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.
Matthew 5: 13-16
The use of Salt and Light as symbols of our influence in society is very common—even to the point of being so over used that no one really takes to heart the meaning being communicated.
Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the properties of Salt and Light. And we realize they are essential to life itself.
Light has very interesting properties. One article on the properties of light began by saying, “No single answer to the question “What is light?” satisfies the many contexts in which light is experienced, explored, and exploited. The physicist is interested in the physical properties of light, the artist in an aesthetic appreciation of the visual world. Through the sense of sight, light is a primary tool for perceiving the world and communicating within it. Light from the Sun warms the Earth, drives global weather patterns, and initiates the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. On the grandest scale, light’s interactions with matter have helped shape the structure of the universe…” (www. Britannica.com/science/light)
And the description gets more and more complicated. But, truthfully, my greatest interest in light is that, when I walk into a dark room and flip the light switch, I can then see what is in the room! I hate walking into a dark room. And ever since I had my knee replacement and have become more conscious to the danger of falling, I appreciate light more than ever. In the Biblical sense, the word “Light” is used to reveal the danger of things hidden in darkness. Light is depicted as being good and Darkness as being evil. We need the light to chase away the darkness and the evil that darkness hides.
But then Jesus quickly shifts from the imagery of Light and starts speaking about Salt.
I did a little research on the subject of Salt. The first thing I discovered is that Angelina Jolie is starring in a move about a CIA Agent whose last name is Salt. That really had nothing to do with this passage, except that the name symbolized the importance of the Character she is portraying.
Then I read again about the importance of Salt—We cannot live without it, but too much of it will kill us. And most of us consume way too much of it! Down through History, Salt has been considered so valuable that at times the weight of Salt was equivalent in value to the weight of Gold. In Roman times Soldiers were often paid in Salt or given money to purchase Salt because it was so important to human life. And our word “Salary” comes from the Roman Word for Salt. Before the development of refrigeration, Salt was essential for preserving food. A person traveling a long distance had to take his food his food with him and without it being salted it would have spoiled within a few days. And while there are different types of salt, the health related benefits are essentially the same. So, the use of Sea Salt instead of regular Table Salt is really just a personal preference. The benefits are essentially the same.
Again, there is much more about Salt, but suffice it to say, it is not only beneficial to life—it is essential to life but must be used in moderation.
With all that said, what was the point Jesus was trying to make with He said, “You are the Salt of the earth,” and “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deed and glorify your Father in heaven”?
I. THE ANALOGY TO SALT EMPHASIZES HOW IMPORTANT CHRISTIANS ARE TO SOCIETY.
a. Like Salt, we are to contribute to the preservation of society. I have read various sources that state without hesitation that if it were not for the influence of Christianity the human race would have destroyed itself years ago. And some of those opinions come from people who do not even consider themselves to be Christian.
b. It has always been puzzling to me why so many anti-Christian governments fail to realize that Christians make the best citizens. While they are loyal first of all to God, they are called to be good, law abiding citizens. They promote the good in society. They are honest. They have a strong work ethic. They pay their bills and even pay their taxes. They are instructed to pray for those kings and presidents and government leaders. Why wouldn’t you want those kinds of people in your nation? Of course, the answer is that when a society rejects God, it rejects the followers of God.
c. The term “Salt of the Earth” in describing a person is a great compliment. It speaks in highest regard of the value and integrity of an individual.
d. So, when Jesus said that His followers should be “The Salt of the Earth,” He meant they should be known as people who contributed to the betterment of society.
e. The World Wars of the early 20th Century were a dark time in human history. The rise of the Third Reich in Germany and the Dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and the powerful death grip over society is almost unbelievable. In the midst of that period of time there were a few Christian Leaders who stand out. One was Dietrich Bonheoffer, a Lutheran Pastor who was one of the founders of what was known as the Confessing Church in Germany, a movement that was quickly banned by the German Nazi Government. Bonheoffer’s theological writings give this description of “Cheap Grace”: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Even though he had the chance to go to America and avoid the persecution Christians were receiving in Germany, He returned to Germany and became a member of the underground resistance movement. He eventually was imprisoned and executed because of his awareness of plots to assassinate Hitler.
f. Another Pastor and founder in the Confessing Church Movement during that time was a man named Martin Niemoller. At first supportive of the rise of the Third Reich, he soon recognized it for the evil that it was and strongly opposed it. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the familiar poem: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
For his opposition to the Nazis' state control of the churches, Niemöller was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1938 to 1945. He narrowly escaped execution. After his imprisonment, he expressed his deep regret about not having done enough to help the victims of the Nazis.
g. And in the past 2000 years, there have been many who have in major ways impacted Society, preserving the Moral fabric of Society and protecting those things that make civilization good. Think of the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Martin Luther. These and many others have truly been Salt that has given not only preservation but also flavor to our society.
h. And while we might not make the history books as did the men I just mentioned, each of us are contributors to the society in which we live. We are to offer stability and influence for that which is good and right in our world.
II. THE ANALOGY TO LIGHT EMPHASIZES THE REVELATION OF GODLINESS IN OUR SOCIETY.
a. There is a two-fold impact that light implies:
i. Light reveals those things that are harmful and evil in society. In John 3, in his discourse following his meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus in verses 19-20 says, “19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”
Satan is described in the New Testament as the Prince of Darkness because his deeds are evil. His kingdom is a kingdom of darkness. The Light of God shines in opposition to the Darkness and exposes the evil in this fallen world.
