New Year Twenty Twenty-one greetings to each and to everyone at Bethel Youth Ministry!
This last Lord's Day Pastor Daniel frankly acknowledged that none of us can know what is to come in 2021 despite our misgivings from 2020. But he affirmed to us that so long as we are FAITHFUL we are covered for our number-one goal, eternal salvation, come what may. Pastor Daniel then spent time illustrating for us just why this is so.
He first read to us from Proverbs 21 verses 30 and 31 “there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. The horse is made ready for battle.” This is by way of affirming that whatever the whiles and schemes of Satan, still our God is superior.
Then Pastor Daniel got right down to it: “Did Covid-ridden 2020 cause you to fall from faith?”
It is a good question to ask, because the common assumption among human beings is that a good God should not cause bad things to happen, or even to allow them to happen. Yes, He does not cause bad things to happen, but from Romans 8:28 (“and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”) that He does allow good and bad things in life to happen together to bring about His purpose, which if we are His children, must be for our ultimate good, though we may not see it.
So, do we trust our God? Many, especially adults who believe that their own estimate of the good in life must also be the way God sees it, will lose faith, if they ever had it, when life does not go according to their own script. Hopefully in BYM we each have not become so old and forgetful that we have forgotten the love of a wise and loving parent and the trust that the mom or dad, who after all is just a human being, still inspires in us.
So then, do we trust our God?
Pastor Daniel read to us from Romans 8:35-39: “ Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
By now we all understand that among the consequences of a fleshly body and its moral imperfection is that sin draws us to the opposite of truth. So then, how many times have we asked ourselves: “is God is really with me?” But consider that if He sacrificed is Son on the cross that we each might be redeemed from the imperfection and slavery of sin, how can He not be with us? As Pastor Daniel urged upon us: don't mix up Satan's doings with God.
Inescapably but truly, if we have doubts about God and His purposes it is because we believe in ourselves and our own intellectual and physical powers. This is something that the world all around us strongly encourages in us from our earliest consciousness. We are each to be our own little gods in the playbook of the powers that be in this world. This attitude makes us amenable to their Satanic purposes, glittering though they be.
Again from Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” This is another way of saying “man proposes, but God disposes”. Teacher Rand from many decades of experience will sheepishly confirm that when he has thought of himself as most discerning and clever is when Our Lord has shown him to be most mistaken!
So, Pastor Daniel asked us, the survivors of 2020: are we sick and tired of living in defeat? He urged us two-fold:
Firstly, that we pray continually. Prayer is what connects us to God.
Again: PRAYER IS WHAT CONNECTS US TO GOD. Pastor Daniel wasn't talking about some self-help meditation, but about humble, submissive prayer to our Lord and Maker.
Secondly, that we walk by the Spirit. Pastor Daniel read to us Romans 8-1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. This means that we, each of us, must follow His lead, rather than “living MY life.” By way of example, Pastor Daniel brought up Israelite King David, who was a sinner like the rest of us, except that being in a position of power, he could commit bigger sins than we can, and more readily. Remember the story of Uriah the Hittite's wife Bathsheba and how King David basically murdered Uriah as well as committed adultery with his wife? (read 2 Samuel chapter 11) But what ultimately matters is that for his many large sins King David was also very painfully and humbly repentant before God. That is key. Pastor Daniel illustrated King David's true heart by reading from Psalm 51 verses 10-11: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” That is what our God wants to see in each of us. As victorious Chrstians we are not even remotely perfect but through the inevitable ups and downs of life in this world we are repentant and submissive – daily!
Hopefully by now we get the message, and we know that our fears from 2020 going into the new year 2021 can be mastered and overridden. We read from Romans 6:14: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” and we read from 1 Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If we imperfect creatures have victory through Christ over sin, then for sure the rest of it – whatever transpires in 2021 – is really just anticlimax.
In true faith we can breathe easily – the victory is already ours!
Last greetings for the year Twenty-twenty to each and every one of our Bethel Youth! Three days ago Pastor John looked forward to the New Year, urging that with the new year we have a “new ear” by which to hear God's voice.
Pastor John first read to us from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 3 verses 13 through 17: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' Jesus replied, 'Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.' Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”
What is baptism but publicly being cleansed of our sins and being reborn to a totally new life in Christ? So we come to the worldly custom of New Year's Day generally being a day to start something of a new life through New Year's resolutions. The idea is to form new habits and gain a sense of reset, of restarting. We have a gnawing and constant desire to change – not just the outside of ourselves but the inside. Any number of self-help books are out there, as well as innumerable social media sites, offering advice in all this. Basically they all require us to strive for something better through our own strength (and how about now with the new year?)
They are all ultimately, and most of them very quickly, inadequate. They are not the answer. Jesus is. So, let us start with the beginning of real change, of a genuine reset.
Pastor John explained to us that Jesus’ baptism that we have just read about reveals how change comes, that the Gospel changes everything! With truly taking in the Good News we have gone from death to life, from selfishness to selflessness, from pride to humility, from anger to love, from anxiety to peace....from sin to holiness!
Progressing from sin to holiness is the ENTIRE point of our temporal existence. If we each do that, our lives have been successful no matter what else in our lives or about our lives. If we fail to do that, our lives have FAILED, no matter what else.
Knowing well enough about the dark, fallen world about us and the futility of all of the advertised ways of changing ourselves within the context of that world, let us consider the genuine article, the real “new”:
Pastor John read to us from 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That's a big “if”, but consider the infinite consequences! It is the only “new” that ever matters!
