I Believe in Jesus Christ!

April 21, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Jesus, the Incarnate Word

Easter Day

I Believe in Jesus Christ!

Acts 10:34-43

         I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because many secular, historian writers from 30 – 90 A.D., especially Josephus, wrote about a man who was crucified and came back to life. These historians could not have been in a conspiracy to fool the people.

I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because the Bible tells me about Jesus’ life, and the Bible is the inspired word of God. I believe in Jesus Christ! Why? Because over and over again archeology has proven the facts in the Bible to be true.

I believe in the Risen Christ! Why? Because hundreds of eyewitnesses saw Jesus, not only before his crucifixion, but after his resurrection. They can’t all be wrong about such an extraordinary event as the resurrection. You see, people would not have remembered Jesus at all if it were not for his resurrection. After all, how many people come back from the dead to show themselves before hundreds?

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 the following: 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. These people saw the resurrection story unfold before their very eyes and as of Paul’s writing, many of these witnesses were still alive.

Michael Green wrote the truth when he said, “Christianity does not hold the resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief. Without faith in the resurrection, there would be no Christianity at all. The Jesus Movement would have fizzled out like a damp firecracker, if [Jesus] had not conquered death.”

Martin Luther, the great church reformer once wrote that “the gospel does not explain the resurrection. The resurrection explains why we have the gospels.” And it is the gospel that Peter is proclaiming in our scripture lesson today. Peter never lets a chance pass him by to give a good message about the gospel of Jesus Christ. This message to Cornelius and his household was no exception.

In our scripture today, Peter talks about the message of the gospel, about the Messiah of the gospel, and about the ministers of the gospel. More about that in a moment, but first would you pray with me?

PRAYER

It is on this day, this beautiful Easter Day, that we proclaim the good news of the Risen Savior. If you are a believer then you should be shouting for joy, because it means an eternity for your spiritual life. You will have the blessing of being in the presence and of worshiping the almighty and powerful God forever.

Staying in the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius, the Apostle Peter has a voice and tells the good news of the gospel. I believe in Jesus Christ! I believe in the Risen Savior! It is the message of the gospel.

As our scripture opens, Peter has just come to a revolutionary realization through a vision he has on his way to Cornelius’ house that sweeps away the prejudice of generations of Jewish thought. Verse 34: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men [and women] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

In his vision, God tells Peter that what he creates is good. Therefore, not only Jews, but all men and women, all Gentiles, all people like Cornelius and his household, can be saved through the price Jesus paid on the cross. God makes no distinction among nations or among people. All can be saved.

That phrase, God “accepts men and women from every nation who fear him and do what is right,” reminds us too, that God goes ahead of us to prepare the way for the Gospel. Like Cornelius, there is no doubt that untold numbers of people around the globe or even in this church and community are not far from knowing Christ as Lord and Savior.

These people love and fear God and sincerely do what is right in God’s eyes. But like Cornelius, they are lacking the final step on the way to God, which is the fullness of eternal life through Jesus Christ. They are near to the Kingdom; they just need to meet the King! They need to hear about Christ and come into a loving relationship with him.

God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, has been working on Cornelius’ heart to bring him to Christ even before Peter arrives. Even though Cornelius was a Gentile and a member of the military, the beginning of Chapter 10 tells us something revealing about Cornelius. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Cornelius and his family were ready to hear Peter talk about the message of the gospel.

Verses 36-37: Peter says, you know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached…

Look what Peter says to Cornelius. “You know the message.” Peter assumes that Cornelius and his family already know something of the good news that Jesus preached. Jesus’ death and resurrection had only been a few years before.

Cornelius, who was living in Caesarea, only 65 miles from Jerusalem, had surely heard the stories of Jesus’ life and death. I’m sure he heard them from some of the soldiers present at the crucifixion during that fateful Passover week and that glorious resurrection Sunday.

As Peter continues his message, he talks about the Messiah of the gospel. Verses 38, 39 and 43: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen….All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Peter is pointing out that what Jesus did was by the Holy Spirit who empowered him to free people from satanic possession. Note the connection between the devil and sickness: Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil.

This is a short summary statement, and we cannot build a whole doctrine on it, but clearly Peter thinks that behind most disease and sicknesses is the devil. God is not the one who sends sickness! However, God will take all things and turn them around for good. Jesus came to heal and to make whole and to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus came to break Satan’s stronghold and power over us and give us renewed hope and a new life.

Now comes the most concise account of the gospel story in the New Testament. Peter knows it. He witnessed it. He tells about the Messiah of the Gospel. They killed Jesus. God raised him from the dead on the third day. God caused Jesus to be seen. And, whoever believes in Jesus will be forgiven and saved. This is about as crisp an account of the gospel story that anyone can give.

Folks, the gospel story isn’t hard to tell. Peter lays it out for you right here. Peter makes it quite plain that God is the one who sent Israel and the entire world this message of salvation by Jesus Christ.

The truth is this. Jesus is the anointed one of God. It was declared by God at his baptism. Jesus is the Messiah. He was sent by God and it is by him and only by him that you and I are saved from a spiritual death far from the presence of God.  Remember John, Chapter 3: Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Each year, Easter brings up life-and-death concerns. Many people are skeptical about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But if we cannot believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, then all of Christianity falls apart.

A Canadian scientist said, “I have only two questions to ask: One, has anyone ever defeated death? And two, did he make a way for me to do it also?” The answer to both questions comes in one statement from John 14:19: “Because I live, you shall live also.” You see, on Easter, we celebrate the Great Reversal, the triumph of life over death. Resurrection answers crucifixion. Life answers death.

Resurrection is “going on through death and beyond death to a new existence that death cannot touch.” When we place our trust in Jesus, we enter a new world in which death is defeated. As Christians we must live and die by this truth.

Peter talks about the message of the gospel. He talks about the Messiah of the gospel. And lastly, Peter talks about the ministers of the gospel. Verses 39-42: We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

The first ministers of the gospel are not only the disciples but all those to whom Jesus appears. There is no conspiracy. For you see, all the apostles except John are executed for their faith. Their story about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection holds firm. It never changes. Not one of them ever said, “Wait, it is all a fraud, I’ll tell you the truth. Just don’t kill me.” It never happens.

These witnesses give their lives for the truth of the gospel. If you really look at the story, the only thing that changes a group of frightened and broken disciples into a world-defying and world-changing force is the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing else could be strong enough to do it. It is their testimony that changes the world. It took them from hiding behind closed doors afraid of persecution to challenging the same authorities that crucified Jesus. They believed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I believe in Jesus Christ!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is the peace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the pardon of God. He will judge the living and the dead. Jesus was resurrected in time and space by the supernatural power of God. By conquering death, Jesus proved he was who he claimed to be.

A pastor was talking to a youth group about the high cost of dying. “People today waste thousands of dollars on coffins and monuments,” he said. “Jesus was so unconcerned by his death that he had to use a borrowed tomb.”

But leave it to one of our youth to get to the bottom line and put things in perspective. A teenager raised her hand and said, “But Jesus only needed it for three days.”

Jesus is the peace of God, the power of God, the presence of God, and the pardon of God. Like Cornelius, being born again by faith in the risen Christ means we stop trying to live our lives without God and begin placing our faith and trust in Jesus. As a Christian, our goal each day is to become more like Jesus in our attitude, in our behavior, and in our love for one another. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, he will fill more and more of our lives! I believe in Jesus Christ! I pray that you do too!

Let us shout about the Risen Savior! Christ the Lord is Risen today! May we all be like Peter and spread the message of the gospel. May we all be like Peter and tell about the Messiah of the gospel. But most importantly, may we all be like Peter and be ministers of the gospel. Christ has risen! (People: He has risen indeed!)

Commandment 4 – Keep the Sabbath

April 14, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Palm Sunday

Commandment 4 – Keep the Sabbath

Exodus 20:1-2, 8-11

         Some of you who were here last week may be wondering, “Why are we looking at Commandment 4, Keep the Sabbath? I thought we were on Commandment 2 last week.” Well, you would be right. We have skipped Commandment 3 for right now, because I want to tie in Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday with Christ himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, and his keeping the Sabbath.

         The Sabbath Day is a day of rest. In our scripture today, God rested on the seventh day of creation. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Our calendar is still configured to reflect this Jewish perspective. Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the seventh day of the week. Saturday is still the Sabbath Day.

         Even in the New Testament, we still see Jews, who became believing Christians, reserving the Sabbath, our Saturday, as a day of rest. It was a day to be in the synagogue hearing God’s holy word. The Apostle Paul, many times taught the Jews on this day of Sabbath. However, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the day after Sabbath, Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead, became the Lord’s Day, Resurrection Sunday.

         It is a day of gathering and praise and worship. It is the day of remembering the resurrection of Jesus. Eventually, as the Christian church developed and we move past the Book of Acts and into the rest of the New Testament, we find that the Saturday Sabbath is replaced by Sunday’s Lord’s Day, a time of gathering, praise, and worship.

         Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, even kept the Sabbath before his jubilant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and even before his Resurrection on what we now call Easter Sunday. More about that and this Fourth Commandment in a moment, but first would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         There are so many people who do not believe the Fourth Commandment, Keep the Sabbath, is particularly important, let alone binding. But Dennis Prager, a Jewish Old Testament scholar, and author of the book, The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code offers us five reasons why the fourth commandment is so important, so life-changing and even world-changing. It is still relevant to each of our lives.

         “First,” Prager writes, “perhaps more than any other commandment, it elevated the human being.” If you think about it, for most of known human history, life was overwhelmingly one of work. In effect, humans were beasts of burden. This commandment and only this commandment changed all that by insisting that people cease working one day out of seven.

