Thursday, September 06, 2012

Communion

[Note: This was an outline I used for communion one Sunday. Sometimes I just write things up to help me think and pray about them before I get up and say something]

Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26

The symbols

When we have communion sometimes we find ourselves simply going through the motions.  We’ve done it pretty much the same way for so many years we have come to think of the way we do it as a necessary liturgy or, dare I say, perhaps even a kind of incantation.  We not only miss the effect of the first supper given that fateful night two-thousand years ago, but we’ve lost its deeper significance.  Perhaps not “lost”, but maybe it has grown dim in the fog of familiarity.  We know that the wine represents the blood and the bread the flesh of our dear Savior (most of our children can tell us this much), but is that it?  Was that all the Lord was telling us:  This wine is my blood and this bread my flesh?

If I may say so and not seem overly cryptic, I believe we’ve lost the meaning of the symbols that the symbols themselves were pointing to.  That is, the bread and wine point to the flesh and the blood of our Lord, but what do the flesh and blood point to?  What do they mean?  What is their significance?   Was Jesus simply instituting another ritual for us to follow, with its own set of rules and procedures?  That is, replacing the old liturgy with the new liturgy?   No, I don’t believe so.  Jesus wasn’t saying, “Do it this way.”   He was giving us pictures by which we could remember something about that night that was far deeper th
an crude analogies.

The Bread

The bread represented his flesh, but what did his flesh mean?  I hear the words of the apostle John:

...the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14.

But the bread was broken. When I break the bread I see our Savior’s back torn by the scourge, I see his beard ripped from his gentle face, I see the crown of thorns pressed down upon his head, I see the bruises left by the beatings, I see his hands and feet nailed to the cross and I see the spear thrust into his side.  All for me and for you.   

I hear Jesus say.

Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  John 20:27.

Let us eat together.

The Wine

In like manner Jesus took the wine and said, “...this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  I remember strangely similar words spoken by the first prophet, Moses, when the first covenant was established at the mountain.  He said:

Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words. Exodus 24:8b.

The wine pointed to the blood of the new covenant by the new prophet, the Christ, but what does the blood point to?   The wine was poured out and I remember that my Lord sweat great drops of blood in the garden on the night he was betrayed, that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, that there are three that bare witness: the spirit, the water and the blood...my Savior’s blood.  I hear the words from heaven:

“Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelations 7:13-14)

Let us drink together.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bristol Hill Tent Revival

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I will be preaching at the Bristol Hill United Church of Christ tent revival.  I've been praying (sometimes desperately) for what He would have me speak on.  Luke 14:25-33 keeps coming to my mind and has been for over a week now.  So, unless the Holy Spirit says differently tomorrow, that will probably be the text.

I've been meeting with around nine pastors and lay leaders for several months now every Saturday morning at 7am for prayer.  Every week we meet at a different church, but the focus of the prayers are always the same: Lord, revive your people.   The above text is an important one to me because it speaks to something often ignored in our desire to see God move: the cost.  Salvation isn't cheap.  It cost Christ everything and he expects us to pay the same price.

"Wait!  I thought salvation was free. Now you are telling me I have to earn it?"  No!  Let me say that again, NO!  You cannot earn salvation.  It is a free gift from God.  You cannot make God give it to you.  You cannot be good enough to get it.  You cannot buy God off.  The only way to get this free gift is if God gives it to you.  Period.  However, this does not mean he won't ask anything in return for this free gift.  Not as payment but what was due him all along.

You see, men and women were created to glorify God.  All creation was created for this purpose.  To glorify and serve God forever.  I like how the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A.  Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Man's chief end (purpose) was and is to glorify God. Not because God needs it, but because he deserves it.  But people rebelled and instead of giving glory to God they glorified themselves, making gods with their own hands and worshiping them instead.  Not only did this leave man in a state where he wasn't doing what he was suppose to do in the first place, it left him unable to do what he was suppose to do in the first place.

When we are "born again" we are given new hearts and new life.  We become new creatures.  As a result we are now able to do what we were suppose to do all along: glorify God with our whole beings.

This is the cost people miss.  This is what Jesus is trying to point out.  If we want to be His disciples he wants it all back.  Everything we've claimed as our own when we were living in rebellion against him he wants it back.  Not because he needs it, but because he deserves it and it is the right thing to do.  To do anything else is to rebel.  And people who are going to rebel against God's ultimate design on our lives don't make good disciples.  Count the cost.

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33 - ESV)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Authentic Church: A Greater Testimony

The Authentic Church: A Greater Testimony


Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Jesus testified with water and blood (6, 8)
    1. What is the water
    2. John 8:30-36.  John and Jesus’ own works testify
    3. John 14:11
  3. The Spirit testifies, the spirit of Truth (v. 6, 8)
    1. John 1:32. The Spirit like a dove testified that Jesus was the one.
  4. God testifies
    1. Through his Son and eternal life (v.10,11)
  5. Conclusion


Introduction

Recently I have found myself being challenged to go further up and further in with God.  I’ve had a desire to be more radical for Christ many times before, but I never seemed to get it right or found myself unable to sustain the fervor I once had. As I have prayed, studied the Word and preached I have been forced to seek God harder than I ever have in my whole life.

