Jesus: My Good Shepherd

Posted by on November 27, 2005 under Sermons

John 10:1-18 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

I seriously doubt that very many people of today understand and appreciate all of Jesus’ teachings in this statement. I am sure that I do not. Sheep, shepherds, security of the flock, the relationship between a quality shepherd and ancient flocks, and sheep cotes are just not a part of our background. There are some lessons in this statement that would have been quite obvious to Jesus’ audience that are not obvious to us. It simply means we have to be open and try harder to understand.

The relationship of a quality shepherd with his flock of sheep was centuries old. The image of a shepherd fit Jesus’ work and mission in many ways. I find it fascinating that Jesus did not compare his earthly mission to the work of the wealthy, but to the work of a shepherd.

  1. To us, the role of a shepherd was a noble calling, but not so even to Jesus’ world.
    1. In scripture the image of a shepherd is used both metaphorically and actually.
      1. Metaphorical shepherds:
        1. God is called Israel’s shepherd stressing the truth that they were “in good hands,” had no reason to be afraid, but had every reason to be a people of faith.
        2. Rulers are called shepherds of their people emphasizing their responsibility to care for those whom they rule.
      2. Literal shepherds:
        1. For centuries in the ancient world wealth was measured in livestock–flocks and herds.
          1. There was no stock market as we know it, no banks as we know them today; no financial institutions as we know them today; no forms of investments as we know them today.
          2. A person’s wealth and financial well being commonly was measured in what he actually possessed, what was actually his at the moment.
        2. Consider the wealthy person:
          1. He might own a lot of sheep (and other livestock as well), but he could not be their actual shepherd–and likely had no desire to be.
          2. So he had to hire someone for the job, someone trustworthy he could depend on.
          3. However, he likely only knew what he was told.
          4. The key would be if the man hired had primary interest in the sheep given into his charge or in himself–would he care for the needs of the sheep, or would he use the sheep to prosper himself?
        3. Consider the common person:
          1. His flock would be small–he would not own many sheep.
          2. Yet, each sheep was critical to the family’s well being.
          3. Shepherding usually fell as a job done by a family member.
          4. While it was an extremely necessary job–the sheep had to be constantly fed, watered, and cared for–it often was a very undesirable, lonely job.
    2. Let me ask you to consider the work and life of a shepherd.
      1. First, let me ask you to consider a shepherd’s work.
        1. Remember, there are no barns, no special equipment, no pastures as we know them today, no fences–thus there are no prepared, protected places to fed the sheep in secure circumstances.
        2. Sheep, like most livestock, have to be fed and watered every day–there are no vacation days or comp days for a shepherd.
        3. Every day all in the flock need to be examined. Who is sick? Who is weak? Who needs treatment? Who needs help and special attention?
        4. Yet, the shepherd needs to know more than where he or she can take the sheep to graze and be watered; he also must be the sheep’s security.
          1. If one of the sheep gets lost, he must find a way to make the rest of the flock secure and go find the lost sheep.
          2. If the weather turns cold and wet, he must find shelter for the sheep.
          3. At night, he must find a secure place for the sheep to stay–with the only way to the sheep through him!
          4. If a sick sheep is too weak to walk, he must help it or carry it.
          5. If wild animals are near, only he stands between the danger and the death of the sheep.
          6. It was a very “hands on,” demanding, dirty, dangerous job.
          7. It was not the occupation any of us would aspire to!
      2. Second, just think about how lonely that job would be!

  2. Understanding that the key question was, “How important is the sheep’s well being to me?” and understanding that shepherding was a dirty, demanding job, focus on what Jesus said in the first part of John 10.
    1. There were occasions when it was necessary to take your flock temporarily to a public sheep cote (enclosure) where several flocks might be present in order to provide temporary security for your flock while you took care of something essential.
      1. These enclosures had one way in which also served as the only way out.
        1. It had a keeper of the door (entrance) who permitted only shepherds with flocks in the enclosure to enter the enclosure.
        2. Jesus said he had a relationship with his sheep–they were not merely dumb animals he had to care for.
        3. He drew a obvious contrast–a shepherd goes in at the entrance; a thief seeks another way in.
          1. The sheep knew the difference between the unfamiliar thief and the familiar shepherd!
          2. With the thief, the sheep sense danger!
          3. With the shepherd, the sheep sense security!
      2. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice, and would follow that familiar voice and only that familiar voice.
        1. Though the people who heard did not understand the meaning of what Jesus said, he was declaring he cared about them above all else.
        2. He was their security because of his unselfish interest in them and their well being!
        3. They had nothing to fear from him! He was of no danger to them!
    2. The analogy Jesus’ made in verses 7-10 still focused on the shepherd and the sheep.
      1. Because they did not understand his point previously, he used the same analogy with a different comparison.
        1. This time he compares himself to the door of the sheep cote.
        2. Those who came to the people of Israel before him claiming to seek the people’s best interest were not concerned about the people but their objective.
        3. These previous people who claimed to speak for God were people who exploited–but not him!
        4. He did not seek to use them, but to give them security!
        5. If the people wanted to have the security God promised, they must (a) recognize who he is and (b) approach security through him.
        6. They need to ask themselves a question and pay attention to the answer: do people who call for you to follow them want to use you or give you security?
          1. Others come to exploit you.
          2. Not me!
          3. I come to give you life in its fullest sense.
      2. The emphasis is the same–he is the source of their security and seeks to provide for their security.
    3. The contrast that follows is the contrast between a good shepherd who cares about the well being of his sheep and the hired shepherd who accepted a job, but not responsibility.
      1. Jesus was a good shepherd who would willingly die for the well being of his sheep.
        1. The shepherd who just took a job,
        2. Who had nothing personal invested in a healthy flock,
        3. Would not put his life on the line to protect the sheep.
        4. Instead, at the first sign of danger he would run.
        5. He would put the lives of the sheep in danger instead of putting his own life in danger.
        6. The sheep meant nothing to him!
        7. They certainly were not worth dying for!
      2. In contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd who is totally committed to the well being of his flock.
        1. He personally knows his sheep.
        2. His sheep personally know him.
        3. He would not hesitate to die to protect his sheep.
        4. There are other sheep in another flock that are his sheep–he had sheep among the gentiles just as certainly as he had sheep in Israel.
          1. The moment would come when he would combine flocks.
          2. He would be the shepherd over this one flock of Jewish followers and gentile followers.
      3. God loved him because he cared about all the people who belonged to God.
        1. He would die for all of them.
        2. However, his death would not be permanent.
        3. His life would not be taken from him against his will–he would of his own decision die for the good of all God’s sheep.
        4. He could choose to give his life for the security of the sheep.
        5. He could choose to live again.
        6. This would happen because of the will of God.

  3. His words caused a serious division in his Jewish audience.
    1. Some said he was an insane, demon-possessed man–“These are the words of a person speaking for the devil!”
    2. Others said, “These are not the words of the devil! You certainly cannot give the devil credit for the things Jesus does to help people others reject!”

The issue for all of us remains the same for a thousand years: “Who is Jesus? Is he really alive from the dead? Did God really resurrect him from the tomb?”

I would like to close by focusing you on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

If Jesus is who He said He is, live for Him. Only He is your security!

