Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Week's Schedule 12/13/09

Sunday December 20th-
Christmas Celebration
No Sunday School
Congregational Worship 10:00 am
Brunch to Follow!

Looking Ahead! Sunday December 27th-
Regular Schedule
Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship 10:30 am
Congregational Worship 10:45 am

Women's Book Study: What's So Amazing About Grace, Coming in January!

This Week's Sermon: Love Your Neighbor

The Parable of the Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25-28
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Who is my neighbor? It is the question asked by the expert in the Law. It is the question each of us asks when God tells us that we need to do something. We always want to know how far we are required to take it. Like Peter with his question of how many times he needed to forgive his brother. Like the Pharisees who asked, “Can’t we divorce our wives for any and every reason?” When given a law, we want to know where the line is. So our friend, the expert in the Law asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

He wanted to see who exactly he was required to love, and this is an interesting response by Jesus. The man asks a simple question. Jesus could have responded with a simple answer, “Everyone is your neighbor.” But he does not answer that way, instead he tells a story. We have heard this story before, and many times the focus is on how we should love everyone and be willing to help those in need. I want to take a little twist on that focus this morning.

Many know of the racial tension between Samaritans and Jews, it is seen as a clash of cultures. Here is what we don’t get in our modern reading of this passage. Samaritans were not just of a different culture, they were considered unclean. They were considered idolaters and those who would pervert the true worship of the One God. Jews saw them as so unholy, they would not even speak to them. That is why the Samaritan woman at the well was so surprised that Jesus would talk to her. Not only was he a Jew and she a Samaritan, but He was a man and she was a woman. On top of all of that, Jesus a clean Jewish man was asking her, an unclean Samaritan woman for a drink. It was a double breaking of tradition and ceremonial cleanliness laws.

I don’t know if there is even a good comparison of the relationship of the Samaritans and the Jews today with Christians. I know a pastor friend of mine was debating how to express this giant rift between the Jews and Samaritans and he considered for a modern parable substituting the Samaritan with a member of Al Queda, or a homosexual couple. Those may be shocking comparisons for some of us, but I think that what Jesus sad in this story was supposed to be shocking. Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He told this story.

A Jewish man is walking down the road, gets jumped by thieves and we see the Priest come by. He is not willing to be a neighbor. He passes by on the other side, too concerned with cleanliness to come near blood and possibly a dead body. So multiple choice answer A is off the table. This is shocking because Priests are those offering sacrifices, serving in the temple, handling sacred objects and privy to all the inner workings of the sacrificial system. They are clean, holy guys with important work to do. But this is not the person Jesus says to imitate.

So we see the Levite come by. Levites were set apart unto God. They served in the temple from age 30 to age 50, some were priests others managed day to day affairs. The Levite comes by and passes by on the other side as well. Some could argue that the Priest has to keep himself ceremonially clean so that he can do his job in the temple. You could feasibly make an excuse for him, but the Levite is not a Priest. He has a job to do, but it is not nearly as integral as the Priest’s, and yet, here he is forsaking his brother Jew and crossing to the other side of the road. Multiple choice answer B is out as well. Jesus is saying, “You may expect me to tell you the Priests and Levites are your examples for neighborliness, but in this case they are not.” These men left a person to die because he might make them unclean.

Then here comes the Samaritan. Samaritans were the villains in the story. If they had first century melodramas, this would be where everyone would go, “boo-hiss!” The Samaritan, hated and despised and shunned by the Jews, comes by and picks up this wounded man. He binds his wounds, he puts him on his own donkey, walks him out of the way to an inn, pays for his care and promises more if the bill exceeds the payment. Multiple choice answer C wins again. I don’t know if we can grasp this story. The Samaritan in the story, the unspiritual and idolatrous enemy, is the example we are to follow.

Jesus asks the religious expert, “Who was this man’s neighbor?” The expert of the Law can’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” Instead he says, “The one who had mercy on him.” He can’t wrap his mind around the answer. This is not the way that religious stories are supposed to go. The good guy is the Priest, the bad guy—the Samaritan. It’s Heroes and Villains. It should be an easy answer. Your neighbor is the person like you. We expect Jesus to say, your neighbor is any good person in your church or your family or your town or country who shares your faith and values. But that is not what Jesus says. Jesus asks the question, “Who acted as a neighbor to this man?” He does not ask, “Who should this man be a neighbor to in the future?” Jesus is not asking the religious expert to be a neighbor to Samaritans, worse, he asks him to place himself in the shoes of the Samaritan. Jesus does not ask him to love the one he hated before because he thought the man was unclean.

Jesus is asking him to consider this Samaritan and all he would have to overcome to be a neighbor to the Jewish man. The Samaritan knew that the Jewish man probably hated him. He knew that his act of kindness may be misinterpreted and misunderstood. He knew he would never get a thank you card for helping. The Samaritan, the outcast, the discarded person in this story becomes the hero that Jesus tells us to emulate. It is not enough to go to those we have disliked and help them. We must go to those who hate us. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of me.” Jesus says, “Love your enemies, so that you can be perfect like your Father in heaven.” Jesus says, “Go and be like this Samaritan and show unbelievable kindness to those who insult, persecute, and slander you.”

To us today, Jesus might say we are to love the terrorists. He may say we are to show kindness to those who are antagonistically atheist. He would definitely tell us that we are to be like that Samaritan—loving, caring, going beyond the call of duty, going out of our way to help those who are hateful toward us, whoever that might be. Not those we consider enemies, but those who consider us to be their enemies. That is who we are to love. That is who is included in Jesus’ command to love our neighbor. It is the extreme case of crazy, sold-out devotion and love for God. Loving those we don’t like, or those we have a grudge against, or those who have wronged us is a given. That is just a starting place. But we know that Jesus calls us above the status quo, beyond the elementary stages of devotion to be completely consumed by the same kind of love he has for us. Romans 5:8-10 tells us that while we were enemies of God—while we despised him—he loved us enough to bridge the gap between us with the death of his only son. It is that love we are to have for others. It is that love Jesus shows here in this parable of the Good Samaritan: the love that gives sacrificially on behalf of the one who hates us.

This is not a feel good sermon. It was not a feel good parable. It is, instead a stark contrast to the way we think things ought to be. It turns our world upside down and asks the impossible of us. But Jesus tells the story anyway. He does so knowing that the only way we can love like this is with the love he himself pours into our lives. We can only love like Jesus if we have given him our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength. Surrendering to God produces in us love for our fellow man, even those who are our enemies, even those who consider us to be their enemies. To love those who hate and persecute is the love of Christ lived out in our lives. I challenge you to so surrender your lives to Christ that he can bring about this transformation in your hearts and lives today.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Week's Schedule 12/6/09

Monday & Tuesday December 7th-8th-
Emporia Public School's Seasonal Celebration
William Allen White Auditorium 7:30 pm

Wednesday December 9th-
Friends Women Christmas Brunch
9:00 am at Mildred's
Bring $2 gift, Goodie Plate items, and your Name The Store entry!

Sunday December 13th-
Family Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship with refreshments 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Looking Ahead! Sunday December 20th-
Christmas Celebration
No Sunday School
Congregational Worship 10:00 am
Brunch to Follow!

This week's sermon: Love God with All Your Strength

Luke 12:22-34.

There once was a father who wanted some quiet time so that he could read the paper. His daughter Vanessa, however wanted her father’s attention because she was bored. Finally, he tore a sheet out of his magazine on which was printed a map of the world. Tearing into small pieces he gave it and some clear tape to Vanessa and said, “Go into the other room and see if you can put this together.” He thought surely he would now have time to finish his article in peace.

After only a few minutes, Vanessa returned and handed him the map correctly fitted together. The father was surprised knowing his daughter did not have great knowledge about geography, and asked how she had finished so quickly. “Oh,” she said, “on the other side of the paper is a picture of Jesus. When I got Jesus in His place, then the world came out all right on the other side.”

We have been talking about the greatest commandments: Loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This week we are focusing on Loving God with all our strength. To love God fully, all of our labor and energy must belong to him. Let’s turn to Luke 12 :22-34 and see what Jesus has to say about the matter.

Luke 12:22-31 [pp -- Mt 6:25-33] 22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

You will see that as we study this command to love God with all that we are, that the areas of our lives that need to be surrendered to him overlap, they don’t stand alone. In this passage, Jesus talks about not worrying which is a product of the mind and heart working together. He talks about our value to God, our core identity—our souls—being placed in his hands. He talks about considering and pondering the world around us and how God is at work in caring for the simplest creatures—which requires our minds to be focused on Him. Jesus is giving instruction on surrendering all those parts to God right here in this one scripture passage.

