Weekly Sermon

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2021 Sermons

THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS

Warsaw Christian Church, (July 25, 2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Mark 1:21-22:  Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

It is early in the ministry of Jesus. On the Sabbath, he enters the synagogue in Capernaum to teach.  Those who heard Him regularly listened to the learned scribes. They knew the Scriptures backward and forwards. They could give a good lesson, but there was something different about Jesus. He spoke as though He possessed divine authority in Himself. Those who are present that day are astonished. They do not understand where His authority comes from.

Capernaum was a fishing town located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a fairly large city of about ten thousand people and lay along a major trade route. So when Jesus began his public ministry, he made Capernaum his home.

Immediately following, Jesus demonstrates His authority by His actions. He not only speaks with authority, He acts with authority. He casts out an unclean spirit.  We don’t put much stock in impure spirits or demons today, though Hollywood has maintained a lively interest. Some of us may remember being frightened by a supernatural horror film in the 1970s titled The Exorcist. I think the film had five sequels, which indicates that it pays handsomely to scare people. But exorcism has maintained only a fringe following in our culture. Many make jokes about evil spirits, like this one-liner. What happens if you forget to pay your exorcist? . . . you will be repossessed.

Be that as it may, this is not a sermon on demon possession but on the authority of Jesus. Here’s how the story ends: Mark tells us, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.’ News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:27-28).

And no wonder – – – a person with that kind of authority is going to attract attention. But, where did that authority come from. That was the question that perplexed Jesus’ first-century listeners. His teaching and actions were unique. So, who is this man, and where does He get such authority?

First, Jesus’ authority came because of His unique relationship with God the Father. The teachers of the law in Jesus’ time didn’t speak with their own authority. They usually prefaced their comments with something like “There is a saying that . . .” or “Rabbi Such-and-Such has said that . . .”

Even the prophets rightly attributed their pronouncements to “Thus says the Lord . . .” But Jesus said simply, “I say to you . . .” How could Jesus do that and have people take him at his word? It was because of his relationship with the Father. It’s like the Sunday school teacher who was asking her first-grade class a question to which the correct answer was “Jesus.” One little girl called out, “God!” The teacher gently suggested she try again. Another little girl piped up, “Jesus!” When the teacher congratulated the second girl on the correct answer, the first little girl said in a huff, “Yeah. That’s what I meant–but I call him ‘God’ for short.” This, of course, was the primary source of Jesus’ authority. He said, “I and the Father one —- He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The man who spoke such words was a man of authority.

Dr. Phil Majors says that when his second daughter, Megan, was born, he took her older sister, Jamie, to see her new sister. It so happened that twin boys were in the newborn nursery with Megan and they caught Jamie’s eye. She stared at them, trying to fathom the mystery of two babies born on the same day to the same parents and so much alike. On their way home that evening, Majors says, Jamie turned to him and asked, “Dad, are God and Jesus twins?” In a human sense, the little girl was correct. Jesus and the Father are identical. Jesus is an exact replica of the Father. Jesus is God incarnate, God in the flesh. It is no wonder that His words and deeds carried divine authority. Let’s look at another source for Jesus’ authority.

Jesus’ authority also came from His genuine commitment to serving people. It made no difference who they were or what their need was. Jesus was there to help. Of course, onlookers were amazed at the change Jesus made in this demon-possessed man, but his willingness to engage with the man in the first place – – – a nobody, a troubled spirit, an outcast–impressed them. When he made a dramatic change in this man’s life, it gave them the hope that perhaps he could make a difference in their lives too.

Dr. Edward Rosenow, formerly with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told of the experience that caused him to become associated with the field of medicine. When he was a small boy living in Minnesota, his brother became acutely ill. The family sweated it out until the doctor arrived. As the physician examined his sick brother, Edward Rosenow kept his eyes riveted on his parents’ anxious and gloomy faces. Finally, the doctor turned to his parents with a smile and said, “You can relax folks. Your boy is going to be alright.”

Young Edward Rosenow was profoundly impressed with the change that the announcement brought over his parents. In relating the incident in later years, he said, “I resolved then and there that I was going to be a doctor so I could put light in people’s faces.” Jesus put a light in people’s faces. He healed them. He forgave their sins and gave them hope. He still offers hope to people today.

Out of World War II comes the story of a platoon of American soldiers stranded on one side of a minefield they had to cross. The commander came up with a plan. One Man would walk across the minefield, leaving clear footprints for others to follow. If this first man hit a mine, then another man would walk across the field in his footsteps until finally, someone had cleared a path for all the other soldiers. With their hearts in their throats, the young soldiers agreed to the plan. Which one would be chosen to walk the field first? To their surprise, the commander began walking across the field. As their leader, he insisted on risking his life for the sake of his men. The commander crossed the field safely. Following closely in his footsteps, all the soldiers made it safely across

If you were a soldier in that commander’s company, wouldn’t his willingness to give his all cause you to respect him, listen to him, follow him? Remember that if you are ever in a leadership position, whether in your work, your community, or just in your family. Why should people follow you if they know you are not committed to the task at hand?

Of course, Jesus, above all persons, was willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish what his Father had sent him to do. His authority came from his relationship with the Father. His authority came from his genuine commitment to serving people. And his authority came from his willingness to do whatever it took–even sacrificing his own life–to accomplish that for which he was sent. The Son of God was given a difficult task. He was to suffer and die to atone for our sins. Of all the people who did not deserve to die such a humiliating death, Jesus heads the list. And yet He agreed to do what the Father sent Him to do. And because of that willingness to suffer for us, we have the promise of everlasting life. That is authority one can respect and follow.

But there is one more reason for Christ’s authority that is important to us today. It is the continuing impact he has in our world two thousand years after his death and resurrection. No one who has ever lived has influenced human society more than Jesus.

Rodney Stark, a sociologist at the University of Washington, points out that Christians had surprisingly high survival rates when a major plague hit the ancient Roman Empire. Why? It is because most Roman citizens would banish any plague-stricken person from their household. But because Christians had no fear of death, they nursed their sick instead of throwing them out on the streets. Therefore, many Christians survived the plague. Why did Christians not fear death? Because their Master taught them that he is the resurrection and the life, and therefore death had no hold over them. And many Christians survived the plague.

One of Christ’s authority sources through the ages has been his influence on those who follow him. An anonymous author made this striking observation: “Socrates taught for forty years, Plato for fifty, Aristotle for forty, and Jesus for only three. Yet the influence of Christ’s three‑year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Jesus painted no pictures; yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him. Jesus wrote no poetry; but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratorios they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by the humble Carpenter of Nazareth.

His unique contribution to the race of humans is the salvation of the soul! Philosophy could not accomplish that. Nor art. Nor literature. Nor music. Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin and Satan. He alone can speak peace to the human heart, strengthen the weak, and give life to those who are spiritually dead. Jesus is a marvelous example and proven leader for Christians to emulate and serve.”

That’s authority. No one who has ever lived had the authority Jesus had. It came from his relationship with his Father. It came from his genuine commitment to serving others. It came from His willingness to give His all to accomplish His mission. It comes from His ongoing influence on the world still today. Jesus’ words and acts were filled with divine authority. Are you impressed with the authority of Jesus? I believe you are, and that is why we confess our faith in Him as our Savior and Lord.


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: CONCLUDING THOUGHTS.

Warsaw Christian Church, (7/18/2021) Rev. Richard M. Bowman

Text: Matthew 22:34-40

This morning we come to the final sermon on the series dealing with the Ten Commandments.  The basic premise we will be looking at this morning is this: If we fail to understand the difference between God’s Law and God’s Gospel, we will end up confused about our relationship with Christ. God has spoken two kinds of messages to the human race. One of His messages we call “The Law of God.” In His Law, God tells us how we must live if we are to please God. In the Law, we read the commandments of God: Do not kill, Do not steal, honor your father and mother. These we call the Ten Commandments. In addition to the Ten Commandments, hundreds of case laws in the Old Testament amplify the Ten Commandments’ meaning. The Law of God also appears in the New Testament. Jesus commands us to love God with all our hearts. That is Law. In Romans, we are commanded to be subject to the governing authorities, not seek revenge, live in harmony with one another, and avoid deceit, to name a few of many laws appearing in that book.  The Law of God answers the popular slogan of today, “What Would Jesus Do?” The answer is,  Jesus would obey the Law of God.

The Law of God reveals the will of God, telling us what we must do to please God. The Law also threatens us with dire punishment if we fail. Note Deut. 27:26:   “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” This general curse is preceded by about a dozen specific curses dealing with such matters as dishonoring parents, having sex with animals, moving a boundary marker, leading a blind man into a ditch, and the like. Eternal punishment in hell awaits every human being who has broken the Law of God. James reminds us that if we violate even one of God’s commands, we have violated them all.

When taken seriously, as it should be, the Law of God ultimately leads us to despair because we know we have violated the commandments of God again and again.  When we look closely at the Law of God and our own lives, we see how despicable we are in the eyes of God. Unless God has something to say to us other than His Law, we face a godless eternity in hell, that outer darkness of which Jesus spoke.

Of course, it is theoretically possible to find salvation through the Law of God. Jesus told the rich young ruler that he would find eternal life if he obeyed the Ten Commandments. The rich young ruler had the same problem we have; he had not kept God’s Law perfectly despite his claim to the contrary. Once again, the Law of God, which promises life to those who obey it, ends up condemning us because we do not keep it. We need another kind of message from God if we are to have any hope.

Thanks be to God, He has spoken an entirely different kind of message to us in the Gospel, that word which means “good news” in the Greek language (euangellion). In the Gospel, God has solved a “problem.” How can God redeem people who have violated His Law? He has clearly stated that violation of His Law means eternal death, and He certainly cannot go back on His Word. So how can He manifest His love for humanity while also upholding the integrity of His Law? Enter Jesus. God’s plan is this. God must punish sin. God cannot be like a doting parent and sweep our sins under the rug. Sin must be punished, and sin will be punished, either in your life or in Christ’s life.  The Gospel is good news because Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, decided to stand in our stead and take the punishment we deserve at Calvary. He suffered vicariously, the just for the unjust. Because of who He is, the majestic Son of God, His sufferings are a sufficient atonement for the world’s sins. John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

God has two issues with us. First, He asks, have you obeyed the Ten Commandments? The answer for all of us must be an absolute NO! The second issue is this. Will you trust my Son to take the punishment you deserve and thereby receive my forgiveness and the promise of eternal life? That is good news indeed! We who have utterly failed God are offered amnesty, pardon, forgiveness on one condition – – – that we trust in Jesus, accepting Him as our Lord and Savior. Please note this condition. There is a hell awaiting those who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Salvation is not universal. The Law makes multiple demands upon us and then condemns us for failure. The Gospel makes but one demand on us – –  faith in the Son of God and promises eternal life to all who believe. Without a living and active faith in Jesus, we stand condemned. We all know John 3:16, but let us read on to verse 18: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” We learn here of two classes of people: condemned and not condemned. Notice that the condemned are not rejected because of their sins. They are condemned because they refused God’s offer of pardon by not believing in Jesus.

Okay, I get it. I have broken God’s Law, but if I trust in Jesus, all is well, right? I can trust Jesus and live as I please, continuing to violate the commands of God, right? Not exactly! Consider this line of reasoning carefully. If I believe it is wrong to break God’s Law, and if I acknowledge my guilt and repent and trust in Jesus for forgiveness, I will want to please God daily. I will be so grateful for his redemption I will want to spend the rest of my life seeking to serve and please Him.  And how do I do that? Enter the Law once more. As a pardoned and redeemed sinner, I now want to keep the Law of God. The Law first condemns me; then Jesus saves me; then the Law returns as my guide for living the Christian life.  Jesus says to us as believers, “if you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

The point, I trust, is clear.  If you truly believe that Jesus Christ suffered on your behalf, setting you free from the eternal punishment you deserve, how will you respond to the Law of God? It was Luther who strongly emphasized we are saved by faith alone. He would quote Scriptures stating that we are saved by faith. Since nothing was added to those statements he deemed it appropriate to add the word “alone” To those who would add good works as being necessary to be truly saved, Luther spoke in typical Luther fashion, , “Do you suppose the Holy Spirit is so stupid  that He could not have added these words?” On the other hand, Luther also understood that true faith always produces fruit. He stated that if faith does not produce the fruit of good works, it is false faith. True faith changes us, and we desire to do good works for the sake of Christ, but the good works do not add to salvation which is a gift freely given to faith alone.

Thus, we do not discard the Law of God once we place our faith in Christ. We love God’s commands and desire to observe them. We do this not to earn God’s favor.  We can never earn God’s favor. We obey Him for two reasons: out of gratitude for the salvation given to us freely in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and because we now understand that obedience to God is the only path to happiness and meaning in this life.

There was an example of this truth in the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Private Ryan’s brothers had been killed in combat, and the decision was made to find the surviving brother. Tom Hanks played the lieutenant in charge of the platoon searching for Private Ryan in Normandy following D-Day. The lieutenant loses his life in the process of trying to save Private Ryan. At the end of the film, we see an elderly Ryan going to the grave of the man who saved him. He wonders if he lived a life worthy of such a sacrifice. He wanted his life to count for something so that the one who died saving him will not have died in vain.

That is precisely how true Christians feel about Jesus. He made an extraordinary sacrifice to save us. Now we want our lives to count for something. We want to honor Him with our words and deeds. We serve Him with thankful hearts, overwhelmed with gratitude that He should love us so.

As we conclude this series on the Ten Commandments, I want to (finally!) turn to our text. There is a “secret” we need to learn if we want to fulfill the Law of God. Jesus admonishes us to love God, and love our neighbor. Notice how the text in Matthew 22 concludes. “On these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.” Paul picks up on this thought with these words from Romans. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10).

The “secret” that enables us to please God and keep His commandments is to always ask this question before speaking or acting: what would love do? We say, “What would Jesus do?” It is the same question. Jesus would act with love, and when love is behind our words and deeds, we have satisfied the demands of the Law. When our lives are motivated by love for God and our neighbors, we will make mistakes. Love does not always know the best course of action. The point is this. When love motivates us, God is pleased. We have fulfilled the Law. When anger, vengeance, hatred, and the like motivate us, we have stepped outside the will of God, and it is time to repent again.

Law and Gospel constitute two very distinct divine messages to the human race. We need both, but we must clearly understand what each one does. We must not confuse Law with Gospel or Gospel with Law. A group once asked Jesus a crucial question in John 6: 28, 29: “Then said they unto him, what shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, this is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.” They asked a law question. What works can we do to please God and earn His favor? Jesus answered, not with a law answer, but a gospel answer. Do you want to do the work of God? Here is what you must do – – – believe in me.

Paul said at the conclusion of his great chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” These brief words give us a wonderful summary of what it means to be a Christian. Faith in God and in His Son is the foundation upon which we rest. Hope for the future, both in this life and for eternity, grow out of faith. Finally, true faith brings the love of God flooding into our souls: “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

God’s love is in us, and when that love motivates us, we have fulfilled the demands of the Law, albeit imperfectly. It is the Holy Spirit who pours God’s love into our hearts, and as we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us love will grow. And notice the words: the greatest of these is love — because God is love. If you want to fulfill the Law of God, trust in Jesus and make love your aim. Rely on the Holy Spirit to work in your heart, giving you a new power to live as a faithful disciple. If you want to one day hear the words, “well done good and faithful servant,” trust in Jesus and aim at love.

I have concluded each sermon in this series by saying, I hope you take God’s commandments seriously. I assure you God does. Now I add this. I hope you take the Gospel of God seriously. It is your only hope for salvation.


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 10

(Thou Shalt not Covet)

Warsaw Christian Church, (7/11/21) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:17;  Hebrews 13:5

17  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s. Hillbilly version: Don’t be hankerin’ fer yer buddy’s stuff.

A minister was putting his sermon title on the outside bulletin board. The pastor from the church across the street saw him and came out for a brief visit. The first minister put in the letters for his sermon title: “Thou Shalt Not Covet.” The second minister said to him, “I sure wish I had a nice outside bulletin board like you have.”

We finally come to the last of the Ten Commandments, where God commands us not to covet. Our first task is to define the word “covet.” It is not a word in everyday use today. In the biblical languages, to covet means to have a strong, intense desire for something, leading to action. The word is used in both a good and bad sense. In 1 Cor. 12:31, Paul encourages us to “covet” spiritual gifts. To have an intense desire to know God and receive His blessings is a good kind of coveting.  The coveting prohibited in the Tenth Commandment is when our intense cravings focus on things belonging to others. Coveting, for example, can lead to adultery. The Tenth Commandment begins with a prohibition against having a strong desire for your neighbor’s wife, desires which lead to sinful action. The Commandment ends by referring to your neighbor’s goods.  We are not to have an intense passion for anything belonging to our neighbor and then allowing the desire to lead to forbidden action.

Coveting can lead to a multitude of sins. David coveted Bathsheba, a clear violation of the Tenth Commandment which led to adultery, a violation of the 7th Commandment. When he tried to cover up his sin, he lied to Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, breaking the 9th. When lying and deceit did not work, he had Uriah killed, breaking the 6th.  In all this, he dishonors his parents, breaking the 5th, and he dishonors God, breaking the first three commandments. It all began with coveting. Remember when Nancy Kerrigan was seeking to win a gold medal in Olympic ice skating? A competitor coveted the gold and the glory for herself but feared she could not defeat Nancy legitimately.  So she has her friend injure the leg of her superior opponent. It began with coveting.

When things go wrong in our hearts, and we allow covetous desires to grow within, such desires will soon lead to actions which God forbids. It happened to David, and it will happen to us unless we learn to curb covetous desires.

You may be thinking, “Well, I may admire my neighbors home, or his beautiful wife, and his many possessions, but I would never act to harm him.  I would never think of stealing his goods. I guess I am not a covetous person.” However, covetousness can rear its ugly head in ways that may not occur to us at first glance.

Suppose I allow my covetous feelings to turn to jealousy. While I may not steal my neighbor’s goods, perhaps I will try to cut him down to size through gossip. If I begin to think, “My neighbor thinks he is something with his fancy house and expensive cars. I’m as good as he is. Maybe he won’t be so high and mighty after I start a whispering campaign suggesting that he gained his wealth inappropriately.” Covetousness can lead to envy, and envy can lead us to lie about another, violating not only the 10th Commandment but also the 9th.

Or suppose someone has a home that is far superior to yours, and you admire that home. No sin has been committed. But if a jealous and covetous heart develops, and you plunge your family into a hopeless debt to obtain a home equal or superior to the one you admire, sin has entered the picture. Covetousness has lead to foolish action, and a family is harmed.

I once spoke at the installation service for a Disciple Heritage Fellowship minister. The church liked him, and I thought he was a dedicated Christian man. Unfortunately, the truth came out six months later. It turned out that he had lied about his background, his education, his vocational background, and even his military service. I don’t know for sure what motivated this man, but he was apparently coveting a position, titles, honor, etc., which he had not earned. He coveted to be something he was not, and when the truth finally came out, his reputation was ruined. 

I have sometimes said to people who research their genealogy, “Why not just make one up.  Tell people you are related to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. No one can really check it out.” Now I am joking when I say that, but I suspect some people create a false genealogy just because they covet a sense of being important, and that is one way to achieve that end. I really am related to Daniel Boone, although the gene pool must have been diluted over the years.  I have been lost in the woods more than once, including the woods behind my old house!

Sometimes coveting status and prestige is more of a problem than coveting things. For example, suppose I said to you, “When I was in high school, I played basketball and was the leading scorer in our conference.” Now, the statement is true. What I failed to mention was that I wasn’t playing for my high school team. I was playing in an intramural league. Sometimes we tell half-truths or distort the truth to inflate our reputation. Coveting is an insidious sin that can lead to a multitude of other sins.

On the positive side, the Tenth Commandment calls upon us to be content with our situation in life.  If we can grasp that truth, it will save us from much coveting.   While we are certainly free to try to improve our life situation by lawful means, we are not free to covet and then obtain that which is not ours by unlawful or immoral means. God’s Word says in Hebrews 13:5, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Mature Christians are content.  They are content with what they have and with who they are. When we become disgruntled and begin to think, “If only,” we are headed for trouble. If only I had more money, then I would be happy.  If only I had better health, then I would be satisfied.  If only I had a better spouse, then I would be satisfied. Contentment is the spiritual opposite of covetousness. Why does Scripture admonish us to be content and thereby avoid covetousness?

The reason we need not covet anything we lack is that we are in a relationship with the living God who promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” God is on our side; God is for us, and therefore we lack nothing. We have the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, we have God’s promise to be with us, we have eternal life – – and if those spiritual blessings do not bring contentment to us, then I doubt that anything would satisfy us. People who covet think that if only they had this or that, then they would be content. Here is the plain and simple truth. Only when we have found peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ will we find lasting contentment. Winning the lottery will not bring happiness to people who do not know God.

Christians can create misery for themselves by focusing on the wrong thing. Covetousness occurs when we focus on what we do not have instead of on what we do have. Eve thought she could find greater happiness by partaking of the forbidden fruit. She had everything she could ever need, including intimacy with God. Like Eve, sometimes we think our lives would be better “if only”. . . If only we had what our neighbor has. This is why God says to us, “be content with such things as you have.” We may not have the grandest house or the fanciest car, and we may not look like a movie star, but the reason we can be content is because God loves us. What more do we need than that?

No one said it better than Paul in Philippians 4:11-13. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

From this statement, we assume there were times when Paul had lots of “stuff.” There were times when he ate well, times when God blessed him materially. There were other times when he wondered where the next meal would come from, times when he endured much suffering. He says, “It does not matter. I am content no matter what my outward circumstances.” Now how can one be equally content when being blessed and being beaten?  For Paul, the answer was easy. He had Christ. Jesus had redeemed Him. He knew he was forgiven and that whatever his state in life, eternity awaited.

This helps us understand why coveting is such a serious matter. Jesus warned against it (Luke 12:15); Paul spoke of it on five different occasions (Rom. 1:29; 7:7; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:5).  Those who are discontent, always desiring more and more, only reveal that they may lack confidence in Jesus. Coveting is a sign of either weak faith or no faith at all. When Christ dwells in our hearts, we can say to the world, “Bring it on.” When God blesses us, we say, “Thank you.” When trials come, we say, “Hallelujah anyhow.” Because we have Jesus, we know that we have an eternity to enjoy His blessings.  Therefore our status in this world becomes a matter of relative indifference. No matter what our state in this life, we are content.  That was Paul’s testimony, and may it be ours as well.

Danny Simpson, twenty-four, robbed a bank in Ottawa, Canada, of $6,000 in 1990. He was caught and sentenced to six years in prison. He used a .45 caliber Colt semiautomatic in the robbery, which turned out to be an antique made by the Ross Rifle Company, Quebec City, in 1918. It was worth up to $100,000 — much more than Simpson stole. If he had just known what he carried in his hand, he wouldn’t have robbed the bank. He coveted money, so he robbed a bank, but he already had more than he needed.

I read about a Lutheran church in Maine where someone slipped arsenic into the coffee at church. It was the first Sunday after Easter, and the 50 people in attendance headed to the fellowship hour to have some coffee. Some people complained that the coffee was bitter, but people usually complain about church coffee, so they didn’t think much about it until some people began to get violently ill. By the end of the day, 16 people were hospitalized, and one of them would die the following day. Police discovered that arsenic had been dumped into the 30-cup coffee maker, making this the nation’s worst case of mass arsenic poisoning. The next shock was that a well-respected church member, 53-year-old Danny Bondeson, a potato farmer, was found dead at home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Here is the story behind the story.  There was a disagreement in the church over the communion table. For years the church had a communion table against the wall, and the blessing of the bread and wine was done while facing the wall. The Bondeson family had donated a new altar so that the blessing could be pronounced while facing the congregation. But traditions die hard, and the board seemed unwilling to replace the old altar, even though a new one had been donated. They did not want to offend some of those who wanted the bread and wine blessed while facing the wall as it had always been done. Speculation is that Bondeson and other members of his extended family had become as bitter as the church coffee and decided to teach some people a lesson. Danny Bondeson left a suicide note admitting that he had poisoned the coffee. The family coveted the honor they were entitled to by their generous donation.  When deprived of that honor, murder and suicide resulted. We think, how could such a minor issue lead to such horrible consequences?  When covetousness grasps the heart, all manner of evil follows in its wake. Remember the words of Jesus: BEWARE OF COVETOUSNESS (Luke 12:15). Why? Because covetousness may send us to hell. But there is hope.

What is the cure for covetousness? The cure is the same for all the commandments when we violate them. Once we sense covetousness arising, we quickly repent and pray for forgiveness and for strength to live without envy. But, like any sin, if we cling to it without repentance, it will kill us spiritually.

I hope you take the 10th Commandment seriously. I assure you God does.


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 9

(Be TruthfuL)

Warsaw Christian Church, (6/ 27/21) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 6:16-19: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. The Proverbs text will come later in this message. 

I was amused in reading about a survey taken among women.  It was found the 15% tinted their hair, 38% wore a wig, 80% wore facial makeup, 98% wore eye shadow, 22% wore false eyelashes, 93% wore nail polish. 100% said they disapproved of any false packaging. 

Children, at times, are painfully honest. One school teacher learned this when she was in the hospital recovering from surgery.  She received a card from her 4th-grade class. The card read, “Dear Miss Fisher. Your 4th-grade class wishes you a speedy recovery – – – by a vote of 15 to 14.” Sometimes the truth hurts!

A columnist for Time magazine once wrote: “The injunction against bearing false witness, branded in stone and brought down by Moses from the mountaintop, has always provoked ambivalent, conflicting emotions. On the one hand, nearly everybody condemns lying. On the other hand, nearly everyone does it every day.” The 9th Commandment requires us to speak the truth all the time. The command is rooted in the very nature of God. God always tells the truth. He does not lie, or deceive, or speak half-truths designed to confuse.  We read in Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie.” The verse implies that we humans do indeed lie, but God can always be trusted to speak and act truthfully. Since God’s nature is to tell only the truth, it damages our relationship with God when we lie. We cannot make a practice of lying and expect to relate to the God of truth. In Revelation 21:8, we learn that some will finally be cast into the Lake of Fire. On that list of unfortunate souls who are forever separated from God, we find “liars.” Yes, lying can damn the soul. 

Lying is so commonplace in our society it may be hard for us to believe that impenitent liars will end up in hell. It certainly should alert us to the fact that God considers lying to be a severe crime.  If you have never said to God, “Lord, I have often lied and twisted the truth. I am sorry. Help me to be a truthful person,” it may be time for you to correct that oversight. Every time we lie or distort the truth, we conflict with Jesus. To lie, we must temporarily set aside our faith in Jesus Christ. When lying becomes habitual, trust in our Savior is compromised. 

Corrie ten Boom knew that Jews were hiding in her home during World War Two, but she lied to the German soldiers seeking to round up and deport all the Jews.  Did she violate the Ninth Commandment? 

What exactly is a lie? I want to suggest that for a lie to take place, three factors must be present.  First, a lie comes from an evil intention. Second, the liar knowingly speaks a falsehood. Third, the falsehood must be told in a situation where one is obligated to speak the truth. Corrie made false statements to the German soldiers with a good intention, to save the lives of the innocent Jews.  You are not obligated to tell the truth to someone who will use the truth to harm others.  If some crazed killer comes looking for me, and you know where I am, I hope you won’t tell the truth about my location!  

Those who love to gossip sometimes try to convince themselves that they are only speaking the truth about another person.  But even to speak the truth about another with evil intent is a sin.  The perpetrator may not have technically lied, but the desire to harm another is a sin 

Our goal in the church is to build up and encourage one another. If we are aware of some behavior in another person that rubs us the wrong way, we are under no obligation to tell others. Paul admonishes us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and anytime we speak without love behind our words, we would do well to hold our tongue. 

Why do politicians work so hard to tear down the reputation of their opponents? They know we all love a juicy story, a bit of political gossip. They seem to grasp that far too many of us vote based on negative information. What would happen if a politician refused to trash his opponent and only stated what he or she intended to do if elected? Chances are, that politician would never be elected. Our society has created a climate where lies and distortions are more influential than truth. The more dirt you can dig up on your opponent, the better. As Christian people, we have a duty not to be sucked into this distorted way of thinking.  Jesus calls us to be a people who speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

One minister who was going to preach on the Ninth Commandment announced to the congregation that they should read Chapter 14 in the Book of Hebrews in preparation for the next Sunday. The following Sunday, he asked for a show of hands if they had read the assigned chapter.  Many hands went up.  The minister said that his sermon topic was lying, and he was talking to people who needed to pay attention because there are only 13 chapters in Hebrews!

This little anecdote reveals the motive behind many of our lies.  We want to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others, and so we lie or stretch the truth to achieve that goal. Ministers do this all the time. A gathering of ministers is much like a gathering of fishermen. With the fisherman, the fish grow larger with each telling and the quantity increases. With the ministers, the attendance figures and offering amounts are inflated. Why? So they will appear to be more successful in the eyes of their colleagues.  Such lying may seem harmless, but it is a sign of weak faith. Why do we have to lie to appear successful in the eyes of men?  In the last analysis, God’s judgment is the only one that matters, and lying will not work on judgment day.  We may deceive our friends with our distortions of the truth, but God is not deceived.  Whatever advantage we think we gain by lies and distortions of the truth, it is insignificant compared to the disadvantage of offending our holy God.  

The worst kind of lying is spiritual. When we speak to others of faith in God and salvation through Jesus Christ, we must bend over backward to speak accurately. To distort the Gospel message about Jesus is a sin against God. God warns us against spiritual liars and deceivers who would turn people away from the one true God.  We are warned that false teachers at times even perform miracles, but we must be careful in evaluating the claims of miracle workers. God’s Word takes precedence over everything, even miracles. Only those who point us to the biblical God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, can be trusted. 

Paul issues a warning in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-15 when he speaks of deceptions that will come in the future. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved…So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.   Here is a clear warning that very powerful deceptions will come, but we must hold fast to Jesus Christ and the apostles’ teachings. Otherwise, we face becoming confused by the lies of Satan. 

When we started Disciple Renewal many years ago, we faced this very issue. Some of us found ourselves in a denomination that declared that all the world religions, all the cults, can lead one into a right relationship with God. One need not trust in Jesus to be saved. One need not abide by the text of Scripture. The Koran, the Upanishads, the Book of Mormon – – – all the writings of the great religions may be regarded as Scripture. Those who insisted on following Jesus alone and Scripture alone were seen as narrow-minded bigots by denominational leaders.  We were told that we offend persons of other faiths by our insistence that Jesus alone can save a lost sinner. Surely God is more broad-minded than that. 

We began an effort to persuade our denomination to return to the historic faith of the church.  We insisted that all persons need to come to faith in Jesus Christ, not because we said so, but because He said so. We emphasized that the church must embrace the Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God, not because we say so, but because God says so. 

Many people in the world and the church have embraced a spiritual lie.  It takes many forms. Some believe that one religion is as good as another; we are all heading to the same place. Jesus says otherwise. Some cling to the lie that salvation is universal, that all will be redeemed.  Jesus says otherwise. Some have embraced the lie that if we live a decent life, we will be saved. Jesus says otherwise. 

There are lots of spiritual lies floating around, and they have deceived many. Jesus declared that He alone knows the Father and He alone can bring us to salvation. If you believe an earthly lie, it may cause some temporary pain. If you believe in a spiritual lie, it will lead you to eternal pain. Let’s resolve to be truthful people who speak and act in harmony with God’s Word, and to seek immediate forgiveness when we slip into lying. If you think that lying and deceit can bring advantages into your life, please think again. 

As we close listen to the words of my second text from Proverbs 6:16-19: These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren. Two of the seven things God hates have to do with lying. Clearly, God does not like it when we tell lies or act with deceit. We have all lied. Have we repented? 

I hope you all take the Ninth Commandment seriously. I can assure you, God does. 


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 8

(Thou Shalt Not Steal)

Warsaw Christian Church, (6/20/2021),  Richard Bowman, Pastor

Texts: Exodus 20:15; Ephesians 4:28

You shall not steal. — Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Hillbilly version: “No swiping other folks stuff.”

Three college freshmen and three seniors were traveling home for Thanksgiving break. The three freshmen bought tickets for themselves at the train station and watched as the seniors bought just one ticket. One of the freshmen asked, “How are the three of you going to travel on only one ticket?” “Watch and learn,” answered one of the seniors. They all boarded the train. The three freshmen took their seats as all three seniors crammed into a bathroom together and closed the door. Shortly after the train departed, the conductor came around collecting tickets. He knocked on the bathroom door and said, “Ticket, please.” The door opened just a crack, and a single arm emerged with a ticket in hand. The conductor took it and moved on.

The freshmen observed and agreed it was a clever idea. They decided to do the same thing on the return trip and save some money. When they got to the station a few days later, they bought a single ticket for the return trip. The seniors were also there, but they didn’t buy a ticket at all. Perplexed, one of the freshmen asked, “How are you going to travel without a single ticket?” “Watch and learn,” answered a senior.

When they boarded the train, the three seniors crammed into one bathroom, and the three freshmen crammed into another one across the way. Shortly after the train was on its way, one of the seniors left their bathroom and walked to the bathroom where the freshmen were hiding. He knocked on the door and said, “Ticket, please.” When we come to the eighth Commandment, we have to realize that there is no end to the ways we can break it.

The Eighth Commandment is simple and straightforward, but, as with the other commandments, it has implications that may not occur to us at first glance. For one thing, the Commandment supports the right of ownership.  People have the God-given right to own property and other materials, and God forbids stealing that which belongs to another. If you own a house, a car, a television, china dishes, silver and gold, stocks, bonds (assuming you acquired these things lawfully), God absolutely prohibits anyone from stealing your possessions.

The Eighth Commandment is a logical outgrowth of Genesis 1:27, often referred to as the dominion mandate. The text reads, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God has given mankind dominion over the earth. We are free to farm the land, raise cattle, sheep, or other animals, build houses, schools, factories, etc. Those who work in this world and accumulate possessions are entitled to private ownership by God’s command.

However, private ownership is not an absolute right.  It is a God-given right, and therefore it is a right that we must exercise under God’s Lordship.  The situation regarding property is this.  God, the Creator, owns this world and everything in it.  Psalm 50:10-12:   For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.. . . For the world is Mine, and all its fullness. God owns it all, and He commands us to make use of this world and its goods under His authority.

There is a grave danger involved in private ownership. The risk is that we will work hard to accumulate wealth and property for self-aggrandizement rather than seeking to honor God. When we assert our right to private ownership apart from God’s will, we are headed for spiritual disaster.  God warned of this danger in Deut. 6:12ff:  When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them,13  and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14  then do not exalt yourself,  forgetting the LORD your God . . . 17  Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth .

Private ownership turns from a blessing to a curse when we believe we have obtained our property through our intelligence and hard work, and therefore, we can do as we please with that which is ours.  Every human being is required to exercise the right of private property under God’s authority. Christians, of all people, ought to understand that truth.  One of the reasons God blesses us materially is so we will be able to help the poor (Eph. 4:28).  When we fall in love with our money and possessions, loving them more than the God who has blessed us,  much evil is the result. Paul makes this point in 1Tim. 6:9,10 : “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

The 8th Commandment does grant us the right of private ownership. Stealing is not to be tolerated. However, we must remember that our goal in life is to glorify God, not self.  Paul asserts that some once had true faith, but they have wandered away from the faith in their eagerness to be rich. Ownership of possessions replaced Jesus Christ in their hierarchy of values, and when that happens, faith is destroyed. We have the right to protect our property from theft, but we must also make sure we are not stealing from God in the way we use our possessions.

A Sunday School teacher was giving a lesson on the 8th Commandment. She said to the class, “If I were to get into a man’s pocket and take his billfold and all his money, what would I be?” Little Johnny raises his hand and answers, “You’d be his wife!” We smile at such a story, but theft is a serious business for two reasons. First, it is a violation of God’s moral law. Second, the one who steals is saying in effect, “I cannot trust God to meet my needs, so I must steal.” In Philippians 4:19 and elsewhere, God has promised to provide for all our needs.  He has commanded us not to attempt to meet our needs through theft.  The thief reveals that he has no respect for God’s Law and no faith in God.

Since salvation is by faith, stealing is a grave sin because it conflicts with faith. How can we say, “I trust Jesus to take me to heaven when I die,” but then turn around and cheat on our income taxes?  Our actions speak louder than our words. When we engage in any theft, we are saying that we cannot trust God to meet our earthly needs. If we question God’s ability to provide for us in the here and now, do we trust Him to grant eternal life? Any time we steal or cheat to gain some financial advantage, we are declaring our lack of trust in God.  It is never wise to behave in a manner that conflicts with faith.

But doesn’t everyone cheat on their taxes now and then or try to figure out some dishonest way to gain a few bucks?  It may surprise you to learn that many honest souls in this world trust God to meet their needs, and they do not need to resort to dishonesty. They have learned the truth of Jesus’ words, that those who seek God first have all their needs met (Matthew 6:31-33).

Those who steal from large stores often assume that the stores make so much money they will never miss the stolen items. I learned an interesting fact when I worked part-time for Sears many years ago. I was chatting with one of the store managers one day after alerting security to a theft I observed in the electronic department. I asked him, “How much does Sears lose each year to theft.” He said, “We don’t lose anything.  Through our studies, we know that this store will lose about $70,000 annually to theft. We raise the prices a little on other items to make up that $70,000!” So who pays for the stolen items? The honest shoppers who would never steal!

We have all read stories about thieves who were not very bright. One thief entered a convenience store, placed a $20.00 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the register, the thief pulled out a gun and demanded all the bills. The clerk obliged, giving the thief $16.00 from the register. The thief nervously ran out of the store, leaving his $20.00 bill on the counter!  In his case, crime indeed did not pay.

The antidote for stealing and cheating to get ahead is faith in God. Whenever we violate the 8th Commandment, we boldly declare our unbelief.  I don’t recall reading anywhere in Scripture that we are saved through unbelief. It is faith that brings salvation, and trust is incompatible with theft.

But there are so many other ways we can break the eighth Commandment.  In its first year of business, one hotel reported having to replace 38,000 spoons, 355 coffee pots, and (get this) 100 Bibles! Then there are ways we steal from the government. We underpay on our taxes, or we file false disability claims. There is also theft at work. We help ourselves to office supplies, postage stamps,etc. We pad our expense accounts. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, employee theft costs businesses over $50 billion annually. They estimate that 75% of all employees steal at least once and that half of them steal repeatedly. One of every three business failures is the result of employee theft.

We have yet to discuss the worse kind of stealing.  Stealing from man is a very serious matter, but stealing from God is spiritual insanity, but it happens all the time. Malachi 3:8-11 tells the sad story. “Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings!  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me–the whole nation of you!  Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the LORD of hosts.”

Some argue that the tithe (10% of your income) is an Old Testament ceremonial law that has passed away. I agree with that conclusion. The New Testament does not really teach that tithing is an obligation under the New Covenant. If, however,  the giving of 10% was required under the Old Covenant, and if the New Testament is a far better covenant, I assume that 10% is our minimum obligation to God and that those living under the New Covenant will give beyond the tithe. According to studies, the average church member contributes between 1.5% and 2.5% of his total income, specifically the Lord’s work.  I must say that, in my opinion, the majority of American church members are robbing God.

Martin Luther reportedly said, “When a person is converted, three conversions are necessary:  head, heart, and purse, and of the three, the purse is the hardest.” For those who get nervous when the preacher brings up the subject of money, let me assure you that I am doing this for your sakes. Tithing is not God’s way of raising money; it’s God’s way of raising strong Christians! Tithing is for your benefit, not God’s.  Whether or not you tithe will not affect God, but it will affect you. Please don’t assume that I am begging for money for this church. This church does quite well on the present giving of its members.  What I am telling you is that you will benefit from tithing.

God promised His people that He would open the windows of heaven and pour upon them an overflowing blessing if they would be faithful in their giving. Whether we tithe or not is not a salvation issue.  We are saved by trusting in Jesus, not by tithing. However, God has promised to bless those who honor Him in their tithes and offerings. When we steal from God through our bargain basement giving, we deprive ourselves of the overflowing blessings God has promised.  Tithing will not benefit God, but it will help you.

The issue once again is a matter of faith. God has promised to meet all our needs, but when our giving is sub-standard, we are saying to God, “I do not believe you will meet all my needs. Therefore I must take care of myself, and all I can afford to give You is a few dollars a week.” Not only is such an attitude a violation of the 8th Commandment (robbery of God), but we are also robbing ourselves. “Put me to the test,” God said in Malachi. Do as I ask, and see if I will not bless you.  Do you ever wonder what those overflowing blessings are that you are missing if you lack the faith to tithe?  Suppose you need a New Testament passage teaching the same thing. How about this: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38) Those are the words of Jesus. His promise is clear. As you give, God will provide for you. The imagery of “pressed down” reminds me of when I worked at a dairy store in Minneapolis. We hand-packed ice cream in those days, and when I was packing a pint for myself, I pressed down as hard as I could to get the maximum ice cream into a pint container. God presses down His blessings for those who are generous so that they run over. If you are a skimpy giver, do you ever wonder what blessings you are missing?

Here is the truth about generous giving. When we are faithful and obedient to God in our giving,, we demonstrate that we trust God and are willing to obey His commands. We also provide the earthly resources the church needs worldwide. And we open our lives to the blessings of God. If you invest in the stock market, you may or may not get a return.  You may lose your shirt! If you invest in God, the return is guaranteed by God Himself.  Do you believe Him? Are you willing to trust Him?   Stealing from others is a violation of the 8th Commandment. That is unwise. Stealing from God is just plain dumb.

I hope you take the 8th Commandment seriously. I assure you God does.


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 7

(Adultery Forbidden)

Warsaw Christian Church,(6/13/21) Rev. Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:27-28

You shall not commit adultery.”

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

 “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

One minister tells that in growing up, he was puzzled over the meaning of the Seventh Commandment.  He knew it must be bad because it came between murder and stealing. He knew those were bad, so adultery must be bad, but what did it mean? He knew what the word “adult” meant, so he decided adultery must mean “acting like an adult.” He thought the commandment meant that kids were not to act like adults.  Some have accused me of following his interpretation of the Seventh Commandment and that I am still working hard at not acting like an adult!  Kids do get confused when language is used, which they don’t understand, like the child who came home and told his mother they sang a song in Sunday School about a “cross-eyed bear named Gladly.” (Gladly The Cross I’d Bear).

We who are adults are not confused about the meaning of The Seventh Commandment. It prohibits adultery or sexual activity outside of marriage. The commandment is designed to uphold the sacredness of the family. Since godly families are so crucial to God’s plan to create a godly society, there are three commandments that address the family issue. We saw that the Fifth Commandment calls for children to honor their parents. The Seventh calls upon husbands and wives to be faithful to each other.  The Tenth prohibits us from looking longingly at the spouse of another. Clearly, God’s will for the human race is that we live our lives in stable families where loyalty and trust abound.

We read in Hebrews 13:4 that marriage is an honorable estate.  When we uphold the institution of marriage as sacred, we are also upholding the honor of God.  When we treat marriage as a human convenience and engage in adultery, we reject God’s will for us.  One measure of the health of a society is to evaluate the health of the institution of marriage. When a society has a high divorce rate and encourages sexual infidelity, it is a sign that God is being rejected.  Sadly, the divorce rate among Christians is not much better than among non-Christians. I am not speaking of divorces that Scripture permits (adultery and desertion), but of those divorces in our society that occur because of a lack of respect for God’s design for marriage.

The 1990 Kinsey Report states that around 50% of all married people will commit adultery during their lifetime. Other studies suggest that the figure may be closer to 70%. A 1988 survey of nearly 1000 Protestant clergy by Leadership magazine found that 12 percent admitted to committing adultery.

Our society has come to think of adultery as kind of a “victimless crime.” Many would laugh at the idea that adultery is a sin.  In fact, there are even books published on how to conduct yourself when you’re in an adulterous relationship. I haven’t read any of these books, but I have read about them. In 1999, Cameron Barnes’ published a book called, Affair! How to Manage Every Aspect of Your Extramarital Relationship with Passion, Discretion, and Dignity. The publisher described it as “a thoughtful, detailed discussion of every aspect of considering, preparing for, beginning, and conducting a successful and emotionally fulfilling extramarital affair.” I suppose if you are going to disobey God, you should do it with dignity!

Adultery is a serious matter in the eyes of God. Listen to the words of Paul as he reveals to us the mind of Christ: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:9-11).

Paul’s list of things that exclude one from the Kingdom of God is lengthy. Four of the sins mentioned are sexual: adultery, prostitution, homosexual behavior, and sexual immorality, the latter referring to those who engage in sexual behavior outside the bonds of marriage. Paul adds that many of the Corinthians at one time did engage in such behaviors. When they came to faith in Christ, however, there was repentance. The Spirit of God entered into their hearts and created a desire for holiness. Paul’s point is not that if you ever engaged in such behaviors, you are excluded from the Kingdom of God, but rather if you continually engage in such behaviors without repentance, it is a sure sign that you are not a Christian. Persistence in wickedness would indicate that their faith is false and that they have no place in the kingdom.

The human race struggles with the same issue that faced Adam and Eve. Yes, we know what God has said, but we want to be free to do whatever we wish. We want to claim Jesus as our Savior, believe heaven is our home, and engage in sexual sin.  It is so easy to say, “I am a Christian.” God does not listen to our words unless our actions back them up. If we love God, if we love our Savior, we will honor and obey His commandments. Our problem is that we want God, and we want everything else on our terms. We want to take control of our own lives.  We want to decide what is right and what is wrong.

Let me put it in simple terms: You cannot hold onto Christ and to adultery. One or the other will have to go. God allows you to be free to choose your lifestyle.  You can disregard the Ten Commandments like Ted Turner and make up a new list (I believe he “modestly” referred to his list as “The Ten Suggestions”), but you cannot trample God’s Law underfoot and inherit the Kingdom of God. You can choose God’s way or you can choose your way. It’s up to you, but you must consider carefully the consequences that flow from your choice.

According to Michael Moriarty in his book on the Ten Commandments, 75% of children living in fatherless households (a situation often brought about by adultery) will experience poverty, compared to only 20% of those living with two parents. He adds that men who grew up without dads make up 70% of our prison population serving long-term sentences. Adultery is not the only culprit behind such statistics, but it is a major contributor.

In case you think this commandment is not about you, let’s explore deeper.  Jesus tightens up the Seventh Commandment – – – he blocks certain loopholes we may want to embrace. He indicates that the very desire to engage in adultery is equal to the act in God’s eyes. What does He mean? I don’t think He means that one cannot admire the physical appearance of the opposite sex. I am sure many of the ladies of this congregation look upon my handsome countenance and muscular body and think to themselves, “He is Charles Atlas in the pulpit.” (I am kidding, of course!)  We have many beautiful ladies in our church, and we men do notice them. One can admire beauty without lust. Lust enters in when admiration turns to thoughts of conquest. Lust occurs when we think about a particular person relentlessly, plotting ways and means to bring about a private affair. One can admire a pretty woman without desiring her.

Jesus understood that sin begins in the mind. We saw that same truth last week in the case of murder, and we see it again here in the case of adultery. Most of us are familiar with the name Ted Bundy. He admitted that his rampage of rape and murder began with pornography. What’s the harm of looking at such material? In an interview with Dr. James Dobson the night before his execution, Bundy said, “I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me. And without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography . . . “ The more he looked, the more he began to search for ever more explicit material, even violent material. Finally, after lots of mental lusting, he decided to act. In the end, he murdered and raped somewhere between 35 to 50 women.  We need to be careful about filling our minds with lustful images.

The story is told of two ministers who were fishing by a stream. A beautiful girl clad in a bikini approached.  She said she needed to cross the stream but was afraid of the current.  One of the ministers said, “I will be glad to carry you across,” and so he did. Later that day, his friend said, “I am not sure you did the right thing. You had to hold that young lady close in your arms.  She was as close to naked as you can get. Did that experience not arouse carnal thoughts in your mind? What if one of your members saw you carry a bikini-clad bathing beauty in your arms?  I mean, she was very attractive. I envied you as you crossed the stream. I wish I had jumped at the chance to carry her.” The minister responded, “I put that lady down on the other side of the river.  You seem to still be carrying her in your mind.”

This issue of the mind was very important to the Son of God. He used extreme hyperbole to stress the importance of avoiding lust. In the text relating to lust, He said if your right eye offends you, pluck it out.  He is not really advocating self-mutilation. Gouging out your right eye literally would not solve the problem since you would still have your left eye!  If we were to remove the right eyes of all the men in this church who looked upon a woman with lust, we would probably have several one-eyed men in the congregation!  The eye is not the problem.  It is the mind. Jesus is saying that this issue is critically important.  Those who give in to lust are excluded from the Kingdom of God. Lustful thoughts lead to lustful actions, which leads to spiritual death unless there is repentance.

Why do we engage in lust and/or adultery? It is usually a search for greater happiness than what we experience in our own marriage.  However, statistics show that married couples who remain faithful to each other are far happier than are those who drift into adultery. We need to understand a simple principle: THERE IS NO HAPPINESS FOUND IN VIOLATING GOD’S WILL. A host of complications and problems soon replaces the temporary happiness that sexual sin brings. God’s will is designed to give to the human race maximum happiness. If you really want to be happy, make God’s will your highest priority in life.

What if I have failed in the past and engaged in an illicit affair?  I know of a pastor who fell into sexual sin, and his response was to deny it in spite of the testimony of numerous credible women. You recall David’s commitment of adultery. He finally repented and wrote these words: “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. 3  For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. 4  Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight; That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge … 7  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8  Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. 9  Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. 10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11  Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

David is still known today as Israel’s greatest king and a righteous man, not because he was perfect, but because he faced his sin with true repentance. If you are covering up some sin today, sexual or otherwise, there will be no peace for you until you repent and ask God to create in you a clean heart. 

I hope you take the 6th commandment seriously. I assure you; God does.


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 6

(Thou shalt not Kill)

Warsaw Christian Church, June 6, 2021, Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21-22

You shall not murder.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22  “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

I could preach several sermons on the Sixth Commandment. It covers several issues. I want to touch briefly on several issues before getting into the heart of what I want to share with you this morning. I am not going to spend time encouraging you to refrain from physical murder.  I assume none of you have committed murder. You may have thought about it, but you have not acted! I won’t dwell on abortion except to say that the Old Testament case law in Ex. 21:22,23 treats a fetus as a person, not a blob of tissue. The Bible regards abortion as murder. 

I am not going to say much about capital punishment except to say that the Sixth Commandment has nothing to do with the execution of criminals. The Commandment prohibits murder. That capital punishment is not in view is clear from the Old Testament case laws. There were at least 18 crimes punishable by death under the Old Covenant. These included murder (Ex. 21:12-14), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), adultery, our topic for next week (Lev. 20:10), homosexuality (Lev. 20:13), to name a few. Those who argue against capital punishment based on the Sixth Commandment have not read the Bible very closely. 

Neither does the Sixth Commandment prohibit killing in self-defense or killing in war. War is always deplorable, but he has not violated the Sixth Commandment when a soldier kills in combat. That is clear from the history of Israel.  Jehovah frequently led His people into battle.  We may disagree about whether or not a particular war was justified, but those brave men and women who risk their lives and take another’s life in combat have not broken the Sixth Commandment. We should honor them and the sacrifices they make. The same is true of police who take a life to protect another life. 

In Genesis 9:6, we learn why murder is such a heinous crime. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” We, humans, are a unique lot. We alone are created in the image of God. When we commit physical murder, we are striking out against God. God created life, and He alone assumes the prerogative to decide when life shall end. To destroy a life made in God’s image by murder is to take the role of God, and under the Old Covenant, the penalty for violation was execution. 

Jesus led us into the heart of the Sixth Commandment in our second text. Not only are we worthy of death if we commit murder, but the same penalty applies to anger.  The Apostle John adds this thought: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life” (1 John 3:15).  Are you allowing any hatred to fester in your heart? Jesus says you are a murderer and that no murderer has eternal life. We may assume that since we have never murdered anyone, we get a free pass on the Sixth Commandment. Jesus, however, equates anger and murder. 

If you have lived your life totally free from anger, please stand up because you must be Jesus in disguise, and I would love to meet Jesus face to face!  My only brother and I fought from time to time, and sometimes it was not pleasant. I was mad at him one day and shoved him so hard he fell to the floor.  What made it worse was that this was during World War two at a time when most of our toys were made of cardboard. It was shortly after Christmas, and my brother had labored hard to set up his cardboard castle and his cardboard soldiers. When he fell, he landed on his castle and flattened it. He was older and stronger and angrier, and he pushed me hard against the piano in the living room in retaliation. I can still hear the sound made when I crashed into the keys. The result was not “The Sound of Music,” but a horrible and painful discord! At least it didn’t play “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” 

Anger seems to rise in our hearts from time to time as we try to cope with difficult people and difficult situations. Paul suggests that Christians will experience anger, but his advice is to get rid of it as soon as possible. He wrote, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” His point is that as soon as you see anger flare in your life, turn to God immediately with repentance. Ask Him to help you rid your heart of this deadly emotion. If we don’t deal with anger quickly, it tends to settle down in the soul.  It is like spiritual cancer that eats away at faith, leading to that dreadful conclusion mentioned in 1 John 3:15, the loss of eternal life. John’s logic is plain and simple. If you allow anger to take control, in the eyes of God, you are a murderer.  You have broken the Sixth Commandment.  Hell awaits. 

What is the nature of a true Christian? Christians are commandment breakers who have confessed their sins to God, turned to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and are given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  True Christians then begin to follow Jesus, seeking to live by the commandments of God. The Holy Spirit begins to fill our hearts with love, driving out the anger (“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” Romans 6:5). John adds, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.  Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:15). Love is the defining attribute of a true Christian, and when love fills the heart, anger is driven out. When we allow anger to fill our hearts, love is driven out. 

If you are here today holding tightly to anger against another, God declares that you are guilty of murder. God declares that you do not possess eternal life.  Notice that God does not simply say that anger leads to murder, an obvious truth.  HE SAYS ANGER IS EQUAL TO MURDER.  Unless we act to rid ourselves of anger, we doom ourselves to an eternity in outer darkness.  Anger is a serious matter we dare not take lightly. 

Some of you may be thinking, “But wait a minute. Isn’t this too strict? How can you condemn people simply because of their anger?  I do trust in Jesus, but I cannot give up my anger.  You have no idea the horrible things others have done to me. How can you pass judgment on me just because of anger?” I am not the one passing judgment.  Jesus is the one who warns us that eternal condemnation awaits those who tenaciously cling to anger. God is the one who has declared that the one who is angry faces eternal doom. I am simply the messenger boy. 

The Bible tells us that when we come to Jesus, grieving over our sins, with hearts full of true repentance, surrendering body and soul to the Son of God, our sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our human spirit, filling our inner being with divine love. Love and anger cannot coexist in the same heart. Either love will drive out anger, or anger will extinguish love. There are deceived persons who walk through life thinking they are Christians while clinging to anger and bitterness. As long as anger controls us, it is proof positive that we are adhering to our old life, the way that leads to destruction. Yes, we do get angry, but it will kill us if we hold on to it. 

Did you catch the significance of Jesus’ words in our text from Matthew 5? But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” The tongue can be a destructive weapon.  Jesus cautions us against using the tongue to lash out at others. He says bluntly that if you call someone a fool, you are in danger of hellfire. Wow! That seems extreme, but they are the words of the Son of God. When you call someone a fool or some other derogatory name, you are speaking to a person made in the image of God.  Verbally, you are writing them off as worthless.  How I speak to you demonstrates the value I place on your life. If I call you a “fool” or an “idiot” or a “low life,” I am saying in effect, “You are a worthless human being.” Before you hurl out such insults, you might want to stop and think.  Sometimes I hear such language coming out of my mouth when I hear certain politicians talk. We need to remember that we are addressing a person made in the image of God, one for whom Christ died. When you call someone a fool, you are calling God a fool.  Your words should be gracious and polite because you want to do what you can to encourage them toward Christ. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that death and life are in the power of the tongue.  Use your tongue to encourage, not tear down, to build up, and not destroy.   

There is one more side to the Sixth Commandment I need to mention this morning. There are two ways you can commit murder. You can kill someone physically, or you can be guilty of negligent spiritual homicide.  The latter is far worse than the former. What do I mean? According to the New Testament, all humans are under the sentence of spiritual death. The only escape is through faith in Jesus Christ. All true Christians know and understand this fact. When we do not act to help others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we are guilty of negligence leading to the spiritual death of others. 

Ministers can violate the spiritual side of the Sixth Commandment if they do not preach a clear Gospel. I want to make sure that everyone who hears me preach understands that Jesus alone is the path leading to God — that no one comes to the Father and to eternal life except through Him.  I don’t want anyone to be able to say on judgment day, “I attended Warsaw Christian Church, and it was never made clear to me that I need Jesus.” 

What can you do as a Christian to help ensure that others hear the Gospel? If you do not feel you have the gift of personal evangelism, there are still things you can do.  You can invite your unredeemed friends and family members to attend a church where the Gospel is proclaimed, a church like this one! Or you can support your local church with enthusiasm to ensure that the Gospel goes forth. You can support overseas missionaries who are taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. You can keep a list of four or five persons who give no evidence of having been born again and pray for them regularly, asking God to bring His message of grace to them.  

God has placed the redeeming message of Jesus into our hands. Paul puts it this way in 2 Cor. 5:19,20. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” God is counting upon His people everywhere to reach out to others with love, that they may come to know the love of Christ. 

If you were in a small boat and suddenly came across a drowning man, and you had a life preserver on a rope, what would you do? You would not check to see if perhaps he is someone you dislike; you would not ask him if he was worthy of being saved; you would not ask for a reward before throwing him the life preserver (I hope!). I believe you would spontaneously, without thought,  throw out the lifeline and save the man. If you didn’t, would you not be partly to blame for his death?  Jesus Christ is the lifeline the world needs. Be sure you are doing what you can to throw that line out to a lost and dying world. 

The prophet Ezekiel addressed this issue as follows: “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.  “Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 33:7,8).  If you share the Gospel with a neighbor, and he rejects it, he will die in his sin. But if you do nothing on behalf of his eternal welfare, he will still die in his sin, but God will hold you accountable.  You are guilty of spiritual homicide.  

But I thought the Commandments had nothing to do with eternal life. Isn’t that a gift we receive by faith in Jesus? Yes, by faith, our sins are forgiven when faith is accompanied by repentance. Where there is no repentance, there is no faith. Note these words of Paul. I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-22).  You cannot violate the Ten Commandments with impunity. We are not saved because we keep the commandments, but we can be lost when we violate the Commandments without repentance. True faith is obedient faith, a faith that seeks to live by God’s commandments.  I hope this is clear. 

This world is sick unto death. You have the cure, even Jesus. God expects us to mobilize as a church and reach out to those around us with the good news that forgiveness and eternal life are available for all who will trust in Jesus. Speak, pray, give, do what you can to ensure that the saving message of Jesus goes forth.  Eternity is at stake. How do you measure up to the Sixth Commandment? We have all fallen short.  Have we all repented? I hope you take the 6th Commandment seriously. I assure you, God does. 


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 4

(Remembering the Sabbath)

Warsaw Christian Church, (5/30/21),  Richard Bowman Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:8-12; Mark 2:27-28; Col. 2:16,17: Hillbilly version, “Get yer hide ta Sunday meetin.” 

I must confess that preparing this sermon has been frustrating. As I reviewed the commentaries and sermons preached by others on this theme, it soon became clear that the church is not in agreement on the significance of the 4th Commandment. Many commentators write as if Sunday has the same importance for the Christian as the Jewish Sabbath had for the Jews. They just move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  Others suggest that Christians are not obligated to observe the Sabbath at all.  They say if you want to follow the Jewish Sabbath, you must observe it on the day indicated in Scripture, which is Saturday. You can’t arbitrarily move the Sabbath to Sunday and then argue that you are keeping the 4th Commandment. I hope I can bring these two extreme positions into some harmony, as both views have a point. 

The 4th Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day …” (Exodus 20; 8), is unique in the Ten Commandments. For one thing, the church does not observe the Jewish Sabbath day (Friday evening through Saturday evening) and has never done so. We worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, not on the Sabbath.  You may recall that I made a distinction between moral law and ceremonial law in introducing this series on the Ten Commandments.  The Sabbath law is the only ceremonial law we find in the Ten Commandments; all the others are moral. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus or the apostles warn Christians about the dangers of failing to observe the Sabbath correctly.  Therefore I have to conclude that the Old Testament Sabbath is no longer in force. 

