Sunday, September 25, 2011

The precedence of praying together - Acts 6:1-5

The precedence of praying together - Acts 6:1-5
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 25, 2011 AM

The church today is a mere spiritual shadow of its former self. The reason I believe is because it has forgotten the importance of praying together. This issue is extremely important for three reasons: 1) Praying together as a church is crucial for a spiritually healthy church. 2) Praying together is a vital for God’s presence to work among his people. In addition, 3) the tendency among believers is to think of prayer gatherings as the extra-curricular activity in the life of the church, something that can be ignored. It’s good for other people to do, but not important enough for me to join. There are a growing number of believers, who view cooperative prayer as optional, secondary, and unimportant. We do not find this to be true in Scripture nor in the history of the church.

God has sovereignly ordained his church to pray together so that his presence is manifested and his purposes are hastened when we pray together. This is not to minimize personal prayer in any way. Instead, it is to teach us that personal prayer alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our church, our cities, and our nation. Let’s discover these truths as we rediscover the precedence of praying together…

READ: Acts 6:1-5

Very early on in church history, we discover the early church placing a priority on praying together. In fact, we discover that…

I. Praying together was a priority for the apostles!
1. How a church sets it prayer priorities says a lot about what it practices!
1) In Acts 6, the Church at Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. We find that “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1 NIV) Interestingly, the word “distribution” is “diakonia” in the Greek, which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry, so the emphasis is on what? Serving people! Notice what the early church did to solve the problem: “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.’” (Acts 6:2 NIV) Again, the words translated “wait on” is “diakonein”, from the same root as in v. 2, focusing on serving others! They tell the church, “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4 NIV) Literally, v. 4 reads, “But we to the prayer and the ministry [diakonia] of the word will steadfastly continue.” The entire problem dealt with church ministry! Some folks think this meant that the apostles delegated ministry responsibilities to others so that they would be freed up to spend time in personal prayer. However, the apostles are not referring to their need for personal private prayer. Instead, they are mobilizing the church to pray together! The literal translation has the definite article before prayer in v. 4: “But we to the prayer and to the ministry of the word will steadfastly continue.” That little word “the” indicates that this doesn’t mean prayer in general for them but prayer in particular for the church! In fact, every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31) pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one refers to their private prayer time, because praying together was a priority for the apostles!
EXAMPLE: The apostles learned their leadership pattern from Jesus. Scour the Gospels for Jesus’ teaching and practice of prayer, and you will find 37. Of those 37 instances in which Jesus refers to prayer, 33 of them were addressed to a plural rather than singular audience. In other words, Jesus’ instruction decisively leaned toward praying with others, not just praying in private. For example, in Matthew 7:7 we find him telling his disciples, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 NIV) When we read the word “you” in that verse we immediately think that it’s singular, referring to an individual. In fact, it is a plural “you,” meaning “all of you together.” Later Jesus tells his listeners, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20 NIV) Jesus’ teaching on praying together indicates there is a deep spiritual design by God in such gatherings, through which He uniquely and powerfully works. This is why praying together was a priority for the apostles!

The apostles made it a practice and a priority to teach about praying with fellow believers because they had heard and seen Jesus emphasize the same thing. We have discovered the high premium on the church praying together. Let’s look at the second truth in the precedence of praying together…

