“The Importance of Connection (Dem Bones)”

Sticks and stones may break bones, but these types of breaks normally heal. However, severe falls or other serious accidents can cause a bone to break in a way that leaves them damaged to the point where they are unable to heal themselves. Certain bone diseases and cancer can cause similar issues. When this happens, one option is a bone graft.

A bone graft is a procedure when a bone from one part of the body (e.g. part of the hip bone) is used to repair a bone elsewhere. The idea is that the cells from the healthy bone will fuse that bone (or bone fragment) into the damaged bone. This idea is more than 100 years old but has recently been updated with a new twist.

Within the last few years, an idea has surfaced regarding using bones from cadavers to help patients who need a screw or plate. Traditionally, screws and plates are metal and can be rejected by the body. But using bones made into screws, for instance, is being used to see if the rejection rate will decrease and give surgeons a new method for treating these types of injuries.

The truth is our bones are connected. As the song, Dem Bones says, “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone. The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone. The hip bone’s connected to the back bone. (And) the back bone’s connected to the neck bone.” Usually we think bones being connected by ligaments and tendons. Yet, using one bone to heal another is a different kind of connection, but one that makes sense if it works.

Likewise, those who follow Christ – that is, the body of Christ – are connected. In last week’s message, we were reminded that it is Jesus who builds the church. In that message, we connected the ideas of people (and truth) being the right pieces, placed perfectly, and given true Power by the only Person who could do it. And that connection between members of the body is based upon truth. After all, the connection is through Jesus, and Jesus’ statement about Himself included, “I am the truth” (John 14.6).

So, today we are going to look at three ways we, as the people of God, should be connected. We will do so by reviewing the book of Nehemiah and particularly three sections of it.

Nehemiah Overview

The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a people whose home has been destroyed. The home is not one particular home; rather, it is the city of Jerusalem. The destruction began when Babylon took Israel captive in about 587 BC. Nearly 150 years later, many of those who were in exile had returned, but the town was in constant jeopardy because the wall had been destroyed. Nehemiah is a servant to the king in Persia and upon hearing the news of the wall asks to return to Jerusalem to repair a wall, heal a people, and effectively lead a nation into its future.

That is the basic story of Nehemiah in a paragraph. But within that story, several subplots exists. And within those subplots we have many principles from which we can learn (e.g. the importance of prayer and principles of leadership). Today that lesson centers on connection.

God’s People are Connected in Focus (Purpose)

Read Nehemiah 2.11-12a, 19-20

In response to Nehemiah’s statement, the people rose up to begin to rebuild the wall. These people were a community connected by what mattered for the community. We see this connection within a focus when communities rally behind a team or some kind of event. And we see a focus in communities when crises hit (or near crises). Certainly, Fairfax saw this happen in the summer of 2016 when we had the wind storm come through. Friends and neighbors, even from other towns, came to help the clean up process. So, a common focus is well understood in that sense of the community.

The stone wall is in the old section of Jerusalem. It is a part of the wall built in the time of Nehemiah.

But the body of Christ is a unique type of community. We are bound together because of Christ and are in community with others because we are in commune with Christ. As such, we are connected in ways we otherwise might not be. Therefore, we should have a focus that runs truer and deeper than simply being part of a neighborhood or residents of a certain city/town. We see an example of this in Nehemiah where chapter 3 reveals name after name of individuals who came together not just because of their proximity to one another, but because the people of God had a need to protect themselves from the enemy.

If you look closely at the text in Nehemiah 3, a common word (or concept) occurs repeatedly. The word is “next” or “after.” In building the wall, having gaps would defeat the purpose. The people worked side by side, not just because they were neighbors, but as people of God. Many may have been doing the same or similar jobs, but they were serving side by side to accomplish the task at hand. While working, they were ridiculed to the point of having to repair with one hand while holding a sword in the other. But, because of focus they built the wall in 52 days (Nehemiah 6.15). And notice the reaction of the enemies. Read Nehemiah 6.16.

What can we learn from this? When God’s people work together under His leadership, great work is done. It was true during the time of Nehemiah by the people of God, and it can be true in our time as the Body of Christ. The key is to see one another as more than merely citizens of NW Missouri, or Atchison County, or even Fairfax. That connection is important, but it is external. For followers of Christ, we have an internal connection, and that community must be paramount.

God’s People are Connected for Fulfillment (Plan)

A key element in this story is mentioned in Nehemiah 7.4. The city was wide and large, but few lived there because the houses had not been rebuilt. For 52 days, the people of Israel were connected by a focus that was beyond themselves. Despite many (most, nearly all?) of them not having a place to live, their focus was on helping one another. Of course, we are able to view this story from its completion and, thus, we see what unfolded afterward. But for them, they could only do so in faith. But Nehemiah had a plan because God had a plan, and if the people remained connected, the plan would be fulfilled and thus, they would be fulfilled!

Notice what Nehemiah did next. He essentially took a census. Again, God directed this (Nehemiah 7.5), but the list of names in Nehemiah 7 is a genealogical record of the people who had returned from captivity over the past century. To us, this may seem like just another list of pointless names in the Bible, but to the Israelites/now Jews, this information was critical. These names represented who owned what land and where. And for us, these names are a part of the record of what was to come in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The personal fulfillment begins near the end of Nehemiah 7 as the text tells us the people now had a place to live (v. 73).

The connection of these individuals is not just to one another in what was their present tense, it was a reminder of the faithfulness of God from the time of their ancestors. God had fulfilled His promise to bring His people into the Promised Land. God had fulfilled His promise to remove His people if they were not faithful to Him. And God had subsequently promised to return them to the Promised Land after 70 years passed. Thus, the fulfillment here is not just the people feeling fulfilled, but the Lord fulfilling His promise to His people.

How did the people respond? They gathered to hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed – from early morning until midday (8.3). And the people stood when they heard it (8.5), they celebrated what the Lord had done (8.9-18), and they repented of their sins (Nehemiah 9).

What can we learn from this? When God’s people respond to the purposes of God, they will be fulfilled. That fulfillment is ultimately a fulfilling of what God has promised, but the community of God (now, the body of Christ) will find our fulfillment in Him. Again, the people sacrificed their personal desires for the good of the community, and later celebrated as a community in response to what God had done. And finally, that fulfillment was complete when they confessed all that they, and their ancestors had done to turn their hearts from God. (Notice the prayer goes all the way back to the golden calf – 9.16). Likewise, we need to allow ourselves to be fulfilled by God, to celebrate what He has done in our midst, and confess our sins (collectively) to God.

So, God’s people are connected in their focus, for fulfillment, but also for the future.

God’s People are Connected for a Future (People)

In Chapter 10, we once again have a list of names. More names are listed in Chapter 11, and even more in Chapter 12. Again, why all the names? Because we have moved from the past to what is now being built for the future. Chapter 10 contains the names of those who have made and now confirm (seal) a covenant with God. (Read Nehemiah 9.38; 10.28-29). Chapter 11 contains the names of the leaders in Jerusalem – those largely responsible for ensuring the covenant will be kept. Then Chapter 12 mentions the heritage from which the current leaders must honor – that is, those who returned to Israel after the exile, as much as a century earlier. Like the faithfulness shown by Jeshua, Zerubabbel, and others since the return to Israel, the new generation must be faithful to pass on a true faith in God so that the generations going forward did not make the same mistakes that their forefathers had made.

In other words, the covenant was one to protect the community from cursed by God again for breaking His laws (see 10.29). The future of Israel had been disrupted in the past by their lack of faithfulness, and now these leaders were committing themselves to do their part to make sure Israel’s future was secure going forward.

What can we learn from this? The success of a person is not as great as the success of a people. Some people will consider themselves successful based upon certain characteristics of their life. But as the people of God knew in Nehemiah’s day, God is interested in His people as much as He is the person. Do not misunderstand me, Jesus died for individual people. But the gospel is not meant for one person, it is meant for the future of a people. As Paul wrote in Romans 1.16, “The gospel is the power for salvation – first for the Jew and then the Gentile.” By Jew and Gentile, Paul meant as a race, not as individuals.

CONCLUSION

I began this post by talking about broken bones. As individuals, one of the greatest ways we can be broken is to not be connected – that is, to be alone. As God said before creating the woman, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2.18). We are created for community. We are created to be connected. But connection with one another is not sufficient. We must be connected with God.

And that is why Jesus came. We are the bone that is broken beyond repair. So, God took a part of His bone and did a type of bone graft – allowing Jesus – as the “healthy bone” – to be grafted into our life to heal us. We cannot be healed on our own…we must have the healing of Jesus. Until you have that healing, nothing I said here today will make sense. If you already have the healing Jesus offers, then you likely already realize where He needs you to be healed further. Why? Because if we are truly connected, then when others hurt, we hurt too. And perhaps some of that healing we have experienced can be passed on to others. That is what it means to be connected. That is what it means to consider others as yourself (Philippians 2.3) and to love others as yourself (Leviticus 19.18).

What happens when we don’t? Well, as of right now, that will be the focus of next week’s message.

And that is why our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

The common theme today has been to be connected. Whether that connection is in our focus, our fulfillment, or for the future, we must be united with one another. And that unity is possible only because of Jesus. We are first united to Him, and then with one another. But if we are united to Him, we must be united with one another. Otherwise, as John wrote, how can we know if we truly love God (1 John 4.19-20)?

A part of today’s message related to being fulfilled. To do so must include confessing sin. If you have any unconfessed sin, but particularly in light of this week’s message, if you need to forgive someone or seek forgiveness from someone, I encourage you to seek God now to ask for His forgiveness, and/or courage to take the next step. Then take whatever that next step is.

PRINCIPLE:  Like the bones of a body, God’s people are to be connected.

QUESTION:  What, if anything, is keeping you from being connected with others in this local body of Christ?

OPPORTUNITY:  Connect more deeply with God and with others – in purpose, for fulfillment, and for the future of all involved.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   If you know what keeps you from connecting with God or with others, write it down. If you do not know what the issue is, take time to reflect and pray to determine what it might be.

LIVE:  What you discover in LEARN, make prominent for you. Place the note where you will see it regularly and be encouraged to respond to it positively.

LOVE:  As you process the LIVE step, you will naturally begin to love God and others more. New challenges may arise, but that is part of the maturing process – so keep focused.

LEAD:  As you begin to experience a deeper connection with God and others, share your experiences as an encouragement to others.

“The Importance of the Design”

In March, we begin to explore a new system of the human body. In January, we discussed how making disciples is like the reproductive system. In February, we reviewed the necessity of the respiratory system to sustain life and saw how it is the breath of God breathes life into that which is dead (the bones from Ezekiel 37) and His Word, which builds a strong a connection between the teaching ministry of the church and us living life.

