July 2, 2000
Healing Humanity’s Hurts
Anyone can sneer at our human condition, consider our plight, examine our mixed up motives, or watch our folly. But what can be done about it? Some claim that nothing will ever make much difference. Why bother?
But look again at today’s gospel story. Me meet two remarkable people.
They carried enormous hurts and worked at finding some way to ease their pain. One, the unnamed woman, carried her problem for a long time. The other, Jairus, staggered under the blow of an immediate crisis. The way Jesus dealt with both is instructive for our lives.
I. Christ and the Long, Drawn Out Agony
First, consider the woman. Her constant hemorrhage had caused her to spend all she had on doctors. To be fair, they could do nothing for her. Medicine in her time was little more than superstition. One remedy for her condition called for the patient to carry ashes on an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer, and in a cotton rag in the winter.
But whatever she had done, she found no relief. Her suffering was made worse by the fact that her own people considered her “unclean.” They had read Leviticus 15:25-27 and understood what it meant. By the time this woman met Jesus, her life was characterized by despair.
Despair still plagues humanity. Actor Dean Jones writes of despair in his autobiography, Under Running Laughter. Jones visited Mexico and saw a small girl begging in the street. The child had flies buzzing around her and landing on her eyes. She wouldn’t even go to the trouble of chasing them away. Jones said that scene hit him hard because the child already seemed to despair over life. Have you ever felt that way?
The woman in the gospel story felt like an outsider, an untouchable, a nobody. She would have tried anything in her desperation. She dared to reach out in half faith and half desperation. She touched Jesus as He passed by.
Jesus’ response was surprising. He asked, “Who touched Me?” The woman came forward. Perhaps she expected a strong rebuke for touching Him and making Him “unclean.” But Jesus asked, “Who touched Me?”, not “What touched Me?” He treated people as persons, not as things.
It was a personal question. It cost the woman something to reach out to Him. It cost Him something, too. The “power went out” of Him. Whatever else that means, it gives the sense that something vital transferred from Him. Jesus took healing out of the realm of superstition. Genuine healing does not come from shrines and statues, from prayer cloths or “holy” water. It comes from the deeply personal inter-action between a person and the Lord.
Her faith had made her well. Jesus said, “Go in peace.” The word “peace” here means completeness and wellness. She was well in body but especially in spirit. That is what the gospel offers.
II. Christ and the Crisis of the Immediate
Another person came into Jesus’ path. He was a soldier. His daughter was ill at home. His asking for help was remarkable. There was no jockeying for position or power. He did not come as a person “in charge.” He came as a father who was concerned with only one thing, his daughter’s health. Those of us who are parents know that we will do anything to help our children.
As with the woman earlier, Jesus dealt with this soldier on a human-to-human basis. He will help. But before He could go with Jairus, the news came that the girl was dead. They went anyway. Jesus told the mourners that the girl was only “asleep” and not dead. They laughed at Him. But He told the girl, “arise.” And she got up!
With both the woman and the soldier, Jesus got to the core of their lives. He turned the noisy despair into quiet, joyous hope. We read these accounts and wince at the isolation and loneliness of the woman. He hurt at the agony of her physical and emotional condition. We recoil from the fear and despair of Jairus. We’ve heard those words, too — “It’s too late.”
Jesus is about the work of healing humanity’s hurts. This does not happen in some superficial way, but in a way that is rooted in the very nature of life itself. He treats us as persons, not things. P. T. Forsyth wrote many years ago, “Unless there is within us something that is over us we shall succumb to that which is around us.” He was right. That which is over us is love, love made known in Jesus. It came to a woman who seemed hopeless and to a man who could barely hope.
That love comes now to those who will accept it in faith. Will you? (Don M. Aycock)
July 9, 2000
What To Do With Life’s Thorns
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Thorns. Everyone has them. For some people, like Paul, they may come in the form of physical difficulties. Chronic pain, on-going fatigue, regular trips to the doctor, extended hospital stays, all these and many more problems indicate our physical difficulties.
Some of life’s thorns are relational. Some people seem to have trouble making or keeping friends. Marriages break apart. Family members turn on each other in spiteful revenge.
Financial difficulties form another of life’s thorns. Who doesn’t believe how expensive living today is?
But is there anything we can do with our thorns? The answer is “Yes.”
