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.

“A Woman of Great Worth”

The following message is based on Proverbs 31:10-21 and presents what a woman of great worth consists of.  It was delivered on Mother’s Day, May 12, 2013

Today is Mother’s Day, a time in which we honor ladies in a special way.  There is so much we could say in tribute to women in general.  All ladies possess motherly qualities, regardless of whether you have children or not; all ladies deserve respect and esteem.  I have been blessed with several motherly women in my life.  I’m sure you have too.  But what does it take to be a “Woman of Great Worth?”

Mothers are unique creatures.  They seldom go about their jobs with the level of gratitude they deserve.  No one can replace your mom.  She is one of a kind.  Good or bad, she is yours.  Some things you may change, if you could.  Others you dare not.  Kate Douglas Wiggin once said: “Most of all the other beautiful things in life come by twos threes, by dozens and hundreds.  Plenty of roses, stars, sunsets, rainbows, brothers and sisters, aunts and cousins, but only one mother in the world.”  No one could replace her.  She is like a precious gem.

But what makes an admirable woman?  What are some aspects of a lady who is upright?  This morning, we will study some qualities of a godly woman.  These qualities have application for everyone here.  For our young people, I encourage you to strive for these with God’s grace.  For our young adults and those of marriageable age, see these as attractive aspects for any woman, a true picture of beauty.  For our older folks, look at your lives and see where you need to grow.  The woman described by King Lemuel is a one we should all admire; one that you would be blessed to be compared to.  She is of enormous worth.  Why?  Because…

A VIRTUOUS WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND.

Verse ten of our passage states: “Who can find a virtuous wife?  For her worth is far above rubies.”  The description here is that of a woman of rare quality.  Just as precious gems are scarce, so women of excellent moral character are uncommon.  They are of precious worth to a family.  He who has one has access to a gold mine.  What does the term virtuous mean, here?  The Hebrew denotes ability, efficiency, often involving moral worth.  The NIV states it this way: “a wife of noble character.” The New American Standard simply states: “an excellent wife.”  All of these are adequate and state the foundation, the determining element of a good woman.  The same term is used in a number of places such as Proverbs 12:4: “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is as rottenness in his bones.”  In other words, some women bring honor to their homes through godly character.  This kind of lady loves her husband and loves God, making her worth exceed precious gems.  The same word is also used in Ruth 3:11 where Boaz commented on the reputation that Ruth had.  He states: “And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.”

It occurs to me that the definition of excellent today might be different than that of many years ago.  An excellent wife today might be one who is able to shuffle all the demands placed upon her by her work, her children, with time to spare to go to the gym and be adorned with the latest style.  One who is “supermom.”  But is excellence defined by what we do, or who we are.  God places emphasis on the latter, with consideration given to spiritual matters.  Oh that we would have more women in this world who were in love with Jesus and thus carry high moral standards; to have more ladies who love God and the things of God; to know Scripture and share it with her loved ones. In many households, women carry the spiritual torches.  Double is the curse on a home when the mother and the father are not interested in spiritual things.

HOW SHOULD WE DEFINE EXCELLENCE?

What I would like to do in the time that we have left is to give you an overview of what an excellent woman is.  Here are a few qualities.  For one, she is not afraid to share her faith.  Timothy had a grandmother that God used to witness to him and eventually bring him to faith.  Notice what Paul states in 2 Timothy 1:5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”  That faith planted a seed in Timothy’s heart and brought forth fruit to eternal life.  That made these ladies’ lives worthwhile in that they also affected all those that Timothy ministered to.

I look back on my mom and how she was strategic in my spiritual formation.  Not only was she faithful in taking me to church, she was also not afraid to correct me and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  By doing so, mothers mold, shape and invest in the next generation of Christians.  And it is never too late to make a difference in someone’s life.

One organization that is dedicated to this is Moms in Prayer, International.  In their advertisement, they ask the question: “If you are not praying for your child, who is?”  Their purpose is “…to intercede for our children through prayer and to pray that our schools may be guided by Biblical values and high moral standards.”  Those that would pray in such a way are compared to precious gems that bring value to the lives of those around them.  When all is done at the end of time, God will show us the worth of such people in His grand, sovereign scheme.  Are you a ruby for your household?  A diamond in the lives of others?  Will you commit yourself to being one today?

Another quality of a woman of great worth is her trustworthiness.  Verse 11 of our passage says: “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.”  It strikes me that marriage is built upon trust.  The goal of a husband and wife is that they can confide in one another and share from the depth of their hearts.  If a man has this kind of woman, he is rich!  Verse 12: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”  Ladies, are you a friend to those in your home?  Can your children confide in you?  Do they feel like you are on their side without you compromising the truth? Can your husband trust you with all that he is and all that he has?

Another quality of a woman of great worth is her ability to persevere under trial; to live a life of sacrifice for those dearest to her.  James 1:12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  This is the definition of a tough woman, one who never gives up.  I think of my mother-in-law, who came to this country from South Korea in 1971.  She spoke very little to no English and worked hard in manufacturing to raise two daughters alone.  Maybe you’ve had women in your life that were resilient and had a can do attitude.  Such women are examples to us and propel us, when we consider giving up.

Another quality of a woman of great worth is that she is not afraid to love, even when it makes her vulnerable, or she gets little/nothing in return.  Many women do this.  So we need to reciprocate their love.  If not, we might get the attitude as exemplified by the woman that goes to the local newspaper office to see that the obituary for her recently deceased husband is published.  The obituary editor informs her that there is a charge of 50 cents per word.

She pauses, reflects, and then she says, “Well then, let it read: ‘Fred Brown died.’  Amused at the woman’s thrift, the editor tells her that there is a seven-word minimum for all obituaries.  She thinks it over and in a few seconds says, “In that case, let it read, ‘Fred Brown Died….. GOLF CLUBS FOR SALE.’”  Virtuous women love, even when it is hard, and even when they get little in return.  Martina Hingis, the Swiss tennis star said: “I was always at peace because of the way my mom treated me.”[1]  A woman set the tone of life for those around her, by their love.

Last night, my family and I ate at Chik-fil-a.  They were giving out carnations in celebration of Mother’s Day.  The giving of carnations dates back to the first official Mother’s Day service in 1908.  Anna Jarvis of Webster, West Virginia, in honor of her mother Ann, sent 500 white carnations to her church to be given to the participating mothers.  During the next several years, she sent more than 10,000 carnations there, red for the living and white for the deceased, became symbols of the purity, strength and endurance of motherhood.  So, as you admire the beautiful flowers of God’s creation this weekend, stop and think of your mom.  And what she did for you to make you who you are today.  Then offer a prayer of thanks to God.

If your mom is living, stop and make sure she knows that you care about her.  Say something like: “Thank you for loving me.  Thank you for sacrificing for me.  I love and cherish you.”  There is no way you could know how many times she looked down at your face and felt love for you, or how many times she prayed for you, or the number of occasions you were on her heart.  With this in mind, I read you a small poem called: “The Warrior,” by Larry Clark:

This morning my thoughts traveled along
To a place in my life where days have since gone
Beholding an image of what I used to be
As visions were stirred and God spoke to me.

He showed me a Warrior, a soldier in place
Positioned by Heaven, yet I saw no face
I watched as the Warrior fought enemies
That came from the darkness with destruction for me.

I saw as the Warrior would dry away tears
As all of Heaven’s angels hovered so near
I saw many wounds on the Warrior’s face
Yet weapons of warfare were firmly in place.

I felt my heart weeping, my eyes held so much
As God let me feel the Warrior’s prayer touch
I thought, “how familiar”, the words that were prayed
The prayers were like lightning that never would fade.

I said to God, “Please, tell me the Warrior’s name.”
He gave no reply, He chose to refrain
I asked, “Lord, who is broken that they need such prayer?”
He showed me an image of myself standing there.

Bound by confusion, lost and alone
I felt the prayers of the Warrior carry me home
I asked, “Please show me, Lord, this Warrior so true.”
I watched and I wept,
FOR MOTHER…..THE WARRIOR WAS YOU!

