Where Do You Sit With God?

Judges 2:6-10

Description – Sermon 1 of a New Year’s series based on Wilkinson’s book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution for 2005? Is it a resolution to spend less and save more? Is it a resolution to spend less time on one thing and more time on something else? Or, is it a resolution to exercise more and well… weigh less?

The January 3rd edition of the daily e-mail column, Mikey’s Funnies, listed Fifteen Exercises We’d Be Better Off Without in 2005. Here they are!

(Overheads 1 and 2)

~ Jumping on the bandwagon
~ Wading through paperwork
~ Running around in circles
~ Pushing your luck
~ Spinning your wheels
~ Adding fuel to the fire
~ Beating your head against the wall
~ Climbing the walls
~ Beating your own drum (2)
~ Dragging your heels
~ Jumping to conclusions
~ Grasping at straws
~ Fishing for compliments
~ Throwing your weight around
~ Passing the buck

When I shared with a friend what my New Year’s sermon series was going to be she replied something to the effect of giving up resolutions because they made her feel bad. Resolutions have a way of doing that to us.

But we are going to focus over the next 5 weeks on four worthy resolutions for 2005 that I believe God wants us to achieve in the coming year. (Overhead 3)

To have a spiritual breakthrough in my life in 2005

To have a spiritual breakthrough in my marriage/relationships in 2005

To have a spiritual breakthrough in my family in 2005

To have a spiritual breakthrough in my walk with God in 2005

Now the first question you may have at the tip of your tongue is “Jim, what is a spiritual breakthrough?” Good question! I am glad you asked! Here is a working definition:

A spiritual breakthrough is a choice that comes out of my desire to get out of a rut in my life with God’s help and through God’s plan. Now this rut maybe related to your relationship with the Lord. Maybe you need to work on trusting God more in your life. Or maybe you need to give God first place in your life.

For others of us, maybe our rut has to do with a habit that keeps us from experiencing God’s peace and power in our lives. Or, maybe the rut that we want to get out of has to do with a family issue that needs to be addressed.

Maybe we have tried and tried in our own strength to get out of this rut. We’ve asked this person or that person for advice. We’ve read this book or that book on the issue. But nothing seems to work. May be it is time to experience a spiritual breakthrough and get out of that rut by asking God for help and following completely through on God’s plan!

As we begin our series on Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs I want to acknowledge two sources, in addition to the Bible (the most important source), that I will be drawing upon for this series. They are two books by Bruce Wilkinson, the well-known author of the bestseller, The Prayer of Jabez. One is entitled, Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs and the second one, which will be the basis of an adult Sunday School class for the next several weeks, 30 Days To Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Now before we look at our passage of scripture this morning, I want us to spend sometime reflecting on the four areas that appear on this overhead and I encourage you to use the appropriate place on your bulletin to write down things that you need to write down as one way to begin the process of experiencing all that God has for you during the rest of your life.

(Overhead 4)

What is the biggest rut in my life right now?

Life presents us with lots of opportunities to get into a rut that either we jump into without regard for what might happen to us, or through a choice made by someone else that causes us to “eat dirt,” or through the reality that life is at times, awful.

As you reflect on your life right now, what is the biggest rut you are in? Write it down and keep it in a place that you can refer to through this series.

What is the biggest rut in my marriage/relationships right now?

I believe in marriage. I believe that God created marriage between a man and a woman for lots of wonderful reasons. I believe that a good marriage is critical for kids and teens to become great adults.

I also know that marriage is, at times, hard work. When you bring two people together who come from different backgrounds and have differing levels of expectations, marriage becomes a challenge.

Many here today have experienced the pain of divorce. You have tasted both the sweetness and the sourness of marriage. No matter what or how your divorce happened I firmly believe that God still has a good plan for you with regard to relationships and that as you follow His plan, you can experience some great things within that plan.

What is the biggest rut you are facing in your marriage or other relationships right now? Is it an attitude that has poisoned intimacy and closeness? Is it priorities that have caused your marriage to lose health? Is it a past experience that keeps sabotaging your marriage?

What is the rut? Write it down.

What is the biggest rut in my family right now?

Psalm 68:6 says, “God places the lonely in families.” The opening chapters of the Bible in the book of Genesis demonstrate the place and priority of marriage and family that God gives to the created order. Families are important.

I like my family. I like my wife, I like my boys, I even like my in-laws (including my mother-in-law), and I like my mom and I still like my dad who is in heaven. I even like my extended family – my cousins (four of whom are like sisters to me).

But, I also know that family life has it share of ruts. Let’s name a few Jim! Okay!

How about jealousy? How about resentment? How about betrayal? How about hate? How about fear?

Families are important to God! Remember this, too: We belong to a family or families longer that we belong to a company we work for.

What’s the biggest rut you face in this area? Write it down.

What is the biggest rut in my walk with God right now?

Then there is God. What do you really, really, really, really, think about God? That is a very important question. How you answer it determines the course of action you take in life.

I believe in God! Not just because I am an ordained minister but because I look back on my life, and even in the dark and difficult times (and there have been a few of those) I am able to see how God has made my life better because I have not only chosen to believe in God but also to walk with God. (Believing and following God are two different but important things.)

One of the biggest ruts we get into in this area in our life is the rut called lack of trust. The Bible is filled with people such as Cain, King David at a certain point in his life and his son Solomon, the people of Israel, Judas Iscariot, and even Peter whose lack of trust dropped them into a rut.

Another rut that others have noticed over the years we seem to get into is the rut called disappointment with God. I have experienced this rut. It comes as our expectations are shattered and we come to believe that God has let us down.

There are other ruts too in this area. What is your biggest rut right now? Write it down.

(Overhead 5)

All of us get stuck in a rut and some of us are in some ruts, maybe deep ones, right now.

Which brings us to our main text for this morning and a story about three generations who had different responses and relationships to the Lord.

Bruce Wilkinson uses the illustration of the three chairs to focus on some important spiritual truths and dynamics related to breakthroughs in our lives.

In our text we read of three generations represented by the Joshua, the ruling leaders who followed him, and the children of the ruling leaders.

Joshua represents the first chair persons who are deeply and continuously devoted to the Lord. We see this in Joshua’s late life declaration “ As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”

As we choose (and we always choose) to thoroughly follow the Lord in every area of our life, the blessings and power of God work deeply in our lives. Now this is not a 100% rut free existence. That is not possible until heaven. But, we can live with a greater peace than what we experience in a second and third chair “existence.”

The leaders who followed Joshua after his death represent the second chair. Our text says little about them but we need to make some observations about them in the 24th and final chapter of Joshua where we read that Joshua challenges the leaders and the people to follow the Lord and really presses them on that commitment.

They say in verse 21, “We are determined to follow the Lord” and Joshua says, “You are accountable for this decision… Yes, we are accountable.” Then in verse 23 Joshua points out a rut that they were in, “All right then,” he says, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Did they? Let’s go a few pages over to Judges and see what happened.

In Judges 2:2 an angel of the Lord says to these leaders (and the people) “For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. Why then have you disobeyed my command?”

The leaders and the people had dug a big rut for themselves and their relationship with Lord suffered. Now, did God kick them out of the country and turn His back on them? No. But, because of the choices they had made, their relationship with the Lord suffered and they were unable to experience the greater blessings and power and life that He had in mind for them because God wanted them to experience the joy, power, life, hope, and wholeness that Joshua had experienced because that was (and still is) God’s will for all humanity!

Then there is the third chair. The third generation illustrates this chair.

We read in Judges 2:10 “After that generation (the second generation after Joshua’s generation) died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things He had done for Israel.”

What happened? Here was a group of people, whose parents and grandparents had both experienced and observed God’s mighty movement and life in and around them, uninterested in spiritual matters. Why?

