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
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
January 22, 2017
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
February 5, 2017
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:
- Falun Gong
- Hare Krishna
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- Native American Spirituality
- 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.
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.
Sermon: 1 John 4:7-21
The Necessary Love of the Christian
March 19, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Remember that I have been telling you that in the outline of 1 John, there are three themes that are repeated three times throughout the letter. And also as a reminder that his stated purpose for the letter was that his readers would have their joy made complete and that they would know that they have eternal life. If that is the case, then these three themes are keys to our joy in this life and to our having assurance of eternal life.
So today we return for the third time to the theme of “loving one another.” We have seen John consistently use the language of testing, and this is the test of love – John Stott calls it the “social” test – in which “genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each other.” The call to love one another has been mentioned in eight verses already previous to our text for today! Obviously John has no problem with often repeating himself. Don’t you think that all that repetition is significant? Repetition is a literary device to grab our attention. Do you think that God is trying to tell us something here? Loving our brothers and sisters is a key aspect of the Christian life, and is a means by which we can have assurance of eternal life! It is a love that is necessary to be truly a Christian.
Since this is the third time we’ve visited this theme, there is going to be some repetition in some of the ideas in this message. But in this section, John expands and roots the call to love one another in the very nature of God. We can learn from this passage that: We are to love one another because God is love and because he has shown His love for each one of us through His Son. That John wants to drive home this theme of love is clearly evident in the fact that the word “love” and its derivatives are repeated 27 times in these verses – there is no missing what message he wants his audience to understand!
First: Why should we love one another? (vs. 7-12). The opening section of our passage for today provides an argument for the necessity of loving one another. John seems concerned that we understand fully what inspires that love. What is the connection between love and God? Why should we love one another?
A. Because it is the evidence of a relationship with God. John begins with an exhortation, “Dear friends, let us love one another.” Why? – Because love comes from God. He is the source and origin of love and everyone who loves demonstrates that they are related to God. Those who love reveal that they are born (again) of God – they are his children – and that they know God (intimately). When we love each other, we are producing evidence/fruit of a relationship with God who is the source of love. If “love for one’s brother ‘comes from God’; it is evidence of our being ‘born of God.’” On the other hand to fail to love is to reveal that we don’t really know God. This is a bit of a frightening statement – if we consistently fail to love our brothers and sisters we are producing the evidence that we really do not know God.
Remember that the love that is being talked about is not feeling based, but action based. If we claim to know God, or to be born of God, then our actions should demonstrate that relationship by acting in ways that are consistent with the character of the God we know. Do you want to determine whether you love your fellow Christians (family)? Remember the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7. Ask yourself are you characteristically patient with them, kind towards them, humble towards them? Are you boastful; are you rude, do you keep a record of wrongs? Do you put your desires and needs before others? Are you quick to anger? These are the kind of questions that help us to know whether we truly love our fellow Christians. “And determining whether you truly love your fellow Christians will help you determine whether you actually know God.” (Marty) Where’s the evidence?
B. Because “God is Love.” God is not only the origin and source of love; it says at the end of verse 8 that “God is love.” This means that love is a part of His essential being – his very nature. John “is not saying that ‘God is loving’ (though this is true). Nor is he saying that one of God's activities is ‘to love’ us (though this is true as well). John is saying that God is love, that "all of his activity is loving." Love is the essence of his being.”
The NT gives three other statements concerning God that reveals His essence and nature. He is “spirit”; He is “light” (1 John 1:5); and He is a “consuming fire” ( holiness). Here we are also told that love is at the very center of the nature of God. The argument given is plain. Those who don’t love don’t know God, because He is love at the very core of His being. How can you claim to know him who is the essence of love and refuse to love your brother?
C. Because God revealed his love for us through his Son. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we should love through him.” God’s love came first, and provided us an example of love by sacrificing the most precious thing he could in order to gain our freedom. True love is defined as: “the commitment to sacrifice one’s most beloved possession for another’s gain.”
God’s love was manifest in action. He did not wait for us to clean up our act; he acted in love towards us first - “while we were yet sinners.” “The key point here is that just as God’s act of love for us was not contingent on us first showing love for Him, so our love for others should not be contingent on their behaviour towards us.” We are to love others because God has revealed to us through his Son his great love for each of us. (Stott) “No one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness.” Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
D. Because in loving others his love is made complete in us. This is an astounding statement. It suggests that if we love one another his love is perfected in us. It also suggests that when we love one another, we are manifesting the highest form of God’s love. While God cannot be seen visibly, he can be seen to be abiding in us when we love other believers.
Second: We can know He lives in us and we in Him (13-18). In this section, John moves from exhortation to affirmation. Three times he uses this basic phrase pattern: lives in us and we live in him (vs. 13, 15, and 16) (abides: that we nurture our relationship with him and choose to live for his glory). In this John is affirming God’s indwelling of his people.
The first way that we are affirmed that God abides in us and we in him is because He has given us his Spirit. Romans 8:16 says: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Do you have that inner assurance? It is by the Spirit that we come to know God and it is by the Spirit that we are enabled to love. It is the Spirit who also produces the spiritual fruit in our lives, of which love is the first. Producing fruit is the clear indicator of the Spirit’s transforming power at work in our lives. Are you producing fruit – as the years go by are you producing more and more fruit?
The second way we are assured that we are abiding in him and he in us is in confessing (acknowledging) that Jesus is the Son of God. We dealt with this important issue in my last message from 1 John. Those who make that confession are in a right relationship with God and have the Spirit living in them. (Quote: Marty) “Confessing Jesus, however, is not merely saying, ‘I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.’ Rather, to ‘confess that Jesus is the Son of God’ is to give him our unqualified allegiance. It involves committing our lives to Jesus as Messiah and rightful Lord of all. It involves surrendering our will to his will, so that we now live to please him and not ourselves. And it will inevitably be revealed in our love for one another.”
The third way we can be assured that we are abiding in Christ and he in us is that we “live in love.” (Read vs. 16bf) This is the most distinguishing and necessary mark of a Christian. Since “God is love” those who claim to know him must also live in love. By living in love, love is “made complete” (perfected - matured) in us, and as we are transformed by that love, we will be confident on the Day of Judgment. There will be no fear in us as we stand before the Lord, because love has cast out our fear of be judged by God. One of the crucial tests of whether we know God is whether we love one another. If we habitually fail to love our fellow believers we are deceiving ourselves and may face the judgment of God. “The only reason to fear judgment is if God’s Spirit is not within you empowering you to love other believers.” (Marty)
Third: The command to love one another (19-21). John concludes his final plea to love with strong language and with a command. He begins by saying, “We love because he first loved us.” Remember, God’s love was first; he was the initiator. All true love for him is a response to his love for us, and even our ability to love does not come from ourselves.
The language again gets blunt. The word “liar” is a common term used by John, and for each of the three themes of this letter, he exposes the pretenders with this label: - “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (2:4) – Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ (2:22) – If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” John goes on to argue, if you can’t love your brother who you can see and observe, you can’t love God who you have not seen. If we are unable to love the person standing right in front of us, how can we claim to love God who is invisible?
This section ends with a direct command – a command not from John but from God. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (Quote) “One cannot claim to love God without also loving those God loves – brothers and sisters within the community of believers. To refuse to love those loved by God is to deny, in effect, one’s love for God.”
Sally took a seminary class taught by Professor Smith, who was known for his object lessons. One day, Sally walked into class to find a large target placed on the wall and several darts on a nearby table. Professor Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or who had made them angry — then they could throw darts at the person’s picture. Sally’s friend drew a picture of a woman who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend drew a picture of his younger brother. Sally drew a detailed picture of Professor Smith, including the pimples on his face. She was quite pleased with her effort.
The class lined up and began throwing darts. Some students threw with such force that they ripped apart their targets. But before Sally had a turn, Professor Smith asked the students to return to their seats so he could begin his lecture. As Sally fumed, the professor began removing the target from the wall. Underneath it was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as students saw the mangled image of their Savior with holes and jagged marks covering his face. His eyes were virtually pierced out.
Professor Smith said only these words: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.”
Maybe there’s someone in this room this morning that you’d like the opportunity to heave a few darts at their picture – maybe another Christian from another church. Remember who you are throwing at.
We are to love one another because God is love and because he has shown His love for each one of us through His Son. We have a clear command to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a necessary love because it comes from the heart of God. It means that someone who loves God must love his brother. We have an obligation. It’s as simple as that. Period!
Sermon: Philippians 1:21-26
A Sheep, A Coin, A Harvest . . . And a Party for the Ages
March 26, 2017
I’ve titled my sermon for this morning, “A Sheep, A Coin, A Harvest, and a Party For the Ages.” So, what do those things all have to do with each other, you may ask? Well, combined together, they make it very difficult to come up with an effective title slide, that’s for sure.
I am going to tie those things together, but first, let’s look at the scripture passage for today. It is from Philippians 1:21-26. I’m reading from the NKJV.
Philippians 1:21-26 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine challenged something that I said carelessly in a moment of frustration. I'm grateful that he had the courage to challenge me about this, in love, because it truly did make me stop and think about where my heart was at. It caused me to dig into the scripture, and seek God's Truth in prayer, because unless I have my heart right in this matter, all of the sermons you hear me preach are nothing but clanging noise. I have seen pastors who are pastors in title only. Their business card says "pastor", but their heart says, "I have a job."
So, what was this thing that I said that sparked our conversation? I can't remember the exact phrase, but it was something like, "Man, what I wouldn't give for a rapture right now." I’d had a rotten week at work, and equipment was broken down at the farm, and it felt like I was on offence and the rest of the world was on defence. "Stop the world, I want to get off!" "Beam me up, Scotty!" I just... wanted... a break.
The point of my message is that in that moment, I wanted something for me. Relief. I wanted Christ to come and take me to Heaven and administer justice to everything and everyone who had conspired to make my life miserable at that time. I think we all feel that way from time to time.
But my friend wanted to know what was really in my heart. Did I really mean that, or was I just being careless with my words? If I got what I was asking for, did I really understand the implications? Was I really willing to let the lost be doomed forever so that I could have a moment of peace?
Let’s be honest. Who, here, wouldn't want to be in Heaven this very day, sitting at the feet of Christ in Paradise? I know that's where I want to be. But what if we knew that if we could endure another day, another week, another decade of suffering, or HOWEVER long we have… what if we knew that during that time we continue to suffer that thousands of people who are currently lost would be found?
What if it was just one? Would we be willing to wait? As we watch the news, we ask ourselves, "How can God let this continue? He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah... were they really that much worse than what we see in our society today? How is it that God hasn't ended this yet?"
Psalm 130:8 says The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
2 Peter 3:9says, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
I think that's the answer to why God hasn't put an end to all this yet. His ways aren't like my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. He is waiting..... waiting..... waiting for as many people as will come to Him to come to Him before He closes the curtain on history.
In fact, He's not just waiting. He's searching.
Listen now to Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
I think we are in that moment in time where God is searching for that one lost sheep. The time of rejoicing will come soon enough, but now is the time for searching.
Immediately after telling the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus reinforces His message with the Parable of the Lost Coin. Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Again, the time of celebration will come, that is certain. But it will come at the right time, for now is the time for searching.
So, let's go back to the sermon text again. "To live is Christ, and to die is gain."
To live is Christ. What does that mean? I've struggled a lot with that over the years because I got hung up on the grammar. Grammatically, it doesn't make sense. The word "Christ" is a proper noun. It can't be used in this sentence any more than my name or your name can be used there. "To live is Bob." That doesn't work! We have to be able to substitute something else in there.
Let's look at the word, "Christ."
First of all Christ is not Jesus' last name. If Jesus had a driver's license, it wouldn't say "First name: Jesus. Last name: Christ." Instead, Christ is actually his title. “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning “anointed one” or “chosen one.” This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or “Messiah". We know that the Jews were waiting for a Messiah to come and deliver them. They thought it would be deliverance from the Romans through military might, but instead it was actually deliverance from sin through the death of Jesus on the Cross.
So, one way to look at the phrase, "To live is Christ" is to say, "To live is to be delivered." For us to live, we must be delivered! We cannot deliver ourselves. We must BE delivered. But we do have the CHOICE to accept that deliverance, or to reject it. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
In Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.”
Folks, it us up to us, individually, to accept or reject the deliverance. It's not up to the pastor, or our parents, or our spouses, or our circumstances. It's on us.
But what about those of us who have already made that decision to accept Christ? Are we done? Is our work complete, and now we are just impatiently waiting for Heaven? To die is gain? Or do we also need to fix our attention on the “To Live Is Christ” part?
I think that Jesus gives us the answer to that when He teaches us about the harvest. When He is speaking about the harvest, He's really speaking about those who are ripe in their faith, ready to be delivered. Ready to be redeemed. Ready to accept Him as Saviour, and Christ, and Messiah.
In John 4:35, Jesus says, Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”
And in Matthew 9:37-38, He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Who are the laborers? Let me tell you that God doesn't really need laborers to do His work for Him. The God of Creation can handle this all by Himself. But for our benefit, and as a gift to us, He has made room for us to come alongside Him and work with Him where He is working. WE are the laborers whom He wants to send out into His fields to gather in the harvest. WE are the ones who are to find the lost sheep. WE are the ones who are to find the lost coin.
Not just Pastor Dennis and Donna, but all of us. "To live is Christ" is to go out into the fields and gather in the harvest in the service of our master.
Now we come to the fun part! Going back to the parable of the lost sheep, once the sheep was found and brought home, what did the man do? What did he do? He called together his friends and neighbors and invited them to rejoice with him!
What about the woman who found her lost coin? What did she do? She called her friends and neighbors, and they, too, rejoiced.
And what about the story of the Prodigal Son? The son comes home, broke, and broken in spirit. He's covered in filth. His clothes are rags. He's probably unshaven and ungroomed. He probably stinks. He's probably sick. He probably fits the profile of every homeless person that we see in our inner cities. But he came home, and the Father was beside himself with joy! What did he do? He rejoiced! He cleaned him up, and put the best clothes on him. He decked him out with jewellery, and then had a banquet with the best food they had. And he invited everybody to come.
That's what it means when Paul says, "To die is gain."
Do I want to be free of pain? Yes.
Do I want to get away from the insanity of the world we live in? You bet.
Do I enjoy the death and suffering that exists in this fallen state. Not one bit.
And in the weakness of my flesh, I want to go home. Paul wanted to go home. He said For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Paul knew that the right thing to do was to stay in this life on earth and serve for as long as he was able, because that is where the work was. He kept his eye on the prize, but he knew that he still had to run the race. Should we be any different?
In 1983, Wayne Gretzky learned that the work has to come before the celebration. Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers lost the Stanley Cup Final to the New York Islanders in decisive fashion. They got blown out. As Gretzky was walking past the Islanders' dressing room after the game, he was expecting to see a wild celebration. As Gretzky puts it, however, “We walked by their locker room in the corridor and saw after they won they were too beat up to really enjoy it and savor the victory at that moment. We were able to walk out of there pretty much scot free." Make no mistake, the Islanders did celebrate, but as an experienced team, they knew that the hard work comes before the celebration.
And for Christians, what a celebration it is going to be! In Matthew 22, Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as being like a wedding feast! We know what that is like. Joy and laughter. Great food, and lots of it! Celebration and friends. And that's just our earthly understanding.
Revelation 21:4 says that "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.”
Revelation 22:1-5 gives us a further glimpse of what awaits us. And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
1 Corinthians 2:9 says, But as it is written: “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.”
Folks, we are not capable of even imagining the joy that awaits us in heaven. No wonder Paul wrestled with his dilemma about whether he wanted to go to heaven or stay here and work.
But for every single one of us here in this building today, that day has not come yet. Drawing from Revelation 3:7-8, God opens doors that no one can shut, and He shuts doors that no one can open. But He says, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name." Folks, until God calls us home to the feast, we still have an open door to do His work, to find lost sheep, and lost coins, and lost sons, and reap a harvest. And that is where our focus must be.
To sum up everything I'm trying to say today, I'm going to close by quoting a chorus from Steven Curtis Chapman's song, A Little More Time To Love. I'm hoping we get to introduce this song to you in an upcoming Sunday.
There’s a day that is coming
A day that never will end
There in the light of His glory
Everything broken will be whole again
And this will be the 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.
Let's go out and show the world just how much God loves them.
Sermon: 1 John 5:1-12
What Will You Believe?
April 2, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
As we wind down our journey through the book of 1 John, we come again this morning to the third repetition of a theme we have already visited twice before – that is this: genuine believers hold certain truths about Jesus. It is the test of doctrine. Again, since John has come back to this theme for the third time, it means that he holds this truth – this teaching – to be of utmost importance. In fact, it is critically important to our Christian faith – if Jesus is not the divine Son of God, we’re all really wasting our time here this morning – at best we would be merely a social club for “better/moral living.”
It is apparent that John is beginning his conclusion to his letter at the beginning of chapter 5. The clarity of the outline is not as clear, and he seems to begin to blend his three major themes as brings the letter to conclusion. However, the major theme of this section would seem to fall under the test of doctrine – a tight theological argument for the divinity of Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus is a question that we must all come to terms with, and as I have said before is a question that is under assault in the culture of our day – even within the church – most disturbingly in the church. Here’s a snapshot of what I believe that John through the HS is teaching us today – A genuine follower of the Christian faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God and receives the testimony concerning His divine nature. The focus of this text is on belief.
First: A belief that Jesus is the Son of God. (vs. 1-5). This section of scripture is interesting in that the word “believes” begins the passage and is also a part of the ending. In between, John revisits all three of the major themes of his letter, and in doing so reveals the essential unity of these themes. A belief that Jesus is the Son of God produces:
* A faith that loves. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Here is a clear statement – to be truly born of God, to be a child of God, one must believe that Jesus is the Messiah – or God’s divine Son. John is unequivocal here – uncompromising. This is very relevant today. Many people, when asked whether they are Christians, will respond, “Sure, I believe in God.” But belief in God will not bring about a new birth. One must believe that Jesus is the Messiah and one must act on that belief by acknowledging him as their Lord.
“And everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” This is a well understood general principle. And what is true of the human family is also true of the divine. When we love the parents, we will typically love their children as well. In the same way, those who love God – our spiritual Father, will also love his spiritual children - our brothers and sisters in the faith. This verse may also reflect the idea that children bear their parents nature. (Love)
Verse 2 begins with John’s familiar language of testing – “This is how we know.” Here is the test of “how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.” Even as someone cannot love God without loving God’s children, so also it is impossible to truly love the children of God (one another) without also loving God. The construction of this sentence comes as somewhat of a surprise. And what is interesting is that the order of this sentence can be re-arranged and it still speaks truth. For instance we can say that this is how we know we love God: by carrying out his commands and loving one another (God’s children). Or this is how we carry out his commands: by loving God and loving his children. It works all three ways – while there are subtle differences in meaning, the fact that they are interchangeable reveals how interwoven the concepts really are. So we see that a belief that Jesus is the Messiah produces a love for God and a love for his children (one another).
* A faith that obeys. “This is love for God: to obey his commandments.” How do you know that you love God? Is it based on warm and emotional feelings for Him? No! You know that you love God; you show that you love God, by obeying his commands. Jesus repeated this truth in various ways a half a dozen times in the 14th and 15th chapters of the gospel of John. Do you love God this morning? The simple answer to that question is found entirely in our obedience to his commands (Phil’s question). Don’t say you love God and then continue to willfully live in sin – because you are revealing very clearing that you don’t, in fact, love God.
John goes on to say that God’s commands are not “burdensome” – (gr. weighty, crushing). The Jewish law had become a burden – it controlled virtually every aspect of one’s life. Jesus said that his yoke was light by comparison; however, while His commands are not burdensome, they are not necessarily easy. However, if we are born of God we have within us both the power and possibility of keeping His commands. In fact, living according to his commands, which is the life of love, becomes our delight (“I love your law; it is life to me”), and the commands of God bring us the freedom and the liberty we long for. They are the pathway to the good life, to the abundant life.
“Loving God and obeying his commands have always gone together. To think otherwise is deception.” There is a modern deception in many churches today that suggests to speak of the need for obedience from the pulpit is legalism (legalism police). The effect is that they have rid the church of a healthy focus on God’s commands. It’s all about grace; we don’t need to do anything because any attempt to please God is nothing but legalism. I see it all the time; I’ve read some of the books, let me tell you this morning, it’s a crock, and a denial of Christ’s very commission to the church: “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We need to cultivate a faith that obeys - not to earn our salvation, but to give evidence of it.
* A faith that overcomes. The fact that God’s commands are not burdensome means that everyone born of God (spiritual new birth) can overcome the world – its lusts and its corruption. And the victory that we have in overcoming the world is through our faith. So who is it that overcomes the world? The argument comes full circle back to belief. Those who overcome the world are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and are born of God.
It’s not coincidental that John talks about faith and keeping his commands in the same context. (Marty) “Faith in Jesus will lead to a life that shows it... We must understand that biblical faith involves a commitment to Jesus, not just intellectual belief. It involves the confession ‘Jesus is Lord,’ not simply, ‘I accept Jesus as my personal Saviour’.”
In this section that is focused on faith, John brings together the three themes he has systematically repeated in this letter: The necessary belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the need to love God by obeying his commandments, and the call to love God’s children in the same way we love the Father. Belief, love and obedience are the marks of the new birth in Jesus.
Second: A belief in the testimony about Jesus (vs. 6-12). John’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God at the close of verse 5 continues into this section for the purpose of providing testimony to this fact. He is confronting the false teachers who have been denying the divinity of Jesus and his incarnation. To them he offers testimony to substantiate his claims.
* The testimony of the water and blood. This has been a hotly debated text for centuries. What is the meaning of the water and the blood, and how do they testify? (Cerinthus teaching) Most commentators think that the water is a reference to Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice from heaven affirmed Jesus as God’s Son. The blood is a reference to the cross and gives testimony to his humanness and death – the two framing the beginning and ending of his ministry. However the main point of both references is to uphold the full incarnation –that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God who came to earth and took on the form of a man and walked among us.
*The testimony of the Spirit. The Spirit gave testimony to the Sonship of Jesus at his baptism – as I already mentioned. Stott also suggests that John “appears to be referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the truth that is in Jesus.” It is only through the work of the HS that one can come to recognize the truth about Jesus – without his revelation it all appears as foolishness to the natural man. The Spirit, the water and the blood all testify and all are in agreement about the true identity of Jesus and of his incarnation.
*The testimony of God. The testimony of God, John argues, is much greater than the testimony of men – which we generally accept. God has testified about his Son (baptism, transfiguration), and through His Word and prophets. Anyone who believes knows this in their hearts, but those who do not believe this testimony about His Son are in effect calling God a liar. John cannot allow that one can profess belief in God and yet reject God’s own testimony of His Son. The divinity of Jesus that John was writing about was based on the testimony of eyewitnesses.
In verse 11 and 12, the testimony is defined: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Believing in God is not the key issue in salvation; he who has the Son is the one who has eternal life. So I ask you this morning, do you have the Son? Much testimony has been given for you and I to believe in the Son of God, who died on a cross for our salvation and so we could receive eternal life.
So you might be thinking, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” why did I need to hear this message? Let me just say that this message, this truth, is under attack in our world today, and I believe that the voices will only grow stronger, so we need to have this truth firmly planted in our hearts and minds. The divinity of Jesus is continually being brought into question everywhere. A few years ago, a gathering called the “Jesus Seminar” met in order to study the “historical” Jesus. Most of their conclusions were preposterous. They concluded that only a small percentage (20-30%) of the gospel accounts were actually historically accurate - the rest had been made-up fill-ins by Jesus’ followers in the hundred or so years after Christ’s death. Of course they denied the historical truth of the miracles, and anything that pointed to Jesus as the divine Son of God. At the time, the whole thing got a fair amount of press in regards to its “groundbreaking “work. This is typical of what is called “scholarship” in NT studies today.
Disturbingly, the divinity of Christ is being attacked in the church. In 1994, The WCC held a conference largely underwritten by the Presbyterian Church that sought to “reimage” God. The cross and the atonement was thrown out for a new theological center – Sophia – a feminized idea of wisdom, which appears in many ways and in many spiritual traditions. South Dakota Indian tribal dances and Zulu rituals were equal contributors for theological reflection. It is most important to note that in this church setting, historic Christology was totally dismantled. The target of the conferees was the cross. Christian teaching on salvation promoted violence, they claimed. A father killing his son is a formula for child abuse. One speaker said, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff… We just need to listen to the god within."
. A genuine follower of the Christian faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God and receives the testimony concerning His divine nature. We need to have this belief solid in our hearts, because the day may come when there will be a cost to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Our message, our belief is one that is exclusive and consequently we run counter to a culture that worships at the altars of tolerance and choice. Did we believe this so thoroughly and so completely that we will pay whatever the cost demanded – even our very lives? May we hold to the truth that has been passed down to us and be overcomers in this fallen world.
Sermon: 1 John 5:13-21
That You May Know
April 9, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
The content of the opening verse seems to indicate that John is beginning the formal conclusion to his letter. It is typical of a conclusion to have the subject matter jump around somewhat as the author presents his final thoughts and recaps his main message. Consequently it makes it difficult to outline very succinctly. The general outline that I have used for this journey through 1 John had this section under the theme – third time – of “obeying God.” This again is the test of obedience – genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands. However, while obedience is referred to implicitly in today’s text (somewhat explicitly in vs. 18), this is a bit of a weak point in the overall outline. There were actually more explicit references to obedience in last week’s text and I preached on that theme then, so while the outline suggests otherwise, obedience will not be the central theme to this message.
Instead, we see in our text for today a number of affirmations of truth that John wants his readers to grasp and hold onto. As he concludes, he wants these things firmly imbedded in their hearts and minds, so – “that you may know.” The word “know” is used by John 7 times in these verses, so confidence, assurance and certainty of truth are the themes for today. This passage teaches: You may know assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer if you heed the clearly presented message of First John. So what are the things that John wants us to know?
First: Confidence in eternal life and answered prayer (1-3). John writes: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life.” This is one of, if not the main, purposes that John gives for writing this letter. I quoted this way back in the introduction to 1 John as one of the key purpose statements in the book. The fact that it comes near the end suggests the importance of it to John’s entire purpose. This verse closely parallels John’s statement in the gospel of John 20:31 – “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The possibility of knowing that we have eternal life is a key to the Christian life and hope. We can have assurance about this, and this is what the whole letter is about – what are the things that give us this assurance – that we may know – with all confidence and certainty. John gives us the answer to these questions through the use of tests (more about that later).
Another kind of confidence we can have is when we approach God in prayer. This confidence is this – “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have (the requests - ESV) what we asked of him.” Wow! It’s hard to wrap your mind around that statement, isn’t it? The first thing we need to clarify is that the Greek word translated as “hears” does not mean simply to be listened to, but to be heard favourably. God doesn’t just hear our words, he hears us with the ear of a listening Father who desires the best for His children.
The key, however, to approaching God and having our prayers answered is stated in a condition – “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” So the next time you pray for a new Harley, it is unlikely that your prayer will be answered – unless, of course, that is God’s will for you. Anything we pray out of our own selfish desires will not be answered – and he knows the motives of our hearts. Praying according to his will is praying in an attitude that submits our wills to Gods. Prayer is not an attempt to try to bend God’s will to ours, but to surrender our will to his. This is the environment of prayer that he promises to answer. The last part of verse 15 is a stunning statement: (ESV) “whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” That is written in the terms of a “done deal!” That when we pray according to God’s will, we can have confidence that we have what we asked for.
But, you may be wondering, I have prayed many times for something I believed was according to his will – as far as I could ascertain. I even surrendered my will to his – but I never received an answer. This experience is where this verse gets really difficult – and I don’t pretend to have an answer. I did find this quote which may help our understanding – “That our petition is answered is not dependant on whether or not we have personally observed the answer – some answers to prayer are observed immediately, others later, and some are not recognized in our lifetime.” So the prayer is granted, but we may have to wait or we may even never observe/experience the answer. This would make some sense out of the statement of John’s.
We should quickly recall that John had already declared another aspect to having confidence in our prayers being answered – back in 3:22. There he says that we can have confidence to receive what we asked for “because we obey his commands and do what is pleasing to him.” So we learn from 1 John that obedience and asking “according to his will” are keys to having our prayers answered and having the confidence to approach God.
Second: Prayer for sin (vs. 16-17). These two verses seem to be a digression by John – they don’t fit the theme about “knowing” – the word doesn’t occur - although they do continue the subject of prayer. To be honest, if I didn’t have some good commentaries, I wouldn’t have a clue what John is talking about here. Even after reading the commentaries, I don’t think anyone can say for sure what these verses refer to. What is the “sin that leads to death”, and the “sin that does not lead to death?” Honest commentators say, “We don’t know, John doesn’t say.”
No doubt, the context would’ve provided the answer. The people to whom this is written probably understood exactly what John was referring to, but it remains a mystery to us today. Usually, a sin that would lead to death would involve some form of ongoing, willful, unrepentant sin – a kind of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” In the context of this letter, John may be referring to the false teachers who have abandoned the key tenets of the faith as well as the congregation. He already referred to them as “antichrists’ earlier! He is not inviting his readers to pray for such people because they have willfully rejected Christ and are lost.
But to those whose sin does not lead to death, he exhorts his followers to pray for them, and God would hear that prayer and give them life – forgiveness. Stott writes: “The way to deal with sin in the congregation is to pray. And God hears such prayer.” However, John reminds us that “All wrongdoing (wickedness, evil) is sin.” That some sin does not lead to death does not sanitize it, or minimize it.
Three: Three certainties (vs. 18 – 20). John ends his letter with three statements of affirmation, meant to edify his readers, “that you may know,” - notice that each of verses 18, 19 and 20 begin with the words “We know.” (Stott) “Here are no tentative, hesitant suggestions, but bold, dogmatic affirmations which are beyond all dispute and which neatly summarize truths already introduced in earlier parts of the letter.” The certainties are these:
*We know someone born of God does not continue to sin. This does not mean that a Christian never sins, we all know that, but that Christians do not sin habitually or “live in sin.” And while the believer cannot attain perfection, we ought to be growing in Christ-likeness and sinlessness –and sin should even become abnormal to us. This life quest of “putting away our old self” is the evidence that we have been truly born of God – and that His Spirit is at work in us.
The reason we do not continue to sin is that “the one who has been born of God keeps him safe (protected), and the evil one cannot harm him. This brings up an interesting question as to who is “the one who has been born of God?” (Discuss textual variant: himself better). This little variation totally changes the meaning of John’s statement – it is the believer himself who is doing the keeping himself safe, not God. Those who have been born of God do not go on sinning because they are careful to “keep themselves” (guard themselves) from sinning, and as a result the evil one cannot harm (touch) them.
So, how do we keep ourselves? The answer is found in Romans 13:14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Marty) “If we want to win the battle of the flesh – and that is the heart of spiritual warfare (armour) – we have to stop feeding the flesh. We have to let it starve.” Instead, fill yourself with the things of God. In this translation of the text, we are called to be vigilant to keep (guard) ourselves from sin. When we do this, we guard ourselves from the power of Satan. When we choose sin, we become vulnerable to his attacks and open up avenues to his devious ways.
* We know we are God’s children separated from the world. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” This is NT teaching – that Satan has dominion over this world – temporarily. We see in the book of Revelation the confirmation of this – Rev. 12: 7-10; 12. We also see in this verse that there is a sharp distinction between the saved and unsaved. As believers we are the children of God, the rest of the world is under the control and influence of the devil – there is no other options, no middle ground. And because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, we can overcome (4:4)
* We know that Jesus is the Son of God who helps us understand what is true. “We know that the Son of God has come” – affirmation of divine incarnation – and he has provided us with understanding that we may know Him who is true. Who is “Him” referring to here? God, the Father, revealed to us through His Son Jesus Christ – he is the one true God and eternal life.
Fourth: A final exhortation (vs. 21). John ends his letter strangely, abruptly. He does address his readers pastorally as “Dear children,” but then tersely says, “keep yourselves from idols.” What is interesting is that he has not referred to idols in the whole letter up to this point. In the same way we are to “keep” ourselves from sin (18), we are to “keep” ourselves from idols. We are as tempted as Israel was to run after idols – what are the idols we are tempted by today? We can’t live in idolatry and expect to have eternal life in Jesus.
You may know assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer if you heed the clearly presented message of First John. I want to end today with a short review “That You May Know” the message we have been considering over the past few months:
- Purposes stated:
-We write this to make our joy complete (1:4)
- I write this to you so that you will not sin (2:1)
- 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)
- Overall theme/question: “How to Know You’re a Believer?”
- Content Outline: Three themes repeated three times – often in the form of a test:
- Obeying God – The test of Obedience – Genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands.
- Loving one another – The Test of Love – Genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each another.
- Knowing the truth about Jesus – The test of Doctrine – Genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus.
- It is offered to some as a message of warning and to some as a message of assurance.
OUTLINE – 1 JOHN
* Prologue / Introduction – 1: 1-4
* I. Obeying God #1 – 1:5 – 2:6. The Test of Obedience – Genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands.
A. No Darkness at All – 1: 5-10
B. The Test of Obedience – 2: 1-6
* II. Loving One Another #1 – 2: 7-17. The Test of Love - Genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each another.
A. The Test of Love – 2: 7-11
B. A Dangerous Love – 2: 12-17
* III. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #1 – 2:18-27. The Test of Doctrine – Genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus.
A. The Importance of Knowing the Truth About Jesus.
*IV. Obeying God #2 – 2: 28 – 3:10
A. Confident, But Prepared – 2:28 – 3:10
B. The Incompatibility of Sin – 3: 4-10
* V. Loving One Another #2 – 3: 11-24.
A. The Call to Love One Another – 3: 11-18.
B. Blessed Assurance – 3: 19-24.
* VI. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #2 – 4: 1-6.
A. Testing the Spirits.
* VII. Loving One Another #3 – 4: 7-21.
A. The Necessary Love of the Christian.
* VIII. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #3 – 5: 1-12.
A. What Will You Believe?
* IX. Obeying God #3 – 5: 13-21
A. That You May Know
Sermon: Easter Sunday
This Easter – Remember It’s Only Through Faith That We’re Saved
April 16, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
There are three essentials to Christianity: faith, hope and love. While we are told in 1 Corinthians that love is the greatest of the three, faith is the necessary basis of our salvation. Today as we celebrate the truth about the empty tomb, I want to remind all of us of the critical role faith plays in our relationship with God. Remember, it’s only through faith that we’re saved. But do you believe that? Do you truly believe it – in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
I want begin today by showing you a video, but I first need to set the scene. The movie that this is taken from is about the movie industry back in the fifties. They are in the process of shooting a movie about the story of Christ, and the clip shows the scene of a couple of Roman officers at the site of the crucifixion. Baird Whitlock is a famous Hollywood actor (in the movie), playing the role of a Roman commander, who begins to recognize the love, mercy, truth and divinity of Jesus at the cross. While his passionate performance inspires the cast and crew, Baird forgets a very important part of his line - "faith." (Show video) It seems a bit awkward, doesn’t it? Making a film about the story of Christ, and can’t remember the word “faith!”
(Quote) This Easter, millions around the world will attend some type of Good Friday or Easter service. Most will sit opposite the symbol of a cross and they'll hear someone give an inspiring and passionate depiction of Christ's suffering on that cross. But will they, like Baird Whitlock, forget the most important part - "faith"? So many of us have heard how wonderful Jesus is... how loving, how wise, how merciful, how He healed, and how He forgave even His executioners. What is not to be admired? But what ultimately makes a difference in ones heart is not just recognition and admiration.
Often it's easier to intellectualize “the what” Jesus did on the cross than it is to
truly believe it. We can hear convincing apologetics, explaining how the Hebrew
prophecies for the Messiah were fulfilled, establishing an intellectual basis for the
truth of the Gospel. However, convincing everyone of this "truth" won't inspire lasting
change without faith. Baird Whitlock, the Roman commander had reverence, understanding, and even an epiphany. Yet he forgot the foundational element of faith. (End quote)
So how does one “forget” faith? The way we can forget faith is to never really fully embrace it – or to ignore it or treat it with apathy. However, some may have a measure of faith, but not fullness of faith. Will a measure of faith save a person? I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question – only God can because he knows the heart. Another possible way to describe forgotten faith could be “Ineffective faith.”
