Friday, May 31, 2013

The Jesus Club

New Testament Reading:  Galatians 1:1-12
1 Paul an apostle--sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead--2 and all the members of God's family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
    6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!  9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
    10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.  11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;  12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Message:     “The Jesus Club”     

    Once there was a rocky coastline that jutted out into a shipping lane.  A careless navigator or raging storm would occasionally cast a ship upon the rocks.  It was a dangerous and deadly place.  One man took it upon himself to go out in particularly bad weather and watch for just such an occurrence.

    When he saw a shipwreck he would push his boat into the water and row into the storm to rescue the survivors.  He did this alone for many years and saved hundreds from drowning.

    One evening one of his friends joined him in the rescue mission and was so excited about the thrill of saving the lives of these lost sailors that he enthusiastically began recruiting more helpers.

    Soon there were many people watching the shoreline.  And they had many boats to assist in the rescue.  As time they decided that they needed to build a boathouse to house all of these boats.  And a meeting place where they could discuss the best strategies for coordinating the rescue attempts.

    As time went on people began to bring games to play as they watched the sea.  And then some televisions were added to the meeting room to help pass the time between rescues. 

    Eventually the rescues become bothersome to those who were watching TV and playing games.  It was decided to hire someone to watch the shore for them.

    Then they decided that if they just built a tall tower on the top of the meeting room, they could place a bell up there.  The reasoning was that they could just ring the bell and those that needed saving could just find their way to the meeting room with out anyone else having to go out and risk their lives in the storm.

    This, to me, sounds all too much like what has happened to Christ’s followers over the centuries.

First there was Jesus who began his ministry by preaching this message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15

And what was the good news in which we are to believe?
Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah when he read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent be to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then Jesus declared, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus came to proclaim and fulfill the good news. (Luke 4:18-19)

We call that good news “The Gospel”

Jesus himself proclaims that, “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  John 3:16-18

Jesus continued to preach this good news until while on the cross he said, “It is finished.”  No longer was the Kingdom of God “Near” it was now here.  What Jesus came to do was finished.  The captives (us) had been set free of our sins.  As I said in last week’s message.  We have been justified before God.  Which means that although we are truly guilty, we have been released from the death sentance that our sins carried.

At his ascention, Jesus told his follwers (Us), “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Luke 16:15)

Jesus’ final command was that the gospel continue to be spread.

That lone man on the rocky shore was no longer alone in his mission to rescue the perishing.  He had followers, helpers, friends.
    On the day of Pentecost those timid, fearful friends of Jesus became powered up and dynamic.  Hear these excerpt from Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2 starting with 21-25)

 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;’
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
 until I make your enemies your footstool.’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

    Yes Peter and the others stood boldly before the people who were looking to kill them.  They proclaimed the gospel that the Christ had come, that he had died to free all people from their sins, and that he was coming again to take the faithful to his father’s mansions where he had prepared rooms for them.  Many heard and were converted.  That is the power of the true gospel.

    The converted had that same enthusiasm and drive to tell all those around them this marvelous news.  The Jesus Movement grew from a handful of people hiding in an upper room to a movement that swept throughout the known world. (Read the book of Acts) It was a grass roots movement with only a few leaders who worked to keep the original message pure and straight to the point.  People met in homes to share with each other the joy of this salvation.

    Eventually it became inconvenient to have so many people in their homes and they began to build structures in which to meet.  Over time the term “the church” stopped referring to the people and became the common name of the building. 

In far too many instances the church became the building that housed the Jesus Club. It had stopped being the Jesus Movement to being the Jesus Club.  The club were members gather to shake hands, pat each other on the back and reasure each other of what good people they are.  If a stranger should happen to enter the clubhouse, he would be judged.   If he was deemed sufficiently good, if he walked like and talked like and looked like the rest of the club members, he may have been asked to join the club.

 Once a church becomes a club if its lost its true meaning; it is operating under a new gospel, a new good news.

    Paul sent letters to the churchs in Galatia because word had come to him that a “new” gospel was being preached.  A gospel that did not line up with the true gospel that he had taught them.  Paul warns his readers that there is no such thing as a new gospel. 

    Paul claims his authority to preach the true gospel by telling his readers that this was not something given to him by some human authority.  He was probably refereeing to his old life as Saul when his authority came from the religious leaders in Jerusalem. 

Paul remind his readers that he was commissioned by Jesus himself after Jesus death and resurrection.

Now Paul warns the churchs in Galatia of the need to get back to the true gospel that Paul originally proclaimed to them.  

Let's take a look at what Paul originally proclaimed.  in his letter to the Romans Paul laid out a clear path to salvation.

Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 6:23   The wages of sin is death and the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 5:8  But God proves his love for us and that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 10 9-10   Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

Romans 10:13  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Please note that this is the same gospel that Peter proclaimed in Jerusalem on the day of Penticost.

This is the true gospel that we are commanded to share.  when Christ said go into all the world and share the good news, he did not necessarily mean that we (you and I) had to go to every place in the world.   However he did mean that wherever we are we are to share the good news.

Understand this is not the duty of your denomination.
This is not the duty of your local church.
This is not the duty of your pastor.
This duty belongs to each Christian individually, share the good news with those with whom you come into contact on a daily basis.
If we neglect our duty as Christians and expect others to do it for us, then we're only members of the Jesus Club, not members of the kingdom of God.

Here ends the lesson.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Foolishness of God

 New Testament: : Romans 5:1-5
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Gospel:  John 16:12-15
12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Message:     “Foolishness of God”      Tom Williams
Our message title “Foolishness of God” comes from 1 Corinthians 1:25 where Paul writes, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man.”

We are going to look at our scripture reading a little bit at a time and try to gain a deeper understanding of what Paul is saying to us.

It begins with,  5:1 Therefore, since we are justified

Justified is a legal term which means that, under the law, we have been declared innocent or guiltless.  We have been legally absolved of our actions.  We have been acquitted of all charges brought against us under the law.

Wait a minute!  This is the same Paul who wrote, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  And now he is saying that we are justified.  Maybe we need to understand just what justification is and what it is not.

Justified does NOT mean that the person was innocent it means only that they could not be PROVEN guilty.

Now, we can all think of court cases where the guilty have been set free because of a technicality of the law.  Every lawyer is looking for that loophole in the law that will get his client absolved of the charges. 

So the truth is that we are guilty! 

We might be innocent of nine of the Ten Commandments but every one of us is guilty of at least one.  Just in case you have forgotten them I listed them on the front of the bulletin.  However, according to Jewish scholars, there are actually 633 commandments of God … not just the 10 that Moses brought down the mountain.  Those were just the big broad strokes of the law.  The other 623 were detailed explanation of the basic ten and detailed in Leviticus.  We have a tendency to think in terms of BIG sins and small sins.  That is not the way God sees things.

Here is an example: Lev 5:2 “If you touch anything unclean – the unclean dead body of a wild or tame animal or the body of an unclean, swarming creature … and then ignore what you did, you are unclean and will be guilty.” 

Have you ever touched the dead body of a swarming creature (think fly or mosquito) and then not confessed it before God and made a guilt offering to the Lord?

Is it any wonder than that Paul, who was well trained in the Law, could say, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?”

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to keep the law and remain right before God. And since God is holy, and his very presence is fatal to sin, we as sinful people are under a death sentence for our sin.

I’m not going to ask you to name your guilt … just recognize it.  Just understand that we were under a death sentence and have now been absolved by our faith.  As it says in our reading, Therefore, since we are justified by faith,

Here is another term that we use but do we truly understand what it means?  What is faith?
Voltaire, the French philosopher, said, “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”

Saint Augustine in the fifth century said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

Martin Luther King Junior said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” 

Saint Paul said, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” - Hebrews 11:1 )

Now we have faith … not just any faith… not faith in ourselves … not faith in our government … not faith in our church.  We have faith in that through Jesus, God has eliminated our sins.

This is where that “Foolishness of God” comes into this message.

I will admit that this concept of faith was what held me back from becoming a Christian.  This whole book is full of things that are just plain foolish to those without faith.  Through faith the truth is revealed.  So take the first step, even if you can’t see the second step. Seldom does God reveal the entire path.  Often it is only after the first step that the second step is revealed.  And after the second step the third step is revealed.  And so on.  The first step is to believe in God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth.  The second step is to believe in Jesus Christ His only son.  The third step, believe in the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus said, will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  These steps you have started … but where your path will lead … only God knows.  What I do know is that through these steps of faith we will be at peace with God.

We have peace with God

Peace with God.  Once we were at war with God.  In our selfishness we put our own desires and our own agendas before the will of God.  By being self-centered instead of God-centered we were stopping the flow of blessings that God had for us.  By following our own path we were lost and unable to save ourselves.  God, who was never far from us, made a way through Jesus Christ.

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

By acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus over our lives we have received the grace of God.  Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Every knee shall bow to him.  And the sooner we realize His Lordship, the sooner we bow our knee to him, the sooner the Grace of God can be ours. 

Grace, the unearned gift of redemption can only come when we truly say to God, “Not my will but thine.”  We can only be filled with God when we are empty of self.

5:2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
5:3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

Now, do you remember what I said a minute ago about this book being full of foolishness?  Here is one of those “foolish” concepts. Boasting in our sufferings or as the English Standard version says, “we rejoice in our sufferings.”