The Jewish ceremonial laws are done away within the New Covenant. While the Jewish Sabbath does not bind Christians, there is an abiding principle in the 4th Commandment that does apply to us, as we shall see.  Paul treats the observation of special days as optional for the Christian. He writes, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it” (Romans 14:5).  Christians are free to observe special days but are not obligated to do so. Paul’s point is clear. If you do have a special “Sabbath” observance, do it out of reverence for God. If you treat all days alike, treat every day as a day in which we honor God. 

Paul expressly prohibits rigid Sabbath enforcement. He writes, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Col.2:16-17). So, if you do observe a special Sabbath, we are to honor your decision. If you treat all days alike, we are to respect your decision.  Once Christ came, Jewish ceremonial laws expired.  Christ is the Sabbath’s essence, meaning we find true rest in Him. The church in the New Testament met on Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection (see Acts 20:7; I Cor.. 16:2). 

You may recall the old Sunday blue laws from the past. In my younger days, many stores were closed on Sunday.  One blue law still on the books comes from Studley, Virginia, where swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited. It was an attempt by a society that respected God to honor Him by restricting activities on Sunday. The problem is that if you want to enforce the Jewish Sabbath, you must observe it on Saturday, not Sunday.  In many yesteryear homes, Sunday was honored with the same strictness with which the Pharisees enforced the Jewish Sabbath. Children were not allowed to play, and no work was to be done. One was to attend church, pray, perhaps read, but little else was allowed. Now, of course, our society has gone to the opposite extreme. Neither in society nor in many Christian homes is any emphasis placed on Sunday as a special day. 

If we are not under the Sabbath law, does it have any meaning for us today? Anytime an Old Testament law carried the death penalty, we need to pay attention!.  Even the most rigid Sabbath enforcers do not want the death penalty imposed for Sabbath-breakers.  But here is what the Old Covenant says is to be done to those who violate the Sabbath. “You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death (Exodus 31: 14). With such a severe penalty, there probably are some abiding moral principles involved in the Jewish Sabbath. These principles will be our concern today, always bearing in mind that we are not to judge one another in the way we observe Sunday. I recall years ago when I was working at a department store part-time. I often had to work on Sunday afternoon.  One Sunday afternoon a member of the church I had served in the past saw me, and her mouth fell open in horror. “You are a preacher,” she said. “How can you work on Sunday?” I don’t recall what I said, but I should have said, “And why are you shopping on Sunday?” 

Jesus had to remind the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man, not vice versa. (Mark 2:27; Matt. 12:12). That is, God, our Creator, knows that we need rest, and we need to worship Him. God did not say, “I will make a Sabbath Day with strict rules, and man must fit in.” Rather, He said, “I will make a day of rest and worship for man because he needs it.” 

The Jews sought to enforce very rigid Sabbath rules. In their minds, man was made for the Sabbath and woe unto the one who violated this day. The Talmud, the book of Jewish traditions, has 24 chapters listing various Sabbath laws. You could not travel more than 3000 feet from your home. You were not allowed to carry anything that weighed more than a dried fig. You could not hold a needle lest you accidentally stick it into some material and thus are guilty of sewing. You could not take a bath because water might splash on the floor, and when you cleaned it up, you would be working. Women could not look in a mirror on the Sabbath lest they see a gray hair and pluck it absentmindedly. The list of rules goes on and on. With so many regulations, I would never have been able to rest on the Sabbath. I would have been anxiously wondering if I had overlooked a rule. Jesus dismissed all that and declared the Sabbath was made for man. 

The rest prescribed in the 4th Commandment is an enduring need. Since most jobs only require five days of work, we are receiving the rest which the “manufacturer” says we need. Some of us retired folks rest daily!  It is not a healthy lifestyle to work all the time, with no time for rest and relaxation.  More than one executive has cut his life short due to the stress created when one works all the time. 

There is a theological principle here as well. We need to rest from our usual labors, but it is a special kind of rest we need. The Commandment directs us back to creation, where God created the heavens and the earth in six days and then rested, contemplating His work. We can get so involved in work that we forget from whence we came. The rest that genuinely helps us is when we worship our Creator, remembering that we are not the products of chance but have come from God, and we will return to Him.

Sunday is that special day for the Christian, a day we set aside to gather together to worship God, to remember Jesus around the Lord’s Table.  We need regular times of spiritual rest and worship. We need a holy day, a time for God. Otherwise, God can be forgotten or pushed aside as we rush about to do our work and then seek our rest in godless ways. 

While some people get bent out of shape if they see someone working on Sunday, I would suggest a potential problem exists for those who try to turn Sunday into the Jewish Sabbath. Some folks are faithful to attend church on Sunday but then assume they have done their duty to God, and the rest of the week is theirs. That is a worse mistake, in my opinion, than working on Sunday.  Some people have to work on Sunday (policemen, firemen, nurses, preachers!), and we are thankful they are on duty. Remember, Paul says we are free in Christ to observe a special day or not, as we choose.  However, we must remember that we belong to God daily, and we must honor Him daily. We cannot discharge our duty to God on Sunday and then live for ourselves the rest of the week. 

Most churches have no binding rules for Sunday. We do not prohibit work on Sunday as was done under the old covenant. We encourage God’s people to freely choose to make Sunday a day of worship and remembering. For the Christian, there is a sense in which all days are alike. Whatever the day of the week, we want to live in a manner that honors God. 

Jesus was often in trouble with the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders because He violated the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:1ff, He and His disciples are picking grain on the Sabbath because they are hungry. The Pharisees observe this and condemn Jesus as a Sabbath-breaker. He is “harvesting” grain on the Sabbath. Jesus also healed on the Sabbath and again was accused of violating the holy day. In John 5:10ff, Jesus again heals on the Sabbath, and the Jews seek to kill Him for this violation. Jesus responded to these attacks with a clear principle: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:11-12). Jesus Himself worshipped on the Jewish Sabbath because He was the Messiah of Israel.  However, after the resurrection, the church felt no obligation to keep the Jewish Sabbath, preferring to make Sunday (The Lord’s Day) their day of rest and worship. 

There is a principle here that is seen more clearly concerning the Sabbath command, although it applies to all of God’s commands.  We can best see this principle by reflecting on the difference between childhood and adulthood. Children need rules.  They do not always understand what is in their best interest, so parents establish rules for the child’s protection. Children may dash out into the street without looking amid play, and so we instruct them on the importance of looking both ways. They might prefer to eat candy and cake all the time, so we give them rules about nutrition. Little children selfishly cling to their own toys, and so we try to teach them to share.

Adults (ideally!) do not need such rules.  I brush my teeth daily, not because someone laid down the law but because I understand it is in my own best interest. I look both ways carefully before I walk across a highway, not because of a commandment, but because some treat highways like race tracks!  I go o church regularly, not because of the Sabbath commandment, but because I want to. In other words, mature adults do certain things not because of rules but because of enlightened understanding. 

Mature Christians seek to set aside time both for rest and worship, not simply because there is a command but also because they understand it is in their own best interest. We eat our vegetables because we know they are good for us.  We worship God on Sunday if possible because we know it will benefit us spiritually. 

The essence of the Christian life is the new birth. Those who trust in Jesus are born again. The Holy Spirit changes us inwardly, and we live by the Spirit (Romans 8:1). Those who are walking in the Spirit obey God out of desire, not because of written commandments. We refrain from lying, stealing, and other forbidden behaviors because the Holy Spirit turns us toward righteousness.  We begin to lose our desire for those things which are contrary to God.  Jeremiah 31:31 predicted a day when the law of God would be written on the hearts of His people.  We are living in that day.  The Holy Spirit performs this task in the new birth, creating within us an internal love for God and a desire to obey Him.  We do not discard the commandments. Instead, they are becoming so internalized that we do them out of holy habit rather than out of response to the written law. 

The essence of the Sabbath law for Christians is this: We are not obligated to keep the Jewish Sabbath. If some Christians wish to make Saturday or Sunday a special day to honor Jesus, we respect their desire. If others engage in secular activities on Sunday, as long as they act in ways that honor God, we also respect that choice. Whether we are at work or play, whether we are at church or work, we want to honor Jesus daily. 

We do not place special emphasis on Sunday as though we were doing God a favor.  If we use Sunday as our day of worship and rest, it will benefit us. Our aim as Christians is to honor God every day of our lives.  By coming together on Sunday morning to worship together, it helps us to focus the rest of the week on our Creator and our Redeemer.  I encourage all who are able to worship on Sunday, not under bondage or obligation, but freely and cheerfully.  It will help us grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and isn’t that what we desire? 


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, # 3

(Respect for God’s Name)

Warsaw Christian Church, (5/23/21), Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:7; Psalm 72:17-19 (Hillbilly version: Watch yer mouth!)

Names are important. Joan used to wince a bit when she was called “JoAnn.” When someone calls me on the phone and says, “Is this Mr. Bauman,” I know it is a salesperson or someone who really doesn’t know me. Most of us have heard of Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet.” You may even recall the line, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” You may also recall that Juliet spoke those words because Romeo had the wrong last name. He is a Capulet, while she was a Montague. These two families were enemies, and Juliet’s father would never allow her to marry Romeo Capulet. Juliet thinks, “Why does the name make any difference. If you called a rose something else it would smell just as sweet.” But, she learns that names are important. She secretly marries Romeo, but it all ends in tragedy with the death of the couple. 

I read about a man named George Stink. Naturally, he was kidded a lot, and his friends urged him to change his name. He hated the idea of changing his name and resisted for years. Finally, he decided maybe a name change would be in order. He met with his friends one day and said, “I changed my name, but I don’t see what good it will do.” They asked, “what name did you choose?” He replied, “my name was changed from George Stink to Harry Stink.” That may be a fairy tale, but we had a man in our Decatur church years ago whose last name was “Butt.” It is hard to believe, but his parents gave him the first name of “Harry.” He always preferred to be called “Harry Butt.” I would have used my middle name. 

If you want to be known as a rough and tough cowboy in the movies, you can’t have a name like “Marion Morrison.” And so one cowboy star changed his name from Marion Morrison to John Wayne. That name conjures up an image of a rough and tough cowboy.  I wonder if he would have become a star with the name “Marion.” Names are important. 

Names often call to mind certain character traits. George Washington’s name brings to our minds the qualities of leadership and bravery, while the name Heinrich Himmler brings to our mind the qualities of sadism, murder, and blind fanaticism. Benedict Arnold’s name will forever be associated with treachery and betrayal. 

How do we use the name of God? The name of Jesus?  You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t use God or Jesus as a swear word, so I can tune out on this message.” I hope to show you that we all have work to do if we plan to take the Third Commandment seriously.  We will be looking at two ways we take the name of God in vain. We can break this commandment first of all with our speech, and secondly, with our actions. 

Do you realize that to abuse the name of God under the Old Covenant called for the death penalty? (“Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death.” Lev. 24:16) Many react to such news with surprise or disbelief. Some think it would be barbaric to execute someone for taking God’s name in vain. When we react in this way it only reveals our spiritual ignorance. The way we use the name of God reveals much about our attitude toward God. The death penalty for abusing the name of God is still in effect.  It has just been postponed to the final judgment. If you have ever taken God’s name in vain, you will receive the eternal death penalty unless you have repented and embraced Jesus Christ as your Savior. 

Jesus once said that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Matthew 12:34). Our words reveal what is in our hearts. If we know that God is our heavenly Father, our creator and redeemer, and that we are dependent upon Him for everything, we will want to speak His name with reverence and adoration. If we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior, we will want to speak His name with the greatest respect and honor. 

What are we doing when we blurt out the name of God or Jesus as a swear word at a time when we are angry, frustrated, or disappointed?  We are taking God’s name in vain. What does it mean when we damn someone in the name of God? We are really damning ourselves by this horrible abuse of the name of God. Have you ever shared some juicy gossip with a friend and heard the response, “Oh my God, you must be kidding!” You may be thinking, “Yes, I sometimes speak in this way, but I do it thoughtlessly. I mean no disrespect.” I would suggest that if you wish to honor God, think before you use His name carelessly. 

You may be aware that the Jews tried to honor the third commandment in a rather strange way. God’s name in Hebrew contains four letters. The English equivalents are YHWH, sometimes pronounced “Jehovah,” or “Yahweh.” Ancient Hebrew contains no vowels, so whatever vowels we insert is pure guesswork. We don’t know for sure how the ancient Jewish people pronounced YHWH. We do know that they would not speak God’s proper name at all for fear of speaking it in vain. So, they came up with another term to use when speaking of God. They used the word “Adonai,” which we usually translate as “Lord.” In their minds, if they abused the name “Adonai,” they weren’t abusing God’s name since His proper name is YHWH. Of course, such attempts at cleverly dodging the Third Commandment are useless. Whatever name or title we use for God, we must always keep in mind that God’s name is to be spoken with reverence and awe, never carelessly.

It is interesting to me that the very first petition in the Lord’s prayer is the phrase, “hallowed be thy name.” It is simply putting the Third Commandment into the form of a prayer. Before we ask anything else of God, we must be sure that we hold the proper honor and respect for His sacred name. God’s name is holy, and when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying that we will personally regard His name as holy. I suspect all of us have broken the Third Commandment by saying the Lord’s Prayer thoughtlessly or carelessly.  It takes discipline to pray a prayer we know by heart in a way that truly honors the name of God. 

I don’t know how God rates sins in terms of their seriousness.  I am sure most of us would regard murder as a worse offense than taking God’s name in vain. However, in God’s mind, the abuse of His name is listed before the commandment regarding murder. The first four commandments have to do with God.  We have to be right in our relationship with God before we have any hope of treating others with righteousness. If I do not honor and revere God, I am not likely to care much for my neighbor either. 

When God gave the Ten Commandments and included His name’s proper use as one of the ten, it should be clear to us that this is a most serious matter. Dear people, think before you speak. Especially think before you speak the blessed name of God. I have noticed how Moslems, when they speak the name of “Allah,” usually add the phrase, “blessed be his name.” It is an attempt to show reverence for their god, sadly, a god who does not exist. 

If we sing hymns of praise to God in a thoughtless manner, we use His name in vain. If we mumble through prayers while our minds are elsewhere, we misuse the holy name of God.  Much could be said here, but I will try and hit a few additional highlights and trust that you can make the proper application to your own life. 

In Acts 11:26 we learn that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. The word means “Christ -ones,” or, “little Christians.” Whenever we declare ourselves to be Christians, our behavior influences how the world views the Christ we profess. What do people see when they observe our behavior? Do they see the name of Jesus honored by our actions?  Perhaps we don’t openly speak God’s name in vain, but what do others think when we are rude, or impatient?  What do others think of Jesus when His people are known to gossip and lie? I have known church members who openly boasted about how they made money on the side and never reported it to the government. Does such behavior bring honor to the name of Jesus? 

Christians are obligated to forgive those who have hurt or offended them. Revenge is absolutely forbidden to us, and yet I hear lots of talk around churches that suggest that forgiveness is not always practiced, while “getting even” is seen as acceptable behavior. When you declare, “I love Jesus,” and then refuse to practice forgiveness, you bring dishonor to the name of our Savior. You have broken the Third Commandment. 

 If you do not have high regard for Christ’s Church, you dishonor His name. People avoid churches for the most trivial of reasons. As a child, I once had a bad experience at a football game, but I still go to football games.  I have had several bad experiences at grocery stores, but I still visit them regularly. I cannot count the number of negative experiences I have had at restaurants, but I still enjoy eating out. My basketball coaches made us practice when I would have preferred doing something else, but I never quit the team on that account.  Why is it that people who have a bad experience at church drop out?  Why is it that people who felt compelled to go to church as a child think that justifies staying away as adults? We don’t think that way about restaurants or grocery stores.  Anyone claiming the title of “Christian” who does not honor and support the church in some manner is violating the third commandment. Yes, some cannot attend regularly because of concerns about Covid, or job hours, but they support the church with prayers and gifts. Regardless of any bad experiences we have had in church, we support the church to honor the name of Jesus. 

In our church’s history, there was a deliberate attempt to avoid any human name in identifying our churches. We did not want to be named after a man, or after a form of church government, or after some church practice.  We wanted our churches to be known simply as Christian Churches.  We wanted to honor the name of Christ.  We just wanted to be known as Christians who worshipped in Christian Churches. We bear Christ’s name, and our church bears His name.  We cannot escape the fact that the way we treat His church reflects on the regard we have for His name. 

I have used this illustration before, but it fits in here, so I will use it again. The story is told that a young soldier in Alexander the Great’s army fled in fear during a battle. The trembling soldier was brought before Alexander the Great and feared for his life. Alexander was in a good mood on this particular day and decided to be lenient and spare this cowardly soldier’s life. The soldier was overcome with gratitude and vowed to serve faithfully. Before Alexander the Great dismissed him, he said to the young soldier, “By the way, what is your name.” The soldier replied, “My name is Alexander.” Alexander the Great responded by saying, “Young man, either change your name or change your behavior.” This ancient king did not want anyone who bore his name to bring disgrace to that name by bad behavior. 

We bear the name of Christ.  Our words and deeds either bring honor and glory to His name or disgrace. I wonder if Jesus would say to any of us, “Either stop calling yourself a Christian, or change your behavior.” The goal is to live our lives so that we reflect Psalm 8:1: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” The Third Commandment says to me, “Richard, you need to cling to Jesus with faith because you do not always honor the name of God with your words and deeds.” I have to do some serious repenting for those times I have abused the name of God. Am I the only one? If our words and deeds do not always show the proper honor for God shall we give up in despair, or shall we try harder to watch what we say and do? I trust you know the answer. 


NO GRAVEN IMAGE, # 2

Warsaw Christian Church, (5/16/2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20: 4-6

Three weeks ago, we began a series on the Ten Commandments. We saw that the Ten Commandments weren’t given as a requirement for salvation but rather as a response to salvation. God says to us; I have redeemed you freely by grace through the sacrifice of My Son. I’ve made you my people.  As my people, you need to know how to live life in a manner that will honor Me and bring you the greatest blessings. Living by the Ten Commandments will meet that dual need. I’m not giving you this Law so you can earn that privilege, but, rather, so you know how to live in light of that privilege.  We need to understand that you can’t separate the privilege from the response. You cannot accept a job offer and then refuse to do well the work you were hired to perform (well, unless you work for the government!). . You can’t have the salvation Jesus freely gives without receiving the commandments that come after. The two go together. So, having been saved by grace, we don’t ignore God’s Law; instead, we gladly embrace it because we want to please the One who rescued us and obeying God’s Law will bring us the most significant degree of happiness.

There is much to be said about the first two commandments. They address how we are to relate to God, which is the most crucial issue any of us ever face. We have seen that the first commandment requires us to love God supremely, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. While none of us ever lives up to that commandment consistently, we strive to keep it out of gratitude for His saving grace because we are the redeemed of Christ.

As with the First Commandment, the negative side is the easiest to follow. Negatively, we are not to worship images.  Jesus explained the positive side of the Second Commandment when He said to the woman at the well that we must worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23, 24). It is not sufficient to obey the Second Commandment’s negative side by refusing to worship an image.  We must also learn to worship God correctly. This creates a real challenge for us.  Much “worship” that takes place today can often be described as superficial.  We can be very casual, even somewhat detached in our worship of God. Jesus’ expansion of the Second Commandment requires us to worship God in spirit and in truth. What does that mean?

“In spirit” can have several meanings. At the most superficial level, it means that God is a Spirit, and we must not worship Him while thinking of Him as having some shape or form. It certainly means that we reject images of God. God is a Spirit who cannot be reduced to anything tangible. It also means to worship God with sincerity, to put heart and soul into your singing, your prayers, your listening.  We are not here simply to perform a religious duty. We are here to meet with God, draw near Him, honor, and praise His excellent name. When we sing, we are to pay attention to what it is we are singing. We must try hard to avoid the mere mouthing of words.  When I lead in prayer, you are to pray with me so that together we reach out to God in anticipation of what He will do in response to our prayers.  When the Word of God is proclaimed, we must pay careful attention, opening our minds and hearts to God’s message.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, inwardly, we need to be reaching out to Jesus with gratitude, reaffirming our faith in His blessed atonement. To worship God in spirit is to worship Him with integrity, with utter sincerity, with a true desire to draw near to Him. We must enter into worship, whether public or private, giving God our full attention.

John Bisagno, the pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, tells the story of his coming there as a candidate for the pastor’s position many years ago. He said the church was dimly lit as he entered the auditorium, with just a few people huddled together. They were singing some old, slow funeral-type song that was depressing. Later that day, he took a walk in downtown Houston and came upon a jewelry store. It was a grand opening, and there were bright lights and a greeter at the door to welcome you in with a smile. Inside there was a celebration going on. People were having a good time talking and laughing with each other and enjoying refreshments. They welcomed him and offered him some punch. He said that after attending both the church and the jewelry store if the jewelry store had offered an invitation, he would have joined the jewelry store!

His point was that there was interest, excitement, joy, and fellowship in the jewelry store. In the church he visited, he found people who seemed to have little interest in what was happening, no excitement, no joy, just a group of people going through the motions of worship.

In Isaiah 29:13, God laments the fact that Israel was going through the motions of worship. Their lips were moving. Words were being sung and spoken, but the hearts of the people were far from God. It is not a matter of being loud or quiet, old hymns or modern choruses, clapping hands, or sitting quietly. There are churches today that fight over the style of worship. Some want contemporary music; others prefer traditional hymns. True worship is a matter of the heart. If the heart is not in it, regardless of the worship style, worship is not taking place, and the Second Commandment has been violated. If the heart is in it, it does not matter whether the worship style is contemporary or traditional.

While we have no stone idols, sometimes the idols of our hearts can creep into our worship. If we allow our minds to wander, thinking about dinner, or last night’s social event, or today’s baseball game, or fretting about some personal problem – – – whatever it might be. Whenever something else grabs our attention, wrestling it away from our worship of God, an idol of the mind has superseded the true and living God. We have ceased to worship God in spirit.

Just as Israel sacrificed the best of their animals in their worship, so we must bring our best into the place of worship. I wish I could say that I am never distracted in worship.  I wish I could say that my focus remains on God from start to finish and that my lips and heart are always in sync. I struggle to stay focused at times, and I have to do a lot of repenting.  How are you doing in worshipping God in spirit?  Do you ever mouth the words of a hymn thoughtlessly?  In corporate prayer, does your mind ever wander?  Do you hang on every word of the sermon, eager to receive some new insight into the Christian life?

Jesus mentioned a second element to the woman at the well. We must not only worship with utter sincerity of mind and heart, but our worship must also reflect truth. Why is Jesus Christ so central to our worship? Because He is the Truth incarnate.  He declared emphatically in John 14:6, “I am the truth.” True worship always focuses on the person and work of the Son.   To substitute something else is to sacrifice the Truth.  It is to claim that we will decide how to worship God rather than following His instructions. I had occasions when I conducted weddings and funerals where secular music was used instead of music designed to honor God. I have seen Christian groups incorporate Hindu, or Buddhist or Islamic elements into their worship.  Those who indulge in such practices are no doubt sincere and perhaps seek to be creative, but they are sacrificing truth. There is but One True God as we learn in the First Commandment, and that God must be worshiped with total sincerity and with a commitment to truth.

Whenever we encounter a negative commandment such as the Second, telling us what not to do, we must go deeper and say, “Okay, I do not worship idols. How does God want me to worship Him?” Jesus answer is “in spirit and in truth.”

Returning to the worship of images, a few additional clarifications are in order. As we study Israel’s history, we learn that there were tangible items that were a part of their worship. The Temple contained the Ark of the Covenant. On the Ark were representations of Cherubim. Once God asked them to make a bronze serpent and place it on top of a pole as a means of bringing healing to the people (Numbers 21:9). So also we use tangible items to aid in our worship. We have the cross on the communion table, Christian symbols are in our windows, the tangible elements used in the Lord’s Supper, and an artist’s rendition of Jesus in our sanctuary. Are these graven images? Not unless we worship them or see them as possessing magical powers.

We can see the difference between using visual representations as aides in worship and idolatry in the brazen serpent episode I mentioned from Numbers 21. While God told Israel to make the serpent, it had to be destroyed by King Hezekiah later on. We read in 2 Kings 18:4, “He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.” What God had given to Israel as a visible sign of healing was later turned into an object of worship. That was a violation of the Second Commandment.

The cross on our communion table reminds us of the crucifixion of our Savior. Suppose I were to suggest to you that after our worship service, you may come by and touch this gold cross, and those who do that will have the blessing and protection of Christ throughout the week?  That would be giving divine power to a bronze cross, treating it like a good luck charm.  It would be using the cross as a graven image.  It would be a clear violation of the 2nd commandment. I will never make such a suggestion!

In the middle ages, some parishioners would take a piece of communion bread home with them as a good luck charm. That is why in some churches, the bread is placed directly into the mouth of the communicant by the priest or pastor. I assume none of you are smuggling extra communion bread into your pocket or purse as a good luck charm. Not only will such a practice not bring you good luck, but you also violate the second commandment. That is never a good idea!

All forms of superstition are violations of the Second Commandment. If you have a lucky coin, a rabbit’s foot, practice astrology, use an Ouija Board, consult a fortune teller, use Tarot cards, worry about black cats crossing your path or walking under an open ladder, the Second Commandment has been violated, assuming that such things are practiced seriously. I always read my Chinese Fortune Cookie, but I have no faith in them. I read them for fun.  The point is that we are to depend upon God for everything. If the day comes when I read a Fortune Cookie and act upon it, treating it as a true revelation, then I have lapsed into idolatry. If you are concerned about the future, trust God, not the local fortune teller. If you need specific guidance, trust God, not the stars. If you seek special blessings, look to God, not to a good luck charm. A black cat crossing your path will not bring bad luck, but believing it will bring bad luck is a form of idolatry.

A Christian who engages in magic and superstition is just as guilty as a pagan who bows before a stone image. (I don’t know about you, but this series on the Ten Commandments exposes a lot of significant flaws in my relationship with God, and there are eight more to go! I knew this would happen, although I prefer stepping on your toes rather than on my own!) 

Lest we all go home feeling defeated (if you take the Second Commandment seriously), or angry (if you have convinced yourself that you do keep the Second Commandment, so why does the preacher act like I don’t), let’s return to an issue I brought up in the first message in this series. The Ten Commandments are meant to crush us.  They are intended to shake us out of our complacency. The Law brings to our hearts an awareness of how sinful we are and reminds us that if all we have is the Law of God, we are doomed (Romans 3:20). No one, says Paul, is justified by the Law. Yet, the Law of God does reflect the mind and will of God, and so we must take the Law seriously. Once the Law has driven us to despair, we then turn to Christ for relief. Jesus came into the world for one purpose, and that is to redeem lawbreakers.  He knows that we do not keep either the First or the Second Commandments flawlessly and that God has every right to condemn us. Yet we learn in the Gospel that the worst lawbreakers can find forgiveness and enter into peace with God on one condition. They must repent of their sins and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, our suffering Savior, the One who endured our punishment. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our burden is lifted.

Out of gratitude, we turn back to the Law and give it our best effort so that we may honor our Savior. While we understand that we are never free from guilt in our attempt to live by the Ten Commandments, yet we recognize their great value and ask God to help us to be ever more faithful. All the while, we cling to Jesus Christ with faith, knowing that we need Him as our Savior from our first day as a Christian until we breathe our last. We also have learned that since the God and Father of Jesus is the only God who exists, clearly those who strive to follow His Law will understand that the Law of God is intended to bless us.

God desires that we think of Him and appropriately worship Him.  He is the One who defines what is proper. The First Commandment calls upon us to recognize no God other than Jehovah, the Triune God revealed in Scripture.  The Second Commandment calls upon us to worship God properly, not with images and idols, but in spirit and truth. When we fail, God calls upon us to repent. If we violate His commands openly, carelessly, without repentance, we are in deep trouble.  If we treat God’s commands with indifference, such disobedience cannot coexist with saving faith in Jesus Christ. Sooner or later, we will have to make a choice: we will trust and obey Jesus, or we will turn away from Him and His commandments. Jesus said that we could not serve two masters. If He is Master, we seek to live by the Ten Commandments. If we prefer another Master, Jesus weeps, for we have made a choice that will lead us to eternal ruin.

As I closed last week’s sermon, I close again with the same words. I hope you take the 2nd commandment seriously. I assure you God takes it seriously.


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, #5

Warsaw Christian Church,  (5/9/2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Exodus 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD.   Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Many people are concerned about the behavior of young people. One man complained, “Youth today have luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work. Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter the room. They contradict their parents, talk too much in company … and tyrannize their elders.” Another complained that “young people today are utterly desolate and disorderly.” Grumbled another, “The youth today are rebellious, pleasure-seeking, and irresponsible. They have no respect for their elders.” Another unhappy adult wrote these words: “We live in a decadent age.  Young people no longer respect their parents.  They are rude and impatient. They drink too much alcohol and have no self-control.” Do you know who made those statements? The first came from Socrates, who lived 400 years before Christ!  The second came from Martin Luther in the 16th century. The third complaint about youth came from the Greek philosopher Plato. The last one is an inscription on a 6000-year-old Egyptian tomb. It reminds us that every generation of young people has had issues with their parents.

I am taking the Ten Commandments out of order because the 5tth commandment seemed appropriate for Mother’s Day. I will return to the proper order next week.

Notice that the first four commandments have to do with God and our obligation to honor and worship Him. Suppose one were attempting to out-guess God (never a good idea!). In that case, one might make the following assumptions: Okay, first we honor God in the first four commandments, and I suppose the fifth commandment will have to do with honoring the government or those in authority. Or, perhaps now God will say that we should honor our spiritual leaders, priests, or ministers.  Of course, such guesses would be wrong. After we give the proper honor and respect to God, acknowledging the God of the Ten Commandments as the only God who exists, and giving due attention to how He is to be worshipped, we are instructed to honor our parents. What is going on here?  Why do parents follow God in this hierarchy of authorities?

The answer is not complicated. Where do you first learn about the first four commandments? Hopefully, at home from your parents. That is the ideal even though many parents fail to perform their spiritual duty. God plans that children first learn of Him through their parents. If we do not honor our parents, we will not very likely honor the God revealed in the first four commandments.

I have heard parents say, “I am not going to teach my children about Jesus. I want them to make up their own mind about religion.” I hope none of our active parents have that attitude. If Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, why would we refrain from teaching our children this vital information?  Hopefully, you will not follow that policy concerning the law of gravity.  Learning about gravity on your own can be a fatal experience.

The Hebrew word translated “honor” is interesting.  Literally, the word means “heavy.” We honor our parents by giving them weight in our lives.  We honor them by giving them weight and authority right beneath that honor which we owe to God. To honor someone is to weigh them down with respect.  We still carry this idea in our language. We speak of taking someone “lightly.” That is, we do not give much weight to what they say.  We do not honor them.   God has given great honor to the role of parenthood, and we are to give weight to the role played by fathers and mothers. We are not to take Mom and Dad lightly.

If you ask, “Why should I honor my parents,” the obvious answer is simple: BECAUSE GOD COMMANDS IT. More than one mother has said to a child resisting her, “Do it because I say so, and I am the Mom!” God says to us, “Honor your parents because I say so, and I am God.”

There is another practical reason why we should obey the Fifth Commandment. The idea of living long in the land was more than an individual promise for long life.  It was a communal promise given to Israel that their survival as a nation depended upon strong families. Godly parents who raise godly children equals a strong society.  When parental authority breaks down, respect for other authorities follows, as does a lack of respect for God’s commands. When deference for authority breaks down, society collapses. The Book of Judges ends with the phrase, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It is a picture of a society where respect for authority has broken down. When everyone decides for himself what is right, it is a prescription for disaster. I sometimes wonder if our society is heading toward the situation where everyone does what is right in his own eyes.  All the recent riots in our larger cities are a cause for concern. When crowds rule and police are despised, respect for authority is gone, and chaos ensues.

When children honor the authority of their parents, they are much more likely to honor the authority of teachers, police, government leaders, and others who play a significant role in creating a strong society. Respect for authority begins at home, and when respect for authority is absent in the home, it will also be missing in society at large.

Honoring your parents is a lifelong obligation. Even when we grow up and have our own families, we are to honor our parents as they grow older. One of Grimm’s fairy tales tells of an older man who lived with his son, the son’s wife, and the young couple’s four-year-old boy. The older man’s eyes blinked, and his hands shook. When he ate, the silverware rattled against the plate, and he often missed his mouth. Then the food would dribble onto the tablecloth. This upset the young mother because she didn’t want to have to deal with the extra mess and hassle of taking care of the old man. But he had nowhere else to live. So the young parents decided to move him away from the table, into a corner, where he could sit on a stool and eat from a bowl. And so he did, always looking at the table and wanting to be with his family but having to sit alone in the corner. One day his hands trembled more than usual; he dropped his bowl and broke it. “If you are a pig,” they said, “then you must eat out of a trough.” So they made the old man a wooden trough and put his meals in it. Not long after, the couple came upon their four-year-old son playing with some scraps of wood. His father asked him what he was doing. The little boy looked up, smiled, and said, “I’m making a trough to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.” The next day the old man was back at the table eating with the family from a plate, and no one ever scolded him or mistreated him again.      

Okay, it is time to tackle the tricky question that may be on your mind. Some of you had good and decent parents who loved you and taught you to love God. Others of you may have had parents who abandoned you or who were mean and abusive. Most of us had parents who were somewhere between these two extremes. Any of you who listen to Joyce Meyer know that her own father sexually abused her. By the grace of God, she has learned to forgive.  How can we be expected to honor parents who failed badly in their parental duties?  Some of you had parents who failed you in important ways. How can we give them honor? For one thing, we can try to bear in mind that even the worst parents probably had some good qualities we can honor.  We can also honor our parents by forgiving the mistakes they made. Most of us who are parents, myself included, can think back and remember mistakes we made with our children. We hope and pray that our kids will rise above our failures, and we hope and pray that they will forgive us. When Joan was dying, one of her prayers was that our children would forgive her for the mistakes she made. I have had to voice the same prayer.

Forgiveness is at the heart of the message of Jesus. God has forgiven us in the Person and Work of Jesus, and we are commanded to forgive others, including and perhaps especially our parents. If you are presently raising children, your love and forgiveness for your parents can send a powerful message to your children. Remember the story from Grimm? 

Sometimes to honor your father and mother means to honor the ideal that God intended for parents. Just as we respect the office of the President or Governor even when we do not agree with some of the officeholder’s policies, we can learn to honor the office of parenthood.

I must add that “honor” does not always mean “obey.” Children are to obey their parents in general, but not in matters where the parents are clearly violating the law of God.  God is our highest and ultimate authority, and we have no obligation to obey any authority, parental or otherwise, if obedience leads to sinful behavior.  I have heard of parents who taught their children to steal or encouraged their daughters to earn money through prostitution. Some parents fail to grasp that children are a gift from God and that parents are to honor God in raising their children.  If you want your children to honor you, it helps when parents act in an honorable way. 

The best example in Scripture of how to handle dysfunctional parents comes from the story of two best friends—David and Jonathan. Consider their story: David and Jonathan were spiritual brothers, bound together early in life on the battlefield against the Philistines. But they had more significant problems than the Philistines. Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was an angry, insecure, unpredictable man. During one battle, Saul swore to curse any soldier who ate anything before he avenged his enemies. Jonathan didn’t hear his father’s oath, and he ate some honey. When Saul heard of it, he said to his son, “You shall surely die!” The other soldiers intervened to save Jonathan’s life, but that shows the kind of man Saul was—he’d kill his son over a mouthful of food.

Here is the bottom line. God wants children trained to obey Him in all things when they reach adulthood.  They will recognize Him as the absolute authority. As children honor their parents who have trained them to honor God, it is a simple step to transfer our obedience from parents to God and repeat the process in the next generation. Once this chain of honor and respect is broken, trouble is the predictable consequence. 

Sometimes you find spiritual lessons in the comics. Most of you are familiar with the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. Well, one Mother’s Day, Calvin is pictured standing by his mother’s bed. “Hey, Mom! Wake up. I made you a Mother’s Day card.” “My, how sweet of you.” she says. “I did it all by myself. Go ahead & read it.”  She begins to read: “I was going to buy a card with hearts of pink and red.  But then I thought I’d rather spend the money on me instead. It’s awfully hard to buy things when one’s allowance is so small. So I guess you’re pretty lucky I got you anything at all.  Happy Mother’s Day. There, I’ve said it. Now I’m done.  So how about getting out of bed & fixing breakfast for your son.” Signed, “Calvin.” “I’m deeply moved.” said his mother. “Did you notice the part about my allowance?” He asks. That is not the best way to honor one’s mother!

Finally, I must emphasize again none of us will ever obey the 5th commandment perfectly. Our efforts may be more like those of Calvin, full of self-serving thoughts.  For Christian parents, however, it remains the high goal towards which we aim. But having done our best, we who are parents must turn to Jesus regularly and receive His forgiveness. By this example, we encourage our children to also turn to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. Jesus alone kept the 5th commandment perfectly, honoring both His heavenly Father and His earthly father and mother. As we cling to Jesus by faith, and as we teach His love and grace to our children, we have honored the heart of the 5th commandment.


NO OTHER GODS, # 1

Warsaw Christian Church, (5/2/2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Deuteronomy. 5:7; 6:4, 5 – You shall have no other gods before me.  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Hillbilly version: There ain’t but one God.)

Several years ago, the Barna organization polled Americans, asking questions about the Ten Commandments. In the poll, 75% claimed they were “completely true to the first commandment.” I suspect these folks had not thought very deeply about the meaning of the First Commandment. I have yet to meet a person who is “completely true to the first commandment.” 

Let me begin with a brief review from two weeks ago. Remember that while we are not saved through keeping the Ten Commandments, they continue to serve as an essential guide for Christian living. We seek to live by the First Commandment as a way of giving honor and glory to the God who redeemed us through His Son.   One error that many make is to take the grace of God for granted.  German pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer, called it “cheap grace.” It is easy to think that since I am saved and forgiven by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, I don’t need to take the Ten Commandments seriously.  I fear that anyone thinking in this way has never really trusted in Jesus Christ and been born again. The prophet Jeremiah told of a coming new covenant, and one of the marks of that covenant was that God would write His Law on the hearts of His people (see Jeremiah 31:31-33). If the Law of God has been written in your heart by the Holy Spirit, you will love that Law and desire to keep it.  The basic principle to keep in mind is this: No one can violate the Law of God with impunity.   If you disobey God’s Law and have not been redeemed by Jesus Christ, the punishment is eternal damnation (I hate to speak those words, but Scripture compels me). Those redeemed by Christ who violate God’s Law will face divine discipline until they humble themselves through repentance.

The First Commandment is the foundation of God’s Law. It is of first importance that we are in harmony with the one true God.  If we are wrong about God, we will be wrong about everything.  It’s like if you button the wrong button at the top of your shirt, every other button is thrown off. If we don’t get this first commandment right, all the rest of life is out of sync. There is no true happiness apart from God, for He is the Fountain of all joy. Those who place earthly joy above God break the First Commandment and end up in misery and tragedy.

The First Commandment is initially stated negatively, but the Deuteronomy 6 text says it in a positive way. Jesus seemed to prefer the First Commandment’s positive expression, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He expressed it as the first and great Commandment (Matthew 22:37,38). Negatively, we are to recognize no gods except Jehovah, the God revealed to us in Scripture. On the positive side, we are to love God totally and completely.

The sin against this Commandment that we are most in danger of is giving the glory and honor to any creature due to God only. Pride makes a god of self, covetousness makes a god of money, sensuality makes a god of the sex or food; whatever is esteemed or loved, feared or served, delighted in or depended on, more than God (whatever it is) we do in effect make into a god. This prohibition includes a precept that is the foundation of the whole law. We take the Lord for our God, acknowledge that he is God, adore him with admiration and humble reverence, and set our affections entirely upon him. 

I suspect those who participated in the Barna poll thought that since they were not worshipping idols or acknowledging the reality of any “god” other than Jehovah, they were keeping the first Commandment. However, when we realize that the Commandment requires that our lives be characterized by a love for God that embraces all our heart, soul, and strength, who among us can claim total obedience?

Before looking at some of the First Commandment implications, I want to point out how the Ten Commandments begin. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). God saved Israel from Egyptian bondage, not because they merited His favor.  He saved them out of His love and mercy, the same way He saves us under the New Covenant. The Old Testament, like the New, teaches salvation by grace. God’s word to Israel is not, “Keep my commandments, and I will save you.” He says in effect, I have already saved you, and as a further sign of my love, I give you my Law so that you may live in harmony with Me.

When God redeems a people and blesses them with His Law, the redeemed have a great responsibility to be examples to the world. God’s “reputation” in the world rides on the shoulders of His people. If the redeemed are faithful, loving, forgiving, obedient children, the world is drawn to our God and our Savior. When God’s people are unfaithful, the unbelieving world sneers at us and rejects our God. When Israel turned away from God and openly violated His commandments, Isaiah declared, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Isaiah 52:5).  The God of Israel was despised and ridiculed because of the behavior of Israel. Israel possessed the Ten Commandments, and in theory, they affirmed no “god” but Jehovah. In theory, they embraced the First Commandment.  But as we read the Old Testament, we read how again and again Israel turned to other “gods,” openly violating the First Commandment. Israel’s neighbors refused to take Jehovah seriously.  Why should they when Israel trampled His Law underfoot? 

Today, the Church of Jesus Christ exists in significant numbers all across America. The Warsaw Christian Church is to set an example in this community, demonstrating in our words and deeds that we honor and serve but One God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This church is to be a place where love and truth are to flow out into our community like a mighty river.  Our obedience to God’s Law is to be so noticeable that the community marvels at our faithfulness. And when they ask, “How is it that you are such loving and faithful people,” we answer, “Because Jesus has redeemed us, and now we live to honor His name.” 

Where do we begin in the holy task of bringing honor to the God we affirm? We begin with the First Commandment. Out of love and respect for Jesus, our Savior, we turn away from all false gods, all false religions, and we honor only the Triune God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Celebrating the One True God is the foundation of all moral Law.  It is the foundation of a just and peaceful society. There is, after all, only One God, and only His Law will work effectively in this life. The ultimate responsibility for every individual and every nation is to submit to the authority of Jehovah, the only God who has the quality of existence. When we dishonor the First Commandment, the other nine will soon fall by the wayside.  

In the 1st Commandment, God is saying: “I don’t want only to be number one on your list. I want to be the One thing at the center of it all. I want to be the hub of the wheel that holds every spoke of your life together. I want to be your ultimate concern. I want to be your singular passion. I don’t want anything to rival the place that I have in your life. There can be nothing in your life that compares with me.”

Many people wonder, “What is wrong with society today?” Some say we need to change society through the right politics. Karl Marx thought society could be transformed by changing the economic system. There are politicians in our country today who are wanting to push us in that direction. Some believe education will solve the problems of crime and rebellion. Some argue that perhaps a new religion is an answer.  I would suggest that before we turn to a new religion, we should try the old one. Few seem to realize the source of society’s problems.  We live in a world that tramples underfoot the First Commandment.  American culture is becoming increasingly secularized. As more and more Americans turn away from the First Commandment seeking to create a secular society, we need to brace ourselves, for, in due time, the judgment of God will fall.  I hope and pray there are enough Christians in this land who honor the 1st Commandment that God will withhold His judgment. 

Why should God hold first place in our minds and hearts? First of all, he deserves it. Notice the first few words of Exodus 29:6: “I am the Lord.” Don’t pass over that. That’s a statement about who God is. God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush as “I am who I am.” In other words: I am the self-existing God. I am the sovereign ruler of the universe. I made it all. I sustain it all. I control it all. I’m not limited by time. I am the great I AM. Therefore, I must have first place in your heart and life. 

But here is an even greater reason to grant to God our highest honor. Not only is He a sovereign God.  He is also a personal God. That is why he says, “I am the Lord your God.” When he says “your God,” he uses the singular. He’s talking to individual people—to you personally. He’s not a God who exists out in the recesses of the universe and has no time for or interest in you. He’s not a distant, unapproachable king. He’s a personal God. He knows you, and he wants to be known by you. To fail to give God first place in your heart and life is an egregious violation of the First Commandment. How do we demonstrate faithfulness to the First Commandment?  Let me make a few suggestions which I believe are rooted in Scripture. 

First and foremost, we honor the First Commandment when Jesus Christ rules our hearts and lives.  We do have other matters to attend to in life, such as work, family, friends, recreation, and other organizations, all of which are legitimate interests for a Christian. But when these legitimate pursuits crowd Jesus out, we are violating the First Commandment. Jesus Christ, Son of God, came down from heaven for us and our salvation. He suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, dead, and buried.  All of this took place to redeem us. How could we ever allow anything to take precedence over Him?  One has to suspect that many who claim the title of “Christian” are giving lip service only, while their hearts are far from God.  Do you believe that Jesus Christ has redeemed you from an eternity in Hell?  If you do, how can you not grant unto Him first place in your heart? 

The First Commandment obligates us to openly confess our faith in Jesus and live out that faith. If our lives are so busy that we have no time for Jesus, we violate the First Commandment.  If He occupies a secondary place in our lives, we break the 1st Commandment. If we are afraid to openly acknowledge our faith in Jesus because we fear what others will think, are we not declaring that those we fear are more important to us than Jesus? Is that not a violation of the First Commandment?  You are keeping the First Commandment to the extent that service unto Jesus is your highest priority. 

May I speak personally? I enjoy several social activities. I like to play chess and Words with Friends; I enjoy a good movie; I have several favorite sports teams I follow; I enjoy traveling to new and different places.  Am I wrong to engage in these activities? If they interfere with my service to Jesus, yes, because I am violating the First Commandment. They have become more important to me than God. If I can receive these activities as blessings Jesus has brought into my life, and if I thank Him for these blessings, He remains at the center where He belongs. However, I must confess that this is often a struggle for me.  I cannot say that my focus on Jesus is always what it should be.  When we realize that is the case, God calls us to confess it as sin, repent, and ask for grace. If we do not confess and repent, divine chastisement will come. I suspect you are like me in that you allow your personal interests sometimes to overshadow your relationship with Jesus Christ.  If you will admit before God that you are violating the First Commandment, and if there is true repentance in your heart, there is forgiveness for us through the blood of Jesus. If, however, we act as if our violations of the First Commandment are trivial, prepare to face God’s unpleasant discipline. One of the first questions we should ask when things don’t seem to be going well for us is this: Have I in some way violated the First Commandment? Am I under the chastisement of my loving heavenly Father? 

There is another way we show our regard for the First Commandment. If we are to love God supremely, in addition to giving Jesus Christ the highest honor in our lives, we also relate to the church of Jesus Christ with the highest respect. God has ordained the Church of Jesus Christ as the earthly institution through which He pours out His blessings upon His people and the world. How anyone can turn their back on the church entirely and claim to be honoring the First Commandment is beyond me. Even those who cannot attend because of work hours or sickness can support the church with their prayers and gifts. We cannot claim to love God supremely when we are half-hearted or lukewarm in our church involvement. 

How are you doing with the First Commandment? Does God receive your adoration? He wants to be the One who captures your heart, the One you cannot get enough of, the One you love to talk about with others. Does God receive your trust?  He wants to be the One you depend on for everything, the One who gives you a deep sense of security because you know you can count on Him for everything, from your eternal salvation to your daily bread. Is God your primary resource in life?  He wants to be the One you turn to in times of need, the One you run to when you’re in trouble. He wants to be the One you seek when you need forgiveness. He wants to be the One you turn to when you need wisdom. He wants to be the One you desire when you need encouragement. He longs to hear prayers of gratitude coming from your lips and heart.  He wants to be the One you thank when your table is full—when your heart overflows with an abundance of hope and joy.

How are you doing on the First Commandment? I hope you will take it seriously.  I assure you that God takes it very seriously.  Let us pray…..


INTRODUCTION TO THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Warsaw Christian Church, (4/18/21)  Richard Bowman, Pastor

Scripture: Matthew 5:17-20

Today we are revisiting a series of sermons based on the Ten Commandments.  I last spoke on this topic in 2013, so it seemed like it was time to take another look at God’s Law. The Ten Commandments are familiar to just about everybody. Well, sort of. I heard about a class of first graders who were learning the Ten Commandments, and they got to, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Of course, the teacher was worried he would have to explain what adultery meant. But then a seven-year-old raised her hand and asked, “What does ‘commit’ mean?” 

Sometimes we know all too well what the commandments mean. Like one little girl in a third-grade Sunday School class. Her teacher was giving a lesson on the Commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” The teacher asked, “Now does anyone know a commandment for brothers and sisters?” One little girl raised her hand and said, “Thou shalt not kill.” 

Before we get into the content of God’s Law, I wish to share some introductory comments. Serious thinking about our Christian faith can be tedious and boring, but there are times when serious thought is essential. Christians must understand the difference between the Law of God and the Gospel of God. When Law and Gospel are confused in our minds, the results can be spiritually disastrous.  God speaks to us in the Law, and He speaks to us in the Gospel, but the two messages are very different and must not be confused. 

The main distinction can be stated very simply; it is the Gospel that saves us, not the Law. The New Testament teaches clearly and repeatedly that our salvation comes to us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God graciously and freely forgives our sins in and through the sufferings of Jesus, the Messiah, and all who sincerely trust in Him enter into the kingdom of God. This offer of salvation is offered universally to the human race.  Whosoever will may come.  Salvation is received by faith alone (See Ephesians 2:8, 9), and all who persevere in faith unto the end will receive heavenly citizenship upon their death. 

Okay, I trust in Jesus as my Savior.  I am a person of faith.  What are we supposed to do with the numerous laws and commandments revealed in Scripture?  If I have faith in Jesus, can I forget about all those “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots?” May I drop the 1000 or so biblical commandments and live as I please as long as I have faith?  I hope to convince you that we need both the Gospel of God and the Law of God even though they serve very different purposes. 

There is a right way and a wrong way to view the Law of God. One wrong way is to think that Law-keeping contributes to salvation.  It does not, and the very notion that it does is an insult to the Savior. He alone achieved our salvation. To believe that our feeble and fallible efforts to keep the Ten Commandments somehow contribute to our standing before God is to belittle the sufferings of our Savior.  Another misuse of the Law is to discard it altogether. In our Scripture reading, Jesus does not seem to think that discarding the Law is a good idea. He said that the Law would not pass away as long as heaven and earth endure.  Again, the Law of God does not contribute anything to our salvation.  How could it since we do not keep the Law perfectly?  As we shall see, there is not a person in this sanctuary who has not broken every one of the Ten Commandments. Well then, what are we to do with the Ten Commandments and the other laws written in Scripture? 

Every person who has found redemption through Christ is grateful to God beyond words, and from time to time, asks, “How can I now live my life as a forgiven person in a way that will bring honor and glory to God?” If that idea is not in your heart, you probably need to ask yourself if you do trust in Jesus Christ. True Christians want to please God. It is one of the inevitable consequences that flow from salvation. 

The question, “How may I, a sinner redeemed freely by Christ and through faith, please God?” can be answered very simply: we please God through keeping His Law. Our failure to keep the commandments of God led to our damnation.  Jesus Christ has set us free.  Now we turn back to the Law, which damned us, and we receive it with gratitude and use it to live a life pleasing to God. The redeemed delight in the Law of God, not as a means to earn God’s favor (which we already have in Christ), but as a means of living a life that is pleasing to God. 

Before we proceed, we do need to observe some further distinctions and definitions. In Scripture, there are different kinds of laws. Some apply to us, and some do not. Again, we must try to grasp this critical distinction. First of all, many of the laws found in Scripture are moral. Such laws are valid in every age and generation. The moral Law teaches, for example, that adultery is a sin. It will always be a sin. Stealing is a sin and will always be a sin. Lying is a sin and will always be a sin. God’s moral Law does not change. Once God declares a certain behavior to be wrong, such behavior is always wrong.  He does not declare that idolatry is wrong in one generation and then, later on, permits it. Violating God’s moral Law will lead to damnation for those not under the blood of Jesus, and it will lead to divine chastisement for those in Christ. There is no way any of us can find happiness and contentment in this life by violating God’s moral Law. Thus, as we read the Old Testament laws and the New, when we are confronted with moral Law, we are under obligation to obey. 

But you said heaven was a free gift, so what difference does it make if we fail to keep God’s Law? There is another distinction we need to grasp. In the divine economy, there are two kinds of blessings: heavenly and earthly.  The heavenly blessing is granted freely through faith in Jesus Christ. Earthly blessings are tied to the Law of God. If you want God to bless your earthly life, you need to keep His commandments.  

We also need to understand the difference between the types of laws we find in Scripture. One type of Law is religious or ceremonial. These laws had to do with how Israel was to worship under the Old Covenant. The entire animal sacrificial system falls under this category. The various Jewish holidays, such as Yom Kippur, also fall under the category of Jewish worship. Jewish worship laws are done away with in Christ. The sacrificial laws, the Jewish Temple, the holidays – – – all pointed to Christ, and once He came, they no longer need to be followed in a strict, literal sense. However, they do continue to have significance.  The sacrificial laws, when studied, underscore the principle that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. They also give us insights into the meaning of the death and ministry of Jesus, as do the Jewish holidays.  We see this very clearly in the Jewish feast of the Passover, which is full of divine instruction concerning the meaning of the death of Jesus. Thus, religious and ceremonial laws from the Old Testament are not to be followed literally, but we are to study them to learn how they shed light on the ministry of Christ. 

The Old Testament also contains what we would call civil Law. Israel was a theocratic state, directly ruled by Jehovah, at least in theory. Much Old Testament law has to do with crime and punishment. There is no Jewish or Christian theocratic state in the world today, and so the civil laws of Israel do not apply directly to us. However, many of the civil laws contain an abiding moral principle that is relevant for today. What do I mean? Let’s look at an example. 

We are commanded in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle an ox while he is treading out the grain. No one in this country uses oxen to work with the grain. That particular Law has no direct application to our society. However, it contains a principle that does pertain to us. The principle is this: if you are working with an animal or even have hired a person to help you with a task, you must meet particular needs. If you use an animal for some kind of work, you must feed it. If you ask a person to help you with a task, you should offer to reimburse them. Paul used this verse in Deuteronomy to say that the church should pay the preacher (1 Cor. 9:9). So, if you fail to pay me, you violate the spirit of Deuteronomy 25:4!  Jackie Barb takes good care of me and makes sure that never happens!

In Deuteronomy 12:1ff, God tells Israel to destroy all the Promised Land inhabitants’ places of worship. They are commanded to “break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire . . . You must not worship the Lord your God in their way” (Deut. 12:3,4a).  One dare not apply this literally to today and go about burning down all mosques or houses of worship which are not Christian. But again, there is an abiding principle.  We are to worship God in the manner prescribed by Him. We are to worship God through Jesus Christ and in harmony with biblical principles.  We cannot worship our God using Moslem worship guidelines, for example, because the God of Islam is not the Father of Jesus Christ. We must strive to relate to God and worship Him in the manner He has revealed.  That is an abiding principle, even though we do not literally destroy the houses of worship of those who hold to other religions. 

Yet another category of Law consists of “case laws.” Case laws are expansions of general laws, telling how to apply the general Law to a specific case. In the Ten Commandments, there is the general Law, “Thou shalt not kill.” We find a case law expanding on this in Deuteronomy 22:8, “Whenever you build a new house, put a railing around the edge of the roof. Then you won’t be responsible for a death at your home if someone falls off the roof.” I doubt that any of you have a railing around the roof of your house.  We don’t normally build houses with flat roofs, nor do we entertain guests on our roofs. Literally, this case law does not apply to us, but again, there is an abiding principle. The abiding principle for us is to do all we can to make our property safe. We recently repaired some broken sidewalks. If we had left it alone and someone tripped and broke their neck, we violated the 6th Commandment.

On the other hand, Jewish case law clarifies that the 6th Commandment does not pertain to warfare or capital punishment. Israel was allowed to conduct war under the guidance of God, and the case laws of Israel listed numerous crimes punishable by death. Many today try to use the 6th Commandment to prohibit capital punishment, but to do so is a distortion resulting from the failure to take note of Jewish case law. More on that when we come to the 6th Commandment in this series. 

As we work our way through the Ten Commandments, it will be important to keep these distinctions in mind.  Our focus will be on the moral Law because of its unchanging character. We need to fix it in our minds that all who violate God’s moral Law cannot escape the judgment of God. Just as we cannot violate certain natural laws such as gravity without suffering the consequences, neither can we violate God’s moral Law without paying the price. Human beings face two possibilities when they violate God’s moral Law: First, all who violate God’s moral Law will suffer eternal damnation unless they have embraced God’s remedy for lawbreakers, even Jesus Christ the Savior. The second possibility is this. If the redeemed of Christ violate God’s moral Law and fail to repent, divine chastisement will be the consequence.  Earthly blessing will be canceled. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us for Jesus’ sake. 

God is not like a doting grandfather who may decide to overlook the sins of his little darlings completely. God is like a fair and just judge.  He will never allow the guilty to go unpunished.  But because Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself the judgment for the sins of the world, all who trust in Him with repentance and faith are forgiven. 

As we work our way through the Ten Commandments, I will be expanding on these introductory themes. In two weeks, we will examine the first Commandment and learn that we all stand guilty before God for our blatant and repeated failure to keep that Commandment. 

Frankly, at one level, the Law of God scares me to death. It frightens me because I am a lawbreaker, and I am gathered here this morning with fellow lawbreakers. The Law scares me so much it drives me to Christ, where alone I find peace with God, pardon, and divine love. One of the Law’s main purposes is to help us see how sinful we are so we will turn to Jesus Christ for salvation. Paul put it like this: Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Gal. 3:24,25). Once the Law has driven us to Christ, it has served its function as our “tutor.” We no longer took to the Law of God as a means of salvation or as contributing to our salvation in any way. The Law of God has a purpose, as we have seen, but it has no part in our salvation.  That honor belongs to Jesus alone.  As we study the Law of God together, may we all be driven deeper and deeper into faith in Jesus Christ.  You do not want to face the Law of God on judgment day without Christ serving as your mediator. 


GOD’S AMAZING GRACE

Warsaw Christian Church (April 11, 2021 )  Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 John 5:9-12: If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

John says it as plainly as possible, so we will not misunderstand: God has given us eternal life. That life is inseparably connected to His Son, Jesus, the Messiah. Those who possess the Son possess eternal life. Those who do not possess the Son, whatever else they may have in their favor, do not have eternal life. Let’s take a closer look at these critical words. 

“Life” – – – we all enjoy the gift of life. When God created mankind in His image, He pronounced it “good.” To be sure, sin has clouded the picture, but most of us can probably agree that life is basically good. We try to avoid sickness and death as long as we can.  Even Scripture regards death as “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). So what is so good about life? I could give you a long list. I consider relationships with family as good — not problem-free but good. Eating a tasty meal with friends is good. Reading an interesting book is good. Watching an entertaining TV show or movie is good. Being in church with Christian friends is good. Being able to help others through acts of kindness is good. A hot fudge sundae with nuts and whipped cream is good if I remember right.  I haven’t seen one since Weight Watchers.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Life is full of good things. Despite all the negatives that bombard us, most of us would agree that life is good. And where does life come from?  It is a gift from God. 

The biggest problem we all face is this. Life is basically good, but we have mucked it up so badly that we have angered our creator. Sin has alienated us from God.  Everyone one of us, at one time, stood under the just condemnation of our holy God. He warned our first parents that disobedience would lead to death, but they succumbed to temptation. Paul put it clearly when he said, “The wages of sin is death.” God’s destroying of the world in the days of Noah leads us to one conclusion.  God is not happy when we disobey Him. The Second Coming of Jesus and the accompanying judgment upon unbelievers in the lake of fire tells us that God does not pat the disobedient on the head and say, “It’s okay. Boys will be boys.” Scripture reveals a God who will either forgive you or cast you into hell. There is no third choice. How do we get on God’s good side? I have seen a commercial on TV repeated several times. It asks if you know for sure you are going to heaven and affirms that we can know with certainty. I do not know anything about the group putting on those commercials, but I agree with their conclusion: you can know for sure if you are going to heaven. 

Our text tells us that not only does God give life, He also gives eternal life. Note the word “given” in our text.  God has given us eternal life.  At present, we are mortal.  The life we have from God will come to an end unless we have received the gift of eternal life. Now, if you don’t like the idea of receiving eternal life as a gift, you can earn eternal life. All you have to do is live a perfect life and never sin. Anyone here live up to that standard? I believe we all understand that we had better receive it as a gift if we are to possess eternal life. 

