Not long ago, I decided that I wanted to do a study of the words of Jesus. I began to look for the very first words of Christ and found them in the gospel of Luke. It is interesting that the first three occurrences of Jesus’ recorded words are in the book of Luke. The very first is Luke 2:49. After celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph were returning home to Nazareth and realized that 12-year old Jesus was not with them. They figured that he probably was walking with some of the other kids in the caravan of travelers so they continued their journey home. But soon they realized he was not with the caravan. They went back to Jerusalem, retraced their steps, and found Him in the temple discussing theology with the teachers of the law. And you know, age 12 is not a bad time to start emphasizing the things of God. In fact, when I thought about that, I realized that I was just barely 13 when I received Christ into my life and so it is a very significant period of time in a kid’s life. His folks are upset and they ask Jesus, “Why have you treated us this way?” His answer probably took them by surprise. Look at verse 49. “How come you were searching for me? Didn’t you know it was important to me to be in my Father’s house?” There is a principle here. For Jesus Christ, to honor God meant to have a priority for honoring and understanding the Word of God.
The second time Jesus speaks is in Luke 4:4. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus is being tempted by Satan. Satan’s first challenge was to try and get Jesus to satisfy His hunger by miraculously changing stones into bread. Satan knew that Jesus could do that, and why not show off a little? We do have our pride, don’t we? Satan knew that Jesus could do what he asked, but listen to the words that Christ used to repel the temptation: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Matthew 4:4 adds, “[but] by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Now where are we going to discover the Word of God, which represent the words of God, the mind of God? Right here in the Scriptures. We see the priority of the Word of God to the person of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus went to Galilee, people flocked to hear Him, to see Him. But we are not told what He said until He went to Nazareth, his boyhood home. Luke 4:16 tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, which He always did. But on this particular day the Old Testament scroll was handed to Him. Jesus knew God’s Word and He knew what He wanted to say. So He deliberately turned to Isaiah chapter 61 and found the passage He wanted to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. To release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. That must have been a powerful moment because people said of Him, “Never has anyone spoken like this man.” And as everyone in the synagogue stared at Jesus, He said this: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “I am the Messiah.” What is happening here? Not only is Jesus Christ, the living, incarnate, personal Word of God, according to John 1:1-4, declaring His Messiahship but He is also declaring the reliability of the prophetic written word. And if that is the evaluation that Jesus Christ has for the Holy Scriptures, we certainly should honor and respect them as well.
If you are following my emphasis, you begin to realize that one thing stands out in all these verses--the priority of the Word of God. The Word of God is not merely a book, a novel, or history book, although it has a lot of good history in it. In John 1:1 we read: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” Jesus is the living Word of God. He is God’s communication to us with skin, muscle, and bones. He became like us physically. Jesus, the living Word of God, has the highest regard possible for the written Word of God. Interestingly, the Living Word, Jesus Christ, witnesses to the written Word. Both of them are witnessing to each other. The written Word is witnessing to the living Word and the living Word is witnessing to the written Word.
Since humankind is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (as our guide for life), it behooves us to never take God’s written Word lightly. I want you to notice three things. First, it is God’s expectation that mankind will live by the Word of God. Why? Because life itself is in the Word. God made us and He knows what we need to function best. Ephesians 2:1 says, “You were dead in trespasses and sin, but now He has made you alive.” Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end, it leads to death.” We are not just talking about human mortality, we are talking about a life that attempts to find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment without God and His guidance (the written Word of God). In Matthew 16:26 Jesus says, “What profit is gained by any man should he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
Second, real quality of life means more than a sense of fulfillment. Pleasure and comfort are not the end of everything we do, although modern society thinks that they are. Character, wisdom, enlightenment, understanding, you name it. Purpose, discernment, abundant life, fulfillment, these all come to us out of the Word of God. If we build great empires without God they will ultimately mean nothing when those same empires are destroyed to make way for other empires, or when God judges all things in light of His holy justice. Early in the disciples’ earthly walk with Jesus there came a time when some people began to wonder and doubt the things that Jesus was saying. Jesus asked Peter, “What do you think and are you going to leave me also?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Years later that same Peter penned some words for us just before he was martyred. Second Peter chapter 1:3-4: “As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive his own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, he has given us all of his rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in the divine nature.” And in verses 5-7 he admonishes us to make every effort to add to our saving faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We can participate with Christ. We are not alone. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. It may not seem like it at times but if we do and become what the written and living Word tell us to do and become we will become more like Jesus, and less like the world of men and women opposed to Him.
Third, the pathway for life is the Word of God. Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path.” John 8:12: “I am the light of the World.” Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but he will have the light of life.” There is direction for life in these words. I want to go back and take a look at that statement Jesus made in Luke 4:18. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach the good news.” Just what is the good news? In the original language the word for good news is “euangelion.” Can you say it three times fast? What other word does it sound like? Euangelion, euangelion, euangelion, evangelical. Right! Evangelical. In Romans chapter 1:16, that word appears and it says, “I am not ashamed of the “euangelion” (the good news) of Christ.” We translate it “the gospel.” And it appears one hundred times in the New Testament. We do get the word “evangelical” from euangelion. An evangelical is one who tells the good news. So, if you claim that word in your belief system, it carries an obligation.
What is the gospel message? Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 where the apostle Paul gives us an explanation of the gospel. “Brothers and sisters, I declare unto you the gospel (the “euangelion”) which I gospeled to you.” It sounds awkward but the same basic word is used in both cases. Verse three starts Paul’s explanation of the gospel. He gives three things to remember. 1) Christ died for our sin according to the Scripture. 2) Christ was buried. 3) Christ rose again according to the Scriptures. Death, burial, and resurrection are the core of the gospel message, the core of Christianity. Paul wrote 13 books of the Bible. He wrote them to explain doctrine, to address problems, to deal with social issues, and to admonish proper Christian behavior and attitudes. And each of these letters contain the same basic concepts of what the Christian faith is all about. Very simple. Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s intended glory.” But “God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us" (verse 25). First Corinthians 2: “I proclaim to you the testimony about God for I resolve to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Second Corinthians 5: “God made Jesus Christ who did no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we could become God’s righteousness.” Ephesians 1:7: “In Christ we have redemption through the blood of Christ and forgiveness in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
I am astounded and marvel at the simplicity of the gospel. It is so simple, yet so profound. “Once you were alien to God, enemies, but now God has received you (Colossians 1).” Think of it. God has received us because of what Christ did at Calvary. We were strangers to God. We were enemies. But now, Jesus says, “You are my friends.” We were earthbound like a caterpillar, but now we are heaven bound following Christ. When does this start? Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The old is passed and the new is come. We may not be all God wants us to be now, but we have entered a newness that will culminate in our becoming like Christ someday, “for we shall see Him as He is.” Since we are risen with Christ, we must seek, or set our hearts on, those things that have eternal value—the kingdom of heaven and its King, Jesus Christ. Remember! The final judge of everything is God and only what He deems worthy will be counted as valuable. The voters could elect you to a Hall of Fame of sport or music or dance or whatever, but unless God finds value in it, it will mean nothing in the end! If you serve the world of men, your service will mean nothing when that same world is destroyed. When the world goes up in flames so will all your honors and recognition. Look to the eternal judge and find your importance and significance in Him and His plans. And if you do you will be among those who praise God in heaven. “After this, I heard the sound of a vast crowd in heaven shouting, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation is from our God. Glory and power belong to him alone. His judgments are just and true. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the murder of his servants'" (Revelation 19:1-2). And if you do not you will be among those who curse Him in your sin. Chose life now while you still have the chance to choose!
2) Evaluating the Word of God (Part 2)
I want every child of God to know, to get a sense, of your significance to God. He loves you and has a purpose for your life. We have been purposely planted in this time and space, in the time that is labeled by most philosophers and people as the post-Christian era. In other words, Christianity is done. Jesus has had it. I do not think we are here by accident. I think we have something to do.
What is the main purpose that you find in most people’s lives today? Listen to Francis Schaeffer, one of the greatest Christian philosophers of our time, talking about our society and its values. He said, “As the more Christian-oriented value system has weakened,” in others words, Christian influence has been losing out in recent years, “the majority of people have adopted two impoverished values. Number one, personal peace. Number two, affluence. Personal peace is just to be left alone. To live our lives with minimal possibilities of being disturbed. And affluence is a life of ever-increasing prosperity, made up of things, more things, and better things, a success that is judged by one’s level of material abundance.” How does this work its way out in every day life? What is the popular idea today? Tolerance. Correct! You have heard the clichés. “Don’t rock any boats.” “To each his own.” “Live and let live.” “If two people consent, it’s ok, and after all, there’s no such thing as absolutes or eternal moral values anymore.” I remember in “Fiddle on the Roof” when Tedya is talking about the new young man Perchek that came to the town of Anatevka and the Renchek said to him, “There’s a great big world out there that can’t be ignored.” And Tedva said, “You’re right.” One of the local adults responded, “Who cares? Let those people take care of themselves. They don’t matter to us at all.” And Tedva follows, “You’re right.” To which another local observes, “Tedva, they can’t both be right.” And Tedva concludes, “You also are absolutely right.” This is the philosophy of many today. Two ideas or concepts in direct opposition to one another are treated as equally true. If you think like this, what difference does anything make? And it seems that even many Christians only get upset when some power threatens their own peace or affluence. Schaeffer continues, “And if mankind is only what modern people say it is,” listen to this question, “Why does man’s biological continuation have any value at all?” Good question, Why does man’s biological continuation matter if this world is all there is, if there is no God, no eternal life, no right and no wrong?
The results of this kind of thinking are increased violence, the cheapness of life, and a survival-of-the-most-powerful mentality. Might makes right. And if I have more than you, I must be more valuable and better than you. Schaeffer concluded that ultimately we have two alternatives. “We stand between two alternatives. Imposed world order, or, affirming, once more, the foundation which gave us freedom in the first place.” Schaeffer identifies that foundation as the written Word of God, especially the Ten Commandments, and the living Word, Jesus Christ. These two sources were significant roots to Western civilization. To the many freedoms we enjoy today. But as always happens the carnal heart of man turns the legitimate freedoms we enjoy, freedom of religion, freedom of education, freedom of property ownership to name a few, into license to satisfy every evil desire of his heart. What God meant as a good the sinful heart has turned to evil.
Is the church going to be undaunted and brave enough to speak up for Christian values. Time is running out. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” And Jesus answered him, “I am the truth.” God’s truth provides certain things. It provides salvation. It provides moral teaching. It teaches values. And it gives us direction. People are and behave according to the way they think. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The way we as a country think today determines the culture of tomorrow. When Jesus Christ comes into our lives, He changes things and if we are truly risen with Him, alive in Him, He wants to change specific things. He wants to change the way we think, the way we live, the way we talk, and the way we treat others.
Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life, highlights how we can please God. First, we are to love God supremely. That is the first and greatest command. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” Then, he says, trust God completely. Like Abraham did when he took off from Ur. He did not know where he was going, but he trusted God. Third, obey God wholeheartedly. I think of Noah who followed the direction of God in every detail for 120 years. Building a gigantic boat in the middle of nowhere, far from any water source. And lastly, he adds, praise and thank God continually.
Those are all good suggestions or commands. But commands can be observed with the wrong attitude. What should be the heartbeat of the Christian? Not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake or commands to show off how spiritual we are. “I have more memory verses than you.” “I have a bigger church (or study group) than you.” What should be our attitude, our passion, our spirit, our personality? What am I really made of? What is my bottom line? And what kind of feeling do people get or sense about me when I am trying to relate to them?
Jesus wants us to live responsively. What I mean by this is best defined by Paul in Romans chapter 8:14: “Those who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God.” In other words, how I respond to the Holy Spirit’s direction or leading reveals my true nature. Now, let us look at that for a moment. I can guarantee you that everyone of us, if you have any relationship with God at all, have had spiritual promptings from time to time. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. So, what is the application? First, if you have an inner urge to do or say something, to talk to that person, to notice their pain or sorrow, look at their countenance, is there stress there, do they need help, follow it. I am not saying to follow every desire of your heart. Some of those desires are wrong or evil. But if that urge or desire corresponds with God’s Word and can be judged righteous and good then follow it.
I remember Bob calling me one time and saying, “Al, I want you to perform a funeral service for a friend of mine, Sue, her husband died.” The story behind Bob’s relationship with this family is interesting. A while back, Bob was doing some busy work for Christ, delivering something or whatever it was. He was in a hurry, rushing around. He never stops, anyway. He was rushing around doing something for God and suddenly gets this phone call from Sue saying, “Would you come and talk to my husband. He says he wants to find out how to become a child of God.” What should Bob do? Well, he has all this work to do. He has to deliver stuff. Got to go there. You know, on a schedule. No, he drops everything. He went to her husband and led him to the Lord. A wonderful event! This is what I call divine interruptions. This is when we are listening to the Spirit of God prompting something in our spiritual heart and directs us to say, go, do, whatever. I have had similar experiences myself. I know other people have told me the same thing. Responsively, allowing the Holy Spirit to do the directing that needs to be done. But always examining ourselves to see if what we are about to do or say is in agreement with God and His ways. We cannot be overly trusting of our heart. How often have you heard someone say that God led him or her to do something that was obviously wrong or hurtful to someone? They have assigned a personal impulse they had to God. We must be careful, but we must also be willing to go, say, or do what God directs.
In Luke chapter 7, Jesus was invited to spend some time with the self-righteous Pharisees in the home of Simon. A prostitute came in. She stood weeping behind Jesus. Her tears fell on His feet and she washed His feet with her hair. Simon accused Jesus of not being a prophet because if He were, He would know what kind of a woman she was. And according to their tradition, a righteous person should not go close to her, let alone allow her to touch him. Jesus challenged Simon by asking him, “Simon, do you see this woman?” What did Simon see? Simon saw judgment. Simon saw dirt. Simon saw ugliness. Simon saw sin. Simon saw punishment. And you know, he felt so much better about himself because he was ‘better’ than her. But Jesus saw her penitence, her sorrow, her hope, her potential, that she was a needy and repentant person. And Jesus Christ offered her forgiveness and new life. We do not hear too much more about Simon, but the story of this young lady has been told for centuries. Are you sensitive and responsive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings in your daily relationships with people? I believe that a tender heart is more macho than any athlete’s super act in the game of sports.
Luke 19, verses 1-8 tell us about a little giant named Zacchaeus. He was a shrewd little guy. He was wealthy and a self-admitted cheater, until he met Jesus. He repented of his wrong ways and was so dramatically changed that he paid back everybody he had cheated four dollars for every one he had taken from them and then he gave away half of what he had to the poor. Jesus said of Zacchaeus, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham.” Man looks on the outward appearance. God looks on the heart.
A bunch of heavy hitters were putting their offering in the box and Jesus was standing there observing them and said: “Look at this widow. She came along with two little coins and dropped them in and she has given more than all those other guys who dropped money out of their abundance.” It is not how much you give but with what heart attitude you have when you give!
Jesus never told His disciples that they had to go to seminary in order to have an impact for Him and His kingdom. But He did say they needed to look beyond their occupation and themselves to reach men and women for Jesus Christ. “You are my witnesses,” He said. In Luke 19:46, Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out the hucksters and the money-changers. They were desecrating the house of prayer and he called them thieves. Almost every day we meet people in shops, malls, or school or wherever, using foul language and telling stories that are abominable. Using the name of Christ as a curse word and then they saying, “Pardon my French,” as if it was not that serious. I think that it is appropriate to tell them how offensive it is to dishonor Jesus Christ. When the occasion presents itself we should be bold enough to find God’s way within a situation.
