Unity: The Concept (part 1)

Posted by on January 29, 2009 under Sermons

Too often we make assumptions about a concept. We assume our concept is God’s concept. The result is that we never examine the concept to see if it is correct. We simply build on our assumption as if it is God’s concept. Often we generate unquestionable conclusions in the full conviction that our foundation assumption is NOT an assumption, but rather is God’s concept.

Let’s try to illustrate what I just said to see the problem as clearly as possible. For a few minutes, consider our concept of unity. Do you know what the concept unity is? Could you define unity? Are you certain your concept of unity is God’s concept? Are most of your declarations about what it means to be unified in a congregation or in the religious world based on your definition of unity, therefore based on your concept of unity? Is it your complete conviction that your definition (therefore your concept) of unity is God’s definition and concept?

To make your definition and concept specific, think with me congregationally. You are a member of a small congregation. That small congregation has outgrown its physical facilities. It has three choices. First, it can do nothing and begin shrinking (that is what usually happens when a congregation does nothing). Second, it can divide by mutual agreement and become two congregations. However, if it divides (a) some of the work the congregation does will have to cease because there will be no money to do that work, and (b) the new group will have to find or build new facilities. Or, (c) the congregation remains one congregation and builds facilities to meets its needs.

Some members want to do nothing. Some members want to divide. Some members want to remain one congregation, but build new facilities. Question: are they divided? Can the membership have different ideas about what to do and still be one?