One reason is that generation two did not do what Joshua told them to do – give up anything (in this case idols) that would compromise their relationship with the Lord. The result was the loss of a vital and personal relationship with the Lord that went from a first person experience to a second person experience. In other words, it was a change from knowing God to knowing about God.

Please hear me this morning. God wants each and every one of us to live in the first chair in every area of our lives and He can help us do so. But it requires a choice on our part to live a first person faith.

The blessings that God has for us; The peace and joy that can be ours through Christ; the life and contentment such a life brings; all of these can be ours because God wants them to be ours! But they require some spiritual breakthroughs that only take place when we choose to partner with God and get out of our ruts with God’s help and through God’s plan.

To conclude, “Do you resolve to partner with the Lord and follow His plan and allow His power to help you get out of your ruts this year and take hold of the great life that He offers you?”

If so, do whatever it takes to move forward as the Lord leads and helps you. Amen.

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The ‘S’ Word

I John 1:8-10

Description – Sermon 2 of a New Year’s series based on Wilkinson’s book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Now, I have no doubt that some of you have looked at the title of my sermon printed in the bulletin and wondered, “What in the world are you up to this morning, Pastor Jim?”

Well, we are going to hear a word that begins with “s” quite a bit this morning and I thought to myself on Monday when I started this sermon, “Hey, that’s a catchy title!”

What’s the word? SIN.

It is a hard word to say. It sounds rude, it sounds harsh, it sounds judgmental, it sounds old-fashion, and it sounds very, very un 21st century. But it is a Biblical word and it is God’s will that we be forgiven of it and released from its power over and grip on us if we want to experience spiritual breakthroughs in our lives.

As I shared last week, Spiritual Breakthroughs are… (Overhead 1)

As we continue our series on experiencing spiritual breakthroughs, we have to face four important truths about sin that puts us in so many ruts:

(Overhead 2)

The reality of sin in our lives

The power and pull of sin over our lives

The availability of forgiveness from sin in our lives

The reality of resisting sin for our lives

As we face these truths, we can experience spiritual breakthroughs in our relationships with family, friends, co-workers, the Lord, and ourselves because sin, as we learn from the very beginning in scripture, sin, disobedience of God, affects everything.

Let’s examine each of these four truths this morning:

The reality of sin in our lives

The Bible speaks of the reality of sin in the human heart and soul from cover to cover and we cannot deny that it doesn’t do so.

Jesus spoke of the reality of sin often during His time on earth and we read some of those statements in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as follows:

In the opening chapter of Matthew we read in verse 21, “And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Matthew 4:17 provides us with a statement of Jesus spoken at the beginning of His active ministry,” Turn from your sins and turn to God because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

In Mark 1 and verse 15, we again read Jesus’ proclamation, “The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!”

In Luke 13 we hear Jesus say, “You will also perish unless you turn from your evil ways and turn to God… I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish.”

In John 1:26 we read of John the Baptist’s proclamation “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Bible is clear that sin is a major problem for the human race and that central to the Christian faith is God’ s plan and offer to forgive us our sin and to help us return to the Lord and live rightly with Him.

We see this in the availability of forgiveness from sin through Christ.  In each of these just mentioned verses, not only is the reality of sin mentioned; the availability of forgiveness is mentioned as well.

The words of the angel in Matthew 1 acknowledge that Jesus will “save His people from their sins.” We also hear the availability of forgiveness in the proclamation to repent because the act of repentance is rewarded with forgiveness.

Finally John’s public pronouncement makes clear that Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away (forgives) the sin of the world.

We also hear in the scriptures not just about the reality of sin and the availability of forgiveness from sin we also are told of the power and pull of sin over our lives.

James 1:14 and 15 says, “Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death.”

And Paul writes in Romans 7 in a very personal and intense way of the power and pull of sin over our lives. “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong… but I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things… Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Bob Snook has written a very pointed skit entitled “Echo” in which a mother and daughter are sitting with a mentor and as the mother shares the daughter mimics every action and word.  The mother cries out for help, “Amy you’ve got to help me! She repeats everything I say… I can’t make her stop.”

Eventually the mentor gets the daughter to stop and leave the room while she has a serious conversation with her mother about the mother’s lifestyle, especially as it relates to inappropriate relationships and substance addiction and its influence on the daughter’s behavior.

Eventually the parent comes to realize that she needs to make some changes that are hard and difficult and is invited to the mentor’s home for a Friday night support group of Christians who are working on similar issues in their lives.

I would not be surprised that the Romans 7 passage we have briefly read would be a passage this group would go to for help. Sin is a powerful, powerful thing and it affects us in ways large and small. But its power and grip on us can be broken as we experience God’s grace and forgiveness and as we continue to walk obediently with the Lord.

This is reflected in the truth that we are invited to realize the reality of resisting sin through Christ as we accept God’s saving grace and as we continuously choose to walk obediently with the Lord.

Our main Bible passage makes this truth clear. Now, at first glance this passage seems rather negative. That is because John is pointing out what has been a common human action since Adam and Eve realized what they had done in eating the forbidden fruit – denial and self-justification.

“IF we say we have NO sin…” John minces no words to the Christians and Christian community to which he is writing. “If we say that we are okay, that everything is okey dokey that we have no sin running around in our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, then we are pulling the wool over our eyes… and our souls!”

John knows the truth about the human condition. By this point in his life, he has the perspective of wisdom and experience behind him regarding the spiritual condition of humanity. He has seen first hand, as he recalls in both his gospel account and in the three books, which we read a portion from today, people who set themselves up for a fall when they fail to properly deal with the power of sin and temptation in their lives. Paul says it well in I Corinthians 10:12 “If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin.”

Now in verse 10, John goes a little further and bluntly says, “If we claimed we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar!” It is not enough to be told that we are fooling ourselves by not dealing with our spiritual condition in which sin has wrecked havoc in us and around us. We are bluntly told by John that we make God out to be a liar when we claim that we have not sinned and God (and most likely some other human beings) very well knows that we have sinned.

But John does not stop with verse 8 and verse 10 to leave us in despair and gloom. He includes verse 9, a very important verse; it is a spiritual breakthrough verse!

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”

When we admit to the reality of our sin, like Peter did;

When we admit to the power and pull of sin over our lives like Paul did in Romans 7;

When we admit to and by faith and hope, reach out for availability of forgiveness from sin through Christ like Jesus spoke of in the Gospels;

Then… there is the reality of forgiveness and living victoriously over the power of sin in our lives! Verse 9 points to the reality that sin’s power can be broken…again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, in our lives as we admit to (or confess) our sin to the Lord and accept His forgiveness.

The spiritual habit (and I use habit in the positive sense of an important repetition) of regular confession that I believe this verse emphasizes creates spiritual breakthroughs in our relationship with the Lord because it keeps open the relational line between the Lord and us.

I also think that learning some important things about how sin works in our lives can help us experience spiritual breakthroughs in our relationship with the Lord.

I Corinthians 10:13 “But remember that the temptations that come into your life are not different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.”

Looking quite honestly at my own life, there have been times when I have not wanted the Lord to show me the “exit” when temptation came. I have experienced both the sweetness and pleasure of clear living when I have resisted temptation and walked away from it. I have also experienced the bitterness of despair and loss when I have given in to temptation and gone through the agony of confession and repentance.

And probably in the past ten years, I have seen the “exit” sign well before the temptation hits its stride by paying attention to a simple acronym that was shared with me several years ago.

HALT (Overhead 3)

H (hungry or harried)

A (angry or anxious)

L (lonely)

T (tired or tense)

I was told to tell myself “HALT” when I began to feel an emotional or attitudinal change coming on that was not good. I was then encouraged to ask myself what I was feeling at that point that made me vulnerable to temptation. I can look back and see where I was feeling one or more of these emotions well before a temptation would rear its head. It has taken awhile for this wisdom to take root because I believe it comes through spiritual maturity and progress.

