Sunday, July 31, 2011

Acts 4:23-33 - Overcoming our fear in telling the Good News

Acts 4:23-33 - Overcoming our fear in telling the Good News
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 31, 2011 AM

Fear can be something that can control our lives. Fear can keep us from the joys that God has for us. One of the greatest joys of all is the ability to tell another person about our faith in Christ. Yet, fear may have kept us from it. Do you know what fear stands for? False Expectations Appearing Real! Think about it for a moment. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen when we share our faith? Does fear paralyze you from telling others about Christ? We can overcome our fears of telling others about Jesus.

Peter and John were threatened by very powerful men. They could have had them killed immediately for speaking about Jesus. However, they not only overcame their fear they also spoke boldly about their faith! How did they do it? Were they special? No. They knew some things that can help us this morning to overcome our fear of telling others about Jesus.

READ: Acts 4:23-33

Facing threats and commanded not to speak about Christ Luke tells us “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.” Shouldn’t these men have had more sense than this? My Mama would have said that they “Didn’t have enough sense to pound sand down a rat hole!” Indeed, it doesn’t take much intelligence to pound sand down a flea-bitten rodent’s burrow! What did these men know that could possibly help us to be as “bold” in sharing our faith? Well, first they knew…

I. God is in-control of every situation! (Vv. 23-24)

1. God’s sovereign power is always mightier than our biggest fears!
1) Peter and John told their friends what God had done. When the other disciples heard this, “they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” They immediately recognized where their help came from. Like the Psalmist would ask and answer, “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 NIV) “Sovereign Lord,” they said. In doing so, the disciples were confirming that God was ruler of all things! In fact, God had “made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them!”
2) Nehemiah would declare, “You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you!” (Nehemiah 9:6 NIV) and Jeremiah would cry out, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jeremiah 32:17 NIV)
3) Nehemiah understood because he had to go and ask a King, who viewed himself as a god, in order to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem! Jeremiah recognized that when no one else would listen to his words and witness, God was still there! The disciples realized an important fact for anyone who desires to share their faith without fear: God was, and is, in-control of every situation! He is in control of the outcome not us! We are to share only the good news!

EXAMPLE: There is an awful feeling that comes over you when you know that the brakes of your car do not work. Especially if you are doing about 40 miles an hour down a steep grade on a very curvy dirt road on a dark night! I remember vividly turning every shade of green when I put my foot on the brake pedal and it went “squish” to the floorboards! Dale, Denise’s brother, calmly asked me, “Is there something wrong?” Yes, just a tad. I no longer had control of the car’s ability to stop! In those kinds of situations, I don’t know about you, but I like to be in control! Yet there are times when we have to understand that we are no longer in control and that God is. The disciples understood this and knowing this to be true can help us to overcome our fear of sharing our faith.

Any coach will tell you that knowing your opponent is half the battle. This is why sports teams spend a lot of money scouting out the competition. In baseball, they keep track of how each batter hits, what pitches he is likely to miss, and where he hits the ball if the pitch is up, down, inside, or outside the strike zone. The same is true for telling others about Christ, not in throwing the right pitches, but in understanding what Peter and John realized. They knew that…

II. God’s plan includes opposition! (Vv. 25-28)

1. The fear of God can make us a hero or the fear of men can make us a coward!
1) The disciples asked, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot (meletao - revolve in the mind) in vain?” Indeed, they stated that even Herod and Pontius Pilate had conspired against Jesus. The answer to them was obvious as to why they acted so foolishly: “They did what Your (God’s) power and will had decided beforehand should happen!” God was not only in control but He knew that evil is always against godliness! Since the beginning, evil has set itself against God.
2) Jesus tried to teach His followers that “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19) Even King David had asked God, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.” David saw it as foolhardy. However, those opposed to God will always be in opposition to his will!
3) The things the world loves are the things that are here and now. It is literally the things of the “flesh.” Paul would say that it was Christians “who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3 NIV) There is no middle ground where Christ is concerned! We may think that we can escape notice by remaining neutral, by not sharing our faith, but God knows. Furthermore, when we do not share we are telling God that we fear the world more than we care for his cause! God already knows we will face opposition! In fact, God’s plan includes opposition!

EXAMPLE: Opposition can take many forms in life. From a tree that seems to appear out of nowhere while sledding down a hill to the bully down the street that decides to take a distinct dislike to you, your family, and your little dog too! Bad things happen when we live our lives. Yet when we declare our faith and trust in Christ, we now have the presence and power of the Holy Spirit within us. As believers, we enjoy his seal. When we declare our faith, we immediately declare whose side we now stand on. We are born again. We are against sin and evil, and are for God and righteousness. There is no getting around the fact. There is no middle ground. You cannot compromise righteousness. Jesus said the opposition will find you if you decide to live for him. We can take comfort in knowing that God’s plan includes opposition.

