Monday, August 24

I really do care Preached 23 of August 2015 at Kenton Church

here are some passages in God’s Word that lends themselves to preaching. John 3:16, Psalm 23 or Matthew 5-7. The way we, that is westerners think, it has clear limits, can be set into bite-size pieces. Then, there are passages like this one.

These verses are pushing a doctrine of justification or sanctification. Paul’s not teaching us about the role of spiritual gifts or plant a church. Instead, this is one of those passages in which we see the heart of Paul toward those with whom he worked and besides whom he labored for Jesus. This is why I paired this passage with Acts 20. There you see Paul speaking with the leaders of Ephesus, the church with whom he had the longest pastorate.

It is a change of tone for Paul. He doesn’t lower his standard for Christ, but he now addresses these brothers and sisters as one who loves them and aches to see them restored. It has been described as a “tender, urgent and intensely personal appeal” (Hendriksen), “a fatherly, apostolic spirit” (George), “He turns from ‘spanking’ to ‘embracing’ (Wiersbe), for he remembers their willingness to sacrifice for him and the way in which they accepted him at his lowest.

You can’t share what you don’t have

Verse 12 starts, “Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” The problem is only the first verb actually appears in the text so a ‘literal translation’ becomes, “Becomes as I, for I as you”. Strange to us but perfectly normal grammar and construction for its day.

Paul urges the Galatians to become like he is. He wants them to be free from keeping Jewish traditions, being enslaved by the Law, and to be free in Christ. He wants them to embrace and be embraced by God’s grace and to remain true to Jesus’ call.

The second part of this verse, “for I as you” reminds them that he didn’t pretend to be a super Jew, full of condemnation for Gentiles. He wasn’t aloof and distant as some had been, including Peter. No Paul had come there at his weakest when he was sick.

There are many guesses as to what sort of illnesses Paul suffered and include epilepsy, malaria, eye problems, to migraines. Whatever it was, it was, “chronic, very painful, repulsive, and humiliating (Dunnam and Ogilvie).” We may draw from these verses that this first visit to wasn’t so much a theological mandate as it was to allow healing. In the grip of an unsightly and revolting illness, Paul’s may well expect rejection by the Galatians. The verbs in verse 14 ‘score and despise” carry a sense of contempt and revulsion. The second verb is ‘to spit out’ as in disdain is a ‘defense against sickness or demonic threats (Dunn).

Instead of rejection Paul and treating him as if he’s possessed or contagious. He is accepted, he and the gospel. The people understand he is a messenger of God—an angel. At Ephesus, you can see Paul’s heart poured out for these leaders, even as he tells them they will be betrayed by some of their own people. Can you imagine anything more horrible than having been shown that would happen?

God’s Word is personal

One of the points of this section is to show us that God’s grace is a personal work, not a private one. The bible tells us of families that are baptized but, at the core, God’s gospel is one that touches individuals after individual. It doesn’t pass from parent to child or grand-parent to grand-child. Each new generation, each person needs to confront and be confronted by God’s claim on their lives for themselves.

Personal does not mean private. Private faith says, ‘everyone has their own belief that is true for them.’ Personal faith declares, ‘let me tell about a person who has changed my life’. Private faith doesn’t interpose itself into the everyday world. Personal faith cannot help but become the center of one’s live. Private faith plays nice with everyone. Personal faith is often lashed out at and scorned.

Private faith is, at its heart, self-indulgent, introspective, and centered on one’s needs and desires. Christian faith, personal faith brings peace like Christ had in the garden—not my will but yours be done. Personal faith brings strength, but it is the strength to bear pain, persecution and hatred of others. Knowing Christ gives meaning but it is meaning that comes as we care for widows and orphans, give a cup of water, visit those in prison, build wells, treat those with Ebola and sacrifice our lives for Jesus.

God’s word destroys human limitations

Paul was limited by his health but as we read he visited people, planted churches, wrote letters and served Christ.

