“Magnify the Lord” by Pastor Andy Braams

Blog Note: The current series, The Meaning of Christmas, will focus on understanding the various terms and concepts related to Christmas. Some of the terms will come from songs, others from the Bible, and depending upon the time, perhaps some from culture. The first post in this series focused on songs which are listed as we sang them.

It has been said that whoever controls the vocabulary controls the culture. I believe that is largely true. For instance, I have certain pet peeves regarding the English language, but because I don’t have any control over the English language, I have no control over the culture. And frankly, I do not care about controlling culture, but some matters just do not make sense. And perhaps that is because most people either do not know or do not care about the study of the origin of words and the history of their changes which is otherwise known as etymology.

A part of this is true because most people, myself included, often only think about words in their language. In fact, many people do not even consider any other languages. Thus, when a word is heard, it must have originated in that language. And, in reality, what is important is knowing how to communicate in the language around us. It does not make sense for us to know ancient Sanskrit, because few people around the world even study it.

So we hear a word like “fly” and we may have to interpret if the person is talking about a noun (the insect) or a verb (what the fly does in the air; by the way, which came first, the noun or the verb?!?), but in context we can generally figure it out. And we can hear a word like grasshopper and assume that the name is because the insect hops on the grass. But other words may not make as much sense without a little thought. For instance, the word caterpillar. The insect does not look like a cat or pillar (bad pun), but instead derives its name from a combination of cat (and specifically a “hairy cat”) and an obsolete word piller which means to “ravage.” Thus, the word means “the hairy cat that ravages.”

Well, enough about insects. The point is that we often hear and say words that we might not always understand their meaning. And the same is true of Christmas. We sing songs and hear stories and do not always know what the words mean.

So, for the next few weeks, I am going to help us identify some of these words and attempt to explain their origin. In some cases, the words might be understood, but the full meaning might not. So, that is the goal of today and the next couple of weeks.

SONG: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

In the song O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. One of the terms in that song will be seen in a couple of other songs, so I will defer on that term. But the essence of this song is about pleading with God to come and take away the captivity. In many ways, the words will remind us of the Israelites in the Old Testament. Terms such as captive Israel and exile remind us of Egypt, (and later Babylon). The path can help us remember the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Envy, strife, and quarreling were a part of the challenges Moses had with the Israelites and caused a generation to miss out on entry to the Promised Land.

But the word in this song I want to mention is the word DaySpring. Some will hear this word and immediately think of the company that makes Christian cards and gifts. But why?

The word Dayspring was a common term 400 years ago when the King James Version was originally translated. The term is all but obsolete today, except in Christian terminology. It is used in Job 38.12 and Luke 1.78. In Job it is referring the rising of the sun. In Luke, Zechariah uses it to talk of the coming of the Messiah.

In the song, I believe the word has a double meaning. The verse does talk about removing the clouds and the darkness of the night, so in a practical sense, the writer is showing what a sunrise can do. But without a doubt, the term is meant to talk about the coming of the Son, Emmanuel, to be with us and take away the darkness and gloom in our lives. That is the true reason for the term in the song here.

Regardless of the terms, the real question we must ask ourselves in singing a song like this is, do we desire for God to come. Do we expect it? Throughout the centuries people have. The question is, “Do we?”

SONG: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

In the previous song, the term Emmanuel was used. In this song we have the name of Jesus. Now that name deserves a lot of study, but Matthew 1.21 provides the meaning – God saves.

The name for Jesus is actually Yeshua or Yoshua. I mentioned during our year-long study on the life of Jesus. The “J” did not come along for a few centuries and was used interchangeably with the “I” until it received its own sound (“juh”) in 1524. Thus, it is Jesus, or Yeshua, who leads the people into a land of promise, just like Joshua, or Yoshua, did in the Old Testament.

The phrase “Israel’s strength and consolation” is a reference to the Messiah. And this Messiah was born. Notice the word born is used four times in this short hymn – once in verse 1 and three times in verse 2.

In verse 2, it is all about Jesus as King. He was born not only to come and deliver (save), but to rule. Notice the kingly references in verse 2. He is King. He will reign. He has a gracious Kingdom. He will rule. He has a throne. And He, Jesus, has the merit to do so. That is, He is worthy.

He has saved us. He is King. The question is, will we offer our allegiance to the King?

SONG: Angels from the Realms of Glory

This song tells a wonderful story. It does contain one word (or phrase) we need to review, but I want to focus on the sequence first. I enjoy songs that flow from a sequence.

First, you have the angels. They began in the realms of glory. That is, they began above. They were there to sing the story of creation. They have watched God’s plan unfold from just after “In the beginning.”

The story then moves forward to the night of Jesus’ birth. But it also moves from the realms of glory to the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It moves from the awe-inspiring angels to the also-ran shepherds. It moves from those who are abiding with God to those who are abiding with sheep. But the story here says that these outcasts now have a chance to abide with God as well – because of Jesus.

Verse 3 moves back up the social scale. The sages, or wise men, are not on par with the angels, but society would hold them in much higher regard than the shepherds. These sages are to leave contemplations behind in order to seek something, or Someone, greater. This statement is not an indictment against knowledge; rather, it is a reminder that we must act on what we know. Specifically, they have seen the infant’s star and must choose what they will now do.

Finally, the story moves to the saints of all ages. Those saints include us. We are not saints (which means holy ones) because of ourselves. Rather we are like the shepherds in many ways. But God has brought us up in status by coming down to living among us, to live with us. Thus, we bend at the altar in confession and thanksgiving and expectation. We watch in hope and fear as long as it takes. We do so because just as Jesus came once, He has promised to come again.

The phrase is in this song is “desire of nations.” That phrase is found in Haggai 2.7. When we read this verse in the KJV, it appears as if the phrase means the Messiah. But the Hebrew word (khemdah) is a collective plural. That means that many things make up one. The problem is that we only have one Messiah (Christ). Thus, the true meaning of the word relates to wealth (NASB), or treasures (ESV). This idea is made more clear in verse 8 when God talks about the silver and the gold.*

*Some say that this verse has a double meaning and does refer to the Savior. The argument is made, in part, because of verse 9, when God talks about the glory of the house – the temple that is being rebuilt. The NT does call our bodies the temple and God dwells there through His Spirit, so this understanding may also be correct, though reading the context of Haggai 2 is talking about the physical temple at that time.

This phrase (desire of nations) is a great example of why we must not consider hymns as inerrant. The Bible is perfect. Hymns are not…even when they are based upon the Bible. Other than this phrase, the song is good. But with the phrase in question, the song really tells the sages to seek earthly wealth. This phrase is also why we are doing this short sermon series.

SONG: Mary, Did You Know?

The song Mary, Did You Know?, is a very profound song. The words within the song are simple enough, but most are filled with meaning that is beyond comprehension. That is, we might understand what the words mean, but it is nearly impossible to grasp the meaning of what they say. For instance, the phrase, “when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God,” or “the sleeping child your holding is the great I AM,” are absolutely mind-numbing ideas to consider!

But again, the words themselves are straightforward. So, for this song, I am not going to speak on individual words. Instead, I am going to try to answer the question, what did Mary know? Or what could Mary have known? (1)

Perhaps she knew the Old Testament well. We have evidence of this in the Magnificat – Latin for Magnify. Luke 1.46-47 says, “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.’” So, Mary knew God. And God knew Mary. But we do not know specifically what she knew from the Old Testament. In Luke 1, however, we do find some specifics about what she did know because of what the angel, Gabriel, told her.

Read Luke 1.31-35.

What was Mary told?

      • She would conceive. She would have a son who was to be called Jesus.
      • The son would be the Son of the Most High (that is, God). He will inherit David’s throne.
      • He will reign over the house of Jacob (that is, Israel) forever.
      • His kingdom will never end.
      • The Holy Spirit will come upon her and impregnate her.
      • Elizabeth will also have a child.
      • Nothing is impossible for God.

What did Mary know previously?

      • Virgins cannot bear children. (v. 34)
      • Trust what God says. (v. 38)

So, Mary did not know explicitly what the lyrics in the song ask. She certainly would have wondered what it meant to be a virgin mother. She would have wondered what kind of mom she could be to the Son of the God of the universe. And if she knew passages like Isaiah 61.1-3, which she might have, she would have a clue as to what Messiah would do. But I do not think she truly had any idea.

Why do I say that?

Because in Mark 3, she goes to rescue Jesus (Mark 3.31-35, cf. Matthew 12.46-49). As a mother, this may make sense. But Jesus is not a man in need of rescue. He is the man who came to rescue us. And, doing things that only the Messiah could do, things like healing a blind and deaf man and challenging the religious leaders who claimed He was Satan (see Mark 3.22-30, cf. Matthew 12.22-45), were bound to get Him into trouble. But the kind of trouble Jesus was far beyond what a pleading mom could do.

So, while the song is a great song, the answer to the questions is that she probably knew little of what having a son, the Son, could mean.