Everything God has been doing in my life, especially as I began preaching on 1 John, has lead me to ask two questions.  Two fundamental questions that to many of you may seem obvious but for me they have been a powerful eye opener.  The two questions I have begun asking myself are:

1.  Am I  really follow Jesus?
2.  Who is this Jesus I am following?

I’m going to talk about the first question more at the end of my sermon.  For now I want to talk about who Jesus is and why it is important we get the answer right.

In the first century church there had been a split of sorts.  People who were once a part of the local bodies of believers had left (either on their own accord or because they had been asked to leave).  Later, probably using their contacts in these local assemblies, they were introducing false teachings and most, if not  all, of these false teachings stemmed from a misunderstanding of who Jesus was.  

It wasn’t that they were arguing whether Jesus had a beard or not, or if he was black or white or somewhere inbetween.  They were arguing about the essential nature of who Jesus was.  And, according to John, they were dead wrong.

I’m not going to go into all the false doctrines they were teaching, I’ve already done that in previous sermons and besides that isn’t my point today.  Instead I want to focus on the importance of right belief, what theologians call “orthodoxy” and the source of that believe.

To John the fact of who Jesus was could be settled by testimony.  Specifically the testimony of God the Father, of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit.  Let us bring in our three witnesses and see what they have to say to the church today.

Witness #1:  Jesus

First John says “This is the one who came by water and blood -- Jesus Christ.  Not by water only but by the water and the blood...”  Let us stop there.

What is meant by water and blood?  Augustine saw reference to John 19:34 where we are told that when the centurion thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to verify he was truly dead, water and blood flowed out.  Calvin and Luther saw in it a reference to the sacraments of the Lord’s table.  Some have seen in this reference the O.T. sacrificial symbolism of purification and still others see in the water a reference to Jesus’ birth (which is certainly NOT what this passage refers to). However, most scholars today have concluded that this is a reference to Jesus’ baptism in water and the blood he shed for you and me on the cross.  This is also the interpretation I lean towards.  

The blood of Jesus.  What does it mean?  Why is it so important and how does it testify to who Jesus was?  John’s opponents were claiming that God’s Son really didn’t come in the flesh but rather descended upon a “man” named Jesus and inhabited him during his earthly ministry.  Then, just before his betrayal, left this man.  On the other hand what the scriptures teach us is that the blood that was shed was, in fact, that of the Son of God.  Not mere man, but God himself in the flesh.  Not just human, but deity and human as one.  

This is full circle from what John started his epistle out with.  1 John 1:1-3:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

John is saying he and the other apostles touched, heard, and saw “the eternal life, that which was with the Father”.  Not some spirit. You can’t touch a spirit. This was the “man” Christ Jesus he is talking about.  And this man, who was also God, shed his blood for you, and me, and all the world.

If you don’t believe this, that Jesus shed his blood for you and me AS the Son of God, then you cannot have eternal life.  In fact, I would go further and say, if you don’t believe Jesus was who he and God and the Spirit say he was, you cannot have eternal life.

What about the water? Many people were being baptized by John the Baptist  in the river Jordan (not the John who’s epistle we are studying).   This brings us to our next witness.

Witness #2: The Holy Spirit

Let us read together John 1:29-34.  It is interesting to note John’s reason for baptizing.  John was not baptizing for the forgiveness of sins.  Being baptized, even under the old covenant, could not grant the forgiveness of sins.  In fact the scriptures tell us that John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3.  The baptism, here, was only symbolic of a restored relationship with God.  Something that wouldn’t be fully realized except under the New Covenant.

But look at John’s reason for baptism. In vs. 31 he says: “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel”.  Did you know that?  This was news to me and I’ve read this passage many, many times.  John was told that the Messiah would be shown to him if he would go out and start baptizing people with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. So what does John do?  He goes out into the desert, living there on bugs and bee juice, dressed like a camel...I mean in the skin of a camel, and  just starts baptising everyone in sight.  

I have a question for you: Would you be willing to get that crazy just for a glimpse of Jesus.

1. Am I following Jesus?
2. Who is this Jesus I am following?

How far are you willing to go today?  

Would you give up the comforts we’ve come to expect in America as our right?  Would you give up your tasty food?  Would you give up your home?  Would you live in the most austere setting? Would you let people call you crazy? Would you give it all up, even your life, just for a glimpse?
Would you sell all that you have and give it to the poor?  Would you hate your parents and even your own life?  Would take up your cross?  Just for a glimpse?

Yet, as  Christians, we are being offered so much more than a glimpse, aren’t we?

Finally, it happens.  John sees him and he knows this is the one, the lamb of God.  He baptizes him and, in Mark 1:10, we are are told that  the heavens are torn open and the spirit, in the form of a dove, gives His testimony by descending upon Jesus, essentially saying, “This is the One!  This is the Son of the Living God!”

Oh to be there on that day.  To see that vision.  To hear the voice from heaven declare, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased!”  What do we desire?  What is our passion? Is it for the things of this world?  For trinkets?  For fleeting experiences that give a rush and a fix today but leaves us empty tomorrow?  Or is our passion for a vision of the living God in our lives and in our land?  To hear his voice, to see his Spirit, to have his approval?  Are you willing and ready to give up EVERYTHING for that?

Our text, in verse 6, says it is the Spirit who testifies.  This sentence is in the present tense.  It means he is testifying to us even today. It wasn’t just a one time event 2000 years ago.

