“The Significance of the Ascension” by Pastor Andy Braams

Very few people remember the beginnings of WW2. Some may remember the end, but to even be alive at the beginning, which happened when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, you would have to be nearly 81. So, to be able to remember that day would add a few years and limits the number of people considerably. And the war that started over there, would be brought to our shores just over two years later on December 7, 1941.

Many are stating that WW2 is the event that most closely identifies with our current pandemic known as COVID-19. While the circumstances of that war were far different, we can find similarities. First, like the beginning of that war, this virus started over there. Sure, we heard about some people in another nation being affected by a virus, but we have heard similar stories before, and yet we have barely been affected.

But the biggest parallel is the disruption that has come to the lives of people around the world. For Americans, we had two years before WW2 became a national concern. With COVID-19, we had two months, and really, to reach the level it has, we have had about 3 months.

But with WW2, most of the war was fought over there. Sure, people had concerns that led to the use of internment camps. But most of the worry was about those fighting over there. Not this time. This time, the concern is right before us. And it will be for some time.

What faces us is more than concern; it is fear. However, as I said last week, “Fear is real, but it need not rule.”

Last week, I took a break from our current series to discuss a Christian response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That response centered on acknowledging any fear and trusting God as David did in Psalm 56. Then, having acknowledged the fear, we are to love others, and help them through their fears. I believe more can be added, but at a minimum, those two ideas represent how a Christian can respond.

But the question is WHY can a Christian respond that way? Well, that is the message for this week. And to see the answer, we will look to Jesus. But we will look at an aspect of Jesus’ life that is often overlooked.

However, before I do that, I realize that many who may watch this message will not have the full context. So, I want to take a few moments to share about the series I am doing, and how it fits far better than I could have imagined.

The current series is entitled, Constant in a World of Change. The series is based upon the Bible but is designed around the phrases found in the Apostles’ Creed. Each of the phrases found in the creed is a truth found in the Bible. So, the point of the series was to show the constancy of God in the midst of all of the changes around us. And the reality is that our world is changing fast – and it still is, but most all of the attention now is on the changes brought by the novel (or new) coronavirus.

That is the purpose behind the series. Now, let’s move into this phrase:
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

We can find the truth of this statement in one verse, which will be my focus today.

Ephesians 1.20 says, “that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places.”

That verse has a lot of He, Him, and His in it, so let me restate the verse by backing up and picking up the context:
“that God (the Father) worked in Christ when God (the Father) raised Him (Jesus) from the dead and seated Him (Jesus) and His (God, the Father) in the heavenly places.”

In other words, the Him(s) are Jesus, and the He and His are God, the Father.

So, why does this verse matter. Why would I choose to preach on this during the midst of the challenges of COVID-19? Stay with me for a few minutes and you will see. Let me give you four quick points.

The Ascension Proves Christ’s Work On Earth Is Finished

It is one thing to say, “It is finished.” (John 19.30)

It is another for that statement to be true.
God raised Jesus from the dead. Was it to do more work? Nope!
God raised Jesus from the earth. Because the work Jesus did on earth was done.

Jesus would not have ascended if the Father did not think Jesus’ job on earth was done.

The Ascension Places Jesus in the Position of Authority

Because Jesus work on earth was done, God had a new assignment for Him.
Read Ephesians 1.20-23. (This passage is similar to what is written in Philippians 2.9-11 and Colossians 1.18-20).

What we can know is that Jesus has supreme authority. He is the supreme authority. We will see more of that next week when we look at Jesus as the Judge.

The Ascension Provides the Spirit His Opportunity to Work

Jesus promised that He would send the Holy Spirit when He left. It is the Spirit who guides us in this day. It is the Spirit who equips us.

Jesus said it is to our advantage that He leave (John 16.7)

As Al Mohler writes about this truth, “Without his ascension the Spirit could not come; and, in some mysterious, spectacular way, the indwelling of the Spirit eclipses the physical presence of Jesus Christ.” (1)

So, what is Jesus doing right now? He is preparing a place for us. Many have focused on the rooms, asking questions like what will they be like? Who cares? The purpose is not where we stay, but with Whom we will stay. (John 14.3)

And that leads us to the fourth point.

The Ascension Presents God’s People a Permanent Home

Mark 16.19 says that Jesus was taken up into heaven. Heaven is a real place. Ephesians 2.4-6 says that we will be seated with Him. Revelation 3.21 says the same thing for those who overcome this world. Again, as I mentioned above, Jesus is preparing a place for us now. And the world, with all of its beauty and creativity was created in six days. Imagine what Jesus is preparing having had nearly 2000 years to do it.

CONCLUSION

As I prepare to close, you may recall that I mentioned that this message fits perfectly within the scope of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Let me explain how.

If Jesus died, but did not rise from the dead, how could we know that His death meant what He said it did.

If Jesus rose from the dead, but had not ascend to heaven, how could we know He did not die again.

In other words, without the ascension, could we really have hope? But if Jesus did die (and He did), and rose from the dead (and He did), and ascended to heaven (and He did), then we can know that no matter what may happen to us on this earth, we can have hope for today, for tomorrow, and for every tomorrow’s tomorrow.

The word corona comes from a Latin word that means wreath or crown. A crown is worn by a ruler, and right now, the coronavirus seems to rule the world today, but Jesus will rule for eternity. Rest assured, God is in control. Jesus is seated which means His job is done, and when the time is right, He will return and prove His worth as the One worthy of all crowns, for as the Bible says, He will be crowned the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

That is a hope worth having. That is the hope we need.

