January 8, 1989
The Dynamic of Life
(Acts 8:14-17)
The Jewish church in Jerusalem heard of a Samaritan revival breaking out. They quickly dispatched Peter and John as a committee of two to investigate, leding us to our text in verses 14-17. In this brief section we encounter the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit.
I. The Holy Spirit Comes by Invitation (v. 15)
He will not force His way into my life. Nor will He pry me open with a metal rod and pour Himself inside my heart. The Spirit will not attempt to trick me into belief and acceptance. There’s no manipulation! He simply comes by an invitation that I extend. I must desire His fullness.
I recognize my deep need of His presence, His love, His power, His gifts. I cannot free myself from that inherent corruption of carnality. Thus I must by faith ask for God’s action within me to cleanse and make me pure and holy.
II. The Holy Spirit Comes to Change Attitudes in Life (v. 17)
The quarrel between the Jews and Samaritans was centuries old. The fact that Philip preached there shows, as William Barclay states, “the church taking one of the most important steps in history.” Without realizing it they were discovering that Jesus Christ was for all the world.
The committee of two included John, who had once suggested to Jesus that they call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village who had rudely rebuffed them (Luke 9:51-55). Now he was laying hands on them. According to verse 25 he and Peter went back to Jerusalem slowly, stopping in many of the Samaritan villages proclaiming Christ. The Spirit of Jesus had triumphed!
What about us!? What attitude do we carry over to others. Are there people we want to call fire down on? Under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit maybe we ought to be calling love down on them.
Occasionally the teens in my church will say to one another: “Attitude Check.” How’s yours? Let the Holy Spirit help you.
III. The Holy Spirit Comes to Indwell and Possess Our Lives (v. 16-17)
The Spirit wants to work in our lives, and the only way He can do that is by abiding with us. When He comes to indwell us, He convicts us of wrong, models righteousness, guides us into all truth, glorifies Jesus, gives us spiritual power, and gives us peace.
You can take a large box and fill it with rocks, six or eight inches in diameter. The box may be packed until not another rock can be put into it. No reshaping of the contents can give space for even one more rock. The box is full, absolutely full of rocks.
Now go to the box and pour pails of water into this box. The box was full, and still there was room for the water. It has displaced nothing, yet there was room for it.
So in our human life, crowded full as it may be with work and care and study, there is always room, always time for this inflowing and indwelling of a spiritual fullness which may supplant nothing but will give environment and tone to everything.
Are you willing to be reshaped, refreshed, and renewed, by the Spirit of God? You will find a new dynamic in your life! (DGK)
January 15, 1989
Water and Wine
(John 2:1-11)
(see page 30)
January 22, 1989
Unity Demanded In Love
(1 Cor. 12:12-30)
F. F. Bruce wrote, “The primary token of the indwelling Spirit, the indispensable evidence that one is truly ‘spiritual’ … (is) love.”
The Church rings a new note of passionate concern for Christ in His world. We are to carry out the task — His task — in the power of the Holy Spirit.
He has no hands but our hands
To do His work today:
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men in His way:
He has no voice but our voice
To tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help
To lead them to His side.
I. Unity Comes When Christ is the Head
Both Jews and Greeks constituted the church in Corinth. Around the world today the Body of Christ includes many colors, a host of languages, different social levels and occupations, a myriad of nations.
Yet the church is more than international — it is supranational. It provides an authentic unity for a world distraught and fractured, bleeding and wounded. The basis for this unity is Christ the Lord.
Old “Bust-Me-Up” was a queer-shaped, ugly old tug running between London and Portsmouth. She never came into port but that she collided with some vessel and did some damage. Hence the name!
One day, to everybody’s amazement, she came in straight as a die and glided gracefully to her berth. A sailor standing on the dock couldn’t help shouting: “Whatever’s come to you, ‘Old Bust-Me-Up?” An old sailor shouted back, “Got a new skipper aboard!” That was the secret of the change.
When Christ becomes our Captain, he controls us and changes our lives, and He will guide us straight to port as “the captain of our salvation.”
II. Unity Comes When the Vision is Seen
Several years ago Reuben Welch wrote a book entitled We Really Do Need Each Other. He asserted there can be no spiritual isolation within the church community: no Lone Rangers. That goes for individuals, local congregations, and denominations! If we ever feel we are the “only true Christian” (individual, congregation, or denomination), we had better stop and look around — our army is much larger.
Elmer Schmelgenbaugh, pioneer missionary to Africa from the Church of the Nazarene, one night had a dream. He saw all the tribes of Africa before the throne of God. One by one, the tribes moved forward and passed through the gates of heaven, but suddenly they stopped. Schmelgenbaugh heard the wails and cries of the people and asked what it meant. They pointed their fingers at him and said: “We are the people you did not tell of Jesus.”
Our earth will be saved only when we catch the vision of global salvation from our common Savior. Not on the mission field only; how wonderful it would be if local congregations could work together to proclaim and serve Christ.
III. Unity Comes When Interdependence is Reality
Paul uses the analogy of the physical body to show our need of a Declaration of Interdependence. While we are not all the same, we are all important to the whole.
While in seventh grade I had a one-armed math teacher. He was very athletic and could do anything a man with two hands could do, including playing ball. I thought of him last September when I saw the American Gold Medal baseball team and their one-armed star pitcher. Both overcame their handicaps. Mr. Mann, my teacher, would often tell us of how his “hand” would itch, despite the fact he no longer possessed it.
In a similar way the church body “itches” when we’ve had a severing from one of our members. Let’s sign the Declaration of Interdependence. (DGK)
January 29, 1989
Is My Main Motive Love?
(I Cor. 13:1-13)
Why do I do what I do religiously?
That is sort of an awkward question. Think about it. You are a religious person. You engage in many religious practices. Why do you do them?
You go to church. You pray. You read the Bible. You give offerings. You do good things for people. I could go on with an enormous list of all the religious practices you carry on. Why do you do all the good things you do? I’ve been asking these questions of myself. Why do I do what I do religiously?
