Category Archives: Sermons on the Apostles’ Creed

Christ is Preeminent in and over Creation

“To look at the window . . .as I did that first day . . . to look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.”—John Glenn, speaking about his view of the Earth from the space shuttle Discovery

To think of creation when summer is upon us and we are outside more often, is appropriate. Yet, there is little else that is more controversial today than the subject of origins of the earth. The Bible is clear on such matters, as our Thought for Meditation is taken from the first verse of Scripture. Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

And yet some get riled at that verse. Our children are indoctrinated from sixth grade that man came about by chance; and that God had nothing to do with how things came about. It was all natural selection, a process of the survival of the fittest.

The Bible is not a story book. Our God is a God of miracles. There is good evidence to support creationism, the belief that an Almighty God made all that we see. Christians have affirmed God’s creative power in the Apostles’ Creed states: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”

But today, I not only want to advocate for Genesis 1:1, that God created everything that we see, as well as you and me. But that Jesus holds first place in it. He is preeminent. Webster’s defines preeminent as having paramount rank, dignity, or importance : OUTSTANDING, SUPREME

Consider the following in our time together:

• Jesus was never created, but participated in creation as Co-Creator;
• Jesus taught creationism;

Let’s first understand that Jesus was not created. Note how Colossians 1:15 reads:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

It is easy for the unbelieving world to assume that Jesus was just another man on the landscape of human history. But He was not. He was unique. Jesus was the God-man. He continually talked about being sent from the Father and having glory given to Him before the world began. He also said in John 8: “Before Abraham was, I am.”

Unfortunately, I heard a minister once pray to Jesus in a service: “For this purpose you were created.” I was shocked to hear such blasphemy. Jesus was never created. He is the Creator, as John’s gospel says in its opening statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” The Bible is quite clear that Jesus participated in creation as Co-Creator.

Jesus was never created. As the Nicene Creed states concerning Christ:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

Genesis 1:1 is also a doorway into the study of the Trinity. God the Father’s primary role is that of Creator, but Jesus also is creator. He is Co-Creator with the Father.

Jesus holds the highest place in the universe. He is the “firstborn of all creation,” which is a title of honor. He is worthy of our praise as the Divine Son of God. He proved He was God by doing Creator-like things such as walking on water, calming the storm, raising Lazarus from the dead, and healing the blind. And after He was raised from the dead, he appeared to His disciples and Thomas saw his wounds and proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus is God’s message and holds a place of honor as Co-Creator. Hebrews 1:2: “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” In addition…

Secondly, Jesus taught creation.

He said of the Scriptures that not one stroke would be abrogated, until all is accomplished. What’s more is that He affirmed the truthfulness of the Old Testament Scriptures in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth.”

The Bible teaches that God is a Father; and God is a Creator. Jesus affirmed that several times. God as Creator is stressed again and again throughout the Scriptures.

He is our Maker, worthy of our worship! Psalm 95:3: “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” God as Creator ought to cause you to raise your hands, bow your head or hit your knees in awe!

In addition, He is our Helper, the One we call upon! Our God is loving and condescends to us when we need help! Psalm 121:1: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” God did not create everything and then go on vacation. Rather, he is intimately engaged and sustains it all today.

And the Bible is pretty explicit on how this was done. Intriguing is how each of the increments is described, “Then there was evening and morning, the third day; then there was evening and morning, the fourth day” etc., etc. Is this literal language, or poetic language?

Historically, it would seem that creation week has been taken literally. Some cross references seem to indicate 24 hour increments: Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Exodus 31:17 ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ”

Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Millard Erickson states about creation week: “…we cannot be dogmatic. The age of the universe is a topic which demands continued study and thought.”

Martin Luther said: “How long did creation take? When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned then you are…. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His word in the direction you wish to go.”

So then, humility is needed on both sides of the argument. Even the most skilled scientist graduating from the most prestigious school, did not witness creation at its commencement and could not observe what took place or how it came to be. We must be careful of man’s explanation about the past.

But notice that Jesus was a creationist. He encouraged the Pharisees to read and believe Genesis in Matthew 19:3: “And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Our Lord believed that the world had a beginning, citing that the tribulation that it would encounter at the time that Jerusalem was destroyed would be significant. Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

Finally, Jesus taught that the Father is our provider, who takes away our worries. Jesus also taught that God takes care of His creation: In Matthew 6:26, Christ states that the Father is responsible for feeding the birds of the air. “…for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” And verse 30: “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” God is engaged with your world and your circumstances and wants you to turn to Him!

But Jesus’ teaching is offensive and has serious ramifications! The first sentence of Scripture states: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Dr. Johnny Gibson of Westminster Seminary says that Genesis 1:1 is the most offensive verse in the Bible. Why, you might ask? Because if Genesis 1:1 is true, then we are accountable to this Creator. And this Creator has stated that we have sinned against Him, greatly offending Him. And that we are not autonomous, but accountable to Him.

If you teach child they are graduated monkeys, don’t be surprised if they behave like it. Young people lack purpose and hope. Or if they live as if they are not accountable to anyone, don’t be surprised at the amount of trouble they get into or their dismal outlook on life. But if you teach them that they are here because of a loving Creator, then you are one step closer to the gospel.

If you deny the existence of a literal Adam, you undercut the gospel entirely.

It is in Romans 5, that Paul the Apostle refers to a literal Adam in his explanation of death. Verse 12 states: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Was death the result of a cycle of biology, or did it come about as a penalty for disobedience.

What’s more is that John’s Revelation in chapter 21 records the arrival of the new heavens and the new earth, created by God. The creation/arrival of the new, presupposes the creation/arrival of the old/first.

And the Holy Spirit was also active in creation. We are told in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”.

God is still creatively active in our world, especially in bringing men and women, boys and girls to Himself! And Jesus says that the Spirit is ever-active in the rebirth of a person, spiritually, from John 3:3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

All of God’s creative activity is not mechanical, void of relationship. Rather it is loving and powerful. What’s more is that God brings His creative power into our lives when we become a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, which is by His doing. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”

Have you experienced this new birth? Can you testify that He has made you a new person to where you no longer want to live for yourself, but for Him?

More is there than meets the eye! Again and again, the Bible directs us to see God as our Creator who is ever engaged in our world and ever engaged in your life.

So let us not separate Genesis 1 from the rest of the Bible and be tempted to chuck it aside because our idea of science does not endorse a creator God. Rather, more science speaks of a creator than you think.

For instance, Dr. A Cressy Morrison, past president of the New York Academy of Sciences stated: “So many essential conditions are necessary for life to exist on our earth that it is mathematically impossible that all of them could exist in proper relationship by chance on any one earth at one time.”

Lee Strobel, in his documentary, The Case for the Creator, reveals that there are many indicators that our universe has a design. Take for instance, Physics where the force of gravity is at such a setting that all things hold together. If it were moved even slightly, then all things would cease to exist. Picture if you were to stretch a ruler across the universe, some 14 billion light years and that was its possibly range for gravity and the present setting were that of just an inch, making all life on earth able to exist. But move that setting just one inch, and the effects would be catastrophic. No large scale life forms could exist. Maybe bacteria, but not conscientious observers.

Or the cosmological constant, which states that the expansion speed of the universe is one part to 100 million, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion. If it were not so fined tuned, material objects could not form. It is so fine-tuned that it has been compared to if you were to travel hundreds of miles into space and throw a dart to the earth and it were to hit a bullseye the width of an atom.

