Wednesday evening hello to each and every one of our Bethel Youth Ministry! Hope that this greets everyone well, and no one has been blown away by the Monday morning winds nor coughing too much from all of the Silverado Canyon smoke and ash! Praise and thanks be to God that apparently our congregation members and families were spared the loss of homes to the closely raging flames.
Last Lord's Day we had our guest speaker, Pastor Daniel Hyeon, address us from the Letter to the Hebrews. This letter to the Jewish-Christians of Rome was written by an exceptionally well educated someone outside of Rome who knew about the pressure that Christians were under in Rome due to persecution by the Imperial government. This persecution at this time usually meant loss of one's employment and confiscation of one's home and wealth.
Jewish Christians were in a strange position in this persecution. If Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire at the time, at least Judaism was then a legal religion. Jewish Christians could escape the consequences of persecution if they would forget the Christ and go back to the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship. In order to be accepted back into the synagogue, however, the Jewish Christians had to PUBLICLY DENY that Jesus the Christ was the Son of God, the Savior.
Think about that!
The Letter to the Hebrews was a long set of carefully detailed arguments meant to persuade the Jewish Christians of Rome not to give up on the Christ despite the terrible persecution.
Pastor Daniel noted to us that throughout the history of His chosen people, the Jews, God chose certain individuals from time to time to deliver His stern messages of warning and tender messages of redemption. These divine messengers were the prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
Pastor Daniel read from the Letter to the Hebrews chapter 11, verse 6: “ And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
As we learned from this passage, without faith we cannot please God. We also understand from the passage that faith has two parts: firstly, God exists. Secondly, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him. This means being completely sure of what we cannot see, and it means seeking God in with such a focus and persistence that it seems to some unbelievers that we are out of our minds.
As Pastor Daniel said, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us now as the Jewish Christians back then, that Jesus was in one person the high priest and prophet and sacrifice once and for all. He was incomparably greater than anyone else in the Bible. He proved that He is God, and that He is the only Way.
So, to Jewish Christians of Rome (and to us) “...don't go back to your old, superseded ways!”
We are gifted with redemption from the shackles of our sins, if only we believe and continue believing no matter what! If we do believe, we each of us live day by day, day and night, a life in full surrender to our Savior.
Pastor Daniel closed with a reference from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13 verse 45 and 46: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Whatever the pressure from powers and authorities, don't give up the pearl of salvation!
Lord's Day last, Pastor John, considering that these times might burden each of us and our loved ones with especial stress, started a small series of sermons called “Piece to Peace”. The concern is that the stress can potentially leave us in “pieces” inside. The hope is that if we have the right attitude toward our Lord, we will transcend such fractured feelings and know “Peace”.
Pastor John read to us from Paul's Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
So then, how do we pass into God's peace in this difficult time?
Pastor John offered the very effective metaphor of the rocking chair. He who uses the rocking chair engages in quite a lot of movement but he never gets anywhere. Worry and fidgeting involve much mental to-ing and fro-ing, but they don't get you anywhere. Pastor John noted that during one year recently 40 million Americans spent 42 billion dollars to treat anxiety disorders. Pastor John further explained that today's American child on average has the same anxiety level as a 1950s-era American psychiatry patient. This is a very sobering statement.
In the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written the word μεριμνάω (merimnáō) means to be anxious. It comes from mérimna which means “to be divided into parts”, or more to the point, “to go to pieces”, So, to be anxious is to be in pieces. Not a good state of being.
To advance further our understanding Pastor John read from the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, verses 41 and 42: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it (the one thing) will not be taken away from her.”
Martha is driven to pieces by many things, which is to say, the cares of this world. By contrast, her sister Mary is focused on one thing, the peace of which her Lord and Savior (and personal friend) was speaking about.
As we well know from Philippians above, we are commanded to rejoice. With this clear enjoinder from Our Lord, we know that the contrast - worry - is a sin. How is that? Anxiety is a manifestation of unbelief and lack of trust in God.
