“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.”

Prayer2Care

This week’s blog is from the notes of a prayer service we held at our church during a day in which we focused the full day on prayer. It was not a sermon; rather it was a series of thoughts, readings, songs, and especially time for prayer. I am leaving my notes mostly intact, with the removing of the times during the service we sang. The areas separated by < > are congregational moments.

Our world has problems. Our nation has problems. Our state has problems. Our town has problems. Our church has problems. You have problems. I have problems.

But a solution exists. And that solution is Jesus.

Today, as a church, we will focus on prayer. Some have already taken a time of prayer early this day. Some will be praying throughout the afternoon and evening and into the night. The goal was to make this day – July 14th, a day for our church to pray. 24 hours, 30 minutes at a time.

Today was chosen as the day because the date (7/14) corresponds with a great verse about prayer – 2 Chronicles 7.14. The verse is God speaking to Solomon, and in it God says:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

As such, the service today is about prayer. We will spend this time together praying. We will also sing songs that acknowledge the importance of prayer and, more importantly, who God is. You may say that you do not have the discipline to pray for the better part of an hour or more. That’s ok. I don’t either. But a statement I read this week gets to the heart of that issue:

“We don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; we just need to be poor in spirit.” – Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Today might be uncomfortable in some ways, but if we cannot find comfort and peace in talking to God, then I do not believe we can ever find comfort. To do that, we will read some Scripture, have time for prayer, and sing some songs. But first, I want to teach you a technique I recently learned about helping to focus our attention as we begin to pray.

The idea is to “breathe Jesus.” This idea was introduced to me in the book I just referenced above (A Praying Life). All we need to do is mentally say “Je” as we breathe in and “sus” as we breathe out. This can be done as slowly or as quickly (short of hyperventilating) as you wish. Do it for a few seconds, then a minute, and over time, work your way up to 10 minutes. It is very peaceful and helps clear your mind, and prepares you to pray more effectively.

< Breathe Jesus – 1 minute >

As we quiet our lives for a few moments this morning, let us reflect on our need for God to become quiet and allow Him to enter us.

 READ Psalm 63.1-4

To truly be a sanctuary, we need to be still. We need to know God.

Let’s take this time to be still and not only know that God is God, but to know Him.

READ Psalm 46.10

< Pray in silence >

Are you longing for God? Do you want to? The quote I mentioned earlier talked about our need to be poor in spirit in order to truly acknowledge our need for God. Too often our self-sustaining attitude (that is, our pride) gets in the way. Let’s cry out to Him that He might heal us and heal our land.

READ Psalm 42.1-5

The reality is that we often think we are doing ok and are in control, but Jesus reminds us that we are nothing and can do nothing apart from Him.

READ John 15.5-7

As I read earlier, 2 Chronicles 7.14 talks about our need to humble ourselves. That is what Jesus is saying in the verses I just read. It takes humility to ask for forgiveness. We often think we are right in so many situations, but we often justify ourselves which separate us from God.

When we pray for forgiveness, we are seeking the mercy of God. Mercy is one of the great characteristics of God as shown throughout the Bible. King David knew of God’s mercy and cried out earnestly for forgiveness.

READ Psalm 51.1-4; 9-10

So, with the example of David’s humility fresh in our minds, let us take a moment to humble ourselves before the King and ask forgiveness of our pride.

< Pray in silence >

As we progress through the service, perhaps you do not know what to pray. Perhaps you do not know how to pray. Perhaps you hear some people pray and say, “I wish I could pray like that.” Well, let me simply say that God doesn’t care how we pray. It isn’t about of how, it is a matter of simply doing it. In Luke 18, Jesus talks of two men who are praying – one is praying mightily and is visibly noticed. The other is praying a simple prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18.13). Jesus said it was the second man who was justified before God…because of his humility.

And when we do not know what to pray, we can be thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

READ Romans 8.26-27

So, if you do not know that to pray, simply take a few moments to call out to the Spirit of God. “Come, Spirit. Come. Hear my heart and make it known to God.”

< Pray in silence >

< Breathe Jesus >

In 2 Chronicles 7.14, God said, “If my people who are called by my name…” Today those people are followers of Christ.

Then God said, “…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face…” We have humbled ourselves. We have sought God.

Then God said, “…and turn from their wicked ways…” We have asked for forgiveness. Now the choice is up to us to turn away from our sins.

Then God said, “I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

We have now prepared our hearts and our minds to center our prayers toward God. We have removed the distractions in our lives as best we can for a short period of time. Now, we focus our prayers beyond ourselves. We have asked for personal healing, now we can seek healing at a greater level.

We now take time to pray for the personal needs of those on our prayer list or in our minds. Whether the needs are physical, emotional, spiritual, or unknown, we take time to pray for those on our hearts this morning.

< Pray in silence >

Now, we will take time to pray for this church. That we might be healed. That relationships will be restored. That fellowship will be sweet and worship will be passionate. We pray that we will follow Jesus and help others to do the same, and that God will find our service glorifying to Him.

< Pray in silence >

We pray for the other churches in Fairfax and throughout Northwest Missouri. We pray that God will move among His people throughout this town and through this region.

< Pray in silence >

We pray for our government leaders in this state and country. We pray that the churches in the capitol cities of each state will have the impact that only the Kingdom of God can have. We pray that people will see churches come alive and show others that Jesus is the answer, not the politicians or government programs.

< Pray in silence >

We pray for our world. We know that peace will not come to the world through policies and treaties. But we know that the people of the world can experience true peace – a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that comes from knowing Jesus.

< Pray in silence >

We now prepare to close this service with one final prayer and one final song. But before we do, we are going to transition to a time of offering. We have offered ourselves. We have asked God for mercy, for healing, for Himself. And now we have a chance to offer something back to Him.

< Ask ushers to come forward. AB will pray for the offering. >

We offer one final prayer now. We will recite the prayer the Lord taught to His disciples. We will recite it, but in a slightly different form and pause for reflection after every line. Why pause? Because in the verses which precede the prayer, Jesus tells His disciples that God doesn’t hear prayers which are mindless.

< Pray with Congregation >

Father, in heaven –

Your name is holy.

Let Your kingdom reign.

Let Your will be done in my life.

Let Your will be done in the life of this church.

Let Your will be done on this earth.

Let Your will be known here just as it is in heaven.

Give us the meals we need for nourishment today.

Forgive us God for our sinfulness.

Remind us of our need to forgive those who sin against us. Then let us be willing to forgive!

Father, deliver us from our selfish desires.

