“Suffered Under Pilate, Suffering for Us” by Pastor Andy Braams

The political landscape in the U.S. is very divisive right now. I will add that it is not as divisive as it has ever been because if you look at the first fifteen years of the presidency, you have Jefferson harshly attacking Washington and Adams, you have scandals and misunderstandings that light the fuse of hostility time and time again, and you even have a sitting vice-president (Aaron Burr) shoot one of the most brilliant minds this country has ever seen (Alexander Hamilton).

But sometimes the level of divisiveness is very apparent. This week, we saw the end of an impeachment process against the current president. We witnessed an absurdly partisan State of the Union where nearly one-half of the participants were less than unengaged (if that is even possible), a partisan act by the president who gave the nation’s highest award to a man who alienates one-half of the country, and the leader of the chamber where the speech was made tear up the script that is constitutionally required to be given to Congress.

And because of these facts, most will say that they are suffering through another election cycle. That is, the actions of others create a tension that causes us to suffer. But tension in politics is nothing new. And neither is suffering. In fact, much of the suffering in the world is directly related to politics – and you are I are responsible.

The suffering of which I speak is not just emotional turmoil that can disappear if we turn off our televisions and radios. It does not disappear if we cut off communicating with others. The suffering is real because of sin. The suffering is real because we think that we are in control. The control we seek may not be an office like a councilman or councilwoman, it may not be that of a mayor, or of a representative in our democratic republic, but nonetheless we all seek control. And by we, I do not mean the collective. I mean you – individually. And I mean me.

The control you seek, and the control I seek, is because of sin. It is the control of our lives instead of yielding ourselves to God.

And thus, Jesus suffered. In the truest sense, Jesus suffered because of a political situation. But in the fullest of measures, Jesus suffered because of our sin. And He did not just suffer, He suffered greatly. Why? Because we do not want someone else over us – we want control. Thus, as Matthew wrote in Matthew 27.18, “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him (Jesus) up.”

This series is about the constancy of God in the midst of the cultural changes around us. As such, we are focusing on the timeless truths of the Bible, with specific attention being given to certain doctrines of authentic faith as packaged in the Apostles’ Creed. But as much as the world has changed, and is changing, one other constant exists besides God – the nature of our sin.

And so, for the purpose of covering our sin, not His, Jesus suffered and died. As Matthew 27.26 says, “Then he (Pilate) release for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified.”

Why does the suffering of Jesus matter? Why did this phrase need to be included in the Creed? Let’s take a closer look.

When We Are Lord Over Others, Jesus Is Not Lord Over Us

I need to clarify this statement. Leadership is important. People need leaders, and many great leaders exist. And leaders will ask us to do things that may seem beyond us. Leaders may push us to do things that are uncomfortable. In fact, I would argue that a good leader must do this, at least occasionally. Certainly, Jesus did that. And Jesus still does that.

BUT, in Mark 10, Jesus says that some leaders “lord it over them” (v. 42). That is, some leaders simply want the power. They have selfish motives. And if a leader is only desiring power, then that leader is probably not willing to submit to Jesus.

On the other hand, a humble leader, or a servant leader, still leads. These leaders may still require a great deal of their followers, but they do so in a way that respects, and even lifts up, others.

In Matthew 27, we find that Jesus has been betrayed and has been handed over to the governor of the area. Verse 3 then tells us that one person who has misinterpreted the power of Jesus now ends his life. That is, Judas kills himself because he wanted power. He wanted authority. He wanted to end the Roman rule and wanted to have an important part of reigning with the new leader – the Supreme Leader, Jesus.

But that was not Jesus’ aim – at least, not during His first coming.

Then, the story turns to an encounter with Jesus standing before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27.11). Jesus does not give an explicit answer. Meanwhile, the religious leaders – who thought more highly of themselves than they should have thought, accused Jesus of various crimes (we see a similar process before the high priest in Matthew 26.57-68).

Again, Jesus gives no answer. The governor, Pilate, is amazed.

A few verses later, Matthew provides a unique detail. Pilate’s wife sends him a message as he is about to release a prisoner. The message is essentially to make sure Jesus goes free.  But Pilate does not really care. He goes through the motions of a tradition (the prisoner release), but if he really wanted to do so, he could have simply released Jesus. Yes, it would have caused him trouble with Rome, but doing things for Jesus is not always meant to be easy – in fact, it is rarely easy.

Pilate was more concerned about maintaining order. He was more concerned with staying in control. But Pilate also did not want the responsibility (“he took water and washed his hands”Matthew 27.24). The religious leaders wanted control. And let’s be honest, most of the time, we are the same way. The problem is that when we focus on ourselves, we may maintain a level of authority, but we must ask ourselves: Are we doing this for our benefit so we can be lord over others, or for the sake of others because He IS Lord?

Jesus Suffered Under Pilate, So His Blood Would Cover Us

Read Matthew 27.27-31: 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

The Roman army was known for their efficiency. They would march nearly 18.5 miles per day carrying all of their equipment which included supplies and tools for building their siege towers. The Romans were also brutal and particularly so when they retaliated against others.

But it was more than mere brutality – for many empires of the past have been horrific in their brutality. But Romans turned their brutality into sport (such as in the Coliseum) and games.

 

The point of their games was not only to torture the prisoner, but to humiliate them as well. Thus, the king should have a crown (of thorns in the case of Jesus). The king should have a beautiful robe, so Jesus was given a robe – which when pulled off would have pulled at the scabs from His wounds.

The game in this picture was similar to a board game we have today. Only, instead of moving a piece around the board and drawing a card, the place you landed told you what you got to do to the prisoner and perhaps what you were to use in doing it. In Matthew 27, we see a few things they did (crown with thorns, strike him with a reed, etc.). But it is the word scourged (v. 26) that is the most troubling. This word reveals the action of the beating with the whip with multiple strands that had the bone and metal embedded.

If you have seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, it is this scene that is the most difficult for people to watch. He truly suffered. But the truth is – the movie cannot fully represent what happened to Jesus. I know I have told this before, but the story is worth repeating. During the filming of this scene, Jim Caviezal, the actor who portrayed Jesus, was actually hit with the whip a couple of times. Most of the lashes hit a post which was behind him, but a couple of blows did land directly – and it hurt! And yet, we can assume the director yelled, “Cut,” and the action stopped. For Jesus it did not stop. The suffering would only intensify. And He went through it for us.

The people who cried out for Jesus to be crucified made a strange statement on that day. As Pilate sought to distance himself from the situation, the Jews cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27.25).

Ironically, Jesus’ suffering under Pilate was done in preparation of the greater punishment of the crucifixion, by which the blood of Jesus was poured out to cover us. But sadly, if we treat His suffering, His death, and His blood with disdain as the people in this chapter of the Bible do, our sin is not covered. His blood is meant to cover us, but it only does so if we believe.

Jesus Was Willing to Suffer For Our Sake. Are We Willing to Sacrifice Our Desires For His?

The story of Jesus’ suffering includes others. It includes the suffering of Pilate’s wife, as I mentioned above, but it also includes Barabbas. Barabbas was an insurrectionist and was in jail awaiting a likely execution, but Pilate honored a tradition to release one prisoner – leaving the choice to the people. Did they want Barabbas? Or did they want Jesus?

When Pilate sent for Barabbas, we can only guess what he was thinking. But my guess is that he was probably thinking it was time for his death. But that was not the case because Jesus was there to take the suffering of Barabbas too.

Jesus experienced suffering on many levels that day. He was tortured physically. He was bearing the burden of our sins spiritually. And Jesus suffered emotionally having been betrayed and abandoned in the Garden.

But Jesus came knowing He would suffer and die. And He invites us to do the same. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (1)

The following is a selection of verses that capture this idea well.

Romans 12.1: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Galatians 2.20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Philippians 3.8-11: 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

2 Timothy 3.12: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,…

Or in the words of Jesus as recorded in Luke 9.23-24: 24 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

But notice that Jesus said that such suffering will bring God’s blessing.

Matthew 5.10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We are not to seek the suffering, but we are to be prepared for it. Again, Paul says, if we are living for Jesus, we will be persecuted! And Jesus said, we will be blessed because of it.

Jesus suffered. We must be ready to suffer as well. But if we do, we are to do so for standing for the truth – a truth that is represented by the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,…

CONCLUSION

We talk about suffering through another election season. And maybe it is a form of suffering. But Jesus suffered. He suffered because of a political system. But He suffered because of sin.

Many walk away from faith because God allows suffering. But God does not simply allow us to go through it…He willingly endured it Himself. That is love. And because of that love, He has made a way for us as well, but that way will include suffering. But remember, no politician, no friends, no coworker, or anyone else can truly hurt you. They may hurt the body, but Jesus said, we are not to fear those who can kill the body because they cannot kill the soul (see Matthew 10.28).

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is once again JJESUS.

We have heard what Jesus did. And we have heard that we are called to do the same. But one key is what makes it possible. The key to understanding suffering relates to the timeframe. We may suffer in the short term, but something better awaits (c.f. 2 Corinthians 4.16-18). Yes, Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, but we must remember what Jesus told Pilate first, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36).

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE.  Last week, I said our step was to LEARN. As we take time to LEARN that God truly has a plan, we can confidence in He is still working at the right time, in the right way, using the right person, for the right reason. And that is true, even when the result is suffering – as long as the suffering is for His sake.

(1) – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99.

“Born of Woman, Conceived of God” by Pastor Andy Braams

Memories are important to us as people. It is one of the main reasons that we travel. But as much as our personal memories mean to us, sometimes we remember things about others that are more meaningful.

