Monday, March 30, 2009

This Week's Schedule 3/29/09

Tuesday March 31st-
Women of Faith: Encourage Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday April 1st- Game Night! 5:30-7:30pm

Sunday April 5th- Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship in the Birchwood Room 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Iglesia Evangelica Amigos 3:00 pm

Coming Up:
April 10th Good Friday Service at Cottonwood Friends
April 12th Easter Services
Sunrise Service at Cottonwood Friends 7 am
(Dress warmly for outdoor service!)
Breakfast to follow
Morning Worship at First Friends Church 10 am
Easter Egg Hunt after the ten o'clock service

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

This week's sermon: Jesus washes feet

John 13:1-17; 34-35.
If you are like me, you grew up thinking that the point of Christianity was to do things for God. We go to church for God. We give our money to God. We do good deeds for God. And this is not entirely wrong, but it is not a complete picture. Misunderstanding this thought has led a lot of people to see the kingdom of heaven like a hierarchy. Like an earthly kingdom, where there is a king and advisors and where some people are more important and others are peons. How many of you have had that thought?

This morning we are going to continue to look at the upside down kingdom of God. And it is particularly upside down when it comes to this very issue of power and dominance. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”(Mt 20:25-28). Jesus came to show us that in the kingdom of God, the king is the greatest servant of all.

Read John 13:1-17; 34-35.

The first verse of this passage says that Jesus loved his own who were in the world, and now he showed them the fullest extent of his love. And then he went out and died on the cross... No, he showed them the fullest extent of his love for them by washing their feet--by being a servant to them and setting an example for them to follow. Why was this the full extent of his love? Let’s ponder that question for a minute.

Washing feet wasn’t the hardest thing he did, that would have been dying on the cross and being separated from God the Father for the first and only time in all eternity. So it wasn’t that it was hard. It was not the most enduring thing he did, that would have been walking around pretty much homeless for three years with twelve guys who constantly missed his point. So it wasn't that this act required perseverance. It was not the most miraculous thing he did, that would be raising the dead or rising from the dead himself. But John says that in this moment he showed them the full extent of his love.

Let’s think for a moment about who Jesus is and what his purpose was here on earth. Jesus, also according to John, was the creator of the universe. Elsewhere he is called the king of kings. He is the celebrated Messiah. He is God. From an earthly perspective, a being that powerful and awesome would be at the top of the food chain and everyone else would serve him. And this God of the universe takes off his outer clothing, wraps a towel around his waist and takes the dirty, travel-stained feet of his disciples one by one and washes them. The king of kings and lord of lords becomes in that moment what no other pretend god has ever been—a servant for his followers. I don’t know if we can wrap our minds around that.

These disciples had been walking the roads alongside camels and donkeys. They had walked down streets that were combo avenues and sewers. And they wore sandals. Anybody here just have a burning desire to wash feet with who knows what splashed all over and ground in between the toes? Too descriptive? Sorry, but we need to understand that this was not a pretty foot-washing ceremony where everyone washed their feet before hand to make sure it wasn’t embarrassing. These guys came in to eat supper, and Jesus washed their dirty feet. It was a job reserved for the lowest servant in the house. That night, Jesus became the lowest servant in the house. That is why John describes it as Jesus showing the fullest extent of his love.

The greatest in the universe became the lowliest. That is why Peter objected. Peter knew who Jesus was. He said seven chapters ago, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God”(John 6:69). No way was Peter going to let Jesus look at, let alone wash his filthy feet. Peter was going to wash his own feet. “It’s ok, Lord, really. I got this one.” And Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” Well, impulsive, lovable Peter then went to the other extreme. “I want to belong, so wash every part of me.” I think Jesus probably laughed and shook his head as he told Peter that only his feet were dirty and that washing them would be enough.

We often fll into the same trap that Peter did that night. Because of our misconceptions about the order of the kingdom, we think we have to act a certain way to impress God. We can’t let him know that we have dirty feet. We can’t imagine that God would want to serve us, we think it is our job to serve him. And I am not saying that serving God is wrong, but if it stops there and we think that somehow by doing all the right things and avoiding all the wrong things we are in the clear, then we have missed the point. Jesus said, “The son of man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Before we even think about serving God we have to accept that he wants to serve us first.