 

The Power of the Tongue

The following message is based on Proverbs 14:3, and expounds on the ability of speech, either for harm or for good.  The tongue has the power to destroy life, or enhance it.  It was delivered on April 28, 2013

Have you ever gotten sleepy at work?  I’m sure that all of us recall a time when we would have enjoyed a nap on the job.  Companies are now investigating the need of naps for their employees.  If you work for Google or Nike, there are nap rooms available for those who need a refreshing few minutes of shut-eye right after lunch.  Central Schwenkfelder does not have such a room.  In order to prepare me, someone once gave me a copy of choice words, should I be caught napping on the job.  These are a few suggestions of things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk.

  • “They told me at the blood bank that this might happen.”
  • “This is just a 15-minute power-nap like they raved about in that time management course you sent me to.”
  • “I wasn’t sleeping! I was meditating on the mission statement.”
  • “I was testing my keyboard for drool resistance.”
  • “Someone must’ve put decaff in the wrong pot!”
  • “In Jesus name, Amen.”

Much can be said for knowing what to say at the right time.  Although we can chuckle about these responses, words are like a tool which needs to be handled with care.  The things which come from your tongue can either come back to harm you or be used to bless you.  The title of our message this morning is “The Power of the Tongue, for that is just what this small organ has: the power to harm and the power to heal.  Let us understand of the tongue’s potential by first learning that…

YOUR TONGUE HAS THE ABILITY TO CURSE YOU.

Proverbs 14:3 states: “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back…, The NIV states: “A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back…”  The idea here is that a person’s mouth can get them into much trouble.  If one fails to tame his tongue, he can destroy himself and others.  The rod is used here as an example of discipline or punishment.  The rod is a symbol of justice in such verses as Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.  Or 22:15: Foolishness is bout up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.”

Just like the rod is used as a means of discipline, a person’s words can come back to strike them if they are not careful. In the New Testament, we see a confirmation of this in James 3.  Verse six states: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  Yes, people will go to hell for the sins committed by the tongue. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Charles Bridges wrote: “The rod of the mouth is often sharper than the rod in the hand.”[1]

With this in mind, let us consider some of the sins that involve the tongue or one’s speech.  First of all, it is the bed of hypocrisy.  For instance, James 3:9 tells us that: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

Certainly this is the broader sense of the third commandment which tells us;” You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”  This involves anything from lashing out at Him to bearing his name in hypocrisy; professing to be a Christian, when our actions show otherwise.  Robert Beasely states: “Seen in a wider context, (this commandment) condemns hypocrisy in any form.  God’s “name” is not merely a word.  It is symbolic and revelatory of His whole being, His holy character and divine attributes.  To take the name “Christian,” and then to defile that name by professing to know Him when we do not, or to show disrespect in any way to our Creator, is to violate His name and stand guilty before Him.”[2]

This is actually the foundation of our testimony.  You are constantly telling others to whom you belong by your lifestyle.  If you profess Christian, and yet live contrary to His commandments, you are taking His name in vain.  If you claim church membership, and yet live immorally, your membership means little.  If you hate another and say you love God, your words of devotion are merely lies.  Christians bear the name of their God in all that they do.  Look at your life for a moment.  Are you professing one thing and living another?  Make sure hypocrisy infects no part of your testimony.

Secondly, we sin with our tongue when we curse others and tear them down.  Listen to Ephesians 4:31: “…let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”  Or Colossians 3:8: “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy filthy language out of your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds….”  Our words tell what is going on in our hearts.  Many times it is what you say; other times it is how you say it that reveals the depth of your faith.

For instance, within us there is the temptation to slander.  Webster defines this as “any false or insulting statement.”  Oh how easy it is to degrade a person when they are not present to defend themselves!  Do you recall times in your life when you’ve drug a person’s name through the mud behind their back?  Or maybe you’ve heard someone do this?  But God tells us in the 9th commandment found in Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Slander is another application of this commandment, as that which we must avoid.

As a pastor, I observe how easily a conversation can slip into slander.  Someone’s name is mentioned and then a story ensues that many times puts them in a negative light.  Hearsay can be hurtful.  There is something about the sinful nature that hungers after “the scoop” because the facts are too boring.  Guard yourself against the desire to be “in the know.”  What is termed scuttlebutt is often times lies and hurtful to others.  How embarrassing it is when your words are discovered by the person in question.  You wish you could take them back, but it is too late!  The damage is done.  Your tongue has the ability to curse you.  Secondly…

YOUR TONGUE CAN ALSO BLESS YOU AND BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS.

Once again, our Scripture states: “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.”  The verb in the Hebrew is “sha-mar,’ which means “to take care of or to guard.”[3]  It is translated “to keep” in Exodus 21:29, where one was responsible if his ox were to wander from his holding area, and were to injure someone. Our words should be used with great care.  If we guard them, they will guard us.  Publius, the Greek sage, said, “I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”

There are great blessings which come from keeping your tongue or using it for the glory of God.  With it we can give praise and thanksgiving to God.  Psalm 92:1:“It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, 2 to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night,”  With our lips, we confess sin and faith (1 John 1:9; Romans 10:9-10).  With it, we pray and pour out our hearts to Him.  Psalm 62:8: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”  Philippians 4:6 tells us: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

With it we also build up and encourage one another.  One of the reasons why we gather on Sunday morning is to spur one another on to good works (Hebrews 10:25).  Ephesians 4:29 states: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  A nationally syndicated Christian radio station has as their byword: “Positive and Encouraging.”  And in days like these, there are many times when one could use an encouraging word.  The world that we live in today tends to be negative.  As Christians, we don’t try to sugar-coat reality, but we point people to a Savior who can as the world’s answer to sin and despair.  Notice the following interesting statistics surrounding depression[4]:

  • Approximately 18.8 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a depressive disorder.
  • Depression affects all people regardless of age, geographic location, demographic or social position.
  • Depressive disorders are appearing earlier in life with the average age of onset 50 years ago being 29 whereas recent statistics indicate it at just 14.5yrs in today’s society.

Herbert Wagemaker, who wrote The Surprising Truth about Depression, reports that that number is actually higher, that ten to twenty percent of people will become depressed at some point in their lives.[5]

Another way that we use our speech is to speak to others about Christ. Will and Kelly have brought Rachel to dedicate her to the Lord and ask for our help as a church in the process.  Notice that they have made the promise to surround Rachel child with the best possible Christian atmosphere and influence in their home; to teach Rachel a knowledge of the Bible, obedient reverence for God, and for his Son Jesus Christ.  But isn’t that what we all should be doing?  If we are not intentional about this, before you know it, our kids are gone and out of the house, and we’ve missed our chance!  If our children and grandchildren won’t hear about our faith from us, who will share it with them!? We can only do this by rededicating themselves to Christ and then taking advantage of every opportunity that’s before us.

You can tell a lot about a person, by their speech.  I recently did the memorial service for someone.  It was said about her that she was always willing to reconcile.  She was always the first to say that she was sorry.  Today, pride keeps us from confessing our faults.  We feel like we are giving in, if we were to confess a wrong decision or action.  But I say that it takes a bigger person to admit that they were wrong.

It is never too late to apologize.  British Prime Minister Tony Blair came to Washington and spoke to a joint session of Congress on July 17, 2003. Early in his speech he commented, “On our way down here, Sen. Frist was kind enough to show me the fireplace where in 1814 the British had burned the Congressional Library. I know this is kind of late, but: Sorry.”  That may stand as one of the all-time most memorable apologies!

Knowing what to say is not just about getting out of a jam; it is about managing a resource for good, or a resource for evil.  “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.”  But without Christ, our most valiant efforts to curb our tongue, are done in vain.  Christ must reign upon the throne of our hearts, in order for the tongue to be tamed.


[1] Bridges, Charles. Proverbs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1998), 209.

[2] Beasley, Robert C., The Commandments of Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999), 15.