(1) Albert Mohler, The Apostle’s Creed, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019, 108.

“A Christian Response to COVID-19” by Pastor Andy Braams

You may have heard about this little thing called a coronavirus. Specifically, the current coronavirus is named COVID-19. COVID-19 is not the first coronavirus, and it likely will not be the last. A coronavirus will infect both animals and humans. Currently, seven different types exist, with four of those causing symptoms like the common cold. In fact, many of our colds are related to one of these viruses.

But more recent coronaviruses have caused more problems. In 2002, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus infected nearly 8100 people in 24 countries, killing nearly 800. No cases of SARS have been reported since 2004. However, the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) became known in 2012 and has since infected around 2500 individuals, with over 1/3 of those people dying. 27 countries have identified the MERS virus.

Other viruses, such as the so-called “bird flu” and “swine flu,” have impacted our world over the past couple of decades. And one of the worst epidemics was the Spanish Flu of 1918. It is estimated that 500 million people worldwide were infected and somewhere between 20 to 50 million people died. This pandemic came on the heals of some 20 million people dying during WW1.

But this new virus, has the attention of the world. It started in China (as did SARS), and has now spread to more than 100 countries. This week COVID-19 went from an epidemic (upon the people) to pandemic (all people). Some have estimated that as many as 45% of Americans will get the virus. In raw numbers terms, that is 150 million – Americans.

And this pandemic is causing fear and disruption in ways our world has never seen. Certainly, our world has seen major catastrophes before. Earthquakes, famines, plagues, wars (including two World Wars), terrorist attacks, etc., have all caused disruptions for days, weeks, and years. But nothing in the history of the world has caused this level of change so quickly. Decisions are changing by the hour as to how people and organizations are responding. And those decisions will continue to be made in the days and weeks (if not months) ahead.

So, what is our response? Not as a part of the people, but as the church? How should we respond?

Our response should be two-fold – a trust in God and a love for others.

Trust in God

Read Psalm 56.

A follower of Christ should focus first on trusting in God. Fear is real, but it should not rule.

Fear is probably the strongest emotion because once it grips us it does not let go. And, of course, fear is not something the Bible condones. In fact, famously, the Bible records the idea of not being afraid or not having fear 365 times – one for each day of the year. But this is Leap Year, so I guess we get to have fear for one day.

Fear may not be right, but it is natural. But we must also keep it in perspective. Some will call fear a sin, and I understand the rationale. Let me first explain a part of the rationale, but then let me show you from Scripture why I do not believe it is a sin.

First, ultimately fear is the result of a lack of trust in someone or something. Second, the Bible says “do not fear” which is very similar language to “do not lie” or “do not steal” or “do not commit adultery.” But lying, stealing, and adultery are choices we make to do. Fear is a natural response. Just like anger. Thus, as Paul says, in your anger, do not sin. Likewise, I think we can say, “in your fear, do not sin.” Yes, the sin would be different, but the principle is the same.

For instance, David had fear, but he knew where to turn in the midst of that fear. In Psalm 56.3, David say, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” This verse was the first verse I taught our children. By the time they were two or three, they had this verse memorized. Mommy and daddy could not always be there for them, but God would be.

What is great about this chapter is that David never confesses a sin or repents for his fear. At least not directly like he does in Psalm 51. In fact, if you look at Psalm 56, David begins with why he is afraid, then makes his declaration of trust, and then shares more details about why he is afraid. He may have stated his intention to trust in God, but that has not freed his mind from the perils around him. He realizes that simply stating he trusts in God does not remove him from danger. BUT – and this is key – He does not let that danger or fear cripple him.

Notice the structure of this Psalm.

Verses 1-2: He asks God to watch over him because of his enemies. That is, David acknowledges his fear and plainly states it to God.

Verses 3-4: David acknowledges God is greater than His fears.

Verses 5-7: Having acknowledged God, and his desire to trust God, David details why he is afraid.

Verses 8-13: David acknowledges why He can trust in God. David acknowledges that he will trust in God.

A Psalm with 13 verses has 5 verses about the reality of fear. But it has 8 verses about the reality of God triumphing over fear.

38% of the verses talk about fear. That is important. David does not share one verse about fear, then acknowledge a desire to trust God and the fear is instantly gone. A holier-than-thou Christian might think that our response should be 1% fear, and 99% trust. And frankly, maybe it should be. But the reality is that David, the mighty warrior, the man who slayed thousands of people, expressed his fear – openly and honestly.

But David had more trust in God than he did fear. Because 38% of this Psalm addressed fear, over 60% addressed the goodness of God. Again, I am sure some Christians in our world today will say David was weak by only mentioning God’s power over fear 60% of the time. I am glad those Christians have it all figured out and never have any fear. Because you know what, I don’t have the level of faith they have. Frankly, I am not overly concerned about the coronavirus personally, but I have my own challenges, including the fact that I serve a church that has many people who are much older than I and are in the higher risk category for contracting and being affected by the virus.

Now, I do not want the virus. And I will take precautions to avoid contracting the virus. But that fear is not my biggest fear. And yet, whatever fear you may have, the example David gives us in Psalm 56, is that we can have very legitimate fears. And even in the midst of fully trusting God, we may honestly and openly express those fears. And when we do so, we may help others to better process their fears as well.

