DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Truth About Spiritual Disciplines

  • Hank was a crazy guy
  • he didn't smile easily, and when he did, it was always at someone else's expense
  • he never affirmed anyone
  • he was of the opinion that if you compliment someone, it might lead to a swelled head
  • his native tongue was complaint
  • he would begin by complaining to the pastor and the deacons, but if that wouldn't work, he would complain to visitors in the church and even to outside authorities
  • he couldn't effectively love his wife or children, or people outside his family
  • he was easily irritated
  • he had little use for the poor, and contempt for those whose accents or skin color differed from his own
  • he critiqued and complained, and his soul got smaller each year
  • Hank wasn't changing
  • he was once a cranky young guy, and he grew up to be a cranky old man

  • here's the problem with Hank
  • it was troubling that Hank never changed, but it was even more surprising that nobody was surprised by it
  • John Ortberg writes:
  • It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one seemed to be bothered by the condition. It was not an anomaly that caused head-scratching bewilderment. No church consultants were called in. No emergency meetings were held to probe the strange case of this person who followed the church's general guidelines for spiritual life and was non-transformed...We expected that Hank would affirm certain religious beliefs. We expected he would attend services, read the Bible, support the church financially, pray regularly, and avoid certain sins. But here's what we didn't expect: We didn't expect that he would progressively become the way Jesus would be if he were in Hank's place.

  • here's the problem with a lot of us
  • we attend church week after week
  • we do our daily devotions - read the Bible once a year, perhaps, and pray daily
  • we give sacrificially to the church
  • in short, we do everything our church expects of us, and we still don't grow
  • and churches are filled with people who long for spiritual growth and transformation, and yet never experience the transformation that God intended for us
  • as C.S. Lewis said in another context, we're like "an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased"

  • if you have studied the Bible, you know that it's God's agenda to transform us into the likeness of Christ
  • we know the word morph in English, a word that means "the inward and real formation of the essential nature in a person"
  • it's a word that is used in Greek in the New Testament, in various forms, and it expresses what should be happening to us as believers:
  • (Galatians 4:19) My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...
  • (Romans 8:29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
  • (Romans 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
  • it's a word that talks about our very transformation into a person just like Jesus, who not only acts the way Jesus did, but desires and becomes the right sort of person
  • the primary goal of spiritual life is our transformation into God's character - that we become new creatures
  • that we become a masterpiece of God
  • so why doesn't it happen?

  • I remember grappling for the first time with some well-known verses:
  • (Matthew 11:28) "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
  • (Matthew 11:29) Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
  • (Matthew 11:30) For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
  • I remember thinking that this was very different than the Christianity I was experiencing
  • at the churches I knew, no one experienced much rest
  • and the yoke placed upon us was hardly easy or light
  • and what's more, I wasn't really becoming more like Christ, neither were many of my fellow strugglers
  • without being judgmental, I came to the realization that something was wrong
  • I read the following words a week ago that summarized my frustration:
  • All of us who take the name "Christian" claim a faith that is supposed to unleash a spiritual power in us, but the darker powers of hate and fear (not to mention lust and greed) seem stronger....As I look around today, sin seems stronger than God the Father sometimes, sex stronger than Jesus, money stronger than the Holy Spirit, propaganda stronger than the gospel. This contradicts my faith, and so I am at a loss, wanting neither to hid from the facts nor to jettison the faith... (Brain D. McLaren, Reinventing Your Church)
  • or, as somebody else put it, "Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried"

  • Dallas Willard wrote:
  • How many people are radically and permanently repelled from The Way by Christians who are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, obsessive, and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere, and what they are missing is the wholesome liveliness springing from a balanced vitality with the freedom of God's loving rule...Spirituality wrongly understood is a major source of human misery and rebellion against God.
  • if you're dissatisfied, as I hope you are, with this state of affairs, the Bible holds out hope for something better
  • Frank Laubach said, "If you are weary of some sleepy form of devotion, probably God is as weary of it as you are"
  • thankfully, many of us can think of other believers who are being transformed into the image of Christ
  • spiritual giants, who somehow drip an authentic type of spirituality that is so unpretentious, and so genuine, that it makes us long to be like them
  • my grandmother was such a woman, who loved God so much, and was so transformed by God's greatness, that I still long to be like her
  • I don't think it's God's intention that only some of us become like her
  • how can we experience the same sort of inward and authentic change?

  • in the next weeks in the evening, we're going to talk about "The Christian Life You've Always Wanted"
  • we're going to talk about certain practices that can help us become the sort of people we need to be
  • but tonight I want to begin by looking at what won't work
  • there have been some attempts to be spiritual that have been tried and left wanting
  • I feel it's important to begin by examining approaches to spirituality that have been tried and found wanting
  • so look with me at a few tonight if you would, and then in coming weeks we'll look at what really does work
  • but the things we'll look at tonight - two things, really - are usually tried first, although they never work
  • THE FIRST APPROACH TO SPIRITUALITY THAT IS USUALLY TRIED FIRST, AND NEVER WORKS, IS TO FOCUS ON OUTWARD CHANGE
  • you can call this a "pseudo-transformation"
  • we know that Christians are called out to be separate and distinct, but instead of being marked by greater amounts of love and joy, we look for some other (sometimes strange) ways of distinguishing ourselves from others who are not Christians
  • instead of being changed from the inside out, we try external methods to make ourselves feel that we're different

  • in the first century AD, a vast amount of Jewish rabbinic writing focused on circumcision, dietary la ws, and Sabbath keeping
  • this seems odd, because no rabbi would have thought that these matters were central to the law
  • they knew its core:
  • (Deuteronomy 6:4) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
  • (Deuteronomy 6:5) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
  • so why focus on circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath keeping?

  • the answer is what is called "identity" or "boundary markers"
  • groups tend to be exclusive, and to look for identifying characteristics - usually highly visible and superficial ones - that separate them from others
  • and this develops into a boundary-oriented approach to spirituality
  • look at the church today
  • if the senior pastor of a church is filled with pride or resentment, but his preaching is orthodox and the church is growing, his job probably won't be in jeopardy
  • but if the same pastor is seen Sunday morning smoking a cigarette while greeting people after the service, you could guarantee that he wouldn't be around by the evening service
  • I'm not defending cigarette smoking, but nobody would argue that smoking a single cigarette was a worse sin than being consumed by pride and resentment
  • but somehow, for us, it's easier to focus on externals and make them central

  • a Christian college banned jazz music fifty years ago
  • nobody wanted to rescind the rule, because it would make them appear to compromise essential beliefs
  • and as a result, students were allowed to listen to punk rock or heavy metal, but not Louis Armstrong
  • other organizations focus on externals and end up making silly rules
  • on Sundays at one place, tennis courts were locked up on Sundays, but volleyball was okay
  • at Moody Bible Institute at one time, male students were not allowed to have a beard or hair past their ears, but every day they filed by a picture of Dwight L. Moody, complete with a beard and hair past his ears

  • externals are the wrong way to spirituality
  • Jesus said to the Pharisees:
  • (Matthew 23:23) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
  • (Matthew 23:24) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
  • (Matthew 23:25) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
  • (Matthew 23:26) Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
  • (Matthew 23:27) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.

  • on the contrary, Jesus taught us that the center of the law is to love God, and to love people
  • in other words, don't focus on the externals as a route to spirituality
  • instead of focusing on the boundaries, Jesus focused on the center, the heart of spiritual life

  • APPROACH NUMBER TWO THAT DOESN'T WORK IS SELF-EFFORT
  • it's my belief that the way to spirituality is not to try to be like Jesus, but to train to be like Jesus
  • you wake up on a Monday morning, and say, "Today I'm going to be patient. I'm going to turn the other cheek."
  • and, as one person wisely observed, it's a little like trying to run a marathon for which you haven't trained
  • you'd end up exhausted and defeated
  • nobody can just try to be spiritual - it involves certain steps you must take

  • Dallas Willard compares it to certain young people who idolize a baseball player
  • while they're playing the baseball game, the try to behave exactly as the baseball star does
  • the player is known for sliding head-first into first base, so they do too
  • the star holds his bat above his head, so they do too
  • these young people try anything and everything the star does during the game - they buy the type of shoes the star wears, the same glove he uses, the same bat
  • but they don't succeed in performing like the star
  • why?
  • because "the star performer himself didn't achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead, he chose an overall life of preparation of mind and body, pouring all his energies into that total preparation, to provide a foundation in the body's automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game...[his responses] are available...because of a daily regimen no one sees"
  • Jesus never just expected us to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, to bless those who persecute us, and so on
  • these responses are illustrative of what might be expected of someone who is a new type of person
  • in other words, we can't automatically respond the way Jesus would just by effort, any more than we can go out tonight and vault eighteen feet or run the mile in under four minutes
  • we need to embark on a training program
  • the emphasis is on training rather than trying

  • Paul wrote to Timothy:
  • (1 Timothy 4:7) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
  • (1 Corinthians 9:25) Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

  • so we know what doesn't work
  • two things: focusing on externals, and trying through self-effort
  • I hope you'll join me in coming weeks - beginning next week, when we'll begin to look at nine practices that do help us become the sort of Christian we've always wanted to be
  • let's pray

A Life of Love (1 Peter 1:22-2:10)

  • do you ever wish that Scripture wasn't so specific?
  • honestly, do you ever come across a Scripture and agree with it, but then the passage begins to get a little too intrusive for our own comfort?
  • last week, if you were here, the Scripture challenged us in the area of holiness
  • if you read 1 Peter 1, and read about the character of God, the scrutiny of God, and the price Jesus paid to set us free, and if you're like me, you're challenged to be a holy person
  • and when we consider the command to be holy, and the Spirit begins to convict us of things that are not holy in our lives, and when we sing a song like "Refiner's Fire," we're moved with a passionate desire to be holy as God is holy
  • and I think that all of us could raise our hands and agree, "Yes, we, the people of God, should be a holy people"