Life on the Vine: Cultivating Faithfulness

Posted by on under Sermons

Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control
  • Being a prophet seems like a privilege. It seems a special gift to hear God’s voice. But consider poor Hosea. The Lord’s first words to Hosea were brutal: “Go marry a prostitute, and some of her children will be born to you from other men.” Why isn’t the Lord a little more sociable? There’s no “welcome to the life of a prophet” speech. There’s no small talk to break the ice, not even a simple “hello.”
            Why would the Lord ask such a thing? Didn’t he read the Bible? It is not right to marry a fornicator or adulterer. Why would the Lord ask someone to do this? God’s explanation is that Hosea is supposed to do this so that his life will become a living illustration of God’s relationship with his people. You see, God’s “wife” has not been very faithful to him. God’s people have been unfaithful to him even though he has been faithful to the covenant.
            So Hosea marries Gomer. He will remain faithful to their vows even though she will break them. On the day of the wedding she marches out to “Here comes the bride” – and she is already making eyes at the groomsmen. In short time the couple have children and Hosea has to wonder if they are all his. Two of his children are named “Not Loved” and “Not Mine.” Two innocent children stuck with names that are drenched in sin. If the story is breaking your heart, then you get the point: God’s heart was breaking because his people were unfaithful to him although he was faithful many times over. Hosea embodies the faithfulness of God in his life and preaching which reveals to us some very important truths about faithfulness and the faithfulness of God:
            First, God binds himself to the people and creation He loves. The LORD is not the unemotional, logical God of the Greeks and philosophers. He is passionate about the people and the world he has created and he binds himself to us in a relationship of love. God instructs Hosea to embody this same covenant bond with his wife, Gomer. We might say that Hosea has “scriptural cause” to divorce his wife, but rather than follow his legitimate right to divorce his unfaithful wife, Hosea redeems her and takes her back: Then the LORD said to me, “Go and get your wife again. Bring her back to you and love her, even though she loves adultery. For the LORD still loves Israel even though the people have turned to other gods, offering them choice gifts.” – Hosea 3:1
            Hosea does this to illustrate the faithful character of God who binds himself in covenant love to the people he created. God himself says of his unfaithful people: “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. 9No, I will not punish you as much as my burning anger tells me to. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.” – Hosea 11 This reveals to us that God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. Hosea takes Gomer back. And God, because of his faithfulness and love, takes back the people who have unfaithfully cheated on him. I will show love to those I called `Not loved.’ And to those I called `Not my people,’ I will say; `Now you are my people.’ Then they will reply, `You are our God!'” – Hosea 2
            Faithfulness is the character of God. This isn’t a unique quality of God’s relationship with Israel. This is the way God treats all of creation. This is the way God treats us even when we are unfaithful. The New Testament affirms: Some of [the Israelites] were unfaithful; but just because they broke their promises, does that mean God will break his promises? Of course not! Though everyone else in the world is a liar, God is true. (Romans 3:3-4) If we are unfaithful, God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. – 2 Timothy 2:13
            God’s faithfulness is not self-centered. It is faithfulness that is directed toward the other. It is directed toward us. We are called to cultivate the fruit of the spirit in our lives and our life together. Consider what this means. This means that we are called to live in faithfulness to God and also with one another. But we know this is difficult because we have all been touched by the pain of unfaithfulness in some way. Why is it difficult to cultivate faithfulness?

    We live in a culture of disposables. One day in 1954, an industrial desinger named Brooks Stevens spoke at an advertising conference in Minneapolis. The title of his talk was “Planned Obsolescense” which he defined as the strategy to “Instill in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” Stevens has not given his talk much thought and was essentially speaking about ideas he had been advancing for years, but that talk in Minneapolis caught on. Manufacturers and marketers began to see the profit in producing items that designed to be obsolete very quickly or even disposable. So what had originally been an abstract concept that Stevens had pulled from his hat had now become a concrete theory.
            We now live in a culture fully entrenched in this theory. Rather than service those items that serve us we just throw them away. We have disposable napkins, plates, razors, diapers, contact lenses, cameras, cell phones. Even the space program was disposable to a certain degree! Even items we don’t think of as disposable have become disposable. Why service a car to last for 20 years when we can just keep trading in a car for the latest model? Who buys a computer thinking that it will be something to pass down to the next generation? It was obsolete when you bought it. We enjoy disposable because it is convenient. These items are useful because they are short-lived. They are not artistic or beautiful, they are utilitarian. Items are not even built to last. They are impermanent. And we have no sense of faithfulness to these tools and goods. That would contradict the convenience of being disposable.
            But our disposable culture has influenced more than material goods. We now have a disposable workforce. Workers are hired on an impermanent basis to provide additional labor as needed. The advantage is that there is no long-term commitment given to these disposable workers. Our culture understands the notion of disposable income – throwaway money that is not faithfully committed to any purpose but is just spent frivolously. Now is it any stretch to recognize that we often have disposable relationships? Everything from friendships based on mutual benefit to sexual partnerships. Even church relationships might be regarded as impermanent and people may leave a church when it no longer meets their needs. Why not “keep our options open?” Why commit to something that may not work – whether it is employment, community involvement, or relationships.
            As much as we might like to imagine that relationships like marriage, family, church, work and community are impermanent and disposable, they still hurt when they fall apart. Because of this, our culture tends to avoid commitments. Think of how often we come across the words “no obligation.” And these words are always a good thing. No risk, no obligation. Just try it for free. No strings attached. Why is this appealing? Because obligation and commitment seems to complicate our lives: Years ago, a friend once told me how much he feared getting married because it would mean the loss of his self-identity. I fussed with him at the time and tried to tell him that this wasn’t true. Now I know that he was right and I was wrong. Commitment is always directed toward the other. My friend knew this. But here’s what he and I both needed to learn – that a life directed toward others is more in line with the image of God. God made us as communal creatures – not to be alone! But when we safeguard our independence and autonomy at all costs we cultivate unfaithfulness.

    Ways of cultivating faithfulness:
    Establish a positive definition of faithfulness.
    We tend to define faithfulness in negative terms (like we do when we define goodness as not being bad). When it comes to marriage, we assume that we are faithful as long as we do not cheat on our spouse. But faithfulness calls us to do more than avoid dissolving the marriage. This doesn’t say anything positive about marital faithfulness. We need to cultivate a positive meaning for faithfulness. In Eph. 5:21-6:9, Paul describes relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, even masters and slaves. The model for all the relationships is Christ. Everyone is called to submit to one another out of respect for Christ. That is a positive, active definition of other-directed faithfulness. Not simply faithfulness by default since we haven’t been unfaithful.

    1. Cherish the power of promise. Early in my ministry I was frequently asked to perform “church weddings” for people who are not a part of any church. I was puzzled. I wondered why people who had no commitment to Christ or church wanted a church wedding. And why were they asking me? I found out that they asked me because other ministers and churches refused them. This led me to realize that people inside the church and outside the church viewed a church wedding as a sort of magical rite that sealed a marriage with divine power. I wasn’t comfortable with this at all, for if it were true, the power was ineffective 50% of the time. This experience led me to write something into my wedding ceremony that I consider very important and biblical. It is based on Jesus teaching in Matthew 5:33-37. Rather than swear ritual oaths, Jesus says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” So at every wedding I speak of the power of a promise kept. Keeping a vow made before God and the church is more powerful than any so-called magic. When you see a couple that have let their “Yes be Yes” through hardships and trials and even sin, then you know that faithfulness involves cherishing the power of a promise.
    2. Tell the truth. Have you ever had a friend you could be completely honest with? You are able to be so honest because you share a bond of faithfulness that looks past the failings. But more than that, the honesty of the relationship demands that we become more than what we currently are. This is the way it is supposed to be in the body of Christ. We speak the truth in love – but not to judge or condemn. We tell the truth in the context of loving faithfulness to God and one another so that we might become more like Christ. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

    One writer has said that what people are really longing for is a truthful community. But it is necessary that we talk about our sins and weaknesses without fear of being totally rejected. This is why faithfulness is so important. If I am faithful to you then we can both help each other become more than what we are today. If we are faithful to one another because we know how God has been faithful to us and we are faithful to him, then we know that we are all striving to become what God wants us to be.