Now that is foolish outside of a personal relationship with God. 

When you read the Old Testament and you’ll find very clearly that bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people.  The concept was that bad things were punishment from God for some sin in the person’s life.  And the reverse was also believed to be true.  If you were a Godly person and right with Him then everything would go your way.

It is amazing how that concept believed and promoted by the religious leaders even though a cursory glance at the lives of the prophets, judges and other Great Men of God.  Let’s look at Moses the most revered of those great men.

As a baby he was cast adrift in the Nile River (think man-eating crocodiles … no wonder he had a stutter as an adult), raised by the oppressor of his people, and went from a position of power and wealth (as a member of Pharaoh’s household) to a wanted fugitive living in the wilderness raising sheep.  Ordered by God to go do battle with Pharaoh and gain release of the captives. After winning their release, he had to lead this undisciplined, argumentative, disobedient multitude of people to the Promised Land, where they refused to go in.  He then had to lead them in wandering the dessert for forty years before bringing them back to the Promised Land.  And for his faithfulness … he died alone on a mountain overlooking the Promised Land that he wasn’t allowed to enter.

As strange as this concept of Troubles as a Sign of Sin was.  It still persists today. How often I have prayed, “Why me, God?   Why me?  I’ve been faithful.  Why?”

Here is what Jesus told his disciple and also the religious leaders of the day when they asked the same question.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 

That the works of God should be revealed.

I hope that, like me, you can look back on your life and see where those times of hardship and loss have moved you to a place where God could bless you.  It is usually easy to see in hind-sight.  I’m trying to see it in fore-sight. 

I found this posted on Facebook and I think it explains this better than I can.

I am quoting now.

“For some time now, I have been trying to put together a presentation to raise awareness for ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Finally after much help I have come up with something. I could have given lots of numbers, statistics and other generalities, but it was suggested I tell my story.

First a little background about me. I was born January 20, 1958, the oldest of 3 boys in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most of my childhood was spent in Taneytown, Maryland before moving to Iowa in 1976. Like most boys I played sports. Lots of sports. As I said to the youth group a year ago, sports was my “god”. My parents split up when I was 11, so God was not a focal point in my life. Which now seems strange as my mom was raised in the church, choir member etc., and my dad’s dad was a preacher. I accepted Jesus as my savior at 19, but took a long time to live a Christian type life .Little did I know that God in His infinite wisdom was preparing me for this difficult, yet absolutely wonderful journey.

Like many others it has not been a smooth road. It did help determine, build and grow the faith I have today, though. The last 4-5 years have been particularly difficult. A divorce, raising 5 boys alone, and the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Thus I adopted the verse from Job13:15, “Tough He slay me I will hope in Him.”, as my own. Which is ironic in itself, because I once told Pastor Kent , I had very little hope. Mostly because it was placing hope in man rather then God I learned. Now I come to consider my disease a blessing rather than a curse. Yes, a blessing! Roman 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Amazing!! In this I know He isn’t done with me yet. He still has great plans, purpose and use of this dreadful sinner. What lies ahead, I am not sure of it all, but I do know He strengthens me in ways I was unable to do on my own. For that I am grateful will humbly go where I am led.” 
End quote

Do you see how this man came to realize that his disability was a blessing?  I’m not talking about “when life gives you lemonade”.   I’m saying that when life gives you lemons, praise God and thank Him for the lemons and ask Him what to do with them.

Sometimes WE have to fail … to have our world crash around us, for God to be revealed.  I was taught and raised to be self-reliant.  That means that I’m one of those guys who struggles and bulls my way through something without asking for help.  And when one of my friends says, “Why didn’t you call me?”, I have to admit that it never occurred to me to ask for help.  I do the same thing with God … sometimes.  We’re working on that.  Sometimes my self-reliance, my self-will, has to fail … for me to accept what God has in mind for me.

There is a famous prayer by John Wessley which I believe speaks to his own struggle with self-will.  It reads,

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

I like this prayer because it is so much more eloquent than a prayer that I had started to pray but still says the same thing.  My prayer goes, “God, lead me, push me, pull me, place me where I am to be and doing what I’m to do.  I give you permission to override my will with yours.  Amen.”

And what is the result of our suffering?  Our scripture says,
Suffering produces endurance

5:4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

So, since we know that God will use ALL of our circumstances for our ultimate good – we rejoice in our suffering.  That doesn’t mean that we have to rejoice FOR our suffering.  We just to apply that Foolishness of God principle and have faith that God has a blessing for us that we can only receive by passing through the time of trial.  God will then be able to pour His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Praise God!  Amen.