[3]R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,Vol. II, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 939

[5] Herbert Wagemaker, The Surprising Truth About Depression (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 11.

“Wisdom and Devotion Go Hand-in-Hand”

The following message is based on Proverbs 9:10-12 and deals with the subject of fearing God.  It was delivered on April 21, 2013, on the same day that Central installed church leaders.

Before too long and school will be out.  In Missouri, we always looked forward to this occurring around May 20th.  In Pennsylvania, you need more schooling, so they keep you until the second week of June.  This morning, I’d like you to recall when you were in school.  What was your favorite class?  Which one did you hate?  I’m sure there were aspects you enjoyed and aspects you loathed.  Hopefully, you cultivated a love for learning.  As a parent, I find that particularly challenging.  Kids look forward to the end of school so they can sing: “No More pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”  As you reflect on your time in school, bring to mind your pursuit of knowledge.  According to Time magazine, the following are the ten best books of all time.[1]  See if you can guess them, then ask yourself if you’ve read them.

  •  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  • The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot

Supposedly, these are the best books ever written.  But as I read the list, there is not one mention of the Bible or of spiritual literature.  It is all just someone’s opinion.  Nevertheless, if we’ve never read any of them, we can’t help but to feel that we are missing out.

As it pertains to life, many of us are still looking for some answers to important questions.  If life were a test that consisted of one question, our text would provide its answer.  Wisdom is the major theme found in the book of Proverbs.  This morning, I will give you the most important, the most fundamental aspect of all knowledge in the world.  Otto Zockler once said: “The wiser man is also the just, the pious, the upright, the man who walks in the way of truth.  The fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, consists in a complete devotion to God.”[2]  This morning, I would like to show you the most important bit of information that there is.  I would dare say that what I’m about to share with you is the foundation of all other wisdom.  Unlike the cost of an education at the most prestigious Ivy League School, the wisdom from Scripture is free.  Let us discover this morning how “Wisdom and Devotion Go Hand in Hand.”  We first learn that…

REVERENCE FOR GOD IS A READILY ACCESSIBLE FOUNDATION FOR ALL DECISIONS IN LIFE.

Solomon was considered to be the wisest man in the world in his time.  His intellect was renowned.  He was famous for His smarts.  And in our verse today, he gives us the beginning of wisdom, which is the “fear of the Lord.”  The Hebrew denotes that the term “beginning” is “the first principle” of wisdom.  In other words, before all else, it is absolutely pertinent that we understand “the fear of the Lord,” and how it should affect all that we do, think and say. It is the foundation of all prudence.  The fear of the Lord is item number one on life’s list of things to know.  In Proverbs chapter nine, wisdom is personified.  It is compared to a host who has prepared a meal for her guests and the invitations have been sent out.  She invites all those who are interested in verse five, never turning anyone away: Proverbs 9:5 “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.”

One of the things wrong with our world today is that people are plagued with an arrogant assumption that they know more than God.  Existentialism teaches that the person is the determiner of truth and that all information filters through your mind and you determine your own truth.  Postmodernism takes this a step further by saying that truth is not objective.  Your truth is not my truth and my truth is not your truth.  But God says: “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.”

God is an inviting God.  And He cares deeply about us.  But He will also let us go our own way if we reject Him.  Isaiah 55:1 says: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  Wisdom is there for the asking.  Unfortunately though, many of us live with pride and do not humbly come before God to seek His wisdom, even when His precepts are quite clear.  God beckons us to come.

What do we mean by fear of the Lord?  Fear in this instance denotes reverence and piety.  In 2 Chronicles 19:9 we see that the Levites were to judge disputes among the people in the fear of the Lord, which means that they were to recognize God’s commandants as the guiding light in their decision making.  So the fear of the Lord is reverence for God and respecting His character and commandments.  In Exodus 20:20, Moses told the Israelites at the terrible scene of Mt. Sinai: “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  Obedience is the goal of a healthy respect for God.

Let us compare this type of fear that that of the elements. For instance, we are to always fear water.  It does not mean we do not enjoy swimming or fishing, but we must revere it.  For water is much more powerful than we are.  Just ask someone who has experienced the loss of all their possessions due to a flood.  Or inquire of someone who has come close to drowning.  Water can be dangerous and is deserving of our respect.  But we should not be afraid of it.  Many boating accidents occur for one’s lack of respect for the water.  Or there’s fire.  Fire can warm us or cook our food, but it can also burn our house down.  So we don’t have to be afraid of fire, but we must have a healthy respect for it.  The same goes for God.  Since He is the creator and sustainer of the universe, we are to respect Him.  As a child should His parents, so we are to honor God as the authority in our lives.  This starts by following His Son, Jesus Christ, as Savior and Lord.

Do you fear God?  Have you come to the realization that He is infinitely holy and hates all sin?  Do you remember that He has a jealous wrath for His holiness, “a fiery indignation which will devour His adversaries,” as Hebrews 10:27 teaches? Unfortunately, far too many of us fear things besides God today.  We are afraid of what others will think of us if we speak out about God and His law.  But we are not afraid of spoiling our reputation through sin.  We fear the rejection by the world, be we don’t fear God’s judgment for sin, for after all, “I believe and that is good enough.”  How we need to recover an honest view of the holiness of God as it relates to our behavior.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Theologian and author R. C. Sproul states that one benefit from reading the Old Testament is to recover a sense of the holiness of God.  REVERENCE FOR GOD IS A READILY ACCESSIBLE FOUNDATION FOR ALL DECISIONS IN LIFE. Secondly…

OUR REVERENCE FOR GOD IS MEASURED BY OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS SIN.

Knowledge of God brings with it conviction to honor and obey Him  N. Emmons states: “Everyone who has read the book of Proverbs with any attention must have observed that Solomon means by ‘wisdom’ holiness, and by ‘folly’ sin; by a wise man a saint, and by a fool a sinner.”[3]  What a shame it is for a person to say that they know God, but not live as He teaches in His word.  It is the determiner between one knowing of Jesus and knowing Jesus.

The book of Proverbs gives an adequate definition of the fear of the Lord in how it relates to daily living.  Proverbs 8:13: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil….”  In 16:6 we read: “…by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.”  In other words, knowing God is not just acquiring some facts about Him. It means that His Spirit affects how we live.  Anything short of this may be that we know of Him, but are not one of His children.

You may ask “Why should I fear God?  What’s in it for me?”  Much, I say.  Notice verse 11 of our passage: “For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.”  What you and I must understand today is that by fearing God and honoring Him, we are not only being wise, but we are also investing in our lives.  Unfortunately, we live in a world of scoffers of God’s truth today.  Many will say: “God is a kill-joy.  You only live once.”  But why live as you choose in order to suffer in hell for eternity? When God changes the heart, by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus, God’s commandments take on a loving, protective, joyful characteristic.  Jesus said: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me… and you will find rest for your souls.”  The apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:3: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome….”  Author David Hubbard states: “Fear of God has long life as its destiny.  Infatuation with folly is a shortcut to the mortuary.”[4]

This church is filled with bright people; overachievers.  The leaders we installed today are exceptionally gifted.  How smart are you?  I am not referring to your IQ or how many degrees you have or what your class rank was.  I speak of your inclination to serve and obey God.  Are you prudent in spiritual matters?  Can the people who know you say: “He’s a wise fellow.”?  She’s got a heart of wisdom.”  Oh that we would be a church known for our love for Scripture, that produces reverence for God.

Every day brings critical turning point in our lives.  Each decision is made with some sort of knowledge or presupposition.  With this in mind, it is of utmost importance that the fear of the Lord is the governing motivation for our lives.  Life is a series of choices and lessons, and then choices based on those lessons.  Know this before you take the test: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. 11 For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.”    On the other hand, if God and His ways are of no interest to you, you are making the worst choice of investment in your life!  Honoring God is of much more value than the things we count as valuable.  All material positions will rot and wither some day.  But love and reverence for God will never fade away.  Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24:“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”


[2] Ed. Frank S. Mead, “Wisdom,” The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Revel l ed.: 469.

