Matthew 16: 21-28
Text: Matthew 16:24—“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
I read a rather lengthy illustration this week about a prisoner of war. It was credited to Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, 1987, Word Books Publisher, pp. 146-147.Bear with me as I read it to you:
In Ernest Gordon's true account of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp, Through the Valley of the Kwai, there is a story that never fails to move me. It is about a man who through giving it all away literally transformed a whole camp of soldiers. The man's name was Angus McGillivray. Angus was a Scottish prisoner in one of the camps filled with Americans, Australians, and Britons who had helped build the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. The camp had become an ugly situation. A dog-eat-dog mentality had set in. Allies would literally steal from each other and cheat each other; men would sleep on their packs and yet have them stolen from under their heads. Survival was everything. The law of the jungle prevailed...until the news of Angus McGillivray's death spread throughout the camp. Rumors spread in the wake of his death. No one could believe big Angus had succumbed. He was strong, one of those whom they had expected to be the last to die. Actually, it wasn't the fact of his death that shocked the men, but the reason he died. Finally they pieced together the true story.
The Argylls (Scottish soldiers) took their buddy system very seriously. Their buddy was called their "mucker," and these Argylls believed that is was literally up to each of them to make sure their "mucker" survived. Angus's mucker, though, was dying, and everyone had given up on him, everyone, of course, but Angus. He had made up his mind that his friend would not die. Someone had stolen his mucker's blanket. So Angus gave him his own, telling his mucker that he had "just come across an extra one." Likewise, every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and take them to his friend, stand over him and force him to eat them, again stating that he was able to get "extra food." Angus was going to do anything and everything to see that his buddy got what he needed to recover.
But as Angus's mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving of his own food and shelter. He had given everything he had -- even his very life. The ramifications of his acts of love and unselfishness had a startling impact on the compound.
"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12).
As word circulated of the reason for Angus McGillivray's death, the feel of the camp began to change. Suddenly, men began to focus on their mates, their friends, and humanity of living beyond survival, of giving oneself away. They began to pool their talents -- one was a violin maker, another an orchestra leader, another a cabinet maker, another a professor. Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments and a church called the "Church Without Walls" that was so powerful, so compelling, that even the Japanese guards attended. The men began a university, a hospital, and a library system. The place was transformed; an all but smothered love revived, all because one man named Angus gave all he had for his friend. For many of those men this turnaround meant survival. What happened is an awesome illustration of the potential unleashed when one person actually gives it all away.
That story catches the essence of this season of the year. On the Christian Calendar today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent. It is just 7 weeks until we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. In Christian tradition, Lent is a time of self-denial as we prepare our hearts for the Resurrection Celebration.
In our scripture passage (Matthew 16: 21-28) we read how Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die for our sins. It is the beginning of the greatest example of self-denial being demonstrated by our Lord. And it gets really personal for us when Jesus tells us that if we are going to be his disciples we must do as He has done.
In this message, let us examine the concept of “denying one’s self.”
I. SELF-DENIAL IS MUCH MORE THAT FASTING A MEAL.
a. Usually when we have heard sermons on self-denying, the main thrust has been on fasting and prayer. And, yes, that is definitely one aspect of self-denial—denying your physical appetite in order to bring your physical desires into submission to your spiritual relationship with God. And this has side benefits of helping to keep our weight under control. But self-denial is so much more than just skipping a meal. Self Denial is the act of putting others and their needs above your own. It is the act of humility, recognizing that our own needs are not the number one priority in our lives. We see that being displayed in the story of Angus McGillivray. In a situation where everyone was concerned with looking out for self, Angus chose to give himself away to save the life of another.
b. In Luke 10, Jesus was asked about the most important commandments. The person asking then gave the answer—Love God with your entire being and then love your neighbor as yourself. Then he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” And Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was the one who found the man who had been beaten and left for dead. The Commentaries tell us that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was very dangerous. Gangs of bandits lurked in the rocks and hills along the road. Travelers usually traveled in caravans for protection. And it was not unusual for scenes to be arranged so that people would stop to help only to be attacked themselves. The Good Samaritan not only stopped to check on the man’s condition. He performed first-aid, then transported the man to a safe place, an inn, and provided funds so that he would continue to receive care until he was well enough to travel. The Samaritan placed his own life at risk, cared for what we assume was a Jewish victim—bitter enemies of the Samaritans, and even contributed financially for the victim’s care. That is an example of Self Denial.
c. During Lent, tradition has it that we should give something up in self denial. I remember a couple of guys who had an Auto parts store in my hometown. They were known for their wild behavior. But in recognition of their Catholic background, they always gave up alcoholic drinks during Lent. I hope you good Nazarenes have already given that up! Others give up television, or a favorite food, or something else from their normal behavior. That is not a bad idea, provided we remember that which we give up is to be replaced with increased focus on our spiritual life. It could be that your act of self-denial may be to more intentionally do something good for someone else.
d. James Packer, in his book Your Father Loves You, (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, p. 14.) writes this about fasting or self-denial: In Scripture we see several purposes for fasting. It's part of the discipline of self-control; it's a way of sharing that we depend on God alone and draw all our strength and resources from him; it's a way of focusing totally on him when seeking his guidance and help, and of showing that you really are in earnest in your quest; it's also, at times, an expression of sorrow and deep repentance, something that a person or community will do in order to acknowledge failure before God and seek his mercy. We tend to think of fasting as going without food. But we can fast from anything. If we love music and decide to miss a concert in order to spend time with God, that is fasting. It is helpful to think of the parallel of human friendship. When friends need to be together, they will cancel all other activities in order to make that possible. There's nothing magical about fasting. It's just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have cancelled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else you had planned to do in order to fulfill that priority.
II. SELF-DENIAL DOES NOT FOCUS ON SELF.
a. When I decide to go on a diet, the thing I think of most often is food. If I am giving up pecan pie, it is amazing how often I have a craving for pecan pie. I’ve noticed that when a person is struggling with being jealous and decides he is not going to be jealous any more, his thoughts always turn towards jealousy. If I am envious of someone’s good fortune, my thoughts tend to drift to their good fortune as compared to my not-so-good fortune. When we decide to participate in Self-denial, it is not uncommon for our thoughts to be on how much I am missing. And the problem is that we forget that “self-denial” should be the act of “forgetting about myself and focusing on what is really important.”
b. In our scripture, Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem. That meant traveling over a very rugged road that actually descended to one of the lowest elevations on earth (Jericho, 864 feet below sea level) and then rose dramatically to the elevation of Jerusalem—2575 feet above sea level. That would be physically demanding. And, Jesus already was a marked man. The corrupt religious establishment in Jerusalem had already determined to execute Jesus—legally or illegally. And Jesus was very much aware of not only the threat but also the reality of what would happen when he reached Jerusalem—he would be arrested, tortured and crucified. But Jesus was not focused on those things. He knew about them, but there was something more important than his own comfort. He was focused on paying the redemption price for humanity so that we could be brought into a right relationship with almighty God.
c. Self-denial is getting our eyes off ourselves and on to that which is more important. And that brings us to the next point:
III. SELF-DENIAL IS ABOUT GETTING A PROPER PERSPECTIVE ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
a. We humans struggle with a false sense of pride. We really think we can go it alone, and we tend to call on God only when we find ourselves in desperate situations. It has been said that the very essence of sin is our tendency to worship ourselves. Indeed, the middle letter in the world “Sin” is “I”. “I’ want this.” “I can do this.” “I only need others so that I can get what I want.” When Eve was tempted in the garden, at the heart of the temptation was Satan’s telling her that if she would eat the forbidden fruit, then she would be like God, knowing good and evil. Think about it: at the heart of every argument, at the heart of every war, is the presence of somebody—and often many some-bodies— who want to have their own way: “I am right, therefore, you are wrong.” “My way is better than your way.”
b. Self-denial is the act of recognizing that I am not the final authority. I do not have all the answers. I can’t fix things on my own. But God is the Supreme Authority. His way is always right. My will is secondary to His will. I am placing myself in submission to His authority.
c. Self-denial is for the purpose of recognizing that I am His servant, not the other way around. If I fast for several days and then tell God, “Look at what I have given up. You have to answer my prayer after I have given up so much,” then we have missed the point altogether. Self-denial is not a method of manipulating God. Rather, it is a method of bringing ourselves into submission to God and will.
Now, back to our key verse, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”
How can we claim to be disciples of Jesus and still insist on having our own way in everything?
How can we claim to be disciples of Jesus when we ignore those around us who are in need?
How can we claim to be disciples of Jesus when we are more concerned about what others will think of us if we share our witness of Him to others?
How can we claim to be disciples of Jesus if we are more concerned about our own safety than we are about taking the Gospel to those who are found in risky areas?
Rev. Mark Bane, our former District Superintendent who is now the person who oversees our General Church Dept. of Evangelism, tells how he felt called to start an inner city church in the heart of Kansas City. It involved him going into areas where drug dealers and alcoholics and prostitutes hung out on street corners and engaging them in conversations. He told how he was often the only white man in such a group and how hard it was to build any kind of relationship with these inner city people. But he said he felt so compelled by the LORD that this was what he was called to do. And he had to just trust the Lord to give him wisdom and protection.
What risks have you taken for the Lord lately?
Resurrection Sunday is just 7 weeks away. Doesn’t it make sense that we should examine our hearts and make sure we have placed ourselves totally under His control?
Maybe, it should start right now with a personal declaration of surrender to God’s authority in your life!
1 John 4: 7-21
Illustration: A woman woke up one morning, turned to her husband and said, “Honey, I just had a dream that you bought me a new gold necklace. What do you think it means?”
He answered, “I don’t know, but Valentine’s Day is coming soon. Then you’ll know.”
A few nights later, she again woke up after having a dream. She said, “This time, I dreamed you gave me a pearl necklace. What do you think it means?”
“You’ll know on Valentines’ Day,” he replied.
The morning of Valentine’s Day, she again woke up telling him about her dream: “This time I dreamed that you brought me a diamond necklace. What do you think it means?”
“Honey, be patient,” he said. “You’ll know tonight.”
That evening, the husband came home with a package and gave it to his wife. Delighted, she opened it–and found a book titled The Meaning of Dreams.
Today is Valentine’s Day. I hope you husbands remember to get something for your wife—and it wasn’t a book on interpreting dreams!
It just wouldn’t be right to not speak on the subject of Love on this day. And the Bible is full of passages that stress how important, how absolutely essential, love is in the Christian’s life.
This passage in 1 John reminds us of how important it is that we be a loving people. It reinforces many other passages on the importance of love.
Rather than focusing on the romantic type of love associated with Valentine’s Day, let’s see what the Holy Spirit through this Epistle of 1 John can teach us about love.
In Paul’s sermon to the Athenians found in Acts 17 he said of God, “…in Him we live and move and have our being….”(Acts 17:28).
Those verses, which are supported by numerous other scripture passages, remind us that God, whose very essence is love, intends for His love to be active in us and through us as He sustains the universe. Love is the glue that sustains harmony in God’s creation. It is the source of peace and stability in our lives. Without it there would only be discord and division.
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned--put together--have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.*
13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
2 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompleteness will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
Love one another. Love others. Even “Love your enemies.”
A good place for this to start is in the home. On this Valentine’s Day, Husbands and Wives, be sure to demonstrate your love for one another. It isn’t a one day a year event. It is an everyday discipline.
I had a friend who jokingly would say, “I told my wife I loved her when we got married. If that changes, I’ll tell her.” That isn’t good enough. She may know it but she needs to hear it regularly. And we need to see it to be demonstrated by living 1 Corinthians 13 every day of our lives.
So, people, “I love you and want you to be My Valentine!”
Colossians 3: 18-25
Focus: Colossians e: 20-21 “Children, Obey your parents…Fathers, do no embitter your children…”
I like to watch the old Westerns on television—Gun Smoke, Laramie, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Virginian, Bonanza, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, and others. —and they all tell stories of the 1800’s when the West was just being settled. Periodically, one of those programs will feature a Dad who is raising his daughter. Mom was no longer in the picture having died of some disease or accident. And the story line will reveal that the Dad is very strict with the daughter, not willing to allow her to grow up. Any young man who shows interest is strictly forbidden. And, usually, the story will reveal how the daughter slips around to meet the man and the dad eventually must let her go. It is always the dad who is depicted as being in the wrong. His strictness provokes his daughter to rebel as she seeks her independence. Sometimes the story will have a happy ending and sometimes not.
Over the years I have known of similar stories in real life. Parents—a mother or dad or both—being so strict and harsh in their discipline that the child—boy or girl—eventually rebels against their rules and turn away from the values of their parents. It is always heart-breaking to witness.
I look back on my childhood and thank God that I was blessed to have great and loving parents who exerted discipline when necessary but allowed me freedom enough to consider their values and to choose whether to accept them as my own.
It has been my custom to focus on Relationships during the month of February. It is the month of Romance as we observe Valentine’s Day and just a great time to consider the importance of developing good and healthy relationships with others.
I confess that I have heard and preached many sermons on Husbands and Wives. And I have heard and preached a few on “Children, Obey your parents”–particularly when Jenna and Justin were still at home. But I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard or preached on the subject, “Fathers, do not embitter your children…”
In Ephesians 6:4 the NIV translates it this way, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children…” The KJV translates it, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath…”
Now, I understand that in our congregation, many of us are grandparents or even Great-grandparents. But it is true that in Bible language, oftentimes any elderly person is considered a father or mother to all those of younger generations. So, the principles Paul gives in these verses on family relationships in Colossians and Ephesians are relevant to all of us.
So, today, let’s see what the Holy Spirit would teach us about those “inter-generational relationships.”