Or the nuclear force that binds atoms together. If this were off just slightly, then Hydrogen would be the only element and life would cease to exist.

Or Richard Leakey, the World’s Foremost Paleoanthropologist, in a 1990 PBS documentary, stated: “IF pressed about man’s ancestry, I would have to unequivocally say that all we have is a huge question mark. To date, there has been nothing found to truthfully purport as a transitional specie to man… if further pressed, I would have to state that there is more evidence to suggest an abrupt arrival of man rather than a gradual process of evolving.”

The point is this: Science can only take us so far. And, upon a closer look, there is more in science that points to the design of the universe than that of naturalistic happenstance. And if there is a design to the universe, there must be a Designer. What’s more is this Designer speaks to us in His creative order, in His word, the Bible, and most specifically in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only through trusting Christ and repenting of one’s sins that a life of meaning and purpose can be realized, as well as reconciliation to our holy and righteous God.

Robert Jastrow, in his book God and the Astronomers, states:

“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

How are You Spending the Summer?

The following message deals with that which Christians must remember, the basics of our faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.  It was preached on Memorial Day, May 26, 2013

This weekend marks a highly anticipated time in the life of Americans, the Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day is a time to remember, ever since its inception in 1868, it has been placed aside as a day to remember those who’ve passed and those who’ve served.  Where I come from, Memorial Day is a time to go to the resting places of your loved ones and decorate their graves.  It is also a day to gather with family and friends for a barbeque.  The weekend functions as the unofficial kickoff of the summer.

That brings up the question: what are you doing over the summer?  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several of you.  Some are going on vacation- to South Carolina or on a cruise.  Others are spending their summer at the shore; still others are planning family reunions.  Me?  I’m going to be writing a dissertation; my final project for the Doctor of Ministry.

The theme that I am addressing is the need for Christians to remember and return to the basics of our faith, which involves learning and growing in our understanding of Christian belief, as exemplified in the Apostles’ Creed; Christian ethics as understood in the Ten Commandments; and Christian devotion, as found in the Lord’s Prayer.  For the first five hundred years of the church, these objects were the mainstays of Christian education.  Those wishing to be baptized had to recite the Apostles’ Creed.  It became a necessity in teaching the faith for centuries to come.

Catechesis is the practice of learning the basics of our faith in question and answer form.  Although the Middle Ages experienced a wane in catechesis, the Protestant Reformation made a reprise of it.  Catechesis has been utilized to disciple new Christians since the Reformation in the West.

And there was a time when those wanting to join the Schwenkfelder Church were asked to recite the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed, as it appears in our Book of Worship for Church and Home.[1]  But this is no more.

As history repeats itself, a sense of desperation for classical Christian education has returned.  In many congregations today, the youth and new members’ introduction lasts a few weeks at best and contains a broad array of material written to welcome newcomers at the sacrifice of equipping them spiritually.  As a result, very few newcomers and church members can recall the essentials of our faith and apply them to their lives.  With the dawn of Postmodernism, catechesis is seen as a thing of the past.  And with its passing, believers are found to be wanting in their knowledge and application of the Christian basics.

Today, we like story, we like visual, and we like easy.  An absence of such a foundational teaching contributes to the social ills of today.   Christians struggle to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in their settings.[2]  The theological needs in the culture of the United States and Great Britain are shocking.[3]  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states: “In virtually every Western society in the 1960’s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint.  The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned.  In its place came: whatever works for you.  …something has gone badly wrong since.”[4]

In addition, the youth are no longer receiving moral and spiritual instruction as they once did.  The National Study of Youth and Religion revealed that although many U.S. Protestant youth participate in worship services, few engage in Bible reading, which is the starting point of Biblical understanding.  The study said:

“The majority of U.S. Protestant teenagers say that they read the Bible either less frequently or not at all. Furthermore, of all U.S. teenagers, only about one in four reads the sacred scripture of their religious tradition weekly or more often (26 %). Large numbers of U.S. teenagers do claim religious affiliations and report attending religious services.”[5]

Also disappointing is that new data suggests that church attendance and membership is slipping.[6]  Consider the following:

  • In New England, less than ten percent of the population is in church on any given Sunday.  Only two percent of the population of Massachusetts is in church any given Sunday.
  • Except for the state of Hawaii, Christianity has not seen a net expansion in any state in the union in over 25 years.
  • Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.
  • Over 3,000 new church plants must be launched each year just to keep up with the changing demographics and population growth in the United States.[7]

Furthermore, Christian education in the home and within the corporate gathering of the body of Christ must change.  Families and churches must work in tandem to recover a discipled congregation of young and old, ready to live out the faith.  So on this Memorial Day weekend, when we are recalling those who were close to us and those who gave their lives for our freedom, let us also remember some critical things about our faith…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER WHAT TO BELIEVE.

The Church has been forced over the centuries to define what she believes in. Creeds were written to answer heresies, which have always been around. The Apostles’ Creed affirmed the belief in the Trinity, denied by Arianism.  The Nicene Creed affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, of which Arianism also denied.  The Chalcedonian Creed affirmed the separate, yet coexisting divine and human natures of Christ, denied by Eutychianism.  Caspar Schwenkfeld denied all these ancient heresies and stated so.[8]  Churches, both Catholic and Protestant have endorsed the ancient creeds in an effort to separate themselves from these heresies which exist in other forms today.

The earliest portions, found in the Old Roman form, date back to the mid second century, around 140 AD.  Today, it is the most basic statement of the contents of the Christian faith.  It is the greatest commonality among Christians: Roman Catholics; Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and the Schwenkfelders.

It was thought to have been a baptismal formula; something that was recited when individuals converted to Christianity.  At Central, we recite the Creed on the days we practice communion.  The creed is a response to God; A statement of communal identity and reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hades. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

It presents the significance of the three persons of the Trinity.  The Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer and the Spirit is our Sanctifier/Sustainer.  Last week, we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We also quoted both the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in our traditional worship service.

It is important that we recognize that the Christian faith is not what we make it, but what is handed down to us.  We are not given options on what to believe.  Rather, our faith is that which is once and for all delivered to us, as Jude 1:3 indicates: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

We cannot believe some parts and reject others, nor can we understand the faith without knowing its parts.  How can a plumber do his work without knowing connections and joints?  How can a Mathematician operate without knowing Algebra?  So, it is necessary for believers in Jesus to know the basics of the faith, more than just quoting the creed, but believing it also.  Let us not only remember what to believe, but

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO BEHAVE.

The Ten Commandments have functioned as our basis for ethics in this country since its inception.  Could you name the Ten Commandments by heart?  If you can’t, it could be that their power has slipped from your radar.  The first four, specifically define our love for God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that we would love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  We do this by having no gods before Him; by abstaining from idols, whether they be the television, the golf course or the internet; that we revere God’s name and hold it in the highest respect; that one day per week we abstain from work to rest and worship Him and meet with God’s people.

The last six commandments teach us how we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  That we first honor authority, given to us in mom and dad; that we preserve the lives of others with both deed and word, that we keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and sexually committed inside marriage; that we seek to protect the property of others; that we tell the truth and are content, being happy for others when they are blessed.

The Ten Commandments are designed to be moral guide for our decision making and to remind us that we need a Savior, that Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s demands.  There are moral absolutes, though the culture would disagree.