Knowing God is in control and knowing the opposition helps with our confidence a lot. What about ourselves though? You know what I mean. We may wonder, “What if I am too chicken to say anything?” Knowing and doing are two different things, right? Well did you know that God has planned for that as well? The early disciples knew where their daring do came from! They knew that…

III. God gives us a boldness to share! (Vv. 29-33)

1. Courage isn’t the strength to go it on our own, rather it’s the sense to go and rely on God!
1) Who did the disciples go to when they needed help? The Lord! They said, “Now, Lord” (kurios - meaning Master) which meant they wanted God to consider the threats being lodged against them for his namesake because they were now his servants! They wanted to “speak” God’s Word “with great boldness” (parrhesia - publicly with frankness, bluntness)! Many of them did just that! Far too often, we fail in sharing our faith because we think others will think less of us if we do. Yet, I have discovered that folks respect a person who, like Paul who said, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12 NIV) Respect from others comes when they see what you truly believe!
2) Notice too, the disciples were not shy about it either. They asked God to “Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” They petitioned the Lord to manifest His power with supernatural force! Remember that when Jesus had earlier sent them out to minister, He reminded them to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NIV) Our problem is we forget to ask Jesus to remind us of the power we already enjoy to share our faith!
3) We should never be shy in asking for God’s help in sharing our faith! Paul was never shy about asking God or others for boldness in his witnessing! He wrote, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel!” (Ephesians 6:19 NIV) The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36 NIV) James would say, “You have not because you ask not!” (James 4:2-3 MKJV) God gives us a boldness to share!

EXAMPLE: There is a difference between boldness and foolishness. Boldness knows the bicycle will stay up when you pump hard and fast enough on the pedals. Foolishness is when you head for the nearest hill your first time on a bike without knowing how the brakes work! I know, because I received the bumps and bruises to prove it! In faith, boldness knows God has given each of us the ability and means to tell others about Christ. It’s ours for the asking! Foolishness is not sharing our faith, being afraid, and allowing others to die in their sins! God has given us the boldness to share!

CONCLUSION:
Did you notice what the final outcome was? “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly... With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” (vv. 31, 33) What many believers have forgotten is what an old preacher once said, “It is the pastor’s job to fill the pulpit and the member’s job to fill the church!” Why? He went on to say, “Because a church is no stronger than the fear that exists in the pew and no bigger than its visitation!” Yes, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. Then, they immediately began to speak the word of God boldly! We have seen for ourselves that God is in control of every situation. God’s plan includes opposition, and God gives us the boldness to share!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Psalm 51 - Out of the Depths

Psalm 51 - Out of the Depths
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 24, 2011 AM

For countless generations spectators have looked on in breathless wonder as they have witnessed and read the story concerning a helpless man dealing with a personal problem that clearly has no human solution. They have clearly listened to the sobs of his pain and seen the tears of his confession. Although a king of a great nation, he is now viewed for what he truly is -- a helpless sinner guilty of sins that put him beyond the remedy provided by the Law. Fear laces his soul, confession comes from his lips, brokenness is found in his heart and hope is discovered if he is willing to come out of the depths of sin!

King David had it all, wealth, power, military victory after military victory. He could do no wrong until one afternoon he deliberately took a walk on his balcony overlooking the rooftops nearby. He knew what he would see, the alluring wife of Uriah the Hittite taking a bath. He desired her more than anything else he had. He even went so far as to plan adultery and execute Uriah's murder. These were what blackened the soul of King David. For almost a year he fooled himself until one day fearless Nathan came and confronted this immoral king. David could not escape. What would he do about his sin? How would David deal with his sin? In reading how David finally came out of the depths of his sin, we can perhaps also discover the path for ourselves. Let’s discover how…

READ: Psalm 51:1-17

Man's greatest need is for forgiveness, but a person has to come to the realization that they need God's pardon. For David everything was fine, so to speak, until he allowed himself to look closely at himself through God's eyes. Then, his outward facade fell apart. God knew him for what he really was. And, in his heart of hearts, David knew it too. In order to come out of the depth of sin we find David in…

I. A heartfelt cry for forgiveness! (vv. 1-2)

1. The one universal prayer God always responds to is: “Forgive me, Lord!”
1) David’s cry was to God and God alone. It was God who could have mercy and pity on David because it was first of all against God he had sinned. David was relying on God's unfailing love (God’s kheh'-sed - loving kindness) and God’s great compassion (rakh'-am - like a mother’s love for her infant)! David wanted out of his well of sin! He wanted God’s embrace!
2) Notice David describes three specific acts of his sin: 1) his transgressions meaning rebellion, 2) his own iniquity meaning perversity and a warped nature, and 3) finally his sin meaning his habitual lifestyle of missing the mark God had set for his life! David fully recognized his situation. He was in rebellion, he was perverse, and he was in sin!
3) And notice he uses three verbs to indicate what he wants God to do! David cries aloud asking God to blot out, rub out, erase, or strike from the record his rebellion, to wash away meaning to stomp out his perversity, and then to cleanse him as if making him naked like a newborn or innocent of his sins! Wow! What a project God had to perform! Nevertheless, David knew God could do it “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions!” (Psalm 103:11-12 NIV)