We have to let him wash our feet. We have to let him make us his own by washing us where we come into contact with the world. That is how the disciples got their feet dirty, by coming in contact with the earth. We get our priorities upside down by coming in contact with the kingdom of the world and letting worldly priorities sink in. We need to let him cleanse us from that contact to set us straight. Once he has done that—once we have let God cleanse our hearts, and serve us, we are to serve others.

Jesus said, “Just as I your lord and teacher have washed your feet, you must wash one another’s feet.” And he didn’t give this as an option. It is a command. So strong of a command that he follows it with the statement, “No slave is greater than his master, nor the messenger greater than the one who sent him.” He is telling these guys who fought constantly about who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom, that they had to serve each other. Not only serve, but serve in the way Jesus had served. They were to wash each other’s filthy, stinky, crud-covered feet. That puts a whole different spin on Christian service, doesn’t it?

Jesus said, if you are going to follow him, you have to be willing to be the lowliest house-slave for each other. And just in case you think you can get out of it by saying foot washing is not your gift. Jesus said, “Don’t think you are better than me. I washed feet, you can too.” It is not about spiritual gifts, it is about responding in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ because Jesus loved us first. It is about serving others, because Christ served us first.

It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to see a brother or sister in need and do something about it. It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to serve a struggling young mom by volunteering to bring her a meal—even if you order pizza. It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to take five minutes to let someone know that they are missed and that you care about them—all of us have phones and can afford a stamp, at least until the price goes up again. It doesn’t take a special spiritual gift to let a young person know they are valued and appreciated by going to a game or attending a special event, or getting permission from their parents to take them out for a coke. This is basic stuff. It isn’t hard. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t miraculous. But it shows someone that you care about them in a practical way.

What would happen if we did that? What would happen if people knew that we cared about them? How would that change the face of our church, or even our community—if we were willing to be the lowest of servants and meet people’s most basic needs. How is God calling you to put this servant hood into practice? Pray about it. Seek his face. Let him show you how to serve those around you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This Week's Schedule 3/22/2009

Tuesday March 24th-
Friends Women Fellowship 9:30am at Madine's
Women of Faith: Encourage Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday March 25th- Kid's Club!! 5:30-7:00pm
Light supper, Bible Lessons, Activities and More
For kids age 5-12

Sunday March 29th- 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: Jesus Shows us the Upside Down Kingdom

Luke 19:1-10.
We have been following Paul’s story in Acts, seeing God at work through his life and obedience. This week I want to switch gears and look back to the ministry of Jesus as we lead up to Easter. Jesus is the one who brought us this upside down kingdom. He taught us about it with his words and he lived the upside down kingdom in front of us. For the next few weeks as we approach Easter—the ultimate example of the upside down kingdom—we are going to look at how Jesus showed us the Kingdom of God in his actions. It is vital for us to understand and become acquainted with this upside down kingdom of God. It is the reason that we have the hope for the future. It is the reason that we are able to live in right relationship with God.

We certainly don’t deserve to be God’s friends. If we are thinking about the God of the Universe, the one who created everything—who could be his friend? He is Holy. That means he is completely separate, completely different from us. We are limited, he is unlimited. He is righteous, we are unrighteous. He is the perfect standard, we are imperfect by any standard. We do not deserve his attention or his love or his friendship. None of us. Even the best most moral person has failed to meet even his own moral standard. Even the most generous person has been selfish at some point—if you doubt it ask their mother or their sibling. We don’t meet the requirements—Romans says we have all fallen short of the glory of God. So what can we do? How is there hope? Why do we think we can have a relationship with God if we are so flawed?

That is the question we are going to answer this morning. Read Luke 19:1-10. I love the story of Zacchaeus. He was short, he was unattractive, he was a sleaze-bag; and Jesus invited himself over for dinner. If I ever make a movie with this story in it, I think I would cast Danny Devito as Zacchaeus, or that actor who played Vincini in The Princess Bride. That is how I picture Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector, and not just any tax collector, a chief tax collector. He was in charge of all the other tax collectors.