Then a few weeks ago, I read that Bruce Wilkinson asks audiences at some of his seminars and speaking engagements a series of questions when discussing the power of a habitual sin or sins in one’s life. Doing so can help us begin to notice certain dynamics when temptation comes at us like a fire-breathing dragon and we wonder what is going on.

He calls it a “Personal Sin Profile.” He asks 6 questions: (Overhead 4)

  1. What time of week do you sin the most?
  2. What time of day do you sin the most?
  3. Where are you when you sin the most?
  4. Who is with you when you sin the most?
  5. What is the sin you commit most in these circumstances?

Then there is question 6, “What are the specific emotions you feel before you sin? (HALT!) He goes onto say that his audiences begin to discern that there are common emotions that always show up, prior to giving in to a temptation no matter what the circumstances are.

Wilkinson goes on to point out sin promises some emotional benefits or seeks to provide some kind of emotional relief by shortcutting God’s standards and going right for the relief. Think for a moment about Judas. John writes in John 13 and verse 2 “the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to carry out his plan to betray Jesus.”

I believe that God wants us to understand this situation far more clearly than what we think we can because I believe it can help us be better prepared for spiritual breakthroughs in our lives. We have already heard James 1:14 and 15 this morning but I want to read them again. It says, “Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death.”

When it comes to our make up, emotions and desires are as important and strategic to our spiritual life as our will and minds are. And Satan tempts us through our desires and emotions in order to satisfy a deep need within us that only the Lord can truly satisfy. I do not think that is wrong to assume that Satan tempted Judas to betray Jesus by shortcutting to fulfill some legitimate human needs.

I have heard over the years many interpretations of Judas’ betrayal that have roots in an unfulfilled expectations that Jesus was going to turn around the political order by overthrowing the Romans and reestablishing the nation of Israel. When it did not happen, Judas grew outraged and decided to turn on Jesus because He was angry and disappointed with Him and had a strong desire to see Israel free from political oppression.

The temptations that come our way offer us paradise but we end up with the taste of Hell in our souls because we have not sought the relief and the help that comes through the “Comforter,” the Holy Spirit as Jesus says in John 15:26, “But I will send you the Comforter (or counselor or encourager) the Spirit of truth.”

If then this is true, is it any wonder that we struggle with a consistent walk with Christ when we need to allow the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to comfort us in such a manner that we are offered “a way out” from temptation?

This is a series on experiencing spiritual breakthroughs. I want it to be helpful. I want it to be Biblical. I want it to be practical. I want it to be a turn around time in your life for the honor and glory of God!

This morning, I ask you, “What emotional/spiritual triggers keep you from experiencing spiritual breakthroughs in your life and your relationship not just with the Lord but with everybody else in your life?” Is it…. (Overhead 5)

n     Anger

n     Resentment

n     Fear/Anxiety

n     Bitterness

n     Control

n     Material possessions

n     Loneliness

n     Self-esteem/insecurities

We need the comfort and help of the Holy Spirit to live victoriously over those areas of our lives that we continuously struggle with. God wants us to live victoriously! God wants us to live in the peace and joy of the Spirit! God wants us to experience spiritual breakthroughs. So we must deal with the reality of sin in our lives. Yet we also must come to grips with the great reality of God’s plan to help us overcome sin and live well in Him!

I close with a prayer that Wilkinson prays in moments of temptation, “Dear Holy Spirit, You’ve been sent to me to be my personal comforter. I am in desperate need of comfort. I don’t want to sin. Please comfort me. In Jesus’ name.” Amen.

Snook’s skit was found at www.sermoncentral.com and ©2001 Bob Snook. Conditions for use: Do not sell any part of this script, even if you rewrite it. Pay no royalties, even if you make money from performances. You may reproduce and distribute this script freely, but all copies must contain this copyright statement. http://www.fea.net/bobsnook email: bobsnook@fea.net

Wilkinson’s questions are found on pages 108 and 109. His prayer is found on page 111 of his book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs. Copyright 1999. Published by Multnomah Press.

Follow Me

Mark 1:16-20

Description – Sermon 3 of a New Year’s series based on Wilkinson’s book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

One of the things about starting a new sermon series is that I am never sure how it is going to develop regarding content (it must be Biblical of course) and structure (especially as it relates to application).  Last week I said to you that I wanted this series to be practical and helpful to you and that reminded me of a goal that I had when I started this series.

I started this series on experiencing spiritual breakthroughs with the intention of offering you one or two suggested resolutions each week. We are now into week three and I have not done that. (So I guess that means I get to offer you six resolutions today!)

Seriously I want to begin this morning with two suggested resolutions as a summary of our past two Sundays together. Here they are: (Overhead 1)

I resolve, with the help of God, to fully commit myself to following Christ no matter how or no matter where it leads me.

I resolve, with the help of God, to honestly deal with sin in my life by honestly confessing it and dealing with the root cause(s) of it in my life.

This morning we are going to discover some ways that we experience spiritual breakthroughs by cultivating a consistent walk with the Lord. This resolution is a continuation of the first two because as we commit ourselves to following the Lord and as we honestly deal with sin and the root causes of sin in our lives, we establish a base for developing a consistent and steady walk with the Lord.

Our text for this morning gives us several very important word pictures that we need to deeply look at. (Overhead 2)

Word picture number one – Come! The first word out of Jesus’ mouth is one of decision and action.

It is a word of decision because in this situation Simon Peter and Andrew have a choice to make – “Am I going to go with Him or not?” It is a critical decision and one that each of us makes on a regular basis.

The decision has implications to it – important implications. For example, Simon and Andrew, in choosing to follow Jesus, are going to be making some major changes in their lives. They are going to give up their regular jobs and income. They are going to live off the generosity and sacrifice of others because nowhere in the Gospel accounts do we read of them resuming their work until after the crucifixion (and then for a brief period of time).

So the decision to “come with Jesus” is filled with occupational and economic uncertainty. Maybe that is why Jesus tells the Twelve early on “Don’t worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes.

Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs and he will give you what you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”

The invitation of Jesus to “COME!” is also a word of action because those that Jesus calls to “COME!” cannot be inactive. Come implies movement. We tell our kids, “Come here!” Which means that we want them to physically move from the place where they are to the place where we want them to be.

And sometimes they come right away and sometimes they require…some…persuasion to come. Just like we do with the Lord.

Simon and Andrew, as well as the other disciples could not stay where they were when Jesus said, “Come!” Matthew had to leave his tax practice when He called. (Talk about economic security!) Nathaniel (who is most likely Bartholomew) had to leave behind his prejudices and attitudes.

In fact, Jesus’ words to Nathaniel give evidence of the spiritual breakthroughs that he and the rest of the disciples would experience over the next three years they were with the Lord. We read them in John 1:50 and 51, “You will see greater things that this…The truth is, you will see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down upon the Son of Man!”

By positively responding to Jesus’ call to “come,” spiritual breakthroughs and growth will take place in our lives that will enable us to consistently walk with the Lord. But Jesus calls the twelve, just as He calls each of us, to “COME” in a very specific way – as a DISCIPLE and that is our second word picture for this morning.

In Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God he makes a point that is so true and yet makes us so uncomfortable. I was reminded of that when I received the January 17, 2005 e-mail devotional based on that book.

The call to relationship is also a call to be on mission with God. That call to mission disrupts your entire life. As you listen for God’s invitation, know its destiny is always: Point Unknown. Are you willing to go?

The point that the devotional emphasizes is that as we experience God and seek to do His will, it requires us to make adjustments in our lives and with our lives.

The point of the devotional would not have been lost on the twelve. Jesus’ call to “come and be His disciples” disrupted their entire lives! They would never be the same again! It was, in the language of the devotional, “ As you listen for God’s invitation, know its destiny is always: Point Unknown. Are you willing to go?”

To be a disciple is to be a follower of something or someone. In this case, Simon and Andrew and the other ten were called to become followers of Jesus and adjust their lives in such a manner that they would follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.

