“More Than an Optimist” by Pastor Andy Braams (Hub Sunday Message)

Most every Hub Sunday, we have a focus on missions and/or serving in one way or another. We have talked about places we have served, places we could serve, heard from others who have served, etc. We take up a small collection each month on this day to send to a couple of pastors in Africa. Last month, we had a family here from India to discuss the opportunities for ministry there.

And, amidst everything that has happened in 2020, these special services are a welcome bit of news and provide encouragement for many who hear these messages. A constant barrage of bad news can lead to extreme pessimism. And, as I have said before, we become the average of the five people we are around the most. In a time where contact with others is more limited than it has been since the invention of the automobile, for many, the five people are all news anchors and they paint as pessimistic of a picture as is possible.

But we need to do more than not be pessimistic. We can move past pessimism and never truly reach optimism. The gap that lies between is often called realism. The idea of being a realist may sound better, but realism is really just pessimism-lite. Being a realist means that you don’t want to be labeled a pessimist, but you do not want to be let down, so you do not allow yourself to be an optimist.

But my point here is not about pessimism, realism, or even optimism. Today, I want to share an idea that is greater than all three. And, yes, the idea of faith is at the core, but I want to re-claim another term. And by re-claim, I mean I want to return the term to its biblical meaning, not what it has come to mean in our culture. That term is hope.

As I have said before, hope is more than a wish, but that is the way we use it. I hope the Chiefs beat the Ravens tomorrow night. I hope I do not get COVID. I hope my boss gives me a raise. Whatever. In each instance, the word “hope” in those sentences is really just a wish. But real hope is a certainty that is based upon faith.

Let me share two verses that point to this truth.

Hebrews 11.1 is the verse that “defines” faith. The verse says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So, in a verse that uses the terms faith and hope, we also see the words assurance and conviction. Thus, what is hoped for, is not some wish for these things, but a conviction that more exists than we can see, and we are eagerly desiring these things.

The other verse is about Jesus and He is equated to being our ultimate hope. The verse is Titus 2.13, which reads, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,…” That is, our hope is in Jesus and the promise of His return which will set everything straight.

So, hope and faith are directly intertwined. And as I have said many times this year, faith requires obedience. I have been harping on this point in some ways since we studied the book of James back in the fall of 2012 (per James 1.22) and much moreso since we concluded the series on the Sermon on the Mount in May of 2018 with the words of Jesus about the wise and the foolish being distinguished by whether or not they were obedient to the teachings of Jesus.

So, to go back to the beginning of this message, we have heard a lot of talk about missions and service, but talk can be cheap (and perhaps never cheaper than it is today). But Jesus did not just say to “Listen to my words,” He also said, “Follow Me.” In other words, do what you are to do, as I do what I am to do.

Let’s put this into the context of a couple of stories from the life of Jesus. These stories may be separated by a couple of pages in the Bible, but they are in the same town – and that town is the basecamp for much of Jesus’ earthly ministry – the town called Capernaum.

The first story I will mention actually happened second chronologically. It is the story of a woman who had the issue of bleeding for 12 years. We read about her in Mark 5 and in Luke 8. As I was thinking through this story this week, I had a thought that never occurred to me before, and I will share it with you below. (I expand her story on this week’s videos). But this woman had every reason to be pessimistic. She spent twelve years not being able to control her bleeding, not being able to find a doctor to cure her, not having any money left because she had to pay for her treatment, not having any family wanting to be around her because not only was she unclean (as the Jews considered her based upon OT commands), but anything she touched, including her furniture, would be unclean as well. Maybe at the beginning she was optimistic about being cured, but that optimism quickly turned to realism (at least), and eventually pessimism. But here she was, and maybe it was one last gasp, but Jesus said her faith is what made her well. And, as I said a moment ago, faith and hope are intertwined, so amidst the pessimism, she mustered up the courage to hope. And that hope led her to take action which allowed her to be healed. She was healed not because she wished it to be true, but because she did something about it. She risked everything to try to touch Jesus.

The second story I will share happened a short time earlier. We do not know how much earlier, but it was likely a fairly short period of time – maybe even just a few weeks, or even less. This story is no less miraculous from our vantage point. We find this in Luke 5.17-26 (also Mark 2.1-10). Please take a moment to read from Luke 5.17-26.

Jesus was teaching in a home and the people were crowded all around to listen. The Pharisees and other religious leaders were there as well. And four guys show up carrying a mat with their friend lying in it. They want to get to Jesus so he can heal their friend. Long story, short, their friend is healed. But let’s explore this story further in light of hope.

<Please note that I am going to take a little license with this story to suggest what may have happened that was not included in these verses, but which could have happened.>

If the friends had been pessimists, imagine their thinking:

“Jesus is too busy. He is not healing today, it is a day for teaching. He always draws a big crowd anyway so there will be too many people are around him, we have no way to get through.”

If they were optimists, their thinking might have been:

“Today is the day. I think you are going to be healed today! Just keep thinking positively. It’s gonna happen.”

See, the pessimists would not have even taken the guy. Pessimists do nothing because “it can’t get any better than it is, so why try?” They want to complain about the need to make something better, but do nothing to make it happen.

The optimists are sure (or at least wishful) the man will get better, but many optimists are simply about wanting things to get better (and even believing things might get better), more than they are in being willing to work to make the situation better.

And that is where hope is important. Again, the hope I speak of is not a wish, it is a conviction based upon faith that things can be better. But the reason that hope is better than optimism is that those who have authentic hope are willing to take action to make something happen that otherwise is not likely to happen.

So, let’s reimagine that morning.

The people know Jesus is in town. The friends have talked about the possibility of having their paralyzed friend healed, but one is a pessimist, and on the day they have the chance to go, he starts making excuses and has one of the others nearly convinced. (The second friend is a realist!). But the other two are more optimistic and one of them says, “You may be right, but let’s try it for the sake of our buddy.”

So, they arrive at the home where Jesus was teaching. And it is packed. Standing room only does not begin to describe the crowd. So, the realist says, “Well, we tried. We came. Buddy, we brought you. It was a good idea, but it just wasn’t mean to be. Maybe we can find Jesus when He is walking through town on another day. But, at least we tried.”

That convinces the pessimist who already had determined this would be their fate. One of the optimists has lost a little of his gusto. But one hasn’t. And it only takes one. He looks around and sees his three friends with dejected looks on their face. He looks at the friend on the mat and sees how disappointed he is. After all, this was going to “the day!”