I have mentioned my trips to Kenya many times. And I have great memories of things that I have seen, people I have met, and experiences I have had. One of my favorite sites is this mountain – named Sapache (in Samburu), which means, “the big something.” One memory I have of a trip to Kenya was something I was nowhere near, but it involved this mountain. The memory is of Roger sharing his Bible story and an elder thanking Roger for sharing about the truth of the God of the mountain. The elder of the village said, “We have worshipped the God of this mountain, but now we know who He is.”

We all do that in some ways. We all care deeply about something or perhaps even someone, whom we really do not know well. We celebrate without knowing why. For instance, tonight, people around the country will either be overjoyed or bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the game. But why? Most of the people have never met any of the players, and if they have met them, they do not know them personally – as in, they have never had them over for a meal.

The reason is that we must worship. We all worship someone or something. And tonight, that worship will be about a group of men playing a game on a field. And I will be one of the individuals who will be watching intently – not because I have to do it, but because I want to watch.

And God knows we will worship, and thus, He had a plan to allow us to focus our worship on Him – a plan that the Bible declares was revealed at just the right time, in just the right way, using just the right person, for just the right reason.

Thus, in a world that is changing faster than we can even consider possible, we can know that God is a constant. We can know that His Word stands true not just in a certain time, but for all time.

Galatians 4.4-5 captures the essence of this truth perfectly. “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

So, God had a plan for Creation. He had a plan for the birth of Jesus. And thus, we can rest assured that He is still carrying out His plan today.

The text for this week is “who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” At Christmas we focus on Mary’s role, and I will mention her, but the focus for this post is God’s role – not just in the birth of Jesus, but in the entire process which we first see in Genesis 3.15, but the plans were actually in place before that!

Of course, we call the beginning of a pregnancy the conception of the child. Thus, when we hear conceived of the Holy Spirit we think of the Spirit’s role in Mary getting pregnant. And that is absolutely true. And it must be true as we will see in just a few moments. But before the Holy Spirit helped to conceive a child, He was part of conceiving a plan. And that is where I want to begin as we break down this text in Galatians 4.

God Conceived Just the Right Time

You may remember the quote from AW Tozer I shared a few weeks ago – what we believe about God is the most important thing about us. If you believe that God had the timing of Jesus’ birth measured, then you should have no concerns about our world today. On the other hand, if you think that Jesus was born at a random time in a random place, well, then be very concerned because that means that God has no authority over anything.

Now, I am going to use a few verses to show the truth of this point, but I am going to introduce you to a little bit of deeper theology today. First, we see in Genesis 3.15 the first specific mention of one who will come to oppose Satan. God is talking to the serpent after the initial sin of Adam and Eve, and says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The word offspring can also be translated as seed. The point here is that someone one day would come from Eve and that person would ultimately defeat Satan. But for God to say this, He had to already know. This is where the theology comes into play.

Theology has a term called lapsarian. The term relates to the Fall of Man. The issue is when did God know that man would sin? A few theories abound as to the timing of the Fall and each of the theories has slightly different prefixes such as supra- and infra- (i.e. supralapsarian or infralapsarian). These theories help distinguish what God knew about the Fall of Man and how and when He developed a plan based upon that knowledge. If you want to dig deeper into this, by all means do, I just want you to know that a lot of people spend a lot of time researching and debating the finer points of this particular doctrine.

What we need to know is that God had a plan (however and whenever it was developed), and that He carried out that plan. But verses such as Ephesians 1.4 says that a decision was made before the foundation of the world (and verses like this are why the debate occurs). Nonetheless, God’s plan was carried out – at just the right time.

Why was Jesus born when He was? Let me briefly provide a few thoughts.

      • The language was right. The Greek language was known in much of the western world which made it easy for people to share the message of the good news of Jesus.
      • The Peace of Rome (Pax Romana). The Romans had conquered much of the western world which made travel easier and much safer than it had ever been. In fact, the Romans built five superhighways that led from Rome to the furthermost parts of their empire (“all roads lead to Rome”).
      • The religious timing was right. Judaism had been saved by the Pharisees in the 2nd Century B.C, but the people knew this religion could not save them. And while Rome had brought peace in their own way, that did not mean that people were not oppressed. Thus, the expectations for the messiah to come were high.

So, God had a plan. And He executed that plan at just the right time.

God Conceived Just the Right Way

God sent forth His Son. He did not choose a man to be the Messiah. He sent His Son as the Messiah. Granted, Jesus was fully man, but He was also fully God. Mathematically, this is difficult to understand, but conceptually it has to be that way. If Jesus was the offspring of Joseph and Mary, then Jesus would be fully man (like you and me), but He would not be fully God. He would only be made in His image (again, like you and me, Genesis 1.27).

But if God just sent His Son without being born like children are, then Jesus would not be man. He would only be God. But as it is, God’s plan was not only conceived in theory by Him, but the manifestation of the plan included the conception of a child completed by God in conjunction with the normal human reproductive process. That is simply a fascinating concept. It simply does not make sense that someone could be born of a virgin, but God not only foretold it (Isaiah 7.14), He did it! No other way could work as I will prove in just a moment. But first, we move to the next point.

God Conceived Just the Right Person

In this case, I mean Mary. Of course, Jesus, the Son of God was just the right Person in the truest sense of this expression. However, it took a special person to make the birth possible. First, the person had to be female because children are delivered from females. So, approximately 50% of the population is removed from consideration. Second, the person had to be a virgin. So, another large percentage would be removed. Third, the person had to be of a particular lineage (per God’s promise to David – 2 Samuel 7.14) which was fulfilled by Mary being the descendant of David’s son, Nathan (Luke 3.31). But this woman would also have to be married to someone whose ancestor included David (as Joseph’s was through Solomon, Matthew 1.6). Now, we have really narrowed down the possibilities. But this special person would also have to be humble (because of her responsibility, Luke 2.47), strong (because of the ridicule she would face (Matthew 1.19, Mark 6.3), and full of faith (Luke 2.46-47). The possibilities for this person has become very narrow now. Furthermore, this person would have to be alive at the just the right time according to the plans of God. So, do you think Mary’s birth was random? I don’t.

All of these factors had to be true. Perhaps, several people were possibilities. But likely only a few could have met all of those factors. But God knew just the right one and He found favor with her (Luke 2.28,30).

God Conceived Just the Right Reason

Some might argue that God did not conceive the reason; rather, He provided for the reason. That argument would fit with the theological argument (re: lapsarianism) I mentioned above. Regardless, God made a way. And that way was made by His mercy because He know we could not keep the law.

The end of verse 4 says that Jesus was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. That is, Jesus was not born immune from sin. Because He was the offspring of Mary, He is human. And as human, He was obliged to keep the law or be condemned like everyone else who has ever been born because we cannot keep the law. But again, God sent His Son. He did not choose someone to be His Son. The Son was known and was sent. The Son perfectly kept the law and, therefore, those who receive Him are redeemed and receive the greatest of all gifts – being adopted by God as His child.

What is amazing about this passage that is lost to us in this day is that it is within a larger passage about Jews and Gentiles. Jesus was born as a Jew, but He was not sent only for the Jews. He was sent for all mankind – because all of us are obligated to the law. Paul further captures this idea in verse 6 when He wrote that God’s children can cry out, “Abba, Father.” The translation would be so much better if it said, “Abba, Pater.” Paul’s point is that the Jews cry out Father, and the Gentiles say, “Pater” (Greek for father), but the word itself does not matter – what matters is that God is the Father of both because of what His Son has done.

With that truth, let us recite the first few parts of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…

CONCLUSION

So, God conceived a plan. And a part of that plan, according to Luke 1.35, was for the Holy Spirit to conceive a child who was born to a woman. And the birth of Jesus was at just the right time, in just the right way, to just the right person, for just the right reason. So, with the evidence established, let me make a very bold claim.

Bold Claim:  You cannot believe that Jesus is truly Savior if you do not believe He was born of both God and of a virgin. If Jesus is only man, then He does not have the power to save. But if He was only God, then He has not been tempted in every way, and could not have truly died for our sins.

You may argue the timing of Jesus birth, although the Bible would say you are wrong. You may argue that Mary could not have been a virgin, but if so, everything else must be a lie as well. You may even argue that you do not need a savior. But God knows differently and so He has offered one to you – it is simply up to you to receive the gift He has offered.

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

God did not just conceive a way. He conceived the way. And that way is Jesus because Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN.  The LEARN this week is about trust. Change is all around us, but Galatians 4 shows us that God is in control. Take your bulletin and read through these points again and again. Read the passage I gave you. Go back and read from Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, and John 1 and see how God orchestrated everything as He said. Take this week to learn to trust, so that in the coming weeks you are ready to do even more.

“Light of the World” by Pastor Andy Braams

My wife is a big fan of John Williams. John Williams has composed some of the most iconic songs in Hollywood History. Various themes from Jaws, Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and so many more were created from the brilliant mind of John Williams.

But today, I want to introduce you to another John Williams. This John Williams was a missionary in the early 1800s (beginning his work at about age 21 in 1817 until his death in 1839). This John Williams was a member of the London Missionary Society and was commissioned to be light to a far-off place – the islands of the South Pacific. This John Williams brought the gospel to places such as Tahiti, Samoa, and the Cook Islands.

John Williams was the first to take the gospel to many of these islands and after returning to London for a period of time to translate the New Testament to help the people in that region, he was commissioned to return for one final trip to another set of islands in what is now called Vanuatu (then known as the New Hebrides Islands.

In November 1839, John Williams arrived at one of the islands called Erromango with another missionary named James Harris.  Their mission was to be light in an area of darkness. For this John Williams, it was another tribe with whom to share the Gospel. These two men were the first Christian missionaries in the New Hebrides Islands. Moments after they arrived on shore, both men were clubbed to death and their bodies eaten.