If you wonder about the relevancy of God’s moral law, just consider the events of this past week, when 25 year old Lee Rigby was brutally massacred outside of London in broad daylight, a result of Muslim extremists. He leaves behind a two-year-old son.

Or Jodi Arias, the young lady from Southern California who murdered her boyfriend, Travis Alexander by shooting him, stabbing and slashing him nearly 30 times.[9]  Or Kermit Gosnell, who murdered innocent children in his doctor’s office in West Philadelphia.  You say, “Well Pastor David, that’s the world.  That has nothing to do with me.”  Actually, that is the world that you and I live in.  We are called to know and love God’s law, when the world disregards human life and promotes filth and promiscuity every day.  We must recover the sense that sin is first an offense to God, then an offense towards others.  Lastly…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO PRAY.

Prayer is a popular subject.  It is a spiritual exercise that is quite popular.  And it was quite popular in Jesus’ day.  Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I have to say that I was blessed to be a part of the Claire Schweiker funeral yesterday.  It was said of Claire that she would pray 2-3 hours per day.  Her son Rich, a lawyer, was experiencing a particularly challenging trial.  She wrote him a note of encouragement to say that she and Mr. Schweiker were praying for him morning and evening and several times in between.  Claire made it her practice to encourage others with Scripture verses.  Prayer should be a regular part of our daily duties, as easy as exhaling.

I have a friend that does not attend church, but claims that he prays.  Books are written by scads of people that advocate a form of spirituality, with or without the guidance offered by Scripture.  So the Christian notion of prayer is in the backdrop of a world that practices prayer.  But not all prayer is heard by God or is legitimate.

What follows Matthew 6:9 is the Lord’s Prayer, a logically guided dialogue with God consisting of six requests: that His plan and desires would be accomplished with our full cooperation and participation; that He would grant us our needs as we depend upon Him; that He would not only cancel our moral debts as we violate His law, but that we would also forgive others when we are wronged; that we might be kept from temptation, or when it is necessary, we would be delivered from it.

Just a word on forgiveness.  Notice that it is believed on in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  And practiced in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  In case you don’t think it is practical, remind yourself of the need to forgive others the next time you’re offended or wronged in some way.  I knew a woman who was married for nearly 60 years.  You might assume that such a couple was happily married, but such was not the case.  They struggled and fought to get along and be happy for most of their married life.  At a critical time, the husband did something foolish and incurred the wrath of his wife for most of the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, she went to her grave, possibly not forgiving him.  Not only did this bring added misery in their marriage, but also damaged her walk with Christ.

As Christians, we must conform to God’s wishes, God’s character, even when we don’t feel like it.  Our lives are not our own.  We don’t dictate what we are to do.  We belong to the Lord and we are accountable to Him.  It is the best thing for us.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember.  “To remember,” means “to bring to mind or think of again.”  We must remember and in some cases, relearn what belief, behavior and devotion mean within a Christian context.  It is easy to live life without a sense of accountability to God.  Oh, we have the civil authorities to remind us that there are consequences to bad behavior.  But if we are not careful, we can fall prey to the idea that life is just an endless search for the next form of entertainment.  Something that traditionally might be wrong, is now acceptable, as long as we keep out of trouble and don’t hurt others.  But what about the condition of our souls?

Pastor John Piper writes: “The real pursuit of pleasure must connect the most profound appetites of our being to the One by whom, in whom, and for whom we exist. God is our joy. God. Every other search is a dead-end road, no matter how fast we can drive it.”


[1][1] Book of Worship for Church and Home, “A Service for the Reception of Members into the Church,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1928), 38-41.

[2] For instance, the divorce rate among Christians is similar to that of the unchurched.  See. http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-14-divorce-christians_N.htm.

[3] A recent survey confirmed that most youth in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus Christ was an historical figure.

[4] Jonathan Sacks, “Reversing the Decay of London Undone,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20-21, 2011.

[5] “Few U.S. Protestant Teens Regularly Read the Bible,” found at http://www.youthandreligion.org/news/2004-0623.html.

[6] Amy Frykholm “Loose Connections,” Christian Century, 31 May 2011, 20-23.

[7] Statistics shared at the Area Representative retreat for the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, February 7-9, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  Much information taken from David Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 37-39.

[8] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief. Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2005.

“Why We Are, the Way We Are.”

The following sermon is based on Acts 1:4-8, 2:1-13; and Galatians 5:16-26.  It introduces the Holy Spirit as the One who enables us to live the Christian life.  This message was preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2012

A number of miles from the Los Angeles basin there is a river.  The river has been dammed up by man, and through the genius and innovation of engineers, they have put together a dam that has, in its process of working, housed electricity- hundreds of thousands of volts that are fed into the Los Angeles basin.  And if you were to go to the plant, the source, and follow the lines that come into the city, you would come to various transmission plants along the way that would be marked: “Danger.  High Voltage”  “No trespassing.  Danger.”  Hundreds of thousands of volts are available in energy for your home, but who needs a hundred thousand volts unless he wants to burn up his home?  Knowing that, the engineers have built transformers into the system- not transmitters, but transformers.  And the transformer does nothing more than break down into meaningful units just the electricity you need.

When the Holy Spirit comes into a person’s life, He functions as a bit of a transformer.  He takes the majestic truth of God and dispenses it just the way that you need, give it to you with handles that you can take and use.  It is the Spirit’s delight to take the full truth of God and make one thing meaningful to that woman, something altogether different to that man, and something different again to that fellow down there.  That’s the work of the Spirit, and He never makes a mistake.  He gives you just what you can handle.

Without the Holy Spirit, we have no power to live the Christian life.  Paul in Romans 7:18 agree with our experience: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”  Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday.  It marks the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven.  With Jesus’ departure, came the Holy Spirit in power.  Jesus promised in Acts 1:7 reads: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”  He is the Giver of life, as the Nicene Creed teaches.  Christianity is a religion of dependence and indwelling.

What, or WHO gives rise to Christian behavior.  On this special Sunday let’s consider the One who influences us as Christians.  If we are not careful, we can see the Christian faith from only an outward perspective- a set of rules found in the Bible, with no life.  But the Holy Spirit brings a whole different identity to faith and character.  So how does one live out the positive character qualities that we think define a person who is “good?”  That’s what I’d like to talk about today in a message I’ve entitled: ““Why We Are, the Way We Are.”  We must first understand that within a Christian’s life …

THERE’S A WAR TAKING PLACE WITHIN OUR SOULS.

The Holy Spirit works in the Christian’s life.  There are two parts at work and two parties at war in how we live out our faith.  There is the flesh, where Satan is at work, tempting us, lying to us, wanting us to follow his “cleverly crafted schemes” as Ephesians 6 states.  He instigates those things which appeal to our sinful natures (James 1:14).  They are listed there in our passage.  There are various outplays of this.  The battle comes as they wage war against each other in our soul.  Verse 16: “Walk by the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”  What are the deeds of the flesh?  Paul lists them in verse 19: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  This is why Christian belief and Christian behavior must coincide.  There is no room for hypocrisy in the Christian life, though all of us struggle with hypocrisy to one degree or another, if we were honest.

You will notice that hear listed are a wide range of outward behaviors, from the worst, demonic type of actions to those things that we tend to think aren’t that bad, to those things that are hidden within the recesses of our mind, yet provide a struggle.  Hopefully, there would not be an argument here as to what is sexually perverse, or that witchcraft is wrong in God’s eyes.  But what about selfish ambition?  It can masquerade as goal setting and achievement, but if done with the wrong motives or if it hurts people in the wake, it is wrong.  Or what about jealousy or envy?  They are pretty private until acted upon.

