The Real Deal

(Please read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 in your go-to Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

We’ve been talking about real life the last couple Sundays and we will continue to look at topic today as we delve one more time into 1 Corinthians 3.  But last Sunday something happened in Texas that made life seem unreal.  You all realize that I am referring to the horrible massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The savagery of the attack has shattered our illusions of safety.  In an almost superstitious way we believed that a cross on the building and worship inside the building made us bullet-proof.  We have been forcefully reminded that our safety is in God alone.   No measure of false confidence, no amount of earthly material, is going to make us feel safe.  Again, our safety is in God alone.

To illustrate this fact, I learned that in Prince William County – the place where FBC, Sutherland Springs is located – the police had scheduled a “Worship Watch” event aimed at training faith leaders on how to create a safer house of worship.  It was scheduled to take place November 21st.
We can and should take steps to protect our house of worship and the precious people who gather inside.  We can no longer assume that people will respect sacred places or that any place is safe because it is too small to attraction attention.

While we do this, real life must continue.  We must continue to build our faith in Christ.  Love manifest in spiritual growth must remain our priority.  True security comes from knowing we are in God’s hands and from being united in that assurance.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

   1. We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

   2. We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

NEW:

  1. We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

In verse ten, Paul identifies himself as a foundation-builder.  Here he is writing about starting the church in Corinth.  He spent 18 months there, getting the church going.

Though he identifies himself as a WISE BUILDER, Paul is not boasting.  From the start, he acknowledges that his ministry has depended on the GRACE of God.  When he added, SOMEONE ELSE IS BUILDING UPON IT, Paul acknowledged he founded the church in Corinth, but had since turned its leadership over to others.  Whether leaders or followers, everyone who attempts to build up the church must do so carefully, not selfishly or aimlessly, but in deliberately Christ-like fashion.

In verse eleven, Paul identifies Jesus as the only foundation-builder.  Here he is writing about our faith as a whole, the world-wide Church of which Jesus is the Founder and Head.  The FOUNDATION of all the churches was laid by Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

Anything built on that foundation must be done in the character and spirit of the Founder, following His teaching.  After all, good builders follow the blueprints.  If anything contrary to the foundation is attempted, it will not stand.  Paul delivers this warning because a false foundation is worse than no foundation at all.

In verses twelve through fifteen Paul illustrates Judgment Day (see 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25) as the time when what every person has built on the foundation will be tested by fire. The quality of each person’s building materials will be tested.

– GOLD, SILVER, and COSTLY STONES are not typical building materials.  The temple that existed in Paul’s time was adorned with precious metals and stones and it may be that he wants the reader to envision the temple.  We assume Paul meant to contrast valuable and enduring materials with the cheap and temporary stuff.  Perhaps the point was something like, “We’ve all seen ornate, beautiful buildings that have stood for generations.  We’ve also seen simple huts that last for a few seasons.  Where would you like to live?”

– WOOD, HAY, and STRAW were more widely used at that time.  I suppose someone could make a quick shelter with this stuff, but a real home would have to be made of more durable material.

– There’s no mention of stone or brick, the most common material for permanent structures.  There’s another thing missing too; Paul does not guarantee any of the six materials he mentions will automatically survive the fire.  My guess is this means that we shouldn’t be fooled by outward appearances.  Like buildings, people and churches can have impressive facades but inwardly are firetraps, doomed to destruction.

The means of testing will be by FIRE (see 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8; 2:8; Daniel 7:9+; Malachi 4:1), presuming that everything we’ve built in life that is NOT of the Lord will be destroyed.  What is of the LORD, built with His help, will SURVIVE.  (See 1 Peter 1:7; fire improves faith.)

In the Bible, FIRE is a symbol of purification and destruction.  Either could be implied here.  But FIRE is also a symbol of God’s presence (the pillar of fire that lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt).  In this case, all of the above can be appropriate.

The person’s eternal reward is determined by what survives the flames.  Paul indicated two possible outcomes:

– NOTHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED (they will go to heaven) but will receive no further REWARD; he will SUFFER LOSS, the loss of heavenly rewards.  Picture here the person whose home is destroyed by fire and they escape only with the clothes on their back.  The person is glad to be alive but wishes the result was different.

– SOMETHING SURVIVES = The person is SAVED and receives additional rewards while in heaven.

The word REWARD can also be translated as “wages.” Paul wrote extensively in chapter nine of this letter that he had a right to receive material and financial support from the Corinthians when he worked among them.  As an act of grace, he did not press this right, but worked outside the church to provide for his own needs.

This testing is obviously done only on believers; the unbelieving and unrepentant have no foundation in Christ and will not have any place in heaven; they are not SAVED.

PREVIEW:

   2. We must be faithful builders (vs. 5-9).

You don’t have to be a great carpenter to realize that either a poor foundation or use of inferior building materials will shorten the useful life of a structure, maybe make it unsafe.  A skilled carpenter can easily spot these kinds of defects.

When we were house-hunting in Illinois, we leaned heavily on the advice of a professional carpenter in our congregation.  I called Jack a “Forensic Carpenter” because he could look at a house and tell you not only the quality of materials and workmanship, but also the order in which the work had been done.  He could compile a history of the structure on the basis of his inspections.  We ended up with a nice home and Jack was one to thank for that.

Similarly, all Christians are to be builders.  Our daily living – if we live for Christ – will develop our building skills in relation to building up our church, our relationships, and our selves.  Our objective is to become, like Paul, an EXPERT BUILDER where things of faith are concerned.

The means of building each other up are found in being positive, being biblical, and being loving to one another.  We must be creative and sensitive in the ways we reach out to one another because our ultimate objective is to point out Jesus.

Let me offer an example as we conclude.  Think of someone in your life who needs to be built up.  Either buy or craft a Thanksgiving card that points to Jesus.  On the card, write all the things you can think of that make you thank God for that person.  Write a prayer for their well-being.  Mail it or deliver it in person.

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He Brought Down the House!

Please read Judges 16:23-31 in your Bible of choice.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Here’s a story illustrating the character of “macho men” like Samson.  It is a cautionary tale but entirely untrue.

“MISSING HIS LOVED ONE”

A husband went to the police station and told the officer on duty, “My wife is missing. She went shopping yesterday and hasn’t come home.”

The sergeant grabbed some paperwork and asked, “What’s her height?”

“Gee, I’m not sure. A little over 5 feet.”

“Weight?”

“Don’t know. Not slim, but not real fat.”

“Color of eyes?”

“Sort of brown, I think. I never really noticed.”

The sergeant sighed and asked, “Color of hair?”

“It changes a couple of times a year. Maybe dark brown, I can’t remember.”

“What was she wearing?”

“Could have been pants or shorts. I don’t know exactly.”

“Was she driving a vehicle or walking?”       “She went in my truck.”

“What kind of truck was it?”

“A 2016 Ford F150, King Ranch 4×4 with eco-boost 5.0 L V8 engine special ordered with manual transmission and climate controlled air conditioning. It has a custom matching white cover for the bed, which has matching aftermarket bed liner. Custom leather 6-way seats and “Bubba” floor mats. Trail King package with gold hitch and special wiring hookups, DVD with full GPS navigation, satellite radio receiver, 23 channel CB radio, six cup holders, a USB port, and four power outlets. I added special alloy wheels and off-road Michelins. It has custom running boards and indirect wheel well lighting.” At this point, the husband started choking up.

The sergeant consoled him, “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll find your truck!”

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/price-of-haircut–devils-barbershop-john-gaston-sermon-on-cost-of-sin-202944?ref=SermonSerps

There’s a modern day Samson, right? The point of Samson’s life is that God’s plan will be accomplished.  Our life will be vastly improved if we cooperate with His plan rather than oppose Him with our sin.

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

  1. V. 22 = the short-sightedness of the Philistines.

Satisfied with finally capturing Samson, the Philistines let his hair grow.  The point is not the hair, but obedience to God.  The text does not tell us how long Samson was imprisoned, but if the average person’s hair grows at a rate of eight inches a year, then some time may have passed.

