December 31, 2017
Pondering and Praising Luke 2:19-20
Our Son in Law worked at the switchboard at Asbury Seminary for three years while he was in school.
The switchboard is located in the middle of a hallway in one of the main buildings. There is a counter that surrounds it. At Christmas time they put a nativity scene on the counter…and every year someone steals the Baby Jesus figurine…and then sometime after Christmas…it reappears.
It’s just a prank…a bit of tradition…but I wonder if perhaps that scene is a little more real than we want to admit? I wonder if in the midst of all of our celebrating of Christmas…I wonder do we misplace Jesus only to find Him once the presents are unwrapped and the tree taken down?
‘Twas the day after Christmas when all through the fog
Not a creature was happy, not even the dog.
The presents were opened, decorations askew,
The kids are all whining, “There’s nothing to do.”
Mom peers out the window, looking far and near,
In hopes that a cleaning service, would magically appear,
While dad, in his jammies, looking haggard and tired,
Grumbles quite loudly, “yeah, right, some assembly required.”
Well, you get the idea. What’s your house like after Christmas? Crumpled wrapping paper in the corner of the living room? A broken toy or two? Trees to take down…A few headaches and short tempers flying about?
Just like Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, have a certain feel…So does the day after Christmas. Fantasies and illusions about the season have been stripped away and replaced by stark reality.
I think it’s on the day after Christmas that we can begin to resolve the conflict that has been raging all through the Christmas season—you know the one I mean, the conflict between what we know the season is about and the frantic expectations that we get sucked into.
But on the day after, when the music starts to fade into the distance and the presents are all unwrapped, when it becomes clear that the season itself has done nothing to solve our problems, then we can begin to ask ourselves ‘what does it really mean?’
Listen again to these verses from Luke chapter 2: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.
Have you ever wondered what the day after Jesus birth was like for Mary and Joseph? After the shepherds went back to their fields and the stable quieted down? If you are a parent, you don’t have to wonder, you know. On the day after Jesus was born, the realities of parenting started to settle in, as they do for any new parent.
There were diapers to be changed and 2-a.m. feedings. Just like any other baby. Yet, it was clear that this was not just any other baby.
This was the beginning of a life not yet fully defined, yet with a certain sense of destiny already emerging: The presence of God; miracles, and surprises.
There was already an undercurrent of struggle… of a battle with evil still to be waged.
Luke tells us that when the shepherds left, Mary gathered all that had happened and all that had been said and pondered it all in her heart.
The day after was a day for pondering, for being quiet and absorbing the realities already known, and bracing herself for the future as yet unknown.
If Mary knew one thing for sure, it was that God had done this. And she could believe that for any of the unknowns in the future, God would be there.
Life might not get any easier for Mary, raising God’s Son. But having been through this amazing miraculous conception and birth, she could certainly trust God for whatever would come.
Mary’s day after was quiet and contemplative. The shepherds’ day after was a little more ambitious, which perhaps fits the persona of rough men who live with sheep.
The shepherds returned to their flocks praising God and telling their story. They, too, saw God at work, with their own eyes. They too absorbed the reality of God’s presence in their lives and in this amazing baby. Their response was rejoicing and praising God for all they had seen.
Clearly, this is not an ending, but a beginning for Mary, and for the shepherds. On the day after Christmas they absorbed what had happened so that that they could carry it with them for the rest of their lives. My challenge to you this morning is this: Don’t forget Christmas.
Don’t leave Christmas without doing what Mary and the shepherds did. Ponder these things in your heart, think about what they mean to you very personally. And praise God for what God has shown you. The miracles, the messages, the baby.
Here’s one way you can do this. Or at least make a beginning. Have you thought about writing a thank you card to God? You don’t have to put it in the mail. Just take some time to talk to God about what you’ve discovered, and what you have to be grateful for.
I told you about the Nativity scene at Asbury…But here’s another one I recently read. A young family had a nativity scene set up in the living room…and every time the mom would come into the living room, she would find the scene arranged so that all the characters were standing so that all you could see was their backs.
