“Indigestion”

Food allergies have spiked in recent years. We hear more about allergies to nuts, milk, soy, wheat, etc. However, what we call allergies is not always about an allergic reaction. For instance, being stung by a bee might cause an allergic reaction, but that is different than not being able to eat a bee (who does that?). Likewise, from a food perspective, some people get ill from being around items such as peanuts. Others are ok unless they eat them. The issue with eating the peanut is the body not being able to process the food properly. This is my case with wheat (and a variety of other foods).

I say I am allergic to gluten (wheat), eggs, pork, etc. But I can be around them; I just cannot eat them. That is, my body does not digest them properly. For instance, with gluten, the enzyme that most people have to break down gluten is absent from my intestines. Thus, when I eat it, I get very sick. VERY sick. Knowing that I will get sick causes me to be cautious in what I eat.

But effectively, what I have is an inability to digest gluten. That is the reality of indigestion. The word means to have difficulty or the inability to digest food. For some, indigestion means an upset stomach. For others it might mean cramps, bloating, or gas. And for some the consequences can be deadly.

As we talk about the digestive system today, we must understand that indigestion is the result of adding something to the digestive system that it cannot process correctly. Whether we notice the issue in our mouths, our stomach, or our intestines, our bodies will let us know that something is wrong if we eat something that is not right. So, for those who know that certain foods are problems, what do we do? We avoid them. We get very good at reading labels. We ask for special menus at restaurants. We let other people know what our restrictions are if we are having a meal with them (and/or we bring our own food).

But you know what we don’t do? We don’t stop eating.

Today, I want to look briefly at three areas the Bible mentions which should bring indigestion to a born-again believer. But this message is not meant to beat us up for having indigestion; rather, it is to encourage us to focus on eating right, so to speak. Our passage found in 1 John 2, verses 15-17.

Last week we discussed what defiles us. It isn’t the food we eat because, as Jesus said, that passes through us. We might get sick from what we eat, but being sick and being defiled are two different things. So what does defile us? I believe the Bible clearly points to three areas in our lives that can defile us:

      • Desires of the flesh
      • Desires of the eyes
      • Pride of life.

We see these three areas listed here in 1 John 2. But we see the examples of these areas in the temptation of man in the Garden, and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Thus, whether we are surrounded by lush beauty in near-perfect conditions, or we find ourselves in the midst of nothingness in the midst of life’s challenges, these three areas will tempt us and give us a spiritual indigestion if we give in to their appeal.

The Desires of the Flesh

For Adam and Eve, this was seeing that the tree was good for food (Genesis 3.8). Our bodies need nourishment. God made us this way. And He made food for us to enjoy. But God does give us restrictions, and Eve, then Adam, allowed their desire for a different kind of food, one that they had not yet enjoyed, to be their downfall. And, because of this desire of the flesh, they would soon realize another desire – to cover their bodies – because they knew they were naked. This covering has led to distorted desires of the flesh for mankind since the day they first ate of the fruit.

For you and me, that desire may be another person, it may be seeking some sensual pleasure, and it may even be seeking comfort when we know we are called to make a sacrifice. I believe one of the greatest idols today is comfort. I promise you, two Sundays ago, our mission team was miserable following a rain in Kenya. The humidity was so high that you could not blink without dripping buckets of sweat. My flesh did not like it – not at all. My flesh desired air conditioning and comfort, but sometimes God calls us to engage in other ways and we have to put aside our fleshly desires. That was one of those times for us. You have had them as well. The key is not to allow these desires to overrule what we know we are to do. And the example we have is found in Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way. Thus, that will include desires of the flesh and the eyes, and the pride of life. In fact, we can find all of these in one story in Matthew 4. For Jesus, He was hungry. He had not eaten in 40 days. And Satan appeared to Jesus and helped Jesus to see that His hunger could be gone by turning the stones to bread (Matthew 4.3-4). As I have mentioned before, the stones in this area are somewhat large and brown and resemble a small loaf of bread. So, Jesus, no doubt, had seen these stones for days and thought about they looked like bread. But He did not give into His fleshly desires. He did not fulfill His desires in the short-term because He knew the long-term goal.

You and I need to have the same idea in mind. Our fleshly desires will distract us from the good

in the long-term. In fact, the story we read earlier from Luke 10 indicates this truth as well. Martha was doing good work, but she was missing the greater benefit of being with Jesus. We will come back to this idea in a few more minutes. But first, let’s look at the desires of the eyes.

The Desires of the Eyes

Again, let us look at Adam and Eve, ourselves, and Jesus in this section.

In the Garden, Eve saw that the fruit was a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3.6). We do not know what type of fruit it was, but as I have said before it was not an apple (unless apples have changed) because Genesis 1.29 says that any tree with fruit that has a seed was available to eat. But something about this fruit was appealing to the eyes. Maybe it was bright. Maybe she could see the juices ready to explode in her mouth. Only she knows. But the reality was that something caught her eye and it made her desire the fruit.

Isn’t that what happens to us as well? We see a bright, shiny, new something and we say, “I have to have that!” Maybe it is food. Maybe it is a car. A new tool. Etc. The truth is that we see thousands of things every day. Some are not appealing to us, but others get our attention quickly. But, truth be told, often times the appeal fades quickly. I have used this example before, but seeing a pizza on tv is one of those tempting moments for me. Of course, advertisers know this. But I have never seen a pizza look as good in person as the ones I have seen on tv. Not even close. The desire of the eyes makes me want it, but once I get it, I am left feeling like I have been cheated. I know Eve (and Adam) felt that more than I can imagine.

But Jesus did not. Again, Jesus was tempted by a desire of the eyes as well. The devil took Jesus to the highest mountain in the area and showed Jesus all of the kingdoms and told Jesus they could be His if Jesus would simply bow down and worship Satan (Matthew 4.8-9). Please note that Jesus did not argue that the kingdoms were not Satan’s to give. But again, Jesus knew the long-game. He knew that if He remained true to God and worship and serve Him only (v 10), then one day every knee would bow at His name (Philippians 2.10-11).

The desire of the eyes is real. Eve, then Adam, fell prey to this desire. You and I fall prey to it. But Jesus did not and that can give us hope that we can overcome the desire as well.

The Pride of Life

The last of the three items mentioned by John in 1 John 2 is the pride of life. Again, we will see that it was pride that led to the Fall of Man, and it is overcoming the temptation of pride that allowed Jesus to be our Redeemer.

For Eve, the pride is found again in Genesis 3.6. She was fueled, however, by the promise of serpent in verse 5, that by eating of the fruit, she would be like God in knowing good and evil. The serpent played to her pride by suggesting that the fruit offered her something she did not possess. In essence, the lie she heard was that if she ate the fruit, she would be like God (Genesis 3.5-6).

Aren’t we the same way? Our pride often gets the better of us by making us think we are more than we are or that to stay that way, we must deny others.

It is said that the male ego is one of the most forceful, yet fragile items on earth. And, indeed, men are often filled with pride. But so are women. We all are. Let me prove it to you…if you got the least bit offended that I said you have pride, then that is proof. We show our pride by how we dress, in how we act, in where we go, etc. Most of our pride remains in our heads (thank goodness), but it seeps out far more often than we think. Perhaps we think we can do something better than someone else, or perhaps we think we are better than someone else. All of those aspects are a part of our pride and will lead us into a trap from which we cannot break free.

Please understand that being proud of what we do and being prideful are two different things. We can, and should, take pride in what we do. After all, Paul reminds us that everything we do is to be done for the Lord (Colossians 3.17, 23) and should be done for the glory of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10.31). So, taking pride in our work and doing it with excellence is good. But to merely carry ourselves with pride (and letting others know how proud we really are) is something that should be discouraged.

Again, we can see this clearly in the example of Jesus in Matthew 4. Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. He should take pride in that. But He did not count that fact worth abusing His power. When the devil told Him to prove who He really was by making a spectacle of Himself jumping from the top of the temple, Jesus refused (Matthew 4.5-7). In fact, in Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus gave up His status to become like us and even further disgraced Himself to die for us.

But pride is a tricky thing. Let us briefly look at the passage from Luke 10 that was read earlier. Martha is the owner of the house. It was her responsibility to make sure the guests received the care they needed. And she was doing all she could to care for them. But her sister, Mary, simply sat at the feet of Jesus listening as He taught. Why did Jesus challenge Martha when she appealed to Him to have Mary help her? I don’t think it is because of what she was doing. I think it is because of why she was doing it. She took pride in serving. Again, there is nothing wrong with doing our best. But for Martha, Jesus knew that she needed to unclutter her life as much as she needed to unclutter her house. (That is what the phrase “anxious and troubled” means here.) She wanted to make her house look good (because of pride), but she first needed to make herself good.

This idea goes back to the idea of defilement from last week. It is not what we do that makes us good, it is who we are. Notice the final verse of the passage for today in 1 John 2. Read 1 John 2.17.

We must do the will of God, but to do it, we must first know it. All of the things we chase – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and filling our pride, will pass, but by doing the will of God, we abide forever. And that is our key. I told you this message was not to beat us up, so let me turn the idea for good.

Follow the Spirit

Three weeks ago, Sam stood here and preached from John 15. He shared the true meaning of Jesus’ words of “abide in Me.” How do we do that? Through the Spirit. See the problem for most Christians is we are worried about what we might do wrong rather than focusing on doing right. More importantly, many Christians are more worried about pointing out what others are doing wrong rather than focusing on being right themselves and helping others to be right.

But if we are tuned into the Spirit, we will be right. We will focus on the good, not the bad. We will focus on being healthy, not just avoid being hurt. Yes, we will be hurt, and yes we will still make mistakes, but the difference between living by the Spirit and trying to avoid living in sin may sound like a fine line, but the distinction is huge.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to the digestive system. Just because we may have challenges with certain foods does not mean we should stop living. I know what I can and cannot eat. We rarely eat out because of my diet and when I do, I know what I can and cannot eat at any given restaurant. Occasionally, though, I will make a mistake. It happened to me in Kenya on our last day. Someone passed around some beef jerky and I took a bite. I had been eating the same brand throughout the trip, but after I took the bite, I noticed that this jerky was peppered (not original). I asked for the bag and immediately knew I might be in trouble. I was able to spit most of it out, but not before I had already eaten some of it.

