Sermon Blog

an interactive blog from winona lake grace brethren church

Sharing. Acts 4:32-37

August 21, 2018

My garage collects stuff.  In fact, it collects so much stuff that I usually can’t even park a car in it, defeating its whole purpose.  So, just this morning, I cleaned it out.  I put tools and garden implements back where they belonged, I threw stuff away, I stacked wood, and I moved a bunch of seldom-used items back to the shed.  I could actually park a car in the garage tonight, but I probably won’t because I’m so out of the habit.

I spent half my day sorting and organizing stuff that all my neighbors own as well: lawn mowers, weed eaters, wheelbarrows, fertilizer spreaders, rakes, shovels, hedge clippers, chain saws, socket wrenches, watering cans, extension cords, bicycles, etc.

According to Acts 4 the first believers in Jerusalem “shared everything they had.”  Why don’t we?

At least half of the people in my neighborhood attend our church.  I’m absolutely sure that any one of them would let me use anything of theirs that I needed…if I asked.  I just rarely ask.

So, it’s not that we can’t or won’t share; it’s just that we don’t…not much anyway.  Why is that?

Could it be that, in our affluence, we’ve become rather more comfortable with independence?  Do we value self-reliance over sharing?  Do we dislike any sense of dependence?  Do we measure our worth by what we own?  Do we care more about the condition of our possessions than the needs of others?  Are we that concerned about the economy?  Do we fear sharing is a slippery slope into communism?  Are we too proud to state our needs?  Are we too satisfied to perceive the needs of others?

I don’t know.

From the text, it appears that one way God’s grace and love are evidenced in our community is through sharing and meeting needs: “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”  Where God’s grace and love are at work, people hold loosely to their possession and tightly to each other…and most tightly to Jesus.

What can you share or give away this week to help another?

KC

 

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Genuinely Love, Acts 9:32-42   

August 20, 2018

There are two radically different perspectives on subjects like disasters, hardships, illness, even death. In today’s reading we see the miraculous healing of two who suffered, one with paralysis, the other who was sick and died. The Apostle Peter told paralyzed Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you,” and simply instructed him to “Get up and roll up your mat.” The result was instantaneous healing. Praise God!

In another town, disciples of Jesus were mourning the death of Tabitha (Dorcas), who was a respected and loved follower of Jesus. They begged Peter to do something about it. And he did—or rather God through Peter did. Again, the command was simple, “Tabitha, get up.” And she did! Praise God!

These miracles were no doubt cause for rejoicing among the friends of Aeneas and Tabitha, and certainly they were life-transforming for the two who were restored to life and health. Perhaps, more importantly, their healings were the occasion for many to come to faith in the Great Healer, Jesus (vv. 35, 42).

Surely, these two believers, who were miraculously restored to health, would rejoice and forever express their love for Jesus. Their love for him, in part, no doubt, was the result of the new-found well being. But, what about those prayers for the sick and suffering that don’t result in healing? What about those times when the troubles and disasters we encounter don’t bring God’s relief?

It may be difficult to offer praise to God and express our love for him when we’re in physical pain, or under the pressure of a business failure, or caring for the seemingly unending suffering of a loved one. Why doesn’t God answer our pleas for relief? What purpose could he have in allowing the distress to continue?

There are numerous examples of Christians who continued to praise God and serve him in the midst of almost intolerable suffering. Fanny Crosby, the blind but prolific hymn writer and author Margaret Clarkson, who suffered severe life-long pain, are two who come to mind.

We don’t need to look any further than our own church family to see the continuing grace of God in the faithfulness of men and women who are experiencing long-term illnesses or physical limitations. They are a witness to us, as they endure their difficulties without complaining, always reflecting the joy of the Lord. We also see God’s grace demonstrated in the lives of those who lovingly serve as caregivers—often sacrificing more than any of us will ever know.

No doubt, the clearest example faithful endurance, apart from Jesus, is the Apostle Paul. His experience stresses the importance of accepting God’s plan and purpose with joy. He suffered an unknown “thorn in the flesh,” which he not only accepted but boasted about. He wrote: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT) How could he say that? Because God said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (v. 8).

