Pentecost Sunday Sermon: A Sharp Dressed Person

Proverbs 27:17

A week ago last night the annual Prom Grand March brought out the town and also a lot of sharp dressed young men and women. The girls looked elegant in their gowns and the guys looked handsome in their tuxes and suits.

A lot of money and time were spent, by both sexes, on getting ready for this important event. They were sharp dressed persons last Saturday night.

But on this Pentecost Sunday I ask each of us “What does it mean to be a sharp dressed person regarding our faith?”

Paul writes in Galatians 3:27

“…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

So what does it mean to be a sharp dressed person of faith? How does this Sunday, the day in which the promised Holy Spirit came to those gathered waiting in obedience to Christ’s command, help us to become not a sharp dressed person but a person well dressed in Christ?

Pentecost Sunday is the 50th day after the Passover celebration. In the Old Testament it was originally called Festival of the Weeks and is now called in the Jewish faith, Shavuot. Its original intent was to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai.

For the Christian faith, Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the church” as it launched the remaining disciples of Christ into sharing the Gospel starting in Jerusalem and then further and further out into the world as Jesus commanded them in Matthew 28.

It was quite the birthday party as we read in Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The coming of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus noted before His ascension to heaven in Acts 1:4-5, was a key part of this particular Pentecost celebration:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

The presence, power, and purpose of the Holy Spirit was necessary for the church to start. His coming was critical for the disciples to become witnesses of what they had experienced with Christ and what Christ offered those who would hear about Him.

The Holy Spirit is essential for our work and life as well dressed followers of Jesus Christ. From the awareness of our need to confess and repent of our sins to the empowerment of our thoughts, actions, and words in obeying the Lord, the Holy Spirit is simply essential if we are going to live for the Lord.

Now before I move on, I want to acknowledge that a couple of our teens, in my response several months ago for sermon topics they wanted to hear about, noted three topics that I believe are tied into what this particular Sunday means for us.

One dealt with the issue of self-control, another regarding acting on the Word, and a third on the issue of spiritual mentorship. The Holy Spirit deals with all three of these and, I suggest this morning, uses them to “sharpen” us into maturing followers of Jesus Christ.

And our main text focuses on this sharpening aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. It is Proverbs 27:17

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another (NIV)

Now what point did the writer intend to mean with the use of the word “sharpen.” The ancient Hebrew word used here, chadah, means (and you might be surprised by this) “to rejoice, to make glad, to gladden.”

How might this tie into the work of the Holy Spirit?

I suggest this morning that when the Holy Spirit uses us to help sharpen one another it is for our ultimate good and God’s glory but in a manner which does NOT discourage us but encourages us to keep moving forward. Conviction is part of the Holy Spirit’s work but conviction that is ultimately for our benefit to gladden our hearts and help us be hopeful people.

And what the teens have asked about regarding self-control, acting on the word, and the importance of spiritual mentorship, tie into this sharpening work of the Holy Spirit.

So then how does the Holy Spirit help us achieve self-control?

Well, what are we told these days about how to achieve self-control?

What I hear on how to achieve self-control is exercising greater will power, trying harder, believing in yourself that you can achieve it. But is that enough? We need to make a decision to become self-controlled but it is not enough.

In the list of qualities we call the Fruit of the Spirit, self-control is listed at the end of them. I have often wondered why it was listed last, perhaps because it is the result of the other eight becoming evident in our lives. I don’t know for sure but it is listed as one of the evidences of a Holy Spirit filled and empowered life.

But how does self-control, as evidence of the Spirit in our lives, develop?

One of the things I am not proud of is that when I played high school tennis, I lost my temper during a match and threw my racket, twice. (I was a terrible player.)

I was fined by my coach, I embarrassed my teammates and my family, and I also ended up having my racket break a few days later thus costing my parents some more money.

Now when I went to college I played tennis for fun. I did not throw my racket anymore, but my attitude indicated that I was just as frustrated and angry as I was in my high school days. I lacked some inner and attitudinal self-control. But in my final semester of college I had a college roommate that helped me develop some greater self-control as he worked with me to help me enjoy the game for the exercise and camaraderie we enjoyed in the final weeks of our college days now 35 years ago. It was an iron sharpening iron experience.

One of the most important tasks of Christian discipleship is to help one another be self-controlled by walking alongside others in the power, wisdom, and strength of the Holy Spirit as He shapes us both directly and through the community of faith as well. Colossians 3:16 reminds us of this important task

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

The Holy Spirit also helps us with acting on the Word. But also, I add, living out the Word.

