Thursday, June 30, 2016

“Praise Ye The Lord”

Read Psalm 146*


Befor the sermon, I want to give you a little background about the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” because I believe that the truth in this hymn is also found in our Psalm 146 reading.

In 1871, Horatio Spafford, a prosperous lawyer and devout Presbyterian church elder and his wife, Anna, were living comfortably with their four young daughters in their home in a north side suburb of Chicago.

The Spaffords hosted and sometimes financially supported many guests. Horatio had been active in the abolitionist crusade and the cottage was a meeting place for activists in the reform movements of the time such as Frances E. Willard, president of the National Women's Christian Temperance Union, and evangelical leaders like Dwight Moody, who ignited a religious revival in America and Europe.

Spafford, a senior partner in a thriving law firm, invested in real estate north of an expanding Chicago in the spring of 1871. When the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in October of the same year, it also destroyed Spafford's sizable investment.

Two years later the family decided to vacation with friends in Europe. At the last moment Horatio was detained by business, and Anna and the girls went on ahead, sailing on the ocean liner S.S. Ville de Havre. On November 21, 1873, the liner was rammed amidship by a British vessel and sank within minutes.

The four children drown. However, Anna was picked up unconscious on a floating spar by the crew of the Lochearn, which itself was in danger of sinking. Fortunately, the Trimountain, a cargo sailing vessel arrived to save the survivors.

Nine days after the shipwreck Anna landed in Cardiff, Wales, and cabled Horatio, "Saved alone. What shall I do…"

After receiving Anna's telegram, Horatio immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of his ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. He wrote to Rachel, his wife's half-sister, "On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs."

Horatio wrote this hymn, we’re singing today, as he passed over their watery grave.

Here was a man who had suffered losses, physical, financial, and emotional.  And yet his faith allowed him to write, “It Is Well With My Soul”.

Do an internet search if you’d like more information about this man.

Opening Hymn: “It is Well With My Soul”

1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,                                                 When sorrows like sea billows roll.                                                             Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say                                                          It is well,  It is well, with my soul.

Refrain:                                                                                                                 It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)                                                   It is well, it is well, with my soul.                                           

2.  My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought:                                                                                                               My sin, not in part but the whole,                                                                          Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.                                                    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!


3.  Oh Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight                                       The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.                                                                 The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,                                              Even so, it is well with my soul.


Sermon:Praise Ye The Lord”

Psalm 146 is one of five Psalms called “Hallelujah Psalms.”  They all begin and end with the phrase “Praise ye the LORD!”  That phrase is the translation of the Hebrew word “Hallelujah!”

Israel had just recently returned from a terrible time of bondage in Babylon when this psalm was written.  They had returned to find their shining city on a hill, Jerusalem, was in ruins.  Their temple, the center of their spiritual life, was stripped of its ornaments and sacred items and was but a few walls and scattered stones.  Their joy of release of bondage and their homecoming was tempered with the knowledge of the labor that lay before them.

They gathered craftsmen and laborers and began the rebuilding.  Slowly the walls came together around their beautiful city.  The temple was reconstructed and redecorated.  The few sacred items that had survived were brought back and new ones created.  They could now begin to truly worship God as they and their ancestors had done before.

Israel’s neighbors had sought to destroy not only their nation but the people themselves.  Many had been killed or assimilated into the cultures of the surrounding nations.

As they slowly returned to their homeland, they also began to once again turn to the God of their ancestors.  They lamented what had been lost, which is natural.  However, they also began to praise God for what he had brought them through.  As their nation was rebuilt, so also was their identity as the Children of the one true God.  They remembered the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, your God is one God.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

It was then this this psalm was written.

Do you understand why I gave you the background story about the writing of “It Is Well With My Soul”?  What Israel had gone through as a nation, is like unto what all people everywhere and in every generation go through.  Suffering and loss is not what God intended for his people.  However, due to the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve, God’s perfect world was broken.  This is the world in which we now live.  If you believe that, say amen.

Let us look at Psalm 146 and see what we may learn about praising God in all times and situations, so that we may also have the deep down knowledge that “All is well with my soul”. 

Lesson One:  The people came to understand that, though prophets of God had warned them to turn from their disobedience and return to God, they had wandered from the true path that God laid out for them.  Centuries later, the apostle Paul said it quite simply, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  That realization as a nation and as individuals gave them the perspective to accept that it wasn’t so much a punishment from God, as the consequence of not staying true to God.  Only as we recognize our sin and admit to it, can we truly repent and ask for forgiveness.