Father, deliver us from Satan.

All glory belongs to You and Your Kingdom.

All power is Yours from the beginning and forevermore.

Amen.

< End Prayer >

And we close with a song that embraces the true greatness of God, which is just one of the reasons we pray.

“Seeking the Courage to Respond”

The month of July will focus on the nervous system. The nervous system is the collection of the nerves in our body – a system that allows the body to experience life – both good and bad. For instance, most mornings, my nerves send a signal to my brain that gets interpreted as my back is sore. Many of you can relate. Other times, my nerves send an impulse to my brain which says my wife grabbing my hand is pleasurable. Or perhaps, you eat something new that is interpreted as delicious. Or you smell something that your brain finds repulsive. So, the nervous system allows us to experience life as we react to our various senses.

The sense of sight may not be the most powerful (some experts say smell is the strongest of our five senses), but sight triggers more than our senses. While any sense is able to trigger an emotional response, modern technology allows sight to do so through various mediums like TV. For years advertisers have used this idea against us. For instance, have you ever noticed how much better a pizza looks on TV than it does on the pizza tray on your table? Or think about all of the starving children you have seen on TV, or the computer. You do not need to have the sound on for the emotions to be activated. You do not smell anything different, nor are you touching or tasting anything different, it is simply your sight that sends a signal from the optic nerve to the brain which then triggers some sort of emotion – and the advertiser hopes it is one of mercy (or perhaps pity).

Sight also allows us to discern how others are responding to our teaching, our feedback, etc. Certainly, Jesus could see the looks on His disciples faces as He taught them. Facial responses help us to know if someone is angry, confused, or perhaps has an “Aha!” moment. All of this comes from the sense of sight. But more importantly than seeing something needs to be done is to determine what should be done because of what we see.

The nervous system cannot instruct us on what to do; it only alerts us to the fact that something needs to be done. The focus for the church then is that our nervous system as a church should cause some sort of response. That response first is a recognition that something needs to be done, then knowing what to do, and finally, doing what needs to be done.

As we review John 13 this week, we will see that it was a sensitivity to others that caused Jesus to serve others, and that should prompt us to do the same.

Background

Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end. In fact, he really only had one major act of ministry left before He would fulfill His ultimate ministry purpose – defeating death for those who believe. In fact, as part of Jesus’ final words prior to the story we will review today, that is what Jesus said, “I have come to save the world” (John 12.47). But in this final night with His closest followers, Jesus has a couple of important lessons for them – they are to serve and they are to love (which echoes what Paul wrote to the Galatians as we saw last week, Galatians 5.14).

Jesus Shows His Disciples What It Means to Serve (John 13.1-20)

A review of the other accounts of the Gospel show that Jesus had made intentional preparations to spend this last night with His disciples (see Matthew 26.17-19; Mark 14.12-16; Luke 22.7-13). He knew what was coming; they did not. Verse 1 says that Jesus knew the hour had come. During the dinner, Jesus first provides a lesson of service. Why? Because He could see that the disciples had not yet fully grasped what Jesus wanted them to do.

Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

After washing, Jesus returns to His place and shares the reason for this lesson of service (John 13.12-20). Most importantly, Jesus teaches that even though He is the teacher, He has served them. And then He instructs them that they must be willing to do the same. Jesus has seen that something needs to be done – an example must be set. Jesus knows how shocking the example will be in the culture, but He knows what must be done – and He does it. Finally, Jesus does more than simply think about what must be done, or talk about what must be done, Jesus does it.

Then Jesus tells His disciples that this is an example of what they must do.

Much can, and should, be said about other significant components of this passage (e.g. the cleansing Jesus offers, or that our Teacher would serve us by dying for us, etc.), but for today, the focus is simply upon the act of service. But the rest of this text reminds us that the service is to be done in love.

Jesus Commands His Disciples to Love (John 13.31-35)

Jesus speaks of His betrayal by Judas in the verses following what we just reviewed before giving the disciples a new commandment.  Before we get to this new commandment, notice that Judas was still with Him at the table (vv. 22-31, particularly 26-27). This fact is significant because it means that Judas was among those who had his feet washed by Jesus.  We should not infer from this that Judas was born again, but we can conclude that our service is not meant only for those whom we like, or more directly here, who have our best interest in mind. That is, we are to serve others – beginning with those in the church, but that does not mean we neglect those apart from the church. Why?

Because of love.

Our love and care for one another is proof that we are disciples of Jesus. Again, Jesus saw a need. Something needed to be done. We do not have to look hard for evidence that the disciples were often arguing with one another. At times, that argument was about which of them was the greatest (e.g. Mark 9.33-34; 10.35-45). Jesus was obviously the greatest, and yet He humbled Himself. Now, He was clearly stating that He was about to leave, and thus, for them to continue what He had started. To continue required just two characteristics – service and love. And not just a token expression of love; rather they were to exhibit the same kind of love for one another that He had shown to them.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is true for us today. We also prove that we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another. Again, that love must go beyond the walls of this church body, but it begins with a love for those who are a part of this church body. If we can’t do that, then we must question our dedication to Jesus because it was He who said that love would be our proof.

CONCLUSION

I began this message speaking about the importance of the nervous system. But we must remind ourselves that the nerves themselves are only informative. Once the brain receives the signals, then the information is considered and a decision is made. The decision could be to do nothing, or it could involve doing something different. Those decisions could be relatively minor such as shifting our head to see something better or more major like deciding to put on a coat and gloves because it is cold outside (wishful thinking in July!). Regardless, our senses reveal the current information, and then we must decide what comes next.

The truth is that oftentimes our senses reveal that something must be done. Then we must decide what that something is. What should be done? Do we know how to do it? Could someone else help us? Etc. But then, once we have asked those questions, action should be taken. I understand that sometimes inaction is the appropriate action. But often times not acting is from laziness or worse apathy. However, intentionally choosing not to act is still an action. The key is having the wisdom and the courage to know what to do and to do it.

In 2 Chronicles 1, the Bible records the story of a young Solomon praying for wisdom. The result is that God grants Solomon the wisdom he desired, and Solomon is considered the wisest man to have ever lived. (I would clarify the wisest besides Jesus.) But wisdom is both knowing and doing. Solomon knew a great deal, and did many things too, but evidently his wisdom did not fulfill him. Remember, the writer of Ecclesiastes, often presumed to be Solomon, wrote that everything is meaningless.