Again, Colossians 3:16 points this out.

I don’t know how many times that a passage of scripture has become clearer to me where I had have heard an insight from another person in conversation or Bible study. Discussing and studying the Bible in a group or with one other person is another way the Holy Spirit works to sharpen us and help us become a stronger and maturing believer.

And interestingly enough, one of the most difficult classes I had in seminary was a class on Bible study. My professor had written the text book and taught a method of study that required a close and careful reading of the text within its context.

We used the book of Mark to learn the method and I remember wrestling with various passages as we studied. It was hard work. But I also recall the power of scripture working itself into our lives as we studied the Bible together. Turns out, I have used that content of that class more than any other because it taught me the power of acting on and living in the word. It was an iron sharpening experience.

Finally the Holy Spirit sharpens us as we mentor one another.

In a recent Twitter post, someone quoted GK Chesterton, a Christian writer of another generation, as saying, “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” That reminded me of the disciples in the boat as they faced strong seas together and found the power of Jesus sufficient for calming both the sea and their fearful hearts.

Imaging with me for a moment the mentoring they had while in the presence of Jesus Himself! Yes they argued and fought with one another but the bond that developed between them because of whom they were with and what He did to them and for them was strengthened to a deeply powerful depth on Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit came and began dwelling within them.

But as we read start reading through the book of Acts, the remaining eleven (Judas tragically dying), began to disappear from the story of the early days of the Christian faith and church. The work and ministry of Paul began to take center stage but the remaining disciples continued to do what Jesus had commanded them to do, “go into all the world and make disciples.”

As I considered this week, the journeys of the eleven, I asked “Did they stay in touch? Did they ever come back together and share of their experiences?”

We don’t know.

But what is important is that they carried, far from the geographic center of the faith, the story of Christ’s salvation and grace for every human being they met. And those people carried the message and mentored others in the faith down through the centuries.

But how Pastor Jim, how did they do that?

They shared what they knew and had experienced.
They prayed together.
They taught individuals and groups.
The lived out their faith in daily life.

Mentoring in the faith is more than content. It is sharing the journey, the ups and downs, the victories and the failures, of faith with other people and learning from them.

The Holy Spirit uses people – you and me – to accomplish God the Father’s work and mission. He uses us in the important role of mentors to help one another grow in the Christ, be strengthened by Christ, and to sustain belief and hope in Christ.

So on this Pentecost Sunday, I remind us that when the Holy Spirit came it was not a “one shot deal” and He was gone. No, the Holy Spirit came and He has stayed to do what Jesus said He would do.

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (NIV)

We are partners with the Holy Spirit as He works, guides, and leads

To help us develop and practice self-control…

To act on and live out the Word of God…

And to mentor and be mentored in the faith.

The Holy Spirit helps us become sharp dressed people of faith.

But the Holy Spirit, as we note in the Fruit of the Spirit passage, is present to help us become people characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. This character development comes as we let go of our self-centered agenda and desires and allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, not to make us weird but to make us more and more like Jesus as the years go by.

Which leads me to ask some questions this Pentecost Sunday morning,

How much of you does God have? How surrendered are you to the Lord today? Is your life characterized by these fruits?

Are you struggling with a particular sin? Unrighteous anger, lust, fear, impatience, jealousy, or something else?

Are you feeling defeated in your faith? Are ready to give up?

By whose strength and power are you living out your faith? Yours or God’s?

I encourage you this morning, even where you are sitting, to invite the Holy Spirit into your life today. Ask Him to forgive you where that needs to take place, then surrender all of you to Him. Hold nothing back.

Let us be people filled with the Holy Spirit so deeply that Jesus is truly seen in us.

Amen.

On the Book Table and the Kindle

It has been a while since I last posted on what books I am reading and going to review.

The book table is quiet and the kindle still has good books that I will be commenting on over the course of this year.

But I am taking a break for the rest of this month from reading and reviewing.

I will be back sharing reviews later in the summer but for now I am reading for the enjoyment of reading and not to write a review.

See you behind the page!

Sunday Sermon: Be Fruitful, Not A Trophy

Galatians 5:22-23

 

As Jesus was nearing His death, He spent His final week in Jerusalem teaching in the Temple and pointing out both the flaws in the faith of the Pharisees and their company and the kind of faith He was looking for in the simple and sacrificial giving by the widow.