Lesson Two:  God is worthy of our praise, of our hallelujah.

As the Israelites came to realize that it was only through God’s goodness and his Grace that they were returned to their land.  They sang praises to his name.  We too have been saved by grace, through faith -- and this in not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.  (paraphrased from Ephesians 2:8)  It is because of Christ’s sacrifice, we can sing “Amazing Grace”, “Rock of Ages”, “It is Well With My Soul”, and many others.

Lesson Three:  I want to praise the Lord throughout my life.  I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live.”  Praising God in not conditional on our circumstances or our feelings.  Understand that though it is well with our soul, we are not exempt from the pain and suffering of this life.   Amen? However, as followers of God in Christ, we have been delivered from an eternity separated from the love of God, an eternity in Hell.  Praise God!

As the Jews rejoiced because they were freed from bondage, we too can rejoice as we are freed from our chains of sin.  Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are but visitors in this earthly life, that our true home is in heaven.  The span of our earthly life is less than a tick of the clock of eternity.  When we are standing in the magnificent presence of God, we will praise him throughout all eternity. 

I sometimes think of this life as “practice” or “rehearsal”.  We often think we are in the middle of “life” when in truth we are still in the locker room or the green room off stage. Our true life hasn’t even begun. This is our training ground … let us make the most of it.

Lesson Four: Be careful of where you place your trust: “Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you.  When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground.  On that day their plans come to an end.”

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”  We have all heard that before. Amen? And it usually precedes something going terrible wrong.

Over nearly 70 years, I have placed my trust in a lot of people, a lot of organizations, and a lot of great thinkers.  I have placed a lot of faith in myself as well.  One thing I’ve learned is, that at some point, all trust in earthly people, places, and things is misplaced because, as I’ve said, we live in a broken world. 

We may not be intentionally misled.  However, another thing I’ve learned is, a stupid idea said by a smart man, is still a stupid idea.  A wrong direction is still a wrong direction even if everyone agrees that it is the right way to go.  Personally, I will never intentionally mislead you.  However, despite my good intentions, I could still be wrong.  Don’t rely on me.  Rely on God.  

Most of us know the Old Testament story of Job.  I was amazed when I actually read it through.  What amazed me was the advice that his friends were giving him as he was going through his testing.  They were true friends and really wanted to help, to ease his suffering.  It says in chapter 2:11-13 “When Job’s three friends heard about all the terrible things that had happened to him, each of them came from his home—Eliphaz of Teman, Bildad of Shuah, Zophar of Naama. They had agreed they would go together to sympathize with Job and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they didn’t even recognize him. They cried out loud and wept, and each of them tore his own clothes in grief. They threw dust on their heads.  Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw that he was in such great pain.”

These sound like the kind of friends that you would want with you in times of trouble. Amen?

His friend, Eliphaz, said to him, “Now think about this: Which innocent person ever died an untimely death? Find me a decent person who has been destroyed.  Whenever I saw those who plowed wickedness and planted misery, they gathered its harvest. God destroys them with his breath and kills them with a blast of his anger.” The implication was that Job must have done something that displeased God and he should make it right before he was destroyed.

“Then Bildad replied to Job, … If you search for God and plead for mercy from the Almighty, if you are moral and ethical, then he will rise up on your behalf and prove your righteousness by rebuilding your home. Again it is implied that Job had done something to displease God.

“Then Zophar replied to Job,  “Shouldn’t someone answer this flood of words? Should a good public speaker be acquitted? Should your empty talk silence others so that you can make fun of us without any shame? You say, ‘My teaching is morally correct,’ and, ‘As you can see, I’m innocent.’  I only wish God would speak and open his mouth to talk to you. He would tell you the secrets of wisdom, because true wisdom is twice as great as your wisdom, and you would know that God forgets your sin.”

All of this was good solid advice based on everything that they knew.   In other circumstances, it would have been great advice.  However, it was completely wrong.  My point is, although people may be well meaning and even helpful at times, they don't know the path that God has chosen for us. 

Lesson five:  “Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God, who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them.”

Our true hope rests in the Lord alone.  As believers, this should be self evident.  Who would you rather trust, the man who seeks shelter from the storm or the one who commands the storm, “Peace, be still”? 