Jesus, on the other hand shows the purpose of wisdom. That is, the purpose of both loving and service is to bring glory to God (see John 13.31). If we desire to be wise, we must be willing to seek to understand, to learn what must be done, and then to do it – not for our purposes, but for God’s. As we live our lives in obedience to Christ, we will then find our senses heightened so that we will have more opportunities to serve and to love and thus to bring God glory.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

More than knowing He had to set an example of service, Jesus knew His true purpose was to die for our sins and raise again so that we might live. Again, He knew something had to be done. He knew what to do, and actually let what needed to be done happen to Him, having the courage to do it. And that courage brought a glory to God that would not otherwise be possible.

PRINCIPLE:  A follower of Christ is to serve and to love in order to bring glory to God.

QUESTION:  Whom can you love by serving them unexpectedly this week?

OPPORTUNITY:  We often know something must be done, and sometimes know what is needed, but we do not act. Act on what needs to be done this week.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE:   Partaking of the Lord’s Supper

“Breaking Free”

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

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

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

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

Background

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

Read Galatians 5.1

We Are Free in Christ (Galatians 5.1-12)

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

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

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

We Are Called to Serve (Galatians 5.13-15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITY:  Focus on the Spirit of God.

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

“Radical Treatment”

Last week, I mentioned the importance of the immune system. I mentioned that another system, the lymphatic system, was related. The lymphatic system is responsible for sending lymph throughout the body through a network of vessels to fight infections and to remove unwanted waste from the body (waste, as in, carbon dioxide, and or infections). The lymph nodes are the areas where much of this waste is filtered to it can be properly removed. But sometimes when serving as a filter, the lymph nodes become cancerous. This can happen for a couple of reasons, but one is when cells from a cancerous tumor travel through the lymph vessels and attach themselves to the node. When this happens, we say that the cancer is in the lymph nodes.

The reason this issue is so troubling is that the lymph nodes are where the white blood cells do their work best. If the lymph node is affected, then our natural healing agents, are compromised which often leads to bigger problems. The lymph nodes can be removed but then certain fluids have no outlet and the fluid builds up which is called lymph edema. So, removing the lymph nodes is an extreme measure, but sometimes to heal the body, extreme measures must be taken.

What is true for the human body, is true for the church – the Body of Christ. Those who are born again are the Body of Christ, but a similar expression could be the people of God. Now that term can have a couple of meanings, but in the Old Testament, the people of God were the Israelites. And due to decades of evil, the healing that they needed had to be substantial. They needed a radical treatment because they were about to face the wrath of God. That wrath came just a few decades later, but a generation (or two) was spared because of the radical steps taken by a young king named Josiah.

Background

Josiah became king of Judah when he was eight years old. The most important statement about Josiah in the Bible is “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 22.2). Throughout the listing of kings, one of two statements are made – the king either did right or evil in the sight of the Lord. Josiah did what was right. And given that his grandfather was Manasseh, who not only did evil (2 Kings 21.2), but led others to be evil as well (2 Kings 21.9, 16), for Josiah to do right was not to be assumed when he became king. His father, Amon, also did evil, but only reigned two years; Manasseh reigned 55 years.

Besides being known as the king who was the youngest king in Israel to begin his reign (at age eight), Josiah is best known for instituting a series of changes to heal the nation after it had been led astray by the two previous kings – again, his father and grandfather. Josiah led Judah in four distinct ways that prevented Judah from being overrun by the enemy. As a NT church, we can learn from his actions and allow us to fight off the corruption that might otherwise come.

Restoring the Temple (2 Kings 22.1-7)

2 Kings 22 shares the account of the repairs that Josiah ordered for the temple. Your Bible might title this portion, Josiah Repairs the Temple, or something similar. Verse 3 says it happened in his 18th year, so he was 26 years old. But if you notice, the outline uses the idea of restoring the temple, not repairing it. Why the difference?

Well, in 2 Chronicles 34-35, we have the account of Josiah from the priestly perspective. The books called Kings were written by people who had access to the kings or the kings’ information. The books called Chronicles provide the same timeline, but they do so from the perspective of the priests who served the nation. Thus, the stories have a lot of overlap, but some important details emerge in their differences.

One such difference is recorded in 2 Chronicles 34.3 which says that in Josiah’s eighth year, when he would have been 16, Josiah began a process of removing the altars and Asherah poles which had been set up around Judah. The other altars were erected to make it easy for the people to worship without having to go to Jerusalem – which God had commanded them to do. The Asherah poles were made for the goddess Asherah who was one of the goddesses of the Hittites, a group that the Israelites were supposed to drive out from the Promised Land. Thus, Josiah was intent on restoring the importance of the temple of God, which began with the removal of idols and unlawful places of worship, and then culminated in the repairs of the temple itself.

How does this apply to you and me? Well, we can dress things up as fancy as we want, but if we are still chasing false gods, then nothing we do at the church will bring the healing we need. We can have new pews, new carpet, a nice sound system, etc., but if our hearts are not right, then nothing else matters. Josiah new that Israel needed to be purified before she was ready to truly worship in the temple. The same is true for the church – that is, the people – today.

Responding to the Law (2 Kings 22.8-20)

In 2 Kings 22, we are told that during the repairs of the temple, the Book of the Law is found. In other words, they found the writings of Moses which are called the Pentateuch, or as we know them, the first five books of the Bible – Genesis through Deuteronomy. When this book was found, the priest had it sent to the king where it was read and the king responded by tearing his clothes – a sign that he realized the importance of the Book, the words, and what needed to be done.

So, how did Josiah respond? He wanted to know if it was too late for Judah. Indeed, it almost was. Josiah has a prophetess consulted. Yes, the king and priests (who were males) consulted a woman (named Huldah, see 2 Kings 22.14) for counsel from the Lord. Her words revealed that God was about to destroy the people of Judah for being unfaithful, but God would spare them for a time because of the humility showed by the king – Josiah. Read vv. 18-20. History estimates that Josiah’s reign ended about 610 BC, and by 597 BC, the Babylonians were already beginning to conquer the region and by 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and the temple was destroyed.

Why did this happen? Because the people had forsaken God for their own purposes (v. 17). How did this happen? In part, it was because the Book of the Law was not considered important. In fact, the book was lost for as many as 75 years. Again, Manasseh was evil and reigned for 55 years (although he did repent at one point) and then Josiah’s father reigned for two years. That makes 57 years. And the work in the temple began during Josiah’s eighteenth year on the throne, so that makes 75 years that is could have been missing, making it likely that it was not read for over 50, at least.