         “Second,” Prager writes, “more than any other commandment, the Sabbath Day reminds people that they are meant to be free.” When Moses once again summarized the commandments for the Israelites later in the Book of Deuteronomy, before they were to cross into the Promised Land, he reminded them that they were once slaves in Egypt.

         Now this is important. Slaves cannot have a Sabbath. They are always on duty. They always work. Unless it is necessary for survival, people today are essentially slaves if they choose to work seven days a week. They are slaves to work and slaves to money. Even the millionaire who works seven days a week is simply a rich slave.

         “Third, while the Bible could not universally abolish slavery, the Sabbath commandment greatly humanized that terrible institution and even helped make slavery impossible,” Prager says. Think about it. By definition, a slave owner was under no obligation to allow a slave to ever rest, let alone to rest one day every week. Yet, that is exactly what the Fourth Commandment commanded. Even a slave has fundamental human rights. Therefore, a slave too, is a human being.

         “Fourth, the Sabbath almost singlehandedly creates and strengthens family ties and friendships.” When you and I take a day off from work every week, that day almost inevitably becomes a day spent with other people, namely, family and/or friends. It also has a positive effect on marriages. Just ask anyone married to a workaholic how good it would be for their marriage if the workaholic would take one day off each week. I think then you can appreciate the power of the Sabbath Day.

         And lastly, Prager writes, “the Sabbath commandment granted animals dignity. Even one’s animals had to rest one day a week.” Hear again what God told Moses: “On

[the Sabbath]

you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.”

         This was probably the first national law in history on behalf of animals. It is thought that people who felt divinely obligated to give their animals a day of rest were much less likely to treat their animals cruelly any other day of the week.

         What is amazing is that all five of these life-changing and society-changing benefits of the Sabbath are available to anyone. You don’t have to be a Jew, a Christian, or even a believer in God to derive all these benefits. But the truth is, those who believe the Ten Commandments were given by God are the ones who have kept the Sabbath alive.

         The sad part of this life-changing pronouncement about the Sabbath is that by the time Jesus came on the scene with his ministry in Palestine, the Jews, for centuries, had been writing interpretations of the law of the Sabbath that began to put a great burden on the Jewish people. They were getting so technical about what did and did not constitute work on the Sabbath that they forgot about people and were only interested in the technicalities of the law. By the first century, Jewish rabbis gave intense attention to debating Sabbath restrictions.

         For example, the rabbis had a great debate on this question: “If an egg is found under a hen on the Sabbath morning, may it be eaten?” It is a technical question. The question is this, “When is the labor by the hen performed? Obviously, the hen is not available for questioning. If the egg was the product of labor on the Sabbath, it is not to be eaten. If, however, the labor was done on some other day and it just appears on the Sabbath, then it is a gift. So, which egg can you scramble, and which must you destroy? Now, if I were a Jew and found an egg under my hen on the Sabbath, I would just have to presume it was a gift and laid the day before. After all, I’m hungry and I want to eat. So, do you see, the rabbis and scribes were debating the littlest of details about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.

         Jesus changed all that. After all, he is the Lord of the Sabbath. And Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. But the Jewish religious leaders had this all turned around. Jesus taught them it was fine to heal someone of the Sabbath. He said to them about healing, which is good work, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” He said it was okay for his disciples to pluck a few grains of wheat to eat while passing by a field on the Sabbath to squash their hunger. Any law that forgets about the people it is to help and protect is not a good law.

         Now here is what it is amazing about Jesus. He kept the Sabbath even throughout what we call Holy Week, the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. On the Saturday before what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus was relaxing and observing the Sabbath in the house of his close friends, Mary, Martha, and the risen Lazarus. This is what scripture says about that moment, John 12:1-3, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

         It wasn’t until Sunday, after that Sabbath day, that Jesus made his triumphal journey into Jerusalem. Again, from John 12: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it.

             Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

             Later that week, Jesus celebrated Passover on a Thursday, was crucified on a Friday and buried the same day. But once again, he observed the Sabbath. Think about this, Jesus could have risen from the dead as soon as he was buried. He could have risen on that Saturday, but he didn’t. Since Sabbath began at sundown Friday evening and continued to sundown Saturday evening, Jesus observed it. He rested. He rose on Sunday morning, which is now observed by Christians around the world as the Lord’s Day. It is our time to worship the Risen Savior.

         So what does this commandment mean for us as Christians today? I think it means that we should not be as convicted about keeping the Sabbath as we should be about breaking the Lord’s Day. It is more our responsibility to observe the Lord’s Day, Sunday. It is not mere ceremony. It is a day that should be anticipated and longed for. It should not be an imposition. As Albert Mohler says in his book, Words from the Fire, “It is to be our confidence that if we can only survive the week, if we can only arrive at the Lord’s day, we shall be with God’s people together. We can survive the drudgery of what appears to be meaningless labor. We can survive persecution and trial. We can endure sickness and death – if only we can arrive at the Lord’s Day to be with God’s people together.”

         The Lord’s Day is not a Sabbath; it is the central Christian institution for our worship and gathering. It is distinct from any other day; it is set apart for worship. Are there things we ought not to do on the Lords’ Day? Certainly, there are. We are not to do anything that would detract from our worship. Anything that would rob the Lord’s Day of priority worship should not be done.

         Israel was called to obey the Fourth Commandment and to “observe the Sabbath.” The church is called to find rest in Christ and to give ourselves to worship on the day that marks His resurrection from the dead. We cannot obey the fourth commandment if we do not understand the transformation of the Sabbath as it is fulfilled in Christ. That Sabbath transformation fulfilled in Christ is now our Sunday, the Lord’s Day. A time to worship our Risen Savior.

Commandment 2 – No Idols

April 7, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Commandment 2 – No Idols

Exodus 20:1-2, 4-6

         Today, we continue our study of the Ten Commandments. These ten commandments, given by the one and only God, our creator, were foundational to the laws of Jewish society and the laws of our major western societies. From last week, we learned that there is only one God that is above all other gods and He is the one we are to worship.

         But the second commandment, that we are not to make or bow down to any crafted image, is in many ways the mother of all the other commandments. This commandment is as relevant to today’s modern life as it was to the ancients of old. Why? “Because today we  have as many false gods as the ancients did,” writes Dennis Prager in his book The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code. “And why is it the mother of all the other commandments?” he continues, “because if we identify false gods and avoid worshiping them, we will eliminate one of the greatest barriers to a good world – false gods.”

         Folks, having only one God means we have one human race. If we all have the same Creator or Father, we are all brothers and sisters. And if we have the same parent it also means that no person or group is more valuable than any other. And lastly, one God means one moral standard for all people. For example, if God declares murder wrong, it is wrong for everyone, and you can’t go to another god for another moral standard. When anything else is worshiped, bad things result.

         It all comes down to this, worship the God of the Ten Commandments and you will make a good world. Worship a false god – no matter how noble sounding – and you will end up with a world of cruelty. More about this in a minute, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         The First Commandment commands us to worship only the one true God, and the second commands us to worship Him as He would be worshiped. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

         What stands out in the Second Commandment are the first four words, “you shall not make.” Those words should hit us hard, because we are people who make things. And the things we make, we take pleasure in them. For example, we can build a house and live in it. We can build a boat and we can sail in it. We can build a table and eat at it. We make all kinds of things, material and immaterial, and find great pleasure in them. That is the problem. These things seduce us and appeal to us. We like to fashion our own gods. We are natural-born idolaters.

         Since we were created in the image of our God, we have in our souls the need to worship and we will worship. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven. We are born idolaters. We like to make objects of art and then appreciate them.

         But the command is clear: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” The command prohibits anything that is to attract the eyes in order to seduce the soul. This is a categorical command against idols. Why? Because, in this very passage, God identifies himself as a jealous God. He is filled with zeal for His own name, for His own identity, for His own worship. He is a jealous God, who demands a worship that befits His own character and identity.

         In his book, Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments, Albert Mohler, Jr. knows that idols are substitutes for the real God. He writes, “every idol not only falls short of the reality of the true God, it lies about Him.” Here are those seven lies. First, idols imply finitude. In other words, idols have limits. An idol is a material thing and because it is here, it is not there. It is a poor God substitute. There is no way that a finite object can be worshiped as an infinite God. All created things are finite, but God alone is infinite.

         You see, God does not invite us to gaze on Him as a thing, but rather to listen to His voice. He has provided no likeness of himself. He has spoken, He has revealed Himself, and He has defined Himself by perfections. Remember the hymn: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” An idol is finite. Our God is infinite.

         As Mohler writes: “God not only knows, He knows all things. He is not only powerful, He is all-powerful. He is not only holy, He is infinitely holy. He is not only merciful, He is infinitely merciful. He is not only just, He is infinitely just.” That is why God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures are so vital to us. Every single one of the characteristics of God in scripture points to the infinitude of God’s perfection. Idols have none of these characteristics.

         Second, idols imply fabrication. An idol is a fabricated thing, created by some human agent. As I said before, we like to make things. And once we make something, we admire it. “I have done this thing,” we say. “This is the work of my hands. I will admire it and worship it.”

         But God is not a fabricated deity. There is no assembly required. In fact, there is no assembly possible! Again and again in scripture, the one true and living God will say, “I made you! You did not make Me! And I made you in My image. You can’t make an image of Me.” I like what Isaiah has to say about idols and those who make them. Listen to this passage from Isaiah 44:9-11 as translated in the Message Bible:

         “All those who make no-god idols don’t amount to a thing, and what they work so hard at making is nothing. Their little puppet-gods see nothing and know nothing—they’re total embarrassments! Who would bother making gods that can’t do anything, that can’t “god”? Watch all the no-god worshipers hide their faces in shame. Watch the no-god makers slink off humiliated when their idols fail them. Get them out here in the open. Make them face God-reality.”

