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09-24 - Having a D

          Today, I would like us to talk about the Christian Church and what it should mean to each of us.  At least once a year, I do a few sermons about church.  Why do we need to talk about church?  We need to talk about church because church is a creation of God for the betterment of humanity.  There are only three human institutions created by God.  The first institution created by God was marriage.  Genesis 2:24-25 says to us, “24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24-25).  The second institution was governance.  After the days of Noah and the flood, we begin to see in Genesis 10, the emergence of nations.  The concept of human governance, human law, is that government is a force that can restrain evil.  Finally, we come to the third institution established by God and that is the church. Church is the only New Testament institution and church is foundational to the ongoing work of Jesus Christ.  The Church is intended to cut across all lines of governance because the church is universal and was created for us that through the church the living presence of Jesus Christ could be seen by all.

          Unfortunately, in our modern era, we have come to use the word church in several ways that were not intended.  We refer to church as a building, a physical structure.  We also refer to church as an activity, a time in which we gather for worship, song, prayer, and proclaiming God’s word.  Still further, we refer to church as an organization, an institution that makes decisions.  But the proper context for the word church given to us in the New Testament comes from the Greek word, ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, which means any collection of people who have received salvation through Jesus Christ. The church is a group of saved people.

          And so, one of the things we discover and should keep in mind always is that church, a collection of people who have received salvation through Jesus Christ, is a supernatural creation.  Jesus taught that all who would believe in Him must be born again, not of natural descent, but of God.  In short, all believers are born a second time and in the second birth they are born as children of God.  It does not matter where you were physically born, the United States, Brazil, Ghana, Portugal, Dominic Republic, Pakistan, France, on and on, for when we are born again our identity becomes brother and sister to other believers.  It does not matter what color our skin we share because we all have one father, God.

          Jesus expressed this coming together of different people groups into one identity and one destiny this way, “16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).  Jesus established that harmony by whatever metric anyone wanted to measure people should exist in His church through obedience to Him.  Economically, racially, by sex, by education, occupation, age, and national origin did not matter because believers become part of a single group called ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church. Think about it this way.  Someone says to you, “Hey are you going to church on Sunday?”  You could say, “No, I am going to do something supernatural by being the church.”

          Now having established church, this supernaturally created collection of believers in Jesus Christ, Jesus commanded, he did not suggest, he commanded that believers maintain the harmony he created and that they do so through love.  And that showing love to one another, keeping the harmony of the ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, church, would evidence to those inside and outside the church that Christ lived within them.  “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34b-35).

          We saw how this supernatural creation began with our Scripture reading today from the Book of Acts. “42 They {The church] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47). 

We probably have all heard a sermon or two or three from this passage about the early church because there is so much evidence of harmony and love.  Pastors like to preach on Acts 2:42-47 because the Scripture paints a picture of what we long for across the entire Christian community.  The scene shows the greatest evidence of the love of Christ being expressed within the ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church.

          But.  There is always a but with which to contend.  But that harmony of the early church was short lived because before long conflict came into the church.  Just four chapters later in Acts, the church was found be be in conflict.  Now I am not sure of the elapse time between Acts 2 and Acts 6 but I am guessing that there is not a lot of time between Acts 2 and Acts 6.  That harmonious picture in Acts 2 now showed in Acts 6 an ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church in conflict.

          As a rule, we are raised to believe that conflict is inherently bad and should be avoided.  Today, we have some powerful tools to avoid conflict, not in healthy ways, but people use these techniques to avoid conflict. If someone says something that we do not like and they create a conflict within us or in our relationship with that person, we can unfriend them on social media.  We can block their text messages and phone calls.  We can cancel them out of our lives.  Relationships suffer.  And when, not if, that happens within the church, then we can see that the image of Christ suffers. 

It is, however, through conflict that we learn and grow.  Think about it this way.  You make plans to meet someone.  They say to you, “I will meet you in one hour at the corner of Spring Road and Russell Road in Quaker Springs, New York.” I suspect every one of us would be in conflict because it is unlikely that we know where that person intends for us to meet them or even if we could get there in one hour.  To resolve this conflict, we must learn something. We must ask for directions from someone or put that address in our trusty GPS app.  Conflict precedes all learning.  Unless we have a conflict, we can never experience an “Aha” moment.

          So then, we ought to look for a conflict in the early church and see what they learned and we might learn from them.  From Chapter 6 of the Book of Acts we find a conflict as we read, “The Hellenistic Jews among them [the church] complained [evidence of conflict] against the Hebraic Jews because their [Hellenistic] widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food [that is a conflict]” (Acts 6:1b).  That marvelous sharing of food with those in need we read about in Chapter 2 of Acts had come to an end by the beginning of Chapter 6 of Acts.  A serious problem had developed.  A racial division had occurred within the church expressed in the distribution of food to the Hebrew (Jewish) born Christians and the Hellenistic (Greek) born Christians.  That is a disturbing situation but one of the things I like about this passage is that rather than ignore the problem or pretend it did not happen, the church admitted to the problem, in writing!  Luke wrote down that the church of harmony in Christ had a racial problem.  We also see that that it does not say the Hellenistic Jews having been neglected immediately left the church never to return. Not at all.  The Hellenistic Jews stayed and complained.

          What did the church then do with this conflict?  The first corrective step was the leadership of the church acted. “2 So the Twelve (Apostles) gathered all the disciples together” (Acts 6:2).  The leadership of the church understood a racial divide would damage the mission of the church.  The Apostles understood that disharmony was a sign of disobedience to Christ’s call to love one another.  The Apostles said, “2 It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God to wait on tables. 3 Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. 5 This proposal pleased the whole group” (Acts 6:2-5).  A specific plan was developed with responsibility for that plan to be completed by the church so that the focus of the church on preaching the word of God did not suffer while harmony was being restored.  Scripture says the plan pleased all, suggesting restoration of harmony was beginning.

          What did the church do next?  Scripture says, “They [the church] chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism” (Acts 6:5b).  This is one of those passages in Scripture that we read and might be inclined to say, “Oh, that’s nice that the writer of the Book of Acts included the names of the people chosen to address the issues with food distribution.”  But if we look a little deeper at the list of names, we discover those chosen by the church to resolve the lack of food distribution to the Greek widows were all Greek.  Stephen - Greek origin meaning “crown” or “garland.”  Procorus - Greek origin meaning "leader of the dance."  Nicanor - Greek origin meaning “people of victory.” Timon - Greek origin meaning "reward, honor.”  Parmenas - Greek meaning "stable; firm."  Nicolas - Greek origin also meaning “the victory of the people."

          The men selected by the church, all Greek, were charged with equitable food distribution to the Hellenistic (Greek) and Hebraic (Hebrew) widows.  The willingness of the church to make the Greeks, who had been marginalized, the overseers of the food distribution showed racial harmony requires observable mutual trust.  The supernatural church had returned to its origins and demonstrated that it could trust its own members to correct abuse within the church lovingly and without fear of retaliation. 

          What was the result of harmony restored? Scripture says, “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly” (Acts. 6:7a).  The church that had struggled with its own conflict gathered strength once the disharmony had been publicly acknowledged and dealt with by the church prayerfully and graciously.

          So, what does this story teach us today.  I think there are four things we want to take away from this story.

          First, to be a Christian, to claim Christ, is to also claim you have been born again in a supernatural way because the Holy Spirit of Christ now lives within you.  To be born again, you must first die to your old life.  Your physical birth origin has been replaced by your spiritual birth origin. Your identity and destiny are the same as one believer to another.  You and I, having been created supernaturally, now have countless brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should celebrate this new birth every day because having Christ in us makes us supernaturally different from those of the world.  Thank God we are saved!

          Second, to be a Christian, to claim Christ, is to also claim that you will follow Jesus.  One of the things Jesus said is that you and I should live our lives as part of the ekklēsia, ek-klay-see'-ah, ἐκκλησία, or church.  Why?  Because the church is the visible body of Jesus Christ today.  Now that is an exciting thought - that together our actions present Jesus to those who do not know Him.  And that is a frightening thought that - together our actions present Jesus to those who do not know Him.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this [by the way you love one another within the church] everyone [those in the church and outside the church] will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34b-35).  We must act in such a way as to love one another.  And we cannot do that unless we are part of the visible active church.  We cannot live out the Christian life at home, sequestered from everyone else.  We must interact with the church in some way so that the church can be seen for what it is, a supernatural, God created organism.

