God’s Gift to Us

As I approached this Advent season, I thought about the one thing that seems to be common among most Americans. That is the purchase of gifts. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, has become just as popular as any day of the year. A week or so ago, I read that there were people camping out in front of some stores, ready to take advantage of the bargains offered.

This Advent season, I want to focus on gifts. A gift, by definition is something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation. For instance, if someone gifts you money, it is given without the obligation to pay it back. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many of us have to shop for the teacher, the bus driver, the boss, the piano instructor, the uncle that has everything, etc., etc. And we are hard pressed to mention what we want, especially if we are satisfied and have need of nothing. A fellow pastor stated: “I have to put together a wish list of gift ideas for Christmas and I cannot think of anything. Feeling like I have to invent something to want.”

In 2011, a record was set on Black Friday weekend. According to cnn.com: “Earlier than ever store openings and steep discounts helped retailers notch record sales …. Total spending over the four-day weekend following Thanksgiving two years ago reached a record $52.4 billion, up 16% from $45 billion in 2010, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Sunday. A record 226 million consumers shopped in stores and online between Thursday and Sunday, up from 212 million the year before. Individual shoppers spent more too, the NRF said. The average holiday shopper shelled out $398.62, up from $365.34 in 2010. All this to say that shopping for Christmas gifts is a big deal.

And yet, we could lose sight of those gifts that money cannot buy. Those things that in fact, define generosity, but you don’t have to camp out in front of Best Buy or Wal-Mart to get them.

Over the next few Sundays, I would like to look at the idea of gifts, and focus on those that are more spiritual in nature. Today, I ask: What have you been given? Let’s look at God’s gift to us. Our Scripture is taken from Romans 8:32, where Paul writes: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

The verse is nestled in a larger passage of Romans 8:31-39. Paul, having established his argument of justification by faith alone in Christ alone: that in order to be justified in the eyes of God, based on the merits of Christ. In order to take advantage of these gifts, one must repent and trust Christ. He states this explicitly in Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

And with trusting Christ, there are mounds of blessings that come our way. The Protestant Reformer John Calvin, wrote: “It is a remarkable and clear evidence of inappreciable love, that the Father refused not to bestow His Son for our salvation. And so Paul draws an argument from the greater to the less, that as he had nothing dearer, or more precious, or more excellent than His Son, He will neglect nothing of what he foresees will be profitable to us.” (Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans, 322)

So what are those things that we’ve been given, as followers of Jesus Christ; things that money could not pay for? Consider the following:

Because of God’s generosity, we are given the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity, He has been given to us as our Comforter, Guide and Friend. He prays for us, as verse 26 says: “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words….” The gift of the Spirit is in spite of the groaning of creation and the longing of redemption of our bodies, which will occur when Jesus returns. The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks as we come to the Lord by faith.

Because of God’s generosity, we are also given the gift of predestinating grace. Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” The simplest way to put this is that God chooses His bride. He does not choose everyone, but gracious picks those who will come to Him by faith and gives them the faith they need to come to Him. 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 on the last day.” This is the wonderful knowledge meant for every Christian to know that God has chosen me as His very own, even in spite of my hatred and rebellion towards Him. He softened my heart and made me receptive to His good news. And I am where I am today because of Him. He picked me and worked in my heart to redeem me from sin’s guilt and power.

He did this on the basis of His Son, Jesus, who went to the cross and died for you and me. God’s greatest gift was Jesus. Jesus was not just a gift to us, but delivered up for us. This implies that He died in our place. He was like us in being human, flesh and blood. He was unlike us in that He was God’s one and only Son. And He was offered as a sacrifice in our place. Isaiah 9:6: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us….” The Messiah was a gift to us. Not on loan, even undeserving! Jesus came as our gift.

Contrast it with the story of Abraham and Isaac. God asked Abraham to take his Son, his only Son, to the wilderness and sacrifice him as an offering. Genesis 22:2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

Abraham obeyed in faith, but Isaac was spared, as God provided the ram in the thicket. The angel said in Genesis 22:12: “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said.”Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Now consider the words of John 3:16, when Jesus spoke of Himself: “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We are so familiar with those words, could it be that they are easily overlooked? Consider the way that Pastor John Piper puts it in perspective: “I have heard it said, ‘God didn’t die for frogs. So he was responding to our value as humans.’ This turns grace on its head. We are worse off than frogs. They have not sinned. They have not rebelled and treated God with the contempt of being inconsequential in their lives. God did not have to die for frogs. They aren’t bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great, only a divine sacrifice could pay it.” As you prepare for the upcoming holidays, remember that God’s love is more incredible than we could ever imagine. So what do we do? How do we respond? Consider the following:

• A Holy Pause. Stop, think and say a prayer of thanksgiving; several prayers of thanksgiving. Jesus lived a full life and yet died at 33. What is the key to that fullness? His agenda was the Father’s agenda. We must stop, think and pray so as not to miss out on how God might speak to us this Christmas season.

• A Worshipful Heart. Make time to worship. Thank God this Christmas season, not just because of what He has given you, but because of who He is!

• A Willing Spirit. Sacrifice. What can you do for others with little return? What can you sacrifice in order to bless someone else? Even when they don’t deserve it! That’s the best time to give it to them! I read this statement recently and I believe it to be true. Think about it: “Blessings are the currency of God’s love. Today is more than a time to remember how many we have for we are all rich, it is a time to think about how we will give away what we have been given.”

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be looking at other aspects of gifts such as our gift to God and our gift to others. What if Jesus had not come? Would we have these things? The Holy Spirit? Predestinating grace? Jesus’ precious sacrifice for sin and all that comes with it? Our lives would be vastly different; our world would be vastly different. Let me end with this story from Missionary Monthly: Bobby had read in his Bible lesson with Daddy just before bedtime the words, “If I had not come.” When he (thought he) awoke Christmas morning there was no stocking or holly wreath. He went for a walk and found factories busy at work; he went to the orphanage and found only a vacant lot. Then he went to his church and found a “For Sale” sign with “If I had not come” written at the bottom. Again he found these words over a gate post of an empty lot, where he went to find a hospital. Disconsolate, he ran home and picked up his Bible, but all the last part of the Book had blank pages. He awoke, found that it was a dream! And with that he slipped down on his knees and said, “Oh, dear Jesus, I am so glad that You did come. Help me to tell others about You.”

Giving Thanks, Regardless

The following message is based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and addresses why we should be grateful. It was shared on November 19, 2013.

What are you thankful for? Being grateful is a state of mind. The story of Jesus healing the ten leprous men in Luke 17 has compelled me to give thanks to God often. He told them to show themselves to the priest and on the way, they were healed. Only one came back and glorified God. Verse 15 tells us: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him– and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” So it is good for us to glorify God by recognizing what He has given us and how He has worked in our lives.

Growing up in Southwest Missouri, I was the youngest of five kids. I went to kindergarten when my oldest sister left for college. Holiday time was special, because everybody came back. At Thanksgiving, after the prayer, we usually went around the table and stated what we were particularly grateful for. Unfortunately, it is human nature to forget how we are blessed. It is good for the soul to “…count our many blessings, name them one by one; then it will surprise us to see what God has done.” This morning, I’d like to encourage you with Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians 5. This instruction comes amidst various exhortations at the end of the letter. The Apostle has gone into detail about the events pertaining to the second coming of Jesus, and how we can be prepared for it. In this final section, he is rounding out the letter. The things he mentions constitute the attitude of the Christian, three things that influence outlook. He says: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. “

All three deal with an ongoing attitude, a frame of mind. Paul mentions here that we are to “rejoice at all times.” What does it mean “to rejoice?” This is not to be confused with just thinking positively. Rather, it is a joy based not on our circumstances, but on God, what He has done and what He is doing. I must say that I struggle with this just as much as anyone. It is hard to be full of joy always; but then again, I know it has to do with how I look at this world and how I look at Christ.