We read from1 Peter 5:7; “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” That uses the same verb as when Jesus disciples “cast” the blanket onto the donkey for their Master to ride into Jerusalem. We cast our worries onto Our Lord as we trust Him to be in full control. We read Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have the peace because we know who God is. Knowing who He is, we trust Him. With such trust in the Almighty, where can our worries be? We cease to be in pieces and we are then in peace.
Think of it: when we live this life, there are times in which we find ourselves at the end of our rope, when we can go no further. When this happens, we must have someone to take over. In that case, we must know Him, and not rely on “church” or “religion”. This underlines the real meaning of Jesus being the “prince of peace.”
Think of it: as Pastor John suggested, if God saw to our salvation from sin the only way possible, through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.....
then why not trust Him with all of life's (relative) trivialities?
When he spoke to us three days ago Pastor John began our final serving of Freedom in Christ by reading the last portion of the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Galatians chapter 6 verses 11 through 18: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Those who want to IMPRESS PEOPLE by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”
Impressing people. How much of our time, energy, thought and worry goes into trying to IMPRESS PEOPLE? Do you see it in yourselves? Do you see it in other people? Pastor John began to illustrate the moral issue that Paul noted in the last part of the letter by showing a picture from...
The Wizard of Oz. The video clip is from a scene where Dorothy's little dog Toto pulls back the curtain behind which the itinerant “Professor Marvel” (“itinerant” meaning he wandered here and there because he couldn't get a regular job) was busy. What was he busy with? He was busy trying to IMPRESS PEOPLE and make himself out to be very much more than what he really was (an old man who could not be sure where his next meal was coming from).
Okay, then: do we, like Professor Marvel, seek to hide our true selves? Honestly, do we prefer calculated presentation over genuine substance? Do we know the “right” answers so that we can put on a good show for those to whom we feel the urge to show off?
Pastor John further illustrated the point with his own story about participating in a five-mile run for charity. As a youth Pastor John was recruited into the race “to help fight cancer”. That idea sounded good, but going further our future Pastor John thought; “in doing this I will add to my community service hours which I need to be considered for acceptance to good schools”. At bottom, Pastor John way back then didn't really care about the stated purpose of the five-mile run. For him the main thing was that participating in the run would make him look good and he quite naturally calculated that he needed to IMPRESS PEOPLE – the right people.
Sounds pretty normal, right?
But Pastor John asked us: “Can you perform your way to God?” He continued: “Can you earn salvation by putting on a good show?” So that begs the question “Do you fear men or do you revere God?” Having total reverence for God completely drives out the fear of men. After that, there is none of the urge to IMPRESS PEOPLE.
Now, as the Apostle Paul writes in his letter, there is such a thing as a good boast. Think about it: what you boast in underlines your VALUES. Pastor John brought up the case of Eric Liddell and the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was thoroughly trained for the 100-meter run. But, he would not run on the Lord's Day no matter what. So, he missed his one big chance to impress people in the race he had so well trained for, because his VALUES were elsewhere. Perhaps we should not be greatly surprised. Though British (Scots, to be exact), he was born in China to parents doing missionary work there. Evidently the values his parents must have had to keep at the Lord's work in what was then a very poor and dangerous country must have been impressed upon him as he grew up.
Well, to continue the story, the 400-meter race was run during the week in the 1924 Olympics. Though not trained in that event Eric Liddell entered it. He won the race. God has His ways!
Eric Liddell could easily have gone from his triumph in the Olympics to a successful sports career and the fame and fortune that could have come with it. But his life was not for show. He felt no need to impress people. He went back to China and worked for many years as a missionary. When the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 merged into the Second World War in 1941, as an enemy national he was put into an internment camp by the Japanese Army. Conditions in the camp were poor. Eric Liddell did all he could to ease the lot of his fellow internees even at the expense of his own health. He died in the camp several months before the end of the war. In all that he said and did he witnessed the Christ literally to his last breath.
What drove Eric Liddell in the choices he made and the life he led? Pastor John gave us a big clue when he read from Paul's second Letter to the Corinthians 3:15-18 “Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts” (Paul is talking about Jews who did not accept the Christ and instead tried to impress each other with outward adherence to the Mosaic law). “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Even in the internment camp Eric Liddell, with an unveiled face, had the Spirit. He had true freedom in Christ. What about each of us?