          The third thing we can take away from Scripture today is that there will be failures in loving one another as Jesus loves us.  But here is the thing.  When disharmony arose in the early church, no one left their faith or the church and no one canceled another person.  I read this post the other day, “McDonald’s can mess your order up 100 times and you still keep going back…One thing goes wrong at church, and you quit!”  Things will go wrong in church and there will be conflicts.  But it is those moments of conflict that help us to learn and change and become more like Christ.  We must not quit.

          Finally, maintaining harmony, today the story was about racial harmony, was and is essential to the Christian witness.  Disharmony in the church must be identified, publicly acknowledged, addressed by leadership, require involvement of the church, and result in specific actions that empower and make those marginalized central to the restoration of trust and harmony.  God has shown that to us.  And what is the result when we act like Jesus and restore harmony to His church?  The number of disciples will grow rapidly.

          So, let’s be supernatural as believers and as a church.  Let us love one another so that Jesus will be seen properly and be a source of encouragement to those in the church and to those who do not know Him. If there is a conflict, be willing to point it out so it can be dealt with and that we can grow through it. Don’t ever quit church – you will become smaller if you do and the image of Christ in this world will become harder for others to see.  Follow Jesus faithfully as you participate fully in His church.  Amen and Amen.

09-03 - Salvation


  Last week, we spoke about the imagery of the 23rd Psalm.  We observed that the psalmist began the psalm by speaking about God as though the psalmist had only heard about God. Later, the psalmist spoke to God only, this time as though he had seen God and all that God had done.  The change for the psalmist’s life came about in verse 4, as the psalmist witness something in the valley of the shadow of death. “4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

          We discussed that in the valley of the shadow of death, the psalmist life was changed a crucifixion the psalmist described in Psalm 22.  In that psalm, the psalmist foresaw and experienced the death of a man anointed by God.  As the psalmist emerged from that valley with an understanding of the death of God’s anointed one, the psalmist foresaw that that death gave rise to the psalmist’s own salvation by God.  And the psalmist described salvation in the way, “5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:5-6). 

When we read the Old Testament and its prophesies, we can see the prophesies as we might when we are traveling across some expanse, and we see mountains in a distance.  We see them, we can describe them in general terms, and give some sense of how the mountains make us feel.  And yet as we travel on and on we come to realize the mountains are a long way off and are more grand with much more character and shape than we imagined from a distance.  This is the experience of the psalmist.  He is describing the salvation promised by God in the best terms he is able to do as he surveys God’s ultimate work from a distance.  In this case, the psalmist has been in the valley of the shadow of death and foresaw the death Jesus Christ.  A death that would change the psalmist because through that death the psalmist came to realize that he would be cleansed of all unrighteousness, cleansed of all sin.

          This is what we spoke about last week.  This week I would like us to talk a bit deeper about the picture of salvation painted by the psalmist and witnessed in the New Testament.  What is salvation?  What do we mean when we say, “I am a Christian saved by Jesus.”  For whom is this salvation and, if I claim this salvation, how should that be seen in my life?

          First, what is salvation? The simplest definition of salvation is that salvation is a rescue of someone from destruction.  We might think of salvation as rescuing a drowning person. Allow me to illustrate.  About 35 years ago, I was at a party a co-worker’s house.  Some folks from the party were in the house, while others were in the backyard.  My co-worker’s three-year-old daughter came out of the house.  No one paid much attention to her.  A few moments later, I had a small splash coming from the direction of the inground pool. I turned and did not see anything but decided to look closer in the pool.  When I did I observed the three year on the bottom of the pool, trapped by the weight of the water over her head.  I jumped into the pool and pull her up from the bottom of the pool and carried her to the safety of the yard.  In one context, this little girl had been saved and we might think of salvation in that way.  But there is an essential element missing from this story of being saved that makes it different from salvation.  Someone who is saved from drowning will happily return to living life in the same manner as they did before they were saved.  They will do the same things, speak the same way, and think the same thoughts.  But a person who has been spiritually saved is different from a drowning person. First, to be saved spiritually is an act in which God is the rescuer who brings the person being saved from the great dangers of sin.  For sin harms the body and kills the soul of the sinner.  Sin robs the sinner of a life they had and robs them of the life, including the eternal life, they could have experienced.  A person saved by God no longer desires to return to their old way of thinking, speaking, and acting.  If you, are saved, your salvation from God and you are changed within and forever. To be saved is a joyful and freeing experience. 

The psalmist began to express this new life, this new understanding of being rescued by God this way, “5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5a).  The psalmist was speaking here in the present, in the now, not in the future.  In the present, the psalmist came to understand that psalmist was now different because of the work done by God in the valley.  The psalmist who had accepted God was a friend of God and God bless the psalmist life, here expressed as a table, a banquet for the psalmist.  There is much joy in having a banquet provided in your honor.  That is what the psalmist was trying to share with his readers, with us that salvation is a time of celebration.  If we have been saved, we should celebrate every day as a day of grace in God’s presence.

The second thing the psalmist came to understand was although there was a banquet for him, the psalmist had enemies.  Who are these enemies?  This is the psalmist way of expressing that there will be those accept God and become God’s friends and there are those who defy God, who have chosen not to receive the blessing God has offered the psalmist and become or appear like enemies of God. Those who defy God cannot participate in the banquet provided for those who accepted the salvation from God.  The enemies are those who have rejected God’s invitation, either quietly or openly, and they are opposed to God.  They will stand outside God’s presence and outside the presence of the believer.

          Jesus would later explain this point of being outside God’s salvation in a parable.  Jesus spoke about a king who hosted a wedding banquet for his son. The king invited everyone from the highest to the lowest in the land.  But only the humble people came at the king’s invitation.  The arrogant and proud stayed away from the wedding banquet. When the wedding hall was full of people, “The king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He [The King] asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).  The message is clear.  We must come into the kingdom fully by faith and accept the offer of the king.  Otherwise, we will be thrown out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

          And what of this weeping and gnashing of teeth?  The point here is that there will be those thrown out of the kingdom, who are not saved, and they will weep.  They will cry and cry and cry unconsolably.  Through their tears they will say to God, “No Lord!  Please Lord!  I am sorry!  Please give me another chance!  I am so, so, sorry!”  But the door will be locked to their crying and their tears will never cease.  There also will be those thrown out of the kingdom because they refused God salvation and instead of crying they will gnash their teeth. People gnash and grind their teeth in anger and rage.  Through their tightly held teeth they will say to God, “How dare you!  How dare you keep me out!”  But the door to the kingdom will be kept locked to them and they will rage in anger forever.

          Friends, we do not want to cry in sorrow or rage in anger either in the present moment or for eternity.  The psalmist, having accepted the gift of salvation, saw that crying and raging anger were replaced because in a life marked by God salvation it is as though,“5 You (God) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5a).  Please do not hesitate to make known your desire to be saved and receive the gift of salvation.  And not only will God bless you in this life with God’s own presence and grace to overcome all, but the psalmist says the blessing of salvation is like that of having God, “You anoint my head with oil” (Psalm 23:5b).

What does it mean to be anointed with oil.  To be anointed by oil was a sign of a designation of blessing and a setting apart for the work of God.  Moses anointed his brother Aaron with oil as a sign of Aaron being set apart for priestly service to God.  Samuel anointed Saul and David as a signed of their anointing to be set apart to serve God as earthly rulers over God’s people.  The psalmist saw salvation as an anointing by God for a setting apart for the service to the kingdom here and now.

Salvation then is not just about eternity.  To be saved by God is also about the here and now.  God saves us now so that we can become more and more like Jesus now.  And in our transformation into the image of Christ, God is given the glory for the way we live our lives on this earth. When you have accepted the salvation from God, there ought to be evidence of that in the way you live. And the evidence of the inner change should be as visible to all as a light is in the dark of night.  We should not glow dimly.  For Jesus said, “14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).  In this life, we are anointed by God to do good deeds in His name.