II. God empowered his church when it prayed together!
1. An empowered church is a church that prays together!
1) The Book of Acts records the mighty works of God in his church through unified cooperative prayer. Let’s take a tour of some the examples we find: In Acts 2 that the 120 were gathered in an upper room praying in one accord when Pentecost comes. The disciples prayed for wisdom in knowing who Judas’ replacement should be (Acts 1:24). When Peter and John reported the Sanhedrin’s threats, those gathered cried out to God in one accord for boldness, and the place was shaken where they prayed (Acts 4:24, 31). The church prayed over the seven men appointed to serve the widows (Acts 6:6). After James was martyred and Peter imprisoned by Herod, the church was fervently praying, and God miraculously delivered Peter from his cell (Acts 12:1-11). While the prophets and teachers were praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to go on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-2). Paul and Silas were praying when God sent an earthquake that resulted in the conversion of the jailer and their release (Acts 16:25). I am not disparaging personal, private prayer. Ananias was praying alone when God instructed him to go to Saul (Acts 9:10ff.). Peter was alone on the rooftop when he had his famous vision leading him to share the Gospel with a Gentile named Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff.). Nevertheless, God empowered his church when it prayed together!
EXAMPLE: Over and over, we find Paul asking for prayer from the churches or writing that they are praying for them! In 1857, America was riding the wave of a strong economy. As a result, it displayed a radical decrease in the things of God. Jeremiah Lamphier was a layman whose concern led him to a call for prayer. He tacked up notices all around New York calling for a weekly prayer meeting on Wednesdays at a rented space on Fulton Street. The first prayer meeting was on September 23, 1857. Only six people came. The next week, the attendance jumped to 20. The numbers continued to climb week-by-week. On October 10th, the Stock Market crashed and financial panic ensued. Trouble had its humbling affect and the hearts of many turned to spiritual matters. It wasn’t long until somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 businessmen were meeting every day to pray at noon! By week 15, the meetings moved from weekly to daily. In 1858, this prayer movement leaped to every major city in America. The Second Great Awakening swept our land. Estimates are that a million Americans out of a population of 30 million were converted in less than two years. It all started with cooperative prayer. Why? Because God empowered his church when it prayed together!


We have discovered that praying together was a priority for the apostles! And we learned that God empowered his church when it prayed together! However, let me share with you how God’s works today through cooperative prayer.

Right now, the Gospel is sweeping the globe at a rate that is unimaginable. Avery Willis, the VP of our IMB, has reported that statistically, most of the people who have ever been saved in history were saved during the 20th Century. Willis suggested as high as 70% of the total number of people who have been saved throughout world history have come to Christ in the last hundred years and 70% of that number has been saved since 1945! Let me boggle your mind because 70% of those saved since 1945 were saved since 1990! At the turn of the 21st Century, possibly one-third of all Christians who have ever lived have been converted since 1990!

In Nepal, just 2000 Christians were known in 1990; ten years later that number had grown to half a million. Cambodia claimed only 600 believers in 1990; there is a reported 60,000 today. In Korea during the 20th Century, the country advanced from being 2% Christian to about 40% Christian today. East Africa is experiencing one of the greatest movements of God in history. In Uganda alone, HIV/AIDS once claimed the lives of one-third of the population. The World Health Organization predicted the complete collapse of the Ugandan economy by the year 2000. But revival has come to that country. With the salvation of many has come a transformation in morals, so that AIDS is down to 5%. So great is this revival that one church alone went from 7 in attendance to an average of 2000 in just two weeks! Currently, that same church as a membership of 22,000 and has planted 150 other churches!

In almost every quarter of the globe, Christianity is advancing...except for four primary areas: North America, Japan, Australia, and Western Europe. What do you think the one common denominator is everywhere Christianity marches forward? Christians spend time praying together!

I know what you are thinking, “Our prayer meetings don’t seem to convey that sort of power.” You are correct, but the answer is that it begins with us as a church! When we decide we will join our fellow believers in vibrant cooperative prayer, then we will discover the precedence of praying together!
This sermon was drawn from John Franklin’s, “And the Place Was Shaken” and from notes by Lloyd Stilly, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gulf Shores. 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, September 18, 2011

Love one another - Mark 12:28-34; Luke 6:27-31; John 13:34-35

Love one another - Mark 12:28-34; Luke 6:27-31; John 13:34-35
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 18, 2011 AM

Wasn’t it Tina Turner who sang, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” I am not certain about the full meaning of that lyric, nor does it necessarily pique my interest. One thing is sure, she is not singing about Christian love! Jesus repeatedly admonishes his followers to love God totally, to love each other unconditionally, and to love one another.

Love has everything to do with the Christian life. Unselfish, unashamed and unrestrained love is the essence of kingdom faithfulness. The Apostle John understood this and wrote, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:8-9 NIV) Without love, everything else the believer does is of little significance or value. Today’s message will be a clear reminder of love’s priority in our faith.

