Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Right Way To Keep The Wrong Company

One enduring question in my youth was one from my parents or someone else who felt as though they could speak into my life. It went something like this: Who did I see you with? Some old sayings were usually added to the question when I was keeping company with people who were of low reputation, such as You are known by the company you keep, Birds of a feather flock together, and You lie down with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas. These were some of the more memorable ones. There was wisdom communicated to be sure, along with some misunderstandings and misjudgments as well. Some things I listened to and some I wish that I had. So is there a right way to keep the wrong company? We’ll try to answer that question as we look into the Word of God and may find it looking into us.

And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)



He was He passed by...He saw... He said...and he rose and followed Him.

Jesus sees us in our environment and loves us enough to call us out of it. A son of Abraham needed to be restored to his place with God. Jews who were tax collectors were generally despised and treated with contempt. He was like an IRS agent on steroids, working for commission and collecting for an occupying government. Why is salvation coming to this man? Because he is one of the people that God had set His heart upon. Consider Zaccheus. His story is preserved for us in Luke 19. Remember he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. The biblical account tells us he was a man of such small physical stature he had to climb a tree to see Jesus. The Bible says that when Jesus passed by, He looked up and invited Himself to the house of Zaccheus. When we are up a tree and out on a limb, God knows who His people are and where they are. He has been hunting them down for ages and calls them down and calls them out wherever He finds them.
Levi was called out of his workplace and he obediently left his lifestyle behind to follow Jesus. We cannot go with Jesus and remain where we are. Jesus gets close enough to our lives that we can hear His call. Levi, or Matthew, had to leave his place to follow Him. Was he an honest tax collector? We don’t know. As a class, the tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews. They were classified generally as “sinners”, probably because they were allowed to gather more than the government required and pocket the excess amount. Was he a sinner? Certainly, since all of humanity has fallen short of God’s standard of perfection. Was he beyond the reach of Jesus? Absolutely not. As the Pharisees were the respectable and outwardly religious class, so the tax collectors were the vile and degraded. Abhorred by all others, it was a new thing to them to find the Holy One coming close enough to call them to follow. By His attitude toward the tax collectors, Jesus showed that God’s covenant of grace extends to all people-not simply the righteous who observed the Law. Jesus came to call sinners.
The call of Christ is irresistible because it is all of grace. Matthew chose to obey this gracious call. The mission of Jesus was to bring sinners, people like the tax collectors of His day, into God’s presence. Is there ever really a choice to the call of Christ? Consider that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. We will answer His call. It is not a matter of if we will obey…it’s a matter of when and where. It can be here and now. Or it can be in the Day of Judgment. Our only choice is when. Now is a good time to come and follow Christ. Many say they believe. But they do not follow. If we truly believe, we will truly follow.
Christians are called out of the world and into the Word. Have you heard His call to follow and remained in your place? Matthew followed the Word of God Incarnate. He was not only teaching them His characteristics. The Word of God was teaching the Word of God so disciples of all ages can follow the Word of God. We do not follow in His footsteps in first century Palestine. We cannot see the tracks of His sandals in the sand, but we can be disciples of our day following in His steps, so to speak. The world needs to see us walking with the Word and living in the Word.
The church can cultivate an environment of teaching from which sinners are called. The context of the narrative once again is found in the teaching of Jesus. Here is where sinners were called to follow Him. This applies to our day and our church. No matter what activity we use to attract new believers, unless we are teaching what it means to follow the Lord, the method will not be effective. Does this mean we are not to have outreach events? Not at all. We should reach out to those who are on the outside of the church. But unless we can bring them into an encounter with the teaching and/or preaching of the Word of God, men will not come to Christ and grow in His word.
So how do we do this? Let us commit to engaging someone we do not know. Ask God to show you some people this week that needs Jesus. Commit to engage them in a loving way. Spend enough time with them to invite them to our monthly fellowship meal. This may take several encounters. It may take several months. But the precedent applies. Jesus ate with sinners. He called them to the table. They mattered to him. They should matter to us because we are sinners as well.


…for there were many of them, and they were following Him.

Jesus came to bring the best of God to the worst of men. God gives us a picture of how He has pursued sinful man all through the story of salvation history. He has revealed Himself to the descendants of Abraham in marvelous ways. The time of the Judges is a fascinating study of the habitual cycle of God’s people and how they behaved through the centuries. They would abandon the covenant God of the Bible and begin to worship idols until they were subjected to oppression by foreign powers. They would cry out to God for deliverance and God would send them a judge, or deliverer to lead His people. These judges were often a type of the Savior, who came to deliver His people from sin. The day had now arrived where God’s true Savior had come. He is contrasted with the Judges, in that they were flawed in their humanity. Jesus was perfect in His humanity and His deity. God sent His best. He sent Himself. And He came to the worst of men. The sinners of that day were no different than the sinners of our day. We are the worst of men. Jesus has come. And many still follow Him.
Authentic caring relationships can be attractive to those who have been shunned and rejected. Have you ever been abused and mistreated by people? Remember when you were hurt and humiliated and you longed to be loved and accepted? This is the plight of humanity. We are a lonely people, even in a crowd. Because we are alienated from God, the best of our relationships still leaves us longing for more. The crowd that followed Jesus was a detail that Mark continues to give us. It was a significant group of people. Why would they follow Him? He loved them. And it was authentic. People can tell if love is only a farce. And they know when love is real. Real relationships in caring communities are what the non-Christian world is hungry for.
Christ has a huge table for hungry disciples. Sometimes if you come to our home, we have to get creative in our eating arrangements. Our dining area is too small for the table and the table is too small for those who share our meal. The good news is that Christ has set a huge table for hungry disciples. Following Christ makes one hungry for His word. Walking with Him creates an appetite for His teaching. Wherever the Bread of Life is broken, there is room at the table. And we need to invite more sinners to eat with us sinners.
Disciples cannot be used to call sinners if we don’t get close enough to know any. A community food bank I am familiar with used to get many calls within a certain community during the year to help people who were struggling to make ends meet and feed their families. It was interesting to see that as Thanksgiving approached, some of the local churches would call and want to know if they could volunteer and help feed some families during the holiday. One of the church pastors actually stated that his church did not know of any families hungry in their congregation or in their community for that matter. Is it any wonder that the hungry people did not make themselves known? Sometimes we don’t seem to see the needy among us…because we probably don’t spend a lot of time looking around. Sinners look a lot like us.
It is humbling to know we share a common table with the common sinner; the church is full of sinners! If this statement is offensive to you, then you are in the company of those who thought it appalling to see Jesus eat with the tax collectors and sinners. I would rather that Jesus see us as appealing. He found the company of sinners appealing over the company of the self-righteous.


Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?

Jesus offended religious elitists by boldly demonstrating the grace of God. The grace of God is provocative. Jealousy, envy and covetousness are among the ugliest things that humanity has to offer. Very early in human history we see sinful conflict run its course of death and destruction in the story of Cain and Abel. These two sons of Adam brought offerings in worship to God. Cain’s offering was rejected and Abel’s was accepted. Cain envied Abel’s favor with God and sought to even the score. Any time we humans sit in judgment of one another based on our idea of fairness it will be a disaster. We do not know how to be just. We are sinners. The grace of God is demonstrated to this murderous brother just like it was shown to Cain’s father and mother. He covered the shame and sin of Adam and Eve and He banished Cain as well. He did not carry out an immediate death sentence. God gave them better than they deserved.
To follow Jesus requires a healthy sense of one’s unworthiness to receive this gift of grace. These folks that followed Jesus knew who they were. They knew their lives were so far from God’s standard of holiness they were unworthy to come to Him on their own merit. Here is grace in action. God came to them. They followed. When He called, they came. They wanted what God offered. Do you want what God has to offer? Or do you think you deserve His favor?
Christ is often maligned the most by those who communicate with Him the least. Pay attention to questions that religious people ask about Jesus. In the previous passage about the forgiveness of the paralytic they ask, Why does this man speak this way? The implied question is, Who does He think He is? In our text today the scribes of the Pharisees ask, Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners? Implied in that question is Who does He think they are? The prevalent thinking of that day was These people were not worthy of human contact, much less a candidate for communion with God’s people. The better question that would have been the right question is, Why is Jesus not spending time with us?
Being used to call sinners is the right reason for keeping the wrong company. God uses instruments to grace to show grace. We are instruments of grace because we have received it. We are trophies of grace, forgiven people, and restored people that God is pleased to show as models of what a human can be when used by God. When I want to know about good food to eat, I ask someone who knows where to go get it. When people begin to ask questions about God, who better to ask than someone who knows God? If you have the privilege of being asked about God, you are one sinner telling another sinner where to find the Christ who calls. Listen for spiritual questions. It is not an accident or coincidence that people ask you these things. It is God’s planned encounter.
The church needs to engage the public with answers for questions they are asking. Too often we are giving answers to questions no one is asking. The church must be relevant to the culture. We must be thinking about answers that people are seeking. Do you know who we can trust with our families, with our money, with our souls? Can you give a credible testimony that you are trusting Christ in our day?


