Lord's Day last Pastor John treated us to the second installment in his series of “Freedom in Jesus Christ”. He began, unsurprisingly, by reading from Galatians (you fellows are quickly becoming more familiar with this biblical letter than any other!)
Galatians chapter 1 verses 1-17 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
It seems that Paul spent about three years in Arabia from shortly after his totally life-altering experience on the road to Damascus. Why did he do this? Paul had an intellect of the first rank, and he had both a Greek and a Hebrew education to match. (Today it would be as if he had a PhD in Physics AND a Doctor of Divinity degree.) Now, all of his previous assumptions in life were up-ended. He needed quite some time in a remote place to sort it all out, especially to understand how all of his Hebrew learning, which is to say the 39 books of the Old Testament, actually prefigured very thoroughly the coming of the Christ whom he had just met. At length Paul had brought his formidable intellect in synchrony with his new-found spirit as a servant of the Christ. He was now ready to undertake the mission to the Gentiles that the Christ had settled upon his shoulders. He left Arabia and went back into the world – the same dark, fallen world that we all inhabit today. The rest as they say is history, history that you know from the Book of Acts and from reading Paul's many epistles.
Now, Pastor John is very fond of Jazz music. Jazz is a uniquely American musical genre about a century old. In his sermon Pastor John explained to us that “improvising” is what he most appreciates about Jazz. It is for him the music of freedom. It is very important to understand that Jazz builds on themes and structures, which is to say discipline, already there. The better trained (which is to say, disciplined) the musician is, the more he has freedom WITHIN the boundaries of the art of music to convincingly express himself. From this interesting analogy we understand that it is just this way for followers of the Christ: we commit ourselves to the Christ's discipline so that we can live life fully within God's framework. Joyfully, we restrict ourselves so that we have true freedom from fear and failure. We very willingly discipline ourselves to the desires of God, so that we have the true freedom in His unrestricted love.
The Apostle Paul understood through his lengthy time of lonely reflection after Damascus that as perfect as is the law, handed down twice to the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt, this law that Paul as Saul of Tarsus had thoroughly studied under the great teacher Gamaliel, was still no more than a guide to EXTERNAL conduct. The law could not by itself change the inner person. If the inner person was not changed, of course due to his naturally sinful nature he would fail to fully observe the law. Being religious according to the law cannot change you on the inside; it changes you partially on the outside at most. It is the gift of grace from God that decisively changes you from the inside and gives you true freedom in God's love.
To hammer home the point to us, Pastor John showed us a video clip from a film rendition of Victor Hugo's great novel “Les Miserables” (first published in France in 1862). In the video clip the protagonist, Jean Valjean, is a habitual criminal given refuge by an elderly priest. Alas, that great kindness does not change Jean Valjean's criminal heart, and he makes off with valuables from the priest's church. He is caught by the local gendarmes (they are like sheriff's deputies in this country) and brought back to the churchyard to be confronted by the priest.
In front of everybody, the priest covers up for Jean Valjean!
Remember, the priest surprises everybody by saying that he GAVE the valuables to Jean Valjean, and to top it off, he claims that Jean forgot to take a couple of other items as well! Well, the gendarmes and everybody else present could hardly argue with that, so in an amazing turn of events Jean has been saved from the very deserved penalty of his theft.
This is the turning point in Jean Valjean's life. At last he realizes that there is “something greater than me that I am receiving and don't deserve”. All of the well-known rules and regulations of life didn't change Jean. Grace and love changed him – as it changes us!
To further drive into our minds the qualitative difference between the legalistic attention to rules and the truly godly attention to...God. Pastor John gave us the tale of the three little pigs....well no, rather, three fellows on the construction site. The.first guy was making bricks. The second fellow was building a wall. But it was the third person looking up into the vastness of God's sky who was building a cathedral.
Bricks are rules, Jesus is a cathedral. The Gospel CAN change you. We were further reminded of this from John 1:12 "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God." Yes what (bad) you have done is overbalanced by what God has done – in the sacrifice of His son on the cross. Our “goodness” from “following the rules” will blind us to our need for the Savior. We are further reminded from Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” which Paul penned when writing to the congregations in Rome because he remembered from the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 64:6) “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”
Not some rule book but the Gospel will give you purpose in your life. You read Galatians. 1:16 “to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being” and further, Galatians 1:23-24. “They only heard the report: 'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' And they praised God because of me”.