So, he buys himself some time. He suggests that they wait for a few minutes to catch their breath. They have just carried this man. And the story does not say that they were even from Capernaum. They could have carried him several feet or several miles. So, the one who is still optimistic asks them to wait for a few minutes. This gives him time to determine a plan.

He disappears for a few minutes.

He slithers through the crowd and finds the stairway to the roof of the house. (Many 1st Century homes had this feature because it allowed people to find a cooler spot in the evening than being inside their home.) He goes up the stairs and sees what it would take to remove a portion of the roof. As he climbs back down, he estimates about where Jesus is standing in relation to the roof above Him.

When he gets back to his friends, he says, “Ok, are you ready?” They pull themselves together, thinking he means it is time to take their friend home. They are still disappointed, but console themselves because they had tried. Then, the optimist says, “I found a way to get up on the roof. We can tear out part of the roof and then lower him down to be right at the feet of Jesus. Then our buddy can be healed.”

“WHAT!?! You want to do what!? Are you crazy?”

“No, it will work. I have a couple of people guarding the stairs so no one else goes up there that way we have the room and the time we need.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely! We brought our friend this far, didn’t we? Why not take him the rest of the way? We promised him we would give him a chance to be healed, and we have come this far. But I didn’t come this far to quit! Guys, we can do this! Are you with me?”

The paralyzed man is starting to get a little excited and says, “Can we just give it a try?”

The other three look at one another and say, “Why not?” But the pessimist says, “I am not paying for the roof if we get sued!”

So, they carry him up the stairs, tear a hole in the roof, lower the man down, and the rest is history.

All because one man had hope.

Please realize that it was Jesus who healed the man. But it was the hope of the men (or maybe even just one man originally) that took the initiative to get the friend in front of Jesus, whatever it took. Jesus said it was the faith of the friends that healed this man. He said it was the faith of the woman with the issue of blood that healed her. But faith requires obedience. And hope requires action. In both cases, it was hope that led to action – action that was in obedience to their belief – and that belief allowed for a miracle.

CONCLUSION

Ladies and gentlemen, hope requires us to keep acting. It requires us to keep going when others have quit and many more want to quit. The pessimists will whine and complain. The optimists wish for good things to happen, but are not always willing to do what it takes. But those with hope – even one with hope – can change the life of one other person, and maybe change the lives of many other people.

How many people have been encouraged by the story of this man’s healing through the years? How many people have gained courage to help someone else because of the faith and the hope of these four men? And, here’s the part I had not considered before that I promised to tell you, did hearing of this man’s healing provide a return of the hope for that woman who may have lost all hope before hearing the story?

Again, both miracles happened in the same town, and likely within just a few hundred feet of one another. So, that is quite possible. I will share more about the town tomorrow and the woman’s story over the next few days via video.

For now, just consider how many people, and in particular women, have been encouraged by her story down through the centuries?

In both of these healings, it was not enough to simply believe something could happen. No, faith requires obedience. Faith leads to action. And hope inspires that action.

So, yes, many people are pessimistic. Some are optimistic. But we need to be people of hope and that requires us to be people who act – living by faith in obedience to Jesus.

So, on this Hub Sunday, in September 2020, what is your faith calling you to do? What hope do you have for tomorrow? What can you do to encourage someone with the hope that you have? We simply have no idea how much impact a little hope can have. But if we act with intentionality (moving beyond good intentions), our hope can inspire others that we may never know, in places we may never visit, for years after our life is through.

So, put away the pessimism and even leave behind the optimism. Choose HOPE and live in obedience in order to make that hope a reality.

“A Vision for Tomorrow” by Pastor Andy Braams

On the last Sunday of each month, we typically take a break from our current series to talk about what we might do as a church, and as a people to truly make this church a hub for ministry. The building, so to speak, is the hub, and we are the spokes that go out, as the church, to live to bring glory to God.

And although the effects of church have changed greatly over the past four months, the essence of the church has never changed. And yet, even discounting COVID, many have left the church, left this church, for a variety of reasons.

And, truth be told, a part of the reason is me. And a part of the reason is us.

Perhaps if we had been more faithful they had not gone out from us. Of those whose names remain on the roll – how is it with us? And what are we doing? Some have moved away into other states or counties. The have been gone – some of them – for years; their names remain upon our rolls as members – to swell the numbers thereof. In reality they are not members. As to the life they are living, God knows. Some of us yet residing here want ourselves members. But we never, or scarcely ever, attend the services of the church. We manifest no interest in its welfare. We take no part in its work. The Sunday school, the prayer meeting, have no existence in our lives. We are strangers to self-denial and sacrifice. And some, a few, are toiling on, as best we can, perhaps; our prayers cold and almost lifeless; yet God in infinite mercy, we trust hears and our answers. Our works imperfect and inefficient, yet the loving Father in infinite mercy as before accepts and blesses to the account of His beloved Son…. (1)

Those words were written about this church in October 1900. They are still true today. But this church overcame the challenges then, and I believe we can overcome the challenges now. How did they do it? I am sure a part of the reason has to do with love.

But before I get to our primary text in Colossians 3, I want to move well ahead in Romans – to chapter 14. We will get to Romans 14 soon enough (next summer?), but while the issues Paul wrote about were different, the premise of his argument is the same. And the premise of that argument weighs heavy on the church today.

Christians within the same church were arguing over what they could eat and when they should worship. Paul says the strong Christian should exercise their freedom knowing they can eat anything and can worship any day of the week. But the weaker Christian feels bound to tradition and thus will not eat meat and must worship on a particular day.

The stakes for the church in Rome were immense. In today’s terms, we would likely be talking about the possibility of a church split. Now, when doctrine is involved, it is necessary to hold the line and if that creates a divide in the church because some do not believe according the to the teachings of the Bible, well, that is an issue that must be addressed.

And frankly, the weaker Christians in Rome (in this case, mostly the Jews) had a point. God said to keep the Sabbath and restricted His people from eating certain types of food. That information was in their “Bible” – they did not have the NT yet, and perhaps only one or two of the Gospels had been written, and they would likely not have had any way to know all of the teachings of Jesus.

So, Paul wrote that the stronger Christians, those who exercised freedom in their faith on what they ate (meat) and when the worshipped (any and every day), should not cause a fellow believer to stumble. Read Romans 14.14-16.

Don’t take verse 16 out of context. Some things are evil. Eating certain types of food is not. But if we feel free to eat something and doing so may cause another to have doubts about faith (in general, or in specifics), then we should refrain. And it is precisely our freedom that allows us to refrain.