First: Ineffective faith: I want to suggest three characteristics of ineffective faith, in order to help us examine our own faith.
A. Ineffective faith often falters (Matt. 14:25-31). Peter actually shows an incredible amount of faith in this story – impulsive faith, no doubt, but faith enough to get out of the boat and start walking. But when he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to consider the wind and the waves (circumstances), his faith began to falter and he started to sink. After Jesus saves him and they’re back in the boat, Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter’s faith was effective to motivate him, but not effective enough to sustain him.
Another example from Peter’s life comes with his three-time denial of Jesus. Again, initially Peter’s faith motivated him to say to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” But after vehemently denying that knew Jesus three times, the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked him and he ran away devastated. Ineffective (impulsive) faith often falters when the pressure is on. But we can also take encouragement from the stories of Peter, because weak faith can become strong faith with God’s help. Peter became a rock of faith!
B. Ineffective faith is marked by an unchanged life. A faith that is not effective does not produce a transformed life. In Matthew 3:7-8, John the Baptist thunders to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to see what was going on, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” A faith in Jesus that is repentant and genuine will produce fruit in your life – after all we become new creations! Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God’s people should produce a crop of good deeds. “The evidence of real inner spiritual life is always the fruit of a changed external life.”
In Mark 7: 6-7 we read about the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning the issue of ceremonial hand-washing. In his frustration, Jesus replies: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings (traditions) are but rules made by men’.” Here Jesus is chastising a religion that is merely going through the motions, but there is no involvement of the heart. Let me make this clear today – God wants your heart - no external actions will be accepted without the involvement of the heart. Hypocrites give only lip-service to God. Biblical faith is best defined as active obedience that flows from a heart of love for God. Ineffective faith gives only lip-service to God, goes through the motions of faith without any heart involvement or without any real life change. How productive are you for God? Are you producing the fruit of a changed life?
C. Ineffective faith seldom goes beyond words. We just talked about an ineffective faith that only goes through the motions, while this is a faith that is one of cheap talk. Some people talk a lot about faith, but that is all it is – talk. They may know all the right words to say, but it is not backed up by action. In James 2: 15-18 we read these words: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If someone says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (1 John 3: 18) There is a big difference between knowing the right words and living them out. There’s an even bigger difference between knowing all the right answers about Christ, and living in faith and obedience to his teachings.
This was illustrated in the video clip. Many a man can be eloquent in his religious proclamation, able to recite popular passages in great detail. But can we be sure this is the life changing acceptance of Christ for salvation, and not (like Baird Whitlock) just an Oscar caliber performance? Whitlock certainly did wax eloquent in his performance, and seemed truly moved by the scene and events represented in the movie. However, he forgot the most important aspect of a relationship with Jesus – faith, and the life faith calls us to. Ineffective faith seldom goes beyond words. Don’t be content to merely have the right answers about Christ.
Is your life characterized by an ineffective faith? I urge you even today to open up your heart to him and receive him by faith as Saviour and Lord – he will come and save you and change you. Remember, it’s only through faith that we are saved.
Second: Saving faith: In contrast to an ineffective faith we have saving faith. This is the kind of faith that brings about genuine salvation. What are the characteristics of saving faith?
A. Saving faith is a gift of God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-10). Saving faith is first of all a gift from God. Our salvation is a result of his initiation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” Notice that “Christians are saved by God’s grace, not by their faith. Faith is the means by which this grace is received.” Faith is our response to the grace and gift of God – but it is necessarily a response that comes from the heart (Rom. 10:9). It is not of our own works, we cannot earn the grace of God; we can only receive the gift by faith. However, in order to possess the gift of grace and salvation, we must receive it – as one would when offered any kind of gift.
A problem too many Christians have is that they stop at verse nine and ignore ten. We have no basis to boast because we are God’s workmanship; however there is a purpose for our salvation in that it should result in good works. Salvation is not “from” works, but it is surely “for” works – that is, living obediently and productively. So, salvation is a gift of God’s grace which we receive through faith for the expressed purpose of producing good fruit and good works in our lives.
B. Saving faith is necessary to please God. Hebrews 11:6 makes this astounding statement: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” There is no ability or possibility to please God without the element of faith. To “forget” faith keeps you from gaining the favour of the Lord Almighty. To come to trust him with all of our heart is the place he wants to be – like Enoch.
The context of this verse comes in the “Hall of faith”, and the author of Hebrews has just mentioned Enoch as an example of great faith. Enoch did not experience death, but was just taken away one day by the Lord. Why? Because it says in Genesis that he was a man “who walked with God” (in faith) - and God was so pleased with him that he allowed him to escape physical death. Faith pleases God, and it is the kind of faith that is exercised when the situation doesn’t look that good. When you struggle to find faith, be like the father of the boy with the unclean spirit who cried out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
C. Saving faith rests on what Christ has done. The NLT translates Romans 5:1 this way: “So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” We can have real “peace” – love that word. It’s from the Hebrew word Shalom. We tend to think of peace merely as an “absence of conflict,” and while this word includes that (enemies of God); it is much more encompassing than that – meaning a general sense of harmonious well-being. That’s the kind of “shalom” available to us through salvation – we have harmony with God.
This peace is available because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. What he has done for us is what we have been pondering and celebrating throughout this weekend. He has died for you and for me – a vicarious death – in which he took our sin upon himself in order that we might receive forgiveness. Like the old song says: “He paid a debt he did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay.” God, in his infinite love, sent his Son to earth pay that debt in full. But the benefits of that payment are only for those who receive the Son by faith – by believing from the heart what Jesus has done on your behalf.
Today we celebrate an empty tomb – the truth of the resurrection. Jesus has won the victory over death and Satan - the mourning of Good Friday replaced by the ecstasy of the morning of Easter. The resurrection is the greatest and most important event in all of history. Why do I say that? First of all, it is proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be – the divine Son of God. Who else could pull that off? It also offers to us who believe the assurance that we too will inherit eternal life. If Jesus was resurrected, so shall we be – in Romans it says “that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers (and sisters).
Saving faith rests on what Christ has done. It does not come from anything we can accomplish in our own strength; it goes to the cross and the tomb to find salvation and rest for the soul. I hope that you have found this peace in your own life – if not, why not find it today? Remember it’s only through faith we are saved. Do you believe it? Do you truly believe it?
Sermon: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
April 23, 2017
Pastor Bryan Watson
The title of the sermon today is “Flawless”, and the scripture passage is from 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21. I’ll be reading from the ESV.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Last weekend, we celebrated Easter. We acknowledged Christ's agonizing death on the cross, as so aptly predicted hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Then on Sunday morning, we met together in this building, and shared a brunch together. After that, we joined together in this sanctuary and we celebrated His resurrection... His victory over death by rising from the dead. We rejoiced in the words of Matthew 28:5-6 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
But WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE EVENTS? The stock Sunday School answer is that Jesus died so that I could be forgiven of all my sins and go to Heaven. And in it's simplest form, that is true. But if it remains superficial, now that my Easter supper is over, I will probably go whistling on my merry way; going back to living life the way I lived it before I gave up chocolate for Lent, until next year comes along and we do it all over again, trying to make up for my personal sacrifice by eating 40 days worth of Cadbury crème eggs on Easter morning.
There’s go to be more to it than that.
When I was developing this message, one of the sources I referenced was some material from Answers in Genesis called the “7 C’s of History.” This concept does a remarkable job of summarizing the significance of what happened on Calvary.
Friends, I want to invite you to walk with me through a little history lesson.
The first C of history is Creation. In the beginning, God created. Perfect Love created. And what did He create? Everything! The Earth, the sun, the moon, the stars. Land and water. Birds and fish and animals. Grass and trees and flowers. And man and woman. And what kind of things would Perfect Love create? Perfect and lovely things. We can't even imagine the perfection.
For five days, God created. At the end of each day, He reviewed His work and said that it was good. By the end of the sixth day, God had also made Adam and Eve. This time, however, when He reviewed His work, He didn’t just declare it as good. Genesis 1:31 says that “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” It. Was. Flawless.
There was just one simple rule. Don't eat that one fruit from that one tree. That's it. Everything else is yours to enjoy to your heart's desire. You have dominion over everything! Just don't eat that one fruit, or you will die. You can't say you don't know, because you’ve been told. Just enjoy everything else I have given to you and leave that one fruit alone.
But Adam and Eve couldn't leave it alone. And that sets the table for our second C of history: Corruption.
With a little help from a prideful and rebellious angel who was himself cast out of God's presence, Adam and Eve wanted the one thing that they couldn't have, and they rebelled by eating the fruit, and disobeying their Creator. And they became covered in their own sin, like a thick suffocating tar that you see on birds in an oil spill. They couldn't undo it, and they couldn't fix it on their own. And the word "flawless" no longer applied. Instead, it was replaced by the word, “corrupted”.
According to the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, the word “corrupt” comes from the Latin word which means, “to break.” Literally, to break, separate, or dissolve. We became broken and separated from God and His flawlessness.
The aging process kicked in at that point, and at a molecular level, Adam and Eve, and the rest of creation, began to die. Weeds grew and choked out the good plants. Animals turned on each other and started to eat each other. Arthritis and cancer and dementia made their appearance. "For dust you are, and to dust you will return" became the new reality. No longer could the world be called "flawless."
But the corruption wasn’t just limited to the physical. We became corrupt at the spiritual level as well. No longer did Adam and Eve enjoy the fellowship they once had walking with God in the Garden. Separated from God, man’s destiny eternal damnation without a redemption that we can’t provide for ourselves. There is perhaps no greater illustration of this than in Genesis 3:24. Referring to God, it says, 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
History tells the tale of a world that is flawed. Man’s sinful nature resulted in him become more depraved over time. This descent into depravity brings us to our third C of history: Catastrophe.
Genesis 6:5-8 says, 5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
So, through a catastrophe, through a global flood, God wiped out the entire world except for 1 man and his family and the animals that were taken upon the ark. And yet still, in generations to come, flawed man and his flawed thinking would result in wars and famines and all kinds of abuses, while new diseases appeared and natural disasters like volcanoes and earthquakes took their own swipes at the human race. Man's lifespan went from around 900 years down to about 75 years in only a few millennia, and the fossil record, with layers upon layers of diseased dead things, tells the tragic tale of a beautiful world gone sour.
The fourth C of history is Confusion. Only a few generations after this, the human race had repopulated itself. However, instead of honouring God’s command to “fill the earth and subdue it” as He commanded in Genesis 1:28, man in his corrupted state had other plans. According to Genesis 11:4, 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
So once again, God intervened, this time confusing their language so that they could not understand each other. This resulted in the dispersion from Babel and led to the many languages that we have in the world today.
And throughout Old Testament history, God continued to reach out to the world, reminding us of His perfection and calling us to repentance through the Law and the sacrificial system. Only perfect animals without blemish... flawless animals... were acceptable for sacrifice. In fact, 36 times in the Pentateuch (or the first 5 books of the Bible) the phrase "without blemish" is used to describe the offering required by God. And still, this was not enough to provide salvation once and for all. It was required over and over and over again.
Finally, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, perfect in all His ways... flawless... to pay the only price that was enough to redeem a fallen world. This is the fifth C of history: Christ. Listen to the words of John the Baptist in John 1:19, when He saw Jesus approaching: 29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’”
Christ came and showed us how to live. His teachings have provided us with timeless truths that are studied and loved by people thousands of years later. He lived a perfect, sinless life and became the flawless lamb of God that was required to redeem us.
And so, for the sixth C of history, Christ went to the Cross, the spotless lamb of God to His sacrifice, as a remedy to the corruption that separated man from God.
You know, everywhere I turn, I see the world looking for a hero. Just look at Hollywood. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, X-men. The world is longing to be saved, whether they recognize it or not. But we GOT our hero. You see, His blood on THAT cross, was the price required to undo what was done in Eden in that first act of disobedience. And in that moment, all that ugly, sticky, tar-like sin was washed away by the Blood of the Lamb. Yes, we got our hero, and His name is Jesus Christ.
In John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
It is finished. The reason it is finished is because THE CROSS WAS ENOUGH, for those who choose to accept it. But if you don’t accept it, the cross will never be enough.
Hebrews 9:13-15 describes perfectly what happened at the Cross:
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify[a] for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our[b]conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
And all these diseases and birth defects, natural disasters and fighting and persecution; this brokenness that began when man first rebelled against God, all this personal baggage that we have accumulated through years, sometimes entire lives, of sin and rebellion; all of it was placed there at the foot of the cross while His Blood spilled down upon them. The Cross was enough!
And so we come to the seventh C of history: Consummation. The “Blessed Hope” that Christ will return again to usher in the final stage of world history, and all those whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will spend forever with Him in Heaven.
Until that day comes, are we still going to suffer and die? On this side of Heaven, yes. Even though we are saved by grace, we still bear the consequences of a fallen world, as well as the consequences of our own actions. But unlike life without the Cross, I know that my death in this life only ushers in my entrance into Paradise, and the crushing weight of this flawed world is instantly wiped away by the Flawless once again. And when that happens, we will never... read... an obituary... again. Ever.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.[b] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
And in Revelation 21:5, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
The Cross was enough. And the Cross has made you flawless.
I want to close my message with a video by the Christian band Mercy Me.
YOU'VE BEEN MADE FLAWLESS... NOW WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
God Is: Transcendent & Immanent
May 7, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
This morning I am beginning a sermon series which I have simply entitled “God Is.” Over the next few weeks we will be looking at how the scriptures define for us who God is. What are His attributes (nature)? What is His character? What is He like? Our doctrine of God is the central point for most of the rest of our belief system. Having a correct understanding of the nature of God is crucial to our walk of faith and critical to inform the choices we make for our lives. “One’s view of God might even be thought of as supplying the whole framework within which one’s theology is constructed and life is lived.” Consequently, a false/incomplete understanding of God can lead to making false assumptions about his nature and character.
I have come to believe that in the contemporary church there is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of God. And it’s not that what is being taught is necessarily untrue, it is just incomplete. Modern preachers tend to focus almost exclusively on the love and grace of God to the virtual exclusion of his holiness, and the implications of that holiness. Too often God is pictured as a kindly old grandfather with a boatload of forgiveness who is quick to offer grace to all who indulge in their selfish desires. However, it is also true that the pendulum has at times swung the other way where God is understood as a cosmic cop wielding a club and who is seeking opportunities to pounce on those who are straying. It is because there is so much misunderstanding that I have decided to work through this series. It will be by no means exhaustive, but I hope that by the end, you (and I) will have a better understanding of the nature and character of God.
However, to start off with today I want to give our attention to a pair of very important emphases that the Scriptures teach us about God - they are not really attributes, though they help to define some of his attributes. They have more to do with defining God’s relationship with his created order. They are known as God’s transcendence and His immanence. These truths are foundational to our understanding of God. So let’s dig in!
First: “God Is” transcendent. Isaiah 55: 8-9 says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
A. Definition. What does the English word “transcend” mean? The dictionary defines it as going “beyond the limits or powers of; exceed”: to “be above and independent of the physical universe.” God’s transcendence means that he is above and beyond even his created universe. The theological definition of transcendence is captured in the idea of “otherness.” This suggests that God exists wholly separate and distinct from his creation – and that he exists in a totally different reality or dimension. The meaning of transcendence, then, is that God is not merely the highest point of human understanding, or that he can be known by taking the highest and best qualities of man and amplifying them – but that he is wholly “other” and exists in a different realm of reality.
B. Ramification (result, consequence). The most important ramification of God’s transcendence is his holiness – in fact many theologians consider them virtually synonymous concepts. But holiness is also a moral attribute of God that we will consider in more detail later on in this series. However, God’s transcendence informs His holiness and is intricately connected to it. Holiness in scripture is understood in two ways – the first means to “separate” or to “set apart,” which is captured in the concept of God’s “otherness.” The second component of holiness is in reference to his moral purity and perfection, and therefore his intolerance to sin.
Other ramifications of Gods’ transcendence are that He is self-existent and self-sufficient. Since he is self-existent, there is nothing external to him that is necessary for him to maintain or define his existence; “I AM WHO I AM.” In a similar sense, his self-sufficiency declares that he is not in need of anything that he himself cannot provide for and within Himself. God does not need us, nor does he need his created universe.
Other consequences of God’s transcendence are that God is both incomprehensible and inaccessible. Since there is a gap that separates our realms of existence, God is unknowable to us. However, we can know him, but we can only comprehend what he has revealed to us. So to say that he is unknowable is not to say we can know nothing about him, but that we can only know what he has chosen to reveal to us, not the fullness of his nature and reality. In his essential nature, God is also inaccessible and unapproachable. In 1 Timothy 6:16, Paul states that God “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” No one can see God in all his glory and live – God made that clear to Moses when he requested to see God’s glory. In his transcendence, God is inaccessible, but we also know that in his great grace and mercy, he has opened a way into his presence through his Son, Jesus Christ.
C. Implication. What are some implications for us concerning God’s transcendence?
* Isaiah 6: 1-5 (Read). Isaiah was given a powerful experience of God’s transcendence – (Describe). What were Isaiah’s responses? A healthy fear, reverence and awe. These are the things that God’s transcendence should trigger in us. Whatever happened to reverence and awe? In too many evangelical churches, the sense of transcendence has lost favour. But here’s the problem, as A. W. Tozer said: “When people no longer fear God, they transgress his laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is no deterrent when the fear of God is gone.”
*The revelation of God’s transcendence also creates a healthy sense a distance. We do not get too casual with God. Remember the experience of Israel with God at Mt Sinai. (Ex. 19-20). The powerful manifestations of God on the mountain shook them to the core, and they said, “Moses you go, we’ll stay back here.” The tabernacle of the OT clearly communicated this sense of distance, and even though the curtain has been torn in two by Jesus, the transcendence of God reminds us that there is necessary aspect of distance between us and the Almighty God.
* The transcendence of God reveals the element of mystery in our relationship with God. Habakkuk 2:20 says: “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him.” Silence! Awe! Mystery! Since God is incomprehensible in the fullness of his being – and that we only can know of him what he has revealed, then it follows that there is much we don’t know or can’t fully explain (Trinity). There are elements of our faith that we have to accept as divine mystery, and hold it as a part of the transcendence of God – the God who is wholly “Other!”
Second: “God Is” immanent. Jeremiah 23:24 reads: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
A. Definition. “The meaning of immanence is that God is present and active within his creation, and within the human race.” His influence is everywhere, and he is at work in and through the natural processes. So while God is present and active, and in and through his creation, he remains distinct from it. This is a very important concept. While God is everywhere in creation, he is not one with it. Many eastern religions teach that God exists in creation – that god is one with every rock, every tree, and every animal – this is what is known as pantheism. So while the transcendence of God says he’s “other” (reality), his immanence says he is here.
B. Ramification. The ramifications of God’s immanence are also expressed in some of his attributes, which I will just quickly mention here because I will go into more detail later in the series. The results of his immanence are expressed in two terms, the first one being omnipresence. God’s omnipresence means that God is present everywhere – there is no place in creation that he is not. Psalm 139:7 says: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” David goes on to suggest that no matter where he could go, God would be there also. Jesus’ promise to all who would believe in him was that he “would never leave them nor forsake them.” The second term is God’s omniscience which means that God is all-knowing. He knows everything – nothing happens in this world that he is unaware of or takes him by surprise. Again in Psalm 139, David says: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” He knows everything about each one of us – that is both comforting and frightening, isn’t it?
Another consequence of God’s immanence is that his influence is everywhere. God can work on every situation and in every person’s life – whether they acknowledge him or not. He also has at his control all of the natural forces. (Jesus calmed the sea)
C. Implication. What are the implications for us concerning God’s immanence?
* One of the most important implications of God’s immanence is that it contributes to the sense of the nearness of God. In Acts 17: 27-28 Paul told the philosophers: “He is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” James also reminds us to “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” The nearness of God is found in many other scriptures and can be a real source of comfort to us. Much of our contemporary music has tended to focus more on the immanence of God, but that has started to change (Hillsongs: Power of love; Brian Doerksen: Holy God).
* While in transcendence, God is a consuming fire, the God who is also immanent allows us to call him Abba, or Daddy/Father. He calls us his children and he offers to us an inheritance of eternal life and fellowship. He says that we can come into his presence with confidence – how wonderful is that?
* Another implication of God’s immanence might surprise you. Since He is present and active within it, we should have an appreciation and respect for all that he has created. Its beauty should bring us to praise and awe. While we should use creation to satisfy our legitimate needs, we should neither exploit it nor pollute it - particularly out of greed. So the doctrine of divine immanence has both ecological applications and implications.
So there you have it, God’s transcendence and immanence, seemingly opposites but both true and necessary in our understanding of God. In Jeremiah 23: 23, we see a direct statement from God about the truth of both of these emphases: “Am I only a God nearby, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?” He is both a God who is nearby and a God who is distant.
It is important that we understand both of these emphases not as a balancing act, but as tensions. When you hold something in balance, it’s a matter taking some from one thing to balance the other. When things are held in tension, they are truths that are 100% true, and they both must be understood in that way. While it is true that throughout history, the church has at times tended to focus on one more the other, they are both important theological truths that should be fully embraced in tension – because they are opposites by definition.
May the Spirit help us to grasp and understand these truths regarding the majesty and complexity of our God - who is far away and yet very near – even in us through the dwelling of his Holy Spirit. To God be the glory!
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
God Is: Spirit, Life, Personal
May 14, 2017 - Mother's Day
Pastor Dennis Elhard
This morning we continue with the series “God Is,” and we will begin our consideration of the attributes of God. When we speak of the attributes of God, we are referring to the qualities of God which make up who and what he is. They are the very characteristics of his nature. Or we could say that his nature is revealed and expressed through his attributes. Two things we must remember about his attributes – first, they are permanent. His attributes cannot be gained or lost – they are intrinsic to his essential being. The second thing we need to grasp is that the attributes of God are qualities of the entire Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are one God, and share the same essential nature, and therefore also the attributes.
Theologians have made various attempts to classify these attributes, which is helpful, but then they came up with words like communicable and incommunicable. However, one theologian (Millard Erickson) came up with categories that I thought were much more helpful – and which we will use to form our outline. He divides the extent of God’s attributes along two main categories: God is great and God is good! Much of the outline that I will be using in this series will come from his classification of God’s attributes. In the greatness of God we will look at what can be called God’s natural attributes, and in the goodness of God we will consider his moral attributes. Se we begin today by starting to examine the first category – God’s greatness, and the following are the first three attributes which define his greatness.
First: “God Is” – Spirit. In John 4:24, we read these words: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The context of this statement is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. At issue was the proper place to worship God, but Jesus tells her that since God is spirit he is seeking those who worship in spirit and in truth – place and form are not crucial. As a spiritual being, God desires worship that comes from the spirit.
The word “spirit” comes from the Greek word pneuma, which literally means “wind” or “breath” – we recognize that word because we have pneumatic tools in our shops that are powered by compressed air. God as “spirit” (wind) suggests two things:
* He is immaterial: the Greek word for spirit in general refers to things of no material substance. God is not composed of matter and does not possess a physical nature or body.” When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they thought he was a ghost. To confirm his bodily resurrection he invited his disciples to “Touch me and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
You might be wondering, but don’t the scriptures refer to God’s hands, his arms, his feet, his eyes and ears – and describe other physical features? Yes they do, however such expressions are to be understood only in the sense of being human analogies used in order to help us comprehend an infinite, spiritual being. How otherwise could we relate to or understand God?
As a spirit, neither does God have the limitations of a physical body. He is not limited to any geographical or spatial location. Even though the very manifest presence of God was located in the OT tabernacle, he was not limited only to that place. Another aspect of God as immaterial is that he is not destructible, as is anything that is composed of matter.
* He is invisible. Since God is spirit, he cannot be seen – at least in the fullness of his glory. In John 1:18 Jesus says: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (reference to Christ), who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” One theologian comments that the great French mathematician LaPlace “swept the heavens with his telescope, but could not find anywhere a God. He might just as well have swept a kitchen with his broom." Since God is not a material Being, He cannot be seen or apprehended by physical means.
The fact that God is invisible is important theologically because it argues against any form of idolatry. Any kind of images were forbidden because no one had ever seen God, so they could not picture how he looked, and nothing on earth could resemble him. Any attempt to image God was a practical impossibility and more importantly, a denial of his essential nature.
So God is spirit; he is like the wind – immaterial and invisible, but we can experience the effects of his presence all around us.
Second: “God Is” – Life. God is alive. God is characterized by life. He is the author, the source and creator of all life – because life is a part of his essential nature. In scripture God is called the “living God.” Jeremiah 10:10 it says: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” This verse comes in the context of Jeremiah refuting idolatry – the foolishness of cutting down a tree, carving and adorning it, and then worshiping it as a god – a dead, lifeless idol. Our God is not an inanimate object, like a pagan idol with a mouth that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, and hands that cannot accomplish anything. He is the “living” God of the universe.
In Psalm 42:2 we read: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (84:2 - “my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”) The Hebrew word translated as “living” means simply “alive” – but with an implication that life has movement and vigour. A good word picture would be that of a spring or fountain of water that is bubbling up and flowing. It reveals the life of God as fresh and active and new. I love this time of year when the new leaves are just coming out on the trees and the perennial plants are beginning to poke through the ground. It is an annual reminder of the continual cycle that brings new life. It is an example in the created order that reveals the fresh and active life that God is, and has given to us.
Third: “God Is” – Personal. Another aspect of the Christian faith that sets it apart from many of the world’s religions – especially the eastern religions, is that the God of the Bible is revealed as a God who is personal. God is a person, not a force or influence. The highly popular movie(s) Star Wars presented God or the “higher power” as an impersonal force. You may remember the line, “May the force be with you.” This concept of God is very popular in contemporary culture. Apparently, even the British Columbia Appeal Court has ruled God to be a nonperson. A suspect was observed by hidden camera praying, and in his prayer he admitted that he was guilty. The court ruled that privileged communication, which would be inadmissible in court, must take place between two people, but that since God is not a person; comments made to Him are considered to be admissible evidence.
But scripture reveals the true God as a personal God – in at least three ways:
* God has a name. God is not a nameless source. He has a name which he assigned himself and by which he reveals himself – “I AM.” But he also reveals himself through a multitude of other names in scripture, and personal pronouns are ascribed to God and used continually. Names in the ancient world were chosen carefully for their significance and meaning, and the names of God are intended to reveal his character and demonstrate that he is knowable. God’s name is also used to address him, and it is important that his name be spoken reverently and respectfully. In the Lord’s Prayer, we hear the words, “Hallowed (holy) be your name.” Respect necessary for his name indicates his personhood.
* God possesses all the attributes that define personhood. There are three fundamental attributes that define a person: they must possess intellect, will, and emotion. God obviously possesses all three – he is not merely a force, an object or an influence. Scripture reveals the reality of his personhood in that God repents, grieves, is angry, is jealous, loves, and hates. He is a personal God who responds and feels emotion.
* God interacts with humans on a personal level. We say something is personal when it involves relationship—particularly a binding or socially acknowledged relationship. Furthermore, if something involves the actual presence of or interaction with another individual, then it is deemed personal. In this way, a personal relationship is not possible with an inanimate object, an intangible force, or an abstract idea.
Back in Genesis 3: 8, from the very earliest of beginnings, God is revealed as having a relationship with Adam and Eve. He is depicted as walking in the garden in the cool of the day and coming to talk with them. While this incidence was not to be a pleasant conversation, you also get the sense that this may have been a regular practice – God in regular communion with his created image-bearers. “Because God is a person, our relationship with him has a dimension of warmth and understanding.” He interacts with us as a person, and we can relate to him as a person. Conversely, if God were not a person, there could be no communion with him. God is personal and he desires a personal relationship with us – a relationship from the heart.
So today we have learned these three attributes about the greatness of God – He is spirit, He is the living God, and He is a person. Is God a living reality in your life? Because he is life, have you gone to him to get life, and not only life, but life abundantly? Do you know him as a person, and do you have that kind of relationship with him? These truths are essential to a biblical understanding of the nature of God and can help us to know and understand him better. More “greatness” to come next week!
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
God Is "Great": Infinite
May 21, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
King Louis XIV of France, who preferred to be called “Louis the Great” and had declared, “I am the State!” died in 1717. His court was the most magnificent in Europe, and his funeral was the most spectacular. In the church where the ceremony was performed, his body lay in a golden coffin. To dramatize his greatness, orders had been given that the cathedral would be very dimly lit with only one special candle that was to be set above the coffin.
The thousands of people in attendance waited in silence. Then the Bishop began to speak. Slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.”
Indeed, only God is great, and it’s his greatness that we will be considering again this morning as we continue in our “God Is” series. Last week we began to look at some the attributes of God that make him great – they were: God is spirit (immaterial, invisible); God is life (living); and God is personal as opposed to a impersonal force. Today, we are going to focus on one key attribute of God that is expressed in four different ways. That one attribute is this:
“God Is” infinite. What does the word “infinite” really mean? The dictionary defines it this way: “without limits” or boundaries; endless.” In mathematics the definition is a little more technical: infinite means “greater than any assignable quantity or magnitude.” Therefore it is beyond anything that numbers can define. Remember the little mathematical sign for infinity – a little figure 8 that was laid horizontally.
What does an infinite God mean? It means that he is without limits – a limitless being. He is not only unlimited, but he is also un-limitable. (Grudem) “He is infinite in that he is not subject to any of the limitations of humanity, or of creation in general. He is far greater than everything he has made, far greater than anything else that exists.” When we try to describe or define what an infinite God is, we get into territory that the human mind cannot even fully grasp or comprehend. We have finite minds; finite logic and we’re trying to describe what is indescribable. So we need to understand that our best efforts to define God always fall short. Yet, he has revealed enough for us to grasp some basic understanding of his nature. So let’s look at the four primary ways that God’s infiniteness is expressed:
A. He is Omniscient. The word “omni” simply means “all,” and so omniscience means “all-knowing.” God is unlimited (infinite) in knowledge – He knows all things and is absolutely perfect in knowledge. Psalm 147: 4-5 reads: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” God has access to all information; nothing is or can be hidden from him. “God never learns new things of forgets things; he knows all things past, present and future and knows them all equally vividly.” Now that’s a bone to be chewed! God knows and sees the whole spectrum of time. Think about this: The future already exists in God’s dimension of reality. How can what is yet to happen already exist? How can what appears unknown already be known? These are questions our finite minds cannot fully grasp.
God’s unlimited knowledge also means that he sees and knows us totally. Psalm 139 is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful Psalm in the Bible. In the first 6 verses it offers a wonderful description of what the omniscience of God means to us personally (Read). This scripture makes the claim that God knows everything about us. He knows when we sit down, get up, lie down and where we go. He knows our thoughts and what we are going to say even before we say it! David says it well, “Such knowledge is too wonderful to me, too lofty for me to attain.” How do we comprehend these truths? We can’t, fully, but we believe.
The realization of God’s knowledge of each one of us can bring us much comfort. “Jonathon, four years old, was trying to learn the Lord’s Prayer. He learned by listening at church each Sunday. One Sunday as we were praying the Lord’s Prayer, he could be heard above all the others, praying, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, I know you know my name’.” When we are facing the trials in our lives, it is comforting and assuring to us that God knows who we are and everything that we are experiencing. He is aware of our every circumstance. On the other hand, His knowledge of our thoughts and words can also make us feel a little uneasy. Our thought life is an open book to him, and so we need to win the battle for our minds through the help of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, God is all-knowing in regards to everything in his creation. In Matthew 10 29-30, Jesus teaches that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside of the knowledge and will of the Father, and that “the very hairs on our head are numbered.” Now that’s a pretty incredible statement!” Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” (Warning)
B. He is Omnipresent. This word is simple to define – God is “all-present.” This means that that God is unlimited in space. God is not subject to any limitations in space, nor is there any place where he cannot be found. Jeremiah 23:24 reads: “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Thus we cannot hide in “secret places” so that we cannot be seen. Adam and Eve tried that in the Garden of Eden without much success. There is nowhere that we can run from the presence of God - as Jonah attempted when he hopped on a boat thinking he could run way from God and his call on his life.
Psalm 139 again speaks so eloquently of the truth of God’s omnipresence (Read: 7-12). “Where can I flee from your presence?” There’s no place we can go to get away from God’s presence – not the highest height, nor the deepest depth, nor the farthest point across the planet. Even an escape into darkness will not provide place to hide. God is everywhere, even (and especially) in the mother’s womb.
God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being. That’s another incredible statement. We cannot think of God simply as one part of him being in one place and another part of him being in another. He is everywhere in the fullness of his being, but he can act differently in different places.
The truth of God’s omnipresence can again bring us comfort and assurance. Even when God feels a thousand miles away, he actually remains present with us. His presence does not leave or move away. Sometimes, however, we sense or experience his presence in a greater measure, but what we experience is not based on the reality of his presence - which is constant. Also, God’s omnipresence is closely associated with God’s immanence (in and through creation), and so it also reminds us of his nearness. God desires to come near to his people – so they can experience him as their faithful, present Father.
God is omnipresent. I like this quote: “God is everywhere and in everyplace; His center is everywhere; His circumference nowhere.”
C. He is Omnipotent. God is all-potent. This means that God is unlimited in power. In the book of Daniel, after King Nebuchadnezzar was restored to mental health, he declared: “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, ‘what have you done’?” The Psalmist expresses the same sentiment when he says: “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
The omnipotence of God is the attribute by which he can bring to pass everything that he wills. God’s power has no bounds or limitations and there is no resisting his might –“if God is for us who can be against us?” The angels are under the control of God’s power and even Satan can operate only within the limitations placed on him by God. Satan was limited by God as to what he could do to Job. In Revelation 20:2, we read that an angel of the Lord will come down from heaven with a great chain – “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” There is nothing or no one in the universe that can resist the power of God nor thwart the exercise of his will.
When God appeared to Abraham he identified himself by saying, “I am God Almighty.” English Bibles use the term “Almighty” to translate two different Hebrew words. The first, in the case of Abraham, means to be “burly” or “powerful.” (El Shaddai). The second one usually is accompanied with the word Lord - “Lord Almighty.” It means literally “Lord of Hosts, the commander the heavenly armies.” The focus of this title is on great power to conquer or rule. Two of the names that God identified himself with reveals his omnipotence – He is the all-powerful God who can exercise his will without any possible resistance – and he has the army to back him up!
D. He is Eternal. For God to be eternal means that He is unlimited by time; He is the One who always is. In Psalm 90:2 it says: “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” While God works in time, he actually exists beyond time, and time doesn’t actually even apply to him. In fact, in order to create the universe God had to create matter, time and space.
In Revelation 1:8 we read: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, which “implies that God “is before everything else and he is after everything else; he is the beginning of everything and will always be the end of everything.” Grasping this idea of timelessness is very difficult for our human minds. How can God have had no beginning – to have existed forever? But that is what the scriptures teach.
To God, all of his existence is always somehow present. He is able to stand above time and is able to see it all as present in his own consciousness. I have a little diagram that might help us to understand this difficult concept (powerpoint). He sees all time equally vividly – even future events. However, while God is timeless in his own being, he does see events in time and acts in time – so he does enter time and space in order to exercise his will. The wonderful thing about the eternal nature of God is that he offers to all those who call on his name eternal life - life without end. Amen.
So how does knowing these attributes of God apply to us today? Well, I hope that you may have learned something about God that you didn’t know or had realized. God is great – incomprehensibly great! We say that so trivially and thoughtlessly sometimes – I can be as guilty as anyone, so I hope this gives a fresh perspective to us all.
I also hope that focusing on God’s attributes is an encouragement to you. When we listen to the news and consider the world we live in today, we can get discouraged. In my deepest moments, I sometimes wonder if we are not plunging into a time of social and moral anarchy – the evil seems overwhelming. But then I remember that the God I serve, the God of this universe, is the all-knowing, all-present and all-powerful, eternal God – the Almighty!! He is the God who knows/holds the future and no matter what happens, nothing catches him by surprise. He’s not up in heaven scratching his head and saying, Gee, I didn’t see that coming!” No, He’s the God of the heavenly armies and righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne. He is great and awesome in power – Glory to His name! Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.