         The one true God is self-existent and not created, because Christianity requires a clear distinction between the Creator and His creation.

         Third, idols imply control. They imply human control. Mohler says, “We can pick an idol up and we can put an idol down. We can move an idol to this place, and then we can remove it to another place. The idol is at our disposal. We can hide it from our sight, or we can put it in the center of the room. We will devise our own worship because we have devised our own god.” People, the true God cannot be controlled. He is the uncontrollable, the all-powerful. Let’s face it, the god we can control is no god at all. The god we can conjure, create, and construct is no true deity.

         Fourth, idols imply need. Idols must be fed and clothed and housed. In fact, most of the worship activity associated with idols centers on their neediness. Travel to a country dominated by these forms of idolatry, and you will see multitudes who give themselves to the service of their idols. They create pagodas and temples and structures that draw attention to their idol. Their idol must be dusted, and cleaned.

         Those who worship an idol also bring in food and gifts; they light lamps and burn incense. How sad it is to see those who bring food that could go to the hungry and place it in front of the idol who never chews or swallows. In contrast, our liturgy, service, and devotion is to be a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1 says this: I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. When we come to worship, we do not bring animal sacrifices; we bring ourselves.

         Idols imply finitude, fabrication, control, and need. And fifth, idols imply procreation. Any time you look at pictures of many of the idols, you will find something grotesque and obvious, a perversion of sexuality. There seems to be a direct connection between worship of idols and the perversion of sexuality. Many idols are depicted with enlarged genitalia and exaggerated features. People worshiped these idols for their procreative gift and reproductive power. Many of these temples to idols also had a harem of prostitutes who would provide sexual pleasures to the worshipers to increase fertility. The Apostle Paul writes about this atrocity in his letters to the churches.

         But God does not give birth, nor does He sire offspring. God is not a womb, out of which emerges creation. As Mohler says, “There is absolutely nothing physical or procreative about Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Many, many times in the scriptures, God warned Israel about its worship of the gods of fertility and the wrath that would come down on them if they did.

         Sixth, idols imply physicality. There is shape and form to an idol. However, God makes clear in the Bible that He has no likeness and will not be worshiped in this way. In Deuteronomy 4, when Moses is bringing the people back to Horeb, he says this:

         “And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.”

         And lastly, idols imply the visual. In contrast to idols that are seen but not heard, we worship a God who is heard yet not seen. Our God is a speaking God who commands that we hear His voice, making no attempt to represent His image. The most important things in our lives are the things that are not seen. Hebrews 11:1 says this, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Over and over again, the Scripture prioritizes and honors the verbal over the visual. Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The Jewish and Christian God is a God with a voice.

         As I close today, please remember that our God is a jealous God. He is filled with zeal for His own name. God tells us specifically that we are not to bow down or serve any other gods or idols. If we do, his judgment will fall upon the idols and the idolaters. So, our getting the worship of God wrong brings spiritual death to our subsequent generations.

         We are natural-born idolaters. “Our hearts are idol-making factories,” Mohler writes, “and this is yet more evidence that we are a fallen race. Idolatry is rooted in the depth of who we are.”

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to make no image of God or his son Jesus. We should paint no pictures of Him. If we were to know the visual image of Christ, he would have left us His visual image. He did not. And every picture or portrait of Him is an invention, and as an invention, it robs Him of His glory. God does not command or authorize the use of images in order to understand and worship Him.

         As Mohler writes, “The second commandment is a clear condemnation of idols and images. We are not to use our creativity in order to fabricate an idol or to worship an image. We are called to know and love the God who made us for His glory. And that is the highest privilege any human being can know.”

Commandment 1 – No Other Gods

March 31, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Commandment 1 – No Other Gods

Exodus 20:1-3

         Ma and Pa made their annual visit to church for the Christmas Eve service. As they were leaving, the minister said, “Pa, it sure would be nice to see you and ma here more than once a year!”
         “I know,” replied Pa, “but at least we keep the Ten Commandments.” “That’s great,” the minister said. “I’m glad to hear that you keep the Commandments.”
         “Yup,” Pa said proudly, “Ma keeps six of ’em and I keep the other four.”

         As many of you already know, the history of the human race has not been morally impressive. The twentieth century was perhaps the bloodiest century in recorded history with two world wars and many more other regional wars. Dennis Prager, in his book The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, writes this: “Clearly human nature, while not evil, is not primarily predisposed to goodness. And it is certainly morally weak. When confronted with temptation to do what’s wrong, temptation often overpowers conscience.”

         Societies today are preoccupied with just about everything other than making good people. However, the Ten Commandments are preoccupied with goodness. Each commandment is a compelling moral force and if people would live by these Commandments, little else would be needed for us to have a better life and a better world. No document in world history so changed the world for the better as did the Ten Commandments. They are still as relevant today as when God gave them to Moses over three thousand years ago.

         “But there is a catch,” Prager says. “The Ten Commandments are predicated on the belief that they were given by an Authority higher than any man, any king, or any government. That’s why the sentence preceding the Ten Commandments asserts the following: ‘God spoke all these words.’” God is the source of moral law. So even if you’re an atheist, I think you would want people to live by the moral laws of the Ten Commandments.

         Folks, in three thousand years no one has ever come up with a better system than the God-based Ten Commandments for making a better world. And no one ever will. Will you pray with me?

PRAYER

         I hope somewhere in your religious training you had to memorize the Ten Commandments. My Aunt, who grew up in the hills of Kentucky, might put them this way:

  1. Just one God
  2. Put nothin’ before God
  3. Watch yer mouth
  4. Git yourself to Sunday meetin’
  5. Honor yer Ma & Pa
  6. No killin’
  7. No foolin’ around with another fellow’s gal
  8. Don’t take what ain’t yers
  9. No tellin’ tales or gossipin’
  10. Don’t be hankerin’ for yer buddy’s stuff

         So why should we focus on the Ten Commandments? Romans 15:4 answers the question: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” These things written in former days were written for the instruction of the church, that through the Scriptures we might have hope. So over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the commandments individually, not necessarily in order, and how we can live that commandment out in our daily lives. Today, we begin with the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

         As the commandments open, God reveals himself to us. “I am the Lord your God.” His authority in giving these commandments is in his name. The same name revealed to Moses when God chose him to lead the people out of Egypt, “I am.” He also tells us that he is the Lord God who saves his people. “I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

         In this saving proclamation to the Hebrew people, we must see Christ here as well. Albert Mohler, Jr., in his book Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments, writes this: “We see into the future the Christ who will lead His people out of bondage. Not out of bondage to Pharaoh, but out of bondage to sin. God’s constant redeeming purpose is reflected here even in the giving of the law. This is the God who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and thus the first command, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’”

         So, when God says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” what does all this mean? First, it means there is one God and only one God. In church speak, this is called monotheism. God reveals himself to the Israelites over and against the many false gods of that day and age in Egypt.

         If you remember from your Bible study, the plagues that God brought down upon Pharaoh and his country was his reaction to the many false gods the Egyptians worshiped. Our God was jealous of other gods, because God was the one true and almighty God. Each plague that God wrought was against a god that the Egyptians worshiped, the god of frogs, the god of flies, the god of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and so on. All God wanted Pharaoh to do was to let his people, the Israelites, go into the desert and worship him.

         There are too many false gods in the world. We recognize them in pagan societies. We see them in other religions. We see them in our American pop culture. They are watered-down versions of our all-powerful God. They are finite Gods. Our infinite God of the Bible is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, self-existent, self-revealing, self-defining, sovereign, and holy. We have a God that cries out to be worshiped. If we are created in the image of God, then there is a seed of divinity in each of us that wants to worship a God more powerful than we.

         Secularization, which we see happening all around us today, is the turning away from the worship of God or the belief in God, while ignoring the fact that some other deity has taken His place. Mohler writes in his book, “Several years ago in Britain researchers went door to door asking persons about their belief in God. One of their questions: ‘Do you believe in a God who intervenes in human history, who changes the course of affairs, who performs miracles, etc.?’ When published, their study took as its title the response of one man who was seen as rather typical of those who responded. He answered, ‘No, I don’t believe in that God, I just believe in the ordinary God.’” How many of us just believe in the ordinary God?

         So, when God says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” we first know that it means there is one God and only one God. And second, the First Commandment tells us this loving God demands ultimate allegiance – nothing else will do. God’s existence defines all reality. Many of our troubles in this world and in our own country come from a clash of worldviews, those who believe in God and those who don’t. In the ancient world, people at least knew who someone was talking about when they spoke of the idols of Baal, Asherah, Moab, Dagon, Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, or Artemis. These idols are mostly gone now but there are others to take their place.

         We now have the modern idols of sex, the state, science, and society. Some people are even in a lifelong romance with themselves. Mohler writes, “If we are not fizzing like champagne with sexual excitement, if we’re not bowing down to the state, if we’re not celebrating science and scientism, if we’re not finding ultimate meaning in human society, we are written off as simply out of step.” Folks, does that sound familiar in today’s religious and political arenas? God demands our ultimate allegiance.

         And lastly, third, the loving God demands exclusivity. This is the “mono” in monotheism. One God. Some people think that monotheism is just too much to demand. But we know that the idol is a nothing. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Paul puts monotheism in the Christian context of exclusivity as he says:

         Therefore as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

         The idol is a nothing, but it is a dangerous nothing. There are some who call themselves evangelicals who want to get around the idea of God demanding exclusivity, by trying to be politically correct, and including other idols in our worship, whether they be of the tribe, the marketplace, the theater, or the idol of the self. What they don’t understand is that God is not the highest of all Gods, he is the only God. God does not want us to even acknowledge any other gods. This is truly monotheism.

