Several Sermons here.  The latest are at the beginning.

November 19, 2017

Title: Unexpected Thanksgiving

Text: Selected

 

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

It’s a beautiful song.  It’s the hymn called “Now Thank we all our God” written by Martin Rinckart.  For Protestant churchgoers, the hymn conjures up an image of a congregation singing in unison, a pipe organ blasting away at a stately tempo, and a church full of people thinking about the bounty of their approaching feast.  Although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this statistic, it is said that the song “Now Thank we all our God” is the second most widely sung hymn in Germany…surpassed only by “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

The first two verses are based on the Apocryphal book of Sirach, chapter 50, verses 22-25 which reads:

22 Now therefore bless ye the God of all, which only doeth wondrous things every where, which exalteth our days from the womb, and dealeth with us according to his mercy.  23 He grant us joyfulness of heart, and that peace may be in our days in Israel for ever:  24 That he would confirm his mercy with us, and deliver us at his time!  Sirach 50:22-25

Now while we do not recognize those books as part of the inspired canon, they are none-the-less blessed and gentle words.  They are words of confidence and thanksgiving.

It’s a great song highlighting the giving of thanks.  And from what we can ascertain from the song lyrics it was a time of great peace and joy; a time of thanksgiving.

But the times in which the hymn was written shed a different light on the writer’s situation.

The hymn was written during the Thirty Years’ War. The Thirty Years’ War, which ran from 1618 to 1648, involved the major powers of Europe waging campaigns on German soil.  The war is known in part for the atrocities committed by mercenary soldiers.

The devastation caused by the Thirty Years’ War ranks right up there with the worst famines and plagues as the greatest medical catastrophe in modern European history.  The war killed soldiers and civilians directly, it caused famines, destroyed livelihoods, disrupted commerce, postponed marriages and childbirth, and forced large numbers of people to relocate.

Historians postulate that the reduction of population in the German states was typically 25% to 40%.   In a corridor running from Pomerania in the Baltic to the Black Forest there were losses up to 50 percent.  Some regions lost even more people. It is said that Wurttemberg lost three-quarters of its population during the war.

The cost of the war proved enormous. Perhaps 20 percent of Germany’s total population perished during the war.  If the population counts I found for 1600 are accurate, the Thirty Years’ War took the lives of over 3 million people by war and disease.

Villages were especially easy prey to the marauding armies. Those villages that survived, like the small village of Drais near Mainz, would take almost a hundred years to recover. The Swedish armies alone may have destroyed up to 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns at the time.

The Thirty Years’ War constituted the worst catastrophe to afflict Germany until World War II.

[The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.]

The fact that this hymn was written during that war paints a very different picture than what we imagine.

Instead of the joy of thanksgiving we initially see, imagine a minister and his family singing this hymn before dinner to thank God for the scraps of food they have on the table in their meager home in a desolate refugee city that is afflicted with famine and disease and war.

Martin Rinckart (1586-1649) was an accomplished musician who spent most of his career as a musician and archdeacon in the city of Eilenburg.  He was one of the last surviving ministers in the city and used his personal resources to care for refugees.  At the height of the war the plague and death were rampant.  It is said that Rinkart performed nearly fifty funerals a day, including one for his own wife.

Rinckart lived in constant threat of starvation, the plague, and invading armies.  Yet he was able to write:

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.

Like the Psalmists in the Bible, Martin Rinckart began each verse with praise to God.

Vs. 1 “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices”

Vs. 2 “O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us”

Vs. 3. “All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given”

Rinckart never lost sight of who God was.  In a situation that almost demanded he question God, he seems to have held on to the ability to praise.

The only place where he seems to waver is in verse 2 where he says,

“…and guide us when perplexed;

And free us from all ills,

In this world and the next.”

In the midst of horrific circumstances, Rinckart was able to see through the darkness and lay hold of God.  He closes his hymn by singing:

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven,
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

It is almost beyond comprehension to realize we can worship and give thanks through pain and conflict and suffering and instability.  It seems that the world is rapidly degenerating into a cesspool of licentiousness and self-will.  Death and immorality are celebrated, rules and guidelines are criticized…selfishness governs how many people live their lives.

But God is on the throne, the reason to give thanks.

