Saturday, September 29, 2007

“The substance and evidence of the soul”

Hebrews 11:1 – 8
“The substance and evidence of the soul”

Just after saying “But my righteous one will live by faith.” [Hebrews 10:38a], the Bible challenges us with historical examples.  The reason is: “Faith has always been the mark of God’s servants.” Matthew Henry

I.    Faith is the EYES of the soul.

    A.    What is faith and how does it work?

“Faith is a firm persuasion and expectation that God will perform all He promised to us in Christ.” [M.H.]

        1.    It is “being sure of what we hope for.”

            a.    KJV = “substance”

(Ill.) When you bake and the aroma fills the house.  You can smell the baking to the point were you can almost taste it.

            b.    Forward-looking confidence. (Future)

            c.    This means we will “We live by faith, not by sight.” [2 Corinthians 5:7]

        2.    It is being “certain of what we do not see.”

            a.    KJV = “evidence”

            b.    This is the demonstration or proof. (Past and present)

(Ill.) You can not see the wind but you can see and feel the effects.  You can not see oxygen but you breath it and benefit from it all the time.

            c.    It is irrational to disregard faith or think it is opposed to reason. 

(Ill.) Everyday we exercise faith.  Why do you use a light switch? (You believe it will turn the light on or off.)  Why do you use a key in your car? (You believe that it will start your car.)

    B.    Why is faith the foundation?

“Faith assumes the place of substance... faith holds the place of argument.” (Dante)

        1.    Faith allows us to have God’s “seal of approval.”

            a.    “This is what the ancients were commended for.” [v 2]

            b.    It stands to reason they are examples, if faith was honored then, it is honored now.

        2.    Faith understands the true place and nature of God.

            a.    The existence of a Creator is the foundation of faith.

            b.    A Creator means undisputed right of ownership. 

(Ill.) If you make something, it is yours.  If you design something, you own that design (assuming someone else has not created that design).

            c.    A Creator means undisputed authority.

(Ill.) If you design something and make it, you probably understand it better than someone else.  When God says, this is the way it works and this is the way it doesn’t... the created cannot dispute it.  It’s why you check the “owner manual” when you have a question or problem.

            d.    A Creator means undisputed power.

                1.)    “Formed at God’s command” [v 3b]

                2.)    God did not have to use tools, process, etc... God spoke.

“Faith in the creation is the foundation and specimen of all faith.” [John Wesley]

***** Another way to say this is if you do not believe in a Creator, you do not believe in God. *****

II.    Faith is the HEART of the soul.

    A.    Able’s example (He humbled himself before God):

        1.    “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” [v 3a]

        2.    What was different/special about Abel’s sacrifice?

            a.    It was the best of the best.  (“But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” [Genesis 4:4]) We can see, the difference is ATTITUDE.

            b.    It was a blood sacrifice.

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
[Hebrews 9:22]

                1.)    In other words the blood sacrifice reflected the penalty for sin and the need for mercy.  It reflected (set the precedent) the atonement of future blood sacrifices.

                2.)    “Able had faith in the blood substitute while Cain had faith in the work of his own hands.” [Jack Waite]

    B.    The result of Able’s faith:

        1.    Able died...

            a.    Many people today are under the hatred and persecution unleashed by Cain.

            b.    It is said that more people have died for Jesus in the last 10 years than in the history of the world.

        2.    Able still speaks.

            a.    We see the early and extreme degradation what sin does to a person.  (And are horrified by murder.)

            b.    We see a clear distinction between righteousness and sin.

III.    Faith is the FEET of the soul.

    A.    Enoch’s example (He earnestly sought God):

        1.    Enoch had a special connection with God.  He “pleased God.” [v 5c]

            a.    “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” [Genesis 5:24]

            b.    Enoch was also a prophet who saw the return of Jesus. [see Jude 1:14]

        2.    Other than that, we know very little about Enoch.

    B.    The result of Enoch’s faith:

        1.    Enoch did not die.  (This only happened twice.  Enoch and Elijah.)

        2.    Enoch’s example is that of seeking God. [v 6]

            a.    Enoch sought God, and the result of that was a special walk (holiness) with God (at a level none of us will ever know).

            b.    The image is that of Adam and Eve walking with God in the Garden of Eden... Enoch did not have the Garden but he did walk with God.