Is it because I was taught to? Some of us are the beneficiaries of godly home backgrounds. We have parents who taught us the things of the Christian faith. We have learned the teachings of the Scriptures from our childhood.
Do I do the things I do out of fear? We can be scared of God. He takes seriously what we do. As a result, we can perform for His benefit. Religious activity may just save us from His wrath. No matter how convinced we are that salvation is by grace, not by works, there lurks beneath the surface this residual terror of the Divine. Are our religious activities a life insurance policy?
Do I do what I do because of guilt? Guilt motivates many a religious activity. Throbbing in the subconscious is the knowledge that you and I are so blessed we should do something for others.
You know the feeling. You are walking through the mall during the Christmas season. There is the Salvation Army bell-ringer. You do your best to avoid eye contact. Why? Those compassionate eyes trigger internal feelings of guilt. One of the least expensive ways to temporarily rid yourself of guilt is to throw a dollar or two into the pot. The same thing applies religiously. Going to church, making the right religious sounds can ease the guilt.
Do I do what I do for the reward? There are rewards. In fact, there are pretty big payoffs for doing what is right. You get some of them in this life. You and I can be religious glory hounds.
Have you ever fantasized your own martyrdom? Wouldn’t people be impressed if you actually paid for some good deed with your life? Occasionally one of those narcissistic thoughts has flown through my mind as I have read the stories of ancient martyrs. My only regret is that I would not be around to see the glory I’d receive from my martyrdom!
Then there is reward in the life to come. A young man was giving his testimony one evening. All he talked about was the fact that Jesus had given him a one-way ticket to heaven. He had the promise of life to come. That’s important, but is that all there is?
What is my main motive for all the good that I do?
Paul wrote this great love chapter because he was led by the Holy Spirit to check out why you and I do our good works. He is doing some reality testing of our motives. This conceptualizer, who stresses grace, sees how concepts can be corrupted in practice. He is aware that we can be motivated to do the right thing or things for the wrong reasons.
That is why he concentrates on love. He abruptly stops in the middle of solid doctrinal teaching to emphasize the importance of having the proper motivation.
What he is doing is pausing briefly — as he underlines the importance of spiritual gifts — to remind us that the gift is not an end in itself.
The gifts are for this age. The “charismata” are transitory in nature. None of us has all of them. Those which we have we do not have forever.
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are different. All of them are available to each of us. And they are qualities that endure. They are not gifts given to us. They are qualities that grow in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Here in I Corinthians 13, he singles out one of these spiritual fruits, noting its primary importance as a motivator of all our Christian conduct. This motivator is love.
It was that quality which marked the life of Jesus as being different from status quo, religious living. It was what troubled the Pharisees and scribes who couldn’t understand Jesus having a friendly relationship with sinners, actually going into their homes and eating with them.
Jesus was trying to say what His critics couldn’t understand. God doesn’t love only those who are righteous. God’s heart is filled with love not just for those who deserve it or have earned it by religious living.
Paul writes, “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels….” There is a place in the church for people gifted in communication. Thank God for eloquent communicators of His Word.
He continues, “And if I have prophetic powers….” This refers to the proclamation of God’s Word. God blesses certain individuals with the capacity to proclaim His Word. We live in a day in which people need to hear the Word of the Lord. The Scriptures must be preached. Lives must be changed. Some have these prophetic powers.
He continues, “… and understand all mysteries and all knowledge….” Some have special insights into spiritual secrets. They are students of the Word. The Holy Spirit opens to them a depth of spiritual knowledge, not as readily available to others. They seem to understand more than some of us who are neither quite as intelligent nor spiritually tuned.
Paul goes on to isolate another special gift. He writes, “… and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains….” Paul is not referring here to salvation faith. He is talking about those individuals who seem to have the special ability to trust God. Abraham was singled out as one who had such faith. Some in more recent times, such as George Mueller, have learned great lessons in faith. They have been able to trust God to accomplish large tasks.
Paul continues, “If I give away all I have….” You and I are called to give or to share with others the blessings which God has given to us. The Scriptures teach us to feed the hungry. Ours are to be lives of charity. That is part of our Christian responsibility. We cannot push aside the pressing needs of our world, tritely labeling that as “the social Gospel.” This is God’s world. He is concerned with everyone in it. He calls us to give a cup of cold water in His name.
Then Paul says, “… and if I deliver my body to be burned….” This could refer to two different things. Paul may be talking about the high honor it is to be a slave of Christ. In his day some slaves were branded with a hot iron, even as we brand cattle in the Southwest. A white-hot branding iron would sear an identification mark on the slave. You and I are to be branded by Christ as His servants, His slaves.
More likely, Paul was referring to the possibility of martyrdom. There is no higher honor than to go to the stake for Jesus Christ. Tradition records that all but one of His disciples died as martyrs. So did Paul.
Do you catch what Paul is doing here? He is listing what any one of us would single out as one of the highest religious accomplishments. Even if it were possible for you to accomplish all these grand spiritual feats, Paul wants to know why you are doing them. He is checking out your motives.
So we come right back to the variation on the theme of our original question. We are dealing with motives.
Is my main motive love?
Just what is love? Do you know any word that has been more abused? Many a seducer last night wants you to know in the present and be nothing. Prophetic utterance can be futile without agape love.
Third, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Many a politician gives away all he has. Like the ancient Roman emperors, you can provide bread and circuses.
You can have your name put on a building. You can purchase an ambassadorship. What do you gain? Nothing, if what you want is the power, the prestige, or the publicity. You can go to the stake, labeling yourself a person of principle, a Christian martyr. If that is all you are doing it for, you will get precisely what you want — the label.
This doesn’t mean that others don’t gain. They do. They may be the beneficiaries of our religious exercises. You and I are the losers if we have the wrong motives.
You see, what Paul states so bluntly, “… as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect, but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
He talks about the difference between a child and an idiot. A child doesn’t have the wisdom that comes with experience. The young person may be very intelligent. In some ways, I think I knew more when I was in college and my first several years in the ministry than I now know. What I didn’t know then was how much I didn’t know. Now I know how much I don’t know and therefore am a wiser person.
