All Star Dad

“All Star Dad.” I saw it upon his t shirt. He was just like any other 40 something at the gym.  Hopefully his children got him that t-shirt. Or, maybe he thinks of himself as an all star dad. As Father’s Day approached, I came away asking: “Am I an all star dad?” I guess it depends on who you ask.

If not, what do I need to do make the all star team? What makes an all star dad? There are those of us who want and need guidance on how to be an “All Star Dad.” Our passage today gives us some guidance on this matter.

This instruction comes towards the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The first three chapters explain the blessings that we have in Christ such as redemption by His blood, regeneration by the Spirit and predestination by His grace. The last three chapters tell us how to live in light of God’s blessings. This instruction comes right after Paul tells us of how wives and husbands ought to operate with mutual love and mutual respect. Now, he turns to the subject of how children and parents ought to treat each other.

Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise),  that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” We parents like that part! We expect it. We remind our kids of it. But what about verse four? “…fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Today, I want to focus on the actions and responsibilities of fathers. Similar words are used in Colossians 3:21 says: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.” This passage speaks to every person who is called to be a mentor to others.

A lot can be said of how we should relate to kids and grandkids. The place of Christian teaching holds center stage in the act of mentoring and parenting. We have a responsibility to the next generation.

It is easy for parents to provoke their children.  If not careful, we can see our children as enlisted personnel in the army of your home.  Maybe you’re a dad that feels that kids must be given orders and must be reminded of them.  But there is room for parents to treat their children in a considerate way; to help them understand why there are rules and that things are done out of love, guidance and discipline.

Robert Duvall and Timothy O’Keefe star in the 1979 film, “The Great Santini.”  The film tells the story of a military officer Lt. Colonel “Bull” Meechum, whose success as a pilot contrasts with his failures as a husband and father. The setting is in 1962 before the US gets heavily involved in the Vietnam War. Bull’s son Ben is a basketball star. On the court at school, he is a dominating player. But when he plays pickup with his dad in the family driveway at home, his father won’t let him win.  He yells at him and humiliates him in an effort to “make him a man.”   Their relationship continues to suffer as Meechum never tries to get to know his son.  Their relationship is still fragile when the Great Santini flies one last mission from which he does not return.  It is a lesson in redeeming the time before it is too late.

In contrast, God gives us many opportunities to positively affect the lives of others.  We must make the most of those opportunities.  As men, we must take seriously the calling to be a mentor to those God has placed around us.  I had a friend and church member in Kansas who came to visit me at my home in Kansas.  I had a large black Labrador Retriever named Mac.  Mac was great!  Over 100 pounds of muscle!  He loved to jump on you!  He loved attention.  As Mac was jumping on my guest, vying for his attention, my friend looked up at me and said something like: “Dogs are wonderful creatures to have, if they are trained.  If you don’t train them, they’re just a nuisance!”  I started training Mac after that.  J  Sons and daughters, are you trainable?  Are you willing to listen to those that would take interest in your life?

God spoke to the two angels that visited Abraham in Genesis 18:19, telling of the patriarch’s importance and responsibility: “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”  How do we direct our children and our grand children in a way that they will receive the God’s word?  It is challenging to make the time to do that; to prioritize the spiritual lives of others, especially if we’re trying to keep our own afloat.

I think a proactive teacher and mentor in the lives of our kids is something that presents a challenge for men.  We have to learn it.  We are disadvantaged in comparison to the ladies around us.  We can be overwhelmed at the responsibilities of being a father or a grandfather.  Anyone can parent, but few do it well.

What does it take to be an “All Star Dad”? If we were to create a list compiled by children, they might say:

  • A dad who spends time with me;
  • A dad who is able to laugh and joke around;
  • A father who teaches me things.
  • A Dad who loves Mom;
  • A Dad who buys me things; (provides, not spoils).

What would you add to that list? The following are critical, especially in this day and age.

A dad that is concerned for my soul; One who prays and witnesses to those around him, not as if he is trying to sell something, but a father who speaks of God and bears witness of His mercy and grace. What has God done in your life!? Do you speak about it?

A dad who models Jesus Christ. A dad who trusts God! We must model the Christian faith. Recently, I asked one of our church members, Ollie Smith, what makes an “All Star Dad.” He told me: “Being a good example. Don’t use bad language, especially in front of the kids.” I thought, “He’s right!” If you want your children or grandchildren to act a certain way, you have to model it for them.

Jack Graham, author of Man of God: Essential Priorities for Everyman’s Life, refers to a survey that indicated:

“When both Dad and Mom take their children to church, 76 percent of those children become active in their faith. When Dad alone takes the children to church, that percentage drops to 55 percent. But when Dad drops out and leaves Mom to take the children to church alone, only 15 percent of those children remain active in their faith. And if neither parent goes to church with the kids, only 9 percent of those kids become active Christians in their church.”[1]

But let us not get the impression that it is just about attending church. Dads and Granddads, you must also bring church into the home. Do your kids and grandkids see you crack your Bible? Have they ever heard about your faith? Proverbs 22:6 tells us: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

A dad who is not afraid to share the lessons that the Lord has shown him, from His word and/or from experience. We cannot put a price tag on the opportunities that we have to make a difference in the lives of others. Moses instructed the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:7: “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

What else?  I encourage you to go online and read JT Waresak’s “Ten Traits of Highly Effective Dads.”[2]  The following are great additions by Waresak:

  • If married, they uphold their wives as their number one friend and co-worker in life. As someone once said, “the best way to love me is to love my mother.”
  •  They practice the discipline of meekness. Good dads are gentle and approachable.
  •  They make their children feel special and believe in them. The former head basketball coach at NC State, Jim Volvano, once said: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” Great dads believe in their kids and let them know that they are special.
  • Mercy and grace are a part of their households. They know the value of forgiveness and give it, as well as ask for it.

For some, the level of impact we make on those around us can go undetected for years.  For others, it comes out in the strangest of ways.  The point is we must never give up.  Every person is important; every opportunity is valuable.

A grown man awaiting surgery in the hospital was talking with his father.  “Dad,” he said, “I sure hope I can be home for Father’s Day.  I felt awful years ago when I was 10, because I never gave you a gift that year.”

The father replied, “Mark, I remember that Saturday before Father’s Day.  I saw you in the store.  I watched as you picked up the cigars and stuffed them in your pocket.  I knew you had no money, and I was sad because I thought you were going to run out of the store without paying.  But as soon as you hid the cigars, you pulled them out and put them back.

When you stayed out playing all the next day because you had no present, you probably thought I was hurt.  You’re wrong.  When you put the cigars back and decided not to break the law, Mark, you gave me the best present I ever received.”  Sometimes presents are not those things you buy, but actions and behaviors that say: “I’ve not lived nor taught in vain.”

