Holy Manners: Humility

Posted by on June 28, 2007 under Bulletin Articles

One of the most difficult yet one of the most essential Holy Manners to develop is humility. We hear much about boldness and courage. We hear little about humility. To us it seems that boldness and courage go well together, but humility goes with neither. Perhaps the human concepts of boldness and courage easily become self-centered expressions (we like self-dependence) and humility becomes a selfless expression (we are wary of dependence on anything other than self).

It takes enormous boldness and courage to yield to God so completely that you allow God to defend you and determine your behavior. On numerous occasions, Jesus tried to teach the twelve God’s admiration of humility (see Luke 9:46-48; 18:15-17; 22:24-30; Matthew 18:1-6; 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37). Not until Jesus’ death and resurrection did they learn that lesson. Do not be deceived! The lesson is NOT learned easily! To think and behave righteously in the middle of an unrighteous onslaught is hard!

Even those who profess godliness mistake humility for cowardice! Yet, in a parable in Luke 18:9-14, the humble sinner was forgiven, not the man who “dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.”

That is hard for even us Christians to swallow! The person who gave God 10% of everything, who was honest in his dealings with others, who was not controlled by sexual desires, and who fasted insulted God! The penitent man who unquestionably did wicked things was forgiven! Why? Because sinful behavior was unimportant? No! Because God exalts human humility and debases human arrogance!

Paul said if everything you believe about righteousness is true, make me completely happy. How? Do not be self-centered! Be ?others’ centered! Who was the example of that? None other than Jesus himself!

If I am your brother or sister in Christ because God placed us both there when we were baptized into Christ, Holy Manners demand I consider you and your needs as more important than mine. To arrogantly banish you is just plain rude!

How many problems would be instantly solved in our brotherhood and our congregations if humility reigned and arrogance vanished. Understanding the importance God attaches to humility certainly makes this statement sobering: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Handwriting on the Wall

Posted by on June 24, 2007 under Sermons

Daniel 5: Five Moves

  1. Belshazzar’s Party (1-4)
  2. God’s Graffiti (5-9)
  3. Calling Daniel (10-17)
  4. Read It and Weep (18-28)
  5. Aftermath (29-30)

Raiders of the Lost Artifacts

  • Background: 2 Kings 25:13-17
  • Destruction and Desecration of Jerusalem Temple
  • Looting the Temple artifacts

Rembrandt, The Feast of Belshazzar (1632)

The Feast of Belshazzar

  • Belshazzar throws a party for his nobles
  • They use the goblets dedicated to Temple service
  • They “toast” the images of their gods

God’s Graffiti

  • Belshazzar is upset by God’s action
  • The failure of his counselors magnifies his distress

Calling Daniel

  • The queen has good advice
  • Belshazzar isn’t aware of Daniel, suggesting he isn’t getting wise counsel
  • Belshazzar has not learned Nebuchadnezzar’s lesson (his testimony in chapter 4)

Read It and Weep

  • Handwriting on the Wall is a judgment of doom
  • Belshazzar did not humble himself or honor God

Aramaic – Hebrew Words
To understand the cryptogram you have to understand a little about how Hebrew words work. Most words come from a three letter root. Hebrew has no true vowels. So different vowel sounds change the meaning of the words. One root word can be read numerous ways.

    mlk – root word
    mĕlĕk – king (m. noun)
    mălkah – queen (f. noun)
    m?lăk – reign (verb)
    malkuth – royalty (noun)

The text only gives us the letters that make up the message. But these words are not evident until Daniel decodes it. Why can’t the other diviners read the message?

This is where the theory about the cryptogram comes up. What if the letters were arranged in an unusual and atypical way?

There is a legend that the inscription was written in columns. That is the way Rembrandt pictured it in his 1632 painting. He learned this interpretation from his friend Manasseh ben-Israel in Amsterdam.

The color changes above show how the four words (including the   for “and”) could be arranged.

More importantly is the how the words have double meaning depending on whether it is a noun or verb. This chart describes how Daniel understands the riddle.

The Pun Intended
So, Daniel is assuming that the riddle refers to an assortment of coins, but also functions as a prophecy of doom on Belshazzar.