Now I have come to the realization that I see through a mirror dimly. They made beautiful mirrors in Corinth, but they hadn’t perfected the art so as to remove distortion. Reflection was not perfect. It was only partial, as is our knowledge.
Some day we will understand fully what we don’t now. So let us hold our convictions and carry ourselves with a more generative style of living, maturing men and women who are not quite so brash, not quite so cocky, not quite so self-assured, knowing that, “Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”
So your spiritual gifts, as wonderful as they are, must be undergirded and energized by agape love if they are to be truly beneficial. It is the love of Christ which is to control us. It is His love which can motivate us. Faith, hope and love abide. But the greatest of these is love. (JAH)
February 5, 1989
When the Veil is Lifted
(2 Cor. 3:12-18)
In mathematics — as in other fields — there’s something called the “eureka experience.” The word comes from the exclamation that gold miners would shout when they struck gold. Shaking their pans over a stream, they’d spot nuggets of gold among the silt and they’d shout, “Eureka! I’ve found it!”
Something of that process takes place in learning math. You may study and analyze a problem for hours and it may still seem like Greek. Then, all at once, it is as if a giant curtain is raised in your mind to reveal the principle by which the problem can be solved. Suddenly, your mind shouts, “Eureka! I’ve found it!” You still have to work through the problem, but now you understand how to solve it. You’ve had a “eureka experience.”
In the verses preceding our text, Paul has begun contrasting the old covenant — the one God gave through Moses and the law — and the new covenant initiated through Christ. Although there was glory in the old covenant, the verses in our text explain the reasons for that greater glory of the new covenant.
The 34th chapter of Exodus — which tells of Moses receiving the covenant law from God — indicates that, after Moses left the presence of God and came down from Sinai, his face was radiant from the continuing reflection of God’s glory. After speaking to the people, Moses placed a veil over his face (Ex. 34:33).
Paul explains here (v. 13), that Moses used a veil to cover his face so that the Israelites would not see the radiance as it faded away. Perhaps Moses felt they would lose faith in him if they watched the radiance slowly fade from his face; perhaps, instead, he felt the people’s disobedience made them unworthy to see the Lord’s reflected glory, except as he was actually speaking God’s words to the people.
The important thing in Paul’s view was that the radiance did fade. Though Moses’ face reflected the glory of God immediately after a personal encounter, the reflection inevitably faded from his face. And that, Paul says, is symbolic of the old covenant itself — it was always meant to be temporary, a fading glory that would be overshadowed by the new covenant in the Lord Jesus Christ. The old covenant was not bad; it was simply incomplete. Completion came in the new covenant, which we find through Christ.
In the new covenant, Paul says, the veil is lifted to reveal the glorious presence of God — a presence and radiance that will never fade. And the veil is only lifted by Christ (v. 14).
What happens when the veil is lifted?
whispered the words, “I love you,” into the ears of a pretty young woman. Love. We all want to be loved. How tragic it is that so much of our love misses the mark of God’s definition.
The word Paul uses is “agape.” This is the love of the undeserving. It’s a love which gives. It’s a love which goes the second and third mile. It’s a love not only for those who deserve it but also for those who really don’t deserve it at all.
Its most classical expression was stated by Paul in Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” While we were undeserving, God took the initiative.
That’s the kind of love about which we are talking. This stimulates in us the love of Christ which constrains us to do what we do. The love involves an act of the will, a decision.
Is this the main motivation behind your religious activity? I must make a confession. I want to be admired spiritually. Therefore, some of my religious activities are born out of spiritual pride, not “agape” love. How about you?
Paul does you and me the same favor he did to the church at Corinth. He becomes extremely blunt in defining this love. Let’s take a look at this list. It weaves together both what love is and what love is not.
Love is patient — even when people bug me and complain about me, even when I’ve done my best.
Love is kind — sensitive to others in a way that genuinely wants the best for them.
Love is not jealous — envying, wanting what someone else has, refusing to express gratitude for all my blessings.
Love is not boastful — parading all of my accomplishments, putting myself above others, as the most important person in the universe.
Love is not arrogant — elevating me and my concerns to a place of greater significance than your concerns.
Love is not rude — putting other people down or simply dehumanizing them by ignoring them.
Love does not insist on its own way — willing to get what is best for me at the price of others.
Love is not irritable — becoming too quickly angered with clerks and waitresses who don’t produce what I want when I want it, but it breathes deeply, waiting to know the facts, willing to see the other’s viewpoint.
Love is not resentful — recording a list of the wrongs of others, a list that I periodically drag out to use punitively in putting them down or to use to build myself up, making me feel better.
Love does not rejoice at wrong — luxuriating in that weird erotic feeling of enjoyment which comes from hearing something bad about somebody else.
Love rejoices in the right — taking great satisfaction when truth prevails, yearning to restore the fallen brother or sister while at the same time I live seeking God’s guidance for my life.
Love bears all things — protecting those who are unable to protect themselves, not defensively protecting myself.
Love believes all things — trusting others, even to a fault.
Love hopes all things — wanting to believe the best can happen, without being naive in that belief.
Love endures all things — in that it is so steady, so strong, so lasting.
This agape love never ends. That’s a powerful statement, isn’t it?
Paul was not for a moment minimizing the importance of these wonderful spiritual gifts of which he writes in chapters 12 and 14. He is showing that when love is missing as the motive, the positive action actually becomes, if not a negative, at least only a fraction of the good that it otherwise would be.
Three key phrases underline this fact.
First, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Do you catch what this is saying. As great a gift as it is to speak eloquently, our words are empty without a passionate agape love.
This word strikes home to those of us who are preachers. I know some very gifted men and women who can move large congregations to tears. Behind the scenes, several I know are sullen, irritable geniuses. How pathetic.
The same can be said for the emptiness of ecstatic, charismatic utterance. You may have the gift of speaking in tongues. That puts a heavy responsibility on you. You can take pride in that God-given gift, as did the Corinthians. You can elevate yourself above others of us who are not gifted in the same way.
