them, but that would take many, many sermons to cover.  Instead, I want to put on my Biblical glasses and examine the subject from a Christian worldview.  Is that perhaps biased?  Sure.  I'm ok with saying that, because my worldview starts with the Bible. 

The Bank of Canada trains their agents to identify counterfeit currency by knowing and understanding the real thing.  So, if we here, in a Christian church, start with the presupposition that Christianity is the real thing, then let's see what the Bible says about the exclusivity of Christianity so that we can recognize counterfeit faiths when we see them.  Stay with me as I build my case. 

First, in the very beginning, the Bible says that there was One voice in the dark. 

Genesis 1:1-3 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

So any reference to any other entity or entities involved in the creation of the universe is incompatible with the Bible.  No Greek gods running around like a cosmic soap opera... Atlas isn't holding up the world... the solar system didn't come about by accident... God wasn't just a good guy on some other planet before achieving godhood.  There was One voice in the dark.  One.

One breath that gives life.  Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 

Any other explanation as to how man got here is incompatible with the Bible.  No molecules to man evolution.  Aliens didn't dump us off here.  Human beings are not just another animal.  And my Grandpa was not a monkey.  If you want to believe yours was, then suit yourself, but it's not compatible with the Bible.  Period.  One breath that gives life.  One.

There is only One Lord.  Isaiah 43:10-12 “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, And besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, And there was no foreign god among you; Therefore you are My witnesses,” Says the Lord, “that I am God.

In the same vein, there is only One True God.  Isaiah 44:6 “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. 

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

And again,

1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

If we are believing in other gods, like the ancient Greeks, or the Hindus of today, then that is not compatible with the words of the Bible.  And if we are like humanists, who say there is no god, or that we are our own gods, then we deny the existence of the One True God, and are disagreeing with scripture.

And this One True God is One Sovereign in Power.  1 Chronicles 29:11-12 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all.

Any time we ascribe power or ownership or control to anything other than God Almighty, then we are not lining up with the Bible.  The stars don't have that power... horoscopes don't dictate our destiny.  Tea leaves don't tell our destiny.  Fortune tellers and tarot cards are instruments of God's enemies.  Instead of looking to the stars, we should be looking to the One who MADE the stars, because He has the ultimate power.  People today put more stock in the suggestions of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and CNN than they do in the Almighty God.

He is One alone in greatness.  Psalm 145:3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.

Isaiah 48:11 For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it;
For how should My name be profaned?
And I will not give My glory to another.

So often we give to another that which is due to God.  We scream and cheer for musicians and actors and sports stars.  The Super Bowl is today, and while Tom Brady is a very good football player, he is just that, a football player.  We should not give him the honour of being worshipped.

And this is true of all men.  Sometimes we get so caught up in who said something that we don't even care what was said.  Let me tell you, just because Rick Warren said it, doesn't make it true.  Just because Peter Mansbridge said it, doesn't make it true.  I don’t take Brad Pitt’s counsel on world events.  I don’t even like his movies!  And for the record, just because Bryan Watson said it doesn't make it true.  You need to understand what their true source is, and always take it back to what God said, because God is the only ONE who should be revered in that way.  If it came from man's mouth, then question everything and compare it to scripture.

Jesus is The One and only Son of God.  John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

 God gave His only Son as a sacrifice for our sin.  Our God died for us.  Any faith that demands that you die for your god is not consistent with the truth of Christianity.  It is not the same God.  Allah is NOT the Christian God by another name, because Allah doesn't behave the same way towards men.

And any faith… any faith that denies Jesus as the Son of God is NOT compatible with Christianity.  There is One Son.

And there is only One way to The Father.  John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me

This is where we start seeing the real implications of Christianity.  If Jesus truly IS the only way to God, then all those other faiths are wrong.  Period.  All the attempts to achieve salvation outside of Christ are deadly in their error, because they leave their followers deceived into a false sense of security, and on the outside looking in when He finally judges all things.

There is only One Lamb That Was Slain.  Hebrews 7:27 - He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

And there is only One Resurrection through which we are saved.  John 11:24-25 - 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[a] Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.

He is The One Who Never Changes.  Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

 Malachi 3:6a “For I am the Lord, I do not change." 

He never changes.  The truth He proclaimed in days gone by is just as valid now.  Our society changes.  Our tolerance level changes.  We want to change the rules to suit our appetite.  But His standards never change.  Whenever you hear a Christian speaker talking about how Christianity needs to "get with the times" in order to be relevant, your warning lights should be on, big time.  What was wrong back then is wrong today.  And what was pleasing to Him back then is pleasing to Him today.  If the culture is changing the doctrine of the church, then the church has lost her way.  And we can’t say we haven’t been warned:

2 Timothy 4:3-4 - 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  

2 Corinthians 11:4 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

What about the Bible itself?  Some other religions have holy books?  Aren’t they true as well?  What about the Quran?  What about the Book of Mormon?  Well, according to the Holy Bible, there is only One Word. 

2 Tim 3:16 - All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

Matthew 24:35 - Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. 

Matthew 5:18 - For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

So, either it’s true, and there is only One Word, and that is from God Himself, or it is false and the whole thing is a lie.

Folks, the Bible is the gold standard by which all other books are to be measured.  Can other books, such as topical books written by people be helpful?  Yes.  I have an entire library full of them.  But I can tell you that I have thrown more than one book that I bought into the fire because it directly contradicted the Word of God.

Are you seeing my point yet?  Amidst all the noise and confusion that the world can produce, and all the choices that we are bombarded with, we have a compass.  We hold the guide to True North right here in our hands. 

There is One Word, which tells us about One True God.  He was One Voice in the Dark, and He was the One Breath that Gives Life.  He is One Lord, One Sovereign in Power, and One Alone in Greatness.  He is the One Who Never Changes.  He gave us the One and Only Son of God, Who was the One Way to the Father and became the One Lamb Who Was Slain, Who brought us victory over death by One Resurrection.  No other way.

But while we are talking about things that come in One, I need to remind you that we are all One heartbeat away from forever.  One patch of ice on the highway. One clogged artery.  For those of us who have accepted that One Way to the Father, we know our place in Heaven is secure.

We all know someone who is still One step away from eternal life, but that one small step is one giant leap if that one heartbeat away comes one minute too soon.  Let today be the day that you accept His invitation to become number ONE in your life.  Then you can look back at this day as ONE day that changed everything.