Scripture: Isaiah 9: 1-7
The Jesus Film Project website had this interesting article pertaining to the Old Testament Prophecies that Jesus fulfilled:
Some scholars believe there are more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. These prophecies are specific enough that the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling even a handful of them, let alone all of them, is staggeringly improbable—if not impossible.
Peter Stoner, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena College, was passionate about biblical prophecies. With 600 students from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Stoner looked at eight specific prophecies about Jesus. They came up with extremely conservative probabilities for each one being fulfilled, and then considered the likelihood of Jesus fulfilling all eight of those prophecies.
The conclusion to his research was staggering. The prospect that anyone would satisfy those eight prophecies was just 1 in 1017. In Science Speaks, he described it like this:
"Let us try to visualize this chance. If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all of the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state.
"Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote using their own wisdom."
As we prepare our hearts during this Christmas season, let’s keep our focus on Jesus. He is indeed “THE HOPE OF ALL THE AGES!”
Isaiah is sometimes called “The Prince of the Prophets.” One source listed 25 different verses in the Book of Isaiah as being prophetic verses about the Messiah, and then claimed that this was only a partial list. We are very familiar with Isaiah 7:14 ‘s prophecy that a virgin would have a child, with Isaiah 9: 6-7’s prophecy of a child being born who would carry the government upon his shoulders, and Isaiah 11’s prophecy of a time of peace and harmony, and Isaiah 53’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant. These are probably the one’s with which we quickly recognize, but there are so many more.
And while Isaiah’s Book is the most prolific, the other books also point to the Hope of Isaiah—an anointed King, the Messiah who would be Israel’s Deliverer!
And the Hope of Israel is still the Hope of all the Ages.
Let’s consider Jesus as the Hope.
I. THE HOPE OF ISRAEL.
a. Sometimes the fulfillment of our hope happens in ways we do not expect, and we fail to recognize the blessing because of our perception.
b. Isaiah was a priest and prophet who lived in Jerusalem. We read in Isaiah 6 of his call that came the same year that King Uzziah died—739 B.C. That was the time with the great Assyrian Empire was making aggressive military threats. And it was during the time of Isaiah’s ministry that Assyrians did in fact invade and defeat the Northern Kingdom of Israel, carrying off the inhabitants, 10 of the twelve tribes, into exile and captivity. And things didn’t look very promising for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. So, the prophesies of a Messiah (which means an Anointed One, signifying a King who was anointed with Oil when selected for office, gave the Jews a Hope for the future.
c. We know the rest of the story. Judah continued to drift away from God in spite of the prophesies and the calls to repentance until they were finally conquered by the Babylonian Army. Much of the population was carried off into a captivity that continued for 70 years. But the Hope of Deliverance continued. We read in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah how the Jews were granted permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple and the City Walls. But they remained under foreign control even then. And they continued to Hope for this Conquering King to deliver them. For a very short period of time in the century before Jesus it looked like the Maccabees might be the Deliverers they hoped for, but the Maccabean Rebellion was finally suppressed so that the Jewish people were still looking for that Messiah King who would lead them in overthrowing the foreign governments that ruled them. And their idea of a military King dominated their minds at the time of Christ so that, even after the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus when God was going to restore them as a sovereign nation. And the Jews were so locked into their perception of how the Messiah would be that they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah!
d. Jesus was their Hope, but so many failed to recognize Him as the Messiah King. They were looking for an earthly political King, but Jesus was offering them deliverance from the Kingdom of this Fallen World and a way to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Remember his recurring theme when he taught and preached: “The Kingdom of God is at Hand.”
II. THE HOPE FOR THE WORLD
a. We know that Jesus came to deliver more than just the Jews. He came to save the world. His lament over Jerusalem just a few days before His Crucifixion is a lament that speaks to more than just the Jews—it is a cry over the world: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you, and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
b. We get so caught up in politics. We think if this party wins, everything will be so much better, or if this other party wins, things will be so much worse. We seem to think that this world’s governments will fix all our problems and someday there will be peace and harmony in our world. And, yet we know that is not happening. Evil still rules this world’s nations. There are wars constantly. Tyrants still hang on to power. And the tyrants who are overthrown are soon replaced by others who are power hungry and seeking to dominate others. In the meantime, morality deteriorates, Human trafficking and Human abuse continues. And all our efforts to make the world a better place through political power continue to fall short.
c. I want to tell you that politics is not the answer to the world’s problems. Socialism is not the answer. Even democracy falls short. No political ideology will succeed as long as our hearts are still enslaved in sin.
d. The thousand years of peace we read about in the Bible where the lion and the lamb will lie down together and the child will not be harmed by the cobra venom, and a little child will lead them—a harmony as described in Isaiah 11, will not come because of human efforts. There was a time when scholars believed that the church would successfully evangelize the whole world and that everyone would become Christians and that would usher in the 1000 years of peace. But most Bible Scholars today believe that it will not be the result of our human efforts, important though those efforts are. Rather, it is more commonly believed today that it will take an invasion by God to set things straight. The Return of Christ –is our Hope for our world. Matthew 24: 27 says, “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Continuing to point to the sudden invasion by Christ, we read beginning in verse 29, “Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
It will be a sudden cosmic invasion that will confront a fallen world and set into place a new world order—where Jesus rules as the Everlasting King!
JESUS IS THE ONLY TRUE HOPE THIS WORLD HAS!
III. THE HOPE OF ETERNITY!
a. When this world ceases, and time is not more, what then? When we take our last breath in this world and our bodies are lowered into the grave, what then? Two guys were talking. They were drinking and bragging about their reckless lifestyles and how they had come close to death a few times. Then one of them said, “I’m ready to go. I understand that when I die, I will get a new body.” And the other said, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been told.” But they both failed to realize that the promise of an immortal body is the Hope God has given to those who first of all put their trust in Jesus and accept Him as their Savior and Lord.
b. Someone else was telling me of a movie star who said she believed that when she reaches the end of her life, she will shut her eyes and go to sleep and never wake up. NO, that’s not what God’s word says! After physical death we are told we will be brought before the judgment seat of God Himself. And those who have accepted Christ will be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom where there will be no more pain or sorrow. But those who have not given their hearts to Christ will be cast into an everlasting hell to suffer torment for eternity!
c. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the World that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
d. JESUS IS OUR HOPE FOR ETERNITY!
And so today marks on the Christian Calendar the beginning of the season called Advent. It is the time when we prepare to celebrate The Birth of Christ, realizing that He is the fulfillment of God’s provision for our salvation. In Him the Jews have their Messiah. In Him, the World has the promise of peace. In Him, we each have the Hope of salvation and eternal life.
We are just finishing the week of National Thanksgiving. That Thanksgiving is directed to the God who gives us every good and perfect gift. And the greatest gift He has given us is Jesus. His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection all gives us HOPE.
Are you experiencing that Hope? Do you know Jesus as your Savior, Your Lord, Your King?
Advent is the season to make sure you are ready to receive Him as He comes!
FIRST CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE…BRANSON, MO
Pastor Jim Cariker…Sermon Notes…Nov. 29, 2020
THE HOPE OF THE AGES
Scripture: Isaiah 9: 1-7
>Illustration: The probability of one person fulfilling all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah…
>JESUS IS THE HOPE
· THE HOPE OF I________
· THE HOPE OF THE _________
· THE HOPE OF E____________
Is Jesus your Hope?
ATTITUDES OF GRATITUDE
Luke 18: 9-14
John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley's heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he
didn't even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man's misfortunes. "And what else do you thank God for?" he said with a touch of sarcasm. The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, "I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!" Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.
Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley's extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, "I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath."
(From Our Daily Bread as quoted in sermonillustrations.com)
I see in Wesley’s story similarities to The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And, too often, it sounds like the reality of our world. It is so easy to take for granted our blessings—and even to surmise that we deserve them—and then look at others not so blessed and think, “I’m glad I’m not like them!”
This week is Thanksgiving Week—a time set aside for our nation to give expressions of Thanksgiving. I have to tell you that I still cringe a little when I hear Thanksgiving called “Turkey Day.” I like the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner menu—Turkey, Ham, Sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other trimmings that go with it. But the dinner is not the end in itself. It is a meal that symbolizes how God has blessed us and provided for us far beyond what we deserve.
The holiday season is different this year because of the COVID 19 epidemic. We felt it expedient to cancel our All Church Dinner that we have celebrated annually for 38 years. Families are downsizing their family gatherings—and some are cancelling them completely. We have people who have been afraid to come to church for months because of the virus threat, and, yet, we have had a large number of our people who have contracted the virus, some with moderate illness and others with something more severe. And our hearts are heavy at the number of people whose infection proved to be fatal.
So why should we even consider celebrating Thanksgiving? History tells that, “The first American Thanksgiving didn't occur in 1621 when a group of Pilgrims shared a feast with a group of friendly Indians. The first recorded thanksgiving took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn't a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God. “--(Today in the Word, July, 1990, p. 22. As quoted in Sermonillustrations.com)
There are so many scriptures that remind us of the importance of giving Thanks: The Account of the 10 Lepers whom Jesus healed and only 1 came back to give thanks (Luke 17); the verse about petitioning God with our requests with Thanksgiving in our hearts (Philippians 4:6); the many accounts in the Old Testament of the People of God stopping and having a celebration of Thanksgiving when God had delivered them and performed a miracle for them. But this week for some reason I haven’t been able to get this Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector out of my head. I think God must be wanting us to take time to consider the attitude in which we give thanks.
I. WHEN WE ARE THANKFUL THAT WE GOT AWAY WITH DOING SOMETHING WRONG.
a. Several years ago a young couple that I knew was involved in an automobile accident. The woman was driving, but she did not have a license, so she and her husband quickly changed places and when the police arrived, the husband claimed to be the driver. The accident had not been their fault, so the policemen did not give them a citation. The woman called her mother-in-law and told her what had happened and what they had done. And then she told her mother how she was giving thanks to God because they had been able to mislead the policeman and she did not get a ticket. She seemed to have no regret or guilt at having lied to the policeman. She was just thankful to God that she did not get caught and have to pay a fine for driving illegally.
b. Now, let me tell you, God is never honored when we lie or steal or cheat in order to avoid being caught doing something wrong. God would have been more honored if the couple had owned up to the truth, paid the fine, and accepted the guilt. Of course, it would have been even more God-honoring if they had obeyed the law to begin with!
c. Have you ever been guilty of offering thanks to God for the wrong reasons? >Perhaps you have claimed some questionable deduction on your income tax and were not audited, so you got away with it. >Perhaps you witnessed a crime but did not step forward because you didn’t want to get involved—and were thankful that you were able to avoid getting involved. >Perhaps you found a $100 bill in the parking lot of a store and instead of reporting it in cause the person who lost it came looking for it—but you were sure glad to be $100 richer... I know if I press the issue, I could come up with something for which we are guilty.
d. The point is, we should strive always to honor God by doing the right thing and be thankful that God is being honored by our act of integrity. To be thankful that God allowed you to do something wrong and then to give Him thanks that you didn’t get caught—that is an affront to God’s integrity!
II. WHEN OUR ATTITUDE IS SELFISH OR PRIDEFUL.
a. The Pharisee in the scripture reading was expressing thanks that he wasn’t like the tax-collector and other sinners. In Jesus’ world, a tax-collector was a fellow Jew who was collecting taxes for the Roman Government. He was considered to be a traitor or turn-coat against his own people. And it was common for these tax-collectors to collect more than was really required so they could pad their own pockets with the excess! So, being thankful he wasn’t that type of a person was not necessarily a bad thing. But the problem the Pharisee displayed was that he felt entitled to God’s blessing because he was paying his tithe and doing good works. And his attitude towards the tax-collector was one of “Self-righteousness superiority. And claiming to be thankful to God while having that type of attitude was again an affront to God. God loves every person with an unconditional love.
b. Of course, we say to ourselves that we could never be guilty of having that attitude. But then we see the homeless and accuse them of be worthless and lazy and unwilling to better themselves and we are so glad that we don’t live like they do! I have to admit that I often struggle with having a humble and compassionate attitude.
c. Jeremiah 9:23–24 says,
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
d. Romans 12:3 say, “ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
e. Galatians 6:3 says, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”
f. In this Thanksgiving season, let’s not look down on others while thinking that we are better than they are!
III. WHEN WE DO NOT EXPRESS OUR THANKFULNESS.
a. I was the first grandson on my dad’s side of the family. Consequently, my aunts and uncles all helped to spoil me. I remember when I was just a young teen and my Aunt & Uncle gave me a really nice sports coat at Christmas. I tried it on, and it fit perfectly and looked really good on me. Of course, back them I was slim and trim. I took it off and told them thanks, and then laid it aside to look at other things. Later, my aunt said something to my Mom that I must not have liked the coat because I didn’t act very excited about it. Remember, I was only about 14 or 15 years old. I thought to myself after learning about it, “How was I supposed to act? I said, ‘Thank you’? What more was expected of me?” I learned a lesson. When a person does something extra-special for you, it is important to communicate genuine gratitude. Truthfully, I was happy with that sports coat. I just didn’t communicate my gratitude convincingly enough.
b. In the Luke 17 story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus, we read that only 1 returned to give thanks. And Jesus wondered about the other 9. Were they thankful? Why didn’t they say so?
c. The lesson is that we should always openly, directly express thanks for those things we receive. And we receive our very existence from the Giver of Life Himself. And God notices when we fail to express our thanks to Him!
The Pharisee in this scripture expressed thanks to God, but his thanks came from a selfish, arrogant heart. And God was not impressed.
But the tax-collector expressed to God how unworthy he was and in humility bowed before God acknowledging his need of God’s mercy and compassion. He didn’t compare himself to anyone else. He owned up to his unworthiness and cast himself upon God’s grace. And God was honored. And we are told it was this tax-collector that was blessed of God that day.
So, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a national holiday that is supposed to be a time when we express our thanks to God for His mercy, compassion, and provision for our nation. We are often told that the poorest people in our nation are considered rich in comparison to the poor in impoverished countries. While we give thanks for our freedom, for our food, and for our families, let’s not look down on others. Let’s not think of ourselves as being better than others. Let’s remember that most of us are here not because we chose to be born here. We are just fortunate to have been born in this blessed nation. There are millions of people who live in areas where Christianity has not been accepted, or where totalitarian governments suppress their freedoms. And even in our own nation, some were born in homes where addiction and abuse were prevalent.
Yes, let’s give thanks to God for His blessings. But let’s do so in humility with the understanding that others are just as valuable and just as loved by God. And we should remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:11—You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
May our attitude reflect in humility our dependence upon God and our love for our neighbors wherever and however they may be!
John 1: 1-14
Several years ago I occasionally watched the Late Night Show with Johnny Carson. I found it interesting to see him engaging his guests in conversation. I read somewhere that Carson was a master in getting people to talk about themselves.
I have read that those who are masters of conversation are the ones who will get the other person to talk about themselves.
I’ve tried to use that approach when I find myself with a person with whom I am not acquainted, I will try to begin a conversation by saying, “Tell me a little about yourself.” In order to encourage that person to open up, I will sometimes have to be a little more specific. I will ask things like, “Where are you from?” “Do you have family?” “What do you do for a living?”
And I always find it interesting to hear the answers to those questions. It usually doesn’t take long before that person begins talking about the things in which they are most interested. And what they talk about is a key to understanding who the person is. My identity is reflected in the topics in which I am most interested.
If you asked me about myself, I would tell you I am a Pastor, a husband of a beautiful and loving wife, a dad to 2 wonderful kids, and a grandpa of 5 (soon to be 7) grandkids. If pressed, I would tell you that I was raised on a farm in Central Eastern Arkansas, that my family and I really got serious about church and started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 17 and soon after that said yes to God’s call on my life to be a preacher. I love God, Family, and people, America, freedom, informality, and food. I could go on, but you get the picture.
But we have been focusing on one aspect of our identities—Who I am as a follower of Christ. We focused on our identity as Protestants and our identity as Nazarenes in our two previous sermons. Today, let’s get to the most basic and essential aspect of our identity: Who am I as a Follower of Christ?
The Bible gives different titles to those who are followers of Christ. Let’s consider just a few of those titles and what they teach us about our identity as Followers of Christ:
I. AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, I AM A CHILD OF GOD.
a. In our scripture reading of John’s introduction to the Gospel that bears his name, we are told in verse 12, “Yet to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
b. There is a sense in which we could all claim to be children of God. When we recognize that God is the Creator of all that exists, including humanity, we realize our existence is because of God’s Creative Power. But that is not what John means in this verse. The Bible tells us how, because of Adam’s sin, all creation was plunged into chaos and all humanity became inflicted with a fallen nature. Mankind was estranged from God. But the New Testament tells us that when we accept Jesus, the Sinless Son of God, as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we are brought back into a right relationship with God. We are “Adopted” into God’s Family! Before, we were “children of this world” or “children of sin.” But now, because of the Salvation we receive when we accept Jesus, we are “Children of God,” “Sons & Daughters.”
c. In Romans 8: 14-17, we read, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to son ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
d. When I was a boy in my hometown of McCrory, Arkansas, people knew me as the son of Billy Ray & Virginia Cariker. Oftentimes, someone who did not know me personally would see me and say, “You must be Billy Ray Cariker’s son—you look so much like him.” I’ve told you of the car dealer who sold me a car, telling me that the reason he trusted my credit was because I was Bill Cariker’s son. I am proud of my earthly family and my identity as son of Bill and Virginia’s. But I am even more excited about my identity as a child of God. I pray that my actions will reflect my relationship and will honor my heavenly Father!
e. I am a Child of God.
II. AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, I AM HIS WITNESS.
a. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Notice that verse does not say “You may be witnesses,” or “You should be witnesses.” It says, “You will be witnesses of me.” If you are a follower of Christ, you automatically become a witness for Christ. Your words, your actions, your attitudes—indeed your whole being becomes a testimony of God’s Saving Grace. It is imperative that we realize that our identity as Christians involves what our lives say about Christ! Even more pointedly, Paul declares of our witness that we are Ambassadors for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us…” The fact that we are Christ’s Ambassadors is a realization that our witness is imperative in this world. The dictionary definition of an “Ambassador "states: “an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country.” As Christ’s Ambassadors we are truly here for a purpose. We represent God’s Kingdom to a world that is under the influence of the Prince of Darkness. Back when the dad President H. W. Bush was in office he promoted the concept of being “Points of Light” in referring to the various volunteer helping organizations in our nation. I want to tell you that as Christ’s Ambassadors we are Points of Light reflecting God’s Light in this world of darkness! Our mission is to testify of Jesus and His provision for our Salvation, and to stand up as His representatives in the face of governments and powers that do not honor Him.
b. A related aspect of being Christ’s Witnesses and Ambassadors is the role that we are expected to fulfill as “Ministers of Reconciliation.” Just before calling us “Christ’s Ambassadors,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself as in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
c. In the Sermon on the Mount that begins with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, in verse 9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” As ministers of reconciliation God has authorized us as His Ambassadors to point people to the God who can fill their hearts with peace. That peace helps to bring people together, but even more importantly, it is a peace that comes from being brought back into the family of God.
d. We are Witnesses—Ambassadors, Ministers of Reconciliation as we engage those of this world who do not know Jesus as Lord!
III. AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, I AM PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.
a. In 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 13, we read, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
b. The context of these verses is in Paul’s description of how the Spirit gives each of us certain gifts—ministry potentials. We do not all have the same gifts, but the gifts we do have represent one function that contributes to the whole body.
c. Illustration: At a meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jack Lipton, a psychologist at Union College, and R. Scott Builione, a graduate student at Columbia University, presented their findings on how members of the various sections of 11 major symphony orchestra perceived each other. The percussionists were viewed as insensitive, unintelligent, and hard-of-hearing, yet fun-loving. String players were seen as arrogant, stuffy, and unathletic. The orchestra members overwhelmingly chose "loud" as the primary adjective to describe the brass players. Woodwind players seemed to be held in the highest esteem, described as quiet and meticulous, though a bit egotistical. Interesting findings, to say the least! With such widely divergent personalities and perceptions, how could an orchestra ever come together to make such wonderful music? The answer is simple: regardless of how those musicians view each other, they subordinate their feelings and biases to the leadership of the conductor. Under his guidance, they play beautiful music.
--(Today in the Word, June 22, 1992, and found in Sermonillustrations.com).
d. Dr. Paul Brandt elaborated on this illustration in one of his books pointing out that some in the body are hands or feet, some are lungs or arteries, etc. I think he said that preachers are like the skin of the body—we are on the front lines and we take the hits and bruises! But the emphasis is that as the Body of Christ, it takes all the parts working in harmony to truly meet the potential of impacting our world for Christ. And we realize that all parts of the body are controlled by the head—the brain—and Jesus is that Head! As members of the body, we receive our direction, our strength, or ability from the Head—that is Christ. It is His Spirit working in us and through us that enables us to function as the Church!
e. Another illustration that caused me to stop and reflect: Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn't fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head? (--Dan Bernard as quoted on Sermonillustrations.com)
f. We are members of the Body—we are important to the whole Body and its function. I pray that when People see us, they will think that the Head must be that of Jesus!
There are many other titles that contribute to who we are as Christians. We are Servants—Love Slaves for God. We are The Redeemed of the Lord. We are the Bride of Christ. Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 says, “ But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
You say you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. The Bible places great significance on what that means. Your identity signifies that you are a valuable creation, an essential worker for advancing His Kingdom. And more importantly, you are God’s very own Child, loved with an infinite Love, precious in His sight.
If you did not realize this, just search God’s Word. It is His special revelation to you of how much He cares for you.
Galatians 2: 15-21
Last week we began a series on our Identity as Christians. We examined the five doctrines that were foundational for the Protestant Reformation:
Glory to God Only
Today, I want to focus on “Who We are as Nazarenes.”
We trace our formation back to England. During those turbulent times when the Protestant movement began, the King of England broke away from the Catholic church and established the Church of England—The Anglican Church. It was a formal “High Church” style in worship very similar to the Catholic Church but without the Pope. A certain man named John Wesley was a minister in the Anglican Church who eventually broke from the formality and began preaching to the common people—oftentimes standing outside the coal mines preaching to the miners as they left the mines. Over time Wesley faced more and more opposition, but developed an organizational structure that enabled thousands to be mentored as Christians. He established small groups call “bands” where the members would not only study God’s Word together, but also be held accountable in their day to day lives.
Historians tell us that the results of the Wesleyan Revival were largely responsible for England avoiding the bloody rebellions that occurred in France.
John Wesley’s systemized methods earned his movement the name “Methodist.” But, truthfully, Wesley remained a member of the Anglican Church his whole life.
Out of that Wesleyan movement in England there was a man named Frances Asbury who was a leader in spreading the Methodist teachings in America. And under his leadership and with Wesley’s blessing the Methodist Church was officially established in the USA in the late 18th century and flourished in the 19th century.
In the late 19th century there was a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church named Phineas F. Bresee who, along with many others across the country, began preaching about a Spirit-filled relationship with Christ. In Wesleyan terms it was called “Entire Sanctification.” Along with that emphasis on holy living, Bresee had a deep burden for those who were considered “the down and outers.” Eventually, Bresee established a work in Los Angeles that became known as the Church of the Nazarene. His church building was called “The Glory Barn,” and they ministered to the needy in the L. A. area. Over time, Bresee was able to start several churches across the West Coast under the umbrella name, “Church of the Nazarene.”
In 1908, several different groups from across the USA who were teaching the importance of Holiness and Entire Sanctification, joined together at a conference in Pilot Point, Texas, and the denomination called the Church of the Nazarene was organized.
So what does it mean to be a Nazarene?
I. NAZARENES ARE HOLINESS PEOPLE.
We stress the importance of having our sins forgiven and our hearts made pure. In our efforts to explain that process we focus on two distinct works of Grace:
(1.) Initial Sanctification occurs the moment we accept Christ as Savior and our sins are forgiven and we are declared pardoned and justified by
God. The guilt of our past sins is atoned and we truly become “born again,” “New Creatures in Christ.”
I mentioned last week that I accepted Christ on a Sunday Night in October 1968 on the closing night of a revival meeting in my home church. That experience was the result of an internal struggle in my heart that had been going on for some time. My family had started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. We attended regularly almost every time there was a service being held. I had prayed several times as a child to accept Christ but it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I really became aware of my personal sins and my need of salvation. There were many nights I lay in bed afraid to go to sleep for fear that I might not wake up and would be lost forever. But it was that night in Oct. 1968 that I truly confessed my guilt and asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I promised Him that from that point on I would live for Him. I knew that night that God had forgiven my sins. I knew when I lay my head on the pillow that night that if I died I would be in heaven. I knew that I was a child of God. It was a very real, genuine experience where I knew that I was forgiven and that if I were to die I would go to heaven!
(2.) Entire Sanctification (the cleansing of our hearts by the Work of the Holy Spirit in removing the “Original sin nature,” and making us pure and clean in God’s sight.) In understanding this experience one must understand the difference between personal guilt and our personal nature. Personal guilt comes from our disobedience to God. It is the result of our consciously choosing to live the way we want instead of the way God wants us to live. But there is a sin nature that we possess that is not because we choose to have it. It is a nature with which we are born. It is the result of Adam’s disobedience that plunged God’s Creation out of harmony with God. We call it by various terms—Original Sin, Inbred Sin, The Carnal Nature, The Old Man, etc. We believe that after having our personal sins forgiven, we need the work of God to change our very nature, purifying that sinful condition with which we are born. Let me tell you my own experience. After accepting Christ, I felt the call of God to be a Preacher. I chose to attend our Nazarene College in Bethany, Oklahoma, now called Southern Nazarene University. It was my first time being pretty much on my own, living away from home and in the big city. I remember particularly one student during those years with whom I debated the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. Our discussions forced me to really search the scriptures to determine if what we were being taught was really what the scripture supported. One verse that really sealed the doctrine of holiness for me was Acts 15:9. That is the passage where Peter was addressing the Jerusalem council and testifying about what had happened in the Gentile house hold where he had preached to the Roman Centurion Cornelius. He said in verses 8 & 9: “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them purifying their hearts by faith.” During the time between when I accepted Christ as a High School Senior and the spring semester of my Freshman year in college, there were several times when I had a flair up of temper and had to ask God and others for forgiveness. And then, with the culture shock of being away from home and in a city very different from my rural home town, I began to question what I was doing. But with the challenge of looking at the teaching of being filled with God’s Spirit, and with hearing some powerful speakers, one night at Bethany College Church, Dr. Ralph Earle spoke on the importance of full surrender to the Holy Spirit, I went to the altar and made that surrender. I believed that the Holy Spirit was in control and that I was totally yielding to His authority. I believe it was at the moment the Holy Spirit purified my heart from the sinful nature. Now, understand that living the holiness life is a work in progress. As a matter of fact, John Wesley spoke not only of Initial Sanctification and Entire Sanctification, but also of Progressive Sanctification. I have come to believe that living the sanctified life involves a continual pursuit of Christ-likeness. It is a pursuit that will continue until the day God calls me home!
(3.) In summary, we who are Nazarenes believe that a person must confess his/her sins and ask God for forgiveness and by faith believe that Jesus’ death on the Cross was payment for our personal sins and that by believing in Jesus we are pardoned and accepted back into God’s family. And after we have asked for forgiveness for the sins for which we have committed, then we must offer ourselves to God placing ourselves fully under His authority.
` So, when a person identifies himself or herself as a Nazarene, it is understood that this is a person who is striving to live a holy life under the control of the Holy Spirit of God!
II. NAZARENES ARE SCRIPTURAL PEOPLE.
(1.) All that we believe and teach is grounded in God’s Word. The doctrine of Sanctification is supported by the clear teaching of God’s Word. Some specific scriptures include the following:
i. Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
ii. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
iii. Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
iv. Acts. 8:14-17 is the account of the Samaritan revival. The people were saved under Philip’s preaching and then received the Holy Spirit under Peter and John’s ministry—two distinctly different experiences.
v. Acts 19:1-7 tells of a group of believers who were saved according to John’ the Baptist’s message of repentance, were asked by Paul if they had received the Holy Spirit. When they answered no, then Paul laid hands on them and prayed for them and they received the Holy Spirit.
III. NAZARENES ARE MISSIONAL PEOPLE.
(1.) We recognize that God desires for us to go and make disciples of all nations, just as Jesus stated in the Great Commission. From the beginning of our denomination, we have had a strong sense of urgency to carry the Gospel to all people. We have one of the strongest missionary programs of any denomination, currently with mission work in over 160 world areas.
We are evangelical—that is we recognize the need to encourage others to come to Christ and accept His provision for salvation. We are compelled to share our witness to everyone as opportunity is given. We believe that all those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior will be lost for eternity unless they repent of their sins and ask Jesus into their heart. And we believe God loves everyone and desires that everyone know of the provision He has made for them so they can be saved. And God has entrusted the message of Salvation—the Gospel—with us and we are compelled to share it!
So, who am I when I say I am a Nazarene? I am a person who believes it is essential that we accept Jesus as Savior and completely surrender to His Lordship and be filled with His Spirit.
I recognize that in my humanity I always fall short of Christ-likeness, but I am always striving to be holy—that is, be as Christ-like as I can be with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
I believe that the mission of the church is to “Make Christ-like Disciples of the Nations.” I support that mission with my time and my resources as God directs.
I believe that we need to be attached to and involved in a local church. One of our leaders, Reuben Welch, is famous for saying, “We really do need each other.”
As you reflect on who you are in Christ, consider the call God has placed on the people called Nazarenes to preach, teach, and model a holy life, filled with God’s Spirit and Love.
And if you are searching for your identity as a spiritual person, I challenge you to surrender yourself totally to the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to honor Him in all you do!
2 Corinthians 5: 11-21
Key Verse: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here” (verse 17).
When we embrace Christ as our Savior and Lord, we become different people.
I am still Jim Cariker, a guy raised in rural Eastern Arkansas. My family started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. I was 17 when I accepted Christ as my Savior. Prior to that decision, I was uncertain about my future. I did well in school, loved accounting, and was considering that is a target for my college education. But on an October Sunday evening in 1968, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins and my need for forgiveness and I responded to the altar call and gave my heart to Jesus. And immediately I knew God was directing me in a different direction. And the farm boy who thought he might become an accountant answered God’s call to preach and my life took on a whole new trajectory.
Have you ever stopped to think of who you have become because of your decision to surrender to Jesus?
Theologically, I am a Nazarene. I embrace the Wesleyan-Armenian Theological tradition. Because of my birth and childhood, I have traditions rooted in the Southern Evangelical style of worship. And I am a Protestant Christian…
Do you know what it means to be a Protestant Christian?
The history of Christianity dates back to the time of Christ but has roots that go all the way back to Creation. Someone has said of Christ in the Bible that He, “In the OT concealed, in the NT revealed.” Truthfully, the Old Testament lays the groundwork for the New.
The Book of Acts gives us a glimpse of the beginning of the Christian Church as it spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and “unto the uttermost parts of the earth." I have in my library several historical books that trace the growth and development of the church over the centuries. For the first several centuries, it was simply the Church Universal—The word “Catholic” means “Universal.” During those centuries God raised up leaders who, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, began to clarify and systemize the basic beliefs of Christianity. But as the centuries passed, there were things that were taught that became highly questionable. For example, the necessity of the common person to go through a priest in order to communicate with God. That was just one of many teachings that seemed to divide people and isolate people and makes them dependent upon human authority figures. And some of those human authority figures were more concerned in having power over others than in really communicating God’s truth.
In 1054 the Church Universal suffered a major divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In tracing our heritage, we look at the Roman Catholic Church.
Over time there were godly men who began to question some of the decisions the leaders of the church were saying and doing, until it finally came to a head in Germany. A young man, who thought he was going to train to become a lawyer, surrendered to God one day and entered the priesthood. Conflicted over doubts over his standing with God, Martin Luther sought diligently for peace and assurance. And in that search, he realized there were things being said and taught that just did not stand up in light of the truth God had already revealed in Scripture.
After much prayer and study, Martin Luther decided he wanted to debate the church leaders over certain practices and teachings he felt were wrong. The sale of indulgences to get loved ones released from purgatory was one of the most prominent practices that Martin Luther wanted to challenge. So, on October 31, 1517, he posted 95 points that he wanted to debate—we call them the 95 Theses. Those points ignited a revolution in Christianity causing a major division between the Roman Catholic Church and what became known as the Protestant Reformation—a movement that came out of a protest against what was considered false or incorrect teachings in the Roman Catholic Church.
Today there are many different brands in Protestant Churches, but those of us that consider ourselves Protestant Christians, share at least 5 major points of doctrine.
` `So, when I say that I am a Protestant Christian, there are 5 things that I reveal about who I am in Christ. There are more things that can be added, but these 5 things form the bedrock teaching to the Protestant Church. Let’s consider…
1. Sola Scriptura – “The Bible alone.”
a. Scripture alone speaks authoritatively, and it speaks to all believers, independently of church leaders and councils, human interpreters and so-called spokesmen for God.” Several years ago, we had a series of Sunday School lessons that focused on Church history. The lessons reviewed such men as St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley. There was a gentleman who thought those lessons were strictly a waste of time. He said that he really didn’t care what those men believed or taught--he was only interested in what the Bible has to say. In one sense he was right, but in another, he was very wrong. If you have been a student of the Bible very long and have listened to others, you know that two people can read the same passage and get a very different understanding. And the truth is, whether you realize it or not, much of what we believe about what it means to be a Christian has come through centuries of thinkers. Someone asked me one time how it is that two very sincere people can look at the same Bible and have different opinions. I responded by using the illustration of special lens in glasses that hunters use for tracking animals. Those lenses tend to filter out certain colors so that the tracker can see more clearly the blood stains from the wounded animal. And whether we realize it or not, our understanding of Christianity comes through the filtering lens of what we have been taught by others over the centuries. But, having said that, I believe that every doctrine we have, everything we believe and teach and practice as Christians, must be anchored in God’s Word. If my belief is not supported by God’s Word, then I am wrong! Martin Luther wasn’t against the various decisions and interpretations that came out of various Christian Councils and Synods as such. He just believed that all those decisions must stand the test of God’s revealed Word—the Bible. In the Church of the Nazarene, we have a governing body. We have a Church Manual that defines our church government and practices as well as our basic doctrines. But we also have a General Assembly that meets every 4 years (except in very extreme cases such as a worldwide pandemic) to examine that Manual and to make changes as deemed necessary. That Manual is a human document that gives us guidance as a church. But we do not hold it on the same level as the Bible. And we insist that everything in that Church Manual must be supported by the clear teaching of God’s Word. We hold that the Bible alone is the final authority, the inspired, God-breathed, authoritative Will of God for our lives.
2. Sola Gratia – “Grace alone.”
a. “It is only by the unmerited favor of God that Christ went to the cross and paid the price for man’s salvation. Man is by nature depraved—he has no virtue that commends him to God. Therefore, God’s grace to him is truly undeserved and amazing, and God’s grace alone has the power to draw people to himself.”
b. Grace is often defined as “unmerited or undeserved favor. But it is more than that. We have all sinned and deserve God’s punishment. Justice demands that we suffer the punishment. But Grace not only provides pardon and forgiveness, it is the source of God’s compassion and mercy and blessing John pointed out that God initiative in Grace when he wrote, “We love because He first loved us”(1 John 4:19).
3. Sola Fide – “Faith alone.”
a. “Only total righteousness is acceptable to God, and that is found in Christ, not us. Man can only accept Christ’s work by placing his trust in him. Man is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not by any works of his own.”
b. I mentioned earlier how Martin Luther sought desperately to find assurance that he was right with God. It was while he was preparing notes for a class he was teaching on the Book of Romans that he began to focus on the verse that says, “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1: 17). Paul summed up this truth in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, so that no one can boast.”
c. As Protestants we realize that our salvation only comes because God in His mercy and compassion has taken the initiative to save us! And the only way to access that grace is by our Faith that Jesus is who He says He is and accepting the fact that Jesus died in our place to pay the debt we owe because of our sins so that we can be reconciled with God and brought into a right relationship with him. In Romans 10: 9-10 we read, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
4. Sola Christus – “Christ alone.”
a. “Salvation is accomplished by Christ, and mediated by Christ alone—not by angels, saints, relics, sacraments, priests, teachers, churches, or anyone or anything else. Christ alone was the perfect Savior, and he alone is the perfect prophet, priest and king.” Jesus accomplished everything that needed to be done in order to provide for our salvation. No one else could do that. Paul calls Jesus, “The Second Adam” as he describes how through Jesus, we have eternal life. Peter and John when brought before the Jewish High Court were threatened and warned to not teach in the name of Jesus. They responded by saying, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”(Acts 4”12). Jim Cariker can’t save you. Your Mom or Dad can’t save you. Donald Trump can’t save you. Mohammad can’t save you. Buddha can’t save you. Jesus is the only One through whom we can be saved!
5. Soli Deo Gloria – “To God alone be glory.”
a. “God should be thanked, praised and given full credit for his sovereign grace and spiritual and physical provision. Theology should be God-centered, not man-centered. God should be put in his place and humans in theirs. Our efforts should not elevate and celebrate men but God. We should bring him glory in our work, in our homes and at play. He, not we, should be the center of all things.” “The chief aim of mankind is to bring glory to our God!” So said those who wrote the Westminster Confession. And so, it is. In Revelation 4:13 we read how John heard the heavenly beings worshiping God and saying, “You are worthy, Our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being”
So, who are you now that you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and have become a new creation?