[3] Arthur W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification (Swengel, PA: Reiner, 1975), 11.

[4] David Hubbard, “Proverbs 9:10-11,” Mastering the Old Testament: Proverbs, 1989, ed.” 133.

God’s Wisdom for a Wandering World

The following message is taken from Proverbs 1:1-9 and provides an introduction to the Old Testament book of Proverbs.  It was delivered on April 4, 2013.

People love the practical.  Do-it-yourself projects have become popular.  We crave easily remembered statements that teach us “How to.”  Practical advice is always well needed.  A first grade school teacher in Virginia presented each child in her classroom the first half of a well-known proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. Here are their answers:

1. Don’t change horses… until they stop running.
2. Strike while the…bug is close.
3. It’s always darkest before…Daylight Savings Time.
4. You can lead a horse to water but…how?
6. Don’t bite the hand that…looks dirty.
7. A miss is as good as a…Mr.
8. Where there’s smoke there’s…pollution.
9. A penny saved is…not much.

Maybe we’re not as familiar with wisdom as we think! Thankfully, we have a place to turn for practical advice.  Scripture is filled with it, especially in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs is an example of literature that is found all over the world, in other civilizations and religions.  You have heard people begin: “Confucius says….  But unlike Confucius and other examples of advice, Bible proverbs tie themselves to the God of the universe, the Creator and sustainer of life, revealed in Jesus Christ.  You will notice from the next few weeks that the advice given in the book is intensely practical, telling us how to live.  Many times the verses are short and sweet; hints which speak to the human condition.  They direct us how we, the creature, ought to live in respect to God, the Creator.  They also tell us what He desires from us.  As any loving parent knows how to guide and direct their children, so God directs and guides us through His inspired word; the Book of Proverbs. I urge you to use this study in your home.  Read them at the dinner table.  Talk about them over your meals.  Memorize them for daily reflection.  Read one a day.  There are 31 of them; you could finish by the end of the month.  The Israelites taught them around meal time, at the beginning, or at the end of the day.  Also, you’ll notice that many Proverbs are stated in a way that a father speaks to his son; as a mother to her daughter.  The Israelites respected age.  The content of such is that live ought always to be lived for God’s glory.  The opening seven verses form a prologue to the whole book.  These beginning verses are what we will examine today.  This morning, I give you three aspects of the book of Proverbs to consider.  The first is its author.  We first learn that…

SOLOMON WAS A MAN OF GREAT WISDOM.

Within this book, there are various authors, but Solomon is the most prolific.  Hence 1:1 gives us his signature and indicates that he compiled the book.  It says: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel.”  There is so much to the man behind that name. There was a time when he was one who desperately needed wisdom.  At the time that Solomon inherited the throne of Israel, he was only around 20 years old.  He was well aware of his immaturity and greenness, so he turned to God in humility.  He prayed in 1 Kings 3:7: “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

This same attitude should be in us as we approach the God of infinite wisdom and intelligence.  We need to come before God and admit, “Lord, guide me, direct me, give me Your wisdom for without you, I am lost.”  This is the purpose of the book of Proverbs, to steer us to God and give us practical and holy wisdom for our day.  Notice verses two through four: “…for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—“

Is this not the advice that James 1:5 teaches? “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  The Lord of heaven is concerned about the decisions we make.  He is aware of our daily needs and dealings with others.  He is looking for upright men and women of integrity.  He desires us to make wise and godly choices.  He has given us an entire book devoted to the practical outworking of faith.  By doing so, He makes His care for us evident.  Out of personal experience, I can say that God has never let me down when I have asked Him for guidance and understanding.  I have never heard His voice, but I have sensed Him orchestrate events and lead my mind, will and emotions.  God can answer where you should go to college; what you ought to pick as a career; who you should marry.  The Lord will answer the question: Given a situation, what option is the best?  His word shapes me in all of this and He can do the same for you.  But I learned this the hard way.  There was a time in my life when I thought I knew it all.  Mark Twain is credited with saying: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  As the older you get, the more you realize how dependant you are on God.  The more you mature I Him, the greater extent you realize your dependence on Him.  He is the only wise God and 1 Timothy 1:17.

God gave Solomon wisdom as He humbled himself and prayed.  God was faithful to the young king and soon the fame surrounding his gift of wisdom was known all over the known world.  Take for instance, Solomon’s visit by the Queen of Sheba.  It was she that told Solomon in 2 Chronicles 9:5: “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. 6 But I did not believe what they said until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard. 7 How happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!”  Sam Schultz teaches: “Solomon represents international fame that foreign rulers, most notably Queen of Sheba, came to express their admiration and seek his wisdom.”[1]  Your bulletin insert was found recovered in one of our members’ Bibles, after they passed away.  IT was produced from a local pastor over 50 years ago.  I encourage you to keep it handy and use it in your daily devotions.  Solomon proved the notion that…

THOSE WHO LISTEN TO GOD WILL BE REWARDED.  THOSE WHO IGNORE HIM WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES.

Verses five and six tell us: “…let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance– 6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.”  God was faithful to Solomon as he devoted his heart to God.  Out of His grace and love, God fulfilled all that He promised this young man. The fact that his wisdom excelled that of other national leaders of his time is also found in 1 Kings 4:29: “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.”    And 1 Kings 5:12 tells us: And the Lord gave wisdom to Solomon, just as He promised him.”  God was faithful to Solomon.

Nevertheless, it was Solomon that eventually grew unfaithful to the Lord.  There came a day when the king’s heart started to turn away from the Lord.  God had warned him in 1 Kings 9:6: “”But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them… .”  Unfortunately, the king did just this, neglecting divine wisdom and marrying strange women.  The Bible says that at one time he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, who led his heart away from God.  He was more concerned with his carnal desires and political alliances than serving the Lord.  1 Kings 11:4 tells us of the sad fulfillment of God’s warning: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”  Eventually the whole nation turned away from God.

Wisdom is not to be confused with intellect.  Solomon stands as a valuable lesson to you and me, that loose living will drive you away from God.  Sin takes us in only one direction: away from God.  If we sow destruction, we will reap heartache; if we turn away from following God, we will suffer the consequences. Our blood is on our own head; nobody to blame but ourselves.  In other words, this is what happens when you don’t respect godly wisdom.  This is what occurs when you are unequally yoked with an unbeliever.  This is what happens when I set out to be selfish and place myself over others.  If you do x, you run the risk of y.  The New Geneva Study Bible affirms, “There is a moral order to all of creation, and violations of that order only lead to adverse consequences (923).

The Josephson Institute/Center for Youth Ethics reported that a national ethics survey on American youth finds one in three high-schoolers stealing from a store in the past year, two in five lying to save money, and eight out of ten lying to their parents.[2]  Is our culture learning about truth and consequences?  A harmful message is being sent that says there are no repercussions for sin.  The reporter said that we will see more things like columbine unless a message is sent that if you do this, you will be punished.”  For instance, if a boy sleeps with is girlfriend, there is nothing in our culture that says: “That is wrong!”  Gone are the facts that nothing makes you feel dirty, exposes you to disease or unwanted pregnancy.  Bad morality has become accepted.  Oh how we need to rediscover the importance of God’s wisdom!  But for this life and the life to come!  Lastly, we’re told of…

THE WISEST MEN AND WOMEN NOT ONLY RESPECT GOD, BUT LIVE FOR HIM.

Verse seven says: “The far of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Central to this study of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  This does not mean to be afraid of God; rather it implies respect and awe of God’s person and character; this is at the heart of prudence.  Proverb 9:10 states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy One is understanding.  Schultz goes on to say: Although designed as a guide for youth, these proverbs offer wisdom for all. Wisdom begins with a right relationship with God.  Personal acknowledge of God is the foundation of righteous living.  A reverence for God exemplified in daily life is the true applications of wisdom.”[3] Wisdom starts with God.