READ: Mark 12:28-34; Luke 6:27-31; John 13:34-35

It was nothing new for the Jews of Jesus’ day to hear one of their teachers talk about love. The Old Testament contains many verses that speak of God’s love for us and our duty to love others (Leviticus 19:18, 34; Deuteronomy 6:5; 7:8, 9; Joshua 22:5; 1 Kings 10:9; Psalm 146:8). However, because of the Roman occupation, first-century Judaism was more keenly interested in the concepts of wrath and vengeance. It is against this backdrop of history that Jesus’ teaching on love stood out. God’s kind of love will test our boundaries and will challenge us. Jesus taught that love begins by…

I. Loving God completely! (Mark 12:28-30)

1. If the love of God is not in your life, then your love is based on human frailty!
1) When Jesus sought to teach in the temple, he was constantly interrupted by his enemies. The chief priests, teachers of the law, the elders, the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees all took turns challenging Jesus! This time one of the teachers of the Law came and asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” His question reflected a long-standing debate among Jewish scholars over which were the most important commandments. First-century Judaism had systematized the instructions written by Moses and created a list of approximately 613 commands, 248 of them positive (“do this…”) and 365 negative (“do not do this…”). A lot of passion was applied to the debate over which of the 613 commands was to be given priority. No matter how Jesus answered, they thought He would be trapped. However, Jesus’ answer reflects his knowledge of God. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Jewish tradition referred to verse 4 as the “shema”, (Hebrew for “hear”) because this is the first word in the Hebrew text of, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength!” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NIV)The shema was held in such high esteem that it was quoted as the invocation at every synagogue service. The reason this passage is so highly valued by the Jews is because it succinctly expresses monotheism (belief in one God). It forms the foundation of Jewish faith. Jesus’ statement is that the commands of God begin with loving God completely!

EXAMPLE: What does wholehearted love look like? A beautiful young maiden had many suitors that came to win her. She would ask each one, “Why do you want to marry me?” One said it was because of her beauty, and she replied, “My beauty will fade with each passing year, what then?” Another said he loved her because of her kindness. She replied, “Today I am kind, but what if tomorrow I am hardened by life’s difficulties?” Finally, one young man responded, “I am willing to commit myself to you with all my heart, if you are willing to commit to me in the same way.” She married him. The teacher of the Law was not interested in the answer; all he wanted to do was entrap Jesus. Yet Jesus does not let the moment go, he reminded his listener that the love of God must come first in the life of a person. It is commitment to love God completely.
Jesus had not been asked to list the second greatest commandment, but he took this opportunity to teach a more complete view of our primary duty to God. This second quotation is taken from Leviticus 19:18 and with it, He teaches us a lesson in…

II. Loving others! (Mark 12:31-34)

1. Loving God and loving our neighbor are God’s highest expectations for mankind!
1) There is no commandment greater than these two! Some may wonder, “Why are these two loves so closely linked together?” The answer is that simply the latter logically flows from the former. One who truly loves God cannot help but love those who carry within them the image of God! A person’s heart attitude is much more important to God than the sacrifices offered on an altar. God told Hosea, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6 NIV) “There is no commandment greater than these!” The teacher replies, “Well said, teacher, you are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”(Mark 12:32-33 NIV) It was an insightful summary of the message of the Old Testament. This is why we are reminded, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1 NIV) However, Jesus knew if one loved God completely, he would love others as well! If “God so loved the world” then those who love him must love others. Here was a man not yet in full stride with God’s loving plan! Close, but no cookie. Many in our world today are just like that man, they want God to love them, but find it hard to love others. A person cannot say they love God and not love those for whom he died! Loving God and loving our neighbor are God’s highest expectations for mankind!

EXAMPLE: Recently, I watched as people stacked boxes and put together care packages for the flooding back East. One lady stated that she did it because loving people is what Jesus came to earth for. Her knowledge of Jesus’ mission is close, but still misses the mark. Many believe that what Christianity is all about is simply loving people and being kind to them. This reflects not only an ignorance of Scripture, but is repulsive to what Jesus did for us. If loving others was enough to get one into the kingdom of God, why did Jesus die on the cross? Love of others can only happen when the Lord of love enters into your heart and changes your sin nature to love others. We do not love others so God will love us. However, if we love God, we will love others.