[1] Jack Graham, A Man of God: Essential Priorities for Every Man’s Life. (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 163.

[2] Available at www.drjamesdobson.org.

Why Mission is Critical to a Local Church

The fourth century church father Augustine of Hippo said: “Whoever…thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.”[1]

There are two types of love. One is the love that appeals to our spiritual needs which is satisfied in God alone. This is called our need-love. It is the type of love that responds to Jesus’ invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Then there is benevolent love, that affection that we show others because God is good and we are blessed. We do the latter, not expecting anything in return. We do it because God has so wonderfully enhanced our lives; so we want to bless others.

It is with that benevolent love in mind that we give of our time and abilities in this special Global Aid Missions Sunday. This benevolent love is spoken of in Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. The topic that Jesus is addressing is the Day of Judgment. At this event, all from human history will be gathered to appear before the throne of God to give an account of our lives.

Jesus speaks of the reward given to those who practiced benevolent love in the name of Christ. Verse 37 states: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Who are the least of these? They are Christ’s disciples or those that God will make His disciples. One commentator states that: “Christ identifies with His people. Their suffering is His suffering. Compassion shown to them is compassion shown to Him.”[2]

It is with this passage in mind that we address the importance of missions and the local church.  Missions is a critical part of the church’s operation for several reasons.

ONE REASON CHRISTIANS PARTICIPATE IN MISSIONS AND OUTREACH IS IN ANTICIPATION OF THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.

All of Matthew 24 and 25 is Jesus answer to the disciples’ question found in Matthew 24:3 and following: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” Jesus’ answer was an overview of certain events and circumstances that lead up to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are wise to take notice of them. They are…

  • The presence of deceivers and false prophets; the rise of cults and the proliferation of false teaching, many of which is assumed to be legitimate Christian doctrine.
  • Wars and rumors of wars; (There have been nearly 20 that have started since 2011).
  • Famines, pestilence and earthquakes (natural disasters); These kinds of events seem to be happening all the time. Most recently, Cyclone Pam which hit the South Pacific island of Vanuatu with 168 mph winds, devastating that part of the world. Nearly 5,000 people in Tanna do not have drinking water.
  • The widespread persecution of Christians; Places like Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic state is crucifying and beheading Christians. Christians living in the Middle East are routinely jailed, beaten, have their property confiscated, have family’s homes firebombed and are unwelcomed in most instances. Religious minorities are continually persecuted.
  • And the wide scale preaching of the gospel where people are converted all over the world; People like Daniel Kamaraj who recently wrote Dr. Drake: “A total of 500 Bibles have been distributed to pastors for new believers in the field. There are 150 baptisms ready and I shall be widely travelling in our area to baptize and conduct one day foundational teaching in all our branch churches. Please pray and thank you for helping in this regard.  We are need of more Bibles in 5 more languages.”

We see many of these signs happening all around us. All of this will culminate in the Second coming of Christ. These signs serve as a reality check upon of our faith. Participation in missions is a matter of faithfulness. Christ is looking for faithful servants. Jesus used two illustrations. One is the parable of the Talents in 25:14-30. It was the slave who caused his gift to multiply that received the commendation: “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

In the next passage, Jesus talks about the final judgment where He will separate the sheep from the goats, those faithful slaves from the unfaithful. Sheep, here, are symbolic of Christians, people who have followed the Lord; those who lived to serve others. Goats, are the unbelieving; the sinners; those who have lived for themselves.

Some have tried to diminish the role of faith in the Lord Jesus, saying that this passage teaches nothing of faith and repentance in Christ, but stresses the role of good deeds. Good deeds, if they truly are good, are done out of the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5, 16:26)! Motive is everything!

But what makes a sheep? Who is a sheep? According to this passage…

  • Those who gave food to the hungry; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who gave drink to the thirsty; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who took in the stranger; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who clothed the naked; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who visited the ill and the imprisoned; in the name of Christ!

These will inherit eternal life. These will hear the words: “…you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

In contrast, there are those who are labeled goats. They avoided the actions listed in the previous verses. Why? There are probably many reasons:

  • Indifference,
  • lacking sympathy (care for others) and empathy (experiencing the pain of others);
  • being stingy with resources;
  • those preoccupied with living for themselves;

These will be cursed, judged, sent away into everlasting judgment with the devil and his angels. This is the place we know as hell. It is where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. It is the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is real. Jesus spoke of it often. We participate in missions and outreach in anticipation of Jesus’ return. We participate in missions and outreach is in anticipation of Jesus’ return. Another reason why we are doing this today is…

BECAUSE IT IS THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY TO OBEY THE SECOND GREATEST COMMANDMENT, TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

Benevolent love is found repeatedly throughout the pages of Scripture. The second greatest commandment, as many of you know, is what Jesus stated in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In a long list of ethical mandates, how God’s people were to be truthful, trustworthy, looking out for others, giving to the poor and underprivileged, Leviticus 19: 18 states: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Notice that the Lord is the basis we act with a certain ethical standard.

By practicing benevolent love, the church is a light in a dark place. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It was the 19th century New England Baptist preacher A.J. Gordon who said: “The church who does not participate in missions will soon become a mission field.” Consider the many material blessings that you and I enjoy whether it is food, clothing, drinking water, etc. There are many parts of the world that do not have these basic necessities.

I was speaking with Rev. Ebenezer Browne, who is a church planter in Monrovia, Liberia. God has used Ebenezer to plant 22 churches in that city. I asked him what the biggest needs in his community were. He said without hesitation: Clean drinking water, food, medical personnel and supplies to deal with the Ebola crisis. It occurred to me that we are so fortunate to live in a part of the world in which we have plenty of those things. We are a privileged nation and an advantaged people. Doesn’t it make sense that you operate as your brother’s keeper and help those who do not have what you have?

There is widespread poverty and violence in our world today, causing thousands of children to travel into the U.S. from Central America. San Pedro Sula, Honduras is the world’s murder capital. A Pew Research article stated that some do it because they have nothing; others do it because their home is no longer safe from the violence of the drug cartels. The report stated:

According to the (Homeland Security) agency, the number of children caught at the border has nearly doubled in less than a year, a situation that President Obama has called “an urgent humanitarian situation.”[3]

Church, God has called us to do something. The GAIN project (Global Aid Network) is our way of helping people in these areas. The meals that we will package today will go to local churches and Christian groups who will then distribute them to those suffering from violence, extreme poverty, refugee camps and religious persecution.

I leave you with a quote from English cricketer and missionary C.T. Studd, who served the Lord in China, India and Africa. Before his death in 1931, he said: “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of Hell.”

