The Power of Imitation

Posted by on July 30, 2007 under Sermons

We live in a world that loves to imitate. People seek to be fashionable in the way they dress. Fashion in dress encourages imitation. If you think you are immune to the imitation of the fashion of dress, consider how quickly you adapt your clothing to the area you live in. Accepted behavior commonly influences our behavior. We do things in the "right" way because that is the way everyone else does. With many, it is a tragedy if we do not do something the "right" way as "the in thing to do." Do you not find it fascinating to hear people discuss what is acceptable now and what is not acceptable now?

All of us would likely be surprised at how much imitation we would find in our dress, our speech, our behavior, our cars, our homes, and our lives in general. Imitation is even at the roots of our war. People who embrace Muslim lifestyle and values do not want their society imitating the lifestyle and values of western societies (that includes us!). And we are fearful of the influences of the lifestyles and values of "those societies." Why? Many say they do not want those influences in our "Christian" nation.

We are a "Christian nation"? This nation reflects a "Christian" lifestyle and "Christian" values? Really? Do you think average Americans would even agree on what a Christian lifestyle and Christian values are? How often do Americans associate the Christian lifestyle and values with the dress codes and behaviors of particular groups who declare themselves Christian?

Imitation is not a bad thing of itself. In fact, imitation is impossible to avoid, and has been since societies existed. Imitation plays a key role in influence. Consider a statement from Paul.

"Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)

  1. I want you to begin by thinking about what an enormous challenge it was in the first century to make Jesus Christ a world influence.
    1. We usually focus on all the things they did not have in their societies to aid mass communication–no printing press, no radio, no television, no modern advertising agencies, and no modern "spin doctors" to tell people what to think as if people cannot think.
    2. I challenge you to think of the enormity of the task from a different perspective.
      1. The small Jewish nation into which Jesus was born had Jewish ways to do everything.
        1. They had Jewish traditions for marriage.
        2. They had Jewish traditions for death.
        3. They had Jewish traditions for keeping the Sabbath.
        4. There was a "right Jewish way" to do everything a devout Jew did.
      2. The vast majority of people were idol worshippers.
        1. Most of the time, we stereotype idol worshippers; the truth is there were many forms of idolatry, and many of those forms had distinct differences.
        2. Each of those forms had "correct" ways to do everything.
      3. The key question: how do you make Jesus Christ influential throughout the world, among all people whether Jewish or idolatrous?
        1. How do you make Jesus Christ influential in your own society?
        2. How do you make Jesus Christ influential trans-culturally?
        3. That was an enormous challenge in the first century!
      4. Initially, the world was big and the Christian movement was tiny (sound familiar?).
  2. I want to affirm one truth: Christianity is about Jesus Christ, about the impact of Jesus Christ on human life.
    1. The central figure in each of the gospels, the first four writings of the New Testament, is Jesus Christ.
      1. They affirm Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) God promised.
      2. They declare he did the works of God.
      3. They affirm he declared God’s focus on human behavior in his teachings.
      4. They affirm he died for us.
      5. They affirm God resurrected him from the dead.
      6. Without Jesus, there is no "good news" (the meaning of the word gospel).
    2. Acts affirms Jesus is Lord and Christ.
      "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36)
      1. It affirms the impact of Jesus Christ on Jewish people.
      2. It affirms the impact of Jesus Christ on Gentiles.
      3. It affirms the impact of Jesus Christ on the arrested Paul.
    3. The epistles affirm how belonging to Jesus Christ affects how people who have accepted Jesus Christ live, how Jesus Christ affect the concerns of the individual, and how Jesus Christ affects those who present him to others.
    4. The collective point of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ changes the way people who live for God live and act.
  3. Please focus your attention on Ephesians 4:17 through 5:2. Please read with me.
    Ephesians 4:17-5:2, "So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."
    (Please keep this text in front of you.)
    1. I want you to see for yourself in this text that there is:
      1. Life lived before Christ.
      2. An understanding of what it means to be in Christ.
      3. Contrasts between life before Christ and life in Christ.
      4. And a call to imitation.
    2. This book was written to Gentiles who became Christians (look at chapter two).
      1. The book stressed the impact of Jesus Christ on people who formerly lived godless lives.
        • Ephesians 1:1,2  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
        • Ephesians 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
        • Ephesians 1:15,16  For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers
        • Ephesians 2:4,5  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
        • Ephesians 3:4  By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ
        • Ephesians 3:14-19  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
        • Ephesians 4:14-16  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