She went back and patiently arranged them. Pretty soon she would come back into the room, and the characters would have their backs turned again. After mom finally got tired of this power struggle, she called in her two young sons and said, “Why do you keep messing up the manger scene?”
They said, “Because the way you put them, no one can see Jesus.” I wonder…did you miss Jesus this Christmas…It’s not too late to join Mary and the shepherds in pondering and praise!
November 26, 2017
Here Comes Christmas Luke 2:13 - 20
Thanksgiving is over, and already the push is on. Christmas is right around the corner and already as a society we’ve endured Black Friday, one of our nation’s best days to get a good deal on Christmas presents, that is, until tomorrow when Cyber Monday hits, which is the Internet’s version.
All this got me thinking about how our society gets ready for the Christmas holiday.
Weekends will be filled with anxious holiday shoppers trying to get everything on their Christmas list. They’ll go from store to store, from one Internet site to another…just to find that special gift at the best price possible, and they’re not afraid of a little knock down fight to do it.
So much for a season of comfort and joy!
And let’s not forget the decorations. Many do it up big time. They put up their Christmas lights, Santa and his reindeer on the roof, snowmen on their front lawns…If you were out this way last night you saw that my Christmas lights were up and on.
And then there is the inside of the house as we put up our Christmas trees, and hang up our Christmas Stocking’s with care. With bows, balls, and bulbs we decorate just about every inch of our homes.
But before we can decorate anything we have to clean so that we can put up all these wonderful decorations.
And so with a great deal of time and money we ready ourselves for Christmas.
Now…the last thing I want to do is sound like the Grinch…
But what about the baby Jesus in the manger part of Christmas? What about Him?
If it were up to the world they would outlaw the baby, they’d outlaw Jesus. They take Him and the manger scene down in the public square. They forbid any mention of Him.
What they want is to take the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus and make it no longer a holy day but a holiday and celebrate it as “Winter Solstice.”
The store cashiers used to wish you a “Merry Christmas,” and now in most places they have replaced it with the salutation, “Happy Holidays.”
What has happened to Christmas?
What has happened is that we get so caught up with the physical that we neglect the spiritual side of what Christmas is all about. But no matter what they try to turn Christmas into…Christmas always was…and will be…spiritual.
Christmas is about our relationship to God through the birth of Jesus Christ, who is our Savior and who came to reconcile us to God.
So the question becomes, “How do we prepare for the spiritual side of Christmas?”
Let me share with you some of the ways that I believe we should get ready for this holiday season based on those who were there and what they did.
First…We need to focus on the purpose of Christmas.
Our Society sees Christmas as a time to give and receive gifts…A time to get a couple of days off work…And in some cases as a time to get drunk and party.
And all of this is the furthest thing from what the real purpose of Christmas is all about.
The purpose is to remember that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus left Heaven and came down to the earth as a baby for this very purpose, to be one of us…to become the perfect sinless sacrifice for our sin…so we can have an eternity in God’s presence.
I think it’s important that we share the Real Meaning of Christmas with others…
And so to focus on the purpose of Christmas is to focus upon Jesus Christ, who came to earth in order to die for us so that we can have eternal life.
Our society may sing the songs, and watch a never-ending line up a Christmas shows, cartoons, and holiday specials, but they haven’t a clue as to what Christmas is all about.
The real meaning of Christmas is about God becoming flesh like you and me so that He could take our place and die the death we deserve due to our sins.
And this is the story we need to share. We need to be like those shepherds on that first Christmas night, who not only went to see the baby Jesus, but also shared everything they had seen and heard.
When the angels left the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15NIV) So they hurried off and found the baby lying in the manger.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what they had been told to them about this Baby, and all who heard them were amazed at what they said.
“Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17-18)
We need to share with everyone the reason for the season. Now the story changes for Mary and the shepherds. It says that Mary pondered what she had heard in her heart, while the shepherds shared it, and it says they returned to their flocks glorifying and praising God, Luke 2:20.