Trouble may fill our lives, anxiety may consume our day, disease may haunt our every doctor’s appointment.

But God is on the throne…we have reason to give thanks.

Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Through it all we have reason to give thanks…God is still on the throne…eternal glory to Him.

Some of you may have realized by now that there is something starkly missing from this message so far.  I had a hard time finding the right Scriptures for a Thanksgiving service like this.  It’s usually thanks for the blessings, thanks for the family, thanks for the good things in life.  But today it’s thanks for all that comes into our lives, He continues to be our God.

I have chosen a few Scriptures and I will close with them.

Job 2:10 “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.  Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Rom 12:9-13  Rom. 12:9   Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Acts 5:40-41 “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

Rom. 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

 

*END*

 

 

November 12, 2017

Title: Lower the BOOM!

Text: Acts 16:16-24

 

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

 

“A sail harnesses wind to propel a boat.  A sailboat is driven when the wind fills a large main sail that is supported vertically by a mast and horizontally by a boom that can rotate 180o to catch the wind.”

If you are a sailboat enthusiast you will know the positon and purpose of the boom.  On a sailboat the “boom” is a pole running perpendicular to the mast for the purpose of tying down or controlling the sail.  The boom pivots back and forth 180o to catch the wind and control the speed and direction of the boat.

Watch this little video, it’s less than 20 seconds long.  Pay special attention to the position and action of the boom. [RUN VIDEO CLIP]

In a changing wind, the boom can swing wildly, leaving anyone not paying attention at risk of being struck.  If a person is not paying attention or if the boom suddenly swings out of control it can cause a lot of damage.  I saw several videos of people getting hit by a swinging boom and it caused quite a headache and can even be deadly.

In English, there is an idiom that goes “lowering the boom.”  And it means “to reprimand harshly, to stop someone from doing something; to scold sternly or swiftly and severely punish.”  The idiom has the image of abruptly and permanently putting a stop to some action or comment.  The idiom is pictured by a boom on a sailboat that suddenly and unexpectedly swings out and strikes an unprepared boater.

There are times in life that we have to put a quick end to some action.  Sometimes it is merely a matter of annoyance, other times it may be to prevent an accident or some other trouble.  The instructor in driver’s education may have to quickly slam on their brakes if the student driver makes an unexpected mistake.

In Acts 16 the Apostle Paul “lowers the boom.”

The setting is Philippi.  The mission of Paul and his team is to evangelize.  They need to present the Gospel so people will live. But as is always the case Satan is constantly attempting to disrupt the dissemination of the message of salvation.  Here in Philippi he used some evil men and a demon possessed young girl.

The section begins at verse 16 which says, Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.” Vs. 16  And verse 18 indicates she had been doing this for quite some time.

The young girl was possessed by an evil spirit.  The English translates the Greek word as “divination” but in Greek the word is Puthon [?????].  One preacher says, “…the Greek more literally reads — a certain maid having a spirit of a python.”

Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible points out that in “Hellenistic belief, the Python was a spirit of divination that possessed certain persons.”  …Dr. Longenecker…tells us “the word python came to mean a demon-possessed person through whom the Python spoke—[in that day] even a ventriloquist was thought to have such a spirit living in his or her belly…”

Though the text does not indicate it, this young slave girl was tormented by this demon and used by these men for profit.  It’s a simple reminder that even then, 2000 years ago, people used and abused others to make themselves rich.

It’s interesting that the girl is testifying truth.  She is declaring, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”  It is knowledge she could have simply known by the fact that Paul and his companions never hid what they were doing, or, as the text seems to hint at, it was knowledge attained by her demon possession and as a way of showing superiority of the demon over Paul and by association, his message.

It was unacceptable to Paul to have this demon possessed girl testify truth.  And he’s not the only one.  If we look at the life of Jesus we see several occasions where Jesus forbid demons to speak on His behalf.

Mark 1:23   23 Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!”

Mark 1:33-34 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.

Mark 3:10-12 10 For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him. 11 And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.” 12 But He sternly warned them that they should not make Him known.

Because of who they are, demons are not allowed to declare glory to God.  And as such, Paul needs to put an end to this girls declarations.

Verse 18 says that Paul was “…greatly annoyed….”  The KJV says “…grieved….”  Paul has finally had enough of this evil spirit’s tainted witness and possibly also of the abuse of this young slave girl and he decides to put a stop to it.