At the Stave puzzle factory in Vermont, 12 employees keep busy turning out new and cleverer jig-saw puzzles. A few years ago, as a joke for April Fool’s Day, they produced a puzzle called “Five Easy Pieces.” The joke was that no matter who put the puzzle together, there was always one piece that wouldn’t fit. This prank caused a gigantic uproar. Eventually the company bought back all 30 copies of the fake puzzle from frustrated customers. They should have called the puzzle “Life,” for in life there is always at least one piece that doesn’t fit.  Jesus is that piece of the puzzle that people so desperately need.  He’s the most important piece!  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; knowledge of the holy one is understanding.”


[1] Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980), 289.

[3][3] Schultz, 291.

“Two Different Versions”

The following message is based on Matthew 27:62-28:1-15.  It addresses why the resurrection of Jesus is important to Christians.  This greatest of all miracles defies all conspiracy and is the only catalyst for man’s peace with God.  It was delivered on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013.

Recently, I was reminded how people prefer a certain version against the original.  Hence, one church is said to start their services with a song, followed by a reading, then a time for silent reflection, then a greeting of others.  At first glance, we might think that this is a welcoming church.  But it is not a church at all.  Rather it is an atheist gathering, which meets in Islington, a community north of London.  In place of a sermon, a talk is given, this time a physicist talked about wonder.  An offering is taken to care for the facility.  The group’s motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more.”  And enthusiastic participant said: “It’s got all the good things about church without the terrible dogma.”[1]  This is one version of church.  Not a very good one, I argue.  Dogma is teaching.  If your religion does not teach you anything about God, His character, His grace and what He requires of you, then it is not worth much!

At Central, we teach that the church is the gathering of God’s people, known by their faith in the risen and reigning Jesus Christ.  It is made of people who have been transformed by a God who is limited by nothing.  It offers hope in a God who conquered death by raising Jesus from the dead.  And that resurrection is the basis of how and why God continues to change lives today, nearly 2,000 years after the fact.

Our Scripture for today provides a different version of the Easter story alongside of the real one.  Jesus, the itinerant preacher from Nazareth, described his approaching death and resurrection many times. Many things have transpired up to this point in that original “holy” week.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was anointed for burial in Bethany as the woman used the costly fragrant oil, pouring it on Jesus.  Our Lord celebrated the Passover with his disciples, prays in the garden, is arrested and sent to a series of unfair trials, is handed over to the Roman governor, flogged, then crucified at the demands of an angry mob.  His body was requested by his followers and laid in a new tomb outside of Jerusalem.  Thankfully, this is not the end of the story.  Actually, it is where we take up, on the eve of God’s greatest miracle.  What can we learn from our text?  We first discover that…

MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION.

Matthew 27:64: “So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

Verses 62-66 Depict man’s efforts to keep the resurrection from happening.  The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  Only Matthew gives us this exchange which uncovers man’s twisting and deceptive attempts.  But notice that Jesus is called “Deceiver” in verse 63.  His claim to be the Messiah was seen as the first deception and these officials would keep the “second” from happening.  Notice the statement: “The second would be worse than the first.”  Although the resurrection was part of Jesus’ message (Matthew 16:21, 17:23 and 20:19), even the disciples did not absorb it.  They had no frame of reference, so they concentrated on the fact that He was going to die, not on His promise that He would rise from the dead.

Yet, the chief priests and the elders here are making sure that the latter could not appear as though to happen.  They understood His veiled references to His resurrection, like the sign of Jonah in 12:40 and 16:4.  But in order to “keep” that appearance from taking place, the tomb was to be made secure, for fear of the body being stolen.  How was the grave secured?  By sealing the stone and setting the guard.  Donald Carson states that this was done with a cord and an official wax seal.[2]  These were extra efforts to keep any quell any confusion surrounding Jesus’ death.

By doing so, these set the stage for God’s greatest miracle.  J.C. Ryle states: “They little thought what they were doing; they little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection.  There were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition.  Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming forth from the tomb.  They were taken in their own craftiness: their own devices became instruments to show forth God’s glory.”[3]  In so doing, they proved themselves to be the real deceivers, vainly trying their best to make sure that the resurrection would not happen, or would not appear to have happened.  But in doing so, they set the stage for God’s greatest miracle ever.  Although, MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION, we find that…

NOTHING COULD THWART GOD’S PLAN.

Matthew 28:5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”  Many visited the tomb that day, but the first were women.  We are told in 28:1 that Mary Magdalene and another Mary approach the tomb.  These are two women who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry.  Mary Magdalene whom Christ had delivered from demon possession (Mark 16:9) and Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses, as Mark 15:47 tells us.  They were changed by Jesus.

There are certain things which facilitated the resurrection. First, there was an earthquake.  Secondly, an angel of the Lord appears saying: “Do not be afraid.”  The angel at the tomb had a brilliant appearance.  His countenance was as lightning and that the guards become as dead men.  These were God’s answers to the seal and the guards.  But the angel did not come for the guards.  He came for Jesus’ disciples.  Notice in verse five and following, the angel’s monologue.  He tells the women three things: Don’t be afraid; Jesus is not here; Go and tell.

Verse 8: the women’s reaction was one of fear and joy.  And Jesus meets them.  He told them to rejoice!  Easter is a happy time that comes after a sad time.  Women held his feet and worshipped.  Verse 10: Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid.  Go and tell.  The disciples were to proceed to the mountain in Galilee, where Jesus would give the Great Commission in verses 16-20.  And that’s essentially what the Great Commission is: “Go and tell.”  This message was the capstone, the implication to the greatest miracle ever witnessed!

And the greatest miracle was the conclusion of the greatest story ever told.  Man, made in the image of God, fell out of relationship with Him as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden.  Through their disobedience as our representative heads, you and I come into this world out of harmony with God.  That friction is realized through our own sins and moral mistakes.  Death exists today as a result of such a rift (Romans 5:12).

The good news is that in this predicament, Jesus Christ came to this earth.  He lived a sinless life, satisfied God’s moral requirements, and then went to the cross as our perfect sacrifice.  This was done as a service to God and mankind.  For instance, Jesus described His death as a ransom payment in Matthew 20:28.  His mission was one of service in that He: “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

WHAT DOES GOD’S PLAN HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in our lives?  I would argue for four differences.  One there is a personal, spiritual difference.  Through faith in Him, we are spared from God’s wrath, given eternal life and are reconciled to God.  In other words, if it were not for the death and resurrection of Christ, there would be no hope for a relationship with God, life after death, or peace through the suffering.  In summary, Jesus’ death saves us from the righteous anger of God against our sin. It would truly be a hopeless situation.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus gives forgiveness, spiritual life, and a home in heaven to all who trust Him.  Why do Christians count the resurrection of Jesus so important?  One commentator noted: “Jesus resurrection demonstrated His victory over death, vindicated Him as righteous and indicated His divine identity.  It guarantees the believer’s present forgiveness and justification, and it is the hope of eternal life in Christ for the believer.”[4]

Two, there is a personal, physical difference.  Jesus rising from the dead gives me hope, that although my body is in the process of giving way; that I encounter illness, some serious, some not so serious; and I’m often reminded of my emotional, physical and spiritual frailty, as I’m moving toward my last breath, death cannot reign over me.  Jesus will one day raise me up and I will overcome death because He has overcome death.