Paul first knew the Christ, then he made known the Christ. So also with us. This is very far removed from trying to feel good in front of others because of what you know from a rule book.
Pastor John mentioned that making known the Christ through the patient building of relationships goes against the natural desires he feels often times, on account of the introverted portion of his nature.
The difference is mo-ti-va-tion. Enthralled as he is by the love of the Christ, Pastor John goes against his innate, natural desires. He does what the Lord prompts him to do not because of anything about his personality or personal desires but of what he knows that his Savior would have of him, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. When still a teen the man we know as Pastor John became so changed that he became president of his youth group. This happened, not because of any personal natural desire but because of a special someone who, like that priest who reached out to Jean Valjean, reached out to a lonely teen
...named John Yeo.
So fellows - continue making connections: making deep, intimate connections with others is doing God's business.
Lastly, Pastor John quoted Scotty Smith, a young Tennessee pastor and author: “You know every vain, foolish, and evil thought we’ve ever conceived; every lustful, greedy fantasy in which we’ve engaged. Only you hear every grace-robbing, grandstanding, gossipy word we speak. Only you know the broken cisterns of our choices—our idols, the many things to which we turn to find life somewhere else than in you. Yet you pursue us, welcome us, and love us, and you are changing us. What a wonderful, merciful Savior you are, Jesus. Life, temporal and eternal, can only be found in you. So very Amen we pray, in your transcendent and transforming name.”
So, don't get hung up with bricks or even walls. Look up, up to God and see the bigger picture by letting go of natural selfish desires. Be free from fears and anxieties and entangling sin. Become agents of REAL change in this sorry fallen world through the Gospel.
Three days ago Pastor John got us started on the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. We will examine Paul's message over the next several weeks, seeking to grasp its meaning for us today. Pastor John began our newest journey by reading Galatians chapter 1 verses 1 through 9:
“Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
Pastor John invited us to see the difference between the Gospel (which the Apostle Paul preached) and heresy (which was being aired in Galatia by various religionist entrepreneurs after Paul had left the region). Pastor John illustrated the difference by comparing basketball, which you fellows know a lot about, with “slam-ball” which at first seems like basketball but it actually has a lot of differences.
Pastor John examined the problem with religion. Religion of one kind or another can have many people who are morally upright but spiritually bankrupt. They presume that morally good people go to heaven and morally bad people go to hell.
Being “good” can be really bad – proud, judgmental, legalistic, with no need for Jesus
Christianity is not a religion with a rule book, it is first and foremost about a relationship with Jesus. Paul preached the risen Savior. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commands. By contrast, the religionists who came to Galatia after Paul left preached that Jesus was good but that He was not enough; you needed to also adhere to all of the rules in the Jewish rule book. In Paul's absence they seemed to be getting followers from the Christian congregations in Galatia. Paul was upset hearing that some of his sheep were going astray. So Paul wrote to them:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”. – Galatians 1:6-7
The gospel is NOT based on OUR merit or works. Jesus died for our sins; He rose again. That is the Gospel. That “we must be saved by Jesus Christ AND by being circumcised and keeping the sabbath and eating kosher foods only” - That is NOT THE GOSPEL.
We are saved by God's grace alone. Jesus plus anything is nothing. Jesus plus nothing is everything. A good analogy that Pastor John gave us is: Water by itself is perfect. Water with a drop of cyanide is death. Gospel (+ education, + politics, + worship.) is that same death.
The Gospel is news not an instruction manual. Jesus gave himself and delivered us from the present evil age. This is a fundamental change in our lives but we must apply it in our lives for it to have effect. All of this is done according to the will of God; that is His great mercy.
Lastly Pastor John quoted from C.S. Lewis. He was an Englishman who died in 1963 but his words are still instructive today. It is useful to keep this quote in mind to distinguish the Christ from some morally inspirational figure or self-help guru or other professional religionist:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The bottom line: God is adopting us into his family. It is 100 percent His will. We who believe are accepted never forsaken. But, the offer of His grace must produce in each of us a yes/no response. Do you fellows remember at end of Pastor John's sermon the video of the precious little girl getting adopted? For that little girl there was no middle ground. She said YES to her adoptive parents' love.