Today, we conclude our series on how the systems of the human body relate to the church. We have covered eleven systems of the human body – the body that God made. We have done so while considering the term the Body of Christ, a metaphorical body that God made, that Jesus is building, and of which He is the head (Colossians 1.18).

It is Jesus who came into the world to be light. John 1.9 calls Jesus “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” Thus, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8.12). And it was this same Jesus, the one who enlightens everyone (John 1.9) and allows us to have the “light of life” (John 8.12) who told a group on a mountain one day that “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5.16). Thus, Jesus said both that He is the light of the world and that those who follow Him are to be a light to the world as well.

Let me share a few thoughts about light and health as we conclude this series.

We Cannot Be Light if We Are Not Healthy

This series has been entitled, Healthy Body, Healthy Church. If the body is healthy, then the church is healthy. But we are not the ultimate authority on whether we are healthy or not. Let me share two reasons that statement is true.

      1. God is our maker.

Whatever is made is not greater than what makes it. Of course, some people may be better than others, but a person is a person. Some cars may be more valuable than other, but a car is a car. Some may argue that certain cars have more value than certain persons or even groups of people. But that thinking is wrong. Direct to my point, a person designed a car so no matter what we think of a car, it cannot be greater than a person. Likewise, no matter what some might think of God, because God is our maker, no person can ever be greater than God.

      1. Jesus is the Great Physician.

People go to the doctor when they are not feeling well. However, at a certain age, most people start getting check-ups, as we call them. We want the doctor to check us over and tell us if we are ok. We submit ourselves to blood work, stress tests, and other exams in order to have an idea of how we are doing, even if we feel well. We do this because the physician is skilled and understands the body better than we do. Likewise, Jesus, as the Great Physician understands what the body needs. Not only because He is the physician, but because He is the head of that body.

Many churches can look good on the outside and even appear glamorous on the inside, but the church that Christ promised to build is not like the temple of the Old Testament. The tabernacle and later the temple were ornate and beautiful. The Bible goes into great detail on the materials that were used and how it was to be adorned.

But we are now the temple of God. We are now where God’s glory is to dwell. We are to be beautiful, not because of how we look, but because of how we live. God does not call us to be supermodels physically. He is not concerned with our physical appearance in that sense. But He does not want us to be like blots on the skins, or even acne, for His cause. That is, what we do, and how we live, should reflect the beauty and glory of God. We are not to judge a book by its cover. But as Christians, the contents of our lives should be worth reading!

So, we, as a church, must strive to be healthy, in order that we can be light.

We Cannot Be Healthy if We Do Not Have the Light

Yes, this point is essentially the reverse of the previous point. But that doesn’t make this point any less true. If we do not have the light of God within us, we cannot be healthy as the body of Christ. That is certainly true of us as individuals, but it is also true of us as a church.

It is true as individuals because if we do not have the Light within us, we do not have Jesus. If we do not have Jesus, then we are not even a part of the body of Christ, and therefore, we are neither healthy or unhealthy. The Bible describes people in darkness as dead – in their transgressions (cf. Ephesians 2.1-5). Now, physically someone who is not born again, may be healthy, but spiritually they are dead. So, in order to have a chance at spiritual health requires having the light of Jesus in us. And if the light of Jesus is within us, then to be truly healthy, we need to let it shine through us.

Letting our light shine is what Jesus says we must do (Matthew 5.16).

      • We let the light shine not because it is our own light, but because it is His.
      • We let the light shine not for our glory, but so it will bring glory to God.
      • We let the light shine not for our salvation, but as an expression of being saved.

The reality is that some who have the light of Jesus choose not to let it shine. They want to keep it dim. But for such people, it is difficult to know whether the light of Jesus is really a part of them at all. Jesus makes it very clear that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. And people do not light lamps to hide their light. Rather they want the light to shine brightly in order to light the room.

If people do this with light that will soon burn out, how much more does Jesus want us to shine His eternal light through our lives as we live for Him.

When Jesus walked on earth, He not only was the light of the world, but He provided an eternal example of how that light could shine. Today, Jesus continues to shine His light – not to light up a room, but to light up a world. And He has chosen people like you and me to be that light…to live like Jesus…to live for Jesus, for the glory of God.

We Have a Choice

“You are who you want to be.” – John Maxwell

That is, you choose who you want to be. Although it is true that we do not have a choice in everything that happens to us in this life, we do have a choice in how we will respond. And those choices add up, over time, to make us the person we are today…and will be tomorrow. We cannot change who we are today, but we do have a choice of who we will become in the future. That is true for each individual. And it is true for the collection of people known as the church.

What I can say without a doubt is that God loves us. He loves the people of this church. He loves the people of this community. But I also know that He wants more for us…better for us. And better from us too. I must want more for myself. I must want more from myself. And you should want the same for you.

However, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I had created an idol of what this church could be instead of what it is, and that has kept me from loving and leading the church where it is. Again, we should all want more for this church because God wants more for this church. Wanting more for this church requires demanding more from this church – and that means demanding more from each of us.

But that does not mean that I, nor anyone else, has the right to lead without loving who we are currently. As I just mentioned, a series of choices by the people here today and by the people who are no longer a part of this church (whether they have died, moved, or chosen not to come) has made this church what it is today. The choices we make from here will dictate what this church will become tomorrow.

But Jesus said, I will build my Church. And He loves her while He builds her. And I must do the same. As I lead this church, I must better love this church – every person in this church. I must be a better shepherd of this church, as I continue to learn from the Shepherd of all churches. Yes, I want more for this church, but without love, I cannot expect more. (Sometimes that will require tough love.)

So, church, what do we want to be? Do we want to be the church that Jesus wants us to be? Do we want to be healthy? Then we must have the Light. Do we want to share the light and the hope that comes from Jesus? Then we must be healthy. He has a purpose for us. We have to choose our response.

It may not be easy to get from where we are to where we want to be, but if we seek the Light and choose to live by the Light, then we have the promise of the One who is light, that He will build us into what He wants us to be.

CONCLUSION

In 1839, John Williams went to Vanuatu to not only share the light, but to be the light to a people who know only darkness. The tribe was so entrenched with darkness that they ate the two missionaries who had come to share a message with them. It is a reminder of how the people treated Jesus when He came to show the light, to be the light, in the darkened world of the first century.

John Williams may have died that November day in 1839, but his story did not end. Within five years of his death, the London Missionary Society began operating ships named after the martyr. The first ship was named simply John Williams (1844). Six others would follow, with the last being decommissioned nearly 125 years later in 1968.

Additionally, that group of islands in the South Pacific, now known as Vanuatu, now has a motto, “In God we stand.” In 2009, just a decade ago, the now Christian nation asked the great-great-grandson of John Williams (Charles) to come to the island Erromango for a ceremony of reconciliation. Charles, and seventeen other family members, went. As part of the ceremony, a reenactment of the killings took place and then many of the descendants who were a part of the killing of John Williams sought forgiveness from the Williams family. Additionally, the bay where Mr. Williams had got off the ship was renamed Williams Bay.

The light John Williams went to share has left a definite impact even though he never had a chance to share the message he intended to share.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word JOURNEY.

Our life is a journey. We may not be asked to take a trip to present the gospel where it has not been heard, but like Jesus, we are called to take the light with us wherever we go. We are called to shine the light wherever we may go. We are called to be the light wherever we may go. The JOURNEY is not always easy, but Jesus provided a model, showing us the way. After all, He is the Way for the JOURNEY we are taking.

PRINCIPLE:  Having the Light means we can be healthy. Being healthy means sharing the light!

QUESTION:  Will you choose to be healthy? Will you choose to share the Light?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” The opportunity is for us to let the light – His light – shine brightly, in order that God may truly be glorified.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: As followers of Christ, we are the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ, we are to live as Christ would live. Although we will not do so perfectly, we should aim high because it is God who has included us in His plan.

“Becoming Like God” by Pastor Andy Braams

In last week’s post, I mentioned the idea of a child imitating others. It is because of this imitation that children learn to walk. That is, if all older children and adults crawled around on all four all of the time, a young child would not know that standing and walking was possible, let alone acceptable. Thus, through the process of imitation, children grow and learn to do more complicated things like walking, talking, and feeding themselves.

But who or what is imitated is important. For instance, most adults love to hear children make animal sounds. It might be cute, but think about how irrelevant that is in the scheme of life. Unless you are going to be hunting a certain type of animal, and need to lure them with a sound, that skill is irrelevant. However, adults do it to small children (not to other adults) and children learn to mimic that sound. And it is so fascinating we even have a song about it (Old McDonald or Old MacDonald or Old Mac Donald, people cannot even agree on the name of the man in the song).

But eventually, the imitations become more meaningful. While learning to walk, talk, and eat are important, most everyone is able to do these things by a certain age. But then the influence shifts towards an imitation of family members and/or friends in areas that define us as people. Labels regarding our health habits, work habits, skills, and abilities begin to dictate who we are and who are friends are. And from there, it becomes almost cyclical as we tend to gravitate towards the people most like us. Thus the next generation follows closely in our footsteps (or rebels heavily against us) and their imitation of us tends to perpetuate the cycle (or at least parts of it).

Before we get into our text, let me first remind us that this month’s system is the exocrine system. The exocrine system includes the skin. As we consider this idea of imitation, consider how we treat the skin. Children may not directly imitate their parents’ hygiene habits over time, but initially they do. They learn to bathe themselves as, and because, the parents have bathed them. They even use the same soap. They use the same mannerisms. They brush their teeth in the same general way, etc.