He also shows us what it looks like for those areas of our lives to be out of alignment with God’s will—worry, and fear producing people who run around crazy trying to make sure they have enough food and shelter and clothing. All of these things, Jesus says, his Father will provide as we seek his kingdom.

Too often we see the world, which is pagan apart from God, running after food and drink. You can observe this in just a little tv-watching. Many commercials are geared toward this drive, whether they are for restaurants, junk food, soda, beer, or sports drinks. We see it in the epidemic of obesity our country is facing on one side, and equally disturbing eating disorders depriving the body of nourishment on the other. We can see it surfing tv channels or on the internet, whole channels devoted to displaying recipes we will never fix and internet sites with millions of tips on getting things just right. The world chases after food.

Now, Jesus is not saying that meal planning or grocery shopping is bad. He means, don’t let it consume your life. Don’t become a slave to gourmet food or junk food or healthy food or even dieting. Food is there to serve life, not the other way around. This is one of the reasons that God calls his people to fast, or abstain from food for a time. It is in the holy habit of fasting that we learn that God is our strength (Psalm 118:14). If we live our lives obsessed with food, we will miss out on all that God has planned for us.

Another area we see the world obsessing over is clothing and shelter. Just walk past the magazine rack and you will see countless articles on what is hot this season in fashion. Walking down the same isle, you will also see row upon row of decorating magazines. These magazines are not produced because the editors think it’s fun, they are produced to feed a desire in many people to wear the best or live in the best, most fashionable way.

Again, Jesus is not saying, don’t wear nice clothes or live in nice houses. He is telling us not be consumed by what we wear or where we live. If we have clothes and shelter, we need to be content. If we let fashion and trends control our lives and resources we will miss out on all that God has planned for us. Psalm 127 says this: 1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-- for he grants sleep to those he loves.

When we are busy chasing the things of the world, we live frantic, worry-filled lives. Jesus says, "Come to me you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest." Many times we are weary and carrying heavy burdens because we are chasing things that do not satisfy or will not last. Jesus says in our main text, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." God does not want us to live deprived, he wants us to live an abundant and fulfilled life. We find this fulfillment in Him.

I don’t just want to tell you things not to do, and neither did Jesus. He said, instead of letting all these things consume your life, producing worry and fear, seek first the kingdom of God and trust that God will provide adequate food and shelter, clothing and all the things you need for living your life to build his kingdom. We are promised that as we are faithful to use what God has given us to build his kingdom, God will provide for us. Philippians 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Loving God with all our strength is giving him all of our means of influence, whether that be our ability to work, our community influence, our money and resources—everything that we can use to make a change in the world around us. We can make a choice to do that today instead of letting our work, our influence, our money and resources be dominated by an obsession over food, drink, clothing and shelter. God wants to give us rest and peace in our lives, this comes from giving him our entire lives, all our resources offered up to him--not to be deprived, but to walk in peace. Just like that little girl putting together the picture of the world, if we can get Jesus in the right place, everything else will come together as well. Choose to give him your strength today and receive his rest in return.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Weekly Schedule 11/29/09

Tuesday December 1st-No women's group

Sunday December 6th-
Family Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship with refreshments 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Area Christmas Dinner & Auction to benefit Hispanic Ministries
5:00 at Hesper Friends Church
Carpoolers will leave the church between 2:30 and 3:00

This week's sermon: Love God with all your mind

Colossians 3:1-17, Building on this new foundation of love

Last time we talked about having the right foundation for our lives- loving God with all of our souls. Today I want to move on to talk about what is standing on the top of that foundation. Today's section of the great commandment is: love the Lord your God with all of your mind. Our text this morning comes from Colossians chapter 3 verse 1 to verse17.
We must have a new mindset/way of thinking. We must put off the old. Paul says to set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. We died to these things, and have put on Christ. You can not put the old house on the new foundation without change in the structure to realign the house. It can be a messy process with cracked and broken plaster, but a sound structure must be more important than the old comfortable ways of living.

We must put on the new. This putting on of the new is due to the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit. What are the fruits of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control; more than half of the fruits of the Spirit are here in verse 12. The Holy Spirit working in us produces the remodeling our lives need now that they stand on this new foundation of identity in Christ.

We must have a new understanding formed by Christ. Verse 10--Being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Our minds are skewed, but they did not start out that way. Paul says our minds need to be set right, back to the way they were before the fall. Romans 12:2--Being transformed by the renewing of your minds. The remodeling of our lives begins in the heart by giving it to Christ, continues in the soul as we identify ourselves with him, and goes further in the mind by transforming us from the inside out.

Part of that transformation on our part is to let God's word become a part of our daily lives. Verse 16--Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Paul does not say to let it come and go in your life, but to dwell, abide and make a home in you. Once that word is there, it begins to make changes in your thought patterns and the way you look at the world around you. It starts to renew your mind as the Holy Spirit remodels your life.

If you are not being renewed by these things, be assured that your mind is being revamped by other sources. Yeast is the Active ingredient in bread. Better said it is the Driving Force behind the action in the dough. Without a driving force there is no action. In our lives there can be more than one kind of driving force. We need to be careful, then what kind of Yeast we are allowing in our lives.

One of the drawbacks of yeast is that, although it is a very powerful catalyst, its results are not instant. We can not just put the yeast in and bake the bread expecting it to come out all fluffy. Many times it is impossible to tell if the yeast is working until the allotted time for rising has passed. So it may appear that the bad yeast, in this case bad thoughts, we added will not hinder us in our walk with Christ. Unfortunately, another characteristic of yeast is that it penetrates every part of the dough. So we can not just say, I am only going to add this yeast to this part of my life. It is either all or nothing.

This applies to both good and bad yeast. (Mt. 16:5-12) Jesus warns his disciples not to let the yeast of the Pharisees’ false teachings into their hearts because he knew that those teachings would slowly work their way through their entire lives. (I Co. 5:6-8) The bad attitudes and other sinful thoughts that we allow into our minds affect every part of our lives, not just certain areas. (Mt.13:33 & footnote in Study Bible) The good news is that Kingdom yeast will also fill and dominate our entire lives.

When our lives are being renewed, we find that we must have a new method of decision making. Verse 17--Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus. We start making decisions based on God's will, not ours. Romans 12:2--So that you may know God's will-good, pleasing and perfect--for your life. This decision making process is no longer being shaped by the warped foundation of the old self. Rather it is being restored to its proper alignment by the new foundation in Christ.

In Jesus Parable of Wise and Foolish Builders the only difference between the two houses was the foundation. What foundation are you building on, the warped, crumbling foundation of your human nature, or a fresh level foundation on the Solid Rock? Love God by giving him all of your mind today. Let his Holy Spirit come in and begin to remodel and rebuild the damaged insides warped by years of living off-level. Allow his word to become at home in your life and experience renewal in your thoughts, understanding, and decision making. Don't wait, this remodeling can begin at any time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weekly Schedule

Have a Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday November 29th-
Family Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship with refreshments 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am
Hanging of the Greens
(Decorating the Church for the Advent/Christmas Season)
Following the service with Soup and Sandwich lunch afterwards

This week's sermon: Love God with all your soul

I Samuel 17.
We have been looking closer at what Jesus said was the greatest command, summing up the Law and the Prophets. We talked two weeks ago about loving God with all of our hearts. Well, today we are looking at the next part of the greatest commandment, love the Lord your God with all of your soul.

What do we mean when we say soul? Well, the word used in the New Testament is psyche. It means literally the life, or the being. In essence, the soul is the deepest part of who we are. It is the foundation of our identity. This is what Jesus is telling us to love God with. He is saying love the Lord your God with all of who you are, with your very identity. Today I want to talk about identity, and how it affects our lives.

Identity is such an important contributor to our every day lives. Every decision we make will be influenced by who we are, or who we have come to believe we are. There is a difference between our identity and who we think we are. You could be the greatest king, but if you think you are a poor man you will never act the part of your true identity. The story we will read this morning is full of people confused about who they really are. Their identity, the very foundation of their lives is in question.

Our main text this morning is I Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. You will find that as we look at the Greatest Commandment, we will use passages that are familiar, Sunday school stories. I find that the reason these kinds of texts are used in Sunday school lessons is that they are full of fundamental principles of faith. The situation we find ourselves in is this, the Philistines are drawn up for battle on one hill, opposite them are the Israelites with Saul as their king. The valley between them is standing by to become a battlefield drenched in the blood of both armies.