These guys were swindlers. You know, people in our society don’t like the IRS, but these guys really were thieves. They were allowed to charge whatever they wanted on top of the Roman taxes and pocket the difference. They were agents of the Roman government who was oppressing the people of the region. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and he was Jewish which meant that his people saw him as a traitor, serving the occupying enemy. This is the man that Jesus picked out of the crowd for special one-on-one time. This is how Jesus chose to show us in that moment the principles of the upside-down kingdom at work.

Zacchaeus heard Jesus was coming to town, he knew that he would never be able to see over the crowd. He knew no one liked him and he would not be able to work his way to the front of the crowd. He knew that he would never be able to approach Jesus without being seriously opposed by those more righteous than himself. So he climbed a tree and hoped his picked the right spot to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he walked through town. There were probably people who did this everywhere Jesus went—people who were so excited they climbed up high to watch Jesus walk by—so it is not that Zacchaeus was doing something new or original that captured Jesus’ attention. He wasn’t handsome, he wasn’t likable, he didn’t have any clout. He didn’t have anything that would make Jesus want to stop and see him for any earthly reason. But Jesus didn’t do anything for any earthly reason. He did things for heavenly reasons.

The kingdom of the world says, “Hang out with the popular and nice people who will do things for you.” Jesus picked out the one person in that crowd who had nothing to offer him, because that was the person who needed him the most. Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house because Zacchaeus was the biggest loser in the crowd. Sure he had lots of money, crooks often do, but he was despised and rejected by his people. He was so lost spiritually he didn’t know which way was up. And Jesus, the one of whom John said, "through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made." This person who created the universe looked at the crowd and picked the person voted least likely to be a friend of God’s. That is who Jesus wanted to have lunch with.

Everyone in the crowd went, “What?! Oh, no he didn’t!” Everyone in that crowd was shocked. Everyone in that crowd thought that they deserved Jesus company more than Zacchaeus. “How could he go to that man’s house and not mine!?” If Jesus had gone to their house, they would have reacted with, “Oh, I’m so special! I am so holy! Jesus wants to come to my house!” But look at Zacchaeus’ response, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’s house, and he jumped out of the tree and repented.

Jesus hadn’t even gone to his house yet, and just because he noticed Zacchaeus the man repented and made public notice of his intent to give half of his wealth to the poor and make restitution to everyone he had cheated. He went from the richest man on the block to the poorest in two seconds. And he did it cheerfully. Because Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house to stay the night.

Jesus said, “I came to seek and save the lost.” He came to seek and save you and me. He knows we are far from perfect. He is not waiting for us to get our act together. He is not concerned with our failures, he is coming into our lives and his presence will fix our faults. His work in us will bring us to the place that he can call us friends. He wants to do that work in us. He will do that in us if we are willing. And he wants to do that same work in those around us. If you are already following Jesus, stop looking for perfect people to invite to the party. Start looking up in the trees on the fringe and see who needs Jesus the most. Start inviting those people to see Jesus, and start seeing him change lives in front of your very eyes. Let him change your life, then let him use you to change the lives of others.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Week's Schedule 3/15/2009

Tuesday March 17th-Women of Faith: Encourage Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday March 18th- NO Kid's Club!! Enjoy your Spring Break.

Sunday March 22nd- 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: Upside Down

Acts 25:13-26:32.
We have talked before about the two kingdoms fighting for control and influence in our lives. They are the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of the world says that wealth, fame, and success are the goals. That is the message we see all the time, everywhere we look, "These things will make you happy. You will be satisfied if you have the biggest bank account, and everyone knows your name." The other kingdom, the Kingdom of God says that it doesn’t matter if you never make a dime, if no one knows your name and if you never win at anything because the God of the universe knows your name and wants to be a part of your life. To the world that is foolishness. It is crazy, completely upside down and ridiculous.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:25 "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. 26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. God chose the foolish to shame the wise because the foolishness of God is stronger than man’s wisdom."

That is hard for us to accept sometimes. It is hard for us to see how God is going to use the weak things to shame the strong. But by studying the kingdom of God at work it begins to become clear that without the upside down priorities of the Kingdom, we would have no place in it. This morning we are going to look again at the life of Paul to see the upside down kingdom at work.