Thirdly, there is a psychological difference: the resurrection of Jesus rescues me from a world where there is so much death and despair.  In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey recalls the events of Newtown, Connecticut and argues that the resurrection of Jesus provides a welcome remedy for the sorrow and depression we face through loss and tragedy in this life.  He uses the example of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was an agent of social healing after apartheid government ended in South Africa.  Tutu, after hearing testimonies from the victims of brutal assaults, where blacks were shot in cold blood, and collaborators with Apartheid were “necklaced,” where tires were hung around their necks and set on fire, he came away being convinced that evil doers are held accountable; that right and wrong do matter and that love does conquer evil.  He stated: “For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.” (See Christianity Today, “National Tragedy and the Empty Tomb,” 2013, April: 24)

Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus helps me understand death and loss, that it is the last enemy that will be overcome.  Recall our Thought for Meditation from 1 Corinthians 15.  As I witnessed the funeral of Norma Krauss, a long time member of this church and a real saint.  Hearing her children comment on her life, it was a reflection on a Christian woman.  Pastor Bill stated that our great hope as Christians is that Norma is now with Jesus.  And that Bob, Jr., oldest son, ordained Schwenkfelder minister and USAF chaplain, stated what his mom taught: “Jesus is not just a teacher to tell us about a way to heaven; He is the way, the truth and the life.  I couldn’t agree more!  How loving that the God of the universe would go out of His way to reveal this!

But in order for someone to have a repaired relationship with God two things that must occur.  The Bible calls these faith and repentance.  Faith is embracing God, following Christ, wholeheartedly giving Him your life.  Repentance is a turning from sin, asking for God’s forgiveness and determining that you want to go from your way of living to God’s way of living.  Have you done so?  Have you trusted Christ?

The good news is that no tomb in Jerusalem contains the bones of Jesus.  And that’s why we celebrate Easter.  This is why Peter wrote: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).”  That is also why John Donne, the 16th century Anglican priest and poet, who buried many parishioners due to disease and who lost his wife at 33 while she gave birth to their 12th child, wrote:

  • Death be not proud, though some have called thee
  • Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so…
  • One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
  • And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

[1][1] “Sans Dogma,” Christian Century, 20 March 2013: 9.

[2] Donald Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 588.

[3] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986), 401.

[4] “The Resurrection of Jesus,”  The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1653.

Reshaping Our Lives

The following message is based on Galatians 6:1-10 and deals with the subject of church health.  It was preached on the occasion of receiving new members on February 24, 2013

For the last several weeks, we have been considering relationships within the church and how those connections contribute to the overall health of our church.  We are a family of families.  To begin, I’d like to share with you the input contributed by Jeff Ost last week. I read it again with his permission:

“Central is and has been much more than a church to me and my family.  It is a COMMUNITY.  I live in a nearby development of close to 300 homes and while I know some of my neighbors, it is still just a development.  Central is my community, a place where I have made friends, developed social relationships, exchanged ideas and worshipped with people who share my beliefs.  I raised my family here and I always felt comfortable when I saw my children talking with other adults and parents, knowing they would get solid advice, even if it wasn’t from me.  Our church family, like any family has shared moments of joy and moments of sorrow, even moments of disagreement but in the end, our church family ties have held strong.  I thank God for each of you who live in my community and welcome any newcomers to join THIS COMMUNITY.”

These words pleased me so.  It reminds me that the church is to be an alternative culture to that of the world.  We provide a sense of belonging and family that people cannot get elsewhere, all in the name of Jesus.

Today, I want us to refocus our lives on what we have learned over the last six weeks.  In our time together we’ve seen how the body of Christ is one family made of diverse parts.  Just as the early church was made of Jew and Gentile, so the church of today spans backgrounds, races, genders and socio-economic classes.  The good news of Jesus is for everyone.  In the household text, we saw that wives were to respect their husbands and that husbands were to love their wives.  Children were to honor their parents and parents were not to provoke their children.  We were to operate our homes as small groups that glorified God, just as the larger body is called to the same.

We also learned that the church is a family of families and that there are roles within the church to be fulfilled by everyone.  Older men and women are to teach the younger generation.  Younger men and women are to live in self-control.  We are to look out for each other; hold a sense of responsibility for one another.  On another Sunday we studied the qualities of a sound church, that is to have mentors and that discipleship is a lifelong process.  Then last week, we talked about priorities such as care of lifestyle and care of community; commitment.

Now having this understanding as our base: mutual responsibility, community, foundation of the truth of Jesus Christ, we turn to the subject of reshaping our lives.  What do we do with this information?  For that, I have selected our passage of Galatians 6.

The Christians in the Roman province of Galatia were infected by the Judaizers, those that believed that trusting Christ is one thing, but faith must be coupled with adherence to the Old Testament law, in particular the mandate of circumcision as a mark of the people of God.  Written in 49 A.D., it functions as a precursor to the Council of Jerusalem, which you can read of in Acts 15:6 and following.  Paul goes to great lengths to prove that Christ + anything= nothing.  Christ + nothing = everything.  This is essentially the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the hallmark of the Protestant Reformation and probably why Luther referred to this book as “my epistle.”  It has a lot to teach us about God’s calling of a new life by God’s grace.  That, in turn, should cause us to pursue some nonnegotiables.  I believe two things.  One of which is that…

AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY.

One of the means by which people were boasting, was who was truly godly.  People were boasting in their Jewish identity or their pursuit of it.  For a Gentile, this meant to be circumcised or be left thinking you were not quite good enough; that you were not quite the spiritual make up that was necessary to be a real Christian.  It reminds us that those who are seen as spiritual leaders can exert an unhealthy power and influence over others who are impressionable and vulnerable.  Paul addresses the pride of the congregations in verse three: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.”

It is safe to say that there was a fair amount of legalism and pride operating in the churches of Galatia.  This bred jealousy and contempt.  They had moved away from the basic and elementary teaching to love their neighbors as themselves.  Instead, they were being self-centered and disregarding other church members. Notice what Paul warns earlier in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”  Human sin brings us to this place of animosity, revenge, spite and a lack of love.

Today, we show the opposite, as we welcome Gail, B.J. and Heather.  What a blessing it is to have them become a part of our fold and identify Central as their spiritual home.  We asked them to give themselves unreservedly to Christ’s service, and accept the teachings of and practices of our church as found in Holy Scripture.  We asked them to be mindful of our welfare and to walk with us in faithfulness to Christ.  This faithfulness begins with attending services and Sunday School, sharing in the work of the church, and supporting our missions.  By exercising your spiritual gifts you contribute towards making Central a fruitful body of Christians.

In turn, hopefully we can provide them a place of growth and encouragement.  We promised them that we would gladly welcome them to be a part with us in the hopes, the labors, and the joys of our church and  to walk with them in Christian love and sympathy, and to promote, as far as in us lies, their growth in the Christian faith and life.  In doing so, we fulfill what Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  What would God have us do?  First of all, AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY.  Secondly…

AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST ALSO PURSUE GENEROSITY AND SERVICE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.

If our eyes are open, God will give us opportunities to share our faith with others both within and outside the church family.  Notice verse nine: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  You might ask: “What are some ways to do good to the household of faith?”  Consider the following things that are not outside of what you already know.  First of all, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.  There are times when hearing the voice of another family member is just what is needed.
It might be a word of encouragement or a question of how help might be delivered.  While I’m on that subject, don’t be afraid to drop a card in the mail.  I have saved mail over the years that has particularly encouraged me.  Some of you have received similar things.  I even have a folder on my computer labeled: “Cheer up,” which is filled with things sent to me to encourage my spirit.

Another thing we can do for each other is pray.  I recently had a person say that she was impressed that our church had a midweek prayer meeting.  She was a part of another local congregation and their prayers were limited to the internet.  Nothing face-to-face.  We need not be timid to pray for and with each other.  Marci Shenkle voiced recently that it could be that we are afraid to pray with others for a number of reasons: Fear of sounding stupid; fear that we can’t pray as well as others; fear that we will pray theologically incorrect; and fear that we will be laughed at or judged.  But praying aloud for others says to that person, “I do not have the power to heal you.  I do not have the answers to solve your problems but I believe in a God who does.”  Two men recently prayed with me.  I was greatly blessed by it.

Don’t be afraid to share with those in need.  God has given you time and resources that are not meant to only be spent on your.  You are here to minister to others.  You can do this anonymously.  Maybe it means picking up a bill for someone in need.  Maybe it means buying some groceries.  Maybe it is offering to give someone a ride to the doctor.