The anointing of those who have salvation in Christ is of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told his disciples to wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit before they began their ministry in His name.  We receive an anointing of the same Holy Spirit when we give our lives over to Christ and receive salvation from Him.  The Holy Spirit is given to lead us and give us the wisdom and knowledge to do those things God desires of us for our time here on earth.

You know there is an expression I have heard so many times, you probably have as well.  It goes something like this.  “I can only do so much.”  And this is a true statement.  Any one of us can only do so much.  There are only 24 hours in the day, there is only so much we are capable of, there are so many limitations as to what we can and cannot do.  But the expression, “I can only do so much,” is worldly thinking. If we changed that expression slightly by adding the power of the Holy Spirit then many of the limitations we were concerned with go away and now the expression becomes, “With the Holy Spirit, I can only do so much.” 

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).  The anointing of the Holy Spirit matters because we then are gifted and empowered by God to do those things he desires and requires of us. Salvation means we are not rescued to be the same, but rescued to be different because the Holy Spirit empowers us to now think, believe, and act in accordance with God’s will and to do so much in the name of God.

There is one final piece to this scene of salvation painted for us by the psalmist.  It is contained in a short expression, “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5b).  Someday, when time permits, we will explore the full meaning of this phrase.  But for today, I want us to see that the psalmist was pointing out to us that with salvation through Christ, our cup, representative of our life, overflows because we are in the presence of God. Our cup, our life, overflows with grace because our sins are removed from us.  Our cup and life overflows with peace because our identity, who we are, and our destiny, where we are going, are settled questions.  We have become a child of God and that our destiny is one in which we will “live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).  Do you feel that way?  Do you believe your identity and destiny have been decided because you are saved?  I hope so. If not, we should talk.

We know our identity and destiny are settled questions because the cup that overflows was represented in a meal Jesus shared with his disciples before Jesus was arrested and went through the valley of the shadow of death.  Jesus shared a cup with his disciples and said, “Take and drink from this cup all of you.”  The cup offered by Jesus was for the forgiveness of sins and establishment of a new relationship, a new covenant between the saved and God.  Jesus drank the bitter cup of suffering for sin so that we would not have to do so.  In a few moments, we will be drinking the cup in remembrance of not only what Jesus did for us but that our cup overflows because of God’s presence in our lives.

Come to the table and here afresh the words of comfort in being saved.  
“4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever” (Psalm 23:4-6)

08-27 My Cup Is Overflowing

          I was reading the other day that all the conversations we will have with each other will serve one of four purposes.  Allow me a moment to explain.

We will have social conversations with one another.  The purpose of a social conversation is simply to enjoy each other’s company, such as conversation we might have while sharing a meal.  And so, we try to keep the conversation pleasant, and we follow the unwritten rule of social conversation which is to say nothing offensive.  We simply want to enjoy the moment.

We have task-centered conversations in which people gather to pool their talents to accomplish some specific activity or project.  We have task-centered conversations such as we might have in the workplace where assignments are discussed, agreed upon, and deadlines set.

We also have informational conversations in which the purpose is to give and receive information.  An example of an informational meeting would be that we attend a class and are taught something and we ask questions on that topic to learn. Informational conversations provide us with the building blocks that allow us to make changes.  Without instruction we are unable to change our present circumstances into something better.  Some sermons are informational conversations because they equip us with what we need to know to make good choices in our life.  Some sermons are not informational at all, they tend to be social conversations in which the preacher tries very hard not to say anything offensive to anyone.  A conversational sermon is not a good sermon because one only needs to speak of Jesus in a public setting to realize that the message of the cross is offensive to many people.  So, to speak about Jesus is no longer a social conversation.  A sermon spoken without the possibility of offending someone is not worth delivering.  Preachers must preach a message of content that they might expect someone to be offended simply because information was shared about Jesus that they did not want to hear.

So we have three types of conversations so far, social conversations in which we are pleasant, task-centered conversations in which we are trying to organize ourselves to do work, and informational conversations in which we are being equipped to make changes.  The fourth type of conversation we will have with one another is a spiritual formation conversation.  A spiritually centered conversation is one whose purpose is to celebrate the presence of God in our lives.  A spiritually centered conversation is a freeing conversation because from it we come to realize what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through our lives.  In such conversations, we feel a release from whatever constrains us, whether it is fear, anxiousness, discouragement, apathy, or confusion.  A spiritually focused conversation energizes us to make ourselves available to do what God wants us to do.  Spiritually centered conversations make us aware of God stirring us up within for greater purposes than socializing, tasks, and education.  We are being changed into the likeness of Christ. When you celebrate God’s presence and you realize that holiness dwells in your soul, a tension develops within you between where you are now and where you now long to be.  Spiritually centered conversations are rare, too rare.  We need more preaching that leads us in spiritually centered conversations, and we need more conversations between each other that stirs the fire within us.

It is important for us to understand our conversations have a purpose to them and we have an opportunity and a responsibility to determine which type of conversation we should be having whether those conversations are social, task-centered, informational, or spiritually focused. And as we think about our conversations with each other and the purpose they serve, we must also realize that God wants a conversation with us.  God’s conversation with us comes principally from His Word, the Bible. 

Let’s think about the Bible for a moment.  What sort of conversation is the Bible?  I do not think the Bible is a social conversation. The Bible offends too many people. There are too many conversations about unpleasant topics like sin and hell for the Bible to be a social conversation. It does not seem to be a task-centered conversation.  While there are some dos and don’ts in the Bible, we are left free to agree to do them or not.  There is certainly a case to be made that the Bible is an informational conversation. Paul even says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  And Paul is right, Scripture is useful for informational conversations to equip us.  But I have met far too many people who treat the Bible as something to be studied as though one was studying history of the ancient peoples or literature.  Those who treat Scripture, God’s Word, as just an educational resource has the foundational building blocks necessary for a spiritually centered life, but if they stop there, that the Bible is an educational tool alone, they never live the life the Bible encourages.

The purpose of God’s Word then must be for God to have a spiritual formation conversation with each of us.  God’s Word is giving to us and should be read by us with excitement to see how and where God is present in our lives and how God is releasing us, freeing us, giving us tension as to where we are and where He wants us, and now we, want to be.  The Word of God should stir us up – that is its purpose.  The whole of gospel of Jesus Christ was to stir people up and to see that God was present among them.  Yes, of course, what Jesus had to say was informative but if we left what Jesus said as a lecture, we would have missed the entirety of what God was doing in and through Jesus.

So today, I would like us to explore God’s Word, to see in part the informational elements to it, but more importantly to focus on the spiritual formation conversation God is having with us through the Bible.  And I thought it might be useful to have such a conversation with a piece of Scripture that most people would know or at least heard before whether they were a believer or were here seeking.  And that conversation from God is Psalm 23.

Psalm 23 consists of beautiful words that have been spoken on occasions grand and small, in public and private, in joy and in sadness.  We have spoken of this psalm several times in our worship services, including today in our reading and in our hymns.  Psalm 23 begins with the gentle opening words, “1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).  The words are soft and comforting.  The words speak about a God whom the psalmist has become acquainted. God is not unknown to the psalmist. The psalmist likened God to a shepherd who was good at tending his sheep making sure to lead the sheep where they would find enough to eat and drink. There is little tension in what the psalmist said.  The conversational tone is somewhat informational and educational bordering and may at first appearance seem like a social conversation because there is nothing in the psalmist words that are offensive or provocative.  We find the opening to this psalm quiet and serene.

But something happens in the verse that follows, something hard and dangerous.  There is a tension that overshadows the serenity of the scene painted in the first three verses.  The psalmist writes, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).  The quiet waters and green pastures are replaced by a valley, deep and dark, with a narrow trail where it feels like death is all around.  Evil has replaced the serenity and the psalmist looks for protection not for some God that he had heard about but from a God that He knows personally.  A God that he now longer speaks about as “the Lord,” “My shepherd,” and “He” but the psalmist speaks to this God directly as “You,” saying “You are with me.”  This God whom the psalmist once had heard of and spoke about is now a God whom he sees and knows.