Not only are we to be like Mary and ponder, that is, give careful thought to what we have heard, but also we need to be like the shepherds and get out there and share the good news of Jesus Christ, that the reason for the season we’re celebrating is that Jesus came to this earth as a baby for the expressed purpose of dying upon the cross so that we can have eternal life in heaven.
But the good news is more than that, it’s that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, because if He did not rise, our faith in what He did upon the cross would be totally worthless.
Our witness of the real meaning of Christmas needs to be more than verbal, it also needs to be seen in the way we live our lives. We need to live our lives by what we say we believe, and if we believe that Jesus is God and that He came to save us, we need to live our lives in that truth.
And so to prepare ourselves for this upcoming Christmas we need to…like Mary ponder(or think about) all these things, and then like the shepherds we need to share the meaning of Christmas with everyone we meet.
This Christmas let’s not get so caught up in the running, rushing, and wrangling, that we forget the reason for the season.
Christmas is not about sale tags and merchandise. Christmas is about receiving a miracle from God, the miracle of having Christ within us.
Christmas is also responding to this miracle by worshipping Him with joy.
And Christmas is about sharing this miracle from God with your family and friends.
So let’s get ready for Christmas the right way.
November 12, 2017
Lessons from our Vacation Psalm 8
There is a long standing American tradition that says…when you go on a vacation you are entitled to bore your family and friends with slides and home movies of said vacation.
So in keeping with that tradition I am going to hold you captive…I mean captivate you for the next few minutes with some photos of our recent vacation…and hopefully dazzle you with my spiritual connections. (Also known as a sermon)
If I had a nickel for every time Marla said something like: “Look what God made” in the past 3 weeks I could have paid for that window myself.
We do live in an amazing country…it is so easy to focus on all of the bad stuff that goes on that we forget to take time to notice all of our blessings.
Three weeks ago yesterday Marla and I and our 46 and 48 pound suitcases got onboard the California Zephyr train in Burlington…and for the next 48 hours we rode the rails ending up in San Francisco.
Once we were on the train…there was actually vary little that we had control over. We could not decide how fast or slow the train went. We could not decide to stop the train and get out and look around.
We trusted that the engineer was going to get us safely to California…So about 11 o’clock or so we climbed into our bunks and slept…as much as you can sleep on a speeding train.
Life is like that…there are a lot of things that we have no control over… But just like we trusted the engineer to get us to California…so we trust Christ to get us safely to our final destination. In John 14:6 Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Once we were in San Francisco we took a BART(Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the airport to pick up our rental car. The next day we parked that perfectly good rental car at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and walked the entire two mile length of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A few months ago Marla came up with the hair-brained…I mean the brilliant idea of walking across the bridge. A few months ago I was in no shape to do that…But I put on my fit-bit and started walking…I lost over 50 pounds and I walked across that bridge.
No it wasn’t easy…but with each step I became more determined to finish. Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
Psalm 37:23-24 “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.”
And Isaiah 40:31 says: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
I also hiked almost a mile round trip at Sequoia to the General Sherman tree…which is down in a canyon…and a mile and a half at the Grand Canyon.
We traveled down California coastal highway 1 and had spectacular views of the ocean. Psalm 95:5-6 says: “The sea that he made belongs to him, along with the dry land that his hands formed. Come! Let us worship and bow down; let us kneel in the presence of the Lord, who made us”.
Traveling on to Arizona…One of Marla’s brother’s owns a boat business in Lake Havasu and he let Marla drive a brand new $72,000 boat. It only had 1/10 of an hour on it.
Would he let just anybody take the wheel of a new boat…No…But because we are family…because we have a personal relationship with him we got to.
And when we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we get something far more valuable than the world’s treasures, God gives us true wealth. Love, joy, peace, and hope. Wisdom, patience, kindness, and self-control. These are gifts that money can never buy.
