“The Need for a Creed” by Pastor Andy Braams

Last Sunday, for the second time in 25 months, a shooting occurred during a church service in Texas. For many, this thought is unthinkable. One metaphor for the church is a hospital. It is a place to come to be healed from the week, to be healed from the effects of living life in the world, not a place for chaos and for killing.

The very room we are in – the sanctuary – may have different names in different churches. Some will the primary gathering place the worship center or something similar, but historically it is called sanctuary. Sanctuary is not necessarily a place of worship; it is a place of refuge. Historically, it is the last place that someone would shoot someone else. This idea is not just true of more modern times, it has root in the Bible where God designated certain cities a sanctuary cities (or cities of refuge, cf. Deuteronomy 4.41-43). If a person killed someone by accident, they could flee to a city of refuge, and if they reached the city, they were given asylum until the high priest died, at which point, a kind of atonement had been made and the person was free to leave without fear of retribution.

But, today is quite different. The world has changed. We can no longer find refuge. And the world has not only changed, it is still changing. It is changing fast. We just changed to a new year, some will say a new decade. But most of us can still vividly remember the change of the century just 20 years ago.

So much has changed in that 20 years. We have known of terrorism for decades, but now that terror is not only in other countries, it is in our churches, it is in our schools.

We live I a world where love is preached, but the practice is hostility because hatred and confusion are everywhere. We live in a world where values are changing, where principles are forgotten, where truth is ignored.

But the change is gradual and so we do not take notice as much as we could. Of course, media, and specifically television, has made change so much easier. As Rick has mentioned in the past, Ricky and Lucy could not sleep in the same bed together, and when Lucy got pregnant, she was said to be “with child.” Shortly afterward, Rob and Laura Petry were prominent and still slept in different beds, but Laura wore pants sometimes. Yes, she was married and a homemaker, but she did wear pants. On the other hand, Sally was single and working, and always wore a dress. Little changes. But big changes. Not all change is the same, however. Change can actually be divided into two major types – continuous and discontinuous.

Continuous change is what develops from what has already been. We call this a natural progression. The change can be anticipated. It is often managed and is under control. An example could be the modern telephone. The telegraph allowed communication to happen quickly, eventually leading to the ability to communicate by voice, then to do so without wires on a cordless phone, and now we carry our phones with us so we can communicate (often by text, i.e. telegraph) wherever we are.

On the other hand, discontinuous change is disruptive. It is hard to determine what will happen next. Thoughts and assumptions are challenged and the results are consequential, whether for the good or the bad. Again, let us consider the telephone. While much of the change was incremental, when the iPhone was released, things changed considerably. We now have not only a phone but a camera in our pocket. We not only have the ability to talk but to watch videos and play games and listen to music on what was once a device that required not only wires, but knowing that anything you said could be overheard at the switchboard.

So, change is constant. Change will happen. Therefore, we, as people, must change. The question is: How will we transition with the changes around us?

Well, as Christians, we must also change, but we do so with a constant in our lives. One constant exists. And that constant is not merely in the universe, He created the universe. That constant is God.

He is our constant in a world of change.

But we have a problem – we do not believe. At least, we do not believe as we say we believe. A quote that is attributed to DL Moody is, “The world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him.” While he may not have said it, the words ring true. (1)

Why are the words true? Because we do not believe as we say we truly believe. If we truly believed, you would have no worries. If you truly believed, you would have no doubts. If we truly believed, we may not be sitting here right now, or more people might be sitting here.

But the problem is not that we don’t believe. The problem is that we don’t believe enough. Or more specifically, we believe much like the father in Mark 9.24. Read Mark 9.23-24.

The father knew he needed to believe. But he knew his belief was not strong enough. Perhaps he did not believe correctly. This series is to help us not only believe correctly, but also to put our belief into practice.

Mark 9.23 tells us that Jesus said belief makes all things possible.

If belief makes all things possible, then why do we face the challenges we do?

Well, faith requires action and our actions are based upon what we truly believe.

Why Do We Need A Creed?

So, what do we believe? Well, a true Christian will believe the ideas presented in the Apostles’ Creed.  As Albert Mohler says, “All Christians believe more than is contained in the Apostles’ Creed, but none can believe less.” (2)

A CREED ALLOWS US TO HOLD ONTO SOMETHING

As humans, we can be overly sentimental and hold onto items that are otherwise worthless. We have items from when our kids were in elementary school, and clothes from when they were young. Susan and I have our letter jackets. All of these items are worthless to most people, but they have a sentimental value to us.

But in the midst of all of the changes around us, most people look for some sort of stability – something unchanging, something in which to believe. A creed can provide that. Certainly, creeds can be abandoned (or even altered), but a creed that is built on the Bible, and a creed that has stood for centuries, can provide what many people desire.

A CREED ALLOWS US TO HOLD ONTO SOMETHING

It is one thing to have a belief; it is another to share it with others. When many people hold the same belief as you, a bond can form. This bond may not make sense at all. You may recall the championship parade in KC after the Royals won the World Series in 2015 (yes, that really did happen!), people (as many as 800k) who did not know one another were squeezed together for hours by one bond. The bond was simple. In the grand scheme of history, the bond meant nothing. And I doubt most of the people talked to one another again after that day. But for one day, a shared belief created a tight bond.