2. But the Light does not only expose the evil, it reveals the good. Jesus said, “Let your light shine so that others can see your good works.”
Among other things, I believe this means that we are to be open in affirming our Christianity. I remember when I was younger, someone posed the question: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The point of the question was to challenge us to be very intentional in living our lives in such a way that people will know that we are Christians!
Most of us are familiar with the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And how many times have you heard someone say, “Put your John Hancock right here.” That was because when John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence in very large letters. He wanted everyone to know that he strongly supported this document.
And I believe that is the way we should be in our support of Jesus Christ. Let the World know that we are His followers!
Jesus said, “A city on the hill cannot be hidden.” By that he meant that it was highly visible because of its location. And we as Christians, should live in such a way that everyone can see that we are followers of Jesus! Our actions, our attitudes, the causes we support, the positions we take, the relationships we have—all these are ways of letting our lights so shine so that others will see our good works and glorify our Heavenly Father.
III. HOW CAN WE BE EFFECTIVE AS SALT AND LIGHT IN OUR SOCIETY?
a. I have had many flashlights over the years. And I have discovered that it is necessary to keep good batteries in those flashlights if they are going to give a good beam of light. And, in like manner, if I am to be a powerful beam of light I must be fully charged spiritually! That means keeping my relationship with Christ up to date---not neglecting my time in His Word and in Prayer, and not allowing myself to drift away or cool off in my love for and devotion to Him. It means being sure that I am consistent in my spiritual disciplines--such as Church attendance, bringing in my tithes and offerings, using my spiritual gifts in a way that builds up other Christians and makes my relationship to Christ apparent to those outside the church.
b. In order to be effective influence rs as Salt and Light, it means exerting influence on those causes that are just and good. Several years ago, there was a book that was passed around entitled, Roaring Lions. It was written to give Christians ideas as to how to be influence rs for Good. Suggestions included, writing letters to our congressmen and senators in support of legislation that was for the betterment of society and that embrace the principles of Christianity. It suggested writing letters to the editor in local newspapers that voiced Christians principles over various issues. It even reminded us that we have freedom of speech and have the right to protest those things that are wrong in society. (but that did not give us the right to exert violence and otherwise break the law when we do protest.) and certainly, Christians should exercise their right to vote in elections for men and women who would best represent the principles of Christianity as they serve, The whole point of the book was that, as Christians we should let our voice be heard and our influence felt. Our lives should make a difference for good in our society!
It is very apparent from God’s Word that we are to exert influence in our world as Christians. And Jesus wasn’t just talking to the institution of Christianity. He was speaking to individual men and women who were caught up in the movement of following Him. And that means Jesus is talking to you and to me about our personal spiritual lives. So, we come to the moment when we evaluate our individual lives by these statements:
>Am I truly being the Salt of the Earth.
>Is my life causing my world to be more closely aligned with the principles of God’s Kingdom?
>If my influence were suddenly eliminated from the society, would society be better or worse?
>Does my life expose the evil one and the devices Satan has placed in order to trap others and deceive them of truth.
>Can I really say that my life points others to Christ?
>If I were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?
I encourage you to spend some time this week pondering these statements. Ask God to speak to your heart about how you can be a better influence for His Kingdom. And then, make whatever adjustment the Holy Spirit suggests to you so that Jesus can say of your life: You are the Salt of the Earth. You are the light of the World!
Hebrews 10: 19-25
Over the years there has been a division in emphasis in the Protestant Movement concerning our mission to society. The Website “GotAnswers.com” gives this description of the Social Gospel movement:
“ The phrase “social gospel” is usually used to describe a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that came to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those who adhered to a social gospel sought to apply Christian ethics to social problems such as poverty, slums, poor nutrition and education, alcoholism, crime, and war. These things were emphasized while the doctrines of sin, salvation, heaven and hell, and the future kingdom of God were downplayed. Theologically, the social gospel leaders were overwhelmingly postmillennialist,asserting that Christ’s Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort.”
In another article written to point out the fallacies in the Social Gospel Movement, the author wrote: Man is not so bad, and God is not so mad. In his book, The Kingdom of God in America, H. Richard Niebuhr criticized the liberal Social Gospel describing its message as,
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross. --(https://tifwe.org/three-fallacies-of-the-social-gospel)
The problem seems to be that the Social Gospel Movement while doing good fails to keep the reality of sin and Mankind’s need for repentance as its first priority.
During this month of June, we are going to focus on the social implications of the Gospel and examine important Biblical teachings about relationships.
