“Remaining in Christ” by Sam Hood

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

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

Read John 15:1-17

Disciples of Jesus remain in him because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

“Clearing the Fog”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening to Others (Matthew 16.13-14)

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

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

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

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

Listening to Each Other (Matthew 16.15-16)

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

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

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

And that leads us to Jesus’ response.

Listening to Jesus (Matthew 16.17-20)

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

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

Read Matthew 16.17-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  YYOU.

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

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

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

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

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

Post Renewal Update

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

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

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

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

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

“Going to the Specialist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me share what chasing a vision looks like.

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

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

How did this happen? A renewed strength!

Let me tell you the story. (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So living by faith is foolish.

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

(Renewed-LIFE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When we accept the Salvation by Grace offered by a relationship with Christ through Faith, we can be in tune with the desires of our Heavenly Father to live according to His Word. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV) 19 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Renewed Heart” by Reggie Koop (Sunday Evening Renewal Service)

John 4.23-24

23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.

24 God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

Worship is to be of, and in, the Spirit. Worshipping in the Spirit comes from our innermost being and requires many things. To the Jewish people the innermost part of a person was the heart.

The Bible speaks often about the heart. Most often, the heart refers to the soul of a person that controls the will and emotions. The heart is the “inner man.”

2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “For which case we faint not; but though our outward man perish yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”

The human heart was created to mirror God’s own heart. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”

We are designed to love God, to love righteousness, and walk in harmony with God and others. But although we were created in God’s image, a part of God’s design for the human heart was to have free will. And with this free will comes the opportunity to sin.

However, we can only worship in Spirit by having a pure, open, and repentant heart. We cannot worship God if we have any unconfessed sin in our heart. We must confess our sins before we can truly worship God. Then we can worship as He desires. Consider the promise of Ezekiel 36: 26, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”

If the people turned back to God, He would again forgive them and renew His covenant. This covenant was put into effect when Jesus paid for the sins of all mankind by His death on the cross.

Earlier in Ezekiel, God said, “Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder, and they younger: and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of they shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16.61-63).

God promised to restore Israel not only physically, but also spiritually. To accomplish this, God would give them a new heart for following Him and He would put His Spirit within them. What God wants to do for Israel is what He wants to do for everyone.

Those that will receive Him in true repentance will be given a new heart.

No matter how impure your life is, God offers you a fresh start. You can have your sins washed away and receive a new heart for God and have His Spirit within you.

In Psalm 51:10, David wrote, “Create in me clean heart, O God; and renew a right Spirit within me.” When David prays, “create in me a clean heart,” he is asking God for forgiveness. Why? Because the prophet Nathan had confronted King David about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba.

Obviously, King David did not have a clean heart after this incident. Besides adultery, he engaged in deception, in murder, and in corrupting others in all of his activities. When it was all done, King David that he had succeeded in covering up the problem and destroying all of the evidence.

Although David had tried to hide his sin, it was eating away at him inside. He knew he need a clean heart. Psalm 51 is his confession and plea for forgiveness and spiritual cleansing.

David was forgiven, not because of any of his works, but because he asked in faith. Even though David suffered consequences for his sin, he was forgiven and restored to spiritual fellowship with God.

No matter how dirty we are, God can create in us a clean heart.

In the New Testament, Paul writes about being renewed. Titus 3:5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”

Here, Paul states the “He saved us,” as God saving action in Jesus Christ, the basis of human salvation. This salvation is not because of righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy. We cannot save ourselves. Salvation depends solely and complexly on God’s grace, achieved by His Son, and applied to mankind by the Holy Spirit.

This salvation requires a new birth. John 3 includes the story when Nicodemus comes to Jesus. Read this part of the story from John 3.3-8:

3 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Being born again means being a new creation. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

The last part of Titus 3:5 (as mentioned above) says, “by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Our renewal is an activity of the Holy Ghost, and this activity involves rebirth and renewal.

Rebirth denotes a new creation and renewal refers to an internal change – a process that begins within a believer from the moment of conversion.

When we are born again, God performs a heart transplant, so to speak. He gives us a new heart. The power of the Holy Spirit changes our hearts from sin-focused to God-focused. We do not become perfect because we still have our sinful flesh and the freedom to choose to sin or not to sin. But when Jesus did on the cross, He broke the power of sin that controls us.

Receiving Him as our Savior gives us access to God and His power – a power to transform our hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

God’s desire for every person is that we become like His Son. We can only become like Jesus if we allow God to rid us of our old, hardened hearts and give us new hearts.

