“A Vision for Tomorrow” by Pastor Andy Braams

On the last Sunday of each month, we typically take a break from our current series to talk about what we might do as a church, and as a people to truly make this church a hub for ministry. The building, so to speak, is the hub, and we are the spokes that go out, as the church, to live to bring glory to God.

And although the effects of church have changed greatly over the past four months, the essence of the church has never changed. And yet, even discounting COVID, many have left the church, left this church, for a variety of reasons.

And, truth be told, a part of the reason is me. And a part of the reason is us.

Perhaps if we had been more faithful they had not gone out from us. Of those whose names remain on the roll – how is it with us? And what are we doing? Some have moved away into other states or counties. The have been gone – some of them – for years; their names remain upon our rolls as members – to swell the numbers thereof. In reality they are not members. As to the life they are living, God knows. Some of us yet residing here want ourselves members. But we never, or scarcely ever, attend the services of the church. We manifest no interest in its welfare. We take no part in its work. The Sunday school, the prayer meeting, have no existence in our lives. We are strangers to self-denial and sacrifice. And some, a few, are toiling on, as best we can, perhaps; our prayers cold and almost lifeless; yet God in infinite mercy, we trust hears and our answers. Our works imperfect and inefficient, yet the loving Father in infinite mercy as before accepts and blesses to the account of His beloved Son…. (1)

Those words were written about this church in October 1900. They are still true today. But this church overcame the challenges then, and I believe we can overcome the challenges now. How did they do it? I am sure a part of the reason has to do with love.

But before I get to our primary text in Colossians 3, I want to move well ahead in Romans – to chapter 14. We will get to Romans 14 soon enough (next summer?), but while the issues Paul wrote about were different, the premise of his argument is the same. And the premise of that argument weighs heavy on the church today.

Christians within the same church were arguing over what they could eat and when they should worship. Paul says the strong Christian should exercise their freedom knowing they can eat anything and can worship any day of the week. But the weaker Christian feels bound to tradition and thus will not eat meat and must worship on a particular day.

The stakes for the church in Rome were immense. In today’s terms, we would likely be talking about the possibility of a church split. Now, when doctrine is involved, it is necessary to hold the line and if that creates a divide in the church because some do not believe according the to the teachings of the Bible, well, that is an issue that must be addressed.

And frankly, the weaker Christians in Rome (in this case, mostly the Jews) had a point. God said to keep the Sabbath and restricted His people from eating certain types of food. That information was in their “Bible” – they did not have the NT yet, and perhaps only one or two of the Gospels had been written, and they would likely not have had any way to know all of the teachings of Jesus.

So, Paul wrote that the stronger Christians, those who exercised freedom in their faith on what they ate (meat) and when the worshipped (any and every day), should not cause a fellow believer to stumble. Read Romans 14.14-16.

Don’t take verse 16 out of context. Some things are evil. Eating certain types of food is not. But if we feel free to eat something and doing so may cause another to have doubts about faith (in general, or in specifics), then we should refrain. And it is precisely our freedom that allows us to refrain.

Notice verse 20. “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.”

Let me update that to our world in July of 2020: “Do not, for the sake of wearing a mask, destroy the work of God.”

If you saw my Friday preview video, I touched on this, so I will not spend much time here. But let’s face it, in our world today we will argue about anything, and much of what we argue over relates in some way to our freedoms. But we have a false understanding of freedom. Or, at least, most do not have a biblical understanding of freedom.

As Paul wrote in Romans 14.1, these are matters of opinion. All of the individuals involved were living faithfully to the Lord (as they saw it, and Paul did not rebuke them for that thought here). They were dedicated to the Lord, and nothing Paul mentioned here was breaking any commands. It was opinion.

Thus, to be free biblically, is not to feel you must exercise your beliefs, if it causes hurt to another. In fact, to take it further, Paul says to show true freedom is to not exercise your beliefs if it causes someone else to stumble in their faith.

In other words, rather than exercising your beliefs (i.e. what you believe are your rights), exercise love.

And that brings us to our text for today in Colossians 3.12-16. I am not going to exposit the full text, but I want to highlight what we can do. However, let me share that this chapter begins with the command to seek what is above (that is, in the heavenly realms) and to focus our minds on living with a kingdom mindset, rather than an earthly one.

To do that, Paul lists five sins that should be put to death and six others that should be set aside, some of which might be pertinent for our discussion today. But I want to focus on the positives beginning in verse 12.

As God’s chosen people, who are holy and dearly loved, we are to:

Have compassionate hearts. This begins towards those in the church. The word compassion means to share in the suffering. Suffering can take many forms, but for now just think of the mental suffering people are experiencing due to uncertainty and doubt. We need to set aside our “rights” to help those who are suffering more than we are.

Have kindness. I have shared many times before that the words kind and nice are different. Nice is passive. We can do nothing and be considered nice. Kindness requires action. We must choose to be kind.