    The only way you and I can cultivate a culture of faithfulness is to imagine and remember the reality of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness being recreated among us every day. Hosea did this in his marriage. And another prophet who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem imagined this faithfulness and renewal when, standing among the smoking rubble of the holy city he sang out:
    Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:21-24

    Jesus, the Bread of Life. Really?

    Posted by on November 20, 2005 under Sermons

    Read John 6:22-42.

    We see what we want to see. Unfortunately, what we see is commonly determined by our interests at the moment, not by the obvious which stares at us. As a result, we often search for something that is not there, and are completely oblivious to what is in plain view right in front of us.

    Let me set a little background for the reading. Jesus took the 12 to the uninhabited side of the sea of Galilee. Mark 6 states Jesus made this trip with the intent of providing all 13 of them with some rest. Jesus had become so popular it was hard for him to find time to eat. The 12 had successfully completed a mission which both elated them and exhausted them

    Thousands of people recognized them and went by foot to where Jesus and the 12 went by boat. In Mark, this huge group of people are described as sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus had compassion on these thousands of people. He spent a day planned for rest teaching and healing these thousands.

    Late in the day, Jesus told the 12 disciples to fed the group. The 12 were astounded, and replied, “Two hundred days wages would not be enough to buy food for this group!” Jesus then with very little food fed the huge group all they wanted to eat, and he did it in a very orderly manner.

    At dusk he told the 12 to go back across the sea of Galilee while he stayed and prayed on the mountain alone. It was that evening Jesus walked on the sea to them in windy, wavy conditions.

    1. Now let me focus your attention on what happened in our reading.
      1. The people Jesus fed woke up the next morning knowing the 12 had left by boat but that Jesus had stayed.
        1. Yet, they could not find Jesus, and they were hungry again.
        2. They were totally confused as they tried to understand what had happened.
      2. Around that time small boats began to arrive at this uninhabited area.
        1. Many decided they should take the boats, go to Capernaum, and see if they could find Jesus.
        2. He obviously was not there, so the only option they had was to look for Jesus on the other side.
      3. They found Jesus on the other side.
        1. Their first question, “Rabbi (teacher), what did you get here?”
          1. Jesus’ response: “You look for me for the wrong reason.”
          2. “You are here because you are hungry.”
          3. “You are not here because you understand I have something to teach you about God and eternal life.”
          4. “Do not work for food which rots in a short time; seek eternal life from God.”
        2. Their second question: “What should we do to do God’s work?”
          1. These were people who lived in a religious nation devoted to God their entire lives.
          2. These were people who went to the synagogue every Sabbath (that is what you did on Saturday if you lived in Israel).
          3. These were people who had heard God’s laws discussed since birth.
          4. Yet they asked, “What are we supposed to do?” (Sounds too much like us!)
          5. Jesus’ answer, “Put your faith in God and me–that is God’s work!”
        3. Their third question: “If we are to place our confidence in you, you need to give us a sign. What are you going to do?”
          1. (I smell manipulation coming on!)
          2. They even had the sign they wanted him to do: “Our forefathers ate manna in the wilderness when they left Egypt–Moses gave them bread out of heaven (and gained their confidence).
          3. Jesus replied, “You need to get your facts straight!”
            1. Moses did not give them bread out of heaven.
            2. God gave them bread out of heaven.
            3. When God gives bread, God’s bread gives life.

    2. The incident they are trying to use to manipulate Jesus into feeding them is recorded in Exodus 16.
      1. The Israelites spent about 2 months in the wilderness traveling to Sinai where they would receive the Ten Commandments.
        1. They are not to Sinai, but they are quite close.
        2. They begin to complain, “We wish we had died in Egypt where we had meat to eat and could eat bread until we were full. Moses, the only reason you had for bringing us out here in the wilderness was to kill us.”
        3. God said to Moses, “I am going to give them what they want, and I am going to do it in a way to will reveal if they trust me.”
          1. “I am going to send them bread.”
          2. “But Sunday through Thursday they can gather only one day’s supply.”
          3. “On Friday they will gather two days’ supply.”
          4. “If Sunday through Thursday they gather more than one day’s supply, it will rot, stink, and will not be eatable.”
          5. “But the two days’ supply they gather on Friday will not spoil; it will still be good to eat on the Sabbath.”
        4. “I will prove again to them that I am God.”
          1. “At night they will have all the meat they want in the quail I send.”
          2. “In the morning they will have all the bread they want to eat in the manna I send.”
      2. Early in the morning, around the camp, a heavy dew fell.
        1. When the dew dried up, it left a fine flaky substance that looked like frost.
        2. When the sun got hot, it melted the manna.
        3. Note: God provided the manna, but the Israelites had to gather it.
      3. The only description of how it tasted was it was like honey wafers.
        1. Honey wafers was not the common food of slaves!
        2. Yet, Israel was to have honey wafers every morning.
        3. While they were unfamiliar with manna, they knew bread did not come from dew!
          1. The first morning manna appeared, Israelites asked, “What is that?”
          2. Moses replied, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.”

    3. To hear the giving of manna from the perspective of Israelites in John 6, Moses give Israel manna, and Israel exerted little or no effort to eat it.
      1. From their perspective, I hear them trying to manipulate Jesus by saying, “Now it is your turn! If we are to believe in you, show us something!”
        1. “Give us this bread that gives life!”
        2. “We are hungry (physically), and it would be wonderful never to be hungry (physically) again.
      2. Listen carefully to Jesus’ response.
        1. “I am that bread God sent.”
        2. “I am the solution to hunger and thirst.”
        3. “I am the one who can give you life.”
        4. “The problem: you do not believe in me.”
        5. “Everything God will send to people He will send through me.”
        6. “I will not lose those who come to me; I will resurrect them.”
        7. “Eternal life is believing in me and my power to resurrect.”
      3. I want you to pay careful attention to something.
        1. They did not say, “Look at what he did for us; he must be who he says he is.”
        2. “We better listen to him!”
        3. Instead, they grumbled.
          1. “He says he is the bread–that is not what we want!”
          2. “We know who he is and where he came from–how can he possibly say he is from heaven!”
        4. They only saw what they wanted, not what was!

    4. Warning: Do not try to manipulate God.
      1. God’s primary purpose is not about the physical but about the eternal.
      2. Do not be so focused on physical expectations and desires that you do not see eternal realities!
      3. Do not be obsessed with what you want; be obsessed with what God wants.

  • Money is not permanent.
  • Sex is not permanent.
  • Lifestyle is not permanent.
  • Prestige is not permanent.
  • Only Jesus’ resurrection is permanent.
  • May God grant us the “eyes” to “see” the permanent. May we not seek to manipulate God, but seek to surrender to God and His purposes.