The riddle Mina, Mina, Tekel and Parsin (using our common coinage) might read something like “Half a dollar, half a dollar, a penny, and two bits”

What is means (as Daniel explains very well in the text) is: “Your days are numbered, your rule has been weighed, and your empire will be divided among the Medes and Persians”

It isn’t accidental that the word for half-mina can also be read as Persia.

The aftermath is reported as Belshazzar’s immediate fall and the conquest of Persia. A new ruler is in charge of Babylon. The mighty have fallen.

So What?

  • God is not limited to one nation or region
  • It could have gone differently for Belshazzar
  • God mocks the proud (See Proverbs 3:34 and Matthew 23:12.)

Children of Light

Posted by on under Sermons

Read Ephesians 5:3-14.

Imagine with me the scene of an ancient baptism. The church has gathered at a river and those prepared for baptism are waiting to be immersed. They have been prayerful and maybe they have even fasted for a day or two. Their focus has certainly been on the Lord Jesus – his baptism, his teaching, his death, burial, and resurrection. Believing in Christ, they have renounced sinfulness and selfishness and are now submitting themselves to the Lord.

One of the shepherds of this ancient congregation has just finished reminding these repentant souls of the gospel and the kingdom way of life they are entering into. Then he baptizes them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as they come up from the water, the gathered congregation welcomes the newborn Christians by singing a little hymn that says, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

This speculation about the practice of ancient baptism is based on ancient sources (such as the Didache, Chapter 7) that describe what baptism was like in the late first or early second century. It would certainly embody the belief of Ephesians 2:1-10 and Romans 6 and other NT Scriptures that describe how baptism is a defining moment in which one dies to the worldliness of sin and lives a new life in Christ. Thus, it makes sense that Eph 5:14 is a hymn or statement that was pronounced at baptisms.

If you’ve been baptized into Christ, what was it like at your baptism? What was said? What was done? What does that baptism mean? The message of Ephesians teaches us that our baptism is a transition. Once we were darkness, but now we are light. I hadn’t really noticed this before, but the transition is described as a change of nature (v. 8). Once we were darkness, not in darkness, but we were darkness. And now, being in Christ, we are light. Sometimes we tell children who are afraid of the dark that there’s nothing to be afraid of because everything in the dark is the same as it is in the light. That will work as long as we are talking about being in the darkness or in the light. But there’s one thing in the room that isn’t the same when the lights come on. The darkness is no longer there. Darkness is not the same in the light. Light is not the same in the darkness, in fact light changes darkness. Our transition is just as striking, now that we are in Christ we are no longer darkness. We are light. We are the children of light.

Our baptism then is a change of nature and a change of rule in our lives. And the implications of this are so important that it won’t wait until the day we get to heaven. It makes a difference right now.

Children of light live a certain way. Our lives make a difference. There’s a mix of metaphors in v. 9 – light bears fruit. Goodness, righteousness, and truth are the outgrowth of living as children of light. This is a grand vision for our lives. It means we can live in such a way that we are not just doing good or being good. We can live in such a way that our lives generate good. Likewise with righteousness and truth. Have you ever known someone who inspires you to goodness, righteousness, and truthfulness? Have you ever seen the legacy of goodness, righteousness, and truth that someone has left behind in their journey through life? That’s what it is like when Christ is in us and his light shines on us making us children of light. That really can be you.

The transition of our baptism also means that we have waken up in a new land. When we were darkness, a different power had dominion over us. It may have been our own greed and selfishness, it may have been fear, it may have been an addiction, it may have been anger or lust. But being in Christ means that we are under the dominion of Christ. When one is under dominion it means that one has a lord. That lord could very well be ours own self. That’s always sounds good. It’s very independent and ruggedly individualistic. Most of us, if we are honest, are lousy lords. We wouldn’t treat anyone as harshly and crudely as we treat ourselves. Perhaps we criticize ourselves endlessly, perhaps we do whatever we please with our own bodies and attempt to satisfy our never-ending lusts for sensual pleasure in ways that hurt us and in ways that never satisfy, perhaps we say anything we want and vent our anger and discontent but instead of earning us respect it drives people away. And when we do all of this and more we make a point of reminding ourselves and others that we free people and in charge of our own lives.

