Everlasting Love: God’s Sovereignty in Salvation

April 24, 2012
 Ephesians 1:1-6 
INTRO:  When God gave us children Gail allowed me to agree to the names she had chosen.   She had her reasons.  Both of our children have family names.  In the Bible we see how names are important-they often speak of a person’s character and work.
The angel of the Lord had this message for Joseph about Mary:  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  Matt. 1:21   Jesus (Yeshua, Joshua) means the Lord saves.  Note the specificity of the language; he will save…he will save his people. God makes it clear to us that we cannot save ourselves and salvation is His Sovereign work in us to our everlasting good and His everlasting fame.  This is what the passage from Ephesians teaches us. 
This is the most important thing.  Let God’s word be understood and believed!  So let’s look at our verses and phrases one by one. 
In verse 3 God is to be praised for his blessings to us in Christ.  And those blessings are unfolded in verses 4-14 as: the Father’s electing love, the Son’s redeeming love and the Spirit’s guaranteeing love. 
Today we look at the Father’s electing love.  
Vs. 4  This word “For” begins the verse as Paul begins to unfold our blessings in Christ. 
He (God the Father) chose us  The verb chose is in the middle voice, which means He chose us for Himself.  Chose can also be translated “elect”.  Sometimes it is said that God has a vote, the devil has a vote and you have a vote.  This is not what the Bible says.  We would vote with the devil!   We had our vote and we squandered it.  And we really aren’t eligible to vote by the way.  He chose us for Himself. 
Who is the “us”?   Paul and the Ephesian Church, Paul includes himself and those in the Ephesian Church.  Not every person in Ephesus but every believer! He says in verse 1To the saints in Ephesus,the faithfulin Christ Jesus…  And we believe that it also applies to us who have trusted in Christ!  
Chose us in him   The “him” is clearly Christ.  All our blessings are found in Him. Remember this phrase, in him, in Christ, is one of Paul’s favorites and most used. 
before the creation of the world answers when we were chosen.  Before we had done anything good or bad!  Consider Romans 9 and Jacob and Esau. 
Paul writes to Timothy speaking of both God’s sovereign work in saving us and his free choice not based on anything in us:
who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (I Timothy 1:9) 
 Note:  Not because of anything we have done must include not because of foreseen faith in us.  Not anything.  Before we existed necessarily means before we had believed.  Though we must believe, more on that later. 
to be holy and blameless in his sight…Answers, at least in part, while we were chosen.  He did not choose us because we were holy and blameless, but the reverse.  While we were still sinners Christ died for us!  Romans 5 What a perversion of the good news to speak as if God chooses the good guys!  Not the righteous, but sinners Jesus came to call. 
Now vs 5 actually begins (the sentence begins) at the end of vs 4 with:  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons…
In love He predestined us.  Predestined means,  well, predestined. That is what he Bible very plainly says.  The word is from two Greek words “pro” which means before and “horizo” which means to define or determine.   
As we have read both Peter and Paul agree that God has acted in grace toward us before time began. 
Predestined to be adopted as his sons….So here again purpose is spoken of.  It is often said of adopted persons that they were chosen, though that isn’t so much the case in human adoption, like looking over which head of lettuce seems most fresh!  No! We were   chosen as broken babies, not perfect ones!!   God says you will be mine in spite of yourself.  My love for you will never end.  You will sit as my sons and my daughters at my table always.  In love, everlasting and unchanging covenant love, I have adopted you. 
Scripture must interpret Scripture. 
Think first about the whole idea of God being Sovereign, He acts upon his own initiative alone. 
He made Adam and Eve, his choice, obviously not theirs!  Creation and the stars he called into being.  Light which shines when he calls it to existence cannot refuse his command but shines willingly for him. 
He chose Abraham, a man with a faulty character to father a family and a nation from who would come Jesus.   It was God’s free choice to choose this liar and idol worshiper for his own purposes and glory. 
He chose Israel telling them that his choice of them was not based on anything in them: The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  Duet. 7
Salvation must be from God’s sovereign will and choice because we are not able to come to Him apart from Him: 
Eph. 2:1-1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient  4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Sin isn’t a bad cold but a fatal illness that requires not an aspirin but a resurrection! 
God calls the prophet Ezekiel to preach to dry bones and see them live!  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! (Ezekiel 37)  God brings to life that which is deadHe does not consult with the bones whether or not they want life, he commands life!  Then later God speaks to his people as they are like dry bones needing life:  4 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’” 
This is who God is.  He is sovereign.  He must alone be God.  He is to be worshiped by all His creatures.   

God says he will put his Spirit in his people and they will live!  Jesus says the same thing to Nicodomus in John 3:  3…Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. 4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”  5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spiritgives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘Youmust be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

So God gives us life that we may believe.  John 3  Note:  Jesus did not tell Nicodemus to “born himself again!!”  We don’t birth ourselves physically or spiritually.  Born of the Spirit.  And he is sovereign in that!  He is like the wind that blows where it will. 

Jesus said: I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  John 5   This is the only hope for those dead in sin and trespasses. Those who need a little help, a hand up, don’t need Jesus.  Dead sinners do not live apart from his life giving voice.  Unless Jesus speaks the preacher, the servant, the witnessing Christian, all speak in vain. 

Compare that with:  John 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent,nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

So we must believe but we cannot believe apart from the new birth from God and not from ourselves.    But don’t we have free will?  Great have your free will.  What good does it do a spiritually dead person to have a spiritual choice presented to them?  Does a dead man choose right or wrong?  Can we who accustomed to doing evil choose the highest good that our nature runs from?  John has just told us that this does not come from “human decision.” 
When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ Jesus tells him:  blessed are you Simon son of Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven. 
You may say you have free will, fine, do you have the ability?  My friend says his cat is free to write a concerto.  But does he have the ability?   And so we cannot take the first step in our salvation but God has taken all of that upon himself in his grace to us!
He saves his people.  This is not a potential salvation but a one that is full, complete, free and ever secure in Christ: 
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”  John 6
So who comes to Jesus?  (And yes, we must come to Jesus!)  All the Father gives me.  Consider this with our text and how we were chosen in Him.  And Jesus says of those he will lose none but raise them on the last day!  His name is Jesus, he saves his people!! 
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. II Peter 1 
When the Bible says Jesus saves his people it is not simply speaking of our justification, but it is an all inclusive thing!   Everything we need for life and godliness… as we just read from II Peter.  God isn’t like the man who gave someone a car, but the car had neither engine nor transmission. 
What a travesty it would be for the Son of God to die and then the results rest in the hand of those who were at the time enemies and rebels and spiritually dead.  He is our Surety and our salvation is and must be sure!  On that cross he said:  IT IS FINISHED and he means what he says! 
Note:  Repentance and faith are gifts God gives.  They are part of the everything we need for life and godliness.  He has given everything we need.  We respond in faith, we respond to God’s call because he makes it effectual by his powerful grace and the inward working of the Spirit.  We hear and respond to the call because he gives us ears that are open.  As a child knows his mother’s voice so Jesus’ sheep hear His voice. 
Acts 5:  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.  Repentance is the gift of God not the conjuring of man. 
Acts 11  When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
Eph. 2  8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—   Just as Simon’s confession of faith was the gift he was blessed with and not the fruit of his great wisdom or character so is everyone’s. 
Cf. Romans 8: 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. This is the golden and unbreakable chain of grace. 
So is God unfair? 