Verse 18 Luke records, “…Paul…turned…” which seems to indicate that the girl was following behind them.  But note, he does not speak to the girl.  The Bible says, “But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit….”  The girl is simply the unfortunate pawn of Satan’s hatred and these men’s greed.  No, Paul addresses the evil spirit.

I said earlier that Paul “lowers the boom.”  It is the demon that Paul crushes.  He invokes the power of Jesus Christ and in one swift, severe motion crushes the power and voice of the evil spirit that was possessing this girl.

Matthew Henry writes, “Thus Paul shows the way of salvation indeed, that it is by breaking the power of Satan…, and that this salvation is to be obtained in the name of Jesus Christ only, as in His name the devil was now cast out and by no other.”

The girl is freed from this demon’s bondage.  God has demonstrated great power and been victorious.

The Church is to rise up and go toe to toe with Satan.  Not in our own power…he will destroy us on our own.

There is an account in Acts 19 we would do well to address here.  Acts 19, verses 11-16:

Acts 19:11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.

15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

God did powerful and extraordinary things through Paul. The word got around and people started taking pieces of clothing that had touched Paul’s skin and then touching the sick with them. The touch did it—they were healed and whole.

Some itinerant Jewish exorcists in town at the time who decided to try their hand at what they assumed to be Paul’s “game.” They pronounced the name of the Jesus over victims of evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus preached by Paul!”

There were seven of these Jewish exorcists, all sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva, trying to do this on a man when the evil spirit talked back.  “I know Jesus and I’ve heard of Paul,” the demon said, “but who are you?” Then the possessed man went berserk—jumped the exorcists, beat them up, and tore off their clothes. These seven sons ran out of the house naked and bloody, barely getting away with their lives.

Satan can be defeated but only Jesus can do it.  Believers speaking in the name and power of Jesus Christ can unleash the power of God against Satan.  If we try it on our own, like the sons of Sceva, we will end up naked, bloody and running for our lives.  But if we unleash the power of God, He will win the day.

We have seen this before but let’s take another look.

Do PPT of Church “flow chart.”

One of those forms under the function of evangelism is taking ground from Satan.  We conquer Satan through the blood of Christ.  The Church cannot relinquish the souls of men and women without a fight.  We attack in Satan’s territory and lead men and women to Christ.

C.T. Studd, a missionary to China is quoted as saying:

“Some want to live within the sound

Of church or chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop,

Within a yard of hell”

In the book of Jude we read:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Vss. 20-23

Extra from the commentary by Matthew Henry:

“He directs them how to behave towards erring brethren: And of some have compassion, &c., v. 22, 23. Observe. We ought to do all we can to rescue others out of the snares of the devil, that they may be saved from (or recovered, when entangled therein, out of) dangerous errors, or pernicious practices. We are not only (under God) our own keepers, but every man ought to be, as much as in him lies, his brother’s keeper; none but a wicked Cain will contradict this, (Gen. iv. 9.) We must watch over one another, must faithfully, yet prudently, reprove each other, and set a good example to all about us.

This must be done with compassion, making a difference. How is that? We must distinguish between the weak and the willful.  Of some we must have compassion, treat them with all tenderness, restore them in the spirit of meekness, not be needlessly harsh and severe in our censures of them and their actions, nor proud and haughty in our conduct towards them; not implacable, nor averse to reconciliation with them, or admitting them to the friendship they formerly had with us, when they give evident or even strongly hopeful tokens of a sincere repentance: if God has forgiven them, why should not we? We infinitely more need his forgiveness than they do, or can do, ours, though perhaps neither they nor we are justly or sufficiently sensible of this.

Others save with fear, urging upon them the terrors of the Lord; “Endeavour to frighten them out of their sins; preach hell and damnation to them.” But what if prudence and caution in administering even the most just and severe reproofs be what are primarily and chiefly here intimated—(I do but offer it for consideration); as if he had said, “Fear lest you frustrate your own good intentions and honest designs by rash and imprudent management, that you do not harden, instead of reclaiming, even where greater degrees of severity are requisite than in the immediately foregoing instance.” We are often apt to over-do, when we are sure we mean honestly, and think we are right in the main; yet the very worst are not needlessly, nor rashly, nor to extremity, to be provoked, lest they be thereby further hardened through our default.—”Hating even the garment spotted with the flesh, that is, keeping yourselves at the utmost distance from what is or appears evil, and designing and endeavouring that others may do so too. Avoid all that leads to sin or that looks like sin,” 1 Thess. v. 22.

