The Struggle to Have Faith

Posted by on February 27, 2005 under Sermons

I want to begin by inviting you to read with me from Mark 5:25-34.
A woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse–after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?'” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

One of the ironies in our culture is our sense of control. For decades our culture has declared to us that we can change anything. We can change ourselves! We can change the world! For a long time, we believed we could do anything that needed doing. Want to place an American on the moon? We can do it! Want to bring a crippled space module to earth from the moon? We can do it! Want to replace a diseased heart? We can do it! Want to extend the human life span? We can do it!

Then, abruptly, we were forced to realize our vulnerability and limitations. 9/11 stated dramatically the impossible can happen. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq keep saying that there is a whole world out there that does not think like we think or follow our values. Here, long held jobs disappeared. Here, companies out-sourced jobs to places with cheaper labor. Here, the economy slowed. Here, the price of gasoline increased dramatically. Here, the harder we try to make things secure, the more we are reminded that we are surrounded by insecurity. As we watch, our society is changing in some dramatic ways.

The result: we are increasingly humbled as we realized how little we actually control. More and more we become aware of a truth: Christianity is not about what we can do for God, but about what God can do for us. Our whole understanding of what it means to have faith is changing.

This evening I want us to let a sick woman teach us more about what it means to have faith.

  1. Let me begin by setting the context of the situation.
    1. A synagogue official came to Jesus imploring him to come heal his daughter who was at the point of death.
    2. Jesus agreed to go with the man and heal his daughter.
      1. As they were making the trip to the man’s house, word came to the man that his daughter had died.
      2. Jesus urged the man not to be afraid but to believe, and the trip continued.
    3. Mark wrote that at some point between the synagogue official’s request and the news that the girl died, the sick woman in the crowd touched Jesus.

  2. Consider the context of the incident.
    1. It centered around a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years.
      1. She had gone to doctors, suffered through numerous treatments, but no one had helped her.
      2. Not only had she not been helped, but:
        1. Her condition was worse.
        2. She was broke.
    2. She heard about Jesus and the powerful deeds he performed.
      1. She was in the crowd.
      2. She believed that just touching his clothing would heal her–amazing when you consider how much failure she endured.
      3. The key to destroying her disease was touching Jesus!

  3. She acted on her faith–she did as she planned to do! (And that was difficult!)
    1. We think nothing about a woman touching a man in public, but not so then!
      1. First, consider Leviticus 15:25-30:
        Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean. Any bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her like her bed at menstruation; and every thing on which she sits shall be unclean, like her uncleanness at that time. Likewise, whoever touches them shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. When she becomes clean from her discharge, she shall count off for herself seven days; and afterward she will be clean. Then on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons and bring them in to the priest, to the doorway of the tent of meeting. The priest shall offer the one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord because of her impure discharge.
      2. The poor woman confronted two enormous risks.
        1. First, because she had a hemorrhage, she was supposed to stay at home where she had contact with no one!
        2. Second, a healthy woman was not supposed to touch a man in public–even speaking to a man in public was strictly forbidden (Mishnah, Ketuboth 7:6).
        3. No wonder the woman was so afraid when her act was caught!
      3. For her in her condition, she had a bold plan.
        1. She would blend in with the crowd following Jesus.
        2. She would get close enough to him to touch the helm of his outer clothing (the tassels on his outer garment–Matthew 9:20, Numbers 15:38).
        3. She was convinced if she could just do that–no speaking, no plea, no ceremony, no attention–she would be healed.
      4. She was correct!
        1. She worked her way close enough to Jesus to bow and touch the bottom of his garment.
        2. Instantly, when she touched the bottom of his outer garment, she physically felt the healing.
        3. There was just one thing she did not expect–she did not expect for Jesus to be aware that she touched him.

  4. The result of her touch of faith:
    1. Immediately, the woman is healed.
    2. Immediately, Jesus knew someone with faith touched him.
      1. He turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
      2. The disciples thought that was a ridiculous question–he was followed by a crowd of people, and the crowd constantly contacted him.
      3. He promptly looked at the woman who had touched him, and she knew he had caught her.
    3. With so much fear that the woman was shaking, she came before Jesus and knelt–expecting the worse for “being presumptuous and out of place.”
      1. She confessed what had happened, telling Jesus everything.
        1. In my mind, I can see a disapproving crowd of men thinking or saying, “Woman, how could you do that?”
        2. In my mind, I can hear her thinking, “I am in serious trouble now!”
      2. Jesus did not condemn her.
        1. He did not take the miracle back.
        2. He merely said, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

  5. May I call your attention to two truths.
    1. There was an incredible difference in touching Jesus in faith and merely touching Jesus.
    2. Though this unclean woman touched Jesus, she did not make him unclean–rather he healed her.

  6. In some ways I feel Christians are being reintroduced to the importance and the power of faith.
    1. In recent decades we have been so focused on disagreements about issues we have forgotten about faith.
      1. The stress has been on procedures rather than motives.
      2. The cry has been “do it right!” rather than do it for the right reason.
      3. We have been so focused on issues that we easily create the impression that the key is in procedure, not in motive.
    2. It is very difficult to structure one’s life on faith in this society.
      1. One of the conscious dreads I had when we returned from the foreign mission field was the realization that the lessons of faith are much clearer there than in this society.
        1. I had two conscious prayers.
        2. The first: “Never let me forget who I am”–I learned a lot about me in foreign work.
        3. The second: “Help me remember how to depend on You.”
        4. This culture encourages us to depend on ourselves, not on God.
      2. Why is it so hard to live by faith in this culture?
        1. We are deceived into thinking that we are in control.
        2. Too often our demands “make trial of God.”
        3. We know too much about depending on people, and too little about depending on God.
          1. As a result, when we face a personal faith crisis, we turn to people for answers.
          2. We are afraid to trust God for answers.
        4. Too often our Lord is inactive instead of alive.

If you do not live by faith, you will never know what faith is. If people do not see you living by faith, they will think the gospel is about an invitation to church instead of an invitation to a life.

Standing On Holy Ground

Posted by on under Sermons

From last week: Jesus Christ is at the center of God’s mission. Jesus Christ is at the center of worship. When our worship is focused on God we cannot help but be turned outward into mission. Of course this means that something real takes place in the assembly we call worship. It means that we have a "close encounter of the HOLY kind." Throughout Scripture we see that those who draw near to God and his holy presence are also drawn into his mission.

  • Read Exodus 3:1-12
  • Read Isaiah 6:1-8

The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The writer of Hebrews was aware of this; he understands the connection between God’s rule, God’s mission, and worship of God. "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshipping him with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." – Hebrews 12:28-29. We lament the decline in mission and evangelistic fervor. We lament the decline in worship attendance and heartfelt worship. Perhaps we haven’t understood how these problems are related. We’ve isolated the problems. We have tried to inspire mission and evangelism by alarming ourselves and others with an unbalanced emphasis on sin and the fate of the lost. We have tried to manage worship and increase attendance with an unbalanced emphasis on obligation and procedure. These attempts are unbalanced because both are missing the same thing: A vision and experience of God’s holy presence and the good news of his kingdom rule.

Good worship is about awe, not strategy. Worship happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of the living God. This happened when Moses and Isaiah realized that they were standing on holy ground. This isn’t the same as being afraid of God. That will drive us away from Him. It isn’t the same as feeling sentimental about God. That reduces God to what Jim McGuiggan calls "the heavenly sweetheart." If we are afraid of God, then how can we ever know him and how can his news be good; if God’s only purpose is make us happy then how can we call him Lord? These reductions of God’s presence and his good news diminish God and approach him as a force to be manipulated. But when we are in awe of God we are aware of His power and goodness and we are compelled to worship. Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, describes awe: "Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offence; or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

Awe should not be reduced to a single emotion. Awe includes many emotions. For instance, we can be in awe of beauty or majesty. We can be in awe of power and strength. We can be in awe of talent and artistry. We can be in awe of mystery and wonder. Likewise, reverence should not be reduced to a single emotion. It does not simply mean sedate. For instance, we show reverence of marriage at a wedding and it is proper to be joyous. We show reverence for life and loved ones at a funeral and we feel grief and sadness but also may recall happy memories. Awe and reverence involve many moods and styles but they have one thing in common – response!