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,   “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy   Romans 9 

What if there are 10 on death row and the governor pardons 5.  Is she unfair?  To whom is she unfair?  We reflexively say she is unfair to the 5 not pardoned.  The truth is the opposite.  The five not pardoned receive justice, the five pardoned receive mercy that they do not deserve.  And God is unfair to himself.  For he takes the punishment of all He chooses to pardon.  He is just and gracious in full measure:

The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.  Psalm 33:5

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  Psalm 85:10  Is this not the cross! 

Two things here: 

1.  Share the word:  But won’t this doctrine cause me to forego evangelism?  No!  It makes evangelism possible and successful!! 

Let me ask you a question:  Was Paul, who speaks much about this truth, slack in bringing the word to others?  Did he think it was a waste of time??  The call of the gospel is effective because God’s sovereign power is behind it!   The truth of the Father’s electing love is a motivation to bring the word, not an excuse to avoid it.  The Master has told us to preach the word. 

Cf. Acts 18   9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

Those dry bones will live, the sheep will hear the call, the dead will hear the voice of the son of God, the spiritually dead will be born of the spirit, the hard of heart will be given a heart of flesh, the gifts of repentance and faith.  God’s people in this place will come to Jesus and live!   None of the family will be lost! 

2.  Worship and Give all praise to God   Ephesians 1:6 To the praise of His glorious graceHis name is Jesus, he saves his people from their sins! 

Let him who boast boast in the Lord
William Hendriksen said:  “When men are confronted with this manifestation of amazing grace their only proper response is adoration, not explanation.”    
When I was about 12 or 13 my family went to he beach. My mom, sister, and younger brother were on the beach.  My sister got too far out and began to call for help.  I was able, somehow, to pull her in.  What if she had drowned and was already dead when I got to her?  I could not have saved her.  I could have pulled her to shore, but could not have saved her neither could she have saved herself nor helped me save her.  But Jesus calls the dead to life!  He breaths life into a soul dead in trespasses and sin.  And consider:  It’s now me in the water.  I’m going under and begin to call for help.  I see a mighty lifeguard jump up.  It’s Jesus.   Jesus is coming to save me, but I gather all the strength I have and swim straight AWAY from him!!  But I’m no match for Him.  He takes hold of me, places his strong and loving hand on my rebel shoulder, He gives me a new heart and I am filled with joy and begin to swim toward him!! 
I am so glad that God is sovereign over my rebel heart.   I have no other hope I need no other hope. 


Walking in the Light

December 7, 2011

Years ago someone I know preached a sermon on roach theology.  You know those lovely bugs that roam in kitchens and other places.  He talked how you come down in the middle of the night and switch on the light and all those roaches run away.  They run from the light.  Isaiah says to the people of his day that a great light is coming.  But the truth is that men love darkness rather than light!  So how do we stop being roaches and walk in the light rather than run from it?  Consider John’s words: 


But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  I John 1:7 


When we know that God doesn’t have a giant flyswatter ready to smash us bugs, but that on the cross Jesus took our blows, our death, then we can run to and walk in the light. 


Why do we run from the light?  Isaiah says it’s a great light


Light represents God’s Presence:  Like that  glory that was with the Israelites in the wilderness and filled with Temple with such light that the priest who were to minister there could not even enter it!  


There is a sense in which light, a great light can over power us.  Think about looking into a bright light and how we have to turn away. The light wins!    


Consider John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1and the light and glory of Jesus’ presence: 

5 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 


And what was John’s response?   17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.



The Apostle Paul speak of God dwelling in unapproachable light.   God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light,  I Timothy 6 


Though he dwells in unapproachable light at Christmas approached us in His Son Jesus who is this light, the Messiah:   Vs. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,[b] Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


So there is a greatness to this light to give us a sense of the greatness and majesty and glory of God!! 

There is something about how much we love the glory of God and really know him. 


Jesus is the Mighty God, he is the Light of the World!  He shines brighter than all the heavenly host!  The light we often run from as fearful roaches is the Light of grace. 


So, the light is great, and also pure and holy: 

“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5b)  S



Why do we run from the light?  It Exposes us to God’s holiness and our own frailty and lack of that holiness.    


Think about Isaiah and his call!    1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:   “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;  the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”


Isaiah  had this great vision not of the earthly, but of the heavenly Temple.  And over God’s throne were these seraphim, these heavenly angelic beings.  Though they are pure and not fallen creatures as we are, they cover their eyes from the One who is fullness of glory.  They cover their feet, think of Moses and taking his shoes off at the burning bush.  Then they cry,  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;  the whole earth is full of his glory.”  Note that they call this back to each other.  Its like being at a football game, maybe an NC State game, where one side of the stadium calls “white” and the other “red.”  So these seraphim have the joy of calling out to each other the praise of God. 


Think about Jesus and the glory, veiled but still there, in his earthly ministry:

Luke 5   4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down[b] the nets for a catch.”  5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.  8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

As someone has said Peter does not run to Jesus to sign him up to a  fishing contract:  We’re gonna make a lot of money fishing Jesus!  But Peter is recognizing the holiness, the otherness of Jesus.  His response is:  Go away!!  I am a sinful man!  

In Mark 4 Jesus is teaching by the sea.  Afterward he and his disciple get into a boat to cross to the other side.  Mark then tells us:  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”


Note how at first the disciples were afraid in the storm.  Its only after the storm that they are terrified!  Why be terrified after the storm?  Because the Lord of creation is only a few feet from them.  There are two words used hear for the disciples fear.  The one translated “terrified” is phobon, from which we get our word “phobia.”  Then added to that is “mega” from which we get our word, you guessed it, mega.  They have a mega Jesus phobia! 


The awesome thing about Christmas is that God who is holy holy holy put skin on.  He was born of Mary in Bethlehem.  We sing lullabies about him and to him.  He has come so near we could have picked him up and talked baby talk to him!  Aren’t  you so cute!  Might God Prince of Peace, The One who reigns forever whose kingdom shall know no end!  So come to the light and walk with and in the Light. 