God's love is like that!
Last Lord's Day Pastor John started us off by reading 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verses 2 through 3: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Pastor John recounted to us a recent scene from the Fourth of July fireworks display at the Orange County Fair. For some older folks there is no awe or fascination with the colorful extravaganza; they've seen it all before countless times. By contrast, see the little girl – it's all new and fresh to her!
So: How about each of us? Do we have the same breathless, child-like AWE for God's love? Do we have truly precious hope for eternal union with our Maker?
Pastor John spoke of the work of faith. He said firstly, that faith produces works. The Apostle James (a half-brother to Jesus) explained that at length to us in his letter near the end of the New Testament. If you have true faith it will produce a definite reaction, especially in crisis. Faith works from the inside out. And, it isn't the “size” of your faith that is crucial but the object of your faith that is key. We read Matthew 17:20 “He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"
Pastor John further illustrated this with his visual of somebody dangling from a cliff, just holding onto a tree rooted in the side of the cliff. If the roots, which is to say “faith”, are strong and deep into the cliff, then the man will be able to be saved. If the roots/faith are weak and shallow, then the poor fellow is doomed to fall to his destruction. Pastor John further quoted James Innell Packer, a Canadian evangelist who died just this last week after a very long life: “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” If God loves you (as He loved Jacob but not Esau; as he loved Moses but not Pharaoh) He will draw you to Himself and sustain you through whatever comes.
The Apostle Paul was the last to receive Jesus through personal revelation, on the road to Damascus. From that time, through thick and thin and thinner still, the Apostle Paul held on to the faith he received THAT ONE TIME on the road to Damascus. He suffered but never complained about it instead he rejoiced that he could suffer because he found that he was closest to intimate communion with Jesus when he was enduring suffering in this life.
Pastor John recalled also the case of the party of Korean missionaries to Afghanistan in 2007 who were betrayed by their Afghan bus driver and delivered into the hands of the extremely anti-Christian Taliban. Especially the two pastors among them, the missionaries felt privileged to be able to witness their faith to their hostile captors in the remote mountain wilderness of Afghanistan, to the point of death. And both pastors were slain by the Taliban before the rest of the Korean missionary party were ransomed.
Making us mindful of all this, Pastor John bid us to apply knowledge and faith in Jesus to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Just as we read in Romans 5 verses 3 to 5: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
It is this holding on in faith through WHATEVER situation that we find ourselves in that leads to real intimacy with our suffering savior Jesus. We do not seek comfort in a Christian bubble, but rather we actively seek to live life for real glory through the fellowship of suffering. We each affirm: “Jesus is the reason I live. Someday I will see him face to face. No suffering can compare to that glorious hope. Jesus you are worth it!”
Fellows – three days ago Pastor John gave us his last sermon in his series on genuine faith. Thanks to his three previous admonitions to us, we've become fairly well grounded init. So in this last one he recapped and summed up. He began by reading from the Apostle John's first letter, chapter 4 verses 1 through 6:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
I take it upon myself to read again that first sentence: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Sounds as if the Apostle John is writing to us right here today! We certainly need to hear that, given what is bouncing around in the world today all around us.
Pastor John then asked us” “what are the most important determinants of genuine faith?”
He splashed on the Vision Chapel screen a scene from fireworks in China. Early most every calendar year you have in China the Lunar New Year celebrations. For many centuries these celebrations have included fireworks displays, handled both by local authorities in China and by individual celebrants. In contemporary times these fireworks have been banned by authorities because of injuries frequently suffered by misuse or accident. However these fireworks bans have not lasted long because of widespread popular opposition. Popular belief from ancient times to the present in China and elsewhere in east Asia is that loud noises from the fireworks drive away evil spirits. Pastor John used this as “exhibit A” in illustrating to us the concept that beliefs (including superstitions) drive attitudes and actions.