      2. Note the continued emphasis on Jesus Christ.
    3. Now look carefully at the text we read in the beginning, which began in 4:17.
      1. Verses 4:17 through 4:19 obviously deal with the lives these people lived prior to their knowledge of Jesus Christ.
      2. Verses 4:20 through 4:22 declare plainly that the message from Jesus Christ did not teach them to keep on living as they lived before coming to Christ.
      3. Verses 4:23 through 4:24 declare the responding to the message about Christ is to result in a transformation of life
        1. There was the former life and there is the new life.
        2. There is a "what you used to live for" given in contrast to "what you now live for" as Christians.
      4. Then there are at least six contrast between a life lived that does not know Christ and a life that has been given to Christ in verses 4:25-32.
      5. Then there is the challenge to let Christ teach them how to imitate God in the way they live in verses 5:1, 2.
  4. The point I want you to see should jump out at you: Christian existence is about living for Jesus Christ.
    1. I am going to say some things that could be easily misunderstand. I say them because:
      1. I want you to think.
      2. I want your faith to develop deeper roots to support a deeper understanding of God’s work.
      3. (If you do not understand, ask me about what you do not understand.)
    2. Ultimately, you are not a Christian because of the faith of anyone else–your grandparents, your parents, you favorite preacher, your favorite Bible teacher, your favorite example in the congregation.
      1. Spiritual maturity is believing because of your conviction, not because of someone else’s conviction.
      2. You belong to Jesus Christ, not to a person you know or to a group you know.
      3. Why is this understanding so important?
        1. A person is not perfect–all of us (even the best of us) are capable of making some very ungodly mistakes.
        2. Congregations are composed of people–all of them are capable of making some very ungodly mistakes.
        3. When people fail, you will loose faith if your faith is rooted in people.
      4. We live in an evil world.
        1. While we always wish to be the yeast of God’s influence, bad things will still happen to godly people.
        2. When good people suffer, you wish to praise God through Christ for His blessings which you see, not denounce God and Christ because things are not happening like you would like for them to happen.
    3. Understanding we belong to Jesus Christ could even change your concept of evangelism.
      1. Conversion is not a matter of changing a few facts.
      2. Conversion is not a matter of becoming a part of a religious organization.
      3. Conversion is about accepting a Savior, placing confidence in a Savior, and following a Savior as his disciple.
      4. People need to see how that belonging to Jesus Christ affects who we are and how we live–that is the "light" we reflect that urges them to turn to the Savior we turned to.
      5. We want them to seek the Savior, not follow a religious system.

Is godly influence bad? No! Is godly imitation bad? No! But both are stepping stones that should lead to spiritual maturity expressed in Christ-like lifestyles. Godly influence and godly imitation lead to placing confidence in Jesus Christ. The root system that sustains faith in immoral floods and ungodly droughts is sunk deep in Jesus Christ. He sustains, and he leads to God.

His Power at Work Within Us

Posted by on July 29, 2007 under Sermons

Ephesians 3:20

This text is a word of praise from the apostle. He is praising God for all the amazing and astounding things that God has done, can do and is doing. God is able, he affirms, to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.

I think our imaginations are large enough to accept that. We can accept that God is able to do anything, yes? We can accept that God is able to do more than we could ever ask, yes? We can accept that God’s power and ability is “off the scale,” yes? I don’t think we are the sort of people who would dare to limit God’s power or somehow believe that there was something just too difficult for God.

But can we accept that God’s power works within us? Think about that. The God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine is working among us, through us, within us. Will we accept that? It is part of the praise: “according to his power at work within us.” It’s one thing to sing out strongly that “God is so big, so great and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do!” But to also contend that God is at work within me? That makes it personal and real.

We’ve been saying for some weeks now that God is doing great things among us. I, for one, have been telling you this. I believe it. I see it. I want you to see it as well. There are a couple of men I want you to hear from . . .

  • Scott James, the Welcome Ministry
  • Gary Vancil, new church member

    When God’s power is at work among us, it’s at work in the church. The power and the gifts are shared. They are for the common good and the building up of the body.

    The power of God at work among us serves God’s purposes in the world. It is power because it is energy to do something. God is redeeming and saving the world. What He started through Jesus is still continuing. Here we are the church – we are the recipients of that saving power. (God didn’t contract any one of us. We were all saved and added to the church. None of us were here before God. We have all been gathered in). His power is at work within us, so we are the recipients of the saving power but we are also those sent out to share that power at work within us.

    Have you ever wondered why we call our closing prayer the sending out prayer? It affirms that we, the church, are not the senders. Christ is the sender – we are the sent. It also affirms that the “worship service” doesn’t end here. Rather, we are sent out to continue our worship in love and service to the world. We are sent out with his power at work within us.

    His power is at work within us …

    Giving – I see it and believe it when I look at a financial record and see that we are growing in generosity and giving. That’s God doing immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. His power is at work within us.

    New Members – I see and believe it when I meet so many new people who’ve come to fellowship with this congregation. In the last six months we have had no less than 50 people, just like the Vancil family, added to this congregation. And it is such an encouragement when I hear them say how much they appreciate the spirit and love of this church family. That’s his power at work within us.

    Welcoming – I see it when you open your homes and invite new members to a meal. Greeting people and helping our guests and visitors find their way.

    Hope Chest – I see and I believe it when I see the opportunities that God is creating for us to give to those who are in need. God has been doing immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine through the ministry of the Hope Chest. Recently an opportunity to serve foster children at the emergency shelter opened up. You’ll hear more about what that involves tonight, but now we can minister to some really good kids who are in some really bad situations. How? By acting on the opportunity God has given us. Can we do it? Yes, because his power is at work within us.