You can attach yourself to the specialness of your gift, forgetting that it is the love of Christ — the agape, the understanding, the sensitivy, the humility — which is the correct motivator. Eloquent preaching, ecstatic utterance, glorious liturgy can have the hollow sounds of noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.
Second, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” I am nothing. I am useless. What I do avails me nothing.
Think of that. I can speak the very word of God, both predicting the future and telling what God
When the Veil is Lifted, There is Understanding
As we enter into a relationship with Christ, things that were obscure before suddenly become clear. The man or woman without Christ must look on at what we do here in the church and think: “How absurd! Why would they give up a Sunday morning of sleep to get up early, get dressed up, and spend the morning singing hymns and listening to some loud-mouthed preacher? Why would they give away ten percent — or even more — of their income? Why would they give their time and energy for so many causes?”
Only in Christ do the truths of God’s Word really begin to make an impact in our lives. It is only in relationship to Jesus that the meaning of Scripture becomes clear.
That’s what Paul is saying in verses 14 and 15. Because of their disobedience in Moses’ day, the children of Israel allowed a veil to obscure even the old covenant. Because of unrepentant hearts, the people had uncomprehending minds. Their sin destroyed their spiritual vision.
The great tragedy, Paul says in verse 15, is that even into his own day, the same veil obscured God’s Word from His people. As C. K. Barrett notes, “The Torah (or law) contained the truth, but it could not penetrate through the veil to the hearers’ hearts.”
Not only did a veil block Israel from understanding the old covenant — the double tragedy is that they were also unable, or unwilling, to gaze on the greater glory of the new covenant. As Jesus Himself said, “If you believed Moses you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:46-47).
Only as we open our hearts to Jesus Christ will our minds be opened to greater understanding of God’s truth.
When we allow Christ to come into our hearts and lives, the veil is lifted and a new understanding of God’s love and God’s truth becomes part of us. Suddenly, new truths begin to spring forth from God’s Word; new insights seem so obvious and clear.
Paul notes yet another result:
When the Veil is Lifted, There is Freedom
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (v. 17).
As we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, the veil is lifted to reveal a new relationship with God — a relationship based not on law but on love. We find new freedom in Christ.
The old covenant was dominated by obedience to a code of laws. Under the old covenant, men and women were bound to external commands carved in stone or written on paper.
By contrast, the new covenant in Christ is a relationship based in love and freedom. Obedience is present, but as a loving response to God’s grace rather than a grudging adherance to God’s commands. In Christ we are freed from law, from sin, from death — freed to love and serve as children and heirs.
What brings about the change? Whereas the old covenant was written in stone, the new covenant is written in our hearts. The Spirit of God comes to dwell in our hearts, producing a desire to follow Christ in faithful obedience. It is no longer law which binds us but love.
Even within the church we sometimes surrender our freedom on behalf of legalism. All too often, churches and individual Christians become captive to lists of rules, to tradition, to a negative spirit. We succumb to the dry-rot of religious practice and self-righteous attitudes. What a tragedy that, like Esau, we would sell our birthright for something worth so little.
Because Christ has lifted the veil to offer us understanding and freedom, there is yet another result:
When the Veil is Lifted, There is Christlikeness
A mirror reflects only what is before it. The moon has no light of its own, but brightens the night sky by reflecting the sun’s light. So it is that you and I — when the veil has been lifted — are able to reflect the glory of the Lord in our own lives.
Of his generation, only Moses was permitted to enter directly into the presence of God. In Christ, each of us has been given that privilege. And like Moses coming from the presence of God on Sinai, when we have been with Jesus there is a reflection of His glory present in our lives.
Something also happens when we spend time with Jesus: we become more like Him. Paul says we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (v. 18).
As we look upon His glory, as we spend time in the Lord’s presence, our lives are shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ. We begin to love people as He loved them; we begin to treat others the way He treated them; we begin to obey the Father the way He obeyed the Father. Day by day, we become more and more like Jesus.
Adoniram and Ann Judson were missionaries in Burma. One day Ann was reading some newspaper clippings about their work; thinking it might amuse him, she pointed out to Judson that one of the clippings compared him to one of the apostles.
Rather than feeling amusement, the thought bothered Judson greatly. Finally he explained to his wife, “I do not want to be like them. I do not want to be like Paul, nor Apollos, nor Cephas, nor any mere man. I want to be like Christ.”
Because the veil has been lifted — because we have been permitted into the very presence of God through Christ — it is our privilege and our challenge to be more like Jesus.
When the people of Jerusalem encountered the apostles in those early days after Pentecost, they observed, “Surely these men have been with Jesus.” May the same be said of us. (JMD)
February 12, 1989
Tempted to Decision
(Luke 5:1-13)
Life is full of decisions. What kind of cereal to eat, what program to watch, what shirt or dress to wear, what to have for lunch? There are bigger decisions also: selecting a mate, a college, a vocation.
You also make decisions about what kind of life you’ll lead — about the kind of person you will choose to be. A lot of smaller choices may be involved, but God allows you to make the decision about the direction of your life.
Jesus was at the very beginning of His public ministry. He faced some key decisions about the direction and nature of that ministry. Like us, He had to decide what would be the basis of His life.
I. One Choice is Materialism
Satan tempted Jesus to satisfy His own physical needs. “Why be hungry when you have it within your power to be satisfied?” Satan may have demanded.
The material or physical world has always seemed alluring. Those who work with college students tell us that today’s generation of collegians may be the most materialistic ever. Alex P. Keaton — the money-motivated character in television’s “Family Ties” — seems to be more role model than caricature for today’s young people.
Yet materialism — no matter how attractive it appears — always falls short of true satisfaction. “Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus says, and in our hearts we know it is true. There is a longing in the human soul that can never be satisfied by materialism.
II. Another Choice is Power
Satan displays the world to Jesus and offers it to Him — if only Jesus will worship Satan. Why suffer death on a cross when you can have power without paying the cost?
We are certainly drawn to power, aren’t we? It has been said that power is an aphrodisiac, and human experience would seem to support that view.