    Life on the Vine: Cultivating Goodness

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control
  • Open with the text and story about the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)

    What do we know about goodness?

    God is distinctly good. Jesus asks and affirms, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” What is Jesus saying about the source of goodness? There is a distinct, unique goodness about God. The goodness of God is total – 100%; not a degree of goodness or the highest grade possible. It is the source of goodness. We regard God as uniquely good not only because of his character, but also because of ours …

    Goodness does not characterize our sinful condition. – We are discouraged when it comes to our sinful condition. Perhaps this is why we want to resist acknowledging it. The disciples are discouraged when Jesus tells them that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Camels are big. And no the eye of needle isn’t a small gate. That explanation comes from a 5th century commentary, not history. Jesus would say today that it is easier to shove a cow through a keyhole.) The point is that on own it is impossible to attain the distinct goodness of God. Romans 7:18-21, I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

    Yet, we have potential for good. We have some capacity for good and we cannot deny that since we were created in the image of the good God. Paul very truthfully and accurately described our sinful condition, but he also truthfully and accurately states that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10. We believe that enough that we let this word shape our identity (notice the banner). So how do we reconcile this conflict between our sinful nature and the calling of God to do good works? Is it fair of God to expect us to do good works when we are corrupted by the sinful nature? It is if we accept that

    We depend on God’s Spirit to cultivate goodness.

  • (2 Peter 1:3-4) His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
  • (Romans 8:9) You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

    strawberriesWhy is it difficult to cultivate goodness?
    Our culture (that includes us) has tamed goodness. Strawberries seem so common and natural to us, but that hasn’t always been the case. Before they were tamed, strawberries were considered quite the unusual and exotic fruit. 800 years ago, many Europeans considered the strawberry unfit for human consumption. It was a wild berry that grew in the woods and many considered that it grew among the serpents and toads and was thus contaminated. On a rare occasion an explorer or poet would describe the wonderful sweetness of the rare and dangerous strawberry. But in time, the strawberry was tamed and cultivated. In the 1700’s a Swedish botanist ate nothing but strawberries for a year to prove they were indeed quite edible.
    We have tamed goodness so that we don’t think it is anything all that special. Tamed goodness is common and not too exotic. If you want to be a good person, then just don’t do anything bad. Like the rich ruler, if we keep the commandments, which means not breaking the law, then we consider ourselves good people. We have exchanged goodness for mediocrity.

    We have confused the goal of goodness. Goodness is so much a virtue as it is a quality of life. We want to live the good life and we want goof things out of life. In our culture goodness is often equated with 1) feeling good. There’s a lot of effort put into the goal of feeling good. Even in church people may critique worship or fellowship based on whether or not they feel good. Of course we can do better than this. And sometime we recognize a higher goal for goodness. We strive to 2) do good. We rightly recognize that there are good works that we ought to do. And this may lead us to organize programs so that more people will do more good works. And yet we are sometimes frustrated when all of our efforts to do good fall short or we find that people lose interest in doing good. It’s at moments like these, if we are attentive, that we recognize that the goal of goodness is 3) being good. People who are striving to be good will do good. And people who are striving to be good do not get distracted trying to simply feel good. In fact, being good may make you feel good – but sometimes being good does not feel good. But if we strive to cultivate goodness, then we know that being good is a higher goal than feeling good. Think of this: If I am feeling good, I am not necessarily becoming more like God, but the more a Strive to be good the more I become like God.

    Ways of Cultivating Goodness

    Confession of sin and weakness. This is difficult, but so very important. Until we name the sin that prevents us from cultivating goodness, we will never mature. Ignoring the sin and weakness in our life keeps us from growing in God’s Spirit. We have tamed goodness, but we have also tamed sin. We dismiss the poisonous nature of sin by saying things like “Well everyone sins.” True, but that is why it is so bad. We shouldn’t dismiss sin, but name it. And naming it doesn’t make it worse, it actually opens us up to healing from a source outside ourselves.

    Attention to God’s Word. That source from outside is God’s word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In preaching, reading, and study the word of God is more than just information. It is a truth from outside ourselves that has the power to transform. Preaching is worship because we attend to what God is saying to us. You and I. I hope that in the sermon you hear what God is saying to you so that you will respond. I don’t preach to say what I want, my hope and prayer is that you will hear what God wants you to hear from his word. And that you will respond through confession and repentance. Why? So you can be good. So that you will be equipped for good works.

    Imitation of mature disciples. We need role models. Paul was bold enough o tell the Corinthian disciples to imitate him because he was imitating Christ. When Paul’s disciple, Titus was trying to build up the church on Crete he had his work cut out for him. Crete was a cesspool of morals. Paul advised Titus to build up mature leaders, men and women, who could model the goodness of the Christian life. Imitation is important to our life together. I call upon the older men and women of this church, the mature disciples, to model goodness and the other fruit of the spirit. Be willing to let younger disciples learn from you. Direct them to Christ through your life. Spend time with them. You say, “But I am not perfect.” Great! Show them how to confess their sins and attend to God’s word. I call upon younger disciples to ask the mature disciples to teach you. Tell them you need their wisdom and time. Invite them to become your mentors.

  • You Still Control Who You Are

    Posted by on November 17, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    When he turned 40, he bought a motorcycle and all the personal gear that went with cycling. His wife decided she was not going to let him ride alone while he was having “a mid-life crisis,” so she bought herself the personal gear to ride with him. When we heard him speak, he was way past 40, past his “crisis,” and past riding a motorcycle.

    As he told that story (and it was hilarious-when Ira told it, it was always hilarious), he stressed this point. Whoever you intend to be as a person (personality, attitudes, outlook, etc.), work on it seriously before you are 40. Because, “Whoever you is at 40, you will only get isier!” (Do not expect something to come along and change you against your will.)

    I do not know that 40 years of age is a “lock in” age. I do know: (a) change becomes harder to handle after 40 than before 40. Before 40 we thrive on change as we seriously wonder how the world could be so stupid as not to see the value of change. (b) After 40, we are more prone to defend than to discover. What we think “should be” is obviously good. Things differing from our perspective are bad. “Do you know what that will lead to” is a good destination prior to 40, but a bad destination after 40.

    My point is this: there is never a time in life when you do not need to give careful attention to (a) who you are and (b) what you intend to become. If you are a grouch the first 50 years of your life, you likely will be a grouch till you die. If you are kind the first 60 years of your life, you likely will die as an unselfish, thoughtful person. You cannot live the lifestyle of a selfish person, or a complaining person, or a contentious person for years and years and suddenly, without effort, be transformed into a different person overnight.

    Yes, repentance is possible. Yes, sobering awareness is possible. Yes, conversion is possible. Yes, redirection is possible. However, those things occur because you choose for them to occur. Such things do not happen without you, but because of you with God’s strength. Ultimately, it is true of all of us-we are who we choose to be. That choice was made slowly with years of personal focus and behavior. However, in the majority of instances we make that decision (or excuse ourselves from making it).

    God provides the strength. We each make the choice. If you do not like yourself, talk to yourself. If you like who you are, thank God for the strength and guidance. Avoid the temptation to judge (every person’s circumstances are different). Choose to encourage!

    Remember: You have to live with you for the rest of your life. And so does everyone else! Let God through Jesus teach you how to be a joy to be around.

    Who Am I?

    Posted by on November 13, 2005 under Sermons

    Matthew 26:57-68 Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome. Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’ ” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, “Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?”