  1. The Philistines held a party to mock Samson (23-25).

The five rulers of the capitol cities gathered to humiliate their foe (23).   Ostensibly, the party was held to OFFER A GREAT SACRIFICE TO DAGON THEIR GOD.  DAGON was an idol worshiped by more than one of the pagan cultures bordering Israel.  Every year at harvest time they held a national gathering in Gaza, so Samson may or may not have been the guest of honor at this party.

The real reason was to CELEBRATE, as they said, “OUR GOD HAS DELIVERED SAMSON, OUR ENEMY, INTO OUR HANDS.” Modern people tend to interpret events scientifically; we think about cause and effect.  Ancient people interpreted events theologically; struggles between nations were at the same time struggles between the gods.  Whoever won the war had the stronger gods.  However, the truth was that Samson’s capture was not Dagon’s victory; rather, God abandoned Samson to his enemies.

They gave Samson a bit more credit than he deserved: “WHO LAID WASTE TO OUR LAND AND MULTIPLIED OUR SLAIN” (24). We should remember 15:3-5, where Samson destroyed at least part of one year’s harvest.  The fire may’ve been widespread.  So he did lay at least part of their land to WASTE.  Regardless of the truth of these charges, it is clear the Philistine people hated Samson and celebrated his current low circumstances as just punishment.  Also in chapter fifteen, you recall Samson killed 1000 Philistines, which does qualify for at least part of multiplying their SLAIN.

It is certain they were in HIGH SPIRITS (25).  They demanded Samson be brought in to ENTERTAIN them.  The word translated as ENTERTAIN meant to “play with” or “amuse one’s self with” something.  This mocking and scorning of Samson is the first demonstration of how the Philistines really hated Samson.

What does the text mean when it says Samson PERFORMED FOR THEM?  It means Samson acted in much the same way a bear does when people stoop to abusing the bear in “bear baiting.”  Samson performed so well he literally “brought the house down.”

  1. Samson fulfilled God’s promise for his life in his death (26-31).

It appears Samson had something other than a good performance in mind (25-26).  Having been blinded (21), he could not pick them out himself, so Samson asked to be guided to the pillars that bore the load of the temple’s roof.  Archaeology has supplied evidence of ancient structures that were based on two pillars giving primary support to the roof.  In this instance, the structure was made more unstable by the weight of 3000 people on the roof.

The specific nature of this request indicates that Samson is thinking strategically again.  It would have been easy to hear the shouts of the people around and above him.

The text tells us that the temple was crowded with people, setting the stage for what would follow.  There were 3000 people just on the roof, THREE TIMES more than Samson killed with the jawbone of a donkey (ch. 15).  V. 28 is the second recorded prayer of Samson and he’s asking for nothing more than revenge. This is disappointing.  After all he’s suffered, Samson still doesn’t understand. The entire chapter is devoted to the acts of violence Samson perpetrated because he wanted revenge for various slights and offenses.  I’ll grant you having one’s eyes gouged out is a serious thing, but it’s not worth killing thousands of people.  The prayer is still very self-centered as well; the word ME is used three times and MY used once.  All of that in one verse.

In the final act of his life, Samson got the revenge he desired. What’s confusing is that Samson’s great strength returned, but the Lord is not credited with endowing Samson.  The Spirit is not mentioned in the way that he has been previously.  BUT, as this is the way it’s been done before, I think we can assume the Lord answered Samson’s request with a “Yes.”

What counts is the result: Samson used his strength to pull the temple down on himself and his enemies (29-30).  It was a murder/suicide that surely made the evening news.  Somehow Samson  moved the massive pillars off their bases with his bare hands.

His declaration “LET ME DIE WITH THESE PHILISTINES!” measures both Samson’s anger and his depression.  He did not want to live as a blinded workhorse, a helpless captive to the wrath and scorn of his enemies.

THUS HE KILLED MANY MORE WHEN HE DIED THAN WHILE HE LIVED is a depressing statement isn’t it?  Because Samson wasted the gifts God gave him, he accomplished more of God’s will by dying than he ever did in life.  In fact, some time later, the losses inflicted solely by Samson helped the Israelites defeat the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:7-14).

Verse 31 is Samson’s epitaph.  He got a good burial.  The words BROTHERS and FAMILY here convey a larger group than Samson’s parents.  A good number of Samson’s people braved the trip to Gaza to retrieve Samson’s remains.  I assume this was at some personal risk, even though Samson killed the entire Philistine government with his one act.  His was the third-longest judgeship over Israel, leading the nation – sorta – for 20 years.  (V. 31 is a repeat of 15:20.)

Here’s how Herbert Wolf summarized the life of Samson; “Samson was ranked among the heroes of the faith (Heb. 11:32).  Yet he failed to live up to his great gifts.  Unable to conquer himself, he was ruined by his own lusts.  He stands as a tragic example of a man of great potential who lacked stability of character.  Still, God in his sovereignty used him.”  (the Expositor’s Bible Commentary #3, p. 479.)

The end of Samson’s life accomplished more than the middle.

In a sermon preached last year, Pastor John Gaston asked a great question; “What’s the price of a haircut in the devil’s barber-shop?”  In Samson’s case, the haircut in question cost him his eyesight, his freedom, and ultimately, his life.  His last act of disobedience was the culmination of a lifetime wasting the gifts of God on self-centered and sinful pursuits.

It’s easy to criticize Samson because he makes it so easy.  His sins are gross and obvious and excessive.  But we need to be careful.  Just because our sins are subtle, concealable, and contrived does NOT mean they are any less deadly in consequence than Samson’s.  As with all persons whose stories are told in the Bible, we must hold them up as a mirror to our own souls and pray for God to reveal any similar shortcomings.  Sins like gossip, back-biting, complaining, and lying are no less deadly than any of the things Samson did.  God regards them as equally serious.

As we conclude this series on Samson, we will fail to put these chapters to godly use if we don’t compare ourselves to Samson.  For example, we are gifted by God.  It is not with supernatural strength, but we are gifted in many other, less spectacular, ways.  What are we – as individuals and as a church – doing with our gifts?

Can we honestly say that we are joyous partners with God in using His gifts to accomplish His will?  Or are we wasting our gifts and our time satisfying ourselves?  Do we serve God with our days or are we indulging in sin, making excuses and winking at our misbehaviors.

We’ve had our fun with Samson, rightly noting the ridiculous excesses of his behavior and attitudes.  We must end this series with unflinching honesty as we look to ourselves.  If we walk down Samson’s path, we must confess and repent and choose God’s way instead.

Wage War on Weariness

It has been talked about and reported so often that Americans are too busy, too driven, and, as a result, chronically fatigued, that it’s not news any more.  But it is worth talking about, because it affects every aspect of our lives AND because God created us to rest.  Remember our discussion of Genesis 1.  From the beginning, before there were calendars and clocks, before businesses and bosses were even thought of, God commanded that one day of the week be set aside for rest, recreation, and renewal.

As I have thought about this topic the last three weeks, I decided a little context might help.  I went looking for some information that might objectify this sense that we are a nation of walking weary.  I found a couple items.  I’m not offering them as proof, but as numerical anecdotes that illustrate the pervasiveness of the problem of weariness.

            “Americans Are Tired Most Of The Week”by Niall McCarthy, Jun 8, 2015

“How many days of the week do you wake up feeling exhausted? If you really feel like a slave to your alarm clock, you aren’t alone. Only one in 7 Americans wake up feeling fresh every day of the week, according to a poll conducted by YouGov. Experts have recommended eight hours sleep, though seven hours should also be sufficient.
“45 percent of Americans sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night reported feeling tired or fatigued up to three times a week. 27 percent of people said they wake up tired on 4 or more days per week. Those only managing six hours sleep or less each night are, quite unsurprisingly, the most tired. 54 percent of people getting six or less hours sleep wake up tired 4 or more days a week.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/3534/americans-are-tired-most-of-the-week/ on 2/16/17.>

            “The Enormous Cost Of Sleep Deprivation” by Niall McCarthy, Dec 2, 2016

“Are you getting enough sleep every night? According to a new study from Rand Europesleep deprivation is a serious and costly problem for the globe’s major economies. In the United States, 1.2 million working days are lost every year due to insufficient sleep, costing a whopping $411 billion. That equates to 2.28 percent of the country’s GDP. Japan is also suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, losing 600,000 days and $138.6 billion annually.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/7052/the-enormous-cost-of-sleep-deprivation/ on 2/16/17.>

These statistical snapshots seem to support the general conclusion that we are weary and our weariness is costing us.  Fortunately, God has provided several things we can do to combat weariness.  We will continue that study today and learn another step faithful people can take when trials threaten to weigh us down.