I am child of God who embraces the Protestant doctrines that state that the Bible alone is our authority and in it we find God’s plan and provision for saving His creation. It was accomplished by Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, when he allowed Himself to die the horrible death of Roman crucifixion, making atonement for our sins. We receive that atonement because God in His Grace and Mercy has offered it to whoever will accept it. He took the initiative by loving me when I was unlovable. And if I will accept the offer of Salvation by putting my faith, my trust, my life in Jesus, I will be saved. And all glory and honor is due to God, our Creator, our Sustainer, Our Lord, and our God.
Does that describe who you are? Wouldn’t you like to have that identity and assurances of salvation?
Matthew 25: 1-13
It is interesting to observe different customs in different cultures. I was telling Gregg this week some of the things I experience in 1996 when I was with a group of ministers who took a quick one week trip to Israel. When our plane landed in Tel Aviv and we were directed to the baggage pickup area, I immediately was aware that everyone was rushing, pushing, shoving as they made their way to the carousel where the baggage was being unloaded. Later that week, several of us took a taxi to a modern mall. It was just a few weeks before Christmas. I’ve been in Battlefield Mall in Springfield during the Christmas season and even though it was very crowded, I could walk right through the crowd and never get touched. Not so in the Jerusalem mall—people were bumping into each other and there was no real effort to stay out of each other’s personal space. In a restaurant in Hoffa the meal was served one item at a time instead of being brought out al together. We had a salad, then a vegetable, then a meat. It was really strange to this Southern boy who likes buffet style meals. I could go on and on about different customs in different parts of the world.
Even within our nation we see so many different customs displayed. Go to a wedding and you may or may not see a unity candle. Or it is not unusual to see a couple mixing different colored sand together instead of the unity candle. Or you may see a couple partaking Communion during the ceremony. In some weddings the couple have written their own wedding vows, while in others the traditional vows are spoken. And the wedding receptions vary from nothing to cake and punch to full fledge meals with live bands playing.
But with all our varying wedding customs, whenever we read this story describing 10 bridesmaids who were waiting on the bridegroom’s appearance, it seems really strange to me. But it wasn’t strange to the people to whom Jesus was relating this story. And even today in parts of the world this story of the bridesmaids describes something very familiar.
William Barclay gives this account of an experience Dr. J. Alexander Findley had when he was visiting in Palestine some years ago. He writes, “When we were approaching the gates of a Galilean town, I caught a sight of ten maidens gaily clad and playing some kind of musical instrument, as they danced along the road in front of our car; when I asked what they were doing, the dragoman [an interpreter or guide]told me that they were going to keep the bride company till her bridegroom arrived. I asked him if there was any chance of seeing the wedding, but he shook his head, saying in effect; ‘It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in fortnight’s time; nobody ever knows for certain.’ Then he went on to explain that one of the great things to do, if you could, at a middle-class wedding in Palestine was to catch the bridal party napping. So, the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night. It is true that he is required by public opinion to send a man along the street to shout, “Behold! The bridegroom is coming!’ But that may happen at any time; so the bridal party have to be ready to go out into the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chooses to come…other important points are that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, and also that, when the bridegroom has once arrived, and the door has been shut, late-comers to the ceremony are not admitted.”
Another interesting point is that while here in America the newlyweds leave and go somewhere for their honeymoon, the custom in the Middle East in Jesus’ day was that the newlyweds would stay in their new home and entertain guests for several days. We see in John’s account of the first Miracle Jesus performed was the result of several days of entertainment at a wedding leaving them without the customary wine.
So, the 10 virgins had a lot riding on their performance as bridesmaids. They had to be ready at a moment’s notice. They had to make sure their lamps were prepared with enough oil to last as long as necessary while they were waiting on the bridegroom’s arrival.
This Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew’s Gospel is located in the midst of Jesus’ discourse about the end of time and the Second Coming. Chapter 24 contains his discourse describing the signs of the times that would be evidence as the Day of the Lord approached. And immediately after this parable we read the parable of Pounds, or as the NIV translates it, the Parable of the Bags of Gold. The point of that parable is to impress on us the fact that we are to be held accountable by the owner with how we have used those resources he has given us.
So, it is correct to assume that this Parable of the Ten Virgins is a warning that when Jesus the Bridegroom comes, we had better be ready. I have to tell you that Jesus will be coming someday—and if what we are seeing happening around the globe is any indication—fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, political upheaval, etc.--, His return may be very soon. And If we don’t prepare in advance, it will be too late to get ready at the moment of his return.
Today, I would like to take a little liberty with this Parable. We are one week away from the start of our special Revival Services with Marcus Whitworth. We who make up the congregation at Branson First Church are like the Bridesmaids who are waiting –only we are waiting for God to pour out His Spirit on us in anointed revival services.
Let’s consider the parable from this point of view:
I. The Bridesmaids
a. 5 Wise. I’ve been told that the lamps that would have been used were small lamps with a single wick that would contain about a cup of oil. Such small lamps would need to be constantly cared for, wicks trimmed and oil renewed. So, it only made sense that the girls with the lamps would have an extra container of oil on reserve. That was a commonsense detail that these 5 wise bridesmaids remembered. No doubt they had thought through the possibilities of the event—the bridegroom’s possible delayed arrival—the probably that he would arrive after dark, etc. They knew they had no control on when he would come, but they did have control over being prepared when he did come. We have an advantage over the Bridesmaids. We know when the revival services are scheduled. But, truthfully, we do not know when the Holy Spirit will choose to manifest Himself in the service. But this I know: If I have not prepared myself for revival, when the Holy Spirit comes, it will be too late to start getting prepared. How do you prepare for revival? The old evangelist of yesteryear, Gypsy Smith, when asked about revival is quoted as saying, ““Then go back to your home and draw a circle around you on the floor. Then get down on your knees in the middle of the circle and ask God to convert everybody inside that circle. When you do that, and God answers, you are experiencing the start of revival.” If the church is to have revival it must start in the hearts of the individuals who make up the church. It has to start in my heart and yours. Are you spending time asking God to do a work in your heart? Of course, in preparation for revival we want to be praying for others. Who do you know that needs to give his or her heart to God? You should be praying for those people right now. Don’t wait until the services begin and then start praying—Do the advance work. It may be someone whose marriage is struggling—Pray now that the couple will have the touch of God on their relationship. Anyone you know that is struggling spiritually should be a person for whom you are lifting up to God in your prayers. And how much are you planning to invest financially in the revival? It is a major expense to bring special workers who are called of God to make their livelihood preaching the Gospel. Not only do we have the cost of the extra utilities for having the building open for the extra services, we have to provide lodging and food for the workers while they are here. We have to help them with transportation costs. And above that, we have to give them enough to provide support for their home and families. Over the years I have learned a few things. And one of those things is that when I invest money in something, I suddenly become much more interested in what is going on. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!” (Matthew 6:21). In Luke 10 we are told how Jesus sent out workers 2 x 2 ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. And he told them when they were staying at the house in the town where they were sent, to “Stay there , eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages…” (Luke 10:7). I read a story of a pastor years ago whose son saw his dad enter the church one Sunday morning and put a quarter in the offering basket. After the service was over, it was the practice of the church for the pastor to collect whatever offering had been placed in the basket and that would be his salary for the week. On this particular Sunday, the son saw his dad go to the basket after everyone else had left and open it up only to find just one quarter. The boy said to his dad, “You would get more out of it if you had put more into it!” –Something to think about as you prepare for the revival!
b. 5 foolish bridesmaids. They had no reserve supply of oil. Their lamps were dry of oil and at that time of night there was no place to buy it. They could not borrow oil from the others because that would have left all of them short of oil. So, they hurried off to their own homes to get more oil, but by the time they returned, the gate was closed to them. They missed escorting the bride to her bride groom. They missed the week of festivities that were traditional at the wedding. They missed the food, the drinks, the dancing, the laughter, the fellowship. They were left in the dark. And, if you fail to get your heart ready, you too will miss out when the Holy Spirit is poured out in revival!
II. THE BRIDEGROOM
a. Of course, we know that Jesus was really referring to himself when he comes to claim his bride, the Church. But there are some things we should note about this bridegroom:
i. The preparation by the bridesmaids did not determine the time of his appearance. They knew he was coming sometime, but they did not know for certain the exact time of his arrival. And so, we are reminded that we cannot not dictate to God when He is going to send revival. He chooses the time and the place, not us. All we can do is prepare ourselves and wait. Remember in Acts 1, when the disciples asked when the Day of the Lord would come, Jesus told them, “It is not for you to know the time or dates the Father has set by his own authority…” (Acts 1: 7). I have said this over and over again: We cannot dictate to God what He has to do! We can only believe what He says He will do and prepare ourselves and then wait on Him to do it! If we could manipulate God, then we would be more powerful than He, making ourselves God and God our slave. But that is not the way it works. God has His plan, His timetable. And it is not always the same as ours. Remember how Abraham and Sarah were promised a child, but God didn’t give them the child Isaac until Sarah was way past child-bearing age. And the Descendants of Jacob were made to be slaves in Egypt and cried out for deliverance, but it was 400 years before God answered by calling an 80 year old man named Moses to lead them to freedom. In Isaiah 55: 8-9 we are told, ““For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Prayer is not about making God do what we want; it is about me finding out what God wants!” And while we schedule revival services to concentrate on God and plead for His anointing, revival could start today. Or it could start this week. Or it could start next Sunday. Or it could start weeks after the special services are over. The whole point of having revival services is to get ourselves in position to receive the Holy Spirit’s blessing whenever He chooses to bestow it!
b. Secondly, the Bride groom is Jesus. The evangelist is the one sent ahead of the bridegroom to proclaim, “Behold, the Bridegroom is coming.” I have to tell you that I Love Marcus Whitworth. I have known him since his college days in Mid-American Nazarene University. I love his spontaneity, His upbeat message, his way of getting the congregation involved in worship, his funny antics like having us march around the sanctuary waving hankies—all in good fun as He creates an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and open to the Holy Spirit. But as much as I like Brother Marcus and as much as I like good music (and we will have superb professional musicians with us) I know that revival doesn’t come from our evangelist and workers. Revival comes from God. He is the one we are to be seeking. He is the One to be honored and worshipped. So, we must focus first of all on Jesus! It is His Spirit we seek. It is His Spirit to which we yield ourselves. Come, Sweet Jesus! Come, Holy Spirit, we pray!
III. THE WEDDING CEREMONY
a. Matthew 25: 10 says, “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”
It has always been a concern of mine when the church has planned revival services and the time arrives. Inevitably there are key people who fail to attend the meetings. Of course, there are litigable reasons—people get sick, their employment prevents them from coming, and so forth. But often the excuses are lame, “I was tired, so I thought I would just skip out.” Or “ I really didn’t care that much for the speaker.” Or “I got busy and just forgot!” And so, the Lord comes and blesses the services, people get a fresh anointing, people are healed, sinners are saved –all the things we would like to see happen, but those who didn’t attend missed out on it all.
It has been said that every generation needs to experience a real Holy Ghost Revival.
Could this be the revival for our generation coming up?
Let’s prepare ourselves so that we are fit to receive whatever it is that God wants to give us!
John 5: 1-15
I like small talk. I can talk about the weather, about the pandemic, about politics, and all the other topics that enter into polite conversation. I’m so glad that we have those topics that we can use to break the ice and begin conversations with others. But when I walk into a doctor’s office, the small talk is very brief because I am there for a purpose. If I said to the doctor that I was just passing by and thought I would drop in to say “hello,” he would quickly have me removed. Or he would follow up with, “Okay, what are you really here for? "After all, he or she is there to take care of a person’s medical problem. Small talk is just a time waster when you have a waiting room full of sick patients wanting your attention.
I enjoy those cartoons where the child suddenly becomes very helpful around the house. The smart parent quickly realizes that he or she is being set up for the big question—“Can I spend go with my friends to that music concert?” Or “Can I have the credit card to buy that new dress for the prom?”
People so often beat around the bush with small talk before they get around to the real reason they are there.
As a pastor I have on many occasions sat in my office with individuals who talked about everything except the real reason they are there. It is a mechanism we often use to get up enough courage to say what we really want to say.
And sometimes when a person says, “How about those Chiefs?” referring to the latest football game, what they really want to say is, “Will you be my friend?” Or “Are we comfortable enough with each other so that we can relax and just enjoy each other’s company?”
I like small talk because it can be a door opener to a conversation about something that is really important and that needs to be discussed. Or it can be the first step in developing a real friendship or in strengthening the current friendship.
In our scripture today we read an account of a real event in the life of Jesus as he reached out to help a person who was incapable of helping himself. And He didn’t get side tracked with “Small talk.”
In the Interpreter’s Bible, the commentator on this passage said that people might ask the question, “Where would you expect to find Jesus if you knew he was somewhere in Jerusalem.” He said that most people would probably say, “At the Temple,” but he said he would think first of all at this place called “The Pool of Bethesda” because that was where people who were really helpless and often hopeless would be hanging out. And Jesus being Jesus would most likely go to where there were people who really needed him.
Let’s focus on this event for the brief time we have together today and see what the Holy Spirit would say to us.
I. THE GATHERING PLACE
a. John 5:2 -3 says, “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to be—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”
b. In every community there seems to be a place—sometimes many places—where people with common interests gather. For some, it may be the Senior Center. Or it may be at a local restaurant where a group of guys meet for coffee. Or it might be at a local bar (hopefully, none of you hang out there!) There are a number of places where people gather, depending on their shared interests or situations. In our scripture it just happened to be at the Pool of Bethesda. We are told by historians that the pool was fed by underground springs and sometimes there would be a rush of water that would cause the pool to be agitated. There was a belief by many in that day that the water was being stirred by an Angel who would come occasionally and that the first one to get into the pool when the water was stirred would be healed. The description of the location having 5 covered colonnades makes it sound like an extremely comfortable place to just relax—kind of like lounging by a nice swimming pool. A person could soak up some rays, or, if the sun was too hot, could find shade in the covered porches. And there was always someone close by with whom one could visit. And probably there were attendants nearby who could bring you water or help you if you had a special need.
c. If you were looking for a place where there were people who needed encouragement, the Pool of Bethesda was the place. And Jesus is the Ultimate Helper! I’m sure on this trip to Jerusalem, Jesus wasn’t looking for a place to lie down and relax. He wasn’t planning on reclining on a lounge chair and soaking up rays. He stated his purpose over in Luke 19:10 when he told Zacchaeus that, “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The Pool of Bethesda was truly a place where the “Lost” had gathered.
d. It makes sense that if we are trying to be as much like Jesus as we can be, that we too should identify the places where the lost may be and go there with the intentions of offering to help someone find their way to the Helper!
II. THEN THERE WAS THE INVALID.
a. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, when used as a noun, the word “Invalid” is defined as “someone who is sick and unable to take care of himself or herself, especially for a long time.” One commentary suggested that Jesus had probably been walking around the pool looking at the various people who were gathered there. Perhaps someone had been walking with him and pointed out this man who had been in such a terrible condition for such a long time, possibly the most pitiful of all the sick who were there. The man was an invalid—a person who was totally incapable of caring for himself. And he had been that way for 38 years. We don’t know how many years he had been being brought to the Pool of Bethesda, but the implications are that it had been several. He was a helpless man who seemed to be without hope, totally incapable of improving his situation. Interestingly, that is exactly the shape we are in before we have an encounter with Christ. The Bible teaches that since Adam and Eve yielded to temptation in the Garden of Eden and sinned by disobeying God, each one of us are born with a sinful nature. And no matter what we do, we can never rid ourselves of that sinful nature without God’s intervening Grace. In Genesis 8:21, after Noah and his family had ridden out the Flood and departed from the Ark and offered sacrifices to God, God said to them, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood…” And in Ephesians 2:1 Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” And dead people are totally incapable of doing anything. And so, John wrote in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He [God] first loved us!”
b. Jesus gave this Invalid of a man a new perspective. It has been said that “a person’s perception is his reality.” After 38 years an Invalid, this man’s perception was that he was an invalid and that he would be an invalid for the rest of his life. His perception was that he could do nothing for himself and that he was totally dependent on others to take care of his basic deeds. He perception was that life was just to be lying on a small mat of a bed, surrounded by others who were not much better than he and that was the way life was going to be. That was the way it had been for 38 years and that was the way it would be for the next 38 years if he lived that long. His perception was that life existed of just continued suffering and humiliation.
c. I wonder if the invalid even noticed this man Jesus who was walking among the blind and crippled and paralyzed who were lying around on mats by the Pool? I wonder if there was something in the way Jesus walked, the interest that Jesus displayed, the radiance of his personality that caught this Invalid’s attention. I wonder if he was startled when Jesus stopped by his mat and spoke to him.
d. And you who may think you have wandered too far away from God, who think that you may have committed a sin too horrible to be forgiven, who are so enslaved by addictions that plague your life—How would you react if suddenly Jesus stood by your side? Would His words change your perception of your reality?
i. “Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked the man. “Do you want to be delivered from the demons that taunt you?” “Do you want to find peace with God?” “Do you want to be saved?” We have revival services scheduled in just a few weeks—“Do you want to really have a personal spiritual revival in your own heart” Jesus is still asking those questions today. Even if you feel there is no hope for you, Jesus is asking, “Do you want deliverance?”
III. THE ACTIVATED FAITH
a. I would like to believe that this Invalid had heard about Jesus. After all, Jesus had been performing miracles and had already captured the attention of the religious establishment. And since so many had been taken to Jesus to be healed, it is hard to believe that these who were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda had not heard about Jesus’ ability to heal. I would like to think that this Invalid had probably thought to himself, “It would be wonderful if I could meet this miracle worker named Jesus. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could heal me?” But now that wishful thinking was replaced with the real thing. That grain of faith that had thought “Jesus can heal others” was suddenly confronted with the question, “Can Jesus really heal me?” And, to his credit, when Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” He responded with a faith that suddenly became activated. His perception of a helpless existence was suddenly replaced with a perception of wholeness so that when Jesus said, “Pickup your mat and walk,” he didn’t hesitate. An invalid for 38 years just stood right up, picked up his mat and walked!”
b. And when Jesus says, “You are forgiven, Go and sin no more,” your response should be immediately to forsake the sinful lifestyle and start doing the best you can to honor Jesus with your life!
c. Paul pointed out clearly that we are saved by our Faith. In Ephesians 2:8-9 he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
d. This invalid had not done anything that earned him special treatment. By definition, he as an invalid was incapable of doing anything. But when Jesus spoke to Him and gave him a perception of a new life, He immediately reached for it.
What is it that Jesus is offering to you today? Do you really want the new life He is offering?
Do you really believe that He will do for you what He has done for others?
Do you believe that Jesus is who He says He is—God in the Flesh who dwelt among us, Redeemer, Savior and Lord of all. Do you really believe it when He says, “All power in heaven and earth belong to me?”
Are you willing to “Pick up your mat and start walking?”
Jesus is here. He is making the offer. It is up to you to act upon it!
It is only reasonable that a person stops and consider how much something will cost before he or she jumps into it.