It has been said that the greatest handicap the church of Jesus Christ has in fulfilling its mission is the unsatisfactory lives of professing Christians who are rude, crude, impatient, and self-centered. Paul says in Ephesians 5:21, that out of respect for Jesus Christ we are to be courteously reverent to one another. I find it hard to understand how two Christians can treat each other the way they do, whether it is a business matter, between friends, in churches, marriage, whatever. People often will be nicer to a beggar or store clerk than they are to their spouse. I came across beatitudes for the home the other day. Let me share three of them with you. “Blessed are the husband and wife who are as courteous to one another as they are to their friends.” “Blessed are the husband and wife who love their mates more than any other person in the world and fulfill their marriage vows of fidelity and helpfulness.” And lastly, “Blessed are the husband and wife who never shout at one another, who make their home a place of encouragement, where never is heard a discouraging word.” If Christians cannot examine themselves correctly when it comes to their bad behaviors, what chance do they have of distinguishing God’s voice from their own in their daily lives?!
The great hope of Christians is that Jesus Christ is coming back to be reunited with His spiritual family and to rule with righteousness and justice. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him like he is" (1 John 3:2). In the next verse, I John 3:3, John adds, “And everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as Christ is pure.”
It is my prayer today that not only will each of us have a greater appreciation for the written Word of God, but for the living Word of God most of all. For without the living Word, Jesus Christ, the written Word loses its significance. Christianity is not just a system of commands and social admonitions. But those commands and social admonitions take on significance when first we claim Christ to be our Savior and Lord and thereafter seek to become like Him. The commands and social admonitions are supposed to make us more like Jesus Christ. They are not designed to gain favor with God or somehow perfect us as we seek merit with God. And finally, I pray that anyone who does not yet know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord that they would be made new creatures in Christ, fit to one day stand before God and sing that song we read about in Revelation 19:1-2: “Hallelujah! Salvation is from our God. Glory and power belong to him alone. His judgments are just and true. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and he has avenged the murder of his servants.” When you are born anew spiritually, you are part of the family of God and you become a new creation in Christ. And God enables you to be what He wants you to be for the rest of your days.
3) The Christian Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence says: “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” This was signed as an official document on September 17, 1787. It was written for the citizens of the United States of America. The Christian also has a declaration of independence, a declaration of spiritual independence. The U. S. Declaration of Independence was written to declare freedom from a tyrannical British government. The Christian declaration of independence was written to inform us of our freedom from the dominion of sin. There are several passages that speak about this subject but one passage is especially helpful to our understanding. That passage is Romans 6:1-14. Verses 1 through 6: “For if we have been joined with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that sin's dominion over the body may be abolished so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin. For if we have been joined with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him in order that sin's dominion over the body may be abolished so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin.”
Just writing and signing the Declaration of Independence in 1787 did not finish the issue. The enemy attacked and the United States had to defend herself. Just because Romans 6 declares a spiritual truth does not mean temptation and struggle will not occur. There are three key words in this Romans passage. If we apply the truth they represent to our lives we can experience a spiritual freedom that will free us from the dominion of sin.
In verse six we read the word "know." “We know that our old self was crucified with Christ so that sin's dominion over us, over the body, might be done away with so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” Galatians 2:20 adds: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." This is spiritual emancipation. Verse 7: "Anyone who has died has been freed from sin's control." Practically that means the devil cannot make me do anything. He can only make suggestions, but he cannot make me do anything. Verse 9: "We know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again and death has no longer mastery or dominion over him." As Christians, you and I are in on that. I hope you appreciate what Christ has done for you. The first step in spiritual emancipation from the dominion of sin is knowing the facts related to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ--“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). But mere head knowledge is not enough. Romans 6 speaks of a special kind of knowing. Our next two words help us to understand this kind of knowledge.
The second word is found in verse 11. The King James version uses the word "reckon" to connote the sense of the passage. I want to use words like "consider" or "look upon" or "realize." I think they are more current. Down here in the South, you know we have some words that are a little different than others might use. Words like "fixin' to." You know "I'm fixin' to do this," "I'm fixin' to go there." Then we say "reckon." "Reckon" means that you guess you might and you're not sure yet, and so the word "reckon" in the King James does not convey the correct idea to many readers. It could better be translated, the original word, by several words such as "count it so," "consider it so," or "believe it to be.” It means "rely on it.” It points to a mindset that has a secure trust in something. Based on this type of mindset we are capable of making a willful, thought-through decision to adjust our way of life. Ask yourself today, "Do I realize that what God declares is true for my life?" Paul's not teaching us that we will always feel that we are dead to sin. Maybe not even understand it. He is saying, “believe it, count it so, know it.” It is a promise that we cannot lose sight of if we want to live a life free from sin’s control over our actions. We are not talking about spiritual hocus-pocus but a theological reality. You did die in Christ, you were buried with Him and you are now raised with Him. This we believe. In the future when we have received our heavenly bodies that will be responsive to the things that please God without rebellion we won’t have to struggle to do right all the time. Our redeemed spirits and redeemed body will match each other perfectly and both will be responsive to holy and godly living. But that is not the case, yet. Now, we must often act contrary to our feelings to align our actions with God’s will. This we do by counting God’s Word as true and His redemptive work sufficient for sin’s defeat. Colossians 3:1: "Since you have been raised with Christ, seek those things which are above." Ephesians 2:1-6 talks about the same idea. "You were dead in your trespasses and sin but now you have been raised up with him." This is Christian doctrine.
We all know enough about sin to know how it works. Right? I saw a story this week. It talks about a lady who went on a new diet and was determined to succeed this time. She changed the way she drove to work because she used to go past a bakery she used to frequently visit, with all kinds of goodies in the display window. One day she forgot and before she knew it, she was driving by and saw all the great stuff she could consume. She looks at that and she reasons, “Well, maybe this is the way God works.” So, she prays, "Lord, it's up to you. If you want me to stop and have those delectable goodies that I see in the window, you create a parking spot for me right in front of the entryway." And would you believe, sure enough, there it was, on the eighth circling around the block was a parking space right in front of the entrance door. She stopped and appeased her conscience by convincing herself that it was God’s will for her to have the good things in life, which includes delectable pastries. Doesn't that sound like every one of us? You bet it does. Maybe when we least expect it or we just don't care, a temptation comes along and despite our ability to dismiss such thoughts immediately we chose not to. Instead we indulge ourselves. We know it is wrong. But we nurse the idea. The thought process continues and soon we give in. Sound strange? Not really. That is the way it works.
Read James chapter one. Three facts about sinning can be gained from this chapter. Fact number one is in verse 13. God does not tempt anyone. Fact number two is in verse 14. Each person is tempted when he or she is drawn away and enticed by his or her own natural desires. And finally, fact number three is in verse 15. After desire has conceived it gives in to sin. A little saying I used to hear years ago describes the situation. "Sin is a monstrous, oh frightful name to be hated. Needs but to be seen yet seen too often. Familiar with its face we first endure, then pity, then embrace." Human nature is still pretty much the same today as it was in biblical times. We justify ourselves, we are defensive—“Hey, what would you do if you had to live with that woman?” “Do you realize what it's like to stay around to hang around with him?” Or, “I just can't help it, it's the way I'm made.” The Holy Spirit uses Paul to call all of us to realize that we can live as though we have already entered the resurrection life--realize it, realize that what God declares is true for your life. After the future resurrection it will be instinctive. But now, we must “reckon” it to be so each time we face temptation.
The third key word is “surrender." It occurs several times in the text. It means "yield." Paul uses this word to tell us the secret to victory over sin. It is a command. "Do not surrender, offer or yield, the parts of your body to sin as instruments of wickedness, but rather surrender yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and surrender the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness.” Surrender to God completely without reservation. James 1:8 talks about the indecisive man who is unstable in all his ways. The only way to have victory over sin is to want to have victory over sin. This reminds me of a song I sang as a child. "Be careful little hands what you do, be careful little hands what you do. For your Father up above is looking down with love, so be careful little hands what you do. Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little eyes what you see. For your father up above is looking down with love, so be careful little eyes what you see.” And it goes on to repeat with “Be careful little ears what you hear” and “Be careful little tongue what you say.” I want to add a new one—“Be careful little heart what you love." Simply stated but accurate. We need to be careful what we do, think, and say. We need to surrender to do what is right.
The reason we surrender is given in verse 14: "…in order that sin should not have dominion or mastery over you." The big idea in this passage is independence, freedom, liberty. Verse 14 ends with these words, "you are not under law but under grace." And the eternal fact of the matter is this, you are going to surrender to something or someone. We all do. Paul understood this. "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" And his answer is: "Absolutely not, God forbid it. Don't you know that when you yield or submit yourself to someone, to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey. You are slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness." Verse 18 tells us we have been set free, free from the control of sin. Until we arrive in heaven, we are going to have temptations coming against us. We are living our lives in what someone calls "earthsuits." But because we have died to sin's power, we have the power to no longer let sin rule over us. We have the Holy Spirit who can defeat sin every time. That is our right as a Christian.
God has issued this declaration of independence from the power of sin for each one of us and the choice is ours whether to appropriate it to our lives. We have a part in this battle. We can recognize the temptation and chose to reject the offer. Call a spade a spade, as we used to say. Adultery is sin, not emotional therapy. Gambling is greed or lust, not just entertainment. A lie is a lie, not a mental reservation. And Jesus Christ's name is holy, not a release for anger. Recognize the temptation. Confront sinful desires, do not excuse them or deny them. Avoid places of temptation. Practice self-restraint. And then substitute a Christian action for what you are tempted to do. You have a pornography problem? Get some good Christian literature and start reading. Play a game with your family; go to a Bible study. Fill the gaps left by the former things with new things that are both pleasing to God and good for your soul.
Let me give you a good old-fashioned idea from Romans chapter 13. "Make no provision for the flesh. Concentrate on Christ and make no plans to satisfy your sinful desires." Men, don't buy the raunchy magazine, don't hang out in the wrong places, don't sweet talk that attractive girl in your workplace, don't shop for that car that will bust your budget.
And ladies, you know when you are dressing to tease men, don't you? I worked on a construction job before Ollie and I got married. Her grandfather was a supervisor and got me a job for the summer and every noontime there was a whistle that blew and when the whistle blew, this girl who worked across the street from our construction site came out and paraded herself up and down the street. She did not look to the left or the right but she certainly could hear the catcalls and the hooting and the howling. I guess it was a joy to her. It is a sin to entice (actively pursue) lustful thoughts. There are so many other things we do that we have Scriptural commands telling us not to. Gossip. Slander. Envy. Bearing false witness. But we still rationalize (or should I say become irrational) ourselves into doing them.
Paul several times uses athletes as examples for something he is teaching. He admires their self-discipline and how they are able to bring their bodies into subjection to their will, in order to reach their goals. Did you ever watch the World's Strongest Man competition? Somehow those guys have gotten their bodies under control in a way that I can never imagine. They do that so they can win the contest, whatever it might be. And we as Christians cannot do anything less in order to win victory over sin. Second Corinthians 10:5 says, "Bring every thought unto obedience to Christ." When we are tempted we have to yield ourselves to Christ’s purposes and goals to defeat sin!
I challenge you to exercise your God-given, purchased-by-Christ right to be liberated from the power and control of sin through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. There is an old song that I like. “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me. All of His wonderful passion and purity. Oh, thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine. Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me." I challenge you to think about this and to examine yourself, to be honest with yourself in order that you can do the will of God for His glory.
4) How Shall We Honor
Listen to the words given to Moses in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” This is the fifth commandment. Not only does it tell us what attitude we are to have toward our parents but God states it to Israel as a conditional promise to bless them if they would keep it. Two thousand years ago the Holy Spirit directed the Apostle Paul to counsel the Ephesians church about family relationships. Ephesians 6:2 states, “Children, honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you; and parents, don’t exasperate your children but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Again it is stated as a conditional promise. God will bless those who honor their parents.
On the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, Jesus met two disciples who were walking dejectedly and He said to them, “What’s going on? Why are you so sad?” And they said, “Well, don’t you know what is going on? We had someone we hoped would be the Messiah but now He is dead.” Jesus began to instruct them from the Old Testament about the prophecies and all that was written about Him, especially in Isaiah and the Psalms. He expounded the Word of God to them and their hearts were touched. He did it from the Scriptures, from the Word of God.
Lets look at Exodus 20, closely. In verses 2-17, God gives them very basic commands that were to govern their attitudes and actions. He did not give them a long list of things to do and not do, but 10 basic commands that if followed would reach to every aspect of their hearts. When God gave them these 10 commandments He accompanied them with lightning, thunder, and smoke to impress them with the seriousness of the moment. God did not do these things to make them afraid of Him. One thing they should have learned in Egypt was that God is merciful to those who seek Him. He rescued them from Egypt and opened the Red Sea so that they could pass. Holy gratitude would have seen God’s merciful nature. But, instead they saw judgment. Exodus 20:19 tells us they refused to meet God. “And they said to Moses, ‘You tell us what God says, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die!’” They sent Moses for them because their hearts were not repentant. The sin that was still in their hearts made them afraid of God, made them reject God! Look at the Ten Commandments closely. Is there anything there that is unreasonable? These were basic commands that most people would agree with. They are profound because of their simplicity. In them God addresses core issues in the human heart. And one of these core issues was how children should behave toward their parents. A certain measure of humility is required to honor one’s father and mother. The human heart is born rebellious. To honor father and mother works against this rebelliousness!
In Matthew 21, Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. He went to the first son and said, “Son, go to work in my vineyard today.” The son refused. “I won’t do that. No way.” But later he changed his mind and he went back and did it. He repented. Dad went to the other son and said the same thing, “Go work in my vineyard today.” The son replied, “Oh, absolutely sir. I will. Yes, yes, I will. Absolutely.” But he did not do it. Jesus asked, “Which one did what his father wanted?” The first son represents something that is biblically and theologically instructive--sinners who repent of their wrong ways and wrong heart, who come to Christ and follow His will and honor Him, will be forgiven and eternally saved from condemnation. The second son represents those who know all the right answers, the right words to say, who sound pious, but who do not actually have a heart directed toward God or His ways. They want to do what they want to do and ultimately reject God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. They do not repent.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Honor should be a basic element in every relationship. Parenting, marriage, business, whatever relationship you can think of. There is a direct relationship between having purity and giving honor. The word “honor’ appears about 200 times in Scripture. The origin of the word makes it related to two other words—glory and majesty. Honor is commonly understood to include respect paid to someone superior like a king, military officer, or corporate boss. This same type of honor is to be given to one’s parents. Honor is to be given because they are in a position of authority over us.
We need to look at some difficult issues if we are to understand what it means to honor others in positions of authority, including our parents. In Romans 13, Paul addresses the issue of Christian responsibility toward civil government. There are two legitimate questions that arise when discussing this topic. 1) When am I excused from honoring someone? Is there ever a situation when I am free to disregard a command given by an authority figure? 2) How do I decide when obeying God requires me to disobey someone in an authoritative position over me? I want to answer those two questions. The answer to these questions will not only help us to understand our responsibility toward civil government but our parents, as well.
In Acts 5:28 we read that Peter and the other apostles had been put in prison and released. They were told by the authorities not to preach in the name of Jesus. Peter responds in verse 29, “We must obey God rather than men.” In other words, when an earthly authority, whether civil or parental, commands us to do something contrary to a command of God, we are to obey God. “I have to do what God wants me to do,” Peter answered. Whenever they demand that I publicly renounce my faith or my moral conscience, we are to not follow their lead. We are to follow God’s leading and commands. Polycarp, a personal acquaintance of the apostle John about 100 AD, was told to deny his faith under the threat of death. He died tied to a flaming pole rather than follow such a wicked command. Corrie ten Boom is another example of someone who disobeyed a wicked command in order to do what was right. In World War II, she risked her life by rescuing and saving Jews from the Nazi authorities. She hid Jews against the orders of the government. Any command that requires you to deny your Lord or His ways is to be disobeyed. No matter who is giving it! Doing so does not violate the honor principle.