In this Passage in Hebrews 10 the writer, who is thought to be either Paul or later students of Paul, gives us some strong statements that are meant for the Church. Let us consider:
I. AS PEOPLE OF GOD WE MUST GIVE CAREFUL ATTENTION TO MAINTAINING INTIMACY WITH GOD.
a. Hebrews 10:22 says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
b. The problem with the Social Gospel Movement is that it starts with something other than one’s relationship with God. In essence it says, “If we just do good to others, then everything else is okay.” But we can do all the good in the world, but if we do not commit to having a personal relationship with God, then all our good will not get us to heaven. It may win friends. It may produce good will in the neighborhood. It may truly be helpful to others. And all of that is good. But it takes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Without that, we are missing the most important issue—the need for salvation. But our desire is to be Christian Folks—People who because of their love for Christ choose to reach out in love to other!
c. In that article defining the Social Gospel Movement, the author went on to say this: “For a Christian perspective on the idea of a social gospel, we need to look to Jesus, who lived in one of history’s most corrupt societies. Jesus never issued any call for political change, not even by peaceful means. He did not come to earth to be a political or social reformer. The gospel Jesus preached did not have to do with social reform or social justice or political change. Rather than attempt to change governments and institutions, which are made up of people, Jesus came to change people’s hearts and point them to God’s kingdom. He preached the saving power of the gospel and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, Jesus showed deep compassion for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, and the outcasts of society. He healed them, but before taking care of their physical or emotional needs, He first took care of their spiritual needs. He was most concerned about the state of their souls and preached the gospel of repentance from sin through Him, so they understood that their eternal destiny was far more important than their circumstances here on earth…” --https://www.gotquestions.org/social-gospel.html
d. Feeding the hungry and helping those in need is especially important. But if we do that and fail to tell people about a God who loves them so much that He gave us Jesus who has provided a way for us to be adopted into God’s Family, we have done an injustice.
e. And, Hebrews 10, stating essential components of living a Christian life, begins with this call to “Draw near to God.” If we are going to lead others to Christ, we must make sure we too know Him in a personal, intimate way!
II. AS PEOPLE OF GOD WE MUST BE GROUNDED IN OUR FAITH.
a. Hebrew 10: 23 say, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
b. It is not enough to just say we believe in Jesus. We need to learn what Jesus expects of us. In John 14:15 Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands.” It is obvious that we must take time to learn his commands if we are going to keep them.
c. In Ephesians 4:14-15 we read, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ.”
d. We learn in Galatians 1: 17-18 that the Apostle Paul spent 3 years alone in Arabia, no doubt rethinking and relearning under the direction of the Holy Spirit before he even met with the Apostles in Jerusalem to get their confirmation of His understanding of the Gospel.
e. If we are going to really impact society for Jesus, we must not only confess and believe in Jesus, but we must make sure that our understanding of the Gospel is accurate and grounded in the Scriptures. And once that is so, we must not be swayed by those doctrines that sound good and feel good but are not Biblically sound.
f. In Hebrews 6:1 after being warned that we must be weaned of milk and go on to solid food (Spiritually speaking), we read, “Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” In other words, once you have the foundation of your faith established, it is time to build the super-structure. We do not need to continually tear out the foundation over and over again.
g. Several years ago, at a Pastor’s Prayer Summit, the leader of the Summit presented us with a prayer of repentance. After we had spent several days calling on God, rejoicing in His Presence, giving thanks for the work of Salvation in our hearts, this prayer he asked us to pray was a prayer of confession. It stated we were sinful and needed to be forgiven and went on to describe how lost we were. I refused to pray that prayer at that time and I explained the reason why-- God had already forgiven my sins. He had already filled my heart with peace and Joy. I already had the witness of the Holy Spirit. To pray the prayer that we were asked to pray would in my mind be renouncing what God had already done. I did not need to go back over and ask God to do what He had already done. It would be a denial of my experience with God and an insult to God who had already forgiven and cleansed and “buried those things in the sea of His forgetfulness to never be brought up again!
h. And what Hebrews 10:23 is telling us is to be sure of our faith, making sure that it is secure and anchored in God’s Word, and then keep it as the foundation of our Walk with God!
III. AS PEOPLE OF GOD WE ARE TO ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER IN CHRISTIAN SERVICE.
a. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.”
b. In order of priorities, after making sure of our connection with Christ and becoming grounded in Biblical teachings, we are instructed to work with others in reaching out to do good in our community. You see, the Social Gospel Movement was not wrong in trying to do good. Its failure was that it neglected the more important issues of the heart—God’s love, the call to repentance, and the teaching of God’s Commands.
c. Christianity was never intended to be an isolated relationship of one person with God. Christ came to establish the Church—the Community of Believers. Together we worship. Together we pray. Together we strategize on ways to reach out to others with the love of God.
d. Regularly we get words of encouragement from our district leaders with ideas on how to share Christ and minister to the needs of our community. And, my job as Pastor is to not only be a Shepherd to the congregation, but also to be a coach who equips and motivates and “Spurs one another on to good works.” And I’ve learned that is a two way duty. I regularly get ideas and challenges from individuals on things we can do to better the church and its outreach into the community. That is because God speaks to all of us and we are workers together in God’s Kingdom Work!
IV. AS PEOPLE OF GOD WE REALLY DO NEED EACH OTHER.
a. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
b. I have heard people say, “I can be a Christian without going to Church.” And I always challenge that statement. During this pandemic that we have been experiencing, we have had to be creative in finding ways to connect with one another. Thank God for live-streaming. And, yes, for some with medical conditions, it may be necessary to avoid being in a group of people. And, yes, it is possible for a person to be in a place where it is impossible to get together with other Christians for a period of time. In those cases, our intimacy with God is what carries us through. But God never intended for us to be “lone wolves” in our Christian Experience. From the very beginning of the Church age we read how the followers of Christ met together regularly in the Temple and in homes. They shared their resources, ate meals together, and otherwise maintained fellowship with other believers. And I can tell you, while sitting at home and watching our service being live-streamed may be convenient, it is not enough. We need to be together, loving one another, praying for one another, bearing one another’s burdens.
c. You have heard me talk about Uncle Buddy Robinson, the Cowboy who became a Nazarene Evangelist in the early days of our movement. His grandson was Reuben Welch. Dr. Welch had pastored churches, served as a professor and Dean at Pasadena University which became Point Loma Nazarene University, and has been a much sought after camp-meeting speaker. He has authored several books, but the one book that is perhaps the most well-known is entitled, “We Really Do Need Each Other.”