  • but then Peter goes and gets specific
  • the idea of holiness, left in the abstract, is a nice thought, but it's not enough
  • what begins to happen as we become holy?
  • let's read and find out in 1 Peter 1:22
  • (1 Peter 1:22) Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
  • and honest readers of Scripture everywhere may think, "I wish Peter hadn't taken that turn"
  • you'd think that Peter would have launched at this point on the importance of having personal devotions, or the need to be people of integrity
  • but Peter says, "As you grow in maturity as a Christian, gaining more and more purity from the moral pollution of sin - as you become a more mature Christian, here's what holiness demands - Love one another earnestly"
  • what's even more disturbing is the way Peter describes the love we're to have for each other
  • when in verse 22 Peter refers to having a "sincere love for your brothers," the word for love means a brotherly, affectionate love
  • but at the end of verse 22, Peter commands that we "love one another deeply," and the word he uses means agape love - an especially strong, deep love
  • and the words he uses to describe this love - sincere, deep, from the heart, or in the King James, unfeigned and fervent - these words don't leave us much room to maneuver
  • these words speak of the effort required for love, the depth of that love, and its duration - to the end

  • now, what's the point?
  • Peter seems to think that one of the first marks of genuine growth in holiness in individuals and churches is earnest love for fellow Christians
  • one of the first signs of growth in holiness is a genuine and fervent love for one another in the body of Christ
  • do you want to know if you're holy?
  • how much do you love your brother and your sister sitting in the row behind you?
  • that's the real test of your holiness
  • love is the inevitable result of being made holy by God's grace

  • "Well, obviously," you say, "Peter doesn't understand who's sitting in the row behind me. Peter never had to deal with someone like Mable! How am I supposed to love somebody like that? Especially sincerely and from the heart!"
  • I'm not really sure that people were any easier to love back then, nor are they easier to love in any other church
  • I haven't discovered who it is yet in this church, but I've found that in every church, there is somebody who has the spiritual gift of being difficult to love
  • in every church I've ever seen there are at least a few people who are obstinate, cantankerous, and just plain not-easy-to-love
  • and Peter says, "Love these people sincerely, deeply, and from the heart"

  • Howard Snyder says:
  • The church today is suffering a fellowship crisis...In a world of big, impersonal institutions, the church often looks like just another big, impersonal institution...One seldom finds within the institutionalized church today that winsome intimacy among people where masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and that sense of communication and community beyond the human abounds - where there is literally the fellowship of and in the Holy Spirit.
  • I long to be part of a church where the fellowship is deep
  • where the love is sincere, and where people who have nothing in common are bound together in a relationship that can't be humanly explained
  • I desire a church were difficult people are loved anyway
  • where young and old join hands
  • where selfless, sacrificial love is more interested in the preferences of the other person rather than my own preferences
  • and that's where holiness begins
  • love, according to Peter, is the kindergarten class of holiness, and if you don't love your fellow believer, you haven't progressed much past kindergarten

  • there are three reasons why we ought to love one another
  • REASON NUMBER ONE, ACCORDING TO PETER, IS THAT OUR RELATIONSHIP IS ETERNAL
  • (1 Peter 1:23) For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
  • (1 Peter 1:24) For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,
  • (1 Peter 1:25) but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you.
  • the "for" at the beginning of verse 23 indicates that Peter is providing a reason for why we should love one another sincerely, deeply, and from the heart
  • and the reason is a simple one: we've been born again not of a perishable seed, but of an imperishable seed
  • we have a new and permanent life given to us through the word of God
  • verses 24 and 25 are beautiful, speaking of the permanence of the word of God
  • strength, power, wealth, beauty, fame - all things that bring glory to man - will pass away
  • but Christians who have been born anew will live forever

  • in other words, Peter is saying, "Love one another, for you have been born into a fellowship of God's people which will last eternally"
  • love one another, because you're going to be together a long time

  • we're going to be stuck together a long time
  • the fellowship we have as believers will outlast any earthly relationship we enjoy right now
  • one day in eternity you won't be married, you won't have a boss, you won't be responsible to parent a child - but you'll still have spiritual brothers and sisters
  • and Peter says that the way we treat each other right now should change as a result of the eternal nature of our relationship
  • that's the first reason we should love one another

  • REASON NUMBER TWO: YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE DEPENDS ON IT
  • when this book was originally written, there were not chapters, and sometimes in our English versions the chapters break up a continuing thought
  • in this passage, in chapter two, Peter continues in the same line of thought and gives us a second reason why we should love one another
  • (1 Peter 2:1) Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
  • (1 Peter 2:2) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,
  • (1 Peter 2:3) now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
  • the word "therefore" or "so" in verse 1 refers back to the command to "love one another" in chapter 1, verse 22
  • this verse explains in more detail what is involved in loving one another earnestly: we must put away and give up any attitudes and habits that are harmful to others
  • the word is literally to "undress" or "strip yourselves"
  • strip yourselves of the problems that always arise in Christian assemblies when spiritual things are not desired
  • specifically, malice, deceitfulness, insincerity, envy, and slander
  • notice that all these sins aim at harming people - in other words, all these sins are the opposite of love

  • verse 2 is not a new sentence in the original
  • this is an important point
  • I think you could translate verses one and two as saying, "Therefore, putting away unloving practices, long for the pure milk..."
  • these two verses are part of one long command
  • in other words, putting away unloving practices is necessary for spiritual growth
  • love one another, because your spiritual life depends on it

  • it's nice to think that we can be holy, and crave after the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God in isolation
  • by the way, Peter isn't putting down the readers by comparing them to newborn babes - some of them had been Christians for thirty years
  • he's comparing the hunger he wants them to have for God's Word to that of a baby for milk
  • earnestly and frequently crave after God's Word
  • it's nice to think that this can happen in isolation, but Peter says, "Wait a minute. You can't grow spiritually without loving each other and putting away unloving practices"
  • in plain English, don't ever think you can grow spiritually while you hate your neighbor
  • don't fool yourself into thinking you can be a spiritual giant if you backstab your brother
  • a gossiping Christian is not a growing Christian
  • you've got to love if you're going to grow

  • it's confession time
  • I grew up compartmentalizing my Christian life
  • I would have a compartment for my devotional life
  • another compartment for my biblical knowledge
  • another compartment for my battle with temptation
  • and perhaps, although I seldom thought about it, another compartment for my relationship with other Christians
  • at a given time, I might give myself a B- for my devotions, an A for my biblical knowledge, a B+ for my battle with temptation, and a C- in my relationship with other Christians
  • and along comes Peter, and he says something very different
  • if you score a C- in your relationship with other Christians, guess what you score in every other area of your Christian life?
  • a C- or worse
  • if you're a failure in loving other believers, you're a failure in every aspect of your Christian life
  • you can't compartmentalize your spirituality
  • your entire spiritual life depends on how sincerely and deeply you love other believers from the heart

  • two boys go fishing with their father
  • in scenario one, the boys are arguing with each other all day
  • they can't stand each other
  • and because the boys are not in proper relationship with each other, guess what happens to their relationship with their father that day?
  • they can't claim to have had a satisfying relationship with their father that day, because they're stuck on a boat fighting with each other
  • scenario number two
  • the boys are in proper relationship
  • remarkably for brothers, they're getting along and actually enjoying each other
  • guess what kind of relationship they have with their dad that day?
  • fulfilling, satisfying, loving

  • two Christians are griping and grumbling against one another
  • guess what kind of relationship they're going to have with their heavenly Father?
  • their relationship with each other is going to determine the health of their relationship with God
  • our relationship with each other is going to determine the quality of the relationship we have with God

  • now, that's convicting
  • I tell you on the authority of God's Word this morning that if you are acting in an unloving or insincere or petty or angry way against a brother or a sister, your spiritual growth is being stunted
  • stop it! get that relationship right today, because if you don't, you'll never grow in your relationship with God
  • love one another, because your spiritual life depends on it
  • reason number one to love each other: our relationship is eternal

  • we're going to be together a long time
  • reason number two to love one another: your spiritual life depends on it
  • REASON NUMBER THREE TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER: WHAT GOD HAS MADE US TOGETHER
  • the third reason to love one another is what God has made us, his people
  • remember that Peter was writing to a group of social nobodies - aliens and strangers with little social standing or wealth
  • verses 4 to 10 are rich with meaning, and could honestly form the basis for months of sermons
  • but Peter's point is that God has made us - a group of nobodies - into something incredibly rich and magnificent
  • but it only happens to us together

  • God has made us into a spiritual house
  • (1 Peter 2:4) As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—
  • (1 Peter 2:5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
  • instead of a simple group of social outcasts, we're the dwelling place of God
  • we're the living stones of God's new temple, and we're a holy priesthood - able to draw near to God ourselves
  • like a good preacher, Peter digresses in verses 6 to 8 on the theme of rejection by men, but acceptance by God, pointing out that we, like Christ, are going to face rejection by men and women
  • but he says that we are a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood

  • what else are we together?
  • (1 Peter 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
  • (1 Peter 2:10) Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
  • we together are the true people of God
  • Peter uses rich Old Testament imagery to paint a beautiful picture of our position in Christ
  • he paints four beautiful pictures describing not individual Christians, but the church as a whole
  • for instance, to say that we're kings and priests has little meaning in Canada in the 20th century, but to the readers it would be like saying, "To become a Christian is to be raised to the ultimate height in status, because you've suddenly become children of the God of the universe, with direct access to him because you're his children"
  • Peter's saying, in effect, imagine being a menial worker in a company, and being elevated to the position of CEO
  • that is what we have become in Christ - elevated from being a nobody to someone with deep and enduring privileges
  • we've undergone a massive status change, from God, who has made us his people forever

  • but notice that these four terms don't describe individual Christians - they define the church as a whole
  • in other words, we're more together than we are apart
  • God has taken us as a collection of people who have nothing in common except for Christ, and has elevated us to the status of chosen people, priests, God's holy nation, his very own possession
  • you're not that alone - you're all that together with the person sitting next to you, the person sitting over in the next row, that person sitting in the balcony that you just can't get along with
  • so love one another - sincerely, intensely, with all of your hearts