IV.    Faith is the HANDS of the soul.

    A.    Noah’s example (He obeyed God):

        1.    Noah, when warned built an ark.

            a.    Context: it had never rained, never flooded.

            b.    Noah’s confidence was that God would do what He said... The word of God was sufficient to move Noah to action.

        2.    What else do we know about Noah?

            a.    “This is the account of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” [Genesis 6:9]

                1.)    Here was someone who also “walked with God.”

                2.)    He was called “righteous” and “blameless” by God as a contrast to the people of his day.

            b.    “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” [Genesis 6:22]

                1.)    Obedience and attention to the details are a mark of faith.

                2.)    God spoke, Noah acted on what God said.

            c.    2 Peter 2:5 “a preacher of righteousness.”

                1.)    Imagine preaching for 120 years and having nothing more than your family to show for it...

                2.)    Building and arch and preaching must have been humiliating.

    B.    The results of Noah’s faith:

        1.    He saved his family and condemned the world (which is the real reason people fear the faithful).

        2.    “Good examples either convert sinners or condemn them.” [M.H.] “Your obedience makes their disobedience stand out.” [LAB]

        3.    We love to talk about the mercy and kindness of God (which are true) but sometimes we God’s intention is to bring severe justice.

            a.    Isaiah’s call: “He said, "Go and tell this people: `Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'  Make the heart of this people calloused;  make their ears dull and close their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” [Isaiah 6:9 – 10]

            b.    Jeremiah’s call: “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.” [Jeremiah 1:18]  “When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer.” [Jeremiah 7:27] 

            c.    Ezekiel’s call: “But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate.” [Ezekiel 3:7]

            d.    Moses’ call: “The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” [Exodus 4:21]

V.    Faith is the BREATH of the soul.

    A.    Abraham’s example (When called, he did not hesitate):

        1.    When called, he went. [v 8]

        2.    Abraham knew it was right to follow even if he did not know the direction, destination, or duration of what God was asking.

    B.    The result of Abraham’s faith:

        1.    He gave up what was secure and familiar.

        2.    He gave up what was most precious (Isaac) [see Genesis 22]

        3.    His going became “the first link in the golden chain of his faith.”

        4.    He was never hesitant to obey God.


1.    What has captured your eye and holds your attention?

2.    What has captured your heart and directs where your energies are focused?

3.    What has captured your feet and directs your habits and what/who you are seeking?

4.    What has captured your hands and motivates your affections?

5.    What has captured your breath and gives you the confidence to never hesitate to obey God?

Never forget, Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham were ordinary people... just like you. 

“Many Christians become frustrated and defeated because their needs, wants, expectations, and demands are not immediately met when they accept Christ as Savior.  They become impatient and quit.” [LAB]

***** Where do you start? *****

1.    Recognize there is spiritual distance between you and God.  This gap is created and maintained by sin.  It separates us from God and spawns suspicion and distrust about God, the church, God’s messengers.

2.    The only solution for closing this spiritual distance is through faith in God’s character (love and mercy) and desire (grace) to save you through the blood of Jesus.

3.    You are at this point because God is waking you up from your sin, you now have a choice.  Will you go back to the sleep of your sin or wake fully to the new life God is offering you through Jesus?

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Joy through Understanding

Nehemiah 8:1 – 3, 8 – 12
“Joy through Understanding”

This is a remarkable story where the people cam expecting joy, responded by weeping, and ended up celebrating.

Ezra read to those who a.) Could understand [v 3], b.) Listened carefully [v 3], c.) and worshiped the Lord [v 6].

The people had been in exile for 70 years, cut off from Jerusalem (the focal point of their religion). Now they were gathered together. For 70 years they were unable to practice their religion. Probably most of them were ignorant of the book of the Law.

They gathered together and asked (demanded) for the Law to be read to be “brought out.” They were hungry for God to speak to them. This was an exciting time of possible revival.

IN ALL PROBABILITY, they had no idea what they were getting into.

I. Understand is not necessarily a comfortable thing.

Ezra and the priests did four things: a..) They read from “Book of the Law” (first five books of the Bible), b.) They made it “clear.” c.) They gave the meaning. d.) They helped them understand (gave application).