This month our focus will be on the skeletal system. It is the skeletal system that supports the body. We use terms like “big-boned” or “small frame” to indicate the size of the skeletal system of a person, but whether the person is large or small, tall or short, etc. it is their bones that provide the structure to the body. Thus, we will be comparing the body’s structure to the structure of the church.

In the coming weeks, I may mention some specific bones and their functions. For today, let me simply generalize by giving a few facts about our skeletal system. First, human adults have 206 bones. You might be surprised to know that the number of bones in an adult is much less than the number of a small child. In fact, at birth, humans have nearly 300 bones (some say as many as 295). As we grow, some of the bones fuse together which accounts for the decrease. Yet, we also “grow” new bones as we age. The patella (or kneecap as we call it) does not fully form until later as the cartilage begins to change into bone (ossify) about age 3. This very fact is a statement for a Creator and against evolution. Let me briefly explain because the idea does relate to today’s message.

The idea of evolution requires continual progression to something that is better and stronger (survival of the fittest). While subtleties exist, it is too subtle to think that mere chance could keep a bone from forming until a certain age. Evolutionists should consider that a bone which is necessary would form and strengthen at an increasingly earlier age to provide the maximum benefit for the species. This is similar to how the reproductive system has developed in theory. It used to be thought that women could get pregnant in their mid-teens. Many give birth in their early teens now, and in some parts of the world it is not uncommon for 12-year-olds to have babies. (Incidentally, the youngest confirmed pregnancy in the world occurred in Peru in 1933 when a 5-year-old got pregnant and had a baby at 6 years, 5 months.) Again, the idea of evolution would support this.

But why would a kneecap wait until age 3 to develop? Have you watched babies walk, err, I mean, fall? And toddlers? They climb, then fall, on what would be their knees. But because it is still cartilage, the “knee” does not break. Of course, cartilage can be damaged, but imagine how many times a patella might be broken if babies had a bone there. Thus, the building of the body required thoughtful design. And the design of that body changes over time with knees, fused bones, new teeth, etc. But the basic structure remains the same.

The same is true with the Church that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ promised to build. He designed it, and, is building it. Just like doctors and scientists are still trying to understand how to make the human body, created by God, function best, we, as humans, are still attempting to understand the best way for the Church, designed by God, can function best.

For today, let us turn to a familiar passage – one we have reviewed periodically over the past 8 years – to review Jesus words, and their context (from Matthew 16), of the Church He has promised to build. But before something can be built, it must be designed.

If you are designing something – a body, a church, or even a dinner – you have to know who you are (that is, what you are capable of doing) and have an idea of what you want to build. For instance, some people (like me) can cook a few items. Others can cook a meal and still others are gourmet chefs. I will not attempt to provide a fancy full-course meal, but I can grill a burger and hot dogs. But even then, I need a plan. I need to buy the meat, I need to make the patties, put the right seasoning in the mix, have a grill, etc. Many different parts are necessary for even a simple meal. And thus, we must consider the plan, or the design, of the plan. Today, I want to identify four parts, each of which begins with a P that relate to the design process.

The Design Must Have:

The Right Pieces (Matthew 16.16)

Peter makes the Great Confession – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus was asking His people what they believed. He needed the truth to be known and a people to know it. In other words, for Jesus to build His Church, the design needed both a truth and a people who would proclaim that truth.

Using the metaphor of a building, the people are the Church, so we are like the bricks. The truth is like the mortar which holds us all together. However, to put this into the imagery of the Body of Christ, the people are like the bones, and the truth is like the ligaments (The word ligament comes from the Latin ligare which means to “bind.”)

Thus, those who follow Jesus (whom the Bible calls Disciples) are the skeletal structure of the Church. Like the human body, without disciples, the church would fall flat. Sure, the building might still be there, but that is similar to the skeletal system of a mouse being the support structure for the skin of an elephant.

So, the right pieces are needed – truth and people. That was true when Jesus walked on the earth and it is true as the Spirit lives within us now.

Are you born again? If so, then you are a part of the design for the Church Jesus is building. And it is His truth that will bind us together.

But it is not enough to just have the right pieces, we need to have:

The Right Placement (Matthew 16.17)

Jesus says that Peter’s words have been revealed to him by the Father. So, Peter stated a truth, but it was not his own thought. The thought was placed into Peter by the Father. That is, it is not enough to know a truth, it is important know, and believe, the truth.

Related to the human body, this is the equivalent (in my mind) of having the right bones in the right place. It is one thing to know that the human adult has 206 bones, it is another to know where each bone goes. How functional would we be if one of the bones in your ankle served as your shoulder blade? Or what if your rib cage was around your brain? That would make for a huge head! So, we must not only know some facts, or even some core truths, we must know how to apply them. And the One who is building His Church knows just the right way to place just the right pieces.

Are you born again? Then God has a place for you!

But beyond having the right pieces, and then having the right placement, we must have:

The Right Power (Matthew 16.18)

As I have taught before, the location where this scene takes place is extraordinarily pagan. The city was known as Caesarea Philippi and most rabbis taught that no good Jew would go to such a place. Of course, Jesus knew this, but He chose this place to announce the establishment of His Church. Furthermore, Jesus stated that nothing would prevail against the Church – not even the Gates of Hades. (Again, this passage has been covered in great detail before and I explained then precisely what Jesus meant by this statement.)

In other words, the design Jesus was using would allow it to persevere. That does not mean that the Church will not have to weather any storms, but it does prove it will overcome those storms as long as she remains connected to the source of Power – Jesus.

Likewise, the human body must weather a great deal of trials. But our anatomy is built with a strong interior – the skeletal system that withstands far more than we might image. Consider all of the stress our feet and knees undergo. For some of you that means constant pain in your feet. For others it has meant knee replacement. But you are still “standing” so to speak. That is because the structure is strong – just like the Church’s structure is strong when reliant on Jesus.

So, again, I ask, are you born again? Then God has given you power! And that means that God has given us power collectively – to stand as the Body of Christ.

So, we have the right pieces in the right places with the right power. And that is all because the true builder is…

The Right Person (Matthew 16.13-15)

We go back a few verses to pick up the beginning of this pericope. Peter’s response was not unprompted. Jesus knew who He was. He knew what His intention was in this place at this time. But He needed His followers to consider the fullness of the truth. He needed them to know who He really was before unveiling His plan. To highlight this further, let me share that three other groups are present in this story and how each group fits into God’s plan to build His Church.

      1. The Disciples (v. 13). Jesus is with this group and they are the ones being questioned. But Jesus, as the Builder, chose this group to be His laborers (sub-contractors if you will) – the ones who would serve with Jesus to build the Church. The same is true today – His disciples today are not only the present church, but we are a part of building the Church of the future.
      2. The Prophets (v. 14). This group is mentioned by the disciples as part of how other people view who Jesus is. But Jesus was the Builder, the prophets were the people who prepared the land and even laid a foundation of sorts. There role was important, but they were not meant to build; they were to prepare for the building to come.
      3. The Pharisees/Sadducees (v. 1). This chapter begins with the religious leaders looking for a sign. As I have mentioned before Matthew 14 and 15 are filled with signs, but they ignore them because what Jesus is doing does not fit their scheme. These people were not chosen by God (like the prophets) or Jesus (like the disciples) – they had chosen themselves. They were not interested in building something new, but preserving what had been.

Of these three groups, two were chosen by God to be a part of the process of what Jesus would/is building. But neither of these two groups – as important as the are – were the right person for the job. Only Jesus was right. Only Jesus is right. And only Jesus will continue to be right.

So, again, I ask: Are you born again?

If so, you must consider what He is calling you to do. (More on that below.)

If not, it is Jesus whom you must seek. He is the right Person to lead you where you truly want to go – even if you don’t know it yet. And I don’t mean go to heaven, I mean go through life.

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

As we close, you might wonder about today’s reading (if you are reading this post, the Scripture reading in our service was from Numbers 26). If you were here in Jan 2013, you might remember me placing signs around the wall with the different tribes. See the number of Israelites are not just numbers – they represent how many were in each area. – that is how many on each side. What God did in laying out the camp absolutely fascinates me. If each of these tribes is laid out and viewed from overhead, this is what the camp would have looked like.

When God looked down on the people of Israel as they camped in the wilderness, the formation He saw was the cross. In other words, structure is important. God designed the church in the NT (right pieces in the right places with the right power), but only after God structured His people in the OT. And that structure occurred after God provided structure for leading His people (Exodus 18) and in creating His people (our skeletal system).

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus is the grand designer. He has given us a structure to support our bodies. He has given a structure to support His Church (truth and people). And He has organized all of it in such a way as to make it work effectively. When it does not work effectively, it is due to either sin or our carelessness. But Jesus had a plan. Jesus has a plan. And we need to find and honor that plan knowing we will prevail if we keep our focus upon Him.

PRINCIPLE:  God has designed His body with the right pieces in the right places with the right power because of the right person – Jesus.

QUESTION:  If you are born again, you are a piece! Have you found your place? And are you living according to His power given to you because He is the right person.

OPPORTUNITY:  Seek to find your place not just by thinking, but by serving – perhaps in many areas until you know where you fit best.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   How has God designed you? Take time to identify who God has made you to be. Review/Reflect on each point – your skills, abilities/aptitudes, talents, desires/goals/dreams, your giftedness in His body (spiritual gifts) and any of life’s challenges that have led you to be who you are today.

LIVE:    Take time to write down the ideas from the LEARN step above. Writing down will help bring focus to these ideas and thus will then help you to LIVE out the principles later.

LOVE:  Thank God for the list you have developed. God made you uniquely qualified to serve as a piece in His body. And by identifying the items (in LEARN) and writing them down (in LIVE), you are better equipped to not only know you are a piece, but the place where you best fit.

LEAD:  Share the benefits of this process with others. Jesus knew who He was, but asked others so they could know too. As they considered who Jesus was, at a later point (particularly during the time between His death and resurrection) they likely wondered who they were. But once Jesus revealed Himself again, they were ready to serve, because they knew Who had designed them and What they were to do. So, help others to examine their lives so they can be better prepared to serve God as well.

A Change of Plans

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea that we (the church) practiced yesterday.  Because of the weather, 2019 has made for a rough start regarding the ability for many (most) to be a part of Sunday School and/or worship. So, rather than have our normal time of worship, I called an audible and we had a time of singing (with requests), a devotion about the Body of Christ (Rom 12 and Eph 4) and a couple of opportunities for individual and corporate prayer.

A part of the time of prayer was related to specific request mentioned (as we usually do), but a second time of prayer followed to pray for those who were not present for whatever reason – whether they have been most weeks or whether the weather or some other issue has prevented them from coming so far in 2019. We mentioned each name/family and asked that a call be made to say we have not forgotten about them because, after all, they are a part of this local body of Christ known as Fairfax Baptist Church. Those who offered to call certain individuals then prayed for that person and we concluded that time with a corporate prayer and finally a couple of songs relating God’s authority and majesty.
It was a different day, but a very good day.
So, the normal post will return next week. In the meantime, if you have been able to be in consistent fellowship with your local church (whatever/wherever that church may be), thank God for that opportunity. If you haven’t, please know that someone in your church is missing you even if you think otherwise. And, whatever the weather situation where you live, or whatever other challenges you may be facing in life, remember, our joy comes from knowing Jesus has already done and our hope is firm because of God’s promises. So, remain steadfast because God is (still) in control.

