Category Archives: sermon

Relationship Before Rules

Slide01This is a sermon manuscript from what I preached yesterday.

Text: Exodus 20:1-2; 3:6-14; 19:3-6

Bottom Line: For God, rules come after the relationship, and rules are necessary to govern the relationship.

Sermon Function: To call people to full surrender, desiring to be made holy.

ME

This summer we’re preaching through a series called The Ten, all about—you guessed it—the Ten Commandments. Somewhere in my childhood, my parents introduced me to this classic movie with Charlton Heston as Moses. Since that time, every time I think about the Ten Commandments, there’s a part of me that replays that scene in my mind.

The Ten Commandments also bring up images of rules. These are like God’s big rules, we might think, if we don’t take time to prod deeper into them. Most of us look at rules—unless we’re the firstborn obedient, observant types—with a bit of backlash. We tense up. Rarely do we enjoy rules.

Your boss comes out to speak to the company and says, “We’ve got a new set of policies today.” Rarely does anyone applaud that. Yay! More policies. It’s like a Michael Scott meeting from The Office.

I can remember a time when we were kids—and we all have these stories—where my brother and I were at home alone. I was in 6th grade and Dan was in 4th grade. Mom and dad were both at work, and dad had told us to practice our batting. We were both playing baseball that summer. By the way, my dad told this story around the dinner table last Sunday as the Cromers were sitting with us. J We weren’t using balls, so what could go wrong? Right? Dan started practicing first. He was doing really well at first, but then SMASH! He had brought the bat back and cracked our 64-gallon fish tank in the living room. Dad hadn’t specified that we needed to be outside. We ran around grabbing towels, trying to save fish and calling the neighbors for help. It was a mess!

Needless to say, dad made a rule of no batting practice inside from that day on.

WE

We’ve all had experiences with rules that are less than positive. That may be because, in our minds, the average rule was put in place for the wrong reasons.

Why do we have rules today? Most of us could think of at least one of these five reasons. 

Slide02

  1. Because somebody did something wrong. We create rules after one situation where somebody did something they shouldn’t. And all it takes is one person. One person spills red pop on the carpet. Now, nobody can have red pop on the carpet.
  2. For protection. We wear seatbelts for safety. We have speeding laws for protection of ourselves and other drivers. We have safety precautions in factories so no one loses a finger.
  3. To reinforce the bottom line. We have rules to make sure that, in our companies, productivity and earning are at their best. We set time limits on people’s breaks, days off, amount of product that needs to be exported in a certain time period. We put pressure on teachers to get kids to have high test scores from their kids so our schools can receive funding.
  4. To keep people in power who have power. Those who have the power make the rules. Sometimes they make rules to ensure that others don’t usurp their power. For example, making rules about who can run for public office, Hitler’s marginalization of the Jews, segregation…all of these kinds of things were about keeping a certain person or kind of people in power.
  5. Agendas. We hear this talk regularly in politics today. He has a conservative or liberal agenda. When it comes to issues like immigration, homosexuality, and the minimum wage, we may feel like those in power make rules because of their agenda, not because they care for the common good.

We could go on and on. When you look at this list, it looks scary. Ugly. Corrupt. Wrong. Imposing. It seems like rules are always put in place for less-than-righteous reasons. Is there every any time when rules are good? Was this God’s intention with the Ten Commandments? The good news is that the Ten Commandments—the entire OT Law, in fact—was not put in place for any of these reasons. We’ll get to the “why” later on.

But you and I, if we’re honest with ourselves, have a range of reactions to the rules in our lives that goes from acceptance and obedience to critique and disgust. Somewhere on the continuum, we’ve learned patterns and ways of reacting to the rules in place before us. Whether that tends to be an attitude of obedience or disobedience, I believe that how we’ve come to think about rules bleeds over into our reading of the Bible and our understanding of God’s rules. So as we come to the Ten Commandments today, I want you to be analytical, but not of the meaning of the commandments, but of the state of your heart toward them. Has your tendency to reject human authority, to ignore what others around you say you should do, colored your attitude toward God? If you miss everything else I say, that’s fine. Be sure to give room for God to speak to you this morning.

Let’s pray.

GOD

(We read Exodus 20:1-17).

I want us to focus on the first two verses—yes, you heard me correctly, we’re not going to touch on any of the actual commandments this morning.

Verse 1 says, “And God spoke all these words.” I love this. God speaks these words. The Ten Commandments aren’t even called commandments in Scripture. It brings back imagery from creation. God spoke the world into being, and now God speaks His words to His people. But this is not God speaking in order to somehow form Israel as a people for Himself for the first time. God is not creating the nation of Israel by speaking the Ten Commandments. God is not even entering into relationship with them for the first time here.

RELATIONSHIP

God had a very unique relationship with one man first. Abraham. Then with Abraham’s family, the patriarchs—Isaac, Jacob, his twelve sons, and especially Joseph. And from the end of Genesis to the beginning of Exodus, a period of roughly four hundred years passes. During this time, Joseph and his brothers grow into a nation and became enslaved in Egypt. Then God once again spoke, this time to one man. To Moses.

In Exodus 3, God meets Moses in a burning bush on Mt. Sinai. He sends Moses back into Egypt to rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh. To identify himself to Moses, God says in Exodus 3:6-10: Slide08

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Notice here that God does not say, “I am the LORD your God.” Instead, he identifies himself by way of his relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Verses 7-10 continue:

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Notice how here he calls the Israelites his people already. In God’s mind, they are His people even before He acts. They are His people because of His covenant with Abraham.

Moses then asks God what His name is. Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13) He first refers to him as “the God of your fathers”. This is how people would think of God. They would have known the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They would have known about their heritage, that they were not Egyptians, that they came from another land.

Slide09Moses is not ignorant of who He is talking to. Neither would the people be ignorant of who God is. It is not as if he hasn’t figured out that the God of the patriarchs is Yahweh. It was not unusual for ancient gods to have several names, and as we read our Old Testaments, we hear of God being called many different things. “Moses’ question concerns which identity of the deity is pertinent to the mission on which he is being sent” (Walton, ANE Thought, p. 92). It is not that Abraham did not know Him as Yahweh, only that God had not acted in concert with the meaning of this Name for Abraham. God would wait to act as Yahweh until He needed to “create” or “cause to exist” this people, Israel, and He could only do that by rescuing them from slavery.

Slide10Yahweh has been translated “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:14. The NIV and other translations used an all-caps “LORD” to show the Hebrew word “Yahweh.” It may come from a verb meaning “to be” or “to exist,” but on behalf of His people, it would mean “to create” to “to cause to be.” I know this is technical, but we’re trying our best to think like the ancient Israelites would have thought about God. In their minds, the name Yahweh only meant something if Yahweh acted like the meaning of His name. Thus, Yahweh acted as Yahweh by causing Israel to exist as a people in relationship to Himself. Yahweh acted as Yahweh by giving Israel a function as well—to be a holy nation.

So when we reach Exodus 20, and the text says God spoke the words, “I am Yahweh your God,” we say that God’s relationship with His people did not change. They had always been His people, even before the rescue from slavery. But that event, where God gave freely of Himself, changed how they knew God. They now knew Him as Yahweh, the one who would cause them to be His covenant people through His rescue.

Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The Hebrew “your” is singular, which means that God is the God of the one nation of Israel. It also means He is the God of every individual person. When God delivered Israel from slavery, that was when He became the personal God of every Israelite and the God of the nation. To say it another way, God did what it took to start a relationship with this particular people. And because He rescued them, he could be known as their God.

But we have to look at this from Israel’s perspective. Are they thinking, “Great. Thanks for saving us from that misery. But now we’ve got new rules we have to follow? C’mon, God. Give us a break”? No. They are just figuring out what it means for Yahweh to be their God and for them to be His people. They have no clue. The change from slavery to freedom was so drastic that it was going to take some getting used to.

People today talk about how there are two types of change: continuous and discontinuous.

Continuous change develops out of what has happened before and can be anticipated, and therefore can be planned for and managed. One good example of this is the maturation of our kids. As they move from one stage of life to the next, we can look back on our own experiences of growing up and the experiences of those around us to deal with this change. While every child is different, their development will happen on a similar path as those who have lived and died already. Continuous change.

Slide11Discontinuous change is quite the opposite. It is disruptive and unanticipated. It creates situations that challenge our assumptions. The skills we have learned aren’t helpful to deal with it. One example of this is the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. You may even see it coming, but the skills you have cannot be your resource for dealing with it. If your spouse has died, you know this.

In discontinuous change,

  • Working harder with your habitual skills won’t address the new challenges you face.
  • An unpredictable environment means new skills are needed.
  • There is no going back to normal (Roxburgh & Romanuk, Missional Leader).

Does that sound at all like what Israel experienced? You better believe it. The Hebrew of the phrase “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” uses a verb that has the sense of a completed action in the past. God has finished the job. As they stand at the base of Mount Sinai, hearing these words, they have assurance that they are never going back to slavery again. This moment, when they stand at the base of Mount Sinai and hear the words of Yahweh for the first time, is monumental. They have been assured of their freedom and their identity as God’s people, and now they are about to discover how to live in relationship with Him.

For God, rules come after the relationship, and rules are necessary to govern the relationship.

RULES

In the ancient Near East, other nations had law codes similar to Israel’s. There were not any other “10 Commandments,” but other nations had their law codes. And we know that they had intentions behind creating these. The intentions, however, had nothing to do with a covenant relationship like Yahweh had with Israel. Here’s a simple chart that helps to set Israel apart from its neighbors.

Slide13

Every other nation around Israel viewed its laws as showing them who the ideal king was and how he might execute justice. The rules were made to help the nation to function correctly, with a just king ruling. And whether they viewed their rules as coming from their deity or not, in the end, it was the king who not only carried out justice but also who created the rules for justice.

In Israel, the law is not made by Moses or any other person, but spoken by God. God’s rules are not about justice—not about right and wrong, primarily—but about Him and what it means to live in relationship with Him. Are the concepts of morality and ethics within the Law? Yes. But they are not the center. God is the center. And the goal is not simply figuring out what God requires and then doing it; the goal is becoming a covenant-keeper who is sanctified, holy, as part of the holy nation.

In Exodus 19, the Israelites had just made camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai when God spoke to Moses. Exodus 19:3-6 says, Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

God’s intent with His law, His rules, is to create for himself a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Some of us hear this and think, “Uh oh. We’re going down that road of trying to follow the rules in order to get better,” as if God’s intent to make us holy people happens when we obey the rules perfectly.

Slide14Rules matter, in one sense, but as we’ve discovered, they’re not the problem. Otherwise, God would be to blame, for He initiated not only a relationship—something we think is positive—but also gave rules to guide that relationship. You can’t have it both ways. The problem, then—and this I think is where our real angst is—is with a rules-based mentality. Not so much “what to do” but “why you do it.” People who assume that the reason… Our angst is with the motives we spoke of earlier. The larger framework within which rules appropriately fit is in context of a relationship with a holy God. The goal is not to obey all the rules, but to be holy as He is holy, understanding that part of living holy lives will mean obeying the rules (see N.T. Wright, After You Believe, pp. 43ff.)