EXAMPLE: David recognized what most of the modern psychoanalytical world cannot face. Next to a holy and awesome God, we are rebellious, perverted, and sinful! In today's world, we use phrases like “I made a mistake,” or “I blew it,” or “I was wrong,” or any other pathetic platitude just so we do not have to admit we have actually sinned against a holy loving God! We try anything and everything to redefine our sin. When that does not work, we try to rewrite human laws, thinking it will excuse our ungodliness. Rewriting man’s codes does not nullify the eternal laws of God concerning sin. It is only when we are willing to make a heartfelt cry for forgiveness that we can be cleansed!

David at this point was not concerned about the consequences of his sin (there would be some) he was only set on getting rid of the sin itself! It was a burden to be removed, polluted clothes that must be made clean, a fatal disease that must be cured! “God, forgive me!” he cries out of the depths of his anguish. Nathan had told David, “You’re the man.” and David acknowledges, “I am the man!” In order for David to be restored and come out of the depths of his sin, we find him in…

II. A complete sincere confession! (vv. 3-6)

1. Confession should start in the human heart and finish at the line of an open mouth!
1) In these verses, David realizes that his sin condition was twofold in nature. He was a sinner by nature: “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (v. 5) and that he sinned by choice against God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” It is the same realization anyone must come to in order for their confession to be sincere! We must recognize that we are sinners both by nature and by choice! Why? It proves that we fully understand our problem!
2) When David recognized this fact he also had to understand that God was “proved right” when He spoke and “justified when (He) judged” David’s sin (v. 4)! This can be the toughest part of anyone confessing their sin! They have to recognize God is right and they are wrong! If God was right then David had to make a decision: He had to sincerely confess his sinful condition. David confesses it openly and honestly. But more than this, David had to believe that God would and could forgive him if he was open about his sin! And the same is true for our lives as well.
3) Paul would say, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:10 NIV) It is simply not good enough to say, “I am sorry.” We must confess and acknowledge our sinful nature and condition. We must be specific. We must be sincere. And the reason why is obvious: God knows when are not. Far too often we value our pride more than we value God. Jesus related, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.” (Luke 16:15 NIV)

EXAMPLE: Notice that David did not blame Bathsheba for leading him astray. He did not lay the blame on his parents, his heritage, or the architect who designed his balcony to overlook Bathsheba’s rooftop. David did not blame society and the social circumstances of his day. David did not use the excuse, “Well, everyone else is doing it!” I have discovered that typically when individuals cry, “It’s not my fault!” it usually is. David does something many in our day and age have difficulty doing, he openly declares that he and he alone was wholly responsible for the sins of which he was so ashamed! He was a sinful man held is sin's grasp. He confesses it truthfully and openly. He made a complete sincere confession.

David realized that God knew what he had done. This is why he said, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” David needed not just an outward restoration he needed to be clean completely inside and out. Often today we think that being sad over our condition is enough, however, to come out of sin's depths we find David in…

III. A prayer for full cleansing (vv. 7-9)

1. A good soul cleaning comes from a little of God's elbow grease generously applied to the human heart!
1) No halfway cleaning does David desire. He earnestly declares, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Hyssop was used to dab the lintels and doorposts of Israelite homes with the blood of the Passover lambs (Exodus 12:22). Later, hyssop would be used to give Christ a drink as He hung on the cross. It signified the complete and total cleansing only God could provide. It declared that a sacrifice was needed. Sin always costs something.
2) David wanted his relationship with God totally restored. He longed for it. Moreover, when God pardons him he asks, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” Because the joy of the Lord used to be, David's strength and he longed to be reunited with God!

EXAMPLE: I remember well how my mother would ask us to wash before supper. Playing was more important to me than eating so I would quickly splash water on my hands. She was not fooled. She always checked! When she said, “Wash!” she meant wash with soap and water, in-between my grimy fingers, including the outside of my hands clear up to my elbows! How many of us would willingly eat off of a plate that was only wiped of its old dirty food? Not many. Yet many of us think we can come to God’s table and eat with dirty hearts. We foolishly think that God has got to excuse our filthy behavior and then we wonder why in the world we are suffering the consequences of our own sin! Like David, we need a prayer of full cleansing.