We need to go after those in Satan’s control.  In the name and power of Jesus Christ we need to attack in Satan’s territory in order to save those enslaved to his will.

It is dangerous work.  As a result of Paul’s actions they were arrested, vs. 19, falsely accused, vss. 20, 21, brutally beaten, vs. 23, and thrown into prison, vs. 23.  When we testify in a place controlled by Satan we cannot expect understanding or fairness or kindness.  But we continue to testify in order to direct men and women to eternity with Jesus.

Do not give up on a person’s salvation.  Do not let Satan take what is not his to take.  Lower the boom, claim souls for Jesus.

 

*END*

 

 

November 5, 2017

Title: To Speak or Not to Speak

Text: Acts 16:5-15

 

5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is the passage that mentions that there is a time for everything.  The writer goes through a list of “seasons.”  He says in verse 1 To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.”  He then goes on to list a series of actions: “A time to be born, a time to die; A time to plant…a time to pluck what is planted” and so on and so forth.

In verse 7 he writes there is “A time to keep silence, And a time to speak.”

The phrase has a lot of applications.  In a classroom, sometimes you will be the teacher sometimes you will be the learner.  In a discussion, there is a time to speak and a time to listen.  In an argument, there is a time to defend yourself and a time to remain silent.  As someone once said, Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” [variously attributed to Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln]

In Acts chapter 16 Paul is on his second missionary journey.  The purpose of this journey was to visit the churches they had planted in their first journey.  Paul says to Barnabas, “…Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Acts 15:36.

Although Barnabas does not travel with them because of the disagreement regarding John-Mark, Silas was with Paul from the beginning and along the way they meet Timothy who joins them.  As they travel they are preaching the Gospel in cities they go through.  Verse 5 records, So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.”

People were being saved, people were maturing in their faith and God was being glorified.  But then something odd happens.  Look at Acts 16:6-8:

6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.”

As Paul was trying to spread the Gospel into Asia and Bithynia and some of the surrounding areas God’s Spirit would not allow them to go.  The words used to describe the prohibition are somewhat emphatic.  The group was “forbidden; prevented by some word or act; they were hindered, kept from” entering these areas.  The phrase in verse 7 which in English reads “did not permit” is also ardent.  They were absolutely not allowed to stop and preach the Gospel in these areas.

And we’re not told why but ideas abound as to why.  Some commentators believe it was because the areas did not need the Gospel, an idea I find hard to accept.  Some say others were already working in Asia, therefore Paul did not need to go.  Others say it was because the people were not yet prepared to receive it as they were afterwards.  If we look at Acts 19:10 this might be the case.  Acts 19:10 says, And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

Still others say Christ would employ Paul in a new work, which was to preach the gospel at Philippi.

And there are other speculations but whatever the reason the Spirit would not allow them to go into Asia or Bithynia with the message of the Gospel.

We are often taught that we should not be afraid to voice our opinion.  As followers of Christ we are told that we should always be ready to testify concerning what God has done for us.  Peter writes, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” 1 Peter 5:8  While I agree that we should be ready to speak up for God, maybe there are times when we should not speak up.

When you are praying for someone do you pray about the things you should not say?  Maybe in some cases it’s not the right time to speak a word for God.  Sometimes the Lord may put a guard on our lips so that we do not speak.

That idea sounds contrary to a pastor and one who makes his living by endlessly talking about the things of God.  But there are times when the Holy Spirit may keep us from speaking.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts people of their sin and of their need of salvation.  It’s entirely possible that He needs us to get out of the way so He can work.

The key to knowing when to speak and when to remain silent is Bible study and prayer.  When we are daily reading our Bible and daily praying we will sense the Spirit’s leading and we will know when to speak up for God and when to talk about other things.

Do you care about people?  The people you want to see come to Christ, do you care about them or do you just want them saved?  Saying that out loud sounds weird.  For many people it’s because we care that we want them to experience Jesus.  But maybe in addition to caring about a person’s spiritual condition we need to care about their immediate and earthly condition.

