Weekly Devotions 2022
In these short video clips Pastor Doug invites you to use the weekly devotional to begin thinking about the portion of God's word that we will use in our Sunday Worship.
Creation: (Genesis 1:1–2:3)
Summary: God creates and blesses the heavens and the earth, the creatures, the plant life, the people. God is the owner and true King of the universe.
The Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - participate in the creation.
The six days of creation, followed by a seventh day of rest.
God creates humans in his own image and gives them rule over all the earth (1:26–28).
See also: Psalm 90:2 and Hebrews 1:2.
(52 Key Bible Stories, Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing, 2021)
Consider: What are we to gain in our understanding of the world around us by this ancient description of the beginning? What from it can we learn that by mere observation we would never come to know?
First of all, we learn that there was a beginning, a starting point, a moment when the heavens and earth were created by God. A beginning has been theorized by scientists, but they don’t all agree about it, and many of them don’t like that such a conclusion affirms the Bible’s creation narrative, so they often do all that they can to disassociate their conclusions from what the Bible reveals. But they need not have done so, because naturalistic scientists would never affirm that it was God who created the beginning. They will only accept a naturalistic cause as a valid explanation. Which is unfortunate, since it was God who initiated the beginning.
We also learn a name for the Creator: “Elohim.” It is a word composed of the “three or more plural ending” attached to the root word “El” (which means “strong” and was used as a general reference for any deity). Gods, for the ancients, had to be strong enough to do what they could not do for themselves. In retrospect, the plural ending fits well with the Bible’s revelation that the God who is strong enough to create the heavens and the earth is plural in nature (Father, Son, and Spirit).
The Hebrew term translated “create” literally means “to cut,” for cutting was how they shaped something from its natural state, like a branch, into something useful, like a shaft for an arrow. God is depicted as shaping the earth out that which was previously formless, void, and dark. Everything God did to shape the heavens and the earth, down to the smallest detail, is claimed to be not only good, but very good (v. 31).
We learn that there was a progression of six successive “days” in which God shaped the heavens and the earth. “Yom,” which is translated “day,” meant “warm.” A day ended when the warmth ended. But the beginning of the cycle did not start at next morning. It began at evening, included the night, and the next “warming.” This term was primarily used to speak of what we know as the 24 hours that it takes for the earth to rotate as warms itself from the sun; but “Yom” was occasionally used to speak of a longer period of time, like a season; or a specific point in time, as in “the day of…”
And we learn that the focus of God’s creation is us. “They” (Elohim) shaped “Adam” (the first people) in “Their” (Elohim) image and likeness, and let “them” (Adam) rule over all that was created. We are told more about how God shaped the first male and female later in the story. But in this section we are told that Elohim shaped the heavens and the earth with everything that “Adam” might need to be fruitful and multiply. And after all this was done, Elohim rested for a day; and encouraged “Adam” to do the same.
We learn from our origin story answers to our questions about identity and purpose. We are not the result of incidental mutations that have left us with only a driving need to survive until our existence ends with our last breath. We are much, much more.
Prayer: Elohim, thank you for shaping a world into a place where we can thrive. Help us to recognize your handiwork and take up the purposes you have set before us. We rejoice in all the goodness that Y’all created. Amen.
For God so Loves … - Accepting the Impossible
Read: Luke 1:34-38
Consider: You might be more accepting that something wildly impossible was actually going to happen if you were talking with an angel about it. The appearance of an angel is no ordinary, run of the mill event. They are dispatched by God from heaven to carry out His will on earth. We are told of times when they were sent to protect, to watch over, to comfort, to deliver, to inform, to carry out judgement, to battle, and to escort to heaven. They are powerful creatures that are surrounded with a bit of mystery.
And while you can entertain an angel unaware, the stories about them that garner our attention are when their identity and purpose is unmistakable. Like the time when Gabriel brought a message from God to Mary. He does not identify himself to Mary, but his greeting perplexed her. And pondering it, she seems to recognize that this is no ordinary stranger passing through, and her reaction causes him to calm her by saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” Gabriel does not pause for her to react, but quickly delivers God’s message: She is going to conceive in her womb and bear a son, and will name Him Jesus.
Angels had delivered this sort of message to women before Mary received her’s. Sarah was told by an angel that she would bear a son in her old age, but she had a husband (Gen. 11:29). And an angel visited Manoah, who was barren, with a similar message. But she too had a husband (Judges 13:2). Mary must have known these stories, why else would she ask Gabriel, “How can this be since a husband I have not known?” (This usually gets translated “Since I am a virgin”).
Gabriel was not caught off guard by her question. He doesn’t even seem to have batted an eye. He simply explained to Mary, matter of factly, that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Let’s be honest, that was not a very scientific explanation. But it was one that Mary could understand.
She would certainly have understood it as well as Jesus’ own disciples when He told them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.“ And the term translated “overshadow” was the same one used to describe the cloud that enveloped Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountain with Peter, James and John. And this same term was also used to describe the cloud that enveloped the tabernacle indicating God’s presence. Mary was not told when or where or exactly how this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit would take place.
But she was told by Gabriel that her relative, Elizabeth, who was old and barren, but who had a husband, was already in her six month because nothing is impossible with God. Mary accepted that the impossible would also happen to her as well, and Gabriel departed. Then Mary immediately took off to see her cousin, and by the time she arrived, Mary was already carrying the promised child. It is interesting that Gabriel waited for Mary to accept the news he bore. Her exact words were, “May it be done me according to your word.”
God has also sent us a message that some impossible things are going to happen to us: Our sins will be forgiven. Our relationship with God will be restored. We will receive the Holy Spirit. And we will be resurrected to live forever in heaven. But as He did with Mary, God waits for us to accept that the impossible will be done to us according to His Word.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. Nothing is impossible with You. We accept all the impossible things that You have promised to do for us. Amen.
For God So Loves the World: In God we Trust, all others …
Read: John 20:30-31
Consider: John’s purpose in writing his gospel is not very “Christmassy.” He stated it, not after reporting anything related to Jesus’ birth, but when recalling an event that took place 8 days after His resurrection. It was the occasion when Thomas’ doubts about it were completely wiped away.
We know that story well. Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus appeared to them. When Thomas returned, they told him about it, but he refused to believe them. He declared that he would never believe them until he actually saw Jesus for himself. But even then, he wouldn’t trust his eyes, he wanted to touch Jesus with his own hands, to make sure it wasn’t just his “ghost.” He also wanted to make certain that it was not someone made up to look like Jesus. That’s why he wanted to examine Jesus’ wounds. Thomas’ doubts didn’t stop the other disciples from going on and on about having seen Jesus. And they pleaded with Thomas to believe them. And he was, most likely, highly offended by their doing so.
Thomas simply didn’t trust his fellow disciples. They were claiming to have witnessed something that was impossible. But on that eighth day, when they were all together, Jesus showed up again. After greeting them, Jesus immediately confronted Thomas. He actually commanded Thomas to do the very things that he had said he’d have to do in order to believe. But Thomas did none of them. Jesus then commanded him, “And be not unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas’ change was evidenced by his declaration, “My Lord and my God!”
This is where things take an unexpected twist. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see and believed.” John makes it clear that Jesus performed many other “signs” that were not included in his gospel. But those he included were enough for those who read about them to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and they would receive life in His name. It was John’s hope that they might believe, unlike him, without seeing.
You don’t need to know the “Christmas Story” to put your faith in Jesus. In fact, John did not record anything about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth in his gospel. Fortunately, it was recorded by Luke and Matthew. Otherwise, we might have a lot of unanswered questions.
Neither of them had seen any of the events they preserved about Jesus’ birth, but they talked to people who had. Luke was a self-proclaimed investigative reporter. He could not have produced a complete and accurate account of Jesus’ life without looking into His birth. So, he searched for and spoke to eyewitnesses, and recorded their stories. I am confident that he talked to Mary herself. How else could he have gotten that part of the story which only Mary knew about?
We often say these day, “In God, we trust … all others pay cash” as a humorous way to declare that we don’t really trust people who promise to pay us later. We only trust that they will pay for what they want when we “see” the cash. And it stands to reason, that if we can’t trust people to tell us the truth about something so simple, who can we trust about the important things? Especially when the resources we have about them include aspects that are hard to accept as true.
For skeptics, the story of Jesus’ birth is about as believable as the story of Santa coming down a chimney on Christmas Eve. They are great stories. Children love them. And they make for fun celebrations. But, like Thomas, skeptics refuse to believe without seeing for themselves. And since there is no way to go back in time, this can’t be done. No wonder Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are they who did not see, and believed.” It is a blessing to do so.
Christmas is a time when, like the disciples did to Thomas about Jesus’ resurrection; the eyewitnesses are proclaiming to us what took place at Jesus’ birth. The question is whether we will accept what they proclaim, or whether we will reject it, only to find out later that they were right all along.
The problem is that the next time that Jesus is going to show up again to be seen, as so many desire, it will be too late to take Him up on His offer of life eternal. But fortunately, before that time comes, there are other ways to see Jesus besides the testimony of the eyewitnesses. We can also see Him through the lives of His followers, who become His hands and feet, to be seen by all. And together, they are rather convincing.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us spread the truth. Amen.
For God So Loves the World ...
The gift we need most of all
Read: 1 John 1:5-10
Consider: John is passing along to us the message that he received: God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. And this message from God is very good news. According to John there are only two kinds of people in the world: Those walking in the Light, and those walking in Darkness. There is no walking in the shadowlands, we are either walking in the light or we are not.
To emphasize that this is the perspective we should adopt about our relationship with God, John states unequivocally that if we say that we have fellowship with God, but are walking in darkness, we are liars. That is, we are not being honest, not even with ourselves, about our relationship with God. After all, if God is light, and you are in fellowship with Him, then you have to be walking in the Light. It can’t be any other way.
John didn’t want anyone to misunderstand the news that he was sharing about God being light. So, he pointed out that the opposite is also true. If we are walking in the light, as He Himself is in the light, we really do have fellowship with God. The “of one another” in verse 7 refers to us and God, not our walking along side each other in the light. Although that happens too. John points out that fellowship with God is only possible for those who have been cleansed from all sin by Jesus’ blood.
John insists that if we say that we have no sin, and therefore don’t need to be cleansed by Jesus’ blood, then we are deceiving ourselves. And the truth is not in us. And yes, there were people living back then who felt like they were already in a “right” relationship with God and did not need Jesus’ help to initiate one. They thought that way about their relationship with God because that is what they had been told was true.
They were taught that your relationship with God was, first of all, based on your ancestry. If you were born into a Jewish family, then you were one of God’s people. As you grew up, you would be taught how to faithfully follow the law of Moses. If you did so, then you were in a right relationship with God because you lived a “clean” life. But there were certain behaviors and experiences that could pollute your life, making you unclean. Fortunately, there were prescribed rituals that if followed correctly would remove the pollution. If it was accompanied by corresponding behaviors that would provide restitution for anyone you might have harmed or wronged. If done, you would be declared clean, and your place in the community preserved, along with your relationship with God. But if you didn’t do it, then you would be cast out of the community, and your relationship with God deemed broken.
Those unfamiliar with the sacrificial system, or confused by it, may not realize that the forgiveness of sins was something that transpired apart from the sacrificial system. Forgiveness was something that only God could offer, and He did so at His leisure and by His grace. Forgiveness of sin meant that you were not required to pay the penalty for your sin. And the penalty for any sin, even a small one, was death.
God’s forgiveness of individuals, and for the nation of Israel, was celebrated and remembered and portrayed during their festivals, especially at Passover and the Day of Atonement. But the truth was, as Jesus often pointed out, that sin didn’t just pollute your life, it also broke your relationship with God. Whether Jewish or Gentile mattered not. And it cannot be repaired until the penalty for sin has been paid. Jesus often pointed out to the Jewish leaders that they did not themselves understand this vital truth. This is, of course, why Jesus called them “blind” guides.
Admitting that your relationship with God is broken because you have sinned even once is hard to accept. As is accepting the truth that acknowledging your sin, changing your behavior, and even making restitution to those you hurt cannot repair it. It can only be repaired if God extends forgiveness. And John reminds us that because Jesus paid the penalty for not only our sin, but the whole world’s sins, we can be forgiven. He assures us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9.) It is the gift we need most of all.
Prayer: God, in whom there is no darkness, we long to walk with You, to fellowship with You. Dispel the darkness in our lives by forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. Amen.
For God So Loved the World …
If God can love the World, why can’t I?
Bible Verse: 1 John 2:15-17
Consider: Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that you have taken the time that our nation sets aside to return thanks to God for His provision in your life. He is an amazingly gracious and loving God.
This Sunday marks the beginning of the first week of Advent. The season we recall how God’s people once waited for Him to keep His promise to send a Savior to the world. They knew the Messiah was “coming” (which is what “advent” means), but they didn’t know when, and they didn’t understand from what they needed to be saved; nor did they didn’t know how to identify the Savior when He arrived. But they trusted God to do what He promised.
Christmas is the celebration of His arrival, which begins on the day of His birth. We observe it on December 25th, but the Christmas season continues for twelve days, ending on Epiphany (Jan. 6). Epiphany marks the day when the wisemen arrived.
It was the apostle John who told us clearly why God had made this promise. He loved the world (cf. John 3:16). His love compelled Him to send His Son, so the world would not perish, but have eternal life. All the world has to do to be saved from perishing is believe. Yet, it was also this same apostle who told us, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.”
Why can’t we love the World as God does? It’s all in how you define “world.” And it is a more complicated word than you might realize. The Greek word translated “world” in both verses is “cosmos.” It is a word that John often used. He used it 79 times in his gospel, and 23 times in 1 John. In comparison, Mark and Luke only used it 3 times, and Matthew 9 times. In the Greek translation of the OT, it was primarily used to describe “ornaments.” Literally, as in bracelets, and figurately, as in strength. It was even used to describe the ornaments (usually translated “hosts”) of heaven and earth (ie. the stars).
“Cosmos” was derived from a root word that meant to “carry” something from one person to another. And it was understood that the person carrying it would also arrange it so that it adorned the recipient. Which is why “cosmos” was used to describe things that were “pre-arranged by someone.” There are five primary pre-arranged things to which “cosmos” refers in the Bible: (1) The Universe; (2) The Earth; (3) Humanity; (4) The Principles, People, and Powers in rebellion against God; and (5) Ornamentations that are used in adorning people and places, whether physical or figurative.
God loves humanity, and we should love it as He does too. But we often end up like Demas. You remember him. He rose up to be a leader in the ancient Church. But, according to Paul, from God and the world of people God loved to “this present world.”
Our senses perceive the things that God has arranged in this present world. But we do not long to use them as He intended. We long to use them to meet our own appetites, which usually comes at the expense of others. But we are convinced that life will be immensely better when we possess enough of them. But it is really just a never-ending quest that offers no lasting satisfaction.
God’s love for the world is vastly different. He understands what humanity needs most, not what it wants or craves, and has provided it. He knows that the pre-arranged orders are passing away. And His plan is to save humanity from perishing with it. He has also promised to establish a new order that will never pass away.
In those ancient days before Jesus was born, God’s people longed for His promised Savior to arrive. And now, we who have come to believe in Him, celebrate God’s redeeming love.
Prayer: God. You who are love. We rejoice in what you have done to save us. Amen.
Following Jesus … In Secret
Read: John 3:1-2
Consider: John begins chapter 3 by saying that “There was a person.” He was writing to people who did not know the story, and John wanted them to understand that there was a person who spoke with Jesus about the sort of questions that they themselves might ask. This person was further identified by John as a Pharisee. There were several theological denominations among the Jews at that time, and the Pharisees was the most popular one. The others were Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, and Zealots.