Pastor John then showed us a photograph from a concentration camp in eastern Europe in the early 1940s. Under Adolf Hitler the Germans maintained a network of such concentration camps, mostly in conquered Poland. They brought millions of people that Hitler and his party considered undesirable to these camps, to be either gassed or starved to death. Millions thus died horrifically, because of the beliefs of this one man. His beliefs and dominant personality drove the attitudes and actions of the thousands of people that were necessary to carry out the campaign of mass extermination. This you may call Pastor John's “exhibit B”.
How then to determine what is true and false in beliefs that drive attitude and actions?
Pastor John tells us to go to the claimed source to see if the supposed notion is true. This brings us to “exhibit C” President Donald Trump, Time magazine, and the magazine's famous annual “Person of the Year” designation. President Trump claimed that Time Magazine was considering designating him “Person of the Year” recently, but that because of the conditions tied to it he told the magazine “no thank you”. The magazine editors when asked about his claim stated that they never tell a “Person of the Year” designee in advance of their plans.
So from exhibit C we must learn to verify the truth. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good,” In other words, don't accept or dismiss a prophetic claim out-of-hand, but instead check it out first. Go to the source.
Pastor John's “exhibit D” had to do with the debate over the necessity and efficacy of vaccinations, especially early childhood vaccinations against infectious disease. Pastor John noted that children die because their parents are told lies about vaccinations and believe these lies. More recently in our Covid-19 emergency there have been claims and counterclaims about the necessity and efficacy of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and quarantines, among others. In such matters we can easily fall into a trap of fallacy if we do not learn to test and verify.
So also with faith!
Christians use the Truth we have in the Bible to cut off lies. Read from the Gospel of John, chapter 14 verse 6: “Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
So then, just what about prophecy? As we saw above, do not despise prophetic pronouncements out-of-hand, but test them. If someone, no matter how emphatic in speech and attractive in his or her manner says “God just spoke to me and said....” then test it.. If it is is founded in the Bible, and not taken out of context, then such modern day prophecy can be credited. But if it is contrary to the Word, then obviously it cannot be believed. Sorry to say, false prophecy is much more common than the truth. Jesus warned us this would be so – read Matthew 24:4-5 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many”
All false claims how to counter them? Remember that our faith is rooted in God's faithfulness.
To illustrate this Pastor John mentioned his “Adventure of the Flat Tire”. He was at the side of the road with flat tire; he had to change it. He'd done that before, so it was no problem as he told those with him. But...Pastor John experienced...a sudden mental blank – he had forgotten how! His quick reference to YouTube was a welcome help to solve the problem, while his past knowledge didn't help. This is why we read our Bible every day! We remind ourselves to anchor ourselves in the things of God. Rather on relying just on our recall of past teaching and experience to remind ourselves of what God has done. This is a critical part of how we care for our most precious possession, our genuine faith. Our genuine faith breeds genuine obedience.
Lastly Pastor John bid us to remember that with this genuine faith we can handle anything in life. In bad times and through dark events, our faith frees us from anger and bitterness and depression when they creep back in because we remember His assurance that He is always in control. In good times through genuine faith He calls us out of our comfort zone to His purpose. God does not tell us to "shape up or else", but rather through our faith we fall in love with the Word and the Way. That is God's hold on us.
That is genuine faith!
Fellows, Pastor John is really trying to teach us to carefully separate real stuff from the fake goods that are everywhere. And that ability is no more important than when we are talking about what matters for all eternity – faith.
So, last time at church on-line he read 1 John 3:19-22 “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him”
Okay: that word “condemnation” - what does that mean, especially for us?
Pastor John made brief visual reference to Judge Judy, who has been dispensing justice in small-claims court on television for many years. As Pastor John said, in her courtroom it gets pretty intense because when two people are in a dispute, she must eventually condemn the position of one party and uphold the position of the other.
Pastor John also made reference to cultural condemnation: you fellows may recall that he explained briefly how “cancellation culture” is affecting our society today. Maybe you yourselves have seen it is popular entertainment and social media. If so then you know better than teacher Rand how that is. Anyway, the point is that in these contemporary situations moral condemnation is levied against this person or that. I must say though that today often the persons or parties doing the condemning have the least standing to do so from a Christian perspective.
Having reminded us of the current worldly scene in its dark colors, Pastor John then went on to give us God's perspective. He read Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“...are in Jesus Christ” meaning “have put their faith in Him” !!