Hub Sunday – “God, Breathe in Us” by Pastor Andy Braams

When someone mentions breathing or oxygen and the human body, very few people will first think of bones. But a bone is simply living tissue. Think about it, bones grow and repair themselves when broken, so they are living. Thus, they need nutrition. This nutrition comes in the form of food and oxygen.

The capillaries in the bones bring calcium, oxygen, and other nutrients for the bones to grow and live. In the midst of the bones is marrow which creates new cells which can serve any number of functions. These cells are then transported from the bones throughout the body to where they are needed. Without the blood flow taking oxygen and other nutrients to the bones, the bone or a part of it can die. This is known as osteonecrosis, which commonly is felt in the form of arthritis.

Thus, oxygen is a necessary component to keep bones healthy. Our body certainly has bones to provide structure (more about this next month), but it is our breath that provides the continued health and growth to our bones as well as the rest of our bodies.

Today, we will see an example of dead bones scattered, brought together, but still without function. That is, they did not have function until they received breath which brought life.

Similarly, people may function, but we need the breath of God to bring true life. This life begins when we receive His Spirit – a promise God makes in Ezekiel 26.22-38, and in particular, verses 26-27. When we have God’s Spirit, then we truly have life. (Remember, the word for Spirit is the same word for wind and breath.) And, if we have life, we can live by God’s truth in ways that otherwise will not make sense. Today, I want to take a look at three ways that having the Spirit of God within us can truly make us alive.

First, please take a moment to read John 4.23-24. This verse is in the midst of Jesus talking with a woman at a well. She mentions a dispute about where people can truly worship God. Jesus responds, that true worship is done in spirit and truth because God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Why do I mention this verse from John? Because today’s passage is ultimately about two things – God’s Spirit and God’s truth.

God’s Spirit Will Guide Us Towards Truth

Read Ezekiel 37.1-3

Last week, we saw how God’s truth is alive because Scripture is God breathed. Therefore, as 2 Timothy 3 says, all Scripture is profitable for teaching (preparing us to be right), rebuking (warning when wrong), correction (making it right), training in righteousness (making us right). That is, God’s truth is the principle which teaches, reproofs, corrects, and trains us for righteousness. So, in that sense, God’s truth guides us, but it is His Spirit which guides us towards truth.

Again, last week, we saw that idea in a practical sense, but this week, we see that God’s Spirit guides us physically as well. As we talk about our church being a Hub, this idea is important. The question we must ask ourselves as a church is not only: Where does God want us spiritually? But also: Where does God want us physically? That is, where would He have us serve?

Ezekiel 37 is a vision, but like the vision Paul had of the Macedonian man calling him to come, having a vision can influence where we go. Likewise, Ezekiel has a vision being led by the hand of the Lord, in the Spirit to a valley. For what it’s worth, the idea here is a long and smooth valley not one filled with rocks like much of Israel is. In other words, it is likely scenic. Scenic, except for the bones scattered everywhere.

Verse 2 says that these bones were very dry meaning they had been there for a long time. These bones were not from a fresh battle. It is also worth noting that the text does not say skeletons, but bones. Perhaps, the bones were aligned like a body, but that need not be, particularly if animals had come and eaten on some of the remains leaving the bones strewn around the valley.

So, God has positioned Ezekiel and is now ready to present him with another truth. Notice the question in verse 3: “Son of man, can these bones live?” Now, Ezekiel is a prophet who has been asked to teach in interesting ways, so his answer is honest, yet trustful. “Oh Lord God, you know.” I see this answer as saying, “Well, I must be honest God, I really think your question is a stretch, but, well, you are God.” In other words, I think Ezekiel is saying, “Well, ordinarily, no! But God!”

So, the Spirit has brought Ezekiel this far, guiding him towards a deeper understanding of truth.

God’s Spirit Will Challenge Us with Truth

Think about the four ways Paul mentioned is profitable (2 Timothy 3.16). Why are those true? Because it is not natural to think like God thinks. We are challenged by the truth of God. Specifically, I believe today’s text shares two ways we are challenged.

A Challenge to Our Thinking

Read Ezekiel 37.4-6

Again, Ezekiel had been through a few ordeals with God, but you have to wonder about the idea of prophesying to old bones. It surely seems pointless to me. Unless God is involved. If God is involved, anything is possible, even if it seems improbable.

Think about our collection earlier in the service for example. Three years ago, who might have imagined we would pull a wagon down the aisle once each month to collect money so two pastors in Kenya could have some gas money?

But Ezekiel believed enough and certainly the result impacted his faith. But it is important to notice that as of verse 6, nothing has happened. Ezekiel has been given instructions, and the idea must have been fascinating, but again, nothing has actually occurred. Now, if it does occur, notice what God promises:

These bones will not only rise up and come together, but it isn’t just the bones, it is a full restoration of the bodies – the innards, the skin, everything! (v. 6)

But, again, at this point all Ezekiel could do was imagine what God was going to do based upon what was said. One more step was needed.

A Challenge to Our Obedience

Read Ezekiel 37.7-10

Ezekiel had to obey. Nothing happened until Ezekiel actually prophesied. As I have mentioned before, the word prophesy simply means to tell the truth. We think of prophesy as something that happens in the future, and it can be, but the simplest understanding of the word is truth-telling. So, if we want to think of future prophecies, what we really mean is that something will be true, it just hasn’t happened yet.

For Ezekiel, the truth of God bringing bones together was certainly a challenge. But notice verse 8, everything about the bodies was in place, but life was not present. Why? Because the breath had not come into them. In verse 9, God specifically commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath – that is, to speak truth to the breath. Notice this breath comes from the four winds. This leads me back to a statement I made early this month…the same root word in the Hebrew is used for the English translation of wind, breath, and Spirit. So, when God breathes life into man, it is like the Spirit of God being breathed into man. It is like the wind of God being breathed into man.

Of course, this is the same idea from Genesis 2.7 when God breathed into man. It is the same idea from 2 Timothy 3.16 when God breathed into Scripture. It is the breath of God that causes life. Without this breath, the bodies may have formed together again, but they are otherwise zombies.

But after God commands Ezekiel again regarding the breath, AND after Ezekiel obeys again, these bodies, which had just been a bunch of bones in the valley, come to life. The bodies which represented a great army in the past, are now upright and alive again.

Church, I cannot help but think of Jesus’ words in the most pagan place in all Israel – Caesarea Philippi. After Peter made the Great Confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus responded, “I will build my church.” And He added, “the gates of Hades will not stand against it” (Matthew 16.18).

You may think that the church, or even this church, is down, for any number of reasons. But my God knows a little something about resurrection. And if Jesus says His Church will not be defeated, then maybe the church looks like a bunch of bones scattered in the valley, but if we are willing to receive His breath again, then great things can happen! Amen!

And that leads us to the last part of this text.

God’s Spirit Will Inspire Us by Truth

Read Ezekiel 37.11-14

In verse 11, we are told the bones represent Israel who believe all hope is lost. But God promises restoration (v. 12). That restoration comes through the Spirit (the wind, the breath) being within them. Just as God breathed into Adam, so too will He breathe into His people to restore them and give them hope.

It is the Spirit that instill life within us. And it is the Spirit that brings truth to us. And when we recognize the truth of God for ourselves and incorporate that truth in our lives, we will continue to strive for far more than we currently are. If we are still here, God has more for us – and that more includes more than we can ask, think, or imagine (c.f. Ephesians 3.20). That’s what God wants for us. That is how He wants to inspire us. The question is do we really want to live as God desires? I am not talking about rules – I am talking about life!

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

The problem with most people today is they do not have purpose. Without purpose, life has no real meaning. This is true within the church and without. But this truth is most sad for those who claim to be a part of the church because we have the Spirit within us. That is, for those who are born again, we have the breath of God within us to allow us to truly live. But having this breath, and understanding God’s truth is not enough. Because truth must lead to action.

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

Jesus said that the Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16.12), but truth must lead to action (cf James 1.22). Too many people wish for certain things, but do not act. Ezekiel saw something great because he was obedient. He could have sat in the valley and wished the bones had been buried. Or wished the people were still alive. Likewise, we may wish things were better, but WISHING DOES NOTHING. Obedience to God is required! For Ezekiel, that obedience, that action included speaking. Speaking truth is necessary. You might not think it is worthwhile, but once again, consider Ezekiel’s response to God’s question – Can these bones live? The response: “Oh Lord God, you know.”

God did know, but he called on Ezekiel to participate in the process. Like Ezekiel, we are called to participate as well. We are to participate, but the credit goes to God.

PRINCIPLE:  Like the dried bones in a valley, some may see us as worthless, but God can breathe new life into anyone.

QUESTION:  Do we resemble people, or are we truly alive?

OPPORTUNITY:  We must allow the Spirit to breathe new life into us so that we can truly live.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Memorize James 1.22 this week. Write down three ideas that you have recently heard that you need to begin to do (better).

LIVE:  Of the three items in the LEARN step, choose one on which to focus in March. Place the others on a calendar to remind you to focus on them in April and May, respectively.

LOVE:  Many people, all around us, may be living, but they are not fully alive. Love them by sharing God’s truth with them knowing that as unlikely as it may be for them to listen, God can bring dead bones back to life, so He can restore anyone.

LEAD:  When you see a problem, do not just wish it were better…do something. Perhaps God brought the issue to your attention because He wants to see how you will respond to Him.

“The Breath of God Brings Life” (Part 2) by Pastor Andy Braams

Human understanding of the lung has changed greatly over the years. At one time, the lungs were believed to be cooling agents to offset the heart. Later, although perhaps relatedly, they were thought to help suppress anger which stemmed from the heart. In the 15th Century, Da Vinci was able to accurately sketch the lungs, although his understanding was far from what we know today.

Over time, the understanding of the function of our lungs has changed significantly. Most recently, the focus has moved from merely understanding the function of lungs to creating artificial ones. Granted, the lungs have only been tested on pigs, but this kind of testing always begins on animals and people soon reap the benefits. In this case, over 100,000 people, just in the US, are awaiting a lung transplant.