Reverence and awe are linked to the worship of God and it is instructive to take a look at the Hebrew and Greek terms Scripture uses for worship of God:

shachah – to bow down
proskuneo – to kneel
latreuo – to serve
thusia – to sacrifice
phosphora – to offer up
homologein – to confess, to profess.

Worship is a verb. These are responsive verbs. Our response embodies our allegiance and devotion to the awesome God we encounter in worship. God has revealed his power, his mercy, his majesty and his grace. He has even awed us by drawing near to us in Jesus Christ and sacrificed his life for us. Awe and reverence are about more than "shock and awe" demonstrations of force. Do you recall how this time last year many were moved by the "Passion of the Christ?" No one watched that movie in a sedate, calm, reflective atmosphere. People were moved with grief and sorrow. They were, in the words of Scripture, cut to the quick. I remember at the end when the risen Christ leaves the tomb someone shouted "YES!" and applause broke out. This wasn’t exhibitionism. It was awe and reverenc! The film also convicted people. Some responded by changing their lives. This is what happens in worship: God’s presence and his actions are revealed and we respond …

The Dynamic of Response: We respond to God simply because he is God. We respond to God because of what he has done. We praise him because he is worthy of praise. Preaching declares who God is and what he has done, is doing, and will do. When we gather around the Lord’s Supper we are remembering and proclaiming the nature of God and the activity of God. All of this is response to God. This is how worship of God differs from worship of other Gods and powers; God has acted first. Worship of false gods and devotion to powers demand a "quid pro quo." There is an exchange or a transaction. In pagan worship and magic, the devotee offers something or promises something in order to gain a favor or a blessing from the god or power. This really isn’t different from our myriad forms of idolatry: I give my money away to any number of vendors and I expect a return for my money. I give my time, information, work to someone else and I expect some sort of satisfaction in return. Sometimes we try to get into this relationship with God and it warps our worship and discipleship. We assume that if we put in our hour a week on Sunday and take the communion, do a few good works and always give our tithe, then God will take that into account and he will either bless us here and now or he will consider our record when it is time to determine who gets into heaven and who goes to hell. This backwards perspective reduces worship to putting in our time and it reduces mission and ministry to manipulation or bargaining. [Read Romans 12:1 – "In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship."] Did you notice the antecedent? As one version says, "considering what God has done, is this too much to ask?"

Our Response to God involves elements that we can speak of separately, but we must be careful not to break these down and separate them completely. On the one hand we have the substance of worship: these are things like the preaching of God’s word, praise, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, prayer, the public reading of the word, confession, and thanksgiving. We include all the actions, forms, and traditions that God’s people have always used to participate in worship and encounter God’s presence. On the other hand, there is the experience of the worshipper and the worshipping church. This involves current events, language, issues, problems, feeling, style, style of church music. For instance, worship after 9/11 was a little different than most Sundays. Why? Because God changed? No, but the questions we had for God and the feeling of our hearts were different. When a local congregation experiences a tragedy, perhaps a sudden death of a beloved member or leader, their worship that Sunday is going to be different than the congregation that on the same Sunday celebrates because people they have been praying for respond to the gospel. Each church participates in the same substance of worship, but their experience is different. That’s biblical; the psalms are a collection of Israel’s worship songs. Not every song comes from the same experience. Sometimes the psalmist is angry, confused, sad, thankful, joyous, or reflective. The experience can also vary because of culture. Our brothers and sisters, the Iglesia de Cristo, are worshipping like us but not like us. The language is different. The style of singing is different. Here in our annex our brothers and sisters, the Lao congregation, are worshipping like us but not like us. This is also true of other North American churches that use English but different styles of singing and worship. The substance of our worship is the same, but the experience may be different.

When the substance of worship and the experience of the worshipper combine, worth is ascribed to God. That is the core dynamic of our response to God’s presence and his mighty acts. Combined, these elements represent our way of participating together in our worshipful response to God.
Another way to describe these elements and to show their connection is to speak of the content of worship, the structure of worship and the context (or style) of worship. Preparation for worship is not ritual that allows God to manifest among us. It is not a prescribed order that obligates God to accept us. Preparation for worship prepares us and orders our minds, bodies, and spirits to respond to God. It prepares us as a collective group to participate. We are not always good at coming together. We have different opinions and different ideas, different tastes and preferences, but our response is not just individual. We experience his presence and activity among us not only as persons, but as a people. In the next few weeks we will be considering these layers of our response and how they enable us to participate in awe-inspired worship and then experience how that turns us inside out to participate in God’s mission.

The content, structure, and context of worship are layers of worship. Content is the essential layer – the core or kernel. The others are not unimportant, but there is an essential order here. For instance, we can focus on the context, or style, of worship and if the content is not evident, then our worship is empty. Here’s how we practically experience each of these:

Content: Enacting the Gospel. At the heart of worship is the gospel. In worship, everything we do "enacts" the gospel. By that we mean that everything participates in and communicates the gospel event. Baptism is connected to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection. Preaching affirms the gospel event and gives testimony to how that gospel power is worked out in our lives.
Structure: Embody the Gospel. The form of our worship is defined by the function – to enact the gospel. This middle layer is also the bridge between the content and the context. So we embody the gospel in ways that are particular to our culture.
Context: Engage the Culture. Most discussion about worship is limited to this layer. Most planning and experience remains here. This is often where the "Worship Wars" take place. But if we go back to content and enact the gospel – God’s saving event in Jesus Christ then we find a way through our conflicts over personality and personal taste.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you-unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

You are all invited to participate in this Gospel by enacting the rule of Christ in your life. May the content of Worship be the content of our lives! Worship is response, so may we all respond by proclaiming the gospel of Christ as we sing Victory in Jesus ( #470). You are also invited to respond by asking for prayers of encouragement or thanksgiving and offering yourself as a living sacrifice – that is worship.

Discussion Guide

  1. What do you typically think of when you hear the word reverence? Why?
  2. How can one be joyous and enthusiastic but at the same time reverent? How can one be passionate and reverent at the same time? (Example: Do you consider the “Passion of the Christ” movie a reverent treatment of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? Would you consider the movie a sedate and calm portrayal? If you answered “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, how do you reconcile this with a definition of reverent that means sedate and calm?)
  3. What do you think of when you hear the word awe? What emotions are involved in awe?
  4. Do you agree that worship is primarily a response to God? What are we responding to? (Read Psalm 66, among others)
  5. Think of all the many worship assemblies you’ve attended. Despite the differences, what things did they have in common? Do these things enact or embody the gospel of Christ?
  6. Continue thinking about those many worship assemblies: Why were the styles different? Did it have anything at all to do with the experience of the worshippers?
  7. How can we grow in our worship and learn to ascribe worth to God? Will it help us to get back to the heart of worship?

Understanding God’s Acts So He Can Lead

Posted by on February 20, 2005 under Sermons

[We begin with a welcome and a prayer.]

Among the hardest attitudes and behaviors for a Christian to learn is the attitude and behavior of humility. Yet, humility is a critical attitude in Christian existence. Our humility is essential for accessing God’s strength.

It is hard for American Christians to understand and to accept the fact that they are not in control. It is a part of our culture to emphasize the importance of the individual. The American dream stress opportunity for every person. Our constitution declares that it is a personal right to pursue happiness.

As a culture, for the past few decades we have attacked any cause of low self esteem. We have changed the American vocabulary. We have developed a ‘politically correct’ language. We stress the importance of being sensitive to other’s struggles. While it is true that each of us regard some things as an over reaction to past insensitivity, most of us also agree that some of those changes are good.

However, one undesirable affect of stressing the individual is the encouragement of arrogance. Arrogance often focuses on the importance of the individual. As individuals grow in a sense of personal importance, they grow away from a sense of humility. Arrogance erects barriers between a person and God. Humility destroys barriers between the person and God.

Through Christ God offers us incredible help. Humility allows the person to respond to and accept that help. We desperately need that help. We do not need to arrogantly instruct God. We need to humbly be instructed by God.

