Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2018

Gods Glory Displayed – Sept. 16, 2018

Night Shyamalan’s film ‘Unbreakable’ begins with a horrific train wreck. There were 132 passengers on board and only one survives the crash. David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, not only survives the train wreck, but he walks away without a scratch. He wonders how he walked away unharmed from an accident, that no one should have survived.

Into Dunn’s life comes an eccentric comic book collector named Elijah, who seems equally intrigued by Dunn’s survival. Elijah has reason to be interested; he was born with a rare genetic disorder that leaves his bones especially brittle—so brittle, in fact, that he is known as Mr. Glass; played by Samuel L. Jackson.

David Dunn, on the other hand, has never broken a bone, never had stitches, never pulled a muscle; never been bruised; never had the flu – and has never even taken a sick day. Elijah tells David that he’s not like other people; he’s been given an extraordinary gift that he cannot keep to himself, but must be employed in the service and protection of others.

Although David still maintains that he is “an ordinary man”, clearly he is  more like a modern day superman. He’s literally unbreakable. While it makes for a great story, it’s been said that we are a lot more like Mr. Glass than David Dunn.

We’re fragile and susceptible to disease; accident, injury, violence, germs, age and natural disaster. We are, as Paul puts it, like jars of clay. But that is not the end of the story.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 reads, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

While it is true, that when Paul talks about our bodies being ‘jars of clay’, he means our lives are temporary, fragile and we are at times prone to sickness and sin, yet he does-not carry his analogy as far as the Greeks. They said our bodies (in essence many of our lives) are useless, insignificant, something to be quickly discarded and easily replaced. That is the way they treated slaves and the sick.

While we never want to confuse the vessel with the treasure; that does not mean the vessel is insignificant. In Genesis 2:7, we read, that we were created from the dirt and the clay of the ground. But God also declares that mankind is made in His image and likeness. And later, after seeing all he created God said, this is very good. 

That places a value on ‘every human being’; one that later Jesus was willing to give his life for. God would never create something worthless; that had no purpose. We are created, who we are, with our bodies — for a reason. In other words, our flaws don’t make us disposable.

A child born with downs syndrome ‘still has worth’. A homeless person should still be treated with dignity. It means understanding that everyone has something to contribute.

No one should be dehumanized or devalued. While we are alive, every one of us has ‘great potential’.

Think of the people that Jesus often connected with; a Samaritan, a prostitute, a murderer, – lepers, tax collectors, a womanizer, a drunk, cheats and scoundrels. These were folks that ‘many would ignored or despised’, yet they were world changers, despite their lives and  appearances. 

It was Jesus who said in John 8:12, “I Am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We are barriers of the light of God’s grace. Tell me, who puts something of value into something completely useless? No one. The truth is, we are worth more than we know.

I don’t say this to give you a big head, I say this to counter all the other claims and excuses we use. Have you ever said, “God could never use me.” Or how about, “I have no gifts.” Maybe, “God could never forgive or love me?” In essence, you are saying God created trash – and he never does.

This was what Paul was battling in Corinth. Some leaders dismissed Paul ‘saying in so many words’, “Paul is a cracked pot. He doesn’t speak well, he is sickly, and his theology is wrong.”

They were dismissing Paul because they believed he was weak, insignificant and misguided. Paul’s answer was ‘that the true power is from God’, but God still chooses to use jars of clay, and he uses us for a reason.

Paul writes, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,  but not in despair; – persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

All of the sudden, those clay pots do not seem so fragile. In ancient times, sacred scrolls or valuable documents were rolled up and placed inside a jar of clay and then hidden ‘for safe keeping’. As you might recall, The Dead Sea Scrolls were kept in similar jars of clay.

Rev. A.T. Robertson wrote, “There have always been men in the world so clever that God could make no use of them. They could never do His work. They were so lost in admiration of their own.” And then he adds, “God’s work never depended on them and it doesn’t depend on them now.”

Instead, God uses the broken and the scarred, the ones pushed down but not willing to stay down. God uses the fighters and the fools. God uses the children and the sick. God sees value in all of them. They may be small vessels but they are adequate vessels for his purposes.

Like David standing up to Goliath, Esther standing up to the king, Elijah stood up to the priests of Baal, and Moses going up against the Pharaoh. They believed, what Philippians 4:13 said before it was written, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

Unfortunately, there were people who saw Jesus in person, but they missed who he really was. Isaiah 53:2-3 describes Jesus like this, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

God’s glory was fully displayed in Jesus, but they were misguided by the packaging. Some Jews said in John 6:42, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother and father we know? How can he now say, I came down from heaven?”

This is a true story. On January 9th, 2007, Joshua Bell sold out Boston’s Symphony Hall. Seats were over $100 each. Joshua Bell plays a violin worth more than $3 million – and is considered one of the best musicians in the world.

