Whom Do We Strive To Please?

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Romans 15:1-4

A wealthy but eccentric man called his pastor, doctor, and a political friend to his deathbed. He told them how he disagreed with the conventional belief that you can’t take your money with you when you die. He said, “I’m taking mine!” He pulled out three envelopes and handed one to each of the gathered trio. He explained how the envelopes contained $30,000 in cash and he wanted each man to throw an envelope in when they lowered his casket. At the funeral all three men did as their dead friend had requested. Upon returning from the cemetery the pastor’s conscience got the best of him and he made a confession to the doctor and politician. The minister said, “I needed the money for our church so I took out $10,000 and threw $20,000 into the grave.” The doctor then came clean and admitted to taking $20,000 for some costs he had incurred at his clinic. The politician was appalled at their dishonesty. He pridefully said, “I’m ashamed of you gentlemen. I threw in a check for the full amount.”

Groucho Marx was ahead of his time. He said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.” With the ongoing deterioration of morals in television it is significant to know that in America 98% of homes have a TV but only 96% have an indoor toilet. As Bob DeMoss notes, “This is the first time in history we have more garbage coming into our homes than flowing out of them.”

While at the prom, a girl delivers her baby and suffocates the child in the bathroom. No one even knew she was pregnant, and the mother claims that she never really felt like the baby was hers. A father in Florida drives his two sons into a canal in the Everglades and drowns them because he is angry with their mother. A girl who is believed to be about twenty-one years old and mentally impaired is heard screaming and is found locked in her bedroom.
Investigators suspect that a man who claims he is her father left her there for prolonged periods of time. At the time police found the young woman, she weighed only about sixty pounds and wore a nightgown that was stained with urine and covered with feces. The great tragedy of our society is that we continue to lose our moral underpinnings.

Jesus said, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Americans owe $384 billion on credit cards alone, and 70% of credit card holders carry an average balance of $3,900? While some of that is truly necessity, most is not. John D. Rockefeller once said, “The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money.”

Americans are spending over $1 billion a year on cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic operations have risen 60% in the last decade and the number of plastic surgeons has quadrupled since 1965. Have we forgotten 1 Samuel 16:7? “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Voltaire predicted that within 100 years of his life (the 18th century) Christianity would be nothing more than history. He admitted, though, for this to happen the world would first have to get rid of Sunday. He said, “There is no hope of destroying Christianity so long as the Christian Sabbath is acknowledged and kept as a sacred day.” Football season is over and we know that many schedules have been affected by the desire to watch the games, a perspective check is in order. Don’t forget, more people gather each Sunday to attend church in America than the total attendance of all professional football games in an entire season.

There was the delinquent church member who suddenly began attending church faithfully on Sunday mornings. The pastor was greatly pleased and told him: “How wonderful it makes me feel to see you at services with your wife!” “Well, Parson,” said the prodigal, “it’s a matter of choice. I’d rather hear your sermon than hers.”

In his short story, “The Window,” author G.W. Target tells of two seriously ill men who occupied the same hospital room. The man by the window was propped up for an hour each day to drain fluid from his lungs. The other man spent his entire time on his back. The two men enjoyed each other’s company and talked for hours about all different types of subjects. During the hour the one man sat up in his bed, he would describe all the things he saw to his bedfast roommate. Each day great detail would be given to the activities going on outside. He described the park with its lovely lake and grand old trees. He would tell of children playing and lovers walking through the park outside their window. One day, a beautiful parade went by. Even though he couldn’t hear the music, the man on his back could see it all in his mind as his roommate gave exquisite details. But somehow, it didn’t seem quite fair. Although he enjoyed listening to his friend describe the sights, he began to crave the view of his comrade.

His desire for the bed by the window became a consuming thought. It even kept him awake at night. Then, in the darkness of one sleepless night, his roommate began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs and was desperately groping for the button to call for help. The covetous roommate could have easily pushed his button to summon a nurse, but instead, he watched the old man die. The following morning the nurse discovered the man’s death. The standard procedure was carried out and the body was removed. The surviving man then asked that his bed be switched so he could see out the window. At last, he would have what he felt he deserved. Painfully and slowly he struggled to prop himself up for that first look at the park. To his chagrin, the window looked out to a blank wall.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The temptation of Evil is that it is all about “me.” Paul, frustrated by some of the things happening in the Galatian Church writes, Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Our first thought in the morning should be pleasing God. “What Would Jesus Do?” A farmer once went to the county fair with a pumpkin that was the exact size and shape of a two-gallon jug. His pumpkin won the blue ribbon. When someone asked how he got a pumpkin to look like that, he said, “It was easy. As soon as it started to grow, I stuck it inside a two-gallon jug.”

