“Tainted Blood”

Consider one area of your life about which you are most confident. Perhaps it is something you are able to do, some person with whom you relate, some aspect of your health, etc. The reality of confidence is that sometimes we can become overly confident. In one moment, life is going great, and then it changes in an instant. In fact, I am about to express something that I am confident is true for every one of us – we do not schedule emergencies. Indeed, that truth is what makes an emergency an emergency. Work issues, maybe. Family issues, probably. Health issues, definitely.

One such health issue is sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. The disease kills about 200,000 in the US each year which is more than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. (1) The body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems. If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically – often leading to death.

In such times, we may not be confident about life – or the life of a loved one. Many questions will fill our minds and many concerns will fill our hearts. Although it is true that our confidence in most every aspect of life is fleeting, the Bible is clear that we can be confident in the promises of God. And those promises include what Jesus has done for us.

Today, we remember the resurrection of our Lord. But we should do more than simply remember it, we should celebrate it. How it is celebrated may be different among various people, churches, and denominations. But celebrating it should be because Jesus not only died, but the fact that He rose again. And that truth is why we gather week after week and year after year. Not just to remember and celebrate something we know, but to be encouraged and challenged to live according to how He has called us to live because of His sacrifice for us.

So, as we review the text from Hebrews 10 today, a text that may not seem to be about the resurrection at first glance, let us remind ourselves that without the resurrection, this text would not make sense. Indeed, the text would not be present. But because it was written which is, in part, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can and must pay attention to what God desires from us. And, as this text begins, we can do so, with confidence.

We Are to Have Confidence (Hebrews 10.19-21)

The text begins with the word “therefore.” As I have often said, we must ask what the therefore is there for? Well, the entire letter to the Hebrews is about something and someone being better. And Chapter 10 begins with the fact that the sacrifice Christ made was a better sacrifice because it was a once and for all sacrifice. That is, because of His sacrifice, we no longer have to take our bulls, or sheep, or other assorted animals and crops to be given as a sacrifice. Jesus paid it all. As He said, on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19.30). So, that is the context of the “therefore.” But we are not here to celebrate His death, we are here to celebrate the resurrection, so we must go past this first word. There we find we can have confidence through His death to do what otherwise was not possible. Let’s take a look at what the writer says.

First, our confidence is BY the blood of Jesus (v. 19). So, the sacrificial theme continues from what the author had written in the preceding verses. But notice now, that our confidence is not in His death, but by the new and living way that He opened for us. Again, it was opened though His flesh (v. 20), but the way is alive. In the Old Testament, it was the responsibility of the priests to make the sacrifices on behalf of the people. And verse 21 says Jesus is that priest, but the sacrifice He made was giving of Himself, and thus, it is a lasting sacrifice. That is, the death gave us the opportunity to be freed from our sin, but the resurrection gives us an opportunity to live. And we are called to live in the very next set of verses.

Now, some may not have that confidence for any number of reasons. But one reason is because you do not have the hope of Jesus within you. I will say more about this in the next couple of parts, but I urge you to give God a chance in these next few minutes.

We Are to Draw Near (Hebrews 10.22)

To what or whom are we to draw near? Well, ultimately, we are to draw near to God, through the hope that we have in Jesus. James conveys this same idea in his letter. But here the writer expounds on this idea in three ways.

First, we are to draw near with a sure heart. That is, we are to have confidence. As Jesus told His disciples on the last night He was with them, “Let your hearts not be troubled…” A time of agony was approaching, but in the end, everything would be worth whatever price had to be paid. The same is true for us. Life may not be easy, but because of Jesus, we can approach God confidently – not arrogantly, but confidently.

Second, we are to draw near with full assurance of faith. The key here is the idea of faith. It does take faith, but we all have faith in something. Some may not believe in God, so their faith is in something or someone else, even if that someone is themselves or that something is a thought that they are right about God not existing. But this idea of faith is more than what we think; it speaks to what we do. Having full assurance of faith means that we can be confident that our actions toward God, done because of our faith in Christ will be noticed. We do not seek honor; we seek to glorify God, but as we saw last week, faith must lead to obedience. So, our obedience to God will lead to us being confident to draw near to Him much like a child who has done well and knows s/he is loved wants to be near their parent.

Third, we are to draw near with a clean heart. Having a clean heart is the equivalent of having a pure heart, and Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that those who have a pure heart are blessed and will see God. That is the essence of drawing near. It is the hope we have of one day drawing near. But we do not have a pure heart, and our blood is tainted. And that is why Jesus had to die – and again, that is what the author here says can bring us the confidence we seek!

We Are to Hold Fast (Hebrews 10.23)

We are to hold fast without wavering – that is, in full assurance. In other words, we are to hold fast with confidence. Why? Because God is faithful. He was. He is. And He will be faithful.

Now, here is the part I want any potential skeptics to understand. Again, I acknowledge that the resurrection is a matter of faith. I was not there. I did not see Jesus die and I did not see Him alive. But you were not there to see Him not die. And you were not there to prove that He did not come back from the dead. What I do know is that many people’s lives have been changed including those who lived with Him. For instance, one of those closest to Him, Peter, was fearful for his life and denied knowing Jesus before Jesus died, but outwardly spoke about Jesus, was beaten for doing so, and would eventually die for his faith after Jesus died. What changed? The only sensible solution for me is that Peter saw Jesus alive after he knew Jesus had died.

This is what the writer means by holding fast to the confession of our hope. And hope from a biblical perspective is not a verb as in “I hope (or wish) something is true.” Biblically, the idea of hope is a noun; it is a certainty of what has and/or will happen, but that we have yet to experience. Our hope is in the fact that Jesus is alive. Our hope is in the fact that we will be with Him. Yes, I believe He suffered. Yes, I believe He died. Yes, I believe He was buried. But I also believe He came out of the tomb, and unlike some who are resuscitated but die again, Jesus is still alive – though not physically on this earth.

If you do not believe that, let me ask you something. Are you skeptical about life? As Carey Nieuwhof says, you cannot have hope and be a skeptic at the same time. Having hope means one remains curious; being a skeptic is to close the door on possibilities. Perhaps you used to have big dreams. Perhaps you use to have some sort of faith in God, but life happened or is happening, and you have shut the door to your heart and mind and the dreams have stopped. The questions have stopped. You are no longer curious. And now you go through life as a skeptic. (2)

A closed mind leads to closed a heart. And a closed heart will turn away from God. I urge you to ask God openly and honestly what He wants to reveal to you. I say this to anyone – one is born again or one who thinks Christianity is a hoax. But realize if you ask God a question, He might just give you an answer. As I often say, God is not scared of our questions, but we must be prepared to accept His answer!

So, for those who truly believe, we are to have confidence. We are to draw near to God. And we are to hold fast. But the writer gives us two more thoughts that must apply to anyone is truly born again.

We Are to Be Together (Hebrews 10.24-25a)

The writer says we should stir up one another to love and to serve. Of course, true love requires serving. But this service (the good works) is to lead others to praise God. That idea is the essence of our church’s vision statement with our focal verse being Matthew 5.16. The idea is that we are to be the light of the world and do good works that others might see what we have done and give praise to our Father in heaven. Very practically, in order to stir up one another, we must meet together. Sure, phone calls, texts, emails, etc., are valid ways of communicating for us, but they did not exist in that day. So that could be one reason the author says not to forsake meeting together. But I believe two other reasons exist as well.

First, Christianity was not designed to be an individual faith. Christianity is meant for community. Even God is a community consisting of three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit.  Community is important to help others remain close. We all know people with whom we used to be close but have lost touch with over the years. The same thing happens in church. So, the writer urges us to keep meeting together so that does not happen to us.

Second, the writer is talking about what must be done in confidence. To meet together in the first century was a risk. But for those who had confidence and were willing to draw near to God, they must also draw near to one another to maintain that confidence. Notice the next phrase in verse 25 – encouraging one another. Why did they need encouragement? Because everyone else was against them. Parts of the world have experienced this for centuries, and the Church in America is close to experiencing this in the 21st Century. How can we overcome the challenges? By encouraging one another to hold fast to our hope. In other words, to remain confident. And to do that, we will need to continue to meet together.

And that leads us to the last point which is found at the end of verse 25.

We Are to Be Ready! (Hebrews 10.25b)

As the Day approaches, the author says that our need to meet together will be of major importance. Again, as more people become hostile towards Christians, the best way to stay strong, to stay true, will be to regularly meet with others who believe the same. That belief is in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – who is Lord.

CONCLUSION

In that last verse, the word Day is capitalized in many bibles. The reason is because it is not just any day, it is the Day of His appearing and/or judgment. God will be victorious and all wrongs will be made right. The truth of the matter is that those who are born again can be confident because their wrongs were made right on the cross by the sacrifice of Jesus. We are not to just  believe this truth mentally, we are to embrace it with their lives. For those who do, the payment demanded on that Day has already been made. For those who do not believe and embrace that truth, all wrongs will be counted on that Day and payment will be required – of you!

Why? Because we have all wronged God. It is called sin and the Bible is clear that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). It is like the sepsis I mentioned earlier. A small infection can lead to sepsis and contaminate the whole body. While intravenous antibiotics are a common treatment for sepsis, a transfusion of red blood cells is being tested as an option. But when it came to sin, the only remedy was exchanging the blood of Jesus for our blood. God knew that our lives were tainted. So, He gave His Son to cleanse us. But Jesus did not come to make sick people well; he came to make dead people live.

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

Jesus did not come to give us a transfusion of blood, but He came to give us a transfusion of life!

QUESTION:   How will you respond?

OPPORTUNITY:  Be confident in the hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S):

LIVE:  Confidently in the hope of the resurrection – drawing near to God, holding fast to hope, meeting with other believers consistently, and being ready for Christ’s return.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5618595/ For real life stories of people with sepsis you can visit the following website: https://www.sepsis.org/faces

(2) See the first section of Carey Nieuwhof’s book, Didn’t See it Coming. Nieuwhof, Carey. Didn’t See it Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. New York: Penguin Random House, 2018.

“Flesh and Blood”

Cannibalism is considered a horrid practice by most everyone in the 21st Century. In previous centuries, many stories are told of missionaries who have been eaten by tribes, particularly in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. Some of these tribes practiced infanticide and widow sacrifice as well. However, even though many missionaries faced this terrible fate, others soon followed to the same places. And in some cases, God moved in mighty ways to save a people for Himself, in addition to preventing them from destroying themselves.

Cannibalism is nothing new, however. Indeed, it has long been a concern. Evidence of this concern is expressed in the Bible and is actually one reason many people chose not to follow Jesus, as we will see later. For now, turn to John 6 as I set the context for this week’s post.

Setting the Scene
As we pick up the story, Jesus has just fed 5000 men (and an unknown number of women and children). It is important to note that the people were there because of the signs (that is, miracles) Jesus was doing. John 6.2 says this was the specific reason they were following. So, Jesus fed them on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. Then the disciples crossed to Capernaum, and the crowd started looking for him. They found him in Capernaum (vv. 22-24), asking Jesus when He had travelled there. Really their question was more like, “How did You get here?”