Imagine going to the place where God is worshipped and not knowing where a Bible was. Of course, only the priests read God’s Law at that time. And worship was different then, but Josiah’s reaction is indicative of a person who loves God and desires to please Him. Unfortunately, too many people, even Christians, in the 21st Century take the Bible for granted. If that is the case, what will happen in the future. That is, what will future generations reap because of us if we are not diligent to read, study, and follow the Word of God?

Reforming the Nation (2 Kings 23.1-20)

In the previous sentence, I listed three actions related to the Word of God. We are to read. We are to study. And we are to follow. Josiah did more than hear the words, he asked what they meant. And then he acted. Much of 2 Kings 23 shares the reforms that Josiah instituted after he heard the God’s laws. Now, as the king he had the authority to enact these changes, but the people still had to choose to follow.

First, Josiah gathered all of the people together so they could hear the reading from the Book of the Law. After this was completed, Josiah made a covenant with God to keep the commands, and after Josiah made the covenant, the people joined with him in making one as well (v. 3).

Next, any remaining idols were removed and destroyed. Then he removed priests who had been appointed by kings to make sacrifices (v. 5). He removed the male prostitutes from the temple, and then destroyed all of the remaining places where idol sacrifices were made throughout the land. All of these actions were done because he heard the words of God in the Book of the Law and wanted to turn the people back to following God.

A key for us is what the leader did, the people followed. As the pastor of this church, that is really humbling. It is a reminder of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth when he wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). I have recently told the deacons that God has me evaluating everything in my life right now. I know he is asking me to change some things. Perhaps he will ask you to make changes too. What I do know if that if we want the nation to change, it will begin with the church. And if the church is to change, it must begin with each of us. And we may not like the word change, but the reality is that we are all changing every day. The question is: Are we changing for the better – that is, are we becoming more like Christ?

Restoring the Passover (2 Kings 23.21-27)

The Bible mentions one final change that Josiah made. He restored the observance of Passover. I mentioned earlier that the Book of the Law might have been “missing” for as many as 75 years. So, you might ask, how long had it been since the Israelites had kept the Passover? Well, it was more than 75 years – a lot more.

Before I share an approximate time, let me point out two important points. First, when God instituted the Passover, He said it was a feast they were to keep forever (Exodus 12.14). The feast was to be a memorial for the night of the final plague in Egypt, when all of the firstborn in the land died if lamb’s blood was not spread on the door of their house. The feast was so named because if God saw the blood on the doorposts and the lintel of the house, he would pass over the house. The Israelites did this and had their sons spared. The Egyptians did not and the result was Pharaoh finally allowing the Israelites to go free. Thus, before the very first Passover, God instructed the people to hold the feast every year.

So, as a reminder the first important point was that God instituted the Passover and told the people they were to celebrate it generation after generation forever. The second important point is that the Book of the Law was read to Josiah. Somewhere along the way, the people stopped observing Passover, and they might not have started again if the Book of the Law had not been found, read, and observed.

Just how long had it been since Passover had been observed? Well, it depends on how long you consider the time of the judges to have lasted (and scholars debate on this), but history tells us that David was king about 1050 BC and Saul was king before that, and 2 Kings 23.22 says that the Passover had not been kept since before the times of the kings, nor during some of the time of the judges. History tells us that Josiah’s reign ended in about 610 BC, so the most recently Passover had been observed was 500 years prior, and maybe as many as 800 years. To put that in perspective, the Mayflower arrived in America just less than 400 years ago. The printing press is less than 600 years old. In other words, the people in Josiah’s day likely had very little idea of what the Passover was, and certainly the feast had not been properly celebrated by any of them.

But because of one man’s faithfulness, a country was not only spared the wrath of God for a few decades, but many people rediscovered the origins of a faith that had otherwise been lost.

CONCLUSION

Josiah had to take drastic action. The country had not only fallen away from God, but it appears that few, if any, knew God. You and I might read this story with little appreciation for the difficulty Josiah faced, but do not overlook the challenges that existed. The people of Judah were still worshipping and making sacrifices, but their sacrifices were being made to false gods and under false pretenses. Josiah had to respond and quickly. The traditions of the people had to die so they could make God’s Word became prominent again. In other words, to heal the land, some radical decisions and actions had to happen – and fast.

Likewise, when someone is diagnosed with a deadly disease, action must be taken. As we think about the removal of a lymph node which is infected with cancer, the best treatment may be to remove the node, but such a move is radical. Why? Because these nodes are where much of the healing of the body originate. But once infected, they can cause more damage than good.

The reality is that many people hear what might or should be done, but they do not act. Josiah heard and he acted. Such action should remind us of James 1.22, where we are informed that we are not be hearers of God’s Word only, deceiving ourselves. We are to do what the Word of God instructs us to do.

What are we, as Fairfax Baptist, to do? The answer to that question is forthcoming. A series of conversations will be had over the next several months to evaluate our true health and determine what needs to be done to be healthy for the future. Will a radical treatment be necessary? That is we must know what is for us to do with the help of the Lord. But, whatever is decided, we must not forsake God’s Word like the people of Judah did. Too much is at stake!

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word:  JOURNEY.

Life is a journey, and we do not arrive at our destination until after we have died. But we have a choice in that destination, which is determined by our response to the gift of God’s love through Jesus. Once we have decided, the question then is will be live our lives in proof of our love to Him? For as Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14.15).

PRINCIPLE:  Hearing God’s Word should always lead us to evaluate our lives – and change!

QUESTION:  Which teaching of the Bible have you heard, but have not begun to act?

OPPORTUNITY:  We may each have many areas in our lives that we need healed, but we can start by focusing on healing one area at a time.

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE:   Focus on Jesus’ words that those who love Him will keep His commandments. Show your love for Him by not just hearing His Word; instead be like Josiah and do what it says (James 1.22).

“Deception”

Our system for June is actually two systems. The lymphatic and the immune systems work together to protect the body from the effects of harmful substances. The lymphatic system is a series of vessels that carry a fluid called lymph throughout the body (like blood vessels carry blood.) The lymph takes nutrients to the cells of the body while also removing waste from the cells (like carbon dioxide). But the lymph also contains white blood cells which are critical to fight infections within the body.

I will talk more specifically about the lymphatic system next week, but for today, I want to focus on the immune system. The immune system is tasked with keeping out harmful substances. “Harmful” is determined by the body, however, and not by our intent. For instance, we can agree that certain viruses are harmful (like the flu virus), but receiving a new organ is thought to be helpful (such as a kidney or even a heart). But the body may choose to reject the organ because it is a foreign substance that it deems harmful.

