“Deception”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Setting

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

The Enemy Is Devious (Joshua 9.3-6)

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

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

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

The Enemy Is Deceptive (Joshua 9.7-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

…our JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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

“A War Zone”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

A Reminder About Paul (2 Corinthians 10.1-2)

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

 A Declaration from Paul (2 Corinthians 10.3-6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Challenge from Paul (2 Corinthians 10.7-18)

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

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

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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

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

“True Strength”

Most people believe that the bigger the muscle, the stronger it is. Therefore, when we think of strong people in the Bible, we might think of Samson. He was able to do some amazing things because of his strength. However, after our trip to Israel a few years ago, I had a new appreciation for how strong Jesus’ legs must have been as a boy. Nazareth is filled with hills. As a carpenter, he likely had strong arms, but I bet his legs were very strong.

But humans are not the only creatures with muscles. And the size of a muscle is not purely indicative of strength because we can measure strength in different ways. Last week, I said that strength could be measured by how much force is used as well as by how long something can be done (endurance). Additionally, strength can be measured by brute force or in a more relative sense. For instance, elephants are likely the strongest land animal when it comes to sheer strength. Their structure and thus their muscles are large and powerful. But some of the smallest muscles in the world are the strongest proportionally. For instance, ants can carry many times their body weight. But the dung beetle is estimated to be the strongest creature in relative strength. A dung beetle can pull an object well over 1000 times their body weight. For comparison purposes, an average person would have to pull six double-decker buses full of people to match that feat. (1)

So, having large muscles may mean being strong. And having purposeful muscles may allow for incredible proportional strength. But recognizing our limitations is one of the greatest strengths a person can have. We all have limitations, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. But recognizing these limitations allows us to minimize their impact on us. Why? Because it forces us to choose another path, and that often means involving others. This idea is true in much of life, but it is a part of God’s particular design for the body of Christ. Some things I do well, and therefore, I should focus on them. Other things, I do not do as well. That does not mean I ignore them, but it might mean empowering someone else who does do that particular thing well. But before we can be effective like that, we must first recognize our strengths, we must acknowledge our weaknesses, and then we must let God provide the solution. And we an allow God to turn our weaknesses into a strength for Him because of one thing – faith.

FAITH+HOPE+LOVE=DIVINE TRILOGY

The last two weeks we have looked at the other parts of the divine trilogy. We began with love two weeks ago, and then hope last week. But today, we will see that it is faith that truly provides our strength, but only if the object of our faith is worthy. So, let us look at what Paul says about the source of his strength because of his faith.

BODY

Faith Leads to Humility  (2 Corinthians 12.1-6)

It is odd to say humility is a key characteristic of this text when the fifth word of the chapter speaks of Paul’s boasting. If we look back to Chapter 11, the chapter is about boasts that are made by others, and by Paul. But notice the topics of Paul’s boasting. He boasts about such things as being imprisoned, beaten, stoned, hungry, tired, etc. But he does so in an effort not to show how great he is, but to show how great God is. In fact, He boasts about such things to show that he, Paul, is an apostle chosen by God to serve, not like the so-called super-apostles (11.5) who use their self-proclaimed “authority” to manipulate the Corinthians for their own personal gain. (This issue is the heart of the latter part of letter. See for instance, 12.11-18, but all of chapters 10-12 relate to the claims of “superior” leaders.)

How does faith lead to humility? Humility is knowing that we are not the center of the universe. All of us are guilty of this phenomenon, some more than others. For instance, every time we think of ourselves over God, we are lacking humility. Or consider the last time you looked down on someone else or talked badly about someone else. Pride is talking about others; humility it talking with those same others.

But we must be careful not to think humility is something other than what it is. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” Thinking less of yourself is a slap in the face of the Creator who made you. But thinking too highly of yourself is to ignore God or that God made others in His image. In fact, Lewis’ statement is particularly challenging because to maximize who were are in Christ is to become all that God intends for us to be. To accomplish that goal means that we must focus on ourselves to an extent so that we can improve our skills and abilities. However, the other side of the coin is that we cannot be all that we are meant to be unless we are with others. We are not made to live in isolation. Thus, we must often put the needs of others over our own. In fact, Paul makes that very appeal in Philippians 2.4.

So, how does the idea of humility relate to faith? It relates very well, but the determinant is the object of our faith. If someone’s focus is on me, myself, and I, then his/her faith will be in what s/he can do. But I will also be forever limited by what I cannot do or what I cannot learn to do on my own. If my focus is on others only, then I will neglect my needs which will ultimately negate me being able to care for myself, which will, in turn, prevent me from focusing on others.

Notice how Paul addresses this in the first verses on Chapter 12. He speaks of himself in the third person, which is a strategic tactic, but he clearly acknowledges that what happened to him is beyond his own understanding. He says, “God knows” but “I do not know.” This is a statement of humility. Paul is saying that he was in heaven, with God, hearing things which were not to be told. Paul was made to realize that the experience was not about Him – it was about Christ. It was about Him learning to place his faith himself and beyond what he could understand. That requires a great deal of humility, particularly in light of what he is describing.

Therefore, faith leads to humility. We must be humble to be the person God wants us to be, not who we want to be, or who others want us to be. But that same humility should help us realize who God is, and that He is so far beyond our comprehension, which should create a desire within us to become more like Him.

Faith Leads to Weakness (2 Corinthians 12.7-9)

Paul continues his thoughts without breaking stride. While I have divided these first verses into humility and weakness, Paul tied the two together because true faith will bring about both in some way. The truth is that Paul is about to share a thought which we have now coined as “No pain, no gain.” The problem is that we do not like pain, and therefore we rarely experience the kind of gains God has for us.

