Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2018

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.

 

 

Seeking Spiritual Discipline – Aug. 5, 2018

On Patriot’s Day, April 15, 2013, the 117th annual Boston Marathon took place on the streets in Massachusetts. Over 23,000 runners from all over the world came to compete. About 2 hours after the winner finished, ‘when many other runners were expected to be close to the finish line’, 2 pressure-cooker bombs exploded killed 3 people and injuring 264 others.

Most of us ‘have probably seen the footage’ and watched the manhunt, for the two suspects that followed. But you may not be aware of what happened ‘with the runners’ right after the explosion – or what happened on May 25th.

Despite the chaos and the confusion, some runners still finished the race that day. Apparently, they were so focused on finishing the race, ‘what had just taken place’ didn’t register. Eventually, the last mile of the race was called off – and runners were told to avoid the area.

So then on May 25th, just ‘a little over a month later’, 3,000 runners who didn’t finish the marathon came back to run the final mile. This time, the race wasn’t about registering a good time, winning, or getting their pictures in the paper, it was simply about getting to finish the race. Others came to support them and the injured.

The husband of one of the runners that day stood by the finish line cheering his wife on. As she crossed it, he ran out and hugged her and he placed a metal around her neck. A newspaper reporter nearby took their picture and asked the two of them how they felt. The wife just teared up and walked away saying nothing.

Then, her husband said, “Somebody that thinks that they’re going to stop a marathoner from running, doesn’t understand the mentality of a marathoner.”

The truth is ‘people run for all kinds of reasons’. Some people run to stay in shape, others run because ‘they love the competition’ – and still others run for the sense of accomplishment they feel when they finish. I believe that is the mentality of the marathon runner.

I had a friend who loved to run marathons. I asked him once, what motivated him to run. He said, “I love the feeling of crossing the finish line; that is my focus. I don’t worry about the runners all around me, I just set my pace, hit my stride – and think of how it will feel to finish. “That”, he said, “keeps me running.”

I have watched runners crawl or be carried over the finish line, it is that important to them. That is why so many marathoners returned on May 25th to finish the last mile of the Boston Marathon. They had not officially finished the race, until the stepped across that finish line — and they had to reach their goal.

The Apostle Paul knew something about running a good race. He had been ‘in and around Corinth’ – and he knew about their passion and their conviction. He also knew ‘what it took to prepare, run and to finish the race’.

There were 4 sites were ancient Greeks held their athletic games, Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmian, of those was one just outside Corinth. They were the precursors to the Olympic Games we watch today.

Athletes throughout Greece would converge on the Isthmian Games every two years during the spring. These games were in honor of the Greek god Poseidon. The most prominent building in Corinth was a temple dedicated to Poseidon. There was also a stadium, theater and hippodrome (used for chariot races) nearby.

The athletic events were only for the men, they included; footraces, wrestling, boxing, discus and javelin throwing, the long jump and chariot racing. Women were prohibited from participating in or watching these events – in part because the men competed in the buff, but also because the women were a distraction for the men.

Women could take part in the reading of poetry or ‘singing events’ in the theater. The entire festival only lasted for 3 days; opening with a sacrifice to Poseidon – and closing with a parade and a big feast.

Corinth did not have accommodations for such a large crowd, so many people came and pitched tents in the surrounding fields. Obviously, this gave Paul work there, because he repaired and made tents.

Athletes who entered in the Greek Games were subject to a 10 month training period. They were under the direction of coaches and judges for this time. They had to observe a strict diet, exercise at the appointed times in the gymnasium and get the necessary rest.

They were ‘to live in isolation from their wives’ and were denied all the pleasant things of life. This was so that they could concentrate on being ‘in the best physical and mental condition possible’. If the athlete did not train according to the rules he was disqualified.

The Greek word for victory is ‘Nike’. The slogan for Nike is “Just do it” which indicates ‘to just abandon everything else’ and give it all you’ve got.

Winners received a crown of laurel branches or olive branches; the original crown was made from celery. They also received a ‘lifetime exemption from’ paying taxes and serving in the military. And statues of the winners were erected and lined the road to the stadium.