Have humility. As it relates to expressing our Christian freedom, here is the hammer. The greatest passage in the Bible about humility is Philippians 2.5-11. Jesus could have demanded His rights as the perfect Son of God, but in His humility, He took time to care for us. We are to have humility as well, loving and caring for others.

Have meekness. I like the definition of controlled power. If meekness is controlled power, then we have the power to do what we want, but we can choose not to exercise that power if holding back will benefit others. That is to live in true freedom.

Have patience. Well, our patience is being tested during this season. But it is showing us that we are not in control – God is. We may not know when this challenge will end (can we be sure it will?), but God is still out in front of this. Maintaining a larger perspective (Colossians 3.1-2) will help us be patient ourselves and can allow us to show patience to others.

Bear with one another. This command is not about others bearing with you, it is about you bearing with others. Yes, that should go both ways. But we cannot control if people will bear burdens with us. And again, this relates to freedom. We have the opportunity to bear or not to bear – regardless of what others choose. But do we do so?

Forgive each other. Uh hum. Church? Do you want to be free? Forgive! When we don’t forgive, we are the ones who are trapped. A lot of times other people do not even know they have offended us – and yet we hold a grudge. That is imprisonment. Forgive and be free.

Put on love.

That is really the essence isn’t it? To love someone is to receive them or to accept them. To do that requires not only us to exercise freedom, but to allow others to do the same. Again, Paul is not talking about sin. Sin should be confronted, but many of the matters we make a big deal about (like whether or not to wear masks) are not sinful. And some that are inherently sinful (racism) get little attention in many churches.

Ultimately, Paul says we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. That word rule has the idea of an umpire making a call in baseball. That is, a pitch is a ball or a strike. A runner is safe or out. Etc. The idea of being in the middle does not exist. The same is true here – Christ either rules or He doesn’t. We are to make the choice to allow Him to rule.

CONCLUSION

So, is the peace of Christ ruling in your heart?

Now, having Christ’s peace does not mean everything is perfect. It does not mean that we do not struggle in life, with people, etc. It does not mean we will always get along. But, if we are to love others, then we focus on forgiveness, and patience, and meekness, and kindness, etc. We need to have conversations with people to try to understand their perspective (bearing one another’s burdens) rather than just thinking we are always right (i.e. we need humility).

So, on this Hub Sunday, what can we do?

Well, if you have watched my videos over the past few months, I have suggested that we need to do, or maybe that is be, M.O.R.E. Let me use that idea as it relates to Colossians 3.

We need to be:

MOTIVATED. We need to be motivated to love our neighbors within and without the church.

OBSERVANT. We need to be observant of the needs around us in order to know who has burdens, what burdens they have, and how we can help bear them.

RESPONSIVE. When we know what others need, we need to lovingly respond. Perhaps the response can be made by one person, perhaps it takes the entire church, or a combination of the churches.

ENGAGED. This last word is the difference maker. We can have proper motivation. We can see what is going on around us. We can make plans to respond, or even begin to respond. But if we are not engaged, then what does it matter? Being engaged is the difference between having good intentions and being intentional.

Church, if we are going to be a church that brings glory to God, then we must be intentional. We must do, and be, more.

Let me end with a reminder. Early this year, before COVID, I asked us all to consider the following question: Who’s Your One?

Who is that one person for whom you will pray, for whom you will love, for whom you want them to either know Christ or to have that person return to faithfully following Him?

As I mentioned then, I am not asking you to even talk to them – yet, at least not about that. If God wants you to do so, by all means, do so. But based upon today’s message, I am simply asking you to do a little bit M.O.R.E. and love them.

A day will be coming, and reasonably soon, that we will have a conversation with them and that we will invite them to church. But for now, it is simply a matter of being motivated, being observant, being responsive, and beginning to be engaged – all for the purpose of love.

Because to truly love is to be free. And as we love others, we can help them to be free as well.

So, who is God calling you to love – and specifically, to love freely? That is, Who’s your one?

As you consider your one, let me read the remainder of the paragraph from RM Rhodes wrote. May this paragraph be an encouragement for all of us to do the work God has for us to do.

Some of us whose names remain, with tottering limbs and stooping forms are nearing the western horizon of life, looking forward with some degree of anxiety, without the sense of fear or dread, to release from life’s toils and cares and burdens. Earth has lost its charms. Its pleasures, its pursuits, its ambitions have all passed away. Waiting – patiently waiting – the summons, “Child, come home.” Not only has earth lost its charms; but the grave has lost its dread. In the bosom of mother earth there is sweet repose for the weary body. In the arms of the loving Father there is heaven for the tried spirit. In the coming of the blessed Christ there is reunion of the body and soul glorious, incorruptible and immortal. (2)

(1) Elder R. M. Rhodes (two-time leader of the church – excerpt from History of the Baptist Church of Fairfax, probably written in October 1900. Copied verbatim, including punctuation.