The God who created the vast universe and the smallest sub atomic particles loves and cares for me and for you.  He even knows the number of hairs on our heads.  I find that, in equal amounts, humbling and comforting.

Lesson six:  “The Lord remains faithful forever.”   I said earlier that at some point, all trust in earthly people, places, and things is misplaced.  However in psalm 103 it says, “From everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children.”

From everlasting to everlasting is the kind of faithfulness in which we can trust.  Right?

It isn't from “beginning to end”.  It starts before the begining and zooms right past the end.

Lesson seven:  The Lord cares.  The psalmist gives a list of ways that God provides for all people.

Justice for the oppressed. The history of the Jewish people is a history of oppression.  Over and over they were carried away to distant lands or their homeland was occupied by other nations.   Israel has seen oppression since the beginning of their nation.  From the time of the Philistines of the Old Testament to the Roman occupation during the time of Christ, the pattern continued.  In more recent history there has been the persecution and execution of European Jews during the holocaust.  The modern nation of Israel was established within my lifetime and continues to be fraught with conflict and war.

So too were the early Christians persecuted, enslaved, and executed.  Even today, when one third of the world’s population claim to be Christians, are we persecuted, sometimes covertly and sometimes openly.  It is not surprising since the Kingdom of God has always been at war with the rulers of this world.  God’s will verses Man’s will is the whole story of the Bible in a simple sentence.

Though conflict and oppression are a constant part of the life of the church, we are never abandoned.  We read this promise in Isaiah 30:18-19 “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he rises up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!  People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.”

Again we see God’s justice at work in Psalm 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

God provides food to the hungry.  I can easily think of several remarkable times that God has directly provided food for the hungry.  Exodus 16 details when God provided manna and quail to the Israelites fleeing Egypt. During their time in the wilderness water was also provided for them in spectacular ways.

In the new testament we find that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was him providing drink at a wedding.  All four of the gospels give the account of Jesus feeding of 5000 people with a boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish.  The gospels of Matthew and Mark also record a second time when Jesus feed the people who had followed him into a remote place.  This time it is recorded that he feed 4000 with seven loaves and a few fishes.  After his resurrection, Jesus found his disciples had gone back to fishing.  He prepared a meal of fish for them on the shore.

I have had my own miraculous cases of food arriving just when I needed it.  Oh, the heavens didn’t open and rain down bread upon me.  God used human agents as his messengers but that did not make it any less miraculous.  We are commanded, among other things, to feed the hungry as though we were feeding Jesus.

Freedom for the prisoners:  Wow!  Where to start? Maybe with Joseph being thrown into a deep pit and then sold into slavery by his brothers,   How about Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being cast into a fiery furnace?  Or maybe just Daniel in the lions’ den.  Sampson breaking his chains?  Paul and Silas when the earth shook, the doors of the prison opened, and their chains fell off.  No, there are just too many examples to try and list them all.

Sight to the blind: at least three times in the gospels are examples of Jesus healing the blind.  In one example the man’s friends brought him to Jesus for healing. (Mark 8:22-25).  In Luke 18:35 Jesus stopped his journey to Jericho to heal a blind beggar along the side of the road.  And in John 9 Jesus uses his healing of a man blind from birth as a “visual aid” (sorry about the pun) to teach his disciples a truth about God’s plans.  But let’s not forget that Saul of Tarsus was blinded in an encounter with the risen Christ and later in Damascus something like fish scales fell from his eyes and he could see.  But Paul’s sight was more than physically restored.  His spiritual eyes had also been opened.

Straightens the backs of those who are bent over: This statement is much more than just about the physical healing.  It is also about the downtrodden in society, those that live on the fringes of society, those that are outcasts, those that are different, those that live in fear, paranoia, and depression.  These are people who have had their backs broken by their burdens.  In many cases the Lord is the only hope they have.  Certainly the ten lepers mentioned in Luke 17:11-19 that Jesus healed fit this category.  They had to not only deal with their disease but also the rejection of society.  Yet Jesus approached them and touched them.  He laid hands on them and healed them.  God cares.

Loves the righteous:  Can we just agree on this one?  Search your own Bible for the thousands of examples.  If I took time to cover them, we’d be here a very long time indeed.