    Missions – I see God’s power at work within us around the world. Our mission works and local evangelism efforts stand out as fulfillments of the mission to make disciples, but they also remind us that everything we do is really outreach. When God’s power is at work within us, his purposes are accomplished and everything we do is for our sake and the sake of the world – at the same time!

    Lions for Christ -Did you see the news recently that UAFS is partnering with colleges in Asia? The Far East is literally across the street! Our ministry to the UA Fort Smith Campus continues to grow. And now as some of our first students graduate and begin their careers we have been blessed by God to form a growing 20-Somethings group. We did not accomplish this, but God’s power at work within us did more than we could ask or imagine.

    Youth Group and Children’s Ministries – Our youth group is growing – in numbers and in faith. Our teens returned from a mission in Duluth, MN, yesterday. When school starts we will work with elementary students who are blessed by your nurturing and guidance. Our Youth and Children’s ministries reach out and reach within – not to serve “our kids” or “other kids” but to serve all of God’s kids. They are all God’s children and his power is at work within us to care for his children.

    CURE – I know that God’s power is at work within us when I hear the how encouraged you are to get word from some thankful soul whose life is changed by the shipments they send overseas. Stacking racks, loading trucks, driving trucks and it is changing lives. God’s power is at work within us.

    Overcomers Outreach – We are overcoming the power of addictions through God’s power at work within us. People are overcoming the power of shame and self-incrimination through God’s power at work within us.

    Just caring for people – you have been visiting those who are sick. Sitting with those who need care. Giving a ride to those who want to be here; driving the vans. Taking the time to pray and phone that pager. These are not “small things.” Nothing is small when God’s power is at work within us.

  • A Matter of Perspective

    Posted by on July 26, 2007 under Bulletin Articles

    Romans 14 dealt with a hard, tricky problem in the first century church-cultural differences. While cultural differences involve many things, may I point to just one familiar to most of us? The impact of culture on most people is this: culture frames the way we think. What we see and understand in the majority of situations is determined by what our culture teaches us to see and understand.

    For example, one looks at a situation and sees spiritual danger. Another looks at the situation and sees nothing alarming. Another looks at the same situation and sees actual good. The first sees moral degradation. The second sees innocence. The third sees constructive fellowship. Which is correct? Possibly all are. Why does each see something different? Likely, their culture conditioned the way they looked at the situation.

    That was the situation in Romans 14. One strong in the faith could eat anything (an expression of a Gentile culture). One weak in the faith was a vegetarian (Jewish culture feared the meat markets in Rome). One recognized some days as more significant than other days (Jewish culture emphasized the importance of days). Some understood that all days were of equal significance (an expression of some converted to Christ from both Jewish and Gentile perspectives).

    Our approach would use a simple question: “Which position is right and which is wrong? What should a Christian eat? What should he/she not eat? Should some days be significant and some not be significant? If Christians should observe days, which ones should he/she observe?” To many of us, it is a simple question of right and wrong. If we decide and convince others of our “correctness,” we solve the problem. All we need to do is announce, “This is the correct behavior for all Christians in all nations.”

    Interestingly, Paul the apostle (the Jewish man who was God’s apostle to non-Jews) did not give that solution. He did not issue an edict about what Christians should and should not eat or what days Christians should or should not observe. Instead, he wrote about Christians not condemning Christians, Christians not judging Christians, Christians understanding they were servants, and Christians knowing their only Lord was Jesus Christ. He even began his statement with this affirmation: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (Romans 14:1). He even wrote: “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (Romans 14:22).

    He also wrote: “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). That was not written as a frightening statement intended to terrify. In fact, no Christian needed to be terrified by that statement unless he/she exploited the weak, judged the Lord’s servants, condemned the innocent, or tried to coerce other Christians. To those who disagree without being disagreeable, it is a comforting statement. “Whatever conclusion you draw, the Lord will listen to your motives.” We tend not to listen to each other, but the Lord will listen to our “whys.”

    Lions, Leopards, and Bears, Oh My!

    Posted by on July 22, 2007 under Sermons

    Features of the Apocalyptic Genre

    1. Account of visionary, history on cosmic scale
    2. Use of symbolism: animals, numbers, colors, metals, features (wings and horns)
    3. Revelation of God’s involvement in history (re-interpretation of suffering)
    4. Promise of divine intervention
    5. Air of mystery

    Themes of Apocalyptic

    • The universe is divided into two forces: good and evil.
    • These forces are engaged in a war. So choose sides!
    • God will break into history and overthrow all evil. Even if the war seems lost!
    • Faithful are encouraged to endure the struggle
    • God’s victory is certain.
    • Punishment of the wicked is assured.
    • Appeal to the senses: sight & sound
    • Not reasonable approach to truth, emotional & imaginative approach

    Numbers in Apocalyptic

    1. The numerical value is not always significant
    2. The “mystique” of the number is what counts
    3. Consider how we regard the number “13” or “7” – on 7/7/07 lottery ticket sales were at an all-time high. Why?