What is eternal life? We do know that we shall enjoy being in the presence of God and all the redeemed forever. That enjoyment will never end.  There will be no dark days, just joy unspeakable and full of glory forever and ever. I love these words from the Apostle Peter.   Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). We have a new birth, a living hope, an inheritance that can never perish, and through faith, God’s power shields us until that day when we receive salvation in its final, eternal form. As long as faith is alive in us, faith in God and in His Son Jesus, we have the assurance that our final destiny is heaven. 

All life is a gift from God, but especially eternal life. It is a gift that can perplex us.  We know we don’t deserve such a blessing.  What would motivate God to give such a gift to those who had rebelled against His authority? The only motive I can think of is God’s unbounded compassion, mercy, and love. God’s grace is truly amazing. He would be perfectly just to lock us up forever in hell and throw away the key. However, our text reveals a different plan. 

Eternal life resides in God’s Son. Those who have the Son have that life. How does one come to possess the Son? Does anyone here know the answer? I hope the word “faith” comes to mind. You possess the Son by faith. Paul said elsewhere that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). If Christ lives in your heart, then you possess the Son. Eternal life is in Christ, and it is grounded in His cross. Jesus Christ obtained this blessing for us at Calvary. “He died for our sins…” (1 Cor. 15:3).  At the Last Supper, Jesus declared, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). In the Book of Hebrews, we read these great words: Because Christ offered himself to God, he is able to bring a new promise from God. Through his death he paid the price to set people free from the sins they committed under the first promise. He did this so that those who are called can be guaranteed an inheritance that will last forever.  “ (Hebrews 9:15, GW).

Eternal life resides in the Son of God. The reason He came was to grant this life to the world. He who has the Son has this life, eternal life. He also adds the point that causes so many to stumble. Those who do not possess the Son do not have eternal life. We live in a world where it is commonly assumed that all religions lead to God. The worst insults I have ever received came about during my years with Disciple Heritage Fellowship. When I and those with me stood up and proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, I was called a narrow-minded bigot; one pastor sent me a letter saying I was mentally ill. The worst insults I have ever received came not from those outside the church but from pastors. 

Some people do not understand how God could limit His salvation to one person, Jesus the Christ. One person, I recall, declared that she could not believe in a God who rejected people simply because they had no faith in Jesus. She referred to such a God as a “monster.” I recall attending a seminar years ago at Phillips University (I probably told this story before).  One of the main speakers was praising all the world religions’ virtues, declaring them all to be a pathway to God. God is known in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. I went up to him afterward and asked, “Do you realize that Nazism was basically a religion? School children prayed to Hitler.Adolf Hitler, you are our great Führer. Thy name makes the enemy tremble. Thy Third Reich comes, thy will alone is law upon the earth. Let us hear daily thy voice and order us by thy leadership, for we will obey to the end and even with our lives. We praise thee! Heil Hitler!”

Nazism was laced through with occult religious ideas and ancient Germanic mythology. I asked the speaker, “Is Nazism a valid path to God?” He replied, “Well, to be consistent, I would have to say Yes.” I was dumbfounded.  I thought, “If your theology compels you to affirm the validity of Nazism, you really need to find a new theology.” I probably was too shocked to say anything. 

Yes, it offends the world and the world religions to declare that if you do not have the Son, you do not have eternal life. Maybe John was wrong to state it so strongly, but He was only repeating what Jesus had said, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” I do not understand how anyone can say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and then deny His clear teaching that He alone can save. 

Our text refers to the record that God has given us.  The record God has given to us is contained in the God-breathed book we call “The Bible.” In both the Old and New Testaments, we encounter Jesus Christ. The Bible points to Jesus and declares to the world that all who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Those who do not believe in Him will perish and forfeit eternal life. That is the consistent teaching of Jesus and His apostles, recorded in Scripture. 

One final point. By faith, we receive the Son of God. Several weeks ago, I reminded you that faith has two dimensions. Faith says, “I believe Jesus is my Savior,” and, “I believe Jesus is my Lord.”  Faith says, “I believe Jesus is my Savior who died for me and through His death, my sins are forgiven,” Faith also says, “I believe Jesus is my Lord whose commands I will obey.”  True faith strives to obey Jesus, and when we fail, there is confession and repentance. True faith never says, “I trust Jesus to forgive me, but I shall live as I please.” 

John warns us in our text that if we reject God’s testimony, we are calling God a liar. Remember these words? 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar… You never want to call God a liar! Let us value and reverence God’s record. Let us read it with diligence. Let us believe in the Savior revealed in its pages.  Let us receive the gift of eternal life He offers.  Let us say “Yes” to God’s amazing grace by trusting in Jesus as our Savior AND OUR LORD. When true faith is present, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans  8:16). God gives us the witness within ourselves when our faith is genuine. Do you have that internal witness that you are a child of God? 


WHAT IF IT NEVER HAPPENED?

Warsaw Christian Church, (Easter, 2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

This morning we celebrate Easter, a year late. This is Easter Sunday, Part 2. The Coronavirus caused this delay. This is the sermon I intended to preach a year ago. 

Anyone who has reflected seriously about the Christian message has had moments when the thought arises; is it true? When I was in seminary, one of the theologians we studied was Rudolph Bultmann. One of his major works was entitled, Religion Without Myth. Bultmann believed that the New Testament story of Jesus was told in mythical terms. He believed we could not take literally the fantastic miracle stories we find in the New Testament, especially the resurrection. Once we remove all the mythical stuff (Bultmann referred to the miracles as “husk”) we have the kernel of what Jesus was all about. Now there are complexities here in Bultmann’s theology we cannot explore. I believe Bultmann meant well. He thought that modern man could not accept the New Testament at face value.  His goal was to make Christianity more palatable to 20th-century man. One quote will give you a taste of what Bultmann believed. He wrote, “What a primitive mythology it is that a divine being should become incarnate, and atone for the sins of men through his blood” (Kerygma and Myth, p. 7). Did you get that? The incarnation and atonement of Jesus are dismissed as myths. They never happened. All I can tell you is that this approach to Christianity ruined me spiritually for a time. I took Bultmann and others like him seriously and rejected the incarnation, the atonement, and all the Bible’s miracles, including the resurrection. I believed the New Testament was mostly mythology, not history — fiction, not fact. 

God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 15 approaches the resurrection as not only a historical event but the ultimate vindication of the ministry of Jesus. Paul spells out for us the implications of refusing to believe in the resurrection as history. If the resurrection never really happened, we will be looking at the conclusions Paul arrived at in our text. Paul believed the resurrection was an essential piece of the Christian Gospel. It is a load-bearing truth, and if it is removed, the entire Christian edifice collapses like a house of cards. To reject the resurrection is to leave Jesus and all He represents behind. 

Paul begins by saying that all of us who preach are wasting our time, deceiving gullible people who accept what we say at face value. Paul wrote these words around 50-54 AD. He was preaching the resurrection as a new doctrine, a doctrine foreign to many in the ancient world. Many of the Jews did not believe a resurrection from the grave was possible. We have the benefit of almost 2000 years of hindsight. Preaching the resurrection has been going on for a long time. Has it been in vain? About 1/3 of the world’s population has made some response to the message. Preaching Christ has resulted in thousands of churches built around the world. Preaching Christ was a key factor in abolishing slavery from Great Britain and the United States. Preaching Christ has resulted in the building of many hospitals, universities, and nursing homes worldwide. Preaching Christ has resulted in millions of persons dying in peace, believing they will be resurrected. From our vantage point, we can say to Paul, “The message you preached in the 1st century has gone around the globe and has done more good than you could have possibly imagined.” Preaching has certainly not been a pointless pursuit. Preaching the name of Jesus has done more good in this world than anything else. Why? Because Jesus Christ has risen indeed. 

Next, Paul says if the resurrection never happened, our faith is pointless. Indeed, those who believe in Jesus are at best naïve, at worse, stupid, the word used by atheist Christopher Hutchens. If Christ has not risen, you who believe in Him believe a lie, or perhaps Jesus was sadly mistaken about His own identity. Some say, “I believe in Jesus as a great prophet and teacher. I don’t believe all that miracle stuff. Who can believe that a man can rise from the grave literally?”

Here is the problem. If the incarnation and resurrection are not true, Jesus is not a great prophet and teacher. He taught that His entire mission centered on His death and resurrection. He said, for example, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). John 2:21 makes it clear He was speaking of His resurrection. In John 10:17, He speaks of laying down His life and then taking it up again. In John 11:25, He declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life.  If He did not make good on these predictions, He is not a great teacher. He is either a liar or deluded. Had I been a 1st-century disciple of Jesus, if He had not risen after three days, I would have assumed He was not the Messiah. The preliminary end of the story regarding His 12 Apostles is summarized in these words: “They all forsook Him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). What on earth induced them to come back and proclaim that Christ rose from the grave? Only one explanation makes sense. Up from the grave, He arose. Our faith is not pointless. 

Paul states that if Christ has not risen, he and the other apostles are liars, false witnesses of the worst kind. The apostles went throughout the ancient world announcing that Jesus Christ is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. His resurrection verified that He is indeed the Son of God and Savior of the world. If that is not true, they have lied to us. Perhaps Jesus is not at fault. Maybe He was a simple prophet, but not the Son of God, not the resurrected Savior. Possibly the apostles made up all those miracles. Perhaps they were so distraught after His crucifixion that they imagined He was still with them. Or maybe they wanted to justify their faith in Him, and so they embellished the story. They tried to make Jesus into a super-hero. 

There is a major problem with such a theory. Why would the Apostles perpetuate a story they knew to be false when their preaching only got them into trouble with both the Jewish and Roman authorities?  The disciples of Jesus were hounded, jailed, beaten, and put to death because they preached the resurrection. If they knew the resurrection was a myth they had created, they were not very wise. Why did they endure all the suffering that went along with proclaiming the resurrection? Because they knew the resurrection was an actual event. They knew that nothing could ever separate them from Jesus.  To deny Him out of fear of what others might think would have been the height of folly. Those who saw the crucified Jesus alive could never deny Him, whatever the cost. 

I suspect we have all read mythical stories over the years. We know that stories about “The Easter Bunny” or “Hansel and Gretel” have nothing to do with fact. They are just stories we have all enjoyed. Does the New Testament read like a fairy tale? Amazing things indeed happened in the life and ministry of Jesus, but the New Testament does not read like a fairy tale. There is a ring of truth about it that is hard to deny. The apostles do not come across as fabricators of false stories. They knew that Christ had risen because they had seen Him, talked with Him, ate fish with Him. They tell it like it is. Yes, some dismiss the apostles as false witnesses. I was once in their number, but no longer, thank God. 

Paul then makes a striking statement. If Christ has not risen, your sins are unforgiven. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed that His death would serve as an atonement for our sins. His resurrection demonstrated the truth of His claims. If He has not risen, our sins remain as a barrier between God and us. If Jesus is still in the grave, He is a man like any other man. If He is only a mortal such as we are, then His death cannot atone for our sins. 

How is it that the death of a single man can atone for the sins of the world? Was Jesus a mere mortal as we are? His apostles taught that He was indeed a man, human as we are. But they also claimed that He was God incarnate, the Son of the Living God. The death of such a majestic Person would have infinite value in the sight of God. Jesus, in one sense, went up against sin and was defeated. Sin mocked Him, spit on Him, and adorned Him with a crown of thorns. Sin nailed Him to the cross. How do we know that His death can atone for our sins? Because sin lost the battle when He rose from the grave. When Jesus Christ stepped out of that borrowed tomb, He declared to sin, “I have defeated you.” He announced to the devil, “You have lost.” He proclaims to the world, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9). Amen! 

If the resurrection is not a fact, what are we going to do about our sins? No other religion has a meaningful solution. I stand before you this today believing that all my sins have been forgiven because Christ is risen. You do not want to face the judgment of God with unforgiven sins.

Paul further declares that if Christ has not risen, all your relatives and loved ones who died trusting in Jesus are not in heaven.  They perished. They entered the blackness of eternal death. They are gone forever.  There is no hope for them. They lived, they died, and it is all without meaning or purpose. It matters not if they were good or evil, great or unknown. It matters not if they were atheists or religious.  They are extinct. That will also be our fate if Christ’s resurrection never happened. 

Finally, Paul says that if Christ has not risen, we Christians are to be pitied. We have sought to serve our Lord; we have sacrificed our time to attend church; we have sacrificed money to promote the cause of Christ; we have reached out to those in need; we have supported missionaries around the world.  If Christ was not resurrected on the first Easter, what fools we are to believe in Him and serve Him. We might as well eat, drink and be merry. That is what many people do. They have no faith. They anticipate no heaven or hell. They live for the moment expecting to die, and after death comes – – – nothing—eternal nothingness. In the German film about Hitler’s last days, “Downfall,” Hitler contemplates his suicide. He says, one brief moment, then “ewige Ruhe” or “eternal peace.” Yes, eternal peace for those who die trusting in Jesus, but eternal ruin for those who die without faith in His name.

It is very depressing to flesh out the implications that follow the denial of the resurrection. The church and its ministry are pointless, a colossal waste of time. Faith is stupidity. We might as well burn our Bibles, for the apostles have deceived us. We might as well sin to our heart’s content, for there is no forgiveness. Forget about being reunited with your departed loved ones. We all end up in eternal nothingness. If Christ was not resurrected, we might as well go around wearing a dunce cap, for that is what we are. 

Paul ends this depressing litany on a positive note in verse 20. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead.” The 12 faithful apostles knew it to be true because they witnessed the resurrection. Paul knew it was true because the risen Christ appeared to Him and taught him. I know it is true, too. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart. Christ is risen! Our faith is not in vain. Hallelujah!


DEMETRIUS THE SILVERSMITH

Warsaw Christian Church, (3/21/21) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Based on Acts 19:23-41

(In this first-person narrative sermon, I have tried to follow the biblical text closely.  However, I have allowed my imagination to interject some thoughts and opinions of Demetrius, which are not actually in the biblical record. I have also added some historical background about Ephesus. RB)

I lived in the magnificent city of Ephesus in the first century AD. Ephesus was in a beautiful location, where the Cayster and Meander Rivers enter the Aegean Sea. My city was the commercial, political and religious center of western Asia. She was a great city.  It is difficult to believe that little remains except for a few ruins. When I lived there, the city was teeming with life. It gave you the feeling that such a marvelous city would endure forever. But then I guess the things built by men never last forever.

Demetrius is my name. I was a silversmith in Ephesus – – – a prosperous one I might add. Let me explain how I became wealthy.  Ephesus was the main city promoting the worship of Diana, goddess of fertility. “Come and worship Diana, and you will conceive in no time,” we used to say. People would come from all over to pray at her temple, and what a temple it was — an enormous structure with a roof supported by 127 ionic columns 6 feet in diameter and 60 feet high. It was the most magnificent building ever constructed in the Greek world, surpassing even the Parthenon. Diana’s temple was acclaimed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. What a shame that none of you will ever be able to see that glorious temple. 

It seemed that there were always plenty of people who needed Diana’s help. The tourist traffic was steady all year round. Childless couples from everywhere would flock to Ephesus to pray at the temple of Diana. Well, I figured everyone would want a souvenir, and so I made little silver idols of Diana, something the people could take home to remind them of their faith in Diana. I sold thousands of them and became a wealthy man. Religion was very profitable for me.

Just between you and me, I thought the worship of Diana was nonsense, but there are always suckers around who will believe in anything. The city fathers even spread the rumor that Diana’s image in the temple had fallen from heaven, a sign that Diana was a real goddess, a vindication of her reality. Yes, a large stone fell from the sky, but I don’t think it was Diana.  It was nothing but a promotional gimmick, but the suckers loved it. The more lies you tell, the better some people seem to like it. I concluded that people were stupid and gullible. Me? I didn’t believe all the hocus pocus about Diana.  I believed in money, lots of money, and all the things money can buy. That was my religion. And my faith blessed me and gave me great satisfaction, at least for a while. 

If I can profit from other people’s credulity, why not do it? If fools and silly women want to believe in the magical powers of a stone goddess or a silver replica of Diana, why should I not profit? I hurt no one, and I gave people what they wanted.  I was like a priest, encouraging people to believe in Diana. They wanted to believe, and so I helped them. Occasionally a young lady would stop by to say, “Oh, Demetrius; that silver statue of Diana has worked a miracle! I shall name the baby after you.” And I would say, “Praise be to Diana, the great goddess of the Ephesians” and then laugh as soon as she was out of earshot. I figured that such stories were good for business, and whenever a customer complained and wanted their money back, I would say, “It worked for Mrs. Smith. Perhaps your faith is weak. You must pray harder. Diana will never fail those who keep their faith strong.” I couldn’t lose. If the childless couple conceived, business increased.  If they didn’t, I would blame it on their weak faith. Sometimes I would suggest they buy Diana’s king-sized silver image, hinting that this might increase their faith. People are so naïve I sometimes felt guilty about my persuasive powers. However, there is a lot of money to be made in religion, and I made sure I got my share.  You don’t blame me, do you?  You probably would have done the same thing. 

So, I would set up my tent outside the temple of Diana, and as the suckers were leaving, I would cry out, “Come and see these beautiful replicas of Diana made of the finest silver. These statues are known to have magical powers; miracles have happened in the lives of those who own them, and today only we have a special price. Take the power of Diana right into your own home.” The fools would push and shove at each other to buy one, and I, Demetrius the silversmith, became a wealthy man. I never really believed Diana could help produce a baby, but she sure helped me produce money.  I used to joke with my friends and say, “Maybe Diana is not a fertility goddess after all. Perhaps she is the goddess of wealth and prosperity.” She was a gold mine for me, or should I say “a silver mine.” I could sell my little silver statues for five times what they cost me. 

Everything was fine until one day a wandering preacher came to Ephesus. He didn’t look like much, this short little bald man,  but people began to listen to him. Paul was his name, and he was promoting some new religion; something about a man named Jesus who was the Son of God and who supposedly rose from the dead.  What a ridiculous idea. I figured he had his money-making scheme, and he was trying to horn in on my territory. For two years, Paul preached in Ephesus, telling people to enter God’s Kingdom by trusting in Jesus. I thought the day would come when he would want to sell statues of Jesus, but that never happened.  As Jesus gained in popularity, Diana’s dwindled; and even worse, my sales began to fall drastically. 

Now I believe in live and let live. If Paul wanted to believe in Jesus, OK, and if he wanted to preach about Him, fine. But he was not content with that. He told the people that Diana was a phony, that man-made gods are no gods at all; there is only one true God, and Jesus Christ, God’s Son,  has made Him known. He said my little silver goddesses were useless. Useless? Why those idols gave hope to thousands of people.  I gave people hope, and Paul was getting in the way. 

When preachers start to meddle with your pocketbook, you can’t just sit still. Religion is fine in its place, but you can’t let it interfere with business. Business comes first. Religion should be a private affair, confined to the houses of worship.  Keep it out of the marketplace.  If faith begins to cut into your profit, something had to be done. 

At first, I thought I could simply switch over to making silver statues of Jesus. Diana? Jesus? What’s the difference?  I tried to sell a few silver statues of Jesus. I just changed my sales pitch a little. “Great is Jesus, the Son of God,” I would cry. “Buy a Jesus statue, and it will protect you from sickness. It is a sure ticket into heaven.” But I quickly learned that the Christians wouldn’t buy them. They did not believe in idols or magic charms. What was I to do? My whole life was going down the drain. 

Finally, I took drastic action; I gathered a crowd and made a little speech. I called together the other craftsmen whose business had been damaged by Paul’s message. I said, “Fellows, we have been making lots of money because of Diana. This Paul is leading people astray, telling people that Jesus is superior to Diana. Many fools believe what Paul says, and his new false religion is spreading rapidly. He dares to say that our idols are not gods at all! We are in danger of being driven out of business. And, worse yet, Diana’s temple if being discredited. Diana herself is being blasphemed!  The world is being deprived of her divine majesty.” Well, again, I must confess that I didn’t believe my own speech, but I was a good orator, a very persuasive man. I pushed the right buttons. 

 Everyone got excited and wanted to defend the honor of Diana, and they screamed, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Over and over again, the crowd cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. I had to chuckle to myself. After a while, people started shouting different things. Just for fun, I approached a man who was screaming at the top of his lungs, and I said to him, “What is this all about,” and he said, “I have no idea,” and continued shouting. 

They grabbed Paul’s companions and took them to the large amphitheater.  I was hoping the mob would imprison or even kill Paul and his cohorts.  When the word came out that these trouble makers were Jews, pandemonium broke out. Most in the crowd were Gentiles.  The Jews were perpetual trouble makers in the Roman Empire, and the crowd went wild when it became known that Paul and his companions were Jews.  For a solid two hours, the crowd shouted over and over, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” We were not going to let these Jews bring some foreign God into our city and undermine our love for Diana. She was our goddess, and she did not need any competition from the Jews.

It looked like my little plot was going to work. I was sure the angry mob would dispense with Paul and his cohorts. But then one of the city fathers stepped in, the city clerk, I believe, and quieted the crowd. I could not believe the speech he made.  He ruined everything for me. He asked the crowd to be reasonable, but I wanted them to be out of control. He reminded everyone that we had courts, but I was hoping lawlessness would win the day.  He then dared to say that Paul and his companions had not broken any law. He pointed his finger at me and said, “If Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open, and they can press charges.” Don’t you hate it when someone upsets your plans and introduces the voice of calm and reason at a time when you are trying to stir things up?  The city clerk’s words calmed the crowd, and everyone dispersed. 

Shortly after this episode, Paul did leave Ephesus. That was the good news.  The bad news was that he left behind a large number of believers in Jesus. I have to tell you, I hated the name of Jesus. That Jewish Messiah destroyed my business.  I closed my mind to Paul’s message.  How could I even consider following a religion which robbed me of my livelihood? Would you follow Jesus if it cost you something? It was too late for me. The damage was done, and it was irreparable. Paul’s preaching ruined my business. Even after he left Ephesus, the Christians continued to grow in strength and numbers, and the demand for my silver statues dwindled to almost nothing. Paul ruined me, ruined my business, ruined my life.

I was so angry over my loss of business that I never really listened to the message of Jesus. All I could see was money, profit, wealth, income.   Money blinded me to the real treasure, Jesus Christ. By the time I realized who Jesus was, it was too late for me. The great apostle Paul was in my town for two years giving away the greatest of all treasures — salvation through Jesus Christ — and I refused to listen because Jesus was not good for business. If only I had listened. When the hour of my death came, money meant nothing; Diana was useless, and I had refused to listen to Paul as He proclaimed Jesus. I thought people were fools who believed in Diana.  I was the greater fool for not believing in Jesus. I had the opportunity.  I have no one to blame but myself.  If only I had listened. Listen to the advice of a rich man from ancient Ephesus. Money isn’t everything. In fact, it amounts to very little in this life, and when the time comes to die, it means nothing. Don’t let your desire for money blind you to the message of Jesus. That is the advice of Demetrius, the silversmith, or should I say, Demetrius the fool. 


WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?

Warsaw Christian Church (3/14/21) Richard Bowman, Pastor

The most important question we all must answer is, “What must I do to be saved.” While the answer given in the Bible is simple, confusion has clouded the issue. I want to begin by reading a series of verses that plainly teach what we must do to be saved. 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: (John 1:12}

that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:15).

He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; (John 3:36).

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16).

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9).

But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22).

Notice that in these verses, it does not say, believe in Jesus, plus…It says believe in Jesus period.

Paul speaks of eternal life as a gift, and it is indeed a gift. We receive the gift by fulfilling a specific condition – – –  faith in Jesus. These verses state plainly that the one condition we must fulfill is faith, believing in Jesus as our Savior Lord.

So, what is the confusion? Some think the Gospel is too simple. Surely more is required than faith. Items added to the Gospel include good works, baptism, church membership. You cannot be saved unless you live a life filled with good works.  You cannot be saved unless you have been baptized.  You cannot be redeemed unless you are active in church, and so it goes. So which way is it? Does faith alone bring salvation, or is it just the beginning? To be sure of salvation, must you perform good works and be active in church?

Do you agree or disagree with the following? If you have true faith in Jesus, you are saved even though you display little in the way of good works.  If you have true faith in Jesus and are not baptized, you do not forfeit salvation. If you have true faith in Jesus and pay scant attention to His church, you do not lose your salvation. If the verses I just read are correct, the one thing we must have to be saved is faith in Jesus. Not faith, plus good works.  Not faith plus baptism. Not faith plus church involvement.  Just faith. 

Okay, but what is involved in faith? When you place your trust in Jesus, you accept Him as Savior AND Lord. Savior means that our sins are forgiven. His death on the Cross secured pardon for all our sins. Few have problems accepting the idea that their sins have been forgiven. But faith also trusts in Jesus as Lord. Paul summarized what that means when he described himself and all Christians as “slaves” (Greek, doulos) of Jesus. We don’t like the idea of slavery, and many modern translators translate “doulos” by the word “servant.” 

A servant may be hired by a wealthy family and paid to perform specific tasks. Yet, he remains a free person. He does as he pleases outside of his working hours. A slave belongs to his master 24/7. He is not free to do as he pleases. He lives under the authority of his master. True faith in Jesus is a faith that accepts Him as both Savior and Lord. There is no such thing as a faith that trusts Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. We are slaves of Jesus. Thankfully, our Master loves us and works to promote our well-being. Nevertheless, we are slaves. 

When you join our church, we ask a simple question. “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and do you (or have you) accepted Him as Savior AND Lord?” An affirmative response means you become a willing slave to Jesus. Faith says, “I agree to live under the commands and authority of Jesus. I trust Him as my Savior who forgives all my sins, and I trust Him as my Lord whose commands I will strive to obey.” 

We see this clearly in the following two Scripture references,  Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). To trust in Jesus as “Lord” means you will strive to do what He says. You will endeavor to do the will of the Father. That is how true faith expresses itself. A person who says, “I trust Jesus as my Savior, but I will not follow Him as Lord,” is not expressing true faith. 

Now, you need to listen up and grasp what I am about to say. True faith affirms that Jesus is Lord and that He has the right to command my obedience, but what if I fail in my obedience to Him? Listen to John speaking to Christians.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Christians seek to walk in the light. Our walk is far from perfect. We still sin as Christians. If we deny that we sin, we are self-deceived. If we confess our sins, our Lord is faithful and just, and we receive His forgiveness. To confess in Greek is the word “homolego.” It literally means “to speak (lego) the same thing (homo).” To confess our sins is to say to God, “When I lied to gain an advantage, it was wrong. I agree with You, God, that I sinned. I am sorry, and I ask for Your forgiveness.” When we confess our sins, we are taking our sins seriously. When we excuse our sin by saying, “Nobody’s perfect,” or “the devil made me do it,” or some other excuse, we are deceiving ourselves. Our faith is not operational. The only “excuse” for our sins is to say, “I was wrong. I am responsible. I trust in the blood of Jesus to forgive and cleanse me.” 

We turn now to the heart of the matter. Trusting in Christ as Savior is an either you do or you don’t situation. You either believe Jesus atoned for your sins, or you reject that idea. Here is what we need to understand. While all true Christians believe in Jesus as both Savior and Lord, how we respond to His Lordship varies. If a person says he has true faith in Jesus but does not respond to His Lordship in any manner, that person is deceived.

On the other hand, the degree of response we make to the Lordship of Jesus may be small. Medium, large, or extra-large, if you will! Consider these verses from 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

In these words, we see the difference between salvation and discipleship. Paul presents us with two extremes. Both extremes are Christians. All Christians are resting on the only foundation that can bring eternal life, Jesus Christ. There is no other foundation. At one extreme are those who were very faithful disciples. Their lives are figuratively described as gold, silver, and precious stones. In other words, these are Christians who were consistently faithful in their service to Jesus. People like Paul and Peter, or Luther, and Billy Graham, come to mind.

At the other extreme are those who believe in Jesus but whose faithfulness is feeble. Their lives are described as wood, hay, and stubble, things that will be destroyed on judgment day. Here are people who trust in Jesus, but they are not very faithful. They are so caught up in earthly things they have little time to serve Jesus. Nonetheless, they are redeemed. Their faith in Jesus is real. They enter into heaven. 

So, why bother to serve Jesus? Both the faithful and the unfaithful enter into eternal life. Here is the difference Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 3. The faithful receive rewards. The unfaithful do not. The faithful will receive rewards from Christ that will endure throughout eternity. Those whose service is minimal will be deprived of rewards forever. Every believer in Christ already has eternal life. Jesus settled that question permanently at the Cross. But rewards for faithful service are another matter entirely. Some will receive many rewards; others will receive few or none. It depends on how we responded in obedience to Jesus. 

Saving faith means we trust Jesus as both Savior and Lord. Heaven itself is a free gift given to all who trust in Jesus. Rewards, however, are given based on faithful service. While all the redeemed with be happy in heaven, some will enjoy rewards that others lack. When we trust in Jesus, we become His slaves. Some slaves joyfully enter into the work of the Master. Others do a little, but for the most part, their lives consist of wood, hay, and stubble, combustible material that is burned on judgment day. 

One final thought. While being a slave may not seem very appealing, being a slave of Jesus leads to a blessed life. Those who obey His commands learn that obedience to Him brings great joy. Yes, we are slaves, but slaves who belong to a loving, benevolent Master who always promotes our highest well-being. Disobedient slaves are miserable in this life. You cannot find peace and happiness as a Christian while disregarding the commands of Jesus.  Also, those who are disobedient deprive themselves of heavenly rewards. Both options are presented to us by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. Which option do you prefer? 


JOSEPH

Warsaw Christian Church, (3/7/2021) Rev. Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text, Genesis 37-50

I want to look at the life of this ancient patriarch this morning, noting some remarkable parallels between his life and the life of Jesus. Remember that the Old Testament reveals things regarding the coming Messiah. As we read the Old Testament, we expect to find truths about Jesus. We have seen this in the story of Adam and Eve, where the woman’s seed was to crush the serpent’s head, and that seed is Christ. We saw several parallels between Jesus and Noah’s Ark as well as in the life of Abraham. 

The story of Joseph has many elements to it. Joseph receives as much print as Abraham, an indication of his importance in the unfolding drama of human redemption. His story begins in Genesis 37, and his death is recorded in Genesis 50, the final chapter in the Book of Beginnings. Today we will cover a few highlights, seeking to compare His life to that of Jesus. . 

1. Both were despised and rejected. The story of Joseph and his many-colored coat given to him by his father Jacob is one we all learned in Sunday School. Because his father seemed to favor Joseph, his brothers were jealous. Sibling rivalry is nothing new. Joseph adds fuel to the fire by telling his brothers about a dream with Joseph as the center of attention and his brothers bowing down before him.  This caused the brothers’ anger level to reach new heights. They decided their little smarty pants brother must be eliminated. 

Plan A was to kill Joseph. Jacob had sent him out to locate his brothers, who were tending sheep. Joseph, an obedient son, went looking for his siblings. When they saw Joseph coming, they hatched a quick plot. They would throw him in a cistern and tell daddy that a wild animal killed him. They carry out part of the dastardly deed and throw Joseph in a cistern, but when they see a tribe of Ishmaelites approaching, brother Judah offers another suggestion. Overcome with brotherly love, Judah suggests perhaps killing their brother would be immoral. He suggests they sell him as a slave to the Ishmaelites, make a few shekels in the deal, and tell dad that an animal killed him. This would be a much more acceptable moral choice.  So, they grab Joseph, take off his fancy coat, dip it in goat’s blood, receive 20 pieces of silver from the Ishmaelites, and return home to Jacob with the sad news that Joseph is dead. 

Does this not remind you of Jesus? Like Joseph, He was innocent and had but one thing in mind, and that was to do His Father’s will. John 1:11 tells us that Jesus came unto His own, the Jewish people, but they received Him not. Isaiah 53:3,4 tells us that the Messiah would be despised and rejected of men. Like Joseph’s brothers, Jesus’ enemies took counsel against Him to put Him to death (Matt. 27:1). Like Joseph, Jesus was betrayed for a bit of silver. 

2. Both experienced great suffering. I cannot imagine how awful it would feel to have your own brothers sell you into slavery. Nor can I imagine the feelings of the Son of God who came to redeem us and encountered rejection. 

Joseph was accused of a crime he did not commit. You remember the story. After coming to Egypt as a slave, Joseph became a trusted manager in the house of Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife thought Joseph was cute and tried to lure him into an affair. Joseph refused, telling her he could not offend his master or his God. She tempted him repeatedly, but he remained steadfast. Finally, one day in desperation she grabbed him and tried to drag him to her bedroom, but he ran away, leaving this temptress with his cloak. She tells hubby that Joseph wanted to force himself on her, and Joseph ends up in prison. 

Jesus also suffered for a crime He did not commit. He was accused of blasphemy against God and rebellion against Caesar. He was guilty of neither crime but was crucified nevertheless.  As is the case with so many of the Old Testament stories, they were meant to foretell or illustrate the coming Messiah’s life. Joseph and Jesus were despised and rejected by their brethren and suffered unjustly. But there is more. 

3. Both had a great love for those who rejected them. Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. While my brother once threatened to kill me after I had locked him in a bedroom and wouldn’t let him out, I don’t think he really would have killed me, but I didn’t want to take the chance!. Joseph’s brothers despised him so much they were ready to kill him. They finally decided selling him into slavery would work just as well. Can you imagine anything more horrible than to be treated in this manner by your brothers? How could he ever love them again? Would he not want vengeance? Later, when he had them under his authority, why would he want to be nice to them? Yet, Joseph loved his cruel brothers. 

After enduring much suffering in prison and being exalted to the high position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking grain during a time of famine. They met with Joseph, not realizing that he was their brother. I would have been tempted to have the lot of them arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail for the rest of their lives. Joseph, having revealed his identity, embraced his brothers, wept for joy, and kissed them.

He is so like Jesus in this regard.  Jesus was despised and rejected by his brothers, the Israelites. He was nailed to a cruel cross, enduring great suffering.  Yet His love for the human race and for those who placed Him on the cross remained firm.  Do you understand that you cannot make Jesus stop loving you, but you can reject Him and go to hell? We have all rejected Him in so many ways. Our devotion to Him often takes a back seat in our lives. Still, He loves us. Our commitment to His church is sometimes lukewarm. Yet, He loves us. Sometimes we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us. Still, He loves us. 

Joseph set the example. Despite the worst treatment imaginable at the hands of men, Joseph loved his brothers. Despite the treatment Jesus received during His earthly life and the treatment He receives today, yet His love for us refuses to die. When we act contrary to His love, we hurt ourselves, but we do not extinguish His love. When people prefer hell to Jesus, they receive their choice, but they have to enter hell by rejecting the never-dying love of Jesus for them.  When people declare that they will not submit to Jesus and end up rejected by God, they enter hell over the dead body of Jesus.

4. Both were exalted to high positions.  Joseph followed a strange path. From being sold as a slave by his brothers, then to a high position in Potiphar’s house, then to jail under a false accusation, and finally to a high position under Pharaoh because of his ability to interpret dreams. Who would have predicted that this boy, sold as a slave, would one day be exalted to such a high position? He was Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

The parallel with Jesus is clear. Who would have imagined that a crucified Jewish rabbi would be exalted to the right hand of God? Paul’s great hymn in Philippians 2 tells the story. Beginning at Philippians 2:5 we read, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,   who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,  he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. You can’t get any higher than that! 

5. Both had forgiveness in their hearts for those who betrayed them.  Joseph not only loved his brothers; he also forgave them for their wicked deeds. He helped them in their time of need rather than seeking revenge.  Even though his brothers had acted sinfully, God intended to work out a higher purpose in Joseph’s life. Joseph understood this and readily and freely forgave his brothers. 

We learn from Genesis chapter 50 that Joseph’s brothers feared that they might receive vengeance from their brother’s hand. They feared that from his position of power, he was now able to exact revenge. They say among themselves, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him” (Genesis 50:15).   Joseph had already forgiven them, but they know what they deserve. They know what they would have done had they been wronged this way. They would have sought revenge. They suspect Joseph is like they are, and so they go before him and tell him that their father Jacob wanted Joseph to forgive his brothers.  Their words are unnecessary. He has already forgiven them. He says to them, “Do not be afraid. I will provide for you and your little ones. And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (50:21). Joseph demonstrates his forgiving heart by meeting the needs of his brothers and their families.

How strikingly similar to Jesus. He understood that those who crucified Him were acting from wicked motives, yet the Father was planning to use the crucifixion as the means of offering pardon to the world. Jesus understood this and so was able to pray from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” 

Do you ever find yourself thinking like Joseph’s brothers? “I know God says I am forgiven through the sufferings of Jesus, but I realize how many wicked things I have done. I wonder if God will want to take revenge against me after all.  I do not deserve His love and forgiveness.” Have you ever had such thoughts? I have. As I grow older, I find myself somewhat in Oscar Schindler’s position in the movie “Schindler’s List.” Shindler had saved many Jews from the Nazi death camps by insisting that he needed them to work in his factory. Hundreds of Jews owed their lives to this man who remained a member of the Nazi party throughout the war. As the war ends, Schindler is stricken with the realization that he could have done so much more. The Jews he had helped try to comfort him, grateful that through his efforts, they survived. Yet Schindler cannot help but lament, “I could have done so much more. I could have saved more.” 

Sometimes I look at my life and wonder how God could ever forgive me.  I can think of a few people who have said that I helped them come to faith in Christ or that I helped them grow in faith, but the numbers are small. Like Schindler, I often think, “I could have done so much more.” Sometimes I wonder how God can forgive me for all the time I have wasted over the years when I could have been doing something spiritually productive. Have I given enough, has my preaching and teaching always been faithful, and what about the people I might have spoken to about Christ but failed to act? I could have done so much more. Can God really forgive me? 

This is why the Gospel is good news. None of us have done enough. None of us have done as much as we might have done. We can never stand before God and declare, “I did all I could do.” We must all admit to God, “I could have done so much more.” Christ redeems us and forgives us not because of how great we are but because of His great love for us. Hear the word of God from Titus 3:5: “he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy . . .” 

Did Joseph’s brothers deserve to be forgiven? Absolutely not. They had done nothing that could atone for their wickedness. They appear before Joseph guilty and in need of both his forgiveness and his help with Israel’s food shortage. Joseph is merciful to them and meets their needs. We appear before Christ in the same way. We have done nothing to deserve forgiveness.  No deeds of righteousness we may have done can make up for the sins we have committed. We need precisely what Joseph’s brothers needed—undeserved mercy, unmerited pardon, extravagant forgiveness. And that, brothers and sisters, is what Jesus offers to us.

These are just a few of the parallels we find between Joseph and Jesus. Joseph’s life helped prepare the Jewish people and the world for one who would come who would be far greater than Joseph, even Jesus our Savior. Trust Him, and let Him lift the burden of sin from your life and grant unto you a new heart. 


ABRAHAM

Warsaw Christian Church, (Feb. 28, 2021) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Texts: Genesis 12:1-4; 15:5-6

12:1  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4  So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 

15:5  He (God) brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6. And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Abraham is considered the father of our faith. We will examine his life as we continue our study in Genesis.  In Romans 4:11, Abraham is called “the father of all who believe.” He is our spiritual father.

We move ahead in Genesis many years after the flood. Noah and his family began to repopulate the earth. God promised that He would never again flood the world and gave the rainbow as a sign of that covenant. Noah’s story continues in Genesis 9, and in chapter 10 his genealogy is listed. In chapter 11 we read the story of the tower of Babel, followed by more genealogies leading up to Abraham’s story. 

In Abraham’s day, we find a world once again living in rebellion against God. Superstition abounds, and the knowledge of the true God is a fading memory. This is the unfortunate tale we read from Genesis to Revelation. We humans have a strange desire to live without God, to be a “god” unto our selves. It began with Adam and Eve, and it reached a climax in Noah’s day, continued after Noah with the story of the Tower of Babel where the human race sought once again to exalt in its greatness while ignoring God.  In response, God decides once again to choose an individual in His effort to restore truth about Himself to the human race. Abram, who later became Abraham, was the man God chose. 

We can learn much from Abraham, far more than I can cover in this message. I can only hit a few highlights. Our focus will be on the faith of Abraham.  It is a faith that pleased God and serves as an example for us to follow.  Gal. 3:7 tells us, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Many Jews in the first century assumed they were Abraham’s children because of their birth. Paul clarifies that the true descendants of Abraham are persons of faith, whether Jew or Gentile. Let us examine the faith of Abraham, asking ourselves the question, “Do I possess this kind of faith?” 

1. Faith hears and obeys. While living in Ur of the Chaldees, God spoke to Abraham, a major city of ancient Mesopotamia located on the Euphrates River.  Hebrews 11:8 informs us that when God called Abraham to leave his homeland, Abraham obeyed even though he did not know where God would lead him. By faith, he began his journey to an unknown destination. Some refer to this as “blind faith,” but I disagree. There is nothing “blind” about following God’s direction. It is the epitome of wisdom and intelligence to obey the God of the universe. It is the height of folly to disregard what God says. Abraham’s choice at this point was simple. He had to decide, “Is this the true God speaking to me or not?” He had no Bible to guide him. He had to trust that this was indeed the true and living God. The call was clear. God directed Abraham to follow Him and then gave to Abraham fantastic promises. He would make Abraham a great nation, and through him, all the families of the earth were to be blessed. 

At this point, we need to leap forward through the centuries to Jesus. In Galatians 3:16. Paul declares that Jesus is the only true seed of Abraham. Let me read Paul’s words to you so you will know I am not misinterpreting the text.  “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.”  Not a single Jew throughout Old Testament history qualified as the spiritual seed of Abraham, save one. Jesus Christ alone is the seed of Abraham, and those who trust in Him are also declared to be the heirs of the promises God gave to Abraham. Paul states this clearly in Galatians 3:29:  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The promises God made to Abraham reach fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and if you are a believer in Jesus, you are the recipient of fantastic promises. The question we turn to now is, “Do you have the faith of Abraham?” Jesus has declared that He will lead you to a place you have never seen, even heaven. Do you believe Him? Jesus has declared that His death was sacrificial, an atonement for every sin you ever committed. Do you believe Him? Jesus asks you to act upon your faith, to live your life following Him. Are you doing it?  We face the same issue that we met in Abraham.  Is it the true and living God who speaks to us through the life and ministry of Jesus? If we answer, “Yes,” then we will follow Him. Those who have Abraham’s faith will listen to God’s every command and seek to obey. 

We are like Abraham. We believe in a Savior we have never seen, and in a heaven, many say does not exist. Are we fools to commit ourselves to Jesus Christ when much of what He has promised we never see in this life?  If He is the Son of God, the fools are those who live life without faith. 

2. When faith falters.   After Abraham was tested to see if he would trust God to lead him to an unknown future, he entered, at last, the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. He was to be the father of a great nation, yet he and Sarah advanced into old age childless. How could his descendants be a blessing to the world if he had no descendants? Once again, his faith was put to the test.  God promised Abraham he would have a son.  Abraham failed miserably in his response to God’s promise.  He took matters into his own hands and fathered a son through one of his servant girls, and when God told him that he would have a son with Sarah despite their old age, Abraham doubted. He failed to believe God. 

Abraham did fine in his first encounter with God, but his faith failed twice regarding his fathering a child with Sarah.  Isn’t it comforting to know that even when our faith fails, God sometimes acts on our behalf anyway?  I have no problem identifying with Abraham regarding the birth of Isaac. How many times have I faced difficult situations and tried to trust God, only to learn that my faith was weak?  I can assure you I have lost count.  Does this ever happen to you?  We have a Bible full of outstanding and mighty promises, but some rarely study the Bible seriously. Even those who know the great promises of God often fail to take Him at His word. We have moments when our faith is strong, but we also have many moments when we struggle to believe what God says. Doubt creeps in, and faith weakens.

Despite our weakness, God does not forsake us. He did not say to the doubting Abraham, “Okay, if you don’t believe Me, I will not fulfill any of my promises to you.” God fulfilled His promise to Abraham despite Abraham’s lapses. God’s faithfulness encouraged Abraham to shake off his failures and to renew his faith in God

Have you ever found that you could not trust God in a particular situation, and you had to take matters into your own hands?  Have you ever looked at a promise of God and said, “That can’t be true?” Have you ever turned away from God’s will and plunged your life into spiritual darkness?  Do you often seek out the pleasures of this world more than you seek God, thus throwing faith aside? 

Yet, if we cling to a simple faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, God blesses us anyway. Sometimes He answers our prayers despite our doubts, just as He did for Abraham. Look at how God has blessed our lives despite our repeated faith failures. Look at the cars we drive, the homes we live in – – – look at the friends who care for us and the freedom we enjoy.  Many of us have lived into our retirement years, while so many others have not. Sometimes I find myself wondering why God has so blessed my life despite my repeated faith failures. 

When you feel you have failed God, when your faith is weak, look around and see how God has blessed you anyway. Remember the advice we find in Proverbs 24:16:  “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again”  What Abraham learned is that a righteous man is not one who never fails, but when he falls, he rises again and turns back to God. This is an important lesson on faith we learn from Abraham. Faith rule number one is this: believe God and act upon what He says without question.  Faith rule number two is: when you fail rule number one, try again. Now on to rule three, we learn from the father of our faith. 

Faith when God asks the impossible:  We all learned the story of Isaac’s sacrifice when we were children. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, through whom all of God’s promises were to be fulfilled.  Having seen his faith falter when God promised him a son, Abraham now acts decisively. He takes Isaac to the altar and is prepared to plunge in the knife and kill his only heir.  How could he do that, and how could God ask that of him?  We learn something of Abraham’s thought process in Hebrews 11:19, where we read that Abraham believed firmly that God’s promises would be fulfilled through Isaac. Therefore, he assumed that even if he killed his son, God would raise him from the dead. Abraham, who once doubted that God could cause his aged wife to bear a son, now is convinced that God will resurrect his son. His faith is growing stronger. 

Of course, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son and provided a ram in place of Isaac. Of course, it is a story designed to help us understand how God chooses to redeem us.  We are all under the sentence of death. The Bible is clear that the wages of sin is death, and we have all sinned.  But God, in His mercy, provided a substitute, the spotless Lamb of God, even Jesus, who died in our place and secured our forgiveness. Abraham and Isaac acted out the drama of redemption.  Abraham had to believe that God would somehow fulfill His promises even if he killed his only heir.  You and I are asked to believe that God will forgive us and take us to heaven because of what happened at Calvary. Those who cling to Jesus Christ with genuine faith shall inherit all God’s promises.  

This episode also reminds us that sometimes God places us in an impossible situation. We see no good solution. Perhaps it is a serious family problem, a financial crisis, a neighbor problem, a health problem, or an employment difficulty.  Whatever your impossible circumstance may be, it is a time of testing.  God wants to know what you are made of, whether or not you will trust Him or give in to your circumstances. Abraham faced an impossible situation and decided to believe in the goodness and faithfulness of God, even though he did not understand why God asked him to sacrifice his son.  He thought that if he kept his faith in God, it would work out for good.  God would not ask him to do something without a righteous reason, even if Abraham did not know the reason. 

Are you faced with a situation that seems hopeless? We all face such conditions as we go through life. We have two options. We can grit our teeth and continue to trust God and pray, daring to believe that He is working for our good even when we don’t understand, or we can give in to hopelessness.  Job, amid his hopeless situation, cried out, “Even if God kills me, I will trust Him with my dying breath.” 

The worst sin we can ever commit is not murder, theft, lying, or adultery. The worst sin we can commit is to give up on God, to stop trusting in Him. God kept His promise to Abraham to bless the world through his seed. That seed is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Abraham was faced with a hopeless situation.  Perhaps as he prepared to slay his son, he remembered how he had doubted God in the past, how his faith had failed when God promised him a son. Now God asked him to sacrifice that son who was born miraculously to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. God had proven his faithfulness, and so by faith, Abraham placed his son upon an altar of death. 

Three generals were involved in a discussion regarding the faithfulness of their troops. Each one affirmed the superiority of his own soldiers. The general from Prussia brought one of his soldiers into the room and commanded him to jump out the window. The soldier responded, “But sir, that would result in my death.” The Austrian General called in one of his soldiers and gave the same command. He responded, “Sir, I would do it if I thought you were serious, but I can’t believe you mean for me to carry out this order.” Finally, the Russian general ordered one of his men to jump to his death, and the soldier walked quickly to the window, crossed himself, and prepared to jump. The general stopped him, having made his point that his men were the most obedient. 

Beloved, God wants us to trust Him no matter what. If He calls us to a task we do not understand, He wants us to trust Him for grace to carry it out. If our faith fails once, or twice, or seven times, or seventy times seven, He wants us to get back up and trust Him yet again. If we are in an impossible situation, after we have done our worrying and fretting, He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to believe that He loves us, and that He will do what is best for us, even when our circumstances seem to be telling a different story.  This was the faith of Abraham, the father of our faith.   Abraham believed God, says our text and was declared to be a righteous man. God will declare you to be a righteous person as well, once you possess a faith that refuses to give up.


ENOCH

Warsaw Christian Church (2/21/2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Genesis 5:21-24: Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters.  So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.  And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

There are lots of people in the Bible I would love to visit with: Peter, Paul, Samson, Deborah, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and, of course, Jesus Himself. I am going to add Enoch to that list. Long before Jesus was born, in the early days of the biblical story, before Noah’s flood, we encounter this man. We don’t know much about him. He was the father of Methuselah and had other children.  For 300 years, he walked with God, and then one day, he disappeared.  God took him. Now you may wonder how I can get a 25-minute sermon from such scant information. Trust me! 

I wondered why nothing is said about his spirituality until he is 65 years old and has a son, Methuselah? Perhaps Methuselah was a problem child who drove Enoch to God. Children can do that, can’t they? I don’t know, but the text does say that after the birth of the oldest man in the Bible, Enoch walked with God for 300 years. This brief biography is meant to teach us something, but what? Paul tells us that all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. 

Let’s begin by thinking about that phrase, “He walked with God.” In Scripture, human life is often represented as a path or way. The following truths are packed into those four words, “He walked with God.” 

  1. First, it implies a knowledge of God. The revelation of God was incomplete in the days of Enoch.  Enoch must have embraced all the teaching that came down from Adam and Eve and those who followed.  Also, much can be learned about God from nature.  Paul affirmed that in Romans 1:  “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for  God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” Enoch looked at the heavens and understood the reality of an almighty Creator. He learned from Cain that God respects human life. He learned from Adam and Eve that sin, while a terrible thing, can be forgiven. Enoch understood the nature of God.  His knowledge moved him to want to walk with God. All sound religion is based on knowledge. We cannot possibly love, worship, and serve an unknown God.  In Acts 17, we learn there was a statue dedicated to an unknown god in ancient Greece.  But how would you relate to an unknown god? How would you know what he desired? While Enoch did not have as much knowledge of God as is available to us, he knew enough to worship and serve God.  
  1. We know Enoch was not free from sin. No human being except our Savior was free from sin. He no doubt practiced the sacrifices that were a part of ancient religion. He believed himself to be in harmony with God. Amos later wrote,” Can two walk together unless they agree.” Enoch walked with God, striving to please him and exercising repentance and sacrifice when he failed. Again, he didn’t know God the way we do with the final revelation we have received in the person and work of Jesus, but what he understood of God, he responded with faith and obedience.  That is all any of us can do. 
  1. We can assume that Enoch cheerfully obeyed the commands of God, as best he understood them. That is what it means to walk with God. We walk with God the same way – – – through faith and obedience. Those who are not cheerful about their relationship with God will not want to walk with Him. Submission is the best test to show where our hearts indeed are. I feel confident that Enoch stumbled in his obedience over that 300 years, but he was always striving to obey God in his heart. 
  1. We can also assume that Enoch was a man of prayer.  The one who walks with God also talks with God. As he practiced the presence of God, he grew ever stronger in faith. Those who commune with God become more Godlike in their daily walk. Paul expressed this idea in 2 Cor. 3:18:  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Those who meditate upon the Lord regularly, gazing, as it were, upon His face, are transformed. As we pray, we focus our attention on the God we cannot see, and we reflect more and more the image of God in our person. I think we can assume that as Enoch walked with God, he also talked with God. 
  1. We can also assume that Enoch was consistent in his walk with God. It was a walk that lasted 300 years. Some struggle to walk with God for a week, yet Enoch lived a consistent, godly life for 300 years. The more he walked with God, his knowledge of God increased, his faith became more robust; his hope became brighter, his obedience more complete. The age span for human life gradually declined after the flood, so we don’t have 300 years to walk with God. We have around 70 to 80 years. If Enoch walked with God for 300 years, perhaps we can do the same with our shorter life span. 
  1. Before moving on, let’s pause and ask the question, “What does this story have to do with us?”  Remember, Enoch was a mere man.  He was not divine.  He was not Jesus. Yet he was able to maintain a consistent godly life. I suggest that means we can do likewise. The world Enoch lived in was evil. In the very next chapter of Genesis, the great flood occurs. Wickedness was out of control, and the judgment of God fell. That is the kind of world in which Enoch lived. He refused to follow the example of the wicked but consistently walked with God. If he could do it, we can do it. Again, this does not mean perfection. It means that through faith, prayer, obedience, and repentance, we can continuously walk with God. Sometimes we use the phrase “nobody’s perfect” to excuse our bad behavior. We need to stop making excuses and replace excuses with repentance. Those who do so can walk with God.  

Part two of Enoch’s story is revealed in the outcome. He went about his daily business, consistently manifesting faithfulness in a very hostile environment, probably being tormented and ridiculed by the wicked. “Come on Enoch!  Let your hair down. Join us at the local brothel. Maybe if you drank more wine, you would not be so uptight about your religion.”  We know that the godlier a person is, the more likely he is to be ridiculed. In any event, Enoch continued his walk with God, and one day he disappeared. He is one of two persons in Scripture who never died. The other is . . . Elijah. One day he was gone, for God took him. Hebrews 11:5 makes it clear that Enoch did not see death. As he walked with God, one day, he walked straight into heaven.  

In my liberal days, I was told that the Old Testament is vague on eternal life. Some suggested it is not taught at all. Well, it is clearly taught here. Enoch was living on earth, and then he was suddenly taken to heaven to live with God. What a blessing to be exempt from death and decay! In a world overrun with wickedness, Enoch walked consistently with God. God decided to remove him from that hostile environment and transport him directly to heaven. 

There are a few more practical applications we can derive from this brief biography. The New Testament teaches that there are many human beings who, like Enoch, will never undergo the experience of physical death.  Paul wrote about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:  “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Christians disagree about when this event, usually referred to as “the rapture,” will occur. I don’t want to get into that debate. Regardless of when it happens, we are told that when Christ returns, His people will rise to meet Him. The dead will rise first, and then those who are still alive will, like Enoch, be instantly transformed into their resurrection bodies without seeing death. Does this sound cool, or what?  

Finally, to repeat and underscore earlier comments, Enoch should inspire everyone to follow his example. We cannot say that our environment is so bad that consistent faithfulness is impossible. The environment Enoch lived in was far worse than ours. We saw how bad things were last week when God destroyed the earth in the great flood. Enoch lived in that environment. We can’t say that human nature is not capable of consistent faithfulness.  Enoch was a human being of like nature with us. It is true that we can never achieve moral perfection. We will always need the cross and its message of divine forgiveness. Yet, a life of consistent faithfulness is possible. Enoch practiced such a life.  With God’s help, so can we. 


NOAH

Warsaw Christian Church, (2/7/21) Rev. Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Genesis 7:1-6; Matthew 24:36-44

I want to talk about Noah, adding a few thoughts from other portions of Scripture. Our Scripture readings simply remind us of the relationship between the Old Testament and the New. Paul uses an episode in the life of Moses to remind us that these ancient stories have relevance for us under the New Covenant. He says in verse six that the Old Testament stories are meant to serve as examples or amplifications, shedding light on the life and ministry of Jesus. The word “examples” in the text is the Greek word “tupos,” from which our word “types” derives. Thus, in the case of Moses, Abraham, Joseph – – – and Noah, they teach us things about Jesus. They are “types” or “examples” of Jesus. 

Jesus Himself emphasized this when He said,  “These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.  Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures”  (Luke 24:44,45).  Jesus here declares that much that was written in the Old Testament pertained to His future life and ministry. The only Bible available to the early church was the Old Testament. They used the Old Testament to lead people to faith in Jesus. Jesus declares that the things we find written by Moses, the prophets and in the Psalms reveal things about Him.  Our question for this morning is this: what can we learn about Jesus from the story of Noah? 

Noah was a preacher of righteousness who was ignored in his day. There is a relationship between the days of Noah and the days that will precede the return of Jesus to planet earth. 

First of all, Noah represents the truth that there is but one way of salvation. There was no fleet of boats in Noah’s day. God did not say, as many say today, “There are many paths to Me. I have prepared several arks, each one representing a different religion. You are free to take your pick.”  No, you either entered Noah’s Ark, or you drowned.  God seems to understand our need for things to be kept simple.  The test that Adam and Eve faced was simple and clear cut.  Eat and die, or obey and live. They made the wrong choice. God said to the world in Noah’s day, you have two choices: repent and return to me in response to the preaching of Noah, enter the ark, and live or die in the flood.  

This illustrates very well the Gospel of Jesus.  God does not say to the world, “Look, there are various religions out there. Pick the one you like best and be saved. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity – – –  it doesn’t matter; the choice is yours.” Many make such claims today, but the New Testament teaches otherwise. The simple choice facing humanity today is this: Trust Jesus, or spend eternity in hell. He is the one and only door leading to eternal life.  Jesus declared in a verse I quote often, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).   Just as the people of Noah’s day had to decide whether or not to take Noah seriously, so people today have to decide whether or not to take Jesus seriously.  Many prefer the wide path of religious diversity, a path which Jesus said leads to everlasting destruction.   The way is narrow that leads to life, because Jesus alone is the Savior. 

I believe some persons in our society confuse two things which we must separate in our minds.  Religious toleration is an acceptable political position, but when we transfer it over to the spiritual realm, it is a disaster.  Our government has said, “You are free to practice any religion or no religion and still be a good citizen.” I agree with that political position. However, if the church makes the same kind of statement, Jesus has been forsaken. The church can never say, “You can practice any religion you wish and still be in God’s good graces.”  That is a blatant denial of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. The church must declare with the apostle Peter that there is no name that can bring salvation other than the name of Jesus (see Acts 4:12).  As far as the state is concerned, believe whatever you wish.  As far as God is concerned, believe in Jesus, or be lost. 

Noah’s Ark helps us grasp this truth. We can visualize the waters pouring down, with only one boat available for safety.  We may even visualize people pounding on the door of the ark and crying out in fear, but Scripture tells us that God Himself shut the door. Once the judgment began, it was too late.  In the same manner, we can visualize Jesus appealing to the world, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He speaks to the world with utter sincerity, with a heart full of love, with an earnest desire to save us. Preachers all over this nation and the world proclaim this glorious message of redemption through the name of Jesus. Scripture assures us that all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but, just as in Noah’s Day, many simply will not respond.  Many simply cannot believe that salvation is limited to Jesus, and so they refuse to enter the “ark.” 

We learn a second lesson about salvation from Noah.  Needless to say, once you entered the ark you had to remain.  What would have happened if one of Noah’s three sons had declared, “I am sick and tired of life in this ark. I am going to abandon ship and swim for safety.”  There was no safety to swim to apart from the ark. Once you were in the ark, you had to stay put.  Some have speculated that with all those animals aboard, the stench must have been awful. But worse than the stench in the ark was the storm outside the ark.  And if you exit the ark, you drown. 

In the same way, once you trust in Jesus, faith must remain firm until the end. I wonder how many persons have declared faith in Jesus, became active in His church, and then later decided to abandon ship?  How many persons are there who give lip service to Jesus, but in their hearts, they love themselves and the pleasures of life far more than they love Jesus.  Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, being baptized in His name and becoming active in His church means that you are in the ark of salvation.  But please pay careful attention to what I am about to say now: Entering the ark was only the first step.  Remaining there is the second step.  Those who take step #1 and enter the ark, but choose not to remain there will enter into the waters of judgment. 

Peter spoke clearly of this in 2 Peter 2:20-22. “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.  It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” This is a frightening text, one that we must heed carefully. It speaks of persons who have turned to Jesus Christ with faith, but then become so entangled again with the world to the extent that they gradually drift away from Jesus. Peter compares such to a pig which has been washed, but then returns to the muck and becomes filthy once again. 

