Sermon Blog

an interactive blog from winona lake grace brethren church

The Church Unleashed Acts 1:1-11

February 4, 2019

Have you ever read the Bible just as an example of great literature? It has some of the most intriguing literary devices (like alphabetic poems), stories of unbelievable miracles, and exciting drama. Sometimes we those sight of those features because we’re looking for the more important spiritual truths and life-transforming principles of faith and conduct.

Take dramatic scenes, for example. How about when the prophet Nathan addressed King David after a sinful episode in his life? (2 Samuel 12:1-7) Using an analogy to approach the subject, he fearlessly addresses the ruler of the nation and says, “Thou art the man!” (I like the Shakespearean sound of that in the King James Bible.) Or what about that scary experience in John 20 when the disciples are in a closed room after the crucifixion, fearing for their own safety and Jesus suddenly appears?

Well, there’s another dramatic event in today’s Bible reading from Acts 1. The disciples are asking Jesus about the promised kingdom, and he turns their attention to the more important issue of the current time: making disciples. He instructs them to be his witnesses to the ends of the known world (verse 8). And then, he disappears! No wonder, the two men dressed in white ask them, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? I imagine they were standing there with their mouths hanging open, wondering what had just happened. Talk about drama!

But, hey, let’s not miss the point. Though it is a literary masterpiece, the Bible is far more than that. It is the inspired revealing of God’s truth. As much as the disciples, we need to see beyond the mere event to the challenge that was given to them (and us).

A few observations from this chapter:

The Jesus who was taken up is the “same Jesus . . . [who] will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.
More important than knowing the time of his return is understanding the task of the church until then.
That task—being his witnesses—can be accomplished only in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the very next chapter of Luke’s history of the birth and expansion of the church the Spirit falls upon 120 disciples, and multitudes hear Peter’s sermon after which 3000 converts were baptized, and the promised church was launched.

What are we in the 21st century to learn from these miraculous 1stcentury events? It’s pretty much the same as the previous observations. Jesus is coming again, but he left important work for the church to do—disciple-making, and though that work must be pursued by human believers, it is the Holy Spirit who will produce the fruit as a result of the faithful witness of the church.

Acts is only the first chapter in the long history of the church. A lot has changed in the world with technological advances that would seem miraculous to the early Christians. But the need of the world and the dynamic solution to that need remains the same. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and we have the privilege/responsibility to carry that message and train up others to continue the task: making disciples who make disciples . . .​​​​​​​​jbd 2/4/19

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The Triangle of Transforming Discipleship: Ephesians 5:1-6:4

February 1, 2019

A well-known attorney prosecuted many cases successfully, invested millions in a lavish home, and wrote several best-selling books. That’s the good news—sort of. But the rest of the story, well, is bad news. His wife divorced him, two of his sons went to prison with life sentences, and his daughter committed suicide.

 

Lonely on his death bed, the lawyer admitted, “I now see that I invested my life in all the wrong things. I’d gladly lose every case I prosecuted; I’d live in a simple, little home; I’d not write a single book . . . if only I could have my family back. I feel like a total failure.”

 

What does that say to us? Maybe, an apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree? Parents whose priorities are skewed shouldn’t be surprised to have offspring whose values are equally skewed or worse. To be a good parent, you have to be a good role model.

 

The rule of thumb works for discipleship too: our efforts at discipleship are not going to be successful unless, first of all, we’re on a journey ourselves toward holiness. Hypocrites don’t make disciples. They make more hypocrites.

 

Paul’s flow of thought in the verses for today move from instructions for life to instructions for relationships to instructions for the home. Here’s a quick list of the instructions for life:

Be imitators of God
Live a life of love
Live as children of light, producing goodness, righteous, truth
Find out what pleases the Lord
Make the most of every opportunity
Understand what the Lord’s will is
Be filled with the Spirit
Always give thanks for everything
(Note that Paul’s gives instructions of things not to do, which, though not listed here, are equally important.)

 

Next come instructions for relationships:

Encourage one another in word and song
Submit to one another

 

Third, Paul provides instructions regarding families: husbands, wives, parents, and children (see 5:22-6:4).

 

Maybe it would be helpful to visualize what Paul is saying as a triangle. God is at the top, worthy of our utmost devotion. At the bottom, one corner is friends; the other corner is family. Each of us is on the horizontal line between family and friends.