I. THE DANGER OF EMBITTERMENT
a. I have a New Testament that contains 26 different translations. On this phrase that the NIV translates, “Do not embitter…” these are that various translations: “Vex not your children…” (Con.); “…do not fret and harass your children” (Wey); “…avoid irritating” (Mof); “…don’t over-correct” (Phil.); “stop exasperating” (Knox). In the parallel verse found in Ephesians 6:4, the translations are pretty much the same, with the addition of “do not rouse your children to resentment” (Knox); and “must not goad your children to resentment (NEB).
b. All these translations point to the danger of being too harsh—that is, pushing your children to the point that they are ready to totally rebel against the very thing you are trying to instill within them. Now, I’m on dangerous ground here, I know. Too little discipline is just as dangerous as too much. And every child is different. And every parent must find that fine line between too much and too little. And the only ones who can really give you a hard and fast rule that they think works in every case are those who have never had any children. Those of us who have had children know that what works for one may not and probably will not work for another! Spankings, time-outs, strong scolding, removing privileges—and other methods have their limited successes.
c. I know this scripture does not mean that it is wrong to correct your child or that it is wrong to upset them when they are getting disciplined. Sometimes it is necessary to upset their rebellious plans and their rebellious attitudes even if they sulk or cry. Again, we must recognize there is a line that we must be careful not to cross if so doing will drive them away from correct behavior.
d. But I believe there is an additional intent in this command to not embitter or exasperate. I believe the intent of Paul’s words are to warn us that we should not push our children in the wrong direction. We should not get them to do things that we know are not right. That would be such things as getting them to lie for us—for example, telling someone who calls that we are not home when the truth is, we just don’t want to talk to the caller. We should not encourage them to watch things that devalue God’s word or read books that are not wholesome. And the list goes on. Anything we do that would cause our children to think evil is good is provoking them to wrath or embittering them towards God’s Laws.
II. SO, WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING THAT DOES NOT EMBITTER OR PROVOKE?
a. As I thought about this there are five words that immediately came to mind that are essential in good parenting:
i. NURTURE: “care for and encourage the growth or development of.” There is a sense that we are always nurturing our children until they are grown and on their own. And, to a certain extent, that nurturing goes on even after that. But, as I think about the context of our scripture, I think of the importance of providing those things that a child cannot provide for itself. For instance, when Noah and Molly get hungry, they are totally incapable of fixing their own meal. Kelly or Justin must get that bottle ready, make sure the milk or formula is at the right temperature and then feed it to the babies in amounts that are appropriate. And every so often, they must pause and burp the baby, so that it will not get a tummy ache from the inhaled air from sucking on the bottle. The babies are incapable of dressing themselves, changing their own diapers, and so on and so forth. Nurturing would be the act of providing and caring for them so that they can survive and grow and develop as they gradually mature. Nurturing as they grow older would include providing food and shelter and security along with providing them the age-appropriate tools they need in their development, And, certainly, nurturing means providing the loving assurance that they are loved. Holding, cuddling, kissing, patting on the back, holding hands, high fives—all in the appropriate ways, are all involved in nurturing.
ii. The Second Word that comes to my mind is Teach. Being a good parent means taking time and investing in the child’s education. I remember when my kids were just babies and were just learning how to crawl. One of them would just scoot along on its stomach. So, we would get down in the floor and help them to get up on their knees and move their legs forward so they could crawl properly. And then there was the effort to help them learn how to walk. And then there was the effort to slow them down—but that’s a different story! But there is also the spiritual education. The KJV translates Isaiah 28:10 this way: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” The verse is talking about God teaching His People, but it also demonstrates the method we must use as we implant the Word of God into our children. I remember helping my kids memorize those basic memory verses: John 3:16, The Lord’s Prayer, The 23rd Psalm. And sometimes we would see things that were harmful, and we would take time to point out to our children how that was wrong and teaching them the principle of morality found in God’s Word. And when our children wanted to do things, we felt undermined our values, we took time to explain why and how it undermined those values. As they grew older, we had to allow them to decide about some of those activities. Back then, there was the dilemma of ball games that were played on church nights. There was the importance of supporting one’s team and not letting the team down weighed against the importance of the discipline of coming to church and learning in a Bible Study. And those were not always easy choices even for Adults, must less for children. I can still remember some of the lessons in value that my parents taught me—don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat—always to honest, keep your word, And I still remember vividly when I took some things that didn’t belong to me at the store where I caught the school bus and dad taking me to the store owner and making me confess what I had done and pay for those items. We are responsible to teach our children about how to live.
iii. A third word is Discipline. That is the act of correcting our children when they are wrong and giving them the incentive, they need to do right. The big thing for us as adult is to remember that discipline is not the same thing as punishing. Our goal is to correct behavior, not harm a child. And that gets a little tricky. For me, receiving a spanking in an appropriate way for rebellious behavior was effective. For someone else, it may not be as effective. Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” That does not mean we should beat our children. As a matter of fact, the term “rod” could easily be considered a figurative term for doing what is necessary to correct behavior. It may mean a time-out. It may mean taking away something for a period. Dr. James Dobson in his classic book, Dare to Discipline, said that physical spankings should only be used when there is willful defiance. And, even then, it should be a last measure and should not be too harsh. We did the number thing with our kids. Number one was a warning; Number two was a second and last warning. Number three meant swats. But we were careful to let the kids know how serious this was by our tone. And sometimes it was like a game when the offense was minor. But “The Look” and the stern voice meant they had better straighten up or they would be sorry.
iv. A fourth word that come to mind is Equip. As parents it was/is important to give our children those skills and tools that will help them to stand on their own. That meant teaching them how to handle finances, how to make their bed, how to pick up their toys, how to be respectful of others, how to be responsible for their duties. When Justin was old enough to handle it, I encouraged him to mow yards. At first, I taught him how to mow our yard, pointing out little details about trimming, etc. then I helped him line up other yards and taught him how to charge a proper amount. Then, when he asked me for money, I would point out how many yards it would take to earn that amount. I was trying to teach him the value of money so that, when he was on his own, he would be able to make decisions about how he would spend it. Was buying a ball glove or skateboard worth money enough yards to pay for it? I am so proud of both my kids for their work ethic. They worked their ways through college and have good jobs today because somehow, the importance of being responsible and reliable was instilled in their physic.
v. A fifth word that comes to mind is “RELEASE.” We must allow our children to gain their independence at the proper time. That meant at the appropriate time allowing them to make their own decisions –even when it was not necessarily the decision, we wanted them to make. And then they had to learn to live with the consequences of their decisions. At first it was simple things—like the style of clothes they would wear or the type of haircut they would get. Gradually they were given the freedom to decide more important things—the activities they would get involved in, the people they hung with. Let me tell you that it is important not to give your kids freedom before they are mature enough to handle it. My kids never had the privilege of saying, “I don’t think I am going to church this morning.” Their eternal destiny was too important to be decided by an immature mind!
I am no expert in how to raise your child. I’ve read the books, attended classes, heard advice. But this I do know. The most important thing a parent can do in raising their children is to set a good example. Be sure you are faithful and sincere in your relationship with God. Be filled with the Spirit. Be Spirit led. Be humble before God and be faithful and diligent in our prayer life.
And make sure you consistently, regularly, lavish your love on your children. Make sure they know they are loved!
Joshua 3: 1-8
Shortly after I accepted Christ as my Savior in 1968 I begin to feel God’s call to become a Preacher. Now, understand, there were no others in my family who were preachers. My dad didn’t accept Christ until he was already married and a dad. As a matter of fact, he accepted Christ in the same revival service in which I did. We lived on a farm just outside of a small rural community. The thought of going off to college and becoming a preacher was really a stretch. So, I resisted the call. I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling or what I was thinking. As the tug on my heart and spirit grew stronger, I tried to tell God I would consider it as a possibility but that I didn’t want to say anything to anyone. God wasn’t satisfied with that. As the weeks continued, I knew that God was asking me to make a public declaration of my call to ministry. But until I actually did that, I had no peace. Finally, the moment came when I told God, “Yes!” That “yes” meant I would speak up and let people know. It was a Saturday afternoon when I finally told my Dad. And then, on Sunday afternoon I asked to speak to my pastor about my call. And that Sunday evening I shared my testimony with our church family. And the rest is history.
But it wasn’t until I took that first step of publicly declaring my call to ministry that I found peace.
Life’s goals can only be reached when we take that first step of faith and obedience.
In our scripture today, we find the Israelites have been living in the wilderness for 40 years. The older generation had died off and now the vast majority had not known any other life than the nomadic life of wanderings in this rugged, arid wilderness area. Their longtime leader Moses had just recently died. His assistant, Joshua, had been anointed as their new leader.
For their entire lives, these young Israelites had dreamed of living in a land that was rich in farm and pasture land with plenty of water. The goal of having their own country, the country that had been promised centuries earlier to their forefather Abraham, had been a dream for them. And in this third chapter of the Book of Joshua, the entire group of Israelites were at the Jordan River. They were still on the Wilderness side of the River. All that separated them from their dream of a rich land of their own was the Jordan River. Interestingly, the Bible points out that the river was in its flood stage. I’ve been to the Jordan River. Compared to the Missouri River or the Mississippi River, The Jordan River is just a small stream. Because of the elevation drop leading to the Dead Sea, the water flows fairly rapidly. When I was there in December 1996, the river was very calm. Some in our group were baptized in the shallow waters. But that was not the case for the Israelites at this time. The river would have been out of its banks and the current of the water would have been very strong. I’m sure it was an imposing obstacle for these people who knew the fulfillment of their dream lie on the opposite side from where they were.
But the call of God was before them. Their destiny was waiting. God had promised them the Canaan Land, a land described as, “Flowing with Milk and Honey.” But as long as they stayed where they were, the promise was just out of their grasp.
On this last Sunday of January, the year 2021 is stretched out before us. We can choose to be content with the status quo and just maintain our present circumstances, or we can choose to move ahead.
As we consider this milestone event for the Israelites, let’s consider what it is that God is asking of us.
I. GOD’S PROMISE IS OUR FUTURE.
a. In Philippians 3: 13-14 Paul wrote, “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.” An interesting thing about Paul’s declaration is the fact that he was sitting in prison when he made it. He had already planted several churches on his missionary journeys. He had crossed over from the continent of Asia into Europe and had continued to preach Jesus to the Gentile world. And yet, instead of focusing on his previous accomplishments, he chose to keep looking ahead. He knew that in order to claim the promise of God, he had to keep focused on the future. I think always in Paul’s thinking there was the question, “Okay, God, What’s next?”
b. The Israelites already had a history. They knew about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They knew about how Joseph had become a ruler in the land of Egypt and had ensured their survival back when the famine had devastated the land. And they knew about life in Egypt for the 400 years that followed. They knew about Moses, and the Egyptian Plagues that God had sent in order to secure their escape from Egyptian slavery. They knew how, because of their parent’s disobedience, they had been forced to wander as nomads in that rugged wilderness. They had a lot on which to look back. But God’s promise wasn’t in their past. It was in their future. And that was where they needed to focus their attention.
c. And here we are. Our local church has been in existence since 1966, some 54 years. We have had 12 pastors during that time, we have had some wonderful Christian families who have come and gone. It would be impossible from a human perspective to know how many lives have been touched, how many marriages have been saved, how many sinners have been saved. Only God knows those numbers, but I can guarantee you there have been many. And now we are an aging congregation uncertain about what lies ahead. But this I know. To have God’s blessings we must focus on “What’s Next?” It is only in moving ahead that we can receive all that God desires for us!
II. CLAIMING GOD’S PROMISE MEANS PREPARING OURSELVES SPIRITUALLY.
a. In this account of the Israelite community, there is a sense in which they had been preparing for their future for centuries. God had given a promise to Abraham and that promise was planted in the DNA of his descendants. And certainly from the moment they left Egypt the Israelites were preparing for their future. Crossing the Red Sea, moving about in the hostile environment of the Wilderness, facing, and fighting battles against their adversaries—All this was preparation for their future. And certainly the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai and the establishment of the Tabernacle and the priesthood had been a part of their preparation. But now they were at the border facing their promise. If they were going to claim that promise, they were going to have to step into a flooded Jordon River. Joshua knew that it was going to take some special preparation before they took that step into their future. So, we read his instructions in Joshua 3:5, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.” I like the KJV translation –it begins with, “Sanctify yourselves…” In other words, get rid of anything that stands between you and being in the center of God’s will. Physically, get rid of any activities that take you away from God. Examine your attitude to make sure you are glorifying God with your thoughts. And, above all else, give yourself over totally to His control. Allow His Spirit to possess you, control you, guide you.
b. And, just as the Israelites had to prepare themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually so they would be ready to experience God’s amazing deeds, we also need to prepare ourselves as we move into the future. We cannot allow complacency to hinder us—we should be looking expectantly, eagerly as we anticipate our future in Christ. We must not allow the contaminants of this fallen world to settle into our lives. We must intentionally, deliberately, rid ourselves of those things that rob us of God’s blessings! How is your devotional life? Are you up to date in bringing your tithes and offerings into God’s house? Are you prayerfully seeking to be used of God in witnessing to others?
c. Our past is in the past. Our future is before us. Now is the time to prepare ourselves to be God’s people in this world that desperately needs to see godly people living out their faith in the midst of the struggles that surround us!
III. POSSESSING GOD’S PROMISE COMES ONLY WHEN WE TAKE THAT FIRST STEP.
a. In Joshua 3:8 a command is given to the Israelite priests: “Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: when you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.” Remember, the river is flooding. The Current is swift. From a human perspective, the command is dangerous and impractical. But the future is before them. 40 years earlier they had refused to claim the land because of their fear of giants. Now they were to face their fear of the elements. 40 years earlier they had turned away from the promise. Now they had to decide which way they would go—back to their past wilderness or forward to God’s promise. It came down to that first step. The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant were to lead the way. And with this precious religious symbol of God’s Presence, they were to step into the flooding river.
b. They made their decision. They took the step of faith. In Joshua 3: 14-15 we read, “So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing…”
c. Had they depended on what their eyes were seeing and given in to their fear of a flooding river, they would never had been able to claim their future—God’s promise. They had to take that first step forward—a deliberate act of obedience taken in faith. And when they took that step of faith, God removed the obstacle that had been the barrier between them and His promise.
d. What is the step God is asking us to take as we move into our future? Is that step based on our present circumstances or upon His promise to make a way for us? We may never know unless we determine to claim our future!