But more importantly, they learn to act and respond to various situations because they have watched others act and respond. Yes, each person has their own decision to make about how to respond, but we learn various types of responses by watching others and must then determine which is the best type of response for us.

But our response does not have to be dictated merely by observation. We can also choose to respond from knowledge gathered not from direct observation, but from absorption. What I mean is that our five senses allow us to experience various possibilities, but through a process such as reading, we can begin to absorb other possibilities that we may not have ever directly observed.

That is what makes the letter to the Ephesians so fascinating. We know that Ephesus was a hotbed of idol worship and that many were against the teachings of Christ (because it was disrupting their business which focused on selling objects of worship, cf. Acts 19.24). But we also know that Paul spent time there encouraging and strengthening believers by, in part, showing them how to live (Acts 19-20). That is, he was providing them a model to imitate.

And thus, when he later writes back to Ephesus, he writes not only about who God is and what He has done (Ephesians 1-3), but how the people should live (Ephesians 4-6).

So, last week, we began with Ephesians 4.1 and the need to walk worthy of the calling they had, and we have, received. It was not just any call. It was a call to be a child of God. I covered that verse extensively last week, but I want to briefly remind us of three words – therefore, urge, and called.

      • “Therefore” is a transition word which indicates what has been communicated prior to this is important, so now I am going to tell you what to do because of it.
      • “Urge” indicates that Paul realized that the people had a choice to make about how they would walk. Would they walk a new path according to the ways God would have them walk, or would they continue to walk in sin? Thus, Paul urged them to make the proper choice.
      • “Called” is in the past tense. I mentioned this last week, but it is crucial to the understanding of this letter. Paul is writing to people who say the believe. Thus, the actions they choose to take are not to earn salvation (which is by grace through faith, Ephesians 2.8-9), but because of their salvation. The lives are thus a response to what God has already done and called them to do (Ephesians 2.10).

So, this week, we move forward one chapter to Ephesians 5.1. Again, we have the word therefore. So, as I have often said (but did not say last week), we need to ask what the “therefore” is there for.

Again, Ephesians 4 is about the idea of walking worthily. Thus, Paul provides a list of ideas and commands in chapter four for the people to know what this new walk should look like. It is a walk based upon following one God (vv. 1-10) who has provided leaders to equip others to serve and be united as one body in ministry (vv. 11-16), which means leaving the old way of life behind (vv. 17-32). (Notice that as Paul begins to provide a list of commands, he transitions with another “therefore” in v. 25.)

Having provided these initial insights about what it means to walk worthily, Paul is ready to extend his argument. Now, before we look at 5.1, let us go back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 4.19.

As Jesus was beginning His public ministry, He says to a group of men, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Last week, I discussed that the “follow me” portion of that statement is about walking in His footsteps. This week, we move to the next portion of the statement, “and I will make you.”

Now, back to Ephesians 5. Paul wrote, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.” The rest of chapter five develops that further, but I want to just focus on the few words in verse 1.

I wish I had another 4 hours for this, but we did cover this letter in detail several years ago. What I must say here is that Paul called these Ephesian believers “beloved children.” As I mentioned several years ago, the imagery is striking. We may think the idea of abortion and abandonment as something that is new. But the concept is not new; the timing is. Medical technology has given people knowledge of their pregnancy and potential child defects far earlier than has previously been possible. In the past, even within the last hundred years, people may not even know they were pregnant, and certainly could not know of any defects before birth. However, the idea of barbarism is ancient.

In the 1st Century, if you did not want your child, you took it outside the city, generally up on a hill or mountain and left if there to die or to be eaten by animals. But knowing this, some wealthy individuals would have slaves go and find these children and bring them back so these new babies would grow up to be servants as well.

That is a part of the argument that Paul is making here. God went to that hill to find us, to redeem us, to make us servants for Him. (Jesus went to that hill to die for us!) But Paul says that we are more than mere servants, we are beloved children. And, thus, as beloved children, we should want to imitate our Daddy! And, of course, the imitation would include how we walk (or live). In fact, that idea is very important as Paul not only used the term walk in 4.1, but also in 4.17 (not as the Gentiles), and then in 5.2, 8, and 15, all in reference to how we are to imitate God. And, let us not overlook that Paul sandwiches the need for us to imitate God between verses of God’s forgiveness (4.32) and Christ’s love for us (5.2)!

Thus, as children of God, we should manifest some of God’s characteristics. That is, we should be imitating Him and become more and more like Him. Now, here is where this verse parallels so nicely with Jesus statement along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The word for imitate in Ephesians 5.1 is in what is known as the “middle voice.” This type of verb means that we are both responsible to do something and to allow something. Thus, as we decide to imitate God, God makes us more like Him. We cannot choose to simply be more like God…God must empower that process, which He does through the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, in Matthew 4.19, Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you….” The disciples had to choose to follow. But, if they chose to follow, it was Jesus who would do His part in making them into something, or someone else.

Ladies and gentleman, the same is true for us. If we choose to follow Jesus, God will do His part to transform our lives into something far different than we could ever be on our own. We will be able to do far more than we can ever do on our own. That is the economy of God which is built into Paul’s words just before He urged the Ephesians to learn a new way to walk. For Ephesians 3.20 reminds us, that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us.”

That power is already present if you are a believer. That power is working according to that verse. But we have to do our part to allow God to complete in us what He wants to complete. We do that by choosing to follow (walking) and imitating Him.

The question for each of us is: Will we choose to follow in order to become more like Jesus?

CONCLUSION

Young children imitate those who are older and begin to learn certain skills, habits, and even rituals based upon what they observe in others. As children grow, those skills, habits, and rituals become even more important. Teenagers, for instance, get jobs and begin to prepare for life on their own and thus who they imitate and what they learn to do can have significant long-term implications – for good or for bad.

Likewise, as believers, who we choose to follow and imitate will impact our growth in Christ. The reality, according to the texts we have reviewed today is that God will make us grow if we are willing to let Him do so. Again, Jesus said, “I will make you…” But that making is conditional on our choosing to follow. In fact, as I reviewed Jesus words in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 this week, a detail came to life for me. This was a detail I knew, but I had not fully considered in context. In Mark 1, when Jesus calls out to the men to follow Him, others were in the boats too, but they did not follow. That simply means that Jesus did not get to “make them,” or “mold them” into something more than they are already were.

Do you want to be more? Do you want Jesus to mold you? As we think about the exocrine system, we generally think of the skin. Our skin is very resilient. Just think about how much it gets stretched when we bend or sit. Or how much it pulls when we smile or cringe. The skin is tight, and yet not too tight. It is pliable. It must be to allow us to function.

But are we pliable? Are we flexible? Do we let Jesus mold us, or stretch us, so we can become what He wants us to become? The reality is that if we truly follow Jesus, we may be stretched more than we want, but that is the only way to become like Him. And, as we learn to become more like Jesus, that is, as we learn to imitate Him, we can teach others to be more like Him as well (Matthew 28.20).

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Our letter is J for Jesus because we must learn to be more like Him, but as we submit to that goal, it is Jesus who has promised to do the real work. Remember, it was Jesus who said, “Follow Me, and I will make you….” We must choose to follow Him, but then He will do the work in us as we continue to follow. But the choice to follow is one we must make daily. For as Paul said, I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received. We must choose to start, and then continue, walking with Jesus if we are to become who He wants us to be.

PRINCIPLE:  If we choose to imitate God, He will empower us to become like Him.

QUESTION:  Will we choose to follow in order to become more like Jesus?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Paul said to “Imitate God.” To follow Jesus is not about making a one-time decision, it is about counting the costs and following Him daily.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN: Read Ephesians 4.25-5.4 each day for the next two weeks and choose one command each day as your focus in learning to imitate God. Try to walk like Jesus. Just as a young child emulates patterns of others, we are to emulate the life of Jesus. This week, simply choose to take a few steps that you suspect Jesus would take, especially if you would rather not do so.

“Walking As Worthy” by Pastor Andy Braams

Ephesians 4.1

Imagine if you will a young, healthy baby. The baby is growing fast, and will soon be standing up, walking and talking. And as they do, they will learn to eat on their own, play with others, eventually go to school, make new friends, and later still, drive a car, graduate, and move towards adulthood.

All of those markers help us judge the progress of a person. Certainly, other markers exist, but those are a few of the major milestones that most people go through over the course of their first 18-20 years.

But during all of that, even more is happening on the inside. And, it is what is on the inside that really makes the person. Hormones, chemicals, and growth spurts are all part of the challenge of navigating the early years of our lives. But most people focus on the outside.

For instance, people will talk about which family member we resemble. As teenagers, many people first deal with acne and face the challenge of wondering whether people will like us or not. Therefore, while it is true that we cannot judge a book by its cover, the question must be asked, “Why do we choose that approach so often?”

This month’s system is the exocrine system. The exocrine system includes the largest organ in the body which is the skin. It is what we see. Of ourselves and of others. The difference is that we often have some idea of what is going on within our own bodies, but we need others to tell us how they are feeling. And the inverse is true as well…we must tell others how we are feeling for them to know.

Why is this important? Because what is presented on the outside can mask what is happening on the inside – at least for a while. But eventually if we are rotten on the inside, we will turn rotten on the outside. But if we are clean on the inside, then we should present ourselves as clean on the outside.

The truth is that we may be able to hide our true self from others for a while, but eventually the truth is revealed. And while we may be able to hide who we are from others, we cannot hide who we are from God.

And so, as we consider what it means to live as Christians, we must begin with an understanding that it is not what we call ourselves that matters, it is what we are doing. That is, many people have called themselves Christians over the years (and may even today), but the term is not what is important. Jesus did not say, “Call yourself a Christian.” He said, “Follow me.” And our willingness to follow Him is what marks us as one who is truly a Christian.