  1. Years ago when I was a boy, the scripture some would cite would be 1 Corinthians 1:10.
    "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment."
    1. After citing this scripture, the person citing it would say, "There must be complete agreement on everything we decide to do!"
      1. The reasoning would be this: "We are not of the same mind and judgment if there is not complete agreement!"
      2. Really?
        1. If there is not 100% agreement on the size of the new facility, are Christians in violation of the Christian responsibility to be one?
        2. If there is not 100% agreement on the design of the new facility, are Christians in violation of Paul’s admonition to be one?
        3. If there is not 100% agreement on the ratio of worship space to education space, are those Christians not one like Jesus and God the Father are one?
        4. If there is a difference of opinion on color schemes, carpet, or other types of flooring, are these Christians in violation of unity injunctions?
    2. If you are tempted to agree that there are some unity violations involved, consider some questions.
      1. Question one: was Paul speaking of decisions such as our building decisions when he wrote this statement?
        1. Was Paul speaking of personal preference matters?
        2. Or, was Paul speaking of considerations involving Christ and baptism matters?
        3. Before you give your answer, read Paul’s entire thought from verse 10 to verse 17.
      2. Question two: since the congregation has no buildings and no New Testament writer wrote about buildings, how could Paul be talking about buildings?
        1. The first century church was not defined by "where it met."
        2. The first century church was defined by the people who believed Jesus was the Christ.
          1. Most Jews did not think Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) that God promised.
          2. Many gentiles had significant problems in believing in a resurrection (see Acts 17:32).
          3. Many thought that the teaching about a man who had been executed by Roman authorities and later was resurrected was too ridiculous to believe (see 1 Corinthians 12:22-25).
      3. Question three: are you certain that your definition of unity is God’s definition? Are you certain your concept of unity is God’s concept?
        1. Have you ever examined your unity definition and concept by the Bible, or did you begin in definition and concept with an assumption?
        2. Have you ever read the Bible to discover God’s unity concept and definition to compare it to your definition and concept?
  2. How does the concept of "unity means full Christian agreement" fit with what Paul did as a matter of practice that he stated in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23?
    1. Paul’s evangelistic practice was to begin teaching a person where he or she was.
      1. It was quite a different approach.
        1. He did not teach as did a Jewish Rabbi who presented himself as an authority.
        2. He did not teach as a gentile philosopher who was in search of wisdom, but who also wanted the student to realize how foolish his reasoning was.
        3. He did not seek to "win" by winning a debate.
        4. In no way was he "sold on Paul" and what he knew–advancing Paul was never his consideration.
      2. Thus, Paul adopted the reasoning and approach of the person he taught.
        1. If he taught a Jew, Paul thought and reasoned like a Jew.
        2. If he taught a person devoted to the Law, Paul thought and reasoned like a person devoted to the law.
        3. If he taught a lawless person, Paul thought and reasoned like a lawless person.
        4. If he taught a weak person, Paul thought and reasoned like a weak person.
      3. That tells us a lot about the Christian Paul.
        1. He did not teach to advance Paul.
        2. He knew a lot about Jesus Christ.
        3. He knew a lot about people.
        4. His purpose was the conversion of all kinds of people to Jesus Christ–regardless of what their life and religious background were.
        5. He did not present himself as the authority in spiritual matters that demanded that everyone hear and accept what he said.
        6. He wanted people to have faith in Jesus Christ by understanding, and that meant they began where they were before they believed.
    2. Can you begin to imagine the variety of people he brought to Christ and what a diverse religious background those people had?
      1. Do you realize what little in common all these people had?
      2. The only thing they had in common was the common understanding that Jesus was the Christ and had removed their sins.
      3. Paul brought Jews, people devoted to the law, people without law, and people who were weak to Jesus Christ–and none of them knew how to "do church" (a new concept) or had a common moral code.
      4. These people had a lot to learn.
    3. Now be very honest and definitely specific about your concept of unity, and then apply your definition and concept to this situation.
      1. Would they all know what was involved in acting like a Christian? No!
      2. Would they all have the same moral code? No–the background of some emphasized that getting drunk was moral, or committing fornication was moral, or lying was moral, or stealing was moral (consider Ephesians 4:25-32 as an example).
      3. Would they even know how to treat each other correctly? No!
      4. They all had a lot to learn about being a Christian! That is why we have much of the New Testament! Most of the New Testament is about how Christians live and act like Christians!
  3. Now consider some very important questions.
    1. Could these different people from differing religious and moral backgrounds be one in Christ?
      1. My tendency would be to say no.
      2. However, scripture says, "Yes!" if these people are in Christ.
    2. Is their being one in Jesus Christ dependent on reaching total agreement on everything?
      1. My tendency would be to say they must agree.
      2. However, scripture says these people could disagree if they were in Christ.
    3. Could they do things differently in their love for Christ and still be one in Christ?
      1. My tendency would be to say no.
      2. However, scripture says, "Yes!" if these people are in Christ.
    4. May I anticipate your question: "How can that possibly be and unity exist?"
      1. It can be and is because of what God did in Jesus’ death on the cross.
      2. It is not the result of the person’s deeds, but the result of what God did in Jesus’ death.
      3. Listen carefully to these scriptures.
      4. The first scripture is 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 written by Paul to the Corinthian congregation.
        For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
      5. Also consider a statement from Peter made to Christian slaves in 1 Peter 2:21-24.
        For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
    5. We want to be very clear.
      1. We are not talking about the need for obedience.
      2. We are not talking about the need for growth.
      3. We are not talking about the human desire to justify evil.
      4. We are saying God’s concept and definition of unity is basically a divine function, not a human achievement.

This is more than a one-sermon consideration. Today’s lesson is merely the beginning. As far as I am concerned, the first thing that had to happen is for you to examine honestly your concept of Christian unity. (a) We had to begin with you looking at your definition of unity, your concept of unity. (b) We had to begin with you acknowledging to yourself that this may be a much more complex concept than you have previously considered. (c) We had to begin with you giving yourself permission to examine scripture with an open mind.

If you do not give yourself permission to examine your concept by scripture, you will spend your time listening in a dedication to defending your views rather than hearing scripture and thinking.

The lessons following this will focus on scripture. These lessons will expect you to do two things: (1) listen and (2) think. The objective is not to entice you to agree with me or anything I present. The objective is to challenge you to grow closer to God and His concepts.

May people be moved closer to God by understanding what an incredible thing God did for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Toothpaste Tubes

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The other day I was throwing away an empty toothpaste tube. I had squeezed and squeezed the tube until it was impossible for me to get any more toothpaste out of it. Finally, no decision was left-throw the tube away, get another tube, and start over. After all, what is more useless than a crumpled, empty toothpaste tube that yields no more toothpaste?