CONCLUSION

We may not know exactly what Mary knew? But we know that the people longed for Messiah. We have sung songs today that were written long after Jesus came; however, they depict a desire that would have been present for many in the 1st Century. We must consider if our longing is similar. We may not know exactly what they knew or expected. But we can know what happened. We can not only know that Jesus came, but we should understand fully why He came…what He did, and how He did it.

And, then we have a choice. And that choice is to believe and to long for His return. Or to carry on about our business as if what Jesus did doesn’t really matter.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Immanuel – God with us. Jesus – God saves. And because of that salvation, we have the opportunity to be with God forever – not when we die, but now. God did not come in the person of Jesus so we could be with Him later. Immanuel does not mean God will be with us someday…it means God with us. As in NOW. And that truth is made possible because of Jesus.

Thus, as Mary said, so shall we, “‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’” (Luke 1.46-47).

PRINCIPLE:  Words matter. People matter. And that is why God came to us to save us!

QUESTION:  Do you know you matter enough to Jesus that He came to earth to save you?

OPPORTUNITY:  Realize how important you, and others, are to Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN.  Take time to gain a deeper understanding of the words of Christmas so you can better appreciate the gift that God has given us – and share that gift with others.

1) You can find an excellent article which captures this idea at https://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/what-did-mary-know

“Light of the World” by Pastor Andy Braams

My wife is a big fan of John Williams. John Williams has composed some of the most iconic songs in Hollywood History. Various themes from Jaws, Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and so many more were created from the brilliant mind of John Williams.

But today, I want to introduce you to another John Williams. This John Williams was a missionary in the early 1800s (beginning his work at about age 21 in 1817 until his death in 1839). This John Williams was a member of the London Missionary Society and was commissioned to be light to a far-off place – the islands of the South Pacific. This John Williams brought the gospel to places such as Tahiti, Samoa, and the Cook Islands.

John Williams was the first to take the gospel to many of these islands and after returning to London for a period of time to translate the New Testament to help the people in that region, he was commissioned to return for one final trip to another set of islands in what is now called Vanuatu (then known as the New Hebrides Islands.

In November 1839, John Williams arrived at one of the islands called Erromango with another missionary named James Harris.  Their mission was to be light in an area of darkness. For this John Williams, it was another tribe with whom to share the Gospel. These two men were the first Christian missionaries in the New Hebrides Islands. Moments after they arrived on shore, both men were clubbed to death and their bodies eaten.

Today, we conclude our series on how the systems of the human body relate to the church. We have covered eleven systems of the human body – the body that God made. We have done so while considering the term the Body of Christ, a metaphorical body that God made, that Jesus is building, and of which He is the head (Colossians 1.18).

It is Jesus who came into the world to be light. John 1.9 calls Jesus “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” Thus, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8.12). And it was this same Jesus, the one who enlightens everyone (John 1.9) and allows us to have the “light of life” (John 8.12) who told a group on a mountain one day that “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5.16). Thus, Jesus said both that He is the light of the world and that those who follow Him are to be a light to the world as well.

Let me share a few thoughts about light and health as we conclude this series.

We Cannot Be Light if We Are Not Healthy

This series has been entitled, Healthy Body, Healthy Church. If the body is healthy, then the church is healthy. But we are not the ultimate authority on whether we are healthy or not. Let me share two reasons that statement is true.

      1. God is our maker.

Whatever is made is not greater than what makes it. Of course, some people may be better than others, but a person is a person. Some cars may be more valuable than other, but a car is a car. Some may argue that certain cars have more value than certain persons or even groups of people. But that thinking is wrong. Direct to my point, a person designed a car so no matter what we think of a car, it cannot be greater than a person. Likewise, no matter what some might think of God, because God is our maker, no person can ever be greater than God.

      1. Jesus is the Great Physician.

People go to the doctor when they are not feeling well. However, at a certain age, most people start getting check-ups, as we call them. We want the doctor to check us over and tell us if we are ok. We submit ourselves to blood work, stress tests, and other exams in order to have an idea of how we are doing, even if we feel well. We do this because the physician is skilled and understands the body better than we do. Likewise, Jesus, as the Great Physician understands what the body needs. Not only because He is the physician, but because He is the head of that body.

Many churches can look good on the outside and even appear glamorous on the inside, but the church that Christ promised to build is not like the temple of the Old Testament. The tabernacle and later the temple were ornate and beautiful. The Bible goes into great detail on the materials that were used and how it was to be adorned.

But we are now the temple of God. We are now where God’s glory is to dwell. We are to be beautiful, not because of how we look, but because of how we live. God does not call us to be supermodels physically. He is not concerned with our physical appearance in that sense. But He does not want us to be like blots on the skins, or even acne, for His cause. That is, what we do, and how we live, should reflect the beauty and glory of God. We are not to judge a book by its cover. But as Christians, the contents of our lives should be worth reading!

So, we, as a church, must strive to be healthy, in order that we can be light.

We Cannot Be Healthy if We Do Not Have the Light

Yes, this point is essentially the reverse of the previous point. But that doesn’t make this point any less true. If we do not have the light of God within us, we cannot be healthy as the body of Christ. That is certainly true of us as individuals, but it is also true of us as a church.

It is true as individuals because if we do not have the Light within us, we do not have Jesus. If we do not have Jesus, then we are not even a part of the body of Christ, and therefore, we are neither healthy or unhealthy. The Bible describes people in darkness as dead – in their transgressions (cf. Ephesians 2.1-5). Now, physically someone who is not born again, may be healthy, but spiritually they are dead. So, in order to have a chance at spiritual health requires having the light of Jesus in us. And if the light of Jesus is within us, then to be truly healthy, we need to let it shine through us.

Letting our light shine is what Jesus says we must do (Matthew 5.16).

      • We let the light shine not because it is our own light, but because it is His.
      • We let the light shine not for our glory, but so it will bring glory to God.
      • We let the light shine not for our salvation, but as an expression of being saved.

The reality is that some who have the light of Jesus choose not to let it shine. They want to keep it dim. But for such people, it is difficult to know whether the light of Jesus is really a part of them at all. Jesus makes it very clear that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. And people do not light lamps to hide their light. Rather they want the light to shine brightly in order to light the room.

If people do this with light that will soon burn out, how much more does Jesus want us to shine His eternal light through our lives as we live for Him.

When Jesus walked on earth, He not only was the light of the world, but He provided an eternal example of how that light could shine. Today, Jesus continues to shine His light – not to light up a room, but to light up a world. And He has chosen people like you and me to be that light…to live like Jesus…to live for Jesus, for the glory of God.

We Have a Choice

“You are who you want to be.” – John Maxwell

That is, you choose who you want to be. Although it is true that we do not have a choice in everything that happens to us in this life, we do have a choice in how we will respond. And those choices add up, over time, to make us the person we are today…and will be tomorrow. We cannot change who we are today, but we do have a choice of who we will become in the future. That is true for each individual. And it is true for the collection of people known as the church.

What I can say without a doubt is that God loves us. He loves the people of this church. He loves the people of this community. But I also know that He wants more for us…better for us. And better from us too. I must want more for myself. I must want more from myself. And you should want the same for you.

However, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I had created an idol of what this church could be instead of what it is, and that has kept me from loving and leading the church where it is. Again, we should all want more for this church because God wants more for this church. Wanting more for this church requires demanding more from this church – and that means demanding more from each of us.

But that does not mean that I, nor anyone else, has the right to lead without loving who we are currently. As I just mentioned, a series of choices by the people here today and by the people who are no longer a part of this church (whether they have died, moved, or chosen not to come) has made this church what it is today. The choices we make from here will dictate what this church will become tomorrow.

But Jesus said, I will build my Church. And He loves her while He builds her. And I must do the same. As I lead this church, I must better love this church – every person in this church. I must be a better shepherd of this church, as I continue to learn from the Shepherd of all churches. Yes, I want more for this church, but without love, I cannot expect more. (Sometimes that will require tough love.)

So, church, what do we want to be? Do we want to be the church that Jesus wants us to be? Do we want to be healthy? Then we must have the Light. Do we want to share the light and the hope that comes from Jesus? Then we must be healthy. He has a purpose for us. We have to choose our response.

It may not be easy to get from where we are to where we want to be, but if we seek the Light and choose to live by the Light, then we have the promise of the One who is light, that He will build us into what He wants us to be.

CONCLUSION

In 1839, John Williams went to Vanuatu to not only share the light, but to be the light to a people who know only darkness. The tribe was so entrenched with darkness that they ate the two missionaries who had come to share a message with them. It is a reminder of how the people treated Jesus when He came to show the light, to be the light, in the darkened world of the first century.

John Williams may have died that November day in 1839, but his story did not end. Within five years of his death, the London Missionary Society began operating ships named after the martyr. The first ship was named simply John Williams (1844). Six others would follow, with the last being decommissioned nearly 125 years later in 1968.