Notice verse 20. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”

Let me update that to our world in July of 2020: “Do not, for the sake of wearing a mask, destroy the work of God.”

If you saw my Friday preview video, I touched on this, so I will not spend much time here. But let’s face it, in our world today we will argue about anything, and much of what we argue over relates in some way to our freedoms. But we have a false understanding of freedom. Or, at least, most do not have a biblical understanding of freedom.

As Paul wrote in Romans 14.1, these are matters of opinion. All of the individuals involved were living faithfully to the Lord (as they saw it, and Paul did not rebuke them for that thought here). They were dedicated to the Lord, and nothing Paul mentioned here was breaking any commands. It was opinion.

Thus, to be free biblically, is not to feel you must exercise your beliefs, if it causes hurt to another. In fact, to take it further, Paul says to show true freedom is to not exercise your beliefs if it causes someone else to stumble in their faith.

In other words, rather than exercising your beliefs (i.e. what you believe are your rights), exercise love.

And that brings us to our text for today in Colossians 3.12-16. I am not going to exposit the full text, but I want to highlight what we can do. However, let me share that this chapter begins with the command to seek what is above (that is, in the heavenly realms) and to focus our minds on living with a kingdom mindset, rather than an earthly one.

To do that, Paul lists five sins that should be put to death and six others that should be set aside, some of which might be pertinent for our discussion today. But I want to focus on the positives beginning in verse 12.

As God’s chosen people, who are holy and dearly loved, we are to:

Have compassionate hearts. This begins towards those in the church. The word compassion means to share in the suffering. Suffering can take many forms, but for now just think of the mental suffering people are experiencing due to uncertainty and doubt. We need to set aside our “rights” to help those who are suffering more than we are.

Have kindness. I have shared many times before that the words kind and nice are different. Nice is passive. We can do nothing and be considered nice. Kindness requires action. We must choose to be kind.

Have humility. As it relates to expressing our Christian freedom, here is the hammer. The greatest passage in the Bible about humility is Philippians 2.5-11. Jesus could have demanded His rights as the perfect Son of God, but in His humility, He took time to care for us. We are to have humility as well, loving and caring for others.

Have meekness. I like the definition of controlled power. If meekness is controlled power, then we have the power to do what we want, but we can choose not to exercise that power if holding back will benefit others. That is to live in true freedom.

Have patience. Well, our patience is being tested during this season. But it is showing us that we are not in control – God is. We may not know when this challenge will end (can we be sure it will?), but God is still out in front of this. Maintaining a larger perspective (Colossians 3.1-2) will help us be patient ourselves and can allow us to show patience to others.

Bear with one another. This command is not about others bearing with you, it is about you bearing with others. Yes, that should go both ways. But we cannot control if people will bear burdens with us. And again, this relates to freedom. We have the opportunity to bear or not to bear – regardless of what others choose. But do we do so?

Forgive each other. Uh hum. Church? Do you want to be free? Forgive! When we don’t forgive, we are the ones who are trapped. A lot of times other people do not even know they have offended us – and yet we hold a grudge. That is imprisonment. Forgive and be free.

Put on love.

That is really the essence isn’t it? To love someone is to receive them or to accept them. To do that requires not only us to exercise freedom, but to allow others to do the same. Again, Paul is not talking about sin. Sin should be confronted, but many of the matters we make a big deal about (like whether or not to wear masks) are not sinful. And some that are inherently sinful (racism) get little attention in many churches.

Ultimately, Paul says we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. That word rule has the idea of an umpire making a call in baseball. That is, a pitch is a ball or a strike. A runner is safe or out. Etc. The idea of being in the middle does not exist. The same is true here – Christ either rules or He doesn’t. We are to make the choice to allow Him to rule.

CONCLUSION

So, is the peace of Christ ruling in your heart?

Now, having Christ’s peace does not mean everything is perfect. It does not mean that we do not struggle in life, with people, etc. It does not mean we will always get along. But, if we are to love others, then we focus on forgiveness, and patience, and meekness, and kindness, etc. We need to have conversations with people to try to understand their perspective (bearing one another’s burdens) rather than just thinking we are always right (i.e. we need humility).

So, on this Hub Sunday, what can we do?

Well, if you have watched my videos over the past few months, I have suggested that we need to do, or maybe that is be, M.O.R.E. Let me use that idea as it relates to Colossians 3.

We need to be:

MOTIVATED. We need to be motivated to love our neighbors within and without the church.

OBSERVANT. We need to be observant of the needs around us in order to know who has burdens, what burdens they have, and how we can help bear them.

RESPONSIVE. When we know what others need, we need to lovingly respond. Perhaps the response can be made by one person, perhaps it takes the entire church, or a combination of the churches.

ENGAGED. This last word is the difference maker. We can have proper motivation. We can see what is going on around us. We can make plans to respond, or even begin to respond. But if we are not engaged, then what does it matter? Being engaged is the difference between having good intentions and being intentional.

Church, if we are going to be a church that brings glory to God, then we must be intentional. We must do, and be, more.

Let me end with a reminder. Early this year, before COVID, I asked us all to consider the following question: Who’s Your One?

Who is that one person for whom you will pray, for whom you will love, for whom you want them to either know Christ or to have that person return to faithfully following Him?

As I mentioned then, I am not asking you to even talk to them – yet, at least not about that. If God wants you to do so, by all means, do so. But based upon today’s message, I am simply asking you to do a little bit M.O.R.E. and love them.

A day will be coming, and reasonably soon, that we will have a conversation with them and that we will invite them to church. But for now, it is simply a matter of being motivated, being observant, being responsive, and beginning to be engaged – all for the purpose of love.

Because to truly love is to be free. And as we love others, we can help them to be free as well.

So, who is God calling you to love – and specifically, to love freely? That is, Who’s your one?

As you consider your one, let me read the remainder of the paragraph from RM Rhodes wrote. May this paragraph be an encouragement for all of us to do the work God has for us to do.

Some of us whose names remain, with tottering limbs and stooping forms are nearing the western horizon of life, looking forward with some degree of anxiety, without the sense of fear or dread, to release from life’s toils and cares and burdens. Earth has lost its charms. Its pleasures, its pursuits, its ambitions have all passed away. Waiting – patiently waiting – the summons, “Child, come home.” Not only has earth lost its charms; but the grave has lost its dread. In the bosom of mother earth there is sweet repose for the weary body. In the arms of the loving Father there is heaven for the tried spirit. In the coming of the blessed Christ there is reunion of the body and soul glorious, incorruptible and immortal. (2)

(1) Elder R. M. Rhodes (two-time leader of the church – excerpt from History of the Baptist Church of Fairfax, probably written in October 1900. Copied verbatim, including punctuation.