Sermon: Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Faith at Home: A Devotional Legacy
Pastor Bryan Watson
May 28, 2017
Good morning. Our scripture reference for the message this morning is from Deuteronomy 11:18-21 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth. “
I want to speak to you this morning about passing on our faith. Primarily, this is going to be a message about passing the baton of our faith on to the next generation, and specifically, from parents to children, or from grandparents to grandchildren. But I don’t want to limit our scope to immediate family or thinking that it has to be from an older generation to a younger generation. So, take what I am saying today and apply it to whatever circumstances you have. You can take the principles I am going to teach today and use them with friends or other extended family.
Years ago, when we were still living in Regina and our kids were small, Lori and the girls would get together with one of Lori’s good friends and her small daughters. They weren’t Christians, and so they weren’t accustomed to giving thanks before a meal. Nevertheless, since it was just natural for our girls, they prayed before the meal, ending the prayer with the typical “Amen.” Some time later our friend was at home with her daughters when it was time to eat again. One of her girls asked if she could pray, and her Mom said OK. After thanking God for her food, she concluded with “All Women.” “What do you mean, all women?” their Mom asked. “Well, when we get together with Watsons, they always say All Men, but there aren’t any men here.”
It’s cute, but that’s an example of how we can open the door to the passing on of faith from one family to the next.
I want to establish as a fact that God considers it important that one generation passes its faith to following generations. In Deuteronomy 11:19, God commands us to teach them to our children. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Note that He doesn’t say, “You should,” or , “You could, maybe, if you want to…”. No, He says, “You shall.” That, my friends, is an order.
And how are we do pass it on? We are to do it by speaking of them
· as you sit in your house,
· when you walk by the way,
· when you lie down,
· when you rise up.
In other words, we are to take advantage of every moment we have to teach our faith to the next generation.
Where else do we read about this in scripture?
Listen to these words from Joshua 4. Joshua is leading the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land. Beginning in verse 4 through verse 7: Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; 5 and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
Continuing on in verse 19 through verse 24: Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. 21 Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; 23 for the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, 24 that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
This is just one example of God instructing people to teach future generations about Him.
Consider God’s command about remembering the Passover. In Exodus 12, God gives Moses the instructions about how the Passover is to be conducted just before it happens. In verse 14, God says, “‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.” And for emphasis, he says again in verse 17, “So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance.”
Think about how logical this is. God commanded special feasts as a way for one generation to teach another about what God has done. Do you see how we have done this as a practical application in our lives still today?
· We practice Holy Communion, which gives the entire church an opportunity to remember Christ’s sacrifice. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” said Jesus in Luke 22:19. Children aren’t born with this knowledge pre-programmed. They learn about it by participating in it at church. We have the opportunity to talk about why we do this, and what Christ did.
· We typically have a feast at Easter, which again allows us to talk with our children about what Christ did, and the significance of the Cross.
· And again, we feast at Christmas, which allows us to talk about the first coming of Christ, why He came, and what it means that He is coming again.
Psalm 145:4 says, One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
Not just tell of God’s works like we are reading assembly instructions for a barbecue, but we are to PRAISE His works to the next generation. We should be excited about what God has done in the past as well as in our own lives, and our children and friends should see that.
John Piper, in his essay, Desiring God, asks the question: where do faithful hearts come from? He says, The answer is that they come from God. God makes hearts like that. And He is sovereign: He can make such a heart in a dysfunctional family and a failing church. But that is not His ordinary way, and it is not the way He commands. His ordinary way is to breed hearts like that in God-exalting families and in churches where "One generation shall praise Your works to another."
He goes on to say, “What we want from the next generation is not just heads full of right facts about the works of God; we want heads full of right facts and hearts that burn with the fire of love for the God of those facts - hearts that will sell everything to follow Jesus into the hardest places of the world.”
Piper identifies Three Principles that apply in passing our faith from one generation to another:
1) Parents Educate Their Children
· Let me say it straight up. Parents, it is not my job, or Pastor Dennis’ job, or the Sunday School teachers’ job, or the quizzing leaders’ job to be the primary teachers of the Christian faith to your children. It is your job. Too many people think that dropping their kids off for an hour of Sunday school and an maybe an hour of quizzing is laying a foundation of faith. And they couldn’t be more wrong in such dangerous thinking. There are 168 hours in a week. If you think that that the 1 or 2 hours they spend in church is going to stack up against the 30 they spend in school and the other 30 or 40 they spend watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out with their friends, you are kidding yourself. It’s like a drop or two of faith activities facing off against a fire hose of worldliness. Parents, it is your responsibility, because you are the only ones who can influence all those other hours.
· Now, in saying that, I am not saying that the Church is not responsible for evangelism among the youth in our communities. I think the Church needs to do everything in its power to reach every heart for Christ. But that doesn’t mean that the Church should bear the responsibility of the abdication of the parents.
2) The Church is a Partner with the Parents in educating their children
· The church is a partner. The job of the church is to be available to come alongside and water and nurture and provide support and reinforcement for the groundwork of faith that is being laid down by the parents.
· Deuteronomy 31:10-13 provides a great example of what the church is supposed to be doing. It says, And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”
· Now, that doesn’t mean you are only supposed to come to church once every seven years!!! But it is saying that at regular intervals we are to gather together as a congregation and worship and be taught together.
3) The church helps Equip the Parents to Educate their children
· As a church, and as a congregation, we are to equip each other to do the work. We older people are to serve as mentors to the younger generation that they themselves might be able to minister to their own children and others.
· There are a lot of great parents who desperately want to build a legacy of faith in their children… a lot of people who desperately want to build up the faith of their friends and neighbors, but they don’t know how. That is where the church needs to be available with resources and teaching and programs that facilitate the deep longing of these faithful people.
So today, I’m going to take a step towards principle #3 and teach you a practical way to administer family devotions in your home. And guess what? You don’t have to be perfect with this for it to be effective. In fact, you will probably be inconsistent with it, and it will still make a difference in their lives, but as long as you are consistently inconsistent; day-in and day-out, inconsistent; Month-in and month-out, inconsistent; Year-in and year-out, inconsistent; Inconsistent; Inconsistent; you will succeed. Be consistently inconsistent over a period of years and you will have developed a family legacy that will likely last for generations. So don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two here and there.
Our own family is a product of such a legacy of daily devotions that Lori’s Mom started with Lori and her brother when they were little, and we did the same thing with our children. In fact, we still do family devotions, although it is more inconsistent now with everybody running their own separate ways so many times, but we still do them. So, you’re never too old to do this.
So, what are family devotions?
Well, let’s start with the word devotion. The word devotion comes from the Latin word devotus which means to (de) vow (votus). So, by its root words, it means “to vow”. In today’s Webster’s Dictionary, the first definition given is “profound dedication; consecration.”
Mark Holmen, in his book Take It Home, says “We all have things that we are devoted to. One way to discover those is by looking at where we spend our time. The more devoted we become, the more time we spend.” I can imagine that several people here today are going to be devoted to watching the Riders play fairly soon. A lot of people at the office I know are devoted to going to the lake every weekend.
The point is, in order to have a family devotion, you have to set aside some time to do it.
So, tip #1 – set a time and be consistently inconsistent. You can shoot for 7pm every night, but you know that’s not going to work all the time. So don’t get yourself in a knot. If it doesn’t work today, tomorrow’s coming. Over the course of time, we found it worked best in our family to do this right after supper. When Lori was a child, they found it worked best at bedtime.
Tip #2 – Keep it short. Kids typically don’t want to sit through an hour-long reading… unless you are really good at dramatizing and making voices. Nobody wants to listen to dad drone on and on. In fact, most of you are only still sitting here now because you’re so polite!!! So keep it short.
Tip #3 – Keep it simple. I’m not Mr. Dressup, and I can’t do what he did to entertain me as a kid. Find a resource that works, and use it. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of great tools out there. <show books & cd’s> You can also use personal devotional material like Our Daily Bread or Men of Integrity from Promise Keepers. In fact, if you really think about it, all we are really doing here is establishing a study group in the family unit on a daily basis.
Anyway, if you want to have a look at these afterwards, come and see me over at the resource table. I can’t let you have these, but they will give you some ideas to work with. But really, there are so many great choices, and the sky is the limit.
Tip #4 – Have fun. Act stuff out. Make character voices. Turn it into a drama. And for goodness’ sake, if something isn’t working… change it up. Faith should be fun, not something to dread.
Tip #5 – Don’t give up. Keep working at it. You will have dry spells or times where it feels like you are trying to herd cats. But keep at it.
Tip #6 – Involve the kids. Let them take a turn reading, or acting out a part. Let them suggest some ideas that they would be interested in. This is a family devotion, after all.
And I’ll add my own tip… Tip #7 – ask for help. If you want to talk about this to get some ideas about how you can do this in your family, then come and find me or Lori. We want to see you succeed with this as we look to build the next generation of Christians. You aren’t alone.
In closing, I want to relate one final story that illustrates how you never know how you may be impacting somebody.
A few years ago, we were on a camping trip with some friends. Again, the kids were all small. These were faithful Christian friends. At night, Lori and I gathered all the kids around, including their daughter, to have family devotions. We read the story for the day, went through the questions and discussion, and had a short prayer time. Later that evening, the Mom came and told us that she had never seen that done before, but that she wanted to start doing that with her daughter, and building that foundation. We were able to help them get started, and I pray, a new foundation that will last for generations has been started in their family.
So if you take nothing else away from this message today, at least take this: Psalm 145:4 - One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
"God Is" Great - Unchanging; "God Is" Good
June 4, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
“Indescribable, uncontainable, you placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name (what?), You are amazing God. All powerful, untameable, awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim, You are amazing God.”
As I sat down to begin write this message that would wrap up our look at of the greatness of God, the words of this song came flooding into my mind. God is great, He is so great, He is so great we cannot even fathom His greatness, and our language falls far short of expressing this truth. He is, as the song says, “Indescribable.”
How often have we sung this song with our mind somewhere else – maybe on the football game, what we doing for lunch after the service, or what task we need to complete? How we diminish in our own heart the awesomeness of God when we do things like that? Is He not worthy of our concentration/our attention? I hope that this series will bring new inspiration and adoration to your hearts when we sing this song or any of the others that speak so clearly of the greatness of our God. So this morning we have one final attribute to consider under the category of the “greatness of God,” and then we will begin to look at his goodness.
“God Is” Unchanging (immutable, constant). God does not change, and that should be a comforting message for us – his character will not change and he will always keep his word. In Psalm 102: 25-27 it says: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Here the psalmist contrasts the temporal created order with the unchanging nature of God. The universe is in a constant process of change, and that change will eventually wear it out – a property of matter is that it is in a continual state of decline. However, God “remains the same!” This is also stated very clearly in Malachi 3: 6 where it says: “I the Lord do not change.” And that was a good thing for Israel, because the fact that he does not change is the only reason God had not already destroyed them – he keeps his word of promise.
The NT affirms the unchanging nature of God. In James 1:17 we read: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Since God never changes we can have confidence that only good gifts will come from him in the future. And in Hebrews 13:8 it says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Again, Jesus shares the attributes of divinity, and that truth is clearly stated in this verse – Jesus, too, is unchanging.
A definition: God is unchanging in his being (nature, attributes), purposes and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions and can respond differently in different situations. It is not possible that God should possess one attribute at one time that he does not possess at another. He remains ever the same. “Therefore, God does not change his mind, plans, or actions, for these rest upon his nature, which remains unchanged no matter what occurs.”
However, you may be wondering, doesn’t scripture refer to God changing his mind? This is where the second part of the definition comes in – “can respond differently in different situations.” For instance, in the story of Jonah we read these words, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (ESV) God had sent Jonah to Nineveh to proclaim destruction to the city. And while it is not explicitly stated in the text, the purpose for proclaiming a warning is to bring about repentance. So when the city repented, the situation changed, and God responded differently to that situation – God had not changed, the people had changed and so God relented. God’s purpose in sending Jonah was for the city to change its ways, and they did. If they had not repented they would’ve been destroyed.
The beauty of an unchanging God is absolute assurance and confidence in his word and in his promises. When God says something, when he promises something, we can be completely confident that he will bring it about. We can be confident that his character will never change, or nor will he ever lose his power or his knowledge. If God were not unchanging, what confidence could we have that he might not change and become a God that is “not so good” – even vindictive or mean-spirited. Scripture provides us with all the confidence we need that he does not, even cannot change, because it would go against his very nature.
So God is Great! The attributes of his greatness are: He is Spirit (immaterial, invisible), He is life; He is personal; he is infinite (unlimited - omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal); and He is unchanging. Glory to his name!
III. “God Is” Good! Not only is God great, God is good! The greatness of God pointed to his natural attributes; the goodness of God speaks of his moral attributes. If God were only great, and not good, he could conceivably be immoral. But what we are dealing with is a good God, one who can be trusted and loved. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good and his love endures forever.” Another aspect is that the attributes of God’s greatness generally belong to him alone. The goodness of God, his moral attributes, we can share with God at least on a limited level – that is a part of our image bearing.
We will classify the God’s basic moral attributes as integrity, purity and love. The first one we are considering this morning is integrity:
A. “God Is” Integrity. At first, I thought this should be “God has integrity,” but God not only possesses integrity, he defines integrity. In other words who God is - in nature and in character – corresponds exactly to how he acts and manifests himself. He is the perfect model (example) of words that are matched by action and deeds. Two dimensions define his integrity:
1. He is truthful (veracity: truthfulness, accuracy). God is truth, he is a lover of truth, and he is the standard of truth. (Quote) “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all His knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.” Jeremiah 10:10 reads: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” In John 14:6 Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
God’s truthfulness relates to the fact that he is genuine. God is real; He’s the real deal. He is not fabricated or constructed or imitated – like all the others who claim to be gods. God is precisely what he appears to be. He also represents things as they truly are – there is not one iota of deception in him. God always speaks truth when he speaks; in fact his words are truth. John 17:17 states: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” God is true, he tells the truth, and he proves himself to be true.
The fact that truthfulness is a part of God’s very nature means that he desires his people to deal honestly in every situation. Christians should have the reputation for being impeccably honest. When we aren’t, we dishonour the name and character of our God. Multiple times in the book of Proverbs, the call goes out for honesty when using weights and measures in the marketplace. Since we serve a God who doesn’t lie or deceive (Titus 1:2), we too should be honest in all of our relationships. In Colossians 3:9 it says: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.” We also must remember that truthfulness goes beyond making a bold-faced lie, it includes all kinds of deception – anytime we allow someone to believe something that is not really true, even by our silence, we are not acting truthfully.
Another implication of this attribute of God is that our ideas must conform to God’s ideas of truth - His words are the final standard of truth. This is an area where we as individual Christians and as the church have gotten into trouble in these tumultuous times. Instead of the ideas of the culture being made to conform to the ideas of God through his Word, the ideas of God have been subjected to conform to the ideas of the culture. This is why there is so much confusion in the church today on so many social and moral issues. Truth in our world has become a revolving door! But God’s truth does not change, nor does it not conform to the ideas of the culture. We should imitate God’s truthfulness; like him, we should love truth and hate falsehood.
2. He is faithful. God can be trusted wholeheartedly. (Quote) “God’s faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised.” In Numbers 23:19 we read: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill it?” This verse encapsulates much about what we have just been talking about: Truthfulness, unchanging, integrity and faithfulness. This reveals that these attributes are interconnected and help to define each other.
In 1 Thess. 5:24, Paul reminds the Thessalonian church that God would sanctify them and keep them blameless until Jesus returns. He then says: “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” God can be relied on and he will never prove himself unfaithful to those who trust what he has said. He keeps all of his promises. He never has to revise his word or renege on a promise. Just think of the story of Abraham and Isaac. He waited years of a son and finally received the promise when he was 100 years old.
A tribe of Native Americans had a unique practice for training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was blindfolded and taken miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the midst of thick woods. He had to stay there all night by himself. Every time a twig snapped, he probably visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. Every time an animal howled, he imagined a wolf leaping out of the darkness. Every time the wind blew, he wondered what more sinister sound it masked. After what seemed like an eternity, the first rays of sunlight lightened the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he saw the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father, who had been there all night long.
In the same way, God is always present with us in our trials. His presence is unseen, but it is more real than life itself. God has promised to never leave us or forsake us – and that is true whether we sense his presence or not. He is faithful and he will keep his promises. Though he is unseen he is there.
We are to also emulate faithfulness – it is a fruit of the Spirit. We are to keep our promises to God and to others. We are to be faithful in our relationship with God, in worship, in our marriage, to our children, to our calling and even to our vocation.
God is great – indescribable, uncontainable and unchanging. God is good – he has personal integrity – faithful and true. Are you really in awe of him? When something rocks your world, is he still great and good? Or are these attributes only believable when life is good? Let these truths capture your heart once again – be in awe and worship the King of Kings.
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
"God Is": Good - Morally Pure
June 11, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
I remember sitting around the dinner table with some friends and fellow seminarians while we lived in Caronport. One of the guys made a comment that has stuck with me – it went something like this. The truth that “God is good” needs to be foundational to our life and faith – it must be held as a non-negotiable. No matter what we may experience in life, that basic truth must remain unquestioned. The scriptures teach us that goodness is a fundamental attribute of God’s character. Do you believe that today? We all tend to be like Job, when the wheels come off in our lives, we all too quickly begin to question God’s goodness. I think that, like my friend said, we need to get implanted deep into our hearts and minds that God is good – period. His goodness is based on his essential nature and character, not on your and my experience.
This morning we are continuing our look into the attributes that point to the goodness of God. And what we will deal with today may come as a surprise as falling under the category of his “goodness.” Last week, we talked about God’s goodness in terms of his integrity – which is revealed in his truthfulness and his faithfulness. Today, we are going to consider this aspect: B. “God is” morally pure. “By moral purity we are referring to God’s absolute freedom from anything wicked or evil.” God is sinless in his nature and his essence. Being free from sin and evil is crucial to his goodness – if he were vulnerable to sin, how could we ever trust him to always relate to us out of goodness. There are three dimensions of his moral purity;
1. His holiness. It is crucial to understand the holiness of God if you are going to have a biblical understanding of him. You may remember from the first message of this series that God’s holiness is greatly connected with his transcendence. The fact that he is “wholly other” means that he is set apart from his creation and that he is morally perfect. These are very similar ideas to God’s holiness. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” means “consecrated,” “separate or set apart as dedicated to God; free from impurity.” The idea in the OT was something “marked off” – “something that was set apart or withdrawn from ordinary use.” The Word “holy” appears 694 times in the Bible (ESV), so it is a very important concept.
In Exodus 15: 11 we read: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? This was a part of the song of triumph that Moses and Miriam sang when God delivered them through the Red Sea. Psalm 99:9 proclaims: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” This is the third time in this short psalm that the proclamation goes out that “He is holy.” In fact, the holiness of God is the message of the whole OT.
There are two basic aspects to God’s holiness. First, he is totally separate/set apart from his creation – referring to his majestic holiness, awesome in power and glory. Second, he is free from any moral wickedness or evil, and therefore, he cannot tolerate the presence of sin. In his very nature, God is absolutely intolerant of sin. We need to understand the importance of this concept. There seems to be this idea floating around the contemporary church that God has somehow become more tolerant of sin. Because of the grace of God revealed in Christ, because Jesus took our sins upon himself on the cross, there seems to be this idea that absolute forgiveness reigns supreme (cheap grace). Does God change? What has changed is our view of sin, not Gods. We have created for ourselves very watered-down views of sin - a tolerant god.
Because God is holy, he calls on his people to imitate his holiness. “Leviticus 19:2 reads: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” In the NT the message is repeated: 1 Peter 1: 15-16, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’.” We are called to be a “holy nation” who separate ourselves from evil and sin and live lives of service in devotion to God. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says: “Sine we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” One final word of warning from Hebrews 12: 14, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
If you were to ask people inside the church and even outside the church, “what is the most important (dominant) attribute of God” – what do you suppose the answer would be? I would wager the answer would be the love of God. Is that true? (Quote) “If there is any difference in importance in the attributes of God, that of His Holiness seems to occupy the first place. It is, to say the least, the one attribute which God would have His people remember Him by more than any other. In the visions of Himself which God granted men in the Scriptures the thing that stood out most prominent was the divine holiness. This is clearly seen by referring to the visions of Moses, Job, and Isaiah.” In the vision given Isaiah in chapter 6, the heavenly creatures were calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” In the throne room of Revelation 4, the scene is the same – the creatures surround the throne saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” Notice that it is holy, holy, holy, not love, love, love. In any of God’s encounters with humans, the response is one of fear and falling down in his overpowering presence, which radiates his holiness. It would seem that God’s holiness is the preeminent attribute. Is that our first thought, is that our first response to God?
Because of the implications of his holiness, how then should we live?
* We should approach God with reverence and godly fear. Hebrews 12:28 says: “let us be thankful, and so worship God with reverence and awe (fear), for ‘our God is a consuming fire’.” One commentator suggests there is too much hilarity in our approach to God.” (frivolousness)
* When we have the right views of God’s holiness, we will have the right views of sin. Since the holiness of God is not emphasized as much today, we have lowered our views of sin. We confess sin in such easy and familiar terms that it has lost its terror for us. That is an expected outcome.
* The only way we can approach a holy God is through the merits of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness we have received by faith in his name, a righteousness we do not naturally possess.
2. His wrath. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the wrath of God? In the contemporary church it is typical to play this subject down. It’s not a popular topic, but it is a biblical one. In the ESV, there are 218 occurrences of the word “wrath,” and I would suggest that 80% refer to God’s wrath – and this does not even include the references to God’s anger and His fury. In his classic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes: “One of the most striking things about the Bible is the vigour with which both Testaments emphasize the reality and terror of God’s wrath. ‘A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness’.”
Nahum 1:6 says: “Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.” (7: “The Lord is good) God’s wrath is referred to many times in the exodus. Multiple times God’s anger was hot against the rebellious ways of the Israelites, and multiple times he threatened to literally destroy them.
Definition: “God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin.” A perfect, sinless God will not and cannot tolerate sin. He cannot tolerate it or overlook it because that would put in jeopardy the integrity of his very nature. How can a sinless God allow for sinfulness without compromising himself? But we need to understand this – God is not only intolerant of sin, he hates it because it opposes his character and everything he loves. We then, as lovers of God, need to hate sin as well - and not just in the culture or someone else’s life, but firstly in our own life. The fact that God hates sin presumes the necessity of judgment – 2 Thess. 1:8 reminds us that when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
The wrath of God is talked about in the book of Romans – it gives a NT perspective. In this new covenant of grace, it seems that he does manifest His wrath differently. In the OT, when the wrath of God was stirred up, people died - death was the consequence of his wrath against human rebellion. In the NT, the consequences of God’s wrath are that he gives people over to their own devices – to reap the consequences of their own sinful actions (death can happen). It seems he removes the common restraints/sense of decency and morality. In Romans 1 we see this clearly in verses 18, 24, 26, 28 (Read). God’s wrath in our time is revealed in a descent into rampant sinfulness and evil. Does that not define the days we are living in?
I cannot speak on God’s wrath without reminding you of God’s patience. Boy is he patient with us! This is how he describes himself: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.” He is slow to anger with us because he knows we are weak and because he wants many to come to repentance.
A guy by the name of Kevin Miller relates this story; I hope it helps to clarify:
A few summers ago we took a family vacation to Toronto. We’d never been there, but all the guidebooks said, “You have to go up the CN Tower, (at that time) the world’s tallest building and freestanding structure.” Just the thought of being 1,815 feet above the ground made me queasy. But the kids said, “Aw, Dad, we gotta go,” so against my better judgment, we went.
I was the last one into the elevator. We started up, which was when I realized that the door of this elevator was actually made of glass, and that this elevator was affixed to the outside of the tower. As we rushed up the side of the CN Tower, I could see the city of Toronto falling away at my feet. My palms started sweating, my throat got tight, and I started breathing really fast. I told myself, “Just hang on. Soon you’ll be on the observation floor.”
I stumbled out of the elevator onto the observation floor, where I thought it would be safe. But I found that some sadist had installed a glass floor there so that people could walk on it and look straight down to the ground. The kids were laughing as they walked onto the glass floor, jumped up and down, and even laid down. “C’mon, Dad!” they yelled.
That same year, we went to the Grand Canyon, where you can stand at the South Rim and peer 6,000 feet straight down. At the Grand Canyon, you are not separated from your doom by blocks of glass 2.5 inches thick. So every year, an average of four or five people die while visiting because of (in one website’s words) “overly zealous photographic endeavors.” Still, the Grand Canyon is so beautiful that I was drawn to it. I had to see it, to get near it. I wouldn’t do anything too foolish near the edge, but the same awesome beauty that caused me fear also drew me toward it.
When the Bible talks about “fearing God,” what is it talking about? Is it talking about the kind of fear I felt at the CN Tower? Or is it more like the fear I felt at the Grand Canyon? For years, preachers and writers have told me that it’s like the fear I felt at the CN Tower. “When the Bible says to fear God,” they explained, “it doesn’t really mean fear. It means awe or reverence. You should respect God, of course, but you don’t need to actually fear him. It’s like you’re standing on the glass floor 1,100 feet up in the CN Tower. Being there may give you a thrill or a quick feeling of awe, but you’re completely safe. So if you do feel any terror with God, that’s unnecessary or even irrational.”
But the Bible disagrees. Isaiah prophesies, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (Isaiah 8:13). And Jesus says, “Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). So when the Bible talks about fearing God, it means not just awe and not just reverence. It also means fear. It’s the kind of fear I felt at the Grand Canyon, where I was drawn to amazing beauty, but I also felt a realistic fear at the danger, because people who acted foolishly near it have died. (End Illustration)
A biblical response to God’s holiness and his wrath is a healthy fear. When I get near the edge of a canyon, my knees begin to shake – but I want to see the view and the beauty over the edge. There is terror; there is awe. What a great parallel of how we should respond to God.
You might be wondering what God’s holiness and wrath have to do with his goodness. His holiness concerns his moral perfection; his sinlessness – to be inherently good he must be free from all evil. His wrath means that he hates evil because it undermines all that is good. Would you want to serve a God who was unconcerned about sin? Could you trust his goodness?
We must regain the biblical truth about the holiness and wrath of God. We must wake up from our complacency – in our own lives and in our culture. Do you have this kind of healthy fear of God? It will help you maintain a sense of reverence and will help to keep you from sin.
Sermon: Miscellaneous Scriptures
“God Is” Good – Righteous/Just; “God Is” Love – Benevolent, Grace/Mercy
Pastor Dennis Elhard
June 18, 2017
Psalm 145:17 says: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.” Those words pretty much sum up the themes of this message today. We have been looking at the attributes of God that point to his goodness, and in light of these attributes we must hold to the truth that“God is good; all the time.” We need to make that foundational to our understanding of God, that no matter what our circumstances may look like, we stand on the goodness of God – period!
So last week, we talked about the goodness of God as revealed in his moral purity – meaning his freedom from anything wicked or evil. His moral purity includes the dimensions of his holiness, his wrath, and his righteousness/justice. We considered the dimensions of his holiness and wrath last Sunday, so we will begin today with is righteousness/justice. All three of these dimensions are most certainly interconnected.
B. “God Is” Morally Pure. 3. His righteousness/justice.
While in English these are two separate terms, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, they come from the same word group, so I’m treating them as one. In many ways they are two sides of the same coin. The English definition of “righteousness” is “doing right” or “upright conduct” – “the state or condition of being right and just.” A theological definition then goes like this: “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.” So we can see from this definition that God has the final say on what is right, he defines what is right and he reveals to us what is right through his law. We also see from this definition that God’s own actions are always in accord with the law he himself established. As a true expression of his nature, the law is as perfect as he is. Psalm 19: 7-8 says: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statues of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” God, then, only commands what is right, and what will have a positive effect on each one who obeys. In its simplest terms, we can understand God’s righteousness in this way – “God always does what is right.”
In his righteousness we saw that God himself always acts in accordance with his own law, but His justice requires that others also conform to his law. Since his law is right and perfect, it applies also to us, and we are to adhere to its standards. Sin is rebellion against his law, and the scripture makes it very clear that sin has definite consequences. The fact that God is morally pure, holy and right means that sin cannot go unpunished, and that it deserves to be punished. As a result of God’s righteousness and justice, (Quote) “it is necessary to treat people according to what they deserve. Thus, it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment” – “For the wages of sin is death.” True justice says you will receive what you justly deserve.
The justice of God means that he is always fair in the administration of his law – he does not show partiality or favoritism. James 2: 9 reads: “But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” God revealed his fair justice in the OT when he repeatedly condemned the crooked judges of the day, and the injustice done to the widows, the orphans and the foreigners. The scriptures consistently condemn the exploitation of the poor and outcasts. As a just God, he hates injustice and there will be a day when all injustice will be reckoned with – the scales of justice will be reconciled. Justice will prevail, and those who practiced injustice will be punished. On the other hand, for those who acted righteously and justly, there will be reward. In the same way that sin and injustice deserve punishment, in the justice of God those who acted justly deserve reward.
As his followers we are to imitate God’s righteousness and justice; we are to adopt our lives to his laws and precepts, because when we do we are acting in accordance with God’s very nature – we are doing what he himself does. Amos 5: 15, 24 says: “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts...But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never ending stream!” Righteousness and justice are key concepts in the very nature of God. In Psalm 97:1-2 we read: “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” The throne represents the seat of power over God’s kingdom – and the foundation of that throne is righteousness and justice, and we should be praising God that they are – He is indeed, good!
C. “God Is” Love. The last of the main categories of God’s goodness is his love. Again many would suggest that this attribute would be his preeminent one or most basic to his nature. It’s made very clear that love is a part of his essential nature in 4th chapter of 1 John. Twice it is stated explicitly that,”God is Love.” In verse 16, it says: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” Notice, it doesn’t say, God loves, but that “God is love.” It is the nature of God to love.
(Definition) “In general, God’s love may be thought of as his eternal giving or sharing of himself” – with others. This kind of love has always existed among the eternal persons of the Trinity and has made heaven a world of love and joy. The love of God is a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love. It is a love of action and of choice, not merely a love of emotion. And as image-bearers of God, we all have the potential to love, and to return the love of God back to him. In fact, the whole Christian faith can be reduced down to two basic commands of love – to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. It sounds so simple, but it’s much easier said than done!
We are going to consider two basic dimensions of God’s love for us:
1. His benevolence. The dictionary defines benevolence as “good will, kindly feeling, or an act of kindness.” In terms of God’s benevolence “we mean the concern of God for the welfare of those whom he loves. He unselfishly seeks our ultimate welfare.” His benevolent love is expressed clearly in the most loved verse of the Bible – John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only own Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God is concerned with our salvation, our good for our own sake, not for anything that he can get out of it. While he does save us for his own glory, he doesn’t need us – he could easily be glorified some other way. God also reveals his benevolent love in that he didn’t wait for us to “clean up our act.” Romans 5:8 says: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
When we think of the word benevolence we usually think of expressing good will to someone, or some act of kindness – often some kind of support, often financial. It’s comforting to know that God’s actions toward us are out of his good will, his kindness towards us. Now that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t discipline or judge us when necessary, but that his heart is motivated for your and my good. God has a good heart; he cares and provides for those he loves.
God’s benevolent love is also revealed in that his care and provision extend to all his creation. Jesus taught in the Matt. 6 (SM) that the Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field in splendour. In the same chapter Jesus teaches that God extends his love to the whole human race – that he makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He’s a benevolent God who seeks the welfare of all his creation, especially to his people.
2. His mercy and grace. How beautiful is the sound of those words. The primary reason we are here this morning, gathered as a company of believers, can be attributed to the grace and mercy of God. The terms are closely related – again the two sides of the same coin. I have heard them defined in this manner – “mercy is not receiving what you deserve, and grace is receiving what you don’t deserve.” Both are unmerited, and given at God’s will and pleasure.
(Definition) “God’s mercy means God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress.” It is his “tender-hearted, loving compassion for his people. It is his tenderness of heart toward the needy.” It is the mercy of God that has captured my heart; it is why I stand here before you this morning. I truly believe that it’s his heart’s desire to be merciful. A few years ago I had a revelation of this – an epiphany of sorts – when I read these words from Exodus 34: 6-7. Moses had asked to see God, but God told him he could not, but that he would pass by in front of him. As the Lord passed by Moses, he said these words – words that define the character/attributes of God – “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished). While God loves to show mercy, it “is a holy mercy; it will by no means protect sin, but anxiously waits to pardon it.”
The parable of the prodigal son provides a beautiful illustration of God’s mercy and grace. The Father faithfully watches the horizon for his son’s return – a heart of mercy. When the son comes home, he deserves nothing. He has taken his father’s inheritance and has blown it on riotous living. He is aware that he deserves nothing and pleads for mercy. Notice he has had a heart change, and comes humbly. He doesn’t return and say, Hey, pops! I’m in kinda in a hard place and I was wondering if you could spot me a little more cash. I was having a blast in the far country and would like to go back. What would’ve been the Father’s response then? When we seek his mercy, we must come with an attitude of humility and repentance, and if we do he will lavish his mercy on us. The Father’s grace also kicked in, and instead of receiving chastisement, the son received a party in his honour. Wow! Don’t you just love God’s mercy?
“God’s grace means God’s goodness towards those who deserve only punishment.” It means that God supplies us with undeserved favour. Ephesians 2: 8-9 states: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Rather than trying to explain grace, let me illustrate it.
Lou Johnson, a 1965 World Series hero for the Los Angeles Dodgers, tried for thirty years to recover the championship ring he had lost to drug dealers in 1971. Drug and alcohol abuse cost him everything from that magical season, including his uniform, glove, and the bat he used to hit the winning home run in the deciding game.
When Dodger president Bob Graziano learned that Johnson’s World Series ring was about to be auctioned on the Internet, he immediately bought the ring for $3,457 and gave it to Johnson, sixty-six, who has been drug-free for years and a Dodger community relations employee. He did for Johnson what Johnson could not do for himself. The ball player wept when given the gold ring. “It felt like a piece of me had been reborn,” he said.
“Likewise, Christians can testify to a spiritual rebirth as a result of the price that Jesus paid on the cross in their place. He did for them what they could not do for themselves.” He also did for us what we didn’t deserve! Because of his foolish lifestyle, Johnson really didn’t deserve the ring anymore, but the team president purchased back the ring for him. At his own expense, he graciously redeemed the ring for Johnson – that idea should sound very familiar to you!
“God Is” great! “God Is” good! I hope that this series has reminded you of these two truths, and you have been captivated again with the majestic nature of God and of his many attributes. I have only scratched the surface; there are many others: glory, beauty, jealousy. You might want to do your own study – I would encourage you to do it!
Sermon: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
We Do Not Lose Heart
July 2, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
t was the first trip out of the inner city for most of the team. The basketball team of P.S. 122 was on the way to scrimmage a suburban private school. Tension filled the bus as the players stared out the windows at the rolling hills, huge houses, and lovely parks. When they pulled into the school parking lot, everyone was silent. The manicured schoolyard had as its centerpiece an Olympic-size swimming pool in front of a new gymnasium.
When the P.S. 122 team left the locker room for the gym floor, their hearts sank even further. The opposition team had special warm up suits, the players were all good-looking, and they smirked with superiority. P.S. 122 had only their playing uniforms, no fans, no band, no confidence. In the last minutes before the game began, the coach of P.S. 122 called his team together. "Guys," he said, "they look good, but they only look good. The question today is not who looks good on the outside. The question is who's strong on the inside. We're not much to look at, but I know what's inside each one of you. Now get out there and play ball!"
In this chapter the apostle Paul spoke of his life in this way. He had to admit that outwardly neither he nor his ministry was much to look at. In fact, later on he admits he was like a fragile jar of clay. But something very special was on the inside of this jar of clay – something of infinite worth, and that gave him great confidence. And that inner confidence is the theme that underlies this whole chapter. The phrase “we do not lose heart” is repeated again in verse 16 near the end of the chapter. While there was not much to see on the outside, he was a man of great confidence – a confidence that came from God that kept him from becoming discouraged.
In Acts 18, we read the record of Paul’s first visit to Corinth. The place was a prosperous city of commerce and trade – a crossroads of seaborne trade in the middle of the Mediterranean. There he met a couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla, whom he joined in their tent-making business while spending every Sabbath in the synagogues trying to persuade the Jews about the truth of Jesus. Eventually, those who opposed him rose up against him, and so he left the Jews and began to minister to the Gentiles. He spent a year and a half there and when he left there was thriving church. Paul eventually landed in Ephesus where he spent over two years, and it was during this time, he received a report that things were not going well in the Corinthian church. Apparently, some false teachers had infiltrated the church, and were stirring up trouble. They were challenging Paul’s teaching, his authority, his character, even his abilities. (1 Cor.) Although it is difficult to piece together, there was another letter and another personal visit by Paul to the Corinthian church that did not go well – Paul describes it as a “painful visit.”