Additionally, that group of islands in the South Pacific, now known as Vanuatu, now has a motto, “In God we stand.” In 2009, just a decade ago, the now Christian nation asked the great-great-grandson of John Williams (Charles) to come to the island Erromango for a ceremony of reconciliation. Charles, and seventeen other family members, went. As part of the ceremony, a reenactment of the killings took place and then many of the descendants who were a part of the killing of John Williams sought forgiveness from the Williams family. Additionally, the bay where Mr. Williams had got off the ship was renamed Williams Bay.

The light John Williams went to share has left a definite impact even though he never had a chance to share the message he intended to share.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word JOURNEY.

Our life is a journey. We may not be asked to take a trip to present the gospel where it has not been heard, but like Jesus, we are called to take the light with us wherever we go. We are called to shine the light wherever we may go. We are called to be the light wherever we may go. The JOURNEY is not always easy, but Jesus provided a model, showing us the way. After all, He is the Way for the JOURNEY we are taking.

PRINCIPLE:  Having the Light means we can be healthy. Being healthy means sharing the light!

QUESTION:  Will you choose to be healthy? Will you choose to share the Light?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” The opportunity is for us to let the light – His light – shine brightly, in order that God may truly be glorified.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: As followers of Christ, we are the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we are to live as Christ would live. Although we will not do so perfectly, we should aim high because it is God who has included us in His plan.

“Becoming Like God” by Pastor Andy Braams

In last week’s post, I mentioned the idea of a child imitating others. It is because of this imitation that children learn to walk. That is, if all older children and adults crawled around on all four all of the time, a young child would not know that standing and walking was possible, let alone acceptable. Thus, through the process of imitation, children grow and learn to do more complicated things like walking, talking, and feeding themselves.

But who or what is imitated is important. For instance, most adults love to hear children make animal sounds. It might be cute, but think about how irrelevant that is in the scheme of life. Unless you are going to be hunting a certain type of animal, and need to lure them with a sound, that skill is irrelevant. However, adults do it to small children (not to other adults) and children learn to mimic that sound. And it is so fascinating we even have a song about it (Old McDonald or Old MacDonald or Old Mac Donald, people cannot even agree on the name of the man in the song).

But eventually, the imitations become more meaningful. While learning to walk, talk, and eat are important, most everyone is able to do these things by a certain age. But then the influence shifts towards an imitation of family members and/or friends in areas that define us as people. Labels regarding our health habits, work habits, skills, and abilities begin to dictate who we are and who are friends are. And from there, it becomes almost cyclical as we tend to gravitate towards the people most like us. Thus the next generation follows closely in our footsteps (or rebels heavily against us) and their imitation of us tends to perpetuate the cycle (or at least parts of it).

Before we get into our text, let me first remind us that this month’s system is the exocrine system. The exocrine system includes the skin. As we consider this idea of imitation, consider how we treat the skin. Children may not directly imitate their parents’ hygiene habits over time, but initially they do. They learn to bathe themselves as, and because, the parents have bathed them. They even use the same soap. They use the same mannerisms. They brush their teeth in the same general way, etc.

But more importantly, they learn to act and respond to various situations because they have watched others act and respond. Yes, each person has their own decision to make about how to respond, but we learn various types of responses by watching others and must then determine which is the best type of response for us.

But our response does not have to be dictated merely by observation. We can also choose to respond from knowledge gathered not from direct observation, but from absorption. What I mean is that our five senses allow us to experience various possibilities, but through a process such as reading, we can begin to absorb other possibilities that we may not have ever directly observed.

That is what makes the letter to the Ephesians so fascinating. We know that Ephesus was a hotbed of idol worship and that many were against the teachings of Christ (because it was disrupting their business which focused on selling objects of worship, cf. Acts 19.24). But we also know that Paul spent time there encouraging and strengthening believers by, in part, showing them how to live (Acts 19-20). That is, he was providing them a model to imitate.

And thus, when he later writes back to Ephesus, he writes not only about who God is and what He has done (Ephesians 1-3), but how the people should live (Ephesians 4-6).

So, last week, we began with Ephesians 4.1 and the need to walk worthy of the calling they had, and we have, received. It was not just any call. It was a call to be a child of God. I covered that verse extensively last week, but I want to briefly remind us of three words – therefore, urge, and called.

      • “Therefore” is a transition word which indicates what has been communicated prior to this is important, so now I am going to tell you what to do because of it.
      • “Urge” indicates that Paul realized that the people had a choice to make about how they would walk. Would they walk a new path according to the ways God would have them walk, or would they continue to walk in sin? Thus, Paul urged them to make the proper choice.
      • “Called” is in the past tense. I mentioned this last week, but it is crucial to the understanding of this letter. Paul is writing to people who say the believe. Thus, the actions they choose to take are not to earn salvation (which is by grace through faith, Ephesians 2.8-9), but because of their salvation. The lives are thus a response to what God has already done and called them to do (Ephesians 2.10).

So, this week, we move forward one chapter to Ephesians 5.1. Again, we have the word therefore. So, as I have often said (but did not say last week), we need to ask what the “therefore” is there for.

Again, Ephesians 4 is about the idea of walking worthily. Thus, Paul provides a list of ideas and commands in chapter four for the people to know what this new walk should look like. It is a walk based upon following one God (vv. 1-10) who has provided leaders to equip others to serve and be united as one body in ministry (vv. 11-16), which means leaving the old way of life behind (vv. 17-32). (Notice that as Paul begins to provide a list of commands, he transitions with another “therefore” in v. 25.)

Having provided these initial insights about what it means to walk worthily, Paul is ready to extend his argument. Now, before we look at 5.1, let us go back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 4.19.

As Jesus was beginning His public ministry, He says to a group of men, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Last week, I discussed that the “follow me” portion of that statement is about walking in His footsteps. This week, we move to the next portion of the statement, “and I will make you.”

Now, back to Ephesians 5. Paul wrote, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” The rest of chapter five develops that further, but I want to just focus on the few words in verse 1.

I wish I had another 4 hours for this, but we did cover this letter in detail several years ago. What I must say here is that Paul called these Ephesian believers “beloved children.” As I mentioned several years ago, the imagery is striking. We may think the idea of abortion and abandonment as something that is new. But the concept is not new; the timing is. Medical technology has given people knowledge of their pregnancy and potential child defects far earlier than has previously been possible. In the past, even within the last hundred years, people may not even know they were pregnant, and certainly could not know of any defects before birth. However, the idea of barbarism is ancient.

In the 1st Century, if you did not want your child, you took it outside the city, generally up on a hill or mountain and left if there to die or to be eaten by animals. But knowing this, some wealthy individuals would have slaves go and find these children and bring them back so these new babies would grow up to be servants as well.

That is a part of the argument that Paul is making here. God went to that hill to find us, to redeem us, to make us servants for Him. (Jesus went to that hill to die for us!) But Paul says that we are more than mere servants, we are beloved children. And, thus, as beloved children, we should want to imitate our Daddy! And, of course, the imitation would include how we walk (or live). In fact, that idea is very important as Paul not only used the term walk in 4.1, but also in 4.17 (not as the Gentiles), and then in 5.2, 8, and 15, all in reference to how we are to imitate God. And, let us not overlook that Paul sandwiches the need for us to imitate God between verses of God’s forgiveness (4.32) and Christ’s love for us (5.2)!

Thus, as children of God, we should manifest some of God’s characteristics. That is, we should be imitating Him and become more and more like Him. Now, here is where this verse parallels so nicely with Jesus statement along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The word for imitate in Ephesians 5.1 is in what is known as the “middle voice.” This type of verb means that we are both responsible to do something and to allow something. Thus, as we decide to imitate God, God makes us more like Him. We cannot choose to simply be more like God…God must empower that process, which He does through the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, in Matthew 4.19, Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you….” The disciples had to choose to follow. But, if they chose to follow, it was Jesus who would do His part in making them into something, or someone else.

Ladies and gentleman, the same is true for us. If we choose to follow Jesus, God will do His part to transform our lives into something far different than we could ever be on our own. We will be able to do far more than we can ever do on our own. That is the economy of God which is built into Paul’s words just before He urged the Ephesians to learn a new way to walk. For Ephesians 3.20 reminds us, that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us.”

That power is already present if you are a believer. That power is working according to that verse. But we have to do our part to allow God to complete in us what He wants to complete. We do that by choosing to follow (walking) and imitating Him.

The question for each of us is: Will we choose to follow in order to become more like Jesus?

CONCLUSION

Young children imitate those who are older and begin to learn certain skills, habits, and even rituals based upon what they observe in others. As children grow, those skills, habits, and rituals become even more important. Teenagers, for instance, get jobs and begin to prepare for life on their own and thus who they imitate and what they learn to do can have significant long-term implications – for good or for bad.

Likewise, as believers, who we choose to follow and imitate will impact our growth in Christ. The reality, according to the texts we have reviewed today is that God will make us grow if we are willing to let Him do so. Again, Jesus said, “I will make you…” But that making is conditional on our choosing to follow. In fact, as I reviewed Jesus words in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 this week, a detail came to life for me. This was a detail I knew, but I had not fully considered in context. In Mark 1, when Jesus calls out to the men to follow Him, others were in the boats too, but they did not follow. That simply means that Jesus did not get to “make them,” or “mold them” into something more than they are already were.