Life changed when they claimed their promise. There were battles to be fought, cities to be built, and crops to be nurtured and harvested. And from that day on, the Manna that had fed them for 40 years was no more. The Cloud of fire that had guided them their entire lives was no longer visible. Their lives of being a nomadic people living in tents and moving from place to place came to an end. But God kept His promise.
And for us, 2021 will be different. The stresses of 2020 will give way to new challenges. The old routines must change to a new reality as we encounter a world that has become increasingly hostile to the Biblical principles on which we were founded and in which we hold dear. But the call to be witnesses, to evangelize our world, to proclaim Jesus as our Savior and Lord and to tell people of God’s love and mercy is still imperative. We will have to adjust our methods and at the same time be careful not to dilute our message. It will not be easy. There will be giants to face. But God has promised victory for those who choose to take those steps. Like Paul, we must, “forget…what is behind and strain… for what is ahead…[and] press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called …[us]…heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (see Philippians 3: 13- 14).
Let me get personal. Are you content with where you are spiritually? Do you feel that you can just coast along, do what you always have been doing, and everything will be good?
Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Remember, you never drift closer to God; drifting takes you farther away.
It is time for us to hear God’s Call, focus on the future, and take the step of faith that leads us forward to the prize God has for us.
Are you ready to take that step of faith? Step into the River and believe that God will make a way!
I heard a story about a man who while walking along saw a shiny coin lying in his path. He was so excited at his good fortune that he spent the rest of his life always looking down. According to the story, in his lifetime his occasionally found coins that amounted to just a few dollars. But because of his continually downward look, he missed hundreds of sunrises, thousands of beautiful flowers and scenery, and the expression of many people whom he passed in his walks.
Since my knee surgery a few years back, I have become more conscious of watching where I am about to step. With my eye condition, my depth perception is not the best and I have been known to miss a step and take a tumble. But I try to watch my surroundings and I like to look people in the eye when I meet them. I try to share a smile or some other positive expression so I can share the joy of fellowship and compassion.
And there is something special on a warm sunny day to sit back and relax and watch the clouds passing by. I love the old cartoon that has Charley Brown and Linus looking at the clouds. Charley asks Linus what he sees, and Linus describes a magnificent scene of fortress and marching armies and all kinds of images he is imagining as he looks at the clouds. And Charley Brown says simply, “I see a Bunny Rabbit!”
I visited a lady in the nursing home some years ago and asked her what her favorite scripture was. She very quickly replied, “The 121st Psalm.” She went on to explain how it gives her a sense of security knowing that God never sleeps and is always keeping watch over her.
As we continue this journey into 2021, let’s see what lessons this Psalm can teach us today.
I. KEEP LOOKING UP.
a. When I was pastoring in Warsaw, Missouri a lifetime ago, I joined the Jaycees Organization. They made me the chaplain of their local group. And there were different things we were called to do in order to get certain awards. One of them was to make an impromptu 5 minute speech on a topic they would choose for us. I was given the topic, “How High is UP?” I had no trouble talking on that subject for the allotted 5 minutes. First of all, I suggested the “UP” had to be defined within its different contexts. Standing on earth and looking into the heavens would be one kind of “up.” But another kind of “UP” would be how we progress through promotions on our jobs and successes in our businesses.
b. After the Warsaw pastorate, I moved to Fort Scott, Kansas in 1979 and joined a civic club called “The Optimist Club.” The club magazine was called “Success” and it had writers like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peal, and others, who would stress the importance of always looking at the positive side of things. All of that could be described as a practice of always looking up.
c. This Psalm is grouped in a selection of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent.” It is said that these were songs that were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they ascended the mount where the Temple of God was located. Quite literally, they were sung as people were going up the steep grade to meet God. So, the words “I lift up my eyes to the mountains” meant they were looking at the Temple of God.
d. As we continue our journey into this New Year, it is easy to look at all the troubles our world is experiencing. We can bemoan the terrible Pandemic .We are just now beginning to see hope with the new vaccines that hopefully will get that under control. And who knows what is going to happen in our government after seeing the rioting and violence and being left with real concern about the integrity of our election process. And the liberal agenda is very threatening to our conservative political views as we fear we are losing the very essence of what made America the great nation it has been. I have talked to individuals who are literally worrying themselves sick over all the negative things that are happening all around us. But, Christians, we are called to look up. Just as the ancient pilgrims were looking up at the Temple inhabited by God, we too should be looking up for God in His dwelling place.
e. The account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter jumping out of the boat to walk to him is an example of this “Upward Look.” As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he walked on top of the water. But when he diverted his eyes and looked at the waves and wind, he became fearful and began to sink.
f. What is it that you are facing today? Is it health issues? In our congregation we have several who are facing heart difficulties, various kinds of cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. And then there are the financial concerns: Do we have enough retirement funds to last us the rest of our lives? And what about when the transmission goes out in the car or the refrigerator stops working? I can tell you there are days when it is hard to look up. But we have a God who has promised to be with us. So, we need to practice looking up, beyond all the troubles.
II. WE NEED TO REMEMBER THAT GOD IS THE SOURCE FOR OUR STRENGTH.
a. The psalmist asks: “…Where does my help come from?”
b. Just looking up and ignoring our troubles is not the answer. Just suppose your rent is due or the mortgage payment is due, and you are short on cash. What will happen if you just ignore the situation and act as if everything is okay? You might get evicted from your home!
c. And the Psalmist answers his question in verse 2: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Our answer to our problems doesn’t come from pretending they aren’t there. The answer is found in placing our trust in the Lord.
d. We are all familiar with the New Testament scripture found in Philippians 4:6—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present you request to God.”
e. In Matthew 17: 24-27 we read how Peter questioned Jesus about paying the Temple tax. Like some of us, taxes are always a challenge. I always dread the day of reckoning when I have to file my income tax. I almost never pay in enough during the year, so I always have to come up with a little more. I don’t know if Peter was frustrated because he was short on cash or if he was just questioning the whole idea of paying a tax. But Jesus sends him to the lake where there was a fish to be caught—a natural suggestion to a real fisherman. But the surprise came when he caught one fish and found in its mouth just enough money to pay both his and Jesus’ tax that was due at the temple.
f. Sometimes God does things like that—After all He is the God who specializes in the impossible. Sometimes the miracles are not so obvious. Several years ago, I was struggling with my finances. I was able to keep up with all my payments, but it was a struggle. In my prayer journal I took it to the Lord and complained and whined and asked Him why I couldn’t seem to get ahead. A year later I was looking back over some of the prayers I had written, and I suddenly realized that I no longer was struggling with that financial strain. I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary. There were no windfall cash gifts, no new jobs that supplemented my income that I could recall. It was as if the LORD just said, “Keep on being Faithful. I will supply your needs.” And He did.
g. Our troubles may seem overwhelming. But remember: Our help comes from the LORD!
III. REMEMBER THAT WE HAVE A GOD WHO WATCHES OVER US!
a. Psalm 121: 3 says, “He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber…” Then the Psalmist goes on to describe how God constantly watches over His people.
b. One of my favorite Bible stories as a child—and even now—is the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow and worship the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected. The King was so angry that he had the 3 men thrown into the fiery finance. Then, as the King watched the supposed execution, he suddenly “leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’” (Daniel 3: 24-25). These 3 men had been taken from their own country, Judea, and were living in a far off land among pagan people. But God knew where they were, and He continued to watch over them even in Babylon.
c. And it was similar in the account of Daniel being thrown into the Lions’ Den. God sent His angel to keep the lions from devouring Daniel.
d. There have been times in my life when I felt frustrated and helpless. Something was going on that was out of my control. But when I finally decided to just leave it in God’s hands, I found peace knowing I was not alone. God was there. And He is here. He is the Omnipresent God—always here, always available, always alert, watching over His people.
e. Over the years I have talked to people who felt all alone. On multiple occasions I have had a widow or widower tell me that after losing their husband or wife, the loneliness was sometimes almost too much to handle. But the reality is, God knows. God is there. We are never alone.
f. The devotional magazine Our Daily Bread some years ago had this illustration: The early American Indians had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy's thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped; he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long.
g. There may be times when we feel we are all alone. But God is there. He never sleeps nor slumbers. He is always alert, watching over His children.
And so, we continue our journey into a New Year, and we continue our climb towards our eternal destiny. Temptations may and will arise. We will find obstacles along the way—mountains to climb, rivers to cross, storms to endure. Satan sets traps along the path—IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) like those that have claimed the life or severely injured our military folks in Afghanistan. The path we take is narrow and steep. But remember, we are not alone. God is with us. He guides us along the path. We are told in Scripture that “The Lord orders the steps of a good man (or woman).” And He will make a way. Our God divides the waters of the Sea to make a path for His people in impossible situations. Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways… “(Psalm 139:1-3) It goes on to explain that no matter where you are, God is there.
So, Look up. Jesus has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Take courage—He will give us strength.
MATTHEW 6: 25-34
Text: “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? It is already January 10th—are you still keeping your resolutions?
I checked on Google to see what the top 10 Resolutions are this year and here’s the list it gave:
Top 10 New Year's Resolutions
· Eat Healthier.
· Exercise More. Under the same umbrella as eating healthier, working out more is the second most common New Year's resolution. ...
· Save Money or Spend Less. ...
· Learn Something New. ...
· Quit Smoking. ...
· Read More. ...
· Change Jobs. ...
· Drink Less.
As good Nazarenes, I hope you are not struggling with the “Quit Smoking” resolution. In our Covenant of Christian Conducts we ask our members not to use tobacco. And on the “Drink Less” resolution, I hope none of you are struggling with drinking too much alcohol—another ‘no-no” for Nazarenes. But I have to tell you that I urge my wife and my mom to drink more—but I’m talking about water, not alcohol!
I read on Facebook last week where someone said their resolution was to lose 10 pounds and that they already only had 14 pounds to go! I can identify with that! I have to admit that I don’t make many resolutions. Someone asked me what my New Year’s Resolution was for this year and I said, “To just keep on keeping on. In the past I’ve made the common resolutions—lose weight, exercise more, etc. And I have been less than successful. I know it is good to have goals—and we should. But while thinking about my goals I understand that I must prioritize them. And Jesus has set before me the most important goal of all, the one we must keep even if we break all our other resolutions. It is a goal that will determine my eternal destiny: “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness…” If I will only do that, then everything else will fall into place.
Let’s consider some of the implications of this verse:
I. SEEKING GOD IS A PRIORITY EVEN BEFORE FOOD AND CLOTHING.
a. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25).
b. Of course you understand that Jesus isn’t telling you to not plan your menu or shop for groceries or to lay out the clothes you want to wear tomorrow. He is just reminding you that the most important thing for us to do is to prepare for eternity by putting God first in everything we do.
c. There is a very interesting story found in 1 Kings 17. It tells of how Elijah the Prophet had confronted Ahab the wicked king and announced how a drought would devastate the country because of the King’s sins. After that, Elijah hides from Ahab and is fed by Ravens and drinks from a brook of water. But then, after a period of time, the drought causes the brook to dry up. God directs Elijah to go to Zarephath where he would find a widow woman who would provide for him. He finds the woman and asks for a drink and a piece of bread. Her response was that she only had a handful of flour which she planned to use to prepare a last supper for her and her son. Elijah’s response almost sounds cruel: “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me and then make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17: 13). The widow woman was faced with a serious decision. Knowing the limited resources and the hopelessness of the situation, should she honor God’s prophet first, or should she make sure she and her son had food first. You know the rest of the story. Her decision is a great illustration of “Seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”
d. The whole point isn’t about you going without life’s physical necessities. It is about choosing to honor God first in all you do.
e. Suppose you are faced with a choice. God has placed a concern in your heart for a single mother with small children and very limited income. You are aware that she is without food or money. You have just enough to take your spouse out to an expensive restaurant. But you could go to a less expensive restaurant and have enough to buy enough groceries for this single mother to tide her over until her next paycheck. What decision would honor God the most? Does this mean you should never take your wife to an expensive restaurant? No, but it does mean when God directs you to help someone in need, you choose to obey God rather than indulge yourself.
f. And remember the New Testament story of the widow who placed her last coins in the offering at the Temple. When Jesus pointed this out to the disciples he said, “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21: 3 & 4). Jesus wasn’t saying we should give away all our money and not provide for ourselves the basics of life. He was merely pointing out that above all else we should seek to make God the most important priority of our life. Honoring Him, obeying his commands, seeking a relationship with Him—these things are more important that life itself.
II. SEEKING GOD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PLANNING OUR FUTURE.
a. In the Epistle of James, there is an interesting paragraph. It is found in James 4: 13-17—“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say ‘IF it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
b. I know that James’ statement is directed at greedy business entrepreneurs who were making short term financial investments with plans to get rich. And, no, it isn’t wrong to make investments. But when we forget that our first priority is to seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and begin to put our business plans or even our personal plans in place without first consulting God’s plans, then we have allowed life’s priorities to get out of balance.
c. We discovered in 2020 that our plans can be up seated quickly. People who had planned trips to see family were forced to change plans because of the pandemic. Those who are avid sports fans had to adjust to crazy schedules and sudden cancellations of games because of COVID 19. School schedules were thrown into chaos. Business that had been thriving had to close—many forced into bankruptcy or permanent closures.
d. Seeking God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness first, means seeking His Will and His direction as we make our place for the future. And it means being ready to make adjustment for the unexpected. It means acknowledging that God holds our future, not us, and we are okay with being under His authority.
