1) Weathering the Storms of Life (Part 1) 2) Weathering the Storms of Life (Part 2)
3) Misunderstandings and Their Destructive Potential
4) Faith that Survives
5) Christmas: Christ the King
6) Making the Most of Opportunities
7) Help Amid the Storms of Life
8) 1 Timothy 3:1-7: Leadership God's Way
9) 2 Timothy 2:1-7: Be Strong in the Grace of Christ
10) 2 Timothy 3:14-17: Why Bother with the Bible
Weather the Storms of Life (Part 1)
Hurricane Katrina has been a vivid reminder to all of us that life on this earth is not safe. As a country we do everything we can to provide security and our government focuses and talks about our Constitution, the right to liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness, but they cannot guarantee any of those things. We have a national security team that tries to make our airports safe, but no matter how many knives and guns they scan for and fingernail clippers they take, there are no guarantees. No matter what restrictions they put on the maintenance of airplanes, there are no guarantees for safety in this world. Life is risky at times and there are no guarantees that you will not die tomorrow. Do you think those that died on 9-11 thought about dying that day? Do you think those who died because of hurricane Katrina knew they were going to die that day? Life is risky. Sometimes the risk lies in nature’s power and other times the risk lies in suffering at the hand of our fellow men and women.
Romans 8:22 says that “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” This world is a place marked by sin and tragedy. Yes, by God’s grace many wonderful things also happen. There are many good memories that each of us have of time spent with loved ones or long walks in the park or along the beach admiring the beauty of the world we live in. Something in us tells us that is how it is supposed to be all the time. We were not made to die. We were not made to grieve the death of our loved ones. This world was not originally to be filled with death and tragedy. But it is. Sin has corrupted everything humans have touched. And God has molded our world to reflect that imperfection.
An honest look at our physical and social surroundings reveals two things to us. First, it reveals a hint of the beauty and harmony that God wants for us. And second, it shows us that this world is not our permanent home. We are not to settle in here. The cries of our hearts long for a better place, a place where high winds and walls of water do not wash away our homes or loved ones or terrorists do not kill men, women, and children to support their cause. Most people in America experience more good times than bad. This country is blessed in that way. But there are places in this world where people’s lives are short and filled with brutish tragedy. The Christian knows that this world is not our home. As Hebrews 11:16 says, we long for “a better, that is, a heavenly country.” But we do live here. And we do experience tragedies that fill our hearts with grief. Solomon teaches us in Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 that we are to be honest and recognize the pain that life can bring. We are not to run from it but we are to allow it to teach us what the truly important things really are. “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. For that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Solomon is basically saying that it is wise to let the tragedies and temperance of life instruct us that this world is not all there is. All of our energies should not go into having good times and fun. Death will take each of us. It is foolish to deny that. And when that happens, what then?
Our lives have been rocked by a catastrophe called Katrina. A few years ago 9-11 changed our lives. Just last year our area was rocked by three hurricanes. Then this last winter the word “tsunami” entered our vocabulary. Life is not safe and it seems to be getting worse and worse. And the bad news is, folks, that the Book teaches that it is going to continue to get worse. Life is not safe. We can track a hurricane now from the coast of Africa and watch it come all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and circle around Cuba and we can pretty well forecast where it is going to hit. We can evacuate and board up and try to do all the things we can do, but lives are still going to be lost. Grief is going to be experienced. Destruction is going to sweep over the land. Folks, it is nothing new.
We are looking at a passage that was written when communication traveled by the speed of horseback. When the best forecast you had of your future was people in a tower 40 feet above the city wall looking out and seeing if an enemy was out there. Life was not safe for them. But God was with them. And God will be with us, with you, whatever comes your way. Whatever happens to our nation, our God is our rock and our support and a very present help amid whatever trouble we face. Life is not safe. It is not secure. All of life, though we do not like to face it, we do not like to hear it, is defined in Scripture as simply a vapor. It comes and all too soon it is gone. Man is like the grass of the field that withers and dies. But there is hope beyond what we see and experience. If there was not, it would all be futile. It would be hopeless. Romans tells us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and with all peace, as you trust in him, that you may overflow with hope by the power of God’s spirit.” The foundation of truth we are building is a foundation of trust in God, His ways, and His plan.
Turn to Psalm 46. Psalm 46 is a song “of hope and encouragement” and was written during a dangerous time for Israel. The context is one of stress and problems, imminent danger and uncertainty. Their world is crumbling around them. The source of their strength is no longer in their government, their economy, their laws, their police or in the thickness of their walls. This Psalm was sung in the temple. The singers would stop and instruments would play quietly in the background as people reflected upon the truth of God’s Word. These reflective interludes are set off by the word “selah.” They did not sing the words to make them sound pretty and express truth, but you were to let them sink down into your heart as you interacted with them before God.
My purpose is to draw your attention back to God and see all that is going on in this world, particularly in Louisiana and the South, from God’s lens and with His hope purveying it all. Verse one begins: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear. Though the earth give way and though the mountains fall into the sea and though its waters roar and foam and though the mountains quake with their surging. Selah.” In the midst of whatever we face, God is present with us. God desires, offers Himself, to be our refuge and strength. God is our refuge when everything else that we have seen and envisioned as permanent in our lives is suddenly ripped away--our health, our security, our finances, our homes, our churches, our cities, our jobs, everything that we hold onto and say, “This is who I am.” Our lives are, I am going to say, not blessed with all the material possessions we have, but contaminated. The busyness, the schedules, the day timers control and fill up our time and crowd out God from our lives.
There are people sitting on roof tops or in the Astrodome and not all of them are whining and complaining, folks. The news broadcasts focus on them. But there are so many that are gathering together in prayer circles and offering help to others. They are not getting on the newscasts. They are not the ones the news shows like to focus on, but it is happening. God is there with them and the believers that are there are looking outside themselves sharing the truth of Jesus in desperate circumstances. They see many looking for something because the government cannot fix it. Their neighbors, their families cannot fix it. They have lost loved ones. They do not know who they are or what they are going back to or even if they can go back at all.
God is our refuge and strength. Refuge is a word that comes from the word “to flee, to run to” and God invites you to run to Him. We are often too busy holding onto everything to take time to run to Him. When things come into your life that you cannot prevent or control, you need God’s strength to lift you up and carry you through so that you do not sink into despair, so that you do not react with bitterness and rage toward those around you. In such situations you need God’s strength so that you do not use your negative circumstances to justify sinful behavior. In such circumstances you need a calmed heart to make wise decisions and find God’s plan for your life.
The phrase “an ever present help” means that you can look back in the past and see where His hand has been on your life. “He has been helping me there, over here, up there, down there, in these situations.” Ever present. Billy Graham commented after 9-11 that those people in those buildings that day had not planned to die. Their daytimers were full. They had schedules. They had plans that night. They were not planning to die, but their plans all dissolved. You will always have troubles. Jesus guarantees it. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome this world.” We all want to be in heaven right now. We want everything to go nice and easy. If we all won the lottery and were cured of every disease and had no problems in this world, we would be the most selfish, self-centered, arrogant people you could imagine. After Adam and Eve sinned that is why God kicked them out of paradise. They could no longer live in such a great environment without sliding into self-indulgent hedonism and eventual idolatrous behavior. As hard as it may be to imagine, the “curse” of hard work was actually for their best, considering their soul’s present condition. God loves you enough to let desperate situations come into your life because He wants you to know Him that you truly might have life.
So many people live their lives without God but blame Him when bad things happen to them. At best they give lip service to God but when tragedy strikes they curse Him in their hearts. They do not get it. Life was not designed to be all about the cars, the house, the boats, the jewelry, the high powered job that takes up too much family time, or the achievements that you use to define who you are. It is about a relationship with Him as you live your daily life, much as Adam and Eve shared their life with God as they walked and talked with Him in the garden before that tragic day when they believed (for their own self interest—“we shall be as gods”) the Serpent rather than their Creator.
Verse two draws a picture of the worst calamity they could possibly imagine--the ground giving way below their feet, which was the most solid thing they could trust, the very ground they walked on. I remember standing in San Francisco in 1989 when an earthquake shook that city. I was downtown in a 12-story hotel in the middle of an atrium and the hotel walls started to bend back and forth. “Wow, God!” The earth dissolving before your very feet is a scary thing. It is like those motels that were housing the marine units in San Francisco that were built on landfill. The land just dissolved under those houses and the third story was now on the first level. That is what he is describing.
And it says, “the mountains shall fall into the sea.” The mountains were the places of greatest security. When the armies would attack, they would flee to the mountains and hide in caves and amidst the trees. That was the place of greatest security and now the verse draws the picture of those mountains just sinking into the sea. There is no safe place anymore. Without God on this earth, there is no safe place. And without Jesus Christ in the next world there is no safe place as you stand before a holy God in your own strength and merit. But in Him is security, no matter what comes your way or what end might befall you.
“Amid the roaring waters of the sea,” it says, drawing a picture of what we have just seen in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. When life seems like it is totally out of control and the waters are rushing in and washing away everything you have built your life on, and your home is nothing but sticks and foundations, humbly recognize that God is God and we are not. All too often we think we are and we grow proud of what we have accomplished. “I built this house. Huff and puff and you cannot blow my house down.” Do not dare say that to God. He is the only one to turn to and our sense of helplessness and fear should lead us to Him. Second Chronicles beautifully declares that, “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive them their sin and heal their hearts.” You have a God who imminently wants to be present with you. Present in your heart and soul, in your life. When you are lying in bed alone at night you can talk to Him. When you are driving in your car, He wants to hear from you and sense your involvement with Him. God invites us to confess our sin before Him, our need for Him, our longing for Him. To, as they say, “get right with God” and commit to stay right with Him.
And then verse four goes on to talk about His gracious protection. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the most high dwells. God is within her and she will not fall. God will help her at break of day. Nations are in an uproar and kingdoms fall. He lifts his voice and the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” This is an amazing picture you probably did not completely grasp. It is painting a picture that is not quite right. You see, Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but there is no river in Jerusalem, which was unusual because many of the great cities of that day had one. Babylon had its Euphrates, Egypt has the Nile, Rome had the Tiber, but there is no river in Jerusalem. The Jordan River is miles away near Jericho. The city of God refers to Jerusalem. What does it mean? Jerusalem has something better than just a river running through its midst. Jerusalem has the very presence of God streaming through her. God’s grace flowing like a river bringing gladness and joy to His people. “While the ocean rages and foams” in this world, the presence of God in Jerusalem is depicted as a gentle, flowing stream continually bringing refreshment, healing, and sustenance.
Verse five says, “God is within her.” That is the root word for Immanuel, “God with us.” God is in the midst of their city, of the people congregated. When we put our faith in Jesus, we have God with us at all times, even at the break of day. Are you not glad God is willing to start with us fresh each and every day? As Jeremiah said in Lamentations, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.” Some of you messed up last week pretty bad. Some of you walked in ways that were a dishonor to the Christian name you bear. Things you said, things you did. Are you not thankful that if you confessed them a few minutes ago or you confess them now, that God starts fresh with you? Yes, there may still be consequences for the sins of the past but God will start new with a repentant heart to build a new future. His compassions never fail. His mercy is overflowing. But the only way to grab a hold of them is to say in your heart, “Lord, I agree with you. I am a sinner. I have blown it. I do not deserve anything much less your mercy and grace. But Lord, you want to give it so I confess it and then I receive it. Thank you.” Then nothing, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all of creation can separate us from the love of Christ our Lord. Nation may rise up against nation and the earth may explode, but lives are secure in the hollow of His hand.
We have an incredible military force in this country. But their ability to protect you is still limited. Their protection, at best, is only temporal and temporary. Only God can secure your future beyond the immediate. Only God secures your eternity. It says in verse 7, “The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress, our protector.” It is this verse that inspired Martin Luther to write “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.” It is not our economy or military might that will secure us. It is a blessing to have a good economy and powerful military but ultimately it is all in His hands. If He wants to humble us, He can. Commit your lives, your spouse, your children, your family, your workplace, your relationships in this church to God’s protection.
And then in verse 8, “Come and see the works of the Lord.” Come and see. Hey, gather around folks. Come and see what the Lord has done. “Beware the dangers, the desolations that he has brought upon the earth. He makes wars to cease in the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear. He burns the shield with fire. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth,” he says. “The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.” Mankind boasts in his strength. They rattle their swords and God says, “I will dissolve their swords. I will break their spears. I will burn their shields. Their weapons mean nothing. I am the strength and I have the power. Be still and know that I am God.” “Be still” here is a simple picture of just dropping your arms and letting go. Be still and know that I am God. Your gifts, your abilities mean nothing compared to His power flowing in and through you. Your bank account, your prestige, your authority mean nothing compared to what God can do in and through you.
I am amazed every time I see the people that God raises up to do wonderful, amazing things. They most often are not the most talented people you meet. They are the ones who say, “Ok, Lord, I cannot begin to do this, but here am I. Send me.” Those are the prophets. Those are the leaders that God chose. Moses saying, “Bbbbbbut, I can’t.” And God said, “Who made your mouth? And you can.” Joshua does not want to lead the people. “It is too much.” God says, “Be strong and courageous for I go before you. As I was with Moses, I will be with you.” Throughout the Old Testament it is the way He displayed His power and wisdom. God could have knocked down Jericho all by Himself. But He says, “Folks, I want you to display my power. You march around this city seven times.” He could have killed the Amalekites long before they even got to Israel. Or the Midianites or any of the enemies of Israel but He said, “No, I want the people of Israel to see my might and my power. Give them some pitchers and some torches and let them fight with that and they will see that I am God and I am the one who empowers. I am the one who has the plan.” Clearly, God wants to use His people to exalt His name among the nations.
We do not see the trapped and lost around us, but there are people that are trapped, that are locked into a wrong system of values. There are kids and children who have toy boxes full of toys and have everything a child could want that are lonely and lost and need to know the love of Jesus. There are men who have made their fortune, who have retired from their business and have a great IRA and everything they could want but they are lost inside. They are trapped in the world they have created. Some of you are in positions that can reach them. You are the only one that has the boat that will float to where they are. Will you let God use you? Will you let His power lead you? Will you let His words come out of your mouth? That is how God is exalted in His people. He uses regular folk to touch the lives that He wants to reach.