I want you to picture yourself in that Israelite camp. You see this nine-foot-tall monster of a man wearing great heavy armor come out and issue you a personal challenge to come fight him one on one. That would be enough to have all of us running in fear. But one thing I want to draw your attention to is this, Goliath says to them, “Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul?” Goliath challenges them as servants of Saul. This is the identity that the Israelites are functioning with. They had forgotten who they were—Not Saul’s servants, but the Children of God! They had forgotten that they were not fighting to defend "their land" rather God's Promised Land. They had identified themselves with an earthly king instead of an eternal God

The next verses tell us about David. He had brothers fighting and had been sent to check on them, and bring them supplies. He hears Goliath’s challenge and is outraged. Let’s read verse 26. “David asked the men standing near him, ‘What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’" David knew that they were the children of God—who did Goliath think he was defying the armies of the Living God? David knew that as children of God, they were under his protection. David knew this because he had a relationship with God as his foundation—David had his identity stamped with God’s seal of ownership.

So, David goes out and asks around about how he can go fight this Goliath. Saul hears him and brings him into his tent for a little chat. Saul saw only an in inexperienced boy; David knew God had protected him before. Saul saw an insurmountable enemy; David knew God was bigger than any enemy. Saul saw only conventional ways of doing battle; David knew God could use him just as he was. David shrugged off the armor that did not fit who God had made him to be, and took what he was used to: rocks and a sling, and went to fight the nine-foot-tall Philistine.

God was there with David, his child. God had planned a victory for his people. God used David just as he was to gain that victory.

Our identity is so crucial to our decision making. It is like the foundation of a house. Do you remember the parable Jesus told of the wise and foolish builders? The difference between which house fell, and which stood was the foundation. Our reaction to everyday events is determined by this sense of who we are and where our foundation is. Every decision we make about life and risk taking is determined by this sense of who we are. If you need examples how about phrases like this, have you ever heard: “You can’t treat me this way, I’m an American Citizen!” “I can do what I want because my daddy is ____”

What about politicians who make all their decisions based on their identity in one party or another. Or people finding their identity in the roles they play: parents, children, employees, employers, blue-collar, white-collar, basketball star, cheerleader. It is not wrong to be any of these things, but at the end of the day all of what I have listed here is temporary. All of these identities can be lost. Ask a parent who has lost their children; a spouse who has lost their partner, people standing in the unemployment lines, or business owners forced to close up shop. Sports players age and get injured, all of it is so fragile. If we base our identities on these roles we play, we can find ourselves lost when the rug is pulled out from under our feet.

Where is your foundation today? Where does your sense of confidence and safety lie? Are you trusting in chariots, or are you trusting in the name of the Lord? When we find our identity in him first, then we can stand even if all the other hats we wear get swept away. If you don’t know where your foundation lies, ask yourself these questions. How do I react in stressful situations? Do I react with fear, or confidence? Am I devastated, or do I see hope? Where is your foundation? Ask the Lord to help you build your foundation, your identity on him.

We start by giving him our whole heart, and follow that by trusting him with our very soul, our entire self. We follow it up with reading and knowing what his word says about who we are. We are his creation. We are his children, co-heirs with Christ if we have accepted his salvation. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are the body of Christ to minister to each other and those around us as long as we remain on this earth. We have to let our soul be shaped by who he says we are, or we will fall for the lies that surround us.

Those voices that tell us we are not enough, but the truth is that God is our sufficiency. The voices say we are too fat/thin/short/tall/quiet/outgoing to be loved and used by God, but the truth is that God says, “I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, child, you are mine.” The scriptures are full of God telling us over and over again the truth about who we are, and who he is. We need to step out in faith and trust that what he says is true. That is how we love him with all our soul. It is his desire for you and me, and he will give us the strength to carry it through.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Weekly Schedule 11/15/09

Tuesday November 17th-
9:30 am Friends Women Missionary Fellowship
6:30 pm Women's Group

Sunday November 22nd-
NEW! Family Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship Time 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

You are welcome to join us for any and all aspects of our worship and fellowship this Sunday!

Monday, November 9, 2009

This Week's Schedule 11/08/09

Tuesday November 10th- 9:00 am Ladies Cleaning Kitchen part II
6:30 pm Elder's Meeting

Wednesday November 11th- Worship planning meeting 5:15 pm

Sunday November 15th- Thanksgiving Meal Following Morning Worship!

NEW! Family Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship Time 10:30 am
Worship with Missions Speakers Michael and KK Linville 10:45 am
Thanksgiving Meal!

Join us for any and all aspects of our worship and fellowship this Sunday!

This Week's Sermon: Love God with ALL Your Heart

Genesis 22:1-18
We are exploring this commandment that Jesus said was the greatest, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength," and the second greatest, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said in Mark 12 that these commands are the sum of the Law and the Prophets, in another gospel it says all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commands. That means the whole Bible, all of God's written word, is there to show us how to do these two things, or in some cases how to not go about loving God and neighbor, or even why we should bother. Today we are exploring the first part of Jesus command on how to love God: Love the lord your God with all your heart.

What does it mean to love? We talked last week about how it is not a fuzzy feeling. This love we are called to is a choice. Jesus says in John 14:15 that this love shows itself in obedience. 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a whole list of the characteristics of godly love. And we know that Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that giving of ourselves is our acceptable act of worship. Loving God with all our hearts means giving him our whole heart, not holding anything back.

Our text this morning is Genesis 22:1-18. This is a familiar Bible story about God calling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. This story is given a bad reputation sometimes, but it is really not about Divinely sanctioned child abuse or God on a power trip. This is an account of God testing Abraham's love for God above all else. Note in the first verses of this chapter that it says that God was testing Abraham. This was just a test. Like most tests of our faith, this one was designed to speak more to Abraham than to God. God knew Abraham's heart, Abraham needed to know the content of his heart as well.

God says to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you LOVE" and sacrifice him to me. Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise. The promise belonged to God, not to Isaac or to Abraham. And Abraham somewhere had fallen into the danger of holding this gift closer than the giver. God calls Abraham on his dangerous condition when he emphasizes Abraham's love for his son. In essence God is asking, "Abraham, do you love me or do you love what I do for you?" It was a test of Abraham's priorities, and what held first place in his heart.

We see Abraham's obedience, and God's provision, just as Abraham had stated to Isaac, "God will provide the lamb for sacrifice." Abraham returned to God his gift, and God gave it back. Isaac had been a gift from God, now he was a double gift. And God tells Abraham that because he showed his love by not holding back the most precious thing in his life, God could bless all nations through his offspring.

So what does this have to do with us? Anyone have God tell them to sacrifice their children as a burnt offering? If so, please see me, or a psychiatrist, or walk in at your local police station. God does not ask this routinely. The story of Abraham and Isaac was a one time deal. But just because God is not asking us to sacrifice our children does not mean we don't have things in our lives that pose potential road-blocks to our total surrender to God.

There is a big temptation in our lives to dish out pieces of our heart to the people and things we love. Like a pie, if we start giving some away, thinking we'll give God the rest we won't have much to lay on the altar. We give a piece to our spouse; one to our children; one to other family. Pieces go to our friends; our job; our house or car or that boat we've been wanting. And of course it wouldn't be right to give it all away without keeping a piece for ourselves. Pretty soon we find ourselves with just a sliver of heart left to give to God. But this is not what Jesus meant when he said love the Lord your God with all of your heart. It wasn't give God what is left of your heart, but all of it.

An amazing thing happens when we decide to give God our hearts, though. It might be a scary thing, but if we will step out in faith, we find that God does not take our hearts and leave us without love for anyone else. Quite the contrary, we give God our whole heart and all our love, and he gives it back filled with his overflowing, never-running-out, eternal and infinite love. We find we have more love for our families, because we love them with God's love. We have more love for our friends, because we love them with God's love. We even find love for our enemies because we love them not with the puny love of our own natural hearts, but with the all-encompassing love of God.

So I challenge you today to give God your whole heart. It starts with a decision to surrender your heart to him, without holding anything back. It is followed through and proven in your life by obedience; doing what he calls you to do. It shows itself in your character as you live a life full of patience, kindness, humility and love in your relationships with others. Give God your whole heart and see his love pour out into your life, and through you to others.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This Week's Sermon: ThanksGIVING!

We have talked a lot in the last three years about the Christian life; about the basic things that God requires of us; about Jesus' declaration of the two principles that are the foundation of the Old Testament Law and Prophets. One place that this is recorded is Mark chapter 12.

Mark 12:28-34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

Jesus said that two things are necessary to fulfill the law: Love God, and Love Others. We like that. It is nice, it makes us feel good, and it is true. But I wonder if we have a good understanding of what it means to Love God and Love Others. We are going to begin a study of these previous verses. We are going to look closer at what it means to Love God with all we are and Love Others as ourselves.