The psalmist change in perspective parallel those of the Biblical character Job.  Job we learn was a man who was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Job was wealthy and had many children. Job was living in the land of green pastures and still waters.  Job was a careful man who offered sacrifices to God in the hopes that doing so God would continue his days and the days of his family in comfort and peace.  This is how Job imagined God, a God who blessed those who bless Him.

Then in a single, horrible day, Job wealthy was stolen, and his children died in a thunderous storm.  Job was, of course, devastated.  Job had left the green pastures and still waters and had entered the valley of the shadow of death.  It was in that valley that God and Job had a conversation.  It was not a social conversation, or a task-centered conversation, nor was it an informational conversation, though Job learned a great deal. Instead, the conversation God had with Job was spiritually formulative, it was transformational, and stirred Job in ways he never had been.  When that conversation between God and Job ended, Job said, “My ears had heard of you (God) but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).  Job no longer spoke about a God he had heard about but spoke to the God he now had seen personally and profoundly.

Job and the psalmist each had a transformative experience in which the journey through the valley of the shadow of death made them aware of the presence of God and God desire for them creating a freeing tension within them. In that tension, with a spiritual conversation stirring his heart, the psalmist saw God with fresh eyes and the psalmist saw his own circumstances quite differently.  The psalmist wrote, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:5-6).  The psalmist saw God less as a shepherd and more as a savior.

Why did the psalmist change his perspective on God and change from talking about God to talking to God?  The change came in the valley of the shadow of death. Whose death was it that the psalmist experienced in that valley?  It certainly was not the death of the psalmist because the psalmist emerged from the valley.  Was it the death of someone the psalmist loved, like the case of Job when his children died?  It certainly could have been the death of a loved one through which the psalmist came to realize that God was present guiding each step of the way.  It is certainly true that we will not get through grief from the death of a loved one without God.

But I think though there is another possibility the psalmist is alluding to the valley of the shadow of death.  And that possibility gives rise to a deeper understanding of God.  I think we should consider that in that valley of the shadow of death, the psalmist foresaw a death that transformed him from one who had heard about God to one who had seen God.  That death stirred up the psalmist in such a way as to desire a personal relationship with a God above all other things in life. The death was the most profound death he could imagine, in fact, it was an unimaginable death.

I believe the death that the psalmist saw was the death the shepherd willingly endured for righteousness’ sake and for the sake of the sheep.  Why might that be so?  The death of Psalm 23 was perhaps described for us in Psalm 22, just one psalm earlier. The psalmist described the death this way.

A man stood accused and sentenced to death.  In that man’s own words he said, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.  8 ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him.  Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’  14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.  17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Psalm 22:6-8, 14-18).  The psalmist is describing the crucifixion of a man but not just any man, but a man who would be anointed by God.  This man we would come to know later as Jesus Christ.  Before his death said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) and “Jesus said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’” (Luke 24:44).  In being witness to this death, a death that led to the salvation of the soul, the psalmist was transformed.  The psalmist having witnessed this death of the shepherd was profoundly changed and expressed the gift of salvation coming from the valley this way:  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:5-6).  That is psalmist way of describing salvation brought to him after the death.

The psalmist had had a conversation with God.  Not one that was social, or task-centered, or informational.  The psalmist talked to God and in doing so had a spiritually centered conversation that changed his life.  It changed the psalmist life because the psalmist no longer spoke about the God, he had heard of, but he began speaking to the God he had now seen. A God who would himself taste death so that the psalmist could live.

The description of the death the psalmist saw was repeated for us in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.  Luke wrote, “33 When they [the soldiers] came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him [Jesus, piercing his hands and feet] there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they [the soldiers] divided up his clothes by casting lots.  35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him [Jesus]. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.  44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he [Jesus] breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man’” (Luke 23:33-35, 44-47).

In Jesus’ own words, He said, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!  I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:49-50).  Jesus upon the cross accomplished his mission for, “The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, for God had appointed Jesus to bring the Good News to the poor.  God had sent Jesus to proclaim that the captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4:18).

God through the accomplished work of Jesus Christ walked through the valley of the shadow of death for us.  In doing so, Jesus has released us, freed us, given us tension as to where we are and where He wants us, and now we, want to be.  This is the spiritual conversation God is having with us in the psalms and the gospels. This is the Word of God that stirs us up – that is its purpose.  The whole of gospel of Jesus Christ is to stir us up to see the God we may only had only heard about.

The psalmist did not let what had been stirred up in him by letting the experience pass by.  The psalmist was changed by experiencing God. We must not let what the psalmist foresaw, and what Jesus experienced for you settle quietly within your soul as a though the story of Jesus is one of green pastures and quiet waters. Instead, be transformed by it and enter the conversation with God as one that is intended to spiritually transform your being such that you desire God more than anything else in this world. Amen and Amen.

07-30 - Follow Me

          When I was a kid, long before there were electronic gadgets to amuse us, we had to amuse ourselves playing games together.  We played games outside.  Some games required us to use whatever we could had available to set up a game, such as someone’s shirt for first base for baseball game.  And sometimes we played games that required nothing but ourselves such as follow the leader.

          Following the leader was, of course, a simple game of choosing a leader, lining up behind that person, and then following closely behind the leader mimicking whatever the leader did.  If you did not do as the leader did, just once, then you were out of the game.  As the game progressed, someone who was a follower would complain, “I want to be the leader,” and the leadership would change. Eventually, we would tire of playing that game because the leader, whoever they were, did not improve the condition of those who followed, and the leader never had a destination in mind for the group.  We just followed the leader aimlessly around the yard.  The game stopped once the uselessness of the game became apparent. The words of the leader, “Follow me!” fell on deaf ears.

          Our Scripture today talks about responding to the call to Jesus’ “Follow me.”  There are about 20 such examples in the Gospels of Jesus saying, “Follow me.”  The gospel writer Luke recorded one of these moment this way.  Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

          The game of follow the leader and Jesus’ words to “Follow me,” sound similar but once uttered, the similarity between the two begins and ends.  Jesus’ call, “Follow me,” is not an aimless call as it is in the game follower the leader.  The words “Follow me,” from Jesus are tied to the goal of becoming Jesus’ disciple. Today, outside of church, we do not use the word disciple.  Today, no business ever posts a sign that says, “Apply now, disciples wanted.”  But the word disciple was very well-known in Jesus’ time.  In Jesus’ time, it was common for young Hebrew men to become followers or disciples of a particular rabbi.  The young men would devote themselves to living with the rabbi and learning what the rabbi knew and doing what the rabbi did.  So devoted were disciples to their rabbi that there are stories that the students, the followers, would imitate everything about the rabbi to include the rabbi’s manner of speech and his manner of walking.  Think of it this way, if the rabbi walked with a limp, so too did his disciples.  In the world of craftsmen and artisans, people became disciples of a master.  This was another form of discipleship, a call to imitate the leader or master.

          So when Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must follow me,” his words were not a radical thought on their own.  It was expected to become the disciple of a master, or a rabbi, required following.  But Jesus said to follow him with the goal of becoming his disciple would require the follower to first deny themselves and take up the cross every day.  What did Jesus’ mean “deny yourself” and “take up your cross?”  Let’s look at each of these phrases separately.

          What does it mean to “deny yourself?”  Denial of self is very different from self-denial. Self-denial is when we willingly take up give things up. Many Christians practice self-denial when they “give something up for Lent.”  This is self-denial.  When I was growing up every Lent we would offer to give up going to school but we never got any traction in doing so with my parents.  So self-denial is a giving up of things, practices, or pleasures of life. Denial of self, on the other hand, is when we take ourselves and what we want to accomplish in this world out of center stage and we place Christ and his gospel at the core of all we are and do. Denial of self was expressed by Jesus to God want he said, “Thy will be done,” and not “my will be done.”  So the first condition for becoming a disciple of Jesus required an emptying of oneself to make room for Jesus and what Jesus had to offer.

