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.
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.
Fellows - when we saw and heard from him three days ago, Pastor John in his latest serving of Freedom in Christ further delved into the crucial question: “How do we live by the Spirit?”
He began by reading out of Paul's Letter to the Galatians, which by now is the letter in the New Testament you fellows are surely most acquainted with! Let us here read Galatians 5:16-25 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 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. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
To help set the stage for our understanding of what needs to happen in our spiritual lives, Pastor John flashed a picture of a sun-baked patch of ground with a single green shoot sprouting through the cracked clay: a break-through. The parched ground is as our spiritual lives subjected to the merciless pounding of the rays of worldly concerns. The sprout is our abiding faith. So it gives birth to the prayer “God, please break the things that keep us chained to sinful ways.” In short, a breakthrough is such “a sudden dramatic important discovery or development.”
How might we further describe the parched terrain through which we dearly need to break through? Pastor John again quoted from the letter to the Galatians, chapter 5: 19-21 “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.”
The “sinful desires” that the Apostle Paul listed are a set of actions that keep us bound, trapped below the parched clay as it were. Pastor John further described the qualities of the soul thus trapped through a couple of analogies.
He flashed us a picture of a delicious-looking red apple, and then the same, cut open to reveal extensive repulsive rot. Not nice. We are warned in this stark way not to be deceived by what is on the outside, but to concern ourselves with what is inside. So, the “Fruit of the Spirit” quoted above is about what is inside. Again, as in our after-sermon discussions three days ago, we must emphasize that we are not talking about nine different fruits, but rather, nine aspects of the same “fruit” (singular) of the Spirit.
Pastor John's second example began by reminding us of the Apple Corp. logo. Then he told us the story of the fake Apple I-watch, a $30 knock-off item trying to simulate a $200 original. After only a week the bogus I-Watch broke down. Reason: alas, the INSIDE components were not from a real I-Watch. This is another of Pastor John's ways to illustrate a crucial feature of our spiritual lives. We must be concerned with character (what is INSIDE ourselves) over external behavior. If the inside is changed and made right, the outside will inevitably follow suit. If through our prayers to the Father we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it will be expressed through the nine facets of the fruit. None of the nine facets are actions; they all are character.
Christian lives are filled with the Spirit: We humbly pray: “God, make your voice the loudest in my life” as we seek to empty ourselves of the worldly garbage. How do we do this? We each of us admit to the Father: “I am powerless over (such-and-such). Then we implore Him with a desperate heart: “God fill me with the fruit of the Holy Spirit”. This doesn't happen overnight.
But, it does happen; teacher Rand can assure you of that!
Just as from a tiny sprout a tree keeps on growing, in the everyday part of our lives is when the fruit grows as we stay in the Word, as we are ever-prayerful.
Pastor John also told us the story of the chicken farmer who found an orphaned baby eagle. He set it with the baby chickens of his flock. As it spent all its time with the chicken chicks, the eaglet grew up acting a chicken. One day a hunter came by the chicken farm, and saw the young eagle acting like a chicken. The hunter said that in its nature the great raptorious bird is eagle-like. But despite his attempt to get it to assume its true nature, the young eagle always flew back to be with the chickens it had grown up with. “Look at the sky..” the hunter, like Pastor John, would say again and again. But always the young eagle flew back to the chickens. Eventually the hunter took the magnificent bird to a cliff. No chickens there! Now, finally the young eagle flapped its wings and flew away.
The eagle was no longer bound by its past life. Being filled by the Holy Spirit is like that. We read from the Book of Isaiah 40:31 “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Today we learn that we must remember God's voice and make it the LOUDEST in our lives.
Fellows, Lord's Day last Pastor John read from Paul's Letter to the Galatians chapter 5 verses 16 through 18 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
In this ninth installment of Freedom in Christ, Pastor John reminds us by reference to the Holy Spirit that God is “triune” that is, three persons in one. This divine reality may seem alien and weird at first, but surely best understood and appreciated if you think of it this way: The Father above, the Son beside, the Holy Spirit within. This time, Pastor John laid out for us how we truly have freedom that the Christ came down to earth for us to have, if we are indeed “indwelt by the Holy Spirit”.