And 1 John 3:20 “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
And Romans 9:1-2 “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit”
Conviction to a follower of the Christ: Pastor John urges us to rejoice because of our conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of us, drawing each of us closer to God.
Pastor John contrasted the Christian conviction to a non-christian conviction, where one must suppress or excuse the sin. Pastor John further illustrated the point with Paul writing to the Corinthians, (again): 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
How about that last sentence? “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” This is at ground zero of Pastor John's message here.
What do you think about that word “condemnation” now?
To sum up his teaching on condemnation and repentance as a mark of genuine faith, Pastor John reminded us that godly grief leads to repentance, while worldly grief leads to death because we are being desensitized to real evil, coaxed step-by-step to compromise with sin.
To put it another way, the devil knows you by your name but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin but calls you by your name.
Years from now, the time may come when one or another of us believes that he has fallen badly in his walk with God and “really done it” and that there is no way back to God.
At that dark moment must remember this: the devil knows you by your name but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin but calls you by your name.
Good morning to each and to all! Just for this morning I won't recite our litany of names, but I will observe that my own dad, some decades ago, remarked that the morning “June gloom” departs about the 4th of July and summer really starts. So far it looks like this year that date will hold true!
The early morning video message with Pastor Bryan started our Bethel Church KM adults this morning with the Apostle Peter's first letter. As you will notice in a moment, this letter was intended to be read in congregations of believers (perhaps at that time more like overgrown cell churches, really) throughout what is today western Turkey. I am inspired to bring this up because right away in his letter the Apostle Peter centers on “genuine faith”, just like Pastor John is doing right now:
1 Peter 1:1-8 (NIV) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and (now read this next part as if it were highlighted in yellow):
“into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”
genuineness of faith! Greater worth than perishable refined gold! And what is the reward for sticking with your faith through thick and thin? “ praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” Wow!
Had Peter been an Irvine Unified School District school boy before he took up commercial fishing with his brother, I doubt that he, (quite unlike many of you!), would ever have won any awards for being a star pupil. He didn't have a Korean mom. Yet through his time with Jesus, and then through Pentacost, he became the amazing person who could write such a letter.
Now, last Lord's Day Pastor John started out by reading from the Apostle John's first letter:
1 John 4:7-12 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Pastor John wants us to check ourselves and our faith to see if it is genuine. He does not suggest this to scare us but just to get us to check ourselves the same as we would if we look into a mirror before stepping out into public view. Looking into a mirror should not be a cause for despair, but just a means to check ourselves so we can adjust ourselves accordingly.
Pastor John noted that our human kind of love is naturally conditional, in that it depends on petty considerations; conventional, because we like reciprocity, and comfortable, because we love when we feel like it.
By contrast God's love is unconditional; He loves His faithful children even when due to their sinful natures they fall down during their travels on the road of sanctification. It is like how Pastor John loves his baby son Elliot no matter how often Elliot soils his diapers! Also, God's love is unconventional. Pastor John had us read Matthew 5 verse 44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That idea of love could not have come from a human being, just as Pastor John pointed out.
Finally, God's love is uncomfortable. We read these famous verses from 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That DOES take us out of our comfort zone.
When we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of our prayers and we come to have love like that, we are living out the genuine faith that the Apostle Peter wrote about.
Check your faith in the mirror?
Three days ago Pastor John got us into our second installment in finding out what genuine faith is by reading from the Gospel of John chapter 2 verses 3 through 6 (NIV) We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
Pretty good way to start a discussion about what genuine faith is, don't you think?
Then: do you remember that video clip that Pastor John used? The old guy (Teacher Rand's age at least!) had an obviously old model of Rolex watch. I think that you fellows all know that a Rolex watch is by definition an expensive luxury item. He thought that since his watch was quite old that it might be worth about $1500 to a collector. Well, the experts with him on the television program examined his watch carefully, checking out its serial number and so on, and all of the old paperwork that came with the watch, and figured out that altogether it was really worth about $70,000. It was a genuine old Rolex with a complete pedigree, not some fake look-alike product. So, “wow!”