    Apocalyptic Numerology

    Independence, Singularity, Wholeness.
    [“Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is ONE.”]
    Companionship and Support.
    Strengthening, Augmentation, Confirming
    [Adam and Eve. Two witnesses to confirm.
    “Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name …”]
    A perfect number. Father, Mother, Child = Family. Home.
    [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.]
    Indefinite. Incomplete. Unsatisfied. Unspecified amount of time.
    Hope and waiting for 7 (Half of seven).
    [A Time, times, and half a time. 42 months. 1260 days.]
    The World and Cosmos.
    Four directions, four corners, four winds, four walls.
    Four elements. Four kinds of animal life.
    [Ezekiel 1 – Four Creatures, Four Directions]
    Counting and Measuring.
    Five fingers on a hand. Decimal system.
    Half of 10.
    [Num. 3 – 5 shekels to redeem sons.
    Tabernacle measurements are typically multiples of 5.]
    Imperfection and Sin.
    Defeat, falling short of seven.
    Humans created on the sixth day.
    [2 Sam. 21 – The six-fingered warrior from Gath.
    The number of the beast: 666]
    Perfection and Completion.
    The perfect divine plus the perfect world. End of a cycle.
    [Seven days of creation.
    Leviticus 8 – Seven Days for the ordination of priests.]
    Magnification and Human Completion.
    [Ten horns, ten commandments, Ten Minas – Luke 19.
    Multiples of Ten: 70, 100, 1000 make the impact of the base number greater.
    100,000 is a Big Number!]
    Perfect Religion.
    A sure foundation.
    3×4. The perfect divine multiplied by the perfect world.
    [Twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, 12x12x1000=144,000]

    Daniel 7: Three Scenes

    1. The History of the World: Four Beasts and Four Kingdoms
    2. The Court of Heaven: The Throne of the Ancient of Days
    3. The Son of Man Arrives!

    The History of the World

    1. Lion = Babylon
    2. Bear = Media
    3. Leopard = Persia
    4. Terrible Beast = Greece
      1. Jaws and Horns = Seleucid Rulers
      2. Boasting Horn = Antiochus IV Epiphanes

    The Son of Man

    • Four Kingdoms come and go on earth
    • The Ancient of Days holds court and judges the earth
    • He invests eternal authority in the Son of Man

    So What?

    1. Imagine you are a suffering saint in the exile
    2. Imagine you are a suffering saint in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes
    3. The Son of Man is coming! Be faithful! Have hope!

    Submitting Ourselves to One Another – part 2

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Read Ephesians 6:1-4.

    Any parent is going to have to contend with children asking “why?” It’s sort of cute when they are very little and they ask questions such as “Why do people have eyebrows?” However, as the child gets older the question can become sort of argumentative. So when a parent suggests that a child brush her teeth, she says “Why?”
    Of course parents do the same thing. The child asks us to borrow $10 and we say, “WHY?”
    In this game of asking why, parents have a trump card to play: “Because I said so!”

    Maybe its because of this that I think preaching and instruction of God’s word should be much more than a divine “Because I said so.” Thankfully, God’s word specializes in giving good answers to “Why?” (And sometimes it even raises the question.) This Scripture read today does not disappoint. It makes a special effort to spell out why children ought to obey and honor their parents and why parents ought to raise their children right.

    Recall that this is the second part of the household codes we discussed last week. Verse 21 establishes all the relationships in the household. We all submit to one another out of respect for Christ. People who are filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18) are going to be submissive to one another. That submission takes on different characteristics and in the case of children and parents there is a way each submits to the other.

    Children are to obey their parents. Why? It is the proper way of things. It is natural. The family is designed in such a way that parents, who are supposed to be the mature ones, care for and develop the ones who are not yet mature, the children. So, the child needs to obey the parent. [Now if that’s not the natural, proper order of things we wouldn’t have Supernanny!]

    Children should obey their parents in the Lord. Why? “That it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Some translation say, so that you will live long and prosper. [This isn’t parenting by Dr. Spock, this is parenting by Mr. Spock!] The logic behind this promise is that good parents have a child’s best interest at heart and if you obey them then it is for your own good.

    Parent’s also submit to their children. We might ask “How?” rather than why. The contrast in verse 4 spells out what parenting is and isn’t. Parents are not to exasperate their children or provoke their children to anger. Does this mean parents shouldn’t tell their children anything that will set off a fit? No, it doesn’t because this isn’t about the child’s reaction, rather it is about the manner of parenting and the development of a child’s character. Provoking a child to anger means instilling a legacy of rage and bitterness in a child. The same word used here is the one used back in 4:26 for the sort of anger that can control us. Abusive parents embed anger into the soul of a child. Adult children of abusive parents still harbor this anger. Abusive parents are also those who will take advantage of the instruction to children to obey their parents. They will use it like a hammer to force their will onto a child or in the worst of cases influence a child to do something ungodly. We could point out that children are to obey their parents “in the Lord” but we could also point out that the objective of parenting is not to develop cruel and broken character in children by instill anger and rage in them.