Do you want to be more? Do you want Jesus to mold you? As we think about the exocrine system, we generally think of the skin. Our skin is very resilient. Just think about how much it gets stretched when we bend or sit. Or how much it pulls when we smile or cringe. The skin is tight, and yet not too tight. It is pliable. It must be to allow us to function.

But are we pliable? Are we flexible? Do we let Jesus mold us, or stretch us, so we can become what He wants us to become? The reality is that if we truly follow Jesus, we may be stretched more than we want, but that is the only way to become like Him. And, as we learn to become more like Jesus, that is, as we learn to imitate Him, we can teach others to be more like Him as well (Matthew 28.20).

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Our letter is J for Jesus because we must learn to be more like Him, but as we submit to that goal, it is Jesus who has promised to do the real work. Remember, it was Jesus who said, “Follow Me, and I will make you….” We must choose to follow Him, but then He will do the work in us as we continue to follow. But the choice to follow is one we must make daily. For as Paul said, I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received. We must choose to start, and then continue, walking with Jesus if we are to become who He wants us to be.

PRINCIPLE:  If we choose to imitate God, He will empower us to become like Him.

QUESTION:  Will we choose to follow in order to become more like Jesus?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Paul said to “Imitate God.” To follow Jesus is not about making a one-time decision, it is about counting the costs and following Him daily.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN: Read Ephesians 4.25-5.4 each day for the next two weeks and choose one command each day as your focus in learning to imitate God. Try to walk like Jesus. Just as a young child emulates patterns of others, we are to emulate the life of Jesus. This week, simply choose to take a few steps that you suspect Jesus would take, especially if you would rather not do so.

“Walking As Worthy” by Pastor Andy Braams

Ephesians 4.1

Imagine if you will a young, healthy baby. The baby is growing fast, and will soon be standing up, walking and talking. And as they do, they will learn to eat on their own, play with others, eventually go to school, make new friends, and later still, drive a car, graduate, and move towards adulthood.

All of those markers help us judge the progress of a person. Certainly, other markers exist, but those are a few of the major milestones that most people go through over the course of their first 18-20 years.

But during all of that, even more is happening on the inside. And, it is what is on the inside that really makes the person. Hormones, chemicals, and growth spurts are all part of the challenge of navigating the early years of our lives. But most people focus on the outside.

For instance, people will talk about which family member we resemble. As teenagers, many people first deal with acne and face the challenge of wondering whether people will like us or not. Therefore, while it is true that we cannot judge a book by its cover, the question must be asked, “Why do we choose that approach so often?”

This month’s system is the exocrine system. The exocrine system includes the largest organ in the body which is the skin. It is what we see. Of ourselves and of others. The difference is that we often have some idea of what is going on within our own bodies, but we need others to tell us how they are feeling. And the inverse is true as well…we must tell others how we are feeling for them to know.

Why is this important? Because what is presented on the outside can mask what is happening on the inside – at least for a while. But eventually if we are rotten on the inside, we will turn rotten on the outside. But if we are clean on the inside, then we should present ourselves as clean on the outside.

The truth is that we may be able to hide our true self from others for a while, but eventually the truth is revealed. And while we may be able to hide who we are from others, we cannot hide who we are from God.

And so, as we consider what it means to live as Christians, we must begin with an understanding that it is not what we call ourselves that matters, it is what we are doing. That is, many people have called themselves Christians over the years (and may even today), but the term is not what is important. Jesus did not say, “Call yourself a Christian.” He said, “Follow me.” And our willingness to follow Him is what marks us as one who is truly a Christian.

This week and next we are going to review a couple of verses you have seen recently in the Sunday School lessons from Ephesians. Then on December 1, we will move to John 1 for one week. All along we are going to use Jesus statement in Matthew 4.19 to show a progression of what Jesus has promised to do within us, as we consider our role in that process as well.

This week, we start with Ephesians 4.1 and the command that we are to walk according to our calling. The idea here is that the people of Ephesus need to learn how to walk in a new way. Later in the chapter, the reference is to the old man and new man (which are corporate terms in this instance), so they not only need to learn how to walk as a new believer, they also need to learn to walk with other believers (as those believers also learn to walk).

Why? Because the Christian life is different. Many people think of Christians as living by a rigid set of guidelines. That is, Christians can’t do this and can’t do that. Romans 14 speaks to this issue very well, and ultimately provides a lot of freedom providing two things are true.

      1. We are following Christ.
      2. We do not cause a brother to stumble.

It is important to note that we can follow Christ and still cause a fellow believer to stumble. One example from Scripture relates to eating meat, particularly meat that had been sacrificed to idols (see 1 Corinthians 9, c.f. Romans 14). In our day the same might be true, but perhaps a better example could be the type of entertainment we watch.

Whatever the issue, Paul says the new believers need to learn to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. He then provides many ideas for what that means over the rest of the letter. As I have said before, Ephesians can be split into two main chunks. Ephesians 1-3 is about who God is and what He has done, and chapters 4-6 is how we should live because of it.

And thus, we are not to walk according to our own purposes. Paul begins with the word therefore, showing He has provided an argument prior to this point and is now making a statement based upon what has already been stated. And the statement Paul made was for them to learn to walk differently.

Like a newborn child who learns to crawl, walking is something new. It requires letting go of what is safe (i.e. not falling) and trying something new. Following Christ is the same. It requires us letting go of what we know and embracing something new. Will we fall? Sure. But, just as a baby who learns to walk and then run learns to stay upright and get from one point to another faster, so to can the believer who is learning to live (i.e. walk) differently.

The term walk in Ephesians 4.1 is the same Greek word that is used of Jesus in Matthew 4.18. I do not think this choice of words is insignificant. Because it is as Jesus is walking that He says, “Follow Me.” In many senses, we cannot follow someone if they are not going anywhere.

So, Jesus asks His disciples to walk like Him. He did on that day by the Sea of Galilee. And He has every day since then. Therefore, the first thing we must notice is that we have a choice in how we will walk.

Will we walk like Jesus? Or will we walk like someone else?

Have you ever watched children mimic someone else? Most people find it cute. At some point the person being mimicked discovers they are being copied and sometimes it leads to embarrassment, while other times, they will further engage with the person mimicking.

But sometimes, a person asks to be mimicked. For instance, a craftsman may ask an apprentice to watch carefully in order to learn a skill that the apprentice will need to know.

The idea of an apprentice learning is essentially what Jesus was asking His disciples to do. Please note, the disciples were called, by Jesus. And thus, they needed to learn to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Their job may have been as fishermen, tax collectors, etc., but their calling was something much more. And the only way for them to succeed in their calling was to follow the lead of the Master. They were to mimic Him.

Paul is using a similar idea in Ephesians. He wrote that this new church needed to walk in a manner worthy of the call that they have received. The call for the Ephesians may not have happened exactly as it did to the disciples on that day by the Sea of Galilee, but the effect was to be the same. Just as God (as Jesus) called the first disciples many years before in Israel, now He was calling this group to walk differently. In other words, the people may have believed in God, but now they truly needed follow Him.

And what was true for the Ephesians then, is true for us now as well. So, who needs to follow? All people who say they believe in Jesus.

Why is this becoming so difficult? Because many have never heard this before. For decades, the church was the culturally acceptable place to be, and many have thought, if I show up, then I have done what I need to do.

But again, Jesus said “Follow Me,” not, “Go to church.” Please understand, being a part of a local fellowship of believers (i.e, the church) is a part of God’s design (cf Matthew 16.18), but being a part of a church does not mean someone is following or is learning to walk properly. Following Jesus is not about a moment or even a week. It is about a lifetime.

Now, let me pause to clarify that I am not talking about following Jesus to get saved. I am talking about following Jesus because we are saved. Follow Me is certainly an invitation which might include salvation (it did include it for the original disciples), but the Ephesians were already called (that is, saved) and so their invitation was not for salvation, but to grow in their salvation. Paul wrote that the people were to walk according to the calling “to which you have been called.” Past tense. In other words, these people were already saved. They were already members of the eternal church, but they needed to act like it. They needed to walk like Jesus.

If we say we love Jesus, and want to serve Him, we must learn from Him. We must walk with Him. We must follow Him. As Jesus said, according to John 12.26, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him.”

Again, we must follow Jesus. We must learn to walk like Him, to talk like Him, to live like Him. And that requires us taking the time to know Him better and see what He does. Like a young child watching a parent or an older sibling, we need to watch others who are more spiritually mature, so we can grow to be more like Jesus.

But here is the problem. Fewer people are walking like Jesus. Christianity has become more an idea of convenience. When I feel like going to church or talking to others or listening to a preacher, I will do it. They will be glad to see me. Ok, well maybe. But that sounds more like not living as worthy of the calling that Creator God, the God of the universe, the God who knows your name, has given. And this problem is only getting worse.

One of the directors within Child Evangelism Fellowship recently emailed a colleague saying that the worldview of many children who attend Bible clubs has shifted. Why? In the past, most people had some basic knowledge of God and some acquaintance with many different Bible stories. This basic knowledge provided a foundation for the teachers to build upon. But now, many children have little or no knowledge of spiritual things. (1).