On one of the comedy channels on Sirius FM Radio a comedian was describing how a guy on his first date is so careful to make a good impression. He tells of a guy taking this girl to a fancy restaurant on their first date. He said he knew the waiter was aware that this was a first date because he immediately asks the girl if she would like any appetizers. And the guy said he had no idea how much Sushi was, but he thought he could safely expect the cost of their meal to be around $100. After they eat and the waiter brings the bill, he tries to discreetly glance at the bill without letting the girl know that he really cares about the cost. Then he sees the bill is something like $223. He acts as if it’s no big deal and just gives his credit care to the waiter. Then the comedian says that if the situation were different and this was a husband and wife, the husband would have flipped the bill over and said, ”Can you believe this? You better take a good look at this place because we won’t be coming here again!”
It’s important to get at least a general idea of something’s cost before you get yourself into it.
We were at a jewelry store a few weeks ago. I really hate those fancy jewelry stores where they have beautiful pieces of jewelry on display but no price tag showing. They expect you to talk with the salesclerk, take the piece out and admire it, and then finally ask about its price. My philosophy is, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it!”
Several years ago, I took a phone call just after church service on a Sunday morning. Some guy told me how he and his girlfriend had come to Branson on vacation and had car trouble. He said he had enough money to get his car fixed but now he didn’t have enough money to stay and do the things they wanted to do on vacation. Then he asked me if the church would help them. I responded by asking him what he thought I would do if I went on vacation and ran out of money. There was a silence on the phone, so I helped him by telling him, “When we go on vacation and run out of money, we go home.” It was like it was a new concept to him. I never heard from that guy again. I was sorry they had trouble and were short on cash, but he needed to understand that things have a price tag, and if we can’t pay it, we need to leave it alone. (I do need to tell you that I have on occasion helped stranded travelers with gas money to get them back home.) We have to prepare for emergencies and have a backup contingency plan for when things don’t go like we thought they would.
For years in the church world, September has been the unofficial launch time for the church. Vacation season has ended, school has started, and people are once again settling into some type of routine. So, churches traditionally have used September as the opportune time for launching new ministries or new outreach efforts. That is the time people are making decisions as to what routine they want to establish for the next year.
And regardless of the month of the year, In our individual lives there are times when we need to make changes and to launch in new directions.
In our scripture passage, we find Jesus giving instructions to his listeners on launching into a new life as a follower of Christ. And He is insistent that those considering becoming his followers should make sure they understand just how much it would cost to be one of his disciples.
I don’t know if any of you are considering making any changes in your life. It could be that this whole retirement concept needs to be re-examined. Or maybe there are some personal habits that you need to change.
From a spiritual standpoint, It could be that it is time to consider where you are going to spend eternity. Or it could be that God is calling you to do something new for His sake.
Whatever it is you are considering, there is a cost involved. It may be financial. It may be an emotional investment. It may be a physical challenge.
Jesus reminds us that we should carefully consider the costs as we make plans for our future. Let’s consider his message in this morning’s scripture passage:
I. THE COST OF PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST.
a. Family is important. As I grow older, I am more aware than ever how important family ties can be. We are privileged to have my Mom living with us now. When I think of how much she has invested in me during her lifetime, I am so honored that Gloria and I have Mom in our home. We were saddened last week to learn of Mom’s brother in California passing away. Mom was able to connect with his sons—cousins that I haven’t seen in probably 50 years. But now it seems important to know about their lives. My sister-in-law has done a lot of genealogy research. 20 years ago, I wasn’t interested at all in knowing about my past relatives, but now it stirs an interest in my heart. Connections and the stories they provide give meaning to life.
b. But I also understand that loyalty to Christ trumps relationships. Yes, he does say we must “Hate” our parents and siblings, but it is obvious from scripture that he is using hyperbole to make a point. The Bible clearly teaches that we are to love one another, honor our parents, and not hold things against our siblings. But when it comes down to the final straw, all relationships are secondary to our relationship with God. He is not just our Creator God. He is the One who sees after us, provides for and protects us. He gives us strength to face life’s issues. And He loves us. He loves us so much that through Jesus He suffered and died for us to pay the penalty for our sins and to redeem us from Satan’s grasp and set us free to live up to our potential as children of God.
c. So, when I am planning on making changes in my life or of trying something new, I must first and foremost consider how that will affect my number one relationship—my relationship with God.
d. This is what Jesus means when he says in Luke 14: 26 & 27, “If anyone come to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
II. PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THIS NEW ENDEAVOR BY CONSIDERING THE COST.
a. I remember one of my college professors telling us that whenever we add a new discipline to our lives, we must let go of something else to make room for it. In that reference he was talking about committing ourselves to the study time that was necessary to complete his course. That meant giving up some recreation time or some television time—or in today’s culture, giving up some video game time, so that one could do the necessary reading and research and homework required in order to learn the necessary class material.
b. What is it you give up when you decide to follow Christ? Certainly, you are to give up a sinful lifestyle, because accepting Jesus as Savior means turning away from your sins and becoming a follower of Christ. We call that “repentance.” It also means surrendering your priorities to Christ. Even Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but Thine, Lord.” I’ve known of people who had great dreams of having an extraordinarily successful career in some profession where they would make lots of money. But what if God asked them to serve in an inner city, or go to a foreign mission field, or to use their skills in a position that pays truly little? Jesus described his earthly existence at one point in this manner: “…Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Luke 9:58, NIV).
c. I have known of young couples who seemed to be deeply in love and were planning to be married, but in pre-marital planning it became obvious that God was leading them in different directions. When Gloria and I met in college it didn’t take long before we were boyfriend and girlfriend. And It became apparent to me that this was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But I also was sure that God was calling me to be a pastor and that His plans for me was to stay right here in the middle of the country. But Gloria wasn’t so sure about the direction God was leading her. She was struggling with a desire to be a missionary. And I had to tell her that I was sure that was not what God was calling me to do. So, we (actually, she) felt it necessary for us to break up for a while so she could get some clarity on God’s calling on her life. And it finally came down to whether or not her application to the summer Student Mission Corp would be accepted or not. That was a ministry the denomination offered to college students back then. I have to tell you the month or, so we were broken up seemed like forever to me. She didn’t get accepted to the Student Mission Corp. and she finally felt clear that God was leading her to be my life partner and that he would bless her in the ministry opportunities that would open up to her. This December we will celebrate 49 years of marital bless! And God has used her in ministry cross-culturally many times right here in the middle of the country where He has placed me.
d. What does it cost to become a follower of Christ? Salvation that is freely given costs us everything. But the rewards far outweigh any sacrifice.
e. Jesus pointed out the necessity of counting the cost before going into a building program. And then he spoke of a King who was facing an enemy army and stated how it was necessary for that king to consider whether he had strength enough militarily to withstand that enemy army. in either case, If the cost was too high it was incredibly wise to make other arrangements.
f. And if you are going to be a follower of Jesus, you must understand that your life and your lifestyle will have to change. Life will no longer be about you and what you want to do—it will be about Christ and what honors Him!
III. THE COST OF ACCEPTING THE CALL TO CHANGE?
a. In the scripture, the implication is that the wise builder was prepared to not only start but to also complete the building. And the wise King realized that it was better to negotiate for peace than to fight a battle he couldn’t win. Both the builder and the king had considered the costs.
b. What is it that God is calling you to do? Are you willing to take up your cross and follow Him?
i. It could be that God is calling you to a deeper devotional life. It will take time and effort to establish a definite time and place to read your Bible, meditate on What God is saying to you and to spend time in prayer. You will have to work at protecting that time from distractions and wandering thoughts.
ii. It could be that God is calling you to contribute to Kingdom building. It may be towards a building program, or towards hiring an Associate Pastor or to invest in World Missions. Whatever it is, it will involve making some adjustments in your current spending. What are you willing to give up in order to meet the challenge of investing in Kingdom work?
iii. It could be that God is calling you to start a neighborhood Bible study in your home. That will cost you in time and effort. You’ll have to make sure your home is arranged to accommodate at group of people. You will have to personally engage others in your neighborhood to invite them to the study. You will have to set aside time to prepare the lesson and to have a set time for the neighbors to meet. And it may involve investing in some snacks to offer to those who attend.
iv. Or it could be this month that you would like to host a cottage prayer meeting as we prepare for our upcoming revival services. You might have to sacrifice watching a favorite television program or rearrange your dinner plans.
v. It could be that God is calling you to go witness to someone—a neighbor down the street, a co-worker or friend from the senior center, or a family member that you know has lost his or her way. It will involve putting yourself out there, risking being misunderstood or rejected. But their eternity is hanging in the balances. Are you willing to count the costs and take the risks?
Never assume that everything good is just going to fall into your lap when you become a Christian.
There will be people who reject you, mock you, and persecute you. Finding God’s will in various situations will involve much prayer, much soul searching, and maybe even many sleepless nights. Your love for others may involve shedding tears of concern as you are moved with compassion because of the love that Christ has placed in your hearts for others.
In the Old Testament there is a scripture that says, “It was the spring of the year, the time when kings go off to war.” King David failed to launch out in battle and instead fell victim to temptation and lust.
It is September, the time of the year when people make decisions as to what they are going to do with their lives. Are you facing decisions? Are you counting the costs? Isn’t it time to launch out and be the person God is calling you to be?
A summary of facts surrounding Labor Day:
1. It is holiday weekend, many enjoying time off, some still had to work
2. Labor Day been around a long time
a. 1st Labor Day parade was on Sep 5th, 1882 in New York City
- 20,000 workers carried banners that said - Labor Creates Wealth,
8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for recreation
- This was the desired situation for all people
- After parade, picnics all over with Irish stew, bread, apple pie
- Ended the day with fireworks
b. The idea spread across the country, cities all over having Labor Day
c. 1894, congress made Labor Day a Federal Holiday
d. Purpose: A day set aside celebrate the value and dignity of work
3. We might not be thinking of this on a weekend like this
a. Most of us probably just glad to have some time off
b. For many, this is a transition from summer to fall routine.
I read somewhere the reason Labor Day is on the first Monday in September. Independence Day (the 4th of July) is a National Holiday. Without Labor Day, the next National Holiday would be Thanksgiving—the 4th Thursday in November. The powers-that-be who made the decision on when to celebrate Labor Day felt that we needed a break between those two existing holidays, so they chose the first Monday of September!
And while Labor Day has its roots in Labor Unions and the establishment of fair and just laws protecting the rights of workers, the whole subject opens the door to some interesting discussion points from a Christian perspective.
I. “WORK” BEGAN BEFORE THE FALL.
a. In Genesis 2:15 after describing the creation of Adam and the creation of the Garden of Eden, we read, “The LORD GOD took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Somehow we have bought into the idea that work is a negative thing, a necessary nuisance to keep us alive. I have on occasion joked with someone who told me they couldn’t join me in some activity because they had to work. And I responded by saying, “It’s a terrible thing to have to work for a living.” Of course, it is not a terrible thing—it is a very good thing that we have a job at all. Often we associate the idea of “work” with the curse that God placed on humanity after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. When God pronounced judgment on Adam He says in Genesis 2: 17-19, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Work wasn’t the curse. The pain and hardship that suddenly became part of the process of work from that point on was the curse. Work was good, but now it required an element of hardship in order to produce good results.
II. WORK PROVIDES THE ESSENTIALS FOR PHYSICAL LIFE.
a. In Proverbs 12:11 we read, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”
b. I was raised on a farm. We had a large garden where we raised tomatoes and corn and okra and purple-hull peas and Lima beans and watermelons and cantaloupes and cucumbers and potatoes and lettuce and cabbage and onions and more. Mom would cook and can the things from the garden and we would enjoy them all year round. It has been a long time since I’ve had a garden like that. Now days, I have 3 tomato plants—and that’s all. We get the rest of our food from the grocery stores-some fresh and lots canned. And it is easy to forget that all those items we buy in the store these days are things that someone somewhere has planted and gardened and harvested and sold to the grocery dealers so that we who no longer have such big gardens can still get our food. And behind all this is the fact that God in the very beginning ordained that we get our food from the dust of the earth!
And, unless someone takes the time to plant and water and cultivate and harvest the crops, there would be no food! Work is good because it provides the rewards of a blessed life.
c. I like that phrase, “and those who chase after fantasies have no sense…” I knew a guy years ago who was always working a scheme to get rich, but he was homeless. I was told that he went to borrow some money that he guaranteed he would pay back by a certain time. When pressed as to how he would pay back the money, he said he prayed and he knew God was going to let him win the lottery. Needless to say, he didn’t get the loan. Dreams are okay, but we must do the work if we really expect to reap the harvest!
III. WORK EARNS THE RESPECT OF OTHERS.
a. In 1 Thessalonians 4: 11-12 we read, “1 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
b. In our passage in Proverbs 24: 30-34 we read about the sluggard. That is just another word for a person who is so lazy that he fails to do the basic things necessary to produce a decent harvest. When people see others who are that lazy, they lose respect for such people. I hear comments all the time about the homeless and those who are jobless—“All they want are handouts.” And while that is not always the case, too often it is. But I hear people saying of others, “He (or she) is a hard worker. If he says he will do something, you can depend on him to do it.”
c. God has enabled us to be workers who are respected because we are willing to do the job.
d. I talked to a man once who claimed to be chef. He came to Branson looking for a job. At that time the Candlestick Restaurant was one of Branson’s fine dining places. It was destroyed in the Branson tornado a few years back. The Man was hired, worked one or two days. And then one morning it was raining. He didn’t have a car so he just didn’t go to work. And, of course, he was fired. He worked at a couple more places, each being a little less in quality. And he never lasted at any of the jobs more than a few days. I was talking to him about another job and he snarled up his nose and said, “I am a chef. I won’t work at that job!” And in my nice diplomatic way I pointed out to him that, at the moment, he was not a chef—he was an unemployed homeless person who couldn’t hold a job. He didn’t like that, but it was true! It is the person who is willing to get in there and do the job and be dependable that earns the respect of others.
IV. WORK ENABLES US TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GOOD OF SOCIETY.
a. In Ephesians 4:28 Paul wrote, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work ,doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
b. In other words, strive to be a giver, not a taker!
c. There was a time when people in America hated to get handouts. They wanted to work so that they could maintain a sense of self-respect. But over time, we have created in many a welfare mentality. Not only do people expect to have things handed to them, they feel they are entitled to have those things. The stimulus package is an example. Many, who were on unemployment after their jobs were shut down because of the pandemic, received an extra $600 a week in addition to their normal unemployment benefits. Because of that, many were receiving more money on unemployment than they had been getting in salaries. So when jobs started reopening, they were reluctant to go back to work because they would not be receiving as much money as they did on unemployment. Who cares about self-respect when we can get more without working!
d. As Christians, we should be conscious of those around us who really are in need. The Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that being a good neighbor means reaching out to a person who really needs our help. The Parable of the man who hired day laborers to work in his field at various times throughout the day and then paid those who had only worked 1 hour the same amount as he did those who had worked all day is another example of be sensitive to the real needs that people have. In their world, the day laborers earned just enough to provide food and shelter for the one day. The owner of the field in his mercy was providing for that one who had not had opportunity to put in a full day’s work. And remember the admonition of giving a cup of water to the one who is thirsty. We may have to be on the receiving end at some point in our lives, but our goal should be to be givers not takers. Work enables us to help those who really need help.
e. In his final message to the Ephesian elders Paul said in Acts 20:35, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
V. BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT WORK IS THAT WE DO IT FOR THE LORD!
a. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
b. Over the centuries Christianity has been interpreted by various counsels and assemblies where scholarly Christian people have sought to define the doctrines of the church. One of the big questions that were considered is, “What is the chief aim of man?” In the 1600’s the Westminster Catechism answered that question this way: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
c. Sometimes we think that our primary purpose in life is to make a living and provide for our family or to have fun or to do some heroic deed. But as important as any of those things may be, the primary purpose for our existence is to glorify God. Earning a living should be motivated by a desire to reflect God’s character. Heroic deeds such as serving our country should not be to enhance my reputation—it should be to reflect and honor the character of our God who through Jesus died in our place while we were yet sinners so that we might be saved.
d. I’ve shared this illustration before but it has been awhile. When I was a college student at Bethany Nazarene College, I worked on the janitorial crew. I was placed in charge of the Library Building and the Social Science Buildings. One of the professors in the Social Science Building was just part time, so he was not usually in his office. But every day I would go into his office and empty the trash can and do whatever cleaning needed to be done. He told me one time that he appreciated my commitment. I found out that occasionally he would leave one scrap of paper in the waste basket and then check it the next day to see if it had been emptied. He was very complimentary that it always had been emptied. I had set a standard for myself that whatever I did, I was doing for the LORD and I wanted always to honor him, even if it meant emptying the trash can in an absentee professor’s office every day.
e. I remember having to clean the bath rooms. In the Library, the drain pipes to the sink were exposed. So, every day I would take a little time to shine those drain pipes, knowing that I was doing a little extra because I was wanting to bring glory to the Lord.
f. Work is not a curse—it is a privilege and a blessing. And how we do our work is a reflection on our commitment to the God of Glory!
Labor Day is set aside to celebrate the value and dignity of work.
The Bible has some concrete things to teach us about work. Work is not a
curse, but part of our created purpose so that we can serve God. The curse
is increased hardship, not work. In fact, work is a reflection of the God who
has been working from the beginning. By design, work brings various benefits
to others and us. This does not mean that rest is bad. Idleness is bad but
rest is good, endorsed, and even instructed by God. --(http://epreacher.org/sermons/09-05-10am.html)
On this Labor Day weekend, it is okay to enjoy the holiday. It is okay to spend some time with family, maybe grilling or going to the lake, or even just staying at home and watching a movie together or playing dominoes.
But I challenge you to spend a little time giving God thanks for the provisions He has made for you.
To the Galatians Paul wrote, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).
And Jesus in John 6:27 said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Our God has created us to take care of His creation and to honor Him in all that we do. As we enjoy the holiday, let us give thanks to God for our livelihood!
Acts 27: 13-26
Key verse: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved” (Acts 27: 20).
When I first started pastoring, I served a new church in Brinkley, Arkansas, which was only about 35 miles from my hometown. It was a home mission church and the salary was not much, so that fall I had the chance to work for my dad a few days of the week on the farm. On this one particular day I had to hurry back to Brinkley for a meeting. It was late fall and the sun was setting when I left the farm for home and it grew dark very rapidly. I don’t know how fast I was driving, but it was too fast for the road conditions, I’m sure. Something caught my eye just in front of me and I quickly hit my brakes. There was a large panel truck cross ways in the road in total darkness. I realized I was not going to be able to stop and I swerved to the right, closed my eyes and tried to brace for the impact. When I open my eyes I was on the other side of the truck. I could see the tire tracks where I had just missed the truck and had gone between it and a road sign and had never touched a thing. I suddenly realized that a miracle had occurred. I had not steered my car between those two objects. I had my eyes closed and had literally spun the steering wheel and braced, fully expecting to crash. It was as if an angel had steered my car safely pass the stalled truck.