 

We read it in Mark 12:38-44

 

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

 

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

 

Jesus looked for a certain kind of faith in His ministry here on earth and that is noted in passages such as Matthew 8 when Jesus said of the faith of the Roman Centurion, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.”

 

 What kind of faith does God look for in us?

 

 I suggest this morning that the kind of faith which God looks for in us is, first of all, a believing faith in which we believe in and trust Christ alone for our salvation. But it also must be a fruitful faith which is characterized by the qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23:

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

 

 And Jesus would not disagree with Paul on this issue of fruitfulness as we recall Him saying early in His ministry noted in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7 and verses 15 through 20:

 

 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”

 

 My point and my focus for this morning is that to have the right kind of faith in Christ it first must be in Christ but also it must become a fruitful faith – one that exhibits the fruit of the spirit as noted in the Galatians text. It must not become a trophy faith, the kind of faith which Jesus grew critical of in the Pharisees and their company.

 

Now before I make some important points about what this means for us, I want to read our main text, Galatians 5:22-23 in its slightly larger context. I am using The Message this morning because it gives a very clear meaning of the text in language that I think we can relate to. I begin with verse 16 read through the end of the chapter:

 

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

 

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

 

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

 

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

 

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

 

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

 

Pretty blunt language, is it not? And yet do we not have the hope of Christ offered here?

 

Who cannot relate to gut honest descriptions noted in verses 19-21?

 

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.

 

 I think that this is what Jesus was getting at when He called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs in Matthew 23:27-28:

 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

 

If then, we are to be people of a fruitful faith we need to do a couple of things…

 First, we are to not just be open to the Holy Spirit, but we must be filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit (and I am going to be sharing a lot about the Holy Spirit the rest of this month) is not an IT. The Holy Spirit is a HE. He is part of the Trinity (which I will also be speaking about over the next couple of weeks.)

 

We need to be filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit on a daily basis to live a fruitful faith. The Holy Spirit must be allowed by us to help us change from being self-centered to Christ centered. And this change has both moments of change and a life-long process of change.

 

So we must be filled with Holy Spirit. We can ask to be and He will gladly do so.

 

Second, to be a people of fruitful faith we need to heed the words of Paul which come after our main text:

 

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

 

The Church of God is part of what is referred to the Wesleyan-Holiness movement and we share a common theological perspective with the Nazarenes, the Wesleyans, the Salvation Army, and the Free Methodists. One of the key things we believe is that the Spirit-filled life is necessary and essential and that holiness, which is an important characteristic of God, must be part of our character too.

 

Now, one of the things that holiness has meant over the years in our tradition has meant no smoking, no drinking alcohol, no gambling, no pre-marital or extra-marital sex, and the like. But it has also often been defined as not wearing wedding rings, not wearing make-up, not wearing jewelry, at one point, no musical instruments in church, women wearing only long hair and men short hair, and not drinking caffeinated coffee. (In one holiness denomination they used to publish in their denominational magazine a list of people who stopped drinking caffeinated coffee!)

 

Now I think that no smoking, no drinking, no gambling and no pre or extra-marital sex is both good for us spiritually and good for us health and relationship wise. I think that staying away from these things is a good thing to do.

 

But this tendency to make laws (and the Pharisees are not along in this tendency) has led holiness to become rule based and not evidence of a faithful and fruitful life. Holiness is more than keeping the rules. When Jesus said in Matthew 5:48

 

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

He did not say “like your heavenly Father is perfect” He said “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I think there is a difference.

 

What is meant here is maturity. In other words, Jesus says to the disciples, “become mature like your heavenly father is mature.”

 

“Pastor Jim, that’s a life a time goal!”

 

“You’re right it is. But it is a goal toward which a fruitful faith becomes possible. So what this means, returning to this text:

 

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

 

Holiness is more than a list of behaviors to be avoided. Holiness is also a part of being grace filled and compassionate toward others. It is about helping to relieve human suffering. It is about helping people get out of the grip of addiction and abuse.

 

So then…

 

We aim at the fruit of the spirit to become evidence of our faith. We seek, with the help and strength of the Holy Spirit, to not live this way…

 

They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 

 

That’s a trophy faith… one based on performance and accomplishment

 

But to live this way…

 

but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

 

What kind of faith do you have today? Is it based on performance and show? Or is it based on a daily decision to live humbly and with the love of God flowing out of us?

