Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The IRS: A Blessing?

Well who would have thought it, but the IRS actually sent the Reed family MORE than what our accountant sent in. Apparently we missed something and they corrected the problem and practically doubled the return. This is not even considering the stimulus rebate. I'm not teaching a class this summer, but this pretty much replaces anything I would have received from that it.

So hey, I feel blessed--by God, using of all things, the IRS. Thanks God!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sermon--Offensive Power-- 5/18/08

The Audio for this message is better

READ Mark 3:20-22a

Why would Pharisees be sent from Jerusalem to Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee to check out a small fish like Jesus?

Looking at the life of Jesus in the early chapters of Mark, you’d see that for the most part, He’s still in the popular stage. Crowds are surging to Him. People are coming from all over to see and hear the spectacle that is Jesus. Word travels to the great halls of Jerusalem—“what do we do with this new teacher? He’s able to do things we’ve never seen. He teaches with an authority all His own. What do we do about this guy?”

So a dispatch is sent out. To find Jesus, see what He’s up to, make a judgment.

Both Matthew and Luke introduce this confrontation with the Pharisees by talking about the healing of a demon possessed man—Matthew tells us he is deaf and mute.

• They look at this man and do not rejoice at his healing. Rather they sneer at it just like they had the man healed on the Sabbath.
• They see Jesus’ popularity and don’t like it. After all God is not always popular so Jesus must be just playing to the crowd.
• They hear His teaching and are offended by it.
• They see His power over sickness and the demonic and they envy it—“wow—I can’t do that on my best day.”
• They saw the issue—crowds flocking to Jesus—“not one of us”—and away from them
• They hear His call to Faith and are unmoved by it.

They made certain Assumptions
• We’ve seen this type before and they turned out to be false
• We know we’re good and right with God
• We know we’re God’s Chosen
• We know we have the truth
• We know we serve as guardians of the truth
• We know Jesus is not one of our approved representatives

They came to certain Conclusions
• He’s not one of us, not our friend, so He must be our enemy and a false teacher
• If He’s our enemy, He must also be God’s enemy
• If He’s God’s enemy, He must not be teaching God’s Truth, nor have God’s Power, nor God’s Spirit
• If He has neither God’s power, nor God’s Spirit and He doesn’t teach God’s Truth—then the only other way Jesus could do all these things is if He is filled with Demonic Power.

READ 3:22

This is a reasonable course of action—you investigate an issue, you think it over, make some assumptions, weigh it over experience, you come to a conclusion—basic problem solving follows this line of thinking.

But what if some of your assumptions are wrong? What if some of the experiences you had before do not apply? Because what Jesus likes to do is shatter our paradigms—work outside our box, and do those types of things that totally aggravate and upset us.

But Jesus, according to Matthew, “knew their thoughts” and called them to Him.

READ 3:23-30
Jesus knew their thoughts and knew they were wrong.

Something totally different is going on Here

The Jews acknowledge that Jesus is driving out demons and curing the sick. What they want to discredit is how He is doing it. He’s doing it in a way and with an authority that those who came down from Jerusalem don’t have—and they know it.

They accuse Jesus of working by demonic power, but Matthew establishes that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. Just before the parallel passage, Matthew says this:
Matt. 12:17—“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on him and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”

So it cannot be a demonic spirit that Jesus works by—If Satan were to drive out other demonic powers, then his Kingdom is divided. Even Jesus recognizes that Divide and Conquer works—just as Satan knows that and tries to do that even among the church.

Matt 12:27—“If I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?”

These Pharisees claimed to drive out demons—Acts19:13-16—“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

Divide and Conquer is not how God will defeat Satan—Satan won’t be beaten on a technicality, by sneak attack, luck or cunning—he will be completely overpowered.

By casting out demons, setting Prisoners free, Jesus is raiding the Strong Man’s House. Jesus—“I AM the one who enchains the Strong Man—I AM the One who plunders his property, his kingdom”

Revelation describes Satan being captured and bound, enchained before being thrown into the pit.

Colossians 1:13—“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

He is the One, who by the Power of the Cross, by the blood that was shed, by His death and Resurrection—He is the One who paid it all. He is the One who has bound up the strong man and pillaged his kingdom.

The Pharisees had it all wrong—it was not the demonic at work, it was the Holy Spirit who worked in Jesus—blaspheming Him is the continual ongoing rejection of the Holy Spirit to call you to faith and point you to Christ. This wasn’t the first time the Pharisees had rejected what was right before them and it wasn’t the last time. Some of their hearts are so hard they will never believe even if someone were to rise from the dead.