It was a split second moment when I had lost all hope but God had intervened to save me!
There are times in our lives when we find ourselves for whatever reason completely out of options, no idea where else to turn, and have completely given up hope. And then something totally out of our control happens to save the day.
Do you understand what I’m saying? Perhaps it was a medical condition where the doctors finally admitted there was nothing else they could do. Or maybe it was a business crisis where it looked like you were going to lose everything.
I could share with you story after story of testimonies I have heard where when all human efforts were exhausted and there seemed to be no other alternatives, God intervened to save the day.
Remember the story of the woman with the issue of bleeding who had spent all she had on doctors over a 12 year period with no success. But then she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was immediately healed!
The missionary Everette Howard in his lifetime testified of many miraculous things that happened. On the mission field in Cape Verde Island during a drought, he told how they prayed and water came out of a rock.
After his retirement when he and his wife were living in Casa Robles, he told how there was another retiree who shared with him how he was estranged from his son and had not heard from his son in many years. Rev. Howard prayed a prayer for him and within just a few minutes the telephone rang and it was the son calling to reconnect to his dad.
The stories abound. And they remind us that our Hope is not tied to just our human conditions. Our real hope is in the God who transcends the human and is able to do exceedingly more than we can imagine.
And such is the case in this account of Paul’s voyage as he is being transported to Rome to be tried by Caesar.
Some of you have served in the Navy or Coast Guard. You may have found yourself in a storm at sea. Others of you have taken those cruises that sound so exciting. With today’s technology, those ships are usually able to steer away from the storms. But you may have seen some choppy waters and big waves.
I’ve heard stories about my uncle who was in the Navy and was extremely seasick . He lost his false teeth overboard during a bout of sickness.
This account is about a real storm—a Nor’easter the scripture calls. It is another word for those terrible hurricanes that happen in the Gulf and the Atlantic –like the ones that have happened this week.
But you and I know that there are storms that are just as real and just as violent and just as devastating that occur in our lives emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
And so Paul’s experience in this storm provides principles that are pertinent to whatever type of storm you may be experiencing in your life.
I. IT IS GOOD TO TRY TO AVOID THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LEAD INTO A STORM.
a. In this account of Paul’s arrest and him ultimately being transported to Rome, we learn that it was in the fall of the year. After the ship on which he was being escorted by a Roman Centurion docked for a few days the crew decided it would go a little farther up the coast, Paul cautioned them that it would be better not to do so because it was the time of the year for bad weather. The ship’s captain ignored Paul’s advice and they had set sail only to be caught up in this Nor’easter hurricane force storm.
b. As I think about Paul’s cautionary advice, I realize that God expects us to exercise good judgment in the decisions we make in life. It makes sense to look at the possible consequences before making our choices.
c. When it comes to medical conditions, I think Richard Davis is right on target when he says, “Get a second opinion!” And certainly it makes sense to find out as much as possible about what is being purposed before subjecting yourself to a surgeon’s knife. And if you are looking to make a major purchase, make sure you know what you are buying—read the fine print and shop and compare. And if you are going on a major trip, study the route and means of transportation. I’ve learned the hard way that depending solely on your smart phone’s GPS can get you into trouble!
d. The Bottom line is that as we face our future we should do so informed as much as possible.
e. Paul was an experienced traveler by land and sea. He knew the dangers and he knew the seasons of the year when it was not safe to sail. His advice was to pay attention to the possible consequences and use good judgment.
II. EVEN SO, SOMETIMES WE ARE CAUGHT UP IN CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL.
a. Paul was a prisoner. To the ship’s captain that meant he was a nobody. His words were ignored. Later on, if it had not been for the relationship he had forged with the Roman Centurion guarding him, he and the other prisoners on board would have been executed.
b. And so, in spite of his objections, the ship sailed on. And now, we read in our scripture passage, the ship was caught up in a storm that was relentless and that continued to the point that the sailors and crew had lost all hope of being saved.
c. It was not Paul’s fault that they were in the storm, but Paul was just as much in the storm as everyone else. He, like everyone else on board, suffered the battering of the waves. I wonder how many suffered the old fashioned sea-sickness? He, like everyone else, had to pitch in to do whatever they could to survive—throwing extra baggage and supplies overboard, running ropes around the hull of the ship to help strengthen it and to keep it from breaking apart from the battering of the waves. He too had experienced the nightmare fear of death, the exhaustion of the battle, and even the loss of appetite in face of the impossible circumstances.
d. And in life, there are times when things happen to us that are beyond our control. There’s the corona virus that hit us unexpectedly and devastated our economy. No one really saw that coming. Or there’s the doctor’s appointment where we are given news of a condition that we never expected to have—cancer, Parkinson’s. Blood clots, heart disease. We know those things happen. And they happen no matter what we do to avoid them.
e. Storms come. And we find ourselves trying to ride out the storm. And we do all we can to survive and/or conquer the storm. But it is a struggle and it is sometimes painful, and it is not fun. But it happens. And all we can do is hang on.
III. WHEN WE HAVE DONE ALL, WE REALIZE OUR DEPENDENCE IS ON SOMEONE ELSE.
a. In Ephesians 6, as Paul wrote about spiritual warfare and describe the armor of God that we should be wearing, He says finally, “…and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13b).
b. So, in this account, Paul and the crew had exhausted all human options. Hope had faded, dooms day is at hand. But rather than saying hope is gone, Paul did what he had probably been doing the whole time the storm had been raging. He positioned himself before God, seeking His plan, His Will, His direction. And in that moment when all human hope was gone, God sent His angel to restore hope. And Paul, the prisoner whose earlier advice had been dismissed, suddenly became the voice of Hope and Reason. It was as if suddenly Paul had been elevated to the command of the ship. He gave orders to the sailors and to the ship’s captain. And the Roman Centurion Julius demanded that everyone obey Paul’s directions. And what had seemed totally and utterly impossible became a reality. It wasn’t Paul that saved the day—it was God who stepped in to save the day because He had a plan and a promise that Paul would preach the gospel in Rome.
c. Years ago, we heard a missionary who was a missionary in Israel at a time of great unrest—riots in the street, gunfire exchanges, etc. —not that different from today. He was asked why he stayed in Jerusalem in the face of such danger. I will never forget his reply. It was something like this: “I feel safer caught between the cross-fires of enemy combatants knowing I am in God’s will than I would ever feel in any streets in America and knowing I wasn’t in God’s Will!”
d. In Psalm 91: 7, David wrote, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
e. We sang the chorus a few Sundays ago that says, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way…”
f. We must never forget that when we come to the end of ourselves, God has only begun.
When you read the rest of this account of the storm in Acts, you see that it did not immediately become smooth sailing. The storm continued. The ship and its passengers still had to deal with difficulties. The anchors had to be cut loose. The lifeboats were cut loose. The boat ran aground and began to break apart. All aboard the ship had to jump into the ocean and swim ashore. Those who couldn’t swim had to hang on to pieces of wood from the broken ship and paddle ashore. And then, of all things, after getting to shore, and building a fire to warm themselves and dry off, Paul was snake bitten.
I don’t think any of that happened just the way Paul thought it would happen. But they were all saved. No one lost their life. And God was the only answer to the question of how they were saved.
And when you find yourself caught up in a storm, remember we have a God who cares about you and will see you through. But you have to abandon yourself totally to Him. And His answer may not be exactly what you expect or even hope for, but it will be the right answer.
In Matthew 28, just before His ascension, after giving the Apostles the Great Commission , He said, ”And surely I am with you to the very end.”
Philippians 3: 17-21
My dad was my hero. I always wanted to be as much like him as possible. As a young person the greatest compliment I could receive was, “He is just like his dad!” I remember one time someone said of me, “He has hair just like his mother’s.” I cried, saying, “I don’t want hair like Momma’s, I want hair like Daddy’s!”
My dad had a great sense of humor. He was well respected. His brothers and sisters often came to him for advice. Dad was about my height, and his weight varied from about 160 to 180, depending on the time of the year and how hard he had to work on the farm.
He was faithful to Mom, worked hard, and loved his family. As far as I remember, he never missed watching all the football and baseball games I was involved in.
He and Mom took me to church and taught me the values of honesty and integrity.
In my mind, he was the wisest person. I consulted him on every major decision that I made in life up until he passed away.
And the night in 1968 when I went to the altar and accepted Christ as my Savior, my Dad accepted Christ, too.
I am so blessed to have had such a great Dad. He passed away in 1992, but his influence continues on even now.
He was my Example, my Hero.
Who is your hero? Who is it that you want to imitate with your life—your role model, your Example?
In his letters to the churches he planted Paul on several occasions offered himself as an example. In our scripture today, in Philippians 3:17, Paul wrote, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who lives as we do.”
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 he had written, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
I asked at the beginning, “Who is your hero, your role model, your example?” But Paul’s words raise another question: “To Whom are you being an example?”
Paul was really placing himself out there when he told people to follow his example. Just who did he think he was? What qualified him to set himself up as an example to others? What was his motive in making such a statement?
`Let’s spend some time exploring the implications of Paul’s statement as we weigh the implications this has for our own selves.
I. WHY DID PAUL NEED TO SET HIMSELF UP AS AN EXAMPLE?
a. First of all, let me assure you that this statement did not come from Paul’s need to have his ego stroked! It was not a statement rooted in selfish pride. And it was not a power play in which Paul was attempting to exert his authority over others or to enlist a group of supporters for any show of strength. Paul was very open about his own failures. He on several occasions pointed out how he had been on the wrong side in his early days as he openly, viciously, opposed and persecuted the followers of Christ. His encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road dramatically humbled him.
b. So why did he call on the church people to “follow his example”? He knew that the people to whom he was writing were real people who knew of their own shortcomings and failures and who needed to see a real person who was staying true to Christ. In your own life journey, are there people to whom you have admired who have been your encourage rs in your Christian walk? I can think of a couple pastors from my childhood who greatly influenced me. And in my mind I have vivid memories of a couple different Sunday School teachers that I had. While I lifted my Dad up as my hero, the fact is, I have had many who have modeled Christ-likeness before me in my Christian walk. I needed to see real people wrestling with real life issues who modeled Christian wisdom and maturity.
c. Paul was pointing out to those 1st century believers that here he was, warts and all, but he was hanging in there, striving to become more like Christ every day.
II. WHAT QUALIFIED PAUL TO BE AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS?
a. The answer to that is very clear in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when Paul wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ!” It was Paul’s determination to follow Christ that qualified him to say “Follow Me.” He did not say, “Follow me when I go astray.”He did not say, “Follow me when I do something stupid.” He did not say, “Follow me as I make poor judgment.” He said, “FOLLOW ME AS I FOLLOW CHRIST!” In other words, he was saying,“Those things that you see in me that honor Christ, do those things.”
b. In this passage in Philippians 3, when he writes, “Join together in following my example…” is followed by an admonition to focus on godly living and a reminder that he (Paul) and other Believers had their citizenship in heaven and were to be eagerly awaiting a Savior, Jesus Christ, who had the power to “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Paul always pointed out that the goal in life was to be as much like Christ as possible!
c. And I must tell you, that our desire, the desire of every Christian, must be to be as much like Jesus as we possibly can!
d. Gloria and I have on a couple occasions visited in San Antonia, Texas. And while we were there we just had to tour the Alamo—the site of the great battle where some of our American heroes fought to the death against the army of Santa Anna, the Mexican General. I read this week this story: On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas is a portrait with the following inscription: "James Butler Bonham--no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom." No literal portrait of Jesus exists either. But the likeness of the Son who makes us free can be seen in the lives of His true followers. (quoted by Bill Morgan on SermonIllustrations.com) Paul qualified as an example for others to follow because his life reflected the image of Christ!
III. THE GREATEST EXAMPLE FOR EACH OF US IS NOT PAUL OR MY DAD OR SOME OTHER PERSON WHO HAS BEEN INFLUENTIAL IN OUR LIVES; OUR GREATEST EXAMPLE IS JESUS CHRIST!
a. I am grateful for all those who have been examples for me to follow. But the truth is, we all have imperfections. The best Christian I know still has room to improve in becoming like Christ. I have said many times that we all have our Achilles Heel—that area in our life where we are weak and vulnerable. I can tell you that I have several areas in my life where I fall short. The other night I was in a grouchy mood. We were playing dominoes with Mom and I said something –I don’t remember what—and Gloria asked me what I was angry about. I didn’t have an answer, but I realized my mood was not exactly pleasant. In moments like that I sometimes say or do things that really do not reflect Christ-likeness. That’s just one example. I’m sure if we took time and were totally honest, we all could identify many areas where we fall short. I remember years ago having a dream about a dear Christian pastor and his wife. In my dream I caught them doing something totally out of character—I believe in my dream they were smoking cigarettes. I woke up feeling really disappointed until I realized that it was only a bad dream. But the dream reminded me that I must not allow other people’s shortcomings to influence my desire to be like Christ. Only Christ is perfect!
b. Thirty-Eight years ago this month I became the pastor of Branson First Church of the Nazarene. I remember telling the congregation in that first service to not put me up on a pedestal because I’m pretty clumsy and I would surely fall off. What I meant was to let me be me. Understand that I am human and make mistakes. But I will try to be the best pastor I can be. In those 38 years I have on several occasions had to go to different ones and apologize for something I had said or done. I can say now what Paul said so many years ago: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In those areas where I have fallen short, Please be merciful and forgiving. I only want to point you to the real example—THE GREAT EXAMPLE: JESUS CHRIST.
c. Like Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20, “…we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Who is your hero? We can have lots of heroes—people who have been good Examples for us to pattern our lives after. But The One who is the Perfect Example, The Great Example, the One we most want to imitate in our lives must be JESUS CHRIST.
Is He your ultimate Example?
He’s the One who is coming back someday to claim us as His own!
May He find us living our lives in a way that reflects His Love!
Philippians 4: 4-13
Illustration: An airline pilot was flying over the Tennessee mountains and pointed out a lake to his copilot. “See that little lake?” he said. “When I was a kid, I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing. Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it. Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.”
Contentment can be an elusive pursuit. We go after what we think will make us happy only to find that it didn’t work; in fact, we were happier before we started the quest. It’s like the story of two teardrops floating down the river of life. One teardrop said to the other, “Who are you?” “I’m a teardrop from a girl who loved a man and lost him. Who are you?” “I’m a teardrop from the girl who got him.”
--Quote by Steven Cole, Pastor of Bible Christian Fellowship in Flagstaff, taken for Bible.org.
How much do you need in order to be content with your life? Someone once asked that of a Billionaire (J. Paul Getty) and he replied, ”Just a little more.”
Several years ago this was reported in U.S. News & World Report, July 27, 1992, p. 11. By Amy Bernstein,
… Postwar Americans always cherished the expectation that their standard of living would improve with each generation. In polls at the onset of the Reagan era, 2 of every 3 respondents said they expected to be better off than their parents. Now, that figure is being reversed. Almost three fourth of the 1,000 people who answered a Roper poll for Shearson Lehman Brothers say the American Dream is "harder to attain" than a generation ago. And 60 percent say achieving the dream requires more financial risk than it did for their parents. The poll also finds that some of the values held most dear during the 1980's -- like wealth, power and fame -- are those that Americans are now most likely to deem "unimportant." The most important elements of today's American Dream center on family and friends. But money remains something to dream about. For Americans with household incomes under $25,000, it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.
--This article’s statistics are a few decades old, but the point they make is still relevant. Contentment is just out there a little bit out of reach…
And then we read this short letter, written by the Apostle Paul to the Church in Philippi. He draws to the conclusion of his letter revealing his purpose of saying “Thank You,” to the church for the gift they had sent to help with his needs while he was being held prisoner in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. And in that Thank You message, he makes a profound statement: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 12b-13).
And in the passage of Scripture that we read this morning, Paul has given us the secret. Let’s take these few moments we have together this morning to review the principles that Paul lays out that will enable us to learn how to be content!
I. FOCUS ON JOY, NOT DESPAIR.
a. Verse 4 & 5—“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
b. You are familiar with the Old Testament personality Nehemiah. He was a Jew exiled in the distant land of Babylon who had been promoted to the position of cup bearer for the King. A thousand miles away from his homeland, the land God had promised to the descendants of Abraham, Nehemiah was heart-broken when he got news that Jerusalem, the City of God, had become just a broken down city dump of a place. But God had favor on Nehemiah and moved the King to also find favor in him and grant him permission to go and rebuild the city walls that had been destroyed. The project was huge and from the beginning was wrought with difficulties. It was the focus of persecution and threat from its enemies. It was so bad that the workers had to keep their swords with them while they worked and had to take turns guarding against the enemies that wanted to stop them. It would have been so easy for Nehemiah and the residents of Jerusalem to have grumbled and complained over how bad everything was. But the words of Nehemiah stand out in contrast to their dismal circumstances. We read in Nehemiah 8: 9 & 10 : 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
c. We can fret and stew over the circumstances of life, complain about how unfair everything is, point fingers of blame at everybody and everything, or we can remember The LORD IS NEAR, and remember How Great is Our God, and rejoice that we are Children of the King!
II. CAST OUR WORRIES UPON THE LORD.
a. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
b. Have you ever had to borrow money from the bank? Did you fret over whether or not your loan would go through? Maybe you experience a similar feeling about coming to God with our requests. Maybe you realize that this need that I am bringing to God is the result of poor judgment on my part. Maybe we are afraid that God will point out to us that we should never have gotten into the mess we are in. And, truthfully, when we sincerely come to God with our requests, God may have to instruct us on how to take certain steps to correct the situation. I remember a time many years ago when I had allowed myself to get pretty deep in debt with credit cards and other payments. And then I thought I needed to buy another car. I went to the bank and applied for a loan and they turned me down. They said the amount of debt I had was out of proportion to my income. And I realized the bank was really doing me a favor, Instead of wanting to get more, I got really serious about getting out of debt. I can tell you that I never missed a payment or defaulted on a loan. But I did have to make some adjustments in my lifestyle. And there is always a chance that God will reveal to you that you need to make some adjustments in your lifestyle when you bring your requests to Him. But the Good News is, God will answer your prayer—even if it means helping you make the adjustments you need to make.
c. And how we worry about those things that are out of our control. It has been said that the majority of things people worry about never happen.
d. I love the chorus that says, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. He works in ways, we cannot see, He will make a way for me. God will make a way!”
e. Rather that worry and stew, learn to commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in Him. King Solomon gave us this advice in Proverbs 3: 5 & 8: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
III. LOOK AT THE POSITIVES, NOT THE NEGATIVES
a. Philippians 4: 8 when put into practice will revolutionize your life! “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
b. Doesn’t that sound like good advice as we are going through this COVID 19 epidemic? I can tell you that focusing on the media driven statistics will leave you depressed and defeated. I had a person text me this past week and say that she is afraid to even leave her house. I agree that we should exercise caution and probably avoid big crowded areas where the epidemic might be spread, but I don’t want to live my life in constant fear. There are too many good things to enjoy. So I will put my mask on when necessary, and go to Wal Mart if I need to purchase something, and I refuse to worry and stew over whether or not the virus is going to get me! These Ozark hills are full of beauty. The fish are still biting in Taneycomo and Tablerock Lakes. Grit TV & ISPN are still showing Gunsmoke, Laramie, and Tales of Wells Fargo. Alex Trebet is still surviving Pancreatic Cancer and plans to host the Jeopardy this fall. I have air conditioning in the summer time and heat in the winter. And I have a wonderful wife, great children, and superb grandchildren. And, God is good all the Time! With so much to enjoy, why would I want to let myself get caught up in all the negatives in life. Life happens, But God’s Grace is sufficient!