  • so I ask you again, don't you hate it when the Bible gets all specific?
  • don't you just hate it that Peter says that to be holy, we have to love our brother and our sister - even the ones we don't really get along with?
  • don't you wish that Peter hadn't said that we should love one another because our relationship is eternal, our spiritual lives depend on it, and because God has made more of us together than we are apart?
  • now we might not like it because it creates a problem for some of us who have broken relationships
  • you can't grow spiritually until you get this straightened out
  • if you have a grudge, any maliciousness, or just a plain attitude towards anyone who is a brother or a sister in Christ, you have a spiritual problem this morning
  • and you can't progress until you take care of it
  • in a minute I'm going to ask each of you to bow your heads
  • it's time to deal with this
  • some of you have grudges that go back a long time
  • some of you have preferences in terms of worship or the way things have done, and you've let your preferences ruin relationships
  • some of you have let an incident - real or not - bring division between you and another
  • listen to me: based on the authority of God's Word, get it right this morning
  • because you're going to be in relationship with that person for eternity; because God has given you an exalted status with that person together, and (listen!) because your spiritual life depends on it

  • let's pray
  • (Matthew 5:23) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
  • (Matthew 5:24) leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
  • oh, Lord, there are some of us this morning who need to leave our gift at the altar this morning
  • to forget everything else - to skip dinner this afternoon, the plans we've made
  • and before anything else takes place, we need to go to someone else and be reconciled to them
  • and then come back and offer our gift
  • it's decision time
  • I believe that your Spirit has convicted some of us that holiness, when spelled out, means that we get our relationships right
  • that we strip ourselves, as Peter said, of malicious behavior, deceit, insincerity, and backstabbing
  • I believe that the Spirit has convicted some of us to take action this morning, because until we do, we won't be able to grow spiritually
  • [commitment]
  • Lord, I pray for the people who have indicated by raised hand that they are going to take action this morning
  • it might be an apology; a change of attitude; or just an attempt to do what they can to fix a broken relationship
  • (Romans 12:18) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
  • I pray that you would not let us leave this morning until we become doers of the Word, and that we would not leave until we're sure that we love even the most difficult person in this church sincerely, intensely, and with all of our hearts
  • Amen.

The ABC's of Evangelism

  • it's been great to hear of what God accomplished at SEMP this summer
  • it's humbling to realize that we all have a responsibility to reach out to our neighbor
  • I'm not going to give you a full-blown sermon tonight
  • I want to challenge you in four areas, because I think we all need to replicate what happened at SEMP in our lives
  • it's easy to think that evangelism is somebody else's job, but God has given you the responsibility of reaching your own neighbor
  • I want to ask if you have four things tonight:
  • ATTITUDE
  • consider the contagious enthusiasm of the early church in the book of Acts
  • when the believers spilled out of the Upper Room into the streets of Jerusalem, everyone there heard them in their own language "speaking of the mighty deeds of God" (Acts 2:11)
  • but their testimony didn't stop with speaking
  • (Acts 2:42) They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
  • (Acts 2:43) Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
  • (Acts 2:44) All the believers were together and had everything in common.
  • (Acts 2:45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
  • (Acts 2:46) Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
  • (Acts 2:47) praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

  • let me ask you a question
  • what do you think would have happened if the attitude of the early believers was one of disharmony, disunity, self-centeredness, and leader-bashing?
  • "Who do these apostles think they are?" "These apostles preach too long!" "They're serving fish again?"
  • do you think that people would have jumped at the chance to participate in a group like that?
  • not likely!

  • once upon a time, there was a woman named Ethel who went to church every week
  • and very week she was frustrated because her pastor refused to give an invitation at the end of the service
  • Ethel felt it was important to invite people to walk forward and accept Christ, but the pastor wouldn't do it
  • every Monday at work, her longtime friend Harriet asked about her weekend
  • and every Monday Ethel complained about that hardheaded pastor of hers
  • "He wouldn't know a good idea if it socked him in the face," she muttered

  • one week, Ethel suggested for the zillionth time that the pastor give an invitation
  • "Hmmm," he said, "that might be a good idea."
  • Ethel was shocked
  • "If you get someone who needs the Lord to church, then I will offer the invitation"

  • Ethel couldn't wait for Monday to roll around
  • she marched up to her friend Harriet
  • "Would you come to church with me this week?"
  • "No," said Harriet, with a quizzical look
  • "But you're my oldest and dearest friend," Ethel blurted. "Why not?"
  • "Well, I'd do just about anything for you, Ethel," replied Harriet. "But for two years I've been hearing what an imbecile your pastor is - I'll never, ever go there"
  • what sort of attitude do your friends pick up from you?

  • BOLDNESS
  • the second ingredient necessary to capture the heart of the community is boldness
  • (Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • (Acts 5:18) They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.
  • (Acts 5:19) But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.
  • (Acts 5:20) "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."
  • (Acts 5:21) At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin--the full assembly of the elders of Israel--and sent to the jail for the apostles.

  • people's lives were touched dramatically as the apostles demonstrated the power of God in the streets of Jerusalem, at peril of arrest, imprisonment, or worse
  • and the church began to grow beyond Jerusalem
  • the early believers were bold
  • they couldn't help but tell you about the Lord!

  • I made a new firefighter friend last month
  • one thing about firemen - they spend a lot of time together
  • they practically live together for 24 hours at a time
  • what a place to be a Christian!
  • you couldn't help but share your faith with others
  • my friend's name is Winton, and he said that as he opened up about his relationship with God to his co-workers, he began to discover a large number of secret Christians
  • they were too bashful about Christ
  • if we're going to capture the heart of the community, we need boldness!
  • (Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • we must become people and churches that take our light out from under our bowls and put them on a stand, where we can draw men and women home safely into the Master's arms
  • the church must become that true lighthouse for people in the storms of life
  • if the church is not following the mandate of Jesus to go make disciples, then why should we believe that God will bless the church?
  • or, if we as individuals are not willing to be molded and used by our Lord, then why do we hope God will bless us?
  • when a church loses its vision to reach the lost, God's blessings are withheld
  • but when the majority surrender themselves to be used by him and to make him the real Lord of their lives, we begin to see marvelous things take place
  • CONTACT
  • the third ingredient we need if we're going to capture the heart of the community as a church is contact
  • I believe the early church had two advantages over us
  • number one: they didn't have church buildings
  • that might not sound like much of an advantage, but they couldn't be contained and trapped by the four walls of a physical plant
  • it's my contention that North American churches have unintentionally succumbed to a fortress mentality
  • the bricks and mortar which we intended to provide a place of worship have in effect walled us in so that we have little effect for the gospel in our neighborhoods
  • we're the salt of the earth, but the salt is still in the salt-shaker

  • we have to somehow prevent the walls of the church from holding us in
  • I believe we should purposely endeavor to establish ministries within the community
  • another conviction I have is that we should continue to allow our facilities to be used by the community
  • at present, our church is "home" to two girl's groups, English as a second language classes, and other groups
  • these may not be profound, but they demonstrate that our attitude demonstrates that we have a heart from our community

  • another advantage the early church had is that they were scattered
  • we read in Acts 8 that the believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria because of persecution
  • in other words, they were literally forced into contact with unbelievers
  • sometimes in church the opposite happens
  • the longer we're Christians, the fewer friends we have who are not Christians
  • we need this contact

  • to his Father, Jesus prayed, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one...As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:15,18)
  • Jesus repeatedly addressed the importance of sending, or scattering, of his people into the world
  • ministry is incarnational; we need to be among people
  • Paul even tells us not to separate from sinners in the world
  • let me challenge you: if you're going to capture the heart of the community, how much contact do you have with the community?
  • how well do you know your neighbors?
  • what community groups are you involved with?
  • what steps are you taking to keep involved with the community?
  • DESIRE
  • perhaps the ingredient we lack the most is desire
  • when Jonah went to Nineveh to preach, the entire city repented and turned to God
  • the Ninevites were known far and wide for their savage cruelty
  • what happened? Jonah was so upset that the Ninevites repented that he wanted to die
  • Jonah wished that they would be destroyed rather than saved
  • how much do we care about capturing the heart of the community?

  • a pastor came to church in jeans and a tee-shirt one Sunday morning, and his hair was in a ponytail
  • he preached about how Christians get concerned about things that don't matter while not getting concerned about things that do matter
  • he preached the whole sermon without a word about his appearance
  • he talked about compassion for people in the community who are marginalized, disadvantaged - about breaking our circles of security

  • finally, at the end he said, "Now some of you today have been getting more upset about my ponytail than you are about people not getting Christ's gospel and Christ's love. The truth is, ponytails don't matter - but people do. I'm going to cut my ponytail. What are you going to do about your neighbors?"

  • the real question this morning is, how much do you care?
  • do you care enough about capturing the heart of the community that you're going to pick an ingredient on this checklist that needs work, and do something about it?
  • these ABC's are not enough for a week of SEMP - they should challenge each of us to be a disciple wherever we are, to win others to Christ and to bring glory to God

A Life of Holiness (1 Peter 1:13-21)

  • please open your Bibles this morning to the passage read earlier, 1 Peter 1

  • I have shocking news for you this morning, although I sense that not all of you will be surprised
  • I'm not always the holy, fine, upstanding man you see in front of you
  • one day I was lining up to pay for my groceries at Valumart, and the express aisle was completely clear
  • I did a quick count of my items, and I was right on
  • the thing you need to understand is that my items were very large, so although I had the proper amount, it sure didn't look like it
  • I certainly didn't expect to be challenged, as I was, by the women who lined up behind me and made some snide comment to the cashier
  • and I, an ordained minister, who had just done his devotions that morning, and was preaching on being transformed into the likeness of Christ, turned to this woman and said, "Where did you learn to count?"
  • I completely blew it
  • in a moment of testing, I chose to respond in a sinful manner instead of in a gentle, Christlike way
  • I kept thinking afterwards, "What happens if that woman shows up at church the next Sunday and sees me in the pulpit?"

