Sermons

 9/27/20            What Has God Been Doing In Your Life Lately?

Phil. 2:5-13

Do you ever stop to think about what God is doing in your life?  Are you aware and sensitive to what he has been doing with you, for, and through you?  Or, do you that God wouldn’t use you for his purpose?

Paul often did this kind reflecting.  One of those occasions was when he shared this testimony with his brothers during one of his imprisonments.  He recounted how God dealt with him while he journeyed toward Damascus.  In moving words, he declared, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.”   You have ever followed the accounts of Paul; you will recognize that he was not perfect by any means.  Sometimes his life and attitude fell short of the Christian ideal, and his teachings did not always contain the fullness of the gospel.  Perfection he never claimed, but obedience to the vision he emphasized.  He said, “I do not claim that I reached perfection, but I am pressing on to see if I can capture it, the ideal for which I was captured by Jesus Christ (3:12).  By keeping focused on the vision, Paul’s attitude determined his approach.  For some of us, attitude presents a difficulty in every opportunity; for others it presents an opportunity in every difficulty.  Some climb with a positive attitude while others fall with a negative perspective.  Our attitudes determine our approach to life.  The story of the two buckets demonstrates what I’ve said.  One bucket was an optimist, and the other a pessimist. “There has never been a life as disappointed as mine,” said the empty bucket” as it approached the well.  “I never come away from the well full but what I return again empty.  There has never been such a happy life as mine” said the full bucket as it left the well.  “I never come to the well empty but what I go away full.”  Attitude tell us what we expect from life.  If our nose is pointed up, we are taking off; if it is pointed down, we may be headed for a crash.

In Scripture today, Paul earnestly admonished the Christians at Philippi: “Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling; with fear; for God is at work in you, enabling you to will and to will and work for his good pleasure.”

We have to be careful to avoid two possible mis-understandings about these words of Paul.  To be told to “work out your own salvation” may cause us to think of salvation as something obtained through human effort rather than by Divine gift.  The other misunderstanding to avoid is the distortion of the nature of salvation itself.

Paul’s exhortation to work out your own salvation was preceded by that marvelous description of what God had done in Christ.  He urges people who call themselves Christians to have an inward disposition that will direct then in their manner of life.  He points the to the mind of Christ Jesus and describes what Christ did.  Christ first existed in the form and nature of God.  Then he “emptied himself” that is, he gave up his divine position and took on the form of man.

Not only did Christ empty himself, refusing to take for his own glory that belonged to God, and become a man, he took on the form of a servant, humbled himself and subjected himself to death on a cross.  Paul doesn’t explain it, he merely affirms it. “Christ died for us!”  Paul was obsessed after his conversion with a desire to know Christ in a greater way.  How did he do that?  Not by waiting for someone else to tell him.  Neither did he look back and whine about his terrible past.  He “pressed on to lay hold of Jesus.”  We are individually responsible for our view of life.

And then comes Paul affirmation.  Because of what Christ has done, God acts and we should act as well.  God has exalted him and bestowed on him of Jesus, the name above all names and at that name every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is not a confession that makes Jesus Lord.  God made him Lord.  When we understand this truth, we will not be apt to think of salvation as being obtained through our own efforts.

But, if salvation is the gift of God in Christ, why do you think Paul talks about working out our salvation?  He obviously speaks of salvation not in the sense of repenting of sin and receiving Christ as Lord, for indeed the ones to whom he writes has already done that.  He wants them to experience the fulness of salvation by following out the Christian life in such a way that God’s will and pleasure may be fully realized in them.  Repentance, confession, and receiving Christ as Lord is not all there is.  It is only beginning.  Work out the fullness of salvation.  What does God still want to do with you, for you, and through you?  Are you prepared to let his will and pleasure direct your life?

When the attitude we possess about allowing God to work in our lives places others first and we see people as important, then our perspectives will reflect their viewpoints, not ours. Until we walk in the other person’s shoes and see life through another’s eyes, we will be like the man who was in a care car crash with another car.  He jumped out his car and said, “Why don’t you people watch where you’re driving?  You are the fourth car I’ve hit today?”  When confronted with a difficult situation, a person with a good attitude about life makes the best of it while he gets the worst of it.  Life can be like a grindstone.  Whether it grinds you down or polishes you depends on what you are made of and how much rope you want to give God in your life.