And when you keep those principles controlling your life, then Philippians 4:7 becomes a reality: “ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In our Wednesday evening study of the Epistle of James, we came across this word translated Peace. It is a Greek word that means much more than the absence of conflict. The Peace of God means the Presence of His Strength, His Joy, His Blessing. It means victory over conflict. Someone pointed out that we cannot have victory unless we first of all have conflict. And in life there will be conflict and troubles. Jesus is quoted in John 16:33 as saying, “"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
And so, I can hear the doom and gloom reports of how bad our economy is. And I can hear the confusion as to the steps the schools are taking to reopen this fall. And I can hear the rhetoric of the politicians as they sling mud at their opponents. And I can wonder what will happen if Biden is elected president or of Trump remains in office 4 more years. And I can wonder if our form of government is going to survive. And in the midst of all the confusion and negativity, I can look up and see the face of God and remember that He said He would never abandon us and I can have peace in my heart!
What would it take for you to be content?
I read an interesting illustration this week: A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, "A house described in today's paper is exactly what I'm looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!" The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, "But sir, that's your house your describing."
(Source Unknown.—taken from Sermonillustrations.com) Remember the little chorus that says, “He is all I need, He is all I need, Jesus is all that I need.”
Is he your “enough”?
A Roman prisoner nearing the end of his life, Paul said that he had experienced it all—good, bad, plenty, poverty—the outward circumstances were irrelevant. He had learned the secret of being content.
It begins by trusting the LORD…
Philippians 3: 7-14
Years ago when I was pastoring in Warsaw, Missouri, there was a gentleman in my church named Floyd Cunningham. He was a retired jeweler and a very strong Christian. He had health issues with his breathing, so he often spent the winter months in South Texas. Since I started serving the Warsaw Church in January (1975) it was several months before I actually met Mr. Cunningham, but I heard much about him. When he finally returned home, I found out that the stories I had heard were true. Mr. Cunningham was passionate about two things: Fishing and Witnessing to others about Christ. And he would use his passion for fishing as an open door to allow him to witness. I learned much from Floyd the few years I was his pastor. He taught me about bass fishing. We fished in several small lakes in the Warsaw area. This was prior to Truman Lake—The Truman Dam was being built during that time. Several times each week Floyd would ask me to go fishing with him. I finally had to start turning him down because I didn’t have time to do my other duties as Pastor. He echoed the sentiment of the radio announcer on the Springfield station that said, “If you are too busy to go fishing, you’re too busy!” But the thing that amazed me about Floyd Cunningham was how he could be fishing along a shoreline and start up a conversation with someone he had never met before and within minutes be talking to them about Christ. And it seemed natural. Floyd was passionate in his love for Christ and he wanted everyone to know about Jesus. When I preached Floyd’s funeral there was no doubt about where he was going to spend his eternity!
What are you passionate about?
The definition of “Passionate” is “to have strong emotions about something.”
I hope you are passionate in your love for your spouse and your family.
I hope you are passionate in your commitment to America—that you stand for the National Anthem, and salute “Old Glory” and pray for the welfare of our nation.
I know some of you are passionate about sports. It has been a hard year for you because of the delays and uncertainties with the corona virus epidemic.
I hope you are passionate in your love for God. After all, Jesus reminded us that the most important of all the commandments is that we love God “With all our heart…soul… mind and strength.”
In the list of priorities in Paul’s life, he certainly demonstrated that he was passionate for Jesus! Sitting as a prisoner chained to a Roman Soldier while awaiting trial before Caesar, he wrote this wonderful letter to the Philippian Church. It is a very upbeat, positive, joyous letter that focuses not on his dismal circumstances, but on his glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And in this passage, Philippians 3: 7-14, he once again shares his passionate desire for Christ.
Let’s examine His testimony in this passage as we compare our own passionate love for Christ.
I. THE PASSION OF KNOWLEDGE
a. In Verse 10 Paul begins by saying,“I want to know Christ…” and then he explains what he means, “Yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in His death.’
b. The Greek word translated as “To Know” is a very intimate word. It means much more than knowing about someone. It means to “Know someone personally.” For example, I can read books about George Washington, but I can never really know him personally. He is just an historical person of great importance in our national history. But he lived some 200+ years ago and is dead and buried. So I have no chance to know him in a personal way. But Paul, talking about Christ, wanted to know him in a personal way—to experience him intimately—that is, to sense his emotions, to experience his thoughts, and to receive His blessings. I’m afraid there are too many who profess to be Christians today who are content just know about Christ and never experience Him personally in their lives! I hope that you are not one of those!
c. But Paul went on to say that the knowledge he desired was to “know the power of Christ’s Resurrection!” I read an article on Facebook this week from someone who said that in too many churches today the only time we hear about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is at Easter. I want you to know that our Jesus who suffered and died on the Cross to pay the redemption price for our salvation , the same Jesus who was pronounced dead and buried in a tomb for 3 days, came forth from that tomb on the 3rd day very much alive and is alive forever more. When I say Jesus is alive, I mean that right this moment, He is sitting at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf and is here with us through His Spirit—the Holy Spirit. Whenever we gather together, Jesus is here. Whenever I call on Him in prayer, He hears me. Whenever I think I am alone, He is with me. His Spirit speaks to my spirit, telling me that I am His. He is not only my Lord and Savior; He is my Friend that sticks closer than a brother. He is alive and real and wants to reveal Himself to me in a very personal way. The power of His resurrection means that Death is defeated, and eternal life is ours when we put our trust in Him.
d. But that knowledge of Christ for Paul also meant the “Participation in His sufferings.” Jesus in the Gospels is recorded telling his disciples that, if you genuinely wanted to be his disciples, you must, “…deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). When we study Paul’s life as it is recorded in the Book of Acts, we see that he never shied away from danger when it came to proclaiming Christ. He was willing to go wherever he felt Christ was leading him. What about you—Are you willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads you --even when doing so means facing hardship and even suffering on your part?
Following Jesus is not always comfortable. Several years ago, when the AIDS epidemic was first becoming known, I was working as a chaplain at the hospital. There was a patient in the ER that was dying from AIDS and I was asked to go in and pray with him. I remember that when I prayed I was fearful of even touching the patient or holding his hand. I left the room feeling discouraged because I was so fearful of AIDS that I could not demonstrate Christ’s Love with that personal touch. Later, I read how after Dr. Eugene Stowe retired from being a General Superintendent, he and his wife were involved in a ministry of caring for AIDS patients. I knew they were willing to follow Christ wherever He led them. And now our fear is COVID 19. I pray that fear of that virus will not hinder our desire to model Christ’s love to anyone. Are you so passionate about wanting to know Jesus personally that you are willing to follow Him even in the uncomfortable assignments He has for you? Paul was willing to die for Christ if need be. He was persecuted in so many different ways and even left for dead on occasion, but he picked himself up and continued to follow Jesus.
e. But Paul wasn’t content with just sharing in Christ’s Sufferings. He went on to say, “…becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Over in Galatians 2:20 Paul restated the evidence of that knowledge, saying, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Being passionate for Christ meant so much more that just being on friendly terms with Christ. For Paul, it meant surrendering all his dreams and goals in life to the Lordship of Christ, and devoting his life totally to Christ by allowing Christ to literally live in Him and through Him. Do you share that kind of passion in your own heart today?
II. THE PASSION OF RECOGNIZING THE GOAL
a. In Philippians 3:12 Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
b. Remember that Paul wrote these words towards the end of his public ministry. The entire events recorded in the Book of Acts on his missionary journeys had already taken place. All the hardships listed in 2 Corinthians 11 had already happened to him. And yet, in spite of all that he had experienced, he realized that there was still a goal to be reached. Jesus was still living in him and still had a purpose for him. And Paul was not about to give up or quit until he had finished the work Christ had for him to do. No doubt Paul knew that Christ intended for him to testify before Caesar and others in the high places of authority in the Roman government. And, if tradition is correct, later, he would finally get to go to Spain to bear witness for Christ before returning and facing the sentence of death by beheading in Rome. I have never found any place in the Bible that tells us that as Christians we are to at some point retire in this life. As long as we have breath, we are still Christ’s Servants.
c. The oft quoted Nazarene evangelist in the early days of the church, Uncle Buddy Robinson, prayed this pray: "Oh, Lord, give me a back-bone as big as a saw log, and ribs like the sleepers under the church floor; put iron shoes on me, and galvanized breeches. And give me a rhinoceros hide for a skin, and hang a wagon load of determination up in the gable-end of my soul, and help me to sign the contract to fight the devil as long as I've got a fist, and bite him as long as I've got a tooth and then gum him till I die. All this I ask for Christ's sake. AMEN." Now that is passion! Do you have that kind of passion in your desire to do the work God would have you to do?
III. THE PASSION OF PERSEVERANCE.
a. In Philippians 3: 13-14 Paul continues, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
b. We are saved in the instant we confess and repent of our sins and accept Jesus as Savior. We are sanctified the moment we totally yield our will to God and allow Him full control of our lives. But the ultimate prize, the final destination of heaven will only be reached when we keep on honoring Jesus through obedience to him with our lives. We call that “Glorification.”
c. In The Book of Revelation, in the letters to the 7 churches, there is a phrase that is repeated several times: “Blessed are those who endure to the end.”
d. In the passage in Ephesians 6, when Paul wrote about the necessity of putting on the full armor of God, he says in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
e. Perseverance is refusing to give up; it is giving it everything you’ve got, and then, after that, to just keep on standing against the forces of evil—standing up until the end! Do you have that kind of passion for Christ?
I’ve shared this quotation before. It was in a book written by Dr. Richard Taylor entitled Life in the Spirit. I read the book years ago while I was still in college. In the book Dr. Taylor quotes another pioneer in the early days of the Church of the Nazarene, Dr. J. B. Morrison. Dr. Morrison was asked, “…How little religion can a man have and still get to heaven?” Dr. Taylor writes, “Before considering the preacher’s answer, look squarely at the question itself. It discloses a desire to find the lowest level of religious attainment that is consistent with safety. In the heart of the inquirer is a basis aversion to spiritual things; his religion is for him a necessary nuisance as a means of avoiding hell; it is about as palatable as the costly insurance on his home and car which he carries grudgingly. He may not have analyzed his own heart, but actually he is a double-cheat, for he is scheming to cheat both God and the devil. He wants God’s salvation without serving Him with all his heart; thus he cheats God out of the full measure of devotion due Him. At the same time he wants enough religion to cheat the devil out of his soul in the end.
Then Dr. Taylor continues, “The preacher looked at his questioner in his piercing way and replied, ‘Just enough to make him comfortable in the presence of Jesus.’ One look at Calvary and the Man on the middle cross, hanging there in shame for our redemption, will quickly convince us that no one could be comfortable in His presence who despised His blood and resented His lordship as an annoying intrusion into one’s personal liberty.
And then Dr. Taylor summed it up by saying, “The minimum measure grace acceptable would be an intense desire for the maximum measure of grace available.”
That is being “Passionate for Christ.”
How is your passion meter this morning? Do you like Paul want to “Know Christ, participate in his sufferings and share in His death and Resurrection?”
What would it take for you to become that passionate for Christ?
Would you like a fresh infilling of His Spirit in your life to rekindle that Passion today?
Philippians 2: 12-18
When I was a young teenager I was really interested in physical conditioning. My Uncle Bobby who was a sports enthusiast made a barbell type weight and encouraged me to exercise with it regularly. I would get up every morning, pick up that bar and do arm curls and reverse curls. I had visions of becoming another Charles Atlas with budging muscles and a big chest. As you can tell, I obviously didn’t stick with that regiment long enough.
But when I did those exercises, I really challenged myself. I would do those curls until my biceps burned and until I could no long strain enough to do another. And yet, in spite of the pain, I finished with a sense of satisfaction. Instead of complaining about the effort and stress involved, I was happy because I knew that the exercise I was doing was advancing me towards that Charles Atlas physique!
The Letter to the Philippians was written to remind the readers that, in spite of life’s challenges, we can find satisfaction in knowing that what we are experiencing is moving us towards a greater victory.
In Philippians 2 we are familiar with Paul’s admonition to believers that they had the “mind of Christ,” or as the modern translations state, “The same attitude as Christ.”Then in Philippians 2:5-11 we have that great Christology Passage that Theologians call “The Kenosis Passage.” It is a passage that some think was perhaps a creed or hymn used in the early church that Paul quotes describing how Jesus was willing to set aside his identity as God and humble himself, (Literally, “emptied Himself of Self”)to the point of death in order to purchase our salvation. The passage then describes how God, because of what Christ had done, has chosen to exalt the Name of Christ so that all creation will proclaim Him as Lord!
In the passage we read this morning, Philippians 2: 12-18, Paul goes on to describe how we are to live with the Mindset of Christ. In this brief passage, let’s see what the Holy Spirit can teach us about having a Mind-set like that of Christ:
I. THE MIND-SET IS DEVELOPED THROUGH THE DISCIPLINE OF OBEDIENCE.
a. Verses 12 & 13: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
b. The “Fear & Trembling” is because we must realize how inadequate we are and how dependent we must be on God. In illustrating this frame of mind, consider how Abraham was commanded to take Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. The account recorded in Genesis 22 says that Abraham got up very early the next morning , loaded his donkey and set out to the place God had told him, accompanied by two of his servants, and, of course his son Isaac. How do you think Abraham was feeling that morning? Do you suppose he got up early and left probably at dawn because he wanted to avoid talking with Sarah? How would he have explained to her that he was going to sacrifice their son as a burnt offering? Can you imagine the conflict going on in his mind? What about God’s promise that his descendants would be through Isaac? How could he explain to Isaac what was happening as they traveled two full days to the Mountain God had showed him? He had the bucket with the hot coals for the fire. He had the wood loaded to build the fire. He had the knife to slay the sacrifice. But where was the animal they would be sacrificing? Can you imagine the pain in his heart when Isaac asked him where was the lamb that was to be sacrificed? Yet, in spite of the fear and trembling, Abraham continued to be obedient to the Lord. And God did provide the Ram, but not until Abraham had demonstrated full obedience to God’s command.
c. Work out your own salvation—that is, be completely obedient to God’s instruction even when you do not fully understand and even though to obey seems extremely painful. Total Commitment to God was never said to be easy. There is a discipline—the discipline of submission to God’s Will, the Discipline of obedience to God’s Word.
d. Illustration: Arabian horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses, and test them to see if they are completely trained. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to do without water for many days. Then he turns them loose and of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience he gives them a signal to go back to drink.
Now this may be severe but when you are on the trackless desert of Arabia and your life is entrusted to a horse, you had better have a trained obedient horse. We must accept God's training and obey Him. (Source Unknown, found in Sermonillustrations.com)
e. But Verse 13 is a critical component in this command to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Our salvation is not something we can muster up enough power in ourselves to obtain. We are totally incapable of saving our selves. Our only hope is in Christ. And we are told that, “…it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” The Greek word here translated “works” is “energeo” from which we get our English word “energy”. The words “to will” and “to act” come from Greek words that indicated not only beginning a work, but also completing the work in us. In other words, Paul is saying, “God puts His energy in us so that He can complete our Salvation fully. He “energizes us” so that we can go the distance for Him!”
f. So the Ray Boltz song that Andre Crouch sang back in the 1970s-- “Through it All”--fits in this admonition. It has the words, “If I never had a problem, I’d never know that He could solve them, I never know what faith in God can do.” Whatever we face, whatever difficulty or trial we are up against, we need to realize that we need Jesus in us, energizing us, completing the work of salvation in our hearts, in order to be victorious!
II. THIS MIND-SET PRODUCES JOY, NOT DESPAIR.
a. Verse 14 says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”
b. Bob Deffinbaugh, pastor of Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas, gives us this illustration in an essay on Bible.org: A few years ago, former “first lady” Barbara Bush was being interviewed on television. As best I can recall, the interviewer was Barbara Walters. The sage Barbara Bush candidly answered a number of questions. From time to time, Barbara Walters would tempt Barbara Bush to say something critical about one of her husband’s most famous political rivals. Each time Mrs. Bush would pause, consider the possibility, and then pass it up without comment. Finally, after continual prodding, Barbara Walters struck a nerve with one of her questions, designed to evoke a critical response concerning her husband’s rival. This time Mrs. Bush considered her response, and then with a twinkle in her eye replied, “I just love to hear that man whimper.”
I must confess, I found her response amusing. Having confessed this, I must also go on to say that no one really enjoys hearing anyone whimper, not for very long anyway. Whimpering is a most unbecoming behavior.
c. Do you understand who wrote the Epistle to the Philippians and where he was when he wrote it? Bible.org points out: Paul writes this Epistle to the Philippians some ten years or so after his first visit to this city. The Philippians stood with Paul as he went forth preaching the gospel. They alone financially assisted him in his defense and proclamation of the gospel. The eyes of all were on the Apostle Paul as he awaited trial before Caesar. Most continued to remain loyal to Paul and to stand with him in his defense of the gospel. A few chose to take advantage of Paul’s incarceration as an opportunity to attack Paul’s credibility, while enhancing their own standing at his expense (1:15, 17). How painful it must have been to have your own brethren “stabbing you in the back,” while awaiting a trial necessitated by unjust accusations and political cowardliness.
Was this not the perfect opportunity for Paul to do a little whining to the Philippians? They, of all people, would be sympathetic to his whimpering s. Yet the Book of Philippians is one of the most triumphant and joyful books in the entire Bible.
(Copied from Bible.org, Bob Deffinbaugh, author).
d. Paul, writing from a prison cell, reminds us that the mindset of Christ makes no concessions to self-pity or whining. The mind-set attitude should be that of joy because we know that our strength and our victory are in Christ Jesus!
