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”
Just three days back Pastor John spoke to us once more about the true freedom that we have in the Christ. Freedom is the opposite of slavery, so if we hold freedom in the Christ as the greatest good, and one that we don't have except that...
Except that we are naturally slaves to any number of earthly entities or phenomena or things. We respond to their stimuli, we give in to their demands so that our basic cravings will be satisfied. That fellows is slavery. Really now: who among us escapes slavery – of his own power?
So then, fellows, here is the famous question: if we - each of us - is a slave to something, just what are YOU a slave to? Think about it and discuss this amongst yourselves, discuss with your family members.
Then, read from the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 13 “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,”
So then, fellows, if you understand that your slavery of whatever type or kind is within the dominion of darkness, and if you believe in Jesus the Christ as your savior, your redeemer from the slavery, from the sin, from the darkness, then you are brought into His kingdom. That's
Freedom in the Christ!
Pastor John expounded upon this point at length. He read from the Letter to the Galatians chapter 4, verses 8 and 9: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”
As Paul says, it is possible to be misled, to drift away from the Truth. It is possible fellows to lose the salvation we have gained from slavery, from the dominion of darkness, if we don't constantly stay in the Word. Let us face it: we are by our innate sinful natures prone to stray. Like (stupid!) sheep. Yes, it is an unflattering comparison, but the (sad?) reality is our inner natures are not fundamentally different. That's why the Christ relied so heavily on the shepherd metaphor during His three years of earthly ministry. So then, as well as weekly worship, we need daily quiet time – QT - fellows, reading the Word of God, and thinking about it, meditating on it. Breakfast is secondary.
Pastor John went on further in Galatians, chapter 5, the first six verses: “ It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Again, Paul was reminding the Galatians that you cannot EARN salvation – not through trying to adhere to the Mosaic law or any other rule book or set of good deeds. Otherwise the Christ died on the cross in vain. Should we be so forgetful? And we must not imagine that the particular set of human weaknesses that each of us has makes any of us ineligible for salvation, anymore so than the prostitute or the tax collector of Jesus's earthly ministry. Pastor John read from Paul's second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12 verse 9: “But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
While it was baking out-of-doors last Lord's Day, Pastor John gave us his seventh installment in Freedom in Christ. He began as is right by setting the tone from passages of Scripture. In this case, he read from the Book of Galatians chapter 3, verses 26 through 29: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Then Pastor John went on to chapter 4, verses 4 through 7: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
Keep this in mind as we go on: getting adopted...becoming heirs.
By now in this series surely Pastor John has driven home to us the central lesson that being a child of God is through faith; as we believe, so we are. Pastor John illustrated the intimacy of the point through a facet of elementary sheep husbandry. Sheep identify each other primarily through their sense of smell. To us, all mommy sheep “ewes” look alike, and all baby sheep “lambs” look alike. But their powerful olfactory organs give them the necessary sense of individual discrimination. The sheep husbandsman knows that a ewe will look after her own lambs because she knows her own by their unique odor. Lambs who don't pass her smell test are not welcome to her care. In the case of a ewe who has lost her lamb, and a lamb who has been orphaned, the sheep husbandsman gets around the odor barrier by using a lamb coverlet of the deceased lamb to initially cover the strange lamb. In that way the smell barrier is overcome, and the ewe will accept the strange lamb as her own.
Very similarly, when Jesus died on the cross he gave us the covering we needed to approach God, so we would not be rejected by the Father. When we believe and follow the Christ we are "putting on" Jesus to mark ourselves as such. Pastor John recalled the time when as an adolescent he dressed up in the uniform of his favorite basketball team by way of his decided identification with them. So it is with us: we seek through our behavior, not to “earn” salvation which was already won for us by Jesus's sacrificial death on the cross, but to imitate Him in eternal gratitude.
In this present age that the Christ came to bring to an end, people divide themselves in all kinds of different ways and try to lord it over each other. By contrast, in the new age brought by the Christ, all people are fundamentally equal even if different: male female, race, class, ethnicity etc.