Acts 5:32 says: “And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.

You can do all the studying you want.  You can get multiple degrees in Science and Psychology, Theology and Philosophy and it will all be completely useless if the Holy Spirit doesn’t testify to you, personally, who the Son of God is.  What will it benefit you if you gain the whole world and yet forfeit your own soul? (Matt. 16:26).  Man is completely incapable of arriving at the truth of who Jesus is except through the testimony of the Holy Spirit.  That is why John writes: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony in himself”.  If you believe in this Jesus, then you must have the Holy Spirit living in us and testifying to this fact.  There is simply no other way to arrive at this belief.   

But we have one more witness.  The Father has yet to speak to us about His Son.

Witness #3: God

We are told, in verse  9, that the Father has also testified concerning his son.  He was not and is not silent.  He even spoke while Jesus was walking the earth.   We just heard of one instance where God spoke at Jesus’ baptism.  Take a look at another one in John 12:27-29:

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.

Here we are told that God would be glorified through Jesus’ torture and death.   

Another instance of God speaking and approving of His Son’s ministry can be seen in the event we call the transfiguration.  Here God speaks from heaven saying,  “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! This is my Son, my chosen one: listen to him!”  (Matthew 17:5, Luke 9:35)

He has also spoken to us through his Word.  

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

But again, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t open our eyes, it will always remain just a book to us.

In verse 9 John writes, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater...”  What John is saying is this, “If you can put any amount of faith in what man says, you certainly can believe God who is far more trustworthy”.  But I want to take a few moments to address the testimony of man concerning God and Jesus Christ even if this isn’t explicitly what our text is addressing here.

I can truly appreciate the treasure to be found in good teachers.  Many people, for many years have taught or attempted to teach us who God is.  Ecclesiastes 12:12 says, “There is no end to the writing of books and too much study wearies the soul” and John tells us at the end of his Gospel that if everything had been written down concerning what Jesus did and taught, the world would not be able to contain all the books.  God is infinite and so it only goes to figure that the amount of information about God would also be infinite.    

Because of this it isn’t unusual to find that what the Scriptures tell us about God gets buried in layer upon layer of man’s well intentioned opinions and conjectures.  Some who teach are spirit filled, God centered, men and women of the Book who’s wellspring of wisdom and knowledge find its source in the Fountain of Living Water. Some have no interest in God whatsoever and their teachings come mainly from different sources.

We must be careful as believers that we each take responsibility to verify, through prayer and the study of the Word, everything taught us.  In Acts 17:11 we are told, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character...for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

My point is this: a repeated trend I have seen both in my own time and in what church history I have studied has involved a growing disorientation concerning whom God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit really are followed by an eventual awakening to the fact that what people have been worshiping has, in fact, been a fabrication of man’s own making to one degree or another.  This was what John was running up against in his own day and it is what we are running up against in our day.  Nothing has changed.  What the scripture plainly declares as sin we are told God doesn’t call it that.  What the bible plainly says about God’s justice we are told God isn’t like that.  What the bible says Jesus expects of those who call themselves disciples, we are told Jesus doesn’t expect that.  When the bible tells us what God’s love is like, we are told it isn’t like that but something else.   But what does God say?   What is His testimony?     

Now please don’t understand me here.  I am NOT saying that the church has had it all wrong all these years and that I’ve discovered “The real Jesus” or the “Lost religion of the bible” or some other nonsense.  In fact, when people start talking about Jesus in a way that is profoundly different than what the church has consistently taught for the past 1,500 years I have alarm bells go off.  I immediately run to my bible and my prayer closet to see what’s up.  What I am saying is that we need to be careful.  We have to make sure that what we believe, that Jesus we are following is the real, actual Jesus of the Bible and not some man made concoction born out of a sinful desire to have a Jesus more like us or a God who will let us get away with whatever we want.  Even when the desire seems good and honest, like God not condemn sinners or never sending an unbeliever to hell it is, in the final analysis, the result of our sinful nature looking for something other than the true God and Christ of the bible.

Conclusion

Let me close with these two questions that were posed to me:

1. Are you following Jesus?
2. Who is this Jesus you are following?

These are very serious questions. John made no qualms about it.   vs. 12 says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”.  The gnostics that were attacking the early church “thought” they had the Son of God but John makes it clear they were worshiping a figment of their own imaginations.  What John is saying here in vs.12, and what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us today, is: whoever has the Son testified to in the Scriptures by God, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son spoke of by those who followed him first, unless you have THIS Son of God you do not have eternal life.

How do we find the answers to these questions?  Time to get back to the basics, folks.  We want revival?  We want things to turn around, to see a church truly set on fire from above?  

1.  Get in the word and read what it, the Word of God, says about who Jesus is.  You may be surprised what you find.

2.  Ask God who Jesus is and be ready to respond.  Don’t bother asking if you aren’t going to do anything with what God tells you.

3. Depend on the Holy Spirit.  He is the ONLY way you can truly know and understand the truth as it is present in the Word of God.  Please don’t turn this into an intellectual exercise.  We aren’t trying to solve problems of mathematics, physics, health or what-have-you.  This is much more important; so much so that any other question pales in comparison. We are talking about your own soul.  We are talking about the truth of who this Jesus is.

The final verse sums up everything that John has written so far:  “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life?”