(2) This part was the remainder of the paragraph.

“Every Color, Every Race” by Pastor Andy Braams

I don’t need to tell you what is happening in the world today. But this week, both today, and in my daily videos this week, I want to share a different perspective than what is reported through most media outlets. COVID has dominated most of the news for the past three months, but race relations are heated – and America’s issues are mild compared to India and China or North and South Korea. We are on the brink of a nuclear war due to different ideologies among different types of people.

But what is closest to home are the demonstrations and riots that have affected many areas of our country. First, let me say that I do not believe the pulpit is to be a place for politics. But I do not believe the pulpit can ignore political happenings. The pulpit is a place to proclaim the Word of the Lord. But God’s Word is sufficient to deal with all of life’s moral issues, and those moral issues largely define our political landscape today. So, this is not a political message, although some may hear it that way. This is a message of reconciliation, which is, and has been, God’s central aim for mankind since He asked Adam, “Where are you?” in Genesis 3.

I want to also make clear the I do not believe in a social gospel. I do not believe that the gospel is to primarily focus on the social needs of others. But the gospel certainly is to address the needs of others, and those needs do include social needs and issues. The gospel is all encompassing. It must be – it is the Good News.

And ultimately that Good News boils down to God making a way for us to be reconciled with Him. Ultimately, the reconciliation that so many desire is not possible on this earth because people reject Jesus. To be fully reconciled with one another means we must be reconciled with God through Jesus. But even with that being the case, for those who claim to know Christ, an attempt at reconciliation must be evident in our lives with others whether they are Christian or not.

So, how can we make a path towards reconciliation possible?

Well, the answers are complex. But one truth is certain, without God it will be impossible. And even with God, both sides will have to listen to each other.

Take a moment to read Ephesians 2.11-22.

This passage states that two groups of people were the recipients of the letter. One group was the chosen group (the preferred group) – that is, the Jews. The others were called the “uncircumcision.” That is, they were the unclean. Paul also states that the second group were outsiders as they were considered to be separated from Christ, having no part in the promise of God, and indeed, having no hope or even an opportunity to know God (v. 12).

In other words, one side was very racist. You were a Jew or you were nothing. That belief was not Paul’s when he wrote Ephesians, but it certainly would have been a part of his belief at one time as a prominent Pharisee. So, Paul is proof, people can change.

Paul’s writing reveals that Jesus’ death made the two one. Jew and Gentile together. The dividing wall of hostility was obliterated – not by man’s doing, but by God’s doing through the sacrifice of Jesus (v. 14). Paul goes on to say that the result is one new man – again Jew and Gentile as one instead of two (v. 15), reconciling both together, thus killing the hostility (v. 16). That is, instead of killing each other (literally or figuratively with words), those who chose Christ were now bound together with Jesus, who is the foundation (vv. 20-22) supporting it all.

Thus, to be racist is to be against Christ. We can either be one in Christ, or we are not a part of Christ. Those are not my words; those words are the implications of what Paul has written.

Like the people of Ephesus, Philippi, and Rome, etc., we face similar issues and hostilities today. The difference is that we see it on the news day after day. But Paul knew something that we need to keep in mind as well: making a statement is one thing; making it a reality is another.

Thus, Paul writes to the churches. And the dominant theme of his message is this – love. He tells church after church to get along, and make love the centerpiece (see, for instance, Colossians 3.14) because God has loved us. So, let me quickly give a few ideas about love in the context of the racial tensions we face today.

Love Requires Us to Listen to One Another

Black lives matter. Yes, white (and all) lives matter as well, but white lives have not generally been in question, and it does not help the conversation at this moment. That said, I do not endorse the organization Black Lives Matter. It has many beliefs I cannot support. But I fully believe that black lives matter. But to prove that we must listen. I must listen. And I must learn. Wrongs are being committed in the present, but wrongs have been committed in the past. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” You and I are not directly responsible for the actions of the past, but we must listen to the concern in this moment. However, as Lamentations 5.7 says “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their inequities.” So, until we listen, we will likely not be heard. In the minds of many, whites are the only ones who have ever been heard. And the legacy of this country is that many whites have suppressed blacks (e.g. slavery and restricted rights), and reds (e.g. Trail of Tears), and yellows (internment camps), etc. So, we must start by listening and acknowledging one another.

And let’s face it, the Bible has been used as a defense. Slave owners have long used the Bible to justify slavery. But somehow the Golden Rule was overlooked – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Note for our sakes today, it does not say, do unto others as they have done to you! So, yes, slavery was mentioned in the Bible. But so is love – and love is mentioned far more!