(2) This part was the remainder of the paragraph.

“Every Color, Every Race” by Pastor Andy Braams

I don’t need to tell you what is happening in the world today. But this week, both today, and in my daily videos this week, I want to share a different perspective than what is reported through most media outlets. COVID has dominated most of the news for the past three months, but race relations are heated – and America’s issues are mild compared to India and China or North and South Korea. We are on the brink of a nuclear war due to different ideologies among different types of people.

But what is closest to home are the demonstrations and riots that have affected many areas of our country. First, let me say that I do not believe the pulpit is to be a place for politics. But I do not believe the pulpit can ignore political happenings. The pulpit is a place to proclaim the Word of the Lord. But God’s Word is sufficient to deal with all of life’s moral issues, and those moral issues largely define our political landscape today. So, this is not a political message, although some may hear it that way. This is a message of reconciliation, which is, and has been, God’s central aim for mankind since He asked Adam, “Where are you?” in Genesis 3.

I want to also make clear the I do not believe in a social gospel. I do not believe that the gospel is to primarily focus on the social needs of others. But the gospel certainly is to address the needs of others, and those needs do include social needs and issues. The gospel is all encompassing. It must be – it is the Good News.

And ultimately that Good News boils down to God making a way for us to be reconciled with Him. Ultimately, the reconciliation that so many desire is not possible on this earth because people reject Jesus. To be fully reconciled with one another means we must be reconciled with God through Jesus. But even with that being the case, for those who claim to know Christ, an attempt at reconciliation must be evident in our lives with others whether they are Christian or not.

So, how can we make a path towards reconciliation possible?

Well, the answers are complex. But one truth is certain, without God it will be impossible. And even with God, both sides will have to listen to each other.

Take a moment to read Ephesians 2.11-22.

This passage states that two groups of people were the recipients of the letter. One group was the chosen group (the preferred group) – that is, the Jews. The others were called the “uncircumcision.” That is, they were the unclean. Paul also states that the second group were outsiders as they were considered to be separated from Christ, having no part in the promise of God, and indeed, having no hope or even an opportunity to know God (v. 12).

In other words, one side was very racist. You were a Jew or you were nothing. That belief was not Paul’s when he wrote Ephesians, but it certainly would have been a part of his belief at one time as a prominent Pharisee. So, Paul is proof, people can change.

Paul’s writing reveals that Jesus’ death made the two one. Jew and Gentile together. The dividing wall of hostility was obliterated – not by man’s doing, but by God’s doing through the sacrifice of Jesus (v. 14). Paul goes on to say that the result is one new man – again Jew and Gentile as one instead of two (v. 15), reconciling both together, thus killing the hostility (v. 16). That is, instead of killing each other (literally or figuratively with words), those who chose Christ were now bound together with Jesus, who is the foundation (vv. 20-22) supporting it all.

Thus, to be racist is to be against Christ. We can either be one in Christ, or we are not a part of Christ. Those are not my words; those words are the implications of what Paul has written.

Like the people of Ephesus, Philippi, and Rome, etc., we face similar issues and hostilities today. The difference is that we see it on the news day after day. But Paul knew something that we need to keep in mind as well: making a statement is one thing; making it a reality is another.

Thus, Paul writes to the churches. And the dominant theme of his message is this – love. He tells church after church to get along, and make love the centerpiece (see, for instance, Colossians 3.14) because God has loved us. So, let me quickly give a few ideas about love in the context of the racial tensions we face today.

Love Requires Us to Listen to One Another

Black lives matter. Yes, white (and all) lives matter as well, but white lives have not generally been in question, and it does not help the conversation at this moment. That said, I do not endorse the organization Black Lives Matter. It has many beliefs I cannot support. But I fully believe that black lives matter. But to prove that we must listen. I must listen. And I must learn. Wrongs are being committed in the present, but wrongs have been committed in the past. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” You and I are not directly responsible for the actions of the past, but we must listen to the concern in this moment. However, as Lamentations 5.7 says “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their inequities.” So, until we listen, we will likely not be heard. In the minds of many, whites are the only ones who have ever been heard. And the legacy of this country is that many whites have suppressed blacks (e.g. slavery and restricted rights), and reds (e.g. Trail of Tears), and yellows (internment camps), etc. So, we must start by listening and acknowledging one another.

And let’s face it, the Bible has been used as a defense. Slave owners have long used the Bible to justify slavery. But somehow the Golden Rule was overlooked – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Note for our sakes today, it does not say, do unto others as they have done to you! So, yes, slavery was mentioned in the Bible. But so is love – and love is mentioned far more!

Love Requires Us to Empathize With One Another

Why should we listen? Because of the pain. I can tell you the names of someone (or of many) who have sat in nearly every room in this church and shared their pain with me. The pain of teenagers, the pain of grieving families, the pain of a person or of couples trying to salvage their marriage, the pain of struggling with various types of addictions and sin, and the pain of those who have berated (and spread rumors about me) because of some pain that was gnawing at them. I have also sat in some living rooms and kitchens and on porches and listened to your pain. We all have experienced pain and we need somewhere to turn.

And I have even heard the pain of two black men here. One shared it in this room. Another shared it after he left this room. One was Linus, who shared about the pain he had for the lost people in his native Kenya. But the other, which happened a few years prior to that, was Ayo, from Nigeria, who shared the pain he felt the last time he preached here. Many of you remember that day. For those who do not, please watch this week’s Friday Preview on the church’s YouTube channel (search Fairfax MO Baptist Church).

When Ayo told me his story, we were just getting onto 59 Hwy for me to take him back to KC, I laughed. I mean, that wouldn’t happen here would it? Could it?

But it wasn’t funny. In that moment Ayo did not know what to expect. It was not funny to him. It was serious – literally, his life, or at least his ambitions, and seeing his family again all hung in the balance.

Ayo was still a bit rattled when he told me what had happened some 15-20 minutes after we left the church. And what did I do, I laughed. Not loudly. It was more like a chuckle, and knowing me, when I laugh like that, it is barely audible. But the situation was serious to Ayo. I had heard his words, but I had not truly listened. That is not empathy. Empathy requires a level of understanding, and I did not show any understanding because I had not truly listened. And that is a big part of the problems in our world today – no one wants to listen. We must listen to understand. And we must begin to understand in order to show empathy.