 

Everyone one of us here will deal with the inner mumbo-jumbo of Galatians 5:19-21 till the day we die or Christ returns. This is an on-going battle for every one of us. None of us escapes this battle.

 

But, we can choose to live, with the help of the Holy Spirit a life, characterized by these qualities.

 

In a very interesting and insightful article, David Brooks wrote about two sets of virtues which he called resume virtues and eulogy virtues. The article was titled, “The Moral Bucket List.”

 

He wrote, “The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” He then goes on to say, “Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”

 

So what kind of a person do you want to become? And what kind of person, if we say we are Christian, does God want us to become?

 

May we become fruitful people of faith.

 

Amen

Sunday Sermon: Important Lessons from Women in the Bible

Looking back over your life, quickly list five women (you can include your mom) who have had an important influence on you. They can be family, teachers, friends, or famous people.

What was it about these five women that have helped you become the person you are today?

There are five women, other than my mom and some family members who have influenced my life in a variety of ways. They are a diverse group of women. Some finished only high school or only eighth grade. Two of them had earned doctorates.

In the church I came to faith in, there was a women, widowed by the time I knew her, named ____. Many called her Sister ____ and what I remember about her was her prayer life and her radiant faith. I remember that some of us teens would stop at her house during long bike rides to say hello and simply spend some time with her.

In that same church was my high school Sunday School teacher, _______. She was a housewife but worked at a famous local restaurant where she helped bake the bread for which the restaurant is still known. Her door was always open to us and we often found ourselves showing up.

A neighbor, ______, was one of many neighborhood moms who kept tabs on me. A person of faith, I still feel at home when I visit there.

In college, I came to respect and love Dr _______ who was one of my English professors. She opened the world of Blake, Shelley, Keats, the Brownings, and host of other writers to us. A Phi Beta Kappa PhD graduate of the University of Illinois, “Dr ____” never married but she was a mother of faith and learning to many students and graduates at the college. And when she said to me, “Jim, I think that you need to apply for the editor’s job of the college paper,” I was humbled by the thought, and overwhelmed by the job, which I did get!

In graduate school at Western Michigan University I encountered a professor who treated us not as students but as professionals and peers. Dr _________, well known in the field of organization planning and evaluation, taught a class on program evaluation. It was a good class to take but her personal approach made it more like a dialogue between equals than a lecture. (In fact, when I told her in an email this week that I was talking about her in my sermon, she said, “We can all learn from one another.”)

There are other women who have influenced me in a wide variety of ways and I am grateful for all of them.

In the book of Genesis we read these words:

So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Women have been and continue to be created by a good and great God. They matter to Him. They are important members of His kingdom and His church and they have faithfully served Him throughout the centuries.

Today we salute and give thanks to God for the woman we call “mom.” But we also salute and give thanks to God for the women who have been used by God to help us become the person God wants us to become.

The Bible includes the story of women who illustrate the importance of faithfulness to God in the midst of difficult and trying times. Other women of scripture illustrate the tremendous transformational power of God in their lives as well.

For a few moments we are going to spend time with four of them and see what we can learn from them regarding life and faith.

The first are two women we read about in Exodus 2 – Moses’ mother and Pharoah’s daughter. We read these words about them:

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” (NIV)

Moses is born during a very dangerous time. His people, the Hebrews, were hated and despised by the Egyptians. In fact, as we read back in chapter one, the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh, did not trust the Hebrews and ordered that every Hebrew boy be drowned in the Nile because the Hebrew population was growing too fast for Egyptian comfort.

So when Moses’ mom gave birth to him, she hid him as long as she could, until she made the decision to hide him in along the Nile where he was found by as servant of Pharaoh’s daughter.

But what will Pharaoh’s daughter do? What did she think about her dad’s policy, if she knew if it existed? Did she agree with it, if she knew about? Was she already a mother? Or was she childless?

We don’t what she thought or knew about his awful policy but what we do know according to verse 6 is that “she felt sorry for” Moses. Compassion was present in this powerful woman.

Now that Moses has been found, what of his mother? What is she going to do? What is going to happen to her? How can she let him go like that? She becomes his nurse, his caretaker until the day Moses leaves her and becomes part of Egyptian royalty.

Hasn’t this situation played out over the centuries? Have not biological mothers given up their children to be raised by another woman? To be adopted, if you will?

Adoption has touched lives in this congregation. Some here have been adopted never knowing their biological mothers or, at least, knowing who she was but never having a relationship with her. Others have adopted children with all the opportunities and challenge that it brings.