In the last book of the Bible we read Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new.” God doesn’t simply make new things, He makes all things new. Jesus will take what is broken and falling apart and He will make it new! The distinction is of the utmost importance, as it is each of us who instead of being swept away into the eternal incinerator will be made...new!
What Jesus demonstrated to the world, and each of us, for our benefit, that we might emulate.
Baptism is a symbol of going from death to life...from being outside God’s family to being inside...from being a stranger to being a child of God.
The story of Jesus’s baptism parallels the story of Creation. In both cases there is water and the Spirit of God hovering over the surface. Remember from Genesis “Let us make man…” forward to baptism “Let us save man… and make him new”. Who is this “us”? The triune God! God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit acting as One.
Baptism is a sign of being made clean - Like taking a shower when you are dirty. It is very important to remember that we are speaking in the passive voice here: in baptism we are not cleansing ourselves of sin; we are being cleansed of sin. God does for us, through our non-resistance to His invitation, what we cannot do for ourselves!
Our New Year’s resolution is usually about US trying to clean up OURSELVES and get things in order. Pastor John reminded us that by contrast true repentance and change is about saying “I can’t clean myself before God!” We go to Jesus to change us and cleanse us and carry us.
Pastor John also taught us that Jesus’ affirmation of baptism reveals the motivation to change – God is more concerned with who each of us is becoming than who we presently are. Again we read from Matthew 3:17 “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
“Listen to Him!”
That means very practically that the more we lift up Jesus – in prayer, praise, and all worship - the more we change for the better. The key to a changed life is to KNOW we are children of God – each of us.
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So we are no longer slaves to sin, but God’s children; and since we are his children, God has made us also heirs. This we understood from reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians 4:6-7.
God wants to be the LOUDEST VOICE in our lives. He says “This is my beloved child!” So, the voice we each choose to hear will determine how each of us lives his life.
Altogether different from all of those self-help books and social media gurus, right?
“When people ask me how they should approach performance, I always tell them the professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner.” Pastor John noted that this is the famed Cellist Yo-Yo Ma saying that a real musician should not be tied-up in knots with worry during a performance but instead he or she should play with the abandon of an ignorant child. We read in Matthew 18 verse 3 that Jesus told us that we had to be like children in our not being tied up in knots about worldly things, if we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally we read in one of the last books of the Old Testament - Zephaniah 3:17 "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
If in the New Year we have a new ear to hear, surely come what may He will quiet us with His love.
Thank you Lord – that almighty assurance is all we need to hear!
Christmas week greetings to each and every one of our BYM young people. May His special joy attend everyone of us as we anticipate our Savior come to earth to share our lot and save us from our sins.
Pastor Daniel Hyeon spoke to us for the first time as a member of our congregation and pastoral staff this last Lord's Day. He immediately referred to trends these days in social media discussions. On Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere people ask each other: was 2020 a complete disaster? We all are familiar with seeing restaurants obliged to close their doors, with public parks being closed, with jobs held by neighbors, friends, and family being lost left and right due to the Covid-19 induced economic recession. We all remember the two wildfires that threatened many homes recently in Irvine and forced many church members to seek shelter for the night elsewhere, even at church!
So, why did our loving God let all this happen in 2020? What is in store for our personal lives for 2021?
Pastor Daniel proceeded straightaway to address these concerns. He took us back 2000 years to the Gospels that warn of tumultuous events:
We read from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24 verses 6 through 8: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
We also read Luke 21:10-11, 25 “Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven....There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.”
So, why would our loving God allow all this? Pastor Daniel warned us that God allowed it not that we should be crushed by judgment, but because our sins are growing and growing. The sinning in the home, the sinning outside the home...even sinning in church. Not is not just the sin of unbelievers but also the sin of believers.
Our God is a just God and being a just God He must judge the world accordingly. Heedless of this, many trample on the cross without fear in their eyes.
We read from 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”
Reread the above verses. Really now: doesn't that situation look and sound too familiar to each of us from our daily experiences of the world all around us today – right now?
But Pastor Daniel cautions us that we, each of us, are called to be different...growing not in sinfulness but in godliness. Yes, it is hard to keep faith in these worldly sinful surroundings but...if we cherish Jesus Christ and His word we will be completely excluded from the coming judgment. God will deliver us as He delivered Daniel's friends from Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace . Jesus came the first time 2000 years ago to save us and in so doing to demonstrate God's love. He is coming again, as we know from Scripture. In His second coming He will be as judge not as savior. He will, as it were, segregate sheep from goats, wheat from chaff. Non-believers and fake believers out will be segregated from the small minority of mankind who are true believers. As we read in Matthew 22 verse 14 “many are called (to the “wedding feast), but few are chosen” (actually make themselves presentable to attend through their belief and matching conduct.)
What of each of us, then?
If we truly, believe, keep on believing, and continually behave as if we really do believe, then the caution we receive about the elect few of God is our confidence...not of our time in this world but from the Word. We read in Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.”
Since we know from Scripture above that in God's good time all will be destroyed, we ought to live holy lives not fearful but confident of deliverance from whatever may come. We repose no confidence in anything of this world, a place of temporary sojourn for each true believer.
Remember the part of the Gospel of John where Jesus has His interview with the Samaritan woman? Let us listen again to the conversation already underway in John 4: 21-41 “'Woman,' Jesus replied, 'believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.' The woman said, 'I know that Messiah' (called Christ) 'is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.' Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.' Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?' They came out of the town and made their way toward him.....Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, 'He told me everything I ever did.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world'”.