Weather the Storms of Life (Part 2)
It had been a long, hard day for Jesus and the disciples. They were tired, sunburned, and worn out. They had spent most of the day at the Sea of Galilee sitting by the seashore with Jesus in a boat talking with the crowds, telling them about what God wanted to do for people on this earth and inviting them into His kingdom. He told them that the kingdom was for everyone. It was not for an elite few down in Jerusalem, but it was open for everyone. It was a lamp that was not to be hidden under a bowl. To get in you did not have to go to Pharisee School. You just had to have a faith the size of a mustard seed. Just to call out and say, “God, I want you. Forgive me. Come into my life.” Walking with Him and being part of His kingdom depended not upon where you were born, what your pedigree was, how much you knew. It was based upon the condition of your heart. God had a plan and Jesus was describing what God wanted to do on earth. That it was based upon and relies upon the condition of hearts. Jesus in response to a woman’s question says it (John 4:21-24) this way: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jew. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Look a Mark 4:35. “That day when evening came He said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind them, they took Him along just as He was in the boat. There were also other boats with them. A furious squall came up and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, Teacher, do you not care if we drown? He got up and he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet, be still.’ And the waves died down and it was completely calm. He said to the disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this man? Even the winds and the waves obey him.’”
I want you to see three things from this passage. Number one, that storms will come in life and you need to invite His help to get through them. Secondly, take hope because the storm will end, but Jesus is always near. If you are going through a storm, Jesus is near. You can have help amid the storm. Invite His help. You can have hope because He will see you through the storm, if you let Him. And thirdly, you have the presence of Jesus to bring healing from the scars that storm may inflict upon your life.
Shortly after God finished creation and placed the representative man and woman in the garden, the perfect environment, the storm of disobedience and unbelief broke the relationship between humans and God. Chapter four is about the storm of family unrest. Can you imagine the pain of having one of your sons killing his brother? Chapter five and six tell of the storm of arrogant pride, of humankind going on its own and forgetting about God, saying “Everything is great. We do not need God.” And then came along Hurricane Noah. Then we have Abraham’s life and all the storms he went through. Abraham’s life is characterized by storms that God sees him through. Sometimes Abraham tries to fulfill God’s plan on his own and finds that he created more problems that he solved. And then there is Hurricane Sarah. Sarah had a deep hurt in her life that affected her marriage and her household. For sixty years of marriage she had no children. This was just a constant squall going on in her life. She endured ridicule and the long delayed hope for a child tore at her heart. She and Abraham messed up when they tried to fulfill God’s plan with there own method, which Sarah suggested and endorsed. You go through Moses’ life. Joseph’s life. Jacob, Daniel. There lives were filled with storms and difficulties. Jesus’ ministry was a storm that raged for three years until they crucified Him. Peter and Paul’s life had storm after storm, with both being executed for their faith. The Bible is filled with conflict after conflict, storm after storm. But interestingly, when the above people walked with God through these storms He was able to do something great through them; sometimes history altering things! God is in the business of redeeming the storms.
It is amid those storms of life that God shows up to bring hope, calm the fears, and quell the anger. Storms will come. When you see the storm approaching, invite His help. That is your action point. That is what you are required by God to do. Invite His help when the storm comes. Do not try and muster up your own energies and say, “Well, I can handle this. I have handled this before. I do not need God.” Be careful because God may make the storm bigger to show you that you do need help. He wants you to go through it with Him. I have never been in a storm that is still going on. No storm lasts forever. It may feel like it. I have had the flu and just wanted to die. But that too passed and is now only a memory. Eventually the sun comes out, the clouds clear, the wind stops and the storm is gone.
As Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3, “Endure hardship like a good soldier.” When the storms come, hold onto Jesus because He will help you “endure the hardship.” To get where God wants you to be, you have to stay with Him on the journey. You cannot jump out midstream. As Lance Armstrong said, “Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever.” Paul continues by telling Timothy in verse 4 that “a good soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs.” While the storm is raging, you have to stay focused. When you are in a storm to survive you must not get sidetracked by other issues.
Then finally in verse five it says, “You cannot win the race if you break the rules.” To benefit from the storm you have to play by the rules. Do not cheat. Do not try to escape. God has a solution for the storm that does not involve sin. “Well, if I just lie on these taxes a little bit I will have enough money to make that payment. If I do this or do that then everything will be ok. You know, the end will justify this mean.” God has a way to deal with whatever storm you experience that does not require you to sin. Look for it; wait for it. In these type of situations that is what faith involves--faith to do it God’s way, not yours. If you are looking to Him, He will bring help to get through it. Savor the healing God wants to bring to your life. God wants to bring freshness to your life so that you can see the richness that a storm can produce in your life. God may not have caused the storm that has hit your life but He is in the business of redeeming it if you will let Him
How many miracles or interventions of God’s work have you seen in your life that you do not even remember now? Remember the song “Count Your Blessings”? There is a reason for that song because we forget the blessings. We remember the pain but tend to forget the blessings. The memory of pain may last a long time but we tend to forget a blessing soon after it occurred. Yesterday’s deliverances are way too easily forgotten. We need to make an effort to “count the blessings” so that our appreciation for what God has done for us will draw us closer to Him. Savor His healing. Though the storms are violent, disruptive, and painful, God brings healing. As you see His hand, His presence amid the storms, your life will become better. As you see His hand and experience His presence amid the storms, your life becomes better. Oh, the losses will still be there, but His help, His hope, His healing can bring peace and confidence and a connection with Him that you would have in no other way. Without 60 years of Sarah’s barrenness, Isaac would have just been another kid. Without the schemes and betrayals of Joseph’s brothers, Joseph, rather than a hero would have just been a spoiled brat. Without the storm of the cross, all humanity would still be lost.
We have a God who understands pain, suffering, and loss, because He has experienced them in Jesus Christ. And if you read the Old Testament closely you will see God suffering because of human betrayal. Because He is longsuffering He endures much sin in hopes that many will repent and return to Him. That is not a picture of some angry tribal god or a malevolent deity. The God of the Bible is consistently longsuffering toward the sinful ways of humans. Judgments do come, and must come, but only after grace and mercy have been rejected first.
I want you to read a letter that I received from Pastor Michael Sprague who is pastor of Trinity Evangelical Free Church of Covington, Louisiana. When you read it I think you will see God’s hand in his life. As Michael sought to partner with God in this storm, God provided what he needed to do the job.
What I Learned Today
What I have learned today is "ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone, or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"---Matthew 7:7-11
Today I spent my life at two ground zeros. Half my day was spent at ground zero in New Orleans with nineteen helicopters hovering above my head, scores of mobilized military units patrolling, 60% of the city under water. Dear people who rode out the storm asking for nothing but ice, treasured well know sections of the city have become ghost towns, there are flipped cars, and building that have been turned to rubbish. A hellish scene to be sure. My heart breaks for the residents of New Orleans yet there is a remarkable determination by everyone to rebuild.
My personal ground zero centered around the command center of trying to pastor a local church in a devastated community on the North shore of New Orleans. The needs are overwhelming and resources so seemingly inadequate. The situation is so impossible that we who are used to trusting in our own strength, wit and resourcefulness were forced to trust God totally. What a novel idea to depend on the God who provides manna from heaven and the God who raises the dead.
Here is what I learned today
1. We decided we needed 5000 to 10,000 square feet of warehouse space to accommodate truckloads of disaster supplies over the next six months. What does a pastor know about warehouse space? In fact, someone said, "You'll never find it around here." We decided to ask the Father specifically. By the end of the day we had secured the space.
2. We needed a semi truck trailer on sight immediately. What do I know about semis? I told my associate to get us one. He looked at me like I was crazy. I said, "Go into town and find someone with a semi and tell him God needs a truck." He found someone and asked and he said, "Well Okay, take it and by the way, do you have a cab and truck driver to get it to the church property?" His answer was, of course "NO" but the man standing next to him had a cab and time to do it. WOW - what a novel idea to ask the Father.
3. We started to make this a habit during the day. It seemed like the Father wanted us in New Orleans. We went to military checkpoint after military checkpoint without official credentials and only a credit card of a food relief worker. At six checkpoints, hardnosed military gatekeepers with machine guns mysteriously waved us through so we could assess needs and talk to the remnant who rode out Katrina. It was the Father again.
4. I had no firm place for my family and three sets of missionary guests to spend the night and plan for food for dinner. I told my wife to take care of it. How? Ask the Holy Spirit to supernaturally provide- Oh? Oh, Okay. Within a few hours the call came that freed a house for one more night. What about dinner? Donna literally bumped into a woman who had just brought food to feed 12 emergency workers who were sleeping on her floor. Yet she was disappointed because they were called out on a security detail in Slidell from 6 pm to 6 am. What would she do with the food? Donna said to her friend, "Michael said the Holy Spirit would provide us dinner for tonight so I guess all that food was designed for us." Our wonderful friend smiled and provided us the manna God sent from heaven.
5. I needed a generator so I was now getting into this "asking the Father" approach rather than the figure it out myself approach. Within hours I had one generator at my house and another at my office with an A/C window unit thrown in. WOW! But what does a mechanically challenged klutz like me know about installing generators? Call came in, "Michael my husband can stop by and get it set up." Wow again!
6. We needed someone to clear the big pines that had fallen all over the church property covering sections of the parking lot so truck loads of supplies could come through. When I returned 12 S.W.A.T. team members from Indiana had totally cleared the lot, stacked the wood and debris. They thought their mission was to provide security in Gulfport, but FEMA kicked them out. Then someone else didn't want them. I guess the Father wanted them at our place. We bunked them all in a house where the sign entering the neighborhood read "Looters will be shot." If looters tried to get into that house last night, WATCH OUT! You should have seen their arsenal of weaponry.
7. I still pondered throughout the day, "how will Trinity Church survive financially?" No offerings, people scattered, many jobs gone, some already not planning on returning, new building under construction, etc, etc. Right at midnight I opened an email. I read it and cried. A young girl in Maryland overheard her mom and dad discussing our plight. She went to her room and brought back her entire piggy bank and said we could have all her money and if they could remove her loose tooth there would be enough money to buy one Barbie doll for a little refugee girl. Again the Father showed He would provide.
I could go on with more stories but you get the point, I trust. This pastor is learning a new approach to living. I've gone each day at my ground zero without touching any money, seeing one newspaper and seeing very little news. Yet I have had all I've needed and every meal has been provided by the Father. Yeah God! At 10 something at night someone came and asked me for 2 workers to do some tree work in Mississippi tomorrow. My first thought was, "what do I know about tree workers in Mississippi?" Yet what I said was, "I think we should ask the Father for 2 laborers to supernaturally show up tomorrow."
Whatever your need is today, you might try asking the Father. What a novel idea!
P.S. This really did happen in one day.
Pastor Michael Sprague
I want you to notice something very important. Normally, God does not work in ‘supernatural’ ways. He chooses to use men and women, boys and girls and ordinary natural means to fulfill His will. Pastor Michael prayed for God’s help and intervention and He sent a S.W.A.T. team from Indiana, warehouse with enough space to accomplish the task, a semi truck and driver, food originally meant for someone else (or was it?), an A/C unit and technician able to get it operational, and a young girl with a generous heart. Why does God do things this way? Why doesn’t He just wave His mighty hand and make things better? God wants to partner with us to accomplish great things. God is not a glory hog. He encourages people to follow His lead and act like He does--to be conformed to the image of Christ. And this will not occur if the only one acting is God Himself.
To be like Jesus you have to act like Jesus. Daily life with its good times and its bad times is filled with opportunities to act like Jesus. God cares about people. And God knows that during this present time on earth tragedies and hardships, and yes, even persecutions are going to occur. He wants to use us to minister to the needy and hurting and if we commit ourselves to this ministry He will provide what we need to accomplish the task. If you doubt the reality of this, reread pastor Michael’s letter again. Then read the Bible and take note of the missionary journeys of Paul, the life of Esther the queen, the reign of David, the extraordinary life of Joseph, the rebuilding of the broken walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, and the protection of baby Moses in Exodus chapter 2. God chose to use ordinary people and circumstances to engineer His will into this sin-corrupted world. In some cases the people were unaware that they were fulfilling God’s will. In other situations God sought out people who were willing to partner with Him to do it. One of the ways that we can become most like Jesus is to redeem the storms—to bring good out of bad, to bring healing out of wounds. To be like Jesus our goal should not only be to weather the storms but redeem them, to not only survive them with a godly attitude but bring God’s grace to them so that He can redeem them for His glory.
Misunderstandings and Their Destructive Potential
It is an old story, but it makes a good point. A lady goes to the airport and goes through all the check-in and rushes through the hallways to get to her plane. She gets up to the desk and finds out the plane has been delayed. So, she goes to the concessionaire and gets a magazine and a sleeve of snack Oreos—you know, those little Oreos that come in a sleeve, 10-15 Oreos in a pack. She goes back and sits down and opens up her magazine and a man comes along and sits next to her. He takes out his magazine and starts reading and after about a minute, she hears a crackling noise next to her and this guy is opening up a bag of Oreos and eating them. She is wondering, what is with this guy? Of all the nerve, of all the gall. He takes an Oreo out of the pack and sets it down in the seat between them and she reaches over and picks up one of the Oreos and takes it and starts eating it herself. The guy smiles and nods and reaches down and picks up another Oreo. She is getting madder and madder. She reaches down and picks up another Oreo. Soon they were down to the last cookie. He takes it and he breaks it in half and sets one half on top of the packet and eats the other half. She has had enough of this. She picks up the half, eats it, and gets up and takes another seat.
A few minutes later her plane is called and she goes to the desk to show them her ticket. She reaches in her purse to pull out the ticket and there next to the ticket is, you guessed it, her pack of Oreos. You see, she thought he was full of gall. This guy, who does he think he is?! But this guy was full of grace. Ever been there? You are doing right, you are being so nice and somebody else is getting madder and madder at you. Or even worse, you are getting madder and madder at somebody and you find out you really did not understand what was going on. You thought they had a problem, but it is you who has the problem.
Misunderstandings will fracture families. They will break friendships. They will shatter fellowships. They can destroy lives. We are going to look in the Old Testament and then the New Testament and see very clearly how misunderstandings can develop. Misunderstandings are, many times, very lighthearted and do not mean much, some are kind of funny, in fact. So many comedy shows are based on misunderstandings. In "Leave it to Beaver," Beaver often gets it wrong and does something strange. Opie usually meant well, but it often did not work out the way he intended. Lucy! She drove Ricky crazy much of the time. Sometimes misunderstandings are our own fault. We put ourselves in a stupid situation. We do not give enough information and therefore leave room for misunderstanding and outright fabrication.
Sometimes our body language does not equate with our verbal language and people misunderstand. Kind of like the new Christian that is trying to get his girlfriend to marry him and she has been through a lot of bad relationships and she just does not trust men anymore. So he writes her a long letter explaining his heart and then he signs his name. He wants to keep a spiritual intonation in the whole thing, so he puts a verse down at the bottom. John 4:18. He thinks he is writing I John 4:18 where it says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” But John 4:18 says, “You have had four husbands and the one you are with is not your husband.” Sometimes we make simple mistakes and it causes great misunderstanding.