I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Jesus came to give His life to those who knew they were dying. I heard it said the other day that we all know that everyone will die. But we don’t really believe it will be us. The realization of the certainty of death is one that we will put off as long as we can. We deny its reality and pretend that we are not in a terminal condition. If I asked you the question, would every one who is dying please come to the altar would you come? Sinners are dying people. They have been from the beginning. God said so. But some still deny the illness of sinsickness and thinking they can escape the death that it brings.
Someone who is truly suffering from a terminal illness needs to know the danger of their condition. Are there doctors who hide a patient’s terminal condition from them? Possibly so. But the best doctors do not hide this condition. This would often be cruel, even when we think it is kinder and gentler. A dying man needs to know he is dying. There are priorities to reassess and reorder. Some things won’t matter anymore. And some things have eternal ramifications. The most dangerous position for a dying person to be in is in a place of ignorance. They need the truth. If you are lost today without hope of heaven, you know that your good works cannot get you there. You know that the fact that you have gone to church all your life is not enough. You know that even being baptized without being born again is insufficient. I have good news for you. You are a candidate for God’s salvation solution.
Christ did not come for those who believe they are good enough for God. God is so holy that we cannot approach Him. Holy people do not become holy by their own self-help efforts, no matter what we want to believe. Holy people are not self-made people. They are made by God. Christ came so unholy people can become holy through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Christ did not come for people who think the Holy Spirit is finished with them in their lives. I am not God. But even I can see that God is not finished with every Christian I encounter.
Christians have a trusted family doctor who is continuously treating our sinsickness. Like some cancer patients, the sin of sinners undergoes an aggressive treatment. The cross is not a passive treatment of sin. The cross is where the Son of God became sin for us so God could kill it!! Our sin can be forgiven, all past, present and future stages of its contamination. But we must desire to be treated aggressively by God. When sin is exposed, it must be killed. Amputated. Confessed. Repented of. Our sin may be in remission, but never totally eradicated as long as my earthly life lasts.
Does our community see the church as sick and in need of Jesus or do we come across as hypocrites? The best way is to ask them. What would I hear in the community if I asked, “What do you think about Mount Olivet Baptist Church?” Some would be outright hostile. Some might be oblivious to our existence. Some might be curious enough to come so they can form an opinion. As we come to a close in the message, consider what some people have determined about the relevance of the life of a church in the life of a community from the book Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson.

We know that Jesus came to seek and save people who are lost—He told us that in Luke’s Gospel. He told three stories in Luke 15 that demonstrate how passionate He is about this. And the question for us is: Are we really willing to love those pagans, those heathens, those lost people who are often not very lovable? Actually, the issue probably comes down to the fact that we often want God “clean them” before we “catch them.” The need to reach them in whatever condition we find them often requires us to make changes in the way we do things. We have to find ways to love lost people the way they are, and that is hard work.
Think about what Jesus did when He picked Zaccheus out of that crowd in Luke 19. Old Zack was not exactly the most popular guy around town. Jesus not only spoke to him. He also asked to visit his house. You can almost hear the collective gasp. How could Jesus go over to the house of someone like Zaccheus, much less talk to him? As the Scripture says, “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’”(NIV) Are we making people mutter about the lost people that are being reached in our churches? If so, rejoice! You are in good company…
…Vibrant faith and strategic prayer, which connect with the power of God, have often resulted in practical acts of Christian grace and love. When believers obey the Scriptures and truly forgive others who have offended them, unbelievers are influenced to receive Christ. When churches lovingly serve the communities around them, the unchurched very often are motivated to come to Christ.
(Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches, 62, 64)

We have a lot of work to do. But we do it with the One who came to call sinners. Let’s continually answer His call, remembering who we were, knowing who we are, and believing who we will be.

Our So What for today is:
The treatment for our lives with Christ is a daily regimen of Christ’s righteousness.
Our sinsickness is not treated by denial of our condition and self help therapy.

Jesus came to call sinners to Him.
That’s our hope. Aren’t you glad of that? Repentant sinners can hear His call to follow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What's the Rush?

Haste makes waste. So says the old proverb. I don't know the origin of this pithy saying. But it makes a lot of sense to me...especially after yesterday. A couple of things happened that I've been musing about. Not that they were amusing in nature but by their nature caused me to stop and think about life...and death.
I was asked to assist in a funeral service yesterday. As the service ended, I was struck with a contrast in procedural protocol as a pastor. A customary position for a pastor in a wedding is to follow the couple out of the building after the ceremony. But in a funeral, the pastor leads the way, even preceding the casket, carried along by the pallbearers. The service was at one location and the burial was in another, a few miles away. So a funeral procession was necessary. As a pastor in a funeral procession, it is customary to travel ahead of the hearse. I don't pretend to know all the symbolism that may be behind it all. But I've been pondering about the significance of these things and the contrast between hustling and bustling and taking time to enjoy life and experience death. In the procession, law enforcement officials led the way, their emergency lights flashing, stopping traffic at intersections to allow the procession to flow unhindered and uninterrupted to the graveside. As I was traveling yesterday, through a sparsely inhabited countryside, I asked the question to myself, "What's the rush? Where are we going in such a hurry?"
Follow my mind back to the wedding scene. Now that's a scary thought! Not the wedding, but following my mind. We could get very lost very fast! The young couple is leaving the building with the pastor following. They will begin to move into a season of life where it won't take them long to get caught up running to and fro and life will press in on them with added expectations and new responsibilities and soon they can find themselves running on empty. They'll get there faster than they realize and wonder how they got to where they are. And it will usually be in the middle of a mess or waylaid in a wreck. And the pastor has been following all the while, trying to catch them, trying to help them, trying to teach them God's word for wise living. But they've been too busy. So they run until one day they have run far enough. I think some movie character said that. Where are they going in such a hurry? What's the rush?
The second thing happened later last night. My wife and I were going on a date. We started doing that on a regular basis a few years ago. We started asking these questions of ourselves. What's the rush? Where are we going in such a hurry? It changed the way we viewed our lives together. It didn't change our life. It changed the way we respond to it. Our life is our life. And our death is coming. We were waiting on a red traffic light to green up and the person on our left received his left turn arrow. These signals, or symbols, are supposed to be protected. You should be able to turn safely. As he entered the intersection, a large car barrelled into the intersection, narrowly missing my left turn neighbor, but colliding with the one who was turning left from across the intersection. As we sat there stunned, I thought, "What was the rush? Where was he going? Didn't he see the stop light? Didn't he read the symbol? Didn't he see the sign? That driver has wrecked another driver with a wreck!
Isn't that what can happen? We wreck others with our wrecks. Sometimes we can't help it. We are wrecked in nature. But often it is because we are running too fast to know how fast we are going. Here is wisdom.
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." (James 4:14-15)
As I think back on the first thing I was thinking about, it's a fast trip to the grave. Whether you're seven or seventy. They'll even stop traffic for you. At that point, you won't be in hurry. So tell me, friend, what's the rush?
Blessings to you,