Unless we learn to listen to God, we destroy ourselves. Often our personal prayers focus on telling God what we want. Rarely in our personal prayers to we listen. To often in our service to God we see ourselves taking care of Him. God is alive. God is active. God will continue to be alive and active long after we are gone from life on this earth. God will continue to be a presence in this world as long as this world exists. You and I will not!

This evening as we read, may I challenge you to listen. After you listen, I challenge you to respond to what you hear by singing. We will think together by reading and we will respond to what we hear by singing.

John 4:5-26 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

[Song about hope: 533–“My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less”]

John 4:27-38 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

[Song about sharing Jesus: 623–“If the Name of the Savior Is Precious To You”]

John 4:39-42 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

[Song about personal faith: 539–“Higher Ground”]

John 4:46-54 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

[Song about personal faith: 470–“Victory In Jesus”]
[Prayer for faith (trust)]

  1. John 4 reveals to us a very unlikely situation in the Samaritan woman. I would like to call some things to your attention.
    1. She was a very unlikely (to us undesirable) person for Jesus to use to alert Sychar to God’s work and actions.
      1. She is a Samaritan, and the Jewish people contemptuously considered Samaritans as religiously undesirable outcasts.
      2. The fact the she was alone when she came to draw water may indicate even her own people in her own village considered her an undesirable person.
      3. She was a divorcee–divorced five times!
      4. By Jewish standards and Samaritan standards (both accepted and followed Genesis through Deuteronomy), she is an immoral woman–she lived with a man to whom she was not married.
      5. Only Jesus would pick such a woman to be the first to carry news about him!
    2. Jesus used a daily, physical need (water) to increase her awareness of her eternal need.
      1. “You come to draw water that can only last until you return to draw water.”
      2. “I offer you water that is a permanent solution.”
      3. “I know who you are and what your real need is.”
    3. “God this very moment is in the process of changing the concept of worship.”
      1. “It will no longer be a ritual that is regarded to depend on ‘doing the right things at the right place.'”
      2. It will arise from the adoration of God from the individual regardless of where he or she geographically is.”
    4. She asked about the Messiah (how unlikely a person to know about the Messiah), and Jesus identified himself as the Messiah.
    5. Though she was an outcast, she led her village to the Messiah.
      1. Because she saw, they saw.
      2. Because they saw, faith came from themselves.

  2. The second event also involved a very unlikely person–a man who was an official to the ruling Herod.
    1. As commonly is the case, rulers are not well liked.
      1. Consequently, being attached to the ruler had disadvantages as well as advantages.
      2. The man came to Jesus for miraculous help, and Jesus helped him–even though he knew the man’s motivation.
    2. Even though the man was an official, he confronted a situation he could do nothing about.

I challenge you to realize the fact that though we or any other person is undesirable does not mean Jesus cannot help us or use us. Jesus gives the hopeless hope. Use your life in the joy of having hope from Jesus. This week use what Jesus does for you to give hope to the hopeless.

[Invitation Song: 376–“He Paid A Debt”]
[Song: 222–“There’s Something About That Name”]
[Dismiss with Song: 227–“On Zion’s Glorious Summit”]

Worshipping God for the Sake of the World

Posted by on under Sermons

It may seem off-base to worship God for the sake of the world. We might be more inclined to think that we worship God for God’s sake or at least for our sake. But for the sake of the world? Without denying the other options I want to suggest that we really should consider what it means to worship God for the sake of the world; especially as we work to reconcile what seem to be opposite impulses in the life of the church: worship and mission. First let’s review what we have discussed over the last seven weeks about mission …

God’s Mission and the Christ
Christ is Lord over all creation. There is one kingdom.
There are not multiple kingdoms with rulers other than Christ. The contest is over. Jesus is exalted as Lord or as Peter said, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:36). All the earth and all creation may submit to this rule or resist it.
Christ’s people live by that rule – everywhere in the world. Our allegiance to Christ is not determined by political, national, or cultural boundaries. We are not any more or less Christian based on where we live. Whether or not America is considered a "Christian" nation does not determine our allegiance to the rule of Christ. Whether or not the south remains the "Bible belt" does not determine our allegiance to Christ. Those who call on the Christ and submerge their lives into live by the rule of the savior and are citizens of his emerging kingdom.
We are defined by his rule and his mission. So ultimately, our character and the character of the church is shaped by the common Lord and the common mission that gathers up the people of Christ and sends them out into creation. We are shaped by the character of our king (When you think of a kingdom, the kings image and name are printed on all the money and legal documents and seals and his own person becomes the standard of measurement – a foot, a span, a yard).

God’s Mission and the Church
God’s Mission is to the world
– Now we see how this defines the church. The church is not an institution or organization to keep Christians busy. The church is not a place to get together and do stuff or go to worship. The church is a collection, a community, an assembly of people called out by the King. We represent his rule in the world. How do we do that? We are like the Jesus who was sent into the world to represent God. We are being gathered and also sent out. Our calling out has purpose. We are not different just to be different. We are different for the sake of the world so it too may turn to the King.
Mission is the character of the church – It is God’s mission and we are involved in mission to the world because we follow God and our Lord to give witness to what he is doing. Not a program of the church We are not independent contractors. God did not give us the evangelism concession for this planet. God is operating in the world and we are recipients of that mission and witness to what he has done, is doing and will do. Sent by God for sake of the world Thus mission is not simply limited to "missions" or "local outreach." Those activities are part of mission in the same way the college ministry, the youth ministry, small groups, benevolence, education and all other activities are part of the mission. This is because mission is part of who we are in Christ and not just what we do. So everything is mission – even worship? Ah yes, here’s where the reality of all this starts to rub against the grain of our ingrained concepts … By compartmentalizing and departmentalizing the activities of the church we have begun to think too rigidly about what is for "insider" and what is for "outsiders." It has created an "us and them" way of thinking that hampers our participation in God’s mission efforts in the world. This rigid "us and them" way of thinking is seen most vividly in the typical misconceptions about worship and mission and their relationship with one another.

The first, and probably the most prominent, view is a traditional one that for the purpose of discussion we will call the "Inside and Outside" view. The concept of insider and outsider or “us and them” separates worship and mission. Worship is for those inside the church. Mission takes place outside. The inside and outside approach views worship as the activity for those inside the church which equips them or refreshes them for the task of mission which is limited to work "outside" the church. Worship is reduced to motivation of the church for its mission to outsiders. Worst of all, worship and mission are distinct activities in the church’s life.

  • Practical ways this model begins to break down: First, what do we do when our children and young people are added to the church? They have worshipped with us for years – perhaps their whole lives – and now they have somehow come "inside" the church. What nurtured them all those years and enabled them to make the decision to submit to Christ in baptism? In most cases it was the "insider" activities of the church. By participating in "insider" activities, like worship, these young people are now insiders but were they ever really outsiders?
  • On the other side, consider the mission activities and the teaching that benefits many a so-called "outsider." We are amazed to see their lives transformed by their acceptance of the good news. Because they have undergone such a transformation of character and received hope when they thought all was hopeless they have a deep-rooted and sincere faith. They are so thankful and grateful for the good news. Many of these people go one to become some of the greatest evangelists. Now, if "outsiders" can benefit from hearing the gospel like that what about those of us who "grew up inside the church" and were nurtured to faith by the insider activities? Why can’t we benefit from outsider activities?

That’s why some have tried the next approach … The "Outside In" approach responds to the Inside and Outside approach by bringing the mission activity of the church inside to the worship assembly. (Bring the "outside" activity directly into the context of worship for a presentation of the gospel.) In this approach the worship is regarded as either a presentation of the gospel for a captive audience of outsiders. This approach may be an attempt to unite worship and mission, but in the end we can never be sure if what we come up with is worship or mission. Bringing the outside in to the inside is sometimes called worship evangelism. But attempts at worship evangelism do not consider the unity of the two. Instead, they attempt to re-orient the focus of worship on the outsider. (And though rarely admitted, sometimes the attempt is to bring some of that good stuff we’ve been dispensing on outsiders back in here on the inside.) The "us and them" thinking is still in effect. What remains is the false choice that worship is strictly for insiders and evangelism is strictly for outsiders. The concepts of mission and worship are both warped. Mission becomes nothing more than outreach or getting folks into the worship. Worship becomes an evangelistic presentation that admits to being of little use to the so-called "insider." Worship is reshaped to accomplish the tasks of the church’s mission. The tasks of mission become the purpose of worship and the result is that neither worship nor mission really happens.