In the western world, we have largely been taught to avoid it. Parents and grandparents now go out of their way to make life easy for their children. This is a big mistake. I am not saying we should not help them, but people often learn best from their mistakes, and children are not allowed to make mistakes any more. Parents naturally want to protect their children, but that protection must be in place when they are outside the home as well. It is the difference between raising children or preparing future adults. I remember one of the strangest reactions I received as a father was at a parent-teacher conference when Nicole was in the 6th or 7th grade. She was taking a class in technology and had just brought a paper home with an F. Now Nicole is bright and graduated from college with high honors, but that assignment was a bust. Why? She didn’t do it right, obviously, but, partly because she didn’t care. The teacher was a woman whom I want to say was about Susan’s size and I was 80+ pounds heavier than I am now, so it was likely that my presence intimidated her – particularly when I said I wanted to talk about her giving Nicole an F. What she soon realized though was that I was thanking her for it. Nicole needed to learn the lesson. And she did. I am not saying that Nicole was a perfect student after that (she wasn’t), or that she didn’t procrastinate later (she did), but she learned a lesson, and made the most of it. Some pain, some gain.

Paul experiences a great deal of pain to receive this great opportunity. I believe Paul likely died in Lystra after he was stoned and was left for dead (Acts 14.19). It was early in 2 Corinthians that Paul said that being in the body is to be apart from the Lord (chapter 5), and he knows from experience. So, Paul had pain, and thus he had gain. But because he had gain, he also had pain. He was afflicted with some ailment for which he prayed for relief. (You can check the Weekly Nugget for my theory on what his affliction was.)

But the affliction was not punishment, it was preventative. Notice that Paul says in verse 7, “to keep me from becoming conceited…” Let’s face it, Paul had seen something grand. He knows it.

And between the Bible and Jewish history, we can know that Paul was special and was especially trained. Thus, he probably fought pride. And that goes back to humility. But a part of learning humility was to live in weakness. This affliction forced him to live with a focus on something or someone other than himself. Certainly, Paul engaged others in helping him with the ministry, but we can make a strong case that Paul needed help. He needed help because he was weak. And one purpose of that weakness was so Paul would realize the Someone he truly needed was God. It was only through the grace of God that Paul could find strength. He desired to be free from the affliction. But after God said to stop, Paul knew that he would be closer to God with the affliction than he would be without it.

Where do you seek your strength? Let me state that another way. Where does your loyalty lie? Or, for our purposes: In what do you place your faith? For some, it is politics – perhaps, loyalty to a particular party or focusing on a particular issue. Others place their faith in a team. Still others a person or their family. All of these may bring a sense of strength for a while, but none will bring the kind of strength we need to overcome the weaknesses we have. And that is why we must focus on the only pure object of faith, and the source of all strength – which is God.

True Strength Is Found in Christ (2 Corinthians 12.10)

The essence of 2 Corinthians is that Paul knows who He is. Others are making false claims about themselves and about Paul which has confused the people of Corinth. So, Paul writes this stern letter to correct their thinking. But he does so not with his own authority, but with the authority of Christ – because that is where Paul gets his authority and his strength. Paul writes in humility as we have seen. Paul writes from weakness which we have seen. But Paul writes in the full authority, and thus strength, of Jesus, for as he wrote, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The strength Paul has is not his own, it is the power of Christ within him. Remember, it was Paul who wrote the phrase we saw last week, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1.27). It is that hope which gave Paul the strength to endure – not only his weaknesses, but the insults, the hardships, the persecutions, and the calamities. These words were not foreign to Paul and are not foreign to many of us. If we truly have our faith in Christ, we can endure like Paul did. We can overcome like Paul has. We can be victorious like Paul is. Why? Because in our humility and our weakness, we find true strength – a strength that is only possible through Christ.

CONCLUSION

Most of mankind has a fixation with strength. In fact, we often equate strength with health. While some truth may exist between strength and truth, without using the strength we have, our muscles are worthless. Furthermore, we often overlook relative strength (like the ant) or wrongly consider the source of strength. For instance, remember, that it was not Samson’s muscles that made him strong, it was his hair.

So, let us not get so focused on what we think should be the source of strength; let us focus on the source of real strength. And that source is Jesus, which…

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

Remember, our strength comes as a result of our faith. And our faith will lead us to be humble and realize our overall weakness before God. When God sees us as humble and weak, He is able to best mold us into the individuals that He desires for us to be.

PRINCIPLE:  True strength is the result of faith in Jesus.

QUESTION:  Do you focus on who you are or who He is?

OPPORTUNITY:  God wants more for you than you realize, but the only way to achieve His purpose is to be humble and weak so you can receive His strength.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Write down five times this week you put your desires ahead of God’s (putting faith in yourself above faith in God).

LIVE:  For each of the five items, specifically write down how God’s desires are different from yours. For one item, consider how you might respond differently in the future.

LOVE:  Express your love and thanksgiving to God for His love and forgiveness.

LEAD:  Reflect on the single item in the LIVE step. Construct a plan to lead yourself away from that temptation in the future.

(1) https://onekindplanet.org/top-10/top-10-list-of-the-worlds-strongest-animals/

Weekly Nugget

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? Although it cannot be proved, I believe Paul’s thorn was related to his eyesight. First, remember that Paul was blinded by a flash of light when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9.3,8), and later “something like scales fell from his eyes” (Acts 9.18). Then, he was stoned at Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14.19), which likely involved rocks hitting him in the head, which could damage his eyes. Finally, as Paul closed his letter to the Galatians, he mentioned the “large letters” written with his own hand (Galatians 6.11), which could be an indication of him writing largely so he could see (and Galatians is one of the few letters that does not include Timothy’s name at the beginning as one writing with Paul).