How did this come to be? Well, researches used what was known, developed new ideas, tested those ideas, and made corrections – over and over again. In fact, in one article, a researcher said it was a paradigm shift that allowed the progress to be made. They were looking at the lung as a whole and then trying to create the smaller pieces, but once they began with the smaller aspects of the lung and worked to the larger aspects, significant progress was made. It took fifteen years to get this far, but listen to her words, “We learned so much from this study. We know what we’re doing right, what we’ve done wrong, and how to make it so much better.” – Joan Nichols, Researcher at the Galveston National Laboratory, University of Texas (1)

Nichols words are about the trial-and-error process of science, but I believe they fit well with the verse we reviewed two weeks ago, and that we will continue to review, only in its larger context this week. That verse was 2 Timothy 3.16 which begins: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…. How is it profitable For teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. And why is that important? Verse 17 gives us the answer – that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Let’s dive into each of these four areas and see how Paul instructs Timothy, and therefore, us using the idea of Scripture’s profitability.

Teaching Prepares Us to Be Right

Right is a relative word here. We must realize that if we are taught the wrong things, then we may do them right according to the teaching, but they may be wrong. For instance, someone who is taught to excel at crime is learning how to do crime the right way, but crime itself is wrong.

But our goal is to not just to do things right, but to be right. And that is one of the ways Scripture is most profitable. Let us review the text.

2 Timothy 3.10-11

Paul mentions that Timothy has followed his teaching. He reviews all that has happened to him and notes that Timothy is aware of all of these aspects of Paul’s life (vv. 10-11). Timothy has certainly learned from Paul actually teaching verbally, but also by observing Paul’s conduct, his purpose, his faith, his patience, his love, his steadfastness (steadiness), as well as by Paul suffering through persecution.

Thus, one aspect of teaching is to be reminded of the past. We can learn from the examples of others and be encouraged by their response to various situations. This is exactly what Paul is doing for Timothy – preparing him to be right based upon the lessons observed in the past.

In verse 14, Paul notes that Timothy has learned, but the lessons are not complete because he must continue to follow the example that has been set. By following the example of Paul, who followed the example of Christ, Timothy would become right, not just by what they have done, but because of what Scripture teaches (v. 15) which Paul and Christ followed. Then, Timothy would be competent and equipped for the work he was called to do. Therefore, Timothy could do right…but more importantly, he would be on the path to being right.

Reproof Prepares Us to Fix What Is Wrong

2 Timothy 3.13-15

After Paul encourages him to remember what has been learned, the attention is turned to that of reproof. Now, we need to understand that reproof is showing disapproval in something. It is an admonition or even a warning. In other words, a reproof, or rebuke as some translations read, requires judgment. Again, judgment is biblical, regardless of what our culture might say. But it is God who judges, and it is the Bible which serves as His witness. As Paul wrote in verse 16, Scripture is profitable for reproof.

But reproof is not fun. It is not easy to be admonished, and when done from the perspective of love, it is not fun to admonish others. But again, the Bible is profitable towards this end. And, truth be told, we would much rather be admonished (lovingly) by others in our midst, than to not know we are doing anything wrong, and face the fullness of judgment before the throne of God.

The challenge is that most people judge based upon preference rather than Scripture. Or they interpret Scripture to their aims instead of God’s purposes. But even if Scripture is used properly, people will rebel against being rebuked. Notice that Paul says that those who are evil or imposters (of the faith) will turn from bad to worse. That is, they will ignore the rebuke and not only continue in sin, but dive deeper into it. Furthermore, Paul warns Timothy (and us) that if we are true to the faith, we will be persecuted. Why? Because people do not like to be rebuked. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul, and Paul states clearly that all who desire to live a godly life will face persecution as well. How’s that for a biblical promise? A gospel of health and wealth does not mention this truth!

But Paul makes certain Timothy understands this principle as part of the process in his learning. And, as verse 15 says, Timothy is aware of this from his previous reading of Scripture, but Paul is making certain he clearly understands the implications of trying to fix what is wrong.

Correction Prepares Us to Make Things Right

2 Timothy 4.1-5

The next step in the process is that of correction. We must understand that reproof and correction can be related, but a distinction certainly exists. Reproof is showing what is wrong; correction is showing how to set matters right. For instance, reproof would be to talk (hopefully not yell) to someone who has made a mistake, while correction would be to show how to fix the mistake or to do it again with the person.

That last sentence provides a lot of information about how we approach reproof. You see when people make mistakes, we need to help them realize the mistake before it can be fixed. But in reproofing them, we can talk to them, or we can yell at them. We generally do what has been modeled for us (by our parents, friends, etc.), but the reality is that maybe we need reproof in order to stop yelling and start having a conversation.

In any case, Paul then shares with Timothy what is necessary to correct others. He needs to preach the Word. That is, He needs to proclaim Scripture. Why? Because people will stop listening over time. Teaching the Bible will not mean anything. People will desire to listen to people to make them feel good. That is, teach me, but do not rebuke or correct me. Of course, we live in such an age, but this is not the only time in history this has been true. In fact, as much as people want to talk about the faith of the Founding Fathers, they lived, and were heavily influenced by such a time – a time-period known as The Enlightenment.

So, Paul charges Timothy to put forth the truth before it will be further rejected. In fact, in verse 2, notice Paul says to reprove, rebuke, and exhort – but do so with patience. Why patience? Because correction is not as easy as merely rebuking. Anyone can tell someone else they are wrong, but it takes someone competent, and equipped (3.17) and patient (4.2) to take the time to show others the right way to live. And then, once people are on the path to correction, they are ready for the final step – training in righteousness.

Training in Righteousness Allows Us to Be Better

2 Timothy 4.6-8

This passage is quite often quoted, and fairly well-known. The same is true for 2 Timothy 3.16. But I do not believe I have ever heard anyone speak about them in the same thought process. This is remarkable given that the verses are only seven (7!) verses apart.

Like the word “right” in the first point, the word better is also relative. I chose the word better because of the quote I shared from the medical researcher earlier. But in this case, better is not something we can obtain on our own. The better here relates to being like Jesus. And Paul ends this portion of his letter with an appeal for Timothy to take his training to the highest level afforded by Scripture – becoming righteous. This is not self-righteous, where we crown ourselves as good and proper; rather, it is receiving the reward from our Lord, the true judge (v8), who provides the faithful with a lasting crown of righteousness.

Notice the idea of training for righteousness in Paul’s words to Timothy.

I have fought the good fight. A fighter must train to be successful.

I have finished the race. Whether a sprint or a marathon, a successful runner does not simply show up and win. It takes hard work and training to finish the journey.

I have kept the faith. Paul saves the hardest for last. Along the way, he learned Scripture. He was rebuked – by Jesus Himself. He was corrected by Barnabas, by the apostles, etc. And, in turn, he did the same. But, in the end, the goal was righteousness, and Paul has made it.

Ultimately, our ability to become righteous is not about what we may do, but about what Jesus has already done. We become righteous because we gain His righteousness when we receive the gift of life He offers. But that does not mean that our journey is through; rather, as Paul shares with Timothy here, that training which included the teaching, the reproofs, and the necessary corrections must continue to be a part of our lives until the end. And all of this is possible through Scripture which is profitable. See, the Bible is not just a compilation of sacred writings (3.15), it is practical for helping us live (3.16), and to understand that we can also rejoice at the return of the Lord someday (4.8).

Like Paul, we too must press on trusting that Scripture is profitable because God breathed life into it. And thus, we must seek to learn from Scripture until our final breath has passed.

CONCLUSION

And one day, we will breathe our last. Of course, one day the artificial lung may be fully functional and allow people to breathe – and thus, sustain their lives – when they otherwise would not be able to do so.

But true life comes from God. That is true for humanity and it is true of His Word. It is a magnificent realization that when Paul wrote this letter, he could not have known that his very words endorsing Scripture would later be included as Scripture. He was referring to the Old Testament, and perhaps, one or more of the Gospels. Certainly, Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit, but he was simply writing a letter to a young man who needed encouragement. But all of Scripture is profitable, and God knew we could profit from Paul’s words as well. But while God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55.11), what makes it truly possible is when what we learn turns to action. Therefore, our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

A question that is sometimes asked is: If no one listens, did teaching occur? It is a fair question, but I think that teaching does happen even if no one pays attention. It does not have to be listening, but learning does require observation – seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, or touching – and then taking the time to think about what has been observed. For instance, Jesus said, anyone who has hears, let him hear. Thus, Jesus was teaching, but not everyone would learn from what He taught.

How can we know we are learning? Not by what we do perfectly, but by what we attempt to observe. Jesus said to His disciples to make disciples not by merely talking to others, but by teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28.19-20). Thus, doing what we have learned, and doing what we are learning, and doing what we will learn is important. Why? Because Jesus said so. My number one motto for life is “When you stop learning, you start dying.” But again, learning is not just about taking in information…true learning requires us doing something with that information. And that is why Observe is our JOURNEY letter for the week.

PRINCIPLE:  Learning is a process which requires teaching, reproof, correction, and additional training throughout our life.

QUESTION:  If Scripture is profitable, then shouldn’t it be our primary source for the process of learning?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one part of the passage today and focus your learning on observing the part of the process (teaching, reproof, correction, and training for righteousness) that you need most.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:  Re-read 2 Timothy 3.10-4.5 and identify an area in your life that needs to be improved through the learning process. Write that area down as a matter of focus this week. Seek other areas from Scripture (all of which is profitable!) to find what Scripture says to do.

LIVE:  Begin to OBSERVE what Scripture says from your research in the LEARN step. Take time to record any progress along the way.

LOVE:  As you begin to OBSERVE the process, seek to understand how growing in this area will help you fulfill the Great Commandment – to love God and love others – better.

LEAD:  Over time, share your progress in this area of growth to encourage someone else to embrace a similar process.

 

(1) https://aabme.asme.org/posts/artificial-lungs-could-offer-real-hope-to-future-transplant-patients

 

“Three Needs for a Healthy Body” by Rick Sons

In continuing our study on health body, healthy church we will take time today to look at three healthy practices: Exercise, Rest and Nutrition. These practices are not only beneficial to the body, but also the church. Are you that person who sits on the couch and does nothing? Are you that person who sits on the pew and does nothing?

1 Timothy 4.8: “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

NEED 1: EXERCISE

There are five things that exercise does for your body and the church. We know what physical exercise is for the body, but the church (and the church body) needs to practice spiritual exercise daily, not just on Sunday.

1. It Can Make You Feel Happier

Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity which relieves feelings of depression.

A happy church is a healthy church. Don’t you want to be happy and the people around you to be happy? Think about seeing people in the congregation with smiles and a more content look.

2. It Is Good for Your Muscles and Bones

Exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. Muscles and bones are the foundation of the body.

A church with a strong foundation of muscle and bone is a healthy church. Parts of the church body are the bones which help to form the structure and other parts of the church body are the muscles who do the work to aide in the movement of the body.

3. It Can Increase Your Energy Levels

Exercise can be a real energy booster for healthy people, as well as those suffering from various medical conditions. Studies have found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue.

A church that lacks energy slows down, movement becomes harder, and the church fails to grow. Churches that exercise in bursts aren’t as effective. Spiritual exercise (just like bodily exercise) must be constant so that over time it becomes easier.