God desires to do so much more than we can even imagine. He loves us so very much. Not only does God create but also he can restore. He longs to restore us to our rightful position in fellowship with him! It takes contrition, it takes confession, it takes cleansing, it takes asking for forgiveness and it is here that we discover that David has…

VI. A desire for a new heart and life! (vv. 10-12)

1. David learned that the Law left him limping in the dark, but grace gave him a light to walk by!
1) David is laying the foundation of the New Testament doctrine of the new birth and the new life found in Jesus Christ. Paul would declare, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Paul writes that we should “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires... be made new in the attitude of your minds... put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV) A new heart and a new life can be found in Jesus Christ. What David desired can be ours today because of Jesus!
2) David would realize that “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23 NIV) yet how sad that he never knew the truth that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV)
3) David had the right idea in that it is God who can “Restore... the joy of your salvation and grant... a willing spirit, to sustain” you! When we sin we can confess it, ask for forgiveness, and also ask for the strength to “sin no more.” We may wonder, “How many times?” and the answer is, “As many times as it takes.” This is why John would joyously declare, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9 NIV) Repentance comes from a desire for a new heart and a new life!

EXAMPLE: Many people think, “If I can just get my life together I will be okay.” This is why so many make New Year’s resolutions that never work. You can resolve to be “good” but if being “good” was good enough, Jesus did not have to die on a cross for our sins. Some think that by changing their venue, it will make a difference in their lives, but just because you move your ratty old furniture around does not mean it is different furniture. Whether it is moving, getting more education, or making new friends you still have to deal with the one problem that remains the same: You! You can do all sorts of things to remake yourself and fail to be right with God until you have a desire for a new heart and a new life in Him! This is why Paul would write his wayward friend Timothy, “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” (2 Timothy 2:19 NIV) You want a new life and a new heart, come back and get right with God like David did.

Conclusion:
The outcome in David's life brought about a change in character. He came out of the depths of sin. He said, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you... my tongue will sing of your righteousness... my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” David learned what God desired from him: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Have you sinned? Follow David's example today! You can come out of the depths of sin and back into the loving arms of God. All it takes is a heartfelt cry for forgiveness, a complete sincere confession, a prayer for full cleansing, and a desire for a new heart and life!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Never be Ashamed! - 2 Timothy 1:5-10

Never be Ashamed! - 2 Timothy 1:5-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 17, 2011 AM

C. H. Spurgeon a 19th century Baptist preacher wrote about what it meant to be a Christian. He related that “we share heaven’s honors... for we are already sons of God, already princes of the blood imperial; already we wear the spotless robe of Jesus’ righteousness; already we have angels for our servitors, saints for our companions, Christ for our Brother, God for our Father, and a crown of immortality for our reward!” Wow, what an assessment concerning the Christian! You would think that anyone who truly understood what Spurgeon wrote would want to tell others about it. Yet, why then do so many believers never actually share their faith with another person? I believe that perhaps it is because Christians may be ashamed to out of personal fear.

Paul declared, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...” (Romans 1:16 NIV) You may declare, “Well that was Paul, you know, an Apostle!” However, Paul was no different from any other Christian! Paul realized that people struggled with sharing Christ. He also knew they should not be afraid to do so. Christians do not have to be ashamed of whom we have believed. The world needs the good news of Jesus! We should never be ashamed. Let’s find out how...

READ: 2 Timothy 1:5-10


Thomas A. Kempis, a late medieval Catholic monk and author of “The Imitation of Christ”, encouraged his readers by telling them that, "Praise adds nothing to your holiness, nor does blame take anything from it. You are what you are and you cannot be said to be better than you are in God’s sight. If you consider well what you are within, you will not care what men say about you. They look to appearances but God looks to the heart. They consider the deed but God weighs the motive.” Kempis was not writing about simply having good intentions. The road to hell is paved with those; rather he wanted folks to concentrate on what they know. This helps Christians to remember that we do not need to be ashamed of our testimony in Christ. Therefore…

I. We need to remember the heartfelt faith that lives in us! (v. 5)

1. Kempis would remind us that, “The glory of a good man is the testimony of a good conscience!”
1) Paul told timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith.” Paul was writing about Timothy's sincere unfeigned faith that lived and dwelt in his mother and grandmother and now dwelt in him! It was not only “in-house” from his foremothers, so-to-speak, but Paul also was encouraging Timothy to tell others about the faith that lived in him as well! Someone once quipped that, “A living faith is a lived in faith!” Was it true for Timothy is it true for your faith? Timothy needed to remember that when he believed in Jesus, Jesus came to live in him! Paul reminded him of this fact: Believers have Christ living, dwelling, and active in them! Paul would write, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11 NIV) Jesus gives us both eternal spiritual and physical life! Paul would also say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV) This is a tremendous encouragement for the believer knowing that the life we now live is to be lived for Jesus! That’s genuine faith! Therefore, if Christ lives in us we can then tell others about Jesus because of our genuine faith! Paul said, “I have become its [meaning the gospel’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness... which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him... so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ!” (Colossians 1:25-28 NIV) As Christians, we need to remember the heartfelt faith that lives in us!

