“Passing the Test” (Part 1)

Last month, we reviewed the digestive system. This month we move to the system that handles what remains after the digestive system has completed its function. What is left? Waste.

The digestive system extracts any and all nutrients it can from what we eat and drink. And then, the rest that remains is removed from the body as waste. It is the excretory system that handles the waste. Technically, the excretory system relates to fluids and thus the kidneys are key. However, for our purposes, we are going to include all waste which then involves the latter stages of the digestive system (particularly because we had such a short month with that system – 2 messages).

The reality is that all food and drink that enters the body undergoes a form of a test. The digestive system works to break down all that it can from what is ingested and then uses that as fuel to keep the body going. The breakdown of that food and drink is a major purpose of the digestive system.

However, not all of the substance of what is ingested is used (or usable, in some cases). And thus, the body needs a way to remove what is left over. That is, what is not helpful to the body, at that point, is removed by the body in order to keep the body healthy.

Now the reality is that we do not often think about the work that the digestive and excretory system are doing. Of course, we feel the effects and find ourselves making time to allow the waste to pass from our bodies each day. But in the moment, unless we eat something that does not agree with us, we rarely think about the process. And when something does not agree with us, we hope that it passes through our system quickly!

How does this relate to the church?

Well, over time a church takes in many ideas, offers many opportunities, supports many ministries. But it is important to evaluate those ideas, and opportunities, and ministries from time to time to see if they are still good, proper, and necessary. If they are, they may still need to be tweaked. But sometimes it is necessary to purge what is being done in order to do something different, and perhaps even better.

So, the idea this month is that we must test ourselves and the church in order to know how to best move forward. Just like the excretory system works quietly in the background, so do much of the evaluation processes in the church. But sometimes the processes come into focus because of need or because of intention. Right now, during our Sunday night discussions, it is through intention that we are reviewing the processes and determining what can be better and what, if anything, might need to be removed.

But all of that is through the basis of evaluation. And that evaluation begins with us. Fortunately, the Bible says a lot about evaluation. But it usually uses another word – the word test. So, let us see what kind of tests we should consider for ourselves and for the church.

Today’s passage is quite short considering it contains eleven verses. But within those eleven verses, Paul provides several points of reflection. Of course, reflection means that we are thinking or pondering something, and that is really a form of evaluation. And evaluation is another word for test. And, in these few verses, I find seventeen distinct tests, and a minimum of nineteen aspects of those tests. Today, we are going to look briefly at the first seven, and then review the rest over the next week or two.

At the end of each message, we will take time to reflect – that is, to evaluate. We will evaluate ourselves against each item, and then evaluate our church against each item as well. So, let’s begin.

The Test of Respect (1 Thessalonians 5.12)             

To respect is to hold other people with honor. Specifically, Paul write that believers should honor:

      • Those who labor with you
      • Those who are over you
      • Those who admonish you.

Do we respect others? Do we honor the people with who we work? That could mean taking extra work when someone else is struggling. It could mean not talking bad about them when they are always late.

Do we respect our leaders? Do we honor those who try to get more out of us than we think we have within us? Do we honor those who try to move an organization forward rather than allowing it to slip into oblivion?

Do we respect our managers?  Do we honor those who push us even when we think the demands are unfair? Do we stick up for those people that everyone else criticizes because they are trying to follow the guidelines that have been established?

The reality is that respecting others is often more difficult than we might believe. But Paul writes that we have a choice (we ask you), but we should to respect others.

The Test of Love (1 Thessalonians 5.13)

Not only are we to respect others, but we are to love them, in part, because of the work that is being done. It is hard to love others if we do not respect them. That is, when we think we are so much better than others, we de-value them and when we do that, it becomes more difficult to love them.

In our Sunday night discussions, it has been decided that love should be one of the values of Fairfax Baptist Church. We will not love perfectly, but we can learn to love others more and better. And to fulfill the Great Commandment, we must do so.

The Test of Peace (1 Thessalonians 5.13)

Peace is something that is missing from the lives of most people today. We can look at the news and see a world that lacks peace with each other. But the bigger challenge is often finding peace with ourselves. (And, of course, if we are not at peace with ourselves, we will often struggle to be at peace with others.)

This peace comes from being content, and that contentment often comes from having time. The Bible tells us that God is a God of peace (Romans 15.33), and that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6). So, if we believe in God and claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, then why do we lack the peace we seek?

Honestly, it is because we have lost respect for others and love for others. And a part of this loss of respect is because we have made ourselves too busy to stop and consider the value of others instead of just thinking about how people might benefit us!