One key to joy is the presence of prayer. That is why Paul instructs us to “Pray without ceasing.” What does it mean to “pray without ceasing?” One commentator states that it is a mental attitude of prayerfulness, continued personal fellowship with God and consciousness of being in God’s presence throughout each day.” One of the greatest examples of this is a man commonly known as Brother Laurence. He lived in France in the 17th century. Working in the kitchen of a monastery, he is known for how he practiced the presence of God. Common, everyday tasks could be opportunities for worship and thanksgiving. He wrote: “”Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” He seemed to live out Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

And if we keep a prayerful frame of mind, we will be able to give thanks often. The English Standard Version states that we should, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving. Many Scriptures suggest this, such as the following. First, thanksgiving is a counter to sinful speech. Ephesians 5:4: “…and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Secondly, gratitude pervades all of life’s blessings and circumstances. Ephesians 5:20: “…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father… .” Thirdly, gratitude is the out flowing of the heart that has been given to Christ. Colossians 2:7: “…having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving….”

This reminds me that sometimes we must perform a sacrifice of thanksgiving. I think it means being thankful, even when it hurts. There is plenty to be depressed over. There’s an overabundance of stuff to rob our joy. Sometimes, we just need to make a conscious decision by faith that we are going to trust God and be grateful for His blessings, even when the tide of emotions would take us elsewhere.

What I’d like to do in the rest of time is to encourage you to “…give thanks, in all circumstances….” First of all, let us be thankful, in the midst of disappointment. In other words, be thankful, even if things are not the best. Recognize the many needs around you. Think on these words: broken families, homelessness, disease, and finally: the Philippines, where over 5,000 have been killed by the Typhoon and hundreds of thousands are homeless.

Maybe it is a job that you hate. Charles Spurgeon, the English Baptist Preacher of the late 1800’s said: “Never mind where you work; care more about how you work!” Having steady work is a blessing. Work is honorable. I know a man who faced difficulty with his job several years ago. In an act of faith, he decided to venture out on his own. Now, he has more work than he can ask for. God has given us our qualities and gifts. He also provides our resources as we have need.

Or maybe there’s a relationship that is strained. Many times we are ungrateful by our idealism. We focus on how we want the situation, rather than what God could be doing is we would turn it over to Him. I have a friend that just lost a brother to cancer. At the time, he was having trouble with his loved one. One day, the brother went to emergency room with stomach and back pains. After a biopsy, the doctors discovered that he had advanced stage of a very aggressive form of cancer. The doctors gave him 6-8 months, he made it 17 days. He was 47. If you are at odds with a person, don’t dwell on the hurt and let it paralyze you. Maybe it is time to express thanksgiving for and to that person. Ask how you might offer thanks to God for them, and improve what you can; in His timing and by His grace.

Be thankful, even when you haven’t as much as your neighbor. Chances are you and I have more than
most. The following comes from a number of reliable sources and asks the question: “Am I Rich?” (See
http://irememberthepoor.org/3/).
• Got $2200? In this world, you’re rich. Assets (not cash) of $2200 per adult place a person in the top
50% of the world’s wealthiest.*
• If you made $1500 last year, you’re in the top 20% of the world’s income earners.**
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy. **
• Have $61,000 in assets? You’re among the richest 10% of the adults in the world.*
• If you earn $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10% of the world’s income-earners.***
• If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy. **
• If you earn more than $50,000 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income earners.***
• If you have more than $500,000 in assets, you’re part of the richest 1% of the world.*

What does God want you to do with your resources? More than just spending it on yourself. Paul wrote the Corinthians: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (II Corinthians 9:11).”

Be thankful for the small things. This might be a sunset, a favorite food, a friend, mobility, education, etc. I will have another birthday in a couple of weeks. After yesterday’s dodge ball tournament, I’m reminded that I don’t bounce back like I once did. I know that time marches on. I must be thankful for today and the blessings I have. I am in relatively good health. I have people who love me. I shouldn’t take these for granted.
Be thankful for spiritual blessings, not just material ones. Do you ever stop and thank God for the spiritual blessings He has given you? Ephesians 1:3 tells us: “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.” Things like forgiveness, adoption, a new heart, His word? I’ve shared with you before how a pastor told me: “Every day there is reason to stop and thank Jesus for what He did for you on the cross.”

Lastly, be thankful for today. Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This struck hard recently. Last week we received word that Linda’s 57 year old uncle suffered a massive heart attack. This was a man that worked hard all his life and provided for his family, in a new country, having to learn the language and adapt to a new way of life, after his marriage dissolved in Korea, He came to the US and had to raise two children on his own.

One day last week, he woke up and attended an early morning prayer meeting. As he was leaving, he collapsed and was taken to a Los Angeles area hospital. While in the ER, had another series of heart attacks and passed away.
Distance and time had become obstacles to our seeing this uncle over the last couple of years. At the funeral, there was an outpouring of love toward Linda’s uncle and family. When it came time for the message, the pastor, had considerable difficulty making it through his message. Later that evening, over dinner, Linda asked the pastor: “Did you know my uncle well?” He responded in broken English: “He was a faithful church member. He really tried to change his life for Jesus Christ. He was a good… friend.” You never know when your day will come. So you must be ready and be grateful for each day you have. I ran across this thought recently. Someone once said: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

Empowerment for Purpose

The following message is based on Acts 1:1-11 and addresses the source of the Christian’s power as witnesses for Christ in the world, which is the Holy Spirit. It was shared on November 17, 2013

Recently, I read of a most strange religious movement sweeping the country, or so the article led you to believe. The Associated Press article read: “It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke. On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago. “There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

Success is not measured by popularity, but by God’s approval. Now there are several things critically wrong with this picture. What are those critical things that are missing? One of those things is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. If there is not message of Christ, there is no Christianity and God is not in it. Without the gospel, a group of people is just a club; an organization. It is not a church. The second critical thing missing is the Holy Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, there is no life. There may be activity, but there is no life. Today, I would like to talk about the place of the Holy Spirit in witness and mission. Jesus said before His ascension 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.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

The Holy Spirit is the most mysterious person of the Trinity. We often forget about him. But without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). It was to our benefit that Jesus ascended into heaven, to reside at the Father’s right hand to pray for us (Romans 8:34). Jesus also spoke of sending “The Helper” in John 16:7: “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” The Holy Spirit is the presence of Christ on earth today. His presence and work is essential for the church to for mission and service. So how should this play out? What does the Holy Spirit do in equipping us for ministry?

First, the Holy Spirit shines the light of the gospel in a spiritually darkened world.

As the world grows darker in sin, the light of the gospel shines brighter. As we await Jesus’ return, the gospel is being preached. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” So now is a time that the gospel is going out and many believe; it is not time for the bookend of history to come about, when God says concerning time for the present earth; “That’s enough.” So the Holy Spirit goes before the spread of the good newes and prepares hearts and minds to receive it. Jesus’ words also remind us that…

The “preaching” of the gospel is not just for preachers.

I would include every Christian. Your words, your lifestyle, your relationships, are all meant to be tools, helps, and displays of the Holy Spirit in sharing the gospel with others. As opposed to the thinking that witnessing is just another task we have to do on an already huge list of things, and probably, arguably the least favorite, we need to change our mindset as a church and as individuals.

Starting on January 12, we are going to be looking at a culture change within our church. Many of you will receive a copy of Thom Rainer’s, “I Am a Church Member.” In the weeks to come, you’re going to be hearing more about this church wide revolution. I want to encourage you to get involved. For many, it will challenge you in your thinking about how we do church. For others, it could be life changing for you.

The following are some helpful items of direction for understanding Christian witness. One thing we have to recognize is that none of us convinces anyone else. Now this is not to excuse the value of a good argument or advancing the truth. Rather, we must realize that it is the Holy Spirit that brings about belief. The Spirit of Christ is He who draws us into fellowship with Jesus. He convicts; ushers, illuminates our hearts to trust and follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 6:37 that no many can come to the Father, unless he is drawn.