4. It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory

Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills. To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain.

Who is the brain of the church? Studies have shown that reflective and contemplative spiritual practices grow several parts of your brain. A symptom of weak churches seems to be a slow heart rate. We have heard it said that church problems are not a head issue but a heart issue. Going to church is good for the brain and the heart.

5. It can help you relax.

Regular exercise can help you relax.

The church also needs that time to relax, which bring us to REST.

NEED 2: REST

Few people will argue that church attendance in many churches in America is declining. Most of us have our own ideas why attendance is declining. Some feel the heart of the problem is not declining numbers, but commitment.

Church volunteer burnout is a major problem throughout the church body, and it seems to be growing. The burnout is more psychological and emotional than physical. Burnout results from prolonged stress, overextension, and hurriedness. The nervous system gets stretched until it loses its resiliency and renewal capacity.

It’s easier to avoid burnout in the first place than it is to overcome it.

Take time to rest. It’s God’s way of sustaining us for the long haul. It helps to heal a tired rundown body.

In church, we need to sometimes just step back and relax with God. This past week in my chaplain email I spoke on the practice of coffee breaks. Businesses know that employees need time during the day to rest (coffee break). Take time in your church duties to rest.

Pray for your ministry responsibilities. Let God perform the work, using His strength and perfect wisdom. Don’t try to do it all. If God places you in a position, he will provide the means to complete your responsibilities.

Give something up before taking on a new commitment or responsibility. Multi-tasking is something many of us have mastered. Even the best of multi-taskers reach that point where they have taken on too much. Don’t keep “adding floors” onto your already towering skyscraper of activities.

Learn to say, “No,” and to set up reasonable boundaries around your involvement. When people ask you to do something, or they look to you to accomplish their ideas, specify the help you’ll need and the constraints on your time. This is true, not only in your personal life, but also in your church life. You don’t have to do it all.

Set priorities and consult with your family. I have told all of my officers and the law enforcement students at the academy that law enforcement is a way of life that controls your life. It is up to you to make sure this life has a balance.

Church work occupies an essential role in our lives but must never take priority over family.

Look for ways to team up with your spouse in ministry activities. Be willing to occasionally say, “No,” to low priority church activities when they conflict with important family time.

Emphasize grace over works. We don’t earn God’s blessings by the amount of church work we do. God wants us to lead healthy, balanced lives where our ministry service is a joy and source of deep personal fulfillment.

In the absence of such joy, our work life and our ministry turns into burden and burnout.

Jesus knew of the burden of burnout. His words in Matthew 11:28-30 are extremely comforting: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

NEED 3: NUTRITION

Eating a healthy, balanced diet plays an essential role in maintaining overall good health. We all eat, but we must try to eat properly.

Being overweight can lead to health conditions such as, Type-2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Vitamins help your body use energy from the food you eat. Minerals are chemical elements that help regulate your body’s processes. Potassium, for example, helps your nerves and muscles function. Calcium helps your teeth and bones stay strong.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

1 Corinthians 9:27 says: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Some of you may or may not know, but I have lost 50 pounds since September of last year. By changing my eating habits, I have been able to make my body slimmer and healthier.

Just as the physical body needs good nutrition, so does the church body.

Often I have heard people say as they leave church, “Well, I was not fed today. I come to church to be fed and that pastor just does not feed me.”

I hate to break the bad news but your church is not supposed to “feed” you. You are not to come to church to be fed.

This may come as a shock, but people pick a church like they pick a restaurant. One that dishes up what they like and are in the mood for on a steaming plate set before you. One with a pleasant atmosphere, where they can sit, and converse with friends.

Then you sit in judgment. “That was good this week.” Or perhaps, “That sermon was a little mushy, and cold, like overcooked broccoli.”

You tip if the service was good and expect to go home full. You complain and tell all if the service was not up to the standard that you set or expected.

The man in front of you is your pastor not your waiter.

The term “pastor” is from the Greek word for “shepherd.” I tell you the shepherd’s job is to protect sheep. He is to drive them to the pasture and to the clear, clean water.

The sheep eat for themselves. The shepherd does not hold the grass so the sheep can eat it only when served to them by the shepherd. Just in case you did not know sheep eat everyday not just one day a week.

The legitimate role for pastors is found in Ephesians 4. Pastors have been given their gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” God’s purpose in the giving of all of these gifted “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers” is to EQUIP YOU “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

When you come to church, rather than being a passive recipient of the meal, leave and share its gifts with one another. Invite others to come and also enjoy the table that Jesus has spread for you.

Friends, stop asking your church to feed you. Ask your church to equip you.

The church isn’t supposed to be a restaurant with waiters that serve us and cater to our every need. It is supposed to be culinary school.

I want you to think about what culinary school does. It does not feed the students, it gives them tools, knowledge, practice, confidence and helps them find a job cooking in the real world.

I hope this shows a different way to see the church, and your pastor.

One way will make you fat and passive. The other way will change you, your church and the world as you serve it, adding flavor and taste to those around you.

Remember that we all need to work hard to build a healthy body, it does not come easy. It takes time and commitment.

What are you willing to do to help make the church healthy?

Do you want to be that couch and pew potato?

Or do you want to be that fitness coach to help build a stronger healthier body?

“The Breath of God Brings Life” (Part 1) by Pastor Andy Braams

Today is the first Sunday of a new month which means we begin comparing a new system of the human body to the system of the church. Last month, we discussed the link between the reproductive system and Jesus command for us to make disciples. This month, we will review the respiratory system with a connection to how God’s breath brings and sustains life.

When we think of the respiratory system, we obviously think of breathing. But most people simply consider the process of air going in and then being released. The reality is that breathing is really an exchange of gases. The human body takes in oxygen and then releases carbon dioxide. That exchange is really the function of our lungs.

However, the lungs are not simply taking in and passing out the same air – rather, the oxygen that comes into our bodies is taken by our red blood cells throughout the body, and those same cells collect any carbon dioxide and bring it back to the lungs where it is discarded when we exhale.

The key understanding for us today is that through our breathing, life is possible. We may focus on our breathing at times – particularly when we find it difficult to breathe, but the process itself takes place so naturally, we rarely give it thought. In fact, the average adult breathes approximately 23000 times per day – each time sustaining the life that has been given.

And that is our focus today – that breathing brings life. Not only does our breathing allow us to live, but the breath of God is what truly allows for life to happen and to have meaning. Later this month, we will review passages that discuss how the breath of God brings life to mankind, but for now, let us focus on the life it gives it gives to Scripture. This week, I will review the first part of 2 Timothy 3.16 that says the breath of God is part of Scripture. And then next week, we will look at how the remainder of verse 16 applies to the verses which precede and follow this verse to show how God’s breath sustains us and prepares us to live according to His purposes.

All Scripture… (2 Timothy 3.16)

Every single word.

Let me ask you this: Do you trust God? If yes, do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word? If yes, then you can trust God’s Word because it is God’s Word. Titus 1.2 says that God cannot lie. But just because something is true does not mean it is helpful, or even particularly relevant today. For instance, did you know that the average salary in 1900 was just under $450 per year? True, but not helpful. Why? Because facts are true, but that does not mean that they are “alive.”

But when God breathes, life begins. It happened for mankind in Genesis 1, and according to Paul, in the verse we are reviewing today, it is true for Scripture as well. What does this mean? It means that Scripture is true (it is from God who cannot lie), and it is also living. Hebrews 4.12 says that the Word of God is living and active. The implication is that we cannot only read Scripture as something that was written for those who lived in the past, we can read it knowing that God’s Word has application for us today as well.

As we discussed last Sunday evening, the words in the Bible only mean what they mean. What God meant when it was written is what each word means. But how those words apply might be as different as the number of people who read it. And that is only possible if the Word of God is living…and it is living because God breathed life into it.

Perhaps we find it difficult to understand parts of Scripture. Do you realize Peter even made this claim about some of Paul’s writings? (See 2 Pt 3.16.) And perhaps we find some parts as more challenging to read for their content (e.g. the genealogies). But our issues with the Bible do not make it any less true or any less applicable.

…is Breathed Out by God

I mentioned in my weekly email and Facebook post this week the importance of the biblical words used for breath. The Hebrew word from the OT is ruach (pronounced roo-awk) and the Greek word in the NT is pneuma (from which we get the English word pneumonia). Both of these words also mean wind. But more importantly, these words also mean spirit. Thus, to say that all Scripture is breathed out by God means that all of Scripture has the nature of the Holy Spirit within it.

If you recall the words of Jesus from John 16, one purpose for the Holy Spirit coming was/is to guide us “into all truth” (v13). This function of the Spirit is certainly possible if He is the very nature of the Scripture that is to be our guide. Thus, we are guided not by some presence or “force” that has to interpret Scripture and then try to help us understand what it means. Rather, we are guided by the Guide who helped create the written Word and thus can enable us to understand the Word from the very Source.

Consider it this way. In today’s world many people debate over the meaning of certain books or movies. But what if, instead of debating what the true meaning of Huckleberry Finn, we could sit down with Mark Twain who authored the book. Well, that is the opportunity that the Holy Spirit offers us.

And because breath brings life, the Word of God is alive. Notice Paul’s words. Scripture is breathed out by God. Thus, it is intended to go into something else. Just as the air filled with carbon dioxide we exhale is taken in by plants and converted to oxygen for our benefit, God breathes out Scripture so we can take it in and convert it to action for the benefit of us and others. Remember, as James said, “But be doers of the Word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” That is, the Word of God is living, so it requires a response.

Let me remind us again of Hebrews 4.12 – Scripture is alive and active. It pierces us to the soul. Again, I mentioned last Sunday night that is why I focus so heavily on Scripture when I preach. Many have commented over the years that they are convicted week after week. Good. But realize that is not me, that is Scripture. And it is Scripture because it alive, being part of the very breath of God.

See, many pastors want you to feel good when you leave the church. My job is not to make you feel good or feel bad. My job is to make sure you realize that you need a Savior. You may be saved, but that does not mean that you do not need Jesus. So, if we preach the living Word of God correctly, not only will you realize that you fall short of God’s standard, but you will realize that He has made a way through Jesus – who may have died, but is now living and making intercession for you!

So, Jesus, as the living Word of God brings the written Word of God to life through ruach, the pneuma, the Spirit. And thus, the Word of God is…

…(and) Profitable

Now we get to the purpose of Scripture. God did not just create Scripture because He needed something to do. He did not just organize a collection of thoughts just because someone needed a book with some history and philosophy. No, God used 40 individuals over about 2000 years to write down His words, inspired by the Holy Spirit, because these words would be useful to people for the next 2000 years (and longer if He delays His return).