I. Accept Thorns As God’s Messengers To You
The apostle Paul spoke about his “thorn in the flesh” as a “messenger of Satan.” That is a surprising statement. Why would a good man like him have such a terrible physical problem? We wonder about things like that for ourselves. Why us? What have we done?
This passage of Scripture makes it clear that we can learn from terrible experiences if we stay awake spiritually. Even trouble can be accepted as God’s message to us. Our impulse is to run from our problems. But what would happen if we looked them squarely in the face? Our fear would vanish and we could hear the voice of God.
II. Use Your Thorns To Stay Spiritually Grounded
We live out our lives in the light of the gospel. That gives us hope. Even when life hands out thorns, we still refuse to despair. Paul testified that his thorn kept him from being conceited about the wonderful spiritual vision he had seen. Our troubles can do that — keep us humble but living in the hope of the gospel.
I heard of a non-hopeful company. Its called Despair, Inc. This company offers de-motivational products as a parody to the popular motivational posters. Its products are selling like mom’s best hot cakes! Winner of a 1999 “Most Humorous Wall Calendar of the Year” award, Despair, Inc. offers T-shirts (black only), note cards, prints, calendars and more, promoting stupidity, mediocrity, failure, pessimism, ineptitude, and, of course, despair. Despair, Inc. has its own web site. If you want to see how strange this is, go to http:/www.despair.com.
The other side of despair is the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to live in defeat and mediocrity. In Him is life and light. Don’t stumble in the dark. Don’t let your thorns defeat you. Use them to stay spiritually grounded.
III. Move Beyond Them To Develop Your Life To The Fullest
Paul realized that he could still have a life despite his thorn in the flesh. He learned that God would never abandon him. He found that God’s grace was enough. What a lesson that is! We can still have a life, no matter what is thrown at us.
Perhaps a boy growing up with the nickname of Sparky learned the same thing. Sparky was a loser. He, his classmates … everyone knew it. So he rolled with it. Sparky had made up his mind early in life that if things were meant to work out, they would. Otherwise he would content himself with what appeared to be his inevitable mediocrity.
After completing high school, he wrote a letter to Walt Disney Studios. He was told to send some samples of his artwork, and the subject for a cartoon was suggested. Sparky drew the proposed cartoon. He spent a great deal of time on it and on all the other drawings he submitted. Finally, the reply came from Disney Studios. He had been rejected once again. Another loss for the loser.
So Sparky decided to write his own autobiography in cartoons. He described his childhood self — a little boy loser and chronic underachieves
The cartoon character would soon become famous worldwide. For Sparky, the boy who had such a lack of success in school and whose work was rejected again and again, was Charles Schultz. He created the “Peanuts” comic strip and the little cartoon character whose kite would never fly and who never succeeded in kicking a football, Charlie Brown.1
Don’t waste life’s thorns. Use them. Draw closer to God. Learn to develop your life despite them. Paul was right — God’s grace is sufficient. (Don M. Aycock)
1Story from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. Copyright 1997 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Kimberly Kirberger
July 16, 2000
Praise Him From a Prison Cell
Paul composed a letter to the churches in Ephesus intended to be circulated amongst them for encouragement and affirmation. The seasoned statesman of faith writes this epistle to Christians as a resource for life.
The sounds of praise and joy reverberate throughout the first chapter even though the old saint sits in a cell on death row in a Roman jail.
In staccato style Paul writes affirmation thoughts for his contemporary community of churches. Truthfully, each generation of Christians, since the first reading in a home church, has reaped the benefit of Paul’s spontaneous joy. The church of 2000 and beyond still needs this great ecumenical letter of adoration, joy and praise!
I. Praise for Christ’s Power
Praise generates from the heart the will of life. A determination stating that regardless of circumstances, the person of God rejoices in Christ.
Praise boasts in Christ. The Christian realizes the source of spiritual power stems from the relationship he or she has with Jesus, the Nazarene. Nothing they possess will fight spiritual battles on the field of life. They are like David in Saul’s armor. Their equipping comes from the Almighty God who alone is capable of defeating Satan and his henchmen.
Charles Spurgeon writes about the risen Christ, “As the victor He wears the illustrious crown … He wears the glory of an Intercessor who can never fail, of a Prince who can never be defeated, of a Conqueror who has vanquished every foe … Jesus wears all glory which the pomp of heaven can bestow upon Him … you cannot with your utmost stretch of imagination conceive His exceeding greatness.”1
Praise pours from the hearts and lips of those who have glimpsed part of that greatness. Go ahead, say it out loud, Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Let praise be continuous, never-ending, always present within the Christian.