Even when you do everything right--you have the right motivation, you are doing it in the right way, and you are saying things you think are extremely clear--misunderstandings can still develop. That is what happened to David. David had a lot of misunderstandings. His family misunderstood him. King Saul misunderstood him. In 1 Chronicles 19, we will see the devastation, the misery that accompanies an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Turn to 1 Chronicles 19. Chronicles is probably one of those books you glance over when you are reading your Bible. All those battles and wars and numbers. But these passages teach us godly truths. The New Testament tells us “all these things have gone before so that we will understand.” So, let us get some understanding from 1 Chronicles 19. Beginning in verse 1. “In the course of time, Nahash King of the Ammonites died and his son succeeded him as king. Now David thought, I will show kindness to Hanun, the son of Nahash because his father showed kindness to me. So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.”
Let us stop at this point and give you a little background. First of all, the Ammonites were not one of the twelve tribes. The Ammonites are “cousined,” if you will, to the Israelites. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had some sons. They developed into the Moabites and the Ammonites. God told Israel, “I will not give you the land of the Ammonites. I reserve that for Lot’s people.” They were not to attack or try to take their land. They were to live peaceably with them. When David was running from Saul, he was being chased all over the Middle East and he often escaped across the Jordan to the land of the Ammonites. Nahash, the king, gave him refuge and showed kindness to him. The Israelites and the Ammonites did not completely trust each other, but they were not at war. They were ‘ok’ neighbors, but they made sure they had good fences.
After Nahash’s death, David wanted his son and successor to know that he wanted to maintain peace between the two countries. David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun. When David’s men came to Hanun in the land of the Ammonites to express sympathy to him, the Ammonite nobles said to Hanun, “Do you really think David is honoring your father by sending men to you to express sympathy. Have not these men maybe come to explore and spy out this country and overthrow it?” Hanun listened to these manipulative and suspicious counselors and seized David’s men. He shaves their heads, cut off half their beards, and then to further humiliate them he cut off their robes in the middle at their buttocks and sent them away. He made them walk through town and then across the Jordan to Jericho half naked. David met them at Jericho and became angry at what Hanun and his counselors did. His men were humiliated. Those that represented him were humiliated. David’s intended message to Hanun was of support and sympathy. David was trying to do the right thing but the misunderstanding caused terrible results.
I want you to note that David had a great plan. It was a godly plan. He wanted to maintain the peace between the two countries, as God had instructed. His motivation was right. He wanted to express sympathy and kindness. But that was not the way it was taken. He had a sincere motivation. His method was correct. He sent a delegation. He did not send an army to arouse fear. He does not send one or two people that could have been interpreted as an attempt to spy, but he sent an elite group of respected men. Men that could communicate well and with sincerity. These are good guys. He had an appropriate method and his message was clear. Tell them, “I grieve for you for the loss of your father. He was a friend to me and I will be a friend to you.” But the great plan got manipulated and twisted. I want you to see how. First of all, these nobles inject doubt. “Have these men come for good?” Just questioning, just asking a question can create doubt. “I am not saying that they are bad people, I am just questioning. Have they really come for good?” Seeds of doubt are cast with no basis in fact that destroys the true intent of the mission. Have you ever heard people say things like that? “I am not saying he is not really a good man, but. . .” “I am not saying she is really jealous and arrogant but there is just something about her.” You are saying it when you are not saying it. It is insidiously suggestive. By asking the question in a certain way, you are saying it without saying it.
But why did they ask a question rather than just say it? Satan did exactly the same thing in the garden with Eve. “Has God really said?” Why the questioning rather than saying it directly: “God did not mean that. You did not hear it correctly.” Because when a listener answers the question, he or she owns the answer. You feel so proud of yourself that you figured it out. All of a sudden, your pride takes over and your answer becomes THE answer. If someone tells you something, you can debate it. But if they just ask a question, then they can plant the seed of doubt without actually appearing to be subversive.
These guys injected doubt into the situation. They also injected deceit. “These guys, how do you know they are really not spies? How do you know, I mean, they have come through the whole land. They are looking, they have eyes, they are seeing. You do not think they are not going back to David to tell him everything about this place, do you?” And finally, they injected details based on a fabricated story. They paint the picture with color. “I think they are spies. They have come to explore and they have come to overthrow you.” The original question could have been answered, “No, I do not think that is why they came.” It did not have to be answered in the way it was. Eve and Adam could have answered Satan with, “Yes, that is exactly what God said.” But they did not. They listened and were led into sin. These counselors put false details into the king’s mind. This great plan gets an evil twist and that evil twist brings disastrous results. And not just for David’s messengers. Look at verse 18. David attacks them and the passage says “they fled before Israel and David killed 7,000 of the chariot men and 40,000 of the foot soldiers.” Forty-seven thousand men died because of a misunderstanding. Even though the message was clear, the motivation was sincere, and the means was appropriate, doubt, deceit, and details were injected to obscure truth. You know the irony of it all? The 47,000 that died were not even Ammonites. They were men from Syria that Hanun hired to come down and fight David. They are the ones who ended up dying.
And then beyond that, look at the next chapter. “In the spring at the time when kings go off to war, Joab let out the armed forces and he laid waste to the land of the Ammonites.” Hanun and his evil, instigating counselors probably thought they escaped punishment for what they did. The Syrians paid the price for their deceit. They were incorrect. David destroyed their nation. He took the crown off the king. They paid a terrible price for what they did. There are now 40,000 widows and probably 80,000 orphans in Syria who have no idea why their husbands, why their fathers are dead. But realize, the Syrians were not totally innocent. Why were they willing to fight and kill someone who had done them no harm? For the money!
There is a similar story with a better ending in Joshua 22. When it came time for the tribes of Israel to divide up the land they had been promised, Gad, Reuben, and half of the tribe of Manasseh asked Joshua, “Can we just stay over here? Would you mind if we stayed on this side.” Permission was granted. The remaining tribes go over. Look what it says in verse 11. “The sons of Israel heard it said, behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad, and the half troop of Manassah have built an altar at the front of the land of Canaan in the region of the Jordan on the side belonging to the sons of Israel. And when the sons of Israel heard it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up and war against them.” You catch that phrase, “They heard it said?” Who said it? Where did it come from, where did it originate? Gossip!
These ten tribes and half the tribe of Manassah are going to go over and kill the other tribes. Why? Because they had built an altar. They had built an altar just like the altar that had been taken across the Jordan to be used in the tabernacle. The tribes on the west side of the Jordan were afraid that these ‘renegades’ on the east side were going to walk away from the Lord. They were saying that they were going to worship a different God, engage in idolatry. But that is not the end of the story.
Fortunately, by God’s grace, a man name Phineas said, “Let us check this out first. Let us send a delegation and see what they have done.” When Phineas goes and accuses them of worshipping another god, of trying to divide the land, they say, “Far be it from us. May God strike us dead, literally, if this has been our purpose. We have built this altar as a witness. Not for any kind of sacrifice, but a witness between you and us that we worship the same God. It is a model of the same altar that you took across to show that we have a part with you. We belong to you. It is a reminder to us and all our people for generations that we are together.” They are not trying to separate. They are trying to show that they belong to Israel so that their children and their children’s children will know they are one nation, one people under God. This altar, they say, will never be a sacrificial place. It is only an altar of witness. The people of Israel rejoiced. Just think how close they came to fighting and dying because of a misunderstanding.
The same type of thing happened in Acts. In Acts 11 we find the Jewish Christians criticizing Peter. He was eating bacon and pork in a Gentile’s house. They are ready to ostracize and excommunicate him out of the church. Imagine what kind of dissension that would cause? Peter being kicked out of the church! You think that is not going to divide the church body? The chief representative of the church getting kicked out. Wow! But why? Because he is mixing with Gentiles and supposedly breaking the ceremonial traditions. Peter informs them. “Wait a minute. You have to understand. You misunderstand what I have done and why I have done it.” And he goes to Jerusalem and explained with all clarity to the elders what happened and why. “I saw from God a vision and on that vision there was a sheet that came down from heaven with all kinds of food on it. And God said, take and eat. I said, no way. I do not do that. God said, do it. I said, no way. I am not going to do it. And God said, do it. And I said, no way. It is not clean. And God said, what I have declared clean is clean. Take it and eat because I am expanding your borders and expanding the gospel. I am going beyond what you think the gospel is all about and I want you to get up and go to another man’s house, a Gentile’s house and pray for his family.” And what happens? That family received the Holy Spirit, the same way the apostles received it in that upper room as a sign God was reaching all peoples. And it says, “The church rejoiced greatly.” A misunderstanding was cleared up because those involved were allowed to state the truth of the situation.
In your own life, do you find yourself being misunderstood? Do you find yourself sometimes misunderstanding others? “I just do not understand what they are thinking. How can she believe that about me? Here I am trying to do a good thing and she thinks I am after something else.” Misunderstandings can destroy relationships, fracture friendships, and shatter churches.
What are we to do? What are we to do when understanding is a problem? First, and most importantly, guard your thoughts. Turn to Ephesians 6. Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…”. The injection of doubt and deceit slowly wheedle into your thinking and begin to destroy your attitude. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, and against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Satan is the one who wants to set man against man, husband against wife, son against father. And he just loves to stir it up so that he can make room for what he wants to do. Satan is the perfect example of someone who thinks that the end justifies the means. He will use any underhanded and deceitful plan to get what he wants. His initial rebellion against God shows itself more and more as he stoops to worse and worse things to get what he wants. His initial rebellion as shown in the words “I shall be as the most high” has expanded to lies, murders, and global injustices. Christians need to be aware of his tactics. Sowing discord based on misunderstanding is one of his methods. He is the “father of lies.”
Secondly, make sure you have a biblical problem. Many times we get so upset with our husbands and wives, not because they are being unbiblical but because they do not do things our way. There are lots of right ways to do some things. I think I have used the illustration before. When I drive out of my driveway and turn onto Old Mt. Dora Road, I am taking one of three different roads that will eventually lead to Wal-Mart. My wife sometimes takes a different road. I used to think, “Why did she turn that way?” And my daughter would turn a different way. “Why did she do that? Doesn’t she know this is the fastest way?” And it really irks me when they go their way and they end up there before I do. Make sure you have a biblical problem, not an opinion problem or a preference problem.
And thirdly, go to the Lord about the problem. Go to Him first. And then go to the source. Go to the Lord and make sure your heart is right, first, then go to the source of the misinformation. When you do not understand, what does the Bible say to do? To ask the Lord who gives wisdom and understanding. Proverbs says, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power. His understanding has no limit.” “If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask the father who gives without reproach,” James says. Go to the Lord and then go to the source, when understanding is a problem, when you just do not understand. “How can they be thinking that? Why does she react that way to me?” Those are things we want to avoid because we want to avoid conflict, because we want to maintain some peace and sometimes we feel like our relationships are so volatile that if we say anything, maybe it is going to explode.
Consider Job. At the end of the book Job is restored. You know why Job is restored? Because he starts praying for the men who were falsely accusing him. God essentially tells Job, “You know, Job, you have some friends that have been trying to give you answers and they do not understand what you are going through. They do not understand your problem. And I do not like it. They are giving you bad advice. But I tell you to pray for them.” Job did pray for them. God blessed Job and then they began to understand that Job’s suffering was not as a result of Job’s sin. The misunderstanding centered in the errors in their thinking, in their belief systems. And without having the facts they pointed their fingers at an innocent man.
Most of us do not like conflict. We think it is their problem and just leave it alone. “I said the right thing. I had the right motivation, I did it the right way, my message is clear. They just misunderstood. That is their tough luck.” We want to avoid the problem. We want to just leave it alone. But Ephesians 6 says to have “your feet shod with the readiness from the gospel of peace.” The longer you let it fester, the harder it is going to be to correct the problem. The longer you have a misunderstanding with one person, the greater the misunderstanding will become because it will not be with one person very long. Plus, the longer a misunderstanding exists the more invested each person becomes in their viewpoint. Misunderstandings have a way of expanding and taking on a life of their own.
I have good news. You have a Savior who understands this issue. You have a Savior who was misunderstood. He had a sincere motive. “I have come to save mankind. I have come to give my life as a ransom for many.” He came with the right method. He came with a clear message. It is the greatest misunderstanding of all time that the very one who gave His life to reconcile God and man, can be looked upon as unfair and tyrannical because judgment follows denied grace. Many people believe that God wants to take away their lives by putting restrictions on them. He cramps their style. He takes away their freedom. But that is not the way it really is. God wants to bless their lives, to redeem them from the sinful inclinations of their hearts. He wants to break the chains of the evil one who wants them to hang themselves with their own sin. He wants to free them from the bondage of their sinful ways. We have a great God and Savior who wants us to understand Him and His ways. If the Great Lover of creation can be misunderstood so can we. As Christians we are to proceed slowly and graciously, emulating our Savior, giving the other the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
Faith That Survives
What is faith all about? How does it operate in the Christian life? It is one of those theological issues that have been debated and written about for centuries. I want to give you an illustration that hopefully will help you remember what God wants your faith to be like, what it is intended to do and how it operates. The illustration may seem silly or simplistic but think with me for a moment. It has to do with a rubber ducky. I had a rubber ducky when I was a kid. The one thing I remember about a rubber ducky was when you put it under the water it always popped back up. The water can be clean, dirty, soapy, sudsy, whatever, it always popped up. The tub can be half full, full or overflowing, it did not matter. It always popped up because there is something on the inside that is greater than the forces on the outside that cause it to pop to the top. Something on the inside that is greater than all the forces on the outside that causes it to rise to the surface. And that is the picture of the way God wants the Christian faith to operate.
Is there something inside of you that when the pressure starts to rise, when situations and stresses come into your life, that causes your heart and your spirit to rise above them? Or do you go to the bottom? If you open that ducky up and you let what is in the outside of the ducky to the inside of that ducky, it is not going to pop up anymore. It is going to come to a point of equilibrium and just kind of drift along in the water. And if you let what is on the outside fill up the ducky, it is a dead duck. It just lays on the bottom. It does not pop up any more. Why? Because there is nothing different from what is on the inside than what is on the outside. In your spiritual life, in your heart with God, is there something on the inside that is different than what is on the outside? God has designed us to be filled with His Spirit that should cause us to buoy up when confronted with the pressures and sins the world throws our way.