I have gone through too many tubes of toothpaste to remember or count. I do not ever recall thinking about an empty tube of toothpaste before (I will confess I think some weird thoughts these days). However, some strange realizations immediately came to me when I threw that empty tube away: (1) The moment I take the cap off a new tube, I know in a little while all that will remain is an empty tube. (2) Toothpaste tubes have one function-to hold toothpaste. (I have never regretted throwing away an empty toothpaste tube by wondering if it could be used for something else.) (3) I best not waste the toothpaste inside because the time will come when there is no more. (4) Do not assume there always will be another tube, for there are places with no toothpaste and no access to toothpaste. Do not think you always will have toothpaste available or affordable.

(1) Physical life ends. Eat as we wish, exercise as we wish, follow all the healthy practices we can, and still our physical life ends. If you live long enough, the time will come when you cannot do what you easily did in the past. (2) Physical life has a primary purpose. Having fun is not it. Do we know the purpose of life? (3) It is our option to waste life. Life will be used as we choose. However, there will come a moment when no more is left to use, and we cannot recover what we have wasted. (4) It is easy to assume when we are young that we have an endless supply of physical life. It is easy to take physical life for granted. However, the moment will come when we know only “a few squeezes” remain. When physical life is gone, it is gone.

Cavity prevention is a wonderful thing. However, wasted toothpaste prevents nothing and serves no purpose.

Preventing evil in my life is a wonderful thing (to be appreciated but not to encourage arrogance). However, wasted life (selfish pursuits) prevents nothing and serves no purpose. It is devastating when we approach our last “squeeze” of physical life to realize we have wasted life, and to know there is no “do over” function.

Jesus once said (in a contrast to those who selfishly exploit others), “. . . I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Born From Above

Posted by on January 25, 2009 under Sermons

Read John 3:1-21

So here’s Nicodemus, he’s in the dark. It is night and he wishes to interview this Rabbi, Jesus from Nazareth. He’s heard about the signs and Jesus has been discussed often in the religious council. But Nicodemus’ first word to Jesus really isn’t a question – it’s a statement …

“We know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

We know. Nicodemus and his colleagues have it all figured out. That’s sort of appealing in a way to be so confident. They’re not obtuse academics or scholars gushing with liberal ambiguity. We know, says Nicodemus. And here he is presenting this knowledge to Jesus. Maybe he’s wondering if Jesus really is sound and conforms to what he and his colleagues know. After all, the only way Jesus can do signs is if God is with him. Nicodemus and his associates have spent a lot of time sorting, classifying, and rightly dividing what they know – and anything that doesn’t fit one of their categories must not be right.

Nicodemus relies on what he knows. He relies on his orderly, systematic sorting and typing of all things religious. Nicodemus knows. He is a teacher of Israel.

But Nicodemus cannot see. He is in the dark and he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.
He cannot see the kingdom of heaven because he hasn’t been born from above. What he knows is from the earth, not from above. What he speaks is from the earth, not from above. That doesn’t mean that Nicodemus is worldly or non-religious. No, it means that his religion and his belief isn’t spiritual. It hasn’t been inspired by the spirit from above.

If you haven’t heard, television signals are going to change. If you haven’t then don’t worry because you don’t watch TV anyway. You can have a TV, a TV antenna, a TV guide but if it isn’t converted to the new signal, then you will get nothing. [This illustration and other observations are inspired by the work of Gregory Stevenson, Tom Olbricht, and David Fleer in Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines (Chalice Press, 2008).]

Nicodemus is on a different wavelength. According to his dial, Jesus is a teacher sent by God. He would have to be sent by God to work those signs. That’s sounds like a confession of faith, but it is really a limiting and defining statement. Nicodemus is trying to explain it, limit it, categorize it and classify it.

Here’s a warning that even people on the inside can still be in the dark. Nicodemus is not a godless pagan. He’s not a hopeless sinner. He’s one of the chosen. He’s a teacher and leader. But he’s still in the dark because he’s more invested in what he knows rather than knowing God’s Spirit.

What wavelength are we on? Can we get in tune with the Spirit from Above and see the kingdom? Or are we going to rely on what we’ve always known, like Nicodemus. What does this means for us?

Born Again means Born from Above
The difference between dark and light is the ability to see. We can stand in a dark room and we may be able to get around because we “know” the layout. But we cannot see a thing. What happens when the furniture get rearranged?