When Paul spoke of working with “fear and trembling” he did not intend to create any doubt about salvation or a fear that it might be lost.  To fear God may mean to reverence him, to be in awe of him, to be open to being taught and led by him.  Our fear should not be the kind that would cause us to run and hide from God, like Adam in he garden, or to somehow escape his presence and his judgment.  To be afraid of God is not what we want.  To be fearful or displeasing him may help us be alert to our own weakness and more faithful to our commitments.

Did Paul always live according to the advice he gave?  It seems he was frustrated with failure often.  You and I can probably better identify with Paul when we remember his words written to the Rome.  He confessed: “I do not do what want, but I do the very thing I hate…I do not the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom.7:15)  I’ve certainly been there, haven’t you?  We do some stupid thing, and right away ask ourself: “Why did I do that?”

How do we reach the ideal to which God calls us?  How do we do that?  How do we run the race with perseverance that is set before us?  The race all began when we confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Furthermore, the race isn’t going to end until we join him glory.  But between now and then, we, like Paul must press on.  Sometimes the road will be rough and steep and we will grow weary.  Romans 5:3-5 records these words of Paul: “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.”

When God wants to educate us, he doesn’t send us to the school of grace but to the school of necessities.  Through the pit and dungeon Joseph came to the throne.  Moses tended the sheep in the desert before God called him to service.  Peter, humbled and broken by his denial of Christ, heeded the command to “Feed My Sheep.”  Hosea loved and cared for an unfaithful wife out of obedience to God.

Sometimes we will be confronted with things about ourselves we haven’t known.  We will need to make some adjustments and changes with ourselves because of these findings.  You see, we need to keep on being converted along the way.

I want to share a conversion true story:  Paul’s testimony is repeated over and over again as people respond in faith due to God’s gift of Christ, as they are given His Spirit and becomes new creations.  The American Red Cross was gathering supplies, medicine, clothing, and food for the suffering people of Biafra.  Inside one of the boxes that showed up at the collection depot was a letter.  It said, “We have recently been converted and because of our conversion we want to try to help. We will never have need of them again.  Can you use them for something? Inside the box were several KKK sheets.  The sheets were cut down to strips and eventually used to bandage the wounds of black people in Africa.  It could hardly be more dramatic—from symbols of hatred to bandages of love because of the new creation.  Nothing else matters, says Paul.

Conversion.  Some use the term to refer to a new experience of “new birth.”  Some refer to it as being born again. It is perfectly right that we should.  We all know we are not born full grown.  The thing called Christian character is not automatic.  There is a sense in which conversion means “changed, turned around, a revolution.”  We may need to be converted in this sense many times on our Christian pilgrimage as we grown in the wisdom and the knowledge of the Lord.  As members of the Reformed tradition, no one should understand this better than we. Always reforming as God is revealed to us.

Peter is a good example of one whose faith and commitment led him to recognized as the most prominent of the disciples.  He left the fishing boat to follow and boldly proclaim his loyalty.  At the Last Supper Jesus said, “You will fall away this night.” Yet Peter declared, “Though they all fall away, I will never fall away.” And we all know what happens next.  Before dawn Pete had denied him three times.  On a housetop in Caesarea Peter slept and one day God spoke to him in a vision.  The heavens opened and animal appeared as if on a great sheet let down from heaven. A voice said, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”  But his response was negative. “I do not eat what is unclean.”  But the voice said,” What God has cleaned you must not call common” When Peter awakened, he knew God had dealt with him and he must not become an apostle to the Gentile.  A really radical conversion had occurred.  He called him Peter, the Rock.  “Upon you I will build my church.”

When Goliath came up against the Israelites, the soldiers all thought, “He’s so big we can never kill him.”  David looked at the same giant and thought, “He’s so big, I can’t miss.”  Take notice of the limitations you set and for yourselves today. Then ask yourself “why.”  With wrong attitudes we are blocked from God’s blessings and may live below the potential that He has for our lives.

Now I know its hard to soar with eagles when we live with so many turkeys.  Haven’t heard it said: Turkey-thinking plus turkey-talking equals turkey-walking!  Much of our attitudes are formed by our experiences and how we chose to react to them. That’s why we are so long as we live, constantly changing, forming and reforming and reinforcing the way we look at things.  We are like the little girl who was asked by her Sunday school teacher, “Who made you?” She said, “God made part of me and I grew the rest.

We can learn from the teachings of Paul and the experiences of Peter.  We need to “reborn” only once.  But we will need to be converted, changed, and renewed many, many times.  Accept Paul’s urging “keep bringing life into submission to Gods spirit. Keep letting his will and his pleasure be done in your life.’