         Along with this first commandment, through Moses, Israel and we were given the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-6: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

         And Jesus added to this as we read in the Book of Matthew, chapter 22: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

         So, what does the first commandment mean for us? It means there is one God and only one God. It means this loving God demands ultimate allegiance. It means the loving God demands exclusivity. So, the question is, “Who is it in the end that you truly trust and truly adore? If you can answer that question, then you can find who your god is.

         Christ even added to this idea of only one God when he told his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It is only through Christ that we come into the presence of God. Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is only one God, only one Savior, only one gospel.

         “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” And people of Christ, we must not.

Self-Control

March 24, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

Second Sunday in Lent

Self-Control

1 Peter 1:13-16

         Someone once said that self-control is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces. As you can see by my expanding waistline, it can’t be done, and yet we all yearn for self-control. I know I do.

We have been on a long journey examining each of the Fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and now self-control. Self-control is the last of the three fruits which reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with himself or herself, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Self-control is the one Fruit of the Spirit that we all long for, yet few of us can attain. In fact, most people do not even try because they don’t want to say “no” to themselves. Self-control, while it is highly respected and greatly desired, is tough.

During his term as President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson was somewhat overweight. One day his wife, Lady Bird, challenged him with this blunt assertion: “Lyndon, you can’t run the country if you can’t run yourself.” Respecting Mrs. Johnson’s wise observation, the President quickly lost 23 pounds.

We all have a problem with self-control. Rather than wait until we can afford something, we pull out the credit card and buy it too soon. Rather than wait for further instructions, we move forward in our own wisdom, thinking we’ll please the boss, only to discover the plans had been changed. Rather than wait on God to fulfill his promise, we decide God needs a little of our help, so we take action and create a mess.

That is just what happened to Abraham. He and Sarah waited for the promised son from God, but each month nothing happened. Finally after many years, Sarah came up with a plan. She gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband and told him to have a son through Hagar. Abraham agreed and Ishmael was born.

And God said, “No, Ishmael is not the promised son.” About ten years later Isaac was born. Because Abraham and Sarah didn’t exercise self-control, havoc was created. The result of their inability to wait on God, created a sibling rivalry that escalated to hatred and war that continues to this day in the Middle East. You see, the Arab nations are descendants of Ishmael.

Granted, our times of not controlling ourselves may not create problems that big. However, the problems we do create do wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of those close to us. We all need the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control to grow within us. More about that in a minute, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

I heard a story about a stunt pilot who was selling rides in his single engine airplane. One day he got into an argument with a pastor who insisted on taking his wife along at no extra charge. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to make some cash, the pilot said, “I’ll take you both up for the price of one if you promise not to utter a sound during the entire flight. If you make any noise, the price is doubled.” The deal was made and they climbed aboard the plane.

The pilot quickly proceeded to put the plane through all sorts of stunts and maneuvers designed to make the bravest person tremble. But the passengers didn’t make a sound. Exhausted, the pilot finally landed. As the pastor climbed out, the pilot said, “I made moves up there that frightened even me and yet you never said a word. You must have incredible self-control.”

The pastor thanked the pilot and then said, “I must admit that there was one time when you almost had me.” “When was that?” asked the pilot. To which the man replied, “When my wife fell out of the plane!”

Each of the different characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit focuses on how we respond to God and how we treat other people. But self-control seems to focus more on each of us instead of our relationships with other people. You see, I can exercise self-control, even when no one else is around. In fact, that is the time when each of us most needs self-control.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.” His teacher, Plato, believed that our animal urges must be governed or else they will produce “a feverish state in the soul, a city of pigs” which knows no limits. Think about it, when we’re not self-controlled, our life is like a pigsty. That’s quite a word picture these guys painted, isn’t it?

Self-control comes from the Greek word for “strength” and means, “one who holds himself in.” To be self-controlled is to not live in bondage to the desires, passions and appetites of the flesh. My body can be a good servant, but it is a miserable master.

Herein lies the problem. It is hard for us to control ourselves simply through our own willpower or self-determination. Self-control is more than just self-help. It requires an inner master. Paul said this in Romans 7:18:  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

And so, Peter, in our scripture today says this: Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

In this scripture, Peter gives us our written marching orders for being self-controlled. First, he says, “prepare your minds for action.” The New King James Version says, gird up the loins of your mind. This word picture is taken from the ancient practice of gathering up one’s robes so as to be able to move in a hurry without tripping. Here Peter is saying that all our thought processes need to be carefully focused on God’s future grace. We need to gather our thoughts so that our minds are alert and sober to the knowledge of God who will direct our purpose here on earth. The idea of picking up one’s robes, that is, girding the loins, was so that the garment would also not become soiled. Likewise, our minds are not to become soiled by the pollution in the world or to be hindered by the sin, affections, and lusts of the secular world.

Instead, we are to be self-controlled, that is, our minds are to be fixed on the hope of the grace and forgiveness that we will receive when we come to the full realization that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. In other words, our focus is to be on Christ.

Secondly, Peter says that we are not to be conformed to the evil desires, or one translation says, evil lusts, that we had before we came to know Jesus Christ and declare him as our Savior. Being self-controlled means that we are not to submit to the temptations that earlier caused us to lead a life apart from God. Many of us know that it is so easy to fall back into the same pattern we had before we knew Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting that in the New Testament, when Paul had the privilege of presenting the gospel to Felix, a Roman governor, he chose to emphasize “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” Listen to this from Acts 24:25: But as [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

         Felix was frightened because he had no self-control. He had indulged in all kinds of cruelty and lust, committing both murder and adultery. Felix was no different than many others in the Roman Empire. Scholars tell us that when ancient Rome was disciplined and controlled, it was a great nation, but when it became saturated in its own sin it lost its glory. Drunkenness, orgies, and an “anything goes” mindset caused Rome to cave inward and implode upon itself. The decline of the Roman Empire went hand-in-hand with self-indulgence. Does this story sound familiar?

Felix responded to Paul’s preaching like many of us do today. Notice what he said. “That’s enough for now! It’s hitting too close to home. You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you again.” As you read that story in Acts, you will discover that Felix never did send for Paul again. Paul remained in prison until a new governor came to power.

I ask you now to take this self-control inventory of your own lusts. What uncontrolled issues do you deal with? The Book of Proverbs addresses these very nicely.

  1. Uncontrolled lust. Proverbs 6:26: For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.
  2. Uncontrolled spending. Proverbs 21:20: In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.
  3. Uncontrolled ambition. Proverbs 23:4: Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.
  4. Uncontrolled drinking. Proverbs 23:29-30: Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
  5. Uncontrolled anger. Proverbs 29:11: A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.

Sometimes I just want to take a pair of scissors to the Bible and cut out all those passages that may convict me in my everyday living and lusts. Don’t you? So what lusts or uncontrolled issues do you have to deal with? I’m sure you or your family members know what they are. Uncontrolled self-control means we need to ask God for help and then let the Holy Spirit work actively in our lives.

Peter gives us our instructions for self-control. First, Peter says to prepare our minds for action. Secondly, Peter says to not conform to the evil desires or lusts we had before coming to Christ, and thirdly, Peter writes, be holy in all you do. Why? Because God said, Be holy, because I am holy.

         The God of Israel and of the Christian church is holy; he sets the standard for morality. Unlike the Roman gods, he is not warlike, adulterous, or spiteful. Unlike the gods of the pagan cults popular in the first century when Peter and Paul lived, God is not bloodthirsty or promiscuous. He is a God of mercy and justice who cares personally for each one of us, each one of his followers. Our holy God expects us to imitate him by following his high moral standards. Like him, we should be both merciful and just; like him, we should sacrifice ourselves for others.

The holy life, the godly life, can only come when we study, pray, and worship the one true God. Paul wrote this to his friend Titus. It sounds a lot like what Peter wrote in our scripture today. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,  while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

God sets our moral standards for self-control. But we need to know what God says and that can only be found in his Word. In our culture today, why do we shy away from the daily reading of the Bible? Don’t we want to know God better? Why is it that we succumb to the pressures of this world and not strive to be more like God and his kingdom? Be holy, Peter says, in all that you do.

As we bring this message series to a close, the key to displaying each of the nine Fruits of the Spirit is not to try harder but to understand the short phrase that appears right after the spiritual fruit salad in Galatians 5:23. It says, “Against such things there is no law.” This means that these characteristics cannot be legislated or enforced by a set of rules. You can’t make somebody be kind or patient or gentle. Likewise, no law can keep us from displaying luscious fruit in our lives. The only thing that is keeping us from allowing God’s fruit to ripen in our lives is our own selfishness and sinfulness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to empower us on a daily basis. We don’t have to go up in a plane to seize self-control. We can stay right here on the ground. We don’t have to live our life in a pigsty either. We have plenty of opportunities right where we are to accept Jesus Christ into our hearts and minds and ask the Holy Spirit to do a mighty work in us. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to make His Fruits evident in our lives to God, to others, and to ourselves. Praise be to God!

Gentleness

March 17, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

First Sunday in Lent

Gentleness

Colossians 3:12-17

         We have been taking a closer look these past couple of months at the Fruits of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul talked about in his letter to the Galatians. He said in Galatians 5:22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. These final three fruits, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with himself or herself. And so today, we will look more closely at the Fruit of the Spirit called gentleness.

When I think of gentleness, I think of VDPs. You all know them, Very Draining People. VDPs. They are the kind of people who say things that set you on edge and you’re convinced that they enjoy doing it. They come into your home and say, “Where did you find that wall-paper?” And it is obvious that they’re not asking because they want to go out and buy some for themselves.

Or they’re the kind who come right out and ask, “Oh, how much weight have you gained, dear?” Or they say, “Boy, you sure look tired today.” VDPs are all around us! And why are they like that? I’ve heard their excuses. “It’s not my fault. That’s just the way I am. It’s in my genes. I inherited it from my mother. That’s the way she was, too.”