If there is any change in our lives, it is because the Spirit is working.

At the point of becoming a Christian, the Holy Spirit brings renewal and life to our dead and darkened souls. Titus 3:5 tells us: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit….” Conversion, from a divine, spiritual perspective is much like a reflex. Jonathan Edwards, the Father of the American Church described regeneration and conversions as the Holy Spirit tapping the knee. We, then react out of reflex. The Holy Spirit affects the mind, will and emotions.

And it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us for witness and service.

Jesus said: “But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” What are we here for? We are here to point others to Christ. It gave me great joy to hear that on Monday night, the Adult Life Bible study prepared and shared the meal with our family staying at Central during November. Many of you have stayed overnight, provided transportation and laundry to help a family turn the corner in their lives. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is using us for God’s glory.

But it is not just the doing, but the speaking is necessary, too.

We need to be looking for opportunities in conversation where Jesus is the topic. We need to share from God’s word and our experiences. Have you ever put your testimony into words? Maybe that would be a healthy exercise, to write down your journey of coming to faith in Christ. How have you found forgiveness? How have you been transformed? Changed? Everyone who is a Christian is a disciple. Look for ways in which you can interact with others in order to introduce them to Jesus. I say this because…

The Holy Spirit is also active when we speak to others about Christ.

Christianity is not just information designed to convince others to join up. Or change by their own will. Rather, the Holy Spirit changes us and transforms our lives for His glory. We also need to trust God with the outcome. You are not responsible for convincing them, as much as you are responsible for being faithful. But there is a message that you must know. It can be confined to these short statements/words:

• God loves: John 3:16
• Sin separates: Romans 3:10
• Jesus died and arose again: 1 John 4:10
• Will you trust and turn? Romans 10:9-10

You might say, “what about the questions?” Mark Dever states: “Actually, having a few questions of your own shouldn’t prevent you from sharing the gospel with others. You can explain to them that while you still have a few unresolved questions yourself, you don’t have enough faith to not believe. There is simply so much reason to believe the good news of Jesus Christ in history, in Scripture, as well as in our own experience that it would take a leap of faith not to believe in the gospel. And an honest conversation like that can be very helpful to a non-Christian.”

Stop and take a moment to do something very important. I want you to take a blank piece of paper and write down the names of 5-7 people that don’t know the Lord, but do know you. Then, over the next month or so, start praying daily for opportunities to share the gospel with them. Start thinking about how you can make legitimate opportunities to share Christ with them. As you pray and witness, remember Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” I leave you with the words of Bill Bright, the late founder of CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Speaking of Christ, Bright said: “Here on earth, He has no lips but ours, no feet but ours, and no hands but ours. God has chosen to use men, not angels, to reach the world for Christ and, if we are obedient, He will use us. We can count on it.”

I was recently faced with the opportunity to share with someone. I was cautious at first, but presented the message as best as I knew how. The meeting ended abruptly and I’m not sure what God did, if anything. But I must trust Him with the outcome. He is the one who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). I’m only there to plant a seed or water it.

Passing the Mantle

The following message is based on 2 Kings 2:1-14 and covers Elijah’s departure from Elisha, and the passing of leadership. It was delivered on November 3, 2013.

Change is never easy. But oftentimes, it is good. Transition is a challenge, but it can be an occasion of growth. We are reluctant to experience change. Sometimes it is downright painful, whether it is the change of a career, the change of a marital status, the experience of loss, or the redirection of life.

Sometimes transition can be seen as a changing of the guard. Speaking of which, it is something special to observe the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Rain or shine, this is done. It is a duty of honor. Because the person laid to rest there is representative of all who gave their lives and went unrecognized.

A lot goes into the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknowns. Their website states: “An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, ‘Pass on your orders.’ The current sentinel commands, ‘Post and orders, remain as directed.’ The newly posted sentinel replies, ‘Orders acknowledged,’ and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.”

Maybe you have experienced a changing of a guard. Have you gone through some sort of transition lately? A new job, a death, or a graduation? A new phase beginning? Where is God in those situations? Today’s story is about the changing of a guard. For the last several years, Israel’s chief prophet has been the man known as Elijah the Tishbite. He has done his work. He has defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He has seen the death of Ahab and Jezebel. It is now time for him to go to God. Incidentally, only two people have been taken from the earth in this way: Enoch and Elijah. Everyone else died. We have that mysterious verse in Genesis 5:24: “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”

Elijah was a special servant of the Lord with unique talents and abilities. But who would replace him? God told Elijah back in 1 Kings 19:16: “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.” This rite of succession would be formalized by the passing of a mantle or cloak. What was a mantle? It was a Piece of clothing that held significance. It meant leadership or a place of importance. In this instance, God was with both of His prophets and now was the time for the guard to be changed. Back in 1 Kings 19, Elijah had placed the same cloak around Elisha for the first time, as a symbol of anointing this man to take his place and be God’s spokesperson to the nation. The cloak was important.

And now, a few years later, it was time for the ceremony to become reality. As Elijah and Elisha journeyed from Gilgal to Bethel and ultimately to Jericho, two companies of prophets informed Elisha that his master, his mentor was about to depart. These communities were schools of prophets. Elijah was the pinnacle prophet of the nation and now Elisha was assuming his position. Elisha knew that it was time for Elijah to go to the Lord and it was not a happy time for him. He did not want Elijah to go. Verses 1-10 function as a long goodbye. He may have felt something similar to the disciples when Jesus told them that it was good that He would depart, so that the Holy Spirit would come. Jesus said in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

In verse eight, Elijah and Elisha come to the edge of the River Jordan. The act of parting the waters and crossing to the other side was significant. It is a reminder of God’s presence. No one can part water except God. The definition of a miracle is the suspension of the natural elements for the purposes and testimony of God’s greatness. On another occasion, God parted the waters of the Red Sea for His children. At a strategic time, when Israel was most vulnerable, we read of the angel of the Lord hemming the Israelites in and Exodus 14:21 tells us: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” God would do the same thing at the River Jordan as Joshua and the people of Israel went into the Promised Land.

When Elijah is about to be taken up in the air by the whirlwind, Elisha asks for something special: a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, in order to do the work of the Lord. This brings up the importance of Christian leadership. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Each person has his own set of spiritual gifts. Not everyone could be an Elijah or an Elisha. But if you are a Christian, He has called you to be equipped so that you can minister to others. What role does God want you to play in His kingdom? Are you living up to the calling that He has placed on your life? Paul wrote in Romans 12: 4: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

In addition, interesting are the parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus; Elijah and Elisha. Elijah paved the way for Elisha. John the Baptist did the same for Jesus, being that “…voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord.’” God allowed Elisha to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit upon request. John recognized that this would be given to the Anointed One coming after him when he said in Matthew 3:11: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” When he saw Jesus, he would say: “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” Then, when Jesus came to be baptized, John was hesitant, saying in Matthew 3:14: “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

God is often depicted as a warrior, fighting for His people. Unlike Baal who was matched by the seat and river, God has complete power over His creation. When Jesus returns, it will be to do battle with the evil forces of the earth. What side will we be on? Revelation 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”

Then it came time for the goodbye. 2 Kings 2:11: “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. He called out to Elijah as he was taken up into the clouds. It was not to get Elijah’s attention to the events happening around him, but to draw attention to the ministry of Elijah himself. To have the prophet’s presence is to have the chariots and horsemen of Israel. That is why two companies of fifty men were torched when King Ahaziah’s men were on their way to consult Baal-Zebub about the king’s health in 2 Kings 1.

At Elijah’s departure, Elisha tore his clothing and asked a powerful question in verse 14: “Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it.”Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. 15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. The mantle had been passed. This was a new day and the changing of the guard/prophet for God’s people.