But love requires us to do more than acknowledge others and have empathy; love requires us to act.

Love Requires Us to Act For One Another

Stories of pain and stories of fear require us to listen. Sometimes that is all we can do in the moment. But listening is the place to start when there is pain. We listen. We learn. We empathize as best we can. But if that is all we do, then we have likely done too little. We may be filled with good intentions, but as you have repeatedly heard me say this year, good intentions mean nothing. Too many graves are filled with people who had good intentions, but the intentions were buried with them, and therefore, so was the goodness. We must move from having good intentions to being intentional.

Sure, sometimes we may be able to do little in the moment. I cannot bring back a loved one. I cannot make the physical pain of abuse disappear. I cannot make the emotional pain of so many disappear. But listening, really listening can help.

However, most of the time, something else can be done – at least, eventually. We may act too quickly and do the wrong thing, so that is why it is important to listen, but we must do more than listen when action must be taken.

One action that may not be enough, but is always a good place to start is to say, “I’m sorry.” That is what I did to Ayo that day. I laughed because I did not understand. Effectively, I dismissed his feelings – I dismissed his fear. The first step towards making that right was to apologize. It was a simple act, but he knew it was authentic. We talked more about the issue, and why it was so troubling for him, for several miles. See, the issue was that officers in full dress enter churches in Nigeria. And fully-armed soldiers in northern Nigeria enter churches to kill the people who are meeting. That was Ayo’s context. It did not make sense to me, but that is because I had not fully acknowledged him by listening to him. Therefore, I had not yet been able to show empathy. But after I began to truly listen, my understanding began to change.

Incidentally, a friend of mine and I were supposed to go to Nigeria last summer (I was supposed to fly to Nigeria from Kenya). I was supposed to go this summer before a few issues came up (and then COVID really shot any plans down). But the reason I did not go last year was because of turmoil in the area and Ayo said, “You are from America, and you are white. That will make you a target. They will take you as a hostage if we go to the villages. So, you will go from the airport to our church and stay there until you are ready to go back to the airport to leave.” But then it got worse, and he said not to come. That is why I didn’t go last year. Even knowing that gives me a slightly better understanding of what African Americans in this country might face. Certainly, I cannot relate overall, but it moves the meter a few inches towards understanding and empathy, which eventually will reflect in love.

Ayo trusted me when I brought him to Fairfax. I must trust him if I am able to go to Nigeria. That trust requires us to act in the best interest of the other. That action is the evidence of love.

CONCLUSION

So, where do we go from here?

Well, let’s start with one step: get rid of all of the labels. As I mentioned when preaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan last year, “We cannot love the people we label. We will not label the people we love.”

Labels bring judgment. And judgment brings oppression. I am not suggesting that you or I (or anyone) is to accept everything that happens. But when we label people, it is not healthy. Church, that cannot be us. We must listen. We must love. We must act.

If the church does not get this right, then how can we expect the rest of society to do so?

Right now, we are seeing many labels put on people all over this country, and all over the world. We see people who are not listening. We see people in pain. And the only answer to that pain is Jesus.

Jesus’ death did more than save you from your sin. It tore down the dividing wall of hostility. That wall, as Paul wrote, was between the Jew and the Gentile. But for us, it is between all believers of every color and every race. Even the church had a racial divide then, and it still has one today.

Many of you will remember the little children’s song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The words have been changed because it was considered offensive to use colors to speak of peoples’ skin. What was once sang as, “Red and yellow, black and white; all are precious in His sight,” became “every color, every race; all are covered by His grace.”

But while those are the words that come out of many mouths, the words that are in some of those same hearts are:

“If the color is not mine, I don’t think that they are Thine.”

Church, we must set the pace on this. Yes, we live in an area with very little racial diversity. That is just a fact. But that does not mean that we cannot listen and learn and love. That does not mean that we do not need to check our hearts. That does not mean that we do not have hatred or bigotry – in fact it may be a way to mask it easier.

Yes, there are riots and protests. But again, Martin Luther King said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” All people deserve to be heard. We may not always agree with the thoughts and demands of others. Listening is not about giving others everything they want. But before we can give people what they need, we must listen in order to understand.

If we want others to listen to us, we must first choose to listen to others. If we want others to empathize with us, we must empathize with others. If we want others to act for us, we need to act for others.

The dividing wall of hostility has already been torn down by Jesus. So why are we acting like it is still there?

Remember, the Golden Rule. Do to others what you would want them to do for you!

Faithful

On Sunday, Jason Yarnell (NWMSU Lighthouse) spoke on three characters from John 12 (verses 1-11). All three showed their faithfulness in different ways. The three individuals, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, provide a great deal of encouragement to us.

Mary – The Faithful Worshiper

As she did in Luke 10, Mary focuses on Jesus. In Luke 10, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha worked. In John 12, it is Mary that pours out the expensive ointment on Jesus, anointing Him even as He was preparing to die. She was chastised here as well, but once again, Jesus speaks favorably of her attitude to be with, and to worship, Him.

Martha – The Faithful Servant

In Luke 10, Martha was frustrated that she had to do all of the work, and specifically without her sister’s help. In John 12, the text merely says that Martha served (v.2). Mary was still with Jesus, and as pragmatic as Martha was in Luke 10, we might estimate that she would be frustrated at the use of the ointment too, but her thoughts are not expressed here. Why? Well, she has seen Jesus raise her brother from the dead (John 11). She is serving in thanksgiving. She is serving in love. And, therefore, she does not need to complain.

Lazarus – The Faithful Witness

John 11 records the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But Lazarus knew the story was not about him. In our day, people who have near-death experiences often seek to market their experience. Not Lazarus, John 11.11 says that he used his new life to point others to Jesus. Lazarus was faithful to witness not only about what happened, but WHO had caused it.

 

These three individuals provide a great example for us today. Like these siblings, we are each to be faithful in our worship, in our service, and in telling others about Jesus.

Although our story may never be known like those recorded in the Bible, let us be found faithful to the One who was faithful, even to death, for us.

“Born Again Daily” by Rick Sons

“Behold children are a heritage from the Lord.” Psalm 127:3

“Just as it is appointed for man to die once…” Hebrews 9:27

“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” 1 Corinthians 15:31

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:3

Birth. Death. Rebirth. 3 things that you have no control over.

In approximately 30 days, I will have a new grandson, and we all can hardly wait for the new birth. Children change our lives; the birth of a child is a major event and life is never the same once a child is born.