    Rather, a parent has the God-given responsibility to develop and shape the character of a growing human soul. Parents should raise children in the nurture and instruction that comes from the Lord. I came across a statement in a book saying that we shouldn’t “count” the baptisms of our children as true evangelism. I strongly disagree with that on the basis of Ephesians 6:4. Godly parenting is a form of evangelism. When we raise our children in the teaching and instruction that comes from the Lord that means we raise them to have the character of Christ. It means we raise them to be Christian.

    Whether someone is baptized at age 15 or 55, the goal of their life is the same. The character we want to develop in all of Christ’s people is described in the last three chapters of Ephesians. This is the godly character and holy manners that describe God’s household, and so it ought to be the same in our households.

    What is parenting really? It is the passing on of the character, virtues, and manners that we’ve discussed in this series from Ephesians.

    Are You Passionate for God or a Slave to a Process?

    Posted by on July 19, 2007 under Bulletin Articles

    In my understanding, the core of “The Sermon on The Mount” is found in Matthew 5:20: “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    The verses 21-48 illustrate the difference between people passionate for God and people devoted to a religious process. Jesus’ illustrations centered on murder, adultery, deceitful vows, retaliation, and love. The basic distinction is this: there is a definite difference between passionate people who want to be God’s family and people who turn passion for God into a religious process.

    Through generations, people with the scribes and Pharisees’ emphases turned God’s intent into a set of rules. The rules focused on “dotting i’s and crossing t’s” instead of understanding God’s intent. The result: They distorted God’s focus: concern for people.

    Jesus came to restore God’s focus. God does not want His people to be angry enough to murder; to want to commit adultery; to deceive through vows; to seek retaliation; or to hate anyone. People passionate for God do not do those things! Those things are not a part of the lives of people who passionately want to be family to God!

    It is not about rules and regulations! It is not about “How can I do evil and get away with evil acts.” It is about being family to God. It is about godly character.

    That commitment takes a passion. It is not a passion focused on “how you live.” It is a passion focused on “how I live.” If “I” behave like people who worship idols who do not even know the living God, how am “I” different from godless people? This unique motivation comes from devotion to the living God. It cannot be reduced to a religious process that seeks to do evil in “correct” ways.

    What Jesus said to his Jewish audience is relevant to all who passionately wish to be God’s family in our society. We are increasingly, rapidly becoming a pluralistic society that respects many gods and reacts with hostility to Christian values. In definite ways, Christians bear some responsibility for the transition. There are few godless behaviors (a) that Christians have not performed or (b) have not justified in self-interested concerns.

    It is not that the living God is no longer attractive. It is not that His blessings are no longer valuable. It is that His people have changed the focus of His concern. It is that too few want passionately to be His family. For many, Christianity is a religious process that too often condones evil. Only by living in passionate devotion to God can we attract people to God again. We must be a godly people of godly character!

    Into the Lion’s Den

    Posted by on July 15, 2007 under Sermons

    Daniel 6: Four Moves

    1. The Trap Set (1-9)
    2. The Trap Sprung (10-15)
    3. Into the Lion’s Den (16-24)
    4. Darius Praises God (25-28)

    The New Administration

    • Oct. 29, 539 B.C. – Cyrus the Great assumes rule of Babylon – Babylon is no longer in control. The line of Nebuchadnezzar is over.
    • Captivity of Judah ends
    • Darius the Mede is either …
      1. Cyrus II (559 – 529 BC) – It could be Cyrus the Persian (the Great) who conquered the Median empire during his rule. He might have taken the name Darius as his Median title.
      2. Darius I (522 – 485 BC) – It could be Darius I who did organize the kingdom into provinces (satraps) ruled by officials. He was also a worshipper of Ahura Mazda, a Zoroastrian.

    President Daniel

    • The Persian rulers recognize Daniel’s wisdom
    • He rises to high position
    • This is good for all – except Daniel’s rivals
    • They conspire to do away with Daniel

    Law of the Medes and Persians

    • The trick of the irrevocable law
    • Darius is duped
    • Daniel’s civil disobedience
    • The Law of the Mede’s and Persians is now in a contest with God’s Law.

    Hope and Prayer

    • Why does Daniel have to pray?
    • He is praying toward Jerusalem – Now that the Jews are free to return home he is praying for the restoration of Jerusalem and the homeland. Allowing the Jews to return is simple. Actually working to make it happen will be a massive undertaking.
    • Jerusalem represents hope and the future – When the scheming counselors take away Daniel’s time of prayer, they are robbing him of his hope and future. Daniel will not allow them to take it away.

    Into the Lion’s Den

    1. Darius prays for God to save Daniel
    2. The den is sealed with a stone
    3. We are not allowed “in the den”
    4. The story follows the anxious king from night to morning – King Darius is the dramatic figure in this story, not Daniel. Daniel is fine. He is content. Darius is conflicted and anxious.

    We have no indication of what happened in the lion’s den except for Daniel’s comment afterward. Nevertheless, artists have tried to depict the interior of the den with varying views …

    I’m not sure from where this picture came. It looks like a petting zoo. The lions seem friendly.

    This is straight from Sunday School of yesteryear. Notice the lovely, feminine angel. Daniel is so young.

    This is a well known portrait by Rubens from the early 17th century. This is as much a study in anatomy as it is anything else. Notice the musculature painted on the lions and Daniel.