That is what Hebrews chapter 11 is all about. Hebrews chapter 11 is called the Great Faith Chapter and it starts off by introducing the subject by saying, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is what you want to happen. It is knowing that there is something more than you are experiencing now. There is something on the inside that is better than what is on the outside. There is something better inside you than is in the world. There needs to be something inside that is greater than the forces outside or else you are just drifting along with the rest of the world or laying on the bottom like a dead duck. God said, “I will put a new heart in you.” Essentially God is saying, “I will put my spirit in you because there is something more important than the things in this world. That is what you hope for and that is what is not seen and if you trust me I will make it a reality in your life.” Hebrews 11 talks about this. Hebrews 11 gives us living examples of what faith looks like in real life.
Verses 2-26 talk about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then we get down to Moses. I want to focus on him a little bit. Starting at verse 27. “By faith Moses left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger he persevered because he saw him who was invisible.” He knew there was something more, somebody more important than all the things in this world put together. He saw there is more to this world and more to this life than what he could see in Egypt. I look at the stars and I ask, “Where is God?” I do not see Him but I see His handiwork. I see the results of great intelligence and planning. When I look at a skyscraper or my house I know someone built it. Such design and function does not just happen. The human mind conceived it and human hands put it together. And how much more complex is this universe? And how much more intricate are the needs for advanced life on this planet? And yet here we are! I do not see Him, but I know He is here. I also see Him working and speaking in the Scriptures. He has revealed Himself in human events to help us understand who He is. By Creation I know by faith that He is. By His work as seen in Scripture and the life of Jesus Christ I know what He is like and what He wants of us. And by faith I accept this despite everything I see in this world that says otherwise. That is what Moses saw. He lived in a land of abundance and dismissed it as unimportant and fleeting. He lived in a land filled with idols and the occult and saw through it to see the God of creation reaching out for those who will walk with Him.
Then verse 28: “By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” Huh? Who would believe that God would intervene in the history like He did in Israel’s case during the Passover? That He would come and kill the firstborn of all the Egyptians and then somehow if you sprinkled your doorpost with blood that your firstborn would live. Some might have said, “That does not make sense. That does not sound like a loving, kind God. That does not sound right. That is really hard to believe that God is going to do that but just in case, ‘Where is that blood, Martha? I am not going to take a chance.’” And that is what faith is. Faith believes the unbelievable. God said it and so I am going to trust it and I am going to live by it. It believes the unbelievable because it depends upon God’s Word.
Verse 29: “By faith the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea as on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.” Faith accomplishes the impossible. No one was more surprised that the Red Sea parted than Moses himself. I do not think he was expecting it to happen. Not that he doubted, he just had never seen it before. But he did as God instructed and the waters parted.
Verse 30: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people had marched around them for seven days.” Faith grasps a hold of and holds onto the intangible. Can you imagine trying to talk your soldiers and all your people into marching around for seven days singing songs and blowing trumpets? Can you grasp how intangible that is? Imagine being the leader and you are telling them to do this crazy thing. But God said it and His Word is enough and so by faith you do it. And the walls fell down.
Look down in verse 31: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Faith changes people. Why, of all the people in that city, was she spared? She aligned herself with what God was doing. According to her past life she did not deserve it. But that is the way repentance and change work. Align yourself with what God is doing and you will become a new person. Another way of saying this is, faith sees what is important even though everything else in your world is screaming otherwise.
Some of you might have a pen knife. Go ahead and cut that ducky open and see what is inside it. You cannot see anything, but there is something there because it always pops to the top. Faith is designed by God to lift you above your circumstances and to see what He has in mind. God wants to work in your life. God is ready to work in your life. He is knocking at the door. He is disposed to work in your life. But you have to respond to Him in faith. Katie and I prayed before we came here and said, “Lord, we will go anywhere you want us to go—in California.” What a sense of humor. God did not listen to us because He had a better plan. And He has a better plan for you. Will you trust Him? Faith lifts you above your circumstances and gives God an opportunity to do something special in your life.
There are two kinds of faith. There is justifying faith and there is sanctifying faith. Let me explain the difference. Justifying faith is what gets you to heaven. It is believing that Christ is the Son of God and that He died for your sin. Justifying faith is what gets you to heaven. Sanctifying faith gets heaven into you. It is God reaching down and pouring His spirit into you and causing your life to be in harmony with Him and His ways.
We are afraid of that. Our inner dragon is afraid of that. Our dragon wants to stay in control. “I am afraid I am going to lose myself. My dragon is part of me and I have a right to get angry. I have a right to be mad. I have a right to be jealous. I have a right to be envious. It is who I am. If you take that away from me, what will I be like?” God says, “You will be loving, you will be kind, you will be good, you will be faithful, you will be gentle, you will be self-controlled, you'll be like Me.” Let go of that dragon!
How do I get more of Him? What do I do to grow my faith? Like the disciples asked, “Lord, multiply our faith,” we do not have enough. We do not really understand. God has a program for that. It is called “life.” Life! And you get it by going to the U of A. Not Auburn, not Alabama, the University of Adversity. Huh? That does not sound like a very fun place. Do not give me that scholarship. I do not want to go there. Jesus said, “In this world you will always have problems, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” Until you have adversity in your life, faith is just a notion. Faith is just an idea.
You can say, “I withstand that temptation.” But until that temptation faces you and you have the opportunity to grasp it, you have not faced that temptation. Your faith has not been put to the test. Your faith has not grown. Faith only grows amidst adversity and the possibility of alternate choices. In the midst of adversity you see the reality that there is a God who is in control, that is sovereign, that has a better idea. He did it throughout Scripture. Without Jericho, Joshua would have just been a tour guide for disgruntled Israelites. Without Goliath, David would have just been a spoiled kid. Without the threat by a guy named Haman, Esther would have just been a beauty queen, eye candy for a king.
Right now you have some adversity in your life, you have some things you do not like. You have to choose, what are you going to do with them? Are you going to let God lift you up? Are you going to depend upon His promises to get through? We want problems to go away. God wants problems to nurture your life and your faith. When you have problems, you think God has abandoned you. But God says, “When you have problems you need me.”
Let us return to the story of Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. In Exodus chapter 14, we have the problem of too much water. Israelites have just left Egypt and Pharaoh’s army is coming to kill them or take them all back into slavery. Moses in Exodus 14:13 tells the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance of the people. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.” What does Moses expect to happen? Moses says, “Stand still and watch what God is going to do.” As that army gets closer and closer, Moses gets a little worried. How do I know this? Look what it says in the verse 15. “Then the Lord said to Moses, why are you crying out to me?” Huh? Moses is crying out? And then He says, “Tell the Israelites to move on.” “Lord, I just told them to stand still.” “You told them wrong. You thought I was going to do one thing, but I am doing to do something else. You have never seen anything like I am going to do. This is going to be a different from what you have seen before. Turn around and use your staff and the people will walk through dry ground.” God does not always act according to our expectations. The things He does are not meant to only solve a problem but He also wants to induce faith and trust from His people.
How did the Israelites react to God’s deliverance at the Red Sea? Read Exodus 15. Verses 1-18 record a song of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance. They thank Him for what He did. I am not sure they really praised the Lord because the song they are singing is not a song of faith, it is a song of thanksgiving. They did not believe God until He did it. We often do not want to praise God until the problem is over. But God wants the praise and God deserves the praise while you are in the midst of the problem because that is the praise of faith. Faith believes God before He acts. Trust is a settled faith that calms the heart in the midst of trouble. The Israelites did not have this faith. Within three days of such a marvelous work by God, their singing turned to sulking. Their music turned to murmuring. Their worshipping turned to worrying. Their celebration turned to complaining.
Exodus 15:22: “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. Then they came to Marah and they could not drink the water because it was bitter.” People were complaining. “What kind of leader leads two million people to where there is bitter water? That is not the kind of leader I want to follow. He must not be very organized. He has not planned well. What kind of a God leads His people to where there is bitter water?” They are faithless but God wants to teach them. He says, “Watch this. Watch what happens.” “So the people grumbled against Moses saying, what are we to drink? Then Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a piece of wood.” Other verses say, a tree. “And he threw it into the water and the water became sweet.” Did you catch that? What did God do? We expected God to lead them to Elam where they go next, where there are twelve wells. Twelve wells for twelve tribes. What a perfect provision of God. But first he leads them to a place where there is bitter water. Why? Because He wants the people to know wherever they are He will take care of them. He will provide for them. He has the power and will use the power for their protection and their provision. He is teaching them to trust Him. He is teaching them to follow Him even when they do not understand what is going on.
You know, there is not a record of a single person that died of hunger or thirst in those forty years in the wilderness. But they were fearing it all the time. God gave them water. But did you see how God gave them water? They were in a place of bitter water and God showed them a tree. It says, “God showed him a tree.” The word “tree” used in this verse is the same word that Moses used in Deuteronomy where he said, “Cursed is anyone who hangs upon a tree.” It is this verse that Paul quoted when he said, “Jesus freed us from the bondage to the law by becoming a curse himself for it is stated, he who hangs upon a tree is cursed.” Wherever there is bitterness, the cross can make a difference. Where there is bitterness, where there is sourness, where there is this huge problem you just do not know what to do, Jesus is there to make a difference. Faith that survives the pressures and temptations and unknowns must be rooted in the cross. Grab hold of the cross and all that went on there. Grab hold of what you learn about God there. Grab hold of the One who hung there for you and me. Persevere through the power of the cross. In studying the fruit of the Spirit, you will find them all at the cross.
Christmas: Christ the King
When we think about Christmas, what usually comes to mind is a star, wise men, shepherds, baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the angels, but what did God see and experience? What is His perspective on Christmas? God the Father is looking at Christmas from an eternal perspective. From eternity past, the Son was one with the Father. They knew each other. They were together from all eternity past and will be for all eternity future. When Jesus left this earth, when He ascended, He ascended to the right hand of the Father and there He will rule with the Father for all eternity. And in all that expanse of time, you have thirty short years in which He lived among us. And God summarizes it in three verses--three verses that summarize how He saw Christmas. These three verses are in Philippians chapter 2.
Look at these verses with me. Philippians chapter two, verse six, starts off saying, “Christ Jesus.” In your Bibles it might say, “who” and that is referring back to the very end of verse five where it says “Christ Jesus.” It says “Christ Jesus,” not just “Jesus,” not just “Christ,” but the “man Jesus, the anointed one of God, Christ.” “Christ Jesus, being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” This is a little bit different perspective than baby Jesus being born in a manger surrounded by cute and cuddly cows and sheep.
Christmas is not about a cute little baby or quaint villages in the Middle East. To God, it is not about a holiday, it is about a holy day when He came to earth to make a difference for all of humanity. It is not about us. We tend to make Christmas all about us, what we are going to do, what we are going to get. It is about Him and what He has done. It is not about decorations, as pretty as they may look. It is not about presents, as much as we like to get them and hate to go shopping for them. It is not about lights or trees, it is about Christ being King and coming to earth. Not baby Jesus, but Christ the King coming to earth. It is not a celebration of our generosity to one another and our “brotherly love.” It is a celebration of His generosity to us and His love for us.
Christmas is all about Him and what He has done for us. But you do not hear that in the world around you. You go outside the church doors and you seldom hear it on the radio or see it on TV, and you certainly do not find it in the malls. There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about how much Christ has been taken out of Christmas. We no longer have Christmas trees. We have holiday bushes. The world is taking Christ out of Christmas because they do not want Christ in their lives. They do not want a reminder of who He is and what He has done. They do not mind the baby Jesus as long as it is just quaint and no threat to them, but they certainly do not want Christ, God of creation come to earth to redeem us, to remind us of our sin and our need for forgiveness and change. They want no part of that. But there is something more insidious happening than the world taking Christ out of Christmas, more dangerous to you as a Christian. Present day Christmas is taking Christ out of Christians. Think about this season. I do not know about you, but Christmas is one of the hardest times of the year for me. Things get so busy and the focus is so much on buying and getting stuff that the real reason for the season gets pushed to the back, if it is in the picture at all. Santa Claus and presents can suck Christ out of the Christian. Shopping lines and malls and lists and the busyness or your business that is overloaded at Christmas can suck Christ right out of you. You can just struggle to get through each day and not think very much about what God’s call is upon your life. Do not let lists and decorations and busyness steal your Christmas. Do not let gatherings and parties and people steal your Christmas. It is about Him. Christmas is about Him and your personal relationship with Him. Christmas should be a celebration that the King of creation has come to earth to work marvelous things on our behalf.
Christmas is not about being merry and being happy. It is about being blessed and joyful. You can get a few drinks under your belt and be ‘merry’. But blessed is the man who knows he has a God who is working for his good amid all the circumstances and situations around him, that will work with him and help him through his problems, that will guide him, give him wisdom, give him strength, give him courage. Blessed is that man, not merry is the man, but blessed is that man or woman who has Christ as his or her Savior. And that is the celebration of Christmas. A five-year old is happy when he gets a new toy—until the boredom sets in or it breaks or he sees somebody else with a bigger or better one. But joy crosses beyond those trivial things to give us lasting confidence and hope for life. Christmas is not about merry and happy, it is about blessedness and the joy that comes when we see Him for who He is and understand what He has done.
Again, look what it says in verse six. “Christ Jesus being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus is not simply a baby. Jesus is the Christ, God in human form. Look closely here. Where it says, “Christ Jesus, being in very nature God,” “in very nature” means “the essence of His being is equal in ability, quality, and character with God.” The Son had all the character qualities, strengths, and abilities that the Father had. But then it says, “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,” something to be clutched, something to cling to, something to protect so no one can take it away. But He willingly let it go. Can you imagine the immensity of that? You cannot; I cannot! To be omnipotent, omniscient, all-powerful, to have control, and then to say, “I am going to let it go because there is someone I love. I am going to step out of my palace; I am going to step out of glory; I am going to step out of infinite union with the Father and the closeness that describes because there is somebody else that I love.” He loved you and me so much that He stepped out of glory to come to this earth to live in Israel for 30 years and walk its dusty and dirty roads, get hot, thirsty, and tired, eat fish and bread and not much else, and then be beaten to a bloody pulp and die a criminal’s death. That is Christmas from God’s perspective. He knew it all before He took that first step off His throne. But He did it anyway!