Jesus says that if we want to see the kingdom of God breaking into this dark world, then we need to be born from above.
Your text probably reads born again. You might have an asterisk explaining that it can also be translated as born again. There’s a word play here and it’s odd that the majority of translations in history have followed not what Jesus is saying, but what Nicodemus misunderstands. Nicodemus understands the phrase as born again because that’s all that fits is categories.

But truly, truly Jesus is saying that being born again is being born from above: a rebirth that involves the spiritual renewal of heaven. To be born from above through water and Spirit tunes us into the wavelength of the spirit. It fills our eyes with light. Flesh and Spirit is a not a dualism of body and soul, rather they are points of reference.

  • Flesh = earth, below, dark
  • Spirit = heaven, above, light

    What’s Our Point of Reference?
    Even though Nicodemus believes that God is with Jesus, he still needs to adjust his point of reference. For him, Jesus is just a teacher. A teacher who’s going to give Nicodemus and his colleagues top marks, he hopes. Because he has the wrong point of reference (earthly religion) he’s struggling to see what God is doing through Jesus.

    Sometimes we struggle to see what God is doing through Jesus. Sometimes we struggle to really see Jesus for who he really is. And we struggle to hear what he is actually saying. It’s as though we have not a different language, but a different dialect. (In Scotland, they spoke English, but I didn’t always understand it.)

    If we have the wrong point of reference, then we can assume we know a lot about Jesus, but we might not really know Jesus.

  • Is Jesus simply the sacrifice for our sins?
  • Is he the pay-off that gives John 3:16 its power?
  • Is Jesus just the scapegoat? Is he the whipping boy?

    Do we know that Jesus died so we don’t have to, or do we see the Son of Man lifted up?
    Do we know that we ought to be baptized, or do we want to see the way to enter into the Kingdom?
    Do we know that heaven is a wonderful place, or do we see eternal life because we believe in the Son?

    Jesus was not sent to correct our knowledge; He was sent to save us.
    Jesus was not sent to improve our understanding; He was sent to bring us light.
    Jesus was not sent simply to die so that we don’t have to die; he was sent to bring us eternal life


    Believing in the Son of Man leads to eternal life; that’s not just the heavenly hereafter. Eternal means now. The quality and the focus of life even now must be concerned with the things from above and not just the things below.

    If you want to see the Kingdom of Heaven then you must be born from above.
    Jesus is inviting you to eternal life. He’s inviting you to be saved. He’s inviting you to be born from above through water and spirit.
    And Jesus is inviting you out of the darkness and into the light.
    Believe him and live in the truth.

  • What About Israel?

    Posted by on January 18, 2009 under Sermons

    Romans 1 – 8

    • Thesis – 1:16-17
    • Antithesis – 1:18-3:20
    • Restatement of Thesis – 3:21-31
    • Abraham – 4:1-25
    • Christ and Adam – 5:1-21
    • Sin & Grace, Law & Spirit – 6-8

    The Elephant in the Room

    • So what about Israel?
    • Are they separated from God’s love?
    • Did God abandon them? Did he change the terms?
    • Is God just and fair?

    Romans 9:1-5

    1. The advantage of being a Jew (Romans 3:1-6)
    2. Paul is not antagonistic to Jews
    3. Paul is dedicated to their salvation, just as he is for the Gentiles

    Retelling the Story

    9:7-13 – Patriarchs
    9:14-18 – Exodus
    9:24-28 – Exile
    9:29 – Messiah

    Patriarchs – Romans 9:7-13

    1. Isaac and Ishmael
      • Natural means vs. Promise
      • Genesis 21:12
      • Genesis 18:10-14
    2. Jacob and Esau
      • Genesis 25:23
      • Malachi 1:2-3

    Exodus – Romans 9:14-18

    1. So is God unjust?
      • Exodus 33:19
      • God’s covenant name
    2. Example of Pharaoh
      • Exodus 9:16
      • The demonstration of power and love

    Exile – Romans 9:24-28

    1. So why does God blame us?
      • Potter and Clay imagery
      • Isaiah 29:16, 45:9
    2. The Remnant
      • Some are left to start over
      • God works with the outcasts
    3. Israel: Forest and Trees

    The Rest of the Story

    • God’s not finished with Israel
    • If He can save Israel to save the Gentiles …
    • Then He can save the Gentiles in order to save Israel!