Why would you think the commands to love God and to love others stand above the other commands of God? It reflects God’s true nature to the world through His son Jesus Christ. Loving your neighbor begins when you share Christ with them as you minister to their needs. One without the other is an incomplete gospel and offers no eternal hope. However, Jesus took this love of God one extra step when He taught us about…

III. Loving Our Enemies! (Luke 6:27-31)

1. We have not been commanded to feel love, but to act in a loving manner!
1) How is it possible to love those who would hurt us? The answer is Jesus. He related, “"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you!” (Luke 6:27 NIV) The love described here is the Greek word “agape” and it involves a decision of the will, not a feeling of the heart. It is a conscious decision to treat others in a kind and considerate way, regardless of how we actually feel about them. Our natural tendency (and the accepted practice of modern society) is to say, “If you hit me, I will hit you back”, but agape love says, “I will not stoop to your level; I will not hit back. Instead I will love you!” Agape love chooses not to retaliate. Jesus could have called upon twelve legions of angels to destroy his enemies (Matthew 26:53); instead, he allowed them to arrest him and literally strike his cheek without reprisal (John 18:22)! Here is a legitimate question to consider, “Does Jesus desire that we be doormats for people to step on and trample?” The answer is, “No.” What he desires is that we exalt him first and foremost. Perhaps the real question to consider: “Will the cause of Christ suffer loss in order for me to gain, or will my loss serve to advance the cause of Christ?” Jesus desires that we love our enemies because he did.

EXAMPLE: Sometimes the most agape thing we can do is to let people know that we could seek retaliation for their unkindness, but for the sake of Christ, we choose not to do so. If we allow ourselves to hate someone, we do him great harm; however, we do ourselves more harm. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “Hating people is like burning down your house to get rid of a rat.” During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln once referred publicly to the people of the Confederacy as erring human beings, not as foes to be exterminated. An older woman criticized him for speaking kindly of his enemies, when, according to her, he ought to be thinking of destroying them. Lincoln replied, “Why, Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” If we love God, we will love our enemies.

We cannot escape what Jesus told us, that we should “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Not what we would expect, but what we would want them to do for us! Jesus left us a wonderful example to follow. He has given us a trademark to go by and use! Jesus taught us to love by…

IV. Loving fellow Christians! (John 13:34-35)

1. Sometimes, the toughest people to love are our spiritual siblings!
1) Agape love requires that we treat others with kindness and consideration. It does not allow us to act with rudeness or meanness or spite. In this passage, we learn that love demands even more than this: we must love one another the way Jesus has loved us! That kind of love is a self-sacrificing love! He tells us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This kind of love is to be a Christian’s identity! Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another!” When a Christian friend betrays your confidence or hurts your feelings, the true test of Christian character will be whether you seek revenge, sulk, get mad or choose to overlook how he or she has wronged you. When members of the church disagree with each other over a decision, the test of Christian character will be whether they alienate themselves from one another or choose to continue to regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Agape love is the distinguishing mark of a heart that has truly been changed by the love of Christ. Those outside of the boundaries of the church will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ when we love one another in spite of one another! We are commanded to love fellow Christians!

EXAMPLE: Robert C. Shannon writes that “Even people who know very little about the Bible can quote the Golden Rule in some form: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This rule stands in contrast to two other rules. One we may call the Iron Rule. It is stated as follows: ‘Whatever others do to you, do you also to them.’ This is the rule of retribution. Many live by this rule, but Jesus taught us that we should never try to get even. The second rule we may call the Silver Rule. It is a great improvement over the Iron Rule; for it says, ‘What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’ This was the rule of Confucius. It is a good rule, but it is entirely negative. It demands only that we refrain from doing wrong, but it requires nothing in terms of positive action. The Golden Rule, however, stands far above both of these. It is positive. It requires far more of us than the Silver Rule, for it goes beyond not doing evil to doing good. It demands that we go beyond the minimum. We cannot say, ‘I am as good as my fellow Christians.’ We have to be better than that! We have to be like Christ! We have to love one another as He loved us!”