What determines my reaction or obligation to what I believe might be an evil or corrupt policy of my civil government? I admit that I have a problem with some people’s application of Romans 13:1-5. “Obey the government, for God is the one who puts it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience.” This is something I have been concerned about for many years. Many Christians believe that verse 1 settles it all. “Obey the government, for God is the one who puts it there. All governments have been placed in power by God.” Actually, I wish that all governments would fulfill their God given roles of protector of the innocent and punisher of the wrong-doer. Rebellion against this kind of government is condemned in these verses. And rightly so! But what about those governments who are not like the government described in Romans 13:1-5? What about those governments that oppress, murder, and steal from the very people they are supposed to be protecting? Are those same people supposed to support such villainy merely because it is a government that is doing it instead of an individual?
Sometimes justice and honor call for governmental change. When eminent domain becomes an excuse to relieve me of my property. When immoral actions by authorities destroy the honor of the position itself. When personal liberties are rescinded or restricted under the guise of security, we have to be on our guard. To compromise freedom for security, will someday leave us with neither freedom nor security. It has happened in other lands. Authorities that are supposedly in power to provide protection from harm, verse 4, become vicious (ruled by vice) and dishonorable and terrorize the good, while rewarding those who do evil. Martin Niebuhr, German Protestant pastor born in 1892, talked about what happened to him under the German Reich. He says, “They came for the Communists and I did not object. I was not a Communist. They came for the Socialists and I did not object. I was not a Socialist. They came for the labor leaders and I did not object. I was not a labor leader. They came for the Jews and I did not object. I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was nobody left to object.” Having said all this, I want to tell you how much I am grateful for my heritage as a citizen of this country for which I risked three years of my life in wartime service. But as a Christian I also believe we must be watchkeepers of our society and our government as well as our faith. Do not become complacent. It is always proper for a Christian to speak out and organize against evil doing. But it is never proper for that same Christian to do wrong in the process!
This same mentality extends to individuals in authority over us. How do we behave toward those who do not deserve it? They occupy a position of authority that we are commanded by God to respect, but they do so in immoral, predatory ways. What is the Christian to do? To get a biblical perspective on this question, please turn to Mark 7:6. The setting for this passage is in verses 1 and 2. The religious leaders and the teachers of the law, the Pharisees, have observed the disciples of Jesus eating food without ceremoniously washing their hands. “Oh, tsk, tsk, ain’t it awful?” The disciples are not dirty, they just have not washed in the traditional way. The traditional wash requires the individual to pour water on the hands and then let it drip off to your elbows and then turn the arms and let it drip down and off the fingertips. After all this you are considered clean. They approached Jesus and accused, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?” How ridiculous. How trivial. Jesus told them what He thought of their arbitrary traditions. In verse 6, He says, “Isaiah was right.” What did Isaiah say? In Isaiah 24, when Isaiah prophesied God’s words concerning hypocrites, he said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless and their teachings are rules simply taught by men.” In other words, “You guys have placed your traditions and yourselves over God.”
Jesus also criticized their methods. They were creating loopholes for ways to avoid honoring God and parents? Verses 9-11 are enlightening. “You reject God’s laws in order to hold on to your own traditions. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks evil of father and mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I vowed to give to God what I could have given to you.’ You let them disregard their needy parents. As such, you break the law of God in order to protect your own tradition. And this is only one example. There are many, many others.’” The Pharisees’ show of outward reverence did not correspond to their inward reality. Their human traditions made it ‘ok’ to neglect the clear commands of God. All through the gospels Jesus calls them religious phonies. He tells them, verse 15, that it is what comes from the heart that matters not what a person eats or what human tradition he keeps. In verse 18 He asks, “Are you so dull you cannot figure this out?” These were supposed to be the spiritual leaders and they could not see the obvious because they were blinded by their legalism and traditions. In verses 21-22, Jesus tells them what defiles a person. “For out of men’s hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean.”
Jesus reminded the Pharisees that it was their duty to honor and care for their elderly parents. And most of us accept the reasonableness of this command. But what is our behavior supposed to be toward unloving, uncaring, and even abusive parents. Ollie and I had good parents while we were growing up and we are eternally thankful for that. But we have been very close to a lot of people who have had horrible relationships with their parents, with parents who abused them and took advantage of them. They still feel the effects of that abuse as adults. How do we overcome the emotional damage done by the abuse? Well, let me share an illustration or two.
Ron Mehl, who wrote the book The Tender Commandments, tells of his experience in dealing with the command to honor one’s parents. He was well past 40 when he met his father for the first time. Ron was an outstanding preacher, author, and student of the Scriptures, but he admitted that every time he read the words in Scripture found in I Thessalonians 2:11, 12, his heart ached. “You know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children and encouraging, comforting, urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom.” These are honorable qualities to be found in good parents. But Ron felt hurt, robbed, deserted, and betrayed because his father had not been a good parent. He asked himself the question some of you might be asking yourself, “Why should I honor my parent? I need a valid reason, God. You told me to do it. I want a reason.” And the answer he found, which is so interesting and simple, was in the last five words of the commandment. “Honor your father and mother so that you may live.” If you are trying to get even by striking back or making them suffer, this will hurt your soul. That applies to every one of us no matter what has happened to us in the past. Revenge destroys the soul. It takes us farther from the godly disposition God wants us to cultivate. You become a slave to your bitterness.
Ollie and I have experienced our share of that kind of stuff—control and abuse, but I can still tell you that God has authority over my life. I respect Him and I honor Him. He is my loving Heavenly Father and His eternal Word is good for me and it is a guide for my life. He is the one who can change my life. You can tell me what I ought to do, but Christ will be the one who helps me change. Christ wants to walk and talk with us through troubling times. Not just to live through them but to come out of them more godly and free from the negative effects of bitterness and rage. I keep coming back to Colossians chapter 3. I am going to read it from the Philips translation. “Since you are risen with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of heaven where your Lord reigns. Give your heart to heavenly things, not to the pressing things of earth. For as far as this world is concerned, you’re already dead and your life is a hidden one in Christ. One day, Christ, who is the secret center of our lives, will show Himself openly and you will share in that magnificent appearing.” And I hope that excites you like it does me. And let me testify to this idea. While it is not always obvious, Jesus Christ is the inner living center of my life. You have heard me say before, “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” Peter was not pure in heart when he cursed and lied and deserted his Lord, yet when he saw the resurrected Savior, he began to live beyond himself for the rest of his life. He lived as someone who was seeing God daily. He brought honor to his Lord in a magnificent way because he allowed God to purify his heart despite his evil surroundings.
Two of the greatest friends that Ollie and I have had were Pete and Terry. Terry was Ollie’s roommate in college and Terry and I and Pete and Ollie were all at each other’s weddings. We were sort of the class clowns at college and we had great times together. Terry’s father was very abusive and her mom was a saint. From age 5, Terry can remember her father as being a mean, hard-drinking, ready-to-swat-you-at-a-moment’s-notice kind of guy. He never worked a day in his life, and Terry would stand between him and her mother in order to protect her from his physical abuse. He never supported the family and Terry did not see him for several years. But he showed up at her wedding, got drunk, and ruined the reception. When Terry’s mom died, he begged to live with Terry and Pete. Pete was a pastor at one of the larger churches in Delaware. They had four sons yet they let him live in their house. They had a couple of rules—no swearing and no drinking. But he embarrassed them even when he went to church because he would come-on to the women. But Terry honored him until the very day he died by caring for him. I thought to myself, “What in the world is her secret?” And this brings us to what Terry had that can help us understand the nature of honor.
What is the nature of honor? It is not wealth. It is not position. It is not power. And it cannot be bought. It is sad to say but an honoring spirit does not come automatically as a result of being a Christian. It must be strived for and attained as a by-product of walking with and obeying Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:1 commands us to be imitators of God as His dear children. As earthly children strive to be like their parents when they are young, so should we strive to be like our heavenly Father throughout our lives. We do this by looking to Jesus Who is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus, despite His access to all the resources in the universe, yielded Himself to honor His Father even unto a painful and humiliating death. Jesus was not a masochist, who loved and sought pain and humiliation. Masochism is not normal. It is sinful. It is self-loathing and self-punishment. It is dishonoring to the God Who created us. Jesus endured the pain and humiliation because it was in fulfillment of the Father’s eternal plan and for our eternal benefit. When we think about honor this morning, I hope we will think about Jesus Christ. That He can make our lives into a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God as we live according to His example. Jesus honored the civil authorities by being law abiding and paying His taxes. But notice, He refused to follow its wicked lead when it came to denying His Father and His heavenly mission. The principle we learn from Jesus is this: “Strive first to honor those in authority over us, including our parents, until they require us to do something that will lead us to disobey a direct command of God. In such cases we are to follow God and not the authority. But in our refusal to obey a wicked authoritative command we are never to do wrong in the process.” This is what Jesus did when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. He taught us that it was the wicked authority that placed itself in opposition to God that caused Him to oppose it, not a rebellious attitude!
Following Jesus Christ as our example, our first principle is to always honor our parents unless they require us to sin in the process. In such cases, we are to follow God’s direction while still maintaining a respective attitude toward the offending parent. We are to gracefully decline to follow his or her wicked lead. But in all other situations we are to honor them as Jesus honored His Father, with reverence and godly behavior.
5) Aging: Finishing Well
I want to address the dangers of growing old and the importance of finishing well. Recently I came across two reminders about how to look at life as we grow older. I am nearing my 80th birthday so this topic is important to me. The first is Psalm 71, probably written by David. I was impressed by the caption in some Bibles that appears before that Psalm. It says, “A Psalm for old age.” The second is a chapter in a book entitled “Aging is a State of Mind.”
Turn to Psalm 71, verse one. “In you, O Lord, do I put my trust.” You notice something? This is very, very personal. “God, I am talking to you. In you, O Lord, do I put my trust.” This is foundational to living a life that is pleasing to God—at any age. Begin with God! And in verse 5 he says, “You have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.” He is looking back on his life and what does he see? Verse six: “…from birth I have relied on you and I will ever praise you.” In other words, “I am glad to be here. I am glad I am alive and I am glad I know you, God.” Are you glad you are a Christian? I certainly hope so, but if not, why not? What is the reason?
What a thrill it is to watch how God works in people’s lives. Look at verse 7. He evaluates his own life and says, “I have become an amazement to many people.” People are watching him to see if his faith is genuine. But life can play tricks on us and that is what worries me. In verse 9, fear shows up. The uncertainties of the future begin to dominate his heart. “Do not cast me away when I am old. Do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Which brings us back to the second part of verse one. “Never let me be put to shame.” What we fear most about death and aging is the uncertainty of the process. Whether it is extended poor health, frailty, mental instability, loss of vitality, loneliness. I personally do not fear death since I know to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” But it is the messiness of aging and dying that causes some concern. And it bothered the psalmist, too.
But we have to face reality. Can you understand David’s concern? In his youth and young adulthood he was full of strength and vigor. He was a mighty warrior. But as he aged he feared weakness and having to be led around wherever he went. He felt weak and vulnerable. First Kings says this about David: “Now King David was very old, and no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm.” The realities of aging were very real to David. But in Psalm 71:5 he said, “You are my hope, O Lord.” In verse 14 he said, “But I will keep on hoping for you to help me… .” David knew his fighting days were over but he still wanted to be useful for God. He still wanted his life to matter (verse 9). “And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing.”
Quite some time ago there were two major manufacturers who were competing for prominence in the cigarette market. And one of them decided to add a few more grains of tobacco and one millimeter more length to its cigarettes. It emphasized the fact that they were longer and that you get more for your money. And the company swiped a major part of the market. The other manufacturer who saw its sales dwindling did not know what to do. Finally, it came up with a new slogan. And the slogan was, “It is not how long you make it, it’s how you make it long.” Quality over quantity! “It’s not how long you make it, it’s how you make it long.” I will never forget that slogan. I think that slogan should be a pledge in the heart of every child of God. It is not how long your life is that matters most, it is what you do with the time you have.
Thus far my heart has pumped blood through my body over 300,000,000 times. What a marvelous creation God has given to us. Here is a question I often ask myself. “How do I say thanks to God for what He has given me?” But life in these bodies is not forever. Nearly 50 years ago I was in the life insurance business and I sold a policy to a man in our church who had just come home from the mission field. One year later Stan called me over to his house for dinner and during the meal he told me that he could not afford to pay the next premium and he was going to cancel the policy. But it was his custom to take a verse out of a packet of Scriptures and read it and then pray before the meal. And that evening the verse was Isaiah 38:1. “This is what the Lord says. Put your house in order for tomorrow you die.” His wife looked at me. His kids looked at me. I just sat there and let him think for a while. I smiled. He said, “Hand me the checkbook!” Before that year passed, his family received the proceeds from that policy. I was so moved and motivated that I went on to become “man of the year” for my insurance company that year.
So, I asked myself, “What are these bodies of ours for?” I happen to believe that they are to be containers. Paul calls them “temples.” Peter uses the word “tents.” Whatever the label, they are dwelling places for God’s Holy Spirit. Think about that for a moment. When Jesus was living here, the people of this planet for 33 years had God’s actual presence in their midst. But when Christ went back to God the Father, He sent the Holy Spirit and ever since that day the Holy Spirit has been looking for people within whom He can accomplish, by His residence, the will of God and thereby realize the expansion of the gospel. You know, there is not a more wonderful, significant calling than to be a child of God. Are you pleased with how you are handling that assignment? And do you think God is pleased? This assignment does not end when you retire. Like David, we should seek to be useful until the day we die!
A second discovery I made was a book entitled Age Erasers for Men. Sounds like a good book, does it not? Let me quote from the chapter “Aging is a State of Mind.” “You are as young as you think. Forget about the birthdays, the number of candles on the cake, the gray hairs on your head,” and I add, “hearing aids and hip replacements.” “Age is not a number, it is an attitude. By having the right attitude, not only will you live longer, but you will remain younger longer.” Satchel Page was one of the greatest pitchers in all of baseball history. He was a black man pitching in the Negro league before Jackie Robinson broke into the major leagues. He probably pitched well into his 60s but he never admitted his age nor did he worry about it. One day a reporter asked him about his philosophy on aging. He said, “It’s just a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” No! you cannot stop father-time but you can live a more productive, vigorous life if you stay active. And that goes for your spiritual life, as well.
Having a positive attitude and staying active does help. But it is not a cure-all. Father-time will still search us out, slow us down, and challenge our resolve. Aging can be especially challenging and has led some people of God to miss the goal of finishing well. Look at King Solomon. What can compare to his wisdom, his writings, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the way he dealt with those two woman fighting over the baby? And how about the building of the glorious temple during his kingship? What a tremendous, magnificent building it was! But in his later years the poor guy just became downright silly. Seven hundred wives!? A lot of it was for political maneuvering, but 700? And he had 300 stand-bys. First Kings 11:4 says, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord.” Verse 6: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Verse 11: “So the Lord said to Solomon, since this is your attitude, I will tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.” Because of his wayward leadership idolatry grew throughout the kingdom and to stop its spread God had to split the kingdom in two. In one generation the kingdom David worked so hard to build collapsed. Solomon did not finish well!