To further drive home the point about the quality of our relationship in Christ, Pastor John first read from the Book of Romans chapter 8, verse 15: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'”
In earthly adoption the parents choose the child, not vice-versa. So also: God chooses us.
The “prodigal father” says in face of his errant son's shame “no, you are my child”
...if you come humbly to Me.
That is it, fellows: if you are stripped of all of your previous pretensions and come HUMBLY before the Father, you are ever His child!
Pastor John told the story of the father and son with a big fish. In the story, the son was obliged to catch a fish large enough to feed the entire family, or he was banished from the family. How about that for a father, fellows? You don't expect your earthly father to treat you that way. So also, your heavenly Father does not say that we are loved and welcomed only if we do this thing and that thing and the other thing.
No, j\it is just a matter of humility before God and then our ever grateful best efforts thereafter.
Having such a Father in heaven through adoption through belief gives us the right to cry out “I need you; I desperately need you!”
At the end of the service Pastor John recounted the story of an American couple who went to an orphanage in Russia to adopt a couple of Russian babies. The babies and toddlers were accustomed to little adult attention every day. Their normal cries for attention went unheard, unheeded. The American couple were shocked by this abnormal quiet, and the listlessness of the children. They arranged to adopt two of the inmates, and had to fly back to the USA to await the complex paperwork for adoptions being completed. On the last day in Russia, as the American couple were leaving the orphanage, the younger of the two tiny children they were adopting finally understood what was going on and believed that...
….somebody cared about him. He fell back in his crib and let out a cry of (???) that shook his whole body.
So it is with each of us. With our true Father in heaven. If we believe.
Three days ago, Pastor John took up an exceptionally difficult teaching task. His challenge was to show us how God, having foreknown man's sinful nature and its consequences of separation from His perfection from even before Creation, resolved to take upon himself punishment for man's disobedience. But how on earth was that?
We read from the Book of Genesis chapter15 verses1 through 17. “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.1 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
Let us stop here for a minute, fellows. “Abram believed the Lord, and he (God) credited it to him as righteousness.” Did Abram follow some clever twelve-step procedure for getting himself to heaven? No. He believed the Lord. Simple sincere belief by itself made Abram righteous in the eyes of God. Okay, let us go on:
“He also said to him, 'I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.' But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” So the Lord said to him, 'Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.' Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, 'Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites (the idolatrous, immoral people then in possession of Canaan) has not yet reached its full measure.' When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”
“a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” just what on earth was that about?
Pastor John now began to explain the meaning to us:
In western Asia thousands of years ago in Abram's time, making contracts and covenants often required walking through animals cut in two. This symbolized the expected punishment that would be upon the party walking between the split animal carcasses if that party violated the contract or covenant with the other party.
In Genesis 15 verse 17 above, in what way did God appear to Abram in his deepl sleep? As “ a smoking firepot with a blazing torch”.
So, God, not Abraham, walked between the split animal carcasses.
So, God would take on the punishment for disobedience by men of His covenants. Think about that for a minute!
So, we learn that the real purpose of the law that as imperfect human beings we cannot keep is to reveal what is in our hearts. In this way we have our noses rubbed in our imperfection and are humbled before a perfect, holy God. We read Romans chapter 3, verses 19 and 20: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Remember the woman caught in adultery. The teachers of the law brought her before Jesus, thinking that they had a way to trap Him. If Jesus said to kill her he would have crossed the law of the Roman occupation authorities. If he said to free her He would have contravened Mosaic law which governed all good Israelites. Jesus evaded the trap by inviting those without sin to throw the first stone, which caused all of the woman's accusers to desert the scene.” Thepoint of the law was to reveal human frailty and imperfection. So when Jesus was writing in the dust at the scene, he knew that “whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped” so did He write “please shut up their mouths”?
Looking into a mirror after a hard days work will show a begrimed face. So in the same way the law reflects our dirty selves. We are that way at birth: sinful, selfish, dirty beings. Reflect on the property laws of a toddler!
We read further in Romans chapter 7: What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."
So, the law does not produce the sin but helps us to understand how utterly sinful we are.