How can children learn to walk well if they never see their parents walk? How can parents walk well if their parents quit walking? The reality is that if we are not learning to walk correctly because we are not following someone who knows what they are doing or where they are going, then we are wasting our time. Sure, we may fall down when we walk, especially as we are learning to walk, but that is where the encouragement of others is so important.

And we cannot leave it up to curriculum. It is people that must be followed. Curriculum can give us a path to follow, but it is people who guide us. So, Jesus said, “Follow Me.” That is a rather specific command, with far reaching implications. Follow Jesus where He is going. Follow His example. Essentially, learn the ways of Jesus.

And Paul says something similar. Make your life worthy of the call by learning to walk in the correct manner. In the simplest words, “Follow Jesus.”

But more and more people are walking away from Christ, at least in the United States. A few weeks ago, I shared that Christianity is growing. That is true from a global perspective. But in this country, we have had a 12% decline in the number of professing Christians over the past decade. And yet, 65% of people still identify as Christians.

If that number is true, then why do we have all of the problems that we do? Well, first, evil is real. Satan is real and is doing everything he can to disrupt God’s plan. He is working overtime. Some will say Satan is working harder than ever because the end is near. Maybe, maybe not. Jesus did not know when the end would come, so we cannot either. But we can perceive evil is more pervasive.

However, I think another real reason is that many of the 65% who say they are Christian do not know what it is like to walk worthy of their calling. I think Paul’s words to the Ephesians need to get a fresh perspective today. And that includes you. And that includes me. We can all walk better. We can all follow Jesus more closely, more intimately, more directly. But will we?

CONCLUSION

Again, this month’s system is the exocrine system, which is the system that includes the skin. The skin is what people see and thus, we can focus on behavior, as a part of this month of lessons. But having good behavior is like taking a bath or a shower, if it does not originate from within. Being clean on the outside may be important for hygiene and certainly our cleanliness will impact how others view us.

But from a Christian standpoint, what is more important is that we clean on the inside. As several people are noted as saying, Jesus did not come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people live.

And the way to live is to follow Jesus. Answering Jesus’ call to “Follow Me” means we are becoming more like Jesus and thus, how we live our lives begins to match the transformation that is taking place within us. As Jesus said, we will be known by our fruit (Mt 7.20).

Therefore, we must learn to walk worthy of the calling God has given to us. Church, if our building is spotless and people think well of us because we present ourselves as pure on the outside, but our insides are a wreck, we are doing God a disservice and, although we may be walking, we are not walking worthy of the calling He has placed on our lives.

On the other hand, if our insides healthy, but we do not show our true selves, then others will see us as disgusting, and they will never know the truth of who Jesus is because we are not showing them Jesus by who we are.

In both of those preceding paragraphs, I am not talking about how our skin looks or the amount of dirt or grime we have. I am talking about the fullness of our lives – both inside and out. Ultimately, as followers of Christ, we need to be clean on the outside, but that is only possible, if we allow Him to clean our insides first.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

Really, this week is about Jesus. But to follow Him is to walk like Him, and thus, it is follow His commands. It is to observe what He has taught and to teach others to do the same. Those two ideas come straight from the mouth of Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.15). In other words, we will walk like Him. But then in the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His followers to teach others to do the same (Matthew 28.20).

So, we are to learn to walk like Jesus and help others to do the same.

PRINCIPLE:  Just as a young child must learn to walk (well), so to do Christians.

QUESTION:  How is your walk with Jesus? Would He call it worthy?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “Follow Me.” To follow Jesus is not about making a one-time decision, it is about counting the costs and following Him daily.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Try to walk like Jesus. Just as a young child emulates patterns of others, we are to emulate the life of Jesus. This week, simply choose to take a few steps that you suspect Jesus would take, especially if you would rather not do so.

1) Personal email communication between L.P. and F.D., August 5, 2019).

2) https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/ (Accessed 11/8/19).

3) Ibid.

“Passing the Test (Part 3)” by Pastor Andy Braams

Again, this month’s system is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body. In particular, the wastes to which I am referring is waste from the kidneys. Blood flows into the kidneys carrying wastes. The blood is filtered by nephrons and then released back into the rest of the body and the waste is dispatched from the body as urine.

But what happens when the kidneys do not work right? When this happens, it is known as renal failure, and renal failure can be caused for a few reasons such as one or both kidneys:

      • not getting enough blood to filter
      • being diseased (caused by any number of factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.)
      • blockage caused by a kidney stone or scar tissue.(1)

Renal failure can be acute, which can be serious, but with proper treatment, the kidneys usually regain their function. However, chronic renal failure leads to a permanent loss of function and lead to a buildup of wastes in the blood which causes a need for dialysis or a transplant. (2)

Thus, as we have seen over these past couple of weeks, the kidneys play a vital role in our health because if wastes are not removed, then we can face serious health risks. And these wastes are removed by the filters (called nephrons) which must “test” the blood in order to remove the necessary waste.

Again, as we have seen all year, the church needs systems which parallel the systems of the human body. Our series this year has focused on the body of Christ (i.e. the church) as we have reviewed ten different systems of the body and equated those systems to some aspect of the church.

This month, the excretory system is providing a backdrop for us to review a series of tests Scripture provides for us to make our lives better which is similar to the nephrons filtering out what would make us unhealthy.

The past two weeks, we have looked at the tests from an individual perspective first, and then from the perspective of the church. And that makes sense in one way, because it is more difficult to function as a group of people if we cannot function individually. However, as I often remind us, within the New Testament, almost all of the commands are plural. That is, these commands are to y’all, or for our purposes, the body of Christ.

So, even as we consider how to live out these commands individually, we must focus on living them with each other collectively.

With that in mind, let us turn to the last five commands in the verses we have been reviewing from 1 Thessalonians 5.

The Test of Quenching (1 Thessalonians 5.19)

The command here is about quenching the Holy Spirit. We are commanded not to do so. What does Paul mean by the word quench? One definition would be to extinguish. This idea is what mean when we say we want to quench our thirst. We want our thirst to be gone (or extinguished). That definition could be true in Paul’s writing, but I think he has a different idea in mind.

Another definition for quench could be to thwart or suppress. Of course, if we suppress the Spirit, eventually, we may extinguish the Spirit, but that is why we have the command here. It serves as a warning for the church there and then, and to us here and now, to test ourselves to ensure the Holy Spirit is not only a part of our lives and church, but that He is welcome among us and is allowed to do what He wants to do.

Can you imagine a church that suppresses or thwarts the Holy Spirit? I can. Why? I do. And I would guess that you do too. I seek to be sensitive to how the Lord is leading, but sometimes I sense He desires something from me and I balk. In fact, while writing this paragraph, I knew He was asking me to stop writing and take time to just be with Him. And part of me wanted to do so. And part of me wanted to finish my sermon. But how can I write about not quenching (not thwarting) the Spirit if I am going to do it while I am preparing to discuss it? So, I did stop for a while.

But the point is that I do not always stop. And I do not always follow. And that is sin. I would suppose we are all guilty of being an obstacle to the Spirit at times. We would rather do what we want to do. And, if that is the case individually, imagine what we, as a church, may do to suppress the will of the Lord.

Ugh!

So, let us aim to welcome the Spirit, not suppress Him. Let us desire what He wants from us rather than trying to thwart Him. Indeed, let us let Him quench our wants by giving of ourselves to Him.

The Test of Truth (1 Thessalonians 5.20)

This test is very much related to the previous test. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about the Spirit, He called the Spirit the “Spirit of truth” (John 14.17) and said it was the Spirit who would remind them what Jesus taught (John 14.26). And remember, it was Jesus who made the statement, having just called Himself the truth a few moments earlier (John 14.6).

Paul’s choice of words in 1 Thessalonians 5.20 is a Greek word that means prophecies. But a prophecy is “communicating and enforcing revealed truth.” (Strong Concordance, prophetia, #4394). So, to prophecy is to reveal the truth.

Therefore, what Paul is commanding to the church in Thessalonica is to not despise the truth. Now, the reality is that in our day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what truth is, apart from the Bible. We have #fakenews. We have people who are paid to spin the details. We have people who craft new words and phrases (such as reproductive health) to avoid using others (such as abortion).

Why do we have these challenges? Because people despise the truth! And Paul is commanding the church then, and us today, not to be among those who do despise the truth. Very bluntly, a part of that is to accept the Bible for what it says rather than to attempt to alter its meaning so we feel better about what we read or hear. The standard for understanding is not determined by the reader; it is the author who controls the meaning. And, in this case, the Author is God, and specifically, the Spirit. Thus, if we do not want to quench the Spirit, we need to embrace the truth as He has communicated it.

In other words, by despising the truth, we quench the Spirit. But if we embrace the Spirit, we should receive His truth, and He will then allow us to better understand the truth (1 Corinthians 2.11-16).