Jesus responded that they were not there because of signs, but because of the food. This statement needs further explanation and, thus, this is where I begin the core of the message.

People Want What God Can Do (John 6.25-34)

In verse 2, John wrote the people followed because of the signs Jesus was doing. In John 6.26, Jesus says they were not seeking Him because of signs, but because of having a full stomach. Thus, we have a potential discrepancy. Therefore, people will use a statement like this to show that the Bible cannot be trusted because it has an error. Their claim is that either John is wrong or Jesus is wrong. The word used is the same, and it is actually the same word in the Greek (semeia). The difference is in how the words are used.

In John 6.2, John uses the word in the form of miracles. That is what the people did see. That is what the people wanted to see. And it is how their stomachs were filled. And thus, the KJV translates the word in 6.26 as miracles. But that misses the point. See, people can see miracles without acknowledging the source of the miracle. So John wrote in 6.2 that people were miracle mongers – that is, they were chasing miracles. But Jesus was stating that they were not truly seeing the signs that God was sending them (6.26). They followed Jesus across the Sea to see what else He might do. They real issue is that although they had seen a miracle, they did not see it as a “sign” of God. And that is what Jesus means in this statement.

Their response: What must we do to be able to do these signs? Jesus answered – “Believe.” Again, nothing we can DO will bring us salvation. It is what we believe. Dissatisfied with Jesus answer, they ask Him to do something to make them believe – maybe something like what Moses did for the Israelites in the wilderness.

Again, Jesus has to correct them in the same manner He had just explained. They remembered the “sign” (the miracle) of the manna, but they missed that the miracle was not something Moses did, it was a sign of God (v. 32). And then Jesus expands on this point by showing that He is the true sign from heaven, the true bread from heaven, the bread that truly gives and sustains life.

The people of that day wanted the blessings from God and thus missed the presence of God. The same is true of us. I think of the letter to the Philippians where Paul writes something I have never heard prayed in my life. Paul wrote that he desired to share in the fellowship of the sufferings of Jesus. We do not pray such words. We pray for health, for healing, for safety, for relief. Paul prayed that if suffering would bring him closer to Jesus, that is what he wanted. The apostles in Acts 4 prayed in thanksgiving for having been counted worthy to suffer, not because they had been released from suffering.

I am not saying that we do not believe. I am saying that most of us have a faith that is weak in comparison. Perhaps that is because we see faith as a noun, whereas John almost always uses faith as a verb (see John 3.36). When Jesus says believe (v. 29), he did not mean think something to be true, he meant be obedient. Most people today are willing to follow God when life is good, but we struggle when life is more challenging. And then, we cry life is unfair instead of seeing the glory of God shaping us in those moments. I know this describes me and I am certain it describes most who read this. But, if we want to be faithful to God, we must believe (that is, have faith). We must obey!

As a part of our obedience, we turn to the first part of the ceremony we call the Lord’s Supper. The rest of John 6 does not mention what we call the Lord’s Supper, but it certainly alludes to it. Thus, we cannot say with any certainty that John was writing this part of the story with the Lord’s Supper as his focus, but I believe it would be fair to say it was on his mind. We are told that whenever we do this, we are to do it in remembrance of Jesus. That is, our faith (noun) in what He did is to be honored and obeyed (faith as a verb). We will take time now to remember the sacrifice of Jesus body as we partake of the bread.

(At this point in our worship service we began the observance of the Lord’s Supper by remembering the body which was broken for us.)

People Want What They Understand (John 6.35-59)

The next words John wrote are from Jesus, “I am the bread of life.” Again, John very likely had the Lord’s Supper in mind when he wrote these words decades later, but John does not make any explicit reference to that meal in his recounting of this story. But, if we are diligent we cannot miss the connection. John’s gospel is not meant to be a chronological account of Jesus’ life, but this event obviously occurred before Jesus ate His last meal, and that may be why John omits the explicit reference. (We should also note that John does not focus much on the meal portion of Jesus’ last night; rather John’s focus was Jesus’ teaching directly following the meal.)

If we skip to verse 41, we will see that the people grumbled. Jesus has just identified Himself as the true bread of heaven, indeed, the bread of life. And how do the people respond? They grumble. John trusts that his reader will make another connection here. In Exodus 16 (v. 2), the people grumbled against Moses which was the reason God sent manna in the first place. Later the people grumbled about only have this manna, and no meat (Numbers 11). So, God eventually gave them meat – so much the people would be sickened by it. And, shortly thereafter, the people began grumbling again (Numbers 14, for instance).

Jesus challenges them to stop grumbling, and instead to listen to the teachings of God. Why? Because it is the Father who gives life. It was the Father who gave the manna. It was the Father who has given them a new bread – the life of Jesus. And those who have heard and learned from the Father will follow Jesus. Those who have not, will either never follow or will soon turn away (as we will see later in this story).

Jesus emphasizes this point with a double Amen. Many translations use the phrase, “Truly, truly I say to you…” The phrase begins with “Amen, amen.” In verse 47, Jesus uses this phrase for the third time in this story to show the seriousness of His claim (see also 26, 32). He would use the phrase again in verse 53). His point here is that the bread that was meant to sustain the people in Moses’ day helped them for a while, but was not sufficient to sustain them eternally. They ate and they died. This should be easily understood. We all eat and we all die. As one commentator has mentioned, that would make a quite an epitaph on a tombstone – “He ate and he died.”

So, Jesus has challenged them by alluding that He is the one who is the bread of heaven (v. 33). Then Jesus explicitly says He is the bread of life (v. 35) and that those who believe will have eternal life (v. 50). But then He makes the boldest claim yet by tying these statements together.

As you might expect, this last statement caused a stir. The issue, which caused true concern, was whether or not Jesus was going to offer His body in a literal sense for them to eat (v. 52). Now, lest you think they are reading too much into this idea, take a moment to read John 6.53-58. The issue was whether Jesus followers were to be cannibals.

Jesus again began His answer with “Amen, Amen…” Thus, what He is saying is true. And verse 59 says He said this in the synagogue – which is the designated place for teaching. And notice verse 55. As we will see shortly, this caused many to turn from Jesus. The reality is that we all struggle to understand certain teachings of the Bible. More specifically, we struggle to follow certain teachings of the Bible. What we do know is that Jesus said we are to partake the elements and remember His sacrifice as we do. Do we literally eat the body and drink the blood? I do not believe so. Please see the NOTE which follows which was included in our bulletin.

NOTE: Baptists believe the words of Jesus in John 6.53-58 to be symbolic. We focus on the literal bread and drink that was used at Passover as representing the body and blood of Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation which is a belief that when the bread and wine (or juice) enter the mouth, they literally become the body and blood of Christ. Lutherans believe in consubstantiation which is a belief that the essence of Christ’s body and blood are in the elements, but the elements do not literally change.

(At this point in our worship service we concluded the observance of the Lord’s Supper by remembering the blood of the new covenant which was shed for us.)

People Want Their Way More Than They Want The Way (John 6.60-71)

We close our message today with a final thought about how people respond to Jesus. The reality is that most people will choose to NOT follow Jesus. Even those who follow will often turn away. And this last part of the passage gives a strong word from Jesus about these people.

First, I must note that the people grumbling with Jesus earlier were miracle mongers (vv. 24-25) and the Jews (vv. 41, 52), which is very likely a euphemism for the religious leaders of the day. But in this last section, the people are those that are disciples of Jesus. Now, as I have shared before the word disciples means learner or follower. And we must understand that Jesus had twelve who are THE DISCIPLES, but another 60 followed Him (per Luke 10.1 when He sent out the 72) and Paul mentions that Jesus appeared to 500 at one time after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.6). And the passage we are reviewing today makes the distinction as well. John 6.60 mentions the disciples and then verse 67 mentions the Twelve. So, with that, let us turn to this first set of disciples.

They had a hard time processing what Jesus said. They were grumbling (that word again) among themselves and Jesus confronted them by asking would they truly believe if they saw Jesus in all of His glory. In other words, some of those who had been with Him constantly were seeking miracles as well. But Jesus knew their hearts and said that some of them did not believe. This is critical for us to understand. These individuals had given up their lives to follow Jesus, but when the demands became tough, Jesus didn’t say, “Well that’s ok, at least you believe.” Instead, he said, “You do not believe” (v. 64, paraphrased). What happened? Well, in verse 66, they confirmed His thought and turned away. And then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked if they wanted to turn away as well! Peter responds for the group as he was wont to do, and said they were sticking with Him.

What’s my point? Well, first off, please understand that I do not have the insights into the hearts of men and women like Jesus did, and Jesus does. So, what I am about to say, I am saying by drawing from Jesus’ words, but I am not the authority, Jesus is. The truth is that many people choose to follow Jesus for a while and then turn away. But the point is: We cannot know if anyone who turns away is truly saved. Again, I cannot know for certain either way, but Jesus said that many of those who were following Him (His disciples) did not believe. They traveled with Him. They did ministry with Him. But they did not believe.

In the parlance of today, people may go to church for a while. They have said a prayer. They have been baptized. They served with us. But they did not believe. The implication: they will go to hell. This is what Jesus is saying if we compare verse 47 and 64. Again, I cannot know if the people who come regularly do so because they believe. Nor can I know if those who do not come remain apart from the church because they do not believe. Jesus knows. And His words in John 6.64 should give us pause. Furthermore, Jesus command was to, “Follow Me” (Matthew 4.17), and John 6.66 says they turned back and did not walk with Him. Thus, they stopped following. I doubt any of them would deny Jesus existed. I doubt any of them would deny the miracles they saw. But again, belief in the book of John especially is nearly ALWAYS linked to obedience. These people did not obey which was proof they did not believe which means they would not have eternal life; rather they would face eternity separated from God in a place we call hell.

Why do I mention this?

Like the disciples in Jesus’ day, we are called to follow. We are called to obey. We are called to put aside our wants and desires and instead yield our will to Jesus just as He yielded to the Father. We can say a prayer. We can get baptized. We can take the Lord’s Supper. We can do a lot of good things – things Christians are supposed to do. But if we do not believe, it does not matter. If we do not obey, our efforts are meaningless. If we do not follow, we will not know the way to where He is leading, and that means being separated from Him.

So, what is your concern? Do you want what God has and/or offers? Or do you want God? I know I ask that question often, but it is stories like the one we have reviewed today which keeps the question relevant. The group following Jesus loved the miracles but missed the sign. They loved what God could do, but when they could not understand or the demands got hard, they walked away.

What about you? Would you rather have a full stomach or a relationship with God? Would you rather understand everything perfectly or live within the mystery of a God who is beyond comprehension? Would you rather have your life as you want it or would you rather die to self and gain the life Jesus wants for you? For as Jesus said, to gain life, we must first lose it (Matthew 16.25; Luke 14.27; John 12.25). Thus,

Our JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE.