But what I want us to observe in these two women is their courage to do what was right for the sake of the child in the face of death. Rather than see him be drown in the Nile, Moses’ mother seeks to prolong his life even if it meant (and it did) giving him up to the care of another woman. And Pharaoh’s daughter, in spite of what her father chooses do, even in the face of what he ordered done, demonstrated courage by taking Moses in to her home even though she knew that he was Hebrew.

The courage of women to protect life in the face of death is a great courage. The courage of women to adopt someone else’s child, even from another culture, is also a courageous act.

And in God’s larger purpose, their courage to save Moses’ life would lead to, through God’s action, Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt decades later and back toward the Promise Land which ultimately leads to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and down to us here this morning.

There is a third woman of the Old Testament who exercised great courage at another critical time and we know her name.

Esther.

It has been frequently said that this Old Testament book which bears her name has no mention of God by name in it. But when you have read this book, I believe, one cannot but know God was very present in it!

Esther is picked to be the next queen of Babylonia after the previous one, Vashti, refused to dance before a group of drunken men, at the request (really command) of her husband, King Xerxes. She is part of the Jewish population of the city of Susa where she was being raised a cousin, Mordecai who was a very devout follower of God.

Mordecai, who had discovered and informed on a plot to assassinate the King, became an enemy to one of Xerxes’ very important and powerful aides, Haman who comes to despise both Mordecai and his people, the Jews. Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman as we he walked by, even though the king had ordered it be done by everyone and this incensed Haman who made plans to have Mordecai, and all the Jews, executed.

Esther is told of the plot and asked to go to the King an ask him to stop the plot. Well, one simply did not walking into the inner chamber and say, “Hey your majesty, got a moment?” You had to be invited by the King.

Esther is caught in a difficult situation. Even she could not simply walk to see the King. And her heritage has not yet been revealed by her. So she tells Mordecai to have their people fast and pray for her.

After three days, Esther prepares herself to go to the King. She was invited in and she hatched a plan to save her people. The result was that Haman and not Mordecai was executed.

Courage too, is part of Esther’s story. She demonstrates it in the face of death as well. But Esther also demonstrates good leadership. She knows she has limits on her Queenly powers but that does not stop her in exercising her power in a critical situation.

So from these three women, found in the Old Testament, which is all too often dismissed as irrelevant and overly patriarchal, we find demonstration of courage and leadership in difficult situations. At least two of them were mothers.

Women in the Old Testament have much to teach us about being people of courage, leadership, and faith.

But there is also a woman in the New Testament we need to note this morning who demonstrated great faith and hope in Jesus Himself and whose miraculous transformation serves us today as a reminder of the redemptive power of God which Jesus gave to both men and women.

Her name was Mary Magdalene.

Luke notes in his gospel, chapter 8 and verse 2 that Jesus encounters Mary as a demon possessed women from whom He casts out 7 demons.

One can only imagine the change which took place in her that day… and in the days which followed.

As a result she becomes one of His followers AND as noted in John’s gospel is the first person to see the resurrected Christ with her own eyes! She becomes the one to tell the disciples, who are in hiding, that Christ is risen!

Much has been written and speculated about Mary Magdalene over the centuries but after the resurrection, we never read of her again. But what we do learn from this woman of faith is a demonstration of God’s transforming power and the resultant life of faith that she lives for the rest of her life.

So…moms, grandmas, aunts, sisters, wives… ladies the Bible has something important to say to you and about you.

You matter. You are part of God’s plans and purposes just as much as we men are.

And on this Mother’s Day as we honor mothers, let us also honor and remember the mothers of faith who have influenced us. Let us give thanks to God for the faith of women here and around the world who serve alongside men, husbands, brothers, daughters, and friends.

I want to conclude our time of worship together this morning with a prayer for both moms and women, here as well as “out there.”

As you are able and would like to, I am going to ask all the females in this sanctuary to stand as I pray for them today.

Good and gracious God,

We come to You on this Mother’s Day on behalf of mothers here and everywhere. We are grateful to You this day for mothers and the vital role in the raising of not just children but also in the care and nurture of other children in many different roles and situations.

For those mothers who are mothers for the first time on this Mother’s Day we celebrate with them as new moms. Grant them the rest they need; the patience with their child, their husband, and themselves; for alertness as they care for their child at home and in public.