The Samaritan woman was completely changed. Obviously a very strong-willed, independent character, she put aside all of her past assumptions and believed. Her strength of conviction brought many of her fellow Samaritans along with her in belief.
Pastor Daniel cautioned us: though we know about Him, too often we don't really know Him. And we wind up worshipping things created by men in this world – if not jewel-encrusted figurines of wood or metal as in the ancient world, then their sophisticated, but just as false, equivalent idols (objects of fascination and desire) of today. How many there are - "must have" items - right?
The better to sum it up in stark black and white, Pastor Daniel read to us from Paul's Letter to the Galatians, chapter 5 verses 19-21 and 22-24 “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
So, we must see in this the stark need to fully renounce sin, and to recommit to a holy life by praying to God for His strength. For the primary fight we each of us must wage is not a battle against others - but a struggle against our own fleshly SELVES. In daily keeping up that struggle we each will be prepared for whatever tumultuous events have yet to come our way.
Wednesday mid-December warm hello to BYM!
In his efforts to have all of us well-prepared for Christmas by understanding what this “glory” that we have heard of concerning Christmas all our lives really is, Pastor John read to us from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10 verse 31 “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
All his life of ministry Paul had to fight against two tendencies that could derail Christian belief and life: one was “legalism”. This was what Jewish converts were more prone to fall into; that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was not enough; that they had yet to earn salvation through adherence to the Mosaic law that is fully detailed in the Book of Deuteronomy. The other pitfall Paul fought against tended to beset non-Jewish converts to a life in Christ. This was libertinism. This idea was that “since Christ's death on the cross saved me once and for all, I can do whatever I want during the rest of my life.” No Christians seemed more prone to this grave error than the Corinthians, since Corinth in Greece was from its early days like the stereotype of Las Vegas of the Mediterranean world: all manner of sin and vice flourished there. The Apostle Paul had repeatedly to caution the Corinthian Christians that if they truly believed, then they would sacrifice their own sinful pleasures to demonstrate their thankfulness for salvation through the Christ's sacrifice. The bottom line, as expressed in the verse above, was that they (and we) should consciously and continually use our freedom of choice to glorify God.
Pastor John illustrated this by reminding us of his participation in a 5-kilometer run for charity when he was a high school student. The destination of the run was clear - the finish line! But there were distractions en route, chief among them the local Burger King. Our future Pastor John and his chums barely finished the race, so distracted were they.
What about us?
As Pastor John says, when we have a destination, we have a direction. Ultimately, our final destination and goal in life is to glorify God. That’s the bottom line.
That goal - our purpose - is to ASCRIBE glory to the Lord. This is different from giving glory to Him, since it is He who already has it all! The difference just means that we are putting God at the front of our lives. Psalm 29 verse 2 says it really well: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”
Pastor John reminds us that to glorify God, to ascribe glory to God, means making God number one, the first priority, in every part of our lives, in everything we say and do. Hence the Apostle Paul's admonition: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
It is not in the first place about action. It is firstly about intention. Created in God's image, we are not robots. We can and must make choices during our brief temporal journey on this earth, in this fallen world. We are conscious beings and have the FREEDOM to choose God over everything else.
Pastor John cautions us that glorifying God is not a matter of will power, it’s about a genuine RESPONSE. It begins by our encountering the glory of God. From Scripture we have many examples of heroes and prophets of faith encountering the glory of God:
Isaiah – “Woe is me! For I am lost!”
Moses – “He put a veil over his face.”
Peter – “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!”
John – “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
God's glory never makes us say, “Come!”; the tremendous apparition or experience of God's glory always makes us say, “Depart!” As the above examples illustrate, it is utterly overwhelming.
Pastor John flashed us the cute picture of Noah's Ark that you all knew from your time in preschool here at church. Then he followed with a picture of the Ark when God's wrath against sinful man is coming down as storm water. That is God's glory; scary to the Nth degree to those actually experiencing it. How could it be otherwise? He is God, and we are not.
Pastor John then gave us this perfect gem: the glory of the cross is God's love and wrath in perfect combination. As he rephrased it, the cross is where God’s LOVE and God's HOLINESS are in PERFECT union. How glorious!
As Pastor John has noted before, the Sun gives off light; the Moon can only reflect light given off by the Sun. So also with us; glorifying God means REFLECTING His Love. As we are eternally grateful for the gift of salvation, so we seek to imitate the Author of our salvation, His only begotten Son. So we read Paul's admonition in Romans 8:29: “to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
God had to send Jesus to perfectly reflect God and His love because we, sinful mankind from Adam forward, had failed to do so. But fallen Adam did get the promise of the ultimate redemption of mankind and its fruit is contained in this verse John 13:34: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
This command is fundamentally new because it says “as I have loved you”. This is a key difference between the Old Covenant and the New. We have now known our Savior in the flesh. So we should imitate and reflect to others accordingly: 1 Peter 1:16 "You shall be holy, for I am holy.” This means that we, each of us, a temple and dwelling place for God. We are again reminded of this from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
The temple in Jerusalem was as beautiful specimen of mega-architecture as the ancient world had to offer. But within the Temple the priests were always busy with the slaughter of animals as part of the duties of sacrifice prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy. As Pastor John noted, at the end of his day's duties at the Temple a priest commonly came home with his garments heavily stained with blood. Jesus's sacrifice abolished all that, and instead we, each of us, became His temple!
Think about that: the body, the life, that each of us has is God's temple of which we are custodians. Our bodies are for God's glory and we are charged to be mindful of that always. Doesn't that basic realization weigh powerfully on the choices we make even hourly in our lives? Wash your face, stand up straight, and infinitely much more!