This Pharisaic man had a name, Nicodemus. It is a Greek name, not a Hebraic one. It meant “Victory of the people.” But it is surprising that a ruler of Judea had a Greek name. There were 70 rulers of Judea who comprised the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Judea. They were led by the High Priest, who was a Sadducee. They were the “modern” rendition of the 70 elders who assisted Moses in the wilderness. It was a diverse group, drawn from men who were to represent the people. They were all priests, scribes, or elders. But of these, we are not told which Nicodemus was. Together they administered over the civic and religious policies that directed Judean life. He was an important man.
It was “this one” who came to Jesus by night. Some have suggested that Nicodemus came at night because he did not want to be seen meeting with Jesus. That it was a “secret meeting” between the two. But others see it as the only time when Nicodemus would not infringe upon Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was always engaged during the day with his work, and Nicodemus would probably be equally busy with his own affairs. And a nighttime meeting, without too many others present, would allow Nicodemus to raise his questions and receive Jesus’ answers in a more open, honest, and friendly atmosphere. Which is exactly what happened.
Nicodemus’ “following” of Jesus is recounted only in the gospel of John. He is not mentioned by the other gospel writers at all. And John mentions him three different times. The most famous is this nighttime meeting, but in the seventh chapter (verses 50-52) we are told that Nicodemus defends Jesus before the Chief Priest and some Pharisees who had sent guards during the festival of booths to arrest Jesus, but returned empty handed. The guards explained that they had not carried out their orders because they had never heard anyone teach as did Jesus. And these leaders asked if they had been fooled into believing in Him. “Not one,” they asked, “Of the rulers or Pharisees had believed in Him, had they?” Only people who did not know the Law followed Jesus. That’s when Nicodemus said, “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” He was chastised for speaking up, being asked, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” Which was true, but then again, Jesus was not from Galilee. He was from Bethlehem. Whether Nicodemus knew this or not, we do not know. We do know that Nicodemus had already heard what Jesus had to say when he had met with him at night. There is no indication that Nicodemus was, by this time, a believer. But he was open-minded. He was mulling over what he had heard.
The next time Nicodemus encounter’s Jesus is at the cross, it is recorded at the end of the 19th chapter of John. He and Joseph, who is identified as a disciple of Jesus, take Jesus’ body down, prepare it for burial, and place it in the tomb. Joseph, John notes, was a “secret disciple” because he was afraid of those who had crucified Jesus. But he does not comment on Nicodemus’ status. But, perhaps, this is one of those situations where actions speak louder than words.
We don’t know how Nicodemus reacted to the news of Jesus’ resurrection. But if anyone was poised to believe, it would have been him. Church tradition holds that he did become a “Not so secret” follower of Jesus. And a Roman historian mentions a Nicodemus who had lost his standing, lands, and wealth. I like to think that they were one and the same, as that was the price that many paid to follow Jesus.
It is my hope that, like Nicodemus, you give Jesus a chance. That you ask honest questions of His claim to be the Messiah, and you listen to what He has to say about Himself. And it is my prayer that you become one of Jesus’ disciples regardless of the cost.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. We have heard your story, considered your claims, and have come to believe. Lead us, we are ready to follow. Amen.
Overcoming Obstacles – The Lions’ Den
Read: Daniel 6:16
Consider: Daniel’s belief in God was not the problem. Everyone believed in one god or another. Daniel’s religious practices was not the problem. They expected people to be obedient to their gods. It was Daniel rise among the leaders that the King had appointed to govern that was the problem. The King had noticed Daniel’s extraordinary spirit and was planning to appoint him over the entire kingdom. It was a powerful position but there were others who wanted it, and Daniel stood in their way.
What can you expect non-believers to do when you are the obstacle that they want to overcome? You can expect them to plot against you. That’s what happened to Daniel. Their plan A was to discredit Daniel, but they could find no ground of accusation against him in regard to government affairs. He was faithful to the King. He was not negligent or corrupt. But they recognized that Daniel was, from their perspective, a little too devoted to his God. And it was upon this perceived weakness that they devised a plan B, which was to get rid of Daniel once and for all.
You can expect them to go over your head. They came to the King and influenced him ever so subtly. Convincing the King to establish a decree that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides the King, during the next 30 days, was to be cast into the lions’ den. And the King, flattered, made it. They understood that this decree could not be revoked even when the King realized the consequences of it for Daniel.
You can expect them to vilify your faith. The trap was set, and as they expected, Daniel fell into it. For it was Daniel’s habit to pray to his God three times a day. They checked to make sure Daniel really broke the decree. He did. They reported it to the King. And the King had no choice but to enforce his own decree. But he wasn’t happy about it. He did everything possible to deliver Daniel, but there were no loopholes.
You expect support from those who befriend you, even if it doesn’t really change much. The King took Daniel to the lions’ den, and told him, “Your God, whom you constantly serve, will Himself deliver you.” Then a stone was laid over the mouth of the den. And the King placed his seal upon it. The King spent a sleepless night, fasting and praying for Daniel’s deliverance. At dawn, the King went to the den, had the stone removed, and called in to see if Daniel had been delivered. And he was delightedly relieved to hear Daniel’s voice.
You can expect those who befriend you to be impressed by what God does to deliver you. Daniel told the King how his God had shut the mouths of the lions. And how his deliverance evidenced that his God deemed him innocent. The King agreed. And then the King took those who had plotted against Daniel, and put them into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And then the lions overpowered them all.
Then the King then made another decree. He wanted every person in his kingdom to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel. For the King now believed that Daniel’s God was the living God, who endures, and whose kingdom will never be destroyed, and whose dominion will be forever. Daniel, we are told, enjoyed great success during the continued reign of King Darius and that of King Cyrus who came after him.
But are you really in Daniel’s shoes? Are you doing so well at work that there are others who are jealous of your rise? Are you behaving at work in such a way that there is nothing in which you can be maligned? Have you been targeted because of your belief in God? Are you so faithful to God that you obey Him rather than men, fearing not what they could do to you? Has your obedience to God gotten you tossed into a “Lions’ den”? And do you trust that God Himself, whom you constantly serve, will deliver you?
Prayer: Lord Jesus. In our devotion to you, may we excel at our work. May we rise above those around us. And if jealous prompts those around us to plot against us. Deliver us from their schemes. Amen.
Overcoming Obstacles: The Giant
Read: 1 Sam. 17:4-8
Consider: Goliath. What image comes to mind when you hear that name? You might not recall all the details of his battle attire, but you will conjure up the image of an enormous man. You will recall how he challenged the Israelite army to a winner take all single combat contest, and how little David defeated him. But you might not recall rest of the story.
Two ancient armies were lined up against each other. Israel on one side and the Philistines on the other. But before they did, King Saul had led this same army against other neighboring armies. He had easily defeated each one of them, because he obeyed God. They were a fierce, merciless force that struck fear in the heart of their neighbors. For God had directed King Saul not to leave a living sole behind. No quarter, no prisoners, not even the livestock were to be spared. And King Saul had obeyed.
King Saul had gathered mighty men to fight along-side of him. Men of valor, men of faith, men willing to do what the Lord directed. But in the last battle, against the Amalekites, King Saul’s obedience faltered. He captured King Agag instead of killing him. His men took the best of the livestock for themselves, rather than slaughtering them. When God’s prophet, Samuel confronted King Saul about it, he said that they had only preserved them in order to sacrifice them to the Lord. Samuel responded that God desired obedience instead of sacrifice.
God’s “scorched earth” policy would have been a hard one to follow. It’s why so many people today feel that the God of the OT is not the same as the God of the NT. But He is one and the same. You have to remember that God commanded Abraham to kill is own son, and Abraham was obedient. We delight in how God intervened in the nick of time to spare Isaac’s life. But King Saul was not that sort of man.
Samuel told King Saul that “rebellion is as the sin of divination. Insubordination isas iniquity and idolatry,” then he told King Saul, “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being King.” This is why Israel’s army was no longer vanquishing their enemies as they had before. The real obstacle was obeying God’s Word. It is hard to do when you don’t understand it. When you don’t agree with it. When you feel that it is asking you to do something that isn’t right.
Goliath was a obstacle of King Saul’s own making. He couldn’t defeat the Philistines because he was not faithful to God’s word. Think about it, when does an army allow their leader to offering “single combat” as a battle plan? When the odds are against you. The Philistines would have known how Israel had been defeating their enemies, and it looked like they were next. The Philistines pinned their hopes on tricking the Israelites into a one-on-one contest. And they had just the right man for their side, Goliath.
The Philistines did not know that God was no longer with King Saul. But King Saul knew, and how could he answer the challenge when Samuel had just told him, despite his pleading, that God was no longer with him? The two armies faced each other, neither willing to go forward into battle. And King Saul’s men had no idea why he was waiting either. And they waited for a long time.
It took a while for Samuel to go and find David. Just as it took a while for David to end up at the front lines, bringing supplies to his brothers. But it didn’t take long for David to accept the challenge. He was ready to do so because David had been obedient to the Lord. And he would easily overcome the obstacle that King Saul had made.
Jesus told His disciples that they had to become like little children to enter into His Kingdom. Children who faithfully obeyed Him. It is usually adults, full of worldly wisdom, who create giants that such children have to overcome. Perhaps it is time that we go back to the solid ground of trusting and obeying. There is no other way, I was told, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. Forgive us for our disobedience. For those times when we alter Your commands. For thinking that we can improve upon them. Help us obey. Amen.
Overcoming Obstacles: The Red Sea
Read: Exodus 14:11-12
Consider: One of the most common obstacles that makes it hard to follow God’s leading is trusting His messengers. Mary told Gabriel when he revealed that she would have a child, “How can this be since I have not known a man?” And the Israelites who had followed Moses out of Egypt were equally skeptical of Moses who had told them that freedom awaited them. How could that be possible since Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on them?
And while Mary accepted Gabriel’s explanation of how God would do the impossible, the Israelites weren’t so easily persuaded. It was from fear that they got a little snarky with Moses. Asking him, “Where there not enough graves in Egypt that you have taken us into the wilderness to die?” “Why have you done this to us?” and “Would it not have been better for us to keep serving the Egyptians than die out here?” These are the sort of dismissive questions we toss in the face of our leaders when all seems lost.
But Moses was not put off by their verbal temper tantrum. Instead, He commanded them not to fear. It seems an unreasonable command because we all know that fear is not something you can turn on and off. I’m not sure that they could have responded by saying, “Okay, We won’t fear the Egyptians anymore because you commanded us not to.” You have to remember that they could actually see the Egyptians coming.
Yet, Moses was confident that God would intervene and protect them. He told the Israelites that the Egyptians whom that they saw coming, and whom they feared, would never be seen by them again. And it wouldn’t be because they would fight them, it would because God would fight for them.
But the Israelites still had to do their part. They would have to trust Moses enough to move “forward” toward the sea. The sea stood in their way. It prevented them from escaping. There was no possible way of escape. Then, Moses lifted-up his staff as God had directed him, and the sea divided, and a path of dry ground appeared before them through which they could escape to the other side.
While they moved forward, an angel of the Lord, which had been leading Israel toward the sea, moved behind them and prevented the Egyptians from following them into the sea. While the Israelites’ hearts were strengthened by what they saw God doing, the Egyptian’s hearts were hardened by it. When the angel finally got out of the Egyptians’ way, they rushed onto the dry land that the Israelites had used to escape. It was only when their chariot wheels began to swerve, and they started having trouble keeping up their speed that they had second thoughts. And, acting on their realization that they were in trouble, the Egyptians turned and ran for their lives. While they fled the Lord commanded Moses to stretch out his hands over the sea, and when he did, the waters flowed back over the Egyptians.
The Israelites saw the power of the Lord. And their fear shifted from the Egyptians to the Lord Himself. We’re told in the book of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. These Israelites must have thought, “If God could do that to them, He could have done it to us as well. But He didn’t.” It is then that they believed what Moses said about God, that He was not against them, but for them. And there was much rejoicing.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Help us to realize that God is for us. Help us depend upon His power to fight for us. Help us trust Him enough to follow wherever He leads. Amen.
Overcoming Obstacles: The Flood
Read: Genesis 6:7-8
Consider: Life is an obstacle course. There is always something in the way; and we have to figure out how to go over, under, around, or through it. And while navigating an actual obstacle course can be fun for the physically fit, and highly entertaining for those who watch them (think American Nija Warrior); the obstacles in life we face are not much fun to get around at all, and some obstacles just seem impossible. In this sermon series we are going to look at some familiar Bible stories that reveal how we can best get around some of the most common obstacles. And the first of those obstacles is the coming judgement of God.
I think that Noah and the Ark is the best Bible story concerning this obstacle. Let me warn you that Noah’s story is not really suitable for children even if we tend to decorate their rooms with motifs from that story. But to be honest, who doesn’t like the good vibrations that the image of a boat overflowing with animals bobbing along under a beautiful blue sky with a rainbow illicit? But I don’t think any parent would ever paint on their child’s walls, “that God was sorry that He had made Adam” that is, humanity, and so He decided to wipe them out with a flood.
The Hebrew word translated “sorry” is also translated “regret, pity, relent, change, console, repent, mourn, and rest.” But it is most often, translated “comfort.” God was “sorry” in the sense of being sad about it. It was a sadness that led God to grieve in His heart over man. We grieve when we lose something. If you recall, God had made Adam in His own image. He was the crown of God’s creation. God said that what He had made was good; and in regard to women, very good. God made man for companionship. He wanted us to walk with Him, talk with Him, and enjoy life with Him. And it was God’s hope that man would use his ability to make choices in a way that would enhance our relationship with Him. But that’s not how things turned out. Man’s choices led him further and further away from God until there was little, if any relationship at all. And God was sad that the companion He had made had turned away from Him.
And God’s stated solution was to “blot out” man from the face of the land, along with the animals. Interestingly, the term translated “blot” means to clean with a wiping motion. In regard to King Manasseh’s wicked reign, God said through His prophet that He would “wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” (2 K 21:13)
Verse 5 indicates that all those who had turned away from their relationship with God were wholly focused on evil. Which is not exactly what Satan had promised would happen if man turned away from God, but he is not known for telling the truth. It is not that they couldn’t discern what was good, it is that they didn’t. We know that they could have because Noah did.
The coming flood of God’s judgement presented a challenge. How could anyone survive it? Not even Noah would have survived had not God shown Him mercy. He was told about the coming flood, and that He was to build an Ark. Noah’s faith was evidenced in His building that Ark. It was not a symbolic gesture of his inward decision to trust God. It was an intentional obedience to God’s command as an expression of his faith in God.
Jesus once told a story about a storm that caused flooding. But the faithful in His story built their houses on a firm foundation, a rock, instead of upon the shifting sands. Jesus said that those who built their lives on the rock were the ones who heard His words and obeyed them. Faithful obedience is vital if we want to get past the obstacle of God’s judgement. Obedience does not “earn” our way past it, but obedience to God’s commands is how we are supposed to express our trust in God, whose mercy is what really gets us past it.
What about all those people who were wiped clean from the earth? Was God unjust? Did He overreact? Peter reveals that Jesus preached the good news to the souls in prison who died in the days of Noah. We are not told if those who had rejected Noah’s preaching accepted Jesus’ preaching. But I hope that they did.