 

The goal is for us, along with friends and family, to move up closer to God, simultaneously. As we get better at following the instructions for life, we model that for friends and family and encourage them to move up the pyramid with us. It’s called discipleship. It’s teamwork. We’re all in this together, moving up toward God, becoming more like Christ, obeying everything he commanded.

 

APPLICATION: When we invest in our own spiritual health, it puts us in position to help others in theirs. As Neil Anderson noted, “Discipleship is being before doing, maturity before ministry, character before career.” Moving up the triangle means drawing closer to God and closer to family and friends—always moving . . . up . . . together. That’s the transforming triangle of discipleship.

 

~ dbs

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STARTING SMALL

January 31, 2019

​In our reading today we saw the children who came to Jesus and the disciples who rebuked them. Jesus told the disciples to let the children come because “to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” We need to start small with discipleship. Children have an amazing capacity to retain the things that we teach them and to understand more than we often give them credit for. We should always be training up the next generation to fight the Kingdom fight. They won’t one day take our place in this battle, they are already fighting in it. Our job is to train them to fight well. We live in a cosmic battle whether we choose to believe it or not and so do our children. We fight alongside each other daily. Our children have a reach that we do not have and vise versa. When we disciple them we help to further and better their reach for the Kingdom.

​My best friend came to know Jesus through coming to Awana with me in elementary school. My reach as a child may have been different but I still had one, and through a young but willing vessel the Kingdom grew. The children we disciple will discipline those who follow and the chain effect continues. But we cannot forget to start small and disciple the young. A lack of discipleship in our childhood will have an effect on who we grow up to be and that will affect far more than we can imagine. So start small and bring the little children to Him, because to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

-CCT

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Who’s the Greatest? Matthew 18:1-14

January 30, 2019

A partial answer to the dilemma of mothers who can’t care for or don’t want a baby are Safe Haven Baby Boxes that are becoming available in more fire and police stations and hospitals around the country. The baby can be left in such a box, and he or she will be cared for by a suitable caretaker. It’s certainly a more satisfactory response to unwanted children than abandonment or abortion.

We tend to think of these problems as a rather recent historical phenomenon, but that is very far from the truth. In Roman and Greek societies in Jesus’ day, children, along with women, older men, and slaves were considered of little value. In those days it was an accepted practice to abandon unwanted children along the roadsides to die. So, when Jesus took little children into his arms and blessed them, he was acting contrary to the traditions of his day. He demonstrated an attitude found nowhere else in the ancient world.

In today’s Bible reading we discover the disciples inquiring about who would be greatest in the Messiah’s promised kingdom. Later, the mother of two of the disciples asked Jesus to give one of her sons an elevated position in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). It sounds a good bit like 21st century politicians positioning themselves for the next caucus or election. Later, the disciples continued such a discussion among themselves during the Last Supper (Luke 22:24). Again, that’s pretty much like today, too. Too many of us seem to want to be first, or, at least be as close to the top guy as possible. It’s a matter of pride of position.

So, in contrast to the attitudes of his day and the ambitions of his disciples, Jesus’ words are striking, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). And the following statement is even more startling, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (v. 6). In very graphic language Jesus says it would be better to cut off your hand or foot or gouge out your eye rather than endanger a child who believes in him.

Jesus illustrates the value of a child in the story of a shepherd who cares for his sheep so much that he will search diligently for one that has strayed and rejoice when he recovers it (vv. 12-13). That’s the way God cares for his children, Jesus says (v. 13).

Whether we came from a healthy home environment or we were abandoned as children—all of us are slaves to sin, according to the Scriptures, and need to be rescued. The Apostle Paul describes how that rescue can take place. In Galatians 4 he writes that “we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (vv. 3-5). Consequently, we are not just a child of God, but an heir along with Jesus (v. 7).

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Making God’s Faithfulness Known

January 29, 2019

As a young boy growing up in Southern West Virginia one of my favorite past times was sitting with a member of my family who I lovingly referred to as the Old Guard. These were my great aunts and uncles, many born before the beginning of the 20th Century. They would tell stories going back to when the first of our kin came to America and all they went through settling in a new land. They’d speak of the hardships encountered and the loss of loved ones too early. But they would also speak of their cabin with a fireplace where they’d gather to hear the stories, they now passed on to me. They’d sing songs from Wales and Ireland handed down from generation to generation. And they’d emphasize how everyone in the family had to pull together to do all that was needed to survive. Their intent in relaying these tales to me and my young cousins was to keep the chronicles of our family line alive in our knowledge. We could then relate these stories to the next generation in hopes that our heritage would be carried on and never forgotten.