What do we do when we are wearied?

REVIEW:

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.

NEW:

  1. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

Do not take your eyes off the prize.  Please read Philippians 3:12-16 in your favorite Bible, I have used the NIV for these remarks.

In vs. 12-14 Paul admitted that he had more to learn and room for improvement. But he did not focus on his failures or the wearying parts of life. Instead, he oriented himself toward the future.  We clearly see that orientation in the following: I PRESS ON…FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND AND STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD, I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL.

PRESS ON is a hunting term; “to pursue, chase, run down.”  This is an aggressive term, indicating the passion Paul had for knowing Jesus Christ and expressing His character in the way Paul lived.

FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND means whether we see the past through rose-colored glasses, exaggerating its good points, or through dark glasses, exaggerating its ills, the fact is that it is behind us and will always remain unchanged.  A concentration on the past contributes to weariness.  Looking to the future – with optimism or pessimism – gives us strength and excitement.

STRAINING TO WHAT IS AHEAD = STRAINING is an athletic word, picturing a runner giving everything he’s got to finish first.  Think of that final lunge across the finish line.  His emphasis was on the time frame over which we can exert the most influence: the future.  Human nature is such that we move in the direction we’re looking.  That is a physical truth and a spiritual one as well.

I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL turns the hunting imagery to track and field.  In any case, “pressing on” is not necessarily easy and does not always feel like a success, but it is necessary, and it is a path toward healing weariness. The Greek word translated as “goal” pictures a physical marker that indicates where the finish line is located.  In spiritual terms, the GOAL is becoming more like Jesus as we move ahead toward eternal life.

In v. 15 Paul confidently asserts that all maturing believers will share this orientation toward the future.  There is no room for disagreement on this matter.  Well, he was an APOSTLE, after all!

In v. 16 we are told the bottom line is that we don’t regress.  We are committed to not moving backward.  When we are weary we may be truly incapable of moving forward, but we should at least not give up any ground.

Please read Hebrews 3:1-14; 4:14 in your favorite Bible.  I use the NIV.  Keep the faith you received.

In 3:6 we read BUT CHRIST IS FAITHFUL AS THE SON OVER GOD’S HOUSE. AND WE ARE HIS HOUSE, IF INDEED WE HOLD FIRMLY TO OUR CONFIDENCE AND THE HOPE IN WHICH WE GLORY.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the essential role of Jesus Christ in our salvation.  Based on that fact, we have something substantial on which we can HOLD FIRMLY.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

When we dilute that truth by allowing modern culture to change our minds, then our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are less reliable.  Notice the phrase IN WHICH WE GLORY.  This means that our CONFIDENCE and HOPE is what gives us true joy, real strength.

In 3:14 it is written WE HAVE COME TO SHARE IN CHRIST, IF INDEED WE HOLD OUR ORIGINAL CONVICTION FIRMLY TO THE VERY END.  We tend to focus on beginnings, don’t we?  We get sentimental about firsts and that includes our Christian faith.  We also lump beginnings and endings into one, deleting the process in the middle.

These tendencies come back to bite us when we think that baptism or joining a church is the end of it.  This is why people sometimes disappear from church once they have achieved milestones like this.

However, Paul here reminds us of a central truth: how we begin our journey of faith is important, but it is of greater importance how we continue it and how we end it.  Commitments to Christ can be easily made in a moment, but professions of faith must be proven true by doing the hard work of living for Jesus each day, through the end of your life.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

For example, He is superior to any human priest because He is THE SON OF GOD.  Our faith asserts that He is fully God and fully human at the same time.  Any teaching that shrinks from this assertion is false.  The human side of Jesus’ nature assures us that He is sympathetic with our condition, having experienced it Himself.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature assures us of our salvation: because He is God He is able to save us.

In 4:14 we are told THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE A GREAT HIGH PRIEST WHO HAS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, JESUS THE SON OF GOD, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  In the OT system, a PRIEST was a mediator between God and His people.  The HIGH PRIEST had an especially important role in that he offered the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice for the sins of the nation.  Jesus is superior because HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, a greater feat.

Notice Jesus is our GREAT HIGH PRIEST, far superior to any person who ever held that office.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins and that was done once and is effective to save all people in all places at all times.  Everyone who accepts this act of grace will be saved.

This is a question that pains me as a Minnesota Vikings football fan.  HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF WALTER PAYTON?  Walter Jerry Payton from the state of Mississippi. Payton lived from July 25,1954 until November 1, 1999. He was 45 years old when he died of a liver disease.

Mike Ditka was Payton’s coach and he said: “Walter was a great player, but he was even a greater man.”  Payton’s nick name was “SWEETNESS.”  Payton played for the Chicago Bears and so was constantly a thorn in the side of the Minnesota Vikings.  The worst was setting a single-game rushing record that I believe still stands.

Because it is too painful for me to recount and to avoid boring you good folks, I will spare you all the statistical evidence and just say it can be argued that Payton was the greatest running back of his time, perhaps of NFL history.

Someone once asked Walter, “Where did your greatness start?”  Walter said: “When I started playing my junior year the coach told us to run up and down the hill behind the school 25 times.”  Most of the players ran up and down the hill a few times and went to the locker room. I started to go with them and then I thought: “No, the coach said run the hill 25 times, so I went back and was the only one who would run the hill 25 times. That may have been a turning point for me.”

Payton’s Motto?  “NEVER DIE EASY — ALWAYS GET UP — NEVER QUIT — KEEP ON TRYING.”

<By Wade Martin Hughes, Sr. Kyfingers@aol.com, retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-wade-m-stories-84249 on 02/17/17.>

“Never die easy;” that has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it?  But I think it has a great similarity to the words we’ve just studied in Hebrews.  Weariness is going to happen.  Discouragement sets in.  When these trials come against us, what are we to do?

One of the things we are to do is resist the urge to quit.  Instead of giving up as a way to try to ease our pain, we need to hang on more tightly to the truth.  Here is one essential truth to which we must cling: Because God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us.  If we remain in Him, the outcome is assured.  We will triumph.

PREVIEW:

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.
  2. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not yours. (RMS 8:13)
  3. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  4. Spend your sorrow on service.
  5. Invest in wellness.