Love Requires Us to Empathize With One Another

Why should we listen? Because of the pain. I can tell you the names of someone (or of many) who have sat in nearly every room in this church and shared their pain with me. The pain of teenagers, the pain of grieving families, the pain of a person or of couples trying to salvage their marriage, the pain of struggling with various types of addictions and sin, and the pain of those who have berated (and spread rumors about me) because of some pain that was gnawing at them. I have also sat in some living rooms and kitchens and on porches and listened to your pain. We all have experienced pain and we need somewhere to turn.

And I have even heard the pain of two black men here. One shared it in this room. Another shared it after he left this room. One was Linus, who shared about the pain he had for the lost people in his native Kenya. But the other, which happened a few years prior to that, was Ayo, from Nigeria, who shared the pain he felt the last time he preached here. Many of you remember that day. For those who do not, please watch this week’s Friday Preview on the church’s YouTube channel (search Fairfax MO Baptist Church).

When Ayo told me his story, we were just getting onto 59 Hwy for me to take him back to KC, I laughed. I mean, that wouldn’t happen here would it? Could it?

But it wasn’t funny. In that moment Ayo did not know what to expect. It was not funny to him. It was serious – literally, his life, or at least his ambitions, and seeing his family again all hung in the balance.

Ayo was still a bit rattled when he told me what had happened some 15-20 minutes after we left the church. And what did I do, I laughed. Not loudly. It was more like a chuckle, and knowing me, when I laugh like that, it is barely audible. But the situation was serious to Ayo. I had heard his words, but I had not truly listened. That is not empathy. Empathy requires a level of understanding, and I did not show any understanding because I had not truly listened. And that is a big part of the problems in our world today – no one wants to listen. We must listen to understand. And we must begin to understand in order to show empathy.

But love requires us to do more than acknowledge others and have empathy; love requires us to act.

Love Requires Us to Act For One Another

Stories of pain and stories of fear require us to listen. Sometimes that is all we can do in the moment. But listening is the place to start when there is pain. We listen. We learn. We empathize as best we can. But if that is all we do, then we have likely done too little. We may be filled with good intentions, but as you have repeatedly heard me say this year, good intentions mean nothing. Too many graves are filled with people who had good intentions, but the intentions were buried with them, and therefore, so was the goodness. We must move from having good intentions to being intentional.

Sure, sometimes we may be able to do little in the moment. I cannot bring back a loved one. I cannot make the physical pain of abuse disappear. I cannot make the emotional pain of so many disappear. But listening, really listening can help.

However, most of the time, something else can be done – at least, eventually. We may act too quickly and do the wrong thing, so that is why it is important to listen, but we must do more than listen when action must be taken.

One action that may not be enough, but is always a good place to start is to say, “I’m sorry.” That is what I did to Ayo that day. I laughed because I did not understand. Effectively, I dismissed his feelings – I dismissed his fear. The first step towards making that right was to apologize. It was a simple act, but he knew it was authentic. We talked more about the issue, and why it was so troubling for him, for several miles. See, the issue was that officers in full dress enter churches in Nigeria. And fully-armed soldiers in northern Nigeria enter churches to kill the people who are meeting. That was Ayo’s context. It did not make sense to me, but that is because I had not fully acknowledged him by listening to him. Therefore, I had not yet been able to show empathy. But after I began to truly listen, my understanding began to change.

Incidentally, a friend of mine and I were supposed to go to Nigeria last summer (I was supposed to fly to Nigeria from Kenya). I was supposed to go this summer before a few issues came up (and then COVID really shot any plans down). But the reason I did not go last year was because of turmoil in the area and Ayo said, “You are from America, and you are white. That will make you a target. They will take you as a hostage if we go to the villages. So, you will go from the airport to our church and stay there until you are ready to go back to the airport to leave.” But then it got worse, and he said not to come. That is why I didn’t go last year. Even knowing that gives me a slightly better understanding of what African Americans in this country might face. Certainly, I cannot relate overall, but it moves the meter a few inches towards understanding and empathy, which eventually will reflect in love.

Ayo trusted me when I brought him to Fairfax. I must trust him if I am able to go to Nigeria. That trust requires us to act in the best interest of the other. That action is the evidence of love.

CONCLUSION

So, where do we go from here?

Well, let’s start with one step: get rid of all of the labels. As I mentioned when preaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan last year, “We cannot love the people we label. We will not label the people we love.”

Labels bring judgment. And judgment brings oppression. I am not suggesting that you or I (or anyone) is to accept everything that happens. But when we label people, it is not healthy. Church, that cannot be us. We must listen. We must love. We must act.

If the church does not get this right, then how can we expect the rest of society to do so?

Right now, we are seeing many labels put on people all over this country, and all over the world. We see people who are not listening. We see people in pain. And the only answer to that pain is Jesus.

Jesus’ death did more than save you from your sin. It tore down the dividing wall of hostility. That wall, as Paul wrote, was between the Jew and the Gentile. But for us, it is between all believers of every color and every race. Even the church had a racial divide then, and it still has one today.