In Psalm 78, the writer Asaph, does the same thing with the people of Israel, not just for the sake of passing on tradition, but to tell them of God’s works and His love for them. He states at the beginning of the chapter, pay attention and learn, fix these words of mine into your hearts for there is an important reason I am telling you this. God did great things for His chosen people, the same as He’s willing to do for them and the generations to come if they will put their trust and obedience in the Lord.  But Asaph is also clear to tell of the disobedience of a generation and how it angered God to where His blessing was taken from them because they had forgotten Him. Still in His great love He is willing to bless all that will put their trust in God.

I have great pride in my genealogical heritage and have passed on the stories of old to my children as I hope they will do for children. As a Christian Father, I have strived to tell them of the great works of God and His love, and the importance of obedience. I look back at when they were little and on occasion question whether I not only told them enough, but showed them how much I wanted to obey the ways of our Lord. And since they’re all in their 30s now, I guess one could say my work is done. Wrong!! Probably more now than when they were little, I send messages, call on the phone or those rare moments we can be together tell of God’s blessings and promises to all that will accept and obey. May our family line never forget the Lord, and may they pass His word on to each generation until His glorious appearing.

Psalm 89:1 “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.”

Thanks for reading

JDM

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Where Discipleship Begins Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:5-9; 11:19

January 28, 2019

I sat in a restaurant having lunch one day and noticed a mother and child with the boy’s grandparents. The lad was perhaps two years old and quite precocious. He seemed to be content with his family and wasn’t misbehaving at all, but he was very loud. I wondered if he had been told about using his “inside voice.” That got me thinking about child-rearing.

My wife and I agreed that we didn’t remember a whole lot about raising our children. One of our sons was pretty small, but he made up for his short stature with a loud voice that got the attention he might not otherwise have had. We are grateful that our boys outgrew childishness, and become grown men with their own well-behaved families. We sometimes wonder if we would have been better parents if we had followed the biblical precepts in today’s scriptures for child-rearing a little more closely.

Those principles are laid out pretty clearly in Deuteronomy, and we would do well to teach them widely today. Here are some of them from chapter 6:

Commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.
Repeat them again and again to your children.
Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 
Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.

These commands were preceded by important warnings. “Obey them that you may live . . . just obey the commands of the Lord your God” . . . “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. . . . be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren” (Deut. 4:1, 9).

Some might want to say, “Well, that’s Old Testament; we’re living in the age of grace, not under the law anymore.” Don’t forget this command from the same context, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). Sound familiar? Of course it does; it is repeated in the Gospels three times (e.g. Luke 10:27)!

Discipleship is the theme of our current sermon series. Where better to being investing in (discipling) another life than at home with our children? Before the kids start school, parents have the awesome opportunity to impact them virtually 24/7/365. Even during their school years, parents should be the main source of truth and understanding for their children. We ought not to expect the school, the church, or society in general to be the main providers of the input that will formulate their character. The family will have its most impactful influence in those early years at home.

We must plant the seed deep into the fertile soil of our children and cultivate and nurture it during those early years “at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” With earnest and continual prayer, if we “start children off on the way they should go,” We can expect that “even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Although we still hope to have godly influence in the lives of our children and grandchildren, we should be involved in disciple-making elsewhere, too. Like us, maybe you are wondering who is the one that you could be pouring your life into. What about the children whose parents are going the wrong way, where drugs and alcohol rule the home, or there is only a single parent or no one else to help in child-rearing? Who is going to show them how to live by godly principles? Perhaps there is a young person who is not in a healthy home situation that you could influence. Ask God to reveal such an opportunity and enable you to be a disciple-maker.

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Gone Fishing: 2 Timothy 2:14-26

January 25, 2019

Just before his return to heaven, when Jesus gave the “Great Commission,” I wonder what the disciples’ response was. Maybe their thinking went something like this: “We can go, we can make disciples, we can baptize, but that last part about teaching them ‘to obey everything’ Jesus commanded . . . really? How are we going to pull that off? Earlier Jesus simply told us he was going to make us ‘fishers of men.’ Now it sounds like there’s a lot more to it.”

Thinking outside the box, what if Jesus had told the disciples, “Go back to the Sea of Galilee and see how many fish you can catch. But don’t eat the fish; instead, release them back into the sea. First, however, explain to them what I said in my Sermon on the Mount and tell them they’re supposed to obey all of that (such as don’t murder, which means big fish can’t eat little fish!). And if the fish disobey, you’re going to catch them again and read the Sermon on the Mount to them all over again until they learn to obey everything I said.”