You see, we live in a “blame game” society where what we do and how we act are never our own fault. Our temperaments, our personalities, how we deal with people are always someone else’s fault. We have forgotten the spirit of gentleness for ourselves and with other people.

At times I just want to shake people like that and ask them, “What about God? What about the Holy Spirit? Why don’t you let Him into your life, to change your attitudes and actions? Allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in you to make you into the kind of person He wants you to be. And when that happens, the Fruits of the Spirit will be evident in your life. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

So what is this Fruit of the Spirit, gentleness? The Greek language, in which the New Testament was originally written, is a precise and expressive language. Each Greek word has a careful definition and an illustration for it. The Greek definition of gentleness was not weakness but power or strength under control. Think about that, “power under control.”

The Greek word for gentleness was used to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken. In each instance, there is “power”: a wind can become a storm; too much medicine can kill; a horse can break loose. But each is power under control. So when you think about gentleness, think about power under control, strength under control, anger under control, or our emotions under God’s control.

In our scripture today, Paul writes that we, as the chosen of God, holy and beloved, should put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. You see, as the chosen of God, we can show others that our faith is genuine when we truly have a desire for holy living. As the holy and beloved of God we need to reflect God’s love in our everyday living.

Now I don’t know about you, but I fail in that holy living from time to time. There are many times that I surely don’t reflect God’s love. In fact, John wrote in 1 John 1:8 this: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But as the elect of God, we have to acknowledge that we will have those sinful failures from time to time and continue to steadily progress toward a more godly life. That is what sanctification is all about; each hour, each day, trying to become more and more like Christ Jesus himself.

Each morning after my shower, I go to my closet to try and decide what to wear for the day. I think what I have that day and what clothing it will require. For example, if I have a funeral to officiate, I will be wearing my dress pants, dress shirt, and tie. Or, if I am going to the grocery, I will choose to wear my old khakis, an old shirt, and a sweater. That is how we dress for our physical lives in this world.

But Paul says, we need to dress our spiritual lives as well. To that end, Paul tells us to clothe ourselves with those qualities, like gentleness, that will glorify God. In other words, our Christian wardrobe contains garments that were bought by Christ when he died on the cross, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. We should each have a collection of spiritual apparel, tailored by the Holy Spirit, chosen and worn each day for the moment in which we are dealing with God, with other people, or with ourselves. In our spiritual closet, if we are truly living in the Spirit of God, should be compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And Paul says, beyond all these, we should at all times put on love.

You see, when we put on these spiritual garments from our holy closet we will have a new look, a new behavior that brings praise and acclaim to the head of the church, Jesus Christ. With our holy fashions and our new behaviors, we will display a new life in Christ. Our new spiritual wardrobe is not for special occasions only, but for everyday use, and when it is put on it also “feels’ good.

Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher and author, once said, “[Gentleness] is a grace whereby we are enabled by the Spirit of God to moderate our passions.” Gentleness is power or strength under control.

There were certainly two people in the Bible who were great models of gentleness, Moses and Jesus. The Bible tells us in Numbers 12:3 that Moses was the most humble or gentle man on the face of the earth. Moses was a gentle leader because of his relationship with God. He may have been a strong leader, but it was because he had humbled himself before God.

Moses exemplified power under control. He returned to Egypt after forty years tending the sheep and goats in the wilderness to spend time with the Hebrew leaders building trust and confidence. He opened the Red Sea and moved the Hebrew people forward to the Promised Land. He modeled power under control when he would sit all day settling disputes among the people. Moses was a man of gentleness, power under control. He was the chosen of God, holy and beloved because of his relationship with God.

Without a doubt, Jesus was certainly the model of gentleness, power under control. Jesus gave each of us this invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

If we look closely at the life of Jesus, we will see strength and power under control. Jesus did and said only what God told him to do and say. Jesus was obedient to God. He, like Moses, had humbled himself before God.

Numerous times the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus had compassion for the crowds. He gave of himself for others. He taught his followers. He healed the sick, cast out demons, comforted the mourning, and raised the dead back to life. Jesus was a gentle man.

But hear this; Jesus was no push-over. He came face-to-face with the religious leaders of his day. He sparred with them frequently about the interpretation of the Law. He drove moneychangers and those selling sacrificial animals out of the Temple courtyard with a whip. He commanded demons to leave. Jesus was power and strength under control.

In his gentleness, his humbleness, Jesus stood silently before Pontius Pilate. He allowed Roman soldiers to beat him. He was nailed to a cross. Why didn’t he fight back? Because Jesus’ will was the will of his Father. He prayed that all of that would not happen to him, but it was God’s will. Jesus’ power under control saved you and me and gave us new life.

There are certainly many others who are great models of gentleness: King David, the Apostles Peter, Paul, and James. The father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and the little woman who transformed the lives of countless thousands, Mother Teresa. What made each of these people demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit gentleness? It was their power and strength under control, an attitude that could only come from within, but not without God. Whatever they did was done putting on love, love for God and love for other people. As Paul said in our scripture, love is the perfect bond of unity.

Violet Slaughter’s father died in 1969. Before he died he gave her an antique pitcher and wash basin that before the turn of the century used to be found in guest bedrooms. The pitcher would be full of water and the guest would pour water into the basin to wash off at night before going to bed.

It was Violet’s most prized possession because it came from her parents’ home. And it became even more precious to her after her father died. She kept it on display in a very special spot in her home.

One day guests came to visit, and they brought with them an unruly dog that jumped around a lot. As the dog ran unsupervised through the home, it wrapped its leash around the little table on which this pitcher and basin were displayed, causing the pitcher and basin to fall and break.

It was a tragedy to Violet. Her husband said, “I watched as she took the dust pan and picked up every piece of that broken basin and pitcher. She kept all the pieces. And every evening, she would bring out the ceramic glue and glue pieces back together again.”

That’s what God says we need to do as individuals and as a church. In our gentleness, we need to mend hearts and minds for Christ. We need to realize how gentle God has been with us, how many times He could have condemned us, how many times He could have punished us. But in gentleness, again and again, He reaches out and takes us in His arms and holds us close to His heart. We need to do the same.

It is important and essential for us to exhibit the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and that includes gentleness. It’s a harsh and cruel world out there and somehow people need to see that Jesus makes a difference. Our community needs to see that this church makes a difference. The world needs to see that the United Methodist Church makes a difference.

As we have learned from our examples today, we receive gentleness when we submit to Jesus as the Lord and Master of our lives. Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful…[for]…whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We receive gentleness when we depend upon the Holy Spirit to cultivate gentleness in our lives. We cannot depend on our own natural ability to cultivate this fruit. Rather, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to change our disposition and attitude. We need to seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit by spending time in worship, prayer, and communion with God. Paul said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom…”

And lastly, we receive gentleness when we practice gentleness in our relationships with others. All of us should exercise gentleness toward the children, the elderly, the poor and the sick among us. Jesus loved the little children. He held them in His arms and blessed them. He befriended the strangers and ministered to the poor and needy. Shouldn’t we do the same?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Gentleness is the blessing for the Christian who is controlled and directed by God while finding strength and power from Him. So when you think about gentleness, think about power under control, anger under control, emotions under control, desires under control, interests under control – all under the control of God, as we give thanks through Jesus to God the Father.

Faithfulness

March 10, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

Transfiguration Sunday

Faithfulness

Psalm 26 (NRSV)

         This week we begin the first of our final three Fruits of the Spirit, faithfulness. The final three, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with himself or herself. These three fruits make us ask the questions: In our personal lives will we manifest the fruit of faithfulness in dependability and in accountability in our service to God and people? Will we manifest the gentleness in Christlike behavior in every situation of life? And will we manifest the fruit of self-control in the God-given ability to harness natural passions for the purposes of salvation?

Faithfulness means we are dependable and accountable in our service to God. The technical definition of faithfulness in the dictionary says something like this: “To follow through with a commitment regardless of difficulty.” I think that is even a good definition of faithfulness for a Christian. Being a Christian in today’s world is not always that easy. But faithfulness is about making a commitment and following through.

Hallmark has a card out that pretty much fits the mood of our times. It reads: “I can’t promise you forever, but I can promise you today.” Wow! That’s about as deep a commitment as some people are willing to make. However, Christian faithfulness requires a forever commitment. God is our model for faithfulness. God is faithful forever. Psalm 100:5 says, “The Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” And if we are created in the image of God, our faithfulness should also continue forever. Being a Christian means we are to have and practice the fruit of faithfulness.

One pastor I read said he likes to remember faithfulness this way, “Faithfulness is love hanging on.” It is love saying, “I will not quit. There may be misunderstandings, there may be disappointments, there may be discouragements, but I will not quit.” Faithfulness is love hanging on.

If a husband says, “I really love my wife,” and then he goes out and has an affair, you may call him a liar. You may call him a cheat. But most of all, you will say, “He is unfaithful.” And no matter how strong his arguments may be, no matter how loudly he proclaims his love for his wife, you will not believe him because his unfaithfulness negates his proclamation of love.

And if someone says, “I really love the Lord,” or “I really love the church,” and then is unfaithful in attendance, or never cracks open a Bible, or does nothing to promote the gospel, or lives a life completely opposite what Jesus taught, then it’s hard to believe that he or she really does love the Lord. Because, you see, faithfulness and love always go hand in hand. Faithfulness is love hanging on.

We may get discouraged from time to time. Or we may be disappointed. But faithfulness says, “Even though there is discouragement and disappointment, I will not let go, I will not quit. I will keep on attending and giving and serving, because God has called me to be faithful. Without a doubt, the scriptures challenge us to be faithful.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2 challenges us to be faithful in stewardship. Ephesians 6:21 talks about being faithful in service. 1 Timothy 5:9 speaks of being faithful in our marriages. Revelation 2:15 speaks of being faithful in witnessing. Romans 12:12 says we are to be faithful in prayer. Colossians 1:7 speaks of being faithful in ministry. Revelation 2:10 challenges us to be faithful unto death and then we’ll receive the crown of life. Faithfulness is love hanging on. Faithfulness is following through on a commitment even when things get difficult.