Love of Neighbor

The second response during this time of crisis – and it is a crisis – is that we should love our neighbor.

Several months ago, when I was preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, I made following statement: We cannot love the people we label, and we will not label the people we love.

On Friday, I saw a statistic that a much higher percentage of Democrats fear contracting the virus than Republicans. That is one of the most stupid studies and statements I have ever heard. Who cares? People are getting sick and dying and instead of focusing on this being an issue affecting people all over the world regardless of races, religions, and political leanings, and people are making this political. That isn’t love. That is manipulation.

Again, people are afraid. Certainly, some are more fearful than others, but we do not need to beat down on people for their fears. We need to love them through it. Let me give an example.

Suppose a child wakes up from a dream and is frightened. The child bravely gets out of bed to find a parent (or parents). (Don’t discount how much courage it takes for some children to get out of their bed in this situation.) A parent could respond in a few different ways, but let’s go to the edges.

A parent could respond: “You are an idiot. I told you there is nothing to be afraid of. Haven’t I told you that everything’s fine. I just don’t get why you can’t understand this.  Just go back to bed and let me get some sleep.”

Alternatively, a parent might respond: “I am sorry you are afraid. Let’s see what we can do to make you feel better. What if we check to make sure everything is ok and then I will lay down with you until you go back to sleep?”

Again, other possibilities exist. But the first scenario is rather harsh. The second would be considered compassionate. And yet, in the church we often treat others similar to the first example. We are selfish and we show a lack of care. The second example takes time and energy – and love.

And that is what we are to do. Romans 12.15 says to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”  We like rejoicing. It is often more difficult to weep. Frankly, in the examples above, I would like to think I will respond like the second example, but I know I am often guilty of the first. Why? Because I am selfish. Because I sin.

However, Jesus tells me to love my neighbor as I do myself. He tells us to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. Thus, I must properly love myself. We must properly love each other. And when we do, the real benefit is that others can know they are loved too.

That is our opportunity right now in the midst of the fear around us. We do have an opportunity to rejoice when it is appropriate, but to weep as well. We do have the opportunities to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.2). We have the opportunity to stand together to oppose our enemy and whatever obstacles might come before us.

We can do this because Jesus loved His neighbor as He did Himself. And He asks His followers to do the same.

CONCLUSION

Fear is real. But God is bigger than our fears. And, if we truly love others, we will help them to know that truth as well. This week, fear has been front and center in the lives of millions, if not billions. But realize that fear is based upon a virus with a surface area that is measured to be 1/25,400,000 or .0000049213 inches.

How can something so tiny cause so much fear? But it has, and it will continue to do so. But COVID-19 is not the only fear in our world today. And it is not the only fear within our church right now. Other health issues are front and center. Issues like cancer or other chronic diseases create fear. Or maybe your fears stem from a relationship with a friend, a coworker, or a member of your family.

Maybe it is learning to live after the loss of a loved one.

Maybe your fear is financial.

Maybe the fear is changes in our country, in our town, or in this church.

I know the fears that some of you are experiencing. But I do not know the depth of those fears. I know the fears that I face too.

But I also know that I have a God who desires me to trust Him. A God who desires you (individually) to trust Him. A God who desires us (as a church) to trust Him. He is a God who does not change. So, even though we moved away from the Apostles’ Creed this week (which is itself a change), we are still focusing on our constant – on THE constant – in a world of change. And, in a world of fear.

JOURNEY:

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JOURNEY.

We are all on a JOURNEY of faith. And this JOURNEY will requires us to acknowledge and confront our fears. So, let me present a couple of verses for you to reflect upon for a couple of minutes.

The first was written to Timothy, and thus is meant to be internalized individually.  The verse is 2 Timothy 1.7: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Philippians 4.6-7 was written to a church, and thus is meant of us to consider corporately: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

NEXT STEP(S):

      • LEARN.  Learn to trust God through your times of fear.
      • LOVE.  Love others to help them do the same.

As followers of Christ, we must also see this disruption as an opportunity. Fear can drive people in many different directions, but one of those directions is to seek purpose and meaning in their lives, to consider death, and therefore to be open to God.

SPECIAL CALL TO PRAYER

From the SBC:

      1. Ask God, in His mercy, to stop this pandemic and save lives—not only in our communities but around the world, particularly in places that are unequipped medically to deal with the virus (Isaiah 59:1-2).
      2. Pray for President Donald Trump and other government leaders—international, federal, state, and local—to have the wisdom to direct us in the best courses of action for prevention and care (Romans 13:1–4).
      3. Scripture says—teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom in this moment of fear as the foundations of what we know are shaken, that others would realize how fragile life is and how real eternity is, and they would see their need to turn to God (Psalm 90:12).
      4. Ask God to protect our missionaries and their families around the globe, using this global crisis to advance His Good News to the whole world (Mark 16:15).

“Abandoned?” by Pastor Andy Braams

Last September, Dr. Ulrich Klopfer died. Now, Dr. Klopfer would not be known to most people and would have simply passed from this life without incident except for a shocking discovery. After the doctors death, relatives found 71 boxes in his garage. Those boxes contained 2,246 aborted fetuses. In the trunk of one of his cars, they found another 165 fetuses. All totaled, this man had saved the fetuses of 2,411 babies aborted between the years of 2000-2003. (1)

Frankly, many questions should be asked, but most can never be answered now that Dr. Klopfer is dead. Why did this many keep these aborted babies? Why did he keep them for 16-19 years? But the biggest question is how could all of these lives be simply abandoned?