The analogy of comparing “athletic completion” to “Christian living” is a theme often repeated in scripture. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:31 reads that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk – and not be faint.”

Paul urges the Galatians to keep running the good race and not to allow others to “cut in on” their race – or to keep them from obeying the truth. (Galatians 5:7)

And near the end of his earthly life and ministry, he tells the young pastor, Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Because Paul knows the Corinthians are motivated by competition, he writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24)

Now, while ‘the hope for a prize is always before our eyes’, Paul’s real focus is on ‘how to run the race’. If you want to win, solid preparation is the key to success. In 1976, Indiana University won the NCAA National Title. When interviewed about their success, coach Bobby Knight said, “The will to succeed is important – but ‘what is more important is’ the will to prepare.”

Back when I worked at the hospital, we had to practice CPR regularly. The thing is, when it comes time to actually doing CPR, there is no time to think – it must come naturally – and that is exactly the point. Being prepared is key!

Everyone who competes in the games or lives the Christian life must go into strict training, Paul is saying. The preparation must be all-consuming, relentless, focused, determined and intentional. The battles are real – and the outcome matters.

The great Brazilian soccer player Pelé once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

Our role model was Jesus himself. In Luke 9:51 we read, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 50:7 reads “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” Meaning he was steadfast, unswerving and headed toward the cross; that was his only goal. Jesus knew that to finish well, he had to ‘keep his focus on the finish line’. Then, he was able to say, “It is finished”.

In the Olympic Games, there is only one gold metal winner, but our task is to encourage others to run with us so they will also win the prize that will never wither or fade. Our hope is to see all finish well.

1972 Olympia runner Steve Prefontaine is considered by many to be one of the most inspired runners of all time. He had ‘a steal will’ and an unbending drive to succeed. Steve won 120 of the 153 races he ran. He once said, “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.”

Paul also reminds us Hebrews 12:1-2a, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders – and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance ‘the race marked out for us’, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

Paul wants us to exercise self-control and to not be mastered by our appetites, cravings or impulses. Instead, he is implying, we should ‘seek deeper spiritual disciplines’ that will keep us on course and serving God with our bodies, minds and souls. We do not run for our own glory – but to glorify the one who created us.

And if we hold onto Christ, like Paul, one day we can say,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

In a misguided and hurting world, imagine what could happen if we all focused on Jesus and his ‘Good News’.

“He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. 2:14)  Hope is greater than hate, love defeats selfishness, and grace rescues the sinner.

Your assignment is…strengthen your walk and begin to run. We do that by studying our Bibles; come to Paul’s Bible study before worship. Join us on Friday nights at 6:30pm for prayer. Join a group of Christians who are serving others for Christ.

Focus on ‘the life Jesus has for you’ and life it abundantly. I think you will find that that is a race worth preparing for and running.

Amen

Honor God With Your Body – July 29, 2018

We are a nation of passions. Researchers list the top three we struggle with are; the desire for wealth, over indulgence in food and strong sexual desires. We are a nation of consumers. Few countries advertise like we do. But we are also a nation that is obsessed with sex and sexuality. We went from Puritan roots – to almost anything goes today.

It is easy to look back and see that sex or at least the suggestion of sex has always been a part of our culture. But the current attitude is no longer shock, it is acceptance.

Now, some people have the mistaken Idea that God and Christians are anti-sex, but that is far from the truth. God created our passions, and he created our sexuality. He knows how powerful and wonderful they are.

The problem develops, when they are taken ‘out of the proper context’. God’s design for sex is meant to be bonded with love, not lust. When it is taken ‘out of the proper context’, sex becomes degrading, shameful, hurtful and leaves us with an abundance of pain and guilt.

No one understood this better than the Apostle Paul who was preaching in the early church. He addressed it over and over again; specifically to the Church in Corinth and in his letter to the Romans.

In Corinth, a Roman community, the people worshiped many gods. One of them was Aphrodite (or Venus), the goddess of love and fertility. The temple they built ‘in her honor’, had 1000 prostitutes, but ‘they called them’ sacred priestesses.