Three days later he entered a metro-station in Washington, D.C. wearing casual clothing and a ball cap. He opened his case and played his violin for 45 minutes. Only six people stopped, twenty gave money (totaling $32), but no one recognized him. They thought he was just a bum playing for change.

Today, when it comes to the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ, ‘living in us’, many still miss it. They do not see his beauty and majesty, all they see is our rough packaging and they miss the message. They dismiss our worth.

As Christians, we want to do all we can to spread Christ’s glory in the world. In 2 Corinthians 4, the Apostle Paul addressed how difficult this can be. We may become discouraged and desire to quit, but we have good reasons to press on.

Paul understood what it meant to endure in all circumstances. Later, in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 he describes all his hardships. “As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit – and in sincere love; in truthful speech and ‘in the power of God’; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand – and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, – yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; – beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Nathan Hale was an American soldier and spy for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission in New York City but was captured by the British and executed. His last words before being hanged by the British ‘as a spy’, on September 22, 1776, were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

I think Paul had a very similar attitude, his desire to advance the kingdom of God and shine God’s Glory, allowed him to withstand what many of us would never put up with. You see, God had chosen the right cracked pot.

Dr. Leon Wood taught ‘the book of Job’ at Grand Rapids Bible College. While this brilliant Old Testament scholar was ‘in his prime’ as an author and dean of a seminary, he contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But as his body weakened, his faith and resolve strengthened. He continued to study, teach, and write. Some of his most significant books were written in the latter stages of his illness. The last seminary class he taught, met at his bedside. His spirit remained strong to the end. He was down but he was not destroyed.

Paul believed that God put his life-giving power in us, in these jars of clay because we were meant to be used, not admired. One pastor wrote, “The church was meant to be a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again ‘to dispense their life-giving contents’ to a thirsty world.” I like that.

God created us well, but the fall started our slide down the hill toward death. Now we are clay pots that chip, crack and we are left with scars. But the Good news is, God still can use us – in whatever state we are in. We just can be filled with his light and used well.

Songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote about this in his song ‘Anthem’. The chorus goes,

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget ‘your perfect offering’,
There ‘is’ a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

When we started, I was telling you the story of Unbreakable, about Mr. Glass (whose body breaks easily) and David Dunn who did not. I even explained that some say, we are more like Mr. Glass than David Dunn.

In truth, we are somewhere in the middle. Yes, we can be fragile – but for the right cause, for Jesus Christ, we can be hard as nails. We were made to be ‘barriers of God’s light and grace’. (Matt. 5:14-16) And we were made well to carry out that task. Trust in God, for we can be ‘strong and courageous’. We were not called to give up but to carry on. 

Your assignment is,…to get involved somewhere where you can shine the love of Christ on others. Do not give in or give up. Do not be satisfied with watching. Do not dismiss the power of God. Go and serve – and share your hope in Jesus Christ. Be barriers of light.

Amen

The Sweet Smell of Success – Sept. 9, 2018

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but…do you smell?  Now, before you start checking,… I mean, can you smell? Scientists tell us that 1 in ever 126 persons – has lost ‘all or most’ of their sense of smell. Anosmia is the name given to those who cannot smell.

Some people are born that way, others lose ‘smell and taste with age’ and non-Caucasians lose their sense of smell at a much higher rate than white folks. Finally, women have a better sense of smell than most men.

Scientists tell us that our sense of smell is our first and oldest sense. Every animal and simple cell creature has a fine sense of smell. Recent studies (2014) done at ‘The Rockefeller Center’ explain that humans have about 400 odor sensors in our brains, called olfactory receptor proteins.

They say that it is likely that ‘we can smell and distinguish’ at least one trillion distinct scents.

They also tell us ‘that just like fingerprints’, every person has their own distinct odor. Some odors attract us and others repel us. Scientists have studied our pheromones, odors that attract us to one another, for many ages. They also add them to perfumes and colognes.

Because our sense of smell is so well developed, the truth is, a little perfume is better than a lot. Even good smells in abundance can overwhelm and irritate us.

Mr. Bean is a British Sitcom created by Rowan Atkins.  In one episode, Mr. Bean has applied for and just received his ‘American Express Card’.  He is so proud of it, that he runs off to the department store ‘in hopes of making his first purchase’. As Mr. Bean looks for something to buy, he passes by the perfume counter and of course, every lady is trying on a new perfume. Before he gets by the counter, he is gagging and finally crawling on the floor to avoid all the sprays.

Because I have suffered with allergies and some asthma, my sense of smell has come and gone. As a result, when I can smell, my sense of smell is much stronger and better than others.

Things like molds, burning leaves, a skunk on the road, strong perfumes, deodorants and burnt food – can nearly send me over the edge.