EXAMPLE: When a popular local gardener was asked why people liked his radio show so much he replied, “I guess it’s because I like to talk about what I know. And people like that.” That is true for the believer as well. We should talk about what we know -- Jesus Christ! Yet many of us do not. The reason may be obvious -- we could be ashamed of our faith. Like Timothy, we need to remember the genuine faith that lives in each of us when we placed our faith and trust in Christ!

Charles Spurgeon in talking about Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, stated that, “As soon as a man has found Christ, he begins to find others. I will not believe that if you have tasted of the honey of the gospel that you can eat it all yourself! True grace puts an end to all spiritual monopoly.” However, some believers hold onto their faith as if they were Ebenezer Scrooge hoarding gold coins! We monopolize it for ourselves alone. Christians have become spiritual gluttons. Shame on us! However, we do not need to be embarrassed. Instead, we need to soften our hearts anew to the plight of a spiritually lost and dying world. Therefore…

II. We need to stir up the gift God has entrusted to us! (v. 6)

1. Cold faith can be like a dwindling fire -- it may need a good stirring to get it going again!
1) Paul told Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” Timothy just needed to “fan into flame,” re-enkindle or stir it up again the gift of God in his life! The one gift every believer receives is the ability to tell others about Christ. Paul would later write his friend, “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.” (2 Timothy 1:8 NIV), yet Timothy evidently had become ashamed. Paul did not understand Timothy’s personal embarrassment concerning the gospel. Later, Paul would bluntly write him, “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day!” (2 Timothy 1:12 NIV) If Paul could willingly face suffering for his readiness to share the good news, then certainly Timothy should as well! Timothy's Spiritual gift was probably proclaiming the word yet he had forgotten how his gift had been entrusted to him by his fellow Christians. After all, he was a pastor! They had publicly acknowledged Timothy's gift by “the laying on of hands.” It was a reminder of Timothy's being set aside for the preaching ministry! The Bible makes it clear however, that God has given every Christians the ministry of telling others the good news! Jesus charged his disciples by telling them “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) All four gospels and the book of Acts give us the same command. We should never be ashamed of the good news. We can stir up the gift God has entrusted to us!

EXAMPLE: Paul wanted to fan into flames Timothy's love of telling others about Christ! I remember reading a story of a little girl who had a birthday party her grandmother was too sick to come downstairs to the festivities and was resting upstairs. The grandmother had asked the little girl to remember everything about her party so she could share it with her later. However, when she would unwrap a present, the girl would immediately run upstairs show it to her grandmother and then run back downstairs! When she was asked why she was doing all that running, she replied, “I didn’t want grandma to miss one thing and I wanted to share it with her right away!” Maybe we need to fan into flames that kind of excitement for telling others about Jesus! We can stir up the gift of God that is in each of us!

It is exciting to see others respond to Christ. Paul told his readers “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us!” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV) Paul loved to share Jesus. Some believe Timothy had become intimidated about witnessing because of his youth. Yet Paul would have none of it. He wanted his friend not to be ashamed to share Christ. We do not need to be ashamed either because…

III. We can remind ourselves of the Holy Spirit that lives in us! (v. 7)

1. To the extent we learn to fear God, we will lose our fear of telling others about Christ!
1) Notice that Paul bluntly tells Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV) It was not some wimpy cowardly spirit of fear but one of forceful strength, sacrificial love, and self-control! The more we focus on Christ, the more empowered our lives become! Paul would remind his readers, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16 NIV) It can be easy to forget the power we have living in us! Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be the parakletos - one like himself living in each person that believed in him! (John 14:26; 15:26-27) In fact, later, the Apostle John got so enthused when he talked about this that he wrote, “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit… If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God!” (1 John 4:13-15 NIV) Paul taught that anyone “having believed” was “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13 NIV) I believe there would be far less shame and fear of sharing the gospel if we just remembered the power we already enjoy! Interestingly, Proverbs reminds us, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:27 NIV) Jesus would say, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 NIV) We need not fear sharing the gospel; we can remind ourselves of the Holy Spirit that lives in us!

EXAMPLE: Do your legs shake and does your mouth dry up at the thought of talking to a nonbeliever about Christ? If so, you are not alone. We fear what others may think of us or how they might respond to us. However, if we truly believe that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV) then we will share it without any hesitant fear. To the extent we learn to trust God, rely on his Word, and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can overcome our fear of telling people about Christ. As one young woman shared with me, “I simply can’t help myself. God’s love just kind of boils up and overflows within me and I have to just blurt it out and tell someone!” That’s the power of the Holy Spirit within every believer!