The city of Rome was also known for its promiscuous ways. They were proud to say that ‘anything goes’. Many of the people who came to Christ had long histories in the temple with the prostitutes – and they didn’t want to give it up. Paul understood that it was a powerful addiction.

The problem was; Paul saw how this was destroying marriages and leaving families in ruins.

In his letter to the Corinthians, he states this clearly when he writes, “Do you not know ‘that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?’ For it was said, the two shall become one, in flesh.” 1 Corinthians 6:16

 The Corinthians and Romans believed that they could separate their physical actions – from their spiritual lives but they were wrong. If nothing else, history has shown us that when sexual relationships are taken out of ‘the Godly context’ (which is marriage), – then bad things usually happen. Sexual promiscuity destroys relationships, families, as well as, the body and the soul.

In 2008, the National Center for Disease Control released a study on sexually transmitted diseases. The results then were shocking. The total number of sexually transmitted infections in the United States in 2008 – was ‘over 110 million’ – and costs to the American people toped 16 Billion dollars.

Guess what, in 2016, when the last study was released, those numbers shot up to 357 million diseases spread. That number is ever more mind boggling because there were only 206.5 million people between 15 and 64 in the US.

Their study also showed that, in the 1970’s, – less than 2% of the population ‘lived together’ before marriage. According to current estimates, nearly 60% of couples do it now; with the elderly being a growing population for living together.

As one young lady wrote on the internet, “Before we plunk down our hard-earned money, we consumers like to know we will be happy with our purchases. Few people buy clothes or shoes without trying them on. And you would never expect us to buy a car ‘without a test drive’. Grocery stores offer samples, to get us to try new products, and electronic stores let us play with phones, cameras, and video games – so we know what we are getting for our money”.

She continued, “I feel, that ‘we are justified in trying out marriage’ before we commit. After all, if we are not compatible and it isn’t a marriage made in heaven, why spend ‘all that money’ for the wedding and the inevitable divorce?”  

The National Center for Healthy Living shared these statistics also from 2008. They reported that at that time, 48% of young adults were living together – with the expectation of being married within 5 years. They revisited those couples in 2016, and here are the current facts; Only 1/4th are married. 1/4th are still living together and nearly half have split up. And those that did marry have a higher rate of divorce.

Harvard University professors also did a study on ‘how casual sex affects us’. It is chronicled in the book, “Hooked; New Science on How Casual Sex is affecting our Children.” Drs. Freda Bush and Joe McIlhaney recorded how sex acts affect the mind of youth and young adults.

They write; participation in sex acts ‘during the early years’ changes brain function. It interrupts the normal production of chemicals in the mind. These chemicals, when properly released, create the “monogamy syndrome” in that moment, bonding two people to one another.

But when people have ‘casual sex’, the level of conviction, trust and devotion drops dramatically. Those who have sex outside marriage are more prone to suspicion, obsession over other partners previous sex lives and lack of real trust. They call it ‘Psychological baggage’.

Now, I have to be honest, I have witnessed ‘this first hand’ on many accounts. I cannot tell you the number of people who come in for marriage counseling, – who are dealing with these latent issues. Trust, respect, honesty, shame, compassion and personal self worth – are vital to strong marriages. Many of these things are already in jeopardy when they have been breached early on in the marriage.

Let me just remind you, God does forgives all our sin, when we bring it to him in repentance. Sexual sin isn’t an unforgivable act. Although the consequences can be hard to live with, we can learn to love and trust again.

In the best seller “Not even a Hint”, Joshua Harris writes, “I’ve come to believe that lust – may be the defining struggle for our generation. Youth and young adults’ cannot avoid it, – it is everywhere. We have immediate access on our i-phones and computers.”

His conclusion, – Take Ephesians 5:3 seriously; “But among you, there ‘must not be even a hint’ of sexual immorality…”

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18; “Flee from sexual immorality.” Don’t try to control it or ask how much can you get away with. Don’t try to analyze it or understand it – just flee. Get out of any place that could draw you in. Put down the phone, leave the computer, put down the magazines, shut off the television program, or leave the person who is tempting you. Run!