Scientists say our most pleasant or pleasurable scents include; vanilla, oranges, lemon, cinnamon, spearmint, lavender, chocolate and cookies. And of course, smells are directly linked to memory. Do you remember the smells of your favorite foods? Do they bring a sense of comfort, peace and love?

Because women are designed by God to have a better sense of smell, scientists say that some can smell fear and disgust through someone’s sweat. They can instinctively react to an emotion from a child, without knowing why. They can literally smell sickness and trouble. Finally, scientists say that ‘a lack of smell can indicate sickness or disease’.

The Bible talks a lot about fragrances, aromas and how things smell. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews burned offerings to God – and it says God was pleased with the sweet aroma. Fragrant oils and perfumes were used – to anoint kings, leaders, prophets and preachers. And of course, ointments and spices were also used to prepare the dead.

There is also the burning of incense in heaven, according to Revelation chapter 8. The Bible tells us that God can smell our sin and we cannot cover it up with sweet smelling perfumes.

In our passage from Second Corinthians 2:14, Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in a triumphal procession and through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”

In Paul’s day, when the Romans came back from a victory, they would have a triumphant processional. As they marched into town, the crowd would wave branches, throw flowers – and lay coats before them. And the parade had a very specific order to it.

 It began with older Roman leaders, senators and other government officials. Wealthy merchants and other influential leaders, who helped fund the military followed. Behind them, at a slight distance, came the trumpeters.

Next were the wagons carrying the spoils of war. These wagons were covered with gold, silver, vases, jewelry and other rare items that could easily be displayed. Flatbed trucks followed carrying statues and idols belonging to the conquered cities. Then, in cages and in chains, came all of the animals they had confiscated.

Then, priests and servants walked, carrying and swinging canisters filled with sweet smelling incenses, spices and perfumes to arouse the crowds. The wonderful smells would be everywhere. Following them were the captives in chains, – to show who they had conquered. They were driven by soldiers using whips.

Finally, last in line was the conquering hero on a white horse with his army, following close behind. The sweet smells and spices excited the Romans – but made the captives sick. To one group, the smells meant victory, but to the other, it was bitter defeat.

As Christians, we are to ‘share the aroma’ of Christ’s victory over sin and death. We are to ‘give off a sweet smell of victory, wherever we go’. But to those who are yet in sin, – we often smell not so good or even stinky.

Paul writes, “To the one; we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.” As an illustration, if we put on too much perfume, aftershave and cologne, we turn people away. They see this ‘in how we act’, and it is like a pungent aroma.

If we are bold, arrogant, proud and condescending, we will naturally turn others off. Our fragrance is overpowering. The reason is, these lost people don’t even know that they are in trouble and they are often very offended when we tell them they are sinners and in danger.

Many times, when I put on a suit, people assume I am going to church, the hospital or a funeral. In fact, for some outside the faith, my suit scares them. When I walk up in a suit, they think something bad has happened. People tend to listen more often to me, when I am subtle and dressed more like them.

A lot of folks who are not in church are really turned off with religious stuff. They bulk at Christian bumper stickers, crosses and fish decals.

It’s kind of like our perfume is too strong for them. They wrinkle their noses and complain.

I think it is worse, when ‘we have’ those stickers that say, “In case of a rapture, this car will be unmanned” or “If you think it’s hot now,.. just wait until you get to hell’.

Matthew 7:16 says, “Others will know us – by our fruit.” The best fruit – has a very pleasing aroma that draws us to it. How many of you smell your fruit before you buy it? It isn’t hard to smell bad fruit, is it? Our fruit is our love, mercy, compassion, care and integrity. When we serve others and remain humble and kind, we give off a good scent; that is when we give of the scent of Christ.

In 2014, Phillip Yancey wrote a book called, “Vanishing Grace: whatever happened to the Good News?” In it, he talked about ‘the great divide’ between Christians and others. If we fight with others, instead of sharing our Good News, all others see and feel is our frustration and hatred.

A Chemist in France named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, severally burned one of his hands in an explosion in his lab. The hand developed a serious infection – known as gas gangrene. He was in bad shape and the doctors told him he would certainly loss his hand.

Rene did not want that. Unsure what else to do, he began applying different oils, lotions and creams. Almost by accident, he found, that when he treated his hand with lavender, the hand healed. The word ‘Aromatherapy’ first appeared in a book he wrote about his findings, in 1937.

Now, I am not here to promote ‘aromatherapy’, although it is part of a holistic lifestyle for many. Instead, I do want to raise the question, “What kind of fragrance does our lifestyle and attitudes give off?”  Is it one of healing and kindness or anger and distance?