The challenge is to adapt to the change that comes to all of us. After a time of mourning or readjustment, it is time to serve the Lord with new vigor and determination. Change is inevitable. And change is good. And it is coming, regardless if we are ready or not.

While visiting the U.S. after World War II, Winston Churchill was aboard a train bound for Missouri with President Harry Truman. They were in a special car which had the presidential seal hung up on a wall. Truman noticed Churchill studying the seal and he pointed out that he had changed it so that the eagle on the seal was turned toward the olive branch instead of the arrows. “Why not put the eagle’s head on a swivel,” suggested Churchill. “That way you could turn it to the right or the left, depending on what the occasion warranted.”

On this All Saints’ Sunday, we have acknowledged these loved ones and fellow Christians. We’ve remembered them with a short tribute. We wish they were still here. If they were able, what would they say to us? How would they advise us for years of fruitful ministry? “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” we might ask? He right here with us, as long as we follow Him.

What Comes Around…

The following message is based on 1 Kings 21:1-25, and was given on Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013.

Have you ever felt that justice needed to be served? There’s something in us that desires fairness. And our thirst for the right comes to the forefront when we read of stories like Colleen Ritzer, the 24 year old high school math teacher in Danvers, MA who was recently tragically killed by one of her students. The news reports stated that she was “beautiful inside and out,” a ray of light, someone who always wanted to be a teacher and took great pride in her craft. On August 11, almost as an eerie forecast of her life, Ritzer posted on Twitter: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” Now, a family is mourning, a community is mourning, and a school has been robbed of one of their best educators. We read such things and wonder where the justice is.

“What comes around…goes around” is a phrase that we’ve used for a long time. According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms, the proverb essentially teaches that “The results of things that one has done will someday have an effect on the person who started the events.” A person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. When those consequences occur, we say: “He got what’s coming to him!”
Maybe you have been the victim of injustice. Have you had your home broken into? Something stolen that was precious to you? Maybe someone has hurt you and you’d love to see them repaid. Or for the right to be settled. For many of us we mutter beneath our breath: “What comes around, goes around.”

In our story, King Ahab, one of, if not the worst king in Israel’s history wants Naboth’s vineyard. We don’t know much about Naboth. We don’t know about his socio-economic status, whether he is a slave, or a business owner. But he is a Hebrew. It’s safe to say that he’s a regular guy. And he has a vineyard that King Ahab desperately wants. So the king offers compensation. But Naboth denies him. Why did he deny him? He could have been given a nicer and larger vineyard? After the Exodus, when Joshua led the people of God in the conquest of the land of Canaan. That land was a permanent gift from God to the children of Israel. And it stayed in certain families of the different tribes forever. Vineyards were sign of permanence. They did not grow over night, but after a long time. A well established vineyard is one that spoke of stability. Levitical law stated that although the land could be leased, it was not to be sold outright. As Ray Dillard points out: “The land had been provided by God as part of His grace toward Israel; therefore, no one was to take the land of another away from him.” Even if there was a sale, the land returned to the owner in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:13-17, 25-28). So Ahab was out of line with his request. This is why Naboth responds in verse three: “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”

EVIL ABOUNDS.

This passage reveals a lot of flaws in the characters. And if we’re honest, we might see a little of ourselves in them. One is that Ahab was incredibly selfish. So what happens next? Ahab then comes home only to sulk and mope around the palace. He lusted after this plot of land that belonged to Naboth and it showed in his countenance. His wife, Jezebel notices. She inquires as to his sullen appearance: “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

The solution is simple to the manipulator Jezebel: kill Naboth. But there would need to be a scheme. In order to cover their tracks, they will plot a way to frame Naboth and have him stoned. What she proceeds to do is call for a fast, a time when people would come together for a solemn observance. During that time, two trouble-makers would be placed near Naboth and raise a ruckus, accusing him of things he did not do. Verse 13 tells us: “Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.” Do you see where selfishness and manipulation led Ahab and Jezebel? Murder. If we were honest, such things as covetousness and the manufacturing of circumstances for our benefit have gotten us into trouble too.

Where’s the justice? How unfair! Someone has to pay! Yes. Maybe you’ve been the victim of similar circumstances. Maybe not so extreme, but you’ve been wronged, accused, treated unfairly. Mistreatment has been around for a long time. It is a characteristic to this sinful world. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The sooner we come to the realization that not everything in this life is based on fairness, the better off we’ll be.

But our mistreatments ought to drive us to a deeper trust in the Lord Jesus. Every injustice is an opportunity to trust God. Christ spoke of the possibility of personal peace, even when your life is falling down around you. He said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In this world, where evil abounds, we must remember that…

GOD IS THE AVENGER OF EVIL.

What happens to Ahab? His sin is found out and God speaks
through the prophet Elijah concerning it. Verse 17: “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood– yes, yours!'” Up to this point, the real situation is unknown to everyone except Ahab, Jezebel and God. But the Lord informs His spokesperson that judgment was about to come to the king and his household. The prophet would also pronounce judgment on Jezebel in verse 23: “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”

What can we learn from this incident? God is the avenger of evil. He will not let injustice take place without returning it on the heads of those who perpetrate it. Incidentally, 2 Kings 9:30-37 tells us of Jezebel’s fate. She was thrown out a palace window and trampled on by horses, then eaten by dogs. When they buried her, the only thing remaining was her skull, her feet and parts of her hands. Ouch!

God’s justice also comes by way of what people sow and reap. Take for instance, Proverbs 22:8: “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed.” Notice what Paul says in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” In other words, there are consequences to one’s actions, and God is the determiner of the consequences.

There might be times that we wonder if God is paying attention to the world around us. But He is! He is the avenger of every wrong committed. The Apostle Paul writes to those being persecuted and facing various trials because of their faith in Christ in Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. And God knows our days. There is a day of reckoning and we must be prepared for it. Jesus will one day return to judge the earth. We believe that He now resides: “…at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” And we must trust Him, no matter what.

But God is also patient and willing to forgive the person who repents. Notice an ironic twist occurs. Ahab repents. Verse 27 states: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 28 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

Lastly, God is merciful. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, but desires repentance. Ezekiel 33:11 states: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” What’s more is that this should remind us that we must be walking with the Lord. We cannot take matters into our own hands, and live like we want, without it coming to haunt us. I was recently watching the drama miniseries the Hatfield and McCoys. Kevin Costner plays Hatfield, who is responsible for the loss of many lives during and after the Civil War in Kentucky and West Virginia. He eventually died of pneumonia at age 81, not before he repented and turned to the Lord. They were two men that took matters into their own hands. Jesus said in Luke 15:7: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Until Jesus returns, you will always live in a world of injustice. At the root of what we label unjust, is the sense that our will has been violated. Pastor Mark Driscoll recently stated: “Don’t ask “What’s best for me?” Ask “What will honor God?” That’s what’s best for you. God’s will is holistic. Ours is pretty self-centered.” You will also be a participant in various degrees of injustice. But we must see ourselves in Ahab and repent before it is too late. When we do, God is able to restore us and make us into what He wants us to be. So there’s more at stake than just the injustice that you and I live in!

In the laboratory of the great chemist Faraday a workman accidentally dropped a very valuable silver cup into a tank of strong acid. He and the other workmen stood over the tank mournfully watching the quick disintegration of the cup. But Faraday, seeing what had happened, poured a chemical into the tank. The silver was precipitated to the bottom and recovered, and the shapeless mass was sent off again to the silversmith to be refashioned into its former likeness. So the grace of repentance and of faith can recover what has been lost and restore it to its former usefulness and beauty. That’s what happens when a sinner repents. God is able once again to mold us into who He wants us to be.

The Difference Between Famine and Feast

The following message is taken from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and addresses the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as communion. The Lord’s Supper is a meal, reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice and spurring our devotion to Him. It was preached on October 6, 2013, World Communion Sunday.

