Sunday Sermon Notes: April 14, 2019

Title: Follow Me to the Cross

Text: Mark 1:118; Matthew 28: 18-20

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.

Mark 1:16-18

The earthly ministry of Jesus began right here when He began to call disciples. For our parts, we need to recognize the fact that this was His very first command to the disciples: “Follow Me!”

The truly remarkable thing about this calling is that they complied immediately and without hesitation, and in simply dropping their nets in obedience to His call, they left not only their regular daily lives aside, but their very livelihoods as well.

Would we dare to do that in obedience to His calling?

Over the next three years or so, they followed Jesus where ever He went; they travelled together, ate together, prayed together, laughed together, cried together, slept together… they were together nearly all of the time. During these years, Jesus taught them God’s ways, God’s priorities, God’s love for humanity and God’s way for them to move forward in His service. They came to discover that the ways of God ran counter to the ways of Men for living as God’s servants was quite different than what they would probably have expected it to be; it was both counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.

In ancient times there were no great universities as we know them, and a person was educated and trained as a disciple of a master in the way Jesus taught and trained His disciples. When that process ended, the disciples were said to be those who knew what the master knew, and then who did what the master had done: They were to become makers of the next generation of disciples as masters themselves.

On that fateful day when Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem in triumph, as the Son of David, Messiah, His disciples were not simply following Him into town, they were following Him to the cross.

Over the next few days a great many things would happen. One of the Twelve would betray Jesus into the hands of those who would kill Him, the other eleven would be scattered and flee into hiding, and Jesus would be murdered.

Oh, and by the way, Jesus would accomplish His Father’s eternal purpose and save Mankind from sin and even from death itself.

Yet even then, Jesus had not quite finished His job; He had one final command to give to His remaining disciples, but not before He confirmed everything He had taught them and rose from the grave:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

With this Jesus passed the torch to the disciples, and they became Apostles. With this Jesus demonstrated what the whole purpose of the prior three years had actually been, what following Him really entailed− Jesus showed them (and us) what God’s righteousness and love looked like in actual practice: Making disciples who in turn, make disciples.

In this act, God’s love is actively on display for it entails bringing the Good News of God’s amazing love to all who will receive it so that they may receive not only forgiveness of sin, but victory over death in the gift of eternal life. Yet as great as that is, it is only the beginning, for in sharing that love, we continue to mentor and nurture until the recipients of God’s amazing grace are able to share it with others, and in this process we find the greatest and most selfless act of love in existence: Building the Kingdom of God as a beacon of hope to all the world.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: April 7, 2019

Title: His Will for Us

Text: 1 John 5:13-21

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things: First, we have eternal life.  Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” to the end of a prayer has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit.  Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them.  Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that.

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about His purposes, and we are His servants, not the other way around.  So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy looses the game.  In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested.  There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it: Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will.  Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about?  Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life.  OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out.  Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin!  John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.”  Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me.  I wonder why he would do that.  Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh.  Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive.

Stay away from the antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:18-20

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life.  A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind.  The “One who was born of God” which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one.  This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes.  John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world− now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true.  If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not.  Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa.  God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Lastly, John reminds us in verse 21 to stay away from idols, and the letter closes.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: March 31, 2019

Title: Love in Action

Text: 1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:1-5

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; and John is going to throw us another curve.

The curve is in verse 2:  This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.  I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily.  We are to love God, and love one another.

Oh, hold on, did I forget one?  Yes, thank you for reminding me, it’s love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case.  What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

 Since I have spoken on this so many times already, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it?  God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, thus if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine.  We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord.  So, what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way?  Which choice demonstrates love in action?

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world.  Ever wonder what that has to do with anything?  What is it that would hold us back from making disciples?  Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back.  Got it?  OK, good.  Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no?  How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say.  In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts.  Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him?  No.  Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world because of our faith. Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that…

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy; I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored, grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him.  Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text: Do you remember John’s warning about antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.”  John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses.  In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body.  The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said.  It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Western impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress!  That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus.  The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism.  To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water.  The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.  The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation.  The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father.  You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  (5:9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us.  There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by His Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them.  It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom.

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him.  There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree?  Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone.  I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save.  The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope!  In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace.  In loving relationship, many will respond to His love.  We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not.  Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom.  Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

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Photo of the Week: March 27, 2019

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To God be the Glory!

 Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Jude 22-23

This is Jude’s final instruction to his readers.  It is a message of love and mercy… and caution.  Many will be confused and misled by false teaching, and to them we need to have grace and mercy. We need to help them in love, to recognize the error of the falsehoods they may have fallen prey to, lest they should face an eternal consequence. These are not the teachers; they are the false teachers’ victims.  Yet in doing this, we should take care that we aren’t ourselves victimized by those teachings, for false teaching is contagious. To hammer down this point, Jude engages in a bit of hyperbole when he tells us to hate the clothes stained by “corrupted flesh.” I really don’t think his intention is to have us “hate” inanimate objects, but rather to take caution as though we were dealing with an infectious disease.  If the person had smallpox, they would need care; love and lots of help, for example, but the caregiver would need to be careful to avoid catching the infection themselves.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Jude 24-25

Jude concludes with a short Doxology, which is an expression of praise to God.  He is the One who can prevent us from stumbling and falling prey to false teaching. He is the One who will cause us to appear before God holy and pure. Glory, majesty and power to Him through Jesus Christ!

And no more of these false teachers and their nonsense!

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“But dear friends…”

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

Jude 17-19

Jude is sharing his final thoughts now, thoughts that are both encouraging and practical.  The first of these is to remember what the Apostles have taught, with a characterization reminiscent of both Paul and John, not to mention of Jesus Himself.  There will be “scoffers”.  Jude has already stated that they scoff at Christ, authority, angels and at anything they don’t understand. Having rejected any authority, what are they left with? Only their own evil desires with the result that they are teaching others to engage in sexual immorality; how convenient! At the risk of stating the obvious, if a person wants to be sexually immoral, he or she will need someone to do it with… These are people who cause division in the church as they pry some away from the Truth of Christ, and away from godly teaching.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Jude 20-21

Now Jude turns to the practical: When faced with false teaching of any sort, we have a choice. This is true with any kind of temptation; there is always a choice.  We can choose to build ourselves up in our faith and by praying in the Spirit we can keep ourselves in God’s loving presence.  Over the years I’ve had conversations with quite a number of people who were struggling with temptations and sin; they just can’t seem to shake them off.  When I ask how their prayer life is going, they always tell me how strong it is and how great their relationship is with the Lord.  At first, this would confuse me, but then I learned to listen more carefully, to ask more questions, and sooner or later they always reveal whether intentionally or not, that they don’t have much of a prayer life, if any at all, and that they really don’t have much of a relationship with Christ. It always comes down to the same thing in the end, for they are focused almost entirely on themselves.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Start talking to God; work on that relationship.  It doesn’t need to be anything so formal and difficult, just start talking to Him.

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Tell Us How You Really Feel!

These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

Jude 12-13

As Jude begins to wrap up his indictment of the false teachers in the church, he uses a battery of metaphors to describe them, beginning with “blemishes at your love feasts.”  This is the only place in the New Testament where the expression “love feast” is used, but the practice is discussed in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.  In the first century many congregations observed communion in the context of a larger meal where fellowship among believers was expressed and the poor were fed.  Indications are that in the second century, these meals were separated from communion into two different occasions.

Other than that, I think Jude’s metaphors are pretty self-explanatory, and we easily can see his disdain for false teachers. In the next short paragraph, things get interesting…

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

Jude 14-16

This is one of Jude’s uses of extra-Biblical source I mentioned earlier; it might help you with this section to go back to it if you don’t remember it. Here Jude uses this quote from 1 Enoch, and in so doing, he is summing up his case against the false teachers. That these people have run well afoul of the Lord is made abundantly clear with the reminder that they are headed for a fiery judgment.

That there is false teaching in the world around us should come as no surprise. Since “the world around us” is generally understood to mean that which is apart from Christ and the community of believers is clear enough, so apart from Him what kind of teaching would we expect to find?  The thing that has Jude writing a letter of this sort is that these false teachers are within the Body of believers, passing themselves off as followers of Christ, while teaching people to rebel against Him.  Ah yes, this is a different matter entirely.

Do we have such people within the larger Christian community today? Before you answer that one, please keep in mind that Jude isn’t accusing them of making mistakes, being confused or being in error unintentionally. His whole premise is that they are deliberately trying to pry people away from the truth for the purpose of deceiving them into turning their backs on their relationship with Christ; serious indeed, the devil’s work.  So, do we have this problem today? If so, how will we respond to it?

Something to carefully consider.

In the next section, Jude moves into his closing in a wonderful way.

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