I want to share a story of Lizzie Johnson who, although limited, found her faith limitless. This woman died in 1909 and for most of her adult life, 26 years, she was bedridden, unable to even lift her head. In May of 1890, she accepted her situation as she said yes to Jesus and was told to make a quilt, sell it and give the money to missions. It should be noted that a lot of effort was going into putting young girls in Africa into Christian missions.

She made her ‘crazy quilt’ but it didn’t sell. For fourteen years, it was folded in a corner of the room until Bishop Warne, who was placed over Illinois in 1900 visited this woman. Hearing her story, he asked if he could borrow the quilt.

“Over the next twenty years, it circled the world three times, and the story of Lizzie Johnson was told on every continent of the globe. Bishop Warne estimated that $100,000 was raised during that time through the quilt for the cause of missions” (Newsome).

At the suggestion of her brother, she made bookmarks and the donation toward mission was near $25,000. This was when the New York Times sold for a penny. In addition she answered, or dictated to her sister answers to some 100 plus letters each month” (Newsome).

Now let’s jump ahead to after WW2 when a Japanese Christian, Takuo Matsumoto, where he was the President of the Methodist mission school in Nagasaki where, when it was attacked with the second atomic weapon. He survived but over 250 of the girls in the mission school were killed. Coming to Champaign to speak he discovered Lizzie’s sister Alice was there. He told her “All that I am I owe to Lizzie Johnson. (Dunnam and Ogilvie)”

This is because “Alice Johnson remembered that her sister had given money to support the education of a young boy in Japan named Takao Matsumoto” (Dunnam and Ogilvie).

Takuo did not forget the woman who brought him to a life of blessings. The Galatians were in the process of forgetting Paul and all the blessings that God’s grace had given to them. They were about to sell out and turn away from the news that had set them free. Takuo didn’t, in spite of what he suffered, in spite of those he saw killed. He remained true to the Christ who loved him, called him and with reverence the one who made a difference simply because she sewed bookmarks.

Remember, what you plan to do may not work out. Where you want to be may not happen. But, when you’re willing to be where God sends you and do what God commands you, blessings are all yours. Let us pray.

Works Cited

Dunn, James D. G. The Epistle to the Galatians. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993. Print.

Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. Print.

Newsome, Jack. 'Lizzie, the Missionary Worker'. n.p., 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1989. Print.

Tuesday, August 18

Who Do You Think You Are?