Inside Out
The trouble with both of the previous approaches is that they are flat, two-dimensional and they do not account for God’s missional activity in the world and our participation in that activity. If we consider how God is the outreaching creator who sends his son and sends his people then we will understand how worshipping God turns us inside out to serve the world he loves and how his love gathers us up to worship him.

  • God’s desire is to reconcile with the world. He is a reconciling God. This is his mission.
  • God gathers the church and sends them out. The church are those who respond to the call to enter into and receive the kingdom of Christ’s rule. The church is formed and made visible in the world as a called out assembly and community that represents the kingdom. This church comes up from the culture, but is changed within the culture – and at times changes the culture. Since it remains in the world (though not of the world) it would not be accurate to draw a tight circle and declare it the inside and the world is then the outside. The boundary between world and church is "semi-permeable" and we cross through it as we are gathered in and as we are sent out. All were once outsiders. All are potentially insiders. The boundary is not static. What you get is a centered set (not a bounded set) that is centered around the worship of God in Jesus Christ.
  • Christ is Lord over the entire world. He is the head and ruler over all things. When he is confessed as Lord there is worship. Worship is the proclamation of what God has done/is doing/will do – and it is also the response of the glad and liberated. Worship is as much the character of the church as mission. It is what we do because of who we are. The church in worship demonstrates its kingdom, Christ-like character in a very open and public way. Even churches that meet in secret, like our brothers and sisters in some of our related congregations, are still going public with their worship because they do come together and someone does see what they are doing to serve and praise their true ruler and authority. These governments understand what we sometimes do not: that worship is an act of allegiance to the only true authority that sometimes puts us at odds with the powers that be!

Warping and War
If we do not bring worship and mission together again, then worship and mission are both going to be warped – which leads to misunderstandings that get us into worship wars with one another and those on the outside. False Choices about worship: Traditional or Contemporary? Reflective or Emotional? Seeker or Founder? Meditative or Enthusiastic? Spontaneous or Ordered? These false choices are the result of separating and reducing worship and mission. The result will be distortions, or warping worship. And it leads to questions like "Which is more important – worship or mission? Which does God care about most?" It is difficult to find biblical answers to unbiblical questions.

  • Worship divorced from mission, is manifested as introversion as the church puts its own survival before its mission. Worship becomes self-affirmation and no concern for the church’s relationship with and responsibility to the world is considered. Survival and comfort are more important than mission. The church cannot be introverted if it would be the Spirit of God incarnated. (Jesus brings His friends with Him!)
  • The other type of distortion is mission divorced from worship. Mission apart from worship is prone to self-glorification and can become so aggressive and conceited that the church attempts to be the promoter or marketer of Christ rather than his servant. God-centered worship reminds the church that it exists for the sake of the world because God loves the world. Marketing worship to the culture may seem like extroversion rather than introversion, but the agenda for worship is still survival and self-promotion. A church formed by the gospel should not fear losing its life for the sake of Christ and others “for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for [Christ’s] sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). When we forget that we are Christ’s servant, we become his proprietor. We become the marketer of gospel and the survival of the church means working harder to sell more product. We become a vendor of religious goods and services.
  • Distortions create camps that lead to the worship wars. We fail to realize that worship and mission are balanced parts of life in God’s kingdom.

A Royal Priesthood
The biblical images always balance worship and mission. The connection between God and his mission to the world and the worship of his people who are gathered up in that mission is always clear. We will look at some others, but for now consider 1 Peter 2:9-12. Our connection with the world is clear: We share in the brokenness and suffering of the world. Once we were not a people but now we are the people of God! We are now a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – but not to shun the world but to invite the entire world to our nation. We witness to the world and bring the world before God (we are representative of the world). Like the breastplate of the high priest that brought the names of Israel’s tribes before God we too bring the names of the world and its woes before our creator. In our worship we proclaim God’s power and grace for all to hear, and in our participation in his mission we bear witness to God before the entire world.

How do we worship God for the sake of the world?

  1. Focus on God. True worship encounters the living God who is real and present. In worship, we respond to the call of God.
  2. Enact the Gospel. Worship must be rooted in the gospel event as it is being re-experienced Our worship must be a response to the good news of God’s action rather than our self-interests. Worship that enacts the good news creates a people who share God’s mission. Worship that celebrates our church agenda is at best merely satisfying and at worst vulnerable to forces of a consumer market.
  3. Structure worship to embody the gospel. Worship is an incarnational experience. Worship is more than mere talk or thought. It is a living event. The language and form are the body or outer shell in which the living event, the celebration of the risen Christ, is re-enacted and renewed.

Discussion Guide

  1. How are we defined by the Lordship of Christ? Is Christ Lord even if we don’t receive him as Lord? If not, what does that say about His rule? What does that say about His kingdom? If so, what does it say about each?
  2. If Christ’s kingdom is not of this earth (i.e., a place or territory), then how do we understand it? What do the words reign, rule, authority, and sovereignty have to do with a word like kingdom? Is an earthly kingdom more than just political terrain? If so, then how does that help us understand the kingdom of God?
  3. How is our concept of mission improved if we understand mission to be a characteristic of the church and not just a program of the church?
  4. What does it mean to participate in God’s mission?
  5. Two limited views of the relationship (or lack of relationship) between worship and mission were discussed in this sermon – Inside and Outside, Outside In. Which of these are you most familiar with? Why? How have you/do you understand the relationship between worship and mission?
  6. How does the Inside Out concept of worship and mission demonstrate the unity of worship and mission? What advantages does it have over the other views? How does it help us understand the relationship between God, the world, and the church?
  7. Do you think we have to make a choice between worship or mission? Why or why not?
  8. What happens when we focus on worship to the exclusion of mission? What happens to the church when we focus on mission to the exclusion of worship? How do these contribute to “worship wars”?
  9. Read 1 Peter 2:9-12. What does it mean to be a royal priesthood? A priest is one who intercedes; for whom do we intercede? A priest serves God in worship; how do we serve God in worship? What does 1 Peter say? Is Peter describing worship or mission?
  10. Read Genesis 12:1-9. Is Abraham being called to worship God or to enter into God’s mission to the world? How do verses 7 and 8 help answer this?

The Impact of ‘My’ Life

Posted by on February 17, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

“What a rotten, lousy break! How horribly unfair! Don’t tell me the Lord is blessing me! Don’t challenge me to see good in this unjustifiable situation!” That easily could have been Joseph’s response to his “fall.” He was an undesirable teenager-probably the families’ arrogant tattletale. He was a rich man’s favored son. His father was married to two wives. Joseph had the wonderful situation of being the son of the favored wife.

In the older brothers’ experiences, Joseph was a pain in the neck, an intolerable threat to their future. The solution: catch Joseph away from Dad, sell him into slavery, and forever be rid of this brash, favored son who was an arrogant tattletale.

The undesirable teen brother quickly became a faith-filled slave. His owner prospered because of Joseph’s faith and relationship with God-and he knew it! Unthinkable choices for the teenager were faith choices for the slave! Joseph’s relationship with God was real! Because of Joseph’s attitude in grossly undesirable circumstances, God could and did work through him. Though Joseph knew he was a victim of injustice and forgetfulness, his faith in God unquestionably blessed others.

Many things happen in our world and families that we prefer not to happen. Sometimes we are filled with grief because we cannot “fix” a situation. Sometimes we are filled with despair when situations force us to face this truth: we have no power. In such moments we feel quite useless.

The power lies in God, not in us. God is the source of the power. In grace and mercy He gave us His son to lead us back to Him. It is through Jesus that a person grasps the nature, the character, and the power of God the Father.

What significance is that understanding? Our most powerful influence for good on those we care about arises from “who we are,” not “what we can do.” We are never the power to a permanent “fix”! We are merely encouragers who know what it means “to be.” When we have the faith “to be,” we allow God to work in and through us. A Christian’s greatest resource and power is the power of prayer. Through prayer, through faith “to be,” turn God loose to work through you! Joseph learned a person does not have to be the son of a rich man to trust God. A slave can do that!