And then there’s the life in the Spirit.  When our spirits are governed by the Holy Spirit: from which there is a host of qualities with various outplays.  Jesus said in John 15:5: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” So how can we live out our faith?

THE HOLY SPIRIT ENABLES US TO LIVE A TRANSFORMED LIFE.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit are available to every Christian.  God’s Sprit is the One who places these qualities within us and motivates us to show them. You might notice that these qualities are both related to a personal disposition that God give us, as well as skills for how we relate to others. All this comes through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.  It is good to memorize these: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.  It is good to memorize these.  I was at one of our prayer meetings recently and one of the attendees had these memorized.  She prayed, “Father, give us more, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  These are wonderful, admirable qualities for all of us, antithetic to the deeds of the flesh as stated earlier.

Let’s look at a few of these.  Consider patience.  The New King James uses the word, “long-suffering.”  “Long-suffering,” is not widely practices in our culture today.  We want things now and we want them a certain way.  To wait for something or to have things differently than one wishes is a cause of disappointment.  We believe we’re entitled whether that be material possessions or relationships. Calvin Coolidge said: “”There is no dignity quite so impressive and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means.”  Long-suffering is the ability to put up, to adapt, so the outward does not kill you.

Then there’s goodness.  You know, good people stand out.  I’m not talking about the regular, run of the mill “good,” the good that is tends to be labeled upon everyone at their funeral.  I’m talking about goodness that stands out.  I remember Chester Whitehead, who was my barber growing up.  His haircuts were not what made an impression on me.  Rather it was his integrity.  He was an elder at my home church.  He loved Jesus Christ.  Our church went through some troubling times, but Chester led our congregation by being an example of goodness.

Then there’s joy.  The Greek term is chara, which can denote gladness or happiness. Happiness is tied to outward circumstances, whereas joy is an inner satisfaction regardless of the conditions.  One can have joy, regardless of their job status.  One may have joy, even though they’ve lost someone very special to them through death.  Joy is attainable to the one who has experienced adversity.  James 1:2 states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

All of this is related to the third person of the Trinity, working within us.  God gives us His Holy Spirit before we trust Christ, for we never could trust Christ without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Christians have the Holy Spirit.  That‘s the way we know God and know about God.  As a believer, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He is the catalyst in our communion with God.

We need one who restrains us; one who convicts us; one who counsels us.  When our car breaks down, we call AAA and they send someone to help us. When our computer won’t work, we call the expert (Jeff Ost).  When our body hurts, we go see the doctor.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Helper, to assist us and the church, that we might live out the Christian faith with power.

What’s also important to note that the Holy Spirit convicts us when we do wrong or prods us when we ought to do something in accordance with the gospel  He is active in our daily lives.  Our culture tends to look at guilt in a negative way, and avoids it at all cost, even when our behavior would warrant some guilt.  We live in a guiltless society because many consciences are seared.  But only God can restore the human conscience.  David prayed in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  Confessions is often called, “Agreeing with the Holy Spirit.”  He redirects us when we’re going down the wrong path and steers to the right one.

If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11).  If you have yet to decide to follow Christ, the Holy Spirit is available to you today.  God the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.  In Luke 11:11 Jesus states: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  If you need more peace in your life, why don’t you ask Him?  If you need more joy in your life, why not ask Him.  Why not ask for the One who can bring His truth into your soul and change you forever?

Why I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins

The following message was presented at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on Sunday, July 17, 2011

Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich announced that he would pardon Michael Austin who “served 27 years for a crime he did not commit.”Austin had been convicted of killing a convenience store security guard in a 1974 robbery.

Records from Austin’s employer revealed that he was at work when the robbery took place. There was no other evidence placing Austin at the scene of the crime that day. Two years ago, a judge overturned his conviction saying the defense attorney was incompetent, that the prosecution had committed errors and the original judge had issued faulty instructions to jurors.

The governor said he talked with Austin and apologized, although he admitted words were very difficult to come by. By issuing a “full and complete” pardon, Ehrlich says Austin will be able to seek compensation from the state. The governor did not have a figure in mind, but asked, “What’s a year worth? What’s a month worth? What’s 27 years worth?”

Austin’s lawyer said the pardoned man felt good about the situation. He said, “He was personally touched that the governor had spent so much time looking at the matter and that the governor personally called him.”

It is good to see wrongs righted. Mr. Austin was wrongly convicted of this crime, and is now free. In this case, he was innocent of the crime, but the pardon Jesus offers is for people who are guilty of sin, yet we are pardoned just the same.[1]

This morning, we turn to one of the Bible’s central themes.  We have mentioned it in the Apostles’ Creed this morning; it is tied to both of the sacraments we practice as Christians, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  It is a must to mention every time we witness, or we have left out the greatest blessing to human kind.  The item that I’m referring to is “the forgiveness of sins.”  Being forgiven is something very practical, because, after all, sin is very practical.  In a congregation this size it might be challenging to find one thing that is common to all ages and positions in life.  But sin is a topic that is relevant to every age, every temptation, to every stage in life. 

For a fuller explanation of this blessing, we must turn to a passage in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.  What is this new covenant?  What does it consist of?  There are two very important lessons I’d like to share with you this morning.  The first is that…

GOD HAS ALWAYS BEEN FAITHFUL AND FORGIVING.

Jeremiah prophesied during the last days of the kingdom of Judah.  The book of Lamentations, a sequel to Jeremiah’s prophecy, was written to express the pain of the fall of Jerusalemin 586 B.C.  During the prophet’s ministry, there was a constant spiritual struggle in the land.  Many were torn between worshipping idols and worshipping the Lord.  Reforms were instituted in Josiah’s reign 40 years prior, but these lasted only a short while.[2]  The Israelites wore down the patience of God, so He promised to judge them for their sin by sending them into exile.  Judgment is a main theme throughout the book of Jeremiah, as God was calling His people to repentance. 

It is in this backdrop that the new covenant is presented, contained within a section of comfort found in chapters 30-33.  Notice that the new covenant is in some ways a contrast of the old covenant.  Verse 32 states: “…not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.”  Here, God describes Himself as a loving spouse to His people.  He cares for and provides for those He calls His own.  In the Old Testament, He gave them victory over their enemies, as in the case of their deliverance from the hands of the Egyptians, the most powerful army and nation in the world at that time; or the Amelikites or the Philistines in the days of David.  Every enemy was defeated because God was with His people.  And after their rescue fromEgypt, God would give them the Old Covenant upon Mount Sinai; an agreement between two parties with binding obligations.  He safely guided them in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land.  God fed His people manna for food and water from a rock.  He redeemed them; and showed them how to live lives which glorified Him. 