II. Praise for Christ’s Salvation
Praise God that those who accept the offer of salvation can be “in Christ.” Born into the Kingdom of God by the death of Christ on the cross the person who accepts Christ’s forgiveness now shares not just His cross, but also His resurrection life both now and forever.
Many years ago a Calcutta newspaper related that a young Hindu Brahman visited a missionary. In the conversation’s course the young man said, “Many things which Christianity contains I find in Hinduism; but there is one thing which Christianity has and Hinduism does not.” The missionary asked, “What is that?” The Hindu replied, “A Savior.”
Let all Christians everywhere rejoice that there is a Savior — Jesus! We must not keep Him to ourselves for the joy we have found in sins forgiven and in the satisfaction of life must be given to others.
III. Praise for Christ’s Spirit
The Greek word, sphragizo, means to “mark something with a seal of identification.” In the era that Paul lived a property owner used a signet ring to guarantee his word. If a question arose about ownership when the person came to claim his property, his seal was sufficient evidence to quell any question.
Paul uses this as a dynamic illustration for the Christian life. In like fashion the Christian’s heart is imprinted with God’s seal — the Holy Spirit. Christ’s Spirit shows for all to see that we are God’s property. (Derl Keefer)
1Time Out With God, New Century Version Bible. (Dallas: Word Bibles, 1991), p. 611.
July 23, 2000
Being One In Christ
On May 21, 1946 at Los Alamos, a young scientist was experimenting in preparation for the atomic test being conducted in the South Pacific Ocean.
He performed the experiment on several occasions successfully. He needed to determine the amount of U-235 necessary for producing a chain reaction. Scientists call it the critical mass, and he accomplished it by pushing two hemispheres of uranium together. As the mass became critical, he would push them apart with his screwdriver stopping the chain reaction.
Just as the material became critical on that fateful day the screwdriver used to push the mass apart slipped. The hemispheres collided and instantly the room was engulfed with a dazzling bluish haze. Scientist Louis Slotin interrupted the chain reaction by tearing the two hemispheres apart with his hands. His heroic act saved the lives of his seven co-workers in the room. Nine days after the incident Slotin died in agony.1
The cross broke sin’s concentration of radiation, but it cost the life of Jesus. The result of His death brings humanity into being one in Christ with the Father.
I. Being One In Christ — Remembering The Past (vv. 2:11-13)
Each month Lighthouse Digest magazine publishes a list of lighthouses in danger of being lost forever. The January 2000 issue included Anclote Light in Florida to the Wood Island Life Saving Station in Maine. 49 in all were on their “Doomsday List.” They alert people of the need to save these historic lighthouses. On occasion folks rally and save one or two of them.
Paul explains to the Ephesians that once they, too, were on a “Doomsday List” because they were separated and excluded from the fellowship of God and others. The same holds true of anyone without Christ.
The good news is that Christ has come to save all who want to be reconciled with God. He gives His promise as a covenant with all who desire to accept this reconciliation and He signs it on the cross with His blood.
Maxie Dunnan expressed it well, “The cross … is a sign that brings us back to our senses, back to the place of love where reconciliation takes place. We look at the cross and are reminded of what we have lost — the relationship with Christ we have spurned. Feelings of repentance well up. We open ourselves to God, and, gracious Father that He is, He restores us to fellowship with Him.”2
II. Being One In Christ — Destroying The Barriers (vv. 2:14-18)
When Christ enters our hearts the barriers of living begin to crumble. Jewish missionary Paul felt God’s specific divine call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He purposely and continually wrote about breaking the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews kept themselves barricaded from Gentiles by several cultural and religious barriers.
One writer said, “… the most vivid symbol of separation was an actual wall in the temple. Non-Jews could never enter the temple courts beyond that wall. Here Paul describes how Christ utterly destroyed the “wall of hostility between the two groups.”3
Today the multiplicity of barriers seems to have increased. Many things and our love of them keep us from Christ. Ethnic hatred, greed, selfishness and fear distance us from our neighbors and those of other nations. We are a planet that talks peace, but there is no peace in our hearts. Only when Jesus enters our hearts will the walls of hostility, culture and hatred fall. Let Christ destroy your barriers today!