Paul could hardly set foot in a city before a riot started.  During his missionary journey he was stoned and left for dead.  During the second journey he eluded arrest on the charges of turning the world upside down.  Throughout his life he experienced incredible hardship:  imprisonment, flogging, beatings, lashings, shipwreck, destitution, exhaustion, destitution, just to name a few.  Hardly the victorious Christian we all have come to know and love.  But to spite his intense hardships and sufferings, he maintained at attitude of thankfulness and joy for what God was doing in his life.  They threw him into prison a second time.  What did he do?  Did he grumble or complain?  No! He sang hymns of joy to God. (Acts 16:25.)  Again, he was thrown into prison.  He encouraged other to “rejoice in the Lord always.” (Phil. 4;4) Paul’s dominant attitude, no matter his circumstance, was joy.  Where did that come from?  He said: “My sense of significance grows upon realizing that I am “called according to His purpose” (Rom.8:28) “predestined to become confirmed in the image of His Son” (29) “called, justified, glorified (30).  Paul was secure in God and knew he could afford to take risks.  Only the insecure cannot afford to risk failure.  The secure can be honest about themselves. They can admit failure. They are able to seek help and try again.  They can change.  God and God’s word gives us all the encouragement and guidance we need to keep our focus and attitudes trim.

Remember you do nothing by yourself.  In 1st John are these words: You are from God, little children and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you, than he is who is in the world.” (4:4)

What has God done for you, with you, through you lately?  What does he want to do today, tomorrow and the rest of your life for his good pleasure?  I say Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be know to everyone.  The Lord nearer than you think.   Amen

9/20/20     “What We Choose to See”  2 Sam. 18:9-12, Mk. 2:1-12

It is said that in 25% of all the autopsies performed on men over age 65 in the US, cancer is discovered in men who did not die of the disease.  If the men had not died when they did, the undetected cancer could have proven fatal.  In warfare, in sickness, and in much of the rest of life, the most dangerous enemies are those we cannot see, because they catch us unaware.

There are two “enemies” afflicting the man whose friends lowered him through the roof to see Jesus.  One enemy was the paralysis, which was evident to all who saw him on his pallet.  The other, unseen enemy was sin.  And unlike paralysis, sin holds every person present in the grip of death.

This sinister analysis of the miracle in Mk is different from the way the lesson is taught to us in Sunday school.  I can remember hearing the story for the first time and then building a flat-roofed house out of popsicle sticks with the other kids in the class.  We sang songs about the kind of friends who brought the paralyzed man to see Jesus the Healer.  We were encouraged to do for others as the friends of the sick man did for him, that is, to bring our friends to Sunday school.  Our point of identification with the text –though we didn’t use such sophisticated language—was the onlookers or the good people who helped someone else.  It was a comfortable message.  It also meant to me, that we don’t bother much with the question of sin.

I want to take you to the unusual text you heard read this morning concerning David’s army and Absalom.  You must be wondering what this has to do with the story of the paralytic.  Well leave it to me to find an odd connection.  It says Abosalom happened to meet or chanced to meet the servant of David.  Absalom was riding on a mule and the mule went under the branches of a great oak.  His head got caught in the thicket and there he was hanging by his hair.  Of course the mule kept on going.  I must confess that this has happened to me during my horse days.  The animal is certain to clear the tree, but the animal is not thinking about the rider and if the rider is not paying attention or has difficulty with the stubborn critter, one is likely to be left hanging.  Believe me, it happens.  Poor Absalom, was ambling toward the battle ahead through unfamiliar territory when the forest sprung up to meet him and his steed.  Obviously Absalom was taken unaware of the tree, did not see the predicament he would soon be in, and sealed his fate.

Over and over again Christians are caught unaware because they have not foreseen the incidental and unexpected character of the battleground of life.  It is Jesus who seems never to have been taken unaware.  “The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread.”  He did not give way to unanticipated betrayal; he did not flounder amid the unforeseen circumstances, the sacrifice he knew was incumbent upon him to complete his divine mission among people.  Yes, Jesus had thoroughly explored the scene of combat; he counted the cost.  He was prepared for the forest and the field of battle.