Peter compared baptism to Noah’s Ark. Saying that it now saves us in the same way that the Ark saved Noah and His family. Not because baptism wipes the dirt off our bodies, but because it is a request to God for a “good conscience” through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1Pt.3:21)
In other words, there is room on the Ark for you, and anyone else who puts their faith in Jesus. And God’s mercy will carry you through the flood of God’s coming judgement, just as Noah was carried through the flood. And, if you didn’t know, that rainbow in the sky is a reminder that God will cleanse the world with His judgement again, but it won’t be with water. It will be with fire. But we don’t have to worry about it because we will be on the ark that will carry us through it.
Prayer: Thank You Lord Jesus for cleansing us with Your mercy and grace that we might live with You forever in heaven. Amen.
What’s In Your Locker? Hooks (Serving without Being Noticed)
READ: Matthew 6:1-6
Consider: No locker is complete without a couple of hooks. Hooks are usually inconspicuous - you might not really notice until you want to hang something up. Maybe that’s because they are designed to be functional, not stylish. They’re designed to hang things, like a jacket or a purse, and that’s about it. They silently do their job without drawing attention to themselves, but you’d definitely notice if your locker didn’t have any in it.
Kevin Kast went to school with a girl named Jessica. She was kind and compassionate, never doing anything to draw attention to herself. She was always did good things for others and didn’t care whether she was thanked for it or not. She especially loved to do something nice for someone without them finding out about it. She practiced “random acts of kindness” long before Oprah made them popular.
It wasn’t until much later that Kevin found out that Jessica’s behavior was intentional. Her personal goal was to do one kind act for someone every day. The cool thing was that no one knew about her personal goal, and she didn’t just do nice things for nice people. She did kind things for people who would never do anything kind for her in return. She also did kind things for the elderly, for popular kids, and even kids that everyone else made fun of. Her behavior did get noticed every now and then, but she wasn’t doing them to be noticed. She was just living out her faith in a very practical way.
Jessica took to heart the warning that Jesus gave in His sermon on the mount. In that sermon Jesus cautioned, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven … No sounding of trumpets when you help the poor … No making a show of things when you pray.”
Jesus gave this warning because He had seen plenty of religious leaders “do the right thing” in order to enhance their own personal reputation for having done so. It’s the “see me, notice me” syndrome. Politicians work this angle all the time when they are out seeking votes. But you don’t have to look to them for examples of hypocritical behavior, there are plenty of examples in the Church. The fight against pride is always being waged when it comes to doing the right thing, and it becomes every Christian’s battle at some point. We have to learn to do things because it is right, and not to do it because it will benefit us in some way. False humility, serving to be noticed by others, is one of the reasons the Church gets a bad reputation.
Jesus certainly wants His followers doing good things, but He wants us to do them for the right reasons. We are not supposed to be organizing publicity stunts. On the other hand, we can’t let our fear of being noticed keep us from doing what is right either. It is good to challenge ourselves to do what is right, and hard not to brag about ourselves for doing so. May the Lord help us follow His example, and may He received all the glory.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Help us live for You alone. Amen.
What’s In Your Locker? Blank Pieces of Paper (Telling our Story)
Encounter: 2 Cor. 3:1-3
Consider: We’ve all been there. It’s your first day of school after summer vacation. You walk into class, sit down, look around for friends, and get yourself ready as bell rings. The teacher welcomes everyone and asks you to take out a blank piece of paper and pen or pencil.
Instantly everyone is seized with fear and exchange looks that say, “What’s she going to ask us to do?” It can’t be a pop quiz, so it’d have to be something to evaluate your readiness to take the class. Was there a prerequisite for this class? A quiz on the first day couldn’t affect your overall grade, could it? What if this was one of those ruthless teachers who delighted on failing their students? But you finally you come your senses. You calm yourself with the realization that most teachers don’t begin the school year by humiliating their students.
The teacher then asks everyone to write an essay about what they did during the summer break. Whew! Everyone lets out a sigh of relief, and a moan of “Here we go again.” Why do teachers, who don’t even teach English, insist on making their students write about their summer experiences?
But instead of trying to analyze the teacher’s motives, you begin to chronicle your family’s vacation, a trip you took with the youth group, your summer job, staying up late at night and sleeping until the crack of noon. You lament that summer break was way too short and suggest that the school year shouldn’t begin until after Labor Day. Before you know it the teacher is calling for the papers to be turned in. You look down and realize that your blank page is completely filled up. It was a busy, but good summer after all, and what you wrote only captured the gist of what you did. You add your name, which you should have done when you started, and turn it in.
It has been said that when we begin following Jesus, our lives are like a blank sheet of paper. There is no story written on it, but with each passing day, we write our stories by the actions we take and the words we say. And we’ve written a lot more on it than what happened last summer. The beginning of our story included other Christians who helped us with what we should write on our blank piece of paper. Their counsel, their wisdom, even their admonitions directed our behavior. While what ends up on the blank piece of paper is “our story,” it could be used as a letter of recommendation for those who influenced us. Our story communicates that if you want to end up with a similar story, just follow their advice.”
The apostle Paul insisted that the lives of those he discipled were his letters of recommendation, but even more than that, their lives were letters that recommended Christ - for He is the one who had transformed their lives, who had given them that blank piece of paper, and it was their desire to follow Him that lead to what they had written on it. All Paul had really done was nudge them along the way that Jesus was leading them.
When we tell people that we are Christians, that we follow Jesus, our lives recommend whether they should consider being a Christian too. After all, your life is no longer a blank page. The question is: “When someone reads your story, would it compel them to follow Jesus?” Fortunately, we are not finished writing our story. There is still time to get to that happy ending.
So, every time you see a blank piece of paper, ask yourself, “What am I going to add to my story today? And how will what I write recommend Christ to those who are reading my story?”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Help us live for You every moment of every day. Amen.
What’s In Your Locker? Lock (Secret Sins)
Encounter: 1 John 3:19-20
Consider: It is my hope that everyone associated with our congregation who are involved with the public schools are reminded in some way while they are at school that God is with them every moment of every day. For this to happen they don’t need to carry a Bible, wear a cross, or erect a copy of the 10 commandments, because every day, ordinary stuff, can serve as a reminder. In this sermon series based on Kevin Kast’s devotion book, “What’s in Your Locker,” we will point out some things in an ordinary school locker that can remind us about God.
In one devotion, Kevin states the obvious: “Every locker is designed to be… locked! That’s why we call them lockers.” They are specifically designed to keep the stuff placed inside of them secure. Some lockers are designed with a clasp through which students place their own lock, like the ones used in gym class, but their assigned lockers are secured with a built-in combination lock.
Kevin Kast remembers being given the combination to his new locker on the first day of school. He looked at the three numbers and memorized them: fourteen, twenty-two, seventeen. It seemed so simple. But on the first day of school, when no one wants to pull out that little slip of paper and feel like they have failed “locker 101.” It is hard to recall those numbers, much less which way to turn the knob, and how many turns for each number. His stuff in the locker was secure… from himself. He fumbled around, but finally got it. And no one noticed his struggle.
It took a while, but h\e finally got his locker combination down, he could open it without really thinking about it. But it didn’t keep him from worrying that someone might break into his locker and steal his stuff or put something into it that didn’t belong. The thought that calmed his nerves was how the contents of his locker would remain totally anonymous as long as he didn’t reveal his combination to anyone. Some students “shared” lockers, so they didn’t have to carry their books as far. But that opened you up to potential trouble.
It wasn’t too many days into the school year when Kevin heard a loud commotion in the hallway. Suddenly, several police officers and a police dog rushed past his classroom door. No one knew what was going on, but it didn’t take long for the news to get around. Evidently, a boy named Mike “shared” his locker, and one of his friends came across Mike’s stash of marijuana. Instead of asking Mike about it, he immediately reported it to the assistant Principal, who had promptly called the police.
Mike had thought that his secret was safe, but it wasn’t. It seems that Mike’s friend cared about him too much to let him get away with taking drugs. His friend did the right thing, but Mike was not happy about it, and it strained their friendship.
You might have a secret sin that you think is locked away. You may feel confident that even if one of your friends found out about it they would protect your secret. Its those other people in your life who, if they found out about it, might reject you or hold it against you in some way. But even if no one else finds out what’s in your locker, you know what’s in there, and your heart is probably condemning you about it. You might even believe the lie that if it becomes known, that not even God would forgive you.
News Flash - God already knows about it and He still loves you. He doesn’t want to keep you from doing something fun; He wants to keep you from hurting yourself. He wants you to enjoy a better life. God really does want what is best for you, and He is eager to forgive you, so that can happen. All you have to do is take off the lock, open it up, and let Him clean out your locker.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. Forgive us and help us turn away from those “secret sins” that we try to keep hidden. Amen.
What’s In Your Locker? Mirror (God Looks at the Heart)
Over the next four weeks we are going to focus on some issues that students face at school, and the rest of us face at home or work. And we’re going to use something that is typically found in a “locker” to remind us of a biblical truth that addresses those issues. I’m basing this sermon series on a 30 day devotional guide for students called, “What’s in Your Locker” by Kevin Kast.
Read: Samuel 16:1-13
Consider: After all the hassles you go through in the morning – getting out of bed, getting your backpack stuffed with everything you need for the day, grabbing a bite to eat, and actually traveling to school - it’s amazing that anyone makes it on time. That’s why one of the greatest features of every locker is that it has a door – the perfect spot to hang a mirror. Locker mirrors have been known to save students from huge embarrassment on more than one occasion.
You may be among the many who stumble out of bed and get ready fairly quickly. Your senses aren’t entirely focused, and when you rush out of the house, it’s easy to miss something – a button on your shirt, a little dried toothpaste on your lip, a new zit or some untamable lock of hair. Thankfully, if you have a mirror, you can catch these things before anyone uses them to make fun of you.
It is important to look presentable, but sometimes we are way too concerned with appearances. I went to school with a guy named Matt who took 20 minutes combing his hair after gym class. He’d comb and comb and comb to get it just right. He’d use his brush, blow dryer and tons of hair spray. When he was finally satisfied, he’d head to the door, and just before he stepped out of the locker room, he’d put on a ball cap. The rest of us would just shake our heads in disbelief.
Although we place a lot of importance on what others think about our looks, our appearance can be misleading. Our snap decisions about others based on clothes, hair style, body shape, etc… can be dead-on, but most of the time they’re not. And our corresponding behavior toward them can be potentially hurtful. Fortunately, God doesn’t judge us based on how we look – he’s concerned with what’s going on in our hearts.
In our text we find that the time had come for a new King of Israel to be selected. The prophet, Samuel, travelled to see a man named Jesse who had a lot of sons. God told him that one of these would be the next King. The oldest son was tall and good locking, and Samuel thought, “This has to be one who will be our next King.” But God said “no”; in fact, He said no about all of Jesse’s sons. Samuel finally asked him, “Do you have any more sons?” He sent for the youngest, who had been out tending sheep, and much to everyone’s surprise, God selected him to be the next King.
Notice verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” More often than we’d probably like to admit, we judge people based upon their appearance, and doing so usually gets us in trouble. How can we, who cannot peer into men’s hearts, keep from judging poorly? If even Samuel, a prophet of God, could be deceived by appearance, what hope do we have of avoiding this trap?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Help us love the whole world, just as You do. Amen.
Godly Living: Think Methuselah
Read: Phil. 1:21
Consider: Methuselah lived for 969 years according to Genesis 5:27. I don’t think that any of us are going to outlive him, but many of us are going to live longer than those who went before us. People are, in general, living longer today, even if it is not nearly as long as those who lived before the flood. Methuselah, we are told, was a mere 187 years old when he had Lamech. He also had other sons and daughters, and we don’t know whether they were older or younger than Lamech. Our attention is directed to Lamech because he was the father of Noah. We don’t know anything else about Methuselah.
The question of what Methuselah may have done during his rather long life is intriguing. Whatever it was, I’m sure he would have chuckled at the idea that those who “make it” to 55 are to be considered senior citizens, and that you have to make it to 67 in order to receive full benefits from social security. Personally, I don’t think that he was aware of the concept of “retirement.”
We can make some valid assumptions about Methuselah. For example, he would not be in this genealogy if he didn’t have a good relationship with God, even though his only “claim to fame” is having had a son who was the father of Noah. It is the genealogy of faithfulness. Even so, we don’t know anything about his immediate family, but he must have had a wife. And his other sons and daughters, who would also have had extraordinarily long lives, would have had children who would have been among those who didn’t make it on Noah’s Ark.
However, we don’t know anything about his vocation, nor any of his interests. We don’t have any stories about those times when he did things well, or when he messed things up. The information that is preserved about him is the sort of information you find on a tombstone. He lived, he had sons and daughters, and he died. The “dash” separating his birth date and his death date remains silent. But I long for that dash to speak.
When I think about Methuselah, I think about older people who are living in a way that leaves a legacy of faith, even if that legacy is restricted to only one of their children. It reminds me that our first mission field is our own family. Methuselah would have known his grandson, Noah; and Noah’s children: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And would have had the opportunity to influence them.
When I moved to Los Alamos, the median age was 40.8, and today it is 40.7. Not much change. The total population has increased from 18,343 to 19,462. And 6319 of those are over 55. That’s an increase of about 862 senior citizens since 2010. In contrast, there are only 4639 people who are under the age of 19. Our community has grown older. After all, in the first years of our community, the average age was 27.
There was a time when people who retired almost always left the county. But more senior citizens are remaining in town. They tend to be healthy, wealthy, and ready to enjoy the life of retirement, and most of them retire closer to 60 instead of being closer to 70, and they are baby boomers. Interestingly enough, they don’t consider themselves to be “senior citizens” as that’s a term they grew up using to identify “old people” and they don’t think of themselves as being old.
Some of these boomers have created a “faith legacy” in their families, but many, like Methuselah, also have children who are not a part of that legacy. It is a burden they carry, and they diligently seek to share their faith with them in a way that doesn’t drive them further away from God. It also drives their deep desire to pass along their faith to anyone who is younger.
But even though boomers are no longer expending their time and energy at work, they tend to be very busy in retirement. Some even joke that they are so busy that they are “failing” at it. But regardless of age, we all face the same question that the apostle Paul raised in his letter to the ancient church of Philippi: What is my purpose? Paul summed up his purpose as “living for Christ.” And he would let that purpose guide his life until death came, which he considered a time of “gaining” instead of “loss.”
It is my prayer that you never retire from living for Christ, for that is the best way to end up leaving a legacy of faith in your family, not to mention your community.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. You who are ageless. Teach us to live for you every day. Help us realize that our greatest achievement is living in a way that influences our children and their children to walk in your ways. Amen.
Godly Living: Make a Moment
Read: 2 Cor. 2:15 (14-17)
Consider: Life doesn’t always go as planned, even for the apostle Paul. He had sent Titus to Corinth, and had expected that Titus would by this time be making his way back. He had expected to meet up with Titus in Troas, where they would advance “the gospel of Christ” together. But when Paul arrived in Troas, he discovered that a “door was opened” for him in the Lord. But the door the Lord opened for him wasn’t in Troas, as Paul had hoped, but was in Macedonia. Paul immediately travelled from Troas to the city of Philippi.
It is always best to go through the open door rather than spending your time beating against a closed door. Which is why Paul was quick to leave Troas after he arrived. If you are like me, you might be wondering how Paul knew that the door in Troas was closed. Fortunately, we don’t have to guess, Paul tells us that (1) He “had no rest for his spirit” when in Troas and (2) Titus wasn’t at Troas as expected. While these two “signs” might not have been easy for us to read, it was for Paul.