Joe and Tanna Collins were a couple that felt called to be missionaries to China. So they packed up their belongings and moved there, along with their five children. They had served there at least five years when, on a flight, their plane crashed in Tibet in 1994. The entire family perished. The following note comes from a page in Mrs. Collins’ Bible that was found at the scene of the crash. She wrote:

“Lord, here in your precious Word I give myself, my husband, my children, and all that I have or ever shall possess, all to you. I will follow your will, even to China. Lord, open doors, and I will go and tell the Chinese of your great love. In time of need, supply for us; in time of sorrow, give us peace; in times of joy, send someone to share. Help me to never murmur nor complain. I love you Lord Jesus.”

[1] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.

[2] New Geneva Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1548.

[3] See article at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/01/dhs-violence-poverty-is-driving-children-to-flee-central-america-to-u-s/.

Crucial for a Healthy Church

The following message is taken from Philippians 4:1-7 and addresses compromise and unity.

In his book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer gives this interesting illustration:

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”[1]

Healthy relationships is a practical topic for all of us.  In our times together, we’ve looked at several personal associations in the Bible.  By God’s grace, we have learned the danger of jealousy, as we’ve studied Cain and Abel.  We’ve also learned the blessing of close friendships, like that of Jonathan and David.  We’ve understood that there will be disagreement among the most noble of people; for instance, Paul and Barnabas.

Today, I will conclude our series by looking at one of the more obscure relationships in Scripture that illustrate unity and sacrifice.  Our story today is about two women dedicated to their church, Euodia and Syntyche.  They both served in positions of leadership and service.  They were Christians among the faithful in the city of Philippi.

Paul visited the city of Philippi on his second missionary journey, told of in Acts 16:12.  This was Paul’s first visit to European soil.  He returned there twice to strengthen the believers.  The congregation that God birthed there became very dear to Paul, so much that he referred to them as his “joy and crown.”

THE CHURCH IS KNOWN FOR HUMILITY, HARMONY, AND THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Paul writes this letter from jail, possibly from his Roman imprisonment mentioned in Acts 28, around 61 A.D.  The city was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  The church there was largely Gentile.  It is a note written to emphasize the themes of Humility, Harmony and the Holy Spirit’s work.

For instance, Jesus is the picture of humility in the letter to the Philippians.  Just as Christ became a servant, so also the Christian becomes a servant of Christ’s.  Philippians 1:1 says: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons….”

The one who causes us to willfully become God’s servants is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s work is emphasized in places like Philippians 1:6: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

And harmony goes with the work of God’s Spirit, as Philippians 2:12 says: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life– in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

Humility, Harmony and the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s exhortation is for the church to be at unity for the cause of the gospel.  It could be that this was a congregation that struggled with disagreement, in part because of the growing concerns that surrounded them.  The Philippians were faced with false teachers and opposition from the outside.

And so it was critical for the church to be united.  It takes a proactive attitude; a conscious effort.  This is why Paul identifies three individuals in our brief passage as leaders, who must make a conscience effort to lay down their own preferences and be united in the Lord.  Paul writes: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

These women were being asked to lay aside their own opinions and be united in the Lord.  A key to living in harmony is the place of the Lord Jesus.  He holds a preeminent place in the life of the church.  He is the name above every name.

And one of the most challenging prices of being a member of Christ’s church is to remember that it is Christ’s church.  This takes a conscious laying aside our own preferences for His preferences.  It means that He calls the shots.  What I want is secondary to what His will is.

This attitude is tested with diversity.  The Roman Empire was a diverse, melting pot of races, religious backgrounds and economics.  The church is meant to be diverse for all who are willing to follow Christ.  God wants people in his church that are like you and differ than you!  The church of Jesus Christ has always been made of people from different backgrounds, languages, socio-economic classes. Everyone’s needs are different.  On the other hand, Biblical and theological truth should never be sacrificed for the sake of diversity.

The humble attitude of the Son of God was the prescribed attitude of Euodia and Syntyche and Clement. The church at Philippi existed for the glory of God and for the sake of the good news. This is what brought the church together. Regardless of what divided them, these individuals were on the same team as Paul. They fought for the same things. They were employed by the same God. They lived for the same cause.

The most profound illustration of humility is found in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

There’s a certain way that we ought to think about Christian fellowship. Thinking influences living. Sinclair Ferguson states: “…the details are, tactfully, not discussed by Paul. But the situation was obviously serious enough for him to address these women by name, and the division sufficiently long-standing for news of it to have reached Paul’s ears.”[2] The division between these two women affected the entire church. And that’s what divisions do, if not dealt with. They start out small, but then they grow larger and affect more people when sides are drawn up. Paul was sure of their salvation, but they still had a disagreement. It is possible for two people to be genuinely saved and to know Jesus Christ and yet be in disagreement with each other. We must check our egos at the door. Each of us has a choice to make- to be an agent of division or an agent of unity. Maybe God is calling you to heal a division. People will disagree, but the real issue is not to be disagreeable. And the call to be united is always upon us.

What does unite us?  One thing is our mission statement, which is simple: to love God, serve others and grow disciples.  That’s a message that is meant for us, so that we are reminded what our key business should be about!

It is important for the church to be united today.  All Christians will one day live in the same place for eternity.  So doesn’t it make sense that we learn how to get along this side of heaven?  The “book of life,” is that document in which all the names of God’s elect, the faithful are written; those who were willing to lose their lives for the sake of Christ, and to find it in Him as a result.  Remember that Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matthew 16:24).”

But what is it that encourages unity in the church?  What is one thing that we might do to foster more unity among us?  How does unity relate to prayer and God’s peace?

PRAYER PLAYS A CRUCIAL ROLE IN DISCOVERING HIS WILL FOR OUR CHURCH.

Let us consider the role of prayer.  Verse 4 of our passage: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe those verses could be summed up with the following: “why worry, when you can pray?”  The antithesis of anxiety is prayer.  When we commit ourselves to prayer, we no longer have the need to stalemate, to dig in our heels or be possessive of the church.  We pray and live as Jesus did when He prayed: “Father, not my will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42).”

But we become self dependent when we say: “This is my church!” in the context of trying to get what we want.  “This is my church” does not mean that you will always get your way or that preferences will always be accommodated. Your personal history or heritage, years spent in service or amount of your offering does not determine your importance or strength of your voice. For your information, I have no knowledge of what individuals in our church give.

Being a congregational church does not mean that everything is a popularity contest.  Remember it is Christ’s church.  When we come together with a unified vision that seeks to glorify God, lay our preferences aside and seek His face, His plan and His purpose, then God will bring unity.  We realize the total dependency we have on the Lord Jesus, as He said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  Psalm 133 tells us that God commands his blessing where there is unity.

After our study of Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member early last year, we discovered that ministry is not about our personal preferences or desires, but about expanding and building up the kingdom of God.