  • the story I've just told you might seem like a small thing, but I've noticed a real holiness-deficiency in my life
  • I don't want to exaggerate, but there are times when I'm cut off on the highway that I don't respond as Christ would
  • there are times that I'm not as patient and kind with my family as I should be
  • and there are certainly times when I don't pray and seek God's kingdom and his righteousness, as he commands me to
  • I might be good enough to get by on human standards, but compared to the life of holiness commanded in the Scriptures, I have a marked holiness-deficiency in my life

  • I'm not sure I'm the only one
  • anyone here struggle with a holiness-deficiency?
  • slips of the tongue, impure thoughts, moments of anger or selfishness?
  • or perhaps, more generally, a lack of a passion to please and obey God in all things?
  • okay, if you won't confess to a holiness-deficiency, can I ask your spouse?

  • holiness can be defined as "being dedicated for God, and set apart from sin and its influence"
  • that's the purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the desire of most of us here this morning
  • holiness encompasses all the ethical commands of God in Scripture
  • and the passage in 1 Peter this morning speaks of the need of believers to live holy lives

  • I'm glad Peter didn't just say "Be holy," because I would walk away with more guilt and little clue of how to be holy
  • but Peter tells us what I believe is the secret of holiness, and three reminders that will help us stay motivated to be holy
  • my goal is to give you the key to being a godly person, as well as three practical reminders you can use when you are struggling in this area

  • so if you're ready to become a person whose behavior is transformed, and who pleases God in more ways than you're able to now - if you're ready to live a life of holiness, please pause with me and ask God's blessing as we open this passage:
  • Father:
  • the passage we're about to read tells us to be holy, as you are holy
  • we long to live holy lives
  • and I pray that as we open 1 Peter this morning, that your Spirit would speak clearly to our hearts in some area
  • and make us holy people, we pray.
  • Amen.

  • in 1 Peter 1, I believe that Peter gives us the key to personal holiness
  • I'll tell you what it is, and then I'll explain
  • THE KEY TO HOLINESS IS THAT IT FLOWS OUT OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST
  • in other words, if you struggle in the area of holiness, the secret to becoming more holy is not to try harder, or to resist more
  • the key is your relationship with Jesus Christ

  • where do I get this?
  • (1 Peter 1:13) Therefore...
  • it's a general rule of Bible study that whenever you see a therefore, you ask what it's there for
  • most of the time in the Bible, the therefore signifies that the author is about to move from theology to ethics
  • in other words, "Because this is true, this is how you should live"
  • in this passage, we're forced to ask what the therefore refers to
  • the answer is found in verses 3 to 12
  • and if you read verses 3 to 12, you find that he's talked about the great benefits of salvation - a new birth, a living hope, and assured inheritance
  • and Peter says, because of these things, you ought to be different in how you live
  • in other words, our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the benefits of that relationship, provide the basis of our personal holiness
  • because Peter goes on to spell out what sort of lives we should lead because of our salvation

  • some time ago, Charlene and I began to experience some tensions in our marriage
  • nothing earth-shattering - just a little more conflict and a little less enjoyment of our relationship
  • until one night we hired a babysitter, and went out for dinner together
  • as we sat across from each other over a candlelight dinner, I began to think, "This woman is amazing. Now I remember why I married her!"
  • and that one night of re-establishing a relationship together made a tremendous difference in how I treated her
  • for at least a week after that dinner, I was a husband that would have made Jim Dobson proud
  • but for me at that time, the secret to wanting to act as a good husband was that our relationship was strengthened

  • it's the same as a Christian
  • if you want to become a holier person, don't try harder, just draw nearer to God
  • David Brainerd was a missionary to native Americans, and out of his missionary work he wrote this:
  • I never got away from Jesus and him crucified. When my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality.
  • I find my Indians begin to put on the garments of holiness and their common life begins to be sanctified even in small matters when they are possessed by the doctrine of Christ and him crucified.

  • Augustine put it well when he said, "Love God and do as you please"
  • our relationship with Jesus Christ, and the salvation he's provided for us, are the foundation of our obedience and our holiness
  • and a strong relationship with Christ will conquer a thousand sins

  • now Peter also goes on to tell us that
  • THREE REMINDERS HELP US STAY MOTIVATED TO BE HOLY
  • (1 Peter 1:13) Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
  • you'll notice here that Peter gives specific actions that will lead to personal holiness
  • he first tells us to be mentally alert: "prepare your minds for action"
  • this literally means "gird up the loins of your mind," or in today's language, "Roll up the shirt-sleeves of your mind"
  • he tells us to be disciplined or "self-controlled"
  • the word literally means sober - not from just the effects of alcohol, but from the intoxicating effects of such good things as career, possessions, recreation, reputation, or friendships
  • don't "be under the influence," he's saying, of any of these things
  • and be focused: "set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed"

  • now, the problem with me isn't usually knowing what to do to be holy
  • at the check-out aisle, I knew that getting nasty with the woman behind me probably wasn't the holy course of action to take
  • when tempted with an impure thought, or faced with a temptation, I usually know what the correct course of action s hould be
  • the problem with me is not knowledge, but motivation
  • wanting to overcome the natural tendency to sin, wanting instead to please God
  • Peter gives us three reminders that will help us stay motivated to be holy, when we lack motivation:

  • REMINDER ONE: THE CHARACTER OF GOD
  • (1 Peter 1:14) As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
  • (1 Peter 1:15) But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;
  • (1 Peter 1:16) for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

  • one of the fun things associated with having a child is watching everyone ask, "Who does the baby take after"
  • I always find it amusing as people identify the nose as coming from the father's side, the mouth from the mother, and the legs from Uncle Louis
  • but there usually is some sort of family resemblance

  • here Peter says, be like your heavenly Father - pattern yourselves after him "in all that you do" - literally in every day, every moment, every thought, and every action
  • you see, it's the nature of children to imitate their parents
  • and we should delight in being like God, because he is our Father, and because his moral excellence is beautiful and desirable
  • to be like him is the best way to be

  • it can be helpful to remember how good, and loving, and just, and holy God is
  • and to remind ourselves, "If Jesus were in my shoes, he wouldn't do this!"
  • the recipients of this letter knew that the Roman gods were warlike, adulterous, and spiteful
  • they knew that the pagan gods were bloodthirsty and promiscuous
  • Peter says, "Your God is holy and just - imitate him"
  • that's the first reminder that will give us motivation

  • REMINDER TWO: THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD
  • (1 Peter 1:17) Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
  • God is an impartial, penetrating, and absolutely honest judge
  • 1 Peter 4:17 tells us that God's judgment will begin with "the family of God"
  • but I think it's likely in this verse that Peter is not just talking about the future judgment at the end of time, but God's daily weighing of our actions and thoughts
  • God both blesses and disciplines Christians according to their conduct
  • and we're told that the healthy outcome of knowing that God is scrutinizing every action we take and every thought we think is "reverent fear"
  • fear, I believe, that if we don't act in a godly manner, God will bring discipline into our lives that will correct us

  • growing up, I had a reverent fear for what would happen if I disobeyed my parents
  • I didn't particularly look forward to their discipline
  • when I was the age that I could be left alone for a few minutes, but not quite the age I could be counted on to behave, my mother would take off her glasses, put them down in front of me, and say, "I'm stepping out for a minute, but I'm leaving my glasses here and I'll be watching everything you do while I'm gone"
  • it worked for a while
  • in every action, we need to ask, "Does this stand up under God's scrutiny, because if it doesn't, it's going to bring his discipline!"

  • a friend of mine the other week spotted at temptation that was coming my way
  • he said, "You had better watch this certain area, because I can see Satan using it in your life pretty soon!"
  • I turned back and said, "You're right, because I've learned that if I get weak in that area, God doesn't take to long before he begins to discipline me in no uncertain terms"
  • fear God's discipline
  • remember at temptation time that God is watching, and if necessary he will bring discipline into your life to bring you correction

  • REMINDER NUMBER THREE: THE PRICE AND THE PLAN OF SALVATION
  • (1 Peter 1:18) For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,
  • (1 Peter 1:19) but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
  • (1 Peter 1:20) He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
  • (1 Peter 1:21) Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

  • in this paragraph, Peter reminds us of the highest motive for holy living - our salvation
  • and he reminds us of the price that Jesus paid
  • the word redeemed in verse 18 is lost on us today, but when this passage was written, there were probably 60 million slaves in the Roman empire
  • a slave could purchase his or her own freedom, if they could collect enough funds
  • redemption was a precious and a costly thing
  • this passage reminds us that we were slaves to the empty way of life handed down generation after generation

  • Peter witnessed firsthand Jesus' death on the cross
  • a slave could be redeemed by money, but no amount of cash could set a lost sinner free
  • Jesus shed his precious blood for us - he gave his life as a sacrifice
  • Jesus paid such a high price for our freedom - why would we want to go back into slavery?
  • when tempted by a sin, remember the price Jesus paid to bring you freedom
  • remember the pain that it brought him

  • verse 20 says:
  • (1 Peter 1:20) He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
  • in other words, this was no afterthought
  • God always knew he was going to do this for us
  • God didn't slap together some contingency plan - our salvation is so great, it was part of his eternal plan
  • as Eugene Peterson's The Message translates it:
  • "It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately - at the end of the ages - become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you."

  • so, when the woman at the check-out aisle tries your patience
  • when your children provoke you
  • when you face a temptation towards impurity
  • when your anger is getting the best of you
  • remember that obedience is a product of the relationship you have with Christ
  • and remember three things:
  • the character of God
  • the discipline and scrutiny of God
  • and remember the price of salvation - part of God's eternal plan
  • let's pray

Creating a Powerful Church (Acts 4:18-31)

  • I'd ask you to open your Bibles to Acts 4 this evening
  • I don't need to tell you that many churches are going through difficult times right now
  • somebody has estimated that only 20% of churches are functioning as living organisms and bearing substantial fruit
  • according to the same observers, between 35 and 50% of churches are dysfunctional, bearing no fruit at all
  • denominational leaders and pastors find themselves overwhelmed with problems
  • they find themselves spending much of their time putting out fires, rather than providing leadership and vision
  • a statement I read this week says this: "The average churches are operating as though their transmission were in reverse, and they have jammed on the brakes to halt any further slide in attendance"

  • no church is perfect
  • one author writes:
  • "We hear tales of glitzy, enthusiastic churches and wonder what in the world we are doing wrong that our people don't turn out that way under our preaching. On close examination, though, it turns out that there are no wonderful congregations. Hang around long enough and sure enough there are gossips who won't shut up, furnaces that malfunction, sermons that misfire, disciples who quit, choirs that go flat - and worse. Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren't bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors."