    I personally think one of the most difficult things in our American lives is correctly to honor persons who deserve recognition. I am aware of Paul’s admonition to Christians in the city of Rome in Romans 13:7
    Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

    In context, Paul was encouraging Christians in Rome to recognize appropriate authority and show proper respect. That is much more easily said than done. In context, Paul was telling Christians that they should recognize the right of authorities to charge taxes when the authorities were idolaters and did not know the living God. He even said respect people who have little or no respect for you.

    That is hard to do! In this society with all our emphasis on individual rights, our tendency is to say, “If you will not do things the way I want them done, I will not listen to you or do what you want done. If you do not know who I am and do not respect me, I will not acknowledge you or respect you!”

    One of my many embarrassing moments in the past occurred at the death of someone I knew. I had gone for the visitation prior to the funeral, as had the most prominent man in the community. He was quite wealthy, a very successful businessman, and quite influential in local politics.

    I had and have a tendency to get completely caught up in my own responsibilities and can be quite oblivious to everything else. My problem was this: I had never met the man, and I had no recognition of his name. Me being me, I introduced myself to him. Trying to associate his name with something I would remember, I said, “Do you live here?”

    A short time later as we were leaving, Joyce said to me, “Do you know who that man was?” Obviously, I did not. So she explained it to me! ‘Open mouth, insert foot to your knee cap!’

    1. Jesus truly “messed with Israel’s minds” because he just was not what they expected God’s Messiah to be.

      1. They expected God’s promised Messiah to be a prominent man in Israelite society.
        1. Jesus was not that man–he did not even move in the right social circles.
        2. He had the wrong background.
        3. He did not have the training of a prominent person.
        4. He spent much of his time with the wrong people.
        5. He spent much of his time going to the wrong places and being unashamed to be seen in those places.
      2. That is why so many people who were a part of first century Jewish upper society gave Jesus so much grief.
        1. That is why Jesus asked the 12, “Who are people saying I am?” in Matthew 16.
        2. That is why the Pharisees often followed Jesus to launch intentional criticisms.
        3. That is why Jesus was slammed for eating with the wrong people–tax collectors and sinners
      3. What was the objective of such things?
        1. Jesus’ critics said in essence, “You know God’s promised Messiah would not act like that!”
        2. “You know God’s Messiah would not come from his background!”
        3. “You know God’s Messiah would not associate with those people!”
        4. “You know God’s Messiah would not go ‘to those places’!”
        5. “You know God’s Messiah would not move in those social circles!”
      4. Yet, here was Jesus displaying incredible power almost every day.
        1. He cast out demons demonstrating power over evil.
        2. He healed the sick and calmed storms demonstrating control of the physical.
        3. He raised the dead demonstrating power over death.
        4. He fed thousands of people with almost nothing demonstrating power over physical need.
        5. All that power had to be explained!
          1. How did people explain who Jesus was?
          2. The official explanation was, “Whoever he is, he certainly is not God’s Messiah! That cannot be the explanation!”
          3. “We cannot tell you who he is, but we can certainly tell you who he is not!”

    2. This debate continued right up to the last night of Jesus’ earthly life!
      1. In fact, his identity was used to convict Jesus of a death offense by Jewish law.
        1. Because of the circumstances, it was necessary for Jesus to be guilty of an offense that would carry the death penalty in Israel by Jewish law and the death penalty in the Roman Empire by Roman law.
          1. The offense worthy of death by the standards of Jewish law was blasphemy.
          2. The offense worthy of death by the standards or Roman law was rejection of the authority of Caesar.
        2. Look for a moment at the situation.
          1. Jesus was arrested at Gethsemane and escorted as a prisoner back to Jerusalem.
          2. When the arrest was completed, his 12 disciples fled into the night.
          3. Jesus was taken to the house of Caiaphas [the high priest] where the Jerusalem Sanhedrin was assembled to conduct the Jewish trial.
          4. Peter had slipped back to the proceedings to observe the outcome of the arrest and trial.
          5. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin [the highest court in Israel] welcomed perjury in their attempt to find false testimony against Jesus that carried a death penalty.
            1. This effort was unsuccessful.
            2. Finally someone said he declared he would destroy God’s temple and rebuilt it in three days.
          6. An exasperated high priest asked Jesus if he was not going to defend himself.
            1. Then the high priest administered the oath of the Jewish court [“I adjure you by the living God…] and asked him if he was the Christ, the son of God.
            2. Jesus responded, as the law required, that he was.
            3. The high priest tore his robes [as required by Jewish law when blasphemy was heard by the court] and declared Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.
          7. After conviction of blasphemy, Jesus was slapped and asked to identify the one who slapped him–the Christ should know that!
        3. Let me comment on the charges against Jesus.
          1. The accusation that he would destroy the temple was a very serious charge in Judaism.
            1. The temple was at the core of Jewish religion.
            2. A threat again the temple was a threat against Judaism [the Jewish religion].
            3. It was also a threat against God.
            4. This charge was a highly emotional accusation.
          2. The acknowledgment Jesus was the Christ was not as emotional
            1. Many claimed to be the Christ before Jesus.
            2. However, it would be understood much better by the Romans than would a threat against the temple.
      2. I want you to focus carefully.
        1. The key issue was Jesus’ identity.
        2. Only one who was the Christ could tare the temple down and rebuild it in 3 days! After all, the temple complex had been under construction for years!
        3. The highest court in the land was certain that Jesus was not the Christ!
        4. They were equally certain that the man was a serious threat to Jerusalem’s power structure and to the well being of Israel as a nation (John 11:47-50).
        5. Thus the issue was relatively simple: Who is Jesus?

    3. I want to suggest to us that nothing has really changed.
      1. The key issue for each of us is still Jesus’ identity.
        1. Who is he?
        2. Is he just a good man who lived a long time ago?
        3. Is he an admirable man who deserves our attention when everything is going okay?
        4. Is he God’s son who declares who we are and what God’s purpose in this world is?
        5. How each of us answers that question is extremely critical!
          1. It will determine how we live.
          2. It will determine how we act.
          3. It will determine the purpose of our lives.
      2. Let me get very specific.
        1. Every family goes through times of stress and crisis it never envisioned.
          1. Is the issue, “How do I feel in this situation?”
          2. Or, is the issue, “To me, right now, in my life, who is Jesus?”
        2. Every person goes through financial crisis.
          1. Is the issue, “Is money the answer to all my problems?”
          2. Or, is the issue, “Who is Jesus in my life right now?”
        3. Every person goes through moments when he or she tries to decide what is the right thing to do.
          1. Is the issue, “What seems to be the easy way out right now?”
          2. Or, is the issue, “Who is Jesus as I seek to decide right from wrong?”
        4. Every person has moments when he or she is powerfully tempted to do things that he or she knows to be evil.
          1. Is the issue self-gratification?
          2. Or, in my life is the issue the Lordship of Jesus as the Christ?

    The basic understanding in Christian existence is this: Jesus is God’s son, the Christ. A second basic understanding in Christian existence is this: The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee to me that my death is not my end, but my beginning.

    We have much more than a religion. We have a Savior. His name is Jesus. He is the Christ who lives this very moment at the right hand of God’s throne.

    Life on the Vine: Cultivating Kindness

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Fruit of the Spirit

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control
  • What is the kindest thing someone has done for you lately? Have you tried to do something kind for someone? What is it? What do usually think about when we think about kindness? Opening the door for others. Being nice to the cashier at the store. Leaving a generous tip for the waiter. Sending a card of thanks. What do you think of when you think of kindness?