III. Being One In Christ — God’s Household of Faith (vv. 2:19-22)
The household of faith builds on friendship with Jesus and friendship with fellow Believers. They are the bricks that help build our spiritual houses.
Several years ago someone wrote that a friend is the individual who comes in when every other person has left us. That is the kind of friend Jesus is to His followers.
The household of faith builds on leadership. These leaders are not only self-starters but are finishers of the faith! They echo Paul who said he had fought a good fight and finished the course (2 Tim. 4:7).
The household of faith builds on the Spirit. He will purify, cleanse, direct, convict and empower us to live holy lives in an unholy world.
Today ask Christ to come into your heart so you can be one with Him! (Derl Keefer)
1Craig Larson, Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), p. 49.
2Maxie D. Dunnam, The Communicator’s Commentary, Vo. 5. (Waco: Word Books, 1982), p. 172
3The Student Bible NIV. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1986), p. 1032.
July 30, 2000
Displeasing The Lord
2 Samuel 11:1-15
“An ancient and enduring tradition teaches that the people on top make the rules — they don’t have to live by them. Lots of leaders in history have followed this course, taking the women they wanted, the money they wanted, the privileges they wanted.”1
When David saw beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the roof top of her house, he followed the traditional model and grabbed what he wanted. Nobody challenged him; no servant, no citizen, no bodyguard and certainly not Bathesheba. No one seemed upset even when they knew what David was going to do with her in his bedroom though she was another man’s wife.
The only one who seemed displeased was God! Often we 21st Century humans do something sinful and think no one notices or cares. It doesn’t seem to matter what choices we make, others don’t want to be involved. If no one says anything, we just go along on our merry sinful way doing wrong.
Just as God did not approve of David’s action in our scripture, neither does He approve of our sinful behavior today.
Step 1 — Lust In The Heart
God’s displeasure with David began in David’s lustful heart. David’s sin did not begin when he held Bathsheba in his arms in the privacy of his secluded bedroom. His sin began when the warm winds of an early summer evening blew across the palace balcony and a bored king caught sight of a beautiful woman bathing in the privacy of her own roof top.
David’s eyes wandered from head to toe over Bathsheba’s body. Temptation seldom begins with ugliness, for the usual bait is something luscious to the eye. Once the eye catches view the heart of lust begs for more.
Today lustfulness propels advertising and entertainment executives all over the globe to give us as much for the eye to see as possible. They manipulate sexual lust to sell everything from soda pop to jeans. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar business luring a lustful society deeper into its industry.
Henry Fairlie wrote, “The offense of our age is not that it excites sex, but that it withers it, takes away all dewiness from it, shrivels it to the husk. The reason why lust often turns to perversions is that the flesh itself has ceased to please it.”2
Christians must break this terrible cycle by the power of the Holy Spirit. If it does not occur, lust leads to …
Step 2 — Adultery
David should have stopped with the look and turned back into the safety of the palace hallways, but rather he demanded Bathsheba’s presence. The king, a man close to God’s heart, ignored God’s warning signs. David slid right past:
1. His conscience
2. His loyal subject — Uriah
3. His knowledge that Bathsheba was already married
4. God’s law that forbade adultery
Adultery steals another person’s spouse for sexual relationships, but truthfully it’s much more. The individual’s emotions, affections, cares, hopes, dreams and desires are also stolen from the spouse. There ought to be a sign that says “off limits” but like David, too many ignore it. The act of adultery leads to …
Step 3 — Deceit
David’s and Bathsheba’s action leads to an unwanted pregnancy. The “man of God” who is now “the estranged man from God” attempts to worm his way through his ugly affair with deceit.
His plan backfires as Uriah returns from the front lines of battle. Uriah, David’s servant in the field of battle, has a commitment not only to David but to God. David’s deceit leads to Uriah’s ultimate murder. The king, through his commander Joab, sends Uriah to the very heat of the battle and there has the army leave him to die. David’s plan succeeds. Uriah dies because of David’s sin.
J. Wilbur Chapman is credited with this thought, “Temptation is the tempter looking through the keyhole into the room where you are living; sin is your drawing back the bolt and making it possible for him to enter.” King David has “drawn the bolt back” and stepped through to Satan’s room of darkness.
When we sin, we give in to Satan and an unholy world that desires to tyrannize and destroy us.