  • some people long for churches to be like the early church
  • which part of the early church would you like?
  • the false teaching? the drunkenness at the Lord's Table? the persecution? the sexual immorality? the factions and divisions in the church?
  • we're mistaken if we think the church has ever been perfect
  • it's always had problems!

  • if I had to come to church looking for a perfect pastor and a perfect people, and worship I liked and people who never upset me; if I came to church expecting perfection, I would be sorely disappointed
  • I would never find it
  • but to tell the truth, I don't come looking for those things
  • not really
  • it's nice if they're there, but there's something far more important
  • I come to church to encounter the living God
  • I don't come for the pastor or the people, or the music or even the sermon - I come because I plan to meet God
  • as we look at the early church in the book of Acts, we see a number of things that attract us
  • we see forgiven believers and powerful sermons
  • we notice the love, joy, and peace that characterized the lives of the early believers
  • we sense the excitement of the Kingdom of God advancing against the strongholds of Satan

  • but we also notice problems
  • somebody has said that the chief actor in the story of Acts 1 and 2 is the Holy Spirit, but it almost appears that the main character in Acts 3 to 6 seems to be Satan
  • his activity is obvious throughout
  • the disciples are arrested and jailed
  • two church members are caught lying to the church and are struck dead
  • persecution continues and one of their number, Stephen, is martyred
  • the early church was encountering Satan and all his forces
  • they withstood his onslaught
  • while we applaud their faithfulness, I don't think any of us wish to trade places with them as they face such persecution
  • what we do long for, however, is the real and undeniable sense of the presence of God in the early church
  • there is no doubt that they encountered the living God

  • I believe the church today is hungry for such encounters
  • we long to come to church and sense the manifest presence of the living God
  • Garrison Keillor, host of the popular radio series, "A Prairie Home Companion," grew up in an evangelical church, and he had something interesting to say about why people go to church:
  • "We don't go to church to hear lectures on ethical behavior, we go to look at the mysteries, and all the substitutes for communion with God are not worth anyone's time...If you can't go to church and, for at least a moment, be given transcendence; if you can't go to church and pass briefly from this life to the next; then I can't see why anyone should go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church as a changed person."
  • we come to church seeking a supernatural encounter with God

  • please look with me at Acts 4
  • in verse 18 we read if the action of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court and administrative body of the Jews:
  • (Acts 4:18) Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
  • if the Supreme Court of Canada ordered us not to preach about Jesus any more, what would our response be?
  • Peter and John answered boldly:
  • (Acts 4:19) But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.
  • (Acts 4:20) For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

  • verse 21 tells us that the Sanhedrin didn't react very well to Peter and John's boldness
  • they issued further threats, but really didn't know what else to do
  • so Peter and John were released
  • we've read this passage so much we're prone to overlook what happened next
  • what would you do if this happened to you?
  • what would your reaction be?
  • would you resign yourself and say, "I've done everything I could do"
  • would you shake your fists at the Sanhedrin and say, "In your face! I'm going to preach anyway!"
  • or would you do something else first?
  • let's read what Peter and John did:
  • (Acts 4:23) On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
  • (Acts 4:24) When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
  • let's stop there and learn some lessons from their response

  • the first lesson we have to learn from their response is this:
  • WE ARE INVOLVED IN A SPIRITUAL BATTLE OF COSMIC PROPORTION
  • the early disciples had no hesitancy in realizing that they were involved in something way over their head
  • they were smart enough to realize that there battle really wasn't against the Sanhedrin or even other human beings
  • to take a stand for Christ and the truth of the Gospel made them a target of the Evil One
  • they knew that they were no match for Satan and his schemes
  • they were unashamedly dependent on God at every turn
  • and they got down on their knees

  • friends, the disciples couldn't have done anything if they hadn't already been filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit
  • they started out as a bunch of misfits
  • but they ended up "turning the world upside down"
  • their boldness before the Sanhedrin was a direct result of fact that they had been with Jesus, and that they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit days earlier at Pentecost
  • when the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled in their lives, it turned them from petty, competitive, small-minded men to strong-hearted, incredibly confident and powerful servants of God
  • and it was through the power of the Holy Spirit
  • their first response was to turn to their friends at church and pray to God who was in their midst
  • they turned to their commander-in-chief for direction and power
  • they realized that the attack was not on them personally
  • they quoted from an Old Testament passage that spoke of the attacks made by earthly rulers on the Lord and Messiah, and they saw this fulfilled in the unholy conspiracy of Herod and Pilate, of Jews and Romans against Jesus
  • they knew that when the Sanhedrin persecuted them, they were simply continuing that assault, and they prayed for boldness:
  • ( Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • (Acts 4:30) Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

  • Ephesians 6:12 says:
  • (Ephesians 6:12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
  • we are involved in a spiritual warfare that requires spiritual weapons
  • the battle is real
  • the consequences are great
  • I don't want to minimize what happens in other arenas of struggle, but lets put it in perspective
  • the World Cup may seem important, but it's really only a game
  • if a business fails, it might seem the end of the world to some people, but all that's lost is some money
  • but if believers lose the fight - if they're not empowered by the Holy Spirit to do battle and stand boldly and proclaim the truth of the Gospel, lives are for stake, and for eternity
  • Satan wants us to believe that the World Series is more important or that businesses are more important, but listen:
  • we are involved in a spiritual battle of cosmic proportion
  • and that's why we need to encounter God at church
  • because in the battle we face, God's power is essential

  • many churches lose sight of the battle and therefore no longer need to be attentive to God's presence
  • we see spiritual warfare as something to be debated, not as a present-day reality
  • we have settled for a comfortable life in the suburbs, risking little for the kingdom of God
  • we don't sense God's presence because our circumstances don't require it
  • we've settled for comfort instead of victory
  • we are getting along quite well, thank you
  • someone has suggested that we ask ourselves, "What am I attempting for God that cannot be accomplished without the Holy Spirit?"
  • what is there about our lives as Christians that demands an explanation beyond the ordinary?
  • for Peter and John and the rest of the early church, the only explanation for their boldness and accomplishments was their radical dependence on God who was with them in the middle of the battle

  • another lesson I learn from these disciples is this:
  • THE BATTLE DROVE THEM TO THEIR KNEES
  • their response to the battle they faced was this: they prayed
  • we must learn to pray as if our lives and ministries depended on it, because they do
  • you notice that when they began to pray, they focused on praise rather than pity
  • their focus was not on themselves; it was on Christ
  • they worshiped God

  • but they did not hesitate to ask for God's help
  • they requested that God enable them to speak his word with boldness
  • prayer was central to their task

  • Dr. Richard Lovelace, church historian at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, concludes that the twentieth-century church is not as apt to pray first and act later
  • he wrote, "The place of prayer has become limited and almost vestigial. The proportion of horizontal communication that goes on in the church (in planning, arguing, and expounding) is overwhelmingly greater than that which is vertical (in worship, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession)"
  • he added, "Deficiency in prayer both reflects and reinforces inattention toward God"

  • Dr. Lovelace is right
  • the minimal prayer, given almost as a token, may indicate that what is undertaken is simply what we humans can accomplish by ourselves
  • we are reluctant to pray, either as individuals or as a church body

  • might I say that the most important thing we can do as a church is to get on our knees
  • our church will be nothing unless it begins with, ends with, and is supported by prayer at every stage
  • we dare not move ahead on our own strength

  • we need to recover the biblical worldview that is displayed in the disciples' prayer to God
  • if we live as they lived, and if we learn to pray as they prayed, fully dependent upon the living God, then we too will experience God's presence and power in our own day
  • in a marvelous and mysterious way, the risen Christ is released to be at work in our lives and in the world when we pray, and often, not until we pray
  • the truth is that Jesus is real to those who pray and distant to those who do not

  • listen to what happened after they prayed:
  • (Acts 4:31) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
  • the effect of the prayer was remarkable
  • the room in which the disciples were gathered shook
  • this was a sign to them that God was present and would answer their prayer
  • we might not expect such tangible evidence that God hears our prayers, but God is always ready to fill us with his Spirit and empower us to boldly proclaim his Gospel

  • as I said earlier, the thing that matters most about this church is that it is a church where we encounter God
  • you could say many things about our church - that it's friendly, that they preaching is biblical and helpful
  • but the critical thing, really the only thing, is that God is here, working in us and empowering us
  • to remember that our enemy is Satan
  • and to remember that our victory is secure, as long as we proceed on our knees

Everything to Live For (1 Peter 1:1-12)

  • so you think you're having a bad day?
  • I've learned that it could always be worse
  • two German motorists were guiding their cars at a snail's pace in opposite directions, in very heavy fog
  • both of their heads were out of the window, when the cars passed by each other and their heads smacked together
  • both men were hospitalized with severe head injuries, but ironically, their cars weren't even scratched - very unusual with a head-on collision

  • a man hit by a car in New York City in 1977 got up uninjured, but laid back down in front of the car when a bystander told him to pretend he was hurt so he could collect insurance money
  • the car then rolled forward and crushed him to death

  • surprised while burgling a house in Antwerp, Belgium, a thief fled out the back door, clambered over a nine foot wall, dropped down, and found himself in the city prison

  • don't ever complain that you're having a bad day, because it could always be worse
  • some of us have a hard time coping even when things are going fairly well
  • life is not easy, and even the daily pressures of making a living, balancing time with our families, not to mention health problems and financial pressures - these all take their toll
  • in this room, I can confidently say that for a good number of people present here this morning, life is very difficult, even if there aren't any severe problems confronting us