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up


In the late 1980’s a television commercial for a company named LifeCall depicted an elderly woman falling in her bathroom. A pendant around her neck had a button that she pushed and she was immediately contacted with an emergency dispatcher. She desperately cried, “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!?” and help was on the way. A lot of people made fun of that lady and that commercial, maybe because it seemed like a low budget production that lacked a lot of sophistication. But it did communicate a message that any one of us can fall and need help outside of our own ability to rise again.
Now anyone who has ever taken a serious fall or known someone who has suffered like that knows that it is anything but funny. A lady I was privileged to know fell and broke her hip when she was 99 years old. She told me that it was the first time in her life that she could ever remember not being able to walk. Oh, she knew that she was dependent upon others when she was a baby. But she couldn’t remember that experience. And she wasn't looking forward to being that dependent on others again.
This week as we turn to the Gospel of Mark we are once again considering the authority of Jesus as it was demonstrated to the people of that day. The familiar narrative is about a helpless paralytic that encountered Christ and the resulting challenge of the religious scribes in regard to the authority of Christ. Both the paralytic, the scribes, and the people who witnessed the encounter experienced God in a very unexpected way. It is my prayer as we hear the Word of God read and preached that we come into a fuller understanding of the authority of Christ over our lives and the relevance it has for the people of God in our day. Hear the Word of the Lord.
When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”--He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” (Mark 2:1-12)



... Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic…

The Word of God overcomes barriers of time and space. Christ is in the midst of men and speaking His word to people. This transcends the separation between God and man. God transcends time and space. He had become man and was communicating in a type of language that could be understood. Jesus was in the house, teaching the Word. It was not the healing that was attracting attention. It was the speaking of the Word. God’s word connects when it is proclaimed publicly. This is transcendental truth. People still hunger for that. But sometimes they are too sick to feed on His word.
People can be so sinsick that they need help coming to Jesus. In my zeal as a pastor, I once believed that if I could only get some sinsick person to come to the worship service that I could preach this person into the kingdom of God, healed and whole. I would have some advance knowledge that a certain person would be in the congregation on a certain Sunday. I would prepare a sermon with that person in mind. The sad part is that this sinsick person was often oblivious to the message or they were absent from the service. They weren’t hungry enough for God. Their sinsickness had curbed their godly appetite. Sinsickness creates an appetite for ungodly things. This paralytic needed help coming to Jesus. I believe he was hungry for the nourishment of the word. I believe he came there to be in the presence of God. The paralytic was dependent upon others for his very survival. He was dependent on others to bring him to Jesus. How much more was he dependent upon Jesus for his eternal destiny?
Christ “sees” the faith of the men and speaks to the one most in need. What does faith look like to God? It’s when someone acts on their desire to draw near to God, believing that God is, and believing what God says is beneficial. Faith at work is people working their faith. Faith in God is acting on God’s promise. God had promised that a Messiah would come. I believe that we sometimes give all the credit to the four men for their faith. But I think the paralytic had faith as well. Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven. Someone without faith can never receive this forgiveness that God offers. Faith is a gift from God. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
Risk is involved when people desire to get close to God. The paralytic took a risk to ask others to become their burden. Someone had to give up their time to help him get to Jesus. The four men took a risk in the whole event. Wouldn’t you have liked to been in the crowd? They must have created a scene publicly, becoming a spectacle themselves, risking offending all who were present. They also took a risk to offend the owner of the house when they tore up his roof! It took a pretty big hole to lower him down, bed and all.
The four men not only let the paralytic down, they carried him up! One of the most fascinating details of this account is hidden from us. How did they get him up on the roof in the first place? Our application as Christians is to ask a question. My question is not are we willing to tear up the roof and let the ones we are burdened with down, but are we willing to carry them up? I don’t want to spiritualize this too much, but do we carry some burdensome person up to God in prayer? Do we labor on their behalf? Do we bring their case before our loving Father in Heaven? As a practical understanding, do we pay the price to be heavily involved in the lives of suffering, sinsick people? They are all around us. Sometimes right in our midst.


Son, your sins are forgiven...get up, pick up your pallet and go home...

God’s word is curative for sinsickness. As God progressively revealed Himself to the generations, there was a priesthood installed who stood before men on God’s behalf. The priest was a type of God Himself. Religious tradition through the ages has allowed for a priest to grant forgiveness. But only an absolute God can grant absolution. One God alone has that authority. Only He knows our darkest secrets and only He knows our deepest need. Sinsickness is a total epidemic. All of humanity is infected with it and affected by it. It has a 100% mortality rate. All humans are born in sin and die as a result of it. Some of our physical afflictions have their root in sinsickness. For someone to have authority to heal these symptomatic afflictions they must also have the ability to cure them at their root cause. Christ’s word has absolute authority over the power of sin in the life of a human. If we do not hear God’s curative word, we will die. Eternal life with God is our greatest need. Sinsickness is our greatest affliction. God’s word contains the cure.
The man’s need to be forgiven was greater than his need to walk. Jesus was there to meet the greatest need. The non-Christian may think his or her affliction or addiction is their biggest problem. Their greatest need is to be forgiven of sin. The condition of unforgiveness paralyzes all of human existence and poisons our relationships. Man needs a Savior from sin and deliverance from this condition. Sinsickness manifested in the public arena is masked with human justification. When we are told we are products of our environment, or economically deprived, or genetically predisposed to our addictions and afflictions, it is just human attempts to cover our sin and explain it away. After all, we’re only human, huh? We are either faulty or perfect. We cannot be both. The humanist cannot have it both ways. Believing these things cause us to avoid taking responsibility for our behavior, claiming our behavior is someone else’s fault and continuously making excuses for our fallen humanity, attempting to exalt our humanity to godlike status. I have heard it said that an excuse is a lie disguised as a reason. What would be the result if some of the most powerful people in public life would humble themselves and take responsibility for their sinful actions? It would bring radical change.
Christ sent the forgiven man back home. A radically changed man went back to what would be a radically changed home. He was a restored man. Home would be a new place. His family and friends would have a new experience with this healed man. Things are different when Christ changes our lives. Do you want a changed home environment? Learn to practice biblical forgiveness.
Practicing forgiveness in our Christian homes overcomes paralyzed relationships. Unforgiveness in our Christian homes turns joyful service into tedious duty. This is what happened in the elder son’s heart when the prodigal son returned in Luke 15. The elder son was a dutiful son. He resented the prodigal wasting his father’s wealth while he slaved away at home. All those years dwelling on his duty and thinking of his brother’s frivolity hardened his heart. Forgiveness was alien to him and his heart was far from his father. Perhaps Christians don’t really know how to practice forgiveness. For example, one person says, “I was wrong. I sinned against God and against you. I have no excuse for my behavior. Will you forgive me?” Then the other person says “Yes, I forgive you. I will not hold this against you. I will not allow my mind to dwell on the sin. I will not speak about this occasion again to you or gossip about it to others.” When forgiveness is practiced, it humbles all parties involved, gives the Holy Spirit room to work in the heart, and binds us to God and one another. Whether you are the offender or the offended, you can make a choice to practice forgiveness. But didn’t I just hear you say that only God can forgive?, you may be asking. Yes. God forgives. And God in us forgives. And because His forgiving nature abides in us, we have the ability to forgive and for the child of God, forgiveness is required. It is not an option. Any unforgiveness in the heart of the Christian is rebellion against God. Sin cripples the Christian.
Mount Olivet will be a radically changed church if we continue to practice forgiveness. In our journey together, there has been conflict. There is bound to be more. Forgiveness has been practiced. And there is room to practice it more. We can resolve to resolve our conflicts by seeking and granting forgiveness or we can be afflicted in our walk with God, and restricted in what God will do through us. Let’s choose to grant and seek forgiveness. Let’s take up our pallet and walk.


Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming...who can forgive sins, but God alone?
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…

God asks the questions for which He already knows the answers. Adam, where are you? Jonah, do you have good reason to be angry? Who do men say that I am? These are some of the questions God asks in His word. Here the God-man asks a question about a question that was never even asked out loud. He heard the heart of the scribes. That is awesome. That’s the God with whom we have to deal. He hears our heart. He knows our mind. If the scribes were concerned at all about the paralytic, they would have made room for him to get to Jesus. His friends would not have had to climb up on the roof! But self-righteous religious people never make it easy for the sinsick to get to Jesus. Their unconcern for their fellow man reveals their heart condition and exposes the reason they were there…not to gain wisdom, but to guard their tradition. Their concern was a biblical one. God was the only one authorized to forgive sins. It was in their prophetic writings. So were the prophecies of Messiah. Their religious philosophy did not include a Messiah like this. Their Messiah must be a man made in their image. One like them. But here was One like the Son of Man. They missed that prophecy. God revealed Himself to mankind in His word. Jesus was the revelation of the Old Testament prophecy. We can read the Word of God and totally miss its interpretation. God is always revealing Himself. We may be too self-focused to notice Christ in plain sight.
The Son of Man is a term associated with judgment. This is a favorite term that Jesus often used for Himself. Some think that he classified Himself this way because it tied Him to His humanity. I think it was all about authority. We read about this in Daniel’s vision:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

This prophecy gives great comfort to the Christian. God is in authority. My judge is Jesus. And He is also my Savior. How can He judge against the work of salvation that He has done in me? He cannot. But the non-Christian is in another category. The Son of Man has absolute authority and dominion in an everlasting kingdom. The non-Christian abides under the wrath of God. He or she is judged already. What their greatest need is mercy and forgiveness. They need to know their need. We have already seen that Jesus knows what is in the heart of a man. He can rightly judge because He has all the evidence to do so. If I did not know Christ as my Savior today, I would plead for mercy until I was judged forgiven and in right standing with God. The Son of Man was there to judge the sinner, of which the scribes and the paralytic fell into that category. One Judgment Day happened at the cross. All of humanity was judged guilty of sin. The Last Judgment Day is coming where all of humanity will be sentenced. Our Judge is the Honorable Jesus Christ.
Secular humanists do not care what you believe about Christ…just don’t go public with it. The new mantra today for public consumption is, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” These words are spoken by secular humanists and minimal Christians who claim that the worse sin in any of us in intolerance of another’s views and lifestyles. Never mind that they take these words of Jesus out of context and in any other argument would discredit the words of Christ as irrelevant. Our challenge as Christian disciples is to live out our public lives as students of Christ. Our witness about Christ will always be public, whether we are speaking or silent. Our silent witness speaks volumes.
The Christian should be provoked to defend the honor of the name of Jesus; is the name of God. I have tried to temper my temper when it comes to the assault on the name of Christ. When His name is brought down to the level of swear words, I try to remain calm. One of my favorite tactics when I hear someone exclaim, “Jesus Christ!” is to ask “Where?” very excitedly. Then I get to see the look of disdain on the face of some folks while I comment, “I’ve been waiting and waiting for His return and the day when we hear the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord! That will be the day we’ll be alright! I thought that day was this day!”
In the church we must constantly be on guard to exalt the deity of Jesus. Beware that some things you can buy in the Christian book store do not magnify the deity of Jesus. Now the name of God may be on almost every page of some books, but the deity of Jesus hard to find in the purpose of the author’s writing. Why do you think this could be so? Could it be the spiritual, as well as the secular, marketplace is being targeted? Jesus does not sell so well in the world. The problem is that we see that attitude oozing into the Christian church. We will be tempted to adopt the non-offensive marketing approach to attract new church members. Exalting Jesus and acknowledging Him as God may not draw a huge crowd, but it will be the basis for making disciples. This is our strategy.

His word is curative, His deity is provocative, and His forgiveness is restorative.


...they were all amazed and were glorifying God...

The healing of the paralytic was not God’s primary way to display His glory.
Paralysis was only a symptom of the man’s sinsick condition. Jesus demonstrated that the healing of the paralytic was symbolic of His authority to heal the greatest affliction. The issue was authority. He said the easier thing while He was doing the harder thing. The scribes were right. Some things only God can do.
When God is working through His word, we cannot manage it or explain it. We can only marvel at it, and praise Him for it. Do you marvel at what Christ has done with your sinsick heart? Are you more aware of your need for His authority to heal your sinsickness?

At Mount Olivet we can answer the call to surrender to the authority of Christ over our sinsickness. Rise, take up our pallet and walk.

Here’s our “so what” for today's message:

We are all sinners who have fallen and can’t get up.
Our greatest need is forgiveness and restoration.
Our marvelous God glorifies Himself in our changed lives.
The practice of faith in our public and private lives is on display before God and man.

Faith takes a walk with God. Don’t be paralyzed in the journey by unforgiveness.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Buzzard Evangelism

This is a leftover and vaguely connected thought to the buzzard theme from the blog Drive By Dieting a few posts back. To be an effective evangelist, it seems to me that one must exhibit two qualities: Boldness and compassion. The boldness comes in seeing and seizing an opportunity to speak the gospel to those who need it. Evangelism is rooted in the gospel or the "good news" that Christ has come to do for us that which we can never do for ourselves. One of these things is to die so we can live. Now we will still die a physical death unless we are of the number that remain alive at the return of Christ. You might say that is according to what I believe. I would argue that it is not true because I believe is true because God said it. So the useful kind of boldness comes with knowing that the things we say to others about God is true. For that you must have a good source of truth. God's word is the source. Without a clear understanding of biblical truth, a person does not have a reliable source of truth. Well, one may ask, aren't all Bible translations the same? As a matter of fact, they are not. There are some translations that the wording is changed to deny the deity of Jesus. Oh, some of His teachings are there and some words are attributed to Him as accurate. But in a particular translation, used by people who are attempting to work their way into Jehovah's Kingdom, Jesus is not and cannot be portrayed as God. He is only a man. In this flawed theology, there is no Christ who has come to do for us what we are helpless to do for ourselves...which is to earn our place in the kingdom. Therefore, there is no gospel. Without a gospel, there is no evangelism. So in this case their boldness about their evangelism becomes brash and rash.
Compassion is the other component for effective evangelism. The reason I am writing this is to speak about what I call "buzzard evangelism." This is where some "evangelists" speak to people during the time of a loved one's death or be so bold as to send them an unsolicited letter in an attempt to convey hope. Now, I fully realize that some of the most effective windows of evangelistic opportunity is found in the context of ministry to the family and friends before, during, and after the funeral service. People who do not know the Christ may be more prepared to hear the word of God at that time in their lives because they may be hopeless and fearful of the future. But some evangelists may use this opportunity to manipulate others for reasons other than compassion. Being a boldly compassionate evangelist in these times means that the Spirit of God will guide the evangelist into truth to share with someone that "we have a mighty good God for some awful bad times." And the hope that we have in Christ is that He has come to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. He has come as our Hope. Without the gospel component, the evangelist cannot be compassionate, even though they may be bold.
Three days after my mother's funeral I received an unsolicited letter from someone I didn't know. This person attempted to share some things with me about a promised resurrection for all humanity on an earthly paradise soon. And according to this person, we are guaranteed this because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Nothing is mentioned that Jesus conquered death because He was raised from the dead. Their hope is based on a false premise of a man-centered earthly kingdom. My hope is grounded in the Kingdom of God where Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am amazed that one can use the raising of Lazarus as a promise of resurrection and miss the following:
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." (John 11:17-27)

Being born again enables belief that Jesus is the Christ, and that as the Person of God, He came and dwelled among us. Jesus died on the cross to pay our unpayable sin debt, and was raised from the dead to break sin's death grip. Without the new birth, people will believe almost anything because they are blind to the True Kingdom of God. And their letters, along with their literature, read like empty epistles, dead documents with no life giving promise. These evangelists are like buzzards, feasting on dead men's bones, sincerely believing their "witness" for Jehovah is earning them favor with God. Perhaps they mean well. Perhaps they intend to be compassionate. But if I desire to be compassionate to those who are grieving, wouldn't I want to give them the gospel? Wouldn't I want to give them the truth? Wouldn't I want to present Jesus as this hope? Sometimes well meaning people can be deceived and the truth is that truth is hidden from them. I pray that the sender of my letter will come into the knowledge of the truth and be delivered from living as such a hopeless heretic.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Doctor On Call