Coming to Jesus is a lifelong commitment. As the song we used to sing in church camp expresses it, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”  Until that is the faith of our hearts, until the decision to trust Jesus becomes a decision we cling to “no matter what,” we run the risk of turning back. I don’t know if anyone on Noah’s Ark thought about turning back.  Whatever their thoughts, whatever the hardships of life on the ark, whatever the stench of hundreds of animals, they remained, and they were saved.  If you trust in Jesus and abide in faith until life’s end, you will most certainly be saved. But if you waver, and become entangled again with sin, selfishness and pleasure and turn away from Jesus, you will most certainly be lost unless you recognize what has happened and return to the only One who can save you. 

What else can we learn from Noah that relates to Jesus?  Have any of you ever tried to build a boat? My best friend in high school decided we would build a boat in his garage. For several weeks we sawed and hammered, ending up with a square box that looked more like a coffin that a boat. We reasoned, “Our boat is made of wood. Wood floats. Therefore our boat will float.”  We later learned that there was a flaw in our logic. There was something about the principle of buoyancy we did not grasp. We dragged our boat a few blocks to nearby Wood Lake in suburban Minneapolis. We pushed our creation out onto the water. By the time we were in waist deep water, our boat was on the bottom.  I suspect it is still there. We would have benefited from some professional guidance.  Like the Titanic, the maiden voyage of our ship ended in disaster. 

One thing we need to remember is that sailing on water had not entered man’s mind in the days of Noah. The human race, just like my friend and me, had no concept of how to build a ship that would float upon the water.  God gave Noah detailed instructions on the construction of the ark.  He didn’t just say, “Build a ship,” because Noah would have responded, “What is a ship?”  Noah had to follow explicitly and in detail God’s instructions. He was given the dimensions, the materials to use, how to make it water tight. where to put the window and door, creating compartments on three different levels — detail after detail is recorded in Genesis about how to build the ark.  Why? What is the point of explaining all that detail? What do we care about the details of ark construction?  

It is a twofold reminder to us. First, we must learn carefully how God wishes to accomplish our salvation. The heart of the matter is trust in Jesus, but there is a lot of detail in Scripture explaining who this Jesus is, what He has done for us, how we are to respond to Him and how the Holy Spirit works in the salvation process, and the place of the church, the Christian community, in bringing us finally to the safety and glory of heaven. There is instruction about baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer, and a thousand other matters which we must learn and practice to enjoy the fullness of salvation. 

I have probably said this before, but it fits in here so I shall say it again. I have heard people say, “I believe in God but I don’t really see the need of the church.” That would be like Noah saying, “I will build the ark, but I don’t see any need of following all that detail God has given.” What if Noah decided, “Why do I need to go to the trouble of covering this thing with pitch. That black, gooey stuff is nasty.  I would never be able to get it off my hands and clothes. I think I’ll eliminate that step.”  The pitch was to waterproof the ark.  If Noah eliminated that step the ark would have leaked like the Titanic, and would have suffered the same fate.

The details of ark construction remind us of a second truth. Christianity is more than trusting Jesus and going to heaven when we die.  It is an entire life and world view touching every aspect of life. The Bible is filled with detailed instructions which we ignore to our peril.  Those instructions are meant to lead us to what Jesus called “life abundant.”  While eternal life depends on faith in Jesus alone, the abundant life comes about by paying attention to everything Jesus taught. Just as Noah had to follow God’s instructions if the ark was to be sound, so we must follow God’s directions in Scripture if we hope to build a life that is sound. 

This truth is underscored by another fact about the ark. This large floating zoo, the length of 1 and 1/2 football fields, 50 yards wide, with three levels, had no engine, no sail, no rudder.  There was no way to steer the ship. Noah and his family were at the mercy of the wind and the waves.  They had no choice but to trust God to keep the ship afloat and to arrive at a safe destination. 

Do you see the application? Our navigational equipment is very faulty.  If we try to sail through life trusting in our own intelligence and abilities, life will overwhelm us just as surely as the waters of Wood Lake overwhelmed my boat. We must adopt Noah’s attitude, admitting that we are not wise enough to make the choices we need to make in life.  We need the wisdom of God to guide us every step of the way.  The good news is that if we will trust Him, He has promised to direct our every step. 

Summary: Noah’s Ark reinforces the New Testament teaching that Jesus alone can save us, that we must trust in Him, and continue to trust in Him throughout life, allowing Him to navigate us into the abundant life now, and eternal life in heaven.  Noah cried out, “All aboard!” but no one listened.  Jesus also cries out “all aboard!” Are you listening?  


THE RISE AND FALL OF LUCIFER

Warsaw Christian Church, (1/24/2021) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:11-19

12  How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13  You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; 14  I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.”

I have two texts, the one I read from Isaiah and the text from Ezekiel 28, which I did not read but will refer to briefly. In our study of Genesis, we have seen the appearance of an entity called the devil or Satan. The question many have asked is this: how did evil enter the world in the first place? Adam and Eve fell into sin after being tempted by the devil. We saw the results in the lives of their two sons. Cain killed his brother over the proper way to worship God.  . 

But where did this devil originate? Genesis tells us that everything God created was good. This question has puzzled theologians for centuries. We do not want to say that God was the cause of evil, but how else could evil enter the picture unless God is somehow behind it? 

Scripture leads us to the following conclusions. There is an order of beings created by God called angels. These beings were present when God created the heavens and the earth.  Angels are superior to human beings, but they also share some characteristics with humanity. They are personal beings with minds and wills. They seem to possess the same freedom we possess. 

While we are not given much detail, we learn from 2 Peter 2:4 that some angels sinned. In Revelation 12:7, we know that Satan was cast down to the earth, along with the angels who followed him. Thus, while angels were created by God and said to be good, a group of them rebelled against God, led by one who was probably an archangel, equal in rank to Michael, namely, Satan.

Satan tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God, but who tempted Satan? In a universe created by God with nothing in it except goodness, how did Satan and the angels who joined with him fall into temptation and sin? We receive some clues in our two texts from Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 

There was no evil present in the angelic realm to seduce him. Adam and Eve blamed Satan for their fall. Who can Satan blame? The answer is found in the five “I will” statements found in Isaiah.  One need not have an external tempter to fall into sin. Just as sin and disobedience can arise in the human heart without any external tempter, this is what happened to Satan.  Notice how James expresses it: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:13,14). Yes, Satan can tempt us to do evil, but we are quite capable of choosing to do evil without Satan’s involvement. God’s word declares that our internal desires can lead us into sin. It was Satan’s desires which led to his fall. 

We assume from various Scripture texts that Satan was created good. He was both beautiful and powerful. As an archangel, the highest order of angels, he had immense authority to serve under God’s direction. While we long for more details, they are scant. The New Testament seems to suggest that Satan may have had a special authority over planet earth. 

We assume from our text in Isaiah 14 that Satan engaged in some introspection and became quite impressed with his great power, wisdom, and beauty.  So impressed was he with himself that the thought entered his mind, “I am as great or greater than God.” Remember one of Satan’s words to Eve? – – – “You shall be like God.” He tempted her with the same thought that entered his mind. Pride entered the heart of this magnificent being, and he fell from his lofty position in heaven and became the one we call “Satan.” Listen to what Satan “said in his heart. I will ascend into heaven.” The implication here is that he can do this on his own. He can move into heaven and function as “god.” Next, he thinks, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” He sees his throne as having more status than the very throne of God. His throne shall be above the throne of God. His final, personal reflection tells the story. He looks inward at his majesty and thinks, “I will be like the most high.” Satan decides to be his own “god,” thus eliminating the true God from the picture. 

What turned this holy and magnificent angel into a devil? In a word, pride. In the Ezekiel passage, we read, “Your heart became proud because of your beauty” (28:17).  Isaiah says that rather than becoming a second “god,” Satan will be brought down to hell. Those angels he convinced to follow him will suffer his fate. More relevant to us, we also will share in Satan’s future if we fall under his deceptive spell. For reasons not told to us, God allows Satan and his minions to operate in this world. While Satan has been defeated by Jesus, He still roams the earth seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). He desires our allegiance and uses deception to gain it (2 Thess. 2:9). 

If Satan appeared to us in a red suit with a pitchfork in hand and horns protruding from his head and called upon us to fall down and worship him, we would refuse to do so. However, Satan rarely presents himself to us as the evil being he has become. Instead, he uses deception. Paul says he pretends to be an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 10:13). He pretends to be on the side of goodness, beauty, and truth to deceive us into giving him our allegiance 

It would seem that one reason God allows Satan to operate is to continually test the human race regarding our allegiance. Adam and Eve were tempted and fell. Satan’s own exalted opinion of himself tempted him, and he fell. We live in a world today where two forces vie for our allegiance; God and Satan. God promises to receive us as His dear children if we will give our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ, trusting Him as Savior and following Him as Lord. Satan’s single aim is to turn us away from Jesus by any possible means. He will promise us the moon in order to turn us away from Jesus.

Once we understand why Satan fell, we are in an excellent position to know why he is so successful with so many. Satan and his hordes want you to believe in yourself, in your importance. Satan wants you to feel proud of yourself. He wants to build up your ego. In contrast, to come to Jesus, we must admit that we are sinners; we must humble ourselves and allow Jesus to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We must ask Him to guide us, admitting that without His help, we will go astray. Satan leads us to take control of our lives. Jesus teaches us to yield control unto Him. 

The way of Jesus is the way of humility.  The method of Satan is the way of pride. Just as Satan rejoiced in his beauty, wisdom, and power, he wants you to do likewise. He wants you to imagine that you are superior to others in some way and to use that superiority to your own advantage. Even if you are religious and go to church, if Satan can persuade you to have an exalted opinion of yourself, he has you in his control. If he can convince you to live your life and make your decisions in ways that promote y-o-u, Satan has you in his hip pocket. 

In the late 6th Century, Pope Gregory the Great devised a list of seven deadly sins. Notice how they all revolve around self.  Pride heads the list. It is an excessive belief in one’s own abilities that interferes with the individual’s recognition of God’s grace. Envy is pride that is wounded and wants to possess that which belongs to another. Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than one requires. It wants to satisfy the self, whatever the cost in terms of health and appearance.  Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body. It is the self saying, “Why should I limit my physical pleasures to one spouse.” Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as wrath. It is the self throwing a tantrum because of some perceived injury or being deprived of something.  Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain while ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is the self wanting more and more and more, never finding satisfaction. Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. The self says, “Why should I put myself out for others or for God?” 

We don’t think of seven deadly sins today. Sin is sin, but it is worthy to note that when Gregory made a list of the seven deadly sins, —Pride, ego, self, selfishness —were at the center of all seven. This is how we can tell when Satan is guiding us. Whenever we are overly concerned about having our feelings hurt, when pride and egotism and self-centeredness seem to have control of our hearts, it is not the Holy Spirit who is guiding us. Those are the fingerprints of Satan.  When the Holy Spirit is guiding us, humility replaces pride. God’s will, not our ego, becomes the item of utmost concern. 

One final word, and I believe it is good news. Satan cannot compel you to do anything. He did not force Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. He deceived her into thinking it would be of benefit.  She made the final choice. Comedian Flip Wilson popularized the phrase, “The devil made me do it,” but the devil cannot make you do anything.  All he can do is tempt, entice, suggest, while hiding behind his favorite disguise – – – the human ego. 

Look at our society. Look at our movies, television, books, advertisements, and ask this question. Is our society focused more on pride or humility? Is our culture pushing people toward Jesus or away from Him?  I see lots of Medicare ads encouraging you to get what you are entitled to. Who can doubt that Joe Namath is telling the truth? It is an appeal to ego.  Most of our advertisers appeal to our pride and ego. I have yet to see an ad suggesting that you buy their less expensive products so you will have more to give to the church or the needy! There are even ministries that promise you double your money back if you support them. Give $100 and receive $200 back. What a deal! It is a blatant appeal to pride. 

Scripture tells us that the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).  He cannot devour a person whose heart belongs to Jesus.  He is looking for persons who are vulnerable to pride. Pride was his downfall, and he wants to drag you down with him. But take heart! He cannot do it without your permission. He cannot destroy your soul if you have taken hold of Jesus and then asked Him to take hold of your life. Satan is wise and powerful, but he is no match for the Son of God.  

James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” How do we do that? Let me give you the simple, basic answer. If thoughts of pride, self, or ego enter your heart, assert your faith in Jesus, and the devil will leave you alone. If envy tries to make inroads into your soul, assert your faith in Jesus, and the devil will flee. If you are tempted toward greed, affirm your faith in Jesus, and the devil will turn tail. If the devil knocks on the door of your heart and says, “I wish to speak to the head of this house,” tell him, “Jesus Christ is the head of this house,” and Satan will flee.  Satan is looking for persons who lack a firm faith in Jesus Christ, for such persons are susceptible to pride, and the wisest human person is no match for Satan. He will sift you like wheat, even as Jesus so warned Peter. Those upon whom Jesus has a firm grip cannot be deceived and led astray by Satan. If one of those seven deadly sins takes priority in your life that is an open invitation to Satan to influence you away from Jesus. Hold firmly to your faith in Jesus and the devil will leave you alone. 


ABEL AND CAIN

Warsaw Christian Church, (1/17/2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Genesis 4:1-8

Once Adam and Eve decided to disregard God’s Word, things went downhill. Before we move into the very instructive story of Cain and Abel, we need to return to Adam and Eve for just a moment. When they sinned against God, Genesis 3 tells us that they felt a compulsion to cover their nakedness, using the well-known fig leaf. However, at the end of the chapter, we learn that God was not satisfied with fig leaves.  He clothed them with animal skins. 

So what? Two things need to be said. First, Adam and Eve could not cover their sins.  It had to be done by God. When God clothed them in animal skins, He hinted at what was later to become a clear principle. In order for sin to be forgiven, blood must be shed. This covering of Adam and Eve with animal skins was followed in time by the whole Jewish system of animal sacrifices, leading finally to the Messiah’s shedding of blood. The principle is stated clearly in Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” What is said so clearly later in Scripture is revealed faintly in Genesis.  Keep this in mind as we look at the story of Cain and Abel.

Adam and Eve were promised that the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head, thus nullifying Satan’s hold on the human race. They may have entertained the idea that Eve herself would bear this child. This hope is hinted at with the birth of Cain. “Cain” is a Hebrew word that suggests strength, power, self-assertion — a strong man of God. Some believe that the name “Cain” was given because of the belief he would be the promised deliverer. Adam and Eve may have entertained the hope that Cain would crush the serpent’s head and defeat Satan. 

While we do not see a lot of detail, Cain turned out to be a big disappointment. Today, we might refer to him as a spoiled brat. He is egotistical and self-centered. By the time their second son was born, Adam and Eve seem to have given up the idea that Eve would deliver the redeemer. The name “Abel” means “emptiness.” I would not be too pleased if my parents named me “Empty Bowman!” But after being disappointed by Cain, they now choose a less pretentious name for their second son. 

In our text, we learn several important truths about how we are to approach God, Cain’s way, and Abel’s way. The two boys went in different directions in terms of occupation. Cain was a tiller of the ground, while Abel tended sheep. Once again, we have to fill in some blanks to understand the text. We can assume that Adam and Eve instructed both boys on how to worship God. They remembered their sin could not be “covered” by fig leaves.  Blood had to be shed so they could be clothed in animal skins. We can assume this information had been communicated to Cain and Abel. At this early stage in revelation history, the only proper way to approach God was through blood atonement.  

Cain, however, like his parents, decides to take matters into his own hands. He probably reasoned, “Since I work in agriculture, it makes sense to me to bring a grain offering to God.  Why should I sacrifice one of my animals?” And so, disregarding specific instructions that God had given to his parents, he offers God a grain offering.  He is probably hoping that God will praise him for his ingenuity, and as a result, he may receive some special divine favor. Abel presents the firstborn from his flock, as instructed, and offers his sacrifice with a humble and contrite heart. We infer this from what God says in the text: And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,  but for Cain and his offering, he had no regard. 

Notice that God was not pleased either with Cain or his offering.  In contrast, He was pleased both with Abel and the offering he presented.  Cain, the eldest, who’s name means strength and power, turns out to be a rebel against God. Abel, whose name means “Empty,” turns out to be a man full of faith.

We can only guess about Cain’s attitude problem. From the way he reacted to God’s effort to discipline him, it seems clear that he did not take worship very seriously. Oh, he showed up for church (so to speak), but he was casual about it. He had no real reverence for God. He had no regard for God’s specific instructions. When God sought to correct him, his evil character is revealed in living color.  He becomes angry, and his heart is full of jealousy toward his brother.  He finds his brother and slays him. 

He seems to be saying, “I ought to be able to worship God any way I choose. I did my duty, and God rejects me. I brought an excellent grain offering, but God is so narrow-minded he wouldn’t accept it. So what if I worshipped God in a wrong spirit? I did show up, and I presented a sacrifice, and God ought to be more open and affirming towards me. And, to top it all off, my empty-headed little brother, Abel, goody-two-shoes, gains God’s approval. I am the eldest, and God should respect that. I will show God and my brother that I will not be treated in such an unjust fashion.” And so, he kills Abel, and like his parents, probably blamed God for his deed.

With Abel, it is different. Jesus Himself referred to Abel as a “righteous man” in Matthew 23:35. Abel approached God in the right spirit. It cost him his life. 

A key question in seeking to understand Scripture is to ask the question, “What does this have to do with me?”  Let’s make some applications, seeking to answer three questions: Why do we worship? What is the proper attitude for worship? What is the appropriate form of worship? 

First, why do we worship?  I have heard people say, “I don’t get anything out of a church service, so I quit going.” Let’s be clear on this matter. This church and this worship service are not intended to please you (or me). We do not pick music, prayers, sermons, Scripture readings, or anthems designed to please you.  I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but we must get this fact on the table. We worship to please God. It’s not about us; it’s about God. 

If your concern when you enter a sanctuary is to respond only to those things that please you, you have gone the way of Cain. Remember his problem? Cain was satisfied with his worship.  He was pleased with his offering. He could have been singing, “I did it my way.” It was all about Cain, and God’s will did not seem to matter. 

We are not here for our sakes, but God’s sake. We do not attend church to please ourselves. We worship here to please God. Those who fail to understand this principle may be in church, but they are not worshipping.  You can only worship when your primary motive is to please God.  Of course, a fringe benefit of true worship is that we are blessed. God does bless us when our worship is focused on Him and carried out entirely for His sake. He never blesses us when we fold our arms in church and say in our hearts, “What’s in it for me.”  

People leave churches for various reasons. Often, the motive has to do with one’s personal preferences. If the service is too long, or the music not to our liking. If the service is too formal or too informal, or the preaching does not suit us. If expectations are not met in some manner, many will leave a church and search for a church that pleases their personal preferences. Dear friends, I am not seeking to offend anyone, but please understand that such attitudes are focused on the human ego.  The question we need to ask about the worship taking place in this church is not, “Does it please me?” but rather, “Does it please God?

I am not suggesting that we try to pretend that we have no personal preferences. If I had my way, we would sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God” every Sunday, preferably in German! I am suggesting that our personal preferences need to move into a secondary position.  If we worship God properly, our first thought must be on what pleases Him and not on what pleases us. Our heart’s desire must be to please Him. If we enter into a worship service like Cain, thinking that we are free to do whatever we like with whatever attitude suits us, and God can take it or leave it, I assure you, He will leave it.  If you can check your ego at the door and enter into this sanctuary with one desire – – – to worship God, true worship that pleases God will take place even if some elements of the service do not please you!

Our second and third questions have to do with the proper attitude required for true worship and the appropriate elements that make up a worship service. How do we know what God wants us to do when we gather together? Is it up to us? Again, that was Cain’s attitude. Abel’s attitude was different. He wanted to worship God with the right attitude and in the right way. 

Of course, times have changed since Cain and Able entered into worship. We are living today under the New Covenant, and our worship must conform to that covenant. However, two aspects of worship remain the same today as when Abel and Cain worshipped. The first has to do with attitude, and the second has to do with form. First, a right heart such as Abel possessed is still required. Those who worship aright today enter into the sanctuary with a sincere desire to draw near to God. If we are performing a duty, true worship does not happen. If we are sitting in church thinking, “I can’t wait until this is over,” we are not worshipping.  Jesus, quoting Isaiah, warned of the danger of paying Him lip service while their hearts were far from Him. Hear His words from Matthew 15:7-9:  “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  ” ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain…” 

If you find your lips moving as you say the Lord’s prayer, or when you sing hymns of praise while your heart is elsewhere, you may be in church, but you are not worshipping. Jesus refers to such persons as hypocrites and describes their worship as vain or empty. It is not an easy matter to worship God. It takes concentration; it takes a real desire to honor God; it takes a heart that truly seeks God. As I prepared this message, I had to confess to God that I have spent too much time in vain worship. You may need to join me, admitting your guilt and asking God to help you stay focused when you enter into this sanctuary. Worship is all about honoring God, acknowledging Him as our Creator and Redeemer, but God is not glorified when our minds wander and our hearts are not focused on Him.  

The second element of continuity between today and Cain and Abel’s days is the shedding of blood. I attended church regularly from my birth until I was almost 30 years old, but I never worshiped God in all that time. I sang; I joined in prayers; sometimes, I even tried to listen to the sermon; I took communion, but one crucial element was missing. I neither understood nor believed that the suffering of Jesus had anything to do with me. The “stuff” I brought with me into the worship service was like Cain’s offering. True worship occurs when we understand and believe that our ability to draw near to God derives from one source: the shed blood of Jesus. 

Abel approached God with a blood sacrifice, and so must we. We now understand that the Old Covenant’s animal sacrifices were to help prepare us for the boundless gift made by the Son of God. There is but one narrow path leading us into the presence of God, a path the width of the Cross of Jesus. To worship God, you must approach Him in the name of Jesus, trusting that His blood has covered your sin and uncleanness. Sincerity, the right attitude, is critical, but not enough. We must draw near to God both in the right spirit and in the right way. In our church, we celebrate communion each Lord’s Day.  We do it because our founders believed that was the practice of the church in the New Testament. They saw Acts 20:7 as a pattern to be followed in the church in every age and generation. “On the first day of the week, … we … gathered together to break bread. .” But there is more to it than simply following a church tradition. What better way is there to remember that our ability to draw near to God is based on our Savior’s shed blood than to celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day?  The bread and the cup are constant reminders that there is only one person who ever pleased God, and it is not you or me. Jesus alone has pleased the Father, and we can only approach the Father through His atoning death. If you wish to worship God in spirit and in truth, draw near to the throne of grace through the blood of Jesus. 

Finally, true worship must be rooted in Scripture. When we worship, we do several things: we sing hymns because hymn singing is part of the biblical pattern. We offer prayers because prayers are part of the biblical pattern. We read the Scriptures because that is part of the biblical pattern. We receive an offering because that is part of the biblical pattern. We preach Christ and biblical truth because that is part of the biblical pattern. Everything we do in worship must have a biblical foundation if our worship is pleasing to God. 

I close with a summary of the ground we have covered this morning. True worship requires a sincere heart; true worship can only take place when Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the focal point, and the elements of worship must be biblically based. How are you doing in this holy duty? Are you Abel, or are you, Cain? 


ADAM AND EVE

(THE GOSPEL IN GENESIS)

Warsaw Christian Church, (1/10/2021) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Genesis 3:1-15

Let’s begin with a few questions. What did Adam and Eve do when they got kicked out of the garden? They raised a little Cain. Why did Adam and Eve have such a great marriage? Adam couldn’t talk about his mother’s superior cooking, and Eve couldn’t mention all the other men she should have married. Okay, now let’s get serious. 

Many wonder, “How did we get into this mess?” If a good and powerful Creator made the heavens and the earth and everything in them, where did evil come from? Today our focus will be on evil as it originated in the human race. Later, we will talk about Satan’s origin, the Tempter, who led Adam and Eve into sin in the guise of a snake. 

Many wonder whether the story of Adam and Eve is real history or a fictional account. I accept it as a history for several reasons. First, no one could know how the human race began apart from revelation. I do not find it so unbelievable that God would start the human race with an initial pair. Further, the genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel traces back to Adam. Luke believed Adam was historical. In 1 Cor. 15:22 Paul states, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Paul, an inspired Apostle, believed Adam to be historical.  He argues that Adam created the human problem of sin, and Christ has resolved that problem. All of this implies that when we speak of Adam and Eve, we speak of real history. 

Our first parents lived in an ideal environment.  The Garden of Eden supplied everything they needed. It was heaven on earth. How could anything ever go wrong?  When God created Adam and Eve in His image, there was one issue to be resolved. All the living creatures on earth fulfill God’s plan for their lives because they are programmed to behave in specific ways.  They have no choice. Humans are different. Like God, we can reason,  think, and make choices. 

If God had made us like the other animals, we would do exactly what God wanted, but only because we were so programmed. Adam and Eve received a mind. They could think and make choices. The issue was simple: if God gave them a negative command, would they choose to follow it? The command was clear and straightforward: Adam, you may eat from all the trees in the garden, except one. And please notice the name God assigned to this tree. They were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was not an apple tree! 

Before the Fall took place, Adam and Eve knew only the good. They were in intimate fellowship with their Creator, a God who is altogether virtuous. If they obeyed His will, they would experience nothing but goodness, and they would have lived forever in Paradise. 

In their unfallen state, they could only know good from evil by listening to God. He pointed out to them one particular behavior they must carefully avoid. If they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. 

Notice how Satan tempted Eve, for his methods remain the same throughout history. First, he causes her to question whether or not she heard right. The Tempter assures her that she may have thought God said, “You shall die,” but surely, God could not have made such a statement. Satan assures her, “You will not die.” Perhaps we can try to read Eve’s mind. Maybe she began to think, “God is a good God, and it makes no sense that He would judge us so harshly for such a minor infraction. Maybe I didn’t understand God’s warning.  He has said we might eat of all the trees in the garden, so why would He not want us to eat of this tree, which is so beautiful and has such appealing fruit?  Perhaps this serpent is leading me to a higher view of God.  Surely God’s goodness would not allow Him to make such a prohibition.  We have been in intimate fellowship with Him. Why would He kill us?” 

Satan then drops his big bomb. “Eve, if you eat of this fruit, you will be like God. You can decide what is good and evil without God’s help.” Might she have thought, “This makes sense. God is good, and if I become like God, I will be good. I won’t have to bother God in the future. I will become free and autonomous.” Satan even hinted that God was jealous of His divine prerogatives and was trying to keep Adam and Eve in a subservient role.  Eve concluded that this voice, which contradicted the voice of God, was speaking the truth. She concluded that either she misunderstood the command or God lied. The tree looked harmless; the fruit looked good, so she ate and convinced Adam that he should also eat. Sin entered into the human race, and we have been suffering ever since. 

There are three primary stages involved in this temptation.  We do well to note them because we will confront them in our daily lives. (1). Satan cast doubt on the Word of God. (2). He suggested that there are no consequences to disobedience. (3) He affirmed that we could be our own “god” and live independently of the True God. Let us take a closer look at these three aspects of temptation. 

SATAN CAST DOUBT ON THE WORD OF GOD. If we learn nothing else from the Fall of Adam and Eve, I hope we understand that God means what He says. Adam and Eve died that day. They continued their physical life, but they died in a more significant sense: they experienced separation from God (spiritual death), and in time their bodies died (physical death), and had God not intervened, they would have gone to hell (second death). Learn this principle well: GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS WORD. Whether His word is in the form of a promise or a threat, it will come to pass. 

God told Noah He would destroy the earth, and it was so.  God said He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and it was so. God promised to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, and they were delivered. God promised Israel that if they wanted to be like the nations around them and have a king, it would bring disaster to them, and it was so. God told Adam and Eve that disobedience would bring death, and death entered into the human race. God has issued a clear threat, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).  Do you believe Him? Do you believe that your soul will die forever in hell unless God intervenes?  On the positive side, God has intervened, promising that all who believe in His Son shall not perish but have eternal life. Do you believe Him? Do you think your unbelieving friends and relatives will finally go to heaven even though they give no evidence of faith in Jesus? Never doubt what God has declared in His Word. Your salvation depends upon your learning to take God at His Word.  

Today, our world is full of people who question and doubt God’s direct word, just as Eve did. Jesus said that He and He alone could bring a human soul into the Kingdom of God, but churches all over this nation preach and teach that there are many paths to God. Jesus said, “I am the way,” but others say, “There are many ways.” God declares that His Word is forever accurate. Jesus declared that heaven and earth would pass away, but His Word would never pass away. Dear friends, I implore you to take God’s Word with the utmost seriousness. If you do not, you will learn too late the truthfulness of God. God never speaks an idle, thoughtless Word. He says what He means, and He means what He says. 

 Second, SATAN SUGGESTED THAT THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES TO DISOBEDIENCE. Many in our day admit that they sin against God, but they don’t see it as a serious matter. I have conducted many funerals over the years, and in every case, I hear things like, “He’s gone to a better place,” or “I know my loved one is in heaven.” I always hope for the best, too, but I have heard such comments about persons who gave no evidence at all of faith in Jesus.  I suspect many people believe that God will save everyone, or at least that He will save our loved ones whether or not they evidence faith in Jesus Christ. 

We are like the young lady in the book, A View from the Zoo.  She had a baby raccoon named “bandit” she raised as a pet. A zookeeper cautioned her that raccoons go through a glandular change around age 2, and that her raccoon might attack her. She smiled and said, “I know that Bandit would never harm me. He just wouldn’t.” Three months later, the girl was undergoing plastic surgery for severe lacerations on her face. Her adult raccoon, for no apparent reason, attacked her.

Are you like this young lady? God has warned you about the dangers and consequences of sin, but perhaps you think, “it will be different with me. I will be okay. God surely would not send me to hell.” Eve concluded that disregarding God’s command was a small matter, but she paid a high price when she learned, GOD MEANS WHAT HE SAYS.  No exceptions, no loopholes, no excuses. Adam and Eve tried to explain to God that they were not to blame.  Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, but God held all three accountable. He will hold me responsible too, and you. 

Third,  SATAN AFFIRMED THAT WE CAN BE OUR OWN “GOD” AND LIVE INDEPENDENTLY OF THE TRUE GOD. Adam and Eve learned that trying to decide what is good or evil without God’s help was not such a good idea after all. Instead of becoming like God, as Satan promised, they became like Satan. Many today live as if they were “god.” I will decide how to spend my time and my money. I will determine what is right and wrong for myself. I will be the master of my fate, the captain of my soul. I will decide what is best for me. I will determine how much time and energy I will give to Christ and His church. I will not bother to learn much about what God says.  I don’t need to attend Bible study classes.  I will live my life as I see fit and hope for the best. 

I recall hearing one atheist say that if God wanted to send him to hell for refusing to believe in His Son, so be it. He stated there was not enough evidence to cause him to trust in Jesus. He added that a God who would send someone to hell simply because they did not believe in Jesus is not worthy of worship. I hope that man sees things differently before death strikes him down. Like Eve, he has blatantly denied the truthfulness of God’s Word. 

The bottom line we need to learn from the Fall of Adam and Eve is this: Take God at His word. Believe that our decisions for or against God will have consequences. A person who wishes to be his own God, determining his life course, is a spiritual fool.  Fortunately for Adam and Eve, after they sinned against God, they heard a word of grace. They listened to the first, primitive announcement of the Gospel. Did you catch that in the text? God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (seed) and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Notice the first announcement of hope after the Fall. God spoke to Satan, telling him that because of his sin in leading Eve astray, the day would come when a child would be born of a woman, a child who would redeem fallen humanity and destroy Satan. 

The Hebrew text refers to the “seed” (zerah, a seed) of the woman. It does not say that a future human couple shall bear a child, but that a child born of the seed of woman will defeat Satan. How can a child be born simply through the seed of a woman, without a man’s participation? Satan later tempted Jesus, asking Him to renounce God and worship Satan (See Matthew 4). Having again failed, Satan sought to destroy the seed of the woman at Calvary.  There we see the fulfillment of the promise that Satan would bruise the heel of the Messiah, but Satan himself would be issued a death blow, the crushing of his head. When Jesus was crucified, Satan thought he had finally defeated God and His promise to redeem fallen humanity, but it was the death of Jesus that God used to usher in our salvation. Rather than destroying Jesus, it was a mere “bruising of His heel” since the grave could not hold Him. His resurrection administered the death blow to Satan and his long efforts to defeat God.

You may have noticed that Mel Gibson, in his film of the Passion, showed Jesus crushing the head of a serpent with his heal in the Garden of Gethsemene. Gibson was directing us back to Genesis 3.  The enmity between the Son of God and Satan continues to this day.  However, the decisive battle was fought and won at Calvary, and all who trust in Jesus receive deliverance from Satan’s dominion. 

There is no record that Adam and Eve ever asked God if there was any way they could recover from the damnation they created for themselves.  God, in His grace and mercy, promised them deliverance even though they had not requested it.  God, unsolicited, bestowed the promise of a  Savior to Adam and Eve, even though they showed no signs of remorse or repentance. Their initial response was to try to hide from God, followed by the blame game. How will God respond to us if we call upon His name, admit we are sinners, and place our trust in the Savior? Will He not instantly receive us as His dear children and grant us pardon and eternal life? 

That which began as a veiled promise in Genesis 3 came to perfect and complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Our first parents refused to believe God’s Word and plunged the human race into darkness. The way out of our mess is to reverse our first error, to take God as His Word, daring to believe that Jesus is the promised seed of the woman and that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Those who doubt the truthfulness of Scripture, and who delude themselves into thinking that disregarding God’s Word will not bring any serious consequences, and who decide they can be their own “god,” will learn too late that GOD MEANS WHAT HE SAYS. 


BIG BANG OR BIG GOD?

Warsaw Christian Church, (1/3/21) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text, Gen. 1:1-5

Today we turn our attention to the Old Testament. While the Christian Church is often described as a New Testament Church, you must also embrace the Old Testament if you believe the New Testament. While there are things in the Old Testament that do not pertain directly to us (dietary laws, ceremonies, etc.) there is also significant continuity between the Old Covenant and the New.  Jesus often quoted from the Old Testament, affirming its divine authority.  Indeed, much that we find in the New Testament doesn’t make sense unless we grasp the Old Testament teachings. We begin with the only historical account of creation on record, Genesis 1.

Of course, many who consider themselves to be sophisticated moderns would laugh at what I just said. Many, even in the church, assume Genesis to be a mythical story. The problem is that no one was present to witness creation, except the Creator. Some attempt to account for the universe keeping God out of the picture. In the beginning, was the Big Bang, and as luck would have it, this original mindless explosion resulted in the orderly universe in which we live. Further luck was involved in the creation of life from lifeless matter, which has evolved over billions of years, resulting in such complexities as the human brain and mind, our marvelous senses, the wide variety in the animal kingdom, and the plant world. Speaking personally, I do not have enough faith to believe that this universe is the result of a mindless explosion billions of years ago. 

Suppose I drove up to your house in a brand new Mercedes-Benz. Suppose I said, “I made this car myself. I threw a bunch of metal and other raw materials into a pile, then I blew it up with dynamite, and the result was this beautiful automobile.” I think you would suspect I had lost my mind. You would say, “A mindless, random explosion could never produce that automobile. It is clearly the result of intelligence.” I ask you to view something far more complicated than an automobile. Glance around at the universe, the sun, moon and stars, the earth, a newborn baby – – – contemplate the immensity and complexity of it all, and you will join with Moses in declaring, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

Dr. George Wald, a Nobel prize winner from Harvard University, who rejects the idea of God creating the universe, made this strange admission. “One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are – – as a result, I believe in spontaneous generation.” This scientist claims that living beings coming into existence spontaneously, with no Creator is impossible. Yet, he believes the impossible. He affirms that “nothing” spontaneously generated “something.” Talk about blind faith! I am not a Nobel Prize winner or a physicist, but to believe that the universe generated spontaneously from nothing is absurd. “Nothing” cannot cause anything, let alone this vast, complex universe we call home. It is much more logical to say that nothing is all you will ever have if you start with nothing.  It is much more reasonable to say that God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. 

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a great scientist and a Christian had a universe model made for his personal study. A large golden ball represented the sun, and through the use of pulleys and wheels, all the planets revolved around the sun in roughly the same way they orbited in reality. One of Newton’s friends, a man who did not believe in God, came by one day and marveled at this mechanical representation of the universe. He asked Newton, “Who made it for you.” Newton replied (no doubt with a twinkle in his eye), “Nobody.” His friend replied, “What do you mean, nobody made it?” Newton “explained” that all these materials just appeared in his laboratory one day, and by chance and luck, they just happened to assemble into a model of the universe. One can only hope that his friend got the point. 

While I would love to spend more time on the abundant evidences for creation by God, that is not my primary purpose today. Instead, I want to move on to what we learn about God in the story of creation. We learn, first of all, that God is eternal. Genesis begins with the sublime words, “In the beginning, God…” We live in time, and we might want to ask the question, “What was God doing before He created the heavens and the earth.” It is a question for which we have no answer. God wishes us to know that He existed before time, outside of time, in eternity. As the Psalmist expressed it, “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God” (Psalm 90:2). Nehemiah declared, “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.  You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you (Neh. 9:5,6). God has no beginning and no end. Genesis 1 introduces us to the eternal God. 

I admit that the idea of a Being existing without beginning or end challenges our brainpower to the limit. And yet, given the fact that as Dr. Ward put it, “Here we are,” there is no adequate explanation for reality as we know it apart from the existence of our eternal God. 

We learn further from Genesis 1 that God is creative.  There is a unique word in Genesis 1:1; the Hebrew word “bara translated “created.” It is never used regarding human beings. Humans can make things out of pre-existing materials, but they cannot create something from nothing. God spoke the material universe into existence. The atoms and molecules that are the building blocks of the material universe were, first of all an idea in God’s mind, and then He spoke them into existence. The vastness of the universe, and its variety, reveal the creative mind of God. Who can imagine a Being who can create the planets and the stars, with so much empty space between them? The distances in space are measured in light-years, and our minds are staggered by the size of our universe. Who can imagine a Being who can create the human mind, our intricate senses, a delicate rose, the beautiful butterflies, and all the various variety we see in the world around us? Even Charles Darwin was fascinated by the human eye’s complexity and admitted that his theory of evolution could not account for it. The only explanation Darwin or any other evolutionist can give for any phenomena in the universe is to say, “It happened by chance.” 

God’s creative power seen in the visible universe presents to us the reality of a God who cannot be fully grasped by the human mind.  I can take a few boards and make a rough garden box and boast of my creative ability. What must God be like who can create this vast, incomprehensible universe by merely speaking it into existence? He is creative and powerful beyond human conception. The Psalmist was correct when he said, “The heavens declare the glory of God . . .” (19:1).  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, asking the question, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One” (40:25). The answer is that there is nothing comparable to our Creator God.  None can claim to be His equal. The only hope we have of ever understand the awesome reality of God is through revelation. We can know that God exists through nature, but what is He like? To answer that question, He must reveal Himself to us.  Through the written revelation that we call the Bible, he has done that, and through the personal revelation, we know as Jesus, the Son of God. 

From Genesis 1, we learn that God exists in eternity and that He created our time and space universe through His creative word. We know a third fact about God in Genesis 1:1. When we think of the word “God,” we may think of the Old Testament name “Jehovah/,” but that name for God was revealed later. When God is first named in the Bible in Genesis 1:1 we find the Hebrew word “Elohim.” In the beginning, “Elohim” created the heavens and the earth. 

When you see “im” on a Hebrew word, it is a plural noun. We usually add an “s” to a noun to make it plural. The Hebrews knew that God was One.  They were monotheists.  They knew there were not many gods. They knew that the “gods” of their neighbors did not exist, and this, of course, got them into trouble with their neighbors. They conceived of “Elohim” as One God despite the plural ending for the word. Many Bible students, including myself, see this as a veiled reference to God’s triune nature. There is but one God, but a plurality of persons in the Godhead. This hint we find in Genesis 1 is fully revealed in the New Testament, where we find the One true God defined as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

This plurality within the One True God is further alluded to in Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” The Hebrews never considered that “Us” meant multiple “gods.” They understood the use of “Us” as poetic language. This combination of the plural noun “Elohim” and the use of the word “Us” about God leads many to conclude that while God is One, there is complexity in the One God alluded to in the very first chapter in the Bible. 

In the light of further revelation, we see Jesus present at the time of creation. Paul says in Colossians 1:16: “For by Him (Jesus) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

That which is hinted at in Genesis is fully revealed in the New Testament. The God in whom we believe is One, but He exists eternally in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I realize the truth that One God exists eternally in three persons, but there are not three Gods, is a revelation beyond the power of our feeble minds to grasp. Yet, the Scriptures compel us to embrace this sublime truth.  To give just one of many references supporting this truth, Jesus commanded us to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). One Name, one God, but three persons within the Godhead. 

We also learn from the account of the creation that God is good. Over and over in the Creation account, we read the phrase, “And God saw that it was good.” I am confident that God was concerned right from the start to make sure that we understand his essential goodness, that He never resorts to evil or capriciousness. If God’s incredible powers ever turned to evil, we would have no way to fight back. How can we ever resist the God who is so powerful that He could speak this universe into existence?  We rejoice to learn that our Creator is good. God’s goodness is revealed in the first chapter of Genesis, and that goodness is magnified with the coming of Jesus to be our Savior. Because God is good, and His goodness never varies, we can depend totally upon what He says. 

Because God is good, our task is relatively simple. We must listen to God, believe what He says, and act accordingly. Next week we will see how this all works out when we look at Adam and Eve and the Fall. For now, embrace the truth that God is good and only wishes to shower His goodness upon you. 

Finally, I think we can find one more truth implied in Genesis 1: God is sovereign.  “Sovereign” means that He is in control of His creation. All things came from God, and all things are finally under His control. While we have received the power of choice, we are not in control.  Satan is not in control. Nations and human governments are not in control. God is the sovereign Lord of the universe. 

There are times when our lives are turned upside down by the trials of life, and we may wonder who is in control.  We see sickness, death, war, famine, murder, deceit, and the like, and we wonder, “Is God really in control.” Yes, He is, and He is a good God. Then where does evil come from? I hope to address that difficult question later on, but for now, I want to dogmatically assert, “God is in control of everything,” including your life. 

I find great comfort in knowing that our mighty Creator God who is good, is in charge. I would find it scary to think that some other forces outside of God were in control. Hitler, Stalin, and Roosevelt played a large role in World War Two, but ultimately God was in control. History is moving in the direction planned by God, and while we humans can and do resist God and act like we are in control, God’s plan for the world overrules our plans. We read in Isaiah 40:15, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales . . .” We think of our nation as mighty and powerful, but God sees us as a drop of water, or a speck of dust!  It is humbling as we gain God’s perspective on reality. 

God has the right to govern His world as He chooses, and He does so rule. Again, our task is easy.  We need to learn from God what He wants from us and respond accordingly. In closing, we know from Genesis 1 that our Creator is eternal, powerful beyond our imagination.  He is creative.  He is One, but with a plural name.  He is good, and He is sovereign. This does raise the question, “So how did we get into this mess,” and that will occupy us for several weeks. The great hymn “How Great Thou Art” has the refrain, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, How great Thou art.” Let us close by praising God with this marvelous expression of the greatness and goodness of God.  


2020 Sermons


COME UNTO ME

Warsaw Christian Church (12/27/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Matthew 11:28-39. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  

Do you ever experience stress? Do you ever feel so overwhelmed by the burdens of life that you feel like giving up? What do you do to relieve stress? 

A mental health foundation in the United Kingdom ran a poll on the effects of stress. Respondents to the survey said that overwhelming feelings of anxiety led them to overeat, drink, and smoke. People reported that stress made them feel depressed, anxious, alone, even suicidal.  Unrelieved stress is a severe condition. We all need healthy techniques for dealing with it. These techniques may be sublime, or they may be a little ridiculous. 

I read recently that many people are finding temporary relief from their stress by watching videos on YouTube. They’re watching videos of people cleaning their house. There’s a whole industry on the internet built around people who create videos to organize and clean your house. And these videos are hugely popular, with millions of fans. 

Why do people like to watch videos of people cleaning up their house? Many cleaning video fans say that watching someone else organize and clean their home makes them feel less anxious, more in control of their surroundings. Hosts for the most popular cleaning shows regularly get emails telling them how their show helped fans through anxiety, depression, and various life crises. Again, this wouldn’t work for me. Watching other people clean the house would only make me feel guilty about the state of my office!     

By the way, an organization in South Korea has discovered a novel way to help people deal with stress. This organization stages “living funerals.” Participants at living funerals write out a short testament of their last thoughts and wishes. Then they put on a funeral shroud and lie down in a closed coffin for about ten minutes. The purpose of living funerals is to help people gain a new perspective on life. About 25,000 South Koreans have undergone a living funeral so far. The Healing Center director says that some people have reconciled with family or friends after their living funeral. Others have changed careers—some participants contemplating suicide credit their living funeral with changing their minds. 

Well, whatever works for you. Ten minutes in a closed casket would not relieve stress for me. I am sure I would panic and come out more stressed than ever. I want to suggest a better plan.      

In our Bible passage today, Jesus challenges the people around him with these words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

Jesus is saying to us that weariness is not meant to be our natural way of living. That’s not what God created us to be. Jesus promises to give us rest in our souls. So, what did Jesus mean by rest for our souls? 

I recently read about another group devoted to giving us rest. However, this one’s a business. In 2005, a store called MinneNAPolis opened in Minnesota’s Mall of America. Notice the name—MinneNAPolis. For 70 cents a minute, tired shoppers can rent a sound-proof room for napping. The rooms have unique themes like Deep Space, Asian Mist, and Tropical Isle. Or, if you don’t feel like napping, you can sit in the store’s massage chair, gaze at a waterfall, listen to soft music and breathe in the “positive-ionization-filtered air.” The owners of the store advertise it as “an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle.” Some people probably find that helpful. I think it is just part of the craziness that has engulfed Minneapolis in recent years!

However, rest for our souls is not the same thing as a nap, a vacation, or breathing in positive-ionization-filtered air while gazing at a fake waterfall. It’s not a temporary respite from our stress. Rest for our souls is a re-orientation of our values and perceptions of life to match up with the values and perceptions of God, the one who created us—the source of our soul. 

Listen to Jesus’ words again: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Think about those important words for just a few moments.

The first thing Jesus is saying to us is, “You have a soul.” Or, to be more accurate, you are a soul. The soul is the inner life. For now, the soul is encased in a body. God breathed upon Adam at the dawn of creation, and Adam became a living soul. Our inner life is meant to be connected to God. Sin messed that up, but there is a solution. Jesus does not promise bodily rest, but soul rest. The body may be weary, but Jesus promises us that we can have a sense of rest and peace on the inside. We can reconnect with God, and that brings peace. 

Jesus is the ultimate wake-up call for our soul. Listen to some other statements He made about your soul: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16: 26) Or “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” (Matthew 10: 28a) Jesus cares about our souls because he knows that our souls are a reflection of God’s image within us. So, I’ll ask the question again: Are you weary and burdened because you live disconnected from your soul— disconnected from God?

And that’s the first thing Jesus says in this passage: We have a soul, or better, we are a soul. The soul is at peace when in harmony with God. Jesus restores that harmony, and so He invites us: COME UNTO ME. Let me walk with you. I will bring rest to your soul. 

Here is the second thing we need to see: We have a Savior. We have a bridge between our soul and God. Jesus did not say, “Come to me, and all your troubles will go away.” He said, “Come to me, and I’ll share your life. You won’t be alone anymore.” I believe that’s what he meant when he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . .” 

Jesus lived every moment, knowing that there are certain things worth living and dying for, and everything else is just noise. We have a Savior who understands what we’re facing. Jesus knows what it’s like to be tired. He knows what it’s like to be lonely and misunderstood.  He knows what it’s like to pour your heart and soul into a mission and not see any results. You have a Savior who chose to live as we live—as a human being—so he could show us that our identity, purpose, strength, and hope aren’t based on our circumstances but rather on the reality of a loving God living within us.

Let me tell you about a young boy named Caleb, who was diagnosed with a nervous system disease that left him with temporary paralysis. You can imagine how Caleb’s parents ached to see their precious little boy’s slow recovery from this illness.  One day Caleb’s dad came to visit him at school. From a distance, he watched as five-year-old Caleb limped across the playground. Caleb’s father was heartbroken to see the other kids playing all around his son games in which Caleb couldn’t participate. But then he saw Caleb’s best friend, Tyler, come up to Caleb. Tyler could have been off with the other kids, running and jumping and playing. But he chose to stroll alongside Caleb for the rest of recess. Tyler didn’t take away Caleb’s burdens. He walked with him and loved him in his weakness. Jesus does the same thing for us, and having His love and power freely available to us makes any burden easier to bear. “Take my yoke upon you . . .” 

We have a soul, and we have a Savior. And finally, Jesus is saying to us in this passage; there is a solution to our weariness and burdens.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In the 1970s movie Freaky Friday, a frustrated mother and her rebellious daughter suddenly exchange lives. The mother wakes up in the daughter’s body and vice versa. And each one has to live a few days with the priorities, responsibilities, and stresses of the other. And so mother and daughter learn to respect and empathize with each other because they’ve walked in each other’s shoes. 

In a way, Jesus does this for us. He comes to dwell within us. Paul said, “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.” As we live each day, realizing that Jesus walks with us, we come to know first hand that His yoke is easy. When we are yoked to Him and consciously live with that reality flooding our soul, our burdens become light. The problems we face each day are still there, but Jesus is there too. As we realize His presence, we experience peace. There is an old book titled “The Practice of the Presence of God” written by  Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk in the 17th century. . He was a kitchen worker in a monastery, hardly a life conducive to spiritual growth. As he realized Jesus was with him in his daily routine, he was able to find peace and meaning in what was otherwise a dull and routine life. Jesus does dwell within His people. We need to focus on that reality, coming to Him daily and asking Him to walk with us. As we live in His presence, we find rest for our souls. 

I want to tell you about a woman named Rose, who has experienced unbelievable stress in her life—stress that should put our anxieties into perspective. Rose is a woman in Rwanda who lost most of her family to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. This was a horrid conflict in which Rwanda’s Hutu citizens murdered more than 800,000 Tutsi citizens in around 100 days. Rose and her two daughters survived the attacks. How does Rose deal with the shock and grief of witnessing such carnage in which she lost members of her own family? She explains it this way, “For this, I have Jesus.” Think about those words for a moment: “For this, I have Jesus.” If  Rose found peace in her soul with the issues she faced, I think Jesus can do the same for us. He can give us that internal peace and rest amid horrible tragedies. 

What other sources of peace or rest are you counting on besides Jesus? This life can take so much away from us. But there is a part of us that cannot be taken away. It’s not affected by outward circumstances or inward doubts. It’s that eternal stamp on your personhood that says you were made in the image of God. That’s your soul. And God loves you so much that He came in the form of Jesus to share your life and to die for you. That’s your Savior. Come to Him and submit your life to his guidance and his priorities, and you will find rest for your soul. That’s the solution. You decide: will you keep on living in a way that is disconnected from  Jesus? Or will you live from the perspective and priorities of a soul that is created in the image of God? Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

For this, we have Jesus.


CHRISTMAS MEANS HOPE

Warsaw Christian Church (12/20/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Scripture: Selected verses from Luke 1–2.

The real message of Christmas is about hope. Hope is one of the greatest needs of the human heart and one of the Christmas story’s most extraordinary statements. Psychiatrists will tell us that when a person loses hope, life loses all meaning.  People who have lost hope are candidates for suicide. The lockdowns associated with the Coronavirus have driven many to lose hope. In the Bible, hope is confidence, assurance. It is not wishing for something. It is confidence that the things we hope for will one day be a reality. Let’s look at the hope that Christmas brings:

1. First, hope is the confident expectation that God will fulfill His promises. Look at Luke 1:45:  When Mary, the mother of Jesus,  meets her cousin Elizabeth, she says: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” That is the language of hope. Hope in the Christian vocabulary is not wishing for something we may or may not receive.  It believes that what the Lord has promised will be accomplished. We may not possess all of God’s promises today, but hope says, “One day I will receive everything God has promised.” To celebrate Christmas properly, we need the confident expectation that God can be relied on to fulfill the hopes He has awakened in our hearts through the promises of His Word. 

God had made an unbelievable promise to Mary. Without the benefit of a human father, she was to give birth to the Messiah. Mary might have said, “No way. Not going to happen,” Or she might have said, “I may be young, but I am not stupid.  I know how babies are conceived.” She did have some initial questions about what she heard, but she finally believed the promise of God and declared, “Be it unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). 

The Gospel that entered the world on that first Christmas would bring us numerous promises. The two big ones are (1) the forgiveness of sins and (2) the promise of everlasting life. When we say, “I hope I am forgiven, and I hope heaven is my destiny,” we are not expressing a wish that may or may not be realized. We are expressing confidence that the day will come when those hopes will be perfectly fulfilled. Christians are never without hope. Whatever problems and trials we face, we have the hope that the day will come when we will arrive safely into heaven, forgiven of every sin because of Jesus. 

It’s like a story that the great writer and Jewish activist Elie Wiesel told. Wiesel himself was a Holocaust survivor. He would tell about a Jewish rabbi during that terrible time. The Rabbi would faithfully come to the synagogue each day and pray, “I have come to inform You, Master of the Universe, that we are here.” As the toll of slain, deported, missing Jews increased, he still came faithfully and prayed, “You see, Lord, we are still here.” Finally, he is the only Jew left alive. With a heart that is numb with grief, he comes to the synagogue once more and prays, “You see, I am still here.” The Rabbi refused to abandon hope. In our time of personal grief, which of us has not wondered, where were you, God, when my son was in that terrible accident? Where were you, God, when my wife suffered so terribly before succumbing to cancer? Those who trust in God may suffer, but they never lose hope. 

2. That leads to the second point, which is that hope trusts in God despite difficulties. Simeon was a man who clung to hope. “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). The whole Christmas story takes place against the backdrop of all kinds of serious problems. Israel was under the control of a foreign invader.  Personal freedom did not exist. Many of the Jews were imprisoned or crucified under Roman rule. Yet, the Christmas story is full of hope in the face of perplexing problems.  Simeon was waiting and believing. That is what hope does. Simeon’s hope was not based on a denial of the day’s issues but rather on a decision to trust in God despite the problems.

I have mentioned before the name of Joni Erickson Tada. She was named “Most athletic girl” when she graduated from high school. Her life changed dramatically when she broke her neck in a diving accident, which left her with quadriplegia, paralyzed from the neck down. She initially sank into a deep depression, but faith in Jesus brought hope back into her life. Today, 50 years after her accident, she is a successful artist, a best-selling author/musician who hosts a radio show. She has encouraged and inspired millions with her Christian witness.  Marie and I heard Joni speak at a conference a few years ago.  She admitted being tied to a wheelchair can become depressing. But she looks forward to heaven when she will once again be able to walk and run. Her Christian faith gives her hope.  

When I look at our prayer list or consider our national problems, I can get discouraged. When I look over this congregation and see so many senior citizens, I know that seniors struggle with health issues. When people ask me how I am, I never tell the truth. It would take too long to say, “Well, my hearing has failed somewhat, my right ankle gives me fits at times, my thumbs are stiff with arthritis, I can’t see clearly without my glasses, my neck gets so stiff I can barely turn my head without pain, my right hip aches if I walk too much, I take pills for blood pressure, I have neuropathy in my feet with limited sensation which makes me unstable in walking, and I have a cow valve in my aorta. How am I? I am just great, thank you.” I should print all of my ailments on a card, and when I am asked, “How are you?” I can hand over the card. 

Jesus was born. That changes everything. We have a God who loves us and has promised us an unbelievably glorious future. Yes, we have personal problems, and there are enormous problems in society. Yes, we have aches and pains, and one day we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But – – – Jesus was born!  We don’t deny or ignore the problems we face, but neither do we give in to despair. Because Jesus was born, we have hope. We have a bright future. When we embrace Jesus with the arms of faith, we have hope no matter the problems life throws at us. 

3. Third, hope dares to believe that God will transcend our understanding. Isn’t it wonderful to have a God who often acts in ways that baffle our minds? Mary, Joseph, Simeon, the shepherds, and all the others in the Christmas story were not given full explanations describing how God would fulfill His promises. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand the miracle of the virgin birth’s spiritual and biological details, nor do we. Simeon didn’t know precisely how this baby would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. Marie and I recently discussed this question: Did Jesus know He was God when He was a baby? I don’t have an answer to that question. But Mary, Joseph, and Simeon did not allow the limitations of human understanding to determine the height of their hope in God. Hope trusts God to fulfill His promises in ways that transcend our experience and expectations. Can I prove there is a heaven? No, I take Jesus at His Word and continue to hold on to the promise of eternal life. I can’t think of a higher form of proof than believing what Jesus says! 

4. Forth, hope waits for God to accomplish His will His way (Luke 2:2:28–30). One of the most revealing things about this man Simeon is the way he describes his own relationship to God: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace” (v. 29). The word “Lord” here is the word from which we get the English word despot (despota). It is not the common word for Lord found throughout the Bible. It’s the word for an absolute master who has complete rule over the lives of those under him. To hope in God for Simeon is not to come to God with his personal agenda and ask God to bless it and “hope” that He will do it. In every life, something rules as sovereign. What is it that rules as sovereign in your life as you prepare for Christmas? If we are wise, our hope will be in God.

In this day of instant everything, we need to learn patience. I can now order a book on my Kindle at 10:00 AM and begin reading it a few seconds later. On my phone, I carry a library of several hundred books. God is not like your electronic book reader. You don’t pray to Him and expect that you will have the answer within a few minutes.  You can have confidence that He will honor His Word and that His great and mighty promises will one day be fulfilled.  That is where hope comes in. While we do not have everything God has promised us in this life, hope believes that God will fulfill all His promises one day. If we look only at this life, it seems that God did not always answer our prayers.  From a heavenly perspective, I believe our prayers are always answered.  Hope waits for God to accomplish His will in His way, either in this life or in eternity.   

5. Fifth, hope does not disappoint (Luke 1:45–47). The exchange between Elizabeth and Mary shows how hope does not lead to disappointment.  Hope sees the fulfillment of God’s promises for our greater good and His greater glory: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (vv. 45–47). Mary trusted the promises for a good reason. They were all fulfilled in Christ as He was born that first Christmas in a manger with heavenly signs, with shepherds and wise men bowing at His feet, with kingly gifts, and so much more than Mary could have expected; not to mention His ultimate role as Savior.

God has a way of doing so much more than we ask or think. Those who hope in God and hold onto Jesus Christ with faith will never be disappointed. Paul wrote, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Paul describes this gift as a kind of down payment to encourage us to believe that more blessings await us. The One who has given this marvelous gift will also fulfill all His promises to us. That is our hope. The blessing of hope is one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us. 

Port Authority Police Department Officers Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin were the last two people rescued from the World Trade Center after the September 11 terrorist attack. For Will Jimeno, that tragic day represents a defining moment in his Christian faith. Jimeno, McLoughlin, and three other officers entered Tower 1 to rescue civilians. But when they got inside, the building collapsed. McLoughlin and Jimeno were pinned under large blocks of concrete rubble and twisted steel. The other three officers were killed.

For the next ten hours, Jimeno and his partner fought pain and thirst inside a concrete tomb swirling with dust and smoke. At times, ruptured gas lines would hurl fireballs into the ruins, threatening to burn the two men to death. In another terrifying moment, heat from the fireballs “cooked off” the ammunition inside the firearm of a fallen officer, sending fifteen bullets ricocheting around the chamber.

Jimeno’s hope began to falter. “I was exhausted. I had done everything as a police officer that I could do, and everything as a human being,” he said. “I just knew I was going to die.” Just then, Jimeno saw a figure coming toward him through the rubble. “He wore a glowing white robe and a rope belt,” Jimeno said. “I couldn’t see his face, but I knew it was Jesus.” The vision filled Jimeno with hope. “I had this resurgence of the will to fight,” he said. Turning toward McLoughlin, he yelled, “We’re going to get out of this hellhole!” Several hours later, U.S. Marines and NYPD rescue workers lifted the men out of their concrete prison.

His seeing a vision of Jesus filled Jimeno with hope. You may not have a similar experience, but faith in Jesus always fills us with hope. God’s Spirit speaks to us in the beautiful stories of Christmas, strengthening our hearts and filling us with great hope. He will undoubtedly fulfill the promises of grace He has given to us. May the hope Jesus has brought to millions of people fill your hearts this Christmas season. 