Protects the foreigners: One of the commands repeated over and over in the Old Testament was to care for the strangers within your borders.  It was also to be a remembrance that the Jews had also been foreigners in strange lands.  We know that in this country, with the exceptions of the native people, we are all descendants from foreigners.  I had my DNA tested.  Here are the results for my personal history:

· 48% Western Europe (germany, france etc.)

· 28% Great Britain

· 13% Ireland

· 3% Scandinavian

· 2% Western Asia

· 2% Iberian peninsula  Spain/Portugal

· 2% European Jew

· 1% Finland / NW Russia

· 1% Pacific Islander Melanesian

· 1% Northern Africa

I am going to sidestep the issue of “illegal” foreigners in our land and just restate that we are to remember that we too were foreigners and we are to treat those within our borders with respect and dignity as commanded by God. 

Along with the oft repeated command about the foreigners,we are also to provide relief for the the orphans and widows.  These three groups of people are so important to God that He reminds the Israelites (and by extension us) multiple times.

Special laws forbade farmers from harvesting all of their crops.  They were to leave enough in the fields that the widows and orphans could gather enough food to feed themselves. 

Jesus in his parable of the sheep and the goats declares that those who feed, cloth, shelter, heal the least of His brothers, will be credited as doing it for the Lord himself.  And those who don’t, will be condemned. 

The Psalm ends with the declaration that “The Lord rules as king forever.  Zion, your God rules throughout every generation.  Hallelujah!”


*Psalm 146 GOD’S WORD Translation

1 Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, my soul!                                                               2 I want to praise the Lord throughout my life.  I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live.                                                                                       3 Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you.                           4 When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground.  On that day their plans come to an end.                                                                                    5 Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God,                                                                                                6 who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them.  The Lord remains faithful forever.                                                                                                     7 He brings about justice for those who are oppressed.  He gives food to those who are hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free.                                                     8 The Lord gives sight to blind people.  The Lord straightens the backs of those who are bent over.  The Lord loves righteous people.                                            9 The Lord protects foreigners.  The Lord gives relief to orphans and widows.  But he keeps wicked people from reaching their goal.                           10 The Lord rules as king forever.  Zion, your God rules throughout every generation.  Hallelujah!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sermon: “Life in the Spirit”

Read Galatians 5:1, 13-25*

In our Galatians reading, Paul talks a lot about freedom and life in the spirit.  He also contrasts the life in the spirit to life in the flesh.  So, before we proceed further, I think it best to understand Paul’s designation of “the flesh”.  He is not so much speaking about our physical bodies, but rather he is speaking of the things in our culture that pull at us on a daily basis.

Paul lists things such as: illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity, idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things.  As Paul says, these things are obvious.  However, in our reading in Luke we find, people called by Jesus to follow him.  They all are pulled away from the spirit-lead life by worldly things: homes, the dead, and family. These things are also life in the flesh.

Jesus said "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Life in the spirit is one way and one way only, toward God.  Any time we let ourselves become distracted by “the flesh” we start drifting from the path that the Lord has laid out for us.

In Matthew 6:25-32 Jesus tells us to “stop worrying about what you will eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?   “Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or gather the harvest into barns. Yet, your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

“Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying?

“And why worry about clothes? Notice how the flowers grow in the field. They never work or spin yarn for clothes.  But I say that not even Solomon in all his majesty was dressed like one of these flowers. That’s the way God clothes the grass in the field. Today it’s alive, and tomorrow it’s thrown into an incinerator. So how much more will he clothe you people who have so little faith?

“Don’t ever worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’  Everyone is concerned about these things, and your heavenly Father certainly knows you need all of them.”

The message seems clear: stay on the path and God will take care of you.  And that makes me think of the Hymn “God Will Take Care of You”. 

In this hymn, first is a list of things of the “flesh” then after each of those is the line “God will take care of you.”  Here is the list with out the assurance notice how universal these “fleshly” things are.

  • · Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
  • · When dangers fierce your path assail,
  • · All you may need He will provide,
  • · Nothing you ask will be denied,
  • · No matter what may be the test,
  • · Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
  • God will take care of you,

    through every day, o’er all the way,

    He will take care of you.

    God will take care of you.

    The hymn writer, Civilla D. Martin published that in 1904.  And in 1905 she published “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.  She was a woman who seemed to understand this biblical truth.

    “Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom”  We have been freed!  But what is it that we have been freed from?