The next eight hours would determine how well the ride home would be. If I ingested enough, I would have miserable and one of the restrooms in the plane would have been claimed by me for the entire trip. But thankfully, I caught myself before I had ingested too much. And fortunately, I had some pills with me that might (the FDA has not said yes) help as well as some activated charcoal which I hoped would draw in any enzymes that otherwise might cause problems.

Fortunately, everything was fine. I did not have “indigestion” or in my case, get violently ill. Why? Because I followed what was right! I know what I am to eat, and what I should avoid. When I stick to what I know works, I am fine. In this case, I made a mistake, but because I know what is good, I was able to correct the situation quickly. If I only focused on what was bad, I would not have been able to make things right. In other words, it was not about avoiding a type of food it was about eating what I should eat.

That is what it means to follow the Holy Spirit. The desires of the flesh are real. The desires of the eyes are real. Pride is certainly real. But rather than trying to avoid giving into those desires, when we focus on following the Spirit, we will be fine. But we do not stop living. We just live by a different understanding. Again, we live by the Spirit, not in fear of what we might do.

True, we do face temptations, and we must be cautious not to give in to our temptations a little here and a little there. Why? Over time, that sin adds up and we lose a sense of what is real. To put it into the terms of indigestion, we know we shouldn’t do it, but we do it anyway and hope a pill can cover up the effects.

Like in the situation I faced, sometimes a pill is necessary. But it is one thing to need a pill in an emergency, it is another to use it because we are not willing to forgo what will cause us problems in the first place. It is the difference between taking the purple pill because our bodies must have it, and taking it because we will not avoid the foods we know will make our heart burn and the acid fly.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

The reality is that sometimes we all need a pill to help us with our digestive issues. Perhaps it is an antacid or something similar, or a pill to help us digest a certain enzyme. But even if our digestive system works well, it isn’t a purple, pink, or blue pill we need, it is the red blood of Jesus that truly makes us well. It is knowing Him and abiding in Him that allows us to follow the Spirit and avoid the temptations and desires that will otherwise cause us problems we would rather avoid.

PRINCIPLE:  The temptations we face are real, but so is the solution – following the Holy Spirit.

QUESTION:  What desires of your heart prevent you from following Jesus as He would have you follow Him?

OPPORTUNITY:  Stop focusing on what not to do and focus on the goodness of God instead.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: As you take your vitamins or medicine this week, consider adding an “extra pill” as a reminder to allow the Spirit to be your guide each day.

“Defilement: More Than Germs”

I do not mean to be gross here, but one of the most fascinating aspects of the human mind to me is that we can look at something in our hands or on our plates and think it looks so good, enjoy its smell and its taste, and then, we can be absolutely repulsed by the output of that same food some 24-72 hours later. What changes the food from being so pleasing to be repulsive? The digestive system. And that system is our focus for the next couple of weeks.

One of the most intriguing statistics about the body is that the digestive system is approximately 30 feet long. The system begins with the mouth, then the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestines and concludes with the rectum and anus. It is the small intestine that makes up the bulk of the distance. The small intestine itself is approximately 20 feet long!

The digestive system begins by breaking down the food into manageable portions (in the mouth). The acid in the stomach breaks the food down further before it passes into the small intestine. The small intestine has villi which do most of the work in removing the nutrients from the food. These villi are assisted by fluids which come from the liver, gall bladder, and pancreas which are also a part of the digestive system. The large intestine (or colon) then removes any remaining liquid and salt before whatever remains is passed out of the body. (1)

Again, what amazes me is that our minds can so enjoy the food before us, but that joy quickly becomes disgusting and contains what is, in part, considered as germs.

Jesus alluded to this very process in one of His teachings. Jesus was asked why His disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. His answer was that it is not what we eat that defiles us. However, His answer does reveal that our defilement is inside us, and it had to get their somehow. Today, we will review this teaching from Matthew 15.

The passage today talks about being defiled. One definition is dirty or unclean. But a deeper definition, and the one with which the Pharisees were most concerned, relates to being impure for ceremonial purposes (or to be desecrated). We might more simply define the word for our purposes as being contaminated. In Matthew 15, Jesus says it is not what we eat that contaminates us, and thus washing our hands is not really what keep us from being clean.

We Can Wash to be Clean, But That Does Not Make Us So (Matthew 15.1-10)

To gain this perspective, we must go back to the preceding verses for a moment and realize who the audience is. Jesus is speaking to the people who have gathered around Him (v. 10) after the religious leaders of the day have challenged Him regarding tradition. Their question relates to a tradition of washing hands before they eat. But the bigger issue is that they have developed certain customs and made them prominent in the law (as if they were part of the Law of Moses). In their eyes, these customs are meant to allow them to keep God’s law more easily, but their focus in this question was (most likely) to make Jesus look bad in front of the people. (Interestingly, this passage falls right before the one we reviewed a few weeks ago where we see how the people viewed Jesus – as a great prophet – in Matthew 16.13-14).

So, Jesus responds to their question, but wants to make sure the people understand His teaching, thus stating – “Hear and understand” (v. 10). The religious leaders knew that God had given laws about what the people were not to eat because of certain foods being unclean (see Leviticus 11). By clean, the idea is to be ritually clean before God. This idea was not directly tied to being physically clean, although plenty of laws described that part of the process in being ritually clean as well.

Related to food, however, washing and cooking food would not make it clean. Nor does washing hands make a person clean. Sure, a part of what the Pharisees and scribes wanted may have been to prevent germs from entering their bodies, but they had come to equate their ritualistic hand washing as an important part of their being holy (and more specifically, holier than those who didn’t).

Having just returned from Kenya, let me say how much I appreciate clean water and the ability to wash my hands and know they are clean before eating. It is not that hands are not washed, but it is the degree to which they are washed. For instance, before each meal, they rinse hands by pouring water (very similar to what the religious leaders would do), but they do not use soap.

But having clean hands does not make me holier than those who have dirty hands. And that was what Jesus needed to make sure the people understood in this passage.

We Can Do What Seems Good, But That Does Not Make It So (Matthew 15.11)

Notice the words of Jesus as He starts this teaching. He gets straight to the point then expands on it. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person” (v. 11).

This statement proves that the concerns of Jesus and the concerns of the Pharisees are very different. In effect, both the Pharisees and Jesus are concerned about what contaminates the body. But the Pharisees are worried about food and germs while Jesus is worried about what truly impacts our hearts and minds (as we will see momentarily).

Jesus realizes that the real contaminants are not germs that accumulate on our hands; rather, it is the desires that impact our heart.

The Pharisees were doing what they thought was good, but the reality is that their teaching was harmful and deserved correction.

Likewise, we can eat what we think is good, but that does not make it so.

We Can Desire to be Good, But It Is God That Makes It So (Matthew 15.13-14)

In these next set of verses, we see Jesus expanding on His point, in part because the disciples are more worried about the reaction of the Pharisees than they are to the truth of God. But Jesus is not at all concerned about their reaction.

The Pharisees wanted to be good (and command others to be good as well), but their wishes did not make them good. Notice also, they commanded others to be good by sharing of their traditions. I will not say that their traditions were wrong as traditions, but any tradition is wrong if it violates God’s Word. Furthermore, it is one thing to show someone a sin and help them to overcome it, it is quite another to simply condemn someone for their sins (which is what it appears the Pharisees often did).

We are similar. We have our pet sins and our pet sins we despise. And we think if we help God to correct others, then we are not only doing good, but we are being good. Now, we should help others overcome their sins. But notice Jesus’ words here. Verses 13 and 14 talk about plants that seems to be a part of the garden, but are really not.

What does Jesus mean? Well, specifically here, He is talking about the religious leaders of His day. But our day has them as well. They preach their own agenda, by asking from others what is not theirs to ask or demanding from others what they themselves do not do. Now, please understand, everything I preach or teach – and I mean everything – is a direct challenge back to me. Do I stand here and say things we should be doing that I myself am not doing or do not do well enough? Yes. But I am not saying that “you” should do them better, I am saying that “we” should do them better – and not because of some desire I have, but because of the sacrifice Jesus made and what that should demand of us!

If I am wrong, then my punishment will be more harsh (see James 3.1). If I am right, then we need to do more. Jesus knew the burdens that the Pharisees were putting on the people were wrong and restrictive. Thus, He also knew that they were not from the Father and that the Father would thus take them away in due time (“be rooted up”).

Besides religious leaders, however, we must also include religious sounding phrases. For instance, consider the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The phrase is first recorded in history by John Wesley, but the sentiment has existed for millennia. Wesley was a great preacher and inspired many during the 18th Century, but his words are not on par with Jesus. Jesus knew that godliness requires holiness.

Wesley’s words were good, but fall short of the word of Jesus. Likewise, the Pharisees meant well, but their words and actions fell far short of Jesus.

We Can Pretend That We Are Good, But The Heart Will Reveal It So (Matthew 15.15-20)

After Peter asked for an explanation, Jesus provides one. Very simply, Jesus says that the digestive system is designed to process what passes into the mouth, but what enters the heart will pass back out of the mouth and reveal who we really are. (Read Matthew 15.17-19.)

We discussed this teaching from Mark 7 a couple of years ago when I preached through the life of Jesus from that book over the course of a year. But several years ago, we also looked at this passage in Matthew 15. You might remember the little exercise we are going to do right now related to verse 17. First let me read that verse again. (Read Matthew 15.18.)

Here is the exercise. Repeat this phrase aloud a couple of times: “Out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart.”

Now, what comes from the heart goes far beyond what we say. The list in verse 19 is testimony to that. But the truth is that what enters our heart does create desires within us that do not easily pass away.

What we eat passes through our digestive system within 24-72 hours. But images we see cannot be forgotten. Our sins and mistakes replay in our minds constantly. What passes through our body might have been enjoyed at the time of eating, but it is soon gone. Our thoughts and actions remain with us for a lifetime. What we eat may make us sick, but it cannot defile us. Jesus makes is clear that it is our heart (and our evil desires) that reveal whether or not we are defiled.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to the digestive system.