A Saintly Stepfather

(Please read Matthew 1:18-25 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV as a basis for these remarks.)
There was the little boy who approached Santa in a department store with a long list of requests. He wanted a bicycle and a sled, a chemical set, a cowboy suit, a set of trains, a baseball glove and roller skates.
“That’s a pretty long list,” Santa said sternly. “I’ll have to check in my book and see if you were a good boy.”
“No, no,” the youngster said quickly. “Never mind checking. I’ll just take the roller skates.”
A less materialistic little fellow came closer to the real meaning of Christmas. A store owner was doing some last minute Christmas shopping with his young son when he saw another store owner with whom he had been friends for some time. The two of them exchanged greetings and spoke with each other about what a financially profitable season it had been for their respective stores. The small boy overheard his father say, “This has been the best Christmas ever.”
As the store owners parted company, the father and son continued their shopping, but the father noticed his son had become very quiet. He inquired as to his son’s silence, and his son replied, “Dad, you just told Mr. Johnson that this was the best Christmas ever.”
His dad replied, “I did, son. The economy is great, and people are really spending.”
“O.K.” the son replied, “It’s just that I always thought the first Christmas was the best one.”
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>
More than any other holy day, Christmas has been co-opted by our culture, turning it into something irrelevant to the event itself. We know from church history that the church took Dec. 25th away from the pagans who were celebrating the winter solstice. Now it seems they want their
holiday back.
The important thing to we who believe is keeping our perspective in order. At Christmas, we celebrate one of God’s signature events. He became one of us. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man at the same time is a fact that taxes our knowledge and our imagination, but is wholly necessary for a saving faith.
Whatever reason others may have to observe Christmas in their own way, ours is to look to the Incarnation, the in-boy revelation of God, and rejoice that He came. This is why we return to the biblical texts year after year, reaffirming the faith we have received as a heritage and work to pass along as a legacy.
Last Sunday we looked at the family tree of Jesus. There we saw an important if neglected figure in our history of faith, a man named Zerubbabel. He set an example of perseverance and devotion to doing the will of God that we would do well to follow.
Which leads us to today. At the top of that family tree we found the name Joseph. Joseph, we should observe, was NOT the biological father of Jesus. While Matthew includes Jesus at the very top of Joseph’s family tree, this is not for the usual reason. It is not a relationship of blood that bound Jesus to Joseph.
As we shall see, God is the Father of Jesus. One of the persons of the Trinity would, from Jesus’ birthday forward, be known as “God the Son” because he accepted a human body that God the Holy Spirit made for Him in cooperation with a brave little lady named Mary.
Out of convenience and respect we refer to Joseph as Jesus’ “father,” but it would be more accurate to say that he was Jesus’ “stepfather” or “adoptive father.” I do not make this point to take anything away from Joseph. He too is a great man of faith who sets an example for us to follow.
1. Joseph made a wrong but kind decision (1:18-19).
It was a wrong decision because he did not know the true means of Mary’s pregnancy. Verse eighteen clearly tells the reader the cause of Mary’s pregnancy: THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since he believed that Mary’s pregnancy was disgraceful, Joseph decided to DIVORCE her.
It was kind decision because he did not want to expose Mary to disgrace or harm. Joseph writhed on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he was FAITHFUL TO THE LAW. The Law had a very strict penalty for adultery; death by stoning (see Leviticus 20:10). On the other hand, Joseph wished to spare Mary of both kinds of suffering if he could. If he extended her mercy, that outcome could be avoided. However, there was still the court of public opinion and the DISGRACE Mary would face in the community.
Joseph resolved his dilemma by his decision to keep the DIVORCE and its cause quiet. He wanted to keep Mary and her pregnancy out of the public eye as much as possible. In this instance, Joseph is an example of the classic struggle between law and grace, between holiness and love. Knowing how to balance these sometimes complimentary virtues is one essence of wisdom.
2. God’s messenger changed Joseph’s mind (1:20-21).
The word “angel” literally means “messenger.” The ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO JOSEPH IN A DREAM to deliver God’s message about the truth behind Mary’s pregnancy.
Let’s note the specifics of the message.
The angel addresses him as JOSEPH, SON OF DAVID. Especially in Matthew’s Gospel, it is essential to note that Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament to send a Messiah. One aspect of the Messiah is that he would continue the dynasty of David, being one of His descendants. We looked into this last week. Though Joseph is not Jesus’ father, it is still important that he be a descendant of David, and that fact is affirmed again by the angel.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TAKE MARY HOME AS YOUR WIFE. Of what was Joseph AFRAID? Based on the context, we can assume he was afraid of violating the Law. He may have also feared public ridicule or retribution.
This statement is puzzling if we don’t understand that culture’s wedding traditions. When the marriage was arranged and agreed-upon, the couple was considered to be married in every way until the wedding day. Then the wedding was held and the union consummated for the first time. What looks to us as an “engagement” is a different relationship in their culture. In this case, as Mary’s “reputation” was already under suspicion, Joseph was told to move up the wedding date and immediately include Mary in the home he had made for the two of them.
WHAT IS CONCEIVED IN HER IS FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT. Mary was not, as everyone assumed, guilty of adultery. She had not cheated on Joseph. Just the opposite; she had been faithful to both Joseph and God. The truth of the matter was that her pregnancy was a miraculous act of God.
SHE WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON…YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS…HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. HIS PEOPLE are the Jews. Jesus’ own description of His mission was to the nation of Israel first.
FROM THEIR SINS = Jesus came to save people. Sin leads to death. The sacrifice of blood is God’s cure for the problem of sin and Jesus’ blood would be shed for that purpose.
3. Interlude: explaining prophecy (1:22-23).
As we’ve observed, Matthew is very concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, so, no surprise that 22 verses into his Gospel, we have the first citation of fulfilled prophecy. This is not part of the angel’s message, it’s an aside delivered by Matthew. Let’s note the specifics.
THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH. This is obviously a supernatural, miraculous occurrence. Both Matthew and Luke go to lengths (as we’ll see in v. 25) to let us know Mary’s pregnancy was this miracle.
To be clear – the conception of Jesus was supernatural; a miracle. The birth of Jesus was completely natural and typical. Mary shared the experience of every mother from Eve onward.
SHE WILL…GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, just as the angel predicted to Joseph in v. 21. As we see later in the passage, this is exactly what came to pass.
THEY WILL CALL HIM IMMANUEL might, at first glance, seem contradictory with the angel’s instruction to Joseph to name Him Jesus. Note that THEY, not “you” will call Him Immanuel. This is a name others will bestow on Jesus. The meaning of this name or title is literally “God with us;” Jesus was God present in the flesh. What is more significant than the name itself is what it tells us about Jesus; He would be GOD WITH US.
4. Joseph completely obeyed God (1:24-25).
WHEN JOSEPH WOKE UP means he didn’t waste any time. Joseph was obedient in time and in the fullness of the angel’s instructions.
It’s my pet theory that the wedding date was moved up and perhaps it was observed without the usual fanfare and the customary week-long party. I speculate that it was early enough in Mary’s pregnancy that no one else knew about it and a quick wedding might mislead others into thinking Jesus was Joseph’s son.
This theory has only a little support in the Bible. In Matthew 13:55, when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His ministry, the people of Nazareth remarked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” If they had ever known about Mary’s pregnancy before consummating her relationship with Joseph, they forgot about it. I like to think that Joseph was such a kind-hearted man that he was willing to endure a slur on his character rather than let Mary take the heat for something she clearly had not done; be unfaithful to him.
Joseph is such a faithful man he took the command of God one step further and did not insist on his conjugal rights: HE DID NOT CONSUMMATE THEIR MARRIAGE UNTIL [after] SHE GAVE BIRTH TO A SON. This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy entirely, maintaining Mary’s virginity until the birth of Jesus. Also, Joseph followed through on all the angel’s instructions and GAVE [Mary’s son] THE NAME JESUS.
For all kinds of reasons, Christmas has occasionally been a tense, hotly contested holiday. One of the recurring stories is non-Christians complaining about how the holiday gives Christianity too much of the spotlight.
You may remember that our former governor Bill Janklow was not one to let complaints bother him too much. When criticized about having a nativity scene on display, Janklow prepared to let every religion put something on display in the Capitol, and even set aside an “empty corner” for the use of atheists.
Tony Cooke and David Beebe came up with a cute and insightful look at the conflicts of Christmas. They took a popular poem and wrote their own version of it. The titled it ‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.
‘Twas the fight before Christmas,
And all through the house,
Not a creature was peaceful,
Not even my spouse.
The bills were strung out on our table with dread,
In hopes that our checkbook would not be in the red.
The children were fussing and throwing a fit,
When Billy came screaming and cried, “I’ve been bit.”
And Momma with her skillet, and I with the remote,
She said, “You change one more channel and I’ll grab your throat.”
When on the TV there arose such a clatter,
I sat up on the couch to see what was the matter.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
The cable was out, it was my worst fear.
“The Cowboys, the Celtics, the Raiders, the Knicks,
Without the sports channel I’d soon need a fix!”
And then in the midst of my grievous sorrow,
I remembered the times I had promised, “tomorrow…”
“Not now, my children, but at some soon time,
Dad will play with you, and things will be fine.”
Now under conviction, I looked at my wife,
Where was my kindness? Why all the strife?
My heart quickly softened; I now saw my task,
Some love and attention was all they had asked.
I gathered my family and called them by name,
And told them with God’s help I’d not be the same.
We’ll keep Christ in Christmas and honor His plan.
No more fights before Christmas—on that we will stand.
My children’s eyes twinkled; they squealed with delight.
My wife gladly nodded; she knew I was right.
It was the fight before Christmas, but God’s love had come through,
And just like He does, He made all things new.
<Retrieved from http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/christmas_illustrations/ on 12/2/16.>

We redeem the days of Advent by following the faith example set for us by Joseph.  In addition to being faithful to God’s will, Joseph showed grace.  He demonstrated personal holiness in his full devotion to God and gracious love in the sacrifices he made for Mary and by adopting Jesus as his son.

Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice. (Part Two)

(Please read Joshua 24:14-27 in your Bible.  I have prepared these remarks with the NIV.)

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

A politician said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”  The politician’s name was Abraham Lincoln and he made these comments in a speech in 1863.

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-jeff-simms-quotes-wear-judgment-privilege-13886.asp on 7/8/16.>

It sounds like the more things change, the more they stay the same.  For too long we’ve been operating under the mistaken notion that the human race is evolving, progressing, and improving our world.  I would say the violence we see reported anew almost daily argues against that notion.

We have changed many things but human nature is not one of them.  We have solved many problems, but sin is not one of them.  We have met some needs, but our need for God is one that we will never meet any way other than by faith.

As individuals, we are the sum total of the choices we have made and the choices others have made for us.  As we age, the effects of our own choices take on greater prominence than the choices of others.  In other words, we become increasingly responsible for the kind of person we’ve become.

What is true on an individual scale is also true on a national one: national identity is the sum total of the choices of its citizens.  It’s true that the choices of those in leadership positions have a greater effect on a nation’s character, but all of us contribute.

I mention all of this because we’re talking today about faithfulness.  Faithfulness is repeatedly making the right choices.  It is consistently choosing to obey God.

The Bible passage that most familiarly sets forth this matter of choice is Joshua 24:15, the centerpiece of the passage we’ve studied these two weeks.  Just as Joshua called the nation of Israel to faithfully obey God, this Scripture challenges us today to choose God.

PART ONE (See previous post.)

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (1-13).

PART TWO

  1. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (14-27).

Joshua called them to commitment in vs. 14-15.  Faithfulness features fear and service.

Some people are uncomfortable seeing FEAR of the LORD as a virtue.  They have such a benign view of God that they can’t see anything “negative.”  The Bible is clear that “respect” or “reverence” isn’t enough; a full understanding of God includes fear.  As Donald H. Madvig put it, “If we fear God, we need not fear his judgment,” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 368).

Motivated by fear and love, we are to serve God.  We must make sacrifices as necessary to do His will as soon as it becomes apparent to us.  ALL FAITHFULNESS is the objective. Being faithful requires us to keep our focus on God.

You can safeguard your faithfulness by trashing your idols.  In this situation, Joshua commanded them to dispose of the idols, the household gods that were taken from Egyptian households as plunder.

As previously stated with regard to the word FEAR, some people have trouble accepting that God is JEALOUS, but He makes it clear that He does not want to share us with false gods.  It’s for our own good to get rid of everything in our lives that will distract us from God, everything that threatens to take His place.

After all these people have been through and all the miracles they have seen, we think this ought to be a “no-brainer.”  It’s also strange that slaves would worship the gods of their oppressors, but it has happened throughout history.

Commitment is follow-through.  Human nature has not changed since that day at Shechem: true commitment still requires undivided loyalty.  Joshua called upon them to CHOOSE; did not make up their minds for them or even attempt to persuade them, other than sharing his choice.  Verse 15 is one of the most familiar Scripture and is often quoted because it is the essential commitment of faith: Choose your god.

The people committed themselves to serve God in vs. 16-18.  They realized God saved them from slavery. In gratitude they said some pretty impressive words:

– “FAR BE IT FROM US TO FORSAKE THE LORD TO SERVE OTHER GODS!”

– “IT WAS THE LORD OUR GOD HIMSELF WHO BROUGHT US AND OUR FATHERS OUT OF EGYPT.”

– “WE TOO WILL SERVE THE LORD, BECAUSE HE IS OUR GOD.”

However, these declarations of faith ring hollow in our ears because we’ve read the rest of the story and know that there were periods in their history when Israel served idols and not God.

Let’s be honest.  Are we any different?  Only if we choose to be.  We have to commit ourselves to the LORD & keep choosing Him to maintain our faith.

Joshua challenged their commitment and cautioned them about the wrath of God (vs. 19-20).  Joshua got in their faces!  He challenged them because he knew that a superficial commitment did no one any good and that he needed to move them beyond momentary emotion.

About Joshua’s theology: God is not only HOLY and JEALOUS and full of wrath against sin, but Joshua emphasized even exaggerated these parts of His character so that the people would stop to count the cost.  A spurious commitment that is superficial and ultimately results in backsliding and turning against God is as bad as an initial rejection of Him.

The people recommitted themselves in v. 21.  The people’s response is the more deliberate decision Joshua was working toward: they protested that they were serious and fully committed.

He made a covenant between God and the people (vs. 22-27).  The people served as their own witnesses. As they had agreed with this statement, their words were a vow to the LORD and would condemn them if they ever rejected God.

Joshua repeated himself in v. 23, demanding the casting away of all idols they carried out of Egypt.  This act was to be a demonstration of their sincerity.

I don’t know of any text that confirms that they did this, but they reaffirmed that they would serve the LORD only.

Joshua copied the Law that God gave them through Moses.  He made the rules clear to them.  Though v. 25 at first sounds like this COVENANT was something new with Joshua, we have no reason to think this was anything more than a reminder of what God had already revealed to Moses.

The stipulations of the agreement were recorded in a scroll called THE BOOK OF THE LAW.  That was one reminder of their oath.  Joshua set a LARGE STONE against an OAK TREE that stood near the place that was HOLY because God had met their forefathers there.  This was a second reminder of that oath.

Joshua knew the importance of memorials and visual reminders.  He’d made an altar on the Promised Land side of the Jordan (4:8-9).  He had already written the words of the Law on the stones of an altar erected on Mt. Ebal (8:32).

It is human nature to forget or be tempted to backtrack on the oaths we have made.  The intensity of emotions fade, so we need reminders.  The memorials were also important for future generations.  People who did not stand at that spot, who did not say those words would come along later and wonder how would they know these things were so?  Why should they fulfill oaths that others made?  These visual reminders would help.

Let’s conclude with the end of the story.  Several things happened after this pivotal event in the history of Israel.

First, Joshua sent them home – TO THEIR INHERITANCE.  It is, of course, a fantastic feeling to have these emotional, life-changing, “mountaintop” experiences.  The challenging part is taking it on into daily life.  To change the way we think, react, and interact with the little things of our world.

Second, both Joshua and Eleazar died.  These two leaders, representing the overlapping circles of civil and religious authority, were no longer available to lead Israel.  It was a rough and abrupt transition, no doubt, but new leadership was taking the people of God into a new day.

Third, the bones of the patriarch Joseph, which they had carried all the way from Egypt, were finally laid to rest in the exact spot where this meeting had been held.  This act of respect brought to a ceremonial end one era of the history of God’s people.  The past had literally been buried and the future lay ahead of them.

The last word of the book of Joshua is not the last verse.  Look at v. 31.  This verse summarizes the long term effect of the decisions made and oaths taken on that day.  What we see is that the generation who stood with Joshua at Shechem remained faithful to the LORD.  That is good news.

However, as we turn the page and get into the book of Judges, we see the following generations turning to idol-worship and sinning against the Lord.  Indeed, the history of Israel as preserved in the OT is very cyclical:

The people commit themselves to God.

=>

The people compromise & slowly turn to idols.

=>

Pagan nations take over & make them suffer.

=>

The people cry out to God & He delivers them.

=>

The people repent & commit themselves to God.

Good thing none of us are like that, right?  To me, this passage is about personal choice.  But it is also about helping others – particularly the next generation – make the same choice.  It’s not enough to keep the doors open and set the table, we must invite them to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).  Then, having tasted of the joy that is in Christ, we must help one another to fully commit to Him as Lord.