Their greatest need was forgiveness of sins.  This was the case since the days of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and Lot, and throughout their history.  But when the Old Covenant was enacted, forgiveness had its ceremonial restrictions at the time.  What more is that it was written in stone, but impossible to keep.  But the new covenant would be different from the old one in several ways.  Listen to verse 33: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house ofIsraelafter those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, God would guide the church and the consciences of those who belong to it.  That is how we can match the law of God with the people of God- it is a guide for our conscience, informing us of a life that pleases God and His revealed will for our lives.  Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit being our teacher, guide and friend, which is possibly an illusion to Jeremiah 31:34 “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

That last clause contains something very special.  Unlike the Old Covenant that contained repeated sacrifices done by numerous priests, under the new, one sacrifice would be made.  The New Testament quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 10:12, describing the ministry of Jesus who perfectly kept God’s law.  It states: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. …by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”  Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  This was stated to illustrate the ministry of Jesus Christ.   Hebrews tells us that Christ is different than priests in the Old Testament in that He offered Himself.  And all those who turn from their sin and put their trust in Him have the benefit of forgiveness.  And so…

FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS OUR GREATEST BLESSING, AND SOMETHING BASIC TO THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS.

Just a few things about the forgiveness of sins.  First of all, it is something basic to the gospel, because sin is basic to the human life.  When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, a true fulfillment of the Passover, He said in Matthew 26:28: “…for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”  And in reflection of His ministry, Jesus said in Luke 24:47: “…and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in (My) name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Paul wrote in Colossians 1:14 about Christ, “…in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, preached in Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  That is why baptism is so significant in the lives of Christians.

What are the implications of the forgiveness of sins?  Of these we ought to be aware.  First, that we can have a new self.  We are a new creation.  2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us: ” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  When someone genuinely places their trust in Jesus Christ and asks forgiveness for their crimes against God, they are given a clean slate with God and a new self.  We can have clean hands and a pure heart, by God’s grace. Psalm 24:3 says: “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart….” 

Secondly, forgiveness of sins cannot be reduced to a “do better next time,” sort of mentality.  Nor can we cleanse ourselves.  We need God’s cleansing!  Scientology teaches a method of self-cleansing, a mind game of which they’ve made millions of dollars.  Jesus says come to Me for cleansing and I’ll make you as new. 

Thirdly, forgiveness of sins in Jesus liberates us from our dirty past, of which we are not defined.  When we become a Christian, God’s calling defines our lives. Paul states in Philippians 3:13: “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead… .”

Fourthly, forgiveness of sins in Jesus reminds us that forgiving yourself is not most important, but communion with God is.  I love the words of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  We must take responsibility for our actions.  Pop culture would have us blame our parents, our upbringing, others, even our culture for the evil that has come upon us. 

Fifthly, forgiveness of sins in Jesus means that we are free to live a new life.  That we can live however we want. Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

Sixthly, forgiveness of sins in Jesus enables us to forgive others.  This is quite challenging, when we’re so predisposed to holding grudges and being unforgiving.  Colossians 3:12 states: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Lastly, forgiveness of sins means that we’ve been reconciled to God.  That is why it is our greatest need.  2 Corinthians 5: 18: “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 in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”  Like an axe which causes a tree to fall, so the death of Jesus blows over the idea that we can be good enough to go to heaven.  We cannot.  That is impossible.  Listen to the following quote, given to us by the 17th century John Owen.  He said: ““Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”


[1] —Associated Press, Wrongfully Convicted Man Pardoned. November 1, 2003. Submitted by Jim Sandell in Fresh Illustrations.

[2] 628 B.C. see 2 Kings 22:8. 

What is the Church?

The following message is based on Matthew 16:13-20 and was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on July 10, 2011.

It was the late comedian George Burns, who said: “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.” I tend to disagree, but I’ll leave you to your opinion. Sermons are meant to inspire and educate. I hope to do a little of both in the following. I want to start with a question: What do we mean when we use the word “church?” Often, when we hear the word “church,” we think of a structure made of bricks and mortar, with a steeple and stained glass windows. But Jesus meant something different by the term. When Jesus used the word “church,” He was not referring to a building located at 2111 Valley Forge Road in Lansdale.

The term church shows up in different places throughout the New Testament, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul. But Jesus used the term in our passage for today. Rather, He was speaking of the congregation of God’s people that had its foreshadowing in Israel of the Old Testament and the body of baptized believers in the New Testament. He described a people uniquely blessed. Today, we said in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the … Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.” Why is this important? Why is it critical that we have a correct understanding of the church? What defines the church? What separates it from other organizations in the world? Today, I want to expound some important aspects concerning God’s people, as found in Jesus’ words in Matthew 16, the passage we know as Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi. So first let us ask…

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

Remember that the question was posed by Jesus: “Who do men say that I am?” The disciples replied various answers. Some say Elijah. Some say John the Baptist come back, others say a prophet.” Then He turns the question to them. He asks: “Who do you say that I am?” At this, Peter responds: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” According to Stephen Short, Peter was essentially saying: “You are the Messiah; God’s appointed Savior of His people, whose advent has been foretold in our sacred Scriptures (“Mark,” A New Testament Commentary, 188).” In other words, Peter said: “You are the fulfillment of God’s long awaited promise.” This was an important acknowledgement because every Jew lived with this anticipation of the arrival of God’s Messiah. And those that do not recognize Jesus still live with this anticipation. This is why there is a vacant seat at a Seder Meal.

Peter’s confession is called, by New Testament scholar Laurence Porter, “the watershed of the Gospel narrative (“Luke,” A New Testament Commentary, 224).” In other words, this is a defining moment in the life of the disciples, let alone the entire New Testament. Found also in Mark 8 and Luke 9, the Confession at Caesarea Philippi occurs right after incredible miracles (i.e. the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000, along with Jesus walking on water), and right before His teaching on discipleship and the Transfiguration. It functions as Jesus introduction to the necessity of His journey to Jerusalem, His suffering and death upon the cross. In other words, it is a shift in emphasis. It also teaches us the point of entry into the church; it teaches us that being a Christian is a life of revelation and reception, given by God, as well as ultimate loyalty and faithfulness offered by us.

Notice how Jesus responds in verse 17: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” The “rock” designated is likely Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. And through this confession we have promised victory over every obstacle, including death, which is represented by the figure of speech, “the gates of hell.”

And so how are we to understand the term church and the necessary things surrounding it? A few things that we can keep in mind as we think about the church. First of all, we must keep our head clear. In other words we must keep it clear who is our head. Christ is the head of the church. Notice that Jesus used the personal possessive pronoun, “my.” He said, “Upon this rock, I will build My church.” It is important to note that the church does not belong to the pastor, nor does it belong to the congregation. We do not exist for ourselves. Rather the church belongs to and is accountable to its head, Jesus Christ. Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 1:18: “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.” And the church is more than just an organization. It is not a club, by which its direction is determined by popular vote. Being a congregational church, we are autonomous, in that there is not an outside entity that determines our direction and course. That place is reserved for Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we are united in belief and behavior. In other words, we are one holy, catholic church. Catholic here is not a proper adjective, but a word meaning “universal,” or “recognized.” We share a common belief, summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, which has lasted over 2,000 years. This is especially important as we are living in a postmodern age where objective truth is often challenged. This is a subjective age, where there are those that think truth is what they make it out to be. And that your truth is not the same as my truth, because our circumstances are different. This usually plays itself out in one who believes and behaves selfishly. We’ve caught fire when we’ve taken exception to the behavior or the doctrine of those who have chosen to believe and live independently from the clear teaching of Scripture. God’s word, the Bible, must remain the church standard for all things doctrinally and ethically! Christians should be united. This was the thought of the founder of our movement, Caspar Schwenckfeld. Central’s former Senior Pastor, Dr. Jack Rothenberger wrote his Master’s thesis on Schwenckfeld and the Ecumenical Ideal. In it, he states that Schwenckfeld’s purpose was “To find ‘the Holy Spirit recognizably present with power,’ in the life of Christians. He was a great man of religion who engaged in theological discussion in order to seek unity among all Christians. He expressed the ecumenical ideal in terms of a unity of purpose in the way Christians should live.” We must be united in belief and behavior.