Well, even Rolex watches, like our bodies or anything else of this world, no matter how nice and how wanted and cherished, are ultimately corruptible and perishable. In the context of eternity they mean...nothing! But your faith is quite another matter in ultimate importance. Yet like the Rolex watch, it could be (let's be honest) just fake or it could be genuine, the real thing. The difference is so important. Pastor John read to us 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV) Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Alright then, how much more will you cherish genuine, authenticated faith. How can you tell?
Pastor John remembered the authentication checklist the Rolex watch authenticators used on the television program. So by analogy he gave us a kind of faith authentication “checklist”:
One - faith must come with ACTION. If you have real faith it will show itself in ACTION.
Two - those whose faith is genuine will keep God's commandments. Genuine faith is not burdensome obedience but it bursts beyond that to a truly joyful pursuit. Pastor John illustrated this point by reading from the First Letter of John, chapter 5 verses 2-5 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
The joy in obedience is not passive joy but active joy. You go beyond day-to-day obedience to find true joy. Finding true rest in the Christ is through joyful obedience. The destination makes the journey all worthwhile. Don't hide the pain that comes with the effort but look beyond the inevitable pain and suffering to God's purpose and discover the truly liberating joy in that.
Pastor John said that our lives are 100 percent about relationships. A Christian feels most alive when he is close to the Father. If we love God then we must love our “brothers and sisters” (to use the broadest meaning of the phrase). That is a marker of genuine faith.
Jesus is the life. Now, if you are okay with how the world is and you like the way it works then you know that your faith is not genuine. Read Colossians 1:13. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, If your faith is genuine, you reject the worldly dominion of darkness and behave as a citizen of God's kingdom.
Pastor John told us how faith all began with the invitation from Jesus Christ to be a part of his family. If that faith is genuinely our focus then our actions – what we do day-in and day-out - will automatically follow. Jesus said from the start that having such faith is not easy; it is guaranteed to produce suffering. But then so is physical training when you are preparing to compete in an athletic contest.
At the end of our brief terms of temporal existence we want our God, our Lord and master to say to us “well done good and faithful servant!” Jesus showed us the way when he stuck it out in obedience to the Father's will even to abysmal separation from the Father when he died on the cross. In that separation from the Father Jesus was closest to the Father in obedience.
So, genuine faith, the authentic article, means that we are obedient to God in all situations or circumstances no matter how difficult or painful because in such obedience...
...we are closest to God!
You fellows along with Pastor John are even at your young ages pretty savvy consumers, I expect. Especially with techie-toys you know most of the time what product is good and what similar product is lacking. You have an eye for the real thing and can mostly spot something that is bogus. So then, how do you decide if something is genuine or not? Do you remember the visual examples Pastor John gave us? Specialman versus Superman, Sunbucks versus Starbucks, Ill-tempered birds versus Angry Birds, and so on. Sometimes being able to spot the difference is really important: if somebody gave you a $100 bill in payment for something, could you tell for sure if the bill is genuine or not? Plenty of counterfeit $100 notes are out there, and if you get stuck with a bogus note because you weren't careful, the loss is yours! There are real medicines for various illnesses, and also fake ones that can harm you if you mistakenly take them for your sickness. So, being able to tell genuine from counterfeit is important in this world.
It is even more important when you think about eternity. Is your faith genuine or not?
Last time we worshipped together, Pastor John began the service by reading Matthew 13:1-8: That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
This passage reminds us that not everybody who hears the Good News actually stays the course until the days he passes from this earthly existence to eternity. For one reason or another, many or most people fail! That is scary yes, but very frankly that is how it is, and Jesus reminds us of it many times in the Gospels. Read this: Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. And from the Apostle Paul: 2 Timothy 2:5: “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
So what about assurance of salvation from genuine faith? As Pastor John reminded us, here Jesus drew a line; He was very strict about who was actually saved. Read the Gospel of John 2:23 – 25: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” and again from John chapter 6. Read all of it. Jesus miraculously feeds the huge crowd but that just got the crowd to thinking that Jesus was the one who could evict the Roman occupiers from their homeland and so to make this happen they should forcibly make Jesus their earthly king. The crowd only had such earthly thoughts. So, Jesus “withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” Still in John 6, Jesus tells another large crowd of would-be followers that unless they can “eat His body and drink His blood”, they could not follow Him. This was not urging cannibalism but a metaphor to show the degree to which true followers had to commit themselves to following Jesus. Total commitment! Now we come to the crux of the matter. Read John 6:66-69: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Do you fellows see it? Most people cannot stand the consequences of really following Jesus. So they turn away. But a few, like Simon Peter, are utterly convinced about who Jesus is, and so stay the course.