Many of you will remember the little children’s song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The words have been changed because it was considered offensive to use colors to speak of peoples’ skin. What was once sang as, “Red and yellow, black and white; all are precious in His sight,” became “every color, every race; all are covered by His grace.”

But while those are the words that come out of many mouths, the words that are in some of those same hearts are:

“If the color is not mine, I don’t think that they are Thine.”

Church, we must set the pace on this. Yes, we live in an area with very little racial diversity. That is just a fact. But that does not mean that we cannot listen and learn and love. That does not mean that we do not need to check our hearts. That does not mean that we do not have hatred or bigotry – in fact it may be a way to mask it easier.

Yes, there are riots and protests. But again, Martin Luther King said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.” All people deserve to be heard. We may not always agree with the thoughts and demands of others. Listening is not about giving others everything they want. But before we can give people what they need, we must listen in order to understand.

If we want others to listen to us, we must first choose to listen to others. If we want others to empathize with us, we must empathize with others. If we want others to act for us, we need to act for others.

The dividing wall of hostility has already been torn down by Jesus. So why are we acting like it is still there?

Remember, the Golden Rule. Do to others what you would want them to do for you!

“Born Again Daily” by Rick Sons

“Behold children are a heritage from the Lord.” Psalm 127:3

“Just as it is appointed for man to die once…” Hebrews 9:27

“I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!” 1 Corinthians 15:31

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:3

Birth. Death. Rebirth. 3 things that you have no control over.

In approximately 30 days, I will have a new grandson, and we all can hardly wait for the new birth. Children change our lives; the birth of a child is a major event and life is never the same once a child is born.

We think about Christmas and how the world changed after the birth of a baby.

Cindy and I were told that we would never have children. Test after test was run and the outcome was always the same.  It became very stressful for both of us until a doctor told us to just relax and not to worry about it. God knew more than the doctors it seems, and we were blessed with two wonderful children. Eventually children give their parents another wonderful gift: Grandchildren!

Life is a series of births, deaths and rebirths, good things and bad things, challenging us to understand who we are, teaching us how to be honest; we learn how to be strong, loving and compassionate. It is never too late for rebirth.

The message we should take from the life of Christ, is the experience of being reborn.

Being Born Again

As Christians we have heard this over time that we died to our old selves and were reborn new with Christ.

In the third chapter of John, we look at a very important portion of Scripture on the new birth, being born again. Our teacher here is Jesus Christ, and for most of us who have been in the church any length of time, we are familiar with this portion of Scripture.

The story goes like this, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these things that you do unless God is with him.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3.1-3).

The message is very simple. The kingdom of God is entered only through being born again.

This is a common idea with believers, we talk about as born-again Christians; but we don’t seem to get a grip on the essence of how deep this thought goes.

The point of what Jesus is saying is simply this: being born is not something that you have anything to do with. You didn’t have anything to do with your physical birth, nor do you have anything to do with your spiritual birth.

God created you by the means of your parents, but in reality it was God who created you.

Your parents could give you a physical body, but only God could create your spirit; being born again is an act of God by which He recreates you.

God created you for one purpose to Love and Worship him, and this is not a onetime thing.

What does it mean?

It simply describes that a person receives a new birth, a new life, a new nature, a new disposition, a new character, and a new mind from God and that person makes no contribution to that to this new birth.

I want to ask you to think about something for a moment.

How many of you think that being born again or rebirth is a onetime thing and that once you accept Christ as your personal Lord and savior that the rebirth is complete?

I do not want to stomp on the idea of “Once saved, then we are always saved.”

The Bible says, in Romans 10:9-10 “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes to righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.”

Salvation is not gained by those who try harder.

Salvation is not gained by those who live better.

Salvation is not gained by those who become more moral, more religious, take religion to its highest level, and stay away from sin.

The Kingdom of God is not entered by anything a person does.

In fact:

Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Jesus was saying that people could not be saved simply by religious practice, but by faith.

With this faith we still have a responsibility and there is a daily process.

“Born Again”

If we were to break down the words, starting with “Again” (which is from anothen in the Greek), it means “from above,” “down from above.”

“Born” in the Greek is Gennao or “God making” or “Begotten.”

Thus, “Born Again” simply means, “God Made From Above.”

You have to be given life from above, and that’s not something that you can do spiritually any more than you can do it physically.

Do you remember that first feeling when you were truly “Born Again?” How you felt deep down in your heart when the change in your life became clear.

Some of you have heard my testimony and how it was a struggle but the end result was a feeling of peace.

Let me ask you this question, when did you last feel like this?

I am here to say that being reborn is not just a onetime thing, being reborn is a daily thing.

We are about to enter a New Year, going from 2019 to 2020.  When you think about the image of the New Year we think of Father Time, and Baby New Year.

