Monday, January 4, 2010

Grow Up in Love--#5 in series

The theme verse for this entire series is Ephesians 4:15, "But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head--Christ." (HCSB)

Other Bible texts related to this post: John 13:35, I Corinthians 12:31-14:1, 1 John 4:6-12

As in all things, for the Christian, Jesus is our model for love. He said to us (John 13:35) that our love for one another would be the very thing that identifies us as His disciples.

As we seek to "grow up in love," the Bible has no more concentrated advice for us than what the apostle Paul wrote to the troubled church in Corinth. Corinth as a port city, very wealthy, but also very filled with sin and dissipation. Some of this had spilled over into the church, with immorality being practiced by people in the church, dissention between various factions, and jealousy over position and prestige. One of the problems centered around a misuse of spiritual gifts. Instead of using the spiritual gifts given by Christ to properly build up the body of the church and minister to unbelievers in Christ's name, they had become the focus of a 'bragging contest' that was ripping the church apart.

The last verse of 1 Corinthians 12 through the first few verses of chapter 13 might be termed "Spiritual gifts vs. spiritual content." In these verses, Paul makes the point that without love...
--tongues are inadequate
--preaching is inadequate
--faith is inadequate
--generosity is inadequate
and even
--martyrdom is inadequate!

Paul then makes some practical points about love...
--it is patient and kind
--not envious
--not boastful or conceited
--doesn't act improperly
--not selfish
--not easily provoked, keeps no record of wrongs
--finds no joy in unrighteousness, but on the contrary,
--rejoices in the truth
--bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things!

Paul concludes the chapter with a wonderful illustration of the endurance and greatness of love.

In our system of chapters and verses, there's a break before the next verse, but it wasn't there in the original letter. And that verse certainly goes with what Paul has been writing about..."Pursue love..."

I have a little problem with the way most English translations render that first verse in chapter 14. Here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Bible: "Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy." This makes the statement "desire spiritual gifts" into a command, and that is certainly one way that the original Greek might be translated...but it is just as legitimate and probably more straightforward to translate the Greek as a simple declarative sentence, "You desire spiritual gifts." This changes the meaning somewhat--Paul would be making a simple observation about the Corinthians, "You folks want spiritual gifts" but would also be telling them again that without love, those gifts will be misused.

John the beloved disciple, in 1 John 4:6-12, has this to say about imitating Christ's love:

6 We are from God. Anyone who knows God listens to us; anyone who is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

9 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.

12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

2010--The Last Year of the ?? Decade

Lots of folks have remarked on 2009 being the 'last year of the decade.' Of course, since there was no "year zero" in our present system of timekeeping, the first decade was the year 1 through the year 10, so every following decade began with a year ending in 1 and ended with the year ending in a multiple of 10.
So 2010 will be the end of this decade, not the first of the next decade...but what will this decade eventually be called? I've heard "the two-thousands" as a label, but that ignores the other potential 990 years of this millenium! Maybe it will be the "oughts"--like my grandparents used to call the first decade of the 20th century, because they called the number we term "zero" an "ought"...19-ought-1, 19-ought-2, etc.
I was reminded in an online devotional this morning, that whatever this year brings, God is there before us. He is the God who goes before, who prepares the way, who is there to greet us and sustain us, no matter what circumstances arise.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grow Up in Courage--#4 in a series

(preached in early February, 2009)