          Secondly, Jesus said to follow him, required people to “pick up their cross.”  What did Jesus mean “pick up their cross?”  Just moments prior to Jesus’ call, Jesus said, “22 ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed’” (Luke 9:22b).  Suffering, rejection, and death constituted the cross, the consequence of the gospel that the master, the leader, was willingly to endure for his beliefs and goals.  We like to say, “Choices have consequences.”  Well it is important for us to also understand that goals have consequences.  To pick up your cross daily to follow Jesus was another way of saying, “You must be willing to take upon yourself the consequences of becoming a disciple of Jesus.” Said another way, Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me must let me lead. You can’t be in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how” (Luke 9:23 MSG).

          Now admittedly, thus far Jesus’ call does not sound very inviting because to follow him sounded like it would be a different sort of discipleship.  To follow Jesus would not be like following a rabbi or working under a master craftsman or artisan.  Jesus was promising consequences for following him and becoming his disciple. Let’s face it, generally in life, we want to avoid anything that sounds like a consequences almost no matter how trivial those consequences might be.  I think of myself driving to a destination that I have been to before. I will still put that destination into the GPS not because I need the directions but because I want to be alerted to traffic slowdowns and be offered alternative routes to avoid the consequence of sitting in traffic for a few minutes.  We seek to avoid consequences and yet Jesus’ call invited his disciples to willingly accept the consequences of following him.  Why would they want to follow Jesus?

Jesus answered the question of why follow him this way. “24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24-25).  Jesus’ explanation for wanting to be his disciple dealt with the most consequential matter for every human being, that is saving their life. All humans ever born or who will be born, share a natural, instinctive, inborn desire to live.  No one must be taught to want to live.  From birth, we know we want to live and keep our life going. From the first moment of birth, we already know to cry out for the breath to fill our lungs and we cry out for food to fill our stomachs.  And that deep seated desire to live never changes.  So when Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life,” he was saying that the consequence of becoming his disciple was to save their life and thus Jesus was speaking to everyone because everyone wants to save their life.

Everyone who heard Jesus words was listening intently, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.”  What was Jesus saying here?  Simply, “If you want to be the master of your life, if you want to live with the attitude ‘No one is the boss of me!’, if you want to be the center of your own life, because you believe you know how best to live, then you will eventually lose the very life you hold so dear.”  Jesus added, “25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:25)  Jesus was saying even if you are so successful at being your own person such that you somehow acquired the entire world, would all that be worth your life?

Satan made an offer of the whole world to Jesus when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness.  Satan took “Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” Satan said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to Satan, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:8-10).  Jesus understood he could gain the whole world but at the cost of life in who God intended him to be.

“But” Jesus said.  There is always a but.  Jesus said, “But whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24). In context, “But whoever loses their life by denying themselves, becoming my disciple, and accepting the consequences of living a life in and through Me, will save their life.”  The true consequence of following Jesus became clear.  The consequence of following Jesus is not temporary hardship but life itself.

The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).  Paul, in denying himself, came into the belief that things of this world are just that they are things.  And at some point the things of this world become rubbish.  But to know Jesus, to follow him into life with God is everything and that never changes.

Jesus finished his thought about the consequences of following him or not following him this way, “26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).  To those who seek to save their own life, meaning they deny the person, the need, the knowledge of Christ, they will receive exactly what they ask for when they stand before God.  They will be on their own and their life with God will be lost.  The converse is true as well and Jesus said so in Luke 12, verse 8 when he said, ““I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).  To be a disciple of Jesus, to follow Jesus as leader now is decision to be with God forever.

I started today reminiscing a bit about a kid’s game called follow the leader.  Like all kids’ games, there are no real and lasting consequences to playing it or not playing it.  There are no real consequences of winning the game or not winning the game.  Playing follow the leader is a game of following the person in front of you.  A person who may make silly motions with their body and has no destination in mind. But the words of Jesus about following him as leader have a serious tone to them and long-lasting and rewarding consequences.  Jesus challenged his listeners to save their lives by giving their lives to Him for safekeeping.  Who does not want to save their life?

When we accept Jesus’ call there are some consequences we must accept in our decision.  When we save our lives through Jesus, we must be willing to have others see that we are Christians, not just on Sunday, but every day and in every way. When we acknowledge Jesus, we can no longer remain silent about things which are morally wrong.  We must reject culture’s non-Christian values and views. We must not blend into society or be silent about our relationship with God.  We must not be ashamed of following Jesus even if that means being rejected by family, friends, co-workers, and strangers.  Afterall, to follow Jesus means that our life has been saved.  Let us be saved and live an abundant life of joy of being saved.  Amen and Amen.

07-23 - I AM

          My wife and I were on vacation for the past two weeks. We had originally thought we would go away for a few days – probably to Lancaster, PA.  But we decided to change our plans and stay close to home when it appeared that our daughter-in-law might be delivering her third son, our fifth grandchild, a bit earlier than his expected date of July 26.  Sure enough, on July 4th, we received the call that our daughter-in-law was in labor.  The next morning, our grandson, Wyatt Nicolo, was born.

          Being closer to home for those two weeks gave my wife and me an opportunity to attend a couple of local Baptist churches for Sunday services.  We had a chance to reconnect with some folks that we do not get to see very often.  At one of the churches, the pastor commented to the congregation that it was wonderful that Becky and I were here in church on a Sunday even though they were on vacation.  I thought for a moment, “What does being on vacation have to do with whether you are in church on Sunday?  Doesn’t everyone go to church on Sunday when they are on vacation?” But more significantly, the pastor’s observation left me wondering afresh what is our purpose, our goal, our desire, for attending church?  The writer of Hebrews said to this point, “23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25). 

So, part of the reason for attending church on Sunday is to spur one another on by doing deeds that are loving and good, and to encourage one another in the faith.  Now it is true that each one of us needs encouragement and that each one of us is the source of encouragement for one another. Every person here has, is, or will fight some battle in life.  That battle may be waged as a physical attack against the body by some disease.  That battle may be waged as an emotional battle with anxiousness or conflict.  Or that battle may be waged against us as a spiritual battle that leaves us shaken with doubt or uncertainty about our purpose and destiny.  And Many people, maybe even most people, will wage those battles alone.  Too many people fight their worst battles alone.  Alone is such a depleting word and place to be.  As the author of Hebrews points out, Church, as conceived by Christ, was to break that aloneness and instead, give to every person waging a physical, emotional, or spiritual battle the collective resources of the church, the body of Christ, as a source of encouragement and strength.  The idea is simple.  If you are alone in a battle, come to church, and gather strength your brothers and sisters for whatever lies ahead.  If you are not presently engaged in battle, come to church, so that your strength measured by your time, talents, treasure, and tears can be given to another from the church who is engaged in battle that they would otherwise have to fight alone.  We, therefore, come to church that we may as a unit “spurring one another on toward love and good deeds…encouraging one another—all the more.”  If you are in a battle today, please make sure your church knows it so that we can help.  If you are not in a battle, please make sure your church knows so that you can help bless others.

The second reason to come together on Sunday the writer of Hebrews said is “to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  We come to church to be part of that place on this earth where consistently the hope of God stirs us up such that we feel more alive when we leave church than when we came in through the door.  Church was created by Christ to refresh and animate the hope that we have in God through Jesus Christ who is faithful.  We need to have our appetite for God stirred up such that our desire for God is more than our desire for anything or anyone else this world.  We cannot get spiritually stirred up at home alone, or on the golf course, or fishing, or sleeping in, or planting flowers, or you can fill in the blank. We get the opportunity to be so stirred up and moved towards God in church.

And how then do we get stirred up for God?  Sometimes we are moved by the music, other times, perhaps by a sermon, but mostly we get stirred up when we in worship open ourselves up enough to realize that God, not for his own benefit, but for our benefit, desires that we would have a love relationship with him.  And who is this God?  He is the God of all creation.  He is the God who said his name is “I AM,” אֶֽהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶֽהְיֶה, haw-yaw ash-er haw-yaw, “I AM that I AM.”  This is how the people of the Old Testament understood God, “I AM.”  I am he who always existed and will exist.  I am he who is truth.  I am your shepherd, your giver of law.  I am your savior and your judge.  I am unchangeable and forever faithful.  I AM stirred up the people of Israel as he sought to make them the light into the world.