As we have gathered on the Sunday known as Palm Sunday, let us not be like the people who cheered for Jesus one day and were against Him, calling for His death, just a few days later. Let us revere Him, truly lifting Him up, not just above others, but above ourselves. And not just today, but every day for the rest of this month, the rest of this year, and the rest of our lives – proving our love by our obedience (John 14.15) – no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice because of the cost and sacrifice He made for us.

Application: This week take time to LEARN obedience, to LIVE obediently, to show your LOVE for Jesus by LEADing others to do the same. We did that today as a church through the Lord’s Supper. Continue to do that individually or collectively throughout the rest of this holy week.

“Lifeblood”

Some of you may have heard about a remarkable story that occurred last weekend. A 61-year-old woman from Greta, Nebraska gave birth (in Omaha) to a baby girl named Uma. One part of the story which makes it remarkable is that the 61-year-old is not the mother, she is the grandmother. Let me provide a few details now and complete the story later.

The woman has a son who wanted to have a child. The son and his spouse were not able to have a child of their own. So, the spouse asked his sister to donate eggs and through invitro fertilization, the son’s sperm and the eggs of the sister’s spouse allowed for conception. However, gestation took place in the woman who is ultimately the grandmother of baby Uma.

I will return to this story near the end of the message because another aspect of it makes it even more remarkable. But the system this month is not the reproductive system (that was January), it is the circulatory system. So, what could a birth in Nebraska have to do with the idea of how blood circulates through the human body? Now, before you jump to any conclusions about the health of the baby or mother, as far as I know, both are doing fine.

The connection to the human body is the fact that blood must circulate through the body to allow us to have life. Thus, the circulatory system is critical to the body. And a key component of that system is a muscle known as the heart. If the heart is good and the arteries are not clogged, then blood flows as it is supposed to flow. However, if the heart is bad and/or if arteries get clogged, then the same blood that gives life, will actually be a part of our death.

For our purposes this month, I have paired this system with the respiratory system because our breathing and our blood are required for living. As these systems relate to the church, I believe the connection is teaching. The teaching ministry of the church is vital, for as Jesus said in His commissioning us to make disciples – we are to be “teaching others to observe all that I have commanded you.” In February, we looked at the respiratory system and, in doing so, centered on 2 Timothy 3.16 which reveals that Scripture is God-breathed. But again, blood is also necessary and important. It is necessary because without it we die. It is important because God says that it is what gives us life. In fact, in Genesis 9, God tells Noah that he can eat anything but not with its blood – that is, it shall not be living.

Again, blood is the source of our life, but a problem with that blood, such as clotting, can lead to death. In our passage today, we will see that a false understanding (that is, a problem with understanding correctly, which has some relation to teaching) can lead to death. That passage comes from Exodus 7 which contains the first of the ten plagues – when God turned the water in Egypt into blood.

SETTING THE SCENE

Before we look at the text, let me reset the stage for you. Moses was born in Egypt around the time that the Israelites were growing in number and the king (Pharaoh) felt threatened. So, Pharaoh ordered all of the young males to be killed, but Moses’ mother was able to hide him and eventually was able to care for him safely because Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses’ in the river, and Moses’ sister asked if she needed a Hebrew woman to nurse the boy (Exodus 2).

So, Moses grew up as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but he knew he was a Hebrew and later killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave. Pharaoh wanted to kill Moses so he fled and ended up in Midian where he met his wife and tended sheep. Many years later, God called him back to lead the people out of Egypt towards the Promised Land (Exodus 3). The earlier king had died and now a new Pharaoh (presumably, Moses’ uncle, remember Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, and the new Pharaoh was likely the son) is in place. That brings us to Exodus 7 where, Moses, who is 80 years old (see Exodus 7.7) is told to confront Pharaoh with the threat of major miracles against the people of Egypt unless Pharaoh allows the Hebrews to go to the wilderness to worship.

So, that catches us up to the text for today. But we need to remind ourselves of one more fact that was read in the reading earlier. And that fact is our first point for today.

A Hard Heart Is Not Willing to Listen

Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen (Exodus 7.13). Now this sentence is after a significant event takes place in front of Pharaoh. We must first understand that Moses had been doing miracles by the hand of God earlier. Exodus 4.30 says that Moses did signs in the sight of the Israelites, and they believed. But when he did signs in front of the Egyptians, they did not. Why? In part, because they were pre-disposed not to believe, which is because, in part, they thought they were in control, not God.

When Aaron cast down his staff, it became a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do the same thing “by their secret arts” (Exodus 7.11). Impressively, the text tells us that each of the magicians was able to throw down their staff and it became a serpent (v. 12). But Aaron’s swallowed up all of the others.

Let’s face it, if we saw something like this, it would probably get our attention. If it was me, I would probably look directly at one of the wise men or sorcerers with an inquisitive face and ask the question, “What happened?” If I was one of the sorcerers or wise men, I think I would have weighed my words very carefully because I doubt they knew what had happened (or, at least, why), and the wrong answer could have had them killed.

But regardless, Pharaoh was there. It could have impacted him, but it didn’t. The text says, “Still, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” The truth is that Pharaoh did not want to believe what he saw and so he didn’t. And thus, his heart remained hard. He did not listen. And it was time for God to show Him the fullness of His power. For our purposes today we are only looking at the first plague, but it is hard to imagine a heart remaining hard after all God did, but Pharaoh would not change, and so by the end, God would not allow it to change.

A Hard Heart Is Not Willing to Receive

Let me read the rest of this part of the story. (Read Exodus 7.14-24.)

Let me begin with the ending. Verse 23 says that Pharaoh did not take what had happened into his heart. That is, Pharaoh was not willing to receive the evidence of God’s power. Why? Because, like the serpents in the previous portion, he had people providing false information. He was unwilling to listen to Moses and Aaron (v. 22), because he was paying too close of attention to those who could deceive others with their magic.

Now, we can we can almost understand this because how could Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron were not doing the same type of magic acts? But the principle goes much deeper and that is where I want to spend the next few minutes.

Both miracles involved turning water to blood. Moses took his instructions from God (v. 20). But Pharaoh did not need to take instructions from anyone, especially someone he likely considered inferior to him. Sure, they were family at some level, but Moses had skipped town for four decades and he was still, after all, a Hebrew.

Both miracles involved turning water to blood. The result: the fish died, the water stank, and the people could not drink it (v. 21). In other words, the blood caused death. As I mentioned earlier, God said that life is in the blood (Genesis 9), but here the blood specifically causes death.

But the reason for the death is because Pharaoh would not listen to God. He would not listen to the teaching God was offering. Pharaoh thought he knew best, and as long as his magicians could replicate the miracle, well, why change? If you look further into the story, the magicians are able to do the next miracle as well, but they could not get rid of the problem. But by the third miracle – the gnats – even the magicians recognized the power of God. However, Pharaoh was still unwilling to listen, his heart was still hard, and he was not willing to receive what God might have been willing to offer.

As we move to the last point, I want to focus on the contrast regarding these last two points about Pharaoh with what I mentioned earlier about Moses.

A Soft Heart Is Willing to Change

Moses grew up under the tutelage of a Pharaoh. Without any doubt, a part of his education was similar to that of the current Pharaoh. But for Moses, a part of his education also included an understanding of God – and that understanding stayed with Him until He had a personal encounter with God which changed him.

Moses was a murderer, but he had a heart that was willing to change. Like Pharaoh, Moses did not want to listen to God, or at least he did not want to follow God. In Exodus 3 and 4, Moses gave three specific excuses (I am a nobody – 3.11; they will not listen to me – 4.1; I am slow in speech and tongue – 4.10) and then outright refused God’s request – 4.13). But in the end Moses followed, a people were saved, and a world was changed. Why, because Moses listened to the words of God. Moses literally had a one-on-one teaching session with God. And, in the end, that teaching made all the difference.

The ultimate contrast between Moses and Pharaoh is this:

Moses was called to lead a large nation, but he realized that God was ultimately in charge.

Pharaoh was a mighty king over a great empire, but he always thought that he was the one in charge.

Ultimately, the difference is an understanding of who God is. And understanding can only come through some form of teaching and our response to it. And that leads me back to Baby Uma.

CONCLUSION

Because Baby Uma’s story is even more remarkable than a 61-year-old woman giving birth to her granddaughter. What I told you earlier was that the son of the woman who gave birth was not able to have a child with his spouse. But a very good reason exists for this. It wasn’t that the spouse was infertile. It was because the spouse was a male. See, a man and his “husband” wanted to have a child, but biologically that is impossible. So, the “husband” asked his sister for her eggs and the fertilized egg was then placed into the son’s mom. This is the power of modern medicine.

Now, we might be able to debate the virtues of invitro fertilization, and perhaps that is a worthwhile debate. But that is not the issue I want to bring to light today. The issue for today is that two men fully realize that the miracle of birth must (MUST!) include both a male and a female. But, perhaps it is possible, they thought, to manipulate the design to do what we want to do. And, with some planning and thought, they were able to become parents in a way that God never intended.

Now, before I move to back to Pharaoh, let me plainly state, that Baby Uma has done nothing wrong. She deserves all of the love and affection that any baby deserves. And, let us also be clear, that what was done, is because of the medical industry allowing people to become parents that otherwise might not be. Many of you may know a male father and female mother who have children through invitro fertilization. But, as with most any human thought, if an idea can be manipulated for further gain, it will be.

That was Pharaoh’s guilt. He abused the Hebrews as slaves. He asked him wise men and sorcerers to replicate what God had done. And, because it happened, he thought he was in control. Likewise, these four individuals in Nebraska, have replicated what was presumed for centuries that only God could do (that is, to bring life), and they think they are in control.

Why? Because somewhere, somehow, the lifeblood of humanity has failed. That is, the teaching about an omniscient and omnipotent God has been replaced by the thoughts and pleasures of man. But this is nothing new. It goes back to the days of Jesus, and, as we have seen today, back to the days of Moses. And, if we dig further, we see that God was so upset with these ideas in the past that a flood did not just cover parts of the Midwestern portion of the US, but of the entire earth in the days of Noah.

Why, because we are all sinners. Pharaoh was. The sorcerers were. Moses was. The family in Nebraska is. And you and I are too. And it is that sin, and the tainted nature of our blood, that leads us to death. Therefore, we need the blood of a Savior – and that Savior is Jesus.

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

This truth about Pharaoh is a chilling reality to so many in our world. It is why the teaching ministry of the church is so important. In fact, the church is centered around teaching. Yes, we must worship, but it is difficult to worship what (Who!) we do not know and teaching helps to make that connection. Yes, we must fellowship, but we often gather with those who are similar to us and the church is to be unified in mind and heart because of the teaching. Yes, we must serve, but how can we serve if we do not know what to do or why it is important – and thus, the need for teaching. And yes, we must proclaim the gospel, but how can we do it if we do not know it? So, teaching is critical. I am not suggesting it is more important than fellowship, or worship, or serving in ministry, or evangelism, but it is no less important than all of those ideas. So, teaching is a critical component of the church. And that is why I link it to the respiratory and circulatory systems of the body because without healthy teaching, the church will die.

PRINCIPLE:  Because we are sinners, we must continually be taught the truths of God.