When things began to settle down a bit, Paul wrote what we know as 2 Corinthians. This letter is largely a defense of his ministry of the gospel, and of his calling as an apostle. He is on his way to Corinth and he needs to re-establish his authority as an apostle of God. So that is the context that we find when we consider chapter 4. He has been rejected, mocked, and considered “a nobody” – not much to look at – at least by some in this unruly congregation. But in spite of all this, Paul is confident – “we do not lose heart.” It is his calling and the message of the gospel that he attributes to his boldness. So as we make our way through this chapter, we will look at three aspects of Paul’s confidence and boldness. In today’s text we will consider:
Paul’s confidence in spite of rejection. As I just pointed out to you, Paul faced rejection from the church he himself had started – and that must have been very painful for him. He had been vilified by false teachers, and many in the congregation had bought into their lies about him. However, remarkably, it did not shake his confidence. He had:
* Confidence in his ministry (vs.1). Paul was encouraged by the ministry he had been given. What is this ministry? If we go back to 3:6 we read: “He (God) has made us competent as ministers of the new covenant.” In verse 8 we learn that it is a “ministry of the Spirit,” and in verse 9 that it is a “ministry that brings righteousness.” In the context Paul is comparing the glory of the ministry of the law with the even greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit. Of course, the ministry he is referring to is that of the new covenant – the proclamation of the glorious gospel of grace. He has been called by God to take this gospel to the Gentiles. Paul confessed that he felt so honored to have this place in God's purposes that he did not lose heart for his work as an apostle.
Paul is very aware of God’s mercy; after all, he was at one time a persecutor of the church. He had approved of, and maybe even participated in, the stoning of Stephen. He had been instrumental in persecuting many of the early believers and dragging them off to prison. Because of that, Paul never lost his amazement of God’s grace in his life, for God had now given to him this very important ministry. And because of God’s mercy, because of his dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he never lost his confidence in spite of rejection. The very existence of his ministry was evidence of God’s reality in his life.
*Confidence in the truth (vs. 2-4: Read). Paul’s confidence in the face of rejection was based on transparency and the truth. He (they) had renounced “secret and shameful ways,” and he refused to use deception (cunning, trickery) in his ministry and in his teaching. It is apparent from his statements here that these were the kind of tactics that his opponents were using. They had a deceptive message, and used underhanded means to secure their position and influence in the church – and it seems they also demanded payment. Back in 2:17 Paul writes: “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” Paul’s ministry was one of openness and honesty.
Paul goes on to say, “Nor do we distort (tamper, adulterate) the word of God.” Boy, do we live in a time when the Word of God is being distorted! Things are taken out of context and meanings are arrived at in dubious ways.
Two friends met after not seeing each other for a long time. One had gone to college and was now very successful. The other hadn’t gone to college and never had much ambition, yet he still seemed to be doing well. The college graduate asked his friend, “How has everything been going with you?” The less-educated man replied, “Well, one day, I opened my Bible at random and dropped my finger on a page. The word under my finger was oil. So I invested in oil, and boy, did the oil wells gush. Then I tried the same method again, and my finger stopped on the word gold. So I invested in gold, and those mines really produced. Now I’m as rich as Rockefeller.” The college grad rushed to his hotel, grabbed a Gideon Bible, flipped it open, and dropped his finger on a page. When he opened his eyes, he saw that his finger rested on the words Chapter Eleven.
We distort the Word of God when we take it out of context, when we try to make it say what we want it to say, or when we read it through the lens of our culture – instead of the other way round. This is common in the world and in the church today. Deception and distortion are invading the church – and false teachers are trying to run truth out of town.
In light of what he renounces, Paul claims that we are “setting forth the truth plainly, and that we are so confident of this that we are ready to commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. That’s quite a bold statement. “Because of his own clear conscience, he can boldly appeal to the conscience of others.” Paul has no skeletons in his closet.
He goes on to say, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” (Chp.3) Some of Paul’s opponents claimed his message was too difficult to understand – that he made no sense. Is the gospel veiled? In 1:3 Paul says: “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.” Any “veiling” comes from the unbelief of those who are perishing – who are blinded by Satan (“god of this age”). Paul (HS) makes it clear that it is Satan who blinds the minds of the unbelievers, “so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image (likeness) of God.” So we see from this text that this is clearly a spiritual battle – Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to the light of Christ, and it is only the Holy Spirit who can remove that blindness.
The truth of this spiritual blindness and spiritual warfare is evident everywhere in our world today. It is obvious in the rise of atheism, the rejection of absolute truth and in the utter confusion/chaos in the many moral issues of the day. The blindness seems so blatant in the often wholesale rejection of what should be the obvious. So what do we do? We do not lose heart; we do not fret. Like Paul we put our confidence in the truth of the Word of God. We do not distort it, we stand on it – and we put on the armour of God. (List)
*Confidence in the message (vs.5-6: Read). Paul had complete confidence in his message. In Romans 1:16 Paul writes: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” He was also not preaching for his own status and fame, he was preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and himself as the Corinthian’s servant (slave) for Jesus’ sake. This was his message, and it was a message he had complete faith and confidence in.
The reason for Paul’s confidence in the message is because it was God Himself who called light out of the darkness at creation (Gen. 1:3). And this light of creation that dispelled the physical darkness has now become the light of re-creation dispelling the spiritual darkness in the hearts of those who believe the gospel message. Paul defines this as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” This light of the glory of Christ had been revealed to Paul in his Damascus road experience, and the glory of this light was greater than the light of creation.
In spite of facing the rejection of the church which he had started, Paul remained amazingly confident. No doubt he was hurt, but he did not give in to discouragement. While he may have not looked that good on the outside, he was strong in the inside. We live in a world where we may face increasing rejection because of our faith in Christ – hopefully not from our church, but from our unbelieving family, neighbours, friends and our culture in general. And while we, as Christians, may not look that good on the outside, we must remain strong and confident on the inside. Like Paul, let’s be confident in our ministry (we all have one), let’s be confident in the truth of God’s Word, and let’s be confident in the message of the gospel – for it is the light that has the power to overcome the darkness and transform lives. “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (3:12)
Sermon: 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
July 9, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
I suppose that most of us here can identify with the idea that we are – at least at some point in our lives – cracked pots. Our life in the flesh, both body and soul has this propensity for being fragile and weak. “Jars of clay” is what our text for today suggests. Outwardly, we often don’t look that good, in spite of our efforts to hide that reality. But inwardly, we have at least the potential to be bearers of a treasure of infinite value. This treasure, this hope, is what gave the apostle Paul his great confidence and what made him declare, “We do not lose hope.”
As I pointed out last week in the first sermon from this chapter, inner confidence is an underlying theme of the whole chapter. In spite of the personal attacks from his opponents, the challenge to his teachings, Paul remained bold and confident – and was quite prepared to defend his ministry to the Corinthian church. So what we gave consideration to last week in verses 1-6 was Paul’s confidence in the face of rejection. The false teachers who tried to rock his world and turn the church against him were unsuccessful because he was confident in his ministry, in the truth and in the message of the gospel. So as we move along in the chapter today – verses 7-12 – we see another aspect of Paul’s unswerving confidence:
Paul’s confidence in the midst of suffering (vs. 7-12). Who likes to suffer? This is not a subject we like to think about or deal with. However, it is a reality of human existence and of the human condition. The short answer to the “why” of suffering is simply sin – a fallen world. As we shall see, Paul came to understand and accept suffering as a part of his call to be an apostle for Jesus Christ. In fact, he came to the place of maintaining full confidence in God even in the midst of suffering. So let’s look at ways he was confident and did not lose hope:
A. Confidence in weakness (vs.7: Read). This is a very well known and well loved verse of scripture. The first question we need to ask is, “What is the treasure?” The most obvious answer is from the verse before – this treasure is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” The treasure is knowing that the fullness of God dwells in His Son Jesus. The treasure then is also the light, the light of the gospel – which displays the glory of Christ (4) and the message of salvation to all humanity. Paul says he has been given this amazing treasure, this incredible ministry and calling, and yet where is it? - In jars of clay, cracked pots.
The idea of picturing humans as “jars of clay” was apparently a common metaphor for in the ancient world. The imagery can have two meanings. First, clay pots were fragile and could easily be broken – so they were a symbol of frailty and weakness. And yet God had chosen weak human vessels to be the containers of the world’s greatest treasure. Typically, we don’t keep our most valuable possessions in containers that are easily breakable. We store them in steel vaults or something that can be locked and made secure. The second meaning of the imagery is one of low value/worth. Earthen, clay jars, as opposed to bronze, were readily discarded because clay was always available – it was cheap and it was disposable. They were also very common, often used for garbage or even sewage. This imagery would provide a contrast between Paul’s lack of significance and the surpassing value of the treasure. Both metaphors could be at play here in Paul’s mind – human vessels are fragile and weak, and they are of relatively low value. In spite of these things, God has placed a treasure of infinite value into these jars of clay. Because of this, Paul remains confident even in his weakness.
However, there is a purpose for this – “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Cracked and chipped pots are poor receptacles for valuable treasure. And yet God uses this improbable situation to reveal that it is God’s power that is at work and not human strength or ingenuity. God’s power finds its full scope in human weakness. Paul recognizes that, and Paul gains confidence from this truth – when I am weak; He is strong.
We can all identify with the “cracked pot” imagery. We are all well aware of our human weaknesses and frailty. And yet we are taught here that if we have received Christ, we have within us this precious treasure – the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. It is a light that has the power to transform us to be like Jesus, and it’s a light we can pass onto others.
B. Confidence in affliction (vs. 8-9: read). In order to illustrate what he has just said, Paul offers up a set of four pairs of terms that portray his own experiences. Paul had suffered through numerous experiences of persecution for the sake of the gospel. Here he describes specific ways in which the lives of he and his associates were like earthenware that contained treasures: - Clay pots: they were hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down.
- Treasure bearers: not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, and not destroyed.
These contrasts illustrate the weakness of Paul in fulfilling his commission and the power of God in preserving his life and his spirit. As cracked pots they had been hard pressed (to crowd, narrow), perplexed, persecuted and struck (thrown) down. But as bearers of treasure, they had not been crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed. There had been some close calls, but in the end the power of God had delivered them. So “Paul was encouraged because life had not thrown more at him than he could handle. Even though life had knocked him down, it had not knocked him out.”
The mission given to Paul by Jesus included much suffering. After Jesus confronted him on the way to Damascus, a prophet by the name of Ananias was sent to him to pray over him in order to restore his sight. The Lord also said the Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” How would you like to receive a prophetic word like that? I wonder how much he was shown! Paul was afflicted more for the sake of the gospel that possibly anyone in history. Later on in 2 Corinthians he actually lists his many sufferings – Read 11: 23b – 28. That is an unbelievable litany of suffering – more than we can even imagine.
However, it needs to be said that Paul did not call the Corinthians to suffer more. While suffering and martyrdom have been a part of Christian faith all through the history of the church, nowhere do the scriptures call us to seek out suffering. In fact, it is assumed that we will try and avoid suffering if at all possible, as long as escape does not involve denying Christ or anything else contrary to the teaching of scripture. On the other hand, if suffering comes to us and there is no means of escape, then the NT teaches that we must be willing to accept it – even embrace it. If we cannot escape, is there not some purpose of God in it? “Paul's not being done in by his circumstances, suffering, or persecution is to be attributed directly to God's ability or ‘power’ to sustain him in the midst of his adversity.” As we faithfully endure suffering, when we put our trust wholly in him, God is glorified and we are strengthened.
But wait a second! Aren’t we here to be happy, healthy and wealthy? Aren’t we the King’s kids who should be living like princes and princesses? I have yet to find a NT scripture to back up that kind of teaching that is so rampant in the church today. Many commentators believe that was the kind of context that Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian church. The city was very prosperous, and the pursuit of wealth and health were everyone’s aspiration. Success in the church would be identified in the same way. And yet here was Paul, the founder of the church, constantly being persecuted and often in need. His opponents were questioning his ministry and his authority on that basis. If this guy was such a great man of God, where’s the evidence – he doesn’t look that impressive on the outside!
But Paul takes the opposite side; his ministry is authentic because of his suffering. Paul's suffering provides the platform for the display of God's power. We live in a fallen, broken world, and Jesus said we would know trouble here. While we rarely suffer for the sake of Christ in our world, if we do, we should be encouraged that our suffering honors Christ and advances the gospel. However, most of the suffering we experience is through physical illness, emotional and relational distress – and these can easily be as difficult. And if the Lord does not remove it, we must learn to endure our suffering for his sake, and to seek his power at be work in our lives to help us through it, and that he would be glorified in it. I know, easy to say; much harder to live, but that is the call here in the face of suffering.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this to his sister: “It is good to learn early enough that suffering and God are not a contradiction but rather a unity, for the idea that God himself is suffering is one that has always been one of the most convincing teachings of Christianity. I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness, and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart.”
Paul was confident even in his afflictions. God had been faithful to rescue him in the past, and that helped him endure the present. But even if God didn’t deliver him, his ultimate hope was somewhere else.
C. Confidence in revelation (vs. 10-12: Read). Paul was confident that what he suffered in his body revealed something much greater. Verses 10 and 11 are almost parallel:
- “We always carry around in our body the death (dying, corpse) of Jesus, (so that) the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
- “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, (so that) his life maybe revealed in our mortal body.” (Notice all the repeated words)
The term “carry around” was typically used for pallbearers – implying that Paul not only preaches but also carries around Jesus’ dying in the persecution he faces. He sees his suffering to be a divinely orchestrated death that, like the cross of Christ, performs a function of revelation. And what does his life of “dying” and suffering reveal? - The life of Jesus in our bodies. Paul views his own suffering as his participation in the sufferings of Jesus, and for his sake, in order that the life of Christ may be revealed. And that life of Christ is what gave Paul the ability to endure and rejoice even in the midst of adversity. It is the life of Christ in us that empowers us to rise above our suffering – even experiencing joy in our adversity. That can only come from the Holy Spirit!
Finally, Paul did not want the Corinthians to forget that they benefited from the sufferings of the ministers of the gospel. The pain and trials endured by Paul and others made it possible for the Corinthians to have eternal life in Christ, and they should have realized that their new life in Christ came at the cost of suffering by those who ministered to them.
Maybe you are experiencing a season of suffering right now – you feel like a cracked pot. We all experience times of some level of suffering. But let me remind you this morning that you also hold within you a precious treasure – the life and power of Jesus. And he will be there to walk with you in your suffering and to help you endure – giving you the confidence you need to trust in his purposes for your life. I would encourage you to read through the entirebook of 2 Corinthians – Paul went through much, more than I can imagine – but remained bold and confident in God’s call and purposes for him. God can do that for you, too!
Link to Audio Recording: https://lefchurch.podbean.com/e/cracked-pots-1499913626/
Sermon: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
It Will All Be Worth It in the End
July 16, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
One commentator wrote these words: Mothers amaze me. The pain and hardship they go through to bring a child into this world is astounding. They should be applauded for their strength and commitment. Frankly, I just do not know how they do it. When I witnessed my daughter's birth, I gave thanks to God for two things. First, I praised him for my new baby. What a precious gift to hold in my arms! But after a moment or two, a second praise came to my lips. I thanked God for not making me a woman. Yes, that is right. After I had seen what my wife went through bringing our daughter into the world, I was grateful that I was the husband.
I have asked a number of mothers why they chose to go through the ordeal of pregnancy and delivery time and again. Many of them have told me the same thing. "I made it by telling myself over and over, 'It will all be worth it in the end.'”
In our passage for this morning, Paul talks about how his suffering for Christ will all be worth it in the end. While he is speaking specifically about his own ministry, it is also true for all believers. Paul gained confidence in his suffering by remembering that it would all be worth it in the end; we can also find the same comfort in our own troubles.
So as we finish off this chapter this morning, a quick review is in order. Because of turmoil and false teaching on the Corinthian church, Paul is writing this letter in order to defend his apostolic authority and his ministry. He has been maligned and rejected by the church he started. In spite of this and in spite of all the persecution he has experienced, he remains bold, confident and encouraged. He was truly quite a man who was transformed by the gospel of Jesus! The overall theme running through this whole chapter has been Paul’s confidence. First, we saw his confidence in the face of rejection; last week, we saw his confidence in the midst of suffering; and today we see:
Paul’s confidence in the light of eternity (vs. 13-18). Paul was able to deal with his rejection, persecution and suffering because he had a future oriented perspective. He was confident that no matter what he had to face, no matter what the Lord allowed into his life, it would all be worth it in the end. In the light of eternity, all this was bearable. Paul’s confidence in this light is seen in two ways in our text for today:
A. Confidence in the resurrection (13-15). First of all, his confidence in the resurrection gave him the confidence to speak. Verse 13 reads: (ESV) “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believe, and so (therefore) I spoke’, we also believe, and so we also speak...” The quote is taken from Psalm 116:10 – and Paul is drawing a parallel with his own situation. The writer of the psalm had been experiencing affliction – a near death experience from an enemy or an illness (meaningful to me during my recovery). Through his own afflictions, Paul can relate to the psalmist’s situation. With the same spirit He, too, believes in the midst of his afflictions. The point that Paul is making is that when he was going through his times of affliction, he did not lose his faith, and continued to speak out the truth of the gospel. His sufferings did not rattle his faith nor did they muzzle him. The assurance in Paul’s heart because of faith caused him to proclaim the gospel with utter confidence in its truth.
The reason he continued to believe and to speak was because of his complete confidence in the resurrection of Christ. And the truth of that fact was the grounds to believe in the resurrection of Paul, his ministry team and the Corinthian Christians. Throughout Paul’s writings the resurrection of Christ is seen as the evidence of the resurrection of the believer. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we who believe can have full confidence that we will rise too and be with him forever. Jesus is the prototype (original, primary) and grounds of our being raised with him.
As can be seen from the book of 1 Corinthians, some in the Corinthian church were skeptical of a resurrection in the future – particularly the idea of a bodily resurrection, which was foreign to Greek thought. (Dualism) But to Paul, the resurrection was an essential element of his confidence in his own faith and his eternal destination, and his complete confidence that the Corinthians would be presented with him before the presence of God. Paul reminds the church that all this – his suffering and preaching, were for their benefit, and as more and more people are touched by the grace of God, more collective thanksgiving is being raised to God and that ultimately He is glorified. That is what matters most to Paul.
Paul’s confidence in light of eternity is grounded firmly in the truth of Christ’s resurrection – and that same power that raised Christ would also raise Paul and every other believer. That truth allowed him to endure incredible hardship.
B. Confidence in a future hope (16-18). As was just said, this confidence in a future hope was grounded in the resurrection of Jesus. In Christ, death does not mean end of life. In fact, Paul would probably argue that it actually means the beginning of real life.
Verse 16 reaffirms Paul’s statement at the beginning of the chapter – “Therefore we do not lose heart.” Everything that he has said in this chapter gives his reasons for not giving up – even in the midst of some terrible hardships. Even though on the outside he and his ministry partners were “wasting away” (decay), on the inside they were they were being renewed each and every day. Paul was encouraged by God’s ability to renew his spirit when circumstances got him down. The Holy Spirit was strengthening his inward resolve.
Verse 17 is an amazing statement by Paul: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (ESV – “An eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”) How could he say that? Given what Paul had experienced in his life of ministry (lashes, beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck), how could he call those things “light” and “momentary?” Would you define them that way?? He had suffered much, and yet when compared to the future eternal glory that would be his, it would be worth it all! While Paul recognized that his toil and suffering had taken a toll on him physically, there was, however, a splendid compensation. He could call his troubles “light” when compared to the “weight” of glory that exceeds all comparison.
Matthew Henry writes: “If the apostle could call his heavy and long-continued trials light, and but for a moment, what must our trifling difficulties be?” The difficulties of this life are minor when compared to the wonder of our eternal salvation. Boy, they sure don’t feel that way, do they? And I don’t want to appear to minimize those who are suffering, nor do I believe that Paul is suggesting this for a moment. He knew suffering better that anyone, and there are many in this world who suffer much – whether it comes from persecution, illness, or broken relationships. Suffering is everywhere. But the point Paul is making here is not to minimizes suffering, but to declare that there is a future hope of glory beyond all comparison, and that it all will be worth it in the end. That truth is what can sustain us when we go through times of suffering, and the power of God can transform our experiences into glorious expectations of future blessing.
The chapter closes with this verse: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” So how did Paul and his ministry partners cope with the suffering they had to endure? They did that by focusing on what is unseen and eternal. They had learned to cultivate a perspective that was future and eternal. (Quote) “An orientation towards the future is an essential aspect of a biblical worldview.” In Colossians 3 it says to set your hearts and minds on things above. This world is temporal, it is passing away, and so as believers our ultimate hope, our ultimate desire, our ultimate perspective should be on what is eternal. And that’s not “pie in the sky” thinking, we still have to live and work in this world while we are here, but our ultimate focus/goal should be on another world.
Paul had complete confidence in his future hope. And because of that incredible promise from God, he was able to endure much suffering – and not only to endure it, but consider his times of suffering as “light” and “momentary” – a least in comparison to the weight of glory he would receive. This perspective takes the power of the Holy Spirit at work in his life, and an incredible amount of spiritual maturity.
For two years, scientists sequestered themselves in an artificial environment called Biosphere 2. Inside their self-sustaining community, the Biospherians created a number of mini-environments, including a desert, rain forest, and ocean. Nearly every weather condition could be simulated except one: wind. Over time, the effects of their windless environment became apparent. A number of acacia trees bent over and snapped. Without the stress of wind to strengthen the wood, the trunks grew weak and could not hold up their own weight.
Though our culture shuns hardship, we would do well to remember that God uses hardship “for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
We must remember that God does at times use hardship and suffering to refine his children. Nobody likes to be refined by fire, but it is very effective. In Paul’s case his sufferings molded his character to the point that he minimizes his own hardships in order for the church to advance and for God to be glorified. But he was able to do that because of his confidence in the resurrection and his confidence in the future hope of eternity which will far surpass anything that he had experienced.
The knowledge of the blessings we will receive in the end times should comfort us in our present sufferings. That is the message here this morning. When we go through seasons of suffering, the primary way that we are taught to endure is to cultivate a perspective that sees the long view – the eternal view. We, even as Christians, are so caught up in our temporary pervasive culture of materialism. One commentator writes: “Anything less than peace (at least within the nuclear family), prosperity (at least a middle-class lifestyle), and health (at least most of the time) becomes a disappointment with God. Within this context, it is imperative that we constantly remind ourselves that endurance with praise, not avoidance of pain, is the evidence that the kingdom of God is here.”
Whatever we go through here will pale in the light of eternity – where there is unending glory, and unending peace, and unending beauty - and God Himself with us! We must learn to look beyond our outward circumstances, because “it will all be worth it in the end.”
* Outline: 2 Corinthians 4: 1-18
I. We Do Not Lose Heart
* Paul’s confidence in spite of rejection
A. Confidence in his ministry
B. Confidence in the truth
C. Confidence in the message
II. Cracked Pots
* Paul’s confidence in the midst of suffering
A. Confidence in weakness
B. Confidence in affliction
C. Confidence in revelation
III. It Will All Be Worth It in the End
*Paul’s confidence in the light of eternity
A. Confidence in the resurrection
B. Confidence in a future hope
Sermon: Psalm 63
Where Is Our Satisfaction?
August 6, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Have you ever been really thirsty? I mean really, really thirsty! So thirsty that that is the only thing you can even think about. Apparently this is true of those who find themselves in a position of extreme thirst – nothing else matters anymore. Life becomes all about finding a drink of water. I have never been to that point of thirst, but I think it would be a most desperate and dangerous situation. The body can go a long time without food, but not without water.
The psalm we are going to consider this morning was written by David when he was in a state of thirst – quite possibly physical thirst, but for sure spiritual thirst. His soul was as parched and barren as the desert that surrounded him, and he was longing for God. Why had this happened? Where was God in all this? But as he works though his situation, his feelings, his faith, he finds his confidence in God restored. What this psalm can teach us is this: Those who thirst after God will find their satisfaction in him.
The subscription to this psalm is one of the few that link the psalm to an historical event – “A psalm of David – when he was in the desert of Judah.” From the scriptures we know that there were at least two times David found himself on the run in the desert. Once when King Saul was trying to kill him, and another time when he fled from his son Absalom and his attempted coup. Commentators are divided on which event this psalm represents, and it all hinges on the word “king” in verse 11. If this is David’s third person reference to himself (which I agree with), then David was a king only when his son attempted to overthrow him.
So if this is true, here is the context. Absalom had been estranged from David because of the sordid events that had taken place in his father’s family. Absalom had murdered his half-brother Amnon in revenge for Amnon’s rape of Absalom’s sister, Tamar. He had fled from David for three years before returning to Jerusalem and reconciling with his father. But Absalom was ambitious and clever guy, who devised a plan to switch the people’s allegiance to him and usurp his father’s throne. When David heard that Absalom had managed to capture the majority of the army and the nation to his side, he fled Jerusalem with those still faithful to him and headed south-east through the Desert of Judah towards the Jordan River. So here we find David, on the run, tail between his legs, lower that a snake’s navel!
Imagine this scene. It is the middle of the night. The king stands in the door of his tent looking out over the landscape. The light of the moon casts its shadows on a stark and empty land. David is sad, confused and lonely. His soul is as barren as the portrait before him. God is a million miles away – or so it seems. His throat is dry and his spirit is even drier. The Lord has been his rock and his strong tower – where is he now? His own son has run him out of town! Out of his desperation flows a poem and then a melody – and a song is born to comfort his soul. The ancient preacher John Chrysostom testifies that, “It was decreed and ordained by the primitive fathers, that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm.” It has a long history of importance in the liturgy and worship of the church. So let’s look at it more closely:
First: Restless in the desert (vs.1). As was just pointed out, David’s physical location in the desert of Judah provides the analogy for the condition of his soul. He’s not merely restless; he’s dying out there for a drink of spiritual water. He begins with “O God, you are my God,” this is not just “a God” but “my God.” He has a relationship that is personal with this God, and he “earnestly” seeks him. The root of the Hebrew word here denotes the time before sunrise, the morning dawn, or the breaking of day. The KJV translates this as "early will I seek thee." The idea being conveyed here is that the psalmist would pursue God before all else. First and foremost in his life, he would seek God, and he would seek him earnestly – zealously (passion).
His soul thirsts for God, and not only his soul, but also his body (flesh) longs for God. In other words, his whole person is longing for the Lord. David yearns for fellowship with the Lord like the one who thirsts for water in a desert. His surroundings provide the perfect backdrop to the barrenness of his soul – a place that is dry and weary with no sign of water. The desert of Judah is a hostile place – especially in the summer – and we think we had a dry summer! (Pictures) It is desolate without hardly a green thing to be seen. “However, the implication is that the longing which this desolate spot arouses is only the surface of a much deeper desire.”
Have you ever experienced a thirst for God like David is expressing here? Have you been in a dry place spiritually where you needed to sense the presence of God? Pray this psalm! Usually it is the difficult circumstances in our lives to get us to that point of need – as was the case in the life of David – kicked out of the palace by his own son and on the run and restless in the desert.
Second: Recalling the sanctuary (vs. 2-5). The main body of the psalm provides the means by which the David satisfies his thirst for God.
“I have seen you on the sanctuary (holy place), and beheld you power and glory.” In this barren land, David begins to recall his powerful encounters with the Lord and sweet times of worship in the sanctuary back in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word “beheld” was often associated with some sort of vision. It would suggest that David is recalling a vision or some experience he had in the tabernacle in which he had an encounter with God that dramatically revealed his power and glory. He is longing to be in that place of fellowship and worship again.
In fact, these verses are full of the language of worship. Notice the verbs: “my lips shall glorify you; I will praise (bless) you; I will lift up my hands; my soul will be satisfied; I will praise you with singing lips.” Recalling his times of worship in the presence of the Lord in the sanctuary begins to inspire David to begin to rise above his circumstances.
David makes a very important statement in verse 3 – “your love is better than life.” David is being pursued by men who will kill him if they capture him – he is well aware of that. So he is declaring that live or die, the Lord’s love is greater than his possible fate. Every Christian who is persecuted must make this decision. Is God’s love better than my life? Will I sacrifice myself for him and for his love? Or will I deny him when push comes to shove.
David vows that he will praise the Lord as long as he lives, and in his name lift up his hands. “To lift up the hands to heaven was to give the body its share in expressing worship.” “And his praise is not nor will be hidden or silent prayer, but a public display that involves spoken testimony, physical gestures, and joyous singing.” Notice also, the change in the condition of the soul from verse 1. From being dry and thirsty, David’s soul will be satisfied with the choicest of foods (fat and marrow – rich; recalling feasts).
Worship and praise brings satisfaction to the soul. As David recalls his sweet times of worship in the past, he is inspired to worship the Lord even in this difficult place and anticipates his time back in the sanctuary with the Lord feasting before the holy place. The antidote for the spiritual desert is to recall times of worship where the Lord has met you before, and to renew your resolve to worship right now – no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. Those who thirst after God will find their satisfaction in him.
Third: Remembering in the night (vs. 6-8). We’ve all had times of sleeplessness – where we are wide awake and staring at the ceiling. The psalm seems to suggest that this is David’s experience as well – he is not restfully sleeping but fitfully worrying. However, he uses his anxiousness to think, probably meditate on the Lord (murmur, mutter). In the ancient world the night was divided into three watches of four hours each – “through the watches” would suggest he is awake for a good portion of the night. But what he meditates on is very important – he remembers the times that God has been his help, his firm foundation, in the past. And because of that truth, he “sings” in the shadow of God’s wings. This metaphor of the shadow of wings is used often in scripture and is consistently related to issues of care and protection. David has experienced God’s protective covering many times in his past, and as he meditates on them he is strengthened in his present circumstances. Matthew Henry writes: “David was in continual danger; care and fear held his eyes waking, and gave him wearisome nights; but he comforted himself with thoughts of God. The mercies of God, when called to mind in the night watches, support the soul, making darkness cheerful.”
In a final affirmation, David says: “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” The Hebrew word translated as “clings” means to “cleave,” “hold fast,” and is the same word used in Genesis to describe the marriage covenant. Notice again the progression of the soul in this psalm, from thirst, to satisfaction, to clinging to God. But at the same time as David clings to God, God is holding up David with his right hand. One commentator asks: “Who’s holding who here?” As David holds fast to God, the Lord is also holding him up.
Fourth: Reassurance of victory (vs. 9-11). While the theme of these verses takes a sharp turn, they follow the logical progression of the psalm. Out of a desperate thirst for God, David recalls his powerful experiences of worship in the sanctuary and remembers at night the many times God has helped and protected him. This brings him to a new place of reassurance in God’s protection and victory over his enemies. Those who seek his life will be destroyed and go down to the recesses of the earth. And with a couple of pretty graphic images, David claims his enemies will be “given over” to the sword. The Hebrew for “given over” is much more gruesome – literally their lives will “spill out” or “flow” onto the handles of the sword, and they will become a fine meal for wild dogs.
“But the king” (vs.11) – if this is David’s reference to himself, is a phrase that suggests a reassertion of his calling and anointing. His confidence has returned, his kingship reaffirmed, and victory will be secured. So the king will rejoice in God, all those who trust in God will praise him, while the mouth of liars – all the enemies of God and David - will be silenced!
. Those who thirst after God will find their satisfaction in him. Here are some questions to ponder. What am I trying to find satisfaction in? Do I seek God above all other earthly pursuits? Is the love of God better to me than all of life? Would I say yes to that question if my life was on the line?
We also learn from this psalm how to quench our thirst for God when our soul is barren from trying times. We recall the sanctuary – and the times God revealed himself to us in worship, and we remember in the night (dark times) the many times he has helped and protected us in the past. “Memory encourages faith and shows us the faithfulness of God in our lives.” And so in the same way, as Jesus extends to us the elements of the Lord's Supper He says, "Do this in remembrance of Me"
If you’re struggling right now and feel like you are in a spiritual desert, maybe take the advice of the ancient church fathers, and make a commitment to pray or to sing this Psalm every day for a month (no day should pass)... Let it comfort your soul as it did King David’s, and you will find your satisfaction in God.
Sermon: Psalm 73
August 13, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
A writer tells: “A missionary family was visiting my aunt and uncle. When the missionary children were called in for dinner, their mother said, ‘Be sure to wash your hands. Get the germs off.’ The little boy scowled and said, ‘Germs and Jesus; germs and Jesus. That’s all I hear, and I’ve never seen either one of them’!”
I think that we all struggle at times with doubt. Since I can’t see him with my eyes, is God really there? Can I prove that God exists? I don’t believe all doubt is sin – particularly if the doubt comes from a heart that is truly seeking and openly questioning – God is not afraid of your/my questions. There is, however, a kind of doubt that I think is sin – it’s the kind that comes from a heart that is rooted in rebellion and hardened unbelief.
As we were returning from our trip to B.C., we happened to find a preacher on the radio who was preaching on this Psalm that we are going to consider today. He began his message with identifying four primary things that bring doubt into the Christian’s life. The one that pertains most to Psalm 73 is this whole question of suffering. Why is there so much suffering in the world today? If God is sovereign and could put a stop to it, why doesn’t he? And even more troubling to the psalmist – and probably to us – is why does it seem that so often the wicked prosper while righteous suffer? This is a consistent theme all through the OT scriptures – Job, Jeremiah, Psalms and Habakkuk. It is undeniably a troublesome scenario for us and one that is difficult to reconcile with our understanding of God – and it can trigger thoughts of doubt.
The Bible asserts that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Is that not generally true, and is that not a basic paradigm of our belief (Proverbs)? What happens, however, when this “theory” is challenged by practice? Too often, it seems the opposite; we see it is the wicked who prosper, and the righteous who suffer. This is the very issue that the psalmist wrestles with in Psalm 73. So let’s look into it!
First: A case of serious doubt. (vs. 1-3 _Read) The psalm lists Asaph as the author. Asaph was a Levite who was one of the lead music and choir directors in the tabernacle during the time of David. He writes this psalm autobiographically, and relates a period of time in his life when doubt nearly caused him to lose his faith.
He begins the psalm with a general statement of what he believes now: He says, “Surely the Lord is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” But he has not always thought that, which he makes clear in verse 2. “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He uses the imagery of losing his traction and foundation, and falling away from the pathway he was on. It was a slippery slope. He began to doubt God’s goodness and righteousness because of the inconsistency he thought he saw between what he held to be true and what he was experiencing.
This brought to Asaph a crisis of faith, and he frankly confesses the reason for his crisis of faith – envy! He was jealous of the apparent good fortune of the unrighteous – why are they getting all the good things in life? It’s interesting that he admits his doubting God is not because of the suffering of the righteous, but because of his envy of the prosperous.
How many of you have struggled with this? Why does this person who mocks God, who lives in selfishness and even debauchery, have everything they touch turn to gold? Why does it seem that the rebellious are often rewarded and live in opulence? Let me give you a modern example: Hugh Heffner, the founder and kingpin of the Playboy empire is 91 years old and remains in relatively good health. It is said that his net worth is in the range of 43 million dollars, and he lives in luxury in his Playboy mansions. And yet he mocks God, though he claims a Methodist background, he’s had sex with more beautiful women than I suppose he can even remember, and has promoted this lifestyle and philosophy of sexual license through his magazines and clubs for over sixty years. Apparently, his sinfulness has not hurt him too badly! I’m sure there are many other examples that could be cited. So what do we make of this seeming contradiction? Does it make you question God’s justice and righteousness? It did for Asaph.
Second: A complaint against the prosperity of the wicked (4-14). In verses 4-12, Asaph launches into a lengthy complaint to God about the good life of the wicked. (Read) He says, they have no struggles, their bodies are strong and healthy, they are free from the burdens that are common to others, and are not plagued by human ills.” Life for them seems to be a beach!