YOU
This ought to speak to us today, especially we who tend to get so turned off by what we perceive to be restrictive rules all around us. God first and foremost desires people who want relationship with Him, and He has done everything necessary to make that possible. In the Old Testament, he rescued Israel from slavery. In the New Testament, he rescued his people from slavery to sin and death by sending His Son, Jesus.

If God wants relationship before rules, and rules only in the context of relationship, what does it mean for you and me?

  1. You can end up like Pharaoh or like a sanctified Christian. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart through a series of 10 plagues. I don’t think it is a coincidence that it took 10 plagues before he let Israel go and that God gave 10 commandments to His people. You can use the Ten Commandments, or any other set of rules you think God has for, as an excuse to harden your heart toward God, or you can obey them in the context of a deep, satisfying, life-giving relationship. You can allow the way you’ve reacted to somebody else’s rules jade you toward God, or you can choose to submit to all of God and all that He calls you to do.
  1. You can continue in frustration with God for having rules, or you can be grateful for His act of giving himself for you. It is gratitude that is a proper response toward the Ten Commandments. Obedience, yes, but grateful obedience. When we choose to keep the Sabbath and rest by not doing unnecessary work later today, we are doing so in gratitude for a relationship with Yahweh our God.
  1. You can choose holiness today. You can choose what Wesleyans call being made perfect in love. And don’t let the word “perfect” bog you down. What we mean is that all of our intentions and motives are driven by love. In other words, when we go and make rules and when we choose to obey them, we are doing so out of a heart compelled by God’s love for us. There is never a moment where you and I have to choose rebellion and disobedience toward God; we can always choose an obedience empowered by His Holy Spirit and driven by love. Wesleyans believe that just as God did a work of grace in you when he saved you, he wants to do a work of grace to make you holy. And he can do it today.

In a minute, we’re going to receive communion. You’ll come to the front. After you’ve taken communion, I want to make the altar available to anyone who wants to come kneel and pray. Here’s who I’m inviting.

First, if you say, “God, I’ve been hesitant to obey your rules. I’ve wanted the relationship but not the rules that come with it. There is an area of my life that I need to let you break down the walls of my heart in.” I want you to come and pray.

Second, if you say, “God, I hear the call to holiness. I hear the call to love you with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. I believe you want me to live a holy life and that you can empower me to give everything I am completely to you in full surrender.” If that’s you, I want you to kneel and pray. God will meet you there and change your heart.

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God’s Story

Our church recently came up with a new mission statement: Celebrating Christ as Lord, sharing His story, and serving our community. So I preached a sermon about God’s story based on Hosea 3:1-5 last Sunday.

Here it is.

Have you ever read a bedtime story to your kids? You tuck them in for bed, bring them that one final glass of water, and sit at the edge of the bed to read. I can remember staying overnight at my grandma’s house in Ohio. In the back bedroom my brother and I shared, there was a bookcase filled with Dr. Seuss books. They had The Cat in the Hat; the Lorax; Green Eggs and Ham; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish; Oh, the Places You’ll Go; How the Grinch Stole Christmas and dozens more. My brother and I would pick a book at night and read in bed. I don’t think it helped us fall asleep; in fact, we did it to stay awake longer.

Nowadays the stories kids “read” aren’t just in books, but also on the television. Stories like Sponge Bob Square Pants, High School Musical, Ratatouille, or other shows on the Disney Channel. As adults, we like stories too. Whether they come in book form or TV form, we like stories.

As Christians, not only do we read the Bible and the stories it contains, but we are also part of the story. God leaves an open ending to the story with promises of what is to come. And though there are hundreds of stories in the Bible, with hundreds of characters, spanning thousands of years, there really is only one story. God’s story never changes. God’s story never changes because He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Great I AM.

This concept is hard for us to grasp. In an age when philosophers tell us, “You are who you are right now,” how we’re not the same person today as we were a year ago, following a God who never changes is exactly what we need. Listening to His story of love for His people—Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New—brings consistency to a life of change.

Not only that, but listening to the message of God’s story brings hope and joy. Because God’s story is a love story: a story that tells of His unconditional love for people who leave Him for other gods, who try to mix Him up with their selfish desires, who only obey His commands and look to Him when life gets tough, who believe that all roads lead to Him, who reinvent Him to fit their needs as a God who only loves and is never just. God continues to love those people, you and me, no matter what.

Today we’re going to pick up God’s story in Hosea chapter 3, a chapter that reveals God’s love as much as any other.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

Hosea 3 tells the story of Hosea and his wife. In chapter 1, God told Hosea to marry a woman from Israel. She is described in 1:2 as an adulterous wife, meaning she is at the very least worshiping Baal and therefore has turned from God as a woman turns from her husband. And at the most it means she is literally a prostitute. Now he is called to love her “again.” This word means that Hosea is called to resume doing something he had done in the past. Now that they are together again, he is to love her just as he did before.

Think of how crazy that is. His wife, named Gomer, the very woman he has three children with, somehow has gone out and become a prostitute again, and Hosea is supposed to love her. He’s not supposed to have sex with her, but to love her. In our society this would never fly. Most people I know would head straight to divorce court if they caught their spouse cheating on them. They would take the kids and run.

Even in the church this is the case. Sexual sins are the worst ones for us, whether that be adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, premarital sex. We treat people who commit sexual sins much worse than those who are proud or gossip or bull-headed. Maybe this is because we see our culture promote sex with anyone, anytime as being a good thing and we want to safeguard our families from it.

Guess what? It was just as bad in Israel when Hosea was alive. This other god, Baal, was worshiped by setting up shrines where prostitute could make a living. The idea was that the more you had sex, the better Baal would be in bringing rain to the earth to increase the harvest. And since Israel was in one of its most prosperous times, Baal worship would have been at an all-time high.

Somehow Gomer had gotten mixed up with all of this. Whether she was a prostitute for Baal or just a prostitute, that was how she made a living. And Hosea is commanded to love her “as the LORD loves the Israelites.” What this says to me is that God’s love is unexplainable and unconditional.

Leviticus 19:4 says, “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” Israel had been specifically told not to do what they were doing, and yet they still turned to worship other gods. They “love the sacred raisin cakes” at the end of verse 1. These raisin cakes were a delicacy and were eaten by those engaged in sexual worship of Baal. Song of Songs 2:5 says, “Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” Thus this is a picture of just how deep Israel has fallen for Baal worship. As the raisins were supposed to be a part of marital sexuality, they had turned them into a perverted part of their Baal worship.

Verse 2 says, “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.” The point here is that Hosea paid the full price for Gomer. The price for a slave was 30 shekels, and Hosea’s 15 shekels plus the barley would have equaled 30 shekels. The word for “bought” is literally “barter.” Hosea traded what he had for his wife Gomer. If he had been a well-off man, he could have paid the 30 shekels and went home. But this suggests Hosea was poor and had to give what he had. The barley he gave was a sacrifice for him.

When we read of Hosea and Gomer, it’s almost like reading about Jesus and us. We have “played the harlot” and at times turned to other gods: the gods of self, of greed, of envy, of power, of pride. And it took Jesus to pay the full price for our sin to redeem us.

That’s what the first two verses are about: God’s unconditional love and our redemption. In a time when most of Israel depended on its wealth, its good crops, and the Baals, having to be redeemed would have been a humbling position for Gomer. And I think it’s the same way with us. We have our minds dead set that we can accomplish anything if we try hard enough. Even when it comes to our sin. We believe that we can conquer certain sins with enough will power, with an accountability partner, with spending time with the right people or focusing our thoughts on the right things. All it takes is a consistent effort and sooner or later we’ll quit sinning. Hosea and Gomer’s story—which is really God’s story—preaches the exact opposite message. Gomer had tried all that. And she still needed redemption.

The truth is you and I still need redemption. We still need to put our trust in Christ, that what He did on the cross was all it took to pay our sin debt. Nothing we do in the present or the future can add to it or subtract from it. As Paul puts it, “God’s grace is sufficient for me.”

Verse 3 is Hosea’s instructions to Gomer. She is to live with him for many days, to not be a prostitute or have sex with any man, and he would live with her. This is the second part of the story. Hosea prevents Gomer from having sex with anyone. She cannot fall back into her old way of life. And the reason why is given in verse 4: “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol.”

Gomer being chaste for many days signifies the Israelites being chastened from the things they hold so dear. At first glance this list of king, price, sacrifice, sacred stone, ephod and idol looks strange or random. But it’s actually quite specific and hits the heart of Israel’s culture. Taking away a king means they really don’t have national sovereignty like other nations do. They wouldn’t be able to have a voice in international matters and they would easily be subjected by another nation. “Princes” refers to any type of leader. Without a king, Israel would have tried to resort to placing another person in power, or they could have tried to follow a group of leaders. God says that even this won’t happen. They will no longer rule themselves, and therefore they won’t have leaders who lead them to follow idols like Jeroboam had.

To take away their sacrifices was a sign that they wouldn’t be able to mix worshiping the LORD with worshiping Baal anymore. To take away ephods meant the same thing, as an ephod was a garment worn by a priest. God is basically saying Israel wouldn’t be able to offer sacrifices or go to its priests anymore.

The sacred stones and idols were part of the Baal worship. Sacred stones had been outlawed in Deuteronomy 16:22, but obviously Israel used them anyway. Israel had become syncretistic, mixing God and Baal together. Now both would be taken from them. And the purpose was not to harm them. God wasn’t saying He would leave them forever. This would be for “many days,” and in the end Israel would turn back to Him as verse 5 says.

Look there with me. “Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” The reason God would deprive them of all the things they held dear was so they would return to Him. When he says they’ll return to David their king, this is a metaphor. David is long dead and many kings have come after him. But he was described as a man after God’s heart and the people followed God during his reign. That will happen again one day, God says, but not before discipline and chastening.

When my brothers and I fought over toys mom and dad took them away. If we couldn’t share, we couldn’t have them. Mom and dad did that so one of us would say, “You can have it.” They wanted us to share. That’s like what God is doing here. He’s taking away Israel’s prized possessions so they’ll learn how to live right.

That’s the second part of the story: discipline and return.

If we end the story at verse 2, we have a God who loves us but doesn’t care about how we act. If we end it at verse 4, we have a God who loves us and disciplines us, but we question his motives for discipline. But if we end at verse 5, we see His desire is for us to return to Him, to be together again.

Remember how we said that listening to God’s story brings hope, and how we love to hear stories. We said we enjoy hearing stories. The story of Hosea and his family reminds us that maybe God doesn’t just want us to listen but perhaps to take part. Maybe He wants to use you and your family to bring His message of love to people who don’t know He loves them. Maybe you need to discipline someone. And maybe you need to remind that person that God wants to be with them in the end.

B-A-P-T-I-S-M

Last Sunday I preached a sermon about baptism. The day before at our men’s breakfast I brought up the topic and found out that some of our congregation had been baptized as infants. Boy am I glad I found that out before I preached! That’s not to say I believe in infant baptism. But it helped me understand a touchy subject that previous pastors failed to understand. As of now no one has responded to a call to be baptized, though I know of a few people who could be.