Mark 1:25-45

Sometimes it’s hard to find a good doctor. The health care industry seems to be in a constant state of change. You may have been frustrated to discover that a really good and capable doctor is not included in your insurance carrier’s list of preferred providers. It can be very expensive to pay out of pocket for just an office visit and consultation. And just try to get an appointment anytime soon! More and more doctors are deciding that they just aren’t called to the task of being a good doctor. They are pursuing other interests and leaving the practice of medicine altogether. The result is that there seems to be fewer and fewer practicing doctors helping more and more people. So how does one define a “good doctor”? It depends on who you ask.
National standards may differ. If you’ve ever been treated by a doctor in a foreign country, you have probably experienced the practice of medicine at different standards, for better or worse. A doctor may be a “good doctor”, doing the best he or she can with the available resources at their disposal, but not able to provide the care that we have become accustomed to and often take for granted.
Generational definitions can vary. My parents had their interpretation of what it meant to be a “good doctor.” I noticed in the many interactions we had with both of them before their death that they had their distinctive view of what a good doctor looked like. I believe it is shared by many in their generation. For one thing, when a doctor suggested a course of treatment or plan of action, even though they did not think it was necessary, rarely would they express that to the doctor. It mattered more to them that the doctor would spend time to talk and listen to them. They trusted their doctors. In contrast, my generation will question more, and often get more than one opinion, continuously seeking one that agrees with how we want things to be! We might say that a “good doctor” is familiar with our condition and a “good doctor” can be trusted to act in our best interests and a “good doctor” has some authority over the treatment of our disease. I ask you today to consider a “Good Doctor” who is a Great Doctor. He has absolute authority over all disease and the treatment of it.
Let’s read the Word of the Lord.
And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.
When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.
And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere. (Mark 1:29-45)



..they came into the house of Simon and Andrew…
Not since Adam lived in Eden, had God walked so close to man. The first Adam enjoyed the presence of God in an unhindered and unobstructed way. Evidently, it was normal for God to walk with Adam in the cool of the day. In the fullness of God’s time, now we see the Second Adam, Jesus of Nazareth, Immanuel, or God with us, walking once again with man. The God-man was actively dealing with disease, which is the result of the judgment of God upon the sin of the first man. In the day he sinned, death began its process. The text shows us Jesus with His disciples in Capernaum, dealing with the effects of disease. Sickness had visited the family of Peter, and death was a potential result.
When there is “fever in the house,” fear is in the home. The Gospel of Luke says that Peter’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a great fever. From the perspective of a doctor, it was a life threatening condition. With extremely high fever, death was often nigh. Even today, sometimes when fever strikes a small child or an older adult they are especially at risk. Godly families are not immune to this kind of fear. My heart goes out to the person without a personal God that can intervene on their behalf. How terrifying it must be for a person without knowing a God who can heal. The fear of impending death can be consuming.
Jesus comes out of the synagogue and into the home. In the first century Jewish community, the synagogue was the hub of community activity. In those days, a lot of religious hypocrisy could be found there. And one of the worst things that could happen to any Jew was to be put out of the synagogue. It severed their community lifeline. Synagogue life was protected and isolated from life in the real world in some cases. It had become an idolatrous substitute for a faith walk with God. Jesus was coming out of the synagogue and into the home. Our life with God is to start in the home, within the family structure, and flow into the community of faith. It is my prayer that our people today become such a family of God at home that it flows back into the church. Strong families will build strong churches.
Christ exercises absolute authority over spiritual and physical bondage. This synagogue venue is important to the issue of authority. In the preceding passage, Jesus had cast out an unclean spirit. The demonic spirit was in the midst of godly instruction. Do not ever assume that only godly people gather for worship. The worship of a human being can be hindered, bound, distracted and perverted by spiritual entities and physical factors. Jesus came to do something about that. Jesus wielded His absolute authority over the demonic and the diseased.
Stability in unstable times for the Christian requires frequent inspection and regular home visitation by the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The old song “God, Give Us Christian Homes,” is a good old hymn. But if I were writing this song for the church today, I would change it to “God, Give Us Biblical Christian Homes.” They aren’t the same anymore. A cultural Christian, claiming the name of Christ without demonstrating the nature of Christ, can still live as though Jesus has no authority in the home. We all have our daily routines. Does yours include prayer and bible study? The Word will inspect you. The Spirit will direct you. How stable is your home foundation?
Jesus comes in as our companion, but is He Lord in our home? This God-Man has promised to be with us, but the question becomes are we with Him? Do you surrender your life and the life of your family to Him? The earliest Christian testimony, Jesus is Lord, can still an encouragement to everyone who visits your home. Under the Lordship of Christ, will your home be disease-free? Probably not this home…not at this time…but one day there will be “none of these diseases”, as promised by God to His people:
And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)
As a church we need healing. We can say we believe Jesus can heal us but do we really let Him in? Do we surrender ourselves to His Word or pretend that we are as healthy as God wants us to be? He must have free access to our plans and procedures and that means we have to hold our agendas and goals loosely. God has authority to heal our church. Let the Good Doctor in!

...immediately they spoke to Jesus about her...
...a leper came to Jesus...beseeching Him...falling on his knees before Him…

After Adam’s sin, a mediator was necessary between God and man. People like Moses stood and spoke for God to man and spoke for man to God. Christ came and was actively engaged. There is one mediator between God and man…the man Christ Jesus. If you have not surrendered to Christ, God will not hear you. Some people claim to pray to God but do not know Christ or see their need for Him as a mediator. I would make the claim that they are praying to a different God than the one revealed in the Bible. Here is an encouraging phrase. Immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. This level of communication with God was something restored to man and a great privilege. Through the mediation of Christ, God has granted immediate access to His disciples.
For those who do not know God, who will hear their fearful crying? Who will intercede for the one who is a stranger to God? Have you ever had someone who has asked that you pray for their sick child because they know that you will pray? What a privilege and honor! For you see, they are talking to you on behalf of their loved one. Just as they spoke to Jesus about her. Do not squander this moment to mediate this encounter with God on someone else’s behalf and point them to Christ.
Are we, as God’s people, pleading in Jesus’ name in the public arena? Do people see us as God-trusters? This is what a believer is. A truster. Do we profess that our God is able and willing? At the risk of being mocked, do we still believe that God is able to heal in the name of Jesus?
Jesus says “I am willing.” Here is the glory of God. Christ is willing to hear and do something about man’s sorry condition. The leper is the second example of how Jesus demonstrates His authority over disease. Curing leprosy got the attention of the Jewish community. Leprosy was called the “stroke of God” and was seen as God’s direct judgment on sin. In Numbers 12, Miriam, the sister of Moses, was stricken with leprosy when she and Aaron contended with God’s authority in Moses. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, the Syrian general, was cured of leprosy when God used the prophet Elisha. Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was stricken with leprosy for his treacherous and greedy pursuit of Naaman, seeking the reward that Elisha had refused. The New Testament Jewish belief was that only God was powerful enough to take away the curse of leprosy because it was God who placed it there in the first place. We don’t see Jesus as God cursing people with leprosy. We only see Him curing them of it. A new thing was happening in Israel. Jesus was not only able to do so. He told the leper He was willing to cleanse him.
There is a way to ask God for help…directly and desperately. Directly because we can. Desperately because we must. The disciples spoke directly to God when they spoke to Jesus. They did not need to go through a priest. They were talking to the Great High Priest of the Most High God. I am privileged when I am asked to pray for you. But never forget, as a disciple of Christ, you have a direct line to the Great Doctor who is on call 24/7! Direct access is available to you today.
The leper models another way to seek God’s help for healing. He is desperately pleading and utterly abandoned to Him, faithfully proclaiming the ability of Jesus to help him in his utter helplessness. Friends, when you’ve lived like a leper, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by total surrender. Maybe you have not seen God move in your life with power because you still think you can fix what’s wrong with you. Maybe God has not manifested His mighty presence because you are not willing to humble yourself. God exalts the humble. We can be desperately direct in our plea to Him today.
Believe the One who heals us can also hear us and help us. The Church is at a crisis in our time and in our land. We are not in a crisis in the sense that all is lost and we must seek another way to help ourselves and change the message. That would be a new gospel. The one that has been given to us will work just fine. The gospel with which we are to preach is this: God has come in Christ to do for us all that which we cannot do for ourselves. But God will not compete with our own self made methodologies about health and wealth. God will not be seen as some Cosmic Genie who can be managed by man. Naaman found that he could not purchase deliverance. But he did ask for two mule loads of dirt to take to Syria. He had seen the power of the God of that Land revealed. And he wanted that power in his land. For us to see that kind of power in America today we must be direct in our desperation for God. Jesus is our only hope. Perhaps we have not made our request for healing made known to God in a desperate and direct way.
...taking her by the hand...
...He stretched out His hand, and touched him...