So the glory of Christmas is that Jesus, being God incarnate, perfectly reflects who God is. He is loving and He is Holy. The baby Jesus in the manger was headed for the cross – the place where God is most glorified – but His ultimate destination was not a place, but each of us!
The glory of Christmas is the ultimate inspiration and prompt for each of us to make Jesus our destination of holiness.
Glorious December greetings to every worshipper in our Bethel Youth Ministry! In humble faith in our Savior and constant obedience to Him, may we be primed to know true glory! Indeed, this glory is what Pastor John is carefully preparing us for this Christmas season of 2020.
This last Lord's Day he got us underway once more by reading from the Gospel written by our fellow gentile and the Apostle Paul's traveling companion, doctor Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 through 38: “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.' 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.' 'I am the Lord’s servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' Then the angel left her.”
Pastor John then had us consider the WAIT, a matter of time. This teenaged Jewish girl Mary was already engaged to be married to Joseph, a carpenter. She was a perfectly well-behaved young maiden fully observing all of the strict Mosaic law expected of her. And the angel had the most incredible message for her, for which nothing of her life experience could prepare her for but for which her strong inner faith in God did prepare her.
As Pastor John reminded us, Mary was thinking carefully about what she was being told. In Luke 1:29 - “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” and again in Luke 1:34 – “How will this be…?” She would have to wait for the miracle to be fulfilled, the same as her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, mother-to-be of John the Baptist. Anyway, through this humble, faithful girl God would give the fallen world the greatest gift – the gift of salvation – the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ – Jesus!
The name "Jesus" is the English from the Latin Iesus from the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iésous) from the Hebrew ישוע (Yeshua) which is the shortened form for יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yehoshua) a name which comes from the Hebrew verbיָשַׁע (yasha), which means to save. To get Yehoshua, the verb was combined with the Hebrew consonants for God Y-H-W-H. So in short, the name "Jesus" means “God rescues”.
(BTW the Korean 예수 [yesu] comes more directly from the original Hebrew used at the time of the Christ's earthly ministry. Just as Pastor John has said, Korean school can be worth it!)
Now, we can all recall that a short time back Pastor John soon came to realize the worth of a friend's gift of simple anti-acid medications. A worthy gift they were. But how much more desperately has all of fallen mankind needed the gift of salvation? From the time of Adam! The worth of the gift of the Christ comes in our realizing how desperately we need this gift!
Pastor John shared with us something of his family Christmas traditions: No trees, no gifts. But he had as a boy a great yearning for years for this special toy train set. One Christmas it finally came. There was great excitement because the WAIT WAS WORTH IT.
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has apparently developed a usable Covid-19 vaccine. Its worth and value is commonly held high because of the WAIT for it by billions of people.
There is the obvious featherweight of a paper $100 bill. But a father taught his child the true WEIGHT of the $100 bill through cashing in for pennies. It was a huge weight; far more pennies than can be carried. It was a graphic way for the child to understand the true weight of the $100 bill.
Back to the interview with the angel Gabriel: humble, very careful Mary had to consider the WEIGHT of what she was being told. Her faith must have been so great as nothing in her life up to that point could have given her worldly preparation to calculate and accept what she was being told. We read again Luke 1:38 “and Mary said, 'Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.'”So, fully comprehending what she heard, in the greatest faith Mary was TRUSTING and SUBMITTING. In worldly terms she was taking a big risk – a broken engagement and complete social ostracism at least; possibly even being stoned to death if someone wanted to make an example of her. But, she said toi the angel Gabriel “May it be according to your word” or “May everything you said about me come true”
Such courage from the faith of this young girl!
Mary with careful attention but without hesitation chose to bear the weight of the unique divine conception. Such is the inevitable weight of obedience which is true glory. We bear the weight of obedience because Jesus took on the greatest burden of obedience for us. In the Garden of Gethsemane when facing imminent arrest, show trial and crucifixion He did say to the Father “Not my will, but yours be done”as Mary had earlier “May it be according to your word”
The story of Christmas tells us that in the person of the Son, God became breakable, fragile - someone who can get hurt. He did so because He wanted to RESCUE US (remember: Jesus means “God Rescues”). God is holy, and yet approachable through Jesus our Savior and Intercessor. As Pastor John reminded us, in Jesus, we are made righteous and we are loved and we are safe. When we could not bear the heaviness of sin and the weight of glory (God’s holiness), Jesus took on that weight for us.
So again we read Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Here at Christmas!
Again, Jesus took on the greatest weight of obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane.
More than our waiting on Jesus - Jesus is waiting on us with the weight of His sacrifice for us.
True glory – hallelujah!
Early December greetings – brisk hellos – to each and every one of our Bethel Youth Ministry community!
Three days ago Pastor John read to us from the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Alright then, what is this “glory”? Well one dictionary definition is “praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent”. That definition is not lame but it is pretty tame; God's glory is infinitely more intense in character:
Read from the Book of Exodus chapter 3, verses 1 through 7: “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”
God's glory is so great that Moses could not come near, and he hid his face in fear of God's tremendous glory. Much later Moses is required to go up Mount Sinai alone to receive the Ten Commandments. He comes back down, and we read:
Exodus 34: 30-35 “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.”
And also in the New Testament for instance the Gospel of Matthew 17:1-8 “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!' When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. 'Get up,' he said. 'Don’t be afraid.' When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”
By now we get it: God's glory is nothing like the usual human concept. It is a good, great, but fearful thing! God's glory bespeaks the essential difference between the Creator and any of His creations, including us.