So, consider the impact of a belief that does have meaning, or, at least, should have meaning. We know people down the road, across the town, in another city, and around the world that share the same basic beliefs. And we have examples of people throughout history who have shared these same beliefs. That provides comfort. It should provide assurance – if, what we believe is true. The truth of the creed will wait for another message – for now, we must understand that a creed allows for common perspective.

Now, the fact is that a creed can be mis-guided. But that does not make creeds wrong. For instance, non-believers will say that the Apostles’ Creed is wrong. But having a creed can help prevent erroneous belief. For instance, Fairfax Baptist Church requires members to be baptized. That requirement may not be an official creed, but it is similar.

Traditionally, Baptists have not endorsed creeds. But we have always endorsed confessions. The Baptist Faith and Message is a confession of our beliefs. The first Baptist confession was developed by one of the first two Baptists, Thomas Helwys, in 1611, the same year the King James Bible was first published. (BTW, Helwys thought King James was the antichrist. After making that claim, he was jailed and never heard from again). Another important confession was the 2nd London Confession (1789). The Baptist Faith and Message was first adopted in 1925 (largely to refute evolution and an anti-supernatural movement), revised in 1963 (to uphold the divine inspiration and credibility of the Bible) and then in 1998/2000 to reflect changes related to the sexual revolution.

Biblical creeds, themselves, go back centuries. Beyond the Apostles’ Creed, which likely developed in the 2nd or 3rd century, the next oldest, and well-known, creed is Nicene Creed from the 4th Century. Early creeds, like confessional statements today, were to help prevent heresy from entering the church. The early church had to determine how to understand if Jesus was separate from the Father or the same as God, the Father. Later, a similar argument was made about the Holy Spirit. These councils and the subsequent confessions (creeds) helped to define orthodoxy in the church for the last 1700 years.

So, creeds have a place. And that is why, in the midst of all of the chaos and change around us, we are doing this series – to remember the constant in the midst of the changes around us. I know I have not spoken about Mark 9 yet, but I will do so quickly in just a moment. Before I do, I want to bring your attention the Apostles’ Creed itself. I want us to take time to memorize it over these coming months. Today, we will simply recite it, but in the coming weeks, as we examine each phrase, we will work to memorize it.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,

Born of the virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,

Whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

The holy catholic Church,

The communion of saints,

The forgiveness of sins,

The resurrection of the body,

And life everlasting.

Amen.

Again, as Mohler said, a Christian should believe more than that, but not less. But beyond simply believing, we must understand that belief alone is not enough. Let us briefly consider the story in Mark 9.

First, we must understand the overall context of Mark 9. The story here falls directly in between the disciples starting to believe in Mark 8 and the faith exhibited by Bartimaeus at the end of Mark 10. Specifically, we can look at Mark 8.27-31 where Peter makes The Great Confession about Jesus as the Christ, and then the next verses where Peter rebukes Jesus for what He says.

This example shows Peter believed, but not really. Then, in Mark 9, we have Peter, James, and John on the mountain with Jesus where they see something unbelievable. They believe what happened, but cannot fully process it. When they come down the mountain, the complaint is made by this father that the he brought his son to be healed but the disciples at the foot of the mountain could not do it. Thus, Jesus does it, eventually.

Then, Jesus makes another statement about his death AND resurrection and the disciples, who have faith, argue about which of them is greater. Hello! Jesus just said that He would rise from the dead and you are worrying about how great you are!

But finally, if we jump to the end of Chapter 10, we see someone who is blind who not only has faith, but exhibits that faith in what he says (crying out Son of David) and does (leaving his cloak, which likely had money in it) to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where with his new eyesight, he might have watched him die just a few days later. But then, three days after that, if he was still around, and I presume he probably was because he recognized Jesus as the Son of David, he got to SEE Jesus alive!

Given that overview of Mark 8-10, let me go back to the father in Mark 9. We cannot dismiss this man as a man of simple faith – oh, if I believe, everything will be fine. No, this man was a man of faith and action, but he knew he needed more.

This man cared for this son since these demonic attacks started in childhood. He would have had to care for the boy physically (the burns), emotionally (perhaps the boy developed a fear of drowning from being thrown into the water). It was the man’s responsibility to earn a living for the family, but this man was there for his son – day in and day out.

So, he heard about a man named Jesus who might be able to heal his son. He travelled to see Jesus. He was not there, but his faith (maybe just hope) said something like, “Well, these men have been around Jesus, so they can probably do it.” But they couldn’t. Yet the man stayed. He waited. He had to wonder how long he would have to wait. He had to be embarrassed by the situation. He had to be more than a little disappointed. Certainly, he was still concerned for his son. But he waited.

And then, when the opportunity presented itself, he seized it. He had a moment with Jesus. And it changed his life. And it changed his son’s life. Why? Because he believed, and yet he acknowledged that he needed more faith.

The same is true for probably every one of us today. We may believe, but is our faith complete? Paul would answer no. In 1 Corinthians 13.13, we are told that love will remain, but faith will one day disappear. Why will it disappear, because it will not longer be needed when we reach the other side of eternity. But until then, it needs to develop. We need to grow in our faith and allow our faith to move us into action.