There are hard lessons to learn in the Christian life, but our positive responses to those apparent paradoxes are what bring peace, strength, and joy to the believer and glory to God. They include: experiencing God’s grace through adversity, learning patience through tribulation, having ultimate “healing” through illness, and entering God’s glory through death.

Rather than begging to be freed from the difficulties of life, perhaps it would be best to seek God’s purpose in it all and to continue to love him genuinely. (Romans 8:28-29)

JBD, 8/20/18

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Out of the Dust of the Earth: Luke 18:9-14; 21:1-4

August 17, 2018

Dirt is amazing. Put a watermelon seed in dirt, and somehow that little “squirt” (if it doesn’t squirt out of your fingers) will become a plant. If all goes well, a watermelon or two will appear on the vine and grow big, red, and juicy. Remarkably, watermelon contains vitamins A, B, C, plus potassium—and a generous amount of the antioxidant lycopene—all from dirt!

Or plant a kernel of corn and watch it grow tall with multiple ears of corn (hopefully) and hundreds of kernels. Somehow, when you chomp into that ear of corn (make sure it’s sweetcorn, not field-corn), you will not only taste sweetness, but get magnesium, potassium, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Or plant a tiny red bell pepper seed: those pretty red peppers will not only give you a big dose of vitamin C, but beta carotene, folate, and fiber too. Amazing! And it’s the same simple, humble dirt.

Now, as Nate Bosch noted in an essay in GraceConnect magazine, the Creator God planned creation to teach important lessons. I think that’s a significant insight. So what might be the lessons from dirt?

Out of something as humble as dirt can come the most beautiful fruit. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Humility before God is the soil where the seed of worship and obedience takes root
  • Humility in the presence of the poor and needy is soil where the seed of generosity takes root
  • Humility when things aren’t going our way is soil where the seed of patience takes root
  • Humility among Bible-believing Christians is soil where the seed of unity takes root.

But is it possible to become as humble as dirt? Probably the best way—is to walk in others’ shoes.

  • What if we tried walking in God’s shoes? Note how God quizzed Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place? Do you have an arm like God’s and can your voice thunder like his?” [For more of God’s questions, read chapters 38-41 of Job.] The point is, when we realize how GREAT God is, we are speechless, humbled, and in awe. And therein is the foundation for worship and obedience.
  • What if we tried walking in the shoes of the poor and needy? Remarkably, Jesus did that. We might expect the King of all kings to have hung out with the upper echelons of society. But the Messiah had no time for royalty. Instead, in abject humility, Jesus walked in the shoes of publicans and sinners, of widows, of prostitutes, and of other disenfranchised people. He ate with them. He allowed them to wash his feet. He gave his life for them. It was amazing grace, even while taking heat for it.
  • What if we tried walking in the shoes of other Christians? Sincere Bible-believing Christians have different ways of practicing baptism and communion and have different views about prophecy, etc. But if we agree on the defining doctrines of the Christian faith, we ought to be humble about our differences and distinctives, and be obedient in practicing unity in the body of Christ.

APPLICATION: Regarding God, we need daily reminders that we can’t walk in those big shoes. (After all, He created us out of the measly dust of the earth.) Regarding Jesus, we do need to walk in His humble sandals. Regarding the poor and needy, we may actually need to walk without shoes.

Our tendency, however, is not to walk in anyone else’s shoes. We enjoy our privileged lifestyle and entitlements. We’re comfortable just as we are. We prefer schmoozing with the upper echelons of society, living in the fast lane, going on posh vacations, etc. But that is not the way of humility. Jesus shocked his audience when he said, “I tell you that this man [a humble tax collector] went home justified before God” (Luke 18:14). The question is, Will we learn the lesson from the dirt of humility?