Imperfect, sinful, condemned us. But unfathomably so beloved by Him that he set in motion the most improbable, incredible rescue plan.
It was He, and He first took form as a helpless infant.
For many centuries the western world, and lately the whole world, has celebrated the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, of the House of David, the Christ, in late December. We call it Christmas Day, in fact! The Christ, the Messiah, Our Savior, came to earth as a helpless infant on that day we say.
Our Savior a helpless infant. Let us meditate on that incongruity for a moment. We shall seek to resolve it!
For many centuries the western world, and lately the whole world, has celebrated the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, of the House of David, the Christ, in late December. We call it Christmas Day, in fact! The Christ, the Messiah, Our Savior, came to earth as a helpless infant on that day we say.
Our Savior a helpless infant. Let us meditate on that incongruity for a moment. We shall seek to resolve it!
If the first Gospel was a breathless account by the Apostle Peter's amanuensis John-Mark to tell unbelievers what Jesus DID and the next two Gospels more extensive efforts to record what Jesus SAID, the last Gospel, that of the Apostle John, was crafted to make resoundingly clear who Jesus IS.
John begins chapter 1 verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Harkening back to the first lines of Genesis, John establishes here that in Jesus there is a NEW CREATION.
The Apostle John bids us to understand from the get-go that Jesus is the Word of God and thus is God. Starting his gospel with that incalculably enormous proposition is why we say that the Gospel of John was written for BELIEVERS, not for people who are merely curious. An unbeliever will be lost in bewilderment by the time he gets to verse 2! Pastor John well illustrated this point in reading from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1 verse 18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
As Pastor John so well explained, the Word reveals who God is. That is the essence of revelation. Consider: as some of us discussed in our after-service chatroom session, there is a big difference between Knowing ABOUT someone (what you've read about) versus actually KNOWING someone (which begins to occur when you TALK TO EACH OTHER. Hence QT!
The Koine Greek λόγος “logos” means “written word”. It comes from λέγω “lego” meaning “I say”. From it we get “-logy”, the REASONED study of something. So this gospel all boils down to Jesus being the logic of God. You realize as you read this gospel that Jesus is CONSISTENT and he is PERFECT. Jesus Himself, the person, is the most convincing argument for Christianity. Jesus, the Person is the superior feature in any argument. Without Jesus CHRIST, CHRISTmas (and Christianity) makes no sense. There is no central sense to the hoopla of Christmas, and there is no sense trying to make a merely nice human being out of a man who spent half his public career claiming to be God!
“Became flesh” means that Jesus became TANGIBLE and real to us. He is God’s tangible expression of love to us. Now at some point in our lives (hopefully!) we each find one special person who we like (well, love) so much that we want to hold on to that person to the end of our days. So we marry, and symbolically the union between us and our special person, we slip rings on to ring fingers. As Pastor John said “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it". That is love. How much more God's love that in baby Jesus He came not only to bring the message of good news, but He IS the Good News. God is love such that the Word became flesh.
In Jesus God became VULNERABLE. This right from the start. Who could be more vulnerable than a helpless infant? Thus began God's mission to us in human form, who could eat and drink and be angry and weep. Pastor John read to us from Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
God became weak and vulnerable so that we, who are weak and vulnerable, can approach him. As we know about the glory of God, how else could He become approachable?
Onward in Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This teaches us that if Jesus became vulnerable for us, we can become vulnerable in our relationships with each other. We can learn to focus not on “having my needs met”, but on “meeting your needs.” It allows us to see Jesus as one who died for us to meet our need as condemned by imperfection to burn for our sin. It is the only way to destroy sin without destroying us.
Many or most of us are too young to know the depths of despair.
But keep in mind the picture of the person feeling quite beat up by recent vicissitudes in life. In the black depths of despair, this person says “I prayed and God did not answer my prayers.”
Well, the human Jesus prayed in the garden – sweated blood in fact - but still felt abandoned on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as He stared into the black abyss of Hell. Through Jesus our intercessor, our father God knows our travails in this life, to an acute degree. Before we even know them, in fact!
The baby Jesus was God who dwelt among us, new arrived on earth.
As Pastor John said, “dwelt among us” means at its root “pitched a tent” or “tabernacled.” A tabernacle was a tent where God dwelt for worship by his itinerant faithful (the Israelites wandering in the desert). Now, in the Old Testament to encounter the glory of God was fatal; it was just too much for people to handle. Remember how Moses had to go up Mount Sinai by himself to be in God's glory to receive the Ten Commandments? So, God “concealed” His glory in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. Recall God's very detailed instructions to the Israelites for crafting the tabernacle in Exodus chapters 25 through 31?
By contrast, in the New Testament, the Apostle John writes (John 1:14) that “...we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son…” Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us so that we can have full access to God. Again, just the little bit of glory that God could show Moses was like sunlight hitting the moon. And even that was too much for Israelites at the base of the mountain. All this about approachability again reminds us, as Pastor John so necessarily emphasizes, that belief in the Christ – true Christianity – is not about religion but about relationships. As we believe so through His love we are adopted into His family, as co-heirs of the portion of the Son, to enjoy forever. When 33 years later the infant Jesus died on the cross in human maturity for our sins, the Father's unapproachability was cancelled, as the veil in the temple in Jerusalem that separated the glory of God from His people was torn from top to bottom. Salvation was never anything we could possibly achieve. But through the life and sacrifice of the vulnerable Jesus, it was something that we now receive.
So in this season of receiving we receive incomparably the best of all – Joy to the World – the wonders of His love.
Glory to God in the Highest!