What’s our response to Him?  There’s a saying that people will let God be anywhere except on His throne.  We worship.  He is the Son given who is no less than the Mighty God!!   We say to him my Lord and my God!  The helpless babe is not the true helpless ones, we are.  So even at his birth, tiny and needy as a baby, he was pleading for us.  The Child born, the Son given unto us is the suffering servant also of Isaiah who was pierced through for us.  We don’t have to fear the light anymore.   But we can walk together in the light because:  The blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from all sin!



Walking in Darkness-Advent 2011

November 30, 2011

I got up to take a spoonful of mineral oil.  By, a foolish, mistake I drank a spoonful of Yankee Candle Oil!  It burned going down!  Gail called poison control and they told us not to worry, it was only a spoonful.  When Jesus came he drank the whole bottle of the poison of darkness.  Now it’s only an empty bottle, it can’t hurt you. 


Walking in Darkness Waiting for the Light

Isaiah 9:2

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of deatha light has dawned.


During our first year of living in Nairobi, Kenya we experienced power rationing.  We only had power about half the time.   That can be a little disconcerting in a city of 3 million where home invasions and other crimes are too common.  It was great on some of those days to see the light of the morning begin to shine!  And so the people of Isaiah’s day, walking in the darkness, looked forward to God’s promised light. 

Isaiah wrote to a people living in the darkness of disobedience.  But God in his grace makes promises to them.  Isaiah says that the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.  The Hebrew makes it clear that the darkness is only temporary.  He speaks of future things in past tense! 

Jesus said:  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. John 12:46  

WALKING IN DARKNESS: WHAT IS IT? It’s a picture of disobedience in individuals and society that is part of a whole system of darkness.  It’s a choice and a self imposed enslavement at the same time.   

Think about a family going out for a special evening and some disagreement blows up.  Then one says:  “I’m not going!”  Everyone continues to get ready, its almost time to go, you’ve been looking forward to this but are just too proud to say, “I really want to go.  I’m sorry”.  You are stuck in and with your own choice. You are enslaved by your sinful pride. 

It’s a spiritual darkness that’s also connected to all things-creation itself is laboring under darkness.   The Bible speaks of a dominion, a realm of darkness:  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,   Col. 1:13 

And there is a sense that only when we see the darkness do we want or appreciate the light.

So I want us to think about how the darkness feels as well as what it is.

These words from Isaiah are written in poetic from.  Poetry engages our minds, but also our hearts, so that our hearts can be engaged with how dark the darkness is.    

Darkness is fear inducing.  Think about all the movies that deal with the dark.  Are you afraid of the dark?  What lurks in the dark?   When do thieves come? 

Parallel to the idea of darkness is the phrase: Shadow of death.  There was an old TV show called Dark Shadows.   Aren’t most shadow dark!  I don’t think they are in color!  But here is a dark shadow that seems to hang over, cast a pall over everything! This is how they live!

And there isn’t a shadow without the thing that cast the shadow!  

So many people in the world live in places where the work of darkness is seen more openly. 

Think of AIDS orphans all over Africa or the horror of what’s happened in Mexico with the drug cartels.  People fear them, yet songs are sung lauding the leaders of the cartels as heroes!  Most of what is around us as Americans is hidden and sanitized.  Like the phrase “a safe abortion.”  Consider how deeply many people suffer psychologically.  How insidious and dark when people truly don’t know what is real or not.  How do they climb out of what they don’t know? 

God calls us not to insulate ourselves, but to consider and enter into the suffering in this world.  Paul speaks of his fellowship in sharing in Christ’ suffering. 

God calls us to weep with those who weep.  This is not just a biblical cliché, but a serious and challenging command.  This verse shows my darkness because I would rather rejoice with those who weep and weep when others rejoice!  Envy and jealousy are around us and in us.   

Again, unless I feel the darkness I will not flee from it to Jesus who is the light. Nor will I care about others living in darkness and seek to help them out of it.  How will I pray unless I enter into this fellowship of suffering and feeling the darkness that so many walk in? 

In verse 4 of this chapter Isaiah speaks of the:  yoke that burdens…bar across the shoulders…rod of the oppressor.  How are people oppressed etc.?   1.  Goverments  2.  Employers not paying (lazy employees! Harsh employers!)   3.  Men mistreateing women-being told to beat their wives!  4.  Children for sale in the sex trade around the world.  5.  Religious oppression   Think of the Pharisee and the heavy burdens Jesus said they lay upon people. 

Recently I watched an old Twilight Zone episode in which a young boy had super powers.  He could turn you into a donkey if he was displeased with you.  (It was the Twilight Zone!)   He could also read minds and emotions, so if you had bad thoughts or feelings toward him he’d zap you!  The people lived in fear of him and would say, whatever evil he did: “Isn’t it good that Jimmy did that!”   How many Christians and other live in that kind of craven fear and bondage thinking that God is like Jimmy. 

Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus cares for and about someone (not just people!!) who has very little, is cheated by a boss or someone he or she works for maybe as a day laborer and isn’t paid!   That’s why the Bible tells us that the worker is worthy of his or her hire and ought to be paid today so they can eat tonight. 

Another story about living in Kenya.  While there we lived in a walled compound of eleven homes.  We had guards who were at the main gate day and night.  I volunteered to collect the money from our neighbors for the guards.  The guards were paid about $1.50 a day and I had such trouble, often failed, to collect from people who had two cars, yet would not pay their small part to pay these men what we all owed them for protecting us.   Our guard had not power.  Jesus, the Messiah, the True Light will break the yoke of oppression!   He will not simply set it aside, he will break it that it may be used no more!  

So the Bible tells us:  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.   Romans 13:12   

Saturday night Gail and I were watching a movie.  I got up to take a spoonful of mineral oil.  By, a foolish, mistake I drank a spoonful of Yankee Candle Oil!  It burned going down!  Gail called poison control and they told us not to worry, it was only a spoonful.  When Jesus came he drank the whole bottle of the poison of darkness.  Now it’s only an empty bottle, it can’t hurt you. 

Jesus said and still says:  “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12 



Good News for Thieves Like Me

October 18, 2011

Jesus was crucified between two thieves. I have something in common with them. When I was about 12 years old a couple of friends and I went into an unlocked dairy truck and took some ice cream. So I’m a thief. When Jesus was crucified each of the two thieves said something to Jesus. One hurled insults at him. The other thief spoke very differently: Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom. Jesus brings light to the darkest day. Today, you will be with me in paradise!

There was an exchange of words. If we had been there we could have heard it. There was another exchange, a spiritual one not visible to our eyes.

A verse that tells us about this other exchange is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinth: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (5:21)

So what does it mean that Jesus became sin for us? Let’s spend a minute on what sin is. Sin is breaking God’s law and failing to live up to it. That law is known you don’t have to read it. Even our dog hides when he’s done something wrong! He knows it.