Then I AM, God, decided the time was right to be present among the people, all the people, to bring them into a final personal relationship with him.  And so, I AM, came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ and at birth was heralded as Emmanuel, God with us.

But this “God with us,” did not come in some grand manner with heavenly trumpets and flaming skies. Instead, this “God with us,” the great “I AM” was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop or as a laborer until he was about 30 years old.  And then for 3 years he walked and preached, preached and walked the surrounds of that obscure land called Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem. He never wrote a book.  Never held an office.  Never owned a home.

What this I AM did was he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, healed the lame, and controlled the forces of nature.  The spiritual leaders of Israel, instead of being stirred up and animated by the presence of I AM, ridiculed and fought him at every turn.  How sad.  The friends that I AM surrounded himself with never seemed to fully understand who he was. When things got dangerous to be around this I AM, his friends ran away.  The great I AM was arrested, bound with simple rope.  He allowed himself to be spat upon, flogged, ridiculed, nailed to a cross, and killed.   This I AM then showed who he was by raising Jesus from the dead and into resurrected life. This God who held nothing back is the God who desires to stir you and to stir me up to come into a relationship with him and to see the hope and promise in life with him.  This is the God, this is the I AM, who wants you to follow him out of the darkness of evil that he experienced and into the light he created.

When this I AM, the person of Jesus Christ, was here on earth, no one spoke like him.  His words offered his audience fulfillment of the promises made in the Scriptures and reassurance that He was God with them.

This Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).  Every person ever born or to be born shares the same human condition and is we are of both the body and spirit.  In our body, we will physically hunger, and we will physically thirst causing us to seek food and water repeatedly and yet never be completely satisfied.  That is the nature of physical hunger and thirst. But deeper than that every person ever born or to be born hungers and thirsts spiritually for hope, for peace, for significance, for dignity.  Jesus said he is the “I AM” who meets that spiritual hunger and thirst but does so once and for all time.  For as long as we remain in the presence of Jesus, we will have a life of significance, dignity, peace, and hope no matter what may be going on in the body.  Jesus’ words stirred up people to see that God would meet their most basic needs in life.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  God, I AM, saw that the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over all.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4).  Without light there is no life.  Without life there is no goodness.  This is our human condition.  And yet spiritually, we see light as a symbolic of God bringing wisdom and clarity to our very purpose for existence.  What is our purpose?  It is to have life in abundance.  Jesus stood before his audience and stirred people up that so long as they were in Him, they would have light and thus life with purpose, wisdom, and clarity.  We want that desperately.

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9a).  Every human seeks a place of sanctuary, safety, and relief for their body, whether that is in a mansion or cardboard box.  There is always an opening to that place of safety, whether that is a door or a flap.  Spiritually, every human being seeks safety for their inner being, for their spirit. Jesus stood before his audience and said, “I AM that gate and all who pass through me exit the world, the darkness, exit the turmoil of worldliness and enter the realm of God, light, peace, safety, yes, salvation for the soul.”  Jesus’ words stirred up the people that there was a clear doorway through which they could be saved.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  The Shepherd is symbolic of God.  It is the shepherd to which David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He (The Shepherd-The Lord) makes me lie down in green pastures, he (the Shepherd) leads me beside quiet waters, he (the shepherd) refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you (the Shepherd-the Lord) are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You (My Shepherd) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord (My Shepherd) forever” (Psalm 23).  Beautiful words of promise that God would be the provision for the good times and he would be the force to sustain those who follow him in their difficulties.  Jesus stood before his audience as the Shepherd and his words stirred up the people knowing that through Jesus there would be provision now through eternity.

          Jesus said to those who grieve the loss of a loved one, ““I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  Jesus’ tender words were first spoken to his friend, Martha, at the death of Martha’s brother, Lazarus.  Jesus’ words did not caused people weeping in the pain of death stop grieving but his words did allow them to grieve with hope.  Jesus’ words caused that hope in the grieving to be stirred up because Jesus promised that those who believed in him would be extended life even though they died.  Death, the enemy that all humans fear, was defeated before the I AM, Jesus the Christ.

          Jesus said, “5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Jesus promised a fruitful life if people would just remain with him.  For apart from Jesus, they would never have life, light, salvation, provision, resurrection, or significance.  Jesus’ words stirred up the imagination of those who heard him speak and the desire to be forever covered by the grace of God.

          Finally, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  What a wonderful expression of assurance.  Jesus was making it clear that of all the possible ways that people saw or imagined a pathway to God, a pathway we all desire, Jesus said there is but one true way.  Jesus, the I AM, Emmanuel, God with Us, said, “If you want God and all that means, then follow God, who came in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to me except through me.”  The people’s hearts were stirred up, relieved, because they no longer had to guess how to be with God.  Instead, they had to believe and follow Jesus. 

          What do we do with Jesus saying over an again, “I AM.”  Some complain and ask, “Why didn’t Jesus just say, “Look.  I AM God, follow me.”  Afterall, the complainers say, “That is what I would say if I were God.”  Well, to that we have two comments.  First, you and I are not God, so what we might say if we were God is irrelevant.  Second, Jesus was not speaking to us when he said, “I am the good shepherd, I am the light, I am the bread of the world.”  Jesus was speaking to people in ancient Israel.  The Gospel writer John was speaking to the early Christian Church. Jesus spoke to be understood best by those who heard his words.  We need to remember Jesus’ words and the Bible were not spoken or written to us, but they were spoken and written for us.

          And so in these words that were written for us, we must come to see and seize upon their significance.  Jesus tells us in his own words, “I AM.”  I AM your savior if you let me in.  I AM your guide if you will follow me.  I AM your comforter if you will receive me.  I AM the one who will give you the words to say and the actions to take to spur on in love those seated next to you and to your neighbor. I AM the one who will stir you up to and ignite a passion within because I am your Lord and your God.  I AM the one who loves you and will give your life eternal purpose, meaning, and significance.  This is why we come to church.  To spur one another one and to be blessed with an improved appetite for God to live in and through him who has always been, who is, and who will also be, I AM.  Amen and Amen.

07-02 The Lord's Supper

                    This Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, we Baptist use to celebrate what we call “The Lord’s Supper.”  It is a moment in which we share a bite of bread and sip of grape juice together. We offer this moment to anyone and everyone who wishes to honor the significance of the moment.

          Other Christian denominations celebrate the moment differently than we do.  Some do what we do every Sunday.  Some do what we do every day of the week.  Some denominations call the moment a sacrament because they believe that grace of God is contained in the bread and wine, not juice, that they use.  And because it is a sacrament, because God’s grace is believed to be in the bread and the wine, only members of that denomination can celebrate that moment.  We Baptists would be disinvited from participating in that moment with those of other denominations.  We will talk more about that in a few minutes.

          What is this moment all about, this celebration of the Lord’s Supper?  What was it that Jesus did in establishing this practice?  How should we think about the Lord’s Supper and how should the Lord’s Supper change the way we think, speak, and behave?

          I would like us to begin with the first description of this moment that was memorialized in writing.  The Apostle Paul captured the practice of the Lord’s Supper in a letter he wrote to the church at Corinth.  The versions of the Lord’s Supper found in the gospels would be written years later.

          Paul wrote, “23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).  There are just 100 words used to describe an important moment and command that Jesus spoke to his apostles.

          Paul said, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23a).  Paul may not mean here that he received a special revelation from Jesus about this event as much as Paul means he received Jesus’ words from the other apostles who were present at the occasion.  Paul is also clear in these opening words that Paul had previously taught the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper.  Unfortunately, some in the Corinthian church had turned the supper more into a frat party with gluttonous eating and drinking to intoxication. Paul wanted the church to remember what was going on between Jesus and the apostles.