We also know that Paul would spend about three months in and around Philippi, which is in Macedonia, advancing the gospel of Christ. During that time Titus would show up and report to him how things had gone down in Corinth. It was good news, but Paul was not ready to head down to them, as he had promised, because the door was open in Macedonia, not in Corinth. So, Paul sent them a letter instead (We call that letter 2 Corinthians).
Despite the “change of plans” that led Paul to Philippi and kept him there, Paul was thankful that God had led him to be where victories for Christ were being won. The gospel message they shared in Philippi was being received as a sweet aroma everywhere they went.
Paul was quick to point out that this is not always the case. While the gospel they shared never changed, it was perceived differently by those who heard it. Some would be saved by it, and others lost. To emphasize this point, Paul said that the same gospel was to one person the aroma of death, and to another person the aroma of life.
I like the smell of barbeque. The aroma of meat being slowly cooked with the heat and smoke from an aromatic wood. But there are those who can’t stand that smell. What is a delight to my senses, is an offense to theirs. And Paul is affirming that the same sort of dynamic is at work when we share the gospel.
We are not to let someone’s offense make us feel that we are inadequate for the job of sharing the gospel. Nor should we let someone’s acceptance make us feel that we are the only one who can present it effectively. Paul said that we are not hucksters, serving up the gospel to make a profit. We are those who have been saved by it, and who are now extending it in hopes that those who hear it will also be saved by it. We do it out of sincerity. We simply want God’s offer to be extended.
And while it is true that we have no control over how someone is going to react to the gospel message, we do have control over where and when we will share it. It is better to be in a place where people are receiving it as a sweet aroma. Such a response affirms that there is an open door, and that is what Paul was experiencing in and around Philippi.
Like Paul, we need to take a moment and evaluate where we are sharing the gospel. Are we doing so where God has led us, where God has prepared people to sense the sweetness of the gospel? Or is God trying to lead us to that place?
Prayer: Lord, help us sense your leading. Show us the open doors that are near us, that we might share the gospel with those you have prepared to receive it. Amen.
Godly Living: Mezuzah Your Universe
Read: Deut. 6:4-9 (11:13-21)
Consider: On the right side of every Jewish doorpost is nailed a small piece of parchment rolled up and inserted into a wood, metal, stone, or ceramic case called a Muzuzeh. They can be rather artistic or very plain. On the parchment is written the twenty-two lines of the Shema, which not only included Deut. 6:4-9, but 11:13-21.
These verses recall how Moses directed those who had committed to serve the Lord to daily remind themselves of their commitment, and to teach their children about their commitment. It not only contains the summation of “the 10 laws” that they were to follow: Loving the Lord their God; but, two specific places they were to display their constant reminder: their doorpost and their forehead.
Reminding comes after committing, and reminding is for ourselves, not for others. Like these ancient people, we made a similar commitment when we accepted Jesus as the Lord of our lives. His commands are summed up in a similar way. We are to love the Lord, and our neighbors as ourselves. And we will run into the same problems that they encountered if we don’t remind ourselves of our commitment.
We often use a Cross instead of Muzuzeh to remind ourselves of our commitment to serve the Lord. They usually get hung on a wall instead of the doorframe. And we wear them on a chain around our necks instead of lashing them to our foreheads. And we tend to use them as a means of displaying our faith to others rather than using them as a personal reminder.
Personal reminders are for people who forget, and we would never forget our commitment to Christ, right? We would never drift from His ways, right? I’d like to say that we wouldn’t; but the evidence leans toward our drifting away without some constant reminder. Because of this tendency, I got a small “fish” symbol, meant to go on the back of a car as a witness to others, and stuck it on my rearview mirror. It was a constant reminder to me that my driving habits needed to reflect my faith, which they don’t always do. The reminder helps.
Reminding ourselves in such a “public” way is a witness to our most important mission field: our own children. They need to be aware of our commitment. They need to understand that we make choices that are different than other families because of that commitment. They need to experience the better life that results from serving the Lord. We are not just to teach them at home, but as we go about our daily routines. They will observe what we do, and those observations will raise questions. So we have to be diligent in explaining to them why we make the choices we do each and every day. And in doing so, you will raise up children, when faced with similar circumstances will not only know how to respond, by why responding that way is the best way.
Lord, thank you for revealing to us our tendency to forget our commitments, drifting away, by living life like the world around us. Remind us that following You is better. Amen.
Unalienable Rights – Pursuit of Happiness
Read: Genesis 3:6
Consider: In our previous study, which focused on our unalienable right to liberty, we considered this verse and what it reveals about making a choice for ourselves. It comes immediately after those verses which recall how the first woman was warned by God and lied to by the Serpent before she made up her mind to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then shared it with the first man, who also ate it. But today we are looking at this verse to see what it reveals about our unalienable right to pursue happiness.
Before we can understand what it reveals about this right, we must first understand what our founding fathers meant by pursuing happiness. They defined it as did Epicurus, a Greek Philosopher whom they admired. Unlike our education today, they read the works of the Greek and Roman Philosophers, and Thomas Jefferson would state plainly that he considered himself to be an Epicurean.
Epicurus felt that by using our senses we could comprehend the world around us. And if something could not be so “sensed” than it did not exist. So, he rejected the metaphysical, the transcendent, and the divine; and accepted only the observable. That is why he defined happiness as an absence of bodily pain and the absence confusion or troubling thoughts. If you sensed no physical pain, and felt no mental anguish, then you were, by his definition, happy.
Epicurus also believed that this state was only possible by pursuing virtue. Virtue, as defined back then, was excelling in the best of human ideals: Courage, wisdom, justice, temperance, benevolence, loyalty, … it was a never-ending list. Which means that happiness was not something that was achieved, but that which was pursued. And, if you didn’t know, it was the Greek Goddess Virtue who is pictured as defeating Tyranny, which was an image that our founding fathers relished. A tyrant, by their definition, was anyone who used the worst of human propensities to subject others to their will.
With this in mind, let’s get back to verse 6. The woman saw that the tree was good for food. Good food makes for a pain free body, right? It was a delight to her eyes, just looking at it brought her pleasure. And both God and the Serpent had indicated that eating it would make one wise, and wisdom is a primary virtue. You could say that in eating the fruit she was pursing what she thought was best for herself and for Adam. It was a natural inclination.
We don’t have to get permission to desire what is best for ourselves and those around us. Our government doesn’t need to issue a permit to seek it. And laws are not passed which prevent it. Ever since our creator put in the heart of Adam and Eve the unalienable right to pursue excellence, we’ve been doing it. We long to live in a way that expresses the best of what it means to be a person.
The apostle Paul is known for making comparative lists of virtues and vices like the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh. And he is the one who told the believers in ancient Rome, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (12:21) But Paul realized, because he accepted what was revealed to him by Jesus, that we are not free to choose what is right until we are set free to do so by the power of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Even so, like our other unalienable rights, this one also has to be protected. Many are those who would prevent us from pursuing happiness by living a virtuous life. The serpent is still trying to convince us that vices are good and virtues are evil. Tyrants are still seeking to gain power over us in order to use us for their own less than noble desires. And those walking in the popular way of the world constantly invite us to join them in an indulgent life.
Ultimately, it is Jesus who not only sets us free to exercise this right, and who protects it for us, but He equips us to pursue true happiness. It is more than Epicurus imagined. You may recall that Jesus began His sermon on the mount by saying, “Blessed are those who...” But you may not know that “Blessed” was also their term for “Happy.” May we always pursue it as He directs.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. We long what is best, we want to be happy. Bless us. Amen.
The Unalienable Right: To Liberty
Read: Gen. 2:16-17
Consider: We began our study of unalienable rights last week, when, using Gen. 1:12 we considered everyone’s right to life; and this week we are using Gen. 2:16-17 to consider our unalienable right to liberty. Liberty is just another word for freedom, and everyone supports the idea that individuals have the God given right to consider their options and choose a path to follow.
In this week’s passage we learn that “the Adam” or as we learned to say last week, the male part of Adam, was told by God that he would have to exercise that right in the garden of Eden. You may recall that after God had placed Adam in a garden, he was commanded that “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely.” You may have noticed that God did not tell Adam that he was free to kill animals and eat them. At this point, he was only directed to eat from the trees. God added to His command, “But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
You may not recall that God had placed in the garden of Eden three types of trees. There were trees that produced fruit for nourishment, a tree that produced fruit that gave life, and a tree that produced fruit that gave the knowledge of good and evil. Even though the garden is no longer accessible, we still have the first type of trees around, and we still eat from them. But the other two type of trees are no longer available to us, at least, not in the same way they were to Adam. And so, these are the ones that pique our curiosity.
The tree of life is first mentioned in verse 9. The Hebrew word for life used to describe this tree is a comparative word; that is, it derives its definition from what it is not. And what life is not, is death. We are never told exactly what eating from this tree would do, but most people assume that it would give life to what is otherwise dead. For someone already living, like Adam, this wasn’t enticing. He had not experienced death, physical or spiritual; and so, he would not have understood how much better life is without it. It really would have been good had Adam eaten its fruit while still in an innocent state, but he exercised his right to choose, and didn’t eat from it. It was later, when Adam came to understand its value, when he was no longer innocent, that his alienable right to eat from that tree would be withdrawn by God.
Just because we are at liberty to choose, doesn’t mean that everything available to us is good. Nor does it mean that everything good will always remain available to us. But our choices always have consequences, both good and bad. And possessing the right to choose, should remain ours. Which means that, like our unalienable right to life, our unalienable right to liberty also has to be protected. Otherwise, our freedom to choose how we will live will be limited, or even taken from us, without due cause.
It was to protect the American Colonists’ liberty that the revolt against England was waged. Yet, not everyone’s liberty was granted when that war was over. Slavery, which is a prime example of how a person’s unalienable right to liberty can be taken from them, persisted. Our nation would have to fight a war against ourselves to free those whose right to liberty had been taken from them in this way.
I’m sure that you noticed how God did not take away Adam’s right to choose, even after making a bad choice. He had warned Adam, in advance, what would happen if he chose to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good an evil. He even commanded Adam not to do it, and Adam refrained, for a while. It was not until Adam was whole, male and female, that the forbidden fruit of this tree became attractive; and even then, they had to be deceived into making a costly choice.
We all know the story of how the Serpent tempted Eve, the female part of Adam, who ate from the tree first. Then how she tempted the male part of Adam to do the same. While they gained the knowledge they sought, they also gained the consequences of their choice. And those consequences still impact us today.
It is because of these consequences that God, out of love, sent His Son Jesus to set us free from those consequences. He has done so, but each person has to exercise their liberty in regard to what he has done; that is, we still have to choose between life and death. Our choice is not what saves us, but it is how we receive what God has done to save us. And it is my hope that you choose wisely.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. Thank you for choosing to do Your Father’s will. Thank you for putting an end to the consequences of Adam’s choice. Thank you for making available to us the tree of life. Amen.
Unalienable Rights: Life
Read: Gen. 2:7
Consider: I was introduced the phrase “unalienable rights” when I had to memorize the preamble of our declaration of Independence in school. I dutifully memorized it, but I certainly didn’t understand what unalienable rights were back then. But I did grasp that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were examples of those sorts rights.
‘Alienable’ comes into English from Latin. The first part of this word, ‘Alien,’ means “another, other or different.” And the second part, ‘able,’ is an English suffix that indicates that whatever it is attached to is “capable of” happening. So “alienable” means that whatever it is used to describe can be transferred to another person. But when the prefix “un” is added, creating “unalienable,” this word means that whatever it is used to describe cannot (or should not) be transferred to another.
We have alienable rights that have been granted to us by the government. Like the right to drive a car. You had to go through a process to earn that right, and it can, under the proper conditions, be taken from you by the government that granted it.
But we also have unalienable rights that were granted to us by our creator. And among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We did not earn them, but they are ours. And while, we can choose to give them up, no one should have the authority to take them from us without due cause. And to keep anyone from doing so, our unalienable rights have to be protected.
In this three-part sermon series, we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And today, we will be looking at our right to life.
The right to life has brought division to our country on issues like abortion, capital punishment, war, law enforcement, and euthanasia. But instead of getting dragged into a discussion about how we feel about those issues, and what constitutes a due cause for taking someone’s right to life away. Or when it is a good thing to sacrifice our right to life in order to preserve another. I want us to focus on when this right was first given to us by our creator.
It is recorded in the Book of Genesis. I am sure that you are aware that there is more than one creation account in the book of Genesis. The first one begins in Gen. 1:1 and ends in Gen. 2:3; the second one begins in Gen. 2:4 and ends in Gen. 2:25. The first one focuses on the order of all creation and the second one zooms in on the creation of man and the garden of Eden. The first one reveals that when God created man, on the sixth day, He created them male and female. (if you are wondering the Hebrew term translated ‘male’ meant “to be remembered;” and the term for ‘female’ meant “to be pierced.”) The second one reveals that God made Adam first, then He created a garden for him. Then He populated that garden with animals, and in doing so, God taught Adam that he was alone and that this was not good for him. Then God formed a suitable helper for Adam. It was God’s plan to create two genders that, when united, become one.
The text we read earlier in our service, Gen. 2:7, reveals that “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” While we are told, that woman was created from Adam’s rib in verse 22, it is still God who gave her life.
I want us to consider how God’s creation of man, male and female, extends to every person conceived since that time the unalienable right to life. In creating life, God also created the potential for that life to come to an end. It was His plan for life to continue forever, and it still is; but death entered the picture when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The “fall” of man, as we talk about this in the church, is described in the third chapter of Genesis.
Ever since then, our right to life has been interrupted by death. Some believe it to be the end of life, but the Bible speaks to us about the continuation of life after the grave. That life will either be spent with God or separated from Him. It will either be a pleasant life, or one of suffering. And God would have us live with Him in heaven for all eternity. He has revealed, in Christ, a plan whereby every person can receive His forgiveness and be assured that they will live with Him forever. But it is a plan to which each person must and will respond. We do not have an unalienable right to life in heaven.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving up your right to life that we might live with you forever in heaven. Amen.
Contageous Generosity: Hilarious Giving
Read: 2 Corinthians 9:7-15
Consider: We have come to the last sermon in our series on “contagious generosity” in which we’ve been learning some New Testament principles about giving from 2 Corinthians 8-9 in which Paul reminded the believers in Corinth of their commitment to help those suffering as a result of the famine in Judea. We’ve learned how they gave first to the Lord, then to this relief effort. How they gave of their own desire to help, rather than being required to give. How they gave according to their ability, and not an unrealistic amount. How their giving was an extension of fellowship, a gift from the heart, given with enthusiasm. How they gave with transparent accountability, without a desire to gain in some way from it. And how they were blessed to be a blessing.
Today we are looking at how their adoption of a purposeful plan to give transformed them into cheerful givers. We all love to give and receive, but there is something special about giving to those in need without any expectation of receiving that makes us feel good. However, there are obstacles that keep us from experiencing this joy that comes no other way.
Sometimes we feel pressured to give, and we don’t want to be manipulated, so we resist, waiting for a time when we feel that our giving is from our own free will. Sometimes we don’t show the initiative to give, and wait for someone to ask us, but that “ask” never comes. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have enough for ourselves, so we wait for more to come our way so we can give, but we never seem to have enough. Sometimes we don’t feel like those asking for help are really in need, so we wait for a real need to be presented, but we’re never convinced that any of the needs are real. These were the sort of obstacles the believers in ancient Corinth faced, and Paul challenged them to get past them so they could give to others as they truly desired, and as God desired them to give.