Washing to be clean does not make us clean. We can only wash the outside, but it is the inside that truly matters.

Desiring to be good does not make us good. We may pretend to be good. We may fool others and even ourselves into thinking we are good. But only God can truly make us good. The truth is that we are defiled. Paul reminds us in Romans 3 that all have sinned. We are all corrupt on the inside which is why Jesus had to come and die. But He did more than die. He rose to life. And that is why we must learn to live our lives according to His Word. No one else could make a way. And thus,

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

I struggled with using Observe this week. The reason I hesitate is because in a passage like Matthew 15, we can still dupe ourselves into thinking that doing the right thing (and telling others to do the same) will make us worthy before God. That was the problem with the Pharisees. But even if we cannot earn God’s approval by what we do, we are to not only teach others what Jesus taught…we are also to teach them to observe what is to be done. Thus, a part of keeping our hearts clean is to not only focus on knowing Jesus, but doing what He commanded (Matthew 28.19-20). I suspect if we find ourselves doing that as earnestly as we ought to be, we will find less time to “feed” our hearts with ideas that may corrupt us.

PRINCIPLE:  What comes out of our mouths is far more important than what goes into them.

QUESTION:  What desires of your heart prevent you from following Jesus as He would have you follow Him?

OPPORTUNITY:  Find someone with whom you can share more than a cup of coffee and a snack (digested as food) and speak to them about the matters of the heart.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE: You may have a desire to take this principle seriously, to answer the question honestly, and to take advantage of the opportunity completely. But you must be willing to love and be loved deeply for all of that to happen. Are you willing to take that next step and be vulnerable with someone and let them be vulnerable with you?

(1) https://www.asge.org/home/about-asge/newsroom/media-backgrounders-detail/human-digestive-system

Second Annual “Labor for the Son” Day

This past Sunday, we had our Second Annual “Labor for the Son” Day. The idea behind this day is to truly “be” the church. The word “church” never really meant a place to go until the German word “kirche” was used to define the church. All of a sudden, the mindset changed from “being the church” to “going to church.” We may go to church once or twice (or more) times per week, but we should “be” the church everyday. This past Sunday was (and is) a reminder to us of that fact and an opportunity for us to let our light shine before men.

Rick Sons led us in a devotional and a time of prayer before we were mobilized to go out into our community. He challenged us to drive around and see what the needs of our town are. He also challenged each of one of us to walk around each of our own streets and pray intentionally for our neighbors.

There were projects accomplished and prayer walks accomplished. Only God and those who were served know who specifically was a light in their world that day. Let us pray that we will remember to “be” the church everyday and to do so with a humble, servant heart.

“Remaining in Christ” by Sam Hood

Before we begin to dissect our passage, we need to take a glimpse of what has happened before chapter 15. Beginning in chapter 12 we see Jesus heading towards Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. As was custom of the Jews, every year they held a celebration of remembrance for what God had done in leading them out of Egypt and out of slavery. Jesus then enters into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey as people shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And yet Jesus, in verse 32, indicates that he will be lifted up to die. Many may be believing at this time that Jesus is the Messiah, that he would restore Israel to what it was intended to be. But Jesus only proclaims his death. Many would now turn away from Jesus.

Before the Passover Festival, Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples by washing their feet. He did this to reveal to his disciples how they should love one another. Their love should be characterized by the same love Jesus showed them. After this, Jesus reveals that someone would betray him. John makes it clear that it is Judas Iscariot who would betray Jesus. Judas then leaves. Jesus continues to teach the remaining eleven disciples. It is here in the middle of Jesus’ teaching that we find our passage.

Read John 15:1-17

Disciples of Jesus remain in him because

      1. Jesus is the source of life. (v.1-10)

Right at the beginning of our passage we see Jesus declare that he is the true vine. This is not a metaphor that is to be taken lightly either. In the Old Testament Israel is often equated to a vine. It is familiar language to Jesus’ disciples and even for the Jewish readers who would later read John’s gospel. Israel was God’s nation. It is where God’s rule extended and where he blessed his people as they responded in obedience and joy to him. And in our passage, Jesus is pointing us to Isaiah 5:1-7 where God is seen as a vinedresser, otherwise known as a gardener. In Isaiah we see God prepare the soil where the vine, Israel, would be planted. He then plants the vine and takes care of it so that it may yield good grapes. But in the end, it yielded worthless grapes. Unlike this vine, Jesus reveals himself as the true vine. In a real sense, he is saying that he is the true Israel. He is the obedient child of God, unlike the nation Israel. He trusts in the Father’s Words, unlike the nation Israel. He produces fruit that glorifies God, unlike the nation Israel.

The very next thing Jesus says is shocking. And I’m afraid that those of us who have grown up in the church or have basic biblical knowledge miss the point of verse 2. Jesus declares, “Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes.” After claiming to be the true vine, Jesus states that every branch is in him. Imagine as the disciples hear this what they might be thinking. “I’ve heard about the vine. Why is Jesus saying he is the true vine? Wouldn’t that make him the true Israel? Hasn’t he been claiming to be the Messiah? If he is the true Israel, what is the true mission of the Messiah? I thought the Messiah was going to restore Israel? How can the Messiah be Israel?” These thoughts might have overtaken the disciples’ minds. I’m not sure, but I am sure that Jesus makes a bold claim to his disciples. If Jesus is the one that the branches are found in, then those who don’t believe in Jesus will be removed from him – they would be removed from Israel. Rejecting Jesus is the same as not producing fruit.

On the contrary, the Father prunes those who believe in Jesus. The word “prunes” is not one we use in our everyday vocabulary. It’s helpful here to clarify: The Bible is speaking of cleansing. It’s the removal of the filth or impurity so that growth may occur. The image then here is clear. The Father prunes the branches that are in Jesus so that they may continue to grow and produce fruit in Christ. The Father cleanses those on his vine.

It is here I want to remind you our context again. After Judas left, Jesus begins to teach the remaining eleven disciples. This is important if we are to understand verse 3. When Jesus says, “You are already clean,” he is directly speaking to these disciples. They have believed in Jesus and the Father has been pruning them. “The Word spoken” to them was the method the Father used to reveal to them the Son of God, Jesus. After many years of following Jesus, the Father has revealed to the disciples who Jesus truly is. They had this confirmed by the teachings of Jesus. But not all have believed in this word. Judas is shown as the one the Father has removed. He didn’t believe in the words of Jesus. He rejected these words, and he was removed.

Immediately, Jesus tells the disciples to remain in him. They aren’t given an explanation on how to do this. They might not even know where Jesus is going with all of this. What’s quite weird is that Jesus tells them the result of remaining in him before they are even told how to remain in him! It’s hinted on in the text that remaining in Jesus is to consciously choose to dwell in Jesus, to make a residence in him. Dwelling with him is the only way to produce fruit.

Finally, Jesus silences the questions in the minds of the disciples. He gives it to them straight. He is the vine and they are the branches. Up to this point they could only imply what he was meaning. But now they know. Jesus has been declaring that he is their source of life. Life that produces fruit in them. Not just a little amount of fruit; but, much fruit! There is nothing the disciples can produce by themselves, but only in Jesus do they have life. Only in Jesus do they reflect what Israel truly is. Only in Jesus are they God’s people.

Now, Jesus proclaims a message, much like the prophets of Israel once gave. He gives a message of judgment. Those who don’t remain in the true vine are cut off and they die. Later, the same branches are burned. Indeed, their works to appease the Father are worthless grapes. They aren’t acceptable. Sin had so overtaken Israel that it could not be the vine that produced life. Every branch that does not believe in Jesus as Messiah will wither, die, and be burned. This is a reality for the disciples. For a long time, they’ve been awaiting the Messiah, but here they know that those rejecting Jesus, like Judas, ultimately will perish.

Having reminded them of judgment, Jesus still encourages his disciples to remain in him. They know to remain in him is to produce fruit. They know that to depart from him is to perish. Additionally, this encouragement to remain in him gives them hope. If they remain in him and his words remain in them, they can ask the Father whatever they want in Jesus’ name and it will be done for them. Jesus does not tell them they can become rich or healthy just because they prayed in his name. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. No, there are some conditions attached. They must remain in Jesus, the source of life, and have his word dwell in them. These are fruit producing prayers. God is not a wishing well; he is the fruit producer. These are God-centered prayers.

Next, we see that when the disciples remain in Jesus, they remain in his love. Jesus has loved his disciples since the beginning, and as John 13:1 makes clear, he loved them till the end. Jesus loves the disciples the same way the Father has loved him. Here Jesus explains what it means to remain in him. It is a mutual loving of one another. Just as Jesus has loved his disciples so they are to love him. To display they are in his love they obey what he commands them. Jesus has shown them this by remaining in the Father’s love and by keeping the Father’s commands. In the same way, the disciples are to do the same with Jesus.

I know that I have been lengthy in explaining the section. Truly, it is because I’m afraid that we will miss the point of this section if I didn’t take the time to walk through it. When we hear the phrase, “Remain in me,” we tend to look at this passage with an imperative-driven mindset (that’s a mindset of works). We begin to read this text looking for clues on how to live our life or what we can do better to remain in Christ. My friends, this is not the point of this section. Jesus wants us to see he is the source of life!

How much fruit does a branch produce when it’s on a dead vine? None. This why Jesus looked to the disciples and said he was, “The true vine.” No other vine gives life. The way he pleads for them to remain in him as their source of life, is the same way I want to plead with you. Find your life in Jesus. He possesses the ability to give you life. Not, just life here on earth, but eternal life. I know of no other who can give you eternal life. He is the divine vine that gives life to those who believe in him.

Additionally, I want to point out that this isn’t about how well you can perform good deeds either. I often hear people say that doing good things for one another is “life-giving”. Performing good deeds doesn’t provide life. Don’t misunderstand me, doing something good for someone often brings happiness, but evil fills this earth. It takes no rest. How exhausting it must be to attempt to conquer evil in this world when it still persists in your heart. Yet, the Father prunes those who remain in Christ. He cleanses them of this evil in their heart, for it is Jesus who has given them life. And Jesus has conquered the evil in this world and one day will cleanse it from the earth.