Yet power alone also falls short of satisfaction. For Jesus, the cost of such power — worship of Satan — was far too high. He would eventually receive power, but it would come according to the divine plan. Only in relationship to God do we find the source of ultimate power.
III. A Third Choice is Exploitation
Satan now urges Jesus to “call God’s bluff” — to test His promises and be sure they are true. He does so in the form of a challenge to Jesus’ messianic identity: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” and the angels will protect you.
It is a temptation to exploit or manipulate God. Put Him to the test — bend the divine will to your own human will.
Our temptation may be to exploit God — demanding He act in a prescribed fashion in response to our “faith” — or it may be to exploit other people. We may be guilty of trying to manipulate others to act according to our wishes — exploiting them for our own purposes.
Authentic, open relationships don’t need to resort to exploitation. And it is only in a relationship with the Father — opening our lives to Him in commitment and faith — that we find the satisfaction we desire. (JMD)
February 19, 1989
Stand and Deliver
(Phil 3:17-4:1)
A recent film, called Stand and Deliver, tells the inspiring true story of a high school teacher in a Los Angeles public high school. He taught students others didn’t want to bother with, and challenged them to strive for excellence. These chronic underachievers became outstanding students.
How did it happen? A committed teacher put himself on the line for his students, and called out the best that was in them. He urged them to “stand and deliver.”
Paul is calling out the best in his beloved fellow believers in Phillipi. He is challenging them to stand and deliver — to stand firm in the Lord.
How do we stand firm in the Lord?
I. Follow Christian models
Paul urged his fellow believers to follow his example — to “live according to the pattern we gave you.” They were to use his Christian commitment as a model for their own lives.
We all need models. One of the best ways to learn something is to watch another person go before us; we learn to cook, to play sports, to build and repair things by watching others demonstrate such skills.
The same thing is true in the Christian life. How helpful it is for us to grow stronger in our Christian walk when there are fellow believers to serve as models of commitment and faith, going before us and demonstrating in their own lives what it means to know Christ.
Do you have that kind of model? Are you willing to be that kind of model?
II. Keep the focus on Christ
In verse 18, Paul cites those who have become “enemies of the cross of Christ.” How did they come to such a tragic path? They focused on the wrong things rather than on Christ.
Paul sums it up when he says, “Their mind is on earthly things” (3:19). Because their focus was on the things of this world rather than on Christ, they missed the most important thing to be found in all of life: a relationship with Jesus Christ.
III. Look to the future
In contrast with those who focus on earthly things, Paul says the Christian who stands firm in the Lord must recognize that our real home is not here but in the Kingdom of God. “Our citizenship is in heaven” Paul reminds us (3:20); someday we will be transformed, and will enter a new dimension of existence to share in Christ’s Kingdom for all eternity (3:21).
No matter how alluring this life may seem, it is nothing compared to what is ahead for those who are in Christ! By looking toward the future and trusting God with the present, we are able to stand firm in the Lord.
Are you willing to stand and deliver? Then stand firm in the Lord. (JMD)
February 26, 1989
The Incredible Challenge of Chance
(Luke 13:1-5)
“Why did it happen to me?” When a tragedy strikes one of us or one in our family, this question always springs to mind. People have always wanted to know why things happen as they do, and rightly so. Part of what it means to be human is to seek an answer to the question, “Why?”
This passage from Luke is a picture we all have viewed. Tragedy had left its ugly footprint upon the scene as it ravaged through. And those left untouched milled around to try to find some explanation.
To their minds the answer was simple: misfortune was invited by acts of sin committed by those who had been killed. In this case Jesus did what He appeared to do best — He stood tradition on its head and made everyone take a fresh look at it.
You and I find ourselves asking and seeking right along with those men of Jesus’ day. Why do things happen as they do? Do the events of this world happen entirely from chance?
Some people say that everything happens by chance. This idea expresses itself in thoughts like, “If there were really a God, there could be no pain in the world,” or “Everything must happen by chance because God could not allow earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods.”
Look carefully at this story in Luke. Pilate had a group of Galilean men and women killed. Also, a tower collapsed and killed eighteen men, presumably construction workers. Notice what the survivors had to say about it. Like most people of their day, they equated tragedy with sin.
They said, “These people were killed because they were great sinners.” This attitude belongs to the “everything-happens-by-chance” mindset because neither one of these ideas sees a God big enough to be in control of the situation. They see either no God at all, or one so small and weak that He cannot be responsible for the events of this world.
G. William Jones, in a little parable called “A Bargain With God,” tells about two shopkeepers. One was rich and owned a magnificent store. The other was poor and humble. The rich merchant was always telling his poor friend that it is God who sustains him in business.
One day this rich man’s store burned down, and the insurance did not cover half the value lost. The poor merchant tried to find his rich friend, to cheer him up and help him get started again. Since he couldn’t find him, he wrote the rich man a letter, telling him some things about God, and other matters. He received a one-line letter from his rich friend by return mail. It said, “There is no God!”
Sometimes it is far too easy to believe that everything happens by chance, or that if God is involved at all, His dealings are very, very small.
Other people claim that nothing happens by chance. There are people who claim to see the hand of God in every single event. I saw the most moving film of my life two years ago. It was “The Hiding Place,” the story of Corrie Ten Boom. In this film Corrie and her sister Betsie are sent to a Nazi concentration camp in Germany.
One of the prisoners talked about the time that they would get out of that prison camp, if they ever did. Betsie quickly replied, “There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world.” This would mean, then, that the old predestinarian was correct when he fell down the steps one day, got up, and said, “Whew, I’m sure glad that’s over with.”
So here we have two opposing views. We see those who claim that everything happens by chance, that there is no guiding force to life’s events. On the other hand, we see those who think they see God directly causing every event. We may rightly ask if either of these views is correct.
Let us look more closely at our passage in Luke. Jesus did not have one word to say about chance, one way or the other.
At first glance it would seem that this passage is dealing with luck. Some poor fellows got in the way of a falling tower — too bad! People thought this was God’s punishment, but Jesus saw something far different in this event.
Our Lord used this accident to talk, not about the chance of death, but about the possibilities of life. We can almost hear the whispers as they circulated around the scene of this tragedy. But just as quickly as they began, Jesus silenced them.