There was a factory in Northern France where lavender was produced to be used in perfumes. It may still be there. But the story goes, each evening, as the workers made their way home down the narrow streets, the village would be filled with the soft sweet aroma of lavender. It clung to the employees clothes while they worked. Some say that it was the nicest little town to live in and one of the safest. Do you suppose it had anything to do with the lavender?

I think that is how it should be with us as Christians. If we are to be the aroma of Christ, our lives and our fruit should be appealing and sweet. With grace, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, humility, caring and love, we emit a wonderful fragrance on behalf of the kingdom of God. Then, for those seeking life, purpose and peace, our sweet smell will be like coming home to God’s victory.

There is no need to lay it on to heavily. Just a little goes a long way. So,… how do you smell to others? Maybe you should ask a true friend, one who will give you an honest answer.

The world still needs the Good News and plenty of grace, maybe now more than ever. If we are ever going to do all that Jesus is calling us to do, we must have the smell of success.           

In other words, the aroma of Christ.

Mark Twain understood the aroma and love of Christ when he wrote, “Forgiveness is ‘the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it’.

Your assignment is,…to look up Ephesians 5:2, write it out and put it on your refrigerator or mirror, where you will see it often. It is a reminder that we are called to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. His life was a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, given in our place. And now, we are called to be a fragrant offering to God and others.

May we truly live, like Christ. Amen

 

 

Sown in Weakness Raised in Power – Sept. 2, 2018

Have you ever had to talk to children about the death of a pet? I tried to avoid it, but eventually, the conversation will come up. I remember watching an episode about ‘talking to children about death’ on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with my younger sister.

In this much loved episode, Mister Rogers discovers a dead goldfish in his aquarium, buries it, and goes on to talk about his loss and feelings ‘when his dog, Mitzi died’. He assured children that memories can help, and that sadness isn’t forever. And then he broke into a tender, compassionate song.

That episode was one of his highest rated shows, and is still loved by many adults, who saw it as children. It gave me the courage to have the conversation on life and death with my kids. Of course, I also shared with them, in simple terms, how much Jesus loves us and that when we give our lives and hearts to him; we have life beyond this life.

That discussion and those memories seem so long ago now, but in a way, it better prepared me for more difficult and deeper conversations on death with adults. The truth is, until you deal with the issue of death on your own, it is hard to really understand how it feels and what it means.

Because death is a part of our existence, we cannot avoid it forever. All humans at some point have to wrestle with some tough questions, like; What is the meaning of life? What happens after death? And, is there really life after death?

The youth have been studying the book of Job. It has many tough challenges and life concerns.

In Job Chapter 14:14, Job asks, “If a man dies, will he live again?” It is a universal question we all ponder.

This question of ‘life after death’, was foremost in the minds of the Corinthians, because, some false teachers were confusing them. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul addresses this issue in the most in-depth passage in the entire Bible. In verse 12, Paul explains that some were saying that there was ‘no resurrection of the dead’. And so as he begins his teaching at the beginning of Chapter 15:1-8, he works to clear this up.

He writes, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you,  which you received – and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved ‘if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you’. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,  that he was raised on the 3rd day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 

“After that, he appeared to more than 5 hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, – and last of all, he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

As you may recall, Paul came to faith, when Jesus confronted him on the road near Damascus. He didn’t come naturally to faith, – he was confronted and convicted by Jesus! (He calls that being abnormally born into the faith)

When Paul talks about Jesus being ‘resurrected’ from the dead, he refers to him being raised. In fact, it was God who ‘called out to Jesus’ and raised him from the dead. (Acts 2:24) So, Paul is addressing the first of 2 questions. The first is, ‘Is there life after death?”

His answer is yes! Through Jesus, there is life after death. Jesus was raised from the dead and we will be also. But we have to understand this from the perspective of the Corinthians, they had several mixed messages. The early Greeks taught and believed that death was not the end of human existence. They accepted the existence of the soul after death, but they saw ‘this afterlife’, in the underworld, as meaningless. Romans also believed this to be true.

At the same time, many enlightened teachers, like the Sadducees, taught that there was no life after death. The believed it was all myth and ancient fables. 1st century Jewish Scholar and historian Josephus writes that, “The Sadducees, the prominent priestly class who ran the Temple, did not believe in an afterlife, nor in the resurrection of the dead.”(also Acts 23:8) But Paul, who was a Pharisee, did believe in life after death.

The reason he said he believed, was because there was so much proof. ‘Because Jesus lives, you also shall live’. (John 14:19) And he is telling the Corinthians, if you do not believe me, put it to the test. Ask those who saw Jesus, many are still around. Then Paul proclaims in 15:20, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

But the second question remains, ‘What does life after dead look like?” Again, the Greeks played a major role in their confusion. They taught of a separation in the body and soul.