Paul exhorts us to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). If we don’t heed his advice, we will soon find ourselves pressed into the mold of this world. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

When Christ Went Away

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Acts 1:6-9

A man went through a forest seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home and put it among the fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken feed to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds. Five years later, a naturalist came to see him and after passing through his garden, said: “That bird is an eagle, not a chicken.” “Yes,” said the owner, “but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures 15 feet from tip to tip of its wings.” “No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle, and I will make it soar high up to the heavens.” “No,” said the owner, “it is a chicken and it will never fly.”

The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up and said with great intensity: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the chickens eating their food, and down he jumped. The owner said: “I told you it was a chicken.” “No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle. So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them. Then the owner said: “I told you it was a chicken.” “No,” asserted the naturalist, “it is an eagle, and it has the heart of an eagle; The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top to the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of the beautiful morning. He picked up the eagle and said to it: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” Yet it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never returned.

It was an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken. We have been created in the image of God, but men have made us think that we are chickens, and so we think we are; but we are eagles, stretch forth your wings and fly! Don’t be content with the food of chickens!

Why does Jesus have to leave? Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7) Jesus goes so that the Holy Spirit may come in great power and fill the heart of every believer.

From the time of Jesus’ resurrection to His ascension, He appears to the believers no less that ten times. The last of those ten times is on the Mount of Olives at His ascension. When they arrive on the Mount of Olives the Disciples know His departure is at hand. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” One almost gets the feeling of deja vu with the transfiguration. Two men dressed in white appear. Angels? We assume so. It is a special moments but also a reminder of prophecy.

Zechariah in 753 B.C. gave this prophecy. On that day his (Jesus’) feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. Then the LORD my God will come (Return of Christ), and all the holy ones with him. On that day (Second Advent) there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime-a day known to the LORD. (Zech 14:4)

Even the ascended Christ does not stop making appearances to the Church.
There are four times that Jesus appears to believers following His ascension.
To Paul near Damascus (Acts 9:3-6;)(1 Cor 15:8). To Stephen outside Jerusalem (Acts 7:55) To Paul in the temple (Acts 22:17-21; 23:11) To John on Patmos (Rev 1:10-19) Jesus even makes an appearance in the Old Testament. Joshua is the leader of Israel and is camped outside Jericho. “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:14)

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, `I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”

What Jesus probably means is “Do not think, Mary that by grasping hold of me so firmly that you can keep me always with you. That uninterruptible fellowship for which you yearn must wait until I have ascended to be forever with the Father.” What he condemned was Mary’s mistaken notion that the former mode of fellowship was going to be resumed, in other words, that Jesus would once again live in daily visible association with his disciples, both men and women. The fellowship, to be sure, would be resumed; but it would be far richer and more blessed. It would be the communion of the ascended Lord in the Spirit with his Church.

Between the time of His resurrection and his ascension, Jesus challenged Peter concerning Peter’s love for Jesus. Twice Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. In both cases Peter responds to Jesus that Jesus knows that Peter likes him. Jesus then responds by asking Peter, “Do you even like me?” For the third time, Peter answers, “You know that I like you. And the third time that Peter answers, he is grieved, perhaps because he had also denied Jesus three times or because Jesus had to lower his expectation of Peter’s love for his Savior with his third question.

When Jesus asks Peter twice, “Do you love me?”, He was asking, “Do you love me because I am precious to you, with a sacrificial love that would make you willing to die for me?” Three times Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I am fond of you; I have an affection for you because of the pleasure I take in you.” (John 21:15-19). Jesus asked for a love of complete devotion. Peter offers him a love of personal heart emotion. Jesus asks for a heart of surrendering obedience. Peter offers Him a love of personal attachment.

Where Did Sin Come From?

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Genesis 2: 15-17

President Calvin Coolidge returned home from attending church early one Sunday afternoon. He was asked by his wife what the minister spoke on. “Sin,” Coolidge replied. Wanting to know more, she pressed him for some words of explanation. Being a man of few words (as only you wives can appreciate) Coolidge responded: “I think he was against it.”