It says, “made Himself nothing.” That is kind of a slam on us because compared to who He is, we are nothing. The Greek word used in this passage is “kenosis.” It means “to empty”. How could God empty Himself? What did Jesus give up? How could He empty Himself of His qualities and still remain God? What is with that? Did He stop being God and then start being God again? How does all that fit together? Very simply and very clearly, it means He willingly chose to set aside His divine rights and powers to live within the constraints of mankind. He did not cease to be God, but He took upon Himself the limitations of mankind. As the old prince and the pauper stories tell it, He stepped out of His palace into ordinary, daily life to win the hearts of somebody He loves. He could have returned at any time. Jesus could have sighed, “Enough, I have had enough” and in a moment His justice and His power could have just ended it all, but He continued on to the very end. In a heartbeat He could have ended it, but His love compelled Him to live among us.
The next verse says, “He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” If Jesus is really and wholly God, He cannot change what He is on the inside. He can give up His divine powers and rights that give Him a distinct advantage over ordinary people but the holy and loving character within Him cannot be different—for this is what makes Him so unlike everyone or everything else. This holy One took upon Himself the nature of a servant. Listen to this! The servant nature that was in Him from eternity past comes out now and is demonstrated as never before. It is in His incarnation, passion, and death where it can most clearly be seen. The essence of His being is revealed most as a servant. He did not just play the role of a servant, but that was the compulsion of His heart. What lady could find a baby crying on her front doorstep with a little note pinned to its collar that says “I’m alone and lost” and not do anything about it? Could you leave it alone? Could you just step over it and pretend it was not there? From the majesty of heaven, the Son of God Himself looked down and saw a little note pinned on your collar and on mine collar that said, “I’m alone and lost.” And He reached down to bring us to Himself!
Note that, though we are the ones who receive the blessings of the ministry of Jesus, He is not our servant. He is not at my beck and call. Who is He the servant of? He is the servant of the Father. He made Himself humbly obedient to the Father. Not to you and me! He is not my cosmic genie. He is obedient to the Father.
Then it says, “Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.” This describes a contrast between the essence of His being and how He appears to us. We see a human man. His essential nature never changed. But how people perceive Him changed. His humanity was as real as His deity. In His humanity, we find someone who understands our pain because He went through it. He understands our frustration, understands our hurts. We have a God who understands fear and was able to overcome it and can teach us to overcome it. We have a God who understands temptation and wants to help us fight it and stand against it. We have a God who understands us, who knows us because He has been one of us. That is entirely different from a God who just looks down from heaven and says, “Oh, you have been bad. I have to punish you.” The picture the Bible conveys of God is unique.
Brothers and sisters, this very person who struck awe and fear in the angelic hosts (Isaiah 6) took off His kingly robe, descended the heavenly throne, passed the angelic hosts, and wrapped Himself in swaddling clothes, thorns, sweat, blood, and heartache. The Bible tells us in two major passages who God is at His core. The two passages are Isaiah 6:1-4 and 1 John 4:7-8. Isaiah 6:1-4 record the angels shouting that the Lord God of heaven is holy. Now listen to1 John 4:7-8: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.” God is, at His core, holy-love. Holiness points to His goodness. Love points to His caring. God loves His own goodness and is willing to defend it from all who would try to pollute and overthrow it. It is this holy-love that defines Jesus. It is the essence that remained after He gave up the external powers and attributes. Now, how does someone who is holy-love in His core solve the relationship problem between Himself and His fallen, sinful creatures? He gets involved! Personally! And it is in the earthly birth, life, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ that God got personally involved.
We are called by God to be living sacrifices, to be committed to fulfilling God’s desires for us. Let me ask you, did you find opportunity to do that this week and did you follow through on it? Were you a living sacrifice at any point this last week? Is this next week going to be any different? It is a tough question to ask. It is a tough question to answer, but it is what God calls us to because if you are not being a living sacrifice to God, you are sacrificing your time, your energy, your resources to something else. What are you offering your lives to? What are you offering your resources, your abilities, your strength, your passions, your desires to? We think we are just going through life and living out our days, but the Bibles says we are sacrificing our lives to something--to an employer, our yard, to making more money. Does God fit in there anywhere besides just Sunday mornings? We are called by God to present our bodies, our lives, as living sacrifices that His goals and His ways are fulfilled in us. God promises that He will be with you and guide you and strengthen your life and that it will bear fruit for all eternity. God incarnate, in human form, offered Himself as a living sacrifice. He surrendered His place in glory, His position of comfort, because the essence of His being was to sacrifice for the good of the other. He stepped out of heaven into our world knowing He would be ignored, demeaned, betrayed, and murdered.
And it says, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” Many do not tend to talk a lot about the cross at Christmas. To them there are a lot more enjoyable things to talk about. It is nice to hear about the baby and the star and the wise men and shepherds. We do not normally talk about the cross, but the power of Christmas is rooted in the cross. That is the purpose for the manger. Christmas is about Christ, the anointed one sent by God to enter the world to redeem a lost world of hurting, helpless individuals who deny their need. Christ came to breach the gulf between a holy, righteous, just God and sinful, rebellious man. He came first to the manger. He ended it at the cross. And if we leave the cross out, that gulf is not bridged. All you have is a launching ramp into the abyss of hell--a Godless eternity where rebels will cry out with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Without the cross, Jesus is merely a nice role model and teacher. But with the cross, He becomes Savior for all who trust in Him.
Christmas is about hope. All that remains for us is to choose the cross over that gulf. I hope you have done that because that is essential for your life and for your future. It is the only way to permanently involve God in your life. It is what opens up the way for God to come into your life as a full-time presence. It is what makes Him available to you. Have you said, “Lord Jesus, come into my life. I am alone and lost and I know it! I want to have a relationship with you. I want not just the manger in my life, but I want the cross to bring your salvation and your truth to me."
But wait, there is more. The story does not end here. Because of His humble obedience as a servant to the Father, it says “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” He has been highly exalted above and beyond the glory that He enjoyed before the incarnation. Now, let me ask you, what in the world did Jesus do, what in the world did Jesus have afterwards that was better, that was more, that was increased, from before He came? If He was fully God before He came, how could His glory be greater afterwards? What was different about the Son afterwards? Turn to the person on your left and say, “You are.” He not only is the Son of God but He became the Son of Man who redeemed us and we are His glory. Fallen, sinful humans redeemed to His likeness in His glory. His inner self that was before not seen in its fullness has now been seen. And it is glorious! His glory is bigger because now His family is coming together. We will be with Him in glory. Not right now, but we are guaranteed that inheritance when the time is right. Is His glory bigger? Is there more in heaven because He came? Absolutely!
It continues, “Will be given a name above every other name.” Commentaries have devoted pages to trying to figure out, “Which name is he talking about here? Which name is the name that is above all others? Which one is best?” Verse 10 says that at the name of Jesus everyone is going to bow. The point here of the text is not the name, is not the word with which we refer to Jesus, but it is referring to the title that is given to Him. Jesus Christ is Lord God of all Creation. That is the difference. He established Himself as the Lord of all Creation because He now has redeemed the creation that once was lost. Listen to Romans 8:18-22: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectations of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” He is not just the Creator but He is the Redeemer of all creation. The Lord of all by reason of creation and redemption!
Now the word “Lord” in the Bible is used three different ways. One is just a title of politeness, like “sir,” like the woman at the well said, “Well, sir you have nothing to draw water with.” His disciples called Jesus Lord all through the gospels, but they did not believe He was God. They are calling Him Lord as “master” the same way they called him “rabbi, teacher.” It is a term of respect, of authority, of one who is leading them on a path. Viewed this way, He is seen in a teacher/student, leader/follower role, as boss. But the word Lord is also used of the King of Kings, Lord Jehovah, of Yahweh, El-Shaddai, Jehovah, the one who is the only “I Am,” the ultimate, and that is the name that is given to Him here. People around you say, “Oh, Lord.” What are they referring to? Well, when they are saying it that way, they are not referring to anything. They are making the name of God empty and this is using the name of God in vain. “Vain” means “empty.” They say “Jesus” and do not mean anything by it. You might as well say “turnip.” You might as well say any meaningless word because that is all the name means to them. People around you say “Lord Jesus” trying to sound polite and respectful. Others talk about the Lord Jesus as a good role model. “I mean, there is no other teacher like him. He was a good man. It is too bad what happened to that guy.” And others talk about the Lord Jesus as the King of Kings. The first two ways of referring to Jesus is not how a Christian should refer to Him. He is King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, God incarnate who wants to live, guide, and strengthen our lives.
Continuing. “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and those under the earth.” All the angels will bow. Those who rebelled long ago will bow. Those who stayed with Him long ago will bow. All those who are alive now and those who have died will bow. Even those who have died and not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior will proclaim that He is Lord because at that moment it will be an undeniable fact. Whether you accept Him as Savior now or not, you will proclaim someday that He is Lord. The trouble is, if you wait until then to recognize it, it will be too late. That is why God gives us the opportunity now to say, “Lord Jesus, come into my life. I want what you have to offer. Forgive me and save me.” Jesus Christ is Lord. That is what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about Christ the King entering history to redeem men and woman, boys and girls to Himself.
What does all this mean for us today? Many of you are Christians already. You have accepted Christ as your personal Savior. You believe in Christmas, not just the holiday. You keep Christ in Christmas. Is there something more for you? Should this week be different because of who Christ is and what you see here in Philippians? I say it should be. I thought of three ways in you can bring Christ as King into your life and let Him rule in your life this time of year. First, crown Him as King of Christmas. Crown Him as King of your Christmas. Let go of something that steals Christmas from your life and let Him be King of it. Basically, I am talking about celebrating His Royal Highness during Christmas.
How many of you give gifts for Christmas? How many of you put little gift tags on your gifts? Put the letters “HRH” which stands for “His Royal Highness” on that tag as a symbol that your gift is a reflection of God’s gift to you, of God’s love for you. By doing this you are saying, “I have done this in obedience and honor of His Royal Highness. It is not just because I had money left over in my checking account. It is not just because I had enough money to get you this, but I am doing this out of obedience to Christ who called me to love you.” Recognize Him at your family gatherings. Set an extra place at your table. Recognize His presence. Our family has a special plate. Recognize that He is the King and has a place in your life. Sprinkle your table with gold and purple instead of red and green to recognize this is the King’s dinner. Christmas is not about Santa Claus and holly. Hang another stocking on the mantle. Hang one more stocking on the mantle, for Him. And this is not trivial. This can be the most meaningful thing you can do. Put something in it as a sacrifice, as a gift to Him. Teach your children to give back to Him. What are you going to give Jesus this next year?
Secondly, crown Christ the King of your heart. Look back at verse five. We have not gone there yet, but verse five gives us the reason this whole passage is in the Bible. Verse five says, “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” We are to have the same disposition, the same frame of mind as Christ Jesus. We are to think about life the same way Jesus thought about it. We are to have the same orientation and thoughtfulness about other people that Jesus had. We are to take on the nature of a servant and be humbly obedient to the directions of God as He was. Are you putting yourself under the authority of God or are you the ruler and master of your fate? Are you controlling your own ship? Are you surrendering your ego and pride and passion and will and abilities to Him or are you holding onto them with yourself as the center of your life? “I have earned this. This is mine. This is my right.” Or are you letting them go and giving them to Him?
Then thirdly, look at the reason Paul brings this attitude issue up in the first place. It is a little farther up in the passage. Verses one through five: “If you have gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirit friends. Do not push your way to the front; do not sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Do not be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” There are problems in the Philippian church. The problem is not stated but there is tension in the church. There are problems, there is frustration and Paul says, “There needs to be an attitude adjustment.” They are going through strife and divisions and Paul tells them, “Here is the prescription for healing: Crown Christ as King of His church. Let Him rule. Let His love and directives guide you.” Not Paul’s, not Timothy’s, but Christ’s. Let the humble, obedient love from Christ reign in His church. He is calling them to restore the unity of the church by humbly serving the needs of one another. We are not the enemy. There is an enemy who wants to stir up divisiveness and division, who wants to put Christian against Christian to destroy the testimony of the church and that is Satan. It is his wish to divide and destroy. Paul’s cure is to crown Christ the King of the church. We are to let His ways and spirit rule.
May this be the best Christmas in your life as Christ becomes King, not only of the celebration of Christmas but of your heart. Do you need to clear the landscape a little bit in your life? Are there things that have taken root and are growing in your life that need to be pulled out and hauled away? You need to pull them out so you can start fresh and move on in your walk with Christ. My prayer for you is that you will let Christ reign in your life and let His attitude reign in your heart. And as a church, we have a bright future as we let Him be King over all we do. That is the central message of Philippians 2:1-11.
Making the Most of Opportunities
Every day, every week, every month, every year you make a choice. Where will you invest your energy? Where will you invest your time? Where will you invest your finances, your resources? At Trinity, we ask you to consider making an investment with God and partnering with Him and with His people to do something that is not normal, not natural in our world but to see God move in our lives and in the lives of the people in this community in a way that only He can and in the way He designed from the very beginning.
Turn to Ephesians 5:15. “Be very careful, then, how you live. Not as unwise but as wise.” How do you want to live? With wisdom? Or with foolishness? Do you want to look back at your life with regret? Or do you want to make the right choices? It isn’t that we gather around in heaven and say, “Well, I was so wise. I was so smart.” But rather, “God made it so clear to me and He honored and He worked through me to show His wisdom in following His precepts and following His directions and following His goals and desires for my life. Praise the Lord!” Are you are going to look back upon your life and say, “Those were a bunch of foolish choices,” or because of the grace of God, “God’s wisdom prevailed.”
He says in verse 16, “Making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” Making the most of every opportunity! Many Sunday morning announcements are not just announcements, they are opportunities. A very sad thing, a heartbreaking thing is that most will go through the next two to four weeks or sometimes months without taking advantage of a single one of those opportunities. You will go to church on Sunday mornings and sit and watch, sing some songs, and listen to the preacher and feel like you have done your religious duty. That is not God’s desire for your life. That is not God’s plan for you. God’s plan for you is that you interact with Him through His Word, connect with Him through prayer and through His Spirit indwelling you, and be about the Father’s business. And He has equipped you to do that.
Now look at verse 17. “Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Understand what the Lord’s will is! What does God have planned? What does God want to see accomplished? What does God want to do? “We are His workmanship.” We are designed by God, formed by Him, intricately made by Him, created in Christ Jesus, made in His likeness to be conformed, to be created, to be re-designed in His likeness for good works. In order that we can be effective in doing the Lord’s will in our homes, in our communities, in our churches, in our workplaces, in our schools, with our children, with other people’s children. Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is!