This week and next we are going to review a couple of verses you have seen recently in the Sunday School lessons from Ephesians. Then on December 1, we will move to John 1 for one week. All along we are going to use Jesus statement in Matthew 4.19 to show a progression of what Jesus has promised to do within us, as we consider our role in that process as well.

This week, we start with Ephesians 4.1 and the command that we are to walk according to our calling. The idea here is that the people of Ephesus need to learn how to walk in a new way. Later in the chapter, the reference is to the old man and new man (which are corporate terms in this instance), so they not only need to learn how to walk as a new believer, they also need to learn to walk with other believers (as those believers also learn to walk).

Why? Because the Christian life is different. Many people think of Christians as living by a rigid set of guidelines. That is, Christians can’t do this and can’t do that. Romans 14 speaks to this issue very well, and ultimately provides a lot of freedom providing two things are true.

      1. We are following Christ.
      2. We do not cause a brother to stumble.

It is important to note that we can follow Christ and still cause a fellow believer to stumble. One example from Scripture relates to eating meat, particularly meat that had been sacrificed to idols (see 1 Corinthians 9, c.f. Romans 14). In our day the same might be true, but perhaps a better example could be the type of entertainment we watch.

Whatever the issue, Paul says the new believers need to learn to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. He then provides many ideas for what that means over the rest of the letter. As I have said before, Ephesians can be split into two main chunks. Ephesians 1-3 is about who God is and what He has done, and chapters 4-6 is how we should live because of it.

And thus, we are not to walk according to our own purposes. Paul begins with the word therefore, showing He has provided an argument prior to this point and is now making a statement based upon what has already been stated. And the statement Paul made was for them to learn to walk differently.

Like a newborn child who learns to crawl, walking is something new. It requires letting go of what is safe (i.e. not falling) and trying something new. Following Christ is the same. It requires us letting go of what we know and embracing something new. Will we fall? Sure. But, just as a baby who learns to walk and then run learns to stay upright and get from one point to another faster, so to can the believer who is learning to live (i.e. walk) differently.

The term walk in Ephesians 4.1 is the same Greek word that is used of Jesus in Matthew 4.18. I do not think this choice of words is insignificant. Because it is as Jesus is walking that He says, “Follow Me.” In many senses, we cannot follow someone if they are not going anywhere.

So, Jesus asks His disciples to walk like Him. He did on that day by the Sea of Galilee. And He has every day since then. Therefore, the first thing we must notice is that we have a choice in how we will walk.

Will we walk like Jesus? Or will we walk like someone else?

Have you ever watched children mimic someone else? Most people find it cute. At some point the person being mimicked discovers they are being copied and sometimes it leads to embarrassment, while other times, they will further engage with the person mimicking.

But sometimes, a person asks to be mimicked. For instance, a craftsman may ask an apprentice to watch carefully in order to learn a skill that the apprentice will need to know.

The idea of an apprentice learning is essentially what Jesus was asking His disciples to do. Please note, the disciples were called, by Jesus. And thus, they needed to learn to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Their job may have been as fishermen, tax collectors, etc., but their calling was something much more. And the only way for them to succeed in their calling was to follow the lead of the Master. They were to mimic Him.

Paul is using a similar idea in Ephesians. He wrote that this new church needed to walk in a manner worthy of the call that they have received. The call for the Ephesians may not have happened exactly as it did to the disciples on that day by the Sea of Galilee, but the effect was to be the same. Just as God (as Jesus) called the first disciples many years before in Israel, now He was calling this group to walk differently. In other words, the people may have believed in God, but now they truly needed follow Him.

And what was true for the Ephesians then, is true for us now as well. So, who needs to follow? All people who say they believe in Jesus.

Why is this becoming so difficult? Because many have never heard this before. For decades, the church was the culturally acceptable place to be, and many have thought, if I show up, then I have done what I need to do.

But again, Jesus said “Follow Me,” not, “Go to church.” Please understand, being a part of a local fellowship of believers (i.e, the church) is a part of God’s design (cf Matthew 16.18), but being a part of a church does not mean someone is following or is learning to walk properly. Following Jesus is not about a moment or even a week. It is about a lifetime.

Now, let me pause to clarify that I am not talking about following Jesus to get saved. I am talking about following Jesus because we are saved. Follow Me is certainly an invitation which might include salvation (it did include it for the original disciples), but the Ephesians were already called (that is, saved) and so their invitation was not for salvation, but to grow in their salvation. Paul wrote that the people were to walk according to the calling “to which you have been called.” Past tense. In other words, these people were already saved. They were already members of the eternal church, but they needed to act like it. They needed to walk like Jesus.

If we say we love Jesus, and want to serve Him, we must learn from Him. We must walk with Him. We must follow Him. As Jesus said, according to John 12.26, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him.”

Again, we must follow Jesus. We must learn to walk like Him, to talk like Him, to live like Him. And that requires us taking the time to know Him better and see what He does. Like a young child watching a parent or an older sibling, we need to watch others who are more spiritually mature, so we can grow to be more like Jesus.

But here is the problem. Fewer people are walking like Jesus. Christianity has become more an idea of convenience. When I feel like going to church or talking to others or listening to a preacher, I will do it. They will be glad to see me. Ok, well maybe. But that sounds more like not living as worthy of the calling that Creator God, the God of the universe, the God who knows your name, has given. And this problem is only getting worse.

One of the directors within Child Evangelism Fellowship recently emailed a colleague saying that the worldview of many children who attend Bible clubs has shifted. Why? In the past, most people had some basic knowledge of God and some acquaintance with many different Bible stories. This basic knowledge provided a foundation for the teachers to build upon. But now, many children have little or no knowledge of spiritual things. (1).

How can children learn to walk well if they never see their parents walk? How can parents walk well if their parents quit walking? The reality is that if we are not learning to walk correctly because we are not following someone who knows what they are doing or where they are going, then we are wasting our time. Sure, we may fall down when we walk, especially as we are learning to walk, but that is where the encouragement of others is so important.

And we cannot leave it up to curriculum. It is people that must be followed. Curriculum can give us a path to follow, but it is people who guide us. So, Jesus said, “Follow Me.” That is a rather specific command, with far reaching implications. Follow Jesus where He is going. Follow His example. Essentially, learn the ways of Jesus.

And Paul says something similar. Make your life worthy of the call by learning to walk in the correct manner. In the simplest words, “Follow Jesus.”

But more and more people are walking away from Christ, at least in the United States. A few weeks ago, I shared that Christianity is growing. That is true from a global perspective. But in this country, we have had a 12% decline in the number of professing Christians over the past decade. And yet, 65% of people still identify as Christians.

If that number is true, then why do we have all of the problems that we do? Well, first, evil is real. Satan is real and is doing everything he can to disrupt God’s plan. He is working overtime. Some will say Satan is working harder than ever because the end is near. Maybe, maybe not. Jesus did not know when the end would come, so we cannot either. But we can perceive evil is more pervasive.

However, I think another real reason is that many of the 65% who say they are Christian do not know what it is like to walk worthy of their calling. I think Paul’s words to the Ephesians need to get a fresh perspective today. And that includes you. And that includes me. We can all walk better. We can all follow Jesus more closely, more intimately, more directly. But will we?

CONCLUSION

Again, this month’s system is the exocrine system, which is the system that includes the skin. The skin is what people see and thus, we can focus on behavior, as a part of this month of lessons. But having good behavior is like taking a bath or a shower, if it does not originate from within. Being clean on the outside may be important for hygiene and certainly our cleanliness will impact how others view us.

But from a Christian standpoint, what is more important is that we clean on the inside. As several people are noted as saying, Jesus did not come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people live.

And the way to live is to follow Jesus. Answering Jesus’ call to “Follow Me” means we are becoming more like Jesus and thus, how we live our lives begins to match the transformation that is taking place within us. As Jesus said, we will be known by our fruit (Mt 7.20).

Therefore, we must learn to walk worthy of the calling God has given to us. Church, if our building is spotless and people think well of us because we present ourselves as pure on the outside, but our insides are a wreck, we are doing God a disservice and, although we may be walking, we are not walking worthy of the calling He has placed on our lives.

On the other hand, if our insides healthy, but we do not show our true selves, then others will see us as disgusting, and they will never know the truth of who Jesus is because we are not showing them Jesus by who we are.

In both of those preceding paragraphs, I am not talking about how our skin looks or the amount of dirt or grime we have. I am talking about the fullness of our lives – both inside and out. Ultimately, as followers of Christ, we need to be clean on the outside, but that is only possible, if we allow Him to clean our insides first.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

Really, this week is about Jesus. But to follow Him is to walk like Him, and thus, it is follow His commands. It is to observe what He has taught and to teach others to do the same. Those two ideas come straight from the mouth of Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14.15). In other words, we will walk like Him. But then in the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His followers to teach others to do the same (Matthew 28.20).

So, we are to learn to walk like Jesus and help others to do the same.

PRINCIPLE:  Just as a young child must learn to walk (well), so to do Christians.

QUESTION:  How is your walk with Jesus? Would He call it worthy?

OPPORTUNITY:  Jesus said, “Follow Me.” To follow Jesus is not about making a one-time decision, it is about counting the costs and following Him daily.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Try to walk like Jesus. Just as a young child emulates patterns of others, we are to emulate the life of Jesus. This week, simply choose to take a few steps that you suspect Jesus would take, especially if you would rather not do so.

1) Personal email communication between L.P. and F.D., August 5, 2019).