The Test of Admonishment (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

Remember, that Paul has just said to honor those who admonish. It was not hypothetical. He was about to suggest that the idle needed to be admonished or exhorted. Basically, that means to give someone a kick in the pants when they need it.

In this case, the people had become idle in their faith because they believed they had already missed the return of Jesus. Some in our day become idle because they give up and go to the top of a mountain to wait for Jesus. The truth is that neither reason for idleness is valid. The Bible does not say we are to become idle. In fact, we are told to work while we can because a time is coming when we will no longer be able to work (John 9.4). And the work we are to do, is to work for the Lord.

The Test of Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

The world can be divided into multiple distinctions. Good versus bad. Strong versus weak. Big versus little. Some of these groupings matter more than others, but one grouping of people that is important is those who are encouraging and those who are discouraging.

I am sure you can tell a difference in your own attitude when you have been around one type of person or the other. And, of course, this verse is speaking to people of the church – and we are to be encouraging, particularly to the fainthearted. But the question is not just about whether the church is encouraging, it is whether you are!

Now, like the previous point, the fainthearted here are those who have grown so because of a misunderstanding about the return of Jesus. That is the primary purpose of this letter. But people today misunderstand the Bible and have grown faint of heart as well. Maybe that is you. Maybe you need the encouragement. If so, those who can encourage should help you, but if they do not know you need encouragement, how can they give it?

So, if you are an encourager, and I hope you are, we need to be intentional about giving it out – abundantly. And that means that we need to be around people who encourage us because we cannot give what we do not have. But the reality is that if we have Jesus, we should be able to encourage others in ways that truly matter.

The Test of Service (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

One of the greatest means of encouragement can come through service. In verse 14, the text says, “help the weak.” How we might help could bring hundreds, if not thousands, of different responses. But helping requires serving.

So, who needs to be helped? Perhaps it is someone sitting near you right now. Perhaps it is someone who lives near you. Perhaps the person you know is in need of help is a family member, a friend, or maybe they are a stranger. The Bible only says to help the weak.

Is the person physically weak, then serve them with your physical strength? Are they emotionally weak, then be an encouragement to them? Are they spiritually weak? Provide some truth for them while loving them through your service.

I am going to provide a thank you video to the church once the system is working again, but I recently had a weakness exposed. I have mentioned this weakness countless times, but Greg and Leon saw it firsthand. The weakness – a skill. The skill, carpentry work. Between Greg, Leon, Roger, and Shannon, with some help from Susan and me, the parsonage has a new room downstairs. You can come see it at the open house in December. But without the strength of others serving me in my weakness, the room would not have been built. But because it is built, I am now able to better serve others in my strength (teaching).

The Test of Patience (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

The final test for today is the test of patience. This one, quite frankly, is challenging for most of us. Particularly, if you are like me, and are more task-oriented than you are people-oriented. It is like Rick often says, when I ask for patience, I say to God, “Give me patience and give it to me now!”

Now, the reality is we must be careful to ask for patience. Because God answers that kind of prayer by putting us in positions to learn patience rather than just waving a magic wand and saying, “There, you are now patient.”

One of the best things about Atchison County is that we do not have stop lights. I love that. And because of that, when I go to KC or Omaha, I actually do find myself more patient when waiting at a light because I do not have to wait when driving up here. But a few weeks ago, I had to wait for about 15 cars (15!, no exaggeration!) at the T of US 59 and US 136. (I started counting somewhere around 7 or 8 and counted at least that many more because I had never waited that long anywhere in this county.) I needed patience and did not want it. And, as we are now in the midst of harvest season, I need to remind myself to leave several minutes earlier when travelling because I am certain to be behind an implement of some kind and that will require patience.

But again, the Bible here is speaking of a particular group of people. The text says to be patient with them all. Who are the all?

All people are those who are idle, those who need encouragement, and those who are weak. Those who need to be admonished, and those who may admonish you. Those with whom you work, and those who are your boss. In other words, all people.

And why should we be patient with them? Well, because we respect them. Ok. Because we love them? Sure. But also because we are to do to others what we would have them do to us. That is, if we want others to be patient with us, then we should be patient with them. In fact, it may be our example of patience that allows them to learn what being patient really means.

CONCLUSION

We have now briefly reviewed seven of the seventeen tests that Paul provides in this short passage. Passing any of these tests does not make a person a Christian, but for the Christian, improving in each area should be a goal. And, for any areas where we may find ourselves failing, we should make whatever changes are necessary in order to begin passing that test.