Stop trying to do better. Instead, remain and rest in Christ. He has promised that the Father will answer the prayers of those who remain in him. From these prayers fruitfulness will grow and the Father will prune you.

I want to be honest for a moment and confess how I have struggled with remaining in Christ. There are many people in my life I’ve pushed aside because I didn’t find them worthy of my time. I never shared with them the gospel because I felt as if they wouldn’t respond. I never loved them because loving them would feel more like a chore than a pleasure. We all do this. You might have even thought of people in your life whom you’ve pushed away because they were hard to love, or you thought they were unworthy of your time and affection.

But here in verse 10, Jesus is telling us to keep his commands. Has he not commanded us to love our neighbors and to proclaim the gospel? When we follow these commands of Jesus it is shocking how much we express Jesus’ love. It is shocking how much we find life in proclaiming the glory of God. Just as Jesus has proclaimed, HE IS THE SOURCE OF LIFE! Living in obedience to Jesus gives us life! Repenting of sin isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a command. Let us kill our sin together as the church of Christ and start living out the commands of Jesus.

Friends, I would be mistaken to not mention that God has kept his promise of pruning those in Christ. The Holy Spirit within us is constantly transforming us into obedient children of God. We are inheriting the love and obedience of Jesus. The Spirit within in us keeps us connected to the vine Jesus. So when you feel as if you can’t obey remember that Christ has been obedient on your behalf and he has sent us the Spirit to transform us so that we may obedient and remain in Christ.

This brings us to our second point; the disciples of Jesus remain in him because

      1. Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples. (v. 11-17)

Here in verse 11 Jesus transitions his thoughts. He tells the disciples why he has told them that he is the true vine, that his joy may be in them. This is a benefit of remaining in Jesus, that his joy would be in his disciples. As a tangent, I want to ask you to go home and read the book of John. Look and see that as Jesus obeys his Father he gains joy. This is the same joy that Jesus wants his disciples to have. This joy actually becomes complete for the disciples when they remain in the love of Jesus. As we’ve seen part of remaining in the love of Jesus is obeying the commands of Jesus. If the disciples remain in the mutual love between them and Jesus, then they will naturally obey. Here we find the key to verse 11. Obedience out of love and joy is not the same as obedience out of obligation.

I believe we have all experienced some form of obedience out of obligation. If you have a job you do this every day. You go to work and you know the tasks set before you. Your obedience to these tasks is influenced by your desire to retain your job so that you can support yourself and your family. However, obedience out of love is different. When my wife asks me to do something I don’t obey because I’m obligated. Frankly, I could tell her no and not do it. It’s not the smartest thing to do, but I could still do it. But when my wife asks me to do something I do it because I love her. As a result, both my wife and I find joy in each other. Likewise, when we love Jesus and remain in his love we joyfully submit to him.

And what does Jesus command the disciples to do? To love one another as Jesus has loved them. The same mutual love that exists between Jesus and the disciples is now commanded for the disciples. They are to love one another mutually. In verse 8, Jesus said that the fruit produced from asking the Father would, “prove [them] to be [his] disciples.” We also see this in John 13:34. This may seem as if Jesus is being repetitive, but Jesus is about to show his disciples how this love is demonstrated even further.

“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” If you remember the context, we know that Jesus is about to be betrayed and sent to die. The disciples don’t know it yet, but Jesus would soon lay his life down for them. What a bold idea, that love could be expressed in the sacrifice of a friend. Jesus would hang on a tree, slowly suffocating so that the love of God would be displayed. He would die so that they would be his friends and longer the enemies of God.

Still, Jesus continues and tells the disciples that his friends do as he commands. Notice what he doesn’t say though. He doesn’t say, “If you do as I command you are my friends.” No, the love displayed to the disciples by Jesus has already led them to obey him. They are his friends and they do obey Jesus. This is further revealed in verse 15. Jesus says they are friends because he has made known to them everything he has heard from his Father. They believed that Jesus is the Son of God and have obeyed him. Because of their prior obedience to Jesus they are friends of his now.

Furthermore, Jesus reminds the eleven disciples that he chose them. Jesus selected these men to love on and to accompany him in his ministry. When Jesus chose these men, he chose them to carry on his work after his departure from earth. In this way, Jesus has appointed them to go and produce fruit. Because Jesus is the true vine this fruit will remain. Again, we see that the disciples are told that if they remain in Jesus the Father will grant them whatever they ask. And again, God is not a wishing well, he is a fruit producer. The Father grants that which glorifies him.

Let’s take a moment to reflect here on what Jesus has chosen as his primary instrument to proclaim the gospel. It began with the disciples and became the Church. Jesus has chosen the Church to produce fruit by proclaiming the glory of God. I implore to take seriously the task set before you as a member of the church of Christ. Pray that the Lord would produce much fruit within you that leads to others producing much fruit that leads to others producing much fruit, and so on and so on.

Now we see for a second time Jesus’ command to love one another. This love will be a brotherly love and a sacrificial love. It’s a command to love like Jesus has loved his disciples.

The God who created the heavens and the earth, the plants of the field and the birds of the sky, the land and the sea, who created humans in his image, this same God came down to earth and gave up his life so that we would find life. Sin entered the world and ruined God’s good creation. But God decided to send his Son, Jesus, to become sin for us so that we may be freed from the tyranny of sin. Jesus was crucified and he died. He was in the grave for three days, but death could not hold him! He resurrected and sent his disciples out into the world to deliver the good news of Jesus.

This is where we find ourselves today, needing to respond to the good news of Jesus. For those who are here today and don’t believe in Jesus, I want you to know that just as the disciples were Jesus’ friends, so you can be too. What he commands of you is to believe in him, to trust that his death is sufficient to pardon your sins. He would have you repent of your sin and find life in him. All this so that you may have joy in him. I plead with you to consider Christ, for he has shed his blood that you may be healed.

Christians, today we have seen how we are to love. We are to love boldly and fiercely like Jesus has. How do you reflect God’s love to your brothers and sisters? If you’re convicted that you don’t love them like you should, go to the Father and ask for Jesus’ love to be produced in you. Maybe you don’t find joy in obedience, go to the Father, he shall surely give you that joy. We as Christians are still sinful, but we have been promised that fruit shall remain in us. Plead to the Father for his grace, mercy, and love to consume us, so that it may consume others. We are one body and the world will know us by our love. So, may we love one another as Christ has loved us.

Conclusion

To conclude, disciples of Jesus remain in him because he is the source of life and he has demonstrated his love for his disciples.

“Clearing the Fog”

The Fair Service last week created a break in our series. Therefore, let me remind you that our system for the month of August is the endocrine system. This system controls the hormones in the body. The glands produce chemicals that are used throughout the rest of the body to keep it functioning properly. These glands include the adrenal and pituitary glands, the thyroid, the pancreas, and others.

As long as these glands are functioning properly the rest of the body is well-regulated, at least chemically. A well-regulated body allows for growth, a consistent metabolism, sexual function, the ability to sleep and avoid fatigue, digest foods properly, etc. But factors such as infections, injuries, and certainly stress can cause the hormones to become out of balance, and thus cause your body to struggle to function properly. In essence, when the glands are not able to communicate with each other and with the rest of the body, the communication within the body breaks down and the hormones (the messages sent throughout the body by the glands), lose the ability to help the body function at its best, and maybe even to function at all.

And that communication within the body is our link from the endocrine system of the human body to the communication within the body of Christ. The glands might be considered the leadership as they produce the chemicals for the rest of the human body, but they do so based upon the messages received from the rest of the body. Thus, if the body is in danger, a signal is sent to the adrenal gland to produce epinephrine (i.e. adrenaline) so the person can respond. But what if the adrenal gland does not respond or does not respond quickly enough? Then a problem occurs.

Likewise, what if leadership does not function properly? What if the communication within a church is broken or has a bottleneck? Oftentimes, many will not notice for a while, but eventually the impact will cause the entire organization to struggle. That is, lag may occur before it is noticed, but eventually, a problem will be noticed. Watch this short video. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Video   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgwLgc9mjds

This experiment was done by Mike Wheatland, a professor of physics at the University of Sydney in Australia. I want you to watch it again. The top of the slinky recoils, but the bottom does not fall (or does not appear to fall). But eventually the whole slinky falls together.

Again, this video represents how a lack of clear and consistent communication can impact an organization. And that certainly includes the Church…and this church. Jesus may not have had a slinky, but He knew the importance of communication. In today’s post, I will show how Jesus ensured His closest followers were clear on what needed to be communicated. Because if they did not clearly understand, then the message – the entirety of the gospel, could be compromised.

Our text today is a familiar one to us. The passage is from Matthew 16 in which Peter makes the Great Confession – that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). I have covered this passage a few different times in various ways over the past five years especially. Two weeks ago, we looked at Peter’s statement in particular as we discussed Jesus and His communication. Today, we look at the broader context.

Let me briefly re-establish that context. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a set of parables about the Kingdom of heaven. In chapter 14, Jesus feeds 5000 (men), walks on water, and heals the sick. In chapter 15, he confronts the religious leaders, heals a demon-possessed girl because of the faith of a woman (who is Gentile), heals many others, and feeds 4000 (men, Gentiles). And that leads us to Chapter 16.

What happens in this chapter? We have a leader communicating with others. First, the human leaders come to challenge the Leader. They asked for a sign. Now, if you just read my previous paragraph, you are aware the Jesus did far more than one sign. What did they not like? The feedings? The healings? The walking on water? Certainly, they did not understand. And they did not like what Jesus had to say so they departed.

It is during this sequence that Jesus communicates with His closest followers. First, we have a story about their lack of understanding (see 16.5-11). But that story concludes with the fact they now began to understand.

And then, we have the story before us today. A story of listening. A story of sharing. A story of clarifying. In other words, it is a story filled with communication. I do not have space here to share about Caesarea Philippi, but the place where Jesus had this conversation was a place the rabbis said that “no good Jew would go.” Yet, Jesus chooses this location to make sure the disciples understand the truth of who He is and what that will mean for the future.