Hezekiah, a king, accomplished wonderful things for God’s people. But when he was near death, he prayed and asked God to heal him, and God did. God told him that He would give him 15 more years of life. He got his 15 years, but then what happened? The blessings that God provided were great. But instead of having a positive effect on Hezekiah he became a showoff. He pridefully invited representatives of Babylon into his palace to showoff how much he had accumulated. This was before they became a great nation. They now knew there was much to plunder in Judah and they would never forget it. Isaiah said this to Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:16-18): “Listen to this message from the Lord: The time is coming when everything you have—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. Some of your descendants will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” And what was Hezekiah’s response? Second Kings 20:19: “‘This message you have given me from the Lord is good.’ But the king was thinking, ‘At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.’” Hezekiah made a mess of his last 15 years. Those 15 years turned out to be bad for Judah. After Hezekiah’s death his son, Manasseh, became king at twelve years old. Second Kings 21:2-3a says this about him: “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, imitating the detestable practices of the pagan nations whom the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed.” In his youth Hezekiah did what was right in the Lord’s sight by destroying pagan idolatry throughout Judah. But during his last 15 years he gave birth to a son who did not see this part of his father. Manasseh saw the prideful, greedy, indifferent Hezekiah. And he turned into one of the worst kings Judah ever had! His reign started the downward spiral that eventually led to the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C. Hezekiah did not finish well!
My best friend in my junior and senior years in high school was an athlete, musician, and had a lot of personality. He was a great guy, a lot of fun. He had a profound effect on me in those early years. After college I did not see him for about 30 years. We arranged a reunion on one of my trips to California and we met at a Denny’s restaurant for lunch. We spent a couple hours talking and reminiscing. He was brought up in the same church as Howard Hendricks, the seminary professor. We talked about all kinds of stuff. When the subject got around to spiritual matters and Jesus Christ, he turned cold and quiet, sad. He wouldn’t talk about it. A few months later I learned he had died from alcoholism. He did not finish well!
These illustrations are not fun to discuss. It can be downright discouraging. You know what? I am not finished, yet. So I have to ask myself, “Can this happen to me?” People are very nice to me, saying nice things about how good I look and all that kind of stuff. But I am not done yet and I do not want to end up like Solomon, Hezekiah, or my friend Hap. These illustrations break my heart and they break God’s heart. I ask myself, “How can I avoid an old age collapse? Hebrews 12:1b says, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” And how do we do this? Verse 2a: “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” We are to throw off, get rid of, things that hold us back, the sin that holds us in its grip. We need to finish the race not stumble and fall before the finish line!
In the past few months I have seen some spiritual miracles. I have seen some new births in Jesus Christ. I have seen some dynamic growth and spiritual development and maturity in people who have come to know the Lord. And I say, “Praise God. It is wonderful.” But sad to say, along with that, I have seen some disheartened, unsatisfied Christians frustrated because they just do not have the will to follow through on what they know is God’s leading. Ron Mell says, “Cease from your striving. Listen to the voice of God’s Spirit. Let Him work in your life.” I know it is not always easy to listen to God’s Spirit. I have been through it. When I was a life insurance salesman I was sitting with this doctor who wanted to make me a rich man. In one evening by selling all of this particular insurance package, I could be a rich man. But there was one problem. He asked me to do something about another policy that was wrong. He wouldn’t buy the policy that was going to make me rich until I did something with this other policy that was illegal. And I discovered something about myself that evening. That Al, Sunday-School-superintendent Al, was tempted to do something wrong and illegal in order to be rich. I actually sat there and contemplated doing the wrong thing. I thought I could not be tempted that way. But boy, when it was right there, the bucks were on my fingertips, I was! I did not do it. But I wonder what my life would have been like had I done it. Do you think I would have been in the pastorate for close to 50 years? Would I have even wanted to be in the pastorate at all? And to think how close I came to changing my life forever!
A few years later I was a pastor in one of my churches and discovered that a high level denominational leader was having an affair. I had to deal with it. He was worried about his job because it was a job in a Christian organization. His first question was, “Is this going to affect my job?” He had no remorse at all. And I said, “We will talk about that.” And lo and behold, every Monday morning underneath my door appeared these envelopes that had money in them. And that money, I figured out, was about the equivalent of a fifteen percent raise for me. And we were poor. He did this for about six weeks. I told my wife, “We have to do something about this.” I finally talked to him and he said, “Are you getting the envelopes?” “Yeah, I got the envelopes.” “You wouldn’t consider that a bribe, would you?” I said, “That is exactly what it is!” I gave him all the cash back. It was tempting. When I opened that first envelope, the thought ran through my mind, “God is taking care of us.” No, that is not what it was about. Do not play games with your character! Reputation is what men think (I could have done it and maybe others would not have found out about it) you are. But character is what God knows you to be!
I knew a guy who was a bright, young entrepreneur who had recently received Jesus Christ into his life. And he was about to open up a new, upscale haberdashery. He had just received a large shipment of suits, shirts, socks, and ties. He was going to open this place in the next couple days and then the night before his grand opening, some guy in a truck backed up and took it all out. They never found anything. And I could just hear this guy saying, “Huh, thanks a lot, God. I trusted you. I give my first testimony and You do this to me.” And so I went over and had a chance to meet with Tom very soon afterward and he said, “You know what, Al? I am so glad I am a Christian. If I were not a Christian and this happened to me a few weeks ago, I would have probably taken my life.” Jesus Christ made the difference.
There is a Greek word used less than a dozen times in the Bible and I will give you three instances of its use. It is a six-letter word--maketi. It means from now on. It is always associated with statements of purpose. Paraphrasing. Second Corinthians 5:15: “The purpose of Christ’s death for us is that no longer shall we live for ourselves but maketi--from now on--we have to live for Christ.” First Peter 4:1-2: “Since Jesus Christ gave His life in order to finish off my sin problem, no more shall I live my life according to my old sinful nature, but maketi--from now on--for the days and weeks and months of my chronological clock that is still running, live them according to the will of God.” Ephesians 4:14. Paul is talking about Christian maturity. He says, “Baby, infant Christians should not just stay that way, but maketi—from now on--grow into a stature measured by the example of Jesus Christ.” It is never too late to start living in a way that pleases God. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. And I say that whether you are 10 or 80 or 92. If you only have a year to live, or a month, a week or a day, make it worthwhile! Make it something God will be pleased with and something that will help others. Make your life count for His kingdom. Be involved in the furtherance of His truths and ways in this world.
I want to take you to Paul’s last written words. Look at 2 Timothy 4. Paul has lived a hard life. His was not a life of ease and luxury. As the apostle to the Gentiles, he suffered many hardships. He had lived well but the end is near. Will he finish well? He sums it up by saying, “I am being poured out like an offering.” That is a strange term. The word is “spendow.” We get the word “spent” from it. His life was “spent out” for Christ. It is almost used up. But he rejoices because God began a good work in him and at some point in the near future it is going to end. How does he feel about this? How does he view his years in the ministry? He said, “I have fought the good fight.” A fight? Did he have struggles? It seems like Paul had nothing but struggles. He struggled against men. He had to be let down in a basket out of a back window in order to save his life on one occasion. He was stoned and left for dead on another. He struggled against ideas. At Mars Hill he convincingly debated with the greatest philosophers of the day. He struggled against problems in churches. The pastoral epistles were written to address problems in various local churches. But in spite of the struggles, his heart and his attitude were such he could rejoice in what God had done with his life.
Some of you have known me a few weeks. Others have known me months and some for 10-12 years. People often ask Ollie and I how we handle the ups and downs of life. I usually say, “I take my calling as a Christian and a pastor very, very seriously. But I do not take myself seriously at all.” And I mean that in a way that says, “I want to be a real person. I want to tell you how the Holy Spirit can work in your life, as he has in mine.” Years ago, after two years at a particular college I transferred to another college because it had an anthropology program that would help me to become a missionary. The day I arrived on campus they dropped the major. “Ok? Now what?” I went to the counselor and asked, “Hey, where do we go from here?” He said, “I don’t know, Al, but let’s give you a test.” So he gave me one of those profile tests and the results were surprising and quite shocking to me. He said, “You are not going to be a missionary because you rate so low in that area. But we noticed something about you. You are extremely high in business, so why don’t you become a business major?” So I did--business and economics. I graduated and was in business for nine years, but just before my life insurance job I went to take another profile test. “We’re going to hire you, but we’re not sure. We have never seen a profile like this in our lives. You are extremely high in business but you are even higher in ministry.” This makes me weep a little bit because in less than nine years God’s Holy Spirit, without me even knowing what was going on--I was just trying to be a faithful Christian--did a work in my life that radically changed me.
I want to encourage you. Let the Holy Spirit, the sovereign Holy Spirit who will prick your conscience, guide you, and instruct you, do His thing in your life. What He does in you, live it out enthusiastically. Finish the ‘race’ God has given you. And I pray that you can say with Paul, “I have endured and finished what God has given me to do.” Finish well, my dear friends!
6) What Kind Of Man Is This?
There is a story recorded in the 4th chapter of Mark that asks us a very important question. Mark 4:30ff: "And Jesus said how shall we picture the kingdom of God or by what parable shall we present it? It's like a mustard seed which when sown upon the ground though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the ground, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms larger branches so that the birds of the air can rest under its shade." Verse 35: "On that day, later in the evening, Jesus said to his disciples, 'Let's go over to the other side.' And leaving the multitude they took him along with them just as he was in the boat and other boats were with him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind and the waves were breaking over the boats so much so that the boat was already filling up. Jesus himself was in the stern sound asleep on the cushion and they awoke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don't you care that we're perishing?’ And being aroused, Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘hush, be still!’ The wind died down and it became perfectly calm and He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they became very much afraid and said to one another, 'What kind of a man is this?'”
Jesus had a taxing day. He had been speaking to a multitude of people and wanted to get away for a while. So he asked his disciples to shove off into the sea to go to the other side. They probably had not been gone very far, maybe 5 or 6 miles, and a sudden wind blew up from the cold northern ranges of Mount Herman. This storm whipped the waves up into a white fury! The disciples were afraid that the boat was going to capsize. When I was pastoring a church in the Minneapolis area, I recall how suddenly the waves came up on Lake Minnetonka. It was just a wild, wild time. In fact, I went around calling on some of my parishioners to see how they had fared, when I looked in front of one house and saw a rowboat 20 feet off the ground impaled on a tree about 50 yards away from where it had been docked. Powerful! No doubt it was such a storm as this that over took the disciples. And in the midst of it there was Jesus calmly sleeping in the back. The disciples, some of who were fisherman well acquainted with the waters, realized they were in great danger. They turned to their Lord who had helped them out of so many situations before and said, "Master, don't you care that we are perishing?" And rising to his feet, the Lord stilled the waters. He lifted his hands and said, "Peace be still." And the wind died down to a whisper, the waves began to subside, and the waters became smooth as ice, once again. The disciples are dumbfounded and finally one of them has enough nerve to ask the question that is on everyone’s mind, “What kind of a man is this?”
Every Christmas and Easter the world is faced with that same question. They try to avoid it. But Jesus Christ cannot be ignored. The question of his existence has long been answered. There have been books written questioning His historical existence. The evidence for His existence has been established that it is beyond doubt. Therefore, the question is not “Did he ever exist?” but “Who is he?” First of all, what kind of a man is this who has made such fantastic claims about Himself? When you pick up the Scriptures and read about the life of Christ and some of the things that He said, either this man was truly God as He claimed or else He was suffering from mental torment and a paranoid disorder with delusions of grandeur.
What kind of a man is this who claimed to be co-equal with God? In John 14:9, Jesus one day made this bold statement, "I and the Father are one. He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." Hebrews 1:3 says: "He was created in the very expressed image of God." These passages are claiming that Jesus is not an ordinary man. They are saying that He is the physical representation of the heart of God. He told the Pharisees that He lived before Abraham who had died 2,000 years before. And listen to this, in his prayer in the garden, John 17:5, He prays to the Father, "Restore unto me the glory which I had with you before the world began." And in His reference to Abraham, who had been dead 2,000 years, He used the same words to identify Himself that God used to identify Himself to Moses. God said to Moses, “When you are asked who sent you, say that I Am sent you." Jesus looked at the Pharisees and said, "Before Abraham was, I Am." The Pharisees knew what He was saying and were so infuriated they tried to stone Him. When He healed the sick man of palsy He said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." And to this the skeptic says, “Hey, hold it, nobody can forgive sins but God.” This is a true statement. For an ordinary man to claim the power to forgive is blasphemous. To believe such a man’s claim is stupid. Anyone can say anything. They are mere words. Recognizing this Jesus answered, "Is it easier to say to this man, take up your bed and walk or to say your sins are forgiven?" I can easily say to you “Your sins are forgiven” and how would you know if it were true, or not. Or even care that I said it because you do not believe me. But to say to someone who is a paralytic “Take up your bed and walk” gives validation to what was just said.
What kind of a man is this who not only permitted people to worship Him but He encouraged it? When the superstitious people of Caesarea came upon Peter, Cornelius said to him, "Peter," (he had asked for someone to come to him) and he fell down at Peter's feet and began to worship him and Peter said in Acts 10, "Don't do that. I am a man just like you. Stand up, I'm only a man." Paul had the same experience in another city. They thought he was Zeus. Paul and Barnabas were doing some evangelistic work and they thought one was Hermes and one was Zeus. That they were Greek gods come down in the form of man. But Jesus never so much as rebuked anyone for falling down and worshiping him.
Remember the first Palm Sunday recorded in the Scriptures. Jesus is entering into Jerusalem and the Pharisees get very upset about what is going on. They say, "Hey, Jesus, this mob is singing and rejoicing and carrying on all about you and singing your praises, why don't you just tell them to hush up?" And what is the response of Jesus? "Let me tell you something," He says, "If these people were to be quiet, what would happen? The stones would shout out.”
What kind of a man is this who on numerous occasions not only predicted his own death but the very manner and place it would occur? He told His disciples that it would be at Jerusalem and it would be by crucifixion. Not only that, but that He would rise again.
What kind of a man is this who claimed the exclusive power to have saved men from sin and prepare them for heaven? John 10: 28: "I give unto them eternal life." John 10:7: "I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved." John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Ordinary men, even prophets do not make statements like these!
What kind of a man is this who claimed to be able to resurrect men from death and then He did it? He promised, "I will raise them up at the last day." He said, "All that are in the grave shall hear my voice and come forth." John 11:25: "I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever..." There is that beautiful word that John uses so often to say that we are all possible children of God--"...whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
What kind of a man is this who promised that his words would outlast the heavens and the earth? Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall not." We could go on and give you countless outstanding claims that He made about Himself. I think that this is probably enough to make the point. Jesus said enough about Himself and did enough in His earthly life to show Himself to be the Son of God. Only outright unbelief, or non-acceptance, can dismiss it.
People marvel about Jesus. They marveled about what He had to say. They say, "Never did anybody speak like this man." It is true that the established religious leaders of that day, staunch defenders of their power and status quo, rejected him. But those who were honest with themselves, even among that group acknowledged His claims. John the Baptist said, "He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." In saying this He was ascribing to Jesus Christ not only the power to forgive sins but also to atone for them. As a man, I can forgive your sins against me, your abuse of me, whatever it is. But I cannot cover your sin. Philip testified that it was Jesus about whom all the prophets of the Old Testament had written when he told Nathaniel, "We have found Him of whom Moses and all the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth." John, chapter 4, the woman of Samaria, after she met Jesus goes back to her village and says, "Is not this the Messiah?" Nathaniel said, "Thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel." And when Jesus asked Peter who he thought Jesus was Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And I remember the words of the centurion at the crucifixion. He was in charge of seeing to it that there was a nice clean crucifixion. He stood back and marveled as he saw Christ die and said, "Truly, truly, this was and is the Son of God."