And most importantly…He gives us eternal life. In John 10:28 Jesus says: I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.
We took the boat under London Bridge…which has been relocated to Lake Havasu from London. Originally opened in 1831 this bridge spanned across the River Thames in London. In 1962, it was discovered that the London Bridge was indeed "falling down"
The City of London decided to put the 130-year old bridge up for auction, and construct a new one in its place. Robert P. McCulloch, bought it in 1968. McCulloch spent $7million to move the London Bridge to Lake Havasu City.
Do you ever feel like London Bridge…Falling Down? No longer useful? How do you see yourself? Pause for a moment and think about it. What thoughts have you had about yourself today?
So many of us find ourselves basing our self-worth on how others see us and on our accomplishments, feeling shame from our past, defining our value based on our looks, or setting unrealistic standards for ourselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If only we could see ourselves as God sees us! McCulloch saw value in an old bridge…God sees value in you.
(1 John 3:1). “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” God actually considers you His very own precious child.
The Grand Canyon was breathtaking. It was formed by water running through it. There are different schools of thought on how long it took to form…we won’t go into that except to say…it didn’t happen all at once.
The word of God is often referred to as water in the Bible because the Word acts as a cleansing agent…which explains what Paul meant when he wrote concerning Jesus’ cleansing the church “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” Eph 5:26-27
Sometimes we get down on ourselves because we are not the person or the Christian that we want to be…but like the Grand Canyon…it won’t happen all at once. But if we keep applying the water, The Word of God, the change will come…and like the canyon…it will be beautiful.
Hoover Dam was built in 1935. It was purposely designed so that the more pressure against the dam…The more it got wedged into the solid rock.
That same principle applies to our daily walk with Jesus Christ…The more pressure that is exerted on us, the more our lives will be wedged into Jesus and the stronger we become.
One of the things on my vacation bucket list was Cadillac Ranch which features 10 graffiti-covered Cadillacs standing upright in a row, buried nose-first in the ground.
You can bring your own spray paint and redecorate the cars as you can see “Chuck hearts Marla” here. There was a group of college age kids from Japan and I asked one of the guys…with sign language if he would take our picture. (They were already filming us with video) He was delighted to help and two others videoed…we will be famous in Japan!
Marla noticed they didn’t have any paint…so she gave them a can and they were so grateful and set out painting and filming. We did a couple more pictures painting the grandkids names and then gave the other two cans of paint to the group. As we walked away…the girl Marla handed the paint to was smiling and bowing at us…a little kindness is better than politics.
And quickly…Oklahoma City Memorial. On April 19, 1995 Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building in downtown Oklahoma City, bringing down a huge portion of the structure and killing 168.
The "Field of Empty Chairs" has one chair for each person who died…the small chairs represent children. A church erected a statue of Jesus across from the memorial…The caption. John 11:35 “Jesus Wept”.
Our final official vacation stop was the St Louis Arch. And like the arch rises high above the city…I want to close by encouraging you to rise up.
Rise above pettiness and jealousy…rise above hatred and anger…Take time to enjoy the beauty that God has provided.
You don’t have to go on vacation…Drive down to the river, drive through Big River Forrest…watch the sunset. “Look what God made”.
October 15, 2017
Finishing the Race Compilation
Scripture reading: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
…I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
…I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
The verses we just read came from the New Testament books of Acts, Corinthians, Galatians, Timothy and Hebrews…and they all had a common word. What was it? Right…The word “Race”.
Last weekend our son, Andy” and a friend participated in a bike race called the “Hilly Hundred”. It is exactly what it sounds like…A two day bike ride covering 100 miles of hills.
Now that isn’t something you just wake up some morning and decide to do. It takes practice…it takes planning. It takes hardship and endurance.
For several months Andy has been riding long distances in preparation, he has dropped quite a bit of weight. He has made repairs and upgrades to his bike.