Philosophy, explanations, or excuses for wrong behavior can meander aimlessly. Usually, when all is said and done, what we need is a succinct summary. As we sometimes say, “Here it is in a nutshell.” The Bible is filled with hundreds of commandments and guidelines, which can seem overwhelming. However, the key commandments can be put “in a nutshell.” Jesus did just that when he taught us to love God and to love one’s neighbor. The world needs to see our Christianity demonstrated, not by lengthy and detailed explanations of our beliefs, but rather “in a nutshell,” by our love and devotion to Jesus Christ, our enemies, and one another as we minister to the world around us.
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, September 11, 2011

God’s incredible gift! - John 3:1-17

God’s incredible gift! - John 3:1-17
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 11, 2011 AM

Incredible bargains! Fantastic values! Unbelievable quality! These are some of the phrases that are blared into our ears and blazoned before our eyes as advertisers try to make us believe and buy on the basis of what they have just told us. I tend to accept their acknowledgment of reckless exaggeration and keep my money in my pocket, believing the maxim: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The Bible speaks with unrestrained enthusiasm about his incredible gift of love in Jesus Christ. It does not call it unbelievable, though, and then ask us to believe it. What God says and does is incredible; however, we can believe it!

In today’s text is relates a truth that appeared unbelievable. Twice Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher, asked how what Jesus was telling him could happen. Jesus’ words, however, were not too good to be true; they related a truth too important to ignore! The truth of God’s incredible gift!

READ: John 3:1-17

While in Jerusalem, Jesus worked a number of miracles and “many believed in his name.” They were so shallow in their belief that Jesus did not proceed any further in revealing himself to them (John 2:23-25). One observer among the Jews considered the matter seriously enough that he determined to learn more from Jesus himself about his teaching. We meet that observer, Nicodemus, as we look closer at God’s incredible gift. Here in John’s gospel we discover…

I. An incredulous visitor! (Vv. 1-2)

1. Psalm 111:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”
1) Nicodemus was “a man of the Pharisees.” “Pharisee” meant “separate or set apart.” They were known for their strict interpretation of the Law of Moses and their rigid adherence to the traditions surrounding it. Unfortunately, their zeal for the law resulted in an obsession with outward conformity rather than an inner spiritual concern “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV). A Pharisee would have been incredulous of Jesus!
2) Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. This indicates that he was a member of the Jewish ruling council, or Sanhedrin. This was composed of seventy priests, scribes, and elders who exercised authority over the religious community. Yet, in spite of his distinguished position, he recognized a deficiency in his understanding of spiritual matters. He was curious about what Jesus had to say. As a ruler, he would have been incredulous of Jesus.
3) Nicodemus was in search of the truth. He tells Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Other Pharisees had brought questions designed to trap Jesus into making public statements that could be used against him. Not Nicodemus. Rabbi and teacher were terms that were precious to the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-10). Nicodemus’ use of them was a sincere attempt at showing respect and his statement indicates that he was not alone in his beliefs about Jesus. While incredulous, Nicodemus was in search of the truth.

EXAMPLE: So what did this God-sent teacher have to offer a God-fearing Pharisee? Nicodemus had not yet asked any questions of Jesus. He did not have to. Jesus knew what the man needed to know and what was on his mind. Some students think Nicodemus came to Jesus by night out of fear. Others think he chose a time when he could have an uninterrupted and meaningful discussion with Jesus. They find him noble. Whatever Nicodemus’ reasons, this incredulous visitor would soon learn an incredible truth that would change his life forever.