One truth in life is that everyone relies on various sources for information to get through life. We may rely on the newspaper, the television, radio, magazines, the internet, an app on our phone, fortune tellers, etc. But here is something about every one of those sources…they are seeking profit for themselves. The local news is not there to inform you of what is happening. The news is there to sell advertising. Same with radio and magazines, etc. Sure, they will help you be informed, but only as long as the overall success of that station or publisher or other business concept has the ability to make a profit.

But the Bible is profitable. It does not need to turn a profit, it IS profitable – to all who read it AND observe it. God gives it to us so that our lives can be profitable. Although God is not seeking to make a profit, it is fair to say that He has made an investment in you – and that investment was the life of His Son. So, God does expect a return on that investment…and He gives His Word, which is profitable, in order that we might become more like Him.
So, how is Scripture profitable?

It is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. We will explore these four concepts more fully next week; and we will do so in the context of the surrounding verses. For today, we simply need to know that: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…” Therefore, if we can trust the living God, we can trust His Scripture because it is living as well.

CONCLUSION

Our emphasis today has been on the fact that God breathed Scripture which makes it alive…and makes it useful. And, as we will see in a couple of weeks, it was the breath of God that gave man life and made us useful. And, as we continue to breathe, we continue to live. And, thus, our system of the month is the respiratory system. As long as our respiratory system continues to function well, we will have the ability to live. But a day comes when we take our final breath, and thus our life ends which should make us consider how we live our lives in the meantime. And thus, our…

JOURNEY letter for today is: JOURNEY.

We only have so many breaths. But we have our breath and our ability to breathe because of God. So, what do we do with our life? How have we chosen to live? How will we choose to live from this moment until our final breath? Our JOURNEY is not yet complete, but when it is, will we recognize that is was the breath of God which gave us life and sustained us? Of course, this is true in our physical lives, but it is true of God’s Word as well.

So, let us live our lives well. Let us finish our JOURNEY strong. Let us realize that Scripture is profitable and the same Spirit who breathes life into it is ready to guide us along the rest of our path as well.

PRINCIPLE: God’s breath brings life.

QUESTION: Do you believe Scripture is profitable? If so, how can it produce more in your life? If not, why do you believe it is not?

OPPORTUNITY: Just as you have a pattern in your breathing, make reading/studying the Bible a natural part of your life each day.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN: Besides using the four ideas listed at the end of 2 Tim 3.16; write down ten way the Bible has been profitable to you.

LIVE: Reflect on one way the Bible has encouraged you in the past and seek to make that aspect even stronger in your life.

LOVE: Most of us struggle to love everyone. How does knowing the Bible is alive and profitable encourage you to love someone who is normally unlovable?

LEAD: Guide one person this week to better understand how the Bible can be profitable to them.

Hub Sunday – “Fruit Bearers” by Pastor Andy Braams

Since July, on the last Sunday of each month, we have focused on what we have done and are doing related to mission work as a church. As I have mentioned before, this idea was sparked during a conversation between Roger Martin and myself, and the term originated after Roger discussed the concept at a deacon meeting a week or so later. The idea, and the term, is now known as Hub Sunday.

Most Hub Sundays we have reflected on something to do apart from gathering together. For instance, tomorrow night, several of us are going to Maryville to serve a meal to college students and several others who cannot go are helping by providing food and/or desserts that we will take with us. But rather than discussing the spokes of the hub today, I want to focus on the need for the hub itself.

I will cover this idea beginning with the Parable of the Sower in a below, but first I want to remind us that in 2019, we are focusing on the church as the Body of Christ and doing so by reviewing each of the major systems of the body. In January, the system of emphasis is the reproductive system, and last week we saw that the first recorded commandment God gave to humanity (be fruitful and multiply) is essentially the same commandment Jesus gave the disciples before He departed (make disciples), which is only a different context of being fruitful and multiplying.

And, to be fruitful and multiply it is imperative to be in fellowship with one another on a regular basis, as I will share today. With the ability that technology affords, it is entirely possible to believe that you are a faithful saint of God and never attend a church. I say believe you are faithful because it is not truly being faithful to the intent of God.

People “attend” church on Facebook or get teaching via the television, radio, or over the internet via podcasts. Some of the teaching is excellent; some is heresy. But what we cannot overlook is that the Bible is written to a group of people, not to an individual. The OT was written to the people of Israel. The New Testament was written to the Church. In both cases the audience is plural, not singular. And the reading today from Hebrews is a strong command to not cease meeting together. Why? Because, in that context, we must spur one another on – that is, without some measure of accountability, none of us will remain true to what we intend. But in the greater scheme, we are reminded that meeting together is important because “it is not good for man to be alone.” And, as the Body of Christ, no one part of the body can function properly without the other parts.

So, let us turn to the text, and see why the Parable of the Sower is important to us on this Hub Sunday.

The Word of God Impacts People

Take a moment to read Matthew 13.1-8 and 18-23.

The only constant in this parable is the Word of God. All four types of soil have seed scattered on it. All four types begin to impact the soil, but three do not last. Why? Because no root develops. Why doesn’t a root develop? Because the seed does not have time or a place to truly take root and grow.

In the first type of soil, the birds devour the seed before it can truly get planted. Jesus said in verse 19 that the seed did start to get sown into the person’s heart, but then it was snatched away. How? Well, Jesus says the birds represent the evil one. Please understand that Satan knows that God’s Word is impactful, so he comes to steal, kill, and destroy any chance of that seed truly taking root.

The next type of soil was rocky. Notice the seed did produce something. The plant looked like it was going to grow, but it did not. Instead, the soil was shallow. Per Jesus, in verse 20 and 21, the seed was received well, but when challenges came to their belief, the people fell away.

The third type of soil was infested with thorns. The seed made into the soil, but was choked off by the thorns. Jesus interpreted this as someone who “hears the word” but is more concerned with the affairs of the world. Again, the seed begins to grow, but does not have a chance to truly live.

The last type of soil is the one that yielded fruit. Why? Well, the soil was right, and that makes a difference. But I will argue that cultivating the soil is not only important before the seed is planted, but tending the soil is important after the planting. Only then, can a harvest be properly expected. How do we tend the soil? The same way we prepare it – the Word of God.

In each case, the seed represents the Word of God. Jesus says this clearly so that should not be in dispute. What is disputed is whether or not the seed in the first three soils represents people who become Christian or not. Honestly, I have been back and forth on this for years, but more recently, I have become convinced they are not. I am not dogmatic about that because a lot of debate exists on this issue and I realize the arguments against my position. But the Bible is clear that only those who persevere are truly saved. And thus, I have come to believe that only the final soil truly represents a Christian.

What we must understand is that the Word of God does impact people. And the enemy fully knows the power of that impact. Thus, Satan tries to minimize that impact (stealing away the joy, choking it out, making us more concerned about worldly matters, etc.) so we will not reproduce. Because a healthy seed not only grows itself, but that seed will then produce more seeds. That is, it will reproduce. Now the Word of God itself is not reproduced, but its effect is reproduced in others. Thus we can say that the Word of God will produce fruit.

Let’s look at this fact briefly before returning to the focusing on our hub.

The Word of God Produces Fruit

Take a moment to read John 15.1-11.

In this instance, the Word of God is not the written or spoken Word, it is the Living Word – Jesus. Jesus says that those who abide in Him WILL bear fruit. If not, you will be cut away, gathered with other non-bearing branches and burned (v6). Those who remain, those who abide, those who are truly with Jesus will bear fruit. This is not some wish that Jesus makes, it is a fact. Notice a particular word of Jesus in verse 8. We prove we follow Jesus when we abide and bear fruit. We prove we are abiding by following God’s commandments (v10). And the blessing of our abiding is having complete joy in Jesus (v 11).

So, in Jesus words, a disciple (a follower) is one who hears the Word, who receives the Word, and who abides with the Word. If you believe what Jesus spoke, these three statements cannot be disputed by what these passages have revealed. The question, then, is how does this relate to our church being a hub?

The Church is God’s Design for Produce

Let me transition to the idea of our church (any church, really) being a hub by asking a question. What is the name of the section at the grocery store where you can select fruit and vegetables? The Produce Section, right? Why is it called the Produce Section? Because the food was produced. It was planted, it was tended, it grew, it was harvested. But each step happened so what was produced could either be eaten or reproduce seeds for the next iteration of produce.

Well, we are not meant to be eaten, but the seed planted within us is to reproduce. And that reproduction begins within the context of church – not the place, but the people. However, the people need a place in order to be tended, and to grow. That is, if we are to be fruitful and multiply, if we are to reproduce, it is not something we can do on our own, we must do it within the context of the church. After all, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” As I have mentioned many times, this instance of Jesus saying church is only one of three times Jesus used the word church – so He must have meant something by it.

So, the church is meant to grow (being built). And thus, the people in the church are to reproduce. That is, we are to bear fruit. And, as we have seen in the passages earlier, bearing fruit is dependent upon the Word of God. And, where else will you get a steady stream of the Word of God? And that is why the church is, and should be, the hub!

Consider for a minute the idea of a huddle in football. Everyone comes to the huddle so they can be on the same page about what is to happen on the next play. Of course, sometimes, the players see a play developing differently (like the receiver breaks out instead of in and the pass is incomplete or intercepted), but they come back to the huddle to get the next play. It doesn’t matter how good of a player you are or how well you know the playbook, if you don’t know what to do in a certain moment, and are not participating as part of the team, you are not helping.

The church, also known as The Body of Christ, is the same. And a weekly service is like a huddle. Of course, a football team might call three or four plays in a huddle during the 2-minute drill, but the church, like a football team, needs to constantly be together, to constantly be reminded, to constantly be abiding in God’s Word, in order to know what God would have each one do – not just individually – but as a team. Thus, the football huddle is like the church as a hub. The huddle provides direction and understanding of how the team’s playbook will help overcome the opponent during a certain part of the game. The hub provides direction and understanding from God’s playbook (the Bible) will help us abide, help us grow, help us serve as well as encouraging one another (Hebrews 10.24-25) during the process at any given part of our life.

But the church in America is in decline. In the Southern Hemisphere, especially in Africa, it is growing FAST. But, if the church is the only place where most people consistently hear the Gospel, then the attendance at our churches matter. So, let me give you some thoughts and statistics that related to church attendance in America. These stats are a little dated (about a decade ago), but matters are only worse now.

The Church in America is Shrinking

1. Fewer children per family

My mom was one of 7 and my dad was one of 3 (only one to survive childhood), yet I was their only child together. The sheer math says that the number in church will go down from one generation to the next.

2. The Halo Effect

People think they are going to church, but in reality, they are not. Surveyors asked: “Did you go to church the previous week?”

Perception

In 1939, 41% of people said Yes

2002-2005, 40-44% consistently said Yes

*keep in mind, shortly after 9/11 churches saw an increase

Actual Numbers of 2002-2005

About 1/3 to ½ of that amount is true. So, 14-22%.