Thanksgiving Greetings to our BYM! From the bottom of our hearts may we each be filled with an attitude of gratitude!
Lord's Day last Pastor John set the tone for exploring what having an attitude of gratitude really means by reading to us from the Gospel of Luke chapter 7 verses 11 through 19: “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!' When he saw them, he said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”
During this marked year 2020 and its Covid-19 global pandemic we all have learned about social distancing. Pastor John flashed us a poster about it. However, dreadful communicable diseases needing social distancing are hardly new; indeed, through most of mankind's existence they have been the primary category of diseases afflicting people. Only with the huge increase in the food supply starting in Europe and America in the late 19th century did diseases of overconsumption begin to exceed communicable diseases as primary human health hazards. Back in biblical times, a terrible skin-evident disease commonly called leprosy begat by the various species of Mycobacterium meant mandatory social distancing for the afflicted persons. We read about leprosy precautions including social distancing in Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 and in Deuteronomy chapter 24. By the 19th century leprosy and its horrors had even spread to Hawaii. The usual experience when getting it was that one's whole world had come to an end and the rest of one's life was more and more miserable until the release from the disease brought about by death. It is still around; Pastor John showed us a World Leprosy Eradication Day poster illustrating the signs and symptoms of leprosy.
Alright then, we get it: leprosy is really bad stuff
In our scriptural passage ten lepers met Jesus; in their misery He was their last hope. After their brief if intense encounter with Jesus they followed His admonition from Mosaic law and went to the priest to demonstrate their healed status.
Only one of the newly cleansed lepers turned back to give thanks and praise. What about thanks and praise?
Real thanksgiving begins with realizing WHY you are thankful and TO WHOM you should be thankful. Remember from the above Luke 17:15: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”
Alright then, just as Pastor John said, the more we see our desperate NEED for forgiveness the more we can be THANKFUL for what Jesus did for us on the cross.
Pastor John illustrated this for us first with a personal story. A while back he received the gift of medicine cabinet additions such as Pepto-Bismol that he hardly imagined that he had need of. Not long afterward he developed a terrible case of heartburn, and it soon became evident that the previous medicine-cabinet gifts were just the answer. How grateful Pastor John now felt towards his gift-giver! Somebody knew better than Pastor John what he really needed. How about us? How grateful are we commonly for the gift of divine forgiveness and salvation? Does our Father in heaven know better than we do what we really need? Might the realization of that produce a really THANKFUL attitude?
From preschool at church you all have learned to give praise to God. Why? When we praise God we are saying OUT LOUD our thankfulness, our gratitude. Praise is our “attitude of gratitude”. We are often inspired enough by our praise to not just thank God, but further, to pledge to live an attitude of gratitude day by day. Though baptized we need constantly to struggle against sin. We struggle in part through the songs of gratitude that play in our head. They can allow us to get a grip on our bondage of sin.
We read in Acts 16:25-26. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” Well?
Well, when we praise God outwardly we are breaking the chains that bind us away from God. In his own case, Pastor John's go-to songs of praise include “God will make a way” and “My life is in your hands” (Kirk Franklin).
Above in Luke 17:16 we read “He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” in humble thanks. We give thanks because we know that whatever the answer – yes, no, or not yet – God is in control and that He has our best interests at heart, as any true father should. We read in Daniel 3:17-18 “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” That's the right attitude. Come what may we are humbly thankful to the end because we know our God. Again:
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” everything plus and minus TOGETHER is for good. For this we need to be supremely thankful to our Father in heaven who knows what is best and makes it ALL work together for the best.
Pastor John offered a few more simple illustrations of the differences of wisdom. An infant might delight in the taste of honey, but parents know (or should know) that honey can be very harmful to infants under twelve months of age. Dogs may like chocolate but their owners are supposed to know better. As a boy Pastor John hated Korean school because it interfered with his preferred Saturday morning activities. But because his parents knew better, Pastor John now can at least get by in Korean conversation.
Above in Luke 17:19 we read “your faith has made you well.” Now what really did this mean?Think about it: the other nine lepers were made well physically, but did they acknowledge their need for salvation? No. So, only the one, who humbly threw himself at Jesus 's feet and praised and worshipped him, was healed and saved in the ONE WAY that really matters.
Why did the leper come back? Did he have more feeling? No, the Samaritan leper saw more than the physical. He recognized he was a sinner, and he wanted to be in the presence of Jesus. By his praise at Jesus's feet he was saying “Jesus I am thankful for WHO you are.”
Growing up Pastor John asked for many things from his dad. But in his maturity the one thing that he is really thankful for is the RELATIONSHIP he has always had with his dad. Now, who better loves us than God? How about the relationship that each of us has with Him? Counting our earthly blessings, be they one or ten thousand, is all well and good. Yet the ONLY thing we have that will last forever is our salvation. Before that supremely singular gift we were headed for hell. Now let us think about it...
The only response from each of us is “Thank you Jesus for what you have done, for who you are...”
Our attitude must be one of gratitude - our lives must be lives of thanksgiving.