Many folks are curious about Jesus. Each year we see dozens of books written about his teaching, ministry, and who he was. Yet mere curiosity about Jesus isn’t enough. You must apply what you know to your life. It is more than being good, nice, or kind. It takes an inner change that only God can provide. Nicodemus was shocked when he learned…

II. An incredible truth! (Vv. 3-9)

1. Jesus taught, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
1) Nicodemus needed to change! Jesus’ emphatic statement, “I tell you the truth”, is a translation of the double use of “amen”. This is important to note, because Jesus was claiming that God’s kingdom could not be perceived without a radical change from one’s natural viewpoint. Jesus bluntly says, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” This change required an entirely new life, so new that Jesus described it as being literally “born from above” What an incredible truth!
2) Nicodemus took Jesus’ language literally. He incredulously asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” then he follows up with his confusion, “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” However, Jesus affirms the incredible truth that, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” It is a dramatic reference to physical and spiritual baptism. Paul makes a similar connection of baptism when he writes that, “[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5 NIV) Jesus asserts that just as “Flesh gives birth to flesh… the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” For Nicodemus it was an incredible truth!
3) This incredible truth is for everyone! Jesus was not speaking to Nicodemus alone. He states, “You,” literally meaning, “All of you”, including the entire Sanhedrin and Jewish nation “should not be surprised” that something wholly unreasonable to your way of thinking is being presented. Incredibly, Nicodemus must learn that the truth of being “born again” was for the entire world!

EXAMPLE: God shows no racial, national, or economic favoritism. His gift is given without any reservation. Both the gift and the giver of it are completely color blind, socially and racially tolerant. A little girl sat on her porch crying. Her father found her there and asked, “What’s the problem?” she replied, “I gave Billy my new ball.” “The one you just got for your birthday?” the father asked. “Yes,” came her tearful reply, “but now he won’t play with it properly!” She explained that she wanted to play the game Four Squares with it and all he wanted to do was “bounce it all over the place!” Her father hugged her and told her, “If you give a gift, then it is a gift. It can be used however the person you gave it to wants to use it.” This is the truth of God’s greatest gift to all mankind. He gave it freely and willingly. It is our choice, if we will take it. It is our choice what we do with it. That’s why it is such an incredible truth!

We should not be surprised that we cannot grasp all the intricacies of spiritual truth as well as we would like. We cannot fully understand the movements of natural phenomena such as the wind. However, since we hear its sound and see its impact, we do not doubt that it is real. In the same way, we cannot observe the Spirit at work or actually see the processes of faith and repentance taking place, but we can see the Spirit’s influence in the transformed lives of everyone born of the Spirit. Nicodemus did not understand Jesus, but he was not giving up. He then learns about…

III. The indescribable gift! (Vv. 10-17)

1. Paul related, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
1) Jesus takes the indescribable and makes it understandable! Jesus first asks Nicodemus, “You are Israel's teacher and do you not understand these things?” Jesus begins by sharing that he indeed does speak the truth. In fact, he relates, “we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.” How could Jesus say such a thing? He continues by telling Nicodemus, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” Jesus could speak of these things because, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” Jesus was “the Son of Man,” the Messiah! The indescribable gift was understandable!
2) Jesus begins to describe the indescribable gift! Just as God commanded Moses to set up a brass snake on a pole, directing those bitten by the serpents to look upon it and live (Numbers 21:4-9), Jesus’ crucifixion, would bring salvation from the venom of sin to those who look in obedient faith to him. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Why would he do that? Simple: so “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The indescribable gift that all mankind had waited for was now available!
3) Jesus tells Nicodemus why God would do such an indescribable thing: because he loves us! Jesus’ death was the result of the fact that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life!” Before Jesus, we were doomed to perish; but now we can have eternal life! Every word in this verse is stretched to the full capacity of its meaning: God … loved … the world … whoever believes … will not perish … eternal … life. You cannot grasp this on the run. You have to linger and let its truth soak in. Take the time to substitute your own name in place of the word “whoever” and delight in this indescribable gift!

EXAMPLE: I remember when an older member at another church got so distraught about the church remodeling he went and sat in a chair and wouldn’t move. Then an older and wiser man reminded him that he was focusing on the wrong thing and that “buildings were never to be more important than people.” Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a sect that collectively had become so enamored with the form of the law that they had lost sight of its substance. What happens when Christians lose sight of the substance of their faith and see only the form? What happens when we forget about this indescribable gift of God? That he so loved each of us that he gave his Son to die for our sins!