Oh what a beautiful, wonderful thing to know that you have eternal life.  To know, without a doubt, that your name is written in the Lamb’s book of Life.  That when the accuser, Satan, points out all the bad things you’ve done and laughs at how messed up your life is that you can look to the Son and see the scars in his hands and the place in his side where the spear was thrust and see where the crown of thorns left their mark and know that all has been forgiven.  That you stand before God as white as snow as though you had never sinned, washed in the blood of the lamb.  What a gift.

Do you know that you have eternal life?  Do you know the Jesus of the bible?  Do you want to become a disciple of Jesus, the Messiah?  But wait...count the cost, friend.  If you want an easy life, if you want to be accepted by your friends and family and society, if you want to be free to live life on your terms, going where you please, doing what you want to do, saying what you want to say and thinking what you want to think, then stay away.  Stay far away. The Messiah is not for you.  He will claim your mind, body and soul.  He we ask you to join him on the cross.  The road that he travels is narrow and the gate small and few there are that travel this road.  The company is sparse, but the fellowship is grand.  And what wonders await us at the end.  I only give this warning because Scripture tells me to and because I don’t want you deceived as to what sort of commitment this is.  You are committing your life to the greatest cause history, all of history, has ever known in all the universe.  You are giving your life to serve, forever, the king of kings and the lord of lords, for the glory, praise and honor of his kingdom.

If you want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ then, while the music is playing, come forward and sit in the front row here. Make that decision today.  


Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Authentic Church: Our Destiny

[Text: 1 John 5:1-5]


Introduction

Today we start into the home stretch as we begin the last chapter of 1 John.  Some of what you will hear today will seem like deja vu, which is o.k. because if you are anything like me you need to hear things a couple of times before it starts to sink in.  

Do you know that you have a destiny?  We all do.  God really does have a plan for the people who are called by his name, who have been washed in the blood of the lamb, who call upon the name of Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  

The world tries to convince us that we have a destiny as well.  But this destiny is nothing like God’s destiny for us.  In fact, it is so anemic it cannot even hold a candle to God’s destiny for his people.  The world would have us believe that our destiny is to be rich or important or popular and famous or healthy or well educated, and, in our waning days, to retire and live the easy life.

But this isn’t God’s destiny.  God’s destiny for his people is for us to overcome the world!  But overcoming the world isn’t just about winning some arbitrary battle, or white knuckling it, putting up with social ills and our own sinfulness until, some day, we make it through and, with a sigh of relief, step into eternity.  No, God has called us to so much more.  

In this passage today we will learn that there are three essential elements to overcoming:

1. Faith,
3. Love,
2. Obedience


You gotta have Faith

John starts out by making it clear that he is talking to believers here.  That is, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah.  Christ is merely the greek word for Messiah.  If you truly believe that Jesus is the Messiah then you have been born of God.  You cannot believe Jesus is the Christ unless you have been born again and if you’ve been born again you will believe that Jesus is the Christ.

John actually sandwiches this section between two similar statements concerning who Jesus is.  He starts with “Jesus is the Christ” and, in verse 5, ends with “Jesus is the Son of God”, both of which are essential to our destiny. It really isn’t what you know but who you know that makes all the difference.  

But this isn’t just mere knowledge of Jesus.  This is faith in who Jesus is and what he has done for us.  It does you no good to do some name dropping in this case.  Take a look at Acts 19:11-16.

Did it do any of these guys any good to throw Jesus’ name around, as if his name were some magical incantation?  Not at all.  It doesn’t do us any good to say “I know Jesus” or “I believe in Jesus” hoping that somehow just saying this will cause us to be born again or have special favor with God.  

John started out this epistle by telling us that he and the others saw, heard and touched “that which was from the beginning”.  This epistle, indeed the entire message of the Gospel, centers around who this Jesus said he was.  You can’t get away from it.  

If we are going to be overcomers we must have faith that Jesus is who he said he is.

I verses 4 and 5 we are told:

for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

At first we may be tempted to think that we have to overcome the world, and in a sense we do, but it is more than that.

Take a look with me at John 16:33:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” he meant it!  There is nothing that you and I can add to the work.  We become overcomers through faith in Jesus Christ.  We overcome because he has already overcome.

But what does this mean for us?  Does this mean we can go on sinning and doing our own thing because Jesus has overcome the world?  A resounding no.   Although no one would outright admit it, it does seem that this sort of theology has made its way into the church.  This teaching goes something like this:

I am a wretched sinner, always have been and always will be.  Yet all I must do is have faith in the work Jesus did on the cross and all God will see is his son and not my sinfulness.

Or some other formulation of this thought.  Now don’t misunderstand me.  There is some truth here.  We certainly are not saved by anything inherent in ourselves.  We cannot save ourselves at all.  When we are born again we are so despite ourselves.  Romans 5:8 says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.   For whom?  Romans 8:29:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”

That’s who

So there is truth in the statement I just recited above.  However (and this is a big HOWEVER): This does not mean we can go on sinning.  Everywhere in scripture we are told that we MUST STOP SINNING.  I do not believe that God is blind.  I do not believe that, once we are born again, God says, “Oh look, Brian is watching pornography on the internet again. It’s a good thing I can’t see that and all I see is my Son’s sacrifice.  So I really don’t see that sin, I only see my Son’s righteousness”.   I don’t think he is saying this at all.