As a very small child, Theodore Roosevelt had also experienced a peculiar and memorable fear of church. It was a small incident that, in later years, made an amusing anecdote of the kind every Roosevelt loved to tell. But for him at the time it was no joke and should not be discounted. Mittie had found he was so afraid of the Madison Square Church that he refused to set foot inside if alone and so she pressed him to tell her why. He was terrified, she discovered, of something called the “zeal.” It was crouched in the dark corners of the church ready to jump at him, he said. When she asked what a zeal might be, he said he was not sure, but thought it was probably a large animal like an alligator or a dragon. He had heard the minister read about it from the Bible. Using a concordance, she read him those particular passages containing the word “zeal” until suddenly, very excited, he told her to stop. The line was from the Book of John, chapter 2, verse 17: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”

Peter writes, Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Perhaps we better understand sin, when we discover where sin came from. The origin of sin gives us a clue as to what sin is and how we may overcome it.

The Sunday School teacher asked her class: “What are sins of omission? After some thought one little fellow said: “They’re the sins we should have committed but didn’t get around to.” The new minister had just moved into town. It was late at night when his wife remembered that their dog, very aptly named Trouble” had not been taken out yet. Since it was late and most of the neighbors were asleep, she just slipped on her robe, put the dog on a leash, and stepped out the back door. Unfortunately the leash slipped out of her hand and the dog took off to explore the new territory. She ran around the house hoping to see which direction he had gone. Just then a police car was passing by and stopped to see if she needed help. “No thank you,” she said, “I’m just out here looking for trouble.”

Someone asked, “What is your sermon about this Sunday?” I said, “It is entitled, ‘Where did sin come from?’” “I know that, from Adam and Eve,” said he. “You really need to hear this sermon,” said I.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” In Genesis 3 the story tells us that the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. The serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, `You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. “Honey, what is for dinner tonight?” “Sin.” Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

This is not the origin of sin, it is a story about the introduction of sin into the lives of humanity. What some groups mistakenly call “original sin.” A term used to denote the effect of Adam’s sin upon the moral life of his descendants.
The fall of man is not the beginning of sin.

The Fall of humanity does reveal several things to us that are important.
Sin was already present in the world by the time that God creates Adam.
God’s gift to Adam and Eve is the gift of choice. The downside to the gift of choice is that God will not stop us from choosing to sin. The story reveals that sin is not the keeping of laws or a set of rules.

The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves. The being and law of God are perfectly harmonious, for “God is love.” The sum of all the commandments likewise is love; sin in its nature is egotism and selfishness. Self is put in the place of God. Selfishness is at the bottom of all disobedience, and it becomes hostility to God when it collides with His law.

A man in a former church was arrested and charged with embezzling at the bank he worked for. For the courts, I wrote a character reference letter. In the letter to the judge I wrote, “None of us understand why this happened, it is so out of character for George.” The judge read that part of my letter aloud and asked, “Why did you steal from the bank?” “I can tell you,” the judge said, “you wanted to profit from your actions.”

Sin is not about breaking rules, but breaking God’s heart. Sin is an offense against the very nature and character of God. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Sin is actually a contradiction to the holiness of God, whose image mankind bears.

Mankind originally fell into sin at the temptation of Satan. As the tempter, he continues to lure people into sin. God is not the author of sin, but His plan for world redemption does include His dealing with the reality of sin.

Ezekiel tells us of Satan, You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. “`In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.

The Rabbis of ancient history composed an imaginary look at heaven to convey the extent of God’s love. The drama unfolds when the Hebrew people were being pursued by the Egyptian army. The angels were perched on heaven’s edge watching the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. When the waters came crashing in on the Egyptians, the angelic host shouted and cheered in victory. God stopped the jubilant celebration with a wave of His hand. With tears in His eyes, God rebuked the angels for their perspective on this tragedy. He said, “The very work of my hands has been destroyed and you would cheer?” God’s love is extended to all men, even those who position themselves as enemies of His kingdom. This is most evident in Jesus’ request of forgiveness for those who nailed Him to the cross.

God’s Open Secrets

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Romans 16:25-27

The world is filled with secrets. We like secrets and secret places. Victoria’s Secret has been discovered. The secret is that nobody who is older than thirty can fit into her stuff. Jack Gulledge the retired editor of Mature Living told one of his favorite jokes – A mischievous man walked up to an elderly woman and asked, “Lady, how old are you?” She indignantly replied, “Sir, my age is my business!” The man then countered, “Well, lady, it looks like you’ve been in business a long time.”