Listening to Others (Matthew 16.13-14)

Jesus begins by asking what others were saying about Him? Indeed, the others placed Jesus in pretty significant company – John the Baptist (who died in Chapter 14), Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other great prophet.

But the problem is when we listen to others who do not know the truth, we may be impressed, but we will miss out on the truth. It is not that we are not to communicate with others; but only listening to others, particularly those who are not “in the know,” can be misleading.

Jesus likely knew what others were saying. But Jesus was interested in something deeper. Jesus wanted to know if those who were close to Him saw a difference in what others thought and said versus what they had experienced first-hand.

And so, Jesus asks another question. “But who do you say that I am?”

Listening to Each Other (Matthew 16.15-16)

Peter is the one who answers this question. But the question was not just to Peter. The question of “Who do YOU say that I am?” was to all of the disciples. The Greek word for “you” used is in the plural. If we were in the South, the word might be “y’all” or “all y’all.”

So, yes, Peter answered. But based upon spending three years with Jesus, I am certain His answer was not just His own. What do I mean? The disciples spent a lot of time together. And that means they talked to one another. We know they argued with one another about which of them was the greatest. But we can also assume that they had conversations such as, “Can you believe He did that?” Thus, in talking to one another as followers of Jesus, they were better able to discern the truth of Jesus.

Now, Peter did provide the answer – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Again, that statement is loaded with significance that I do not have space for here (but have unpacked before). But what Peter said shows that in listening and communicating with one another they were beginning to understand what they truly needed to know.

And that leads us to Jesus’ response.

Listening to Jesus (Matthew 16.17-20)

The main message of this sermon is that we must communicate with others. As humans, we were made to connect with others. But, especially for the church, communicating is not enough. It is important to communicate the truth. And if we are going to communicate truth, then we must know what the truth is…or should I say, who the truth is…because, after all, Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14.6).

In this week’s passage, Jesus revealed the tool for His grand vision. That tool is the Church. The goal is the Kingdom, but the Church is the tool He has chosen to build in order to advance His Kingdom. Upon hearing Peter’s declaration, Jesus announced this idea for the first time. Take a moment to read Jesus’ words.

Read Matthew 16.17-19

The fact that the Church exists today shows that the apostles listened to Jesus, learned to understand what He meant, and carried on the task of helping to build the Church. Without a doubt, Jesus is the architect AND the supreme laborer of the task, but He wants us to partner with Him to build what He has promised to accomplish.

But just like the first disciples, we can only be effective at this if we also listen to Jesus.

Before I tie these three thoughts together, let me state that the order of these points is the reverse order for our lives. I have presented these ideas – that we should listen to others, to each other, and to Jesus – in the order they are found in these verses. But if we find ourselves listening in that order, we will become dazed and confused. Let me share what I mean based upon a vacation Susan and I took earlier this year.

For years, one of my bucket list items has been to drive 1 Hwy along the California coast. This past January, the Sons, Susan and I flew to LA to spend a few days and then drove to SF for a few more. Getting from LA to SF provided the opportunity. As we drove north it got cooler (which was expected), but the clouds increased and it started raining periodically. We were able to see the shoreline and got out occasionally, such as to see some sea lions right next to the shoreline. However, by the time we got to the ideal part of the drive the fog was so thick we could barely see the ocean below. We had been cruising along at the speed limit (or a little more), but once the fog hit, we had to slow down to maintain our bearings. Seeing the ocean became secondary, because seeing the road more than 20 feet in front of us became a challenge for somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes. The reality is that I can say that I have been along the coastal highway, but I did not get the full experience.

The same is true for many in the church. They come to church. They may even be a church member. But they miss the vision because of the fog…that is, the communication is not clear. Many factors can contribute to this, but when we have a vision, the fog will clear. That happened to us…we had two beautiful days in SF because that was our goal…we were able to withstand the fog because the overall goal was clear. We had communicated that we wanted to go to SF, and we had to navigate through some challenges to reach that goal. But we made it because we knew what the goal was.

The same is true with this story from Matthew. Jesus goal was to build His Church. The goal was not to build any church…it was to build His Church. Sometimes, we can get off track or we can get lost in the fog because we begin to listen to ourselves, or worse, listen to others. But when we focus on listening to Jesus we can keep the true vision in front of us to make sure that any fog is just a momentary challenge. When we focus on listening to Jesus, we can know that we will see the sunshine after the fog. How can we know? Because Jesus is the light of the world and so the Son is always shining. And He wants to shine through us.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to endocrine system. The body works well when the glands receive the proper information and are then able to dispense the hormones properly. But when the glands are damaged or the information is damaged, the body suffers.

The same is true for the church. We must listen to others, and we must certainly listen to one another, but when we allow our focus to be on anything or anyone other than the one who promised to build His Church, then we will become unhealthy and begin to break down.

Thus, communication is key. Our primary focus is to communicate the Word of God with each and to others. But to do that, we must communicate about how and when we will meet, what we will do, how we will do what we do, etc. As I mentioned two weeks ago, everything – EVERYTHING – in the church relates to communication, from what we say to how we present ourselves and the building.

But for communication to be effective, understanding must take place. And that understanding begins with what we think about Jesus. And that is why…

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  YYOU.

Who do YOU say that Jesus is? That is the only question that really matters. But the related question is this – If you believe Jesus is who He said He is, then what are you doing about it?

PRINCIPLE:  Effective communication creates understanding, which is key for the success of any organization.

QUESTION:  How can we, as a church, improve our communication with Jesus, with one another, and for the benefit of others?

OPPORTUNITY:  Be a part of our post-renewal conversations on Sunday evening.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE:  Communicating effectively includes speaking, but it also includes listening. As Stephen Covey said, “We should first seek to understand, and then to be understood.”

Post Renewal Update

Each year, during the week of our community fair, the four churches in the town gather together for a time to worship together. This past week was that service, and because the rotation meant another church was responsible for the message, this week’s blog will be different than usual.

On Sunday evening, August 4, our church began a series of discussions to evaluate every part of our ministry. As I have said repeatedly, we are putting “everything on the table.”

The first night was meant to create a culture for the discussions and lay out some very high level goals. My goal as pastor is to make sure we understand the WHY, and to help us clarify the WHAT, and then to release others to determine HOW to best accomplish what needs to be done WHEN, WHERE, and with WHO-ever should be involved.

Thus, our first night focused on gathering information of what the New Testament says that a church should do. I wrote the information on a white board and we will use these items to move forward in our evaluations and discussions. I will plan to share an update in the blog around the end of each month beginning at the end of September. (My handwriting is what it is, but the words are clearly typed out below.)

Share the Word
Care for Orphans and Widows
Keep from Being Polluted by the World
Make Disciples
Glorify God
Exercise Church Discipline
Be a Family of God
Be of One Accord
Love One Another
Love God and Others
Meet Needs
Prayer
Forgive
Worship
“Swallow”ship
Praise
Tithing and Giving
Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
Train Children
Meet in Homes
Self-Discipline
Expect Persecution

“Going to the Specialist”

Our system for August is the endocrine system, but because of the Fair Service in the park next week, we will have an abbreviated look at that system. The endocrine system controls how the glands and hormones interact with the rest of the body, particularly the organs. The glands produce hormones that help to regulate the internals of the body.

The word itself is made up of the combination of two Greek words. The first word is “endo” which means “within.” The second word is “crinis” which means to secrete. Thus, the endocrine system is about secreting chemicals throughout the body to keep it functioning properly. These chemicals are produced by glands such as the thyroid, the pituitary gland, and pancreas.

Most people do not give a lot of thought to their glands and hormones until something goes wrong. And any number of factors, including unseen factors such as stress, can send our hormones into a state of flux. Many people experience issues with their thyroid, but the most common endocrine issue is diabetes which is the result of the body not being able to process glucose correctly because the insulin produced in the pancreas is either not working correctly or because insulin is not being produced adequately.

Last month our system was the nervous system which allows for communication from our sensory receptors to our brain. The goal last month was to consider how our senses lead us to care for others. This month, we focus more on the communication itself. Again, a slight imbalance in the chemical makeup of a person can lead to a myriad of problems. Likewise, communication issues within the church can lead to many different challenges. And, just as people do not often consider the importance of their endocrine system, people do not fully realize how important communication is within the church.

Consider this, everything the church does is communication. As we worship, we are communicating with each other and with God. Singing is communicating with God. Praying is communicating with God. Announcements are communicating with one another about upcoming opportunities. A sermon is the communication of God’s Word. In fact, all Bible teaching is meant to be the communication of God’s Word. When you arrived today, you spoke to various people. Gathering with others in the church might be called fellowship, but it will involve communication. Evangelism is communicating with others the truth of what Jesus has done. A baptism is a public communication of a personal commitment someone has made. The Lord’s Supper is to be done “in remembrance of me,” so says Jesus. Thus, when we partake of the elements we are communicating to Jesus that we think what He did is worth remembering. Cleaning the church is communicating that we believe the place we come to meet with God is worth keeping nice. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Everything the church does relates to communicating. But to effectively communicate as a church, we must first focus on our communication with God. Why should this be our primary focus? Because it was for Jesus.

The prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer was read earlier. As I have said before, I think the title would be better called The Disciple’s Prayer because Jesus taught the prayer to His disciples. We have no record of Jesus praying this prayer, only stating the words that others might use. But we do have examples of Jesus praying. If Jesus, as God, needed to pray for strength and guidance, then certainly we need to pray as well.

Before I get to our key verse for today, take a moment to read a few verses related to Jesus praying. I have selected a verse or passage from each of the four gospels and have organized them chronologically – near the beginning of His ministry, before He raised Lazarus from the dead, before His death, and one after being raised from the dead.

Mark 1.35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

After a long evening of healing the day before, Jesus began early before the day’s interruptions began.

John 11.41-42: “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’”

Notice Jesus words: “I thank you that you HAVE heard me.” That is, Jesus knew His past prayers have been heard. And now, He is confident that His current prayer will be heard.

Matthew 26.39: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”

Jesus taught His disciples to pray “on earth as it is in heaven.” Notice in this prayer, He says, “as you will.” He prayed what He taught, but more importantly He practiced what He preached (by following the Father’s will all the way to the cross).