Paul made clear that the followers of Jesus are to be cheerful givers. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is “hilarios.” It sounds like our English word hilarious, but it had a different meaning. It is only used once in the NT, and once in the Greek translation of the OT. It doesn’t mean an uncontrollable outburst of laughter, although that might be a pleasant change from our often-somber collections on Sunday morning. “Hilarios” described the opposite of being wrathful. That’s why it was used in Proverbs 19:12: “The King’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his ‘hilarios’ is like the dew on the grass.” Hilarios giving happens when it expresses favor and mercy. Solomon uses it to paint the word picture of a person of superior position and power who was kindly disposed toward a person of inferior position and who was powerless.
The apostle Paul wanted the believers in ancient Corinth to understand that they were in the “kingly” position. But even so, it was God who supplied everything they possessed which allowed them to give in this way. Paul reminded them that no one can sow seeds of blessings by giving if they don’t have any resources from which to give. And, likewise, they won’t give with liberality if they don’t feel that they have enough seed to share. But God had provided plenty of seed, and they could sow it generously, and it would reap a harvest of thanksgiving by those who would be blessed by it.
Paul was confident that the total of everyone’s gifts would end up fully suppling the needs of the saints who were suffering from the famine in Judea. He believed that their collective gift would also “overflow” with thanksgiving to God by those who received it. He also envisioned them giving glory to the believers in Corinth because they were obedient to their “confession of the gospel of Christ.” Their gift was proof positive that they really were part of the family of God.
It would have been unthinkable for Roman citizens to give financially to relieve the suffering of a bunch of Judean rebels. But our God specializes in the impossible. God’s indescribable gift was at work, changing people who would otherwise be enemies into a loving family that delighted in caring for one another.
It is my prayer that we are all transformed by God’s grace in the same sort of way, and that we prove this transformation really took place by helping one another in practical ways.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. Help us care for one another. Amen.
Contagious Generosity: Give Bountifully
Encounter: 2 Cor. 9:1-6
Consider: Even though Paul confessed that he didn’t really need to write to the believers in Corinth about this “ministry to the saints” because he knew their readiness to give was genuine, he couldn’t help himself from doing so. Although he didn’t express it, he seems pretty worried about them keeping their promise.
Paul had boasted about what the believers in Corinth had promised to do to the believers in Macedonians, and throughout Achaia. Corinth, by the way, was the capital city of Achaia. And Paul’s bragging about what they promised to do had infected these other believers into doing something too. And, they had already made good on their promises, and it was time to get these funds to the people who needed them.
Corinth was approximately 940 miles away from Judea, a trip that would have taken weeks back then if you were traveling hard, but it was more than the distance that separated these churches. The believers in Corinth were affluent, they enjoyed abundance, and there was no hint of a famine. But the saints in Jerusalem were struggling to survive, they had run out of ways to help each other, and they were not receiving any help from the local synagogues.
How do you remind believers who want to help that the time to help is now, not later? Paul had no photos to show them, no videos, no internet updates, only the word of someone who had been there and who had seen the suffering of the saints for himself. When Paul had first spoken to the believers in Corinth, they were moved by compassion at the news of brothers and sisters in Christ starving and no help being given to them because they were outcasts. What Christian would not be so moved; but, as we have learned in our study of Paul’s letter, the believers in Corinth had not, at the time this letter was being sent, actually done anything to help, and they had plenty of time to get it done.
In the end of the last Chapter Paul introduced them to some of the brethren who he was sending to help them keep their promise. Paul described what they had promised as a “bountiful gift,” one that is not affected by “covetousness.” He used the Greek term “eulogia” to describe the gift they promised. It is also translated as “blessing” and “good words.” We usually give “eulogies” at funerals, so it seems odd that Paul used this same word to refer to a financial gift that was to be given without constraints. To compare a gift affected by covetousness and a bountiful gift, Paul said, “He who sows frugally will reap frugally; but he who sows eulogia will reap eulogia.”
May we, when moved by compassion to help, give in a way that it sows blessings into the lives of those who receive it. And may our gift speak even louder than our words.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. You know how to give good gifts, teach us to follow Your example. Amen.
Contagious Generosity: Give Earnestly
Read: 2 Corinthians 8:16-26
Consider: Paul gave thanks to God for putting the same “spoudo” in the heart of Titus that he had in his own heart concerning the believers in Corinth. What is “spoudo”? The translators of the NASB chose “earnestness” to bring “spoudo” into English. Those who translated the NIV chose “concern.” And the translators of the NRSV chose “eagerness.” And the translators of the NLT chose “enthusiasm.” This same word is translated as “diligence” in verse 22 in the NASB. “Spoudo” literally meant “with speed;” and, it was used in Bible times to describe the response of a person who became aware of a need and immediately expended whatever energy and effort was necessary to do something about it. Which is why it was used to describe Mary’s response to hearing that her cousin, Elizabeth, was pregnant. She “hurried” (spoudo) to the hill country to see her (Lk. 1:39).
Paul’s spoudo was expressed by writing a letter and sending it with a team to work with the church in Corinth, since he could not at that time go himself. One of the team members was Titus. Titus not only accepted Paul’s request that he go to Corinth, but before being asked, being “spoudo” himself, Titus was already making plans to go, so his going to Corinth was of his own accord.
The second team member that Paul was sending to Corinth was “the brother whose fame in the gospel had spread through all the churches.” This unnamed person, like Paul, had been set apart by the churches to travel around raising funds for the relief effort. Most Bible scholars think that it was Luke. They think this because of the “we” passages in the book of Acts, which indicate that Luke was with Paul in Jerusalem where he would have been sent out to raise funds. While we don’t know this person’s identity, we do know that the Corinthians would know him on sight, and that they would have trusted him.
The third person on this team that Paul sent was a brother who had often been tested and found diligent, and who was also confident that the believers in Corinth would finish well what they had started in this matter of giving. Luke and this third person are said to be a part of “the brethren.” In using this description Paul is not simply indicating that they were fellow believers. “The brethren” referred to a special group of men who traveled between churches carrying messages back and forth.
Woven into this section which serves as a “letter of recommendation” for this ministry team are several principles on properly dealing with raising and distributing funds. In addition to “spoudo,” there is “stretching out the hand” on those forming the team, their character, their willingness to serve (daikon – deacon), their taking precautions to avoid any criticism in regard to their handling the funds, their frequent testing to make sure they are still “spoudo,” and the importance of love being “proved” by practical expressions of help for those in need.
It is my hope that as our generosity grows and others are infected by it that we learn to express God’s love and compassion as did those who went before us.
Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus. You who are quick to respond to those in need, help us follow Your example. Amen.
Contagious Generosity: Give Generously
Read: 2 Cor. 8:1-15
Consider: We are beginning a four-week study of 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 with the hope of being inspired to be more generous. These chapters come from the second letter to the believers in ancient Corinth that was sent to them by the Apostle Paul. While it was directed to them, back then, it applies to us, today. Other’s generosity can inspire us, our generosity can inspire others, and when we move from desire to doing, we make a difference. Generosity is contagious, perhaps even more so than COVID.
Corinth was a prosperous city, and Paul wanted them to recognize that their abundance was from God, from which they were to help those who had less. In other words, they were infinitely better off financially speaking than the believers in Jerusalem, whose county was struggling under the burden of a famine. And what help the civil authorities provided was only directed through the synagogues, and the believers were cut off from that help. It was up to the church to help the church. When the believers in Corinth first heard of it, they were moved by compassion to help. They immediately made plans to do so, but they had not yet sent any help.
In this letter, Paul spread the seeds of contagious generosity to move them along. He did this by reporting on the generosity of the Macedonian churches. In comparison to the church in Corinth, the Macedonians were impoverished, yet they felt the same level of compassion for the believers in Jerusalem. Paul testified how they had put their plan into action and ended up giving much more than expected. They did not just give according to their ability, but beyond their ability, and they did so of their own volition. No one was “making” them do it. It was sacrificial giving. They were doing with even less, so others could have something.
Paul admitted that the Macedonian’s generosity surprised him. He expected them to divert their regular offerings to support famine relief, but that is not what they had done. They gave first to the Lord, which took care of the needs of their own congregation; then they continued their support for Paul, and above this, they gave to support the Jerusalem relief effort.
The Macedonian believers developed a very efficient system to express their generosity. Titus had been working with the Macedonian Churches during this time. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that Titus had been there when they were first challenged to help, and Paul was sending Titus back to them to work with them as he had been working in Macedonian. Paul was confident that since the Corinthians typically did everything well, they would want the help Titus could provide so they could also abound in the grace of giving. Sometimes you need a champion to get something done, and Titus would be their champion. Paul was quick to clarify that he was not commanding the believers in Corinth to give to the relief effort but was only providing them a resource that they could use as a means of proving the sincerity of their love - a love which Paul compared to Christ’s love.
It is a hard comparison to accept. Paul said that Christ became poor, that we might become rich. Implying that by giving like Christ the believers in Corinth would become poor, that the poor in the Jerusalem church might become rich. Paul was quick to add that this was not “restitution” or a “transfer of wealth.” The goal was not to punish the rich believers in Corinth, making them suffer, so the poor believers in Jerusalem could live a life of ease. It was the equality of compassion.
At that time the believers in Corinth had an abundance of wealth, and they could help the believers in Jerusalem who had no wealth. But the believers in Jerusalem had an abundance of something, which Paul did not specify, and he implied that it had and would continue to be sent in order to supply what was lacking in Corinth. There is a lot of debate as to what this abundance was. I think that it was their abundance of evangelists, like Paul, which the Jerusalem Church had been sending to Corinth from their abundance. We are to give from the abundance that God has supplied.
One of Paul’s motivations for writing this letter was to point out that while the believers in Corinth were the first ones to accept the challenge to help, and had plenty from which to give, he didn’t want them to fail to do so. We don’t know exactly what was holding them up, but Paul assured them that they were only expected to give from what they had, not from what they didn’t have. And they were to trust God to use what they could give to meet the need of the Jerusalem church.
You might need to take an inventory and discover how God has supplied you with an abundance. And then give generously from that abundance to fellow believers who may be lacking what is overflowing in your life. And it might provide them with an opportunity to give from their abundance to supply what is lacking in your life. But don’t forget the Macedonians, who gave from their poverty. Generosity is enhanced by abundance, not limited to it. We are to express compassion, even if that calls for a sacrifice.
Prayer: Gracious Lord, help us to be generous givers, just as You are. Amen.
No Fear or Know Fear?
Read: Job 3:25 - 4:6
Consider: Fear is no respecter of persons, nor even of age. It stalks every person in the world. Even newborns enter the world with fear according to psychologist. It is the natural response to a perceived danger; like hearing a sudden, strange, noise. As we grow and develop, experiencing and exploring the world around us, so do our fears.
The most common fear, according to those same psychologists, is falling from a height. But there are plenty of others. We learn to fear a great many things: the dark, water, closed places, open spaces, cats, dogs, responsibility, rejection, failure, success, getting married, having children, growing old, death, walking under ladders, spiders, and snakes. Just to name a few.
Some believe that fear is what keeps them from striving to do their best. Or from taking a chance that might lead to success or victory. They advocate that we should have “No fear.” This is not only impossible, but such an attitude could lead one into real danger. That’s not to say that doing dangerous things is wrong. There are times when we should acknowledge our fear but choose to do the dangerous thing; after all, that is what Jesus did. And He is the one who said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13.
Whether our fears are a natural response to guard against real dangers or an unreasonable response to imaginary threats, they are a large part of our lives. And they often control us more than we want to admit. Which is why we can be easily manipulated by people who know our fears better than we do. Which is also why should strive to know our own fears better than anyone else.
And the first thing we need to know about them is that God created us with the ability to fear. He gave fear to us to protect us, to guide us, and to challenge us. So, we had best learn to use fear as He desires. We must fear the right things in the right ways for the right reasons. Such fear produces wisdom, the beginning of which according to Solomon is fearing the Lord. (Pv. 1:7)
Job, whose words we are studying today, was just like everyone else, he had fears. He was particularly afraid that something bad would happen to his health, his family, and his wealth. But, he also feared God, and he had a good measure of the wisdom that comes from doing so.
God had prevented the things Job feared from happening. And Satan suggested that the only reason Job feared the Lord was because of this protection. God knew the truth, which is why He allowed Job’s worst fears to be realized. When Job’s dreads befell him, he was completely overwhelmed. He found it impossible to rest from his worries, peace eluded him, and his soul was deeply troubled. Tragedy can impact even the most faithful follower in these ways.
Eliphaz spoke to Job, offering Job counsel, but he was concerned that Job would not accept it. He reminded Job that the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot. Job had previously been the one offering counsel to those beset by troubles. He had corrected the wayward, strengthened the weak, steadied the tottering, and supported the weak-kneed. And now it was Job’s turn to receive counsel since calamity had fallen upon him.
Eliphaz felt that Job needed to hear what he had to say. But Eliphaz’ counsel, overall, was not the best. He told Job that the innocent and upright do not suffer as Job was suffering. Implying that Job must have done something wrong and was being punished by God. But that was not true. There are times when God allows the innocent, the upright, the obedient to suffer.
Within this less than best counsel, Eliphaz did offer a bit of genuine wisdom. He asked Job, “Is not your ‘fear’ your confidence?” Eliphaz was referring to Job’s fear of the Lord. And he was right, Job could let his fear bolster his confidence that God would see him through his troubles. It was Eliphaz’s next bit of wisdom that was especially lacking. Our hope should not be based on the ‘integrity of our ways,’ but in the Lord who is merciful, compassionate, and forgiving. Our hope is that God will not give us what we deserve.
Job was no longer afraid of what might happen, he was grieving because of what had happened. He understood that the Lord gives and takes away. He understood that we come into the world with nothing, and we take nothing from it. But losing so much and such a short time shook Job to the core. When the things we fear happen, when our grief over the loss wells up, it is hard to trust the Lord because we feel that He let us down. And such times reveal that what we fear most.
The Lord never promised to preserve Job’s health, or protect his wealth, or keep his family safe. God had been doing these things for Job, but they were not why Job feared the Lord. Job feared what God could do to Him more than anything else. Job, like everyone else, deserved what God could do. But God promised to preserve Job, just as He promises the same to all who trust Him. And that preservation is not for extending life on earth indefinitely; but for extending life with God in heaven forever.
If our fear of earthly things is greater than our fear of the Lord, we will be devastated beyond recovery if they ever happen. But if we fear the Lord more than anything else, then we will trust Him to preserve us and lead us to His heavenly home. Job did not, as Satan hoped, abandon God because bad things happened. Job trusted Him all the more.
Should we fear that our houses might burn down? Should we fear that we might lose things we’ve collected over the years? These are not bad fears. They will drive us to take precautions, but if they were to be realized, your life is not going to end. Take for example Lucy Thomas, a dear sister, who lost everything in a wildfire. It wasn’t easy for her to experience so much loss. She grieved, but as one who has hope, as one who fears the Lord. Her world didn’t come to an end. But the end of her days on earth would come, and it is then, when the worst of many people’s fears were coming about, that she revealed just how much she trusted the Lord.
Knowing that you deserve what God could do, can you trust Him to preserve you? I hope that you come to know your fears, and that the greatest of them is the Lord.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we fear You more than anything else. And we trust You to keep your promise to preserve our lives that we might be with you in heaven forever. Amen.
Are You My Mother?
Read: Matthew 12:46-50
Consider: I’ve always liked the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” In case you haven’t read that story in a while, it is about a baby bird that hatches while its mother is out gathering food. But, being too impatient to wait for her return, it stumbles out of its nest and begins a quest to find its mother. By the end of the story there is a long list of animals and objects that the baby bird discovers are not his mother.