QUESTION:  Is your heart hard or soft towards the full teaching of the Word of God?

OPPORTUNITY:  Attend the study this Wednesday evening to know more about studying the Bible (to teach yourself better) and, perhaps, to teach others better as well.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:  Learn the Word of God so you can teach others to observe all that He has commanded. (Matthew 28.20)

LIVE:  Live the Word of God because that is what it means to observe what He has commanded.

LOVE:  Love the Word of God because it will soften your heart and allow you to be molded by Him.

LEAD:  Lead others by your example showing them that a heart softened towards God is truly special.

“Is Bigger Better?”

America, and truly much of the world, is obsessed with newer and bigger. Now, please understand that not everything new or everything bigger is bad, but just because something is bigger does not mean it is better. Let me give an example.

75 years ago, most houses were small. And the family was more united than it is today. Now, houses are large, some and families do not see one another. For instance, the parsonage is modest-sized, but our kitchen and dining room area are probably about one-half the size of the home where my mother lived as a child and she was one of seven children! A few other items. Cars were big, then got small (as the price of oil increased in the 1970s). Now some are huge. Office buildings extend hundreds of feet in the air (a phenomenon that is very new in human history), and yes, some churches, have built large buildings (and complexes) as well.

But the reality is that the size is less important than engagement. For instance, a church can be large, but if the people are not engaged, then the effect is limited. On the other hand, a church that is fully engaged can have a dramatic impact regardless of size. And that is why our Hub Sundays are important!

For something to extend with strength the hub must be strong. And what stems from the hub must be strong, because the further something is from the base, the more likely it is to be weakened. Consider the human body. The center point of the body is the hip region. The hip region is made of several bones that together are very strong and important. These bones support the entire upper body and transfer that weight to the lower half of the body. Thus, the bones that stem downward from the pelvis region must also be strong. That bone, the femur (or thigh bone) is the longest in the body (i.e. the biggest), but it is also arguably the strongest bone in the body. Why is this important? Again, as we move from the middle of the body outward, the bones are often more fragile, more easily broken, and thus need support in different ways. But without the thick, strong, and sturdy bones working together in protection and support, the rest of the body would be dysfunctional. For instance, if we break a toe, it is a challenge. If we break our thigh bone, movement becomes very difficult.

And so, as we have discussed the skeletal system this month, we have seen how the design of the bones matter (that is where they are placed), how they are connected matters, and last week, that the foundation of our bodies (the feet) are uniquely crafted to provide the necessary support (with a focus on the qualifications of leadership). So, if design, connection, and support are important to the body, I contend they are important to the church as well. Add to that the importance not only of strong bones, but that multiple bones work together to create a strong middle to the body, and we can then add the idea that one leader is not sufficient for keeping a church strong – it takes a team of leaders.*

*Before we continue, please note that I am using leader in a generic sense. For those who have been, or may be, a part of our study on the last Wednesday of the month, that discussion is about what the Bible says about multiple leaders in a formal sense for the church. But for today, I am using the idea of leadership generally.

To examine a plural model of leadership, we can review many different areas of the Bible. We could review Daniel and his three friends who were made governors in Babylon. We can certainly discuss Jesus and the disciples who had three who were elevated above the rest in function, if not form. We can review Paul and all the proteges he taught which not only served with him, but also helped him lead the churches he planted. But I want to center on a passage where the benefits of shared leadership are first truly explained and, honestly, made leadership possible. That passage comes from Exodus 18.

People Will Grumble Against Their Leaders

At the end of Exodus 15, the Israelites have just crossed the Red Sea, but after three days they do not have water, and the first water they find is bitter. So, they grumbled against Moses (v. 24). Notice it doesn’t say to Moses…it says against. Of course, Jesus taught in Matthew and Matthew 18 that if we have a problem we should go to that person, but it is often easier to grumble about someone that to them. Moses pleads to the Lord and the Lord provides a solution.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites do not have food and would rather return to be slaves (vv. 2-3). This time the grumbling is against both Moses and Aaron. For it is their fault that the people are FREE. But the Lord hears and provides a solution (manna), and then provides instructions for what the people are to do related to the gathering of this food.

In Exodus 17, the Israelites do not have water quarrel with Moses (v. 2). After Moses responds that the Lord has led them this far, they continue against Moses (v. 3). God gives Moses instructions and, again, a solution is provided as water comes from the rock.

Before moving to chapter 18, we cannot overlook that Moses commands Joshua to go to battle against the Amalekites. This fact shows that Moses trusted others to lead in certain areas, because Moses could not lead everyone in all areas.

People Will Grumble Against Each Other

As we get to chapter 18, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro comes and brings Moses’ wife and children with him. Verse 2 says that Moses had sent them back at some point, perhaps because he was unsure what would happen when he confronted Pharaoh. Moses told Jethro all that had happened since he left him and Jethro reacts saying, “Now I know that [YAHWEH] is greater than the other gods.” He then makes sacrifices and notice that others come to join them (v. 12). This verse is important in this story because it shows Jethro knows other leaders are in the camp.

The next day, Jethro watches Moses work. His work consists of resolving disputes (vv. 15-16). Jethro asks why he does this, and Moses essentially answer that the people come to me to know how God would settle the dispute. Essentially, he is saying “the people need me to help them because they need God.”

Jethro admonishes Moses. In verses 17-23, Jethro says that Moses will wear himself out. The burden is too much for one person. Jethro advises him to find others who can help and says these leaders should fear God, be trustworthy, and not be subject to bribery. Of course, this list is far short of the number of items we saw last week in 1 Timothy 3, but these three concepts certainly fit within the general scope of that New Testament list.

Again, we must consider that Jethro saw Joshua and “all the elders” the night before at the sacrifice (v. 12). If we look back to Exodus 3 where Moses has his encounter with God on the mountain, Moses is told to go to these same leaders of Israel and tell them it was Yahweh who sent Moses to lead the people out of Egypt by the hand of the Lord (see Exodus 3.16-18).

Now, the issue is that Moses was busy for the full day managing problems, not leading people. Certainly, leadership is about solving problems. But management is more about systems and processes; leadership is about people. And Moses’ time was being occupied by some matters that others could resolve, which would allow him to focus on more important items.

Thus, Jethro says Moses should choose others to help him with these matters. If the matter is too great to be resolved by someone else, then Moses should handle it. As we hear this system, we should think of our court system, where the Supreme Court only hears cases after they have been heard at lower levels. And this leads us to our final point.

Many Leaders Are Needed to Properly Serve the People

Again, the people will grumble against one another and against the leaders. Thus, to ensure proper care, many leaders are needed. I want to point out what Jethro advises. Notice Exodus 18.21. Place a chief over each 1000, over each 100, over each 50, and over each 10. So, Moses is the primary leader. Then, for every 10 people, add 1 leader. For every 50 people, add 1 leader. For every 100 people, add 1 leader. And for every 1000 people, add 1 leader.

The results of the math would look like this. For every thousand people, you would have 1 leader over the thousand people, plus 10 leaders who are over each one hundred people, plus 20 leaders who are over each fifty people, and 100 leaders who are over each ten people. Thus, 100+20+10+1 = 131 leaders for every 1000 people. And Moses is above that. 131 divided by 1000 is approximately 1/8, so for every 8 people, one person was some kind of leader.

Now, beyond the math is the true importance. Jethro says in verse 23, “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people will go to their place in peace.” In other words, God will lead you, you will last, and the people will be better served.

And verses 24-27 says that Moses followed the advice of Jethro. And it worked! And it must have been quite successful because in Deuteronomy 1.9-18, we have Moses reminding the people of when this idea was put in place.

Why does this message matter?
The statistics say that 40% of pastors have major conflict within their church each year. 35% of pastors experience depression. 70% of pastors do not have someone whom they consider a close friend, while 84% desire to have someone like this in their life. And thus, 10% of pastors will retire as a pastor. (1)

Like Moses, pastors cannot endure without having other leaders around them. The problems and challenges are real – not just physical and emotional challenges, but spiritual ones as well. Expectations are high, as well they should be, but they are often unrealistic. Years ago, a prominent ministry leader today did a survey of his deacons (12 of them) about how much time should be allotted to eleven different responsibilities such as sermon preparation, evangelism, counseling, etc. When compiled, the minimum work-week for this pastor was to be a 114-hour week. (2) Is it any wonder that pastors burn out?

So, how does this relate to Fairfax Baptist Church being a hub?

No organization can truly outgrow the leader of that organization. Of course, our true leader is Jesus. But, as His body, we are the functioning part of what He wants to do, and if our structure is not sound, that is, if our bones are not solid, then we will fail. The biggest and strongest of the bones are in the center of our body to provide support to the top half (pelvis) and extend the power to the bottom half (femur). And, we know people who break their hip and lose all mobility. In fact, the CDC estimates that 1:5 people who break their hip die within one year. (3) If the body is only as strong as its strongest bones, it is important to ensure those bones remain strong. Transporting the idea back to the text, that means, sharing responsibilities across the spectrum of opportunities.

In some ways, our church does this well. In other ways, we need to improve. For instance, I can go to Kenya without any reservation of how the church will respond while gone. In fact, Roger can go to. Two key leaders of the church are gone and the church survives. Furthermore, in the last six months, we have lost two long-time leaders in this church. Ferd has passed from this life to the next, and Doyne’s health has forced him to move so his attendance will be sporadic, at best. But the church will go on just as it has when other long-time leaders have left for any number of reasons. The key is to raise up new leaders all the time. That is not my responsibility alone – it is the responsibility of everyone who claims to follow Jesus. Again, the commission is for all disciples to make disciples. Of course, as the one you have chosen to lead you, a significant part of my responsibility is to ensure that you are equipped to make disciples – and that begins with teaching the Bible. Because one day you will be gone, and one day I will be gone, and what is left then will be based upon what we do now. And that is why the concept of having a strong hub, a strong core if you will, matters.

The title of this message is: Is Bigger Better? I have come a long way without answering that. Many believe that a bigger church is better because it means more opportunities for ministry, more and different types of events, etc. And that may be true. But the Pareto Principle is true in most any area of our lives, and that means it is true in most every church as well. The principle: 20% of the people do 80% of the work. 20% of the people give 80% of the money. Etc. That principle holds true if the church has 50, 500, or 5000 people. Yes, more opportunities may exist in some ways because instead of 10 people (of 50) working, you have 1000 (of 5000) involved. But the reality is that the bigger problem is that 4000 people can hide (and many think going to a larger church is an opportunity to hide!).

So, is bigger better? Not necessarily. But it is different. Some bones may be bigger, but that doesn’t make them better. They are just designed to support more – by God’s design. But whether you might think bigger is better or not, bigger is not possible without a stronger core – a stronger hub. And the stronger the hub (or base) the more that can be supported. This is the essence of Exodus 18. And the same holds true today.

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is: EENGAGE.