One always tries to please one’s Lord. When we are in Christ, we find out what pleases our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is as if the light comes on. We see clearly how the deeds of darkness never satisfy. They are fruitless.

I won’t pretend it is simple to talk about having a Lord and being in his dominion. We are a people who very rightly have a negative association with oppression and slavery. We should. Our history is stained with the legacies of dark dominions. But when we are in the Lord’s Dominion, we are light. Our lives are sources of goodness, righteousness, and truth. We find out what please the Lord, and though it may not always be easy we may just find that it is satisfying.

Holy Manners: Sincerity

Posted by on June 21, 2007 under Bulletin Articles

Our sincerity is a window that reveals our motives. In this culture, there are few things that irritate any of us more than having a person ?fake’ sincerity. Why are we offended so much by ?fake’ sincerity? One significant reason is this: When a person ?fakes’ his or her sincerity, he or she hides his or her motives.

Successful con-artists are masters at ?faking’ sincerity. Their primary motive is to scam you and thereby bring you harm. However, they are effective in making you feel that they care infinitely about your hurt and dilemma. Their real motive is to gain your money or your valuables. They make you think their real motive is compassion. Their ?fake’ sincerity hides their real motive.

Because we grasp the nature and importance of sincerity, Christians understand the need to be ?transparent.’ Because we are family in Christ, we want each other to know, “I am trustworthy. I neither seek to hurt you nor use you. Because my sincerity is real, you can see my motive. I do not seek to deceive you, but to encourage you.”

Sincerity requires compassion. One of the reasons for Christians being easy to deceive is found in their compassion. Christians are compassionate because they care about people. Their caring is genuine.

Sincerity within the Christian family can be difficult. Are we all the same? No! While we differ in personalities, we are all in Christ. I do not have to be “ditto marks” of you, and you do not have to be “ditto marks” of me for us to care about each other. Our sincerity with each other always declares, “We may differ, but you never have reason to fear me. I have your back, and I will never stab it!”

If people who refuse to turn to God do not learn good spiritual manners from the Christian family, can they learn good spiritual manners elsewhere? If they cannot see in us a sincerity that is trustworthy and caring, where will they observe it? Never forget that the way you treat others speaks more eloquently about your attitudes and motives than just about how you feel about that person.

Just as Jesus Christ is to us in our weaknesses and flaws, we are to others in Christ in what we regard to be their weaknesses and flaws. Physically, I love my family, flaws and all, and my family loves me, flaws and all. I do not love only those in my family who are just like me, and they do not love me because I am just like them. Is that not the way it is in your family? That is the way it needs to be in God’s family!

“We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19, 20)

Difficulty Requires the Prayer of Persistent Patience

Posted by on June 20, 2007 under Sermons

I want to focus our thinking today by using a familiar scripture in Luke 18:1-8. I encourage you to read with me.

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ?Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ?Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge *said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

A fairly common conversation these days focuses on how much things have changed. Depending on our age or our background or both, many of the changes really irritate us. There is not longer a sense of community and neighborliness as there use to be. Prices continue to go up. It is not uncommon to go to public places and hear several languages that sound strange. The world is getting smaller and smaller all the time–someone important can "hiccup" in a nation thousands of miles from us and cause an earthquake in our nation. Living in national isolation is no longer possible–the world has just become too dependent on what is occurring in all nations.

As much as we might dislike change in our world, we typically dislike change in the church even more. We have a family member who dropped out of the church for years, and then came back. She asked, "What happened while I was gone? When I left we sang about the old rugged cross, and when I came back we were singing about thirsty deer."

Whether in life or in the church, some find change filled with the invigoration of challenge, and some find change going from bad to worse.