The death of an old year and the birth of a new year, this cycle of death and life, has repeated itself over and over since time began.  Just as the death of each day, allows the birth of the new.

Each day we should see ourselves as reborn, with a chance to do away with the old self and to be reborn to greet the day God has given you as a new creation.

To those who know me, you know that I am a John Wayne nut. I collect John Wayne memorabilia and collectibles. I can quote lines from his movies, and in fact I got to wear the jacket John Wayne wore in the movie Rio Bravo, while I reenacted a scene from the movie Sons of Kate Elder. (I won a trivia contest to be able to do that.)

Some of you may know that John Wayne had a credo that he lived by each day.

It was not, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”  This was the movie man, the tough guy the move image.

What John Wayne, the real man, lived by can be found written on his headstone.

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life; it comes into us at midnight, very clean. When it arrives it is perfect. It puts itself in our hands. It hopes we learned something from yesterday.”

To put it simply, yesterday has died and is never coming back, tomorrow is reborn, a new day born clean and perfect.

Don’t let yesterday’s mistakes come into today.

I have spoken to people from time to time about their salvation and their daily journey.  Often I get the answer I was born again 30, 40 or 50 years ago, so I guess I am covered until I get to heaven. They may very well be correct, only Jesus know the answer to that.

If we look at the scripture we started with in 1 Corinthians 15:31 it says “I die daily.”

Paul expresses a similar thought in Romans 8:36 when he wrote, “As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’”

In Romans, as in 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul references the constant persecution that he and his companions endured daily.

Like Paul, each of us who claim to be Born Again might face persecution, if we were doing the will of the Father which is in heaven, as it says in Matthew 7.

This is Jesus’ command to those who want to follow Him: “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Paul was totally sold out to God, and we can be as well.

Sin, the flesh, and this world will continually fight for your attention and demand your participation.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

What he is saying is take care of your sin today because once tomorrow comes it cannot be reclaimed. This gives Satan a foothold and while you may be able to ask for forgiveness tomorrow, yesterday can never be reclaimed.

When we die daily, we consider ourselves unable to respond to those temptations. A dead man has no personal agendas or rights. He is not tempted to sin because he is dead to everything around him.

Think of it this way, you have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world.

Now if you die at the end of each day, then you must be reborn the next. You will note I did not say resurrected from the dead – you are not Jesus.

Resurrected means never to die again, but you are reborn each day a new creation.

You may be telling yourself, Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ Daughter, and a few others were all resurrected.

My answer to this is no they were not.

Lazarus was dead for four days, and he and the others were restored to life as a prominent miracle of Jesus.

Not resurrected but restored. All of these people died again.

Many people have been restored to life by miracles of Jesus, some by means of doctors or first responders.

I, myself, through my training and the miracles of God, have assisted in restoring people back to life, who by all definition were dead.

Each of these restored people will someday die again, but because of Jesus will someday as with all of us, be resurrected and have eternal life.

Unlike people, we cannot worry about yesterday, nor can we restore or resurrect it. Yesterday can never come back.

Just as each day, month and year dies, each is gone; they can never be relived or restored.

With each new day you must commit yourself to rebirth.

Commit to your spouse, children and family to be completely honest and loving, to openly allow friends and people into your life.

Commit to giving the lost reason for hope, and to assist them on their journey, as you strive to lead others to the Kingdom.

With each new day to show others the light of Jesus in you as you did the day you were first Born Again.

Gandhi once said, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”

To be born again, or to experience the new birth, is a phrase, we hear mostly in evangelism or in big revivals when we are out seeking the lost.

The term “born-again Christian” is an often misunderstood.

Being born again is not a one and done like our physical birth.

Because God gave us free will, we have a choice to accept, or not, his guidance and direction, so this free will often leads us to sin.

It is because of this free will that our soul needs to be reborn, too be made pure and righteous the way God created us to be.

Does it not stand to reason that if you sin daily, as we all do, that each night we must die to the sin of the day before, and that each day we must be reborn?

New birth is not performed or achieved by religious ceremony or traditional rite, it makes no difference if you are old or young, rich or poor, and male or female, to be born again is a personal choice, open for everyone to receive.

As we grow older the journey becomes harder to walk.

Wear on old bones, muscles, joints of the body, make the journey more difficult for the older person than for the young, and in some case the Church Body.

Maybe you have said, “I am tired and old I will let the younger people do the work; it is my time to rest.” To be reborn daily, means our journey now has the determination and the excitement, of the new reborn spirit.

We cannot change our yesterday(s), and our tomorrow is not yet written.

The sins you committed today, if not corrected today are done.

You cannot go back and undo a yesterday; you cannot make yesterday’s sin go away.

Most, if not all of us, have regrets for uncorrected sins of our yesterdays.

By dying to yesterday’s sin and being reborn and asking Jesus to forgive us the sins we failed to correct, only then can we start a new day.