Have you ever done something and regretted it? Of course, we all have! Maybe you feared getting caught? Maybe you simply knew it was wrong. Like I knew it was wrong to steal and I was afraid of being caught.

Have you ever needed to apologize? Why? You’ve injured someone.

Sin is a twisting of God’s good gifts. It’s taking good gifts like sex and perverting them, misusing them. Think about food. I have a problem with that-sometimes I take comfort in it rather than in God. That’s the classic definition of an idol. Recently Gail and I were watching one of those cooking shelters on PBS. I thought: Watching people cook and eat! How crazy is that! (We continued watching)

Sin isn’t simply doing what is wrong, but failing to do what is right. Jesus perfect life, his sinlessness, didn’t so much consist in what he didn’t do, but mainly that he lived not in relationship, not rebellion to His and our Father in heaven. Sin has to do with rebel hearts.

The Bible says the iniquity of us all has been laid on him. So the thief who looked to Jesus and I have this in common, our sin of being thieves was laid on Jesus. He died for me that my sin might be taken away and my death might die in his death.

So when Jesus bore our sin he became as a murderer to bear this sin of Moses who killed an Egyptian, King David and the Apostle Paul who had blood on their hands too. They are great figures in the Bible who are sinners and have no hope apart from Jesus’ cross. Neither do we.

Think of a courtroom scene: Two people before the court that day to be sentenced. One is guilty of a traffic violation. The judge tells him that the law demands that he either pay a fine of $100.00 or go to jail for 30 days. Then the judge stands down from the bench and stands with the guilty man and pays the man fine. Does the man then have to go to jail? Right, he doesn’t, his penalty has been paid in full. The other man is guilty of murder. He is sentenced to die. Do you think the judge would stand with him and say: I’ll take your punishment? Not likely. Yet this is what the judge of all the earth has done in His Son Jesus.

So what is your answer to the question: Where is your sin?

Then there’s the other part of that great spiritual exchange. Remember the first part: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. Part two is this: so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Jesus became sin for us, and we have been made the righteousness of God in Him. That’s the other part of the exchange.

Meaning what? We don’t use the word righteous very often in every day language, except we might say someone’s a “righteous dude”! Think of right-ness. Jesus had a perfect record-he did not do what is sinful and he did not fail to do what is right.

So as our sin was laid on him, his righteousness, his perfect record, is given to us.

Let me illustrate using the idea of two diaries. One is mine, it has my name on the front. It contains all of my thoughts, motives, words and actions. I would not want it published! The other is all about Jesus and has his name on it. It’s a perfect record regarding inward and outward life! Jesus take my record and puts his name on it, my sin is laid on him, and he hand me his diary with my name written on it, his record becomes mine. His righteousness is given to me.

Jesus filled in all of our “if only’s.” He said: “It is finished.” In the gospel Jesus says to us: You can stand before a holy God with my diary as yours.

Think about things left undone. Sometimes just the dirty dishes or the things on our desk mock us. Why did I ignore my family, why don’t I pray more. Jesus prayed for you, his record of prayer, his life, is credited to you by faith alone.
Rom 4 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Our good works are not earning us salvation, but they are our thank you to Jesus. There is such a difference in those laboring to somehow appease God and those who can serve out of delight. Cf. Can I help you daddy!! They don’t even know its work!!
The thief turned his head but also his heart in Jesus direction. That is what faith is.
1. The thief could not build a record of good works to earn anything before God, neither can we. We can’t make a holy God our debtor. He could not repay those from whom he had stolen, nor could he attend the Temple service, be baptized or any other real or imagined good work. He could only look to Jesus and that is enough.
2. He had no claim to prior good works. He told the other thief, We are getting what we deserve.
3. And so he does not claim to be better than the thief who hurled insults. We are all leveled at the cross.

And consider where he placed his trust, here is faith. What did Jesus look like as the thief turned to him? Bloody and bruised. His head was caked in blood from the crown of thorns. And yet the thief says to him remember me when you come into your Kingdom! He sees a King when he looked at Jesus! The cross became a throne, a throne of grace. He placed his hope, his only hope, in Jesus!

When we look to Jesus he brings light to the darkest day. Let me tell you about a dark day. When we lived in Kenya one of our teammate families employed a young and single Kenyan woman to help them keep house. The woman, Janet, became pregnant and after delivering the baby died. The baby was immediately taken from her.

A couple of days later our family and the family Janet worked for went to the city morgue in Nairobi to pick up the child’s body. It appeared that little or no effort had been made to preserve the body. Then we went to a graveyard outside of the city. The “pauper’s field” was a pretty long walk out into a desolate place. There we found long rows of very small holes dug for infants. Maybe hundreds of them. We placed the baby in a wooden box that had been built and there buried her. Janet wanted us to read God’s promises from the Bible and sing songs of praise to Jesus. It was a dark day, but Jesus speaks wonderful words of hope to our hearts in the darkest day.

The thief on the cross had a bad day; a dark day. But when he turned his head and heart to Jesus, he heard these wonderful words: Today you will be with me in paradise. Will you turn your head and heart to Jesus?

Constructive Conflict?