  1. The parable we just read involves two characters: the weakest of the weak, and a powerful difference maker.
    1. The powerful difference maker was a local Jewish judge.
      1. His rulings mattered.
      2. As the saying goes, "He could make you or break you."
      3. He was an unprincipled man.
        1. His primary concern was his own best interest.
        2. Though he was a judge in a religious society, his concern for God was at best superficial–the only time he was concerned about God’s interest was when God’s values served his purposes.
        3. He was not a compassion man–he did not care about the plight of a person unless his concern served his selfish purposes.
    2. The powerless person was the widow.
      1. A first century Jewish widow lived in a man’s world.
        1. Ideally, she would have her father, her brother, or some interested male speak for her to a judge.
        2. The worst person to plead her case was herself–a woman was typically ignored in that situation.
      2. If ever there was apparently a hopeless situation, that was it.
        1. The woman had a real need for protection from someone who was making her life miserable.
        2. The judge simply did not care about her need, and she had no power to improve the situation.
        3. From every human perspective, the situation looked hopeless.
      3. However, the widow persisted, and the judge decided she would make him miserable because she did not have enough sense to know when to give up.
        1. So the judge acted out of self-interest just to get rid of the woman.
        2. The result: the powerless woman received her protection.
  2. Let’s immediately make one thing quite clear: the message of the parable is NOT "hang in there until you wear God down and get what you want."
    1. The parable used a Jewish literary device that used a comparison: "If an disinterested, ungodly, uncompassionate judge would act in the behalf of the powerless, how much more would an interested, compassionate God act in our behalf?"
    2. The point is NOT we can wear God down.
    3. The point is NOT we can get what we want materially.
    4. The point IS a caring God is constantly concerned about our best interest.
    5. We can always count on God to act in our best interest.
  3. The situation seems to be set by verse one: we ought to pray and not lose heart (give up).
    1. As we stated at the beginning, sometimes we moan about how bad things are getting.
      1. That is not a new phenomena –verse one indicates that is the way some felt in the first century.
      2. For some, things seemed to be going from bad to worse–they just wanted Jesus to come back and end an awful situation.
        1. The government, the idolatrous institutions, and society in general misunderstood Christians and made their lives miserable.
        2. The Jewish opposition increased their misery and questioned their faith.
        3. Some died, some lost jobs, and some lived as outcasts just because they believed Jesus was the Christ and was raised from the dead.
        4. The more time passed, the better organized the opposition against them was.
        5. In short, for many Christians the situation was miserable and getting more miserable.
        6. It was easy to conclude that God did not care about them and just give up.
      3. The solution: trust in God, pray, and do not give up. (We prefer an immediate fix approach.)
        1. God cared, and existing problems did not prove He did not.
        2. God had options they did not even consider, and they included working through those who did not care!
    2. We likely have more in common with the Christians in the first century than we care to admit.
      1. Many of us do not like the way things are heading–we would change many things if we could!
      2. Our lifestyle and favoritism is threatened in ways we would not have believed 25 years ago.
      3. To us, the unthinkable happens too frequently.
      4. We are beginning to wonder where the silver lining is to our clouds.
  4. May I point out some things to you.
    1. The issue is not, "Does God care?"
    2. The issue is not, "Is God out of options?"
    3. The issue is not, "Is the situation too bad for God to do anything about it?"
    4. The issue is this, "Do we have confidence in God?"
      1. Do we really believe God has our best interest at heart?
      2. What if our best interest is not found in our desires? What if having what we want would spiritually destroy us?
      3. When things do not go as we want or wish, is that evidence that God does not care?
      4. Is the only way things can improve to leave them to our plans and imagination?
    5. Sometimes we are so focused on ourselves, our lifestyle, our desires, and what we want to happen that we do not see the "big picture."
      1. God has been fighting the evil that humans invited into His creation since Genesis three.
        1. He has been at war with Satan in the physical world since humanity yielded to temptation.
        2. He delays the end until people have the maximum opportunity to escape evil (2 Peter 3:9).
      2. We matter as individuals, but the eternal conquest of Satan also matters.
        1. There is much more involved than our immediate desires.
        2. There must be the awareness, as in any war, that our struggles can be a part of helping achieve God’s objectives.
        3. Struggles are not proof that God abandons us, but prove the reality of the conflict.
  5. An essential part of trusting God is our conviction that God always acts in our best interest.
    1. Most of us are either in the process of rearing children or have reared children.
      1. There are numerous times when a parent must act in the child’s best interest in spite of the child’s ignorant protest.
        1. Children want what they want, and they want it now–immediate gratification.
        2. Being a parent involves saying no, or giving a child a medical treatment, or refusing a child something he or she really wants.
        3. Most of the time the child has no idea the parent is acting in his or her best interest–the child thinks the parent just does not care.
      2. It is often the same in our relationship with God.
        1. We want what we want right now, and we do not understand why we cannot have things just as we want them.
        2. When God refuses to do things as we want them done in our time frame, we hastily conclude God does not care.
        3. Too often, we have little or no confidence that God is functioning in our best interest.
        4. Too often, we blame God for acts of Satan.
  6. To me, one of the most fascinating statements made in our text is the question, “When Christ returns, will he find faith on the earth?”
    1. The question is asked by Jesus before he dies and is resurrected, and is not focused on the church.
      1. The church has not been established, and the question is much deeper than a willingness to be part of the called out.
      2. May I paraphrase my understanding of Jesus’ question?
        1. When things get rough in your life, do you place your confidence in God?
        2. Does your confidence in God depend on things going the way you want them to go?
        3. Do you limit God to:
          1. Your imagination of what can happen?
          2. To your time frame (do you realize how many thousand years were required for God to send the Christ in a moment that could achieve His objectives in human salvation?)
    2. Too often we substitute our concerns for trusting God, and trust the wrong things.
      1. We trust the church instead of trusting God.
      2. We trust our acts of obedience in our confidence "that God owes us."
      3. We trust human imagination and solutions rather than divine actions which we do not understand.
      4. We think solutions are found in human discoveries.
    3. The truth is that we are just uncomfortable in this society in trusting anything that is not basically human in origin.
      1. We are so impressed with what humans can do that we are very skeptical of any good thing happening that is not human.
      2. We much prefer "faith in us" to "faith in God."
      3. Thus the issue: Will there be any place for faith in God when Jesus returns?