    All of these are good things. Typically, kindness is equated with being polite or nice. Some years ago a movement started that called people to practice random acts of kindness. In other words, be nice and be polite. I am not sure if the goal was to make people feel better about themselves or to make the world a better place. Either way, both are good things. Now think of the fruit of the spirit, among which is kindness, and ask yourself, is kindness just being nice and polite, or is there even more to it?
    Kindness in scripture is more often equated with love. The word for kindness in Hebrew and Greek is interchangeable with mercy, goodness, loyalty, faithfulness, but most of all steadfast love. Kindness is the visible action of love directed toward others. God is praised for being kind – for showing his steadfast love in so many ways. There is an example in the Bible of a mortal like you and me putting the kindness of God into practice. Read from 2 Samuel 9.

    There’s more in this story than politeness. Here is kindness with long lasting implications that spanned generations. What does this tell us about the character of God and the kindness of God? It shows that kindness is the fruit of the spirit that holds us together. It is love directed toward others for their sake and not just our own. Talk about life on the vine – kindness is like a ground covering vine or ivy that binds the earth so that it doesn’t erode away. It is the raw material of the social fiber.

    Knowing what the kindness of God is, we can understand why it is hard to cultivate kindness in our culture. Our culture is hostile to kindness because …

    1. Our culture tolerates rude, angry, unkind, and violent behavior. No one really likes this, but they have become so commonplace that we have just accepted it. Talk shows and sports thrive on a culture of conflict in which it is more important to be tough and take no “guff” from anybody. We mentioned random acts of kindness – recall that this is a take off on the phrase random acts of violence. Maybe we crave something as refreshing as nice and polite because we have suffered enough from the RAV.
      1. Even in church it is possible to accept and tolerate crude and unkind behavior. One of the reasons we find it difficult to debate and discuss serious and controversial matters is because there has been too many occasions of attacking the person rather than the argument. One of my delights in Restoration History was being in class with a man who had lived ministry in the 20th century. When the class began discussing one well known “debating minister,” this man chuckled and told us how he had seen that minister debate many times. He described how he would turn red, sweat, call his opponents names and ridicule them. “Nobody bought the man’s argument,” said our wise classmate, “but it was a sight to see him get mad.” We all appreciated our classmate’s humor but his wisdom also reminded us that many people and many churches are hurt by such behavior.
    2. But this sort of behavior is a symptom of the deeper problem. The rude behavior we see is the product of radical independence and self-sufficiency. Why is there road rage? Because people act and drive as if they are the only ones who matter. Why do people get rude at restaurants? Because they hold their satisfaction in higher esteem than the person who waits on them. Our culture promotes radical independence and self-sufficiency.
      1. Technology has enabled us to be radically independent. Remember when phones operated on a party line? Now you and every member of your family can have your own mobile phone. Against the experience of the public concert or radio broadcast is the iPod or MP3 player which allows you to have your own personal concert with every song you can ever imagine. [Have you seen the MP3 commercial of people going about their lives stoically while their reflections enjoy their own private party?]
      2. But technology is not the cause; it is just the enabler. For many generations now we have praised the self-made man and the pioneer spirit. We have acclaimed the rugged individual who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. We learned from Shakespeare that we should “neither a borrower or a lender be, but to thine ownself be true.” Many people in our culture assume that the old maxim “God helps those who help themselves” is really in the Bible.
      3. I love to watch when two fiercely strong-willed and independent individuals fight over who will pick up the check at a restaurant. They will even trick one another out of paying and bribe waiters and waitresses. A few even threaten the friendship if the other pays the bill. Why? Why would someone risk a friendship over an act of kindness? Well even those of us who aren’t quite in that league still understand the awkward feeling of obligation and dependence. We would rather be the giver than the recipient because receiving erodes our feeling of self-sufficiency.

    Knowing the disease is the first step to taking the cure. Isn’t it wonderful when medical science affirms that something very simple might be a solution to some of the worst problems we know? Recently studies showed that blueberries have a greater effect at reducing the development of cancer than any other fruit. You can prevent cancer by eating blueberries! It is that simple.
    Likewise, cultivating kindness will overcome so many of the problems we suffer from as a culture. It is that simple. If David could demonstrate the kindness of God then I believe we can too with the help of the Holy Spirit. I believe there are some ways we can begin to cultivate true kindness – the kindness of God …

    1. Start by listening to others. If kindness is love directed to others for their sake, then we need to start paying attention to others. Genuine kindness doesn’t simply give someone something they don’t really need just so the giver feels better about himself or herself. For kindness to really blossom among us we need to listen carefully to one another. Just giving our time and attention to others for their sake is kindness.
    2. Intentionally cultivate connections with others. Kindness is not a virtue that can be developed in isolation. Kindness is all about the quality of our relationships with one another. In our fragmented, self-sufficient culture we will need to intentionally create connections. This is why we have started a “Connections Ministry.” This is why we have Care Groups and LIFE Groups. They are intentional, deliberate means of forming connections. (I myself have been skeptical of the role and need for such groups and ministries. Back at Winslow we didn’t have to create groups and ministries to form connections. Then I realized that Winslow was a small group. Such ministries are just an intentional way of doing what is natural in a smaller church.)
    3. Imitate God’s loving kindness. This is what David did. This is what Paul urges us to do (Eph. 4:31-32) Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Notice the description of kindness].

    The Kind Ones:It is said that in the ancient world the early Christians were sometimes called the Kind Ones rather than Christians. This is due in part to the fact that there is just one letter of difference in the word for Christ (christos) and the word for kindness (chrēstos). People were confused about the name.


    I would think that it is also due to the fact that the early church demonstrated the kind of life that would make them live up to both names. My hope is that the people of our age will also be confused as to whether we are Christians or the Kind Ones. Let us strive to live up to both names.

    What Does That Look Like?

    Posted by on November 10, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Jewish Christians did not oppose people who were not Jews converting to Christ. Jews led people to the living God before Christianity existed (see Matthew 23:15). That process produced proselytes.

    For example, if an idol worshipper (a) underwent careful indoctrination, (b) expressed faith in the teachings by becoming a proselyte, and (c) then became a Christian, that was wonderful. However, such a person must be a proselyte to Judaism before he/she became a Christian (see Acts 11:1-3 and 15:1-5).

    When Paul wrote the book of Romans to Christians in the city of Rome, there were Jewish and gentile Christians. The background of each group was distinctly different!

    In chapters 1-11 Paul stressed it always was God’s intent to save people who were not Jews (see Genesis 12:3). While that is welcome news to most of us, it was not welcome news to many first century Jewish Christians. One of their chief complaints: “How can people who did not know Who the living God was suddenly behave and function as God’s people?”

    In chapters 12-15, Paul described what a gentile Christian would look and act like in the environment of Rome. Rome was then the seat of power and the center of commerce in the Mediterranean world. How would a Christian man or woman exposed to all Rome’s influences behave and act?

    To me that continues as a relevant question. We often live in corrupt communities in a corrupt nation. Surely there are worse places. However, there are improvements we all would like to see here.

    Sometimes Christians look so much like the part of society who does not know God, we cannot tell the Christian from the person who is not a Christian. Aside from the Christian “going to church,” they often are quite similar in behavior and goals. I am not talking about artificial differences. I am talking about godly dedication to stable marriages and homes, or not being sexually active outside of marriage, or not being greed led or power ruled.