Sometimes we think that Love is a fuzzy feeling. We should have a positive attitude towards God. This is good, but incomplete. I can have a positive attitude toward you and feel all fuzzy inside, but still not do what is best for you. We can feel good about God, but not be willing to obey him. Love in it's simplest form is one person saying to another, I will give of myself to you.

Romans 12:1 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." Our appropriate response to who God is, our worship of him is defined by Paul as giving our lives to him to use fully and completely. As fully and completely as one would give an offering to be burnt on the altar of sacrifice. Once that offering is there on the altar, it is on fire, it is consumed and there is no take backs. Paul says our spiritual act of worship that is acceptable before God is giving him our lives so completely we see them as lost to our own agendas and plans and purposes; and completely given over to God's agenda, his purpose and plan.

So fundamentally to Love God with all we are means to give our entire self to him as a sacrificial offering. To love our neighbor also requires us to give. James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." The religion that God accepts, the practice of our faith that pleases God, is to look after those in need. To see that children are taken care of, and that those who are unable to care for themselves are cared for, and that those who are unable to provide for their own support are supported. To care for orphans and widows—those who in Jame's time were completely and utterly alone.

As individuals this thought of giving of ourselves to others and to God may be a familiar theme. But what does it mean for our church body to surrender not only our individual lives, but our whole church—our property, our income, our services, our programs, our fellowship time, everything—to God and to give of ourselves to others? What does that mean for us as a church?

2Corinthians 8:1-15
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.
But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little." [Exodus 16:18]

Do you remember the extraordinary ways God has provided for us this year? I do. I remember the Lord providing for a new parsonage roof. I remember the Lord providing every penny of expense for my trip to Burundi. I look at our budget sheets from this year and see not a dip in giving, but an increase in spite of the economy being in a crisis. Some people get nervous when we talk about giving, but I get excited because I know that the provision is from God.

The ability to give is supplied through his riches, not mine, not yours. He supplies our needs and he gives to us abundantly so that we can share with those in need. We do that in some ways in our church. Our Friends Women Missionary Fellowship gives to the rescue mission. We give our Shiloh noisy offering. And some give to the Lyon County Restricted Emergency Fund. These are all great. I want to encourage you, but I know that even in this giving, we have not given to the point of sacrifice, which probably means we could all give more. I include myself in this. So I want to issue you a challenge. I want you to begin praying with me. Let's seek God together and ask what it is he has for us as a church to give to him or to those around us. If God leads you to do something specific on your own, do it! I want you to pray, and if God leads you to something specific for our church to do, share it with our church family so we can pray about how to put it into action.

We need to be about the business of pouring ourselves out in love to God and to those around us. In doing so we fulfill the great commandments. We fulfill the law of love.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This week's sermon: Are You Willing?

Isaiah 6; Mark 10:17-31.
Second Week of Missions Month: Whom shall we send? And who will go for us?

The question is really, “Who is willing?” It is the same question posed by the story of the Rich man. The question was whether he was willing to go the next step and leave his source of comfort—his wealth—and put his trust in God to provide as he followed Christ. Was he willing to go? He walked away sad and we don’t know if he ever came back to follow Christ or if he lived out his life in empty pursuit of wealth.

Jesus explains to his disciples that it is hard for those with wealth to enter the kingdom--easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. We all have wealth and possessions. Even the poorest among us in the United States of America has the opportunity of a roof over their head and at least one meal a day. By the world's standards that is security. And security is hard to give up. Jesus reassures the questioners "Who then can be saved?!" by reminding them that nothing is impossible with God.

Peter pipes up on behalf of the disciples saying. “We have already left everything to follow you.” Peter was looking for the gold star. He in effect is saying that the disciples are willing. They have left everything. They are following Jesus. And Jesus gives him an answer in his seeking for a reward. Jesus says that no one who has given up all of this list of things will receive them back a hundred times—along with persecution. The earthly reward for following Jesus, it seems, is to suffer. We don’t like to think about that. We want to stop where it says we will receive everything back, we don’t want to think about the persecutions that come with it. But on the other side of all the sacrifice, all the restoration, all the persecution is eternal life in the age to come. So the reward is bitter sweet, but the final destination is worth it.

Jesus closes his conversation here with the statement that “Many who are first will be last and the last first.” In making that declaration, Jesus refocuses our attention on the fact that those who think they are ahead—like the rich man—may end up last if we do not stop to consider our attachment to worldly things. Are we willing to leave it all and follow him? Are we willing to go? Are we willing to give up whatever God asks, holding loosely to what we have to be available for his purpose?

Could we give up some comfort for the sake of the kingdom? It is nice to have a roof over our heads, it is nice to have running water, it is nice to have electricity. It is really nice to have a little box on the wall to set the exact temperature we want our homes to remain. Are we willing to set our thermostats a little lower, be a little uncomfortable, and give the difference to missions? Are we willing to walk instead of drive and give the difference to those who are really in need? Are we willing to lay down our desire for absolute comfort to be obedient to build the kingdom of God?

God is asking, “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” Are we ready to lay down our plans, our goals, our possessions to follow him and be his message-bearers to a world that is in darkness? Who will go? Examine your heart and ask the Lord to reveal to you the things you are holding onto that may keep you from responding “Here am I, send me.” Start to surrender those things to him today. The goal is eternity, and nothing is worth keeping if it keeps us from serving our King and building his kingdom.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Updated Calendar

Important Dates to Remember!

Tuesday the 6th Elder’s Meeting 6:30 pm

Sunday the 11th Business Meeting following Worship
Fall Harvest Party at Rainsbarger’s 5:30

Thursday the 15th Burundi Presentation at 6:30 pm

16th-18th Women’s Retreat Weekend
No kids or downstairs Sunday School,
Coffee and donuts for those who want to come for an extended fellowship time!

Sunday the 25th Area Rally at Gardner Friends


Sunday the 15th Beginning of Family Sunday School
Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
Thanksgiving Meal

This week's sermon: With every breath

Ephesians 6:18-24.

In this closing section of Paul's letter to the Ephesians he finally speaks a personal request. He asks that they pray for him. Paul has spent this letter reminding the Ephesian Christians of their place in Christ as adopted children of God; of those who had been far, but brought near; of Paul's own concern for them and his prayers for them; encouraging them to live according to their new life in Christ; urging them to line up for battle with one another equipped with the armor God provides. He has used the words of this letter for the benefit of the Ephesians, which is why this request for them to pray for him catches my attention.

Paul asks them to pray that every time he opens his mouth, he will boldly and fearlessly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now we know after studying Acts and Ephesians, that Paul did not need help knowing the right words to say to preach the gospel. We know that he does not need more courage to proclaim the gospel in spite of hardships, he has been actively doing so for the entirety of his ministry. The words that catch my eye are "every time I open my mouth." Paul was asking for them to pray that his proclamation of the gospel would be continuous, an outpouring of the Grace of God with every breath.

In the service this week we heard a story about some missionaries in Aguascalientes, Mexico. They had the privilege of connecting with a woman and her family by simply caring for them, and celebrating a birthday. This family had heard words proclaiming the facts of the gospel, but had never seen someone live out the Grace and Love that come with the message. Because these missionaries chose to not only use words to share the gospel, but their very lives, this family left a destructive lifestyle and came into the Love of Christ themselves.

It is this kind of continuous living proclamation of the gospel that I believe Paul was asking the Ephesians to pray over his ministry. It is the kind of fearless proclamation we need to pray for each other; that we would be so filled with Christ, that the gospel would flow out in every breath, every action. Every time we encounter people in our family, at work, in the marketplace, we would proclaim Christ with our actions and our words. Every time we interact with those in the body of Christ--encouraging each other, ministering to others' needs, caring for the joys and sorrows of life--every time we minister to one another we pour out the message of the gospel with our actions and our words. This is the "with every breath" method of sharing the gospel. It is what Paul was asking the Ephesians to pray for him, it is what we need to pray for each other. This is how we fearlessly proclaim the gospel, this is how the kingdom of God is built one life at a time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Week's Sermon: Lining Up for Battle Together

Ephesians 5:21-6:18.
Authority can be such a divisive topic not only in churches, but in the family, and in the workplace as well. We all know who’s in charge, sometimes they won’t let us forget it! And those who are not in charge, those who feel they don’t have power, what do they do? They find ways to undercut and manipulate and get what they want by going around the powers that be. This kind of worldly authority patterns don’t get us very far. They make those in charge bullies, and those subordinate bitter. This passage has been used in the past to justify the worldly system, to defend abuse and slavery. I want to tell you this morning that if that is the way we read these words, we have been getting it wrong. This passage, just like the rest of this letter to the Ephesians, is calling not for an authoritative power structure, but for unity in spite of its existence in the world.