Bigger is not better. Engaged is better. The more that are engaged, the more that can be done. But to have more engaged, means to have a stronger center and a strong foundation. That is why we are looking at what it means to be a healthy church on Sunday nights this year. That is why we are doing teacher training and exploring what the Bible says about leadership on Wednesday nights. And that is why we are doing this series on the body on Sunday mornings this year – because all of us have a role as designed, and defined, by God. And just as the body cannot be healthy without all parts working properly, the church will never be at its best if we have people who limit their engagement.

So, the question for each of us today as we consider being a part of the hub is: How can I be better engaged in following Jesus, serving His church, and leading others to do the same? Because that is what being part of a hub is all about!

(1) Source: https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/
(2) https://thomrainer.com/2013/07/how-many-hours-must-a-pastor-work-to-satisfy-the-congregation/
(3) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/1-12-15-breaking-hip-death-risk/ (The original source has changed its site, so I am posting this link.)

“The Importance of the Foundation”

As we have reviewed the skeletal system and its design and connectedness this month, we have seen that the structure of the body matters. Without having bones of the right size in the right place, we would look very odd. And without having those bones connected, we could not function properly. Likewise, as the body of Christ, we need the right people in the right places and we need to be connected together to function properly.

As the body of Christ, we must remind ourselves that it is Jesus who is the head (Colossians 1.18). We might be portions of the head like an ear or an eyelash or a nostril, all of which are important, but it is Jesus who is the head – and as the head, it is He who must lead the church. Ephesians tells us that Jesus is the cornerstone, the prophets and apostles are the foundation, and we are what is built upon that foundation (Ephesians 2.19-22).

Please understand that I am not questioning the Bible. However, the Bible clearly talks about the need for leadership within the church and without the prophets and the apostles here with us now, that leadership falls primarily to the elders of the church. In other words, the elders are the level above the foundation. Because of this, the Bible is clear about the qualifications of an elder. Why? Because if the foundation is weak, the structure cannot be supported.

Consider the foot. The foot is our foundation. If our legs ended in a peg, we would have a difficult time keeping balance. It would be like walking around on stilts. So, the human foot is important. For most humans it is not overly functional, it merely serves as the balancing point of our bodies and allows us to move without falling over. Yet, some people are masterful with their feet at different levels. For instance, soccer players use their feet in ways most of us cannot fathom. And some teach themselves to have great dexterity in the toes. Again, for most of us toes are important, but only to help us to be balanced. Without the toes extending from the body, we might be better off than if we just had pegs, but we would lean forward and still likely fall over. But some people can paint or even play guitar with their feet and toes.

So, the feet and toes are important. In fact, nearly 13% of your bones in your body are found in your feet (26 of 206). They serve as a foundation for the body. And God, as the designer planned it that way. And God, as the designer, planned what He expected from those who lead His church. As we have seen the past two weeks, the design is important, and the connection is important, and today we will see that the foundation of these leaders – that is, their qualifications – are important as well.

Body

Paul lists thirteen items in 1 Timothy 3 (as well as similar items in Titus 1). Let me cover each of them briefly. A leader of a church should be:

Above Reproach  (1)

This does not mean that the person is perfect. No leader, or person for that matter, has been perfect apart from Jesus. This is about a general reputation. The person needs to be honest, and needs to practice what is preached.

The Husband of One Wife

I prefer the translation a one-woman man. Why? Because a man could be married to one woman and have many mistresses. Of course, God does not allow for that exception, so a one-woman man is what is meant. I could teach on this for another 15 minutes to full clarify the context, but suffice it to say that a person does not need to be married to lead others (Jesus would be excluded), but if he is married, the commitment is to one, and only one, woman.

Sober-Minded

That is, he must have a clear focus about life. Having a biblical viewpoint of history and knowing God is sovereign is a part of this, but so is living life. That is, we are to live by faith, but we must also live using the practical wisdom God has given us. Having this balanced approach is what Paul means here by being sober-minded.

Self-Controlled

Some translations say prudent. The word here means sound in mind. Therefore, the idea not only means remaining in control of ourselves in a physical, and emotional, and spiritual way, but also mentally, which certainly includes the idea of not thinking too much of yourself. Many pastors and church leaders can develop what is called the Messiah complex meaning the church, the ministry, whatever it is, cannot exist without me. The temptation is great, but it is also a lie. For instance, I am just one of dozens of elders this church has had. I am just one of the many professors that has taught at the seminary. I am just one of many who have taught pastors in other countries. So, that is easy to remember. But when I begin to think of all that I do in those areas, it become easy to lose that focus. I must continually remind myself that the only Messiah is not me, it is Jesus, and I need Him as much as anyone!

Respectable

The idea here is not one of general respect, but one that does not compromise the gospel. Rather it should make people desire the gospel. The Greek word here is one from which we get the English word cosmetics. Like people put on cosmetics to make themselves more attractive, a leader’s actions should attract people towards the gospel.

Hospitable

Hospitality is our actions and attitudes towards what we possess. Are we gracious with our possessions or stingy and clingy? As with all of these ideas, how can the church learn the characteristics if the leader does not practice them? Thus, as the leadership shows hospitality, others will hopefully follow.

Able to Teach

The idea of teaching here is more than verbally communicating the truth. It is living the truth so that others can follow. It also means to be teachable. As any good teacher knows, those who teach often learn the most. But that only happens when we keep an open mind to learning ourselves. Particularly as one who has been called to teach, it is why my number one mantra in life, as I have share before, is “When you stop learning, you start dying.”

Not a Drunkard

In other translations, this phrase specifically relates to not being addicted to wine. In my mind, the idea is addiction, not drinking itself. Now, I choose not to drink for a few reasons. First, I don’t like it. Second, I do not see what good can come from it, particularly in my case. I also do not want to cause a brother to stumble. Thus, I do not partake, but again, I believe the idea here is truly being addicted or over-indulgence. And the same could be said for food or any other vice of which, I have certainly been guilty in the past. Now my wife sometimes worries that I do not eat enough!

Not Violent, but Gentle

This phrase deals with anger. We must understand that being angry is not a sin. It is a primary emotion. Jesus was angry when He cleared the temple (Matthew 21.12-13), yet the Bible says He was without sin (Hebrews 4.15). Likewise, Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin,” giving warning that if the sun sets (i.e. too much time passes) and we remain angry, we are more likely to sin (cf Ephesians 4.26). So, we should avoid being quick-tempered and instead by gentle (or reasonable) in our response.

Not Quarrelsome

It is one thing to engage in an argument, it is another to be argumentative. The English language is fun and absurd. For instance, we say it is good to be content, but bad to be contentious. The suffix, “ious,” means to be full of something. So, being full of grace is to be gracious. So being full of content should be contentious, yet that means to be argumentative. Anyway, a time and place does exist to argue. For instance, we must stand for truth. But even then, we can follow the example of Jesus to slip quietly through the crowd at times. But being quarrelsome is quite the opposite.

Before I share the last few, lets take a quick look at how these items relate. For instance, many drunkards lack self-control, are not hospitable, are quarrelsome, and often become violent, which causes a lack of respect from others meaning people will not follow their lead because they are not above reproach. The point is that the Bible is not some overly spiritual set of high-minded guidelines. It is extremely practical for understanding life and living. Now, to continue…

Not a Lover of Money

This statement does not mean that someone cannot have money – even a lot of money. Rather, the focus is on what the person loves. As Jesus said in the greatest sermon ever preached, it is impossible for us to serve (love) both God and money (Matthew 6.24). Every one of us has materialistic tendencies and that is evidenced by the fact that the average Christian in America gives two percent (2%) of their income. If leaders do not set the example, then who will?

Manage His Household Well

The leadership of a family represents how a leader will lead the church. Now this does not mean that every person in the family will be perfect, just as the church will have those who go astray. And that is where the other characteristics in this list come into play. How does the father handle the family? With extreme anger and hostility? With a sound mind or in a drunken stupor? The issue of leadership here is not whether the family members sin, but in their overall lifestyle and attitude towards sin.

Not Be a Recent Convert

As I have said many times, not all leaders are Christians, but all Christians are leaders. That is, if we are called to make disciples, then we are to lead others at some level. But the overseer of a church must lead many and thus, should be thought to be a mature (and maturing) believer. Otherwise, pride is the result. Pride is the downfall of many leaders and it often sneaks up on them (us?) The next leadership book I am planning to read is Didn’t See it Coming (by Carey Nieuwhof) which, I believe, will help me to be better prepared for certain challenges that leaders face. Additionally, I constantly quote 1 Corinthians 10.12 to myself to remind me not to fall.

Well Thought of By Outsiders

This last item encompasses so many others. It is helpful to know that Paul was writing this letter to Timothy who lived and pastored within the pagan culture of Ephesus. Moreover, Paul was likely stating these characteristics for Timothy (as he also did for Titus) because Timothy would need to find new leaders who would replace him once he left to be with Paul. (That fact is more apparent in the 2 Timothy.) So, Paul’s words here, representing the characteristics of whom God desires as a leader, describes a leader who would be able to lead the church because of these characteristics, but also be able to lead others to Christ because of the different type of lifestyle being lived.

CONCLUSION

Last week, we talked about the community of Jerusalem and how the people responded to Nehemiah – their leader in his day. We do not know a great deal about Nehemiah, but it is safe to say that the characteristics described in the New Testament would have been similar, if not the same, as what God would have expected in the Old Testament. As I mentioned before, no leader in the Bible, or otherwise, is perfect except for Jesus. But God has given us a list to consider as He continues to build a foundation that began with the prophets, continued through the apostles, and should now be present in the elders of churches today.

It is this foundation of leadership which provides us with the opportunity to stand strong as a church just as the foundation of the bones in our feet allow us to stand strong as humans. But if we cast aside the ideals of God, the foundation will begin to crack and eventually the structure will no longer be able to stand.

And that is why our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

Jesus told His disciples to teach others to observe all that He had commanded Him. These first disciples, are the apostles which are part of that foundation which Paul mentioned at the end of Ephesians 2. As an apostle, Paul then taught others, like Timothy, to observe and to pass the information along to others that they might follow God’s decrees as well (see 2 Timothy 2.2). Likewise, we are now a link in that chain. And those commands are not just for leaders, they are about leaders. That means that it is the people who follow who should also be on their guard to ensure that the leaders are measuring up to the standards God has set. Because, once again, if the leader does not set the example, who will.

PRINCIPLE:  God has established a foundation for His church and He has provided explicit instructions on who qualifies to be added to that foundation.

QUESTION:   What is usually most important for churches in selecting a leader?

OPPORTUNITY:  Attend the study on the last Wednesday of each month to learn more about God’s design for the leadership of His church.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Take time to learn what else the Bible says about church leadership.

LIVE:  Adapt these principles of 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.6-9 into your life because we are all.  leaders at some level.

LOVE:  Pray for the leaders of the church because if the enemy can affect the leaders the church will often be hurt as well.

LEAD:  Guide others into understanding that church leadership is more about character than how well someone can speak or communicate.

 

(1)  Although this list is from Scripture (particular wording from the ESV), some of the explanations have certainly been influenced by the book, The Measure of a Healthy Church, by Dr. Gene Getz.