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2).

God Wants Us to Be Encouragers

Posted by on February 13, 2005 under Sermons

I want us to begin our thoughts this evening with a reading from Hebrews 12:11-17.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

The objective of discipline is to teach someone you care about ‘how to live’. The person does not know ‘how to live’. The person is unlikely to understand ‘how to live’ from personal experience. By the time he or she realizes what he or she thought was a ‘good idea’ was a ‘horrible idea’, it is too late. Inescapable, irreversible consequences have occurred. The purpose of discipline is to make those inescapable, irreversible consequences unnecessary.

The difference between discipline and abuse is concern for the person. Discipline comes from the caring of love. Abuse comes from the selfishness of the abuser. God does not abuse His children, but he does discipline his children.

  1. The context of the situation:
    1. My understanding is that the writer is writing Jewish Christians or proselytes [or both] because they were distressed and discouraged by the things going on.
      1. The declaration that Jesus was the resurrected Jewish Messiah or Christ began in Jerusalem on one of the holiest festival occasions in the Jewish nation.
      2. All the first converts were either Jews or proselytes.
      3. Christianity grew among the Jewish people in Palestine at an incredible rate.
      4. Though there was a lot of debate about Jesus’ identity as the Christ among the Jewish people, believers basically looked at Jesus and his teaching as we would look at the restoration movement.
      5. Jewish Christians commonly focused their expectations on the restoration of Israel as a nation.
        1. But that did not happen.
        2. The longer the movement continued, the more Israel ostracized Jews and proselytes who believed Jesus was the Christ.
        3. Constantly the pressure was placed on Jewish believers to make a decision–‘you can be a member of the nation of Israel, or you can be a Christian, but you cannot be both.’
        4. The Jewish Christians or proselytes to whom this letter was first written seemed to be giving serious consideration to returning to the good graces of Israel by renouncing any relationship with Jesus Christ.
    2. The basic message of the letter is this: ‘you cannot do that for two reasons: (1) Jesus is superior to the leadership and rites of Judaism; (2) the purpose of Israel is to allow God to make the resurrected Jesus the mediator between God and the people of the world.
      1. The letter systematically declares the resurrected Jesus’ superiority over the leading figures and rites of Israel.
      2. It gives Jewish Christians and proselytes a call to faith in Jesus as the Christ.
    3. That was a hard, challenging message to receive.
      1. It was hard for these people to understand that the nation of Israel was a vehicle to lead to and achieve God’s purposes rather than the goal of God’s purposes.
      2. People who were not Jews were becoming Christians in many places.
        1. These people had never offered sacrifices at the Jewish temple, had never been circumcised, had never lived by Jewish law or tradition or rites, and had never even understood the difference between clean and unclean.
        2. Now they who did and understood these things were being classified with the people who had never done these things.
        3. It is tough to be rejected by your own people!

  2. The immediate context of the reading:
    1. God is disciplining you, not to destroy you, but to teach you how to live in Jesus Christ even if it means you do not have the approval of the nation of Israel.
      1. Discipline is not fun!
      2. Discipline focuses on a destruction, but the destruction does not have the objective of destroying the person.
      3. Discipline focuses on destroying something that threatens to destroy ‘me’.
      4. Often the person enduring the destruction has a lot of trouble distinguishing between ‘me’ and ‘that which wants to destroy me’.
    2. I don’t remember my father being mad at me many times.
      1. One time Dad was disking up our front yard to plant some grass.
      2. The disk he was using was a mule drawn disc with a seat on it.
      3. I thought it would be fun to ride on the disc, so as he came by me I decided to jump on.
      4. I missed the disc and fell through an opening on the disc.
        1. Dad just happened to see me jump out of the corner of his eye.
        2. He instantly said, “Whoa!” to the mule,” and the mule stopped.
      5. I had no idea of the danger I was in–the disc blades would have cut me to pieces.
      6. Knowing what could have happened if the mule had not stopped instantly really shook my Dad up.
      7. He made it very clear to me that I was never, never, never to try that again.
      8. Dad was not trying to destroy me; Dad was trying to keep me from destroying myself.
    3. Some of the Christians who received this letter were very discouraged.
      1. The writer was not trying to increase their discouragement.
      2. He was trying to get them to see the superiority of Jesus Christ.
      3. In fact, the writer said, “Help those who are discouraged!”

  3. One of God’s priorities in the world is challenging His people to pursue peace.
    1. “Do not ‘write off’ believers who struggle and are weak!”
      1. That is a hard, challenging expectation!
      2. A Christian must not say to another Christian who does not understand, “Forget you!”
      3. A Christian must not say to another struggling Christian, “You are more trouble than you are worth!”
      4. A Christian must not say to a Christian who is confused by his or her expectations, “We would be better off without you!”
    2. Quite the opposite!
      1. Take special care of weak or struggling Christians.
      2. Make special provisions to care for the spiritually weak and feeble.
      3. It is by ministering to them that you help yourself.
      4. The objective is healing, not ostracizing.
    3. Pursue peace!
      1. Understand the importance of sanctification [holiness] which is found only in Jesus Christ.
      2. Value God’s grace and make it your aim for no Christian to leave that grace.
      3. Learn how to live in a manner that values the important.
      4. Do not be like Esau, and learn too late.

  4. It is impossible to live for God in this culture or any culture on earth and not experience discouragement.
    1. The closer you come to God, the more clearly you will see the things that oppose God’s rule in the lives of people.
      1. We will be powerfully tempted to condemn and oppose people who are living in ways that openly oppose God.
      2. Much to often, we are more concerned about ourselves than we are about other people.
      3. It is easy to condemn; it is hard to help.
    2. We all need each other’s encouragement.
      1. I probably could swap experiences with any of you about Christians who have hurt and discouraged me.
      2. Not a single Christian here has not had many, many opportunities to give up following Jesus Christ because another Christian troubled or discouraged us.
      3. With ungodly forces in this world trying to destroy our faith in God’s accomplishments in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we never need to fight each other.
      4. I need to make it easier for you to follow Jesus Christ, not harder.
    3. This evening we began by listening to Mark Anders tell us how encouraging the prayer pager was to his family in a moment of crisis.
      1. Never doubt the power of prayer.
      2. Never doubt the power of encouragement.
      3. Use both to help others constantly.
      4. By helping others, you will help yourself.

Make a difference for the better by encouraging a Christian this week. Always look for opportunities to share your hope with people who do not know Jesus Christ. May someone give glory to God this week because of the impact of your life on them.

Be My Witnesses

Posted by on under Sermons

Acts 1:1-11

Proof of Life after Death
Last week we looked in on the gathering of the disciples after the crucifixion (John 20). No one was there because they wanted to be there. They were huddling together for self-preservation more than anything else. We can imagine that their conversations were focused on plans to secure their survival. And on top of that, they were probably consumed by feelings of guilt, grief, anger, and worry. Of course that began to change when the risen Jesus came joined their gathering.

Everything begins to change as Jesus is suddenly everywhere. Mary Magdalene speaks with him near the tomb. Then he is journeying to Emmaus with Cleopas and a friend. Next he is in the locked room with the disciples and shows them his wounds. According to Luke, these encounters with Jesus in the resurrected flesh take place over the next forty days. Jesus is able to give them, in Luke’s words, proof that he is alive. He shows them his wounds and he eats with them – he’s cooking breakfast by the lake in Galilee on one occasion (John 21)! According to Paul, at one time over 500 people saw him. Jesus teaches them and he ministers to them. He gives Peter a second chance to affirm him three times since Peter had denied him three times before. Jesus gives the disciples a mission and he prepares them for it. Luke says that the subject of their conversations is the kingdom of God. It is at one of the last gatherings near Bethany when they’ve gathered together for a meal that the disciples ask Jesus the question they all want to know …

Is This the Time?
There had been some serious misunderstandings about the kingdom during Jesus’ ministry with the disciples. They were expecting the Messiah to lead an invincible army into the holy city of Jerusalem and restore the kingdom of Israel. They were ready even to the last and Peter was brandishing steak knives at the last supper in defense of his king. But now they understood something new – especially about Jesus’ talk of dying on cross which upset them so much before. Now that Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem for power they have got to ask "Is this going to be the time you restore the kingdom?" Maybe their worldview has expanded somewhat, but they still have kingdom expectations. And they should; Jesus doesn’t deny them that. In fact, the church in Theophilus’ and Luke’s generation was probably asking this same question – "When will we see the full and complete restoration of the kingdom of God?"