“The Hope of Glory”

Muscles are more than about strength (as I mentioned last week). We may think of strength, but the reality is that muscles allow us to maintain good posture as well as allowing us to move. But that movement does involve strength. But how should we best measure physical strength? Is someone strong because they can do something one time or because they can do something multiple times? The answer is both can be true. Maximum muscle strength is best measured by determining if someone can do some action one time. For instance, a weightlifter will measure their strength by how much they can bench or squat or dead lift one time. But then someone might ask, “How many reps do you do?” And that question tests endurance.

But beyond physical strength, people are said to be emotionally strong. On a day like today, (Mother’s Day) we can think of mom’s or other women in our life that show great emotional strength through certain trials in their lives or the support they show when the trials are challenging their children. I know we do not always recognize this in the moment, and sometimes we may never recognize the fullness of a mother’s strength, but over time most of us appreciate our mothers more as we age.

But another kind of strength is spiritual strength. Perhaps those words make you think of someone whose life is full of faith, hope, and love at levels you might never expect to attain. Perhaps it is someone you know or about whom you have heard or read. Or perhaps it is someone from the Bible – like a Paul or a Peter or Jacob or David. But do you realize that each of those people, and countless others are no different from you and me except they learned to exercise their spiritual muscles over time? Abraham had to leave his homeland to become great. Jacob was an underdog (and a liar), but God chose him as an underdog. Moses was a coward but became a great leader through spiritual exercise. David had several older brothers, but through his spiritual exercises became a great king over them (similar to Joseph who became a great leader). Peter, a mere fisherman. Paul, someone who loved to have others do the grunt work (see Acts 7.58-8.1), but wanted the godly destroyed. All of these people had to develop their spiritual muscles. And that takes time. Again, there is a difference in being strong for a moment or strong for the duration. And in our spiritual lives, both are important. And that is why we must develop our spiritual muscles.

FAITH+HOPE+LOVE=DIVINE TRILOGY

So, today, we are going to talk about developing the muscle of hope. As I mentioned last week, a book I recently read talks about the divine trilogy or faith, hope, and love. You are likely familiar with this trio of words because it is found in 1 Corinthians 13.13. But I had never heard them described as the “divine trilogy” and, more importantly, I had never realized the importance of these three words together (or especially when one is missing) in the NT. (1)

Today, we look at the second of these concepts. We are reviewing them in reverse order because Jesus said the greatest commandment involves love. Furthermore, it is love that will remain. But the three – faith, hope, and love are perfectly interconnected just like the true Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For you cannot have the Son without the Father, and the Spirit is continuing the work of the Son as He was sent to do by the Father. Likewise, if we love, we must have faith in something or someone which leads to a hope of something better because of that faith. We will look at faith next week, but for today, let us turn our attention to hope.

To Have Hope Requires a Bit of Foolishness (1 Corinthians 1.18-21)

First, I must point out that the text we are reviewing today does not include the word, “hope.” But the principles of the text share the point that those who have the least can have the most – and that is a bit of what hope is.

Consider, why people have hope. They hope for peace – because peace doesn’t exist. They hope for wealth – because money alludes them. They hope for a spouse – because they are single. They hope for a new job – because they do not like they current one (or they do not have one). See we only hope for things that are currently beyond us.

But as I have said dozens of times, that kind of hope is a wish. When the Bible speaks of hope it is something that is certain, just not yet realized in full. For instance, Titus 2 calls the return of Jesus – the Blessed Hope – because it will happen, but it has not happened yet.

But to believe something to be true, even though it has not been realized, does makes us appear foolish. And yet, those who are foolish enough to have this type of HOPE are the ones that God elevates. Verse 18 says it is the power of God to believe in the folly of the cross. Verse 19, says that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise. Verse 20 says the wisdom of the world is what will be foolish.

We see this throughout our culture right now. More than anytime in recent history, the elite believe those who are religious are fools. But this is nothing new. 100 years ago, it was determined by the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) that any school which issued any kind of religious test should not be called a university. This is not a law, but it is why most every Christian institution of higher learning are called colleges. Thus, to many people my having a doctorate does not qualify me to teach in many schools because it was earned in a Christian environment which means it does not really count. The thought process is that Christians cannot be people of reason, only superstition. Thus, in the minds of many any hope we have is indeed superstitious.

As a people we live in an age of reason which began with the Enlightenment in the 18th Century. But reason cannot explain the cross or the resurrection even though they are documented by historians in the 1st Century apart from the Bible. However, this reason, or wisdom, is nothing new. Paul was writing to Corinth which was a city with a strong Greek heritage and the Greeks were notorious for their wisdom. Thus, Paul says God made the wisdom of the world (that is, human reason) foolish while making those who appear to be fools (for following an unseen God) the ones who will be made victorious in the end. And that is why we can have HOPE.

To Have Hope Is to Understand Christ (1 Corinthians 1.22-25)

Again, we often think that our culture is much worse today than it has even been. Now, in all honesty, I cannot tell you how bad the world has been at every era of history, but we can look back at many instances in history and see a world that was as corrupt or more-so than the one we live in currently. Without debate, two accounts from Genesis come to mind, and both ended with calamitous consequences. First, in the story of Noah, we have God saving one man and his family and destroying everyone and nearly everything else because “every intention of [mankind’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5). Then just a dozen or so chapters later, we have God sending fire balls from the sky to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah due to the rampant sin in those towns (Genesis 19.24). And yet, Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment it will be better for those two towns than it will be for Capernaum (the town which was the base for His ministry, Matthew 12.23-24).