We see this upside down kingdom in Paul’s testimony of his conversion. Only in the Kingdom of God would the Master of the Universe appear to his enemy and make him his friend and servant. By worldly principles, Jesus should have struck Paul down on that road to Damascus and left him there to die. But the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of redemption. God took Paul, his enemy, and made him into one of the greatest evangelists of all time. By worldly standards that is foolishness, by Kingdom of God standards that is wisdom. And aren’t we thankful, because we all were once enemies of God, and he is drawing each of us closer to him every day.

As God draws us closer, our priorities begin to reflect Kingdom of God priorities over kingdom of the world priorities. The kingdom principles are shown at work in Paul’s life as he patiently endures unnecessary imprisonment so that he can bear witness to the power of the upside down kingdom of God. They are shown as he offers his defense before rulers and kings with more than just his own freedom on his mind. Paul tells Agrippa in Acts 26 that he has the salvation of every person in the room on his heart and mind. If he were still living by worldly principles his only thought would be for himself, but here he is thinking of the true freedom in Christ available to all who are listening.

What principles in your life need to be turned upside down so that you can bear witness in your world to the kingdom of God at work in you? Do you need to have your priorities reshaped when it comes to wealth? The world says to get all you can and hoard it for yourself. The Kingdom of God says, “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, but store up treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

Do you need your priorities reshaped when it comes to fame and popularity. The world says you can only be happy if everyone likes you, so do whatever it takes to make them like you. The Kingdom of God says, “I must decrease, so that He—Jesus—can increase,” and that the humble are blessed, for they will be lifted up.

Do you need your priorities reshaped when it comes to your definition of success? The world says you have to win to be happy. The Kingdom of God says "Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." The world says you have to be happy, but the Kingdom of God says "The Joy of the Lord is my strength." Joy is something the world cannot give. You can be happy, but it only lasts a minute. Joy is a state of being, not an emotion. It comes from being content, having peace, not striving for what perishes, but pursuing a Kingdom that is eternal.

Let God draw you close so that he can rewrite your priorities. You and I need to be at home in the Kingdom of God, it is where we will spend eternity. When we get used to Kingdom priorities, we start seeing them as right-side-up and we see that the world has it upside down. Then following in the footsteps of Jesus comes naturally. Let’s Pray.

Monday, March 9, 2009

This Week's Schedule 2/8/2009

Tuesday March 10th-Elder's Meeting 6:30pm (These are always open meetings)

Wednesday March 11th- Kid's Club!! 5:30-7:00pm
Ages 5-12
Light Supper, Activities, Bible Lessons and More!

Sunday March 15th- 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: Authority

How easy is it to complain about the government? We do it all the time, and we can usually find something to gripe about no matter what political party is in charge. If we sit around discussing politics too long, we can end up convincing ourselves pretty quick that we really have it bad, that our country is heading for the hot place, and that things have never been this bad for anyone ever in the history of the world. Now, we aren’t here to discuss politics this morning, so our minds are clear of those thoughts and we can see that rationally, we have it pretty good. Especially if we think about those people who live in dictatorships or countries where there is no thought given to the starving, the dead and the dying people in the streets. No, we don’t have it too bad here, but it is still tempting to think we do. We worry about taxes; we fear war; sometimes we are a little paranoid about Big Brother watching over our shoulder. Sometimes we even feel like a good old fashioned revolt to clear the air and get us back on track. So how do we respond to these feelings of worry and fear as Christians? What does the Bible have to say about how we are to respond to our government?

One place where very clear instruction is given is Romans 13:1-6:
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.

What? We need to do what? We have to submit ourselves to the government? We have to pay our taxes? Who wrote that anyway? Well, that was written by Paul to the church at Rome. That would be like writing to the church in D.C. These people would have known all about government, and don’t think for an instant that their government was somehow cleaner or less corrupt than ours. Oh, no! They had their drunken parties. They had their political intrigue. They had their assassinations. They had their fair share of corruption. And even to those who lived in the shadow of the government’s base of operations, Paul writes, “Submit yourself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” You mean that God put every one of those corrupt Senators in their place? Well, that depends on your view of how God’s sovereignty works. That isn’t my sermon today, but I will tell you that I believe that while they may not have been hand-picked by God, not one of them made it to that station without God allowing it.