Perhaps we have lost some of that expectation. The more comfortable we get in the power structures of this world the less expectation we have of a new government – the rule of God. Even though we have the church and are blessed to experience the rule of God in the church I don’t think we can say that all of our kingdom expectations are fulfilled. There are too many lost souls and too many unredeemed institutions out there to be satisfied in our expectations. It’s a fair question: "How long O Lord? When will we see the kingdom completely restored and established in its fullness?"

But Jesus will not answer the "when" question. God is not our contractor building a kingdom for our pleasure. We are not God’s contractor’s building him a kingdom. Such thinking makes us anxious and we get into a "hurry up" mode and we assume we need to know more, or do more. Jesus will not answer the "when" for the disciples nor for us because the restoration of the kingdom is God’s work. He controls the schedule, he designed the plans, and he sets the boundaries. Jesus redirects the question and teaches the disciples (and us) about our proper role in the kingdom: We are witnesses.

The Power to Be
Unfortunately, the term witness is a word we have "churched out" to the point it doesn’t communicate anything for us. Other religious groups use this term quite commonly but in ways we aren’t familiar with. You hear talk of giving a witness and witnessing. We think of Jehovah’s Witnesses or the preacher who says "Can I have a witness?" The way this term is used makes us think of evangelism, soul-winning, preaching, or door-knocking. These of course seem like work to us and call upon us to be very cautious about matters of technique, style, strategy. It lays a great sense of responsibility on us and we assume we need to know more or do more in order to be a witness.

Never mind that the Greek word for witness is also the word that gives us martyr. Never mind what it means to give a witness, get a witness, have a witness or witness Jehovah. Just think about what it means to be a witness in any other context. The general definition of a witness in a court of law is one who, being present personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder, spectator, or eyewitness. One who testifies to what he has seen, heard, or otherwise observed. That’s easy right? Another way to think of witness is a witness to history. Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? Where were you when the Berlin Wall came down? What were you doing when the twin towers collapsed? All of us have been witnesses to history and we have a story to tell about it.
The disciples were witnesses of the ministry, the crucifixion, the resurrection and they had a story to tell.

But the story wasn’t over because they have proof that Jesus is alive. And if the story ended at Pentecost then why does Luke waste ink and paper 26 other chapters? The story hasn’t ended and you and I are witnesses now of the on-going story! We have a story to tell. If you are a follower of Jesus then by default you will BE a witness. But the sort of witness you will be is not a given. Just as there are competent, credible, adverse, and hostile witnesses in a court of law, we may be good, bad, or indifferent witnesses. Being a witness carries a responsibility, and before we assume we need to know more or do more to be a good witness let’s simply focus on being a witness who tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And everyone who strives to do that – even in a court of law – always says "so help me God."

We witness to what we have seen, heard, and what we already know about Jesus Christ. We witness to what God is doing to form his kingdom in this world. And the power to BE the witness, to BE the church that gives witness of God’s work and Christ’s lordship is the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is for the Mission: The gift of the Spirit is for the sake of the mission. The spirit empowers, equips and enables all the sent church for the mission – we are empowered to live as witnesses in the world and we are empowered to tell the truth. So, the Spirit is for the Message: As witnesses we don’t just talk about what we know, speak about the one we know – we know Jesus through his Spirit. When the disciples are witnessing on Pentecost they are just as surprised and as awed as everyone else that day. Their message is not revelation of a hidden secret that only insiders can know – it is to name what is going on among them and to explain what they have witnessed – to name what God is doing even to the ends of the world. The invitation call to the kingdom is not something that we control or manage – it is not a policy we spin – it is something we must be faithful to as witnesses – so help us God!

Turned Inside Out
We have no control over the when and we must be faithful as witnesses wherever. Jesus makes it clear that his followers will BE witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. This is why our definition of mission needs to be broadened. Our brothers and sisters in Guyana are witnesses, they are the church in Guyana. The Kweekuls and our brothers and sisters in Laos and Thailand are witnesses. Stephane is a witness in Vietnam. They are no less the church because they are organized a little differently than we are. The Hundley’s are witnesses in France. Our brothers and sisters in Nigeria are witnesses in their land. The brethren that Roy teaches in Africa are witnesses in Ethiopia, Sudan and other nations in Africa. And what about us? Are we not witnesses? Are we not also part of the same mission?

We have allowed our institutional forms and geography to form our relationships and titles. If you stay here you are an evangelist, but if you go over there you are a missionary. Jesus says you will be my witnesses. Whether we are in Jerusalem or at the ends of the earth we witness.

Even in Samaria, we can witness. It can be easy to witness close to home in Jerusalem – people understand you there. It can even be easy at the ends of the earth with the sense of adventure and the "there and back again" rhythm of it all. But it is a little harder in Judea and especially Samaria. I am sure the disciples must have winced when Jesus said they would witness among the Samaritans. It is hard to speak to a people you’d rather not associate with.

It gets messy to break down the physical and social fences that we assume make us all good neighbors. But while we are looking up into heaven praising Jesus the word from heaven comes to us and says, "Why are you gawking up here?" This same Jesus is coming back and he turns us inside out – we have been gathered, but we are also sent. If you are a Christian, you a witness, and Jesus turns you inside out to testify to the hope that is within you – even in Samaria – tell people about Jesus. When you get into the classroom, or the board room, the office, over the backyard fence or over the kitchen table, preaching can be more difficult. What you say and what you do matters. Nevertheless, empowered by God’s spirit and grace, you are able to preach – to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God.

Discussion Guide

  1. Imagine what it would have been like for the church during the 40 days that the risen Jesus appeared among them and taught them. How would this start to change their view of the kingdom?
  2. Why do you think the disciples are still concerned about the time the kingdom will be established? Do we expect the return of Christ in the same way? Why or why not?
  3. How is it good news that the restoration of the kingdom is God’s work? How does this inform our concept of mission?
  4. What do you think of when you hear the word witness? Does your understanding of that word change in a church context?
  5. What do you think of this statement: If you are a follower of Christ, then like it or not you are also a witness.
  6. How does God’s spirit enable us to be his witnesses? What do we witness to? How do we do that?
  7. What does it mean to say that we are turned “inside out” as a church? Who sends our missionaries into the field? How is our situation different from theirs? How is it the same?
  8. How have you understood Jesus’ statement about being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Personal Preference vs. God’s Instruction (“The Slippery Slope”)

Posted by on February 6, 2005 under Sermons

I want to talk to you this evening. Were I to pick a mode of talk, it would be a conversational mode. My objective is not “to tell you something.” My objective is to challenge you to think and examine.

For me, for most of my life, preaching has been and is a form of teaching. It is not an effort to draw attention to me. It is the effort of using a message to draw attention to God. My primary objective anytime I preach to you or to any other audience is to challenge people to think and through thinking to reach a higher level of understanding and thereby a higher level of faith. To me, this opportunity is about much more than a 30 minute presentation.

My goal is to get inside your mind in a manner that you think and reflect on the ideas and concepts presented throughout the next week. I do not want you to emotionally react; I want you to reflect. I am not seeking a ‘that cannot be right’ reaction. I am seeking for a ‘I need to think about that’ reflection.

All of this has to do with my understanding and concept of faith in God and Jesus Christ His son. Faith is not a “blind trust.” Faith is not a matter or listening to someone who is obviously sincere and committed and accepting what he or she says as unforgettably correct. Neither is faith just a matter of placing confidence in your religious heritage.

I once lived in a community where most individuals held to the faith of the grandparents. What the person was religiously was principally determined by the convictions of the grandfather. The person might not know why grandfather held the conviction, but knowing why grandfather believed what he believed was unimportant.

Faith in God and Jesus Christ is the product of a combination of knowledge and understanding. David Chadwell is just one stepping stone on the path to greater understanding. The goal of David Chadwell must be this: to share realities that will help you understand that which you have not yet known.