s a child my mom told me my heritage from her family was English, Irish, Scotch, Danish and possibly Jewish. My heritage on my mom’s family turns out to be Danish and British. Not only do I enjoy doing genealogy, but I’m a fan of “Finding Your Roots” on OPB hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and “Who Do You Think You Are” on TLC.  I know they’re edited for newsworthy and cool discoveries but it’s hard to get excited when you see Angie Harmon meeting her 5th cousin, once removed, on the family farm, dating from the 1700’s.
When it comes to our spiritual lives the question of whether our identity is linked to the Law or Grace is of eternal importance.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Paul tells us that the law was our jailer and taskmaster. The word translated guardian, teacher, tutor, or schoolmaster doesn’t quite capture the person or his role in Roman life. This was a slave who was in charge of a young man to keep him safe and teach him how to be a Roman. They were was not the boy’s teacher so much as his disciplinarian. “He was often harsh to the point of cruelty, and is usually depicted in ancient drawings with a rod or cane in his hand” (Stott). One ancient Christian writer observed “students are scared of their pedagogues” (George). The law imprisons us and beats us for our failures.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 
Grace comes about by faith. It takes us from under the thumb of a taskmaster and makes us an adult, or in this case a child of God’s and heir of the kingdom. Charles Wesley, English pastor, evangelist and Oxford scholar was born into and raised into the ministry, it seemed. He’d come to Georgia and preached to American Indians, he read the bible, tried to live a holy life, gave money to the poor, and preached in British prisons. Yet he had no peace about his own destiny.
He was at Aldersgate Street where as they read in Romans how God works in the heart through faith, Wesley’s said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” He continued,
“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death”(Wesley).
So what happened to Wesley? He became immersed in Christ, baptized. With grace our identity is not sealed with circumcision but with baptism. The act does not save us but it signifies our faith, reliance and trust in Jesus in an outward manner. My best friend throughout high school was baptized as a believer, professed faith in Christ and has set is aside. Effective baptism is not a human decision, but flows from God who moves a person to respond to and accept the faith to which they feel called.
When we “put on Christ” we are clothed with Christ’s character. We become imitators of Jesus and this takes practice and time. “The patience, gentleness, humility and love of Christ; His wide-openness and sensitivity to people and willingness to risk… are to be cultivated in our lives” (Dunnam and Ogilvie) p 74.
As people of faith, our new identity causes us to fulfill Jesus’ commands in Matthew 16:24 “If anyone will come after me, let them deny them self, and take up their cross, and follow me.” Who are the people you have met who have carried their cross? Such people are not always notable, in fact, they are often time quiet and you never know what is going on.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Here’s a verse we have heard but need to learn. The New English Bible says, “You are all one person in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). We need to be absolutely clear that Christ does no wipe away or abolish such distinctions as these. We should also understand that this is a list not the list of the differences that are touched by faith in Jesus. In Christ these differences just don’t matter. They don’t get in the way of being together in worship or on the mission field.
“We recognize each other as equals, brothers and sisters in Christ. By the grace of God we would resist the temptation to despise one another or patronize one another, for we know ourselves to be ‘all one person in Christ Jesus’” (Stott).
We also have a home, a family, a tribe, a place where we belong, for we are Abraham’s offspring and therefore heirs with Christ. 
Who are we? We are either people under the harshness of the law or we are heirs of God’s kingdom by his grace. In chapter 4, we discover that being under the Law is like being a slave, even though you have a right to something more. Consider Israel who, although had the promise of the land given to Abraham, didn’t see that promise fulfilled for centuries.
What’s more there is a sudden linking of the Law with the demonic.
1I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 
Last September Prince Harry turned 30-years-old and inherited some 10 million pounds (Charleton). It was right there in his mother’s will, but he could not realize it till he turned 30. Those called in faith have an inheritance, but it cannot be realized apart from trusting Jesus with one’s life and future.
They are described as the weak and beggarly (v.9) and the reason for bringing them up again is because the Galatians are at risk of or may have already started down the road back into slavery to these spirits. Set against these elements in Jesus who was born at the right time, was human, not some spirit, was subject to the law as a Jew and came with a purpose—to bring salvation and adoption.
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
In the place of a harsh tutor or pedagogue we have a loving and caring Father in God. There is no harshness in Him for any punishment we deserve was placed on Jesus, who became cursed in our place.
The law isn’t evil nor has it become ‘bad’ because Jesus has come. The enslavement to it was and is the work of Satan. John Stott writes,
“God intended the law to reveal sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the law as an interim step to man’s Justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation” (Stott).
This is part of Satan’s work from the beginning, to take what God has set forth and ‘bend’ it to evil.
So, who do you think you are? Do we belong to the people of faith or to the law? Do we belong to God’s family, sons and daughters—heirs of the Kingdom or are we minors, unable to rightly judge and needing a guardian to handle our affairs?
I believe the answer lies in whether or not we’ve heard and answered Jesus’ call to come, take up our cross and follow Him. Let us pray

Works Cited
Charleton, Corey. 'Prince Harry to Inherit £10Million Share Of Diana's Fortune'. Mail Online. N. p., 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.
Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. 5th ed. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.