M. F. Ashley’s Montagu’s book entitled Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, includes the story of a wife of a Worcester Cathedral Canon who listened to the first announcement of the theory of evolution with consternation. “Descended from the apes!” she exclaimed. “My dear, we will hope it is not true. But if it is, let us pray that it may not become generally known!” Some secrets are worth keeping. Others are too good to keep.

Paul writes to the Corinthian Church and says, We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. The mature are those Christians who have some spiritual maturity. They would not be new converts or Christians not interested in learning more about themselves or God. The ones Paul would say have to be fed with “milk.” No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. God’s secret wisdom? Sounds almost like scripture text from Romans! “…the mystery hidden for long ages past….” What is this secret of God? It is a secret that Paul says, None of the rulers of this age understood it…for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. (1 Cor 2:6)

The word “mystery,” in the Bible, properly means a thing that is “concealed,” or that “has been concealed.” It does not mean that the thing was “incomprehensible,” or even difficult to be understood. The thing might be “plain” enough if revealed, but it means simply that it “had” not been before made known. We know with God there will always be some secrets or mystery. Where did God come from? Explain the Trinity? We can’t even begin. We can only accept it-a mystery, disclosed in Scripture. Harry Emerson Fosdick once said, “I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”

In a seminary class that forced us to look at our individual callings, I shared about all of the odd things that had happened in my life. The death of my natural mother. The dreams. Some of the unexplainable happenings. One person said, “The mystery of God is very real for you.”

I have always resonated to two quotations: “Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived” and “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” A Federal Judge lives in one of the homes behind the church. One day a few years ago, the police came and blocked off the whole neighborhood. A package had arrived at the judge’s home without a return address or any identifying marks. The bomb squad found clothes in the package that the judge’s parents had mailed him for his birthday. We fear secrets, we fear the unknown.

Paul’s writing in Romans is a doxology that centers in God’s ability or power to strengthen the readers. This mystery has to do with God’s reaching both Jew and Gentile through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Here is the secret, God will win! He who created the universe will be the one to destroy it and make it anew. He who created humanity will also be the one to judge and redeem humanity. But we ask, didn’t anyone tell the Devil? Satan honestly thinks he is going to win the war.

However, there is only one way you will understand that mystery, through the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. Everybody knows the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept”, but few understand human tears. In 1964, a 16-year-old boy named William Frey saved the life of a 2-year-old girl. He was traumatized by the event but didn’t cry. That experience began Frey’s journey toward becoming an expert on crying and stress. In 1985, he released his groundbreaking book on the subject called, Crying: The Mystery of Tears.

Dr. Frey is a leading neuroscientist and head of the Ramsey Foundation Alzheimer’s Treatment and Research Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is one of the world’s leading proponents of the theory that men die younger than women in part because they don’t deal well with emotions. Women average 5.3 crying episodes per month, men just 1.4. Men’s eyes tear up, women’s tears run down their face. Tears for emotional reasons are chemically different from tears caused by eye irritation. 85% of women and 73% of men report feeling better after they have cried about a stressful situation. Boys and girls under the age of 12 cry the same amount. The difference begins developing in puberty. Generally, boys stop crying between ages 13 and 16, due primarily to societal expectations. Dr. Frey has stated, “The only physiological mechanism we have to alleviate stress that is different from every other animal is the ability to cry emotional tears.”

It was a secret that God instilled long ago when He created you and me that we are just now discovering. Wonder how many more secrets do you and I have to learn? And only through the lenses of the Holy Spirit.

Why Were They Called Christians?

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Acts 11:25-26

We live in a time of a reawakening of “spirituality.” Is this a good or bad thing? There is a great difference between the contemporary, formless spirituality and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives weight, substance, call, and identity to our vague spirituality.

For some years now we seem to be going through a resurgence of interest in the Spirit. Americans are becoming more spiritual. “I am not very religious, I’ll admit,” someone else said, “but I am very spiritual.” We have had programs on television about angels, even about the perils and pitfalls of pastors. It does seem, if popular culture is a valid indicator, that we are becoming more spiritual. But I feel duty bound to warn all these sincere folk that from our church experience, “life in the spirit” can be a great challenge. Be careful of the Spirit!