We think about Christmas and how the world changed after the birth of a baby.

Cindy and I were told that we would never have children. Test after test was run and the outcome was always the same.  It became very stressful for both of us until a doctor told us to just relax and not to worry about it. God knew more than the doctors it seems, and we were blessed with two wonderful children. Eventually children give their parents another wonderful gift: Grandchildren!

Life is a series of births, deaths and rebirths, good things and bad things, challenging us to understand who we are, teaching us how to be honest; we learn how to be strong, loving and compassionate. It is never too late for rebirth.

The message we should take from the life of Christ, is the experience of being reborn.

Being Born Again

As Christians we have heard this over time that we died to our old selves and were reborn new with Christ.

In the third chapter of John, we look at a very important portion of Scripture on the new birth, being born again. Our teacher here is Jesus Christ, and for most of us who have been in the church any length of time, we are familiar with this portion of Scripture.

The story goes like this, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these things that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3.1-3).

The message is very simple. The kingdom of God is entered only through being born again.

This is a common idea with believers, we talk about as born-again Christians; but we don’t seem to get a grip on the essence of how deep this thought goes.

The point of what Jesus is saying is simply this: being born is not something that you have anything to do with. You didn’t have anything to do with your physical birth, nor do you have anything to do with your spiritual birth.

God created you by the means of your parents, but in reality it was God who created you.

Your parents could give you a physical body, but only God could create your spirit; being born again is an act of God by which He recreates you.

God created you for one purpose to Love and Worship him, and this is not a onetime thing.

What does it mean?

It simply describes that a person receives a new birth, a new life, a new nature, a new disposition, a new character, and a new mind from God and that person makes no contribution to that to this new birth.

I want to ask you to think about something for a moment.

How many of you think that being born again or rebirth is a onetime thing and that once you accept Christ as your personal Lord and savior that the rebirth is complete?

I do not want to stomp on the idea of “Once saved, then we are always saved.”

The Bible says, in Romans 10:9-10 “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes to righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.”

Salvation is not gained by those who try harder.

Salvation is not gained by those who live better.

Salvation is not gained by those who become more moral, more religious, take religion to its highest level, and stay away from sin.

The Kingdom of God is not entered by anything a person does.

In fact:

Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Jesus was saying that people could not be saved simply by religious practice, but by faith.

With this faith we still have a responsibility and there is a daily process.

“Born Again”

If we were to break down the words, starting with “Again” (which is from anothen in the Greek), it means “from above,” “down from above.”

“Born” in the Greek is Gennao or “God making” or “Begotten.”

Thus, “Born Again” simply means, “God Made From Above.”

You have to be given life from above, and that’s not something that you can do spiritually any more than you can do it physically.

Do you remember that first feeling when you were truly “Born Again?” How you felt deep down in your heart when the change in your life became clear.

Some of you have heard my testimony and how it was a struggle but the end result was a feeling of peace.

Let me ask you this question, when did you last feel like this?

I am here to say that being reborn is not just a onetime thing, being reborn is a daily thing.

We are about to enter a New Year, going from 2019 to 2020.  When you think about the image of the New Year we think of Father Time, and Baby New Year.

The death of an old year and the birth of a new year, this cycle of death and life, has repeated itself over and over since time began.  Just as the death of each day, allows the birth of the new.

Each day we should see ourselves as reborn, with a chance to do away with the old self and to be reborn to greet the day God has given you as a new creation.

To those who know me, you know that I am a John Wayne nut. I collect John Wayne memorabilia and collectibles. I can quote lines from his movies, and in fact I got to wear the jacket John Wayne wore in the movie Rio Bravo, while I reenacted a scene from the movie Sons of Kate Elder. (I won a trivia contest to be able to do that.)

Some of you may know that John Wayne had a credo that he lived by each day.

It was not, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  This was the movie man, the tough guy the move image.

What John Wayne, the real man, lived by can be found written on his headstone.

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life; it comes into us at midnight, very clean. When it arrives it is perfect. It puts itself in our hands. It hopes we learned something from yesterday.”

To put it simply, yesterday has died and is never coming back, tomorrow is reborn, a new day born clean and perfect.

Don’t let yesterday’s mistakes come into today.

I have spoken to people from time to time about their salvation and their daily journey.  Often I get the answer I was born again 30, 40 or 50 years ago, so I guess I am covered until I get to heaven. They may very well be correct, only Jesus know the answer to that.

If we look at the scripture we started with in 1 Corinthians 15:31 it says “I die daily.”

Paul expresses a similar thought in Romans 8:36 when he wrote, “As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’”

In Romans, as in 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul references the constant persecution that he and his companions endured daily.

Like Paul, each of us who claim to be Born Again might face persecution, if we were doing the will of the Father which is in heaven, as it says in Matthew 7.

This is Jesus’ command to those who want to follow Him: “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Paul was totally sold out to God, and we can be as well.

Sin, the flesh, and this world will continually fight for your attention and demand your participation.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

What he is saying is take care of your sin today because once tomorrow comes it cannot be reclaimed. This gives Satan a foothold and while you may be able to ask for forgiveness tomorrow, yesterday can never be reclaimed.

When we die daily, we consider ourselves unable to respond to those temptations. A dead man has no personal agendas or rights. He is not tempted to sin because he is dead to everything around him.

Think of it this way, you have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world.

Now if you die at the end of each day, then you must be reborn the next. You will note I did not say resurrected from the dead – you are not Jesus.

Resurrected means never to die again, but you are reborn each day a new creation.

You may be telling yourself, Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ Daughter, and a few others were all resurrected.

My answer to this is no they were not.

Lazarus was dead for four days, and he and the others were restored to life as a prominent miracle of Jesus.

Not resurrected but restored. All of these people died again.

Many people have been restored to life by miracles of Jesus, some by means of doctors or first responders.

I, myself, through my training and the miracles of God, have assisted in restoring people back to life, who by all definition were dead.

Each of these restored people will someday die again, but because of Jesus will someday as with all of us, be resurrected and have eternal life.

Unlike people, we cannot worry about yesterday, nor can we restore or resurrect it. Yesterday can never come back.

Just as each day, month and year dies, each is gone; they can never be relived or restored.

With each new day you must commit yourself to rebirth.

Commit to your spouse, children and family to be completely honest and loving, to openly allow friends and people into your life.

Commit to giving the lost reason for hope, and to assist them on their journey, as you strive to lead others to the Kingdom.

With each new day to show others the light of Jesus in you as you did the day you were first Born Again.