CONCLUSION

And active is what we must be. It is said that a person does what they truly believe. Many people made resolutions to get healthy this year, but they will sit in front of the television instead of exercise. Their actions show they believe the television is more important than their need to be healthy. If we say, we are followers of Jesus, we need to be following – we need to be moving.

In last month’s business meeting we adopted a new vision: To Know Christ and to Make Him Known. A part of me believes that is more of a mission statement, but as I have thought about it, it can be a powerful vision statement. So, this year we begin this sermon series with a focus on knowing Christ better. But the goal isn’t just for our knowledge, it is so that we will be prepared (equipped) to make Him known.

We may believe, but if we truly believe in the God of the Bible, that belief will change how we do everything. That belief may not always change what we do, but it should change how and why we do what we do.

So, as we contemplate all of the changes around us, it is important know that God is real, that Christ’s life and death and resurrection matter. It is important for us to find assurance in our beliefs that are based upon the Bible. That is why we will be reviewing the Apostles’ Creed. The Creed does not replace the Bible, rather, it summarizes the essence of authentic belief, a belief that must be expressed and active by the church Jesus promised to believe.

JOURNEY

Our JOURNEY letter this week is J – Jesus. As we start the year, let us make a point of knowing Him in order that we can make Him known.

NEXT STEP(S)

LEARN – Take time to read through the Apostles’ Creed this week. Begin to memorize it if you wish.

(1) https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-25/world-has-yet-to-see.html

(2)  Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity In An Age Of Counterfeits, Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019, xvi.

“Born Again Daily” by Rick Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Born Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean?

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

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

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

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

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

Salvation is not gained by those who try harder.

Salvation is not gained by those who live better.

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

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

In fact:

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

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

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

“Born Again”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My answer to this is no they were not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With each new day you must commit yourself to rebirth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we grow older the journey becomes harder to walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Message to Tell” by Pastor Andy Braams

SONG:  I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells. We hear because something is communicating. In this case the bells are communicating. Specifically, the bells are communicating familiar carols. If you live close to this church, you know what this means. A couple of times each day, “our bells” communicate old familiar hymns. If you know the hymn, you typically begin humming or even singing along.

Further in the first verse, the song says, the words repeat. That is, the message gets repeated. The message that is repeated is one that bores many people. But it is a message that should always remind us of the grace of God and the hope we can have – that God offers peace to all men. He offers His good will to all men. His good and perfect will was made known through Jesus, not just in His birth, but in His death and resurrection as well. Yes, the offer of peace and good will is made…but we must receive that offer…that is, we must receive Christ.

The song even gets to this point. In verse 3, we sing that we do not find peace on earth. If you have found the earth to be a perfect peace, you are not looking very hard. Yes, we can have peace…we can have the peace of God, and it can rule in our hearts (Colossians 3.15), but as the songwriter states, “hate is strong and mocks the song…” What song? That God has brought peace to the earth.

But make no mistake, God is still at work. Things will be made right – in HIS time. The fourth verse reminds me a bit of Psalm 73 in which the author, after lamenting about how the wicked have more than the righteous proclaims, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail. But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (vv. 25-26).

That is knowing peace on earth. That is experiencing God’s good will to men. It is the song of the Bible. It is the song we just song. It is a song that we should never tire of hearing. And it is a song we should have a desire to sing, or to tell, to others.

SONG:  O Little Town of Bethlehem

This past Tuesday evening, several of us went out and sang carols at several homes. As we stood outside Betty J’s home, I turned and look up at the sky. It was clear and the stars were shining bright. The sky was a deep, deep, dark blue with the stars just hanging there. It was cold, but it was beautiful.

I think the scene near Bethlehem might have been similar. We know one star shone brighter than the rest, but perhaps on that night, all of the stars were shining. In O Little Town of Bethlehem, the picture that is painted is one of serenity. The town was asleep; the stars drifted by in the night. But one Light pierced through them all. It was not the stars, or even THE STAR. It was not the moon. Of course, Luke 2 says the shekinah glory of God was present when the angels proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. But it was not the light in the sky that draws our attention; rather it is the One who would later call Himself the Light of the world (John 8.12). As this song says, it was the everlasting Light.

Verse 2 of this song reminds us that the angels came to tell the story. The story of the birth had to be told. We reviewed that concept last week. But when we arrive at verse 3, the idea begins to change. The silent arrival of Jesus that night is given as a parallel to our ability to hear Jesus coming into our lives now as found in the words, “but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him, the dear Christ enters in.”

Here is the reality. Meek souls cannot receive what they do not know is offered. The angels came to proclaim His birth. But we get to proclaim His life. We get to proclaim His death. We get to proclaim His resurrection. We get to proclaim His purpose.

Yes, the story needed to be told in, and around, the little town of Bethlehem that night so many years ago. But the story has not ended, and thus it still needs to be told today in little towns like Fairfax, in big towns like New York, and in all other size towns as well.

SONG:  Good Christian Men, Rejoice

The title of this song is not a statement; it is a command. The title does not say, “Good Christian men rejoice,” although Christian men should rejoice. The title (and song) have a comma after the third word. If we are speaking or reading, the comma implies a pause that is not always evident in music. Thus, the song title is a command to rejoice. It would be better served with an exclamation mark after the word rejoice, such as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!” Now, each of the verses do start with these words and that first sentence ends with an exclamation mark. So, what the songwriter did was not only command us to rejoice, but we are instructed how to do so – with heart, and with soul, and with our voice!