In one of his letters to one of the churches he helped to establish, Paul speaks about the need to “test the Spirit.” “Not every spirit,” says Paul is the “Holy Spirit.” Presumably, according to Paul, there can be good and bad spirits.
But I am not writing about that. I am writing about the way the Holy Spirit deals with us. I hear these people talking about how good a thing it is to be spiritual. Much of the talk implies that, if we just get a little spirit, we will receive help with our problems, more satisfying lives, a lowering of our blood pressure. If I read my stories correctly in scripture, getting more spiritual can get you killed. But I can say this, the Holy Spirit is a power, a power outside ourselves, that helps us in our weakness, yes, but also a power that pushes us, prods us, pokes at us, and rarely leaves us as we are. The Holy Spirit is not only a power, it is also a persona, that visage of the aspects of the nature of God.

I’ll tell you why the Holy Spirit is threatening. Am I only speaking for myself when I say that I like to be in control? Life can be disordered enough, and I like order. I like to get up in the morning, eat the same honey buns, brush the same teeth, move in the same direction through ritual, habit, and pattern. It is good to have a few things tied down, patterned, and predictable. The Holy Spirit is about none of that. Furthermore, I like to feel that I am in charge, in control, in the driver’s seat determining the direction of life. I like to make decisions, set goals, priorities, and move toward them, achieving them, checking off my list of projects. Life hits you with enough strange stuff. You can make, decide, create, achieve. The Holy Spirit is about none of that. I suppose rising out of my desire for predictability and control is my strong yearning to know. I want to understand why things work the way they do.
I want to be able to explain the incongruities of the world, to define, understand, explain. The world can be mysterious. Therefore, I like to get things explained, defined, understood – even God. The Holy Spirit is about none of that.

Antioch was in Syria, 16 1/2 miles from the Mediterranean and three hundred miles N of Jerusalem. It was founded about 300 B.C. The city was destroyed several times by earthquakes, one of which, A.D. 526, killed 250,000 persons.
Antioch was luxurious, it’s main street, four miles in length, was lined with magnificent mansions. It was highly cultured, but its social life was debased, sensual, and shocking. It became the third city in the Roman Empire, reaching a population of 500,000. Antioch was associated early with Christian effort.
It was there that the persecuted disciples fled after the demise of Stephen.
The name Christian was first applied to followers of Jesus there. All three of Paul’s missionary journeys began in Antioch.

Princeton University and the National Museum of France excavated at Antioch for six seasons during the years 1932-39. A street plan of a large part of the ancient city has been established. Numerous significant mosaic pavements were uncovered in churches. The Chalice of Antioch is a controversial art object found at Antioch in 1910 and now is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The chalice is of two parts: a plain inner cup of silver, about seven and a half inches high and six inches in diameter, and an outer gilded silver holder with twelve figures displayed on the outside. It has even been identified as the Holy Grail used by Christ at the Last Supper. Perhaps this chalice is an early piece of Christian art of some century later than the first.

Why were they called “Christian” at Antioch? We as believers are called by many titles – Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic. What is required to be called a “Christian?” A Christian is a believer in and a follower of Jesus Christ. Christian literally means “Christ Like.” However, it occurs in the Scriptures only three times: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26); “and Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian'” (26:28); “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed” (1 Peter 4:16). The term Christian is clearly a Gentile designation for believers because the word Christ, upon which the term was constructed, suggests recognition of the Messiah, which no unbelieving Jew was prepared to do.

Becoming a Christian, according to the New Testament, is a definite act with significant results. I was asked to do a funeral for a man I hadn’t ever met and while visiting with the family this is the information I was given: The family said, “He was a good Christian man.” What church was he a member of? None. When was he baptized? Never was baptized. Well, what church did he attend. Didn’t go to church. What was he like? Everyone knew of his temper. He had a bad habit of cussing. But he believed in God. I don’t have to be a minister to figure out that this man was not a Christian. Where is the fruit? Where is the evidence?

The “spirituality” that I see being established today is an “I believe in a God that is defined by me.” Christian spirituality isn’t just some projection of our various inclinations about God. Spirituality is not something vague within us. It is something that is brought to us, taught to us. Christianity is a revealed and revealing religion.

There are five things that are necessary to be a Christian.
FAITH: Do you genuinely believe that God is real? Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
REPENTANCE: Repentance is to know and accept the fact that we are sinners. Once we admit that we are sinner we are sorrowful for our actions.
BAPTISM: Baptism is a necessary part of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
FORGIVENESS: Those who accept Christ are forgiven of their sins. No matter how many times we sin, we are forgiven.
THE HOLY SPIRIT: All who have accepted Jesus, have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God’s Promise Celebrated

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Luke 2:21-40

While Jesus was in Bethany reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. Jesus said what she did was a beautiful thing. The beauty of it lay in its very extravagance.