III. SEEKING FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS MEANS PLACING OURSELVES UNDER HIS AUTHORITY EVERY DAY.
a. There was a time in my precollege days when I thought I might pursue a career in accounting. But God let me know that His plan for me was to be a preacher. There have been times when I had the opportunity to move to different places. But God let me know that He wanted me to be right here. I had one District Superintendent who tried to get me to take a church on his district several times, but I always turned him down. Finally he told me that if I ever felt like it was time for me to leave Branson, I should give him a call. He is retired now. And God has not released me from my assignment in Branson. Every day I have a routine I follow that helps me be a responsible Pastor. Occasionally something will come up when I have to make adjustments. But I understand that every day, 24 hours a day, I am under God’s authority. And that is the way it should be for every one of us.
b. You say you have responsibilities to your family and to your job. That is good. You should live up to those responsibilities. But remember who it is that gives you the strength, the talent, the privilege of having that job and caring for your family. God is the Sovereign Lord. You may be answerable to an earthly boss. You may have a family you care for. But the One to whom your first loyalty must lie is God Himself. Seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness means that you do everything for the glory of God. Your integrity, your word, you activities, your very life must first of all be placed under His authority. That may mean you have to “take it on the chin” so to speak in order to honor God. It may mean loving someone who persecutes you, mocks you, gives you a hard time. Jesus said that anybody can love a person who treats them well, but God’s people must love even their enemies.
c. Every day, in every way, by our attitude, by our actions, by our voices, we must remember whose we are—We are the children of the Living God. And we must live in a way that reflects that reality.
I’ve shared this before, but it has been a long time. There was a book I had to read when I was doing my Master’s studies. It was entitled “Resident Alien.” In an early chapter in the book the author told the story of a Jewish family who lived in a Gentile neighborhood. The son complained to his father that he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t do the things his Gentile friends did—eat the foods they ate, etc. The father wisely told him, “Son, we are different. We have been called by God to be “His Chosen People.” We must live our lives the way God has called us to live. We aren’t Gentiles. We are Jews. We must live our lives as Jews are supposed to live.”
Today let me tell you, we are Christians. God has called us out of darkness and sin into His marvelous light and holiness. We are not citizens of this world. We are just passing through. Our citizenship is in heaven. And as Children of God, we chose to “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness,” and we know that if we do that, everything else in life will fall into place.
Is God the number one priority of your life?
Galatians 6: 1-10
Text: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (“Galatians 6: 9)
Do you ever have the problem I sometimes have? On occasion I have started a project only to get sidetracked and never complete it. And so, our driveway has needed a load of rock for a couple of years where it butts up against the street. Two years ago, I bought a gallon of Thompsons Sealer for our back porch. I still haven’t used it. There is a light outlet in my closet that has not worked in quite a while. It would probably take about 15 minutes to fix it—if I ever get to it. And I won’t even talk about the sliding closet door. I have to admit, as I recall these projects it is a little bit embarrassing to admit my ability to procrastinate!
There are other things that I do that I have no trouble completing. I write out a sermon every week. And I prepare a Bible study almost every week. I read the Springfield newspaper every day. For the past 35 years I have read the Bible completely through each year. I have 3 devotional books in which I read a daily devotional in each one every day. I’m not bragging, I just felt it was important to share some of my good points so that you would not think I was completely inadequate!
And I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t obsess when something isn’t done exactly the way I think it should be done. I believe in the scripture that says we should do all things for the glory of God. But I tend to agree with something I read years ago that said there are some things that don’t deserve or require our complete attention. I think it said there are some courses that we may take in school where a C is all the attention, we need to give it. For example, if I wanted to know the basics of photography just for my own benefit and had no inclination of becoming a professional photographer, there was no need to devote all my energy on learning every detail. I don’t know about you but that makes sense to me.
I am somewhat interested in Ancient History. At one point I thought I would explore archeology, so I took an introductory course that was offered locally from MSU. I quickly learned that instead of Indiana Jones excitement, Archeology requires tedious attention to small pieces of broken pottery that a person had to spend hours digging up by hand. I’m glad someone does that, but I found it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
So as one travels through life we must pick and choose the things that hold our attention and then begin to set aside time and energy if we are going to be involved in those things.
The statement I often hear (and probably have used myself) that we don’t have enough time is just an excuse. We find the time to do the things we really want to do!
The verse in Galatians 6:9 has been a key verse in my life. “Do not become weary in doing good, because in due season you will reap if you faint not.” The key to being able to keep on doing the things that we should be doing is “Determination.”
As we enter the New Year, let’s consider some things for which we should be determined:
I. WE SHOULD DETERMINE TO CONTINUE DEVELOPING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST.
a. In Philippians 3: 10 & 11 Paul stated, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Now, understand that Jesus had revealed himself to Paul on the Damascus Road—the event that resulted in Paul’s conversion. Paul had spent 3 years of his time after that in seclusion in Arabia (See Galatians 1: 17) getting to know Christ more fully from the scriptures and through his prayer and meditation. His life from that point was dedicated to sharing Christ with the world. He traveled all over the ancient world telling people about Christ, organizing new believers into churches. Paul had debated with the so-called intellectuals of his day—religious leaders, philosophers, and other people in places of authority—always presenting Jesus as Lord and Savior. The letters Paul wrote to the various churches revealed a deep understanding of God’s Plan and Provision for our salvation through Jesus Christ. And when he wrote the letter to the people in Philippi, he was in prison because of his dedication to Jesus Christ. And, in spite of all that, he states, “I want to know Christ…” I would venture to guess that Paul already knew Christ more fully than most of us could even imagine. But He knew that his relationship with Jesus Christ was a relationship that should never be taken for granted. It was something that a person always needed to work at developing.
b. How can a person ever fully understand or comprehend the Son of God—fully human and at the same time fully God? How could anyone ever understand the depth of love that Christ has for each of us that he was willing to set aside his divine privileges and become a human being who was willing to be crucified in order to provide for our salvation?
c. If a person like Paul who knew Christ so intimately still felt a need to know Christ more fully, how much more do you and I need to pursue that relationship?
d. How do we do that?
i. The continued practice of the Spiritual Disciplines are for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with God: Daily Bible Reading and Meditation; Regular Communion with Christ through Prayer and Fasting; the regular practice of coming together with other Christians for corporate worship and Bible study and Fellowship; the discipline of good stewardship through giving of our time, talent and treasures in service to God. We are all works in progress; We should be continually developing our spiritual “muscle” as we strengthen our walk with Christ.
ii. I mentioned that I read the Bible through each year and have daily devotional readings every day. A few years ago, I rearranged my stack of morning books. Before, I had read the devotionals and then the daily scripture readings. I felt it important that my first reading should be from the Bible itself—the very Word of God. And then, after reading from the Bible, then I read the devotionals that have been written by others. I remember Dr. Jerry Porter say that he used to check his emails first, but God convicted him, so he started doing his daily Bible reading before he checked his emails. It was his way of putting God first each day.
e. What one thing can you do this year that will improve your relationship with Jesus Christ?
II. WE SHOULD DETERMINE TO BE MORE CONSCIOUS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO SHOW CHRIST’S LOVE.
a. If the most important thing in life is to make sure we know Jesus so that we can get to heaven, why doesn’t God take us on to heaven as soon as we accept Jesus as our Savior? And the one obvious answer is because he expects us to tell others about Jesus and how they can come to him and find salvation. Remember what he told his disciples in Acts 1:8? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In 2 Corinthians 5: 20 Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’ behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
b. Every Christian has the privilege and responsibility of pointing others to Jesus. We are to do it through our voices, with our actions, with our attitudes. There is a world out here that is dying without knowing Jesus or the Love that God has for them. And it is up to us to let them know.
c. Wouldn’t it be great if each one of us would select one person that we know is not a Christian and begin to pray that God will use you to point him or her to Christ? If each one of us would let God use us to win just one person to Jesus this year the size of our congregation would double!
III. WE SHOULD DETERMINE TO STAND AGAINST THE ENEMIES OF CHRIST.
a. In Ephesians 6: 12 we read, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The Paul goes on to describe the armor of God that we should be wearing. In verse 13 he says, “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.”
b. God has warned us that in this world there is a Satanic Presence that opposes God and the people of God. Satan certainly doesn’t want Christians evangelizing the lost, so he does everything he can to stop us. This is reality. We must be aware that living the Christian Life, Loving God, and telling others about God’s Love will evoke opposition from the enemies of God. We are called to stand on the front lines, lift up Jesus, hold high the standard of holiness, rebuke sin, and call sinners to repentance.
c. Are you determined to go the distance, to take a stand, to resist evil, and resist Satan?
d. 1 Peter 5: 8-11 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. In him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
e. Jesus in John 16:33 said, “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.”
f. Have you determined in your heart to take a stand for Christ regardless of what temptation may fall in your path? I really like the words of the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk who after acknowledging all the problems his people were experiencing and failing to understand why God would allow them to be in the circumstances they were in made this declaration: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful to God my Savior…” (Habakkuk 3: 17-18.)
2020 was a hard year. We don’t know what 2021 will be like. But this we know: God still reigns. His love still has no limit. His grace is still sufficient. We can still cast our cares on Him because He still cares for us. We have a choice. We can be victims of the circumstances we will face. Or we can be "More than Conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I am determined to keep on keeping on. No matter what the future holds, I am determined to hold on to the God of my Faith. And He has promised to keep me in his righteous right hand.
How determined are you?
Matthew 1: 18-25
As in most scenarios there are usually many people who play a part in the events of life. And many of them go unrecognized. They may not have had the major role, but without them the key players would have had difficulty. It may have been the person who stopped to check to see if someone was okay. It may have been the party that left a generous tip for a waitress who was in need. It may have been a doctor who saw an abnormality in an X-ray or MRI.
I’ve told this before, but it is an example of what I mean. Gloria and I came over to the church late one afternoon to do something in the office. There was a car parked in the parking lot with a young woman sitting in the driver’s seat. She looked distraught, so I stopped by her window to see if she needed help. I realized she has been crying so I told her that if she needed to talk, Gloria and I would be glad to listen. She seemed reluctant, but finally decided to come into the office and talk for a bit. I don’t remember much about the conversation other than we offered to pray for her. She gave us a bogus address and left—so we were not able to follow up on her. It was a year or two later when I was doing some mowing at the church when a car pulled into the parking lot and a young woman got out and walked up to me and gave me a hug. I didn’t have a clue. Finally, I was able to hear her story. She was the young woman we had prayed with that time. She told me that she had planned to commit suicide that night, but after talking with us decided not to. And now she wanted to thank us. I had no idea that she had been in such a condition. We were just going about our business and happened to be at the right place and at the right time. I wonder how many times in our life we may have unknowingly made a difference in someone’s life. We were not trying to be heroes. We were just trying to be faithful. And it made a difference in one person’s life.
On this Sunday just two days after Christmas, let’s consider some of the heroes who contributed to the Christmas story.
I. LET’S CONSIDER JOSEPH—THE FAITHFUL HUSBAND AND PARENT…
a. Joseph is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. We know very little about him, other than he was a carpenter and that he married Mary. We know from Matthew’s genealogy that Joseph was the son of Jacob and was of the lineage of King David. But because of his obedience he became the acting parent of Jesus, the Messiah that God had promised from centuries earlier.
b. Have you ever thought about what Joseph and Mary might have done the day after Jesus was born? Do you think they stayed another night in the stable? I don’t think so. From what little we know of Joseph I believe he went house hunting. And I believe that he made arrangements for Mary and Baby Jesus to have a better place to stay. We know that Mary’s relatives Zachariah and Elizabeth lived in Judea, so Joseph may have made arrangements for his family to stay with them until they could find something of their own. Or, maybe since Bethlehem was the town from which his family was known, he may have contacted some of his own relatives and made arrangements with them. We know that Joseph would have been responsible to see that he and Mary presented Jesus to the priest at the temple for the ceremony of Circumcision. And then, sometime later, we know that Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus were living in a house in Bethlehem. The Scriptures tell us that the Wise Men from the East found them in their house in Bethlehem when the Star of Bethlehem stood over it. And we know that Joseph made the decision to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt when the angel warned him of the evil King Herod’s plan to murder the babies in Bethlehem. And later, Joseph brought them back to Nazareth to live. Everything we know about Joseph points to the fact that he was a faithful husband and father, caring, providing, protecting—just being responsible and obedient to the Lord.
c. Isn’t that what dads are supposed to do? Joseph never set out to be a hero. He just did those things that were necessary to care for his family.
d. I remember a man who had divorced his wife, married again, divorced again, and then quickly married again. When he was asked why he was in such a hurry to marry again—after all, he had several children who needed his attention, His reply was, “I just need to do something for myself!” You never would have heard that coming from Joseph’s mouth. His number one purpose was to see after his family.
e. I’ve heard of men who would get their paychecks and then gamble it away or spend It on alcohol drinks while their family was home wondering where their next meal was coming from.
f. Joseph was faithful to love, protect, and provide for his family. May all our husbands and dads remember and follow Joseph’s example.
II. THE MAGI WERE ALSO FAITHFUL TO THE CHRISTMAS STORY.
a. We really don’t know the exact time these Wise Men from the East arrived in Bethlehem. But we do know they traveled a great distance to get there—in the neighborhood of 1000 miles! They realized that God was doing something special and that He was prompting them to be witnesses. They were probably familiar with the Jewish prophecies of the Promised Messiah King. In fact, it is probable they were Jewish themselves, descendants of those who had been carried into exile to Babylon centuries earlier. And, yes, their visit with King Herod was not their smartest move. After all, what king would want to know that another person had been chosen to replace him. But their visit in Jerusalem gave them the information that the prophets had predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. And they continued until they reached the place to which the star was leading them. Their visit with Mary & Joseph at the house in Bethlehem testifies to their tenacity to complete their mission. Their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, reflect on their faithfulness to the newborn King. And their decision to not return to King Herod, points to their faithfulness to God to protect His Child. They were faithful in their search for truth. They were faithful in their relentless commitment to journey the distance from the eastern country to Israel. And they were faithful in their worship of Jesus. May all of us be as faithful in our pursuit of God and Holiness as these Wise Men were in their search for Jesus.