(Source, The American Church in Crisis, David Olson, p. 26)

Imagine it this way, if 40% of Fairfax was in church, then approximately 200-250 people would be filling the four churches in the area EVERY WEEK. Of course, some people go to other towns, but some people from other towns come here as well. If we look at Atchison County, then approximately 2200 people attend church every week.

Active Participants (3 times over 8-week period, i.e. more than once per month)

23% are active participants (p 29-30)

12% (about one-half of the total) are evangelical – typically considered as Bible-believing

7% Catholic – who must go to receive grace through the Eucharist

3. People are not making disciples.

If we were doing what Jesus said and making disciples 30, 60, 100-fold, then when we would be exploding. Of course, not all people would come here – and that is ok. I am making more disciples elsewhere than I am here. The focus is to make disciples. I do it here, but I go there as well.

Again, church attendance matters because it is the only place where most people hear the Gospel on a consistent basis. And, although I have strong feelings regarding the importance of church membership, membership does not equal commitment like attendance does. However, true commitment is not to a church; our commitment is to be the Lord. Being a part of a church is part of that commitment, and so is making disciples.

CONCLUSION

So, we need to be a hub! Because it is in the context of the hub that disciples are made. It is in the context of what Jesus is building that disciples are made. Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that disciples can only be made at a church, but I am saying that disciples can only be made by someone connected with a church. And, if we are to be disciples, and make disciples, then we are to be connected, and active in the ministry of the church.

We cannot separate Jesus from the Church! Why? Read and re-read this quote from Henri Nouwen:

“The Church is the Body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church. And without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus.”

So, to not be active, and to not attend, is to not be a part of Christ!

In light of the parable I read earlier, if it is the Word of God that brings the fruit and someone is not consistently present with the Word, then how can they return 30-, 60-, or 100-fold? And, it is in the context of church that the Word is most often heard/read/studied by most people. Thus, attendance is critical for the believer.

Many will talk about numbers in a church, but it is fair to ask how a church should be measured. The ultimate answer is faithfulness, and numbers do not necessarily equate to being faithful to God. But attendance is one mark of a faithful follower, so numbers do have a place in helping to know how faithful the people are…not just those who are coming, but how many disciples they are making when they go. And, while here, the measure will partly relate to our unity of body, unity of faith, and unity of service. And that is why…

The JOURNEY letter for today is: UUNITE.

As we wrap up the focus on reproduction, let me make one more comparison between the church and the reproductive system. I do this because I realize that people can be followers of Christ without a specific church home. But again, without being a part of the huddle, are they fully equipped, week after week, to fulfill their ministry, whatever that may be?

It is like in vitro fertilization. It is possible for reproduction to take place this way, but the egg must still be inserted into a home for life to grow as it should. Likewise, a person might be saved apart from the church, but needs a place to grow and be nurtured. And thus, Jesus said, I will build my church – the idea where that growth and nurture happen.

PRINCIPLE: The Word of God should be central in a church which produces fruit. To produce fruit, we must be part of a church engaging often with the Word of God.

QUESTION: If a person is not present with the Body of Christ, then how can s/he function within the Body of Christ?

OPPORTUNITY: Reproduction begins, and continues, with being present. We have a chance to be present, and we have the opportunity to help others be present as well.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN: Make a list of any reasons why you choose not to be in a church setting on a weekly basis. Putting it on paper will help determine any real issues that should be addressed by you, or by the church.

LIVE: Make a commitment to be actively involved within the Body of Christ so that you will be more inclined to share life with the Body of Christ.

LOVE: Bearing fruit requires us to abide with Jesus. When you find it difficult to love others (including the church), focus on loving Jesus and realize the church is the current expression of Jesus to the world – whether we do things right or wrong.

LEAD: Listen to others to determine why they believe church is not for them. Help them to see the truth of this parable and today’s teaching. Without the Church, we do not have Jesus. Without Jesus, we have, and are nothing.

“The First Commission” by Pastor Andy Braams

Two weeks ago, we began this new series about having a healthy body so we can have a healthy church. The central theme for the series, and for all of 2019, is that we are the body of Christ. With that in mind, we can consider that the human body consists of many systems that keep it functioning properly. When one or more of those systems in the human body do not function as they should, the entire body will suffer over time. Likewise, when the church body is not healthy, the church will suffer. And like the human body, the church needs systems in place to function best. So, each month through November we will be comparing a system of the human body to that of the church. And the system for January is the reproductive system.

At first glance, you may wonder how the reproductive system fits into the context of the church. I would argue it is the easiest of all systems to correlate because Jesus said we are to make disciples. That is, as a believer (a disciple), we are commissioned (and expected) to reproduce other disciples. Thus, making disciples is about reproducing, and that fits quite well with the reproductive system.

In fact, as we will see, the idea of reproducing is not just addition, but multiplication, as Reggie taught last week. And we do not just randomly get the idea of multiplication, we see it evidenced in Acts as the early church had numbers added to it (Acts 2.41,47; 5.14) and then soon multiplied (Acts 6.7; 9.31). This idea, related to the church, fits well with the first commandment God gave humanity as well – be fruitful and multiply.

Before we turn to our primary text in Genesis today, you might be surprised to know the Bible talks specifically about the reproductive process even if the actual system is not mentioned. In James 1.15, we find that sin is conceived and then it is birthed before bringing about death at a later point. And this truth about the nature of sin is why we need to make disciples, not just converts.

So, let’s briefly review the reproductive system. First, to reproduce we need two people. And this cannot be any two people. By God’s design it requires a male and a female – that is, the anatomy has to work properly together. But not only does the anatomy have work, the process has to work as well. The male produces sperm and the female produces eggs. This production is regular and consistent over many years, but if the timing is not right or if the overall health of the individual is not right (even influenced by another system in the body), then conception will not occur. So, not only does the anatomy matter, but the timing does, and then of the hundreds of millions of sperm that are released only about 1 in 20 reach the fallopian tube where the egg is, and only 1 – ONE! – will be able to penetrate the egg and allow for reproduction to be possible. At that point, new life has begun, but then prenatal care is important, and finally birth. And then, for parents, the real work begins.

So, that is an abbreviated look at the reproductive system. Let us now turn to the Bible to see how it fits with God’s purpose – beginning in Genesis 1.

1. God commanded humanity to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1.26-28)

We must remember that Genesis 1 and 2 are two accounts of the same story. Genesis 1 starts in the beginning and goes through Day 6. Genesis 2 begins with Day 7, but then backs up and provides some detail of what happened on Day 6.

Day 6 consists of the creation of animals (Gen 1.24-25), but then shifts to the creation of mankind. Verse 26 helps us understand why God would command mankind to reproduce. In Genesis 1.26, the text says, God (singular) said, “Let us” (plural). Thus, God is more than one person. In fact, we call that concept the Trinity. God is three persons in one – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, God had never been alone when mankind was created which is why in Genesis 2.18, God said it was not good for man to be alone. Adam had just named all of the animals, and in some sense realized nothing was like him. But Adam did not know it was “not good.” But God knew it wasn’t. And therefore, God made a woman from man (Genesis 2.21-22).

So, God was (and is) multiple persons and now humanity consisted of multiple persons as well. But unlike God, who is eternal, the human body is not, and thus, to perpetuate humanity, God commanded His new creation to be fruitful and multiply.

I mentioned the reproductive system a few moments ago. A person does not have to understand the system to reproduce. And, due to human nature as the result of the sin in Genesis 3, the curiosity of the anatomy of the opposite sex has been on the minds of men and women (and boys and girls) ever since. But I can’t help but imagine what Adam and Eve thought the first time they were ready to obey God’s command, which was the first command that is explicitly recorded as given to humanity. They had to know their bodies are different, although they were unashamed. But what happened when Eve started to “show.” Can you imagine the conversation? “Adam, why am I getting fat?” “Eve, did you eat from that tree?” “No, Adam, I promise I didn’t…and wait, something just kicked inside of me.” “Eve, were you eating burritos again? You know those can upset your stomach.”

In reality, we have no idea what the conversation might have been. But it must have been interesting!

So, to restate point 1, God gave humanity the command to be fruitful and multiply. And they began to do so.

2. God commanded humanity to fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1.28)

Before God gave this command, He had already given a task to the man. We can see this by reviewing Genesis 2. Originally, God created the man outside of the Garden and then moved the man into the Garden (see Gen 2.5, 7-8). While there, the man took care of the Garden and gave him the task of working it (Gen 2.15) with one warning – do not eat from a certain tree (Gen 2.17). So, man was created with the task of tending to God’s Creation. Then the animals passed before the man and he gave names to all of the animals (Gen 2.19-20). And then, God created the woman.

The sequence here is important. God created the man with the purpose of working and keeping His creation. And, everything was in harmony. Yes, man had to work, but it was not difficult labor. In fact, we might say that his work was fruitful.

But after God created the woman is when the statement in Genesis 1.28 is made. Notice God said to them…that is, God spoke the command to be fruitful, to multiply to both of them. And then, He continued by giving authority to both of them. Now, truly all authority belongs to God, but He entrusted that authority to the first man and woman. They were to fill the earth (reproduce) and subdue it. That is, they were given dominion over the earth. In fact, specifically, if you read the remainder of verse 28, their dominion was over birds, fish, and anything that moves. God then gave them all plants for their benefit – including those with seeds for their food.

The words for subduing and having authority convey the idea of having an active power – even using force, where necessary. Thus, God gave full authority to mankind – both male and female – over the rest of His Creation. And, as they multiplied, that authority was to be passed down to their offspring as well. Why? Because the authority was given to the first man and woman – who were made in God’s image (Gen 1.26, 27) – and as their offspring we are made in that image is well.

But sin!

So, God commanded the first humans to be fruitful and multiply. Then He gave them His authority over the earth. But that authority and the fruit of our labor was challenged because of sin.

3. Humanity lost our intimacy and our dominion because of sin.

Genesis 3 is known as the Fall of man, or simply, the Fall. But before we briefly state effects of the Fall, let us look Genesis 3.8. Consider the intimacy of Creation at this point. The man had and intimate relationship with:

the Garden. He tended it, and it produced. (Genesis 2.15-16)

the animals. He named each species of livestock, the birds, and beasts of the field. (Genesis 2.19-20)

the woman. They were naked and unashamed. (Genesis 2.24-25)
God. (Genesis 2.18, 21; 3.8)

All of this intimacy was how God designed it to be. Again, we can conclude this is God’s design because of the intimacy of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit – united as One. But sin ruined all of it for humanity. Notice, the effects of sin – mostly from Genesis 3:

The intimacy was broken. The man and woman now covered themselves. (Genesis 3.7)

Being fruitful and multiplying became challenging. For the woman, it meant that giving birth would be increasingly painful (Genesis 3.16). For the man, it meant that thorns, thistles, and sweat would be part of the “fruit” of his work. (Genesis 3.18-19)

Humanity’s authority was forfeited to Satan. We see this in God’s response to the man, but we can see it more clearly in passages like Matthew 4.9 (where Jesus does not refute that Satan can make such an offer) and Ephesians 6.12 (where Paul says cosmic powers are in play), and very directly in Colossians 1.13.