          Paul said the setting for this event was on the night Jesus was betrayed.  Jesus was betrayed by Judas to the chief priests who arrested Jesus and in turned betrayed Jesus to the Romans to be beaten and executed as a criminal.  Jesus knew these things were going to happen. None of the apostles, not even Judas, knew how Jesus’ betrayal would play out.  But Jesus knew his body and his blood would be required of him and that Jesus would soon die.  Jesus had told his disciples that such betrayals and death would come to him, but Jesus’ disciples could not or would not believe.

          This brings us to a key understanding about the ways of God. Although God’s ways are higher than our ways and there is much mystery in the way God acts or does not act, God is not secretive.  God speaks about what is to happen before it happens so that we can know the wisdom and insight of God.  Jesus had told his disciples that he “must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).  Even at the dinner Jesus and his disciples shared Jesus said, “18 I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’  19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am” (John 13:18-19).

          Yet even though Jesus told the disciples what would happen, the disciples were unmoved in understanding.  A song writer put Jesus’ experience this way.  In Jesus’ words, “I've tried so many ways to show you my love, And show you who I am, Sometimes I wonder if you've ever learned, Or if you understand.” And yet Jesus knowing all that would happen offered one more way to know what was about to happen to him.

It was that night of betrayal that Paul said Jesus chose to take bread, give thanks, break the bread, and say, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:24).  The pieces of bread were then distributed to be eaten by the Twelve apostles, including to Peter who would later deny Jesus three times, to Judas who would later betray Jesus, and to the other ten who would desert Jesus upon Jesus’ arrest.

          What were the Apostles eating that night?  Was it a piece of bread blessed by Jesus was to be used as a way of remembering Jesus giving of his body to them, for them.  Jesus in using the bread was foretelling the destiny of his mortal being.  It would be given over to abuse and execution.

          It was that night of betrayal that Paul said Jesus chose to take the cup and again he gave thanks.  “25 He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:25).  Jesus in using the cup of wine was foretelling the purpose of his shed blood. Jesus was establishing a new covenant between God and humanity.  The cup was to be a sign of God’s forgiveness and calling to his side those who would remember what had been done by and through his Son, Jesus.

          For Paul concluded, “26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).  The bread and the cup are symbols of Jesus’ death for us.  But what was the point of Jesus’ death?

          Some Christians believe that on the cross, God turned Christ over to Satan on the cross in exchange for the souls of humanity held in bondage of sin.  Satan was not, however, capable of holding Jesus.  Others believe Jesus, who was without sin, gave himself to God for the satisfaction of the dishonor brought by the sin of humanity.  Having freely given himself with no debt owed, God, who is just, would confirm a great reward upon Jesus.  We Baptist, if we can agree on anything, tend to believe that Jesus by offering himself as a sacrifice, by substituting himself for us, actually bearing the punishment that should have been ours, Jesus appeased the Father and effected a reconciliation between God and humanity.  The covenant of reconciliation between we who are sinful and God who was sinful was made between us and God by the voluntary act of Jesus to bear our sins and punishment upon the cross.

This is what Jesus was showing to his disciples at that final meal and Jesus asked them that whenever they shared the bread and cup together to remember Jesus paid it all for them, for us once and for all time.

Jesus’ request of his disciples was simple.  Do this. Give thanks for the bread, share the bread with those who believe in me, and together remember me and what I taught you about the kingdom of God.  Remember me and my command to love one another.  Remember me, the one who redeemed you from hell. 

Do this.  Give thanks for the cup.  Share the cup with those who believe in me, and together remember that we are all in covenant with God.  We all have a standing with God because of Jesus’ completed work on the cross. 

There is something heavenly and something earthly about our celebration.  There is something past, something present, and something future about our celebration.  For as we eat the bread and drink from the cup we do so as a way of showing Jesus died and that at just the right time, Jesus will return to the earth. 

The celebration of the bread and the cup is not about sacrificing Jesus again such that the bread and cup are now somehow made into the flesh and blood of Christ.  The bread and the cup were not to become the something itself containing God’s grace that granted grace to whomever eat of it or drank from it whether they desired God’s grace or not.  The bread and cup are for believers and is to draw us together not push us a part.

I have a book entitled, Martyrs’ Mirror.  It was first published in 1660.  The book, among other things, tries to give an account of ever Christian martyred from Jesus Christ to the year 1660.  The book favors the story of the Baptist beginning with the Anabaptist and provides an index and story for over 1,000 early Baptists, Anabaptists, who were martyred, killed for their beliefs, between the years 1525 and 1660.  These people were not killed by pagans but by others who claimed a belief in Christ.  What was the crime of the Baptists warranting their deaths?  There were two reasons.  First, the early Baptists desired what they thought the Bible commanded and that was a believer’s baptism, meaning they believed you should make the decision to decide your belief in Christ when you make it for yourself. Second, the early Baptist desired what they thought the Bible commanded, a remembrance of Jesus through the bread and cup.  They believed Jesus died once and for all and that act of love was best remembered in eating simple bread and drinking from a simple cup.  A simple piece of bread and simple cup was what Jesus left his disciples to help the church to come, the church that is, and the church that will be to be united across the ages as brothers and sisters.  It is for the reasons of Christ that though we are excluded by some Christian groups today for our beliefs, we choose to exclude no Christian who seeks to remember Jesus.  We believe remembering Jesus is the clearest way for us to remember that we have been forgiven much and therefore, we must forgive much between us. The bread and the cup indicate a spiritual reality and the activity of the Holy Spirit among the community of believers.  Our celebration is a sign that points beyond itself to the reality of the Christ who died for us, the Savior who was raised from the dead for us, the Lord who ascended into the heavens for us, and the God, who when the time is right will come again.   The bread and the cup are the most powerful means by which the Christian community publicly gives thanks for the saving death of Christ, confesses faith in our Lord, and pledges obedience and service to God.

I want to close today, we the song, “Do you believe in Me?”  It is a song about the celebration of the bread and the cup.  The lyrics are written and sung from the perspective of Jesus to his disciples, who now include you and me.
Do you believe in me
And in the words I say
And in Him who sent me from above
Do you believe in my love

I've tried so many ways to show you my love
And show you who I am
Sometimes I wonder if you've ever learned
Or if you understand
Do you believe in me (do you believe in me)
And in the words I say (and in the words I say)
And in Him who sent me from above (sent me from above)
Do you believe in my love (do you believe in my love)

This is my body that is broken for you
Never forget what I've done
This is my blood that is shed for you
This is what makes us one
Do you believe in me
And in the words I say (do you believe)
And in Him who sent me from above (in Him who sent me from above)
Do you believe in my love?

What we will do here in a few moments when we share the Lord’s Supper is spiritually more profound and more significant than anything else we could do or witness today.  It reminds us that Christ died for us and our separation from God is over.  It means the divisions between us and within our families need to melt away.  It means Christ came back to life and now sits with God speaking on our behalf.  It means Christ will come again.  If you have never publicly acknowledged Jesus who made this possible, listen to this invitation in Jesus’ own words, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Dine with him.  Jesus is inviting you into fellowship with Him, with the person seated next to you, and with me.  That is the power of the Word of God and the spiritual significance of what we are about to do.  Come to the table, let us break bread, let us be blessed, and reconciled to God and one another.  Amen.

06-25 Childlike vs Childish

          I want to begin today with a pop quiz.  Do you remember pop quizzes in school?  The teacher would start the class by asking you to take a quiz.  It was rarely a fun time.  But nevertheless, let’s take a pop quiz.

          Here is your quiz question.  I want you to choose a number between 0 and 10, where 0 means “I know I will not” and 10 means “I know I will.”  You can choose 0, 10, or any number in between those as a measure of your confidence. Here is the question, “If I died right now, my level of confidence that I would be in heaven is?”  Got the question?  Now choose the number that reflects the level of confidence you have for your answer.  Choose any number from 0 to 10, where 0 means “I know I will not” and 10 means “I know I will.”  Got your number?