Thankfully, an arrangement was made to restore the dignity of these humans by providing them a proper burial a couple of weeks ago – even if the burial was premature for most of them had they been allowed to be born, and much delayed given what happened to them.

Most people who hear of this situation are appalled – and rightfully so. But is the appalling nature of this situation the act of abortion, the act of keeping these children in boxes, or the number of babies involved?

The abortion debate is real. And it is intense. And a lot of people who have been impacted by abortion are deeply wounded. This message is not about opening that wound. This message is not about abortion. But it is about abandonment. And those babies were abandoned. But the issue is that you and I abandon people each and every day – perhaps not in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense – perhaps even the individuals impacted by abortions. And although we may never know why Dr. Klopfer did what he did, one day you and I will have to give an account of our actions to our Lord.

See, all of humanity should be in a state of abandonment. That may be true of our lives, but it should certainly be true after we die. But God. God made a way through Jesus, who Himself “was not abandoned to Hades” (Acts 2.31), but loosed “the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him (Jesus) to be held by it” (Acts 2.24).

Read Acts 2.23-24. God had a plan. Jesus executed that plan. And because of that execution, we are not abandoned, if only we believe.

This truth about what God has done through Jesus, and what Jesus has done for us, and what the Spirit desires to do within us is why we are studying the Apostles’ Creed. Today, we come to the part of the Creed that says, “He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead.”

However, we should know that God raised Jesus so that He could raise us too. That is, God raised Jesus back to life, so that we could not only live with Him forever, but that we could truly live.

So, if Jesus rose in order for us to live, what are we doing with the life He has given?

Jesus Descended into Hades

Today, portion of the Creed begins with one of the most challenging truths mentioned in the Bible. But we must consider two aspects to this truth. First, we must examine the wording carefully to make sure the Creed matches the Bible. Second, we must be careful not to make our attempts at understanding the passage say more than what the Bible really says. (Many have suggested this phrase should be left out of the Creed, but it is there, and we must deal with it as best we can.)

First, the challenging passage is found in 1 Peter 3. Specifically, verse 19 says, then Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” Now, we do not need to wonder what He preached. Like His time on earth, He preached of the Kingdom of God. He proclaimed Himself Messiah and the fulfillment of the prophecies. But the real question arises as to where He preached.

Most every reputable translation uses the term or concept of those in prison. And, indeed, that is the term in the Greek. It is the same term used of John being in prison in Mark 6, for instance. But the Creed says hell.

Now, hell is a real place that will be the eternal home for the devil, the demons, and all of those who reject Christ. But it is not the word used in 1 Peter 3, which is the source of this statement in the Apostles’ Creed. So, did Jesus go to hell to do this preaching? No.

He went to Hades. Hell and Hades are two places that are often used synonymously. But they are two different places. Hades is the place of the dead, much like the Jewish concept of Sheol in the OT. The concept of Hades actually has three levels. It has a level of punishment (like hell) for those who are evil. It has a middle place where most people will be (those who are not too good and not too evil). And it has a place of blessing for those who are good and heroic.

We see this idea of Hades in Luke 16, when the rich man was dead and looking up from the place of torment in Hades (v. 23) saw the poor man, a man named Lazarus (with no evidence that it was the Lazarus who was brought back from the dead in John 11) in Abraham’s bosom (the place of blessing in Hades). Lest we think this is just some human thought, realize this story is from the mouth of Jesus!

From the cross, Jesus said to one of the thieves, today you will be with me “in Paradise.” That man went to the place in Hades known as Elysium (or the Elysian Fields), and Jesus would be there to proclaim the message of God to all who would listen.

Again, this is as much as we can say. Did Jesus go to the other levels of Hades? Perhaps, but the Bible does not say so. Jesus did mention Paradise, and that is the “best” level or Hades, so He at least went there. And Jesus died for all sinners which would include any who were in the other levels (the Asphodel Meadows and Tartarus), so He may well have gone to proclaim the truth of God there as well. But we must be careful to go further than that in our interpretation, and thus, understanding of the Bible. Jesus went to Hades because those who were there – that is, all who died prior to Jesus death on our behalf – needed to know that Jesus paid the price for sin. His message was meant to deliver them from an otherworld place like Hades into the presence of God after His own resurrection.

For as Paul says, to depart from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5.8; cf. Phil 1.23).

But for you and me, Jesus has already come. He has already died. And He has already been raised from the dead. And thus, we turn to the message that Peter preached, as recorded by Luke in Acts 2, to see what Jesus resurrection can and should mean to us.

The Third Day He Rose Again

First, let me say that I am not dealing with the aspect of the third day in this post. The Bible does say three days and many possibilities exist, but I do not have time to unpack them all. I will say that I personally believe that it is likely that Jesus died on a Thursday.

So, what is less important in these two phrases is not where He proclaimed the message, nor how many days He was dead, but that He rose again.

First, let me speak to the idea of “again.” I was recently asked why the word again is used. It is a fair question because Jesus was not raised twice. As I researched this, the best explanation is found in a close synonym – anew, or even afresh. Others have made a similar argument. (2) Using this idea, Jesus rose anew. He was renewed, and indeed, He was in His resurrection body.

But let us turn to Acts 2 to see Peter’s words.