“Listen,” he said, “you think that these people were killed because they were bad. That’s what you see. But you have missed the point entirely. The death of these men should teach you the value of life. You must change your minds so that life will become meaningful for you.”
How I wish that you and I could learn such a lesson. The preciousness of life is as eternal as the stars, and yet as delicate as a rose petal. With every death comes a note from eternity’s trumpet awakening us to the possibilities of life.
Jesus did not deal in chance — He dealt in life. He never asked, “Why do men die?” He asked, “Why do men live at all?” The answer comes resounding back: “to serve God!”
We surely do not understand everything which happens to us. Living with that uncertainty is part of being human, but emphasize living.
It is sometimes easy to feel that God makes mistakes. Eric Marshall tells of a little girl who wrote a letter to God which read, “Dear God, why don’t you leave the sun out at night when we need it the most?” Like that little girl, we sometimes feel that our sunshine is taken from us just when we need it the most. But would not constant sunshine yield only a desert?
“The fall of a leaf is a whisper to the living.” It tells us that we, too, will sometime be a falling leaf. Its whisper says, “Live now.”
God has taken the stinger out of this incredible challenge to life which we call chance. His message is that it is life which is important, not death, not the unknown. (DMA)
March 5, 1989
The Real Meaning of Freedom
(Luke 15:11-24)
I almost laughed. Here was a lovely young mother in my office — a baby in her arms and a slightly older child systematically dismantling my office and her mother’s nerves.
This harried mother had only a few minutes to talk. She was due to pick up her third child from the preschool when she left. She apologized for her hair, which she had not had time to properly fix that morning. She also was embarrassed about her dress. It was clean when she left home but now showed traces of milk and juice and two or three flavors of baby food.
We had already discussed what she came to see me about. She was at the door, readjusting one child on her hip and pacifying the other to keep him from whining. Then she said: “Wow! When I think that five years ago I was dying to get married and move out of my parents’ house so that I could be free, it almost blows my mind!”
Freedom is relative, isn’t it? Almost every home has a cordless telephone now. When they were first marketed, they were known as “freedom phones.” Most calls on this phone sound as if they have originated in Moscow. But who cares? It’s wonderful to be free to receive calls while standing in the street in front of your house!
Our problem, with regard to freedom, is that we may not even know what true freedom is. The teenager can hardly wait for the freedom of the adult. The adult longs to be a teen again. The poor would love the freedom of the rich, but the rich remember what it’s like to be free of worry and to get a full night’s sleep. How we look at freedom depends on where we stand, and it makes freedom very hard to define.
The New Testament is never confused about the real meaning of freedom, however. The biblical view is that freedom — genuine personal freedom — consists in knowing that we are the children of God and living joyfully out of that knowledge without having to be guided by any external constraints.
The Apostle Paul said that the Law was our guardian until Christ came (Galatians 3:24). Then we learned what it is like to be the children of eternity — to be free at last in the Spirit of the Almighty God.
Jesus illustrated this freedom with the parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger of two sons wanted to be totally free. Like most young men who come of age, he was tired of living in his father’s house. He was tired of being told what to do — when he could come and go, and with whom.
He literally asked for an advance against his inheritance. He had no right to do this. There was no custom of giving a child everything before the parent died. What a person has belongs to him or her unless he chooses to give it away.
After the son had mustered the gall to ask for his inheritance while the father was still living, the father mustered the incredible grace to give it to him! It really was not such a bad decision. He did not want his son sulking around the house for years to come. A miserable child can make an entire household miserable.
You know what happened. The boy went off. He was totally free — or thought he was. There were no restraints. He wallowed in his freedom — until the money ran out. Then, he found out he was not free after all. His freedom was like the flight of the first airplane. It sailed a little way and then flopped disastrously on the ground.
Then, everything changed! This young man who had wanted total freedom — wanted it so badly he could taste it, wanted it so badly he was willing to hurt his family and everyone else to get it — decided that it was not freedom he wanted after all. What he really wanted was total subjection.
“Father,” he said, when he got back home, “I was wrong. I am not worthy to be your son. However, I am willing to be one of your hired servants.” Can you imagine that! Here was this high-flying, young idealist who had become so disappointed with freedom that he was willing to give it up completely for the security of servanthood and slavery in his own father’s house.
It happens all the time. The most profligate, inconsiderate, rebellious people you know flip-flop and become the most critical, legalistic Christians you ever saw. The psychology is as old as the story. As someone once said: “There is nobody more righteous than a reformed drunkard.”
Is that freedom? That certainly is not what Paul said. Paul said that it is foolish to return to slavery once you have been set free in the Son (Galatians 3:25-26). It is the same point Jesus made in this parable.
The father loves his son. He does not want to lay any bondage on him when he returns home. He knows what the boy has been through. He can see his genuine penitence. He refuses to let the boy take the easy way out by becoming a servant. That would abrogate all his experience in the world and turn him into a little boy again.
“No,” says the father, “you can’t be a child again. You have to be an adult now. It’s time to grow up.”
He calls for a ring and puts it on his finger. It was the ancient symbol of adulthood and authority. Then he called everyone together and said: “This is my son! He was lost and now he’s found. He was dead and now he’s alive!” For the boy-now-become-man, it was time to learn to live with a new kind of freedom: the responsible freedom of sonship.
Having real freedom does not mean having complete freedom. It means living freely out of whatever situation we happen to be in. It means accepting the limitations of our lives and not feeling hampered by them. As John Killinger said, “It means being able to dance even with our chains on.”
Real freedom — our freedom in Christ — is not the freedom to do anything we choose to do. It isn’t even the freedom to remake the world — and everyone in it — the way we would like for them to be.
Real freedom is the freedom of forgiveness and restitution, the freedom of acceptance and renewal, the freedom to be who we are in joy and peace and love. Real freedom is the freedom Paul spoke about in Galatians — the freedom to be sons and daughters of God, so that we can experience the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control {Galatians 5:22-23).