Ephesians 4:15 "But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ"
You might be wondering, Why should we be trying to grow in courage, of all things? Don't we have religious freedom? What's up with this?
Many Christians in the US are aware that Christians in other countries are persecuted and even killed for their faith, but few are aware of the extent of that persecution. But even here in the US, there are often adverse consequences for taking a stand on Christian principles. Just ask Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and Florida Representative Scott Plakon. In Plakon's very first week in office, he battled to save a program that helps poor pregnant women receive the education and support they need to have healthy babies. Abortion supporters often say that they want abortion to be as rare as possible, but in this case, a program was about to be eliminated that would have left many women with no practical alternative except aborting their children. Plakon and Crist received severe criticism, and even threats, from those who opposed them.
The old hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory, ends with the line "Grant us wisdom, grant us courage..." followed by a different phrase in each of the five they are:
"Grant us wisdom, grant us courage...for the facing of this hour"
"Grant us wisdom, grant us courage...for the living of these days"
"Grant us wisdom, grant us courage...lest we miss Thy kingdom's goal"
"Grant us wisdom, grant us courage...that we fail not man nor Thee."
Truly these days call for courage!
Psalm 27 gives principles for courage through faith in God:
Ps. 27:1-3 When Christ is our light, salvation, and stronghold, we have no need to fear.
In times of trouble, God says, "Seek My face," (27:8) and He will be faithful (27:10). We are to wait for the Lord (27:13-14).
Psalm 31 also has principles of courage:
Courage is sapped by sin (vv. 10-13)
Repentance and trust in God can restore courage (vv. 14-16)
Because it is God's job to 'repay' we can be strong and courageous (vv.22-24).
Hebrews 3 also has words of encouragement and courage:
"...the builder has more honor than the house..." (v. 3). Verse 6 speaks of holding on to courage and confidence, and the rest of the chapter has warnings against a hard heart.
In John's gospel, Jesus gives plain warning of troubles to come in the latter days. (John 16:1-4, 25-30), and in verses 31-33 calls on His followers to be courageous, no matter what!

Grow Up in Faith (#3 in a series)

Originally preached in late January, 2009

Ephesians 4:15 "But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the Head--Christ."

Why should we look at growing in faith?

Romans 5:1, Faith is the foundation of a right relationship with God.
1 Thessalonians 5:24, Because the One who calls us is Faithful.

One of the interesting new career choices today is that of "Life Coach." A life coach supposedly has it all together, can evaluate you, your goals, and where you should be in your life, and then give you the advice you need to develop fully and meet your career or other goals.

Whether or not we need 'life coaches', everyone needs others who will encourage their faith. Look at two examples from the Bible...Jonathan (in 1 Samuel 23:16) encouraged the faith of his friend David, even though it put him in personal danger, endangered his family relationships with his father and brothers, and even though he knew David was destined to fulfill the political place that others expected that Jonathan himself would hold. Isaiah (See Isaiah 7:9) sought to encourage the wavering King of Judah, Ahaz to a stronger faith in God. Ahaz foolishly rejected God's encouragement through the prophet, but this led to Isaiah's greatest prophecy--the prediction of the birth of Christ in 7:14.

Some Scriptures dealing with faith--
Habakkuk 2:1-4 encourages our faith when we do not yet see God's promises fulfilled.
Romans 1:17 shows that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel through faith.
The entire chapter of 1 Thessalonians 5 is rich with encouragement to faith in God.
Christ Himself spoke of faith in Matthew 8:5-13 & 23-27, and in Luke 17:1-6.
1 Timothy 6:11 and 2 Timothy 1:13 are encouraging to the Christian who is pursuing growth in faith.

I'll close this post with "Planting 'P's'--Practical ways to grow your faith":
–Prayer (Mark 11:20-24)
–Precepts (2 Corinthians 5:7)
–Patterns (Hebrews 11)
–Practice (Mark 11:22)
–Persistence (James 1:3)
–Perseverance (1 Peter 1:6, James 1:2-4)
–Partners (Romans 1:12)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grow Up in Compassion (#2 in series)

"But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head--Christ" (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)

[This sermon was originally preached in January, 2009 on 'Sanctity of Human Life Sunday' which also was the Sunday closest to the inauguration of President Barak Obama]

Do you love reading the comics? That's one of the things I miss now that we no longer have delivery of a daily paper in our area. Yes, you can look up various cartoon features online, but it's definitely not the same as sitting down with the "funny papers" on Sunday afternoon.