A few years ago, our family and some guests traveled to the Valley Forge National Historic Park. On the memorial arch that stands approximately three stories in the air, there is the verse from Revelation 7:16 which stands as a testimony to the grave condition of the soldiers who weathered the winter of 1777-1778. It says, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more…” Battling illness, hypothermia, and a loss of morale, they stuck together, although it cost many their lives, one in ten to be exact. The arch is there as a memorial, a testimony of something we should not forget.

Today, we turn to another type of memorial, with far greater significance. According to the Protestant Reformers, there were three distinguishing marks of the church: the preaching of God’s word, the Bible; the discipline of its members and finally, the practice of its sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. On this Sunday, known as World Communion Sunday, we turn to our attention to the Lord’s Supper.

We turn to a passage within Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Corinth was a well-known, worldly city in Greece. The church there was challenged with how to live as Christians in a cosmopolitan setting. There were all sorts of problems within the congregation. For one, they were allowing public sin to carry on without Christian discipline. There were various conflicts over leadership, spiritual gifts numerous problems and misunderstandings. Part of the conflict was theological, others were emotional and relational. It is a reminder that there is no such thing as a perfect church. And so Paul writes this letter to correct many of the problems, misunderstandings and strife within this church, because it would no doubt affect their witness in the city.

One of those problems was how they conducted their worship. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is in the process of teaching on how public worship must be conducted. In verses 17 and following, we have a larger section concerning the Lord’s Supper. We see from this passage that there were divisions in verses 18-19. Different than only the bread and cup being served, the early church practiced communion as a meal. In this instance, some were receiving their fill of food and drink, while others went without. Herein lies the difference between spiritual famine and spiritual feast. You can come to the observance of this solemn meal, with food on your mind, or you can come with the Lord Jesus and all that He has done for you. Paul is essentially asking: “What type of food are you looking for?” Paul corrects their understanding the Lord’s Supper and how the Christian is to observe it. Let us ask certain questions from our passage this morning: First…

WHAT IS THE LORD’S SUPPER?

Simply put, the Lord’s Supper is one of the two sacraments or ordinances which the church practices, the other being baptism. It is practices in a continuum of the Old Testament Passover, with the fulfillment found in the death of Jesus Christ. In that account, the Jews applied the lamb’s blood upon the doorposts so they would be spared from God’s wrath, poured out on the Egyptians. In a parallel manner, the blood of Christ spares the believer from God‘s wrath that will be poured out upon the world a the end of history.

Our Lord Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples in the upper room shortly before he was taken into custody and eventually crucified. In short, the Lord’s Supper, or communion, is spoken of by the Apostle Paul in verses 23-26. Paul wrote what we call, our Words of Institution: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

So when we gather together on Communion Sundays, we reaffirm our faith and observe this meal that honors Him. We demonstrate our appreciation for the Lord’s sacrifice; we make several statements.
One, that there is a statement of hope. The Lord’s Supper is a visual, experiential reminder that there is forgiveness; there is hope; there is restoration! It is mandated and expected that every church perform this act of worship in honor of Jesus who died for us and atoned for our sins.

It is also a statement of unity. We are united to the Lord Jesus and united to every believer who calls on Him with sincerity and truth. Today, Christians all over the world are observing the Lord’s Supper. What did Schwenckfeld say about the Lord’s Supper? Schwenk-felders are known for the Stillstand. We stopped observing the Lord’s Supper for a time because of the divisions in Europe over faith matters. But that should not mislead us into thinking that Schwenckfeld did not appreciate the Lord’s Supper. This is what he said: “I hold to the Holy Sacrament of the altar, or in other words the Supper. I adhere to it as fixed by the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe and confess that the belief of Christians is that the true life and true blood of Jesus Christ is in the Lord’s Supper. However, truly and essentially in the mystery of the sacrament, is eternal life eaten and drunk.” It is not that if you eat the piece of bread and drink the grape juice that something magical happens. No, rather it is a reminder and a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to point you to the sacrifice of Jesus and that you are lost without Him. Which ought to, in turn, well up thanksgiving and praise within you and me towards our Savior.

It is also a statement of anticipation. As Christians, we look forward to something happening in the future. It also is an anticipation of the future, when Jesus will share the cup with us in heaven, with all those who will inherit eternal life.

And so, communion is a meaningful thing. The Lord’s Supper is a demonstration of commitment and discipleship. It is a reminder to all those who take part that your relationship with Christ is one of dependence. Just as you depend on bread and drink for sustenance, you eat of those items representing the body of Christ and are reminded that you cannot survive without Him. This thought echoes Jesus’ words found in John 15:5, when he illustrated that His followers’ lives depends upon Him in which the same way as a branch depends on life from the vine. He said: “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.” So if communion is this act of dependence, What are some things we should have in mind as we prepare ourselves?

IN WHAT FRAME OF MIND AND HEART SHOULD WE PARTAKE OF COMMUNION?

When we partake of these emblems, you and I proclaim His death, we renew our vows to honor and obey Him. And the Holy Spirit reminds you of His great sacrifice on your behalf. It is a reverent occasion. We find the gift of this admonition in our focal verse today, Verse 27, which states: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” In order to gain a grasp on the way in which one should observe this meal, let us look at a couple of terms the apostle uses.

First, he speaks of those who partake of the Lord Supper “…in an unworthy manner.” What could this mean? The word implies carelessness or being improper. He associates it with same which he says “They shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” In other words, we ought to play attention to the condition of our hearts and minds when receiving the bread and the cup, Justin Martyr (100-165): Christian philosopher and apologist , wrote: “And this food is called among us the Eucharist of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

And this should be something that we who have done it many times can fall prey to doing, even unintentionally. One point of carelessness is unrepentant sin. Maybe there is something you have done that you’ve not asked God to forgive you? Maybe there is something that you are doing right now- that you love more than you love the Lord Jesus. I remember as an adolescent that I prayed, “Lord, I love you, but let me do this one more time.” And it was wrong! I loved my sin more than Jesus.

Maybe we need to forgive someone. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14:15).” We often fail to consider the gradual, cumulative effect of sin in our lives. In St. Louis in 1984, an unemployed cleaning woman noticed a few bees buzzing around the attic of her home. Since there were only a few, she made no effort to deal with them. Over the summer the bees continued to fly in and out the attic vent while the woman remained unconcerned, unaware of the growing city of bees. The whole attic became a hive, and the ceiling of the second-floor bedroom finally caved in under the weight of hundreds of pounds of honey and thousands of angry bees. While the woman escaped serious injury, she was unable to repair the damage of her accumulated neglect.

We must recover a proper theology of sin, that it is first against the Lord; other people, even ourselves are collateral damage. But when we sin we offend God. People do a lot of things because others are doing it; people do a lot of things because it feels good or because it is convenient, or because no one is looking, or because no one seems to care. But God cares. And He is calling us to a higher standard! After David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he prayed in confession in Psalm 51: “Against Thee and Thee only, have I sinned and done what is wrong in your sight.”

If you have done something to another individual, maybe you have hurt them or treated them unfairly, that needs to be taken care of. God is calling you to do so! Or maybe you need to forsake something.

This passage is really about body life and how we treat one another. In Corinth, selfishness had reached an all time high. There were people taking their matters into their own hands. They would show up for the Love Feast and eat and drink till they were merry. Then others, showing up later, did not receive anything. So Paul addresses the situation by simply stating: “Remember what and who this is about!”

The Lord’s Supper brings to mind what Someone did for us. It was the supreme display of love, where Jesus exchanged our sin for His grace. He put our sin on Himself, and gave us us righteousness. Booker T. Washington was born a slave. Later freed, he headed the Tuskegee Institute and became a leader in education. In his autobiography, he writes: “The most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave boy…was the wearing of a flax shirt. In that portion of Virginia where I lived, it was common to use flax as part of the clothing for the slaves. That part of the flax from which our clothing was made was largely the refuse, which of course was the cheapest and roughest part.