THE GOD WHO COMFORTS

Warsaw Christian Church, (12/13/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

Baptist minister Grady Nutt could tell some hilarious stories. One of Grady’s stories was of a seminary student who pastored a rural church on the weekends. Word came to this student preacher that a man in his church had died. Could he come and conduct the funeral? The young preacher had never done a funeral before, but after receiving counsel from one of his seminary professors about how to proceed, he drove out to the home of the man who had died to plan the funeral service. (I can identify with the young pastor. The first funeral I ever attended I had to conduct as a student pastor in Dallas, Iowa). The widow greeted him and they looked around for a quiet place where they could talk.

That was a problem since the house was filled with people who had come to offer their condolences. Since every other room was occupied, the widow suggested the only room that was available . . . the bathroom. So, they went in there. She closed the door and sat down on the edge of the tub, and the pastor, he took the, uh, “other seat.” They shared stories about the deceased, chose appropriate passages of scripture, and then joined hands for a closing prayer. Then the young pastor stood up and instinctively reached back . . . and pushed down the handle. I don’t know how much comfort the young pastor gave the widow that day, but he sure gave her an experience she could laugh about for a long time. Comfort is our theme for this morning.

Our text for today from Isaiah 40 begins like this: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for . . .” It’s been said that the task of a prophet is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Prophets like Amos, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were quite adept at afflicting the comfortable. Amos, particularly, was harsh in chastising the children of Israel because of their treatment of the poor as well as their other sins. In chapter 3 he explains why.

Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the Lord has spoken against you—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: ‘You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your sins . . .’” That’s kind of scary, don’t you think? It is because God chose Israel to be His people that it is necessary for God to punish Israel when they go astray. From time to time, I hear someone say that God has chosen America and that is the reason we are so blessed materially. Be careful when you say that. Remember what the Master said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48b). It was because God had chosen Israel that He expected so much out of her. And it was because God chose Israel that He punished her for her sins. That was the teaching of the prophets. I do believe God has blessed America beyond all other nations, but this means He expects more from us. I wonder what the future holds for us.

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Fortunately, we live on the other side of the cross. Christ has borne our sins. As the psalmist said, “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12). God does not punish us for our sins. Still, it would profit us to heed the word of the prophets. If we are in Christ, the divine punishment for our transgressions has been taken away from us. However, that does not mean we are home free. If you drive out of the parking lot of the church this morning and head down highway 65 at 90 miles an hour, run red lights, drive recklessly in every way possible—even if you escape the judgment of law enforcement—there is the judgment of the laws of physics. There is a certain amount of pain involved in crashing an automobile into an immovable object like a large oak tree or, for that matter, another car. God’s not punishing you for this reckless act; the laws of nature are punishment enough.

God does not punish us for our sins (double jeopardy). He does, however, chastise His children who insist on disobeying Him. He is not punishing us. He is disciplining us out of love. The prophets of the Old Testament were simply warning the people where they were headed if they continually ignored God’s will. Someone has likened it to two young men canoeing down the river toward Niagara Falls. Although the water was relatively calm, they were approaching the area where the water began to pick up speed. A man on the shore called out, “Young men, you’re getting too close to the rapids!” The young men heard the warning, did not heed it. Instead they went on paying no attention to the danger. On the shore, the man watching began to run and shouted in desperation, “Turn around! You’re getting too close to the rapids!” Still, the young men did not heed his warning. The canoe was trapped in the rapids. The young men began to panic. With all the power at their command they tried to turn the canoe around, but it was too late. Over the falls they went—all because they refused to heed the voice of warning.

The prophets were not simply “spoil sports,” trying to keep people from having too much fun. Rather they were voices of warning that doing wrong can bring divine discipline upon us and often to people we love. If we are fortunate, a friend will serve as a voice of warning. Sometimes the prophets were quite strident with their warnings, but, at times, the prophets were capable of striking a gentle chord as well. None more so than the prophet Isaiah. And our text for today contains some of the most beautiful words in the scriptures: “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.”

The Babylonian army invaded the land. Many of the leading citizens were exiled to Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The holy city lay in ruins. Those carried away to exile were displaced from the Promised Land. The psalmist cried out during this time of exile: “By the waters of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).

That’s the situation the prophet Isaiah is addressing. But rather than issuing any more words of warning, he becomes a herald of hope. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to

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Jerusalem . . .” The Lord has not forgotten His people. Indeed, God Himself will soon be coming to them. This is one of the many messianic prophecies of Isaiah, foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah is telling the people that God will not leave them desolate—just as He will not leave us desolate. As he says in chapter 7, verse 40, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” which means “God is with us.” God with us. Are there any words in scripture more beautiful than these: God is with us?

Billy Graham tells about a time in his life when he was going through a dark period. He prayed long and earnestly, but there was no answer. He felt as though God was indifferent and that he was alone with his problem. Billy Graham wrote his mother about the experience. He said he would never forget her reply: “Son,” she said, “There are many times when God withdraws to test your faith. He wants you to trust Him in the darkness. Now, Son, reach up by faith in the fog and you will find that His hand will be there.” Graham said, “I knelt by my bed and experienced an overwhelming sense of God’s presence.”

Where do you look for comfort? I know, there are many things that are offered as sources of comfort in the world today. We have comfort food. Who said chocolate? One man said that in his family growing up, meatloaf was their comfort food. For me, give me a bowl of ice cream and all is well with the world. Well . . . different strokes for different folks. Lots of things bring comfort.

But later in this chapter Isaiah tells us the real source of comfort and that, of course, is God: “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” Then he adds these tender words, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Now that’s comfort—comfort that only God can give.

Pastor Jess Moody told of meeting Rose Kennedy, mother of President John F. Kennedy. She came to a Bible study Moody was conducting. Moody challenged his hearers to make their hearts ready to meet the Lord because life is short, and no one knows what the future may hold. Later Rose Kennedy spoke to Jess Moody privately and said she had done what Moody was talking about. She confessed that, as a young bride, she had been enamored with money. “She became selfish,” she told Moody, “living only for her own desires. Then she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Soon it became apparent that something was wrong with her daughter. Medical tests revealed that her daughter had been born with severe intellectual disabilities and would have to be institutionalized for her entire life.”

Rose Kennedy said that she and her husband were devastated. Then the devastation turned to enormous anger toward God. “How could you have done this to us?” she asked the Lord. The anger eventually turned to a corrosive kind of bitterness that drained every bit of joy from her life. She hesitated attending social engagements, fearful that her anger about her daughter’s condition would spill out.

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And that’s when it happened. A maid who worked for the family spoke to her. “Mrs. Kennedy,” said the maid, “I’ve been watching you for the last few weeks and I’ve seen how angry you are. If you don’t do something, it’s going to ruin you.” Then the maid made a suggestion: “I think you should pray this prayer: ‘O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born.’” “Rose Kennedy told Jess Moody that she was so angry that she fired the maid on the spot. But that night when she went to bed, she couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, she couldn’t get that simple prayer out of her mind. Finally, she knelt by her bed, and in an act of deep surrender she prayed, “O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born.”

In that moment, in the depth of the night, when she cried out in anguish, God heard and answered her prayer. “I’ve always been religious, you know. I’m a Catholic,” she said to Pastor Moody, “and I’ve always believed in Jesus. But this was different.” On this night, she opened her heart to Christ in a new way, and her heart did indeed become a manger where Christ could be born in her. Love replaced the anger that had gripped her soul. And the end of the story is this: She rehired the maid who stayed with the family until she died many years later.”

It is true, God expects a lot from His people who live in this great land. Will He continue to bless, or is it time for judgment and discipline? God desires to bless His people, but He expects us to be faithful. Maybe you can identify with Rose Kennedy. You believe in Jesus, but He seems far removed from your life. Let me ask you a question: is this the prayer that you ought to pray as we celebrate the coming of the Christ child? “O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born.”

I adapted this sermon from “Dynamic Preaching” magazine, Oct, Nov, Dec, 2020).


LISTEN UP FOR AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT

Warsaw Christian Church (12/6/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 2:8-20:  

Many church-goes, including this pastor, have an aversion to announcements made during the church service. Such announcements are usually necessary even though they do not really fit into the notion of “worship.” In our text, we read about an announcement of a very different kind. It is an announcement everyone needs to hear.  It was the most important announcement in history.  I want us to consider four important truths about this announcement as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. 

1. First, the announcement was personal. The shepherds heard the angel say the words, “Unto you.” Of course, the “you” meant more than those few shepherds.  It is an announcement address to you, and you and you – – – to all the “yous” who have ever been born. The shepherds were very surprised by this angelic visitation and the heavenly choir. They were unaccustomed to such sights and sounds. The test says they were petrified. I am sure we would react the same way if angels suddenly appeared in our church service. Would you be a bit fearful if a large heavenly choir began to sing in our service?  The angel assured them they need not fear. They would be privileged to hear good news, news that would affect them personally.  

It is surprising, even today, to wonder why God appeared to shepherds. It would be difficult to imagine the Metropolitan Opera putting on a performance for a group of illiterate herdsmen. They perform in a grand hall before societies most prestigious and wealthy members. And yet, when God sent His Son into the world, the first to get the news besides Mary and Joseph was this group of uneducated, and probably smelly, shepherds. We do not know why they were chosen. The angelic appearance to the shepherds certainly fulfills the Scripture where God says, “My ways are not your ways.” The choice of humble shepherds to be the first to receive the Good News is an encouragement to all of the many ordinary people in the world. 

Paul expressed this principle in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. 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.  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.  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. I assume none of us are Mensa members, nor do we wield a lot of influence in the world. I suspect most of us came from ordinary families – – – not the Kennedys, the Rothschilds or the Vanderbilt’s.  This grand, important announcement is personal, and it is for you – – – for all of us who are just ordinary citizens. Paul gives one reason why God acts in this manner: SO THAT NO ONE MAY BOAST BEFORE HIM. 

God has an aversion to human boasting. When ordinary folks hear and believe the Gospel they are not inclined to boast.  They are just thankful that God loves the ordinary people of society. It is often the rich and famous who seem to think they are entitled to things.  If God had first revealed the Gospel to Caesar Augustus or Herod, they might have thought, “Well of course God would reveal His plan to us. We are important people.”  God chooses us ordinary folks to shame the wise. 

2. We notice also that this announcement was universal – – – it was “for all people.” I love that word “all” in the announcement. It means that there is not a single person on earth who is automatically excluded from the Kingdom of God. This word “all” is like the word “whosoever” in John 3:16. “Whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”  When God said “all,” he included you. When He said “whosoever,” He included you. 

Do you have pride concerning your race or country of origin? That word “all” cancels out all racial, ethnic pride. God cares nothing about your race or national origin.  Jesus came for “all.” The one thing required of us is faith. All who believe that the baby born in Bethlehem is the Messiah, the Son of God, Savior of the world, enter into the Kingdom of God. 

That word “all” should encourage us to share the message of Jesus. That person you think will never come to faith is included in that “all.”  All who believe in Jesus are forgiven of their sins and promised eternal life. No one is excluded. We support several missionaries in Africa and Haiti because they are included in that word “all.” Jesus commanded us to go into the entire world with the Gospel message, because no one is excluded. 

If the message of Jesus is for all people, we have no right to any kind of racial pride. If you look down upon any ethnic group, you are looking down on people loved by God. When you make ethnic jokes about blacks or Jews, you are making fun of people God loves and desires to save.  

3. The angelic announcement was also timeless. The “today” in our text continues throughout human history. The birth of Jesus is not simply a past event. Once he entered the world on that first “today,” He has been with His people ever since. He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

People in the first century had the opportunity to place their trust in Jesus and receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We have the same opportunity.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem on a particular day over 2000 years ago. We sing, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” Yes, the one born in Bethlehem can be born in our hearts – – – today. Today is any day when a person says, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, my Savior and Lord.” On that very day, Jesus is born in the human heart. 

If Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, that is an interesting historic fact. You can affirm your confidence in the biblical story; you can state that you believe Jesus was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, but none of that will help you until He is born in your heart. As we enter into this Christmas season, make sure the Savior born in Bethlehem has also been born in your heart. 

4. Finally, the message was one that solved our greatest need. What is your greatest need? I suppose there are people who would say, “A better job, more money, a bigger house, a child, better health”- – – the list is endless as to what people think they need. The shepherds seemed to understand that the arrival of a Savior fulfilled their greatest need. They were eager to share the good news with others. The wise men from the east seemed to understand that their greatest need was a Savior. They came to worship him and offer Him gifts. 

Jesus once asked the question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul” (Matthew 16:26). We learned in our Genesis Bible study several years ago that under the leadership of Joseph, the Pharaoh came to own the entire land of Egypt. People traded their lands and goods for the grain Joseph had stored up preparing for 7 years of famine. I suppose Pharaoh might have thought it was great to own the entire land of Egypt, but it would mean nothing if in the end he lost his soul. 

Jesus also once spoke of a rich farmer who had so much, he had to build bigger barns. He said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” That is the important matter this Christmas season, to be rich towards God. The Good news is that we can all be rich towards God.  Those who have believed in and received the Savior into their hearts are the ones who are rich towards God. 

The announcement the angels made to the shepherds was different from announcement we make about church potluck, men’s meetings, women’s meetings and the like. Those announcements may go in one ear and out the other. The announcement the angels brought to the shepherds that night long ago must not only be heard. It calls for a response on our part. Today a Savior is born. Have you responded with faith and obedience? 


ENJOYING THE FAVOR OF GOD

Warsaw Christian Church (11/29/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

It is so good to gather on this Sunday before Christmas morning and once again celebrate his birth together.  There is a lot to be said about the Christmas story.  This morning I want to draw your attention to just one word: favor.  What a wonderful word it is.  Favor. We’re going to hear that word on the lips of angels, on the lips of Mary, and on the lips of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as we reflect once again on the Christmas story. 

The familiar story begins with a young woman sitting in her house. She lives in an obscure town called Nazareth, and her family is poor. It is a despised and forgotten place. In those days people said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The people of Nazareth were regarded as “nobodies.” In that obscure and despised town lived a woman named Mary. 

One day God sent the angel Gabriel to visit her. The angel spoke saying, “Greetings, Mary, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.” In response to this, Mary was “troubled.” She wondered what kind of greeting this might be. So the angel spoke to her a second time. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel said. “You have found favor with God.” Mary was highly favored; a woman who had found favor with God. 

I looked up the word “favor” in the dictionary and found quite a long list of definitions and descriptions. Here are a few: Lenient or generous treatment. To have special advantages; to be preferred. Isn’t it wonderful to receive generous treatment? To have special advantages? To be preferred by God? I think that’s the meaning from this text as well. The angel is saying, “God is going to show you unusual kindness. He has preferred you above all women.  He is going to bless you generously.” The angel goes on to explain how God’s favor will be poured out on Mary.  “You will be with child and you will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, and he will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High.” One can only wonder what thoughts raced through her mind at this announcement. Her baby would be the Son of the Most High, the Son of the Living God. 

When the angel says to Mary “you are highly favored,” he is saying to the mother of our Lord, “You are uniquely privileged.”  She carried the life of God within her. She was highly favored because she was the one by whom the Son of God was born into the world. You may say, “That is marvelous for Mary. But what in the world does it have to do with my life today?” What do you think a Christian is? People would give different answers to that question. Some people might say, “A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus.” Someone else might say, “A Christian is someone who follows the teaching and the example of Jesus.” Both these things are true. But neither of them cut to the core of what it means to be a Christian.  To be a Christian means that the life of Jesus resides in you; in your innermost being.

You find this taught throughout the New Testament. The apostle Paul says, “It’s Christ in you that is your hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). On another occasion he says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). On one occasion in writing to some Christians in a town called Galatia,  he says, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Gal. 4:19). The Christ who was formed in Mary’s body is also formed in his people by the Spirit. A Christian is a person with the life of Jesus in them. Jesus spoke about this himself. On one occasion he said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches” (John 15:1). You see the significance of that picture as that theme is developed. The life of the vine is in the branches. It’s what makes them the branches of the vine. If you are a Christian, you are highly favored. You carry this marvelous privilege. Just as the life in a vine flows out and nourishes the branches, so also the life of Christ flows into us giving us new life. 

Let me picture a second scene for you. Some men were working at night. Their pay was low; their conditions were poor. They were shepherds working in the hills behind Bethlehem. Shepherds didn’t have much prestige in society. In fact, shepherds were held in such low opinion that their word was not admissible as evidence or testimony in a court of law. In his grace and mercy, God turned the tables in a spectacular way. God chose a group of people whose testimony would not be admissible in court to be the first witnesses of the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ. Isn’t that just like our gracious God? He likes to show favor on those of low reputation. 

An angel appeared to these men and “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” Can you imagine what that must have been like? How bright is the glory of the Lord? We don’t know, but it must have been spectacular.  I have seen some spectacular fireworks in the night sky over the years, but I am sure the glory of the Lord surpasses that.  A choir of angels sings:  “Glory to God in the highest and on earth. Peace to men on whom his favor rests.” There is that word “favor” again. God’s favor rests on men and women. I like the way the King James Version says it. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” Favor is not only an outpouring of privilege; it is an outpouring of love and kindness beyond what is due. 

What image comes to your mind when you think about God? Do you think about a Father who delights in his children, one who is marked by kindness beyond what is due? Or do you think of a frowning face and an accusing finger and anger? Do you think of God is mostly harsh, or mostly kind? If you have faith in His Son God will shower you with His favor. 

No doubt most of us present today have had difficulties and struggles this past year. Difficult things have happened in your life and maybe you didn’t understand them and perhaps you still struggle with them this morning. I want you to listen to what the angels are telling you this Christmas day. God is pouring out his love to you in his Son, Jesus Christ. He sent his Son into the world to heal the estrangement that our sin has brought between us and him and to bring us back into the embrace of the Father’s love.  Christmas is about the favor of God being extended to each of us. 

Here is one more scene, back in Nazareth. Thirty years had passed since the birth of Jesus. He had grown into full manhood. He had been working as a carpenter, and at the age of thirty he began the work for which he came into the world. He did not come into the world simply to saw wood and drive nails! He came to save us, to reveal the favor of God. Luke tells us about a Sabbath day in Nazareth where the people of the town were gathered in the synagogue, as usual. Jesus was handed the scroll with the words of the prophet Isaiah. Opening the scroll he chose to read these words on that particular Sabbath day: “The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news for the poor.” Then Jesus explained what the good news for the poor is.  “To proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19). This is what Jesus came to do. He came to proclaim God’s favor – – – our word again. 

Everyone in the synagogue would have known exactly what Jesus meant by “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the Old Testament God commanded that every fifty years the trumpet should sound to introduce a special year of Jubilee in which three wonderful things would happen. First, all debts were completely cancelled. Second, all slaves were set free. Third, all land that had been mortgaged to someone else in order to pay a debt would come back to the family to which it originally belonged. You can see why the year of the Lord’s favor was such a marvelous gift to the poor.

When God’s people came into the Promised Land, each family line was given a portion of the land. But when people came into financial difficulties they could get out of that by leasing their land to someone to whom they owed money. But it was a temporary arrangement. Every fifty years the land had to go back to the family line to which it had been originally entrusted and given by God. It was a wonderful break for the poor.

I wonder if this idea would work on banks and credit card companies today? Instead of once every fifty years, we could make it a little more regular. Once every ten years, everyone’s credit card bill could be reduced to zero.  Wouldn’t that be marvelous? Don’t hold your breath. It’s not going to happen for us today. In fact, it never happened in Israel either. 

Do you know how often this year of Jubilee was observed in the history of the Old Testament?  Never. God commanded it, but it wasn’t obeyed a single time because the people with the power were the people with the money. They were the ones who had everything to lose. They were the ones who were owed. So they always found a way to postpone the year of Jubilee by perhaps saying something like, “It’s just not the right time for it. We’ll put it off for another couple of years.” So the debts remained, and the slaves kept working, and the inheritances given to the many ended up in the hands of the few.

Does that sound familiar at all? No one would sound the trumpet to introduce the year of the Lord’s favor. So Jesus read the prophecy and spoke of the great gift of God that had never actually been practiced among his people. In effect, Jesus was saying, “What you will not do for each other, God will do for you. God is ready to forgive all your debts to him. God is ready to set you free from the dark powers of sin and self that binds you. God is ready to restore to you the inheritance of everlasting life that was lost by your first father, Adam. I am here to blow the trumpet to bring this in.  Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Now is the time of God’s favor.” 

I’m so glad that Jesus came to bring in the year of the Lord’s favor and not the day of the Lord’s justice. Justice is what we need when we are innocent. But when we have fallen short of all that God has commanded, justice doesn’t help us. Justice is no use for any of us before God. We need favor. We need grace. We need mercy. We need kindness beyond what is due; kindness that you do not see in this world; kindness that only comes from God’s great heart. We need our debts to God canceled. We need to be set free from those powers that bind us. We need the lost inheritance of everlasting life restored. Jesus says it is for this reason that he came, to proclaim the year of God’s favor.

When a debt is forgiven, the loss has to go somewhere. Every time a debt is written off, a loss is incurred. We’re living in the middle of that. We’re reading about this every day in our newspapers, and it is the focus of world attention. We hear about nations that can’t pay their debts, about massive credit card debts. Too much debt can cause an economy to collapse.  Where does the loss go when God forgives our debt? God absorbs it in Himself. Jesus bore the debt on the cross; he paid the price; he absorbed the loss of our debt to God in Himself. 

The debt of sin we have accrued against our Holy God is enormous. The only way such a debt can be paid off is by punishment. If the punishment is poured out upon us, we have an eternity of darkness to anticipate.  The good news is that Jesus endured the judgment of God we deserve when He went to the cross. All who trust in Him have all their debts cancelled; forgiven, forever. That’s what it took to bring in the year of the Lord’s favor. The story of Jesus is so glorious – – – so unbelievable at one level – – – that many turn away from Him. Those who dare to trust Him as Savior do learn that they receive the favor of God in abundance. 

How should we respond to the Lord’s favor? Christmas is about the favor of God in the birth of Jesus Christ. We can’t do better than the words of Mary when the angel spoke to her about the favor of God. Mary said, “May it be to me according to your word.” This means, “May everything you’ve said about the favor of God be a reality in my life.” That’s the essence of faith and obedience, embracing the very favor of God in Jesus Christ.

If you’re a Christian today, I hope you see how rich you are in Jesus Christ. You live under the favor of God. What could be greater than this? His smile is upon you in Jesus Christ. Your sins are forgiven. The life of God is within you. You have been set free. An eternal inheritance has been restored to you and is waiting for you. You are privileged. You are loved. You are blessed. And you are surrounded by the kindness of God that is beyond what is due and usual. In Jesus Christ you have every reason to rejoice.

How great is the gain of those who have Christ? How great is the loss of those who spurn Him, or ignore Him? If you have never seen the supreme value of Jesus Christ, if you’ve never realized all that can be yours in Him, I hope you will seek and find Him and that the favor of God will become yours now and for eternity. And how do we receive the favor of God?  It is quite simple. By faith we enter into God’s favor. On the Day of Pentecost, those who had rejected the Son of God asked if there was any way they could find God’s favor after what they had done. Peter’s answer was simple and clear.  Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That answer is still valid today. Those who admitted they had greatly offended God and who turned to Jesus with faith and entered into the waters of baptism found that their sins were forgiven, the gift of the Holy Spirit had been given, and heaven was their destiny. It was true then, and it is true today. If you have never entered into the favor of God, the door is open from His side. 


THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS, 2020

Warsaw Christian Church, 11/22/2020,  Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Texts, Various

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, I want to point out the importance of a thankful heart if we are to experience the fullness of God’s blessings.  Gratitude will open the doors of heaven for us in very remarkable ways. I share with you several texts for our consideration this Thanksgiving season.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7NRSV).  (Psalm 69:30, 31) I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.  (Psalm 100:4, 5)  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Why this emphasis on thanksgiving? A thankful spirit demonstrates our faith and confidence in God.  As we recall the many times and many ways God has blessed us in the past, gratitude fills our hearts.  This causes us to thank Him “in advance” regarding the matters we lay before Him in prayer. A thankful spirit demonstrates our understanding that God is good, that He is forever loving and faithful to His people. And because we understand this about God, we cannot help but feel grateful, and so we enter into His presence with thanksgiving in our hearts. 

When thanksgiving is absent from life, it demonstrates that we do not see the hand of God at work in our lives.  The Psalmist admonishes us to enter God’s presence with thanksgiving in our hearts (Psalm 100:4). When we worship, we do well to follow this divine direction. Under the Old Covenant, there were occasions when the people of Israel went to the temple of God in procession.  As they marched, they shouted out prayers of thanksgiving unto God.  Those of us raised in the Christian Church are not overly demonstrative, so I doubt that any of you shouted out prayers of thanksgiving on your way to church this morning.  But regardless, did you enter God’s house today feeling truly thankful in your spirit? Did you enter the church with a feeling of, “Oh boy! This is great. I am going to worship God, and He will bless me, and this fills me with a sense of anticipation and gratitude?” If you came in that spirit you will be richly blessed today.

Some folks come to church with a different spirit. “I can’t wait until church is over. I’ll go and do my duty, but I don’t get much out of it. I don’t expect anything significant to happen.  I don’t expect to encounter the living God.  My main hope is that the sermon is short.” Some people attend church out of a sense of duty but have no joy or thanksgiving in their spirit when they enter the sanctuary.  When we seek to enter God’s presence, whether individually or corporately, lacking a sense of gratitude, we are not acting according to the will of God, and we will gain little or nothing from being in church.

When we enter into the sanctuary of God, we need to have a thankful focus.  If we lose that focus and allow our doubts and fears and worries to have full reign, we fall away from the presence of God. How do you feel when you have given a gift to a relative or friend and there is no word of thanks? You have taken the time to purchase a gift, and there is no response from the recipient. When that happens, it bothers me. How long does it take to write a thank you note or an email? It makes me think the receiver only cares for the gift, not the giver. Of course, God does not have emotions like I have, but I wonder what goes through His mind when we fail to thank Him regularly for His manifold blessings. We owe everything to Him. The greatest of His gifts is eternal life. He freely forgives our sins and grants us a place in heaven for the sake of His Son who died for us. What must He think when days, weeks, and months go by, and we have not taken the time to say, “Thank you.” When we are thankful, it is a sign that our faith is authentic. 

Okay, so we need to enter God’s presence with a thankful spirit, but what if I don’t have such a spirit?  Maybe I am here today feeling overwhelmed with life’s pain and burdens, fearful of the Coronavirus, unable to muster any enthusiasm for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Maybe I am a person who should abandon church because I lack a thankful heart.  There is a better option, which is to learn what is guaranteed to create a thankful heart in us.  What is the real source of gratitude?  Listen to God’s word from Colossian 1:12-14.    . . .giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  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.

Verse 12 begins with a spirit of thanksgiving to God, and then Paul explains why we are to feel perpetual gratitude towards the Father. Notice that real gratitude has nothing to do with material blessings or their absence.  There is nothing wrong with thanking God for material blessings.  We should thank Him for such benefits.  Paul is merely reminding us that a thankful spirit goes much deeper than that. 

Why is a Christian able to go through life with a thankful spirit?  How is it that we can pray and worship God with an underlying sense of gratitude? Listen to Paul’s litany:  Reason  #1:  We are always thankful because God has qualified us to enter the kingdom of light.  We are not qualified for heaven in and of ourselves, but God has equipped us through the gift of His Son.  Reason  #2: We are always thankful because we have been rescued from the domain of darkness through Jesus Christ, whose death at Calvary removed us from darkness and placed us into the light of God’s presence.  Reason #3: Jesus has redeemed us, securing for us the forgiveness of all our sins.  Paul gives a brief summary of the Gospel.   If you face life and death with faith in Jesus Christ, you are a child of God with an eternal future. Through Jesus Christ, you are forgiven, redeemed, rescued, qualified for heaven. That is reason enough to go through life with a thankful spirit.  One cannot help but have a grateful spirit, even if material things are lacking when reflecting upon what Christ has done for us. 

We tend to focus too much on material blessings during the Thanksgiving season.  Yes, we appreciate our material blessings, but if we focus only on them, what impact does that have on those around us who have very little?  How can the poor celebrate Thanksgiving if they lack material blessings?  If our focus is only on family and friends, what does that do to those who have recently lost loved ones and who are grieving? Many people will celebrate Thanksgiving alone this year.  Do they have any reason to be thankful? 

Here are a few reasons to be thankful if you can’t think of anything else. This Thanksgiving I’m thankful … That there aren’t twice as many politicians.  That the election is over and TV political ads will disappear for awhile. That grass doesn’t grow through snow, necessitating winter mowing as well as shoveling.  That teenagers will ultimately have children who will become teenagers. That I’m not a turkey.  That property taxes in Missouri and half what they were in Illinois.  That snow will cover the unraked leaves in my yard if I don’t get around to raking. That hugs and kisses don’t add weight. That CD players and radios and TV sets can be turned off;  that no one can turn off the moon and stars.

Of course, we are thankful for God’s material blessings and for family and friends, but those things can be taken from us.  Those who have learned to cultivate a thankful attitude which abides even when possessions and family are gone are those who have learned to focus much on spiritual blessings – – – those blessings which can never be taken from us. 

I have fond memories of happy Thanksgiving gatherings over the years.  I can see my mother bustling about in the kitchen preparing our Thanksgiving feast.  I can see my Dad mutilating the turkey.   Now, both my parents are gone.  Thanksgiving is not quite the same, but I can still feel gratitude in my heart because the great spiritual blessings Jesus gives are forever a present reality. They never become memories. 

Parents die; husbands and wives die; sometimes, parents have to watch their children die.  The stock market, which is soaring today, could tumble tomorrow. Health may be taken away in an instant when the doctor says to us, “It’s hopeless.”  

Bob Reccord tells of a time in his life when he suffered severe back pain. The pain was excruciating. He could see no reason to be thankful. One cold and rainy day, he went out to his porch, and he heard the song of a bird. He thought, how can that bird sing in this miserable weather. He says, “I wanted to shoot him!” The next day was bright and sunny. Again he went out to his porch, and the bird sat on his porch railing singing. Then he had a spiritual moment. The bird was singing regardless of the weather. His song was not altered by outward circumstances. He felt that God whispered to him, “You’ve got the same choice, Bob. You will either be controlled by circumstances, or you will rise above circumstances.” (Forged by Fire, 2000). Yes, it is more challenging to be thankful when life is hard. But regardless of external factors, God’s grace shines perpetually in the souls of His people. We always have reason to be thankful. 

In this Thanksgiving season, we are truly grateful for our abundant material blessings, but let’s not stop there. The greatest reasons we have to be thankful are spiritual.  God loves us, and that will never change. Jesus Christ died for us, and that will never change.  We can find everlasting forgiveness and eternal life through trusting in Jesus, and that will never change.  We are God’s beloved children, and that will never change as long as faith in Jesus Christ is alive in our hearts. 

Remind yourself regularly, “I am a child of God, redeemed through my Lord Jesus Christ.  Heaven is my destiny, and no one can steal these blessings from me.” When we remind ourselves of these great truths, a spirit of thanksgiving wells up within and abides with us.  May God grant each of us a grateful heart. 


Parable of the Good Samaritan

(Or, Parable of the Arrogant Lawyer) 

Warsaw Christian Church, (date), Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 10:25-37

As we continue our study of the parables of Jesus, today, we focus on the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. In one respect, this is a very easy parable to understand. We are to do what we can to help those in need, just as the Samaritan reached out a helping hand to the man who had been robbed and beaten by thieves. However, there are some subtleties in this parable, as we shall see. Today, instead of talking about the Good Samaritan our focus will be more on the lawyer who approached Jesus.

Observe first the occasion for the parable.  A lawyer or scribe, an expert in the Law of God, approaches Jesus. Notice that his interest in Jesus is insincere.  He is seeking to “test” Jesus. The word is used in a malicious sense. This man has no faith in Jesus but is asking Him a question so he can prove that Jesus is a false teacher. We see many examples of this in the life and ministry of Jesus.  His enemies often asked Him questions in an attempt to trip Him up. 

Although this lawyer is trying to entrap Jesus, the question he puts to the Lord is an important one. Every one of us needs to ask the same question, and know the answer. He asks, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Are you confident that you can answer that question?  Notice the way he forms the question: “what shall I DO.”  Jesus says to Him, and to us, if you want to DO something that will ensure eternal life for you, you must keep the commandments of God. The lawyer indicates that in his opinion, the sum of the commandments is to love God and love your neighbor (see Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 6:5).  Jesus says to the lawyer you have given the correct answer. “Do this, and you will live.” 

There are several problems present in the life of this lawyer, which effectively cut him off from God.  They make any relationship with God an impossibility even though he was an expert on the content of Scripture. First, after asking the right question concerning how to obtain eternal life, he then asks a rather stupid question that veers the conversation away from the truth. Let me ask you this.  What would you have said to Jesus after reaching an agreement concerning what one must DO to gain eternal life? I can tell you what I would have said.  I certainly would not have asked the silly question, “Who is my neighbor.” I would not have been asking for definitions of words. I would have said to Jesus, “But Lord,  I have not loved God with all my heart, nor do I love my neighbor as myself in a manner that is pleasing to God. Is there any hope for me?” I believe He would then say to me, “Yes, there is another way. I have suffered and died to make atonement for your sins.  Trust me as your Savior, and follow me as your Lord, and you shall receive eternal life. And, as you walk with me, I will help you to love God and your neighbor.”

Unfortunately, the parable does not move in that direction. Jesus allows this lawyer to guide the conversation.  He knows that his questioner is not interested in His opinion.  Consequently, He answers precisely what He is asked, no more, no less. As a result, the lawyer does not really know how to inherit eternal life at the conclusion of their dialogue.  At the very end of the parable, he is told to act like the Good Samaritan.  The lawyer never asks what his options are if he does not act like the Good Samaritan. He does not ask what he can do if he does not love God with all his heart. He is in the same boat we are. Just as none of us are Good Samaritans consistently, nor do we love God with all our hearts consistently, and neither did this lawyer. However, he never faces that fact. He wants to earn his way to heaven through the commandments and assumes that he has sufficiently kept the commandments. 

I have heard it said more than once in church.  People say, “If you want to gain heaven your must love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” The problem is, I know of no one, especially myself, who lives up to these two great commandments. Well-meaning pastors have occasionally introduced me as a “man who loves God with all his heart.” I cringe when I hear that because it is not true. I wish it were true, and I am learning to love God, but my love for God is not sufficiently pure to earn me a place in heaven. I need to hear of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Thus there is both a spoken and unspoken agenda in this parable. The spoken agenda has to do with our obligation to keep the law of God.  The unspoken issue which is never addressed in the parable is, “What do we do if we fail to keep the law of God?” And the truth is that we have all failed in this regard. And hopefully, we have learned what this lawyer never learned.  We have learned to turn to Jesus with repentance and faith, receiving the divine forgiveness He offers to us in His atoning death.  We have learned to confess that we do not love God as we ought, nor do we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Like the tax collector in another parable, we have learned to say, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

At this time, this lawyer remains in a lost condition because he has a wrong attitude, and, as a result, he asks the wrong question. But he has another problem that also emerges.  Let’s look at the parable itself. First, why on earth does he ask, “Who is my neighbor?” The scribes and Pharisees were very legalistic. They wanted everything pinned down. If I am to love my neighbor, I need a precise definition of “neighbor.” As you probably know, many of the religious Jews at that time defined a neighbor as a fellow religious Jew. Your neighbor was a person like yourself.  They felt no obligation to treat strangers or foreigners or Gentiles as neighbors. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus sought to correct this narrow-minded thinking. Quoting from some of the teachings of the rabbis, He said in Matthew 5:43,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  Jesus wants the scribes and Pharisees to rethink what the word “neighbor” means. There is no place for abiding hatred in the hearts of those who believe in Jesus.  

When Jesus chose a Samaritan as the hero of the parable, He struck at the heart of the prejudice in this lawyer. He uncovered his second problem. After he asks the wrong question when he asks, “Who is my neighbor,”  this inquiry leads Jesus to expose his racial rejudice.  Remember who the Samaritans were. About 750 years before Christ was born, the Kingdom of Assyria had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria is both an area in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the capital city.  The Assyrians deported many Jews and brought their own people in to live in the area.  As a result, Jews and Assyrians intermarried, creating what the Jews to the south considered an impure race of half Jewish and half Assyrian. 

When the Jews of the south returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and began to rebuild the Temple, the Samaritans offered to help, but they were regarded as outcasts, a race that had betrayed the pure religion of Yahweh, and their offer to help was refused.  This angered the Samaritans. They decided they would build their own Temple in Samaria. The result was two groups, both claiming to be the true religion. The Jews so hated the Samaritans that they could not even speak civilly of them. They avoided them at all costs. The situation is summarized in the encounter Jesus had with a Samaritan woman in John 4. The woman expressed surprise that Jesus, a Jew, would speak to her because “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). 

The Jews and the Samaritans were not unlike the situation that exists in this country between blacks and whites.  While we have made much progress in race relations since the 1950’s, racial prejudice remains a problem in this country. Among other lessons, this parable teaches us that there is no place in a true Christian’s heart for racial prejudice. 

Jesus strikes at the heart of the lawyer’s prejudice. Notice that while the lawyer acknowledged that the Good Samaritan was the true neighbor to the injured man, he cannot even say the word “Samaritan.” When Jesus asks him who was truly a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves, he responds, “He who showed mercy on him.” Instead of saying the dreaded word “Samaritan,” he refers to him as “He who.” 

The parable’s real point is that this lawyer/scribe has cut himself off from God by several bad attitudes.  He is a legalistic racist, and his bad attitude led him to ask the wrong question, and thus he successfully kept God at arms length.  Is there anything in today’s church analogous to this lawyer’s situation? I believe there is.  Today, you tell persons to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and some might respond, “But what exactly is salvation?” Or, “What does faith really mean?” Some seem to say, “Until my every question is answered to my satisfaction, I cannot believe 

I recall one man in particular years ago who loved to engage me in religious dialogue. He would question the story of Noah and the ark, and I would respond, but then he would go on to question Jonah and the whale, and when I responded to that, he would question the biblical statement that the earth stood still, and on and on we would go. He always had a question or problem keeping him from faith. No matter what I said, he would come back with a “but who is my neighbor” type question.

Here is a strange but wonderful truth. Once we drop our guard and stop asking questions and just look at Jesus as He is revealed in the New Testament and believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, all our questions vanish in the light of faith. Faith brings about a living relationship with the resurrected Christ, and in that relationship, all our questions fade away. There are those who say, “I will not believe until I know – – – until all my questions are answered.” Others have learned that when we drop our intellectual defenses and turn to Jesus Christ with faith even though we have unanswered questions, faith leads to deeper knowledge and understanding of reality than we can ever possess apart from faith. I believe it was Augustine who said, “Some must know in order to believe, while others believe in order to know.” 

Are there questions in your mind keeping you from enjoying a living relationship with Jesus Christ? For the lawyer, it was the foolish question, “Who is my neighbor.” If you hold back faith until you have all the answers, you will never believe. If you believe in Jesus based on the evidence we possess in Scripture, all of life’s basic questions will be answered. 

This lawyer did not really want to know God.  He was hoping to trap Jesus into contradicting the law, and thus discredit Him. I hope none of us have such an attitude. Some involve themselves with church, but who have no real desire to draw near to God. Such an attitude will successfully keep you away from God. 

When I originally planned to preach on this text, I thought I would be focusing on the Good Samaritan.  As I reflected on the parable, it hit me that while the good Samaritan certainly has a key role in the parable, it is the questioning lawyer who emerged as the focal point of this sermon. He was a man who was avoiding God. Because of his insincerity, Jesus allowed him to remain in spiritual darkness. The same will happen to us if we approach God with insincere motives and with prejudice in our hearts. May God deliver us.  


I AM THE TRUE VINE
Warsaw Christian Church, (11/8/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor
Text: John 15:1-11
The first thing to notice in our text is the word “true.” Jesus declares that He is the true vine. The disciples would have understood that the vine is one of the symbols for national Israel. This is clear, for example, in Isaiah 5:1-7. Verse 7 reads, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (see also Jer. 2:21; Hosea 10:1; Psalm 80:8-10). Isaiah laments the fact that the vine of Israel was unproductive, yielding only wild grapes. When Jesus declares that He is the true vine, He affirms that He is the true Israel. In a sense, Jesus replaces Israel as the vine of God, the true vine. Henceforth access to God is to be only through Jesus for Jew and Gentile alike. National Israel assumed they were God’s chosen people, and indeed they were. Now the people of God are those attached to Jesus, the true vine or the true Israel. From the human perspective, it is a radical shift, one for which Israel was unprepared. From the divine perspective, Jesus was to be the true vine from the foundation of the earth.
We find a lot of food for thought in our text from John 15. We notice, first of all, the closeness of this relationship. He is the vine, and we are the branches. What do we know about vines and branches? We know that the life flowing through the vine also flows out into the branches. The life force that exists in a grapevine also exists in the branches which produce the grapes. The relationship between the vine and branch is one of the closest possible intimacy.
Paul expressed this relationship between Christ and His people in a different, more direct manner. He said “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). Christ lives in me, said Paul. Jesus’ very life is present within the soul of the Christian. While we may not be aware of the presence of Jesus in our souls moment by moment, yet His existence in us is so real and so powerful, we cannot be completely ignorant of this new reality.
Jesus tells us that His life will flow into our lives just as the energy of the vine flows into the branch. When and how does this glorious relationship become a reality? Paul gives us one side of the equation when he says that the life he now lives is by faith in the Son of God. It is not a complicated thing. When we hear and believe the good news that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who loves us and who died for us He comes to abide in our hearts.
I want to focus next on the phrase, my words abide in you. Jesus wants us to grow in our relationship with Him through His words. One of the key ways we abide in Him is to abide in His words. And where do we find His words? We find them recorded in Scripture. Jesus once made an astonishing promise, one that could only be made and kept by God the Son. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Matt. 24:35). The providence of God has preserved for us in the text of Scripture the very words of Jesus.
As you read and memorize the words of Scripture and commit yourself to a lifelong study of the sacred text, you are abiding (remaining) in Jesus. His words become our words; we begin to speak in harmony with His words. His thoughts become our thoughts; we begin to think like Jesus. As Jesus put it, we begin to live by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
Another reality revealed in our text is the simple truth that we are entirely dependent upon Jesus, the Vine. We learn in verse 5 that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. This applies to every aspect of life. We may think there are things we can do without Jesus. Can’t I read a book, go to a movie, or shop at Wal-Mart without the help of Jesus? No, you cannot. Even unbelievers benefit from His sustaining grace. As it says in Colossians, “17And He Himself existed before all things, and in Him all things consist (cohere, are held together) Col. 1:17, Amplified Version). If the sovereign Lord decides you will not go to Wal-Mart today, you will not go. Without Him, we are helpless. We can do nothing. At this very moment, He is holding everything together in the universe, including our very lives.
The failure to abide in Christ leads to disastrous consequences. We read in verse 6. “If anyone does not abide in me he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” Some commentaries believe this verse teaches that a Christian can lose his salvation. Others disagree and see those cut off as false professors, who never truly had saving faith in Jesus. I won’t be dogmatic on the point, but I tend to see those cast out as professing believers, or false Christians. Hypocrites, if you will. Whether it refers to true Christians guilty of apostasy or hypocrites, the results are not pleasant. They are cast into the fire. One thing is clear. It is not enough merely to make a profession of faith in Jesus, followed by baptism. That is where the Christian life begins, but if it ends there, it is proof positive that our faith in Jesus is probably counterfeit. Jesus calls His people to an abiding relationship, an ongoing, ever-deepening relationship. The one cast forth as a branch was never in true fellowship with Jesus, as evidenced by the failure to abide in Christ and the fruitless life. The hypocrisy of his faith is revealed in his being cast forth. John explains it this way: “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19). The ones who are cast out prove that their trust in the Son of God was superficial and did not reach into the depths of their souls. Jesus speaks with His usual clarity. If you want your life to count for something in the Kingdom of God (the only Kingdom that has any final importance) your faith in Jesus must lead to an abiding relationship and to the bearing of fruit.
Thus far, our text leads us to ask two personal questions. First, are you connected to the vine by faith so that the life of Christ is flowing within you? Second, if you are connected to the vine and are joined to Christ, is the life of Christ flowing out from you? How much fruit are you producing through your life? Christian fruit embraces many things: it refers to winning others to Christ; to helping believers grow in faith; to reflecting obedience to Jesus in our ethical/moral behavior; to doing good unto others such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, etc. Hagar the Horrible, in the comic strip, sees a sign in a bar that says, “It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” His friend asks him who said that. Hagar replies, “A loser.” Hagar makes a point compatible with our text. Our text teaches that faithful Christians will be successful. They will bear fruit. True Christians are never losers.
And remember, we do not produce fruit by human effort. Our efforts must be rooted in Christ, in faith. Our primary focus can never be, “How can I produce more fruit?” Rather, it must be on abiding in Him and in His words. As we abide in Christ, the fruit will come forth. Paul once declared, “I can do all things (anything) through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Nothing can prevent us from producing fruit for the Kingdom as long as we abide in Jesus. A grape branch attached to the vine produces fruit effortlessly. It does not have to work at producing grapes. It does not exert effort. It just remains attached to the vine. As long as we are attached to Jesus, fruit will be produced in us and by us. We cannot boast, however, about what wonderful fruit we produce. Jesus receives all the glory and honor. We are mere conduits through which He works His will.
An important truth implied in our text has to do with our relationship to the world, referring to those who have no personal faith in the Son of God. The old love song from 1956 by Don Rhondo contained the line “Two different worlds, we live in two different worlds.” We can make a spiritual application because that is precisely the condition we are in as Christians. We live in a world far different than those who do not love the Savior. When we embrace Jesus Christ, we become strangers and foreigners (Hebrews 11:13). Two different worlds, we live in two different worlds.
As we openly live as believers in Jesus, conflict with the world is unavoidable. We read in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. There are only two worlds during this present age. You live either in God’s world as one of His children or in the devil’s world as one of his children. There is no third choice. There is no neutral place to stand. Either Christ or Satan will lead us.
Do not be surprised if non-Christians do not have a high regard for your Christian faith. If you live openly as a disciple of Jesus, abiding in Him and living by His Word, you will not be popular among unbelievers. Jesus expressed it graphically when He said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19).
You can join a church and still be loved by the world. You can be baptized and still be loved by the world. You can confess faith in Jesus and continue to be loved by the world. What you cannot do is abide in Jesus and abide in His Word, bearing fruit for Him and still be loved by the world. If you are living in the wrong world, the consequences will be disastrous beyond words. If you are living and abiding in Jesus’ world, you will live forever in God’s blessed and glorious Kingdom. You will bear rich spiritual fruit. If you remain in Satan’s world, he will work to blind you to the reality of God’s world. He will deceive you with worldly pleasures. To choose God’s world means to take a good look at Jesus and then trust in Him. There is nothing you need to do to come under the influence of Satan’s world. All you need do is put off the decision to embrace Jesus. Which world are you living in this morning? The answer is found in another question. ARE YOU BEARING FRUIT FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD?



HOLY SPIRIT BASICS

Warsaw Christian Church, (11/1/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John Chapters 14-16

After Jesus rose from the tomb, the disciples knew with certainty that He is the Son of God and Savior of the world. We may not always stop to think about how difficult a task they faced after Jesus ascended into heaven. They knew that their primary task was to go into all the world and proclaim the name of Jesus. However, the story they had to tell surely would strike many as unbelievable.  How could they convince anyone that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came down from heaven to redeem us, that His death on the cross was an atonement for our sins, and that He arose from the grave? They also were to proclaim that this divine being was to return to planet earth to bring salvation and judgment to its final conclusion. These are astonishing claims. Who would believe their unbelievable story? I wonder if, in one of their unrecorded conversations, one of the apostles said, “It can’t be done.” 

We are sitting in the Warsaw Christian Church today because no matter how difficult the task seemed, the apostles did indeed proclaim the name of Jesus all over the Roman Empire. The Christian Church, from the small beginnings in the first century, now encompasses 1/3 of the world’s population. How did they do it? More importantly, how can we carry on their mission? 

Jesus gave the apostles what appears to be an impossible task.  In the great commission, they were commanded to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. In our text, we learn that He also equipped them for the task. He promised to send the Holy Spirit into their lives, and the Holy Spirit would empower them to witness unto Him.  These common, ordinary men, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, started a movement that now encircles the globe. 

Okay, they carried out their task aided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. What about us? Acts 2 speaks directly to us. There we are told that those who believe in Jesus, who repent of their sins and are baptized in His name, will receive two wonderful gifts. We receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. If you have met these conditions, you have received the Holy Spirit. You have the same Holy Spirit that empowered the first apostles. The conditions in Acts 2 are simple:  faith in Jesus marked by a repentant heart, and baptism in His name. 

Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit is not the end of the matter. Once we have received the Holy Spirit, we are then commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), or to walk in the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-26).  One way to understand these commands is to think in terms of cooperating with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s power does not manifest itself in our lives automatically.  What is involved in cooperating with the Spirit? 

Since our text speaks of power to witness or to share the Gospel, clearly we must have a desire to see others saved, and a willingness to be used in the evangelistic task of the church. There are two fundamental elements involved in sharing the Gospel. There is a message to proclaim in words (the story of Jesus) and there is the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul explained this very well in 1Corinthians 2:4-5:  And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Paul did preach. He did proclaim the message of Jesus with words, but he understood that words without the converting action of the Holy Spirit are inadequate.  Faith does not come through words, but through words anointed by the Holy Spirit. 

What does this mean for us practically speaking? First, it means we must understand that the Holy Spirit is not given to us so we might experience spiritual thrills. The Spirit is given primarily to enable us to witness with power. If we are unwilling to share our faith, we have no need of spiritual power. I believe a decision is called for here – – – the decision to say to God, “I desire to serve Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  If we have the notion that we can be effective witnesses in our own human strength, we do not understand our need for the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Witnessing is not the only function the Holy Spirit serves in our lives, but that is clearly the emphasis in our text. It is so important that we realize how desperately we need the power of the Spirit in every aspect of our Christian lives. I need the Holy Spirit in order to preach with power. Jack and other teachers need the Holy Spirit to teach effectively. We all need the Holy Spirit to live a Christ-honoring life. 

The self or the ego can, of course, be very religious. Once our human nature learns that there may be a heaven, and there may be a hell, the ego can lapse into a “play it safe mode.”  Maybe I should join a church. Maybe I should be baptized. Perhaps I should serve in some capacity, and just to play it real safe, perhaps give some money. Our unredeemed human nature is not sure what will happen after death, and some take up religion as an insurance policy. We need to recognize that such an approach to religion is alien to true Christianity. This powerless religion is described by Paul in 2Timothy 3:5 where he spoke of those “holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.” 

It would be nice if the Holy Spirit worked automatically. However, we still have the old human nature that is hostile to God, pulling us in a different direction. Paul describes an internal battle taking place in the inner man (Galatians 5:17).  Our old habits and old ways strive for expression, as does the Holy Spirit. We have some say-so about who wins this tug-of-war.   Christian still have the desire and the potential to disobey God, but we also have the desire and the potential to obey God. 

There are several ways to approach this internal struggle. Joan reminded us of an old Indian saying during Bible study a few years ago when this same issue was under discussion. I shared this illustration several years ago but it seems appropriate to repeat it this morning. A Christian Indian likened our situation to two dogs battling within our hearts for control. One is a white dog representing the Holy Spirit and the other is a black dog representing our old sinful nature with its sinful impulses. Whichever dog we feed the most will prevail. If we continually “feed” (yield to, pay undue attention to) the black dog, we will be drawn back into sinful behavior.  If we “feed”  the white dog, we will reflect more and more the life of Christ. 

Paul, if you will, focuses on dog food.  That is, he talks about the behaviors we engage in that feed one dog or the other.  He calls them the works of the flesh (food for the black dog) and the fruit of the Spirit (food for the white dog). In Galatians 5:19-21 he gives us examples of food for the black dog:  fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. The Greek word translated “fornication” refers to all kinds of sexual sin such as pre-marital sex, adultery, lust, and homosexuality. It is sexual behavior contrary to the revealed will of God. Human sexuality is a great blessing within the context of marriage between a man and a woman.  When we yield to other forms of sexual expression, we feed the black dog. 

When we allow jealousy to grasp our hearts and we hold on to it for dear life, we feed the black dog. When we are continually ruled by anger, the black dog grows fatter.  When we are divisive in the church, the black dog wags his tail for joy. The black dog loves it when we assert that our opinions are superior to what God has revealed in Scripture. To put it plainly, when we allow ourselves the “freedom” to give in to our sinful desires, the black dog grows ever stronger while the white dog grows weak. The Holy Spirit is resisted (Acts 7:51) and/or quenched (1 Thess. 5:19).

Paul is frighteningly plain when he concludes this listing of the works of the flesh by saying, “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  It is very difficult for anyone to sidestep these plain words.  It is difficult to explain them away.  If we over indulge the works of the flesh which are pulling us away from God, we have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God. We are saying, as one atheist said, “Better to be free in hell than a slave in heaven.” Is Paul saying that we must follow the rules in order to be redeemed? Is he saying we must learn this list of sins, and then try hard not to commit them? It may seem that way, but that is not his point. He is simply saying that if you are a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led believer in Jesus, you won’t give much leeway to the works of the flesh. You will be too busy serving Jesus. 

If you are one who trusts in Jesus, if your heart’s desire is to follow Him, the Holy Spirit will be at work in your soul, and He will begin to produce power that enables you to witness effectively for Christ. The answer to our human condition is life in the Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit dwelling within the human spirit can lead us away from the works of the flesh and into a life of powerful service in the Kingdom of God. 

Are there specific things we can do that will enable us to walk in the Spirit? Yes, I think there are. First and foremost, the more our lives are focused on Jesus, trusting Him and following Him, the more we expose our hearts to the ministry of the Spirit. Wherever Jesus is, there is the Holy Spirit. Jesus also gave us the church, and the Spirit operates in every church where Jesus is honored and worshipped and glorified. He gave us the Scriptures, a Spirit inspired book, which exposes us to the mind and heart of God. He gave us the Lord’s Table, and when we partake of the bread and cup with humility and faith, the Spirit of God is present. He gave us access to God through prayer, and when we reach out to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit is present to help us pray aright. To this list we can add that Jesus always had compassion for the poor, the lost, the sick. the lonely and the oppressed. As we reach out to such persons with the Good News and with acts of charity and mercy, the Holy Spirit is at work. 

We must also never forget that Paul sets before us a very high ideal. None of us can claim to be so full of the Spirit that God’s power is evident 24/7.  None of us are so free of the works of the flesh that they are totally absent from our lives. The point is this: aim high, and the Spirit of God will be with you. Feed that white dog daily so he will grow ever stronger.  We will never get rid of that black pup entirely until we leave this life, but for heaven’s sake, don’t overfeed him!  

The basic truth of Pentecost is this. Through faith, repentance and baptism the Holy Spirit has come into your life, granting you the power to be an effective witness unto our Lord. Do you have that power? Are you using it? 


ANOTHER LOOK AT MARTIN LUTHER

Warsaw Christian Church (10/25/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Churches around the world today are celebrating the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was over 500 years ago, October 1517, when an Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. I doubt he had any idea at the time that this act would set in motion events that would change the world forever. 

In 1517 Luther did not intend to divide the church.  He wanted to debate certain doctrinal matters which concerned him, particularly indulgences. He still saw himself as a loyal Catholic in submission to the Pope. However, as events unfolded, he took up doctrinal positions, which finally led to his ex-communication by the Pope. The western church was divided into two camps, a division that remains with us today between Protestant Christians and Roman Catholic Christians. 

There is far too much material on Luther to summarize in a single sermon. Numerous books have been written about his life and teaching.  He wrote numerous books and published hundreds of sermons.  That much material is hard to distill into one sermon. Our focus today will be on what most Christians consider his main contribution to the life and health of the church, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Before we examine this fundamental doctrine, I want to make a few additional introductory remarks. 

Luther was not a perfect man. He was a sinner saved by grace who lived in a time of church controversy. Luther said some things about his religious opponents, which I cannot repeat today because they are incredibly offensive. He attacked the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy with extremely abusive language. Luther attacked other Protestants who disagreed with him in the same manner. Sadly, he also said some very hateful things about the Jews, which probably contributed to the anti-Semitism in Germany, which erupted with violence during the Nazi era. I shall say no more this morning about Luther’s faults. He was a human being, and the world he lived in was very different than our world. He does not belong on a pedestal as though he were a saint without fault or blemish. He would never have claimed such a position for himself. 

On the other hand, his positive contributions to Christianity were enormous, and his main contribution will be our focus this morning.  The issue that Luther struggled with was simply this: how can we sinful humans become right with God? We begin with Luther’s description of his own conversion, probably around 1519. He was reflecting on Romans 1:17, For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” He writes, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat persistently upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the Gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. 

Luther realized that God speaks two very different messages to us in Scripture.  He speaks the Law to us, which tells us what God requires of us. The Law thunders at us: DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT. The problem is that we are fallen creatures who do not have the power within ourselves to keep the Law of God. The Law condemns us. Satan whispers to us, “How do you think God will ever approve of you. You have failed Him again and again. You deserve nothing but an eternity in hell.” Luther understood that if all we have is the Law of God, even though His commandments are righteous, we fall so far short of keeping them that we have nothing to look forward to except condemnation. 

The Law of God is the Word of God and must be taken seriously. When we take God’s commandments seriously, we feel nothing but despair. The Law is good.  The problem is that we are not good, and we fail to obey the Law. The Law does two things: first, it condemns us; then, it drives us to Christ and the Gospel. 

Luther struggled mightily to overcome his sins when he was an Augustinian monk, by doing good works, by going to confession repeatedly, by punishing his body in an effort to atone for his sins. All of this effort brought him no peace. As he admits, he hated God. He experienced much soul pain described by the German word “Anfechtung.” No single English word can translate that word. It is a combination of anxiety, fear of condemnation, feelings of being overwhelmed by temptation, of being assaulted by Satan. Finally, in reflecting on Romans 1:17 he heard God’s second message to the human race. He landed on the word “Faith,” and realized that God had revealed a message of good news, the Gospel of Jesus, that those who trust in Jesus are declared to be righteous by God and saved even though they have failed to keep His commandments.  

As Luther matured in faith, he gave us a clear statement of how it is that we who are miserable sinners can find salvation from a righteous God. He spoke of the wonderful exchange that took place when our Lord was crucified. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, took the judgment we deserve. Our sins are all forgiven and can never again condemn us. In addition, the very righteousness of Christ is credited to us. Jesus takes our sins upon Himself, and we take His righteousness in exchange. And what do we contribute to our salvation? Absolutely nothing! We simply believe what God says and place our trust in Jesus. By faith in Jesus alone and what He has done for us, we are welcomed into God’s Kingdom.

Luther likes to define a Christian as a person who is simultaneously a sinner and a redeemed soul. Every Christian looks in two directions. When we look at ourselves, even as redeemed souls, we realize that sin clings to us.  Even our good works are never perfect. I have never preached a perfect sermon. I have never loved my neighbor as I should, with the pure love of Jesus.  I love Marie but do I love her as Christ loved the church? That is how I am commanded to love her and I am quite sure I don’t measure up to that standard. No matter how hard I try to please God, I always feel I have fallen short. Luther stressed that if we look too much at ourselves, we will feel nothing but despair and hopelessness (Anfechtung!). 

As we look away from self unto Jesus, peace floods the soul. Yes, even as a Christian, I am not all that I should be. I could and should be a better preacher. Our love for others should be purer. We spend far too much time selfishly meeting our own needs and ignoring the needs of others. We need to look away from self and focus on Jesus and what He has done for us. The more we focus on Him, the happier we become. Yes, as we often say, “Nobody’s perfect,” but Jesus has credited to us His righteousness.  When God looks at us, He sees our imperfections, but He also sees the righteousness of Christ credited to us. What happens is this: as we focus on Jesus, on His love, on God’s grace, His love begins to overflow in our souls, and our faith grows ever stronger. Our good works and service to Christ become more consistent. We do good works not to earn God’s favor, but because we have already received God’s favor as a free gift through faith in Jesus. So, Luther would tell you to spend much time focusing on Jesus and His Word, and less time thinking about yourself. 