Salvation’s story unfolds when sin-infected Adam is cast out of God’s presence and quarantined. He became an “untouchable” to God. Holiness cannot be approached by the unholy. God instituted a method for His people to approach Him. The sacrificial system was instituted as a shadow or a type of what was to come. There would be a day when God’s people could touch Him and He could touch them. So the Holy One came and dwelled among us. That day had dawned at Peter’s house and in all of Galilee.
People can be so afraid of being hurt again, that do not trust the hand of God.
Do you find it hard to believe that God wants to make you whole? He is willing. Are you so broken and fragmented that you don’t know where all the pieces fit? Have you lived so long in isolation from God’s community that you don’t know how you are supposed to be among them? The Lord is reaching for you. His arm is strong enough to save. And His hand is gentle enough to heal.
The Christian’s public image can be marred when it comes to our willingness to touch the world. Years ago, I was part of a group that went to the Raleigh Rescue Mission to serve in the kitchen one day. There was one lady among us who seemed to think this was a worthy thing that we were doing. She was so excited about being there and serving a meal to the homeless. During the time we were there, she made a comment that she was thirsty. One of the homeless people working in the kitchen heard her and brought her some iced tea. Thanking him, she set the tea aside and didn’t drink it. I saw her do this. Others did as well. When she was asked why she did that, she responded that she didn’t think the glass was clean enough. The dishwashing operation was highly efficient. The temperature of the water was very hot. There was nothing wrong with the cup. But there was something very wrong with the situation. The unclean vessel was not the one containing the iced tea. The problem is that we desire to be seen as touching the world while keeping the world from touching our world.
The compassionate Word of God in Christ came to touch the world. Moved with compassion for the plight of the leper, Jesus heals him. Interestingly, the Bible says He cleansed the leper with His word. He tells him to go show the priest and bring an offering for in thanks for His cleansing. Jesus passionately warns the leper not to tell anyone else. Why not? Jesus did not come primarily to heal, although He could have. His primary mission was to preach the Word of God. It’s what He came for. Do you want the miracles of Christ apart from the message of repentance? Most of the world did then. And most of the world does now. Here is the truth. His word to us is the miracle of life itself. The word of God is touching the world. And He begins with us.
We may prefer healing from a distance. Some people in the ministry of Jesus were healed at a distance. But these he touched. Jesus wants to get close enough to touch. No one would touch the leper. Jesus is a “hands on” healer. Are His hands touching you?
Mount Olivet Baptist Church…be still. Let the Good Doctor touch us! Let the washing of the Word heal our leprous condition. Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within us! Let the Word of God go forth from here to Raleigh and beyond. Let us be as those lepers in 2 Kings 7:3 who said, “Why do we sit here until we die?” Almighty God has touched us with His word. Let us go to the nations as leprous beggars telling other leprous beggars where to find food that cleanses the soul! Moving into the darkness, we can take courage.

...when evening came, after the sun had set... the early morning, while it was still dark...

The God of Light injected Himself into the dark world of human history. Four hundred years of prophetic silence for God’s people came to a close with the dramatic picture of John the Baptist, in the spirit of Elijah, preaching in the wilderness. According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy where “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT” (Matthew 4:16a). John’s Gospel says that “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”(John 1:4) Dark days for this dark world are numbered. Light has come.
People can remain in darkness, paralyzed in fear and trapped there. The Bible says that men love the darkness more than the light is because their deeds are evil. That’s why they stay there. Another reason is that they are more afraid of the Light bringing judgment to their sinful condition. Change can be scary. But God is merciful.
Does the culture see us as representatives of the “true light” or is our light artificial? It’s easy to shine like Christ when life is good. But when you or someone you love is sick and afflicted, bound in disease, it can wear you down, dimming your light. Sometimes you can pretend that everything is fine but our lamp can be mighty dim. Spending time with the Lord in prayer refuels our lamp.
Prayer is part of the Good Doctor’s treatment plan. It is always a great comfort to see our modern physicians pray about their patients and some even pray with them. Count yourself blessed if you have a doctor like that. Rejoice all the more to know that Jesus is a Good Doctor who prays for His patients. He who can heal our bodies also attends to our soul.
Disease does not take the night off. Neither does Christ. He neither sleeps nor slumbers. Behold, He prays! In the daytime and especially at nighttime, His disciples found Him praying. He lives to make intercession for His people every day and all night long.
For the Christian disciple we can remember at night what we learned in the day. Do you know that Christ works the night shift on your behalf? Do you know He prays while we sleep? What do you want Christ to do in you and for you today? Do you know who you are and what authority you lay hold to when you pray to Him and He prays for you? Remember that in the dark times, we have a Good Doctor on call.
At Mount Olivet, we can pray to the Good Doctor and we can learn to pray like the Good Doctor. Are you often found praying? Are you found praying in the church? Are you often praying for the church?

Our “so what” for today is:
A good doctor can be hard to find. Jesus, the Great Doctor, has already found you.
Are you directly approaching Him? Because you can.
Are you desperately seeking Him? Because you must.

He comes personally to heal us, to hear us, to touch us, to encourage us.
Rejoice! Our Healer lives!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Code of Conduct


At eighteen years old, not too many things make a lasting positive impression.
At least that’s the way I remember it. I was too focused on thinking I was the one that was shaping the world. In fact, it was the other way around. The world was putting its mark on me in a negative way. But one thing that stamped a good impression on me was something I was taught the first few days of basic training in the military. It was a six-point document that we had to memorize and it was called the Code of Conduct. All military personnel had to be exposed to it as an expected standard of behavior. I wondered about the possibility of ever living out these words on a practical level. Through the years I have not retained this information. My brain is not what it used to be. So I had to look the Code up again. When I read it this week, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it, and where I was three years later when I had to review these statements as I prepared to serve my country on foreign soil in the Republic of South Korea in a combat support function.
The U.S. Military Code of Conduct goes like this:
Article I: I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
Article II: I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.
Article III: If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
Article IV: If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
Article V: When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
Article VI: I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
When I was eighteen years old I didn’t know much. But because of the Code, I knew how I was expected to conduct myself as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, no matter where I was or what the circumstances happened to be. Today, as we consider our calling as a church in the calling of a pastor, I wonder if many members of the Church of Jesus Christ have an adequate understanding of how we are to conduct ourselves in the Body of Christ, which is the church and the army of the Living God. Is there anywhere in God’s word where we can learn about a Code of Conduct for Christianity and live out God’s purpose in the church?
Let’s turn in the New Testament to the Book of Ephesians. The Ephesian letter is compared by some to the Old Testament Book of Joshua. Joshua reads like a battlefield account as well as a manual or directive in how to possess the Land of Promise. It had been granted to God’s people under God’s authority. But they still had to fight to possess it and occupy the place that God had provided. Ephesians also directs us to a promised possession and privileged position as the people of God, historically this side of the cross, the greatest battle in time and eternity.
Ephesians is divided into two sections. The first section is doctrinal, teaching us about the nature of God and the believer’s relationship with Him. The second half is practical, informing us as to how these truths are lived out in this place and in this time. We are shown our possession and our position in Christ. Let’s briefly look at a few excerpts of the letter in the first three chapters.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (1:3-4)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (2:4-10)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (2:19-22)
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (3:14-19)

After we are given a sense of the magnitude of God’s mission of redemption, we can learn a little of our identity as God’s people in the Church, pictured as the members of His body. Our purpose and position in Christ reveals to us who we are. The fourth chapter begins to tell us how to conduct ourselves in our behavior. Let’s read our focal passage for today.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
The Word of God contains the Church’s Code of Conduct.