III. SIMEON & ANNA WERE CERTAINLY FAITHFUL IN THEIR DEVOTION TO GOD.
a. It was just 8 days after Jesus was born that his parents took him to the Temple. The Temple mount included not only the building but the courtyard surrounding the building. We know how later the early church meet on a porch area on the temple mount. Various teachers of the law would meet with people throughout the Temple compound. Jesus himself taught in those areas. It was a sacred place where people of faith would gather day by day to offer sacrifices, to worship, pray, teach, and be taught. And two of the regulars were Simeon and Anna, godly people who devoted themselves to being in God’s Sacred Place. We are told that Simeon was righteous and devote and that he was waiting for “the consolation of Israel”—that is, the Messiah who was to come. And in his communion with God, God had revealed to him that he would live to see the Lord’s Messiah. When he saw Mary & Joseph and Baby Jesus, the Holy Spirit confirmed in his heart that he was looking on the One—the Messiah--that God had promised. His prayer was a testimony of his faithful devotion and patience as he had waited for God to keep His promise. Anna was a prophetess who had been married for only 7 years when her husband died. But the day that Mary & Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, Anna was 84 years old. Luke tells us that Anna never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Her testimony about Jesus and her proclamation to all who would listen was that Jesus was the long anticipated Messiah. What a faithful example!
b. When I think of Simeon and Anna, I think of faithfulness in patience. I am sometimes guilty of telling God what I want Him to do right now. And when it doesn’t happen immediately I have to remind God—as if He has forgotten. But the Bible tells us that we are to “Wait upon the Lord.” And sometimes that “wait” may be lengthy. God is not controlled by my time table. He has his own time table. And His time is always the right time.
c. For what are you waiting? Do you believe God has promised to do something for you, but it hasn’t happened yet? Are you sure God has promised? Or are you trying to force God to do something that you want? Remember who is in charge. And remember that God’s Ways are better than our ways.
d. Most of you have heard of St. Augustine. He lived in the 4th and 5th Centuries and was Bishop of Hippo in North Africa and a major defender of the faith and contributor to the development of Christian doctrine and philosophy. Before his conversion, Augustine lived a very loose, worldly life. But he had a praying mother named Monica. At a certain point her wayward son let it be known that he was moving to a different country. Monica prayed earnestly that it wouldn’t happen because she wanted to see him become a Christian and was afraid of the kind of life he would live if he moved. But in spite of her prayers, Augustine moved. And Monica felt that God just did not answer her prayers. But in the new country, Augustine fell under the influence of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan (in Italy). And it wasn’t long after that when Augustine made the decision of become a Christian. Eventually, Monica realized that her prayer was answered. She had thought that by keeping Augustine close to home he would become a Christian. The intent of her prayer had been for Augustine’s conversion. And God did answer that prayer according to His own plan. Monica had learned a lesson on “waiting upon the Lord.”
e. Simeon and Anna simply trusted God to do what He promised to do. They left the details to God and they just remained faithful to Him. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?
f. Isaiah 40:31, in the King James translation says, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
There are many others who contributed to the Christmas story. We don’t know the names of the Shepherds, but they were faithful to testify of the Angels’ announcement of the birth of Jesus. And earlier there was the old priest Zachariah that was just doing what priests had been doing for centuries. He didn’t go to the temple to become a hero. He was just being faithful to his duty as a priest. And we may never learn the name of the person who owned the stable that housed the holy family that evening. And the point of this message is that our goal in life shouldn’t be to gain a name for ourselves. Our goal should be to be faithful in our commitment to God. We are to be faithful in our devotional life—studying the scriptures and praying to God.
We are to be faithful in our responsibilities to our family and to others. We are to be faithful in our patience as we wait for God to do that which He has promised.
And when all is said and done, and when the Lord returns, may He find us being faithful in our daily lives as we do that which He has called us to do.
WILL HE FIND YOU FAITHFUL?
The scene is enchanting. We have romanticized it to the point of comfort and ease. But the reality was anything but comfortable and easy. After 9 months of stress, accused of being an adulteress, threatened with divorce, and probably the object of scorn, Mary had made the 70 mile trip through the rugged terrain, accompanied by her husband, only to arrive in a town so crowded that there was no room available for them. Exhausted from the journey, it was suddenly time for Mary to give birth. And the best they could do was to find privacy in a cattle stall, a manger. It was probably located in one of the many limestone caves that were found around Bethlehem. There was no comfortable sanitary delivery room. There were sheep and cattle and straw and the harsh smells of a barnyard. But it was there that Jesus was born. And now we see this scene as a sacred symbol of God’s Love reaching out to a world that desperately needed to be rescued.
There are many descriptive verses that point to this event. One of the most familiar is John 3:16—“For God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son…”
Galatians 4:4 , “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
But it is Luke’s account that we love so dearly: “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:7).
On this 4thSunday of Advent, we have lighted the 4th Candle; the first was the Candle of Hope—Jesus is the Hope of the Ages; the second was the Candle of Peace—Jesus is the Prince of Peace; The third was the
Candle of Joy—Jesus is the Source of Real Joy. And now, this 4th Candle represents the most important symbol of all—It is the Candle of Love—Jesus is the Supreme Example of God’s love.
In the months leading up to the birth of Christ, we read of many expressions of love.
I. THERE WAS THE LOVE OF MAN FOR MAN. (We are using the word “Man” in the broader sense of “Humanity.”)
a. We know nothing of Mary’s parents. But we know of her relatives in Judea—The Priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth. The fact that immediately after the Angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary, she picked up her things and went to visit them suggests to me that there was a strong emotional bond in her family. And the reception she received certainly supports that view. Zachariah and Elizabeth were thrilled that Mary came. And Mary felt so comfortable with them that she stayed 3 months. Even though we know nothing of Mary’s parents, we must recognize the importance of the love and support of family. God ordained the family unit in the Garden of Eden at creation. It is the building block of civilization. The family shapes personalities, instills values and promotes morals. The love of family gives security, purpose, and direction to individuals.
b. And there was obviously a love bond between Mary and Joseph. Yes, I know that Joseph gave consideration to divorcing Mary. Understand that they were legally husband and wife from the moment of betrothal. The arrangement was a legally binding relationship even though the marriage was not yet complete. And we know that marriages in their culture were often arranged marriages that were not necessarily because of love. But Joseph definitely displayed evidence of tender feelings for Mary, even though he was confused over the circumstances of her condition. He could have brought her before a judge and had her tried on the grounds of adultery. That may have ended with public execution by stoning. But he didn’t do that. He could have had a public hearing for a very public divorce. That would certainly have been humiliating for Mary as she was shamed in front of the community. But he didn’t . Joseph decided that his only recourse was to divorce her in a private manner. It would have been his way of saving face for both Mary and himself. But because of His love for Mary and for God, he chose to take her as his bride. Some commentaries have suggested that the reason Joseph took Mary along on the trip to Bethlehem was so that no one would do the math and realize that the baby was being born after only 6 months of marriage. And that may have been the reason they continued in Bethlehem for several months after the baby was born. This is an account of a couple who instead of being revengeful and regretful, chose to love and support and provide for one another. When I counsel couples, who are planning to be married, I always try to emphasize that the definition of the kind of love that it takes to make a strong marriage is not some sweet emotion. The kind of love that makes a marriage last is spelled, C O M MI T M E N T. It takes commitment to go the distance, to work through the rough edges, to truly become One. We see that in Mary and Joseph. They were committed to each other.
II. THERE IS THE LOVE OF MAN FOR GOD.
a. The coming of Christ into the world was channeled through people who demonstrated their love for God.
b. The Jewish People were chosen of God to teach the world about the true and living God. Even though they had their ups and downs in the Old Testament, the Jewish Religion provided the framework though which man could find favor with God.
c. The love for God was demonstrated in Zachariah’s service as a priest and in his and Elizabeth’s willingness to obey God by raising the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist.
d. And Mary’s response to Gabriel’s message that she would be the mother of the Christ Child was an expression of her love for God: “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1: 38).
e. From the time of Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah and then to Mary up until the time of the birth of Jesus, we must remember that interaction of people with one another: the trust, the encouragement, the support, the thrill of shared joy—all the normal relationships in life had the element of Love for one another giving security and support to the Holy Family. In this life, the one thing that keeps us civilized, the one thing that keeps us from destroying one another, is the element of love that binds human hearts together.
f. It is of concern to me that so much of what we hear in the political rhetoric is disrespect, name calling, back-biting, and open conflict. The Golden rule says that we should treat others in the same way that we would want to be treated. Yes, we must confront dishonesty. Yes, we must stand up for our rights and freedoms. But there is a way to disagree in a civilized manner that reflects Christian love. And we must not allow ourselves to stoop to the level of hatefulness that dishonors our Christian testimony!
g. In Mary and Joseph’s world, there were many things that made life hard. But even in that environment there was a spirit of love that gave stability to their lives.
III. BUT THE GREATEST LOVE DURING THAT FIRST ADVENT WAS THE LOVE OF GOD FOR MANKIND!
a. “For God so loved the World that He gave His One and Only Son…”
b. God is the Source of true Love. John said it this way: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). Paul said this about love: “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). We know that God’s love is an unconditional love. He loves “The World.” “The World” as John uses the phrase in his gospel, is a world that is in rebellion against God. God loves the sinner just as much as He loves the saint. Peter reminds us that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” ( 2 Peter 3: 9b).
c. We depend on God’s Mercy and Compassion that flow from His Grace. But all of that is because, as John so profoundly tells us, “…God is Love” (1 John 4:8).
d. And the Baby Jesus that Luke describes as being found “lying in a Manger” was and is none other than God’s Supreme Gift of Love.
e. The Old Testament tends to portray God as being a Judge, a Consuming Fire, One who rains destruction on His enemies. But that was just one dimension of God’s Personhood. He wanted humanity to know that He was not just a harsh God who was always dispensing punishment. And so He chose to become a person, so that we could see how he really was.
f. Illustration: A few of you may remember a transient couple to whom we reached out to several years ago. They liked to describe themselves as “Tramps.” They were alcoholics, homeless, and quite colorful in their lifestyle. I learned a lot from them about a certain lifestyle in our society. The Husband Tony and I had many conversations. I remember one in particular when he talked about those homeless that he knew that often gather under bridges across the country, maybe standing around a barrel that is ablaze with fire trying to keep warm. He told me that If I were to walk up to such a group, there was a strong possibility that I would be in trouble. They would take one look at me and know that I did not belong with them. They would not be interested in what I had to say to them because I represent a lifestyle completely different than theirs. But, then Tony said that if he were to walk up to such a group with his old clothes and his black felt hat with a feather in it, they would accept him because he was one of them. And he would have a much better chance to talk to them about Jesus than I ever would. Tony was right. I am glad that I was involved in leading Tony to Jesus even though his lifestyle was so foreign to mine.
g. And in a much nobler way, God chose to communicate to us by becoming one of us. He came in the helpless stage of an infant. He grew through the terrible twos of toddlers and the tumultuous teen years of adolescence. He experienced the hardships of manual labor as a carpenter. And he was a victim of the fickle multitudes who betrayed him. And then we read in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But wait a minute: Are we here to celebrate the Birth of Jesus? Why are we mentioning His death? And the answer is, The Baby Born in Bethlehem’s Manger came for this express purpose: He was born to die for our sins so that we could be saved from damnation!
h. God’s love for Humanity is what Advent and Christmas are about. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s Love—His Redemptive Love. God loves us so much that He was willing to go the distance, to go to the extreme, to do the only thing that could rescue us. In His love He chose to die on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could be brought back into a right relationship with Him.
On this last Sunday before Christmas, we celebrate the Birth of Christ--God’s gift of Love for His Creation.
We celebrate the Life of Christ—God’s Revelation of His personality as a God of Compassion and Mercy.
We celebrate the Death of Christ—God’s Atoning Sacrifice to pay the debt we could never pay for our sins so that we could be brought back into God’s Family.
We celebrate the Resurrection of Christ—God’s triumph over Death, Hell and the Grave so that we could have eternal life.
We celebrate the Second Advent, Christ’s Second Coming when He returns to claim His Bride, the Church.
And all this is implied in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the partaking of the Bread and Wine, emblems depicting his Body and Blood—a Memorial to God’s Provision for our Salvation.
Luke 1: 39-56
Have you ever known something to be true, but no one else agreed with you?
I had a friend who felt that he was called to be a missionary. The problem was, at that time in our denomination the General Church would not send out missionaries who were over 35 years old. He was getting close to that age. And another requirement before the denomination would allow a person to be a missionary was that they must be debt free. My friend was working toward that, but still had some debts to pay off. And to complicate things further, he and his wife had 4 small children. He was the pastor of a small church and struggling just to make ends meet. To meet all the requirements to be a missionary within the two years or so in his time limit just seemed like an impossible task.
He and his wife applied through the Department of World Missions and were granted an interview. Of course, at that point they were not appointed because they still hadn’t met the requirements. And it didn’t look very favorable that they would meet those requirements by the next year.
But he believed that God was calling them. And even though things didn’t look very favorable, he believed the Church would appoint them to the mission field.
I really didn’t think they had a chance. I didn’t tell him that but in our conversations I encouraged him to have an alternative plan. After all, being a pastor is not that different from doing mission work—He could approach his pastoral work with a mission perspective. Interestingly, the church growth experts encourage all pastors to think like a missionary now days.
But my friend was convinced that he would be accepted by the denomination and be appointed to the mission field. And even though some of us really doubted it would happen, it did. The next year he and his wife were called in for another interview with the Department of World Missions and were accepted. They spent several years on the mission field. He even called me and tried to convince me to apply for a pastorate on a military base near where he served. I didn’t have a call from God to do that. I have always felt my call was to pastor here in the South and Mid-West.
I have often thought about how my friend was able to keep such a positive outlook and had so much faith that God was calling even though the outward circumstances just didn’t seem favorable. It was a lesson on faith for me!
And then I think of Mary. We don’t know how old she was when the angel came to her. The guesses based on what we know of society at that time are that she may have been as young as 15. In that moment her life suddenly took on a whole new perspective. I wonder how she thought she would convince her family and her neighbors that an Angel had really spoken to her and that she was really a virgin. I suspect she was very concerned with how to share such mind-boggling news with them.
Perhaps that is the reason she chose to leave Nazareth and go spend some time with her relatives Zachariah and Elizabeth. In her heart she must have been full of joy, knowing that God had chosen her. But the circumstances must have caused her concern. What would her parents think? What would her friends think? What would her betrothed husband Joseph think?