  • what's going to keep us going when things get really tough?
  • please open your Bibles to 1 Peter this morning, which is on page 1362 of the pew Bibles
  • I want to share with you four things that keep you going, even in times of tremendous difficulty
  • four things that God has given us, that offer us joy and hope in times of trouble

  • 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter - one of the key disciples of Jesus
  • the time was in the early 60's - just decades after the return of Jesus Christ to heaven
  • read with me verses 1 and 2:
  • (1 Peter 1:1) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
  • (1 Peter 1:2) who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

  • I want to tell you that the recipients of this letter were going through a very difficult time, and it was only going to get worse
  • Peter calls them "God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered..." throughout what today would be the area of Turkey
  • the recipients were probably primarily Gentile converts to Christianity
  • the word "strangers" identifies the recipients of this letter as belonging to a very low social condition
  • at the time, the word "stranger" was used for somebody who was a resident alien - not a Roman citizen, and not a slave
  • if you were a stranger or an alien, you were restricted in regard to whom you could marry, in voting, holding property
  • you were also subjected to higher taxes and severer forms of civil punishment
  • you were away from your own country and people, and were subjected to all sorts of fear, slander, discrimination, and manipulation
  • in other words, life was very tough for the recipients of this letter

  • but don't complain that life is tough, because it's only going to get tougher
  • because as difficult as their life had been, it was about to get worse
  • these "scattered strangers" had already suffered as a result of their faith
  • believers were at first tolerated by the Roman empire, but as it became apparent that Christians were not just a Jewish sect, they were beaten, jailed, and even killed
  • probably, at the time that Peter wrote, the great persecution under Emperor Nero had begun
  • throughout the Roman empire, Christians were being tortured and killed for their faith, and the church in Jerusalem was being scattered by persecution throughout the entire world
  • this persecution climaxed when Rome determined to rid the empire of those who would not bow to Caesar - the "Christ ones"
  • and according to tradition, Peter himself was martyred by being crucified upside-down

  • Peter could say, "Life is tough, and it's about to get tougher"
  • I don't think many of us are facing the sort of problems that the recipients of this letter were facing
  • what's going to keep us going when things get really tough?
  • in this morning's passage, Peter gives us four truths that are so great, they overcome any difficulty we're going through
  • four things that God has given us that make all the difference

  • TRUTH NUMBER ONE: GOD HAS GIVEN US A NEW LIFE
  • (1 Peter 1:3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
  • (1 Peter 1:4) and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you,
  • (1 Peter 1:5) who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
  • the first thing that Peter says is that we've received "new life" or "new birth" in verse 3
  • we've been "born again"
  • think about it - these social nobodies that Peter was writing to had found that God, in his grace, had chosen them as members of his own family, and given them new life
  • and according to verse 4, these nobodies who had very little were given something very significant - "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you"
  • this inheritance isn't subject to decay; it's unable to be worn out with the passage of time; and it's unfading
  • it won't spoil - it's pure and completely undefiled
  • and it's unfading - it will never wither, grow dim, or lose its beauty or glory

  • the readers might have wondered whether they had the strength to remain faithful to Christ, even if the suffering and persecution became worse
  • and Peter replies, "Evidently, yes"
  • because in verse 5 Peter says that they are people who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time
  • in short, Peter says, "God's given you a brand new life and everything to live for - a future in heaven and the future starts now! And it can't be taken away"

  • in our lives, we can choose to base our happiness on our circumstances - our success, money, relationships, and position
  • or we can base our lives on what Christ has done for us
  • Peter says, "You can base your life on external circumstances, which might not be so great - or you can base your confidence on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus"
  • it might seem intangible, but God has given us a new life, and it begins now - and can never be taken away
  • and no matter what pain or trial we go through, we know it's not going to be our final experience
  • eventually we're going to live with Christ forever

  • that's why Peter could say we have everything to live for, even though circumstances might be tough
  • I don't know what circumstances you're facing this morning, but I imagine that for some of you, life might be tough
  • if you've given your life to Jesus Christ, and are trusting him for salvation, this passage tells us that you are a new person with a new life
  • and regardless of circumstances, that new life will last forever
  • this new life has led to an inheritance that is guaranteed
  • and this new life is more real than even the troubles we're going through

  • I need to pause here and ask if this is your experience
  • Jesus Christ came to give us eternal life, and that life begins now, in the present
  • a ll the failures and sins in your life can become ancient history as you are made a new creature
  • and what's more, Jesus can give you an inheritance that is yours forever
  • no-one can take it away
  • it won't depreciate
  • it won't be decay
  • it won't be affected by the millennium bug
  • and it can be yours this morning
  • I invite you to pause right now and make this experience yours

  • TRUTH NUMBER TWO (THAT WILL KEEP US GOING EVEN IN DIFFICULT TIMES): GOD HAS GIVEN US A PURPOSE EVEN IN OUR SUFFERING
  • (1 Peter 1:6) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
  • (1 Peter 1:7) These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

  • Peter says "in this" (meaning our future hope) we rejoice, even though we're now waste-deep in every kind of aggravation and trouble
  • these believers are rejoicing even though they're going through every kind of grief
  • Peter reminds them that their suffering has a purpose: so that their faith - of far greater value than gold - may be proved genuine
  • the situations of testing in our lives are deliberate occasions when God refines and purifies the faith of his people, as precious metal is refined in a fire
  • (Isaiah 48:10) See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

  • God never tries his people without reason
  • God never afflicts us without cause
  • we will experience grief in this life only as necessary in light of God's great and infinitely wise purposes for us
  • Peter then shows us that simultaneous grief and joy are normal in the Christian life
  • even when times are tough, we can rejoice - because even when things are tough, God has a purpose in our sufferings

  • does that sound trite?
  • some of you might be thinking, "Here these people are facing persecution and even death, and the best Peter can say is ‘Chin up; if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger.'"
  • I'm not an old person, but already I can look back at periods of trouble in my life
  • not once have I enjoyed going through troubles in my life
  • but do you know what?
  • in almost every case, I can look back and say, "Thank God I had to go through that difficulty"
  • it's not trite at all to realize that God has his hand in every situation and every trouble, working every circumstance in our life to his own glory
  • it's great to realize that even in the difficulties and severe trials of our lives, we can rejoice because God has his purpose
  • knowing that in everything that takes place - even in our suffering - God has a purpose

  • Peter says that we keep going, even in difficulties, because (1) God has given us a new life and an inheritance that can never be taken away; (2) because God has a purpose even in our suffering
  • TRUTH NUMBER THREE (THAT WILL KEEP US GOING EVEN IN DIFFICULT TIMES): GOD HAS GIVEN US AN INEXPRESSIBLE JOY THAT COMES FROM KNOWING CHRIST
  • a man once entered a pharmacy, and the pharmacist said, "Oh dear, you must be sick - you don't look well at all"
  • the man replied, "Don't worry, I'm a pastor - I always look like this"
  • or you might have heard about the church where all the members were sour and joyless
  • one day they figured out why
  • it turns out they had been filling the baptistry with pickle juice

  • do you ever wonder why so many Christians are joyless?
  • I'm baffled, because look at what verses 8 and 9 say:
  • (1 Peter 1:8) Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
  • (1 Peter 1:9) for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

  • Peter tells us that without having seen Jesus, we have as our normal and continuing experience a love for Jesus Christ
  • a personal and daily relationship, if you will, with the ascended Lord Jesus
  • and this love for Jesus and belief in him has given us "an inexpressible and glorious joy"
  • have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that you literally are speechless?
  • Peter says here that our love for Christ and belief in him has given us a joy so profound that it's beyond the power of words to express
  • we might have to sing to really express it - words sure aren't going to do it alone

  • Peter says that our response to the Lord is so potent that we're already receiving the goal of our faith - the salvation of our souls
  • that's the Christian's experience, even in the middle of great suffering
  • a joy in the Lord that is so profound that it can't be expressed in words
  • that's the joy that Christ has given us - and that keeps us going even in the midst of difficulties
  • I love the words of G.K. Chesterton: "Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian"
  • and it's a secret that keeps us going in tough times

  • one more thing
  • TRUTH NUMBER FOUR (THAT WILL KEEP US GOING EVEN IN DIFFICULT TIMES): WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US IS TRULY AMAZING
  • I don't want you to miss verses 10 to 12, because they're verses that are incredible
  • (1 Peter 1:10) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care,
  • (1 Peter 1:11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
  • (1 Peter 1:12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

  • let's try to find out what Peter is saying
  • the Old Testament prophets received all sorts of revelation and insight, and it's recorded for us in the Old Testament
  • many times I think, "Wouldn't it be great to understand everything that the Old Testament prophets did?"
  • Peter says, "Wait a minute! The Old Testament prophets searched diligently for information about salvation, but no matter how intense their search or profound their vision, they only served a preliminary role in the plan of God"
  • "They were only preparing the world and God's people for a later time - and that time is now"
  • "It was their job to prepare for God's salvation in Christ. It's your job to enjoy it"
  • we have a tremendous privilege of enjoying salvation in this era - the privilege of living in the "A.D." rather than the "B.C."

  • but look what else Peter says in verse 12:
  • "Even angels long to look into these things."
  • both angels and people fell into sin
  • but Christ never died for angels
  • not one angel has been saved by grace through faith
  • the eternal destiny of an angel has never been transformed from death to life
  • and Peter reminds us that angels long to look into the amazing salvation that we often take for granted
  • as one translation puts it, "Don't you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!"
  • what an amazing salvation!