Wesley, John. 'Journal of John Wesley - Christian Classics Ethereal Library'. N. p., 2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Wednesday, August 12

Grace and Law

So this the sermon preached August 9 at Kenton Church as part of the summer sermon series on Galatians

This past week a pastor, Rev. Gretta Vosper, of the United Church of Canada may face questions about her effectiveness to pastor. Her denomination is the most liberal in the world but they have to determine if “she has gone too far” (Perkel). At issue is that, she is an atheist. “I don’t believe in... the god called God...Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.” This isn’t new as she went public with her belief in 2001. She’s not alone. Portland has an atheist Presbyterian minister and in Austin Texas a Presbyterian church allowed an atheist to become a member. These sort of issues are not new to Christ’s people. In fact, it was similar issues that Paul faced among the Galatians which is why this letter is so important for 21st American Christians.

At the heart of chapter 3 is the question of how one obtains God’s grace. Are the blessings that God has promised to those who follow him, come by following rules or by faith in Christ. Three times Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” which are synonymous with the Law of Moses. Which is attempting to gain God’s Kingdom by legalistic rule keeping and diets.
What happens when one places their hope in anything other than Jesus is they are drawn off target, they become distracted or forget what’s key. Back in 2004 Matt Emmons was one bullet away from winning his second gold medal. He shot a perfect bullseye except it was the wrong target (Rivera). I watched an Olympic swimming event in which the first place in the breaststroke slightly turned his head to see his rival. His race was lost.

Here is the founding mission statement of a major U.S. university.

“Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.(Harvard University)
It’s been changed. Now it proclaims,

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.(
God is no longer part of the process or the goal for Harvard. It is about human ability. The direction and hope is no longer based in Christ but in a liberal arts and sciences education. And Harvard is only one example of the reality in which we live.

 At the 350th anniversary celebration of Harvard, Steven Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins University, bluntly stated, "The bad news is the university has become godless." Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, confessed, "Things divine have been central neither to my professional nor to my personal life(Greer)"

The Galatians had started to shift their focus when Paul is informed and writes this letter to the foolish and stupid Christ followers in the region. How do we keep from being called foolish and stupid for the way we choose to follow Jesus? If you think Paul’s name calling is harsh consider that this it is the same word Jesus uses when in Luke 24:25 he told his disciples, “You foolish and slow of heart”.

It seems that someone has noticed the change and maybe even regrets it. But is too late for us or can we maintain a vibrant trust in Jesus?

Let’s consider the rhetorical questions in verses 1-6.
·       Did the Holy Spirit come because of what we did or by responding with faith?
·       Are we foolish enough to think the completion of our belief comes by our actions?
·       Have all our experiences in Christ been for nothing?
·       What is the source for the miracles you’ve experienced come from—human effort of God’s grace?

The answer Paul is looking for is obviously God’s grace and faith in Christ. The church had fallen victim to lies, smooth arguments, and deceit, much like Genesis 3 and the story of the serpent and Eve.

In Deuteronomy 8 we have two sections that illustrate why our answers are important today. God clearly tells us that keeping his commandments will lead to good harvests and safe lives. The reality check comes in the second passage. Start thinking we did it inevitably leads to following and worshipping other gods. God’s answer for that is destruction.

So what’s your answer? There have been plenty of people, sitting in pews, going on mission trips, active in programs, who have decided that ‘they and Jesus’ had accomplished much. I have close friends who gave up on God and their ministry when confronted with their sin. I’ve known youth who claim to follow Jesus whose life ignores Christ’s commandments. I’ve seen servants of God walk away when they get the job of their dream, the vacation cabin at a lake, the money that lets them travel, the new house, car, boat or friends. They would call themselves Christians but take any mention or memory of Jesus from them and their lives wouldn’t change.

I hope our answers are different.

Know Your History

We are just part of a long line of followers of Christ. It stretches back, not to the first century but to Abraham and even before him. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that God’s promise to Abraham came centuries before the Law was given to Moses. God promised Abraham a land and a nation. In addition, God’s fulfillment of this would be a blessing for all peoples.
This promise came 430 years before the Ten Commandments. This promise came before circumcision. This promise came before dietary restrictions, cleanliness rules and Pharisees. Through God’s promise to Abraham, all nations, even Gentile ones, would receive blessings, which involves the justification that Christ’s death gives.