So, we must not kid ourselves that our culture is the worst ever. But it is bad. And a part of the evil we face today is ill-conceived logic that is cast as wisdom. For instance, I heard a story this week about a father who has a 14-year old female child cannot call her a girl or it will be considered “family violence.” FAMILY VIOLENCE! (2)

This is the type of wisdom that Paul says the world will chase. And it has, and it is, and it will. In his day it was the Greeks (v. 22) while the Jews wanted proof. They wanted signs. Remember it was the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus to do signs (after all of the signs He had already done – and yet they missed the biggest one, His return from the dead; see Matthew 14.13-16.1).

But what Paul preached was that a man who was crucified was the long-awaited Messiah. The Jews would not believe and the Greeks thought it was folly. But for anyone who would believe – whether Jew or Greek (Gentile), the name Christ is equated with the power of God. Why? Because the world may believe that having belief in God is foolish and perhaps even that God is foolish, but as Paul writes, the foolishness of God is far wiser than any wisdom found in man (v. 25).

To Have Christ Is to Have Hope (1 Corinthians 1.26-31)

In this last portion, Paul ties up any loose ends that the reader might be questioning before expanding on the idea as it relates to his specific message in chapter two. Earlier, I mentioned that we often hope for things we don’t have, and Paul realizing that truth, asks the Corinthians to remember where they were before Christ, and where they are now.

Before Christ, they had a hope (as in a wish) to have a better life according to “worldly standards” (v. 26). Much of his audience was not of noble birth, but “God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (v. 27). In other words, whatever wisdom or strength the world thinks it has is fake. God is the source of true strength. That was going to be the title for this week’s message, but I am moving it to next week because it fits better there.

What Paul says is that God choices are not what human reason might consider. Again, we see this from the earliest parts of the Bible. Jacob was chosen over Esau. Joseph was chosen over all of his older brothers. Moses was chosen over Aaron. David was seventh in line. And, as we have seen before, Jesus was born through Nathan’s line whom we know nothing about (this is not Nathan the prophet) instead of Solomon’s line.

But being wise and strong in the world’s eyes means nothing when this life is over. If that is the fullness of somebody’s hope (that is, their desires, or wishes), then they may achieve greatness, but it will be gone. Read 1 Corinthians 1.28-29. But for those who seek Christ, we have God’s true wisdom and His true strength, and thus we do not boast in ourselves, we are to boast in what God has done for us. Read 1 Corinthians 1.30-31.

In our reading this morning we heard what Christ can really means to us. Colossians 1.27 says Christ in You, the Hope of Glory. I love how Paul writes sometimes. That idea has no verb, and yet it is completely sensible. Essentially, Paul makes is a mathematical equation.

Christ in You = Hope of Glory

Now, do not misunderstand me, and more importantly do not misinterpret God, being physically strong or mentally astute is not wrong. And we can, and should, develop our strength in all aspects of life until we are able to love the Lord our God will all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (as we saw last week). But in our quest for strength and knowledge, we must recognize the source of both and that achieving any personal goals does not give us any more HOPE than we already have if we have Christ.

CONCLUSION

And that brings us back to the idea of our needing to develop our muscle of HOPE. For those who are following Christ, we cannot receive any more of Him than we already have. But we can allow Him to have more of us than He currently does. And when we find ourselves thinking of Him and yielding to Him more often, we will find that the troubles of the world do not concern us as much as they otherwise might because of the HOPE that we have. Again, that HOPE is not a wish, it is an unrealized certainty. What God has promised might otherwise be considered foolish by those who do not believe. And most will question – and SHOULD question – what comes out of the mouth of someone teaching God’s Word. That is why I simply try to elaborate on what He says in His Word – because it is His wisdom that bring true HOPE, not anything I might say or do (which is Paul’s exact point in the next chapter of this letter). And again, that HOPE comes from our belief in Jesus,…

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

Our hope is truly in, and because of Jesus, who is the Christ. And it is Christ in you which is the hope of glory. So, build that HOPE muscle. This muscle is different from faith which we will review next week, but it is certainly related because we cannot have true HOPE if we do not have a legitimate FAITH. That does not mean that we may not waiver, but if Christ is truly within us, how can we not have HOPE within us. Furthermore, if we have that type of HOPE within us, then how can we not share it with others?

How can we build our muscle called hope? First, we must all realize that…

PRINCIPLE:  True HOPE is not a wish, it is a certainty of what is promised but is not yet realized.

QUESTION:  Do you live with HOPE within you, or do you merely wish your life away?

OPPORTUNITY:  Live this week knowing true HOPE is a greater gift than any wish you might want God to grant.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Memorize Colossians 1.27.

LIVE:  When you find yourself wishing something to be true, catch yourself, and consider how true HOPE might change your thoughts.

LOVE:  Love God with all of your being knowing He is preparing to share glory with you! (Remember Colossians 1.27)

LEAD:  Share the HOPE you have with others. Paul’s testimony in Colossians 1.28-29 are directly linked with Him knowing that Christ, the hope of glory, was within him too.

 

(1) I discovered this truth in Gene Getz’s book, The Measure of a Healthy Church.

(2) https://thefederalist.com/2019/03/01/canadian-court-rules-parents-cant-stop-14-year-old-taking-trans-hormones/

“Loving Hard or Hardly Loving?”

During the month of May, our body system of focus is the muscular system. We all know what muscles do even if we don’t think about it much. When we think of muscles we think of strength. We see this in young boys who compare biceps. We might think of weightlifters in an Olympic competition. Of course, some people make a career out of building their muscles – we call them professional bodybuilders.