Text: All over the NT

I heard a story once of a man who had recently become a Christian but was struggling with feeling like he wasn’t close to God. He went to his pastor and told him how he was feeling and asked, “What can I do? I just want to feel close to God again.” The pastor asked, “Have you been baptized?” The man said, “No.” His pastor replied, “Let’s baptize you. That should do the trick.” So they went to the local lake and the pastor said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” dunked him and asked, “Well, do you feel closer to Him?”

The man replied, “No.” “Well, let’s do it again.” So they dunked him a second time. The pastor asked, “Do you feel closer to God?” Still no. So they baptized him a third time. “Do you feel closer to God?” The man said, “No. Are you sure this is where he went down?”

Today we’re talking about baptism. Baptism isn’t about getting closer to God. It isn’t about your feelings. It’s about what God has done in your life by saving and transforming you into a new creation.

Sometime before Jesus came on the scene his people, the Jews, began baptizing converts to Judaism. For a Jew, circumcision was the most important sign that one had turned from paganism to serving the one true God. But baptism also was a way of cleansing and initiation. By being baptized, a Gentile was able to offer sacrifices. He was now a part of the group. To Jews, baptism was only for converts.

In the New Testament, John the Baptist (or Baptizer) began baptizing Jews, saying they needed to be cleansed and repent from their sins. He was claiming that the moral platform the Jews thought they were standing on was really more of a stage, showcasing their sins for all to see. Just because they were God’s chosen people didn’t mean they didn’t need to repent. Sure, offering a sacrifice atoned for the sin itself and removed the guilt from the sinner. But did it mean the sinner had changed his heart and turned from his sin? Not necessarily. That’s where baptism came in. It leveled the playing field between Jews and Gentiles; all were in need of repentance and cleansing. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Christians picked up on this theme and began baptizing converts from the beginning. In Acts 2 we hear of a mass baptism: 3,000 in one day. Throughout Acts people get baptized after becoming Christians: the Ethiopian eunuch, the Philippian jailer and his family, Samaritans, Lydia…

The Didache, written in about AD 100, which stands for “Teaching” of the Apostles, gives four ways to be baptized: immersion in a stream, immersion in standing water, either cold or warm, and triple effusion, or pouring. Catechumens, the candidates for baptism, as well as the person baptizing them, were instructed to fast for one or two days before baptism. They modeled Jesus, who fasted in the desert 40 days before His baptism and subsequent ministry. Jews also required their converts to fast before baptism, so it could have been taken from them as well.

Tertullian, a Christian in the third century, wrote a pamphlet on baptism called De Baptismo. In it he explains how people were baptized in his day. Baptism was done publicly, where the candidate renounced the devil and his angels. He was then immersed three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The water used for baptism was consecrated prior to use. The candidate then recited a creed and was fed milk and honey to symbolize citizenship in the new Canaan (heaven). After this he was anointed with olive oil, followed by the laying-on of hands, as well as making a sign of the cross on his forehead. Tertullian also believed in waiting to baptize infants because they don’t understand what responsibilities come with baptism (e.g. repentance, righteousness).

That’s how people were baptized. But what is it all about? Here’s a helpful acronym, using the letters of “baptism,” which are on the back of your bulletin in case you’re taking notes.

“B” stands for Believers. In Acts 8, Philip was in Samaria. He preached the gospel, and verse 12 says, “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” In Acts 18, Paul is in Corinth. Verse 8 tells us that, “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.” Baptism in for those who believe the message of the Gospel. It’s not for anyone who wants to. Anyone can come to church and sing and listen to a sermon, but only those who have put their trust in Christ for salvation may be baptized.

Baptism is a sacrament, which is a big word that means it signifies a work of God inside you. It’s like putting actions to an invisible action God has done. Thus, if God hasn’t drawn a person to Himself and that person hasn’t responded by repenting of their sins, baptism doesn’t make sense for them. Baptism is for the believer.

Some believe and teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. If you’re not baptized, you don’t go to heaven, they say. Perhaps some of you have heard that. Augustine, a theologian living in the 400s, taught that. That’s one of the reasons why babies were baptized; so they wouldn’t go to hell if they died soon after birth. Baptism doesn’t save you, nor does it allow you to enter heaven. Only Jesus has done the work necessary for salvation, and only trust in Him gives eternal life.

“A” stands for Adults and Children. Because baptism is for believers and is a sign of a work God has done inside of you, Wesleyans believe that babies—who have no recognition of sin or salvation—should not be baptized. Instead they should be dedicated to God, just as Chad and Stephanie did a few weeks ago with Nickolas. The child’s parents are able to covenant with God to raise the child to follow Christ, so that upon putting faith in Christ, the child may then be baptized.

Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Can a baby understand what being clothed with Christ means? There are some of us who wonder what it means. “To clothe one’s self” in Greek was a figurative term that meant to take on the characteristics, virtues, and/or intentions of the one referred to, and so to become like that person. Being baptized means you strive to become like Christ. A baby cannot do that, and thus baptism for a child doesn’t make sense.

Infant baptism really took the church by storm after the reign of Constantine. Constantine was the ruler of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, and he made Christianity the religion of the empire. Thus, if you lived within the boundaries of the empire, you were considered a Christian. That meant that fewer and fewer people converted to Christianity as teens or adults and more and more people were “born into it.” During this time, babies were generally baptized the eighth day after birth, like Jewish babies are circumcised 8 days after birth. Baptism became a tool used to prevent children from going to hell rather than a testimony to the world of what Christ had done in one’s life.

By the 16th century, during the Protestant Reformation, Christianity was no longer the official religion anywhere, and thus both infant baptism and adult baptism were practiced. I realize that some of you were baptized as infants. Your parents had you baptized as a way of them stating they wanted to raise you as a Christian. I’m not here to say that your baptism doesn’t mean anything. I’m not here to say you need to be baptized again, though if you would like to as a way to share your testimony, I will. I’m here to say, this is what Wesleyans believe and what we practice.

“P” stands for Purification. Baptism symbolizes the change Christ has made in you, cleansing you of your sin and making you a new creation by giving you the Holy Spirit. In some traditions, people are baptized and when they are put under the water, the pastor says, “Dead to sin.” When they come up, he says, “Alive in Christ.”

Romans 6:1-4 explains it this way: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Symbols are powerful. They make us feel certain ways. What do you feel when you see three arrows curved into a triangle printed on your milk jug? What about an exclamation point? A cross? A burning cross? A swastika? Each of you were feeling something when I said those words. Baptism is the same way. It gets us to feel and perhaps better understand what purification is all about.

In Zimbabwe, Christians don’t get baptized with water. Most of the flowing, natural water is contaminated and unhealthy, so they use another method. The candidates for baptism dig graves and lie down in them. They then rise up out of those graves as a way of saying, “I was baptized into Christ’s death and I am raised to live a new life.” To us that sounds crazy, but to them it says the same thing and gets them to feel the same thing as being dunked does for us.

“T” stands for Testimony. When we hear “testimony,” normally we think of people standing up in church to share something that happened that week. God healed a family member or provided for a need. Testimonies of that sort are verbal. Baptism is another form of testimony. It’s a way of saying to the world and to those who are not Christians, “I have taken my stand and placed my trust in Christ. I am His and He is mine.”

I was baptized at Brookhaven Wesleyan almost four years ago. During the service, each of us who were baptized was asked to share our testimony. I told how I had accepted Christ as my Savior and was striving to live for Him, and how I wanted everyone to know it by getting baptized.

Baptism is about testifying that you believe in Christ. Therefore it’s done publicly for all to see. We don’t come to your house and put you in the tub. We go out to Devil’s Lake or to a swimming pool.

“I” stands for Initiation. This meaning for baptism isn’t nearly as emphasized now as it was in the early church. In the early church those who weren’t baptized could only stay for half of the service. The first half was a service of the Word, like coming to a service this morning. The second half was a love feast centering on the Lord’s Supper. Only those who were baptized stayed for the meal. This was done partly because of the misunderstandings associated with the Lord’s Supper during that time. Christians were accused of being cannibals, actually eating a man’s flesh and blood. In order to keep rumors from spreading by those who didn’t understand what communion meant, only those baptized were allowed to stay for the meal.

Jesus told his disciples in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples, baptizing them…” Wesleyans emphasize the call to make disciples and understand that baptism is a part of that call. Thus, as new people are brought into the church and put their trust in Christ, they are baptized. So baptism somewhat coincides with one’s introduction to a local church.

So, if you’re not baptized, can you participate in the ministry of the church, teaching Sunday School, leading worship, etc.? Yes. And we encourage you to do so. We also encourage you to get baptized because that’s what Jesus called us to do.

“S” stands for Sorrow. As John the Baptist was baptizing, he said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” So people were baptized and repented of their sins. They were sorry for sinning against God and were baptized, again, as a way of showing God’s cleansing of their hearts.

Baptism isn’t just for anyone. It’s for those who have repented of their sins. Like we said before, it’s for believers in Jesus. Sometimes a pastor will ask a group of people if anyone wants to get baptized. A handful will raise their hands. Then the pastor will give a brief class, explaining to them what it’s all about. And sometimes he’ll find that a few of them raised their hands just because their friends did. Baptism is a chance to be in front of a lot of people, a chance to be proud. It’s tempting for some to say, “Look at me. Look at what a good Christian I am because I’m being baptized.”

In reality, this attitude is wrong. Baptism is for the sorrowful and humble. Acts 8 tells the story of a man who misunderstood baptism and following Christ. His name was Simon. Philip went to Samaria, where Simon lived and practiced sorcery. When he heard the gospel, he believed and was baptized with many others. When Peter and John came to check on things and laid their hands on the new believers the Holy Spirit came. Simon asked them if he could pay to have this power.

Simon thought that he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit. His attitude post-baptism causes me to question what he thought baptism was all about. Did he really repent? Did he really desire to be cleansed by the Holy Spirit, and to show that at baptism? I doubt it.

“M” stands for Means of Grace. During baptism, God gives a grace to both the one being baptized and the ones watching. He works through baptisms to draw people closer to Him. My theology professor in college told of people coming to know Christ simply through witnessing a baptismal service. We don’t know how God does it, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that He works through baptism.

Thus, some of you are wondering, I’ve become a Christian but I’m not so sure I should be baptized. Maybe you’re scared of being in front of people. Maybe you’re scared of what people will think. Or maybe you just don’t like water. I don’t know. Weigh all those things against the fact that God could use your testimony as a way to draw others to Him.

Then think about it. If you desire to be baptized, come talk to me.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Who thought you could preach an entire message about the benediction? While our church doesn’t speak or sing it at the end of services, many churches in our area do. Perhaps your church does. The goal of this sermon is for us to hear the benediction and be reminded of why we have been blessed.

Text: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67

(I played the IWU Chorale singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to start out.)

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Many of us have heard that before. It’s “The Benediction.” It’s what we hear at the end of a church service.