2) https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/ (Accessed 11/8/19).

3) Ibid.

“Fingerprints” by Rick Sons

We have been in a series over the past year regarding the body and how it compares to the body of Christ. 

We have spent time comparing each part and we have seen how each part works individually but also as a unit so that the body can live and grow.

Today I want to speak on the one part of the body that I have the most experience with – fingerprints.

In 1901, Scotland Yard established its first Fingerprint Bureau. The following year, fingerprints were presented as evidence for the first time in English courts. In 1903, the New York state prisons adopted the use of fingerprints for prisoner identification, followed later by the FBI. 

Today we have The Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS), which enables law enforcement officials around the world to cross-check a print with millions of fingerprint records of anyone who has ever been fingerprinted around the world.

Take a look at your fingers.

Fingerprints are the tiny ridges, whorls, and valley patterns on the tip of each finger. In Law Enforcement they are referred to as loops, whorls, and arches. 

They form from pressure on a baby’s tiny, developing fingers in the womb. No two people have been found to have the same fingerprints they are totally unique. In fact the possibility of having only one fingerprint that matches someone else is 1 in 64 Billion.

Fingerprints can change over time, due to damage or outside effects from work or your daily activities. These changes add to the uniqueness.

The only exception to this rule is in the case of mirrored twins, not identical twins.  The term “mirror image” is used because the twins, when facing each other, appear as matching reflections. They have the same physical features but some are opposite.  Their fingerprints may be mirror images. We have a set of mirrored twins here in Atchison County that some of you may know. The Paris twins are mirrored and the prints on the left hand of one exactly match the right hand of the other. We found this out when they both came in for prints.

Once the first was printed AFIS would not accept the other.

Like I said, there’s only a 1 in 64 billion chance that your fingerprint will match up exactly with someone else’s. As of 2018, there are only 327 million people living in the US and only 7.53 billion people in the world. It is hard to determine since complete early records have never been kept but some historians agree that since creation (Adam and Eve), or should we say the birth of Cane, there have only been 108 Billion people born on earth.

Fingerprints, everybody has them.

Does God have fingerprints? 

I think that, at least figuratively, we have to say that He does.

Let me give you a few more facts about fingerprints before we get into the message today.

In about 2000 BC, Babylonians put fingerprints in soft clay to protect against forgery of important documents.

In ancient China impressions of fingerprints or (chop) were used as signatures of those who couldn’t write.

Fingerprints first appear on a fetus about four months into a pregnancy. So when someone tells you that these children are not people you can say that they already have a unique identity and they are people.

Each of you has a unique identity, take a look at your thumb, guess what you are all Thumbbody, and God knows you.

Scripture tells us in Psalm 139:13-16: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Even before you were born you had an identity and God knew you.

So now, back to fingerprints, what does a fingerprint do? Well, they positively identify a person.

A “latent” fingerprint, the image left behind by someone’s touch, (barely visible, but can be developed for study) is positive physical evidence that a person has been at a given location, or came in contact with an object.

So now, back to my original question, “Does God have fingerprints?”

To answer that question, let’s look at some of the body parts we over the past year have mentioned in scripture.

God has a face: Rev 6:16 says, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,”

God has a hand: In John 10:29, Jesus teaches, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

God has arms: Deuteronomy 33:27 reveals, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

God has fingers: In Exodus 31:18, the Bible tells us, “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”

Let’s look back at this Scripture, the 10 Commandments were written by the “finger of God.” This not only gives a personal touch, but we could possibly make the argument that, in a way they are an example of the fingerprint of God.

Friends we are the Body of Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23, makes this clear. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” 

The church is his body; we are the church so this tells us that as a body then we must have fingerprints.

So let me ask, does the Bible speak about fingerprints? I believe we can go to Job 37:7 and give a yes to that question.

Job 37:7 says, He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it.

(He Seals) I want you to remember that!

Now let me give you some definitions of some of the words from this Scripture.

Seals: A mark, seal, stop up, close up, make an end. 

Hand: Among many other things, it is a thumb. 

Know: To discover, to know by seeing. To know by sight.

Work: Action (good or bad), activity.

Now to help me make my point I want you to open your Bible to Revelation 7:1-8 and place the word “fingerprint” each time the word “seal” or “sealed” is used in the following verses.

Revelation 7:1-8 says, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.”

Again, let’s look at verse 3: Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.

Side Note here: I want you to think about nature, the land, sea and trees.

Can anyone tell me straight that they can look at the Earth, the Sea and the Trees and not see God’s fingerprints?

I myself have seen wonderful sites all over the world, oceans and mountains.

Andy, and the rest, can tell you when we were driving through the waste land of Kenya, dry and brown, I will tell you that to me it was a lovely site and I could see God’s fingerprints.

Let’s return to the message.

A “seal” or fingerprint is a mark placed on something to mark it as private, personal, or for security and preservation. 

An example of a mark of security or preservation is found in Exodus 12:1-14, in speaking of the Passover. Verse 13, specifically says,

13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

When we bring Passover up into the New Testament we find Jesus speaking in Luke 22:20 where He & His disciples were at their Passover feast.  He said, “This cup is the New Testament in My Blood which is shed for you.”

Again do you see the fingerprint?

So, what is this seal or fingerprint that I’ve been talking about? 

In my study I believe that it’s a combination of two things.

First: A fingerprint, if you will, is placed on our foreheads in the Blood of Christ at the time of our salvation. Think of it like this. At the exact time of our salvation, the time that we actually surrender our lives to Christ, God dips His thumb into the shed blood of Jesus Christ and places that fingerprint on our forehead (spiritually) as a mark of security. When He looks at us in the future, that mark is what He sees.

We spend our life asking if we will be in the book, when we get to heaven, in this case we must ask will the fingerprint of God be seen?

Second: The Holy Spirit who was sent to earth by Christ at His ascension into Heaven, is to protect us, teach us, and to represent Christ on this earth until His return.

John 14:16 says, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.

As we continue in Scripture, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal (or as we are now saying Fingerprint) on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Again I say:

Think of this a seal or fingerprint, as God’s mark of ownership. The Holy Spirit, who guarantees that we’re the genuine article, protects us and teaches us.

For those of you who get my email, you know we have been hearing from Ephesians and how we are new.  I want to continue here in Ephesians chapter 1, verse 13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed (fingerprinted) with the promised Holy Spirit.”

If you remember my last sermon it was on the restoration of an old car. With that idea, think of the paint on a car. 

If the paint is applied without the clear coat, it’ll begin to fade and pick up impurities from its exposure to the weather, or in our case the world. 

The clear coat seals the paint and keeps it pure and free from impurities, maintaining its original luster.

God’s fingerprint is our clear coat.

My friends you leave spiritual fingerprints on everyone you come in contact with.  Ask yourself, whose prints am I leaving, those of Jesus Christ or those of Satan?

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 says, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 

We are God’s fingerprint for all to see.

Brothers and sisters, I want you to hear this, as a Christian (a part of the Body of Christ which we have heard about all year), you need to “know” that you have God’s seal (His fingerprint) on your forehead & that this seal is your security, not only from Satan, but from God’s judgment. 

It’s also a mark showing God that you are genuine, the real thing.

In Law Enforcement a fingerprint is excellent evidence that you were at the scene. Only you no one else can leave your fingerprint. 

As a Christian you must always remember that you leave a mark (fingerprint) on the life of everyone you come in contact with, and the mark you should leave is the mark (fingerprint) of Christ.

JOURNEY

The Journey letter for today is J for Jesus, who left his mark on us so that we could leave his mark on others.

“Passing the Test (Part 3)” by Pastor Andy Braams

Again, this month’s system is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body. In particular, the wastes to which I am referring is waste from the kidneys. Blood flows into the kidneys carrying wastes. The blood is filtered by nephrons and then released back into the rest of the body and the waste is dispatched from the body as urine.

But what happens when the kidneys do not work right? When this happens, it is known as renal failure, and renal failure can be caused for a few reasons such as one or both kidneys:

      • not getting enough blood to filter
      • being diseased (caused by any number of factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.)
      • blockage caused by a kidney stone or scar tissue.(1)

Renal failure can be acute, which can be serious, but with proper treatment, the kidneys usually regain their function. However, chronic renal failure leads to a permanent loss of function and lead to a buildup of wastes in the blood which causes a need for dialysis or a transplant. (2)

Thus, as we have seen over these past couple of weeks, the kidneys play a vital role in our health because if wastes are not removed, then we can face serious health risks. And these wastes are removed by the filters (called nephrons) which must “test” the blood in order to remove the necessary waste.

Again, as we have seen all year, the church needs systems which parallel the systems of the human body. Our series this year has focused on the body of Christ (i.e. the church) as we have reviewed ten different systems of the body and equated those systems to some aspect of the church.

This month, the excretory system is providing a backdrop for us to review a series of tests Scripture provides for us to make our lives better which is similar to the nephrons filtering out what would make us unhealthy.

The past two weeks, we have looked at the tests from an individual perspective first, and then from the perspective of the church. And that makes sense in one way, because it is more difficult to function as a group of people if we cannot function individually. However, as I often remind us, within the New Testament, almost all of the commands are plural. That is, these commands are to y’all, or for our purposes, the body of Christ.

So, even as we consider how to live out these commands individually, we must focus on living them with each other collectively.

With that in mind, let us turn to the last five commands in the verses we have been reviewing from 1 Thessalonians 5.

The Test of Quenching (1 Thessalonians 5.19)

The command here is about quenching the Holy Spirit. We are commanded not to do so. What does Paul mean by the word quench? One definition would be to extinguish. This idea is what mean when we say we want to quench our thirst. We want our thirst to be gone (or extinguished). That definition could be true in Paul’s writing, but I think he has a different idea in mind.