The body was bad, they declared and the soul was good. So, many believed we were like ghosts or dismembered souls floating about. This clearly frightened the Corinthians. So some asked, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 

For Paul, this is the wrong question, he replies, “How Foolish! What you sow does not come to life – unless it dies. “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as ‘he has determined’, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”

What Paul is saying is ‘that the body will be transformed into something new, something only understood completely by God himself’. It is a mystery. In the same way, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or a tadpole becomes a frog.

There will be a metamorphosis into something radically different and beautiful. We will have a resurrected body, a heavenly body; one like Jesus’, that will make us known to others – but be perfect. We will be in a place of ‘No more tears, suffering or pain.’ Our sinful body will be changed — to something new and wonderful.

It is rather ironic that the Sadducees, who did not believe in the after-life tried to confuse Jesus’ teaching. In Matthew 22:23 – on, they try to make Jesus look foolish. They ask, after a woman is married 7 different times, ‘after the resurrection’, whose wife will she be?

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will ‘neither marry nor be given in marriage’; they will be like the angels in heaven. 

“But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?    He is not the God of the dead – but of the living.” 

Now, just one disclaimer, Jesus said that people would not be getting married in heaven, he did not say that those who had been married wouldn’t love one another anymore. Heaven, of course, is a place of perfect love, because God is love.

Instead, Jesus is clearly saying to the Sadducees, if you do not believe in the resurrection, you do not understand the power of God. God is all about life. He is God of the living, and so, you shall live again. (Matt. 22:32)

With God, working through the life of Jesus, there is an amazing sphere of power, triumph and victory. That is why Paul writes in Chapter 15, verses 55-57, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In Acts 1:11, ‘the angels’ spoke to the disciples as they watched Jesus rise to heaven, they said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back ‘in the same way’ you have seen him go into heaven.”

And it was Jesus himself who said in John 14:1-3, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, ‘I will come back and take you to be with me’ – that you also may be where I am.”

Then our new bodies will be ones of splendor; Paul writes in verse 42-44, “So will it be, with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown ‘is perishable’, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, – but it is raised a spiritual body.”

In a Pew Poll taken in 2016, 77% of Americans said they believe that Jesus was the son of God who came to take away our sins. Of those, only 37% said they believe in a bodily resurrection for all believers.

I do not mean to be harsh, but the resurrection is central to our faith, it is the cornerstone. If you do not believe that Jesus was resurrected, – that he will return for us – and that ‘we will also be resurrected in him’, you are not really a Christian.

Jesuit Priest James Martin, author of the book, ‘Jesus: A Pilgrimage’ wrote, “More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead, – but believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter ‘without the Resurrection’ is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter – is no faith at all.”

And Watchman Nee who was a church leader and teacher in China, once said, “Our old history ends with the cross; – our new history begins with the resurrection.”

Finally, Pastor and author Don Underwood wrote after the passing of his father in his book ‘The Long View’, “For you, perhaps, Easter was but a joyous occasion when family and friend got together, attended church and celebrated a great religious tradition. But I can assure you that, for others, the power of the celebration ‘is a matter of life and death, of hope and despair’. And so it will be for you – one day in the future.”     

Above all else, ‘We Are’ Resurrection People. We are people of love – and we have a God of life. Jesus Christ lives – and so we shall live also. Yes we are weak now, – but we will be raised in power. Believe it and live it!

Your assignment is…to read through 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Really absorb Paul’s words – and then live as people of life, love and light, – renewed through ‘the Glory of Our Risen Savior’.

AMEN.

Mirror, mirror – Aug. 19, 2018

In 1812 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first edition of a collection they called ‘Children’s and Household Tales’. The book contained 86 short stories or fairy tales. Although they were called “Children’s Tales”, they were not regarded as suitable for children since they were often dark and twisted. Responding to public displeasure, a later addition was called ‘German Legends’. Finally, they settled on the title most of us recognize today, ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’.

Walt Disney was especially taken by the Grimm Brother’s stories. He ‘saw inspiration’ for a full length cartoon in ‘tale number 53’, “Little Snow White”. In the 1937 Disney classic, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ the Evil Queen utters the famous line “Magic mirror, on the wall – who is the fairest one of all?”.

Although, in the original Brothers Grimm story (translated into English), it actually reads, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”  Apparently, Disney felt viewers would better understand why the mirror was special, if it was called the ‘Magic Mirror’.

Early mirrors were somewhat crude, made from polished metals. In fact, good mirrors didn’t exist until 1835. ‘At the time Paul traveled to Corinth’, the Corinthians had 2 thriving industries; they produced fine pottery – and bronze metal works.

The bronze in Corinth had an unusually high ‘tin’ content (14%) that gave it a very shinny, reflective quality; so metal workers went into ‘the business of making mirrors’. Corinthian mirrors were well known and sought after worldwide.