So, take a moment and do a quick response on each of these seven.

Which of these tests do you pass?

Which of these tests do you fail?

The goal is to make an evaluation of our church, but we are the church. And, if we are failing as individuals, then we must seek ways help one another pass, so we can all collectively pass as well.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

The O is for Observe because of Jesus words that we are to make disciples, in part, by teaching them to observe all that He has commanded. However, in our Sunday night discussions, it was determined that the word Obedience would clarify the idea. So, beginning next week, we will shift from Observe to Obedience. As Jesus said in Matthew 7, those that hear and obey will be considered as wise, those who hear and do obey will be considered as fools. So, let us be obedient to the words of Scripture. Let us observe.

But, of course, the big test that we all face is the one God will ask us about His Son. That question will be something like: What did you do with my Son? If you do not answer that question correctly, you fail the test, regardless of how many other answers you may get correct. And some will say that if we get that answer correct, it does not matter if we get the others correct. In one sense, yes. But if that were really true, then why does Paul have to write to the churches about how to live according to the faith that they already have?

So, we must know the right answer to the question, but we must live out our lives as proof of that answer. If you do not know the answer to the question, or if you are unsure, today is the day you can move from failing to passing.

PRINCIPLE:  Life is full of tests, but we must learn to evaluate what God says is important for each of us individually, and thus, all of us collectively.

QUESTION:  Which areas do you need to improve in order to pass the test?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one area and begin to focus on passing that test this week.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Write down one thing different you will do each day this week and then commit to doing it every day. If you do, you will be closer to passing that test.

Renewal Update

This past Sunday we had a guest speaker speak from Matthew 6.19-21 and the intersection of our hearts and our treasures. Thus, I am going to use this week’s blog to provide an update on the renewal we began a couple of months ago.

You may recall that our church had a series of services at the end of July that were labeled as Renewal Services. At the time, I tried to communicate that the purpose of the services was not the services themselves; rather, they were to stimulate us to be renewed. That renewal is currently happening through a series of discussions on Sunday nights.

We began by establishing our values. The discussion on these values took place over a couple of different weeks. After listing several items that are important, and then working to define specific terms, the following statement represents the draft of what will be shared with the church in the next couple of months.

Fairfax Baptist Church places Jesus, the Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, at the center of our focus. Placing such a high value on Jesus, we will focus on:

      • Following Jesus and living by faith (Matthew 4.19)
      • Loving God and our neighbor (Mark 12.28-31)
      • Making Disciples (Matthew 28.18-20)

by prayer (Luke 11.2-4) and obedience to Him (John 14.15), based upon the Word of God (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

These values represent the core of what any believer should do. We must now give them “legs” as we determine how to live (and specifically minister) according to these values.

The next major step was to evaluate our vision statement. The statement that is being considered is common, but it is simple and can be easily understood. That statement: To Know Christ and Make Him Known.

Again, a part of the appeal of this statement is in its simplicity. But it is also measurable (more so than our current statement). We can easily determine if a particular ministry opportunity to meets one of those two criteria. Does the opportunity allow us to better know Christ? Or does it allow us to make Him known?

These two items (the values and the vision) have not been officially approved by the church, but they represent a good start to defining who we will be in the future and the impact that definition will have on our ministry.

So, the process of renewal has started. Yes, we are still in the early stages, but the discussions have been energetic. To me, that represents the desire to do more. That was the goal of the renewal. But the real fruit will be seen in the days to come.

“Indigestion”

Food allergies have spiked in recent years. We hear more about allergies to nuts, milk, soy, wheat, etc. However, what we call allergies is not always about an allergic reaction. For instance, being stung by a bee might cause an allergic reaction, but that is different than not being able to eat a bee (who does that?). Likewise, from a food perspective, some people get ill from being around items such as peanuts. Others are ok unless they eat them. The issue with eating the peanut is the body not being able to process the food properly. This is my case with wheat (and a variety of other foods).

I say I am allergic to gluten (wheat), eggs, pork, etc. But I can be around them; I just cannot eat them. That is, my body does not digest them properly. For instance, with gluten, the enzyme that most people have to break down gluten is absent from my intestines. Thus, when I eat it, I get very sick. VERY sick. Knowing that I will get sick causes me to be cautious in what I eat.

But effectively, what I have is an inability to digest gluten. That is the reality of indigestion. The word means to have difficulty or the inability to digest food. For some, indigestion means an upset stomach. For others it might mean cramps, bloating, or gas. And for some the consequences can be deadly.