I have two questions for you. First, what do you feel when you hear it? And second, why do we say it at the end of a service? I’m going to make a few guesses as to your answers to those questions. My guess is you feel good. You feel like the service is over, you’ve just heard a good message, and you’re ready to leave. It just seems right to end the service that way. You probably focus on one word: bless. You feel glad that God wants to bless you. That could be how you feel. And the reason why we say it at the end? Well, we’ve always done it that way. It’s tradition.

As we look at Scripture, you’ll find that both of those answers are wrong. The benediction is about much more than that. Turn with me to Numbers 6:22-27.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.”

God tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you should bless Israel.” Say these words to them. And in doing this, they put the name Yahweh on the nation of Israel. In Scripture, a name is an expression of the nature of its bearer. When God says the priests will put His name on Israel, He is saying, “Israel is mine. It is to have the same characteristics as I have. It is to be like me.”

So saying these words we know as the benediction serves as a reminder that we are God’s and that being God’s means following His commands. It also means that if others want to find out who God is, they should look at His people. God has given us His name, and that’s a huge responsibility.

There are two types of gifts. The first is the type we give to one another, like at birthdays or Christmas. We give gifts to ones we love with the intent that they keep them and use them. We don’t expect to receive anything in return, and we especially don’t expect to receive the gift back. The second is the type God gives to us. These gifts could be things like our children and spouses, our talents, the money we have, and His Son Jesus. God doesn’t expect us to keep these. He expects us to give them back, to share them with others. The gift of God’s name is the same thing. He expected Israel and now expects you and me to bear His name and share it with others.

The writer of Psalm 67 understood this concept. He was on to something when he wrote. So if you have your Bibles, let’s look there and see what this giving looks like.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Does the first verse sound at all familiar? That’s right. It’s meant to make you think of Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6. The psalmist has taken those few verses and added to them. His emphasis is not on the blessing, but on what the blessing produces: salvation among the nations.

He shows us that the reason you and I are given gifts by God is so we can be a blessing to the rest of the world. When this psalm was written, the nations, the peoples, and the ends of the earth referred to people living without Yahweh as God. They were the pagans. In our day, the nations are those who are living without Jesus Christ as Lord.

Three things I notice about the gifts:

1. God gave them to US. Not once do I see a “me” or “I.” These blessings are given to a people. That means that the guy sitting in the pew across the aisle that you hold a grudge against gets the same blessing you do. That means the woman who’s just accepted Christ as Savior and become a part of the people of God gets the same gift you do. It’s not about tenure or popularity or any other standard we use when we give gifts. The only factor involved is being a part of God’s people.

So, here’s a stupid comment. You have to participate with the people of God in order to receive the blessings of the people of God. In the Old Testament, that meant going to the temple, offering sacrifices, obeying the Law of Moses. In the New Testament and now, that means attending a church, following after Jesus. God never called us to “Lone Ranger” Christianity. He called us to be a part of a larger group of believers who worship Him together. It’s as a group that we are blessed.

We’re camping out at Devil’s Lake this week and our campsite is surrounded by trees. It hasn’t rained yet, but they’re calling for rain this week. When it rains, every one of those trees is going to get wet. Maybe the shorter ones won’t get as much rain, but they’ll still get wet. What would happen if I chopped one down and burnt it in my campfire? Don’t worry, I’m not going to. That tree would no longer get the rain the others got. It’s the same way in the church. If you remove yourself from the people of God, you remove yourself from His blessings.

Have you been blessed by God? Yes. And I’m sure you’ve heard others share testimonies of how God blessed them individually. He does that. But His primary way of blessing so that the whole earth will come to know Him is through His people, the church.

2. God expects our gifts to be used so the peoples praise Him. Like we said earlier, God’s gifts are to be used. The psalmist speaks of the God’s salvation being known among all nations. He’s not talking about salvation like we think of salvation: getting saved, accepting Christ as Savior. He’s speaking more of deliverance from trouble. This word is used in Isaiah 33:2: “O Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” It’s also used in Psalm 3:2: “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.”

The same way that God delivered His people from Egypt’s hand, the hope is that He will deliver the nations.

And this is for all people. In these verses, we see “peoples” and “nations.” In Hebrew, the psalmist uses 3 different words, all meaning a group of people of similar culture or nation. He’s trying to emphasize that this salvation is for everyone. That’s kind of crazy considering Israel is this tiny plot of land and people didn’t even know America existed back then. Yet somehow this man’s prayer was that all nations—even the ones who were Israel’s enemies; even the ones he’d never been to—would praise God.

His desire is that they would be glad and sing for joy because God judges them justly and guides them. Remember, judgment in that day was a good thing. It meant God pointed out their wrongdoing and gave them a course-correction so they wouldn’t harm others or spread the disease of sin. God ruling the peoples justly is a good thing, and for that reason they would praise him.

So the gifts God gives us—his blessings and favor—are meant so other people who don’t know Him will come to praise Him. We as a church need to recognize that and take part. Right now we’re going through the process of transforming our building. Why? Because God has given us a building to worship in and we want to draw as many people as possible to Him. Not because we don’t like pews, not because we desire to turn everything upside down, but because our building ought to be a good gift we can give to others.

3. God gives more gifts when we use the first ones properly. Verses 6-7 begin with “then.” It’s like saying, “We’ve been a blessing to others and been faithful with God’s blessing and His name—now He’s blessing us again.”

Remember one of the parables Jesus told. In Matthew 25:14-30 he tells the parable of the talents. One man receives 5 talents, another 2, another 1. The first two double their money, the third just buries his. Their master returns and says to the first two, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” That’s the sense I get from the last two verses of Psalm 67.

So what happens if you and I decide to keep God’s name for ourselves. We’ve been blessed, and God has put his name on us. We are supposed to now represent Him and be a blessing to others, but we choose not to. That’s like rejecting God. James says faith without works is dead. In the same token, being blessed without blessing others is worthless. Odds are the future blessings of verses 6-7 aren’t going to come to us. Odds are God will find another group of Christians, another church, to use for His kingdom.

So, do we have the answers to those first two questions?

What do you feel when you hear the benediction, and why is it at the end? You feel happy, yes, but you also have a sense of responsibility, knowing that you must be a blessing as well. And you know it’s at the end as a reminder of all this. Like some churches post signs, “You are now entering the mission field,” allow the benediction to remind you of that.

Catching Men, Preserving Life: Part 2

Here’s part 2 to the Luke 5 sermon. This one focuses on what Peter did as Jesus called Him. I preached it on June 17. On June 24 we had Master’s Praise, a southern gospel quartet from IWU, sing. They gave a great concert and we timed it perfectly (just after District Conference). Anyway, here’s the sermon.

Text: Luke 5:1-11

Last week we looked at the story of Jesus calling Simon to be a disciple. We saw Jesus go where people would listen. And when those crowds only listened, he approached Peter. He met Peter where he was, as a fisherman. And he called a man who he knew could lead, who had men under him. He called a man who was persistent and wouldn’t give up when things got tough. He called a man whom he had met before. Jesus did something miraculous and he calls us to share these stories. And lastly, Jesus called Peter to do something, not to simply sit on a pew or watch Him do everything.

Today we’re going to look at what Peter did in response to Jesus. Peter’s response is just as important as Jesus’ call. For those of us who have responded to Jesus, hopefully today’s sermon serves as a reminder of what we first signed up for. And for those of us who haven’t, hopefully it will give you an idea of what being a disciple of Jesus is all about.

As a Christian, you and I are called to live out both what Jesus does and what Peter does. We are both disciples of Christ and calling others to join us in discipleship. So to say you identify with one or the other in this passage is a little lopsided. You have only half of the picture of Christianity if you are only being a disciple without calling others, or if you’re only calling others but could care less about obeying Jesus yourself.

Turn to Luke 5:1-11.

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

1. Peter questions Jesus. He says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” There has to be at least a little bit of doubt going through Peter’s mind when Jesus wants to go fishing. At this point they’re only in shallow water. It would have been easy for Peter to say, “Sorry, I’m tired. I’m pulling the boat ashore. Come back tonight when I go out again.” We read the story and know the ending. Peter doesn’t know what’s about to happen. Even though Jesus had healed his mother-in-law, that probably wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. And in order for Jesus to “show up” here like He did earlier, He would have to have control over nature. It’s one thing to heal another person; it’s quite another to guarantee a bunch of fish to a man who just covered the entire area just hours before.

So Peter questions. So often we don’t feel comfortable questioning God. We worry about how God might think of us. He might think we don’t have much faith in Him. Or even worse, other Christians might think we don’t have much faith.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve questioned God in the last nine months. Time after time, “Lord, do you really want me here? I don’t feel capable.” Or, “God, are you sure this is the direction you have for Parkway?” Questioning God is part of discipleship. Look at the other Biblical characters who questioned God. Mary asked the angel Gabriel, “How can I have a child? I’m a virgin.” Abraham questioned God when he was told his wife Sarah would have a child at age 90.

Questioning God is part of following Him. And it’s okay.

2. Peter obeys Jesus. Notice how Peter first addresses Him in verse 5: “Master.” Peter uses a word that isn’t normally used in the NT. This word means something along the lines of commander or leader. Just as we see Peter in command of a crew, we see Jesus in command of Peter. In calling Jesus, “master or commander,” Peter shows utmost respect for Him. Peter acknowledges Jesus’ authority as commander and replies, “Because you say so, I will let the nets down.”

I’m assuming most of you have worked at some point in time. Whether you’ve worked in a factory or in an office, you had someone labeled “the boss.” And what “the boss” says goes, at least if you want to keep your job. What happens to employees who don’t do what the boss says? They get fired.

Over time, as you work at one place for years, you get to know your boss. At least in some jobs you do. And that person becomes more than just the guy you obey for fear of losing a job. That guy becomes a friend. He becomes someone who speaks your language, who understands your strengths and weaknesses and who allows you to use your strengths on the job. Your relationship changes.

Peter and Jesus are in this boat for a couple hours together, depending on how deep they went out. They didn’t have a motor boat to propel them in no time. I wonder what they talked about as the crew rowed. I wonder if Peter kept giving Jesus that look that said, “I’m still not so sure about this.” Jesus probably looked back with that look that said, “I know something you don’t know. Na, na, na, na, na.”

Whatever the case, they eventually got to the spot they were headed to, caught the fish, and the relationship had changed. Again Peter addresses Jesus, but this time as Lord. He is kurios, Jesus the Lord. So now when Peter obeys Jesus, it’s not out of a sense of duty to a superior, but out of worship to his Master.

Has that happened to you? Have you stopped viewing God as simply a commander who shouts out orders and started knowing Him as the One who knows what’s best for you? I’m convinced that too many Christians never move from obedience out of fear or duty to obedience out of worship. We’ve grown up hearing that we’re no good because we sinned one too many times. We believe the lie that Christianity is all about the rules and not about the God who made them. God desperately wants you to believe Him when He says, “From now on you’ll catch men.” And He wants that belief to sprout into joyful obedience as an act of worship.

3. Peter acknowledges his sinfulness. The boats are sinking. Jesus is sitting down in the boat and Peter drops to Jesus’ knees. He says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” You can see the light bulbs going off in his mind. Jesus is Lord; I’m a man. I’m a sinful man.