I’m not totally sure in what town Zachariah and Elizabeth lived. I know that Jericho was one town where many of the priests lived. But they may have been closer to Jerusalem. Either way, for Mary to leave Nazareth and go to visit them was a big deal. It may have been 60 or 70 miles and would have taken nearly a week of traveling time. I wonder what she thought about as she made her way there. She must have realized that there would be people who wouldn’t believe her story. She must have suspected there would be gossipers who would cast doubt on her integrity. She must have known that it would be a challenge to convince Joseph that she had not cheated on him.
In the movie “Two from Galilee,” Mary is depicted as being very serious. She didn’t come across as one who would laugh and joke and be carefree. I know the movie is just someone’s opinion of her personality, but one certainly would think that Mary was doing a lot of thinking as she made her way to the old priestly couple’s home.
With that kind of serious contemplation, it must have been a great relief when she arrived and heard Elizabeth’s joyous greeting: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1: 42b-45).
Advent is the time preceding Christmas. It is the season of anticipation and preparation. This 3rdSunday of Advent is the time we traditionally light the pink Advent candle—signifying Joy. As I think of Mary’s reception by Zachariah and Elizabeth, and the account leading up to the actual birth of Jesus, Elizabeth’s greeting must have been joyous music to Mary’s ears. Mary, who must have been concerned that others would not accept the truth of her pregnancy, was suddenly blessed by this godly relative who affirmed the truth that Mary was to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah. No wonder Mary responded with a song of praise.
The next few months would have its challenges for Mary. But knowing she was in God’s Will and knowing that someone believed in her and knowing that Zachariah & Elizabeth stood behind her must have brought joy.
But, truthfully, it was the Joy of the Lord sustaining her.
In her joyous response Mary gave…
I. PRAISE TO GOD WHO BLESSED HER.
a. “My soul glorifies the LORD and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant” (verses 46b-48a).
b. In this Christmas season as we think of gifts and gift giving, let’s not forget to praise God not just for what He gives, but praise Him for Who He is!
II. PRAISE TO GOD WHO PROVIDES MERCY.
a. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation…” (Verse 50)
b. I challenge you to think back over the past year and recount the times when you have failed God. Maybe it was a failure to witness to someone. Or maybe it was a failure to do a good deed. Maybe it was an angry remark or an ungrateful attitude. Recognize that God is fully aware of your failures and sins. But He in His Mercy still offers forgiveness. He is not looking to kick you out of his family—He is looking for ways to make sure you are established in His favor!
III. PRAISE TO GOD WHO IS ALMIGHTY
a. “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm, he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Verses 51 & 52).
b. Sometimes we act as if we believe politics or finances or jobs or such are the sources of success and victory in life. But we must never forget that God is the All-Powerful One. Nothing happens without His consent. He can topple kingdoms in a heartbeat. And He can give you victory over your enemies. Our strength is in the LORD! He is the All Powerful, Omnipotent ONE!
IV. PRAISE TO GOD WHO IS JUST.
a. “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Verse 53).
b. Eternity is God’s supreme plan to correct the injustices disobedience will get their reward. It is written: “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, He will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Don’t ever think you are the exception. In His Justice God dispenses consequences!
V. PRAISE TO GOD WHO KEEPS HIS PROMISES
a. “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (verses 54-55).
b. Mary was well aware of the promises God had made of a Messiah who would come. Her joy was overflowing as she realized that His promise would be fulfilled with her Son!
Advent: Jesus is coming. Joy comes with the realization of God’s greatness: His Mercy, His Justice, His Power, His Faithfulness. And that Joy is realized in Jesus!
Mary stayed with Zachariah & Elizabeth for 3 months—right up to the time that Elizabeth gave birth to John. It would be another 6 months before she experienced to the joy of bringing Jesus into the world. And that event prompted Heaven’s Angels to sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2: 14).
But we know the rest of the story. Therefore we can sing: JOY TO THE WORLD!
Scripture: Isaiah 9: 1-7
The Jesus Film Project website had this interesting article pertaining to the Old Testament Prophecies that Jesus fulfilled:
Some scholars believe there are more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. These prophecies are specific enough that the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling even a handful of them, let alone all of them, is staggeringly improbable—if not impossible.
Peter Stoner, Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena College, was passionate about biblical prophecies. With 600 students from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Stoner looked at eight specific prophecies about Jesus. They came up with extremely conservative probabilities for each one being fulfilled, and then considered the likelihood of Jesus fulfilling all eight of those prophecies.
The conclusion to his research was staggering. The prospect that anyone would satisfy those eight prophecies was just 1 in 1017. In Science Speaks, he described it like this:
"Let us try to visualize this chance. If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all of the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state.
"Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote using their own wisdom."
As we prepare our hearts during this Christmas season, let’s keep our focus on Jesus. He is indeed “THE HOPE OF ALL THE AGES!”
Isaiah is sometimes called “The Prince of the Prophets.” One source listed 25 different verses in the Book of Isaiah as being prophetic verses about the Messiah, and then claimed that this was only a partial list. We are very familiar with Isaiah 7:14 ‘s prophecy that a virgin would have a child, with Isaiah 9: 6-7’s prophecy of a child being born who would carry the government upon his shoulders, and Isaiah 11’s prophecy of a time of peace and harmony, and Isaiah 53’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant. These are probably the one’s with which we quickly recognize, but there are so many more.
And while Isaiah’s Book is the most prolific, the other books also point to the Hope of Isaiah—an anointed King, the Messiah who would be Israel’s Deliverer!
And the Hope of Israel is still the Hope of all the Ages.
Let’s consider Jesus as the Hope.
I. THE HOPE OF ISRAEL.
a. Sometimes the fulfillment of our hope happens in ways we do not expect, and we fail to recognize the blessing because of our perception.
b. Isaiah was a priest and prophet who lived in Jerusalem. We read in Isaiah 6 of his call that came the same year that King Uzziah died—739 B.C. That was the time with the great Assyrian Empire was making aggressive military threats. And it was during the time of Isaiah’s ministry that Assyrians did in fact invade and defeat the Northern Kingdom of Israel, carrying off the inhabitants, 10 of the twelve tribes, into exile and captivity. And things didn’t look very promising for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. So, the prophesies of a Messiah (which means an Anointed One, signifying a King who was anointed with Oil when selected for office, gave the Jews a Hope for the future.
c. We know the rest of the story. Judah continued to drift away from God in spite of the prophesies and the calls to repentance until they were finally conquered by the Babylonian Army. Much of the population was carried off into a captivity that continued for 70 years. But the Hope of Deliverance continued. We read in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah how the Jews were granted permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple and the City Walls. But they remained under foreign control even then. And they continued to Hope for this Conquering King to deliver them. For a very short period of time in the century before Jesus it looked like the Maccabees might be the Deliverers they hoped for, but the Maccabean Rebellion was finally suppressed so that the Jewish people were still looking for that Messiah King who would lead them in overthrowing the foreign governments that ruled them. And their idea of a military King dominated their minds at the time of Christ so that, even after the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus when God was going to restore them as a sovereign nation. And the Jews were so locked into their perception of how the Messiah would be that they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah!
d. Jesus was their Hope, but so many failed to recognize Him as the Messiah King. They were looking for an earthly political King, but Jesus was offering them deliverance from the Kingdom of this Fallen World and a way to enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Remember his recurring theme when he taught and preached: “The Kingdom of God is at Hand.”
II. THE HOPE FOR THE WORLD
a. We know that Jesus came to deliver more than just the Jews. He came to save the world. His lament over Jerusalem just a few days before His Crucifixion is a lament that speaks to more than just the Jews—it is a cry over the world: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you, and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
b. We get so caught up in politics. We think if this party wins, everything will be so much better, or if this other party wins, things will be so much worse. We seem to think that this world’s governments will fix all our problems and someday there will be peace and harmony in our world. And, yet we know that is not happening. Evil still rules this world’s nations. There are wars constantly. Tyrants still hang on to power. And the tyrants who are overthrown are soon replaced by others who are power hungry and seeking to dominate others. In the meantime, morality deteriorates, Human trafficking and Human abuse continues. And all our efforts to make the world a better place through political power continue to fall short.
c. I want to tell you that politics is not the answer to the world’s problems. Socialism is not the answer. Even democracy falls short. No political ideology will succeed as long as our hearts are still enslaved in sin.
d. The thousand years of peace we read about in the Bible where the lion and the lamb will lie down together and the child will not be harmed by the cobra venom, and a little child will lead them—a harmony as described in Isaiah 11, will not come because of human efforts. There was a time when scholars believed that the church would successfully evangelize the whole world and that everyone would become Christians and that would usher in the 1000 years of peace. But most Bible Scholars today believe that it will not be the result of our human efforts, important though those efforts are. Rather, it is more commonly believed today that it will take an invasion by God to set things straight. The Return of Christ –is our Hope for our world. Matthew 24: 27 says, “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Continuing to point to the sudden invasion by Christ, we read beginning in verse 29, “Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
It will be a sudden cosmic invasion that will confront a fallen world and set into place a new world order—where Jesus rules as the Everlasting King!
JESUS IS THE ONLY TRUE HOPE THIS WORLD HAS!
III. THE HOPE OF ETERNITY!
a. When this world ceases, and time is not more, what then? When we take our last breath in this world and our bodies are lowered into the grave, what then? Two guys were talking. They were drinking and bragging about their reckless lifestyles and how they had come close to death a few times. Then one of them said, “I’m ready to go. I understand that when I die, I will get a new body.” And the other said, “Yeah, that’s what I’ve been told.” But they both failed to realize that the promise of an immortal body is the Hope God has given to those who first of all put their trust in Jesus and accept Him as their Savior and Lord.
b. Someone else was telling me of a movie star who said she believed that when she reaches the end of her life, she will shut her eyes and go to sleep and never wake up. NO, that’s not what God’s word says! After physical death we are told we will be brought before the judgment seat of God Himself. And those who have accepted Christ will be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom where there will be no more pain or sorrow. But those who have not given their hearts to Christ will be cast into an everlasting hell to suffer torment for eternity!
c. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the World that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
d. JESUS IS OUR HOPE FOR ETERNITY!
And so today marks on the Christian Calendar the beginning of the season called Advent. It is the time when we prepare to celebrate The Birth of Christ, realizing that He is the fulfillment of God’s provision for our salvation. In Him the Jews have their Messiah. In Him, the World has the promise of peace. In Him, we each have the Hope of salvation and eternal life.
We are just finishing the week of National Thanksgiving. That Thanksgiving is directed to the God who gives us every good and perfect gift. And the greatest gift He has given us is Jesus. His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection all gives us HOPE.
Are you experiencing that Hope? Do you know Jesus as your Savior, Your Lord, Your King?
Advent is the season to make sure you are ready to receive Him as He comes!
FIRST CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE…BRANSON, MO
Pastor Jim Cariker…Sermon Notes…Nov. 29, 2020
THE HOPE OF THE AGES
Scripture: Isaiah 9: 1-7
>Illustration: The probability of one person fulfilling all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah…
>JESUS IS THE HOPE
· THE HOPE OF I________
· THE HOPE OF THE _________
· THE HOPE OF E____________
Is Jesus your Hope?
ATTITUDES OF GRATITUDE
Luke 18: 9-14
John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley's heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he
didn't even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man's misfortunes. "And what else do you thank God for?" he said with a touch of sarcasm. The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, "I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!" Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.
Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley's extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, "I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath."
(From Our Daily Bread as quoted in sermonillustrations.com)
I see in Wesley’s story similarities to The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And, too often, it sounds like the reality of our world. It is so easy to take for granted our blessings—and even to surmise that we deserve them—and then look at others not so blessed and think, “I’m glad I’m not like them!”
This week is Thanksgiving Week—a time set aside for our nation to give expressions of Thanksgiving. I have to tell you that I still cringe a little when I hear Thanksgiving called “Turkey Day.” I like the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner menu—Turkey, Ham, Sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other trimmings that go with it. But the dinner is not the end in itself. It is a meal that symbolizes how God has blessed us and provided for us far beyond what we deserve.
The holiday season is different this year because of the COVID 19 epidemic. We felt it expedient to cancel our All Church Dinner that we have celebrated annually for 38 years. Families are downsizing their family gatherings—and some are cancelling them completely. We have people who have been afraid to come to church for months because of the virus threat, and, yet, we have had a large number of our people who have contracted the virus, some with moderate illness and others with something more severe. And our hearts are heavy at the number of people whose infection proved to be fatal.
So why should we even consider celebrating Thanksgiving? History tells that, “The first American Thanksgiving didn't occur in 1621 when a group of Pilgrims shared a feast with a group of friendly Indians. The first recorded thanksgiving took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn't a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God. “--(Today in the Word, July, 1990, p. 22. As quoted in Sermonillustrations.com)
There are so many scriptures that remind us of the importance of giving Thanks: The Account of the 10 Lepers whom Jesus healed and only 1 came back to give thanks (Luke 17); the verse about petitioning God with our requests with Thanksgiving in our hearts (Philippians 4:6); the many accounts in the Old Testament of the People of God stopping and having a celebration of Thanksgiving when God had delivered them and performed a miracle for them. But this week for some reason I haven’t been able to get this Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector out of my head. I think God must be wanting us to take time to consider the attitude in which we give thanks.
I. WHEN WE ARE THANKFUL THAT WE GOT AWAY WITH DOING SOMETHING WRONG.
a. Several years ago a young couple that I knew was involved in an automobile accident. The woman was driving, but she did not have a license, so she and her husband quickly changed places and when the police arrived, the husband claimed to be the driver. The accident had not been their fault, so the policemen did not give them a citation. The woman called her mother-in-law and told her what had happened and what they had done. And then she told her mother how she was giving thanks to God because they had been able to mislead the policeman and she did not get a ticket. She seemed to have no regret or guilt at having lied to the policeman. She was just thankful to God that she did not get caught and have to pay a fine for driving illegally.
b. Now, let me tell you, God is never honored when we lie or steal or cheat in order to avoid being caught doing something wrong. God would have been more honored if the couple had owned up to the truth, paid the fine, and accepted the guilt. Of course, it would have been even more God-honoring if they had obeyed the law to begin with!
c. Have you ever been guilty of offering thanks to God for the wrong reasons? >Perhaps you have claimed some questionable deduction on your income tax and were not audited, so you got away with it. >Perhaps you witnessed a crime but did not step forward because you didn’t want to get involved—and were thankful that you were able to avoid getting involved. >Perhaps you found a $100 bill in the parking lot of a store and instead of reporting it in cause the person who lost it came looking for it—but you were sure glad to be $100 richer... I know if I press the issue, I could come up with something for which we are guilty.
d. The point is, we should strive always to honor God by doing the right thing and be thankful that God is being honored by our act of integrity. To be thankful that God allowed you to do something wrong and then to give Him thanks that you didn’t get caught—that is an affront to God’s integrity!