John 3:16 is the most familiar verse in the Bible. It has been quoted and lauded as “the New Testament in miniature.” It may come as a surprise, then, to learn about a preacher who, given liberty to choose whatever text he pleased as the basis for what would surely be a once-in-a-lifetime sermon, chose John 3:17 instead of John 3:16. It was on June 2, 1850, that Alexander Campbell spoke from John 3:17 to both houses of the United States Congress in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Although he spoke for some ninety minutes, it was said that during this time, Campbell held his audience “in the most fixed attention.” How vital to know that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save it!

We have looked at an incredulous visitor, heard an incredible truth, and learned about an indescribable gift. Now, let me ask you, what will you do with what you have heard?
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, September 04, 2011

Galatians 1:1-5 & 2:20-21 - God’s calling…

Galatians 1:1-5 & 2:20-21 - God’s calling…
September 4, 2011 AM
By Pastor Lee Hemen

My mother used to embarrass the tar out of me when she would call me in for dinner. She would stand out on our front porch and holler “Leeeeeeee Howard Heeeeemen, come home!” Not satisfied to do it once, she would repeat her siren call for several humiliating minutes. Just one time did I decide not to respond to my mother’s call to come immediately home. Afterwards, my father had a little talk with me and I came to the conclusion that it was best for my emotional and physical health, to answer quickly when my mother called.

The Bible teaches us that God calls each of his followers to his service. Jesus individually called his disciples and Paul writes, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30 NIV) God has always called his prophets, judges, and spokesmen throughout the ages to serve and honor him. God is calling each of us this morning as well. Let’s find out how –

READ: Galatians 1:1-5 & 2:20-21

I am excited because God is calling several of our young people to follow him in ministry. He continually calls his people to serve him. What a joy to be part of God calling his people into his work in the world! His calling is not man-made, it has a clear message, and it is always a call to Christ-centered commitment. In Galatians, Paul related that…

I. God’s calling is not man-made! (Vv. 1:1-2)

1. A person can delude himself into thinking he is serving God by watching those who actually are!
1) A Christian’s calling is from God! Notice Paul relates that he was “an apostle--sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” “Apostle” literally means, “sent out one.” Paul knew he had a calling from God to be “sent out” to the gentiles. Paul related that “when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man.” (Vv. 1:15-16) Paul recognized that his calling was predestined, because of God’s love, and was specific. His calling therefore could not have been man-made!
2) Our calling is not something we simply “feel”. If our calling were based on feelings or emotionalism then we would run the risk of following our own desires and not God’s will. Our calling must be in line with God’s Word, the church, our prayers, and circumstances. God brings each into focus to show us his calling, just as he did with Paul. This is why Paul would write, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up!” (Galatians 1:10-11 NIV) God’s calling is not based on feelings nor is it not man-made!
3) However, before we are called to minister, we are first called to follow Jesus! Remember Paul wrote that he was “an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead!” Also remember what Jesus told his disciples when he called them, “Come follow me and will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 NIV) He first called them to follow him and then he would make them “fishers of men.” The same holds true for us as well. God’s calling always begins with our following Jesus. This is why he would relate, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NIV) Following God’s calling is never man-made!

EXAMPLE: I remember one year when Denise and I went to a Missions Conference in San Francisco. A young man who had joined our college and career group was sensing that God was calling him into ministry. This was interesting because before that, he was only interested in girls, his looks, clothes, and competitive roller-skating! He asked me how someone knew it was God who was calling them and not simply their own emotions. I reminded him that Jesus said that his sheep respond to his voice. That as we pray, read the Word of God, listen to other believers who know us, and look at how God has brought us to that place to make a decision for him we will know that it is God’s calling. Later that evening, he gave his life to ministering to college students at Clark College. He came to realize that his calling was not a man-made feeling.