What kind of man could bring forth such praise from his contemporaries? Even Pilate admitted publicly he found no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:14). By agreeing to execute an innocent man he sacrificed his own integrity to maintain his position of power. Think also of what prominent men of history have said about him. Not necessarily religious people, either. Rousseau, the French infidel who sowed the seeds of the French Revolution that drenched all of Europe in blood said, "It is impossible that the sacred person whose history the Bible contains should himself be a mere man. What purity of manner, how sublime in his teachings, what profound wisdom in his discourses, where is the man or where is the philosopher who could so live and so die?"
Napoleon the military genius said, "I tell you, Jesus Christ's spirit over awes me. His will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world there is no comparison. He is a being by himself. His gospel, his empire, His mark across the ages, everything is for me a mystery insoluble. A mystery which I can neither deny nor explain. Here in him I see nothing human."
Daniel Webster the statesman said: "I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. The miracles which he wrought establish in my mind his personal authority and I believe what he asserts."
Shakespeare in his last will and testament said, "I commend my soul into the hands of God my creator," and listen, "assuredly believing through the mercies of Jesus Christ my Savior and to him alone to be made partaker of life everlasting." This is thrilling to me to hear these testimonies.
Lord Byron: "If ever man was God or ever God was man, Jesus Christ was both."
Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Jesus is the most perfect of all men that has ever yet appeared."
And what about George Bernard Shaw, hardly considered a paragon of evangelical Christianity. Can you believe what he says? "I am no more of a Christian than Pontius Pilate was! And yet, like Pilate, I prefer Jesus to the High Priests. And, I am ready to admit that I see no way out of this worlds misery, but the way which would have been found by the will of Jesus Christ."
Bertrand Russell will not necessarily be remembered as a saint of the church yet this is what he reluctantly admitted. "There are certain things that our age needs and the root of the matter is a thing so simple I'm almost ashamed to mention it for fear of the smile which wise skeptics would read my words. The thing I mean, please forgive me for mentioning it, is Christian love. If you feel this you have a motive for existence, a guide in action and a reason for courage.”
Robert Louis Stevenson: "When Christ came into my life I came about like a well-handled ship."
Lou Wallace was a general, lawyer, governor, and foreign minister and saved Washington, D.C. from falling to the Confederate Army. He said, "After 6 years given to the impartial investigation of Christianity," he intended to write and refute it, "as to its truth or to its falsity I've come to the deliberate conclusion that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior of the world and my personal Savior." He then went on to write the famous novel Ben Hurr.
We could go on. What kind of man is this that His influence should permeate every realm of life? Here was a man born in a humble stable of a very poor mother, of a humble race, raised in an obscure village, never attended a university, never wrote a book, never led an army, never went a hundred miles from his home, and never held a public office. If you were to take Jesus Christ out of art, literature or music there would be a cultural void that would be unbelievable. What was there about this man that He should cause such universal respect and worship and whose influence has been felt in every realm of life?
My friend, the answer is found in Colossians 1:15-20. "He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For in him were all things created both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rules or authorities, all things have been created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body of the church and he is the beginning, the first born from the dead so that he himself might come and to have first place in everything. For it was the Father's good pleasure for all of the fullness to dwell in him and through him to reconcile all things to himself. Having made peace through the blood of his cross, through him I say whether things on earth or things in heaven."
Romans 1:20: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood through what has been made so that all mankind are without excuse. For even though they knew God they did not honor him as God nor give thanks but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” In other words, “God is me, he is the animals, he is everything,” a la the New Age movement. The New Age movement is today’s modern day version of the false teachings Paul was referring to in Romans and Colossians.
The Lord of heaven and earth came to be a servant. The very essence of God gave Himself for us so that repentance and forgiveness can be realities in our lives. That is what makes John 3:16 such a tremendous verse. We all know it. It is usually the first thing out of our mouths when we begin to learn the Scriptures. “For God so loves the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” There is one thing Jesus Christ could not do. He could not save himself and at the same time save you and me. That was impossible. Everything about Jesus was connected to the Father in heaven. Everything in His life, His food, His nourishment, His energy, all were directed to fulfill the will and plan of the Father. In John 4 he said he came not to establish an earthly kingdom but to make it possible for every fallen, sinful person--for you and for me--to be reconciled to God. Therefore, when Peter swung his sword and took off the ear of Malchus to defend Jesus in the garden, Jesus told him, "Peter, that is not the way it is going to be. Put the sword back!" And then He picked the ear up and put it back where it belonged. Jesus Christ came to show us the heart of God. He came to show us that God is longsuffering. He came to offer forgiveness and eternal life by taking on your sin and my sin. The Father has promised to forgive all those who receive His Son. And receiving the Son entails receiving all He did for us. It entails receiving Him as Savior and Lord.
The way Jesus Christ responded to situations in His life teaches us two things. First, it shows us the heart of God and what He would do if confronted with the situations we are confronted with every day. Secondly, it gives us examples so that we can get a feel for how we are to confront the situations that we encounter in our lives. Look closely at the following:
When He met hypocrisy, He revealed and unmasked it. When He met impure thoughts, He purged them. When He met pretentiousness, He put it down and humbled it. When He met materialism, He resisted it. When He met faith, He responded to it. When He met love, He accepted it and encouraged it. When He met skepticism, He understood it and cleared it up. (There are no bad questions to Jesus. He'll take care of them all.) When He met joy, He added to it. (I like that. He was not a pessimist.) When He met sorrow, He comforted it with a heart of compassion. When He met pain, He relieved it. When He met abuse, He overcame it by endurance. When He met death, He conquered it. And when He met someone who was seeking God, He revealed Him.
Jesus Christ calls you and me to be outstanding in our way of living. We are not to live like the unwise. We are called to live in such a way as to say, "Thank you, God. Thank you, Jesus, for all you've done and for what you have done for me." Law does not drive us. God’s love, as shown in Jesus Christ, leads us. I ask you to meditate on how we can implement the work that He began. Have you taken the work that He accomplished on Calvary's cross and applied it to your own life? The disciples asked, “What kind of man is this?” Your response to the life and work of Jesus Christ will show how you will answer that question. Who do you say that He is?
7) What Was God Up To?
The Apostle’s Creed
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into Hades. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."
The Apostle’s Creed was not actually written by Peter, James, and Andrew, but by a group of people in 170 A.D. that decided that the Christian church needed to have a formal statement stating what we really believe so that there would be no confusion. And often the Apostle’s Creed would be repeated as a personal testimony as someone was being baptized.
The word “Christmas” comes from an Old English term which means “Christ’s mass.” It is a name given for the day set aside to celebrate the birth of Christ. We do not believe that December 25 is the actual day of Jesus’ birth. The actual date is not the point, it is the meaning of that blessed event that matters. I do not think there is any question that history records the fact of Jesus’ birth. Secular sources testify to that fact. Most people agree that a baby named Jesus was born to a young Jewish lady in Bethlehem. So what? There were a lot of babies born to Jewish women the day Jesus was born. What makes his birth special?
Look at four words in 2 Corinthians 5:19--“God was in Christ.” Through Jesus Christ God was identifying Himself to the world. Seven hundred years before the actual birth of Jesus Isaiah the prophet wrote in Isaiah 19:6: “For to us a child is born. A son is given. And he will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.” Listen to Micah 5:2: “Out of you little town of Bethlehem will come one whose origin is from ancient time.” What an astonishing statement to make. Was he living before his physical birth? Jesus’ words in John 17:5 takes away any uncertainty: “Restore unto me (Jesus) the glory I had with you (God the Father) before the world began.” Something very special was taking place that day two thousand years ago.
The next five words of 2 Corinthians 5:19 speak of God’s purpose—“reconciling the world to himself.” What was happening? God was reconciling the world to Himself. We want to be sure we do not misunderstand this. We are not saying that just as every person who becomes a Christian by faith in Christ receives the Holy Spirit, that that is what happened to Jesus. This verse is saying that Jesus is unique. He is the supreme witness of who God is. Do you want to know what God is like in His inner self? Look at Jesus!
I want to draw your attention to the gospel of John 1:1 for a moment. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” He (the word—whoever that is?) was with God in the beginning. What does this mean? Go down to verse 14. “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only who came from the father full of grace and truth.” The Word was what brought us into existence. In Genesis chapter one, God spoke. By His word He spoke, and it was so. Word created the universe. Word created the animals. Word created the fish. Word created the sea. Word created you and me and the Word was/is Christ. That is why Christmas is so special. The very Creator of all things became flesh to walk among us and give Himself as a sacrifice for all who will receive Him. In Jesus Christ we have God incarnate—God’s inner self in human form. He was touchable. Listen to First John chapter 1:1-2 in the NLT version: “The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. This one who is life from God was shown to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and announce to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was shown to us.”
In Jesus Christ we meet God in human form. It is not enough to merely say that Jesus Christ came here. Or that He was born. That is simply stating a historical fact. It is a fact that Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth and had to go down to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus ordered everyone to return to their home town for a census for tax purposes. The gospels tell us that Jesus was born there. The secular historians of that day confirm that fact. But it is of utmost importance to understand why Jesus Christ came. Paul said in the letter to the Colossians in 1:21-22: “And you that were once alienated (that is, enemies, hostile in mind toward God) God has through Christ reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ.” In other words, the physical birth of Jesus was the first step toward Christ’s atoning death on the cross. Isaiah 7:14 adds: “The Lord himself will give you a sign (an indication, so you will be able to know what is going on) a virgin will be of child and will give birth to a son and you will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”
What does all this mean? Why is it so important? Mankind has turned away from God. A look at the problems of the world and an honest evaluation of our own self-oriented mindset reveals how we tend to distance ourselves from God. Romans 3:23 clearly teaches the universal problem of sin: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” History attests to the sin problem. Cain and Abel, Abraham lying about his wife, people in the time of Noah, Jacob’s deceitfulness, Samson, King Saul, rebellious people of Israel over and over and over again, the Pharisees, on and on. Regardless of all that, the eternal reality and existence of our holy God remains. And so does the necessity of acknowledging Him for who He is. But we cannot do this on our own.
It is innate within the nature of mankind to want to have some sort of God and if there was no God, we would proceed to invent one (as many have, who have rejected the true God). Eternity has been written on our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and only willful unbelief can dismiss its witness. There is a very real sense in which the problem of man’s sin created a dilemma for God. God is holy. We are not. The two cannot mix. God is holy and we are not but God loves us so much that He took the initiative for reconciliation. God came into the community of man. He identified with us. There was no other way that we were going to get an understanding of what God is like. And if you do not have that, then what do you have? If you look at yourself and see yourself for what you are, what do you do?
I am reminded of what my friend Jim Elliot said before he was martyred. He said, “Man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he can never lose.” When we look to ourselves we strive to gain power, do we not? We want to rule, we want to be in charge. But even if we end up with everything, it is not going to satisfy us. Ask the Hitlers of the world. Ask Alexander the Great? Historians tell us he wept. Why? Because there were no more worlds to conquer. How sad! We have seen a lot of that. Situational ethics. Anything goes. Many lose their values in pursuit of their goals.
Not too long ago a large number of teenagers were asked this question. “What do you wish for most in life?” The answer was surprising? They wanted somebody to trust. Think about that. In the light of our current history, that is a strong message for our nation’s leadership, is it not? So to solve the problem and the crisis of man’s search for reality, we read in the Bible, “In the fullness of time (or just the right time as God had planned) there came into human history the revelation. God sent his son made under the law (Galatians 4:4) made of a woman, not man to redeem those who are under the law.” Jesus Christ is the revelation to man of what man was intended to be. First John 3:1-2: “How great is the love the father has bestowed on us, (lavished on us) that we should be called children of God.” And later. “Now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” As you examine the life of Christ, you see things that are very interesting. We see God in Christ in His love for people at the marriage at Cana where He turned the water into wine. We see God in Christ in His emotions, His concern, when He wept over Jerusalem (Luke chapter 19). We see God in Christ in His healing the afflicted by the pool, the lepers, and the blind. And we see God in Christ in His disdain for death (John 11) in the resurrection of Lazarus. We see God in Christ in His holiness, John 3, where He cleanses the temple of all the people who were the abusers of the law, abusers of the message that God wants a personal relationship with everyone, not just the ‘elite’. These ‘leaders’ were obstacles. “Cannot get in here unless you pay the right tax. You have to have the right sheep and we are the guys that have the sheep and we are going to charge you for the sheep, so let us see your money.” God, in Christ, says, “I do not want that. That is not what I am about, that is not Me!” And we hear God in Christ, calling all to repentance in His teaching on Christian living, the Sermon on the Mount. God was in Christ enables you and me to gain a new perspective and understanding of God.
But the second part of that verse really demands our attention. The greatest degree of understanding about the love and mercy of God and the heart of God is seen in the Christmas event. God spared nothing. He guaranteed that we could be reestablished with Him. He made it possible for you and me to be reborn into His family. How is this done? By reconciliation. Reconciliation means to be “brought together.” Webster says, “to reestablish friendship between.” Having been alienated from God, we are now restored to union. John chapter 15 talks about “union with God.” When I see relationships collapse into bitterness, when parties to a rift say “I won’t give in” whether it be friends or husband and wife and any other relationship, I ask myself, “What in the world is the difference between being a Christian and a non-Christian?” We are all the same. It ought to be different and so God’s dilemma was this. How can a holy God who cannot look at sin, deal with His love for mankind who is always prone to sin? Do you know what God did? He sent Jesus. In Romans chapter 3:26 we learn that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God was able to solve a problem that included two contradictory things. He was able to maintain His holiness and sense of justice while at the same time justify sinners. Jesus is both the just one and the justifer. God’s forgiveness is not arbitrary or based on the personal performance of the sinner but on the redemptive work of Christ.
Reconciliation is an unilateral act of God, through which He provides a solution to the problem of man’s alienation. The agent of that reconciliation is Jesus Christ. How is it accomplished in a life? First of all, recognize the situation. I like what Spurgeon said-- “Call a spade a spade.” Admit your guilt. And then repent. This means you are truly sorry and willing to turn completely around. And thirdly, you receive. You accept what Jesus Christ has done as a remedy for your problem. Admit, repent, and receive. You must recognize that you have no merit of my own. Max Lucado, in The Grip of Grace, says this, “Ponder the achievement of God. He doesn’t condone our sin nor does He compromise His standard. He doesn’t ignore our rebellion nor does He relax His demands. Rather than dismiss our sin, He assumes it.” That is what Jesus was doing. He was not saying it never happened. He said, “Give it to me. Lay it on me.” And incredibly He sentenced Himself. Sin is punished and we are redeemed. Praise be to God!
One last item, the verse is not quite finished yet. Now the next thought in verse 19. “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” The first part of verse 20 appoints us to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world. What does an ambassador do? He represents a kingdom or a nation. Actually, he represents the leader of that nation. Jesus said, “be my witnesses.” Christians are called to be representatives of Christ to a hurting and fallen world.
Most Christians tend to live in one of four ways. 1) Isolation. They retreat from the world. They avoid all the sinners. They hide out. They say they will get stained unless they isolate. Hide your salt. Cover your light. 2) Others are accommodators. The opposite of isolation. They teach that what we believe does not really matter. Do not even let the world know we are Christian. De-salinize your salt. Douse your light. 3) Then there are people who want to be belligerent. They say the main function of Christians is to tell people how wicked they are. “If we do not criticize everything, they will not know we are Christians,” they say. “They will think we are compromisers.” So, you throw the salt and the saltshaker at them and throw a lamp, too. Do not talk to the abortion doctors, shout at them, or worse yet, shoot them. Impose Christian values through force, eliminate all questions and discussion. Burn them to a crisp by the heat of your lamp. But these actions are not the assignment of an ambassador because in all these actions we are either alienating the citizens we are supposed to win over or we are becoming a traitor to our Lord’s message. 4) Christian ambassadors should meet people where they live, just as Jesus did. Christian ambassadors should show honest concern for the other people’s needs, just as Jesus did. Shepherding groups, feed the kids, give them a toy, show concern. Mingle with people in their shops and homes as Jesus did. People need to know that we are human beings, like them. We have a sense of humor. We laugh, we cry, we have problems but we are very serious about what we believe. We are not called to live in isolation, but we are called to promote and maintain personal purity as Jesus did. Being involved as Jesus was never means lowering your standards. Jesus always sought to raise the sights of those He talked to with some positive input in how they could be better people. Jesus Christ was involved. He was not isolated. He was always in contact, on the cutting edge of every issue of the people of His day. His ways were varied, but at the same time, He was always consistent with Christian value. He was actively concerned, not ethically compromising. He was not dictatorial, but He was always transforming.