“From Christ the whole body grows and is strengthened in love as each part joins and works together.” As I read through Ephesians, I saw these words coming through the text of Ephesians chapters 1 - 4. Turn back to Ephesians 1:4 and you will see a key phrase that reoccurs throughout Ephesians--“from Christ.” He is our source. He is the one who started all this. He is our source for strength. He is the one who started our walk with Him. He is the one who reached to us. He is the initiator. Verse 4 says, “For he chose,” like picking for a team, He individually chose us in Christ, in Him, before the creation of the world. As the earth was being formed, He knew there was going to be a John, there was going to be a Mary, there was going to be a Tom, there was going to be a Sarah, there was going to be a Katie, there was going to be a Ralph. He knew that and He said, “I am making all this for everyone of these I have chosen.” He had chosen us before the creation of the world. But it does not stop there. It says, “to be holy and blameless in His sight.” No matter what your occupation happens to be at any given time, or you station in life, He has called you to be “holy and without blame in his sight.” In Him!
There is to be something different in your life by knowing Christ. From Christ, because of Him in your life, there is to be something different about you. Chapter two, verse one says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world.” The world has a different set of values, morality, behavior, ethics than our Father does. God calls for change. “As for you, you were dead in his ways and his spirit was not at work in those who are disobedient.” But verse three says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, following these desires and thoughts like the rest. We were by nature objects of wrath.” And God was not pleased. But we were not left to perish in our corruption. Verse four: “Because of His great love for us, God who is rich, who is overflowing, who is abundant in mercy, made us alive.” The word “alive” means “invigorate,” “quicken.” To give life where before there was death. It is the gift of God.
The word that is used in verse 8 of the “gift of God” is the word, the very word that is used of the offering that you are to bring to help the poor, the indigent, the homeless, those in need and that is exactly what God did for us—gave us the gift of life. He came and gave us His grace. He called us to make the most of every opportunity. It says in verse 4:23, “to be made new in the attitude of your minds.” And in verse 5:8 it says, “to live as a child of light, worthy of His calling.” A large part of what it means to be a Christian is to live in such a way that we reflect the character of Christ Jesus our Lord. The quality of our behavior matters! Ephesians 4:17-19: “So I tell you this and insist on it, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of your thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of ignorance that is due them in the hardening of their hearts. And they lost all sensitivity and having given themselves over to sensuality, they indulge in every kind of impurity with continual lust for more.” Have you seen that in the world around you? Have you seen TV channels that demonstrate that? Have you seen things in our society that does reflect that? But the Christian is to stand against it, always clinging to the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Chapter 4, verses 20-24 say: “However, you did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him according to the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught with regard to your former way of life and put off the old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires and being made in attitude of your minds and put on the new self created to be God-like in true righteousness and holiness.” Do you remember where you came from? And have you found yourself dabbling in the old life? Are you letting those old things, the fallen, God-opposing world corrupt your values, draw you into its web, tighten the noose, hold onto you? From Christ the whole body grows. From Christ you have received forgiveness. From Christ you have received the sustaining grace that continually strengthens your life in order that you can live with a new attitude of mind, as a child of spiritual and moral light, worthy of His calling. Remember where you came from so that you can avoid returning to that path! Chapter 5, verse 5, says, “For you once were darkness but now you are light in the Lord so live as children of the light.” Make every opportunity an opportunity to live as a child of the light. We are to let the newness of attitude lead our behavior. We are to live differently. We are to live in accordance with the new life we have received by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
We cannot be doing the things that we are called to do if we are all doing them individually. We are to partner together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As it says, “the whole body.” This is described for us in chapter two, starting in verse 19. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people, members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building,” here it is using a different metaphor describing the whole thing brought together, is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in which “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His spirit.” Togetherness and being partners in a fellowship is not optional in Scripture. It is essential to our spiritual health, individually and as a group.
God says, “I dwell in the praises of my people.” We will be His people and He will be our God. It is plural because we are to dwell together. Spiritual togetherness is miraculous. To see God work in the midst of His people is a blessing. Believing Christians could walk out through the church doors and never go back and you would not lose your salvation, but I can promise you, your spiritual life would go down the tubes. If you do not connect with other believers in fellowship you will drift spiritually. You will lose your sense of morality, lose your sense of truth, lose your encouragement, you will lose your strength and you will find yourself unable to minister effectively for God. Being together is essential for your and my spiritual health and vitality.
The whole body grows and is strengthened in love. Chapter four, down in verse 13, talks about the growing. “Until we all reach the unity and the faith and the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, taking the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Growing is not optional. It is mandated in Scripture. So we are called to make the most of every opportunity to become mature, letting Christ live in us. And it says, “as each part joins and works together.” Each doing his or her part to strength the body. Chapter 4, verse 11: “it is he who gave some.” And the “some” here speaks of individuals. “He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service.” The church of Jesus Christ is made up of individuals with talents and gifts joining together to fulfill the work of the Father, in all holiness and blameless behavior.
We want to see our lives become more like Christ, but it only happens as we serve and follow Him. Serving is the process by which we grow individually. You do not grow by going to church and listening to someone talk. You do not grow by going to church and singing. You grow by taking God’s Word and applying it to your life and letting it come out of your life, positively affecting the lives of others around you. Serving is a process by which you grow. That is why we focus on it so much at Trinity. It is not a plan by the pastor or the servant board to get more work out of people. We are not here to take things out of your life, to take your time, to take your money, to take your energy. We are here to add value to your life by telling you what God says is important, what God says will truly fulfill your heart.
I spent way too much time watching the Bear Jackson Auction. Most of you do not know what I am talking about. A few of you guys do. Bear Jackson is an auction they hold in Scottsdale, AZ. every year where all these hot rods and restored cars are taken and auctioned off for literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes millions of dollars. I am talking about simple, ordinary cars that people used to drive which are not drivable anymore because they are too nice. And I will tell you, they do not fulfill anyone’s heart. Some are buying two or three cars worth a million dollars apiece and looking for something else to buy, looking for something else to fill a gap in their hearts. Being a car guy, I can tell you, cars do not do it. They are fun, but they do not fulfill your heart. Sports can be fun to watch, can be fun to be involved with, be fun to do, but they do not fulfill your heart. Golf is a nice pastime but it passes the time, it does not fulfill your heart. Clothes do not fulfill your heart. Trying to look so wonderful and have the right physique and all these things will not fulfill your heart. Eating right and exercising are good things to do to take care of the body God gave you. Afterall, it is hardly a spiritually healthy thing to do when we abuse our bodies through drugs, excessive food, or lazy inactivity. But eating right and exercising are not ends in themselves. And they will be valuable only during this lifetime. It is in Christ and His ways where we find importance for our activities--fulfillment. He created us to walk with Him, to know who He is, and do what He calls us to do. Make the most of the opportunities you have while you still have the chance.
Help Amid The Storms Of Life
We like to be grown ups and take care of all our needs ourselves and be self-sustaining and not be a needy person, but the bottom line is, we are all broken. We all have gaps and shortcomings and weaknesses and some of those weaknesses and shortcomings cause hurts and problems in the lives of others. Some are sin inspired and some just occur through neglect. Some are wrong and some are just an oversight or inconsideration. Some problems are a result of our own actions and others just seem to crash around our heads for no reason. We are going to talk about finding God’s hope, God’s light, and God’s power amid the storms of life, of realizing that God is with us even amid those storms.
Sometimes we feel like we are the only ones who have problems. We know we are not, but sometimes it feels like it. You are beat up. You are bruised. If you were a melon at the grocery store, I might not pick you. And you certainly would not pick me. Some of us feel like we are a little overripe to really be of much good. Some of us are way too green and people do not want to wait that long for us to develop. And some of us have bugs or bruises in us. But God still loves us.
Look at what He says in Ephesians chapter 1. It says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Grace” means “a gift” and the gift that Paul is speaking about is not the simple daily blessings like rain, sun, trees, and those kind of things. These things are great gifts for if they were to be taken away today our existence would be bleak and colorless, and soon thereafter we would die. But Paul has in mind God’s ultimate gift, the great gift of God Himself to us. Not just to have sunshine, but to have a purpose for living, to be rightly related to the Creator of the universe. “And peace to you from God.” Amid life’s situations we all too often do not have peace. Instead we have panic because we just do not know how it is going to get resolved. “How can we make it through this? And Lord, if we get through this, what is going to come next? Lord, just take me home.” God wants to give us His peace so that we can not only survive but prosper amid the storms of life.
We need to make sure we are turning every blessing that God gives us to praise. Praise means thanking Him and recognizing what He has done for us. We are pretty quick to recognize the physical blessings He gives us. We thank God for our wives, our children, our husbands, our job, and that is good, but we often neglect the most important things that God has given us. That is what Paul reminds us of in Ephesians 1—the things that make an eternal difference, that bring spiritual life and vitality to our physical existences. It says in verse three, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” He has given us, guaranteed us an eternal inheritance. He has promised us there is more to this life than just getting through our daily lives, here and now.
When you go to a funeral next time, look at how nicely dressed the person is. He or she is all dressed up and you ask yourself, “Do they have any place to go?” All dressed up and no place to go. But realize there is more than just this physical life. After physical death there is a place to go. Remember that! Verse 4: “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world.” I love that verse. He chose us. Remember us, those mushy melons. He chose us because He has a plan for us. I remember, about three or four years ago, some ladies took what we thought were worthless, rotted pumpkins and made some of the best pumpkin bread and pumpkin pies I have ever eaten. We thought they were unusable but they chose those ones particularly. God chooses us. He handpicks us. He wants us. Everything that is damaged in us, God can use. I have a leather Bible cover and what stands out so often in beautiful leather products are the scars that are on that product, the cuts that have been healed. They give it character. We are not unusable in God’s hands.
It says in verse five, “having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” To be adopted, do you realize what that means? It is not that He just picked us to come home with Him or to be His servants or friends but He adopted us as ‘sons’ (the inheriting ones--both men and women receive these privileges) with all the rights and privileges that entails. He brought us into His home to live with Him, to spend day in, day out with Him so that He can care for us and so that we can love Him as our heavenly Father.
In Revelation, Jesus addresses seven churches in Asia Minor. One church He addresses is the church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church. The church that is neither hot nor cold, distasteful to the Lord’s taste. To them, the Lord says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. And if any man opens the door, I come into Him, and will live with him and sup with him.” In other words, “I will daily be with him and do the common everyday, ordinary things with him.” That is written to Christians. It is not about unbelievers coming to Christ. It is written to you and me as believers in Christ. He is calling attention to the need for inviting Jesus into your daily life. How many times do you go through a week without picking up your Bible and reflecting on who God is in your life and what He has said to you? How many would like to hear from God this week? Anybody like to have a direct word from God this week? Ok, go to your house and get in that bottom drawer and find that Bible you have. And take a few minutes and read it. This is God’s Word, relevant for us. We want to hear some thunderous voice from heaven, but he had written it down so we can pick it up anytime and reflect on it. “I will come in and sup with him and live with him.” He chose us, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons. Predestined means He planned to bless those who choose His Son before the foundations of the Universe were laid. He knew what you were going to be like and He did it anyway. That is why we call the gospel “good news.”
Verse seven: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Never forget what it cost Him to let you be in His presence, to let you be part of His family. God did not say, “Oh, well, I see Dave over there. Dave is a nice guy. Let him come on in. And Rudy over here. Rudy is nice. Come on in, Rudy. I like Rudy. And Matt, come on.” No! He said, “Dave, I am going to let my Son die for you because I want you in my family. Rudy, Matt, my Son is going to hang on a cross for you because I love you that much and because you have rebelled against me and that is the only price that will pay the debt, the only price that I will accept.” We must never forget what it cost Him. That is what it means when it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He has not left us in the dark to just kind of wonder, “Well, we will go along and see if we are good enough to get into heaven later.” He has revealed it to us. He has told us His plan, made it crystal clear so that we would know how we can get into heaven, how we can have a relationship with Him beyond a shadow of a doubt. He has made it clear so we do not have to wonder and hope that we are good enough, or succumb to self-deception in thinking that we are. That is why He paid the price. But we need to receive it for it to be real in our lives.
We are chosen in Him, predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity to the purpose of His will. Do you catch the love in this? That He is constantly at work for your life? He has a plan for your personal life and I do not know how He does that for Kim and Mary and Pete and Charles all at the same time. He is working out a plan and somehow it is woven wonderfully together.
Verse 13: “...having believed you are marked with Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is in us guaranteeing our inheritance.” Now, what does that mean? God is saying, “I am going to give you a piece of me. I am going to be with you everyday, every minute, all the time, I will be with you giving you what you need. You may not listen to me. You may neglect me. You may defy me. You may deny me, but I am going to be with you. I am going to give you my Holy Spirit to be with you, to guide you, to nudge you, to help you get through the stuff you have to get through. I am going to give you my Holy Spirit to be with you daily because you need the help. You need the help and I care about you.” How many have had a child and seen him or her in need of serious help? You say, “Well, I am going to let him figure that out himself. I don’t care.” That is not our God. He does want us to develop some self-sustenance, but He is not going to let us fall off the wagon because we are not paying attention. He cares about us. Can you see all He has done for you because He loves you? You need to realize that He loves you in spite of your problems.
In the midst of your storm, His love for you is ever stronger. It is the same way mom and dad cares for a sick child. When she has a fever, when the doctor does not know what is wrong, you do not say, “Well, the doctors do not know, I do not know, I guess God, we will just leave her. Might as well set her out on the curb.” No, it is when that sickness, when that illness is there that you are most intensely interested and involved, wanting to heal, wanting to help and that is what God does for us. It goes on in verse 15, “for this reason because of His great love for us, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and of your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” Paul is not saying “thank you” to the Ephesians. He is saying, “Thank you, God, for these people. Thank you Lord for what you are doing.” Paul continues, “I give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious father, to give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation.” He wants us to get to where we start looking for ways to redeem the situation. And when we do this, God’s understanding, wisdom, and revelation become important to us. Do you want that?
He promises if we ask for wisdom, He will give it. When the problem comes we often do not want to do what He says. Instead we say, “What is plan B? Give me another choice.” The command for marriage is for the man to love his wife and for the wife to respect her husband. But all too often we say, “What is plan B? You do not know my husband (or wife).” There is not a plan B for this. That is the command and the Spirit of wisdom says, “If you do not follow my command, if you do not do what I say, then I do not have a plan B for you on that issue. It is the best plan.” One of the old books on marriage says, “Do yourself a favor, love your wife.” If you have the proper attitude toward God’s commands, it might transform some of your relationships. You do what is right no matter the other person’s response. In your mind, your wife does not deserve your love. In your mind, your husband does not deserve your respect, but God calls you to do right anyway. They may not change and your marriage may not get better, and you might say to yourself, “What a waste of time.” But you know what has happened? You have changed. I like the saying, “Every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” You might be at odds with your husband or your wife or your boss or your child or your father or your mother, but do you also want to be at odds with God? God will sow peace and love and graciousness and fullness in your heart if you follow Him and His ways no matter the circumstances. Even though the marriage, the father-son or mother-daughter relationship might still be lousy, if you have done what God has called you to do God will bless and strengthen your heart. Because frankly folks, you cannot control anyone else. You can exert force and manipulation and get a certain response based on fear but when the heart is not with you they will find a way to get out from under your thumb. As a mother or father, you can try to control your child, and you should protect them, but what about when you are not around? They are responsible before God for their part and you are responsible for your part. We are to do the right thing no matter what else happens that God may bless our lives.