III. THIS MIND-SET PRODUCES IN US THE PURITY OF CHRIST FOR ALL TO SEE!
a. Consider again verse 14 as it continues in verse 15 & 16: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life…”
b. I had a colleague that developed a very negative outlook on life. Whenever I talked to him he would start complaining about how unfair everything and everyone was. He complained about being overlooked for better positions—It was his supervisor’s fault. He complained about his physical condition—the doctors didn’t know what they were doing. He complained about the people under his care—they were just too dumb or too incompetent. It got so bad that I had to distance myself from him. His negativity was getting me depressed. But there are other people that I know that really have every reason to complain. Life hasn’t been easy for them. They have faced tragedy time and again. But when I visit with them, I leave feeling encouraged and optimistic. In spite of what they have experienced, they choose to see God’s Hand of Blessing and protection. They tell me how good God is and how He has kept them and provided for them and blessed them even while they were facing hard times. Instead of focusing on their problems, they have chosen to focus on the God who gives them victory. And everyone who knows them can see there is something about them that stands out. They “shine like stars in the sky.” Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: 16- “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” And God, who has begun that good work in them, as it says in Philippians 1: 6, “…will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
c. It is in those trials where we learn to trust God completely. And in those experiences God is able to complete the process of shaping us into the Image and Stature of Christ!
Paul finishes this passage by pointing out that he is being “poured out like a drink offering.” Quite literally, he had poured out his life in order to see the salvation of the Gentile Believers. We believe he was in prison in Rome awaiting his trial before Caesar. From his heart he let the Philippians know that he wanted the assurance that his poured out life was not in vain.
I can tell you that knowing you have influenced others to having the mind of Christ—the attitude of humility and total dependence upon God for strength and living a life of obedience to God’s Will—is the greatest reward a person can have outside his own salvation.
Today, do you have the mind of Christ?
Do you face life with a smile because you know that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” and that “Your name is recorded in the Book of Life”?
Peter wrote of Christians going through fiery trials and still having “a joy unspeakable and full of glory” in their hearts (see 1 Peter 1:7-9).
Do you have that joy in your heart?
God wants you to have that joy. He will give it to you if you will receive it!
Wouldn’t you rather have that joy than the alternative—depression and despair?
Text: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1: 6).
Dr. Jerald Johnson was a great General Superintendent. He had served as a Pastor, a Missionary in Germany, a District Superintendent, the General Church Missions Secretary, and then was elected to the Board of General Superintendents in 1980. He served in that capacity until 1997 when he retired. His daughter, Dr. Carla Sunberg, is currently serving on the Board of General Superintendents.
I’ve heard Dr. Johnson speak on several occasions—at General Assemblies, at District Assemblies, at Pastors Retreats, etc. One of the sermons he preached contained a statement that as really stuck with me. He said that we should “Wear the garments of this life loosely.” In explaining that statement he told how his dad had been a Nazarene Pastor who had always served in smaller churches. He told how his dad, never having very much of a salary, had always tried to be an example in giving. Whenever there was a need in the church or a challenge to raise money for special ministry opportunities, his dad had always tried to give a very generous financial offering. He wanted to inspire his parishioners to learn the joy of sacrificial giving. Dr. Johnson told how when it came time for his dad to retire, he didn’t have much in terms of retirement. But God provided for his wife and him through their son. Dr. Johnson himself had been able to make some investments in real estate and was able to provide a house for his parents to live in after their retirement. And again, Dr. Johnson challenged us: “Wear the garments of this life loosely.”
Of course, Dr. Johnson was not telling us to be wasteful or overly extravagant. And he certainly wasn’t telling is to make a big deal over our gifts so that others would think more highly of us and praise us. But his advice simply served as a reminder that we are just passing through this life and that our true reward awaits us in heaven.
The Apostle Paul lived his life in the same way as Dr. Johnson was suggesting. Paul, a trained Rabbi who made his living as a tent maker, kept his eyes on a future reward. The money he made as a tent-maker paid his bills, provided for the necessities of life and gave him the resources he needed to do the work God had called him to do—to be an “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
In Philippians 1:21, referring to his status as a prisoner because of his faith, Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This life did not control him. He wasn’t in a hurry to die, but fear of death did not control him. He was “wearing the garments of this life loosely” because he knew there was heaven awaiting him. That’s a “no –lose” situation, a win-win deal!
The Believers in the Church at Philippi held a special place in Paul’s heart. They were the only ones that Paul mentions who had continued to send support to Paul as he continued his travels across Europe and Asia preaching the Gospel. They had sent a special support gift while he was being held as a prisoner. And there is no doubt of Paul’s appreciation and His love for this church that was in the first community in the continent of Europe where Paul had preached. You remember the story of Paul’s ministry in Philippi, I’m sure. His first Sabbath in Philippi he had found a group of Jews who were meeting just outside the city since there was no Jewish synagogue in the city. Paul had shared the Gospel and one lady named Lydia who was evidently quite wealthy from her business as a seller of purple had offered her home as a base for Paul and his missionary team. Later, after preaching in the city for several days Paul had cast out a demon from a young slave girl who had been telling fortunes. Her owner was so upset over the loss of revenue from her fortune-telling that he had gotten Paul and Silas arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison. And that night, while singing praises to God, an earthquake had occurred, breaking all the locks in the jail. The Jailer, thinking the prisoners had escaped, was about to commit suicide, but Paul stopped him. And that night the jailer and his household learned about Jesus and became believers. The next day, Paul demanded and received a public apology from the city leaders, thereby removing the stigma that may have haunted the Church.
We don’t know much more about the church except what we read in this letter. But it is obvious that the Philippians held a special place in Paul’s heart.
The greeting and opening remarks in this epistle give us a glimpse at how Paul envisioned the Christian life.
Let’s consider these points:
I. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS.
a. Philippians 1:6 says, “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”
b. “The Good Work” is the work of salvation. It is God awakening within us the realization that we are sinners, bound for destruction, who need to be forgiven, cleansed and set free from Sin’s control. It is the Confession of our guilt to God and accepting the gift of salvation made possible by the atoning sacrifice by Jesus. He took our sins upon Himself and paid our penalty by giving his life as a sacrifice on our behalf. When we choose to accept that payment by putting our faith in Jesus, then God marks across our souls, “Pardoned.” And we are cleansed because of Christ’s shed blood. Our hearts are “Regenerated” and we are “Adopted into God’s Family.” And our life as a Believer has begun.
c. But that is just the beginning. Paul says that God will continue to carry on that good work until the day of Jesus Christ. We are being molded and shaped in this life by the stresses, the challenges, the difficulties, that are grinding away the rough edges of our lives.
d. In my Streams in the Desert devotional book this week I read about Pebble Beach, a place we have heard of because of the PGA Golf tournaments held there. It tells how the rough waves and currents beat against the shore grinding the rocks so that they are smooth and polished. People come from all over to gather those rocks to display on shelves because of their beauty. But the devotional went on to describe a place a few miles away where the shore line is protected in a haven. The rocks there are rough and dull. No one goes there looking for rocks to display. It is the constant tossing and turning of the rocks at Pebble Beach that produce the beauty. And in our life in Christ, it is the battles we face, the difficult trials through which we journey, that polish us to maturity. Remember how, in Hebrews 2:10 we are told that even Jesus, the Pioneer of our Faith, “was made perfect through suffering.”
e. But the good news in this verse is that there is a completion. We are being molded and shaped into Christ-likeness so that when Jesus returns, we will be ready to be with Him in eternity! That is our goal—and it is reachable with God’s help!
II. INCREASING LOVE IS IN THAT PROGRESSION.
a. In verse 9 Paul writes, “And this is my prayer that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”
b. When I first became a Christian, my motive was to avoid going to hell. I knew I was a sinner and I knew that unless my sins were taken away they would lead me to an eternity in hell. There were many nights when I would lay awake because I was afraid that if I didn’t wake up I would be lost forever. So accepting Jesus was like getting a life insurance policy that provided for an escape from destruction. I knew Jesus loved me and wanted to save me from that fate.
c. But after accepting God’s forgiveness, I quickly learned there is much more to being a Christian than just avoiding hell. There is a life to be lived that overcomes defeat from Satan’s attempts to steal me away from God. There is a power that I must have that only God can provide that enables me to live in victory. And in this development I came to realize that there is a God who really does love me and wants to bless me. And, as a result, I have learned to love God not just for rescuing me from hell, but for providing for me protection, safety, and overcoming power. And it goes even deeper than that. I have learned that Jesus is worthy of love because of His companionship and His interest in me. And I am still learning of His Compassion and Mercy, and His desire for me to have communion and fellowship with Him. I am still learning about what it means when I read, “There is a Friend who sticketh closer than a Brother!” What began as an Eternity Life Insurance Policy has become an intimate fellowship with Almighty God through Jesus Christ!
d. I believe that is what Paul means when he prays that our love will abound more and more.
III. THAT PROGRESSION INCLUDES AN INCREASED ABILITY OF DISCERNMENT.
a. In Philippians 1:10 Paul in elaborating on “Abounding in Love” says, “So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”
b. Scientists tell us that the human brain is still in the process of developing in the late teens and early 20's and is incapable of always making correct decisions. (I can tell you that my almost 69 year old brain is still struggling at times to make wise decisions.) And, in the spiritual sense, new Christians must have some time to grow towards maturity. Early on, I suspect that all of us have said or done things that turned out not to have been very wise. I was telling Gregg Richard this week of some of my misadventures as a kid growing up. One of those times was when I decided I was too big for Mom to give me a spanking and I took the belt away from her and wouldn’t let her spank me. How stupid I was! I failed to think about the consequences of that decision—the fact that Dad would be home later and Mom would tell him what I had done! I never made that mistake again!
c. And sometimes, in our immaturity as Christians, we may say things or do things without taking time to think through to the possible consequences. It may be that we are critical towards someone who thinks differently than I. Or it could be that we do something without thinking how it will affect others or how it will affect our Christian witness. Or it could be that we are broad-sided by a temptation that we give in to and later realize what we have done. When we become aware of our failure, it is important that we remember to confess it to God, make amends with anyone we have offended, and learn from our failure so that we do not repeat it again!
d. Discernment is a skill that is developed through practice. And that practice includes learning to listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit who warns us of danger ahead! The Holy Spirit is the One who transfers God’s Love to our hearts and helps us to learn to live in that Love and become dispensers of that Love!
In the introductory remarks in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians he in two different places alludes to “The Day of Christ Jesus” (verse 6 & 10). From the earliest days of Christianity there has been an expectancy of Christ’s Return. We are taught in the Scriptures that Jesus, who ascended into the Clouds will someday return in like manner to claim His Bride—those who have accepted the salvation that He has provided from them. And with that event we learn there will be at time when all humanity will stand before the Great White Throne of God where our eternal destiny will be declared.
The Old time Preachers often would declare, “There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun!” And that is so true.
On that day that involves our final judgment, we all will have to given an accounting of how we have lived our lives. In Matthew 12:6 Jesus says we will have to give an account of every idle word we have spoken. And in Revelation 22:12 Jesus says, “Look. I am coming soon! My reward is with me and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”
But this passage and others like it remind us that those idle words and sinful practices have been atoned for by the sacrificial Death of Christ and validated by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we have the opportunity now to accept that Salvation and to grow in maturity as Christians so that when Christ does return we will be ready.
Verse 11 says that because of our walk with God, our increasing in Love, our growing towards maturity, we are, “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.”
Where are you on the scale of spiritual progression? Have you begun the journey and reached point # 1 by accepting God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus? Are you progressing through full surrender of your will and being filled with God’s Spirit? Is your love for God and for others increasing?
On a scale from 1 to 10 none of us have reached 10. That will occur when we step into eternity as a child of God. But if you started at #1 and haven’t progressed on towards maturity, then you have some serious work to do. You must seek God’s help to overcome life’s distractions and more toward Christ-likeness.
Are you where you believe God wants you to be in your spiritual journey?
Remember, Christ is returning. We don’t know when that will be, so we need to make sure right now that we are ready…
Isaiah 55: 6-9
Dr. Adrian Rogers was a prince of a preacher. He pastored a large Southern Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee and was a well known radio preacher. In one of his 4th of July sermons after reading Psalm 85, he begins his message with these words:
“The Psalm you have the prayer of a patriot. Here's a man praying for his nation. And he's praying for revival. I want to tell you I make no apology whatsoever for being a red-blooded, flag-waving American patriot. I believe it is logical, I believe it is reasonable, I believe it is Biblical to be patriotic. A roving reporter came up to a man on the street and said, ''Do you know what the two biggest problems in America are?'' The pedestrian said, ''I don't know and I don't care.'' The reporter said, ''You have them both.'' Amen.
The two biggest problems in America: number one is ignorance and number two is apathy. People don't know and they don't care. And we have people today who think, ''Well you're not supposed to be patriotic. Somehow everything's just supposed to be one big globe, one world. Somehow if we're patriotic that's almost un-Christian. We're told today that you can't be a Christian and love your country. Well that's ridiculous. Absolutely unmitigated folly.
Now when I love my country that doesn't mean I don't love other countries. When I want God to bless America that doesn't mean that I don't want other countries to be blessed. It just means that America is my father land. This is the land of my birth and this is the land of my loyalty and the land of my responsibility. I love all people, but one day I'm going to have to stand before God and give account for myself. So I've got to look out and make certain that I'm right with God because I can't answer for you and you can't answer for me. I love your family, but the Bible says if I provide not for my own, especially of those of my own house I have denied the faith. I am worse than an infidel. And when I have a responsibility and a loyalty to my family that doesn't mean I love your family any less. That just means that I have an assignment from God. That is, my family.“
This morning let me say that I am in total agreement with Dr. Roger’s testimony. I am proud to be an American. I can say that even though our nation is going through a difficult time. There is no doubt there are forces at work trying to destroy us—forces from outside enemies and forces from within. The freedoms we hold dear are being used destructively—The Freedom of Speech, the Freedom of the Press, and so many others. We are a land that was founded with a commitment to Religious Freedom and I am in agreement with that. But there are certain non-Christian religions whose goals are to take away our freedom and require everyone to embrace their particular ideology. The radical Islamic's desire to change our whole government system and convert our nation to Sharia Law.
The statement that is written on a monument at the door of the National Archives Building is so relevant: “Eternal Vigilance is The Price of Liberty.”No one knows for certain who originally made that statement. Many have given Thomas Jefferson the credit, but those who have researched it do not agree. One source (Timothy Taylor in conservableeconomist.blogspot.com) listed theses facts about the origin of that statement:
1. The first time that we know the terms "eternal vigilance" and "price of liberty" were used in close proximity was by an Irishman named John Philpott Curran in 1790, discussing the rules for electing the Lord-Mayor of London.
2. The first time we know that the entire phrase was used together was during in an 1809 discussion of how James Jackson helped fight off the "Yazoo land grab" in western Georgia.
3. The first use by a US president, in Andrew Jackson's Farewell Address in 1837, was about the need to fight off the Bank of the United States.
4. The first use by someone who would later be a US president was when James Buchanan applied the phrase to discussing the merits of the presidential veto.
5. The use of the term in its more modern meaning, as pushing back against encroachments on personal liberty, in the speeches and writings of Frederick Douglass starting in 1848 and continuing to the years after the Civil War.
Regardless of who said it first, the truth is just as relevant today: “Eternal Vigilance IS THE Price of Liberty!”
As we continue celebrating our Nation’s Birthday this weekend, let us remember that we have a God-given responsibility to be vigilant in our defense of and support for our nation. What does that mean?
I. VIGILANCE MEANS WE MUST REMEMBER THAT OUR FIRST ALLEGIANCE IS TO GOD.
a. The first commandment of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 10:3).
b. There are those who claim that the Flag is an idol and that to pledge allegiance to the flag is worshiping an idol. Of course, that should not be so. When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I am not worshiping a flag or a government. I am affirming my belief in and support of what that flag stands for. Our flag is just a symbol representing our government. As an American citizen I commit myself to be supportive of my government.
c. But if my government tries to make me obey a law that is in conflict with Laws of God, then my allegiance is first of all to God.
d. In Acts 4, after Peter and John were called on the carpet for healing the lame man in chapter three, they are commanded by the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, to not speak any more in the name of Jesus. In Acts 4:19 & 20 we read, “But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you or to him. As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
e. As Christians we must never forget that God always trumps man, and our duty is to always honor God above all else!
II. VIGILANCE MEANS WE ARE TO PRAY FOR OUR LEADERS.
a. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul gave these instructions to the first century church: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, and intercession and thanks given be made for all people.—for kings and all authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
b. In 1 Peter 2:16-17 we read, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
c. We need to remember that Paul and Peter gave us instructions to honor and respect and pray for government leaders in a world that was essentially pagan. The government endorsed the worship of Roman gods. Immorality was rampant. William Barclay states that 14 or the first 15 Roman Emperors were homosexuals. And in that ungodly, immoral climate, God-inspired men wrote that we are to honor the emperor and respect the laws.
d. I would say that in our day, even though we have politicians that do not embrace our understanding of God or God’s Laws, we still need to show respect. We still need to pray for them. And those prayers are to hold up the hands of those leaders, not to remove them from office. But when those leaders begin to disrespect God and try to impose laws that are contrary to the Will of God and the Word of God, then our prayers may be that God will raise up men and women who will honor Him!
III. VIGILANCE MEANS WE ARE TO BE INFLUENCE RS FOR GOD.
a. A few weeks ago the sermon focused on the passage in Matthew 5: 13-16 where Jesus said we are to be Salt and Light in our world. The obvious meaning of that passage is that as Christians we should be influence rs in society. We should promote laws that reflect the Word of God and promote those things that make a better, more righteous society.
b. This is an election year. As Christians we should seek to be informed about the candidates and issues that are involved. Some say that in this presidential election year, the soul of America is at stake. Certainly there are issues that are hanging in the balances that will define whether or not our nation will honor God. And we need to be careful to be accurate, biblical and persistent in supporting Godliness. In the campaign rhetoric we will hear all kinds of statements, many of which will be a distortion of truth. It is important that we seek God’s guidance as we seek to discern the direction our country is to take.
IV. VIGILANCE MEANS WE ARE TO DISCERN THE DANGERS WE FACE.
a. The Bible teaches that we should be like watchman who guarded the city by standing on the city walls and watching out for approaching dangers. In the Book of Ezekiel we read in: Ezekiel 3:17-19 – “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.
Ezekiel 62:6 – “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, [which] shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence.”