The individual who truly surrenders knows that he cannot get close to God of his own. See how high truly God is, how low we are. The dregs of Judean society: prostitutes, tax collectors and so on, were often the first to understand that. If we are self-righteous experts in scripture, we've missed the point. We are far behind those who know they are broken, at the gates of heaven.
The only acceptable worship is humility before the throne. Let us not, any of us, forfeit salvation because of any temporary earthly norm or attraction.
Since Lord's Day last we've been on our fifth serving of Freedom in Christ, thanks to Pastor John. He started us off reading from Galatians chapter 3, verses 10 through 14: "For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because 'the righteous will live by faith'. The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, 'The person who does these things will live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.' He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
“Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole” (or a tree, or a cross). Keep that in mind through this recap fellows. Hope that by the end of this recap we all understand that the curse was broken, which is eternally important to us, if only we believe.
Pastor John continues to emphasize to us that inherently imperfect men cannot measure up to the demands of the Ten Commandments, cannot live according to the Law as handed down to Moses twice. Our heavenly Father foresaw as much and sent His perfect Son to take upon Himself all our imperfection – our sin – that if we believe in Him, we are absolved of our sin; we are made righteous in the eyes of the Father. This rescue, this salvation not by earning, but by believing, (and then spending our daily lives gratefully trying to imitate).
By way of illustration of the point Pastor John opened a book of fairy tales and recalled the “Princess and the Frog, which figured in the “Once Upon A Time” TV series. In it, a true love kiss breaks a curse. So it is also with us! A savior comes, to break the curse of sin and death. That curse is laid out for us in Galatians. 3:10. "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
What that means, fellows, is that trying to do the impossible in EARNING salvation according to the law is doomed to failure; none of us can humanly succeed. And in trying and failing to do what we humanly cannot do we are...cursed! Thrown off a cliff as it were, or something equally catastrophic. So trying to live according to the law will of itself bar us from salvation.
Now, as we have said before, God's holiness cannot tolerate the proximity, the nearness, of unholiness. Yet at the end of time we, each of us, MUST come near to God. Well then?
Read Isaiah 6:5 “'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.'”
Coming near means to die from God's holiness....except that the Son of God came to save us by covering us with His holiness! Remember Moses and the burning bush? The burning bush is an example. Jesus was, in effect, burned for us. What has been burned cannot be burned again. The final sacrifice.
We read 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins” on his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'”
We read from Galatians above that cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. Only Jesus could break the curse of sin and death by Himself being hung on a tree.
Some of you fellows at least have read Chronicles of Narnia. One major story in it is The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. In that story four children, whose diverse characters seem to sum up mankind, encounter The White Witch who personifies evil, and Aslan, a lion, who seems like a portrait of the Christ in his goodness and self-sacrifice.
In reading such a story and taking it in we can readily see that Jesus is enough. His grace is sufficient, just as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians. 2:2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
We march down a long hall of faith when read from the Book of Hebrews chapter 11. Here we read chapter 11 verses 13 through 16 “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
Pastor John explained to us that Abraham (one of the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11) knew that the REAL blessing was not in land, progeny or anything else. The real blessing was God's promise of “a better land” which we know as life eternal with Him.
Further on in Hebrews 11 we read verses 32 through 38. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
As Pastor John agreed with us, all that really didn' t sound like a blessing Yet we soon realize that the faith held by those people was incomparably the greatest blessing. He then remembered Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries who went to a remote region of Ecuador in 1956 to spread the Gospel. He knew before he went that it was very dangerous, and he was killed before he could get going in his work. But his wife and others came after him, and their forgiving example won converts belief in the Christ as nothing else could have. Jim Elliot's attitude was profoundly simple: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose”. If the author of Hebrews were writing today, surely he would include Jim Elliot as a hero of faith.
The Gospel is heart surgery, by which the Savior removes our hearts of stone and replaces it with hearts of flesh. As we cannot ascend to heaven on our own, God came down to where we are to give us hope and eternal blessing. Becoming better people is not what the Gospel is about. Nor a better life. All this temporal stuff we worry about every day won't matter. Whether or not we each have eternal life is the bottom line.
We summed up our installment in Freedom in Christ by reading John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”
Truly, next to this whatever else we know...is dust.