We also pray, and give thanks, for moms of teenagers. Help them to be firm yet fair as they parent their teen or teens, and other teens as well, during this season of life. Give them wisdom and patience with their teens and with themselves and may they enjoy this season of life and parenting.

For those mothers who are entering or have entered the season of the empty nest we ask that You draw close to them and be their source of hope, peace, and purpose as one chapter of life closes and a new one begins.

For those moms who find themselves with adult children and/or grandchildren back at home for whatever reason, grant them divine strength and wisdom as they deal with the many issues for this situation. Give them the eyes to see what You would have them see for this season of life. May faith, hope, and love thrive there.

We pray for mothers who are grieving the loss of a child. Jesus you grieved and wept and the tomb of Lazarus and you grieve and weep with these mothers some of whom have very fresh grief. O Lord God, draw close to these women and love them well.

We pray for mothers who are dealing with a serious illness. We ask that You walk with them as they navigate health issues while caring for their family and themselves. We pray for a healing touch in their body and we pray that Your peace would be experienced in their hearts and minds even as we pray for them now.

And for mothers who are in conflict with their children and the physical and/or relational distance is very real and current, we ask O God that You would send Your Holy Spirit to move and act in a way so that resolution comes about.

So today we pray for and give thanks to You, our Good and Gracious God, for mothers. But we also pray for women everywhere as well as here in our midst.

We pray for women who are unable to have children. This is a hard day for them. We cannot truly know or fully understand what they are going through. But we come to You on their behalf and ask that You will help them as only You can.

We pray for women, some of whom are mothers, who are experiencing the horrors and profound injustice of being trafficked. Oh God, be their rescuer and direct those who can rescue them to find them and do so. Help these women to find safe and life giving routes of escape.

For those women who are victims of domestic violence, we also pray for their deliverance. Provide them with a path of safety and help them to take it. Strengthen the hands of the courts and law enforcement in a just way so that they are able to help stop this terrible and awful reality for not just women but children as well.

Father God we also pray for those women who are in uniform today. Be with them as they serve abroad, here at home, and at sea on behalf of our nation. We also come to you on behalf of those serving in law enforcement, public safety, and emergency medicine. Protect and guide them in their important duties. And for nurses and doctors grant them steady hands and clear thoughts as they treat those in their care.

For the women who serve us as elected officials, we give You thanks. Give them wisdom and courage to lead and govern well.

We also pray for those who teach, who counsel, and serve in the social services. Help them Lord to be women of hope and empowerment with those they serve and help.

Finally Lord for the young women who stand here today we give you thanks for their emerging talents and abilities. Help them to seek You with all their heart. Help them to honor you in all of their choices and help them to develop the sexual integrity that You desire for them. Be present to them and for them in a very real way during their times of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Help them to pursue You wholeheartedly and with joy and contentment in who YOU made them to be and become.

We are grateful and thankful for the women in our lives… especially the one we call ‘mom.’

Amen

A Mother’s Day Prayer

We come to You on this Mother’s Day on behalf of mothers here and everywhere. We are grateful to You this day for mothers and the vital role in the raising of not just children but also in the care and nurture of other children in many different roles and situations.

 

For those mothers who are mothers for the first time on this Mother’s Day we celebrate with them as new moms. Grant them the rest they need; the patience with their child, their husband, and themselves; for alertness as the care for their child at home and in public.

 

We also pray, and give thanks, for moms of teenagers. Help them to be firm yet fair as they parent their teen or teens, and other teens as well, during this season of life. Give them wisdom and patience with their teens and with themselves and may they enjoy this season of life and parenting.

 

For those mothers who are entering or have entered the season of the empty nest we ask that You draw close to them and be their source of hope, peace, and purpose as one chapter of life closes and a new one begins.

 

For those moms who find themselves with adult children and/or grandchildren back at home for whatever reason, grant them divine strength and wisdom as they deal with the many issues for this situation. Give them the eyes to see what You would have them see for this season of life. May faith, hope, and love thrive there.

 

We pray for mothers who are grieving the loss of a child. Jesus you grieved and wept and the tomb of Lazarus and you grieve and weep with these mothers some of whom have very fresh grief. O Lord God, draw close to these women and love them well.

 

We pray for mothers who are dealing with a serious illness. We ask that You walk with them as they navigate health issues while caring for their family and themselves. We pray for a healing touch in their body and we pray that Your peace would be experienced in their hearts and minds even as we pray for them now.