Application

Make sure you are child of God.

Repent any unconfessed sin.

Pray unceasingly (24/7/365), seeking the will of God.

Worship God 24/7/365.

Tell others.

“Preparing for Renewal”

This month our church turned 135 years old. On July 6, 1884, our church held it first service with 17 people in attendance. The initial meeting was held in the Presbyterian Church. RJ Latour, an ordained minister from Rock Port served as the first pastor from 1884-1885. The church met on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.

By 1887, the services were held in the second story of Woodman’s Hall (later called the Fairfax Locker Plant), and then in the Fairfax Methodist Church. In June 1890, the church dedicated its new building where it met until 1954. In 1917, a basement was added to the building among other remodeling. Unfortunately, due to a fire, all of the church records to that date were lost.

In the 1920s, revivals and bake sales took place, but a major addition happened in 1928 when electricity was added to the church. The years of 1936-1938 were called “some of [the church’s] hardest years.” It was nearly impossible to raise money for a pastor, “but the spirit of the church would not let it close.” Sunday School and short devotionals took place on Sunday mornings and otherwise, it appears the church did not meet. However, the first Vacation Bible School was started in 1938 and the church was repainted in and rededicated in 1939.

In 1946, a building fund was started with the intent of constructing the building we sit in today. Kenneth Israel became pastor. He was the 25th pastor in the church’s history, and his 6 years tied for the longest tenure to that point (with TJ Puckett, who served from 1910-1916). To date, only Clyde Hendricks, Don Momberg, and myself have served longer.

In the 1950s, the land for the current church was purchased for $1,500, and ground was broken in October of 1953. The first worship service was held in the basement in May 1954, and in January 1955 cornerstones were laid as part of devotional service led by Reverend Ralph Holland, including one which is inscribed, “For Christ and His Church.” The first worship service in the sanctuary was held on November 20, 1955 with 250 in attendance. The old church building and grounds was sold to the hospital in 1956 for $1,000. Reverend Mulvaney became pastor in May 1957. Doyne Swan was ordained as deacon in 1958.

The 1960s saw the beginning of the 60+ banquet, the purchase of the church parking lot (for $1,239.45), the establishment of the church library. Jim Carey (1965-1968) and Clyde Hendricks (1968-1980) were called as pastors. In 1968, the church burned the mortgage note on the building, and was able to obtain the deed for the old parsonage in order to sell it. Then, in October 1969, the building of the new parsonage began. But a major development in the summer of 1969 was the installation of air conditioning the upstairs of this church!

In 1970, the Hendricks moved into the parsonage and held an open house in December. The church started a bus ministry in 1973. The two buses – Good News Express 1 and Good News Express 2 – could seat 102 passengers between them. Frank Fain became the youth minister, and later the Associate Pastor. The annex was also purchased in the late 1970s.

Don Momberg became pastor in 1980. In 1982, the current A-frame was put on the front of the church, glass doors replaced the wooden ones, and the west basement steps were rebuilt. In 1983, the church got a new sound system, began a tape-ministry, and re-carpeted the entire upstairs of the church. The furnaces were replaced in 1986 (as we found out two years ago), and a new air conditioner was put in along with extending the kitchen counter to the south. The church basement was coated with the Rally Day funds from Nov 1988.

The 1990s brought the sale of a bus and the purchase of a van. The vision statement, “To Know Christ as Lord” was adopted in 1993 during Wes’s time as pastor. 5th Sunday dinners became a mainstay (if not before). The parsonage got new carpet installed as well as new vinyl for the kitchen and dining room and drapes for the living room. The Fellowship Hall got a new floor in 1997, and the roof of the main building was put on that year as well. Another new sound system was installed. Baccalaureate services began again in 1999 after years of not being held. Several members took mission trips to places like Wyoming and Colorado.

One other point I must make is that our church started two churches – one in Mound City (beginning Dec 1953) and the other in Corning (in Nov 1978).

In the new century, the church updated its Constitution and Bylaws. The church picnic was held annually. Rally Day was discontinued. More mission trips to Wyoming and Tennessee took place. Larry Collins left and Steve Suthill, then Rob Lilly became pastors here. The sanctuary was painted. The church ministered as she had for decades, but a decrease was already happening.

Many will look back on the history of this church with rose-colored glasses, but the reality is that the church has faced many struggles as well. I don’t want to focus on those today, but as we prepare for renewal, two things must be acknowledged.