So again reference to the passage from the Gospel of Matthew that Pastor John read at the beginning. The four kinds of soils represent the four kinds of mentalities of people who receive the “seed”, that is to say, the Good News of the Gospel.
The seed that is snatched up immediately represent people who prompted by Satan reject the Gospel from the get-go. Rocky soil represents people whose faith never goes deep, and so it withers and dies when real adversity in life comes. Thorny soil pictures people who have a lot of competing claims on their attention, and so they never follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
Okay, let's be honest: those three illustrations represent most of humanity. They may or may not START on the road to salvation, but they do not make it to the end. Scary? Sad?
Unless you have good soil you are not saved. That is the reality. Only good soil bears fruit. It is not quantifiable; it is a matter of perseverance, through thick and thin. I know from last year that some of you fellows have been introduced to John Bunyan's “Pilgrim's Progress”. That novel written more than 300 years ago uniquely illustrates the long difficult journey of salvation. Hopefully all of you fellows will read it through to the end sooner than later.
One way to illustrate such perseverance and commitment needed to stay on the road to salvation to the end is questioning how you use your time. As Pastor John told us, all time is a gift from God, just as all money is a gift from God. You only have so much time in this earthly existence; exactly how much for each of you you don't know. Only God knows.
How much of your time do you give back to God, in worship? In quiet time? In prayer?
So then: do you have real faith? Does it matter?
Three days ago Pastor John in Vision Chapel really made it clear that he would try to get us to fully understand worship, from “A” to “Z”, or as he put it, from Alpha to Omega in the Greek alphabet in which the New Testament was written. Since worship is basic to our relationship with God, we surely must conclude that Pastor John's focus in doing this is really important.
First, he read from Matthew chapter 2, verses 10 and 11 “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Yes, the “wise men” bowed down and worshipped. Think about that phrase. Before they could “worship” they “bowed down”. What does that say about their ATTITUDE in worship?
Pastor John told us about his habit of using the Global Positioning System (GPS) when he is driving. Most of the time Pastor John knows very well where he is going but he likes to defer to GPS anyway. Sometimes though Pastor John doesn't know where he is going and so he really does need to defer to the GPS.
Now, the word “surrender” has for us a negative connotation. But for our purposes here we should equate it to following the GPS. Surrender your choices to the GPS. In doing this we surrender our own thoughts and knowledge to take advantage of the abilities of the GPS. So, it is that kind of “surrender” that we are talking about here. It is just an honest admission that we of ourselves are not enough. So, it is a joyful surrender. As with “great joy” verses above. Another way to think about itbis when in a few years you will be pressed to choose a college a major. When you choose this major or that one, then the other options existing for you up until then are given up. So it is here: we say “I surrender to God, so I reject the other alternatives.” So then our posture is one of bowing down is of our own volition. “I choose you and nothing else.” So, bowing down is significant. It means something. Let us count the ways.
First off, Pastor John mentioned “Bowing down in mind.” He read Mark 10:17 to illustrate: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Then Pastor John considered “Bowing down in attitude.” This means turning away from sin. Follow redirection from God. Just like conforming to GPS. Do you rememberr how Pastor John gave us the picture of the onion-eating little girl too stubborn to admit that the onion is not an apple. So also we must admit the stuff of this world is not godly. Read Luke 5:4-8 (NIV) When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”. Peter was really bowing down to God in his attitude ehen he accepted redirection from Jesus.
Finally Pastor John got us to consider “Bowing down in Action.” Frankly, there are areas in life that we don't want to let go. But we must. God's commands are for our own good. We must say “Not my will Father, but your will be done.” Now we can better appreciate the meaning of Philippians 2:10-11 (NIV) “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Yes – bow down!
Fellows, as Pastor John told us, either now or later we must say to God “ I trust you and lean or your power.” He is the ultimate GPS, right?
Bear in mind that to live a godly life, to be truly guided by God, we must surrender to God first before we can expect anything else. We read from Acts 16:25-26 (NIV) 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.