“The Importance of Connection (Dem Bones)”

Sticks and stones may break bones, but these types of breaks normally heal. However, severe falls or other serious accidents can cause a bone to break in a way that leaves them damaged to the point where they are unable to heal themselves. Certain bone diseases and cancer can cause similar issues. When this happens, one option is a bone graft.

A bone graft is a procedure when a bone from one part of the body (e.g. part of the hip bone) is used to repair a bone elsewhere. The idea is that the cells from the healthy bone will fuse that bone (or bone fragment) into the damaged bone. This idea is more than 100 years old but has recently been updated with a new twist.

Within the last few years, an idea has surfaced regarding using bones from cadavers to help patients who need a screw or plate. Traditionally, screws and plates are metal and can be rejected by the body. But using bones made into screws, for instance, is being used to see if the rejection rate will decrease and give surgeons a new method for treating these types of injuries.

The truth is our bones are connected. As the song, Dem Bones says, “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone. The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone. The hip bone’s connected to the back bone. (And) the back bone’s connected to the neck bone.” Usually we think bones being connected by ligaments and tendons. Yet, using one bone to heal another is a different kind of connection, but one that makes sense if it works.

Likewise, those who follow Christ – that is, the body of Christ – are connected. In last week’s message, we were reminded that it is Jesus who builds the church. In that message, we connected the ideas of people (and truth) being the right pieces, placed perfectly, and given true Power by the only Person who could do it. And that connection between members of the body is based upon truth. After all, the connection is through Jesus, and Jesus’ statement about Himself included, “I am the truth” (John 14.6).

So, today we are going to look at three ways we, as the people of God, should be connected. We will do so by reviewing the book of Nehemiah and particularly three sections of it.

Nehemiah Overview

The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a people whose home has been destroyed. The home is not one particular home; rather, it is the city of Jerusalem. The destruction began when Babylon took Israel captive in about 587 BC. Nearly 150 years later, many of those who were in exile had returned, but the town was in constant jeopardy because the wall had been destroyed. Nehemiah is a servant to the king in Persia and upon hearing the news of the wall asks to return to Jerusalem to repair a wall, heal a people, and effectively lead a nation into its future.

That is the basic story of Nehemiah in a paragraph. But within that story, several subplots exists. And within those subplots we have many principles from which we can learn (e.g. the importance of prayer and principles of leadership). Today that lesson centers on connection.

God’s People are Connected in Focus (Purpose)

Read Nehemiah 2.11-12a, 19-20

In response to Nehemiah’s statement, the people rose up to begin to rebuild the wall. These people were a community connected by what mattered for the community. We see this connection within a focus when communities rally behind a team or some kind of event. And we see a focus in communities when crises hit (or near crises). Certainly, Fairfax saw this happen in the summer of 2016 when we had the wind storm come through. Friends and neighbors, even from other towns, came to help the clean up process. So, a common focus is well understood in that sense of the community.

The stone wall is in the old section of Jerusalem. It is a part of the wall built in the time of Nehemiah.

But the body of Christ is a unique type of community. We are bound together because of Christ and are in community with others because we are in commune with Christ. As such, we are connected in ways we otherwise might not be. Therefore, we should have a focus that runs truer and deeper than simply being part of a neighborhood or residents of a certain city/town. We see an example of this in Nehemiah where chapter 3 reveals name after name of individuals who came together not just because of their proximity to one another, but because the people of God had a need to protect themselves from the enemy.

If you look closely at the text in Nehemiah 3, a common word (or concept) occurs repeatedly. The word is “next” or “after.” In building the wall, having gaps would defeat the purpose. The people worked side by side, not just because they were neighbors, but as people of God. Many may have been doing the same or similar jobs, but they were serving side by side to accomplish the task at hand. While working, they were ridiculed to the point of having to repair with one hand while holding a sword in the other. But, because of focus they built the wall in 52 days (Nehemiah 6.15). And notice the reaction of the enemies. Read Nehemiah 6.16.

What can we learn from this? When God’s people work together under His leadership, great work is done. It was true during the time of Nehemiah by the people of God, and it can be true in our time as the Body of Christ. The key is to see one another as more than merely citizens of NW Missouri, or Atchison County, or even Fairfax. That connection is important, but it is external. For followers of Christ, we have an internal connection, and that community must be paramount.

God’s People are Connected for Fulfillment (Plan)

A key element in this story is mentioned in Nehemiah 7.4. The city was wide and large, but few lived there because the houses had not been rebuilt. For 52 days, the people of Israel were connected by a focus that was beyond themselves. Despite many (most, nearly all?) of them not having a place to live, their focus was on helping one another. Of course, we are able to view this story from its completion and, thus, we see what unfolded afterward. But for them, they could only do so in faith. But Nehemiah had a plan because God had a plan, and if the people remained connected, the plan would be fulfilled and thus, they would be fulfilled!

Notice what Nehemiah did next. He essentially took a census. Again, God directed this (Nehemiah 7.5), but the list of names in Nehemiah 7 is a genealogical record of the people who had returned from captivity over the past century. To us, this may seem like just another list of pointless names in the Bible, but to the Israelites/now Jews, this information was critical. These names represented who owned what land and where. And for us, these names are a part of the record of what was to come in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The personal fulfillment begins near the end of Nehemiah 7 as the text tells us the people now had a place to live (v. 73).

The connection of these individuals is not just to one another in what was their present tense, it was a reminder of the faithfulness of God from the time of their ancestors. God had fulfilled His promise to bring His people into the Promised Land. God had fulfilled His promise to remove His people if they were not faithful to Him. And God had subsequently promised to return them to the Promised Land after 70 years passed. Thus, the fulfillment here is not just the people feeling fulfilled, but the Lord fulfilling His promise to His people.

How did the people respond? They gathered to hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed – from early morning until midday (8.3). And the people stood when they heard it (8.5), they celebrated what the Lord had done (8.9-18), and they repented of their sins (Nehemiah 9).

What can we learn from this? When God’s people respond to the purposes of God, they will be fulfilled. That fulfillment is ultimately a fulfilling of what God has promised, but the community of God (now, the body of Christ) will find our fulfillment in Him. Again, the people sacrificed their personal desires for the good of the community, and later celebrated as a community in response to what God had done. And finally, that fulfillment was complete when they confessed all that they, and their ancestors had done to turn their hearts from God. (Notice the prayer goes all the way back to the golden calf – 9.16). Likewise, we need to allow ourselves to be fulfilled by God, to celebrate what He has done in our midst, and confess our sins (collectively) to God.

So, God’s people are connected in their focus, for fulfillment, but also for the future.

God’s People are Connected for a Future (People)

In Chapter 10, we once again have a list of names. More names are listed in Chapter 11, and even more in Chapter 12. Again, why all the names? Because we have moved from the past to what is now being built for the future. Chapter 10 contains the names of those who have made and now confirm (seal) a covenant with God. (Read Nehemiah 9.38; 10.28-29). Chapter 11 contains the names of the leaders in Jerusalem – those largely responsible for ensuring the covenant will be kept. Then Chapter 12 mentions the heritage from which the current leaders must honor – that is, those who returned to Israel after the exile, as much as a century earlier. Like the faithfulness shown by Jeshua, Zerubabbel, and others since the return to Israel, the new generation must be faithful to pass on a true faith in God so that the generations going forward did not make the same mistakes that their forefathers had made.

In other words, the covenant was one to protect the community from cursed by God again for breaking His laws (see 10.29). The future of Israel had been disrupted in the past by their lack of faithfulness, and now these leaders were committing themselves to do their part to make sure Israel’s future was secure going forward.

What can we learn from this? The success of a person is not as great as the success of a people. Some people will consider themselves successful based upon certain characteristics of their life. But as the people of God knew in Nehemiah’s day, God is interested in His people as much as He is the person. Do not misunderstand me, Jesus died for individual people. But the gospel is not meant for one person, it is meant for the future of a people. As Paul wrote in Romans 1.16, “The gospel is the power for salvation – first for the Jew and then the Gentile.” By Jew and Gentile, Paul meant as a race, not as individuals.

CONCLUSION

I began this post by talking about broken bones. As individuals, one of the greatest ways we can be broken is to not be connected – that is, to be alone. As God said before creating the woman, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2.18). We are created for community. We are created to be connected. But connection with one another is not sufficient. We must be connected with God.

And that is why Jesus came. We are the bone that is broken beyond repair. So, God took a part of His bone and did a type of bone graft – allowing Jesus – as the “healthy bone” – to be grafted into our life to heal us. We cannot be healed on our own…we must have the healing of Jesus. Until you have that healing, nothing I said here today will make sense. If you already have the healing Jesus offers, then you likely already realize where He needs you to be healed further. Why? Because if we are truly connected, then when others hurt, we hurt too. And perhaps some of that healing we have experienced can be passed on to others. That is what it means to be connected. That is what it means to consider others as yourself (Philippians 2.3) and to love others as yourself (Leviticus 19.18).

What happens when we don’t? Well, as of right now, that will be the focus of next week’s message.

And that is why our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

The common theme today has been to be connected. Whether that connection is in our focus, our fulfillment, or for the future, we must be united with one another. And that unity is possible only because of Jesus. We are first united to Him, and then with one another. But if we are united to Him, we must be united with one another. Otherwise, as John wrote, how can we know if we truly love God (1 John 4.19-20)?

A part of today’s message related to being fulfilled. To do so must include confessing sin. If you have any unconfessed sin, but particularly in light of this week’s message, if you need to forgive someone or seek forgiveness from someone, I encourage you to seek God now to ask for His forgiveness, and/or courage to take the next step. Then take whatever that next step is.

PRINCIPLE:  Like the bones of a body, God’s people are to be connected.

QUESTION:  What, if anything, is keeping you from being connected with others in this local body of Christ?

OPPORTUNITY:  Connect more deeply with God and with others – in purpose, for fulfillment, and for the future of all involved.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   If you know what keeps you from connecting with God or with others, write it down. If you do not know what the issue is, take time to reflect and pray to determine what it might be.

LIVE:  What you discover in LEARN, make prominent for you. Place the note where you will see it regularly and be encouraged to respond to it positively.

LOVE:  As you process the LIVE step, you will naturally begin to love God and others more. New challenges may arise, but that is part of the maturing process – so keep focused.

LEAD:  As you begin to experience a deeper connection with God and others, share your experiences as an encouragement to others.

“The Importance of the Design”

In March, we begin to explore a new system of the human body. In January, we discussed how making disciples is like the reproductive system. In February, we reviewed the necessity of the respiratory system to sustain life and saw how it is the breath of God breathes life into that which is dead (the bones from Ezekiel 37) and His Word, which builds a strong a connection between the teaching ministry of the church and us living life.

This month our focus will be on the skeletal system. It is the skeletal system that supports the body. We use terms like “big-boned” or “small frame” to indicate the size of the skeletal system of a person, but whether the person is large or small, tall or short, etc. it is their bones that provide the structure to the body. Thus, we will be comparing the body’s structure to the structure of the church.