Unfortunately, sometimes the body finds its own system to be harmful. Autoimmune disease is defined as the body fighting against itself. Essentially, the immune system automatically begins to attack itself because of a perceived issue. That is, the immune system falsely attacks otherwise healthy cells. Certain diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus are just three types of an autoimmune disease. When the body begins to falsely attack healthy cells, it oftentimes spreads throughout the rest of the body. Why? The body forgets what healthy tissue is because it has been falsely attacking healthy tissue. Thus, what might begin as a minor problem can lead to major health issues over time.

How does this relate to the church body? Well, church’s often focus on internal criticism – attacking brothers and sisters. Most people do not know, or otherwise do not remember, the difference between critique and criticism. Criticism is almost always opinion-based and is negative. Critique is an evaluation and is meant to be helpful. Critique is mostly based in fact with some detail provided. Thus, when people offer constructive criticism, hopefully, what they are doing is offering a critique.

But when the church is full of criticism, it is distracted from mission. And when it loses focus or clarity of mission, further problems can arise. The real issue is deception. The church is deceived about what is important, and thus becomes more and more defeated over time, whether that is years or decades.

We saw last week how a leader can intentionally deceive a church and why we must remain diligent to prevent such an effort. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul used war terms to describe how to combat (a war term in itself) the problem. This week, we will review Joshua 9 and see how a bit of deception was part of the downfall of Israel.

The Setting

The Israelites have entered the Promised Land and have destroyed Jericho. During that victory, one man, Achan, took part of the loot for himself which was against what God had commanded. The result was a loss of lives in a subsequent battle, and eventually Achan was killed for his transgression. Then Israel was able to defeat Ai, and Joshua led Israel to renew the covenant that Moses led them through earlier (see Deuteronomy 27). Because of the success that the Israelites were having in battle, the neighboring countries and peoples began to be frightened. Most of these countries decided to align their forces to fight against Israel. But one group, the Gibeonites, had a different thought, and that leads to the story of the deception we see today in Joshua, chapter 9.

The Enemy Is Devious (Joshua 9.3-6)

The Bible uses the word cunning, but the intent is the same. The Gibeonites heard about the victories at Jericho and Ai and calculated their own defeat. Thus, they devised a scheme with the intent to gain protection. READ Josh 9.4-6.

Verse 4 gives us all we need to know. They “acted with cunning.” They were preparing for a journey, so like anyone they packed provisions. We have to remember that a journey in their day was quite different. The Israelites were at Gilgal (9.6), but the Bible references this name a few times in seemingly different places. Thus, I was unable to discern exactly how far Gibeon was from Gilgal. But, Joshua 10.9 says that Joshua marched the army all night from Gilgal to Gibeon so it could not have been that far. The Gibeonites would not have needed many provisions. But to fool the Israelites, the Gibeonites needed to appear to have needed many provisions – and that the provisions were well used. Therefore, their plan included using worn out donkey sacks, sandals, and clothes, and the crumbled food. They had to make it appear that they had travelled quite a distance otherwise they would fall within the territory Israel was supposed to destroy.

The fact is, you and I can see this story unfolding. The author writes that the Gibeonites acted with cunning. The Gibeonites knew what they were doing; the people of Israel did not. It is clear to us what is about to happen; it was not clear to Joshua and the Israelites. So it is difficult to blame them because they did not know what we know. If our story were written a year from now, or a decade from now, details will be known that we simply cannot know – yet. And thus, we must be on our guard against deception. Again, as we saw last week, a war is raging. And the enemy will devise plans to trick us into thinking he is our ally. But he is not. We must remain on guard so as not to fall prey to his schemes.

The Enemy Is Deceptive (Joshua 9.7-13)

Not only did the Gibeonites devise a plan, they carried it out well. In fact, they admit part of their scheme, but only so much as will benefit them. The Israelites knew their God-given goal was to eradicate the other nations in the land of Canaan. Therefore, the Israelites were rightly skeptical, and even asked about their origins (v. 8). Notice the response the Gibeonites gave. (Read Joshua 9.9-12). The Gibeonites acknowledge that they are seeking protection. But they pull some heart strings – they invoked God and the miracles that happened in Egypt.

Let’s pause here for a moment. Did you catch what I just said? Look at verse 9 and 10 again. They realize all that has happened is God’s doing? They are seeking a covenant with man to avoid the punishment of God. That is true…but what God did was known. Make no mistake, the work of God is evident in creation (Romans 1), and the works of God will spread. More importantly, the Word of God will also spread by messengers whether people want it to or not. People may not like God, they may not want God, but they will acknowledge God. The question for us is: When they come seeking answers, will we be ready to respond?

The Gibeonites then show their provisions with the intent of making their words acceptable because of the physical condition of those provisions. Make no mistake, the sacks and food must have been in horrible condition because the Israelites did not balk after seeing the items. And that leads to the next point in the progression of this story.

God’s People Are Duped (Joshua 9.14-21)

We cannot overlook the last part of the next sentence – the Israelites “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (v. 14). Instead Joshua, the leader, made peace – a covenant – with these strangers.

Covenants are far more than a simple promise. Covenants are meant to be binding – like the covenant God has made with His people. In fact, we must not overlook that this covenant is made with the Gibeonites immediately following the renewing of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. This understanding is critical because it shows that we can be fully engaged and doing what is right one moment, and then act in a way that is contrary to everything we hold dear the next moment. A verse I mentioned last week, 1 Corinthians 10.12, ring true here: “Therefore if anyone thinks that he stands, let him take heed, lest he fall.” We are all prone to falling, and particularly when we have been duped.

Now, another part of this story that is important is that even though they were duped, the Israelites honored the covenant. When the people learned they had been deceived, they did not attack the cities despite being in the territory that they were supposed to destroy. Some may say that they should have broken the covenant to follow the laws of God. But God also commanded, “Do not lie.” And two wrongs do not make a right. If they had lied, then no other treaty would have been considered worthy. Furthermore, God’s name would have been shamed. The God that the Gibeonites feared because of what was done in Egypt, Jericho, and Ai, would have been disgraced. So, the people honored the covenant. But the whole problem could have been avoided if they had asked “counsel from the Lord” in the first place. (cf. v 14)

Are we seeking counsel from the Lord? Are we honoring our covenants? Even when it seems to not be in our favor? Our society today says “personal happiness” is all that matters. If you are happy, nothing else matters. Such thoughts are extraordinarily selfish and have led to the many ills in society today. And the only way to avoid this extreme selfishness is to take up the cross – daily. Like Paul said to the church in Galatia, he had already been crucified with Christ, meaning he was a part of Jesus’ body now. Likewise, when we embrace Jesus, we give up our rights to take on the responsibilities of being part of His body. Otherwise, if we don’t, we fall prey to the last part of this story.