  • so I don't know what kind of a day you're having
  • I don't know what suffering is ahead in your life
  • but I know that God has given you everything to live for
  • why?
  • because he's given you a brand new life
  • he's given you a purpose in suffering
  • he's given you an inexpressible joy that comes from knowing Christ
  • indeed, what he's given you is truly amazing
  • let's pray

The Spirit Empowers (Zechariah 4:6-10)

  • please open your Bible to Zechariah 4, the second last book of the Old Testament

  • when I was just a child, I developed a tremendous respect for those engaged in God's service
  • at that time I thought mainly of pastors and vocational Christian workers like missionaries
  • I thought that it would be great to grow up and to become a pastor myself
  • as I grew, I shook off these childish notions
  • but eventually, as I graduated from school, I still felt God tugging at me
  • and so I enrolled in seminary
  • and today I believe I'm where I should be, doing what I should do, and I thank God for calling me as a pastor

  • on my graduation day, they gave me a piece of paper saying I had earned a degree
  • they had filled my head with knowledge, and I was ready to take on the world
  • on Sunday, June 23rd, I was ordained
  • on September 1, 1991, I began as a full-time pastor, and on July 2, 1998, I began as pastor of Richview Baptist Church

  • now think with me about my task
  • job description:
  • to preach and teach God's Word in such a way that individuals have their lives transformed and literally become new people
  • to evangelize so that hell-bound sinners repent and turn their lives around and come to trust in Christ as their Savior
  • to lead and provide spiritual direction for the church
  • to provide pastoral care for people
  • to equip them to use their spiritual gifts so that they can impact others for God

  • now, how was I going to accomplish these tasks?
  • was my seminary education enough to see lives transformed?
  • were the powers of eloquence and my exceptional charismatic personality going to impact people powerfully?
  • you can stop laughing now
  • you see, essentially I was and am powerless to accomplish the mission that God gave me
  • I can't lead sinners to repent
  • I don't have the ability to bring conviction to people
  • my speaking gifts are not sufficient to transform lives

  • now, this problem isn't just confined to me
  • let's talk about you
  • God has given us all a mission
  • it's not just pastors and vocational Christian workers who run up against these barriers
  • God has given us all the task of spreading his Word, of using our gifts, of impacting others with the love of God
  • who among us has the ability to do this?
  • the answer: no-one
  • that's why I say that the Christian life is not hard - it's impossible
  • there's no way that you and I can accomplish what God wants us to on our own

  • there's a passage in the Old Testament that relates to this, however
  • this passage has three lessons that give us the answer to this dilemma
  • the problem is basically this: how can we be useful to God despite our severe human limitations?
  • and this passage gives us the answer
  • Zechariah was a prophet and a priest, writing when the Jewish nation returned from exile
  • as they returned, they had a crucial task awaiting them: the rebuilding of the temple
  • God gives Zechariah a number of visions regarding this task, but the one I want us to look at is the fifth of eight visions, taking place probably around 519 BC, and it's found in Zechariah 4:6-10
  • and what applied to Zechariah and the rebuilding of the temple applies to us today
  • there are three lessons

  • the first lesson is this:
  • IT'S GOD'S POWER THAT'S IMPORTANT, NOT OURS
  • (Zechariah 4:6) So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.
  • God says to Zechariah, when the King Zerubbabel rebuilds the temple, he doesn't have the royal might and power that the original builders had, King David and King Solomon
  • there's an acknowledgement right off the bat that the human capabilities are lacking
  • but God says, "That's all right, because I'm not concerned about the power and the might you possess - the power of the Spirit is going to be enough"

  • now think about us
  • we don't have the human resources to defeat Satan
  • the Scriptures teach that Satan is our enemy, prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour
  • Satan is a deceiver and a liar, and he possesses powers enough to render our mission impossible
  • it's like what Martin Luther wrote in that great hymn, A Mighty Fortress:
  • For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe;
  • His craft and power are great, And armed with cruel hate
  • On earth is not his equal.
  • Did we in our own strength confide,
  • Our striving would be losing
  • Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God's own choosing

  • friends, left to ourselves, we would be defeated by Satan
  • our powers are no match for his
  • but it's not our power, it's God's power
  • it's not by might, nor by power, but by the empowering of the Holy Spirit
  • (2 Corinthians 10:4) The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
  • (2 Corinthians 10:5) We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

  • I love the old movies where a fight or a shoot-out is about to begin
  • and the referee comes out, opens up a case containing some guns, and says, "Gentlemen, choose your weapon"
  • I saw the second Crocodile Dundee movie almost ten years ago now
  • Dundee is walking down the street in New York with his girlfriend
  • some guy jumps out to rob them
  • one guy pulls out a knife and says, "Give me your money!"
  • Dundee's girlfriend cries, "Oh! He has a knife"
  • but Crocodile Dundee remains calm
  • he reaches back and pulls a huge knife, about five times the size of the robber's
  • and he says, "That's not a knife, this is a knife!"

  • when Jesus left this earth, he commissioned his disciples
  • (Acts 1:8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
  • Jesus said we would receive power - in the Greek, dunamis, from which we get the English word dynamite
  • the power to accomplish God's mission, which otherwise would be humanly impossible
  • it's the Holy Spirit difference
  • Tony Evans says that this power of the Holy Spirit creates a powerful people who have his powerful presence carrying out his powerful program
  • weak men who fled from Christ, spiritual weak-kneed wimps who ran when the going got tough, received power from the Holy Spirit
  • when they received power, they preached and thousands were saved
  • Acts 4:13 tells us that the Jewish authorities marveled at their courage
  • nothing could stop them
  • even after they were beaten and ordered to stop preaching, they went out and preached some more
  • where did they get this power?
  • from the Holy Spirit
  • the Spirit empowered the early Christians to work miracles as they proclaimed the Gospel
  • he gave power to the preaching of the early church so that when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they proclaimed the Word boldly and with great power

  • now listen to me
  • we too have been given the task of building God's kingdom
  • I needn't remind you that this task is humanly impossible
  • but as the Holy Spirit empowers us, we will receive more than adequate power to accomplish this task
  • (Zechariah 4:6) So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.

  • the second lesson from Zechariah 4 is this:
  • IT'S GOD'S POWER THAT REMOVES THE OBSTACLES, NOT OUR POWER
  • (Zechariah 4:7) "What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of 'God bless it! God bless it!'"
  • those who were going to rebuild the temple faced all sorts of obstacles, but God promised that he would open a way for them

  • this is not too different from what Jesus promised
  • (Luke 10:18) He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
  • (Luke 10:19) I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
  • (Luke 10:20) However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
  • as we minister, God does away with the spiritual opposition that hinders us
  • God removes the obstacles

  • God even overcomes the obstacles of our own inability
  • when God called Moses to rescue his people out of Egypt, Moses protested:
  • (Exodus 4:10) Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue."
  • but God replied:
  • (Exodus 4:11) "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
  • (Exodus 4:12) Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

  • I had lunch with a pastor friend the other day
  • God is blessing his ministry
  • the preaching of the Word has been powerful in his ministry
  • they were joking the other week that they ought to put tissues in the pews, because almost every week people were being moved to tears by the proclamation of the Word
  • people pray before the service that a "God-moment" would take place
  • you know, a moment in the service where God breaks in and everyone knows that he is working
  • and my pastor friend said to me, "It's not my eloquence, it's not what I say - it's God working"
  • what God is doing is overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way

  • as we serve God, as we accomplish the mission that he has given us, we minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and he's the one that removes the obstacles
  • he enables us to overcome spiritual opposition to the preaching of the Gospel

  • a third and final lesson is found in this passage
  • and it's this
  • GOD REJOICES OVER OUR WORK
  • (Zechariah 4:10) "Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. "(These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range throughout the earth.)"
  • it turns out that some who saw the original temple thought that the rebuilt temple was insignificant
  • to the eyes of men, the temple project was just a small thing, but to the eyes of God, it was a source of great joy

  • God delights in using small things
  • Warren Wiersbe points out that God used
  • Moses' rod (Exodus 4:2)
  • David's sling ( Samuel 17)
  • a jawbone (Judges 15:15)
  • a hammer and a tent peg (Judges 4:17-24)
  • a piece of rope (Joshua 2:15-21)
  • a basket (Acts 9:23-25)
  • loaves and fish (John 6:9)
  • a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42)
  • and even mud (John 9:6-7)
  • who has despised the day of small things?
  • God loves to use small things
  • because when the Spirit empowers small things, there's no telling what will happen

  • I don't know what small abilities you have
  • but I know that if you are a believer, you have received a spiritual gift
  • speaking of spiritual gifts, the apostle Paul writes:
  • (1 Corinthians 12:11) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
  • when we use our spiritual gifts, even if we consider them to be small, we are showing the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit
  • God delights in using small things

  • I need to say that we should never seek the Holy Spirit's power for our own ends
  • some people talk about harnessing the power of the Holy Spirit
  • the Spirit's power cannot be harnessed
  • his power cannot be used to accomplish anything other than the Father's will
  • but the power of the Holy Spirit is given for a specific reason - to enable us to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ
  • but God promises his Spirit to enable and empower us to accomplish the task he has left us

  • I can't transform lives
  • I can't convict people
  • I can't be an effective pastor on my own strength
  • we aren't very powerful
  • we don't have the abilities and the boldness necessary to turn the world upside down with the truth of the Gospel
  • but that's all right
  • because God says, "It's not by your might, it's not by your power, it's by my Spirit"
  • and God removes the obstacles and turns our small gifts into wonderful things that can be used to please him

  • would you pray with me that God would empower us?
  • (Ephesians 3:20) Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
  • (Ephesians 3:21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The Pastor's Most Valuable Player

  • I want to pause and enjoy this moment
  • it's a unique moment never to be repeated
  • so far I haven't preached a boring sermon as your pastor - although that could change within the hour
  • I haven't made any grievous mistakes yet as your pastor
  • in short, I'm really enjoying this moment, because there won't be many more like it

  • I want to tell you how overjoyed we are to be here
  • we trust that God will develop within our hearts a unique love for each other, and that he will do great things by his power in and through Richview Baptist Church

  • Stan Toler recently wrote a little book entitled, You Might Be a Preacher If...
  • and I thought I would read a few of them for you
  • You might be a preacher if you've ever received an anonymous U-Haul gift certificate.
  • You might be a preacher if you've ever dreamed that you were preaching, only to awaken and discover you were.
  • You might be a preacher if you find yourself counting people at a sporting event.
  • You might be a preacher if you're leading the church into the 21st century, but don't know what you're preaching on Sunday.
  • You might be a preacher if you ever wanted to wish people Merry Christmas at Easter, because that's the next time you're going to see them.
  • You might be a preacher you've ever wanted to give the soundman a bit of feedback of your own.
  • You might be a preacher if you've ever walked up to the counter at the Dairy Queen and ordered a church split.