Let us rally around this church’s vision statement, which is to… Become fully mature disciples of Christ by… 

  • Glorifying God individually and together as a church
  • Growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer
  • Supporting one another within our church family
  • Serving others as an expression of our faith
  • Witnessing in our neighborhoods and throughout the world

Would you be an instrument of God’s peace? St. Francis of Assisi, who ministered in the early 13th century, is thought to have prayed:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/illustrations/11550051.html.

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 98.

Friends Are Like…

The following message is based on 1 Samuel 19:1-7 and addresses the value of friendship.

To have a few close friends, even just one or two is a tremendous blessing in life.  They help us through life’s challenges.  They encourage us.  Life comes easier with friends.  Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

To what can we compare friends?  Consider these descriptions…

Maybe you could think of a few more.  The point is that good friends are hard to come by and worth their weight in gold.  I’m impressed to hear of several of you who enjoy friendships within the church.  You vacation together, dine together, and spend time together with each others’ families.  What a blessing!

I asked a teenager recently to describe someone who is a good friend.  They responded: “participation in sports, a good sense of humor, someone who is popular, etc.”  Outward qualities attract, but they go away over time. No, rather we should look for qualities that we want to emulate.  Things like honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Church is often described as a family. How would God have us regard each other?

The qualities of 1 Corinthians 13, would certainly make a good friend.  We are reminded there that a friend is: “…is patient, kind. A good friend does not envy, he does not boast, she is not proud.   A good friend is not rude, he is not self-seeking or easily angered.  She keeps no record of wrongs. A good friend does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  A best friend always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”

Our Scripture today speaks of two men who had a special friendship.  They eventually became family, but the kindred spirit they shared long preceded their legal connection.

David was Jonathan’s best friend and his brother-in-law (David married his sister, Michal).  David was also Saul’s son-in-law.  David was the heir to the throne.  When he was just a boy, Samuel anointed David as Israel’s future king, after the Spirit of God left Saul.  Most sons of a king would have felt insecurity or even hatred towards someone like David.  Not Jonathan.  His soul was knit to David’s.  He loved him like a brother.  What drew the two young men to each other?

For starters, Jonathan and David were close brothers because they served the same God.  They both submitted to God’s will.

In contrast to his father, Jonathan did not feel threatened by David.  Rather, his heart was knit to David’s.  1 Samuel 18:1 says: “Now it came about when (David) had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”

One commentator states: “As crown prince, Jonathan would have expected to succeed his father as king.  Here Jonathan’s gifts of his robe and weapons to David not only signifies his loyalty but implies his recognition of David as God’s choice for the next king.”[1]

Part of that relationship with God involved the humility of the two men.  Neither was boisterous or arrogant.  David and Jonathan hit it off.  Such was their friendship that Jonathan was willing, and in fact did step aside as heir apparent to welcome David as Israel’s future anointed king.  Hence the disrobing and bequeathing his sword and other items to David.  What made their relationship so unique?

A second quality that made David and Jonathan such good friends was that they had sacrificial loyalty for one another.  Saul was plagued by an unclean spirit.  He was also obsessed with jealousy towards David.  The king sought to kill David on many occasions.  1 Samuel 20:30 tells us: “Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?”

Mark Boda comments regarding Saul’s jealousy of David: “Saul’s jealousy of David is undiminished throughout the latter half of 1 Samuel.  On several occasions he seeks to kill David, trying to convince his family and soldiers to eradicate his foe.”[2]  Jonathan would risk his life for his friend.  Saul continually tried to kill David.  But every time Jonathan would defend and protect David, even at the risk of his own life.

I want to be a friend like Jonathan was to David.  But I must not look at the qualities that they had and say: “I will only be friends with someone who has this or that.”  Rather, I must ask God to change my heart that I might be more humble.  You must seek the Spirit’s help to make you a better friend!

Maybe this means becoming a friend to someone younger than you, in years or in the faith.  Is God calling you to become a mentor?  Or maybe you could use the friendship of an older, more seasoned person.  Would you allow yourself to be mentored?

Spouses, seek to be friends with your mate.  Parents, seek to be friends with your children.  Grandparents, who knows how much longer you have with your grandchildren?  Time is short. It was once said that my kids will not so much remember what I said when they are older, but how I made them feel.

The following is a message I received from a young mother in Kansas who just lost her dad last week to cancer.  She said: “It is extremely hard all the way around for us. He is in a better place with no pain, we know that, but we want him here with us. He was such a great father, grandfather, husband and friend. He set a pretty high standard for us to follow. I can only pray to teach my children all that he taught us.”

Brothers and sisters, treat your siblings with respect and love, regardless of their age. Seek to build up and encourage each other with your words. Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

We are not given any details of daily conversations between Jonathan and David, but I would venture to say that they lived out these.  People are not friends over night.  Time and actions make individuals friends.

David reacted when hearing of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths, by executing the person responsible (2 Samuel 1:15).  This is the song David taught the Israelites to sing for generations afterwards, recorded in 2 Samuel 1:23: “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions.  How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”

Much has been said over the years about Ronald Reagan’s friendship with Margaret Thatcher.  A USA Today article noted that “Thatcher first met Reagan one-on-one in April 1975 at the House of Commons in London. Reagan, then the governor of California, wrote a thank-you note to Thatcher, then the Conservative Party’s opposition leader in Parliament.”Please know,” Reagan wrote, “you have an enthusiastic supporter out here in the ‘colonies.'”  Nancy Reagan was quoted as saying: “Ronnie and Margaret were political soulmates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism.”[3]

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of touring the Reagan library and museum in Simi Valley, California.  As I was enjoying the different displays, I noticed against the wall the signature book from President Reagan’s funeral.  Under glass, it was opened to a page that read: “Ronnie, Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant.  Margaret Thatcher.”

[1] The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 404.

[2][2] Mark Boda, After God’s Own Heart (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 61.

[3] See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/08/thatcher-reagan-political-soulmates/2063671/.

Agreeing to Disagree

The following message is taken from Acts 15:30-42 and uniquely addresses how the church should handle disagreement.

This is the story of two friends; two men who had the same vocation.  They were called of God to preach and plant churches.  One was from one city; the other from an island.  Both loved God and served the Lord.  They had worked closely for several years.  Their names were Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas were chosen with a number of others to go to Antioch and deliver the decree made at the Council of Jerusalem.  This council would inform the Gentile converts that they in fact, did not have to be circumcised as a supplement to faith in Jesus Christ, like the Judiazers had promoted.  Verse 28 gave them their ethical expectations: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. 30 The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter.”