Another definition for quench could be to thwart or suppress. Of course, if we suppress the Spirit, eventually, we may extinguish the Spirit, but that is why we have the command here. It serves as a warning for the church there and then, and to us here and now, to test ourselves to ensure the Holy Spirit is not only a part of our lives and church, but that He is welcome among us and is allowed to do what He wants to do.

Can you imagine a church that suppresses or thwarts the Holy Spirit? I can. Why? I do. And I would guess that you do too. I seek to be sensitive to how the Lord is leading, but sometimes I sense He desires something from me and I balk. In fact, while writing this paragraph, I knew He was asking me to stop writing and take time to just be with Him. And part of me wanted to do so. And part of me wanted to finish my sermon. But how can I write about not quenching (not thwarting) the Spirit if I am going to do it while I am preparing to discuss it? So, I did stop for a while.

But the point is that I do not always stop. And I do not always follow. And that is sin. I would suppose we are all guilty of being an obstacle to the Spirit at times. We would rather do what we want to do. And, if that is the case individually, imagine what we, as a church, may do to suppress the will of the Lord.

Ugh!

So, let us aim to welcome the Spirit, not suppress Him. Let us desire what He wants from us rather than trying to thwart Him. Indeed, let us let Him quench our wants by giving of ourselves to Him.

The Test of Truth (1 Thessalonians 5.20)

This test is very much related to the previous test. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about the Spirit, He called the Spirit the “Spirit of truth” (John 14.17) and said it was the Spirit who would remind them what Jesus taught (John 14.26). And remember, it was Jesus who made the statement, having just called Himself the truth a few moments earlier (John 14.6).

Paul’s choice of words in 1 Thessalonians 5.20 is a Greek word that means prophecies. But a prophecy is “communicating and enforcing revealed truth.” (Strong Concordance, prophetia, #4394). So, to prophecy is to reveal the truth.

Therefore, what Paul is commanding to the church in Thessalonica is to not despise the truth. Now, the reality is that in our day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what truth is, apart from the Bible. We have #fakenews. We have people who are paid to spin the details. We have people who craft new words and phrases (such as reproductive health) to avoid using others (such as abortion).

Why do we have these challenges? Because people despise the truth! And Paul is commanding the church then, and us today, not to be among those who do despise the truth. Very bluntly, a part of that is to accept the Bible for what it says rather than to attempt to alter its meaning so we feel better about what we read or hear. The standard for understanding is not determined by the reader; it is the author who controls the meaning. And, in this case, the Author is God, and specifically, the Spirit. Thus, if we do not want to quench the Spirit, we need to embrace the truth as He has communicated it.

In other words, by despising the truth, we quench the Spirit. But if we embrace the Spirit, we should receive His truth, and He will then allow us to better understand the truth (1 Corinthians 2.11-16).

The Test of Evaluation (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

How do we know the truth? We test it. But we must evaluate the truth against something objective to know that it is the truth. Otherwise the truth begins to shift and then it is no longer truth.

What is 2+2?

4. That is objective truth.

Fairfax is in which state?  Which Fairfax?  Missouri?  The Fairfax district of Kansas City, Kansas?  Or the Fairfax found in 11 other states, not counting other districts within cities.

The answer to that question is objective truth, even though the answer has multiple possbilities. But it is still truth. How do we know? We can evaluate it.

But our methods of evaluation are changing. For instance, some children’s sports leagues now do not have winners and losers. It is one thing to say, “It isn’t whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.” And it is another to not allow anyone to keep score.

The truth, as truth has traditionally been defined, is that our world wants to change the standard of evaluation. The new standard is to accept what we want to believe in the moment rather than remain true to standards which have been proven for centuries, if not millennia. We have replaced truth with existentialism. Now, I am not overly averse to change, but some concepts, such as morality are not meant to change. For instance, most everyone here is thrilled that technological advances have made medical care much better over the past 50 years. But stealing someone’s medical information should still be considered a crime. So, the change in technology is good, but the moral code needs to remain as it has for eons.

But to evaluate either issue (technology or morality), we must have a standard. And that standard is otherwise known as a truth.

The Test of Remaining True (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

So, Paul next wrote that we should hold fast to what is good. Now, what is good, in this sense, means something that is true. It does not mean holding on to an ice cream cone until it melts. Why should we hold fast (or cling) to what is good? Because what is good is something that is true. The truth may not always feed good, but it is good for us. For instance, if the doctor tells us some truth about our health situation, the truth may hurt, but that does not mean it is not the truth, and something we need to hear.

However, in today’s world, an understanding of what truth is, is being distorted. The challenge of remaining true is that if we do not measure truth against something permanently known to be true, then how can we know what truth is. The general philosophy of truth being a relative concept is known as postmodernism.

Postmodernism does not believe in a standard of knowledge or truth. Thus, truth is always evolving and is existential – what is true for you is not true for me. But some ideas are true. You may want to use a different word for gravity, but the idea of gravity is real. You may want to jump to the moon, but regardless of what other truth you may hold, gravity will not let you jump that high on your own power.

But let us lay aside human arguments (of which we have plenty to consider) and think of the Bible. Because the most important truth we can hold is to be true to God through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus to whom Scripture refers as Faithful and True (Revelation 19.11). And it is to Jesus that we are to be faithful and true. That is the very essence of holding fast to what is good.

Our world is seemingly becoming more challenging to those who hold fast to Jesus. Recent statistics show that Christianity is growing and atheism is declining. (3) So what is the problem? The problem is that those in the middle are shifting away from Jesus. We have seen it in the attendance in this church – not because people leave this church to go somewhere else (although some have), but because most quit going to church at all.

That is why Paul commands us to hold fast to what is good. And it is why we, as the church, must not only encourage each other to do the same, but to reach out to those who have let go, and help them to hold fast once again. Whether they have lost their grip, or forgotten what is good, we can show them again, in addition to helping others discover for the first time, what is truly good – Who is truly good, and why we must hold fast.

The Test of Avoiding Evil (1 Thessalonians 5.22)

If we are successful in the previous four tests, we should pass this test easily – not because of our own strength, but because we have not quenched the Spirit. See, if we quench the Spirit, then we are going to do battle on our own. But if we embrace the Spirit, then we will not despise prophecies, we will test and know what should be held and what should be avoided, and that will allow the Spirit to help us better understand truth and avoid the evil around us. It is a big circle.

But when we embrace evil, all of that breaks down and the Spirit’s presence (really, His impact) is limited because we have suppressed/thwarted Him, and we must stand on our own. And the Bible is clear, in a statement of truth to which we must hold fast, that we cannot stand on our own. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). We need Jesus (Romans 6.23).

CONCLUSION

The list of seventeen commands in these eleven verses of 1 Thessalonians 5 (vv. 12-22) are quite evident. As commands, each truly represents a test we need to pass. And, as verses 18 and 19 say, these tests represent a part of God’s will in Christ Jesus, and thus the Holy Spirit is mentioned as one who can and will help us to succeed. Truly, when we review many of these tests, we see similar words that are used in Galatians as related to the Holy Spirit. That passage is Galatians 5.22-23, which contains the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s compare.

The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) is love (c.f. 1 Thessalonians 5.13), joy (c.f. v. 16), peace (c.f. v. 13), patience (c.f. v. 14), kindness (c.f. v. 14, help the weak), goodness (c.f. v. 20, do not despise prophecies – truth), faithfulness (c.f. v. 21, hold fast to what is good), gentleness (c.f. v. 14, encourage the fainthearted), self-control (c.f. v. 22, abstain from every form of evil). Against such things there may not be a law, but with such things we can test ourselves.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

I really wanted to use O for our letter today because passing each test would mean we have Observed or Obeyed God. But the reality is that we cannot pass these tests without God’s help through His Spirit. And we do not receive the gift of the Spirit unless we embrace the truth of our need for Jesus. So, our letter for today is the J for Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Our ability to live according to the unchanging nature of God’s truth is dependent on the presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

QUESTION:  How can we make certain that we, as a church, do not quench the Spirit?

OPPORTUNITY:  Confess to God a desire to know and embrace all of His truths, regardless of the cost, in order to unleash the power of His Spirit in your life and in this church.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN: Take time to evaluate any areas from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 that might quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. Then move from evaluation to acting (LIVE) upon any changes that need to take place.

1 https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-(renal)-failure (accessed October 18, 2019).

2 Ibid.

https://factsandtrends.net/2019/06/11/7-surprising-trends-in-global-christianity-in-2019/ (accessed October 20, 2019).

“Passing the Test (Part 2)” by Pastor Andy Braams

As I mentioned last week, our system this month is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body – particularly, wastes that are filtered out from the blood.

The kidneys are a crucial part of this system. It is their job to filter the blood in your body. We all know that the blood flows through the heart, but actually all of our blood flows through our kidneys several times per day as well. The filters in the kidneys are called nephrons and it is estimated that each of us has about one million of these filters.

The filters collect any waste which is then removed from the body as urine. But the kidneys also ensure that the levels of salt, water, and minerals (i.e. electrolytes) are in balance. If not, the kidneys work to adjust the balance of those items. (1) Source webmd.com

Again, the filters in the kidneys are called nephrons. The name may not be important to us, but their function is critical. These filters test the blood as it passes through the kidneys and determines if it meets the criteria for the body. In other words, these filters and the kidneys as a whole, perform a test on the same blood several times per day and remove any contaminants that would otherwise affect our health.