As we talk about the digestive system today, we must understand that indigestion is the result of adding something to the digestive system that it cannot process correctly. Whether we notice the issue in our mouths, our stomach, or our intestines, our bodies will let us know that something is wrong if we eat something that is not right. So, for those who know that certain foods are problems, what do we do? We avoid them. We get very good at reading labels. We ask for special menus at restaurants. We let other people know what our restrictions are if we are having a meal with them (and/or we bring our own food).

But you know what we don’t do? We don’t stop eating.

Today, I want to look briefly at three areas the Bible mentions which should bring indigestion to a born-again believer. But this message is not meant to beat us up for having indigestion; rather, it is to encourage us to focus on eating right, so to speak. Our passage found in 1 John 2, verses 15-17.

Last week we discussed what defiles us. It isn’t the food we eat because, as Jesus said, that passes through us. We might get sick from what we eat, but being sick and being defiled are two different things. So what does defile us? I believe the Bible clearly points to three areas in our lives that can defile us:

      • Desires of the flesh
      • Desires of the eyes
      • Pride of life.

We see these three areas listed here in 1 John 2. But we see the examples of these areas in the temptation of man in the Garden, and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Thus, whether we are surrounded by lush beauty in near-perfect conditions, or we find ourselves in the midst of nothingness in the midst of life’s challenges, these three areas will tempt us and give us a spiritual indigestion if we give in to their appeal.

The Desires of the Flesh

For Adam and Eve, this was seeing that the tree was good for food (Genesis 3.8). Our bodies need nourishment. God made us this way. And He made food for us to enjoy. But God does give us restrictions, and Eve, then Adam, allowed their desire for a different kind of food, one that they had not yet enjoyed, to be their downfall. And, because of this desire of the flesh, they would soon realize another desire – to cover their bodies – because they knew they were naked. This covering has led to distorted desires of the flesh for mankind since the day they first ate of the fruit.

For you and me, that desire may be another person, it may be seeking some sensual pleasure, and it may even be seeking comfort when we know we are called to make a sacrifice. I believe one of the greatest idols today is comfort. I promise you, two Sundays ago, our mission team was miserable following a rain in Kenya. The humidity was so high that you could not blink without dripping buckets of sweat. My flesh did not like it – not at all. My flesh desired air conditioning and comfort, but sometimes God calls us to engage in other ways and we have to put aside our fleshly desires. That was one of those times for us. You have had them as well. The key is not to allow these desires to overrule what we know we are to do. And the example we have is found in Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way. Thus, that will include desires of the flesh and the eyes, and the pride of life. In fact, we can find all of these in one story in Matthew 4. For Jesus, He was hungry. He had not eaten in 40 days. And Satan appeared to Jesus and helped Jesus to see that His hunger could be gone by turning the stones to bread (Matthew 4.3-4). As I have mentioned before, the stones in this area are somewhat large and brown and resemble a small loaf of bread. So, Jesus, no doubt, had seen these stones for days and thought about they looked like bread. But He did not give into His fleshly desires. He did not fulfill His desires in the short-term because He knew the long-term goal.

You and I need to have the same idea in mind. Our fleshly desires will distract us from the good

in the long-term. In fact, the story we read earlier from Luke 10 indicates this truth as well. Martha was doing good work, but she was missing the greater benefit of being with Jesus. We will come back to this idea in a few more minutes. But first, let’s look at the desires of the eyes.

The Desires of the Eyes

Again, let us look at Adam and Eve, ourselves, and Jesus in this section.

In the Garden, Eve saw that the fruit was a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3.6). We do not know what type of fruit it was, but as I have said before it was not an apple (unless apples have changed) because Genesis 1.29 says that any tree with fruit that has a seed was available to eat. But something about this fruit was appealing to the eyes. Maybe it was bright. Maybe she could see the juices ready to explode in her mouth. Only she knows. But the reality was that something caught her eye and it made her desire the fruit.

Isn’t that what happens to us as well? We see a bright, shiny, new something and we say, “I have to have that!” Maybe it is food. Maybe it is a car. A new tool. Etc. The truth is that we see thousands of things every day. Some are not appealing to us, but others get our attention quickly. But, truth be told, often times the appeal fades quickly. I have used this example before, but seeing a pizza on tv is one of those tempting moments for me. Of course, advertisers know this. But I have never seen a pizza look as good in person as the ones I have seen on tv. Not even close. The desire of the eyes makes me want it, but once I get it, I am left feeling like I have been cheated. I know Eve (and Adam) felt that more than I can imagine.