I am not saying that once we are born again we must work to stay born again or that we must earn our salvation.  We cannot start in faith and finish with the works of the law.  What I am saying is this:

If we have truly been born again our nature will be such that we will WANT to forsake all of our sin and live holy, pure lives for God who sent his Son to die so that we might be free.  Free from God’s wrath, free from sin and free to live for God for ALL of eternity.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Do you understand the price that was paid to redeem us?  If you truly do understand the price then you can see how ridiculous the thought is that we could go on living in our sin and God would be o.k. with that.  He is not o.k. with it.  He is not blind to it.  He sees it all and it truly does grieve him.  

When I say that “God is ok with it” I don’t mean he is ok with sin.  Most teachers and preachers admit he is not ok with it.  I mean that God is ok with us despite our sin because of Jesus.  That he is ok with the fact that we do sin because he knows we can’t change until we die.  Because of genetics, or habits or what have you we are just the way we are and we need to live with it.

But I don’t believe this is ever the teaching of Scripture.  What I believe the teaching of Scripture says is this:  If we continue in our sin, refusing to repent when it is made clear that what we have done or are doing is, in fact, sin, we are proving to ourselves and to the church that something is very, very wrong and that, quite possibly, we have not, in fact, been born again.

Hard?  Yep.  Scriptural?  Yep.  

1 John 3:9,10
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

I have had people tell me (and this is also something I’m seeing taught in churches): “We are all sinners, and since we all have sin we are struggling with we have no right to tell others to stop sinning or that they might not be saved because of their continual life of sin.  Therefore we need to just love one another and worship God together and let God deal with the sin”

Do you see where this is going?  If there is sin in our midsts I shouldn’t address it because we are all sinners. This is so unbiblical I hardly know where to begin.  

I don’t have time to address all of the wrongness with this sort of theology but let me ask you this:  If I murder someone does it mean I cannot tell others that murder is wrong?

Doing so may mean I’m a hypocrite but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m wrong.  But beyond that I am told two things by Scripture:

Stop sinning myself and tell others to stop sinning.   I MUST do those two things.  I cannot ignore sin in my life or anyone else  if I am to call myself a disciple of Christ.  

I shouldn’t be standing up here saying “stop sinning” when my life is full of sin.  But even if I did, that wouldn’t make my statement wrong.  Scripture is truth whether spoken by the devil himself or the most humble saint.

Do you know the bible doesn’t tell us to get born again?  On the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit descended and filled the disciples and Peter gave his speech thousands of people asked, “What must we do?”   in Acts 2.  Strangely enough Peter doesn’t say, “Get born again”.  He doesn’t say, “Say this prayer after me and you will be born again”.  He doesn’t tell them to fill out a card or raise their hands or walk up front to the alter.  Not that these things are necessarily wrong if understood correctly (which they aren’t most of the time).  

When asked, “What must we do?” Peter says, “Repent! and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.   He was telling them “Repent of your sins and do what Christ commanded you to do, be baptized”.


This message of repentance is essential to the gospel and to being a follower of Christ.  If we have faith in Christ and have been born again then we must forsake all of our sins and follow the Messiah who came to do what?  Save me?  Yes, but much more.  1 John 3:8:

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

If we want to truly be fulfill our destiny and to be overcomers we must have faith in the Jesus who has already overcome the world.  Not an empty useless faith, but a faith that is alive.  A faith that can be looked at and touched.  A faith that has consequences and whose effects can be felt.  Which brings me to love:

Who ya gonna love?

Previously John told us that we must love our brother (and sister).  He told us

1.  If we don’t love our brother we walk in darkness (2:9,11)
2.  We are to lay down our life for each other (3:16)
3.  If we love each other we can know we are born of God and to not love one another is proof that we do not even know God (4:7,8).
4.  If we love one another God abides in us (4:18)
5.  And to say we love God but at the same time hate our brother or sister makes us a liar (4:20).

John, in our text, caps all of this off by stating things in a very unique way.  You expect John to write, “You can know you love God if you love your brothers and sisters”.  However John actually writes, “You can know you love your brothers and sisters if you love God”.  He completely flips it on its head.  Commentators have difficulty with this passage but, like most of Scripture, we can understand it only if we take John to mean exactly what he said and accept it.

Whereas before we are told we can know we love God if we love one another, here John is telling us that we cannot claim to have a true love for our brothers and sisters if we don’t love God first. If you try to love anyone outside of loving God supremely above all else, you will be doing your brothers and sisters (and everyone) a disservice for two reasons (maybe more, but there are two I wish to point out for now)

1.  You will be giving to them something that does not belong to them.  

for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God...”  Deuteronomy 6:15a

God will not tolerate being second best.  He expects to be first.  Always. This is why the first great commandment is “Love the Lord your God”.  

2.  True love for one another comes as a consequence of loving God.  If you say you love your brother and sister and do not really love God then that so-called love has a different origin, a different source other than God and therefore isn’t true love.  

Without God empowering you and I, filling us, daily, hour by hour, with his Holy Spirit, teaching us and guiding us we can never love our brothers and sisters the way God wants us to.  The only way we can love is to give ourselves over to the God who is love (1 John 4:16).  Only then will we be in a position to love those around us.