A. Hearing from God can be DIFFICULT.

1. It may not be what you expect.

a. Ever pray for something and have the answer come back, “no, I have something better?” (Usually exactly what we did not what to happen.)

b. Ever been reading the Bible and something just jump out at you and grab you so much that you could not escape the thought. (Usually something you don’t want to do.)

2. It may not be what you want.

a. Nobody wants surgery or chemo unless the natural course is worse than the treatment.

b. The treatment for sin is radical: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” [Matthew 5:30]

1.) JESUS WAS NOT SAYING TO DO THIS!!! What Jesus was saying was that sin was serious and needed to be seriously dealt with.

2.) Problem is we tend to be comfortable with sin.

B. Understanding God can be DEVASTATING.

1. Understanding God puts you in a different light.

a. We think we are “good people.” (By our standard, maybe we are.)

b. Trouble is the Bible describes us like this: “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; [11] there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. [12] All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. [13] Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. [14] Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. [15] Their feet are swift to shed blood; [16] ruin and misery mark their ways, [17] and the way of peace they do not know. [18] There is no fear of God before their eyes.” [Romans 3:10 – 18]

2. Understanding brings either godly sorrow or anger directed at God.

a. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Corinthians 7:10]

b. Many times when we understand we get angry... typically at the messenger.

3. Understanding “puts the question” to our lives.

a. “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:10]

b. “As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. [3] For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do.” [1 Peter 4:2 – 3a]

C. Understanding how to apply God’s Word can be DAUNTING.

1. “Application” is the main source of error. Worse yet, application can become theology.

a. Example: the desire to be holy applied can lead to a trust in works.

b. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. [2] I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? [3] Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” [Galatians 3:1 – 3]

2. The gap between home brewed theology/expectations and divine ones may be a “guilt trip” used to control or abuse God’s people. [See Arterburn and Felton “Toxic Faith”]

3. Worse yet, the gap between what you think you can do and what you think God is asking may see too large.

***** Misunderstanding causes irreconcilable sorrow. *****

II. How do we resolve the difference?

A. Some people “give up.”

1. They may have cried because they knew they “couldn’t.”


3. The point behind “grace:” if you can do it yourself then you wouldn’t depend on God. The only way you knew it was going to happen is because of God... you’ve got nothing to lose by trying.

Example: Imagine Joshua trying to justify walking around the city of Jericho to the news media. I can see the news brief now, “Please be patient. This is not my plan, it’s God’s. The idea is to walk around the city until God’s appointed time. When that time is here, God will make things happen.”

B. Some create an excuse...

1. We develop a reason “why” which is a “white tiger.”

2. Some have called this the “gospel of success” or the “escalator theory.”

a. The core belief is that “humans are god.” We control our own success or failure by “doing.”

b. The idea is that if we take the right step then the “escalator” will take us where we want to be.

c. If we don’t succeed, then there is a REASON or PURPOSE. In other words, a “white tiger.”

***** Another way to understand “reason” or “purpose” is our concept of “blame.” *****

C. Some might feel discouraged.

1. We call this “information overload.”

2. We are overwhelmed with the contrast between God and us.

III. Crisis leads to decisive choice.

A. Here’s the picture:

1. The people clearly understood and were weeping (mourning) [v 9]

a. At this point they could choose to resist God.

b. They could choose to look on the dark side.

2. The people needed to learn a lesson: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” [v 10]

a. Yes, there are dark times, there are cycles when things do not go well, there is pain and hardship.

b. Reality: all creation is under the “curse.” The curse is a spiritual law just like gravity is a physical law.

B. The decision was this:

1. [v 10] “Go and celebrate!”

a. Celebrate with choice food, sweet drinks, sharing gifts...

b. This is New Years (new beginning), Easter (resurrection hope), Thanksgiving, and Christmas (God’s gift) rolled into one.

2. WHEN you hear God speak:

a. Respond appropriately... if you need to humbly repent, do it.

b. But when you truly understand, you will then respond appropriately by celebrating.

“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” [v 12]

People who are not God’s DO NOT HEAR when He speaks.

“Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." [29] The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” [John 12:28 – 29]

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” [1 Corinthians 2:14]

IV. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

A. We weep because we are weak and we do not understand.

1. That’s ok... it’s a start.

2. That weakness drives us to dependence on God.

a. Quit blaming. (This is how we are trained.)

b. Open your heart to understanding. (Spiritual discipline.)