Jewish Historian Josephus wrote about the use of Corinthian bronze – when he described the gates of the Second Temple. He wrote, “Now, 9 of these gates were on every-side covered over with gold and silver, as were the jambs of their doors and their lintels; but there was one gate that was without it, in the holy house, which was made of Corinthian brass, and it greatly excelled those – that were only covered over with silver and gold.”

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he was trying to stop the bickering, arguments and over-all-drama that had developed in the church. Then Paul turned his attention to discussing the qualities and importance of love.

Because there are no real breaks in the scripture; as it was originally written, most scholars believe the chapter begins with these words, “And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, – but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries – and all knowledge, – and if I have a faith that can move mountains,  but do not have love, I am nothing. (finally,) If I give all I possess to the poor – and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

You probably know it from here on out, “Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, – it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil – but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (1 Corinthians 4-7)

You may have noticed, as Chapter 13 opens, Paul addresses speaking in tongues, the gift of prophecy and the desire for insight or knowledge. These were the 3 favorite gifts at Corinth. Those in ‘the know’ had the power.

Prophesying is the gift of unveiling the mysteries of God. It is not always the gift of predicting the future – so much as revealing the meaning of the present, and that, therefore, informs the future.

The gift of tongues is the gift of supernatural utterance of a language ‘never learned’ in praise and thanksgiving to God. It is the ability to speak a language, a real language, that was never learned. Finally, the gift of knowledge is the ability to grasp a great range of Biblical truth.

Of the three, Paul says, tongues will cease. The other two gifts, prophesying and knowledge will slowly fade away. But love will not – because love never fails. God’s love, that is. Clearly, people are fickle. Our love wavers and falters. People fall in and out of love.

But here, Paul is talking about God’s perfect love and he says it does not fail. The Greek word translated fail literally means ‘does not fall, collapse or ruin’. In other words, God’s love never falls away or disappears; it never quits, or gives up. God’s love just keeps coming; it multiplies and over-flows onto us.

Like many of those who Jesus spoke with, the Corinthians were looking for miracles, signs and wonders. By looking for the sparkle meant, they sometimes they missed the source of all good things. They were more impressed with ‘the gifts that men had’ – then the God who gave them their gifts.

Paul writes, “For we know in part – and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.” Scholars have been arguing for generations about what this sentence means. Some suggest that it means ‘when the New Testament is finally written and passed around, — then the gifts of tongues, prophecy and inside knowledge will be done’.

Others say, when Jesus returns, perfection comes and the things of the past will disappear. Still others suggest; that once the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, God’s perfection was made complete in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And in a way, maybe they are all (in part) right.

Yet Paul is also pointing us in another direction. He writes, “When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put ‘the ways of childhood’ behind me.”

Paul is suggesting the thoughts and ideas of our youth are sorely inadequate but when we mature in our faith, we have a fuller understand of God’s amazing love. And the more we understand love, the more we understand God, – since God is love. (I John 4:16)

Since God is eternal, love is also eternal. It never ends. Everything else will cease to exist. Paul is saying to them and us; focus on ‘the one thing that remains’. The quality of Christianity does not lie in its showmanship, miracles, signs or wonders – but in our ability to love ‘as God loves’.

Since the Kingdom of God was ushered in by Jesus, – but will not be fully known until he returns, …Paul writes, “For now, we see only a poor reflection, as in a mirror; – then we shall see face to face. Now, I know in part; then, I shall ‘know fully’, even as ‘I am fully known’.”

A city like Corinth, famous for its bronze mirrors, ‘would have particularly appreciated’ Paul’s final illustration. One of our deepest desires is for clarity — and mirrors are very honest. In fact, the better the mirror and the lighting, the more flaws we see. And the mirror, unfortunately, does not lie.

But the truth is; a mirror is one dimensional, it is only a reflection. Mirrors show our outward reflection – not our inward beliefs and values. They may ‘mirror’ our emotional state – but mirrors cannot reflect our spiritual depth or our deepest thoughts. Only God sees those things.

And sometimes, ‘what we see on the outside’ is a poor representation of who we are. As Jesus said to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Matthew 23:27, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside – but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”

Our real beauty ‘is only seen’ in how we love God and others. The beauty of love is that it often overshadows our others flaws and imperfections. None of us is perfect, scripture is clear on this. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” All of us are sinners, we are all fallen.

But 1 John 4:12 gives us hope, it reads, “No one has ever seen God; – but if we love one another, God lives in us – and his love is made complete (or perfect) in us.”