Again, let me make it clear, both this verse in our text and the rest of 1 John, indeed the rest of Scriptures, teach us one truth:  “If you say you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar and you are in darkness”  And now the invers: “You cannot say you love your brother or sisters unless you first love God”.   The one truth is this, “Love is an essential to a relationship with God.  We cannot fool ourselves.  A church that is full of backbiting, bitterness, jealousies, competitiveness and contentiousness isn’t really a church.  A believer full of these things isn’t really a child of God.  

Being an authentic church, an authentic believer actually has substance to it.  It isn’t just a confession, it is a lifestyle.  You cannot have one without the other and still call yourself a Christian.

Living Faith

This brings me to my final point:

James 2:26 tells us “...faith without works is dead”.  In fact, let me read 2:14-18 as well

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

We are not saved by works and I don’t believe James is advocating a works based salvation.  What he is saying is exactly what John is saying.  If you have faith there will be actions as a result of that faith.  You cannot have one without the other.

John says, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome

Not “burdensome” here means that they are not oppressive.  That is, God isn’t asking us to do anything over the top, beyond our ability.  Now let me clarify that.  I don’t mean just anyone can obey God’s commandments.  However we are not just anyone.  We have been born again, made new creatures, been given a new heart, and we have been filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. So now we can keep his commandments.   

In  our text John is emphasizing the two greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. But there is a broader view in mind here.  I won’t go down a big list here of do’s and don’ts.  Besides, I’ve pointed out already, in previous sermons, that checking off a big list isn’t very effective.  What is effective is this:  If you have been born again, if you truly do love God, you will long with all of your heart to do EVERYTHING God asks of you.  It will be your delight!  And you will desire to never do ANYTHING that God does not want you to do. I would go so far as to say it would be your fear to do anything God does not want you to do.  Not that you are scared of God but that you love him so much, you are so delighted in him, you are so enamored with him that you desperately don’t want to do ANYTHING ever at any time that would dishonor him or make people see him in any other light than the perfect, precious, lively, awesome, beautiful, delightful God and Savior that he is to you.

There is where I see greatest threat currently in the church today.  I see leaders and congregants excusing sin by saying, “God loves me”.  That is true.  But I ask you today, “Do you love God?”.   Yes, he loved us and saved us while we were still God haters.  But he saved us so that we we could love him and through that relationship he could be glorified.  Do you love God? Then keep his commandments.


Overcoming the world

Do you want to be an overcomer?

1. Have faith that Jesus is who he said he is and that he has already overcome the world.
2. This faith is not dead but alive.  Prove it.  Love one another and love God.
3.  Do you love God? Then obey his commands for they are not burdensome.  In fact, if you truly do love God these commands will be your delight.

Let us pray.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Gentleman and the Tramp


Note: This sermon was given using an old View Master (borrowed from my children) , a disk and a rucksack.  I think it worked well and in the hands of a talented presenter I think it could be really effective.

Today I wish to tell you a story. It is the story of a Gentleman and a Tramp. Let me caution you from the outset that any similarities between real life people and the characters in my story are purely coincidental.

This story starts with with a Gentleman who was having a bit of a rough day at work. He works a lot and is very busy and today he is really feeling it. Please don’t misunderstand me. He isn’t your typical workaholic. He is a good father. He spends time with his children, taking them to all their baseball and soccer practices, going to their recitals, playing games, watching T.V. together and so on.

He is a good husband too. He treats his wife well. He compliments her cooking, never misses a birthday or anniversary and always remembers to undershoot when asked her age. Yes, he is an all around decent guy.

Today he has his lunch and he decides to take a break from the big city madness and sit in the park. He finds a bench and sits, closing his eyes and letting the horrendous first half of the day melt away and be replaced with the sounds of mothers walking their children, dogs barking, birds chirping and joggers jogging. Relaxed he takes out his Peanut Butter and jelly sandwich, bows his head, says a hasty prayer, and starts to take his first bite.

When suddenly he realizes he is not alone. While his eyes were closed someone took the seat next to him.

This person is no ordinary man. He is, by all descriptions, a tramp. A vagrant. a vagabond. A homeless guy. He has long hair, a patchy beard, dirty, loose fitting clothes and he smells. Oh the smell! All thought of eating vanishes. The smell is so strong it can be tasted.

The Gentleman was just about to get up and move to another bench, preferably on the other side of the city, when the Tramp speaks. In a surprisingly clear voice he asks,

“You a Christian?”

The Gentleman is startled by this question. How did he know that? It wasn’t like he went around announcing it to everyone. The Tramp must have saw the questioning look on his face for he said,

“I saw you bow your head before you started to eat.”

“How long had this creepy hobo been watching me?”, the Gentleman thinks to himself. “Is he stalking me? Perhaps he is a serial killer looking for his next victim?”

“You must be hungry”, the Tramp continues. “That prayer was so short it must have started with ‘Amen’!” The Tramp starts to laugh.

The Gentleman smiles. No, not a serial killer. In fact there was something about this man, his voice, that is...inviting. It does not instill fear. “But then”, thought the Gentleman, “what exactly does a serial killer sound like anyway?”

“You go to church?”, asked the Tramp.

“Yeah, sure I do...most of the time...when I can make it”, answered the Gentleman, his confidence turning to sheepishness in less than a sentence.

“You don’t like going to church?”