I realize that’s a bit different then what we are talking about here in Acts 16 but the concept is the same.  Let the Holy Spirit guide us as to when to remain silent, when to speak and what to speak.

But the story for Paul does not end there.  In Acts 16:9, 10 we read:

9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Although I said we do not know the reason Paul was not allowed to go into Asia these verses may actually give us the reason.  The Holy Spirit stopped them from going into Asia and Bithynia because He wanted them to go to Macedonia.  It doesn’t make Macedonia any better or more important than Asia or Bithynia it merely means God needed Paul to spread the Gospel in Macedonia.  Others would come to Asia, Paul himself might later be called into Asia but for now he needed to be in Macedonia.

In a nutshell the rest of the section tells how they traveled to Philippi, one of the chief cities, they find Lydia, a believer in God and a business woman, they eventually begin a church in her home and it grows into the church in Philippi, a major church in the area of Macedonia.

What do I need to do for God?  Where should I go for God?  Who should I speak to about God?  Who should I not speak to about God?  When do I go?  How long do I stay?  How hard do I push?

Wow, it’s not quite as easy as we would sometimes like it to be.  But to know the plan of God; to be able to follow the leading of God is essential.  Notice the two all-important phrases in the beginning of this section.

6…they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit…7…the Spirit did not permit them.”

Paul and his companions were listening to God, listening to the Holy Spirit and as a result knew the plan of God.

If we are to do the things God needs us to do we need to be reading our Bible and spending time in prayer.  We don’t want to just do things…we want to do the things God wants us to do.

Francis Chan is quoted as saying, Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

10 minutes every day with God this week.  Every day spend at least 10 minutes with God.  Fall in love with Him all over again, find his will…spend time with God.

 

 

*END*

 

October 29, 2017

Title: Salvation Plus

Text: Acts 15:1-21

 

Play a game: “I’m going on a trip.”

Directions: A group of people sit in a line.  The first one says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking [she/he then names something they are taking.]  The second person says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking [she/he then names what the first person said and adds something they are taking.]  The third persons says, “I’m going on a trip and I’m taking [she/he then names what the first two people have said and adds something they are taking.]  Play continues with each person quoting what the others said they were taking and adding something new.  The game ends when one person misses something in the list.

This little exercise does have a purpose.  When we go on a trip we pack things we think we need.  This, of course, was funny but on a real trip we take the things we believe we will really need.  We tend to pack some checked luggage and also a carry-on.

In the luggage we check through to our destination we put things we don’t need until we get to our final destination.  What we pack in this luggage generally depends completely on our final destination.  If we’re traveling to Montana in February we’ll pack our winter clothes.  If our destination is Arizona in July we better pack our shorts and swim suit.

The carry-on holds things we need while we travel and especially things we think we may need if we get stranded in an airport like say…O’hare…in January…because your originating flight was delayed by…say…the fact that someone tore the mirror off the wall in the airplane’s bathroom.

But I digress.

Now while it’s okay, even important, to pack things we will need while traveling, there are some things we should not take.  Don’t take weapons.  You know, as obvious as that seems, the articles I read says the TSA has to confiscate knives and cutting weapons on a regular basis.  Don’t take snakes or live eels, they are not allowed.  You can take live fish and live lobster, however.  You can brings pies and cakes on the plane but you cannot bring on ice cream.  Interestingly enough, you can put ice cream in your checked luggage.  The TSA website is full of useful information.

So we get into this mode of bringing with us things we need to take on trips.  Because salvation consists simply of asking Christ to come into our lives we may be tempted to believe we need to add certain things.  Some will say, “Surely it cannot be that easy.”

With that mentality we are prone to “pack” some extras.  We may ask ourselves, what do I need to add to Jesus in order to be sure I make it to heaven?  What do we need to pack so that I can be sure I reach heaven safely?

For whatever reason many feel a need to pack “just a few more things.”  If asked “what saves us” these people will answer “the blood of Christ shed on the cross.”  However, those same people will then begin to “hedge their bets” by adding things to the sacrifice of Jesus.

Some churches baptize infants.  They always assured me that the baptism of babies was merely for dedication and connection with the larger body.  But when a couple has a baby they are almost beside themselves to get him/her baptized just in case something bad happened.  They say with their lips that Christ was all they need, but by their actions they added baptism.