II. WHEN OUR ATTITUDE IS SELFISH OR PRIDEFUL.
a. The Pharisee in the scripture reading was expressing thanks that he wasn’t like the tax-collector and other sinners. In Jesus’ world, a tax-collector was a fellow Jew who was collecting taxes for the Roman Government. He was considered to be a traitor or turn-coat against his own people. And it was common for these tax-collectors to collect more than was really required so they could pad their own pockets with the excess! So, being thankful he wasn’t that type of a person was not necessarily a bad thing. But the problem the Pharisee displayed was that he felt entitled to God’s blessing because he was paying his tithe and doing good works. And his attitude towards the tax-collector was one of “Self-righteousness superiority. And claiming to be thankful to God while having that type of attitude was again an affront to God. God loves every person with an unconditional love.
b. Of course, we say to ourselves that we could never be guilty of having that attitude. But then we see the homeless and accuse them of be worthless and lazy and unwilling to better themselves and we are so glad that we don’t live like they do! I have to admit that I often struggle with having a humble and compassionate attitude.
c. Jeremiah 9:23–24 says,
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
d. Romans 12:3 say, “ For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
e. Galatians 6:3 says, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”
f. In this Thanksgiving season, let’s not look down on others while thinking that we are better than they are!
III. WHEN WE DO NOT EXPRESS OUR THANKFULNESS.
a. I was the first grandson on my dad’s side of the family. Consequently, my aunts and uncles all helped to spoil me. I remember when I was just a young teen and my Aunt & Uncle gave me a really nice sports coat at Christmas. I tried it on, and it fit perfectly and looked really good on me. Of course, back them I was slim and trim. I took it off and told them thanks, and then laid it aside to look at other things. Later, my aunt said something to my Mom that I must not have liked the coat because I didn’t act very excited about it. Remember, I was only about 14 or 15 years old. I thought to myself after learning about it, “How was I supposed to act? I said, ‘Thank you’? What more was expected of me?” I learned a lesson. When a person does something extra-special for you, it is important to communicate genuine gratitude. Truthfully, I was happy with that sports coat. I just didn’t communicate my gratitude convincingly enough.
b. In the Luke 17 story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus, we read that only 1 returned to give thanks. And Jesus wondered about the other 9. Were they thankful? Why didn’t they say so?
c. The lesson is that we should always openly, directly express thanks for those things we receive. And we receive our very existence from the Giver of Life Himself. And God notices when we fail to express our thanks to Him!
The Pharisee in this scripture expressed thanks to God, but his thanks came from a selfish, arrogant heart. And God was not impressed.
But the tax-collector expressed to God how unworthy he was and in humility bowed before God acknowledging his need of God’s mercy and compassion. He didn’t compare himself to anyone else. He owned up to his unworthiness and cast himself upon God’s grace. And God was honored. And we are told it was this tax-collector that was blessed of God that day.
So, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a national holiday that is supposed to be a time when we express our thanks to God for His mercy, compassion, and provision for our nation. We are often told that the poorest people in our nation are considered rich in comparison to the poor in impoverished countries. While we give thanks for our freedom, for our food, and for our families, let’s not look down on others. Let’s not think of ourselves as being better than others. Let’s remember that most of us are here not because we chose to be born here. We are just fortunate to have been born in this blessed nation. There are millions of people who live in areas where Christianity has not been accepted, or where totalitarian governments suppress their freedoms. And even in our own nation, some were born in homes where addiction and abuse were prevalent.
Yes, let’s give thanks to God for His blessings. But let’s do so in humility with the understanding that others are just as valuable and just as loved by God. And we should remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:11—You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
May our attitude reflect in humility our dependence upon God and our love for our neighbors wherever and however they may be!
John 1: 1-14
Several years ago I occasionally watched the Late Night Show with Johnny Carson. I found it interesting to see him engaging his guests in conversation. I read somewhere that Carson was a master in getting people to talk about themselves.
I have read that those who are masters of conversation are the ones who will get the other person to talk about themselves.
I’ve tried to use that approach when I find myself with a person with whom I am not acquainted, I will try to begin a conversation by saying, “Tell me a little about yourself.” In order to encourage that person to open up, I will sometimes have to be a little more specific. I will ask things like, “Where are you from?” “Do you have family?” “What do you do for a living?”
And I always find it interesting to hear the answers to those questions. It usually doesn’t take long before that person begins talking about the things in which they are most interested. And what they talk about is a key to understanding who the person is. My identity is reflected in the topics in which I am most interested.
If you asked me about myself, I would tell you I am a Pastor, a husband of a beautiful and loving wife, a dad to 2 wonderful kids, and a grandpa of 5 (soon to be 7) grandkids. If pressed, I would tell you that I was raised on a farm in Central Eastern Arkansas, that my family and I really got serious about church and started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 17 and soon after that said yes to God’s call on my life to be a preacher. I love God, Family, and people, America, freedom, informality, and food. I could go on, but you get the picture.
But we have been focusing on one aspect of our identities—Who I am as a follower of Christ. We focused on our identity as Protestants and our identity as Nazarenes in our two previous sermons. Today, let’s get to the most basic and essential aspect of our identity: Who am I as a Follower of Christ?
The Bible gives different titles to those who are followers of Christ. Let’s consider just a few of those titles and what they teach us about our identity as Followers of Christ:
I. AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, I AM A CHILD OF GOD.
a. In our scripture reading of John’s introduction to the Gospel that bears his name, we are told in verse 12, “Yet to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
b. There is a sense in which we could all claim to be children of God. When we recognize that God is the Creator of all that exists, including humanity, we realize our existence is because of God’s Creative Power. But that is not what John means in this verse. The Bible tells us how, because of Adam’s sin, all creation was plunged into chaos and all humanity became inflicted with a fallen nature. Mankind was estranged from God. But the New Testament tells us that when we accept Jesus, the Sinless Son of God, as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we are brought back into a right relationship with God. We are “Adopted” into God’s Family! Before, we were “children of this world” or “children of sin.” But now, because of the Salvation we receive when we accept Jesus, we are “Children of God,” “Sons & Daughters.”
c. In Romans 8: 14-17, we read, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to son ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
d. When I was a boy in my hometown of McCrory, Arkansas, people knew me as the son of Billy Ray & Virginia Cariker. Oftentimes, someone who did not know me personally would see me and say, “You must be Billy Ray Cariker’s son—you look so much like him.” I’ve told you of the car dealer who sold me a car, telling me that the reason he trusted my credit was because I was Bill Cariker’s son. I am proud of my earthly family and my identity as son of Bill and Virginia’s. But I am even more excited about my identity as a child of God. I pray that my actions will reflect my relationship and will honor my heavenly Father!
e. I am a Child of God.
II. AS A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, I AM HIS WITNESS.
a. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Notice that verse does not say “You may be witnesses,” or “You should be witnesses.” It says, “You will be witnesses of me.” If you are a follower of Christ, you automatically become a witness for Christ. Your words, your actions, your attitudes—indeed your whole being becomes a testimony of God’s Saving Grace. It is imperative that we realize that our identity as Christians involves what our lives say about Christ! Even more pointedly, Paul declares of our witness that we are Ambassadors for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us…” The fact that we are Christ’s Ambassadors is a realization that our witness is imperative in this world. The dictionary definition of an “Ambassador "states: “an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign country.” As Christ’s Ambassadors we are truly here for a purpose. We represent God’s Kingdom to a world that is under the influence of the Prince of Darkness. Back when the dad President H. W. Bush was in office he promoted the concept of being “Points of Light” in referring to the various volunteer helping organizations in our nation. I want to tell you that as Christ’s Ambassadors we are Points of Light reflecting God’s Light in this world of darkness! Our mission is to testify of Jesus and His provision for our Salvation, and to stand up as His representatives in the face of governments and powers that do not honor Him.
b. A related aspect of being Christ’s Witnesses and Ambassadors is the role that we are expected to fulfill as “Ministers of Reconciliation.” Just before calling us “Christ’s Ambassadors,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that God was reconciling the world to himself as in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
c. In the Sermon on the Mount that begins with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, in verse 9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” As ministers of reconciliation God has authorized us as His Ambassadors to point people to the God who can fill their hearts with peace. That peace helps to bring people together, but even more importantly, it is a peace that comes from being brought back into the family of God.
d. We are Witnesses—Ambassadors, Ministers of Reconciliation as we engage those of this world who do not know Jesus as Lord!
III. AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, I AM PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.
a. In 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 13, we read, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
b. The context of these verses is in Paul’s description of how the Spirit gives each of us certain gifts—ministry potentials. We do not all have the same gifts, but the gifts we do have represent one function that contributes to the whole body.
c. Illustration: At a meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jack Lipton, a psychologist at Union College, and R. Scott Builione, a graduate student at Columbia University, presented their findings on how members of the various sections of 11 major symphony orchestra perceived each other. The percussionists were viewed as insensitive, unintelligent, and hard-of-hearing, yet fun-loving. String players were seen as arrogant, stuffy, and unathletic. The orchestra members overwhelmingly chose "loud" as the primary adjective to describe the brass players. Woodwind players seemed to be held in the highest esteem, described as quiet and meticulous, though a bit egotistical. Interesting findings, to say the least! With such widely divergent personalities and perceptions, how could an orchestra ever come together to make such wonderful music? The answer is simple: regardless of how those musicians view each other, they subordinate their feelings and biases to the leadership of the conductor. Under his guidance, they play beautiful music.
--(Today in the Word, June 22, 1992, and found in Sermonillustrations.com).
d. Dr. Paul Brandt elaborated on this illustration in one of his books pointing out that some in the body are hands or feet, some are lungs or arteries, etc. I think he said that preachers are like the skin of the body—we are on the front lines and we take the hits and bruises! But the emphasis is that as the Body of Christ, it takes all the parts working in harmony to truly meet the potential of impacting our world for Christ. And we realize that all parts of the body are controlled by the head—the brain—and Jesus is that Head! As members of the body, we receive our direction, our strength, or ability from the Head—that is Christ. It is His Spirit working in us and through us that enables us to function as the Church!
e. Another illustration that caused me to stop and reflect: Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn't fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head? (--Dan Bernard as quoted on Sermonillustrations.com)
f. We are members of the Body—we are important to the whole Body and its function. I pray that when People see us, they will think that the Head must be that of Jesus!
There are many other titles that contribute to who we are as Christians. We are Servants—Love Slaves for God. We are The Redeemed of the Lord. We are the Bride of Christ. Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 says, “ But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
You say you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. The Bible places great significance on what that means. Your identity signifies that you are a valuable creation, an essential worker for advancing His Kingdom. And more importantly, you are God’s very own Child, loved with an infinite Love, precious in His sight.
If you did not realize this, just search God’s Word. It is His special revelation to you of how much He cares for you.
Galatians 2: 15-21
Last week we began a series on our Identity as Christians. We examined the five doctrines that were foundational for the Protestant Reformation:
Glory to God Only
Today, I want to focus on “Who We are as Nazarenes.”
We trace our formation back to England. During those turbulent times when the Protestant movement began, the King of England broke away from the Catholic church and established the Church of England—The Anglican Church. It was a formal “High Church” style in worship very similar to the Catholic Church but without the Pope. A certain man named John Wesley was a minister in the Anglican Church who eventually broke from the formality and began preaching to the common people—oftentimes standing outside the coal mines preaching to the miners as they left the mines. Over time Wesley faced more and more opposition, but developed an organizational structure that enabled thousands to be mentored as Christians. He established small groups call “bands” where the members would not only study God’s Word together, but also be held accountable in their day to day lives.
Historians tell us that the results of the Wesleyan Revival were largely responsible for England avoiding the bloody rebellions that occurred in France.
John Wesley’s systemized methods earned his movement the name “Methodist.” But, truthfully, Wesley remained a member of the Anglican Church his whole life.
Out of that Wesleyan movement in England there was a man named Frances Asbury who was a leader in spreading the Methodist teachings in America. And under his leadership and with Wesley’s blessing the Methodist Church was officially established in the USA in the late 18th century and flourished in the 19th century.
In the late 19th century there was a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church named Phineas F. Bresee who, along with many others across the country, began preaching about a Spirit-filled relationship with Christ. In Wesleyan terms it was called “Entire Sanctification.” Along with that emphasis on holy living, Bresee had a deep burden for those who were considered “the down and outers.” Eventually, Bresee established a work in Los Angeles that became known as the Church of the Nazarene. His church building was called “The Glory Barn,” and they ministered to the needy in the L. A. area. Over time, Bresee was able to start several churches across the West Coast under the umbrella name, “Church of the Nazarene.”
In 1908, several different groups from across the USA who were teaching the importance of Holiness and Entire Sanctification, joined together at a conference in Pilot Point, Texas, and the denomination called the Church of the Nazarene was organized.
So what does it mean to be a Nazarene?
I. NAZARENES ARE HOLINESS PEOPLE.
We stress the importance of having our sins forgiven and our hearts made pure. In our efforts to explain that process we focus on two distinct works of Grace:
(1.) Initial Sanctification occurs the moment we accept Christ as Savior and our sins are forgiven and we are declared pardoned and justified by
God. The guilt of our past sins is atoned and we truly become “born again,” “New Creatures in Christ.”