This is the crew chief, the man who should be overjoyed right about now over the amount of fish he has to sell. His fortunes have changed; he has money to make and food to put on the table at home. He has a happy crew. The only bad thing about this situation is the boat is sinking. Peter should be at his feet helping balance out the weight on the boat so it doesn’t sink. He should be telling his crew what to do with the fish. He should be high-fiving James and John.

But instead he’s on his hands and knees, eye to eye with Jesus on the floor of the boat. What a crazy place to be. That’s like sitting in the middle of an aisle at Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon. Everyone’s busy buying their food, and you’re there as if nothing else is going on.

That’s Peter. And Luke is making a point here and throughout his gospel with his use of the word “sinful” or “sinner.” If you’re not a sinner, Jesus doesn’t want to be with you. The Pharisees constantly question Jesus: “Why do you spend time with the sinners?” And Jesus’ reply is He is calling them to repentance. The sick need a doctor, not the healthy.

If Peter wouldn’t have acknowledged his sin, would Jesus have called him as a disciple? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is He wouldn’t have. Does Jesus want anyone following Him who doesn’t own up to their sin? No. An integral part of being a disciple is understanding our sinful nature.

4. Peter is astonished and afraid. Verse 9 says, “For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.” I don’t think Peter is worrying about the fish at this point. He’s thinking more about how he acquired all the fish. Jesus has just done a miracle, a miracle that in Peter’s mind proves that this guy is more than your ordinary rabbi. His astonishment and fear are a testimony to who Jesus is. Jesus is God, and these emotions are the only proper ones in the midst of a miracle.

Look at how many times the word fear is used in Luke. In Luke. 1:13, Zechariah is afraid of the angel in the temple. In Luke 1:30, Mary is afraid of the angel telling her she’s pregnant. In Luke 2:10, the shepherds are afraid of their angels with good news. In Luke 8:25, the disciples are afraid AFTER Jesus calms the storm, not before. In Luke 8:35, the town is afraid AFTER Jesus heals the man named Legion.

Fear and amazement imply that we don’t have Jesus figured out. We know just enough about Him to know there’s something special going on, to know He’s God, but we don’t know everything. These emotions must be our natural response to the supernatural.

What are you afraid of? Spiders? Mice? Snakes? Heights? Jesus?

5. Peter left everything and followed Jesus. He left the success of that day, he left the routine and certainties of life, he left his possessions, his power, his family…everything…and followed Jesus. Why do we tend to look at this story, read verse 11, and get the warm feeling inside but leave it at that? Why do we say, “Good job Peter!” but forget that Luke was writing to an audience that now includes us? Do we think Jesus only asked the 12 disciples to do this?

There’s a saying that goes, “If you follow Jesus you don’t go where you want to go. You go where He wants you.”

What would you do if you heard God saying, “I want you to start a ministry to the homeless, but in order to do it, you need to be homeless.” Or if He said, “There are people in countries you’ve never been to who need to know about my Son. I’ve chosen you to tell them.”

This story leaves no room for excuses. Can we question God? Yes. But can we hide behind excuses? No. Luke 9:57-62 say, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

We’re going to sing a song called “The Savior is Waiting.” It speaks to those who’ve never taken the step of faith like Peter did and said, “I’ll follow you, Lord.” But I think it can also speak to those who’ve said they’ll follow but haven’t left everything yet. Or to those who are obeying God out of duty rather than worship. Please come to the front if the Holy Spirit has spoken to you.

Catching Men, Preserving Life

Last Sunday and this Sunday we’re looking at Luke 5:1-11, Jesus’ calling of Simon Peter. Last Sunday we saw what Jesus did, next Sunday we’ll look at Simon’s actions. I recognize there are no easy-made disciples. Cookie-cutter evangelism is a hoax. This sermon is not meant to say, “Here’s what Jesus did when He called Peter, so here’s what we must do.” My hope is that it spurs us on to be passionate about evangelism.

Text: Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 9:51 says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke’s gospel records at least six times of Jesus going toward Jerusalem. While Matthew and Mark only mention Jerusalem once each, and John doesn’t mention it at all, Luke mentions Jerusalem 27 times. Jerusalem is an important place to Luke because this is where Jesus is killed. Statements like those of Luke 9:51 give us a look into the mind of Christ. He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, knowing He would die there.

Jesus knew He would die. But He didn’t come to die as a martyr for a cause. He wasn’t fixated on death. This wasn’t a suicide mission. His was a mission to transform the world with the kingdom of God. But He knew that the kingdom of God would die just as quickly as He did if there was no one that believed in Him.

So He begins to call disciples. But He doesn’t call just anyone. He calls a fisherman named Simon. And He makes it look so easy, doesn’t He? Just put out into deep water and voilà, oodles of fish in the nets. Come with me!

If only evangelism and discipleship were that easy. One of our Wesleyan missionaries, John Connor, works with the Jesus Film. He and teams of people go to locations around the world and show the Jesus Film in the language of the people. I heard him testify of the overwhelming amount of people who asked Christ to be Savior or who were interested in knowing more about Jesus after seeing the film. And I thought to myself, “I sure wish that’s all it took for Parkway to grow.”

But it’s not that easy. Now those places with numerous converts must disciple them, get them involved in a local body of believers, and show them how to worship Christ with their lives. It’s not that easy. And while it looks like what Jesus did was “so easy” with Peter, this isn’t the only way to call disciples.

Lots of books talk about five easy steps to winning people for Christ. They claim to be fool-proof how-tos on growing the church. I’m going to make ten observations—six this Sunday and four next Sunday—about what happens in this passage, but I’m not going to claim that this is the only way to make disciples. If we look at Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector, we see him go to his house. Peter in Acts preaches a sermon and a couple thousand people follow Christ. There is no one set way to make disciples. If there were we’d know it by now, have it down and be practicing it every day. As it is, we know God calls us to make disciples. And we know that’s easier said than done, especially for those of us who are shy and who feel like we won’t know what to say.

So here’s what I’m asking. Listen to the ten observations and try to put a few into practice this week.

1. Jesus goes to a place where people will listen. In Luke 4, Jesus is in the Nazareth synagogue. He makes a claim to be the Messiah and the people drive him out of town, take him to the edge of a hill and try to throw him down the cliff. They don’t sound too receptive to him. Contrast that scene with the one in verse one: Jesus stands by the Sea of Galilee with people crowding around him listening to the word of God. They are literally pressing on him like he’s a celebrity.

And all the crowd does is listen. They press in and listen. No obedience, no following.

Luke tells us Jesus is teaching the word of God. In Luke 8 Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and the seed is the word of God. In Luke 8:21 Jesus says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” In Luke 11:28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Acts 6:7: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Every time the word of God is mentioned the emphasis is on obedience to it. Obedience to the word of God for Luke implies becoming a disciple and vice versa; becoming a disciple implies obedience to the word of God.

So since the crowd only wants to hear the word, Jesus moves on to Simon.

2. Jesus calls a man he met before. First, Jesus had met Simon before. Simon knew firsthand the power of God in Jesus. Luke 4:38-39 tells how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. “Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.” You get the sense that Jesus has “earned” Simon’s respect. He’s not just approaching a man off the street. It’s not a random meeting; it’s not a surprise that Jesus chooses to call a man he’s met before.

You may have heard the term “friendship evangelism.” It refers to building a relationship with a lost person, and slowly showing them what it means to be a Christ-follower. I believe this method is effective because people tend to respect the gospel coming from a friend who genuinely cares rather than from a preacher they don’t know from Adam. But the danger in this is befriending people for the sole purpose of telling them about Jesus. Then it’s not really friendship but selfishness. Should we have friends who aren’t Christians? Yes. Should we tell them about Jesus? Yes. But what if they never accept Christ as Savior? Are we still to be their friends? You bet.

3. Jesus calls a man who can lead. Peter is a fisherman who Luke says has partners, coworkers. He uses two different words for this. In verse 7, the word is μετόχος, which means someone who shares in. These were men who shared in the work and probably shared in the pay. They worked alongside Peter and his boat to catch the fish, to steer the boat, to prepare the nets, to clean the boats, etc. The second word is κοινωνοὶ, which means to take part in, to share a common experience. James and John are the κοινωνοὶ. They are even closer to Peter than the others are. And notice the change of verb tenses in the passage. In verse 4, Jesus tells Peter to go into deep water, and in verse 6 “they had done so.” In verse 10, Jesus tells Peter he’ll be catching men and in verse 11 “they” pull the boats ashore and leave. These men really follow Peter.

Peter is the central figure, the one whose boat Jesus jumps into. Peter is a man of leadership. He’s a man who’s willing to give it another shot. Fishing isn’t a guaranteed thing. You don’t always catch what you’re after. Same thing with fishing for men. They don’t always listen to the word of God and follow. Jesus needed a man who could lead, and a man who wouldn’t give up with the first failure. Simon was his man.

This says a lot to me about how we should think of making disciples. Instead of calling random men and women to be those who lead, we need to call those who can lead. I’m not saying we restrict the gospel to the elite and the talented. Jesus certainly didn’t do that. But from the crowds he selected and mentored the ones he knew could lead. Though we call many to follow Jesus, we only call few to lead.

4. Jesus does something relevant. Just think, “What if Jesus would have only said, ‘I’m starting the kingdom of God. Do you want to be a part of it?’” How would that have gone over? We don’t know, but I’m guessing Simon wouldn’t have got out of his boat and followed. The very fact that Jesus is with Simon on his “home turf” makes this relevant. He’s not in the marketplace meeting Simon there. He doesn’t ask Simon to go with him to the fields with a bunch of shepherds. He goes to where Simon is at.

My question is this: How often are we willing to meet people in an uncomfortable place? How often are we willing to talk about our faith in a public place? New Church Specialties gives an example of pigs and cows. A storm hits a farm, so the farmer tells his cows, which are safe in the barn, to get the pigs into the barn before they die. So the cows offer the pigs some of their hay, but the pigs turn their noses and stay in the rain. The cows then offer the pigs to stick their heads in their yokes, but the pigs declined. Finally the cows offered to put their milking suction cups on the pigs…well, you know what the pigs said to that. Needless to say, the storm killed the pigs.

We all hear that and think, “Why didn’t those silly cows just go out into the rain to rescue the pigs?” And yet that’s what we do when we assume the lost will come to us on our terms. It doesn’t work that way. We must go to them.

5. Jesus does something miraculous. Simon and his partners have been out all night fishing. They worked third shift, which is prime fishing time. They’re tired. They’re ready to be done cleaning the nets so they can go home and sleep for a bit. And Jesus asks them to put out for a catch. They do it and all of a sudden there are more fish than you can shake a stick at. Luke tells us the boats were “so full that they began to sink” in verse 7. The word for “full” means they were filled to the brim. I don’t know how big these boats were. I do know they were fairly small, probably only large enough for the crew and their equipment. Nonetheless, this catch of fish is astounding. Jesus does something these men have been doing all their lives…and he’s a carpenter. In fact, He doesn’t really do anything but sit and watch.