What that means is that we are to rejoice with passion – with all that we have! Why? Because we know Jesus Christ was born – today, for this, and to save (as each verse says). The birth of Christ has made God’s eternal glory available to us and for that we should rejoice. And by rejoicing, others will hear – that is why we must rejoice with our voice. It is not enough to simply rejoice in our hearts. It is not enough to rejoice in our souls. We are expected to rejoice with our mouths. People should hear our rejoicing. And when they hear, they have the opportunity to join us. That is a major message of Christmas. And it is the message of today. If you have received the message of Jesus, it is not yours to keep. He gave it to you to share with others. And it does not matter how many times you have shared it so far, if you are still here, you still have an opportunity to rejoice…to share…to proclaim the good news of Jesus!

So, good Christian men…and good Christian women…rejoice!

This series has been about helping us see the meaning of Christmas more clearly. It is not just a matter of knowing that Jesus was born – although that is the most important part. The point of this series is to help us consider what we are to do about it. The first week, we were challenged to magnify the Lord as Mary did (Luke 1.46-47). Last week, we were challenged to hear the message with a fresh expectation like the shepherds, who surely never got tired of talking about the night the angels showed up and told them of Jesus’ birth. This week, the challenge is to take what we have heard, what we have received, and share it with others. And to do that, our specific focus in this series is to consider the words and phrases of some of the songs we sing, and some of the words we read in the Bible, in order to better understand the message.

But the reality is that even for those who have heard the message (not this message, THE message of Christmas), the meaning of Christmas will get lost. Life will get in the way and they will miss the meaning of Christmas. For those that have not heard the meaning, we need to share it with them. For those who have forgotten, or become bored with the message, we need to remind them. For us, we need to be reminded too. Because the message of Christmas is not just about a boy who was born, it is about God coming to us. The message of Christmas is about that boy growing into a man who showed us how to live our lives and love God and others. It is about that man who died and rose again. It is about God coming to us, because He was for us, and through His death and resurrection, He now gives us the opportunity to be with Him. That is the meaning of Christmas. Yes, it begins with a baby, but it ends with a Savior.

If we know the true meaning of the season, we can truly sing with heart and soul and voice one other song. That song is Joy to the World. This song was not written as a Christmas song, and this type of song almost got Isaac Watts kicked out of the church for its style and vibrancy.

Joy to the World is not about the first coming of Christ; it is about His Second Coming. We may not see this clearly in the first verse, but in verses 2-4, it becomes evident if we consider what is written. The song was based upon Psalm 98. Take a moment to read Psalm 98.

Verse 2 of the song begins with the Savior reigns. Jesus, as a baby, did not come to reign. He came to die. Jesus spoke of the coming kingdom. He is reigning over that kingdom today, but it is not yet fully realized. One day Jesus will return, and His reign will be complete. That is the joy of which this song speaks.

Verse 3 speaks of the end of sin and the renounces the thorn-infested land. Both of these curses are found in Genesis 3 and continue to this day. Paul speaks of the curse in Galatians 3.10-14. The thorns are more than the literal thorns on the land. They represent all parts of the curse including sickness, disease, death, etc. But the blessings He will one day give to us in His presence will include removing the curse of sin and restore the land as well. Yes, His mercy and grace have defeated sin, but the curse still remains…until He returns.

Verse 4 speaks of Him ruling. Again, He did not come to rule the first time. And the nations certainly do not prove the glories of His righteousness now. But one day they will. Indeed, they will! And not only His righteousness, but they will also prove the wonders of His love.

But that day is not yet. We can experience His Kingdom now, but not fully. So, until then, we proclaim His name. We proclaim His love. We proclaim His purpose. We simply proclaim Jesus. Good Christian men and women, we are to rejoice. Let us rejoice together now as we prepare to close by singing this great song of a joy to come.

SONG:  Joy to the World

“A Message Told” by Pastor Andy Braams

Blog Note: The current series, The Meaning of Christmas, will focus on understanding the various terms and concepts related to Christmas. Some of the terms will come from songs, others from the Bible, and depending upon the time, perhaps some from culture. The first post in this series focused on songs which are listed as we sang them.

In the song, The First Noel, the text says, “the angel did say.” Other songs say they sang. Most will say it does not really make a difference. Those people are probably right, but I will talk more about this idea later in the message.

What is important is that the message of Jesus’ birth was told. That is the theme of today. Events happen every day of which no one ever hears. Jesus was not the only birth on the day he was born, but it is the only one we know happened. However, if the angels had not told the shepherds, and the shepherds had not told Mary, and Mary had not told someone, who told Luke, who wrote it down, well…would we know?

As for the song, The First Noel, we are immediately met with a word that is foreign to most of us – noel, or as in our hymnal, nowell. The word n-o-e-l is truly foreign – it is a French word that refers to the Christmas season. The word may have derived from a Latin word which means birth Christmas carol. Interestingly, it is suggested if the word noel is lower case it means a carol, but if it is in upper case, it means Christmas. In our hymnal, the word is in upper case and thus, it is presumed to mean, “the first Christmas.” However, as I just mentioned, the spelling is n-o-w-e-l-l. This spelling is the English spelling of the word, but it has the same meaning. Thus, the spelling you see will depend upon where a particular songbook or hymnal was published and, perhaps, when it was published.