Because of their ease, they become prideful and violent. Verse 7 is very interesting (problems with Hebrew). The literal Hebrew translation of this verse is “their eyes bulge out with fat.” (Over-abundance – NLT – “These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!”) One commentator says it this way: “The eyes of the wicked ever gloat upon the luxuries around them; and thus, they are bugged out from their fat and bloated faces, ever pompously surveying their possessions.” They also scoff and speak with malice, and with their tongues they instill fear in others by intimidation. In their arrogance, they ask, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” Pretty brazen stuff. They do not deny his existence; simply question his awareness of their activity. In their pride they assume that God could not know their sin because they are getting away with it. His knowledge, then, must be limited.
Asaph summarizes his little rant with this statement: “This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.” This composite picture, while certainly an exaggeration, is supposed to prove that the wicked have everything and lack nothing. For the Hebrew mind, that is exactly the opposite of what should be.
He concludes his section of complaint with little nasty comments that reveal his feeling sorry for himself. Keeping his heart pure and hands clean in innocence have been in vain – all day he is “plagued” - as opposed to the prosperous who are not plagued with problems (vs. 5) - and is punished every morning. One commentator states – To decide that righteous living has been a waste of time is pathetically self-centered – because it is really asking the question, “What did I get out of it?” His complaining has hit rock bottom here – but isn’t this typically human?
Third: A clarity received from revelation (vs. 15-20). Many commentators see this psalm as thematically and structurally in two halves – with verse 15 beginning the second half. There does seem to be a turning point in the heart of Asaph in this verse. He moves from the focus on himself to God’s other children. He realizes that if he had expressed his thoughts and doubts to other Israelites he would have betrayed God’s children – especially as a worship leader in the sanctuary. He could have led many astray – so wisely he keeps his doubts to himself.
As Asaph wrestles with this dilemma between what he believed in theory and what he saw in practice, he says it became too “oppressive” (trouble, misery) to me – made him miserable. However, that was all changed when he entered the sanctuary – the holy place where there is worship of God. It was there in the temple of God that the ultimate truth was revealed to him and understanding came.
Let’s just extrapolate a little on this – this is the second Sunday we’ve seen reference to the sanctuary in the Psalms. Why is it so important for us to attend Sunday worship? We have at least part of the answer in these psalms. The sanctuary refers to the place where God is worshiped. In the OT, it was the place where the Ark of the Covenant sat and God was present – tabernacle (tent), temple. Today, the sanctuary is anyplace where God’s people, who have the HS living in them, gather for the purpose of worshiping God. We are “living stones” (1 Peter) who, when we gather together, become a temple to God. Listen to Ephesians 2: 21-22: “In Him (Jesus) the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together (living stones) to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” When we come together, like we have this morning, we build a sanctuary, a temple in which God dwells by his Spirit. The sanctuary then, is the place where God’s truth is told, where God’s power and glory are manifested, and where God is worshiped. It was the sanctuary that revealed God’s truth to Asaph, and a commentator says: “If we don’t hear the truth in our churches, where will we hear it?” Matthew Henry also writes: “The church must be the resort of the tempted soul.” Don’t run from church when you are struggling in your faith or in your life – run to it!
Asaph gained a new perspective on reality: there is a different destiny for the wicked than for the righteous. We are not told what happen to Asaph in the sanctuary, but somehow God revealed his truth to him, and his questions were resolved. He saw clearly the destiny of the wicked – they were the ones on slippery ground and destruction would come surely and quickly. They will be “completely swept away by terrors!” Not a pretty picture and we are not to gloat over the demise of the wicked – God doesn’t – but the justice of a holy God will be served. While they may be fortunate to live a life of luxury for a season, it is true that often when they fall, they fall fast and they fall hard. Whether they are in government, business, or the underworld, those who traffic in evil will often come to a quick and sudden end.
Fourth: An adjustment of attitude (vs. 21-28), In verses 21-22, Asaph has come full circle; he’s had an attitude adjustment and a change of heart. He realizes that in his embittered state, he was senseless (stupid) and ignorant – like a brute/dumb beast. And yet, God has never left him during his struggle with doubt – and we need to remember this. He has taken Asaph by the hand, has counseled him, and will ultimately take him into his glory.
This knowledge prompts Asaph to ask, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” You are my strength and my portion. (NIV Study) “Though he has envied the prosperity of the wicked, he now confesses that nothing in heaven or on earth is more desirable than God.” All of the wealth; all of the toys and bells and whistles of this world must not distract us from God Himself. “To have God is to have all.”
To finish, Asaph draws a comparison between those far from God and himself who is near. Those far away will be destroyed, as will those who are unfaithful (prostituted) to Him. But for Asaph, it is good to be near God – the prosperity of the wicked no longer matters. Here he rests his case and so must we. (Quote) “Since death is certain and only God stands beyond the grave, the day will come when God Himself will bridge the gulf between the theory of His justice and the practice of justice in this life. Therefore, in light of His final resolution, it is good to draw near to Him now, to rest in Him and then to speak of what He has done.”
In a world where the wicked seem to prosper more than the righteous, the believer's eyes must be fixed on God and his goodness. Here are some questions to think about:
- Do I envy the prosperity and possessions of the wicked?
- Do I ever doubt the goodness of God in my life?
- Do I ever doubt the need for the pursuit of righteousness in life?
- Do I desire God above all earthly possessions?
God, you shower unmerited blessings on those who are pure in heart. Keep us from envying the possessions of those around us. Grant us contentment with what you give us. It is good to be near you in your sanctuary because you are the strength of our heart and our portion forever. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Sermon: Psalm 127
Homes Forged in Faith
August 20, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
“A team of New York state sociologists once attempted to calculate the lasting influence of a father's life upon his children and those who followed in subsequent generations. In this study, two men were researched who lived at the same time in the eighteenth century. The lasting legacies that each man left upon his descendants stand as different as night and day.
The first man was Max Jukes, an unbeliever, a man of no principles. His wife also lived and died in unbelief. What kind of lasting influence did he leave his family? Among the 1,200 known descendants of Max Jukes were: 440 lives of outright debauchery, 310 paupers and vagrants, 190 public prostitutes, 130 convicted criminals, 100 alcoholics, 60 habitual thieves, 55 victims of impurity, and 7 murderers. Not exactly a distinguished legacy.
The other man studied was Jonathan Edwards, the noted Colonial pastor and astute theologian, arguably the greatest preacher and intellect America has ever produced. This renowned scholar was the primary instrument that God used to bring about the Great Awakening in colonial America. Jonathan Edwards came from a godly heritage and married Sarah Pierrepont, a woman of great faith. Together, they sought to leave an entirely different kind of legacy. Among his male descendants were: 300 clergymen, missionaries, or theological professors, 120 college professors, 110 lawyers, over 60 physicians, over 60 authors of good books, 30 judges, 14 presidents of universities, numerous giants in American industry, 3 United States congressmen, and 1 vice-president of the United States. There is scarcely any great American industry that has not had one of Jonathan Edward's descendants among its chief promoters. This was a legacy that lasts, one that honors and glorifies God.”
Psalm 127 brings a strong message on the house that God builds. For a Sunday on which we are going to dedicate three precious children, this seemed like a pretty obvious text of scripture to preach on. It’s a beautiful piece of literature, and offers a biblical perspective of the home. It is a part of a series of Psalms that are subtitled as “A song of ascents.” These are thought to be a collection of songs that the people would sing/recite as they journeyed to Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts. It is identified as a psalm “of Solomon” – so he is probably the author. (David – “for” Solomon) Many consider this a “wisdom” psalm, and it certainly does offer that. And most translations structure the psalm in two stanzas or sections, so they will form the basis of our outline this morning.
First: Unless the Lord (vs. 1-2). It’s apparent that the point of this section of this psalm is that all human effort that does not rely on the power and goodness of God is useless. All our efforts are in vain unless the Lord is in them. Notice the three time repetition of the words “in vain.” In fact, in the Hebrew they are at the beginning of each of the phrases. (Ecclesiastes)
A. In vain the house is built. Without the Lord’s involvement and oversight, the house builders work in vain. The building of a “house” can refer to the actual construction of a dwelling, or to the creation and raising of a family. In the OT it was a common metaphor to speak of a family as a “house.” The point is that God must do it, not that he is out there with a carpenter’s apron, but that he must be involved and consulted and inspire the construction. Without his involvement, all of our plans and efforts are ultimately in vain (worthless, false).
So the house here is the home. Raising a family is futile unless the Lord builds the house. A house that God has built is one where he is invited, where he is honored, where He is worshiped, and where lives are lived that are seeking to please him in every way.
B. In vain the city is guarded. Unless the Lord is the one watching over the city, there can be as many watchmen posted as possible, but there will not necessarily be security. A city is a collection of homes and businesses and in ancient times was often surrounded by a wall for protection. But even with all of our human efforts to make our places of living secure, they will only be secure if God is the one watching them. This is not to say that all of our efforts to make our home secure are a waste of time, but that those efforts alone will be in vane if we do not rely on the Lord for his protection. Charles Spurgeon said, “We are not safe because of watchmen if (God) refuses to watch us.” Our safety and security ultimately come from God, not from our own efforts to protect the city and our property.
C. In vain do you toil long hours. “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat -” This is what we call in contemporary language – “burning the candle at both ends.” Early mornings and late nights and little sleep, scripture is telling us that it is futile to work yourself to death – there is no lasting gain or ultimate purpose. Now this is not meant to “depreciate the importance of hard work, but that it is inferior to the higher way of life that begins with trusting the Lord in one’s work.” One commentary says: “Toiling speaks of feverish activity, rising before sunrise to begin working, coming home late long after the sun has gone down, working long hours to put bread on the table. Without time for God, their food only maintains people in their miserable existence.”
The pace of these workers suggests a high level of anxiety. In fact, the ESV translates this line as “eating the bread of anxious toil.” Since they don’t really trust in God, their labour becomes increasingly futile. On the other hand, the person who trusts in God, while working hard yet within certain set boundaries, lies down at night and sleeps well, believing God will give the increase. When they have done their best, they leave the results to God, and sleep peacefully. There is another reading of this phrase – the NIV has it as a footnote – “for while they sleep he provides for those he loves.” It really seems to fit the context better. The idea is that blessing comes to the faithful even while they sleep – God provides. Work hard, but work reasonably. Here’s another great quote from Spurgeon – “Often when we are doing nothing for ourselves God is doing most.” Spend some time meditating on that.
“The point here is clear: divine sovereignty overshadows human plans and efforts – over building, watching and toiling. It is not to discount human effort, but to emphasize that, apart from God’s intervention, it is vain.” Unless the Lord…build the house.
Second. Blessed the man. (vs. 3-5) The second part of the psalm shifts the focus – from the vanity of trying to build homes apart from God, to one of the primary blessings the Lord imparts to the home. It seems that Solomon now picks up again the theme he began the psalm with – building the house. What we see in these next three verses is the biblical perspective of children:
A. Children are an inheritance. (ESV) “Behold children (sons – NIV) are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Children are an inheritance that we receive from the Lord – something of great value – and they are also a reward. God gives children, not as a penalty, but as a privilege. They are to be received as a highly valued prize, never as a burden.
One of the reasons that we struggle with issues like abortion in this culture is because we have devalued children in general. Often children are seen as inconveniences, burdens and disruptions to our desires and life’s aspirations. We claim they are too expensive, require too much sacrifice, delay our career goals and even get in the way of our recreational pursuits. These all come out of a systemic selfishness. Scripture, however, takes an entirely different view. As Matthew Henry writes: “Children are God’s gifts, a heritage, and a reward; and are to be counted as blessings and not burdens: he who sends mouths, will send meat, if we trust him.”
B. Sons are like arrows – they offer strength and security. This is an interesting metaphor – comparing sons to arrows. Arrows are instruments of death used by warriors to defeat the enemy. How are sons like arrows? Children that are born when the parents are younger can be a great source of comfort and protection in their old age. Children offer security and help as the aging years of their parents march on. They can protect them from those who would prey on the aged. While the military imagery is somewhat difficult to reconcile – “such children protect their aging parents as effectively as arrows in the hands of a warrior.”
Consequently, the more sons the merrier! “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” - the more sons the greater the levels of protection and security. “They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” The city gate in the ancient world was the place where court was held and where much of the commerce took place. The man who comes before the court accompanied by a contingent of strong, strapping sons will not be as easily pushed around by his accusers. They are there to defend the honour of their father if he is slandered in public. The more sons, the stronger will be the father’s presence whether it be a confrontation before the court or in a commercial transaction. Children can and do play an important role in the protection, security and comfort for their aging parents.
So what is your view of children? Do you recognize that some of you own attitudes have been influenced by the culture? Are children always blessings - or just sometimes blessings? If we are willing to let this psalm influence our thinking/attitudes, the answer should be obvious.
( Quote) “In light of Psalm 127 we have a choice to make. We can either rely on our vanity or upon God's energy. We can either fool ourselves into believing that we can control things, or we can surrender our false sense of control to the living God. Here is the promise: if we make the surrender, God will build our house, God will guard our city, God will provide for our needs, and God will reward us with fruitfulness to the next generation. Is there really any choice to make? As we give up control, we will become emotionally and mentally healthy, to say nothing about having God's true perspective on our lives.”
We want to build homes that forged in faith. We want give the Lord our homes and trust him for his protection and blessing. We want to give up our futile attempts to control everything, and we want to see our children as blessings and as the amazing gifts that they are to us. We want to leave a legacy of faith and of godly living.
Today, we celebrate and desire to bless the new children that grace our congregation. We affirm their value and receive them as gifts from God. Their parents are dedicating them to the Lord, so that he would bless them and build their homes and watch over them. It is a solemn vow – a promise to bring them up in the faith – teaching and modeling Jesus Christ to them.
Sermon: Ephesians 5:22-33
Submission? Love? Whose Idea Is This Anyway?
August 27, 2017
25 years. I find that hard to believe. What was life like 25 years ago?
The Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback was a guy named Kent Austin
Roy Romanow had just been elected Premier of Saskatchewan
Brian Mulroney was Prime Minster of Canada. There have been 5 different Prime Ministers since then, so there is hope.
My hairline and my waistline were inversely proportional to what they are now.
And Brendon Galger was getting ready to begin Kindergarten, and I know this because Lori babysat both Brendon and April, and I would have to pick her up from Maxine’s on Saturdays to go out on a date. Usually to a place called Indy’s, if anybody remembers that name.
I know that August is a bit of an odd time to preach a sermon about marriage. Usually, we tend to do this in February around Valentine’s Day. But since we were doing a renewal of our vows today, this has kind of been on my mind a lot. So today, I’m preaching about marriage.
Our scripture passage for today’s message is from Ephesians 5:22-33. I’ll be reading from the NKJV. This is Paul’s description of how the relationship between a husband and wife should be.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body,[b] of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Now, before I unpack that passage of scripture, I think we need to back the truck up a bit and understand why it is that we should even pay attention to that. I mean, really, who does Paul think he is to tell us how to act within marriage? He was just a man, wasn’t he? And, so far as we know, he wasn’t even married. So, what authority does he have?
Well, the fact is that this passage from Ephesians is included in the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Bible in its original form is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. If you read the core values and the statement of faith for this church, you’ll see just how seriously we take the authority of scripture. That means that scripture, including this passage, has authority in our lives.
Now, specifically, why does Scripture have authority over marriage? This is a great question because a lack of understanding of the answer to this question has let to an extreme confusion in our society today, even in some churches who no longer respect the authority of scripture. They think that man gets to define what marriage is in any way we choose. The fact is that we can take our instruction about marriage from Scripture because Scripture was written by the One who invented marriage in the first place.
Turn with me if you will to Genesis chapter 2 verse 18. Beginning there, we read, And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Skipping down to verses 21 through 24, we read, 21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
So, you see, God gets to define what marriage is because He’s the one who invented it in the first place. So He gets to make the rules for it. And He defined it as one biological man to one biological woman, and any other definition is just sinful man’s misplaced ideas, and it’s just wrong, plain and simple. And because God invented it, and He gets to define it, so He can instruct us in it. And that brings us back to the book of Ephesians. So let’s go back and unpack that.
Wives Submit to Husbands
Ephesians 5:22-24 says, 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Now, I’m going to say it again… I didn’t make the rules, I’m just reciting from the rule book, so don’t shoot the messenger.
So, what does it mean to submit? Ladies, does it mean that you are supposed to just be some kind of door mat, to be walked on and trampled on whenever your husband decides he’s going to lord it over you? Absolutely not. If your husband is treating you that way, then he is in error when it comes to God’s instructions about marriage, and I’ll be dealing with him in just a moment.
But for now, let’s talk about this word “submission” which seems to get some people all lathered up and ready to rumble. What is submission, anyway?
Well, when I tried researching this term in the context of Ephesians 5:22, I found all kinds of politically correct mumbo-jumbo that defined submission as anything but submission.
But I think Webster’s 1828 dictionary got it right when it defined the word “submit” in this way: To yield, resign or surrender to the power, will or authority of another.
There’s no shame in that. We all submit in one way or another. Here at LEF, I submit to Pastor Dennis. He is my boss. At my regular day job, I submit to a boss. That’s the way life is. Hierarchy provides order. It doesn’t mean that I am inferior to Pastor Dennis, or my boss at my other job. But without that hierarchy, there would be chaos. Verse 23 says that the husband is the head of the wife. I’m sorry, but that’s what it says. Anything with two heads is a monster. But men, just remember, that with leadership comes responsibility… this is not a license to be an ogre, and rest assured, you will be held accountable by God Himself, as we will see in just a little bit.
The other thing we need to note is that this is a direct instruction to wives. “Wives, submit to your husbands.” There is nothing conditional about this statement. It is what it is, and wives are to submit to their husbands because God commanded it.
The only exception to this that I could see is if the husband were to ask the wife to do something illegal, immoral, or in some way a violation of God’s law. For example, in Acts chapter 5, the high priest instructs the apostles that they were not to teach in Jesus’ name. But in verse 29, we read, 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
So, does this mean that the wife has no input into anything? Not at all. In my marriage, for example, I need Lori’s input and feedback. She is my helpmeet. Every decision I make is better because of her input. Sometimes we disagree, but her opinions always give me a different perspective to consider, and I treasure her for that.
So, wives, submit to your husbands, because it is God’s will that he be the head.
Husbands Love Your Wives
Ok, guys, now it’s your turn. Verse 25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
Husbands, love your wives. Period. This, too, is an unconditional command by God. It doesn’t say, “love your wives as long as she shows you respect.” It doesn’t say, “love your wives as long as she obeys your every order without question.” No, it says “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Remember the definition of love from 1 Corinthians? 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor 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.
Men, do those things and you will be loving your wives.
Guys, Christ died on the Cross for the church. Are you giving yourself up for your wife? Do you love your wife enough that you would die for her? Do you love your wife enough that you would die to yourself for her? It’s more than just going to work to pay the bills.
I’m saying, are you man enough to carry her purse down the street in Langenburg in front of your friends if her hands are full? Are you willing to take the garbage out without being asked? Consider the One who was the greatest leader of all. In Mark 9:35, Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
I remember being at a Promise Keepers event in Regina back in 2002. Steve Masterson from Promise Keepers said something so profound that it has impacted my marriage ever since. He said, “How many of you men out there have young daughters?” I put up my hand. Masterson said, “Your little girl is going to grow up to marry somebody who treats them exactly the same way you treat their mother.”
That hit me like a ton of bricks. I have opened a lot of car doors over the years. I have learned that it’s ok to get wet in order to bring the car right up to the door when it is raining. I have learned to know when she is cold and give her my jacket. Chivalry is not dead. You think my daughters aren’t looking? Pity the poor dude who thinks he’s going to take my girls’ hearts without having to earn it. And folks, the bar is set high! And quite frankly, there are few feelings as good as seeing some other couple in a parking lot watching me open Lori’s door for her, and then the lady in the other couple just stands there with her arms crossed, not moving, while her guy looks at her and says… “what?”
And guys, a word of caution in case you think that God doesn’t take this seriously. Flip over to 1 Peter 3:7. Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
I’m telling you right now, that if you don’t treat her with love… if you don’t cherish her like a daughter of the King, then even the effectiveness of your prayers is at risk.
Guys, get a copy of the book, “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, and learn how to love your wives. Ladies, that’s good reading for you, too.
So love her, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
Washing by the Word
Ok, next up, verses 26 and 27: husbands are to sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
Men, YOU are to be the spiritual leaders in your home. YOU are to wash her with the Word. YOU are to help her be holy and without blemish. YOU are to establish the spiritual habits like praying before meals. Like family devotions. And if you aren’t doing any of this yet, then the place where you need to start being the spiritual leader in your home is to be the spiritual leader of YOU. Read the Bible. Get into the Word and learn how to apply it in your life. Develop a habit of prayer. And get rid of any habits or behaviours that separate you from God. The spiritual well-being of your wife and your family is YOUR responsibility, guys. And there’s no point arguing with me about it. You will never have to stand before me and be accountable. But you will stand before God. And you will take accountability before Him.
There are a lot of women who do a fantastic job in this area, but the truth is that the responsibility for the spiritual health of the family belongs to the husband.
Love Her As Your Own Body
Now we come to verses 28-30. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body, of His flesh and of His bones.
Men, we need to consider that our wives are an extension of ourselves. Our wives are not the enemy. Turn with me to Ephesians 6:12. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Who is the enemy? Not our wives. The devil is the enemy. He hates our marriages, he hates our families, and he hates us. He would like nothing better than for husbands and wives to hate each other.
The fact of the matter is, when we love our wives (and I mean love as in doing something about it, not just feeling the emotion of love), when we love our wives, we are loving ourselves. As the saying goes, Happy Wife, Happy Life. I know that’s pretty simplistic, but the reality is that when we make sure that the deep needs of our family members are satisfied, our quality of life improves as well.
Leave Mom & Dad… One Flesh
Ok, I’m running out of time here, so we need to move along. Verse 31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
This is actually a direct quote from Genesis 2:24, which we’ve already heard today. Men, we are to be the heads of our own homes. Focus on the Family has an entire section on their website dedicated to helping marriages survive their brushes with in-laws. Now, nobody in their right mind would intentionally sabotage their children’s marriage, but the reality is that Focus on the Family wouldn’t need this section of their website if it wasn’t an issue. Husbands and wives, set healthy boundaries that your parents are not allowed to cross. And parents of married children, you need to be respectful of your child’s marriage if you want to leave a legacy of blessing.
And the two becoming one flesh? Besides the basic biology that proves that out, I heard a great analogy of this, again at a Promise Keepers event many years ago. Imagine two sheets of plywood. Take the strongest wood adhesive that you can get and literally paint it onto one of the sheets of plywood so that it is completely covered. Then, put the sheets of plywood together and secure them with many clamps.
Come back a week later, and try to separate those sheets of plywood. You can’t. Not without inflicting severe damage on both of them. For all intents and purposes, they are now one.
Christ and the Church
Verse 32 - 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
I am talking about Christ and the Church. Marriage is to be an illustration of God’s love for the Church. Hierarchy; submission; love; sacrifice. It’s all there.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Christ refers to himself as the Bridegroom.
In Matthew 25, Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom in the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
Revelation 19:9 Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’”
Folks, Christian marriage is supposed to demonstrate to unbelievers the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church. I have to ask myself: Both inside and outside of these doors, what do people think when they see and hear Lori and I interact? What do they hear when we are talking about each other when we are apart? Is your wife, “the old lady”, or “that battle-axe?” Is your husband, “the old goat,” or worse? What testimony does our marriage display?
Love and Respect
Finally, in verse 33, Paul summarizes his instructions by saying, However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Love and respect. Is that really what it comes down to? When you boil it all down, that’s a pretty clear statement. I’d recommend the book “Love & Respect” by Elmer Eggerichs. Dr. Eggerichs does a great job of really fleshing out this thought.
I want to conclude with this: nobody here can change the past. I can’t, and you can’t. I’ve made mistakes in my marriage, and perhaps you have as well. Maybe your marriage seems so far gone that you think it’s too late. Maybe divorce has already occurred, or maybe you are widowed and it’s too late to change the course of your marriage. I’m not here to be your judge. My intent today was to strengthen existing and future marriages. My prayer for you is that you take heart in Romans 8:1, which says Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Jesus Christ has the power to forgive, the power to heal, and the power to make all things new. If you are here today and you don’t have a personal relationship with the One who can save you and your marriage, then please come and speak with Pastor Dennis or myself after the service. We would love to have the chance to pray with you.
Sept 3, 2017
The Moral Minority - Living a Godly Life in a Godless Environment
Pastor Dennis Elhard
True believers find themselves in the minority in this fallen world—the few on the narrow path that leads to life. Consequently, they face a growing number of unbelievers who stand in firm opposition to the cause of righteousness. A number of years ago Jerry Falwell began a movement in the U.S. called the Moral Majority through which he attempted to politically motivate what he believed were the majority of Americans who would subscribe to a Judeo-Christian ethic. He did achieve some success, since Americans are more conservative morally that Canadians. However, the last US election revealed a country now deeply divided politically and morally.
As believers in Canadian society today, we can often feel this pressure of being in a minority position – a moral minority – and especially because our culture is actually more post-Christian than the US. Our current Prime Minister was quoted as saying (before being PM): “Evangelical Christians are the worst part of Canadian society” - so we know where he is coming from! Our unpopularity largely comes from our intolerance of unrighteousness, and our belief in the authority and inspiration of scripture.
Psalm 12 seems to be written in the same kind of climate. The righteous were losing ground and the ungodly were calling the shots. David, too, has the same feelings of being in the “moral minority.” All around him talk is cheap, things are deteriorating and truth is in short supply. What do we do when we find ourselves in this situation? It’s not a comfortable place to be. Well, we do what David did, we turn to God. This psalm teaches us that, When believers find themselves in the minority, they should pray to the Lord trusting in his promises and protection. So let’s turn our attention to the text itself:
First: Cry for deliverance (vs.1-2). Many commentators categorize this as a psalm of community lament. David is clearly lamenting the situation he is observing and within his cry is an element of complaint. His complaint is grounded on the fact that the godly people are “no more” and the faithful – as in faithful to God – have vanished. Now, of course, he’s using exaggeration here, not all the godly have disappeared, but it feels that way when it is evident that they are diminishing. So he is crying out to God for help (lit. Save, deliver).
In the vacuum left behind, the climate is one of deception and lying – even between neighbors. “Their flattering lips speak with deception.” The NIV here obscures the Hebrew, which reads, “their flattering lips speak with a heart and a heart.” In other words, they speak with a double heart and a double mind. A double heart is a conflicted heart where what is spoken is not what one necessarily really thinks or means – they hide the real truth. Flattering lips refer to smooth talk – the kind of talk that intends to deceive, to manipulate, and to stroke the ego. Empty talk, smooth talk and double talk are all in view here. They are the inappropriate and illegitimate use of the gift of language. The wicked disobey God with their tongues – they pervert and twist the truth. David cries out to the Lord for deliverance and laments this deplorable climate.
Second: Call for judgment (vs. 3-4). Because he is incensed by those would manipulate language and thus obscure truth, the psalmist calls for a punishment worthy of the crime. He mourns that the nation had become a society of braggarts and calls on God to cut off these flattering lips and boastful tongues. The psalmist’s never shy away from calling on God to bring about swift punishment on their enemies – and at times it seems pretty graphic (crude?) to our modern sensibilities. But in David’s mind, drastic action was needed – however, whether he is speaking literally here or using hyperbole is unclear.
What is clear is the arrogance of these boastful tongues. “The real evil of these people is now exposed. Their boast ‘We will triumph (prevail) with our tongues; we own our lips – who is our master?’ is a claim to autonomy. This is in stark contrast to God's word to Moses, ‘Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord’?” This claim is the height of human boastfulness – I’m the master of my destiny and through my speech / my words, I will exercise power to control and prevail – who is our master?” (rhetorical) “The ungodly man is convinced that he may make any claim, tell any lie, voice any deception and not stand under judgment for his actions.” But we are responsible for our words, our lips are not our own, because we ourselves are not our own. In David’s mind, the blatant arrogance of these claims calls for the severest of judgment from God.
Third: The Lord’s promising response (vs. 5-6). The psalmists call for judgment elicits a response from the Lord. Because of the devastation of the weak and the groaning of the needy, the Lord will rise up. It appears that the weak and the needy are, in fact, the godly and faithful people of verse one who have been exploited by the deceivers.
The injustice rallies the Lord to action and he makes this promise, “I will now protect them from those who malign them.” There are two possible readings for this line. The Hebrew word translated in the NIV as “malign” literally means “to breathe out,” or blow.” In the negative sense it can refer to sneering or maligning (KJV: puff). Other translations prefer a more positive sense – that breathing out refers to “panting” – and by extension, “longing.” Thus, the ESV renders the line: “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” Whichever maybe the best translation, the main point remains – the Lord promises to rise up against those who oppress the righteous, and to bring them to a place of safety / protection (m/o: salvation).
Verse 6 provides a stark contrast between the words (promises) of the Lord and the words of the godless. The words of the godless have been described as lies, as deception, as boastful, and as having the power to exercise control – to prevail over the weak and needy. On the other hand, the words of the Lord are “flawless.” The idea behind the Hebrew word here is “pure,” or “free from impurity.” David uses the metaphor of the refining process for silver – God’s word is so pure it is like silver that has gone through the refining process seven times. Typically, the refining would only require a few times, seven times is overkill. But seven is the Hebrew number of perfection, and so refers to something completely/perfectly purified. “Here God's words are ‘pure’—trustworthy, true, and lasting; they are eternal. When we learn, study, and obey them we are building solidly and the results will endure the testing fire.” Scripture teaches: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away."
Fourth: Confidence of protection (vs. 7-8). In verse 7 we see the assurance of David rising in light of God’s promises. Because God’s word is so flawless, he has faith that the Lord will watch over his people, and that he will guard them from “such people forever” (lit. this generation). So this is an eternal promise of protection. This confidence and comfort “lies in God’s protection from an evil generation – therefore our hope lies in the Lord and in his sovereignty.” The words of the godless are empty; the words of the Lord are pure silver.
Verse 8 brings a surprising finish, and this verse really jumped off the page for me – it’s probably the main reason I speaking on this psalm today. Listen again: “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured among (the sons of) men.” Is this not a defining statement of our culture today? Is this not a truism that is constantly in our face? We are regularly confronted by the many “pride” parades of our day, where people “strut about” gleefully celebrating what scripture says is sin. But now it is in vogue to honour and legitimize these lifestyles - having the full support of the media which is infatuated with their cause. There are many other things as well that scripture takes a dim view on, but which our culture “freely struts about.” When choice is honoured more than human life, when love of money is honoured more than human need, when sexual licence is valued more than chastity, and when human pride is honoured more than humility. When these things are honoured in a culture, sin is on parade!
It is interesting that this psalm ends where it began – by presenting a world where God’s enemies are dominant and the righteous are few – the moral minority. In a sense David revisits his original complaint, only now with a different perspective. David believed that God would safeguard him as well as other believers from the wicked who were strutting about as the majority. And yet while God has promised his safety and protection, he has not removed all sin and distress. The climate of living as a minority continues to exist. We are called to trust in his promises; to have confidence in his protection, even when evil seems to totally dominate. This is the kind of world that I believe we are living in today – where Judeo-Christian worldviews and values are eroding away, and we are dismissed as irrelevant and just barely tolerated.
So how should the godly live in a godless society? Since truth will always be in a minority, we must fix our eyes on God, who alone is truth. We may find ourselves in situations where we may have to stand alone for righteousness. As Charles Colson asks, “Who Speaks for God?” Would we be the one willing to stand for truth? God promises protection in this psalm.
The believer must also (quote) “study the Scripture, knowing that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. In the midst of increasing apostasy, all Christians must be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures. Only God's Word can make us strong in the faith and enable us to live holy lives in the midst of a godless culture.”
This psalm is also about words – the deceitful, destructive words of the godless, as compared with the pure unfailing word of God. We use words to destroy, to deceive and to manipulate, and to sell. “Our world is like David's. We live in an age of unprecedented manipulation through mass communications. The female body is used to sell every imaginable product. We are assured that we will be sexy, sociable, and successful by purchasing things to enhance our odor or our ardor.” Lawyers and politicians use and twist words to say things that they were not intended to mean. There is incredible power in our words – they can be used to edify or to tear down. How are you using you using your words – are they a source of blessing, or are you like the godless in the psalm – deceiving, boasting, and destroying others? It might be worth our while to take an inventory of how we make use of our lips and tongues.
When believers find themselves in the minority, they should pray to the Lord trusting in his promises and protection. In a world where the ungodly are the majority, talk is cheap and words are used to manipulate and deceive. We also find ourselves outside of the cultural values of the day. Church, this is the world we are living in – but instead of wringing our hands in dismay, we are to pray and trust in God’s words – they are as pure silver – and his promises never fail. He is still seated on the throne.
Sept 10, 2017
Carriers of Stones
Pastor Dennis Elhard
“Lillian Dickson, missionary in Formosa, served a particular village needing a church building. She asked every Christian in the village to make a commitment to carry a certain number of stones each day from the river. As each person sacrificed time and effort to select appropriate stones and carry them to the building site, the church was built.” Church building, whether it means building up the body or an actual structure, requires the participation of everyone involved. It requires time, energy, money – and in the case of a building, sweat.
Today we stand on the threshold of another major decision with possible far-reaching implications. In my mind, there have been far too many of these decisions in the last six or so years, but they have often been the result from a good thing – growth. So I want to spend a few moments this morning trying to get biblical perspective of all this – and to be honest this is as much for my benefit as yours.
I am using as a text today a portion from a small book that goes by the name of the OT prophet who wrote it – Haggai. And to help us understand his words, I need to give you some of the context. Haggai was a prophet of God who lived during the time when the Jewish exiles in Babylon had been allowed to return to their homeland in Israel. Israel had been kept in captivity for seventy years, and their release is an amazing story of the miracle working hand of God who controls all history. After the exiles returned to Israel (50,000), they had initially set out to repair the temple which the Babylonians had destroyed. They first rebuilt the altar so they could resume the daily sacrifices and then successfully laid the foundation. However, opposition from their neighbors rose up and they convinced the King of the day to order the Jews to stop their work. Approximately 16 years has passed since the foundation was successfully completed and nothing further has happened. The prophet Haggai receives the Word of the Lord to motivate the Israelites to resume the work to complete the temple. We want to consider two important aspects of Haggai’s message that are pertinent to our situation today:
First: God will build it (1: 1-15). We need to have the faith and the confidence that God will build what he wills. Ultimately, this decision is God’s decision, he is the builder, and we are the carriers of the stones.
A. The rebuke of misplaced priorities (1-11: Read). The message of the Lord is addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor, and to Joshua, the high priest. “These (This) people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built’.” They obviously had not inquired of the Lord about that! So why did they assume that? Maybe because of the lack of resources they were experiencing or from fear – but the text seems to suggest it was more the result of misplaced priorities. Apparently they had managed to find the resources to build their own houses. If it is not the time to build the Lord’s house, which lies in ruins, is it then a time to be living in your own fine paneled houses? The Hebrew word for “paneled” can refer to a covering of some sort – a roof or wall covering – seems to suggest something decorative and/or comfortable. The claim of the people was really only an excuse – their priorities were all wrong – instead of tending to God’s business, they attended to their own. Instead of building His house, they built their own.
The problem of misplaced priorities had produced some very specific consequences. The Lord says through Haggai, “Give careful thought to your ways.” (“Consider your ways” - ESV) This must’ve been a favorite expression of Haggai’s because he repeats it 5 times in this short book. They were to carefully consider their predicament. The harvests had been poor, there was barely enough to eat and drink (drunk?), clothes were in short supply, and the economy in general was in the tank. In spite of that, God calls then to start gathering the resources necessary to begin the build – so that He could “take pleasure in it and be honored.”
The connection is then made specific between the poor economy and the lack of motivation to build the temple. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little...Why? - because of my house which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” God had “called for a drought” in order to wake the people out of their complacency. (Quote) “Haggai describes a people who have lost their vision and have come to comfortable terms with leaving God’s work undone.” They are in a place of scarcity because of misplaced priorities.
B. The response (12-15: Read). The response of the leaders and people seems immediate. How did they respond? “They obeyed the voice of the Lord their God,” “they feared the Lord” and they got to work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all responded to the Lord this way? Because of their response, the Lord says “I am with you” and he stirred up the spirits of the leaders and of all the people. When the people changed their priorities, God promised his presence, his provision, and his protection – “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
God will build it. There are a number of principles in this section that point to getting our priorities straight and putting God first in our lives, but I want to put the focus on God’s role in building his kingdom and his church. The promise to the obedient Israelites was that God would be with them. The job gets done when we surrender ourselves to him. Yeah we do most of the sweat equity, but the success of the build is ultimately in his hands. He will build whatever he wills to build. You and I need to grasp this truth in this season of this church.