  • and I'll read one more to you, because it leads us where we're going, and where most pastors have been at one point
  • You might be a preacher if you've written a letter of resignation on Monday morning.
  • leadership today is tougher than ever before, and it's no different in the ministry
  • an anti-authoritarian atmosphere pervades the world and the church
  • people distrust leaders
  • on top of that, we're exposed to tapes, books, seminars, and television productions of pastors who are all better than we are
  • and not only that, consumerism has entered the church
  • if we don't like what we find in one church, we just bail out and go to another
  • I don't think any pastor is going to find it easy in the ministry

  • I need your help, and I need it desperately
  • I began to ask myself this past week, who is the pastor's most valuable player?
  • what type of help do I need?
  • I began to list people
  • I thought, "Maybe it's the giver"
  • I can think of times in my ministry when the church faced enormous financial pressure, and certain people could always be counted on to come forward and give sacrificially, beyond anyone's expectation

  • and then I thought, "No, maybe it's someone like Bill - a man who became my friend, and influenced my last congregation to support the pastor, and to get behind me and encourage me"
  • in every church, there's an influencer, and I began to think that this could be the pastor's most valuable player

  • and then I began to think about the supporters I had in my church
  • those who extended encouragement and support

  • then I thought, maybe it's not these people, but the person who you don't see a lot, but they're faithful
  • day in and day out, they're there, quietly behind the scenes doing what needs to be done

  • and then I thought, no, maybe the most valuable person is the gifted person
  • someone who could use their spiritual gifts to bless the entire body
  • they have the gift of teaching, or music, and their gifts are enjoyed by many

  • and then I thought, no, maybe it's the worker
  • that person who every week rolls up their sleeves and teaches their Sunday School class, or ushers, or who serves on that committee year after year

  • I began to go through this list
  • and as I thought of all the players on the team, I feel blessed
  • there are many important and crucial members of the team, and all of them are valuable
  • but I've come to the conclusion that the most valuable player for the pastor is not any of these people
  • but the pastor's most valuable player is the man or woman who comes alongside the pastor and becomes the pastor's prayer partner

  • the year: 30 AD
  • the city: Jerusalem
  • the evangelist: an untutored fisherman: Peter
  • yet the secret of that day of 3,000 people being converted was that they had spent time in prayer
  • you see, in Acts 2, they prayed for 10 days, he preached for 10 minutes, and 3,000 people were saved
  • today, churches pray for 10 minutes, preach for 10 days, and 3 people get saved

  • the year: the 1700's
  • the place: India
  • the missionary: William Carey
  • a shoe-repair man; a cobbler
  • he looked at a map, and under great opposition left England for India
  • he translated the Bible into 25 different Indian translations, and became the father of modern missions
  • what was the secret of his great work?
  • he had a sister; a crippled, bedridden sister, and everyday he wrote to her and shared his prayer concerns and heartbreaks, and she interceded on his behalf
  • that was the secret of his great work

  • the year: 1830
  • the place: Rochester, New York
  • the preacher: Charles Finney
  • the place: Rochester, New York
  • in one year, out of 10,000 people, 10% or 1,000 people were saved
  • the secret? Finney's prayer partner, Abel Clary
  • "Mr. Clary continued as long as I did," Finney wrote, "and did not leave until after I had left. He never appeared in public, but gave himself wholly to prayer"

  • the year: 1872
  • the evangelist: an obscure YMCA worker named D.L. Moody
  • in just ten days, 400 new converts came into the church where he was preaching
  • the secret? in London, a bedridden girl, Marianne Adlard, had read a clipping about Moody's ministry in Chicago, and prayed that God would send him to her church, and interceded for him while he was there

  • they year: 1934
  • the place: Charlotte, North Carolina
  • many people in Charlotte were deeply moved, including a farmer's son named Billy Graham, who was converted
  • the secret: several businessmen, along with Billy Graham's father, had spent a day at the Graham farm praying that God would touch their city, their state, and their world
  • little did they know that Billy would be saved, and it would literally change the world

  • the year: 1949
  • the place: Los Angeles, California
  • the evangelist now: Billy Graham
  • the results: an extended campaign that resulted in a change to mass evangelism
  • Graham had held many similar events with smaller results
  • the only difference between the L.A. crusade and all the others that had gone before it had been the amount of prayer he and his people had given it

  • somebody has said that leadership determines the direction of the church
  • structure determines the size of the church
  • relationships determine the moral
  • the personnel determine the potential of the church
  • but prayer determines the effectiveness of the church

  • I want to share with you four reasons why leaders need prayer
  • the setting is Exodus 17
  • it's the story of Moses and the battle against the Amalekites

  • REASON NUMBER ONE WHY LEADERS NEED PRAYER: GODLY LEADERS COME UNDER ATTACK
  • we all understand that
  • Satan watches for the right time to attack leaders
  • and usually he attacks them after a victory, or when they get physically tired
  • the story in Exodus 17, if you recall, is the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness
  • and they began to get thirsty, and complained to Moses
  • (Exodus 17:1) The whole Israelite com munity set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
  • (Exodus 17:2) So they quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses replied, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?"
  • (Exodus 17:3) But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?"
  • (Exodus 17:4) Then Moses cried out to the LORD, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me."

  • Moses was a great leader
  • but Moses was tired and weary, leading these people around in circles in the wilderness
  • if you study Moses' life, you see that he often got angry at the people
  • we also read that God also became angry with the people
  • do you ever wander what would happen if Moses and God got angry on the same day?
  • you know the story: Moses struck the rock, and water came gushing out
  • (Exodus 17:7) And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

  • and when did the Amalekites attack?
  • at a time of quarreling and contention
  • it reminds me of when Satan attacked our Lord
  • (Luke 4:13) When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
  • the evil one knows when to attack leaders
  • godly leaders come under attack, and that's why they need your prayer

  • REASON NUMBER TWO WHY LEADERS NEED PRAYER: GODLY LEADERS ARE TO INSPIRE AND TO LEAD THE PEOPLE
  • in order to do this, you need others to come along and support you
  • read verse 9:
  • (Exodus 17:9) Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands."
  • you might ask why Moses had to sit on a hill with the staff in his hand
  • two reasons: to see the people, and have insight into the battle
  • but also so that he could offer inspiration
  • in the middle of the battle, Joshua and the people could look up and see Moses interceding for the people
  • Moses understood the importance of leadership
  • he understood the maxim: "Speed of the leader; speed of the team"
  • the people can go no further than their leader has gone
  • and if the pastors and spiritual leaders of a church falter, the church will falter
  • if Satan can defeat the leaders of a church, he can often defeat the church itself

  • that's why leaders need prayer, because they set the pace, and inspire and lead the people

  • REASON NUMBER THREE WHY LEADERS NEED PRAYER: LEADERS ARE HUMAN
  • the Bible teaches us that Moses had to drop his hands because his hands became heavy
  • he didn't have the physical stamina to keep it up
  • verse twelve tells us that Moses' hands became tired, and even though he wanted to hold up his hands to intercede for the people, he lacked the strength to do so

  • you already know that pastors are human, and therefore they're limited
  • our responsibilities are exceedingly heavy; no man or woman is capable of the task
  • Hebrews 13:17 says of spiritual leaders:
  • (Hebrews 13:17 NLT) Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God.
  • no one is equal to this task

  • let me be honest and tell you up front that somewhere along the line, I'm going to disappoint you
  • why should you be different from everyone else in my life?
  • I've let my mother down
  • I've let my wife down
  • I've let God down
  • and as a human being, there are going to be times that I let you down
  • which is why I'm asking for your prayer

  • listen to some of the struggles that pastors have
  • according to a 1991 survey of pastors, 75% of pastors report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 90% of pastors feel that they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 70% say that they have a lower self-image than when they started in the ministry
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 33% confess having been involved in some inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
  • and 70% of pastors do not have somebody they consider a close friend

  • when I read those statistics, I ask what would happen if these pastors had a prayer partner?
  • people to pray for their moral purity; for their protection; for their spiritual life
  • what would happen in Canada if every pastor had a lay person come alongside of them to pray and intercede on their behalf?

  • REASON NUMBER FOUR WHY LEADERS NEED PRAYER: GODLY LEADERS PLUS PRAYER PARTNERS MEAN VICTORY
  • (Exodus 17:10) So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.
  • (Exodus 17:11) As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
  • (Exodus 17:12) When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up - one on one side, one on the other - so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
  • (Exodus 17:13) So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
  • these people seized the moment, and together they shared the victory
  • Aaron and Hur stood by Moses' side and held up his arms to ensure victory against Amalek
  • we need to "lift up the hands" of our spiritual leaders as well
  • shoulder some responsibility; lend a word of encouragement; offer a prayer for them

  • I thank God for this church
  • I am asking you to pray for your pastors
  • I am humbled and honored to serve you in this way
  • but I know that to be effective I need your prayers
  • you know my weaknesses; I know my weaknesses; now all we can do is go to God and ask him to bless our church in spite of who I am

  • I'm going to close by challenging you with words from a ministry called "Prayer Partner"
  • Who is the "MVP"? The pastor's most valuable player is not the financial giver, the influencer, the worker, the loyal church member or even the most talented singer. The pastor's MVP is the PASTOR'S PRAYER PARTNER. Knowing that the most valuable influencers in the church are the prayer partners, [we have] committed to seeing over 1,000,000 Pastor's Prayer Partners raised up all over the world.
  • In these final years before the new millennium, a significant spiritual movement is underway - an effort to enlist one million Christians to pray for their pastor. The members of this unique, all-volunteer army agree to pray continually and specifically for those who shepherd God's flock. This is without question one of the most exciting, important endeavors ever undertaken and its results are certain to be far-reaching.
  • Will you be the one? Will you become your pastor's Most Valuable Player? Would you commit to pray for your pastor for one year? If you will make this exciting, strategic commitment, please let us know of your decision.
  • let's close in prayer
adapted from a message by John Maxwell (www.equiporg.org)