In his book A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren gives us a word picture of something that very clearly impacts the definition of Disciple that we would find very easy to understand. Brian is talking about how Jesus turns the idea of “lord” and “master” on its ear through a demonstration of servant hood.

“If we were to try to reinstate Jesus as Lord/Teacher…we would go to the world of arts and trades and notice how a master violinist, a master carpenter, a master electrician, a master of martial arts passes on her mastery to students or apprentices. The only way to learn this mastery is through the disciple’s voluntary submission to the discipline and tradition of the master.

McLaren goes on to say, “Tradition means a whole way of practice or way of life that includes systems of apprenticeship, a body of knowledge, a wide range of know-how skills and something…. that philosopher Michael Polanyi calls personal knowledge: levels of knowledge that one has and knows but doesn’t even know one has and knows.” Hey Pastor Jim, what are you saying?” “I’m lost!”

In our community we can understand the idea of apprentice because we have a tradition of trades and labor as part of our history and culture. Working with our hands is a very common practice in our town, right?

When we apply this picture of an apprentice to our thoughts this morning, it is another name for disciple. The master is Jesus and we are to learn not just the skills of Christianity but the way of Christianity. And that means that our lives change dramatically as we make the choice to become a disciple.

To paraphrase McLaren we must do the following:

Learn a whole new way of life through the apprenticeship of the Christian faith.

Learn a new body of knowledge through the Bible

Learn a wide-range of know-how skills through active participation in the life of the church.

Learn to navigate and pay attention to our souls through the life of the Holy Spirit as we invite Him to exist with in us.

This choice to become a disciple also has implications to it.  Just as the twelve asked, “Am I going to go with Him or not?” when the word come is heard, there is another important question that is asked, “Do I trust Him?”

Trust is a very important item in a relationship such as a master and apprentice. I am reminded of that in the relationships between the Jedi Knights in the Star Wars series.

The twelve do not know Jesus very well at this point (and yet they do as evidenced by their responses to Him, notably Nathaniel) and so they have to decide if they trust Him enough to follow Him and learn the way of life that He will lead them into.

This decision is a spiritual breakthrough because as we choose to deeply trust Jesus with every area of our life and make the adjustments necessary as we do so, we are lead into a deep and wonderful (but not necessarily a care-free) relationship with Christ.

The final word picture is another one that we are familiar with in our community because some (perhaps many) of us do. FISH.

Jesus uses this word in His invitation to Simon and Andrew but does not use it in His invitations to Nathaniel or Matthew. Yet we have latched on to this word picture as an important description to what Jesus has called us to do as well.

The use of the word FISH refers to two important things: The act of fishing itself and the goal of fishing that Jesus links to humanity instead of fish. FISH is a word of the tangible actions that Jesus would show them.

And given the dynamic of the master/disciple relationship that we have briefly looked at this morning, questions are raised by the twelve that I think includes this question: “What and how do I do this?”

FISH is a mission and a goal. Jesus calls the twelve to “fish” with Him for the Kingdom of God and He shows them how by going among the people where they are and doing things like healing, miracles, and pointed teaching to help people come to God.

For those who fish, there is simplicity and a joy and a thrill about it. But when you stop to think about fishing, it is a dynamic process because there are many factors involved.

Climate, depth of water, time of day, type of fish, fishing gear used, fishing bait used – these are environmental and skill factors that are constantly changing and I cannot think of a better word picture for the purpose to which Christ calls us than fishing (searching) for people to bring them to the Lord.

And I cannot think of a better image to use in conjunction with a master/apprentice role than fishing. Think about it for a moment.

How do we learn to fish, but learning from someone who knows how to fish? They show us how to cast, how to pick the right bait, where to go and the best times to go. Fishing is a great analogy for being a disciple.

Fishing requires patience. I once remember going fishing with a church member at another church. We went to a private lake where another member had his home and we took out his rowboat and spent several hours on the lake from one end of the other to catch some fish. We did not catch any but I had a lesson in patience.

Fishing requires using the right equipment and learning from others. I remember another fishing trip, it happens to be the last time I went fishing, on Lake Michigan.

It was a charter boat experience and we had a great captain and good equipment and were guaranteed at least one fish each. We were not disappointed. I caught the biggest fish I have ever caught – a nearly 3 feet long King Salmon that weighed around 18 pounds. I caught it 162 feet of water and it took me 10 minutes to get it to the boat and I thought my arms were going to come off!

Different environment, different equipment and there was success because someone skilled in fishing Lake Michigan knew where to look. I had to make the choice to follow his directions.

When we partner with the Lord to help others come to Him, it is a spiritual breakthrough in our walk with the Lord because we are doing what He has called us, as His disciples, to do!

In a moment, Susan is going to come and close our worship with a solo. She is going to sing a song that I think the Disciples would say “Amen” to because as they responded to Jesus’ call to “Come and be my disciple,” they had an experience with God that they found “more than wonderful.”

Let me suggest the following resolutions for your personal walk with the Lord that can enable you to experience spiritual breakthroughs in 2005: (Overhead 3)

I resolve to daily choose to follow Jesus.

I resolve to adjust my life as needed to daily follow Jesus.

I resolve to join with my fellow believers in this church to accomplish the mission of bring people home to the Lord by living for the Lord out in my community.

Again be open to the movement of the Spirit in your life and respond, as you need to. Amen.

Running From???

Luke 15:17-24

Description – Sermon 4 of a New Year’s series based on Wilkinson’s book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Several years ago, I read a case study in a book whose title I cannot remember so I will summarize from a copy of the case study that I still have in my possession. It was the story of a 16-year-old named Allan. Allan, his mother, and his younger sister, were referred to an adolescent health center for family counseling because Allan ran away a month earlier from home due to an argument with his mother about friends and curfews.

Now Allan was an excellent student and worked at a local gas station. He planned to attended college and major in one of the sciences.

Eventually Allan, during his time at the shelter, entered individual, family, and group counseling. During this time, he continued to attend school and resumed his part-time job.

Allan felt that his mother was too overprotected, seldom complimented him, and was overly critical of his friends and choice of clothes. His mother felt she had to be strict because she feared that his friends, especially some of his older friends, could lead him astray.

She constantly called the gas station where he worked to make sure that he was there, maintained a rigid curfew, and would not allow Allan to entertain his friends at home. During the counseling sessions, it became known that as Allan and his mother tried to discuss their differences, they would deteriorate into shouting matches about lack of love and appreciation, over protection, and which parent was responsible for the divorce.

The sister claimed that neither Allan nor their mother could talk about the issues because they could not listen to the other person. Eventually they learned how to listen and understand the other’s perspective without getting defensive and they continue to have family counseling that included Allan’s father.

Running away is a serious problem in our country. Joseph White, in his book The Troubled Adolescent says that 1 in 8 teens between 12 and 18 will run away at least once. The majority, he notes, are white girls, either 15 or 16, who have never had trouble with the law, who return within 48 hours and never go more than 50 miles from home.

That’s the majority. There is the minority- those who are other ages, those who are in trouble with the law, those who are from various ethnic groups, and those who are boys. Which brings me to our text for this morning and a question, ‘”From what was the youngest son running?”

Teens (and kids and adults) runaway for a variety of reasons: It sounds grand – like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. To escape from abusive environments – at home or in the neighborhood.  It is seen as delinquent behavior. And, some see it, as a step toward defining oneself.

(Let me say at this point: “Everyone present within the sound of my voice or the view of these words from your computer screen: Do not attempt this at home. I will not be happy with you! If you are in danger then get to a safe place. But if you are mad because you are not getting your way, there is a better way to deal with the issue.)

Now, back to our text! Could we consider the prodigal (which by the way means “extravagant”) a runaway? Yes and no.

Yes, because he was running from something. But what was it?

No, because he left after giving notice that he was going to do so. But why did he leave?