But muscles are far more than about just strength. Muscles allow us to move and to maintain posture. No doubt you have scene a depiction of a skeleton moving. Technically, the only thing a skeleton can do on its own is fall down. Bones cannot move. Bones are for structure. As we saw in the month of March, bones allow us to have form. For the church, the skeletal system was about leadership – and the need and structure of that leadership within the church. But if bones are to move, muscles must be involved. As muscles stretch and contract, our bones and every other part of the body can move. If we over-stretch or over-contract our muscles, the they become strained (or pulled) and it becomes painful to move.

Muscles have another function as well. Without muscles, we cannot maintain posture. What keeps you from slumping over in a chair? Muscles. What keeps your head upright? Muscles. If we stop to think about the bones in the head – primarily the skull – the muscles in the neck must be strong to hold the head in position or to move it from side to side.

As I mentioned back in March, the human body has over 200 bones. But it has 3 to 4 times that amount of muscles. The body has at least 650 muscles, but some suggest that number should be over 800 due to some muscles being complex muscles (if the complex muscles are broken out into the individual muscles, the 650 increases by nearly 200 more).

But regardless of how many muscles we have, the question is are they functioning? Are our muscles able to function? Or have they been damaged in some way? Or maybe due to another health issue, the muscles in a particular part of the body have atrophied?

Well, what is true in the human body is certainly true for the Body of Christ as well? This month is not about service (that will be in July when we look at the nervous system). But let’s face it, we cannot serve – that is, we cannot function – if our muscles are too weak? So, this month is about building our muscles. And our muscles need to be built within the divine trilogy Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13. That trilogy consists of faith, hope, and love. I will say more about this trilogy next week, but because Paul says that the greatest of these is love, then we will begin by discussing developing that muscle today. And to do that we will review the Great Commandment – to love the Lord with our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Our passage today is one of the most commonly known statements in the Bible. The specifics are given in four different times. Three of those are in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 22; Mark 12; Luke 10), and the original statement is in the Shema from Deuteronomy 6. Each statement is a little varied, but the essence of each is the same with Jesus’ words in the New Testament linking Leviticus 19 about loving our neighbor as we do ourselves.

The problem with Jesus’ statements is not in what He said, but in our response. In fact, in my email and Facebook post sharing my initial thoughts on the message, I chose the Mark passage (in part because our Sunday School lessons are currently from Mark. But as I started with my sermon, my mind was changed to the Luke passage for reasons you may already be able to consider, but if not, for which I will share shortly. And ultimately, that reason has to do with our response which is how this paragraph started.

In Matthew and Mark we are told to love God with everything we have, and everything we are – our heart, soul, and mind. Mark also adds strength, as does Luke. The original command was to love with all of your heart and soul and might. But our response to the command generally falls into one of two categories. We either think we do not need to improve or we think it is impossible. Let me state that either thought might be true if you allow it to be, but neither thought has to be true. That is, loving in this way is not impossible. At least, it is possible part of the time for some. But for most of us, we need to improve.

Again, our system this month is the muscular system. So, we need to develop our muscle of love. That begins with loving God, but it must include loving others. That fact is why I originally chose Mark’s message because of Jesus’ words in Mark 12.31. He recites from Deuteronomy 6 to love the Lord, then says that a parallel idea is to love our neighbor we do as ourselves (Leviticus 19), but then Jesus makes this statement. There is no greater commandment than these.

Now, I pay attention to words. It is how God built me. And when I see a pronoun I want to know what the antecedent is. So, in that sentence, I see a very ambiguous word – these. That word is plural – meaning Jesus has multiple ideas in mind, but the word commandment is singular. This is fascinating. What Jesus is saying is that the commandment to love God and to love our neighbor might look like two different thoughts (“these” – plural), but Jesus combines them into one idea (“commandment” – singular). Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that if you love God, but do not love your neighbor then you are not fulfilling the single most important commandment. Likewise, if you love your neighbor, but do not love God, then you are not fulfilling what God wants you to do.

So, if we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, most of us, perhaps all of us, have work to do. Because we are talking about muscles, I want to focus on the strength portion. And to do so, I am going to return to two primary functions of a muscle – posture and movement.

Strong Muscles Make Good Posture

How do you approach God? How do you approach others? What do you think about God? What do you think about others? While each of these questions is true and both posture and movement should related to God and others, I am going to focus on our posture before God and our movement regarding others.

Do you have a high view of God or can you take Him or leave Him depending upon the moment? The Bible says that because of Jesus, we can be bold in approaching the throne of grace. But many people turn that boldness into arrogance. When we are arrogant toward God, or even about God, we are not loving Him with all of our heart or mind, let alone our soul, and strength.

I do not know of anyone here who may have attended a charm school. These schools were also known as etiquette schools or most commonly as finishing schools. The purpose of these schools was to train young girts to be ready to move into society (particularly, high society). The idea was that some manners were known, but to be ready to mingle appropriately, certain customs and mannerisms had to be taught and refined. One such aspect was that of how to carry yourself – that is, what posture should be maintained. A proper posture meant that your place was secured.

For those who choose to follow Jesus, our place is already secured. But that does not mean that we do not need some finishing ourselves! In building muscles, we may know what we are supposed to do, but we may not know how to do it, or how to do it correctly. For instance, people get injured all of the time while lifting weights. For novices, it is because they may not know how to lift properly or perhaps because they are trying to lift more than they should. If the latter is true, it is about pride. And pride really reflects a lack of strength. Sure people can be good at something and we should have pride in what we do, but to be prideful is different. Being full of pride often causes us to pretend to be something we are not. In other words, being prideful distracts us from being our true selves. And, if we are not our true self, then we cannot properly love with our heart (because it is full of pride), our mind (because it is focused on self), our soul (because the essence of our lives, which is what our soul is – our thoughts, passions, desires, etc., is focused on pleasing others), or our strength (because we do not acknowledge the source of true strength – as Paul said, when I am weak, then I am strong. More on that verse next week.)