God is much too big for one person or one person’s heritage fully to encompass. Our faith must be in what God did in Jesus Christ, not in a human movement or endeavor. What God did in Jesus Christ will always remain the same. Our challenge is to grow in understanding of what God did in Christ.

  1. I want to begin with a simple, but often disturbing, understanding.
    1. Part one of the understanding is this: “When I confuse personal preference and divine command, my confusion is dangerous to me and to God’s will.”
      1. Everybody has personal preferences–me, you, and everyone you have ever met.
      2. Having personal preferences is absolutely okay–as long as I do not transform my preference into God’s will.
        1. Never assume your preference is God’s will.
        2. Never assume that you ‘think just exactly like God thinks.’
        3. Those assumptions were at the foundation of the most significant problem in the first century church.
    2. Part two of the understanding is this: “When I actually substitute my personal preferences for God’s will, spiritual disaster occurs.”
      1. Likely more religious error is taught in this world because a person thinks his personal preference is God’s will than for any other reason.
      2. When that substitution occurs in your convictions, error will result.
    3. Let me share with you two personal illustrations.
      1. When I was a child, in my home congregation, I learned and sang “Showers of Blessings.”
        1. In my home congregation during my childhood, that was a very popular song.
            The chorus: “Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need;
            Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”
        2. I personally cannot sing that song.
        3. I cannot look at my life in so far as physical blessings or spiritual blessings and call what has happened to me “mercy drops.”
        4. As far as I am concerned, my plea does not need to be for an abundance that I do not have, but for wisdom to use the abundance I do have.
        5. However, that focuses on my personal preference.
        6. Not everyone has my life.
        7. Because I cannot sing that song does not mean no one else can sing that song–some have struggles I do not have.
      2. Some use the word “hallelujah” in comical ways.
        1. The word comes from a Hebrew word that means “praise the Lord.”
        2. It was used to give adoration to God.
        3. I cannot understand what the word means and use it for purposes other than giving praise to God.
        4. My personal preference is to acknowledge the word and use the word only for its original intent.
        5. However, I cannot impose my preference on others as God’s law.
      3. There are many areas of personal preference that we need to recognize as preference.
        1. I use the New American Standard translation in my studies, teaching, and preaching–the translation a person uses is a matter of personal preference.
        2. The times of assembly are a matter of personal preference.
        3. The songs we sing are a matter of personal preference as long as our songs honor our God.
        4. Because you follow my preferences does not prove you are a person of faith, and because you disagree with my preferences does not mean you have left faith.
        5. Yet, we are more likely to get emotional about preferences than we are clear instruction from scripture.

  2. One of the most common arguments we use to assert the control of our preference is the ‘slippery slope’ argument which is closely related to the domino theory.
    1. The ‘slippery slope’ argument is ‘you cannot do that because of what it will lead to.’
      1. Thus it has to be wrong because of what may eventually result.
      2. ‘We occupy the high ground here at point A.
        1. ‘Everything is tilted downward toward evil.
        2. ‘If we start down the slope, we cannot stop–we will just keep sliding toward evil.
        3. Point B is down the slope.
        4. No one can stop at point B–even if they try to stop, the person will surely slide to the bottom at point C and will be overcome in a horrible situation.
      3. The ‘slippery slope’ argument is not confined to religious considerations; it is used against many considerations we opposed.
        1. One of the largest poor decisions made in my lifetime was based on a ‘slippery slope’ argument.
        2. This argument was used as the justification and rationale for the Vietnam war.
        3. The rationale was this: if South Vietnam fell to communism, then all Southeast Asia would fall to communism. If all Southeast Asia fell to communism, then India would fall to communism. Then other major population areas would fall to communism, and before Americans know it, communism would take over this nation. Therefore, if we wish to keep communism out of America, we must stop it in Vietnam.
        4. America was forced to pull out of Vietnam, and, in time, the power behind the communist movement ceased to exist.
        5. Today, there are 5 Communist countries in the world. [China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba]
        6. There was no slippery slope.
      4. The same argument was presented in the 1960s that the ‘slippery slope’ of Medicare would inevitably lead to a socialized America which would produce a communist America.
      5. The ‘slippery slope’ argument often is an appeal to emotion and fear, not fact.
      6. It is the argument that because C at the bottom of the ‘slope’ is wrong, that B is the middle of the ‘slope’ has to be wrong.
        1. First, one needs to prove the ‘slope’ in fact exists.
        2. Second, one needs to show that is the objective or agenda of specific people to move things down the ‘slope.’
    2. A form of this argument is the domino theory.
      1. The argument goes if A falls, B must fall, and if B falls, C must fall, etc.
      2. As a result, something far, far down the line that is most undesirable will occur.
      3. So to keep the undesirable from happening, we must not let A fall.

  3. Allow me to use the ‘slippery slope’ argument and scripture to challenge you to think. Let’s begin by reading 2 Peter 2:20-22.
    For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”
    1. Let’s use the ‘slippery slope’ argument in regard to this passage.
      1. Peter clearly wrote that it was worse for someone to convert to Jesus Christ and then desert Jesus Christ.
        1. For a person to escape the defilement of the impure forces that oppose God through the knowledge of Jesus Christ,
        2. For the same person to be again entangled in that which they escaped and be overcome by those impure forces that oppose God,
        3. The result of leaving Christ is worse than the result of never coming to Christ.
      2. It would have been better for them to never have become a Christian than to become a Christian and leave Jesus Christ.
        1. He is like the dog that eats its own vomit.
        2. He is like the cleaned pig that goes back to the mud.
    2. Solution:
      1. If it is worse for a person to return to the rule and control of sin after he has accepted the control of Christ,
      2. If the end result is worse than if he never became a Christian,
      3. Then lets refuse to baptize anyone into Christ.
        1. No matter how genuine he is,
        2. No matter how much he begs,
        3. Let’s do him a favor and refuse to baptize him–because he may leave Christ, and if he does he will face worse consequences than he would face if he never became a Christian.
        4. Slippery slope!
    3. Hopefully, every single one of us would say, “Ridiculous! Stupid reasoning!”
      1. A person who enters Christ not only has the potential of succeeding,
      2. God will work with him so that he will succeed (Romans 8:31-39).
      3. Yet, the ‘slippery slope’ argument says be controlled by your fear, not by the promises of your God.

In closing, let me issue a challenge. Think! Use your faith! Never substitute your personal preferences for God’s will!

Locked In or Sent Out (John 20:19-23)

Posted by on under Sermons

19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

That Sunday evening service in Jerusalem didn’t start out too well. It had been a full day for the disciples – really the end of a rather harrowing, disappointing, and frightening week. Everything had fallen apart the night Jesus was arrested. His followers were gathered together but possibly for self-preservation rather than for the faith or the cause. At the end of this day after the Sabbath the disciples of Jesus have heard all sorts of rumors. Some of them have been down at the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea and have noticed that the body of Jesus has been removed. Some of them have reported seeing Jesus alive again. There are reports that the leaders of the Sanhedrin and Roman forces are still rounding up followers of the Messiah. All of these wild reports contribute to the confusion. For now this group of men who once had dreams of restoring God’s kingdom are resolved to do nothing more than wait and hide. And so the Sunday evening gathering of this proto-church in Jerusalem begins in silence and fear among a remorseful band of disillusioned souls closed in behind a locked door.

Everything changes when Jesus arrives. His appearance is not expected and there isn’t much warning because it seems that Jesus doesn’t arrive through the front door like he used to. He just arrives and once the group is convinced that this is Jesus in the resurrected flesh they are overjoyed. Jesus’ interaction with his disciples calls our attention how He interacts with us and how we interact with one another through his presence. I call your attention to three things that happen in on the evening of Resurrection Sunday: 1) The Peace of Christ and the Marks of Christ, 2) The Spirit of Christ and the Sending of Christ, and 3) The Grace of Christ and the Church of Christ. Each of these has a blend of spiritual and practical concerns that we should meditate on as we consider what it means to be his disciples.