This isn’t just a $5 bottle of Musk or a $50 bottle of White Diamonds. You wouldn’t wrap this up for Valentines Day, and say, “Surprise honey, I got you a pint of Nard #5.” This stuff was expensive, imported from the Himalayan mountains of India, and was worth about a year’s income. Can you imagine blowing about 30 grand on a jar of cologne? There is no indication that she was wealthy. What she gave cost her, just like it would cost you if you gave a year’s wages. Mary breaks it open and empties it on Jesus’ head. Then she wipes his feet with her hair. This is her act of worship…extravagant giving, humbling service. She didn’t give the left over after satisfying her own wants and desires. She gave her best.

If our giving never costs us, then our giving never really means anything. On the other hand, we have Judas Iscariot, who viewed this act of extravagant giving as a complete waste. “When the disciples saw this, they were indignant, ‘Why this waste?’ they asked, ‘This perfume could have been sold at a higher price and the money given to the poor.’

Christmas is about gift giving. Ever since the wise men brought the three gifts of gold, incense and myrrh, giving is a part of Christmas. It’s not Christmas to which we object, but rather the “commercial racket” that Christmas has become. The problem with commercialized Christmas began with Dickens’ Mr. Pickwick carrying a cod to Dingley Dell as an offering for their Yuletide celebration. Then it was Scrooge ordering a turkey for his clerk. “But then the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards,” a tradition “forced upon us by the shopkeepers.” And the worst of it is the giving of gifts by people one hardly knows. The “whole thing is a nightmare,” says Lewis. “Most of it is involuntary.

What is the point of getting a gift we did not want, a gift we did not need from someone whom we hardly know? Perhaps it is the whole point of this blessed day of days. Did you hear the Scripture? “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11). Our neighbor asked me once if my parents liked country ham? He said that he was giving them one for Christmas. My parents were mad at me for not telling them about the ham because they had nothing ready to give in return.

God kept trying, with every means at God’s disposal, to get through to us – the covenant to Abraham and Sarah, the promises to the patriarchs, the poetry of the prophets, the praise of the psalms. When none of this worked, God gave us the Son. Down through the centuries thousands had begged God for a sign, a word, a signal, but who had asked for the Son, the very Son of God “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb 1:3)? The angel said to us, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). A sign of what? “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The word grace is the same word in the New Testament as gift.

When Adlai Stevenson worked for the Agricultural Administration, he received a Christmas gift from a walnut company: a large sack of individually packaged walnuts. He received this gift well before Christmas and realized he could never eat this many walnuts. He identified his opportunity and sent the individually wrapped walnuts to his friends as presents–only to find out later that inside each of the packages of walnuts was a card that read: “Merry Christmas to Adlai from the walnut industry.” Good gift; wrong recipient!

Love heals people it heals the one who gives it and it heals the one who receives it. In so many ways, down through all the ages, God tried to show us that he loved us and cared for us. God tried to speak to us in various ways, to reach us through various means. Now God has come to us as the Son, as the babe at Bethlehem. Here is a gift we did not know how to ask for, much less graciously receive. Yet here is the great gift, the magnificent act of grace, that God knew we needed. God in the flesh. Jesus, the Messiah, born among us.
Herein is our great joy.

I know of a man who spent an hour’s flight seated next to a man from Minneapolis, a salesman of some sort. He engaged my friend in conversation about this and that. My friend had intended to get some work done on the flight, but this stranger wanted to talk, so they talked. During the conversation he said, “You look like a man who needs to learn to relax.”
My friend thought it an impertinent comment from someone he had just met.
But he remembered that comment about two weeks later when in the mail he received a package. A gift. All the card said was, “From John.” He had not the faintest idea who John was. It was a couple of woodcarving knives, whittling knives, of all things. What was he supposed to do with these and who on earth were they from? Then he turned the card over. It read, “To a man who needs some-times to relax, from someone who found these helpful.”

Can you believe that? He never asked for woodcarving knives. This guy didn’t even know him. Now, what is he supposed to do? Is he expected now to send him some gift in return? A gift from a virtual stranger?