I can scarcely imagine any torture, except, perhaps, the pulling of a tooth, that is equal to that caused by putting on a new flax shirt for the first time. It is almost equal to the feeling that one would experience if he had a dozen or more chestnut burrs, or a hundred small pin-points, in contact with his flesh… But I had no choice; I had to wear the flax shirt or none. My brother John, who is several years older than I am, performed one of the most generous acts that I have ever heard of one slave relative doing for another. On several occasions when I was being forced to wear a new flax shirt, he generously agreed to put it on in my stead and wear it for several days, till it was “broken in.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Where Does Milk Come From?

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 17 and tells how wonderful of a provider the God of the Bible is. It was given on September 15, 2013

Where do our blessings come from? Do we stop and think of God’s activity in our lives? Can we attribute all that we have as coming from His gracious hand? A young boy went to the local store with his mother.
The shop owner, a kindly man, passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him. When outside, the boy’s mother asked why he had suddenly been so shy and wouldn’t take a handful of suckers when offered. The boy replied, “Because his hand is much bigger than mine!”

Do we see how big His hand is? the blessings in our lives, whether they be people, places or things, as coming from God’s hand, or just the product of coincidence or from our own doing? It is like the old saying, ask a city kid where milk comes from, he may say: “The store.” Do we understand that these things are in our life as gracious acts of God? And then, what are your needs? What has He already given you? What is the purpose of prayer? Recognizing both!

As we continue our study in the life of Elijah, our passage this morning teaches us of one of the qualities of God. Among the many names of God, one is Jehova-Jireh, which means: “The God who provides.” Examples of this are in Genesis 22, when God provided the ram in the thicket, to take the place of Isaac, as Abraham’s sacrifice. Or when Joseph was in Egypt, how God put him in Pharaoh’s cabinet of leadership, so that many lives could be spared. Or when David said in Psalm 37:25: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

Not only do we rely on the Lord for our physical needs, but He has abundantly provided for our spiritual needs. This made Paul say from a cold prison cell in Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1 tells us that we have been lavished with grace. Ephesians 1:3: “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. … 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Jesus talked of receiving blessing that is “…pressed down, shaken together and running over….” How is your cup running over? In our story today, God provided on several fronts. First of all, let us consider God’s hand in Elijah’s life.

GOD’S HAND GAVE ELIJAH THE THINGS NECESSARY FOR HIS MINISTRY.
In 1 Kings 17:1-7, Elijah speaks a word of judgment to Ahab, and then is drawn into the wilderness to spend some time alone with God. During that time, we are told that the ravens fed Elijah. Miracle #1: God using His creation to perform His purposes! He provided Elijah food and water, and peace after He withdrew him to the wilderness alone for a time of prayer and preparation for what lay ahead. He had a tough task- to speak to wayward Israel and especially their wicked king and queen: Ahab and Jezebel! Elijah needed to be alone. In a similar way, Jesus often withdrew to pray.

Elijah was known for his prayer life. Look in James 5 and see how Elijah’s life is a testament to prayer. James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. God is concerned for us. He uses us. Psalm 121:1: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” The Psalmist wrote, the nearness of God is my good (Psalm 73:28).

Not much is known about Elijah. He kind of just shows up in the setting of sin and pain. But God called Him to do great things. We can learn a lot about the impartiality of God. Hear the words of Ray Dillard: “God looks not for fame but for faith, not wealth but willingness, not renown but reliance.” (REPEAT!).
But God was preparing Him for the future. This would not be an easy career for Elijah. His life would be in jeopardy. He was on the run for a time. Next, we see…

GOD’S HAND GAVE THE WIDOW WHAT SHE NEEDED FOR FAITH AND LIFE.
After this time in the wilderness, God sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath, about 60 miles from the Gilead region. Notice verse 8: “Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” Secondly, God provided the widow Elijah. 1 Kings 17:8-16 tells us that Elijah would be the instrument used as a catalyst for food, when the widow and her son were about to die. None of us have experienced a famine. People sometimes have to go days without eating. The widow is from a town called Zarephath, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, between Sidon and Tyre. Interestingly enough, where Jezebel is from and where Canaanite worship is its strongest. Jezebel is the daughter of the king of Sidon. So what Elijah is about to do, will eventually get back to the queen.

Elijah goes to this Gentile woman. When encountering ridicule from His own countrymen, Jesus mentions her in Luke 4:25 as a special recipient of God particular grace: “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” God picked her and was about to change her life.

But she had to trust God and trust Elijah. As a result, a family was made whole again. She essentially had to tithe to Elijah. Notice verse 12: “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread– only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it– and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’” God honors those who place Him first. Through Elijah, the Lord is invoking this woman to place Him first. It is a test of faith. This reminds me of the accounts of Jesus feeding the four thousand and the five thousand. From something so little, came something so much! He can do the same thing with our lives! God not only provided them with food, but in just a while, something greater would take place.

God also provided life for the widow’s son. Elijah would be the vessel employed to bring her dead child back to life. What Elijah is about to do will completely change this woman’s theology. In Elijah’s day, Baal was the god of the storm, and also the God of life. Only God can raise the dead. He did it on many occasions: Jesus raised the centurion’s servant, the girl who had died, his dear friend Lazarus, and Jesus Himself was raised from the dead. We sing songs about the resurrection and we celebrate Easter, but do we stop and think about the power of God to raise the dead!?

If the son dies, the widow was about to loses everything. If you do a study of widows in the Bible, you discover that they are particularly needy, dependent upon others. To be a widow was synonymous with being poor. Widows lost all hope when their spouse and children were gone. No welfare system; no government programs to help them. That is one of the things that makes the story of Ruth and Naomi so endearing. Naomi had no one, except Ruth.
In 1 Kings 17, God was putting this widow’s faith to the test. It hadn’t been too long before that Elijah supplied her with food. Now her son had stopped breathing. Elijah stretched himself out on the boy three times and prayed. Three is a significant number in the Bible. Jesus was in the tomb a portion of three days. But in this story, God, through Elijah, gave the widow her son back. Miracles are meant to do two things: to manifest the glory of God and to invoke belief. This is what occurred after Jesus turned the water into wine in John 2:11: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” Notice how the widow responded: “Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW?
What can we learn from the life of Elijah in this text? One, we must be willing to obey; willing to be used of Him. When there is an opportunity, we need to see how we can provide for it because, after all, we’ve been given MUCH!!!! God is sovereign. He rules. He is in control, regardless of the circumstances.
This passage teaches us that we need God. More than we need things or people, or prosperity, we need God! Jesus said “what good is it if a man gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul.” He also said: “Your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

We cannot approach God as if we are entitled, or that He owes us something. We are to submit to Him in all things! A man writing at the post office desk was approached by an older fellow who had a post card in his hand. The old man said, “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The man gladly did so, and he agreed to write a short message on the post card, and he even signed it for the man, too. Finally the man doing the writing said to the older man, “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?” The old fellow thought about it for a minute, and he said, “Yes, at the end could you just put, ‘P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.'” We must be thankful! Enjoy the blessings of God because you never know when they will be taken. That’s not to invoke fear, but gratitude!

And, we need each other. God provides people in our lives to minister to us. The Lord knows it all!! God used Elijah in this widow’s life. After God gave the widow food and her son back, I want to draw your attention to her response in verse 24: “Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

Have you ever prayed for something, only to be given it, then to move on to the next thing you need without recognizing God for His goodness and grace? Have you ever prayed for something and it not work out quite the way you wanted? Sometimes we need to redefine what blessings are? Are blessings just good health? Enough money in the bank? Circumstances just right? What if you don’t have good health? What if money is tight? What if life has been a train wreck lately?

Maybe there are other ways that God is blessing you. Maybe you have overlooked some right in front of you. Have you read the story about the teacher who asked her pupils what they thought the Seven Wonders of the World were for today? The highest vote count was for the great pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Great Wall of China. As the teacher gathered the votes, she noticed one girl had not finished. The teacher asked if she was having trouble making up a list. She said, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there were so many.” The teacher said, “Tell us what you have and maybe we can help.” The little girl said, “I think the seven wonders of the world are to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love.” Whatever the situation, we must trust in the sovereign love of God.