The Gentleman wondered at the reason for this inquisition. But somehow it feels good talking about it. It was better than talking about work anyway.

“Oh, its o.k. I just don’t see much of a point. Don’t get me wrong, worshiping God is important, but why do I have to hang out with a bunch of people, most of whom I don’t even know, to do it? Sometimes I think we are just a bunch of people getting together to agree on something and pat each other on the back. The sermons are dry, the singing out of tune, and the kids really don’t want to be there either”.

“Yeah, I hear ya. It sure can be boring. Especially if you miss the point”, says the Tramp.

“You go to church?” The Gentleman asks in return.

The Tramp shrugged, and with a bit of a twinkle in his eye said, “Occasionally”. It was now, looking straight into the Tramp’s face that the Gentleman noticed the pock marks all around his forehead and eyes. He also noticed that his beard was patchy and he had quite a number of teeth missing giving him an almost jackolantern appearance. All in all, he was a singularly ugly specimen of a man. But his eyes, so black they looked like marbles, gave, paradoxically, a sense of joviality and profound sadness all at the same time.

The Tramp jumps up and capers around in the most ridiculous manner. “I’m not usually very welcomed in the house of the Almighty”. He then suddenly laughs so loud the birds in the nearby tree stop singing for a second and all the background noises fade away. Soon the birds start singing again and all the sounds of the local activities return in what now seems like a roar to the Gentleman.

The Tramp sits down again and looks straight back into the Gentleman’s face. “I have something to show you”, he says, putting up one dirty finger and pointing it at the Gentleman’s nose.

He reaches into a rucksack he has with him and starts to fish around for something. It was then the Gentleman’s fears return and he seriously contemplates making a run for it. Isn’t this where the serial killing pulls out a big knife or a gun and...and...

But it wasn’t anything but an old view-master. He fishes around some more and pulls out a disk and hands the two items to the Gentleman. He simply says, “look, see”.

The Gentleman takes the two items. He notices, scrawled on the disk in black marker, the word “Rejoice”. The Gentleman puts the disk into the view-master and holds it to his eyes. At first he can’t make out the picture, but after a few moments he can see clearly. It was a couple, a young woman and a man. They were getting married.

“Hey...I know these people. This is my church!” The Gentleman exclaimed, but surprised and confused. “But how...”

“Who are they?” asked the Tramp.

“Um...I don’t know their names...ah...brother and sister....what’s-there-names. But I was invited to this wedding. I was too busy. I couldn’t go”.

“Look at their faces”, said the Tramp.

“What? I don’t see anything...”, the Gentleman’s voice trailed off.

“Look...at their faces...look harder...” the Tramp persisted.

The Gentleman stared hard. Their smiles. Their smiles were infectious. He remember this moment. The Gentleman’s wife squeezed his hand harder and she was smiling as though she were the one getting married. Wait...no...he wasn’t at the wedding.

Suddenly the Gentleman realized that he was smiling too. He couldn’t stop it. This couple was so happy and he couldn’t help but feel happy for them...and with them.

“Look at the next one”, the Tramp prompted.

The Gentleman worked the lever and another picture came into focus. A picture of an young lady and she was dripping wet, like she had been caught in a storm or something. But she was smiling too. Her smile was so big it looked as though it threatened to split her face in two.

“Oh, that’s sister so-and-so. This is a picture of her baptism.”

“What do you see?” asked the Tramp.

“She had just given her life to Christ two days earlier. Before that she had been a prostitute. She was so happy, she couldn’t stop talking about Jesus.” With shame the Gentleman remembered that he had gotten irritated with her constant chatter about God. He had told his wife that she would probably be back turning tricks within the month.

“What do you see?” The Tramp urged.

The Gentleman stared at her face...hard...and suddenly he felt joy and relief and peace and hope all at the same time, all at once flooding over him. He almost dropped the View-master. Without knowing exactly why he started to laugh. The smile that threaten to split her face suddenly was plastered all over his face. The Tramp next to him had the same smile.

One after the other the Gentleman worked the lever and one after the other he experience the joy of each picture and found himself rejoicing with the subjects of the slides.

A birth of a baby, the salvation of friends and family, diseases healed, an alcoholic recovered, a birthday, and 50th anniversary, two friends walking in the together.

Then it was over.

“I guess that’s it”, said the Gentleman with a sigh as he pulled out the disk and handed it back to the Tramp.

The Tramp was ready with another disk which he handed to the Gentleman. This one, in the same black scrawl, read “Sorrow”.

Reluctantly he put the view-master to his eyes and pulled the lever.

There was a photo of a middle aged woman. He knew her. She was a mother of four who typically was consumed with trying to keep the children in order. The gentleman remembered getting angry because her children always seemed like they were running or yelling or fighting.

“What’s her name?” asked the Tramp.

“I don’t know, I don’t remember”.

“But don’t you go to the same church?”

“Yes”, replied the Gentleman.

“And you didn’t know her?” The Tramp didn’t change his voice in the slightest, but the accusation was there, and it burned.

“There isn’t time. I can’t get to know everybody. I’m not God!”, the words came out harsher than the Gentleman had intended. Guilt can do that.

“Did you try?”

“Tell me what you see?”, asked the Tramp.

The Gentleman flinched at the question, as though he had been struck in the face. He was hoping the Tramp wouldn’t ask.