Conclusion:

Paul wanted to encourage Timothy to witness. Like many of us, Timothy had gotten scared to share his faith. Paul wanted to remind Timothy of what Jesus taught: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27 NIV) We all can share our faith by remembering the heartfelt faith that lives in us! We can stir up the gift God has entrusted to us! Finally, we can remind ourselves of the Holy Spirit that lives in us!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Isaiah 61:1-6 - Freedom, the Love of God reclaimed!

Isaiah 61:1-6 - Freedom, the Love of God reclaimed!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 10, 2011 AM

On a bleak day in February in 1832, a young theological student sat in his seminary room. He was going over some children's sheet music sent to him by his friend Lowell Mason. He glanced at one but he didn't like the wording so he began to tap out the beat and make up his own words. He wrote quickly, "My country, tis of thee Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring!" Therefore, the hymn America was written by Samuel Francis Smith a seminary student. Why do the words to America stir within us a hidden patriotism? I believe it is because a nation or a person cannot know real freedom until they experience the love of God firsthand! In a nation that prides itself on its independence, America has forgotten its interdependence upon God.

Like a broken and ruined life, a nation would experience the worst of personal defeat. It would lose its freedom because it had left God's love. That nation was Israel. Nevertheless, when the prophet Isaiah proclaimed his message to the nation he and Israel never realized by who or how it would come true! Over 686 years later, a young Jewish carpenter would stand in the midst of a local congregation and say that these words of the prophet were fulfilled. Freedom had returned! The love of God was reclaimed for a nation and for the individual!

READ: Isaiah 61:1-6

Knowing about love and experiencing love are two different things entirely. A spinster may desire love but she can never know it fully until she experiences it for herself. The same is true for those who say, “God loves everyone.” Unless they have a personal experience with God’s love, they are still spiritual spinsters wishing for something they have never experienced for themselves! The Bible teaches us that the love of God can be reclaimed in our lives…

I. By understanding just how much God loves us!

“My native country, thee, Land of the noble free, Thy name I love: I love thy rocks and rills, Thy woods and templed hills; My heart with rapture thrills Like that above!”
1. The love God has for us is timeless! Jeremiah 31:3 reminds us that, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.’” When Isaiah wrote the words of God’s promise, little did he know that the love of God they expressed would be fulfilled in the person of Jesus, as the promised Messiah.
2. The love God has for us is without measure! Paul tried to explain it when he wrote, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure!” (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV) It is the good news for the spiritually poor, the broken hearted, and those enslaved by sin!
3. God’s love is both expensive and expansive! Jesus expressed it best when He told Nicomdemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV) Now is the favorable year of the Lord! Jesus has established the kingdom of God and any can enter in if they come to him by faith.

EXAMPLE: This is why Lowell Mason would take a hymn written by Isaac Watts and put it to an old Gregorian chant. Watts wrote, “When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride. Were the whole realm of nature mine that were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.” The only way we can reclaim our true freedom is by knowing how much God loves us!

This morning you may sit there and think, “Oh yes, I know God loves me.” However, knowing about it and claiming it are two different things. We have seen how much God loves us but true love is not felt and understood until it is claimed by the person it is directed! This is why so many girls allow boys to chase them until they are caught! They want them to claim their love and devotion. God is the same way. Let me explain. The Bible teaches us that the love of God is reclaimed in our lives…

II. By professing his love for ourselves!

“Let music swell the breeze, And ring from all the trees Sweet freedom's song: Let mortal tongues awake: Let all that breathe partake: let rocks their silence break, The sound prolong!”
1. God’s love is reclaimed when we acknowledge Jesus in our lives! John would write that, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment...” (1 John 4:15-17a NIV) Isaiah’s promise is for all people, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair!”
2. God’s love is reclaimed by those who recognize their sin condition! Paul understood and would relate, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV) However, to know Jesus is to realize that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV) Isaiah would respond by singing, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10 NIV)
3. God’s love is reclaimed when we walk with Him daily! Again, Paul taught, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body...” (Romans 6:9-11 NIV) We are to, “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:14 NIV) We are to be God’s “living sacrifices.” (Romans 12:1 NIV) This is how the promise of Isaiah comes true, “Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:9 NIV)

EXAMPLE: Hannah Whitall Smith wrote that the chief problem people have with their Christianity is feelings over faith. We somehow cannot get over the fact that when we believe in Christ we are completely His! She states, “We cannot believe we are consecrated until we feel that we are: and because we do not feel that God has taken us in hand, we cannot believe He has! As usual, we put feelings first and faith second and the fact (salvation) last of all!” Hannah's answer was to claim Christ's salvation daily! This is why Eliza Hewett wrote in her hymn, “More about Jesus would I know, More of His grace to others show; More of his saving fullness see, More of His love who died for me! More, more about Jesus, More, more about Jesus; More of His saving fullness see, More of His love who died for me!”