    The Understanding

    Posted by on January 15, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

    Foundations are essential. Their importance cannot be exaggerated. They do more than determine the shape of the building. They determine the strength of the building. When the building is under stress, its foundation must be firm.

    The longest sermon of Jesus is in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. It contrasts the Pharisees’ sayings (the popular Jewish conservatives) with Jesus’ insights (which are God’s insights). Jesus ended his sermon by declaring that people who heard and did what he shared were like a house with a solid foundation. The house was solid because its foundation was solid. The solid foundation rested on a rock. Because of the solid foundation, the house endured extraordinary stress. People endure extraordinary stress when their lives are founded on Jesus’ solid sayings. The difference between enduring and falling in periods of stress is our foundation.

    The “rock” on which we can build our solid foundation in order to endure stress is this: faith in God’s accomplishments for us in Jesus Christ. Faith makes any act of obedience meaningful and effective. It is much more than trust in the act. The act can be baptism, benevolence, communion, or any other commanded act. Much more is involved than correct compliance with a commanded act.

    What else is involved? Confidence in God’s accomplishments in Jesus Christ! Faithless obedience is powerless. Obedience founded on faith in Jesus Christ is powerful. Because of faith in Jesus, baptism removes sins. Because of faith in Jesus, a gesture of kindness becomes an act God remembers-eternally. Because of faith in Jesus, communion is an act of appreciation that goes far beyond bread and grape juice. Because of faith in Jesus, any obedient act becomes a “thank you” spoken in God’s ear. Because of faith in Jesus, obedient acts declare appreciation to the God of love.

    Without faith in what God did and does in Jesus, obedient acts become attempts to manipulate God by seeking to put God in our debt. Humans must obey because we believe. Only because we believe do our acts of obedience become declarations of loving appreciation to the God who does so much for us in Jesus Christ.

    When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

    More Than Conquerors

    Posted by on January 11, 2009 under Sermons

    Read Romans 8:18-30

    Already and Not Yet

    • Justified
    • Sanctified
    • Indwelling Spirit
    • Freed from sin and death
    • Children of God
    • Mortal
    • Subject to passions
    • Suffer from evil
    • Persecuted

    Hope and Spirit

    1. We share in the suffering of creation
    2. Hope to share in glory also
    3. The intimacy with the Spirit also sustains us
    4. God loves

    Sharing in Glory

    • 2 Corinthians 3:18 – Made into his likeness
    • 2 Peter 1:4 – Participants in divine nature
    • Theosis – “Making Divine” – a process of atonement involving justification and sanctification
    • So, the freedom in the glory of the children of God.

      And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

      ?3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

      Theosis (written also: theiosis, theopoiesis, theosis; Greek, meaning divinization, or deification, or making divine) is the process of a believer in emulating the life example of Jesus Christ and of following the gospel of Christ in one’s daily life; the process of seeking to become more holy. According to this doctrine, the holy life of God, given in Jesus Christ to the believer through the Holy Spirit, is expressed beginning in the struggles of this life, increases in the experience of the believer through the knowledge of God, and is later consummated in the resurrection of the believer when the power of sin and death, having been fully overcome by the atonement of Jesus, will lose hold over the believer forever. – “Theology and Mysticism in the Tradition of the Eastern Church” from The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

      St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, “God became man so that man might become God.” (On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B).

    Romans 8:28 [in Greek]

    1. All things work together for good.
    2. God works all things together for good.
    3. God works in all things for good.

      Osburn in the Westminster Theological Journal, 1982
      1. Traditional reading – KJV and other older English translations: Problem is that it is universal optimism. God isn’t truly the subject. Paul is not saying that calamity is good because it all ends up for the good. Calamity is not good and it is part of a system that is corrupt (the groaning creation), but God’s love does not fail in the face of calamity. God will cooperate with us for good, despite the circumstances.
      2. Has been suggested but may not be grammatically correct.
      3. God is the subject of the verb sunergei.

    Read Romans 8:31-39

    First Question

    • If God is for us, then who is against us?
      – 8:32 – Answers the question with a question
      – God, like Abraham, did not spare his son
      – Why would God be against us?