The issue is not new.  In Acts 15 we have the argument saying circumcision was necessary for salvation.  Acts 15:1 records:

1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”

Now the question had already been settled.  We have the record back in chapters 10-11 of Peter going to the home of Cornelius, an uncircumcised Gentile.  Upon his return to Jerusalem, Peter presented his case to the Jerusalem Church and they all agree that God has brought in all who profess faith in Christ.  Acts 11:18 reads, When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”

After Peter’s presentation, it was confirmed that God was doing a great work among all ethnic backgrounds and therefore circumcision was no longer required for salvation.

Let’s take it a bit further.  We go to John 19:30.

“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

Those three easy words, “It is finished!”  They are there to indicate that the death Christ fulfilled the Father’s plan for the salvation of humanity.  In His death Jesus conquered sin, defeated Satan; He removed the curse of sin that was upon us.  Read them, focus on them, memorize them and most of all believe them.

But many people don’t believe those words.

We tend to pack other things in order to keep God happy.  And the add-ons vary.

We might pack good works.

Our “carry-on” for our trip to heaven needs one thing…the cleansing blood of Jesus.  The words “It is finished” mean just that; the means our salvation is complete, nothing more needs to be done.

But some people add good works.  We read Eph. 2:10 which says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”   And we think to ourselves, “Well I better do some good things because Jesus expects me to do good things.  If I want to get to heaven I better have some good deeds to help ‘grease the skids’.”

Some people add ritual.  You have to be baptized, you have to go to the altar, you have to fast twice a week, you have to attend church, you have to…you have to…you have to.  Pretty soon our “spiritual carry-on” doesn’t fit into the overhead compartment because it’s so full of rituals.

Some people add reputation.  This one’s a scary one because it’s very hard to change your reputation.

I had a guy who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer tell me that he knew he couldn’t be saved.  He had been too bad.  His own words were something along the lines of “been a drunk all my life, a horrible husband and even worse father, never gave God the time of day.”  In Tom’s opinion he couldn’t be saved because his reputation was too awful.

See, some of the things we add to our spiritual carry-on are impossible to do.

Now let’s talk.  Do we need to be people of good works?  Absolutely…after salvation God requires us to live like Jesus.  Remember that though our purpose is to glorify God, our product is people who are saved and ready for heaven and who live godly lives while they wait to be called home.  Peter commands:

“Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1 Peter 2:12

Yes, good deeds are required of the Christian…just not for salvation.

Is ritual bad?  Not necessarily.  I think if we’re not careful ritual can make us numb to Jesus and to truth, but ritual done right can enhance our love and worship of God.   Fasting and prayers and baptism and communion and kneeling at the altar, etc. can enhance and magnify our commitment to Jesus.  But these things flow out of our salvation, not cause our salvation.

One of the difficult things to embrace in the church might just be deathbed conversions.  A deathbed conversion is the adoption of a particular religious faith shortly before dying.  In our case, it is conversion to faith in Christ for salvation.  A person for which we have prayed and witnessed to accepts the Savior and receives forgiveness of sins just moments or days before dying and entering heaven.

I have witnessed a few in my days and while I rejoice at the salvation of a person deeply loved by God I wrestle with fairness; I wrestle with justice.  I have been asked the question, “Why does that person who lived like the devil all their life get to go to heaven the same as me who worked their whole life to please God?”

The answer, first of all, is mercy.  Nobody would get to heaven without God’s mercy.  Titus tells us:

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. 3 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Titus 3:1-7

The second part of the answer is that when Jesus said, “It is finished” He meant all had been done for the salvation of humanity.  We do not need to live holy lives to be saved, we do not  need ritual to be saved, we do not need to have lived a good life and have a good reputation to be saved, we do not need to do anything in order to be saved…we only need Jesus.

Reread Titus 3:5, “…not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He saved us….”

Now, it is true that once we accept Christ’s offer of salvation we do need to build a godly reputation and we do need to busy ourselves with good deeds and acts of godly kindness and rituals can, if handled correctly, enhance our worship experience.  But for salvation all we need is Jesus.

Unpack your spiritual carry-on.  Let the extras go and trust in Jesus alone.  He is the only way.

 

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