Beginning in verse 22, Peter appeals to the crowd to take stock of this man Jesus whom they had seen. It was this Jesus who, according to the plan of God, was crucified. But, death could not hold Him. The grave would not defeat Him. And Peter refers to David’s words nearly 1000 years prior when David proclaimed that God would not “let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2.27). The word corruption here means “the pit” (as in decaying in the pit).

It is in this verse, by the way, that we see the use of Sheol and Hades as interchangable. Acts 2.27 begins with, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades…” Peter is quoting from Psalm 16, where in verse 10, David used Sheol. Thus, going back to the previous point, we see that Sheol and Hades were considered as similar in their usage depending upon whether one was speaking in Hebrew (Sheol) or Greek (Hades).

But if Peter had simply quoted David, the people could have believed that David was referring to Himself. So, Peter then revealed that David was more than a king, he was also a prophet.

Read Acts 2.29-31.

David died, but did see decay. He was buried and was still in the tomb. So, God meant someone else. That someone was Jesus. Jesus was buried, but the tomb where He was buried was empty. We have to believe this by faith, but the people who heard Peter’s voice that day could have checked for themselves. In fact, that is what Peter says in verse 32-33. God raised Jesus and Peter, along with the other apostles were simply proclaiming that truth.

What we must understand is that Jesus death was important. It is by the blood of Jesus that we are saved. But it was the resurrection of Jesus that sealed our salvation. Or, rather, I might say, the resurrection confirms our salvation. Paul uses David’s thoughts to say as much in Acts 13.37-38.

In effect, if God did not resurrect Jesus, then we could not consider God to have been satisfied by His death. But because God did raise Jesus from the dead, we can have full confidence that God’s wrath for our sin was satisfied on the cross, if we will only place our faith in that truth.

But before we leave Acts 2, I want to focus on a particular term that Peter used twice. That word is, “abandon.” Again, in Acts 2.27, David said that in the future, the Holy One will not be abandoned. And in Acts 2.31, Peter says that Jesus, the Holy One, was not abandoned to Hades. Hades could not hold Jesus. It was Jesus vs Hades in a death match. And Jesus overcame death.

And because Jesus was not abandoned, we will not be either. Because Jesus overcame death, we can overcome it too. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 (verses 54-55, quoting Isaiah and Hosea), “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

But here is the challenge. If God did not abandon Jesus, and Jesus did not abandon us, then we can not abandon others.

CONCLUSION

Sometimes we feel lonely. We feel isolated. We may feel abandoned. It happens to many people at various times in their lives. But God has a plan. Just like those 2411 aborted babies who were given dignity through a mass burial, as humans, we all have dignity. The death of Jesus for us reveals that truth. The resurrection of Jesus proves it because God did not abandon Him, so Jesus will not abandon us. We must simply choose to be saved by the only one who can truly save us.

Before we can rise again with Jesus, we must be born again by God. As 1 Peter 1.3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

Jesus rose again by the power of God. But the power of God can do more than resurrect a body, it can change a life. And a changed life can truly change the world. The truth of the resurrection changed the apostles from being of “little faith” to being world changers. The truth of the resurrection continues to change lives – live that otherwise might be abandoned – and those changed lives can change the world again!

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JOURNEY.

Many of our JOURNEY letters in this series have been the J for Jesus. But today, the focus needs to be on our JOURNEY. Each one of us needs to know that wherever we may be on that journey, God is not done with us yet. If you are doing zealous work for the Lord, He has more for you to do. If you are muddling along in life, God has something for you. If you are feeling hopeless and abandoned, God has something for you. If you are still breathing, God is not done with you…your journey is not complete, so you must consider what you will do for Him during the remainder of your journey.

God made a way for a dead man to have purpose. And that purpose includes you. If He could do that with a man who was dead, how much more can He do for you? How much more can He do through you? But the question is not how much more can He do, the question is what will we allow Him to do?

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE.  Jesus influenced many people while He lived. But it was after He died that He changed the world. Likewise, Jesus bids us to come and die. Once we do, our life is not our own, and so He can do through us what He wants and needs for us to do. It is when we die to ourselves that we truly learn to live. So learn to live for Jesus today by allowing Jesus to live through you.

Who’s Your One? Who’s Your One plus One?

 If we follow through on finding, praying for, and investing in both the one and the one plus one, we can help those individuals to know that God has not abandoned them, that God has a plan for them, and then lead them to help others to find their one plus one as well.

      1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/02/12/ulrich-klopfer-abortion-fetuses/, (accessed March 6, 2020).
      2. See, for instance, Got Questions. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-rose-again.html, (accessed March 6, 2020).

“It Is Finished” by Pastor Andy Braams

1 Corinthians 1.17-18; John 19.16-42

Have you watched or listened to the news lately? If you watch it over a two- or three- day period you will see developments happening so quickly it is difficult to keep up. Make those days weeks or months and the pace is alarming. In a recent visit with one of our elder members, he said, and I quote, “I see the way the world is going at an accelerated pace.”

He then mentioned horses – the maximum speed humans traveled for centuries was by horse. And then even when the first cars were made (the Model T), they traveled at the same general speed as a horse. But then, the he mentioned that cars quickly moved to 60 mph, and that we had air travel, then space travel. It all developed so quickly.