Luther liked to illustrate the Christian life by referring to marriage. He speaks of a prince, the son of the king, who marries a poor, miserable woman who survives by selling herself into prostitution.  The prince falls in love with her and marries her. This woman who once was a miserable low life now becomes the bride of the prince. She receives all the benefits and prosperity that come to the wife of a prince. She no longer lives as a prostitute, but as a princess. Her whole life changes dramatically. She is so thankful for the love of the prince that she wants to share his goods with others. Her life of sin is cast aside, and she now lives to do good to others. 

Luther saw Christians as the prostitutes in the story.  We are sinners who have violated God’s Law repeatedly. Jesus is our prince, and we are the bride of Christ. We learn of His love for us, and we come to believe in that love. We are united to Him in marriage by faith. Because we are married to Jesus (figuratively) by faith, we receive all of His treasures.  We are forgiven, loved by God, and the recipients of eternal life and the many wonderful things that God has prepared to give His people. All of this comes to us by faith and by faith alone. We are so overjoyed and overcome by His love that we want to serve Him the rest of our lives, doing good to others. All of these changes come about by faith alone. 

But, Luther was often asked, “You keep saying we are saved by faith alone. Don’t we have to do good works?” Luther would answer, “Of course!” Although it is not really the case that we have to do good works, but rather we want to. Wherever true faith is present, the love of God flows into our hearts creating in us a desire to do good works. Good works are the inevitable fruit of faith. We don’t discard the Ten Commandments or the commandments of Jesus. Out of gratitude for the salvation given to us freely, we strive to please God by obeying His commandments revealed in the Law. Are we saved by our good works? Do they help improve our status before God? No, even as redeemed souls, we never keep the Law perfectly. We are saved by faith alone.  Our good works add nothing to our salvation, freely given to us by our Lord Jesus. Our failures do not detract from the salvation we have received as a gift. 

We are products of the Reformation. Unlike Luther, we do not hurl insults at Roman Catholics or other Christian groups with whom we do not agree. Most of us have Catholic friends, and some of you may have come from a Catholic background. Do we agree with all the teachings of the Catholic Church? No, but we do believe that Catholics who trust in Jesus are redeemed souls. Indeed, all who have true faith in the Son of God, regardless of their denomination or church affiliation, will be saved. That is the Gospel  Luther preached. 

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Martin Luther for his clear statement of the Gospel. He was an imperfect man as are we all, but he did discover in the pages of Scripture the Gospel, which we still believe today. Salvation comes to us by faith alone, faith in Jesus who was given to us by a gracious heavenly Father. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, and from that faith will flow a life of service to God. 

The world was changed 500 years ago when a Catholic monk nailed 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. We owe a great debt to Martin Luther. We honor his legacy when we honor the Christ in whom he believed. 


PRAYING IN JESUS NAME

Warsaw Christian Church, (10/11/20) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 14:12-17  

I have preached on this text before, but since it comes up next in the Gospel of John, I want to examine this important text once again. As we search the Scriptures on prayer, we encounter a problem. It is seen in two ideas: first, according to Scripture, those who pray are expected to meet certain criteria: We are to be faithful to Jesus, resist sin and temptation, manifest humility, practice forgiveness, etc.  Second, no one meets these criteria with perfection.  How is this problem resolved?  Is anyone really qualified to pray? There is one reason, and only one, which explains why God answers the prayers of morally imperfect people.  It is because they approach Him IN THE NAME OF JESUS.  Jesus taught us this truth in our text. “On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23 NRSV).  This same idea recurs in John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:24,25.  PRAYING IN JESUS NAME IS A CRUCIAL ASPECT OF PRAYING ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD.  

Many misunderstand the word “faith.” Some read in Scripture that God will do whatever we ask if we ask in faith and then assume that faith is a quality within us.  For example, Matthew 21:22 reads, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Some books on prayer run with this single concept and never look back.  Of course, the verse is true, but what does it mean to believe? 

At one time, being influenced by teachers I respected, I thought “to believe” meant to have unwavering confidence that God will do whatever I ask.  The “trick” seemed to be not to blink — never to allow doubt to enter my head.  The problem was I blinked every time! The idea that God must do whatever I ask if I possess a faith that never doubts is not faith IN GOD. It believes in the power of one’s own faith. It is faith in faith, faith in ourselves.  Our access to God is not brought about through the strength of our faith. 

There is a huge difference between having faith in your own faith and faith in the crucified Savior.  To pray with faith is not a matter of having confidence in the power of your own ability to believe.  It means to forget about yourself and approach God based on the fact that all your sins have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus.  Because of the esteem God has for His Son, for Jesus sake, He hears and answers our prayers.  Thus, the heart of faith or “believing” is the confidence we have that God hears us for Jesus’ sake. 

In other words, God answers our prayers on the same basis by which He redeems us.  We are forgiven of our sins and declared to be among the redeemed through the blood of Jesus.  When we hear the gospel story and respond to it with a humble “Yes,” God receives us into His kingdom for Jesus’ sake.  And when we pray, trusting in the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin, God hears us for Jesus’ sake.  If it should enter our minds that God has some other basis for dealing with us — our good deeds, our faithful service, we tried our best, etc. — we have ceased to exercise faith. Or, to put it more precisely, our faith has shifted from God to self, a disastrous shift indeed! 

Yes, we try to be faithful followers of the Master.  Those who are not committed to following Jesus in all that He teaches do not deserve the name “disciple.” If we are true disciples, we strive for perfection; we want to obey Jesus with every word and deed; we want to please God; we aim at holiness, but we always fall short of the divine standard. This is why we must always pray in the name of Jesus, trusting that His blood will continue to atone for every sin and shortcoming.  Luther declared that every good work done by a Christian is tarnished by sin.  We forever fall short of the divine standard. I suppose we can say that preaching a sermon is a good thing. Yet, every time I preach I know I have fallen short of what God expects from me. God never says, “Wow, that was a perfect sermon.” He probably says, “Good try! Better luck next time.” 

The Jews of Jesus’ day assumed they had a relationship with God through Moses and the prophets.  We talked about this back in chapter 8. They believed they belonged to God, but Jesus declared them to be children of Satan, a harsh judgment for anyone to make other than God Himself! Angrily, they huffed at Jesus, “The only Father we have is God himself.” They wanted God, but they did not want Jesus.  Listen carefully to the response of Jesus. “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God … You belong to your father, the devil …” (John 8:41-44).  Jesus cannot be separated from God.  To love and trust God the Father is to love and trust Jesus, and vice versa.  Those who separate Jesus from the Father end up with neither. 

Based on the words of Jesus, we are compelled to say that persons who really know and love God will also know and love Jesus.  Persons who are in touch with the living God will not hesitate to approach Him in the name of Jesus.  True believers grasp the fact that God is holy, and we humans are unholy, and the only way we can be made holy is through the Son of God who atoned for our sins at Calvary.  If Jesus and Calvary are removed from the prayer equation, God is also removed.   

The text in John 8 is clear. It states that those who claim God as their Father but who also reject Jesus have another father, even Satan.  It would be a terrible thing for me to make such a statement based on my fallible human knowledge, but these are the words of Jesus.  Those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior will not hesitate to embrace everything He teaches. 

The implication of this truth for our prayer life is profound.  Will God hear me because I use the right words?  Will He hear my prayers based on my “status” as a pastor, elder, deacon, or church leader?  Does He respond to us because our need is so great?  God cares nothing for our so-called status. Our “position” carries no weight at all with God.  He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).  It is true that God is compassionate and cares about our needs. However, until we learn that our greatest need is to trust in Jesus and approach God in His name, our prayers will not be answered. 

God answers prayers because we are forgiven sinners who believe in the power of Jesus atoning death to bring us into the presence of God.  Never, never, never, say to God, “Hear me for my sake.” It must always be, “Hear me for Jesus sake.” The issue in prayer is not who we are in and of ourselves, but who we are in relationship to Jesus Christ.  We have seen this truth already in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisee expected God to hear his prayer because of his great spirituality.  He was approaching God in his own name.  Any time we expect God to answer our prayers because of who we are, we are on the wrong track. 

To pray with faith in God is to pray to God as we know Him in Jesus Christ.  It is to believe that God alone is the only One in the universe to whom we can give our unqualified trust.  When we pray “in Jesus name,” we are declaring two things: First, that the God in whom we believe is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, we have zero confidence in our personal ability to cause God to act in response to our prayers.  Our confidence rests in Jesus, 100%.  It is His virtue and merit which causes God to respond to our prayers.

I recall a funeral I presided over several years ago, which I have mentioned before. Someone said of the deceased, “If ever anyone deserves heaven, it is Aunt Millie.” I am sure that by human standards, Aunt Millie was a fine person. I am also sure that she fell far short of the divine standard. I have told Marie to advise the pastor who presides over my funeral to avoid such blasphemous statements. I do not expect to go to heaven because I am a pastor who preached umpteen sermons, made lots of pastoral calls, did lots of good works, etc. I expect to go to heaven as a sinner saved by grace.  If anyone at my funeral says I deserve to go to heaven because of my accomplishments, I would like to emerge from my casket and cry out in protest.  

As Christians, we have become new persons in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).  Through the magnificent gift of the Holy Spirit, we have received a new heart, a new mind, a new will, new desires, new hope, new confidence in God, a totally new way of life.  However, we take no credit for these changes, and we recognize that even though God has changed us, we are still far from perfection.  We rely on the blood of Jesus to keep on cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  It is not our name that opens the heart of God.  It is the name of Jesus, and so when we pray, regardless of the words we use, we approach God with the attitude which says, “Father, hear me for Jesus sake.  I come before you in His name.  I trust in His merit rather than my own.  I trust in His atoning blood.” When God sees that our hearts are firmly resting upon Jesus, we can have confidence that He will hear and answer our prayers. 

We do not want to think of the words, “In Jesus’ name” as a magical formula. Some Jewish exorcists learned that lesson the hard way in Acts 19:13-16. They observed Paul doing great things in the name of Jesus, so they decided to give it a try. They approached a man possessed with an evil spirit, and they declared, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out!” The spirit responded that he knew about Jesus and Paul, but then said, “Who are you?” The end result was that the possessed man overpowered the exorcists, and they fled naked and wounded. If we pray “In Jesus’ name” as if the words are a magical “hocus pocus” that works automatically, we will learn that such prayers are ineffective. When we pray “in Jesus name,” it is not the words that are important. Those words are efficacious only when they are spoken by persons who have a strong, personal faith in Jesus.   

Let me share one final example I have used before. If I were to write a check to you for one million dollars on my own checking account and sign my name to the check, and you attempted to cash the check, the bank would either laugh at you or have you arrested.  My name is not worth a million dollars at any bank anywhere in the world. If you had a check for that same amount signed by Bill Gates, the bank would honor that check.  His name is worth a million dollars.

When you pray to God, don’t flaunt your own name before Him. Don’t expect Him to hear you because you are such a wonderful and faithful Christian. Our names are worthless in heaven.  Our names carry no weight at all.  When we ask God to hear us because we are persons redeemed through Jesus Christ, His ears perk up at the name of His beloved Son.  To end our prayers with the phrase, “in Jesus name” is much more than a formula.  When we utter those words with sincere faith in Jesus, God bends low to hang on every word we pray. When we approach God with a sense of total dependence on the person of Jesus, God will hear and answer our prayers.  


ARE YOUR FEET DIRTY?

Warsaw Christian Church, (10/4/20), Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 13:1-20

Why did Jesus wash the feet of His disciples, and what does His action mean for us? Are we to practice foot washing today in the church? Some churches do, but it has never been our practice. I believe there is a spiritual meaning behind the physical act of washing the feet of His disciples. The surface meaning of the text is clear. In ancient cultures where sandals were the everyday footwear and streets were dirty and dusty, servants would often wash the feet of guests.

Jesus assumes the role of a servant. He humbles Himself, revealing a side of God we may not always think about. When I think of God, my first thoughts are of His majesty, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His omniscience. I think of almighty God speaking the universe into existence. I think of His power to part the Red Sea for His people. His intelligence grasps the smallest details so that He knows how many hairs are on each head. I don’t know, and I don’t care how many hairs are on my head, but God knows. When I think of God, I think of Almighty power and infinite wisdom.

And yet, here is Jesus, God incarnate, humbly washing His disciple’s feet. God the Son is not so high and mighty that He refuses the role of a servant. This episode reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Listen to the words Paul uses to describe Jesus. He made Himself of no reputation. He humbled Himself, leaving the glories of heaven to identify with us. His humility finally led Him to the cross where He freely took into His own body the judgment we deserve. I read this episode and conclude that God is approachable. Yes, He is all-powerful, but He also loves us so much that He was willing to suffer for our redemption. The Son of God, in conjunction with the Father, created the heavens and the earth. John declares that in his first chapter. Without Jesus, nothing was made that was made. God cares about us despite our sin and rebellion.

This episode is a wonderful revelation concerning the nature of God. Despite His breathtaking majesty, He is approachable. We can draw near to Him. He wants to forgive us and have a relationship with us. God is willing to serve us and save us even though with a word, He could crush us. I like the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30; Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I can draw near to a God who is gentle and lowly in heart. I can approach a God who wants to give me rest in the midst of my burdens.

There is also a deep spiritual meaning to our text. Notice John 13:10-11: “You are clean, but not every one of you. For He knew who was to betray Him; and that is why He said, not all of you are clean.”  Here He is not speaking of literal dusty feet. He speaks of uncleanness in the soul. Eleven of the Apostles were spiritually clean. They trusted in Jesus. Their sins are forgiven. They were heaven-bound. One of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, was not clean. He was planning to betray Jesus. He followed Jesus as an Apostle, but his faith was bogus. He was more interested in money. He finally betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

As Paul wrote to Timothy, “The love of money is the root of much evil.” Having lots of money can give us a false sense of security. It can lead us away from the Savior. It happened to Judas, and it can happen to us. Beware of being too attached to money and things. Let me share one simple illustration.

His health was in tatters, and his life mired in financial wrangles, but Frank Sinatra refused to stop giving concerts. “I’ve got to earn more money,” he said.

His performances, sad to say, were becoming more and more uneven. Uncertain of his memory, he became dependent on teleprompters. When his daughter, Tina, saw her Father at Desert Inn in Las Vegas, he struggled through the show and felt so sick at the end that he needed oxygen from a tank that he kept on hand. At another show, he forgot the lyrics to “Second Time Around,” a ballad he had sung a thousand times. His adoring audience finished it for him.

“I couldn’t bear to see Dad struggle,” Tina said. “I remembered all the times he had repeated the old boxing maxim. ‘You gotta get out before you hit the mat.’ He wanted to retire at the top of his game, and I always thought he would know when his time came, but in pushing eighty, he lost track of when to quit. After seeing one too many of these fiascoes, I told him, ‘Pop, you can stop now; you don’t have to stay on the road.’ ” With a stricken expression, he said, “No, I’ve got to earn more money…..” Since Sinatra’s death, there has been constant family wrangling over his fortune.  — Tina Sinatra with Jeff Coplon, My Father’s Daughter (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Don’t put much stock in having lots of money. It will never satisfy. Eleven Apostles were men of faith, but men and women of faith still get their feet dirty. Like us, the Apostles were not perfect. They struggled against sin. They were clean through their trust in Jesus, but they needed some regular cleaning. Foot washing, I think,  was a symbolic portrayal of this reality. Paul spoke of our salvation in Titus 3:5: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…”

I find it interesting that Paul used two words to describe our salvation; regeneration and renewal. We are regenerated or born again when we trust in Jesus. We are symbolically cleaned through the act of baptism. We are renewed day by day by the work of the Holy Spirit. I think the Lord’s Supper is analogous to foot washing. We are baptized once when we first come to faith, and then we come regularly to the Lord’s Table to receive further cleansing. Our feet get dirty!

There is a final practical lesson from our text. Since God humbled Himself to redeem us, we ought to follow that example. “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus…” We are to serve others with humility. There is no place for pride in the Christian life. Humility is the soil in which faith grows. Pride is a faith quencher.

When Jesus washed the feet of His apostles, He included Judas. Jesus knew that Judas was planning to betray Him, yet He washes the feet of the traitor. He serves His enemy. Apparently, Judas was unmoved by this act as he carried out his betrayal plans. Perhaps when Jesus washed the feet of His apostles, Judas assumed that this further proved He was a false prophet. Why would the Messiah, the Son of God, stoop to such a lowly act?  Perhaps in Judas mind, this was a sign of weakness. He assumed the Messiah would be strong, not humble.

The lesson for us is clear. The Son of God is not so full of who He is that He cannot stoop to perform a lowly act. We are called to imitate this example. We are to humbly serve our friends, and also our enemies. Have you washed any feet recently?


HOW TO SAVE YOUR LIFE AND GLORIFY GOD

Warsaw Christian Church (9/20/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 12:24-26: Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

Saving our own lives is a significant part of our culture.  We have life preservers, life belts, life rafts, lifelines, and so forth. We even have life insurance, probably a misnomer, because it only pays when you die. All of these life-saving items have their place in the world. However, Jesus spoke somewhat enigmatically in our text. He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much [a]grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

The principle spoken by Jesus is this: real life comes only by death. What does that mean? Jesus used an illustration to help us. A grain of wheat is just a grain of wheat until it falls to the earth and dies. In dying, it bears much fruit.

What is Jesus telling us? I believe we have to regard the phrases “loves his life” and “hates his life” as metaphors.  I think He is speaking to us about priorities, contrasting natural life with spiritual life.  What is your priority in life? For many, the answer is “self.” Many, by their words and actions, show that their main concern is saving their own lives; feathering their own nest; living for self. 

Jesus is the best illustration of this truth spoken of in our text. Because of His death, many souls have found life. He died that others may live. While we may not be called to die physically, as Christians, we are called to die to self. Paul expressed this truth in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul states that he no longer lives as a self-centered man. His old self has been crucified, and now he lives by faith in the Son of God.  He lives, not for his own values, but for Jesus Christ. I wonder how many of us can say, “I am crucified with Christ…Now I live by faith for Him.” I wonder . . .

We don’t catch it in the English language, but in the Greek text, two different words are used for “life.” When Jesus referred to loving his “life,” he used the word “psyche.” It is the life of the mind, the human ego. It refers to the human personality as it thinks and makes decisions. This is the life to which we must die. A summary way to state it is to say that the independent will of man must die and submit to the will of Jesus. The other word for “life” is “zoe.” When joined with “eternal,” it refers to the life of God.  We receive this life through faith in the Son of God, but we experience it more and more as we live our lives following Jesus, consciously submitting our wills to His will. Every time we act independently of the will of God, we lose His blessing. We do not lose our relationship with Him if faith is alive in us, but we forfeit His blessings.

Some Christians are slow in learning this lesson. We face financial decisions — and ignore the will of God.  We face moral decisions  — and ignore the will of God. We face decisions about church — and ignore the will of God.  We face problems — and ignore the will of God. Then we wonder why there is so little joy in our Christian lives. The problem is perhaps that we have not died to self so that we might live for Christ. No one can disregard the will of God without suffering the consequences. There is no true joy and meaning in life outside the will of God.

George Mueller is perhaps an example of a man who knew what it was to be crucified with Christ.  He founded several orphanages in England years ago and ran them by prayer. When asked the secret of his success, he said, “There was a day when I died – – – died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure, died to the approval or blame of my brethren or friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”

I am not suggesting that we must imitate this man of faith. Our calling will no doubt be different than that of George Mueller. I am suggesting that the more we submit to the will of God, the greater will be our joy. I am affirming that the more we ignore the will of God, the greater will be our gloom. Lasting joy and meaning in this life can only be found in dying to self and living daily under the will of God.

To some, it sounds depressing to renounce self and follow Jesus. Our fallen human nature wants to be in charge of our affairs. The idea that we should submit to the authority of another does not appeal to us. As the poet Hensley expressed it, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” I think this attitude is imprinted deeply on the fallen human nature. We want to be in control, but Jesus commands us to submit to His control. He bids us die to self so that we may live for God. Am I doing it? Are you doing it?

There is a stern warning in our text. If you love your life and live in a self-centered manner, you end up losing your life. You are separated from God and from His love and blessings. Such a life indicates that any claim to faith is bogus. On the other hand, if you renounce self and submit to the Lordship of Jesus, that is when you truly find life, a life that is eternal.

Jesus once told a parable (some believe it was an historical event) about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus (see Luke 16). The rich man lived for himself but ended up experiencing the torments of hell. Lazarus was poor, having no self-esteem, but we can assume he did have a love for God. When he died, angels carried him to heaven. The man who lived for self ended up with nothing, while Lazarus, who had very little in this life, ended up with everything.  But aren’t we saved by faith alone? Yes, but true faith is never self-centered.

It seems strange to us, but we need to hear what God is telling us. The road that leads to heaven is named “Self-Denial.” The road that leads to hell is named, “Self-centeredness.” We look around and see much that is good in this life, and well we should because this is a world created by God. However, all we see is marked “temporary,” so we dare not fall in love with that which is temporary. Jesus is forever, and He is the one we must trust, love, and serve.

There are three incentives in our text that should inspire us to take this teaching seriously.  First, Jesus promises that those who follow Him will also have fellowship with Him. Where He is, there we will also be. What is your preference?  Would you prefer to be in the best circumstances in this life, with an abundance of money and all it will buy, but without Jesus?  Or would you prefer being in lowly situations in this life, knowing that Jesus was with you? I hope we all realize that being with Jesus, regardless of circumstances, is worth it. Fellowship with Jesus is worth any cost.

The second incentive is the promise that those who turn away from this life in order to follow Jesus will receive life eternal. Of course, as I have often said, eternal life is a gift from the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I am merely repeating what I have said in the past. Those who trust Jesus also follow Him, and He leads them to eternal life. He is not saying, “follow me and earn eternal life.” I believe He is saying, “Follow me and thus prove the reality of your faith. Your faith will save you.”

Finally, we are encouraged to take this teaching of self-denial seriously in this final statement in our text. “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Permit me to tell a fairy tale to illustrate this point. Pretend you are in a country ruled by a kind and beloved king. The king has a beloved son. You are one of the servants to the king’s son. One day while you and the prince are walking in the woods, bandits appear and take you and the prince captive. Ransom is demanded, but as time goes on, the prince becomes ill. You tend to his needs; you deprive yourself of limited rations and share them with the prince. You wipe his brow; you comfort him, you tend to his every need. One day you realize you have an opportunity to escape, but the prince is too weak to go with you. So you stay with him and continue to tend to his needs. Finally, the king’s men discover where the prince is hidden, and he is rescued, along with you.

The king will be ecstatic to have his Son back, but as he learns what happened during the captivity, he will heap honor upon you because you served his Son. You hear the king say, “This servant cared for my Son; nursed him when he was near death. I shall honor him even as I honor my Son.” (Thanks to C. H. Spurgeon).

In the same manner, those who serve the Son of God during this life will be honored by the Father. I like to imagine a scene like this in heaven. “Step aside, angels.  Make way! Here comes one who served my Son. Yes, he was not perfect, and he did not understand everything, but he strove to be faithful to my Son. He was not ashamed to serve Him. Now I will honor him.  I will heap rewards upon him, and he shall reign in heaven with my Son.”

Jesus suggested something along these lines in Matthew 25 in the final judgment scene. “I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat . . . Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” When we serve others, we serve Jesus. And as we honor the Son of God by serving Him, the Father will honor us because we have served His Son. I am not sure precisely what such honor will bring to us, but wouldn’t you like to find out?

Bottom line; live for Jesus, not for yourself. We know that everything we live for in this life will be taken from us at death. The one thing we have in this life that will last forever is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As we serve Him, we experience life abundant. As we serve ourselves, we end up with nothing. Make the right choice.


MY NEIGHBOR LAZARUS

Warsaw Christian Church, (9/13/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 11 and 12:1-11

I was a neighbor and friend of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. They were wonderful people, always willing to step in to help a neighbor. Those sisters were terrific cooks.  An invitation to dine at their house was always eagerly accepted. The family was especially close to a religious prophet by the name of Jesus. I had never met this prophet, but Mary, Martha, and Lazarus raved about Him. They even believed Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. I hoped I would be able to meet this Jesus someday and decide for myself if He was as wonderful as the sisters and Lazarus made Him out to be. We Jews had believed in a coming Messiah for thousands of years.  Many of us were skeptical that He would ever come after so much time had passed.  

One day Lazarus took sick.  I went to visit him, and I thought he looked bad. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was very ill. I think they thought He could heal Lazarus, but several days went by, and Jesus did not come. A few days later, Martha came by to announce tearfully that Lazarus was dead. They prepared him for burial, and I helped carry him to his tomb. Everyone was in tears because Lazarus was a fine man and a good friend. The tomb was a cave in the side of a hill.  After laying Lazarus to rest, I help place the stone over the cave opening. 

It was about four days later when I heard lots of talking and weeping. Jesus had finally come, and a large crowd had followed Him to the tomb of Lazarus. The weeping and wailing were heard for miles. I was curious about what He would say, so I stayed within earshot. Martha ran out to meet Jesus, but she seemed a little annoyed. I heard her say to Him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus tried to console her by saying, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha responded with annoyance in her voice, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last days.” At that point, I heard Jesus make a remarkable statement. He said, “Then Jesus stared intently at Martha and asked, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” “Do you believe this?”  I had no idea what He was talking about. “I am the resurrection?” What could that possibly mean? “He who believes in me will never die?” That statement really confused me. Everyone has to die, don’t they? While I was reflecting on these things, I heard Martha say clearly, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” I had a lot of respect for Martha, and if she believed this Jesus to be the Messiah, perhaps it was so. 

If this Jesus is the Messiah, then He can bring about the resurrection of the dead. Those who believe in Him will die in a sense, but they will live forever in another sense. If you are going to live forever, I guess death has no meaning. Our people had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years.  It was hard to believe that now, in my lifetime, He had finally come. Martha not only said He was the Christ, the Messiah, but also the Son of God. That put me in a state of pure shock, and I wondered what would happen next. 

Then I saw Mary emerge from the house, and she came to Jesus. She, too, seemed a bit irritated.  She fell at His feet and repeated what Martha had said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Tears were streaming down Mary’s face. All the mourners were weeping, and when I looked at Jesus, He too was weeping. Some in the crowd murmured against Jesus. I overheard one person say, “He opened the eyes of a blind man, could he not also have kept this man from dying?” 

You may have trouble believing what happened next. I believe it because I was there. I saw with my own eyes the most astonishing thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Jesus stepped to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. He prayed out loud so we could hear. He thanked God for hearing Him, and then He said that He knew God always heard Him.  He was praying for the sake of those gathered at the tomb, that they might believe He had come from the Father. He stood before the cave and said, “Remove the stone.” Martha was puzzled by this request and reminded Jesus that Lazarus had been dead for four days, and by now, there would be a strong odor of death. Nevertheless, the stone was removed. It grew very quiet as we all wondered what was going to happen. The silence was broken by Jesus, who spoke loudly and said, “Lazarus, come out.”  I thought, “But Lazarus cannot hear Him.  Why speak to a dead man?” I stared at the tomb opening, and suddenly a figure appeared bound in grave clothes. It had to be Lazarus because no one else was in that tomb, or could it have been some kind of trick? Then Jesus said, “unbind him,” and when the grave clothes were removed, it was definitely Lazarus. I would know that face anywhere.  We had been neighbors for years. Lazarus, dead four days, emerged alive from his tomb at the command of Jesus. 

This was a life-changing event for me. What kind of a man can speak the word, and a dead man emerges alive from his tomb?  Mary and Martha were correct.  Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. There was no other adequate explanation. I became a disciple of Jesus from that day forward. He indeed was the resurrection and the life.  I didn’t understand it all, but I did come to believe that a day would come when He would speak my name and call me out of death to life. I believe He will do the same for all who believe in Him. Many others who were present on that day came to believe in Him. 

What happened next is as hard to believe as Lazarus coming back to life. Some who saw the miracle ran to tattle to the Pharisees and reported what they had seen. The Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin, and it was reported that they were plotting to kill Jesus. They were afraid Jesus would win many disciples, and they would lose their following. I guess they assumed the whole event was a fake, but they feared gullible people would believe it was a miracle. I guess I can understand why people who were not there would doubt the story, but these tattlers saw Lazarus step out of his tomb alive. Unbelievable that they would doubt their own eyes. 

Caiaphas was the high priest that year. It was reported that he made a prophetic statement without realizing it. He thought it better that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish. I guess he feared that if Jesus grew in popularity, the Romans would react with swift punishment. After all, many of Jesus’ followers referred to Him as the King of the Jews.  The Romans did not like that. It sounded like Jesus was in competition with Caesar. Jesus would indeed die for the people, but not in the way envisioned by Caiaphas. So, the Jewish leaders began to plot the murder of Jesus. 

Jesus had to refrain from moving about openly, at least for a time. It was six days later when Jesus came again to Bethany. Mary and Martha planned to have a dinner for Jesus, and I was fortunate enough to be invited.  As I said earlier, Mary and Martha were wonderful cooks. Lazarus was there too, and I had hoped to be able to ask him what it was like to be dead and then return to life, but the opportunity never came. Mary was overcome with gratitude for what Jesus had done.  She took some expensive perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus and then dried His feet with her hair. 

One of the disciples (I believe his name was Judas) was livid with anger at Mary. He thought her act of kindness was a waste of money. He thought the perfume should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. I later learned his real motive.  He was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and used to skim off money for himself.  That perfume could have brought in 300 denarii, which is almost a year’s wages. Judas thought he could dip into the moneybag again, and no one would notice. Jesus shut him up in a hurry.  He said, in effect, there will always be poor people, and if you are concerned about them, you should help them.  Judas did not understand that Jesus knew what was going on. He knew that Judas had his hand in the money jar. 

Jesus then said something that disturbed me.  He declared that Mary had anointed Him for burial.  Later I understood what He meant, but at the time, I assumed He would usher in the kingdom of God on earth.  How could anyone kill the Son of God? Well, the Jewish leaders not only wanted to kill Jesus, but they also thought they better put Lazarus in the grave once again.   Hopefully, this time to stay put! Many of the common folks wanted to see this man Lazarus who had been raised from death. The story of Lazarus was gaining many new disciples for Jesus, so he had to be killed as well. 

All of this led me to a single conclusion. Sin and rebellion against God causes people to act stupidly.  The idea that the way to solve a perceived problem is to kill two innocent people is absurd. If the Pharisees thought their message was superior to the message of Jesus, why not win over the people by persuasion? When they plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus, to me, that was a sure sign that they could not reasonably make their case. 

I leave you with this brief word. Jesus said to Mary, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Mary stated her faith by saying, “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God . . .” If that is the simple faith of your heart, one day we will meet in heaven. 


JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Warsaw Christian Church (9/6/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 10:1-23

Our text is full of profound statements regarding Jesus, our Savior, and Lord. In my opinion, John’s Gospel is the most spiritually profound of the four Gospels. Again and again, John drives home the truth that Jesus Christ is the only Savior, and that is the thrust of our text today. We begin with the statement that Jesus is the only door that leads to salvation. Others claim to be able to lead us to the Father, and some claim to have found God apart from Jesus. Of this latter group, Jesus declares them to be thieves and robbers. He firmly states that He is the only door that leads to eternal life. We are compelled to conclude that Jesus is either the most arrogant man who ever lived, or He is the Son of God to whom we must listen. 

But how do we know if we have truly entered the right door? Jesus clarifies. His sheep are those who listen to Him and who follow Him. This desire to hear and obey only the voice of Jesus is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. His sheep will not listen to other voices. So, when Buddha says we must follow the four noble truths and the eightfold path, the sheep of Jesus do not listen to him.  When Mohammed declares that He has found a new and better way to God, the sheep of Jesus do not listen.  When the Hindu says there are many gods, the sheep of Jesus do not listen. Jesus speaks to us in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit.  His sheep recognize His voice, and they will not listen to any voice that contradicts the words of Jesus. Jesus refers to all others who claim to know God apart from Him as thieves and robbers. They would rob you of eternal life. 

We have heard these claims of Jesus often, and sometimes we do not stop to think about how amazing they are. Some of those who first heard these words thought Jesus was demon-possessed or raving mad.  Others, having seen the opening of the eyes of a blind man, the story we looked at last week, wonder how a mad man could accomplish such an amazing miracle. Jesus does not give us the option of referring to Him as a great man, a wonderful prophet. He does not claim to be a mere man or a human prophet. He claims to be the Son of God, and everyone who hears His voice must make a choice. We cannot say that Jesus is one of many doors that lead to God, a claim made by many today. He clearly and emphatically declares that He alone is the door that leads to eternal life. Make sure you have entered that door. And when you hear voices that conflict with Jesus, make sure you close your ears. 

Jesus drives home this truth even deeper by declaring that ultimately there will be but one flock (church) and one shepherd. I think He speaks here of the invisible church made up of all those who have been born anew through faith in Jesus. The visible church, in all of its denominational manifestations, is never perfect.  The one true church on earth sought by many does not exist.  There is no perfect church, only a perfect Savior. Do not count on this church or any church to serve as a guarantee of eternal life. Only Jesus can make such a guarantee.  Make sure you have true faith in Him. 

Jesus then explains what He intends to do for His sheep. He has come to bring us abundant life. This statement has implications both for the present and for the future. Ultimately, the abundant life He promised we receive after death. But He also makes this present life more abundant. He watches over His sheep with care. He protects us, and He blesses us.  Our earthly life is never perfect due to the presence of sin, but it is far more abundant with Christ than without Him. As the hymn writer expressed it, what we receive in this life is but a foretaste of the glory divine we shall receive in eternity.  

The final fulfillment of this promise of abundant life we receive after death.  In eternity His sheep will know abundant life in a way that is not possible in this life. It will be a life without pain, tears, or death. It will be a life overflowing with the blessings and the love of God. It will be abundant beyond anything we can imagine at present. Adam and Eve had a taste of this abundant life in the Garden of Eden. Before sin entered the picture, they possessed eternal life in a beautiful paradise. I believe the last paradise will be even more impressive. We shall know abundant life without end. 

In our text, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. This is the heart of the Gospel message. No other religious leader has ever made such a claim. Moses gave the 10 Commandments, but he had no authority to die for the redemption of his people. Mohammed gave the Koran, but he had no power to die for the salvation of his people.  Buddha gave us principles to live by, but he had no authority to die for the redemption of his people. Only Jesus, the Son of the Living God, had the power and authority to die for the salvation of His people. Like a shepherd who may lose his life in protecting his sheep from wild animals, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for us, His sheep, redeeming us from the power of Satan. 

Jesus makes it clear that no one has the power to take His life. Had He wanted to escape the cross, He could have done so. He could have called on legions of angels to deliver Him (Matthew 26:53). He willingly went to the cross for our sakes.  He gladly took upon Himself the judgment we deserve. All who believe in the power of His death to save are forgiven of their sins and granted a place in heaven. He adds that not only does He have the power to give His life. He also has the power to resurrect Himself.  When He rose from the grave, the case against us was closed. Our sins are forgiven, and the gift of eternal life is ours. As Jesus Himself stated it, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life (John 5:24).” Those who hear and believe the words of Jesus will never face condemnation, but pass from death to life. 

As Jesus spoke in this manner, there was division among Jews. Some charged Him with insanity, others with demon possession. They could not comprehend how any human being could make such claims. What sane man would claim to have the power to restore life to Himself? What normal person would claim to have the authority to die for His people and thereby redeem them? Who can believe such nonsense? Others listened to His words but also looked at His deeds.  They wondered, could a demon-possessed man open the eyes of the blind? They had never seen or heard of a man born blind having sight restored. I once worked with a man born blind. Bryan had two glass eyes and had no concept of what it was to see. We once asked him if he saw when he dreamed. No, his dreams were all in sound, not sight because his brain was not wired to see. 

Some had sense enough to weigh the evidence.  Jesus said some remarkable things, but also performed a remarkable miracle which those present had witnessed.  They concluded that no insane or demon-possessed man could open blind eyes, and many believed in Him. 

This is the same issue we all face.  I can recall speaking with people who ridiculed the idea of a divine Savior. Popular books are written today that dismiss the biblical accounts of Jesus as myth. Those who hear and believe are born again, and begin to experience that abundant life that leads to eternity. I hope none of you have any reservations about Jesus.  I pray none of you harbor doubts about the meaning of His death and resurrection. I encourage one and all to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. There is no other way. 

This section of Scripture is reminiscent of John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.” There is only one way to receive eternal life, one source of knowledge about God, and that is Jesus. The world still seeks its humanistic, political Saviors— its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots, its Republicans or Democrats – – – only too late do they learn that they are thieves and robbers, with no ability to create utiopia. Jesus is correct; it is not the Christian doctrine of heaven that is mythical, but the humanistic dream of creating a just world.  If you trust the politicians to save the world, you will be disappointed. If you trust Jesus, you will enter life abundant, and finally, life eternal. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who alone will take care of His sheep, now and forever. 


WHO IS YOUR GOD?

Warsaw Christian Church, (8/30/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 8:31-47; 56-59

Today I am backtracing to Chapter 8 in The Gospel of John. Again there is too much material in our text to do justice to every verse.  There will be some repetition from things said earlier in this series. John works hard to drive home the point concerning Jesus identity, and He repeats specific critical ideas.  I want to examine three main points this morning. One is dealing with the nature of truth; second,  we will explore the question of Satan as a “god.” And finally, Jesus’ notable and oft-repeated “I am” statement.

In John Chapter 8, Jesus engages in considerable dialogue with those who opposed Him. Some were impressed with Jesus and made a superficial commitment to Him. They seemed to believe in Him. However, when He explained what believing in Him meant, they backed off. He informed them and us that a true disciple of Jesus is one who remains attached to His word. Only those who base their thinking on the words of Jesus will know what truth is (8:31ff).

I have seen the words, “The truth shall set you free” in several universities. The idea seems to be that a passionate search for truth will set you free. The context of Jesus’ words in our text from John 8 suggests something very different. Only as we base our thinking on the words of Jesus shall we know the truth that sets us free. In the academic world, an underlying assumption is that we must set aside all presuppositions in the pursuit of truth.  Jesus says otherwise. In the Christian worldview, God is the foundation for truth, and His revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ is the only foundation upon which we can come to know the truth. 

Pilate said at the trial of Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus Christ had said “I am the truth.” Pilate could not see the truth because he did not believe in Jesus.  Those who do believe in Him are exposed to the ultimate truth. Why are their laws in nature, making science possible?  Because Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, placed these laws in nature at the dawn of creation.  Why do the laws of logic operate, enabling us to better grasp truth? Because the Creator is a God of order and logic.  How do I know for sure that trusting in Jesus will result in my eternal salvation? Because Jesus said so repeatedly, and He is the Son of God and therefore is incapable of lying to us. The point is this: when you pursue truth in science or religion or any other discipline, you must see Jesus as the foundation for all truth.  You will never understand this world in which we live apart from faith in Jesus. Only as we follow Him and abide in His Word will we find truth that genuinely liberates.    

In the next section of our text, the question of fatherhood arises. The opponents of Jesus declare that Abraham is their father. Then they add the idea that God is their Father. Jesus challenges both claims. If they were true sons of Abraham, they would recognize who Jesus is.  Instead, they are plotting to kill Him. Then Jesus hits them hard, declaring that their real father is the devil. Since Jesus came from God, if God were indeed their Father, they would recognize Jesus as His Son. They would listen to the words of Jesus.  They would find that truth, which sets one free. 

There is in this section an important principle we dare not miss. Every human being on the face of the earth has a spiritual father. Our spiritual father is either God, or Satan. There is no third choice. God is your Father if, and only if, you have true faith in His Son. Jesus opponents believe they are godly people. They assume the God of Israel is their Father. Jesus says their father is the devil. Why?  Because they do not believe in Him. 

I have heard many people over the years claim that God is their Father, but they reject Jesus as God’s only begotten Son. Jesus, never being one to be politically correct but always willing to tell it like it is, affirms that they are in Satan’s camp. You choose to live under the Fatherhood of God by faith in Jesus.  You need not choose Satan. All you need do is refuse to trust in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and you are automatically in Satan’s camp. Some would say, “I do not believe in either God or Satan.” It does not matter.  You are still in Satan’s world. 

Some of our political leaders promote the idea that whatever your religion – – – Christian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu etc. — we all worship the same God under different names. Jesus declares that this is not the case. He said emphatically in John 8:24: “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” To die in your sins is to be condemned. He does not say, “Unless you believe in me or some other suitable god” Those who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, will die in their sins. Those are the words of the most admired and trusted Man who ever lived. Either he is an arrogant bigot, or He is the Son of God whom we must believe. 

There are those in the world who claim to believe in God but who lack faith in Jesus. They number in the millions. There are people here in Benton County who would say, “I believe in God,” but who give no evidence of faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ words are clear. A belief in God divorced from Jesus Christ will not save anyone. I can never forget the controversy that resulted when a resolution I wrote was presented to our former denomination, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in 1987. The resolution asked the Assembly to affirm that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ and that apart from Him there is no salvation. It was never approved by the General Assembly. I can still hear some of the comments made at that Assembly: God is known in Islam, God is known in Buddhism, we must not offend our brothers and sisters who believe in God but not in the exclusive claims of Jesus. In other words, Jesus Christ cannot be believed when He declared that none are able to come to the Father except through Him. We cannot trust  Him when He claims that those who do not believe in Him will die in their sins. To say that God can be known apart from Jesus Christ, you must reject His very own words, something I am not willing to do. What about you? Are you wanting to be politically correct and affirm the saving virtue of all religions, or are you ready to stand with Jesus? 

Jesus further affirms and clarifies His exclusive claims as the dialogue with unbelieving Jews continues. His enemies now accuse Jesus of being demon-possessed (8:48). Jesus declares that those who keep His Word will never see death, which enraged His opponents. They remind Jesus that Abraham and all the prophets died.  They ask, “Are you greater than our father Abraham?” Jesus declares that Abraham saw the coming of Jesus and rejoiced. This implies that Jesus knew Abraham.  This shocks His opponents. They wonder, how could a man not even 50 years old have known Abraham?  Jesus next words drove His enemies to pick up stones that they might stone Him to death as a blasphemer. Note these words of Jesus carefully: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews realized that Jesus used the very words that God used when He revealed  Himself to Moses in the burning bush. Moses asked God to reveal His name so he could tell the people the name of the God who sent Moses to deliver Israel. God said to Moses in Exodus 3, “Tell them “I am” has sent you.” When Jesus used God’s name to identify Himself, the Jews understood He was making Himself equal with God, and thus they took up stones, but Jesus disappeared and spoiled their plans. 

When both the Father and the Son described their reality with the simple phrase, “I am,” what did that mean? We can see the implications by comparing those words with what we might say about ourselves.  I can say today, “I am,” but I also have to say there was a time when I was not. Only an eternal being can say of Himself, “I am,” period. There has never been a time when the Father or the Son did not exist. There will never be a time when the Father or the Son will cease to be. They are forever, “I am.” “I am” means simply, “I exist.” There was a time when Abraham did not exist, but there has never been a time when Jesus did not exist. Go back in time, and when speaking of me, you will reach a time when you must say, “Richard did not exist then.” You can go back to the very dawn of creation, and even then, Jesus says, “I am; I exist.” There is no past tense or future tense with God. God just “is.” 

Jesus is no mere prophet. He is truth incarnate. If you want to understand the nature of truth, begin with Jesus. He accuses His enemies of worshipping the devil based on their refusal to believe in Him. The dialogue ends with Jesus applying to Himself the eternal name of God. These three remarkable claims cause us to answer the question “who is your God,” by affirming with Thomas, “Jesus is my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is not your Lord and your God, guess who will step into the gap.  

I close with a quick review of the three main points. First, all truth is centered in Jesus Christ, who is the truth. You will never know TRUTH until you surrender your heart to Him. Second, those who will not surrender to Jesus have another “god,” the god of this world, Satan. There is no third choice. We either trust in Jesus, or we come under the control of Satan. Finally, in our text, Jesus ascribes to Himself, the very name of God: “I AM.” Those who believe these truths enter into a relationship with God which will never end. 


ONCE I WAS BLIND, BUT NOW I SEE

(A first-person sermon)

Warsaw Christian Church (8/23/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 9

I was born blind.  I grew up in a sightless world.  I never saw a sunset, or a tree, or a flower.  I had no idea what it even meant to see. I could feel things or smell things, but when others spoke of colors, I had no idea of what that meant. I would hear people talk of the blue sky or the beauty of a red rose, but I had no concept of color. My world consisted of touch, taste, and smell. 

Sometimes when children saw me coming, they would set obstacles in my path. They would laugh when I stumbled and fell. I was unable to work and spent my life sitting by the side of the road begging. I did not have any other choice. 

One day something very unusual happened. I was begging at my usual location when a group of men came by. I overheard them talking.  Some in the group wondered if my parents or I had sinned, resulting in my being born blind. The man who was the leader said that my blindness had nothing to do with my sin or that of my parents. That was a common idea in my day. If you experienced some severe physical limitations, it was surely punishment for sin. I used to wonder the same thing. What terrible sin had my parents committed that I was born blind?  And why was I being punished for their sins? 

The group leader made it clear that sin had nothing to do with my condition. He described it as an opportunity for God to work in my life. Our Scriptures do not really teach that every ailment is a punishment from God.  For example, “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). Our own Scriptures teach us that God does not slap us down every time we sin.  If that were the case, we would all be slapped down daily. 

What happened next was very unusual. The leader spat on the ground and made some mud.  He placed the muck in my eyes and instructed me to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. I must tell you that for a moment, I thought, “Surely, this man is a charlatan.” What possible good can come from such strange instructions? I wondered if I was the butt of another cruel joke.  Yet, there was something very compelling about this man.  I decided to do as He said, and when I obeyed His instructions, I could see!  For the first time in my life, I understood what people meant by “sight.” The forms, shapes, and colors were spectacular.  Those of you born with sight have no idea how magnificent it is to move suddenly from a life of darkness into a seeing world. My heart sang for joy. 

What happened next was either weird or funny, depending on your point of view. Neighbors who had known me as a blind man could not believe that my sight was restored.  Some said, this man looks like the blind man, but it must be someone else. I assured them I was the former blind man, and naturally, they wondered how I was suddenly able to see. I had learned that the leader of the group was named Jesus. I explained that He was the one who put mud in my eyes and had me wash at the Pool of Siloam. I explained that I thought it was a strange procedure, but I did as He said, and now I can see. 

My neighbors thought the Pharisees should look into this, and so they took me before them. I explained again how my sight was restored. They latched onto the idea that this took place on the Sabbath. They quickly concluded that Jesus must be a sinner because he made mud and performed a healing on the Sabbath. Instead of rejoicing in the miracle wrought on me, they concluded that the healing could not have come from God. Sinners cannot work miracles, they said. They demanded to know, “Where is this Jesus?” I told them I did not know where he was. 

Then the Pharisees began to argue among themselves. Some were certain that Jesus was a sinner, while others were not so sure. Since they couldn’t resolve their disagreement, they turned to me and asked, “What do you say about this Jesus?” I responded, “He is a prophet.” The enemies of Jesus were still confused. They sought out my parents and demanded to know if I was indeed their son and if I had been born blind.  My parents were a little afraid of the Pharisees.  They knew that anyone who professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah was expelled from the synagogue. They said, “Yes, he is our son, and yes, he was born blind, but he is also of age, so ask him about the miracle.” They did not want to commit themselves to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, so they passed the buck back to me. 

So, I was summoned to appear before the Pharisees. They demanded that I give glory to God and state openly that Jesus is a sinner. The fact is, I knew nothing about this Jesus, and so I said, “I do not know if he is a sinner. All I know is that once I was blind, and now I see.” Then they demanded to know what Jesus had done to open my eyes. I was getting frustrated at this point and responded, “I have already told you what he did. Why do you want me to repeat it?  Are you interested in becoming his disciples?” I guess I should have thought before I spoke! 28Then they hurled insults at me and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 

 I was getting a little angry, and so I said, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Well, once I confessed my belief that Jesus came from God, they had enough of me.  They replied, “You are steeped in sin from birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw me out of the synagogue. 

I decided to see if I could find this Jesus, who opened my eyes. When I found Him, He asked me if I believed in the Son of Man. I responded, tell me who he is, and I will believe in Him. He looked into my eyes and said, “I who speak to you am he.” After the miracle He performed, and after listening to the self-serving words of his enemies, I fell before him and worshipped him. I did believe he was the Messiah, the Son of Man. 

Some of the Pharisees were eavesdropping and heard what Jesus said, and saw me on my knees before him.  Then Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?  Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

This is what I understood from the words of Jesus. If you think you are wise in spiritual matters, so knowledgeable that you turn away from Jesus, you are spiritually blind. Those who admit their spiritual ignorance and turn to Jesus for help are the ones who see. There is a word of warning here.  Do not let your “wisdom” make you blind to who Jesus is.  I came to understand and believe that He is the Son of God. His words and actions convinced me. Here is my word of caution to you. Those who are wise in their own eyes can always think of questions that hinder faith. “Prove to me that Jesus is the Messiah; Isn’t it narrow-minded to say that Jesus is the only Savior? Why should I believe what is written in an ancient book?” There is no end to the questions the wise can think up to support their unbelief. They think they see, but they are blind.

My final word to you is this: don’t be wiser than Jesus. That will only lead to your condemnation. If you admit your spiritual blindness and turn to Jesus for help, He will open your spiritual eyes and enable you to see and understand that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.  He will lead you to the heavenly Father and everlasting life. That is what He promised to all who believe in Him. I trusted in His words. Do you?  


I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Warsaw Christian Church, (8/16/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 8:12-13 (and John 8:14-30)

Jesus declares in our text, “I am the light of the world.”  What does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world? He is certainly not natural light.  He did not glow when He was on earth. We understand that “light” is used figuratively in this text, and it is a powerful image. For one thing, this image is used to declare His deity. We read in 1 John 1:5 that God is light. Jesus, the Son of God, is also light. Like Father, like Son, we say. When we think of light, several functions come to mind. Light reveals, light guides, light dispels darkness. All of these functions apply to our Savior. Furthermore, light is self-authenticating. It just “is.” 

How do you prove that a flashlight works? You simply turn it on. The light shines out and is visible to all. You don’t have to engage in philosophical arguments to prove the presence of light. Wherever light is present, it just is. No further proof is needed.  When Jesus enlightens the soul, you know His presence.  Like a huge searchlight shining in the night sky, His presence cannot be hidden. You look the same when others look at you, but inside your soul, the light of Jesus is shining.  John had said back in Chapter One, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (1:9). 

The fact that Jesus enlightens everyone raises a question. Why do so many reject Him? Just as you can close your eyes to natural light, you can close your spiritual eyes to the light of Jesus. Scripture teaches this plainly in the following verses. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). When men become enamored with evil, they shut out the light of Christ. When we turn from evil and turn to Jesus, our Savior, the light comes on. Those lacking faith in the Son of God become easy prey for Satan. Paul writes, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). 

When we encounter the living Lord Jesus by faith, the light is turned on. He reveals things to us – – – things we did not see before. He lights up our soul and shows us new things.  Satan loses his power to blind us to the truth. When the light of Christ shines in the soul, the darkness of Satan retreats.  

When Christ lights up the soul, one of the first things we see is our sinfulness. Before I became a Christian, I thought of myself as a decent fellow, not perfect, but an honest person. When the light of Christ shined into my soul, I realized how deeply I had sinned against God. When Christ’s purity shines into our hearts, the blackness of our deeds stands out in stark contrast. This is why true Christians always feel they fall short of the divine standard.  The reason we think that way is because we do fall short, and the indwelling presence of the light of Christ reveals this reality. 

This constant revealing of our dark side would make us feel miserable were it not for a second revelation Christ brings to us. The light of Jesus also reveals to us the forgiveness of sins. He does not merely reveal the blackness of our souls without also revealing to us that all our sins are forgiven. These truths are written in Scripture, of course, but when Christ enters the soul, His light shines brightly on these truths. The written Word becomes alive because of the presence of the Living Word – – – Jesus, the light of the world. 

Light not only reveals, but it also guides.  We have all had the experience of losing power and searching for candles or a flashlight. What a relief it is to find light when all is darkness. The light enables us to see our way around instead of stumbling over furniture. If you have ever stubbed your toe in the dark, you know how important the light can be. Jesus, the light of the world, guides His people.  When we walk by faith, we can count on His guidance. We may not hear a voice from heaven.  We are not always conscious of His guidance. The promise in our text is clear: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As we learn His commandments in Scripture and seek to follow them, He will guide us every step of the way, even when we are unaware of that guidance. 

One of my favorite texts is found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” We are told plainly not to rely on our intelligence and understanding. I like the way Luther translated verse 6. “ sondern gedenke an ihn in allen deinen Wegen, so wird er dich recht führen.” Think of God first in whatever you are doing, and He will guide you aright. If that was true under the Old Covenant, how much more can we count on Christ’s guidance under the New Covenant? He is the light that shines on our path as we live by faith. 

Light reveals; light guides. How blessed are all those in whom the light of Christ abides! Sadly, many who heard Jesus utter these words refused to believe Him. The Pharisees said to Jesus, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”  Once anyone draws that conclusion about Jesus, the light goes out. Jesus reminded them that in the Law, the testimony of two witnesses was accepted as true. Yes, He was testifying about Himself, but He also had a second witness, namely His Father. This confused the Pharisees, who asked him where His father was. Jesus was speaking of the heavenly Father.  He then made a simple statement: “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (8:19).

The world is full of people who claim to know God, but they do not believe in Jesus. They are deceived.  It is impossible to know God the Father while rejecting the Son.  As Jesus said on another occasion, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30) He also said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). You simply cannot separate the Son and the Father. If you reject the Son, you reject the Father. If you reject the Father, you reject the Son. They are like the old song about love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage – – – you can’t have one without the other.  If you want the light of God to shine in your life, you must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.      

Jesus made a rather startling statement in the Sermon on the Mount.  Not only is He the light of the world, He said of those who believe in Him, you are the light of the world, also (Matthew 5:14). Perhaps the best way to understand this is to think of the sun and the moon. The moon does bring light to the earth, but the moon has no light within itself. Moonlight is light reflected from the sun. Unless the sun is shining on the moon, it is a dark hunk of rock! We cannot function as lights to the world apart from the light of Jesus.  Apart from Jesus, we are spiritually dead, living in darkness. When He enters our lives by faith, His light begins to shine forth from us. Just as the moonlight is puny in comparison to the light of the sun, so the light of God that shines from us is small in comparison to Jesus, the light of the world. 

Nevertheless, the light of Jesus does manifest itself in the life of a believer. Jesus commanded us to let our light shine before men, that in seeing our good works, they will glorify God because of us. Why does He speak of our good works? Aren’t we saved by faith alone? Indeed, we are, but faith cannot be seen except by our good works. This should cause each one of us to ask this question:  Does my life point others to God? That will be the inevitable result of the light of Christ being present in us. 

And how does this happen? Our text says, “Whoever follows me . . .”  Following Jesus does not mean to follow Him on occasion. To follow Him is a permanent life decision. It means to trust Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord daily. It means to study His life and teachings and obey Him.  Those who follow Him will receive of His light, and that light will shine from us unto others, and they will glorify God. I pray that the light of Christ will shine forth from my life and yours in the week before us. 


CAUGHT IN THE ACT

Warsaw Christian Church, (8/9/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 8:1-11 

Today we move into John Chapter 8, the familiar story of the women caught in adultery. Many Bibles have a note stating that this story does not appear in the earliest manuscripts. We have gone over this subject before, but let me give a quick Cliff  Notes review.  How do we know which books belong in the Bible?  We possess over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Some are fragments, while others are complete manuscripts. There are two opinions among the scholars as to how to reconstruct the New Testament from these manuscripts. The King James Version is based on what is called the majority text. If a verse or chapter of the New Testament appears in the majority of the ancient Greek manuscripts, it was included in our text of the New Testament. This story of the woman caught in adultery is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts.  

Some modern scholars prefer using a different method. The age of the manuscripts takes precedence over the majority. Two ancient manuscripts were discovered in the modern era, which do not contain the story of the woman caught in adultery. The conclusion is that the story was a later addition and did not belong in the New Testament. 

Well, which way is it? As my Old Testament professor used to say, “You pay your nickel and take your choice.” Without going into all the scholarly debate, I go along with the majority text. I believe this story belongs in the New Testament. It is a story that is so like Jesus. I believe the story to be historical; it really happened. With that in mind, let’s examine this story together. 

A woman is caught in the act of adultery, which means the man was also caught. It takes two to tango! There are many sins you can commit alone: stealing, lying, lusting, murder, but the sin of adultery takes two. Adultery is a violation of the Ten Commandments. The punishment under the Old Covenant was death by stoning, although there were variations.  Leviticus 20:10 states: “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, … the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (nasb).  Thus, you might conclude that adultery was rare with such a severe penalty, but you would be mistaken. It was so common at the time of Jesus that the punishment was rarely applied. 

There are several glaring problems with this episode. A crowd demands that a woman be stoned. They were not interested in equal punishment for the guilty man. Also, crowds did not have the right to find a person guilty. There were Jewish courts where persons accused of a crime were tried. There were also Roman courts. This was an attempt at an old-fashioned lynching such as occurred in our country in the old west. The attempt to have this woman stoned was illegal. The real purpose is the hope Jesus would act in an inappropriate manner, and they can condemn Him. This is clear in verse 6. This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.  They remind Him of the Law of Moses, which called for the guilty party to be stoned. If He agreed the woman should be stoned, they could report Him to the Roman authorities.  The Jews did not have the power to execute the death penalty under Roman rule. But if He said the Law of Moses should not be applied, the Jews would see Him as a false prophet. Jesus is sort of between a rock and a hard place, or so His enemies think. They think no matter what he does, he will be in trouble, either with Rome or with the Jews. We can almost hear them shouting, “What do you say, what do you say?”

Jesus says nothing. He bends down and writes in the sand. We can put aside all the speculation about what He wrote. We are not told what He wrote. I have seen a dozen or so speculations regarding what He probably wrote. We just don’t know. Jesus, as ever, found the answer in the Scriptures. Deuteronomy 17:7 says, “The hand of the witness shall be the first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.” Thus, Jesus demanded that the witness should reveal himself and cast the first stone. The entire crowd did not witness the act. Where was the witness? Then the Lord demanded something else. The witnesses would himself have to be without sin, probably free from the sin of adultery. He speaks, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” John 8:7 (NKJV)

Then Jesus bends down again and writes in the sand. The Pharisees’ trap had closed without entrapping Jesus. One by one, the text tells us, they dropped their stones and slinked away in shame. Jesus stands and finds Himself alone with the woman. He speaks to her. John 8:10-11,   Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Jesus reveals His deity once again. Who can forgive sins? Who can void condemnation? Only God. 

Of course, there was one sinless man present on that day, namely Jesus. He refused to cast the first stone and offered the women His hand in forgiveness. There was forgiveness for her, and there is forgiveness for us.

Augustine, in the 4th century, stated that certain individuals had removed from their Greek manuscripts this section regarding the adulteress because they feared women would appeal to this story as an excuse for infidelity. However, anyone who reads the story cannot reach the conclusion that Jesus was lenient with the sin of adultery. While He does not condemn the woman but is forgiving and gracious to her, He does say, “Go and sin no more.”

The Old Testament law was harsh so that we might learn how seriously God takes sin. God will never, never be lenient with sin. He will never look upon our sins like a doting grandfather and say, “Well, boys will be boys and girls will be girls.” He will never be like the Notre Dame football player who went to his priest to confess that he had beat up on an opposing player in a recent football game. He confessed, “When the refs were not looking, I elbowed him in the chin and kneed him in the ribs.” The priest was shocked at this despicable behavior. He was about to lay down some serious penance on this player when he asked, “By the way, who was Notre Dame playing?” The player responded, “Southern Methodist.” The priest responded, “Oh well, boys will be boys. Go in peace.” 

We read earlier in John’s Gospel that “the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Things changed when Jesus came. The law of God was not set aside, but grace overshadowed it. Instead of immediate judgment for sin, judgment is postponed, and grace is established. What does that mean? This episode concerning the adulterous woman answers the question. Jesus does not condemn her.  She is forgiven. But what if she continues to commit that same sin over and over? It would mean that she misunderstood Jesus and decided that she could sin to her heart’s content, and God would forgive. It would mean she did not hear the words, “Go and sin no more.” 

We are not told what happened to this woman. We hope she accepted God’s grace and forgiveness and lived a life of purity. What does this story mean for us? We know how the story of Jesus ended. He was rejected by the Jewish leadership and put to death by the Romans. We have heard the story so often we are no longer shocked by it. The Son of God, Savior of the world, was nailed to a Roman cross. Men meant it for evil, but God intended it for good, reminding us of the story of Joseph. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of adultery, imprisoned — not a very pleasant life. 