~ DBS

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CHARACTER & CIRCUMSTANCES, Luke 9:18-26

August 16, 2018

In the midst of difficult times it is God’s character that defines our circumstances.  Our circumstances never define God’s character. Whatever comes our way has first passed through His goodness and will one day pass also through His judgement. What we know of God defines how we respond to the varying circumstances that we come across in this life. Luke 9:18-26 tells us that while Jesus was praying, he asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus didn’t ask this question because He was unaware of Who He was or what He came to do. He asked because the disciples needed to know. Often when my circumstances change, for better or worse, I hear in the depths of my heart “Who do you say that I am?” Knowing who my Jesus is and what He did for me ultimately changes how I view the situations I face. It doesn’t mean they somehow become easier.  It means my perspective changes, so that regardless of the chaos that ensues around me, I have peace.

Jesus goes on to say “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The disciples didn’t need an explanation of what this meant.  They understood the weight with which Jesus spoke those words. They knew about crucifixion. They understood that before one was hung on a cross he carried his cross. This was reality for them, not simply a painting on a cathedral wall or a flannel graph in Sunday school. They knew that the cross was a one way street. Once you picked up your cross you never came back.

“Who do you say that I am?” We answer this question daily in the way that we live and in what we believe. Our words, our actions, and our thoughts declare who we believe He is. What have you declared about Him today? What do you know of the character of your God? You can face your cross today knowing that He is good, and because He is good He will walk with you and give you the strength you need to pick up your cross daily. And as others watch you carry your cross they will know who you say He is.

-CCT

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How Shall We Live?   Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:9-13

August 15, 2018

Not long after the shameful incident of worshiping the golden calf, God was in conversation with Moses and said, “The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished . . . “ (Exodus 34:6-7)

Jesus showed mercy to tax collectors and sinners. They needed it. We need it! Paul Tripp said, “If God offered us only justice, no one would run to him. It is the knowledge of his mercy that makes us honestly face ourselves and gladly run to him.”

Justice and mercy. Truth and grace. When these attributes flow from a heart of humility, they will be more pure and be executed more wisely. How else would we know what a person really needs when we see them fail over and over again? A confrontation seasoned with arrogance is not seeking justice with love, nor is allowing a brother or sister to continue in blatant sin a way to show God’s mercy.

I’ve done some research on alleviating poverty, which is a controversial and highly misunderstood topic. Giving people what they actually need in order to become responsible citizens rather than enabling people to become dependent on handouts, is to think seriously about justice and mercy.

Closer to home, as we get to know each other in ABFs or Life Groups,  listen to prayer requests, and enter into the struggles of friends, we desire to offer godly encouragement minus platitudes or unsolicited advice. People pleasers want to give the warm fuzzies, whereas steamrollers appear to care about outcomes rather than feelings. Is obedience customized according to personalities?!

How shall we live? We look continually and humbly to our Savior who came from the Father, full of both grace and truth. It takes a lot of prayer to seek His wisdom in order to live as salt and light for the duration of our dual citizenship.

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The Cost of Sacrifice, 2 Samuel 24

August 14, 2018

This passage starts off with a head-scratcher.  The NIV translation has God inciting David against Israel and commanding him to take a census.  Strange.  We know God doesn’t command anyone to sin, and taking a census of the fighting men was an act of pride and a lack of trust.  So what is going on here?

Well, for starters, the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles has Satan inciting David to number Israel.   So, it could be one of those instances where God in his sovereignty allowed Satan to tempt David.

Also, in the original language there is no subject for the verb “incited” in 2 Samuel 24:1.  The NASB simply says, “…it incited David.”  Was it God?  Was it the anger of God towards the people?  Was it David’s own prideful imagination?  Was it the Devil?  In light of the rest of the Bible, the last two options seem the most likely; although God sovereignly uses even man’s sin to accomplish his judgment.

But that’s not what this blog entry is about.

We’re focusing on worship.  What has this passage got to do with worship?

David knew he had sinned against God in taking a census.  He throws himself on the mercy of God.  It’s better to be punished by a just God who is also good and gracious than to be punished by wicked men.  David was right about God.  In his justice, God did allow a plague to strike the people.  However, in his mercy God spared Jerusalem from destruction.