But Jesus did not. Again, Jesus was tempted by a desire of the eyes as well. The devil took Jesus to the highest mountain in the area and showed Jesus all of the kingdoms and told Jesus they could be His if Jesus would simply bow down and worship Satan (Matthew 4.8-9). Please note that Jesus did not argue that the kingdoms were not Satan’s to give. But again, Jesus knew the long-game. He knew that if He remained true to God and worship and serve Him only (v 10), then one day every knee would bow at His name (Philippians 2.10-11).

The desire of the eyes is real. Eve, then Adam, fell prey to this desire. You and I fall prey to it. But Jesus did not and that can give us hope that we can overcome the desire as well.

The Pride of Life

The last of the three items mentioned by John in 1 John 2 is the pride of life. Again, we will see that it was pride that led to the Fall of Man, and it is overcoming the temptation of pride that allowed Jesus to be our Redeemer.

For Eve, the pride is found again in Genesis 3.6. She was fueled, however, by the promise of serpent in verse 5, that by eating of the fruit, she would be like God in knowing good and evil. The serpent played to her pride by suggesting that the fruit offered her something she did not possess. In essence, the lie she heard was that if she ate the fruit, she would be like God (Genesis 3.5-6).

Aren’t we the same way? Our pride often gets the better of us by making us think we are more than we are or that to stay that way, we must deny others.

It is said that the male ego is one of the most forceful, yet fragile items on earth. And, indeed, men are often filled with pride. But so are women. We all are. Let me prove it to you…if you got the least bit offended that I said you have pride, then that is proof. We show our pride by how we dress, in how we act, in where we go, etc. Most of our pride remains in our heads (thank goodness), but it seeps out far more often than we think. Perhaps we think we can do something better than someone else, or perhaps we think we are better than someone else. All of those aspects are a part of our pride and will lead us into a trap from which we cannot break free.

Please understand that being proud of what we do and being prideful are two different things. We can, and should, take pride in what we do. After all, Paul reminds us that everything we do is to be done for the Lord (Colossians 3.17, 23) and should be done for the glory of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10.31). So, taking pride in our work and doing it with excellence is good. But to merely carry ourselves with pride (and letting others know how proud we really are) is something that should be discouraged.

Again, we can see this clearly in the example of Jesus in Matthew 4. Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. He should take pride in that. But He did not count that fact worth abusing His power. When the devil told Him to prove who He really was by making a spectacle of Himself jumping from the top of the temple, Jesus refused (Matthew 4.5-7). In fact, in Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus gave up His status to become like us and even further disgraced Himself to die for us.

But pride is a tricky thing. Let us briefly look at the passage from Luke 10 that was read earlier. Martha is the owner of the house. It was her responsibility to make sure the guests received the care they needed. And she was doing all she could to care for them. But her sister, Mary, simply sat at the feet of Jesus listening as He taught. Why did Jesus challenge Martha when she appealed to Him to have Mary help her? I don’t think it is because of what she was doing. I think it is because of why she was doing it. She took pride in serving. Again, there is nothing wrong with doing our best. But for Martha, Jesus knew that she needed to unclutter her life as much as she needed to unclutter her house. (That is what the phrase “anxious and troubled” means here.) She wanted to make her house look good (because of pride), but she first needed to make herself good.

This idea goes back to the idea of defilement from last week. It is not what we do that makes us good, it is who we are. Notice the final verse of the passage for today in 1 John 2. Read 1 John 2.17.

We must do the will of God, but to do it, we must first know it. All of the things we chase – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and filling our pride, will pass, but by doing the will of God, we abide forever. And that is our key. I told you this message was not to beat us up, so let me turn the idea for good.

Follow the Spirit

Three weeks ago, Sam stood here and preached from John 15. He shared the true meaning of Jesus’ words of “abide in Me.” How do we do that? Through the Spirit. See the problem for most Christians is we are worried about what we might do wrong rather than focusing on doing right. More importantly, many Christians are more worried about pointing out what others are doing wrong rather than focusing on being right themselves and helping others to be right.