I think, that is what Paul was speaking about when he said, “For we know in part – and we prophesy in part, – but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”

To put it another way, God’s love is greater than the sum of our parts. We are not perfect – but perfectly loved. And when we mature in faith, – we can love as Christ loved. That is, in essence, the story behind ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

How can anyone love me? Paul explains in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Then Paul finally comes full circle when he writes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 

Faith hope and love – beat out speaking in tongues, the gift of prophecy and the desire for knowledge. Faith ‘trusts when it cannot see’, Hope exists when all sees lost – and of course, Love goes on eternally because God is love. So the greatest of these is love. So, all who follow love, follow the most excellent way.

Author John Joseph Powell writes, “It is an absolute human certainty that ‘no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth’ – until it has been reflected back to him ‘in the mirror of another loving, caring human being’.”

So, if we are living as Christ, we become the mirrors that reflect God’s love. We shine, when we reflect that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, – it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 

Finally, Paul reminds us ‘to make love our aim’. We are to ‘follow the way of love’ in all that we do. (1 Corinthians 14:1) This passage is really about how we should treat one another every day.

And even though we are imperfect, — may others see the love and goodness of God, in us; because we are more than the sum of our parts, with God’s amazing love.

Your assignment is…to count the ways you are loved by God and others. Also, look up and highlight in your bibles, 2 Corinthians 3:18 – “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” – New American Standard

And you will recognize ‘that love truly covers a multitude of sins.’ (1 Peter 4:8)

Amen

Limits of Freedom – Aug. 12, 2018

I had a good friend named Kevin growing up, who used to love to say, “There is nothing better in life than food.” He loved all you can eat buffets. To add insult to injury, Kevin was over 6 feet tall and thin as a rail.

I am sure he would love ‘the current market trend we are in’. Red Robin is offering bottomless or unlimited steak fries. I also heard McDonalds will soon be testing that market.

Steak-n-Shake offers a time of unlimited pancakes.

Some pizza restaurants and the Olive Garden offer unlimited salad and breadsticks. I know Pizza Hut in Ft. Wayne has an all you can eat pizza buffet on Wednesdays. I guess, Applebee’s also has a time of unlimited chicken, riblets and fries. Americans love food!

How many French Fries do you think the average American eats in a year? 29 pounds. The amount of freedom one has to eat, and eat, and eat is staggering. Once you pay the initial cost, you can eat as much as you want, as often as you want, in whatever order you want (get desert first!) It’s a glutton’s dream!

Doctors and nutritionists tell us that ‘this kind of freedom’ is making us sick and even killing us. Now, here in America, it is kind of risky to talk about ‘freedom’ because we are also obsessed with it. Like our food, freedom is our mantra. Don’t you dare try to limit’ anyone’s freedom.

We are, of course, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have free speech, free exercise of religion, freedom to assemble – and freedom of the press. And everyone knows we are endowed by our Creator with certain ‘unalienable Rights’; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

Every 4th of July and every Memorial Day we are reminded, that freedom isn’t free. Many have died so we could have our freedom. Other nations long to come to America, so they can be free. Ours is a land of opportunity, right? Freedom abounds, well….Absolute freedom ends in chaos and anarchy.

Imagine if everyone did what they wanted, with no rules. Imagine no laws to stop others from stealing, becoming violent – or from murder.

Biologist and writer Thomas Huxley once said, “A man’s worst difficulties begin – when he is able to do as he likes.”  Roman Statesman and lawyer Cicero back in 63 BC wrote, “We are in bondage to the law – ‘in order that we may be free’.”

The truth is, you can do pretty much what you want in this country, but there are consequences.      Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes explained, “Certainly, we have free speech – but your freedom has limits, – you are not free to ‘falsely shout fire’ in a crowded cinema.” Falsely is the Key Word!

You are not free to spread hate speech, pass on bomb threats, assemble a large crowd without a permit – and just try ‘not paying your taxes sometime’. A civil society must have laws and rules.

Ironically, this was the discussion that Paul was having with the Corinthians in his first letter.

Some of the folks found freedom in Christ and they wanted absolute freedom. Others were rule followers and they advocated strict laws and guidelines.

The original discussion centered around; if believers should eat meat sacrificed to idols and other gods. Jews and Gentiles had very different approaches. The question they really wanted to know was — how much freedom does a believer really have?

If Jesus Christ set us free, aren’t we free indeed? Shouldn’t believers be free from all restrictions and all consequences. Didn’t Paul himself say ‘that he is no longer bound by the law?’ Some believers, then literally assumed that freedom meant ‘an absence of limitations’. They believed, since they were forgiven and the slate was wiped clean, they were free to do whatever they wanted – whenever they wanted.

If you pull out your dictionary, freedom is defined as having the power or right to act, speak, or think ‘as one wants’ without hindrance or restraint. This is exactly what they wanted. But, is this ‘really what we mean’ when we talk about a believer’s understanding of freedom?