How's this? Pastor John began, as he normally does, to teach us through illustration:
When teacher Rand was still a young man, at a time far back in the mists of the 20th century, there was a big tennis star from Sweden named Bjorn Bork. As Pastor John recited, Bork won eleven of the “Grand Slam” tennis tournaments and quite dominated the sport for a while. But his domination required not only strength and talent, but also EFFORT.
Then, quite unexpectedly, he hung up his tennis racket and quit the game. Eventually he told people “I just didn't enjoy tennis anymore” Why was this? “I was just burned out” he said.
“Burnout” is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by too much effort. Burnout is not about results good or bad, but about the EFFORT. It most often occurs in situations we can't control.
By contrast, how is it when we are filled with the Spirit? Just as Pastor John told us: what matters first is not effort or determination but TRUST. This is the real meaning of “in God we trust”.
Pastor John read from Galatians chapter 5 verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
This means that we should open our eyes (and ears and heart) to accept wisdom through the Spirit. Because of the dark, fallen world in which we live this means war – what else could we expect. As Christians we must expect spiritual war throughout our earthly existences – today until the last breath of each of us.. It is ot bad people but the evil forces behind them. To survive we must be constantly in the Word.
Read from Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:6-7 “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so,”
and also from
Romans 12:2: “ Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
By this renewing our minds – day in and day out - we can be transformed into what we are supposed to be. By contrast, if we fill up on the empty spiritual calories of this world...
I don't believe that there is one of us who doesn't know immediately what “empty spiritual calories of this world” means. But anyway, Pastor John urged us not to put ourselves in places where we will fail. Remember that video clip about the chicken nuggets being made in front of the first-graders? Even when they were fully aware of the “gross” nature of the chicken parts from which the delicious-looking nuggets were made, they chose them anyway.
Sin is like that: surrender to “guilty” pleasures. By contrast:
In Matthew 4:4 “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The word. Pastor John gave us a little lesson in the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written. In the verse from Matthew above “word” is not from the Greek “logos” meaning “written word” but from the Greek “rhéma” meaning “living word”. We heard the story of the atheist studying from the Bible for some weeks with a Christian. For long it made no impact on him. Suddenly, he jabbed at John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life”. This startling change came about not through the will of the Christian or of his atheist friend, but through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which the atheist did not resist. It is through this amazing power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to overcome the darkness, the evil spirits, of this world. Not through our own effort and determination, which can only succeed for a short time before we have burnout, but through our humble acceptance of the Holy Spirit.
We must have the right attitude. It is not our self-centered saying “God, you owe me” but “God please be with me for I cannot do it of my own” Pastor John illustrated it further through a famous old story about an old Cherokee chief teaching his grandson about life:"'A fight is going on inside me,' he said to the boy. 'It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.' He continued, 'The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.' The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: 'Which wolf will win?' The old Cherokee simply replied, 'The one you feed.'”
Sin is like that: feeding “guilty” pleasures at the expense of your soul.
Pastor John told the old story of the Eskimo knife carefully coated with blood and left where wolves who compete for prey with the eskimos, would find it. According to the story, wolves lick the blood, the guilty pleasure that they cannot resist. They cut themselves on the blade without realizing it. It leads to their destruction the same as sin leads to ours. It feels good, looks good. But it is a matter of life or death. By contrast, being filled with the spirit of God is like filling a sail with wind. But: is our sail properly pointed? Not being oriented to the Word that our sails be filled with the Holy Spirit is how, trying to do it by our own power, we become powerless and burned out. It is the same power that spoke the universe into existence and raised Jesus Christ from the dead. It is the power to overcome anything and everything.
By daily staying in the Word we keep our sails turned to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we are oriented thusly, the attractions of this world grow dim. And, as C.S. Lewis (the author of The Chronicles of Narnia) once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
In such a circumstance we know for sure as the Apostle John said (1 John 3:2-3). “soon and very soon I will see the King”