    Second Question

    • Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
      – Not Jesus – he is risen and exalted
      – He intercedes for us
      – 8:1 – There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

    Third Question

    • What can separate us from God’s love?
      – External circumstances are not signs of God’s disapproval
      – Quotes Psalm 43: We are like sheep being slaughtered for your sake.
      – We are like Christ
      – We are more than conquerors
      – Nothing is more powerful than God’s love and his expression of that love in Jesus Christ

      Why can’t we be so bold as to tell each other this? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that people will run loose with this? What’s the alternative?

      (Paul has already addressed why free and uncondemned people wouldn’t live under sin.)

      Our evangelism and gospel has to proclaim why there is no condemnation. If we cannot do that, then we do not have “good news.” We might as well be honest and say that God is against you and your only hope (though a slim one) is to appeal to His good side.

    The Sign of the Wine

    Posted by on under Sermons

    John 2
    1 The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
    4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
    5 But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
    6 Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, 8 he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
    9 When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. 10 “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
    11 This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

    So here’s Mary, she’s the guest at a wedding in Cana. It’s probably a wedding for some of her kin. John says that Jesus is “also there.” It means that Jesus’ eclectic band of disciples is there too. Some of them are probably just in their teens. They’ve chosen to follow this Jesus because they think he might be the Messiah. Probably the last thing they are concerned about is attending a wedding.

    We might think that it’s a bit embarrassing for Mary to play den mother to Jesus’ crew, but that’s not the case. What’s potentially embarrassing to Mary is the news that the host and bridegroom have run short on wine. Jesus of course wonders, “Why is that such a problem?” And we might be inclined to ask the same thing – what’s the big deal? Just tell folks the wine is gone.

    Well, here’s the big deal. In that culture, wine was about more than partying. It was very ceremonial and even sort of religious. These people aren’t having a keg party and don’t want their minister to know about it – all the religious leaders and honorable people of the community are there. The focus is not on the bride and her family. The bridegroom is the central figure and he needs to bring honor to his family. This is his opportunity to be blessed and show his respect to the community. Wine is an essential sign and element of the blessing.

    Certain toasts and blessings had to be made and hospitality demanding that good wine should be served. Running out of wine means that the bridegroom is cheap. He got skimpy and stingy. He’s irresponsible and not ready to wed. If you don’t have the proper wine for the celebrations, well that would be like us running out of matzos and Welch’s this morning – “How would we have communion?” It’s more than awkward, it’s doesn’t bode well and can get sort of shameful. Everyone will remember how awkward it was and they’ll all talk about the wedding when the wine ran dry. That’s a bad sign.

    But Mary knows that Jesus can do something about it. She’s witnessed enough by now. Despite Jesus’ protests, Mary tells the servants five words that set the stage for the entire gospel: “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Jesus could have responded any number of ways. He could’ve refreshed the supply of wine without bothering the servants. He could have taken a wineskin and told everyone to line up and an endless supply of wine would’ve been available. He could’ve touched everyone’s cups and they would’ve been miraculously full. But he doesn’t do that. He just speaks. He gives instructions.

    “Go fill the jars with water.”
    “Take some and give it to the master of ceremonies.”

    That’s all. Jesus just directs this miracle and doesn’t star in it. He steps back – but he does instruct and the servants follow Mary’s advice and they do whatever he says.

    The reviews come in and they are glowing. But look who gets the credit – the bridegroom! Master of Ceremonies tastes the wine and walks up alongside this sweating, nervous bridegroom. “Most people serve up the best wine, then when everyone has had enough and not really paying attention they bring out the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best for last.” He’s telling the bridegroom. Congratulations, brother! You impressed us. This is a good sign.

    It’s also a sign for disciples. It’s a sign for those who heed Mary’s advice and “do whatever he tells you.”

    The sign of the wine is this: When we do whatever he tells us …

    1. There’s an abundance of goodness. Jesus isn’t stingy. Six jars would have made about 150 gallons.
    2. Shame is cast out. There’s no embarrassment or tension. There’s honor and praise.
    3. There’s celebration. Doing what Jesus says promotes festivity. This is jubilee and thanksgiving. The bridegroom may not even realize who gets the glory, but he participates in the festivities. The servants know, and the disciples believe.