In fact, this was not a new argument, Paul and the other disciples had been addressing it ‘in almost every church they had established’. The apostle Peter explicitly warns believer’s in

1 Peter 2:16, “Live as free men, – but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; – live as servants of God.” 

Peter goes on to explain in 2 Peter 2:19 that, “These false teachers promise freedom, while they themselves are slaves to depravity – for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.”

English Author and social critic Os Guinness said, “The rewards of freedom are always sweet, but its demands are stern, ‘for at its heart is the paradox’ that the greatest enemy of freedom – is freedom.” 

And it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

When folks talk about freedom today, they often talk about doing whatever they want, often at the expense of others. In other words, they are saying, “I’m not accountable to you or anyone.” They believe they are masters of their own destiny. And unbelievers often criticize people of faith for wanting to ‘limit them’.

In the midst of this discussion Paul writes these amazing words, “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive.”  (1 Corinthians 10:23)   

Scholars are torn on how to interpret this passage and so they do it in ‘one of two ways’. Some explain, “You say, everything is permissible…but in reality, it is not.” Others say that Paul is agreeing with them, “You are right, everything is permissible, but…” I tend to lean towards the later.

It is true that ‘we can do anything’, but not everything is good for us. While we can do anything, there are often consequences that we may not like.

Then Paul finishes with these words, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24)  It sounds a-little-like what Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” We call that the Golden Rule.

A Biblical understanding of freedom is centered in the work and passion of Jesus. We were, essentially, set ‘free from sin’, so that we are then ‘free to love others’. In other words, Freedom is balanced with restraint, responsibility, love and mutual respect. Or as my grandmother used to say, “Your freedom ends – where mine begins.” Love requires this.

The Corinthian Christians were focused on their “own rights” and “goals.” They did not consider how their actions might cause harm to others. Just because something is permitted doesn’t mean it is beneficial or constructive. Before we choose to do what we want, we might stop and ask ourselves; is it moral, is it legal and is it ethical. And finally, is what I am doing bringing glory to God.

In 1774, US Congressman Nathaniel Niles wrote, “By neglecting to embrace the gospel, we convert civil liberty, which is in itself, a delicious kind of food, into a slow poison…”

And as the Chaplin to the US Senate Peter Marshall explained, “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please – but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

Everyone raised in Sunday school knows “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32) and “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1); we conveniently forget that freedom does not guarantee an easy life, – that freedom often demands change – and that ‘the price of freedom’ came at a very high cost for Jesus.

And even though Christ was free, Philippians 2:6-8 tells us, “Christ Jesus, who, ‘being in very nature God’, did not consider ‘equality with God something to be grasped’, but made himself nothing, – taking the very nature of a servant, – being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

Paul reminds us then, in 1Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” – and I might add, also with your life. Paul asks us if we are using our freedom to build up others instead of tearing them down.

Those who wanted complete freedom should not be using it ‘in a way to hurt others’. Likewise, those who were so ‘bound by the law’; could also made life miserable for others. Paul was saying, ‘find a more loving answer’. That is where grace comes in. The limit to liberty is love. We should stand by ‘what is essential’ – but not fight over the non-essentials in life. And our rights should never trample another’s rights.

Sadly, many outside the church and some inside don’t get it. They say, ‘we are not really free unless we can do whatever we want’, take whatever we want, or say whatever we want.

Let me just remind us all, Jesus did not come to take away the law – but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus and Paul indicated that ‘the law was fulfilled by love’. “Loving God and loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the law” Romans 13:10.

Finally, Paul was reminding them and us that personal freedom is not the greatest concern of the Christian life – instead, doing everything for the Glory of God – and seeking the good of others (so that they might be saved) is.     If this is our goal, then sometimes we must sacrifice some of our freedoms for the good of others.

In 1948, the United States joined 48 other nations in signing ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ in Paris. According to the Human Freedom Index, which presents the state of human freedom in the world based on ‘a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom’, America is currently the 23rd freest country in the world.

While we pride ourselves in upholding freedom, the United States has lost ground ‘when it comes to protecting the rights of children, the elderly, the disabled and the poorest of the poor’. Many believe this is true because we have shifted toward being ‘a more secular nation’.

Others believe it is true because the church has become silent and too inner focused. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 8:9, “Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block for others.” Then at the end of the chapter he writes these words,

“So, ‘if what I eat causes another believer to fall into sin’, I will ‘never eat meat again as long as I live’, for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”  (1 Corinthians 8:13)

Those are amazing words of love. You see, Paul understood that ‘no one is truly free while others are still in bondage’. I pray we can all live life with the same conviction that Paul had.

Your assignment is…Spend some time this week thinking about ‘what you might sacrifice’, so others may ‘simply live’. Then, live as Christ would live, as a servant, willing to make those sacrifices.

Amen.