We have many different relationships in our lives. There is the Husband-Wife Relationship, the Parent –Child Relationship, the Employee-Employer Relationship, the Co-Worker Relationships, the Various Friendship Relationships, the Teacher – Student Relationships, the Pastor-Congregation Relationships, and on and on and on.
We are an inter-connected society. And as Christians we are called to live in this society and to impact it for Christ.
Take inventory of your own life.
How is your commitment to Christ? How diligent are you in studying God’s Word and learning and Keeping God’s Commands?
How well do you involve yourself in working with other Christians, sharing, and listening to others and their ideas for serving Christ?
How disciplined are you in attending Bible Studies and Worship Services with other Christians?
Can you be called a “Team Player” as a Christian?
One of my Professors at Southern Nazarene University when I was working on my master’s degree in Ministry was Dr. Curtis Lewis. He also pastured one of the area churches in Bethany, OK at the time. We were talking about job descriptions in class and he said that for his staff his number one job description for each one of them was that they worked together to make sure the church was the best it could be.
I would agree with that and state it this way for each one of us. We are called to work together as Members of the Body of Christ, to build one another up in the faith, and to help one another be the best Christ-like Christians we can be.
And feeding the hunger and helping the poor and afflicted is a result of our connection with Christ and His love poured into our hearts!
Acts 2: 1—4
50 days ago we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. And then, for the next 40 days after the Resurrection the New Testament tells us that Jesus spent time with His disciples teaching them more about the Kingdom of God. !0 days ago would have been the anniversary of the Ascension—when Jesus suddenly ascended into the clouds as the disciples watched. And, now, on this day, we celebrate the anniversary of the event we call Pentecost Sunday.
On the website Christianpost.com we are told there are 10 things we need to know about Pentecost Sunday. Very quickly let me list those for you:
1. Pentecost Sunday marks the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.
2. Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days after Easter.
3. The Bible records the Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13.
4. Pentecost comes 10 days after the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
5. Pentecost is also known as "the birthday of the Church".
6. Pentecost fulfills Jesus' promise to send the "Counselor" and "Spirit of Truth" in John 16-5-15.
7. Pentecost launches the large-scale spreading of the Gospel after Jesus' ascension. Acts 2:41 records that after Peter spoke to the crowd after receiving the Holy Spirit, some 3,000 people were baptized.
8. The Pentecostal movement derives its name from the New Testament event in Acts 2.
9. Jews also celebrate Pentecost, but not for the same reason as Christians. The celebration by Jews of Pentecost is to observe God giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. The Pentecost in Jewish tradition takes place 50 days after Passover.
10. in Western Churches, Pentecost is usually represented with the color red, which symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit.
During the period between Easter and Pentecost, our sermon series has focused on the subject of Holiness. I hope by now you have grasped the fact that because we are believers in God who have accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, we are God’s Holy people. Just a quick review of some of the major points we have examined about Holiness:
>We are holy because God is Holy and all that belongs to Him is therefore holy.
>We are holy because we have allowed the Holy Spirit to take the Blood of Christ that was shed 2000+ years ago on the Cross and apply it to our hearts so that we are purified from Sin. By accepting Jesus as our Atoning Sacrifice, we are forgiven of our past sins, we have the guilt of those sins removed, and we are given a new heart.
>By committing our forgiven self to God fully, the power of the sinful nature is destroyed and we are “sanctified entirely.”
>As an evidence of this commitment we strive daily, 24/7, to live Christ-like lives.
>And as His Holy People, we face resistance from Satan and suffer all kinds of opposition in this life. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we are over-comers, persistent in our walk with God, seeking always to bring Glory and honor to His Name.
>And all of this is only possible because the Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us, empowering us, enabling us to live in a way that we could never live in our own strength.
And now we need to understand the significance of Pentecost in our walk with God.
I. WHAT DOES PENTECOST MEAN?
a. The word itself comes from the Greek word for Fifty. In the Old Testament it was the celebration of the grain harvest. We learned in our study of Acts last year that Pentecost was one of the largest Jewish holidays. Coming as it did in the Springtime, the weather was favorable for travel. People would come from all over the world to Jerusalem to observe this sacred celebration, giving thanks to God for the bountiful harvest. The crowds even exceeded the number who came to observe Passover, the most sacred of the Jewish holidays.
b. So, God in His divine plan chose to do something very significant in Jerusalem on the day when there were more people present than any other time of the year.
c. We don’t give much thought to the harvest celebration. The Christian world now celebrates Pentecost because that was the day God chose to fulfill His promise by sending the Holy Spirit in a powerful introduction of the New Age in Salvation History. And so we call Pentecost Sunday “The Birthday of the Christian Church.”
II. WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE HOLY ON PENTECOST?
a. The Holy Spirit’s arrival was marked with a Mighty Wind and Tongues of Fire and the gift of various languages so that all who were present from the many regions of the ancient world would hear and understand the Message that the Disciples of Christ preached on that Day. The Wind and Fire remind us of the events that occurred with Moses and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament—the beginning of Making of a Holy Nation from the descendants of Abraham.
And now, we who are followers of Christ have been given the Holy Spirit as God has shaped the Church into His Holy Nation in our world!
b. The Disciples were filled with God’s Spirit in a way that had never happened before. In the Old Testament we read of various times when men or women were filled with the Spirit of God that enabled them to do special and often heroic deeds. But with the Coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were filled with the continued Presence of the Holy Spirit so that they could continually be God’s witnesses to a world that desperately needs to know Him.
c. We know from our study of Old Testament Prophecies and New Testament testimonies that the Holy Spirit’s Presence in the believers’ lives meant a change in their spiritual hearts.
i. In Ezekiel 36: 24-27 God said,“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
ii. In Peter’s sermon we read in Acts 2: 16-21 his explanation of what was happening on this Day of Pentecost, quoting from the Old Testament Prophet Joel: “... This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[a]
d. From these and other passages, we learn that this event, the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way, was God ushering in a new reality for the People of God. He was coming to literally live in the hearts of His people.
e. Jesus in his teaching to his Disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit reveals that the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sinfulness and makes them aware of their need of salvation, teaches them the Truth of God and testifies to us about Jesus. And in Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples that when we receive the Holy Spirit we receive empowerment that enables us to be effective witnesses of God to the whole World.
f. So, the Day of Pentecost marked the new beginning, the empowerment of God’s people that enables them to carrying the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ to the World that otherwise would not know Him. And so, the Church Age is really the Age of the Holy Spirit being released in God’s plan of Salvation!
III. DO WE IN OUR DAY AND AGE RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT AS THEY DID ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST?
a. In Peter’s Day of Pentecost Sermon we read in Acts 2: 38-39, “...Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
b. But, you may say, “I’ve never seen tongues of fire resting on anyone, and I haven’t heard the sound of a rushing mighty wind at our altars.”That may be true, but the work those things symbolize is still real. God still purifies our hearts by fire and He still unleashes His mighty power in us as we yield ourselves to Him.
c. Illustration: D.L Moody said, "I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God's law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled." (J. Kuhatschek, Taking the Guesswork Out of Applying The Bible, IVP, p. 153ff.)
d. Uncle Buddy Robinson was a rough uneducated stuttering cowboy who became one of the most quoted evangelists of that era of time. His colorful prayer clearly states the necessity of the Holy Spirit being in complete control of our lives. Uncle Bud had a wisdom all his own, with unusual insight into the purpose for the redeemed man here on earth, a holy walk day by day. His personal philosophy is reflected in the following request he prayed each morning: “O Lord, give me a backbone as big as a saw log and ribs like sleepers under the church floor; put iron shoes on me and galvanized breeches and hang a wagon load of determination in the gable-end of my soul, and help me to sign the contract to fight the devil as long as I have a vision and bite him as long as I have a tooth, and then gum him till I die. Amen.” (/www.classicholinesssermons.com/?p=12)
The Apostles were for the most part men who came from solid Jewish homes and had been schooled in the local synagogues by Jewish Rabbis. They had lived with Jesus for 3 years, heard his messages, and participated in His miracles and observed His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. And now they were being entrusted with the task of supervising the spread of the Gospel to their world. We read in the first chapter of Acts how they once again asked Jesus if the time had come to restore Israel back as a sovereign nation. But Jesus told them that wasn’t their concern. Then he gave them a clear command to remain in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit. And He told them that upon receiving the Holy Spirit they would be empowered to be His witnesses unto all the world.
The implication is clear that without receiving the Holy Spirit they would be powerless to reach the world.
And that principle is what makes this Day of Pentecost experience so important, so essential to you and me.
We are still commanded to obey the Great Commission. We are still responsible to take the Gospel to every person on earth. God is depending upon us to let the world know that Jesus is the answer, the Hope, the Savior, the One who gives eternal life. But just like the disciples in the Book of Acts, we too are powerless to accomplish this mission on our own. We too must receive the Holy Spirit. We too must be filled with God’s Presence, God’s Love, and God’s power.
It is not enough to know the Bible, though it is very important. It is not enough to just ask for forgiveness for the sins you have committed, though that is necessary. It is not enough to claim to believe in Jesus, though believing in Jesus is essential to your spiritual life. It is not enough to agree to a creed or statement of beliefs, though that too is a good thing. But if we fail to receive the Holy Spirit in all His fullness—yielding to Him the complete control of our lives,--we will never be able to fulfill the Great Commission.
So the Disciples waited. It must have seemed like forever even though it was only 10 days. They prayed, they fasted, they conducted business. And they waited.
And then, on the Day of Pentecost, suddenly the Spirit Came. And the world was forever changed because God was living in and through His followers.
Have you had your Pentecostal Experience?
Have you sought God’s Spirit to take control, full control of your life?
Are you willing to turn loose of your ambitions, your dreams, your hobbies, your vocation, your retirement plans, your everything, and sincerely say, “God, You are in control. Fill me. Use me. Pour Your love into my heart and let it so fill me that I cannot help but love others in Jesus Name.