In the coming weeks, I may mention some specific bones and their functions. For today, let me simply generalize by giving a few facts about our skeletal system. First, human adults have 206 bones. You might be surprised to know that the number of bones in an adult is much less than the number of a small child. In fact, at birth, humans have nearly 300 bones (some say as many as 295). As we grow, some of the bones fuse together which accounts for the decrease. Yet, we also “grow” new bones as we age. The patella (or kneecap as we call it) does not fully form until later as the cartilage begins to change into bone (ossify) about age 3. This very fact is a statement for a Creator and against evolution. Let me briefly explain because the idea does relate to today’s message.

The idea of evolution requires continual progression to something that is better and stronger (survival of the fittest). While subtleties exist, it is too subtle to think that mere chance could keep a bone from forming until a certain age. Evolutionists should consider that a bone which is necessary would form and strengthen at an increasingly earlier age to provide the maximum benefit for the species. This is similar to how the reproductive system has developed in theory. It used to be thought that women could get pregnant in their mid-teens. Many give birth in their early teens now, and in some parts of the world it is not uncommon for 12-year-olds to have babies. (Incidentally, the youngest confirmed pregnancy in the world occurred in Peru in 1933 when a 5-year-old got pregnant and had a baby at 6 years, 5 months.) Again, the idea of evolution would support this.

But why would a kneecap wait until age 3 to develop? Have you watched babies walk, err, I mean, fall? And toddlers? They climb, then fall, on what would be their knees. But because it is still cartilage, the “knee” does not break. Of course, cartilage can be damaged, but imagine how many times a patella might be broken if babies had a bone there. Thus, the building of the body required thoughtful design. And the design of that body changes over time with knees, fused bones, new teeth, etc. But the basic structure remains the same.

The same is true with the Church that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ promised to build. He designed it, and, is building it. Just like doctors and scientists are still trying to understand how to make the human body, created by God, function best, we, as humans, are still attempting to understand the best way for the Church, designed by God, can function best.

For today, let us turn to a familiar passage – one we have reviewed periodically over the past 8 years – to review Jesus words, and their context (from Matthew 16), of the Church He has promised to build. But before something can be built, it must be designed.

If you are designing something – a body, a church, or even a dinner – you have to know who you are (that is, what you are capable of doing) and have an idea of what you want to build. For instance, some people (like me) can cook a few items. Others can cook a meal and still others are gourmet chefs. I will not attempt to provide a fancy full-course meal, but I can grill a burger and hot dogs. But even then, I need a plan. I need to buy the meat, I need to make the patties, put the right seasoning in the mix, have a grill, etc. Many different parts are necessary for even a simple meal. And thus, we must consider the plan, or the design, of the plan. Today, I want to identify four parts, each of which begins with a P that relate to the design process.

The Design Must Have:

The Right Pieces (Matthew 16.16)

Peter makes the Great Confession – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus was asking His people what they believed. He needed the truth to be known and a people to know it. In other words, for Jesus to build His Church, the design needed both a truth and a people who would proclaim that truth.

Using the metaphor of a building, the people are the Church, so we are like the bricks. The truth is like the mortar which holds us all together. However, to put this into the imagery of the Body of Christ, the people are like the bones, and the truth is like the ligaments (The word ligament comes from the Latin ligare which means to “bind.”)

Thus, those who follow Jesus (whom the Bible calls Disciples) are the skeletal structure of the Church. Like the human body, without disciples, the church would fall flat. Sure, the building might still be there, but that is similar to the skeletal system of a mouse being the support structure for the skin of an elephant.

So, the right pieces are needed – truth and people. That was true when Jesus walked on the earth and it is true as the Spirit lives within us now.

Are you born again? If so, then you are a part of the design for the Church Jesus is building. And it is His truth that will bind us together.

But it is not enough to just have the right pieces, we need to have:

The Right Placement (Matthew 16.17)

Jesus says that Peter’s words have been revealed to him by the Father. So, Peter stated a truth, but it was not his own thought. The thought was placed into Peter by the Father. That is, it is not enough to know a truth, it is important know, and believe, the truth.

Related to the human body, this is the equivalent (in my mind) of having the right bones in the right place. It is one thing to know that the human adult has 206 bones, it is another to know where each bone goes. How functional would we be if one of the bones in your ankle served as your shoulder blade? Or what if your rib cage was around your brain? That would make for a huge head! So, we must not only know some facts, or even some core truths, we must know how to apply them. And the One who is building His Church knows just the right way to place just the right pieces.

Are you born again? Then God has a place for you!

But beyond having the right pieces, and then having the right placement, we must have:

The Right Power (Matthew 16.18)

As I have taught before, the location where this scene takes place is extraordinarily pagan. The city was known as Caesarea Philippi and most rabbis taught that no good Jew would go to such a place. Of course, Jesus knew this, but He chose this place to announce the establishment of His Church. Furthermore, Jesus stated that nothing would prevail against the Church – not even the Gates of Hades. (Again, this passage has been covered in great detail before and I explained then precisely what Jesus meant by this statement.)

In other words, the design Jesus was using would allow it to persevere. That does not mean that the Church will not have to weather any storms, but it does prove it will overcome those storms as long as she remains connected to the source of Power – Jesus.

Likewise, the human body must weather a great deal of trials. But our anatomy is built with a strong interior – the skeletal system that withstands far more than we might image. Consider all of the stress our feet and knees undergo. For some of you that means constant pain in your feet. For others it has meant knee replacement. But you are still “standing” so to speak. That is because the structure is strong – just like the Church’s structure is strong when reliant on Jesus.

So, again, I ask, are you born again? Then God has given you power! And that means that God has given us power collectively – to stand as the Body of Christ.

So, we have the right pieces in the right places with the right power. And that is all because the true builder is…

The Right Person (Matthew 16.13-15)

We go back a few verses to pick up the beginning of this pericope. Peter’s response was not unprompted. Jesus knew who He was. He knew what His intention was in this place at this time. But He needed His followers to consider the fullness of the truth. He needed them to know who He really was before unveiling His plan. To highlight this further, let me share that three other groups are present in this story and how each group fits into God’s plan to build His Church.

      1. The Disciples (v. 13). Jesus is with this group and they are the ones being questioned. But Jesus, as the Builder, chose this group to be His laborers (sub-contractors if you will) – the ones who would serve with Jesus to build the Church. The same is true today – His disciples today are not only the present church, but we are a part of building the Church of the future.
      2. The Prophets (v. 14). This group is mentioned by the disciples as part of how other people view who Jesus is. But Jesus was the Builder, the prophets were the people who prepared the land and even laid a foundation of sorts. There role was important, but they were not meant to build; they were to prepare for the building to come.
      3. The Pharisees/Sadducees (v. 1). This chapter begins with the religious leaders looking for a sign. As I have mentioned before Matthew 14 and 15 are filled with signs, but they ignore them because what Jesus is doing does not fit their scheme. These people were not chosen by God (like the prophets) or Jesus (like the disciples) – they had chosen themselves. They were not interested in building something new, but preserving what had been.

Of these three groups, two were chosen by God to be a part of the process of what Jesus would/is building. But neither of these two groups – as important as the are – were the right person for the job. Only Jesus was right. Only Jesus is right. And only Jesus will continue to be right.

So, again, I ask: Are you born again?

If so, you must consider what He is calling you to do. (More on that below.)

If not, it is Jesus whom you must seek. He is the right Person to lead you where you truly want to go – even if you don’t know it yet. And I don’t mean go to heaven, I mean go through life.

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

As we close, you might wonder about today’s reading (if you are reading this post, the Scripture reading in our service was from Numbers 26). If you were here in Jan 2013, you might remember me placing signs around the wall with the different tribes. See the number of Israelites are not just numbers – they represent how many were in each area. – that is how many on each side. What God did in laying out the camp absolutely fascinates me. If each of these tribes is laid out and viewed from overhead, this is what the camp would have looked like.

When God looked down on the people of Israel as they camped in the wilderness, the formation He saw was the cross. In other words, structure is important. God designed the church in the NT (right pieces in the right places with the right power), but only after God structured His people in the OT. And that structure occurred after God provided structure for leading His people (Exodus 18) and in creating His people (our skeletal system).

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus is the grand designer. He has given us a structure to support our bodies. He has given a structure to support His Church (truth and people). And He has organized all of it in such a way as to make it work effectively. When it does not work effectively, it is due to either sin or our carelessness. But Jesus had a plan. Jesus has a plan. And we need to find and honor that plan knowing we will prevail if we keep our focus upon Him.

PRINCIPLE:  God has designed His body with the right pieces in the right places with the right power because of the right person – Jesus.

QUESTION:  If you are born again, you are a piece! Have you found your place? And are you living according to His power given to you because He is the right person.

OPPORTUNITY:  Seek to find your place not just by thinking, but by serving – perhaps in many areas until you know where you fit best.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   How has God designed you? Take time to identify who God has made you to be. Review/Reflect on each point – your skills, abilities/aptitudes, talents, desires/goals/dreams, your giftedness in His body (spiritual gifts) and any of life’s challenges that have led you to be who you are today.

LIVE:    Take time to write down the ideas from the LEARN step above. Writing down will help bring focus to these ideas and thus will then help you to LIVE out the principles later.

LOVE:  Thank God for the list you have developed. God made you uniquely qualified to serve as a piece in His body. And by identifying the items (in LEARN) and writing them down (in LIVE), you are better equipped to not only know you are a piece, but the place where you best fit.

LEAD:  Share the benefits of this process with others. Jesus knew who He was, but asked others so they could know too. As they considered who Jesus was, at a later point (particularly during the time between His death and resurrection) they likely wondered who they were. But once Jesus revealed Himself again, they were ready to serve, because they knew Who had designed them and What they were to do. So, help others to examine their lives so they can be better prepared to serve God as well.

A Change of Plans

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea that we (the church) practiced yesterday.  Because of the weather, 2019 has made for a rough start regarding the ability for many (most) to be a part of Sunday School and/or worship. So, rather than have our normal time of worship, I called an audible and we had a time of singing (with requests), a devotion about the Body of Christ (Rom 12 and Eph 4) and a couple of opportunities for individual and corporate prayer.

A part of the time of prayer was related to specific request mentioned (as we usually do), but a second time of prayer followed to pray for those who were not present for whatever reason – whether they have been most weeks or whether the weather or some other issue has prevented them from coming so far in 2019. We mentioned each name/family and asked that a call be made to say we have not forgotten about them because, after all, they are a part of this local body of Christ known as Fairfax Baptist Church. Those who offered to call certain individuals then prayed for that person and we concluded that time with a corporate prayer and finally a couple of songs relating God’s authority and majesty.
It was a different day, but a very good day.
So, the normal post will return next week. In the meantime, if you have been able to be in consistent fellowship with your local church (whatever/wherever that church may be), thank God for that opportunity. If you haven’t, please know that someone in your church is missing you even if you think otherwise. And, whatever the weather situation where you live, or whatever other challenges you may be facing in life, remember, our joy comes from knowing Jesus has already done and our hope is firm because of God’s promises. So, remain steadfast because God is (still) in control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Spirit Will Guide Us Towards Truth

Read Ezekiel 37.1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Spirit Will Challenge Us with Truth

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

A Challenge to Our Thinking

Read Ezekiel 37.4-6

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

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

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

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

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

A Challenge to Our Obedience

Read Ezekiel 37.7-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Spirit Will Inspire Us by Truth

Read Ezekiel 37.11-14

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

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

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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

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

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

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

“The Breath of God Brings Life” (Part 2) by Pastor Andy Braams

Human understanding of the lung has changed greatly over the years. At one time, the lungs were believed to be cooling agents to offset the heart. Later, although perhaps relatedly, they were thought to help suppress anger which stemmed from the heart. In the 15th Century, Da Vinci was able to accurately sketch the lungs, although his understanding was far from what we know today.