But if you are like me, you want concrete examples of how you can demonstrate to yourself and others your faithfulness. David, when writing this Psalm, Psalm 26, shows us what can make a wholehearted Christian faithful. I hope you will have your Bibles open to this Psalm as we explore it further. But first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

As Psalm 26 opens, David is probably in the Tabernacle about to offer a sacrifice to God. He wants his sacrifice to be worthy and pleasing to God and knows that he himself must be holy and pleasing to God before offering it. David’s whole purpose in this psalm, while talking with God, is to receive vindication, that is, exoneration or pardon of anything that might stand between him and God. Look at what David says: Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

David wants to do right but still needs God’s mercy and redemption in his life. This is really a bold act for David, for anybody for that matter. How many of us call on God for judgment? I know I don’t. I’m afraid of the consequences. But David says right here, I have faith in you God. I want you to test me. Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.

         So what makes a faithful wholehearted Christian? One, when we desire to be tested by God, and two, when we have faith in God. Why? Because when we have faith in God, we know that God will test us not in anger and wrath, but in love and mercy. We can depend on him to judge us with fairness and justice that no human could ever do. And when we are judged by God, we can with certainty know that even though things may get difficult for us, he will bring us through stronger on the other side. We will have been tested and refined.

Then look at verses 3 – 5. David says to God. Read my lips. I’ll prove that I have integrity, that I’m of good Spirit, that I have been faithful to you. I will prove to you that you can vindicate me and redeem me. And with that David proceeds to list six things that he has done in his faith walk with God.

  1. Your steadfast love is before my eyes.
  2. I walk in faithfulness to you.
  3. I do not sit with the worthless.
  4. I do not consort with hypocrites.
  5. I hate the company of evildoers.
  6. I will not sit with the wicked.

Not a bad list. Remember, we can demonstrate our faithfulness when we desire to be tested by God and when we have faith in God. From this list we can add two more. Three, when we adhere to the Word of God, or as David puts it, walk in faithfulness, and four, when we separate ourselves from the enemies of God. In other words, we don’t resort to those things which drive us further from God, like being around deceitful, hypocritical, evil, and wicked people.

We now come to verse 6 in Psalm 26 which is probably the keynote of the entire Psalm. It is also our fifth item in demonstrating our faithfulness. We can demonstrate our faithfulness by offering sacrifice to God. Look at what David says: I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

The act of washing your hands before going to God was an act of cleansing ones’ self of all the filth and sinfulness of the physical world. It is an act of making yourself clean and pure before God. If any of you grew up Catholic or have been to a Catholic Mass, you will see the altar boy bring a small bowl of water and towel to the priest. The priest will wash his hands and dry them on the towel as a symbol of purification before handling the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

As Christian’s offering ourselves to God, we, too, need to purify ourselves by asking God’s forgiveness as we come to him in prayer before even starting our petitions on behalf of other people. But what is also important and is our sixth demonstration of faithfulness, is to offer God thanks for all that he has given us and to testify before others of the awesome wonders of a mighty and just God.

So far David has taught us six of the eight features of a faithful, wholehearted Christian. One, we desire to be tested by God. Two, we have faith in God. Three, we adhere to God’s Word. Four, we separate ourselves from the enemies of God. Five, we offer sacrifice to God, that is, we ask forgiveness and to be made holy. And six, we testify of God’s greatness.

Then, David says, we need to love the house of God. Verse 8, O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where our glory abides. David loved to be in the Tabernacle. It was truly his sanctuary from the outside world and from the rigors of being a King over a very messy, and many times, sinful people.

I agree with David. I find peace when I come into this sanctuary. I lose myself in this church when I work here through the week. It feels like home.

Now as David closes out this Psalm, verses nine and ten become very interesting. He once again reiterates his ability to keep away from bloodthirsty men. I want to read this section from my New American Standard Bible, because I think the translation is more vivid. Verse 9, Do not take my soul away along with sinners, Nor my life with men of bloodshed, In whose hands is a wicked scheme, And whose right hand is full of bribes.

Here’s why it is interesting that David said this. It is believed that David wrote this Psalm just a short time before he discovered a certain Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop across from his palace. He just happened to be looking down from one of his windows and noticed her and immediately thought he needed her as one of his wives. You see, it would only be a short time before David had Bathsheba’s husband, an Israelite general, killed in the thick of battle so as not to bring suspicion to Bathsheba’s pregnancy by David. David would soon become one of those “men of bloodshed” with whom he didn’t want to be associated. David’s faithfulness was not going to be long lasting.

And lastly, as wholehearted Christians, we can demonstrate our faithfulness by praising the name of God every chance we get. Beginning with verse 11, David says, But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.

         It all boils down to this. Faithfulness is love hanging on. As Spirit-led Christians, who are attached to the vine that is Jesus Christ, we can produce great fruit because it is the natural thing to do. We are attached to a love-filled Christ whose life was about producing the Fruits of the Spirit. Attached to the vine that is Christ, we don’t have to sit around and think about producing fruit or analyzing it. It will happen as long as we keep our focus on Jesus. But we do have to be careful that our branch is never detached from the vine, or that some disease will destroy our fruitfulness and consequently our faithfulness.

You see, we still need to realize that temptations will come and we will be tempted to be unfaithful. But we must choose to stay on the vine. We will be tempted to be like the rest of the world, which is not a predominantly Christian world, and pulled away, being unfaithful in church attendance, unfaithful in our prayer lives, and unfaithful in studying the Word of God. But we must choose to stay connected to the vine. And finally, we may be knocked down by Satan and other evil doers from time to time, but we must choose to get back up and continue Christ’s work in the world. The Apostle Paul endured persecution, beatings, and imprisonment many times as people tried to stop his ministry. But Paul endured. He remained faithful even through difficult times. We must choose to stay connected to the source of our power, Jesus Christ.

I challenge you this week, to reflect on your faithfulness to Christ and your own faithfulness within yourself. Are you still attached vigorously to the vine or are you just a small thread away from falling off? David wanted to know. He asked God to judge him. He asked God to test his mind and heart. He asked God to truly examine him. Are you willing to do that? Am I willing to do that? How great is our faithfulness?

Generosity/Goodness

March 3, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

7th Sunday after Epiphany

Generosity/Goodness

Proverbs 22:9

         During the past few weeks we have been looking at Galatians 5:22-23, the Fruits of the Spirit. So far we have learned about love, joy, and peace, the first group of fruits that demonstrate the Christian believer’s attitude toward God. Now we are learning about the middle group of three fruits, patience, kindness, and goodness or some of your Bibles say generosity, which demonstrates the Christian believer’s attitude toward other people.

Today, we will look at the last fruit of the middle three, goodness or generosity. This word goodness or generosity can also be translated from the Hebrew as friendly, lovely, joyous, pleasing, desirable, or suitable to name a few. Goodness has the same problem as love, our first fruit. It can be used in so many ways. We can say, “I had a good meal,” or “I met a good person,” or “We had a good cry.” They are all just a little different.

We first see “good” used in the Bible in the Creation story. In the opening chapters of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. He created life in the sea and in the air and on the ground. And after each creation God looked at it and said, “It is good.”

On the six day, God created us and he looked at us and said that his creation was “very good.” You see, good to God means that he was pleased with what he had accomplished. So maybe we could say, “Goodness means something that pleases God.” And just maybe, we could go a step further and say, “A good person is a person who is pleasing to God or whose ways are pleasing to God.”

The Bible also tells us that “God is good.” After all, only a good God could create good and pleasing things. Matthew 19:16-17 says this: 16 A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?” Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.”  Now what makes God good? Well, God is pure, God is holy, God is forgiving, God is generous. We know these and many more things about God from scripture. So therefore, if we are created in the image of God, and if we are “very good” people, then, all those characteristics should be true of us, too. We are created to be good.

Every once in a while, when someone says goodbye to me, they will also add, “Now be good.” And I think to myself, “In my profession, it’s hard to be anything else.” Think about that. You expect me to be good because I’m your pastor, don’t you? After all, everybody knows that pastors are supposedly paid to be good. All of you are good for nothing, but I’m paid to be good. Isn’t that the strangest thing!

Well, we are all created to be good in God’s sight. It is part of who God created us to be. And so Proverbs tell us what truly makes a good and generous person. More about those things in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

God does not say, “Be good, and I will love you.” Rather, He says, “Because I love you, you should be good.” Goodness is doing the right thing for the right reason. Goodness is thinking about other people before thinking about ourselves. Remember, the fruits of the spirit, patience, kindness, and goodness or generosity, demonstrates our Christian attitude toward other people. Goodness is doing the right thing for the right reason. Goodness is selflessness. Goodness is service. Goodness is putting your faith in God.

Take a minute and turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4. Most of you know this story. It is goodness to the nth degree. As Christians, it is our job to become more and more like Christ himself. If you want to model perfect love, look at Jesus. If you want peace and joy in your life, look at Jesus. If you want patience and kindness in your life, look at Jesus. The same is true of goodness and generosity.

Now don’t make the mistake of thinking that goodness came naturally for Jesus. He had to struggle with it just like we do. He lived in the flesh just as we live in the flesh. Because of that, Satan tempted Jesus over and over again. Even on the night before his death, he asked that the trials he was about to undergo would be taken from him. Well, here in Luke 4, we see Satan at his best or worst. Luke 4, verse 1:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

         And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” This is the age-old struggle between selfishness and selflessness. It started in the Garden of Eden and it continues today. Today’s culture tells us that as long as we have food and nice clothing, as long as we live in a nice home and have a good car, as long as we are able to live in comfort, then we are a success and ought to be proud of ourselves. Society teaches us to satisfy our needs and wants first.