Freedom is not the freedom to do nothing. It is not the freedom to be anybody or anything we want. Freedom is the ability to be happy with who we are as human beings and to give thanks for our human situations, knowing that God loves us and accepts us and is preparing us for our eternal destinies in Jesus Christ.
Anything else is not freedom, but only an illusion of freedom. The way the prodigal son was made to be his father’s son and not his slave — this is what we, too, were made for. And when we finally discover that and integrate it into our self-understanding and way of relating to the world, we will experience the joy and excitement the prodigal must have felt when he strolled in the moonlight and realized how good it was!
God does not want us to be His slaves. He truly wants us to be His sons and daughters, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (GCR)
March 12, 1989
Rewinding the Clock
(Philippians 3:1-16)
I have a sentimental little hand clock in my living room. It is a beautiful piece of furniture. It is a Salem and genuine mahogany. It sits on the end table near the dining room. It is made out of dark wood, and it has a little piece of decorative metal on the top of it.
I think it is an eight-day clock. At least I don’t have to wind it very often. It doesn’t keep very good time, but it works well enough, and it is attractive enough for us to keep it in a conspicuous place. I like to keep it where I can see it, because it belonged to my mother and father.
My dad always kept it near one of his favorite chairs, and he was in charge of winding it every week. He used it as his television clock. He would grab hold of it and look and check the time so he would not miss a program. Every time I see it now, every time I wind it, I am transported back to their apartment in West St. Paul, where he and mother spent the last fifteen years of their lives.
I don’t know if you have a piece of furniture, or a picture, or a song that does that to you. It brings back all these memories.
“Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight
Make me a child again just for tonight.”
(“Rock Me To Sleep” — Elizabeth Akers Allen, 1860)
But you can’t turn back the clock, and one must not dwell in the house of the past too long because it is over and gone.
Jean Gonick is an author and a humorist who had been invited to lecture at a college class. Seeing so many “fresh faced, clear-eyed and earnest eighteen-year-olds” made her write, “It had finally hit me, walking from campus to this restaurant, that my youth was over. I didn’t mind that it was misspent, just that it was irretrievable.” The past is irretrievable, for you can’t turn back the clock.
Our scripture is from one of Paul’s letters to the church at Philippi. In order to strengthen them in their faith he tells them that “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind …” That’s a good biblical idea. You can’t turn back the clock; it is irretrievable. You can only dwell in the past in your memory. That is why we have to forget it.
Yet, while we cannot turn back the clock, we can wind it up again. You can give it a new start; that’s the message of our text. You must forget what lies behind and press forward to what lies ahead.
Too many of us, especially as we mature, are living in the house of the past. We are dwelling too long on the events that transpired years ago. Some of them were good and some of them were bad, but the fact that we spend so much time thinking about the past is certainly unacceptable.
God is calling us to serve Him in the present and in the future. That you did serve Him in the past is admirable, but that is over. What we are supposed to do with a past is forget it. What we are supposed to do with a present and future is “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
God can’t use us to His glory in the past because it is over. He wants to use us in the present and future, if we will be open to His Holy Spirit now. As long as we are alive, God wants to use us for His glory.
What motivation is there for living in the present and the future and being open now to God’s Spirit? The Bible says that we do it for the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The Bible is encouraging us to lead a prize-winning life by responding to the call of God in Christ Jesus. If you haven’t done that, you are just living — you are a spiritual loser. If you have done that, you are a winner.
A Presbyterian minister in Milan, Michigan (Vern R. Campbell) told of a teddy bear that sat high on a shelf in a department store which majored in rapid turnover of stock. But there he sat. He was a pretty brown teddy bear, but he had a problem. He had on a cute pair of bib overalls, but the button that held one strap over the shoulder was missing. The strap drooped by his side, and the bib hung down over his chest. And as he sat there he got more and more dusty. No one seemed very interested in a teddy bear like that.
Then it happened. A little girl walked into the store and spotted the dusty teddy bear with the drooping bib. The clerk suggested that perhaps she would rather have one that was perfect, but the little shopper was insistent. She wanted the dusty one on the top shelf.
When the clerk finally got the teddy bear down and handed him to the little girl, she threw her arms around him and exclaimed, “I love you, but I think you will feel better if I dust you off and sew a button on you.”
So it is with all of us who feel we are on the shelf. We all have a past that makes us what we are today. We may be missing a few buttons, but we are all acceptable as long as we are willing to let God do something with us now. (CTH)
March 19, 1989
Palm Sunday Parade
(Luke 19:28-40)
They were ecstatic! The King had come to town. And so they formed a parade. Luke tells us that those who were in the great multitude were “disciples” (Luke 19:37). Jesus was indeed surrounded by friends.
Could it be that these persons were the ones who showed up for the ten-day prayer meeting in that second-story flat in the downtown business district of Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost? And could these have been the five hundred who saw Jesus after Easter morning (I Corinthians 15:6)1 Maybe. Nevertheless, we do know that they were on Jesus’ side.
What kind of humans would have made up that parade? No doubt, most of them were poor. The poor tagged alongside the Lord wherever He went. On this last week of His earthly life it was the penniless who sang out.
Though poor materially, they were wealthy in soul. They had discovered great treasures in forgiveness, mercy and grace. And though poor politically, they were rich in heavenly connection. They had little pull, if any, with the empire; but they had all sorts of contact with the throne above. Further, though poor educationally, they were endowed with divine wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
By the worldlings, these were dubbed fools; in God’s sight, they were the truly educated.
In addition, this multitude was passionate. They were not afraid to express themselves. The other day I was speaking with a convert of a year-and-a-half, and he said, “I still cannot get over what it means to know Christ!” While some others have seemingly lost their song along the way, this fellow can still find the notes. He makes melody for the world to hear.
It was that way with this cheering mass who hailed Jesus. They were passionate because they were totally consecrated to the King. He had control of their tongues, limbs, heads, shelters, clothing, jobs — their very futures. He owned them.
And so, in their commitment, they were caught up in a frenzied excitement concerning who He was. No wonder they formed a parade around that slow-moving donkey with its celebrated burden. Caught in the adventure, they were committing themselves anew as serfs for His kingdom.