Many times we forget that this book in our bibles is not a theological treatise, but a letter. It was not written to be dissected, but as an encouraging letter to be read from start to finish. When we forget and begin chopping the letter into sections, we tend to leave behind the previous sections and content and see each section as a separate entity. So, to review and connect our passages together, Paul started by telling the Ephesians to praise God because of his gift to them of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ; reminded them of their adoption into God’s family; showed them where they were—far away—and how they had been brought near; told them of how he prayed for them—for God to open their eyes and enlighten their hearts to his love for them and his power at work within them; and then lines out how their lives should be different from their old way of living since Christ has made them new. And through all of this, there is a continued emphasis on unity; of our level footing at the cross--salvation by grace not works; of God’s destruction of the hostility that divides us; of his bringing together and making us one; and how this new life lived in gentleness, patience, humility, and love leading to unity through the bond of peace. The last section that we read ended with some ways the Holy Spirit shows up in our lives: speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing to God, and giving thanks.

Now, without pausing to take a breath, Paul says "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." This statement is so much a part of these two sections, it is a manifestation of the Spirit at work within us, and it is also the beginning of the section we will study today. “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Everyone usually "amens" that verse, and cringes at the next. Today we are going to stop being afraid of the word submission. We are going to stop being held captive to the view that submission is somehow a reinforcement of the world’s system of oppression and abuse. Instead we are going to see this word as a blessing. It is going to become something encouraging and a blessing to us in all of our relationships. Submission. Who would have thought?

Let’s look at this word, submission. In the Greek, the root is hupotasso. It has a military definition, which is going to be key to our boldness with this word from today forward. The military definition is to line up troops, to arrange them under a commander for battle. In this case, an ending is placed on the word that makes it not an absolute command, but a matter of our own decision--hupotassomai. Not just “submit!” but instead submit yourself voluntarily. Paul says to these Ephesians “Submit yourselves (voluntarily) to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In that verse, who is our commander? Christ! He is the leader of our army. We are to voluntarily submit to one another—line up for battle with one another, out of reverence, respect and fear for our commander. That puts a whole new spin on our way of thinking, doesn’t it? Suddenly we are not fearing each other. We are not fearing the person in authority over us. We are acting out of reverence for Christ. It does not take away the earthly authority, but suddenly we have a greater purpose and a greater authority that we know we can trust with every part of our lives.

Now Paul takes this into our daily lives--marriage, family, and work--where we are most likely to experience conflict and anxiety over authority and power. He starts with the one closest to home. Paul says “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; wives to your husbands as to the Lord.” Then he finishes by stating the authority structure already in place—for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Our response to this verse should be to look around and realize we are standing on a battle field. No one argues over power when enemy fire is coming. So, just as the believers are to line up together for battle under Christ, wives are to line up for battle with their husbands. Wives, we have to be watching their backs. When troops line up for battle, everyone looks out for everyone else. Submission is a matter of seeing the bigger picture: we have to remember our trust, and our hope is not in our husbands. Our hope and our trust is in the Lord. On the field of battle, sergeants and captains don’t lay out the battle plan. The plan comes from the general or the commander. Christ is our commander, and we put our trust in him, because he already proved he would die for us. This gives us the boldness to be respectful of our husbands, not manipulative, not steamrolling them, and not heckling them to pieces.

Husbands, Paul says something radical to you, love your wife as Christ loved the church. Think about that for a moment. What did Christ ever do for himself? What did he ever do that had a purpose other than to raise up the church and glorify the Father? Nothing. Are you ready for that kind of sacrifice? That takes some serious trust in God. Laying down your life for your wife, being willing to sacrifice your wants for her needs, that is tough stuff. But that is exactly what Real Men of God are called to do. Husbands, your wives are lining up for battle with you, you need to line up with them as well. You are under fire from a common enemy, this is not the time for power plays and bullying. This is not the time to bellow, “I am the king of my own castle.” What good is a castle if all your troops are lying dead around it? Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificed himself in the battle so he could win the war.

This lining up for battle does not take away the authority roles that are already in place, it just makes them less of a focus. Children obey your parents, for this is right, and so that you will have a long life. If privates don’t obey the more experienced captains and sergeants on the field of battle, they are toast. Children, even you need to know that we are at war. We have an enemy who would like nothing more than to ruin your lives by leading you astray. Line up for battle with your parents and trust their lead. Parents, since we are at war, don’t exasperate your children, they may just decide to join the other side. You need to raise them in the instruction of the Lord Jesus. That means not only teaching them facts, but living out the new life that Christ has placed in us through the Holy Spirit.

The next groups addressed are servants and masters. Today we could read this employees and employers, or working people and managers. You all know how it goes in a work environment. The boss uses his power to make himself feel important and the working people all stand at the water cooler and conspire to play minesweeper for an hour everyday to get back at him. We start to see each other as enemies, when in reality we are all under fire from the same source. Even co-workers and managers who are not Christians are under fire from the enemy. They sometimes pass that fire along to others, but a lot of it is internalized. If we could see the bigger picture, and decide to stop undermining each other, we could line up for battle together. What if employees chose to voluntarily do their work as though they were serving Christ? What if Bosses saw that they were going to be held accountable for their actions by the same judge as those who worked for them? If we could do this in the workforce, we would stop losing ground and the witness of Christ would advance.

I know the whole military analogy is sometimes hard to swallow, but let’s not forget that Paul does not transition to another topic in chapter 6 verse10. No, he says “finally,” to sum it all up. After we get our attitudes toward each other in the right perspective, one more reminder that we must put on the armor God provides for us so that we can stand against the enemy who is not flesh and blood. Your enemy is not your spouse, your children, your parents, your boss, or your workforce! There is an enemy, and unlike an earthly enemy, this is one that we cannot defeat. Only God can defeat him, but God has given us the armor necessary to stand our ground. So, stop fighting each other for control. Stop the power struggle at home, in your marriage, and at work. Open your eyes to the battle raging around you and choose to line up and stand in formation under our one commander Jesus Christ, looking out for the wellbeing of those around us, and standing our ground together.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall Mini-Calendar

Important Dates to Remember!
2nd-3rd Emporia Clean Sweep in our area

Tuesday the 6th Elder’s Meeting 6:30 pm

Sunday the 11th Business Meeting following Worship
Fall Harvest Party at Rainsbarger’s 5:00

Thursday the 15th Burundi Presentation at 6:30 pm

16th-18th Women’s Retreat Weekend

Sunday the 25th Area Rally at Gardner Friends


Sunday the 15th Beginning of Family Sunday School
Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
Thanksgiving Meal

This week's sermon: Out with the Old, In with the New

Ephesians 4:17-5:20.

These declarations and prohibitions are all expansions on verse 2 of chapter 4, where Paul says to “be completely humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love.” This is that life of humility and love lived out practically. Paul takes us through four statements of what we ought to look like as children of the king. Paul tells the Ephesians to 1. Stop living like the gentiles; 2. Put off the old self, and put on the new; 3. Be imitators of God as dearly loved children; and 4. Be careful how you live, live wisely. These four statements are expanded on in the surrounding verses, detailing the old life and what to put off, and the new life, what to put on.

Paul begins this section by describing the life of the gentiles as a dark, separated, ignorant, numb, indulgent lifestyle that does not satisfy. Sounds great, right? I put it right up there with sleeping on the street without a blanket. Do you remember last week’s picture of the beggar turned son of the king? This is the life he was giving up. This is not much of a sacrifice, and yet sometimes we treat leaving this life of darkness, loneliness, and hunger as a great martyrdom. But if we are in Christ, Paul says we should know better. This is not the Truth that we were taught in Christ. Remember the woman at the well, Jesus said to her, “If you asked me I would give you water so that you would never thirst again.” God does not call us to a life of emptiness, but a life so full of himself, we realize our former starvation without him.

The Truth we learn in Christ is to put off the old way of life that does not satisfy. It no longer suits us to be wearing the clothes of a beggar spiritually, but the very robes of Christ’s righteousness and holiness. That is why put off the cloak of lies we hide behind. Not because it is wrong—which it absolutely is—but because wearing the robes of righteousness we don’t have anything we need to lie about. Lying is a survival skill in some people’s lives. It is how they make up for the fact that they feel inferior, weak, ashamed of who they are. But in Christ, we are God’s children, the sons and daughters of the king. What do we have to hide? Even the things of the past are no longer important, they are overcome by what Christ has done for us in bringing us into the family, and the Holy Spirit is doing in us to transform us from the inside out. This is the ultimate recognition of grace, to live in honesty with one another. To refuse to judge, to refuse to fear the judgment of others, but to be in complete unity as one body.