The Test of Evaluation (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

How do we know the truth? We test it. But we must evaluate the truth against something objective to know that it is the truth. Otherwise the truth begins to shift and then it is no longer truth.

What is 2+2?

4. That is objective truth.

Fairfax is in which state?  Which Fairfax?  Missouri?  The Fairfax district of Kansas City, Kansas?  Or the Fairfax found in 11 other states, not counting other districts within cities.

The answer to that question is objective truth, even though the answer has multiple possbilities. But it is still truth. How do we know? We can evaluate it.

But our methods of evaluation are changing. For instance, some children’s sports leagues now do not have winners and losers. It is one thing to say, “It isn’t whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.” And it is another to not allow anyone to keep score.

The truth, as truth has traditionally been defined, is that our world wants to change the standard of evaluation. The new standard is to accept what we want to believe in the moment rather than remain true to standards which have been proven for centuries, if not millennia. We have replaced truth with existentialism. Now, I am not overly averse to change, but some concepts, such as morality are not meant to change. For instance, most everyone here is thrilled that technological advances have made medical care much better over the past 50 years. But stealing someone’s medical information should still be considered a crime. So, the change in technology is good, but the moral code needs to remain as it has for eons.

But to evaluate either issue (technology or morality), we must have a standard. And that standard is otherwise known as a truth.

The Test of Remaining True (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

So, Paul next wrote that we should hold fast to what is good. Now, what is good, in this sense, means something that is true. It does not mean holding on to an ice cream cone until it melts. Why should we hold fast (or cling) to what is good? Because what is good is something that is true. The truth may not always feed good, but it is good for us. For instance, if the doctor tells us some truth about our health situation, the truth may hurt, but that does not mean it is not the truth, and something we need to hear.

However, in today’s world, an understanding of what truth is, is being distorted. The challenge of remaining true is that if we do not measure truth against something permanently known to be true, then how can we know what truth is. The general philosophy of truth being a relative concept is known as postmodernism.

Postmodernism does not believe in a standard of knowledge or truth. Thus, truth is always evolving and is existential – what is true for you is not true for me. But some ideas are true. You may want to use a different word for gravity, but the idea of gravity is real. You may want to jump to the moon, but regardless of what other truth you may hold, gravity will not let you jump that high on your own power.

But let us lay aside human arguments (of which we have plenty to consider) and think of the Bible. Because the most important truth we can hold is to be true to God through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus to whom Scripture refers as Faithful and True (Revelation 19.11). And it is to Jesus that we are to be faithful and true. That is the very essence of holding fast to what is good.

Our world is seemingly becoming more challenging to those who hold fast to Jesus. Recent statistics show that Christianity is growing and atheism is declining. (3) So what is the problem? The problem is that those in the middle are shifting away from Jesus. We have seen it in the attendance in this church – not because people leave this church to go somewhere else (although some have), but because most quit going to church at all.

That is why Paul commands us to hold fast to what is good. And it is why we, as the church, must not only encourage each other to do the same, but to reach out to those who have let go, and help them to hold fast once again. Whether they have lost their grip, or forgotten what is good, we can show them again, in addition to helping others discover for the first time, what is truly good – Who is truly good, and why we must hold fast.

The Test of Avoiding Evil (1 Thessalonians 5.22)

If we are successful in the previous four tests, we should pass this test easily – not because of our own strength, but because we have not quenched the Spirit. See, if we quench the Spirit, then we are going to do battle on our own. But if we embrace the Spirit, then we will not despise prophecies, we will test and know what should be held and what should be avoided, and that will allow the Spirit to help us better understand truth and avoid the evil around us. It is a big circle.

But when we embrace evil, all of that breaks down and the Spirit’s presence (really, His impact) is limited because we have suppressed/thwarted Him, and we must stand on our own. And the Bible is clear, in a statement of truth to which we must hold fast, that we cannot stand on our own. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). We need Jesus (Romans 6.23).

CONCLUSION

The list of seventeen commands in these eleven verses of 1 Thessalonians 5 (vv. 12-22) are quite evident. As commands, each truly represents a test we need to pass. And, as verses 18 and 19 say, these tests represent a part of God’s will in Christ Jesus, and thus the Holy Spirit is mentioned as one who can and will help us to succeed. Truly, when we review many of these tests, we see similar words that are used in Galatians as related to the Holy Spirit. That passage is Galatians 5.22-23, which contains the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s compare.

The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) is love (c.f. 1 Thessalonians 5.13), joy (c.f. v. 16), peace (c.f. v. 13), patience (c.f. v. 14), kindness (c.f. v. 14, help the weak), goodness (c.f. v. 20, do not despise prophecies – truth), faithfulness (c.f. v. 21, hold fast to what is good), gentleness (c.f. v. 14, encourage the fainthearted), self-control (c.f. v. 22, abstain from every form of evil). Against such things there may not be a law, but with such things we can test ourselves.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

I really wanted to use O for our letter today because passing each test would mean we have Observed or Obeyed God. But the reality is that we cannot pass these tests without God’s help through His Spirit. And we do not receive the gift of the Spirit unless we embrace the truth of our need for Jesus. So, our letter for today is the J for Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Our ability to live according to the unchanging nature of God’s truth is dependent on the presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

QUESTION:  How can we make certain that we, as a church, do not quench the Spirit?

OPPORTUNITY:  Confess to God a desire to know and embrace all of His truths, regardless of the cost, in order to unleash the power of His Spirit in your life and in this church.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN: Take time to evaluate any areas from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 that might quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. Then move from evaluation to acting (LIVE) upon any changes that need to take place.

1 https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-(renal)-failure (accessed October 18, 2019).

2 Ibid.

https://factsandtrends.net/2019/06/11/7-surprising-trends-in-global-christianity-in-2019/ (accessed October 20, 2019).

“Passing the Test (Part 2)” by Pastor Andy Braams

As I mentioned last week, our system this month is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body – particularly, wastes that are filtered out from the blood.

The kidneys are a crucial part of this system. It is their job to filter the blood in your body. We all know that the blood flows through the heart, but actually all of our blood flows through our kidneys several times per day as well. The filters in the kidneys are called nephrons and it is estimated that each of us has about one million of these filters.

The filters collect any waste which is then removed from the body as urine. But the kidneys also ensure that the levels of salt, water, and minerals (i.e. electrolytes) are in balance. If not, the kidneys work to adjust the balance of those items. (1) Source webmd.com

Again, the filters in the kidneys are called nephrons. The name may not be important to us, but their function is critical. These filters test the blood as it passes through the kidneys and determines if it meets the criteria for the body. In other words, these filters and the kidneys as a whole, perform a test on the same blood several times per day and remove any contaminants that would otherwise affect our health.

The Bible also gives us tests that we should seek to pass repeatedly to ensure we are a healthy part of the body of Christ. These tests are not required for salvation – that is, passing these tests does not provide a key for entry into the kingdom of heaven. However, the tests provide a means of helping us know we are living according to the principles of the kingdom.

If God were only concerned about our salvation, then we do not need any part of the New Testament after the first four books. But God wanted to show us how the church spread (Acts), how to live as a member of the kingdom (Romans thru Jude) and what will happen at the end of time (Revelation).

So, it is important to understand that passing one test is critical, and that test relates to our response to what Jesus has done. But once we pass that test, many other tests remain, including the list of tests provided by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. And the eleven verses from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 contain a minimum of seventeen such tests. We looked at the first seven last week. We will cover the next five today and conclude with the last five next week.

BODY

It is always awkward to start a message in the middle of what has happened before, so let me remind us that in the previous sentence Paul has just charged the Thessalonians to admonish the idle (likely for not laboring for the Lord), to encourage those who were fainthearted, to serve those who needed help, and to be patient with everyone. And then, he gives a direct command on our actions, and potentially our attitudes.

The Test of Justice (1 Thessalonians 5.15)               

When people offend us, the human tendency is to want to get even. That is, it is natural to have a thought of retribution. But Paul says that we are not to act naturally; we are to act supernaturally.

Sometimes the offense is not directly against us, it is just how we perceive what happens. Again, consider the previous sentence in Paul’s writing. Perhaps we think less of people (even thinking they are evil) for not doing their fair share (the idle in v 14). Perhaps we do not understand those who are weary (the fainthearted), or we are frustrated with those who might otherwise give up (the weak). And, in turn, we lose our patience, which causes us to respond negatively.

Specifically, Paul says do not repay evil for evil. And, of course, we should not. Jesus has not repaid our sins (i.e. evil against God) by evil; rather, His response was love. But sometimes if we feel slighted by others, or do not understand them, we can convince ourselves they are evil even if they are not, or do not mean to be, or are unaware of what they are doing to us.

In any event, whether the evil is real, or perceived by us, our response is not to be evil in return. This is the test of justice. And to pass that test, we must trust that God will respond in His way, in His time.

The Test of Grace (1 Thessalonians 5.15)

Within the same sentence commanding not to return evil for evil, Paul provides the correct response – we are to seek to do good to everyone, always! Always.