    Our society needs to “see” what a Christian looks like. Can it look at you and “see”?

    It Is Time To Be Humble (part 3)

    Posted by on November 6, 2005 under Sermons

    It is extremely difficult to try to teach or provide insights to individuals who “just do not get it.” When I was supposed to be learning fractions, I simply did not “get” the concept. My failure to grasp the concept of fractions was about to be a serious problem in school. So my tireless, very capable Mom took on the task my teacher could not solve. My Mom decided she would teach me fractions.

    She tried and tried, without success, to show me the concept. Finally in what she thought was a way to “get” through to me, she said, “David, if five birds light on the fence, and three of them fly away, what is left?” I proudly said, “Two!”

    She immediately asked me, “Two what?’

    Filled with the confidence of successful subtraction, I replied, “Two birds!”

    At that pointed she almost decided it was a hopeless task, but she persisted, and I finally “got it.”

    Much of the life of a church leader (in any capacity) is devoted to helping people “get it.” Conversion is primarily about leading individuals to an understanding that allows them to “get it.” Loving God with all your being is about “getting it.” Loving your neighbor as yourself is about “getting it.” Spiritually maturing is primarily about “getting it.” Being good husbands to our wives, good wives to our husbands, good parents to our children, and good children to our parents is primarily about “getting it.”

    Teaching others how to “get it” is a scary undertaking. (a) It means you correctly “get it” so you are qualified to help someone else “get it.” (b) It means it is correct for someone else to trust you to help them “get it,” and if that means his or her turning life around, that is truly okay. I find that responsibility a scary thought. It is even scarier when I invoke God to underscore that I correctly “get it.”

    “Getting it” is a very responsible undertaking. It is a lifetime pursuit, a commitment. It requires admitting I am wrong when I am wrong. It requires being responsible when I am responsible. It requires redirecting when I need to redirect. Those are heavy challenges.

    This evening I want to call your attention to a scripture most of you know well. I want you to pay close attention to who does not “get it” and the enormous effort made to help these people “get it.”

    Read with me John 13:1-17. Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

    1. If anyone understood God’s purposes, Jesus did.
      1. Listen to Jesus’ statements in the same gospel of John:
        1. John 12:49,50 “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”
        2. John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
        3. John 5:19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”
        4. John 14:10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”
      2. Can you imagine how frustrating it was for Jesus to spend his last night on earth as a physical man and know his 12 closest friends did not “get it?”
        1. They accepted as fact that their expectations for God’s kingdom in physical Israel were about to happen.
        2. They were certain that Jesus was physically invincible–the man could do anything!
        3. Perhaps they dreamed of their personal roles in Jesus’ administration when he took physical charge of Israel.
        4. Whatever their focus, they were so far from “getting it” it must have been discouraging–and Jesus knew they did not “get it!”
      3. All that had to be on Jesus’ mind as he made one last attempt to help the 12 “get it.”
        1. He knew in just a matter of hours he would be betrayed by one of his closest friends.
        2. He knew in the process of the betrayal his disciples would be scattered.
        3. He knew one of his three best friends would deny him.
        4. He knew he would be crucified as he endured enormous pain.
        5. He knew he would die.
        6. He knew all of God’s efforts and plans since evil invaded human life at the garden were focused on this single event.
        7. Wouldn’t you have a lot on your mind if you were in those circumstances?

    2. To try to help his 12 disciples “get it” (one more time), he did something so unexpected, so dramatic that I guarantee you those 12 men never forgot what Jesus did.
      1. He did the lowest, most menial servant task that existed.
        1. He washed their dirty feet.
        2. He took his robes off, took a towel and put the towel around his waist, he poured water in a basin, and he washed and dried these 12 men’s feet.
        3. It was a strikingly inappropriate act–and Simon Peter knew it!
        4. Jesus even washed the feet of the man he knew would betray him!
      2. After this shocking event was over, Jesus’ put on his robes again and sat back down with them.
        1. He asked, “Do you know what I have done?”
          1. Of course they knew he had just washed their feet–they had just endured that shame and humiliation!
          2. The force of his question was this: “Do you understand the significance of what I have done?”
        2. Then he explained the significance of the act.
          1. “You honor me as your teacher and Lord, and that is appropriate.”
          2. “If I could humble myself to serve you in this lowly capacity, you should humble yourselves to serve each other in lowly capacities.”
          3. “This is an example (to you)–remember and follow my example.”
          4. “You are not too good to follow my example–you are not more important than me.”
          5. “Remember the blessing is in practicing, not in just knowing.”
        3. The 12 still did not “get it” at that moment, but they “got it” in about a couple of months.

    3. As both congregations and as individuals, I am fearful that too often we still do not “get it.”
      1. First, think with me for a moment from the perspective of a congregation.
        1. When we give serious thought to John 13:1-17 and the “foot washing” incident, what are we most likely to discuss as a congregation?
        2. “Is this a binding example?”
        3. “Where should foot washing fit in our theological list?”
        4. “What should we think and how should we react to congregations that have a ‘foot washing ceremony’?”
      2. It is possible to have a serious discussion of John 13:1-17 in a congregation and NEVER:
        1. Discuss humility.
        2. Discuss the role of service in being God’s people.
        3. If we do not discuss humility and service when studying this incident, we simply do not “get it.”
        4. God’s kingdom is all about humility and service, not about the technicalities of judgment.
      3. As individuals, we stress the importance of many things.
        1. We talk about God’s blessings on ME.
        2. We talk about MY salvation.
        3. We talk about MY hope of heaven.
        4. We talk about MY commitment to understanding and doing what is right.
        5. We may even talk about what happens to US after WE die.
      4. Yet, it is amazing what we do not talk about.
        1. Rarely do we discuss God’s purposes and objectives for the world.
        2. Rarely do we discuss the fact that God can and does work through human disappointment and suffering.
        3. Rarely do we discuss humility and service as being God’s great priorities in being a godly person.

    4. If people listen to what we discussed in private moments, they might conclude that the primary objective of salvation is human desires rather than God’s objectives.
      1. Too often we fail to see that what God has done and continues to do is focused on Who He is and not on what we want.
        1. It is not about us!
        2. It is about God!
        3. The issue is not what we think is most important to God.
        4. The issue is what God says is most important to Him.
      2. What is primary to God in Christian existence is humility and service.
        1. If we fail to understand that, we are like to 12–we just don’t “get it.”
        2. Just look at how many people think they are good, godly people, but rarely give any consideration to humility or service.

    When we “get it,” it will affect the way we behave and the way we treat other people. And “getting it” will be very obvious in our own homes.

    The Mission’s Church

    Posted by on under Sermons

    For the last three weeks I have been immersed in discussions about the mission of God: the Gospel and Our Culture Network(GOCN) conference, Dr. Farrar spoke to us last Sunday, and yesterday morning a group gathered at the Wilsons’ home to pray about the mission and then many of us enjoyed a time of worship and fellowship at the Canfields’ house last evening. One theme runs through all of this – God is doing wondrous things in this world and we are sent to witness it.