    Sin!  Amen?  We are freed from sin.  Praise God!  We can all probably make a list of sins.  However, do you know what sin actually means?  The Hebrew word that has been translated as sin could also mean to miss, as in miss the target, or miss the turn in the road. 

    In Philippians 3:14 Paul writes, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  “I press toward the mark is a forward motion toward a specific goal … in this case that goal is life in the presence of God.  Anything that distracts us from that goal is living in the flesh, living as a slave to sin. 

    Here Paul writes, “Therefore, be firm in this freedom, and don’t become slaves again.”  Be firm in this freedom.  Being firm conotes a solid belief with no room doubt, no second guessing.   John Wessley, founder of Methodism, put it this way, “In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.”  I like that imagery of a heart so filled with love of God and love of man that there simply is no room for anything else.  Such a heart, by its nature, would be free from sin … free from missing the mark.

    Paul next warns his readers that, “You were indeed called to be free, brothers and sisters. Don’t turn this freedom into an excuse for your corrupt nature to express itself.”   Human nature is to return to familiar patterns.  This is why diets and ten step programs often fail.  It is why people released from prison can not associate with criminals. What good is it if, after our soul is cleansed, we refill it with the same vile stuff that was in there before?

    In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives this warning, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

    Paul’s list of evidence that we have let ourselves return to the life in the flesh include:  “illicit sex, perversion, promiscuity,  idolatry, drug use, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfish ambition, conflict, factions, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and similar things. I’ve told you in the past and I’m telling you again that people who do these kinds of things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”

    So, step one: let the Holy Spirit clean house in your soul.  Step two:  keep it clean.  Step three:  Don’t let the house (your soul) remain empty but fill it with the things of the spirit lead life.  As for step three, here is what Paul writes, “Rather, serve each other through love.  All of Moses’ Teachings are summarized in a single statement, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He then goes on to give a short list of things that are evident of living this new spiritual life: “the spiritual nature produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There are no laws against things like that.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their corrupt nature along with its passions and desires.”

    “Let me explain further. Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants.  What your corrupt nature wants is contrary to what your spiritual nature wants, and what your spiritual nature wants is contrary to what your corrupt nature wants. They are opposed to each other. As a result, you don’t always do what you intend to do.”

    In Romans 7:14-25 Paul expands on this idea and confesses that he also has this problem.  “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

    Finally, Paul wraps up this part of our scripture reading with this summation: “If your spiritual nature is your guide, you are not subject to Moses’ laws.   If we live by our spiritual nature, then our lives need to conform to our spiritual nature.”

    Now let us “clean house” by confessing our sins before the Lord and then refill them by being united with the Lord and each other as His one body, the church universal, though scattered around the world.

    *Galatians 5:1, 13-25

    For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

    For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

    Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

    Thursday, June 16, 2016

    Fathers Teach Your Children


    Read Deuteronomy chapter 6 as preparation for this sermon.

    Sermon:Fathers Teach Your Children”

    It’s Fathers’ Day. 

    A little boy was asked if he knew what Fathers’ Day was.  He said, “Yes, it just like Mothers’ Day … except you don’t have to spend as much!”

    I have heard it said that children love their mothers but follow their fathers.

    Some fathers take this responsibility very seriously … and some don’t.  Just in my lifetime, I have seen a trend to diminish a father’s role.  The sitcoms that my children watched were much different than the ones I watched when I was young. 

    In my day the fathers were strong leaders and … yes … enforcers.  (well except for Ozzie Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet.  He always kind of bumbled and fumbled his way through raising his sons.)  But even Ozzie, bumbling as he was, was better than those that followed in the next generation. 

    Archie Bunker was at least concerned about Gloria and Meathead and tried to get them to be more like himself. 

    Al Bundy from Married With Children clearly didn’t want his children.  His life was bad enough without having to deal with the kids too.

    But today’s sitcoms have even further degraded the father figure.  Think of the fathers in Modern Family or even worse The Family Guy (which, after watching a few episodes, I made sure to avoid ever-after).

    We often use the analogy of God as a Father. For most of us, this is comforting.  However not all fathers have modeled the love of God as He intended.