Conclusion:
“Our father's God, to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing: Long may our land be right With freedom's holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God, our King!” How do we know God loves us? On July 4th at the fireworks, I saw something that was interesting. Human mothers have something in common with the guillemot, a small arctic bird that lives in the rocky cliffs. While these birds flock by the thousands and lay their eggs in crowded conditions, each knows its own egg! Even if it is moved! During the fireworks at the Fort, in a crowd of thousands, the human mothers that were concerned about their children always knew where they were. The Bible teaches us that our heavenly Father knows where all of His children are as well. Paul wrote, “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’” (2 Timothy 2:19 NIV) God does indeed know us and loves us. Isaiah’s promise of the “good news” for those spiritually poor, blind and captive has been fulfilled. The favorable year of the Lord is today! All you need to do is profess that love for yourself and understand that real freedom is found in the fulfilled promise of Jesus Christ.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Rejoicing In National Freedom - Psalm 46

Rejoicing In National Freedom - Psalm 46
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 3, 2001 AM

What does the Fourth of July mean for you? Is it just another day to have off from work or do you pause and take notice of the nation and country you live in? Do you remember the story of freedom and the war for independence fought by those who were willing to risk it all for freedom’s cause? Independence Day is more than fireworks, picnics, and flags. It is the rejoicing and remembering that this grand experiment, this beautiful nation, this land of golden opportunity is like no other on earth. I believe this is true simply because of the grace and mercy of our Lord and God.

The nation Israel rejoiced in her national freedom as well. No other nation or people enjoyed such God-given personal freedom. When others asked, “What nationality are you?” they would respond with pride, “I am a Hebrew.” The Apostle Paul would remember with pride that he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5)!” Even the sailors who demanded to know who the prophet Jonah was became frightened when he replied, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." (Jonah 1:9) Why this pride? Why this independent spirit? Simple, they knew whom they believed in and they knew where real freedom came from. This morning, before we celebrate another Independence Day, let us pause along with the Psalmist to remember where national freedom comes from and rejoice together in that truth.

READ: Psalm 46

Have we forgotten the hymn that rallied millions to the cause of the Reformation? “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing! Our helper He amidst the flood, Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, And armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.” And it goes on to remind us that “Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing; Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabbath, His name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle!” Amen! Martin Luther understood God is our fortress. The writer of the Psalm knew this to be true as well and we find the Psalmist exhorting us to remember…

I. God is our mighty fortress (vv. 1-3, 7, 11)!

1. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble!
1) The Psalmist knew where his nation’s power and might came from! David would sing, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7).” Here, we see the Psalmist declaring that God is literally his nation’s “shelter from danger.” Nevertheless, also be aware of the word “our.” God is the believer’s refuge and strength, not for those who do not care! God is the helper of those who trust in His power and might. The motto that used to be this nation’s most treasured power is stamped on every coin: “In God we trust.” Do you know the Lord God as a refuge and strength?
2) Notice too that those who enjoy the freedom that only God can bring! The Psalmist would cry, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging!” He knew the believer could trust in God to keep them safe. The Psalmist would later declare that, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them (Psalm 145:18-19). Those who know God can run to him for safety!
3) God’s saints need not fear, even if many perils come against them! The language describes how great the perils may be that could come. No matter what happens, those trusting in Him are safe. The writer of Hebrews would say, “It is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf (Hebrews 6:18-20).” What anchors your soul during times of trouble when “waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging?” The believer’s freedom is found in the fortress of God!

EXAMPLE: Many live in fear in our nation today. I watched a special on ABC several years ago where John Stossel graphically proved how environmental groups have frightened even small schoolchildren into thinking that the oceans are rising, the climate is warming, and the forests are disappearing. Many were visibly scared. The sad fact is none of it is true. In fact, the earth’s temperature was much warmer during Jesus’ day and fluctuates regularly being much warmer or colder than it is now. The rain forest is not being bulldozed at the rates that have been grossly reported, and in fact, there is more forested land now in the USA than in the 1920s! The oceans have not risen and the weather is the same now as it always has been, we just have better weather reporting. Storms are not any fiercer, more frequent, or bigger than they ever have been according to NASA and the National Weather Service. Then why so much fear? I believe it is because people have misplaced their faith and trust in God. When schoolchildren are encouraged to worship Mother Earth in class, they begin to doubt the God who made the universe in the first place. Like the Israelites who needed to be reminded that God is to be our refuge and strength, we need to be told again as well. Freedom is found in knowing God is our mighty fortress!