 

And for mothers who are in conflict with their children and the physical and/or  relational distance is very real and current, we ask O God that You would send Your Holy Spirit to move and act in a way so that resolution comes about.

 

So today we pray for and give thanks to You, our Good and Gracious God, for mothers. But we also pray for women everywhere as well as here in our midst.

 

We pray for women who are unable to have children. This is a hard day for them. We cannot truly know or fully understand what they are going through. But we come to You on their behalf and ask that You will help them as only You can.

 

We pray for women, some of whom are mothers, who are experiencing the horrors and profound injustice of being trafficked. Oh God, be their rescuer and direct those who can rescue them to find them and do so. Help these women to find safe and life giving roots of escape.

 

For those women who are victims of domestic violence, we also pray for their deliverance. Provide them with a path of safety and help them to take it. Strengthen the hands of the courts and law enforcement in a just way so that they are able to help stop this terrible and awful reality for not just women but children as well.

 

Father God we also pray for those women who are in uniform today. Be with them as they serve abroad, here at home, and at sea on behalf of our nation. We also come to you on behalf of those serving in law enforcement, public safety, and emergency medicine. Protect and guide them in their important duties. And for nurses and doctors grant them steady hands and clear thoughts as the treat those in their care.

 

For the women who serve us as elected officials, we give You thanks. Give them wisdom and courage to lead and govern well.

 

We also pray for those who teach, who counsel, and serve in the social services. Help them Lord to be women of hope and empowerment with those they serve and help.

 

We are grateful and thankful for the women in our lives… especially the one we call ‘mom.’

 

Amen

 

 

My Review of Barnabas Piper’s Help My Unbelief

23214144As a pastor, as one who grew up in a evangelical environment, and as a Christian college and evangelical-holiness seminary graduate, one of the biggest elephants in the sanctuary of the church is doubt. In his book, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is not the Enemy of Faith (David C Cook, 2015) Barnabas Piper calls out this elephant and offers readers a chance, perhaps for the first time, to consider doubt not as an enemy but an ally of faith.

Piper does so by first, honestly presenting his own journey through doubt and second, by reaffirming the experience of faith which goes beyond an intellectual belief. The result is both an honest and hopeful view for those who believe… and yet… struggle to believe.

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Piper brings in the story of the desperate father, seeking Jesus to deliver his son from an evil spirit as recorded in Mark 9:14-27, who says to Jesus in a moment of desperation “I believe, help my unbelief” as a launching point for what follows in the book AND what follows in Piper’s life because, as he writes, “In five words he explained so much of the Christian’s experience, of my experience.” From there Piper shares his journey from having a faith based on mere mental assent to a set of suppositions to one based on a transformative faith.

In a very key part of the book Piper does a wonderful job of distinguishing between two kinds of doubt: unbelieving doubt and believing doubt. He calls unbelieving doubt “that which cripples” and believing doubt as one which “strengthens our beliefs.” I think that Piper is right here and I think that the desperate father of Mark 9 was a person of believing doubt.

But there is more in this book a certain segment of people that I called the “evangelically educated” will find very helpful as they wrestle with their doubt about the Christian faith and all that entails. But I also believe that Piper does a very good job of broadening in a biblically faithful way the place where doubt intersects with the questions many people, not just the “evangelically educated,” wrestle with – the Trinity, the relationship of science and faith, and other such questions. And as he does, the reader is invited into doubt as a door way to a greater and deeper faith in Christ.

I found myself nodding in agreement with Piper throughout this book. I saw my own doubts in this book at well. I heard part of my story in this book.

I will be recommending this book to others, especially young adults, as a way of helping them understand that doubt can be, and is, a doorway to a greater and more personal faith in Christ.

On my rating scale, I rate this book as an”outstanding” read.

Note: I received a electronic galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

 

Sunday Sermon: The Pleasure and Difficulty of Faith

Two weeks ago, we spent some time studying this verse, in the larger context of faith maturity and growth as well as the challenge of faith itself. It is Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (NIV)

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (NLT)

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (MSG)

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (KJV)

This morning I am inviting you into a study of this verse from the perspective of this sermon title

The Pleasure and the Difficulty of Faith

We see both the pleasure and the difficulty of faith expressed throughout scripture. We see it in the long, long journey of Abraham and Sarah as they wait for a promise of a son to be fulfilled.

We see it in the incredibly difficult life of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, languished in a jail because of a false accusation, and then had to face his own feelings of understandable anger and pain as he faced his brothers years later and held the power to either feed them or not.