It’s in the miraculous catch that Simon and his partners catch on that there’s something extraordinary about this teacher. And they follow him.

Most of you are thinking, “He’s given four points and talked about how they apply today. Now he’s talking about miracles. The buck stops here.” Why? Why does the buck stop here? Why do we get scared of miracles? Why do we doubt?

Maybe it’s because we’ve seen too many televangelists fake it. Maybe it’s because we’ve prayed and nothing happens. Or maybe it’s because we misunderstand the meaning of a miracle. I would say a miracle is anything that God does that we cannot do on our own. Could Peter and his crew have caught that many fish? Yes. But could they have caught them that day while their nets were on the shore being cleaned? No. This was a God-thing.

Last week we were on vacation and we traveled to Michigan with Jamie’s parents to see her grandfather. Before leaving they put Janet’s car in the shop for brake problems. And on the way up their van broke down. We had it towed and rented a truck. All in all, their costs for the day totaled $1100. That week, her dad went to work at the church and found an envelope in his mailbox with 11 one hundred dollar bills in it. If you think God doesn’t still do miracles…He just did one last week.

Here’s another miracle. Salvation. The gift God gave us in His Son to save us—something we cannot do on our own—is a miracle. You and I can testify to what God has done for us. We can tell others about how we were sinking deep in sin, far from God, only caring about ourselves, when God reached down and rescued us from our sin. That’s a miracle. You can bet Peter, James and John remembered that catch of fish. They never forgot what Jesus did that day. We too can tell our story to the world.

6. Jesus called Peter to do something—to catch men. I once heard of a preacher who said, “Too many Christians have moss growing on their butts. They don’t do anything.” Could this be because they aren’t expected to do anything? Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Come watch me do this again.” He said, “I caught you. Now you will catch others.”

The Greek word for catch used here is different than the ones used earlier in the passage. Those words mean to hunt, to lock up or to take as prisoner. They’re the normal words for catching fish. But Jesus’ word in verse 10 is different. It’s the word ζωγρέω. It means “to capture and keep alive.” You can see where this is heading. Before, Peter caught fish to kill them and sell them as food. Now he is called to capture men in order to keep them alive. This implies that these men could die. Jesus is saying, “There are dying men and women out there. And if you and I don’t get out to where they’re at, meet them on their home turf, preach the gospel in a relevant way, they’re gonna keep on dying.” And he says this will happen from now on. This is your occupation. You’re not a fisherman but a fisher of men. And there’s no Social Security or pension plan for this job. It’s a lifetime.

I have a question. What if hell is real? What if hell is a reality? What if there literally are men and women who die each day and go there? Now I have a second question. Do you care? Do you care?

Jesus has called us just like He called Peter. You may not know it, but the moment you said, “Jesus, be my Savior,” you said, “I’m fishing for men.”

My last question is this: Will you do it?

Gotta Have Clean Pipes

I preached this sermon about the importance of a holy lifestyle last Sunday. I credit Dr. Steve Lennox from IWU for the metaphor with the pipes. The situation at our home in Marion with pipes was true. Now I know why God allowed that nasty stench to invade our house! It was for this sermon.

Text: 1 Peter 1:13-25

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

If you knew you were only going to live for another year, what would you do? Some answers to that question could be:
· I would hug my wife and children for every moment.
· I would travel around the world.
· I would write out my will.
· I would write my autobiography to keep memories of me alive.
· I would spend money like there’s no tomorrow.
· I would do things I’ve always wanted to do, like skydive and bungee jump.
· I would make amends with my family and friends.

The Bible gives us an answer to this question that is radical to our thinking. Most people want to either tie up loose ends here or have as much fun here as possible before they die. Peter says the most important thing is to prepare for the life to come by how you live your life here.

Last Sunday we talked about God’s holiness and we even mentioned a few things about us being holy. What we said was that holiness is not the same thing as morality; it’s not your opinion on the issues that we taut so highly. It’s a heart-attitude that desires the heart of God.

He seems to suggest holiness matters because there is coming a day when Jesus will be revealed. Part of holiness is an understanding that the way I live today matters tomorrow. Not only do my actions affect those around me, they affect me when Christ returns.

When I think of Peter and Christ’s return, I think of John 21. John 21 tells the story of Jesus talking with Peter, the man who days before had deserted him. In a situation where one would expect Jesus to slam Peter, to get mad, Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter, of all people, knew that when Jesus returned He wouldn’t be out for blood from those who followed Him. He would, however, ask the tough questions.

Do you love me?

Peter says, “Yes, you know that I do.” And Jesus replies, “Take care of my sheep.” When Christ returns, He’ll ask the tough questions. And He’ll expect us to answer not only by saying, “I love you, Lord,” but also by saying, “I took care of your sheep. I loved your sheep.”

Peter says the second reason holiness matters is because God is holy. Verses 15-16 say, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” In this he is quoting Leviticus 11:44 or Leviticus 19:2. They’re both the same.

One commentator gives a good background for this statement made by God. He says, “There arose in Israel (this being at the time of Moses) an understanding of Yahweh quite unusual in the ancient world. Unlike the people around them, the people of the Lord came to view their God as alone, God. For their contemporaries it was a simple matter to add another god to an already well-populated pantheon, and no one was upset—not even the other gods. But this would never do in Israel, since Yahweh would allow no rivals. Any pretenders would only be impostors anyway, since only Yahweh was God. The term “holiness” is used to refer to this characteristic. God is unique, in a category by himself; He is the Holy One.”

God is the only God. All others are impostors. He has separated Himself from all other man-made gods as the only one. This is part of God’s holiness.

There is no mistake that right after God says, “Be holy because I am holy,” in Leviticus 11 that he goes on to talk about purification from meat, from sex and birth, from disease, from mildew, etc. God is not just setting up a bunch of rules. He’s saying, “As I am separate from all these other gods, so you are to be separate from all of their people.”

Now Peter brings it into the context of Jesus Christ being revealed, of His imminent return. He says you need to be holy in all you do. The Greek word for “do” means “behavior” or “lifestyle.” Your lifestyle should be holy. ALL you do should be holy.

Let’s stop there for a moment. All you do should be holy. That’s tough to swallow. Most of us hear that and think, “Yeah right. Maybe you pastor.”

Today I have two cups of water with me. I’m going to show them to you, and you tell me which cup of water you would drink. (One cup had clean water in it; the other had water with a mixture of ketchup, mustard and salad dressing that made the water turn puke orange. You can guess which cup they chose).

Why did you choose the cup you did? Why not drink out of the other one? It only has just a little bit of goop in it. I’m sure it would taste just as good. It is tempting for us to justify our sin by saying, “There’s only one area of my life I’m holding on to.” When we do that, we look like the gross water. God wants our whole lifestyle to be holy.

And just think, “God wouldn’t ask us to be holy in all we do if He wasn’t going to empower us to be holy.” God doesn’t make outrageous demands. God doesn’t delight in seeing us despair and fail over His standard of holy living. If He calls us to do it, He will empower us to do it.

Take riding a bike for example. How many of you taught your children how to ride a bike? What did you do? Did you say, “Hey Junior, go have fun. I’ll be here with the camera when you finally get it right”? No. You were out there holding onto the handlebars, helping your son/daughter steer. You picked them up when they fell and bandaged their knees. God doesn’t tell us to ride the bike without showing us how. It’s not like He’s asking us to learn advanced calculus when all we’ve had is basic addition and subtraction. Holiness is a real, possible lifestyle that God will help each one of us live if we let Him.

That word for lifestyle is repeated two more times in this passage. Once more in verse 17, and another time in verse 18. Peter says we need to be holy because Christ is coming back and because God is holy. He now tells us that holiness is a lifestyle, and explains more of what that lifestyle should look like in verses 17-21.

First, we should live here as strangers. Verse 17 literally reads, “Live in fear/respect of the temporal nature of your time.” Know that your time here is short. Jesus is going to be revealed. So don’t assume that you can wait until you’re in retirement to be holy. Holiness is not a part-of-my-life-style, it’s a lifestyle.

Second, this lifestyle is completely different from how we used to live. I’m going to read verses 18-19 because they are so important to understanding this. They say, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

Think of verses 18 and 19 as a timeline. Let’s draw it out. Take your bulletin and on the back where it says, “sermon notes,” draw a horizontal line. Below the line, write your name. In the middle of the line, above it, draw a dot and label it “redeemed.” On the left side of the dot, above the line, write the words, “empty way of life.” And on the right side of the dot, above the line, write the words, “holy way of life.”

Here’s what Peter is saying. He’s saying that everyone has lived an empty life. Another word used to translate this Greek word is “futile.” Our lives are futile before Christ redeems us. And to redeem us, He had to give something. But it wasn’t something perishable like gold or silver. It was with his own life and blood, something even more precious than gold and silver. Just as Israel had to kill perfect lambs to atone for their sins, Christ was a perfect person who became sin for us. He gave Himself to pay our ransom.

And after this point in time, we are able and called to live a holy life. No more futility and emptiness, but holiness.

Peter describes this lifestyle even further in verse 22: Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

When Jamie and I lived in Marion, IN we had our own home. And as those of you who own homes know, when something breaks, you have to fix it. Our basement was full of pipes. Pipes running along the ceiling, pipes along the walls, pipes everywhere. And all these pipes connected to the main pipe which ran underneath our house. This main pipe was accessible by a small hole in the cement floor. In a normal house, this would be no big deal. But this hole created such a stench in our basement. Whenever we would run the washer or flush the toilet, a small puddle would come up out of the hole. Those of you who know anything about plumbing have guessed what comes next: The main pipe was blocked. It had not been cleaned out for six years, the entire time the family before us had lived there. Needless to say, once we had the plumber come, everything was all right.

Verses 22 and 23 are like our pipes. You and I are each a pipe. And we need to be cleaned out, to be purified. If not, the water cannot run smoothly through. If we have not been purified, then our love does not flow freely. Our love gets mixed up with pride, selfishness, and those other evil desires of verse 14.

But what if we have a clean pipe but no water? I’ve got a pipe with me today. Looks nice doesn’t it? I’ll bet my pipe is the cleanest pipe in the whole building. So clean you could eat off it. But that doesn’t mean much unless my pipe has water flowing through it. My purity and desire for holiness means nothing if I don’t love other people. I may look nice, but really I become just as proud as I was before I was clean.

You have to have both. Clean pipes and water flowing.

But this isn’t just any water. This is good, clean (brand of water I have) water. Peter says they love each other with a brotherly love. They love those who are like them; their brothers. That’s pretty easy to do. These are people they’ve spent time with, prayed with, discipled in the Lord. Now Peter says it’s time to up the ante. Love one another deeply, from the heart. No longer is this a friendship-based love. This is a love that works through differences of opinion in how the church should look; that loves in spite of a slip of the tongue; that loves the drunk man coming to church for the first time, or the woman who has repeatedly stood outside the church doors screaming during a service because she hates Christians.

Love from the heart. That’s a lifestyle of holiness.

Loving from the heart. Being pure, with clean pipes and water flowing through them. Being redeemed and living opposite of the empty life before. Being holy because God is holy and because Jesus is returning.