God’s People Disregard God (Joshua 9.22; 2 Chronicles 36.21)

When we choose to follow anyone other than God, including ourselves, we will soon find ourselves on a slippery slope. Again, the leaders did not ask counsel of God, and a covenant with a group who was supposed to be destroyed was made. The people (or congregation, vv. 15, 18) honored the covenant as well, but the result was that a covenant made with man led them to break their covenant with God.

Why did God want all of the people in land of Canaan destroyed? Because He did not want His people led astray. What happened? Well, the people were led astray. In the book of Judges, we repeatedly see a people who turn from God for a number of years, until God sends a judge to deliver them, and then the cycle is repeated. And the book of Judges ends with the statement that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). Samuel comes to restore order as a prophet, but the people want a king (as God foretold in Deuteronomy). And the kings make alliances with foreign leaders which lead to corruption of the people. Occasionally, a king would turn the people back to God for a time (e.g. Josiah), but most did what was “evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Over a period of several hundred years the people worshipped false idols, set up altars for the sake of convenience, and generally turned their back from God. Of course, it started small, just a little deception by a group who was supposed to be an enemy. But if we examine one more verse, we can see why Israel would be challenged by this new alliance.

Notice what is said about Gibeon in Joshua 10.2. The city was great. It was greater than Ai. All of its men were warriors. This city is the one that sought a treaty with Israel because of what God was doing to the other cities. Yet, we can easily see that this city was one of great influence – it was like a royal city – but knew it could not be victorious over a people who were committed to following God.

So, they joined the people of God, which compromised the people of God. That is, instead of trying to be victorious in battle, they became victorious as friends. Now, this might not have been the stated goal of the Gibeonites, but it was undoubtedly the effect. And God knew this would happen, which is why He commanded that all of the cities be destroyed. The only way to protect His people from themselves was to ensure they were focused on Him and not on others. Because when our mind is not focused on the enemy, or is focused on the wrong enemy, we will certainly lose not only the battle, but the war (similar to Hitler’s mistake in France which, in part, led to the the Allied Forces success on D-Day, which was mentioned last week).

CONCLUSION

The progression of this passage fits the progression of the immune system attacking the human body, although the enemy and the body are one. The body deceives itself by thinking that something has entered into it that should not be there. In the case of the human body, the affected tissue was not devious, but the body thought it was. The affected tissue was not deceptive on its own, but when the body tried to fight against the immune system, the immune system thought it was being deceived. And thus, the immune system was duped. At that point the immune system disregarded what was truly good and continued to attack the rest of what was a healthy body because it could no longer distinguish healthy tissue from unhealthy tissue.

But again, the human body is not the ultimate object we must keep in view during this series. The human body is our metaphor for the Body of Christ. And just as the human body can be misled into attacking itself, so too can the Body of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, we are not our own. Indeed, as Paul wrote, we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6.20). If we have been bought, we belong to whoever purchased us, and that negates our rights to ourselves, which should bring us together in harmony with others who have been similarly bought. And thus…

…our JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

As God’s people, we are to be united in purpose. We are to unite in function. That does not mean that we will agree on everything at all times, but it does mean that when our disagreements are expressed, we align beyond a common point, and then move forward. Of course, this can only be done if we are each asking counsel of the Lord. As we seek to know our marching orders from the head, which is Christ, then the rest of the body falls in line. Unfortunately, our churches today have too many who want to be like an immune system that has gone haywire against its own body rather than yielding to what Christ wants them to do.

PRINCIPLE:  The body of Christ is to remain focused on Him and ask for His counsel to know what He would have us to do.

QUESTION:  On what matters should we “ask counsel of the Lord?”

OPPORTUNITY:  Start simply by seeking God’s counsel on one new matter every day.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE:   Related to last week’s LEARN step, putting on the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6.17) will help us keep our minds fixed on the Savior and allow us to “ask counsel from the Lord.”

“A War Zone”

July 4, 1776. December 7, 1941. June 6, 1944. September 11, 2001. These dates are all dates which will live in infamy. Why? Because each date represents a major declaration of intent with regards to war. The colonies were already engaged in battle before we declared our independence from Britain, but July 4 made war inevitable – and war continued for seven more years. Parts of the world was already engaged in war in the late 1930s, but one fateful morning at Pearl Harbor energized a nation to engage in what was truly a world war. June 6 has been called by some historians the most important day in history. As a follower of Christ, I must consider a certain day when Jesus died and another when he arose as greater, and we might consider a few other days important as well, but without a doubt, the day we call D-Day changed the war, and likely the course of the 20th Century. And, of course, most recently, September 11th, 2001, moved the needle on terrorism from something that happened over there – wherever “there” was – to our homeland. The dynamics of war had changed as for the first time in 70 years, the certainty of war was declared not only on our country, but on our land. Thus, September 11th like the other dates I just mentioned (July 4th, December 7th, and June 6th for most people) are dates that do not require a year to be mentioned for most Americans. We simply know the significance of the date.

But that is changing. Many, including myself, do not know the hardship of war. I do not mean the fear of battles, I mean the true sacrifice of war! The sacrifice not just of death, but of families being gripped with fear, of a country banding together, etc. Some of this happened in 2001, but it was short-lived. In prior generations, the country had to band together – had to sacrifice to survive. Food was rationed, people overcame differences, and a country was united for a common purpose – preservation, which meant the need for victory.

But for many that memory is too distant. 57 years passed between D-Day and Sept 11. Another 18 years have passed between Sept 11 and today. As fresh as that day is to many of us, some who were not alive on that day have now graduated high school. Indeed, other important dates have come and gone throughout our nation’s history, but only a few reverberate like the four mentioned above. And the further we get from those dates, the less concern people show. Please do not think I overlook the importance of our military today, because they have been fighting a war for nearly two decades, and in some ways, we have had very little peace since the beginning of the Korean conflict. But even that phrase proves part of my point – was Korea a conflict or a war? Perhaps the lack of concern about the significance of warfare, and in particular the dates mentioned above is from neglect, but more likely it is simply because time has passed.