But if we are tuned into the Spirit, we will be right. We will focus on the good, not the bad. We will focus on being healthy, not just avoid being hurt. Yes, we will be hurt, and yes we will still make mistakes, but the difference between living by the Spirit and trying to avoid living in sin may sound like a fine line, but the distinction is huge.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to the digestive system. Just because we may have challenges with certain foods does not mean we should stop living. I know what I can and cannot eat. We rarely eat out because of my diet and when I do, I know what I can and cannot eat at any given restaurant. Occasionally, though, I will make a mistake. It happened to me in Kenya on our last day. Someone passed around some beef jerky and I took a bite. I had been eating the same brand throughout the trip, but after I took the bite, I noticed that this jerky was peppered (not original). I asked for the bag and immediately knew I might be in trouble. I was able to spit most of it out, but not before I had already eaten some of it.

The next eight hours would determine how well the ride home would be. If I ingested enough, I would have miserable and one of the restrooms in the plane would have been claimed by me for the entire trip. But thankfully, I caught myself before I had ingested too much. And fortunately, I had some pills with me that might (the FDA has not said yes) help as well as some activated charcoal which I hoped would draw in any enzymes that otherwise might cause problems.

Fortunately, everything was fine. I did not have “indigestion” or in my case, get violently ill. Why? Because I followed what was right! I know what I am to eat, and what I should avoid. When I stick to what I know works, I am fine. In this case, I made a mistake, but because I know what is good, I was able to correct the situation quickly. If I only focused on what was bad, I would not have been able to make things right. In other words, it was not about avoiding a type of food it was about eating what I should eat.

That is what it means to follow the Holy Spirit. The desires of the flesh are real. The desires of the eyes are real. Pride is certainly real. But rather than trying to avoid giving into those desires, when we focus on following the Spirit, we will be fine. But we do not stop living. We just live by a different understanding. Again, we live by the Spirit, not in fear of what we might do.

True, we do face temptations, and we must be cautious not to give in to our temptations a little here and a little there. Why? Over time, that sin adds up and we lose a sense of what is real. To put it into the terms of indigestion, we know we shouldn’t do it, but we do it anyway and hope a pill can cover up the effects.

Like in the situation I faced, sometimes a pill is necessary. But it is one thing to need a pill in an emergency, it is another to use it because we are not willing to forgo what will cause us problems in the first place. It is the difference between taking the purple pill because our bodies must have it, and taking it because we will not avoid the foods we know will make our heart burn and the acid fly.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

The reality is that sometimes we all need a pill to help us with our digestive issues. Perhaps it is an antacid or something similar, or a pill to help us digest a certain enzyme. But even if our digestive system works well, it isn’t a purple, pink, or blue pill we need, it is the red blood of Jesus that truly makes us well. It is knowing Him and abiding in Him that allows us to follow the Spirit and avoid the temptations and desires that will otherwise cause us problems we would rather avoid.

PRINCIPLE:  The temptations we face are real, but so is the solution – following the Holy Spirit.

QUESTION:  What desires of your heart prevent you from following Jesus as He would have you follow Him?

OPPORTUNITY:  Stop focusing on what not to do and focus on the goodness of God instead.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: As you take your vitamins or medicine this week, consider adding an “extra pill” as a reminder to allow the Spirit to be your guide each day.

“Defilement: More Than Germs”

I do not mean to be gross here, but one of the most fascinating aspects of the human mind to me is that we can look at something in our hands or on our plates and think it looks so good, enjoy its smell and its taste, and then, we can be absolutely repulsed by the output of that same food some 24-72 hours later. What changes the food from being so pleasing to be repulsive? The digestive system. And that system is our focus for the next couple of weeks.

One of the most intriguing statistics about the body is that the digestive system is approximately 30 feet long. The system begins with the mouth, then the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestines and concludes with the rectum and anus. It is the small intestine that makes up the bulk of the distance. The small intestine itself is approximately 20 feet long!

The digestive system begins by breaking down the food into manageable portions (in the mouth). The acid in the stomach breaks the food down further before it passes into the small intestine. The small intestine has villi which do most of the work in removing the nutrients from the food. These villi are assisted by fluids which come from the liver, gall bladder, and pancreas which are also a part of the digestive system. The large intestine (or colon) then removes any remaining liquid and salt before whatever remains is passed out of the body. (1)

Again, what amazes me is that our minds can so enjoy the food before us, but that joy quickly becomes disgusting and contains what is, in part, considered as germs.

Jesus alluded to this very process in one of His teachings. Jesus was asked why His disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. His answer was that it is not what we eat that defiles us. However, His answer does reveal that our defilement is inside us, and it had to get their somehow. Today, we will review this teaching from Matthew 15.