    This portrait has very Christological themes. See the skull at the bottom border and the blood red cloth.

    Daniel looks scared and begging.

    The artist for these next two paintings is Briton Rivi?re (1840-1920). What I like about Rivi?re’s painting: Daniel is old. The lion’s are kept at bay by an invisible force.
    Daniel turns his back on the lions. He is at peace. Either God will spare him, or he will die. Daniel looks up into the light. It demonstrates hope.

    Darius Pays Attention

    1. He gets Daniel out – By drawing Daniel out he is changing the law of the Medes and Persians. He is acknowledging a higher law
    2. He punishes the conspirators (and their families)
    3. He issues a decree calling his kingdom to reverence God
    4. He praises God!

    So What?

    1. God can change and challenge what we consider unchanging – We often don’t give God enough credit. We have to be bold enough to accept that God can do what he wills. We tend to think that the “Law of the Medes and Persians” is the way it always must be. We let people suffer because we are too afraid to follow God rather than “the way it has always been done.”
    2. Civil disobedience – Civil disobedience doesn’t make much sense if you are the group in power. But when you are persecuted it is all you have. Daniel is the best public servant. He has done no wrong by honoring God. He is persecuted for it. The law is organized against him. He proceeds faithfully and without anxiety. How useful is that to us in a day and age when we grow anxious because Christian faith seems to be losing privilege. Let them change the laws. It shouldn’t sweat us. We don’t have to fight. (Daniel did nothing wrong or disruptive) We can protest and exercise our rights within the law – but above all else LET’S KEEP OUR FAITH. For instance, they can take the 10 commandments out of the courthouse and school, but they cannot take it out of our hearts!
    3. The power to kill vs. the power to save/give life. Darius and the irrevocable law of the Medes and Persians has the illusion of final authority because it has the power to kill and destroy. That seems so final. But God alone has the power to preserve and make life. No king on earth has that power. No power or authority on earth can claim that.

    Submitting Ourselves to One Another – part 1

    Posted by on under Sermons

    Read Ephesians 5:21-33. – I have read these words at dozens of weddings. It’s more than a habit or stock sermon. It’s a conviction that these words call us to live as a people filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s a conviction that walking worthy of our calling in Christ involves relationships.

    I will always remember the first wedding service in which I used this Scripture. In a meeting with the bride and groom before the wedding I mentioned that I intended to use this Scripture. I asked them to read it and get back with me. A few days later she called me. She let me know that she had a problem with the language of wives being in subjection. She wanted me to know that she had felt that way for a long time and not just because of my request to use this text. For years she had heard the statement that a woman ought to be in subjection. She had a problem with the way that tended to be abusive and the way people used this Scripture as a “biblical law” to get their own way and to “put a woman in her place.”

    I was surprised at this reaction. This young woman did not have an agenda by any means. She wasn’t trying to be difficult. She was simply being honest with me. I was stunned at that moment, but I will forever be grateful to her for making me go back and read the Scripture carefully.

    I considered her experience with the language of “subjection” and “submission” and I could now see that what she heard from that language was the language of being a second-class person or a doormat. For a wife to submit meant she should shut up and behave.

    The attitude she encountered is like that of a cartoon someone recently sent me. It depicts a very happy looking 1950’s era couple. The husband is standing by the fireplace with his pipe in his hand. He is addressing his wife and says: “I’ve been thinking … I’m the man of this house, so starting tomorrow I want you to have a hot, delicious meal ready for me the second I walk through that door … afterwards while watching ESPN and relaxing in my chair you’ll bring me my slippers and then run my bath … and when I’m done with my bath, guess who’s going to dress me and comb my hair?” The woman answers rather directly, “The funeral director.”

    Maybe that joke works because the attitude displayed by the condescending husband is all too real. And that attitude has been around for a long, long time.

    The arrangement of instructions to the members of the household that appears in Ephesians was not unique to the Bible in ancient times. Philosophers and politicians of the ancient world frequently commented on the way husbands and wives, fathers and children, and masters and slaves ought to conduct themselves in good society. The likes of Aristotle, Josephus, and Philo drew up their own codes of household conduct. And there are even other examples of this in the Bible in Colossians and 1 Peter (even though that one is interestingly incomplete). So, there’s nothing exceptional about the apostle instructing Christians how to behave in the household. What is exceptional is how the biblical code of contact differs ever so slightly – but oh so importantly, from the typical code.

    For instance, the typical code is usually just aimed at the free men: husbands, fathers, and slave-owners. The duty of the men is to rule the household and the wives, children, and slaves are to be in servitude. Of course the men ought not to be cruel and violent, but the assumption is that the other groups require this sort of guidance. Josephus will even point out that the wife is inferior in all things to the man (Contra Apionem 2.24). It sounds patronizing to us. In fact it is patronizing. It truly is paternalistic because that’s the way these ancient societies were structured – the father, the pater, ran the show. He had all the authority and in that world the head of the household’s position was not just familial, it was also political.