Paul and Barnabas were skilled teachers of God’s word and were used to set the church on the right course.  They were teachers of teachers.  They had taught and preached together, seeing many come to faith in Christ.  They had a fruitful ministry together.  And as they prepared to leave Antioch, they determined to go back and strengthen the churches throughout Asia Minor, what we know as Paul’s second missionary journey.

In verse 37, we see the men preparing to go on their trip but a controversial issue came up. When it came time to make an important decision concerning John Mark, these two men were divided. John Mark was the younger cousin of Barnabas and the author of the Gospel of Mark.

On an earlier occasion, this man had deserted Paul and Barnabas; left them in difficult circumstances, at the hands of difficult people. You can read about that in Acts 13:13, Mark left them to return to Jerusalem, while the other two set out for difficult territory.

Do they take John Mark with them? Did he learn his lesson from deserting his friends?  Or have they both learned that John Mark was no good for their ministry. Evidently, Barnabas was willing to give John Mark a second chance. Second chances are an act of grace. This gave rise to a “contention.”

But the apostle Paul knew that John Mark could be a liability. Being deserted a second time could mean their premature deaths. They faced much controversy as they went about preaching Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. As well as facing Jews who were instigators.

There was no agreement.  We are not told who was right or who was wrong.  All we know is what happened next: Barnabas left with John Mark for the island of Cyprus.  Paul recruited Silas and set off for other places.  Paul and Barnabas no longer served as one. Both were wholeheartedly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, but they could not agree on this one subject. Their situation raises the question, when is it okay to agree to disagree?

There are times in the church where it is okay to disagree. There are times in the church where disunity on the smaller matters is allowable. The ultimate calling to serve the Lord Jesus Christ should be the rule which binds us together. But it does not mean that we have to agree on details such as where we should minister or how we should minister.

There are various controversies; all issues in the church today; how we should worship; what instruments can be used, if any at all. I know of a denomination that believes that the use of instruments is worldly and a distraction to worshiping the Lord Jesus.  That same background teaches that immersion is the only legitimate way to baptize a new converts.  Quite different than the practice of many Christians today.

What are those things that should unite us? Paul said in Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  Consider the following tenets which must bind us together:

  • One, is the authority of Scripture; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • Two, is the divinity of Christ; John 14:6
  • Three, is the work of the Trinity; 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • Four, is the practice of the sacraments; 1 Corinthians 11:26

Style of worship is a negotiable. Methods of outreach are negotiable. Where we should send our mission money is negotiable. Should we do missions? Nonnegotiable. Should we worship? Nonnegotiable. Should we do outreach? Nonnegotiable.Consider the following obstacles to unity, the tendency for small things to become big things. For one, is our ego, or the passion to be right. I was recently brought face-to-face with something challenging in ministry. I wanted something to turn out a certain way in the life of this church. But, after consulting other leaders on it, it wasn’t meant to be. I had to humble myself and except this as God’s will. The problem is when ego gets in the way. We believe that we have to be right or else…

  • Or else I won’t attend this church anymore.
  • Or else I won’t give my money to the church.
  • Or else I won’t treat that person with love and respect.

You must beware of falling prey to a power trip. Maybe God would want you to be more flexible in some areas or more strongly convicted in others. The next time you feel disagreeable, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this what I want or is this what God wants?
  • Is my agenda at stake or is God’s agenda at stake?
  • Who will be served as a result of this effort?
  • Who will come to know the Lord Jesus for the first time?
  • Who will be deepened in the faith?
  • Is this just challenging my presupposition? (I’ve/we’ve never done it that way before.)
  • Should I be open to something new?
  • Have I prayed about this?
  • Have I consulted God’s word on this matter? John Calvin one said: “It matters not what you say or I say but what God says on the matter.”
  • Even though this might not agree with my political party’s line, is this the right thing to do?

Two, is our inability to listen. If conflict goes unresolved, it can be the soil where bitterness, anger and resentment grows. James 1:9 says: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

Three is our ability to squabble.  Don’t be given over to squabbling.  Don’t go looking for a fight.  Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, says: “I really want to walk into a great church fight. Said no unchurched person ever. Squabbling, faction and division in the church has killed our evangelism efforts as effectively as anything.”[1]  I have come across many people who have admitted to leaving or avoiding a church because of infighting.

CONCLUSION

How did it end?  Paul eventually came back around and welcome to John Mark. You can read about that in. He said in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Did you catch that?  He asked for Mark, “…for he is useful for me.” There’s always a double purpose to everything done for the Lord one is what how it affects me and to how it affects others. Paul labels Mark as “my fellow worker” in Philemon 1:24.  Obviously Paul and Mark reconciled and resumed their ministry together.

What about Barnabas?  We are not given but one verse.  1 Corinthians 9:6 where he states that Barnabas, along with himself is worthy of the label of apostle and worthy of their compensation.  All’s well that ends well.  Is this story such a tragedy?  No.  God is perfect.  People are flawed.  Paul, Barnabas and Mark were flawed.  You and I: flawed.  But God works in and through us, in spite of ourselves!

In the late 16th century, the mayor of Windsor engaged architect Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that it was pointed out to him that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.

Christopher Wren had several more columns added to the building. Each was identical to the first ones he had installed, with one exception. Each lacked one inch going all the way to the ceiling.

Some of those columns were load-bearing and others were cosmetic. The building became known as the Windsor Guildhall.

In the church, it is important to know what is really important, and what is not so important. Be willing to fight for the former, and sacrifice the latter. Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/01/9-sure-fire-ways-make-church-completely-ineffective/?utm_content=bufferfcfe7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer.

Thankful for…

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, as Christians, we have much to be thankful for. God has provided so wonderfully for everything we need towards life and godliness. He has given us salvation by grace through faith. He has given us His word that teaches such things. He has given us His Son, who is our King, our Redeemer and our Friend. He has given us His Holy Spirit to teach and guide us. Our thanksgiving is not limited to the material, but includes the spiritual. Evangelist Michael Yousef says: “Biblical thanksgiving doesn’t focus on our circumstances, but on the goodness of God. Since God’s qualities are not hidden, Thanksgiving is not optional.” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

And yet, we know that it takes just a little more effort to express thanks. It is not something we come by naturally. Hence, the story of Jesus and the healing of the ten lepers. This is an interesting, yet short story, found in Luke 17. Positioned where in the gospel of Luke. They lived in or near Galilee, which means that they witnessed some of Jesus’ ministry. They knew of Jesus’ miracles. They knew what He could do. They also called Him, “Master.” It says in Luke 17:13: “…and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus healed another leper in Luke 5:14. This was in the face of a culture that wanted nothing to do with lepers. The Mosaic Law required lepers not to mingle with others. Leviticus 13:45 tells us: “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Compare with Numbers 5:2-4).