You are not a Christian because you believe in faith in us, or the existence of good, or the church is right, or the Bible is superior to all other writings. You are a Christian because you believe in God. Your faith is vested in Him, not in us.

You and I are quite likely as Christians to take Jesus Christ for granted as one who makes perfect sense in the pursuit of salvation. Jesus Christ did not make sense to the Jewish society in the first century. He did not make sense to the first century world. He would not make sense in our world of today. We would not have provided the world salvation though Jesus Christ if that had been "our call."

Place your confidence in God’s acts in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Do not place your confidence in human achievements. Live your life in trust of God–even when your life is difficult. Pray for strength and be persistent, but never quit!

The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar

Posted by on June 17, 2007 under Sermons

Daniel 4: Four Moves

  1. Praise and Prologue (1-9)
  2. Dream: “I See a Tree” (10-18)
  3. Daniel’s Interpretation (19-27)
  4. Grazing in the Grass (28-37)

A Dream of a Tree

  1. The tree is a symbol of life and protection
  2. The tree reaches the sky and is highly visible
  3. A heavenly messenger orders the tree to be cut down and the stump bound
    1. Note that Nebuchadnezzar trusts Daniel’s interpretation. He even gives him reassurance to speak the truth of the dream
    2. The tree is a symbol of life and protection. It provides fruit and other food. It provides shelter and shade. The birds nest in it. The beast of the field shelter beneath it.
    3. The tree is tall and highly visible. It touches the sky. This is an image of the majestic and mighty.
    4. A heavenly messenger descends from much higher than the tree and orders the tree trimmed and cut down. The stump is bound and kept from re-growing until the cycle of sevens had passed.
    5. The presence of the heavenly messenger is important. Something is being said in a contrast about earthly power and heavenly power (compare to the statue dream).

Who’s In Charge?

“On the surface it appears my world is controlled by politicians and people of that kind.
But I have always believed this is God’s world, and God is in charge.” – Desmond Tutu

  1. God elevated Nebuchadnezzar
  2. God humbles Nebuchadnezzar
  3. God will restore Nebuchadnezzar
hanging gardens ruins
Ruins of Hanging Gardens

One Year Later

  • David warns Nebuchadnezzar to change his ways (v. 27)
  • Nebuchadnezzar is proud of his self-serving kingdom
    ? My residence
    ? My majesty
  • He gets a message from heaven

Daniel proves himself the wise man by offering advice: “King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.”
A year later, Nebuchadnezzar takes in his grand kingdom. He regards the city of Babylon as his personal residence and it is all for his glory.
That’s when he gets the message from heaven – “This message is for you!” You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’

The King’s Madness

  • Seven seasons = a definite period
  • He is reduced to animal existence (diet and appearance)
  • He is driven away from human society
  • Reversal of status

There is often too much attention to the seven times or seven seasons. Seven is the Hebrew number of completion. What is being said is that Nebuchadnezzar’s sentence of madness is definite. It will end at a time God has already chosen.