I mentioned last week that I accepted Christ on a Sunday Night in October 1968 on the closing night of a revival meeting in my home church. That experience was the result of an internal struggle in my heart that had been going on for some time. My family had started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. We attended regularly almost every time there was a service being held. I had prayed several times as a child to accept Christ but it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I really became aware of my personal sins and my need of salvation. There were many nights I lay in bed afraid to go to sleep for fear that I might not wake up and would be lost forever. But it was that night in Oct. 1968 that I truly confessed my guilt and asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I promised Him that from that point on I would live for Him. I knew that night that God had forgiven my sins. I knew when I lay my head on the pillow that night that if I died I would be in heaven. I knew that I was a child of God. It was a very real, genuine experience where I knew that I was forgiven and that if I were to die I would go to heaven!
(2.) Entire Sanctification (the cleansing of our hearts by the Work of the Holy Spirit in removing the “Original sin nature,” and making us pure and clean in God’s sight.) In understanding this experience one must understand the difference between personal guilt and our personal nature. Personal guilt comes from our disobedience to God. It is the result of our consciously choosing to live the way we want instead of the way God wants us to live. But there is a sin nature that we possess that is not because we choose to have it. It is a nature with which we are born. It is the result of Adam’s disobedience that plunged God’s Creation out of harmony with God. We call it by various terms—Original Sin, Inbred Sin, The Carnal Nature, The Old Man, etc. We believe that after having our personal sins forgiven, we need the work of God to change our very nature, purifying that sinful condition with which we are born. Let me tell you my own experience. After accepting Christ, I felt the call of God to be a Preacher. I chose to attend our Nazarene College in Bethany, Oklahoma, now called Southern Nazarene University. It was my first time being pretty much on my own, living away from home and in the big city. I remember particularly one student during those years with whom I debated the doctrine of Entire Sanctification. Our discussions forced me to really search the scriptures to determine if what we were being taught was really what the scripture supported. One verse that really sealed the doctrine of holiness for me was Acts 15:9. That is the passage where Peter was addressing the Jerusalem council and testifying about what had happened in the Gentile house hold where he had preached to the Roman Centurion Cornelius. He said in verses 8 & 9: “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them purifying their hearts by faith.” During the time between when I accepted Christ as a High School Senior and the spring semester of my Freshman year in college, there were several times when I had a flair up of temper and had to ask God and others for forgiveness. And then, with the culture shock of being away from home and in a city very different from my rural home town, I began to question what I was doing. But with the challenge of looking at the teaching of being filled with God’s Spirit, and with hearing some powerful speakers, one night at Bethany College Church, Dr. Ralph Earle spoke on the importance of full surrender to the Holy Spirit, I went to the altar and made that surrender. I believed that the Holy Spirit was in control and that I was totally yielding to His authority. I believe it was at the moment the Holy Spirit purified my heart from the sinful nature. Now, understand that living the holiness life is a work in progress. As a matter of fact, John Wesley spoke not only of Initial Sanctification and Entire Sanctification, but also of Progressive Sanctification. I have come to believe that living the sanctified life involves a continual pursuit of Christ-likeness. It is a pursuit that will continue until the day God calls me home!
(3.) In summary, we who are Nazarenes believe that a person must confess his/her sins and ask God for forgiveness and by faith believe that Jesus’ death on the Cross was payment for our personal sins and that by believing in Jesus we are pardoned and accepted back into God’s family. And after we have asked for forgiveness for the sins for which we have committed, then we must offer ourselves to God placing ourselves fully under His authority.
` So, when a person identifies himself or herself as a Nazarene, it is understood that this is a person who is striving to live a holy life under the control of the Holy Spirit of God!
II. NAZARENES ARE SCRIPTURAL PEOPLE.
(1.) All that we believe and teach is grounded in God’s Word. The doctrine of Sanctification is supported by the clear teaching of God’s Word. Some specific scriptures include the following:
i. Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
ii. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
iii. Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
iv. Acts. 8:14-17 is the account of the Samaritan revival. The people were saved under Philip’s preaching and then received the Holy Spirit under Peter and John’s ministry—two distinctly different experiences.
v. Acts 19:1-7 tells of a group of believers who were saved according to John’ the Baptist’s message of repentance, were asked by Paul if they had received the Holy Spirit. When they answered no, then Paul laid hands on them and prayed for them and they received the Holy Spirit.
III. NAZARENES ARE MISSIONAL PEOPLE.
(1.) We recognize that God desires for us to go and make disciples of all nations, just as Jesus stated in the Great Commission. From the beginning of our denomination, we have had a strong sense of urgency to carry the Gospel to all people. We have one of the strongest missionary programs of any denomination, currently with mission work in over 160 world areas.
We are evangelical—that is we recognize the need to encourage others to come to Christ and accept His provision for salvation. We are compelled to share our witness to everyone as opportunity is given. We believe that all those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior will be lost for eternity unless they repent of their sins and ask Jesus into their heart. And we believe God loves everyone and desires that everyone know of the provision He has made for them so they can be saved. And God has entrusted the message of Salvation—the Gospel—with us and we are compelled to share it!
So, who am I when I say I am a Nazarene? I am a person who believes it is essential that we accept Jesus as Savior and completely surrender to His Lordship and be filled with His Spirit.
I recognize that in my humanity I always fall short of Christ-likeness, but I am always striving to be holy—that is, be as Christ-like as I can be with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
I believe that the mission of the church is to “Make Christ-like Disciples of the Nations.” I support that mission with my time and my resources as God directs.
I believe that we need to be attached to and involved in a local church. One of our leaders, Reuben Welch, is famous for saying, “We really do need each other.”
As you reflect on who you are in Christ, consider the call God has placed on the people called Nazarenes to preach, teach, and model a holy life, filled with God’s Spirit and Love.
And if you are searching for your identity as a spiritual person, I challenge you to surrender yourself totally to the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to honor Him in all you do!
2 Corinthians 5: 11-21
Key Verse: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here” (verse 17).
When we embrace Christ as our Savior and Lord, we become different people.
I am still Jim Cariker, a guy raised in rural Eastern Arkansas. My family started attending the Church of the Nazarene when I was 10 years old. I was 17 when I accepted Christ as my Savior. Prior to that decision, I was uncertain about my future. I did well in school, loved accounting, and was considering that is a target for my college education. But on an October Sunday evening in 1968, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins and my need for forgiveness and I responded to the altar call and gave my heart to Jesus. And immediately I knew God was directing me in a different direction. And the farm boy who thought he might become an accountant answered God’s call to preach and my life took on a whole new trajectory.
Have you ever stopped to think of who you have become because of your decision to surrender to Jesus?
Theologically, I am a Nazarene. I embrace the Wesleyan-Armenian Theological tradition. Because of my birth and childhood, I have traditions rooted in the Southern Evangelical style of worship. And I am a Protestant Christian…
Do you know what it means to be a Protestant Christian?
The history of Christianity dates back to the time of Christ but has roots that go all the way back to Creation. Someone has said of Christ in the Bible that He, “In the OT concealed, in the NT revealed.” Truthfully, the Old Testament lays the groundwork for the New.
The Book of Acts gives us a glimpse of the beginning of the Christian Church as it spread from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and “unto the uttermost parts of the earth." I have in my library several historical books that trace the growth and development of the church over the centuries. For the first several centuries, it was simply the Church Universal—The word “Catholic” means “Universal.” During those centuries God raised up leaders who, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, began to clarify and systemize the basic beliefs of Christianity. But as the centuries passed, there were things that were taught that became highly questionable. For example, the necessity of the common person to go through a priest in order to communicate with God. That was just one of many teachings that seemed to divide people and isolate people and makes them dependent upon human authority figures. And some of those human authority figures were more concerned in having power over others than in really communicating God’s truth.
In 1054 the Church Universal suffered a major divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In tracing our heritage, we look at the Roman Catholic Church.
Over time there were godly men who began to question some of the decisions the leaders of the church were saying and doing, until it finally came to a head in Germany. A young man, who thought he was going to train to become a lawyer, surrendered to God one day and entered the priesthood. Conflicted over doubts over his standing with God, Martin Luther sought diligently for peace and assurance. And in that search, he realized there were things being said and taught that just did not stand up in light of the truth God had already revealed in Scripture.
After much prayer and study, Martin Luther decided he wanted to debate the church leaders over certain practices and teachings he felt were wrong. The sale of indulgences to get loved ones released from purgatory was one of the most prominent practices that Martin Luther wanted to challenge. So, on October 31, 1517, he posted 95 points that he wanted to debate—we call them the 95 Theses. Those points ignited a revolution in Christianity causing a major division between the Roman Catholic Church and what became known as the Protestant Reformation—a movement that came out of a protest against what was considered false or incorrect teachings in the Roman Catholic Church.
Today there are many different brands in Protestant Churches, but those of us that consider ourselves Protestant Christians, share at least 5 major points of doctrine.
` `So, when I say that I am a Protestant Christian, there are 5 things that I reveal about who I am in Christ. There are more things that can be added, but these 5 things form the bedrock teaching to the Protestant Church. Let’s consider…
1. Sola Scriptura – “The Bible alone.”
a. Scripture alone speaks authoritatively, and it speaks to all believers, independently of church leaders and councils, human interpreters and so-called spokesmen for God.” Several years ago, we had a series of Sunday School lessons that focused on Church history. The lessons reviewed such men as St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley. There was a gentleman who thought those lessons were strictly a waste of time. He said that he really didn’t care what those men believed or taught--he was only interested in what the Bible has to say. In one sense he was right, but in another, he was very wrong. If you have been a student of the Bible very long and have listened to others, you know that two people can read the same passage and get a very different understanding. And the truth is, whether you realize it or not, much of what we believe about what it means to be a Christian has come through centuries of thinkers. Someone asked me one time how it is that two very sincere people can look at the same Bible and have different opinions. I responded by using the illustration of special lens in glasses that hunters use for tracking animals. Those lenses tend to filter out certain colors so that the tracker can see more clearly the blood stains from the wounded animal. And whether we realize it or not, our understanding of Christianity comes through the filtering lens of what we have been taught by others over the centuries. But, having said that, I believe that every doctrine we have, everything we believe and teach and practice as Christians, must be anchored in God’s Word. If my belief is not supported by God’s Word, then I am wrong! Martin Luther wasn’t against the various decisions and interpretations that came out of various Christian Councils and Synods as such. He just believed that all those decisions must stand the test of God’s revealed Word—the Bible. In the Church of the Nazarene, we have a governing body. We have a Church Manual that defines our church government and practices as well as our basic doctrines. But we also have a General Assembly that meets every 4 years (except in very extreme cases such as a worldwide pandemic) to examine that Manual and to make changes as deemed necessary. That Manual is a human document that gives us guidance as a church. But we do not hold it on the same level as the Bible. And we insist that everything in that Church Manual must be supported by the clear teaching of God’s Word. We hold that the Bible alone is the final authority, the inspired, God-breathed, authoritative Will of God for our lives.
2. Sola Gratia – “Grace alone.”
a. “It is only by the unmerited favor of God that Christ went to the cross and paid the price for man’s salvation. Man is by nature depraved—he has no virtue that commends him to God. Therefore, God’s grace to him is truly undeserved and amazing, and God’s grace alone has the power to draw people to himself.”
b. Grace is often defined as “unmerited or undeserved favor. But it is more than that. We have all sinned and deserve God’s punishment. Justice demands that we suffer the punishment. But Grace not only provides pardon and forgiveness, it is the source of God’s compassion and mercy and blessing John pointed out that God initiative in Grace when he wrote, “We love because He first loved us”(1 John 4:19).
3. Sola Fide – “Faith alone.”
a. “Only total righteousness is acceptable to God, and that is found in Christ, not us. Man can only accept Christ’s work by placing his trust in him. Man is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not by any works of his own.”
b. I mentioned earlier how Martin Luther sought desperately to find assurance that he was right with God. It was while he was preparing notes for a class he was teaching on the Book of Romans that he began to focus on the verse that says, “For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1: 17). Paul summed up this truth in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God---not by works, so that no one can boast.”
c. As Protestants we realize that our salvation only comes because God in His mercy and compassion has taken the initiative to save us! And the only way to access that grace is by our Faith that Jesus is who He says He is and accepting the fact that Jesus died in our place to pay the debt we owe because of our sins so that we can be reconciled with God and brought into a right relationship with him. In Romans 10: 9-10 we read, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
4. Sola Christus – “Christ alone.”
a. “Salvation is accomplished by Christ, and mediated by Christ alone—not by angels, saints, relics, sacraments, priests, teachers, churches, or anyone or anything else. Christ alone was the perfect Savior, and he alone is the perfect prophet, priest and king.” Jesus accomplished everything that needed to be done in order to provide for our salvation. No one else could do that. Paul calls Jesus, “The Second Adam” as he describes how through Jesus, we have eternal life. Peter and John when brought before the Jewish High Court were threatened and warned to not teach in the name of Jesus. They responded by saying, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”(Acts 4”12). Jim Cariker can’t save you. Your Mom or Dad can’t save you. Donald Trump can’t save you. Mohammad can’t save you. Buddha can’t save you. Jesus is the only One through whom we can be saved!
5. Soli Deo Gloria – “To God alone be glory.”
a. “God should be thanked, praised and given full credit for his sovereign grace and spiritual and physical provision. Theology should be God-centered, not man-centered. God should be put in his place and humans in theirs. Our efforts should not elevate and celebrate men but God. We should bring him glory in our work, in our homes and at play. He, not we, should be the center of all things.” “The chief aim of mankind is to bring glory to our God!” So said those who wrote the Westminster Confession. And so, it is. In Revelation 4:13 we read how John heard the heavenly beings worshiping God and saying, “You are worthy, Our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being”
So, who are you now that you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and have become a new creation?
I am child of God who embraces the Protestant doctrines that state that the Bible alone is our authority and in it we find God’s plan and provision for saving His creation. It was accomplished by Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, when he allowed Himself to die the horrible death of Roman crucifixion, making atonement for our sins. We receive that atonement because God in His Grace and Mercy has offered it to whoever will accept it. He took the initiative by loving me when I was unlovable. And if I will accept the offer of Salvation by putting my faith, my trust, my life in Jesus, I will be saved. And all glory and honor is due to God, our Creator, our Sustainer, Our Lord, and our God.
Does that describe who you are? Wouldn’t you like to have that identity and assurances of salvation?