As for the song itself, let me remind you of something I said last week. I like this song, but the songs we sing are not on par with the Bible. The Bible is truth, but that does not mean that songs based upon the Bible are completely truth. For instance, Luke is the only account of the night of Jesus’ birth and it does not give an account of the weather. While it is true that the time of year was winter (although likely not December 25th), and the area of Bethlehem is on a hill and therefore cooler than in the valleys, at least during the day, we are not told in Scripture that the night was cold. I walked through Bethlehem one evening in early January looking for a Pepsi and did so without a jacket. So, was it a cold winter’s night? Or was Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths because babies need warmth? We do not know, but again, we cannot get our theology from a song, even though most people’s understanding of Christmas comes from the songs they hear on the radio rather than the Word of God.

Like the song, Angels from the Realms of Glory, which we sang last week, this song tells a story. It is a story that began with the angels telling the shepherds. Then the story moves to the wise men, and finally to us. But the key is that a new development in the story happened (God came to earth as a baby). But the story had to be told for people to know. We can and should sing praises, but we have a story to tell as well.

SONG: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

I care about words. I am not perfect in how I use them, but I pay attention to the words people use, the words I read, and the words I say. I began the last segment with the idea of the difference between the angels singing and saying. Most people do not care. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do pay attention because I believe every word in the Bible is inspired. In The First Noel, the angel did say. In this song, the angels did sing. We have a difference in the number of angels and in whether, or not, what was communicated was sung or said. As I mentioned earlier, what is important is that the message was, and is, communicated – however it may be done.

One angel began by talking to the shepherds and then a multitude joined in and together, they were “saying,” according to Luke 2.14. That is, the angels did not sing, “Glory to God in the highest…” they said it. Now, might their voices sound musical? Possibly, but the Bible is never clear that angels sing.* What they do say is important. And it is that message we must consider further.

*The Bible clearly speaks of humans singing (e.g. Ephesians 5.19), but is less clear if angels do. Job 38.7 may indicate singing, but the Hebrew word can be interpreted as loud shouting. Revelation 5.9, 11, and 12 may hint at singing, but again we cannot be concrete. And Luke 2.13 clearly speaks of saying. Now, angels do likely have beautiful voices (cf. 1 Corinthians 13.1), but we cannot say with certainty that angels truly sing.

First, notice the quotes around what the angels proclaim. These words do not match the text of the Bible, but they do match its meaning. In fact, the meaning matches better than most people may realize. In Luke 2.14, the text ends with the idea that God extends His peace to “those with whom he is pleased” (ESV). For instance, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear says, “peace on earth, good will toward men” alluding to this passage. But that is not what the text says. (It should be noted in the text of that song, the principle is communicated that God offers peace to man.)

To be faithful to the text, we must consider with whom is God pleased? Hebrews 11.6 gives us a clear answer – those who have faith. In fact, the verse says that it is impossible to please God without faith. Thus, Luke 2.14 cannot mean that God is pleased with mankind like so many would have us believe. The verse specifically says that peace comes to those who have faith – and ONLY those who have faith.

This idea is foreign to most people at Christmas. The truth is that God did make a way…but we have to choose the way He made, not the path we want to take. Only when we choose God’s way are we truly at peace with God. Undoubtedly, God made peace possible. It was God who originated the plan. It was God who executed the plan. But it is up to us to believe that the plan worked. Without that trust, we cannot have peace…in part, because we are telling God that His plan was not right, or that it was not enough. In other words, we are calling God a liar.

In verse 2 of the song, we find that Christ is adored by heaven. Can you imagine the night of His birth? Can you imagine the angels waiting to see what would happen? Can you imagine them eagerly awaiting God’s command to go to share the message with the shepherds? I can almost see the picture of every angel saying, “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!” What a scene that must have been! And why? Because Christ was adored in heaven…because Christ is Lord of heaven.

Galatians 4.4 tells us that Jesus was sent at the proper time, but He came in such an unexpected way. First, God came to earth. Second, He came as a baby. And third, He came from a virgin. Glory, indeed, to the newborn King.

Verse 3 of this song is fascinating. First, notice that Jesus is being hailed. He is hailed as the Prince of Peace and the Sun of righteousness. The term Prince of Peace was prophesied by Isaiah some 700 years earlier (Isaiah 9.6). The term Sun of righteousness may surprise you because the word Sun is spelled s-u-n, not s-o-n. Furthermore, the end of the next line says that Jesus is “ris’n with healing in His wings.” I frequently try to help people understand that people do not turn to angels when we die. Angels are created beings. Humans are created beings. It is said that those who follow Christ will one day judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6.3)? We do not become angels. Period. Exclamation point!

So, Jesus did not become an angel, so what is this about having wings? And that about the s-u-n of righteousness. These words come directly from a prophecy about Jesus’ second coming in Malachi 4.2. Take a moment to read Malachi 4.1-3.