God begins by calling everyone to come to his Son Jesus Christ. Peter wrote that it was God’s desire that not anyone should perish, but that everyone would “come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) God has called all Christians to serve him. It is not a man-made calling. We know this to be true because Paul relates…

II. God’s calling has a clear message! (Vv. 1:3-5)

1. The world calls us to a muddled philosophy of humanism and situational ethics!
1) The clear message of God has always been “grace and peace!” Job tells us “submit to God and be at peace with him.” (Job 22:21) Psalm 85:8 reminds us that God “promises peace to his people, his saints!” Isaiah acknowledged, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) This is why Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 & Luke 2:14) However, it is not a peace like the one the world offers! Jesus succinctly told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) It is a clear message of grace and peace, but not the same peace the world offers!
2) The clear message of God is about “Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age!” Grace and peace are found only in Jesus Christ. He is our peace with God. Paul writes that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20 NIV)
3) The clear message is “according to the will of our God and Father!” Paul knew where his calling came from. His message was not his own. He boldly declared “we preach Christ crucified” and that “when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” (1 Corinthians 1:23 & 9:16-17) Our calling is to preach the clear message of God!

EXAMPLE: Christians are to discharge the trust committed to them: the clear message of the Gospel! It is the calling of every believer, yet there are those who want to make the message into what they think is relevant. I were watched the news on PBS a few years ago as they interviewed the President of Linfield College. He tried to assert that Southern Baptists were “out-of-step” theologically by today’s standards because even “Paul and Jesus would not view homosexuality in today’s world the same as in their own day and age.” This is simply hogwash. The loving message of the gospel has not changed. Theological relevancy always runs the risk of compromise and capitulation. God’s calling has a clear message: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NIV)

People talk about getting their lives “centered.” What they mean is that they want to focus their lives on something. While this is a laudable goal, what you focus your life on makes a huge difference in the larger scheme of things. Far too many people will have focused their lives on what they thought as noble, good, or appropriate only to finally find God telling them “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23) Christians, more than ever before, need to realize that…

III. God’s calling is always Christ-centered! (Vv. 2:20-21)

1. The hymn writer Helen Lemmel wrote, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace!”
1) Paul understood that his life was to be lived for Jesus, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This revelation has escaped many of today’s believers. They think Jesus lives in them for their pleasure, whims, and desires! Simply to fulfill their self-centeredness! Not only is this a false premise, it is an ungodly and selfish belief! This is why Paul could boldly declare, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 NIV) We are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and then all the things God desires for us will be given to us! (Matthew 6:33) Our lives are to be Christ-centered!
2) Paul knew that Christians are to “live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV) This is why Paul exclaimed “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 NIV) What a difference with many of today’s philosophies that mimic the satanic refrain: “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die!” (Luke 12:19 NIV) Paul understood that the life he lived “in the body” here on earth was temporary. His life was to be lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself of me!” It is a Christ-centered faith!
3) The reason was completely obvious for Paul because if he lived any other way then he would have “set aside the grace of God!” Paul understood that “if righteousness could be gained through the law (being smart enough, nice enough, good looking enough, relevant enough or wealthy enough), Christ died for nothing!” Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV) Paul knew that “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3 NIV) God’s calling is always Christ-centered.

EXAMPLE: There is an old spiritual truth that states, “If man can do it alone, then God may not be in it at all.” During our lives, there are times when we will want to respond to God based on our own emotions or our own wisdom. Such an approach will get us into spiritual trouble. I remember thinking growing up that “God helps those who help themselves.” As practical as this may sound, it is not a biblical teaching and is contrary to the actual Scriptural truth: “God helps those who depend on Him!” A mountain climber was pulling himself up a treacherous cliff when his rope broke. Reaching out, he quickly grabbed a branch protruding from the rock face. He prayed for help and a voice from heaven answered him by telling him to, “Just let go of the branch!” Not trusting the response, he prayed several more times only to receive the same answer. Finally, he turned his face heavenward and prayed, “Is there anyone else up there that has a better answer?” We must live lives that are Christ-centered.

God’s calling is never man-made. God’s calling has a clear message for us to know and proclaim. And finally, God’s calling is always Christ-centered. God is calling each of us here today. You are called, will you respond?
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.