As you leave today, there are small pipes for each of you marked with 1 Peter 1:22. Use them as a reminder of the call to live a holy life. And look at them when you think it’s impossible. Remember, God doesn’t ask us to do anything without empowering us to do it.

Spiritual Gifts: For the Common Good

I preached this sermon last Sunday as part of our emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I got sick halfway through writing it so I understand it is choppy. The only way I was able to preach it was through God’s Holy Spirit (seasonal allergies are at war with my nose and throat).

Text: 1 Corinthians 12

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This famous quote from our Declaration of Independence really means nothing. Equality is a sham. The status quo is actually status: who makes the most money, who has the right color of skin, who lives in the right neighborhood, who knows the right people, who lives in the right country, who believes the right things…these are measuring sticks used to size up our competition.

Today I’m not going to talk politics. If I ever do from the pulpit, tell me to sit down. Neither am I going to bash our society, though it could use a stern rebuke. We don’t expect our society to operate by the same standards as we do; it’s not a Christian society. The problem is when our societal norms become our church norms.

I’ve never heard these comments here, but they’re common in churches.

“He’s an usher. I wish I could be an usher.”

“I’m surprised she’s here today. I saw her car parked at the bar last night.”

“They’re on the leadership team. Why didn’t I get picked to be on it?”

“He’s black. Doesn’t he know they have churches for black people?”

“Did you hear about their kids? In trouble at school again. Such a shame.”

The questions we’ve been taught to ask in order to compare ourselves with others at school, work, or in our neighborhoods have permeated our churches. We’re more concerned about being better than others and we’ve forgotten what God thinks of us.

We’ve forgotten that God cares about each one of us the same.

Guess what? We’re not alone. There was a church in the New Testament that thought and acted the same way. It was the Corinthian Church.

Paul addressed this issue in his letter to them, 1 Corinthians. If you have a Bible, open it to 1 Corinthians 12. We’ll look at the whole chapter. Chapter 12 starts out:

Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore, I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit
(vv. 1-3).

Here is what Paul is dealing with. This is a group of believers who were arrogant and proud. They did not understand spiritual gifts though they thought they did. They cared little for one another, and chaos erupted just about every time they got together. They valued knowledge and wisdom above all else. They believed that those who knew more about God were special. They also thought that this knowledge led directly to speaking in tongues.

This created a dichotomy between those with knowledge/wisdom and tongues and those without. The superior Christians and the inferior Christians.

So Paul gives them a gut check. He says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about spiritual gifts.” This is really better translated, “spiritual things,” since the word just means pertaining to the spiritual realm. Paul’s sentence is a sarcastic rebuke to a bunch of people who thought they had it all together. Paul even acknowledges their prior experience in spiritual things in verse 2, how they had been led astray by idols. But really this is meant to say, “Hold on a second fellas. You have no idea what the Holy Spirit wants to do in you. Listen.”

He then gives them a spiritual litmus test: Those who speak by the Spirit cannot curse Jesus, and those who confess Jesus as Lord can only speak it through the Holy Spirit.

In a world like theirs, similar to ours, this litmus test was of utmost importance. With hundreds of gods to choose from, and everyone feeling like they’re a spiritual guru, this was and is one way to understand who’s a believer and who isn’t.

This litmus test had to come before Paul wrote about spiritual gifts. If they weren’t loving one another as Jesus commanded, they were in essence cursing Jesus. They claimed to speak by the Spirit (speaking in tongues) but were cursing Jesus by the way they took pride in their “spiritual arrival.” Paul needed to address the hypocrisy before teaching the truth about the Spirit and spiritual gifts.

Verses 4-6: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

His point is simple: To those of you who value tongues and knowledge so much, you’re missing out on everything else. There are many gifts, many types of service, and many types of workings. But only one God.

Spiritual gifts are only for the believer. Though Paul says God works them out in all men, we have to look at that in the context of what He is talking about. He just said they had been led astray by idols in their past. He just said that only people with the Holy Spirit can claim Jesus as Lord.

Verses 7-11: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

Paul’s basic point here is stated in verse 7: Spiritual gifts are given to each person for the common good. Each person receives a gift from the Spirit. It’s not something we can work for, not something only the spiritually elite have, and not something to be wasted or hoarded. Your spiritual gift is for the common good.

Yesterday we had the first “Fearfully and Wonderfully” Made class. And we talked about how wasting our gift is a sin. It is. Matthew 25 tells the story of the talents. The master went away on business, but before he left he gave his servants talents (money). One used the five to earn five more; another used the two to earn two more. But one buried his one talent in the ground, thinking his master would be proud of his shrewd business move. Instead his master rebuked him: “You wicked, lazy servant! You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

Paul here says that our spiritual gifts, given to us by the Spirit, are for the COMMON good. No burying or wasting. They’re for the body of Christ.

He goes on to illustrate his point in verses 12-26.

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

The metaphor of a body for a bunch of people was common. Except it was generally not used in this way. The secular world used it to keep people of lower social class in their place so they wouldn’t rise up against the powerful social class.

Paul pulls a 180, saying things like, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free,” transcending social classes. So instead of everyone trying to become the part of the body that was craved—the head—it was okay to be something else. Not just okay, but necessary.

If everyone is an eye, how can the body hear?

And here’s the point. There must be both diversity and interdependence within the body of Christ. You have to have eyes, ears, fingers, etc. that are different from one another, and yet they all depend on one another.

Your gift isn’t any more special than mine. Mine isn’t any more special than yours. I can’t be a Christian on my own; neither can you.

To summarize, let me give you ten truths about spiritual gifts.

Only believers have spiritual gifts.

Every Christian has at least one gift.

No one receives all the gifts.

No single gift is given to everyone.

You can’t work for a spiritual gift, or it wouldn’t be a gift.

The Holy Spirit decides what gifts I get.

Knowing and accepting the gifts given to me allows me to have an accurate view of myself and my part in Christ’s body.

I am to develop the gifts God gave me.

It is a sin to waste the gifts God gave me.

The purpose of my spiritual gift is to edify the Body of Christ.

Two Trees of the Spirit

It has been a while since I last posted a sermon. Here’s one to chew on for my one faithful reader (thanks mom).

Text: Galatians 5:16-26

Importance of Trees

Two trees. Just outside those windows stand two tall, strong pine trees. I’m guessing they’ve been there as long as this building has. To us they’re just trees. Perhaps they’re nice to look at and perhaps they’re good for shade, but other than that, those pine trees are simply that: trees.

In Biblical times, trees were more than just trees. Cedar and firs were prized and valuable trees that only grew in Lebanon. Willow trees grew along the Jordan River. Oak trees dotted the hills. Olive trees grew in groves.

Trees were also valued for their shade, making them an attractive place to pitch a tent. In a hot climate where walking was the main way of travel, a nice tree provided needed shade for the trip.

In other cultures, trees were places of worship. Some even represented the gods that were being worshiped at that location.

Trees were especially esteemed for their fruit. The Garden of Eden was stocked with trees for food. The Mount of Olives was useful for the oil extracted from the olives. This oil lit lamps.

And Jesus teaches that the tree is known by its fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. You will know a tree by its fruit.

In Revelation the New Jerusalem is described as having a river of life running through it with the tree of life beside it, bearing fruit for the healing of the nations.

Trees played an important role in culture and thought. It is no wonder then, that we hear Paul speak to us in imagery of trees when he describes how we ought to live as Spirit-led people.

Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about two trees. They are both essential to life as a Christian. Let’s look at Galatians to learn more about these trees.

Galatians 5:16-26: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The First Tree: Crucifixion

The first tree is found in verse 24. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” You may or may not see the tree at first. But it’s there. It’s in the word crucified.

Most of us are aware of what crucifixion is. It’s hanging someone on a beam of wood with their arms stretched apart to form a “T.” After a while they get tired of supporting themselves with their arms and legs and they slump. They then either die from asphyxiation or dehydration. Most people take at least 2 days to die if their legs aren’t broken.

Jesus died by crucifixion. He was also beaten and bruised. That’s probably why he died so quickly. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us how most people recognized crucifixion to be death on a tree. It says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Paul is saying that just as Jesus died on a tree, just as common criminals were executed by this type of death, so we must kill our sinful nature. If we claim allegiance to Christ, we kill the sinful nature on a tree.

Why? Look at verses 16-21 again. Verse 17 in particular says that the sinful nature and the Spirit butt heads. They’re in conflict with one another. One desires one thing and the other another.

When you and I disagree about something, the natural response is to talk it over. We would discuss why we have our convictions or opinions, and probably eventually agree to disagree. That would be the end of it. We would live together peaceably.

Paul says that is no option when it comes to the sinful nature. The sinful nature is our bent or propensity to sin. We’re just geared to sin against God and others. We’re bent on getting our own way and doing our own thing no matter what God or anyone else says.

And it’s not something we’re supposed to live with. Last week we talked about being made in the image of God. About how we couldn’t be fully restored in our perfect judgment or ruling the earth or interpersonal relationships; but we can be restored in our knowledge of God and our love for Him. Being fully restored means no more bent to sin. It means no more looking God in the face and giving Him the finger.

Paul describes the acts of the sinful nature as being obvious. They are fully evident, in plain view for all to see. And they are acts, something you do. When I hear this, it says these are common actions, actions that anyone can do—even a two-year old. It doesn’t take something special to have hatred or be selfish or get drunk or be sexually immoral. Anyone can do that, as long as they are living and breathing.

And as long as they allow their sinful nature to be living and breathing. The only solution, the only viable option if you want to live by the Spirit, is the first tree. The tree of crucifixion.

The Second Tree: You

Once you’ve done that, you’re on to the second tree. According to Paul the second tree is you. Just as Jesus spoke of a tree and its fruit, so Paul does as well.

By saying we produce fruit, Paul implies a few things:

1. The fruit of the Spirit is the natural byproduct of life in the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, etc. are not another set of laws to follow, nor a list of goals to meet. They flow out of a Spirit-led life. Verse 25 says we should keep in step with the Spirit. The image Paul has is of us walking in the exact footsteps the Holy Spirit has already walked before us. Friday Jamie and I volunteered at West School and took a field trip with the students. We walked to the Al Ringling Theatre to see Aladdin Jr. The kindergarteners had to walk in pairs, one after the other. They couldn’t turn around and go back to the school to go to the bathroom. When the teacher stopped at an intersection, they had to stop. No walking on the grass; stay on the sidewalk. This is what Paul means: keep in line and follow the Holy Spirit.

2. The fruit of the Spirit can only be produced by someone who has the Spirit living inside them. Though anyone can sin, only a Christian can love with agape; have true joy, peace that passes understanding, etc. Yes, non-Christians can display this “fruit” at times, but not without that tug-of-war with their sinful nature.