We are also diverse in race, language and national identity. We are also the communion of saints. It is impossible to experience this communion if we possess prejudice or bigotry based on a person’s ethnicity or background. Revelation 5:9 tells us that the blood of Christ “…purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Our fellowship must go beyond race and color. Interestingly enough, according to a 1993 survey among our membership, 163 people identified themselves as being related to original Schwenkfelders; 230 stated that they came from some other Protestant group. And our church is more diverse than you might think. We have some from Asia, others from Germany; still others from Scotland, and thankfully an Irish hillbilly! God intends His church to be a bit of a melting pot! Next, let us ask…

WHAT IS OUR ROLE IN THIS WORLD?

In many places we see Jesus described as being light: Take for instance John 8:12: “I am the Light of the world; He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” But then he turns around and calls us the light of the world in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” And the message of Christ that we bear, functions as light. Consider Acts 13:47: “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” So, we can deduce from these verses that we are His light to the world. In other words, our main role in this world is to point people to Christ. Notice the words of C.S. Lewis in his book, which has become a Christian classic, entitled, Mere Christianity. He states: “The Church exist for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, mission, sermons, even the Bible itself are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful… whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.” There is a common notion that people don’t attend church, because, “I don’t get anything out of it.” The same people have missed the point that it is also about what you put into it. That it is a Christian’s obligation to attend worship and be involved in the activities in order to use your spiritual gifts, which God has given you to aid His people and expand His kingdom.

Church council has established the mission statement for our congregation. It is to: “love God, to serve others and to grow disciples.” I hope you will support this statement, as you serve Christ within the context of Central Schwenkfelder Church. Because our task is great; we are the minority. According to a new report in the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, the actual number of people worshiping each week is closer to 53 million, but just a little over 17 percent of the U.S. population. Why should attendance numbers matter? Because they show that a shrinking number of people are participating in that most basic Christian tradition- the weekly gathering together for worship, teaching, prayer, fellowship and Holy Communion.”

That is why missions is so important. We sent over 60 of our people to Polaski, VA this morning to assist those ravaged by tornadoes. I told them that they were not to go there just to do charity work, but that we have a message to bear. It was A.J. Gordon that said, “The church that does not participate in missions will soon become a mission field.” And one said: “The church that does not evangelize will soon fossilize. Rather, we function as the world’s lifesaver! Paul wrote in Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Friends, we are the ones given the task to bring the good news to the world! 

We are the world’s only hope. And by saying the Apostles’ Creed on a Sunday morning, we recognize that we are not independent from Christians of years gone by. We are a part of a larger family, that has spanned 2,000 years and all over the world. Our faith is the same today as it was two millennia ago. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 54 asks: “What do you believe concerning the Holy Catholic Church?” Notice its answer: “I believe that, from the beginning to the end of the world, and from among the whole human race, the Son of God, by His Spirit and his Word, gathers, protects and preserves for Himself, in the unity of the true faith, a congregation chosen for eternal life. Moreover, I believe that I am and forever will remain a living member of it.”

“The Ascension: a Hopeful Lesson”

This message is based on Acts 1:1-11 and 1 John 1:1-3.  It was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on  June 5, 2011

A movement leader’s death benefits His organization?  How could that be?  How could the retirement of a star player be a benefit to a team?  Throughout history, one could argue that this is opposite of the truth.  Our country was not the same after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The Philadelphia Phillies were not the same, at least for a little while, after the retirements of Larry Bowa, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt.  The 76ers weren’t quite the same after Allen Iverson left town the first time.  So how could the church thrive after the death of Jesus Christ?  Well, I’m leaving out a couple of significant events that contributed to the success: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven.  Today is Ascension Sunday, which marks the event described in our Responsive Reading for today.  Ironically, the departure of Jesus Christ into heaven was a benefit to the church. 

You might be interested to know that our Amish brothers and sisters considered Thursday of this past week one of their holidays to fast and meditate on Scriptures.  This is an important day with invaluable lessons for our faith.  Yet, it is one of those holidays that goes unrecognized, unnoticed.  What can we learn from the Ascension of Jesus?

To discover this, we must go back to the question: “Who is Jesus?”  We’ve been studying the Apostles’ Creed which states that Jesus: “…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He arose again from the dead;  He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

Why does the Apostles’ Creed present a litany of the events that characterized Jesus’ life?  For its answer we have to go back to the basic question of why creeds are written in the first place: to answer false teaching of the time.  In this case, it was the heresy known as Gnosticism, which denied the physical manifestation of Jesus.  They falsely taught that the Son of God could not inhabit a human body because the divine has nothing to do with this sinful, material world, so they believed.  So… the two can never meet.  It was inconceivable.  Other Gnostics taught that the Spirit of the Messiah could only rest upon Jesus at his baptism and shortly before His death.  From this, we know that truth is

  • objective in nature.
  • outside of ourselves.
  • proven over time.
  • in contrast to false doctrine.

This section of the creed also affirms what the Apostle John wrote in his first letter, chapter one, which Tim read earlier, that Jesus is the Word of Life.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched– this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”  Or what he wrote in his gospel in 1:14 that Jesus is the word become flesh: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

To this point the Apostles’ Creed affirms the arrival of Jesus in bodily form, His earthly ministry, death, burial and resurrection, then His ascension.  Some have pointed out the decline and incline of this section of the creed.  In the last days of Jesus earthly existence and during his death, He suffered, was crucified dead and buried, descended into hades, then resurrected, ascended and sits at God’s right hand.  And He is coming back.  Remember that the angels said: “And that this same person will one day come to judge the living and the dead.”  God values the body!  He values human life!  It was a point of contact for Jesus.  He fully identified with us.  If there was not this blessing in our lives, there would be no reconciliation with God.  There would be no hope of knowing God; there would be no forgiveness of sin; only death, destruction and misery.  That is why the gospel is so critical in our world today, as many disregard what they do with their bodies and trying to be more spiritual.  The gospel states that man’s efforts to be more spiritual are feeble and in vain without the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Some have problems with the statement: “He descended into hell.”  The Scripture speaks of His incarnation as a “descent,” but not that He journeyed to hell.  What is important to note is that Jesus underwent the pains of hell on our behalf.  Listen to how John Calvin puts it.  “The point is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men …and that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.”[1]  This really puts what Jesus did for us in perspective.  Jesus underwent the pains and torments of hell in being separated from His father, the same thing that those who die without Christ will undergo. 

BENEFITS TO JESUS’ ASCENSION

Next, we must ask, what does the Ascension of Jesus Christ have to do with our Christian faith?  It marks a transition.  Let me teach on three significant points of this transition.  That brings us to Jesus’ statement 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.” From this we know that Jesus had to go, so that the Holy Spirit could come and stay.  I will elaborate on this more next week.  Think about it.  It is through a band of 12 misfits that the church took root and became a worldwide movement that has lasted for over 2,000 years.  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to do just that in the lives of the apostles. 