I remember when Bill Pinger started riding his bike several years ago…He started by riding around the block…and then he would ride around the block a few times and then several times…Now he rides everywhere! Finishing the race…doesn’t just happen…it takes endurance.
Finishing the race…means no excuses. Like the mom who wrote this excuse for her daughter: "Please excuse Mary for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch and when we found it on Monday, we thought it was Sunday."
On the first day of Andy’s bike ride it started pouring rain…riding up and down hills was hard enough without riding drenched to the bone…but he kept riding.
One of the roads on the Hilly Hundred takes them across a bridge that has planks for flooring…and as you can imagine…when those planks get wet they get slick.
Some of the riders started to lose control on the slippery planks and hit their brakes…Andy hit his brakes…but it was too late and he slid into his friends bikes and broke some spokes out of his front rim.
He managed to bend the broken spokes out of the way and finish that leg of the course and made repairs before going to bed.
When he woke up the next morning…he discovered that his little crash had left him a little sore…but he got up and finished the Hilly 100.
Now there is one more part to this story…It seems that for some reason they needed to reroute the race…and the Hilly Hundred became the Hilly 111.8… Almost 12 extra miles.
I am happy to report that both Andy and his friend finished the race.
It is the exact same way in the Christian life. If we are to finish the race victoriously, we will have to overcome some adversity, guaranteed.
There will be afflictions to overcome. 2 Timothy 4:5 says: “…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship…”
There are going to be some hurts and some scrapes and bruises spiritually.
It won’t always be smooth sailing.
If we are going to finish our course, we can’t allow afflictions to stop us.
So many times, believers allow problems and afflictions to shake them up and disturb them. They ask: “Why is God doing this to me?” God is not!
God has graciously saved you, forgiven you, redeemed you, given you eternal life, and provided you a home in heaven forever.
That is the wrong question to be asking. In fact…God warned us to expect trouble down here. This earth is under the dominion of Satan and his evil world system. Problems are inevitable. Christ had them!
Adversity will swallow you up if you get that kind of attitude
Victory doesn’t come by God waving a magic wand and making all the troubles go away. Victory comes not by excuses, but by endurance.
I want to briefly take a look at some of the excuses we make today, and explore what they really mean.
My favorite definition of the word “excuses” is this: Excuses are lies we tell ourselves.
But as long as we buy into those excuses, we can never move past them.
I am just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to making excuses, so here are a few that I sometimes struggle with.
Excuse #1: I don’t have enough time. Whenever you hear yourself making this statement, you know deep down it isn’t the truth. When we say, we don’t have enough time, we are really saying, “That just isn’t important enough to me compared to everything else.”
I don’t have time to exercise. I don’t have time for church. I don’t have time for my family. I don’t have time to volunteer.
Of course you have time. You have as much time as anyone else does, and other people are already doing these same things.
I do have time to exercise, I just prioritize something else in my life as more important. Like TV.
We aren’t victims of circumstances. If you don’t like your circumstances, change them. It’s amazing that people who say they don’t have time somehow find plenty of time for important things like watching TV.
If you don’t have time to exercise, then surely you don’t have time to watch any TV at all. So what we are really saying that exercise, family, church simply isn’t important enough.
It’s easier to blame the problem on a lack of time, but the real problem is a lack of will.
Excuse #2: I don’t know how. This is one of the feeblest excuses of all. When you were a baby and learning to crawl…did you stop and complain…“I don’t know how to walk?” No, you learned to walk. The truth behind ““I don’t know how” is “I’m unwilling to learn.”
The last excuse I’ll use today is this:
“But you don’t understand. I grew up in this kind of household, or I have this/that ailment.”
Okay…so maybe we had a bad childhood or maybe we have a medical condition…but if that is who you are, then go with it.
I believe that each and every one of us has something in our life that we could have used as an excuse for not making it today. (Hey…But you are here!)
Excuses are nothing more than crutches… And I also believe that if we continue to use the crutches available to us, we will never really know how to walk on our own and be happy.