Part of the reason for God calling off the angel of destruction was David’s confession.  David owned up to his sin and asked that the punishment might fall on him rather than on his people, whose shepherd he was.  Later the Good Shepherd, who knew no sin, would actually take upon himself the just punishment of God against all our sin.

Some believe “the threshing floor of Araunah,” the very spot where the angel of destruction stopped, was the same place where Abraham went to offer Isaac.  Remember, God didn’t allow Abraham’s knife to come down on Isaac but instead provided a substitute.  God showed mercy.

The prophet Gad told David to offer a sacrifice to God on that spot, to thank God for his mercy.  Araunah was willing to give David the land, but David famously responded: “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

Later, Solomon’s temple would be built on this spot.

Much later, the sacrifice that brings us peace with God would take place just a stone’s throw away.  That sacrifice cost God everything, because that sacrifice was himself—Jesus Christ.

We no longer make burnt offerings.  The sacrifice God requires is a living one—our whole lives.  Worship is the surrender of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus.  That does not come without cost.  But who better to entrust our lives to than the One who gave himself for us?  He is merciful and gracious.  Whatever it costs us to give our lives for him will be totally worth it.

Have you put yourself on the altar today?

 

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Worship, a one-act play, Luke 7:36-50

August 13, 2018

The cast

Simon, a Pharisee, the host

Jesus, a special dinner guest

A sinful woman

Dinner guests

The scene

A dinner in a Pharisee’s home

An uninvited guest (the sinful woman) interrupts the dinner

The action

During dinner, an uninvited woman enters the room; first, she merely stands behind Jesus, weeping. She begins to wash his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing them, and pouring perfume on them.

The astonished host thinks to himself that his special guest, who is reputed to be a learned rabbi and miracle-worker, should surely recognize the woman for who she is—a known sinner. Surely, he would reject her advances.

Jesus answers the host’s unspoken question by posing a scenario that illustrates the nature and depth of forgiveness. Further, he contrasts the host’s failure to provide the customary welcoming ritual of the time with the loving actionof the uninvited guest.

The climax

Having opened the minds of the host and guests to the significance of human mercy, Jesus demonstrates the reality of God’s mercy, declaring to the weeping woman that her sins are forgiven.

The denouement

The guests wonder who this Jesus is and how he can forgive sins.

The lessons

The greater the sin, the greater the gratitude for being forgiven.
An important aside: God’s forgiveness, no matter the sin, is at the infinite cost of the sacrifice of Jesus.
Lovingly washing Jesus’ feet was an outward demonstration of a changed heart of humility and repentance, hence Jesus’ response of mercy and forgiveness.
Genuine worship will be lived out in loving actions of devotion.
Such actions may arouse the curiosity and interest of others.
Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others (John 13:35).

JBD, 8/13/18

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Examining Our Hearts, 1 Corinthians 11:27-34

August 9, 2018

When studying the book of 1st Corinthians at a Bible school my professor shared a story that I think can help us put 1st Corinthians 11 into perspective. A young lieutenant serving in Vietnam was sent to lead new recruits into battle. Despite his best attempts to keep his men safe one ultimately fell behind and was severely wounded. Those who fought beside him could hear his cries of pain from the trenches but knew that any attempt to save him would mean almost certain death. However, the young lieutenant crawled out to bring him back to safety. While the retrieval was successful the lieutenant later succumbed to his injuries. He gave his life to save another.

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 Paul is calling on the members of the Corinth church to examine their hearts before taking the bread and the cup and to respect their brothers and sisters in Christ. There was a lack of love and respect among the believers in Corinth and a lack of reverence for the Lord. This is not something we are immune to. We as believers often allow selfishness and disrespect to create disunity within the body of Christ. We can also lose our reverence and respect for the Lord as we allow aspects of our faith such as worship, fellowship, and communion to fall into a ritual that becomes more important than the body of Christ. When we allow practice to take the place of a relationship we end up with a religion, not a close walk in relationship with our eternal God. While He is invested in and interested in a deep and personal walk with us we cannot lose our reverence and respect for Him as our Almighty God and Creator. Sometimes we need to take a step back and examine our hearts before we go any further.