September 20, 2011

Ephesians 4:11-16 Constructive conflict? Does that sound like an oxymoron? Let me tell you about a time Gail engaged me in constructive conflict. We had gone to our favorite place in Nairobi for breakfast. I got more than breakfast that morning. Gail gave me one of those “we need to talk” openings. She told me, in a calm and direct manner, that I had been treating her harshly lately. I wanted to respond and tell her how lucky she was to have a great husband like me! But God’s Spirit made sure that I knew she was right. That moment hasn’t perfected me as a husband and a man, but I needed it and I still remember it.
God showed me my sin and this is how growth occurs. Really? Yes. Consider again Paul’s spiritual growth. Early in his life as a Christian and Apostle he calls himself the least of all the Apostles. Then later on he says he’s the least of all the saints, is he back sliding? Then near the end of his life he not the least anymore, he’s become the chief, the chief of sinners! So what’s wrong with Paul? Nothing, he’s more conscious of his sin. Not just outward or “Technicolor” sins, but motive and attitudes deep in the heart that do come out in failures to love God and others. Paul needs Jesus more and more. That is growth.
Our flesh doesn’t get better!! So we trust in Christ more and more as the source of our obedience, it flows from this because there is nothing else from which it can flow!! The flesh profits nothing, you can do nothing apart from me, if you abide in me you will bear much fruit, its not the fruit of me but the fruit of the Spirit!
Actually we’re going to step back about 150 meters from the starting line. This isn’t about getting something off of your chest, it’s about God’s glory and our good. Its not about you or me but all of us. Consider the language in our text. Body of Christ, unity, until we all. We are gifts to each other that Christ has given the Church that we might grow up into Him in all things.
We may miss the fact that conflict of some sort is going on all the time. A parent tells a child not to spend all their money at the fair on the first thing they see! That’s conflict. When you pray and begin to think about all the other things you need to do, that’s conflict! When a person is truly challenged to follow Jesus, that’s conflict, calling him or her to lay their life down!
But to engage in conflict so that God wins and gets glory we’ll have to think a lot about WHO we are before we talk about how we do this.
Conflict is something we avoid and we have reason to
Most of what we see and are part of is destructive conflict-we have been hurt we have hurt others and we have seen others hurt by someone else. Maybe in a marriage, our home as a child or at the workplace? And in our churches. So there is a lot of fear and unbelief around this issue. Can God bring any good out of this? Can he use ME? Will I lost a friend? Maybe we should ask, am I a friend?
But avoiding conflict is bad for ALL of our spiritual health and growth in ChristIt’s bad for the Church because it makes the Church a place of mushy niceness at best and hypocrisy at it worst.
When Gail spoke to me she was speaking the truth in love as our text says we ought to. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
I was acting like a spiritual infant. That was wrong. I am too big and old to be a baby! Imagine me in a diaper, now get that image out of your head! It’s grotesque! So I needed to grow up, and for that I needed someone who loved me to speak the truth to me. I still need that and so do you.
Gail is someone with whom I am in covenant relationship. The truth isn’t: I don’t like the way you speak to me woman, so: I’m outa here! But, we are husband and wife as Christ and the Church are husband and wife. That’s the true truth. We can have this constructive conflict, and at times survive destructive conflict, because our oneness as husband and wife and in Christ is of greater weight than our failings. And God says that we in Christ are one. That’s what he says, that’s what we need to believe to love each other as a friend whose wounds are faithful and healing.
When I was in college I was involved in leadership in our Christian fellowship group with a friend named Dan. Dan was involved in officer training with the Marines in college. I was more the hippie type. So we got under each other’s skin. One day Dan came to me, no surprise the Marine intervened, and we had some constructive conflict. It began rather bluntly with each one of us telling the other that we basically drove each other to anger. But were and are brothers. And just getting that aired out was what we needed because we believed our brotherhood in Christ was greater than our personality differences.
Remember, we’re 150 meters from the starting line. At the end of my sermon today I’m not going to say: go out and get into some conflict, though God may lead you too.
NOTE: The person who can engage in constructive conflict is also the person you can go to in constructive conflict. A person who can’t hear without being defensive can’t go to others. Its an approachable person who can approach others. It’s a person who listens, who can then speak.
Someone has said that it’s not so much a Christian characteristic to not give offense, but to not take offense!
Its so hard for us to be able to engage in loving conflict when we are wracked with guilt and fears. When every thing feels like an accusation, every feather like an anvil on our conscience. So what is the answer?
Do we believe and apply the gospel? It’s the power and pattern for living together that leads to Christlike growth. Think of this: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But think of how many of us live feeling condemned, fearful of the imagined thoughts of others. We get a warm feeling with this verse, but its sorta makes the outside of our hearts glow, but not the inside. It hasn’t gone deep enough yet. Paul says in that same book: Let every man be a liar, but let God be true! Don’t let that noisy conscience rule over you after it has been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Its only then that you can listen to what you truly need to hear.
So being able to be the person to engage in constructive conflict is not personality driven, but driven by the Spirit of God working in us.
Galatians 6:1-3 1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Note: Who is spiritual? The person who is keeps in step with the Spirit, who is in tune with Him. So spirituality is something we don’t have in ourselves but it is the Spirit who makes us spiritual.
How do we stay in step with the Spirit?
Note the humility here! God resist the proud but gives grace to the humble. Grace runs downhill. But watch yourself…If anyone thinks he is something…..
Humility means I repent first. A key to the Spirit’s presence and filling. He is drawn to that broken and contrite heart. Its like bees and honey. God says he dwells with the humble. I remember an example years ago of Elders who had to announce some really bad news about the church’s pastor. They first came before the congregation and spoke of their own sins.
Humility means we don’t make assumptions! We often wrong others in the assumptions we make. Let me tell you a story about how God saved me from a foolish assumption that would have caused hurtful conflict.
This probably happened over 15 years ago. I had taken my daughter Katie to a coffee shop. She was probably early on in middle school at this point. While I sat at our table Katie got up to look at some of the travel mugs. They can be pretty expensive. So I was thinking about my talk with her about not spending her money wisely. Its pretty ironic that I was going to lecture her on the wise use of money. I’m sure the plank in my own eye was pretty big! As I sat there God spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but clearly. He said: Shut up! Now in our house we don’t say “Shut up.” But I needed it and God can say it anytime He pleases!
You see God has all of the information, I had an assumption. Katie was looking at those mugs to buy me one for my coming birthday. I didn’t know this until she bought it for me. It takes grace for a sinner to be quiet sometimes! Maybe being quiet before God and being in step with Him is the true first step in engaging each other in loving conflict so that God wins and we all become more like Jesus.

Remembering 9/11 from Kenya

September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11from Kenya
That day thousands of, mostly, my countryman died in an attack that was cowardly and evil. My country is not perfect, my countryman are not perfect. None in either category are.

I’m reminded of Jesus being asked about a blind man and why he was blind, did he sin or his parents? Jesus of course knew that both the man and his parents were sinners, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!! What Jesus taught was you cannot draw a straight line between the man’s blindness and his or his parent’s sin. Consider when Jesus was asked about those people who perished when a tower fell on them. Amazing parallel there! Jesus said unless you all repent you will perish. So I call this a cowardly and unjust attack because that is what it is. It was evil and there is evil in the world. All have sinned and every sin is worthy of death but not all sins are equally evil.

I call this act evil, but I don’t hate all Muslims because of this attack. The first people I encountered around the attack were Muslim. We were living in Nairobi, Kenya. The first were two guys around a little food court where our family was having a snack. One called out to the other: I hope they got Disney World too. We didn’t’ know what had happened yet and had no idea of the scale of events. But we drove home knowing something bad had happened and learned that it was thought to be an act of terrorism by Muslim extremist.

When we got home our neighbor was standing at our gate. She asked if we knew anyone in NY or Washington. She was concerned. She is a Muslim. Gail stayed to talk with her and I went in, I didn’t want to greet her because she was a Muslim. I was wrong. She had not done anything to me or my countryman. So I can call this an evil cowardly attack, I think, without being self righteous. But I need Jesus and his blood to forgive me for my thoughts around Momma Amina. I was wrong to her. I had to repent. The scale isn’t the same, but I forgot God’s grace. I forgot who my King is and that he had died for me because I am surely a sinner. I need to pray for my Muslim neighbor.

Celebrating the Creator and Creativity Psalm 24

September 6, 2011

What if God announced that he was going to visit your town? You’d want to have a place for him to stay, something fitted to such a grand visitor. Not a copy cat place we see in our suburbs, but a thing of creativity and beauty!