          Pop quizzes did not get any better as we got older.  Here is the thing about this pop quiz.  Even though there are eleven numbers we could choose from as an answer: 0,1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10.  There are actually only two answers to this question.  There is 10, meaning, “If I die right now, I will be in heaven” and every other number that says, “If I die right now, I am not entirely sure I will be in heaven.”  Every other number other than the number 10 expresses some doubt about our salvation and destiny.  Friends, Jesus did not come that we might doubt less about our salvation and destiny. Jesus came that we would know. The gospel writers were not inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us the good news that we might doubt less about our salvation and destiny.  The gospel writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit that we would know.  The Apostle John summed it up this way, “13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).  We want to know that we are saved and that our eternal destiny with God is assured.  We want to live every day with the answer 10 resounding in our minds, “I know my Savior, He knows me, and that He will never leave me nor forsake me!  And I know my place is with Him.”

          John said, “13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).  When we read John’s words again, we come to realize that knowing we have eternal life is dependent upon our belief in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Knowing is dependent upon believing.  So, perhaps, when we take that pop quiz and answer any number other than 10, we are really thinking about the depth of our belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  When we choose 8 or 9 as our answer to the pop quiz perhaps what we are saying is “I am almost certain that Jesus is the Son of God, but I have a couple of things I am not sure about.”  Again, Jesus coming was not to have us almost belief.  When it comes to Jesus, we either believe or we do not.

          So perhaps we could look today at the formation of beliefs as Jesus asked us to do. To that end, I would like us to turn our attention to the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18.  Jesus’ disciples came to Jesus with a question, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1b).  This is one of the things that I love about the Bible, particularly the gospels.  The Gospels, written by the apostles directly or their protégés, exude honesty because they do not cast the apostles as heroes who always got things right.  Most of the time, the gospels show the apostles as rather dense and missed the point.  The opening question to Matthew 18 is one of those examples where it seems the apostles masterfully missed the point.  “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” gives rise to the idea of a hierarchy in which someone was going to be more powerful, a person of greater authority, than another person.  The apostles, familiar with the hierarch of power with kings, emperors, and religious orders were looking for assurance of their princely status.

          It is a wonder that Jesus never seemed to get tired of answering these types of questions.  Instead of being weary, Jesus tried to find another way of explaining the ways of the kingdom.  This time, Matthew said, “He [Jesus] called a little child to him and placed the child among them [the disciples]” (Matthew 18:2).  This makes for an interesting picture.  You had 12 grown men sitting together with a young child seated among them all waiting for Jesus to answer the question, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1b).

          Jesus then had this to say, ““Truly I tell you (my disciples), unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).  Jesus’ words must have fallen hard on his disciples because Jesus said two important things.

First, unless his disciples changed then they would never enter the kingdom of heaven.  The disciples’ question, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1b), presumed that they were already in the kingdom of heaven. All they were looking for was how high up in the power structure of the kingdom they would be sitting.  Jesus’ words said, “Think again.  You are not even in the kingdom of heaven.  Why are you asking about who is the greatest?”  Jesus’ words must have taken away the breath of each disciple.  “What, we must change to be part of the kingdom? We thought we were already in the kingdom?”  This is disturbing news.  It is as though to the pop quiz question, “If I died right now, my level of confidence that I would be in my place in heaven is?” Jesus said to his disciples, “Your answer should be 0.”

Now that Jesus had the disciples undivided attention, Jesus’ words told them the second important thing. “You must become like the little child seated among you to come into the kingdom of God.”  If you want to answer 10 to the pop quiz question, ‘If I died right now, my level of confidence that I would be in my place in heaven is?’ then become childlike.

Jesus then continued, “Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).  To become great in the kingdom, Jesus said, first become humble as a child.  What was the lowly position of this child?  Little children, like the one seated with the disciples, did not have and still today do not have any earthly authority.  Little children are never described as great or powerful because they are not.  Little children have an innocence about them.  They are trusting.  They are simple in their ways and lack dark motives.  Little children are honest.  They are full of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.  They look for joy in all circumstances and, this is important, little children believe fully and completely in those who love them.

And this is an important life lesson.  If a child does not believe they are loved, they stop loving themselves.  And a person who does not love themselves is in danger because they are hopeless.  Jesus came to love us and give us hope.

So, Jesus’ answer to his disciples was unexpected.  Jesus said to enter the kingdom of heaven you must become childlike by believing fully and completely in the one who loves them, Jesus the Christ.  And in believing in Jesus and welcoming him, the disciples would therefore also believe in the one who sent Jesus, God.  Believe as a child and be humble as a child who has no pretense of authority, and you will know that you will be found in the kingdom of heaven.

And so God’s Word says we must be childlike to be in the kingdom and be able to give an answer of 10 out of 10 to the pop quiz question, “If I died right now, my level of confidence that I would be in my place in heaven is?”  But we learn later in the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul that we must put away our childish thinking?  Was Paul in conflict with Jesus?  Is there a difference between childlike belief and childish thinking? If so, what was Paul’s point?

Paul talked about childishness in addressing spiritual gifts in a letter to the church at Corinth.  Paul said that as children of God, as the church, people would receive spiritual gifts to strengthen the body of Christ, the church. Paul said some people were gifted to be apostles, prophets, teachers, givers of miracles, gifted healers, helpers, counselors, and others who could speak in different kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).  These were the gifts that the people in the Corinth church desired the most because with them came not just great works but recognition.  The childlike behaviors necessary to enter the kingdom had become childish and petty behaviors over who had the greatest gifts.  The believers in the church at Corinth had been trying to one up each other with their spiritual gifts as a way of elevating themselves within the church itself. 

It is interesting that the disciples wanted recognition of greatness in the kingdom and Jesus said you must first become childlike.  Now, in maturing in the faith and in their beliefs within the kingdom, people were still looking for ways to be seen as greater than one another with the use of their gifts.  We somehow, for some reason, want to be recognized as better than someone else.

Paul sought to correct this desire for superior standing of gifts within the church itself.  Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Paul was saying that for the believer, the one who had become a child to enter the kingdom, and now was maturing in the faith, love must be the underpinning motivation for everything they do especially in using spiritual gifts whatever they may be.

And from that posture of love in life and in the use of spiritual gifts, Paul wrote that such a motivation of love is essential because love is an expression of humility for “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). 

Paul’s words about love so often read at weddings are not so much about marital relationships as they are about the motivations for serving one another and not being childish in the use of our spiritual gifts for others.  For Paul said he came to this understanding of love because he had matured in the faith. “11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”  Paul was putting away the childishness that we can display and took on the maturity of an adult believer.

          Paul was excited to be a childlike believer in Jesus who had matured enough to put away the petty nature of childishness.  Paul was excited that he knew with certainty that he would be in heaven one day.  Yet Paul understood that as wonderful as that knowledge was of being in Christ now, it would not compare to the overwhelming joy of being with Jesus later.  Paul said to the Corinthians, “For we know in part [now] and we prophesy in part [which teach about what is to come], 10 but when completeness comes [when in Jesus’ presence], what is in part disappears… 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully [the glory of knowing Christ completely], even as I am fully known [by Christ]” (1 Corinthians 13:9 and 12).  As wonderful as we might imagine it will be to with Christ and to have Christ live through us in love, to be in Jesus’ personal presence, Paul said, will be far more glorious than whatever we have imagined.

          What then can we take from these words of Jesus and his apostles John and Paul? I think there are two things that we can draw for ourselves.  First, we need not doubt our salvation.  We should be 10 out of 10 in knowing that believers go to heaven.  Jesus came to be known and reveal a loving God to us. And so, to carry around that sense of absolute certainty that if we have given our life to Christ, it means we became childlike and accepted Jesus because he is utterly trustworthy and loving toward us.  We want to remember that to be in Christ, to be in the kingdom of heaven, we must have been born again. 

Secondly, we should come to realize that if greatness is a thing in that kingdom, then that greatness will not be found in childishly seeking greatness.  Instead, greatness will be given to us because we sought to be humble and that humbleness is best expressed through love.  If there is greatness for us, then it will be given because God is love and God saw that we used the gift of our life and our spiritual gifts motivated by a love that is humble because love is patient, kind, not easily angered, that rejoices in the truth, protecting, giving hope, and never failing.

Let us all then be childlike and know Jesus loves us and let us put away childish things and love as an expression of our humility before God.  Amen and Amen.