But today, the developments are even faster. What about the Coronavirus? Or the locusts in Kenya? Politics are out of control. It is no wonder some people claim that the news is fake – because even news that is real changes so fast it is hard to know what is true anymore. What was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. (AB – this is not my best PC and FCF, but it will do this week)

But some news doesn’t change, and therefore many get bored with it. The most important news is that of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, that news is old, but it is still fresh. Many consider the news of Jesus as out of date and out of style, and would rather talk about the speculation of what we see on TV today rather than the truth of what happened centuries ago.

But the news of Jesus was not just news that day, it was news that was predicted to happen. Read John 19.28-30. “It is finished” requires knowing what “it” is and what needed to be accomplished for “it” to be done.

As we think about the Apostle’s Creed, we can hold tight to the truth of the creed not because of the words in the creed, but because those words are based upon the truth of the Bible. It is the Bible that is true and thus what is directly taken from the Bible must be true too. And today that truth is that Jesus was crucified, buried, and dead.

But it is more than the thought of some man being crucified, dead, and buried. That happened to many people. In fact, two others were crucified and dead on the same day as Jesus, although we cannot know if they were buried. (Likely, they were not, but we do not know, and it does not really matter for our purposes today.)

However, this story is not just about a man, it is about a man who claimed to be God, a man what was God, and thus, He was able to declare that “It is finished.”

So, what was finished? And why is that important?

Let us take a closer look by reviewing John 19.

Jesus Was Crucified

This really happened. Read John 19.18-20.

John writes it, but details are important. Granted John wrote this account decades after the fact (some suggest as many as 60 years later – which is very likely), but people would have still been alive to refute it. Verse 20 says many Jews saw it. They would have told this story to their children and grandchildren. The story they told was either about a lunatic who thought He was Messiah and got what He deserved, or truly was the Messiah and got what we deserved.

But John is not the only one to record this. That is, this story is not just biblical; it is historical. Pilate is mentioned by name. And both Jewish and Roman historians discuss the intersection between Pilate and Jesus (Josephus the Jew; Tacitus the Roman).

Why was Jesus crucified?

      • Because God is holy. And we are not.
      • Because God had to punish sin and deal with its curse and the curse of the Law. For as the Bible says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3.13, quoting from Deuteronomy 21.25). Jesus was crucified by men who hated him, for men who needed him. (Romans 6.23)

Now, many do not like the fact that Jesus was crucified. Some claim God was a child abuser. But the Bible say the word of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1.18). To understand is to receive the grace of God. The reality is that mankind hates Jesus. Men hated Him in Jesus day. They hated Him in Paul’s day (Phil 3.18). And they hate Jesus today. And you and I would be among those who hate Him but for the grace of God – a grace that comes from the sacrifice He made.

So, Jesus was crucified – a process perfected by Romans to make the pain and horror of death as agonizing as possible (as Mike has shared with us before). Jesus received that. We might even say He embraced it – for you and for me. And in the end, Jesus died.

Jesus Was Dead

The crucifixion was the form of death, but it was the death that mattered. Without the death, the wrath of God would not be satisfied. The death of Jesus was necessary because it was upon Jesus that the fullness of God’s wrath was delivered. In Revelation, the wrath of God is revealed as bowl judgments. These bowls are poured out on all who do not believe. These bowls contained sores, water turning to blood, scorching heat, oppressive darkness, water drying up, and a storm and earthquake that is unmatched in human history (Revelation 16).

The intensity of these “bowl” judgments is poured out because of the sin of the world. And yet the true punishment for sin will be much worse and last for eternity in the place called hell.

On the cross, Jesus died so that all who believe (who call on the name of Jesus) will not have to endure the wrath of God on this earth, and will escape the eternal miseries of hell. Jesus death took God’s wrath for us. That is why we call His death the substitutionary atonement. He atoned for our sins by substituting Himself in our place. He did it for you. He did it for me. He did it for everyone. I deserve God’s wrath on me for what I have done, but I do not deserve His wrath for your sins. However, Jesus bore the fullness of God’s wrath for everyone. Imagine the pain, imagine the suffering.

The One who created us, died for us. The one who created was executed at the hands of His creatures. As Peter declared to the audience in Acts 3.15, “…you killed the Author of life…” We may not have been physically present, but we are responsible for the death of Jesus.

But He did die. Read John 19.31-37.

The Romans made certain of it. It was the responsibility of one person to ensure that each criminal was dead. It is said that the penalty for the soldier who did not ensure those being crucified was the soldier would then be crucified. I cannot find evidence of that. However, a centurion, one who led 100 men was in charge and would have been disgraced and strictly punished (at the least) if the individuals were not dead. So, Jesus was dead. We see evidence of this from the centurion’s mouth in Mark 15.39, when the centurion stated, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Furthermore, when Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to ask for the body, the body would not have been granted for burial if Jesus was not dead (most people crucified were not buried, they were left to rot or be eaten by animals). Thus, Pilate would have asked if Jesus was truly dead before granting the request.

Jesus Was Buried

Again, we have details in John’s writing (and in other gospel writings) that help us to know Jesus was buried. Frankly, it could have been enough to say, “And then, Jesus was buried.” Many people might accept that statement, but with the details provided, His burial is assured.

Again, most people were not buried after a crucifixion. But Jesus was not most people, so Joseph and Nicodemus made sure He was buried. We may have to accept the burial for what is said in the Bible, but by John naming names, the people of that day could go to Joseph and Nicodemus and ask – “Did you really bury Jesus?” If it was not true, it would have been refuted. Granted John wrote his decades later, but people would still have been alive, and his statement would have been refuted otherwise.