Luke 24.30: “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”

Again, we do not have the specific words, but in Jesus blessing the bread, I believe a part of the disciples recognizing Him was that He did this the same way He had done before feeding the masses, not to mention seeing the scars.

Of course, we have other instances of Jesus praying – as He was baptized (Luke 3.21, the words are not there, but it says He prayed), prior to selecting the Twelve who would be called apostles (Luke 6.12), before feeding the masses (Matthew 14.19), and after feeding the masses (Mark 6.46), etc.

So, Jesus prayed. And, thus, we should too.

I have provided evidence that we should pray, but now I want to focus on our real need to pray. We have the Bible as our guide, but without prayer, we do not have specific guidance for what God wants from us. Yes, I know we often pray for what we want, but the Bible says that God will give us the desires of our heart when we find our delight in God (c.f. Psalm 37.4).

How do we delight in God? Well, one way would be to follow His will. How do we know His will? Through prayer. Consider the words of Jesus in John 5.

John 5.19: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise…’”

How does Jesus know what the Father is doing? By talking to Him. Consistently. Even constantly.

So, what are we to do? What does Jesus want from us?

Again, we have the Bible as our guide. First, Jesus said the most important thing we can do is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In doing that, we are also to love others. Loving others means we will then heed Jesus words to make disciples. And making disciples is the means by which Jesus is building His Church.

And that leads us to a verse we have reviewed often. We will see it in its larger context again in two weeks, but in response to the greatest statement ever made by any human other than Jesus, Christ Himself responded with a promise. The statement was made by Peter – that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus response was that on the foundation of that truth, He would build His church (Matthew 16.16-19).

That is Jesus’ mission. That is His ongoing ministry. It is a ministry that has been in place for nearly 2000 years and one that will continue, with His promise, until He returns. How do we do it? Well, the Bible provides a lot of good examples and many direct commands on what we should and should not do. But to know specifically what we are to do NOW, in this time and place, what we are to do?

The answer will take communication. First, we must communicate with God. And then we must communicate with each other. We have seen that Jesus communicated with God and therefore, it is most reasonable that we have a need to do so as well. In fact, if Jesus needed to pray, we REALLY need to do so.

God has a plan for each of us individually, and all of us collectively. And communication is the means by which we can know and then fulfill that plan. But it all starts with following Jesus’ example of praying – not just for our needs, but to know God’s heart.

CONCLUSION

The practice of medicine has changed a great deal in recent decades. Certainly, the understanding of the human body has increased drastically since the early days of mankind, but we have seen incredible advances in treatment in just the last few decades. One reason for that is the technology that is now available. But another is the increase in specialization.

60 years ago, if something was wrong, you called the doctor. If your head hurt, you called the doctor. If your heart stopped, you called the doctor. Perhaps the doctor would come see you at your house, but regardless of your ailment, you called THE doctor.

Now, you go to a doctor in order to be told what doctor you need to see. If it is your head, perhaps you will see a neurologist, or maybe an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist). If it is your heart, you see a cardiologist. Blood? Hematologist. Bones? An orthopedic specialist.

But what if the problem is the Body of Christ? Sure, you call (or blame) the pastor. But the pastor is not THE specialist. Jesus is. We are called the Body of Christ and therefore our care should come from a doctor that specializes in caring for that kind of body. That doctor is not just any doctor. That doctor is the Great Physician. That doctor is Christ. And, thus,…

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

I have already stated several times that Jesus has provided us with an example of prayer. Prayer is essential and yet many (most?) people are unsure of how to pray. The reality is that very few have the prayer life they would like, but when we realize that prayer is not formal, it is merely like talking to our friend, or a loving parent, then our concerns about praying should disappear.

Jesus gave His followers a model. But what is important is not the words, it is the heart. As we seek to know what God wants for us, we will change, and in turn, we can change the world. That’s what Jesus wants. He wants us to change the world one person at a time, beginning each of us, through love and making disciples. And it all begins with communicating with Him.

PRINCIPLE:  If Jesus prayed, we need to pray as well.

QUESTION:  How can you make you communication with Jesus be as natural as you would talk to your closest friend?

OPPORTUNITY:  Breathe Jesus! Then talk to Him as if you were talking on the phone with a friend – taking the time to listen to Him respond.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Most people doubt the ability to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) but if we realize how easy it is to talk to God, we will desire to live our lives in constant prayer.

“A Renewed Strength” by Andy Braams (Wednesday Evening Renewal Service)

I want to begin this evening by painting a picture of two distinct visions for this church.

The first is a vision that God has for His Church. This vision is one with this church having an active ministry to senior adults, empty nesters, parents, and children. You might think that I am talking about the past, but I am talking about the future…and a not too distant future. In fact, it is a future that can be true in 2020, and then beyond.

Jesus said that His people are to be salt and light and, therefore, our vision is based upon that aspect.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.16)

Per Jesus, our good works can influence others to bring God glory. That is, we can be a large church in a small town. We can be a church of influence. We can be a church who glorifies God.

In addition, to the singing we just did, our church could sound have experience many conversations, children laughing, etc. This does not have to be in the distant future, it could be next year.

Now, let me give you a second vision. This vision is one that Satan has for this church. It might be a few years away, but if you have been here for a while, you have seen the attendance dwindling. Now, don’t get me wrong, we have new faces and younger faces. But we have also lost many due to various reasons, including the busyness of life, and the thought that the church is not important. Those ideas are part of the seeds of a vision that Satan is sowing even now. And, if his vision succeeds, well…instead of singing, talking, and laughter, the crickets will keep each other company.

The question for us is which vision do we want? Why? What will we do about it? The key is that we must do. We may say that we believe, but how we act and what we do is based upon what we truly believe. James 2 tells us as much. The truth is that we cannot accomplish what needs to be accomplished on our own. We cannot do it in our own strength. We need renewal. We need a renewed strength. And we can have both if we understand the greatness of the vision before us.

Let me share what chasing a vision looks like.

Less than two weeks ago many took time to remember the day when man landed on the moon. This was a miraculous moment for many reasons. Consider that July 20, 1969 was only 65 ½ years after the Wright brothers first invented the airplane (December 1903). July of 1969 was only 27 years after the first man-made object went into space (1942). July 1969 was just less than 12 years after the first satellite was launched into space, and 11.5 years since America sent its first rocket into space. And amazingly, it was just over 8 years after the first human was launched into space.

And yet, President Kennedy set forth a vision for a country to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Please understand, Kennedy did not really care much about space. In fact, Kennedy did not care about flying to the moon, he cared about putting a man on the moon before the Russians. The urgency came after Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, became the first human in space (April 12, 1961). This momentous event led Kennedy to quickly change his course; he delivered his speech about putting a man on the moon to Congress just 43 days later (May 25, 1961).

How did this happen? A renewed strength!

Let me tell you the story. (1)

Three times as many people worked on the Apollo projects as did the Manhattan Project (which produced the atomic bomb). In 1961, NASA spent $1 million on the Apollo project. Five years later (5 years after Kennedy set forth the vision), NASA spent $1 million every three hours. Yet, by 1968, 55% of Americans did not think the budget was worth the effort.

Initially, the charge to beat the Russians to the moon was met with excitement. But over time, the mindset switched. Even from the beginning some thought the idea had very little scientific value. However, by January of 1962 (only 8 months after Kennedy’s speech), the cost factor was coming into full view. The NY Times ran an editorial that the “grand total for the moon excursion would reproduce from 75 to 120 universities about the size of Harvard, with some [money] left over…” Later that year, it was evident the space program had fallen further behind the progress the Soviets were making. Kennedy gave another speech in September 1962 saying, “The United States was not built by those who waited and rested. This country was conquered by those who moved forward – and so will space.”

In other words, Kennedy was saying, “To move forward will require a great effort.” Or, in our parlance for this evening, “a greater, and renewed strength.” But the opposition was growing. Besides the editorial comment about education, many people spoke out against the program. Former president Eisenhower called Kennedy “nuts” for spending $40 billion for the sole purpose of national prestige. By Sept 1963, it appeared the momentum was dying. Furthermore, in a meeting that month, Jim Webb, the NASA administrator, told Kennedy the best they could do during his presidency, IF ELECTED TO A SECOND TERM, would be to fly BY the moon. The timeframe did not allow for them to land on the moon during Kennedy’s term as president – again, even if he had been elected again!

The budget was being cut. For all practical purposes, it seemed the dream to land an American on the moon was dead. On November 16, 1963, Kennedy toured Cape Canaveral. Five days later, he spoke in San Antonio on the value of being able to conduct medical research in space. The next day, Kennedy was on his way to deliver a speech about “reinvigorating the space program” when he was shot. Realistically, the chances of the program continuing were very slim. But he was shot. 6 days later, on Thanksgiving Day, President Johnson declared that the space center in Florida would be called the John F. Kennedy Space Center, and the land would be called Cape Kennedy.

A program that was all but dead was revived. The only thing that changed was the perception of the people. The money still had to be spent. The idea was still more on paper than reality. One major challenge was the lunar module. Earth does not have any place to test flying, landing, and taking off in zero-gravity, so the first test was when Aldrin and Armstrong did it live. Additionally, adaptations had to be made that had never been considered before. For instance, the spacesuits needed to be strong, yet form-fitting. Thus, Playtex, the makers of the “Cross Your Heart” bra, was consulted.

But with all of the work, America did it. Less than six years after Kennedy was killed, and just over eight years after he set the vision, America had landed on the moon. And yet, the Russians almost beat us. Two days before Apollo 11 made orbit, the Luna 15 spacecraft began to orbit the moon. But the Russians could not find a place to land the craft to take samples, and not only did America put the first two men on the moon, it was the first to land on the moon. In fact, the Luna 15 never successfully landed as it crashed into a mountain just a short time before Aldrin and Armstrong left the surface of the moon.

I spend a lot of time on that story, but I did so to show what a commitment to a vision and a renewed strength can do. America’s space program was already behind and getting further behind even with a vision to guide it. But when the perspective changed, the people engaged in a new way. Strength was renewed. And the results are mind-boggling. Again, let us consider that for thousands of years, man had not flown, and within 65 years, it went from flying an airplane a few hundred feet to landing on the moon. And less than 30 years later (November 20, 1998), the first module of the ISS was launched so mankind could live in space for periods of time (which first happened in November 2000).