The difference between the promise to Abraham and the Law of Moses is summed up well by Martin Luther who wrote,

In the promise to Abraham God said, ‘I will … I will … I will …’ But in the law of Moses God said, ‘Thou shalt … thou shalt not …’. The promise sets forth a religion of God—God’s plan, God’s grace, God’s initiative. But the law sets forth a religion of man—man’s duty, man’s works, man’s responsibility. The promise (standing for the grace of God) had only to be believed. But the law (standing for the works of men) had to be obeyed. God’s dealings with Abraham were in the category of ‘promise’, ‘grace’ and ‘faith’. But God’s dealings with Moses were in the category of ‘law’, ‘commandments’ and ‘works’ (Stott)

So why is the law? Its purpose is to convict us of sin. It is there to rightly display God’s curse on all who do not keep the whole law. The law brings a curse on all people because no one can keep it. The law binds all people with death and damnation because salvation, through the law, is only possible if we keep the law.

What do you think of that word ‘curse’? It means to reject, cast away, consider useless, not worth saving. As Dr. Stott says, “this is the position of every human being who has ever lived, except Jesus Christ.”

Faithful Responding to Christ

Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus was placarded on the cross. I will guess you’ve seen the huge lighted billboards along Broadway in New York. News, the latest movies, even Navy recruiting images are flashed to the tens of thousands who walk and drive along those streets. Imagine if Jesus’ death was displayed in such a way. That is what the Bible says, Jesus’ death was clearly seen for anyone who looked. There’s no mistaking it. It can’t be missed, unless we don’t want to see it.

Most preachers can tell stories of how people, whom we thought believed, actually were just ‘playing church’. The tendencies in Galatia are the same as in Portland. Those who trust in rituals, a moral code, science, wisdom, beauty, skills, money, power, things, or even doctrinal truth are at risk. “If one bases his or her hope for this life or the next upon anything apart from Christ he is placing confidence in flesh(Hendriksen)

Any fellowship we hope to attain with God will fail because God, through Christ made it happen. In Jesus, we are justified and without being justified, being set straight on God’s paths, there can be no fellowship. In fact, the sad truth is the opposite of justification is condemnation. There is no middle place.

What does it mean to respond in faith? It means to recognize that Jesus became and took our cursedness, because we can’t keep the law, and placed it on himself on the cross. That explains why God the Father turned his back on Jesus when he was hanging there. For that moment, with our sins on him, Jesus became what we are by our fallen nature. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)”

John Stott has a great statement of what this response looks like. He writes:
“Faith is laying hold of Jesus Christ personally. There is no merit in it. It is not another ‘work’. Its value is not in itself, but entirely in its object, Jesus Christ… Renounce the folly we can add to what Christ has done “come humbly to the cross, where Christ bore our curse, and cast ourselves entirely upon His mercy. And then, by God’s sheer grace, because we are in Christ Jesus by faith, we shall receive justification, eternal life and the indwelling Spirit.(Stott)

Have you done that? Do you need to do it? Does your sin keep getting in the way, do you keep saying, “As soon as I get this under control” or “Once I’m better at this”. You are no more acceptable to Christ once you’ve seemingly conquered your demons than you are now. The question is whether you’re willing to answer His call to come and be changed.
Let’s pray.

Works Cited:

Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print. 'Harvard College Mission Statement in 1636 | Educating Generations for CHRIST'. N.p., 2012. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Greer, Peter. Mission Drift. Bethany House Publishers, 2015. Print.
Harvard University. 'Mission Statement'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, And Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. Print.

Perkel, Colin. 'Atheist Minister Fighting United Church’s Effort to Fire Her'. The Globe and Mail. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Rivera, Steve. 'USATODAY.Com - Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming At Wrong Target'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.,. 'Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming At Wrong Target (Washingtonpost.Com)'. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.