What is true of wars between nations is true in a different way for the body. Our theme this year is not about war, it is about systems in the body. And our body is constantly at war. Each day our body takes in foreign substances. Some of these substances are good for us – like food. But some are not, including certain types of food. And thus, God has designed our body to fight harmful substances – whether food, virus, germs, or whatever, in order to maintain our health. Specifically, two systems are given this task – the lymphatic and the immune systems. I will say more about these systems in the next couple of weeks, but without these systems working properly, our body’s health is compromised – sometimes for a short time, and other times indefinitely. Unfortunately, most of us ignore these systems until that compromise has occurred. And, if those systems are not able to wage war properly, our body will be defeated. Without truly considering the nature of this war, the terminology used commonly reflects the fight as you have likely heard, “He is a fighter” or “She faces an uphill battle.”

But our focus is not a war of nations. Nor is it a war of systems against the foreign substances in our bodies. Our focus is on the health of the church. Parallels do exist because the war is against differing ideologies. And like a nation that is asleep, or a body that is not receiving the proper nutrition and care, the church can quickly find herself in a battle that can easily be lost if we are not on our guard. Yes, the Church will be victorious in the end, because our Lord, who instituted the Church, was victorious. But that does not mean that battles and skirmishes will not claim individual churches along the way. Even Jesus spoke about such matters in the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. For today, however, we will review Paul’s words to the church in Corinth.

Take a moment to read the first six verses of 2 Corinthians 10. Just a few weeks ago, I preached on 2 Corinthians 12, and I have preached on this particular passage before as well – specifically, a couple of years ago. However, in light of the idea of warfare, let me briefly share the background and then we will closely examine Paul’s words.

Background

The church in Corinth was a church that had many problems, just like most churches. In this letter, Paul is particularly concerned with the response of the Corinthians to a leader (or leaders) who has (have) come to move the church away from the core of the gospel. We see evidence of this throughout 1 Corinthians when Paul reminded them of the truth and simplicity of the gospel (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15) and how they should respond to one another because of that truth (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11-14).

In this letter, Paul writes about the pain the church has been caused. He says it is not from him, providing a few comments that lead us to believe this false leader tried to coerce giving (2 Corinthians 9.7) and challenged Paul’s authority by claiming to be greater than Paul (notice the term super-apostles in 2 Corinthians 11.5). Furthermore, Paul compares the deception of this person (these persons) to Satan. Indeed, Paul indicates the actions are being influenced by Satan (cf. 2 Corinthians 11.12-15). And thus, Paul says to wage war – not in human terms, but under the direction and power of the Lord. Let us quickly examine 2 Corinthians 10.

A Reminder About Paul (2 Corinthians 10.1-2)

Paul reminds them of who he really is. This false leader has distorted Paul and his authority claiming that Paul is one person when with this church (he is meek) and another when he is away (bold in letter). More importantly, Paul has been accused of walking in the flesh – that is, of continuously, and deliberately, sinning. And this is where Paul’s language turns to warfare.

 A Declaration from Paul (2 Corinthians 10.3-6)

Paul acknowledges that as a human, he does walk in the flesh, but does not walk according to it. That is, Paul does not allow the flesh to control his life. He realizes that the flesh is at war with the things of God, and therefore the flesh cannot be the source of his power. Notice the words Paul’s uses in this declaration.

        1. 3 – waging war
        2. 4 – weapons
        3. 4 – warfare
        4. 4 – power
        5. 4 – destroy
        6. 4 – strongholds

Paul not only acknowledges the battle, he shows he is actively engaged in one. These words are not used haphazardly. These words are strategic. These words are used by commanders as they prepare a plan for battle. Consider the conversations prior to D-Day for instance. Questions about how to wage the battle, what weapons would be most effective, and how to overcome the strongholds would all have been a part of the planning. The words that Paul used to put the church on guard against false leaders are some of the same terms that General Eisenhower and General Montgomery would have used in coordinating the attack on the beaches in France.

But Paul continues in the next two verses pinpointing the exact tactics of the enemy. Let us look at the words in verses 5 and 6.

        1. 5 – destroy
        2. 5 – arguments (implies fighting)
        3. 5 – raised against (like raising a foreign flag in a country)
        4. 5 – take captive (prisoners)
        5. 6 – punish

11 war terms in three sentences making up four verses in our English bibles. The people of Corinth allowed a determined leader to come in an confuse them. We might call this tactic an infiltration. The leader was speaking against the “knowledge of God” (v. 5) – to the church! And the church allowed it. Furthermore, they questioned the founder of their church (Paul) because of the lies being spread.

A Challenge from Paul (2 Corinthians 10.7-18)

The remainder of this chapter is Paul’s exhortation for the church to remember who they are, and what the prospects of that truth may mean. Remember, in verse four, Paul states that the enemy’s strongholds must be broken. It was not enough to invade enemy territory, the goal was to take control. Why? So the battle could be extended further (see verses 15-16). Paul’s goal was not only to bring the church of Corinth back to her rightful place, he wanted to create a base to deploy troops to extend the message of God to new places. That is, Corinth was not the goal, but a beachhead had to be secured there to then destroy strongholds in new places – extending God’s kingdom and planting new churches so the message of Christ would further influence the region and the world. Let me show you why Corinth was important!

From Corinth, Athens was easily reached by land. Rome was just across the sea. In fact, if you look closely, you will see that Corinth could serve as a hub, from which, Paul and others could go throughout the region – and that is just what they did, leaving Corinth for Ephesus, for instance, during Paul’s 2nd journey.

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

Having just observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day, one of those momentous days mentioned earlier, the day is likely the most freshly impressed on our minds today. It was a day when good had to overcome evil – an evil that was firmly entrenched, an evil that wanted to expand further. The remedy was a bold attack by brave individuals to bring a turning point to the war in Europe and, thus, to history.

Likewise, the human body has systems in place, the lymphatic and immune systems (which will get more focus next week), to boldly attack enemies that enter our body. Like a soldier, they must seek out and destroy the enemies to keep us healthy and allow us to continue to live as God gives us the opportunity.

But again, our focus is the church. Unfortunately, evil has invaded many churches at a level that seems unrecoverable. Perhaps, at some level, this is true of our church. But complacency and carelessness can lead us to fall prey to the same situation that happened in Corinth. We need to be reminded of the dangers. We need to be reminded that a war is being waged for all churches, including this church. Again, the battle has been won, but that does not mean that we will avoid becoming a casualty.