The passage today talks about being defiled. One definition is dirty or unclean. But a deeper definition, and the one with which the Pharisees were most concerned, relates to being impure for ceremonial purposes (or to be desecrated). We might more simply define the word for our purposes as being contaminated. In Matthew 15, Jesus says it is not what we eat that contaminates us, and thus washing our hands is not really what keep us from being clean.

We Can Wash to be Clean, But That Does Not Make Us So (Matthew 15.1-10)

To gain this perspective, we must go back to the preceding verses for a moment and realize who the audience is. Jesus is speaking to the people who have gathered around Him (v. 10) after the religious leaders of the day have challenged Him regarding tradition. Their question relates to a tradition of washing hands before they eat. But the bigger issue is that they have developed certain customs and made them prominent in the law (as if they were part of the Law of Moses). In their eyes, these customs are meant to allow them to keep God’s law more easily, but their focus in this question was (most likely) to make Jesus look bad in front of the people. (Interestingly, this passage falls right before the one we reviewed a few weeks ago where we see how the people viewed Jesus – as a great prophet – in Matthew 16.13-14).

So, Jesus responds to their question, but wants to make sure the people understand His teaching, thus stating – “Hear and understand” (v. 10). The religious leaders knew that God had given laws about what the people were not to eat because of certain foods being unclean (see Leviticus 11). By clean, the idea is to be ritually clean before God. This idea was not directly tied to being physically clean, although plenty of laws described that part of the process in being ritually clean as well.

Related to food, however, washing and cooking food would not make it clean. Nor does washing hands make a person clean. Sure, a part of what the Pharisees and scribes wanted may have been to prevent germs from entering their bodies, but they had come to equate their ritualistic hand washing as an important part of their being holy (and more specifically, holier than those who didn’t).

Having just returned from Kenya, let me say how much I appreciate clean water and the ability to wash my hands and know they are clean before eating. It is not that hands are not washed, but it is the degree to which they are washed. For instance, before each meal, they rinse hands by pouring water (very similar to what the religious leaders would do), but they do not use soap.

But having clean hands does not make me holier than those who have dirty hands. And that was what Jesus needed to make sure the people understood in this passage.

We Can Do What Seems Good, But That Does Not Make It So (Matthew 15.11)

Notice the words of Jesus as He starts this teaching. He gets straight to the point then expands on it. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person” (v. 11).

This statement proves that the concerns of Jesus and the concerns of the Pharisees are very different. In effect, both the Pharisees and Jesus are concerned about what contaminates the body. But the Pharisees are worried about food and germs while Jesus is worried about what truly impacts our hearts and minds (as we will see momentarily).

Jesus realizes that the real contaminants are not germs that accumulate on our hands; rather, it is the desires that impact our heart.

The Pharisees were doing what they thought was good, but the reality is that their teaching was harmful and deserved correction.

Likewise, we can eat what we think is good, but that does not make it so.

We Can Desire to be Good, But It Is God That Makes It So (Matthew 15.13-14)

In these next set of verses, we see Jesus expanding on His point, in part because the disciples are more worried about the reaction of the Pharisees than they are to the truth of God. But Jesus is not at all concerned about their reaction.

The Pharisees wanted to be good (and command others to be good as well), but their wishes did not make them good. Notice also, they commanded others to be good by sharing of their traditions. I will not say that their traditions were wrong as traditions, but any tradition is wrong if it violates God’s Word. Furthermore, it is one thing to show someone a sin and help them to overcome it, it is quite another to simply condemn someone for their sins (which is what it appears the Pharisees often did).

We are similar. We have our pet sins and our pet sins we despise. And we think if we help God to correct others, then we are not only doing good, but we are being good. Now, we should help others overcome their sins. But notice Jesus’ words here. Verses 13 and 14 talk about plants that seems to be a part of the garden, but are really not.

What does Jesus mean? Well, specifically here, He is talking about the religious leaders of His day. But our day has them as well. They preach their own agenda, by asking from others what is not theirs to ask or demanding from others what they themselves do not do. Now, please understand, everything I preach or teach – and I mean everything – is a direct challenge back to me. Do I stand here and say things we should be doing that I myself am not doing or do not do well enough? Yes. But I am not saying that “you” should do them better, I am saying that “we” should do them better – and not because of some desire I have, but because of the sacrifice Jesus made and what that should demand of us!

If I am wrong, then my punishment will be more harsh (see James 3.1). If I am right, then we need to do more. Jesus knew the burdens that the Pharisees were putting on the people were wrong and restrictive. Thus, He also knew that they were not from the Father and that the Father would thus take them away in due time (“be rooted up”).