The Peace of Christ and the Marks of Christ
Jesus’ first word to his disciples is a greeting, "Peace, be with you." There hasn’t been a lot of peace among this group up till now. They are an anxious, guilt-ridden, frightened bunch. Peter has publicly rejected his Teacher to save his own skin. All the in-fighting over who gets to be second-in-command seems so petty at this point. No body wants to be a part of the inner circle right now. Some in the group have different ideas about what ought to be done. (Thomas is off doing his own thing at this point and others have already packed their bags and headed off to the country). Some are thinking about Mary’s claim to have seen Jesus and others are probably thinking she is grief-stricken or insane.
So, Jesus brings PEACE. Not the cheap imitation peace derived from self-preservation and maintained by a door latch. This is a real peace that overcomes the world. As proof of this peace, Jesus shows them his wounds. Of all things he shows them his wounds. Have you ever wondered why Jesus still has those wounds? He is resurrected after all. One would think that resurrection might also include a complete healing right? If God can resurrect Jesus from the dead he can certainly mend wounded flesh without a scar right?
I find it rather interesting that the risen Jesus still bears the marks of his crucifixion, and I don’t think it just an accident. There’s something we need to recognize in all this: before there is a resurrection there must first be a death. Death is a prerequisite for resurrection. The resurrection doesn’t erase the reality of the crucifixion – it redeems it and transforms it. Without the resurrection, the crucifixion is nothing more that an unjust tragedy. Redefined by the power of the resurrection it becomes much more. Now the cross is the way of hope. Now suffering is not the final word. The risen Jesus can show us the wounds he suffered unjustly and still bid us peace. Now keep in mind that suffering isn’t simply erased or swallowed up in sunshine and sugar. No, that’s escapism and saccharin optimism and the gospel is much more than that. Suffering, fear, weakness, loss, and shame are transformed by God’s power so that a new way to real peace, joy, and hope is made possible.
If we participate in God’s mission the peace of Christ should be ours even thought we may be scared and scarred. We refuse to hide behind a locked door and ignore this angry world because we have been brought near to Christ and witnessed his transformed suffering. We share this witness with the angry wounded world.

The Spirit of Christ and the Sending of Christ
Throughout John’s gospel it is crystal clear that Jesus has been sent by the Father.

  • “My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:34
  • “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” – John 5:30
  • “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38
  • “I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true.” – John 7:28
  • “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.” – John 12:44
  • “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” – John 17:3

Jesus is sent to reveal the father, to teach and to gather disciples. And even in his prayer to the Father before the crucifixion, Jesus makes it clear that he will send his disciples just as God sent him (John 17:18). But look at this group he intends to send out! When Jesus appears among the disciples the air is stuffy and stale with anxiety, distress, and regret. So he brings the fresh air of the Holy Spirit which enables them to breathe in peace. Real peace and not the cheap imitation manufactured by their urge for self-preservation.
So here’s the question: "How do you send a timid, fretful, remorseful, group like this? Answer: With a lot of help! That help is the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ departure from the sanctuary and peace of oneness with the Father must have been in some way like our trial of leaving the zone of presumed safety behind our locked doors – whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Jesus could not have been sent into an place less friendly. The risen Jesus sends his disciples into a world that may be only slightly friendlier and only a little less perilous. The toxic atmosphere of the curse still pollutes the air of this world, but the fresh wind of the spirit is blowing some of it away.
If the disciples who received the peace of Jesus and beheld his wounds needed such power to be sent out for the mission, don’t you think we need it all the more? You have this same empowering

The Grace of Christ and the Church of Christ
Christ’s peace and the Holy Spirit. These are the mysterious keys for unlocking the anxiety and fear that hinders us from being gathered up and sent out into God’s mission. They are gifts of the risen Lord and I am happy to let the Lord keep these keys in his pockets as we enjoy the privilege of following him through the barriers and barbed wire of this angry world. But there are other keys on the key chain – the ones that lock and unlock forgiveness – these are keys that Jesus wants us to carry. After giving them the Holy Spirit, Jesus says this to his disciples: " If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."
It would be a mistake to assume that Jesus is saying that he cannot forgive anyone we refuse to forgive. That sort of authority is just not ours. But Jesus makes it clear that we have to take responsibility for using the keys of grace. One translation puts it like this …" If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Do we really want to retain sins? Here’s our choice – We can unlock the chain bolt of guilt, shame, bitterness, and remorse; or we can lock it down tightly and retain sin. It’s a good strong lock too. IN fact we can retain all our sins – yours, mine, and everyone we know and in time we will all be bound up in sin because we are not using the keys wisely. We begin to think that we are hiding out behind our protective locked doors when in fact we have just been locked awy in the prison cell of sin and death. We had better use these keys wisely.

Here’s the implication for mission: The Father sent Jesus to save and not condemn. We are witnesses to the power of God to create new life and transform pain, suffering, and sin. So why would we want to retain sins? As Anne Lamott says, that’s like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Why retain sins, why bind them on ourselves or someone else when Christ has given us the key to let it loose? Our mission as the church of Christ is to reveal the grace of Christ; to participate in his mission to preach freedom for captives.

Discussion Guide

  1. What do you think it was like in the locked room on the evening of the resurrection Sunday? What would the disciples be feeling and thinking? What might they be saying to one another?
  2. How does the appearance of Jesus change that? How does the presence of Jesus among us change the way we relate to one another?
  3. How is the greeting of Jesus, "Peace, be with you!", good news?
  4. Jesus bears the marks of the crucifixion. Do you think this is just an accident or a limitation of the resurrection? What meaning is there in the fact that Jesus carries the scars of the crucifixion in his resurrected body? The disciples (including Thomas in the next part of John 20) react with joy and praise when they behold the scars. What wounds in your life have been made new and redeemed by the power of the risen Christ? How has this enabled you to experience new joy and give praise to God?
  5. What does it mean to be sent? How does this change our view of mission? Who sends the church? Who sends "our" missionaries? Compare this statement to John 20:21 – "Some can go and others help those who go." Is that really how it is?
  6. Why do we need the Holy Spirit? Why did the disciples need Him? Where would we be without the blessing of the Spirit? (See Romans 8:11.)
  7. Why is forgiveness tied into the mission of God? How does the church participate in this forgiveness and grace? Why is it important for us to use the keys of grace wisely?

Our Greatest Influence

Posted by on February 3, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

What is our greatest Christian influence in life? Words of condemnation or encouragement? Achievements? What we do for others? How we lead? How we follow? Our children? The money or property we acquire? Our lifestyle? Our death? How often we go to church? What we do for the church? Or something else?

On two occasions last week I heard the same statement in two situations. First, the statement was made regarding a couple as tribute to the way their lives served others. The second was from people attending a funeral regarding the lady who died.

The statement: “They are/were good people.” This was made in regard to the couple and to the deceased lady and her husband (who preceded her in death). In both instances, it was made by people whose lives were beneficially touched.

A striking reality I frequently encounter is this: people do not know how to live. Much of my life is spent sharing realities about life’s focus. As our culture “advances,” people’s challenges and problems become more (not less!) complex.

Two things astound me. First: numerous persons have little or no idea that choices and decisions produce consequences. Careless, thoughtless choices and decisions commonly produce bad consequences. It is astounding to witness how often people are shocked because choices or decisions made with little thought produce devastating consequences in their lives.

Second: people have a poor concept of God. With no disrespect intended, often people’s concept of God is the concept of an idol. He is what they make Him. They are definite about what He is and what He is not. They are certain about what He does and does not like. They are convicted about what He will and will not do for them (though most emphasis is on the “will”).

As a result, in each situation, God is commonly the “scapegoat” when something occurs they do not like. With strong conviction, they “know” the bad happening is God’s fault!

My life is spent as a preacher and writer. Obviously, I believe in the power of words. I have not lost confidence in the power of words (or I would not be writing this!).

Yet, I am convinced something is more powerful than words. A life well lived in faith is more powerful than words. I am not speaking of success-centered, or pleasure-centered, or fun-filled, or wealth-filled life. I speak of life well lived — a life that treats even an enemy with respect and kindness, that treats all with compassion, that draws his/her values and standards from God and lives by them, that understands faith is a 24/7 commitment, that understands Christ is reflected by service rather than control.

Only those who know how to live by faith know how to die by faith. These Christians teach people how to live! What do people learn about living from your life?