This unity is held together by our obedience to deal with our disagreements and even anger with one another in a way that brings about healing, not wounding. It is not a sin to be angry. It is a natural response we have to injustice, or pain, or being wronged. What we choose to do with that anger can become sinful if we allow it to fester, if we refuse to practice constructive confrontation, if we let it go down to bitterness and drive a wedge between ourselves and another person. Then it is sin, then it causes wounds that become gangrenous. And injuring our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, or allowing a wound in our hearts to fester by continually picking it open gives the devil a foothold. It is like making a whole in the network of sentries around the castle so that the enemy can sneak his troops over the wall.

Paul describes many things that are part of the old life and the alternative new life actions. Stealing is part of that old life. Working—not only for our own living, but so that we can find value in sharing with others is part of the new life. Tearing people down through course language and gossip is part of the old life. Building people up in conversation and bringing them encouragement in what we say is part of the new life. Seeking a loophole so that you can still engage in the habits you enjoy while feeling smugly superior is grieving to the Holy Spirit, it is trying to hang onto the old life while pretending to live in the new. So don’t do it. Life in Christ is not about what you can get away with, it is about how deeply you can immerse yourself in Christ to experience his abundance. This is why Paul tells the Ephesians to imitate God as dearly loved children.

When kids see their parents and do what they are doing, it is not because there is some rule that they must. It is out of love and a desire to be just like daddy. I remember when Kathrina started taking her plastic alphabet letters from the fridge 9particularly the green letter “T”) and shaving just like daddy, or when she would want to help mommy sweep and mop the floor. Bella loves to help do the dishes, and both girls love to sit in the computer chair and “work.” It should be the same with us. We should love our heavenly daddy so much and desire to be like him that our behavior naturally patterns after his. And we know that God is love, we should live in love towards God and one another, following the pattern Christ set for us.

That pattern does not include, and never will include, sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity or coarse joking. Why, because they are on the “bad” list? Well, they are, but not just because someone arbitrarily decided they were bad. No, these are symptoms of a greater problem. You know that it is not good for your lungs to fill up with fluid. You know it is bad to loose feeling in your hands and feet. You know that it is really bad to start having body parts fall off. But if you go to the doctor, his concern is to find out why these things are happening. The same is true of the sinful habits in our lives. Paul tells us the basic diagnosis as to why these bad things, immorality, impurity, greed and obscenity, would show up in our lives. The problem, he says, is idolatry. That is the real sin here. That is the root. “But I don’t bow down to an idol!” You protest. But if you can’t say no to sexual immorality, lust has become your god. If you can’t say no to dishonesty and greed, self has become your god. If you can’t say no to obscenity and coarse talk that tears others down to make you look good, popularity and the praise of men has become your god. These become the things you imitate and seek after above everything else. Watch out for idolatry, it is the root disease of all kinds of infection in the Christian life. Now Paul gives a warning about people who will try to tell you that this is all meaningless. They will tell you it doesn’t really matter what you do. They will say that grace covers everything, so live like you want to. Well, grace does cover everything that we allow it to cover. If we are following another god, a god of darkness, emptiness, loneliness, deceit, and death; if we are sacrificing and surrendering ourselves to those gods in idolatry then we cannot simultaneously be surrendering ourselves to the One True Living God and his abundant grace.

As Paul says, there is no fellowship of light with darkness. You cannot have a little darkness and a little light. Wherever there is light, darkness has to flee. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that you are in the light when you are surrounding yourself with darkness. The last admonition Paul gives is to live wisely. We know that the way of the world is foolishness, and there are a lot of ways to ruin your life foolishly. That is why I think the only thing Paul mentions in this little section is don’t get drunk. Probably the biggest thing you could have done in Paul’s day to ruin your ability to make good decisions was to get drunk. Now we have added a whole host of intoxicants and drugs that contribute to stupid decision making. Instead of turning to intoxication to feel good about ourselves and to gain confidence, why not instead be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will come in, give us a good picture of who we are in Christ, give us strength for every situation, give us peace and confidence and a sense of God’s love and grace. All that and no hangover or worries about the foolish things we did the night before.

All of these things that Paul tells the Ephesians again are a way to fulfill the life lived in gentleness, patience, humility, and unity through love. The keys are to stop living like we did before, put off the old, put on the new, imitate God like his children that we are, and live wisely. In this way our lives serve to glorify God, to build up the body of Christ around us, and to satisfy our souls in a way the old life just could not have done. We can’t do all of this alone. But we can have this life with the help of the Holy Spirit and by encouraging each other with Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs. Our lives of love and thanksgiving help those around us to continue walking in their new lives as well, and we all build each other up as one body with Christ as the Head.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Weekly Schedule 9/13/09

Tuesday September 15th-
Coffee at Amanda's 9:30 am
Elder's Meeting 6:30 pm

Sunday September 20th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: Sonship 101

Ephesians 4:1-16.
Paul has been telling the Ephesians where they stand. He told them to rejoice and praise God because they were adopted as his children, and they had received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. He reminded them that they used to be dead, and now they are alive. He reminded them again, that as gentiles, they were separate, foreigners, outcasts, and now God has brought them near in Christ. Paul shared with them that he prays for them, twice he has shown them his prayers for their hearts, their eyes, their inner being to be enlightened to know the hope God has called them to, his power for them, and his love that surpasses all knowledge. Paul has been showing them right where they are: loved, accepted, adopted, blessed, prayed for, appointed a special ambassador in Paul himself. Now he tells them the rest of the story.

Now Paul tells them that their position in Christ, their calling, requires a change in the way they live. It didn’t require a change to get them into that position, but once they are there their lives must change. Why is that? Well, let’s play pretend for just a minute. Let’s say there is a beautiful kingdom, with a great and mighty king. Let’s say that this king has a son who one day sees a beggar in the street and through his intercession with the king on behalf of the beggar the king decides to adopt the beggar as his son. So now the beggar is the son of the king. In order for the beggar to become the son of the king he had to do nothing, the prince did all the work. But because he is the son of the king now there are certain things required of him.

He can’t go around wearing a beggars clothing. He can no longer sleep on the street without a blanket. He must eat good food. He may be given assignments by the king. And he needs to get along with the other members of the king’s household. The same is true for the Ephesians that Paul is writing to. They were adopted into the king’s household. Now they must not live like the beggars they were before. Paul tells them, and we need to hear this as well today, that the first thing about living in the king’s house is getting along with others.

Paul gives some nice baby steps: humility, gentleness, patience, love, and unity. These are the values of the kingdom, and as the king’s children, we must live them out with each other first. We talked about some of these kingdom values at the recent ladies tea. Humility is simply a matter of being grounded, knowing who we are as children of the king, without forgetting the beggar we used to be. Gentleness is being approachable, available to those in need. Patience is waiting for God to work in us and in others in his own timing, even when it hurts. Love holds all these things together, and really is what makes it possible for us to consider being humble, patient, and gentle; love that does not come from us, but that comes from God at work in us. Paul reminded the Ephesians of God’s work in them, his mighty power, and his love that surpasses knowledge. That love is at work in our hearts to produce love in us for others. When all of these kingdom values are in play, we will be unified. This is of vital importance, because as Paul tells the Ephesians, we are all part of one body.

When we are adopted as his children, God not only makes us part of his family or his household, but he makes us part of the church, the bride of Christ, which is one organic unit. The church, no matter how we try to divide it into denominations or sects, is one body. We all have the same hope, we all have the same Holy Spirit at work in us, we all have the same Lord Jesus. We may disagree on how to baptize, but we all agree in the necessity of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. We all have the same God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. Paul wants the Ephesians to know this, to grab onto it, to hold tightly to this truth because sometimes it is hard to see the bonds that hold us together.

We are all part of one body, but even though we are one, we have many different gifts, different roles to play, different assignments from the king. Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ led captives in his train and gave gifts to men. These assignments and talents come from Christ by way of the Holy Spirit. Here Paul calls it grace. Grace has been appointed to each of us as Christ saw fit. He didn’t do a survey to find out what you think you should be doing, he gave you a gift and he expects you to use it. But that isn’t fair! Some people would protest, but I would answer that it is not fair to take a beggar and make him part of the king’s family. The king doesn’t ask those in his household what they want to do, he knows them well and he gives them the tasks as he sees fit. As independence-loving Americans it takes a while for us to wrap our minds around that concept. Trust me, I would never have thought that I would make a good pastor. It was nowhere on my radar, but God called me. I argued strenuously against it. But you can’t win an argument with the king. He is the king. He wins.