1.) Fact: you can have your heart’s desire but have a sick soul. [Psalm 106:15]

2.) You can take the Promised Land with God’s promise and blessing but be pointless without God’s presence. [Exodus 33:1 – 3, 15 – 16]

3. It is in that weakness when God gives us “grace.”

B. We understand God’s grace has nothing to do with us.

1. God used the “foolish” and the “weak.” [1 Corinthians 1:27 – 31]

a. God used a single mom as the mother of the Messiah. [Matthew 1:18]

b. God made the one who would die for the sins of this world a homeless man. [Matthew 8:20]

c. God used a cross to win the ultimate war for our souls. [Colossians 2:14 – 15]

2. [v 12] “they understood the words” and the result was joy. Why?

a. Because joy is the natural reaction of God’s people to His presence (after they get over the shock and do the business necessary).

b. Because joy is the natural reaction of God’s people to His unfailing love.

c. Because joy is the natural reaction of God’s people to His voice.

(Ill.) The dog listening to the Gramophone... the caption: “His Masters Voice.”

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Joy in Anxious Patience

Habakkuk 3:17 – 18
Joy in Anxious Patience.

B.T. Roberts (founder of the Free Methodist Church) wrote about “anxious patience.” The idea is a call for patience in anxious times and circumstances. We are good at “anxious” (experiencing worry or uneasy – Oxford) but struggle with “patience” (the capacity to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without becoming angry or upset – Oxford).

I. Joy is demonstrated in “worst case” scenarios.

(Ill.) There is a series of books that have spun off to a punk rock group, a punk rock song, and a game show called “Worse case scenarios.” The series covers everything from life, to work, to golf. They include things like how to survive an elephant stampede, escape from a charging rhino, how to avoid a vampire attack, how to cross between buildings on a wire, and how to steer your bike down a rock face [The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Extreme Edition]

A. The experience of the “average” American has not been “worst case.”

1. In fact we live in relative prosperity.

a. According to the United Nations, the average annual income in Congo (largest FMC) is between about $600 and $1300 in 2006.

b. If you lived in Burundi (FMC is larger than the USA’s church), you would make between about $600 and $750 in 2006.

c. Or if you were fortunate, you might find yourself in Rwanda (another larger FMC than the USA’s church) and have earned around $1100 to $1500

2. We live in relative comfort. (Just take the issues of water and sanitation.)

a. Did you know that 1 million children die because of a lack of clean water and proper sanitation? []

b. World wide, 1.2 billion do not have access to safe water and 2.6 are without sanitation. []

B. Habakkuk is suggesting a “what if” worst case scenario.

1. If... * ... then would God be enough?

a. Maybe we have become too addicted/dependant on our prosperity and comfort to understand real joy.

b. Joy, like peace, is not the absence of difficult and sorrow. It is a core discipline of the Christian life that moves us past circumstances into the presence of God.

N 2. Case study: Paul.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. [8] Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. [9] But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. [10] That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
[2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10]

a. Paul had “everything.”

1.) He was converted on the road to Damascus when Jesus stopped him.

2.) He was appointed as an Apostle to Gentiles.

3.) He had a very strong influence on the church and on Christian theology.

4.) He had a special vision where he was taken up into heaven.

5.) He performed miracles including raising someone from the dead. (Who had fallen asleep in one of his sermons...)

b. Paul also had a “worst case scenario.”

1.) He may have been very sick.

2.) He may have been under demonic oppression or attack.

3.) He described it as “a messenger (literally “angel”) of Satan.”

4.) Whatever it was, it was “torment.” Paul was being harassed.

c. This “worse case” taught Paul some valuable lessons.

1.) It taught him humility.

2.) It taught him that God says “no, I love you to much” and “no, I have something better for you.”

3.) It taught him that his true strength came in weakness. It is under those times of stress, pain, and suffering that we learn to depend on God.

4.) He discovered the “ultimate” theological truth. God’s grace is sufficient.

a.) We “need” nothing more.

b.) We do not need prosperity or comfort.

c.) We do not need demonstrations of power or excellence of leadership.

d.) We need Jesus, we need the presence of God, we need God’s grace.

This drove Paul to his knees. Prayer is the time we are closest to God (not in an emotional high experienced in a worship service). Prayer is the thing the devil fears the most because its where and when the battle gets taken to him. Prayer is when we dig down to the bedrock of our souls and build to profound spiritual disciplines that shape us.