Seriously, I suspect for most Christians the “obey everything” part of the “Great Commission” doesn’t penetrate our sound barriers. If we catch fish, we think that’s good enough. (Shame on husbands who have selective hearing about what their wives say!) Eternal shame on Christians who have selective hearing about what Jesus says.

Maybe our thinking goes like this: “Is obeying everything really necessary to be a disciple? Is it even humanly possible? If that’s a requirement, won’t it drag the process out a lot longer? And won’t we have less time to evangelize if we have to focus so much on teaching? How about this solution: We evangelize, we baptize, and let the Holy Spirit do the sanctifying?! That’s probably the hardest part anyway.”

Hmmm. So what should our focus be as we seek to make disciples?

Paul’s letters to Timothy help provide an answer. In his first letter he said, I am writing these instructions so that . . . you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household . . . train yourself to be godly . . . keep yourself pure . . . agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . pursue righteousness, godliness . . . keep this command without spot or wrinkle (1 Tim 3:14-15; 4:7; 5:22; 6:3, 11, 14). And the second letter to Timothy follows a similar path: “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules” (2 Tim 2:5).

Guess what: If you read through all the letters in the New Testament you’ll find that the focus is almost exclusively obedience, godliness, righteousness. Check it out for yourself and let me know how much instruction you find about going fishing.

APPLICATION: The question is, Are we carefully heeding the full counsel of God, or are we selective listeners? Is discipleship—if it doesn’t focus on obeying all that Jesus commanded—true discipleship? Might there be a hole in most Christians’ thinking about discipleship? Perhaps the prior question is, Is there a hole in our holiness? (That’s the title of a book well worth reading.)

The Brethren have had a lot to say about going fishing and about the mode of baptism, based on what Jesus said in the “Great Commission.” Might that be selective theology? Isn’t it high time we gave more attention to discipleship, especially the part about obeying everything Jesus commanded?

~ dbs

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ALL MEN

January 24, 2019

When I was in Bible school in Florida my roommate and I had a “prayer wall.” It was plastered with photos and names of people we were committed to praying for. When I moved back home I kept the tradition on the back of my closet door where I spend quite a bit of time deciding what to wear on a daily basis. But there was one difference between my prayer wall in Florida and the one I have at home now: the names of the people on it. Many of the names are the same but I added several after being convicted about who I prayed for. The names I added were the names of people who had hurt me deeply, people who get under my skin, and people I just don’t like. Why? I was on Facebook and saw so many hateful posts about politicians I didn’t like made by other believers, people I looked up to in fact. Degrading memes being shared because they were funny. I caught myself thinking, when was the last time I prayed for any of these people?

When was the last time my heart broke because of their sin? Immorality? Utter lostness? The answer was never. Paul pleads with Timothy to pray on behalf of all men. Not just the ones he likes, the ones from his political party, or his favorite celebrity. He said to pray for ALL men. The words of verse 8 echo in our churches today “Therefore I want all men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” We have spent more time arguing than we have praying and I know I am guilty of this too. But we need to listen to Paul because we aren’t so different now. Next time you feel the need to post that article or meme slamming a politician or celebrity or make that unnecessary comment to an enemy I encourage you to take a moment and pray for them. Don’t pray for a heart change that would make you happy, but pray for a heart change that would secure their eternal destiny for the better. Where is your heart? Who do you need to be praying for?

-CCT

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Bridging the Gap Titus 2:1-15

January 23, 2019

It’s called the “generation gap,” and it implies the perceived differences of outlook or opinion among people of different generations. It seems to grow wider as time goes by. So, it’s often difficult for older folks to understand the viewpoint of younger people and vice versa. In the church those differences are often noted regarding music, dress styles, language, and even lifestyles.

Certain accepted standards in those areas have changed dramatically. What was entirely unacceptable conduct in the 80s or 90s is widely approved by many today. Consequently, there is the latent dissatisfaction that has sometimes led to division even among the members of God’s family.

It’s not a new dilemma, but what can we do today to preserve the unity of the body that is essential to good health in the church? In today’s reading, Paul deals directly with the issues of his day, probably not a whole lot different from today’s.

In reading his counsel, we find little specific comment on the outward appearances of God’s people—their public behavior. Most of his counsel centers on the more important issues of the heart, which, of course, directly affect conduct. Paul addressed specific generations and classes: older men and women to younger and to slaves. In Paul’s day, slaves were everywhere; it was an accepted part of the culture. (We can debate the right or wrong of that at another time).