Something similar to that happened to the OT Jewish people. God promised to be with them. They wanted a house for him. Solomon built this house-the Temple. It was a place of beauty built by artist and craftsmen and celebrated with music and feasting. So there were sights, sounds and smells and tastes! It expressed beauty and creativity.

God designed and made all things; then he rested from his work on the Sabbath. When we work we create things. A mother makes adults out of little ones. Teachers make good and productive citizens. When a small business does well it can create new jobs for people. When an artist paints or sings she or he creates something of beauty to enjoy. A craftsman makes something useful for others. All of this kind of work has worth and purpose. A friend recently wrote this below. You might title it the beauty garbage men create:

When you spend years helping your children learn to read and write and work their math problems, you probably aren’t thinking: “This will all be worth it one day when my little Johnny finally gets to be a garbage collector.”
But maybe you should. On Tuesday mornings, the trash is collected in my neighborhood. I can only imagine how complex the undertaking is to manage a city’s garbage week after week. Think of the all of the factors: the staff, the equipment and trucks, the landfills, the policies, the procedures, and the budget. It must get done. In rain and snow and even on hot August days. Year after year, week after week, day after day.
Every once in awhile I put a bag of trash into the garage, with the plan of taking it out to the garbage can later. I get busy and forget the second step. You can imagine what a bag of garbage is like after sitting in a hot garage for a day or two! Imagine that same scene multiplied over the entire city. Imagine piles and piles of trash everywhere. The site. The smell. The flies!
Thankfully, that is not the scene in my city. God has called us to do good works. He calls us to a variety of tasks. Not works that earn salvation, but works that show our thankfulness to God and our love of neighbor: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)
Thank God that he calls people to manage the trash… There are a lot of men and women who take care of this “good work” every day. If you travel to other parts of the world, one of the things you will notice right away is this: we need more people to take up this wonderful calling of taking up the trash. Thank you for loving God and your neighbors in this way! Keep up the good work. (Doug Peterson)
Now back to that house Solomon built: The Psalm we read this morning pictures people going up to Jerusalem, the city where the Temple was built. It is a city on a hill: who may ascend to the hill of the LORD, who may stand in his holy place? Then there is this call for the doors they see in the distance to open, not so much that they may come in, but that God, the King of Glory, may enter. These doors may have first referred to the doors on the wall of the city. But in the later history pilgrims coming to festivals may have seen the golden doors of the Temple glowing in the sun and called for them to open.

The Temple was filled with objects of gold and great artistry and craftsmanship. Its construction took 7 years. When the day of dedication came Solomon offered 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep.
Note on the dedication: When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2 All the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. 13 The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever
OK, this reminds me of some of the great “worship” events of our day. Maybe a rock concert. The band is about ready to come out and music is loud and there is smoke and fire. When all that begins to clear away out comes the band to wild cheers!
But what is that, even if it was the Rolling Stones or Beatles, compared to the One called the King of Glory? What if we imagine the smoke and fire in the Temple clearing away and God was on the stage. What would that be like? How about a man bloodied and hanging on a cross.
Don’t be fooled by how unimpressive Jesus may seem. Don’t be offended to have him as you own. Don’t be ashamed of him.
Jesus on the cross he took out the trash. He removes the gunk from our hearts as we open them to him. He renews our hearts and when our hearts our renewed our hands are renewed! Our hands, voices, our thoughts and imaginations are for him and his fame. Think of the Psalm we read this morning and clean hands and a pure heart. Jesus got his hands dirty, and bloody, to make us clean on the inside!
I’ll close with a story about our work and God’s grace working in us. A craftsman who made chairs was commissioned by a king to make him a special chair, a throne. The man wasn’t to be paid until the work was completed. So he sold all he had to buy the material for this special chair and put many hours into making it leaving aside any other possible project. His hope was dependent upon the King accepting his work. But each day he lived in fear that the chair would be rejected. He knew it was his best work, but it was also imperfect. How could it be fit for a King? But the King was delighted with the chair, and though it was imperfect, gave the builder a great reward. This is the reward of grace that comes to us. Jesus has completed our incompleteness and now accepts the works of our hands to bring glory to him; though they too are incomplete and imperfect.
The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

The Boldness of Beggars

August 23, 2011

The Boldness of Beggars Joshua 10 Beggars are bold! When we lived in Kenya we saw many beggars. A lot of these folks were polio victims. They basically had no legs, but begged on the street, walking on their hands into busy traffic and holding their hands up by the car window to get few shillings. They were bold. But what if one of these beggars would have asked for the keys to our house? Or $10.000? That’s boldness!

When we read this passage it would be easy to notice only the great miracle of the sun standing still. But it seems that what is so amazing in this passage is that Joshua asked for such a thing, the sun to stand still, and God did it according to Joshua’s prayer. So we read: Joshua 10:14: There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!

These words are here for emphasis. Surely God had listened to a man before. And in another place the sun went back (Isa. 38) 10 steps, as it is put. The thing here is that Joshua was bold in asking God who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.

We are beggars who a generous God has made to be sons and daughters. So we can be bold and be sure that he is for us.


I want to call you attention to these verses from Paul, an early church leader:

These things happened to them (Old Testament Israel) as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! I Corinthians 10:11-12

Ever hear a sermon and wonder how someone got so much from a text? Maybe he didn’t? So how do get from a text more of all that is legitimately there? How do we apply them?

1. If these things are examples for us then we can make application of them, but we don’t make them allegories.
Defined: Allegory: is extending a metaphor through an entire narrative so that objects, persons, and actions in the text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text -Nordquist
I.E. Every single thing stands for something else=no meaning for the words! Its like the writer who equated some kind of pestilent insect in Revelation with a Russian helicopter. Really!
2. These OT stoires are real stories with their own application. But OK to make spiritual application as long as:
a. its not clearly outside of a reasonable bounds
b. or if its something that deals with lesser truths.
3. Its OK to make spiritual application because God was most of all concerned with the spiritual life of his people in the OT as well as the NT. Heart faith and obedience is God’s goal for his people always.
4. Finally: Jesus own words in Luke 24: He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

5 Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it. 6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.” 7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” 9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise Joshua 10:5-9
This and other passages from Joshua would make a great movie. Alliances of cities and Kings. Taking up positions to attack. Joshua receiving word of this by a messenger who had to go through enemy lines. An all night march of the cavalry (Joshua and his army) to the rescue with a surprise attack. .

So why the battle?

1. To protect the Gibeonites who are in covenant with Joshua and Israel:

The Gibeonties and Israel had made a covenant. They were under the Israelites care. Joshua was bound to them by that covenant. Joshua was his brother’s keeper in regard to the Gibeonites.