Well, where does Paul get off telling us we need to submit to the authorities? We are going to find out together this morning by looking at how Paul responds to the governing authorities he comes in contact with in Acts chapter 25:1-12. Paul has testified before Claudius Lysias, the commander of armies, Felix, now Festus—the Governor who succeeded Felix after he was removed from office. Paul has been held captive for two years. He hasn’t really been abused in that time, able to have some freedoms and his friends have been caring for his physical needs. He hasn’t been shut away in a tall tower or a deep dungeon, but he has been a prisoner nonetheless. It was the leadership of the Jewish people who had brought the charges against Felix that got him kicked out of office. So when it says at the end of chapter 24 that Felix had left Paul in prison as a favor to the Jews, it was a last-ditch effort to keep his position and power. Here with Festus coming into office, he is fully aware that the people he governs have the ability to get him removed from office as well. That is why he approaches the Paul situation so carefully.

When the Jewish leadership approach Festus in Jerusalem just days after he has come into office, Festus knows that what they really want is for Paul to be handed over to them for punishment before he has a proper trial. This is illegal, especially for a Roman citizen. There must be a trial with a verdict and then punishment can be applied. Festus knows the law, and he knows that he has to tread carefully because of the power of the people he is dealing with. He is walking a tight rope between following the law and maintaining favor with the political force of the region. Festus picked the best middle-ground option for his initial move. Instead of having Paul moved to Jerusalem, he invites the Jews to present their charges against him in Caesarea when he returns after his tour of the province.

The Jewish leaders take him up on his offer and the day after he settles in at home, they are there to press charges against Paul for whatever they can think of. They brought charges against him that fell under Roman law as well as Jewish law, and none of them had any proof or merit. Remember that it has been two years since all this started, and there are some in the Jewish leadership who have spent those two years gritting their teeth, waiting for the next opportunity to pounce on this troublemaker Paul. We have to remember that Paul was not just a follower of the Way. He was not just a heretic in their minds, he was a traitor. He was supposed to be on their side. He was being groomed for leadership among the Pharisees. He has an impeccable resume and impeccable pedigree. He was a Pharisee, son of a Pharisee, trained at the feet of Gamaliel. That is like going to Harvard or Yale. And what happens? He changes teams in the middle of the season. Paul went from persecuting Christians to converting others for them. And those who are in leadership now, it has been several years, are those with whom Paul had trained. They are his school mates, his buddies from back in the day when they were plotting to squelch those heretical Christians together. This is not just a matter of Paul doing something or believing something that they don’t agree with, this is personal. They feel betrayed by Paul, and they are out for his blood.

Paul’s defense against their charges is simple, “Prove it.” They have nothing in the way of solid evidence that Paul has done anything wrong. They know it. He knows it. Festus knows it. Paul just lays it out there. He says, “I have not done anything against the Law of the Jews, or against the Temple, or against Caesar.” Those are the three categories of charges that would have been leveled against him. There are aspects of Jewish law—the Law of Moses that could have called for him to be stoned. There are laws and rules about respecting the Temple, that came after the Law of Moses, that could also require his death. And there were laws of the Empire that if violated resulted in execution. These were the charges presented against Paul, and he denies them all in one breath.

Festus, still trying to win politically here, knows he cannot issue a verdict based on no real charges and no real evidence but no verdict gets him in trouble with the Jews. So, he tries to pass the buck to a Jewish trial that he can just supervise. He asks Paul to stand trial before him in Jerusalem. And this is where it gets interesting. Paul refuses to go to Jerusalem. Up until this point, Paul has been willing to follow those in authority with all submission. When they moved him, he went. When they called him, he showed up. Here, Festus says, “Let’s go to Jerusalem,” and Paul says, “No.”