    How do we view this Lord’s Supper? How do we regard our worship?

    • Let’s not be cheap or skimp by on the base minimum that’s required.
    • Let’s give thanks and enjoy the abundance of God’s hospitality
    • Let’s set aside the shame and celebrate.

    Do whatever Jesus says and he says “Do this in remembrance of me.” Not just remember what he did, but it means we acknowledge his presence among us. At this festival, Jesus is the bridegroom and he always saves the best for last. That’s the sign of the wine.

    The Objective

    Posted by on January 8, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

    God’s investment in people who see and respond to what He did in Jesus Christ exceeds comprehension! No matter how deeply we love our spouses, our children, our country, or our fondest relationships, we will never, never approach God’s selfless investment in us. We cannot fathom the depth of love God has for people!

    The question: If we know God has this enormous love for us, how do we demonstrate our appreciation for His incredible love expressed by giving us Jesus Christ? Answer: we willingly are transformed.

    How? We see what we were in sin. We see what we can be in Christ. We commit to being the person we can be in Christ. We adopt and imitate God’s values.

    If we are deceived, we speak truth because we value people. We refuse to be ruled by anger. Instead of exploiting others by stealing, we help those in need. Our words encourage instead of discourage. We do not resist God’s influence in our lives. Instead of being ruled by the negative emotions of ill will, we are kind. God’s kindness shown in His tenderness and forgiveness in Jesus is our supreme example. As those who benefit from being in Christ, we are committed to “godlikeness” in character and integrity. That is not what we have to be; it is what we want to be!

    Those who grasp God’s love in Jesus respond to God’s love in Jesus by committing to transformation. By being transformed we encourage others to be transformed.

    Romans 12:1,2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Got Spirit…?

    Posted by on January 4, 2009 under Sermons

    The Indwelling Spirit

    Alexander Campbell – “If the Spirit of God has spoken all its arguments in Scripture then the power of the Holy Spirit which can operate on the human mind [in conversion] is spent.”

    B.F. Hall – in Heretic Detector, 1837 – “I believe that the Holy Spirit exerts no influence on the heart of sinners over and above the word: that his influences are in the facts he has revealed in the gospel, the evidences by which he has confirmed these facts, and in the motives to obedience presented in the Scriptures of Truth.”

    1. Revivalism: Emotional display was a sign of conversion
    2. Age of Enlightenment: Facts and reason predominate
    3. Spirit = Miraculous power
    4. Spirit = Special revelation


    1. What happens to our worldview and willpower when we are freed from the rule of sin?
    2. Is conversion just cognitive or is it also emotional and behavioral?

    Vampire Christianity

    • The Great Omission by Dallas Willard
    • Freedom from sin means living in the Spirit
    • Disciples for Jesus are Christ-followers
    • Holiness & Sanctification

            “Vampire Christianity” is a shortsighted focus on salvation, on being a Christian, to the neglect of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. So says Dallas Willard in his recent book, The Great Omission.
            Willard’s point is this: “The individual says to Jesus, in effect, ?I’d like a little of your blood, but I don’t care to be your student ? in fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.'”
            In other words, “Thanks for dying on the cross for me, Jesus. I’ll accept your blood shed for my sin. I’ll even remember it through the Communion cup. Just don’t ask me to change my life, give up my sin or live for you.”
            Such a Christian is more interested in the benefits of being a Christian than in becoming a Christ follower. And that’s selfishness at its worst.
            To follow Jesus involves more than just a “confession.” It’s a whole new focus for life.
            (Taken from Christian Becker’s Blog at http://christianbecker.blogspot.com/2008/01/vampire-christianity.html)

    Understanding Conversion

    • Justification – Right standing, righteousness, conversion as association
    • Sanctification – Holiness, spiritual growth, righteousness, conversion as growth and formation
    “May the Force be with you!”

    This is not the Holy Spirit.
    Spirit is personal presence, not just a power we acquire

    Nature of the Spirit

    1. Personal
      • “Abba,” Father
    2. Empowerment
    3. New Relationship
      • no condemnation
    4. New Life

    Word Made Flesh

    Posted by on under Sermons

    In the Disney movie “Bedtime Stories,” Adam Sandler discovers that when his nephew and niece tell stories, they come true and change his life. In the movie “Inkheart,” soon to be released, a girl named Meggie learns that when her father reads a story out loud, the stories come to life in the real world.