Besides religious leaders, however, we must also include religious sounding phrases. For instance, consider the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The phrase is first recorded in history by John Wesley, but the sentiment has existed for millennia. Wesley was a great preacher and inspired many during the 18th Century, but his words are not on par with Jesus. Jesus knew that godliness requires holiness.

Wesley’s words were good, but fall short of the word of Jesus. Likewise, the Pharisees meant well, but their words and actions fell far short of Jesus.

We Can Pretend That We Are Good, But The Heart Will Reveal It So (Matthew 15.15-20)

After Peter asked for an explanation, Jesus provides one. Very simply, Jesus says that the digestive system is designed to process what passes into the mouth, but what enters the heart will pass back out of the mouth and reveal who we really are. (Read Matthew 15.17-19.)

We discussed this teaching from Mark 7 a couple of years ago when I preached through the life of Jesus from that book over the course of a year. But several years ago, we also looked at this passage in Matthew 15. You might remember the little exercise we are going to do right now related to verse 17. First let me read that verse again. (Read Matthew 15.18.)

Here is the exercise. Repeat this phrase aloud a couple of times: “Out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart.”

Now, what comes from the heart goes far beyond what we say. The list in verse 19 is testimony to that. But the truth is that what enters our heart does create desires within us that do not easily pass away.

What we eat passes through our digestive system within 24-72 hours. But images we see cannot be forgotten. Our sins and mistakes replay in our minds constantly. What passes through our body might have been enjoyed at the time of eating, but it is soon gone. Our thoughts and actions remain with us for a lifetime. What we eat may make us sick, but it cannot defile us. Jesus makes is clear that it is our heart (and our evil desires) that reveal whether or not we are defiled.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to the digestive system.

Washing to be clean does not make us clean. We can only wash the outside, but it is the inside that truly matters.

Desiring to be good does not make us good. We may pretend to be good. We may fool others and even ourselves into thinking we are good. But only God can truly make us good. The truth is that we are defiled. Paul reminds us in Romans 3 that all have sinned. We are all corrupt on the inside which is why Jesus had to come and die. But He did more than die. He rose to life. And that is why we must learn to live our lives according to His Word. No one else could make a way. And thus,

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

I struggled with using Observe this week. The reason I hesitate is because in a passage like Matthew 15, we can still dupe ourselves into thinking that doing the right thing (and telling others to do the same) will make us worthy before God. That was the problem with the Pharisees. But even if we cannot earn God’s approval by what we do, we are to not only teach others what Jesus taught…we are also to teach them to observe what is to be done. Thus, a part of keeping our hearts clean is to not only focus on knowing Jesus, but doing what He commanded (Matthew 28.19-20). I suspect if we find ourselves doing that as earnestly as we ought to be, we will find less time to “feed” our hearts with ideas that may corrupt us.

PRINCIPLE:  What comes out of our mouths is far more important than what goes into them.

QUESTION:  What desires of your heart prevent you from following Jesus as He would have you follow Him?

OPPORTUNITY:  Find someone with whom you can share more than a cup of coffee and a snack (digested as food) and speak to them about the matters of the heart.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE: You may have a desire to take this principle seriously, to answer the question honestly, and to take advantage of the opportunity completely. But you must be willing to love and be loved deeply for all of that to happen. Are you willing to take that next step and be vulnerable with someone and let them be vulnerable with you?

(1) https://www.asge.org/home/about-asge/newsroom/media-backgrounders-detail/human-digestive-system

“Clearing the Fog”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening to Others (Matthew 16.13-14)

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

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

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

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

Listening to Each Other (Matthew 16.15-16)

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

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

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

And that leads us to Jesus’ response.

Listening to Jesus (Matthew 16.17-20)

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

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

Read Matthew 16.17-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  YYOU.

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

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

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

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

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

“Going to the Specialist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Good Neighbor”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Label Good:

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

The Lawyer

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

The Teacher

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

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

The Samaritan

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

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

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

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

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

The Label Bad:

The Robbers

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

The Priest

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

The Levite

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  NNURTURE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Seeking the Courage to Respond”

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

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

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

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

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

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

Because of love.

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

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

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

“Radical Treatment”

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

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

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

Background

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

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

Restoring the Temple (2 Kings 22.1-7)

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

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

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

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

Responding to the Law (2 Kings 22.8-20)

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

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

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

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

Reforming the Nation (2 Kings 23.1-20)

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

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

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

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

Restoring the Passover (2 Kings 23.21-27)

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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