Ministry that is Messy

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 16:25-33 and introduces the life and ministry setting of one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Elijah. It was given on September 8, 2013.

I trust that you have had a good summer. I certainly did. Many of you knew that I was on sabbatical, a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by the Board of Ministries. While away, I worked on my D.Min. dissertation, which pertains to Christian Education. I also took the opportunity to visit some of our neighboring churches in the area, particularly those that are contemporary in their worship style. I discovered some new things. Some things I liked; other things I did not. It was a great learning experience.

I also spent significant time with my immediate family. I am pleased to report, we all still love each other. No other living arrangements at the time. Today, I want to touch on the aspect of family and the role of its leadership. I’m a firm believer that men are called to be the pastor of their homes, caring for the spiritual needs of their wives and children. I recently read of an incident reputed to have taken place in the late 19th Century that underscores the vital importance of both honesty and consistency in the home.

It seems that a father had two sons who had become attached to a stray dog that wandered onto their farm. They saw an advertisement in the local paper about a lost dog that fit the description to a tee. The dog was coal black except for a few white hairs at the end of his tail. Not wishing to disappoint his sons, the father carefully separated the white hairs on its tail and pulled them out. When the rightful owner heard about the dog, he went to the farm to take him home. It was quickly obvious that the dog recognized the man as its master. But when the man wanted to leave with the dog, the father said, “Didn’t your ad say that your dog had white hairs on his tail?” Finding none, the man was forced to leave without his dog. Some years later, the father wrote of the event saying, “I kept the dog, but lost my boys.” Those boys became notorious outlaws – Frank and Jesse James. Never underestimate the power of influence, especially in the home. We can learn the same lesson in the last few verses of 1 Kings 16, as we consider the line of Israel’s kings. From this we learn that…

OUR WORLD HAS ALWAYS BEEN SPIRITUALLY MESSY.

Jeroboam ruled Israel from 931-910 B.C. and was Israel’s first king after the split. He did evil by setting up high places, alternative sites for worship instead of urging the people to go to the temple in Jerusalem. M.S. Seale tells us that Jeroboam: “…also set up two golden calves, as symbols of fertility, which were part and parcel of Canaanite Baal worship.” He was the first among a long line of evil kings.

About 25 years later followed Omri, who was worse. We do not know much about Omri, except that he had a poor reputation. He was a man lacking integrity. 1 Kings 16:25 tells us: “And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.” If this was not enough, he did not know how to be a good father. We are not told how many children he had, but one stands out from the rest. You have heard of him- his name was Ahab.

As bad of a leader that Omri was, Ahab was even worse. That is something noteworthy of sin, is that it is very difficult, even impossible for it to remain stagnate. Sin, if left unrepentant, will grow more extensive and worse as time goes on. Verse 30 says: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” The word for provoke is the Hebrew s[;K’ (kaas) which means to be vexed or angry. Something of special notice is that Ahab made the Asherah pole, a wooden symbol of a female deity, a sign of further entrenchment of the religion of the Canaanites.

Ahab’s reign lasted for 22 years, from 874 to 853 B.C. 1Kings 16:31 tells us that the marriage of Omri’s son to Ethbaal’s daughter may have been arranged by Omri for diplomatic reasons. Jezebel’s presence gave official support in Israel to the worship of Baal. This moral and spiritual decline eventually led to their captivities. The northern kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C.; the southern was taken into slavery by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. We are told that the acts of Omri and Ahab provoked God. Notice that the Scripture does not read that God looked the other way; that God understood; that Omri and Ahab were just dysfunctional. No, their actions provoked God. Why so? Because that is what the sin of idolatry does- it provokes God. It has been said that idolatry is the displacing of God; we are guilty of idolatry any time we take something and put it in the place of God. If God be the greatest good, if He holds the place of our Creator and Father, then it is only appropriate that He occupy the place of preeminence in our lives. He is greater than all and we are to love Him with our whole heart, mind and strength.

Today, there are many examples of idols, depending on the person. For some, it is money. For others it could be their career. And then there are activities or a hobby. It could be things that we think we could not live without, like the Internet, or a relationship. For others, it may be a substance, like alcohol. For the Old Testament Jew, as well as the Christian, nothing was to take the place of God. Our lives respond to God’s grace in worship. Anything short of that worship is idolatry.

Why does idolatry provoke God to anger? Because it is taking the glory that is due Him and giving it to another, to a material thing or a foreign god. Notice what God said after He had delivered them from slavery and the rule of the most powerful nation in the world. Exodus 20:2: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This time of year, many spend hours watching football. You should know that I love football. I played and both of my boys are playing this fall. I like to watch a good football game just as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, I realize that football cannot occupy the place in my life that is reserved for God alone. I ran across an interesting quote from Chris Norman, the former standout Linebacker for Michigan State, who recently gave up a career in the NFL to pursue God’s true calling in his life. He told John Piper: “Football is a game that is filled with passion, intensity, and effort. Football is a safe haven that can propel character development in the lives of young men. And football is a gift from God that has been graciously given for millions upon millions of people to enjoy. But while football is very good, it can never become a god.” God will never occupy second place.

What are the idols in your life? Is there anything that you could be paying too much attention to? Is there something more important than your relationship with God? Do not run the course of Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab. Rather, be the exception, rather than the rule.

DESPITE THE MESSINESS, GOD CALLS US TO GLORIFY HIM.

It is in this environment of waywardness and idolatry that God called a man by the name of Elijah. Elijah was an interesting figure of the Old Testament. He was from the town of Thishbe, in the area of Gilead. (Show map) Significance is that Israel was divided into two kingdoms: The north (which kept the name Israel) and the south, commonly known as Judah.

Elijah ministered in a time when the people of God were moving away from their Creator King. It is sometime after David and Solomon, who ministered around the time of 1,000 years before Christ. The life of Elijah spans from 1 Kings chapter 17 to 2 Kings 2, a span of four chapters. Elijah was a prophet, a spokesperson of God during the time of Ahab’s reign in Israel. He spoke the word of the Lord to a godless culture.
Elijah’s name means: “Yahweh is God.” Yahweh is God’s covenant making name, taken from the burning bush incident with Moses in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” And so we are reminded that Elijah’s name means: Yahweh is God and there is no other. This name was particularly unique given the idolatry present in Israel at the time and the worship of Baal by its leadership. The moral and spiritual state of Israel during the 8th century B.C. is not altogether different than our country today.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His own exclusivity in telling the disciples of His departure. Philip asked: “How do we know the way?” Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” After the resurrection, in the early days of the church, the apostles became convinced that Jesus was the unique Messiah, come from God, who is our Savior. Acts 4:12 states: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Yet, we live in this pluralistic world and America becomes more and more the merging of different cultures. While living in Lansdale, we had Muslim neighbors from Bangladesh, with whom I was on friendly terms. My nephew recently decided to pursue Buddhism. You and I live in a land where you are free to worship anything in any way you want, as long as you do not hurt another in the process. Nevertheless, that does not make these religious systems synonymous with truth. All roads do not lead to the same place. The cross was God’s way of reaching out to us. Whereas Abraham’s son Isaac was spared, Paul tells us of a great contrast in 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?” What do you say of Jesus’ sacrifice? Is He optional? How can we respond to Christ’s love with indifference? All of the Old Testament points to Jesus and His great sacrifice for us. This is why He said in Luke 24, as He appeared to His followers on the road to Emmaus: “’How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

How do we react to other religions? Well, we love our neighbor as ourselves. We understand that one’s religion is a sacred aspect of their lives. We don’t demean it, yet we do not affirm it either. We love the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Muslim, but we do not agree with their theology. Rather, the most loving thing to do is to point them to the One who has died so that forgiveness could be a reality.