“The relation-based Christian asks, ‘Who do I want to be in love with? My Lord or this sin?’ Merely asking ourselves this question unmasks the ugliness of sin. Sin creates massive disturbance in our lives; holiness brings peace. When we look honestly at what each brings, we have to ask ourselves, why, indeed, this sin is even tempting us.”3
The good news is that David repented when confronted by God’s prophet. Once again he felt God’s redeeming love and grace wrapping around him bringing him back from the cold of indifference. He once again established a personal relationship with God.
What a tremendous lesson for us today. If David could be forgiven for lust, adultery, deceit and murder there is hope for us. Listen and obey God’s call today and discover the joy of forgiveness! As the song says, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way” (Derl Keefer)
1The Student Bible. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1986), p. 287 (insight).
2Robert Payne, Humanity and Sin. (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999), p. 244.
3Gary Thomas, Seeking the Face of God. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994), p. 57
August 6, 2000
Jesus, The Bread of Life
The account of Jesus feeding 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish in Galilee is recorded in all four Gospels. The early Church remembered this impressive symbolic miracle.
When the crowd next encountered Jesus, He gave them a teaching about spiritual hunger and it’s satisfaction. It is one of His famous “I Am” sayings. He said, “I am the door” (John 10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (v. 11); “I am the way the truth and the life” (v. 14:6); and “I am the True Vine” (v. 15:1). In this passage Jesus said “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
Jesus’ Jewish hearers recalled Moses leading their ancestors out of slavery into the Sinai desert. After two months they ran out of food and complained. A miracle of honey wafers appeared on the morning dew. In Hebrew it was called man hu which is “manna” in English. It was the bread from heaven which the Lord provided His hungry people. Recalling this, Jesus taught about bread for our spiritual hunger.
I. Physical hunger is a reality
Bread is a basic food which nourishes us. We are told that two billion people on earth today are malnourished and almost a billion are hungry each day. Ironically, most of us Americans hardly ever miss a regular meal.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus practically taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He also taught us to share with “the least of these, my brethren” food and assistance. This is one of the Church’s significant ministries.
Jesus also taught us that we shall not live by physical bread alone (Mat.4:4). We have a spiritual hunger which also needs satisfaction. This is the focus of our text.
Poet Mary A. Lathbury wrote: “Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord to me, As Thou did’st break the loaves, beside the sea. Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee Lord, My spirit pants for Thee, O Living Word.”
II. Heart hunger is also a reality
At this second encounter the crowd asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28). Jesus responded, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (v. 29).
Faith in Christ satisfies our heart hunger, forgiving our sins and empowering us by the Holy Spirit. It also comforts our grief and calls us to follow Jesus, in God’s will.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. Some people rely on false breads: astrology which is superstition; hedonism, living only for pleasure; and materialism, having a greater desire and love for things than a faith relationship with our Creator. Jesus is both the gift and the giver of faith.
We find a significance of the Bread of Life in our observance of the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus fed the 5,000 He took the loaf of bread and gave thanks to God.
At His second encounter with the crowd whom He miraculously fed, He told them that their ancestors in the Sinai desert ate the bread from heaven (manna) and later died. However, “If you eat My flesh and drink My blood” we will abide in Him and we will “live forever” (John 6:58).
In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 we have the oldest account of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper with His disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. That night He said that the bread represents His body and the cup, His blood. This observance is a thankful celebration of our redemption. (Al McEachern)
August 13, 2000
Righteous Living: Forgiving One Another
The Apostle Paul wrote the new Ephesian Christians with a special instruction: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as His beloved children” (v. 5:2).
An imitator is someone who follows the pattern and will of God, in whose image we were made. He becomes our model and example in righteous living. We want to be like God, to mimic His examples and behave as His obedient children, since He is our heavenly Father.
I. A meaningful list of righteous Christian living
1. “Put away falsehood and speak the truth to your neighbor” (v. 25). We do not want to live with lies and misrepresentation of ourselves and situations. We want to be honest and truthful about all matters. This is an important and practical admonition. In school, business, politics and family life, may the Father enable us to live in honesty and tell the truth, whether about good or evil.
2. “Be angry but do not sin” (v. 26). We are to oppose evil but we will not sin against people who are doing wrong things. Paul has an interesting instruction: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Bring it up and deal with it on time. Be fair and “don’t give the devil an opportunity.” (v. 27).