This last Lord's Day Pastor John completed our journey from pieces to peace. He began by reading to us from the conclusion of Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 8 and 9: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Pastor John soon challenged us to examine the way we think as a prelude to adjusting our attitudes. Do you remember the silhouette of the spinning dancer? Some of us thought she might be spinning to the left, others of us to the right. And to further amaze us, Pastor John switched the left/right tags on the ankles of the spinning dancer. In this way our perceptions could be instantly altered! So also in our life in Christ. We are challenged to examine the way we think, and so change the way we see our lives. Pastor John read to us from Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Pastor John introduced us to the critical truth that God's sovereignty and man's responsibility go hand-in-hand. As Pastor John said, while God gives man muscles, man must faithfully work to develop them. In other words, just because God is sovereign does not mean that man is a thoughtless zombie, free from responsibility. Let us look at some ways this essential relationship is illustrated in Scripture:
In the Gospel of John chapter 15 verse 5 Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (ESV) Apart from Christ we are indeed powerless to do good, but in him we are expected to “bear much fruit”. That means constant EFFORT, not just of a day, as any vineyard owner will tell you. It is the work of a lifetime.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 verse 24 we read “Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” (ESV) There is nothing passive here. We must actively choose to deny our natural inclinations; we must consciously choose to do what we each in his way must do, to imitate our Savior.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians chapter 2, verses 12 and 13 we read “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Certainly the indwelling of the Holy Spirit will cause us such reverence meant by “fear and trembling” but also we are told to work out our own salvation. We are told that if the Holy Spirit is within us we will “work for His good pleasure.” We, all of us, quite agree that there is nothing passive about “work”.
Pastor John evoked in our minds the picture of the powerful steam locomotive that was a marvel of transportation technology in its day, IF it had sturdy metal rails to run on. So also, the powerful locomotive of spiritual faith must have the sturdy rails of reason, as we find in studying the Bible, to run on. The locomotive and the rails go hand-in-hand, just as the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Bible go hand-in-hand.
Pastor John gave a second illustration about the attitude that we must have in basing our faith, and thus our peace of mind, in solid mental reasoning. He suggested that if we are seriously ill and in need of surgery we should seek just the right doctor who has a track record of perfectly curing the problem. Then we should commit ourselves to his care in perfect faith based on the reason that the doctor is skilled. If after such careful reasoning we then panic on the operating table, it is a sign that we have lost our ability to reason. Our faith in Jesus as our savior must be similarly grounded in biblical facts and attested historical truth, so that when we are beset by storms of turmoil and trouble we don't mindlessly lose our faith.
What is known as the first Great Awakening occurred in colonial America during the 1730s and 1740s. At that time wonderfully gifted preachers like George Whitefield and zealous missionaries like Eleazar Wheelock brought people to faith first by the power of the Holy Spirit. Having been so inspired and indwelt, the newly faithful now saw that they needed to properly gird and ground their faith in the Word. Only through solid knowledge of biblical fact could their faith survive the inevitable storms of this life. Thus what would eventually become Princeton University was founded in 1746 by local Presbyterians to train ministers according to their biblical views. Similarly, Dartmouth College was founded in 1769 to train people of various native American tribes according to the precepts of the Presbyterian Christian faith.
Practice must follow reasoned thinking. In Romans 5:1 we read “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Think about how God sees you in His only begotten son Jesus, our ultimate intercessor. Truly that is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”
Pastor John gave us the example of two people who have the same mind-deadening job. However, one of them has a ten million dollar incentive to stick with the job and do it well. Instead of dwelling on the constant bits of misery that the work brings him as it does to the other job-holder, the one with the giant incentive looks at the BIG PICTURE. He patiently endures all of the petty annoyances that the work needles him with. Our faith must be like that. By Scripture we know that we are promised a boundless glorious eternity with our Maker if we believe, keep on believing, and conduct ourselves day-in and day-out as believers, no matter what the trials and tribulations that our earthly circumstances may bring us.
Pastor John started us in this series because he foresaw that in an anxiety-causing world, we could go to pieces. So he concluded with reading from the Gospel of John 16:33 where Jesus assured his disciples, and us, that “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Amen!
Hello to all of our BYM! Hope ALL are staying warm and avoiding the maladies that suddenly cold weather can bring.
Pastor John is continuing with us in addressing the issue of worry and anxiety and how it relates to our faith. So, last Lord's Day he started out by reading from Paul's Letter to the Philippians chapter 4 verses 11 and 12. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Now really - how often have we heard someone say “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”? Surely far more common is seeing and hearing all around us folks who are never satisfied, never happy no matter how extensive their material endowments. They are constantly consumed with worry.
Pastor John re-emphasized the issue by rereading Philippians 4:6-7 “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.”
He then related to us recent graphic experiences he has had at his house. He showed us pictures of little creepy crawlies of various kinds he had found infesting portions of his house. As unpleasant as their appearance was, their presence pointed to a worse basic problem: in this case mold in the structure of his house. So he felt compelled to take decisive action to address the underlying problem.
Well then, how about addressing the more fundamental problem of anxiety, of lack of peace, of being in pieces?
God calls us to take action regarding the underlying problem. In this case, we know from Philippians 4:6 above that we should let our requests be known to God. This means that we should pray. The curious thing is that the need for prayer among men is so fundamental that the world over, whatever the cultural or religious circumstances, men have always had the urge to pray, even if they mostly did not know who to pray to.
Pastor John put it with beautiful simplicity. When we are thirsty, we know enough to drink. When we are hungry, we know enough to eat. When we are anxious, we should know enough to pray. As followers of the Christ we surely know who to pray to.
To teach us to understand what contentment really means, Pastor John contrasted contentment with covetousness. First he reminded us that the Apostle Paul wrote “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Even when he was in chains in prison!
The opposite of being content is to covet. What does it mean to covet? It can be defined two ways: (1) to earnestly wish for, and (2) to desire what somebody else has. Okay, why do we covet? Here Pastor John took us to the next step of fundamental understanding. We covet something because it will bring us a step closer to that which we covet even more, taking us from the material to the social. In short, we want to be envied, which is something very like being accepted, which is something immediately adjacent to being loved. This illustrates a basic notion that our happiness is totally bound up in our advantageous relationships with others.