The reality is that what NASA and its partners did, it did with their own strength. Certainly, many of those working on the various space programs have been followers of Christ, but not all. What was accomplished there reminds me of the story in Genesis 11 when the people were building a tower to reach into the heavens.

But as a church, as THE CHURCH, we have the power of God. In Psalm 103, David wrote,

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103.1-5, ESV)

That youth is a euphemism for strength. Perhaps, more well-known are the words as recorded by Isaiah.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has not might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40.28-31, ESV)

The Bible is filled with similar ideas. Peter shares the prophecy from Joel that old men will dream dreams (Acts 2.17, c.f. Joel 2.28). 2 Corinthians reminds us that in a new life, the old is gone, the new has come (5.17). These are promises of God.

The question for us is will we claim these promises? Do we truly believe what God has told us or do we simply say we believe? Again, James 2 is clear that true belief leads to real action.

As followers of Christ, we are being conformed to His image (Romans 8.29) which means we are being renewed day by day even when we may not feel like it (2 Corinthians 4.16).

Therefore, we can believe God that He will renew our strength in order to do His work. Otherwise, we can think of excuses when we stand before Him on the doorstep of eternity. The difference is to choose the old way or a new way. Let me briefly describe a few differences.

      • The old way is to be cynical; the new way is to have hope for a greater tomorrow.
      • The old way is to be critical of others; the new way is to evaluate together.
      • The old way is to be apathetic; the new way is to have joy.
      • The old way is to be numb; the new way is to live with passion.
      • The old way is to be detached; the new way is to desire intimacy.
      • The old way is to be complacent; the new way is to live boldly.
      • The old way is one of fear; the new way is to live in freedom.

In other words, the old way is to have an old heart, a weak mind, a sour life, and little strength. But to be renewed is to have:

      • a heart on fire for God;
      • a mind quickened by God;
      • a life lived for God;
      • a strength given by God.

As we end this evening, we close this set of services. But the real work now begins. The purpose of these services has been to set the table and to whet the appetite for the true work that must be done.

What will we do? Well, beginning Sunday, our evening service will instead be a time of discussion about what we might do, what we can do, and with a renewed strength – what we will do. The goal is to change the perspective. Remember, when Kennedy died, the perspective of the people changed. But Kennedy is still dead. How much more should we be committed because the One who gave us our vision not only died, but rose back to life. Thus, we need to evaluate what needs to be done (and done better) and then to do it because our purpose is for Jesus!

How? Well, I have ideas, but so do you. I want to listen. I want to learn your thoughts. Some have already shared them with me. The reality is that we all want to know How? But if you understand the Why – really understand it, and you know the What, then the How can happen.

So, I am not worried about the How. My focus is on explaining the Why and clarifying the What. That will engage the Who. And the more Whos we have the more ideas we have to tackle the What.

Whoever is willing, let us take a cue from Stephen King, who said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

We do not need more inspiration. We need more perspiration. The time of waiting is done. Jesus said we are to work while it is day because night is coming (John 9.4). God has commanded so God will strengthen. Are we doing? God is leading. Are we following?

What Kennedy said in September 1962 of America is certainly true of Christ’s church. Let me adapt Kennedy’s words. “The Church was not built by those who waited and rested. God’s Church was built in the past by Jesus partnering with those who moved forward. And the same will be true of the future.”

I close with the following prayer from Sir Francis Drake, from 1577. The prayer is entitled, Disturb us, Lord.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have some true because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely because we sailed to close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes;

And to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

 

(1) Most of the facts of the space race come from an article in the Smithsonian magazine dated June 2019. The article, America’s Greatest Adventure, was written by Charles Fishman, and appears on pages 22-35, 72, and 74.

“A Renewed Soul (Life)” by Rick Sons (Tuesday Evening Renewal Service)

LaSalle was an American brand of luxury automobiles manufactured and marketed by General Motors’ Cadillac division from 1927 through 1940. Built by Cadillac, to its high standards, the LaSalle soon emerged as a trend-setting automobile. In 1939 a new LaSalle was priced $1,000 less than the least expensive Cadillac, its mission was not to fill a price gap, but to keep the luxury car division out of the red. This was quite a car, for its time. In fact the LaSalle became known as the “poor man’s Cadillac.”

I want to share a story about a very particular LaSalle and the new life it received.

A gentleman I am very close to, so close I call him my older brother, has a love for old cars. He became involved in the rescue and restoration of a 1939 LaSalle Opera Coupe in 1983. He found this car forgotten in a shed outside of Creston, Iowa. It is apparent that this car had had seen better days, and hopefully it would again. With some effort the LaSalle was loaded on a flatbed and taken to Maryville, where the real fun began.

Bill’s story begins, “In first observation the body seemed to be sound, little rust. The interior was another situation; the upholstery was completely gone with some pieces of the original fabric left. The gauges and dash were in need of complete renovation and or replacement. This was in the days before the internet and email and all of this wonderful stuff that we take for granted today. So, what resulted were many letters, phone calls and much research in to what the interior of the car had been in 1939. Thanks to Hemmings Motor News and other publications the process of collecting parts and restoration services came together. When I finally found the proper pattern of material for the seat covers and the door panels, head liner, the car was loaded on another flat bed and taken to Saint Joseph for the upholstery to be completed. While this was being accomplished the engine was being overhauled and necessary parts collected for final assembly.

Some of the more unique occurrences were in restoring the dash, there was a special pattern that was used in Cadillac/LaSalle in the 1930’s and the dash had to be sent to Maine to be restored, the radio had to be sent to California to be repaired and restored.

So, was the car restored? Yes, in 1986, and during its time with me won many car shows and even became a “daily driver” on occasion. In 1987 it was honored with being one of the months in a nationwide antique car calendar.”

I have ridden in this car many times, with Bill and as he says, “It was a labor of love.” Bill says it taught him “patience, understanding, the ability to accept things the way they are.”

This car was built as a 1939 LaSalle.  As it sat rusting in an old shed, it was a 1939 LaSalle. When it received new life and a chance to be great again it was still a 1939 LaSalle.

It is quite a story to hear of something receiving a new life. To be restored to that like new condition. You will notice I did not say restored to new, because with its age it is not knew. Restored to, like new condition.

I want you to view this sermon as an opportunity to restore and renew your life.

When I was in college, I took a class on Philosophy, and in that class the teacher asked me how do you, live your life? I answered him by saying I live my life by faith.

He said to me living by faith is very dangerous and foolish. When you live by faith, you open yourself up to be a victim of the unknown.

My teacher asked if I look at the floor when I woke up this morning.  I said no.  He said how did you know it was there? I said it was there when I went to bed my faith says it would be there when I got up.

He asked what if the Great Creator decided to do away with floors while you where sleeping if you do not look for the floor you could fall into the abyss.

So living by faith is foolish.

You see I am a child of the Great Creator, and I have faith he is always there to protect me. Like a true father, if he decided to do away with floors, he would have told me a prepared me for it.

(Renewed-LIFE)

LIFE stands for Living In Faith Everyday. You see life and faith go hand in hand. It is important that before you can have a renewed life you must have a renewed Faith.

For some of you here today it will be an opportunity to “make new again” your faith.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, so we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

For others here today, it will be an opportunity to once again take up again your faith that maybe you have let rust and fade.

Hebrews 6:6 says, and who have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

For some of you it will be an opportunity to reaffirm your faith. 2 Timothy says which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.

To renew your faith involves two things, your faith and the faith. They are two different things.

So, what is your faith?  Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Faith is complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Faith is recognizing that you have no control, that what will be, will be and that there is a greater power.

So, what is the faith? Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

The word translated as “faith” in the New Testament is the Greek word pístis which can also be translated “belief”. It is root of the word pisteuo, which means to have faith in, upon, or with respect to a person or thing; to credit or to entrust or to believe, commit and put in trust with.

What is a difference between faith and belief? The words “faith” and “belief” are similar words. According to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, faith as a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to his will for one’s life. Nelson also says belief is to place one’s trust in God. There is a country song that says, you got to stand for something, or you will fall for anything.

I tell you if we don’t stand for the faith, we will fall!

Some of you today may have fallen, not away from God but away from the faith. Maybe it is time to renew that faith like renewing an old car.

When we renew our faith, we are not changing who we are. The 1939 LaSalle was always a 1939 LaSalle even when it was at its worst it was still a 1939 LaSalle.

It only required some repair and buff and polish to restore what it already was. Just as in restoring an old car you must follow steps when you renew, buff and polish your faith.

Step One; Part 1: You must understand God is the object of your faith.

God is your father, the creator, he is holy, just, and fair, but his most outstanding quality is love.  Friends, like I said before he is a father of love who cares for his children above all.  I can tell you that you can rest and have faith, that if our father the great creator decided to do away with floors believe me he would let you know. You can rest in faith that he is there for you in all things.

Step One; Part 2, Jesus is lord; he died for you so that you could escape a sinner’s death and suffering.

Why did he do this? To protect, you and me, from God’s wrath for our sin.

God sent his Son into the world as the only means of saving sinners and reconciling all people. Only by the reconciliation of his people will they love and enjoy each other. There was no escape from the curse of God’s law. It was just; we were guilty. There was only one way to be free: someone must pay the penalty. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). To give eternal life, a new life, to all who believe in Him.  Jesus made it plain that rejecting the eternal life he offered would result in the misery of eternity in hell: “Whoever does not believe is condemned already the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:18).

Step One; Part 3, The Holy Spirit is your helper, who leads, encourages and intercedes for you.  The Holy Spirit wants to live in your hearts. He wants to speak to you through the Bible. The Holy Spirit wants to empower you, and help you use that power to fight against the flesh with its passions and desires?  So that each day you can live a life renewed.

Step Two: The Bible is the standard of your faith. It is the inspired, living word of God the father. It is, complete, sound and without error or fault in all its teaching. Its manuscripts do not say anything that is contrary to fact.