The Bible also gives us tests that we should seek to pass repeatedly to ensure we are a healthy part of the body of Christ. These tests are not required for salvation – that is, passing these tests does not provide a key for entry into the kingdom of heaven. However, the tests provide a means of helping us know we are living according to the principles of the kingdom.

If God were only concerned about our salvation, then we do not need any part of the New Testament after the first four books. But God wanted to show us how the church spread (Acts), how to live as a member of the kingdom (Romans thru Jude) and what will happen at the end of time (Revelation).

So, it is important to understand that passing one test is critical, and that test relates to our response to what Jesus has done. But once we pass that test, many other tests remain, including the list of tests provided by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. And the eleven verses from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 contain a minimum of seventeen such tests. We looked at the first seven last week. We will cover the next five today and conclude with the last five next week.

BODY

It is always awkward to start a message in the middle of what has happened before, so let me remind us that in the previous sentence Paul has just charged the Thessalonians to admonish the idle (likely for not laboring for the Lord), to encourage those who were fainthearted, to serve those who needed help, and to be patient with everyone. And then, he gives a direct command on our actions, and potentially our attitudes.

The Test of Justice (1 Thessalonians 5.15)               

When people offend us, the human tendency is to want to get even. That is, it is natural to have a thought of retribution. But Paul says that we are not to act naturally; we are to act supernaturally.

Sometimes the offense is not directly against us, it is just how we perceive what happens. Again, consider the previous sentence in Paul’s writing. Perhaps we think less of people (even thinking they are evil) for not doing their fair share (the idle in v 14). Perhaps we do not understand those who are weary (the fainthearted), or we are frustrated with those who might otherwise give up (the weak). And, in turn, we lose our patience, which causes us to respond negatively.

Specifically, Paul says do not repay evil for evil. And, of course, we should not. Jesus has not repaid our sins (i.e. evil against God) by evil; rather, His response was love. But sometimes if we feel slighted by others, or do not understand them, we can convince ourselves they are evil even if they are not, or do not mean to be, or are unaware of what they are doing to us.

In any event, whether the evil is real, or perceived by us, our response is not to be evil in return. This is the test of justice. And to pass that test, we must trust that God will respond in His way, in His time.

The Test of Grace (1 Thessalonians 5.15)

Within the same sentence commanding not to return evil for evil, Paul provides the correct response – we are to seek to do good to everyone, always! Always.

I have preached on the idea of being nice versus being kind many years ago. Being nice is passive; it is not causing trouble. Being kind requires action; it requires us to do something positive for someone else. A mother might tell a toddler to be nice while playing, but kindness is taking the initiative. In this verse it is the doing good to one another.

The first command in this section was to respect others (this could include niceness) and to esteem others in love (that requires an act of kindness). Niceness could be not talking bad about someone, not because you do not want to do so, but because of some inherent respect. Kindness requires more than avoiding unpleasant actions, it requires acting with a positive intent.

You may have seen an example of this difference this past week. Ellen Degeneres was criticized for sitting next to George W. Bush and sharing a laugh at a football game last weekend. Her response this week went viral, and rightfully so. (I wish that we could show the clip!). She basically said that she is friends with a lot of people who may not agree with her, but civility is important. And then her statement, which is pertinent here is, “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone.” That’s a great statement, and it is almost the exact words that God wanted the Thessalonians to hear nearly 2000 years ago, and which have been read since that time.

The question is: will we pass the kindness test? Not because Ellen said it, but because God did.

The Test of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 5.16)

Paul likes this word. Verse 16 has two easily understood words. But living them out is much more difficult. A literal translation from the Greek would say it this way: Be cheerful, every when. I like that. Be cheerful. Every when you can imagine. When life is good. When life is a challenge. When you are well. When you are sick. Every when. Again, much easier said than done.

Why?

Because we are too worried about getting even. We are concerned with being fairness. We are concerned with matters of the world. And so were the people of Thessalonica. Remember, as I said last week, they were concerned that they had missed the return of Jesus. But they had also been heavily persecuted. In fact, Paul left the area because of intense persecution, and likely did so in hopes that the persecution against these new Christians would cease.

But in the midst of all the Thessalonians were facing, Paul says to rejoice – every when. In fact, Paul uses the same two words in Philippians 4.4, but He adds the word for Lord between them. And, let us not forget, he wrote to the church in Phillipi while he was in prison. So he practiced what he preached. Rejoice every when. No matter what, rejoice always!

How can we possibly do that? Well, let us look at the next verse.

The Test of Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17)

It is easiest to rejoice when we take God’s perspective as our own. We do that through prayer. (I have mentioned the book a few times earlier this summer, but I highly recommend the book, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. It is an excellent book on prayer that I recently finished.)

Psalm 37.4 says God will give you the desire of your heart if you delight yourself in the Lord.

Do you know why He will do that? Because if you are delighting yourself in Him, then your thoughts and actions will be in tune with His. God would not deny Himself, so why would He deny those who want what He wants?

Now, of course, Jesus had a special task and certainly He delighted in the Father. And although Jesus asked to be removed from the curse, His delight in the Father included the cross, ultimately, giving Jesus the desire of His heart – the joy of reconciliation with us (Hebrews 12.2).

So, we are to pray – without ceasing. This does not mean that we stop everything we are doing to pray or that we are consciously in a focused moment of prayer every day. What it does mean is that we find ourselves constantly communicating with God. (Again, I encourage you to read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life.)

The Test of Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

The last test for today is the one of giving thanks. It is important to notice the preposition here. Give thanks in everything, not for everything. In everything, means in every circumstance. Even in the worst moments of our lives, we can find reasons for giving thanks. Someone on their deathbed can be thankful for the life s/he lived, for family, friends, something. Someone facing a terminal illness can be thankful that s/he does not have to face it alone or that the medical care being given is helping to manage the process. Someone who loses a job can be thankful for having one in the first place. It might be hard to find an exact something for which to be thankful, but if it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus to do so, and verse 18 says it is, then we must find a reason for giving thanks. Perhaps the greatest reason is knowing that God hears the prayers of His children! That alone is a great reason to give thanks.

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned last week, each of these tests could be a sermon (or a series) unto themselves. Maybe that will happen in the future, but for now, I am simply highlighting the words of Paul and presenting them as tests that each Christ follower will face throughout the lives.

So, which of these tests do you pass? Which of these tests do you fail? What about this church?

It is estimated that as long as 10% of a kidney is functioning, we may be unaware of any issues with our kidneys. (2)

But how many of us would be comfortable knowing that only 10% of our kidneys is functioning properly? We may be able to function, but how well and for how long? Eventually, the body will not be able to function properly.

Likewise, as we think about being the body of Christ, if 10% of the people are doing the majority of the work, then how well can the church function? For how long? Maybe it is better with 20%? But again, if any one part of your body was only functioning at that level, you would be alarmed. And, if all of your body were only functioning at 20%, hospice would be called.

Are we guilty of accepting less from ourselves and our faith? Are we giving Jesus 10% of our income? Of our time? Of our energy? Should He accept as little as 10% after He gave us His all?

The tests we reviewed last week and today (and will finish next week), are just a part of how we can give back to God. It is a test. And He knew that we would fail that test. Thus, God made a way to filter out the problems and make sure that not only do we not waste our lives, but our lives are not a waste in His eyes.

The filter? Jesus!

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

Remember, every ounce of your blood passes through your kidneys multiples times each day. And the kidneys remove what is bad and keeps what is good.

Let’s be thankful that the blood of Jesus covers our sinful blood – our sinful lives. The righteousness of Jesus passes through the filter of God’s judgment on our behalf and makes sure that we are clean and remain a part of the body, after we choose to follow Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Humans are constantly evaluating, but we must make sure to evaluate the right things based upon the right criteria for our evaluations to really make a difference.

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 part of the test.

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 the test.

(1)  webmd.com.

(2)  Ibid.

“Passing the Test” (Part 1) by Pastor Andy Braams

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.

The Body Speaks (Hub Sunday) by Pastor Andy Braams

This week during the service, I wanted to hear from the body – that is, the church body…the body of Christ. Specifically, the body known as Fairfax Baptist Church.

The idea was to have church members share what they have been doing to engage with others in serving God. With a focus this year of seeking to have a healthy body, and thus a healthy church, I thought it was important to have the body be able to celebrate what others are doing, particularly, when some do not know what has been happening.

From the standpoint of Scripture, I draw my inspiration from Acts 14.24-28 (and elsewhere), where the people who have been out serving (in this case Paul and Barnabas) return to the church that sent them and proceed to give a report of their journey, and more importantly, all that God was doing. I wanted the church to know that it was not about going big (like to Kenya which would be the focus of a report that evening), but simply going. After all, it is God who judges what is important, not us.

So, I shared a few thoughts on the Scripture mentioned above and then made the microphone available.

We had a few people talk about visiting the home of a friend and another in a nursing home. Mention was made about stepping down after serving as a missions director for years and being encouraged that the work was still going. Another mentioned seeking how God would use her as a new member of the church while her son indicated that he is seeking to know if God is calling him as a youth minister.

One person mentioned the work that had been done during our recent Labor 4 the Son Day (Labor Day Sunday), and shared the idea that this type of help is something that could be done year round (although, obviously, not in place of our regular time to gather to worship with one another).

The final person spoke of how God has given her a passion to be a foster parent and some recent events that made the pull even greater. She also said that her husband, without knowing this set of events, told her it was time after he had not been willing for the past several years.

Then, during the evening, the team who returned from Kenya shared of their experience. It was a great time of testimony and encouraged all who came, and inspired some to ask about going on the next trip.

All of these moments are surely just a reflection of what God is doing in the life of His body at Fairfax Baptist Church. It was a good day. We serve a great God.

And this type of day is one that we must do again.