II. Real joy demonstrates profound spiritual discipline.

A. “Faith brings a living joy.” B. T. Roberts.

1. Once we realize circumstances are temporary, a whole new way of life opens up.

(Ill.) Mark Lowery’s favorite “verse.” “And it came to pass.”

a. The past does not hold power over us through regret.

b. The present does not hold power over us through bitterness.

c. The future does not hold power over us through wishful thinking.

2. B. T. Roberts noted this progression:

a. We forget the value of our salvation.

b. We become “deprived” an lose “much comfort by always looking at the dark side.”

c. As a result we begin to “anticipate (expect) the worst.”

B. What tools to we have to help us in this spiritual discipline?

1. We have “hope.” “For in this hope we were saved.” [Romans 8:24a]

The Greek word we translate “hope’ is “elpis” and literally means “confident expectation.” It is often translated “trust.” Romans 15:13 describes God as the “God of hope” meaning He is the origin of hope. [Vines]

2. We have “patience.”

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” [Habakkuk 2:3]

a. Patience requires that we trust God’s appointed time.

b. Patience requires constructive waiting.

C. When you get to the bedrock of our soul, do you see Jesus? Are you building on Jesus, the immovable Rock of Ages? [The following comes from a song from “Heart of the City.”]

1. Jesus had no beginning and will have no end.

2. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

3. Jesus made everything.

4. Jesus left the glory of heaven because He loves us.

5. Jesus humbled Himself on the cross, knowing those He was dying for would turn away from Him.

6. Jesus died on the cross, but rose from the grave, just as He said.

7. Jesus will return, just like He said.

8. Jesus will judge the living and the dead.

9. At Jesus’ name, every knee will bow and every tongue confess [Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10 – 11]

10. Jesus blood can cleanse everyone and anyone who turns to Him now.

11. Jesus is holy, Jesus is King, Jesus is LORD.

***** Now that is joy! Real joy is a demonstration of living faith. *****

III. Real joy is demonstrated through constant relationship.

A. It all starts with our relationship to God.

1. “No Jesus, no (joy). Know Jesus, know (joy).”

a. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” [Hebrews 12:2 – 3]

b. The joy of that relationship is what gets us through those hard times. It keeps us from growing weary. It keeps us from losing heart. It follow’s Jesus’ example.

2. As bedrock, that relationship naturally produces joy.

a. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, [9] for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” [1 Peter 1:8 – 9]

b. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness and self-control.” [Galatians 5:22 – 23a]

B. How are we to practice all this? [Psalm 13 give us “CPR”]
1. Do you feel like COMPLAINING?

a. David did... He wrestled with his thoughts.

b. He had reason to say “every day (I) have sorrow in my heart”

2. Then PRAY.

a. David understood that God delights when we struggle with life in prayer.

b. David prayed. “Look on me and answer.”

As David struggles in prayer, he learns something.

2. Learn to REJOICE.

a. Despite his troubles, David acknowledges that God has been good to hin.

b. Even in troubles, David will not let go of trusting God and God’s unfailing love.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Follow in His steps

I Peter 2:21 – 25
“Follow in His steps”

During World War II, planes would come and go on the small islands in the south Pacific.  The planes would often be cargo planes that carried food and other provisions.  The supplied troops moving through the area and helped local people.  After the war the cargo planes stopped but they made such an impression on some people that they began to worship the cargo planes.  These became known as “cargo cults.”  The expression became a tag for religious systems where people worshiped in hopes of getting something...

It is possible, American Christianity has become a cargo cult.  We “name it and claim it.”  We search for “purpose” to make our life meaningful.  We enjoy “emotional experiences” and say they bring us closer to God.

Peter says: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  In other words, we are called to “follow in His steps.”  The steps of Christ’s example can be in one word.  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” [1 Peter 1:15]

We are called to be holy.  We are called to follow Jesus’ example.  In other words, holiness is not an option... its who and what a Christian is.

I.    To follow in His steps means to take Jesus seriously.

    A.    Reality: we live in a “whatever” generation.

        1.    Our culture has difficulty taking anything seriously.

            a.    We have a deep-rooted belief that somehow, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

            b.    It’s how we can be can be so nonchalant and uninvolved in political issues.