Specific topics to be addressed include: moderation, respect, self-control, love, endurance, reverence, sobriety, and purity. Those characteristics will certainly be reflected in conduct and lifestyle. Perhaps we can apply his counsel to slaves to anyone/everyone who labors under another’s authority. They are to be submissive, behave, and always be worthy of trust.

Whatever the age, 1st century or 21st,  Paul’s instructions basically suggest three ways to pass on God-given principles: 1) by teaching what is in keeping with sound doctrine (verse 1); 2) by personal example, demonstrating integrity, seriousness, and good deeds (vv. 7-8); and 3) by encouraging (verses 6, 15).

Paul also explained why we should pass on a legacy of good attitude and conduct to those following us in the faith.

  • So God’s Word will not be slandered (verse 6).
  • To maintain a blameless reputation. The non-believing world is constantly seeking to nail “Christians,” so don’t give them any reason to label you as a hypocrite (verse 8).
  • To make the gospel attractive, (verse 10). We don’t change the gospel, but we frame it by the way we live and interact with others.

Pastor Bruce has challenged us to find just one person following us on their Christian journey and pour our lives into him or her. That person may not be younger age-wise; maybe they’re just younger on the path of spiritual growth. Teach, model, and encourage them in their spiritual development. Which, means, of course, you’ll have to rely on the Holy Spirit to enable you to be the kind of friend who bridges the gap, not to criticize, but to learn and grow together.

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THE BOSS Colossians 1:15-29

January 22, 2019

January 22, 2019

“You’re not the boss of me, you can’t tell me what to do,” the four year old yells and stomps her foot.  From our earliest years, we fight against the authorities in our lives.  The teachers try to get restless first grade boys to sit in their seats. The parents attempt to set boundaries for their teens. The Police Officers require me to stay within the posted speed limits.  I quickly became aware of the authorities surrounding me. Authority can represent security and I could find peace in that or authority could appear to limit my freedom and I could easily rebel or resent the authority.

In Colossians 1:15-29, we can find our confident hope in the gospel that freed us and restored our relationship with God, as it was fleshed out in Jesus, and Jesus’s authority was established.  John Piper describes these verses as, “the ballast in the belly of your boat, so that when waves crash against you, you will not capsize.”  Who or what are you putting in the position of authority in your life? What is the ballast in your boat, saving you from a watery grave? I always want to answer with a resounding, “JESUS”, but in reality, I hear the harsh and hurtful voices of my past, yelling in my heart.  The lies become the authority and boss my identity.  Do the fears of failure, the determination to never live paycheck to paycheck again, become the voice of authority in your life?  Does the worry and anxiety for your kids and grandchildren consume you and drive the choices that you make? What is bossing you?  What is the ballast in the boat of your life?

Jonah knew about boats, he found himself on a journey of rebellion. His ballast is his opinion that the Ninevites didn’t deserve to hear the message of hope and rescue.  Jonah dethroned God and set himself up as the ultimate authority on rescuing Nineveh. The consequences of Jonah’s authority grab found him in a whale of a pickle.  Jonah had to make some decisions about who is the boss.

Colossians 1:17-18, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church, He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything, He might have the supremacy.” Paul wrote this to the church at Colosse to refute what the false teachers were feeding the Colossians.  The false teachers did not deny the importance of Jesus.  They simply dethroned Him, giving Him prominence but not preeminence, just as Jonah did to God and His authority.  In Colossians 2:6, we read, ”see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on…this world rather than on Christ.”

Is Christ on the throne of my life or have I shaken my fist, (or quietly slunk away), from Christ’s preeminent authority and had my own coup and set myself on the throne of my life? Have I chosen fear, anxiety, or lies as my authority?  Colossians 1:16, “For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things have been created through Him and for Him.” “You’re not the boss of me,” the childish phrase echoes through the centuries of humanity, as they stomp their collective feet and demand their rights to independence – the created ones questioning their creator.  Does each unique snowflake question its design? Does the ocean roar its displeasure in its saltiness? Does the acorn question its purpose as it falls to the ground?  The Son of God is before all things.  He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.

Is Jesus preeminent in your life or is he just prominent?  Is He on the throne or have you quietly set Him aside?  Jesus reconciled us to Himself. He chose us, with our fears, our need to be in charge, our desires to question His authority, and reconciled us to Himself. Spurgeon concludes: ”Creation and providence are but the whisper of His power, but redemption is its music and praise is the echo that shall yet fill His temple.”

lkb

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