One of my favorite features was by Bill Keane, The Family Circus. In the strip, his now-grown children are eternal grade-schoolers and preschool kids. But he often had some profound things to say, like this: "Life is a gift...that's why they call it 'the present'."

In this "Grow Up" segment, I want to talk about growing up in compassion. The prophet Jeremiah was called to speak for God because in his day, his nation was going "down the tubes" due to sin, corruption, and ungodliness. Since our nation seems to be in a similar situation, maybe we can learn some things from Jeremiah's experiences. (See Jeremiah 1:1-14)

God's word came to Jeremiah, informing him that God had planned his mission, even before Jeremiah was born. The prophet tried to protest due to his youth, but God wouldn't put up with that excuse...Jeremiah was to depend on God, who would be with him whenever he went about God's business.

God then gave Jeremiah two visions, both of which are plays on words in Hebrew...first He showed him an almond tree, which sounds very much like the word for "watch" or "look out." The almond was a sign that God was watching to see that His word was fulfilled. Then God showed Jeremiah a boiling pot, tilting away from the north...a sign that God would send disaster from that direction on His rebellious people.

I believe that God is still watching, and that a boiling pot of disaster awaits our own nation, if we fail to turn to God, confess our sins, and seek His forgiveness.

What does all this have to do with compassion? If God were interested only in punishing sin, why bother to call Jeremiah? It is God's intention to bring us back to Himself, to restore our fellowship with Him. But that can only come through repentance of our sin.

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist points out reasons for compassion...because of how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Notice the points in this Psalm:
--God knows us
--God formed us in the womb
--God grows us
All this should form in us an 'echo' of God's compassion--compassion first of all for the unborn, who in our nation today are being slaughtered in untold numbers through abortion. And that compassion should grow into a compassion for all life, especially human life, as God's gift. No one created by God can be thought worthless.

We should also grow in compassion because we Christians have a job to do--1 Peter 2:1-5 and 11-17 and Romans 3:7b command us as Christians to submit to 'every human institution'. Included in this should be prayer for politicians, even for the President and other leaders...and this should be done even if (maybe especially if) we differ with them politically.

How might we pray for Presidents? Here are my suggestions:

For ex-Presidents, we might pray...
--thanks to God for having given them to our nation as leaders
--wisdom for them (because they are still public figures)
--to have a true relationship with God through Christ, and let Him be their highest consideration, not politics or their 'legacy'.
--that they may enjoy rest and safety.

For our current President, and future presidents, we might pray...
--Wisdom in great measure—that they would be guided by God’s word
--To have a true relationship with God, and let Him be their highest consideration, not politics
--Safety—for them and their families
--That we would have courage to oppose measures that violate Christian conscience—and pray for God to change our leaders’ hearts…

On November 5, 2008, Richard Land, chair of the Ethics/Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote this letter to President-elect Obama:

Dear President-elect Obama,
First, congratulations on your successful campaign to become the 44th President of our beloved United States of America. This was a historic election in terms of the massive increase in voter participation as a percentage of the electorate.
I hope you know that there are tens of millions of Americans who did not vote for you who are still very, very pleased that an African-American has been elected President of the United States.
The fact that this could happen in a country with as tragic a racial past as America’s says something noble and fine about the American experiment and the glorious “opportunity democracy” it has spawned. After much struggle, we as a nation have chosen together to live up to the promises of our founding document, the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
For those of us who came of age during the Civil Rights Era and were inspired by Dr. King, it is very gratifying to watch our nation elect a person of color to the highest political office in the land, even someone for whom they may not have voted because of serious policy differences.
Mr. President-elect, the Bible exhorts us to pray for “kings and all who are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We, therefore, covenant to pray for you, your family, and your administration. We will pray that God will grant you godly wisdom in all your decision-making. We pray with faith and confidence that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1).
On issues which involve moral and ethical values, we will both pray for you and exhort you to apply biblical principles and values as you make policy decisions which will impact the families of America and the world. We will also pray that God will bless you with safety, health and all spiritual blessings.
On issues where we agree, such as standing against genocide in Darfur and protecting basic human rights around the world, we will support you.
On issues where we disagree with the approach your administration takes, we will do our best to persuade you to change your approach. When we are unsuccessful, we will stand by our convictions and will exercise our God-given responsibilities and Constitutionally-protected right to work for alternative solutions which are more in accord with our convictions.
Southern Baptists remain unalterably committed to the protection of unborn human life. The vast majority of Southern Baptists believe that a pre-born baby is a distinct human life, according to both science and the Bible (Ps. 51:5; Ps. 139-13-16; Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:41).
The euphemism of “choice” or “reproductive freedom” cannot disguise or justify killing a baby. Government has a proper role in protecting lives, including the lives of the unborn.
Southern Baptists, by national resolutions, have opposed abortion on demand, and have called for public policies which severely restrict abortion and which promote alternatives such as adoption.
Mr. President-elect, you have said you want to unite us as a nation. An excellent place to work for such unity and consensus on the life issue would be for you to put your full and vigorous support behind the Democrats for Life House Caucus initiative known as the Pregnant Women Support Act or the 95-10 Initiative (because its goal is to reduce abortion by 95% over a ten-year period) …(there followed a list of benefits given for HR 3192/S.2407)
All of these measures would help fulfill the pledge made in the 2008 Democratic Party platform, which “strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.”
Mr. President-elect, America needs moral conviction, not moral neutrality. America’s children need a model of leadership committed both to excellence and to virtue. May God help you, Mr. President-elect, and make you that leader. And may God bless America!

Yours in His service,
Richard Land

Is it not strange that the Sunday closest to the Inauguration is the day Southern Baptists have set aside as a reminder of compassion for the unborn? Especially since this particular President's actions (as of 12-14-2009) have shown that he is determined to foster even more abortions, and at taxpayer expense, no matter the religious convictions or opinions of those taxpayers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grow Up! (Ephesians 4) sermon 1 in the series

Here's the outline of the "Theme Sermon" of this series, originally preached back in January 2009)

"But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head--Christ" Ephesians 4:15

When this sermon was first preached, we were in the dead of winter...but seed catalogs had begun to arrive, announcing, "Spring will be here soon!" It's great to put seeds and seedlings in the ground and watch them grow...if they grow!

Ever have someone say to you, "Oh, grow up!"? Paul must have felt that way about the church in Ephesus! In fact, a lot of the New Testament was written to take care of problems in churches.

In the 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul says, "I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received..."

Why did he emphasize that he was a prisoner? He wants to remind this young church that, although Rome considers Paul its prisoner, Paul knows better! It is only because it's within God's permissive will that Paul is a prisoner. God has work for him to do there--not least of which is writing to churches like Ephesus to help them comprehend the Christian faith more fully.

How are the Ephesians (and us) supposed to "walk worthy of the calling...received'? Paul spells it out:
*with all humility (not getting the 'big head')
*and gentleness (a gentled horse is not weak, but its strength is under control)
*with patience (We ususally pray, "Lord, give me patience...right NOW!" That's a dangerous prayer, since one way the Lord teaches us patience is to allow us into situations that try and test our be careful what you ask for!)
*accepting one another in love (you won't like everyone you meet, at church or anywhere else. But we are called to be one body in Christ, so we must make the conscious decision to love people, even if we don't particularly like them. Love is an action of the will, not just an emotion.)
*diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit (Do you realize that when you gossip about or criticize another Christian, you're denigrating a vessel of God's Holy Spirit?)
*with the peace that binds [us]. (This is Christ's peace, the one that 'passes all understanding')

In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul continues his exposition about the meaning of Christian Unity:
*One body and one Spirit
*Called to one hope at your calling,
*One Lord
*One faith
*One baptism
*One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