So, Jesus was crucified. He was dead. And He was buried. Those are the facts. It may not be current news, but it is not fake news. It is real. It has happened. The facts have not change. And those facts from the Bible are preserved in the Apostles’ Creed.

It has been three weeks since we recited any of it together, but let’s take time now to recite the Creed up to this point.

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, was crucified, dead, and buried.

Next week, we will get into one of the most challenging passages in the Bible. But we will not stay there long, because Jesus did not stay dead or buried – and His resurrection deserves the main attention.

CONCLUSION

In a couple of days, many people in this country will go to the polls to vote on what is known as Super Tuesday. In nine days, it will be our turn here in the state of Missouri. But there is one common factor in each person voting. In fact, one common factor exists between those voting and those receiving votes – the fact that Jesus died for each person’s sin. Jesus died for Bernie Sanders. He died for Pete Buttigieg. He died for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. He died for Donald Trump. He died for all Democrats. He died for all Republicans. He died for Independents. He died for those who do vote and He died for those who don’t. He died for you and He died for me.

In a year when candidates are pushing their agendas and hoping that we will tell our friends to vote for a certain person, only one name truly deserves to be known – not because of what He might do for us, but because of what He has already done for us. That name is Jesus. And it is our task to know Him and to make Him known.

For all of the campaigns and all of the slogans, the politician’s goal is to make oneself known. But politicians often make promises that are unable to be kept. The promise Jesus made was even more outlandish – that He would come back from the dead. But first, He had to die. Therefore, like Paul, we are to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1.23). We are to make Christ known – and to do that we cannot separate the work of Christ from the cross.

What was finished? The work of God to fulfill all that had been commanded in the Law. The curse of the Law was broken (Galatians 3.13).

Why was it important? Because none of us could break the curse’s grip. Only Jesus could break the curse. Only Jesus could meet the requirements. And that is why…

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter for today is JJESUS.

Jesus had His own journey that day through the streets of Jerusalem and up to the hill called Golgotha. The journey Jesus made was full of pain and tears. But He made that journey because of the joy that was before Him (Hebrews 12.2) – a joy that was to fulfill the will of the Father…a joy that meant giving us the opportunity to be with Him for eternity.

We cannot overlook the fact that Jesus finished His journey, just as it was planned. The purpose of this passage is not to just to tell us what happened, it is to show that God was in control. The people may have tortured and killed Jesus. But Jesus was always in control. It was Jesus who said, “It is finished,” not the people who were trying to finish Him.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE.  The death of Jesus came from the love of Jesus. Because of His love, He has made Himself known to you. He commands us to make Him known to others because of our love for them.

Who Your One?

Who’s Your One + One?

“A Sermon for President’s Day” by Rick Sons

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” Isaiah 61:1

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:34-36

As many of you know, I was a history major in college and even today, the study of the past still seems to occupy my interest. For hours and hours each week, I sit at the laptop and read how history has helped to mold the world today.

My wife will tell you that she has difficulty watching movies with me as I set with the laptop and check everything for accuracy. To this day I can’t watch “Gone with the Wind,” as it is full of incorrect information.

History is full of stories and each story has purpose. So, what’s the single greatest American History story?

This is a hard question to answer because, to each person or historian, stories hold different places in the heart and there are so many stories from which to choose.

Sometimes it is the same story told in different ways.

With the upcoming holiday tomorrow (President’s Day), this may not be the greatest, but it would have to be in the top five.

The day the sixteenth president of our country said, that as of January 1, 1863, no people could be sold in America anymore; no brown children sold in the market; no weeping mothers sold away from their children; no husbands and fathers torn from their wives and children; no more; done; the end.

It was the end of slavery in this country. The end of a way of life for many and the start of a new journey for others.

A tall skinny kid from Kentucky, who grew to become the President of the United States, got shot in the head for it (and I think he knew he would be murdered for it), but did it anyway because he knew it was right.

It was right to let all people be free, no longer to be bound or held captive.

This is a great story, but not a new one.

John 8:34-36 says, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’”

So, what is a slave?

A slave is not determined by color. In the history of the U.S., blacks were slaves, but only because Africans were selected and imported as slaves, mainly for economic and demographic reasons.

Slavery was created to supply much-needed labor for the colonists, but not because they were deemed inferior. It was only over time that slavery became associated with the dark skin of Africans, which led to the colonists’ feelings of superiority and racism.

A slave had no liberty or say in vital issues. To be a slave meant to work while being subject to every will of the owner.

Slaves were abused physically, emotionally and mentally. They were broken down in almost every way possible.

Some of the basic rights that slaves were denied were: the right to speak their opinion, to right to get married, the right to keep their kids, the right to work for themselves, and the right think the way they wanted or do what they wanted.

A slave was to be seen but not heard; he had no freedom.

A slave was in bondage under the guardians and custodians who were in charge of them.

Slaves had no identity; they could not use their African names, so slave owners gave English names to the slaves. There were only given first names, as they were considered property and not people deserving of surnames.

After Emancipation, former slaves adopted new names. They did so either to take on a surname for the first time, or to replace a name or surname given to them by a former master.

A number of African-Americans changed their names out of the belief that the names they were given at birth were slave names. (Slaves believed that the slave name would keep them a slave in the eyes of the civilized world.) Many slaves took the name of Lincoln after being freed, and some even though they could not read took names from Scripture that they had heard.