“In this world you are always going to have trouble,” Jesus says, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” He promises that He will be with us and be our guide through those things. “I will be with you to see you through the storms of life by lavishing upon you my grace, my peace, my patience, my kindness, my goodness. I will rain down my spirit upon you amid the storms of life.” With the storm comes the rain. And it is the rain that heals the land.
I would like you to reflect on that for just a minute. “Healing Rain.” You do not have to be homeless to not have a home. You can live in a beautiful house and not have a home. You go to an empty building. Oh, a woman lives there and maybe some kids, but it is not a home and you need God’s healing rain to make your house a home again. You do not have to be an alcoholic to be in denial about the things that are going on in your life. Some of us are much more clever than that. We find other ways to be in denial, to satisfy or to numb the pain. You do not have to be a teenager to feel alone in a crowd and like no one cares for you. Michael W. Smith sings a song entitled “Healing Rain.” Notice some of the words.
Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming nearer to this old town.
Rich and poor, weak and strong
It’s bringing mercy, it won’t be long.
Healing rain is coming down
It’s coming closer to the lost and found.
Tears of joy, and tears of shame
Are washed forever in Jesus’ name.
Lift your heads, let us return
To the mercy seat where time began.
And in your eyes, I see the pain
Come soak this dry heart with healing rain.
Healing rain, it comes with fire
So let it fall and take us higher.
Healing rain, I’m not afraid
To be washed in Heaven’s rain.
Can I describe that rain to you? Can I tell you what it looks like? Paul describes it in the next three verses in Ephesians. “I pray that you might have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that you might,” catch this because it is going to surprise you, “know Him better.” We want the answers, we want the solutions to the problem. We want the problem to go away, disappear. Paul tells us that it is about knowing God--who He is, the reality of Him. As it says in Jeremiah 25, “This is what the Lord says. Let not the wise man boast of wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him that boasts boast about this. That he understands and knows me.” Understanding and knowing God is what will rain peace and love to your life. You have a God that cares about you and is invested and involved in your life. He says, “I am the Lord that exercises kindness and justice and righteousness on the earth and in these things I delight.” He smiles about the opportunity to bless your life, to strengthen your life, to bring you into a righteous relationship with Him by the blood of His Son. God gets excited about that with you.
The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is available and God wants to pour it upon your life (v. 19). God wants to work in your life and strengthen you to do the right things, to get through the tough stuff, to do the right things when it is hard, when you do not want to. When it is unfair, God wants you to do the right thing so He can bless your life and bless your relationships. That is His promise.
Some of you need some healing in your life. You look good and you act like everything is ‘ok’ and you do so many of the right things, but there are things that are broken in your life. Some are your fault and some are not your fault. There are things that have happened in your family or to others that you love and care about that are breaking your heart and you need God’s love, God Himself to rain down upon you. You need to know Him better, to know the hope that can sustain your heart during the bad times as well as the good. I invite you to make a stand and say, “Lord, I want more of you in my life and I need your healing rain on my life in these situations and I am willing to stand before others and declare your name. I do not have all my life together and so, Lord, I stand before you and confess that I need your healing rain on my life.”
1 Timothy 3:1-7: Leadership God’s Way
I want to share a short story I heard about 15 years ago that has a powerful message. It is a story of a guy named Leo. Leo was part of a group of pilgrims making a quest for truth. Leo was a simple man and he was a volunteer and he came along as a helper, as a servant, as a porter, if you will, carrying the luggage, gathering firewood, making dinners, pitching the tents. Leo had an easy manner about him. He walked with an effortless gait, not hurried. He never seemed to be in a hurry even though they were on a quest. He never seemed to be rushing to get there. He liked to whistle as he walked and he had a melodic tone that was enjoyable. Everyone seemed to enjoy just spending time with him as they walked day after day on their quest. Sometimes when they were not sure which way to go they would ask Leo and he would guide them. He would tell them which way they should go. But sometimes they got frustrated because when they went his way, they got where they were going but sometimes it seemed like the roundabout way to get there. It would have been a lot faster if they would have gone this way rather than that way. But there was always something interesting on the journey they would not have otherwise experienced.
Finally, they reached their destination. There they entered this city high on a hill with a massive colonnade flanking a white marble meeting hall. As they walked up the many steps up to the meeting hall, Leo walked ahead and grabbed the handle of the massive oak door, pulled it open and ushered them in. The grandeur of that meeting hall was overwhelming. It was so beautiful and so impressive that they did not notice the door closing behind them or that Leo did not come in. The room looks like an arena, like a large theater, with thousands of seats. And seated in this arena are what look like thousands of diplomats. There were people from all nations, nationalities, and cultures there. They looked like diplomats, but with warm smiles and amiable natures that seem unfamiliar for regular government officials. And then there was the sound of trumpets.
The group was ushered to the few remaining seats in the front. As they sat down, the curtains began to part and they saw the glimmering robe of the king. At the very front was a high and wondrous throne, the throne of the king they had come to see. As he came in, he took a seat and the pilgrims looked in amazement as they saw the face of their beloved friend, their water carrier, their luggage bearer, the one who had guided them on the journey, sitting on the throne. Listen to the words of Jesus. “You know that those who are regarded as leaders in the world lord it over them. They love to throw their weight around. High officials wield authority like a club many times. How quickly a little power goes to their heads. So watch yourselves. Do not act that way. Instead, whoever among you desires to really be great must become the servant of all the others. Whoever wants to be first must become a slave to the rest. For even the son of man did not come to be served but to serve and give his very life as a ransom for us.”
Leadership. There have been more books written about leadership in the last 30 years than you can imagine. But leadership in the world is a whole different thing than leading God’s way. Turn to 1 Timothy 3:1-7. I came across a paraphrase of this passage that makes the meaning refreshingly clear. The translation is called The Message. As we look through this passage, I want you to recognize that nowhere does it talk about a leader being a man of vision. It does not talk about team building. It does not talk about delegation. It does not talk about time management or strategic planning.
“An overseer must be well-thought of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a new believer, lest the position go to his head and the Devil trip him up. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into a trap.” This passage is talking about electing overseers or leaders in the church, pastors and/or elders--the spiritual leadership of the church. But these same criteria also apply to everyone else involved in serving in the church.
The same goes for those who want to be servants in the church: “…serious, not deceitful, not too free with the bottle, not in it for what they can get out of it. They must be reverent before the mystery of the faith, not using their position to try to run things. Let them prove themselves first. If they show they can do it, take them on.” No exceptions are to be made for women—same qualifications: “…serious, dependable, not sharp-tongued, not overfond of wine. Servants in the church are to be committed to their spouses, attentive to their own children, and diligent in looking after their own affairs. Those who do this servant work will come to be highly respected, a real credit to this Jesus-faith.”
As we look at this passage, I want you to look at it not as a way to look at others and criticize them, but to measure yourself. No one completely measures up to this standard because it is God’s standard and vision. I say at this point that I fail as a pastor in so many ways. And Katie will tell you, well, she will not tell you but she could tell you that I do not live up to what I preach. I strive to be a better husband and I need to do a better job. I strive to be a better father, still. I strive to be a better man of God. I am here to preach God’s standard and God’s standard is higher than any of us. It is higher than me. I am stretching to reach it, continually. My heart has been broken as I went over this passage because I see gaps in my own life that need to be shored up. I hope your heart will be broken the same way. Broken with the hope and with the knowledge that God’s grace stands ready to make up the difference, to pick you up when you have fallen, to show you the way, to put the wind in your sails, to take you to another level. You can say, “Well, pastor, I am not a leader, I do not want to be.” What Paul says in this passage applies to your life, nonetheless. This is not simply about leaders in the church. This is about being the kind of man or woman God wants you to be. Unless you are a hermit living on the top of the Rocky Mountains, you have people around you and you are having influence on them. If you are a father, you are called by God to be the leader in your home and you are to exhibit these qualities. If you are a woman you are called to exhibit these qualities no matter what you do. Men and women of God are to exhibit these qualities no matter their walk in life. To do anything less, would be to put a stamp of approval on wrong doing, on a less than godly character.
Rather than going through twelve leadership characteristics in this passage, I have done that in the past and I have gotten the comment back that it is like trying to drink from a fire hose, I have taken these twelve qualities and combined them to give you the total flavor of what Paul is telling a leader to be. I will give you four characteristics I think will be easier to remember. What characterizes God’s leaders? First, after reading this whole passage the overall tone is that leaders are servants. That is in total contrast to the world’s view of leaders who are on top of, looking down on, manipulating, using, developing. God’s leaders are servants. They are called servants three times in this passage. In 2 Timothy and in Titus Paul again talks about leaders being servants. Jesus tells His disciples that in order to be considered great, they must become the servant of others. Which was directly opposite of what thy thought.
First Timothy 3:1-7 starts off talking about overseers. The King James Version uses the word bishops. That sounds very regal and royal, doesn’t it? Bishops! But that is not the intent of the passage. The word for bishops here is “episcopus”, kind of like “Episcopal.” “Epi” “scopus.” “Epi” means looking over, or being above something purveying, looking. Those who are overseers are scoping out what is going on, watching over what is happening. It does not mean controlling, manipulating, bossing, or forcing. As God’s leaders, you cannot be a boss. It does not work. You lead sheep. You drive cattle. God calls His children sheep. And if sheep trust the shepherd they go where he leads. You cannot legislate morality. Nor can you legislate godliness. You can only hold it out and inspire. You can nudge and influence but it is something people have to adopt for themselves. God does not want a church full of robots. The bride of Christ, the real universal church, includes all those who have surrendered their hearts to Jesus. Church leadership’s goal is to inspire them to walk with God not simply walk in light of His teachings. God’s leaders are servants who understand that sin and rebellion do not yield to force but must be graced-away by love and respect. Church discipline is sometimes required but without forgiveness and grace it will not work.
Secondly, God’s leaders are disciplined to do the right things. This is the first thing you think of when you read this passage. The list of all the “got tos” and the “better nots.” They are all here. Leaders are called to be respected, sincere, temperate, diligent, self-controlled, sober, not violent but gentle, not a brawler, not quarrelsome. It may be difficult to remember the definitions of all these words but you will remember you have to do the right thing in each situation. When the leader says something the wrong way and someone does something that is not quite right, you know it right away. You do not have to have the definition for it. You do not have to have the checklist. Your heart recognizes it is not right. A leader, God’s way, has to discipline his mind, heart, actions, and priorities by God’s standards. Do you strive to keep your thoughts, your emotions, your actions and your priorities under God’s control? Is that the measuring status that you use, the measuring stick that you hold up to your life? God’s standard is the standard that we are given for our health and overall well-being. Do not compare yourself to me. Do not compare yourself to your next door neighbor. Do not compare yourself to someone on tv. Do not compare yourself to your wife or your husband. Compare yourself to Jesus!
Juan Cardenias shared a story about how he grew up in Miami and when he was ten years old he used to go into a little corner convenience store and steal stuff. Not a lot of stuff, you know, baseball cards, small stuff. And last time he was in Miami he was driving through his old neighborhood and he saw this store and the guilt washed over him. He thought to himself, “It does not matter. It was a long time ago. The owner is probably not even there.” And he continued to drive by. But his spirit would not let him go. He turned around and parked in front of the store. He was thinking, “I do not want to do this.” He went in and asked for the owner. Amazingly, the original owner comes out. Juan said, “Sir, when I was a child I used to come to this store all the time and it is amazing how things really have not changed very much. But I stole some stuff, you know, cards, candy, not a lot but ten dollars should about cover it. I am sorry.” And the owner turned around and ran to the back of the store. Juan was afraid he was going to get arrested or something. And he brought out his wife, the clerk, and his son and said, “Tell them, tell them again.” Juan was able to share his testimony of how God has made a difference in his life. It only cost him ten dollars. But what a difference it made in his spirit and as God orchestrated that meeting it is making a difference in that man and his family. And that is the way God does things. If God puts something like that on your heart, go for it. Be disciplined enough to follow God’s spirit on your heart. Do you strive to keep your thoughts, emotions, and priorities under God’s control?
Thirdly, God’s leaders are responsive to the needs of others. Do your actions and your attitudes reflect faithful devotion to your wife/husband, children, and church? Has your faithful devotion to them built into their lives characteristics of godliness and health that will guide and strengthen them? Fathers, how important are your children? Think about this. How many Saturdays do you have with your children before they leave? If your child is seven years old, you have about 500 Saturdays until you can kiss them good-by. Five hundred is not a lot because by the time they are 17, they will not be spending a lot of time with mom and dad. They have their license, they do not want to play with dad, they do not want to spend time with dad, they want to be off on their own. And all those days of doing your own thing on Saturdays are lost. If you cannot have time for yourself on Saturday, make sure you have time for your kids. Do not let them be furniture that you move around once in a while when you want a change. The same goes for your life partner. Spend time together. Get to know each other. Care about each other.
Finally, God’s leaders treasure people. As Leo wandered through that trail, he knew that getting to the end was not the main purpose. Getting to the end was not the main goal. But going through the journey with each another and building relationships are what matter most. God’s leaders treasure people. Our goal at Trinity is not to build a big church. It is to build big people, to add value and strength to lives. We want to add value to lives. Add God’s Word. Add the strength and power of God’s spirit into lives. God’s leaders treasure people, not power. Do you value possessions more than people? Do you value prestige more than people? “Oh, I want people to look up to me and think I am really good.” Do you want to create an image, to make an impression or do you truly want to make a positive, godly impact?
If you are faithfully devoted to your wife, your children, your church, and your Lord, you not only develop good character and good relationships but you miss out on a whole lot of pain and suffering. If you are a servant, you get the reward of being like Jesus and sensing His smile on your life. You will enter that great hall and look up and see the king of kings and He will meet your eye and you will say, “We did it together in this place.”