On this foundation of unity, Paul now begins to emphasize the diversity that makes up every local congregation and the body of Christ overall: (Ephesians 4:7-10)
*There is a diversity of gifts, but all gifts come from Christ--"Grace to EACH-the measure of the Messiah's gift"
*Spiritual gifts are evidence of Christ's triumph over death, hell, and Satan. Paul pictures Christ in a triumphal procession, showering gifts on us.
*Christ is in all

Ephesians 4:11-16 talks about the ministry assignments for us, Jesus' co-workers:
*Apostles = those sent as special representatives of Christ to be His representatives. Closest modern-day equivalent is a missionary strategist/church planter
*Prophets = in the Bible, the work of a Prophet is not so much to foretell the future (though they often do) but to proclaim with truth, "This is what God says..."
*Evangelists = those with a special gift for effectively sharing the gospel. ALL Christians are called to be witnesses to the truth, but evangelists have a special grace of the Spirit to effectively reach people with the gospel
*Pastors (literally 'shepherds') and Teachers = This could be a pastor of a local church, or someone like a Sunday School teacher with the gift of discipling and shepherding others in their faith
BUT...what is the purpose of these co-workers?
1) "for the training of the saints in the work of ministry..." That is, spiritual gifts are to build up the entire body of believers, who together do the work of ministry. Paul would never understand the "let the pastor do it" mentality of some so-called Christians today.
2) "to build up the body of Christ UNTIL..."
*We all reach unity in the faith
*and in the knowledge of God's Son
*growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ's fullness (How often do we measure ourselves by others, not by Christ?)

Then after we come to maturity...
*We're 'no longer little children, tossed by the waves (i.e., the problems of life), blown around by every wind of teaching (e.g. 'pop' preaching/theology 'lite') by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit (that is, Satan's tools for fools!)
*Instead, "speaking the truth in love"
*let us GROW in every way into Him who is the head--Christ.
*From Him, the whole body, fitted (by 'sanding down'?--after all, Jesus was a carpenter!) and knit together (by love and God's Spirit) by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part."

Bro. Steve Dusek, a church planter for The Orchard church near Ellijay, wrote: "Believers are saved to serve. The problem is that many believers get into a pattern of sitting and soaking without serving, so their faith sours and their walk suffers. God has gifted each person with skills and abilities to build the Kingdom in unique ways. We will seek to provide opportunities for each member to serve others within the body, within the community, and around the world."

Ephesians 4:17-19 gives a negative example of what happens in human society when we don't do things God's way...

"Therefore" (whenever you see this word in Paul's writings, take note! He's about to draw a practical application out of what has gone before)
"I say this and testify in the Lord" (What does it mean, 'testify in the Lord'? Probably that this is an express command that Paul has received from Jesus for the Ephesians.)
--"No longer walk as the Gentiles walk..."
[Walk = your whole life and lifestyle]
" the futility of their thoughts..."
...darkened in their understanding
...excluded from the life of God
...Because of the ignorance in them AND because of the hardness of their hearts
...callous, promiscuous, wildly impure, insatiably greedy for sin (sound like any society you know?)

The conclusion of this 4th chapter of Ephesians (verses 20-32) talks about the 'better hope' that Paul has for other words, he's given a negative example, now he's laying out what the ideal is...
*That is NOT how you learned about the Messiah!
*Paul uses the illustration of getting out of old, worn-out clothes and putting on brand-new ones to show how we should put off the ways of the world and put on the emulation of Christ.
*And since you've put on the new...
*verses 29-31 might be compared to weeding out your garden...getting rid of all the weeds and pests in your life that prevent healthy growth and spiritual fruit.
*Verse 32 compares to fertilizing your garden, so that you can fully grow up into Christ.

Gotta blog more

I just realized that I've sadly neglected this blog...I'm going to update it with outlines of the sermon series I've been doing called "Grow Up!"