The effect of his madness is that he starts to behave like an animal. His hair and nails are unkempt. Worst of all, the shining star of human civilization is driven away to the fields of the earth. Whereas he was once high and mighty, now he is drenched in the dew of heaven.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Testimony

    “When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before.
    “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All His acts are just and true, and He is able to humble the proud.”

So What?

  1. What does God expect of those he has placed in power?
  2. What kingdom or nation will endure forever?

2007 VBS Blessing

Posted by on under Sermons

[Blessing for the VBS Workers — have them stand and be recognized]

If you were to ask these hard working servants why they do this they may give you any number of reasons. I imagine that one common theme to all their reasons is that someone made a difference and set an example for them when they were very young.

I am teaching the Junior High Class with Gary Brown this summer. We have dwelled on the theme of people who make a difference. In preparing for the class, Gary and I both reflected on the people who shaped our lives when we were young. We recall them by name and we remember that their attitude of service and their respect for us made a difference. It’s not that we were necessarily deserving of the service. Not at all, but that’s what made the attention and instruction that these Christ-like servants gave us so noteworthy – they served us even though they didn’t have to.

Has it really been six months since we were listening to God’s word and praying about new shepherds for our church family? During that time we dwelled in a Scripture that has been very important for our congregation when it comes to understanding what a shepherd is. It has also helped understand what a disciple of Jesus does … Read John 13

Jesus asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” This week I have witnessed people who understand it …

There have been so many good people taking their own time to help out with VBS and even help others. Ed Grist showed up just in time to help me set up the cardboard synagogue. I lamented that I didn’t have time to put up the curtains, but Carlene Payne was so eager to help out with that. That was kind. That was being a servant. I see that they understand what Jesus was doing when he washed the feet of those disciples.

Bard and the youth group have been working on setting up booths, getting supplies, practicing skits. They set up these tents in the auditorium. It’s a great synergy – they have the experience and skill of the senior high and a large labor force in the junior high. Brad told me last week that they worked so hard and so well that they were ahead of schedule all week. I see that these young people understand what Jesus was doing when he washed the feet of those disciples.

This year has been especially significant for our family. For my oldest son, Wyatt, it’s his first year to NOT be one of the kids in VBS and I was wondering how he would handle that because I know he really enjoys VBS. I was delighted last Monday night when I heard him say, “I like working at VBS more than I like just going to it!” I see that my own son understands what Jesus was doing when he washed the feet of those disciples.

I know he’s not the only 7th grader facing that transition from being served to being the servant. It can be difficult, but I see our 7th graders really getting with it. Olivia Kleman approached me when I was setting up the synagogue on Thursday. She wanted to come to the synagogue during VBS and get me to write her name in Greek. “But you’re not in VBS this year,” I said. I could see that the thought kind of stunned both of us. “What are you going to be doing at VBS now that you are a worker?” I asked. She said she was a family leader. “Then you bring your tribe into the synagogue as a leader and I can write your name along with the others.” She seemed to like that idea even better. That’s when I can see that she understands what Jesus was doing when he washed the feet of those disciples.

I don’t know anyone who works as hard as Dena Jenkins putting VBS together. Well, wait a second maybe I do — because everywhere Dena goes she has a wonderful assistant named Abbey. This last week I was asking Dena questions but on many of the questions it was her daughter, Abbey, who knew the answer! I was looking for duct tape. Abbey found the duct tape for me. Not only is she a servant, but she is competent and knows the essentials of VBS. [Duct tape is vital to VBS. One cannot have VBS without duct tape.] Abbey of course follows the example and tradition of her family when it comes to being a servant. She is doing what her mother and aunt did when they shadowed her grandmother who had worked at VBS for 40 years. But I also see that Abbey understands what Jesus did when he washed the feet of those disciples.