In our eleventh turn at Freedom in Christ, Pastor John set the tone for us by reading from the Letter to the Galatians 6:6-10 “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor". (Fellows, this one sentence is meant as a heads-up that as adults you should help make sure with your wallet that your pastor and his family at least have a roof over their heads and food on their table).
Continue: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
""Flesh" here is the Apostle Paul's short-hand for "worldly, ungodly natural sinful human inclinations" We all know full well about all that!
Having set the tone in Scripture, Pastor John then told us the story of his studious college roommate. From the start of each quarter in college P. John's then-roommate studied little by little. He covered almost every day what he was supposed to study that day. Pastor John and all the other students like most of us naturally procrastinated and and then crammed for the exam maybe the night before. The studious roommate alone of his group of collegians was relaxed when the week of finals arrived. Even at your ages you fellows all can readily understand this story from your own experiences.
So fellows, consider: Actions and reactions. Choices and consequences. Reaping and sowing. The wages of being mired in sin is death; the consequences of keeping daily in step with the Christ is eternal life. Patient character building gives fruit that benefits us and those around us. By contrast those times when we sow into our selfish desires we add to our pile of bad baggage.
"Spoiled brat". Pastor John knew that each of us knows what that is, how such a person comes to be. Even at thirteen years old you know full well from all that you have seen that when the parents give the child everything he wants when he wants it what the unpleasant result must be. Most of you know of the cartoon character Caillou? This child has temper tantrums all the time. The more spoiled he is by his inadequate parents, the more he becomes super-selfish.
Alright: what of OUR spiritual appetite? What reverses in life (not getting what we want when we want it) turn out to be blessings in disguise? Putting the shoe on the other foot, what seeming blessings turn out to be curses in disguise?
In this we learn that we must SEEK GOD'S FACE FIRST, not blessings first, and in all patient expectation allow the true blessings to come in His good time, according to His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Just to further illustrate the point: if some years away you are a father, do you want your child to love you, or to love what you can give him or her?
Pastor John then demonstrated for us that Scripture is heavily sown throughout with admonitions to this effect:
Psalm 37:4: “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
2 Thessalonians 3:13 ” And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Pastor John then introduced us to the experience of the English missionary William Carey (1761-1834). He obeyed God's calling to go to the other side of the world, to India as a missionary. There he knew seven years of incredible hardship and toil before he baptised his first convert, Krishna Pal. From his long hard experience in faith he said “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” William Carey, through thin and thinner still, desired only God, not what God could do for him.
Whatever negativity you face in your daily walk with God, in your obedience to His will, still you ALREADY KNOW the end is good. So through it all keep at it; it is already won!
Pastor John underlined the point with a quote from John Stott: In the 20th century he was very famous for his work in England for the body of Christ there. He cautioned us: “Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh.”
Fellows, just as Pastor John cautioned us, we must never forget that every little choice we make matters. God is always watching. Now, think for a minute: is that a fearful fact or a comfort to us?
To help us get past our chronic expectations for immediate results, Pastor John explained to us the amazing genesis of Chinese bamboo. It takes FIVE YEARS after planting the bamboo seed for the tiny bamboo shoot to break through. But during all that time the plant's life systems are invisibly but surely making complex preparations. Then, in just two weeks after it first appears above the soil, the bamboo grows maybe nine feet tall!
We learn from such an example the truth of the verses above that when we do not give in to being weary and tired we will surely reap ("gather the benefits") according to His plan and purpose. God is patient with each of us as day-in and day-out we develop the nine facets of the fruit of the Spirit. It is how so patiently and faithfully He reaps.
Tempted by glittering evil, or up a tree and oh so weary and tired? (If not right now at age 13, soon enough as young adults you shall have such days now and then; that I guarantee you). On such a day when what you know is wrong seems so attractive or the world seems to crash down around your ears, don't give in and don't give up - humbly pray right then and there to be newly indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Then you will know as never before that there is power in the Spirit and your true freedom in Christ.