Would you like to do that now?
2 Corinthians 4: 7-18
There is nothing easy about living as a holy person. It takes discipline. It involves obstacles. Sometimes it even involves rejection and persecution. But I am convinced that the reality of being a holy person of God and living the sanctified life is a process that is expressed in the phrase “The Pursuit of Holiness.”
As I was thinking about this message my mind went back to those August afternoons in the 1960s when we who wanted to be on the school football team were required to show up for practices. The humidity would be relatively high and the temperatures would be in the 90s. We began those practices wearing our gym shorts but still had to wear our shoulder pads and jerseys. The practice would begin with certain exercises—jumping jacks, sit-ups, push ups, and several other exercises designed to build up our strength and stamina and agility. There were a lot of stretching and running and rolling exercises. Then we would progress to using the blocking sleds and blocking dummies. Eventually we would do practice scrimmages as we learned the various plays with running routes and blocking assignments. After a grueling time under the hot sun we would finally finish the practice time by running laps around the practice field. It was not at all unusual for some of the players to collapse—probably from dehydration. I never passed out, but I was usually pretty far back in the pack of joggers! For some reason in those days the coaches did not understand how important it was for us to have water breaks in order to remain hydrated during those practice times.
But we all knew that if we were to have a winning football team, we had to do the work. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
What does football practice and extreme exercise have to do with Holiness? Nothing—and Everything!
In this series on Holiness we have seen the necessity of total surrender to Christ and a commitment to serve Him with our whole hearts. And we have noted that because God is Holy and all that belongs to Him is therefore a part of His Holiness, we who have given our lives to Him are Holy. We have pointed out that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to apply the cleansing power of the Blood of Christ that was shed on Calvary on our behalf. And we have pointed out that it is the Love of Christ that is poured into our hearts that enables us to Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our Neighbor as ourselves and to even love our enemies and those who persecute us. It is God in us working through us that makes it possible to have this Agape Love!
But there is another aspect of Holiness that we must consider. This is the stress that is associated with Christian Service to which Paul is referring in 2 Corinthians. There is nothing easy about living out our lives as God’s holy people.
In our study last year on the Book of Acts we discovered that Paul’s journeys that were often described in only a few verses actually entailed hundreds of miles over rugged terrain with all kinds of obstacles and challenges.
On this Memorial Day Weekend as we think of those who have served our country and given their lives for our freedom, I think a focus on Paul is appropriate. Paul, a Pharisee turned Christian Missionary, could truly be described as a Christian Soldier who was oppressed and opposed almost every step of the way. And his journey is a reflection of Holiness.
I. HIS INDUCTION INTO CHRISTIAN SERVICE.
a. We first meet Paul when he was still going by the name of Saul. It was at the close of Acts 7 when we are told that those who stoned Stephen had Saul watch their coats while they were throwing the rocks. And then we are told that Saul approved the execution of Stephen. We then pick up his story in Acts 9 which begins by describing Saul’s obsession with persecuting those who were followers of Christ. And then we are told of his trip to Damascus for the purpose of arresting more Christians. But that is where Saul’s story changes, because on the road to Damascus he met Jesus and he himself became a follower of Christ. In Acts 9: 15-16 we read what God said to Ananias, the man who came and prayed for Saul to receive his sight: “…Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and to their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” We know the rest of the story. Saul, later going by the Gentile equivalent of his name, Paul, immediately accepted God’s Call. And while still in Damascus he started preaching and teaching that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
b. That acceptance of God’s Call and the change in his life that was immediately apparent in his actions, marks Paul’s induction into God’s Army. And when we hear God’s call on our lives and accept Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord, we too are inducted into God’s army. We are all called to be Christian Soldiers—witnesses of Christ and God’s plan of salvation. We have the sacred responsibility of being Christ’s Ambassadors, Christ’s witnesses, Christ’s soldiers as He invades this fallen world with the Good News!
II. HIS COMMISSIONING AS A MISSIONARY.
a. Paul seemingly fades from the picture for a period of time. We know from his writings that he spent about 3 years in Arabia in a personal reconstruction of his understanding of God and the mission of Christ. It is in chapter 11 of Acts where Paul reappears. Barnabas had been dispatched to Antioch in Syria to pastor the emerging Gentile congregation. After a period of time, Barnabas remembered Paul and how God had said Paul was to be his “Apostle to the Gentiles.” So he goes to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and invites Paul to come back and help with the Gentile work in Antioch.
b. Then in Acts 13, we are told there was a group of Godly men in Antioch who were praying and fasting. And the Holy Spirit of God spoke to them and told them to set apart Paul and Barnabas for the special missionary work He had for them to do. So in Acts 13: 3 we read, “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
c. The New Testament tells us that the Holy Spirit endows his people with various spiritual gifts. We have a responsibility of determining what spiritual gifts the Lord has for us. The Bible gives us different lists that are samplings of the type of gifts He gives. For some it is gifts that enable them to be Pastors or teachers. And then there are the gifts of hospitality, generosity, encouragement. And some may be given the gift of prophecy or languages, or even healing. And certainly there are many other gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on differing ones. The Bible doesn’t limit the differing gifts other than to say that all the spiritual gifts are not for personal gain but are for the edification of the Body of Christ—the Church.
d. God may not call you to leave home and go to a different culture. He may not call you to be a full-time preacher or teacher (though he may). But God does call you to use your spiritual life and the gifts that you possess in such a way that it honors God and points others to Jesus!