Second: God will bless it (vs. 2: 1-9: Read). What God builds, he blesses. When we obey and work for him, he will bless his people and his church. I think that we can say with confidence that we have experienced that in this congregation!
Sometimes, however, there will be the need for encouragement. About a month after the work resumed on the temple, a spirit of discouragement had already fallen on some of the people. To the “old-timers,” the ones who had seen the original temple built by Solomon, it was evident this rebuild was going to be far inferior – it seemed like “nothing” in comparison. They mourned for the grandeur of the first temple – it had truly been a wonder in the ancient world, and had taken almost 200,000 workmen approximately 7 years to build. Ezra reports a similar response of the elders to the laying of the second foundation (Ezra 3: 11-13).
Sometimes we need encouragement, and the Lord supplies it with the three time repetition of “be strong” (Joshua) and work – and then for the second time reminds them, “For I am with you.” God’s presence was his covenant with Israel, and so they should not fear (enemies, circumstances) – I will give you my presence, my provision and my protection.
God knew well that this new temple would lack the grandeur and beauty of the first, but that’s really not what is important him – the temple he desires is one fashioned from the hearts of his people gathered in his presence. Even so, he made this promise – he would shake the heavens, the earth, and the nations, and when the “desired of all nations” comes, I will fill this house with my glory. Many believe that the desired One is messianic – a reference to the coming of Christ to this temple at his first coming and again at his second. The promise is this: While this temple may seem unimpressive now, all the silver and gold belong to God, and the glory of this house will one day far outweigh the glory of Solomon’s temple. And when Jesus comes again, the Prince of Peace, there will peace in Jerusalem forevermore.
In spite of what the new temple looked like in comparison to the old, God promised to bless and filled it with his glory. When God builds it and his people remain faithful, he will bless it. I will fill this house with my glory, all of the wealth is mine, and this house will be greater that the glory of the former house – now that’s blessing!!
Now what we need to ask ourselves today is this – is the greater glory of God referring to bigger and better buildings, or is it referring to the presence of God manifested in the people of God gathered together in worship – which is the temple of the New Testament.
Some of you may be thinking that I have preached this message in order to encourage you to vote in favor of the Hoffman proposal. That was not really my intent or purpose, and even some of the content of this message was not even that pertinent to the decision at hand - but I included it because it was valuable anyway. You see, the two principle truths of this message: God will build it; God will bless it – I believe to be true whether we end up staying in this building or moving to the School. Even if we stay in this building, if we remain faithful to our God and to our calling, he will continue to build and his kingdom and bless his church. These, I believe – are truisms regardless of our physical facility. Buildings are primarily tools – tools to help us accomplish our mission. So if you believe that our mission will be better served by acquiring this school, it should be pretty obvious where your vote should go. However, if you do not feel that way, you are not limiting God with your vote. We do not limit God or his purposes by the size of our buildings – he will continue to build and bless – and he will make a way for that to happen. I’m not trying to influence your vote one way or another; I only don’t want you to cast your vote for the wrong reasons.
As we saw from our text today, what God really wants from us is right priorities and to put his interests above our own. This is worship and faith from the heart; it’s what he most desires from us. When God sees the church, he sees people, and whenever they are faithful and surrendered to him with soft hearts, he will build and bless his church – our work is just to carry the stones.
September 24, 2017
2 Cor 4:4
A Reasonable Faith – Part 1
Pastor Bryan Watson
Good morning. Our scripture passage for this morning is 2 Corinthians 4:4. This should be quite familiar to any of you who were here throughout the summer. In fact, whenever I read it it’s always Jesse’s voice that I hear now. Go ahead and read it out loud with me:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Lies are dangerous things. The purpose of a lie is to convince somebody to believe something that isn’t true. Anything that isn’t true is dangerous. I remember being in Minneapolis one time when my GPS told me a lie. I knew it didn’t seem right, and had I followed the GPS in that case, I would have ended up somewhere that I didn’t want to go.
If a lie is told skillfully enough, it can even result in a physical reaction based on something that isn’t real. Let me give you a real-life example:
One night several years ago, I got up in the middle of the night to get a drink. While I’m in the kitchen, the smell of fresh bread and buns remind me that Lori had done some baking earlier that day. So, I’m minding my own business with a glass of cold milk in my hand, when suddenly, a thought pops into my mind. You know what would make that glass of milk better? A fresh bun. Go ahead. You know you want to. You deserve it. And SHE’S sleeping. She’ll never know! She probably didn’t even count them.”
So, after putting up a resistance for about 2 seconds, I reached into the bag and swiped a fresh bun. Leaving the kitchen light off so as to not expose my secret, because secrets LOVE darkness, I carefully shuffled my way over to the knife drawer and ever so gently slid it open. Feeling my way across the different handles, I finally found the bread knife and removed it from the drawer.
Holding the bun in my left hand, and the blade in my right, I anxiously performed surgery on the bun, in the blackness of the midnight kitchen.
Suddenly, I felt the edge of the blade pass through the other side of the bun, and into my bare palm. Certain that I had nearly amputated my own hand, I knew that I was in trouble. I tried to make my way to the bathroom so that I could contain the bleeding in the sink, but I didn’t make it. Although I was already in near total darkness, I could feel my sense of vision quickly disappearing, while the night-time noises of the house faded away into the distance. I was about to pass out.
After what seemed like an eternity of sitting on the floor, I could slowly feel my senses coming back. After gaining some strength back, I knew that I needed to turn the light on and assess the stump at the end of my arm, and the mess I had made. Struggling to my feet, still trying to elevate my hand, I felt for the light switch with my elbow. At last, the presence of the light brought truth to the dire situation. And the truth was…, I didn’t even break the skin.
Folks, I was convinced that I was bleeding to death, when I hadn’t even suffered a scratch. Such is the power of a lie when there is nothing but darkness to conceal it.
So today, I want to discuss some lies of the devil that masquerade themselves as intellectualism, when what these lies are really doing is preventing people from coming to Christ. I want to show you why Christianity is a reasonable faith.
Now, some of the lies I am going to point out may sound familiar if you were here last week to watch the video that Pastor Dennis presented. But it felt right to me that this would be a follow up to what we saw last week. And I’m grateful to Thomas Simcox from the Friends of Israel whose excellent work contributed to the development of this message.
So, let’s get into it, shall we?
Lie #1: There is no God.
It’s hard to show people that they need a Saviour if they don’t believe in God in the first place. As we saw in the video last week, if all we are is stardust, and we are on our way back to becoming dust, then who cares? But Scripture says, “The fool has said in his heart , ‘There is no God.’” (Ps 14:1).
How big of a fool do you have to be to NOT believe that there is a God? Well, look at this picture of the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Those two constellations, so brilliant, and so similar, work together to provide navigation to us here on earth. Look at how perfect they look from our vantage point. Do you really think that is an accident? A freak of nature? That’s as absurd as saying that this Thomas Kinkade painting just happened to be an accident. I don’t think so.
Have you ever noticed how the Big Dipper is so easy to spot in the night sky? Look at how the stars from the Big Dipper line up to point to the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper. That star is Polaris, the North Star. For thousands of years, people have used that star for navigation. Just how precise is it?
Now, when we look up at the night sky, both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper appear 2-dimensional. They have no depth that we can see. But the reality is, they are 3 dimensional in nature.
Each of the stars in both constellations vary in brightness and distance from the earth. What this means is that Planet Earth is the only place in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE in which the Big Dipper and Little Dipper are visible in their constellations, and only place in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE that can use them for navigation.
And if that were the ONLY argument for the existence of God, it should be enough. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.”
Lie #2: The Bible is merely myths written by men
It’s hard to convince people that they need to live by the authority of scripture if they don’t believe that the Bible is anything but a collection of fairy tales. What the Bible teaches about morality and accountability to a Holy God is completely meaningless if there was no divine inspiration behind it.
How do we know that the Bible is reliable? Well, let’s look at the New Testament for a moment. How do we know that over the course of 2,000 years, and multiple translations, that it still says what it said back then?
Consider the writings of Plato. Plato wrote between 427 and 347 BC. But the oldest manuscripts available are from 900 AD. That’s a gap of over 1200 years between the original writings and the oldest manuscript available today. And how many of these manuscripts exists today? 7.
What about Homer’s Iliad? This was written in 900 BC, with the oldest manuscript being from 400 BC. That’s a gap of only 500 years, and there are a whopping 643 manuscripts in existence today.
How do these writings compare to the New Testament? Well, the New Testament was written between 40 and 100 AD. The oldest manuscript is from 125 AD. That’s a gap of only 25 years, and we have more than 24,000 manuscripts available! I think it’s safe to say that the New Testament that we have today is a pretty accurate copy of the original New Testament documents.
But what about historical accuracy? Even if the copies are accurate, is what they tell us accurate as well? Well, the following non-Christian first-century historians have confirmed the life and execution of Jesus Christ:
- Cornelius Tacitus
- Lucian of Samosata
- Flavius Josephus
- Pliny the Younger
- Mara Bar-Serapion
- and references in the Talmud.
What about archaeological evidence? What do we see there?
Isaiah 20:1 makes a reference to the Assyrian king, Sargon. Critics once claimed that Sargon never existed. Well, while excavating Khorsabad, this relief of Sargon and another dignitary was found.
What about the Babylonian king Belshazzar? It was Belshazzar who was king when Daniel interpreted the mysterious writing on the wall for him in the book of Daniel. Once again, skeptics denied the very existence of Belshazzar. After all, if we can dismiss Belshazzar, then we can dismiss miraculous stories like the “Writing on the Wall.” Rather than Belshazzar, it was commonly thought that a man named Nabonidus was that last King of Babylon.
In fact, up until 1854, the Book of Daniel was the only place where the name of Belshazzar was even mentioned. In 1854, a clay cylinder was found at Ur. <© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons> This cylinder, called the Nabonidus Cylinder, contained Nabonidus’ prayer to the moon god for “Belshazzar, the eldest son – my offspring.” So, Belshazzar was a real person after all, in the line of the Kings of Babylon, JUST LIKE DANIEL SAID. Even more evidence of Belshazzar’s rule was found in 1882, in the form of the Nabonidus Chronicle Tablet. This tablet explains that Nabonidus was actually away from Babylon when the Persians took over (as Daniel predicted), and Belshazzar was ruling in his father’s absence at the time.
King Hezekiah and Sennacherib
I’ll give you one more example from the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 19, we read about the King Hezekiah and his confrontation with the Assyrian King, Sennacherib. Sennacherib has Jerusalem surrounded, but Hezekiah prays, and an angel strikes down the Assyrian army.
Well, the artifact that you see here is called the Sennacherib Prism. <wikimedia.org> Discovered among the ruins of Ancient Nineveh in 1830, the prism contains the boast of Sennacherib that he had King Hezekiah trapped in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage.” Funny thing about kings and dictators… they don’t really like to mention their failures.
Examples from the New Testament
So, is there any archaeological evidence that supports the New Testament?
Well, this stone, found in Caesarea, is called the “Pilate Inscription”, ©2011 Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com It refers to Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea. This is remarkable evidence for the existence of Pontius Pilate, the man who ordered the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The Gospel of John describes a man being healed by Jesus at the Pool of Bethesda. John describes the pool has having 5 porticos. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that this pool was discovered, so skeptics often pointed to this as evidence that John’s Gospel was not historically accurate.
I could point to many other references to historical people and places and events that have been confirmed through archaeological finds, such as coins or buildings. But I think in these few minutes that I have demonstrated that there is enough evidence to believe that the Bible is reliable. If we can believe what it says about these details, then we can believe its other claims as well. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Lie #3: I’ll get to heaven my way (I’m a good person)
Throughout the course of human history, people have been under the illusion that they are going to get to heaven on their own merit. If they do enough good deeds, they will score enough points to get to Heaven. If they live a good enough life, they will be reborn into another physical body, closer to perfection than they were before, until they reach Nirvana. If the amount of good that they do outweighs the bad that they do, then God will declare them good enough, and let them in.
This type of thinking reminds me of a joke I once heard about a man who died and approached the Pearly Gates. St. Peter told him that he had to test people with the point system. If the man got to 100 points he could enter. The man told Peter that he gave to the poor. Peter marked him down for 3 points. The man thought again, then said that he tithed. Peter added one point. The man, desperately searching his memory, finally said that he never cussed. Peter added 1/2 a point. By now the man got very frustrated and said that at this rate he could only get in by the grace of God. Peter replied, "Come on in!
In John 3:36, John the Baptist, when asked about Jesus, says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Later on, in John 14:6, Jesus Himself says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
You know, in this politically correct age of inclusivity, that sounds pretty exclusive. If Jesus and John the Baptist said those things today, I’m sure there would be lawsuits from the offended, and damages sought over the hurt feelings.
Is it reasonable to believe what Jesus and John the Baptist said? Because on the surface, it sounds unreasonable. It sounds unreasonable that God would not accept our points system, our good deeds, or our good intentions as the price of admission into Heaven. Doesn’t He know that we are good people? What kind of insecure, self-serving, vindictive God would send a kindly little Grandma to hell simply because she didn’t satisfy His ego by worshiping Him? Who would want to worship a God like that? Well, not me. And probably not you, either.
So, why would Jesus say that about Himself if it wasn’t to satisfy His own thirst for control?
Well, for starters, what do we know about God? God is light. He is perfect light. In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
What do we know about sin? Sin is darkness. John 3:19-20 says, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
We know that sin cannot exist in God’s presence any more than darkness can remain when the light is turned on. The two cannot mix.
And despite our own opinions about how much our good deeds outweigh our bad, the fact is that according to Romans 3:23, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 1 John 1:8 reinforces that when it says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
God, in His wisdom, knew all this. In His justice, He required a blood sacrifice in order to pay the debt of sin, or else we would be condemned. In His mercy, He sent Jesus as the sacrifice for us. John 3:16 says 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.
So, when Jesus says that He is the only way, He’s not being unreasonable. He’s being truthful. There is no other way.
So, let’s go back to our kindly Grandma, because the thought of God “sending” her to hell is still uncomfortable.
When she was 16, the youth group from her church attended a revival meeting. During the altar call, she felt the desire to respond to the Gospel message, but she pushed it aside because she was afraid of what her friends would think.
She got married at age 22, and during the ceremony, the minister’s message spoke of the love of God, but the stars in her eyes were for her new husband, and she didn’t really pay attention to the message.
Throughout their marriage they attended church at Christmas and Easter, but the focus of her thoughts was the meal that she was about to prepare. Did she have everything she needed? Did she remember to shut the stove off? And so the distractions of life and the busy-ness of the holiday prevented her from really absorbing the reason for the season.
As she aged, the number of funerals she attended began to increase in frequency, and with each one, she was brought face-to-face with her own mortality, and the message being preached about salvation and eternity. But she didn’t want to think about it, and besides, she was busy either comforting, or being comforted, or making sure there was enough coffee made for everybody who stayed for the lunch.
Finally, it was her turn to stand before the judgment seat, and when she arrived, she came bearing the guilt of her sin and the darkness that it held because she had never accepted the offer of salvation, despite it being offered to her many times. And so in her darkness she stood before the Light of the World, and found that all of her good deeds, without the Cross, still left her in darkness.
God didn’t send her to hell. With each rejection of Him, she made that choice herself. And not making a choice is, in fact, making a choice. God is a reasonable God, and He is a merciful God, not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance – 2 Peter 3:9. But He is also a just God, and He will not force Himself upon us.
If you’re here today, and you’ve chosen Christ as your Saviour, and you’ve rejected these lies of the devil, then I thank God for you, and I implore you to not sit on this Good News. Share it with those around you! Make your light shine!
And if you’re here today and you have not chosen Christ as your Saviour, please, don’t wait any longer? Christianity is a reasonable faith. God designed us to be logical. He gave us our ability to be critical thinkers. But He also provided ample evidence to help us through the thought process. Isaiah 1:18 says,
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.”
Don’t wait any longer to make a decision. Like the kindly Grandma, you don’t know when you won’t get another chance. Speak with myself, or Pastor Dennis, or make your way over to the prayer room after the service. There are people who would love to pray with you today.
Amen. Let’s pray.
October 1, 2017
Ephesians 4:29; 5:4
O Be Careful Little Tongue What You Say
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Today’s message has been rumbling around in the back of my mind for pretty much a year now. The whole idea was triggered by an article that I read in Faith Today magazine last fall. The article was titled: Foul mouthed and faithful: Why are Christians swearing so much lately? The author of the piece related that in three recent gatherings of Christians, she had been witness to the use of the casual use of profanity – the words had not been used to express anger, but were used “simply nonchalantly.” In one instance, at a conference for Christian writers, she had heard the “f” word and the “s” word used calmly by panelists and speakers alike. So what’s going on here? Why are Christians so casually using language that would probably have been unthinkable even 20 years ago?
While the article was interesting and brought up the issue, I also found it someone unsatisfying. There was no appeal to the teachings of scripture, just primarily a variety of human opinions. The article offered no position on the issue, just “reported” what was happening and what some were thinking. In fact, if anything, it sort of landed on a “situational” notion that suggested language needed to be made appropriate to the situation that we find ourselves in and to the audience we are speaking with/to. (Situational ethics? - not standard, but situation)
I want to look at this matter from three perspectives this morning: the issue itself; the scriptures; and the application.
First: The Issue. The issue was adeptly laid out in the question posed by the subtitle: “Why are Christians swearing so much lately?” The matter is one of whether this practice is proper (or “OK”) for the follower of Jesus Christ. Of course profanity is and has been on the rise in our surrounding culture – our workplace, our media and entertainment is laced with it. What comes out of the mouths of many women and girls I still find shocking! Even in the world that grew I up in, you would not hear that kind of stuff come out of the mouths of women – regardless of whether they were believers or not. The article quotes author/editor Mary Norris who wonders if the casual use of profanity in English has “reached a high tide,” observing wryly, “I’m not sure how much further we can take profanity and still enjoy it.” The author then adds: “Christians may be late to the profanity party, but we seem to be enjoying it like never before.”
Why is the standard of our language in decline? Certainly, as our culture gets increasingly coarse and vulgar, Christians are influenced – at least to some extent – by the trend. As profanity increases we are not as shocked as we once were by it. Minds can be dulled to the impact of vulgar words through sheer exposure. Even the author of the FT article admitted. “As I researched this article, I found I bristled internally, just a little bit less, each time I read the ‘f-word’.” Some think Christians have begun to use this language to better “fit in” with the culture – to be cool. But since when does accommodating to our culture ever really advance the gospel?
Even more astounding is that the use of profanity is not only occurring in the pew, but also in the pulpit. Pastors using profanity in their sermons is on the rise. Nancy Leigh DeMoss spoke about this very issue recently in one of her programs. She said: “What is of great concern to me—and I’ve said it before; I want to repeat it here as there are a growing number of influential respected Christian leaders who are teaching and seducing and leading astray God’s servants today. Their theology denies the need for God’s people to live consecrated, separated lives. Their theology says that you can be a Christian and partake or participate at least to some extent in idolatry, immorality, and worldliness ... And you see it in all kinds of areas.
The issue of language. There is a movement afoot within the church today among some well-known and respected Christian leaders that says it’s okay to use coarse language, suggestive humor, or even profanity in the pulpit. Now, I’m not talking about liberal churches out there. I’m talking about some of our evangelical churches. I have read on the Internet extended blog exchanges, dialogues between people debating this practice. I’m talking about pastors and Christian leaders debating whether this is appropriate – (it is) accommodation to the world being rationalized.” (end quote)
Some pastors claim that with the proliferation of profanity in our world, using it can help them communicate with outsiders and can help their sermons and ministries be more relevant. But at what cost are we willing to sacrifice holiness for relevance? While relevance is an important consideration, too many churches have “sold the farm” in an attempt to be relevant. Is this the pathway that we should be on as contemporary Christians? The issue is that the use of profanity among Christians is clearly on the rise. Is this OK? To answer that question we need to go to scripture – it is our authority and rule of practice.
Second: The Scriptures. What does scripture say about our words, our speech (Ex 20:7)?
* Eph. 4: 29 – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs...” Here is a clear command from scripture, so what exactly does unwholesome talk refer to? The Greek word translated as “unwholesome” is most often translated “bad,” but bad in the sense of being rotten or decayed – used to describe spoiled fish or rotten fruit. Rotten language then, is probably language that is vulgar or crude, meant to demean or assault someone or something, and is contrasted here with words that edify. Richard Beck in a 2009 article in the Journal of Psychology and Theology wrote: “Profanity functions as a psychological assault.” While unwholesome talk can include things other than profanity, profanity certainly fits the category.
* Eph. 5: 4 – “Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” This verse may carry the most weight in our discussion today. It’s the one that always makes me pause and think. It is interesting that the three descriptive words that Paul uses for improper speech appear only here on the whole NT. The first one is translated by the NIV as “obscenity.” The word obscene is defined as something that is “grossly indecent or lewd” (highly offensive). The Greek word used here is related to filthiness, and the root of the word carries the meaning of something shameful or disgraceful. In all honesty, many of our words of profanity fit into these definitions.
The second word used by Paul is translated as “foolish or silly talk.” This is not referring to humour per se, but the kind of talk that is that is characteristic of a fool. And in the context of this verse, it probably refers to talk that has a sexual theme to it. The final descriptive word used is translated as “coarse joking.” This is a very interesting word that was actually often used in a positive sense. It literally means something that is easily or well turned. In this context, it seems that Paul is using it negatively to refer easily turned speech, or double talk and innuendo. You know the well turned phrase that has an obvious double-meaning. Titles of country music songs can provide classic examples of this. How about this one? If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold it Against Me? Pretty obvious double meaning, don’t you think - and a not so subtle example of sexual innuendo. This is the kind of talk that this Greek word refers to.
These kinds of speech are “out of place” for the Christian. In the context of this verse – following verse 3, the emphasis would seen to be on talk that is sexual in theme – however, I would suggest that it is not necessarily exclusive to that. Modern profanity seems to fit into three main categories: religious – the profaning of God’s name, sexual or bodily waste. How do they fit, or do they fit, into the three descriptive words used by Paul in this verse?
* Col. 3:8 – “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Other translations use the terms “dirty language” or “obscene speech.” The Amplified Bible interprets this word by the phrases “foul-mouthed abuse” and “shameful utterances.” The word actually comes from the same root word as the word “obscenity” used in Ephesians 5:4. Paul says you must rid yourselves (command) of this kind of unbecoming and vulgar speech.
*Matthew 12: 34-35 – A reminder from Jesus that what comes out of the mouth originates in the heart – “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Every time someone does something stupid while I’m driving my mouth wants to say “Jerk!” and I’m once again reminded about the kind of stuff I still have in my heart. Our words do reveal what is in our hearts – and I often don’t like what I see!
Third: The Application: Ok, we’ve looked at the issue, the scriptures, and now let’s consider the application. The article in the FT magazine offered two good questions for application. However, in my estimation, they did little to actually answer the questions. The questions that were posed were:
* Is cussing a sin? The most typical response was situational – in other words, in some situations and circumstances it could be sinful, but not necessarily in every occasion. However, there were no specifics as to what might make it sinful and what not. So, is it a sin to use profanity? Well I would suggest to you that if the words you are using fit under any one of the categories listed in the scriptures referred to earlier, it is in fact, sin. All of the above verses come grammatically structured as commands – therefore to act otherwise is sin. Now the problem with this is that there is no explicit command to not use profanity, nor is there a list of words in the scriptures that are considered to be sinful. On top of that, it is true that words and meanings evolve and change with culture. I remember as a young teenage boy that I discovered, to my shock and somewhat to my delight that the word “pi**” was in the King James Bible. (I thought that it would give me some ammunition in arguing with my mother on the issue!) What this obviously shows is that when the KJV was written that word was culturally acceptable. Words do evolve, so we must make our word choices on the acceptability of the words in our time.
I think we need to think seriously about whether the words we are using fit under any of the meanings of the words we have just at looked in scripture. If we are honest, and they do, then to use them is sin. I have managed to entirely eradicate some words from my vocabulary – I never use the Lord’s name, in any of the various ways, and I never use the “f” bomb. Here is my personal opinion. The “f” word should never cross the lips of a child of God. It is a crude and vulgar word that is most loved by our culture. It debases the act of sexual union, which is a gift from God that is sacred, and presents it in its crudest form. The etymology of the word also suggests a connection with violence – so at its base meaning it is a reference to violent sex. If that word crosses your lips, I exhort you to stop it – and you can if you want.
Now here’s the issue for me, and for all of us. If I can remove those words from my vocabulary, what’s stopping me, what’s stopping you, from removing them all? (My struggle) One commentator put it this way: “Obscene language is destructive and Christians have no business using such language.”
* What would Jesus do? This is a very appropriate question. Do you think that Jesus used profanity? Some think maybe so – after all he was hanging out with the prostitutes and sinners and he would need to speak their language, right? He who made the connection between the heart/mouth, and who had a sinless heart would not be using profanity.
Would Jesus be pleased with the words that just spewed out of your/my mouth? Would they reveal that I’m becoming more and more like him? There is no record or indication in the biblical text that Jesus ever used profanity or any inappropriate language. If he is our model of a godly life, shouldn’t we be making choices to be like him?
Is there ever a time where profanity can be justified? This is a slippery slope for sure. Paul made use of some pretty rough language at times - rubbish (dung); circumcision group (castrate themselves). My first experience of hearing a Christian speaker use a word considered as profanity was at a concert where Tony Campolo was speaking (elaborate.) I myself have used profanity in the title for a talk I once gave (elaborate). Sometimes it may be used for effect, but it certainly should be the exception and not the rule.
My intent this morning is not to try and trigger guilt – however this is becoming an issue that is increasing in the Christian world. But my motivation is for you and me to think deeply and prayerfully about this, and to rise to the challenge and take the higher road. It seems to me that this is just another example of contemporary Christians wanting to accommodate to our culture. And yet there are many other pastors out there who are lamenting this rising trend in the pulpits of our world. So I’m exhorting you, let’s aspire to greater and purer things! John Piper put it this way: “Pure hearts; pure hands, pure tongues” - I like that. Let that be the desire of our hearts. Like the old song says: O be careful little tongue what you say.
* Read Phil 4:8 to end.
October 8, 2017
Thankfulness in the Midst of Abundance
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday. Once a year around the end of harvest we gather together to give thanks to God for his provision. Obviously, the celebration of Thanksgiving is rooted deep in the cycle of the agricultural year, when the earth has supplied us with its bounty. However, the idea of a religious feast and celebration around the theme of thanksgiving stretches far beyond the Puritans back into history. In fact, God, commanded the Israelites to celebrate three festivals connected with the harvest. The “Festival of First Fruits” occurred early at the beginning of the barley harvest. None of this new harvest could be eaten until God was offered the first portion. The second festival was the “Festival of Harvest (Weeks)” that occurred fifty days after Passover (Pentecost). This feast celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest. The final feast of the season was the Festival of “Tabernacles”, or sometimes called the Feast of In-gathering. This occurred at the end of the agricultural season when all the harvest and fruit were gathered, and it was an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. This festival would probably coincide most closely with what we celebrate as Thanksgiving. However, all of these feasts served to remind Israel of the connection between the various harvests and the true source of their provision.
I want to share a few thoughts out of the book of Deuteronomy (Read passage). Here we find Moses in his final speech to the Israelites before he dies and they push on to cross the Jordan and take the Promised Land. He describes to them a scene of abundance and prosperity; however, it comes in the context of a warning. Do not forget the Lord! Moses is very concerned that their new found wealth will lead them to complacency and forgetfulness, and he is anxious that they remain faithful to the covenant commands and thankful for what the Lord has given them. How about us? As we have gathered in this place today, are we truly thankful to God? Or have you forgotten him in the midst of all your abundance? Thanksgiving is an important festival for us because is causes us to acknowledge God's goodness and reminds us of the real source of our abundance.
Thanksgiving is about remembering, so this morning let us:
First: Remember to give thanks for our good land of abundance. In verses 7-10, Moses tells the Israelites that God is bringing them into a good land – and notice how it is described. A land with ample supplies of good, clean water; a land that is productive and would overflows with grain, fruit, oil and honey; a land of abundance, rather than scarcity; and also a land rich in reserves of ore and minerals. This must have sounded pretty close to heaven to the Israelites! Remember that they are just coming out of forty years of wandering the desert – a land of extreme scarcity - where water was scarce and often of poor quality when found; where daily food consisted primarily of manna, and fruit and vegetables were a distant memory; where they were constantly in need and in short supply; and where their environment consisted of stark, barren mountains, a sea of sand, and blazing heat. But God had now brought them to the point of entering the Promised Land where the blessings of the covenant would bring them abundance. In verse 10 Moses exhorts the people to remember that when they have eaten and are satisfied, to praise the Lord for the good land he has given them. Giving praise to the Lord includes gratitude and thankfulness.
We, too, have been given a good land to live and work in. This is a land of full of abundance. We have ample supplies of fresh water (Langenburg), our store shelves are stocked high with food and clothing, we live in fine homes, and it’s rare that there is a scarcity of anything we need. Our land is fruitful and productive, producing bountiful yields of grains and oilseeds. We have so much to thank God for even in the difficult times, because we still live in extravagance compared with the majority of the world. In this area, we are also blessed with mineral resources. Many in this congregation earn their living in the potash industry, which has been a major creator of wealth in the surrounding area. Yes, God has given us a good land to live in, and let's remember to be thankful for it. Whether or not you are in the agricultural or mining industry, we are all experiencing the blessings of abundance from the land. Thanksgiving is an important festival for us because is causes us to acknowledge God's goodness and reminds us of the real source of our abundance.
On this Thanksgiving Day, we need to:
Second: Remember the source of our abundance. In verses 11-18, Moses challenges the Israelites, in the context of warning, to remember where their new affluence came from. Do not forget the Lord by failing to walk in his ways and by disobeying his commands. One of the ways that the Israelites could have forgotten the Lord is by failing to observe the feast days that we talked about earlier, which were clear reminders of God's role in provision through the bounty of the harvest. The continued blessings of the covenant required the keeping of the covenant.
Beginning in verse 12, Moses gives three results if the people fail to remember the source of their abundance. When the people have settled in the land, when they have gained in possessions and wealth, built their new homes, and are completely satisfied with themselves, the first result, if they forget God, is that their hearts will become proud. The flush of success often brings with it a measure of pride and our identity becomes linked to our achievements and possessions.
There was once a missionary who told how he was working with a particular tribe and found it difficult to translate the word or the concept of "pride." He finally came to the idea of using their terminology—"the ears are too far apart." In other words, he conveyed the idea of an "inflated head." That translation is hard to improve on when we think of the problem of pride. When things are going good, and we become full of ourselves, it is all too easy to forget the Lord and his call to live our lives in humble obedience and gratitude– and we have all probably been there in one way or another.
The second result of failing to remember the source of their abundance is that the people would forget what the Lord had “brought them out of” and “led them through.” It was the Lord who had brought them out of their slavery in Egypt, and it was he who had led them out of the wilderness with all of its dangers and discomforts. He had provided the necessities of life for them, while he tested their resolve and proved that he was well able to take care of them. In our lives, if we fail to thank the Lord for his abundance, we too may forget what he brought us out of and led us through. He has brought us out of our slavery to sin and has led us through the wildernesses we often find ourselves wandering around in. He sometimes tests us with wilderness experiences to see if we will trust him to provide for our needs.
The third result of forgetting the source of their abundance was the spirit of self-sufficiency. This is closely linked to pride. In verse 17-18, Moses warns the Israelites that in your affluence you may begin to think that your wealth is the result of your own doing - “I'm the Man!” I don’t need God to be successful! However, it is from God that you have been given this very ability to produce wealth. He is the source of your abundance! Every good thing that we have and experience comes from the gracious hand of the Lord. Consequently, as verses 19-20 go on to say, he can also take it away.
The spirit of self-sufficiency is a pillar of our affluent western culture. Frank Sinatra captured this spirit perfectly when he sang the song, “I Did It My Way.” I don't need God, I'm a self-made person! Self-sufficiency runs contrary to a heart of thanksgiving. Wealth has a way of pushing us away from reliance on God. Israel did walk away from God, just as North America and Western Europe have today. We are the world's wealthiest nations, and the only continents where the church is not growing. Thanksgiving is an important festival for us because is causes us to acknowledge God's goodness and reminds us of the real source of our abundance.
There are no other people on the face of this earth that should exhibit a spirit of thanksgiving more than Christians. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing and the promise of an abundant life. We have salvation through Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit, the joy of the Lord, an eternal hope beyond imagination, and we are also commanded to be thankful in all things. (For this is God’s will for us – 1 Thess.) We should be known as a thankful people. How are you doing on the scale of thankfulness? Are you becoming a more thankful person? An increase in gratitude is an indication of spiritual growth. The secret is learning to be thankful in – not necessarily for – all things – that little preposition is the key. While there are many things for which we are not thankful in this life, it is possible to maintain an attitude of thankfulness.
The devotional book Springs in the Valley tells of a man who found a barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to be sown in the human heart. He found that the seeds of discouragement were more numerous than the others and he learned that those seeds could be made to grow almost anywhere. But when Satan was questioned, he reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could never get them to thrive. “And where is that?” asked the man. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a grateful person.”
I want to challenge you to evaluate your thankfulness quotient today by having you honestly consider this question: “Do you spend more time thinking about what you want in life than being thankful for what you already have?” (repeat) This will give you an indication of where you are in developing your attitude of thankfulness. We live in a place of abundance, and the danger for us to forget about the source of that blessing. Start praying today that God would give you a spirit of thanksgiving. Thankful people are powerful witnesses of God's abundant provision and they don't forget the source of their many blessings.
October 15, 2017
People Get Ready
Pastor Dennis Elhard
“People get ready; there’s a train a-coming. Don’t need no baggage; you just get on board. All you need is faith, to hear the diesels humming. Don’t need no ticket; you just thank the Lord.
Over the years this old R&B / blues song has become a favorite of mine. (Bill and Charlotte's, too!) I like the words, I like blues music and I like trains! So it’s a perfect combination for me. The train in the song is the gospel train that will transport us to heaven. You don’t need to buy a ticket, nor will you need to take any baggage. But you do need faith and you do need to get off the station platform and get on board. You don’t want to miss that train, so you need to be ready when it comes. So people get ready and be ready when it comes!
Based on our scripture text for this morning, I suppose that the train could also be an analogy - at least in some sense – of the return of Jesus. Christ has promised to come again, and we need to be ready when he comes – if we are not, our opportunity will be lost. This is the message Jesus has for us today: “keep watch” and “be ready.”
The word “Christmas” is already being heard and plans are already being made for Christmas events. The celebration of Christmas, when Jesus came to us the first time in the flesh, is always marked on our calendars. And while we can count the days with some certainty until Christmas, we must admit that we have no certainty as to when Christ will come again.
This is the clear message of verse 36. Jesus’ statement here is his response to the disciples question to him back in verse 3: “Tell us, they said, when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus clearly states that no one knows the day or the hour when he will return – not even the angels, and not even Jesus himself. Only the Father knows that information. Jesus repeats this same basic message 5 times – four in chapter 24: 36, 42, 44, 50, and in 25:13. No one knows the hour, the day, I would even say that includes the month or the year! The expression "day or hour" is used throughout Scripture to indicate a general reference to time.
Christian history is littered with those who blatantly ignore the clear words of Jesus. The second coming of Christ has been given so many different dates that he would be exhausted by all his trips to earth. Just recently, there was another date predicted that passed uneventful. This is dismissal of, and disobedience to, the words of Jesus. If you ever hear someone offer times and dates of Christ’s return, you know you are listening to a false teaching.
What Jesus is saying is that The Messiah is certain to come, but we cannot know when he will come. As one commentator suggested, the key element of these next three illustrations is “unexpectedness.” Consequently, the thrust of his message is that we need to be watching and ready at all times. Our text this morning suggests three ways:
First: Ready when we Feast (37-39). Jesus likens the days before his return as those in the days of Noah. So while we will never know the specifics, there are general signs of the last days. In the days before the flood, the people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They were totally unaware of what was about to happen to them – and it was too late when they realized their impending destruction. While it is true, that the times before the flood were dark and sinful, most commentators suggest the picture that Jesus gives is rather one of the mundane. None of these things are wrong in and of themselves, and so it seems that what is described here is what we know of as normal life. People are busy going about with the things that are ordinary. There is the celebration of marriage and the building of households. There is food and wine to enjoy. If Jesus’ coming is unexpected (as was the flood) it can only be true if in fact life is going on pretty much as usual.