    And when Paul writes to the Ephesians, he knows that. Nevertheless, he aims his code of conduct at Christians who live within the pattern of these social institutions. And the all-important difference is tucked away so subtly in verse 21: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Notice the difference …

    First, submission is voluntary. The text says, “submitting yourself.” It is describing one of the results of being a Spirit-filled people (v. 18). [Note that the verb in 5:18 is the main verb. 5:21 is a participle and 5:22 doesn’t even contain a verb in the original language.] This is the way that God’s people live in community with one another – in the church, in the family, and in the world. We are the children of light, the imitators of God, the wise folk who make the most of the times. Being filled with Christ’s spirit and walking worthy of our calling means we submit ourselves (willingly, voluntarily) to one another.

    Second, it isn’t just the wives who submit. Husbands also submit. They are to be like Christ who loved the church so much he gave his life for it. Self-sacrificing love! Husbands are to treat their wives as if they were their own body – and how does Christ treat his body (meaning the church)? Christ made his “bride” holy and cared for her.
            That submission language changes meaning in a context in which the submission is voluntary. Wives love their husbands and respect the authority that the first-century structures invested in the husband – not because she is being “put in her place” but because she is thinking of someone else. Husbands love their wives and will sacrifice and care for them in a way that imitates Christ. Not because they must, but because they willingly choose to do so.

    Thirdly, can we see how Paul is addressing the social reality that husbands and wives in first-century Ephesus find themselves in, but at the same time he seems to be working from a higher standard. Some of the other philosophers who wrote up household codes of conduct attempted to preserve the status quo. A few others were cynically critical of the status quo. But there’s more going on in Ephesians 5 than a concern for or challenge of the way things are. Paul is looking “off the page” at a greater vision. One in which there is neither male nor female, slave or free, but unity in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Paul is looking at a new vision of humanity that has an attitude of humility and service. Like Christ, the new humanity doesn’t grasp at authority, but looks out for the interests of others rather than self. Paul is looking at the creation story and describes marriage as a mysterious unity in which two individuals become as one. Sort of like Christ and the church. It is a lot to take in, he admits. But for now, in his world, he simply asks them to love and respect one another.

    Our institution of marriage in 21st America is only slightly similar to the first century institution. There’s probably more that is different than similar. And that not necessarily a bad thing, the bible doesn’t authorize or affirm any particular culture’s details about family relationships. But it does reference a higher vision. Can we also look off the page with Paul and consider how the influence of the Holy Spirit and the example of Christ and the church order our husband and wife relationship? Not stopping there, how shall we all submit to one another out of reverence to Christ?

    That woman who helped me read this Scripture carefully told me that she could see the wisdom of this the way I explained it to her that day. She said that that was what she wanted in a marriage relationship. That’s what I attempt to preach at every wedding – a calling to be unified in Christ’s spirit; submission to one another in love and respect. That’s what I hope I have preached today.

    Holy Manners: The Challenge

    Posted by on July 12, 2007 under Bulletin Articles

    You may or may not agree with the characteristics I place in my emphasis on Christians having and maintaining holy manners. There may be things you would add or delete. If you would add, subtract, or both, fine (as long as we stay within scripture’s emphasis). The important things are (1) we stay within God’s emphasis, (2) we concern ourselves with the complete godly character, and (3) we are committed daily to exemplifying God’s teachings. We want to be God’s people. We also want to act like God’s people.

    Note three things in Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:1-3. (1) The way we behave must be worthy of our calling in Christ. Obviously, there are ways to behave that misrepresent Christ. The Christian’s commitment must be (a) to understand the behaviors worthy of our calling (behaviors consistent with who our Savior is and what he is about) and (b) to practice those behaviors daily. (2) The worthy behaviors are based on love’s tolerance (forbearance of love-KJV, RSV, NEB; helpfulness of love-TEV; bearing with each other-NIV, JB). In our southern Christian culture, we put up with each others’ flaws because we love Jesus Christ. We do not confront, declare war, or have a blood-letting. Instead, we lovingly tolerate. It is not, as many say, “the principle of the matter.” It is the fact that we allow Jesus Christ to teach us how to love others. The only way to reflect well on a Savior who died for us and a Father who forgives us is to love others despite their imperfections. (3) Worthy behavior and tolerant love preserve the Spirit’s unity in peace.

    Note that Christians preserve unity. They do not create unity. God brought unity into existence through Jesus Christ. We merely preserve what God made possible. See Acts 2:36, 38 combined with Galatians 3:26-28. God does the adding-Jew, gentile, men, women, slave, free, educated, uneducated, successful, failure, prosperous, poor (an unlikely group!). All of us are in Christ by God’s act. We preserve what He made possible. It takes tolerant love to preserve unity in this unlikely group!

    Only by learning holy manners can we preserve! God placed each of us in His family. We must treat each other as one in Christ or as one who has potential of being in Christ.

    We must never forget that God did not ask our permission to put someone in Christ! We are one because of what God did-not because we made ourselves one! Since it is God’s ambition to save all (see 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4; John 3:16-18), the church always has been and will be an unusual group.

    May we preserve what God does!