Grace has been apportioned to each one of us, that means we all have a job to do, and that we have been given the ability to do it. Paul doesn’t list all of the spiritual gifts here, so don’t worry if you don’t see your gift in these verses. Paul gives a basic overview not of God's gifts to men, but of what God has given to the church in order to produce maturity. It says he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. Apostles are sent ones, the ones that God tells to go somewhere else to tell the gospel, these are our missionaries. Prophets get a bad rap as spooky mystics who tell the future, really a prophet is simply someone who speaks forth the word of God. This is the person who will tell you the truth no matter how much you want them to blur the lines for you. Evangelists are those who are devoted to the good news. These guys can’t wait to talk about the good news of the gospel of Jesus to anyone and everyone. At the end of the list are a squashed together double-teamed group of pastors and teachers. Pastors are shepherds, they live in the field with the sheep. They lead them to water and show them where the good food is, and keep the sheep from eating poisonous plants or falling off cliffs. Teachers teach the word of God, the things of God. Good teachers don’t just throw information at you, they get you to take hold of it yourself and spur a hunger for more.

These are not just gifts that God gives individual people, rather they are the gifts that God gives to the church. He gave to the church some people to go, some to speak the Truth, some to have a passion for the gospel, and some to shepherd the people and engage them in learning about God. He gave these gifts to the church so that the body might be built up. The job of missionaries, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is not to make a name for themselves, but to prepare God’s people for works of service. Their job is to get others ready to go, to speak the truth, to share the gospel, to lead and to teach so that the whole body is built up and comes together in unity.

Unity is so important because it is only by learning to stick it out together and learn from each other that we can hope to attain a maturity of faith and understanding that will enable us to grow up in all things. Paul ends this section with a reminder of who is really in charge, Christ is the head of all things. We are supported by ligaments, but the whole body has to do its part as the head directs it so that the body can be in tune. Then the body works together to build itself up instead of tear itself apart. This is a lesson the church is desperate to learn. More blood has been shed and more martyrs made in the church because of Christians killing Christians than by any other means. Usually it is over matters that don’t really matter. I am not suggesting we accept every new wave of thought and teaching, obviously Paul would say that would make us still infants. But not rushing to judgment, considering our standpoint, returning to scripture and evaluating both perspectives in humility, gentleness, patience, and love; we may just find that we are the ones in the wrong, or that it is a matter of no consequence one way or the other. If there must be confrontation, after this time of searching, it can be done as we are instructed "speaking the truth in love." Then we will find when we are neither persuaded nor provoked to wrath at every new wave of teaching, that we have grown up into Christ-likeness. And we will have passed the first level of Sonship 101: how to get along with others in the king’s household.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This Week's Sermon: Taking Hold of God's Love

Ephesians 3:14-21.
The need for love surrounds us. It is expressed everywhere in popular culture from music to children's movies. The popular songs throughout recent generations shout the need for love: "You're nobody 'til somebody loves you..." "All you need is love..." "Don't you want somebody to love, don't you need somebody to love..." and on they go crying out for someone to love. Even in the children's movie Beauty and the Beast the thing that will break the curse is when the enchanted prince learns to love someone and to be loved in return. We all need love. The world around us is starving for love, and we as Christians find ourselves--whether we realize it or not, swimming in an eternal sea of love.

Paul is praying in this section for the Ephesian believers. For this reason; because as he stated in verse 10, God’s eternal purpose was to make known his wisdom through the church, and because we can approach him boldly through faith. Paul boldly asks for things that seem impossible. He asks that they know the unknowable, that they be filled with the immeasurable, so that their lives may bring glory and honor to God.

I love this prayer. Paul in a nutshell prays for everything that would perfect the church and turn us into the God-glorifying, Christ-imitating, Gospel-shining people he wants us to be. All in just a few sentences! If we could have these prayers prayed over us, and if God answered in all his power and might, and we allowed him to do this work in us, there would be no containing the results.

The first thing Paul prays is that the Ephesians would be strengthened. That is good. We would all like some extra strength. But he doesn’t stop there. The source of that strength is God’s glorious riches. Out of God’s abundance, his inexhaustible resources, out of the strength that he has that will never quit, Paul is praying for that strength to enter the lives of the Ephesians. And the vehicle for that strength is the very Spirit of God. So Paul is asking God through the Holy Spirit—who is the only one who could possibly handle that much power—to give strength from his everlasting power to the Ephesians in their inner being. There is no real life comparison to this, but the closest thing would be charging a tiny battery from the world’s largest power plant. The purpose for this power and strength in their inner being is so that they are capable of having Christ dwell in their hearts through faith.

Do you realize that it takes a supply of strength from God’s abundance for us to have the ability for Christ to dwell in us? For us to have the faith to let him in, God goes to his storehouse and pours forth his power through the Holy Spirit. That is what it takes for us to have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. Next time you are having a low faith day, remember this verse, and stop trying to conjure up faith on your own. You have to be hooked into the power supply in order to even have a chance. It is a job that is way too big for us. We have to let God pour his power into us! He has the abundance, we have the need, we just have to let him in. Wow, and that was just one part of the prayer!

Next Paul prays that they will be rooted and established in love. Rooted, like a tree, and established like a skyscraper that has to have foundations deep below the earth’s surface. That is what we need in order for the next part of Paul’s prayer to be possible, and it is what Paul assumes is already in place for the Ephesians if the first prayer is answered. If Christ is dwelling in your heart through faith, you are getting roots that are growing down into God’s love, your foundations are being laid deep beneath the surface. Assuming that process has begun, and that God is faithful to complete it, Paul prays that out of that rooting, out of that establishment of foundations in God’s love, we might have more power to grasp how wide, and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Picture a tree, planted in the earth. That tree is rooted in the soil, but no matter how long it lives and grows in that soil, it will never reach the top of the sky. It will never reach the center of the earth. It will never spread its branches out to touch on the other side of the globe. The same is true for us. Paul is praying for us as tiny trees to grow until we grasp, and take hold of the completeness of the boundaries of God’s boundless love. We will always grow and never reach the limits. But the way in which we grasp God’s love is the same way that the tree grasps the earth. The tree takes hold of the earth. The tree makes the earth its own. The tree takes in minerals from the soil and so takes on characteristics from the earth. In the same way, we can take hold of God’s love, and make it our own. We can hold onto it, we can take it in, we can let it change us from the inside out. And I would say that being rooted and established in love, we cannot help but take in God’s love. And we would be fools not to grasp hold of it and make it our own. This grasping of God’s love, again is not something we do in our own strength, but only as God works in us to strengthen us. And it is also another step closer to Paul’s ultimate prayer for the Ephesians. He prays that they may have power to grasp the love of God, so that they can know it fully and intimately.

Paul is praying for them to fully know the unknowable, to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. It is too great for us to understand. Like the earth is too great for the tree to ever touch every part of it. But to seek this understanding and to grow in the knowledge of God’s love is as much a part of our lives as Christians as the tree’s natural tendency to keep growing taller and push roots further down, and stretch limbs farther out. Every tree grows as if it could someday reach the heavens. Every Christian life ought to be the same.

If we could understand this love that defies comprehension, then we would, as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, have the capacity to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. I think, in part, this is attainable. Paul prays for them to be filled to the measure. He wants them to be filled to the top, with no space left. It is conceivable that we could be so filled that we would have no desire, no hunger, no empty space left to be filled by anything other than God. Most of us don’t live that way. We do not seek to fill every space in our lives with God, but rather to let God occupy the space we have left over after we fill every other part of our lives with other things. We are happy to have God occupy a tenth of our lives, or maybe a quarter. If we even cross paths with someone who has let God occupy half of their lives, we are shocked, and even a little offended. This part of the prayer has two parts, that they be filled to the measure and that they be filled with all the fullness of God.

Even if we did allow God to fill us 100%, we would not necessarily allow all his fullness in. Let’s face it, there are parts of who God is that we are uncomfortable with. We don’t like the stories of God’s immediate judgment—like the 15,000 Israelites who died because they were complaining about God’s choice of leadership. And we don’t like God’s extreme grace either—like the parable of the workers in the field, we can’t understand why someone who makes a deathbed confession of faith could possible inherit the same heavenly reward as Billy Graham, but Jesus said they do. So we pick and choose what parts of God we want to allow into our lives. But Paul is praying for the Ephesians to be filled up to the fullest with everything that makes God who he is. That is my desire for each of us as well.