If you worry that you have committed the unpardonable sin then you haven’t—because anyone who has will be so hardened of heart that they won’t care or worry about it. when your heart becomes calloused and unresponsive to God and His leading—then you’re in trouble--

But the Pharisees they came down to make a judgment and it was reasonable but wrong.

In the same way—there have been many in the SBC of late responding to Annual Church Profiles, declines in church membership & participation—many of you are considering the same types of things here at the local level—but nationally, some are saying it’s no big deal—it’s just a change in reporting, it’s just a problem of –we must stay the course—just keep doing what we’re doing.

President of the SBC—Frank Paige—on May 1st.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is rapidly dying and resistance to change could kill more than half of the denomination’s churches by 2030.
“Many Southern Baptist churches are small groups of white people who are holding on until the end. Not only have we not reached out to younger generations, but we have failed to reach out to ethnic minorities who are all around us. Rather than embracing a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to change and restore a local church to health, many pastors and churches have chosen to die rather than change, and they are doing it.”
Unless something is done to reverse the downward trend, Southern Baptist churches could number only 20,000—down from the current total of more than 44,000—in fewer than 22 years,

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said there is no escaping the fact that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did. LifeWay gathers the year-to-year information on the convention's behalf. According to the ACP statistics reported by Southern Baptist churches, baptisms in 2007 dropped nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, compared to 364,826 in 2006.
“This report is truly disheartening,” Rainer said. “Total membership showed a slight decline. Baptisms have now declined for three consecutive years and for seven of the last eight years, and are at their lowest level since 1987.
“Indeed, the total baptisms are among the lowest reported since 1970. We are a denomination that, for the most part, has lost its evangelistic passion.”
UBC is not alone in our current struggle—and we would be wrong to jump to conclusions and point fingers of blame. Blame is the division of the enemy and our Kingdom cannot stand if we are divided.

If we are to survive as a congregation, then we must be willing to have our hearts broken—be willing to do whatever it takes—give all of ourselves—more than just band-aids on problems that require surgery. This is not some intellectual exercise, we cannot keep each other, we cannot keep God at a distance

We must come before God and truly lay our hearts down before Him, cast all our cares and uncertainties upon Him—not praying against each other, but praying for each other, praying blessing upon each other, praying successful ministry upon each other, praying for boldness, praying for a heart for the lost, a lack of fear, pray for children to fill this sanctuary with all their bustle and noise, pray for the lost and hurting with all their messy lives to be here for healing.

If there is any day, if there is any time to come forward, not for salvation, not for some closeted, secret sin, but just to come in brokenness and concern for our church… today is the day. Do not let your hearts be hardened. Come down here today, and we as a body as His people will get before Him and humble ourselves and pray and seek His face, turning for ways that are displeasing to Him and cry out for His Healing & Restoration.

Ed Stetzer
"People will not change until the pain of remaining the same exceeds the pain of change."

We must move from a Come and See mindset, a I come to be Served, I come to be fed mindset to a Go and Tell mindset, a I come to serve mindset, I come to feed the spiritually starving.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sermon-- Offensive Fulfillment-- Mark 2:13-3:6

Here is the audio for this message.

Twenty-Five Statements That Stop Creative Thinking
1. We’ve always done it that way…
2. We've never done it that way before. . .
3. It’s worked for years, what’s wrong with it now?
4. You don't understand the problem. . .
5. We haven't the manpower. . .
6. It's not in the budget. . .
7. We've tried that before. . .
8. We're not ready for that yet. . .
9. All right in theory, but can you put it into practice. . .
10. Don't move too fast. . .

For the Jews in Jesus’ day, the Law had become stifling and oppressive. Fulfillment
of the Letter of the Law had become more important than the God they were supposed to be relating to. The rules had become more important than the principles. The Pharisees saw themselves as the caretakers of the Law—preservers of the past to ensure the future. This is the way you’re expected to fulfill the law—so long as you don’t deviate from nor challenge our expectations—you’ll be right in the eyes of God. Anyone who suggested that they missed the point were clearly in error. They were trying to put all new wine into the old wineskins. Jesus took the opportunity of Mark 2:13 to challenge one of His culture’s greatest moments of missing the point.

In the mind of the Pharisees, Jesus was…

Offensive to the Sabbath

It’s pretty simple and straightforward.
Exodus 20:8—Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…. vs. 11—For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth... but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

But How do you observe the Sabbath? What can you do? What can’t you do? Are there any exceptions? When does it become legalistic?