They were free, but this freedom came with limits.

For some, they still called themselves slaves (free slaves) as they still felt they were in bondage and the only life they knew was now gone.

So, let’s ask: who else is a slave?

Obviously, all of us who are sinners are slaves.

Some of us are slaves to our own thinking, slaves to pride, slaves to anger, slaves to worry, or slaves to money.

We were not sold into slavery; some of us walked into it by our own power and choosing.

We were slaves to sins in bondage, and slaves to the world but Jesus saved us by grace and through his love we can be free. Jesus redeemed us so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters to be children of God.

To be children of God, there was an urgent need that we must be born again, regenerated, sanctified, and washed in the Blood of the Lamb.

To those that believe in Christ and receive Him, He gives them power to become the children of God. We must open our hearts and allow Jesus to occupy us because in Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves, but sons – heirs of the kingdom.

In saving us from slavery, He had to die. Jesus knew the outcome and He knew, that to free us, it would cost Him His life.

Being saved and set free is to receive a new identity. In Jesus, we do not lose ourselves, but we become our true selves in Him. In Christ, we are fundamentally new and belong to the Kingdom of heaven.

The language, values, and customs of this world feel foreign to us. Like the slave, we do not want to appear as a slave in the eye of the world. We have been born again for another world; to a greater kind of existence.

That tall skinny guy from Kentucky did the right thing even when he knew he would get a bullet for it.

Thanks to a skinny kid from Kentucky, whom we know as Abraham Lincoln, all people are now free to live and no longer fear being in bondage.

Thanks to Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin because He defeated the power of sin’s hold in our lives.

We are no longer slaves to our self, our shame, our past, our rejection, our sins, or the sins of others. We are free. Truly free.

Through Jesus, His freedom is limitless; it removes every chain, every burden.

Our freedom was not freely purchased; it cost the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is His death that won our freedom.

Jesus, who was no slave, but the King of the universe, became slave to death to defeat it.

What is the greatest story in history? It is the story of freedom and you can choose which chapter in this part of history you like best.

No longer slaves – that has a nice sound.

All we need to do is walk in the freedom and victory of Christ. The idea of slavery may seem alien in this century, but it was very much a reality in centuries past – not just in our history but throughout the whole world.

Men, women, and even children, who could not fend for themselves, were sold to slavery in order to pay their debts. They did not have any rights of their own, but were shackled to a life of bondage without even a shred of hope.

Today, don’t allow yourself to become a slave to worry, fear, doubt, anxiety or your past. You are free, no matter what your current situation is; remind yourself that you are a rightful child of God.

Remember your identity in Christ and live free.

We are no longer dead in our sin, we are alive in Christ Jesus.

Faithful

On Sunday, Jason Yarnell (NWMSU Lighthouse) spoke on three characters from John 12 (verses 1-11). All three showed their faithfulness in different ways. The three individuals, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, provide a great deal of encouragement to us.

Mary – The Faithful Worshiper

As she did in Luke 10, Mary focuses on Jesus. In Luke 10, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha worked. In John 12, it is Mary that pours out the expensive ointment on Jesus, anointing Him even as He was preparing to die. She was chastised here as well, but once again, Jesus speaks favorably of her attitude to be with, and to worship, Him.

Martha – The Faithful Servant

In Luke 10, Martha was frustrated that she had to do all of the work, and specifically without her sister’s help. In John 12, the text merely says that Martha served (v.2). Mary was still with Jesus, and as pragmatic as Martha was in Luke 10, we might estimate that she would be frustrated at the use of the ointment too, but her thoughts are not expressed here. Why? Well, she has seen Jesus raise her brother from the dead (John 11). She is serving in thanksgiving. She is serving in love. And, therefore, she does not need to complain.

Lazarus – The Faithful Witness

John 11 records the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But Lazarus knew the story was not about him. In our day, people who have near-death experiences often seek to market their experience. Not Lazarus, John 11.11 says that he used his new life to point others to Jesus. Lazarus was faithful to witness not only about what happened, but WHO had caused it.

 

These three individuals provide a great example for us today. Like these siblings, we are each to be faithful in our worship, in our service, and in telling others about Jesus.

Although our story may never be known like those recorded in the Bible, let us be found faithful to the One who was faithful, even to death, for us.

“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 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.

Second Annual “Labor for the Son” Day by Pastor Andy Braams

This past Sunday, we had our Second Annual “Labor for the Son” Day. The idea behind this day is to truly “be” the church. The word “church” never really meant a place to go until the German word “kirche” was used to define the church. All of a sudden, the mindset changed from “being the church” to “going to church.” We may go to church once or twice (or more) times per week, but we should “be” the church everyday. This past Sunday was (and is) a reminder to us of that fact and an opportunity for us to let our light shine before men.

Rick Sons led us in a devotional and a time of prayer before we were mobilized to go out into our community. He challenged us to drive around and see what the needs of our town are. He also challenged each of one of us to walk around each of our own streets and pray intentionally for our neighbors.

There were projects accomplished and prayer walks accomplished. Only God and those who were served know who specifically was a light in their world that day. Let us pray that we will remember to “be” the church everyday and to do so with a humble, servant heart.

“Deception” by Pastor Andy Braams

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Setting

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

The Enemy Is Devious (Joshua 9.3-6)

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

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

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

The Enemy Is Deceptive (Joshua 9.7-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

…our JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEP(S):

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