Gandhi once said, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”

To be born again, or to experience the new birth, is a phrase, we hear mostly in evangelism or in big revivals when we are out seeking the lost.

The term “born-again Christian” is an often misunderstood.

Being born again is not a one and done like our physical birth.

Because God gave us free will, we have a choice to accept, or not, his guidance and direction, so this free will often leads us to sin.

It is because of this free will that our soul needs to be reborn, too be made pure and righteous the way God created us to be.

Does it not stand to reason that if you sin daily, as we all do, that each night we must die to the sin of the day before, and that each day we must be reborn?

New birth is not performed or achieved by religious ceremony or traditional rite, it makes no difference if you are old or young, rich or poor, and male or female, to be born again is a personal choice, open for everyone to receive.

As we grow older the journey becomes harder to walk.

Wear on old bones, muscles, joints of the body, make the journey more difficult for the older person than for the young, and in some case the Church Body.

Maybe you have said, “I am tired and old I will let the younger people do the work; it is my time to rest.” To be reborn daily, means our journey now has the determination and the excitement, of the new reborn spirit.

We cannot change our yesterday(s), and our tomorrow is not yet written.

The sins you committed today, if not corrected today are done.

You cannot go back and undo a yesterday; you cannot make yesterday’s sin go away.

Most, if not all of us, have regrets for uncorrected sins of our yesterdays.

By dying to yesterday’s sin and being reborn and asking Jesus to forgive us the sins we failed to correct, only then can we start a new day.

As we look at the New Year 2020 ahead of us, many are already making plans to fix or right wrongs of 2019 – a New Year, a fresh start.

The New Year resolutions are the goals we make for ourselves but never achieve.

“This year I will be healthier, thinner, a better person;” “I will read God’s Word;” “I will go to church;” “I will be a better husband, wife, son, daughter or friend;” “I will actually pray for those I said I would pray for.”

All of these goals are not worth the paper they are written on and are just wasted words if we try to do them on our own.

Like saying you will pray for someone and then never doing it. Empty words used to settle our own mind.

We need to focus on the fact that each day is a fresh start and a new beginning.

A chance to be reborn in Jesus and have him daily set his goals in us, goals that through him can be achieved.

Just as John Wayne believed, we have to incorporate the thought of the fresh start into each day.

We can never reclaim our yesterday, but can most certainly claim and hold on to our new today.

The Body Speaks (Hub Sunday) by Pastor Andy Braams

This week during the service, I wanted to hear from the body – that is, the church body…the body of Christ. Specifically, the body known as Fairfax Baptist Church.

The idea was to have church members share what they have been doing to engage with others in serving God. With a focus this year of seeking to have a healthy body, and thus a healthy church, I thought it was important to have the body be able to celebrate what others are doing, particularly, when some do not know what has been happening.

From the standpoint of Scripture, I draw my inspiration from Acts 14.24-28 (and elsewhere), where the people who have been out serving (in this case Paul and Barnabas) return to the church that sent them and proceed to give a report of their journey, and more importantly, all that God was doing. I wanted the church to know that it was not about going big (like to Kenya which would be the focus of a report that evening), but simply going. After all, it is God who judges what is important, not us.

So, I shared a few thoughts on the Scripture mentioned above and then made the microphone available.

We had a few people talk about visiting the home of a friend and another in a nursing home. Mention was made about stepping down after serving as a missions director for years and being encouraged that the work was still going. Another mentioned seeking how God would use her as a new member of the church while her son indicated that he is seeking to know if God is calling him as a youth minister.

One person mentioned the work that had been done during our recent Labor 4 the Son Day (Labor Day Sunday), and shared the idea that this type of help is something that could be done year round (although, obviously, not in place of our regular time to gather to worship with one another).

The final person spoke of how God has given her a passion to be a foster parent and some recent events that made the pull even greater. She also said that her husband, without knowing this set of events, told her it was time after he had not been willing for the past several years.

Then, during the evening, the team who returned from Kenya shared of their experience. It was a great time of testimony and encouraged all who came, and inspired some to ask about going on the next trip.

All of these moments are surely just a reflection of what God is doing in the life of His body at Fairfax Baptist Church. It was a good day. We serve a great God.

And this type of day is one that we must do again.

“Breaking Free” by Pastor Andy Braams

Susan and I did away with regular television over four years ago. We did it to save money in order to go to Israel and never added it back. Now, that doesn’t mean that we do not watch shows because we have Amazon Prime and temporarily subscribe to CBS All-Access to watch a few shows during the winter and early spring. And I subscribe to Sling for four months while I host guys for the Football Fellowship during the fall. But otherwise, we do not have regular TV.

However, that does not mean that we are not inundated with commercials for certain types of pharmaceuticals. And nothing has changed related to these commercials. A new drug is promoted on a commercial, and the benefits are mostly clear, but the potential risks seem to be the bulk of the advertisement. Why? Because the medicines we take are foreign substances and our bodies do not always react well to them. These medicines are manufactured to help our bodies, but our bodies’ natural reaction to the foreign substance causes other problems. And these reactions can cause bigger problems – largely because of the response of the immune and the lymphatic systems – systems designed to prevent foreign substances from causing us harm.

Those two systems have been the emphasis for the month of June. We have reviewed these reactions with a comparison to an invasion by the enemy during a time of war, a deception by the enemy to prevent war, and an eroding of a nation’s health over time which caused the need for a drastic treatment. Today, we will look at the idea of being free from the trappings of religion to focus on the purity of the relationship with God as we emphasize the idea of being a hub of ministry.

The text this week is one we have reviewed a couple of years ago, but it is a great passage about freedom. The passage is Galatians 5 where Paul tries to stir the churches in the region of Galatia to embrace the truth of the freedom all believers have in Christ, to accept the responsibility that comes from the freedom, and to live according to the Spirit which brings that freedom.

Background

The churches in Galatia had received the truth of the gospel. That truth was shared by Paul, but others came to refute that truth and were claiming that the people needed to do certain things to truly be saved. A major part of that claim involved circumcision, but regardless a false gospel was being proclaimed (Gal 1.6-9). And that false message was causing people to question their faith. With that brief introduction, let us turn to Galatians 5.