The young lieutenant’s family learned that the man he rescued was close by and invited him to dinner so they could meet the man their son gave his life for. That man did come to dinner. Drunk. And despite their every effort the lieutenant’s mother cried “To think that our precious son had to die for somebody like that!” Where is your heart today? Do you show respect and love for your Abba’s heart in caring for His children as He has cared for you? Jesus gave His life for yours. How will that change your life today

-CCT

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Blessed, to Bless   1 Corinthians 11:23-26

August 8, 2018

In anticipation of celebrating Communion this coming Sunday my mind went to a chapter in Ann Voskamp’s book, one thousand gifts, (Zondervan, 2010). After sharing in the bread and cup and washing the feet of friends at a Ladies Bible Study, Mrs. Voskamp returned home to complete the communion service with service to her husband and six children. As she looked into a splattered mirror in a room piled with dirty laundry, she whispered to herself, “Here you can enact eucharisteo; here you can become a current in a river of grace that redeems the world . . . . Oh God use these hands, these feet to be Your love; a love that goes on and on and on . . . .”

Also in that chapter the author tells a story of going with a youth group to an inner city mission. It is more gripping if read in its entirety, but in short, they were confronted on the street by a wild-looking homeless man wearing a grimy clown mask. He yelled at them and frightened the teens. Then he pulled out a dog-eared Gideon Bible, peeled off his mask, and asked one of the girls to read aloud Romans 7 and 8. He had these chapters memorized! Voskamp said, “This man whose cerebellum was scalded with fraudulent relief, knew God-words that branded deeper, right into his core.” As Romans 7:24 was being read the man wailed, “What a wretched man I am.” Those words said who he was. Who we were. “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Do we ever come to The Table still wearing a mask? Do we fully embrace the deep significance of what we’re commemorating during a Communion service? Is there a sweet-smelling savor that testifies of our sincere gratitude for salvation? Though we don’t celebrate three-fold Communion every week like some denominations do, every day God’s mercy allows us to be in communion with Him so we can reflect Him and be a blessing in our interactions with others.

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Love Feast? 1 Corinthians 11:17-22

August 7, 2018

How many business meetings in churches have ended up doing more harm than good?  I don’t want to know the number.

It’s bad enough when business meetings get divisive, but it’s really discouraging when communion (the word means fellowship!) devolves into disorder and division.  This is what was happening in Corinth.

You can cut Paul’s sarcasm with a knife when he comments on the divisions between them at communion: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”  What Paul really meant was, “With such selfish, inconsiderate, divisive behavior, NONE of you have God’s approval!  Are you kidding me?”

In the previous chapter Paul had said, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”  In other words, no matter who we are–rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, master or slave–we all get our spiritual nourishment from the same source, namely, Jesus.  In dying on the cross for us, Christ shared his life with everyone.  All who come to him in faith, no matter who they are, share in his life.  Communion reminds us of the fact that Jesus shared his life with us so that we as the church can share together in his life.  Communion is about sharing.

Sharing is exactly what wasn’t happening in Corinth.  Food was not being shared.  Some stuffed their faces and then washed it down with so much wine that they got drunk while others sat empty-handed and watched, stomachs growling.  By these selfish, inconsiderate actions those who had plenty humiliated those who didn’t have much or anything.  Thus, the whole point of communion was completely lost.  So Paul summarily says, “What you’re celebrating is not the Lord’s Supper.”  In fact, what they were doing “despised” the church of God.  In other words, they were terribly misrepresenting Christ!

I feel a tinge of outrage when I read this passage.  How could they?!  How dare they?!

Then I remember a ministerium meeting I once attended (in another state…really) where I thought for sure the pastors were going to start slugging each other.  I remember being in a business meeting in a church where a former elder stomped out angrily over some secondary issue and never again returned.

How hard it is to get over ourselves and learn to love each other as Christ loved us.  May God, who shared his grace with us, give us the power to share with others.  How will you do that today?

KC

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