Don’t be shy in meeting (with) others.  It is an opportunity to disciple and be discipled.  Giving others a chance to tell their story, to unload their burden.  Or maybe it means to take notice of the new faces in our midst.  Are we aware of those new to our family?  Do we have the wherewithal to make them feel at home?  I recently had a retired pastor visit my office.  He was commenting how he and his family visited a few local churches that were on the larger scale. He said that at two places, no one came up and introduced themselves.  No one asked who they were.  No one welcomed them.  But when they went to a church down the street, everyone came up to them.  The point I am making is this: We cannot be shy when making others feel welcome, or that they matter.  We have to step outside our comfort zone to do so.

In conclusion, we have learned two distinguishing characteristics of God’s people.  Since we have been given so much in Christ, we are motivated to pursue a couple of things.  One, AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY; and two: WE MUST ALSO PURSUE GENEROSITY AND SERVICE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.  It is a sense of belonging that we have the opportunity to show our love to God and to others. As a result, we reshape our lives to those things that matter most.

When Wilhemina was crowned Queen of Holland, at the tender age of ten, the happy little girl, too young to realize the gravity of the occasion, with thousands of people cheering her, was unable to take it all in and said, “Mamma, do all these people belong to me?” And the mother smiled and said, “No, my dear child, you belong to all these people.”[1]


[1]Gospel Herald, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.

 

Setting Life Priorities

The following message is based on Ephesians 5:15-21.  It was preached on February 17, 2013

INTRODUCTION

One of the keys to being a successful person, in life, at work, with family, etc. is setting priorities.  It is the focus upon what really matters, amidst manifold distractions.  As it was put to me quite some time ago, it is the challenge “to keep the main thing, the main thing.”  Others have labeled it “keeping first things first.”  It is never easy.  Former Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden was known for his inspirational talks.  His players called them parables.  One of his players recounted the following favorite story:

Bowden was playing college baseball, and he had never hit a home run. Finally he hit one down the right-field line, into the corner. He rounds first and looks to the third-base coach. He turned at second, was halfway to third and the coach was still waving him on. He got to home; he hit the plate. He had his first home run. He was so excited and everybody was slapping him five. Then the pitcher took the ball, threw to the first baseman, and the umpire called him out.  [Coach Bowden] said, “If you don’t take care of first base, it doesn’t matter what you do. If you don’t honor the Lord first, it doesn’t matter what else you do.”[1]

We are coming to the end of our study on Church health and relationships.  The Apostle Paul here lays the ground work for how God’s administration in the church ought to work.

A big part of taking advantage of opportunities is setting priorities on what is really important.  That’s what I’ve entitled our message this morning, “Setting Life Priorities.”  What are good priorities?

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF LIFE STYLE.

Ephesians 5:15 states: “Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Other translations use the allusion of walking.  Take notice of the New American Standard when it says: “…be careful how you walk….”  What does it mean to walk as wise men?  For one thing, it involves care and awareness.  The NKJ says: “See then that you walk circumspectly….”   The idea is living with a cautious, vigilant, attitude.  Being spiritually aware.  How is this done?  Paul goes on to elaborate in a number of ways.

One way that we walk as wise men and women is by making the most of our time.  Taking advantage of the spiritual opportunities around us.  It means managing our spiritual resources in a way that honors God.  Being keenly aware of your life and that you have been graced with opportunities to live for and point others to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are allotted a portion of time to serve the Lord.  Some a very little time; others 80-90 years.  No set time is guaranteed.  Every day is a gift.  We must make the most of it.  Making the most of life means prioritizing God and the things associated with Him!  Jeff Reed states: “The key to the passage is to walk wisely, making the most of our time.  This implies setting the priorities of our lives around Christ and His plan.  The heart of His plan is the church.  This means that His purpose must become our purpose.  His mission must become our mission.  His priorities much become our priorities.  Since we are to walk wisely and make the most of our time, we must plan our days, making sure that we do not just spend them as the world does.”[2]

This also means understanding the Lord’s will.  Someone recently pointed out that there is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge might be knowing information; wisdom is seeing how to apply principle.  Wisdom has a starting point according to the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The means by which we can understand the Lord’s will is by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit begins by coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  As it says in John 7:37: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”  This was the occasion of the Feast of Booths, commemorating the wilderness wanderings in the book of Numbers.  On one occasion where the Israelites were very thirsty, Moses was told to strike the rock.

Being wise is the opposite of being foolish; getting drunk.  Verse 17 tells us: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Interesting that getting drunk with wine is equated with dissipation.  What is dissipation?  It is equated with indulgence.  Following your senses.  Being led by desires.  Not thinking with a spiritual cap on.  Some of us cannot have a drink of alcohol because it opens the doors to other things.  Others of us must learn to be temperate.  It is not that being a Christian is equated with abstinence from alcoholic beverages, but Christians learn how to practice self control.  Alcohol indulgence is just one of many examples of unbridled living.  We could put food here, sex, or any other source of temporary gratification.  So we will either participate in unbridled living or living with God’s purposes.  It means I’m not living for myself and my own pleasure.  My happiness is not the main goal, rather the giving of myself so that Jesus Christ might be glorified. Not only do good priorities involve care of lifestyle, but…

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF COMMUNITY.

This includes speaking and singing.  The picture is of worship and community life.  Verse 19 tells us: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This reminds us that the local church must be the center of our lives.  Being filled with the Spirit includes many activities that are listed here.  For instance, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  This means worship, both in a corporate sense and in a smaller, more intimate sense.  Our lives are geared to recognizing Jesus and His rightful place in our lives.  Hearing thanks given from the lips of each other, so that we are built up and encouraged.

Spiritual growth in a caring community versus the individualism.  Do I live only for myself?  Or am I led by my feelings?  Ephesians 2:1 describes the Christian’s former way of life before Jesus enters the picture: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”  Living for oneself vs. living for the benefit and blessing of others.

Or I can live in a godly community of believers where I am in it for others.  Being subject to one another allows your fellow Christians to call you to account for your life, giving people the opportunity to speak the truth in love that you and I might conform to Christ.  Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  I am part of a larger whole; part of a winning team.  Have you considered the priority that church is in your life?  Is it the center of your social, spiritual and educational efforts?  Are you giving to your church through your time, your talents and your financial resources?

Our church is a caring community.  I recently met a minister and some folks from his church that had traveled from the Reading area to attend the funeral of their member’s mother.  For a small group of individuals to take the time out of their day to show that support was pretty impressive.  Maybe a few of you would like to comment on what this church has done for you?  How has your life been blessed and enhanced by having Central as a part of your life?  I’ll encourage you to come to one of the microphones in just a moment.

Here’s an anonymous testimony: “During a very dark time in our marriage the ministry we received from Central truly led to the healing of our broken marriage.  The combination of the counsel we received as well as benevolent funding to attend a marriage retreat, provided the light to show us the way to bringing God into our marriage, trusting in Him and valuing the importance of our marriage covenant.  We truly feel without the love and compassion we received from Central, our family would be in a much different place today.  We will be forever grateful that God led us to this church as this is just one example of the many blessings we receive from being a part of the wonderful community of believers.”

And another: “I’m Amy Ramsey and I would like to talk about what Central means to me.  In our family, Andy and I made a decision that church would be our first commitment.  We’ve given up travel sports, popular kids school events and weekend getaways. They are not easy choices and usually heart wrenching decisions.  Recently there was a conflict with sports and church and I saw it as a great opportunity to test my faith and see if my actions follow through with my words.  I prayed about what would bless God the most and about the strengths that God gave each of my children.  When I choose God and my church, it gives me a deep sense of peace and the strength to keep going (as only a mother of five can do)!”

All of these are examples of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  In closing, listen to what Howard Synder says: “Spiritual growth occurs best in a caring community.  There are spiritual truths I will never grasp and Christian standards I will never attain except as I share in community with other believers- and this is God’s plan.  The Holy Spirit ministers to us, in large measure, through each other.”[3]


[1] Citation: The Tennessean (9-29-00); submitted by Rubel Shelly; Nashville, Tennessee

Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion – – More Perfect Illustrations: For Every Topic and Occasion.