Step Three: Salvation is the result of your faith.  Salvation is totally of God and is the result of nothing that you have done. The Bible makes it clear that salvation is by grace alone. Ephesians 2:8–9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. It is not from yourself or anything you’ve done, but the gift of God.” Salvation, therefore, is a free gift of grace from God.  When you accept the gift of salvation, you are said to be made acceptable before God, restored to be like new. Salvation is by death. The death of our sins and failures into the renewed life with Christ, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who paid the price we all owed for our sins.

Step Four: Worship is the expression of your faith. True worship is valuing and treasuring God above all things, we worship. God is the center of our worship. Worship must come from the heart, not the lips. Matthew 15:8-9 says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” We must worship in spirit and spirit comes from the heart. We have been teaching on the body these past months, and we know the heart is the center of individual life. Reggie spoke on this Sunday night. The condition and the tone of the heart will communicate to all around it where the body is in life. I am sure we all hope to walk away with a renewed faith today. Some of you may be just too tired and the thought of a renewed faith is just too hard. Your daily walk as Christians begins, continues, and ends in faith. Just as the beginning a year, month or week starts with the first day. At the beginning of the year, month or week, you are all excited at the prospects of a fresh start. You set goals and resolutions and promise to be more organized, more involved and more productive. But as the days goes along, you have forgotten those goals or you have become tired of trying. Maybe you aren’t seeing the progress you want to see. Maybe your prayers don’t seem to be answered. Maybe you are just rundown, just like an old car.

If God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers and your faith is nowhere to be seen I tell you all I know for a fact that God is still with you and still listening.

Maybe like a rusty old car, God is preparing you to be restored.  Just as Roger said, last night about preparing and renewing our minds, God might be preparing you for renewal.

There is a commercial for an auto restoration place in St Joseph that says in their ad, “They turned my Ford Fiesta into a BMW.” WOW! Two completely different car companies from different parts of the world.

Well that is not how it works, that 1939 LaSalle was restored back into a 1939 LaSalle.

When God restores your faith, he is not going to turn you into anyone else but you. Only a more buffed and polished you.

You may have abandoned your faith but God has not abandoned his faith in you.

In fact, He wants to restore your faith and make you like new from this moment on.

Jesus told a parable of the prodigal son. In it, Jesus told about a young man who wanted to be completely independent and live his own life. He turned his back on his family, and went as far away as he could get. He was convinced he didn’t need anyone else telling him how to live and for a time it looked like he was right. But then a famine hit and his money ran out. Only when he hit bottom did he wake up and realize his foolishness.

Kind of like an old car, setting in an old shed, rusty, ragged and without hope or faith.

His only choice was either to die or return home for a renewed life.  He returned home and his father ran to greet him and welcome him back into the family. He said, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again” His life now renewed.

I remember how excited Bill was when his car came home finished and renewed. Just as the father in this parable never lost his love nor gave up on his son.   Or as Bill looked at a rusty piece of junk and saw a prize.

God has never lost his love or given up on us. The proof is that Jesus Christ gave His life for our salvation.

As Reggie spoke, don’t let your pride, or your thought that you are just too rusty to be fixed, or anything else, keep you from renewing your faith. By faith put your life and your future into Christ’s hands, to be rebuilt and renewed into a shiny new you.

A shiny new you, he will not make you into a Rick, Reggie, Roger, Andy, or anyone one else different. God created you just as you are, but over time we all wear down. Laziness and the rusting of our faith places us away from God and his grace, we feel forgotten like we are parked in and old shed some place.

God has not forgotten you and sees the beaten down, rusty you for who you are.

Take today to let God pull you from that shed and with some buff and polish bring you back into that like new luster.

Let’s all renew our faith today, myself included, so that we can stand shiny and restored.

“A Renewed Mind” by Roger Martin (Monday Evening Renewal Service)

What is “renewed” or a “renewal”? re·new·al

Renewal is the noun form of renew or being renewed – “to make new or as if new again; make young, fresh, or strong again; bring back into new condition. To give new spiritual strength to. The replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.

I believe God designed mankind to be in tune with Him and the activities He had planned. Too often the mind of man conflicts with the desires of our Father.

Are you suffering from the dreaded “boanthropy?” It is fairly easy to spot and diagnose, as the patient will be down on all fours chewing grass. It is not seen often today, well, in some cases when the patient is a dedicated vegetarian it might be suspected.

The definition is “a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes he or she is a cow or ox.”

An ancient king, Nebuchadnezzar, of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, around 605 B.C. to 562 B.C. was so afflicted, or at least that would be his diagnosis by today’s professionals. The Book of Daniel chapter 4, records a dream Nebuchadnezzar had and the interpretation of that dream by Belteshazzar or Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar asked for the interpretation of the dream he had but was unwilling to heed the results. Nebuchadnezzar failed to heed the warning as seen by Daniel that God should be given the credit for success of the Babylonian empire and the subsequent displays of grandeur such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Consequently, God chastised Nebuchadnezzar by allowing him to lose his mind.

It was seven years before Nebuchadnezzar’s broken mind was set right when he raised his eyes toward heaven and his sanity was restored by God and God was acknowledged as the source of the great success the empire enjoyed. Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was humbled before God and the world and Nebuchadnezzar’s honor and splendor was restored.

Nebuchadnezzar exemplified the thought in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Nebuchadnezzar did not have the privilege of knowing Christ in a personal way, but he did experience the power of The Living God.

Nebuchadnezzar personified the noun form of renewed, replacing something that is broken.

Using Reggie’s definition from last night for Renewal, Nebuchadnezzar experienced a new birth, he was not his old self. His mind was set right.
God can humble the proud and restore the broken.

In Romans 12:1-2 “A Living Sacrifice” (ESV) 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As a noun, I believe the applicable definition to Paul’s writings in the book of Romans is “the replacing or repair of something worn out, run-down, or broken.” I believe that the Bible teaches that society in general was broken. God looks at people groups (chosen people, etc.) but each of us is responsible for our eternal destination.

The unbelieving lost are no less broken then and/or today.

Paul was writing to a predominately Gentile (us) church at Rome, with a substantial minority of Jews as part of the congregation. The Romans theme is the basic gospel, God’s plan of salvation and righteousness for all mankind—Jews, Greeks, rich, poor, all ethnicities, both sexes, wherever people lived.

In chapter 12, Paul more deeply delves into the application of the doctrine presented in the first 11 chapters. In other words he deals with “practicing” or doing Christianity.

Paul was writing to a society that practiced all kinds of sinful behavior. Many of the things people were doing were self-seeking, self-gratifying, selfish activities that did little to raise the standards of humanity or decency. Many who enjoyed worldly success looked upon that success as “Look what I have done” and those who were not worldly successful, would seek out someone else to blame, not wanting to accept any of the repercussions of their own decisions. Both of these ideas can readily blank out God and any part He has had in shaping their destiny.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV) “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

The society to which Paul wrote, in practice, is not much different than the society of today. Oh, the technology and lifestyles are much more advanced, yet we the people still stumble and fall over many of the same issues as in Paul’s day – self-seeking, self-gratifying, selfish activities that do little to raise the standards of humanity of human decency, and more importantly, fail to bring us closer to worshiping The Living God and emulating our Saving Christ.

As the basic mindset of much of mankind has not changed, so also the Love God gives, the Grace He grants, and the Mercy He demonstrates, has not changed over time. We like to grind, sand, and hone on the Word of God so it fits more precisely into our present day mindset; praying then that God will honor our activities or rescue us from our dilemmas rather than approach our Father before we launch ourselves into questionable activities.

When we accept the Salvation by Grace offered by a relationship with Christ through Faith, we can be in tune with the desires of our Heavenly Father to live according to His Word. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV) 19 “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, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

I have said, and I’m sure many others as well, that accepting Christ and the Eternal Promise He gives is easy. The hard part is living Christianity on a daily basis, hence now we need the verb form of renew. We need an action!

As we look around our world, our country, our state, our town, our church we can observe that corrective actions are needed. Our days are filled with a smorgasbord of choices for living and doing, many things compete for our time and attention, many, perhaps most; are good choices for living; we might even consider them necessary. But what are our best choices? Where do we need to spend our time, or money or energy?

It is difficult to live a Christian life when we are battered by the demands of the world, but we can find solace and comfort when we set our minds to it by joining with others in worship and fellowship. Consider the words of Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV):

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The ironic thing is that we don’t often feel that we are neglecting anything, after all most things are right in our world. Or, we can be so caught up in living with the demands of family, health, and jobs that we don’t take time to worship.

To me, there is a difference in hearing the Word of God proclaimed and/or read in the House of the Lord then when I read it silently. In our personal place of prayer, we may be distracted by the thoughts and activities around us. I have a time keeping my mind on the Scripture and praying when I think of all the things I think I should be doing; so, I find it easier when I am in the company of others with similar direction to concentrate on worship.

We find that there is strength in numbers. As it states in Matthew 18:20 (ESV)

20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Also we find that being together in multiples gives us an opportunity to encourage and be encouraged as in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV): 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. As Paul was writing to the various churches and communities of his day he knew there would be and saw many challenges to those congregations. Paul was encouraging the congregations to be ready for last days, for the return of Christ.

We know that Christ is yet to return, and every generation has pointed to times and circumstances to show that the His return must be eminent. We should continually ready ourselves for our audience with the Heavenly Father whether it be by Christ’s return or our own death. Joining together in worship at our local church strengthens us and aids in preparing us for that time.

Perhaps we can take a lesson or two from nature. I was reading an article in a farm magazine how a cattle producer observed that during the hottest and driest parts of the summer, the best and greenest grass was maintained under the canopy of shade provided by a few large trees within the pasture. We are a little like that grass. When the unrelenting heat and dryness of life threatens to cause us to wither, we need to feel comfort and relief in fellowship with God and God’s people. As Christians we are renewed and sustained under the canopy of God’s protective shade.

We are the hands and feet for the Lord and should use any and all opportunities to share the Word with those we have contact and invite them into the shade of God’s house. We need to come together sharing the Good News with those who do not know Christ as Savior and strengthening and encouraging in Christ-like love those who do.