As we come to know the heart and the mind of God through the study of the Scriptures, fellowshipping together, talking with other Christians, learning, growing, as we communicate with God in prayer and live by the direction of the Holy Spirit, we can become the answer to the prayer that Jesus uttered. Do you know what that prayer was? “Lord, I do not ask that you take these Christian disciples of mine out of the world. I ask that you make them secure while they are here. As you Father have sent me, so send I them.” Do we really appreciate what we have in Christ?
What was God doing that first Christmas day? He was not simply showing the world that babies are cute or that we should shower each other with gifts at Christmas time. God was in Christ revealing Himself to the world. He was identifying with our experience. God was reconciling the world to Himself, bringing a lost human race back into relationship with Him. Look around you. The world is a lost place. There is so much heartache and pain, and monstrous evil. God is the One who breaks into this mess and offers a way out. God is the One who says, “Come to Me and find rest for your souls.” Jesus Christ is "the way, the true, and the life.” The person who follows Him will be saved from condemnation. God demonstrated His inner most being in Jesus Christ. Do you truly understand what God was doing that first Christmas Day?
8) Christ’s Prayer for You
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Prayer is a marvelous thing. It is a great privilege. It is a unique opportunity to converse with the God of creation, the God of the universe. Prayer can move spiritual mountains. I have seen that in my own experience. Prayer can discourage worried disciples waiting for a different answer than what they think they are receiving. Prayer can encourage. Prayer can challenge or it can anesthetize or petrify. Prayer can touch the heart of God or it can mock the very purposes of God.
I knew a middle aged fellow who told me the only prayer he ever remembered was the one he heard his mother pray one night in another room asking God to deliver her from this evil world she was living in and from the sinful sons that she had to live with. What is the measure of a valid prayer? What makes the difference? Is it the heart of the one praying or is it the words that matter most? The stumbling, faltering prayers of a young babe in Christ is one of the most beautiful things I have heard in my life and it brings tears to my eyes every time. It is not the words, it is the heart of the pray-er that matters most.
The above prayer is called “The Lord’s Prayer.” Actually, that is incorrect. It is not the ‘Lord’s’ prayer. It is a model for prayer that Jesus gave to His disciples in response to a question about prayer. He was pointing out the contrast between the egotistical babblings of the religious hypocrites as opposed to the way we should pray from the depths of our heart. And in that prayer Jesus gave us three main themes. First, we are to praise God. “Hallowed be thy name.” Or “revered is your name, oh God. To you belongs power and glory forever and ever.” It is praise and respect to God for who He is. Then there was commitment to God. “Thy will be done.” “Thy kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.” And then you have some petitions—requests. The requests for necessary provisions—“give us this day our daily bread.” The request for forgiveness—“forgive us as we forgive those who have offended us.” All of these reveal an attitude that looks to God for His guidance and provision—a commitment to pursue Him and His ways. And then there is a request for guidance. “Lead us not into temptation.” “Deliver us from evil.” There is a healthy dependence on God for spiritual leading. There is a healthy recognition that we are insufficient in ourselves to conquer the sin and temptation that the world and Satan bring our way.
It is important to understand that this prayer is meant to be a model prayer teaching us about the attitude that is required in true prayer and that Jesus Himself was not praying for Himself. Why would Jesus be asking for forgiveness? He never sinned. Tempted? Yes, things were offered to Him. Sin? Never. As for the content of this prayer, it could never be composed by a natural human being. Its message is so unlike anything human religions produce. It could only come from a supernatural consciousness that has had intimate contact with God. This prayer shows the purest expression of the lofty consciousness and peace Jesus had with the Father. The person who composed this prayer knew God in an intimate way.
For an actual look at what we should truly call the Lord’s Prayer, turn to John’s gospel, chapter 17. In this prayer, Jesus had a threefold focus. 1) Jesus prays for Himself. 2) Jesus prays for His immediate disciples and 3) He prays for His church—you and me and all who have received Him as personal Lord and Savior. We ought to come to this prayer with an attitude of wonder because we are being granted the privilege of looking deep into the mind of the very Son of God, the awesome mind and heart of the Savior of the world. It is important to remember that this prayer is offered up just a few moments before Jesus goes back into the Garden where He will be betrayed by Judas. I think it is significant to notice that Jesus acknowledges the situation He is in. No second guessing, no “why me?” But He says, “Father, the hour has come.” And in doing this He is acknowledging His obedience to the plan of the heavenly Father, despite the personal cost to Himself.
The book of Hebrews tells us there is one thing that Jesus had to learn in His earthly experience. He had to learn obedience. He learned it by doing the Father’s will despite the sufferings He experienced. Every time you see a reference to “Jesus’ hour” it is presented as something very, very special. It refers to the time of His humiliation. Jesus showed that He knew it was coming when He said, “For this purpose I came to the world.” His humiliation will become His glory because it will show His true self. It will show the depths of His love. As He prays to the Father He says, “The hour is come. Now glorify your Son.” If you turn back to the end of John 16, you find Jesus saying, “I tell you the truth. You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.” Remember how they beat, mocked, jeered, and spit upon Jesus and put a crown of thorns on His head? The verse continues, “you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.” Is this some sort of a riddle? No. The sorrow of Christ’s death will be turned into eternal joy because of the resurrection. He arose. With that rising came the promise of eternal life to all who trust in Him. God has promised to forgive all those who receive His Son. And as Hebrews 12:2 states, this was the joy that was set before Him--His motivation to endure much suffering, shame, and separation from the Father.
What is eternal life? We hear the term “eternal life,” but very seldom is it ever defined. Jesus says specifically, “Now this is eternal life, that people may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom God has sent.” Knowing God is what it is all about. Our souls are restless until we find our rest in God. I have had people ask me, “Al, how come you talk about God so much. You should only talk about Christ.” I do it for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are inseparable. Christ and God the Father, along with the Holy Spirit, are the essence of what God is. Secondly, and more importantly, unless people recognize the gap that exists between God and man, they will never realize the need they have for Christ to bridge that gap. If there is no gap, we do not need the gap-filler, Jesus Christ. Paul declares in 1 Timothy 2:5, “there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” John says in 1 John, “If anyone sins, we have one who speaks out on behalf of us, the righteous one.” Jesus is submissive to the will of God. Who is going to bring about the glorifying of Jesus Christ? Whose hands did Jesus place Himself in? Who is in charge? God the Father! Who is God going to use to bring glory to Himself? Jesus Christ the Son. And what is Jesus’ attitude in all of this? Submissive commitment. What a tremendous example of unselfishness. Eternal life is having a personal, life-affirming relationship with God that will never end!
Look at verses 6-19. It records Jesus Christ’s prayer for His apostles. In verses 6-9, Jesus seems to be summing up His three years of ministry with the inner circle of eleven men who were still there with Him. He gives them authority to begin the church of Jesus Christ. Wow! What a risk. Remember their failures, their questions, their doubts, their arguments about who is going to be number one. I would not be hopeful for this group. But what an encouragement it is to you and me that God was able to use them to establish the church and spread the gospel throughout the known world. He can use you and me, too.
In verse 10 we begin to see the objective God has in mind. “I am going to be glorified,” Jesus says, “in and through these disciples.” What Jesus is really saying is that “these followers of mine are to be the containers of my glory. My glory is going to reside in them.” Can you believe this? What does this imply? Who are going to be the agents, the instruments to bring glory to God in our day? Not John, not Peter and not James. They were responsible for their own time. Any glory that Christ is going to receive in this age is going to be because people see Him through us, His present-day disciples. I do not know how this makes you feel but it is very humbling to me. As Christians, we need to constantly evaluate the effectiveness of our witness, our message, and our goals because the glory of Christ is at stake.
How did Jesus pray for these apostles? Verse 13: He prayed for their joy. Jesus said, “I have told these disciples many things while I have been with them so that they could be filled with my joy.” How do we get His joy? One thing He mentions is, “Father, I have given them your word.” Confidence, assurance, and joy come when the Word of God finds a central place in our lives. Psalm 1 says this, “Happy (or blessed or joyful) is the person who does not walk in the wisdom of this world because his delight is in the law of the Lord.” The philosophy of this world is going to let you down. It is going to rob you of inward joy. Paul states this directly. “Don’t be deceived by the philosophy, the intellectual appearance of a lot of people in the world, the vain babblings that they have. They are going to leave you without any hope and without any joy.” In this world you are going to have tribulation. You are going to have tough times. “But be of good cheer,” he says. “Be cheerful and courageous” because we know the end of the story. Christ has overcome the world. Do you realize that God’s will for you, each one of us, is His joy? “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Not only did Jesus pray for the joy of His disciples, He prayed, in verses 15-18, for their continued service and ministry. There is to be service and ministry for every one of us as long as we are here.
Notice that Jesus asked the Father to keep us safe from the Evil One. This is a warning. Satan can tempt us, but know this, he cannot take over any part of your life without you giving it to him. Only you can allow him to control you and only you can choose to resist the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the instructions in the Word of God meant to guide you and keep you safe. That is why Jesus prayed for our continued reliance on the Word of God. Paul writes to his disciple Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-9: “I am persuaded about your strong faith, Timothy. And because of that, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you. Because, God does not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, a spirit of love, a sound mind, sensible, serious, self-disciplined with good judgment and teaching morality.” The Christian life is not to be an escape from reality. A lot of people have tried that, even some respected biblical figures. In 1 Kings 19 we read about Elijah. Listen to his prayer. “God, take away my life.” The guy is upset. He is perturbed. He is frustrated. But God still had a lot of things for him to do. Job prayed, “Oh, that God would be pleased to destroy me.” But God had years of blessing and ministry ahead for him. Even Paul debated within himself. Philippians 1:21: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Yet what shall I choose? I don’t know. I am torn between two things. I desire to depart and be with Christ because that is far better yet it is more necessary for others that I remain in the body.” We are to be engaged in ministry. We are to be engaged in glorifying Jesus Christ with our lives. God has given us everything we need to do just that. Each born again child of God has been given at least one spiritual gift so that he or she can build the body of Christ in some special way. And each has been given the Holy Spirit who is capable of molding us into the image of Christ.
Let me ask you a question. Do you realize that you are the answer to the prayer of Jesus Christ? Take another look at verses 17 and 18. Jesus is asking His Father, who is always of one mind with the Son, for three things to happen in our lives. The first is our sanctification. Jesus wants us to be holy, pure in heart, empowered to be examples of Christian living, willing to stand for righteousness. Jesus does not pray for our exodus nor should we overly concern ourselves with the day of Christ’s return, arguing about that, trying to figure out all the answers. Let God do it. He is in charge. He is going to do it in His time. We are to be usable and that is what our life is all about. We are to be salt and light in Eustis or in Europe. Sorrento, San Francisco or South America. Mt. Dora, Mozambique, it does not matter. We are to be useful for the gospel of Christ.
In verse 20 to the end of the chapter, Jesus is praying for us. “I am not praying only for these eleven men, who have been so close to me during the last three years.” And this is beautiful, “I am praying for all those who will ever believe.” This is exciting. If you are a Christian, this is where you can insert your name into the Scriptures. Think about it. Essentially, Jesus says in verse 20, “I am praying for Al Bishop and all who will believe in me because of the message that these eleven men are going to give.” Jesus is praying for us. We are the answer to His prayer. What an awesome thought. How can you respond to that with anything other than enthusiasm and excitement? But realize, although it is Christ’s will for us, we have to yield to God’s will for it to be a reality in our lives. As believers and children of God, the world will understand the love of God because we have love for each other.
Do you realize that you are the reason for the joy that Christ has? Listen to Hebrews 12:2: “Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” What was that joy? His joy was the assurance that through salvation you and I could become children of God. Oswald Chambers said it well. “You can never give another person what you have found in Christ, but you can make him homesick for what you have.” Jesus wants to be the reason for your joy, as well.
Remember, His twofold purpose in coming was that He would give us salvation and also that He would mold us to become products of His grace. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works. Chambers adds, “Beware of harking back to what you once were when God wants you to be something you have never been.” God is not finished with us yet. Do not cramp His activity in your life. He wants to do something more with you than what has happened already. Do not limit the possibilities that God has for you. D.L. Moody said this: “God has yet to see what one man can do when he is fully committed.” Do not harken back to what is past, but allow God to direct you for something great and exciting in the future. Trust Him for that. Jesus wills it for you, as seen in His prayer, but you have to yield yourself to it, in His grace.
9) Seeking God’s Wisdom
There is an old Arabian proverb I am going to share with you. It says there are four kinds of people in the world when it comes to wisdom. 1) He who knows not and knows not that he knows not, he is a fool. Shun him. 2) He who knows and knows not that he knows, he is asleep. Awaken him. 3) He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is a child. Teach him. 4) He who knows and knows he knows, he is wise. Follow him. I thought of another one. 5) He who once knew but ignored what he knew has become a fool once again. It breaks your heart when you see something like that happen. It happened to Solomon and the results were felt kingdom wide. And it could have all been avoided by simply following the wisdom he already possessed.
In the minds of many people, there is no distinction between facts and intelligence or intelligence and wisdom. They think it is all the same thing. The more facts one can memorize and recite the more that person is viewed as intelligent and ‘smart’. To simply possess a number of facts is an accomplishment that anybody can do. If you are a tape recorder or computer, you are just a warehouse of facts. And facts for facts’ sake are really not very valuable. Intelligence, on the other hand, goes a little further. Knowledge or intelligence has the ability to classify facts and information and to know how they relate to one another. Scripture tells us that wisdom is the supreme thing to seek. Wisdom enables us to see reality and to understand values and spiritual precepts. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. It is the ability to use knowledge to meet the problems and the issues that come to you, successfully.
James 1:5 says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe without doubt because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything of the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Is wisdom a worthwhile goal? Ask Solomon, Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the principal thing. Get wisdom. And with all of your getting, get understanding.” Ask Paul. “From a child Timothy,” he writes to Timothy, “you have known the Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation.” James tells us that God wants to give us wisdom and He wants to give it to us generously. He wants us to grow in our relationship with Him.
Growing is not easy. How many times have you heard about “growing pains?” And how many times have you read something in Scripture or Oswald Chambers or Beth Moore, some spiritual teacher, and you say, “That is tough. I cannot handle that right now.” Well, take a look at the Sermon on the Mount. There are some difficult challenges in those eight statements by Jesus and He says we will be blessed if we pursue them. Jesus uses the word “machario” or “blessed” eight times and then finishes off with the word “rejoice.” It sounds unappealing, difficult, and at odds with what the world tells us, but Jesus assures us that in the long-term it will be good for us.