But, is that really possible? Where is God in that?
Pastor John reread Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” In context of the letter this assertion means that “I will have whatever I need to endure whatever my situation of the moment.” Jesus Son of God covets each of us so in truth none of us needs to be a coveter. This is not about a resolve to stop coveting but instead it is about finding the objects we would covet just not important as we thought when we finally internalize our grasp and understanding of the larger picture. Success is to be so content in Jesus that the rest of this existence, all of the trappings of this life, are of only secondary concern to us at most. Covetousness is then dead.
Further illustrating the point Pastor John delighted us with the adventures of his toddler son. The darling child was given the gift of a marvelous toy. But as it was being opened, a section of cardboard detached from the rest of the packaging, which of course is material far secondary to the toy. But the toddler immediately amused himself in playing with the bit of cardboard and ignoring the toy. Now, how often are God's intended children like that? How often do we become enamored of some perishable material bauble, and remain oblivious to God?
Finally Pastor John bid us to remember the story of the donkey in the well. Those who thought that the poor trapped animal's case was hopeless went about shoveling dirt down the well to smother him and put him out of his misery. But the donkey shook off all the dirt each time shovels-full of it came down the well. After many shovels-full had come down the well, the donkey had built up a ramp of dirt beneath him that enabled him to climb out. From this little story we are reminded that the need is not to fight-off anxiety with sweet platitudes that mean nothing, but to channel the anxiety in a constructive way to a successful outcome.
So, we channel our worries into humble prayer and then we have the peace of God, which truly transcends all understanding.
When we worshipped virtually at the Emmanuel Chapel on November 1st, Pastor John read to us once more 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.”
Pastor John had us begin our focus on verse 5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. (ESV) or “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (NIV) or “ Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near.” (NASB).
After three translations we get the point. “Let your gentle spirit (the fruit of the Holy Spirit) be CONTAGIOUS.
In this bold-print year 2020, for most of us our first mental reference to contagion is Covid-19 disease, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing it. So, Pastor John showed us an enhanced picture of the spiky-ball-like nanoscopic SARS-CoV-2 entity bedeviling all humanity this year.
In Orange County we have just been additionally exercised by a couple of raging grass fires. A momentary incendiary element, such as a downed power line, and the CONTAGION of fire on dry grass becomes terribly dramatic terribly quickly.
So Pastor John got us tuned into the dynamics of CONTAGION. Then he got to the point: our emotions can be contagious. We each are very prone to being affected by another person's emotions, be they sad or glad. He then gave us an example of contagious human emotion. A parent seems to almost accidentally hit her child on the side of the head. The worried parent immediately expresses her concern emotionally. The baby, quite attuned to its parents, is immediately affected by the parental emotion and begins to cry, even though it was not at all actually hit. Such is the contagious character of human emotions, an integral part of the human spirit.
In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul implicitly contrasts the spirit of the law with the letter of the law. Pastor John illustrated this for us by using the example of Chief Judge Frank Caprio. Judge Caprio found it ridiculous that a motorist would be fined for being ten seconds out of line with a parking regulation. Obviously the motorist was complying with the spirit of the law, so in his gentleness according to his discretion he let her off from the letter of the law.
When we are gentle to the point of contagiousness it inspires the opposite of being anxious.
We read from 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 24-28 “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Obviously, fellows, the Apostle Paul wrote this to encourage each one of you young people to anticipate joy in a life of active Christian ministry? Well, like the Christ before him, he was certainly forthright about what really following Jesus means. But in this instance his primary purpose was to demonstrate that his true faith in Jesus Christ gave him the inner ballast, the fundamental calm, to get through the worst that a hostile world could throw at him. (Our Maker certainly made Paul a very rugged fellow as well that he survived it all.) Paul's abiding hope and expectation was that this example of his incredible calm no matter what would be contagious to the Philippians, and all future readers of the letter...including us!
We read from the Gospel of John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” That is the Christ speaking, both warning his disciples and reassuring them. The Christ Himself faced the supreme anxiety concerning excruciating death and separation from the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the point of sweating blood and yet offering humble obedience. How contagious we must find that example when facing our own (relatively trivial) crises? The more that Jesus's character rubs on us the more the fruit of the Holy Spirit grows in us, including the facet of gentleness, the calmness of spirit.
We read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 8: 22-25 “One day Jesus said to his disciples, 'Let us go over to the other side of the lake.' So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Master, Master, we’re going to drown!' He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 'Where is your faith?' he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'”
No denying it: a panic attack is real. But our God is infinitely more powerful. As Pastor John reminds us, we are far safer with Jesus in the storm than without Him on shore. This is summarized in the contemporary saying “No Jesus no peace; know Jesus know peace” …
….and thus not being in pieces with anxiety!
Finally, remember that Pastor John mentioned the Disney character Ho, the Kung Fu Panda bear who must find inner peace. He makes deliberate choices in reaction to calamity and so is instructive to the other characters of the Disney animation, and to the young audience.
Our pasts do not determine our futures. Jesus effectively says “through your belief in Me, I determine your future.” So, do not let any sadness from any cause become such a part of you that you cannot let go. Fellows, as you grow in years for sure you will see all around you people who are pitiful prisoners of their pasts and of all of the hurt and wrongs in the past. They can't let go!
But you – each of you - whatever life throws at you, let absolutely nothing destroy your spirit, the incomparable gift of peace that you have in your Almighty God.