First, the list of items I have just shared show that the church has had a lot of changes – new ideas, new stuff, new opportunities. But many things like the Rally Days, the Bus Ministry, and others have been lost. Second, we must realistically assess the past.

Without a doubt, the 1970s were a great decade of ministry. During the 5-year period from 1975-1979, the church added 106 people (80 by baptism), and only lost 50 (at least 8 of which were by death). And the Sunday School study on the disciples in 1978 had a huge impact on the numbers with an average of 187 people attending during the three-month study.

In the late 1980s (1984-1989), 31 people joined the church (26 by baptism). 21 people died, but I could not find how many others may have left the church during those years. From 1990 through 1994, 60 people joined (48 by baptism, but 74 left the church (15 by death). And from 1995-2000, 56 people joined the church (39 by baptism), and 55 people left the church (27 of those by death).

So, the church added more, but also lost more than we do today. In fact, the numbers are about even from the 1980s onward. And the average attendance for VBS in 2000 was 67. This year it was about the same.

The reality is that the population of our town has decreased a great deal over the past 10 years and the numbers in our church have as well. The question is, on a percentage basis, are we doing better or worse than the town? See, a church can grow in proportion, even as it declines in numbers. And realistically, I think that we have held even, or maybe a little better.

But a better question is, what do we do from here? We need to determine what God is wanting because if we look around us we will notice that Fairfax has changed. It has certainly changed since this church was founded, since this building was built, and since the turn of the century. But just since 2016, this town has had 76 new residents have water hooked up. Now, I know some of those hookups represent 2 or 3 at the same location, but I also realize that 76 is the number of hookups. And some of those hookups will represent 2, 3, or even 5 people.

Thus, Fairfax is not dead – at least not yet. And therefore, we, as Fairfax Baptist Church, need to renew ourselves, as the church has so many times in the past, to make a new imprint on this town at this time.

And that is why we are having this renewal this week. The focus is not just an individual renewal. It is about a collective renewal. The focus is about evaluating everything we have done over the past 8 years and determine what can be done better, what needs to be discarded, and how to move forward as a church. Those discussions, the How, will begin a week from today during our Sunday evening times.

But beginning tonight, we will be exposed to both the Why and the What of our renewal. The Why is because God is making all things new (Revelation 21.5). That means He is making us new as individuals and as a church. The What is love because Jesus said we are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (with each of those items being a focus on each night of the renewal) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (which is how we will become a large church in a small town).

So, as we prepare for our renewal, let us take a moment to remind ourselves of our current GPS (God’s Path for Servants). This might change…again, everything we do (or could do) will be put on the table for evaluation over the coming weeks and months, but for today, these statements should help guide us. So, let’s take time to recite the various components of our GPS with a pause after each item to hear the Scripture read that relates to that item.

OUR VISION:

To Become A Large Church in a Small Town (Matthew 5.16)

OUR MISSION:

Exalt the Savior (John 12.32)

Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13)

Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8)

OUR STRATEGY:

JJesus (Matthew 16.18-19) – The One worth following.

OObserve (Colossians 1.28) – Following the commands of Jesus.

UUnite (1 Corinthians 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.

RRevere (John 12.32) – Worshiping God in all aspects of our lives.

NNurture (Ephesians 4.12) – Building up others for the work of ministry.

EEngage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.

YYou (Matthew 16.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.

OUR STEPS:

Learn – We must first learn. Jesus taught His followers and sent the Holy Spirit to teach us (John 16.13).

Live – As we learn, we must apply what we have learned to our life (Matt. 28.20).

Love – The focus of what Jesus taught was to love God (Mark 12:30), love our neighbor (Mark 12.31), and love one another (John 13.34-35).

Lead – The final commandment Jesus gave His disciples was to make disciples (Matthew 28.18-20, Acts 1.8). Just like Jesus, and just like Paul, we are called to lead others to be followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1; 2 Timothy 2.2).

The last 135 years have certainly had some great moments and some challenges. We cannot change the past, and we cannot live in the past. We can, however, affect our future – individually and collectively. And that is what this week is preparing us to do. We cannot know how many more years God has for this church to serve, but to be effective today, we must make some changes.

What we will not change is the message (the Bible), nor the purpose (“For Christ and His Church”). But to reach a people who have changed in a town that has changed, we need to explore any method that allows us to be the church God wants us to be. And that is why we are beginning this renewal in July of 2019.

NEXT STEP:
Our Next Step this week is simple – come and be a part of the renewal services and then be a part of the renewing that I believe God is going to do upon this church.