So, our posture is important. If we are going to love God correctly – with everything we are, we must remain true to Him (heart), we must remain humble (mind), we must remain obedient (soul), and we must remain ready to serve. Those are the elements of having a good posture towards God. And that last are – being ready to serve, leads us to the next item – movement.

Strong Muscles Allow for Movement

Loving God with everything we are is both the easy part and the hard part. It is easy because we can say we do, but it is hard because how can we prove it? The reality is that Jesus has given us a measure for making sure our talk matches our walk.

First, we can see that movement requires obeying God. And, as we have just seen, a part of that obedience involves loving Him with everything we’ve got. Jesus further said, in John 14.15, “If you love me you will obey my commandments.” There is that word again – commandments. But this time it is plural. As in, we are to keep all of them. And a part of that keeping is to teach others what and why you are doing because Jesus said in Matthew 28.20 that a part of being His disciple is to be about the business of “teaching others all that I have commanded.”

So, if we love Him, we will obey Him which means teaching others about Him and making disciples for Him which means showing them how to live by His commands. How do you measure up? Me, not so well. And, yet, I would say I love Jesus. I would admit that maybe I do not fully love Him with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, but I want to love Him that way. And yet, He gave this simple test, and I find myself failing. And, I do not have to ask to know the truth that you fail it too. I know that because that is what sin is – it is failing to live our lives loving God with everything we are and everything we have. Because if we loved Him perfectly, we would be making more disciples as well as fulfilling the new commandment He gave His disciples on His last night with them – Love one Another (John 13.34). In fact, Jesus said this is how others will know we are His disciples – if we love one another (John 13.35).

So, before you balk at me and say you love everyone – let me show you the story that follows Luke’s version of Jesus naming the Great Commandment. The story is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Many will know this story quite well, and you have likely heard sermons or lessons that loving like this means loving Osama Bin Laden (well, he’s dead, so we are off the hook there, or are we? Having a love for him would mean we don’t want Him to suffer in hell). But let’s get real, Osama bin Laden, may have been hated, but what is the likelihood you are I would ever really deal with him? So, let me share a few pictures? See if you get agitated with any of these?

Perhaps, you get agitated with someone from a different political party? Perhaps, a dividing issues like abortion causes you to find others disgusting. Perhaps, someone burning your country’s flag might be unlovable to you. Or perhaps it is just someone who lives a very different life from you (like a homeless person or someone who has the biggest house in town).

These are ideas that are in our mind all of the time – each week, if not each day. And God says that loving our neighbor is completely in sync with loving God. Samaritans and Jews despised one another – in part, because the Jews thought they were so much better than the Samaritans. Thus, the Samaritan was not only good, He was extraordinary! Because love, and being a neighbor, must transcend rivalry, conceit, and bitterness – regardless of who is involved.

And that requires us to move. It requires us to move into service (again, that will be the focus of July); but we must be willing to move our minds toward the ways of God as well. Jesus death was not just for you and me. He died for everyone in those images. And He rose again that everyone, including the people we like least (or hate most) might truly find life. And that life is only found through us building our muscles to love others.

CONCLUSION

As we consider building our muscles, we must consider that just as little boys compare biceps, churches compare themselves to one another too. Why? Because people are the church and we compare ourselves to one another. If I love God and others better than you, then I must be better than you. But that is not what the verses say. The text of the Great Commandment in every instance, does not say, “Love God better than other people.” It says, love the Lord your God with ALL of your heart and with ALL of your mind and with ALL of your soul and with ALL of your strength.

Thus, our comparison is not with others. Our comparison is against the standard God set for us. And that is why we need Jesus! Jesus lived that standard perfectly and expects us to. But He knew we could not on our own, so He died showing what true love is and how much it costs. And because of His sacrifice we have the opportunity to love others for Him by loving others through Him.

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

1 John 4 says God is love. And Jesus, as God, showed us what love truly is. If we are to become like Jesus, we are not simply to love better or love more. We are to BE love. (I encourage you to read Bob Goff’s books – Love Does and Everybody Always – for how he depicts this idea.)

PRINCIPLE:  We are to love God and others because He first loved us (1 John 4.19-21).

QUESTION:  Will you be one who hardly loves or will you commit to love hard even when loving others is hard?

OPPORTUNITY:  Pray that God will help you to love more truly and deeply. (See WayPoint.)

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Learn to love the Lord your God with all of your mind.

LIVE:  Live to love the Lord your God with all of your soul.

LOVE:  Love loving the Lord your God with all of your heart.

LEAD:  Lead others to love the Lord your (and their God) with all of your strength.

“Replacement Body Parts” by Rick Sons

During the westward movement, many started on their journey not knowing where the trail would take them but they all had a vision and a dream.  In 1843, some 1,000 men, women, and children climbed aboard their wagons and steered their horses west out of the small town of Elm Grove, Missouri. The train comprised more than 100 wagons with a herd of 5,000 oxen and cattle trailing behind, their eyes always focused on the promised land they would find out west in California and Oregon.

At some point on their way, one man proposed to steal an Indian pony and the rest of the group, worried about the consequences, decided to try the man before the entire company. This event caused much discussion about the need for rules of conduct. This was required so that the train could move as one body, one unit. A committee was formed to discuss it but decided that no law other than the moral code enacted by the Creator and recorded in every man’s heart was all that was required.