But God! Our sin is why Jesus had to come!

4. Jesus reclaimed the dominion over this world, and has now commissioned us to be fruitful and multiply a new type of people. (Matthew 28.18-20)

Yes, Jesus came to die for our sin. But it is more than that. God gave authority to humanity to rule over His Kingdom. But mankind lost that right. Actually, it was stolen from them when the serpent deceived the first man and woman. So, Jesus comes and says, that the Kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew 4.17). That is, the time of Satan’s domain including the world was coming to an end and people needed to repent of following the dark ways – the ways that broke the intimacy between all aspects of Creation – and turn to the coming Kingdom, the returning Kingdom, where Jesus has all authority as the King of all kings.

Please understand, God never lost full dominion. We see evidence of this in Job 1 where Satan had to go to God for permission. But humanity lost the dominion we were given by God due to our sin and the separation we have from God. But Jesus’ sinless life captured that dominion once again, and His death confirmed that He alone is worthy and should have the dominion.

So, what does Jesus do after He has regained the authority – now not only as God, but also acting on behalf of man? He says the same thing that God said in Genesis 1.28 – Be fruitful and multiply. Of course, Jesus used different words. His words were “make disciples.”

In Genesis 1, God needed the humans to fill the earth with other people – those created in the image of God.

In Matthew 28, Jesus needs the humans to fill the earth with other humans – those restored into fellowship with God.

This is an amazing parallel. We did not lose our commission to multiply. But the form was changed. Rather than reproducing humans, we are to reproduce disciples. And just as God gave the responsibility to the first humans to reproduce, Jesus has given His disciples the responsibility to reproduce.

We know longer have the dominion – it was given to man (Adam), but he proved irresponsible, and Jesus had to win it back. But now Jesus has all authority, but He entrusts it with us (we
participate).

We will look a further look at the idea of bearing fruit, reproduction, and the effects on church attendance next week. But for now, let us just realize that God’s reproductive system is about us making disciples even more than it is making babies.

CONCLUSION

Reproducing disciples is not as easy – or as fun! – as reproducing children. But the process is similar. Notice the similarities.

You need two people.

Discipleship – guided by Holy Spirit – puts the right discipler with the right disciple

Human Reproduction – two people are necessary to bring life into the world

The discipler needs persistence.

Discipleship – not easy, which is why many do not participate or succeed.

Human Reproduction – 250 million sperm are released and only 1 in 14 million make it far enough to have a chance.

The disciple must be receptive.

Discipleship – The timing must be right for the person to grow

Human Reproduction – the egg must be ready to be fertilized

Early care is critical.

Discipleship – A study diet of the Word of God is important. Opportunities to serve others is critical as well.

Human Reproduction – The food a child ingests can drastically impact the health of a child in the womb (as does the presence of harmful substances, such as drugs), and eventually a newborn

Guidance is necessary.

Discipleship – Disciplers are to teach others to observe all that Jesus commanded. That means showing others the way not just talking about it and leaving them on their own (although that comes later).

Human Reproduction – a baby cannot care for self. A child needs guidance until they can begin to live on their own.

A new generation reproduces.

Childhood – just as a young child gains confidence and begins to explore life, a new Christian begins to explore the parameters of their faith.

A teenager may rebel against authority, but love can help to retain the necessary bonds. Likewise, a new Christian may rebel for a time, but a gracious and loving God will welcome the person back – and uses humans to show the love necessary to restore the individual.

Adults typically seek a mate and eventually procreate – reproducing a new generation to carry on their life. For the Christian, reproducing is not about them passing down their own genes, but making Christ known to the next generation so that His life, ministry, and mission is carried forward for generations to come (see 2 Timothy 2.2).

The JOURNEY letter for today is: OOBSERVE.

We may be willing to follow certain commands of Jesus, but are we willing to make disciples? As our Lord, our King, it is not for us to choose, it is for us to follow. We must observe in order to be a better disciple, and we must observe in order to make more disciples as well.

PRINCIPLE: We are not asked to reproduce. We are commanded to do so. Make disciples!

QUESTION: Who are you intentionally making a better disciple?

OPPORTUNITY: Make 2019 a year to strengthen this Body of Christ by reproducing disciples for Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S): Become a more complete disciple of Jesus. The idea of being a disciple is to learn what a master teaches and to do what He says.

LEARN: Take time to learn what Jesus taught. If you need to be a better disciple (and we all do), ask someone to lead you.

LIVE: Begin to live as Jesus lived – which included making disciples of others.

LOVE: Find a way to share the love of Jesus with a random person this week.

LEAD: Begin praying about one person you can disciple.

“The Great Commission” by Reggie Koop

Key Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20, And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (KJV)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on Earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

Other references: Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8, John 20:21-23

Setting:
On a mountain somewhere around Galilee, a group of men (Jesus’s disciples) were given the greatest challenge to tell others the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and of God’s love and forgiveness to a broken and sinful world.

The Definition of a disciple according to:

Merriam-Webster dictionary: one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: such as Christianity: one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts

Bible dictionary: a scholar, sometimes applied to the followers of John the Baptist (Matthew 9:14 ), and of the Pharisees ( 22:16 ), but principally to the followers of Christ. A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example (Matthew 10:24 ; Luke 14:26 Luke 14:27 Luke 14:33 ; John 6:69).

Cambridge dictionary: a person who believes in the ideas of a leader, esp. A religious or political one, and tries to live according to those ideas

We can conclude then, that the definition of a disciple is someone who receives instruction from another person. But a Christian disciple is a baptized follower of Christ, one who believes the teaching of Christ.

With that definition, we are now going to look at this command from six questions: Who? What? Why? Where? When? and How?

I. Who gave the Great Commission and to whom was it given?

Verse 18, “and Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’”

There is only one person who can give such a great challenge, and that is Jesus Christ, the son of God. Mark makes Jesus place clear in Mark 1:1 where he wrote, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The deity of Christ is further stated in John 1:1-5, “in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. 2 the same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 in him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Genesis 1:26a says, “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

In Colossians 1:15,16, we find more about Jesus “who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”

Then, Paul continued in Colossians 2:3,9-10, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… 9 for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. 10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.”

God became man. He walked and communed with man. He died on the cross and was raised from the dead to save people from sin and to give them eternal life, to those who accept him into their heart.

Turning to Matthew 19b, Jesus affirms the reality of the Trinity: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,…”

Jesus says baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is sharing the three-in-one nature of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is baptism unites a believer with Jesus Christ in their death to sin and resurrection to new life. Baptism symbolized submission to Christ and a willingness to live God’s way.

To whom did Jesus give the Great Commission?

He gave it to His 11 disciples but also to every Christian who believes on him. When we represent Jesus Christ as his disciple, we are representing the One who possesses all power, wisdom, and authority.

John 14:12, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

1 John 4:4, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

But you might say, the 11 disciples were different from me. They were much more extraordinary. They possessed something more powerful. Much better than me.

But they were just common, ordinary people. A working class of people having the same weaknesses as you and me. The only two differences are:

1. They experienced seeing Jesus crucified, resurrected, and then watched Him ascend into heaven.

2. They were the first to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

II. What is the Great Commission?

Verse 19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Jesus’s command is to take the Gospel to every person to every part of the world and to make disciples in all nations. But it doesn’t stop there. It involves training. Training these disciples to spread the Gospel in their area and to train these disciples to train other disciples to do the same. Generation after generation. We’ll call this spiritual multiplication.

What is the difference between spiritual addition and spiritual multiplication? Spiritual addition is one person leads someone to the Lord and then leads someone else to the Lord and continues this process, one by one. On the other hand, spiritual multiplication is a Christian disciple introduces a non-Christian to Jesus and then trains that Christian to share the Gospel. Then they each introduce someone to Christ. This process continues and expands resulting in Christian multiplication.

Our responsibility is to preach and teach the Gospel, it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to make our witness effective.

III. Why should we help fulfill the Great Commission?

Let’s look at 4 reasons.

1. Jesus commanded us to do so. Jesus said, “Go!” But the sad thing is, most Christians have never taken this command seriously. But look at the world around us, what’s happening, what’s going on?

If we take our Lord seriously, we must dedicate our time, talent, and treasure to fulfill the Great Commission. Remember what Jesus has done for us.

Consider Mark 8:34-38. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”

2. There are people who are lost without Jesus Christ; this includes family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, associates, etc.

Romans 3:23 reminds us, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,…”

John 14:6 states that Jesus is the exclusive answer. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

In Acts 4:12, we see again that only the person of Jesus can save us. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

3. People everywhere are hungry for God. All over the world.

4. There is an urgency. We must have an urgency to complete this command while the doors of opportunity are still open.

John 4:35-36, “Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. 36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.”

IV. When will the Great Commission be fulfilled?

The Great Commission is God’s idea and only He in his almighty power and all knowledge knows when and how it will fulfilled. Consider some of the following verses from Scripture:

Acts 1:7, “And he said unto them, it is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”

Matthew 24:36, “but of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Mark 13:32-33, “but of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. 33 Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”

As Christians sharing the Gospel should be our number one priority each and every day, each and every minute, to each and every person. Why? Because the message of Jesus brings joy as we see in the story of Jesus’ birth? “And the angel said unto them, fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2.10).

V. Where must we go?

Acts 1:8, “but ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

We are to be involved in helping reach the entire world, but here Jesus gives us a strategy.

Jerusalem: in your own home, in your neighborhood, in your school, at your work.

Judea & Samaria: in your community, in your county (Atchison, Holt, Nodaway), in your state (Missouri), your nation (United States).

Rest of the world

But, as we go, Jesus gave us a promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28.20b).

Jesus is telling His disciples then and His disciples now, He will be with His followers spiritually until the end of this age, meaning until He returns.

Matthew 1:23b says, “and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

We must go out and obey His commission. Because even when we fail, He is faithful.

VI. How can I help fulfill the Great Commission? (Application)

Remember the 3 T’s: Time, Talents, Treasure

1. Become a Christian.

2. In everything, start with prayer. Take time to pray-ask God for guidance. Pray for the pastor, others, missionaries. Pray hearts will be softened.

3. Take inventory of your talents. How can you serve? We have all received gifts the we can use to help fulfill the great commission.

4. Learn.

a. Be in church, be in bible study, be in Sunday School, be in fellowship.
b. Learn how to share the Gospel.

5. Be a mentor. Who can you come alongside? Invest in another. Teach another Christian to share the Gospel. Remember it is about multiplication.

6. Share your treasure. Give.

7. Develop a strategy: home, neighbors, relatives, work, school, county, state, nation, world.

The Great Commission reveals the heart of God. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that it is God “who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”