Stuart Murray notes that we are approaching, if not already arrived in a culture that is post-Christendom, where the Christian faith and those who adhere to it go from the center to the margins, from the majority to the minority, from settlers to sojourners. In this scenario, Christians are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home (Murray, Post Christendom, 20).

God is looking for more Elijah’s today. By that I mean that He is on the lookout for those who are loyal; those who are willing to go against the grain of our culture, and be sold out to Him. Are you that person? Will you be willing to destroy the idols in your life to follow Christ? Until we realize that we are helpless without Him, only then can He do a work in us and use us. We are a lot like the foolish sheep. In the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains was sweet, and the sheep would jump down ten or twelve feet to nibble on it — and then they couldn’t jump back up again. They might be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress.

The shepherd waited until each animal was so faint it couldn’t not stand. Then he would rope it up and pull it out of the jaws of death. Why didn’t the shepherd rescue the sheep when it first was trapped? Because they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed! Such is the way of humanity too! We often don’t go to God till we have no friends and have lost everything. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

A Picture that Never Fades

The following message is based on Romans 6:1-11 and presents the subject of baptism, which is a sacred picture, offered by the church, of ritual cleansing from sin.  It was preached on June 2, 2013, on the occasion of baptizing six young people and receiving them into membership.

Pictures are representations of memories or special events.  We go to great lengths to save them.  Unfortunately, old pictures can fade, turn yellow or be destroyed.  The preservation of one’s collection of photographs is a popular topic today.  Many get theirs scanned into a computer for ready access.  Old movies can now be transferred to DVD.  Pictures remind us of important people, events and occasions.  Graduation pictures have been taken by the hundreds over the last few weeks.

We value pictures. Something that I like to do is go through old albums of years gone by and look at loved ones.  I especially like to view old pictorial directories of years ago.  You all don’t change!

Today, I want to speak with out about an important picture.  It is not a photograph, per se, but a representation of what Jesus does in the life of His followers, as we look at the picture of baptism.  We first learn that…

BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.

Water is the primary instrument of baptism.  It is associated with many things.  Water has always been seen as a universal cleansing agent.  The definition of baptism is the application of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is an initiation rite into the Christian faith.  It is the sign and seal of God’s grace, as circumcision was in the Old Testament, as Paul teaches in Romans 4:11 and Colossians 2:11-12.

Baptism is also a symbol of transformation and cleansing.  Why do we need cleansing?  Because God says so.  Our sin says so.    God makes this invitation known in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

In Romans 6, Paul teaches that baptism is a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It implies that new life has been imparted to the individual and that there’s been a change in identity.

In answer to the question, if God’s work in our lives gives us license to do whatever we want, Paul answers: “May it never be!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

It marks the beginning of this new life in Christ.  Jesus called himself the source of living water (John 4:10 and 7:38).  Because of God’s offer of cleansing and forgiveness, many people in the Scriptures were baptized.  John the Baptist baptized at Aenon (John 3:23). Jesus was baptized; not for the reasons that you and I share, but to identify with us and mark the beginning of His public ministry.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized by Phillip; Paul was baptized after being converted on the Road to Damascus.

This new life is what gave rise to Paul being made a new person; one who persecuted the church and responsible for the killing and imprisoning of Christians, to one who traveled the entire world and put his life at risk to preach the gospel.  He would say in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Sometimes Christians think that baptism is something that we do to get saved.  This is incorrect.  We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Baptism is not something we do to get salvation.  It is not a cause and effect relationship.  Rather, it is a passive picture of the benefits of an active faith.

Baptism is also a reminder of the ongoing benefits to trusting and following Christ.  Baptism is necessary to our faith.  Baptism is needed because we forget.  If you have not been baptized, then please see me.  It is an ordinance that you will never forget.  Caspar Schwenckfeld taught: “I believe in a holy Christian baptism for the washing away of sins in the confession of the Holy Trinity and calling upon the name of the Lord.  …I hope (I am) a baptized, though weak Christian.”[1]  We need this picture and must refer to it again and again.   BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION. Secondly, who administers baptism?  Next, we find that…

THE CHURCH IS THE KEEPER OF SUCH BLESSINGS.

These people also come today to commit themselves to the Central Schwenkfelder Church, as their spiritual family.  Today, the church has become optional in the eyes of many.  As I shared last week, church membership is seeing a dip as well as church attendance.  Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.

We cannot appreciate spiritual growth without giving the church, the family of God, its rightful place.  John Calvin said: For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder [Mark 10:9], so that, for those to whom he is Father the Church may also be Mother.[2]

Many of you grew up with Christian Endeavor.  You might remember its pledge that says: “I will support my own church in her Sunday worship, and all her ministries, in every way possible…”[3]  My good friend, Dave Coryell, the Director of CE says: “God intends us to be a part of a group of people that will worship Him together.  This is called a church.”[4]  In other words, you cannot claim to be a Christian and be permanently outside of the fellowship of the local church.

The Church plays a vital role in the lives of its members in the following way.  First, it is the body of Christ– Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “Upon this rock (of Peter’s confession), I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  It is Jesus’ bride and God’s ordained instrument to spread the gospel to the world.  As Christians, it is not optional part of our lives, but functions as a lifesaver in a world that is lost and dying.

Secondly, the church guards the role of Scripture, God’s sacred love letter to us.  Paul wrote to Timothy:  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2: Timothy 3:14-15).  And as Christians, we are to desire the Scriptures as we desire nourishment.  1 Peter 2:2: “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”  It is among the body of Christ that we primarily learn and grow through our study of the Bible.

Thirdly, the church promotes the role of prayer.  The early church prayed as we find in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  It is most readily in the church that we see and hear of God giving and blessing and opening doors for His children.  We have a midweek prayer service throughout the summer  in our new Prayer Garden, or if it is raining or too hot, in the Community Center: Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m.

Fourthly, the church also promotes the importance of relationships. We need each other.  Proverbs 27:17 teaches: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  There are so many “one anothers” in the Bible.  We are taught to love one another; serve one another; forgive one another; teach one another, encourage one another.  All of these are pictures of love.  Bob Russell states: “I’m invited by a lot of churches to come and talk to them about church growth.  One of the first things I tell them is that the church will not stay healthy and grow without love.  The place to begin to improve your congregation is not with programs or organization or even doctrine but with the attitude of the people toward one another.”[5]

BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.  THE CHURCH IS THE KEEPER OF SUCH BLESSINGS.  Why is the fount on our altar?  It functions as a reminder that we need the Lord to cleanse us if we are to know Him.  Baptism is needed because we forget.  It is the entry to our relationship with Christ and the church.  It represents cleansing and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Lent originally was established for new Christians, those who experienced a call. They were to spend 40 days and 40 nights preparing for their baptism. If at the end they still wanted to follow Jesus, then on Easter Eve they would be baptized as the sun was rising in the east, signaling the new day, the new era, inaugurated because of the Resurrection.

I am sure it had a powerful significance for them, to have prepared for their vocation as Christians the same way Jesus prepared for His vocation as the Messiah: 40 days of introspection and self-examination.

There was a young convert in Haiti whose family believed in voodoo. They urged him not to forsake the family faith for this new Christian religion. But he ignored the family pressures and came for baptism. He walked into the water, stopped, and turned back! The missionaries were sure he had changed his mind. They were certain that the family pressures had prevailed. But he went back to shore to empty his pockets of all his voodoo charms. Then he reentered the stream and was baptized.

 

 


[1] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press: 2006), 135.

[2] Institutes IV, 1.1.

[3] 2011 Pledge of Christian Endeavor Mid Atlantic, found at http://www.cemidatlantic.org/who-we-are/c-e-essentials/.

[4] Dave Coryell, I Accepted Christ! Now What? (Blaine, WA: Arrow Leadership Ministries, 2001), 9.

[5] Bob Russell, The Power of One Another, (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2004), 7.

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.