The wagon train would travel at around two miles an hour. This enabled the settlers to average ten miles a day. With good weather, the 2,000 mile journey from Missouri to California and Oregon would take about five months. The wagon train was no longer a group of individuals but had now become a body moving as one unit on journey on a common goal. During the long trip, sometimes parts of the body would be in need of repair, as 2000 miles could put a strain on the body, much as our journey does to our own bodies.

Many times spare parts were needed to continue on the long journey. Extra wheels, tongues, yokes, things needed to keep the body going, and other necessities were carried in the wagon. Often these extra items were shared among the rest of the body so that the journey could be continued. One part, working to help another part, could function for the benefit of the body.

As time progressed, our method of travel changed but spare parts were still needed to keep the body going. Where would we be with out the spare tire?

The act of keeping spare parts, to some, is more of a pattern for their life. I was recently talking to Roger about Dennis. The other day we needed something from the back of Dennis’s truck. In looking for what we needed, we had to sift through a mountain of bolts, tools, receiver hitches, and every means of extra parts that might be needed to keep his vehicle going. He has a pick-up truck but would never be able to haul anything for all the extra stuff he has.

Keeping the human body going sometimes requires spare parts. Many of you have most likely had to have some work done on the body. Some of you may have seen Dr. Scarbrough to obtain a set of replacement teeth. False teeth have been around since 700 B.C. and, at the time, were made from walrus, hippo or elephant tusks. Many people wore ivory dentures even though the material deteriorated quickly. In fact, these types of dentures were still being worn in the early 1800s.

Some of you may have had knee replacements. Over time, the wearing down of the cartilage made it harder for you to walk and for your body to continue on its journey. Many have lost limbs, either by accident, illness, or unforeseen occurrence. This also makes the journey difficult. Again, there spare parts which enable to body to once again continue on its journey.

Medical advancement has been able to use replacements even for the heart, the body’s muscle for pushing life-giving blood through the body. Veins from your legs can be used to repair your heart and hearts have been replaced by donors whose whose journey has stopped and even mechanical hearts made by man. These spare parts allow the body’s journey to continue.

In 1975, through a series of unfortunate events, I severed the thumb on my right hand. The doctors were able to stitch it back and did the best they could to keep the nerves intact. My thumb works just fine even though I have no feeling in it, except on cold days and it is the first part of my body to feel the cold. I was lucky to be able to keep my thumb. But with medical advancements today, even big toes can become a thumb.

The church body, like the human body, sometimes finds itself in need of replacement parts. The Body of Christ, like all bodies, is comprised of many parts. There are limbs, organs, and various members that, when left alone, are useless; but when assembled these limbs, organs, and various members make up the entire body. 1 Corinthians 12.12-14 describes it like this:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Many churches have no clear guidelines on what it means to be a part of the body of Christ; nor what role each must play in that body.

Just as human body parts fail and need to be replaced, so do the body parts of the church. Sometimes the parts need to be replaced so that the church body can continue on its journey.

Over time, our own church body here at Fairfax Baptist Church has gone through several body part replacements. Since it was formed in 1884 until 2019, our church has had 36 pastors. That is one pastor every 3.75 years.  Since 1960, when my life’s journey started, we have had eight music directors, myself being one. Over time, Sunday school teachers have come and gone. Deacons, mission directors, and workers of many kinds have been replaced.

Now to be clear, all of these changes were not due to damage or to a part failing to function. Sometimes replacements happen as a natural progression of the body’s journey; just like children losing a tooth and having a new one grow in its place.

However, just like the human body, there are warning signs to tell us that parts of the body are wearing down or may be in need of replacement. Many times, infections enter the body resulting in sickness and causing the body to fight itself for survival.

In the church, these infections/sicknesses are things like gossip, self-serving church members, lack of prayer, low expectations, failure to evangelize, or power groups. These infections wear down the body, causing it parts to become weak as it fights itself to survive. This weakness makes the journey difficult for the body to continue.

Just as in the human body, we tend to ignore these signs and, over time, matters become worse. We tell ourselves that we are okay or that we will heal and all will be good. We put off going to the doctor or the dentist because the pain is not all that bad or we just don’t have the time.

Sometimes, we have to face the reality of a sickness before we are willing to seek treatment.

As part of the church body we must each take a close look at ourselves to see if we suffer from the symptoms that make us weaken the body. These symptoms are:

Your heart no longer beats for the mission. (1) This doesn’t mean the mission is wrong. It might just mean that God is calling you to do something else. This may have been the case of many of our past pastors who felt the calling to go elsewhere. Others felt the need to leave the ministry.

You begin to hear things come out of your mouth that you don’t really think or feel. You are just going through the motions; saying and doing the right things because that is what those around you expect. Your position in the body requires you to maintain an image. You become confused or aggravated because you are unsure of what you really believe.

You find yourself watching the clock longing for the time to leave. You are anxious to leave church or worship and be somewhere else.  Looking for other places to be on Sunday or during times when you are expected to serve could show that you’re no longer invested.

Your main reason to stay is because of tradition. You are in church because your family has always been in church. You serve because it is tradition; i.e. “My family always serves in the church.” You know in your heart that you’d walk away in a second if there was a way not to offend your family tradition. This is a sign your heart isn’t in it.

At the end of your time away, you begin to get tense and dread going back. On days you are away from the church or your responsibilities, you fear going back. This is a sign that you no longer enjoy and find value in what you do.