“The Good Neighbor”

To keep our bodies healthy, we need nutrition. Most of the time we think of nutrition, we think of food. Food is actually the substance that fills us, but it is the nutrients within the food that are important.

What we cannot get in food, we can take as supplements. Many people take a host of vitamins every day for a variety of reasons. One such vitamin is B12. B12 is a key nutrient for ensuring our cells our healthy. B12 is also critical for keeping our nerves healthy. And it is the nervous system that is our focus this month.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the nervous system identifies issues and reports them to the brain. The nerves do not cause a reaction, they only record a sense – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. That sense is passed to the brain for evaluation and response. If we touch something that is hot, we remove our hand not because of the nerve that senses the heat, but because the brain (a part of the central nervous system) tells the muscular system the affected body part needs to move. Thus, it is vital to keep the nervous system in good working order to know what is happening around us, but without the other systems working in harmony with one another, we would not be able to change the situation.

The same is true of the human body. And that fact is why we are focusing this series on equating the various systems of the human body to the need for various systems within the church – the body of Christ. For us, the nervous system is our sense of caring. Just as our five senses inform us about our own situation – what we are seeing, tasting, smelling, etc., our senses help us to know when others are in need as well. But just like our brain must then inform another system to do something about our own situation, our response to someone else’s need is not because of our observation, but because we make a choice to respond – or not to respond.

It is that choice that is our focus today as we review a familiar parable of Jesus – the parable of The Good Samaritan. Take a moment to read this story and the accompanying parable recorded in Luke 10.25-37.

Many of you have likely heard this story many times. But I want to approach it from the perspective of labels. Labels help us to identify items more easily. Labels help us to “define” something as better or worse. But it is those labels that keep us from love as well. And that is what we find clearly in the story – even in the title of the story. The story is not called Various Responses to the Hurt Man on the Road, although that would be a perfectly accurate title. It is not called The Teacher Answers the Lawyer’s Question, although, again, that title is very descriptive of the situation. The title is the Good (label=not bad) Samaritan (label=bad). Thus, the title given is seemingly an oxymoron. Because a Samaritan cannot be good – at least not in the eyes of most of the people who heard Jesus that day.

The Label Good:

This story begins with two who would be labeled as good.

The Lawyer

We can assume that the lawyer is good – at least the people would say so. This man (v. 26 calls the lawyer a “him”) is learned. He knows Scripture because he answered with the greatest commandment, which is not yet recorded as Jesus stating it being the greatest commandment. Thus, he has some piety and he is well-educated. Therefore, the people would label him good.

The Teacher

We know WHO the teacher is? This lawyer really did not. He knew the Teacher to be someone who was knowledgeable and worthy of respect, but no one fully knew who Jesus really was – at least, not yet. But the lawyer knew the teacher was good enough to ask Him a question. And Jesus, as the Teacher, showed His goodness in His initial response, but also in the story He told.

And that brings us to the unexpected good person – the one who was like a true neighbor.

The Samaritan

If you have heard this story before, you likely know that Samaritans and Jews did not get along. The reason is that the Jews considered themselves whole-blooded descendants of Abraham, but the Samaritans were half-breeds. Indeed, Samaritans were descendants of Abraham, and the area where they lived was inhabited by them when the Israelites came into the Promised Land led by Joshua. But over the centuries, this group intermarried with Assyrians who settled the land of the northern kingdom in the 8th Century BC.

Samaritans would harass Jews who went from Jerusalem to Galilee. And a “good Jew” would go around Samaria to get wherever s/he needed to go. But this fact is what makes the story of Jesus and the woman at the well so surprising in John 4. Jesus goes through Samaria so that he can have a moment with this woman. (John 4.4 says he “had” to go through Samaria.)

What is particularly interesting about the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 10 is that in the previous chapter, Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans. Why? Luke 9.53 gives the reason: His face was set towards Jerusalem. The problem is that the Samaritans did not accept Jerusalem as a holy place and thus despised it. (Samaritans only believed in the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and Jerusalem is not mentioned there.) So, just a short time after being rejected, Jesus shows His goodness by telling a story where the Samaritan is the good neighbor in the story.

So, we have three characters in this passage who are notably good. The Lawyer, the Teacher, and the Samaritan.

Before I move to the “bad,” let me clarify that we can assume two others are good, but we do not really know. The man who is injured and the innkeeper are characters about which we know so little, and therefore we cannot infer anything. Many believe the man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew, and he might have been (probably was), but the text does not say so. And the innkeeper is given the task to care for the injured man, but we are not told that the innkeeper did it – or that it was done well. We also do not know if any care was provided because payment would be made. Thus, we have to discount these two figures from the labels we are applying because we simply cannot know.