As we look at the New Year 2020 ahead of us, many are already making plans to fix or right wrongs of 2019 – a New Year, a fresh start.

The New Year resolutions are the goals we make for ourselves but never achieve.

“This year I will be healthier, thinner, a better person;” “I will read God’s Word;” “I will go to church;” “I will be a better husband, wife, son, daughter or friend;” “I will actually pray for those I said I would pray for.”

All of these goals are not worth the paper they are written on and are just wasted words if we try to do them on our own.

Like saying you will pray for someone and then never doing it. Empty words used to settle our own mind.

We need to focus on the fact that each day is a fresh start and a new beginning.

A chance to be reborn in Jesus and have him daily set his goals in us, goals that through him can be achieved.

Just as John Wayne believed, we have to incorporate the thought of the fresh start into each day.

We can never reclaim our yesterday, but can most certainly claim and hold on to our new today.

“Breaking Free” by Pastor Andy Braams

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

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

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

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

Background

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

Read Galatians 5.1

We Are Free in Christ (Galatians 5.1-12)

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

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

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

We Are Called to Serve (Galatians 5.13-15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITY:  Focus on the Spirit of God.

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

“Strike the Arrows” (Hub Sunday) by Pastor Andy Braams

Last July, we began Hub Sunday. Hub Sunday is a monthly focus to specifically remind us that our church is a hub. We are a hub intent on engaging people to be on mission within the community and around the world.

As I mentioned last month, my intent is to provide opportunities to others to share what God has laid on their hearts on Hub Sunday. I can stand and convey my thoughts, and I will from time to time, but you hear from me most every other week. So, hearing from others, gives us all a chance to hear how God is using the church as a Hub, rather than me simply trying to encourage us to be a hub.

Now, I know the response from some may be that, “Well, what are we paying you for if you are not preaching every week?” But the reality is that equipping others to serve, including to preach, should be a key part of my responsibility – particularly, according to the Bible. And God has gifted all of us in some way to serve Him, and a part of my gift, and more specifically right now, my development, is to equip and empower others.

A part of that empowerment is why we must think of ourselves, as Fairfax Baptist Church, as a hub. If we think about the messages this month, as it relates to building our muscles of faith, hope, and love, we can see why being a hub should be paramount.

We have hope – something that most people do not have.

We have faith – in Someone most choose not to believe.

We can love – with a purpose that most people cannot give.

As a true hub, we can show others the love of God, because of our faith in God, and give others a reason to have hope in God as well.

Showing love and sharing our faith is absolutely required according to Jesus’ own words in the Great Commission. It was echoed by the NT writers like Paul when writing to the churches to do this work. Why did Paul need to write then? Because of the same reason we need to review his words now. Because most people, including myself, do not follow the commands of Christ as we ought. And when I say most people, I mean all but just a very select few, at least most of the time. Why do I say this? Because I am convinced that the world is filled with four types of people. We will concentrate on the last of these today, but first let me define the first three.

People Who Do Not Know

This group of people represents most of the world. Estimates are that 7.7 billion people live in the world (more than double the number from 1972!). In 2015, the number of people who call themselves Christian was 2.3 billion, and I believe that number is VERY generous. Still, 2.3 billion is less than one-third of the total population which means approximately 70% of the world does not know Jesus. They need people to leave the hum long enough to tell them what they do not know.

Quote: “The gospel is only good news if it gets there on time.” – Carl F.H. Henry

People Who Do Not Grow

This group of people may know about Jesus, and may be a part of that 2.3 billion who call themselves Christian, but they do not grow in their faith. This group would also include those who may have been a part of a (or this) church for a while, but assume they already know enough and/or get bored with God. Thus, they may or may not be Christian, but they do not care about growing to be who God has created them to be.

Quote: “The church exists for one reason – to draw men unto Christ, to make them little Christ.” – C.S. Lewis

People Who Do Not Go

In one sense, this group includes those who might not go to meet with others who are born-again, such as at a church service like this. In fact, church researches now call those who attend church less than 15 times each year – the nominally churched. This percentage of people is growing. Sadly, they think they go to church, and will tell you they do, if asked, but the math says that 15 times per year is not much more than once per month.

But the other sense of this idea is the people who may go to church, but do not engage with what God is doing within the walls of the church, and are especially unengaged beyond the church walls. In that sense, they literally do not GO. They are tied to the hub and will not release out to be a part of the spoke. Many reasons exist, but fear is the primary reason. And, frankly, even the most dedicated Christian will claim that excuse at times.

Quote: “Untold millions are still untold, you have one business on earth – to save souls.” – John Wesley

But, we still have one more group to cover. And this group is even more true of most Christians most of the time, including myself. And, we find an example of a person in this group in 2 Kings 13 verses 14-19.