Listen to the words of Jesus. Jesus got up and took off his robe and wrapped a towel around His waist. He picked up a basin full of water, knelt down, and washed the disciple’s feet, even the disciple that was to betray Him that night and dried them with the towel around His waist. Then he came back and sat with them and said, “You see what I have done. Now you do this for one another.” Serve one another. When Leo’s message was over, when he declared truth to people in that great hall, he prayed and stepped down and walked past the pilgrims and the diplomats and went to the back table and started pouring glasses of water for the thirsty crew. Our Savior and King is a servant. Will you be one of those to take the glass Jesus has filled to someone else? You will get the opportunity to pass it on, will you take it?
2 Timothy 2:1-7: Be Strong in the Grace in Christ
Turn to 2 Timothy. Servants for Christ must have the grace of Christ in them in order to touch lives for Christ. As your pastor, I have to be in touch, moment by moment with the grace of Christ to do what God wants me to do. Paul says, “You then my son be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Does that not sound like a dad talking to his kid? “Be strong, boy. Get out there. You can do it.” Encouraging. It reminds me of God talking to Joshua after Moses’ death when Joshua had to take over, “Be strong.” Men, you need to recognize that God is saying that to you. “Be strong.” Joshua is between 70 and 80 years old. Men, you think you are too old to take on new adventures, to step out in faith for Him? Joshua is 70 to 80 years old and look what he had to do. It was a challenging situation, but God proved Himself sufficient to accomplish the task. God says, “You are just my soldier. I have things under control. Be strong.” Joshua and Timothy both felt inadequate for the task. It is not, “Timothy, buck up and be strong. Come on, be a man. Grow up. Do not cry. Stop your whining.” It says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” It is not you being strong. It is a matter of letting the strength that is in Christ come into your life to sustain you and strengthen you to do the things that need to be done. Grace is not simply being gracious or nice to people. Grace is a gift of God. It is God giving you what you do not already have—spiritual wisdom, spiritual discernment, spiritual power—to do the work He has called you to do. Let the grace of God be with you!
Paul learned that the grace of God is sufficient. He is the one who says, “I have a major problem, folks. And I have asked God to take it away numerous times and He has not. But He gave me this word I tell you. Jesus said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness.’” If Paul was a superman, we would be hopeless because I do not know about you, but I am not a superman. But Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness. I have hope because I have some weaknesses and there are some things that God needs to do that I cannot do, that I am incapable of doing. And I would just give up if God is not capable, if I had not seen Him step in and do what I cannot do. Quite frankly, folks, that is why I am in ministry. I was raised to be capable of doing all kinds of things for myself. But I do not want to be in a world where it is just about how much I can do. I want to know there is a real God and there is something beyond this world than just my accomplishments and capabilities. I want to know there is a God who is real and alive and can do things that I cannot do. And I think you do too, to think it is not just about mankind and life and the difference we can make. But the difference God can make.
Then he says in verse two, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will be qualified to teach others.” Paul is saying, “Timothy, you cannot do it yourself. Multiply yourself in others. Share the teaching and the truths of who God is and how He works and what He has called us to focus on. Timothy, you will burn yourself out if you have to do it yourself. Get help!”
Verse three: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Endure hardship. For many of us this week has been extremely hard. It has been laced with tremendous emotion. And it should be because the Bible describes our life, our Christian walk as a battle, not as a cake walk, not as a parade, but as a battle. There is spiritual warfare going on. The evil one and the world itself will try to pull you away from a relationship with Christ and dependence upon Him. And God will let those terrible things come into our lives so that we will reach to Him because He wants it to be about Him and us together and us seeing the need for His grace. The good news is that it says “as a soldier.” It does not call Timothy a general, a general of many troops. It says, “as a good soldier.” The foot soldiers, the ones with mud on their boots who are hiding in the trenches and carrying the backpacks, are the ones doing battle with the enemy.
Lance Armstrong said, “Pain is temporary. It may feel like it is going to last forever, but pain is temporary. But quitting lasts forever.” Achievements that we make because we endure the hardships in Christ’s strength last forever. We will remember all the hardships we endured together and say, “That was a tough period. That was a hard thing to go through, but wasn’t God great?” And instead of just seeing it from our terrestrial point of view we see it the way God sees it. We will see all the things He put into place, the things He has done without us even knowing it. We will recognize Him as our ‘General’, guiding circumstances from behind the scenes.
Verse four: “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs. He wants to please his commanding officer.” It is easy to get sidetracked. It is easy to find nicer things to focus on, to just let someone else deal with the problem and hope it will go away. Do not get sidetracked. Focus on the battle. God does not mind you having some shore leave. He has designed for us to enjoy some great things in life. He has given us all good things, so many good things to enjoy. Do not feel guilty about enjoying some of the things He has placed in this world for our enjoyment. Pleasure is not necessarily a sin. Taking pleasure in wholesome things is allowable because they will not draw you away from those you love, corrupt you, or ruin your relationship with God. Every illicit ‘pleasurable’ thing forbidden in the Bible will do just these things. But, unfortunately, our sin nature still insists in disobeying God and reinterpreting the situation through the lens of selfishness. God gave us the Sabbath and put it in His commandments alongside murder and adultery. He says, “You must take time in your life to enjoy it and reflect on who I am. Stop your scurrying and your project focus for a bit and build relationships.”
Verse five: “And similar, if anyone competes as an athlete he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” Do not take shortcuts. Do not take shortcuts in your walk with God, in your ethics. Do not think that it does not matter what you say or the tone in which you say it or the words you use to say something. They do matter. The things you say and the things you do matter!
And then verse six, which I was puzzled with at first. It says, “For the hard-working farmer should be the first to receive his share of the crops.” That makes sense. I understand it. But why is he telling this to Timothy? He wants Timothy to know that the things he does right, the endurance he exhibits, the righteousness that becomes ingrained in him by not taking shortcuts will bear fruit in his life. You and I benefit by living godly lives here and now. All the benefits are not set aside for us in eternity. First, it molds us to be more like the One we admire most, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then it protects us from all the negatives that follow sinful behavior. We have to understand what God’s truth says and then call upon His grace for forgiveness for falling short and for the ability to live up to it. God commands and says the things He does because He wants the best for us. We pursue the best for us if we listen to Him!
And then verse seven: “Reflect on what I am saying for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” Are you in your life committed to growing stronger in His grace? Are you facing some situation you do not like? His grace is sufficient to hold you up to get through it, to give you wisdom, to give you strength, to give you patience, to give you understanding. He is sufficient, call upon Him, look to Him. We have been talking seriously about the necessity of righteous living. Without it the Christian’s life becomes of no effect. It is the first thing the Christian needs to add to his or her saving faith (2 Peter 1:5-10). He is sufficient for you. He has good plans and hopes for your life. He is sufficient for this church. He is alive and well and working through His Word in my heart and He wants to do the same in your heart, as well. He will do that if you let Him.
2 Timothy 3:14-17: Why Bother with the Bible?
Having a Bible causes all kinds of problems for the religious elite. It always has. Remember Martin Luther? Everything was going along splendidly for the powerful Catholic religious leaders until Luther asked, “Well, what does the Bible say?” That caused all kinds of problems and dissension with those who thought it was their job to tell all those beneath them what to do and what to think. People were forbidden to read the Bible for themselves. Are you aware that the initial energy for public education and for teaching reading to students in this country came from Protestants who wanted as many people as possible to read the Bible for themselves? It is not to be an instrument of power meant for only an elite few. God intended that every man, woman, and child capable of reading read His Word for themselves and relate to Him on a personal basis. Of course, He also gave the church apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers to guide and educate so that there is not complete chaos, as in the day of the Old Testament Judges where every man did as he pleased in his own mind (Judges 21:25).
Are you beginning to sense the importance that the Bible is intended to play in your life? What it would be like not to have Scripture? I have taken you back about 400 years when believers did not have the Bible to refer to. They had to rely upon the experts. They had to be told what to do, what to think. And God saw fit to break through all that and give us His Word. As a pastor, I think most of you trust me to tell you what is right, what is wrong and to do it in right and helpful ways. And I appreciate your trust. But that raises the question, “Why do I need to bring my Bible to church if pastor is going to tell me what it says anyway? Why do I have to read it for myself?”
I want to ask the question, “Why bother with the Bible?” It is disappointing that after Luther and those who came after him fought so hard for the right to read the Bible for themselves, that the average Christian reads the TV Guide more than he or she reads the Bible. So, why should you study the Bible on your own? I mean, what if you come up with something weird or something wrong? Why should you bother bringing your Bible to church if your pastor is going to talk about it anyway? The Bible is God’s Word. This church is built on that foundation. That is why we do everything that we do. That is why we have Sunday School for kids, ABFs for adults, Awana on Wednesday night for children. That is why we have ClubMid when kids get older so we can explain and teach them the truths of God’s Word in a language they understand. That is why we go to Guatemala. We go not simply for humanitarian needs, but to share the truth of God’s love and ways with people whom He wants to know personally.
Look at 2 Timothy chapter 3:14-17. “But as for you, Timothy, continue in what you have learned and have been convinced of because you know those from whom you have learned it.” Paul is telling Timothy, “Remember, I have taught you. Your mother and your grandmother have built the Scriptures into your life from an early age. Remember those things because they will make a difference for you.” Paul continues: “And how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and training in righteousness so that the man [or woman] of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As Hebrews declares, “God’s Word is alive” because God’s spirit wields it like a “double-edge sword” penetrating to the very core of our being. He knows our innermost thoughts and desires and wants to conformed us to the image of Christ. The Word of God is alive. It is not simply ink on a page, but God breathes life into it. His Spirit wants to speak to your heart as your read its words, as you think on them, as you study them, as you try to consider what it means. It is not given just to inform and tell us information but to make a difference in the way we think and behave. That is called “transformation.” God’s Word cuts through to expose us for who we really are so that we know where we need to continue to grow.
God’s Word is also healing, like the surgeon’s scalpel that will cut in to remove the cancer that if left untreated will destroy our lives. Your Bible tells you the truth about God, about yourselves, about life, about sin, about God’s grace. He has given us His Word as a revelation of who He is so we do not have to imagine and try to figure it out on our own. There are some things about God that only His self-revelation could teach us. The Bible is not simply a compilation of interesting stores that God has carefully put together for our entertainment but He has carefully selected specific people, specific places, specific situations to teach us His perspective on life. The Bible reveals God’s character, His heart, His passion, His justice, His grace. And God did it on purpose.
Second Peter tells us that men spoke as they were carried along by God. That as men wrote the Scriptures it was not simply their words but God “moved” them along. The word that is used here is the same word that is used for blowing into a sail, for a wind pushing a sailboat along. God moved them so that through their personalities, through their word choices, God would get them to say, get them to come to the conclusion, get us to understand who He is. God moved them to give us His Word. The Bible is God’s story about Himself and us in this world.
What are the key applications? If you want to know God more, from God’s Word, what do you do? You have to study His story. It does not say “read the Bible.” Our theme verse for Awana is not “read to show yourself approved.” It says, “study to show yourself approved.” The word “study” is a word that means “diligently look into and examine.” Ask questions as you read. “What is this verse trying to teach me about God? What do I need to know? What do I need to do? How do I need to respond to this verse? What is this verse all about?” God wants you to study His Word beyond just reading interesting stories. He wants us to inquire into how those stories relate to our lives and what they can teach us in our day and age. The first key application is self-examination. We are to hold ourselves up against the mirror of God’s Word and change ourselves accordingly.
The second key application is that we will live wisely. Look at verse 16. It says, “All scripture is God-breathed.” Remember when God created man out of the dust of the earth and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life? God uses His Word to breath new life into our hearts. It says, “…to teach, to rebuke, to correct, to train.” God’s Word is designed to prepare us for life, so that we will know how to act and respond to life’s situations. “Teaching” means to help us understand how life works. You go to school and a teacher teaches you what things add up to what, how to do certain things, how to spell certain words, what countries are next to other countries. A good education gives you a perspective of your place in the world. God’s Word teaches us about God and His perspective on life. “Rebuking” sounds harsh but it simply means confronting the wrong ideas we have about life and the misconceptions and distortions we have about God. For example, how do you measure success in life? When you think of someone successful, whom do you think of? Most of us, many times, the first thing our minds go to someone who has lots of money or who has achieved a lot or who has done a lot in their lives. That is not God’s perspective or concept of success in life. That is a misconception that needs to be rebuked. Say, “No, that is not how I am going to measure success.” Success in life is defined as someone who is faithful to Him and His ways regardless of money, regardless of position, regardless of recognition. Faith that purifies and faithfulness to Him are the measures of success. And it says “correcting.” This means to change our behavior, to make us straight. God’s Word is there to correct us and get us on the pathway to righteousness. And finally, “training in righteousness.” Training means practice, let the teaching you have absorbed flow out of your life. Most of us do not like that. Teaching is easy. Training is hard. You sit there and you absorb and you write down notes and say, “Ok, I understand that.” Training means you have to take it and do something with it. God’s Word is designed to train us in righteousness. We are to not only to know the right thing, but to do the right thing.
What is the key action if I want to live wisely? It comes down to a word that most of you do not like. The word is “obey.” If you raise kids, you know the importance of that word because what you want them to learn, what they need to know, what they need to do is found through obedience to right principles and guidance. But until they choose to obey, they cannot be trusted, given freedoms, or given the privileges that come with responsibility. The same is true with us. You cannot move on to the next thing you need to learn unless you obey what you already know. God’s directions are given to us for health and spiritual blessing. They are not a curse upon sinners. Surrender and let God be God in your life!
The third, and final, key application is so that we can serve faithfully. Verse 17: “…so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Word of God is given to us to make us complete, to help us to be ready to do everything that God wants us to do. We need to get beyond ourselves and realize we are not islands. We have been brought together in a society and we are to be God’s representatives, to be God’s hands and feet in this present world. How do we learn to serve faithfully? He has given us teaching, correction, rebuke, and training in righteousness so that we will be effective in using what He has given to us. The blessings and abilities that He has given to you and me are not only for us. They are to be shared with others. As God said to Abraham, “I will bless you and I will make you a blessing.” Are you using what God has invested in you and the gifts He has given to you simply to make your life better or are you being God’s hands and feet in this fallen world?
We have the privilege of having God’s Word. We have the privilege of opening it and looking at it. And we take it for granted. You say, “Well, I have a hard time reading, pastor.” Read small portions. It is not a matter of how much but how open your heart is to letting God’s spirit shape and mold you. Will you let God have His way in your life? If you do not have a Bible, go get one. Let God speak to you through His Word. That is why we look at it. That is why we open it up. Pastors and churches will come and go, but God’s Word will remain with you. God’s Word remains consistently trustworthy. Let God guide and protect your life. Open the Bible and study it for yourself. Get to know its Author!