    In my own life, I have been a father-figure for a lot of kids.  Beside my own four children and two step-children, Ella and I have hosted a lot of Exchange Students.  While they were here in the U.S. it was natural to call me “Dad”.  When we started hosting, I really didn’t realize what a lifelong relationship would be formed.  I was surprised when our first exchange student had returned to Germany and called “home to Iowa” to ask advice from the only dad that he had ever had.  Those exchange kids have now grown into adults and some have started their own families and most still refer to me as Dad.  That has been a surprise.

    I need to tell you about my brother.  He was seventeen years older than I and he had a violent temper .  He was, at times, abusive to his kids.  He mellowed with age and was a much more patient and loving grandfather.  I tell you this because I was really surprised when several of my deceased brother’s grown adult children asked if I could be their dad. 

    Now here is the kicker, I was raised by a single mother.  My father died when I was around four-years-old.  I wasn’t alone in being fatherless.  More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father.  Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent.  If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.

    I wasn’t totally without father figures.  The three most prominent father figures were; my brother who was, as I said, seventeen when I was born.  Then there was our next door neighbor, who I was too naive at the time to understand that he was my mother’s boyfriend.  And the leader of the Boy Scout troop I joined.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name.

    These men impressed me in different ways.  Russell, my neighbor would take me fishing.  I learned the fine art of fishing with a cane pole and how to make doughball from cornmeal and water.  I learned how to clean and descale carp, which is what we mostly caught. He also took me to the dump.  Of the two, I think I enjoyed the dump the most.  Yep, I was a “that” kid.  We would take a load of trash out and I would bring a load back.  Anything with lights, bells, buzzers or whistles would come home with me.  I had lots of old non-working radios that I would remove their “skins” and exchange tubes, resolder loose wires and repair broken parts.  That was Russell, my buddy. I learned that you can make friends of people of all ages.

    My scout master, instilled in me the scout motto and pledge.  I learned about camping and woodscraft.  I learned how to be both self-sufficient and how to work as part of a team.  I learned how to build a fire.  Yes, I really do know how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, or with a magnifying glass.  I learned to care about and care for the natural world from him also.  However the most important thing that I gained from him was a sense of how to be an integral contributing part of society.

    My brother, as I’ve already stated, was not a nice person.  Because I was nearly the same age as his children, he was as abusive to me as well.  However, I was NOT his child and I would fight back where his own children didn’t.  I told him many times that one day I’d be as big as him and I’d kick his … well you know.  I saw how he was as a husband as well as a father.  He became my role model of what not to do.  It was a conscious decision on my part to be different than him. 

    It wasn’t easy and I had my own problems with anger … which I guess … is why I, in my preteens would threaten this six foot eight inch full grown adult.  By the way, when I returned from the Army, it was my brother who came to the airport to get me.  The first thing he said to me was, “ guess I have an ass whoppin’ comin’.”  While in the service, I became interested in and studied several martial arts, one of which was a Chinese form of karate or gung fu.  I was in my mid twenties and in excellent shape.  He was in his late thirties.  Although at six foot two, I had not gotten as big as his six eight, I felt the fight would have been in my favor.  However, as my reply to his challenge I did a high front snapping kick and kicked his hat off.  Then I said, “Naw, I’m good.”  Neither of us ever spoke of it again.  It wasn’t until the last few years of his life, that we became at least friendly.

    Fathers and father figures are vastly important to the healthy growth of children.  As I said earlier there is an epidemic of fatherlessness in this country.  There is hope though.  In this day of absentee fathers leaving single mothers to do the work of mother and father also, there are conscience movements, particularly in the black communities which historically have had a higher percentage of single women raising children, to encourage and help men to become true fathers to their children.

    Fathers need to teach their children.  It is one of their biggest duties.  However, many men need to be taught how to be fathers before they can teach the children.

    That is where the scripture reading comes in.

    Our scripture reading from Deuteronomy has some points that will help fathers how to teach the love of God.  You can’t go wrong with the Ten Commandments.

    1. There is only one God.

    2. No idols.

    3. Do not use the name of God lightly or profanely.

    4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

    5. Honor your father and mother

    6. Do not murder

    7. Do not commit adultery

    8. Do not steal

    9. Do not bear false witness

    10. Do not covet what belongs others

    I have boiled down the Deuteronomy scriptures as follows.

    These are the commands, laws, and rules the Lord your God commanded me to teach you.

    ·       Obey them.  Obey them.  This should be self evident.  These are not the ten suggestions or the ten recommendations.  These are laws governing how we interact with the Lord our God as well as with other people around us..