So here is Satan, trying to get Jesus to focus on Himself. Just as he does with us, Satan hits Jesus in his weakest area. Jesus hasn’t eaten in 40 days. He is hungry. Jesus could have done what was right but it would have been for the wrong reason. He could have taken the easy way out and satisfied his hunger. If he did, then Jesus would never have been willing to pray on that day in Garden, “Not my will, but your will be done.” In Jesus’ goodness, he was more concerned about our future needs in defeating Satan’s power, than satisfying his own immediate needs.

Jesus, because He continually did the will of His Father, knew that the most important thing was not Himself, but us. And so he said, “Man does not live on bread alone.” He did the right thing for the right reason. Living off the Word of God is more important than satisfying an immediate fleshly need. It is about selflessness.

Let’s read on about the second temptation. And [Satan] led [Jesus] up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”

         Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” Here was another age old struggle, power over others versus service to others. Even Adam and Eve wanted the same power as God and it caused their fall. Satan was now using the same tried and true formula on Jesus that he has used on humankind throughout the centuries: power and control. The more you own, the more you can control. The more you control, the more people there will be to serve you.

But who is really the owner of the things we have? Even though Satan was trying to entice Jesus to take power over all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus already knew who owned them all. Who is the owner of the things in your life? Is it you, or is it God? There is a big difference in this thinking. If God is the owner, then he is just loaning all his things to you to teach you the responsibility of being a good steward. Knowing who owns the things in your life will determine how you use those things. Will you use them to bring glory to God, or will you  use them to bring glory to yourself? Will you use your things in power and control over other people or will you use your things in service to other people and to God’s kingdom.

Jesus knew generosity and goodness. “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Jesus did the right thing for the right reason. Jesus chose selflessness over selfishness. He chose service for others over power and control.

Let’s read on, verse 9: And [Satan] led [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

         And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” With this, Jesus knew where to put his faith. He did not have to prove he was the Son of God. His faith was in God. It was not in the false trust of Satan. In our goodness and generosity we can sometimes make choices that are not in our best interest or the best interest of others. Sometimes we put our faith in the wrong things.

Satan took Jesus to the very top of the Temple in Jerusalem. At its highest point overlooking the Kidron Valley, it would have been over a 400 foot fall to the valley floor below. Satan wanted to expose Jesus to the multitudes too early in Jesus’ ministry. Satan wanted people to follow Jesus for the miracle that would supposedly happen when Jesus would not be harmed from the fall. The people would flock to Jesus and follow him because of his popularity, not because of their love for God. Satan was trying to keep Jesus from his destiny on the cross and fulfilling the crucifixion and resurrection.

Satan even perverted the verse from Psalm 91:11. It reads: For [God] will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. Notice how Satan says: He will command His angels concerning You to guard You. He left out “in all your ways.” You see, that is the important part. God will guard each of us as long as we adhere to His ways, to what he has taught us in his written word. His ways, which should be our ways, are to be ways of goodness and righteousness. But if we do things our way, there is no guarantee that God is going to be there to save us.

For example, we can ask God for good health, but if we do not practice healthy ways, then why should God bless what we do. You can ask God to save your soul, but if you do not practice the means of grace of being saved, like studying your Bible, attending worship, taking communion, or living a life of goodness for others, then there is no guarantee that God will honor your request. That is why Jesus told Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

You and I need to know where to put our faith. Our faith is to be in God, not in the false trust of Satan or in our own ways. Jesus could not give in to throwing himself from the Temple. That would not fulfill God’s way and purpose for his life. It would have been easy for Jesus to throw himself down, be saved, and then let the people follow him everywhere. But in Jesus’ goodness, he was thinking about us.

It would also have been easy for Jesus, while hanging on the cross, to listen to the people crying out, “Jesus, if you are really the Messiah, come down from the cross and save yourself. Then we will believe in you. Show us that you are really the Son of God and we will follow you.” Jesus could have done that. He could have saved himself. But in his goodness, he knew that he could not have saved us, too. Jesus did the right thing for the right reason.

Folks, as you can clearly see, goodness is about doing the right thing for the right reason. It is about other people. It is about selflessness instead of selfishness. It is about service instead of power and control. It is about faith in the one true God instead of false trust in ourselves or some other dark power. “Those who are generous are blessed,” Proverbs 22:9 says, “for they share their bread with the poor.”

Our goodness and generosity are shown in what we do for others. If you share your bread with the poor, it means that you give liberally and that your charity knows no limits. There is another verse in the Book of Proverbs, Proverbs 11:25, that says this: The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if your goodness and generosity overflow to others, then God’s blessings are going to overflow and rain down on you. Nobel Prize winner in literature, Sam Bellow, once said, “A man is only as good as what he loves.” If you truly love others, as Jesus did, then your goodness and generosity will surely show. You will no longer be good for nothing, but you will be good for something because of who you love. After all, Jesus said, love God and love your neighbor. Those are the two greatest commandments. And then, according to Proverbs, God will pay you handsomely in blessings.

Kindness

February 24, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

7th Sunday after Epiphany

Kindness

Zechariah 7:1-14 (2 Kings 25:8-10)

Mark Twain once said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” The Tyndale Bible Dictionary defines “kindness” as “the state of being that includes the attributes of loving affection, sympathy, friendliness, patience, pleasantness, gentleness, and goodness.” It goes on to say that “kindness is a quality shown in the way a person speaks and acts. It is more volitional,” that is, a conscious choice, “than emotional.”

This Fruit of the Spirit, kindness, is one of the three fruits of patience, kindness, and goodness that reflects the Christian believer’s attitude toward other people. Kindness is more than compassion. The very nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person. We are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced by them or that we would give them special attention.

In Matthew 19, Jesus’ example of kindness for us believers was exhibited with the children. Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. Jesus, by allowing the children to come to him, showed them their worth to him, which was unusual for that time period.

Our problem today is that many times we think we are showing kindness to others or we give lip service about how kind we are, but our actions prove us otherwise. The story is told of the Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson, coming across a sign on a Catholic convent in southern California. It read, “Absolutely No Trespassing – Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law.” It was signed, “The Sisters of Mercy.” A person or a group of people must consciously practice kindness. It is not something to be talked about or put on a sign.

Our scripture story today, from one of the Minor Prophets, Zechariah, is about the Jewish people who are so self-involved, so worried about their image, that is, about getting a certain fasting ritual correct, that they forget what God had commanded them to do for others. They think they are doing God’s work, but their actions prove otherwise. Their justice, kindness, or some of your Bibles say mercy, and compassion are almost non-existent. Kindness is a Fruit of the Spirit that must be shared with others if the Holy Spirit is truly working within the Christian believer. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

The people of Judah, the Israelites, had just spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon. They had spent those 70 years in captivity because they had failed to follow God’s command in verse 9 of our scripture and so God punished the whole nation. Listen to verse 14: I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go.

But now the Israelites were once again home in the Promised Land and had rebuilt the Temple of God under Nehemiah and had restored their Temple worship under Ezra. During their 70 years in captivity, the Israelites had added several fasts followed by a period of feasting to their yearly calendar to commemorate the losses they had experienced through God’s judgment on them.

They had added at least three fasts. The one mentioned in verse three, done in the fifth month of Ab, our July-August, was a fast commemorating the destruction of the Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar’s troops in 587 B.C. If fact, we can read about it in 2 Kings 25: 8-10: On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. The Jews fasted on this date during their whole captivity in Babylon.

         Now here’s the problem. The only fast day required by God was on the Day of Atonement. It is thought by scholars that many of the other fasts and festivals created while the Hebrews were in captivity was so they could have days off or rest periods from working for their captors. In fact, the fast that the people of Bethel were inquiring about was really no longer needed because the Temple had once again been rebuilt in Jerusalem. Why continue to mourn over a destroyed Temple some 70 years earlier, when the Temple had now been completely restored?

Fasting is to be done with prayer in reverence to God, but this fast had degenerated into a self-absorbed time in which people could show off their religiosity. Listen again to what God said through Zechariah: (starting with verse 5) Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? Are not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets…

What were “these words” that God proclaimed by the former prophets? Look at verse 9: Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. This was all that God desired, but the Hebrew people had refused to listen and so the 70 years of captivity ensued. Now, back in Jerusalem, they wanted to keep up the “poor us” image by celebrating a fast that was no longer needed or required. It was about keeping up a false image for their former captors.

We sometimes keep up a false image when it’s not necessary or not needed that often doesn’t reflect our present reality. I read a recent article in which a small college town tavern that was frequented by students ran an ad in the campus paper during the days before Parents Weekend. Talk about keeping up an image. The tavern ad said: “Bring Your Parents for Lunch Saturday. We’ll Pretend We Don’t Know You!” Underneath that ad was another by the college chaplain that read: “Bring Your Parents to Chapel Sunday. We’ll Pretend We Know You!”

Sometimes we try to keep an appearance of piety and kindness while missing the true meaning of our reality. The Israelites were keeping up an appearance of piety but missing the true meaning of what God had wanted all along, true justice, the practice of kindness or mercy, and compassion for one another.

The Fruit of the Spirit kindness is something that is to be practiced and shared. We have to ask ourselves this question: are we just going through the motions, keeping up an image, or does our kindness, compassion, and justice result as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit truly working in our lives for others as a response to God’s kindness, mercy, and compassion for us? After all, showing undeserved kindness imitates God’s character.

Jesus said in Luke 6:35: Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. You see, genuine kindness to others is our response to God’s love for us.