My brother loves to work at a small mission near his house dealing with people who have trouble with drug addiction, unemployment and homelessness. One of the volunteers at the mission is an elderly woman of eighty-five years. She recently allowed a man and his son who were homeless and had drug problems to stay on her property. She would allow them to take showers and made them meals. But the police came to remove them because they were secretly dealing drugs on the property. The man then threatened the woman saying she had turned her in. He has since threatened her again. I have met this woman. I was so angry when my brother recently told me this. This woman is our sister in Christ. We are bound in covenant with her in Christ. She must be under our protection.

William Wilberforce fought as a Christian against the slave trade in Great Britain. He was bound to the Africans as fellow human being made in the image of God who were being treated worse than dogs in England.

2. We fight: Because sin cannot be appeased nor made peace with:

God told Israel to drive the Canaanites out because of their idolatry and all the perversion and sin it lead them into. God did not want his people to turn away from him as their highest go

We can be deceived by the shiny object in the room. I’ve mentioned my friend who left his wife and three young children for a woman. He made a terrible choice that brought him and others much pain.

So God calls us to fight, to be proactive spiritually. I remember Jack Miller saying: You have to fight for your life. He was right!!

As an example we have to fight for our marriages. If you young couples (and older ones) need help don’t wait until someone gets divorced. Don’t let that be your wake up call. If someone gave you ten thousand dollars to hold you would be vigilant. How much if your marriage worth?

Recently I sent an email to the COR men about three weeks ago asking some questions:
1. Are you having some kind of emotional affair with another women?
2. Have you viewed pornography on the internet recently? Maybe you need Covenant Eyes on your computer.
3. Are you meeting with other men with whom you can be honest and who will pray for you? You need others to help you fight. By the way, that’s basically what we do at the Samson Society.

In Eph. 6 Paul the Apostle tells us to put on the full armor of God, which includes the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. A sword is an offensive weapon. We use it to fight.

3. And we can fight because God fights for us and with us!

Again in Eph. 5: be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power….WOW!! Power to hold back the sun!!

He fought for and with Joshua: Joshua had not only a sword of steel, but the sword of the Spirit, the word of God: Vs. 8 The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

Jesus fought the devil during his temptation in the wilderness with the word of God. HE FOUGHT!!
We fight with God’s promises!!

Then consider Vs. 11: As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

God makes clear that the victory is His. I used to think that in the weaknesses in my parenting that God was filling in the potholes. But my parenting may have been more like a road in Kenya that literally disappears before your eyes! His grace is needed, and present, each mile down the road.

God was giving his people victory but some of the enemy were escaping and Joshua needed more time:

The Sun stayed up so the battle could be finished. Jesus stayed on the cross until it was finished. Jesus fought against sin and every defect of the fall until all was vanquished!

(Note: Next week we will talk more about the miracle)

Sin within and without has to be put to the sword of God’s promises. You can’t sin a little. Sin is something to hate as God is someone to love.

And when we sin we have an advocate with the Father. Jesus battle wounds received on the cross speak peace forever for us in heaven and earth.
I mentioned William Wilberforce because Gail and I recently saw the movie: Amazing Grace. Wilberforce was in part influenced by John Newton the former slave trader who became a minister and wrote they hymn Amazing Grace. At one point in the movie Newton says: I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.

I can’t do any better than that. Is Christ big enough to save you from death and hell and whatever is on your heart right now? Will you be a very bold beggar?

Josephs’s Bones and the Fourth of July

July 5, 2011

Joseph’s Bones and the Fourth of July

Joshua 24:32


The first time we left Kenya after having moved there was to attend a conference in Spain.  We had to go through London and then down to Malaga, Spain.  When we arrived at Heathrow Airport at 5AM we went straight to Burger King and each one of us ordered a whopper and wolfed it down.  It may have been 5:30 in the morning, but it tasted like home!  And as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz:  There is no place like home!  Joseph must have thought that!   He wanted his bones taken out of Egypt, it wasn’t his home, to the land God promised, which was his home by that promise of God to His fathers.


Gen. 50:25     And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”


Heb. 11:22!!    22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.


What was his faith?  God had promised this land and so Joseph received and believed that promise!   He was assured that the children of Israel would inherit the land of Canaan and so he believed that his own bones would be buried in that place.  God will come to your aid, he will deliver you to your place!!  


As we think about the Israelites coming from slavery in Egypt to the land promised, they were looking for a place to call their own, a home.  Think of modern day Israel and how after the holocaust the Jewish people looked for a place-a homeland.    And  consider Jesus wonderful words that He goes to prepare a place for us!


So God recognizes that we long for a place and need a place! 


Think about the word patriot.  Now I know words can get hijacked, but I’m still going to use them.  In fact if you google patriot you’ll get arguments about the patriot act!  Patriot’s root meaning is father, fatherland  or lineage.  So Joseph wanted to be buried in the land of his fathers.  In the US we speak of our founding fathers. 


God has given us a place and people always make a place!  We make our homes feel like our place.  Pioneers making a place in the wilderness etc!  Cities founded.   When you go camping you find a spot, you pitch your tent!


So why don’t we all have one place, one culture, one language??  Remember that earth isn’t heaven.  And we can’t make it that.  Think about Babel where God confused peoples speech and scattered them over the earth.  There is mystery in God’s plan.  God did what he did in Babel it in light of man’s pride, so it’s a judgment, but God began to reverse that at Pentecost as the words did not sound like babbling, but they heard the good news in their own languages!   So in the world to come, the new heavens and the new earth there are people from every tribe and tongue and nation.  So learning other languages and cultures and respecting them is a good thing. 


People love their place!  Kenya with all its problems!  But it’s still their place!  Its like I can criticize my own family, but I’m not too keen on others doing that.


So God gives us a place where we can belong.  Where we understand the language and culture and fit it.  It’s a gift, it’s a product of judgment, and there is the hope of restoration in Christ.


And it’s a good place.  Friday Gail was bringing home the groceries and I was helping her put them away.  I was overwhelmed by our abundance!  It made me think of the elderly German couple we knew 25 years ago in New Jersey.    Mrs. Fuerst had a relative who visited the states from East Germany.  When they went into a grocery store in New Jersey the relative began to weep.  She had never seen such wonderful, abundant food.  And we need to remember to give thanks and that the goodness of God is to lead us to repentance!


 And when Jesus talked about preparing a place he said in my Father’s house are many rooms.  So we are patriots of earth and heaven.  My father’s came to live in this land and make a place.  My heavenly Father has an eternal place for me in Christ.


   We have a dual citizenship.    We are citizens of an earthly kingdom and of a heavenly kingdom.  One will last forever, one will not.   But we are true citizens of both and ought to be good citizens of both.  We are to…


Submit to and pray for earthly authorities despite their imperfections:


Consider these verses in light of the fact that one of the rulers at this time was Nero who persecuted Christians and had his own mother executed.