The sun of righteousness can mean the sun of vindication. Just as the sun gives light, the verse in the song says that Jesus gives light and life, but in Malachi 4, the light which is brought will be a scorching blaze burning up everything that is unrighteous. The healing in His wings is not because Jesus is an angel; rather, the term is a metaphor for all that are covered by Him. Notice it is healing for those under His wings – or outstretched hands, as He was on the cross. Like a bird covers over her young by stretching out her wings, so, too, does Jesus heal, and then protect, all those who comes under His outstretched arms.

The final part of this verse is amazing.

      • Mild He lays His glory by
      • Born that man no more may die
      • Born to raise the sons of earth
      • Born to give them second birth.

Jesus laid aside His glory for the sake of you and me. This is captured so well by Paul in Philippians 2.5-11. Jesus humbled Himself and, thus, was exalted by God, and will be exalted forevermore.

Jesus was born so we would not have to die. This phrase does not mean that we will not physically die, but that we do not have to be spiritually separated from God for all of eternity. That is the peace of God which the angels proclaimed. (See Galatians 2.20).

Jesus was born to raise us as children of God. First, we can become children of God (John 1.12). And then, as God’s children so dearly loved (1 John 3.1), we can be united with Him for eternity (1 Corinthians 15.20-23).

Jesus was born once so we could be born again. Again, we have the opportunity to become children of God if we receive what Jesus offers (John 1.12). Being born into the world is not enough. For, what Jesus said to Nicodemus, He says to us as well, “You must be born again” (John 3.7).

What amazes me is the Jesus chose to come knowing that He would die. The plan of redemption was prepared before the foundation of the world was set in place (Ephesians 1.4). But Jesus came anyway.

And, in His birth, He was prepared for death. In Luke 2, the angel gave a tell-tale sign to the shepherds so they would know which baby was the right one. The angel said, “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

We see this scene as cute as it is often portrayed by children in little pageants. But the scene was horrifying for Joseph and Mary. First, their newborn was born in a manger. This clue tells the shepherds they can avoid going to private residences or buildings to find this child. That is probably good because the shepherds would have stunk and likely would have been unwelcome.

But even more horrifying for Joseph and Mary was that they wrapped their newborn baby in these swaddling cloths. Now, the word swaddle simply means to wrap. But these cloths were almost certainly used to wrap the dead. These cloths were often kept in the caves so when someone in the town died, people would come to the caves, get the cloths, wrap the people and then bury them in the cave or perhaps a nearby cemetery. Therefore, Jesus was wrapped in the same kind of cloth on the first day of His life and the last die of His life. The imagery here cannot be overlooked. The song might say that Jesus was born that man might not have to die. But we must understand that Jesus was born specifically to die. (1)

But Jesus did not stay dead. He had to be born. He had to die. But He is alive today. And that is why we must do now what the angels did then…we must tell the story of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

The beauty of the story of Jesus is that it is still to be told today. In fact, we are invited to tell it in the songs we sing. For instance, in the first verse of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, we are invited to sing with the angels in proclaiming that, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” But that is not the end of our proclamation. Those words fit the chronology of the moment, but now, we know the rest of the story. Therefore, we not only get to proclaim the birth, we also get to proclaim why Jesus came (to die for us), and that the grave could not hold Him! But the question is, are we willing to proclaim?

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

It was Jesus who asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” was true then, and it is true today as well. Thus, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we must remember that we are celebrating the birth of the King. On that first Noel, the angels appeared and mesmerized the shepherds. Unlike those shepherds, we may have heard the story many times, but the shepherds surely reminded each other of that glorious night many, many times – and never grew tired of hearing it, or thinking about it. Thus, let us make sure that we never get tired of hearing the message of Jesus. Let us continue to be mesmerized at the idea of God coming to live among us, to die for us, and to now live in everyone who chooses to follow Him.

PRINCIPLE:  The story of Jesus has been told, and it must continue to be told today.

QUESTION:  Would you want someone to tell you the message of Jesus if you had not heard it?

OPPORTUNITY:  God has placed someone in your life who needs to hear the true meaning of Christmas. Take time to share the message of Jesus with them.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE. If we truly believe the message of Jesus, we have peace with God. If we have peace, we need to love others enough to share that message so they can have peace with Him as well.

1) See Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s The Life of Messiah from a Jewish Perspective. Paragraph 11 in reference.

“Magnify the Lord” by Pastor Andy Braams

Blog Note: The current series, The Meaning of Christmas, will focus on understanding the various terms and concepts related to Christmas. Some of the terms will come from songs, others from the Bible, and depending upon the time, perhaps some from culture. The first post in this series focused on songs which are listed as we sang them.

It has been said that whoever controls the vocabulary controls the culture. I believe that is largely true. For instance, I have certain pet peeves regarding the English language, but because I don’t have any control over the English language, I have no control over the culture. And frankly, I do not care about controlling culture, but some matters just do not make sense. And perhaps that is because most people either do not know or do not care about the study of the origin of words and the history of their changes which is otherwise known as etymology.

A part of this is true because most people, myself included, often only think about words in their language. In fact, many people do not even consider any other languages. Thus, when a word is heard, it must have originated in that language. And, in reality, what is important is knowing how to communicate in the language around us. It does not make sense for us to know ancient Sanskrit, because few people around the world even study it.