We look at it through the eyes of Ruth who choose to leave her native country as a young widow to be with her also widowed mother-in-law in a new country trusting her God to take care of them both.

Then there is Job. The emotional pain of tremendous loss and the physical pain of his own body show the pleasure and difficulty of faith as he wrestles with “why?”

Where does the pleasure and difficulty of faith come from?
The pleasure of faith comes, I think, in a certain belief and trust as noted in the latter half of this verse:“that he (God) exists and he rewards those who seriously seek him.”

The pleasure of faith comes from the passionate and consistent pursuit of God. We seek God, we pursue Him, because we believe that He does exist and that He does reward those who seriously, passionately, earnestly seek him.”

The difficulty of faith comes because without such faith, pleasing God (and not ourselves) honoring God (instead of ourselves) obeying God (not our agenda) is difficult or, as our text says, downright “impossible.”

Think with me for a moment about a time when believing and trusting Christ was hard for you to do. Perhaps that is a challenge right now!

I think of two periods in my own life when the pleasure and difficulty of faith was part of the situation I was in.

The first took place 32 years ago as I struggled to find the pleasure of faith in Christ through obedience. I had been serving as a youth pastor and with a pastoral transition at the end of my first year of service, found myself dealing with a different perspective and attitude that was increasingly conflicted. As a result, I did not want to attend seminary but graduate school instead. That was a dead end created by God.

As I wrestled with, cried about, and argued with God, I finally realized, and accepted that God wanted me in seminary. I shared this with Susan, about a month before our wedding, and gave her the opportunity to experience the pleasure and difficulty of faith.

The second took place 21 years ago when the medical tests revealed that fatherhood might be something that I would never enjoy and experience. There was shock and we found ourselves wondering what was next.

Eventually the pleasures of faith came through as I walked with the Lord through the difficulties and now see them as moments of growth.

There are pleasures of faith as well. One of the recent ones for me is knowing that several of our graduates from the class of 2014 have found a church to not just attend but also to serve in. That thrills me as a pastor!

Faith is sometimes a very difficult thing to do for a couple of reasons:

1. We want to see the end result ahead of time. We are planners and we need to know the end point we are planning and moving toward. But life, we know, is not that way. A curve ball comes and we swing at air!
2. We buy into the belief that the goals on which we are to build a good life – success, happiness, etc- are the true ends of life and once we achieve them, then we have arrived!

But if we say we are Christian, then the goal of life is embodied in a mission – the co-mission of partnering with the Lord to help people come to faith – is an on-going journey. We never arrive. It will still be here when we are gone. It ends when the Lord returns.

So how do we build and live our life in a manner in which the pleasure and difficulty of faith are acknowledged and navigated?

It is in who not in what we choose to believe in that matters.

The object of our faith has to be, must be, in a God who cares about us. A God who chose to send His one and only Son to die and rise again so that, a deep and profound change in our character, life, and our relationship with God takes place and we can experience the deep joy of grace. The salvation we proclaim as Christians is about both our relationship with God and how sin – a spiritual issue and something that also affects our character – has to be dealt with.

Salvation is both a change in our relationship with God through Christ wherein we are forgiven of our sins and made right with God AND a change in us as to our character – our motives, attitudes, behaviors, and actions. I have been thinking this week, that the pleasure and difficulty of faith is often experienced in both the relationship part and the character part.

Let me explain it this way.

When did Abraham’s faith, Sarah’s faith, Joseph’s faith, Ruth’s faith, and Job’s faith, faith grow and deepen?

How about when they had to decide if God was worth trusting and often that trusting came in patiently waiting for God to act in accordance with His plans and ways. I also think that it was deepened at critical decision points when they had to choose if they still trusted the Lord.

There are two sentences in our text for this morning. The second sentence says this:

Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists AND that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

The AND is important. The kind of faith we need to develop and use over the years includes what I call the trust portion of this verse. We have to believe, we have to trust that God rewards those who sincerely seek him. Our faith, to successfully navigate both the pleasures and difficulties of faith has to be rooted in a deep trust of God. Not in knowledge about or of God. But in God Himself.

So, do you trust God? Do you believe that He rewards “those who sincerely seek him?”

It is a question that each of us must answer on our own – every.day.

Let us bring our sins and our fears, our uncertainty to God this morning. And let us choose to trust and let us confess our lack of trust with the hope and belief that God DOES “reward those who sincerely seek him.”

Amen