This morning we are to consider how we can experience spiritual breakthroughs in our family life for the honor and glory of God and the benefit of our families. I will be referring to a couple of different passages of scripture throughout this sermon as well as returning to our main text from time to time.

Let me share with you some suggested resolutions for spiritual breakthroughs in this very important area of our lives: (Overhead 1)

I resolve, with the help of God,

To respect every member of my family…period

To deal with the shame that binds my heart and soul and give that shame over to God

To accept the God ordained plan that parents are the primary caregivers of their children

(I hear Aretha Franklin’s voice in my head right now, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”) Respect – we love it! We crave! We value it! It is important to us.

We are created in the image of God. We are, to quote Paul, “God’s masterpiece, created to do good works.” (Remember, the sermon, “You are marvelous?”)

We matter to God! So respect should be a part of our lives, right?

Let me ask it this way, “Do you believe that everyone in this room and in your family is created in God’s image?” “Do you believe everyone is this room and in your family is God’s masterpiece?” “Do you believe that children, especially your children, are God’s masterpiece?” Then respect should be automatic, right?

“Whoa there Jim! You are getting the cart before the horse! My children need to demonstrate respect to me first!”

You’re right! Children should demonstrate respect to parents. But from whom should they first learn how to demonstrate respect? Parents.

In Matthew 19:13-15 where Jesus blesses the children in spite of the disciples’ desire to keep them away, I believe we can safely say that Jesus was demonstrating respect of children and expected His followers to do the same.

I also think Paul was telling the parents (especially dads) of his generation the same thing when we read Ephesians 6:4 “And now a word to you fathers. Don’t make your children angry by the way you treat them,” and in Colossians 3:21 “Fathers, don’t aggravate your children. If you do they will become discouraged and quit trying.”

Gary and Greg Smalley speak of the importance of honoring our children and in their book, Bound by Honor offers three suggestions that can honor our children. They write of teenagers but I think we need to honor our children when they are younger as well. (Overhead 2)

The first way to honor our children, says the Smalleys, “is to grant each child a high place in our lives and the loving respect that accompanies it.”

The second way to honor our children they note is “to look at each [child] as a priceless treasure.”

The third way is to “see honor demonstrated” by us.

As you reflect on those statements, can you imagine what kind of impact these actions would have on families? I see growing and blossoming children! I see parents who are at peace with themselves and their kids and who are able to focus on a quality of life that really honors God and one another.

Now in giving respect, I don’t mean that we give our children anything they want or allow anything to go on. Respect draws upon boundaries and uses discipline to help it thrive. But, respect thrives when we know that in addition to boundaries and discipline that we are honored and loved.

I have no doubt this morning that some of us might be thinking, “Pastor Jim, we like you and love you….seriously we really do….but… you have not been a parent long enough to understand that this respect thing is hard and just wait until Jonathon and Daniel are older.”

Well, you’re right… I have not been a parent long enough to understand what it is all about. However, I have lived long enough to see families in which respect was deep and strong walk through difficult times together and come out stronger and closer than before. I have also lived long enough to see families where respect was non-existent and saw families fall apart and shatter beyond repair. If we are going to experience spiritual breakthroughs in our families – respect of children and parents because who God created them to be- is essential and critical.

When I think about fractured families where respect has hardly a place to stand, I have a theory, a belief that one of the reasons for that situation is because of the second thing we need to examine this morning – the issue of shame. (Back to overhead 1)

As we read in the Genesis account about the fall of humanity from perfection, the word shame is part of the story: “At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.” You and I have had those “eye opening” moments, haven’t we?

Shame causes us to slink away and hid. I believe it was John Bradshaw who wrote that a person filled with shame will not say, “I made a mistake” but instead say, “I am a mistake.” None of us are mistakes. God wastes nothing in our lives.

I was reminded of that again this week as I re-read the story of Joseph. As I did so, I began to see the segment in which Joseph tested his brothers to see how they would react to the return of the money in their grain sacks, the demand to see Benjamin, and the slipping in of Joseph’s silver cup in Benjamin’s bag in a different light.

It was about guilt and shame and respect. Joseph in this period of time I think wrestled with his anger and love toward his brothers while the brothers had to deal with a now decades old decision and the shame and guilt it had left in them and in their relationship.

When we are ashamed of ourselves, it affects our relationships with everyone, especially our families. And shame is a powerful, powerful thing. It paralyzes us. It creates an almost schizophrenic dynamic in us that causes us to live two lives that eventually we can no longer live.

When Adam said to God after the fall, “I heard you, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked,” we hear both shame and guilt. But, as one of my former seminary Profs used to say, “You cannot deal with your guilt until you deal with your shame.”

Shame is about disgrace and self-reproof. We cannot stand to look ourselves in the mirror because we feel fatally flawed and beyond repair. That’s what Satan wants us to think. That is a lie from the pit of hell.

How does a spiritual breakthrough take place in this area? The only way I know how: by naming the shame that binds you.

And the only way I know how that takes place is to sit with someone trustworthy and even skilled in hearing these kinds of things and calling by name from out of the dark recesses of our hearts and souls those feelings and those thoughts and those actions that make us want to hide. It is tough and hard work – I’ve done it myself, had to or I would have been a spiritually crippled husband and father.

I think that we can look at John 21 and the story of reconciliation between Jesus and Peter as a pattern for dealing with the shame that binds us. Peter was ashamed of his betrayal and Jesus knew this. So only by gently asking Peter where His loyalty and love were could Jesus help Peter let go of the shame and guilt that he had and then give him a new task to fulfill because of His love for Peter.

Finally this morning we can experience spiritual breakthroughs in our family life by accepting the Biblical truth that parents are the primary caregivers of their children. (Overhead 3)

Dennis and Barbara Rainey in their work Parenting Today’s Adolescent offer some important suggestions on how parents can be pro-active caregivers of their children by embracing and living out these seven priorities: (I am going to mention the three in red; however, we will look at them more closely in Sunday School following the service)

Prayer

Standards

Involvement

Training

Community

Direction

Perseverance

I have frequently quoted Dietrich Bonhoffer to you but as I think about this first standard, I remember what he wrote about prayer in The Cost of Discipleship that went something like this, “When you cannot do anything else for someone, all you can do is pray for them.”

To quote the Rainey’s we must pray for our children regularly, offensively, defensively, intensely, when they come to our minds, and as a couple.

To pray regularly for our children is to pray for them everyday. To pray offensively for our children is to pray for them proactively throughout their lives that they will make the right choices and decisions that reflect their commitment to the Lord. To pray defensively for our children is to pray for them to stand up for what is right and for the Lord when life is difficult and the pressure to give in is strong.

To pray intensely for our children is to pray for them in a deep and profound way. The Rainey’s tell of a couple who fasted and prayed every Monday for their struggling fourteen year old. To pray for our children when they come to mind is to be in attitude of constant prayer during the day for them no matter where they are or what they are doing.

Finally, to be in prayer for our kids as a couple is a source of strength and commitment of moms and dads when the going is hard as parents. Prayer is a critical and spiritual task that each of us, as parents need to give thorough attention to because the Lord has given us the great responsibility of parenting.

Prayer, effective prayer, takes place, as we are involved in our kids’ life. I like how the Rainey’s define involvement:

Involvement means crawling inside your kid’s head and heart…Soul to soul. Heart to heart.

A passage in the Old Testament brings this important issue to mind in Deuteronomy 6:6 “You must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up again.

A recent USA Today study found that the top three topics of discussion in the family car were activities, friends, and values. In addition, the very pointed TV commercials about the silence that should be broken at places like the breakfast bar to talk about drugs reinforce the importance of involvement.

Speaking of TV commercials, it has been good to see the commercials encouraging family talk at the dinner table instead of being preoccupied with TV or other items. Then there is the commercial in which board games are encouraged to be brought out and played.