Just like the Israelites, who were pretending to fast for God, most of us have learned how to pretend to love or be kind to others – how to speak kindly, how to avoid hurting feelings, and how to appear interested. We may even be skilled in pretending to feel moved with compassion when we hear of other’s needs, or to become indignant when we learn of injustice. But God calls us to real and sincere love and kindness that goes far beyond pretense and politeness. Sincere kindness requires concentration and effort. It means helping others become better people. It demands our time, money, and personal involvement.

None of us has the capacity to express loving kindness to a whole community, but this body of Christ, Norwalk First United Methodist Church, can. We need to look for people who need our loving kindness. We need to look for ways we can love our community for Christ.

Kindness is one of the characteristics of God’s people. Kindness is about living the life that God wants. It is about holy living. Kindness is something we consciously demonstrate to others. God had told the Hebrew people how they were to live, with true justice and practicing kindness and compassion, but they ignored him. In the New Testament, listen to what Paul told the Church at Colosse in Colossians 3:1-17:

     Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

From this scripture passage, living in the Fruit of the Spirit of kindness means that you and I are to

  1. imitate Christ’s compassionate, forgiving attitude,
  2. let love guide our lives,
  3. let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
  4. always be thankful,
  5. keep God’s Word in us at all times, and
  6. live as Jesus Christ’s representative here on earth.

All of these things are a strategy for living a life of kindness. They are all from God and they all imitate the life of Christ.

Kindness is not an image builder for you and me. Kindness is a satisfying fruit that is to be passed on. Kindness is meant to be shared, to be consciously shared as a representation of Christ’s love for you and me. The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness, pass in on.

Patience

February 17, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

6th Sunday after Epiphany

Patience

Romans 8:18-25

In this message series we are learning about the nine Fruits of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23. So far we have discovered the Christian believer’s attitude toward God through the first group of three fruits, love, joy, and peace. This next group, those Fruits of the Spirit that reflect the Christian believer’s attitude toward other people involves the fruits of patience, kindness, and goodness. It is through these nine Fruits of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul challenges us in Galatians 5 to live by the Spirit and to walk by the Spirit.

Today, we will delve more deeply into the fourth Fruit of the Spirit, patience. How many of you have prayed to God at some time for patience? Does your prayer sound something like mine? “Dear God, please grant me patience. And I want it now.” We seem to want everything right now. We are an impatient society.

The story is told of a man whose car stalled in heavy traffic just as the light turned green. All his efforts under the hood to get the car started failed and a chorus of honking horns behind him made matters even worse. Finally, he walked back to the first driver behind him and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to get my car started. If you’ll go up there and give it a try, I’ll stay here and honk your horn for you.” Many times patience is not one of our virtues when we are dealing with other people.

For many of us, patience is a precious commodity, but when practiced diligently, it can reap great rewards. You probably don’t realize it but almost all of you know Mark Hansen and Jack Canfield. Patience was all they had when they were getting their ministry off the ground.

For over two decades Mark Hansen and Jack Canfield shared “stories of hope, inspiration, and encouragement.” in their seminars. When they saw how their stories touched their audiences, they tried to find a publisher to put them into print. Some publishers thought the stories were too “nicey-nice.” Others said “Nobody wants to read a book of little stories.” Others said just plain “No!” After three years and 33 rejections, they finally found someone who would publish “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” I’m sure each of you has at least one of their many Chicken Soup books in your home. Their own experience mimics the power of the stories they tell; it is the drama of triumph through hardship and the victory of the human spirit. It shows that hard work, patience and determination will pay off, if you don’t give up (Jim Wilson, Fresh Sermons 2009).

Jim Wilson in his book “Fresh Sermons” writes: Failure doesn’t have to be fatal. Too often we give up before we realize our potential. Most people wouldn’t have pressed on past 33 rejections, but Hansen and Canfield did, and millions of readers are glad they did.

In the book of James, James tells us that we need to be patient with God, we need to be patient in circumstances, and we need to be patient with one another. As Christians we need to realize and understand that God is in control and everything will work out in the end. In chapter 5 James says this: Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Once upon a time long ago, we had to turn on the TV set well before our shows came on. Why? The transistor tubes in the TV had to warm up. You people who are less than 40 ask your grandparents. Now, I see people pacing impatiently, even a little upset that the microwave popcorn is taking so long. Or I see people tapping their fingers impatiently waiting for their computer, frustrated over all those wasted milliseconds.

Culturally we’ve come to expect and demand instantaneous results, for things to finish quickly, to complete in the immediate. That impatience seems to pervade our whole lives placing our focus on the now, the urgent, and the immediate; and so we are unwilling and unaccustomed to waiting for things to fully develop or to consider the longer view. The problem is, the here and now, our immediate concerns, tend to overwhelm and dominate all other things. Our impatience blocks out our larger and longer term considerations.

As a child, did you ever get all worked up over one particular test or report in one particular class in school? And yet in the overall flow of your life, has it really turned out to be all that important? Do you even remember what your grade was on it? Up close many things seem devastatingly crucial and momentous, and yet at a distance, taken in the total context of our lives, they fade insignificantly into the fabric of our backgrounds. This is the same sense of perspective that Paul writes about in our scripture passage today. We need to be patient with each other because there is a great glory that is coming. The here and now is not as crucial as the eternal yet to come.

Listen again to Paul’s words: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

         The Jews knew patience. They were familiar with God’s promise of a redeemed world, a renewed creation. They were willing to suffer now, in the present time, knowing that a future and eternal glory awaited them. In behalf of the Lord, Isaiah predicted, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). The Jews anticipated a glorious time when all pain, oppression, slavery, anxiety, sorrow, and persecution would end and the Lord would establish His own perfect kingdom of peace and righteousness.

That hope of future glory and a new creation that belonged to Israel is now pledged to the church of Christ. It is worthwhile for the church and for us individually to endure our present suffering, because our pain will be a distant memory in the light of the glory that is coming. In fact, that glory will be so great that all of God’s creation is waiting for the total and final redemption of all of God’s people, “the revealing of the sons of God,” so that all creation might once again fulfill its function as when it was first created before the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. We are to be patient with God and with each other as God brings about his total redemption of all that he created. But why is all of creation going through this suffering? Paul answers that in verses 20-21

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Who subjected creation to frustration? It was God. Why? Because Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God’s command. Because of their disobedience, not only humankind but the earth and all the rest of the world was cursed and corrupted.

Remember back to Genesis 3 after the Fall, God said to Adam: Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Because of man’s sin, no part of nature now exists as God intended it to be and as it originally was. Decay, disease, pain, death, natural disaster, pollution, and all other forms of evil will never cease until God, who sent the curse, removes it and creates a new heaven and a new earth, as told to us in Second Peter and the Book of Revelation.

All of us now wait in patient hope, that the same God who subjected the created order to the “bondage of decay,” will someday also set it free. That is our hope as Christians. Right now, like Eve, whose sin brought the curse of painful human childbirth, nature itself endures its own kind of labor pains. Paul tells us, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” We know as believers that we have not been able to fulfill our complete divine purpose as God created us to be because of the stain of sin. Well, all creation feels that same thing. It has not fulfilled its purpose either. The futility, decay, and frustration of the present world signal its incompleteness and failure to reach its full potential All of creation anticipates the total redemption of God’s children because that is the day when it shall be liberated from its curse, from its own futility and decay.

But Paul gives us hope, because he says that we, as Christian believers, are already experiencing that promise of redemption. We just have to be patient until it comes to full fruition when we once again receive our spiritual bodies. That is the glory. That is the hope. That is why we are saved.

But for now, we have the Holy Spirit within us. The Spirit is giving us a taste of the fullness of the fruits that await us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

The author and pastor John MacArthur says this: Because the Holy Spirit now indwells us, His work in us and through us is a type of spiritual first fruits. They are a foretaste of the glory that awaits us in heaven, when our corrupted and mortal bodies are exchanged for ones that are incorruptible and immortal. Although we will not be totally free of sin’s power as long as we are in our present bodies, the Lord has given us complete victory over the dominion and bondage of sin (John MacArthur, Romans 1991).

         Folks, here is the bottom line. We need to be patient with ourselves and with each other. Why? Because God has been patient with us. How long has he waited for some of us to believe in Him and his son Jesus Christ? None of us can become perfected overnight. There are no short cuts to holiness. It requires patience, or as some Bible’s read, long-suffering.

Sometimes patience means giving others the time and space that we would like to have ourselves. Sometimes patience means holding back and staying calm when we really feel more like blowing up. Sometimes patience requires us to submit to God so he can help us be patient with others, just as we would want Him to be with us.

Having patience sometimes can seem like suffering. But God says we should endure the present sufferings with eagerness, knowing that all suffering in the present can be endured because the final reward is so glorious.

A four-year-old boy and his mother were on a long trip together. The little boy kept asking the same question every few miles, “When are we going to get there?” Finally, his exasperated mother said, “We still have ninety more miles to go. Don’t ask me when we’re going to get there again.” The little boy fell silent for a while and then he timidly asked one more question from the back seat, “Mom, will I still be four when we get there?”

As Christians, we have an opportunity to demonstrate patience and long-suffering to others. We can only do it with God’s help. It is sometimes a long road and you might think you will never get there, but we need to demonstrate the same patience with others that God demonstrated in us.

The next time someone cuts you off on the highway, instead of giving them a piece of your mind you can’t afford to live without, remember it was probably an accident. When you are tempted to be impatient with your children or grandchildren, remember that you were once a child, too. When you feel like lashing out at your spouse, remember, patience. You are in this marriage for better or for worse. Patience is a gift you give to someone else. Patience is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working within you. After all, God showed his patience and mercy with us by sending his Son to die for us instead of condemning us to spiritual death.

If you read on in the scripture, Paul summed up this whole lesson in verse 28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.