Having leprosy in Jesus’ time was a very difficult matter. Those with the disease suffered from their condition, both physically and socially. By New Testament times, except in a walled town, a leper was allowed to live among his neighbors, providing he had a house to himself.

In Jesus’ day, leprosy was truly a helpless condition. The disease is caused by an infection and involves the loss of feeling. It was thought to be a malady that only God could heal. For example, on the occasion of Naaman’s healing in 2 Kings 5:7 we read: “As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy?” It was a death wish, maybe even much worse as AIDS or the Ebola virus. Donald Carson states: “The Jews abhorred it, not only because of the illness itself, but because it rendered the sufferer and all with whom he came in direct contact ceremonially unclean. To be a leper was interpreted as being cursed by God. Healings were rare and considered as difficult as raising the dead.”

But notice that Jesus is not made unclean by touching these lepers. Rather, the leper is cleansed by Jesus’ touch! The Lord instructed them to go to the priest to be “inspected,” and if healed, welcomed back into the community. But only one recognized the gift of God. Ironically, it was the one least suspected, the foreigner, the Samaritan!

This story teaches us that it is not human nature to say, “Thank you.” Gratitude is something that must be taught. Many of us were taught from a young age the importance of saying: “Please and thank you.” But here, that old manner lesson has spiritual consequences.

As the holiday approaches, I’m sure that there are many things for which you are thankful. For instance, you should be thankful for what you have. Acts 14:17 tells us: “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

Consider the many material blessings that you enjoy whether it is food, clothing, drinking water, etc. There are many parts of the world that do not have these basic necessities. I was speaking with Rev. Ebenezer Browne, who is a church planter in Monrovia, Liberia. God has used Ebenezer to plant 22 churches in that city. I asked him what the biggest needs in his community were. He said without hesitation: Clean drinking water, food, medical personnel and supplies to deal with the Ebola crisis. It occurred to me that we are so fortunate to live in a part of the world in which we have plenty of those things. We are a privileged nation and an advantaged people.

Also, be thankful for what you do not have. Have you ever considered the restraining hand of God in prohibiting you from being given certain things? It could be that the very thing you wish for is an idol and that you would fall deeper into idolatry if you were given it! 1 Timothy 6:9 tells us: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”

Consider the following who have won the lottery (REBECCA CATALANELLO, “HITTING LOTTERY CAN BE A CURSE” SATURDAY, MARCH 20, 2010. Tampa Bay Times,).

Jack Whittaker, a West Virginia businessman won a then record-breaking $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002 at age 55. He soon became a target for solicitors, thieves and lawsuits. Within years, his marriage dissolved, he got a DUI and his granddaughter died of a drug overdose. In late 2009, his daughter was also discovered dead. In an interview with ABC’s Nightline he called the winnings his curse.

Billie Bob Harrell Jr., a Home Depot stock clerk, won $31 million in the Texas lottery in 1997. Then 47, he bought a ranch, gave to family, his church, strangers. Within two years, his marriage was in shambles and his money gone. He was found dead in what detectives determined to be a suicide. His family disagreed over the cause of death. Some believe he was the victim of foul play.

Abraham Shakespeare won $30 million from a Florida lottery in 2006. Then 41, he became very generous with his winnings, giving to family, friends and strangers. He paid off mortgages, bought himself a house and trusted a woman who deputies now say killed him in April 2009. In January, his body was found buried under concrete on a plot of land in eastern Hillsborough County.

Do you recognize what God has protected you from?

Also, be thankful for who you are. If you have trusted Christ, you are rich. God has blessed you with everything you need. Ephesians 1:3 says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” What follows is a list of things like election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, the gospel, its hearing and understanding, and the sealing of God’s Spirit.

When you were baptized, you were cleansed, forgiven, redeemed and transformed. You were raised to walk in the newness of life. You were made new. You are different. You are cleansed. You are forgiven. And most importantly, you are His!

We sit in a privileged place in history. The gospel is clearer now, than it was before Jesus came; and spread farther than the first century. It is available everywhere and understood with all kinds of resources, churches, teachers, etc. God has placed you at this point in human history to hear His Son. Hebrews 1:1: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

Lastly, be thankful for who you are not. By this, I’m not encouraging you to be smug or arrogant. But I am asking us to recognize the privilege many of us possess. Jesus said in Matthew 26:11: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Last Sunday, you heard about Daniel Kamaraj, a young pastor from India. You heard of how he was the first person to become a Christian from his Hindu family. When it came time to sacrifice to the Hindu gods, he would not eat the meat prepared for such rituals, obeying his conscience rather than going with the flow. Being the oldest son out of seven children, he was chided for his faith, and eventually left. After his parents passed away, and it came time to settle the estate with the authorities, Daniel discovered that he had been disowned by the family that he loved. But what his parents gave up, the kingdom of God has gained!

I remember a conversation I had with my dad while he was a high school guidance counselor. We were talking about a boy who had gone through some rough times. His grades were poor. He was in and out of trouble with the law. His home life was difficult. Dad began to relate his situation to me. And he remarked with a tear in his eye: “He doesn’t have a chance!”

Some don’t have a chance. They are exposed to horrific treatment, and forced into slavery. Consider the following statistics from Women at Risk. Here are some disturbing facts about human trafficking in the United States and around the world…

• 800,000 people from the U.S. and around the world are illegally trafficked each year. About half of these are children. This is the fastest growing organized crime in the United States.
• 70% of trafficked women become sexual slaves.
• 300 children are sold in Atlanta, GA each month and around the world; babies are being sold for $25.00.
• Women and girls are frequently the victims of domestic violence and rape.
• Anywhere from 100,000-300,000 children are missing worldwide.
Be thankful who you are not; but use your gifts, your resources and your place of privilege to bless those who are disadvantaged!

The challenge is for you to recognize God’s hand in your life. God has given you so much!

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, a Baptist pastor in Arkansas in his book How to Pray, writes: “Thanksgiving is expressing to God our gratefulness for all of the things He has done for us. Thanksgiving is offering God thanks for the way He has moved in your life and for how He has provided your every need.”

Do not be like the nine who failed to recognize what God had done. Be the one who came back and said: “Thank you, Jesus!”

Opening Prayer for the Pennsylvania State Senate

On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, I was privileged to offer the opening prayer on the floor of the Pennsylvania State Senate. This was a special day, as a resolution was passed, honoring the 280th Schwenkfelder Day of Remembrance. See http://schwenkfelderexilesociety.org/schwenkfelders-in-pennsylvania/.

The following is what I prayed:

“Our Father in heaven, we humbly come before Your throne, as You are the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe. We thank you for this day, as You have gathered these men and women to make important decisions concerning our commonwealth. We thank you for their gifts, abilities and education. As lawmakers of this great state, they serve the people of Pennsylvania and they serve You.