What we’re really saying with this excuse is, “My life is not my fault.”
How is your Christian walk? Sometimes my Christian walk feels more like a Christian Crawl. Sometimes it feels like a Christian run! And other times, I feel like I’m still on the couch thinking about getting up.
But Christ calls all of us to walk with Him. To grow from him. To learn from Him. To lean on Him. To become more like Him. With no excuses to finish the race!
Finish the race. All of us will trip and fall and make mistakes. Maybe you are fighting discouragement. Don’t give up! Because the question is, will you stay in the race, or let Satan knock you out of the race? Get up and Keep going!
October 8, 2017
A Community of Love 1 Corinthians:11:17 - 22
During His earthly ministry, Jesus told His disciples that He had a mission: it was to build His Church. His church would start out small, like a tiny mustard seed, but would one day grow into something large, beautiful and profound.
And His church would be an unstoppable entity. Persecution would not prevent its growth. Oppression would not put limits on its boundaries…and Matthew 16:18 assures us that even the gates of hell itself…will not prevail over the church.
This church would be a gathering of people and the thing that would unite this gathering would be their commitment to follow Jesus and His teachings.
The people who would make up His church would have different stories and life experiences. Some would have a more “colorful” life story. Some would not.
But none of that mattered; no one felt superior or looked down on someone else because they all recognized the unifying factor between them: …they were all were sinners in need of a Savior.
And what an interesting group picture the church would make! From the days of Jesus until now, people in society separate themselves from others based on things like gender, age, ethnicity, wealth, education, politics and so on...
…But when Christ established the church, He created something different, something new that the world had never seen before. He took people divided by all sorts of things…individuals who normally would never interact with one another—and through the gospel—turned them into a family.
The kind of family:
• Where people deeply love each other from the heart.
• Where we use our gifts to sacrificially serve each other.
• Where we don’t act judgmental when one of us sins, but we restore one another with humility and gentleness.
• A family where gossip and slander are as repulsive as eating trash and kindness and compassion are the motivating forces behind every action.
• A family where love is freely given to all and all are welcome.
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help create unity in the church.
The Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us of Christ’s teachings. He convicts us of sin. He empowers us to be His witnesses to the world around us. He helps us in our weaknesses and enables us to grow in Christ’s character… …developing spiritual fruit within us.
Isn’t the church that Jesus died to establish a beautiful thing? Wouldn’t you want to be a part of a group of people that love and support each other like that.
Through good times and bad, they are there…kind and compassionate, earnest and humble. Patient and loving, they don’t cast you aside in spite of your flaws.
But together you grow into something so beautiful and glorious that only eternity will reveal.
Sadly the church I’ve just described—as we see it in Scripture—is not the way some churches consistently behave.
My whole adult life has been dedicated to leading, shepherding, teaching, and protecting God’s people as a pastor. It has been the honor of my life to serve Christ’s church.
So it’s hard for me to hear…and harder for me to say…that for some people being a part of a church has been very disillusioning in some ways.
• In fact, maybe you’ve had some negative church experiences that have left you scarred and hurting, and I’m sorry that happened to you.
• Maybe you’re about ready to check out on the church—you’re tired of it and negative experiences have just worn you down.
• Or, maybe you’re in a classification of people that researchers call the “de-churched”—that is, people who have given up on the church for a number of reasons—but close to the top of that list is the fact that the church I just described is not the church you’ve experienced.
But I long for it to be…how about you?
How do we have this kind of church I’m describing… The kind of church Christ had in mind?
I’ll give you the answer in a moment, but I first want us to look at the situation at Corinth. Corinth was a congregation that lost its way; the members ended up making the church about themselves, rather than about Christ and the collective body…the church.
We see this addressed in the verses we read together. Paul minces no words…in verse 17 he says: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good”. Ouch!
What an indictment! How does a church get to a place where its meetings do more harm than good, where you’re worse off AFTER attending church?