    It’s a well-known theme in books and now movies in which a story comes to life or people from the real world enter into a world of a story. Two recent films, “Bedtime Stories” and “Inkheart,” build on this. Classic films and books like “Never-Ending Story” and “Chronicles of Narnia” are good examples.

    We can understand why this genre would be so captivating. We love stories. We live our lives through stories. When this world seems so messed up and confused, who wouldn’t want to jump into the world of story where the villains are conquered, the heroes win, and they live happily ever after.

    There’s also something to be said here about the power of stories and words. They can shape reality and form identity. Anyone who believes that a story is just make believe has forgotten how really good stories and really important words can catch our attention and make us better people.

    The Bible, after all, is a collection of words, sayings, and stories that have shaped reality. It endures even now and we put a lot of faith into the way the Bible describes the world. It speaks of the past, but also of the future. It describes what is and what has been, but also what will be.

    Those films and books that describe how we get caught up in the stories is just somewhat like John’s description of the Word of God becoming flesh – real – and moving into our world. Sort of – but not exactly. The difference is that the author of the story, according to the gospel writer, is God. It’s his Word, not ours.

    God’s Word takes up residence in our world. He doesn’t come to carry us off to a world in a book or enlist our aid in a war in another realm. The Word of God is the one who enters into the story-realm and the story-realm is this world. The world of flesh and blood. The Word of God wrote this world – through him all things were made – we are the characters, not Him.

    And like John the Baptist, we are witnesses of this unfolding drama. We are witnesses to the entrance of God into this setting and locale. The Word of God is not simply ink on a page. It’s more than a profound slogan etched in stone. It’s even more than a formula of faith whispered and told to others.

    The Word of God is God
    The Word of God is life
    The Word of God is light … and here’s the really interesting part – that word was embodied and he came to dwell among us.

    So what does this mean for us? If we pay attention, I think it means that …

    1. It means we see God more clearly. God isn’t far off. The Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ. He came from the Father and makes the Father known to us. Think about what it means for God to introduce himself to us. He’s no longer just a concept or a presence. Grace and truth are not just concepts. They are an experience of Jesus Christ who came to dwell with us. Not just a visitation, but dwelling. He took up residence, he moved into the neighborhood. And he is still with us.
    2. It means that our world and our lives in the flesh count for something. The Word of God doesn’t become flesh to take us to a far off reality. He comes to renovate the world we are in. If we think of Christ as the author of the story, he’s entered into the story to do some major editing and revision. He’s changing the plot. And like a good author, he has a shocking secret to reveal – God has other children. That’s one of the classic moves in literature and now we find out that those who receive the Word made Flesh inherit their rights as the Father’s children. (But of course some just cannot handle that and they reject it). But he’s not taking the children out of the world. No, this world isn’t disposable. He’s not starting over from scratch, but he is affirming this creation and restoring it to the glory that we have lost. After all the word is life and light.
    3. It means that we don’t want to be like those who didn’t receive the Word Made Flesh. They are the bookkeepers and critics. They like to fit everything into a category and style that fits their experience. They have little regard for the author (other than a reverence for one who seems far off and unlike them.) Notice how they quiz John the Baptist … Is he Christ? Is he Elijah? He says No and it doesn’t satisfy them. John is faithful and open to what he has seen. He saw heaven opened up. He saw the Spirit of God and heard the voice of the Father. And he stood in the river baptizing the Son – the Word that dwelled among us.
    4. Like John we should expand our understanding of the Word. We have more than answers and issues. We have a story to tell about the One. Jesus himself told Nathanael that he would see great things. That he would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Now what do you think Nathanael should do after that? He needs to tell that story again and again. Just like us.

    So we tell this story of the Word become Flesh over and over again. Not simply because it’s in this book. Not simply because it’s a classic. Not simply because it’s a historical event. Rather we tell it because it is still unfolding and the Word of God has become flesh in our hearing of it today. May God bless us to receive the one who came from the Father and live like His children.