And yet, Lord, we understand that You are the ultimate Lawmaker. We are helpless without Your leading. Your word tells us in Proverbs 16:25 that “There is a way that seems right unto men, but in the end leads to death.” Keep us from acting in our own wisdom. May we operate with the wisdom that comes from You.

Help our laws to reflect Your law, found in sacred Scripture. Your word tells us in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Give us wisdom and discernment to make choices that would glorify You and would be best for the people of this privileged state.

I pray this in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Why Pray?

What keeps us from prayer? Busyness, pride, the feeling that we can take care of life on our own.

Maybe it is the newness of prayer. You’ve heard others pray and you’ve never done it that way before.

Boredom. You think prayer is boring. You don’t want to waste your time stopping and talking to a God that you don’t know that much about. Yet, if you were honest, you live as if you don’t need God.

What must one say in prayer? Sometimes it is just a sigh and the words: “Help me, Lord.” In the spring of 2010, I was lost on the streets of Athens, Greece without my passport and phone. To complicate matters, I did not know the language. My prayer was: “Lord Jesus, help me get back.” And He did!

Prayer is verbal reliance upon God. It is audible faith. If you were asked to give a prayer in our church service, it may be that you would think about what you would say; write it out, and maybe produce a rough draft and a finished product. Prayer can be long and elaborate or it can be short and sweet. It may be that you would need to Prayer is a means of relying on God. It can be defined as simply pouring your heart out before Him. Psalm 62:8: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him….”

Someone that knew of the importance of prayer was the Apostle Paul. Paul and his friends were afflicted. They feared for their lives. (verse 9) Their mission brought them into places and circumstances that were hostile. Adversity drove Paul to prayer. On one of his missionary journeys, his life was in danger. We are not sure what caused Paul so much affliction. We’re not sure what he was referring to. It might’ve been a disease. It might have been a situation like the riot in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19.

A listing of some of his afflictions is given to us in 2 Corinthians 11:23, where we understand that he was flogged and beaten for his message. He was stoned; faced danger from the elements and being in the wild. His life was at the mercy of evil people. He suffered shipwreck and imprisonment. Paul would write from a cold Roman jail cell in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul saw prayer as a lifesaver to his circumstances. He also mentions fighting with wild beasts in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Whatever it was that threatened his life, Paul knew that God rescued him. God was not finished with him yet. God preserved his life. So desperate was his attitude that he actually believed that God would raise him from the dead. Some scholars believe that he was quoting a Jewish verse, from what is known as the “Eighteen Benedictions.” “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, for Thou makest the dead to live.”

What was for the purpose of these afflictions? So that he and his friends may rely on God, “who raises the dead.” (Verse 9). It was for humility, for conforming them to Christ, for removing the self-sufficiency in their lives. Paul was not too proud to request prayer in our passage. He identifies the power associated when God’s people pray in verse 10: “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” In a mysterious way, the prayers of the Corinthians worked in cooperation with the power of God to rescue Paul and his friends.

This in turn will lead to the blessing of many. Lots of things have happened through prayer. Diseases have been healed; people have been brought to safety; families have been restored; marriages have been reconciled; jobs have been found; lives have improved; people have been formed and shaped to be more like Christ; hardened individuals have been saved; lots of things! When you choose to avoid prayer, you lose out on seeing the hand of God move in your life. As the old hymn goes “Oh what peace we often forfeit; Oh what needless pain we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Prayer does not automatically save a person from trouble. God saves us from trouble or preserves us in the midst of it. Paul would eventually give his life for the sake of the gospel. His life was appointed for suffering, as Jesus told Ananias in Acts 9:15: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Paul would teach that prayer is an instrument in the hands of a loving heavenly father, to allow us to see, experience and join in what God is doing. Prayer is a means to see God move and the situation improve.

What have you got to lose? Are you willing to give up your pride; to put away your sense of inconvenience and rely on God for what troubles you? What stresses you? What is robbing you of your joy? Are you willing to give your life up and gain what only God can give you?

Many of you are aware of the horrific car accident on North Broad Street in the early morning hours of Monday; the accident that took the life of a young man in our area. The passenger was Andy Kham, son of Mhong and Samboun. We’ve had the privilege of ministering to the family during this past week. On Tuesday afternoon, Samboun’s testimony: “Our God is amazing!” All of his organs are in good condition. When I asked her what the church may do to help, she said: “All we need is prayer, at this time.” I’m pleased to report that Andy is making improvements every day. We thank God for His provision and mercy in the Kham’s lives.

Prayer reminds us that we are helpless without the Lord. James 4:14 asks: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This is a message and an identity that is so contrary to our culture today. R.C. Sproul states: “We live in a time of practical atheism.” Not many of you would identify yourself as an atheist or an agnostic, but you live like it. You are prayerless, never relying on God. You tend to rely on yourself. If asked, you would say that you believe in God, but you live as if God does not exist, or you don’t need Him.

Here’s John Piper’s explanation: “Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify your friend if a stranger came to see you? Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him?

No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me? And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him and asking him for help and counting on him.”

Why pray? To glorify God as the Supreme and loving Father, Savior and Sustainer in our lives. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Piper ends with this definition: “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.”

Rev. Dr. Tui and Margaret Shishak are examples of how God answers prayer. In 1973, Tui visited two of our former pastors, Rev. Dr. Bert Jacksteit and Rev. Dr. Jack Rothenberger, hoping to secure support for a Christian college among the tribal people of eastern India. Tui came to Central Schwenkfelder Church, trusting that God would provide. 40 years later, Patkai is a thriving Christian liberal arts college and looks to reach out to Burma. Patkai was born out of the prayers of Christians in Nagaland, Manipur and overseas. God answers prayer!

Jesus Knows Your Needs

When Jesus died on the cross, He experienced emotional, spiritual and physical pain. Consider the words found in John 19:28: “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

All of this happened as a result of the work being finished and His life as a fulfillment of Scripture. There were many times in Jesus’ life that He avoided death. At each time, the gospel writers would record something to the effect: “His time had not yet come….” For instance, in John 7:1, we are told that the Jews were seeking to kill him. He said to them: “My time is not yet here…Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.”

Jesus’ life was a fulfillment of Scripture. Regardless of how we might view the Bible, Jesus saw that it as our chief authority deserving of reverence. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that not even the smallest portion of the law would pass away until all of it was fulfilled (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus viewed His suffering, His death and His resurrection as a glorious fulfillment of God’s plan. In contrast, we don’t look at suffering as God ordained. We think that life should be free of pain and adversity. But that just is not realistic, is it? He explained to two of his discouraged disciples on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:25: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

And shortly before He died, Jesus said: “I am thirsty.” The fact that Jesus was parched tells us that He experienced so much of His humanity. His statement proves that Jesus was a real human being. He experienced betrayal, discouragement, and now his body is racked with pain; at the very end, He expresses thirst. Psalm 22:15 describes the level of thirst: My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth…. A potsherd is a broken piece of pottery, dried hard and good for nothing.