If you’re like me, you’ve had times when you didn’t feel like coming to church, but you talk yourself into it (especially if you’re the pastor!) and by the time you go home, you’re saying to yourself, “Man, I’m glad I went to church today! I would have missed out on such a blessing!”
Paul is saying that happened in reverse at Corinth! You feel worse after you attended church! How does this happen in a church? The answer is: you make the church about you and your agenda, rather than us and Christ.
He goes on to say in verse18 “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it”.
Paul says, “I hate to believe it, but apparently it’s true!” You come together as a group, but you’re really fractured. You have differences that you won’t reconcile.
This group is opposed to that group. You act like Congress. You smile for the group picture, but after the photo shoot, you take up sides, defending your turf. It’s us vs them!
Christ’s goal is that His church be one people, who passionately love Him and unceasingly love each other.
God hates division because it divides what He has joined together, thus making the church ineffective—so much so that the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that it has corrupted their worship gatherings.
How do we have the kind of church that Christ died and rose to create? Is it merely just staying with the church? No, it’s more proactive than that. The answer is love.
We cultivate love for Christ and each another.
As we read the letter of 1 Corinthians, Paul shows us in chapter 13 that love is preeminent in the church; it is the defining quality and character trait of God’s people.
Without love, our good deeds don’t matter. Without love, the exercise of spiritual gifts is hollow. 1Corinthians 13:3 says: “If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
• When love takes a backseat in the church, pride sits in the driver’s seat.
• When love for Christ wains, then division appears…and
• When love for each other fades, self-seeking and personal agendas become our focus.
But…When love for Christ and each other in the church is our central commitment, then…
• We can disagree but genuinely love and respect one another
• A person’s social status, occupation or their race is irrelevant
• Coming to church on Sunday is transformed from obligation to joy; no longer an “ought to,” but an I want to: I want to love and serve Christ and others; I want to be a blessing to others…
• “Us and them” is not in our vocabulary
Why stay with Christ’s church? I could give us a number of reasons, but let me give you one: Christ is making His church into something beautiful.
We’re not there yet; we’re all a work in progress. But as long as you participate, you continue to grow into the likeness of Christ and you help others to do the same.
In short, we all help each other grow into the kind of spotless, holy bride that Christ is making us.
So I would say to you, if you really love Jesus and you really love His church, then give yourself to it. Christ is worth it. So is the church.
My hope for each of us is that when we reach the end of our days on this earth, we will be able to say that we didn’t just stay with Christ, but also with His people, creating a community of love that helps believers grow and is the longing of a watching world.
October 1, 2017
It’s Time to Grow Up 1 Peter 2:1 – 5
Why do we come to church? Are we just thinking about the benefits we get from it…or are we thinking about what we can contribute to the church? (And I’m not just talking about money)
Are we only thinking about the good things we enjoy as Christians, or are we also willing and ready to contribute to the body of Christ or to our fellow believers and other people around us?
Do we just focus our interest on the blessings we receive from our Heavenly Father, or are we also prepared to endure difficulties in order to promote His church?
I want to believe that every one of us here would like to contribute something, so that others can benefit, that everyone of us would like to give good and favorable things to others, especially to our fellow believers, that everyone of us would like to contribute to glorifying our Father in Heaven.
So, let’s not be content with what we are now. Let’s aim to upgrade our value as workers in God’s vineyard, not only to be able to build His church, but also to fulfill His purpose for us – to grow as His children.
Today I want to talk briefly on the subject…It’s Time to Grow Up.
How can we grow like God intended for us to? The Bible offers many ways for us to grow as believers and in our text, Peter shares one of those ways.
In a recent sermon I mentioned that Peter denied Jesus three times. But, Jesus told Peter: “…And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
Peter, indeed, had turned back and confessed his affection for Jesus three times and followed Him to the end.
At the very start of this letter, Peter reminds them about what God has done for them and tells them how they should live because of it.