    ·       As long as you live, you, your children, and your grandchildren must fear the Lord your God.  As long as you live.  There is no “Graduation Day” where you have mastered all of the commandmenst and then get to ignore them.  If we claim to be children of God, we must strive every day, in every way, to be good children.  He is our Father … He is also our Lord … He both loves us and expects our obedience. 

    Coming from the background that I did, I made a decision to use corpral punishment only in extream events.  One, if the child’s behavior was a threat to their or other’s lives.  Two if they were willfully disobedient.  We had a “one swat” rule at our house.  If you needed to us a swat on the butt to reinforce what you said, it was only one swat.  One swat would let the child know how serious you were about it.  More than one swat was just a way for the parent to vent their, fear, disappointment, or anger.  One swat rule.

    ·       Listen, The Lord is our God. The Lord is the only God.  God demands to have your respect above all other things, places, or people in and around your life.  He is the center of your life or he is not really YOUR God.  Do not let money, power, self satisfaction, people, or anything become more important to you than God

    ·       Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

    These verses are the Shema “Hear, Israe, the Lord is our God, The Lord is One.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  These words serve as the center piece of Jewish morning and evening prayers.  You may recognize them as what Jesus quoted in Mark the twelth chapter starting at verse 28, “One of the teacher of the law came and heard them depating.  Noticing tha Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked of him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  The most impostant one, answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel; The Lord ou God is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and will all your mind and with all your strength.’  Jesus then went beyond what the teacher of the law had asked and said, “The second is this; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”

    ·       Take to heart these words that I give you today. Understand how important these words are!   In just two sentences, Jesus had boiled down the whole of the Law and the Prophets.  If you want to be an honest follower of Christ, then internalize these words and let them guide your thoughts, your words, and you actions.

    ·       Repeat them to your children. Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Dispite some of the modern teaching models, children learn and retain best those things that are repeated.  Repeat them until your children say, “You already told me that!”  Then you know that they have heard.  And just to be sure, say it at lease twice more.

    Talk about them when you’re at home or away, when you lie down or get up.   he When is the best time to teach your children?  Now!

    ·       Write them down, and tie them around your wrist, and wear them as headbands as a reminder. Devout Jews take this litterally.  They have a tiny handwritten scroll of the Shema that is worn on their bodies.  I have no problem with Christians doing the same, though a more modern answer might be to have it as the background on your desktop, tablet and smartphone.

    ·       Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.  Again the strict Jews do this litterally with small scrolls on their door frames.  They will kiss their fingers and tap the scroll as they pass through the doorway.  If you want to follow their example that is fine.  Perhaps scriptural sayings throughout the house in little signs, or cross-stitched on cushions or worn on t-shirts or hats, is a modern equivelent.  In our trailers, we have “With God all things are possible” and “As for me and my house, we will follow the Lord” as wall decorations.  Whatever keeps the Word of God before your eyes and in your heart is a good thing.

    Let me state it one more time in one more way:

    ·       The Lord your God will bless you with things you neither earned of deserve.

    ·       After you have all that you want, be careful that you don’t forget the Lord,

    ·       You must fear the Lord your God,

    ·       You must serve him,

    ·       You must take your oaths only in his name.

    ·       Never worship any of the things worshiped by the people around you.

    ·       Never test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.

    ·       Be sure to obey the commands of the Lord your God and the regulations and laws he has given you.

    ·       Do what the Lord considers right and good.

    And then teach them to your children.  The gospel of father (and mother) will have more impact on your children’s lives than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    Now I’ll close with this poem written by Anonymous.  I’ve read a lot of his writtings,  He’s really good.  Grin


    "Walk a little plainer, Daddy,"

    Said a little boy so frail.

    "I'm following in your footsteps

    And I don't want to fail.

    Sometimes your steps are very plain;

    Sometimes they are hard to see;

    So walk a little plainer, Daddy,

    For you are leading me.

    I know that once you walked this way many years ago,

    And what you did along the way

    I'd really like to know:

    For sometimes when I am tempted

    I don't know what to do

    So walk a little plainer, Daddy,

    For I must follow you.

    Someday when I'm grown up

    You are like I want to be.

    Then I will have a little boy

    Who will want to follow me

    And I would want to lead him right

    And help him to be true.

    So walk a little plainer, Daddy

    For We must follow you."