Turn to Matthew chapter five. Look at verse three. It says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying that to be poor in spirit means giving up selfish pride and recognizing humility is the only sane and worthy response before the God of all things. Paul says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Christ.” Next one: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” What are we to mourn about? “To mourn” in this context means to be truly penitent to the point of willingly choosing to give up the pursuit of sin and self-satisfaction in order to follow the will of God on a daily basis. Do you ever weep over your or another person’s sin? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Bless are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled.” God told Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” But you have to search in the right places. How are you doing? Verse 7: “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” You do not want to sin over how you are going to get even. Do not recompense evil for evil, rather show mercy as God has shown you mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Heart purity comes from a singleness of commitment to Christ and a willful rejection of the impure influences that bombard us and would like to move into our hearts. A quick glance at James 1:6-8 reminds us to be strong in our faith and commitment because it talks about single-mindedness versus double-mindedness. One thing is drawing you one way and another is drawing you another way. And the double-minded man does not choose or commit to a way. “But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do.”
Next one. “Blessed are the peacemakers. They will be called sons of God.” A maker of peace is not just the person who really wants to get along or who is a lover of peace. A maker of peace is also the one who in any difficult situation is willing to take the humble initiative to go to the other person that is involved and say, “I am sorry, I do not know how we got into this, maybe I do know how we got into this, and my part in it but I do not want this to keep going this way. Please, forgive me and let us work this thing out.” That is the peacemaker.
Now here is the last one and by this time you ought to be saying, “Hey, Al. If such a saintly person is able to do all of these things he or she certainly should not have any problems in this world, should he? After all, you put your goodness into the slot machine, you pull down the handle, everything comes out ‘blessing.’ Right?” Not always. Not in this world. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, blessed are those who are willing to pay the price to live according to all that Jesus has instructed them in all of the previous verses. And probably no fact of life is more a testing to the real problem of man’s nature than to see the way there is innate resentment of God’s ways by people who are pursuing evil. It does not seem right. And it isn’t. But doesn’t that give testimony to just how lost this world really is? It was lost enough that the Son of God had to die on a cruel cross 2000 years ago. That is just the way it is. But as Jesus Himself said in John 15, “A servant is no greater than his master.” He was persecuted, and if you follow His ways, you will be persecuted, as well.
Now, if we are going to get wisdom, how are we going to go about it? What must we know? What must we do? We have to know some things about ourselves. First of all, we have to recognize that God is the source of wisdom. Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments. Who has known the mind of God? Who has been his counselor?” Wisdom is an attribute of God. He has all wisdom and He is wisdom’s authority. Do not rebel against what God says because He is wisdom. And to gain wisdom we have to be honest with ourselves and in being honest with ourselves, we have to ask and get the answers to a few questions. Question one--who am I in relationship to God? Question two--what am I doing here? In other words, what does God expect of me? Third question--am I living up to His expectations? Will I hear His “well done” when my earthly life is over?
We were created by God with a freewill to choose our eternal destiny. We can either accept His will and His eternal guidelines or we can reject them. The eternal Son of God said, “I tell you the truth. Whoever hears my word and believes on him that sent me, has eternal life.” It only makes sense, that to know and be rightly related to the God that made us and sent His only begotten Son to die for us is the beginning of wisdom—“The fear (to recognize that He exists and has a right to our lives) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
In matters of the spirit, wisdom only comes through a living relationship to Jesus Christ. Paul tells us, “The person without the spirit does not accept the things that come from the spirit of God because they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” You want proof of that, just look at the proverbs the way the natural man would preach them. Here are a few. “Blessed are the aggressive for they will dominate the earth.” “Happy are you when you dictate the peace because you play the role of God.” “Happy are you when you are sophisticated and sharp of mind because you can pretend you will never need God and never meet God.” Their mindsets and going in other directions. And ours is not to judge, ours is just to share what we know and to continue to lovingly and patiently share what we have and what we know about God with other people. That is what we are about.
What do I do with this wisdom I have? Wisdom is practical or it is not ‘wisdom’. Mark Twain said, “It is not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that bother me, it’s the things that I do understand.” If you read it and it hurts, that is what he is talking about. I find two challenges when it comes to wisdom. Challenge number one is to be more like Jesus and challenge number two is to do what Jesus would do. Both of these require wisdom. That is what life is about. To be like Jesus is the hallmark of Christian living. It is proclaimed throughout Scripture. Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Jesus says, “Go make disciples (students, learners) of all men, teaching them to obey everything that I have shared and commanded you.” And Paul says, “I want to know Christ and become like him. Let his mind be in you.” Hebrews 12:2 says, “Fix your mind on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Lay aside all those things that stand in the way of that.” Could anything be more important than to be like Jesus?
Secondly, what would Jesus do? Christians are not supposed to be living in isolation from others. Christians are not supposed to be living as if God meant nothing to them, as if His ‘opinions’ mean nothing. Because He is all-knowing and full of wisdom, His ‘opinions’ are not opinions but instructions and commands given to us to guide and direct our lives. Do you treat what He says as if it were just an opinion like any other opinion men and women give you. Or does what He says carry extra weight in your life? This lady I know of had a couple sons who were really bothering her, but one son talked to me one time and he said, “Do you know what my mother prays every night? She prays that God will take her out of this world and away from her miserable, misbehaving sons.” And he hears this prayer. “Thanks a lot, mom.” Isolation. Jesus did not live that way. He showed up at every special event that there was and He made it better. He sat and talked with people the Pharisees would not even come close to. This lady was at home isolated from the world, and her two sons, having no positive impact with her life.
Remember the beatitude, “Blessed are you when men persecute you for righteousness sake.” Jesus was persecuted Himself. Herod tried to get rid of Him when He was born. Pharisees and religious legalizers went after Him and harassed Him all the way to Calvary. And they said all manner of evil against Him. They tried to slander Him. “Hey, you know what He does? He dines with sinners.” Hey, you know what? I think that would be fun. Think of what you find out when you dine with sinners. You find out what other people are thinking. You find out what is going on in the world. You find out what attracts them or what their problems are and maybe you can be of some help to them. We are in the world, we are not to be like the world, but we are not to be trying to run away from the world. And Jesus prayed in John 17, “My prayer is not Father that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, even so I send them.” We are to walk in His steps.
We are to have a relationship to the world. Matthew 5:13 says, “We are salt.” Salt is good as long as it is salty. And the point is clear, if you are a Christian, in this metaphor, if you have lost your ‘saltiness’ you cease to fulfill your purpose. Salt has three possible functions. Number one, it preserves. It keeps things from spoiling. Can you imagine our world without a church or without a Christian in it? Paul talks about that. He talks about the restrainer. And if there is not a Christian witness in the world, what a mess it is going to be. It is bad enough as it is. Christians are salt holding back the corruption that would more quickly spread had they not been present. Are you having any kind of preserving effect in the lives of those around you? If not, you are not fulfilling one of your key Christian functions. Salt also enhances. It brings a positive zest to the flavor of something it touches. It enhances what is already there. It does not change one thing into another but makes it better. And as Christians we should make our relationships, work places, and societies better. Salt also irritates. We are called to move people from their complacency or easy acceptance of sin. We are not called to be irritable. But I do think we are obligated to speak out against evil when we see and hear taking place. Many times a Christian can be mocked in a particular situation and later on, after the incident is over, some of those who mocked will think back about what has taken place there and have a change of heart.
If you know who you are, what you are supposed to be doing, why you are here, and where you are going, you have wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the gateway to a healthy relationship with God. You can be the most intelligent person on earth but if you deny God His rightful place in your life and walk away from His offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, how wise are you? How wise is it to gain the whole world but lose your own soul? It is foolishness! The mere beginning of wisdom is first admitting that there is a God and that what He says matters.
10) Trials and Perseverance
Suffering, pain, injustice, and trials seem to be normal experiences for most of us. But occasionally they seem quite severe. James Dobson wrote a book entitled When God Doesn’t Make Sense. He gives several examples of great suffering experienced by individuals that are not ‘deserved’. One story concerns a 17-year old boy who was a bright student who finished near the top of his class in high school, went on to college, graduated with honors, and was planning to go to medical school. He applied to one of the better universities and he was one of 106 out of 6,000 applicants who were selected. During his first term he began to ask himself about the Lord’s will for his life. He compared that with the potential that he had for gaining a lot of money, independence, and affluence. And during his first term in medical school, while he was asking himself these questions, he decided he was not going to go for the megabucks. He was going to give himself in service on a mission field as a medical missionary. He went to medical school and during his first year he was diagnosed with acute leukemia and died before the semester was over. How do we make sense out of that? Another illustration he had in this book was about a tornado in the Dallas area. It was moving along, well above land, not hurting anybody, and suddenly it just descended and destroyed one particular building and then lifted into the air without damaging anything else. It was a church. Some Christians would deal with these confusing situations by saying that there must have been some secret sin in the life of that young man and that church. Remember Job’s friends? To explain the tragedies that came into Job’s life they accused him of secret sin and that the tragedies were a punishment from God. And they were wrong!
On two occasions Jesus was asked questions about that kind of philosophy. A tower fell on 18 people and killed them and a group of people asked Him whether it happened because it was a punishment for their sin. “It has nothing to do with a sin of those people the way that happened.” They said, “Whose?” He said, “Nobody was a worse sinner there.” And the man born blind? The people came and asked him, “Whose sin? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus told them that the blindness of the man had nothing to do with punishment for sin.
Read James 1:2-4. When we look at these verses we are hit with a very unwelcome challenge. Verse 2: “My brothers, consider it all joy when you fall into various trials or testings.” Now the old King James says “temptation” but you can tell it is not the temptation to evil or an immoral act by what follows. James is not talking about the sin of temptation because he says, “be assured of this, the testings of your faith will produce something you need.” And what is that something? And could it not come through some other means?
What is the testing of our faith going to produce? At the end of verse 3 James gives us the answer. “The testing of your faith develops perseverance (or endurance).” Some of you may have older King James versions that use the word “patience” rather than endurance or perseverance. And patience is certainly a good quality to have. We need patience and testing is the formula for getting patience. It is the way it works, the way it develops. But to me, patience is just too passive of a word at this point. The Greek word used here is “hupomona.” The prefix “hupo” is an intensifier. It signifies something that is not ordinary but more, extra. And so James is taking about active, unswerving, constant, total dependability. It is more than just putting up with the difficult things or bearing them--like patience. Very often you hear people say, “Well, I got this cross to bear and I am bearing it.” And what they are talking about is a whiny spouse or migraine headache or a lousy boss. James is talking about more than that. He is talking about perseverance. I define perseverance this way: “The ability by the faith God gives you to turn bad things that you experience into greatness for the glory of God. It is redeeming the bad times and bad experiences for the glory of God.”
I do not care how many times you say, “Jesus saves, keeps, and satisfies me.” Until you have experienced the extreme stress of a heavy, heavy problem, you really do not know what you believe. You think you know what you believe, but in a sense you are hoping that when that time comes, you will be able to have the guts to stand up to it. That is when the test really comes. What is your bottom line? Think about that!
Joseph spoke to his brothers after their wicked treatment of him and after God worked perseverance in his life, “You guys meant to do evil to me. I have news for you. God intended it for good.” And God did work good out of it and thousands of people were blessed. You think joy came to Joseph out of that experience? What an exciting thing to go from being thrown into a big ditch and left for dead to the point where you can minister to thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people.
Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-7, speaking of our relationship with Jesus Christ, says this, “In this hope you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” But listen to this, “But these have come.” Why did they come? “These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine.” Again in chapter four he says, “Don’t think it strange or surprising at the painful trial you are suffering, but rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
How about this? John in Revelation 2:10: “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer,” and here it comes, “the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. Be faithful.” Paul the apostle in Philippians 1:29, “It has been granted to you…” Granted to me?! That sounds like a gift. “…not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake.” Jesus Christ Himself said: “In this world you shall have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
Jesus said in John 15:1-2: “I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” We had a home in Sarasota that had a beautiful Hibiscus tree. People would walk past that tree and stop to look at it. One day we pruned it. Snip, snip, snip. And several days after that people would walk past it and complain and just mocked us for what we did. But several weeks later I tried counting all the blossoms and couldn’t do it. The pruning turned an active healthy tree that produced some blossoms to a tree that produced many, many blossoms. It was beautiful. Pruning hurts but the results can often be spectacular.
And if we allow God to do that in us, our growth can be described in three ways. They are given to us in James 1:4. First, we will become mature or as the King James says, “perfect.” Second, we will become complete or as the King James says, “entire.” Third, we will lack nothing. All three of these are closely related, but the original words are different. The best way to illustrate maturity is by using the word “teleos.” “Teleos” is a word found in Romans 12. “Do not be conformed any longer to the world’s way of thinking, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” “Be transformed in order that you can discover (or test or to prove) what is the good, the pleasing, the perfect (the teleos) will of God.” Greatness for God’s glory! That is the purpose. It is not a self-centered thing. It is not that “I” become great, above others around me, but I become more capable of fulfilling God’s will for my life.
Do you and I have a part in this transformation? Yes, we do. As we allow the Holy Spirit of God to use God’s Word to implant into us new thinking, new ways of living, new goals, new aspirations, a new relationship to God, a confidence that we know we are walking with God, He changes us. In the 5th chapter of Galatians Paul points to a dozen characteristics of the natural man. But he immediately follows them with what he calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” Once you take something out of your life you create a vacuum, an empty place, and there is the necessity to put something else in its place. When we make a commitment to remove the fruits of the flesh from our lives we must add the fruits of the Spirit to fill our lives, or as Jesus said, the end will be worse than the beginning. We cannot live empty lives and expect that the fruits of the flesh will not come back to harm us!
The second word has to do with being ready or fit to serve God. Colossians 3:8: “Put away (get rid of) all things in your life that are wrong: malice, wrong speech, lying, greed, sexual sins, ... .” Verse 10: “In its place you have clothed yourself with a brand new nature that is continuously being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you.” In other words, when the spirit of God has planted His fruit in all the places where the old, natural man was before, then you are ready for service. And the third word has to do with being deficient in nothing. Would that not be great to be deficient in nothing? I would like that.
We can take all of this teaching to heart and still struggle. I do and a lot of you do, also. In his book, Hope When You’re Hurting, Larry Crabb describes a personal situation. For several years as a child his wife was abused and she is still haunted by the memories. He says, “We have come to the conclusion that the only thing we can do is put on the full armor of God and fight this thing that’s testing us all the time.” As a pastor I know that to be true. In fact, I could probably point to dozens of people who are in agony and stress over some particular problem. Dobson believes nearly every Christian has what he calls an “if-only problem.” “If only I did not have this financial problem, I could really, you know, live for the Lord better. I would not be under all this stress.” “If only I did not have this whiny spouse, I could really, you know, I could really be a witness and glorify God.” “If only I did not have [this], if only I did not have [that]. How great life would be if I did not have [this] bad situation.”
All too often, some Christians will look at another person’s burden and say, “Well, if you only lived right, this never would have happened.” They need to take a look at the history of the church. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Bad things happen to all of us. People we love die. People we love get into accidents. People we love get sick. And sometimes those things happen to us. Look at Job’s suffering. He was a righteous man by God’s own testimony but yet he experienced suffering. His suffering was not a punishment. But his behavior in the midst of his suffering distinguished him as a lover of God and a righteous man.
Here is another myth. “If God was God and truly God and truly good, He would remove this suffering and this testing from me.” That idea fails to recognize the wisdom of God. Paul had some heavy burdens to endure in his life. One of them was so great that he prayed for God to remove it--2 Corinthians 12. After he had poured his heart out to God, pleading with God to relieve him of this problem, whatever it was we do not know exactly, the answer came back. “Hi, Paul. I hear you. The answer is, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.” “Who is doing the work around here, you or me?” God says. “I am the one who is at work in you.” “God is at work in you,” Paul writes, and “he who began this work will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ. It is God who is at work in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.” Did Paul stop praying when he got that answer? No way. What does he say later? “Pray without ceasing. In every prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God and the God of peace will comfort you and will give you peace beyond all understanding.” Just hang in there and never give up.