Now they have some kind of a relationship, I suppose. My friend now has to think of something to do for him. Here, with this uninvited gift, this guy has turned their chance conversation into a relationship. Now what? Now, three years later, when my friend wants to relax, he’ll take out that woodcarving set and start carving on a piece of wood. He is no artist and no expert, but it does cause him to relax. And to think, he didn’t even want this. Some gift. Some grace. And the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. This is good news, a sign that God really cares for you. You shall find a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger…”

Forgiveness: A Measure Of Love

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Luke 7:36-48

A little boy disobeyed his mother. But his conscience began to hurt him, and he was sneaking up to his room when his mother saw him. “Where are you going, Frank?” she asked. “To my room to talk to God.” “Is it something you can’t tell me?” Frank explained, “Yes, it is. You’ll just scold and punish me while God will forgive and forget all about it.”

Our news as a society is filled with questions of forgiveness. An accident occurs in the Pacific that cost the lives of 14 young people when a sub hits a boat. Mistakes were made and the captain is punished. But families think it is not enough and demand more. A bomber blows up a building and changes the lives of a whole community. So we want to watch the execution on TV. We say, “It will bring closure.”

No one denies that wrongs were done and that great injustice took place in these two cases and in hundreds of others like them. Even things on a much smaller scale that in some ways bothers us more. The neighbors dog that keeps fertilizing your lawn. The colleague at work who gossips about you. The friend who borrowed something and won’t return it.

What do we do with our anger? Buddy Hackett says he doesn’t bother to carry a grudge. He says, “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”

I have seen people hold grudges for years. Ever heard of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s? You think that only happens in the hills of Kentucky? We hold the grudge because we cannot resolve the anger.

I was teaching a Bible study one time on the story of the “Healing of the Demonic.” A man with so many demons in him that they are called legion. Jesus orders the demons out of the man into a herd of pigs that are nearby. The pigs run off the side of a cliff and die. Now our attention is on the fact that this man is healed, he was once mentally deranged and now he is well. A woman asked, “Is the farmer compensated by Jesus for the loss of the pigs?” Good question! It was a good thing that happened but the farmer experienced the loss. To whom does the farmer express his anger and does his injustice keep the farmer from becoming a Christian?

“We are such a mixture of sinner and sinned against that we cannot forgive people without feeling set free ourselves.” A woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. A known sinful life and with an alabaster jar of perfume – the woman had been a prostitute. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. The Pharisee doesn’t like this happening at his house. Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. You and I know that God is the moneylender and that we are the debtors. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Corrie Ten Boom, who years after her concentration camp experiences in Nazi Germany, met face to face one of the most cruel and heartless German guards that she had ever encountered. He had humiliated and degraded her and her sister. He had jeered and visually raped them as they stood in the delousing shower. Now he stood before her with hand out-stretched and said, “Will you forgive me?” She writes, “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, but I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed, Jesus, help me! Woodenly, mechanically I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me and I experienced an incredible thing. The current started in my shoulder, raced down into my arms and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. I forgive you, brother, I cried with my whole heart. I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment!” To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.

They betray him, whip him, taunt him, mock him, spit on him, curse him and nail him to a cross, and in retaliation he cries out to God: “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

We all know that we are to forgive so that we may be forgiven, but how do we do it? Four simple rules to forgiveness!

Remember God’s Word – they have been forgiven by God whether we forgive them or not. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14) “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21)

Turn to God in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer shows how important prayer is in being released of the anger. “…forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors….” The best therapy is to talk it out and there is no better therapy then to talk it out with God. “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43)

Deal with the anger (issue) now. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph 4:26)

Do a good deed/turn for the one that needs our forgiveness. On the evening of April 25th, 1958, a young Korean exchange student, a leader in student Christian affairs in the University of Pennsylvania, left his flat and went to the corner to post a letter to his parents in Pusan. Turning from the mailbox he stepped into the path of eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys. Without a word they attacked him, beating him with a black-jack, a lead pipe and with their shoes and fists. Later, when the police found him in the gutter, he was dead. All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance. The District Attorney secured legal authority to try the boys as adults so that those found guilty could be given the death penalty. Then a letter arrived from Korea that made everyone stop and think. It was signed by the parents and by twenty other relatives of the murdered boy. It read in part: “Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action . . . In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational and social guidance of the boys when they are released . . . We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.” Turning the other cheek to our enemy is a call to make friends of that enemy. The best way to forgive is to turn the bitterness to love.