The Label Bad:

The Robbers

The individuals who stripped, beat, and left the man for half dead are obviously meant to be the bad guys in this story. Interestingly, they may be the only characters in this story whose label is accurate.

The Priest

Fortunately for the injured man, a priest came by soon afterward. Verse 31, says “by chance.” In other words, it was not expected. But this moment was an opportunity for a servant of God, specifically one who served in the temple, to provide some necessary help. The Bible does not give a specific reason for the priest passing by on the other side. It is true that priests were not to defile themselves by touching the dead except if the person was a closer relative (and the man was left half dead (v. 30). Others have speculated that the priest feared an attack by the same robbers or that he was going home. But this is a fictitious priest. It is a parable, so we have no reason to speculate on the reasons – only that he did not stop to help.

The Levite

Levites were one of the 12 tribes and their task was to assist the priests. Certainly, the priests were servants, but the Levites knew what it meant to serve other people because they served (that is, helped) the priests. So, if the priest wouldn’t stop, maybe the Levite would. But no. Again, this is a fictitious story so speculation as to why is irrelevant.

Thus, the religious leaders of Israel passed on the opportunity to help a fellow Jew. Thus, even though priests and Levites were usually considered good, in this case, they would be labeled – bad!

If we look closely, most of the main characters are actually different than others perceive them to be. Let’s take a closer look at the lawyer.

The lawyer was thought to be good because of his education. But Luke 10.25 says that the lawyer came to put Jesus to the test. Now some might suggest that the lawyer was simply asking a question (and perhaps he was), but these words seem loaded! We know that the religious leaders would later try to trap Jesus with their questions, and Jesus, Himself, was asked about the greatest commandment near the end of His life as part of a trap. Furthermore, the lawyer wanted to “justify himself” (v. 29). So, it is easy to see the possibility of the lawyer having impure motives, at the least.

CONCLUSION

I started this post talking about nutrients, specifically B12. The label on a bottle tells me what should be in the bottle. If I get enough B12 then my nerves may be healthy and I can recognize the challenges around me. And those challenges may not be mine, they may be the challenges of others. And thus, I need to make certain my nervous system is ready to respond to the needs as He would have me respond. And that is where labels cause a problem.

But that’s the problem. Because most people, self-included, are not who they seem (or claim) to be, at least not always. We just saw that with the lawyer and the priest, and the Levite, and the Samaritan. And sometimes the people are worse, and sometimes, they are better. And sometimes, people change. For instance, I can assure you that during my time in college, no one thought I would be a pastor. I was not a hellion, but I was not even remotely who I am today. Then, I wore the label – sinner. (AB – shirt) Today, here is the label I wear – sinner, saved by grace. (AB – new shirt)

So labeling items such as food and medicines is good and is meant to be helpful. But just like a mislabeled bottle of medicine (say oxycodone in a bottle labeled aspirin) can be lethal, so too can a labeling of people.

So, before I give you the JOURNEY letter, let me show you the power of labels. What is your reaction when you think of lawyers? Teachers? Robbers? Priests? Levites? Hotel managers? Business people? CEOs? Professional Athletes? Grocery store clerks? Amusement park workers? Farmers? Men? Women? People who live in the city? People who live in rural areas? Government officials? Democrats? Republicans? Asians? Hispanics? Blacks? Whites? Millennials? Teenagers? Senior Adults? Homosexuals? Cross-dressers? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  NNURTURE.

I wonder what the lawyer did. I wonder how he responded to the story. In a different story, we are told that the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus gave him a command. But in this story, Jesus simply says, “You go, and do likewise.” Specifically, I wonder if this story made him conscientious. How did he respond the next time he saw someone in need. It likely was not someone who had been beaten and injured, but it could have been. Perhaps, it was someone who simply needed a drink of water? Or maybe it was someone who needed someone to help them with a task? Or someone to listen to them? We are not told what happened to the lawyer.

But the command Jesus gave was not just to the lawyer…it was to us as well. Like the lawyer, we have a choice of how we will respond.

PRINCIPLE:  It is hard to love people whom we label. It is hard to label people whom we love.

QUESTION:  Whom have you labeled that you instead need to love?

OPPORTUNITY:  When you are tempted to label this week, ask God for forgiveness and to help you love the person instead.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE:   Choose to love one person this week whom you would normally label with a specific act of caring to fill a need. In other words, “Go and be a good neighbor.”