Sometimes our suffering is for the benefit of another person. That is a toughie. I do not like having to endure things just so somebody else can grow. Remember Stephen? What is the result of Stephen’s suffering? Acts 6:8 – 8:1 record what happened to Stephen. I wish I could reproduce the entire passage for you here, but it is too long. Do yourself a favor and read it for yourself. Stephen may have been the greatest Christian alive at that time. Read what is said about him. “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people….None of them was able to stand against the wisdom and Spirit by which Stephen spoke. So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen.” And later as he gave a defense against the accusations against him he gave what was perhaps the greatest summary of God’s Old Testament ministry anywhere in the Bible. He told the unbelieving Jewish leaders what they should have already known. And that they should have recognized Jesus as their Messiah. They became so enraged at him that they stoned him to death. Does that seem fair? Stephen follows God’s leading and masterfully tells them the truth and he gets stoned for it! Why? Read 8:1. “Saul was one of the official witnesses at the killing of Stephen.” Saul became Paul the apostle who wrote half of the New Testament. What he saw in Stephen troubled him. And when Jesus finally appeared to him on the Damascus road he was ready to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. Stephen was a great man who seemed to have died too young. But through his testimony God was able to prick the heart of a man who later became Paul the apostle. When you live well, even if that means suffering well, someone may be watching that God will lead to Himself because of your life.
One of my early struggles with Scripture was Romans 8:28. Even as a pastor, I saw people use it so trivially it used to annoy me. They used it mercilessly. “Oh, you say your brother died last night? Well, God works all things together for good.” All in one breath. The suffering is minimized. Dobson says, “Whenever Christians talk about pain and suffering, someone can be counted on to quote Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that in all things God works for good to those who love him, who have been called according to the purpose.’” Christians go through the same kind of suffering that unbelieving people do, so how can it be said that all their difficulties somehow work together for good? Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim was a classmate of mine at Wheaton College. When I heard about his death at only 33, I said to myself, “What is wrong with me changing my life around and doing something brand new?” Ollie and I went to Seminary. One of the men who killed Jim Elliott came to Christ and later on baptized some of the children of the missionaries that he had previously killed.
What about the grace of God? What about it? Here is another story. A guy named Mr. Crebs and his wife had a 21-year old son. They had been advised to abort him when he was still in the womb. They chose to give him life. He was born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation. His parents do not regret their decision to bring him into the world because they believe that all life is precious. They are thankful for their son. He has touched the lives of many people in warm, wonderful ways. “God has used him as he is,” Mr. Crebs said. “Something happened when he was just 7 years old. My wife worked in a hospital. I had taken Chris with me to pick her up. She was late getting off, so Chris and I waited for her in one of the family rooms. There was another man there who was not well-dressed and in fact, he was a little smelly. I went to the nurse’s station to ask how much longer my wife would be and when I returned, I saw Chris sitting by the man. The man was sobbing and I wondered what Chris had done to offend him, so I started to apologize. ‘I’m sorry if my son offended you.’ ‘Offended me?! Offended me?! Your son is the only person who has hugged me in the past 20 years.’ I realized at that point that my son had a more Christlike attitude and love for this man than I did.”
God uses each person to accomplish some part of His purpose. He will use your pain, although it is not always immediately possible to see it happening. Learn what you can from the experience and grow. It is a delight to see some people growing through these type experiences. Maintain stability in your life in other areas as much as you possibly can. Allow your faith to increase. That is hard. You keep saying the same prayer over and over. “Lord, increase my faith.” And find some way to praise God through it all.
When we are overwhelmed and discouraged about our lot in life, about our pain and suffering and frustration, God is still good. He knows and He understands how we feel and He still loves us. However, if you worry so much about yourself that you concentrate on yourself and your pain more than you are concentrating on God and what His plans are, you will not grow. You will become stuck in your pain. God does know and He can bring glory to Himself regardless of how you feel. How is your faith today? How is your faith? Is it healthy or is it conditional? Do circumstances or feelings limit your trust in God? If Jesus Christ is in you, if you are a new spiritual person in Christ, then His promise to be with you until the end should empower you to deal with every situation that comes along. Look at Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Do you feel that the Lord is near you or is He way off someplace? “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding.” Notice it says “let your gentleness be evident to all.” This is a characteristic of your behavior. You are not isolated, in pain, but your gentle behavior is evident to all. Why gentle? Why not kind, or patient, or whatever? Why gentle? Think about it. Pain can cause resentment and resentment can lead to anger and anger expressed is not gentle. Gentleness amidst pain is a sign of the grace of God at work.
Where are you this morning in your faith? Are you able to see that God is able to do and bring something good out of every bad experience and that that thing which He brings out is not for your credit, but it is for the glory of God? And do you also realize that you will only experience the peace of God during difficult times if you are also living well and ministering to others. When we reach out to others while in our pain is when God works grace in us, not when we isolate ourselves and fixate on our pain. Yes, sometimes we need quietness and privacy to process our feelings but it is only in the ministering when the grace of God flows special from us to others. And with that flowing comes the cleansing power of the grace of God! What is the bottom line? God’s grace is sufficient…to work all things out to His everlasting glory. Trust Him!
11) Enduring the Hardships of Life
“You will never fly with the eagles if you only hang out with the turkeys.” Whenever we were on one of the lakes in Northern Wisconsin, Ollie and I just loved to watch the eagles swooping down from the sky to grab a fish and take it back up to the nest where their young ones are waiting to be fed. The young eaglets stay in the nest for a while but eventually the adult eagle pushes them out of the nest and down they fall. The adult then swoops down and catches them and takes them back up only to kick them out again. The process is repeated time and time again until finally the message gets through to the young eaglet, “Fly, baby, fly. Flap those wings or you are going to die.” Eagles are mentioned 32 times in the Bible. Moses admired the way they acted as guardians and trainers of their young. King David saw them as mighty and powerful and full of life. He compared the strength of the eagle to the vigor of youth. In Isaiah 40:30 their effortless flight is likened to the spiritual strength God promises those who trust in Him: “Young men will stumble in life and fall exhausted, but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and soar on wings like eagles. They shall run and not get weary, walk and not faint.” In other words, those who hope in the Lord shall find strength beyond natural energy. Worry and terror may weaken even the young and vigorous. But those who hope in the Lord will have an inner strength that will sustain them. They will soar like the eagle riding the winds.
Isaiah 40 is a transitional chapter in the history of Israel. They are moving from the judgments and condemnation of God because of their past rebellion into an era characterized by hope and blessing. Verse one speaks about comforting the people. Verse three says, “Prepare for the Lord’s way.” And then verse five, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” What a wonderful promise. The comfort God offered Israel was based on three things. First, they are God’s people--verse one. Secondly, they have been forgiven and pardoned--verse two. And thirdly, God’s Word is reliable--verse one. You can depend on it. Jesus, in Matthew 24 said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word shall never pass away.” With these truths in mind, turn to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The parallel to what Israel went through and their transformation into the promises that God had for them as a nation is very similar to what a Christian has experienced in this letter as he goes from being condemned to being a new creature in Christ.
Colossians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” His conversion was no accident. “By the will of God.” Go to Acts 9 and you will read the story about his conversion on the road to Damascus. He gave himself over to the will of God when he heard that voice saying, “Why are you persecuting me?” and then he gave his life over to Christ. His reaction to Christ entering his life was to surrender his will to God.
In verses 4-8, the core values of the Christian faith are given. Where do these early Christians place their faith? First and foremost, they place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. A person’s faith is only as valid as the object of that faith. Jesus Christ is the object of our faith and He is alive and sitting at the right hand of the Father. The second core value is love, verse 5. The Apostle John wrote this to Christians in the first century. He said, “If any man says he loves God yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For any who does not love his brother who he has seen, how can he say I love God whom he has never seen?” The third core value is hope. Our future in Christ is sure. Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit whereby you are sealed.” To be sealed means that it is a sure thing, as sure as the strength and authority of the one who sets the seal. It is guaranteed. Faith, hope, and love are the three core values of the Christian faith.
When people are not characterized by the three core values terrible times will exist. The last days will be characterized by behaviors contrary to faith, love, and hope. Second Timothy 3:2-5: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. And from such people turn away!” This is pretty much where we are today. Historians are calling this the “post-Christian era.” Repentance involves turning from the above type behaviors and embracing faith in Christ, love toward the brethren and our neighbor, and hope in the promises of God.
Let us review. Who are we? We believe in an almighty, awesome God whose core character motivated Him to stretch out His arms on a cross. We believe in a God that submitted Himself to the cruelties and injustice of men when He could have stopped it at any moment. Secondly, this being the case, it is important that we who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior get to know His will? Why would any Christian not want to know the good and acceptable and perfect will of God for his or her life? Can you imagine some sophomore or junior in high school who owns a Porsche but refuses to drive it? God’s general will for each and every Christian has been given to us in God’s Word. First Thessalonians 4:3: “This is the will of God for you.” What is the “this?” The “this” is sanctification. What does that mean? Very simply, becoming more like Christ. Verses 7-8: “For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” As Christians, we are created to be like Jesus Christ. Second Corinthians 5:17: “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old is passed. The new is come.” Colossians 3:4: “You and I have been raised with Christ who is our life.” Character is important. It is your silent but seen testimony. Second Corinthians 2:14 tells us just how important it is for Christians to live a godly life: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” God cannot diffuse the fragrance of His knowledge in every place through unclean vessels!
Spiritual wisdom can only come through the agency of the Holy Spirit. That is the only way it comes. And the Bible, the Holy Scripture, is the authority for all things spiritual. Please notice that in Colossians 1:9 wisdom and understanding are partners. Wisdom alone is not enough. You must have understanding. Churches are full of people who have a lot of knowledge. They know full well how to talk the talk, but are they walking the walk? James asked that same question. James 3:19 says: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life.” Show it by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. In James 3:14 we read that bitter envy and selfish ambition are two major enemies of spiritual maturity. This kind of thinking, James said, does not come from heaven but is Satan-like. And how do they work themselves out in our lives? They show themselves in our lives by the disorder and evil practices they produce. Is there some relationship in you life that is characterized by strife? Look for envy and self-ambition! And when you recognize it, you know what you need to do! You know what the Bible says. But you refuse to do it. Forgiveness and reconciliation will heal the damage done by envy and self-ambition. God says, “Let it go. Give it up.” This life is too short to waste it on yourself and to wallow in anger and unforgiveness. How do you view yourself? As a Christian, you are greatly loved and highly valued by God. Is it your purpose to present your life as an offering worthy of such love? In Romans 12:1 Paul states that this is our spiritual act of worship. What is the worthy life? It is a lifestyle that pleases God. Colossians 1:10-12 describe four evidences of the worthy walk. First, it is a life that is fruit-bearing or bearing fruit in every good work. Paul is talking about works or deeds. The witness of a righteous Christian can impact the most cynical of people and while preaching the gospel is important, the faithful, persistent and consistent witness of a Christian before an unbeliever can touch and motivate them towards faith. The second evidence of a worthy walk is “growth in the knowledge of God.” How do we grow in the knowledge of God? I believe we grow, of course, by reading and studying and meditating upon the Scriptures and then applying them to our lives. As John the Baptist said, “Christ must increase and I must decrease.” I want to tell you two true stories. Story number one. A man came to one of the churches I pastored many years ago who had memorized hundreds of Bible passages and paragraphs of Scripture. His head was full of verses. If you called him on the phone in the morning, before he said “hello” he would rattle off a verse. But his heart seemed totally void of any compassion or love or understanding and it was full of judgment and criticism. I can still remember some of the ugly things he said, the insults, how he hurt people. Oh, he knew he was right. He knew God was on his side because he had a verse to prove it. I am the first one to say Scripture memorization is important because it will help you and it will support you in times of difficulty. This man had the same problem the Corinthians had. And listen to what Paul said to them in 1 Corinthians 8:1b-3: “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.” J.I. Packer says it well, “The knowledge of God to which the Christian should aspire should show itself outwardly in a transformed character.” This man was so unappealing in his character and manner that if my house were on fire and this man was standing outside with a hose, I am not sure if I would even ask for his help. Story number two. Years ago it was the first Sunday in our new church and I was the new pastor. Ollie, my wife, and I were sitting in Sunday School class for adults and we were just observing. After they socialized for about ten minutes, the question came up, “Well, what shall we study next?” And one brave soul suggested, “Is there any way we could possibly study something about God?” This is absolutely true. As Ollie and I sat there listening, I got a huge hint as to where my preaching was going to go in the next few years because the answer to that question came back like this: “Is there any way to find out about God and where could we possibly go to learn about God? Is there any book we could study?” Wow! These questions were asked in a church. These people had been fed on what is called relational theology, which is a New Agey self-empowerment program. These people did not have a clue about what Jesus was all about. To them he was nothing more than a great man, not the actual revealed Son of God, our Redeemer. These two stories show me something. First of all, it is a mistake to not integrate the whole gospel and the teachings of Christ into the total revelation of the message of God. You cannot separate your inviting Christ into your life as Savior from who you are as a person. That is part and parcel of the whole package. The way you treat others in your life every day is very significant. Somebody wrote “faith without common sense is fanaticism and common sense without faith is rationalism.” To live the worthy walk is to bring both of those things together into a Christ-like lifestyle. A Christian is recognized by two things--bearing spiritual fruit and by growing in his or her spiritual relationship to God and man. In Colossians 1:11 Paul prays for us to have spiritual power, according to God’s holy might. Notice it says, “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that we might have great endurance and patience.” This is our third evidence of a worthy walk. “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy.” Does that mean I am omnipotent? No way. Can I name it and claim it? I do not think God is my personal errand boy. But it does mean that I can have all the power and grace of God I will ever need when suffering stress and hard times. I can know with Paul that God’s grace will be sufficient for me. His strength will provide endurance and patience. The fourth evidence of a worthy walk is given to us in verse 12: “Joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Is it easy to have joy in tough situations? I do not think so. Is it possible? God says, “Yes.” “By God’s grace, he has qualified us.” I love that word “qualified.” I stand redeemed. I have been qualified by something that has been given to me and I qualify to share in the eternal inheritance of all who place their lives and trust in Jesus Christ. What is the last word for Christians then? Is it defeat? Is it fear? Is it discouragement? No, we have been delivered. He has rescued us, delivered us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of His dear Son. Paul’s prayer is promising us that we do not live under the dominion of darkness anymore. We were there but we are not there any longer. Do not go back there. We can soar. Sin no longer rules and Satan cannot make me do anything I do not choose to do. Not one thing! And with that blessed assurance, I think we should just go to Christ. Live each day in the knowledge that our lives are in our Lord’s hands, that He cares for you and me more than we care for ourselves. He delights in me when I walk in the way that pleases Him, when my words and my works are bearing fruit for Him, when I am growing in my relationship to Him, and when I praise and give thanksgiving for what He has done for me. Where are you today in all of this? Does your life show to others that being a Christian really does make a difference in the practical realities of the nitty-gritty of everyday life? If not, maybe now is the time to commit to that goal once again. And if you have not received Christ as your Lord and Savior, I challenge you to realize that Jesus Christ is the one who can offer you new life and bring you from darkness and from the dominion of darkness into His marvelous light. This is the first step in walking with God. This is the first step in living a life worthy of Jesus Christ. Without that first step none of what we have looked at so far applies to you. But if you have taken that first step, then you need to consider how you will live your life. Will your life glorify the Christ you claim to love or will your life appear to be the same as anyone else who has not claimed Christ as Savior and Lord? The choice is yours! The carnal “worldly” Christian is still “earthbound.” But those who truly hope in the Lord will soar with an inner strength that will sustain and support them all their days…to the glory of God!!