So we hear a word like “fly” and we may have to interpret if the person is talking about a noun (the insect) or a verb (what the fly does in the air; by the way, which came first, the noun or the verb?!?), but in context we can generally figure it out. And we can hear a word like grasshopper and assume that the name is because the insect hops on the grass. But other words may not make as much sense without a little thought. For instance, the word caterpillar. The insect does not look like a cat or pillar (bad pun), but instead derives its name from a combination of cat (and specifically a “hairy cat”) and an obsolete word piller which means to “ravage.” Thus, the word means “the hairy cat that ravages.”

Well, enough about insects. The point is that we often hear and say words that we might not always understand their meaning. And the same is true of Christmas. We sing songs and hear stories and do not always know what the words mean.

So, for the next few weeks, I am going to help us identify some of these words and attempt to explain their origin. In some cases, the words might be understood, but the full meaning might not. So, that is the goal of today and the next couple of weeks.

SONG: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

In the song O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. One of the terms in that song will be seen in a couple of other songs, so I will defer on that term. But the essence of this song is about pleading with God to come and take away the captivity. In many ways, the words will remind us of the Israelites in the Old Testament. Terms such as captive Israel and exile remind us of Egypt, (and later Babylon). The path can help us remember the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Envy, strife, and quarreling were a part of the challenges Moses had with the Israelites and caused a generation to miss out on entry to the Promised Land.

But the word in this song I want to mention is the word DaySpring. Some will hear this word and immediately think of the company that makes Christian cards and gifts. But why?

The word Dayspring was a common term 400 years ago when the King James Version was originally translated. The term is all but obsolete today, except in Christian terminology. It is used in Job 38.12 and Luke 1.78. In Job it is referring the rising of the sun. In Luke, Zechariah uses it to talk of the coming of the Messiah.

In the song, I believe the word has a double meaning. The verse does talk about removing the clouds and the darkness of the night, so in a practical sense, the writer is showing what a sunrise can do. But without a doubt, the term is meant to talk about the coming of the Son, Emmanuel, to be with us and take away the darkness and gloom in our lives. That is the true reason for the term in the song here.

Regardless of the terms, the real question we must ask ourselves in singing a song like this is, do we desire for God to come. Do we expect it? Throughout the centuries people have. The question is, “Do we?”

SONG: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

In the previous song, the term Emmanuel was used. In this song we have the name of Jesus. Now that name deserves a lot of study, but Matthew 1.21 provides the meaning – God saves.

The name for Jesus is actually Yeshua or Yoshua. I mentioned during our year-long study on the life of Jesus. The “J” did not come along for a few centuries and was used interchangeably with the “I” until it received its own sound (“juh”) in 1524. Thus, it is Jesus, or Yeshua, who leads the people into a land of promise, just like Joshua, or Yoshua, did in the Old Testament.

The phrase “Israel’s strength and consolation” is a reference to the Messiah. And this Messiah was born. Notice the word born is used four times in this short hymn – once in verse 1 and three times in verse 2.

In verse 2, it is all about Jesus as King. He was born not only to come and deliver (save), but to rule. Notice the kingly references in verse 2. He is King. He will reign. He has a gracious Kingdom. He will rule. He has a throne. And He, Jesus, has the merit to do so. That is, He is worthy.

He has saved us. He is King. The question is, will we offer our allegiance to the King?

SONG: Angels from the Realms of Glory

This song tells a wonderful story. It does contain one word (or phrase) we need to review, but I want to focus on the sequence first. I enjoy songs that flow from a sequence.

First, you have the angels. They began in the realms of glory. That is, they began above. They were there to sing the story of creation. They have watched God’s plan unfold from just after “In the beginning.”

The story then moves forward to the night of Jesus’ birth. But it also moves from the realms of glory to the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It moves from the awe-inspiring angels to the also-ran shepherds. It moves from those who are abiding with God to those who are abiding with sheep. But the story here says that these outcasts now have a chance to abide with God as well – because of Jesus.

Verse 3 moves back up the social scale. The sages, or wise men, are not on par with the angels, but society would hold them in much higher regard than the shepherds. These sages are to leave contemplations behind in order to seek something, or Someone, greater. This statement is not an indictment against knowledge; rather, it is a reminder that we must act on what we know. Specifically, they have seen the infant’s star and must choose what they will now do.

Finally, the story moves to the saints of all ages. Those saints include us. We are not saints (which means holy ones) because of ourselves. Rather we are like the shepherds in many ways. But God has brought us up in status by coming down to living among us, to live with us. Thus, we bend at the altar in confession and thanksgiving and expectation. We watch in hope and fear as long as it takes. We do so because just as Jesus came once, He has promised to come again.

The phrase is in this song is “desire of nations.” That phrase is found in Haggai 2.7. When we read this verse in the KJV, it appears as if the phrase means the Messiah. But the Hebrew word (khemdah) is a collective plural. That means that many things make up one. The problem is that we only have one Messiah (Christ). Thus, the true meaning of the word relates to wealth (NASB), or treasures (ESV). This idea is made more clear in verse 8 when God talks about the silver and the gold.*

*Some say that this verse has a double meaning and does refer to the Savior. The argument is made, in part, because of verse 9, when God talks about the glory of the house – the temple that is being rebuilt. The NT does call our bodies the temple and God dwells there through His Spirit, so this understanding may also be correct, though reading the context of Haggai 2 is talking about the physical temple at that time.