We must break the cycle of generations lost to the enemy by choosing to serve God and leading others to do the same!  If you will commit yourself to following God, please stand.

Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice (Part One)

Please read Joshua 24 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has been busy lately issuing proclamations.  His most recent one calls on Iowans to read the Bible in all 99 counties over the 4th of July weekend.

At the Wright County Courthouse, reading began on Tuesday. The idea is that the Bible is to be simply read; no commentary on the texts is to be offered.

Governor Branstad has come under criticism for this proclaimation, some say the state endorsing a single religion. However – to be fair – the Governor has also signed Wicca and Muslim Recognition Day proclamations.

What do you think?

As American Baptists, it has been our tradition to regard with suspicion all forays of government into the area of religion.  Historically, Baptists have been among those who lead for a separation of church and state because we were on the pointy end of religious persecution.  We were committed to this ideal because we were motivated.

Today we’re going to look at a nation that needed some motivation to do the right thing.  God’s people in the Old Testament era, the nation of Israel, had just concluded their efforts to occupy the land God had promised them.  They were about to settle in and become a nation.  Before they went about the process of prospering in their new homes, their leader Joshua gathered them together to give them his last word from the LORD.  It was more than a motivational speech, but motivating them to be faithful to God was surely one of its objects.

PROLOGUE: What has come before is the end of Moses’ life, Joshua replacing him as the leader of God’s people.  Joshua has led the people of God throughout the conquest of the Promised Land.  Joshua’s own demise is near; his death and burial are described at the end of the chapter.  Before his rest, Joshua had one last important task: to remind the new nation of Israel to how they got where they were on that day and get them to recommit themselves to serving the Lord.  Joshua has been a leader of Israel since they were in Egypt, so he knows these people and knows that they must be made accountable for their commitment to the LORD.

The nation was at a crossroads, a dangerous time when commitment was needed.  Though the fighting was over, the war continued: the war for the souls of God’s people.  You see, these people were descendant of idol-worshippers (v. 3); they had been enslaved by idolaters and brought some of their household gods with them as booty; and they had not entirely got rid of the pagans they conquered as they had been commanded to do, so they were surrounded and infiltrated by worshipers of false gods.  As the rest of the Old Testament shows, idolatry would be a problem throughout the history of Israel, their worst failing.

According to v. 1, Joshua summoned the leaders of the people at Shechem.   This is an important choice of sites, as Shechem was the place where God promised this land to their forefather Abraham.  The sense of history is essential as the people started thinking about the future and solidifying their commitment to God.

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (JHA 24:1-13).

This half of the chapter is composed of Joshua’s reminders of the LORD’s faithfulness.  Joshua is providing an abbreviated history of their nation for the sole purpose of offering examples of times God came to their rescue.

The first is from the beginning: Abraham & sons (vs. 2-4).  Joshua began with Abraham’s father, going back to the beginning of God’s people.  They worshiped OTHER GODS at that time, so God took Abraham out of his home and his faith to bring him to Shechem.  It’s interesting to note that Abraham lead a nomadic life.  The only property he owned was a cave (Machpelah) which he bought as a place of burial (Genesis 23).

God promised Abraham the land of Canaan and innumerable descendants. Those promises were not kept in his lifetime, but in the lives of his descendants.  This day, the day that Joshua gathered the tribes together, serves as the best instance of the fulfillment of those promises.  Abraham’s immediate descendants (aka the Patriarchs) are mentioned here as part of how God kept His promises to Abraham.  This takes us to the time of slavery in Egypt.

The second instance is Moses and the Exodus (vs. 5-7).  Notice the frequent use of the word “I” in this passage; the emphasis is on God and what He has done for His people.  God directed His people to Egypt and then delivered them from that land, particularly by destroying Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

Joshua said that they had seen with their own eyes these things because the ELDERS of the people were there.  They were the generation after those God lead out of Egypt.  Though they were probably children or youths at the time, they were still eyewitnesses of those foundational moments.   As Moses had done in Deuteronomy 5:3, Joshua made the fulfillment of covenant promises personal to these people.  This is the same thing we do when we approach the Bible; we’re looking to personalize it and apply these truths to our lives.

The third example is the conquest of the Promised Land  in vs. 8-12.  Against the Amorites (v. 8) refers to what  happened the first time Israel approached the Promised Land.  Israel asked the Amorites for permission to travel through their land in peace.  The Amorites not only denied them permission to cross their borders, but attacked them. God gave His people victory in that battle.

Another part of the story of the conquest is how God assisted them against Balak and Balaam (vs. 9-10).  Balak was the king of Moab.  He hired Balaam, a prophet, to pronounce a curse on Israel.  In 2 Peter 2:15 and Revelation  2:14, Balaam is characterized as the epitome of evil, so he was a threat they took very seriously.  God delivered them from the threat of this holy man’s curse by – of all things – a talking donkey!  (See Numbers 22-24 for the full story.)

And finally, God gave them victory against Jericho and the rest of the Canaanite nations (v. 11).  Jericho is the city God delivered into the hands of the Israelite army by causing its walls to fall down (see Joshua 5-6).  It’s interesting to me that Jericho was the only city that God delivered to the Israelites in that miraculous way.  The other campaigns mentioned here were resolved by much more conventional warfare.

Fourth, Joshua offers these summaries of the LORD’s work on Israel’s behalf.

The LORD won their battles for them.

– Vs. 8+11 = I GAVE THEM INTO YOUR HANDS.

– V. 8 = I DESTROYED THEM BEFORE YOU.

– V. 10 = I DELIVERED YOU OUT OF HIS HAND.

– V. 12 = I SENT THE HORNET AHEAD OF YOU…YOU DID NOT DO IT WITH YOUR OWN SWORD AND BOW.   The word HORNET can refer to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, whose raiding parties into Canaan significantly weakened the Canaanite nations before the Israelites came, or a supernatural terror the LORD sent to confound their enemies (see 2:9-11, 24 & 5:1).  Take either or both; the point is that God’s supernatural action made t conquest happen.

The reference to YOUR OWN SWORD AND BOW does not mean that the Israelites did no fighting (even in Jericho there was some violence) but it does mean that the conquest of the Promised Land was a gift from God, not a product of overwhelming military success.

The LORD gave them these things; they did not earn them.  That’s GRACE, folks (v. 13).   In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, God promised them everything – word for word – that is listed in v. 13:

– I GAVE YOU A LAND ON WHICH YOU DID NOT TOIL.

– I GAVE YOU…CITIES YOU DID NOT BUILD AND YOU LIVE IN THEM.

– YOU…EAT FROM VINEYARDS AND OLIVE GROVES THAT YOU DID NOT PLANT.

The point is that God was faithful; He kept His part of their covenant, their agreement.  Now it was up to the people to do the same.

This gives us insight into how life works: it is the interrelation of God’s will and human will.  God miraculously delivered Jericho into their hands, but they still had to march around the city seven times.  Their obedience yielded the result.

All the prosperity they enjoyed was the result of their being faithful to do what God instructed.  This is not a guarantee that material prosperity will always accompany spiritual maturity, but is a guarantee that God blesses every time we act according to His will.

The Bible is a record of God’s faithfulness to His people.

Deuteronomy 7:9 = Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

1 Corinthians 1:8-9 = He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Peter 4:19 = So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Vance Havner started preaching at age 14 and conducted a preaching and writing ministry that spanned over 70 years, until his death in 1986.  A colleague once said of Havner: “Old Vance was half Charles Spurgeon and half Billy Sunday with the voice of Will Rogers.”

<Retrieved from http://christian-quotes.ochristian.com/Vance-Havner-Quotes/ on 7/1/16.>

Vance Havner said, “God is faithful, and He expects His people to be faithful. God’s Word speaks of faithful servants, faithful in a few things, faithful in the least, faithful in the Lord, faithful ministers. And all points up that day when He will say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’             “What terrible times we have in our churches trying to keep people faithful in attendance and loyalty! How we reward and picnic and coax and tantalize church members into doing things they don’t want to do but which they would do if they loved God! The only service that counts is faithful service.             “True faith shows up in faithfulness. Not everyone can sing or preach, but all can be faithful.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-greg-yount-quotes-faith-secondcoming-4360.asp on 7/1/16.>

We’re talking about the Spiritual Fruit of FAITHFULNESS.  We’ve seen the first half of this equation – that God is faithful to us – in the example of all He did to establish the nation of Israel as His people on the earth.  As we shall see next Sunday, the only appropriate response is to likewise be faithful to Him.