Over time, the understanding of the function of our lungs has changed significantly. Most recently, the focus has moved from merely understanding the function of lungs to creating artificial ones. Granted, the lungs have only been tested on pigs, but this kind of testing always begins on animals and people soon reap the benefits. In this case, over 100,000 people, just in the US, are awaiting a lung transplant.

How did this come to be? Well, researches used what was known, developed new ideas, tested those ideas, and made corrections – over and over again. In fact, in one article, a researcher said it was a paradigm shift that allowed the progress to be made. They were looking at the lung as a whole and then trying to create the smaller pieces, but once they began with the smaller aspects of the lung and worked to the larger aspects, significant progress was made. It took fifteen years to get this far, but listen to her words, “We learned so much from this study. We know what we’re doing right, what we’ve done wrong, and how to make it so much better.” – Joan Nichols, Researcher at the Galveston National Laboratory, University of Texas (1)

Nichols words are about the trial-and-error process of science, but I believe they fit well with the verse we reviewed two weeks ago, and that we will continue to review, only in its larger context this week. That verse was 2 Timothy 3.16 which begins: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…. How is it profitable For teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. And why is that important? Verse 17 gives us the answer – that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Let’s dive into each of these four areas and see how Paul instructs Timothy, and therefore, us using the idea of Scripture’s profitability.

Teaching Prepares Us to Be Right

Right is a relative word here. We must realize that if we are taught the wrong things, then we may do them right according to the teaching, but they may be wrong. For instance, someone who is taught to excel at crime is learning how to do crime the right way, but crime itself is wrong.

But our goal is to not just to do things right, but to be right. And that is one of the ways Scripture is most profitable. Let us review the text.

2 Timothy 3.10-11

Paul mentions that Timothy has followed his teaching. He reviews all that has happened to him and notes that Timothy is aware of all of these aspects of Paul’s life (vv. 10-11). Timothy has certainly learned from Paul actually teaching verbally, but also by observing Paul’s conduct, his purpose, his faith, his patience, his love, his steadfastness (steadiness), as well as by Paul suffering through persecution.

Thus, one aspect of teaching is to be reminded of the past. We can learn from the examples of others and be encouraged by their response to various situations. This is exactly what Paul is doing for Timothy – preparing him to be right based upon the lessons observed in the past.

In verse 14, Paul notes that Timothy has learned, but the lessons are not complete because he must continue to follow the example that has been set. By following the example of Paul, who followed the example of Christ, Timothy would become right, not just by what they have done, but because of what Scripture teaches (v. 15) which Paul and Christ followed. Then, Timothy would be competent and equipped for the work he was called to do. Therefore, Timothy could do right…but more importantly, he would be on the path to being right.

Reproof Prepares Us to Fix What Is Wrong

2 Timothy 3.13-15

After Paul encourages him to remember what has been learned, the attention is turned to that of reproof. Now, we need to understand that reproof is showing disapproval in something. It is an admonition or even a warning. In other words, a reproof, or rebuke as some translations read, requires judgment. Again, judgment is biblical, regardless of what our culture might say. But it is God who judges, and it is the Bible which serves as His witness. As Paul wrote in verse 16, Scripture is profitable for reproof.

But reproof is not fun. It is not easy to be admonished, and when done from the perspective of love, it is not fun to admonish others. But again, the Bible is profitable towards this end. And, truth be told, we would much rather be admonished (lovingly) by others in our midst, than to not know we are doing anything wrong, and face the fullness of judgment before the throne of God.

The challenge is that most people judge based upon preference rather than Scripture. Or they interpret Scripture to their aims instead of God’s purposes. But even if Scripture is used properly, people will rebel against being rebuked. Notice that Paul says that those who are evil or imposters (of the faith) will turn from bad to worse. That is, they will ignore the rebuke and not only continue in sin, but dive deeper into it. Furthermore, Paul warns Timothy (and us) that if we are true to the faith, we will be persecuted. Why? Because people do not like to be rebuked. It happened to Jesus. It happened to Paul, and Paul states clearly that all who desire to live a godly life will face persecution as well. How’s that for a biblical promise? A gospel of health and wealth does not mention this truth!

But Paul makes certain Timothy understands this principle as part of the process in his learning. And, as verse 15 says, Timothy is aware of this from his previous reading of Scripture, but Paul is making certain he clearly understands the implications of trying to fix what is wrong.

Correction Prepares Us to Make Things Right

2 Timothy 4.1-5

The next step in the process is that of correction. We must understand that reproof and correction can be related, but a distinction certainly exists. Reproof is showing what is wrong; correction is showing how to set matters right. For instance, reproof would be to talk (hopefully not yell) to someone who has made a mistake, while correction would be to show how to fix the mistake or to do it again with the person.

That last sentence provides a lot of information about how we approach reproof. You see when people make mistakes, we need to help them realize the mistake before it can be fixed. But in reproofing them, we can talk to them, or we can yell at them. We generally do what has been modeled for us (by our parents, friends, etc.), but the reality is that maybe we need reproof in order to stop yelling and start having a conversation.

In any case, Paul then shares with Timothy what is necessary to correct others. He needs to preach the Word. That is, He needs to proclaim Scripture. Why? Because people will stop listening over time. Teaching the Bible will not mean anything. People will desire to listen to people to make them feel good. That is, teach me, but do not rebuke or correct me. Of course, we live in such an age, but this is not the only time in history this has been true. In fact, as much as people want to talk about the faith of the Founding Fathers, they lived, and were heavily influenced by such a time – a time-period known as The Enlightenment.

So, Paul charges Timothy to put forth the truth before it will be further rejected. In fact, in verse 2, notice Paul says to reprove, rebuke, and exhort – but do so with patience. Why patience? Because correction is not as easy as merely rebuking. Anyone can tell someone else they are wrong, but it takes someone competent, and equipped (3.17) and patient (4.2) to take the time to show others the right way to live. And then, once people are on the path to correction, they are ready for the final step – training in righteousness.

Training in Righteousness Allows Us to Be Better

2 Timothy 4.6-8

This passage is quite often quoted, and fairly well-known. The same is true for 2 Timothy 3.16. But I do not believe I have ever heard anyone speak about them in the same thought process. This is remarkable given that the verses are only seven (7!) verses apart.

Like the word “right” in the first point, the word better is also relative. I chose the word better because of the quote I shared from the medical researcher earlier. But in this case, better is not something we can obtain on our own. The better here relates to being like Jesus. And Paul ends this portion of his letter with an appeal for Timothy to take his training to the highest level afforded by Scripture – becoming righteous. This is not self-righteous, where we crown ourselves as good and proper; rather, it is receiving the reward from our Lord, the true judge (v8), who provides the faithful with a lasting crown of righteousness.

Notice the idea of training for righteousness in Paul’s words to Timothy.

I have fought the good fight. A fighter must train to be successful.

I have finished the race. Whether a sprint or a marathon, a successful runner does not simply show up and win. It takes hard work and training to finish the journey.

I have kept the faith. Paul saves the hardest for last. Along the way, he learned Scripture. He was rebuked – by Jesus Himself. He was corrected by Barnabas, by the apostles, etc. And, in turn, he did the same. But, in the end, the goal was righteousness, and Paul has made it.

Ultimately, our ability to become righteous is not about what we may do, but about what Jesus has already done. We become righteous because we gain His righteousness when we receive the gift of life He offers. But that does not mean that our journey is through; rather, as Paul shares with Timothy here, that training which included the teaching, the reproofs, and the necessary corrections must continue to be a part of our lives until the end. And all of this is possible through Scripture which is profitable. See, the Bible is not just a compilation of sacred writings (3.15), it is practical for helping us live (3.16), and to understand that we can also rejoice at the return of the Lord someday (4.8).

Like Paul, we too must press on trusting that Scripture is profitable because God breathed life into it. And thus, we must seek to learn from Scripture until our final breath has passed.

CONCLUSION

And one day, we will breathe our last. Of course, one day the artificial lung may be fully functional and allow people to breathe – and thus, sustain their lives – when they otherwise would not be able to do so.

But true life comes from God. That is true for humanity and it is true of His Word. It is a magnificent realization that when Paul wrote this letter, he could not have known that his very words endorsing Scripture would later be included as Scripture. He was referring to the Old Testament, and perhaps, one or more of the Gospels. Certainly, Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit, but he was simply writing a letter to a young man who needed encouragement. But all of Scripture is profitable, and God knew we could profit from Paul’s words as well. But while God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55.11), what makes it truly possible is when what we learn turns to action. Therefore, our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

A question that is sometimes asked is: If no one listens, did teaching occur? It is a fair question, but I think that teaching does happen even if no one pays attention. It does not have to be listening, but learning does require observation – seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, or touching – and then taking the time to think about what has been observed. For instance, Jesus said, anyone who has hears, let him hear. Thus, Jesus was teaching, but not everyone would learn from what He taught.

How can we know we are learning? Not by what we do perfectly, but by what we attempt to observe. Jesus said to His disciples to make disciples not by merely talking to others, but by teaching others to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28.19-20). Thus, doing what we have learned, and doing what we are learning, and doing what we will learn is important. Why? Because Jesus said so. My number one motto for life is “When you stop learning, you start dying.” But again, learning is not just about taking in information…true learning requires us doing something with that information. And that is why Observe is our JOURNEY letter for the week.

PRINCIPLE:  Learning is a process which requires teaching, reproof, correction, and additional training throughout our life.

QUESTION:  If Scripture is profitable, then shouldn’t it be our primary source for the process of learning?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one part of the passage today and focus your learning on observing the part of the process (teaching, reproof, correction, and training for righteousness) that you need most.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:  Re-read 2 Timothy 3.10-4.5 and identify an area in your life that needs to be improved through the learning process. Write that area down as a matter of focus this week. Seek other areas from Scripture (all of which is profitable!) to find what Scripture says to do.

LIVE:  Begin to OBSERVE what Scripture says from your research in the LEARN step. Take time to record any progress along the way.

LOVE:  As you begin to OBSERVE the process, seek to understand how growing in this area will help you fulfill the Great Commandment – to love God and love others – better.

LEAD:  Over time, share your progress in this area of growth to encourage someone else to embrace a similar process.

 

(1) https://aabme.asme.org/posts/artificial-lungs-could-offer-real-hope-to-future-transplant-patients