III. HIS BATTLE EXPERIENCE
a. Here’s where we pick up the scripture today. We know from the New Testament that Paul faced many challenges, many dangers, and much opposition. Listen again to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4: 8-12: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
b. Later, in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul gives a more detailed account of being “knocked down, persecuted and abandoned.” I am always amazed and humbled when I read these verses in chapter 11: 23-33. Paul writes, 3”Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”
c. When I read this list suddenly the battles that we face in our own holiness journey seem so insignificant. I have learned and continue to relearn, that no matter what you do, someone thinks you should have done it differently. In the ministry there is the realization that no matter what you are doing there is something else that needs to be done--Another book to read; another sermon to prepare, another person to visit, another prayer to be prayed; another , another , another—always another. The fact is, if a person isn’t careful, his sense of duty and should of’s will overwhelm him with a feeling of guilt and inadequacy. And there is always someone standing in the wings to tell you what a lousy job you are doing.
d. Paul stated that in all those situations, rather than give up and quit, he would get up and keep on going. He realized that his ultimate goal was not to please others—it was to obey God and do the best we can.
e. If you have been involved in a ministry of some kind and been criticized by someone else—Welcome to the club! Jesus said, “If anyone will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow him! “
f. Earlier in 2 Corinthians 1, Paul makes a profound statement. In verses 8 & 9 he says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death…”
g. That, my friend, is Holiness on the battle front. Do I sometimes take it personally when I’m criticized? Of course I do! Do I sometimes feel hurt or betrayed? Absolutely! But when I have God’s Call on my life, it is His voice that I must obey. Yes, I try to please others. Yes, I adjust myself to criticism that I deem justified. But Holiness is perseverance even in the face of Trials.
Paul spent his adult life spreading the Gospel. He traveled thousands of miles and suffered all kinds of indignities for the sake of the Gospel. He realized that his continuation in that lifetime journey was not possible under his own strength. He remembered to keep his eyes on Jesus, the One who called Him and the One who empowered Him. And he remembered that the destination was worthy of the journey.
After relating the stress of the journey in chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, He gives this conclusion beginning in verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
You are called to be holy. That means you must be willing to face the battles ahead as you make choices to honor God with your life. It means staying true to God even when doing so causes pain. It means being willing to keep on doing what you know you are supposed to be doing even when you don’t see the fruit of your labor. Galatians 6:9 tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And we need to remember that only God knows when that “proper time” will be.
So, on this Memorial Day weekend, as we remember those who have gone before us to make it possible for us to be here today, let’s not forget the pioneers of our faith. And Let’s remember that the next generation will need to be able to look back and see that you and I have been willing to endure the struggles of life and have remained Good Christians Soldiers committed to serving Christ regardless of the struggles and the suffering that we must endure!
Matthew 5: 43-48
Text: Matthew 5:48—“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
We continue this Easter to Pentecost sermon series on “Holiness.”
Holiness is a big topic. We serve a Holy God. He has through the inspiration of godly men through the ages given us the “Holy Bible.” And in that Holy Bible we learn that God has called us to be a “Holy People.”
We have in previous sermons pointed out that all that belongs to God is Holy. And when we are
Adopted into the Family of God because by faith we have received Jesus as our Savior, we are Holy because of our position in Christ. He is holy. We belong to Him. Therefore, we are holy.
Holiness is also a purifying grace. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” By the supernatural act of God, when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit takes the Blood of Christ which was shed on the Cross some 2000 years ago, and applies it to our hearts, cleansing us from the guilt of sin. And in the giving of our forgiven selves wholly to God and allowing the Holy Spirit full control, we receive new hearts—our old sin-stained heart is replaced with new heart and we are purified. . That is the reason Paul stated so precisely in Galatians 6: 14-15, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcised means anything; what counts is the new creations.”
But not only is Holiness a position we have because we belong to God, and not only is it a condition we have because of the purifying Blood of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit-- Holiness is a lifestyle that is lived out in our daily lives. It is ethical living—keeping the commands of Christ—in a way that is apparent in our actions and attitudes.
And that ethical aspect of Holiness—that day to day living a holiness lifestyle—can be described in one word: LOVE!
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, stated that Holiness and Love are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other.
And Jesus pointed out that the two greatest commandments—the two on which all the Law and Prophets hang—are “To Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
So, Holiness as it is lived out in our daily lives, is God’s Love working in us and through us and spilling out on all who are around us!
I have often said, and I believe it is true, that the Sermon on the Mount recorded in chapters 5, 6, & 7 in the Gospel of Matthew contain the ethical foundation for Christianity.
The verses we read today, Matthew 5: 43-48, really spell out the depth of Holy Love God expects of His Holy People.
Let us reflect on that Holy Love for the few minutes we have together today.