Either Paul has decided that he is not going to get a fair trial either under the court of Festus or in the assembly of the Jews or the Spirit of God has told him it is time to go to Rome. In either case, Paul appeals to Caesar. It is his right as a Roman citizen to appeal directly to the court of Caesar, just as it is our right to appeal to the Supreme Court. It was the last effort to get a fair trial in those days. Unless you were a big political figure, no one in Rome would know who you were and would evaluate the case based on the facts. And Paul knows that eventually he will testify in Rome, because that was revealed to him in Acts 23:11 “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” That was two years before this incident, but I am sure that as events unfolded it was a statement that Paul held onto as hope.

Paul does not defy Festus, though, I want to clarify. He simply uses the one appeal he has left to go before another court, where he says he will accept whatever verdict is given. Paul says, “If I have done something deserving death, I do not refuse to die.” He is still willing to submit himself to the decision of the courts, but he wants every opportunity to do two things: 1. testify to the truth of the gospel; 2. prove his innocence. Paul is not going to fight the death penalty if there if really some crime he has committed deserving death, but he is not willing to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders when he knows--and he of all people would know--he has not violated their law.

Festus has really received a windfall from that appeal. He quickly consults his advisors and shouts with glea, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you will go!” This gets him off the hook. He no longer has to make a decision about what to do with Paul. It is out of his hands. Festus is safe from political angst…for the moment at least. He gets to pass the buck up the food chain, and he can’t wait!

Sounds just like the politicians we know today, doesn’t it? Things haven’t changed much when it comes to politics and politicians since Paul stood before Festus. And he set an example for us in his actions. Paul was submissive to those in authority over him, but that submission did not mean that he allowed his legal rights to be trampled on. As Christians, wherever we find ourselves around the world, we need to live in submission to the rulers over us. That submission does not mean that we cannot act on our own behalf within that governing system. It does not mean that we can’t defend ourselves against false charges. It does not mean we can’t appeal to a higher court. It does not mean we can’t find every way to legally file our taxes so that we get a refund or pay less in taxes. Those things are within our rights as citizens and as long as we are acting in a legal way without the intention of defrauding the government, we are fine.

But we also need to see that as Christians, if we are guilty of a crime, we need to be willing to pay the penalty. If we owe taxes, we need to pay them. We need to do these things not just to be good citizens, but as Christians we need to follow the law out of conscience. By submitting ourselves to the authority that God has placed over us, we are submitting ourselves to him. And we are offering witness to the world that our God is a God of order, of respect, and honor.

Monday, March 2, 2009

This Week's Schedule 2/1/2009

Tuesday March 3rd-Women of Faith: Encouraging Each Other 7:00pm

Wednesday March 4th- Game Night! 5:30-7:00pm

Sunday March 8th- 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: Make the most of every opportunity

Acts 24.
Ephesians 5:15 “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Colossians 4:5 “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

I don’t know about you, but I struggle sometimes with procrastination. Especially if it is a task I am uncomfortable with or don’t really want to do. I put it off. And probably most of us have done that from time to time. We don’t really want to do the laundry or the dishes, and they get a little piled up and then we grudgingly do what we know has to be done. We wait until the yard grows a little too high before we mow it when it is hot outside. We put off going to the doctor for our physical, we put off talking with that person we are at odds with and we definitely put off starting that diet or exercise routine we know we really need to keep our bodies in shape. Some of what we put off is harmless, a bad habit maybe, but harmless. Other things we put off really do have a negative impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. One thing that we put off that is perhaps the most serious in its consequences is being a witness to the Truth of the Gospel to those around us.

I know it is uncomfortable, it means taking a risk. We worry about it, we think about it, but we never actually screw up the courage to go and tell those in our lives about the hope that we have in Christ. Well, as Christians we are instructed to make the most of every opportunity. Paul says it twice in two different letters to two different churches. In Ephesians 5:15 “Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” And in Colossians 4:5 “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” We are instructed to stop procrastinating and make the most of every opportunity.

Well, this morning we are going to look at why Paul was so qualified to give us these instructions. In Acts 24 we see Paul interacting with the first of many high officials. He had a hearing with Felix the Governor of Judea, and then was held without a decision for two years.