When the young GI marched into the war-torn town in Italy, he heard over and over from the people, “Now we’re free, the Americans are here!” When the sights and sounds of the battle died down and the enemy had been repulsed back into the jungles of Vietnam for the seventh time, a cheer went up because there aloft and still blowing in the breeze was a small American flag. It reminded the men what they were fighting for, and when thousands of people make their way to this country each year, some legally and some illegally it is for the same reason: freedom. The Psalmist knew what this meant. He sang…

II. The Lord Almighty is with us (vv. 4-6)!

1. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells!
1) For the nation or individual who trusts in God, there is always a place of peace and joy! This is why the writer would write about “a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” The Psalmist knew that “God is within her!” God was there in His temple in Jerusalem! The Psalmist could look up, see the temple, and know His God was always there. David would shout, “Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (Psalm 30:4-5)!” There is comfort and calm found in the life that trusts in the Lord!
2) When God is within a nation, she cannot fail! The wonderful truth for any country, large like the USA or small like Israel, is that if God is at the core of the people’s faith “she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” Many nations have begun to trust in their ability to rule kingdoms, financial markets, or schools of learning and then have faltered and failed. They are in the dustbins of history. Look at the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, or even Great Britain. Did you know that England’s national hymn used to say, “Hail Britannia, Britannia rules the waves”? This is no longer true. Why? It’s once grand cathedrals were filled with people, but now they are inhabited by insects and tourists. They have forgotten the Lord.
3) The Psalmist understood the truth that the God of Jacob must be a nation’s strength! The reason was obvious: “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.” All God has to do is “lift his voice.” Nations can rage and rule, but all God has to do is speak and any nation is dust. It is interesting because the word for “nation” here is the Hebrew goyee meaning “heathen,” anyone who did not know God. There are those within our nation that rage like the heathen, but God is not moved. His truth and freedom is found in faith. The Lord Almighty is with us!

EXAMPLE: Years later, however, the city of Jerusalem did fall. Because of extensive idolatry in the temple (Ezekiel 8) and God’s presence left Israel and the temple (Ezekiel 10). Without His protective presence, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. Her walls were destroyed; her people were taken captive, and her wealth stolen. So great was her destruction that many years later Nehemiah would cry over the extensive damage and how Jerusalem was like a heap of rubble. Today we can go to several once great nations and see for ourselves that when God is forgotten in their midst, they are but dust and rubble. Even some modern cities like Paris are just rotten gutted places of degeneracy whose churches are silent. Is the same dust of death silently falling like ash on the cities of America? Perhaps. More than ever, it is time for God’s people to sing anew the song that the Lord Almighty is with us!

I want you to know that I am unashamedly patriotic. Like James Cagney who sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” I often feel that I am also “a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam.” I still get teary-eyed when the national anthem is sung at baseball games or when I see the flag pass by being carried with respect and dignity. However amidst all the patriotism and fondness that I have for America I realize that not all of this freedom I enjoy would ever have been possible without God’s direction and purpose. The Psalmist realized that as well for his nation. In fact, he sang that we are to…

III. Remember the saving deeds of God (vv. 8-10)!

1. Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth!
1) The Psalmist challenges us to come and look for ourselves at God’s “works”! Notice that he lists several of them for us: 1) God causes “desolations” (literally “wonderful things”)! Things like storms, earthquakes, volcanoes and such are the mighty works of God. He created them and they display just a portion of His power. 2) God “makes wars cease to the ends of the earth!” Only when mankind returns to God and recognizes the evil of war, can they cease. Isaiah reminds us that when God’s kingdom comes on earth nations will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) Only when a nation remembers the works of God can it know real peace.
2) The Psalmist realized that proper peace is found only in the presence of God! God Himself calls for the people to trust in Him and know that He is God, for He will be exalted throughout the earth. Habakkuk reminds us that “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20).” The Psalmist reminds us that God calls us to "Be still, and know that I am God.”

EXAMPLE: One of the hardest things for many of us to do is to be silent. We do not like quiet. We like our rock music, our loud cars, and our surround sound TVs, our movies loud, in stereo, high definition, and earth shattering! Yet, if we are but silent for a few moments and allow God to speak to us, we will “Know that the LORD is God. It is he, who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3).” Jesus is called the Prince of Peace for a reason, because he brings inner peace to us and turns away God’s wrath. It is time for us as a nation to be reminded of the words of the Lord: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” We must remember the saving deeds of God!

Conclusion:
When the pilgrims first landed on this nation’s desolate shores so far from home, the first thing they did was kneel in prayer to remember Jesus Christ and His unfailing love for them. When Abraham Lincoln went to the battlefield of Gettysburg, he reminded his listeners of the presence of an almighty God who loved this nation. When George Washington gave his farewell address, he reminded the people that this nation would not long endure without the hand of God being recognized by its people. The news media was often perplexed as to why President Bush began each day in prayer. There is a reason for this. I told you before that I am unashamedly patriotic. Yet I am also unashamedly devout in my remembrance of the freedom I enjoy because of God’s hand on this nation. Today, the Psalmist reminds us: God is our mighty fortress, no matter what he is with us, and we need to remember the saving deeds of God!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.