It’s a fun book to read to children because; they instinctively know that only the right kind of bird can possibly be the baby’s mother. So, they laugh and smile as the baby bird approaches cows and horses and chickens and even a steam shovel wondering if they could possibly be its mother; and children are equally elated when the baby bird, with a little unexpected help, returns to its nest and immediately recognizes its worried mother, who, by the way, has been out frantically searching for its baby bird the whole time. Children rejoice at the reunion. It really is a good story, and its message is part of the reason we honor Mothers every year.
There are a few stories in the Bible of times when Jesus’ mother went looking for Him. The first time was when the family was headed back home from a trip to Jerusalem, and Mary discovered that Jesus was not with them. He was, from her perspective, lost. Her search led her all the way back to the Temple, where she found Jesus. But He hadn’t felt lost at all because, as He explained to His worried mother, “I am in my Father’s house.”
Another story comes from when the family had gathered with friends to celebrate a wedding in Cana. There was a problem, the host ran out of wine, and Mary went looking for her Son to do something about it. What Jesus did was the first sign that He was God’s Son, the Messiah, sent to save the world.
But the story we are looking at today came later. Jesus was going from village to village in Galilee proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Crowds gathered around Him everywhere He went. We don’t know why Mary was seeking her Son on this particular occasion. He wasn’t lost, and if she had a specific request, it was never disclosed. We are only told that Mary, and her other sons, showed up at the house where Jesus was teaching. It was so crowded that Mary couldn’t make her way into the house, so she sent a message to her Son that she would like to have a word with Him.
There was no question about Mary’s identity. She was definitely Jesus’ mother. Everyone there recognized her. But Jesus took this moment to say that while it was true, Mary was His mother, it wasn’t for the reasons that they had recognized her as such. Jesus challenged their understanding of His family relationships by asking, “Who is My mother?” and “Who are My brothers?”
Mary was not His mother, in this sense, because she had given birth to Him. She was not His mother because she had raised Him. She was not His mother because she worried over Him and prayed for Him. She was His mother because she did the will of His Father who was in heaven. Which meant, in the Family of God, that Mary was not Jesus’ only mother. And those with her were not His only brothers and sisters. Jesus stated very clearly that His family was only comprised of those who do the will of His Father.
So, on this day we have set aside to honor our Mothers, which deserve our appreciation; may we also consider that we belong to the family of God. And there may be other Mothers in this family that also deserve our appreciation.
May we learn to recognize our family just as Jesus did.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. We are glad to be a part of the family of God. May our Heavenly Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Jesus' Prayer - For the Unity of His Church
Read: John 17:20-26
Consider: Jesus asked His Father to sanctify the eleven remaining disciples, then, He asked that this prayer be extended to everyone who comes to believe in “Me” (Jesus) through the witness of those disciples. These “separated from the world” believers were “one,” even if they didn’t grasp it yet. What sort of unity did they have? The same kind that Jesus and His Father experienced.
Understanding the nature of Jesus and His Father’s unity is beyond us. We accept it, but it remains a mystery. Believers have, from the beginning, tried to explain how Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit are three unique expressions of one God. They are not three different gods, nor are they the result of a split personality disorder. But our very best metaphors, which do help us grasp at the concept of God’s trinitarian nature, always fall short of fully explaining God’s three in one nature.
Even so, Jesus wanted those who put their faith in Him to recognize that they would experience the same sort of unity with one another. Like the trinity, it is a unity that is hard to explain. When a person is separated from the world, they become connected with all the other people who have been separated from the world. And it was Jesus’ prayer that this emerging group of people who were formerly a part of the world, would not only be connected with one another, but would also “be in Us” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
This unity between the sanctified and the divine ‘Us’ is what defines ‘the church.’ The Greek word translated ‘church’ is ‘eklesia’ (ecclesia). It means ‘called out,’ and includes everyone who has been separated from the world. There is only one alternative to being a part of the world, and that is being a part of the church. It is a binary system.
This is why Jesus was able to confidently express in His prayer that when ‘the world’ observes the unity of ‘the church’ it would come to believe that the Father had sent Jesus. After all, the power of Jesus to transform worldly people into godly people has only one explanation. Something changed them. Something separated them from the world. Something united them. Something made their life here better. Something gave them hope of life beyond the grave. And that something is Jesus, who God the Father sent for this very purpose.
Jesus revealed in His prayer that the glory His Father gave Him was something that could be seen in what He was about to do that would make separating from the world possible. Peter would describe what Jesus was praying about this way: “He called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people. But now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1Pt.2:9-10).
It was also Jesus’ prayer that those the Father had given Him, the eleven, be with Jesus to witness His glory. He was giving this to them so they would become one, just as Jesus and His Father were one. And it would be upon seeing this unity that the world would know that the Father had sent the Son because the Father loved the world just as He loved His Son.
Jesus acknowledged in His prayer that His disciples had not yet been “separated” from the world in its fullest sense because Jesus had not yet been glorified. But that was about to happen, and the unity for which Jesus prayed would be complete in them at that time. Jesus had chosen these disciples to be the eyewitnesses of His death, burial, and resurrection. And prayed that His disciples would not only see what He was about to do but would understand how it revealed the Father’s love for Him that existed before the foundations of the world.
Jesus ended His prayer by lamenting that the world did not know His Father. However, Jesus took comfort in the fact that He knew Him, and that His disciples knew that the Father had sent Jesus. And that the resulting unity would allow the world to know that the Father had sent the Son as an expression of His love for the world.
Jesus’ prayer was answered, and you are a part of it because you are a part of the family of God, and our unity is a witness to the world of God’s great love.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. May the unity we experience because of what You have done make known to the world Your love for it. Amen.
Jesus' Prayer - That His Disciples be Sanctified
Sorry. There is no video this week. But there is a weekly devotion guide. We are beginning a two-part sermon series on Jesus' prayer in John 17.
Read: John 17:13-19
Consider: Jesus prayed for eleven of His disciples to be sanctified. John recorded it in the 17th chapter of his gospel. And His prayer was answered. Not with a ‘no’ or a ‘maybe,’ but with a resounding ‘YES.’
Jesus prayed for them just before He led them to the garden where Jesus would not only pray more, but where He would also be betrayed by the twelfth disciple, Judas. But that was yet to come, and I want us to consider that before the events that led up to Easter took place, which we just celebrated, Jesus prayed that these disciples be sanctified.
Before praying this prayer, Jesus had spoken to His disciples, in the world, so that “Jesus’ Joy” would fill them up. What Jesus spoke to them was God’s Word. His Word about why Jesus had come, and what Jesus was about to do. In John’s gospel, the final ‘red letters’ that record what Jesus said begin in 12:23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,’ and continue until this prayer. The disciples received what Jesus said.
The disciples were able to receive it because they were not “ek” the world. This Greek preposition is important to understanding Jesus’ prayer as it appears six times in verse 14-16. It is translated “of, from, and out of.” It was used to indicate “a part’s” relationship to “a whole.” And the whole that Jesus was praying about was “the world.” God’s Word separated the disciples from the world, and the world hated them because the disciples were no longer “apart of” it. Just as Jesus was not “apart” of it.
Jesus did not pray that God raise the disciples up “out of” the world, but that he guard them “from becoming apart of” the evil again, which is what had happened to Judas. Most English translations add ‘one’ to ‘the evil,’ but Jesus seems to be praying about ‘the part’ that has been separated remaining separate. (FYI – Jesus had taught these disciples to pray, “but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:13). But the “from” in that prayer is not the same preposition found in Jesus’ prayer in John. The preposition in Mt. indicates keeping distance ‘away from’ something).
Jesus prayed that God “sanctify” these disciples. The Greek term Jesus used is often translated into English as “holy.” It was a word used to describe taking something common and separating it from the other common things just like it, so it could be used by God. At the basis of this word is the concept of “purity.” For it to be used of God, the impurities had to be eliminated from it.
Jesus prayed that His disciples, which were no longer a part of the world, remain separate from the evil of world by the truth found only in God’s Word. If you recall, this was always at the center of Jesus’ teaching, as He had previously said to those Judeans who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31).
May we be set free from the evil of the world, and may we always remain separate from it, that we might bring into the world God’s Word. May we express God’s love for the world in everything we do and say.
Risen, victorious Lord. We are strangers in the world, citizens of heaven, who long to come home in the twinkling of an eye. But until that time comes let our lives express Your Word, Your Truth to those who need to be set free. Amen.
The Resurrection: Our Final Victory
Read: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Consider: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:56-57)
When Jesus comes again, the great resurrection of the dead will take place. At that time those with the Lord because they had died, and whose bodies have been buried will be changed. Their bodies will be raised up and transformed into forever bodies and they will animate them again. And those still living will be changed in the same way.
If you are like me, then part of you is probably asking (although probably not out loud so you won’t raise any suspicions about the genuineness of your faith), “How is this going to happen?” I have a lot of unanswered questions because Paul did not go into the details of how the reuniting of the person and the resurrected body is going to transpire. All Paul said was what many church nurseries have adopted as a slogan: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.”
Paul was emphatic that if we are not so changed, we simply won’t be able to inherit the Kingdom of God. Why? Because our current “flesh and blood” bodies were not designed to last forever. But, the good news is that they can be changed by the power of God into something that can last forever.
Paul said that this change will take place in the twinkling of an eye. In other words, it’s not going to be a drawn-out transformation like you see in a Disney movie. Which also means that if you had been present in Jesus’ tomb when he changed, it would have happened so fast that there would not have been anything to see. The twinkling of an eye aspect is a little disappointing, but, we can trust that it will happen to us because it has already happened to Jesus. This is why we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection every year. We want everyone to know that something better is coming our way. And we want them to be ready for it.
Paul was also clear that this change will take place at the sound of the trumpet call on the last day. And when that happens death will be destroyed forever. After all, if everyone is transformed by God into forever people, then, by definition, death will be a thing of the past. It will, in a very real sense, be swallowed up in the victory of our Lord Jesus. Life is permanent, not death. Life has the final word, not death.
I’ve heard it said that there are two things that everyone can count on: death and taxes; but they were wrong. There is only one thing you can count on: Life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we long to be changed into forever people. Come quickly, Lord, Come quickly. Maranatha.
The Resurrection: A Spiritual Body for a Spiritual Home
Read: 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
Consider: It is Palm Sunday! Our annual celebration of that moment when the crowds received Jesus into Jerusalem as the promised Messiah. The Jewish leaders were furious, and they confronted Jesus upon His arrival, demanding that He silence the crowds. But Jesus silenced them instead by quoting a Scripture that prophesied His praise and claiming that if the crowds were silenced that the rocks would cry out. With His response, Jesus pointed out that His triumphal entry was a God thing, not a man thing, so there was nothing anyone could do about it.
We often struggle with God things. We have questions about when, where, and how God will do what He has promised. These are not questions of whether God can do it, or if He will do it, but our desire to understand exactly how He will do it. We want to know, because, from our perspective, some God things don’t seem reasonable. And that makes us wonder if we might need to reconsider our understanding of God’s promises, so they will be more reasonable. But that sort of thinking is a grave mistake.
For example, the believers in ancient Corinth, accepted that there would be an afterlife, but raising up dead bodies in order to live in heaven just didn’t make sense to them. And they wanted to know how this was going to work. They wondered, “Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to envision our going to heaven without raising up dead bodies? After all, when we die, won’t we already be there?”
In this chapter, the apostle Paul had already established that Jesus had died on the cross, that His body was entombed, and that Jesus was reunited with His body when He was resurrected. It was a God thing, and the believers in Corinth needed to accept that this was how things were going to be for everyone who was going to live in heaven.
Paul restated their basic question: “How are the dead going to be raised?” Then he focused that question on the real issue with a second question, “What sort of body is coming?”
It wasn’t going to be like Lazarus’ body, who Jesus had just raised from the dead before His triumphal entry. Lazarus would die again. His resurrected body was not one that was made for eternity. That’s why Paul took the time to point out that there was something unique in how Jesus’ body was resurrected. It was a body that He would take into heaven when He ascended. This is also why Paul tried to make it clear that Jesus was the first and only one to be raised up with the kind of body that everyone, on the day of resurrection, would receive.
To illustrate his point, Paul used the known differences and changes that plant “bodies” experience when a seed becomes a plant. And how there are different “bodies” for different environments: land, air, and water. And like the different “bodies” on earth, there are even different “bodies” in space, which can be discerned because of the differences in the way that they shine. In a similar way, Paul argued, there will be a difference in the body that will be raised up on the last day from the one we now possess. He used antonyms to reveal the differences: Perishable vs. Imperishable. Degrading vs. Splendorous, Feeble vs. Dynamic, and Physical vs. Spiritual.
Then Paul affirmed that there is an order. Just as the seed comes before the plant, so the living soul we are now came before the living spirit we will become. Paul further explained this difference by pointing out that what we are now, living dirt, is a result of being from Adam. He was from the dirt. And what we will become in the resurrection, a living spirit, is a result of being from Jesus. He was from heaven. Dirt bodies transforming into Spirit bodies is a God thing.
I’m looking forward to the new kind of body we will receive so we can live forever in heaven. And I am so thankful that I don’t have to figure out exactly how the resurrection is going to work in order for it to work. I’m just thankful that Jesus has made it possible. He came in the name of the Lord to save us. And He will come again to lead us to our heavenly home. So, I am very okay with what happens on that day being strictly a God thing, and I hope that you are too.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. We can’t wait for the day of resurrection. Come quickly. Amen.
The Resurrection: Death Destroyed
Read: 1 Cor. 15:20-29
Consider: Having listed the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection with whom the believers in ancient Corinth could consult concerning the veracity of that event [v. 5-11]; and then outlining the conclusions that one would have to make if there was no resurrection of the dead [v. 12-19]; Paul now reveals what will happen because the good news [as defined in v. 1-4] is true.
Paul began by affirming the good news that Christ has been raised from the dead. He was, according to Paul, the first fruits of those who “sleep.” Then Paul pointed out that just as the sleep of death was the result of what one man did, Adam; the waking up from death is also the result of what one man did, Jesus.
According to Paul, no one else is going to be raised up from the dead as promised until Jesus returns again. It is only after His return that the “end” will come. At that time, Jesus will hand over “the kingdom” to His Father. He will do so because God will have already abolished “all rule, authority and power.” But until this “end” arrives, Jesus will continue to reign in heaven with God. It is only after every enemy is put “under His feet” that His current reign will come to an end. And the last of these enemies to be “abolished” is death. It will be destroyed!
Paul was quick to point out that the only thing that will not end up being subject to Jesus during His reign is God the Father. He’s the only exception. And since Jesus is subject to His Father; that means everything will ultimately be under God’s dominion, that He may be “all in all.”
Then Paul asked a very practical question: “What will those do, who are baptized over the dead, if the dead are not raised up?” It is a good question. We see the dead. People we know die and are buried. We long for something more, a continuation life. And we have been told that the grave is not the end. It really is over (because of) the dead that we are baptized. Paul taught that in baptism we are united with Jesus’ death that we might be united with His resurrection. But if the dead are not resurrected, why should we be baptized over (because of) them? If being baptized doesn’t change anything, because the dead are not resurrected, why bother with it?
Life beyond the grave. Is it unachievable or undeniable? It is unachievable if there is no resurrection of the dead; but it is undeniable if Christ has been raised from the dead. Paul’s assurance of the coming resurrection is only worth embracing if Jesus was really raised from the dead.