I Tim. 2     I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,


 Rom. 13:1-2    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.   Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  


So when we submit to earthly rulers and pray for them we do so because they are under God’s authority and we are under God’s authority.  This does not mean that they are off the hook, but rather they are on the hook.  They are to be God’s servants and fall under greater judgment for their positions of authority!  


We recently saw an old film clip dealing with Queen Elizabeth’s II coronation.  She didn’t crown herself, but was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He, in their view, acts for Christ who alone can give a throne.


In Eph. 1 Jesus is described as being:   21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 



But how can we serve two masters? We can’t and we aren’t called to.  Christians can be and ought to be good citizens and render unto Caesar what is Caesars.


We are to be good citizens of earth because we are citizens of heaven.   When Jesus calls us to put him above even our own families he is not telling us not to care for our families.  The Bible says we are worse than a heathen if we don’t provide for our families!  We have to get first things first.  Jesus must be first.  Seek first the Kingdom of God. 


So: Matthew could be a tax collector and a Christian but he could not steal or extort while collecting taxes.  A military man could be spoken of by Jesus as one who had great faith and continue to serve, in the Roman army!  We can take an oath in the civil courts, we can say the pledge of allegiance to the flag, but we don’t do it in worship.  We can render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we cannot call him Lord.  That title belongs to Jesus alone.


We recognize him as our LORD and the LORD of the nations. 


This week I heard someone involved with the space program say that when you are on the moon you can close one eye and then hold your thumb out and look at it with the other eye and “cover the earth.”  If you were out far enough you could do the same thing and cover our galaxy!

So the LORD of the universe says:


Dan. 4:34-36 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”


Isa. 40:15 :Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales;


So be a good patriot, but watch out for the pride of nations.  Be careful where you put your hope and heart.


BUT, despite not only our smallness, and our rebellion:  For God so loved the world…


Rev. 5:9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.


Rev. 14:6  Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.


Rev. 21:23-25  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.


Rev. 22:2  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.


So as citizens of earth, as citizens of specific nations, of a specific nation we pray Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.



NC Eugenics and Quick to Listen Slow to Speak

June 28, 2011

I don’t want it. I don’t approve of it, sir. I don’t want  a sterilize operation…. Let me go home, see if I get along all right.  Have mercy on me and let me do that..
   — A woman pleading with the eugenics board, 1945.  (Winston-Salem Journal)

North Carolina made the national news this week.  It wasn’t good news.  It was about the eugenics program that had gone on for many years in NC.  What is eugenics?  It’s the science of improving a breed.   So we breed out the less desirable people.  It’s simply applied Darwinism.  But when we play God it doesn’t turn out too well.

“They were wives and daughters. Sisters. Unwed mothers. Children. Even a 10-year-old boy. Some were blind or mentally retarded. Toward the end they were mostly black and poor. North Carolina sterilized them all, more than 7,600 people. For more than 40 years North Carolina ran one of the nation’s largest and most aggressive sterilization programs. It expanded after World War II, even as most other states pulled back in light of the horrors of Hitler’s Germany.  Contrary to common belief, many of the thousands marked for sterilization were ordinary citizens, many of them young women guilty of engaging in premarital sex.”  (W-S Journal)

So how could this happen? 


 It started with a conversation.  An internal conversation that became external. 


“I thank God that I’m not like other people.”   That’s how that internal conversation could be framed in Biblical words, in Jesus’ words.  We use words to express our thoughts.  And we often use them to express the idea, not in these words perhaps, but what are saying is:  “Isn’t humanity lucky to have someone like me!  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was like me.”  Maybe we aren’t into eugenics, but we can have attitudes that are similar.


We make assumption and draw conclusions on incomplete information and our information is always incomplete!  At least to some degree.  God alone has the full picture and has the true right to judge.  So we ought to give the benefit of the doubt and be gracious.  Remember the story of the man on the subway in New York with his four children?  The kids were bouncing off the walls!  A fellow passenger observing this had the same conclusion that we’d probably have:  What a poor parent this fellow is!  The other part of that is:  What a great parent I am!  Or at least would be.  So he spoke to the father who told him, “I’m sorry, we’ve just come from the hospital where their mom died.  They are upset.”  Be slow to speak.  It’s a powerful force for healing or pain.


We forget the gospel and the fact that we are sinners all. The ground around the cross is level.   Even when someone has failed, we have failed often also.  Remember Jesus’ story about the man who was forgiven millions but choked his fellow servant who owed him pennies?  Do we want to be that person?


2. The internal conversation goes external:  “Isn’t it great that we aren’t like other people!”   Gossip and slander.


Slander is when we lie about someone.  Gossip can be true, but its unnecessary talk.  It does not love it’s neighbor but rather exposes him or her to others who may be very uncharitable toward them.

We’ve all gossiped, and if you haven’t forgive me and congratulations.  There is a deep fellowship in gossip.  We feel close to someone when we share secrets.  But it isn’t a good or wholesome closeness.  Like our text says:  It doesn’t bring about the righteous life that God desires for us. We ought to be about protecting others when they are absent.


So:  If you think it might be gossip, it probably is:  Quick to listen SLOW to speak!!   




Proverbs 10:11  The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…

You can drink from a fountain springing up from the earth.  Its pure and clean as opposed to something like stagnant swamp water.  One brings life and the other death.  God wants our words to give life.


Jesus said we speak out of the abundance or our hearts.  Your speech will show your heart.


It’s the righteous who do this.  And who are the righteous?  Is it those who say:  God I thank you that I’m not like other people, or is it this internal conversation:  God have mercy on me a sinner?  We know which one it is.  Remember what Gospel means vs. Gossip!  They say folks who quit smoking often gain weight because they replace the smoking with eating.  So we need to replace gossip with the gospel.  The one who comes in need to Jesus and abides in Him because he or she has no righteousness of their own.  How hard it is to criticize others when on our knees crying for mercy.


Prov. 12:18  The tongue of the wise brings healing…The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.  Its knowing who we are and who God is that keeps our tongue an instrument of blessing rather than cursing.


How did Jesus enemies get him on that cross?  He was not a victim.  He said no one takes his life from him but he lays it down voluntarily.  Yet in one sense he was a victim of words like those folks who were forcibly sterilized.  An Internal conversation.  He was one evening having at a dinner party in the home of Simon the Pharisee.  A woman was there who had let her hair down.  She was a prostitute.  Think of the Middle East today and women keeping their hair covered.  But this woman washed Jesus feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair!  Simon had this inner conversation:  If this man were a prophet (and he obviously isn’t!) he would know what kind of woman is touching him!

A shared conversation.  From that point on they began to plot how to kill him.

And more words:  crucify Him, crucify Him! 

May the Lord help us to use our words with wisdom and love for God and neighbor.