I think of the athletes and how tragedy seems to strike whenever there is an unusually hot summer.  They have heat strokes that we wouldn’t think these strong people would succumb to.  They are always in top physical condition, always stronger and bigger than most of us.  But it doesn’t mean they can afford to disregard their bodies’ needs.  Now we might say that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were “spiritual athletes.”  They spent more time studying the Word and engaging and focusing on religious practices than the average person did.  They were often admired for being good examples, but even their own efforts could not cancel out their need for grace made incarnate in JC.  Without his forgiveness and help, their extraordinary efforts toward holiness were useless.  They saw the rudiments of perfunctory rites, but failed to see their sin and need for salvation.

So why do we ignore the unseen enemy?  It is not surprising that the primary focus of our interpretations is on the healing from the visible affliction—paralysis—rather than from the less obvious affliction—sin.  The relationship between sin and sickness has always troubled followers of Jesus.  The word salvation has the same root as the word healing, and just as we make a logical association between salvation and health, we make a similar connection between needing salvation and forgiveness and needing health and healing.  But I think sometimes making such an association is wrong.  When our Redeemer healed the man born blind in Jn. 9, the first thing the disciples asked was, “rabbi, who sinned—this man or his parents—that he was born blind?”  They assumed the illness was a punishment for sin.  Jesus’ response indicated that blindness was not the result of sin.  But in the healing of paralysis, our Lords seems to encourage thinking of sin and sickness in the same frame.  That makes many people uneasy.

A second possible reason for avoiding mention of the “unseen enemy” is that an element is missing from this healing story that appears in other miracles in Mark’s gospel.  There is no mention of the connection between faith and healing.  This is an instance where Jesus does not say, “Your faith has made you well.”   Because we believe that faith in Jesus is necessary for the forgiveness of sin, and because faith is often mentioned in connection with healing, the healing of the paralytic poses a problem for us, so, in our humanness we avoid what we cannot see.  Or rather, we choose not to see.

It may be true there are two sides to every story or question, but it is also true that there are two side to every sheet of flypaper.  It makes a big different to the fly which side he chooses.  Many of us would rather disregard our sin, look the other way, ignore the truth and choose not to deal with the enemy called sin.  I am reminded of a story about Martin Luther who very much struggled with his sins.  Before he broke from the Catholic church he went to confession every day and was so guilt-ridden by his sins he would almost have gone every hour.  On most nights Luther slept well, but he even felt guilty about that, thinking, “Here I am, sinful as I am, having a good night’s sleep.”  So he would even confess that.  One day when he went to confession the old priest said to him, “Martin, either find a new sin and commit it, or quit coming to see me!”

I believe everyone at the scene of our lesson needed deliverance from the unseen enemy.  What sets this healing apart from those that occur earlier in Mk’s gospel is what aroused the wrath of the scribes who witnessed the miracle.  Jesus words pointed to the unseen affliction—sin.  It was the first time Jesus exercised his divine power to forgive sin—an affliction that plagued everyone present at the scene.  In this sense, this tale resembles the famous story of the woman taken in adultery, recorded in Jn. 8.  Remember, the crowd was ready to stone the woman for what she had done, but Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”  He extended forgiveness to the woman, but  his words and actions indicted the onlookers.  In the same way, his pronouncement in our text convicts everyone present and simultaneously offers hope of forgiveness.  The reaction from the crowd is testimony: “We never saw anything like this?”  They had seen healings; they had not seen Jesus claim his rightful, divine power to forgive sin.  The healing then, is a sign of confirmation of the power to forgive, rather than an end in itself.

If we were honest with ourselves, where would you and I be standing in that crowded house in Capernaum?  Would we be with the scribes, resistant to acknowledge either of our need of forgiveness or our Lord’s authority to give it?  Or would we number ourselves with the paralytic and the crowd, amazed and thankful that such grace has been manifested before our eyes?  What do we choose to see in this story?  Only when we welcome Jesus as “God alone” do we see his salvation and health graciously offered to us.

Where is the real focus?  One tantalizing aspect of the gospels is that we are often not told much about the people whose lives were touched by Jesus.  Don’t you wonder about this paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof of that house in Capernaum?  Were they friends of the man, or did he pay them to take him to Jesus?  We don’t know.  Was he frightened or embarrassed as he was lowered from the roof?  We don’t know.  Where did he go and what did he do after he was healed and forgiven?  We don’t know that either.  As much as I would like to know these things, perhaps the gospel writers were wise not to supply it.  After all, it does nudge me away from a preoccupation with the receiver of the miracle.  Instead, it urges me to focus on the Healer himself: who Jesus is, what he has done, and why it matters to us all.  I choose to see Christ, the one who died for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 27, 2020    Philippians 2:5-13

“What’s God Been Doing in Your Life Lately?