3. “Do not steal” be honest in your work. As we labor and earn a living we are to share generously with those who are in need. Christian stewardship is giving honor to God and helping other people with His tithe and our offerings. We are to share God’s grace and the good news of the Gospel with others. We want to please and not grieve God the Holy Spirit (v. 30).
4. Paul lists some vivid acts of righteous living in verse 32: “Be kind to one another” and “Be tenderhearted.”
II. The great instruction: “Forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you.”
Psalm 32 begins with a beatitude: “Happy is the man whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put away.” We are to be congratulated! Three words for sin occur in this Psalm: “transgression” is deliberate disobedience; “sin” means missing the mark, moral failure; “iniquity” is crooked and perverse.
By divine forgiveness, God cancels our sin debt and relieves the burden of our guilt. Therefore He calls for our confession. Divine forgiveness causes our transformation and gives us obedient joy!
In Ephesians 4:32 the Apostle Paul is recalling what Jesus taught us about forgiveness in His model Lord’s Prayer. “Give us our daily bread and forgive us our debts, trespasses and sins, as we here and now forgive those who sin against us.” This is a call for human forgiveness, as well as divine.
Once General James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the colony of Georgia, said to his Chaplain John Wesley, “I never forgive.” Wesley replied, “Then I hope you never sin.”
Quaker President Richard Nixon said of draft dodgers during the Vietnamese War, “We will not forgive them.” However, after the Watergate Event, Nixon had to be pardoned by President Ford. If we have an unforgiving spirit it can block divine grace and forgiveness.
Our Heavenly Father is the God of a second chance. By redemption He forgives us and gives us a chance to begin righteous living again. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What an important promise that is!
During World War II the Germans bombed the English city of Coventry, destroying their cathedral. Only the tower and outer wall are left. They took three ancient nails from the roof and welded them into a cross. It is on the wall above the altar with an inscription beneath, “Father Forgive.” It is called the “Cross of Nails,” a vivid symbol of forgiving one another. (Al McEachern)
August 20, 2000
The Normal Christian Life
Since the time of the New Testament, Christians have struggled to define the standard, the normal, Christian life. Around 100 A.D. St Clement wrote that the first century martyrs set the norm, the standard. Titus Flavius Clemens (circa 200 A.D.) adds reason in the standard for Christian thought.
In the fourth century, Cappadocian monks and nuns lived celibately together in the hewn out caves of modern day Turkey. For them, the norm for Christian witness was to expect Christ’s immediate return, and therefore, they refrained from procreation. In the early centuries some sought to rise to the standard of normal Christianity with such extreme measures as sitting on top of poles for years.
In contrast to a proscribed program, Saint Paul’s definition of the normal Christian life is a definition of liberty and power animated by the Holy Spirit.
I. The Normal Christian Life is being filled with the Spirit
Believers have a choice in what fills their lives. Paul warns the Ephesians to stop filling their lives with drunkenness and unwise behavior. Rather, they are to fill their lives with being obedient, available, and sensitive to the Spirit. It is the Spirit which changes lives to the image of Christ.
Being filled with the Spirit is being filled with the presence of Jesus Christ. As believers choose to follow Christ, they must choose daily to open themselves to the Spirit’s guidance and control. The Holy Spirit instructs the whole personality of the believer.
II. The Normal Christian Life is Quality in spite of “evil days”
1 Corinthians explains that the Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ. Therefore our quality of life is the power to witness to Jesus Christ. St. Paul is reminding his readers that our life is our witness. If one is filled with the Spirit, then one will walk with the Spirit. The infilling of the Holy Spirit is not a one time experience but is a work of Jesus Christ.
In Acts 2-4 St. Luke reports four specific times that Peter was filled. It is life lived in the kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this fallen world.
The work of the Spirit is to glorify Christ through our lives. Being a part of the Body of Christ includes strengthening the body by “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
We are to encourage and edify one another with what we say and do “because the days are evil.” The world gives us enough discouraging examples and a constant barrage of words filled with fear and discouragement. If we are to be encouraged in Christ, it is up to us as a part of the body to bring words of encouragement, words of Christ, Godly words, “psalms, hymns, spiritual songs.”
“Be subject to one another.” Believers’ relationships with one another are affected and made standard by their relationship to Christ. Respect for Christ demands believers respect all for whom Christ has died. Love for those in the body is the standard by which the world will know believers (1 John 4:20).