Next, Jesus had to go to take His place as the established Divine authority over heaven and earth.  Remember it was after His resurrection from the dead that Jesus said to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me…”  In the creed we state that He is seated: “…at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” 

Lastly, we benefit practically from Jesus’ ascension in that He prays for us.  Romans 8:34 tells us: “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  It is a marvelous thing to know that Christ prays for you and for me.  Saying the right thing, subject to rejection, seems to take on a different light.  In Christ’s position at the right hand of God, I have an advocate; someone who sticks up for me; a helper, who also loved me and gave Himself up for me. 

This all should encourage us and give us an anticipation of the future.  As the Listen to the words of Alexander McClaren, minister of the Union Chapel in Manchester, England, often referred to as one of the greatest preacher of the 19th century: “Let us learn (a lesson) from this great fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is ascended into glory. The faith of each humble believer may be gloriously strengthened as he or she thinks of the ascended Jesus. If a soul doubts his own acceptance with God let him think that Jesus who died for him is welcomed back to glory because the work is done. May not also our faith penetrate the clouds and say, My Jesus has gone to prepare a home for me? May we not by faith see that home? Let our faith be so strong that it will look right through the cloud and say, My Jesus is there.”[2]  Acts 1:9: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”


[1] Excerpt found at www.reformed.org, from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Ed. John T. McNeill.  Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. 

[2] The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, Volume 2, Part 1: Luke through Romans.

“The Only Begotten Son, Our Lord”

This message is based on John 3:10-21 and was given at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, Pennsylvania on May 15, 2011

On Monday, June 11th, 2001 convicted Oklahoma City Bomber, Timothy McVeigh was executed at a Federal Prison inTerre Haute, Indiana. McVeigh issued a final statement in which he identified himself with the words of 19th century British poet, William Henley. The closing words ofHenley’s poem, “Invictius” stand as a chilling epitaph to McVeigh’s time on this planet.  “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

His words stand in contrast to the words of Israel’s great king, David. David wrote in Psalm 25, “To thee O Lord, I lift up my soul….Make me know Your ways, O Lord. Teach me Your paths, Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. For you I wait all the day.”  Every day we are given an important decision. Who will be the captain of our soul?[1]

Our recent sermon series suggests looking outside of ourselves to the Lord Jesus.  We’ve been studying the Apostles’ Creed, of which each section begins with either a stated or implied: “I believe.”  That is what the term “creed” means: “I believe.”  This is a confession or a response to God, as we learned from our first message in this series.  You will notice that the Apostles’ Creed is an endorsement of the Trinity; that Christians believe in one God, in three persons: that of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Today, we are introduced to the largest section which pertains the life and ministry of Jesus.  So what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord…?”  For that, we turn to the most well known passages in the New Testament, John 3.   Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save. 

In our passage, Jesus has been carrying on a conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  This one came by night to visit with Jesus and find out if He, in fact, was the Messiah, the One promised from God.  He said in 3:2: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  In elaborating what is necessary to enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus compares His mission to the account of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, which comes from Numbers 21:5-9.  Here, the people were grumbling, wanting to return toEgypt.  God had already delivered them from slavery; now the people were having second thoughts. They complained against God and His provisions in Numbers 11 and 16; they refused to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 14.  They were filled with discontent.  So God judged them for their complaining, ingratitude and lack of belief.  Notice verses five and six of Numbers 21.  “They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out ofEgyptto die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”

Moses prayed for the people and God, in His mercy, made a way for salvation.  God instructed Moses to construct a serpent on a staff; that whoever would look upon the serpent would be healed of the poisonous snake bites.  By Jesus’ own words, this is a prefigure of Christ.  As we look to Him, we are saved, as Romans 10:13 states: “…for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

There is an ongoing formula found in the Scriptures which is this:  God gave, we are to repent and believe, and we receive eternal life. Notice Jesus’ words about Himself in John 3:16: “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.”  Many of us are more familiar with the King James Version which states: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”  But what does “begotten” mean?  It is the Greek: ” monogenes” meaning: only begotten, unique, only one of His kind. 

If we are not careful to understand the ministry of Jesus within the context of Scripture, He can appear as just another religious leader on the scene of history.  In recent years, there has been a surge in the interest of Jesus, not all of it with good intentions.  Some make Him out to be no more than a religious sage.  But we cannot get around the fact that He claimed to be God’s unique Son, the Lord of heaven and earth.  By virtue of His resurrection, he proved to be God’s unique Son and worthy of the title “Lord of heaven and earth.”  C.S. Lewis once said: “Either we must accept Jesus for who He said He was, or label Him as crazy; a madman.  But  Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save. 

But the Bible states that we must understand the ministry of Jesus in the context of God’s love being sent into this world!  Take for instance, Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Or 1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  And finally, Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”  Understanding Jesus without the idea of God’s love is like understanding a computer without electricity!

The Nicene Creed, written in 325 A.D. and approximately 150 years after the Apostles’ Creed, gives clarification on this word when it says that we believe: “…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.  Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…”  This elaboration gives a full disclosure of who Jesus is.  You cannot understand Jesus from a human, outward perspective.  You can only appreciate Jesus and His ministry by learning who He is from a divine perspective, why He came to this earth.  He was God’s unique Son, of which there was no other like Him.  And that He came to this earth so long ago to save us. 

So let’s apply this idea.  What is our greatest ambition in life?  You can accomplish a lot in this life whether it be degrees, promotions, awards, even be well thought of. But if you have not looked to the Son, you are missing the boat!   And people miss this central point of faith all the time!  Jesus said in Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

From the very early testimony of the church, we understand that the orthodox understanding of Jesus was challenged.  And still today, the idea of Jesus as the world’s only Savior and Lord is seen as out of touch, uncompassionate and narrow-minded.  And yet, that is precisely the testimony of the martyrs.  Romewould not have persecuted the church to such the extent if they would have just accepted Jesus as one of several ways, including Caesar as a way or the Roman pantheon as a way.  But it was the early church’s relentless loyalty to Jesus as the only Savior and Lord that spelled martyrdom for many.  Historian and Professor of Christian Spirituality Gerald Sittser writes: “Modern pluralism resembles Rome’s; modern rejection of Jesus’ lordship repeats Rome’s rejection of Jesus.  In the academic world, for example, Christian exclusivity- the idea that Jesus is the only way to God- offends the pluralistic assumptions of the day, just as it did two thousand years ago.  Now, as then, the idea that there s one religious truth runs contrary to the spirit of the age. It is assumed that religious belief could be and often is valuable for any number of reasons, but there is no way of knowing which religion is actually true.  Christians challenge this cultural assumption when they claim that Jesus is Savior and Lord.  Christians have been causing such offense for two thousand years.”[2]   Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save. 

Why did Jesus have to do this?  Because that is what it took to pay the price for our sin.  Consider the following from Josh McDowell’s book More Than a Carpenter. An incident that took place several years ago inCalifornia illuminates what Jesus did on the cross… ‘A young woman was picked up for speeding.  She was ticketed and taken before the judge.  The judge read off the citation and said: “Guilty or not guilty?”  The woman replied, “Guilty.”  The judge brought down the gavel and fined her a steep amount or ten days in jail.  Then an amazing thing took place.  The judge stood up, took off his robe, walked down around in front, took out his billfold, and paid the fine.  What’s the explanation of this?  The judge was her father.  He loved his daughter, yet he was a just judge.  His daughter had broken the law, and he couldn’t just say to her: “Because I love you so much, I forgive you.  You may leave.”  If he had done that, he wouldn’t have been a rigouts judge… But he loved his daughter so much he was willing to take off his judicial robe and come down in front and represent her as her father and pay the fine.’   Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save. 