In Ezekiel 33:6 – “But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take [any] person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
b. In Luke21 after Jesus warned about the dangers at the end of the age he said to his disciples, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” Luke 21:36.
c. Sin can be very subtle. It has a way of slipping into our lives bit by bit, desensitizing us to its evil, until it is hard for us to discern right from wrong. We see in the church world where it has become more and more acceptable to tolerate divorce, adultery, homosexual behavior. The whole “being sensitive to others” and “being careful not to offend others” has become so distorted that we are afraid to call evil what it is. Years ago, Karl Menninger wrote a best seller book entitled, “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SIN?” We call it mistakes or different perspectives or alternative lifestyles.
d. Jesus in Luke 17:1-3 says, “…Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”
e. Paul, in his epistles to Timothy gave these instructions: “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning (1 Timothy 5:20); and “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
V. VIGILANCE MEANS WE ARE TO REMEMBER THE PRICE OF OUR FREEDOM.
a. On this 4th of July weekend, we remember our Nation’s birthday with the Revolutionary War and the suffering of the soldier at Valley Forge, and the leadership of Men like General George Washington. Our nation’s birth was at the cost of great sacrifice.
b. But greater still is the heritage we have as Christians. We were slaves held captive by Sin, doomed for destruction. But God through Jesus paid the greatest price of all. Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for our sins, making it possible for us to be reunited with God and giving us an eternal Hope of Everlasting Life!
c. As we reflect on our nation’s history, let us do so in the greater context of eternity. Let us celebrate our freedoms by remembering our Lord’s Death and Resurrection and let us celebrate the fact that He is coming again to claim His Bride—the Church.
d. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a reminder of the New Covenant Relationship we have with God because of the Sacrifice Jesus Made. And Jesus told us that whenever we have the Lord’s Supper we remember that it is a Memorial of His Death and Resurrection. We are to examine our spiritual condition before taking Communion. If there is any sin in us we should confess it and forsake it and receive pardon from God for it. And all who are children of God are invited to take part in it. So let’s join in the celebration. We honor freedoms as Americans and even more so as Christians!
Matthew 7: 1-12
I was raised in a rural community in Eastern Arkansas. My dad worked at various jobs, but the majority of his life he was a farmer. Now you have to understand that the 1950's in which I lived the first decade of my life the world was very different than it is now. Drugs had for the most part not made their entrance into rural communities. Alcohol was the dominant mind altering drug in that era. Crime was something we worried about very little. We seldom locked our homes or our car doors. With a few exceptions people could be trusted. Children were allowed to play outside without worry of being kidnapped or molested. We played games like King of the Mountain, Kick the Can, Cowboys and Indians, and Cops and Robbers—and no one was offended because we were not politically correct. I remember a survey that was done back then on an Indian reservation. The Indian boys (Native Americans) were asked about the Cowboy and Indian television programs. Most of the Indian boys were rooting for the Cowboys!
And boys liked to wrestle and rough house. And the adults viewed such behavior with the attitude, “Boys will be boys.”
In that culture children were taught certain rules that were intended to protect them as they encountered threatening situations. Some of those rules were not exactly correct.
For example, you have heard me talk about my fear of snakes. The farm where I lived most of my boyhood had a creek that ran behind it—Possum Creek it was called. And just to the south of the house there was a patch of woods that had a ditch that drained into Possum Creek. The fields that separated our house from those areas were what would be called “Bottom Land.” That mean the ground was low in elevation, somewhat swampy and subject to flooding when we received heavy rains. And consequently the area was invested with snakes. We had to be careful whenever we were outside in our yard or in the pastures or along the creek banks. Snakes were everywhere. Many of those snakes were poisonous-- Water Moccasins, Cotton Mouths, Copperheads, and sometimes even rattlesnakes. Of course there were all types of non-poisonous snakes--King Snakes, Black Snakes, Blue Racers Snakes, Garter Snakes, and so on. But in order to make sure we avoided being bitten by a poisonous snake, Dad taught us that all snakes were poisonous. And I can still hear him calling out to me when I was on my way outside to play, “Son, be careful out there—If you get bitten by a snake you’ll die before you get back to the house!”So the dominant rule was, “Don’t mess with snakes!” I still practice that rule today even thought I know most snakes are not poisonous!
And boys being boys, sometimes our competitive nature would cause our emotions to get a little out of control when we were playing and fights would break out. I remember Dad telling me, “If you see you are going to get into a fight and you can’t avoid it, Go ahead and throw the first punch—It will give you the advantage!” That rule got me into trouble more than once!” In today’s society I would probably have been permanently suspected from public schools!
But in spite of the rules that turned out to be questionable, Dad had certain rules that were even more important. He insisted that he would not tolerate lying, cheating, drinking or stealing. And the few times I crossed that line I discovered that not only was Dad serious, the consequences were painful.
Rules are important. Without rules there would be no consistency in life. There would be nothing on which to base trust. Anarchy would reign. It would be everyone for themselves and survival of the fittest. We see in our cities the results of lawlessness—looting, burning, shootings, etc. The Bible tells us that the human heart is desperately evil because of sin and this fallen nature of this world.
But that is not the world that God desires for us. His desire is for peace and harmony. His way is the way of love—caring about others and treating people with dignity. The backbone of God’s plan for a peaceful and healthy society is found in the principles that Jesus proclaims in this Passage we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” And the verse found in Matthew 7:12 provides a summary of the way God intends for each of us to interact with others in society. It says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” My generation memorized it from the KJV this way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is known as “The Golden Rule.” It provides a guiding principle for how to deal with others.
For these few minutes let’s think of some of the Implications of that rule.
I. THE GOLDEN RULE GUIDES HOW WE JUDGE OTHERS.
a. Jesus makes that clear in Matthew 7:1 when he says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
b. I was in the first or second grade—I can’t remember for sure which it was. Whenever the teacher had to leave the room for a few minutes, she would choose someone in the class to take names of anyone who talked while she was out. And this one time she selected me. I was so proud. I had such power over my classmates. They had to be careful or I would write down their names. Of course someone whispered and I spoke up, warning them if they did it again I would write down their name. They did and I did. So when the teacher returned I turned in the name of the person who talked. But then some of the classmates pointed out that I had talked also—I had warned the person verbally. And guess what: The teacher made me write the sentence “I must not talk when the teacher is out of the room”—probably 50 times, just like the person whose name I had turned in. I never wanted to be the person who took names after that!
c. In Adult life, that principle is even more serious. For the fact is, as the Scripture states, “All have sinned…” and “No one is perfect…” (See Romans 3: 23 and 3:10). And when we condemn others, we place ourselves under the search light of judgment as well.
d. Remember how Jesus said, “Get the beam out of your own eye before trying to remove the splinter out of someone else's eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
e. Does this mean we are never to judge? There are other scriptures that reveal the necessity of recognizing the sins and evil intents in others. But the principle here is to make sure of our motives, recognize our own shortcomings, and be merciful to others in the same way we would desire others to be merciful to us.
f. The word “Judge” as used here literally means, “Condemn.” We are not to pass sentence on people to send them to eternal torment. We should remember what John 3:17 tells us about Jesus: “For God sent not His Son into the World to condemn the World, but to save the World through Him.”
II. THE GOLDEN RULE TEACHES US TO TREAT OTHERS WITH RESPECT.
a. God’s Word is very clear in instructing us to show respect to others, to honor others above ourselves, to be generous to others, and to be good neighbors by helping those in need.
b. One of the common problems in our society is the problem of Homelessness. Branson has many people who live in Extended Stay Hotels because they cannot get enough money together at one time to rent a home or apartment. And there are people sleeping under bridges and in sheds and even in the forests. And we have our share of panhandlers sitting at various corners holding signs soliciting for help—money, food, etc. The church office gets calls several times each week asking for rent assistance or gas or utilities assistance. And some of those call repeatedly. I have learned that I have to set up certain boundaries and criteria in order to be a good steward of our resources. But I have tried to make it a principle that, even when I have to turn down requests, I try to treat the person with dignity and respect. I don’t ever want to be guilty of acting superior and looking down on a person. And even when they do not act dignified, I have found if I treat them with dignity they will act more dignified! My reasoning behind my actions comes from remembering that the Bible says that we are all “Created in the Image of God.” And God is “No respecter of persons.”And the Bible tells us to “Be courteous to everyone.” And the truth is that even though I may not feel I should help in every circumstance, I really am in no position to fully understand every circumstance. I don’t know why a person thinks as he or she does. I don’t know what circumstances led them to their current situation. I don’t know if they have been abused or otherwise mistreated by others that contribute to their being down and out. I don’t know—I can only surmise. But I must remember that sometimes a person is in a desperate situation through no fault of his or her own. And, even if it was through fault of their own, treating them poorly contributes nothing towards helping them to better themselves.
c. And I would also say this: I believe our country would be much better off if we could learn to treat our leaders with respect instead of mocking one another and calling each other names. All the name calling does is drive us farther apart.
III. THE GOLDEN RULE IS BASED ON THE GREAT COMMANDMENTS.
a. Matthew 7:12 ends with these words: “…for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
b. Remember when Jesus was asked by the Lawyer what was the Greatest Commandment? He replied with what we call the Great Commandments: “Love God with all your heart…soul…mind…and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”And then He after quoting those two commands from the Old Testament, He said, “All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40).”
c. The Golden Rule, the Principle for functioning in society and interacting with others, is summed up with the Christian Word “Agape”—“Divine Love flowing from the heart of a person devoted to Christ.”
d. How can we say we are Christians and hate our brothers? How can we condemn an entire race or nationality of people? How can we mistreat others and still say we have the love of Christ in our hearts? How do we express that Love? We do so by treating others the same way we would wish to be treated!
e. In 1 John 4: 19-21 we read, “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
f. And just a few weeks ago we examined the passage in Matthew 5 where Jesus tells us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
g. “Treating others the same way we would want to be treated” implies getting to know a person, learning about his or her background and customs, listening to their point of view. Sometimes Rather that doing for someone what we would like done for us, we need to find out how the other person would like to be treated and then treat them that way. It is about being sensitive to other people’s needs and wants.
h. Some years ago there was a book entitled “In His Steps” that promoted the WWJD principle that became very popular a few years ago. WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? The principle was that in every situation when faced with a decision we should ask ourselves WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? That is still good advice. Of course, the downside was that often we find ourselves in situations that Jesus would never have allowed himself to get into!
i. But the Golden Rule which is based on allowing God’s Love to flow in us and through us helps us to rephrase the Question: “How Can I show the Love of Christ in this situation?” Remember how, while hanging on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”? That is the love of Christ being displayed.
Daniel Presswood in a sermon posted on SermonCentral.com wrote this about the Golden Rule:
The GOLDEN RULE is the CULMINATION of the ENTIRE SERMON ON THE MOUNT. As I said earlier, "THEREFORE" is the key word - it means - BECAUSE of everything that I’ve already said here on the mount - you MUST do this! Because of the BEATITUDES-THE BLESSED BE’S - because YOU are the SALT OF THE EARTH and the LIGHT OF THE WORLD - because of the prohibitions against HATRED, MURDER, ADULTERY, LUST, AND OATHS - because of the SACRED and BINDING rules about MARRIAGE - because of the commands to GO THE SECOND MILE, TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, doing your CHARITABLE deeds in private - because of the EXAMPLES to LIVE by on PRAYER, FASTING, GOOD WORKS, GENEROSITY, and SPIRITUAL priorities - because of the commands not to WORRY or JUDGE others - and finally because of the CHALLENGE to "ASK, and it will be given to you; SEEK, and you will find; KNOCK and it will be opened to you. - BECAUSE of ALL those things in the sermon - Jesus says THEREFORE - "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets."
In these troubled time in which we find ourselves, we must remember, we are not like the citizens of this world. We are sojourners just passing through. Our citizenship is in heaven. And while we are passing through we are still to live by the rules of God’s Kingdom.
This week, I challenge you to stop and think of the Golden Rule. When you see protesters on the street or on the news; When you heard hate speech being directed at the Police or the Politicians; or when you are treated rudely at the store or restaurant, think: How can I respond by Treating others the way I would like to be treated? How can I let Christ’s love flow through me in this situation?
Church: Let’s be the Church! Let’s demonstrate Christ-likeness wherever we go!
Luke 2: 41-52
I was so fortunate to have been raised in a stable, loving home. My parents were well respected in the community, hard workers, and wonderful parents. I have shared enough of my story in my 38 years as pastor here in Branson that most of you know that I was blessed, spoiled, and loved as a son. I was the oldest of 3 children. My sister was 8 years younger than I; my brother was 18 years younger than I. We were like 3 different families. In fact, my brother was born after I had already gone off to college.
My Dad was my hero. He was fair, fun, and flexible in his discipline. I got my share of spankings, but probably not near as many as I deserved. I never received a spanking that I did not deserve. They were never severe or harsh, though sometimes Dad was angry. I had the ability to push the boundaries to the limit.
One of the compliments that I appreciated the most was when people would say to me that I was just like my Dad. I had his physical characteristics, a similar temperament, and personality. I always wanted to imitate my Dad.
But I never wanted to work on the farm. It was okay, but I never felt adequate at it. As soon as I was able, I took a job at a store, and then, later, a summer job at a shoe factory. But the summer before Gloria and I married I chose to spend the summer working for Dad on the farm. I am so glad that I did that. I cherish the memories of the time we spent together. I have mentioned how Dad had me planting soybeans in the spring. The rows were about ¾ of a mile long. Dad told me afterwards I had to stay and work through the summer because no one else would be able to plow those rows that were that crooked!
Of course, he was kidding—I think!
This passage concerning the early years of Jesus trigger my memories of wanting to please my Dad and to be like Him.
We know little about the childhood years of Jesus. Luke 2 jumps from his dedication in the Temple to 12 years later when he came back to Jerusalem to worship with his parents. While they are not included in the Protestant Bibles, there are the so-called books about the Infancy of Jesus that give some insights. Their reliability is debatable.
But this passage in Luke has much to say to us on this day when we honor Dads. Let us consider:
I. THE RELIGIOUS TRAINING
a. The passage tells us that Mary & Joseph came yearly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. From earlier in this chapter we see that they also followed the customs of their people for the Dedication and Circumcision Ceremonies that the Jewish people followed. We know that both Mary and Joseph were religious people of good moral conduct who followed the Law and who listened to the voice of God as He directed their lives. With that knowledge we can safely assume that Jesus was brought up according to the customs of the devout Jewish households. He would have been schooled in the local synagogue by the village Rabbi and would have not only memorized a good portion of the Old Testament but also participated in discussions about the Oral Traditions and the Customary Laws that were deduced from the scriptures. He would have followed the Jewish dietary laws of eating only kosher foods. And he would have been taught a trade—in his case, the trade of carpentry like his earthly dad Joseph. And now, at age 12 Jesus accompanies his parents to Jerusalem as they make the 70+ mile trip to participate in the Celebration of the Feast of the Passover. Christianity.com gives this explanation as to why Jesus went with his parents to Jerusalem at age 12: “The purpose of the coming to Jerusalem in Luke 2:42 on the part of Mary and Joseph was undoubtedly primarily that of fulfilling the requirements of the law, the bringing of Jesus to His confirmation. At this point the boy was supposed to enter upon that period of life when He should have immediate dealings with the law, receiving it no longer through the instruction of His parents; but having been brought by them into a knowledge of its requirements, He would now take upon Himself the responsibility. The rite, which is still in existence, consists in the preparation by the candidate of certain passages of the law, which are to be recited, and his presentation to the rulers and doctors, that in conversation with him, they may ask him questions, testing his knowledge, and he may submit to them questions arising out of his training. It was to this ceremony of confirmation that Jesus was brought at the age of twelve.”
b. This passage reminds us of the extremely important responsibility that parents have to teach their children about God and His Word. And that teaching must not be just words but must taught by example. I have heard it said many times that a child’s perception of God is shaped by their parents, and particularly their dad’s example.
c. As we reflect on this scripture and the religious training that led up to this time in Jesus’ life, let us remember our own responsibility of training our children and the younger generations in the ways and Word of God.
d. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Just as Joseph and Mary did for Jesus, we too must take heed and do likewise!
II. THE EXTENDED FAMILY
a. In this passage we read that Mary and Joseph traveled back towards home an entire day before they realized Jesus was not with the company of travelers. Our first idea may be negative. How could they have been so neglectful? Why didn’t they check on Jesus at the beginning of their return trip? And the answer as I see it is two-fold: First, of all, remember that at age 12 a boy was considered responsible in their society. And, no doubt, Jesus would have proven to be trustworthy. They knew that Jesus would be where he was supposed to be. But, secondly, remember that they were traveling with a group of people including several relatives from their hometown. And Mary & Joseph knew that their traveling companions would look after the younger ones. I would surmise there were probably several who would have been close to the same age as Jesus. And, like teens today, those young folks would rather be walking with each other rather than being with their parents. So, it was natural for Mary and Joseph to assume that Jesus was okay. And they knew if there was a problem, the adult relatives would see that the kids were taken care of.
b. As I think about that situation, I realize how important our extended families are. Most of us have already raised our children, and some have raised their grandchildren. But, as a adult, we still have a responsibility to the younger generation. We still need to set an example in our own behavior. We still need to be influence rs for Godliness. We still need to be praying for our grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others in our sphere of influence. And sometimes, we need to lovingly correct those who are making poor choices and show them a better way. At the same time, we need to remember to respect the parents’ choices, especially when it comes to discipline. That can be a challenge, especially in this age when spankings are frowned upon. How many times have I heard some parents give their child a “time-out” when I would have given them a swat in the appropriate place!
c. Just because our children are raised and on their own, we should not think our influence is no longer needed. We have a responsibility to see that the next generation knows our God!
III. THE FATHER’S INFLUENCE.
a. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus back at the Temple, their natural question was, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2: 48b). That would have been similar to what any of us would have said given the same circumstances. And you do understand that, while Joseph was not the biological father, he was the earthly dad. He was the husband of Mary. He accepted the responsibility of raising Jesus. He had loved him, disciplined him, provided for him, trained him. And I can guarantee you that Jesus never defiantly had said to Joseph, “You’re not my father!” In every way, Joseph had been a dad to Jesus. And as the eldest son, Jesus had taken on the responsibility of providing for Mary after Joseph was no longer in the picture. (We assume he had died sometime later before Jesus launched his earthly public ministry.)
b. But Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2: 49). Understand that in no way was Jesus being disrespectful to Joseph. But this does tell us that by age 12 Jesus understood his special mission.
c. I would imagine that Mary had told him many times how special he was, relaying the story of the Angelic announcements and the Shepherds’ visit at his birth. And he had probably heard the story several times of the visit by the Magi and then the way God had protected them from King Herod’s murderous intentions, leading them to Egypt and then back to Nazareth.
d. And the one thing we can credit Joseph and Mary with is that they taught Jesus to seek always to please and glorify God with His life.
e. And Parents, our ultimate goal, the most important thing we can ever do, is to train our children to always seek to please and glorify God!
f. As a dad, Joseph had been entrusted the care of his family. He had the responsibility of protecting them from harm, seeing they had shelter and food and clothing, and instilling in them the values presented in God’s Word.
g. And dads still have that responsibility. In our dysfunctional society so often, men have neglected their duties or left them to the women. But Psychologists tells us how important the dad influence is in developing a child’s self-image and sense of worthiness.
h. Jesus had an earthly dad. And Jesus knew that he had a heavenly Father. May our children be so blessed to know they too have the best of both.
The closing verse of Luke 2, verse 52, is a verse that I often prayed over my children. It says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
May that be prayed over each of our children. May it be a reality in each of our lives. And sometimes I substitute the word “Church” and pray that will be true of our church.
May God Bless each of you on this Fathers’ Day and every day of the year! Let us follow the examples set before us in God’s Word.