Let me close with one more example, one that is a little more current.

“There is in the State House at Albany a letter written by Abraham Lincoln granting pardon to a deserter. This is the way that letter reads:

‘Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C., Oct. 4, 1864.  Upon condition that Roswell McIntyre of Co. E, Sixth Regiment of New York Cavalry, returns to his regiment and faithfully serves out his time, or until lawfully discharged, he is fully pardoned for any supposed desertion heretofore committed; this paper is his pass to his regiment.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.’

“Down at the left this note is scribbled: ‘Taken from the body of R. McIntyre at the battle of Five Forks, Va., 1865.’

“And so the quitter came back and died like a man, with his pardon on his person. And just so may all who have forsaken Christ and His cause return, be forgiven and recommissioned.”—Gospel Herald.

<Retrieved from http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/faithfulness%201.html on 7/1/16.>

Faithfulness is not distinguished by having a perfect record.  If that were true, none of us could be considered faithful.  Instead, faithfulness is turning back to God following every instance of having turned away.  It’s not about seeking perfection, but imitating the One who is perfect.

Next Week: 2. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (JHA 24:14-27).

Faith of Our Fathers

(Please read 2 TIMOTHY 3:10-17 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV.)

Can You Name All Ten Commandments? If Not, This (and 18 Other Questions) Could Get You Deported                                         Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra                               [posted 6/07/2016]

<Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/june/19-christian-questions-converts-deported-uk-asylum.html on 6/13/16.>

You know how desperate the Syrian refugee situation is affecting European nations.  There are thousands of people applying for asylum based on the claim that they are Christians.  How would anyone be able to prove such a claim to an immigration officer?  In Britain, the approach has been to ask applicants a series of “Bible trivia”-type questions.  The more wrong answers you give, the greater the chance of deportation.

Imagine taking a test under such circumstances!  Talk about stress!  The quiz is included below, with the answers at the end.  Take it yourself and see if you’d face deportation or be granted citizenship.

Of course, this practice is not without controversy.  A group called UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom of Belief and the Asylum Advocacy Group has recently released a report condemning the use of the quiz.  They stated that correct answers can be given by anyone, regardless of their actual commitment.

Another problem is that the case workers administering the test don’t necessarily understand Christianity.  A third problem is that there is some room for debate about the answers.

For example, Mohammed, a Christian convert from Iran, was asked what color the cover of the Bible was.  “I knew there were different colors,” he told the BBC. “The one I had was red. They asked me questions I was not able to answer—for example, what are the Ten Commandments. I could not name them all from memory.”

Mohammed’s application for asylum was rejected. So was a convert who didn’t know that Catholics abstained from meat on Friday. So was another convert who correctly named the last book of the Bible but did so in Farsi and was misunderstood.

The Christianity Today article concluded, “In the United States, only 60 percent of practicing Christians (those who identify as Christian, say their faith is important in their lives, and have been to church within the past month) can name the first five books of the Bible, according to an American Bible Society and Barna Group report released last month.

“It is better to ask how a convert feels about Jesus, what being a Christian means to that person, and how being a Christian had affected his or her daily life.”

This is the kind of situation you’d expect when non-Christian bureaucrats try to make snap judgments about t authenticity of a person’s claim to faith.  Fortunately, for us, there is a better way.

The best way to “get” faith is in the way Paul describes in his second letter to Timothy; by passing it along, one person to the next.  This has been God’s plan all along, as indicated by the fact of our human nature that things are more likely to “stick” with us if they are “caught, not taught.”

Today, on Father’s Day, it seemed especially appropriate to me to look at how we need role models, people who demonstrate faith to us.  We need fathers and others who live out what they claim and encourage us in BOTH word and deed to follow them as they follow the example Jesus set for all of us.

The best result is that, rather than preparing us to pass a quiz, our mentors and leaders are preparing us to live LIFE in a way that proves our claims to be true and draws others to join us in inspired living.  Let us learn today how to pass along a true, saving faith.

  1. How many books are in the Bible?
  2. How many books are in the New Testament?
  3. How many chapters are in the book of John?
  4. What are the 10 Commandments?
  5. Which gospel relates the story of Jesus’ birth?
  6. Where was Jesus born?
  7. What were the names of Jesus’ earthly parents?
  8. What was his earthly father’s occupation?
  9. How many disciples did Jesus have?  Name them.
  10. Where did Jesus become angry with the money lenders?
  11. Who did Jesus raise from the dead?  Which book is this miracle in?
  12. Recite the Lord’s Prayer.
  13. What happened during the Last Supper?
  14. Who betrayed Jesus to the Romans?
  15. Where was Jesus arrested?
  16. What is Ash Wednesday?
  17. Is Easter celebrated on the same date every year?
  18. What is the date of Pentecost?
  19. What is the meaning of Lent?

Do we have a faith we’ve received or one we’ve invented?

  1. Paul had set a good example (3:10-13).

Timothy had personally experienced Paul’s ministry: YOU KNOW ALL ABOUT MY…

– TEACHING = He had heard many of Paul’s sermons and his debates with his critics.

– WAY OF LIFE = Timothy had seen Paul in public and private moments; he had experienced the consistency between what Paul said & how he lived.

– PURPOSE = Paul’s purpose was to point people to Jesus. He used different methods, but the message was always the same: Jesus Saves Sinners.  (Interestingly, Paul’s other uses of this word is in reference to God’s purpose.  He clearly sees himself as fulfilling God’s purpose for human life on earth.)

– FAITH = Not saving faith, but faithfulness; remaining true to what we profess to believe.  Use the words “loyalty” and “integrity” here if you wish.

– PATIENCE = Forbearance and fortitude; the ability to go on without compromising or quitting. This can also be translated as “longsuffering.”

– LOVE = Ministry to all persons, regardless of their status in society or response to God.

– ENDURANCE = Keeping one’s focus on God in spite of how difficult circumstances make it. I like the interpretation of “brave patience.”  This is not passive tolerance, but active overcoming adversity.

— PERSECUTIONS = Adversity inflicted by others with the intention of discouraging faith.

— SUFFERINGS = In Antioch, Iconium, & Lystra, Paul was attacked & opposed by mobs; we can read about these events in the book of Acts.

Timothy had also personally experienced Paul’s deliverance.  As Paul testified, THE LORD RESCUED ME FROM ALL OF THEM.  Being “rescued” does not mean escaping all harm or avoiding stress.  It does mean being kept from real harm and death.  No one was able to make Paul stop following Jesus, to discourage him into silence.

Paul pointed out this is not just his experience, but is common to all followers of Jesus: EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO LIVE A GODLY LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS WILL BE PERSECUTED.  Does this sound depressing to you?  It shouldn’t: telling others about our faith and facing people who hate us for our faith are two of the most exciting and uplifting experience of faith we can have.  More importantly, God has not left us alone in this struggle; He has given us His Spirit and each other for encouragement and support.

Those who oppose EVIL MEN AND IMPOSTORS (“swindler”or “cheat”) will not be able to hide.  God’s judgment will find them out; they WILL GO FROM BAD TO WORSE.  This pattern of degeneration identifies them as EVIL and false, despite what they may say or the reputation they may have created.  We don’t have to follow them.  Obviously, they set a negative example; one to be avoided.

The persecutors of the Church are DECEIVING AND BEING DECEIVED: they are not at all in the truth.  Falsehoods propagate like viruses; they spread from person to person.  We need to be “germophobes” in regard to false teaching. Sincerity is not the issue; people can be sincerely wrong.  It happens all the time.