See - first Paul and Silas worshipped then their chains were broken. So also with us in our lives!
Last Lord's Day, in his third sermon in a row about worship, Pastor John grounded us in a passage from the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 (NIV) “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 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.”
Worship. From the last two times we have been at worship together we should appreciate that “worship” is attaching your ultimate sense of value or worth to something. Alright, then - what do you worship? Where do you spend most of your time or money or energy? What really do you get most excited about? Honestly, when you think about it, what is at the center of your life?
As Pastor John said, a compass's needle points to true North. Our spiritual compass should always points to God. But, just as magnetic interference can disturb a compass needle, lots of worldly attractions interfere with our focus on God. Let us count the ways!
Excitement? Center of life? Remember Pastor John told us about the gift of a fancy tread mill somebody gave his family? There was Initial excitement to begin with. But soon it was used as a storage device. Same as when we don't live out the life God created us for, we are a waste of His expensive creation. Pastor John gave us another illustration from experience:
The “SuperSmash Brothers” video game. Pastor John played it for hours at a time. Nintendo gaming was at the center of Pastor John's life as a middle schooler and as a high schooler, and as a college student. But....
God created us to worship Him forever. Shows what you value. If God is really at the center of our live we will be excited to worship. Here's again from the Apostle Paul. Romans 12:1 - “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
This means not just going through the motions, but being genuinely excited to worship. Our almighty God does not at all NEED our worship, but He CHOOSES to engage with us through our worship of Him.
We all are long familiar with the word “hallelujah”. Pastor John deconstructed it for us, then he used it to get us to examine our priorities.
“Hallelu” is the Hebrew word for “praise”. “Jah” or “yah” is the shortened form of the Hebrew word “yahweh” meaning “God”. If we really mean “hallelujah” then we are anchored in praising God. Okay, a reality check - what are you anchoring your life in?
Hallelu-GRADES? Hallelu-SCHOOL? Hallelu-JOB? Hallelu-MONEY? Think about it!
Actually, if you are really anchored in praising God, every area of your life can be an act of worship! Don't worry about some divide between sacred and secular, church stuff and worldly stuff. Preaching the gospel to others and vacuuming the house for others can both be acts of worship if we have the right attitude and godly orientation. Worship is not a separate act or object we give to God. Worship is giving OUR LIVES to God. We have been made “holy and acceptable to God” Everything we do can potentially be an act of worship!
Pastor John quoted from a famous New York City pastor, Tim Keller, in illustrating that right attitude: “You should never go to God because He's useful. Go because He's beautiful. And yet there's nothing more useful than finding God beautiful.” What that means is that God is not a means to an end (“God please give me...”) , instead, God IS the end (“I love you God for who you are.”). Go to God just for who He is, not for what He can do for you. True worship is NOT about what God can do for you, or what you can do for God, but what God has ALREADY DONE.
Romans 12:2 - “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” So then - have done with distractions, renew your mind in whole-hearted worship of almighty God, and be transformed!
Pastor John pointed out that true worship leads us to the WILL of GOD. He gave us the example of the prophet Daniel's three friends who got tossed into a blazing furnace on the command of the Babylonian king because they would not worship his giant golden statue.
From the Book of Daniel chapter 3 verses 17and 18 we read that they told the king: “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.” And here is the key point: “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.” The three friends were focused first on who God is, not what He can do.
Think about that EVEN IF: The Son of God, Jesus our savior, placed worth and value on us in dying on the cross for our sins. So, we know that EVEN IF we die a physical death from whatever terrible situation, we will keep on going spiritually, which is all that matters. When we place our worth and value in Jesus, we find the purpose of our lives to keep going NO MATTER WHAT.
Pastor John also referred to the crash of Northwest Airlines flight 225 in Detroit in August of 1987. A little girl was found to be the only survivor out of everyone on the plane. In the last seconds of the very short flight her mother's sacrificial love and quick thinking saved her. What of Jesus's sacrificial love? Pastor John illustrated from Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
To sum it up, Pastor John gave us this take-home truth: The will of God in our ordinary daily lives and in our times of terrible trial is to worship God for who He is, and to enjoy Him forever.