People Who Do Not Go Far Enough

In this story, the King, Joash (also Jehoash), seeks the counsel of Elisha. Why? This holy leader is dying and the King wants a blessing from him. The phrase the king cries out may seem strange, but this is the exact phrase that Elisha cried out when he saw Elijah being carried up into the whirlwind (2 Kings 2.12). Thus, Joash was linking the power of Elisha and Elijah – two of the great miracle-working prophets of the Old Testament.

So, Elisha tests him. First, Joash is instructed to take a bow and draw it. Then, with Elisha’s hands on Joash’s, Elisha says to have the window opened and to release the arrow. The king did so and Elisha said that Israel would be victorious over Syria (their enemy).

Then, Elisha instructed Joash to take the arrows and strike the ground with them. Again, the kind did so. But then we get an unexpected surprise. Elisha was angry and said that Joash should have struck them several more times to make the victory complete. What we must realize is that Elisha said to strike the ground. He never said stop.

The issue is that very few people are willing to go as far as God wants them. I will admit, I have had a few times when I have been determined to go that far, but most of the time, I do not. Some will say that I may go further (and/or farther) than others, but that is not what God asks. God asks us to go as far as He leads.

The Example of Jesus

Think about Jesus in Gethsemane. In Mark 14, Jesus leads His disciples to the garden. He tells the main group to stop before leading Peter, James, and John deeper into the garden (v. 33). But then, He tells them to wait and the text says, “And going a little farther…” (v. 35). Jesus went a little farther. The problem for most of us is that we think Jesus will ask too much of us. We may be willing to go, but we are not willing to go too far, lest we find ourselves in trouble. But notice that Jesus did not do that with his disciples, and He will not do that to us. He knew what His disciples were capable of doing, and how far they were capable of going at that moment. He will lead people farther, but prepares us along the way. It was true then; it is still true today.

The Example of Paul

At the end of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about running the race to win the prize. He says that he disciplined his body so he would be ready and not be disqualified. I hear a lot of athletes who say, “I am just grateful to be here.” For Paul that was not enough. Paul wanted to win. And it was not just a race of running with his legs; it was the race of faith which he later says he finished (2 Timothy 4.7).

Both Jesus and Paul did not quit until they were told to quit. But Joash did. We are not told how many arrows he had. Maybe it was three, so he struck once for each arrow. Or maybe he struck three times because three was a ritualistic number in Old Testament times. We simply do not know that answer. But we can know that he stopped short of what was required, and thus, Joash and the nation of Israel would not receive the benefit he, or the nation, desired.

In the words, used earlier, Joash was willing to go, but he was not willing to go far enough.

Quote: “Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is, where life and death, sin and grace heaven and hell converge.” – Robert C. Shannon

Our JOURNEY

As we consider the idea of a hub, each one of us has to ask the following question: Which category best describes me? Are you one who does not know, who has not grown, who does not go, or, like me, one who often does not go far enough?

You cannot truly engage the JOURNEY until you honestly answer that question for yourself. But if you want to be on a true JOURNEY with Jesus (which certainly implies going!), then you have to ask yourself the next question: What will I do differently to move to the next type of person? Or said another way: What can I do to move beyond these classifications and truly be who God has created me to be?

Our vision is to be “a large church in a small town” which is based upon Jesus statement that we ARE the light of the world. Are you shining or have you burned out? The more we shine individually, the brighter we are collectively, and the benefit, in Jesus’ words, is that the Father in heaven will be glorified.

Again, Jesus will not push you too far too fast, but He does expect all of us to grow and go further than we are currently going. Like with His first disciples, He took them as far as they could go in that moment, but eventually He sent them into all the world.

What’s Next? The Challenge

You might recall the question I asked so often last year. I have modified it a bit, but for our light to shine and to be the church God wants us to be does not require rocket science. It requires obedience to serve in a way that He has already gifted you to serve. Thus, in going a little further, a practical outlet can begin with the question:

What can I do, if done well, can benefit this church and the Kingdom of God?

I need to engage other people in the process. You need to let others know what God is doing in your life. We all need to simply encourage one another, and to inspire others, and then invite them to join. But unless we all go a little bit further, we will not be as effective as God wants us to be, as Wayne Cordeiro reminds us in the following quote.

“I’m convinced that the influence a church has on its community will be determined in large part not by the personality of the pastor, the size of its building or how long the ministry has worked in the community. It will be determined instead by the percentage in the ministry of each member.” – Wayne Cordeiro

We have everything we need to overcome any problem we are facing. But we must have faith in the One who has given us what we need to use what we need to accomplish what He needs.

God’s work will be done. He is waiting for people who will go a little further to make it happen in our midst. He is waiting for people to be obedient to what He has called them to do. As Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.” If that is true for the world, then it must be true for this church, and it certainly is at the heart of what Jesus wants from us for His Kingdom.

“God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” – Hudson Taylor

Next Step:        LIVE – Go a little further even if that means going a little farther.