[1] Fresh Illustrations.

[2] Gerald Sittser, Water from a Deep Well (Downers Grove,IL: IVP, 2007), 43-44. 

The Inestimable Value of Life

This message is based on Genesis 2:18-25 and was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on May 8, 2011. 

The subject of life is an interesting one, especially with the events of the past week.  As we got word of Osama Bin Laden’s death, many were celebrating the termination of this mass murderer.  On the other hand, there was the sobering reality that many were rejoicing over someone dying.  Reactions varied from elation, to disappointment, to disbelief.  He was a hero to some, and an arch-enemy to others. 

For instance, consider the following quotes: “We woke up in a safer world,” said Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Union Parliament. British Prime Minister David Cameron called bin Laden’s death “a massive step forward in the fight against terrorism” and said that the news of the death will bring great relief to people across the world. An Arab blogger and personal friend of Bin Laden’s said: “”I feel relieved for my religion, for the future of the Arab world,” he says. “I feel sad for somebody who was a friend.”  German Chancellor Angela Merkel also praised the strike, saying that though bin Laden pretended to be acting in the name of Islam, in reality “he despised the basic values of his and everybody else’s religion.”

Christians believe that God is a god of life.  He gives life and He takes it away (Job 1:21).  But how can we arrive at a deeper appreciation for it?  This morning, let us stop and consider God as the author and sustainer of life.  Today, we continue our study of the Apostles’ Creed, looking further at our belief in God the Father, specifically His role of Creator, as the first line of the Creed states: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.”  From this, and the testimony of Scripture, we recognize that…

CREATION OFFERS A GENERAL PERSPECTIVE.

In other words, God made it all.  It is significant that the very first statement of the entire Bible is this: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” When we discuss God as Creator, this brings up considerable controversy.  The Biblical account depicts God creating the heavens, the earth and all contained therein in six days.  But there is also an element of mystery operating.  It is true that most of the scientific community believes that the origin of the earth was 3-4 billion years ago.  Some evangelical scientists believe the universe was created 10-12, 000 years ago.  Hence, there are old earth and young earth scientists, and not all of them are creationists. 

On the possibility of six-24 hour days:  Intriguing is how each of the increments is described, “Then there was evening and morning, the third day; then there was evening and morning, the fourth day” etc., etc.  Is this literal language, or poetic language?  Historically, it would seem that creation week has been taken literally.  Some cross references seem to indicate 24 hour increments: Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

There are many examples of God’s creation.  Who hasn’t enjoyed : Grand Canyon, Rock of Gibraltar, andMount Everest.  Whirlpool Galaxy, etc.  But disbelieving in God is en vogue today.  To be an angry atheist is becoming more popular.  We expect that God owes us a good life and if we don’t receive it; we’re angry with Him.  But Isaiah 45:9 reminds us that we must be humble.  “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?” But in order to enter thekingdomofGod, you must become like a child, Jesus said.  This “becoming” implies humility and trust (Matthew 18:3).

Quotes from gifted individuals” The cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who struggles with ALS once said: “You cannot understand the glories of the universe without believing there is some Supreme Power behind it.”  Psalm 19:1 states: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

So what are we to make of this?  Let me offer a suggestion: be thankful for physical life.  You know, just to be here is a gift from God.  Life is a privilege and a great opportunity.  Hugh Ross, astrophysicist, states: “If the mass density were smaller, the influence of gravity would be too weak for stars like the Sun and planets like Earth to form.  On the other hand, if the mass density were greater, only stars much larger than the Sun would form.  Either way, the universe would contain no stars like the Sun or planets like Earth, and life would have no possible home.  The required fine-tuning is so extreme (one part in a quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion, quadrillion) that if one were to remove or add a single dime’s worth of mass to this vast cosmos, the balance of the observable universe would be thrown off and physical life would not be possible.  Such amazing fine-tuning suggests the involvement of a supernatural, super intelligent Creator.”

Could it be that God doesn’t want you to be so concerned with the how of creation, but the why?  After all, we may need to take a dose of humility.  We were not there to observe when it happened.  We must receive by faith the very first verse of Scripture, Genesis 1:1 which states: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  If He did this in six, 24 hour segments, then so be it.  He can certainly do it that way.  He could have done it exactly that way, but our best explanation is that a natural process took 4 billion years!  Friends, we don’t know it all!  So many of us are consumed with the how, that we don’t pay attention to the why.  Ultimately, we have to receive such things on the basis of faith, as Hebrews 11:3 states: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

CREATION OFFERS A PERSONAL AND SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVE.

In other words, God made you!  From Genesis 2:18 and following: “God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone….’”  God looked upon the condition of the man, before the fall, and determined that Adam needed a helper.  But this also tells us that as human beings, we need each other.  We say, “No man is an island.”  We are connective creatures.  We need each other.

We also understand from this passage is that God, as Maker of heaven and earth, also provides for His creatures.  So God said: “I will make a helper suitable for Him.”  This is the role of the wife, to be a helpmate to her husband.  That is a specific observation.  God provides what we need.  Certainly both man and woman are of equal value.  Yet they have differing roles, complimentary in nature.

But our passage depicts the creation of the first couple.  And the role of the woman to the man;   She is His helper.  Aren’t we blessed with mother’s who took this role seriously?  The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.  Regardless of how you feel about marriage or where your involvement is in it, remember that the man and the woman are the crown of God’s creation.  Each has a unique role in the family.  And that life in itself is a gift, not to be taken for granted.  To be here, and to be healthy is an incredible privilege.  We can thank God, in His infinite power and wisdom.  Did anyone see the double rainbow last night?  Or the gorgeous sunset.  The next time you’re exercising or spending time in your garden, thank God for the gift of life.  We can also thank a mother, who sacrificed her comfort and convenience to give birth to us. 

My aim today is not just to share with you a tenet of theology and hope that you’ll believe in it.  Rather, my objective is for you to consider Almighty God as the Maker of heaven and earth, as well as Your Maker.  So this is one instance that I want you to take my message personally!  You are not here by chance.  You were not a mistake.  God intended you to be here.  What is His plan for your life?  What purpose do you serve?  Does it strike you this morning that your life could be a sacred, yes a sacred opportunity?  What are you doing with this opportunity? 

As we give thanks to God for life; we ought to give thanks to Jesus Christ for spiritual life.  It is because of Jesus and His work on the cross, and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit that our lives can go from sinful to sacred.  Jesus said in John 10:10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”  This happens when a person chooses to follow Christ.  As our passage states in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ….” 

Some Christians want to assume that the source of their spiritual lives was because they were raised in the church; because they come from Christian families.  But there must be a place of personal decision that recognizes the need to turn from sin and place one’s trust in Christ.  Then there are others of us who see our decision as the determiner of our spiritual life.  We leave out the role of the Holy Spirit in quickening us to salvation and drawing us to Himself through conviction and opening our hearts to the good news, as Lydia did to Paul’s preaching in Acts 16:14: “…and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”

It’s no mistake that we are consider God as the Author of life, but it just so happens to be Mother’s Day.  Mother’s are God’s instruments to bring about temporal, contemporary life.  For this, we can be thankful.  Think about it.  Aren’t we thankful for mothers? They give birth.   They nurse and nurture.  They care for us.  And we are deeply indebted to them.  Abraham Lincoln, president of the USand responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves, said: “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”  Washington Irving, author of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, said: “A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  Let us pray.