        2.    When it comes to religion, our culture is very smorgasbord oriented.

            a.    We absorb and incorporate all sorts of belief systems, often contradictory.

            b.    For instance, define “success.”  Now think, was Jesus successful... by our definition.

    B.    Lets look at Jesus’ example of success:

        1.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree...” [1 Peter 2:24a]

            a.    Jesus was betrayed by a close friend and follower.

            b.    Jesus was tried, possibly illegally.  Falsely accused.  Convicted by His own words.  (It’s why we have the “right to remain silent.”)

            c.    Jesus was beaten, mocked, scourged (whipped so that the flesh was torn from His back), clothed in a purple robe (later removed, causing more bleeding), crown of thorns crushed on his head.

            d.    It became a public circus.  Jesus was forced to carry is own cross through the crowded streets of Jerusalem.  He was stripped.  His hands and feet nailed to the cross.

(Ill. “Passion of Christ” movie... graphically depicts the gruesome brutality of crucifixion.  But was no where near the reality.  Isaiah paints this picture: “his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” [Isaiah 52:14b,c] In other words Jesus was so disfigured and marred that someone watching could not tell there was a human hanging on that cross.)

            e.    David, in Psalm 22 describes these details:

                1.)    “All my bones are out of joint.” [Psalm 22:14b]

                2.)    “My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” [Psalm 22:15b]

                3.)    “They have pierced my hands and my feet.” [Psalm 22:16c]

                4.)    “I can count all my bones.” [Psalm 22:17a]

        2.    How was this success?

            a.    “ that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2:24b]

            b.    Jesus’ suffering brings healing from sin.  (The “double cure.”) His death means we can die to sin.  His resurrection means we have the power to live for righteousness.

(Ill. Count Zinzendorf, who was a key to the Moravian movement, once walked past a painting of the crucifixion.  Under the painting, someone had added a caption.  It said, “All this for thee; how much for me?”)

II.    To follow in His steps means to recognize Jesus authority in all of life.

    A.    Jesus is the template (a pattern for a processes such as cutting out, shaping, or drilling... a model or example. – Oxford)

        1.    Everything is measured by Jesus and everything must conform to Jesus example.
            a.    The expectation is “die to sins.” (First expectation.)

            b.    It is one thing to believe Jesus died for our sins and another to die to our own sins.

(Ill. A man wanted to climb down a dry well.  Thinking he had enough rope, he got to the end of the rope and discovered he was not at the bottom.  He struggled to climb out of the well but couldn’t.  Finally as exhaustion set in, the rope slipped out of his hands.  As he got to the end of his rope, he fell... all of three inches.)

        2.    “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” [1 Peter 1:23]

            a.    If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, it makes a difference.  You become “born again.”  Sin is in your past, so put it away and don’t go back to the old life.

            b.    “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” [1 Peter 2:11]

                1.)    Trouble is that we get “war weary.”

                2.)    It is just easier to give in to the sinful desires.

    B.    Ultimately to be a “Christian” means to be a follower of Christ... it means the cross.  Jesus put it this way:

        1.    “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Mark 8:34]

        2.    “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]

        3.    “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” [Luke 14:27]

III.    To follow in His steps means to obey Him.

    A.    Jesus is our template.

        1.    Everything is measured by Jesus and everything must conform to Jesus example.
            a.    The expectation is “live for righteousness.” (Second expectation.)

            b.    “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” [1 Peter 2:12]

        2.    The idea is this: that “good lives” will be such an example that those who do not believe will believe.

            a.    People cannot see Jesus, but they can see you.

            b.    While we will be judged by the template of Jesus, others are judging Jesus by your life.

(Ill.  Ever see the painting “the Mona Lisa?”  I have never seen the actual painting, I have seen reproductions of some sort in books.  These reproductions are the only thing that tells me what the real painting is like.  The Christian, follow Jesus, is the only thing that tells others what the real Jesus is like.)

    B.    So, how do we make this happen?

        1.    “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. [2] As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” [1 Peter 4:1 – 2]

            a.    It starts with ATTITUDE. (A settled way of thinking or feeling – Oxford)

            b.    It takes COURAGE. (The ability to do something that frightens one... strength in the face of pain or grief.  – Oxford)

(Ill. The “hero” is not the one who knows they can do something and charges forward.  A hero is someone who, despite fear, pain, or grief tries anyway.]

            c.    It takes DETERMINATION.  (Firmness of purpose. – Oxford)

        2.    If we take Jesus seriously, then we must recognize His authority (template) in all of life.  If we recognize His authority then we are going to obey Him.