The Bible has much to say about the goal of parenting and one verse really says it all, Ephesians 6:4, “Bring them up with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord.”

The implications and means of this verse are made clearer through the rest of Scripture as well as the Holy Spirit. Yet our third highlighted word says it well, “Direction.”

The Rainey’s offer us four areas of direction: Identity which means that we are to help our children know who they are in Christ when it comes to “spiritual identity, emotional identity, and sexual identity.”

Then there is character which deals with how our children (and parents, too) deal with authority and circumstances.

The third area of direction involves relationship that reminds us that we were not created to live alone.

Finally, there is the direction that comes from mission. Do our children have or are they developing a reason for living beyond mere existence?

We have covered a lot of territory and there are probably three or four sermons in this sermon alone but I have no doubt that your emotional response to what has been said this morning has varied from affirmation to anguish.

One area of anguish that I have no doubt is in parent’s minds relates to the “Why’s” and “what ifs” of the parenting and the past.

I found some helpful and realistic encouragement in my readings for this series from Bruce Wilkinson.

“Whatever you do, however, don’t be defeated by the past. The past can’t be changed, but the present is God’s workshop for making masterpieces anyway. At our fingertips, we always hold the opportunity to set a new direction, to make new changes and to follow through. And he is ready to work through every moment.”

I wonder if the prodigal’s father felt this way. I wonder how much time passed between his son’s departure and return.

I wonder how many nights the father laid in bed and waited to hear his voice. I wonder how many times he saw a man who appeared to be his son only to have his hopes dashed when he realized he wasn’t.

We don’t know for sure. But we do know (as Jesus notes,) “His father saw him coming home.”

This morning we are going to conclude with a time of prayer for our children. Teens, I am going to ask you to pray for your parents.

I am encouraging couples to pray together and if you are here by yourself, join with another person that you feel comfortable with to pray and pray for one another’s children. The altar is open for this time of prayer and after a few moments I will close with the benediction.

Let us seek forgiveness, affirmation, insight, courage, strength, hope, and love for this area of our lives so that there will be some important breakthroughs in our families for the honor and glory of God!

Amen.

Rainey and Smalley quotes come from Wilkinson’s book Thirty Days to Experiencing Spiritual Breakthoughs published by Multnomah Press. Finally Wilkinson quote is from Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Absolute Loyalty

Ephesians 5: 33

Description – Sermon 5 of a New Year’s series based on Wilkinson’s book Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I thought that I would begin this morning with a couple of statements by Doug Fields, a veteran of youth ministry and I believe the head of youth ministry at Saddleback Community Church in California which is pastored by Rick Warren.

The thoughts came from the February 7, 2005 e-mail column from Mikey’s Funnies.com.

It is entitled “25 Things Every Couple Should Know.” Here are some excerpts:

  1. to not yell at one another unless the house is on fire
  2. the correct answer to “Do you love me?” is not, “I married you, didn’t I?”
  3. to kiss when stuck in traffic
  4. they need a weekend retreat at least twice a year
  5. major house projects may need to be followed by minor marital counseling
  1. sex begins in the morning by the way you talk to and treat one another
  2. voice tone says it all
  3. to find humor in negative situations
  4. genuine love is valuing a spouse as God does

We have spent the opening weeks of 2005 hearing suggested resolutions designed to help us experience spiritual breakthroughs in our lives, our walk with the Lord, and with our children. Here is a quick review of those suggested resolutions:

I resolve with the help of God to…

(overhead 1)

follow Christ no matter how or where it leads me.

honestly confess sin and deal with the root cause(s) of it in my life.

(overhead 2)

daily choose to follow Jesus

adjust my life as needed to daily follow Jesus.

to join with my fellow believers in this church to accomplish our mission.

(overhead 3)

respect every member of my family…period

deal with the shame that binds my heart and soul

accept the God ordained truth that parents are the primary caregivers of their children

We conclude this morning by considering some important resolutions related to marriage. Here they are: (overhead 4)

to be absolutely committed to my spouse…period

to not let my emotions negatively influence my commitment to my spouse

Before we take a look at our main text from this morning, I want to address the issues of loyalty and commitment that are very, very important in having a strong and healthy marriage.

I use the terms strong and healthy because I know of marriages that have lasted for 50 years or more but are (unfortunately) neither strong nor healthy. I have observed marriages of fewer than 25 years in length that are strong and healthy because they have made, over and over again, these two resolutions.

These resolutions are at the heart of the commitment that Jesus indicates is close to God’s heart in Matthew 19. The chapter opens with another discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees about the issue of divorce.

The Pharisees try, of course, to trap Jesus into saying something that they could use against Him. So they bring up the subject of divorce with a question that is asked a lot these days, (verse 3):

Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?

Notice that the husband holds the power to divorce, not the wife. In those days, in that culture, and still in the more strict and conservative societies and movements of today’s Middle East, that is still the case – women had no rights.

The other thing to notice is the broadness of the question in the phrase “for any reason.”

The questioners are trying to see how far Jesus would permit divorce. Do we not do the same today?

Jesus’ response is very important because we hear God’s bottom-line view on marriage. (verse 6) “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together.”

This is followed by another provocative question, “Why then did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus’ response is again instructive and important, very, very important. “Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery-unless his wife has been unfaithful.”

The disciples’ response is also instructive “Then it is better not to marry!” And Jesus points out that not everybody can live in a celibate state, which by the way, was the answer to the question of marriage in the early days of the Christian faith. People were encouraged to stay single rather than marry because, as Paul points out in I Corinthians 7, it allows a person to better concentrate on serving the Lord. Yet Paul also points out that not everyone can live this way.

In His response that is recorded in verse 8, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 24:1 which says this, Suppose a man marries a woman but later discovers something about her that is shameful. So he writes a letter of divorce and sends her away.”

Again notice that the wife is on trial and not the husband and this verse is referenced to other Old Testament verses in which the assumed transgressor is the wife and not the husband. But in a couple of passages the husband cannot divorce his wife they must remain married.

But Jesus says to all of this, “because of your heart-hearted wickedness you have been permitted to divorce but that is not what God had originally intended.” Why? Because He wanted to see this be the norm in marriage – commitment and faithfulness through thick and thin.

It is still possible! It is still possible! By the grace and mercy of God it is still possible! Our main text for this morning tells us how.

(By the way, have you ever considered how Jesus perhaps felt about these questions, given the fact that Joseph, who assumed the role of His earthly father, almost gave the Virgin Mary a letter of divorce when he heard that she was pregnant before they were married?)

Our main text for this morning is a summary statement at the end of a passage that always has the potential for creating a strong emotional response in people. “So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Prior to this verse Paul spends 12 verses on the subject of how two Christians express their faith through their marriage relationship. We understand this from verses 31 and 32, “As the scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”

So much time has been spent on interpreting and arguing over verses 21 through 24 that we have forgotten to look at the rest of the chapter that really is the main point of what Paul is trying to say. Why? This segment of chapter 5 follows two segments in which Paul tells the Ephesians Christians how to live out verses 1 and 2, Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins.”

Paul goes on to further explain just what he means by addressing the issues of:

  1. A pure and holy life through sexual purity, clean and honorable speech, and a refusal to participate in such a life-style.
  2. Living a spirit filled life that enables one to live with the freedom, joy, and peace that such a life brings.
  3. Having a marriage that clearly demonstrates Christ’s love and example of sacrifice.

The point is not, “Who is in charge here?” The point is, “Does your marriage give clear evidence of a faithful commitment to Christ?”

“If it does” Paul goes onto say, “then wives you should be doing these things.” “Husbands, you should be doing these things.” A faithful commitment to Christ and hence to one’s marriage should then reflect these two things (refer to overhead)

Bruce Wilkinson I think would call this first resolution absolute loyalty and he tells a story that got his attention on this important issue in his own life. He started nearly 30 years ago a ministry called “Walk Thru the Bible” that was dedicated to help people get the “big picture” of the Bible through some memorable memory devices and informative seminars. (If you ever have a chance to go to one, go they are great!)