I have preached on the idea of being nice versus being kind many years ago. Being nice is passive; it is not causing trouble. Being kind requires action; it requires us to do something positive for someone else. A mother might tell a toddler to be nice while playing, but kindness is taking the initiative. In this verse it is the doing good to one another.

The first command in this section was to respect others (this could include niceness) and to esteem others in love (that requires an act of kindness). Niceness could be not talking bad about someone, not because you do not want to do so, but because of some inherent respect. Kindness requires more than avoiding unpleasant actions, it requires acting with a positive intent.

You may have seen an example of this difference this past week. Ellen Degeneres was criticized for sitting next to George W. Bush and sharing a laugh at a football game last weekend. Her response this week went viral, and rightfully so. (I wish that we could show the clip!). She basically said that she is friends with a lot of people who may not agree with her, but civility is important. And then her statement, which is pertinent here is, “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone.” That’s a great statement, and it is almost the exact words that God wanted the Thessalonians to hear nearly 2000 years ago, and which have been read since that time.

The question is: will we pass the kindness test? Not because Ellen said it, but because God did.

The Test of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 5.16)

Paul likes this word. Verse 16 has two easily understood words. But living them out is much more difficult. A literal translation from the Greek would say it this way: Be cheerful, every when. I like that. Be cheerful. Every when you can imagine. When life is good. When life is a challenge. When you are well. When you are sick. Every when. Again, much easier said than done.

Why?

Because we are too worried about getting even. We are concerned with being fairness. We are concerned with matters of the world. And so were the people of Thessalonica. Remember, as I said last week, they were concerned that they had missed the return of Jesus. But they had also been heavily persecuted. In fact, Paul left the area because of intense persecution, and likely did so in hopes that the persecution against these new Christians would cease.

But in the midst of all the Thessalonians were facing, Paul says to rejoice – every when. In fact, Paul uses the same two words in Philippians 4.4, but He adds the word for Lord between them. And, let us not forget, he wrote to the church in Phillipi while he was in prison. So he practiced what he preached. Rejoice every when. No matter what, rejoice always!

How can we possibly do that? Well, let us look at the next verse.

The Test of Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17)

It is easiest to rejoice when we take God’s perspective as our own. We do that through prayer. (I have mentioned the book a few times earlier this summer, but I highly recommend the book, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. It is an excellent book on prayer that I recently finished.)

Psalm 37.4 says God will give you the desire of your heart if you delight yourself in the Lord.

Do you know why He will do that? Because if you are delighting yourself in Him, then your thoughts and actions will be in tune with His. God would not deny Himself, so why would He deny those who want what He wants?

Now, of course, Jesus had a special task and certainly He delighted in the Father. And although Jesus asked to be removed from the curse, His delight in the Father included the cross, ultimately, giving Jesus the desire of His heart – the joy of reconciliation with us (Hebrews 12.2).

So, we are to pray – without ceasing. This does not mean that we stop everything we are doing to pray or that we are consciously in a focused moment of prayer every day. What it does mean is that we find ourselves constantly communicating with God. (Again, I encourage you to read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life.)

The Test of Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

The last test for today is the one of giving thanks. It is important to notice the preposition here. Give thanks in everything, not for everything. In everything, means in every circumstance. Even in the worst moments of our lives, we can find reasons for giving thanks. Someone on their deathbed can be thankful for the life s/he lived, for family, friends, something. Someone facing a terminal illness can be thankful that s/he does not have to face it alone or that the medical care being given is helping to manage the process. Someone who loses a job can be thankful for having one in the first place. It might be hard to find an exact something for which to be thankful, but if it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus to do so, and verse 18 says it is, then we must find a reason for giving thanks. Perhaps the greatest reason is knowing that God hears the prayers of His children! That alone is a great reason to give thanks.

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned last week, each of these tests could be a sermon (or a series) unto themselves. Maybe that will happen in the future, but for now, I am simply highlighting the words of Paul and presenting them as tests that each Christ follower will face throughout the lives.

So, which of these tests do you pass? Which of these tests do you fail? What about this church?

It is estimated that as long as 10% of a kidney is functioning, we may be unaware of any issues with our kidneys. (2)

But how many of us would be comfortable knowing that only 10% of our kidneys is functioning properly? We may be able to function, but how well and for how long? Eventually, the body will not be able to function properly.

Likewise, as we think about being the body of Christ, if 10% of the people are doing the majority of the work, then how well can the church function? For how long? Maybe it is better with 20%? But again, if any one part of your body was only functioning at that level, you would be alarmed. And, if all of your body were only functioning at 20%, hospice would be called.

Are we guilty of accepting less from ourselves and our faith? Are we giving Jesus 10% of our income? Of our time? Of our energy? Should He accept as little as 10% after He gave us His all?

The tests we reviewed last week and today (and will finish next week), are just a part of how we can give back to God. It is a test. And He knew that we would fail that test. Thus, God made a way to filter out the problems and make sure that not only do we not waste our lives, but our lives are not a waste in His eyes.

The filter? Jesus!

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

Remember, every ounce of your blood passes through your kidneys multiples times each day. And the kidneys remove what is bad and keeps what is good.

Let’s be thankful that the blood of Jesus covers our sinful blood – our sinful lives. The righteousness of Jesus passes through the filter of God’s judgment on our behalf and makes sure that we are clean and remain a part of the body, after we choose to follow Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Humans are constantly evaluating, but we must make sure to evaluate the right things based upon the right criteria for our evaluations to really make a difference.

QUESTION:  Which areas do you need to improve in order to pass the test?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one area and begin to focus on passing that part of the test.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Write down one thing different you will do each day this week and then commit to doing it every day. If you do, you will be closer to passing the test.

(1)  webmd.com.

(2)  Ibid.

“Passing the Test” (Part 1) by Pastor Andy Braams

Last month, we reviewed the digestive system. This month we move to the system that handles what remains after the digestive system has completed its function. What is left? Waste.

The digestive system extracts any and all nutrients it can from what we eat and drink. And then, the rest that remains is removed from the body as waste. It is the excretory system that handles the waste. Technically, the excretory system relates to fluids and thus the kidneys are key. However, for our purposes, we are going to include all waste which then involves the latter stages of the digestive system (particularly because we had such a short month with that system – 2 messages).

The reality is that all food and drink that enters the body undergoes a form of a test. The digestive system works to break down all that it can from what is ingested and then uses that as fuel to keep the body going. The breakdown of that food and drink is a major purpose of the digestive system.

However, not all of the substance of what is ingested is used (or usable, in some cases). And thus, the body needs a way to remove what is left over. That is, what is not helpful to the body, at that point, is removed by the body in order to keep the body healthy.

Now the reality is that we do not often think about the work that the digestive and excretory system are doing. Of course, we feel the effects and find ourselves making time to allow the waste to pass from our bodies each day. But in the moment, unless we eat something that does not agree with us, we rarely think about the process. And when something does not agree with us, we hope that it passes through our system quickly!

How does this relate to the church?

Well, over time a church takes in many ideas, offers many opportunities, supports many ministries. But it is important to evaluate those ideas, and opportunities, and ministries from time to time to see if they are still good, proper, and necessary. If they are, they may still need to be tweaked. But sometimes it is necessary to purge what is being done in order to do something different, and perhaps even better.

So, the idea this month is that we must test ourselves and the church in order to know how to best move forward. Just like the excretory system works quietly in the background, so do much of the evaluation processes in the church. But sometimes the processes come into focus because of need or because of intention. Right now, during our Sunday night discussions, it is through intention that we are reviewing the processes and determining what can be better and what, if anything, might need to be removed.

But all of that is through the basis of evaluation. And that evaluation begins with us. Fortunately, the Bible says a lot about evaluation. But it usually uses another word – the word test. So, let us see what kind of tests we should consider for ourselves and for the church.

Today’s passage is quite short considering it contains eleven verses. But within those eleven verses, Paul provides several points of reflection. Of course, reflection means that we are thinking or pondering something, and that is really a form of evaluation. And evaluation is another word for test. And, in these few verses, I find seventeen distinct tests, and a minimum of nineteen aspects of those tests. Today, we are going to look briefly at the first seven, and then review the rest over the next week or two.

At the end of each message, we will take time to reflect – that is, to evaluate. We will evaluate ourselves against each item, and then evaluate our church against each item as well. So, let’s begin.

The Test of Respect (1 Thessalonians 5.12)             

To respect is to hold other people with honor. Specifically, Paul write that believers should honor:

      • Those who labor with you
      • Those who are over you
      • Those who admonish you.

Do we respect others? Do we honor the people with who we work? That could mean taking extra work when someone else is struggling. It could mean not talking bad about them when they are always late.

Do we respect our leaders? Do we honor those who try to get more out of us than we think we have within us? Do we honor those who try to move an organization forward rather than allowing it to slip into oblivion?

Do we respect our managers?  Do we honor those who push us even when we think the demands are unfair? Do we stick up for those people that everyone else criticizes because they are trying to follow the guidelines that have been established?

The reality is that respecting others is often more difficult than we might believe. But Paul writes that we have a choice (we ask you), but we should to respect others.