Examples of modern day Sabbath mandates.

There was a condo complex in Florida a couple of years ago that voted to spend $11,000 to upgrade its elevator because the community was filled with Orthodox Jewish retirees. They wanted to program a special provision in this elevator. On Saturdays, the elevator had to stop on every floor. See the problem was, for Jews who wanted to leave their apartment on the Sabbath, pushing buttons is considered work and a violation. On the Sabbath, they are not allowed to do anything that would create energy, such as drive a car, turn on a light.
In case you’re wondering, the elevator will automatically stop for approximately 30 seconds on each floor every 15 minutes.

There were many such rules—down to the smallest rule at work even in Jesus’ day.

Mark 2:23-27
The Pharisees were acting just like Tattle-tales—did you see that, Jesus! Did you see that—they picked some grain. O, they’re in trouble now right? You’re going to do something about that aren’t you? If you are really a servant of God, if you really love Him, you’ll put a stop to that! What is this country coming to when a man thinks he can work on the Sabbath—are you really going to let them get away with that?

Charges—You’re Not Supposed to do that at all.
You’re not supposed to do it that way.
Doing that means you are dishonoring God
Not doing it means you are honoring God

You’re doing what you’re not supposed to.
You’re not doing what you’re supposed to.

We’ve never done it that way before and we’re not going to start now!


We’ve always done it this way and we’re not going to stop now!

But Jesus reminds the Pharisees that their expectations, their rules do not always conform to the heart of God. They cannot dictate His actions, nor His conscience.

There are times when our expectations of what we are supposed to be doing and how we are supposed to be living are in one place and God’s expectations of what we are supposed to be doing and living are in another place.

Which should we choose? Who’s expectations should we fulfill?

In the church, you’d think those two things would be the same, but they are often not. Tradition, the past, preferences all create expectations of certain ways of doing things. But if there is ever a conflict between, fulfilling human expectations versus fulfilling God’s expectations—between doing things our way versus doing things His way—I hope you will join me in saying, “I must obey God, rather than men.” It is more important to please Him than any other.

Here was Jesus, walking with His disciples and they decided to pick some of the heads off the grain harvest. Matthew tells us it was b/c they were hungry, Luke adds that they would take the kernels, rub them in their hand and pop them in their mouth. And they were accused of harvesting on the Sabbath.

If Jesus would have been more concerned about the opinions of men, he would have rebuked His disciples and expected them to go hungry. When you think about it, it’s not as if his men were starving and about to die. Their lives were not at stake so why not accommodate the Pharisees?

Just so you know—what they were doing was not considered stealing. Deuteronomy 23:25—“If you enter your neighbor's grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.”

A lot of what Jesus did, said and allowed ruffled feathers. He did what many thought He shouldn’t, He didn’t do what many thought He should. He was not answerable to them, He was answerable to God. So long as His conscience was clear, Jesus was not worried about popular opinion and their approval.

He looked at His disciples and saw that they were more important than the flattery and good opinion of the Pharisees.

In the same way, if Paul was more interested in pleasing men, he would have altered the freedom we have in Christ, altered the Gospel—and never have said, Galatians 1:10—“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

The world outside the church expects the church to become more like them—dismissing our convictions. They expect me as a pastor to sugarcoat the holiness of God, the seriousness of sin, the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way of salvation. They want to tell me what I can and can’t do, should and shouldn’t talk about. But my conscience is not captive to them—I must obey God rather than men—as must you. You should not live for their approval, but for God’s—at home, at work, at play.

But those inside the church also have their own set of rules, regulations and expectations. Certain demands based on past experience, personal preference, but in the same way, even here, I must obey God rather than men. In the end, I am only interested in His approval. As you should be.

Mercy, people in need were more important than fulfilling expectations. And there is no greater need than the healing & saving power of Jesus to a lost and dying world.

In Matthew 12—Jesus said, “If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Mark here adds the important words—“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In other words—the Pharisees had it all backwards. The Sabbath was supposed to be a blessing, not a burden.

The Sabbath was supposed to be a testimony to the Creative Power of God in Exodus,
a reminder of the Protective Rescue of God from Egypt in Deuteronomy—
a testimony of the goodness and provision of God for our rest and not another means of God finding fault with us or someone else controlling us.