In the movie, Tora! Tora! Tora!, in response to the attack at Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” (No proof exists that he actually said these words.) Ladies and gentlemen, I believe too many Christians have that same fear about awakening Satan. But the reality is, Satan is not sleeping, the church is! Satan is on the attack and most churches are not actively doing all that  can be done to not only thwart the enemy, but to expand the Kingdom!

Yes, our bodies have a constant war going on inside them. But the church must acknowledge that we are a part of a much bigger war. We must band together as brothers and sisters, using the power of God to destroy the strongholds that grip the lives of people in this church, in this town, in this county, state, country, and world.

The commander we serve is greater than Eisenhower, Patton, Roosevelt, Churchill, and certainly greater than Rommell, Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. And that…

…is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

We must remember that the greatest evil to invade our lives, the greatest infection that pollutes our bodies, is sin. But our Great Commander fought the battle for us – a battle that only He could fight, a battle only He could win.

But the victory claimed by Jesus was not for Him alone. The victory was secured by Jesus alone, but the victory is for all who place their faith in Him. For those who take that step, the next step is to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6.10-20) and prepare for battle.

PRINCIPLE:  The life of the Christian is one of war; we must remain engaged in the battle at all times.

QUESTION:  How does knowing Jesus has won the war help you prepare for battle?

OPPORTUNITY:  Prepare for battle each day by putting on the full armor of God.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Take time to memorize the items in Ephesians 6.10-20 and determine what each item truly represents.

Weekly Nugget:  2 Corinthians does not give us any definitive clue as to the number of leader(s) who attempted to lead the Corinthians astray. 2 Corinthians 2.5 uses the singular pronoun “he” which could indicate it was one individual; however, 2 Corinthians 11.5 uses the plural “super-apostles” which would denote multiple individuals. Either way, Paul was calling the church to stand strong and defend the truth that he had taught them during his trip to Corinth.

“Life Is Wild, God Is Good” (VBS Emphasis)

Our church hosted the community Vacation Bible School (VBS) last week. This year’s theme was “Life Is Wild, God Is Good.” The “adventure” was an African Safari and the children learned about God being good regardless of how life may be treating us in the moment. Each day, a particular animal would give a few details about itself and then share about an issue that relates to the daily VBS theme. The Bible story for the week centered around the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt.

On Sunday, we hosted a service for the children to sing their songs and read the daily Scripture. Pastor Andy provided a small synopsis of each day and a short teaching on each Bible story for that day.

This week’s blog post captures the essence of how the lessons were presented to the children, their parents and guests, and others at the service on Sunday.

 ***

God IS good. That is what the kids learned this week. That is what the adults were reminded of this week. Let’s face it, in our day to day struggles, sometimes we forget how good God is. But whether we remember or not, and even whether we choose to believe it or not – the truth is God is good.

DAY 1

We had a rhino named Mack who taught us that life is not always fair. People hunt rhinos for their horns because they think they have healing powers, but their horns are made of the same material as our fingernails. Thus, many rhinos have been killed for no reason, which is unfair. But even: When life is unfair, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Nahum 1.7: “The Lord is good a strong refuge when trouble comes.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was about the Israelites being slaves in Egypt. The people felt forgotten and that their situation was unfair. But God did not forget this group of people and had a plan to free them so they could better follow Him.

DAY 2

The second animal was a talking bird named Hooper. He really couldn’t talk, but he was named after the sound he makes. When Hooper becomes afraid, the feathers on the top of his head stand on end. But we were reminded that: When life is scary, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Psalm 23.4: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was about the plagues that came upon the Egyptians. Even though the Israelites lived in the same area, they were not affected by the plagues like the Egyptians were. God was showing how much He cared for them and how good He was (and IS) so they would learn to trust Him and follow Him.

DAY 3

Because of our four-day week, we had to combine lessons on one of the days. We chose to combine what would have been Day 3 and Day 5 together and do those on Friday our fourth day. However, I am going to break them apart and keep them in order for this service.

Our third animal was a wildebeest named Marge. Marge was an African buffalo. Like other animals, her herd has to move often to find water and grass to eat. Like her horns, sometimes life is up and sometimes it is down, but Marge’s story reminds us that: When life changes, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Psalm 106.1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever!” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was about the Israelites leaving the place which had been their home for a few centuries. Some debate exists on the actual time frame, but it was somewhere between 200-400 years. Even though they were slaves, it was their home, but now they had to leave, and that meant change. Two facts are true about change. First, most people don’t like it. Second, change is inevitable. It was true for the Israelites, and it is true for us.

DAY 4

The fourth day for most VBS weeks focuses on the sacrificial death and then resurrection of Christ.

The animal for the fourth day was a lion named Zion. As a lion, Zion is strong and powerful, but Zion wanted us to know that there is someone stronger and more powerful than a lion. That someone is Jesus. And Jesus had to die so that we could be forgiven. When Jesus died, many people were sad, but God had a plan that no one understood. So, Zion helped us to know that: When life is sad, God is good!

The memory verse for this day was Psalm 34.18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was from John 16-21 which focuses on the promise that God would send His Spirit to come to guide the people, but for that to happen, Jesus had to leave. The story continues with Jesus praying for unity of those who believe, and then the arrest, trial, beatings, and death of Jesus. But When life is sad, God is good! The death of Jesus was not the end, because He rose from the dead. And then in John 21, we have Jesus talking to some of His disciples, and then particularly to Jesus to help Him overcome his guilt.

DAY 5

Again, we had to combine a couple of days, but the fifth day featured a giraffe named Savanna. As a giraffe, she can see a long way. When we look back on our life, we can often see that some of the hard things have helped us over time. That can help us know that the future can be good even when go through challenges as well. Thus, we can look forward to the good and as Savannah taught us: When life is good, God is good.

The memory verse for this day was Nehemiah 4.14: “Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious.” (READ BY CHILD)

The Bible teaching for the day was from Joshua 3-4. A new generation of Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land. But before they did, they needed to pass through the water like their parents and grandparents had 40 years earlier. Furthermore, they were instructed to place stones in the river that would serve as a reminder of God’s goodness. Sometimes we are ready to cry out for God’s help when times are tough, but we need to remember to thank Him and praise Him when life is good as well.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JOURNEY.

Like the Israelites we are on a journey. We may not think we see great miracles like they did then, but we do have the opportunity to remember God’s goodness. Just like the Israelites used a group of stones to help remember God’s goodness, we can do the same. Sometimes we cannot see it clearly, but that is because we are often looking through a small hole in time as opposed to a wide-angle lens that we can only see the results over time. So, remember, God is good. No matter what is happening in our life, God is good. And because of that we can ROAR and let His goodness be known.