One of the most memorable talks I ever heard ‘on this passage’ happened at a ‘Promise Keeper’s Rally’ in Indianapolis. The speaker was a Christian Counselor speaking on lust and sexual promiscuity. He talked about those who came to him from the age of 12 through 80.

At one point, he began to cry and his voice cracked, “Don’t think you can handle it. Don’t be the guy who thinks ‘you are in charge’. Just run!” he said this with tears streaming down his cheeks.

There is a wonderful illustration I think Paul was alluding to, in our Bible. ‘It comes to us’ from Genesis Chapter 39. Potipher’s wife tries to lure Joseph into an illicit affair. Joseph was a slave in their home and he had no recourse. Yet when ‘this wife’ grabbed his robe and asked Joseph to come to bed with her, “He left his cloak in her hand and ran from the house.”

Others like King David, Samson and Solomon should have turned away or passed up opportunities, but they didn’t. And Scripture tells us of ‘the tragic falls they had’ because they didn’t take heed.

Listen, I know how hard it is to avoid everything sexual the world throws at us. But I also know that people of faith and Christian leaders are to be held to a higher standard. We are to model Godly behavior and I have to say, it really scares me. In fact, it scares me right into the arms of Jesus.

We cannot win this fight alone. We need friends that will help ‘keep us honest’, families and wives that ‘we can trust and confide in’ and churches that teach about sexual purity. No one else in the world is going to care or hold us accountable.

It is kind of funny – in a sad way, because we have become such a health conscious society. We worry about what we eat, our exercise, looking younger and our mental well being yet we fail to stop the one thing that causes some of the most devastation.

Most of us never consider that the actions of our sex life could kill our hope, spirit, health and soul; destroy our families and impact generations to come. But there is hope. We can address this problem and we can stand firm in Christ and even run when necessary. We just have to have our eyes open and not be proud.

1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that ‘our bodies are not our own’, once we invite Christ into our lives. ‘What we do’ also affects the Spirit living within us.

I want to end with this final illustration: One of the greatest examples of a man of purity and conviction is former NBA player A.C. Green. At 6’9” – 224 pounds, Green was the epitome of strength and stamina.

He holds the NBA record for consecutive games played. He is an “iron man.” More importantly, Green was ‘an iron man in his sexual purity’. He accepted Jesus in High School and made a vow to remain a virgin until he married.

During his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, A.C.’s teammates said he’d never be able to keep his vow to save sex for marriage. “We’re going to give you six weeks,” they told A.C., according to a Sports Illustrated article.

They actually sent beautiful women ‘his way’ just to tempt him. Women even came into the locker room while he was changing. He said ‘it was embarrassing’ and he kept thinking, “What would God want me to do?” When he married at the age of 38, he was still a virgin. In the fast and loose world of the NBA, where gorgeous young women are a constant temptation, that’s a remarkable record.

“Abstinence before marriage is something I very much believe in,” A.C. said. “Responsibility is the main issue, being responsible for the decisions that you make, and realizing that every decision has consequences.”

“It wasn’t a popular decision then, just like it can be an unpopular decision now. It didn’t always make me more friends. But the friends I have were ‘true friends’. True to themselves and true to me. We know ‘each other’s goals and dreams’ and we encourage each other to achieve them.

“It wasn’t easy. But every single day I say ‘yes’ to abstinence, it became that much easier. If you make a decision, and you practice it, that practice turns into a habit and the habit becomes a lifestyle.”

Today, Green has ‘his own ministry’ that teaches abstinence in the public schools. He also is a sought after speaker for men’s groups on living faithfully and on protecting your marriage. If A.C. Green can be sexually pure living life as an NBA player, by God’s grace, we can remain pure and keep our lives pure also.

It should call ‘us to stop and reflect’ on this question, “What lives are we living while we believe no one is looking?” Then we need to remember that God is always watching – and so are others.

Your assignment…is too live out a life of honor and respect for the Lord.

I pray it may be so for all of us.

Amen