That’s why David and his men were not condemned by receiving bread meant only for the priests. The need was real and urgent—and God met it approvingly

The principles of the Sabbath—Honoring God and Resting were supplanted with burdensome expectations of following rules. And Jesus was more interested in God’s expectations—touching people’s lives—than the rules of men.

Jesus went out of His way to prove this point.

READ 3:1-6

Here was this man who was suffering with a shriveled hand. And those in the synagogue, the assembly, the equivalent to the church, were more interested in condemning Jesus than the joyous possibility of this man’s healing

That’s kind of like saying we don’t really want to see a move of God in this church—we don’t want to have visitors because that may mean I don’t get to sit in my favorite seat. Like saying we don’t want families with kids because they’re too noisy and don’t know how to act in church. Like the story last week at a sister church, we don’t want the man getting saved and testifying to the church of his salvation because he’s wearing a beer T-Shirt.

Jesus challenged their assumptions and expectations. Vs.4—which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

Debate had raged about whether they could fight or defend themselves as Jews on the Sabbath—during the Maccabean revolt, the Greek Seleucid armies deliberately attacked on Sabbath days because of the unwillingness to fight. By the end of the conflict—that rule had been suspended and Jews were able to defend themselves and kill even on the Sabbath. So you allow yourselves to kill and not violate the Sabbath, but healing is forbidden?

Again, they are missing the point—and I love Jesus reaction to their hardened and stubborn hearts. He gets angry, He is deeply distressed. The Pharisees had so missed the point of the Sabbath, so missed the point of the law, so missed the point of their relationship with God that showing mercy to another human being was considered wrong. In the mind of Jesus, healing this man was more important than fulfilling expectations and satisfying a list of do’s and don’ts.

In Christ—we have the Freedom to be a Blessing even if not everyone else likes it or approves. In fact, withholding the good, withholding mercy, when it is within your power is a greater problem. You are missing the point if you think your Christian life is all about being good—not smoking, drinking, cussing—you are missing the point of church if you think the Church is here to serve you.

We are here to be equipped to serve. My role is to encourage you to minister, provide opportunities for you to minister, to train you to share your faith in Christ and be a blessing.

We have been given the Freedom to be a Blessing. The Greater calling is to serve the Lost and the Hurting in Need within the church, and outside the church. We exist as a Church to bring the good news to those in need of God’s mercy. You are a spiritual healer when you share about the saving, life changing power of Jesus Christ. When you provide food or clothes or shelter—whatever you do unto the least of these—you are doing unto Him.

We come together for Him—for His Glory

and for Them and their Salvation
and that kind of fulfillment is offensive to some. A pat on the back is less important than hearing “well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Tell me, where are you today? Are you living your life to fulfill expectations put on you? are they the same expectations Christ has for you? if there is a conflict—choose Christ and accept the consequences.
And if you are here this morning and your spirit is burdened, in need of healing—know that the heart of Jesus is to touch you and heal you.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Unexpected Blessing

Meeting former students

Sometimes you wonder if you’re having any impact on the people you come in contact with. This Wednesday, I was blessed by the unexpected: two students from my first semester teaching Introduction to World Religions at Spoon River College.

The first I ran into briefly on Monday—5 weeks ago she had her first baby and I asked how she was doing. Not thinking much else, I went to class on Wednesday. Just as class was beginning, this student came in holding her baby. I had the privilege to hold this small child and look into her eyes. It made me think of when my own kids were that small. God used that little moment to be a blessing to me in the midst of what has been a rough last few of weeks.

Then if that wasn’t enough, I was taking a movie back after church on Wednesday. My plan was just to pull up, hop out drop off and peel out! But as I was approaching, I saw the checkout counter and recognized the face of another first semester student—the only student in 2 semesters to have the daring to visit my church to fulfill one of his assignments! I moved a little slower to see if he would come out on his own. When he didn’t, I stuck my head around the blinds and made eye contact. He waved and seemed enthused. I waited. He came out and I extended a hand. He took it, went beyond that and embraced me in friendship. Another unexpected blessing.

Be praying for him. When we had a lot of rain a few weeks ago, his basement apartment flooded. While riding that out in a motel, then new apartment, his girlfriend went into early labor and is in the hospital in Peoria. She’s OK and they were able to delay the delivery. They’re having a boy. They will be moving to Peoria soon where he hopes to begin training to be a firefighter. He’s also hoping to re-connect with church. I was able to offer assistance to packing and any move he has.

Before we parted, there was another embrace of friendship. I was again blessed.

Sometimes you wonder if you’re having any affect.