All of this is a precursor to the real prayer. That God will be glorified in the church and through Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever. And he is worthy of that glory because he is the God who is able to do the impossible. He is able to give us the ability to have Christ dwell in us. He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. He is able to enable us to take hold of his love. He is able to fill us up with the fullness of who he is. He can do it. If Paul could think to pray it, God is able to do all of that and more. He is the God of the impossible, and he wants to do the impossible in you and me, and in our church and city. The question is not “Is he able?” The question is “Am I willing?” Or even “Will I ask God to make me willing?”

Think with me of that tree for just a moment, and imagine that you can sink your toes into God’s love, that you can stretch your arms out and keep reaching farther to take it all in. The tree doesn’t make the rain, or the soil, or the air, or the sunlight that make it grow. All the tree does is open itself up to receive. My challenge to you this morning is to open your heart and allow God to do his work in you. He is so able, and willing, and can do the impossible in you. Let him in, let him work. See the impossible springing up in your life.

Monday, August 31, 2009

This Week's Schedule 8/30/09

Tuesday September 1st-
Women's Bible Study meets to discuss new study material 7:00pm

Wednesday September 2nd- Worship Planning Meeting 7:00 pm

Sunday September 6th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Remember to pray this week for those who are ill and those who mourn.

This week's sermon: Breaking Down and Building Up

Ephesians 2:11-3:13.
In this section of text, Paul addresses the very sensitive issue of racial division. Paul is talking about the division between the Jews and Gentiles. At that time, and still in some places today, there werer very sharp divisions between those who belonged to the Jewish heritage and those who were outside of it.

In the Jewish life in general, there were degrees of holiness based on geographical location relative to the temple. For example Jerusalem, where the temple was located was more holy than towns a couple of days journey out, and those towns were more holy than those like Nazareth where Mary and Joseph were from, about 70 miles from Jerusalem. In the Temple the same concept applied to the areas of worship in relation to the Holy of Holies. There were courts located through the temple, those closest to the Holy of Holies were for the priests only, then the next set were open to Jewish male worshipers. The next courts were open to both Jewish men and women. Finally, the courts furthest away from the Holy of Holies were open to the gentiles. They had no access at all to the place of sacrifice in the men-only court, or the temple donation area, which was in the Court of Women. If you look at schematics of the temple, the only place gentiles are allowed is really outside the temple itself. Any gentile trying to gain access to the temple took his life in his own hands, because the penalty for entering was death. In essence Jewish temple worship sent the message, if you are not Jewish you can hang around outside, but you can never have access to God’s presence.

Paul is writing to a gentile audience in the book of Ephesians. Some of them probably knew what it was like to stand outside the temple with no hope of ever really being a part of God’s plan. Paul is again reminding them of where they were, so that they could rejoice in what Christ had done: so that they would appreciate their currant ability to have a one on one relationship with God. In speaking of that former situation, Paul uses words like uncircumcised, separate, excluded, foreigners, without hope, without God, and far away. And in his typical style, Paul goes on to give good contrasts for those “where you were” statements and says they have been brought near, made one, reconciled, have access to the Father by his Spirit. And as if it was not enough to do it once, Paul reiterates their “used to be” position and how it has changed. He says now you are no longer foreigners, but fellow citizens, members of God’s household, built together to be God’s dwelling! What an exciting contrast!

Christ's specific role and purpose in the crucifixion was to reconcile man to God and man-to-man, he is our peace. I love the way Paul says that. He doesn’t say Jesus gave us peace, or that he supplies our peace. He is our peace. Eerdman’s Bible Commentary says this peace is “not just an absence of hostility, like an armed truce, it connotes well-being and security at every level.” To me it implies that since Jesus is our peace no matter what your earthly circumstances are, if you are in relationship with Christ, you have peace, because you have him.

I want to look at the construction phrases in this passage. Any of you that have built things, pay close attention to what Paul says about Jesus carpentry work in the lives of people. Paul says Jesus has made the two one. He has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. In abolishing the law, Jesus took away any concrete excuse to stay separated. It is as though Jesus came in and knocked out the wall separating the living room from the dining room so that there would be space for everyone to eat together at his table. By taking out the wall he made the two rooms one. Paul says Christ’s purpose was to create one new man out of the two- the Jews and Gentiles, and also to reconcile both to God. And He did this in his flesh, through his body being crucified, buried, and raised back to life.

Paul says that Jesus was not the only one on the cross. He says Jesus crucified, put to death, their hostility on the cross. You know the saying, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Well, it is true, and Jesus himself is the one who made it that way. He not only broke down the formal external reasons for separation, he killed that hostility which seems to take on a life of its own. He took it with him to the cross. And Jesus did not stop at reconciling man to man.

Do you remember the account in Mark (15:38) when Jesus was crucified, that the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. That curtain was the separation between the priestly most holy place, and the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was the only direct access that man had with God up until Christ. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only once a year, and only after a series of cleansing rituals, and even then, there was fear of death should God find him unclean in any way. When Jesus died on that cross, the curtain was torn in two, symbolizing that there was now free access to God’s presence without fear. That is how the gentiles were joined with the Jews to make the New Testament church.

Paul continues in Chapter three to talk about his own personal mission to spread the good news of reconciliation among the Gentiles. God called and appointed him to carry this message of peace. To make sure that the message was communicated clearly, God took one of his staunchest Jewish law enforcers and turned him into an ambassador to those he would never have embraced before Christ’s Holy Intervention on the road to Damascus. Paul is the Gentiles’ own messenger bearing the good news of the redemption of Christ to both Jew and Gentile alike. Which Paul says was God’s secret mission all along. The mystery made known now, but hidden through the ages, that God wanted to reach out to everyone regardless of their nationality. It is because of this revelation that Paul says the church showcases the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. This double reconciliation God to man and man to man, glorifies God in the highest places.

Today, in the church we don’t typically have the same issue of Jew versus Gentile when it comes to being in right relationship to God. In this church, you would be hard pressed to find anyone with significant Jewish heritage who would consider himself closer to God than those of us with no Jewish background. But the truth remains that if Christ hadn’t come we, being gentiles, would still be on the outside looking in. So this scripture applies to us in that sense of personally no longer being excluded as non-Jews in the worship of the True and Living God. We can approach him in boldness and confidence because of our faith in Christ. This reconciliation applies to us in another way as well. We have other dividing walls of hostility.

In our world, there are dividing walls of hostility between nations, between political parties, between denominations, and between individuals. Jesus did not just come to break down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. He came to break down that dividing wall of hostility for all who would believe in him. As Christians we have no cause for allowing a wall of hostility to continue to exist in our lives while we claim that Christ is our peace. Jesus came on a mission of reconciliation. He came make us no longer objects of wrath to God, but recipients of his blessing. He came to reconcile man to his fellow man, to restore broken relationships, to end the separateness we inherited with the sinful nature.

Think back with me to the story of the fall. Two things were immediately broken when mankind sinned: the relationship between God and Man, and the relationship between Man and Woman. Then the very next story we read in Genesis is of Cain and Able. From there on we read story after story about Man’s broken relationship with God and his broken relationship with his fellow man. Jesus came in part to destroy that separateness we have from one another.

There is a greater purpose in our reconciliation than just personal satisfaction. God is building the Church together to be his dwelling place. Here and elsewhere in scripture we are told that we are building materials that God is using to build his temple. As building materials, we have to be joined together in order for us to fulfill our purpose. If a mason has stones that refuse to fit together, he knocks off the rough edges to make a smoother fit. God is the master mason building his temple out of our lives. He may have to knock off some rough edges in order for us to fit together, but in the end it is worth that loss so that we can be a part of his plan, part of his family, part of his holy temple.

What dividing walls of hostility are you holding up? Are there rough edges you are holding onto? Probably all of us still have some area of our lives that needs the touch of that master craftsman to make join us together. There may be people in your life that you are holding up walls of hostility against. I want to challenge you now to take a step in allowing that wall to be broken in you. I invite you to do it today. If you find that you can’t, I urge you to pray and ask God to work in you to bring you to that place. If there is someone you need to reconcile with don’t delay in doing your part in seeking reconciliation. Remember, Jesus is our peace, and there may be some in our lives who refuse to reconcile with us. We are not responsible for their actions, only our own in offering that reconciliation and praying for the person we are at odds with.

You can only get so close to God keeping others at arms length, because by holding them away from ourselves we refuse to let God do his reconciliation work in us. And He cannot build a temple with stones that refuse to reconcile. If you hear his voice, if you feel his prompting, do not harden your hearts. Be obedient to respond to his calling.