What did they have to offer?
They had their shawls, jackets, sweaters, outer coats. They had taken such pieces and decorated the ground as a carpet for their Sovereign. Those without garments to share looked at the trees. With passion they tore loose branches to improvise fans. Palm branches broke the morning’s blue sky.
Sometimes today’s believers think they do not have that much to offer the King. Yet when they realize that He is waiting for their all, their lives, everything becomes something.
The other day I received a note from an elderly Christian who lives outside Philadelphia. She said, “I’ve been doing very well since I came home from the hospital. I was in there five weeks with a cracked kneecap. I had a real good time in there!
“I had three different ladies in with me. Two of them were Christians and I had a chance to let the third know that I am a Christian and how good God has been to me, and how much I love Him, too. We can be happier wherever we are when our King is with us.”
This woman had a hospital confinement to give to the King! He took it as branches waving in the wind and made a testimony out of it. All He wants from us is our all, for Him to bless with His goodness.
Those poor, passionate people were joyfully praising. After all, they had found their monarch in Jesus Christ, so they shouted His title of “King.” That is the foreshout of the end times; Revelation 19 tells us that — at the close of the church age — the whole world will shout of Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
But more: they had found Him as Messiah. How is it that they proclaimed, “Peace in heaven …”? Because they had found not only their King but also their Prince of Peace.
He had freed them from worries, fears, frettings. Faced with the threat of war, inflation throughout the empire, hostility from unfeeling Gentiles, and their own daily personal woes, they had found spiritual victory.
They discovered the meaning of human existence in the message of their Lord. No wonder they shouted “glory in the highest!” While waving their branches, they were signaling God the praise due Him for sending His own to earth.
Today, we, too, are invited to the Palm Sunday Parade. Poor as we are, we can find in the King our wealth of soul, our heavenly connections and the education of the spirit.
So, too, we will be passionately committed to this King, caught up in His glow to become His willing serfs. And so the world will once more hear the old song from our lips.
Join the parade. (JGS)
March 26, 1989
Nothing Can Happen That Easter Can’t Handle
(John 20:1-18)
Easter, for the believer, is the last word. It is the finish. The first dawn of the week is nothing other than the “last stretch.”
Consequently, nothing in the believer’s life can happen which Easter cannot handle.
Jesus has shown us the way through the most horrible Friday to the power of Easter morn. He was mocked, yet lived to climb Mount Victory. He was blasphemed, yet came back beaming with heaven’s light.
Jesus was taunted, only to appear in Easter triumph. He was threatened, but turned that to Easter’s thrill. He was reviled, yet came back to reign as King, radiant in holiness.
Jesus was crucified, only to come back from the dead as One comforting, consoling. He was lied about, but broke open the deceit of the evil one with divine love. He was forsaken in darkness, yet returned to go on with His faithful mission.
Nothing could happen in Jesus’ life that Easter could not handle. So it is with the followers of Jesus — you and me.
It is a matter of patience. We must see through, with simple faith, the awful Fridays till Easter morn.
My father-in-law left his native Canada to come to the United States in order to be near his children in college. To do this, he had to leave his familiar house and vocation. All this occurred when he had retired early.
Nevertheless, to make a few dollars and keep active, he took on a night watchman’s job at a woolen mill in a nearby village. One night there was a fire in the main building. It did not take long for the authorities to point the accusing finger of blame at him.
Could he have set it on purpose? Was he a warped personality? Was he getting senile prematurely and therefore set fires unwittingly?
The awful “Friday” settled down upon him and his family as the accusers set up camp. Time dragged on and on. The investigation continued, seemingly without end.
Here was a mild-natured man, a helper in the community, a faithful believer who gave his life for the work of God’s church. Now he was being labeled criminal, fire-setting, a danger.
Eventually the truth came out. It was a misguided youth with arsonist tendencies who had set the fire. My father-in-law was shown to be the accused but innocent man.
I have often thought of those terrible nightmares that man had to live through when the heat was on. How did he ever manage it?
It was his simple faith, being patient in God, believing that since his humble existence was totally consecrated to the will of the Father, those dreadful Fridays would be handled by the might of Easter morn. And so they were.
It was also a matter of purity. There must be nothing impeding the Easter power at work to topple the plotting of the threatening Friday.
Jesus was hung upon the tree, the sins of the world placed on His head as He became, not only the Lamb of God, but also the goat (sin) of humanity. As the scapegoat of the Old Testament Day of Atonement rites had the twelve tribes’ sin put upon his head, so Jesus took the evil of all earth’s history.
Yet He was sinless, holy from conception, pure. And He remained so through it all. It was that pure life that opened the Father’s Easter power to put to nought the Friday scheming.
I think of Mother Theresa. She walks the paths of death every day in poverty-stricken India. The stench of decaying bones and last gasps surround her tiny frame as she meanders among the last chapters of biographies, such nearly torn to shreds.
How can a person live a life like that? It is because she has sold out her soul to purity. There are no harborings of material gain nor ecclesiastical prestige. No hankerings for the earthly toys that entice and then leave one wanting. She has become poor in spirit by her purity to Christ and so lives out the riches of Easter.
It is finally a matter of perspective. To know the power one must keep Easter in view, refusing to be earthbound.
There are so many who have chained themselves to the dust of this world, coughing up its refuse as if they had no other choice. But for the few who have lifted their sights to Mount Victory, they see Jesus. So it is that they rivet their vision upon Him till seeing Him face to face in glory. They wake up each morning with Easter on their minds.
Keep ever in mind and soul this truth: there is nothing in the Christian’s short journey that can ever happen which Easter cannot handle! (JGS)
Sermons in this issue are provided by: Don M. Aycock, Pastor of Enon Baptist Church, Franklinton, LA: Michael Duduit, Editor of Preaching; John A. Huffman, Jr., Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA; Deri G. Keefer, Pastor of Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI: Gary C. Redding, Pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church, Lakeland, FL; and J. Grant Swank, Pastor of Church of the Nazarene, Walpole, MA.

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