Read Galatians 5.1

We Are Free in Christ (Galatians 5.1-12)

Galatians 5.1 could be the focus of sermons for an entire quarter. But let me get to the idea Paul is sharing here. I mentioned above that Paul was trying to refute a false gospel – and that message included the need for these Galatians (as mostly Gentiles) to be circumcised. After all, that was the “mark” of God’s people in the Old Testament. But the mark of a New Testament believer is a heart that is circumcised. And we cannot see the heart; rather, it is evidenced by the change in a person’s life. But that change brings true freedom when the change is due to Christ. That is Paul’s point in these first several verses of Galatians 5.

Paul uses metaphors to make his point. These metaphors relate to the rules and regulations that others were requiring of the churches in Galatia. Two such metaphors are being “hindered” (v. 7, in Greek, being “cut in on”) and emasculation (v. 14), both of which apply to the  idea of circumcision. Paul explicitly says that to view the religious rituals as necessary is to be bound by works and when that happens, we fall from the grace of God, content to earn salvation for ourselves. But we cannot earn salvation as Paul stated here and elsewhere. Our salvation comes from Jesus – nothing more, nothing less.

Now, as we will see below, we do have responsibilities because of our faith, but not to gain faith. We are free because of Christ and thus we should live like it. But that leads to one final thought before we move beyond this point. Galatians 5.1 means that we are free in Christ; we are not simply free. The freedom we have is from Christ, and therefore the freedom we have is in Christ. As we will see in our third point, that freedom does not mean extreme liberty. As Paul wrote in Romans 6.1, our freedom does not provide a right to sin; rather, that we have forgiveness when we do.

We Are Called to Serve (Galatians 5.13-15)

In the middle paragraph of this passage, Paul provides our true responsibilities. Again, he has just refuted the need to do anything to EARN salvation (it cannot be earned, Ephesians 2.8-9), but we should respond TO the salvation we have received. How? Verse 13 says we are to serve. Furthermore, that service is to be through love.

The whole purpose of our Hub Sunday focus each month is to share the idea of our need to serve others. Today marks the 12th Hub Sunday and we have settled into a routine with this idea. Much of the service is the same, and when I preach I often tie the message to the monthly theme, but this focus at the end of each month is more about what God has called us to do in serving others. Thus, next month, we will begin to hear testimonies from how others are serving. Some of that may be shared from time to time in the newsletter or in comments made from the pulpit or in a teaching/classroom environment, but people in the church are serving and that should be celebrated. So, beginning next month, we will bring more focus to that on Hub Sunday.

Additionally, you will hear from other people. Many of the Hub Sundays have seen others preach, but oftentimes, you are still hearing from me. As I mentioned last month, that is about to change. For instance, I already have individuals who have agreed to preach on Hub Sunday for each of the next six months.

The key for Paul and thus, the key for us, is that as we find ourselves free in Christ, we are free to serve as He calls us to do. Again, that service is to be done in love, and, hopefully in the coming months, we will learn of ways our congregation is involved in loving and serving which should inspire us to do more as a church as well as allowing us to celebrate what God is doing through this church.

We Are to Live by the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25)

The last part of this chapter is rather well known. It contains a list of activities that are not reflective of Christian behavior and, even more well-known, a list of the various parts of the Spirit’s fruit. These nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit are to govern how a believer lives. That is, if we are free in Christ, then we have the Spirit of God within us, and we should find ourselves maturing in each of these areas. The areas are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we begin to excel in these areas, we will find ourselves truly experiencing the freedom we have in Christ, and desiring to serve God by serving others in love. That is, as we become more like the Christ (which is God’s goal for us), our selfish desires will change (see verses 17-21) and we will desire what God desires which was evidenced by the life of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

I began this message by discussing that all of the medicine we use has side effects. What I didn’t mention then is that the same is true with most vitamins, mostly because of how we take them – for instance, many are in capsule form. When I began taking more vitamins a few years ago, one that Susan offered to me was called Milk Thistle. I had never heard of this vitamin, so I asked what the purpose was. Her reply, “to help the liver because of all of other vitamins.” Now, in reality, milk thistle may help in many other ways, but many studies have been inconclusive. However, I had extreme jaundice as a baby, and my liver has always been suspect when tested, so if milk thistle helps the liver, then I am all for it.

But again, I am taking another pill to help offset the other pills. The same is true with another pair of medications I take. Thus, we try to become healthy, but can find ourselves becoming more ill. That Galatians knew this well. They wanted freedom in Christ, but were being bound by traditional religious customs. Please do not misunderstand me. Observing some religious practices are important/ The Bible is clear that are to be in fellowship with one another (Hebrews 10.24-25), worship in song and practice (1 Corinthians 10.31; Ephesians 5.19-20, Colossians 3.17, 23), etc., but much of what we claim to be necessary is not biblical (like circumcision in the case of Galatians 5). Alternatively, some of what we do not think is important (i.e. attending church) is actually important based upon the verses I just mentioned above (and many others).

Thus, we need to keep Jesus as our focus. It is Jesus who purchased our freedom. It is Jesus who deserve our allegiance. Therefore, our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus has made the way. And the Spirit is now our guide to that way. And the way we are to live is about serving others through love – a love that begins with God and is given to others.

PRINCIPLE: Our freedom in Christ will lead us to serve Him and others.

QUESTION:  Will you live in the freedom of Christ or in the fear of religion?

OPPORTUNITY:  Focus on the Spirit of God.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE:   Live by asking yourself how the Spirit would have you live according to His fruit. Too many Christians focus on what they do (or might do) wrong. Yes, we should ask for forgiveness when we sin, but when we focus on what the Spirit would have us do right, rather than what we might do that is wrong, we will live our lives in freedom instead of fear. And that is a part of the victory that come with knowing Jesus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Spirit Will Guide Us Towards Truth

Read Ezekiel 37.1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Spirit Will Challenge Us with Truth

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

A Challenge to Our Thinking

Read Ezekiel 37.4-6

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

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

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

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

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

A Challenge to Our Obedience

Read Ezekiel 37.7-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Spirit Will Inspire Us by Truth

Read Ezekiel 37.11-14

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

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

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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

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

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

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

Hub Sunday – “Fruit Bearers” by Pastor Andy Braams

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Word of God Impacts People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Word of God Produces Fruit

Take a moment to read John 15.1-11.

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

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

The Church is God’s Design for Produce

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church in America is Shrinking

1. Fewer children per family

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

2. The Halo Effect

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

Perception

In 1939, 41% of people said Yes

2002-2005, 40-44% consistently said Yes

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

Actual Numbers of 2002-2005

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

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

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

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

23% are active participants (p 29-30)

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

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

3. People are not making disciples.

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

The JOURNEY letter for today is: UUNITE.

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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

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

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

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