*****Do you obey Jesus?  Do you recognize Jesus authority? Do you take Jesus seriously?*****

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ritual's connection to joy

Leviticus 9:1 – 7, 22 – 24
Ritual’s connection to joy

In the first mention of joy in the Bible, we can learn some important lessons.  These may cut against the grain of our cultural conditioning, but they are important if we want to experience the presence of God.  When I talk about “presence,” I mean “a person or thing that is present but not seen.” [Oxford]

I.    Ritual can reveal the glory of God.

“Then Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.”
[Leviticus 9:6]

[Context: the ordination of Aaron and his sons... the beginning of sacrificial system.]

    A.    Ritual, routine, and religious exercise has a purpose.

        1.    Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” instructed people on how to find purpose in life.

        2.    Ritual, routine, and religious exercise is designed to make life easier and comfortable.

    B.    Most of life is ritual, routine, or religious exercise.

        1.    What do you do when you get out of bed every morning?  Probably the same thing...  You have a routine.

            a.    Breaking the routine can cause tension or throw everything off...

            b.    We even use the explanation for a bad day as “getting out of the wrong side of bed.”

            c.    Routine saves emotional energy; we don’t have to think about what to do next or where to find what.

        2.    What do you do when you get into your car to drive someplace?  Probably the same thing... You have a ritual.

            a.    Breaking the ritual may mean that the seat or mirror is not adjusted properly.

            b.    Most “accidents” occur when we break our rituals... we become “careless” and miss something important (like not being in control of the car due to speed, distraction, or intoxication.

        3.    What do you do when you encounter something uncomfortable, unfortunate, or beyond understanding?  Probably the same thing... You have a religious exercise.

            a.    Some people use vulgarity, minced oaths, taking the Lord’s name in vain.  (Notice that in American society we don’t use other names, like Satan, Michael Moore, Buddha, Mohamed, etc...?)

            b.    Some people resort to prayer.  (AFA reported that on a Simpson’s episode, Lisa notice Bart praying for a chance at a much needed passing grade and remarked, “Prayer the last refuge of the rascal.”  The actual line, a sad commentary on Christians, was “Prayer, the last refuge of the desperate.”)

    C.    Typically when religious exercise and ritual are mentioned, we think “dull,” “mindless” or “boring.”

        1.    Thinking something is boring is actually a bad attitude.

            a.    We admit we are not intelligent enough to get something of worth out of what is happening.
            b.    Typically the feeling of “boring” is a criticism... generally of something we don’t like or want.

        2.    Reality check: We all have things that make life easier, simpler, and more comfortable... they are called ritual, routine, and religious exercise.

            a.    Do you have to think about were your tooth brush is or your car keys?

            b.    If you have to think about where your car keys are, you are probably stressed at the moment...

        3.    Moses tells the people that the glory of the God will “appear.”

            a.    The word “appear” in the Hebrew means “to see” and carries the idea of experience...

            b.    In other words, God can be seen in the ordinary or extraordinary religious ritual, expression, or exercise.

II.    The earnest pursuit of God can reveal the presence of God.

    A.    When we do something by ritual we do them out of some sort of expectation.

        1.    Like we expect to know where the tooth brush is, or like we expect to enjoy a certain food...  When we practice a religious ritual or religious exercise, we expect something to happen.

            a.    What you expect is usually what you see and experience.

            b.    If you prepared your self to expect God to speak to you through something that happens in church today, it will happen... subtly or strongly.  (Or vice-versa)

        2.    When we participate in the ritual of communion (the Lord’s Supper) we expect some things to happen.

            a.    It gives us a chance to “truly and earnestly repent.”  Which clears our conscience and makes us feel clean before God.

            b.    We expect God to “make us strong and faithful in all goodness.”  Which acknowledges we are dependant on God to do and be...

            c.    We participate, knowing that our self-confidence, self-righteousness is unacceptable to God...  It is only by His mercy that we participate in the new covenant we remember and celebrate.

    B.    Expectations tend to be emotional.

        1.    We tend to believe what we want to based on what we feel (or are trained).

            a.    Here is the issue of comfort.  There are some practices in some churches that are uncomfortable to me.