The Gentleman looked...he looked hard. He could feel the loneliness. The lostness. The darkness. The sun that had been shining only moments before suddenly found some clouds to hide behind and the air took on a chill. The birds might well have been singing but the Gentleman couldn’t hear them now. All he could hear was the silent weeping of the woman in the picture. Or was it his own.

“Her husband left her,” offered the Tramp. “She is raising her children on her own. Her husband never came to church so not many people know this”.

The Gentleman sat in guilty silence.

After a couple of minutes the Tramp spoke again, “Look at the next one”.

The Gentleman pulled the lever. The next picture showed a casket with an american flag draped over it.

“What do you see?”, asked the Tramp.

The Gentleman’s voice caught in his throat.

“What do you see?”, the Tramp persisted.

“A casket. This was the...the...whoever they are...their son. He was killed in the middle east. The navy I think”.

“Army”, the Tramp corrected. The Gentleman was so caught up in his emotions that he didn’t even wonder at how the Tramp could possible know what branch of the military the boy served in.

“What do you see?”

“Nothing, just the casket...” suddenly he noticed a reflection coming off of part of the casket that wasn’t covered with the flag. In it he could see a couple, a husband and a wife, hugging, weeping. But the Gentleman could tell that the picture of the couple in the reflection was newer than the picture of the casket. He wasn’t sure how he knew this, but he did. In fact, the son had died four years earlier.

“It’s been four years. Why are they still crying?” asked the Gentleman.

“Isn’t it obvious?”, replied the Tramp. "They are still hurting”.

“But...I didn’t know...how could I...”, the Gentleman said aloud but more to himself than anyone listening.

“Yes...how could you”, answered the Tramp.

“I thought time heals all wounds?”.

“Some wounds are so deep there isn’t enough time”, the Tramp responded, absent mindedly rubbing his own wrists. “Look at the next one”.

The Gentleman, with a certain amount of trepidation, pulled the lever.

“An old woman laying on her bed, asleep,” said the Gentleman.

“Look harder”, the Tramp replied.

The Gentleman, like with the other photos, looked harder, deeper, longer; Like a camera lense being adjusted, suddenly this scene before the Gentleman’s eyes snapped into focus with such force he audibly gasped.

She wasn’t an old lady. She was young, a teenager, maybe early twenties, hair unkempt, clothes disheveled. He too knew this girl. She had attended the church youth group. He would see her there when he picked up his children. She never seemed out of the ordinary. The Gentleman would just be there long enough to drop off and pick up his kids and he never really listened much when they talked about the night’s activities so he never heard anything about her.

Why did she look so old? Then he noticed the needle and the tourniquet around her left arm.

“Does anyone know?” asked the Gentleman.

The Tramp was silent for a moment. Then said, “No one has the time.”

“No one has the time”, the Gentleman mumbled, tears making rivulets down his cheeks. He glanced over at the Tramp and was surprised to see tears staining his cheeks as well.

The Tramp continued, “Not only does time not heal all wounds, sometimes too much time creates them. The wrong kind of time. Time filled with loneliness, judgement, anger, hatred, misunderstandings, self-centeredness, abuse”. And there are many more like her. But if you aren’t looking you will miss them. Look at the next picture”.

The Gentleman pulled the lever.

This slide really did show an old woman. She was sitting in a chair next to a stand that help a photo of a man (her husband?). She had a bible on her lap. She wasn’t crying, but she might as well have been. Her face had sorrow written all over it, flowing into every crease of every wrinkle.

She was so thin, she looked like she hadn’t eaten in a month.

The Gentleman searched his mind for this woman. He couldn't remember ever seeing her in church. But she looked familiar. Who was she? Wait, he suddenly remembered. “She lives down the road from us. Mrs...Ms...something. She’s the old lady that use to bring us vegetables on occasion from a garden her and her husband did together. Her husband died a few years ago and I haven’t seen her since. She’s a Christian?

“Almost”, said the Tramp. “She is looking for hope”.

“I’ve been so caught up with myself and the things I thought were important I’ve been missing a lot going on around me. People need me,” said the Gentleman.

“No”, replied the Tramp, “they don’t need you, they need Jesus, but how will they meet him unless you go to them?”

The words sunk in slowly. The Gentleman looked over to the bench next to him and...it was empty. The Tramp was gone. With the view master still in his hands he looked once more at the photo but all that was there was was a picture of winnie the pooh, piglet, eeyore and tigger holding hands and dancing in a circle, laughing. The sun was once again shining.

Conclusion:

This was just a story, a caricature of sorts, but it was intended to show us that a lot more goes on behind the scenes then most of us care to admit. The Scriptures warn us not to forsake the gathering (Heb. 10:25). However, the "gathering" is much more than just meeting together once a week. It is a lifestyle and a calling; it is a ministry that every believer of every walk of life, whether newly born again or a lifelong follower of Christ is called to; it is where wounds are tended, heavy arms are lifted, tears are dried, laughter is shared and starving spirits are fed. Without this kind of ministry the Church is doomed to become just another meet-n-greet, self-help gathering or support group like those that can be found all across America. To forsake the sort of gathering that the Scriptures truly call us to or to identify it with the watered down version found in many churches today is to relegate the Church, Scriptures and God, ultimately, to obsolescence.


Benediction:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

This week look harder, longer and deeper.