Here we can see that…

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,…
Paul wrote this letter to exhort the Church in Ephesus to think about how they conduct themselves in light of how God has conducted Himself. Therefore, he writes, since God has revealed to you your position and your possession, since you are heirs to a kingdom, conduct yourselves as a royal household. Now what would that look like to believer in Ephesus? It would look a lot different than the culture around them. Ephesus was a center of worship. But the worship was idolatrous. The city had a great temple built as a shrine to the goddess, Diana. The ritual of the temple services consisted of sacrifices and of ceremonial prostitution, a practice which was common to many of the religions of the ancient Orient. She lived in Nature; I guess she was the original Mother Nature, it was believed that she was everywhere wherever there was life, the mother of all living things, an ancient age New Age philosophy. Since all offerings of every possible nature were therefore acceptable to her, vast amounts of material wealth poured into that temple. And the wealth of the temple culture drove the economy. Silver statues and shrines were manufactured and sold, with accompanying incantations as to how to benefit from the worship of this goddess Diana. These people were worshipping the god of their understanding, the spirit of the age.
Into this world of sexual immorality, sorcery and magic, and an idolatry-driven economy came the Word of the Living God. In Acts 19, we get a sense of the high drama when Paul met strong spiritual resistance and warfare. God showed Himself to be the one true God as people who were seeking healing and deliverance experienced miraculous deeds of God through Paul. Some were exposed to the handkerchiefs and aprons that the Apostle touched and were set free from their bondage. In that day it was a time of radical and open spiritual warfare. God was making a statement in their culture which could not be ignored.
We live in a culture where the economy is driven by idolatry as well. Sexual immorality seems to be a massive financial industry and many people give their offerings at this altar of worship. Institutions of greed are propped up by people claiming to have the solutions to the problems and we have political leadership that promises change…and no doubt change is coming. When you live in the times we live in our problems as human beings are still the same as in first century Ephesus. Who do you trust with your future? If you are a stranger to God today, your world is going to become stranger and stranger. The question for the non-Christian to settle in their mind is this: Is my god sufficient to save me today? Paul would echo what I am about to say. You can trust the God of the Bible with your life and circumstance. God is able.
The non-Christian world in America today is watching our “walk” more than hearing our words. Our walk is defined in this passage to denote the way we live out our lives in the manner of our conduct or the way we behave. Can someone in the public arena such as our workplaces or schools point to us and say, “This person is different from most. He or she does not participate in playing the lottery, or hangs out at happy hour, or cheat on examinations, income taxes, or their spouse. They don’t play by the rules of the world. They operate by a different code of conduct.” Can people say that about you, Christian disciple?
Our conduct is to be complimentary to our calling. Christ is the caller. Our habitual lives should mesh, or fit in, to what it means to be “in Christ”. Our walk among other humans should be commensurate or “in step” with Christ. If you have ever watched an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC, you may recall how the show opened up with the recruits marching in formation. Gomer never could quite get in step with the rest. And you could see Sergeant Carter taking immediate and corrective action. Private Pyle was easy to spot because his head was bouncing. It was up when all the rest of the heads were down and down when they were up. This is the phenomenon when a group of people are walking in unity with one another. Every part is moving together. When one is out of step, their head is not in the same place.
We should be easy to spot in our culture. We should be out of step. As we march along with the masses, our head should not be in the same place. Our thinking will guide our conduct. Our thinking should be different. How should the Christian be thinking and acting rightly? The text gives us the code to live by. Walk, or live worthily…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love. Here’s how this should apply to us here at Mount Olivet.
Being “in Christ” means being humble and gentle. Many people are coming here during the week to get assistance for help in their life situations. We are at a place in our culture where the promises made by man are fast being exposed as hollow. People need hope and help. We are in a good position in that we don’t possess silver and gold. But what we have we can give to them. We can be humble in our presentation of Christ. We can be gentle with them in the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene. Our calling as Christians mandates humility which is the opposite of pride. Do not look down on the downtrodden as victims of their own bad choices. Look at them as people that Christ has sent. Lost people cannot find their way until they find God’s way.
Conduct that complements our calling is walking with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love. This is the word to the church internally. This is one of the family secrets. Learning to be patient with one another in our disagreements is recognizing our need to deal with one another’s burdens. Tolerance for our brother and sister in love is the way of Christ. This means that we should be patient with one another as we are on this journey. It does not mean that we should be tolerant in ungodly behavior or ignore the destructive effects of sin within the family. We are called to a higher calling. We are called to a worthy calling…to Christ and to community. And a community handles the thing that threatens it. In the Christian community, we are to pursue unity in our unity with God. Love is what keeps us together. Even when we must deal with our sin, we must do this in love. This complements the redemption story. It is in step with restoration. People who love patiently and show tolerance for one another will be thinking rightly about the goal of the church becoming one body in Christ.


being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
When the Ephesian church assembled, it was a very diverse group. Jews and Gentiles had the potential for great division. Paul met some disciples who were baptized with John’s baptism and did not know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. So Paul took the opportunity to teach things that people had not yet come to know. And one of the things he taught in this letter was the fact that Christ had broken down the wall of division between these people and brought those who were formerly far away from God and His covenants of promise near to God. Chapter 2:14 says For He Himself is our peace…Knowing about the Messiah was not enough but knowing the Messiah was sufficient to bring unity to the church. And it still is. The common ground is that we are all sinners, saved by grace.
Broken families are some of the world’s greatest heartbreaks. The yearning for family belonging is rooted deep within us. I believe we were created with a desire for family unity in our DNA. How else do you explain the community that is often found in the gang culture? They offer a semblance of belonging and protection and encouragement that is lacking. As an example of the effects of the disintegration of leadership in the family, have you ever observed what often happens when an influential family leader dies? He or she may have been the one who encouraged community, or thought family honor meant something, and perhaps was a catalyst in organizing family reunions. One result of the death of the leader is that people stop getting together or even contacting one another because the only reason they were coming together was that this influential person called them to it. The non-Christian has no leader calling them to unity.
In contrast, the Christian community in the church has a Leader who lives forever. When we celebrate communion, we remember Him. We come to the family table. Christ still thinks that Christian unity is something worth preserving. He died to tear down the wall of separation between us and God and the division between one another. And He rose from the dead to put the exclamation point on this point: We are to be diligent to preserve unity. The world is watching to see if we are unified or divided within the church. Why would someone seek shelter in a house divided? It may fall! Let’s be a house of good repute. Let’s work at unity, working on building the Body of Christ which is the house of God. Are you willing to take extreme measures to preserve unity? One diligent step is to stop any gossip that comes your way. You stop it by speaking truth in love to the one who is bringing it to you. Something like this might be appropriate: “I don’t want to hear things that threaten our family unity. Our Father doesn’t want us to be a part in creating or perpetuating problems. He wants us to be engaged in encouraging those who are struggling in our church.” Think in advance as to how you will respond in love to the next time you hear divisive comments among us and about us.
The Lord our God is One God. And His people are to be one people. The world needs to see a unified church in America today. Be diligent in preserving unity. The Holy Spirit unifies. When we work to tear it down, we contend with God. Our standing as the Body of Christ is to be built in our promise that God stands in unity with us and among us. Our hope for the Church in America will not found in political solutions. Our hope is in our calling. We are called to God and to one another. We do well to remember that today.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Seven “ones” are found in this passage. God has always been completely one. He is one God in three distinct persons all by Himself. We are called to Him because we are incomplete without him. He could exist without us (and did) but we cannot live without Him. We die without Him. He calls us to Himself; He calls us to unity within our families so that our families are one with Him. He calls us to Himself in the church so that the church will not be a headless body. He calls us to Heaven where there is perfect and complete unity for all eternity. God will rule perfectly forever and there is never any option or need for a better point of view.
The unity of the Spirit is found in the “bond of peace”. In today’s world we have available to us instruments issued by law enforcement in the judicial process called protective orders, or “restraining orders”. These legal instruments are issued so that two people are restrained from contact with one another which has become destructive and dangerous to one or both of the parties. In days gone by, law enforcement officers were called “peace officers” and a judge was called “justice of the peace.” They issued protective orders as well and they used to be called “peace bonds.” The language expressed indicated the purpose. People were ordered to stay apart to preserve peace. But their unity was sacrificed. In this passage the Holy Spirit unifies the church and the call is to “come together” so we may have peace. The peace that God gives to us will come forth as a function of the assembling of the Body together in worship and community. I challenge you to give yourself to the task of keeping the peace within our fellowship and be diligent about it. Our congregation will reap great benefits if we seek God’s peace and pursue it. And when we get it, we must zealously guard it as a treasured gift.
Why does a church call a pastor? Why do we need one? What is his purpose? We have tried to explore God’s word this past month for the answers to these questions. I could have said to the congregation read these scriptures and pray about what God would have you to do. There would have been nothing wrong with this approach. But I was compelled to prepare the congregation to think seriously on this matter. So with my heart before the Lord, as this sermon series ends, I have tried to help us see how God’s word is sufficient to guide us in this process.
A church calls a pastor because they are to receive a gift. A pastor is God’s gift to the church. And the church is God’s gift to the pastor. These are grace gifts that God provides, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Because we have been given Christ, we are given His body as well. The cross, the resurrection, and the ascension prepared God’s people to be the church to be an army awaiting the return of the Lord. We are to be an occupying spiritual force, holding our position, engaging the enemy as we are completely surrounded keeping watch for the arrival of our Supreme Commander. Hear what God’s word says about the purpose of the pastor:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Our “so what” today is a “so that”.