Because of the physical stress He was under, it most likely He was reaching a state of extreme dehydration. He probably had not had anything to drink in at least 24 hours. Water is needed for circulation and other bodily processes including respiration and converting food to energy. It has been shown that if you lose just 2.5% of your body weight from water loss, you will lose 25% of your efficiency. For a 175 pound man that is only about two quarts of water. This causes the heart to work harder and circulation of blood to be less efficient. Jesus had been flogged and crucified. All of this under a blazing Middle Eastern sun with the presence of extreme emotional stress. His statement reminds us of His extreme suffering on our behalf.

A mockery of satisfying His thirst, John 19: 29 tells us that they filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. Hyssop was a plant used for sprinkling blood or water in Jewish religious ceremonies. The way that they treated his thirst was cruel, sour, wine-vinegar would hardly quench a thirst; would make most of us sick.

But this is what Jesus went through for us. We call it Good Friday because those who believe realize that they cannot be good apart from that great sacrifice. Someone once said that all the world’s religions are marked by man’s efforts to reach out and grasp God, or the idea of God. It is Christianity that teaches that God reached out to man by sending Jesus to this earth to go to the cross on our behalf. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

This is why Christians for centuries have believed what the Nicene Creed has taught for centuries concerning Jesus: “…Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures….”

Have acknowledged your need for Him? He invites you today to receive His forgiveness, be reconciled to His Father and follow Him.

Are You a Unifying Church Member?

If there was one thing that the Lord wanted the church to be known for, it is the love that we show one another. Jesus said in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” One of the evidences of our love for each other is our willingness and ability to work together. When church members work together, great things happen. When church members don’t work together, the church is weaker.

This has been the pattern for a long time. Clear back in 1747, not far from where we’re sitting, there arose differences and disunity among the Moravian brethren, a group of local churches whose influence and missionary effort were widespread. Count Zinzendorf, with representative elders, arranged to hold a Conference at which the differing views on the subject of their controversy might be aired and discussed amicably among themselves. The leaders came—some from long distances to the place at which the Conference was to be held, arriving on the appointed day, each prepared to argue for the view he supported and confident that it would receive the acceptance of the majority. They arrived about the middle of a week.

In his wisdom Count Zinzendorf proposed that they should spend some time over the Word and in prayer, and suggested a Bible Reading. The book chosen was the first Epistle of John, and they spent the remaining days till the end of the week becoming familiar with the teachings of that letter, and learning that one of its main lessons was ‘love for all the brethren’. They agreed that on the first day of the week, like the disciples in the early Church, they should come together to break bread, and in so doing were reminded that they, being many, were ‘one Body!’ The reading and study of God’s Word and the fellowship at the Lord’s Supper had a beneficial effect on all, and the result was that when, on Monday morning, they commenced to examine the matters on which they differed, their differences and disputes were quickly settled, each bowing to the Word of God and thus helping to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’.

What if you were at that conference? What if I would’ve been there? Would I have been willing to sacrifice my wants and plans and rights, to see the body of Christ work together? How am I doing with Jesus’ commandment? Am I a unifier? Can people tell of my love for them?

This morning, I would like us to look at the idea of being a unifying member. Many Scriptures that paint church relationships are meant to be like a family. Psalm 133:1 states: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!” We have to ask ourselves, What comes in the way of unity? One of those things which destroys it is gossip. The Bible calls this “idle talk.”

According to James 3:6, it is the tongue. Our speech can be wedge to drive people away from the Lord and one another. Or our words can be the glue that holds things together. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” 1 Peter 3:10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.”

By default, we are prone to tearing each other down. Take for instance, when we resort to name calling. It might make you feel better, but it does nothing to help the situation. It only hurts. Even if it is accurate, it does not mean that it is helpful. One wrong turn doesn’t necessarily deserve another. But it was not her place to call names. Such behavior did nothing to help the situation.

Rainer states: “You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force. You are to love your fellow church members unconditionally. And while that doesn’t mean you agree with everyone all the time, it does mean you are willing to sacrifice your own preferences to keep unity in your church.

When Aaron Burr at the end of his long life, during which he had tasted the cup of honor and distinction and also drained the dregs of bitterness and humiliation, lay dying in a boarding house at Port Richmond, Staten Island, a friend who was waiting upon him in reporting to him some rumor commenced by saying, “They say.” At that Burr interrupted her and said, “My dear, never use that word. It has broken more hearts than any other.” Christian author Nicky Gumbel states: “The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Rotary International has a 4-Way test that they recite every week: Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIEND-SHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Another is selfish ambition or independence. When I attempt to advance my plan, my wants and my desires, regardless of the feelings and thoughts of others, then I hurt others and limit what can and should be done for Jesus. Think about the following comments:

• “This is my church, so you have to play the music just the way I want it.”
• “Look pastor, you need to remember who pays your salary.”
• “If you don’t do this program, I’ll withhold my check to the church.”
• “I have been a member of this church for over thirty years, so I have a right to get what I want.”
• I don’t pay good money to this church to listen to sermons that long.”

Later today, there will be two football games occurring. In one of those games, two of the greatest quarterbacks will play against each other. Between the two of them they’ve been in seven Super Bowls. Between the two of them, they have four rings. But they could never have accomplished their stellar careers without ten other men on the field. It’s not about the person. It’s about the team.

Think about those things which facilitate unity: Forgiveness, Love, Sharing/Cooperation, and Patience. I love the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Rainer states: “Church membership is more than getting your name on a roll. It’s different from the perks and privileges you have when you are in a social club. To the contrary, church membership is about sacrificing, giving, and forgiving.”

If there was one thing that the Lord wanted the church to be known for, it is the love that we show one another. What are some ways that Jesus loved His disciples? For one, He was patient with them. Within the body of Christ, it is so easy to learn of each other’s faults and idiosyncrasies. Are we willing to bear with each other? Do we have it to overlook things that annoy us or get on each other’s nerves? Are we willing to come together for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom?

The second pledge in Rainer’s book addresses unity. “I will seek to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.” Can you commit to that?

God’s acre is a small Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem. It is a bit different than other cemeteries. From the Lehigh Valley website: “The unusual appearance of God’s Acre is created by the sameness of the small, white marble grave markers. Each marker, about 18 by 24 inches, has been inscribed with minimal information; name, age and birthplace of the deceased. The markers lie flush to the ground in neat rows. The location of a burial was determined by the next open space, with no indication of the importance of the individual. This reflected the Moravian belief that everyone was equal.”