I am pleased that our church family is learning to understand what the Master did when he served. It’s not limited to VBS. There is a spirit of Christ-like service that is always growing in this family.

Certainly there are times that we will be served and that we need to be served. That’s as it should be. Jesus has served each of us, there’s not a one of us in the kingdom who’s a “do-it-yourself-er.” But being a servant and finding a way to serve can be intimidating. The good news for all of us is that this way of discipleship isn’t limited at all. Jesus can teach any of us how to follow him and be a servant. So maybe we want to serve, but we’re not sure how; or maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that service just isn’t our thing. Either way, the living Jesus teaches us when he washes the feet of those disciples. Just try and understand it and do what he did.

Holy Manners: Healthy Speech

Posted by on June 14, 2007 under Bulletin Articles

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6)

The first noticeable change in the man or woman converted to Christ is seen in his or her speech. (Consider James 3:2-12.). The person who belongs to God does not use words, tones, or expressions as people who do not belong to God.

Years ago, I listened to a man explain why for years he never attended nor gave serious consideration to anyone who attended a congregation of the Church of Christ. He said a leader in the local congregation came into a place of business obviously upset. He expressed his displeasure with language and tones a godly person does not use. The man talking to me heard him, knew who he was, knew where he worshipped, and decided immediately he would never attend where a “member” spoke as the upset Christian did.

In the early 70’s in West Africa, I used an old story as I encouraged a group of local preachers. The story: a dying man called his sons to his bedside. He requested that they bring a small board, a nail, and a hammer. He told his oldest son to drive the nail into the board. He asked another son to pull the nail out of the board. He asked another son to pull out the hole. When the hole could not be removed, he gave this simple admonition: “Pay careful attention to your words. You will never remove the holes they leave.” Years later a man who heard the story that day said he never forgot the lesson.

All of us say things that cause us to shake our heads later (sometimes years later). We can (if fortunate) ask for forgiveness, but we know we can never remove the hole.

God uses words carefully. He speaks truth, but thankfully he always speaks with grace. God’s grace seasons the words God’s children use. God seeks our good even when we fail. God’s children seek the good of others. They let God’s patience teach them how to be patient. God’s patience affects what they say to anyone and how they say it. Holy manners demand we watch what we say everywhere. God always listens!

Jesus once said, “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34-37)

Godly hearts speak godly words. Give attention to a godly heart! Speak godly words! We owe that to each other as fellow Christians-and to everyone else as we represent God. May what we say give people a good impression of God and His people!

The Fourth Man

Posted by on June 10, 2007 under Sermons

Daniel 3: Four Moves

  1. Babylonian Idol (1-7)
  2. Who’ll Save You Now? (8-18)
  3. Fourth Man (19-27)
  4. Don’t “Dis” Their God! (28-30)

Idol Time
The idol that Nebuchanezzar sets up on the plain of Dura would have been a typical practice of kings in the ancient world. Kings built statues of their gods to represent their rule. Examples:

  • Ashurnasirpal (9th cent)
  • Temple of Bel in Babylon (6th cent) – Herodotus speaks of a statue to the “Babylonian Zeus” (Marduk?) in Babylon (I, 183)
  • Antiochus IV (2nd cent) – “[Antiochus IV] directed them … to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals… Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king was put to death.” – 1 Maccabees 1:44-50

When Antiochus invaded Jerusalem, he looted the Temple. Later a Greek idol was placed in the Temple. Any Jew who refused to bow and sacrifice to the idol was killed. In 168 BC, the temple was dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Zeus Olympius by order of Antiochus, who forbade the practice of Judaism. An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar. Those who resisted Antiochus’ orders were killed.

Who Will Save You?
Dedication to God despite threat of harm. This theme continues through the New Testament …

  • Jesus and Pilate (Matt 27)
  • Apostles and Sanhedrin (Acts 5)
  • Paul and Felix/Agrippa (Acts 24 -26)
    See 1 Maccabees 2:51-64 for Matthias’ encouragement to his sons.