                1.)    I don’t like a service that seems unstructured or casual.  It comes across as not being serious about being in the presence of God.

                2.)    I don’t like a service that has lots of symbolism.  I don’t know the symbols so I don’t know what’s happening.

            b.    We tend to feel what we believe... (self-explanatory)

        2.    The problem is that emotions happen to us and we do not subject emotions to examination.

            a.    So ritual, routine, and religious exercise can become meaningless.

            b.    Meaningless happens when we miss the presence of God.

III.    Joy and worship is the response to the presence of God.

    A.    There is a spiritual movement that occurs when we encounter God.

        1.    The initial reaction is RESISTANCE.

            a.    We are made uncomfortable by truth.

                1.)    We may have to deal with sin in our lives.

                2.)    We may have to admit our inadequacy.

            b.    Our intentional movement through life, (ritual, routine, and religious exercise) becomes disturbed when we encounter the one we earnestly seek.

                1.)    If our ritual, routine, and religious exercise is designed to help us encounter God, why would be resist that encounter?

                2.)    It happens when our ritual, routine, and religious exercise becomes and end in itself to keep us comfortable.

        2.    A choice is made to REPENT.

            a.    Repent does NOT just mean we change our minds.  (Changing our minds is an important part of repentance, but it is not the full picture.)

                1.)    Four frogs are sitting on a log.  Two decide (want to, feel like, change their mind about being on the log) to jump off.  How many frogs are on the log?  ANSWER: Four.  Deciding, want to, feeling like, changing the mind is not the same as jumping off the log.

                2.)    Some people think that right thinking (teaching) leads to right living.  [Ever do something you KNEW was wrong?  You thought right but you lived wrong.]

            b.    The Biblical model of repent includes “to turn.”

                1.)    When we repent we TURN AWAY from something, in this case it is sin.  This is “godly sorrow.”

                2.)    When we repent we TURN TOWARD God.  This is joy.

            c.    We enter into an exchange.

                1.)    We exchange our sin (guilt, consequences, pain, problems) for Christ’s righteousness (forgiveness, salvation, joy)

                2.)    We replace the bad with the good...  (Greed is replaced by generosity.  Lust is replaced by unconditional love.  Bitterness is replaced by the freedom of forgiveness.  Complaining is replace by encouragement.... etc...)

        3.    We begin to REORIENT our behavior and attitudes.

            a.    The key word is “obedience.”

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, `Son, go and work today in the vineyard.'  `I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, `I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?"  "The first," they answered.  Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
[Matthew 21:28 – 31]

            b.    We are transformed.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [Romans 12:2]

        4.    The RESULT is the presence of God.

        5.    The RESPONSE is joy and worship.

    B.    The question is where are you in this line of movement?

IV.    Realizing that God is always present comes from the discipline of joy.

    A.    We have to deal with obstacles.

        1.    “It is easier to let God’s law convict than to let God’s gospel set you free.” [Mike Mason]

            a.    We are conditioned to be “guilt collectors.”

            b.    (Ill.) One of my earlier churches insisted that I had not preached unless I had offended and humiliated someone.  They called it “stepping on someone’s toes” and “meddling” as terms of endearment.

        2.    What are the obstacles?

            a.    The GUILT of your own sins.  [Mike Mason] (“Admit it. Quit it.” Bury it.)

            b.    The GRUDGE you hold against someone else.  [Mike Mason] (Forgive it. Quit it. Bury it.)

    B.    Develop the discipline of joy.

            1.    “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest3427 the praises8416 of Israel.” [Psalm 22:3 KJV]

            a.    Literally, “who sits the praises of Israel.”  Which could mean “dwells” in the praises... as the KJV translates it.

            b.    As we praise God (combination of joy and worship) we see, experience, know God’s presence.

        2.    “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” [Philippians 4:4]

            a.    It is required, as a discipline... like reading the Bible and praying.

            b.    It may be one of the things you do that can create the “feeling.”

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name.” [Hebrews 13:15]

We have the opportunity to see ourselves and God in a fresh light as we once again remember and celebrate the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.

[# 759 The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper]

For more on joy, see Mike Mason, "Champagne for the Soul: Rediscovering God's Gift of Joy," Regen College Publishing, Vancover, B.C. 2003.

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