 

[2] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families (Des Moines: BILD, 1997), 48.

[3] Reed, 49.

Qualities of a Sound Church

The following message is based on Titus 2:1-15.  It was delivered on February 3, 2013

Etiquette is important.  “How to’s” are necessary.  I remember eating dinner with a friend from England.  My father in-law reminded me to eat slowly, enjoy the experience etc.  If I failed to follow his instructions, I would look like a fool.

When I gave the prayer at the PA House of Representatives, I was briefed on how to enter the chamber and what I was to do and not do.  They told me how to walk, when to approach the podium, when to sit, everything from top to bottom.  One wrong move and I would be toast!

When you go to receive an MRI, they give you instructions about what to expect.  How you’ll be placed in a tube, how there will be loud noise, when to hold your breath, etc.

In a courtroom, you may be told what will take place by your lawyer.  All of these are important because etiquette is essential to being your best.  Then there are “how to’s” for the Christian life.  Being aware of our behavior, knowing my role in relationship to others.  Last week we looked at one of the few household texts that teach how family members ought to treat one another.  Today, we study Titus 2 which is a community text, addressing the church as a family of families.  Titus’ job description in found in 1:5: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”  Later in Titus 2:1-15, Paul addresses the different groups within a church community.  This is a very basic text.  It tells us something of how God has constructed community life

All of this instruction has a serious backdrop that we can easily overlook as it applies to the health of our church. Jeff Reed states: “Paul’s theme through this dynamic letter to Titus is clearly a profile for a Christian life style.  By contrast, his primary concern was the ungodly life style of false teachers and, consequently, the way they were influencing then new Christians in Crete.  Too often today we embrace the gospel and yet fail to pay attention to His instructions concerning how we are to live as a community of believers.” [1]

MENTORS ARE IMPORTANT IN THE SHAPING OF OUR FAITH.

Notice verse two: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.” All of these qualities we look for in leaders.  And this was before any of the popular books or DVD’s on leadership were ever produced.  For both the older men and women, these are qualities that we look up to, those that we want in our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.  They are values that come from those that get high acclaim; those that command respect.

For a moment, I would like for you to think back of who has influenced you in the church.  Who have you looked up to?  I have several.  In my last church, are a couple named Tom and Annette Reed.  Tom was an elder of mine.  Soft spoken.  I never saw Tom angry.  When he served on the city council of our town, he was ridiculed for making decisions that were unpopular, but ethically right on.  They even slashed his tires.  But he never retaliated.  He always took the high moral road.  Tom led our men’s prayer meeting with a devotional.  His wife Annette was a prayer warrior and led the Beth Moore Bible studies in our community.  They were my confidants and are still good friends today.  Although I was their pastor, in many ways, they pastored me.  They loved Linda and me like we were their own kids.  People like that are the salt of the earth.

Who was it for you?  Is there someone now operating as a mentor?  Do you take advantage of the opportunities to connect with them?  A lot of progress can be made over the lunch counter.  Ask questions.  Life experience coupled with the knowledge of God’s word is invaluable. Are we listening?  Wisdom beckons everyone who will listen, as an experienced master would guide a green novice.  Proverbs 3:1: “My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.”  Would be a mentor to someone in the church?  Would you take the time to invest your life in someone else?  This can be done one-on-one, either formally or informally.  I challenge you older, more seasoned Christians to pray and ask God who He might bring your way to mentor. Next Sunday, you’re going to witness our young people participate in Youth Sunday.  Encourage them; but also be mindful that they need your guidance.  Secondly…

LEARNING AND DISCIPLESHIP IS A LIFE-LONG PROCESS, WHERE ONE REALIZES THEIR ROLE AS RELATED TO OTHERS.

Verse four instructs older women to “…train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. 6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.”  Note that this section is not a criticism of women who work outside the home.  If you were to read Proverbs 31, you’ll see a woman who is very industrious.  I realize that in this culture that there are situations which force women to work outside the home.  But it also is important to state that women are the heart of the home.  A wife who is keenly aware of the needs of her home is worth her weight in gold!  She provides comfort and sets the tone.  Our home would be lost without Linda.  She recently went away overnight and my kids were waiting for her at the door upon her return!

Verse six tells us that younger men are to be self-controlled.  The Greek is sophroneo which literally means: “to be of sound mind, to be temperate.   It has in view that of sound judgment.  The New American Standard translates it as sensible.  Notice that this is the trait that shows up either explicitly or implicitly in all four groups.  In the Greek culture of widespread immorality and abuses of relationships woven into their religious experience, it was necessary that Christians give a different impression.  This applies to one’s appetite, emotional or physical.  It is keeping yourself in check according to God’s word.  It is practicing self-restraint.  It is knowing your weaknesses and not giving yourself over to accesses that are neither healthy nor right.  On this weekend, as we think of the Super Bowl and the Wing Bowl and any other bowl.  Christians are to be temperate.

Another trait that shows up is focus.  Knowing what you’re job is.  Keenly aware of responsibilities; being resourceful.  Aware of what God has given you and applying yourself to the needs around you.  Our culture seems to communicate an attitude towards finding yourself, being on a journey, but no one knows what their supposed to be looking for when trying to find oneself and the journey never has a destination.  We must understand that it is not all about me; the world does not revolve around me.

A recent study revealed that young people in our culture struggle with direction, yet they also feel entitled and put up a front like they do not need help.  Psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being ‘above average’ in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence. But in appraising the traits that are considered less individualistic – co-operativeness, understanding others, and spirituality – the numbers either stayed at slightly decreased over the same period.

Researchers also found a disconnect between the student’s opinions of themselves and actual ability. While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.

Also on the decline is the amount of time spent studying, with little more than a third of students saying they study for six or more hours a week compared to almost half of all students claiming the same in the late 1980s.[2]

We must not forget that we are connected and related.  We need each other.  Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”[3]

Effectiveness of our church’s witness depends on us living properly towards each other and towards outsiders.  Gene Getz states: “The way we live in community, as a local church, makes a difference in our impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is also true for the way we live within our own homes.  As homes and communities disintegrate in our Western culture, we can have an especially powerful witness before the watching world.”[4]  Lastly, there’s an underlying motivation and dogma underneath this behavior.  That teaches us that…

THEOLOGY IS IMPORTANT.

Paul’s instructions to Titus remind us that how one believes ought to affect how one lives.  The first century cults had a disruptive nature.  They would ruin whole households (cite Paul, Peter).  The Church has always believed in a plurality of leadership that consisted of many functioning as under shepherds.

Titus was to be a model of good works.  In his teaching, he was to show integrity, dignity and sound speech.  This was the picture of the shepherd in the tradition of Jesus.  Jesus was the good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.  If you remember from our Scripture Lesson in John 10:1-16, Jesus is the door.  He warns that there will be those that will try to enter by another way and even determine to lead others astray.

Then there is Satan, who seeks to kill and destroy.  Jesus brings life, as He said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”  And we await His return.  He is looking for the faithful.

One of the biggest obstacles to right belief is our own intuition.  We make up our own theology as we go, rather than conforming our thoughts to Scripture.  Scripture is a revealed book upon which we must center our lives.  Its ideas don not originate with man, but with God.  At a critical time in the life of the Israelites, after Moses died, Joshua could have said, “This is my game now.”  But notice what God said in Joshua 1:7: “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

All of this is necessary as we wait for Jesus’ return.  I could easily preach a sermon on the last four verses of our passage, and someday I will.  But for now, I will read them and then tell a story.  11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority.”  Our living is in anticipation of something greater that is right around the corner.

Have you ever wondered why folks in a cemetery are buried facing east?  It is in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus.  As Christians, we anticipate a great day, in which we will come face to face with the Lord of the Universe.  It will be a day of freedom that we can in fact enjoy now.


[1] Reed, 43.

[3] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 72.

[4] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families, (Des Moines, IA: BILD International, 1997), 41.