Joseph speaks to his brother in Genesis 50. Notice his words, But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good,…(Gen. 50:20). No matter how much evil men concoct, God turns it to good. Joseph became #2 man in Egypt.  Only the Pharaoh had more power. Joseph used his power to save his people from a severe famine. 

The Jews and Romans intended to do evil to Jesus when they crucified Him, but God meant it for good. He used the death of Jesus as the means of bringing forgiveness to the entire human race. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We receive divine forgiveness when we place our trust in Jesus. 

I think there is a practical lesson here for us. Bad things happen to us as they did to Joseph and to Jesus. However, as we continue to live life trusting in Jesus He will bring good out of evil, If we walk away from Jesus when things are tough, we walk away from the good He intended to bring to us. One preacher likened life to driving a car.  We have a rear-view mirror.  We can spend our time staring into the past and fretting over all the bad things that have come our way. He then spoke of the fact that we have a windshield, which is much larger than the rear-view mirror. We need to spend more time looking forward to the future, anticipating the good that God has for us. 

Our text reveals one thing clearly. Jesus is the Messiah. Every attempt to entrap Him failed.  The encounter with the woman caught in adultery is but one of several attempts made by Jesus’ enemies to entrap Him.  Only the Messiah could engage in a battle of wits against the Pharisees, and make them look silly. 

Basically, Jesus was saying we must be honest with God.  We cannot gloss over our sins with self-serving explanations. We dare not try to “explain” our sins to God.  We simply must confess and repent.  Thus, the forgiveness of God is unlimited for those who bring faith, confession and repentance before the throne of God. Those who will not follow these simple steps will sadly learn that their sins will condemn them. Yes, the woman was forgiven, and there is forgiveness for us. But be sure to take to heart the words of Jesus, “Go and sin no more.” 

One final conclusion. Since we are all sinners before God, we must never condemn another human being. While we must make judgments about many lesser issues, none of us are in a position to condemn to hell another human being.  The final judgment has not been given to us. It is best left in the hands of God.  Yes, the final judgment will be harsh for some. An eternity in hell, separated from God, is not something anyone would choose. John 3:16 tells us that God loves sinners, and all who believe in the Son of God will find that God stands ready to forgive. I hope we have all learned that lesson. Jesus did not die on the cross so we could sin to our heart’s content. He died to secure our forgiveness, and His forgiveness is available to us when there is confession and repentance and a determination to go and sin no more.

Is Jesus asking this woman to live a sin-free life? Does He expect us to never again fall into sin? What does He mean, “Go and sin no more?” Once we are forgiven. do we then lead a sin-free life? If that is the meaning, we are all in trouble. I am going to give a brief explanation, which may not be 100% satisfying, but we will discuss this in detail in Bible study. The brief explanation has to do with having a relationship with God and being in fellowship with God. We have a relationship based on one thing only: Faith in Jesus. If you have faith in Jesus, you have a relationship with God that will lead to eternal life. What if I, as a Christian believer, sin against God? The relationship is not broken, but you are no longer in fellowship with God until there is confession and repentance. You cannot live in fellowship with God while you are openly violating His will. I am sure the woman caught in adultery did not live a sin-free life after this encounter with Jesus, but I hope she learned that sin always has serious consequences in terms of our sense of fellowship with God. I hope we will all learn that lesson. 


THE SPIRIT PROMISED

Warsaw Christian Church (8/2/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 7:37-39

Today we move into Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel. There is much in that chapter which I will not cover. I want to focus on a highlight found in verses 37-39. We read, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not `

Earlier in Chapter 7, there is a discussion about going to a feast. The feast in question is the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus’s brothers attend the feast, and Jesus stays behind. The feast was primarily a harvest festival. During the feast for six consecutive days, a procession of priests carried water in golden vessels into the Temple area. The pouring out of water is thought to have commemorated how God provided water for Israel in the wilderness. It was this practice that prompted Jesus to speak of living water after He arrived late to the feast.

In a loud voice, Jesus cried out and invited anyone thirsty to come to Him. He explains the thirst He refers to as a spiritual thirst that is satisfied by believing in Him. He clarifies that those who believe in Him will find living water flowing out of their hearts. He speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive. This gift lies in the future. It would be granted to those with faith in Jesus following His glorification. That event took place after the resurrection when Jesus ascended into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of God the Father.

Let’s take a closer look at this text. Everything hinges on coming to Jesus, or believing in Him. True faith is preceded by thirst, a spiritual thirst to know God. I read about two men who were crossing the desert when their truck broke down. As their bodies dehydrated, they became willing to drink anything to quench their terrible thirst. The sun forced them into the shade under the truck, where they dug a shallow trench. Day after day they lay there. They had food but did not eat, fearing it would magnify their thirst. I did not know that the scientist designated three degrees of thirst. Eudopsia is ordinary thirst. Hyperdipsia is temporary intense thirst. Polydipsia is sustained excessive thirst.

These men were experiencing polydipsia. Radiator water is what the two men started drinking during the polydipsia phase. To survive, they were willing to drink poison. The story I read did not tell me whether they survived or not. I recall counseling an alcoholic years ago who told me he drank antifreeze when no other alcohol was available. I don’t recommend it!

Many people do something similar in the spiritual realm. They depend on things like money, sex, and power to quench spiritual thirst. But such thirst quenchers are in reality spiritual poison, a dangerous substitute for the “living water” Jesus promised.

I am not sure the degree of thirst Jesus referred to; ordinary, intense, or excessive. We are all different, and I am certain we reach out to Him at different levels of thirst. Whether our thirst to know God is ordinary, intense, or excessive, faith begins with spiritual thirst. Those who reject God and have no interest in Him are without spiritual thirst. The question we must ask ourselves is this. Do I have any level of thirst to know God? Jesus promises that He alone can satisfy spiritual thirst. Come to me, He said, and He will satisfy your spiritual thirst.

We touched on this topic a few weeks ago when we looked at Jesus’ teaching that He is the bread of life. He promised that those who believe in Him would have their spiritual hunger and thirst satisfied. I mentioned that we know our faith is real and not hypocritical when we no longer have any spiritual thirst. Jesus satisfies our spiritual thirst. Faith in Jesus creates a real and lasting relationship with God that brings spiritual satisfaction.

Once a firm relationship with God is established through trusting in Jesus, our Lord then speaks of the consequences that follow. He gives the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him. The Holy Spirit is here described as living water. Jesus is describing the reality that when the Holy Spirit is present within the heart of a believer, that presence flows out of him in substantial, observable ways. We will spend the rest of our time discussing how the Holy Spirit flows out of us.

First, wherever the Spirit of God is at work, the Jesus of Scripture comes alive in our innermost being. We fall in love with Jesus, born of a virgin, who spoke as no other had ever spoken, who worked great and mighty miracles, even raising the dead. Jesus,  who went to the Cross in our place, there to suffer and die for the remission of our sins. Jesus, who was raised from the dead and who then ascended into heaven, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. This is the Jesus to whom the Holy Spirit bears witness. We know we have been born of the Spirit when Jesus is at the top of the list of things we love.

Second, when the Holy Spirit is flowing out of us, we lose our fear of Satan, the one who is behind all our fears. Paul wrote that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). There are two antagonistic spirits in the world: the Spirit of God, who draws us close to Jesus, and the spirit of antichrist, or Satan, who draws us to a deeper love for the things of this world. Elsewhere John had cautioned us – – – “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15).  These are not two equal spirits fighting for supremacy.  The spirit of antichrist is no match for the Spirit of God. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). Therefore, when you or I are born of the Holy Spirit we are drawn away from the things of this world – – – wealth, power, fame, position, lust, pride – – – such things seem strangely dim to us as we are driven ever farther away from this world and ever deeper into the things of God.

Another sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is seen in our love for the Word of God. John writes elsewhere,  “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” (1 John 4:7}.  Here is clearly stated the principle of  LISTENING TO THE VOICE OF GOD AS HE SPEAKS TO US IN SCRIPTURE. John is an inspired apostle, and those who are of God, he says, listen to us, namely, the apostles.  And where do we hear the apostolic voice today?  Only in one place, in sacred Scripture. The Holy Spirit invariably gives us an intense desire to read and know and follow the teachings of the Bible.

These first three items mentioned have more to do with how the Holy Spirit changes us on the inside.  Jesus speaks in our text of an outflowing of the Holy Spirit. Love of Jesus, loss of fear, love of God’s word, these are all internal changes. Jesus spoke of living water flowing out of us. Let’s look at two things answering to that description.

When the Holy Spirit has filled our hearts, love flows out. When the Spirit of God is truly at work in a church and in the life of a believer, love for God and love for neighbor is the end product.  In a sense, to say that the Holy Spirit dwells in us is the same thing as saying that love dwells in us, and flows out of us. The Spirit of God fills the heart with love.  Do you love others?  Are you quick to forgive and to seek reconciliation? Do you desire to promote the well being of others, even above self-interest?  God is love, says John, and the one who loves is born of God and knows God. Love is of God, and where sacrificial, humble love is present, God’s Spirit is also present.

Finally, one of the consequences of a loving heart is a desire to share Jesus with others. We know from Scripture there is only one path that leads to God. If there are those who do not believe in Jesus, we know they are lost. Lost – – – what a terrible word. Lost forever, separated from God, shut away from everything good. Lost- – –  forever. Does it not stir you to action to realize that some are lost?  Our love for them compels us to do whatever we can to draw them to Jesus. Those who do nothing to promote the Gospel of Jesus, how can they claim to be filled with the love of God? How can they claim that the living water of the Holy Spirit if flowing out from them?

There are, of course, several different ways in which we reach out to others with the Gospel. It has been my privilege and great honor to proclaim the name of Jesus from the pulpit. Thank you for giving me this honor. Do you ever wonder why I continue in this ministry despite my advanced age? It’s because I have the most fabulous job in the world, and I hate to give it up. I love preaching and teaching about Jesus. I realize you have been not called to a full-time church ministry, but there are other ways to share Jesus.

We can tell others about Jesus. We can invite others to church. We can pray for those who do not seem to have a relationship with Jesus. We can give money to this church to keep it alive. What we cannot do – – – what the Holy Spirit will not allow us to do – – – is nothing. Whether it is our words, our prayers, or our financial resources —– or all three – – – the Holy Spirit will compel us to share our faith. He will not allow us to sit on the sidelines and cheer on others while we do nothing.

Seattle’s famed Kingdome — home of the Seahawks, Mariners, and at times, the SuperSonics — was destroyed in March of 2000. Maryland-based Controlled Demolition Incorporated (CDI) was hired to do the job of imploding the 25,000-ton structure that had marked Seattle’s skyline for two-dozen years.

Extreme measures were taken to ensure no one was hurt. CDI had experience with more than seven thousand demolitions and knew how to protect people. Engineers checked and rechecked the structure. The authorities evacuated several blocks around the Kingdome. Safety measures were in place to allow the countdown to stop at any time if there were any concerns. All workers were individually accounted for by radio. A large public address system was used to announce the final countdown. In short, CDI took every reasonable measure and more to warn people of the impending danger.

The Bible teaches of a final judgment on this sinful world. One day this old world will implode, or explode, and God will create a new heaven and earth. Like the engineers who blew up the Kingdom, our heavenly Father has made provision to make sure everybody can “get out” safely. He warns us through our consciences, through the prophets, through the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, through the church, through his Son,  – – – – -and through you. How is the Holy Spirit using you to reach others with the saving Gospel?


A STROLL ON THE SEA OF GALILEE

Warsaw Christian Church, (6/28/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 6:16-21

I preached on this episode several years ago when we went through the Gospel of Mark. We will look at it again as it occurs next in the Gospel of John.

Many assume this story to be a myth.  Flesh and blood people just can’t walk on the surface of the water. Those who believe Jesus was simply a human prophet and not the divine Son of God dismiss this story and all the miracle stories as pious fabrications. The popular novel, The DaVinci Code, takes this approach. The author argues that Jesus was human, but the church wanted to make Him divine, so they only included in the Bible the four Gospels which reveal Jesus as divine. This decision was supposedly made at the time of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. The author suggests there were 80 other gospels suppressed by the church which reveal Jesus simply as a human prophet, and the Council of Nicaea voted to make Jesus divine, and it passed by one vote.  This is blatant nonsense for anyone who has studied ancient history.  The four canonical Gospels were in place long before Constantine.  Also, no such suppressed gospels exist.  We do have numerous gospels that were rejected by the early church, not because of some secret plot, but because they were considered forgeries, documents written by persons other than the apostles.  These excluded gospels, far from showing Jesus as only human, show Him as divine to an absurd extent.

For instance, in what is called “The Infancy Gospel,” a woman with a sick child approaches Mary for help. Mary had just bathed Jesus and told the woman to sprinkle Jesus’s bathwater on her sick child, and the child is healed. On another occasion, Jesus makes some birds out of clay, but it is the Sabbath.  His friends tell on him, and Joseph rebukes him. Jesus makes the birds come to life and fly away as if to say, “I didn’t make any birds. What birds?”  The evidence is gone! On another occasion, Jesus strikes dead a playmate who accidentally ran into him.  These rejected gospels are pious fabrications.  They have nothing to do with the Jesus in whom I believe. We all wonder what Jesus childhood was like because our four Gospels tell us almost nothing.  But we surely know that the child Jesus would not strike dead his playmates.

Those of us who have come to know and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are not astonished that He walked upon the water. The disciples later may have recalled the words of Job 9:8 (NKJV)    Speaking of God Job says,  “He alone spreads out the heavens,  And treads on the waves of the sea.”  Indeed, anyone who treads on the waves of the sea is God. As was the case with the feeding of the 5000, Jesus here reveals His true identity.  He is no ordinary human being.  He is God incarnate; God in the flesh.

Yes, Jesus is truly human, but He is also truly divine, God the Son. It is a truth that boggles the human brain, but as we follow Jesus through the Gospels, we are forced to the conclusion: THIS MAN IS GOD.  He eats and drinks like any human. He grows tired as we do. He can only be in one place at one time, a limitation common to the human race. Jesus is without question a man, a human being. But he also heals a demon-possessed man and raises the dead; He feeds a multitude with five loaves and two fish; He speaks to the sea, and it obeys Him; He walks upon the surface of the water.  These are things we ordinary humans cannot do. They reveal the divine nature of Jesus.  Thus, the Gospels present us with a picture of One who is fully human and fully divine.

The disciples are petrified with fear when they see this person walking on the waves.  They think perhaps it is a ghost. Jesus speaks to them and tells them to fear not. Then He says in the Greek language, “ego eimi” which simply means, “I am.” When God revealed Himself to Moses and Moses inquired as to the name of God, God revealed that His name is “ego eimi,”(Greek version of the OT, Septuagint) the same words Jesus uses here.

Some want to reduce Jesus to the status of mere humanity.  The Jesus revealed in the Gospels is God and man, united in one person, a mystery to us, but a clear divine revelation.  He must be human to identify with us, but He must also be divine so that His death has infinite worth in the sight of God, value enough to redeem all who dare to trust in Him.

John gives information about this event omitted by the other gospel writers. After the feeding of the 5000, we read this.   John 6:14-15 says:  14Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15Therefore, when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him King, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. 

The crowd, having observed all the miracles of Jesus, concluded that He is the Messiah – – – the prophet of God spoken of by Moses.  They are prepared to take Him by force and declare Him to be the King of the Jews.  Jesus perceives this to be a temptation He must avoid. The crowd rightly sees Him as the redeemer of Israel but has no understanding of how that redemption is to take place.

What would you do if a large crowd of people was all excited about you and wanted you to run for the Senate or some other high office?  We might conclude that surely this is the call of God.  There are those in the church today who equate large crowds on Sunday morning with the blessing of God.  We do tend to be impressed by numbers.  What would I do if several thousand Benton County residents, having heard how wonderful I am, gathered around the church cheering and demanding that I run for Governor?  Would I assume that God’s will can be discerned in numbers, or would I have the idea that serving this church is a much higher calling than being Governor? I am sure I will never be faced with that decision!

Numbers do not move Jesus. To avoid the temptation presented by the crowd, Jesus sought out a solitary place to pray.  Lest his disciples also get caught up in the crowd mentality, He sends them away in a boat.  When personal honors were offered to Him and almost forced upon him, Jesus retired for private prayer. This is an example for all who are tempted to seek individual honors and applause. Nothing is better to keep the mind humble and unambitious than to find some quiet place; to shut out the world with all its laurels and to seek the face of God. When we are close to God, all personal honors appear as nothing.  Jesus understood that Satan was once again tempting Him through the crowd, but their desires faded into nothingness when He was alone with the Father.  There is a lesson here for us when we desire attention, applause, the approval of men.

Jesus knew that the path of Messiahship would lead to another lonely place, to a hill called Calvary.  Jesus knew that the day would come when the crowds would turn against Him and cry out, “Crucify Him!”  He knew that the way of salvation for the human race would lead to His suffering and death.  He had a choice to make, and so He found a place to commune with the Father. When we face difficult decisions, we do well to follow His example. The majority is not always right.  I wonder how many wrong turns I have made in life by listening too much to people and spending too little time before the face of God?   

One puzzling aspect of this story is the statement at the end of Mark’s Gospel that the amazed disciples were also hardened in their hearts.  I don’t believe they were hardened against Jesus. Mark simply reports that the disciples were slow learners.  They had just witnessed Jesus creating bread and fish.  Even as God spoke the universe into existence at the dawn of creation, so Jesus speaks food into existence.  The disciples should have reasoned like this: Only God can create.  Jesus just created food.  Therefore, Jesus is God. Therefore, He can do anything. Therefore, it should not have frightened and amazed them when He walked upon the waves.

I don’t mean to be hard on the disciples.  If I ever see some dude walking on water, I will be frightened and amazed as well. Logically, they might have said, “Well, here comes Jesus to help us.  I am not surprised after seeing what He did with five loaves and two fish.  Thanks for showing up to help us, Lord. We figured you might drop in to help us in this time of crisis.”  Emotions sometimes eclipse logic. We have the same problem, don’t we? We should have a firm, steady, unwavering faith in Jesus in every situation.  After all, He is our Lord. He can do anything!  He has promised to be with us and bids us ask whatever we will in His name, and it shall be done. But when the storms of life strike home, emotions tend to take over.  Panic and fear set in. Faith sometimes goes out the window, at least temporarily.  The disciples eventually got the message, and later were willing to proclaim the name of Jesus even in the face of persecution and death.

Our final emphasis will be to focus for a few moments on the episode John omitted when Peter stepped out of the boat. Matthew tells us that when Jesus identified Himself to the terrified disciples, Peter cried out to Him. “Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water” (14:28). When Christ answered, “Come,” Peter “got down out of the boat” and “walked on water” (14:29).

The next verse tells us that when Peter “saw the wind,” he became frightened and began to sink. Suddenly Peter became aware of the storm, while before he had been aware only of Jesus! Only when his gaze shifted from Jesus to the circumstances did he begin to sink into the waters. Yet the danger served to remind him of Christ, and he cried out urgently, “Lord, save me!” Jesus did, reaching out His hand, and asking why he behaved as a man of “little faith” and began to doubt.  The fact that Peter left the safety of the boat in response to Jesus’ invitation should have erased his fears.  If I had been in Peter’s shoes, I don’t think I would ever have left the relative safety of the boat.

There is much we might learn from this episode involving Peter. But perhaps the essential truth is that those who seek to be close to Jesus, and who respond courageously to His call, are still vulnerable to doubts and failure. Yet when we keep our eyes on Christ, we are safe. And even if we momentarily give in to our fears, He is always close by, to reach out His hand and lift us. May the nearness of Jesus be a reality in your life this week.


WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?

Warsaw Christian Church (7/26/20), Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 6:1-15

This miracle is one of two miracles mentioned in all four Gospels.  The other mentioned by all four Gospel writers is the resurrection. We wonder why this miracle of feeding 5000 people was deemed so important that each Gospel writer found a place for it?  One commentator thought that perhaps it was because the bread was so important in ancient societies. We are well fed today and may not think that a miracle about bread is all that important. 

The miracle also stands as another testimony to the deity of Jesus. Only God can create bread and fish enough to feed a multitude from a few loaves and fish. Those who reject the idea of miracles come up with other interpretations of this passage. I recall years ago reading a church paper from another Christian church in Decatur. The pastor’s article explained that when the boy shared his few loaves and fish, that inspired others to bring out their hidden food and share it. There was no miracle.  This “explanation” does not fit in with verses 14-15. 14After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” They would not have spoken in this manner if all that happened was that others were inspired to share when they saw the little boy share his food. They would not have called that a miracle. Those who believe in the divine authority of Scripture have no problem believing that Jesus could multiply a few loaves and fish and feed 5000 people. 

Jesus is seeking a bit of peace and quiet, but the crowds follow Him. They do not follow Him because they want to obey Him. They are following Him because of the miracles He performed. Some things never change. If we were to hold a revival here and announce that some great healing evangelist would be the speaker, I guarantee you we would have large crowds. If we were to hold revival services and announce the emphasis would be on salvation, fewer people would come. People are drawn to the miraculous. We do need to follow Jesus, but for the right reason. Yes, even today, He works miracles, but the greatest miracle is the new birth when by faith, we enter the Kingdom of God. 

Phillip’s response to the food problem gives us much to think about. Jesus asks him where they can find enough food to feed this multitude.  He was testing Phillip, and Phillip flunked the test. He has no idea how this crowd can be fed. He speculates that even if they had lots of money, they would never have enough to buy bread for such a large crowd.  In Phillip’s mind, the situation is hopeless.  Pessimism has gripped his heart.  Most of us can identify with Phillip.  We have faced problems and concluded, “There is no hope.” I have felt that way myself, and I have heard similar pessimism from others. It wasn’t the case that Phillip no longer trusted in Jesus. He simply fell into a trap that we can refer to as “pessimistic faith.” I have been guilty of pessimistic faith. How about you?  What is pessimistic faith? 

Pessimistic faith forgets what God has done in the past. What had Phillip forgotten? He had, in recent days, witnessed many healing miracles performed by Jesus. Jesus healed an official’s son with a word; He healed a man at the pool of Bethesda; our text says He performed many other healing miracles which are not recorded in detail. Phillip had also just heard Jesus make a powerful statement-making Himself equal with God. Apparently, all that was forgotten and he assumed the situation to be hopeless. The lesson here is simple:  The situation is never hopeless when Jesus is with you. In Matthew 16 we read of a later episode where the disciples are hungry.  Once again, they do not see how their need can be met. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? (VSS. 8,9). 

One thing we can do today to build up our “pessimistic faith” is to read and reread the life of Jesus in the four Gospels. This will remind us that our Savior is powerful and compassionate.  He healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, multiplied the loaves and fish – – – and finally He triumphed over death itself. No problem we have is too hard for Him. We need to fill our minds with His power and majesty, and then when we pray, we will not feel hopeless.  We can pray with faith and expectancy. 

This next point is directed squarely at yours truly.  Pessimistic faith tends to say weakly, “Lord, help me with this situation if it be your will, but it probably isn’t your will.”  I wonder if we should ever pray, “If it be your will.” Would it not be better to pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done!” It is true that we are often in the position of not knowing the will of God.  Once that word “if” enters our mind, we may give in to doubt. We need to recall the words of James: If any of you lacks (wisdom,) he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  (James 1:5-8). Our heavenly Father is a big God.  Nothing is too hard for Him. We can approach Him with small problems and large problems. While we do not always know His will, we should always pray anticipating that He will answer. He will either grant our request or withhold our request because He knows what is best. In any event, we should always pray, expecting an answer, avoiding a pessimistic spirit. 

When we pray pessimistically, expecting nothing from God, we insult Him. We assume He doesn’t love us, or He doesn’t care. Pessimistic faith fails to apply faith to real-life situations. Pessimistic believers are redeemed souls, but they allow their problems to overwhelm them as if their problems are too big for God. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, and our Savior, we can have every confidence that when we pray, God hears, and He will answer. To pray in faith doesn’t mean that He will do exactly what we want.  It means we believe He will answer, and we should never doubt that fact. Remember the words of our Lord in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Contrary to PETA, we humans are more valuable than birds or any other animal. We are created in the image of God. God values us and wants us to trust Him.  Optimistic faith brings results.  Pessimistic faith does not. 

You can always tell your faith is pessimistic when you turn to God as a last resort. We tend to look first to ourselves or other humans to solve our problems.  If that doesn’t work, then we turn to God. We need to get into the habit of praying first.  Yes, God does work through natural means, but our first thought must never be, “I have a problem, and I need a doctor, lawyer, plumber, electrician, etc.” Our first thought must be to turn the matter over to the Father.  He can and will direct us to the proper human resource if that is indicated.  The Psalmist said it well when he wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” We Americans have so much, with such a powerful military, the temptation is simply to trust in human resources to meet our needs and keep us safe. If we become a faithless nation, and God pulls the plug on us, our military power cannot save us. Make sure God has first place in your heart, and always turn to Him first. 

Another point about pessimistic faith is this.  We need to remember that life is not about us but about God. When God acts to bless us in a spectacular manner, as was the case with the feeding of 5000 persons, God is glorified. If you think your unanswered prayer will embarrass you, you have prayed in the wrong spirit. If you seek credit for your great faith when the answer comes, you err greatly. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that man’s chief end is to glorify God. God is glorified when He blesses your life, and you praise His name to your friends and neighbors. God is glorified when He answers your prayers, and you openly honor Him for His goodness. Prayer is not about you, but about God; His name, His honor, His glory. 

Our last task this morning is to look at the faith of Jesus. When He assumed our human nature, He had to depend upon His Father even as we do. When the few loaves and fish were presented to Him, He responded differently than Andrew. Andrew saw the five loaves and two fish and concluded this was hardly enough to feed a multitude. Jesus prayed, offering thanks to the Father and began to distribute that which had been given to Him. He did not scold Andrew for presenting Him with such meager resources. He trusted the Father to multiple the food.  Not only was everyone fed, there were twelve baskets full of bread left over. This reminds us that our God is lavish in His generosity. 

You may think you do not have much to offer to God. Here is the point.  When you give God what you have, presenting your life to Him, He will use you in ways that will amaze you. I hear it often, “I have no talent or ability that would be of any use to God or to His church.” That is the devil’s lie! Look what Jesus did with five loaves and two fish presented to Him. When we present ourselves to God and say to Him, “Father, use me in the work of your kingdom on earth,” He can take our meager abilities and multiply them to bless others. 

Joni Erickson Tada comes to mind.  Rendered a quadriplegic at a young age, she might have decided to go on disability and sit in her wheelchair for the rest of her life feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she wanted to be used of God, but how can God make use of a quadriplegic? She learned to paint with a brush in her mouth, she sings, she speaks all over the country, she writes Christian books. God has used her to touch the lives of millions.  She presented her broken body to God, and He multiplied her effectiveness 100-fold. Many of us are beyond retirement age and may feel we have little to offer to the work of God on earth. Place your life into the hands of Jesus and watch Him multiply your effectiveness. 

The problem with many in the church is not that God cannot use them. He once spoke through the mouth of a donkey so He can surely use us! The problem many church members have is that they are so wrapped up in the things of this world they do not present themselves to God to be used. I have mentioned before the musical entitled “For Heaven’s Sake” written in the 1970’s.  One of the songs had a line, “I want you to use me O Lord, but not just now.”  Let me read the words to you.

As soon as I’m out of college, and all my debts I’ve carried; as soon as I’ve done my army stint, as soon as I’ve gotten married:  As soon as I get promoted, as soon as the house is built: as soon as my psychiatrist says that I’m freed of guilt.  As soon as I’ve paid the mortgage, as soon as the kids are grown; as soon as they finished college, as soon as they’re on their own: As soon as I’ve reached retirement, as soon as they’re getting ahead; as soon as I draw my pension, Just as soon as I am dead.  I want you to use me Oh Lord, use me Oh Lord, but NOT just now.”  (FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, p. 38).  

Those who live by faith will find that God can and will use them, not in the distant future, but now.  A boy with a few loaves and fish found that when He turned them over to Jesus, a multitude was fed. I wonder what Jesus could do if you turned your life over to Him? 


GOD AND THE NATION

Warsaw Christian Church, July 5, 2020, Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Psalm 33:22

There are those in our society today who seek to reconstruct the history of the United States of America. The effort is now underway to deny the enormous influence which the Christian religion had in the formation of this nation. On this Independence Sunday, I want to remind you once again of God’s hand in our history. We have covered this territory before, but I believe it bears repeating every Independence Sunday. 

We read in Psalm 33: 12, Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord. Nations, like individuals, are blessed by God for their faithfulness, although there are differences between national faith and individual faith. We, as individuals, are blessed by God when we surrender our hearts and lives to Jesus, the Messiah. Nations are blessed of God, not because every individual in the nation is Christian, but when the people and leaders of a nation basically agree to build the nation consciously according to the will and purpose of God. 

Our nation is made up of laws and institutions. Both our laws and our institutions were consciously influenced by biblical truth.  James Madison, for example, affirmed the Christian truth that human beings are fallen creatures.  If fallen creatures are to create a functional government, reasoned Madison, there must be checks and balances. Power cannot reside in any one person or institution.  Our present three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) were created so that each branch could serve as a check on the other.  If one branch has too much power, human sinfulness will rear its ugly head, and the rights of the people will be trampled underfoot. Thus, the very structure of our government was designed because of a Christian understanding of human nature. Madison, the chief architect of our Constitution, said this: “We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, so sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

The idea that our nation should operate totally free of any religious influence is a modern idea. It was not the understanding of our founders. A nation whose God is the Lord is a nation that knowingly recognizes God as the source of national law. The laws created in our founding years were laws based on biblical truth. This is why the Ten Commandments appear in many courthouses around the nation, a practice that is now being challenged by secularists determined to remove all signs of religion from the public square. 

A nation Whose God is the Lord recognizes that God’s moral will must prevail in society. A nation whose God is the Lord will have leaders who openly acknowledge their dependence upon God. A nation whose God is the Lord will encourage the population to trust in God, while also refusing to impose a particular denomination or religion upon the people.  A nation whose God is the Lord will have in its history clear signs that her leaders are men and women of faith. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, General George Washington issued this order to his troops: “The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.” 

I believe we were once a nation whose God is the Lord, and that is why our nation has been blessed beyond that of any nation in history. I fear that we are on the verge of losing the blessings of God because many in positions of leadership today want to create a secular state. Instead of intentionally acknowledging our dependence upon God, there are those today who want to intentionally exclude God from our national life. If they succeed, it will be the death knell for this land we love. No nation can long survive and prosper without the blessings of God. God says, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales” (Isa. 40:15). He also declared, “If any nation does not listen (to me), I will completely uproot and destroy it” (Jer. 12:17). Our nation needs to grasp this simple truth. We have no future at all without the blessings of God. God has declared very clearly that any nation which refuses to listen to Him will be destroyed. I don’t believe God makes idle threats. 

Our founders understood this. The first charter of Virginia, dated April 10, 1606, indicates that one of their purposes in America was to propagate the Christian religion. They wanted to share the light of Christ with those who lived “in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.” 

In 1630 the colonists of the New England Federation signed this Compact. “We all have come into these parts of America. with one and the same end; namely, to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus.” The Plymouth colonists drew up the Mayflower Compact in 1620. Their purpose in coming to the new world was “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they knelt down to offer thanksgiving unto God. When the colonists were at odds with the mother country, England, and met for the First Continental congress in Philadelphia in 1774, all the members of the congress got down on their knees and asked for the help of almighty God in their undertakings. As they proceeded and faced numerous problems and uncertainties, it was often Ben Franklin who called upon the members of Congress to fall upon their knees and pray. On one of those occasions he spoke these words. “I have lived a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men… We have been assured in the sacred writings, ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel”

Our Declaration of Independence asserts that the freedom sought was something we are entitled to by “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Listen again to our Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. . . For the support of this Declaration, we look with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” The “Creator” of whom they spoke was not the God of the Koran or the gods of Hinduism and Buddhism. They were referring to the God revealed in the Bible. Those of us who saw the video teaching of Dr. David Miller several years ago regarding the so-called separation of church and state saw quotation after quotation verifying that the majority of our founders understood that our nation was established on Christian principles. 

The great American’ statesman, Daniel Webster, said this: “our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, nor any government be secure which is not supported by moral habits… whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens… That is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree to the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity.” 

John Jay, America’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote these words in 1816: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. It is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” Can you imagine any politician today making such a statement? It would be considered politically incorrect in the extreme.  How was it possible that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court could make such a statement in 1816? It was because the political establishment in our early years was consciously rooted in a Christian worldview. 

If the present Supreme Court voted on the question, is this a Christian Nation, what do you think the results would be? They would say NO, but that has not always the case. James Kent, Chief Justice of Supreme Court, wrote these words in 1826. “The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice…We are a Christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity.” In 1892 the Supreme Court studied our history with care and concluded, “This is a Christian nation.” This Declaration repeated by the Supreme Court as recently as 1932. I own a book written by Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer (1837-1910) entitled “The United States: A Christian Nation.” The book demonstrates the fact that we were founded as a Christian nation.  No Supreme Court Justice today would ever dare make such a claim.  How times have changed. I wonder if God is pleased with this change. 

Before Dwight Eisenhower gave his inaugural address, he first paused and offered a prayer for God’s help and leadership.  During his presidency, the phrase which is causing so much debate today, “under God” was added to our Pledge of Allegiance. It has been an unwritten law that every President of the United States takes the oath of office with his hand upon a Bible. Both the House and the Senate have a chaplain, and each session is opened with prayer. On our coins is the national motto, “In God we trust.” The last verse of our national hymn begins, “Our fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing. “

Time does not permit me to quote the thousands of other words spoken by our founders and leaders, even on into the modern era, which demonstrates very clearly that our national laws and institutions were based on the Christian/biblical worldview. 

But what about freedom of religion and separation of church and state? Freedom of religion meant that every American citizen was free to follow any religion or no religion.  It did not mean that the government would operate in a totally secular manner. Separation of church and state, a phrase absent from our Constitution, meant exactly what the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

Just to give you one brief contrast, Joseph Stalin issued the following decree on May 1, 1937. “There must not remain in the territory of Soviet Russia a single house of prayer, and the very conception of God will be banished from the boundaries of Russia.” Then when the Germans invaded the USSR Uncle Joe changed his tune and asked the Russian churches to pray to God for victory!

My point is this. America is by no means a perfect nation. Our founders were fallible and imperfect human beings, even as we are. Not all were Christians. Some of the politicians I named made grave mistakes. But, wherever you read in our early history, the signs are everywhere. It was a consensus in this nation that we would be a nation whose God was the Lord. Therefore this nation has experienced the unparalleled blessings of God throughout our history. Our task as a church is certainly not to impose our Christian faith upon others, but neither should we stand by idly and allow unbelievers to impose their agenda upon us. 

Our task as Christians within our national life is to remind our nation from whence we came. We were a nation with a Christian consensus — a nation that freely chose to live under the authority of God. If that Christian consensus continues, the blessings of God upon our land will continue. If that consensus becomes a minority and secular humanism becomes the consensus philosophy of the land, America will perish and be thrown upon the ash heap of history along with Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome,  — and all the other godless nations of history. God Bless America! — and He will if America remembers, “Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord.” 


I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE

Warsaw Christian Church (7/28/20) Richard M. Bowman.  Pastor

Text, John 6

We continue our study in the Gospel of John.  In our text from John 6 Jesus makes an astonishing claim. In John 6:35, He says, “I am the bread of life.”  He clarifies what He means in these statements: “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” Then in verse 40 he speaks these words: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him at the last day.” 

Jesus here makes an awesome claim. He is the bread of life. We partake of that bread by believing in Him. All who truly believe in Him are given a gift, everlasting life. He will raise those who believe in Him at the last day.  The question we must all answer is a simple one.  Do you believe Him? Jesus, in John 6, declares that our eternal life hinges on one simple factor – – – faith in Him and His words. 

Faith in Jesus guarantees our eternal well-being. In 6:37, He states that those who come to Him with faith He will never cast out. Anyone possessing faith in Jesus has the assurance that he will never be rejected by God. Notice that word “never.” In Greek, it is a double negative, “not never.” Double negatives are grammatically incorrect in English, but in Greek, this double negative strengthens the statement. We might translate it by saying, “in no way.” Or “by no means.” Will Jesus ever reject someone who trusts in Him? Absolutely not! Never! No way! Jesus assures us that as long as we have a real and living faith in Him, we will never hear the words, “Depart from me.” 

Jesus made this claim in the context of a familiar miracle, the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1). Jesus took a few loaves of bread and a few fish and fed 5000 persons.  When He wrought that miracle, He expressed a concern that some might want to follow Him for the wrong reason. “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill (John 6:26). Jesus feared that some might come to Him simply because He met physical needs.  They might see Him only as a free meal ticket — one who will solve our earthly problems, whether it be hunger, or illness, or crime, etc. Jesus wanted people to believe in Him and follow Him, but for the right reason. 

The crowds place a challenge before Him.  Why should we believe in you, they ask?  We want you to work a miracle – – – something spectacular so we will have a reason to believe what you say.  It seems that feeding the 5000 was not a big enough wonder, for they say to Jesus, “Do something like what Moses did.  He fed the whole nation daily with manna from heaven.  Your little miracle of feeding 5000 people is not in the same league.”  

It is in this context that Jesus makes His astonishing claim.  He says to the people that the manna from heaven was not the real bread from heaven. He explained that there is another heavenly bread, even the One who comes down from heaven.  Those who partake of this bread are promised everlasting life. 

The people respond, “Give us this bread always” (Jn. 6:34).  It is at that point when Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life.” He promises that those who come to Him will never hunger or thirst again, that those who believe in Him will receive eternal life.  Those who ate the manna from heaven in Moses’ day are dead, but those who partake of the bread of life will never die. 

But wait, surely we have to do more than trust in Him to receive eternal life. Don’t we have to work hard to demonstrate the reality of our faith? It is undoubtedly true that Christians do good works, but they have nothing to do with our salvation. I have said it before, and I repeat it once more- – – eternal life is a gift given to all on a straightforward condition, faith in Jesus, plus nothing. Jesus comments on this question in chapter 6. Look at 6:28-29: Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” 

As the crowd listens to Jesus, they think, “Surely we must do some kind of work to be on good terms with God.  Faith is good, but surely works must follow.” They ask Him what kind of works they must do, apparently thinking that their works will add to their ability to receive eternal life. Jesus clarifies: The work that God requires of you is to believe in Him. 

Of course, specific life changes follow in the wake of saving faith. What do they add to our ability to receive eternal life?  Absolutely nothing! Do you want to go to heaven?  Trust in Jesus. Do you want to do the works that please God? Trust in Jesus. 

As Jesus continued to clarify His mission, He spoke some words that offended many in the crowd. From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (Jn. 6:66).  How strange that this verse is numbered 666. Satan’s number. Maybe it is just an accident since there were no verse numbers in the original Greek manuscripts. It is a peculiar accident! Some were especially perplexed when Jesus spoke to them of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  This made no sense to them, and they did not wait around for an explanation.  They abandoned the One who said, “I am the bread of life.” They forsook the only Man who ever lived who can grant to others the gift of eternal life. 

Eating flesh? Drinking blood?  It sounded like cannibalism.  It was especially offensive to Jews whose law forbade the drinking of blood (Gen. 9:6.).  They gave up on Jesus in response to His crass reference to eating His flesh and drinking His blood. At that point, Jesus turned to the 12 and asked them if they planned to abandon Him also. Simon responds, No, Lord, we cannot abandon you.  We believe you to be the Messiah, the One who speaks the truth concerning eternal life.  Did they understand what Jesus meant?  Perhaps not, but they stayed with Him, and later on, they learned the meaning of His words, “I am the bread of life.”  

We might react initially like those disciples who walked away from Jesus.  We may find ourselves confused over his reference to eating His flesh and drinking His blood, even though He explained that His words in this situation were not to be understood in a crass, literal fashion. He explained that His words were spiritual. He was using a familiar metaphor to describe a spiritual truth. 

Do you know what it is to be spiritually hungry?  If you came to Christ as an adult like I did, you probably know.  If you grew up with faith in Jesus Christ, you might not understand spiritual hunger.  It was many years ago when I learned what spiritual hunger is.  It was a time in my life when I was faced with some problems which seemed to be outside my control. I was searching for answers I could not find.  My intellectual, pseudo-Christianity was of no help.  I was face to face with a simple reality:  I did not know God, and I knew not how to call upon Him in my time of need.  I wanted to know Him desperately. I was spiritually hungry.  

When we come to a true faith in the Son of God, one of the ways we know that has happened is because Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger.  Most of us, when we were young, sat around and discussed the meaning of life.  Who am I?  Where did I come from?  Where am I going?  Is there a God?  When you come to Jesus with true faith, all such questions have been answered.  The hunger to know the answers to life’s most profound questions is forever satisfied.  When we partake of the bread of life, a deep peace and contentment settle over the soul. Just as eating physical bread satisfies physical hunger, so partaking of the bread of Life satisfies our deepest spiritual longings.  

And how do we partake of the bread of Life?  The words are easy enough to say.  We must believe in the Lord Jesus.   I went through the motions of becoming a Christian. I confessed my faith; I was baptized; I was active in church; I even attended a theological seminary, serving as a pastor for several years, a pastor who knew not God. I had not partaken of the bread of life.  Like so many, I wanted to be in control of my life, even my religious life.  And so, while I went through the motions, for a long time, I never really surrendered my heart to Jesus. Genuine faith was lacking. 

What about you?  I know you are church members, persons who have confessed faith.  My question is this:  Do you feel a deep sense of satisfaction and certainty about life and eternity because Jesus is a living presence in your soul?  Has your deepest spiritual hunger been satisfied?  Or are you still asking questions like – – – who am I? From whence did I come?  Is there a God?  Once you partake of the bread of life, you stop asking such questions.  

There is yet another way you can tell if you have partaken of the bread of life.  It is reflected in your attitude toward the Lord’s Supper.  Later on, long after this episode in John 6, Jesus said to those disciples who remained with Him, “Take and eat. This bread is my body which is broken for you.  This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for many for the remission of sins.  As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Familiar words. 

Those who partake of the bread of life understand the importance of the table of the Lord.  They understand that Jesus’ death was vicarious — that He shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Paul said that to partake worthily, we must discern the Lord’s body.  What do you see when you hold the bread and the cup?  I hope you see more than a small cracker and a cup of grape juice.  I hope your mind goes back to Calvary, and that you see Jesus hanging upon a cross, His body broken and His blood shed because you are a sinner. I hope we understand He willingly went to that cross to take the judgment we deserve.  I hope when you partook of the Lord’s Supper today you saw the body of Jesus hanging on that cross, and that you heard Him whisper to you, “For you, for you . . .

When Jesus said, “This is my body” I believe He wants our minds to focus on an event which occurred 2000 years ago, on a hill called Golgotha, the place of the skull.  He wants us to remember how it is that we receive pardon and eternal life.  He wants us to dare to believe that the crucified One is the Messiah, the Son of God.  He wants us to remember who we are and who He is as we partake of the bread and the cup. He wants us to believe in the depths of our souls that we have entered the Kingdom of God through His broken body and shed blood. 

There is much food for thought in John 6. We have just scratched the surface this morning. Let me summarize what we have covered this morning. 

  1. Jesus claimed that He alone can grant eternal life.
  2. That gift is granted to us simply by believing in Him. 
  3. Jesus will never, never reject one who comes to Him in faith.
  4. Those who trust in Him are secure forever. 
  5. We especially believe in His atoning death on the cross, an event we participate in weekly through the Lord’s Supper. In this one great sacrifice He secured for us forgiveness of all our sins and everlasting life. 

If these five principles are alive and well in your soul, you are a forever citizen of the Kingdom of God. I pray it will be so for all of us. In Jesus name, Amen. 


JESUS: LIAR, LUNATIC, OR LORD?

(John # 9)

Warsaw Christian Church (7/21/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 5

The setting for this episode on the ministry of Jesus is the healing of a paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. The paralyzed man cannot make it into the pool because of his limited mobility. Apparently, the waters of Bethesda at special times had healing properties. That took place when the waters were stirred, perhaps by an angel (depending on which translation you use). When the waters stirred, the first person in the pool was healed. The paralyzed man had been there for 38 years but never was the first one into the pool. Jesus hears his explanation, which He ignores, and tells the man to take up his bed and walk. The man is instantly healed. When Jesus declares that you are healed, you are healed!  What follows after this miracle will be our focus of attention this morning. 

We usually think that faith comes first, and then God acts. Here the situation is reversed. The man has no faith, no hope. His situation is such that he thinks he is doomed to a life of paralysis. Jesus heals the man who has no faith. Faith followed the miracle. That should be an encouragement to us.  Even when our faith is weak or lacking, Jesus may graciously touch us that our faith in Him might be increased.  Strong faith that does not doubt is always to be preferred, but there are times when Jesus acts on our behalf despite our weak faith. 

After a time of confusion, the Jews learn that it was Jesus who performed this miracle. They go immediately into attack mode. You would think they would be rejoicing and thanking God that this poor soul had been healed. They ignore the miracle and accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. You were not supposed to carry anything on the Sabbath. Jesus told the man to pick up his bed, which he did. How could Jesus be the Messiah when He blatantly broke the Law of the Sabbath? Every good Jew knew that carrying a burden on the Sabbath was forbidden. 

This is a first-class example of majoring in minors while ignoring the bigger picture. A man who suffered for 38 years was healed. The Jews, presumably Jewish leaders, only focus on what they perceive to be a violation of the Sabbath. Their hatred of Jesus is so intense they are blind to what took place. In Matthew 12:8, Jesus declared that He was Lord of the Sabbath. He created the Sabbath, and He knew what would constitute a true violation. The only thing violated was the hair-splitting interpretation of the Law so dear to the Pharisees. 

A quick sidebar concerning the Sabbath. Does the Sabbath have any implications for us? Paul treats the Sabbath as part of the Old Covenant ceremonial law, which has passed away. Thus, he writes, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:15-16). Our task is to follow Jesus under the New Covenant. Old Sabbath laws do not pertain directly to us. 

The last few verses in our text bring forth a more serious charge against Jesus. Look at 5:16-17. “For this reason, the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Then notice 5:18: “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” 

The Jewish opposition wants to kill Jesus for two reasons: He violated the Sabbath, and He declares His equality with God. When Jesus referred to God as “my Father” (not “our Father”), the Jewish leaders accused Him of proclaiming His equality with God. Anyone claiming equality with God is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord, in the words of C. S. Lewis. That was the choice before the Jewish leaders, and that is also our choice. John declared that Jesus is God in His prologue. Jesus has done things only God can do: turned water into wine, healed a paralytic with a word. He told the woman at the well in Samaria point blank that He was the Messiah.  Now He boldly asserts equality with God.  He could be lying. He could be crazy. Or He could be telling the truth. In the Jewish mind, any human person declaring to be God must be executed. In the end, they get their way.  Jesus is put to death on a cross, but He proves His deity by rising from death. 

These two verses (John 5:17-18) are among the most important in Scripture, especially as they relate to the heresy of Arius (died 336 A.D.) and Sabellius (circa 230 A.D.).  The church struggled for centuries seeking to define Jesus accurately.  Arius taught that Jesus was a created being, and thus He was inferior to God the Father. He was not equal to God. Sabellius affirmed that God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Christ are identical.  He denied the Trinity, stating that the one God manifested Himself in three different modes. Well, let us leave the academics efforts to define Jesus adequately. I agree with the ancient church that the doctrine of the Trinity is correct. 

This open break between Jesus and the Jewish hierarchy was sharp and irrevocable; and, fittingly, Jesus spoke upon this occasion at some length to his enemies in a vain effort to persuade them of the truth of His words and of His claim to be the Messiah. The rest of chapter 5 is taken up with this overwhelming testimony of the Lord Jesus concerning himself. For example, Jesus declares that all must honor Him as they honor the Father (5:23). If Jesus is to receive the same honor as the Father, who is He? God, of course. Jesus affirms that final judgment will be in His hands (5:22). Who is capable of rendering final judgment over the billions of humans who have ever lived? Only God can serve as the final judge. Jesus claims that all the dead, redeemed and lost, will be resurrected on the last day at the sound of His voice (5:28-29). Only God can raise the dead. Jesus affirms that He is both with God, and He is God (John 1:1) in the mystery of the Trinity.  

What is your decision about Jesus? Such an audacious claim deserves a response from us. If you agree with John that Jesus is God incarnate, certain things follow. Jesus claimed that His death atoned for the sins of the world. He took the judgment that we deserve. He declared that all who believe in Him would be forgiven and receive eternal life. How can one man’s death have enough virtue to atone for the sins of the world? It can only happen if that man is also God. Those who reject the deity of Jesus must also reject the value of His death. Your salvation, my salvation, hangs in the balance. If Jesus is a mere man, albeit a great prophet, He cannot atone for your sins. Only God the Son can do that. Do you believe it?

If Jesus was just a great religious teacher, there have been many great religious teachers: Mohamed, Moses, Buddha, Confucius, and others. Jesus is unique among them, the only one claiming to be God. He did not claim to be one path to God, among others. He claimed to be the only path to God (John 14:6). He once said that if you do not believe in Him, you will die in your sins (John 8:24). I assure you, you do not want to die in your sins. When Jesus declared His equality with God, He made an almost unbelievable claim. Those who believe that claim and trust in Him will find forgiveness and everlasting life. Those who don’t, won’t (John 3:18).

If a man bangs on our door at 3 AM and I go to the door and see a man all dressed in black wearing a mask and saying, “Let me in,” I am going to say, “I don’t know you. Go away.” I am not going to open the door to a masked stranger! If, on the other hand, I go to the door at 3 AM and see one of my children, I will quickly open the door. If you try to enter heaven without faith in Jesus, you will be turned away. He will declare, “I don’t know you.” If you seek to enter heaven as a forgiven sinner who has faith in Jesus, you will be welcomed. He will recognize you as one of His children. 

Over and over in John 5 Jesus affirms who He is, seeking to persuade the Jewish leaders to embrace Him as the Messiah. Jesus declares that He can give life (5:21). He affirms that He will be the final judge (5:27). He claims to have the power to resurrect the dead and that He will do so on the last day (5:28-29). He states that the works He performs prove that He is from the Father (5:36). He claims that the Scriptures bear witness to Him (5:39), and if only they will believe in Him, they will receive eternal life (5:40). He asserts that Moses was writing about Him (5:46). 

These are audacious claims. No one except Jesus has ever made such claims. What do you think? Is He a liar? Is He a lunatic? Or is He your Lord? Your decision about Jesus has eternal consequences.  He promises eternal life to all who believe in Him. Who is Jesus to you? Choose wisely. 


THE SAMARITAN WOMAN, Part 3
(A first-person sermon)
Warsaw Christian Church, (6/14/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 4:1-43 (especially 4: 27-42)

(In this sermon, I will assume the role of an unidentified Samaritan man who encounters the Samaritan women in John 4:1-43. She is not named either so we will assign her the name of Joanna)

There is a woman in our town named Joanna. After ruining the lives of five husbands, she was living with a sixth man who was not her husband. Joanna was known in the area as a very promiscuous woman. She would marry one of the local men, tire of him, and move on to someone else. She seemed to need a man but was never satisfied. Her last man, a live-in boyfriend, decided not to bother with marriage based on her reputation. He knew the relationship wouldn’t last, so he decided to just move in with her until she tired of him. That way, there would be no need for a divorce. Of course, such behavior was contrary to our religion but that never seemed to bother Joanna. She claimed to be a believer but she seemed to be more interested in men than in God.

Of all the women in Samaria, this was one you dared not trust. We Samaritan men did not put much faith in any woman, but especially this one. We men did all the heavy thinking, something women were not capable of. Women are to raise children, cook and submit to their husbands. Joanna did none of these. The men who lived with her complained often about how difficult she was to live with. She used her beauty and charm in such a manner as to cause many men to act dazed. They were attracted to her with promises of love beyond their wildest dreams. Then she would dump them and move on to the next fool. Joanna definitely did not fulfill the role of a good, submissive wife.

I will never forget the day she came running into town screaming, “I may have found the Messiah!” Of all the people in Samaria would couldn’t find the Messiah if He stood right before her, she was at the top of the list. “Oh sure, Joanna, you have found the Messiah. Is this some new lover you have met?” This is what most of us thought at first. Joanna had charmed another man with her considerable talents. What reasonable person would believe that the Messiah would reveal Himself to a woman totally lacking in character? If and when the Messiah arrived, He would surely reveal Himself to some respectable person, not a woman we regarded as a common prostitute.

She was so excited and insistent that several of us decided to hear what she had to say. We thought it might be worth a good laugh. She told of meeting a man at the well where she had gone to get water. He spoke to her of living water. What really piqued our interest was when she said that He knew all about her life. He knew of her five husbands, her live-in boyfriend, and many other details of her life. She said, “He told me all I ever did.” I wondered if Joanna was suffering from sunstroke. Several of us were at least curious about this stranger she had met. We decided to see if we could find Him and see what had made Joanna so worked up.

She said that while she was speaking with the stranger, the man’s disciples returned to the well. They said nothing, but she could tell by the looks on their faces that they were shocked that the prophet was speaking with a woman. Most of the Jews believed that trying to teach a woman anything was useless. No true Rabbi would waste his time teaching a woman. The fact that this “prophet” spoke with a strange woman and tried to teach her was a sign to us that this man was probably a false prophet. We thought of Joanna as a dim-witted prostitute incapable of learning. Joanna then left the prophet and returned to town and began to bear witness to this man she had met. She was so excited she left her water pot behind. This was highly unusual and did make us wonder about the man she had met. Instead of charming him, he must have charmed her.

Some of the locals believed this woman’s story. Others were not convinced. I was not sure what to think. Finally, a group of us went out to meet this man and asked Him to stay with us. We wanted to see and hear Him for ourselves and form our own opinion about Him. After all, can you really trust the testimony of a mere woman? A promiscuous prostitute? He agreed and remained with us for two days. This prophet, Jesus was His name, was very impressive. As He spoke with us about the Kingdom of God, to make a long story short, we became convinced that He was indeed the Messiah. What a joy it was to learn that the Messiah had come, not just for the Jews, but for the world. Sometimes our Jewish neighbors had the idea that God really only cared for them. Jesus convinced us that if we placed our faith in Him, even we Samaritans could enter into God’s Kingdom.

We did have to put Joanna in her place, so we informed her that we no longer believed in Jesus because of what she said, but because we had seen and heard for ourselves. We men, however, did earn a lesson from Joanna. I hate to admit that we learned anything from a woman, especially a sinful woman, but our personal encounter with Jesus rather changed our opinion about women. The fact is that Jesus revealed Himself first to Joanna, and she told us about Him. Why He did this I can’t really say. While we did want to hear Him ourselves, we had to acknowledge that were it not for Joanna we would never have known about Jesus. Frankly, she was normally the butt of our jokes and male gossip, but she was different after she had met Jesus. She radiated a new kind of love – – – the love of God just seemed to shine out from her.

When we encountered Jesus, we learned why Joanna seemed so different. Once we placed our faith in Him, we were also changed. The knowledge that our sins were forgiven and heaven was our destiny does change a man. It seemed as if God had entered into our hearts and made us different than we were before. The greatest day in my life was when I stood face to face with the Savior of the world. I hate to admit it but were it not for Joanna I would never have known about Jesus. Several of us had to swallow our male pride and admit that we owed our very salvation to a promiscuous woman.

Joanna became a respected person in the community, a woman who was always trying to help others. She never forgot her encounter with Jesus and spoke of Him to all who would listen. I had to apologize to her for my initial doubt about her. I concluded that God sees men and women as human beings of equal value in His sight. Indeed, I learned that we should never look upon any human being as inferior. If Jesus desires to save the world, then all people are welcome in His Kingdom. All people have value in the eyes of God.

I learned another lesson from Jesus. Those who have truly met Him cannot help but bear witness to the fact that He is the Messiah and Savior of the world. Joanna became very vocal in her testimony to Jesus. I know you have not encountered Jesus in the way that we did, face to face. However, I also know that His message has proceeded through the centuries from my day. By His Spirit men and women in every age have met the Savior and been transformed by Him.

Joanna couldn’t stop talking about that man who seemed to know all about her. He told her flat out that He was God’s promised Messiah. She could not keep that information to herself. Do you find that to be true in your life? When you came to believe in Jesus, didn’t you feel your heart transformed by the mysterious power of His presence? Don’t you find that you wanted to do whatever you could to share His message with others? Jesus encouraged us to share His name. He told us that the fields are white for the harvest. There are countless souls who will respond to His Gospel if we share it with them. He encouraged us to gather fruit for eternal life. Are you doing it?

Here is what I think. People who have truly encountered Jesus Christ, whether in person or by His Spirit, can’t really help doing whatever they can to spread His Gospel. I wouldn’t have expected to see the likes of Joanna in heaven, but she resides there at this very moment. She was forgiven. If you have also been forgiven and granted eternal life, I hope you are doing something to help others find the Savior. There are people in your world like Joanna who have ruined their lives through sin. They need to know that forgiveness can be found through Jesus Christ. They need to know that no matter how far you have fallen into sin, there is hope through the Savior. I implore you to do what you can to make sure that the name of Jesus is alive in your community.

While I was a more respectable citizen than was Joanna, when I met Jesus face to face, I felt dirty. His purity was so evident that I realized I was no better than Joanna. I often wondered what would have become of me if Joanna had not told me about Jesus. I was as lost as she was even though I didn’t realize it, but by the grace of God we both met Jesus and found forgiveness. If you do not know that divine forgiveness which Jesus brings in your own soul, it is available to you. All it will cost you is to turn to the Savior with faith. If you do know of God’s merciful forgiveness, please do as Joanna did. Share His name with others.


THE SAMARITAN WOMAN, PART 2

(True Worship)

Warsaw Christian Church (6/7/20), Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text:  John 4:19-26. The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.

When our church life was interrupted by the Coronavirus, I was ready for a second sermon relating to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan. Today we continue where we left off many weeks later! In part two of the discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we learn some essential lessons about worship. I want to focus on that topic this morning. Our first task is to define what we mean by “worship.” Our word comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “worth-ship.” That is, when you worship God, you are saying He has worth or value.  You assign “worth” to that which you worship. What is God worth?  As the Creator of all that is, His worth is immeasurable. He is worthy of all the praise, honor, and adoration we can give to Him. We refer to this hour as a “worship service,” and I hope that is what it is for all of us. We are here to express to God His worth. We are here to tell Him how much we value Him. 

Lesson 1: Anything you assign more worth to than you do to God is what you really worship. If you value money more than God, you worship money. If you assign more worth to family than to God, you are worshipping family.  If you see your job as having greater worth than God, you are worshipping employment. Well, you get the idea. Anything that has more worth to you than God is what you are worshipping. That is idolatry. What do you value more than anything else? I hope the answer is having a relationship with God. 

The second thing we learn in our text is that the place of worship is not important. The Jews and Samaritans had different centers of worship. Jesus stresses that a time is coming when neither Jerusalem nor Mount Gerizim in Samaria will be important as centers of worship. What matters is Who we worship and how we worship, not where we worship. What time is He pointing toward? It seems apparent that the future time that will change worship forever is His death, resurrection, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem will eventually be destroyed, as will the worship center in Samaria. Jesus envisions a time when worship will not be at a particular time or place. 

Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which every true Christian receives, worship is a daily task.  Consider these words from the Lord: 1 Cor. 6:19: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”  John 14:16,17: “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” The fact that the Holy Spirit indwells every true believer forever changes how we worship. Yes, we worship God together in church on Sunday morning.  We should not, however, cease to worship when we leave this building. We see the worth and value of God in our daily tasks, and our hearts turn to Him frequently with thoughts of praise and adoration. We see His hand in nature, in our families, in the blessings that are all around us, and feelings of adoration and praise arise in our hearts continually, or at least that is the way it should be. The Holy Spirit always reminds us of the goodness of God, lifting our hearts to Him in worship daily.  The Holy Spirit is active in those who walk by faith.  He inspires and enables us to worship God in Spirit. 