Paul was not convinced of the good news that Jesus was resurrected until he met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Jesus showed himself to Paul that he might become an eyewitness. He could not deny what he experienced. He immediately accepted the truth, and Jesus’ invitation to proclaim that truth, and the first thing he did when he regained his sight was be united with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in baptism.
I wish it was God’s plan to reveal the resurrected Lord to everyone, but it is not. It is His plan that the recorded testimony of eyewitnesses be preserved and shared. And that those who hear it decide for themselves whether they accept or reject it. And if they do accept it, then they are to express their faith as everyone was done. They are to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. And, as Jesus promised, they will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
I am so glad that Paul wrote down his encouragement to these believers in ancient Corinth. For we still face the same sort of pressures to deny the only thing that can save us on that day when Jesus returns.
Pray: Jesus, Risen Lord. We long for the day when you will come for us. Until then, strengthen us, use us, and let us rejoice in what you have done not only for us, but the whole world.
The Resurrection: Our Hope to Come
Read: 1 Cor. 15:12-19
Consider: The apostle Paul had just affirmed that there were eyewitnesses, including himself, who preached the good news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And since this was the news on which the church in Corinth was founded, he was baffled by the report that there were now some among them who advocated that there was no resurrection of the dead. Wherever they got such an idea, it wasn’t from an eyewitness.
It could have come from a couple of sources. One of them was a leading Jewish group, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They had representatives in Corinth. And some in the church may have been influenced by their arguments. Another source could have been one of the dominate religious philosophies in Corinth which taught that the body was a prison from which the soul was released at death to continue its journey. This philosophy acknowledged an afterlife, but fiercely opposed the idea of a physical resurrection from the dead. Some in the church may also have been influenced by their arguments as well. There may have been other sources as well, but these two would have been enough to cause some to change their view of the resurrection as preached by Paul.
Paul did not identify who had influenced some in the church to reject the resurrection, or why. Instead, he pointed out the obvious implications of holding this view, regardless of why they now held it. Paul pointed out that if there was no resurrection, then not even Christ had been raised. And, if Christ had not been raised, then the proclamation of it was false. And those who had put their faith in Christ based on that proclamation, had done so to no avail. And those who had preached it were false witnesses about God because they had proclaimed that it was God who had raised Christ from the dead. And if God had not done so, then they were still in their sins. And those who had already died, believing this false testimony, were lost. And those who continued to believe this lie were to be pitied, because they too would be lost like everyone else.
As much as I want to move onto the next section in which Paul affirmed that Christ had really been resurrected, which we will cover next week, I want us to keep our focus on how to respond to those who try to convince us that there is no resurrection of the dead.
Let’s start with the Sadducees. They were a persuasive bunch. They had credibility, authority, tradition, Scripture, and reason on their side. They even tried to convince Jesus himself that resurrection created more problems than it solved. If you recall that discussion, they presented Jesus with a ‘thought problem’ - a hypothetical dilemma that they felt proved their point. But Jesus was not impressed with them or their argument. He made it clear that they were wrong about the resurrection because they did not understand Scripture properly; nor did they understand the nature of the resurrection. Those who overheard this exchanged were amazed at what Jesus expressed, but it incensed the Sadducees.
When someone objects to the truth proclaimed by the eyewitnesses, it does not change what those witnesses saw. Nor does it mean that their objections are valid, even if they are well presented.
Now for the Philosophers. They too were persuasive. They had passion, reason, authority, great thinkers, and observation on their side. They believed in the continuation of life after death, but not in the resurrection of the body. They, like many people today, couldn’t wait to rid themselves of this old, worn-out body. It was seen as nothing but trouble, and they wanted to be set free from it. And while it is true for the time being, as Paul himself declared about believers who die, that they will be absent from their bodies and present with the Lord. It will not always be this way. A day is coming when those bodies will be resurrected. At which time they will be transformed and improved and reunited with those who left them behind.
If God’s plan was to separate us from our bodies forever, then Jesus’ body would have been left behind in the tomb. The resurrection of the body may seem like foolishness to “the wise of this world,” but Paul would argue that there is a wisdom in it that comes from God. It is not His plan for us to be disembodied souls. So, because we accept what God had revealed, we hope that just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we too will be raised up in the same way.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us confront the arguments that influence some believers to give up on what You have so clearly revealed will happen. We long for the resurrection. Amen.
The Resurrection: Eyewitnesses
Read: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Consider: As we move toward celebrating Easter, we are taking a closer look at what the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in ancient Corinth about the heart of the Gospel message: Jesus’ resurrection. It is one of the essentials on which every person who desires to follow Jesus must agree. It was just as essential in the first century as it is today.
It seems odd that Paul had to “make known” to them what he had previously preached to them, and what they had previously received. Especially since it was very thing that Paul indicated on which they were taking a stand, and by which they were saved. But then his desire to make known to them the heart of gospel again becomes clear. They may not be “holding fast” to it, and they may have “believed in vain.”
Jesus once compared the gospel to seed that is scattered into various types of soil. He pointed out that only the seed which fell into good soil survives. Jesus didn’t talk about re-seeding, but that is what Paul did in this part of his letter. If I were going to reseed soil that didn’t previously produce a crop, I’d probably break up the hard ground, pull up some weeds, dig out some rocks, and fortify the soil with additives (or even bring in some good soil). Which is the sort of work that Paul was trying to accomplish in the previous chapters of this letter by addressing the problems that he had heard existed in this ancient Church.
To be honest, Jesus had to do a little soil preparation in Paul’s life before he received the seed scattered on it. He had rejected the seed when Stephen preached it to him. The gospel didn’t take root in Paul’s life until his Damascus Road experience. There are probably more of us who started out as less than good soil, than there are those who were ready to receive from the get-go.
Into this, hopefully, better soil that was now prepared in this ancient Corinthian church, Paul cast the seed again that he had himself received: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” It was Paul’s primary concern to sow this seed.
The Scriptures Paul spoke of were the prophecies found in the Old Testament about Jesus. The apostles always referred to them as evidence that Jesus’ resurrection was God’s plan. They were not proclaiming a new message from God, but the good news that God had kept His previous promises.
In verse 5-10 Paul began to water that seed with the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection from eyewitnesses. He began with Cephas (Peter) and the rest of the ‘twelve apostles.’ Then Paul sprinkled in the fact that some five hundred other people had also seen Jesus alive after His death, most of whom were still alive and could be contacted. Then Paul mentioned Jesus’ appearance to James, and to ‘all’ the apostles. And last of all, Jesus’ appearance to Paul himself.
Then, Paul concluded in verse 11 that whether the heart of the gospel was preached by himself or one of the other eyewitnesses, it was upon eye-witness testimony that those in Corinth had believed. Even today, because it has been preserved, we are able to hear their story of seeing Jesus resurrected from the dead. And like those ancient people in Corinth, we have to decide what to do with it; and that will depend upon what sort of soil we are.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. It has been proclaimed to us that You died for our sins, were buried, and rose from the grave on the third day according to the Scriptures. If we are not good soil in which your seed can take root and produce its fruit, prepare us, so it will. Amen.
Read: 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Consider: When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in ancient Corinth, there was no New Testament. It was still being written and collected together under God’s supervision. So those comprising the early Church were wholly dependent upon individuals to share with them the stories about Jesus and explain to them what it meant to follow Jesus, and how they were to be His Church. Paul pointed out that they heavily relied upon those individuals who had received the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge to do so. But Paul also recognized that a time was coming when these spiritual gifts would cease, that they would be done away with, because the Church would receive something better.
Paul was not implying that the Holy Spirit would stop gifting people. He was only pointing out that even with these particular spiritual gifts the ancient church did not possess the fullness of what God wanted them to receive. They, at that time, only knew in part, and they only prophesied in part. But when “the perfect” came, these gifts would no longer be needed, for by it they would know in full and prophesy in full.
It has long been debated in the Church what the identity of “the perfect” thing was that Paul anticipated would come. The term translated into English as ‘the perfect’ or ‘the complete’ is a noun. It was something that they did not yet possess. It was something that as the Church moved from its infancy into maturity would replace what was then only being provided in part. It was something that would allow the Church to see itself clearly. Paul described the difference in how the church would see itself to the difference between a person looking at themselves in a polished brass mirror and a person looking at another person face to face.
Paul then described the result of the perfect’s arrival from his own personal perspective. He said, “Now I know in part, but then I will fully know; just as I have been fully known.” Think about that for a moment. The Apostle Paul whom God inspired to plant the first churches and write a majority of the New Testament didn’t feel that he knew all there was to know, but whenever the perfect came, he would. And it would be with the same sort of fulness in which he was fully known by God.
But until that time came, Paul wanted the Church to use the spiritual gifts that had been given to it to promote Faith, Hope, and Love. And of these, the greatest thing they could advance was love.
Paul challenged the believers in ancient Corinth to pursue love. He also encouraged them to, at the same time, desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, until the perfect arrived. After all, having something is better than having nothing, even if it is not as good as that which is to come. As far as we know, this is exactly what the church in ancient Corinth did. But what about us? Has the perfect already come? Or are we still awaiting for its arrival?
There have been three primary suggestions for “the perfect”: (1) The New Testament, (2) Spiritual Maturity, or (3) Christ’s second coming. The first suggestion is primarily advocated by those who believe that spiritual gifts were bestowed the apostolic age but are no longer given because we have all we need to know about God’s will in the New Testament. The second suggestion is advocated by those who believe that the mature in Christ do not need the affirmation of God’s presence that spiritual gifts provide to those who are immature in Christ. And the third suggestion is advocated by those who believe that the church will need and use the spiritual gifts until Christ returns. At that time all partial illumination will be outshown by Jesus’ presence, just as the limited light of a lamp is no longer needed when the sun shines.
I believe that the spiritual gifts provided to the Church are based upon its needs. It is up to the Spirit to give, and us to receive. And that this giving and receiving continues today. We don’t get to choose what the Spirit gives us, nor do we get to influence what it may give to someone else. We can and must trust that the Spirit knows what it is doing. And we should strive to use our gifts together to express the fulness of Jesus’ love to the world.
Prayer: Lord Jesus. We long for that time when the fullness Paul spoke of comes. We eagerly look forward to its arrival, just as Paul did. And until then, we seek from You the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we might love as You love. Amen.
Read: 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
Consider: In these verses Paul focused on the essential nature of love. Faith is an essential response to what God has done in Christ to bring us into a right relationship with Him. Hope is an essential anticipation of how that relationship will continue beyond the grave. And love is the essential motive for everything we do because of our restored relationship with God.
Paul openly acknowledged that believers can do good, godly things in unloving ways. He also provided, in verses 1-3, some examples of spiritual things that followers of Jesus are revered for doing by fellow believers. We tend to put those who do such things into leadership positions in the Church. They are natural influencers and seem like good choices. But letting them lead is not a good idea if what they do is not born from love.
The church, from its inception, has often fallen into this trap. It has done so because we are captivated by those who speak well and are easily persuaded by them to do what they want. We are awed by those who claim to speak for God, whose understanding of God’s ways exceeds our own, and we willingly adopt their perspective as gospel truth. We are humbled by those who trust God so explicitly that they easily overcome huge obstacles that we struggle against, and we long to have the same sort of faith they have. And who is not impressed with outrageous expressions of generosity? But these things are not what should impress us. We should first, and foremost, look for indications that a person is a lover.
If a leader does not have love, they should not have us as their followers. God is a lover, Jesus is a lover, and God’s children are also to be known by their love. And just in case the believers in Corinth didn’t know how to recognize love, Paul shared with them 13 indications that a person is a lover in verses 4-7. And yes, a lover will express them all.
So, take a look at those who impress you because of the spiritual things they do, and ask yourself, using Paul’s list, “Is _(Name of leader)_ patient, kind, not jealous, etc…” How well did they do? Now, put your own name in the blank and see how you are doing. If you need to improve, then you need to find a leader to follow who is a lover. Love is how you can tell that a leader is really following Jesus, and you will learn from a leader in love the most excellent way.
Prayer: Jesus loves me this I know. I love You too. Lord Jesus, help me love as You do. Teach me to follow Your way. I want to be known by my love, just as you are known by Your love. Amen.
Read: Acts 23:6-11
Consider: Pharisees are usually portrayed as the “bad guys” in the Gospels. They are hypocritical, legalistic, judgmental, prideful, power-hungry, abusive, self-enriching Jewish religious leaders who not only refused to accept Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah; but tried to discredit Him in the eyes of the public; and when that failed, plotted to have Him arrested so they could smugly condemn Him to death.
Pharisees were not the only flavor of ancient Jewish leadership. There were, in Jesus’ day, three main Jewish “denominations.” There were Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. All three worked together to oppose Jesus. But they were not so united in their opposition to Jesus’ disciples. The Sadducees claimed to base their faith and practice solely upon the first five books of the Bible, which is why they did not believe in resurrection, angels, or spirits; and the Pharisees, who embraced the whole of the Old Testament, acknowledged them all. The Herodians embraced Roman culture, advocating its social standards and polity, but maintained a belief in the God of the Bible rather than adopting the Roman religious system.
In this passage, Luke records the time when the apostle Paul was brought before the Jewish ruling council. It was evenly divided between Sadducees and Pharisees. It was from among the Pharisees that Jesus had made a few disciples, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. And since Pharisaic Rabbis led most of the synagogues at the time, most of the Jewish people were open to the kinds of things Jesus taught. They would also have formed the majority of the early crowds that followed Jesus, and it is from them that the early Judean Church grew. But they would still have considered themselves Jewish, and would still think of themselves as belonging to the Pharisaic “denomination.”
That’s why, instead of identifying himself as a Christian (which was a term they used to identify Gentiles who followed Jesus), Paul identified himself as being a Jewish Pharisee, whose father had also been a Pharisee. He did not emphasize His faith in Jesus, which only a few Pharisees shared, but his hope - his belief - in the resurrection of the dead, which every Pharisee shared.
The council was immediately divided along party lines. Luke described how they argued back and forth. Their heated exchange grew so contentious that the Roman Commander assigned to keep the peace at Paul’s trail, ordered his troops in to drag Paul from their midst and back to the safety of barracks. Paul did not want go, but it was a good thing that he did.
Proclaiming our hope today, as did Paul on this occasion back then, can be just as divisive. But unlike Paul, we do not live in a nation whose citizens’ primary identity is their relationship with God. In fact, there seems to be a growing number of people in our nation who do not believe in God at all, much less accept the possibility of a future resurrection of the dead. But even so, they are still in the minority, even if they are rather vocal.
Unlike Paul, we are not on trial before Jewish leaders, even if we feel that our hope is under scrutiny by everyone to whom we may express it. We must remember that, like many of those before whom Paul made his defense, there are a lot of people today who share our same hope. If you can believe the statistics, then 2 out of every 3 people you meet believe in Jesus’ resurrection; and that other person may only be “unsure” rather than opposed to the idea. Unless, of course, you’re talking to someone much younger, then it is just less than 1 out of every 2. Which is about the same percentage of people who agreed with Paul.
This means that instead of being drawn into a debate about whether God exists and needing to use all those apologetical arguments that you might not quite understand yourself; you may simply be drawn into a conversation about a person’s shared hope. You might end up talking about why their hope has so little impact on their life choices. Or why they aren’t interested in gathering to worship with people who share their same hope. Or you may find out that they, like yourself, are faithful follower of Jesus, but they gather with a different group of believers in town.
Sharing your hope can still cause heated arguments because there are people who don’t have any hope. But if you let the possibility of encountering their opposition scare you into never sharing your hope at all, you will never discover just how many people around you share your hope. Yes, some may want to argue with you, but they are in the minority.