We have just passed one of the major feast days of our year – Thanksgiving. I love feasting – I enjoy good food, family and friends as we sit around a table in fellowship. In a sense, our fellowship meals here at LEF have the feel of feasting – the opportunity to enjoy eating together as brothers and sisters in Christ. But the point being made here by Jesus is that even in these ordinary and regular times of eating and drinking and celebrating, we need to be ready. The people of Noah’s day were warned of the impending flood, but they did not heed what they were told. Life continued on in normalcy and in revelry. We have also been warned in our day, but even many Christians do not heed the warnings of Jesus – we’re much too busy and distracted with doing the normal, the usual things of life. While they are necessary and we can certainly enjoy these things, we are not to live for these things. We are to be ready for Jesus to return at any moment because the element of his coming will be “unexpectedness.”
Second: Ready when we Work (40-41). The second illustration given by Jesus is one of laborers. It stresses the “unexpectedness” of the events by the sudden separation between two people at their work. Two men are out working in a field when suddenly one is taken away while the other remains. Two women are grinding flour at a mill when the same thing happens. The one taken away goes to be with Christ; the other is left behind for judgment. One is obviously ready, the other is not. One commentator suggests that what Jesus is presenting is an either/or proposition. There is no middle ground. Either you are prepared and are taken up to Jesus, or you are left behind to suffer the consequences of unbelief and unpreparedness.
The illustration is one concerning ordinary work, and it affirms the necessity of human labor. However, it can also warn against allowing work to so encompass our lives that we leave ourselves unprepared. We must also be found as laborers in God’s kingdom. So people get ready, there’s a train a-coming!
Third: Ready when we Sleep (42-44). The third illustration used by Jesus comes more in the form of a parable. He begins, however, with an imperative of warning in which he repeats again the element of surprise. “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord may come.” “Watch” implies not only to keep looking but also to be prepared. The parable itself is about a homeowner whose house is about to be broken into. The night is often the time when trouble arrives. The thief comes when we least expect it or when we are least prepared and most vulnerable. If the homeowner would’ve known the time the thief was coming, you can be assured he wouldn’t be sleeping but would’ve been ready for him. But the parable suggests that since he doesn’t know the time, he must be watching vigilantly at all times. So, Jesus draws out the comparison and says, so you – that’s us – must be ready at all times because He will come at the time we cannot know and when we are not expecting him. “If we are taken by surprise, it is not because God is out to trick us but because of our own apathetic self-deception or negligence.” God has warned us to be ready and there will be signs for us to see and understand.
Notice that there are two commands in the context of this short parable – “keep watch” and “be ready.” These have been Christ’s commands to his followers for two thousand years because we do not know when he will return. We only know that it will be unexpected and that we need to be watching. One commentator writes: “But observing doesn't just mean sitting around waiting to see what will happen next. It means that we will be prepared for his arrival at any time or day. For example, my wife's cat watches our home diligently while we are gone. She notices everything that goes on. But she isn't prepared to do anything about it. She runs and hides in the closet if she hears a sound!” Watching only will do us little good if we are not prepared to act. And even if we are asleep we must be ready for his return.
This passage teaches us that we are to be ready when we feast, when we work and when we sleep. These represent the routine aspects of life – what is normal. So we can conclude that there will be an element of normalcy in the world when Christ returns – if not, it would undermine the aspect of surprise and unexpectedness. Because of this, Jesus is calling us to be watching, to be ready and to be prepared. How are you doing in your preparations?
You may be wondering the point of this message – after all, it’s been two thousand years and nothing has happened – relax! But there is more to this watchfulness; Jesus said there would be signs for us to look for as well. Look around at our world today – it seemed to start around six years ago with the tsunami in SE Asia, then there was Katrina and a host of other natural disasters. Then came 2017 – whoever heard of 4 feet of rain? As Hurricane Irma approached the Caribbean, I heard a reporter say this was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded. Major flooding in other parts of the world, while the other half is on fire! In my life, I have never seen the kind of catastrophic natural disasters that we have witnessed recently.
Add to that, the constant butchery of radical Islam all around the world – acts of sickening terror intended to kill and to maim. A lone-wolf gunman firing off hundreds of rounds of ammunition into an unsuspecting crowd – without finding any idea of motive. I watched a CBC interview with Newt Gingrich a few days ago – in it he stated that the world is the closest it’s been to a nuclear conflict since the Cuban missile crisis of the sixties. Church, we are living in perilous times. Well you might say, natural disasters have been happening from ancient times – and you’re right, but there seems to be a new intensity. Dictators have come and gone all through history – killing hundreds of thousands. Right again. Suffering has always been a part of human existence – that’s true. But there is something that is different today, at least in my estimation, than ever before - and it is this, the State of Israel. The rise of the nation of Israel and the return of the Jews to their Promised Land is a clear fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and a sign that we are in the last days of the last days. I have no idea of how much time is left, and I have no interest in that conversation, suffice to say that Jesus told us to watch the signs the prophets foretold and that his return would be unexpected. So people, get ready!
So are you and I ready? When Jesus says to “keep watch” and “be ready” just what is he referring to? Well first and foremost that you have received Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, and that you have believed in him from your heart. That is the foundation of being ready – without that scripture clearly teaches that you will be lost and face God’s eternal judgment. (sure)
But Christianity is more than receiving Christ as Saviour, it also submitting to him as Lord. One commentator stated that readiness means “our entire world-view must be kingdom-oriented. In the SM, Jesus said to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” If we put Christ first in our lives, if he is our Lord, we will be ready when Jesus comes. We need also to keep short accounts with God – confessing and repenting of our sin and failures. And as Paul says we live our lives in a manner worthy of our calling and we seek to please God in every way. We make decisions that glorify God and through the power of the Holy Spirit we produce his fruit in our lives. We desire to become more and more like Jesus in our character and integrity. Basically our readiness for Christ’s coming is in our salvation and in being about our Masters business. (Read and comment on verse 46 – next parables).
Many signs, I believe, point to the soon return of Christ – will it be five years, twenty, a hundred, I have no clue? But this message of Jesus’ is more important to us than to all the generations that have gone before us – because each successive generation is closer to his coming than the one before. Are you ready to meet him?
“People get ready; there’s a train a-coming. Don’t need no baggage; you just get on board. All you need is faith, to hear the diesels humming. Don’t need no ticket; you just thank the Lord.”
October 29, 2017
The Book of Daniel: Dominion on Display
Pastor Bryan Watson
Last month, Lori and I went to a conference on the Book of Daniel. Over the course of 3 days, we spent approximately 27 hours going through the Book of Daniel verse by verse. I have to admit, I was overwhelmed by the teaching and the implications. We came home mentally exhausted.
Today, however, my feeling of being overwhelmed has changed to a feeling of being intimidated, because in my excitement I made a commitment to preach through the Book of Daniel. Not all in one sermon, however, so you can breathe easy. But the fact is, there is so much spiritual meat in the book of Daniel that right now I feel totally inadequate to preach through the book. Who am I to think that I can bring you anything from Daniel or any of the other Holy Scriptures? Right now, I am in way over my head, and I know it. And by the end of the message, you’ll probably agree with me. But by the Grace of God, and by the power of His Holy Spirit, I pray that I will be able to do just that.
A disclaimer for today’s message, however, is that it may appear more like a lecture, and less like a sermon, because I need to use this time to set the stage.
Our scripture passage for today is from Daniel 2:34-35. These are the words of the mighty King Nebuchadnezzar, a conquering warrior, referred to by the prophet Jeremiah as the “destroyer of nations” in Jeremiah 4:7. He is the king of the most powerful empire on earth at the time, and yet he has had an encounter with God Most High, and came out of it in second place, if you know what I mean. Listen now to the words of Nebuchadnezzar:
34 And at the end of the time[b] I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing;
He does according to His will in the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of the earth.
No one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
The Main Theme
Nebuchadnezzar nails it right on the head. God…. Is…. Sovereign. There is no king nor kingdom who can stand up to His hand, from all the generations of the past, to all the generations of the future. Regardless of what we see on the news, Nebuchadnezzar had learned the truth: God is Sovereign.
So that is the main theme of the Book of Daniel. But the secondary theme, which is also very powerful, is: No Compromise. And as we work through the book, we will see that theme as well, demonstrated over and over in those great Bible stories that we love: The fiery furnace, and Daniel in the Lions’ Den. But they are more than great stories. I believe they are actual historical events, as we will see.
Now, I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to kick off a series like this. It would be easy enough to dive right into the text and start working through it. But there is so much to Daniel, that I think I would be doing you a disservice if I did that. I think that in order to properly grasp what God is telling us, we also need to have some context. And then I also want to take a bit of time to address some of the criticisms of Daniel right up front, because I believe that some of you sitting here today may be skeptical about Daniel in particular, and the Bible as a whole, because of some of these pointed fingers leveled at the Book of Daniel.
I’m not even going to get into the actual text today. But I want to accomplish one thing this morning… and that is to give you such a strong appetite for the Word of God that you can’t wait to come back here next week to hear what Pastor Dennis is preaching about, and then you can’t wait to come back and get into the meat of Daniel. So for today, I’m not going to be serving you much meat, but I sure do want you to smell what I’m cooking.
Daniel was born in approximately 621 BC to a family of some stature of nobility, so he was probably well educated as a youth.
At the time of Daniel’s birth, Israel was in subjection to Egypt under Pharaoh Neco.
Nebuchadnezzar, who at the time was the crown prince of Babylon, defeated Pharaoh Neco at the famous Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. Carchemish is in the northern part of Syria, which is north of Israel.
Nabupolassar, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, died in 605 BC, at which time Nebuchadnezzar ascends to the throne. 605 BC was obviously a big year for Nebuchadnezzar. So many big things went his way that year that he probably though of himself as a god!
In one of Nebuchadnezzar’s first acts as King of Babylon, yet again in 605 BC, Jewish nobles and young men fit to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace were taken to Babylon. Daniel is one of them. (Daniel 1:1-7, 2 Kings 23:28 - 24:1). Daniel was around 15 years old.
I think it’s important to note that this Babylonian captivity was prophesied:
by Isaiah in Isaiah 39:6-7. Hezekiah shows off his palace and riches to Babylonian envoys, and Isaiah says, 6 ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. 7 ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”
It was prophesied by Micah in Micah 4:10 - Be in pain, and labor to bring forth,
O daughter of Zion,
Like a woman in birth pangs.
For now you shall go forth from the city,
You shall dwell in the field,
And to Babylon you shall go.
There you shall be delivered;
There the Lord will redeem you
From the hand of your enemies.
It was prophesied by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 25:11 - And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
In fact, Daniel probably heard Jeremiah’s preaching and warnings, as Jeremiah’s ministry in Jerusalem would have been in full swing during Daniel’s time as a young boy in Jerusalem.
And it was prophesied by Habakkuk in Habakkuk 1:5-11. Verse 6 specifically says For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,
A bitter and hasty nation
Which marches through the breadth of the earth,
To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.
Throughout this period of the Old Testament, the term “Chaldeans” is used in conjunction with the term Babylonians.
The Structure of Daniel
So, what does the Book of Daniel look like? Well, the book itself is broken into 12 chapters, but it is actually made up of 10 distinct segments that make the book flow quite logically. This is the outline that I plan to follow as I present Daniel. There are 6 narratives, and four visions.
The Six Narratives are as follows:
Chapter 1: The Food Test. Daniel and his friends are instructed to abandon their kosher eating habits, yet God makes a way for them to remain faithful to Him while still honoring their new earthly king.
Chapter 2: Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream. The giant statue made up of four distinct parts.
Chapter 3: The Fiery Furnace. Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s giant statue, and get thrown into a fiery furnace for their faithfulness.
Chapter 4: Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream. A giant tree that gets cut down.
Chapter 5: The Handwriting on the Wall. The Biblical source of one of the most over-used clichés of all time: I guess he should have seen the writing on the wall.
Chapter 6: The Lions’ Den. Yet another example of God’s faithfulness to his people when they remain faithful to him.
Chapter 7: The Four Beasts
Chapter 8: The Ram & The Goat
Chapter 9: Prophecy of 70 Sevens for Israel
Chapter 10-12: Prophecies of Israel’s Future
When you read the Book of Daniel, you notice several things that concern critics: first, it contains stories of incredible miracles: stories of survival in fiery furnaces, or survival from a den of starving lions, or a hand mysteriously appearing out of thin air and writing a message on a wall. These are pretty fantastic stories.
Second, you encounter prophecies of events that are almost unbelievable in the amount of detail they contain, and the accuracy with which they came true.
Third, you encounter visions of fantastic creatures that make you think you are reading an early manuscript of Lord of the Rings. Leopards with four heads (not foreheads!), beasts with horns, etc.)
Those 3 issues have led many critics of Daniel to say one of two things:
The book of Daniel is just a story. The miracles weren’t real, and the prophecies aren’t real. Daniel himself may or may not have existed. If he did exist, then he wrote the book as an old man who wanted to make his life sound more interesting than it actually was.
The prophecies in Daniel are so accurate that they must have been written after the fact, and therefore, Daniel is a historical book, not a book of prophecy. They say that although the Daniel seems to have been written in the 6th Century BC, the book of Daniel was actually written around 150 BC.
So, how are we going to deal with these issues? Well, today, I’m going to give you evidence that Daniel was a real person from history, and that the book was written by Daniel in the 6th century BC, BEFORE his prophecies came to pass.
(And between you and me, I don’t know why the critics have such a hard time with this. I mean, atheists believe that the entire universe popped out of nothing all by itself. Therefore, ANYTHING can happen, right? Even the miracles of prophecy.)
Historic Evidence #1: The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls contained ancient Hebrew texts, many of which were considered to be part of scriptural canon. In one of the caves, scrolls containing texts from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were found. In that same cave were 8 scrolls from Daniel.
Scholars date the scrolls from this cave from the last 3 centuries BC to the 1st century AD. If Daniel was written as late as 150 BC, it is unlikely to have made the cut of being included in canon, because the ink would still have been wet on the parchment when they were hiding it in the caves. The people of the day would probably not have gone to that length to preserve it.
Scholars attribute the preservation and placement of the scrolls by a group of people called the Essenes. Now, who were the Essenes? Well, to make a very long story very short, they are a group of people who separated themselves from the culture of the day, seemingly out of protest of how the Temple was being run under Roman occupation. I admit that is a very simplistic explanation, but it is enough to make my point that if the Essenes were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, and they included Daniel in it, then they would have had a well thought out and reasoned logic for doing so, because they were serious enough about their faith to separate themselves from Roman society.
So when considering the critics’ claim that Daniel was written around 150 BC, it is more likely that it was written much earlier… like 600 BC, for example.
Historic Evidence #2: Ancient Witnesses
We also have ancient witnesses who refer to Daniel as a real person from history.
Ezekiel 14:14,20 refers to Noah, Job, and Daniel as historical people. Later on in Ezekiel 28:1-3, Ezekiel again refers to Daniel.
In the Apocrypha, in 1 Maccabees 2:59-60, Mattathias the priest refers to Daniel being delivered from the mouth of lions, and his 3 friends being delivered from the fiery furnace.
While it’s true that the book of Maccabees is not considered part of inspired Protestant or Jewish canon, it can still be considered for its historical references.
Now, Mattathias the priest died in 166 BC. So, if Daniel wasn’t written until around 150 BC, how could Mattathias have referred to Daniel? He would have died before Daniel was written!
The historian Josephus viewed Daniel as a prophetic book. Josephus lived from AD 37-95. He states that there were no canonical writings in the Hebrew Scripture after the death of Artaxerxes in 424 BC. If Daniel was written as recently as 150 BC, Josephus probably would have known it… he was one of the premier historians of his day.
Finally, the greatest witness of all, Jesus, referred to Daniel as a prophet. In Matthew 24:15, speaking about the time of the end, Jesus says, 15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’[c] spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand)…”
I have provided 4 witnesses about the reality of the historical Daniel. Regarding witnesses, Deuteronomy 19:15 says, One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. Therefore, I believe we have established that Daniel was a real person.
Historic Evidence #3: Linguistics
Finally, I believe that we can use linguistics, or the study of language, to establish a case that Daniel was written when the Bible says it was written.
The Book of Daniel is written primarily in two languages: Hebrew and Aramaic. This would be consistent with the fact that Daniel lived in Jerusalem until he was 15, and then was exiled to Babylon, which was later conquered by the Persians.
But this wasn’t just any form of Aramaic. The Aramaic portions of Daniel were written in a language called Imperial Aramaic. Imperial Aramaic was a highly standardized form of Aramaic, and was used between 700 BC and 300 BC. Imperial Aramaic fits both with Daniel’s position of prominence in the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms, and also with the time period of Daniel’s life. We know that language changes over time, and therefore would have been quite different if Daniel had been written more recently. Just compare Old English to today’s English.
In the Book of Daniel, there were also 21 Persian words. All were governmental terms and titles, written in Old Persian. Again, this is consistent with Daniel’s position and time period, as Old Persian was replaced by Middle Persian around 300 BC.
There are only 3 Greek words in the entire Book of Daniel, and they all refer to musical instruments. If Daniel had been written around 150 BC, then there should have been a heavy Greek influence. But we don’t see that.
Finally, the Hebrew used in Daniel was crude Hebrew. This would be consistent with a person who was taken captive as a boy and spent the rest of his life being assimilated into foreign cultures and working in foreign courts and governments. Over the course of time, his use of his first language would grow rusty.
Based on the evidence, we can conclude that:
Daniel is a real person from history
Daniel was written in the correct time period, in the 6th century BC
Because Daniel was written when it says it was written, the prophecies in the book are actual prophecies, and not historical accounts.
If we can believe the supernatural nature of prophecies coming true, then we can also believe that the remaining unfulfilled prophecies will come true as well.
If we can believe the supernatural nature of prophecies coming true, then we can also believe in the supernatural miracles taking place, such as the incidents with the fiery furnace, and the lions’ den.
So we can safely conclude, as we work through the book, that God really is in control. Even now.
November 5, 2017
2 Samuel 11:1 - 12:14
The Pattern of Sin
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Someone once observed, "Fire brings comforting warmth, or destruction, depending on whether it is under control. Likewise sexual passion enriches or impoverishes, heals or harms, depending on how it is controlled." Human history chronicles that fire's comforting warmth and cruel destruction – and today’s story is legendary in describing this fire’s ability to destroy. The sin of adultery is a clear violation of God’s moral law. And the presence of adultery laws in virtually every human society points to the fact that God has written anti-adultery laws on the human heart.
In our text for today, we see what I am calling a clear pattern of sin – and this pattern generally holds true whether the sin is sexual in nature or not. But it is particularly true of sexual sin. The story of David and Bathsheba has all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie – it’s gripping, it’s disgusting, at times it’s even pathetic, and it’s redemptive – but it also reveals powerful truths about human nature and sin.
What we find in the context here is King David at the top of his game. Under his leadership Israel had become united and a very powerful nation. They had subdued virtually every surrounding enemy nation, the Lord was blessing them with ample harvests, and life was in Israel was prosperous, peaceful and good – better than any time in their history. However, what we see here as the story unfolds is the power and pattern of sin. The pattern begins with:
First: The Temptation (vs. 1-5: Read).
A. The temptation presented (1-3). Sin is conceived in temptation. It is the proverbial carrot dangled in front of our faces. We see a couple of things about temptation in these first three verses. The writer of 2 Samuel begins with a very leading statement: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent out Joab” and the army. Typically, the king would accompany and lead the army on the battlefield. But apparently, the good and prosperous life inclined David to stay at home – a decision contrary to custom and one that places him in the way of temptation because this allowed him a significant amount of leisure time. Too much time of leisure can leave us vulnerable to temptation.
After a late afternoon nap, David gets out of bed and goes for a stroll on the palace roof probably to enjoy the cool evening air. The height of his vantage point from the palace roof provides a line of sight into the courtyards of the houses around the palace. And as he gazes out over the city, his eyes find Bathsheba in her courtyard having a bath. We can assume that she was nude or mostly nude, and she was “very beautiful.” (NLT: unusual beauty). The hook of temptation is cast and David sends a servant to “find out about her,” whereby she is identified as Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. In this David clearly knows that she is a married woman. I have often wondered, why would David be so tempted? He already had many wives and concubines in his harem. (elaborate) Were they not beautiful? (Why? Forbidden fruit; just one more; Deut 17:17: “He must not take many wives.”)
What we see from these verses is the role of the eyes in temptation. It is what we see that tempts us. Since lust and greed are triggered by the things that we cast our eyes on we must be vigilant in what we allow our eyes access to. However, as in David’s case, the temptation may be incidental – and then our resolve to purity and godliness must be established beforehand.
B. The yielding to temptation (4-5). The hook has been cast, and David bites down hard. He sends his servants to bring her to him. The scripture is blunt (terse) and offers little information: she comes to him, he sleeps with her, she goes home and she conceives. We are given no information about Bathsheba – whether she offered any resistance or whether she was complicit. Since the king had absolute authority, she probably had little choice in the matter. (complicit?)
The yielding to temptation brought about a serious dilemma. She sends word to David that she is now pregnant. The text includes a little tidbit in parenthesis – “She had purified herself from her uncleanness.” Why would this be added? It probably meant that her bath was a ritual bath of purification that was to take place 7 days after her period. But more importantly, if she was recently purified from her period, there is no way that she was pregnant before her tryst with David. Her pregnancy also put them in a very difficult situation. Not only would it bring shame to the king and his reputation, but the law required that those caught in adultery be put to death. Temptation conceived and temptation acted on unleashes a series of horrible events.
Second: The Cover-up (vs. 6-27). Sin always requires the need for a cover-up. David is in a tight spot now, and so he devises a plan to cover-up his indiscretion.
A. Paternal responsibility. In order to try and hide his sin, David needed to come up with a plan to make it look like Uriah was responsible for the Bathsheba’s pregnancy.
* Plan A. David sends a message to Joab, his general, to send Uriah home from the battlefield. When Uriah arrives, David asks him some casual questions about Joab and how the war was going and how the soldiers were holding up in battle. Of course this is all a guise to set him up for a night with Bathsheba. David then tells Uriah to go home and relax, and sends along a gift of food to make sure he has a nice evening – in every way! But Uriah chooses instead to spend the night with the king’s servants at the palace gates.
In the morning, David is dismayed to hear that Uriah spent the night with his servants. Is this guy crazy, he has a beautiful wife waiting for him at home? But we see that Uriah is a man of honour – he was one of David’s 30 “mighty men,” an elite soldier and a mercenary who was fiercely loyal to the king. There was no way he was going to enjoy the comforts of home and the pleasures of his wife’s arms while the ark and his comrades-in-arms were living in tents on open fields near the battlefront. Uriah’s dedication contrasts sharply with David’s self-indulgence. He is more honorable than the king!
*Plan B. Since plan A failed David moves to plan B to orchestrate paternal responsibility. “Stay another day, and come to the palace for dinner tonight, you can return to the battle field tomorrow.” David keeps the wine flowing and gets Uriah drunk in hopes that he will let down his guard and have sex with Bathsheba. But it doesn’t work; he’s not drunk enough to give up his honour. Uriah “is presented as a faithful and pious soldier who had more respect for the law of God when he was drunk than his king did when he was sober. David's efforts to manipulate his own subject are a sad picture indeed.”
B. The plot to murder. David is in big trouble now – the easy solution to his “problem” has failed. So in desperation he conceives a plot to have Uriah killed on the battlefield. He sends Uriah back to the army along with a letter for Joab. In an almost pathetic twist of irony, unknown to him, Uriah carries the letter containing his own death warrant. This seems to be David at his lowest point. The plan is simple – send Uriah where to the battle is fiercest and the enemy’s best soldiers are present. In the heat of the battle, abandon him so he is overcome by the Ammonites. Joab executes the plan and the Uriah is killed – mission accomplished.
However, the plan did not go exactly as David had wanted because a few other Israelite soldiers were also lost – and so Joab expected David might react angrily to the messenger sent to the him. But Joab knew how to pacify him – tell him after your report that Uriah is dead. To which David issued this platitude – encourage Joab not to be upset, because “the sword devours one as well as the other. A pretty callous statement to justify a plot of murder!
When Bathsheba is given the news that her husband is dead, she goes through the obligatory time of mourning before she moves into the palace and joins the king’s harem. At this juncture, it looks like the cover-up has worked to perfection. David had dodged a bullet – except for one little sentence at the end the chapter, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” (Displeased: Hb. Evil/wicked in the sight of the Lord.) This is the only reference to God in the entire chapter and reveals to the reader that the story is not over yet.
Third: The Confrontation (12: 1-9). This part of the pattern of sin could just as well be referred to as “the exposure.” The cover-up will eventually fail and the sin will be exposed. God confronted David’s sin through a prophet. And instead of immediately pointing the finger at David, the prophet told him a little parable through which David indicted himself. And what is really interesting is that the parable doesn’t even deal with adultery or murder. (Read parable)
I’ll bet that was bomb dropped on the king! David had got away with this cover-up for approximately nine months now – since the text seems to suggest that Nathan came to David shortly after the illegitimate son was born. When hearing the parable, David had thought the rich man was worthy of death – how could he steal the poor man’s ewe when he had a whole flock of sheep? How could David steal Uriah’s wife when he had a palace full of women? Nathan’s parable, however, “is an indictment against the abuse of power. David action’s suggest he thought he could take whatever he wanted and what God had already given him was not enough.” He was to shepherd the people of Israel – not use them for his selfish purposes.
Through the prophet Nathan, God says, “Have I not given you enough?” I made you king over Israel, I delivered you from Saul, I gave you his possessions and his wives, and if that had not been enough, I would’ve given you more. You have despised (shown contempt) for my word by doing this evil – David had broken at least four of the Ten Commandments.
Whether God sends a prophet to confront, or by whatever means he uses, sin is almost always exposed – especially adultery. Scripture refers to David as a “man after God’s own heart.” He knew God intimately - did he really think that he could get away with this?? How could he fall into this kind of sin? This is the subtlety and power of temptation and sin.
Fourth: The Consequences (vs. 10-12). After the indictment is given, the consequences are declared. While sin can be forgiven, the consequences will often remain – the consequences for David were gut-wrenching, and his kingdom was never the same or achieved the same glory. The consequences were three-fold. First, since David had arranged for Uriah to be killed by the sword of the Ammonites, “the sword will never depart from your house.” In the remaining chapters of 2 Samuel there is the sad saga of rape and murder in David’s immediate family. There is the insurrection of his own son who tried to overthrow his father’s kingdom, and three out of David’s four oldest sons meet their end with violent deaths.
The second consequence was that David’s son Absalom would try to lay claim his father’s throne by defiling and dishonoring his father’s concubines by having sex with them on the palace roof in front of the whole city (read 11-12; 16:21-22). The third consequence is that the son conceived through the sin of adultery would die. David paid a heavy toll for a few moments of pleasure – and such is the way of sin. Its negative consequences always outweigh its positive pleasures.
Fifth: The Confession (vs. 13-14). After being confronted and told the consequences, David confesses his sin – “I have sinned against the Lord.” Notice that first and foremost our sin is always against God, and he is the first one we need surrender ourselves to in heartfelt confession and repentance (Ps 51). But notice also God’s mercy at work here. After David’s confession of guilt, God forgives – “you are not going to die.” David deserved it, but God’s grace overruled the law. But because David’s sin caused God’s enemies to show contempt, the son would die. To get our hearts right with God after we have sinned, confession is absolutely essential to restore our relationship with him.
*Here is a truth that gripped me as I read this story again. “Even forgiven sin can have lifelong consequences.” David received God’s forgiveness for his sin – that’s clear, but he wasn’t absolved of the consequences of that sin. Adultery particularly will produce lifelong consequences – even if reconciliation is achieved. But the principle holds for any sin (stealing, deception). Before we make any choice or take action that we know is displeasing to God, we need to understand this. Is this sin worth the consequences? (God will forgive).
* Being godly does not make a person immune from temptation or incapable of sinning; even godly people are capable of great sin. David is a prime example of this – none of us should ever think we are above a fall into sin. We need to live our live vigilantly protecting our purity and righteousness, and the H. Spirit lives in us to help us be victorious over sin. (Joseph’s example)
* God can expose even the best-hidden sin: "be sure that your sin will find you out." Here is a take-away from today’s text. The fall into sin will always require a cover-up. But sin has a habit of coming to light – and that’s God’s economy. He will expose our sin and make us deal with it – you are only fooling yourself if you think you can cover-up your sin forever – God can expose your best-kept secret in a heartbeat.
The pattern of sin we see in this story of David and Bathsheba is played out over and over. There is the temptation, the yielding to temptation, the attempted cover-up, the confrontation and exposure, the consequences even when forgiven, and hopefully the result of confession and a restoration of relationship with the Lord. If you have fallen into sin, God will forgive you – so confess it and receive his forgiveness. The longer you try to hide it the heavier his hand will be upon you – I wonder if David wrote Psalm 32 when remembering the time between his sin and his confession. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
November 19, 2017
Romans 8: 31-37
“If God Is For Us....”
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Sometimes, as Christians, we can feel that the entire world is against us. Certainly there are many people in the world who oppose the church. Even within our own country Christians, and particularly Evangelicals (and Catholics), are slowly becoming the scapegoats of society. In a world that preaches tolerance, we are the villains that are holding out against all that is considered “progressive.” But the real joke is this – those who preach the gospel of tolerance don’t practice it. They are only tolerant of those who subscribe to their views of tolerance.
As Christians’ we have been virtually shut out by the media – and because we are deemed irrelevant and out-of-touch, we are given little to no voice in the public square. And when we do try to be heard, we are effectively muzzled. This is a reality that we are facing as N. American Christians, and the attempt to paint us into a corner will only get more clearly defined as we move into the future. As Christians, we are taught in scripture to expect persecution because of what we believe. In 2 Tim. 3:12 Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
However, as Canadian Christians we have very little concept of what it means to be persecuted – we do get a small taste of it at times – but we don’t understand, and we cannot fully understand, what our fellow Christians are experiencing around the world today. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, are suffering for Christ – many even being martyred. And so this morning we want to remember them and pray for them, because they are part of our body – our family – and they are in need of our support.
So there’s the bad news, but there is much better news to come. It might feel like the whole world is against us and that we are losing ground, but “If God is for us – how can we lose?” This is the question Paul puts to the church in Rome in the 8th chapter of Romans. They had been facing persecution and Paul had certainly faced his share as well, and yet in light of the gospel, suffering would not be the final word in the matter. So in our text for this morning, Paul asks four questions that are rhetorical. Rhetorical questions are not intended to gain information, but they are meant to instruct, because they always have an obvious answer. In this case the answer to the questions is “no one.” So let’s look at these questions this morning particularly in the light of those who are being persecuted for their faith:
First: If God is for us, who can be against us (vs.31-32)? The answer to that question would seem to be pretty obvious, wouldn’t it? If the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, unlimited God of the universe is “for us,” who could possibly be against us? When God is “for us,” it means he is on our side. In Psalm 56: 9 we read, “Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me.”
But many are against us! The question of “who can be against us” does not mean that we have no adversaries – we have plenty for sure, but none can thwart the plans or the purposes of God for his people. Psalm 118:6 says: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Plenty of people can oppose us, but they cannot stop the will of God for us. “Paul’s point is that with God on our side, none of this opposition really matters.”
Since God revealed that he was “for us” in that He did not spare even His own Son in order to gain our salvation, how will he then not graciously give us all other things? Many commentators see here a reference to Abraham and Isaac. Since Abraham was willing to sacrifice (not spare) his own son, God blessed him in everything else he could be blessed with.
When God is for us, nothing can be against us. In the immediate, it may seem like God has abandoned us, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing can stand against his will or his purposes –and we need to trust Him in this – even if we may experience suffering.
Second: If God is for us, who can bring any charge against us? Another rhetorical question; another obvious answer. If God is for us, then who can bring an accusation against us? The scene implied is that of a court of law. God is the Judge, and he has already declared us pardoned and justified. If the almighty, eternal God has pardoned, who can accuse or charge?
(Quote) “Should a Roman emperor seek to bring a charge against a believer in Rome for worshiping a king other than Caesar, that charge would have no effect in the eyes of God. Should Satan seek to bring a charge against the elect of God in order to discredit their faithfulness, such a charge would go unregistered. God has already brought all the charges which could possibly be brought against the believer to the bar of justice and declared them erased: ‘Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross’ (Col. 2:14).”
No one can successfully press charges against us, no matter how they may try – Satan tries, our enemies may try, our unbelieving neighbors may try – but none will ultimately succeed. You might be wondering, if that is true, how come so many are languishing in prisons for their faith in Jesus. We need to understand these promises in the ultimate sense. In the temporal, it is true that in many places in the world the charge for being a Christian may land us in jail. However, in the heavenly court, these charges will be tossed out!
Third: If God is for us, who can condemn us (vs. 34)? If no charge can be brought against the elect of God, then certainly no condemnation can be brought against them either.
“There is, therefore, now no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus.” To condemn is to pass sentence – But God has justified, the penalty is removed.
However, the main reason given in our text for our lack of condemnation is because we have an advocate in Jesus who stands as our defense attorney interceding for us before the Father. God has made it clear that he is “for us” in that he sent his one and only Son to die and, “more than that,” to raise Him up again to life. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, a position of all authority, all power – exalted to the highest honor. If the Son of God is our intercessor, and He has set us free, who can possibly bring condemnation on us or to us? The answer is obvious – no one!
Fourth: If God is for us, who can separate us from the love of Christ (Vs. 35-37)? Paul again asks a rhetorical question, but shifts his focus. And this time, he offers some suggestions as possible answers to his question – could trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or the sword – could they possibly come between us and Christ’s love? In verse 36 he quotes from Psalm 44:22, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” In quoting this verse, Paul is making it very clear that persecution is a real possibility for the Christian. The reference to the sword, an instrument in scripture that symbolizes death, shows that martyrdom is also in view here. For North American Christians this is sobering stuff, and difficult for us to even get a handle on. What may our future hold?
Paul’s response in verse 37 is an emphatic NO, none of these things can separate us from the love of Christ, and “in all these things we are more than conquerors.” “The persecutions and tribulations that enter our lives are not sufficient to separate us from God’s love, demonstrated at the cross of Christ.” It is true that our trials can sometimes make it appear that we have been separated from God and his love for us, But Paul wants to dispel that notion.
But how can Christ love us when he allows suffering into our lives? One commentator asks: “Was the love of the Father separated from the Son when he allowed him to endure the cross?” Suffering for the sake of Christ does not assume he has forsaken us, but that his plan and purposes are somehow being perfected through us. This is tough medicine, I know – but Paul says that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
I wonder what these verses would mean to those who are enduring imprisonment for their faith – often in solitary confinement and cramped cells. Would the words, “If God is for us, who can be against us,” or “Who can separate us from the love of Christ” ring hollow? Or would they be the very words that sustained the believer in their persecution? I guess that would be a choice one would have to make. These are words of life – they are words of good news that bring promise and security to the believer and particularly to those who are suffering for their faith. The sovereign God knows every hair on your head, and He knows your circumstances and trials.
The following appeared in Preaching Today magazine in an article titled “Discipleship is Serious Business.” “Recruitment posters (American) for our country’s armed forces may emphasize seeing the world or getting financial help with college, but the harsh truth is that enlistment in the military carries serious risks. The crew and families of the USS Cole were reminded of that on October 12, 2000, when terrorists caused the deaths of seventeen and injured dozens more while the ship was refueling in Yemen.
Likewise, dare we present the Christian faith like a recruitment poster that talks about the “perks” of being a church member without letting people know that one’s life is on the line when following Christ?
Have you ever asked yourself this question? Would I be willing to suffer for Jesus? Many Christians who are facing persecution consider it a privilege to enter into his suffering. Now that’s love for Christ. Remember that Jesus also promised to never leave us or forsake us – no matter what we face. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
November 26, 2017
Daniel Chapter 1
Eating High Off The Hog: The Food Test
Pastor Bryan Watson
Good morning. Let’s begin with a word of prayer.