    Read Luke 10.After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.
    … Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

    Traditional View: The church has a mission. That statement seems so simple and unsurprising. Of course the church has a mission. And what is that mission? Well, we think of the Great Commission. Evangelism must be the mission of the church. But the Great Commission also involves teaching, so the mission of the church is evangelizing and teaching. But what about good works? Of course we need to do good works, so we should also affirm that the mission of the church is to do good works. Evangelism, education, service – these are the mission of the church. But what about fellowship and edification? You know, just spending time with one another and encouraging one another? Do we have to feel guilty about that because it isn’t really mission? Does that really fit into the church’s mission or is it a secondary activity? Well, I suppose they could fit into mission. Jesus certainly wouldn’t want his disciples to be strangers to one another. He did say, “People will know you are My disciples if you love one another.” So, the mission of the church is evangelism, education, service, fellowship, and edification. Have we left anything out? …

    This is why it is difficult to write a mission statement. We want to cover everything the church needs to do. And when you start considering how we are going to fund activities, plan programs, and build buildings then it gets even more intimidating and complex. I don’t want to seem alarming or cynical (and I am certainly not being critical of so much good that has been done for generations and is being done even now), but sometimes when we think and talk about “the mission of the church” we have the whole matter turned upside down. We have the cart before the horse. I say this to be hopeful because we will be less discouraged and more inspired when we realize that the church doesn’t have a mission. Rather, the mission has a church!

    What do I mean by this? I simply mean that the biblical view of the church is not that of a static organization that determines its own mission. Rather, God has a mission in this world and God is about His mission; He is calling and sending people caught up in that mission and they are the church.

      Think of the comparison like this, when we say the church has a mission, we tend to view the church as a sort of machine that comes in a kit, and when we assemble it properly according to the instructions and turn on the power, it goes to work.
      But the Bible never pictures the church as an independent institution that churns out a product or repeats a task under its own power. The biblical view of the church is active: The mission of God is a tidal wave breaking onto the shores of earth and the church is caught up in it. In the Bible, the followers of Christ are called “The Way.” [Not “The Where” or “The Place.”] The church is the transformation of the old humanity into the new humanity. The church is the result of God’s Activity – we are the fish caught up in the dragnet, we are the sheaves of wheat gathered in harvest, we are the mustard tree sown by the sower, we are persecuted believers on the run who tell the story that changes the world. The church is like a pile of leaves or a drift of snow gathered up by the wind. We are the visible evidence of God’s invisible activity in the world. The mission of God has a church!

    When the mission has a church, then we are no longer tempted to shape the mission into whatever we want, instead we are shaped and formed according to God’s mission in this world. We see this clearly in Luke 10 when Jesus sends the 70.

    1. The mission has a church because Jesus sends his disciples with intention. He sent them to the towns and places where he intended to go.
    2. The mission has a church because God supplies the laborers for the mission. Jesus tells us that our first work in mission is to pray — to ask the Lord of the harvest for workers.
    3. The mission has a church because (and this one is so difficult) we are sent out like lambs among wolves. We are not conquerors establishing our rule; we are heralds announcing the rule of God: we proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near you.”
    4. The mission has a church and so we needn’t get distracted and worried with the many things we assume necessary for that mission: purse, bag, sandals – buildings, programs, personnel, influential contacts, or even well-crafted mission statements!

    Do not suppose that I have just dismissed the hard work and thought of those who labored to put up these lovely banners. I am not. The proper way to read these statements is not as if the church gave life to the words, but to always know that these words give life to the church! These statements did not originate in Fort Smith. The mission to Southeast Asia, Africa, France, and Guyana [etc.] did not originate in Fort Smith. The mission to all parts of the earth originates from the Lord who sends us out …

    The Mission Report: (The Return of the 70)
    I truly had a sense of this yesterday when some of us gathered to talk about and pray for our partners in mission here and around the world. We prayed and gave reports on the mission in New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Africa, France, Guyana, and even Fort Smith. The common theme to all of these was recognition of what God was doing. That’s a true mission report – to report on what God has done.

    Traditionally, we have thought of the mission report as a status report from “our” missionaries? Consider the assumptions: Why do we think missionaries have to give “us” a report? Is it because we expect it? Is it because we regard ourselves as investors who fund the mission? Again these are assumptions that must be tested if we are to be the church shaped by God’s mission rather than another agenda. With the traditional view, we expect reports from our missionaries but we don’t have anything to report ourselves. We assume that we are the senders and they are the sent. That is not the mission’s church: Our missionaries should expect reports from us as much as we want reports from them. We all need encouragement of what God is doing among us. We should send them good news of what God is doing and invite the same of them (and many of them are doing so).
    I am inspired by the stories being told about God’s mission around the world. Last Sunday, Dr. Henry Farrar encouraged us with a lifetime of stories of God’s work in Nigeria. Because of God he has keen eyes and steady hands and through him God is healing sickness and disease. The mission has a church in Nigeria.
    I think of our missionaries who are working subversively for God in Laos. The mission’s church works in secret, but the kingdom reign of God over Laos will not always be a secret. It is no secret to us! God continues his mission there.
    Likewise, our missionary in Vietnam and his wife are the mission’s church in a place where the mission of God encounters hostility. But he has encouraged us by reminding us that it doesn’t matter if the church is legal or illegal in Vietnam, because God’s mission continues regardless. We should be emboldened by their refusal to submit to powers of lesser authority than God. Let that strengthen us as we enter into the kingdom of God in this place.
    Every time John Paul and Ruby Lee Hundley are visiting with us they share stories about people they love in France. The mission has a church there and it has created a family of believers.
    I have always been encouraged by Steve DeLoach‘s reports – better to call them “stories” – because Steve makes it clear that God is doing amazing things. The mission has a church in Guyana – a church made up of believers in Guyana and many other nations who come and participate in what God is doing there.

    I am convicted that we can tell stories just like this about Fort Smith and how God is working through West-Ark. I am convicted that we too are the mission’s church. There is no reason for us to believe that God works differently around the world than he does across the street or right here in this assembly. Mission reports and mission stories are not just reports for missionaries to give to us. We need to give our mission reports, too. Let us tell what God is doing through the Iglesia de Cristo, the Laotian Church, CURE, the Outreach Service Center downtown, and Overcomers Outreach. But let’s not stop there – God is also working through the ministries we often consider “internal” (but I tell you that they are mission if God is working through them!). Let us report on what God is doing through FLOCK, GATEWAY, the Youth Ministry, Lions for Christ, Kids for Christ, Connections, and just the everyday fact of being disciples for Jesus eager to serve others.

    Like the 70 who were sent, we need to give our reports, too – and we give them to Jesus. Later in Luke 10, you will notice that the 70 returned with fascinating news of what God was doing to overthrow evil. “Even the demons submitted to us!” they report to Jesus. And notice very carefully Jesus’ response: He rejoices in the Holy Spirit. That’s why I want to be the mission’s church. Don’t you want to cause Jesus to rejoice?! Don’t you want to hear him say: “I saw Satan fall like lightning!”?

    Earlier I invited you to contribute your money to supporting those who are involved in the mission in other places. Now I invite you to give yourself. The mission’s church is caught up in the tidal wave of God’s mission on earth, but if you want to be part of it you have to get into the water. The kingdom of God isn’t something we build. God is building it. We enter into it and receive it. The mission of God goes on and it shapes a church out of people like Steve, John Paul and Ruby Lee, Thomas, Oscar, and you. The mission of God is not simply the work of a few invested and interested individuals. The mission is the calling of all immersed individuals who are the church shaped by the mission. The church doesn’t have a mission – the mission of God has a church. Let’s be that church.