so that…
we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head…

Here’s an excerpt from the book Experiencing God Together: God’s Plan to Touch the World by Henry and Melvin Blackaby. It is good reinforcement to what we have been learning as a church these last few weeks.

"Since Christ is the Head of every church, what place does the pastor have? He is not the Head; that position is already occupied. And Christ is not just a “figurehead.” He is present and active in His body as the people live together and function as a church. He is present and active in His body as He seeks to guide His people to do the Father’s will. Believe it or not, He really does desire to direct and guide them into His ways.
The pastor then, is an undershepherd who obeys Christ as the Shepherd and the Head of His own people. The pastor ensures that every member is not only fully connected to the Head but that each one is growing toward Christlikeness. He will enlist every member to function in the body where the Father has placed them. He will then encourage members to live their lives to their maximum potential in Christ. He will be a spiritual catalyst in the body for Christlikeness. What a joyful assignment the pastor has been given! His role is not to get everyone to follow him; his role is to help the members of the church to follow Christ as their Lord.
…When God adds a particular pastor to a church, does He specifically place him in that body? If we take our answers and guidance from the culture around us, we may see the pastor as a “religious chief executive officer,” leading a religious organization. But a church is not merely a religious organization…It is a living body of Christ – a living organism. God adds a pastor to help His people be all He has purposed for them to be! Knowing the condition of His people, He will add a pastor that is uniquely qualified in his relationship with Christ to take His people from where they are to where God wants them to be.
If God’s people are greatly discouraged and brokenhearted, He may bring a Barnabas to encourage and strengthen them. If they are spiritually sick, He may bring a spiritual physician to bring healing into their midst and to deal with the sin that has caused such trouble. If God’s people are mature and ready to go on mission with Him, He may bring a pastor with a great missionary heart. If a church is greatly broken and divided, He may bring a pastor with a shepherd’s heart – who is patient, kind, long-suffering, gentle, and has a strong gift of reconciliation. If a church has been thoroughly discipled and is growing in Christ, God may bring a pastor with a heart for evangelism to help the people bear witness to the Christ they have come to know. If the church has been immersed in evangelism for many years and has many people hungering to be fed the Word of God and discipled to grow in Christlikeness, He may bring a pastor with a great heart for teaching and discipling.
The pastor must be a servant of God and submissive to the Head. The church is not [the pastor’s] church; it is Christ’s church. God Himself has been shaping the church for His purposes before he got there to be the pastor. The pastor, therefore, must be preeminently a man given to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). He must take the people to Christ through prayer and the ministry of the Word. God’s people must not only know about Christ; they must be experientially connected to Him. Like a branch and the vine, the people must be attached to Christ. Like the sheep to their shepherd, the people must know and follow their Lord. Like the body to the head, they must function together. This is the great task of the pastor, helping the people walk in a vital union with the Lord." (Experiencing God Together, 119-121)

To close today, If I had my way I’d like to reword Article Six of the Military Code of Conduct:
Article VI: I will never forget that I am a Christian, fighting for unity and not against it in the Church, privileged to freely worship Christ, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the Biblical principles which make my church free to live out the gospel within my culture. I will trust in my God and partner with Him to build up the Body of Christ, which is the church of the Living God, of which I am greatly blessed to be a part.
God’s plan is that His church will be alright one day. Until that day we have much work to do. It will keep us busy until Christ comes…so let’s be about God’s business…and business is good.

Blessings to you,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Drive By Dieting

Last week I was driving by a serene country estate on a rural road and saw a sight that I won't easily forget. On the side of the road, in a peaceful pasture, I can only describe it as a buzzard buffet of sorts. A group of vultures were feasting on what must have been for them the highlight of some of their lives. The sun was shining, the temperature was mild for a winter day, and the carcass of the whitetail deer on the menu was fast disappearing, all the way down to the white tail! Life was good for the buzzards in that community. All was right in their world. I can only imagine what it was like in the buzzard roost that night. Some of the talk (if buzzards really do talk) was probably about their good fortune. Who would have thought that fate would have dealt them such a kind hand? I wonder if there was a plan hatched that night in the buzzard roost about how to meet at that same spot next year and celebrate, perhaps building a memorial and creating a tradition to remember their provision. They could call it Dead Meat Day or something.
More important to me is not what may or may not be in the mind of a buzzard, but what may lurk in the mind of a man. I am interested in what may be lurking in the mind of a particular man, my mind to be more specific. There was a time I was hanging out with some of my buzzard buddies, thinking all was right in the world, basking in the sun and picking the bones of some skeletal dead thing, believing that I was dealt a kind hand by Fate or some non-specific, non-personal, non-living entity. For me it was the desire to delight myself in the practice of imbibing alcoholic beverages, believing that all was right in my world. I was a living dead man, dead meat, so to speak. I was self deceived and deluded in my worldview and believed that this lifestyle was what some folks called the "high life". In reality I was a "low life."
Often we think of drunkards these days as something other than drunkards. We can believe that they are genetically predisposed to their addiction, or their environment is the cause of their condition. Bottom line, their socio-economic status or their exposure to a parent who was an out-of-control addict can be influential, to be sure. But it is never determinative. I learned that when I was a drunkard, I was worshipping a dead god. And the dead god was me. I brought my sacrifices in the form of money and time and family and offered them at the altar of pleasure. I was out to serve myself. I wanted what I wanted, so I practiced what I practiced. We make it a habit to do what we do because we want what we want. I made choices to feast on dead things that only produce death. Isn't it amazing how a drunkard is described at parties as the "life of the party"? If the drunkard goes to enough parties and continues to believe that this is life, he or she can wind up being like the deer that the buzzards are feeding upon, or at the least one of the buzzards that are eating dead things. Do not be mocked or deceived by your inward desires. Only fools feast on death...and believe it leads to life.
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise. (Proverbs 20:1)
Take care and be wise so that you will not become the main course on some buzzard buffet. Life is a terrible thing to waste.
Blessings to you,