This phrase (desire of nations) is a great example of why we must not consider hymns as inerrant. The Bible is perfect. Hymns are not…even when they are based upon the Bible. Other than this phrase, the song is good. But with the phrase in question, the song really tells the sages to seek earthly wealth. This phrase is also why we are doing this short sermon series.

SONG: Mary, Did You Know?

The song Mary, Did You Know?, is a very profound song. The words within the song are simple enough, but most are filled with meaning that is beyond comprehension. That is, we might understand what the words mean, but it is nearly impossible to grasp the meaning of what they say. For instance, the phrase, “when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God,” or “the sleeping child your holding is the great I AM,” are absolutely mind-numbing ideas to consider!

But again, the words themselves are straightforward. So, for this song, I am not going to speak on individual words. Instead, I am going to try to answer the question, what did Mary know? Or what could Mary have known? (1)

Perhaps she knew the Old Testament well. We have evidence of this in the Magnificat – Latin for Magnify. Luke 1.46-47 says, “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.’” So, Mary knew God. And God knew Mary. But we do not know specifically what she knew from the Old Testament. In Luke 1, however, we do find some specifics about what she did know because of what the angel, Gabriel, told her.

Read Luke 1.31-35.

What was Mary told?

      • She would conceive. She would have a son who was to be called Jesus.
      • The son would be the Son of the Most High (that is, God). He will inherit David’s throne.
      • He will reign over the house of Jacob (that is, Israel) forever.
      • His kingdom will never end.
      • The Holy Spirit will come upon her and impregnate her.
      • Elizabeth will also have a child.
      • Nothing is impossible for God.

What did Mary know previously?

      • Virgins cannot bear children. (v. 34)
      • Trust what God says. (v. 38)

So, Mary did not know explicitly what the lyrics in the song ask. She certainly would have wondered what it meant to be a virgin mother. She would have wondered what kind of mom she could be to the Son of the God of the universe. And if she knew passages like Isaiah 61.1-3, which she might have, she would have a clue as to what Messiah would do. But I do not think she truly had any idea.

Why do I say that?

Because in Mark 3, she goes to rescue Jesus (Mark 3.31-35, cf. Matthew 12.46-49). As a mother, this may make sense. But Jesus is not a man in need of rescue. He is the man who came to rescue us. And, doing things that only the Messiah could do, things like healing a blind and deaf man and challenging the religious leaders who claimed He was Satan (see Mark 3.22-30, cf. Matthew 12.22-45), were bound to get Him into trouble. But the kind of trouble Jesus was far beyond what a pleading mom could do.

So, while the song is a great song, the answer to the questions is that she probably knew little of what having a son, the Son, could mean.

CONCLUSION

We may not know exactly what Mary knew? But we know that the people longed for Messiah. We have sung songs today that were written long after Jesus came; however, they depict a desire that would have been present for many in the 1st Century. We must consider if our longing is similar. We may not know exactly what they knew or expected. But we can know what happened. We can not only know that Jesus came, but we should understand fully why He came…what He did, and how He did it.

And, then we have a choice. And that choice is to believe and to long for His return. Or to carry on about our business as if what Jesus did doesn’t really matter.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Immanuel – God with us. Jesus – God saves. And because of that salvation, we have the opportunity to be with God forever – not when we die, but now. God did not come in the person of Jesus so we could be with Him later. Immanuel does not mean God will be with us someday…it means God with us. As in NOW. And that truth is made possible because of Jesus.

Thus, as Mary said, so shall we, “‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’” (Luke 1.46-47).

PRINCIPLE:  Words matter. People matter. And that is why God came to us to save us!

QUESTION:  Do you know you matter enough to Jesus that He came to earth to save you?

OPPORTUNITY:  Realize how important you, and others, are to Jesus.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN.  Take time to gain a deeper understanding of the words of Christmas so you can better appreciate the gift that God has given us – and share that gift with others.

1) You can find an excellent article which captures this idea at https://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/what-did-mary-know

“Light of the World” by Pastor Andy Braams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Cannot Be Light if We Are Not Healthy

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

      1. God is our maker.

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

      1. Jesus is the Great Physician.

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

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

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

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

We Cannot Be Healthy if We Do Not Have the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have a Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word JOURNEY.

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

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

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

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

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

“Becoming Like God” by Pastor Andy Braams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

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

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

“Walking As Worthy” by Pastor Andy Braams

Ephesians 4.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Ibid.

“Fingerprints” by Rick Sons

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

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

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

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

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

Take a look at your fingers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingerprints, everybody has them.

Does God have fingerprints? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(He Seals) I want you to remember that!

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

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

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

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

Work: Action (good or bad), activity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s return to the message.

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

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

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

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

Again do you see the fingerprint?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again I say:

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

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

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

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

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

God’s fingerprint is our clear coat.

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

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

We are God’s fingerprint for all to see.

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

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

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

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

JOURNEY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Test of Quenching (1 Thessalonians 5.19)

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

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

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

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

Ugh!

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

The Test of Truth (1 Thessalonians 5.20)

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

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

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

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

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

The Test of Evaluation (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

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

What is 2+2?

4. That is objective truth.

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

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

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

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

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

The Test of Remaining True (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Test of Avoiding Evil (1 Thessalonians 5.22)

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Ibid.

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