For two years, Paul witnessed to this man, Felix Governor of Judea. He was in effect a captive witness that Felix would call on from time to time to hear more about his story and also to see if Paul would give him a bribe. And Paul witnessed faithfully. He didn’t soften his approach just because this man had held him as prisoner. He told him the truth. And Felix didn’t always like the truth. Verse 25 tells us that at one point Felix was afraid and dismissed Paul in the middle of his testimony. Let me tell you who this Felix was so that you have an understanding of why he would be afraid of Paul’s testimony.

Antonius Claudius, Felix, Governor of Judea (52-60 AD) Born a slave in Rome. With his brother Pallas, was freed by Claudius, gaining a new name and started their climb up the social ladder. Antonius served in Samaria under Ventidius Cumanus the Procurator of Judea and may have been instrumental in his banishment. (Cumanus took the side of the Samaritans against the Jews and was stripped of rank and sent to the emperor to justify his actions.) Granted the name Felix (fortunate) perhaps as a reward for military service or his part in Cumanus' fall.

Antonius was granted the procuratorship of Judea. He was not a good Governor or a good man. Felix treated his subjects like slaves: extorting anything he could from them, and accepting bribes whenever possible. The Roman historian Tacitus said, "he revelled in cruelty and lust, and wielded the power of a king with the mind of a slave."

Felix believed he had license to commit any crime; relying on his influence in the emperor's court to protect him. When Jonathan, the high priest, confronted him for his misrule he conspired with a friend of Jonathan to have him assassinated. He seduced Drusilla, the wife we read about in Acts 24, when she was only 16 years old and married to another man. He convincing her to leave her husband and marry him. Drusilla was his third wife.

In AD 60 Felix was recalled to Rome to face charges of misrule. Even his brother Pallas would refuse to support him and the charges brought by the Jews stood. Felix lost his position and was eventually banished for his crimes.

Obviously this was a man who had a lot to be ashamed of. Paul starts telling him about righteousness and judgment and Felix is understandably afraid. I don’t know if he even let Paul get to the good part about how to deal with your unrighteousness. He may not have let Paul tell him about repentance, or maybe that is what scared him the most—having to admit that he had done things that were wrong in the eyes of God. This man had been a slave, and then had risen to unimaginable power. There is something that can happen with people who have been abused and victimized. They sometimes turn that into a license to do whatever they want because they feel entitled. “People treated me like trash, I deserve to have whatever I want.” Felix seemed to have this attitude.

He would not have been a pleasant person to be around. Everything was about him. I think we all know someone like that in our lives. They are hard to love, hard to be around, sometimes we don’t want to share the gospel with them because we don’t know how they will react. But here is what we need to see this morning to put our focus in the right place:

It was important enough to God that Felix hear the Truth that he put his most effective evangelist in his life for two years. God loved Felix and wanted him to come to faith. Paul understood that and was faithful to testify to this man for two years. That is why Paul gets the credibility to tell us to make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Paul was with an evil man capable of great evil actions because he was in such great power. How would history have changed if Felix would have listened? If he had repented, he had just as much potential to do great things for good purposes.

Think about those people in your life that you have been putting off telling about Jesus. You need to stop procrastinating and make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Even those people that are unpleasant to be around, think of what could happen if God got a hold of their lives and turned them around. You know that I am not telling you to beat down doors and bash people on the head with your Bible. I am talking about taking advantage of the opportunities God is giving you to share with people about the new life they can have in Christ. I am talking about praying for God to open your eyes to those opportunities. I am telling you to pray for the words to say to best tell that gospel message to the particular person you are witnessing to.

God gives us opportunities. Sometimes they come in our circumstances. Sometimes they come in unpleasant situations with unpleasant people. Regardless of how the opportunity arises, we need to be ready to make the most of it because it is vitally important. Because the days are evil. What that means is that everywhere we look, we see unholy influences. We are surrounded by worldliness and godlessness, and that is the same in every time in history, so I am not making a social commentary! We are surrounded by witnesses for evil. That is why it is so important for us as witnesses to life, witnesses to healing, witnesses to the power of God at work to transform lives—for us to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us to pour his truth into the lives of those around us.

If we would make the most of every opportunity, think of the new life we would see springing up around us. Think of the kingdom growth we would witness. Think of the amazing things God has done in the lives of those who know him and think of that same power at work in the lives of those who don’t know him yet.

Make the most of every opportunity.