    “But If Not …”
    Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego do not know the outcome. They know they could die.
    They demonstrate confidence in God’s power to save, but they also display dedication to God even if it results in their death.
    Either way, they are victorious and Nebuchadnezzar loses authority over them.
    The words “But If Not” have referenced this attitude thru history. It was reportedly sent in a telegram from a soldier at Dunkirk in 1940. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached a sermon with these words in 1967.

    Weren’t There Just Three?
    The fourth man has an appearance of a God

    Why didn’t God simply keep the Hebrews from being thrown into the furnace?

    1. God was in the furnace before Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God does not abandon them in the place of fear and terror. He meets them there.
    2. He is showing Nebuchadnezar that “He is the God who can save his people even from the consuming fire.”
    3. I imagine that if Nubechadnezzar can stand the glare, he sees the fourth man staring back at him.
    4. So Nebuchanezzar calls them out and takes their God seriously.

    Close Encounter

  • Nebuchadnezzar is humbled
  • He makes his decree because he doesn’t want anyone to offend the true God
  • There is no other god like God!

    So What?

    1. A text that has inspired generations
    2. The connection between faithfulness and deliverance does not deny suffering
    3. Persecution continues …

    Cloud of Witnesses
    “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
    – Hebrews 11

  • From Thief to Philanthropist

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Overview the text of Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Show how the negative habits/manners break down community, but the positive ones build it up.

    1. Lying erodes trust, it demeans others and judges others unworthy of the truth. Honesty, by contrast respects one another and believes in one another

    2. Anger that is unprocessed becomes bitterness, rage and malice. Relationships are shattered and wounded. But when we make amends and forgive, when we reconcile we grow stronger.

    3. Harsh and hateful words poisons the hearts and minds of others, but when we use our words to encourage and heal we build one another up.

    This section of Scripture is a description of what our life together could be like when we live out our Christian calling. It is a vision for what the church, the people of God, can really be.
              This is a high vision for human life. It is inspiring and encouraging. It is a high standard. The final example shows just how much God envisions for his people: The thief can become a philanthropist.

    Stealing is parasitical. It consumes and takes what others have, perhaps for selfish gain or perhaps out of desperation. What sort of community and life together can be formed when we steal from one another?

    In his book, Mere Morality: What God Expects from Ordinary People, Lewis Smedes describes what stealing and theft have done to our society: “When people sense that their private lives are vulnerable, they fear every stranger in their midst. And so they shut out strangers. They build walls, bolt doors, and install electronic vigilantes. … Thus, community shrinks to confined quarters where only proven friends are allowed. … Stealing closes us in on ourselves and paralyzes us; love is frozen when people live in fear of thieves.” [p. 190]

    We may be even more paranoid and closed in than Smedes described 25 years ago. Stealing is more sophisticated and less tangible than ever before. Once we could trust in physical things like keys, locks, steel vaults, and even “the club.” But now we rely on passwords and PIN codes. The simplest of activities such as shopping, watching movie, playing music are subject to encryption and encoding. Why? Because of stealing. Because of the thief. What’s next in a world where your identity can be stolen?

    With the help of God’s word, let’s imagine another way. What if our hope is in sharing rather than security? What if God’s spirit could effect a change in all of us so that we could live with each other in a very different way?
              The “rather” in verse 28, is all important. Instead of life as a thief, instead of taking and consuming without any sort of return, instead of that one might use his or her resources and talents to share. And it isn’t enough to just make a living or even get wealthy, one should earn a profit so that one can help others.
              “Love requires us – and enables us – to move out toward our neighbors in ways that bring them at least what they have coming to them by virtue of their presence among us as human beings.” [p. 207]

    Here’s a high vision for what it means to be a follower of Christ. As God’s people we are going to be faced with a lot of challenges and struggles. Being a Christian isn’t a guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen, but our vision of who we are as individuals and as a church family will make all the difference in how we face difficulties and challenges. Our manners and ethics are more than being polite; they are the habits of a people who are devoted to imitating the spirit and mind of God.

    If God’s inspired writer believed that a thief could become a philanthropist then I believe you and I can become more than anything we can imagine.
    I choose to believe that we can be a noble people who live up to the standard God envisions. I choose to believe that we can live not only for ourselves, but for the good of one another. I choose to believe this, because I believe in Christ. What do you believe?