When I spoke last month, I gave you an overview of the Book of Daniel. I also promised that I would preach through the Book of Daniel, although some of you may have taken that as a threat. So, to show you that I both keep my promises, and follow through on my threats, I will be speaking today on Daniel chapter 1.
Before I do that, however, I think it would be prudent to take a couple of minutes and do a brief review of my last message on Daniel. This is going to be very brief, and I am going to go very fast. I would encourage you to go back and listen to that message on-line if you want to get the whole context.
If you recall, in introducing Daniel, there were two main themes that I wanted to point out:
God is Sovereign
I took you through the historical context of the Book:
Israel was chronically unfaithful to God.
As a result, Israel went into captivity to Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, in 605 BC.
This event was prophesied several times.
Daniel and his friends were among several Jewish nobles who were taken captive.
I showed you the structure of the Book of Daniel: the Six Narratives and the Four Visions. Today, we will be discussing the first narrative: the food test.
I also spent some time defending the authenticity of the Book of Daniel.
I gave you evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls
I gave you evidence from 4 Ancient Witnesses
And I gave you evidence from the study of Linguistics.
In the end, we concluded that:
Daniel was a real person from history
the Book of Daniel was written in the 6th century BC, exactly when Daniel lived.
Prophecies are prophecies, not historical accounts.
We can believe in the miraculous accounts in Daniel.
God is in control.
So, let’s move on to the actual book. I’ve titled this message, “Eating High Off the Hog: The Food Test.” Our Scripture passage for today is a short one, but a good one. Daniel 1:8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
The Book of Daniel begins with one of the saddest statements in Scripture since Eve ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden a few thousand years earlier. V2 says, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his (Nebuchadnezzar’s) hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.” After hundreds of years of being rejected and rebelled against, God had finally said, “Enough!”, and He handed His chosen people over to Babylon, just as He said He would.
And as I read that verse over and over and over again, I had to ask myself why God would allow the temple articles to be carried off and placed in the treasure house of the Babylonian god Marduk. Because the point of Nebuchadnezzar doing this was to demoralize the Jews by showing Marduk as superior to the Jewish God. You know… “My god is bigger than your God”. Why would God allow that?
I don’t have a definite answer for that, but I think Jeremiah gives us a pretty good indication. In Jeremiah 29, beginning in verse 4, the Prophet Jeremiah is telling the Jews to accept their exile to Babylon, and go and make lives for themselves there. Specifically, in verse 7, he says, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”
In verses 10 and 11, Jeremiah continues this thought with this hopeful text: “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 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.”
So Jeremiah is confirming that the Jews will be taken to Babylon for a period of 70 years for their punishment for disobedience. Yet, God is still going to keep them, and will eventually return them to Jerusalem. So what does that have to do with the temple articles? Well, I think that since God knows that the temple is about to be destroyed, He is using Nebuchadnezzar to preserve the most valuable temple articles so that the Jews can have them to start over with again in 70 years. God loves His people so much that He is even willing to allow the holy temple articles to be humbled for 70 years for the greater good! That is completely consistent with a God who would allow His Son to be humbled on a cross a little over 600 years later, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:8, “and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross!”
Continuing on in Daniel chapter 1 verses 3 through 5, we see the kind of talent that Nebuchadnezzar is taking captive. These are young men; the best and the brightest in Jerusalem; who are capable of being trained to serve in the Babylonian kingdom. So here we see some of Nebuchadnezzar’s skill and wisdom as a leader. So often, leaders don’t even think about succession plans or developing a skilled organization. If they do, they end up making sure to have inferior talent working for them in order to elevate themselves. Not so with Nebuchadnezzar. He wants to be surrounded with the best and the brightest, and he even goes so far as to assume that the people he conquers may also have talent that can contribute to his kingdom.
The text says that they are taught language and literature. This is probably to assimilate them into the Babylonian culture. But I suspect they are also taught important skills like mathematics, navigation, law, art, architecture, etc. And they go for three years of training. Considering they already had to demonstrate an aptitude for this kind of service, this would be the equivalent of getting university degrees. God graciously provided for these young captives to be developed into strong leaders, which would be required when the Jews would return 70 years later. Again, I believe that God used Nebuchadnezzar to achieve this, and Nebuchadnezzar reaped the benefits in the meantime. It is no wonder that God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as “My Servant” in Jeremiah 43:10. He was the king of the most powerful empire on earth at the time, yet God had him right where He wanted him all along.
All of these young men who are attending the University of Babylon are provided with meat and wine from the king’s table. Obviously, this is meant to encourage them and to make sure that, in the eyes of the king, they are given what they need for success. Nebuchadnezzar was genuinely interested in their success, as any strong leader should have been. It is ironic that for these young nobles, the land of their captivity would actually be more comfortable than the land of their nativity.
In verses 6 and 7, we learn that the Jewish captives were given new Babylonian names. Why would the Babylonians do this? Well, first of all, it is a tangible way to demonstrate to the captives that they have, in fact, been conquered. Secondly, it is a simple matter of assimilation. By changing their names into something Babylonian, it makes them seem more “Babylonian”, both for the captives, and for the Babylonians themselves. For example, when I was still in Regina, I often worked with people who had immigrated from China. There is no way that my prairie redneck tongue could pronounce their Chinese names properly. So these men and women often took on “Canadian” names: Henry, Annie, Chris. It made living here easier for them, and for those of us who worked with them.
But I think that probably the biggest reason for the name change is because Old Testament Jewish names were meaningful names, and often represented the person’s character or destiny. Names were often given to babies in the days after their birth, not before. These names often included some combination of a descriptive term and the name of God: “El” or “Yah”.
Daniel: “God is my judge”
Hananiah: “God has been gracious”
Mishael: “Who is what God is?”
Azariah: “God has helped”
Once in Babylon, they were given Babylonian names:
Daniel -> Belteshazzar: “May Bel (god) protect his life.” (Bel is more of a title than a name and refers to Marduk, the chief Babylonian god)
Hananiah -> Shadrach: “Command of Aku” (the Sumerian moon god)
Mishael -> Meshach: “Who is what Aku is?”
Azariah -> Abed-Nego: “Servant of Nabu” (the Babylonian god of wisdom)
So, you can see how, going forward, the Babylonians intended to remove their faith in Yahweh by having them refer to Babylonian gods whenever they were called by name. However, although there is no record of Daniel openly rejecting this new name, he always refers to himself throughout the remainder of the book as “Daniel.” In fact, in later chapters of the book, even the Babylonians and Persians refer to him as “Daniel”. So, in his faithful resolve, Daniel never forgot that “God is my judge”, and I suspect that sustained him through many trials and tests and homesick days.
The Food Test
And so we finally come to verses 8 through 16, the food test, which is what this sermon was titled after in the first place!
Reading verse 8 again, it says, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”
That is an important principle of integrity. You must purpose in your heart what you are going to do in a particular set of circumstances, before you get into those circumstances. If you want to avoid sexual sin, you must purpose in your heart that you are going to remain pure and faithful BEFORE you go on that date, or BEFORE you surf the Internet, or BEFORE you sit down to channel surf on your TV. Because “purposing in your heart” ahead of time will not only guide your responses when temptations arise, but it may also guide your decision-making in order to avoid being found in these compromising situations in the first place.
So Daniel purposed in his heart that he was not going to defile his body, his temple, with food that was considered unclean to the Jews. They could change his name, but they could not change his nature. And so Daniel requests that he and his friends not be forced to eat this food. I don’t know this for certain, but Daniel was probably strengthened by Psalm 141:4,
Do not incline my heart to any evil thing,
To practice wicked works
With men who work iniquity;
And do not let me eat of their delicacies.
What a contrast this was to the Jewish kings and nobility that led up to this unfortunate captivity in the first place. They were living lavishly and yet continued to revel in rebellious paganism and idolatry. And now we have these young Jewish boys, living in a pagan and idolatrous society, striving to remain faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Bible commentator Matthew Henry says of Daniel, “How much better it is with those that retain their integrity in the depths of affliction than with those that retain their iniquity at the heights of their prosperity.”
Let me read that again and let it sink in: “How much better it is with those that retain their integrity in the depths of affliction than with those that retain their iniquity at the heights of their prosperity.” Or as Proverbs 16:8 says, “Better is a little with righteousness, Than vast revenues without justice.”
Verse 9 says “Now God had brought Daniel into the favor and goodwill of the chief of the eunuchs” much like Joseph was brought into favor with the keeper of the prison when he was in captivity in Egypt. This was an act of God, and was made possible by Daniel’s integrity in his studies and his work. And so we see another principle of integrity, especially for young people just getting started in their careers. If you want to find favor with your superiors, be faithful in your duties.
In verses 10 through 14, the chief eunuch expresses his concern to Daniel about his own fate if Daniel and his friends appear to be anything but thriving. Daniel, in his godly wisdom, does not make his appeal out of stubbornness or rebellion, but respectfully as a matter of conscience. Daniel responds with respect for the chief eunuch’s dilemma, and negotiates a test, which provides the chief eunuch with a way out of the situation if Daniel’s proposal doesn’t work. And this leads us to yet another principle of integrity: be genuinely interested in the success of those who are over you. And so the chief eunuch allowed the test to happen. And for 10 days, Daniel, Hananiah, Meshael, and Azariah ate nothing but pulse, and drank nothing but water. There are some different opinions about what pulse is, but the point was that it was a diet of vegetables and water. But God honored their faithfulness by giving them health in this diet.
Verses 15 and 16 provide us with the results of the test: “And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.” I can’t say for sure if I am interpreting this correctly, but I take that to mean that everybody else ended up on the Daniel diet as well. If that’s true, I’m sure that made Daniel and his friends really popular! No wonder they faced the traps that they did later on in the Book of Daniel.
Verse 17 provides us with some detail about how God continued to bless their faithfulness. “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”
Like Joseph in Egypt, Daniel was given the gift of the ability to interpret dreams. This gift would prove to be essential to Daniel in the days ahead.
And so we come to the end of the chapter, verses 18 through 21. And we read:
“Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 Then the king interviewed[b] them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. 20 And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. 21 Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus.”
Their university degree was complete. Daniel, Hananiah, Meshael, and Azariah are now around 18 to 20 years old, and God has blessed them and prepared them for leadership in the presence of Nebuchadnezzar. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.” And as we will see, God will use these men to preserve the Jewish captives and prepare both them and their Babylonian and Persian kings for the eventual return to Jerusalem.
So, to recap, what are we to take away from all this?
We can be in the world without being of the world. Daniel and his friends served well in Babylon, but they did not allow Babylon to take their hearts captive.
We should honor our leaders, and do good work, even in a secular role. Our faithfulness can be our testimony to our secular peers.
We must purpose in our hearts to remain faithful, because we will encounter situations that will test us, and we need to have our responses prepared in advance.
Amen. My next message on Daniel will be about Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream. I would encourage you all to read Daniel chapter 2 before then.
December 10, 2017
Advent Conspiracy: Four Spiritual Practices
Pastor Dennis Elhard
You may recall the term “Advent Conspiracy.” A few years ago I even remember showing a video that was produced by this movement. It’s a captivating title, anything that has to do with conspiracy tends to grab our attention. Actually an unsolicited email arrived in my in-box last week that reminded me of this movement and inspired the content of this sermon today. So just what is an Advent Conspiracy?
A number of years ago, I think it actually began in 2006; three pastors became disillusioned after they came again to the end of the season of Advent exhausted and sensing that they had missed it once again: “the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.” Little wonder that there was a sense of dread every time the Advent/Christmas season came around. (Quote) “A creeping kind of idolatry was consuming them and their communities. It seemed as if all were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. An overwhelming stress had overtaken any sense of worship. People now believed the marketing lie that spending money is the best way to express love. This, combined with the American mindset that ‘more must be better’ was now consuming pastors and congregations alike.” Somehow this had become the new normal.
So the three pastors got together and decided to try something different in their families and in their churches. They called it the “Advent Conspiracy” and they came up with four tenets to guide their priorities: Worship fully; Spend less; Give more; Love all. It started small – just the three churches and a few others, but it has become a large movement including many churches worldwide. The four tenets are also spiritual practices that can help us to enrich this season, and they form the outline of my sermon this morning.
First: “Worship Fully” – Because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus. The biblical story and celebration of the incarnation is first and foremost about worship. However we have tended to follow our culture and make gift giving or even family time the primary focus of the season. The Greek word for “worship” used in the account of the Wise Men is proskyneo which means to pay homage, to kneel down before – and to kiss the hand (dog licking the hand). Since the whole story is about God coming to be “with us” through his Son, worship should be our primary response – and this is certainly evident in the scriptures.
The worship begins with Mary – in her song recorded in Luke 1: 46-49. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” These are beautiful expressions of worship! Worship is also the response of the shepherds (read Lk. 2: 16-20 – “glorifying and praising God for the things they had heard and seen”). And finally, worship was the purpose of the Magi – “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him – Matthew 2:2. And in verse 11 we read: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” So we see from these scriptures the very important and necessary aspect of worship in both the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Worship is the call of the season, so make worship your priority – Mary, the shepherds, the Wise Men all worshiped at the coming of Jesus – because it’s all about Him!
To worship fully in this Advent season involves the aspect of spiritual preparation. How can we do that? Make the effort to read your Bible daily - last week I had suggested reading through the book of Isaiah. (First 3 chapters of Matthew and Luke) Incorporate some element of study with your Bible reading. There are also specific Advent texts and devotionals available. Take time for prayer, maybe even fast – attend worship services. But whatever you may do, include aspects of worship – giving to God the glory he is due.
Something that I have observed and have found curious is that Christians will at times choose family time over worship. If we recognize the importance of worship surrounding the events of the birth of Christ and if we claim that Jesus is the reason for the season, how can we choose to miss the worship of the church? Family times and gift opening times can be adjusted around the worship services. “Come and worship, Come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”
Second: “Spend Less” – Feel less stress, and free up resources for things that matter to Jesus. The run-up to Christmas can be real hard on our pocketbooks. Many take on serious debt during this time of year. Here’s some hard numbers from the National Retail Federation (US). Americans spent $658 billion in retail stores in 2016, and the number continues to grow every year. Maybe we could justify all that spending if it truly made us happy, however, according to research conducted by a major credit reporting agency, among people surveyed:
* 56% said they spend too much during the holiday season.
* 55% feel stressed about their finances during the holidays.
* 43% said the extra expense make the holidays hard to enjoy.
* 31% have gone into debt from unexpected holiday purchases.
Would Jesus really want us to be spending this kind of money on his birthday – especially when there are so many in desperate need in our world? This onslaught of buying more and more comes ironically on the very day when we celebrate the impoverished birth of our God. (AC website) “The story has been hijacked. ‘Oh you have religious celebration? Where? We want to come and worship too’ and corporations use the holiday to make as much money as one possibly can (remember Herod?).”
This year we invite you ignore the signs and symbols of the commercial empire.
We invite you to not give into the advertisers and corporation that really don’t want to worship but will use the language of Christmas to lure us into spending more. We invite you to spend less on thoughtless gifts, to give more meaningful gifts, gifts of our time and presence. We believe that as we do this, as we celebrate Christmas we can be a part of God still changing the world.
May you recognize that having it all is not having it all. (end quote)
Wouldn’t you love to be free of some of the stress of finding “just the right gift?” Here’s a couple of ways. First, pare down the extent of your gift giving – this saves money, time and stress. Instead of the obligation to buy for every member of your family, draw names and be content with less. And for uncles and aunts and cousins, maybe we need to return to the days of being happy with a greeting card – and especially if it’s handmade.
Second, simplify. Giving gifts that are simpler and less expensive can be just as rewarding – and especially if you can give something that is handmade. And receiving a gift that is handmade can be much more meaningful that something made in a factory. Remember the cost and the size of a gift does not determine its ultimate worth. All too often, in our commercialized Christmas – as the Grinch says: ‘gifts become garbage.” We have way more than we need. And too many possessions become a burden and a danger to our spiritual life. Jesus reminds us that “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So take some stress out of your life and spend less this season.
Third: “Give More” – Give relationally to offer one another presence, rather than merely presents. I like the spin they put on this practice of “giving more” – here it’s not about money or gifts, but in giving of ourselves more intentionally in relationships. After all, the story we will celebrate at Christmas is about the coming of “Emmanuel” who is “God with us.” In the incarnation God came to us in the flesh so he could dwell with his people relationally. Instead of giving trinkets and useless gifts, would it not be better to give ourselves to God and each other?
(AC website) A pastor writes: “This week I woke up early and sat next to the fire and had my coffee. My 3 yr old son woke a bit after and he asked for some hot chocolate and then he came and sat in the chair next to me. We both just sat and drank our drinks and watched the fire. No shows, No netﬂix, just sat - maybe one of the most enjoyable moments of my year.
When you’re content to just be with another person, entering into their world, being with them, it touches something deep in our heart. It satisfies a deep longing. And so when it comes to the actual story of Christmas one of the best ways to celebrate is to simply give the gift of your presence. Be with someone.”
Specifically, during this season of Advent, it would be a great way to remember “God with us” by trying to be more intentionally present. Technology is making it easier and easier to be present but not be with. We’re halfway present, being present with our body but not with our whole relational selves. It’s not unusual to be in a crowd full of people and for everyone to be distracted, in their own world, on their phone. This technology is pulling us out of the moment, out of relationship and even away from our own thoughts, instead of being quiet with ourselves and thinking and working something out in thought and prayer, we just distract ourselves with a phone. So not to get all anti phone, but one of the ways it would be a great way to celebrate “God with us” is by trying to be more with ourselves and others by doing a phone fast.
So join the Advent Conspiracy and instead of giving expensive presents this year, give more of your presence in affirming relationships. It is undoubtedly the best gift we can give – ourselves to God and to one another. (adventconspiracy.org - 20 ideas for relational giving)
Fourth: “Love All” – Love the forgotten, the poor, the marginalized, and the sick in the ways Jesus asked us to. The final tenet is to spread the love of God around to those less fortunate – in tangible ways. Remember in the second tenet we were challenged to spend less so we could free up resources for the things that matter to Jesus. He told his followers in Luke 2: 32-33, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Remember that the story that we will retell and celebrate at Christmas is not a story about wealth and privilege. Mary recognized her humble estate in her song. Joseph and Mary were poor, common folk; Bethlehem a non-descript place; the birth took place in an animal manger; the shepherds were the lowest on the socio-economic pole. Only the magi represent wealth.
This Advent the invitation is to scratch beneath the surface and to see the glory in humility. God loves to work in the margins with those who have been overlooked. It is why we should choose to spend less on the flashiness of Christmas and decide to love those who have been neglected – to go to the places, for instance, that are in desperate need of clean water. Remember, over 650 billion spent in the US last Christmas! And it’s estimated that it would only take around 30 billion to provide clean water to every person on the planet – boy, do we have our priorities upside down!
“The story beckons us to not get drawn into hype. The story beckons us to remember that God works with “out of the way people” in “out of the way places”. Scratch beneath the story of consumerism and you’ll find a story worth celebrating, and a king worth following. I invite you to celebrate differently this year - worship more fully, spend less on gifts you don’t need, give more relational gifts, and love all by using the money you save for the organizations and ministries that support the poor and the disenfranchised. Be a part of this Advent Conspiracy.
December 17, 2017
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Jolly old Saint Nicholas, Lean your ear this way! Don't you tell a single soul What I'm going to say: Christmas Eve is coming soon; Now, you dear old man Whisper what you'll bring to me; Tell me if you can.
This beloved song was written in the mid-eighteen hundreds at first as a poem. But who exactly is this “Saint Nicholas?” If you follow through the lyrics of the song, he is equated with who we have come to know as Santa Claus. And in fact, today and for many years the names have been used interchangeably to refer to the same person doing what we associate with Santa Claus. But is this fair to Saint Nicholas? One is a myth, while the other is a real person in history. While some aspects of the character of Santa Claus have clearly evolved from the stories that surround Saint Nicholas, there is also a world of difference between the two. So then who is this Saint Nicholas of history? That’s a question that I would like to look into today.
However, typically Protestants and particularly evangelicals don’t give much attention to saints. Throughout history there has been much to question the lifting up of those who have been given sainthood. The veneration of their bones and tombs, the miraculous claims and outright superstition that often accompanies their cult followings – all have little scriptural support. On the other hand, if the acknowledgement of a saint is primarily to offer up good role models and examples of Christ-likeness, and of lives given wholly in service to God, then they can offer something of value to us. Such is Saint Nicholas, and such is how we will consider him.
Nicholas was born in the third century in a village along the south coast of what is now Turkey. His parents were relatively well off and were also devout Christians. Nicholas showed great interest in spiritual things even as a boy. Unfortunately, both of his parents died during an epidemic while he was still relatively young - sometime probably in his teens. He was then raised by an uncle who was a priest and who continued his spiritual education. With the death of his parents, Nicholas was left with a substantial inheritance, which he gave away in its entirety to the needy, the sick and the suffering. He was in the same position as the rich, young man who came to Jesus wondering how he could attain eternal life. Jesus said, “go and sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Nicholas, unlike the rich man, obeyed Jesus’ words and gave it all away. He eventually became the Bishop of Myra, and was actually imprisoned and persecuted for his faith under the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, but was fortunate to have been released after the rise of Constantine.
Nicholas had a legendary reputation for secret gift-giving - particularly for putting coins in shoes. He became known for his generosity to those in need, his great love for children, and, interestingly, his concern for sailors. (Pastor quote) “Nicholas had deep love for those who could not fend for themselves. He was brave in standing up for justice, almost reckless in his generosity to the needy and deep in his love for the young and helpless. (The stories of his life are) worth hearing because they are qualities worth having.” And his motivation came out of his love for Christ.
There are many stories and miracles that are attributed to Saint Nicholas. However, what is incredible is that not one of them can be verified historically. Some involve miraculous deeds and some of the stories even border on the bizarre. Likely, most have an element of truth to them and then over time have become embellished, some to the almost unbelievable. But I do want to share with you two of the most well-known stories that are attributed to Nicholas.
First: There was a man, once rich, who had fallen on hard times. Now poor, he had three daughters of an age to be married. In those days a young woman's family had to have something of value, a dowry, to offer prospective bridegrooms. The larger the dowry, the better the chance a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were destined to be sold into slavery, or worse – probably prostitution.
Word of the family's misfortune reached Nicholas, who still had some of the wealth inherited from his parents. Coming in secret by night, he tossed a bag of gold into the house. It sailed in through an open window, landing in a stocking left before the fire to dry. What joy in the morning when the gold was discovered! The first daughter soon wed. Not long after, another bag of gold again appeared mysteriously. The second daughter was married. The father, now very anxious to know who the secret benefactor was, kept watch during the night.
A third bag of gold landed inside the house and the watchful father leaped up and caught the fleeing donor. "Ah, Nicholas, it is you!" cried the father, "You have saved my daughters from certain disaster." Nicholas, embarrassed, and not wishing to be known, begged the man to keep his identity secret. "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance."
Second: Miracle of the grain. During a famine in Myra, Bishop Nicholas worked desperately hard to find grain to feed the people. He learned ships bound for Alexandria with cargo's of wheat had anchored in the harbor for Myra. The good Bishop asked the captain to sell some of the grain from each ship to relieve the people's suffering. The captain said he could not because the cargo was "meted and measured." He must deliver every bit and would have to answer for any shortage. Nicholas assured the captain there would be no problems when the grain was delivered. Finally, reluctantly, the captain agreed to take one hundred bushels of grain from each ship. The grain was unloaded and the ships continued on their way.
When they arrived and the grain was unloaded, it weighed exactly the same as when it was put on board. As the story was told, all the emperor's ministers worshiped and praised God with thanksgiving for God's faithful servant Nicholas. Back in Myra, Saint Nicholas distributed grain to everyone in Lycia and no one was hungry. The grain lasted for two years, until the famine ended. There was even enough grain to provide seed for a good harvest.
Nicholas was also apparently instrumental in securing the release of three soldiers who had been unjustly condemned for execution. He showed great bravery in confronting the authorities of the day. Again there are many stories and claimed miracles surrounding Nicholas, but not one are actually verifiable. However, he was a real person in history, and undoubtedly there is truth in his lasting reputation for being a very generous and giving man to children and to those in need.
So can we reconcile Santa Claus with St. Nicholas? I would say for the most part “no.” While the mythical Santa does exhibit some of the traits of Nicholas – giving gifts in secret, the stocking tradition – Saint Nicholas is a real person whose life is worth emulating. I found this little piece that offers an interesting comparison of Santa and Nicholas:
- Santa Claus belongs to childhood; St. Nicholas models for all of life.
- Santa Claus, as we know him, was developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message; - St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.
- Santa Claus encourages consumption; St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
- Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.
- Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem; St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.
- Santa Claus isn't bad; St. Nicholas is just far better.
There is some interest in re-claiming the role of St. Nicholas in a culture fascinated with Santa Claus. For indeed, St. Nicholas, lover of the poor and the patron saint of children, is a model of how Christians are meant to live and love. Families and churches are embracing true St. Nicholas traditions as one way to claim the true center of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. Maybe instead of putting all that effort into trying to ignore Santa Claus (and really how can you), or worse demonize him, why not make use of him for a teaching moment? Tell your kids honestly that Santa Claus is a pretend and a very poor representative of a much-revered man who actually lived and loved Jesus and who spent himself and his substantial inheritance on the poor and the sick and those in prison. He was a man of great generosity and compassion – like Jesus.
The Advent reading this morning was from Isaiah 61 (read again). This passage was a messianic prophecy that was fulfilled in Jesus – and we know that for sure because Jesus clearly made the claim that this text was about him. In Luke 4: 16-21, Jesus reads this very passage in the synagogue, and then rolls up the scroll and says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, I am the one this scripture is referring to. I have been anointed by the Spirit to preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom and release for prisoners – to comfort all who mourn and provide for all who grieve. These are the wonderful promises that would accompany of the coming of the Messiah. They also, at least to a certain extent, define the life of Nicholas. He is an example and a model for us and our children of the Christ Spirit at work in a life given wholly to Jesus.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas is a figment of human imagination – but let’s use him to teach our children and to remind ourselves of the real Spirit of Christmas captured in the real life of a man named Nicholas. “So this Christmas, give gifts if you like. We will in our family. Receive them all with thanksgiving. But do not forget what we need most—salvation through substitution. This is one gift the real St. Nicholas would not have overlooked.”
December 24, 2017
Mr. Nezzar's Night Before Christmas
Pastor Bryan Watson
Good morning. Let’s open with a word of prayer.
O Most High God, I thank You and praise You for the privilege of being here in Your house this morning. Lord, I pray that as I deliver this message, that the words of my mouth will remain true to Your Holy Word, and that only uncompromising truth will be heard from my lips on this day. In the name of Your Son, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tonight, I pray, Amen.
OK, so last time when I speaking on Daniel, we covered Daniel, chapter 1. That was about The Food Test.
We learned that Nebuchadnezzar chose the best and the brightest of the Jewish nobles to be trained in service for his own kingdom. Upon their arrival in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to give them everything they needed to succeed, because that was in his own best interest. It wasn’t for their benefit.
We learned about the Babylonian’s attempt to assimilate the Jews by changing their names, and by changing their diet.
We learned that God providentially gave Daniel favor with the chief of the eunuchs, so that Daniel could challenge the king’s commanded menu, and God honored Daniel by giving him success in this test.
We learned that Daniel purposed in his heart ahead of time that he would remain obedient to God, and that allowed him to be prepared when situations like this came up.
Finally, we learned that God used Nebuchadnezzar to establish Daniel and his friends in positions of leadership that would allow for the care of the Jewish captives, and prepare them for their ultimate return to Israel one day.
I want to move on now to Daniel, Chapter 2. How many of you read Daniel Chapter 2 this week?
If you would open your Bibles with me please to Daniel 2: 20-23.
20 Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
21 And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
22 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.
23 “I thank You and praise You,
O God of my fathers;
You have given me wisdom and might,
And have now made known to me what we asked of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s demand.”
I’ve titled this message, “Mr. Nezzar’s Nightmare Before Christmas”. I hope you will extend grace to me for the title and opening graphic of this message. Given the subject matter of the sermon, Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream, and the timing, Christmas Eve, I just couldn’t help myself with the pop culture reference, between Veggie Tales’ Mr. Nezzar and Tim Burton’s cartoon. I sat down with Power-point for a few minutes, and this was the result.
Also, my original intent was to deliver the entire message for chapter 2 in 1 sermon. But out of respect for your time on Christmas Eve, and considering the amount of information that I want to share, I have decided to break it up into 2 messages. So today, we will discuss the sequence of events surrounding the dream, and next time, we will discuss the interpretation of the dream.
For the sake of time, we’re not going to read through the chapter verse by verse here, so let me give you a brief synopsis and then we will dig into some teaching.
In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had a nightmare. It bothered him so much, that he called all his various types of wise men together in order to get the interpretation. But in order to make sure that they weren’t just feeding him a line of baloney, Nebuchadnezzar required them to tell him what the dream was, to prove that they also had the ability to interpret it.
Because they couldn’t do what he asked, Nebuchadnezzar ordered all of the wise men to be killed and their houses destroyed. When the news got to Daniel, he appealed for a bit of time, and miraculously, it was granted. Daniel and his friends had an urgent prayer meeting, and God provided both the dream and the interpretation to Daniel.
Daniel provided the interpretation, which is actually a prophetic message, to Nebuchadnezzar, who then acknowledged the power of Daniel’s God, and promoted Daniel and his friends to prominent positions in the Babylonian government.
OK, then let’s dig in.
The first thing we need to understand is Daniel’s status when all of this is going on. If you recall from last time, at the end of chapter 1, Daniel and his friends had completed their 3 year training and were found by the king to be 10 times better than anybody else who was presented to him. So, why weren’t Daniel and his friends some of the first ones consulted about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2?
The answer in the first 8 words of chapter 2. “In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign…” This is the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We are actually going back in time by a year, and Daniel and his friends had not completed their training from the University of Babylon yet. The king had no reason to know who they were, and in fact, they would be considered nothing more than teen-aged students, as they were only about 16 years old at the time.
To fully understand the situation, I think it’s important that we stop seeing this text as just words on the page, and truly try to put ourselves in Daniel’s shoes for just a moment. Daniel and his friends are literally of no influence at the time that this powerful king had this dream. They were Jewish exiles who were marched to Babylon as captives. Sure, they are being treated OK now while in training. That is to the king’s benefit, and perhaps Nebuchadnezzar knew a little bit about Stockholm Syndrome, where you eventually identify with your captives.
But it probably wasn’t that way for Daniel and his friends on the trip to Babylon from Jerusalem. Ancient kingdoms were often brutal, especially in the process of conquering other nations. The march from Jerusalem to Babylon was probably a 4 month walk. And they weren’t riding on the back of an air-conditioned donkey with a plush leather saddle and satellite radio. They walked. Probably tied together like a chain gang. There was no great banquet. The Babylonians weren’t offering a buffet, or looking for a McDonald’s drive-through on the way. More likely, the captives WERE the buffet for the vultures and desert dogs if they got sick and lagged behind.
So how is Daniel feeling right about now? He’s 16 now. He’s probably lost his parents. He’s struggling to keep his identity and culture. He’s in exile.
And Daniel knows the Jewish laws, which are the first 5 books of the Old Testament. When the people are in exile, it is because they broke the covenant with God. Disobedience is a sign of a lack of faith. Exile was the ultimate punishment, and Daniel knew it.
How many nations return from exile in history? Besides Israel? You didn’t hear from the people who went into exile. They didn’t email or tweet. They were gone. The Israelites who went into exile in Assyria were never heard from again. Today, they are called the Lost Tribes of Israel.
But here’s a spoiler alert: the Jews who went into exile in Babylon returned. Do you know why? Because God’s promises of a coming Messiah meant that these Jews had to return from exile. God made a promise back in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. God is the One who expanded on that promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 and said that all the world would be blessed through Abraham’s seed. God signed this, not humans! And that seed was destined to be from the Tribe of Judah, and it was Judah who went to Babylon. These Jews had to return to Israel in order to fulfill the promises of God about the Messiah, and tonight at our Christmas Eve service, we celebrate the birth of that Seed. GOD WAS IN CONTROL.
But back to Daniel’s desperate situation. This isn’t a democracy. You’ve heard it said that “if Momma’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, this was a thousand times worse. If the king is not sleeping, no one sleeps. If the king is angry, everybody is afraid! The king could laugh with you one day and kill you the next. Why? Because he felt like it. The world is about what the king wants.
And right now, what the king wants is an answer. He has had a dream. He’s probably had many dreams before, but this one was powerful enough that scripture says it troubled his spirit so much that his sleep left him. Later on in the chapter, when Daniel is replaying the dream to the king, Daniel refers to the image in the dream as being “awesome.”
Now, when I was discussing this with an evangelical pastor from Israel, a Messianic Jew whose first language is Hebrew, he clarified for me that this isn’t “high-five” awesome! To paraphrase what he said, this was a most terrifying kind of “awesome.” Think, waking up screaming kind of awesome. No wonder Nebuchadnezzar demanded to know the interpretation of the dream and put his wise men through the paces. This wasn’t just any dream. This was probably the dream of his life!
So, consider that when Nebuchadnezzar calls his magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers to tell him his dream. These were the most highly respected, and most feared, men in all of Babylon. They controlled the religious system and the culture. These were not a bunch of buffoons as we sometimes see in various movies. These men were highly trained and intelligent, and probably tied into the occult and demonic forces.
To test them, Nebuchadnezzar demands that they not only give him the interpretation of the dream, but also a description of the dream itself. Can you imagine what must have gone through their minds? Their lives and family homes were on the line here! In a moment of ultimate truth, they reply to the king in verses 10 and 11, “There is not a man on earth who can tell the king’s matter; therefore no king, lord, or ruler has ever asked such things of any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean. It is a difficult thing that the king requests, and there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Ironic, isn’t it, when a 16-year-old foreign student gives the king exactly what he is looking for.
And so the king orders their destruction. In his mind, they are no longer of any use, and cannot be trusted. And Nebuchadnezzar’s order extends to the students in training over at Babylon University.
Now, do you remember back to chapter 1 when we are told that God divinely gave Daniel good standing with those over him? That is front and center again, because Daniel is able to ask Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, who is under orders to kill all the wise men, what the big deal is. And rather than just follow his orders and kill Daniel and his friends, Arioch and Daniel have a conversation about this, with Daniel being permitted to go to the king and ask for time.
Why was Daniel allowed the privilege of seeing the king? He was a 16-year-old student that the king didn’t know.
Why did the king agree to Daniel’s request for more time? Is there any other answer to these two questions than that God was in control all along?
So, Daniel’s next step was to gather his friends together and pray. Prayer should be our FIRST responsibility – not our last resort. Is prayer increasing or diminishing in the church today? I cannot say it enough. If we, as a congregation, gathered regularly and earnestly in fervent prayer, what do you think would happen to this community?
Ultimately, the secret of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was revealed to Daniel, and this moved Daniel to praise, which was our scripture passage for today.
He praised the character of God. V20 - Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.
He praised the Control of God. V21a - And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He praised the Comprehension of God. V21b-22 - He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.
He praised the concern of God. V23 - I thank You and praise You,
O God of my fathers;
You have given me wisdom and might,
And have now made known to me what we asked of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s demand.
Daniel was even gracious enough to plea for mercy for the pagan wise men. And in his explanation to the king, he made it clear to Nebuchadnezzar that the revelation would come from God alone. Daniel did not steal God’s glory, but essentially confirmed what the other wise men said about the fact that only God could provide this knowledge. But where they referred to inanimate, imaginary gods, Daniel referred to The Most High God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The One True God.
And that is where we are going to have to stop today, because I want to take the time to dig into the interpretation of the dream, which is a detailed prophetic vision.
2 Peter 1:19 says
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Through prophecy, we can have a pretty good idea what is going to happen, so that we don’t have to live life surprised by or afraid of the news. That way, we can focus on God’s will. The lesson for us is that instead of being surprised by God’s wrath when it is too late, we should understand the prophecies, and that He is in control. The wheels of justice may seem to move slowly, but they move surely. This is our opportunity to accept Jesus Christ, the Seed that was promised, as our Lord and Saviour right now, before it is too late. Today is the day of Salvation! Amen. Let’s pray.