Well, the ministry grew and grew and grew. In fact it grew so much it was becoming in Bruce’s wife, Darlene, eyes “a mistress.”

He tells of coming home from work nearly 20 years earlier and being confronted with an angry and wounded wife who, with tears in her eyes said to him, “You love Walk Through the Bible more than me.”

Wilkinson was stunned at the accusation. “You really feel this way?” “Yes!” “But I love you so much more than Walk Thru!” “No, you don’t! You love your work more than you love me. She’s your mistress. And since Walk Thru is what you do for God, I can’t compete, can I?”

He goes on to recount the internal wrestling that when on inside of him the rest of the evening and all through the night until the Holy Spirit began to show him the truth of her statements.

The rest of the story? After going over his schedule and commitments he realized he needed to make a change. For one year, he told his wife, he would cancel all speaking engagements and be home from work at 5 pm every night. They also sold their house in the suburbs of Atlanta and moved to the country where there would be less distractions and busyness and more time for family and marriage. Absolute loyalty.

That is what Paul (and more importantly the Lord) is telling the husbands to do in verses 23, 25, and 28. This is what Paul (and more importantly the Lord) is telling the wives to do in verses 22 and 24. We don’t read the word loyalty in these verses but it is there in the word love. We are loyal to what and whom we love.

“Uh… Jim, we love you, we really do, but marriage, is um, you know, hard at times in fact so hard that…um…my feelings toward my spouse are not very nice ones. Know what I mean?”

If our marriage commitments were based on nothing but emotions, they would not last long…And some of us here know that reality, quite painfully.

Jim Dobson tells the story about a couple whose husband placed an ad in the Rocky Mountain News just prior to a Super Bowl a few years ago. (Overhead 5)

WILL TRADE

Will trade my

noncooking and

Nonshopping wife

with attitude problem

For one Super Bowl ticket

No Indiangivers

Call so-and-so at xxx-xxxx

Hurry.

Dobson goes onto say, that the husband “claimed he was not kidding, although he was known to play practical jokes. He said the idea came to occurred to him the day after the AFC championship game, when it snowed heavily in Denver.”

“She refused to go shopping,” [the husband] said. “She said the roads were too slick, so she made me do it. I get tired of that stuff after a while. If I could a Super Bowl ticket, it would be a one-way trip.”

Dobson goes onto share that “the last time we checked, the couple had resolved their little misunderstanding and were still happily married. But this little anecdote contains a message for newly married couples: Don’t count on having a placid relationship. There will be times of emotional conflict and disagreement. There will be periods of emotional blandness when you can generate nothing but a yawn for one another. That’s life, as they say.”

That is why we need to be reminded, as Paul often reminded his audiences, that our example for commitment in life is Jesus Christ not another human being. Think about all that Jesus had to put up with during His earthly ministry, the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were always complaining to Him about Him and His followers; the Disciples who sometimes “got it” but more often “didn’t get it;” the people who alternated between wholehearted belief and devotion and the utter lack of both.

But, “because of His great love for us,” Paul wrote. “Christ died for us!” His commitment to a cruel and harsh death on the cross proves that His love for us was, and still is, not based on a emotional high but a deep and abiding love and desire to have us back from the power and destructiveness of sin. That’s love! That’s loyalty! That’s an important part of having a spiritual breakthrough in our marriages!

As we conclude this morning I again acknowledge that for some of us marriage is a hard thing to talk about because of the past. But, as I have said before, “God wastes nothing in our lives because for those who are committed to following the Lord, He can and does bring good out of bad.” Do not give up hope!

I am also aware of something that many churches, and pastors, either are afraid to admit to or do not have a full understanding of – domestic violence. Domestic violence is a sin and (and this is my opinion) it is a breaking of the marriage vows to “love and to cherish.” To those who have unfortunately experienced this sin, “Be safe. Find help.” And to those who perpetrate this sin on others I say, “Stop it. Get help. What you are doing is wrong.”

Scripture is clear that love and sacrifice are important aspects of a successful and great marriage. It is also clear that by the power and grace of God through the Holy Spirit can marriage truly succeed.

Let our two resolutions challenge us this day to experience all the Lord has for us in this important area of life. Amen.

Watchers on the Hill – Part 1

Mark 15:21

Description – The first sermon of my 2005 Lenten series.

(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “The Cross Carrier” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)

What is the most unpleasant task you have ever been ordered to do?

The property manager at an apartment complex where Susan and I once lived (and I worked part-time) ordered me to remove the possessions of tenants who had been evicted. It was a very unpleasant experience. One that I felt terrible about doing.

This happened not once but twice. The first time the tenant was not home. The second time the tenants, two college students, were home as the staff was ordered to start taking their possessions out to the dumpster. (Fortunately, some cooler heads prevailed and the possession were place in another location and taken safely away.) They had reached the end of their grace period. There was now no grace in the matter. The law had taken over.

The same held true for Simon. There was no grace when at the point of the spear Simon was ordered, compelled, to take the cross that Jesus struggled to drag after a horrific beating who was among people who both spat on Him and grieved for Him. He had no choice in the matter. The Law (the powers that be) said, “You will carry this cross.”

Our text, on which this imaginative script has been based, also tells us that Simon was from another location; another part of the world; a city called Cyrene. Cyrene was a city located on the coast of Northern Africa in what is now Libya. So, Simon was an outsider and maybe he was picked because his skins was a shade darker that the others or maybe because he was a well dressed or at least, decently dressed person that made him stand out from the crowd.

Some Biblical commentators suggest that Simon was coming home to Jerusalem after a journey even though his hometown was elsewhere. We really don’t know for sure the dynamics behind the statement that he was “coming in from the country” but we do know that he was compelled to carry the cross of Christ.

Here is a businessperson, (“I’m just in town on business,” he says) a trader perhaps, and definitely an outsider, (“you don’t look like you’re from around here”) drawn in by force, by law to do something that he certainly did not want to do.

We cannot relate to Simon as someone who helped a man to his execution. It would be like you or me being a part of the procession to the electric chair or the room that had the table, the straps, and… the needle. Or, being the one who strapped the convicted and sentenced one into the chair or put the needle in the arm. We cannot relate to Simon in that manner.

Yet maybe we can relate to Simon. In Matthew 16 verses 24 through 26 Jesus tells the Disciples that to follow Him truly they must, “Put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”

Now Simon certainly had no selfish ambition in carrying Jesus’ cross. It was the last thing that he wanted to do that day. He had other plans, he had his own agenda, he was minding his own business, he was set on checking off his to-do list, he was going to the temple to prepare for Passover. He was…. Then again, Simon did have some personal ambitions that crossing (no pun intended) Jesus’ path interrupted. Simon did shoulder a cross, but not just any cross, he shouldered the cross of our redeemer, our savior and he followed Jesus to His death.

The disciples, I have no doubt, knew what “shouldering the cross” meant because crucifixion was a public execution, held in the open, in some cases I have read, along the roads that people traveled. Probably the closest thing to our time and place were the public hangings that took place just over 100 years ago that, according to some historical accounts, were treated as an event that you brought your family to watch. They knew that when someone was carrying a cross it meant death. The law had spoken, no more grace.

The old hymn reminds us of this truth, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.”

The cross was (and is) an ugly thing. We polish them up for church. They are nice, smooth, and varnished. Or they are gold plated or even made out of gold. Not the cross that Simon carried.

This cross was rough and full of splinters. It was a harsh instrument of the state. It was an instrument of death.

But from God’s perspective and because of His love, the cross became an instrument of life and of grace not law. Paul says it very well in Romans 3: “But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight-not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.”