    Wise Living

    Posted by on July 8, 2007 under Sermons

    So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21

    The letter to the Ephesians inspires us to live out our Christianity in a way that stands out from the world. We are called to live a life worthy of our Christian calling. Three ways of describing it show us just how exceptional this calling is:

    1. We are light, not darkness. Sometimes we let our past sins consume us and drag us down. But even though we once were darkness, our calling confirms that we are now light in the Lord. We have a bright future (pun intended) because we are the children of light and that light shines forth to reveal the truth of God. It exposes what is wrong about sin and darkness and how that hurts people and ruins lives; but this isn’t a crusade, it’s just who we are and our speech and behavior reflect God’s light.
    2. We live in self-sacrificing love, not self-indulgent lust. We are imitators of God. The example of Christ himself is what shapes our definition of love. We are not consumed with greed or selfish desires (sexual or otherwise). Our speech and behavior reflect Christ’s love.
    3. We are wise, not foolish. This is the final contrast. God’s people are not foolish. So, what does it mean to be wise?

    To live as a wise person means more than having knowledge. Education and intelligence are not necessarily the same thing as wisdom. Wisdom means having skill about how to live. And often that wisdom is transmitted to us by those who have lived a little longer than us but have the wisdom not to be arrogant about it.

    “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

    Proverbs 4 is a testimony to this. The wise man is asking us, his children, to pay attention to his wisdom – wisdom that he himself learned from his father. But he wants us to learn wisdom so that …
    My child, listen to me and do as I say, and you will have a long, good life. I will teach you wisdom’s ways and lead you in straight paths. When you walk, you won’t be held back; when you run, you won’t stumble. – Proverbs 4:10-12

    Since wisdom has to do with the way we live, then living wise (according to the text of Eph. 5) means …

    1. Making the most of opportunity. We are naturally inclined in our culture to link wisdom with opportunity. We live with sayings such as “When opportunity knocks, open the door.” We understand this and we equate opportunity and wisdom with success. This is why we remember Thomas Edison, but not Heinrich G?bel. G?bel invented the light bulb 25 years before Edison secured the patent. But Edison innovated on the light bulb and made the most of the opportunity for its practical application. We can understand making the most of opportunity, but the difference for Christians is that we are make the most of opportunities to do good, not simply to be successful. The important opportunity is for good because the days are evil. The times are evil because of the darkness, greed, and foolishness in the world. So what better opportunity is there for God’s people than to live in light, love, and wisdom. This is essentially what evangelism is all about. [Note: Evangelism is not mass recruiting or fund-raising] What opportunities are in front of us? Will we be wise in acting on that?

    2. Living wise means that we will seek wisdom. We will find it as we strive to understanding the Lord’s will. Discerning the Lord’s will is not a matter of fortune-telling – that’s foolishness, not wisdom.
      One day an engaged couple went to see a man of wisdom. These devout believers were very anxious because they loved each other so much and they were devoted to God, but they wanted to be absolutely certain that it was God’s will that they should be married to one another. Alas, they had sought some sort of sign or insight from the Almighty, but nothing was forthcoming. So they turned to this man’s counsel. His reply was, “Have you considered that God may not have an opinion on whether you two get married or not?” The couple was astounded and wondered if this man really was wise. “How can you say that?” they asked. “Doesn’t God care about marriage? Doesn’t he want a man and woman to stay married forever? Isn’t it important to God?” To that the wise man replied, “Indeed, God cares about marriage and his will for marriage is clear. Now God may not care one way or another if the two of you choose to get married to each other, but if you do then he certainly has a strong feeling about how you ought to live together in that marriage. If you will honor that, then you will be living in God’s will.”
      Like the young couple, it is easy to assume that God’s will represents some hidden script to the future. But that’s not God’s will, that’s fate. God’s will is “what God wants.” And since the days of the Ten Commandments (and even in the Garden of Eden) God has been pretty clear about his will – i.e. what he wants. Understanding that is what it means to live as wise people.

    3. Living wise means being filled with the Spirit. Look at the text and notice all the choices: We can make the most of the opportunities, or we can participate in the foolishness and evil of the age. We can understand what the Lord wants, or we can act thoughtlessly. Finally, you can be filled with the Spirit, or you can get filled “with spirits.” God’s people ought to be the ones who understand how to live joyfully and how to celebrate the goodness of creation with thanksgiving. Unfortunately the world has cornered the market on celebration. Celebrating and living it up are equated with excess.
      Being filled with God’s spirit of holiness doesn’t mean that we must be drab and miserable. In fact, the text spells out clearly that we ought be singing and practicing thankfulness. Notice that the aim of the singing is to encourage one another and lift each other up. This is much better and more beneficial to all of us that the world’s foolish counterfeits to joy and celebration.
      So, when we sing let’s truly sing from the heart. There’s more to this than simply be non-instrumental. We can focus on the musicality, the order, the arrangement, the notation of the songs, but to do all of that and miss the spirit of our hymns and songs is just foolish. But we aren’t foolish, we have God’s wisdom. It is a gift for the asking. God’s spirit is a spirit of wisdom, so let’s live in wisdom and take the opportunity as often as we can to encourage one another to do what Christ wants us to do.