You are more likely to encounter people who have some level of hope.
Read: Luke 17:3-6
Consider: If there is one thing that you can depend on happening when you start following Jesus, it is change. God did not intend for us to remain static; that is why we are constantly improving, ever growing, becoming more like Him each and every day. And as we do, some of the things that we felt were vital to our life in Christ when we were first getting started won’t mean that much to us later on.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul compared this dynamic in our spiritual growth to the developmental changes that happen as a child transforms into an adult. Those things important during childhood are left behind. Yet, he also stressed that during this process our basic spiritual components would not be altered. Just as DNA guides our development physically, FHL guides us spiritually. FHL is our Faith, Hope, and Love. In this new sermon series, we will look at how our FHL is at work replicating Christ in our lives.
Ron Nolen of Cowboy Up International Ministries will preach the first sermon in this series. He will use Luke 17:3-6, focusing on faith. He will define faith for us and challenge us make our everyday life choices in a way that reflect that we really do trust Jesus.
The beginning of Luke 17 records a time when Jesus was teaching His disciples about faith. In verses 1-3 Jesus affirmed that people will do things that cause others to stumble. It is bound to happen, Jesus said, and it should not surprise His disciples. However, Jesus did not want His disciples to be among their number. He told them that it would be better to have a millstone tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea, than for one of them to cause a little one to stumble. A little one was a reference to someone just starting to trust God. Jesus warned His disciples, “So watch yourselves.”
Then, Jesus gave them an example of how they might cause a little one to stumble. He told them, “If a brother sins, rebuke him.” The word translated ‘rebuke’ also gets translated into English as ‘warn’ and ‘sternly tell.’ It literally meant ‘to place value upon.’ It refers to how one person is to remind another a person that they are better than they are acting. They have value. It refers to how Christians tell each other that as children of the King we don’t act like the world. If that person repents, then forgiveness is to be given to them. Even if that a person has to be reminded seven times in one day and they repent each time.
It was in regard to this seemingly impossible request that the disciples demanded of Jesus, “Increase our faith.” But Jesus was not asking them to do the impossible. He was asking them to be a parent to spiritual children. Think about it. How many times does a parent have to remind their toddlers not to do the same thing in a day? And after each reminder, doesn’t the toddler usually acknowledge that what they did was wrong? It can be exasperating. It takes faith to see them as God sees them: a child who is learning. One who will, as they grow up, act differently. No parent, at least not good ones, would ever do anything that inhibited their child’s growth.
While the disciples asked Jesus to “increase” their faith, He explained to them that all they really needed was the faith of a mustard seed. He did not say “faith as small as a mustard seed,” but “like a mustard seed.” He said “small as” when comparing the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed; but that was back in Luke 13:19. Most English translators add “small as” to Jesus’ statement because they don’t think what He said makes sense.
Who can blame them? After all, a mustard seed doesn’t “think” like a person, so it can’t have faith, can it? It is only a teeny-tiny seed that grows into a huge mustard plant. But that seed is genetically coded to become that plant as it grows. And it will not become anything else.
If Jesus meant what He said, then we could understand it as His wanting us to trust that He would encode us spiritually speaking to become mature, faithful followers. If so, then we, as did the original disciples, will become people who can forgive not just seven times in a day, but seven times seventy times.
Approaching what Jesus said in this novel way made me also wonder, “What mulberry trees did His disciples need to uproot and cast into the sea?” The obvious answer would be a mulberry tree that would cause them to make a little one stumble. And yes, by trusting Jesus, that kind of tree can be pulled up by the roots and cast out of a person’s life. And, as verses 7-10 imply, we might have to uproot the mulberry trees of self-importance and pride as well. After all, these unwanted trees could lead us to make a little one stumble.
How ever you decide to understand Jesus’ words, I hope that you trust Him to change you into something better than you are today as you grow up in the Lord.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we trust You. We place our faith in You. Transform us into Disciples who can raise up little ones to become what You have spiritually coded them to become. Amen.
Read: Jude 8-16
Consider: The people who Jude pointed out, who had slipped unnoticed into leadership in Judean Churches, would be judged by God, as well as all those who followed them. They were easily identified if you knew what to look for. So, what were these telltale signs? Like the evil people in the previous three examples, they (1) “dreamed up their own perspective of the truth,” (2) “stained their character with immorality,” and (3) “blasphemed what was revealed to them of heavenly things.”
As for number three, Jude contrasted their behavior to that of the Archangel Michael. He didn’t blaspheme Satan even though the Devil deserved it. Instead, Michael kept things in the proper perspective, saying to the Devil, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these false leaders in the church barked blasphemes against God’s Messengers, who didn’t deserve it. They were acting like unreasonable dogs who bark at an approaching friend as if they were a dangerous foe.
Jude pointed out that these false leaders and those who followed them would be judged by God in the same way as was Cain (Cf. Gen. 4:3-8, Heb. 11:4). He would do so because their motivation to lead was not to advance God’s agenda, but to get paid, which was the same error Balaam made (Num. 31, Rev. 2:14). They would receive the same reward as did Korah and those who joined his rebellion against Moses (Num. 16). The early church would have known these stories like you know the story of Noah and his Ark. So, you might need to familiarize yourself with them so you can better understand Jude’s warning.
Jude compared them to (1) Hidden reefs. They posed an unseen danger for people who were headed to the safety of the churches’ love for one another when they gathered. They joined these good gatherings unafraid of being exposed, caring only for themselves and not the harm they would cause others. (2) Passing Clouds. Clouds carried along by the wind don’t stay around long enough to provide their promised rain. They looked like the sort of leaders from whom refreshment could be enjoyed by those parched from living in the world. But they offered none. (3) Fruitless trees. In autumn, you’d expect a tree to bear its fruit. But these leaders had no fruit in their lives. They offered nothing to those seeking spiritual nourishment. (4) Wild Waves. The white caps of a raging sea, stirred up by a storm, offer nothing but danger to those travelling by boat. Instead of calming the storms of life, these leaders only made things worse. (5) Comets. They are extraordinarily bright, capturing attention for a little while, but leave nothing but darkness when they are gone. Unlike a steady star that provides light in the darkness by which reliable navigation can be calculated. Those following these leaders would end up lost.
Jude, quoting Enoch, spoke of the Lord’s promise to bring judgement on these ungodly pretenders. It would come, in His time, and when it did, Jude implies, you don’t want to be among them. He closed this section of his letter with a summary of how to identify a false leader. They are grumblers, fault finders, lust driven, conceited, flatters looking to advance themselves.
I’d like to say that these sort of church leaders are a thing of the past. But that would be a lie. We, like the early church, need to be very careful about who we follow. Otherwise, we might not end up in a very good place.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, raise up godly leaders in our church. Those who love You, and who love us. Those we can follow. And help us recognize an ungodly leader, not to judge them, we’ll leave that up to You, but so we don’t end up following them. Amen.
Read: Jude 1-7
Consider: Jude was the brother of the James who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. James made it clear that he was the brother of Jesus. That is, they shared the same mother, Mary, but not the same father. Jesus was God’s one and only son born of the virgin Mary. Despite what some churches teach today, Mary and Joseph had children, and they came the usual way. We are given the names of the boys, but not the girls. They were James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas.
Jude is one of the English versions’ ways of translating ‘Joudas’ in an attempt to keep the different people of the same name straight. The other two ways it is translated are ‘Judah’ and ‘Judas.’ Theologically speaking, Jude and his brother James, as do all who put their faith in Jesus, end up calling God their Father in heaven, just as Jesus did. But to emphasize the difference between himself and Jesus, Jude said that his relationship to Jesus was one of servant to master.
Jude wrote to the church, in general, not to a specific one. The church is made up, according to Jude, by those who are “by God the Father loved and who are by Jesus Christ called to be kept.” (I used the original text’s word order for this translation). In other words, the church is made up of those that God’s love will keep safe from the coming judgment. It is for these that Jude prays for God’s mercy, peace, and love to be multiplied.
Jude indicated that he was in the midst of writing a letter that emphasized our common salvation when he felt it necessary to send a different letter. One in which he would encourage the church to contend earnestly for the faith that had been handed down to it. Which means, that the church’s faith was under attack, whether they realized it or not.
Jude affirmed what only some in the church back then realized: some bad people had crept into the church unnoticed and were influencing it in the wrong direction. Jude described them as having been, for a long time, previously “written down” to be judged. Jude said that they were impious people, who turned God’s grace, His willingness to forgive and keep forgiving, into an opportunity to sin more instead of less. In acting this way, they denied, by their behavior, that Jesus Christ was their master and Lord. Jude’s concern was that these people, and any who were influenced by them, would have no hope when the day of judgement arrived. Jude believed that trusting Jesus was the only way to survive that day.
That’s why Jude wanted to remind the church of some examples of how God dealt with those who took advantage of His grace. He provided three examples that the church back then would have known all too well. We do not study God’s word simply to learn something new, we study it to be reminded of the truth. We need to be constantly reminded of the truth because it is constantly under attack.
Jude’s examples were: (1) Those who, after being delivered from Egypt, would not obey God. They were destroyed. (2) The angels who, after being given their own domain in heaven, abandoned it. They were locked away in darkness. (3) God’s people who, after they were settled in Sodom and Gomorrah, choose to ignore God’s design for the family. They were destroyed in a way that foreshadowed the coming punishment of eternal fire.
At this point in Jude’s letter, his concern is quite clear. He believed that these examples were written down for our instruction. They were preserved to remind us of what did and could happen. We really are supposed to learn from the past so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Jude’s unspoken question was “Who would ever give up their only hope of making it through judgement day?” The unspoken answer was “A lot more people who are showing up at church than we want to acknowledge.” Jude hoped that with a gentle reminder, those in the church would never be among them.
Pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, thank you for loving us enough to send your son to die on the cross so we could survive judgement day. Amen.
Read: 3 John 9-15
Consider: What would you do if an apostle sent a letter to be read in your church and it was delivered to you? You would certainly read it in advance. But what would you do if you didn’t agree with what the apostle said in that letter? Would you still do as instructed and read it to the church? God’s word in the New Testament is just as much “for us” today, as it was to those who first received the letters that form it. Like some of them, we may not always like what we find in what God has to say to us, but we have to decide what we will do with it. Will we trust and obey, or will we throw it away?
The Elder who wrote this letter, John, had previously sent a letter to the church in Derbe, but it was given to Diotrephes. He was another leader in the church, but he was not like Gaius at all. Diotrephes liked to be “first among them.” He was a “my way or the highway” sort of guy. He didn’t like what John had to say in that letter, so, it was not delivered to the church as instructed. Instead, Diotrephes gathered the church and slandered John, saying things about him that were not true. He also refused to welcome the brethren sent out by John when they arrived. And he threw people who did welcome them out of the church.
John assured Gaius in this personal letter that he would deal with Diotrephes when, God willing, he came for a visit. Since Gaius had welcomed the brethren, he might be one of those that Diotrephes was trying to run off. But, evidently, he wasn’t running. It would have been tempting for Gaius to “fight fire with fire,” but John encouraged him “not to imitate what is evil, but what is good.” In other words, Gaius should not act like Diotrephes in any form or fashion. To emphasize this request, John reminded Gaius that “the one who does good is of God; and the one who does evil has not seen God.” Those are pretty strong words, implying that Diotrephes, even though he was a leader in the church, didn’t have a right relationship with God. It is vital that we do what is good, and that we follow the example of those leaders in the church who are also doing what it good.
And John directed Gaius to consider one: Demetrius. He was another leader at this ancient church, but he was a good guy. Everyone said so, and the truth backed it up. John, and those at the church where he was at, shared the same opinion about him. And Gaius could trust John’s recommendation. Gaius was probably wondering who he could trust. John said that Demetrius was someone that Gaius could partner with and draw strength from. He was the sort of man whose example Gaius could follow. I’m glad that we are not in the same situation as this ancient church; but, it is still good advice to follow the example of someone who is doing good. We have quite a few exemplarily people in our church.
If you are looking for an example to follow, someone who is on the side of good, but don’t know who to pick or trust, give me a call, and I’ll point one out for you. John, the Elder, concluded his letter to Gaius by saying that he had a lot more things he wanted to talk to Gaius about, but he didn’t want to do it with pen and ink. Instead, John wanted to come in person and speak with Gaius face to face. We don’t know if John ever made that trip, but I hope that he was able to go, and that he was able to take Gaius under his wing, and settle things down in this ancient church, getting it back on track. Given the tension and division in this ancient church, It was a good choice for John to hope for their peace. Gauis, not to mention everyone else, need it. John added a final word of encouragement to Gaius by reminding him that he was not alone. The “the friends” sent their greetings. These may have been some of the brethren who had returned with the news about how they had been greeted by Gaius while there. Or those Gaius had met while traveling with Paul. Whoever they were, they were on his side. It is important to recognize, especially in such situations, that we have friends who are also walking in truth. John’s final request in this regard was that Gaius greet those brethren there, who were also his friends, by name. Don’t we all like to be greeted by name?
Pray: Lord Jesus, help us follow good examples rather than evil ones. And may we be blessed with many friends. Amen
Read: 3 john 1-8
Consider: The Elder wrote this letter to encourage a young leader who was serving in a local congregation named Gaius. There is some debate about the identity of this Elder, but most scholars agree that it was, as the title proclaims, John. But which John? There is a long-standing debate about this as well, but everything in this short letter seems to indicate that it was the Apostle John. He lived until 90 AD, so he grew older and had plenty of wisdom to share.
The Greek term translated Elder is ‘presbuteros.’ It indicated one who was older, and was the title given to the leaders who served along with the chief priests to rule over Israel. This term was picked up by the emerging church for leaders who served with the apostles in Jerusalem. And it was also used in reference to the men in local churches that the apostles’ appointed to be leaders.
Gaius came to the Lord when the apostle Paul passed through Derbe. Gaius responded to the gospel message and was one of two people who were actually baptized by Paul. He became a leader in the church, even following Paul around, learning from him and serving with him. It is believed that after Paul’s death, that Gaius focused his ministry through a local congregation near Ephesus, which is where John ended up serving. John, the Elder, developed such a close relationship with Gaius that he came to think of him as a son.
John felt that Gaius needed to be reminded of his love, and that he was praying for Gaius’ health, physically and spiritually. John had received news from some “brothers” who had been at the church where Gaius served and reported that he was still “walking in the truth.” John was delighted to hear this news. And John encouraged Gaius to continue receiving and sending on “brothers” who might show up in the future.
These “Brothers” were more than just fellow believers passing through, they were more like the disciples whom Jesus had gathered to himself. John (as well as other apostles) had followed Jesus’ model of making disciples, and when they were ready, these disciples were sent out to preach the gospel message. But instead of going into a town where the gospel had never been preached before, they arrived in towns were it had been preached and a church had already been established. Gaius had welcomed these disciples of John, provided support for them while they were in town, encouraged them to “evangelize” (share the good news), and sent them on their way with blessings when they were ready to head back. John was proud of how Gaius and these “brothers” had worked together. It gave him hope for the future. He wanted all those who followed Christ to support one another in a united effort to reach out to the lost.
We still need this sort of dynamic today. We, who are striving to carry out the great commission in Los Alamos should welcome and encourage fellow believers who join us at the Christian Church in sharing the good news in Los Alamos; just as we support those who are sharing the gospel in other places.
Pray: Lord Jesus, help us become disciples who make disciples, that the lost You love, and came to save, hear and experience Your grace. Amen.