That cross which Simon carried on his back for the savior of the world became an instrument of life, of grace, of hope, of salvation, of forgiveness. That heavy and rough piece of lumber that ripped human flesh was to symbolize the healing of the human race from the pain and the awfulness of sin.

The prophet Isaiah says it very well, “He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped and we were healed!”

I believe that our imaginative script this morning contains some historical accuracy to it – Simon was overwhelmed with emotions – fear, anxiety, grief, and just plain numbness at the awfulness of it all. Nor could he forget what took place that day. Nor did God want him to forget. “Why on earth do you say that Jim? I would certainly want to forget something like this! How awful a thing to remember!”

We do forget and we need to remember that awful day and time because we forget what that day really means for us. We forget all too often. We forget by our choices and our priorities that put us first and God second, even third. We forget by our lifestyles and our attitudes toward life itself, toward other human beings, toward God in which disrespect, hate, resentment, jealousy are the norm instead of the exception.

We cannot afford to be a cross watcher any more than we can afford to be a Sunday Christian. We must be cross carriers, cross bearers, every day not just Sundays. (Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No! There’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.)

Simon would never be the same after his experience. It changed him (for the better we hope) just as our experience with the Savior who hung on that cross must change us – daily – so the world will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God who loves us so much, in spite of our failures and flaws.

I conclude with a question, “If you would have been compelled, like Simon, to carry Jesus’ cross, what would you have done?” The Law would have made you say “yes.” What do you think that Grace and Love would have made you say? Amen.

Watchers on the Hill – Part 2

Matthew 27:1-5

Description – The second sermon of my 2005 Lenten series.

(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “Father Forgive Them” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)

What do you do with the story of Judas? How do you reconcile Jesus’ calling of him to be one of the twelve with this tragic situation? How do you reconcile Jesus’ act of salvation with Judas’ acts of betrayal and suicide?

We need for a time this morning to go behind the scenes of this tragic event and look at Judas’ motivation for what he did – both in his betrayal and in his act of suicide – because there are some important lessons from this tragic event that we need to learn this morning.

First, we need to establish a couple of things that take place in the gospel of Matthew from which our main text is taken. One thing that we need to establish is that Matthew records four separate occasions when Jesus foretells of his betrayal and death.

The first occasion, recorded in Matthew 16:21- 23, comes after Peter, in response to Jesus’ questions of “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?” to which Peter replies, “You are the Messiah the Son of the Living God.”

“From then on,” writes Matthew in verse 21, “Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem, and he told them what would happen to him there. He would suffer at the hands of the leaders and leading priests and teachers of the religious law. He would be killed, and he would be raised on the third day.”

The second time that Jesus foretells of his death and betrayal is in chapter 17 and verses 22 and 23 “One day after they had returned to Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed. He will be killed, but three days later he will be raised from the dead.” And the disciples’ hearts were filled with grief.”

Notice that the word betrayal appears in this second passage but not in the first. Jesus begins to clarify the picture a little more, as to what would happen to Him in Jerusalem. He would not only be killed but someone would betray Him as well.

The third recorded occasion when Jesus mentions His death and betrayal takes place in Matthew 20 and verses 17 through 19. This discussion takes place on the way to Jerusalem when Christ would be arrested and crucified. It is His final journey to Jerusalem with the twelve before His death. “As Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem,” notes Matthew “he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “When we get to Jerusalem,” he said, “the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, whipped, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

Now the picture becomes even clearer than before and it would be interesting to note how much time had taken place between these three pronouncements. It is safe to say, based on the commonly accepted view that Jesus’ ministry lasted three years, that these recorded conversations about Christ’s betrayal and death took place over that three-year period.

The second thing we need to establish is that in each of these texts the identity of who the betrayer is is not made clear. Until we read Matthew 26:12, “While they (that is Jesus and the twelve) were eating he said, “The truth is, one of you will betray me.” Now it gets personal. Now it becomes clearer. The foretelling of betrayal and death becomes clearer than before.

Now we have a better understanding of the shock of the disciples at this statement. Eleven of the twelve then ask Jesus, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?” To which Jesus responds, “One of you who is eating with me now will betray me.” Now as they all were eating together, this did not narrow the field to one suspect.

However, Judas asks, “Teacher, I’m not the one, am I?” And Jesus responds, “You have said it yourself.”

Questions come flooding into my mind, “What does the difference in the question mean? Eleven say, “Lord” and one says “teacher.” Why the difference? Is this indicative of a change in Judas’ attitude toward Jesus?

An even bigger question to me is, Why did Jesus choose Judas to be one of the Twelve? Why didn’t He choose someone else who would have been faithful and loyal?”

A possible answer is that somewhere along the line, Judas changed his mind about Jesus. Why?

In Matthew 26: 6 – 13, there is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume. Matthew says that all of the disciples were upset at such a waste. Mark says that some of those at the table were indignant. Luke says nothing about this at this point in his account. But John mentions Judas by name in his recording of this account as being the one who expressed indignity over this action along with this comment in verse 6 of chapter 12, “Not that he cared for the poor-he was a thief who was in charge of disciples’ funds, and he often took some for his own use.”

One assumption for the betrayal (and there are many) is based on this statement and on the belief that Judas had really expected Jesus to assert His power and authority to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. When He did not, Judas decided to help end His life or, as other Bible scholars have thought, to force Jesus to use His power to resist arrest and fight back.

Which brings us to the first lesson that we learn from Judas: We are as close as Judas was to betraying Jesus when our motives for doing so are not the right motives or when we decide that Jesus’ plan needs to be changed.

Peter’s denial is an illustration of this lesson. All of us are a short step from betraying our Lord. In Luke 22:3, we read, “Then Satan entered Judas Iscariot who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went over to the leading priests and captains of the guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them.”

The Evil One is always very close by ready to tempt us to betray the Lord. The temptation of Christ gives us some clarity here because had Jesus given in to the temptations, He would have betrayed the Father.

Why do you follow Jesus? Patrick Morley has some important things to say about our answer to this question. The American gospel has evolved into a gospel of addition without subtraction. It is a belief that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.

Examining our motives is an important spiritual discipline. Let us learn from life of Judas.

Finally, we need to learn a lesson about God’s grace from this disciple’s tragic story.

Probably the most quoted prophetic passage about Jesus’ death is Isaiah 53. It contains the memorable quotes that we hear when we are reminded in song or word of the Savior’s great love for us. But in the middle of this chapter, there is an interesting question that we need to ask aloud this morning, (verse 8) “But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins-that he was suffering their punishment?”

I think that Judas did. I think that Judas realized that the love and grace of God was behind Jesus’ action before any of the other disciples, even Peter, realized it. Unfortunately, his response to the grace and forgiveness of Christ was to reject it by letting his guilt and shame overwhelm him. Matthew describes this attitude in verse 3 of our main text with one word –remorse.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines remorse as a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs. (c) 2000 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Remorse eats at you. It makes you wring your hands in despair and anxiety.

The record of Judas’ state of mind at this point (and it would be interesting to know how Matthew found out about it) leads me to believe that Judas’ plan for Jesus to take control shattered when he realized that Jesus was, as Matthew says, condemned to die.

Judas could not handle the outcome. His grief and guilt, his gnawing distress drove him to despair and death… That is not what Jesus wanted to have happen. He cared for Judas just as much as He cared for the other eleven.

Though Jesus said in Matthew 26:24, “But how terrible it will be for my betrayer. Far better for him if he had never been born,” it was not God’s will for Judas to end his own life. It was God’s will for Judas to hear and experience the words of Jesus, “Father Forgive Them.”

This is the most important lesson for us today: That no matter who we are or what we have done, God’s forgiveness through what Jesus Christ did on the cross makes forgiveness possible to everyone.

Again I close this morning with a question, Is there a single human being who is beyond Christ’s salvation? Is there someone who Jesus did not die for?

(The Morley quote is from his book Walking with Christ in the Details of Life, page 14.)