  1. Timothy was to continue in that example (3:14-15)

Paul charged Timothy to keep the faith he’d received: CONTINUE IN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED.  Like Timothy, we are to continue in the truth, resistant to falsehood, vigilant.  One sure way to avoid being deceived is to stick with the faith you’ve inherited.  As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:12 = DON’T LET ANYONE LOOK DOWN ON YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE YOUNG, BUT SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THE BELIEVERS IN SPEECH, IN LIFE, IN LOVE, IN FAITH AND IN PURITY.

Staying with the truth means that we aren’t swayed by the latest or most popular teaching.  This means that we have come to understand what we believe and why.  It means that we have evaluated what we have been taught by the standards of Scripture and are assured that what we believe is as truthful as possible.

The received faith to which Paul refers is what Timothy owned personally.  He had BECOME CONVINCED OF it.  Persecution and any kind of challenge can cause us to compromise our faith.  Remember, our faith is to shape our view of life, not vice-versa.  Paul suggests two ways we make sure our theology is as truthful as possible.

– It is drawn, as literally as possible, from the Bible.

– It assumes that the faith we’ve received is the most valid until proven unbiblical.

Paul had two reasons for giving Timothy this charge.  One, YOU KNOW THOSE FROM WHOM YOU LEARNED IT.  This faith had been personally received.  Likewise, we need trustworthy people to develop and demonstrate the truth for us.  We need to have a personal history of having been nurtured in faith; not just taught lessons, but an example has been set.

Two, YOU HAVE KNOWN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES on which it is based.  Jewish children memorized the Scriptures; from the least capable to the most, all Jewish boys memorized the first five books of the Bible.  This mental and spiritual preparation made Timothy WISE FOR SALVATION; prepared him to receive the true faith by teaching him the wisdom of obeying the will of God.  Salvation is  THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, the one who provided salvation for us by means of His sacrifice.

  1. We rely on the Bible to guide us (3:16-17).

The origin of Scripture is the Holy Spirit; it is GOD-BREATHED.  (See also 2PR 1:21.)   Because it comes from God, it needs to be used as literally as possible.  That’s the discipline of following God, not self.  Because it comes from God, we need to resist compromise and watering down the Bible in order to make it more appealing to our culture.

In John 10:35, Jesus said the Word of God cannot be broken.  By that He meant that the truth will always win out.  However, it can be twisted to say things God did not intend and we have to be careful to avoid that.

The usefulness (“profitability”) of Scripture is to equip God’s people for good works.  Specifically, we are to use it for:

– TEACHING refers to the content, not the method. In our age, it is not the media that matters, it is the message.  Our message must, in both word and spirit, consist of the words on the page.

– REBUKING refers to the spiritual power of the word to bring conviction of sin. It is generally not our job to convince people they are sinners.  Generally speaking, we let the word speak for itself.

– CORRECTING literally means “to straighten up” or “set in an upright position.” This is a life-long process and if we don’t let our pride complicate it, it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant thing to give or receive.  We all need course corrections occasionally and those are easier to achieve if we do them BEFORE we drift too far off.

– TRAINING (used to refer to child-rearing) IN RIGHTEOUSNESS refers to putting God’s word in our hearts so that in any situation we can be guided by the truth, arriving at a decision that honors God.

This preparation is complete; Scripture enables us to personalize and enact the faith of our fathers.  That’s how Paul could write that we are THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED = not lacking anything.  No excuses for not doing right.  We must be biblically literate, but that’s not the goal.  The goal is to know enough of the Bible to obey God.  To do right is the goal.  It can be translated as “complete, capable, proficient, or able to meet all demands.”  God has EQUIPPED us with salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word, the Church, and a head to understand and a heart to love.

Continuing on this universal preparation them, Paul added FOR EVERY GOOD WORK.  We do not study, listen, watch and learn about the Bible just to increase our knowledge.  Instead, we put God’s word in our hearts and minds so we can DO RIGHT.  There are few things as miserable as a Bible snob.  Don’t think you know better if you don’t DO better!  Don’t argue or put on airs only to have your ungodly secrets let the air out of you!  What really matters is loving the Author of the Bible and making that love real in everyday life!

According to the latest poll, the percentage of people who strongly agree that the Bible is a sufficient guide for meaningful life has dropped from 53% in 2011 to 45% in 2016.  The percentages of those who disagree strongly or somewhat have increased over the same time frame, from 23% to 33%.  In total, that’s an 18% loss of confidence in the Bible over the last five years.  Treat surveys and polls and that kind of data as you wish, but I think these numbers betray what we all suspect: there is a growing lack of confidence in the Bible as an authoritative document.  So – as we conclude, let’s have a quick history lesson on how we got here.

The “Premodern” Era

In the first 1500 years of history after the birth of Jesus (the “Common Era” in modern secularized parlance) this passage would have been easily applied and applauded.  The prevailing thought then was that everything true had already been revealed.  The past was their main time period.

Faith was something you received through your ancestors and through the authoritative teaching of the church.  Their emphasis would be on Paul passing on the truth he had personally received from Christ.

The “Modern” Era

Over the next five centuries, the emphasis would shift to the individual.  Most people believed that reasonable people, given enough time and reliable information, could understand the truth of any situation including the Bible.   Their emphasis was on the future, expectantly believing that reason would create a better world tomorrow.

The formation of their faith examined sacred texts like this one from an impersonal, scientific point of view to wring droplets of truth from the damp cloth of the interpretations of previous generations.  Their emphasis would be on Timothy, who had to apply his faith as he pastored his church.

The “Postmodern” Era

In the last two generations of the Western world, the culture is at a place entirely the opposite of the Bible writers.  If a Paul wrote these words to a Millennial Timothy, Tim would likely respond, “What?  Just because you say so?  What about me and my experiences?”  The prevailing thought is to be skeptical of traditions and all information commonly accepted as true.  The present moment (as an extension of self) is t time period most important to this culture.

Faith is something you have to create for yourself or it is not real.  People are encouraged to borrow words, symbols, and ideas from all kinds of religious traditions without having the bother of understanding them in context or using them in ways that are faithful to the religion of origin.  Making faith personal means redefining things in ways relevant to self.

Even on Father’s Day, the message that we celebrate and affirm and the “Faith of Our Fathers” is a hard sell.  It’s part of what makes Christianity irrelevant in our culture.

My suggestion is that we keep the message but tweak the method.  We call on each person to examine the Faith of Our Fathers; to own it by means of personal experience, reason, and spirituality.  BUT, we assert that the Bible is final authority and that our search for meaning be open-ended, not driven to affirm what our secular culture has ordained as its new orthodoxy, “political correctness.”  We should stress the benefit of studying what previous generations have said and not reject traditions out of hand.  It is to our benefit to use the context in which these words were given and how they have been received historically.

Here’s what I want you to do.  Take a look at the quiz in this morning’s bulletin and pick one question that you think is more important to you.  Then, if you can, have a conversation with someone at least one generation younger than you.  You will tell them which question you selected and why you think it is important.  Ask them what they think.  Do they agree with the faith you’ve just declared?  Is it important to them?  Explore differences of opinion.  Talk about ways you’ve personally experienced and demonstrated this truth.  (Personal experience trumps authority & antiquity.)

Answers:

  1. 66
  2. 27
  3. 21
  4. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image and worship it. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord. Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet.
  5. Matthew and, more famously, Luke.
  6. Bethlehem
  7. Mary and Joseph
  8. Carpenter
  9. 12: Simon Peter, Andrew, James son of Zebedee, John, Philip, Bartholomew or Nathanael, Thomas, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot
  10. In the temple
  11. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead; it was recorded in John 11.
  12. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” ~ Matthew 6:9-13 (Late manuscripts add “for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”)
  13. During the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He washed their feet, gave them bread and wine by which to remember his body and blood, and told them he would soon be betrayed.
  14. The Jewish religious authorities, with the help of Judas Iscariot
  15. Garden of Gethsemane
  16. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian church.
  17. Easter is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. (Thank the Council of Nicaea.)
  18. Pentecost is seven weeks after Easter.
  19. Lent is a season of 40 days that lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It represents Jesus’ 40 day stay in the desert, and those observing it pray, repent, and fast.