3. The fruit of the Spirit give us a glimpse of who the Spirit is and what He’s like. The Holy Spirit is perhaps the most misunderstood person of the Trinity. He’s also the person we focus the least on. Yet He’s living in us so we ought to know who He is. The fruit of the Spirit help us know Him.
4. We cannot produce any other kind of fruit. Verse 16 says that we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Paul uses a double negative in that verse, which means you will “no never” fulfill what the sinful nature wants you to fulfill. If you have crucified the sinful nature on the first tree, your tree will only produce Spirit-fruit. Some say that sin is a thing; it’s something that can be eradicated or taken out of you like you take a tumor out of a person. But what if sin wasn’t the presence of something bad, but was the absence of something good. What if it were the absence of the fullness of the Holy Spirit? That would mean the presence of the Holy Spirit in His fullness would be “the opposite” of sin. And the spiritual fruit produced as a result would be a mark of that fullness.

5. Producing the fruit of the Spirit is a two-way road. You are both walking with the Spirit and being led by the Spirit. You alone cannot produce spiritual fruit; nor can the Holy Spirit force you to. It’s easy to expect this to be an either/or rather than a both/and relationship. It’s easy for us to think, “I can love. I have peace. I’m self-controlled…when we don’t have the Holy Spirit leading us.” It’s also easy to think, “God will make me act this way. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I’ll leave everything else up to God.” Both are extremes and both are extremely false assumptions. The Spirit-led person must also walk with the Spirit.

6. There is no mention of exceptions. Paul doesn’t say this is only for some people. This is for everyone who claims to be in Christ Jesus, who sent us His Holy Spirit. You can’t say, “Well, I’m just not a kind person. I’m naturally bitter and keep to myself.” Though it takes time to produce fruit, especially in new believers, there are still no exceptions. No excuses.

Got the Trees?

Today I have two trees (they were lilac bushes) with me. The one on your left signifies the first tree: the tree of crucifixion. The one on your right signifies the second tree: the tree of fruit. Some of you need them.

You might say you’re a Christian, but for some reason when you compare your life to the fruit of the Spirit, they don’t match up. You’ve tried to live as best you can. You love God and want to live for Him, but sin still rules. You need to be able to say as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Or you look at the list of acts of the sinful nature and know that you fit one of them. Or maybe there’s a sin you’re ashamed of that’s not on the list. You know it’s wrong but aren’t yet willing to crucify it.

Or maybe this is all new to you. You always thought “I am a sinner and I always will be one.” Christ died to set you free from sin, and He wants to give you the fullness of the Holy Spirit today.

No matter who you are, pray that God’s Spirit would produce His fruit in you.

God Saves Part 1: Judgment

With no church Feb. 25th because of snow, I skipped preaching about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. On to a three-part miniseries on salvation. The idea is taken from Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. The book stretched me, and though I don’t agree with everything McLaren says, I like his way of putting a few keys words to God’s saving us.

The three words are judgment, forgiveness, and teaching. Here’s the sermon.

Text: Psalm 97

Introduction: A Broader, Fuller Understanding of Salvation

Salvation. What comes to your mind when you hear that word? Perhaps the day you accepted Christ as Savior. Maybe you think of forgiveness of sins and being able to go to heaven. Easter is coming up. The time when most of us are reminded of what Jesus did so we could be saved. Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn’t have to.

In Western Christianity, our tendency is to look at salvation as accepting or acknowledging Jesus’ death on the cross. In a moment in time, we cross over from death to life by accepting Christ as Savior. I affirm that. There is a time in each Christian’s life when he or she decides to follow Jesus. When I was five years old my parents knelt beside me at my bed and I prayed to accept Christ as Savior. I had a “born again” experience. I’m sure most of you can attest to the time you were saved.

But too often we look at our salvation experience, we hold it high in the air, like waving a championship trophy around, and we remember that day as the “day” God saved us. In doing that, we disregard what God had been doing prior to that. Maybe you were invited to church by a friend, and you had never been to church. You came for three months before accepting Christ. And during those three months your dad passed away. People of the church came to your family with meals and helped you out. Also during those three months, you saw how those people lived and acted differently, and you were convicted of sin. You had thought that all Christians were hypocrites and had judged them. You asked God to forgive you for that. And then one Sunday, you came to an altar of prayer. The tendency for us is to focus on the altar experience and forget the rest. God was saving you before you even knew it.

And too often we look at salvation as being salvation from hell and a pass into heaven. Salvation in the Bible never explicitly means this. Not once. Salvation simply means “rescue” or “deliver from destruction” or “get out of trouble.” That trouble could be war, famine, an enemy, poverty or something else. God repeatedly delivers His people from these types of things, like when He leads them out of Egypt to the Promised Land, or when an angel frees Peter from prison. God intervenes in order to rescue them from whatever it is. Sometimes He intervenes to save them from themselves, as He allows the Assyrians and Babylonians to carry Israel and Judah off to exile.

It’s like a story I read on cnn.com yesterday. A man snowmobiling in Montana came to an area where an avalanche was starting. He tried to beat it driving 80 mph but couldn’t. He tumbled off his snowmobile and laid face up in four feet of snow. He passed out thinking he would die. Eight hours later, his cousin finally found him. He made it out alive. This is the kind of rescue we’re talking about.

This doesn’t mean that salvation isn’t about going to heaven. That’s a sure thing. Jesus says to the thief that he will be in paradise, and at the Last Supper says He will drink the wine again with His disciples in His Father’s kingdom. Salvation is about going to heaven when you die. But that’s not the whole story.

Today marks the beginning of a miniseries of sermons about how God saves us. So we won’t necessarily be looking at things like putting our faith in Christ. Instead, we’ll see what God is doing for us to rescue us. Our goal is to get beyond relishing the moment of salvation to living the life of the saved.

Saved by Judgment

Brian McLaren, in his book A Generous Orthodoxy, says that God saves us primarily through three things. The first of those is judgment.

The first thing that most people think of when they hear “judgment” in church is hellfire and brimstone. Or they think of God damning all the sinners. Judgment to most people is seen as a negative thing. Our perception of God’s judgment is colored by the judgment we’ve received from others. I’m sure all of us can think back on moments when we’ve been judged. I remember first getting to Baraboo and hearing countless times (not from you) that I was so young to be a pastor. Most people didn’t mean anything by it, but I could sense that some were thinking, “He’s not only so young, he’s too young. And incapable and naïve and good luck.” These were Christians and non-Christians. I was being judged and it hurt.

I bet all of us, if we’re truly honest, can think of times we’ve misjudged other people. So the cycle goes on and on. We are judged and we misjudge. When God speaks to us about judgment, what is our natural reaction? Aagh! Flip the page. I’d rather read Song of Songs than that!

God says that judgment is not only necessary as part of this rescue process…it’s also a good thing. If you don’t believe me, turn to Psalm 97. We’ll see what judgment really is.

Psalm 97: “The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples will see his glory. All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols—worship him, all you gods! Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O LORD. For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.”

Judgment—A Good Thing

God’s judgment is a good thing. Just count how many times you see the word rejoice or be glad. I count five times. Two in verse 1, two in verse 8, and one in verse 12. Verse one says that the earth should be glad, and the distant shores rejoice. Both the earth and the distant shores are words referring to people of other nations. The Gentiles, the people who don’t know God, are supposed to rejoice. Why? Because the LORD reigns. The LORD is king, that’s what he’s saying. As a king reigns over his people, God reigns over all the earth. God’s reign is marked by two things: righteousness and justice. We see in verse three that they are the foundation of his throne.

God is righteous. Righteousness means knowing the way to walk and walking in it. It means knowing right from wrong and always choosing right. God is the One who holds the righteous standard. He’s always right and never wrong. He’s fair.

God is also just, a word also translated judgment. McLaren says, and this is printed in your bulletin, “But in the biblical context, judgment is generally a good thing. It means the coming of truth and justice into our deceived and oppressed world. If some bad and dishonest people are out to deceive or oppress others, God brings justice by bringing judgment—the natural consequences of their bad actions—on the evildoers so they are incapacitated and can’t fulfill the additional evil they intended.

If others are misjudging you, God comes as your vindicator, your justifier. God tells the truth, which exposes the lies of your misjudgers. Over and over again, biblical writers anticipate the day when God will come to judge evil, to expose it and permanently incapacitate it while vindicating good. They speak of this as a profound and joyful kind of salvation.”

Judgment is a good thing. God’s judgment is not like ours. It’s a way to stop those who are misjudging, who are oppressing, from doing more evil. And in this passage, it’s a way to stop people from worshiping idols. All the imagery about clouds and thick darkness, about fire and lightning and mountains melting is from Deuteronomy 4. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses recalls the days Israel was at Mount Horeb, standing at the foot of the mountain while Moses went up to hear from God. And Moses says the mountain blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep darkness. The LORD spoke to Israel out of the fire. They heard Him, but did not see a form. Moses then tells them that because they didn’t see a form, they should watch themselves carefully so they don’t make idols when they enter the Promised Land.

Idol worship ended up being Israel’s chief sin. Over and over we hear of kings worshiping Baal. We even see Israel make a golden calf at Mount Sinai. God had come to them in the darkness of the cloud telling them not to worship idols, and they did.

And so the second time he comes like this is for judgment: to stop them from doing this, from committing more evil acts, from oppressing their neighbors and neglecting the poor. All of the imagery from this psalm is used in the prophets to speak of God’s judgment on Israel and the nations for worshiping idols. They are put to shame, and the idols they worship are commanded to worship the LORD.

Again, before you start thinking this is a bad thing, look at verses 7-8.

All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols—worship him, all you gods! Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O LORD.

Here’s the result of God coming in judgment. Rejoicing. Judgment is a good thing. ALL PEOPLES see the glory of the LORD, for God is exalted above all gods. His judgment results in not only Israel praising Him, but also the nations of the world praising Him. All these people stuck in sin worshiping false gods are saved from this as God intervenes to rescue them.

I’ve told you this story before, and it’s worth telling again. My dad was working construction and fell off a roof, causing brain damage. He’s not the same dad I knew before. But what I haven’t told you is that before this accident, dad hadn’t been to church in years. He had a business deal go sour with a man from our church, a man who did not pay dad for work he did, and dad’s bitterness kept him from attending church. After the accident my dad renewed his commitment to Christ and has been faithful in church attendance. It makes him proud to see me pastoring.

I feel like God used my dad’s accident as a way of judgment. Through that, it caused my dad to see the truth, to quit holding the grudge, and to go back to church. Was it a bad situation? Yes. But a bad situation that rescued my dad from what could have been a total slide away from God.
Earlier, I mentioned reasons why we misunderstand what judgment is all about, or reasons why we de-emphasize it. I left one reason out. And that’s because God sent His Son to “be judged” for our sin. So we focus on the cross and on the forgiveness offered to us through it. But we mustn’t forget that judgment had to come first. Jesus was judged so we could be forgiven. Isaiah 53:4-5 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

God intervened through His Son to rescue us. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who judges us. His judgment is called conviction of sin. Without it, there can be no salvation, no forgiveness, no rescue.

So…judgment is a good thing. Ask yourself now, “What could God be judging me/convicting me of? Are there any idols in my life? Did I not listen to His voice from the think clouds of darkness the first time? Am I allowing Him to rule as King with righteousness and justice?”

Take this time to pray and ask God to convict you.

Now go with God, rejoicing in His saving judgment.

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