He implies that the Christians should not live or react according to their trials, but according to what God has done for them. They should not focus on what their persecutors were doing against them and that they should not live as persecuted, oppressed, or threatened. They should live as true believers.
And now, in our text, Peter points out to them that they should not be content in their present condition as believers, but they should grow.
We read 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation”.
Notice the phrase in the center of the verse: “CRAVE PURE SPIRITUAL MILK.” And that’s the point that we are going to concentrate on.
In the King James Version we read, “desire the sincere milk of the word.” In the English Standard Version: “long for the pure spiritual milk.” In the New Century Version: “you should want the pure and simple teaching.” In the God’s Word Translation: “Desire God's pure word...” And in the Bible in Basic English: “Be full of desire for the true milk of the word...”
So, this “spiritual milk” that we should crave, long for, want, or desire refers to God’s Word or to the pure and simple teaching of the Word.
And Peter exhorted his original readers to crave it. “Crave” means to feel a powerful desire for something. In that passage, it has a definition of “I long for, strain after, desire greatly, or have affection for.”
So… when Peter told the Christians to “crave” the pure spiritual milk of the word or pure and simple teaching of the word, it is the idea of: longing for, desiring greatly, having affection for the pure milk of the word.
During that time, there was a great tendency for them to desire greatly, a convenient, comfortable life.
Peter would like his readers to disengage their desire and want for an easy life. Instead, he wrote to them, “crave pure spiritual milk.” As if he was telling them, during this time, don’t crave a perfect life, don’t crave a life free from suffering, don’t crave circumstances where there is the absence of trouble and pain.
They shouldn’t crave deliverance from difficulty… But, they should crave “pure spiritual milk,” which is the Word of God or its right teachings.
And, again, why should they crave the pure milk of the Word of God?
So that by it you may grow up in your salvation” – That they may grow up as persons who are saved, as persons who trusted Jesus, as persons who “have tasted that the Lord is good.”
It says, “…by it you may grow up…” Peter was telling them that it was not the “craving” that would make them grow. It’s the Word – the pure, unadulterated, uncontaminated teachings of God’s Word that would make them grow as believers.
It’s what they needed to grow. Instead of growing in their apprehensions, growing in their desire for a life free from difficulty or pain, or growing in affection for a life of ease and comfort, they should grow as those who have trusted the Lord. They need the Word to grow in their faith.
As believers, today, we should also realize our great need for the pure spiritual milk – The uncontaminated Word of God. We ought to crave the Word of God. It’s the Word that makes us grow. And as we grow, God can use us for a greater work.
In Jeremiah 15:16, we read: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty.”
When Jeremiah encountered God’s Word, he didn’t just crave it, but ate it – which means that he made it a part of himself – so, it could nourish his spiritual life. In Psalm 119:129 we read: Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.
Imagine a man who is craving water to satisfy his thirst. Would he satisfy his thirst by just craving water? No. He would search to find the water.
He would look in all the possible places to find it. He wouldn’t stop until he finds it. And when he finds it, he would not just continue to crave for it…he would drink it…and he wouldn’t stop drinking, until he was fully satisfied.
So, as Christians, who want spiritual growth, so that our Savior can use us more effectively…we need to desire and to take in “the pure spiritual milk” as much as we can.
How about us, do we really long for, desire greatly, have affection for the pure milk of the word? Or, do we just crave ease and convenience?
Do we just crave the thrill and excitement in this world? Why not crave the wonder of His Word?
If we really crave the pure spiritual milk of the word, then, we should be excited to attend every church service to be fed by God’s Word. We should be thrilled to attend Bible study so that we could be nourished by His Word.
And we would be motivated to read and study our Bible every day to be refreshed and strengthened by His promises. We should even strive to memorize it so that we have enough “spiritual bullets” to fire against negative or evil thoughts.
As we close...may we say…we will stop at nothing until we are fully satisfied by His Word.
Deuteronomy 7:25 (KJV)
The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold [that is] on them, nor take [it] unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it [is] an abomination to the LORD thy God.
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