III. The Normal Christian Life is a life full of access to God.
Paul in Philippians 3:3b repeats what is said here in Ephesians, “We who worship by the Spirit of God and make our boast in Jesus Christ.”
The Holy Spirit is the enabler of worship, “speaking … singing … making melody.” The Spirit of God puts songs in the hearts of believers and praises to God break forth. Praising God puts our hearts in the position to enter God’s presence. Jesus had stated plainly that those who worshiped God must worship in spirit and in truth. The Holy Spirit filling the believer leaves no room for anything less than truth in hearts and actions.
The thankful heart is the heart truly alive by the Spirit. The thankful heart is assured God is for the believer and that circumstances are not the source of joy and peace, only the presence of God can give those precious reasons for living.
The thankful heart abandons itself to the guidance of the Spirit rejoicing in Jesus Christ to the Father. Such a heart beats out a life of glory to Christ encouraging the body and witnessing to the unsaved. (Carolyn Volentine)
August 27, 2000
“Believe it or Not” was the title of a syndicated column popular for decades in American newspapers. It was the avenue for a life’s work and fortune of Robert Ripley. His cartoons depicting strange and exotic phenomena were reported as facts. Mr. Ripley challenged his readers to accept the credibility of his work by his title, “Believe it or Not.”
In the Gospel according to John, we have an account of people believing the unusual signs and wonders of Jesus but refusing to accept the person from whose life the phenomena flowed. They were “first century newspaper readers,” able to “read” the news about Jesus and believe what they had heard and had seen and then put the incident “down” just as we would a newspaper.
As long as the stories and experiences were good, exciting, even beneficial for them, they stayed around. But when the stories demanded a commitment from them, many responded like the modern day newspaper readers, they simply acknowledged that something happened and then walked away from the key character and author of the events.
I. Beyond belief is life
In verses 6:5-6 John shares with us the demands and expectations Jesus requires of those who would truly be His disciples. Jesus does not let those who hear Him remain neutral observers. To go beyond mere assent that a phenomenon has happened or assent to words that have been said, there must be participation. There must be a relationship, a knowing, a profoundly personal knowing who Jesus is and who we are in relationship to Him.
To illustrate this intimacy Jesus used many metaphors: I am the vine, I am the door, I am the good shepherd. I am the bread of life. Upon hearing these words, first century Jews would immediately associate the saying with the manna which God gave during Israel’s wilderness experience. Jesus has chosen this reference to emphasize that He is God-given. Unlike manna, however, He does not give life just for the day but for eternity. Neither is He bread just for Israel, but for the whole world.
II. Beyond belief is choice and consequence.
Candidly, the gospel writer reports in these five verses that “many of His disciples” found this saying too hard, too demanding, and they chose to withdraw. John also lets us know that this was not a surprise to Jesus.
The Lord challenges His listeners’ willingness to believe but to go beyond the perimeters that they have set for themselves. He foretells His own ascension and chastises them that even that would not be enough to persuade them to commit to Him. He warns the choice not to go beyond belief to internal intimacy leads to betrayal. The judgment of the Father, Jesus says, is the divine response to their refusal to be transformed by committing to know and be known by Jesus.
III. Beyond belief is revelation.
Jesus directs His attention away from those who turn away from Him to those who remain. He turns to Peter as spokesman for the remaining and asks, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Silence is not enough. Jesus demands Peter openly declare his intentions. Peter answers, not only for himself but presumably those who remain when he answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
By speaking, Peter has witnessed to the move from belief to beyond belief to knowing. What does he know? He knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Although at the time of Jesus’ betrayal Peter indeed does “run away,” he later regrets his action and the risen Christ gives him an opportunity to reaffirm his knowing that Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, the God-given bread of life.
In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul repeats this affirmation and clarifies its significance for the Believer. He writes, “… for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:2).
Paul and Peter committed everything to the Lord. Do we believe? Do we know? Are we persuaded that the Holy One of Israel is able to keep everything that we have committed because He is the Bread of Life? Or, will we go away? (Carolyn Volentine)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Don Aycock, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Palatka, FL; Derl Keefer, Three Rivers Church of the Nazarene, Three Rivers, MI; Al McEachern, Proactive Evangelism Ministries, Inc., Douglasville, GA; Carolyn Volentine, Pastor, First United Methodist Church, De-Quincy, LA
Sermon briefs provide a homiletical starting point