The Test of Love (1 Thessalonians 5.13)

Not only are we to respect others, but we are to love them, in part, because of the work that is being done. It is hard to love others if we do not respect them. That is, when we think we are so much better than others, we de-value them and when we do that, it becomes more difficult to love them.

In our Sunday night discussions, it has been decided that love should be one of the values of Fairfax Baptist Church. We will not love perfectly, but we can learn to love others more and better. And to fulfill the Great Commandment, we must do so.

The Test of Peace (1 Thessalonians 5.13)

Peace is something that is missing from the lives of most people today. We can look at the news and see a world that lacks peace with each other. But the bigger challenge is often finding peace with ourselves. (And, of course, if we are not at peace with ourselves, we will often struggle to be at peace with others.)

This peace comes from being content, and that contentment often comes from having time. The Bible tells us that God is a God of peace (Romans 15.33), and that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6). So, if we believe in God and claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, then why do we lack the peace we seek?

Honestly, it is because we have lost respect for others and love for others. And a part of this loss of respect is because we have made ourselves too busy to stop and consider the value of others instead of just thinking about how people might benefit us!

The Test of Admonishment (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

Remember, that Paul has just said to honor those who admonish. It was not hypothetical. He was about to suggest that the idle needed to be admonished or exhorted. Basically, that means to give someone a kick in the pants when they need it.

In this case, the people had become idle in their faith because they believed they had already missed the return of Jesus. Some in our day become idle because they give up and go to the top of a mountain to wait for Jesus. The truth is that neither reason for idleness is valid. The Bible does not say we are to become idle. In fact, we are told to work while we can because a time is coming when we will no longer be able to work (John 9.4). And the work we are to do, is to work for the Lord.

The Test of Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

The world can be divided into multiple distinctions. Good versus bad. Strong versus weak. Big versus little. Some of these groupings matter more than others, but one grouping of people that is important is those who are encouraging and those who are discouraging.

I am sure you can tell a difference in your own attitude when you have been around one type of person or the other. And, of course, this verse is speaking to people of the church – and we are to be encouraging, particularly to the fainthearted. But the question is not just about whether the church is encouraging, it is whether you are!

Now, like the previous point, the fainthearted here are those who have grown so because of a misunderstanding about the return of Jesus. That is the primary purpose of this letter. But people today misunderstand the Bible and have grown faint of heart as well. Maybe that is you. Maybe you need the encouragement. If so, those who can encourage should help you, but if they do not know you need encouragement, how can they give it?

So, if you are an encourager, and I hope you are, we need to be intentional about giving it out – abundantly. And that means that we need to be around people who encourage us because we cannot give what we do not have. But the reality is that if we have Jesus, we should be able to encourage others in ways that truly matter.

The Test of Service (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

One of the greatest means of encouragement can come through service. In verse 14, the text says, “help the weak.” How we might help could bring hundreds, if not thousands, of different responses. But helping requires serving.

So, who needs to be helped? Perhaps it is someone sitting near you right now. Perhaps it is someone who lives near you. Perhaps the person you know is in need of help is a family member, a friend, or maybe they are a stranger. The Bible only says to help the weak.

Is the person physically weak, then serve them with your physical strength? Are they emotionally weak, then be an encouragement to them? Are they spiritually weak? Provide some truth for them while loving them through your service.

I am going to provide a thank you video to the church once the system is working again, but I recently had a weakness exposed. I have mentioned this weakness countless times, but Greg and Leon saw it firsthand. The weakness – a skill. The skill, carpentry work. Between Greg, Leon, Roger, and Shannon, with some help from Susan and me, the parsonage has a new room downstairs. You can come see it at the open house in December. But without the strength of others serving me in my weakness, the room would not have been built. But because it is built, I am now able to better serve others in my strength (teaching).

The Test of Patience (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

The final test for today is the test of patience. This one, quite frankly, is challenging for most of us. Particularly, if you are like me, and are more task-oriented than you are people-oriented. It is like Rick often says, when I ask for patience, I say to God, “Give me patience and give it to me now!”

Now, the reality is we must be careful to ask for patience. Because God answers that kind of prayer by putting us in positions to learn patience rather than just waving a magic wand and saying, “There, you are now patient.”

One of the best things about Atchison County is that we do not have stop lights. I love that. And because of that, when I go to KC or Omaha, I actually do find myself more patient when waiting at a light because I do not have to wait when driving up here. But a few weeks ago, I had to wait for about 15 cars (15!, no exaggeration!) at the T of US 59 and US 136. (I started counting somewhere around 7 or 8 and counted at least that many more because I had never waited that long anywhere in this county.) I needed patience and did not want it. And, as we are now in the midst of harvest season, I need to remind myself to leave several minutes earlier when travelling because I am certain to be behind an implement of some kind and that will require patience.

But again, the Bible here is speaking of a particular group of people. The text says to be patient with them all. Who are the all?

All people are those who are idle, those who need encouragement, and those who are weak. Those who need to be admonished, and those who may admonish you. Those with whom you work, and those who are your boss. In other words, all people.

And why should we be patient with them? Well, because we respect them. Ok. Because we love them? Sure. But also because we are to do to others what we would have them do to us. That is, if we want others to be patient with us, then we should be patient with them. In fact, it may be our example of patience that allows them to learn what being patient really means.

CONCLUSION

We have now briefly reviewed seven of the seventeen tests that Paul provides in this short passage. Passing any of these tests does not make a person a Christian, but for the Christian, improving in each area should be a goal. And, for any areas where we may find ourselves failing, we should make whatever changes are necessary in order to begin passing that test.

So, take a moment and do a quick response on each of these seven.

Which of these tests do you pass?

Which of these tests do you fail?

The goal is to make an evaluation of our church, but we are the church. And, if we are failing as individuals, then we must seek ways help one another pass, so we can all collectively pass as well.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

The O is for Observe because of Jesus words that we are to make disciples, in part, by teaching them to observe all that He has commanded. However, in our Sunday night discussions, it was determined that the word Obedience would clarify the idea. So, beginning next week, we will shift from Observe to Obedience. As Jesus said in Matthew 7, those that hear and obey will be considered as wise, those who hear and do obey will be considered as fools. So, let us be obedient to the words of Scripture. Let us observe.

But, of course, the big test that we all face is the one God will ask us about His Son. That question will be something like: What did you do with my Son? If you do not answer that question correctly, you fail the test, regardless of how many other answers you may get correct. And some will say that if we get that answer correct, it does not matter if we get the others correct. In one sense, yes. But if that were really true, then why does Paul have to write to the churches about how to live according to the faith that they already have?

So, we must know the right answer to the question, but we must live out our lives as proof of that answer. If you do not know the answer to the question, or if you are unsure, today is the day you can move from failing to passing.

PRINCIPLE:  Life is full of tests, but we must learn to evaluate what God says is important for each of us individually, and thus, all of us collectively.

QUESTION:  Which areas do you need to improve in order to pass the test?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one area and begin to focus on passing that test this week.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Write down one thing different you will do each day this week and then commit to doing it every day. If you do, you will be closer to passing that test.

Renewal Update by Pastor Andy Braams

This past Sunday we had a guest speaker speak from Matthew 6.19-21 and the intersection of our hearts and our treasures. Thus, I am going to use this week’s blog to provide an update on the renewal we began a couple of months ago.

You may recall that our church had a series of services at the end of July that were labeled as Renewal Services. At the time, I tried to communicate that the purpose of the services was not the services themselves; rather, they were to stimulate us to be renewed. That renewal is currently happening through a series of discussions on Sunday nights.

We began by establishing our values. The discussion on these values took place over a couple of different weeks. After listing several items that are important, and then working to define specific terms, the following statement represents the draft of what will be shared with the church in the next couple of months.

Fairfax Baptist Church places Jesus, the Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, at the center of our focus. Placing such a high value on Jesus, we will focus on:

      • Following Jesus and living by faith (Matthew 4.19)
      • Loving God and our neighbor (Mark 12.28-31)
      • Making Disciples (Matthew 28.18-20)

by prayer (Luke 11.2-4) and obedience to Him (John 14.15), based upon the Word of God (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

These values represent the core of what any believer should do. We must now give them “legs” as we determine how to live (and specifically minister) according to these values.

The next major step was to evaluate our vision statement. The statement that is being considered is common, but it is simple and can be easily understood. That statement: To Know Christ and Make Him Known.

Again, a part of the appeal of this statement is in its simplicity. But it is also measurable (more so than our current statement). We can easily determine if a particular ministry opportunity to meets one of those two criteria. Does the opportunity allow us to better know Christ? Or does it allow us to make Him known?

These two items (the values and the vision) have not been officially approved by the church, but they represent a good start to defining who we will be in the future and the impact that definition will have on our ministry.

So, the process of renewal has started. Yes, we are still in the early stages, but the discussions have been energetic. To me, that represents the desire to do more. That was the goal of the renewal. But the real fruit will be seen in the days to come.

“Indigestion” by Pastor Andy Braams

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” by Pastor Andy Braams

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