I. WHAT IS THE SOURCE OF HOLY LOVE?
a. Jesus began this passage by pointing out what most of us would consider proper love—loving our friends and neighbors. But then He emphatically stated, “I tell you, love your enemies…” The command comes straight from the mouth of God! It is not a debatable thought. It is not a “try to Love” type command. It is a “Do It!” command.
b. And the reason Jesus, the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, God in the Flesh who dwelt among us, can give such a command is because He is the source of that Love!
c. 1 John 4: 7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…” And then in verse 16 we read, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” In Romans 5: 5 we are told that, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who had been given to us.”
d. An interesting detail about that love. The word is a translation of the Greek word “Agape.” Scholars tell us that it is a word that is almost non-existent outside of the Bible in Greek writings. The Holy Spirit did not want to put just any kind of emotional sensation in us and call it love. He wanted to put that unique, God-Quality type love in us—a love that is seated in our will. It is not a natural love in the sense that everyone has it. It is a God given quality that enables us to choose how we connect with others.
e. So, what is the source of a love that forgives enemies and persecutors? It has to come from the Heart of the all Powerful God that is the very essence of Love Himself. He has to put it in us!
II. HOW DO WE RECEIVE THIS HOLY LOVE?
a. As stated earlier, God through His Holy Spirit has to put that love into us. But the question really is, “How do we position ourselves so that we can receive this Love?”
b. The answer to that is the essence of salvation. It is what happens when we fully surrender ourselves to God and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in our lives.
i. It must begin with repentance. Repentance is that act of turning our backs away from sin and becoming followers of Christ. It involves recognizing the fact that we are sinners, confessing our sins and guilt to God. It involves Godly sorrow for the guilt of those sins and accepting God’s forgiveness by acknowledging Jesus’ Death on the Cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sin and asking Jesus into our hearts! As simple as this sounds, for some it is an exceedingly difficult step to take. There are those who have lived fairly good moral lives who have difficulty admitting they are sinners. I pointed out to one such person that the very act of not believing you need Jesus is a sin in and of itself! For others who have lived extremely sinful lives, they may have difficulty believing that a Holy God would be willing to forgive them of their terrible sinful lifestyle. I have tried to point out that our God is so much greater than our sin. If we believe our sin is too great for God to forgive, we are denying the awesome power of our Holy God. Others are so caught up in the pleasure of sin that they think they have plenty of time and they delay accepting Christ’s forgiveness. I have told people who were in that group that they must realize that while they may experience pleasure, that pleasure is deadly. It will prevent them from recognizing the urgency of the hour or the long term consequences of their actions. So, while accepting Christ should be as easy as possible, many put off or reject that decision and remain under the control of this fallen sinful world. Preparation for receiving the fullness of God’s love begins by turning away from sin and becoming a follower of and believer in Jesus Christ.
ii. But in this process of making ourselves ready (allowing God to make us ready), we must do more than just ask for forgiveness. We must totally yield ourselves to God and commit ourselves to being fully, totally, unconditionally His servant! Last week in our message we pointed out that this step is only possible as the Holy Spirit enables us to make such a commitment. John Wesley, the great theologian, and preacher who was responsible for the Methodist movement, called that first step “Initial Sanctification.” We commonly call it “Getting Saved” or “Being Born Again.” This second step of total surrender and consecration where we totally give ourselves to God’s control, Wesley called “Entire Sanctification.” That meant, that not only were we forgiven our sins, the very nature of sin with which we were born, and which caused us to want to sin, was defeated. But Wesley went on to teach that after that there is “Progressive Sanctification” where we grow and mature and develop in our Christian Nature so that we become more and more Christ-like.
c. So, how do we receive this Holy Love? We do so by forsaking the sinful lifestyle and receiving forgiveness because we put our faith in Jesus as the One who purchased our salvation by dying in our place. Then we commit that forgiven, born again self to the Lord completely and allow the Holy Spirit to defeat our sinful nature and make us pure and clean vessels before God so that he can pour out His love into those empty Vessels!
III. HOW DOES THAT HOLY LOVE MANIFEST ITSELF IN OUR LIVES?
a. Jesus illustrates that answer in our scripture passage in Matthew 5: 43-48. Beginning at verse 44 He says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
b. There is an old Gospel Song that says, “Give me that old time Religion…It makes me love everybody…”
c. I can tell you, but I am sure you already know, that loving those who are not genuinely nice or who are very critical and mean or evil, is not an easy thing to do. How many times have you said or heard someone say, “How can I love everybody when there are some people I just don’t like”? And the answer is that we can only love them when we allow God to love them through us. It is His love shed aboard (poured out) into our lives that makes this possible.
That 48th verse where Jesus told us to “Be Perfect, therefore, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect” is a statement with which many struggles.
How can we be perfect like God?
In order to answer that, we need to understand that the word “perfect” is a translation of the Greek Word “Telios.” The literal meaning of that word is that of being “Complete” –in the sense of “fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.” We cannot be perfect in the same sense that God is perfect. He is the Creator and Sustain-er of the universe—All Powerful, All Knowing, All Wise God. We were not created to be God. We were created to be Humans, free from sin’s control, free to live lives that are pleasing to Him and that bring Glory and Honor to His Name.
With God’s Help, we can be perfect in that sense, even as God is perfect in being the Person that He is!
And all of this is about being the Holy People of God.
You are holy in that you belong to God.
You are holy in that you have been forgiven and cleansed from sin.
You are holy in that you live lives of holy love, allowing God’s love to fill you to overflowing so that everyone around you gets love “splashed on them.”
Does this sound like the life you are living?
Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of live?
Ask the Holy Spirit of God to do His work in you so that your sins are forgiven, your thoughts are pleasing before God, and it is evident to others that you genuinely love one another with God’s Holy love!