You don’t trust your leader. Outwardly, you are supporting your pastor, but inwardly, you find yourself questioning him more all the time. If you are honest with yourself, you find that you no longer trust him.

You no longer tithe to your own church. Giving is a heart issue and it often indicates you don’t trust the way the church is handling the money. You may also feel that all the church ever does is ask for money; i.e. “We place so much value on keeping our own lives in the black, why should we have to support so many other functions?”

You are worn out. You are not investing your energy in moving the mission forward. You are tired of debating ministry philosophy and arguing over methods of doing things in your church body. You feel like you are banging your head against the wall over the same issues again and again.

Now, if after hearing this any of you feel that you fall into the above heading, I want to let you in on something. I was humbled and convicted on several of these. This, however, does not mean we give up. We still have a role and a function in the church body.

Sometimes replacements are necessary; we must be prepared for when that time comes.

The idea for this sermon came to me right after the passing of Ferd Ray. As I thought, I reflected on the different members I have known in my life time that have passed on.  The music person in me always seems to turn to songs when I am in deep thought. In 1985, George Jones wrote a song in honor of all the great country music singers that have passed called, “Who’s Gonna Fill their Shoes?”

To fill their shoes, who is going to replace them? Who is going to fill the gap that has been left in the body?

Who will be Sunday school teachers, like Virginia Swan or Minnie Vaught? Who will be music leaders like Gil Johnson? Who is going to sing praise like Jess Johnson?

This past Good Friday, while Cindy and I sat in the service, we heard a woman singing the refrain to the hymns. As we listened, we both realized that she sounded just like Jenny Johnson.

Who will be prayer warriors like Ola Thayer, Louise Pope, Olga, Earl and Helen Sons, Aunt Minnie, Aunt Molly, Beth Miles, Dale and Dorothy Grubb, Vernie and Euthel Smith, Aaron Simmons, Gladys Davis, Zeta Wiley Fern and Daryl Jones?

Who is going to pray as these members prayed? On May 5, we will be having a study on prayer, “Making Prayer Important.” This is all well and good, but will we be able to learn as much from a video over what we could have learned from these powerful prayer warriors?

This is by no means the full list of our past body. And I am sure many of you remember others from your past that I have not mentioned here.

Looking forward, where will our body be when there is no Doyne Swan, Leona Ray, Janice Pierce, Dean and Lois Wiley, Roger and Ann Martin or Alva and Dixie Stoner?

Think about who will fill your shoes if you were to no longer be a part of this body. We need to mentor and train the younger parts of the body for service, remembering that we were young once also.

Ephesians 4:12 says, “To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

During heated discussion at a business meeting here at Fairfax Baptist years ago, I asked this question: “How old do you have to be to be an adult in this church?” (Now to be clear, I was in my early 40’s at this time.) The answer I got was “We will let you know.”

Now I am sure this was not intended to be as bad as it sounded, but how often does one part of the body tell another part they are not important?; i.e., “You just sit back and watch; we have this under control.”

Paul describes members of the body, not by what they should receive in a local church, but by the ministry they should give. Sometimes that giving comes after we have exited from this life.

I want you to take a minute and think about James Pope. Jim was an organ donor. Because of this, many people were given a second chance to continue their life’s journey. We will never know the number of people that Jim helped through his final act of ministry.

There may be someone here in our church, or someone you know, who has been given that second chance; whose life has been made better from what are known as cadaver donations.

Every part of the body needs the opportunity to give. Every part of the body needs to know they are a part of the body.

Often, we look only to the pastor to equip God’s people for service to the body; i.e. “He is the head of the body; that is why we pay him; he is the head and I am just a finger or a toe.”

When, in reality, it is the job of every member, every part of the body, to equip, mentor, and to train, so that the body can remain healthy.

If we do not mentor the younger parts of the body to be replacements in time of need, then the body will fail.

You prayer warriors? Teach others how to pray. Mentor them and walk them through the importance of prayer.

The church body’s overall mission extends well beyond its initial responsibility of preaching the gospel. The Church body must also teach the younger parts, to observe all things that Jesus commanded; to prepare them to care for the body as they grow in it.

Many years ago, an older member of this church stated, “If it wasn’t for the older members, this church would fail. The younger people just don’t have the commitment.” Is it that they don’t have the commitment? Or is it that we don’t have the commitment to see that what we have done for the body continues?

If you feel this way, what have you done to mentor and prepare the younger members to take your place when you have passed? If you feel you are important in this body, who is going to fill your shoes when you are gone?

As I stated in my last sermon, it take exercise and commitment to see that the sick and failing parts of the body are cared for so that they may heal.

It is the job of each part of the body to see that infection does not grow and cause part(s) of the body to be severed.

Just as the settlers kept and maintained the extra parts so the journey could be completed, we must also, as a church body, maintain our spare parts for our journey.

Benjamin Franklin Once said:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For want of a horse the rider was lost; all for want of a nail.”

What will be lost to the body, all for the want of a replacement? Now you may say, “We are strong. We can get by without a part here and there.”

That may very well be true, and many have learned to live, and even function, with the loss of various parts.

But just like the settlers on their journey west to what they considered the promised land, the church body must work together to keep their eyes on the Promised Land that we call God’s Kingdom.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is: YYOU

Take a close look at yourself. Are you doing all you can to build up the body?

Are you helping to prepare and mentor your replacement for the time when you can no longer do your part?

Are you holding on to something just for the sake of holding on to it?

Are you holding back other parts not allowing the body to grow?

(1) Information gathered from: The Church that Jesus Built by Ron Hutchison and How Do I Know When It’s Time to Leave a Church? by Dr. Roger Barrier.

“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.)