Can one still worship in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerazim?  Of course, one can worship God anywhere.  Jesus is making the point that the object and manner of worship are far more important than the place. True worship is God-centered and Spirit directed.  Our text states that some times worship is done in ignorance. Jesus said to the woman, “You worship what you do not know.” They had a twisted, distorted view of God, and the result was worship that lacked authenticity. Under the New Covenant, worship must be directed toward the Father, in the name of the Son, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who pray in some other manner have no reason to expect an answer. They worship what they do not know. 

I have read reports where military chaplains have been ordered not to use the name of Jesus when they pray. Those who make such demands are asking the chaplains to pray to an “unknown god.”  There is but one true God whom we address as “Our Father.”  He is known to us but in one way, through Jesus Christ His Son, our Lord and Savior. To ask a Christian to avoid the name of Jesus when praying is to ask him to deny the faith. 

Our Lord points out to this woman that salvation is of the Jews, not the Samaritans or any other people group. The Messiah and Savior of the world came in and through the Jewish people.  You cannot come to know God through the distorted religion of Samaria, or any other world religion. Salvation is of the Jews, said our Lord. Only through faith in the Jewish Messiah can one find salvation.  This is an idea repeatedly frequently in Scripture. 

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). 

Notice next that Jesus informs us that the Father is seeking people who will worship Him. Does this mean that God is a supernatural egotist who demands that we worship Him? Notice John’s language.  There is no demand made here. God is seeking those who will worship Him. He knows that He is the only God there is.  He knows that He created us in His image.  He knows that only as we are in harmony with our Creator can we find meaning and fulfillment in life. When we worship God, we are seeking to align our lives with His will. The world, and many people we know who are in the world, are in a mess because of failure to understand this simple principle. Many operate outside of the will of God, and the result is the tragic world in which we live. If people worshiped God, affirming His worth, seeking His will, they would enjoy the benefit of having God on their side. 

Those who do not worship the One true and living God may be ever so religious, but they worship in ignorance. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that God is a Spirit. What does that mean? For one thing, it means that God is not flesh and blood as we are.  God is invisible, and thus we are forbidden to make an image of God.  You cannot create an image of an invisible being. God is unknowable to us unless He chooses to reveal Himself. He has chosen to reveal Himself in His Son, who took on flesh and blood and lived among us. Apart from the divine revelation in the Bible and the incarnation of the Son of God, we would have no clue as to what God is like. 

Jesus affirms that we must worship God in “In Spirit and truth.” Given Jesus’ earlier encounter with Nicodemus, I believe Jesus is saying that we cannot worship God at all unless we have been born of the Spirit. Some have thought that worship “in spirit” means to worship sincerely. Of course, worship must be done sincerely. That goes without saying, but that is not the point Jesus makes here. We must be born of the Spirit to worship God with integrity. God is Spirit, and we must possess the Holy Spirit to truly worship.  Paul says plainly that we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit of God comes to our aid (see Romans 8:26).  We learn in Acts 2:38 that when we repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Only when that gift is obtained are we then able to worship God. 

This is, I believe, what it means to worship God in Spirit. We are also to worship “in truth.” The meaning here is clear. God has revealed His truth to us in Jesus Christ and Sacred Scripture. You cannot worship God properly if your life is not aligned with divine truth. This means two things. First, it means that we strive to live our lives in conformity to divine truth.  Second, it means that when we fall short, we quickly confess our sin, repent, and ask for forgiveness and restoration. We come to the Lord’s Table to receive once again the assurance of divine pardon. One cannot pray in truth if our lives are out of harmony with God. 

We wonder how much of what Jesus said was understood by this woman. She probably does not comprehend very much, as is evident in her next statement. “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming.  When he comes he will explain everything to us.” The Samaritans still retained the Jewish idea of a coming Messiah. She tells Jesus that when the Messiah comes, He will explain everything, and she will then understand God. Jesus then makes an astonishing statement, “I who speak to you am He.”  

There were times when Jesus did not want His identity revealed.  When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, He asked His disciples not to disclose this to others (Matt. 16). He asks a healed leper to keep quiet about what had happened to him (Matt. 8); He healed a deaf man in Mark 7 and told him to tell no one.  When He was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, He admonished them to tell no man what they had seen until later. When the daughter of Jairus was raised from the dead, Jesus again says, “tell no man” (Luke 9). 

But in our text, when dealing with a confused, sinful Samaritan woman, He reveals His identity to her. And as we will see next week, she proceeds to tell others. In addition to what I said previously on this theme, it may have been because the Jewish people had so many false political ideas attached to the Messiah.  Jesus wanted those who believed in Him to keep quiet until the proper time. After His resurrection, when the fullness of the Gospel was revealed, He commanded His disciples to go into all the world and proclaim the good news. 

Jesus tells us how we are to worship God. We do well to heed His instructions, seeking always to worship God in Spirit and in truth. To obey this command, we must know that we have received the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit dwelling within will prompt us to worship God within both the church and elsewhere.  We must also be living our lives in harmony with divine truth to worship God with integrity. Our prayers, hymns, sermons, and words of praise must conform to divine truth.  To worship God while ignoring the divine truth revealed in Scripture is to worship in ignorance. 

Jesus announced that the time has arrived when those who seek to worship God must worship Him in Spirit and truth. If you are one who underlines in your Bible, you might want to highlight the word “must” in 4:25. It is not an option.  Those who worship God must worship in Spirit and truth. Let us resolve to follow these divine instructions. 


DECISIONS DETERMINE OUR DESTINY

Warsaw Christian Church (5/31/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Hebrews 11:24-28: 

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.  By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,  choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures [i]in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

Everyone wants to live a happy and fulfilling life. I don’t know anyone who wants to be sad and miserable. Unfortunately, life does not always cooperate with our desire to be happy. Life keeps throwing barriers in our path (like the Coronavirus), hindering our longing for a happy and fulfilling life. If we learn to make the right decisions in life, we are much more likely to find peace and contentment. Bad choices lead to misery, while good choices lead to joy and peace. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control the decisions we make in response to events. With God’s help, we can make wise, godly decisions. 

We have all heard the aphorism, “You are what you eat.” That saying refers to physical health and well-being. In the psychological-spiritual realm, you are what you decide. Decisions have a massive impact on the quality of life we live. Some decisions are easy, and some are difficult. One man was asked this question during a job interview: “Do you have trouble making decisions?” The man replied, “Well, yes, and no.” The secret for Christians is to make decisions compatible with the will of God. When our decisions are in harmony with the will of God, they will always be the right decisions. 

We learn something about making good decisions from our text in Hebrews. Moses faced having to make some critical choices, and we can learn from his example. I see four principles in our text that will guide our decision making. 

First Principle: We must choose God’s plan instead of our own. 

As I was working on this sermon, I thought of a Christian pastor in Iran. His name is Youcef Nadarkhani. Under the Iranian court’s interpretation of Sharia law, he may be executed for his faith. Three times the authorities asked him to renounce Christ. Three times he refused. Islamic law gives you three chances to change your mind, with execution to follow. Like Moses, he has decided that to suffer for Christ is to be preferred over life without Him. As of 2018, he remains in an Iranian prison.

It is not always easy to submit to God’s plan, especially when we are not sure where He intends to lead us. The decision to choose the will of God is not one we make depending on the situation. It is a decision for life, a no-matter-what decision. Chances are we will never be in the position Moses was, where we must choose between wealth and power, or the will of God. Nevertheless, we make decisions daily. We must decide once for all.  Do I agree to follow God’s way or my way? Have you made that decision? Are you one of those people who think you can figure things out on your own? That may work temporarily, but sooner or later you will learn that you are not as wise as you think. The only sensible decision is always to choose the will of God. 

Second Principle: Favor with God trumps worldly interests and prestige. Some sacrifice their souls in the pursuit of worldly fame and fortune. Moses decided he preferred to be mistreated with God’s people rather than live as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Think about that decision. It was a decision that cost him tremendous wealth and power. In exchange, he received abuse. Moses made that decision with his eyes open. He knew he would become an outcast from the most powerful family on earth. He turned his back on all the benefits of Egyptian wealth and power, living in the desert as an outcast. He considered the will of God and decided it was worth more than all the treasures of Egypt. Do we have such a high view of the will of God? 

Why would anyone give up all that wealth and power and submit to the will of God? Moses understood something we must comprehend. All the wealth and power in the world has no significance if the will of God is sacrificed to obtain it. Jesus once told us that our souls – our eternal destiny – is of more value than gaining the whole world (Matthew 16:26). 

Our decisions reveal much about our spirituality. Every time we make a decision divorced from the will of God, we demonstrate the weakness of our faith. We show that we have doubts about eternity, so we make decisions which center on self and this world. What is your choice when Sunday morning rolls around? When you stay away from Sunday School or church, does God tell you to stay away, or is that your decision? Many in our congregation have decided that Wednesday Bible study is not for them. Is that the will of God for you? When you give to the cause of Christ, do you follow God’s will? It is the will of God that you forgive all those who have hurt or offended you. Are you following God’s will? Moses faced a momentous decision. He could have wealth and power beyond measure, or he could suffer with God’s people. He chose to suffer, embracing the will of God. What about me? What about you?   

Third Principle: Worldly pleasure is fun, but it expires over time. Disobeying God can be fun for a season. The tithe that belongs to God can buy some pleasurable things for you. Adultery and fornication can be very enjoyable, at least for a while. There are things you can do on Sunday morning that are much more enjoyable than being in church. Getting even with someone who hurt you can bring perverse pleasure, but the will of God is forgiveness.  What is your decision? Serving Christ through His church is not always as enjoyable as secular pursuits. Moses learned that his choice for the will of God led to mistreatment and suffering. Have you made any decisions for Christ lately that caused you suffering? Have I? What sacrifices have we made for Jesus recently? He endured the agony of the cross for us. 

Yes, our text acknowledges that sin has pleasure for a season, but the season will come to an end, and then what? Sin seems to be the most natural path, but the path of least resistance is often a deadly road. The thief may enjoy the money he stole, but his time in jail is not so enjoyable. Infidelity may bring temporary pleasure, but what happens when your disobedience catches up with you? I used to enjoy smoking. Actually, it was the cigarette that smoked. I was just the sucker on the other end! I just followed the example of my cigarette smoking Dad, who died too young with emphysema and COPD. Decisions have consequences. Some behaviors bring short term pleasure, but the results are deadly. 

Fourth Principle: Heavenly rewards trump earthly riches. Following Jesus is not always easy.  However, whatever we sacrifice for Him we will gain a hundredfold in eternity. Do you want short term pleasure or eternal rewards? What is your decision?

Consider the opulence present in the pyramids. Look at the wealth discovered in the tombs of ancient Pharaohs. What would induce Moses to turn his back on all of that? Look again at verse 26. Moses “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” Moses considered what he possessed as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and then he considered the rewards of faithfulness to God. It is a no-brainer. 

If you had to choose between riches in this world,  or suffering for your faith, what would your decision be? Khufu, Cheops, King Tut, Ramses- – -the great Pharaoh’s of ancient Egypt – – – are buried in great pyramids.  Grave robbers or archeologists have taken the wealth buried with them. What became of their souls? 

Moses is buried in an unmarked grave on a lonely hill in the desert. Did he make the right choice? He appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, alive and well centuries after his death. He chose to identify with God’s Messiah 2000 years before Jesus was born! Today he is enjoying the rewards that go with making the right decision. 

All of us face decisions daily. It boils down to two choices: My will or God’s will. My way or Jesus’ way. I urge one and all to make two critical life decisions;  trust Jesus – follow Jesus. Those two decisions will lead to peace in our hearts now and eternal blessedness in the future. Decisions made contrary to the will of God lead to misery and trouble in this life and may have consequences in the next life. Decisions determine destiny! Moses saw that earthly wealth and position were nothing in comparison to what God has planned for His people. He made the right choice.  We need to do likewise. 


THE LUKEWARM CHURCH
Warsaw Christian Church, (5/24/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Revelation 3:14-22

There are many disturbing passages in Scripture. Sometimes we preachers like to avoid them, preferring to preach only on positive subjects. However, all who claim to be ministers of the Word are under obligation to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Some Christians take a perverted delight in hearing how God will judge unbelievers. In our text for today, however, God is not speaking to those outside the church. He is speaking to those who have confessed faith in Jesus Christ and are a part of His church.

His words are quite alarming. To His church He says, “You make me sick. Your lukewarm spiritual condition is repulsive to me. I am about to throw up.” This is an extremely graphic, frightening language. The church at Laodecia is on the verge of receiving very severe divine discipline. We need to understand why this church is in trouble with the Lord so that we may avoid their errors.

The church at Laodecia faced two related problems. First problem: They are satisfied with their church. They are complacent. They think they are spiritually healthy and need nothing else from God. They have arrived. Oh, they probably would admit they are not perfect, but they are good enough to pass the divine muster. They have all the basics in place and need nothing to improve their spiritual condition.

This leads to problem number two: They are spiritually in a lukewarm condition. They are redeemed believers who trust in Jesus as their Savior. They are bound for heaven. Their lukewarm state is a reference to their works. Keep in mind that this is not a text about salvation. It is a text about the quality of our service in the Kingdom of God. At one time, the Laodecians were hot – – – on fire in their service to the Master. They were working hard at obeying Jesus.

They had won many others to faith in Jesus, including some of Laodecia’s wealthiest citizens. There was more than enough money in the church offerings. The coffers were full. It was a nice church, a credit to the Kingdom of God. In the early days, their attitude was one of reaching out to the community with the good news of Jesus. Now the members were saying, “People know where the church is located. They can come if they wish.” At one time, they thought, “Jesus has saved us and given us the gift of eternal life. We must thank Him by living for Him.” Now they thought, “Since heaven is a gift, we don’t need to worry about serving Jesus. We don’t want to be perceived as fanatics.” At one time, the Laodecians saw the church of Jesus Christ as the most significant institution in their lives. Oh, they still supported the church, but now they were more interested in community activities. Local social, economic, political, vocational, and recreational activities ate up more and more of their time. These are not evil things in themselves. We are all involved in them to a degree, but they should never be regarded as more important than our relationship with Jesus through His church.

At one time, Jesus had been the center of their lives. Now He was relegated to a secondary position. The Laodiceans, however, were ignorant of their spiritual condition. They loved their church. They were satisfied with their church. They saw themselves as good and faithful Christians.

The view from heaven reveals a very different picture. Jesus describes them as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” He summed up their spiritual condition by describing them as “lukewarm.” Their church, in the beginning, had resembled a military outpost in Laodecia. Every day they sent their spiritual troops against the enemy, and many of those enemies came to faith in Jesus Christ. Now they had become a semi-private religious club, ignored by the community around them. They were a harmless church, useless to God, and they liked it that way.

Jesus uses three words to describe churches. Some are hot. These are churches deeply committed to Jesus. Some are cold. These are churches in name only. They believe in the Savior, but little service for Him is taking place. They are on the verge of death. They are like a corpse; they look like a church, but there is little spiritual service. Others are lukewarm, not yet cold, but moving in that direction. I wonder which of these three words Jesus would apply to the Warsaw Christian Church? Hot? Cold? Lukewarm? Or, to make it personal, how does Jesus view me, or you? Hot, cold, or lukewarm.

Churches are not static institutions. They have a life of their own, and movement and change go on continuously. The question we must ask is this: what is our direction as a church? Are we moving closer to hot, or are we drifting in the cold direction? On a scale of 1 to 10 with ten being hot, I do not think many churches will be classified as 10’s. We hope there are not many churches that have grown completely cold, but it does happen. What is the direction of our church? Are we moving toward 10, or drifting toward 1?

If we sense a touch of lukewarmness in our church, what are we to do? The first thing to do is to realize that Jesus loves lukewarm churches. Jesus loves the Church at Laodecia. He does not love their condition, but He loves the people. He warns them that because of their lukewarmness, discipline is coming. The church will face problems; the individual members will encounter difficulties. Jesus says, “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline.” Divine discipline is intended to move the church in two ways.

First, Jesus calls for repentance in verse 19. Some churches have difficulty responding to this call for repentance. We can assume the Laodiceans were lukewarm and drifting towards the cold end of the scale. Perhaps they were offended by this call to repentance. Remember, they are satisfied and think they need nothing. The Lord of the church is speaking to them almost as though they were pagan unbelievers. “We? – – – repent? How absurd! We are one of the finest churches in Asia Minor. When the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation, he must have been suffering from heatstroke or some brain disorder.” They probably did ignore John’s message because in time, the church at Laodecia passed out of existence. They grew colder and colder, and finally, the church closed its doors. If we need to repent as individuals or as a church, we need to take it seriously and hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

The second thing Jesus asked of the church at Laodecia probably shocked them even more than the call to repentance. We often use Revelation 3:20 to refer to individuals, but it was originally addressed to the church: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Here is the picture presented to us in our text. I see a church. Perhaps it is a grand cathedral or a more humble building, such as the one in which we worship. The church has a door. Jesus stands on the outside and knocks, waiting for the church to open to Him. Some churches would be highly offended by the notion that Jesus was on the outside, seeking entrance.

The text calls for us to think carefully. It begins with the image of Jesus standing at the door of the church, but then the imagery shifts to the individual. If anyone (any individual) hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me. Jesus speaks to every individual in the church, asking them to open their hearts to Him. Jesus refers to a spiritual dining, recognizing again that He is the bread of life. We are to receive from Him the spiritual nourishment we need.

At one level, it seems as though these Laodecians have lost their faith. Repentance and faith in Jesus is the message we proclaim to unbelievers. However, it is essential to keep in mind the context. The issue under discussion is not salvation. These lukewarm Laodecians are Christians. At least we can assume that most of them do believe in Jesus. There were probably some hypocrites mixed in with the believers. The problem is this; they are lukewarm in their works. They have lost their original enthusiasm to work for Jesus. He is still their indwelling Savior. However, He is absent from their deeds. They need to repent of their lukewarm service to the Master and invite Him into their daily tasks.

Spiritual lukewarmness is a dangerous condition because those who are in that condition have a difficult time admitting it. They think all is well and the call to renewed repentance and faith falls on deaf ears. “I don’t need to invite Jesus into my heart. He is already there.” That is not the issue. The issue is this. Is He in command of your life as you go about your daily tasks?

When you think of evangelism, for example, are you actively involved, or sitting on the sidelines? Is He on the outside of that decision because you do not want to face your responsibility to evangelize? What about simple honesty and integrity? Is He on the inside, guiding you to live on a high moral plane, or do you make a lot of ethical decisions with Him on the outside? Who decides what you will give out of your resources to further the work of the Kingdom? Is Jesus on the inside of that decision, or the outside? Do you sometimes stay away from the church simply because you just don’t want to be involved? Who made that decision, you or Jesus?

I hope I have presented the points raised in our text. Let me close by summarizing in a few words. Jesus loves you, but He wants to be more actively involved in your daily decisions (or in your works). The issue is not salvation, but discipleship. Salvation remains forever a gift given in response to faith in Jesus. Discipleship refers to how faithfully we serve the Master. If Jesus is calling you to repentance and seeking more of a presence in your daily life, what will your response be? Will you throw open the door of your heart and say, “Jesus, come in and take charge of my daily activities.” Or will you say, “I am satisfied with my Christian life. I need nothing.” I have to make that choice daily, and so do you.


DIVINE GUIDANCE FOR COMMON FOLKS

WARSAW CHRISTIAN CHURCH (5/17/20) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

There have been times in the past (and in the present also) when God has made His will known in some extraordinary manner.  Sometimes He spoke directly to the prophets enabling them to thunder out the phrase — THUS SAITH THE LORD.   The apostle Paul was knocked to the ground and blinded when God spoke to him and told him what he must do.  John, the apostle, had a strange vision on the Isle of Patmos wherein God revealed to him things which pertain to the future.  There are persons today who claim that God has spoken to them directly.

This sermon is not about unusual guidance.  This is a sermon for folks who, like myself, have never heard God speak directly.  While we all need divine guidance, God does not always provide it extraordinarily.  On the other hand, God has promised to lead and guide His people.  Our task this morning is to try and understand how God guides us ordinarily — apart from His speaking directly to us, or granting us a dream or vision, or knocking us to the ground.  If God extraordinarily speaks to you, I suggest you listen.  If He speaks to you without any outward manifestations,  it is your task to learn how that speaking takes place. 

I want to use as our basic text Proverbs 3:5,6 — “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”  The text ends with the promise, “He (God) shall direct your paths.”  We want to examine how it is we reach the point where we can say with confidence that God is directing our path. 

There are three concepts in our text we must understand. First, there is wholehearted trust; second, refusing to trust in oneself; and third, acknowledging God in all things.  Once those three items are in place in your life, you can rest assured that God is directing your steps, even when you have no experience of His guidance.  We begin with the word TRUST.  The Hebrew word is “batach,” (baw-takh’); a primitive root which means to go someplace for refuge.  If you went into a cave to get out of the rain, you had “batach” for the cave; trust that it would keep you dry.  Thus, the word came to mean to trust, be confident or sure, to put confidence in someone or just plain “trust.”

Thus, to trust in God means to go to God as our place of refuge; to have confidence that He will protect us and direct us.  Solomon, the author of many of the Proverbs, adds, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  If we wish to be directed by God, we must become people whose trust in God is wholehearted.  This is a repetition of the First Commandment. An unconditional faith in God means that He has first place in our hearts.  Such trust is both logical and necessary.  God is the creator of everything that exists. He is the Supreme Being, the source of everything true, good, and beautiful.  He is worthy of our total trust.  Logic demands that we trust God supremely. 

If we trust anyone or anything more than we trust God, we are acting illogically.  To be more blunt, we are acting stupidly.  It is so easy for us to allow something other than God to rise to the top of our value list.  Jesus told a parable about a man who did just that.  He had money, full barns,  and he felt safe and secure.  He thought these things would protect him against any eventuality, and so he trusted in them.  The problem was he was going to die that very night, and of what value would be his wealth when standing before God (Luke 12:16)?

God has promised to direct the paths of those whose faith in Him is without reservation.  That which we trust becomes our guiding path in life.  If we trust money and things, our path will be directed by the stock market or interest rates.  If we believe supremely in ourselves, our paths will be guided by self.  If we trust in some humanistic philosophy, our path will be guided by that philosophy.  If we believe in God, then He shall guide our steps.  Take care where you place your trust, for that which you trust will direct your path. 

Our text now adds a thought to clarify what it means to trust in God.  We are told to “lean not on our own understanding.” In other words, don’t trust your analysis of life situations.  We tend to examine problems and opportunities, and then too quickly initiate a plan of action based on our human perceptions.  We are, of course, to use our brains in trying to cope with life.  We are not being told to plunge into irrationality. We are not to put our minds into neutral. Instead, we are not to place any final or ultimate trust in our wisdom.  We are to seek out the wisdom of God through Scripture and prayer, trusting God to correct the failings of our human wisdom so that our final and ultimate trust is in God.

Let’s use an example.  Suppose I have decided taxes are too high (that won’t take much supposing!), and therefore to make taxes fairer, I choose to cheat on my income tax.  It may seem like a logical thing to do. This action will hurt no one, and the government will never miss the money.  Having once worked for the government, I know first hand how much money is wasted in government bureaucracies.  Human wisdom may well conclude, “Go ahead.  Cheat on your taxes.”  But as a Christian, I have to go beyond the thoughts of my brain and search God’s Word.  Does God’s word say anything about taxes?  Yes, it does.  Romans 13:7 reads as follows: “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes. . .”  Is there anywhere in the Bible where cheating and lying are set forth as virtues? As I pray about the matter, is God going to tell me to go against His revealed Word? No!  As I attack decisions in this manner, allowing God to have the final word, and then act according to the will of God,  who will be directing my path?  Of course, the answer is God.

Our text continues with these words: “In all your ways acknowledge Him.”  First, trust,  then, acknowledge.  What is the difference between trusting God and acknowledging God?  The Hebrew word used here is “yadah.” It is a primitive root meaning to know or to ascertain by experience.   It means to discern or discover; to come to know. 

There are times when it is challenging to take one Hebrew word and translate it with one English word.  When I see the word “acknowledge” in English, it seems like much too weak a word to translate what our text declares.  Acknowledge in my mind can mean something straightforward, like waving to a friend in acknowledgment that you see them.  The Hebrew word is a strong word meaning to have a first-hand knowledge of God.

The verb is in the imperative mood, meaning it is a command — or even a shout. KNOW GOD!  Thus, whatever I am doing or planning to do, I am to bring God into that situation.  I am to seek Him in all of life’s circumstances.  Another way to express this is to say that the believer’s desire to know God is so intense that God is in the mind and heart in every situation.  Thus, when you do your taxes, God is present. When you relate to your wife and children, God is there. When you are engaged in your vocation, God is there.  When you face sickness, God is there.  The Psalmist expressed this truth in these words — “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10). 

Is your trust in God so deep and sincere that even in those irrational times when you think you might want to flee from His presence, you cannot? That is “yadah.” That is what it means to acknowledge God in all your ways — a relationship with God so intense and so real there is no escaping, and, in our better moments, we don’t want to flee from God’s presence. 

We can immediately see a relationship between trusting God and knowing God.  We must know God before we can trust Him, and the more we trust Him, the more we know Him.  In terms of the new covenant, we came to know God when we learned of Jesus and placed our trust in Him.  As we live our lives rooted in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our faith grows, and our knowledge of God grows.  When we reach the point where our trust is wholehearted, and our understanding of God is such that He is present with us in every circumstance, then we have the assurance that God is directing our path.

Isn’t that what we want?  Have you ever said, “I wish I had a clearer idea of God’s will for my life?  I wish I knew more of His guidance and direction. I wish God would speak to me in a loud and clear manner.”  We may be looking for God’s extraordinary guidance while overlooking His normal or usual manner of guiding our lives.  If God chooses to speak to you extraordinarily, then so be it.  If He doesn’t, don’t assume that you are without divine guidance.  There is guidance for every Christian in the plain and simple words of our text.  Trust God with all your heart; know God intensely through His self-revelation in Scripture and through personal communion via prayer.  Let God have the last word in every decision and circumstance of life, and He will direct your path.  

Well, this sounds good, but perhaps it is a bit abstract.  Let’s consider some practical aspects to this matter of divine guidance.  There are things we can do which promote growth in our faith and knowledge of God (the building blocks which lead to divine guidance), and there are things we do which weaken our faith and knowledge of God. 

God has given to us what some refer to as “means of grace” — ways in which God builds up our faith and understanding.  I am referring primarily to these items: church involvement; Christ established the church as a means of enabling us to grow in faith and knowledge of God.  God chooses to grant many of His blessings to us in and through the fellowship of the church; Bible study: God gave us His word as a means of spiritual growth.  As we begin to determine our course by what is written in Scripture, our faith and knowledge of God increases; baptism and communion; God gave us these ordinances and those who faithfully receive them grow in their faith and knowledge of God. Through prayer. Our relationship with God deepens as we commune with Him faithfully. Through obedience.  As we decide to obey Christ in all things as best we understand Him, and by following His revealed Word in Scripture, our faith and knowledge grows.  

Those who take these five basic means of grace seriously will grow in faith and understanding. They will have confidence that God is guiding their path.  Sadly, I know persons who claim to be Christian who regularly neglect one or more of these means of grace.  It should not surprise us to learn that such persons flounder spiritually, making one mistake after another, having no sense of divine direction over their lives.  Our sense of divine guidance will be hindered by willful disobedience; by the neglect of Christ’s church and Christ’s ordinances;  by loving this present world and responding to its allurements without considering the mind and will of God; by becoming too busy so that prayer and Bible study are crowded out of one’s life.  If we do not faithfully use those things given to us by God to enable us to grow in faith and knowledge, we will have little sense of divine guidance. 

I want to mention two more hindrances to guidance that do not fit into the above scheme and therefore need special attention.  Sometimes solid Christians become accustomed to living in a state of grace and may convince themselves that they can neglect the things of God.  Thus, a strong Christian may think to himself, “I am fully aware of the teachings of the Bible, and therefore, I need not pursue God’s Word with the diligence I once had.”  Or, “Even though my prayer life has slipped lately, I still pray more than others.”  

One of the dangers for strong Christians is the risk we have examined before in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.  Strong Christians may see so many weak Christians around them that they become full of pride,  that pride which goes before the fall (Proverbs 16:18).  The very desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of God can create spiritual danger, a sense of spiritual pride that spells death for the soul if it is not recognized and corrected. 

While we must pursue the divinely appointed means of grace with all diligence, we must do so, remembering that God always resists the proud and grants His grace to the humble.  Micah expressed it this way in a familiar verse in which he answered the question, “What does the Lord require of you?”  He mentions justice and mercy but closes with a reminder that we must ever walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).  I think it is accurate to say that once we lose humility, we lose God.

Finally, those who seek to walk with God quickly learn that such a life always generates opposition.  Even within the church, the more serious Christians are sometimes opposed by the less serious.  And when we try to follow Christ in this godless, secular world around us, there will be strong opposition.  Many earnest Christians get tired of the struggle, or perhaps are too eager for the approval of the world, and so they let up.  They grow weary in well-doing.  We need Paul’s reminder that if we refuse to give in to spiritual weariness and press on in our desire to be faithful to Christ,  in due season, we shall reap the reward of knowing God’s blessing and guidance upon our lives (see Gal. 6:9). 

We have covered much territory, so let me close with a summary.  If you want to know divine guidance in your life, do these things:

     1. Trust God with all your heart.

     2. Desire the presence of God in every life situation.

     3. Use the divinely appointed means of grace.

     4. Stay humble before God.

     5. Persist in the face of weariness caused by opposition to our faith. 

Follow this path, and you will eventually know deep inside that God is directing your steps.  You may not hear God speaking audibly; you may not have dreams and visions; you may not have any outward manifestation of the divine presence, but you will know in the depths of your innermost being that God is guiding your life.  He has promised to guide us, and God always keeps His promises.    


MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

Warsaw Christian Church, Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020

Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 1:46-55

Introduction

In our world, we often hear certain people described as role models. One of my role models as a child was Stan Musial, the great slugger who spent his entire career in St. Louis. I even taught myself to bat left-handed, so I could imitate Stan the Man. In the Scriptures, we find role models to emulate. On Mother’s Day, we think of women like Deborah, Mary, and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and of course, the Mother of Jesus. Because Roman Catholic Christians have unduly exalted Mary to a position of veneration, some non-Catholic Christians have neglected to benefit from the positive example of this great role model of motherhood.

Today, on Mother’s Day, let us look at Mary to discover something about her faith and her faithfulness. Let us look at Mary so that we might find some of the factors that contributed to her success as a mother. While some Christians want to exalt her to a position of co-Savior, let us this morning see her as a humble, faithful Jewish girl chosen for a remarkable mission. Let us look upon her as a role model for mothers. And when I speak of mothers, I am not talking only about women who have had children. I am speaking of single women, sisters, and aunts – – – all women who influence children. 

I. Mary was chosen for a mission.

Mary became the mother of our Lord through a miraculous conception. Jesus was born of a virgin. He had an earthly mother without a human father. We know from Scripture that Mary’s pregnancy created problems for her. Joseph, at first, assumed she had betrayed him and was prepared to break off their engagement. To show up pregnant without a husband in ancient Israel did not make one popular. In some cases, it led to the death penalty. I am sure she experienced abuse and ridicule from some of her neighbors. 

The eternal God chose to clothe Himself in human flesh, and, to come to us, He sent His Son by way of a miraculous virgin birth. It was not Mary’s virginity alone that qualified her uniquely for becoming the mother of our Lord. Based on what we know from Scripture, we know that Mary had many beautiful qualities. Mary was a devout worshiper of the true God. God would select no one else to bring His Son into the world. She was a young woman who realized her dependence upon God. Mary was quick to be obedient to the will of God as soon as she understood it. She was thankful that God choose her for this particular mission. She was a faithful Jew who would play a key role in ushering in the New Covenant.   

II. Mary was chosen as a model or example.

Mary was chosen not only for a mission but also to serve as an example to other mothers.

A. Mary responded positively to God’s gracious plan for her life. The announcement that she would bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit was surely an unbelievable challenge. Yet with firm but humble faith Mary responded, “Be it unto me according to your will.” Mothers today who approach parenthood in that same spirit will find their task to be blessed by God. Those who, like Mary, stand ready to carry out the will of God as they understand it, will find the presence of God to be a daily reality.   

B. Mary magnified the Lord in song for his goodness and graciousness. God puts a song in the hearts of those who trust him. Mary’s song in that section of Scripture we call “The Magnificat” reflects her deep faith and her love for God. She prays, “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46).  She praises God for His regard for her lowly estate. Mothers today who live by faith will also have a song in their hearts. 

C. Mary worshiped the mighty God of Israel “For He who is mighty has done great things for me”(Luke 1:49). Mary’s God was no wimp and no weakling. He was the great God, the creator God, the redeeming God. He was God on the throne, and she responded to His authority. Mothers today who have a worldview that exalts God will be blessed, as was Mary. Motherhood can be a challenging task, and those who enter into that task trusting in a mighty heavenly Father will find that He is present to help. 

D. Mary worshiped the merciful God. “His mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation”(Luke 1:50). Those who believe in a merciful God will find His mercy to be present in their lives. The merciful love of God expresses itself in a persistent attitude of goodwill and helpfulness to His people, even when we don’t deserve it. The psalmist described the God of Israel as “a very present help in trouble.” Mary experienced this helping hand of God, and she became a helper to Him in His work of helping others. Mothers,  follow the example of Mary. The merciful God in whom Mary trusted is also your God. 

III. Mary suffered the pains of motherhood.

There is pain associated with the birth experience. There are considerable pains along the pathway of life for mothers, and Mary became acquainted with those pains. 

A. When Jesus was twelve years of age, Mary found it difficult to understand her Son (Luke 2:49 – 50). Mary could sympathize with modern mothers of teenagers. Sometimes our children can be a real enigma. We have many grandmothers in our congregation who can tell you first hand that children can be a real pain.  Our younger mothers will experience that as their children grow up. Mothers with strong faith receive the wisdom to deal with their children.   

B. Later on other members of the family in which Jesus grew up were unsympathetic toward him. They did not accept Him as the Messiah until after his resurrection. We read in John 7:3 that his brothers did not believe in Him. No doubt, they were embarrassed by Him. Sibling rivalry has caused pain to many a mother. Again, the faith of Mary will be a definite help in handling such competition. 

C. Mary undoubtedly experienced significant pain when her Son was rejected by the people of His home town, Nazareth. They heard the words of Jesus and reacted with murderous intent. “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff” (Luke 4:28 – 29). No mother wants to see her Son rejected by others. I am sure Mary was deeply troubled by this reaction to her Son. If you have a child rejected by society, Mary would positively identify with you. We do not pray to Mary as she is not a god, but we may find comfort in knowing that she identifies with the pain felt by modern mothers. Diana Allen nicely sums up the sentiment of many mothers. After explaining the hardships of parenthood, she writes, “There will be days when I’ll still hunt through the yellow pages for the number for the Mother’s Resignation Hotline … or my heart will feel as though it has been shattered into a thousand pieces. One thing is sure, however: I have to hang on, to stand firm, to fight the good fight. The souls of my children and the quality of the lives they live here on earth is at stake—and so is their eternity. My children are too precious for me to do anything but persevere.”

D. Mary suffered the horrible humiliation of seeing her Son arrested, falsely accused, convicted, condemned, and crucified as a common criminal.Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother” (John 19:25). In no way can we fully understand the agony in this mother’s heart during these terrible hours when her Son was suffering as He did. Yes, she believed Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet she also knew Him in His humanity as her Son. Mothers (and fathers) who have seen their children suffer unjustly know how painful that is. Such pain often goes along with motherhood. 

IV. Mary worshiped a risen and ruling Savior.

Following our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, we find    Mary present with those who were rejoicing at His victory over death. She was with them as they prayed in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Her pain as a mother finally came to an end. Her Son was also God’s Son, and He triumphed over death and the grave. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and all those who care for children, whatever you are going through now, if you continue in faith, you will one day be richly rewarded. One day in heaven, we will sing, “It will be worth it all.” 

Conclusion

Mary is a good model for the modern mother. Hers was a life of great faith, as evidenced by her song, “the Magnificat,” our Scripture reading this morning. Mary’s heart was in tune with her Father God, and she was continually open to communication from him. Prayer was a dialogue rather than a monologue. Mary, the mother of our Lord, believed that God’s will was always right and that it was something to do rather than something merely to endure. Mary is a good role model for raising children. Those who approach the task of motherhood with her strong, simple faith will one day hear the Lord declare, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”


THE UNIVERSE: CREATOR OR ACCIDENT?

Warsaw Christian Church, (5/3/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text, Gen. 1:1-5

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.   And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.   God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.   God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.

Who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Such questions have plagued the human race for many centuries. I have spoken on creation verses evolution before, and it seems like time to discuss the subject again. It does have implications for us in the face of the Coronavirus. We begin with the only historical account of creation on record, Genesis 1.

Of course, many who consider themselves to be sophisticated moderns would laugh at what I just said. Many, even in the church, assume Genesis 1 to be a mythical story. The problem is that no one was present to witness creation, except God. There are those who attempt to account for the universe in which we live by keeping God out of the picture. Many reject the idea of a Creator. In the beginning was the Big Bang, and as luck would have it, this original mindless explosion resulted in the orderly universe in which we live. Further luck was involved in the creation of life from lifeless matter. Then life evolved over billions of years, resulting in such complexities as the human brain and mind, our marvelous senses, the wide variety in the animal kingdom and in the plant world. Speaking personally, I do not have enough faith to believe that this universe is the result of a mindless explosion billions of years ago. 

Suppose I drove up to your house in a brand-new Mercedes-Benz. Suppose I said, “I made this car myself. I threw a bunch of metal and plastic and other raw materials into a pile, then I blew it up with dynamite, and the result was this beautiful automobile.” I think you would suspect I had lost my mind. You would say, “A mindless, random explosion could never produce that automobile. It is clearly the result of intelligence.” I ask you to view something far more complex than an automobile. Glance around at the universe, the sun, moon and stars, the earth, a newborn baby – – – contemplate the immensity of it all, and you will join with Moses in declaring, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 

Dr. George Wald, a Nobel prize winner from Harvard University who rejects the idea of God creating the universe, made this strange admission. “One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are – – as a result, I believe in spontaneous generation.” This scientist claims, on the one hand, that living beings coming into existence spontaneously, with no Creator, is impossible, and yet he believes the impossible. He affirms that “nothing” spontaneously generated “something.” Talk about blind faith! I am not a Nobel Prize winner or a physicist, but to affirm that the universe generated spontaneously from nothing is absurd. “Nothing” cannot generate anything, let alone this vast, complex universe we call home. It is much more logical to say that if you start with nothing, nothing is all you will ever have.  It is much more reasonable to say that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a great scientist and also a Christian, had a model of the universe made for his own personal study. A large golden ball represented the sun, and through the use of pulleys and wheels, all the plants revolved around the sun in roughly the same way they orbited in reality. One of Newton’s friends, a man who did not believe in God, came by one day and marveled at this mechanical representation of the universe. He asked Newton, “Who made it for you.” Newton replied (no doubt with a twinkle in his eye), “Nobody.” His friend replied, “What do you mean, nobody made it.” Newton “explained” that all these materials just appeared in his laboratory one day, and by chance and luck, they just happened to assemble into a model of the universe. One can only hope that his friend got the point. 

While I would love to spend more time on the abundant evidences for creation by God, that is not my main purpose today. Rather, I want to share some thoughts on what we learn about God in the story of creation. 

We learn, first of all, that God is eternal. Genesis begins with the sublime words, “In the beginning, God…” We live in time, and we might want to ask the question, “What was God doing before He created the heavens and the earth.” It is a question for which we have no answer. What God wishes us to know is that He existed before time, outside of time, in eternity. As the Psalmist expressed it, “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God” (Psalm 90:2). God exists outside of time, outside of this universe. He has no beginning and no end. Genesis 1 introduces us to the eternal God. I admit that the idea of a Being existing who is without beginning or end challenges our brain power to the limit. And yet, given the fact that as Dr. Ward put it, “Here we are,” there is no adequate explanation for reality as we know it apart from the existence of our eternal God. 

We learn further from Genesis 1 that God is creative.  There is a unique word in Genesis 1:1, the Hebrew word “bara” translated “created.” It is never used in regard to human beings. Humans can make things out of pre-existing materials, but we cannot create something from nothing. The word indicates that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. God spoke the material universe into existence. The atoms and molecules which are the building blocks of the material universe were first of all an idea in the mind of God, and then He spoke them into existence. The vastness of the universe, and its variety, speak of the creative mind of God. Who can imagine a Being who can create the planets and the stars, with so much empty space between them? The distances in space are measured in light years, and our minds are staggered by the size of our universe. Who can imagine a Being who can create the human mind, our intricate senses, a delicate rose, the beautiful butterflies, and all the manifold variety we see in the world around us? Even Charles Darwin was fascinated by the complexity of the human eye and admitted that his own theory of evolution was unable to account for it. The only explanation Darwin or any other evolutionist can give for any phenomena in the universe is to say, “It happened by chance.” 

The creative power of God seen in the visible universe presents to us the reality of a God who simply cannot be fully grasped by the human mind.  What must God be like, who can create this vast, incomprehensible universe? He is creative and powerful beyond human conception. The Psalmist was correct when he said, “The heavens declare the glory of God . . .” (19:1).  God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, asking the question, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One” (40:25). The answer is that there is nothing comparable to our Creator God.  None can claim to be His equal. The only hope we have of ever understand the awesome reality of God is through revelation. We can know that God exists through nature, but what is He like? To answer that question, He must reveal Himself to us.  He has done that through the written revelation we call the Bible, and through the personal revelation whom we know as Jesus, the Son of God.  

From Genesis 1 we learn that God exists in eternity, and that He created our time and space universe through His creative power. We learn a third fact about God in Genesis 1:1. When we think of the word “God,” we may think of the Old Testament name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” but that name for God was revealed later. When God is first named in the Bible in Genesis 1:1 we find the Hebrew word “elohim.” In the beginning “elohim” created the heavens and the earth. 

When you see “im” on a Hebrew word, it is a plural noun. We usually add an “s” to a noun to make it plural. The Hebrews knew that God was One.  They were monotheist.  They knew there were not many gods. They knew that the “gods” of their neighbors did not exist, and this, of course, got them into trouble with their neighbors. They conceived of “elohim” as One God in spite of the plural ending for the word. Many Bible students, including myself, see this as a preliminary, veiled reference to God’s triune nature. There is but one God, but a plurality of persons in the Godhead. This hint we find in Genesis 1 is fully revealed in the New Testament where we find the One true God defined as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

This plurality within the One True God is further alluded to in Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” The Hebrews never considered that “us” and “our” meant multiple “gods” even though they are plurals. They simply understood the use of “us” as poetic language. This combination of the plural noun “elohim” and the use of the word “us” in reference to God leads many Christians to conclude that while God is One, there is some complexity in the One God alluded to in the very first chapter in the Bible. 

In the light of further revelation, we see Jesus present at the time of creation. In fact, John 1:1-3 indicates that Jesus participated in creation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.   All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”  Paul adds in Colossians 1:16 these words: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

That which is hinted at in Genesis is fully revealed in the New Testament. The God in whom we believe is One, but He exists eternally in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I realize the truth that One God exists eternally in three persons, but there are not three Gods, just one, is a revelation beyond the power of our feeble minds to grasp. Yet, the Scriptures compel us to embrace this sublime truth.  To give just one of many references which support this truth, Jesus commanded us to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). One name, God, but three persons within the Godhead. 

We also learn from the account of creation that God is good. Over and over in the Creation account, we read the phrase, “And God saw that it was good.” I am certain that God was concerned right from the start to make certain that we understand his essential goodness, that He never resorts to evil or capriciousness. He has a good purpose behind the Corona virus even though we don’t perceive what that purpose is. If God’s awesome powers ever turned to evil, we would have no way to fight back. How can we ever resist the God who is so powerful that He could speak this universe into existence?  We rejoice to learn that our Creator is good. God’s goodness is revealed in the first chapter of Genesis, and that goodness is magnified with the coming of Jesus to be our Savior. Because God is good, and His goodness never varies, we can depend totally upon what He says. If God ever lies, He will cease to be good, and again, we would be in big trouble. Because God is good, our task is relatively simple. We must listen to God, believe what He says, and act accordingly. God is good, and He only wishes to shower His goodness upon you. 

Finally, I think we can find one more truth implied from Genesis 1, namely, God is sovereign.  “Sovereign” means that He is in control of His creation. All things came from God, and all things are finally under His control, even things we regard as evil. While we have been given the power of choice, we are not in control.  Satan is not in control. Nations and human governments are not in control. God is the sovereign Lord of the universe. 

There are times when our lives are turned upside down by the trials of life, and we may wonder who is in control.  We see sickness, death, war, famine, murder, deceit, the Corona virus and the like, and we wonder, “Is God really in control.” Yes, He really is, and He is a good God. Then where does evil come from? I hope to address that tough question later on, but for now I want to dogmatically assert, “God is in control of everything,” including things we do not understand. 

I find great comfort in knowing that our powerful creator God, who is good, is in charge. I find it scary to think that some other forces outside of God are in control, History is moving in the direction planned by God, and while we humans can and do resist God and act like we are in control, God’s plan for the world overrules our plans. We read in Isaiah 40:15, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales”. We think of our own nation as mighty and powerful, but God sees us as a drop of water, or a speck of dust!  It is humbling to try and gain God’s perspective on reality. God has the right to govern His world as He chooses, and He does so rule. Again, our task is easy.  We need to learn from God what He wants from us, and respond accordingly. 

In closing, we learn from Genesis 1 that our Creator is eternal, powerful beyond our imagination, He is creative, He is One, but with a plural name, He is good, and He is sovereign. This does raise the question, “So how did we get into this mess?” The one-word answer is “sin,” but we do not have the time to discuss that today.

The great hymn “How Great Thou Art” has the refrain, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art.” Let us praise God with this marvelous expression of the greatness and goodness of God.  


I BELIEVE IN THE CHURCH

WARSAW CHRISTIAN CHURCH, (4/26/2020) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Matthew 16:13-18

Jesus said in response to Peter’s confession of faith, “You are Peter (petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  There is a play on words in the text which we miss in English. Peter’s name means “rock” in Greek, and Jesus builds his church on that “rock”, referring to Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. A short time later Jesus was nailed to a cross and His disciples fled in fear.  What kind of egotist would declare that He could build an enduring institution which could not be conquered?  The whole idea of “church” seemed to die a violent death on a hill outside Jerusalem.  But then came that first Easter, and Jesus rose from death.  He regathered His Disciples and told them to go into all the world to proclaim His Gospel to all nations and persons.  He empowered them with His own Spirit, and the church was born and continues to be on the march today.  The church of Jesus Christ is alive and well, and shall always be so, for the gates of hell cannot defeat the church. The Coronavirus we are enduring seems like a powerful enemy, but it will not destroy the church of Jesus Christ. I love the church of Jesus Christ. Let me share with you several reasons why I believe in the church.

The first reason I believe in the church is a pragmatic reason which has nothing to do with the truthfulness of the church’s message.  Of course, I believe that message to be true, but setting aside the truth question for a moment, look at what the church has accomplished.  The church is behind society’s noblest and best achievements.  It was the Christian church and Christian people who began public education in this country.  Many of our great colleges and universities, including Harvard and Princeton, were founded as Christian colleges.  There are hundreds of Christian colleges and seminaries today. Christians believe all truth comes ultimately from God, and have been leaders in the educational field.

Hospitals, orphanages, homes for old folks; have you ever seen such an institution founded by an atheist?  Christians believe life is God-given and that we should care for one another.  Is there a Warsaw Atheistic League providing “Christmas for kids?” It is Christians who provide this ministry in our community. My own grandparents lived out their final years at the Barton Stone Christian Home in Jacksonville, IL, founded and supported by the church.  I believe in the church.

And who was behind the abolition of slavery, and who has spearheaded equal rights for minorities, for women, the end of child labor abuse?  The church believes all persons are created by God, and that idea has compelled society to move in the direction of recognizing the dignity of all persons.

And what would happen in the world today if the influence of Christian missionaries were magically withdrawn from history?  Would the world today be a better place or a worse place if Christianity had not spread to every nation?  The world is certainly no utopia and there is much need for progress, but think where we would be if Jesus had not established a church, and the church had not spread its influence around the world.  Our world is vastly improved because of the church. I believe in the church.

During the Dark Ages, almost one-third of the world’s population was killed by the Black plague during one twelve-year period.  That was a plague far worse than the Coronavirus. Who was it in those dark days who buried the dead and cared for the sick?  More often than not it was those who had made a vow to Christ to care for the sick and the needy, to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.  The awful black plague could not destroy the church. I believe in the church.

Why are Gary and Judy Woods, Lynn and Dori Cazier and Jeff and Lucy Osborne willing to spend so much of their lives among the primitive tribes of Africa, seeking to lift them up in every way?  The love of Christ compels them to go.  The church of Jesus Christ provides the needed funding.  I am proud of the fact that our little church helps to support three missionary families. There are other institutions and agencies around the world doing good works, but I challenge you to name a single institution that has done more good for the human race than the church of Jesus Christ.  I believe in the church.

Remove the influence of the church from my life and there would be little left.  I grew up in the church, and the church has always been an integral part of my life. As a small child I can remember running up to the organ bench during the Organ Postlude and watching my father’s fingers dance over the keyboard. My grandfather and uncle served the church as pastors, Yes, the church has faults, but it is also a loving, caring community.  I believe in the church.

The work I did with Disciple Renewal brought me some national attention in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), not all of it positive.  If you were to go through my correspondence file for those years you would find quite a few letters which attack and insult my integrity.  Not everyone approved of our efforts to move the denomination back to its Christ-centered, Bible-based roots.  Now, when people misunderstand your motives and you come under attack, that is painful.  I will never get used to it.  I was able to cope partly through the love and support of family and the love and prayers of the church. I believe in the church.

The fellowship of the church means everything to me.  And I know that if I allowed others to share their experiences with the church, we would hear many stories from many about how the church has supported you with her love and prayers when you were hurting.  I believe in the church.

I also believe in the church because the church proclaims absolute truth in this relativistic age in which we live.  Allan Bloom, in his book “The Closing of the American Mind,” begins with these words: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”  He explains that “openness” is the new creed of the day, and the only heresy is committed by those who are not open, but who affirm that some truths are absolute.  He writes, “There is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything” (p.27).  I have my belief, you have yours.  I have my moral standards, you have yours.  I have my lifestyle, you have yours.  To each his own is the opinion of many today. Bloom adds that the liberalism of John Stuart Mill and John Dewey which have so influenced American education have “taught us that the only danger confronting us is being closed to the emergent, the new, the manifestations of progress” (p.29).

Do you grasp what this intellectual environment means for us as Christians?  We must either deny the basic truths of our faith and agree that religion is a matter of opinion, or we are enemies of society.  Several national ministries have taken a biblical position in regard to homosexual behavior and are accused by “progressive” organizations of hate crimes. I am one of those dangerous persons who does not accept the relativity and openness of today’s society.  I stand on the authority of the Bible. Yes, we love and accept those who have turned away from divine truth, but we can never compromise on truth itself. I am glad there are still some churches around who are not afraid to go against the grain of modern society and declare, “Thus saith the Lord.”  I’m glad there are still churches around who are not afraid to speak the truth.  I believe in the church.

Let me mention one final reason why I believe in the church.  There are movements within the church from time to time to try to make the church “more relevant.”  Some feel that alterations are necessary to make the church more appealing to modern man.  Well, you don’t need to do a thing to the church to make her more relevant to me.  In fact, some of the attempts to “make the church more relevant” make it less relevant for me.  If the church will simply be what God created her to be, following the pattern God has laid down for us in Scripture, the church will be relevant to those who seek after God.  The attempt to make the church relevant to impenitent sinners — to those who will not bow the knee to the Lord Jesus — will only destroy the church.

A few years ago, I read of a minister in Minneapolis who moved his church to the new Mall of America in order to become more relevant.  He told reporters that in order to appeal to unbelievers today the church must have special interest activities like “community sports programs, financial seminars, and dinner theater presentations.”  Poor Jesus!  His message of the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life just doesn’t appeal to modern man, so let’s move to the mall and have sports programs and dinner theaters.  That would not make the church seem relevant to me.  It would cheapen and ruin the church.  What kind of folly is it that possesses Christians sometimes?  If we will be what God has called us to be, we will be relevant.

I believe in the church because the church has the answer to life’s biggest questions.  Where did I come from?  Why is the world in such a mess?  How can I find forgiveness?  Is there any hope of eternal life?  Those are very relevant questions in my life, and only the church gives meaningful and satisfactory answers.  We have come from God, our Creator.  The world is in a mess because too many live in rebellion against God.  Forgiveness and eternal life can be found in Jesus Christ.  The church has meaningful, sensible answers to the ultimate questions of life, and that is why I believe in the church.

Several people have said to me over the years, “I can be a Christian without the church.” I agree if they mean that one can be a Christian without being active in a local church. But I also disagree. If you are a true Christian, redeemed by our beloved Savior, how did you hear the message of the gospel? Did you hear it from the government? Did our banking institutions tell you about Jesus? Did you learn the good news from Walmart? Perhaps you became a Christian through the work of the United Nations? If you are a Christian today, in one way or another you learned the truth because of the church. Why do so many people who claim to be Christian avoid the church? Why do some who declare, “I believe in Jesus” shun the church which He created? I don’t think there is a good answer to those questions. 

I believe in the church because it alone proclaims the message that brings eternal life to all who believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, who at Calvary atoned for our sins. I believe in the church because it alone has meaningful, rational, emotionally satisfying answers to life’s biggest questions.  I believe in the church because I believe in Jesus.  


SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS

Warsaw Christian Church, (4/19/2020) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Ephesians, 1:1-3.

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”

I have preached on this theme before. During this Corona virus shut down I am dusting off some old sermons and updating them for current use. I plan to return to the series on John’s Gospel when we can gather together again.

Paul begins by affirming his own authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He did not choose to be an apostle. He is an apostle by the will of God. The apostles of Christ were sent into the ancient world with a special mission. They were set aside by the will of God to proclaim the glorious message of Jesus and His salvation to the world. So important was their task that Jesus had earlier declared, “He who listens to you (the apostles) listens to me (Jesus); he who rejects you (apostles) rejects me (Jesus); and he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me (The Father)” (Luke 10:16). We have persons today who say, “I believe in Jesus, but I reject much of what Paul has written.” Jesus declares that if you reject Paul, you reject Jesus because Jesus speaks through Paul and the other apostles. We must listen to the apostolic testimony as though we were listening to God Himself, for it is the very Word of God which they speak. The one who rejects the apostolic message rejects Jesus, and he who rejects Jesus rejects the Father.

Paul greets the Ephesian congregation, referring to them as “saints,” and then explains that a saint is a person who lives faithfully in Christ Jesus. Note this carefully. A mature Christian is not one who merely professes faith in Jesus. He is one who strives to live faithfully. Note also this common Pauline phrase, “in Christ.” Faithful living takes place only when we are “in Christ.” Through faith a marvelous thing has happened. Christ dwells in us, and we live in Christ. It is only when our souls are united with the Spirit of Jesus that we are able to live faithfully.

If Christ is seen by us as one who is external to us, one who is outside of us, we shall fail miserably in the Christian life. We remain in the “immature” category. Immature believers are redeemed, but not of much use in the Kingdom of God on earth. In order to serve God faithfully, Christ must be in us and we must be in Christ, and we must faithfully follow Him. It is His presence within the human soul which provides the motivation and the power for us to live faithfully. A Christian is a person who is in union with Jesus Christ. A mature Christian in one who lives in the light of that truth.

This union with Christ is no peripheral matter. It separates true Christians from pseudo Christians. It separates the wheat of true faith from the weeds of hypocrisy. Yes, within the church of Jesus Christ you find weeds; persons who claim to be Christians but whose daily lives reveal something different. When Paul wanted the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were true Christians, what did he tell them to do? He did not ask them to recite the basic doctrines of the faith; or ask if they were properly baptized. Both of these matters are important to our Christian faith, but Paul considered something else more fundamental. He said to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Paul invites us to take a look within our own hearts. When you are alone, when you are quiet, and you look within, what do you find? Do you realize that Jesus is there with you? Paul suggests that when we take this inward look we will know if Jesus is present. His presence is such an overwhelming reality, He cannot abide within our hearts and we remain unaware of His presence. Paul does not explain the nature of this indwelling. It is a great mystery, but those in whom Jesus dwells are not ignorant of His presence.

Paul asks a simple question. You know the content of your own inner life. In the midst of all that richness of thoughts, feelings, memories, hopes, and dreams — Is Jesus there, too? Is he a living presence in your heart? If He is, you will know it. His presence cannot be hidden.

The preposition “in” is a very important word, especially in the realm of the spirit. We are either in Christ and He in us, or we know nothing of what real Christianity is. Paul gives us a simple test. He invites us to examine our hearts to see if Christ is present. If He is absent, we are spiritually bankrupt.

As we move on to verse three of our text we begin to learn about the blessings of the Christian life. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Please notice and remember always what Paul has just said. Those who are in Christ are blessed — showered with good things, but these blessings are primarily spiritual. We are blessed in the heavenly realm with spiritual blessings.

There are those in the church today who try to convince us that God wants to bless us materially. I do believe we have the promises of Jesus that as we seek first His kingdom, our material needs will be met (Matt. 6:11). However, having our needs met and becoming wealthy are two different things. There are those who tell us that God will make us wealthy if only we trust Him to do so. I respect the fact that many who teach this doctrine are trying to be faithful to Scripture. I just believe they have not rightly interpreted Scripture. I try to imagine Lynn and Doris Cazier, who serve as missionaries in Kenya, telling those poor tribes that if they will just believe God, he will make them wealthy. Do you know why they don’t preach that? Because it is not true, and it would not work to preach that way in a third world country. The people would assume you were crazy. So why do people preach like that in America? Because we are a materialistic nation, and many are eager to believe that God will shower forth material blessings upon us, if only we will trust Him to do so.

Paul asks us to look beyond this material world, to lift our eyes towards heaven and receive the spiritual blessings God desires to give His people. I want to make three statements about spiritual blessings.

First, spiritual blessings are communicated to our inner man by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual blessings primarily affect the human spirit. It is our human spirit or soul which controls our life. You can always tell when you are not focused on spiritual blessings. If you find yourself overwhelmed with worry concerning the Corona virus; if you find yourself thinking obsessively about all that is wrong in your life; if you are feeling defeated by life; you may need to focus more on spiritual blessings and less on your temporal life with all its problems.

Paul says we have all the spiritual blessings we need in Christ. We just need to keep them in mind, constantly reminding ourselves of what we possess in Christ, and as we do, we shall be victorious over the circumstances of life

Second, spiritual blessings are very different than temporal blessings. Those who seek for happiness in temporal blessings will be disappointed. Our familiar aphorism, “Money doesn’t buy happiness,” is proven to be true over and over again. We may think that if we could just step up our standard of living a notch or two, then we would be happy. However, it is a lie. One reason why God does not stress material blessings is because He knows they will not answer the deepest needs of the human heart.

Spiritual blessings include such things as what I call the big Three: (1) The assurance that we are loved by God, (2) the forgiveness of sins, and (3) the promise of eternal life. Let those three truths rattle around in your soul: I am loved by God; all my sins are forgiven in Christ atonement; I am going to live forever in heaven. When such spiritual blessings fill our mind and soul, our earthly worries fade in significance. These are the kinds of blessings which bring true happiness to the human soul. They are far more glorious and satisfying than a new car, or a large bank account, or that ideal job. It is spiritual blessings which erase from our hearts the sense of loneliness and isolation, giving us a sense of meaning and purpose to life. The abundant life Jesus promised is not found by having lots of material things. It is found as we receive the spiritual blessings God has for us.

Finally, we must remind ourselves that spiritual blessings are found only in Christ. God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings IN CHRIST, says Paul. When you have Christ, you have all the spiritual blessings you will ever need, and the promise that our material needs (needs, not “wants”) will be met as well. When our lives are centered on Jesus Christ; when we trust Him completely as our Lord and Savior and seek to live as His disciples, then we are IN CHRIST, and His spiritual blessings begin to flow into our lives.

There are two worlds in which we live — this world, and the world to come. If our heart is in this world and we become obsessed with material things, we shall forever be unfulfilled. If we come to our senses and realize that the only thing we really need in this life is Jesus, then we shall know Him and we shall find our daily lives full of joy, and the spiritual blessings which create that joy shall abide with us for all eternity. Paul summed it up when he said, “When you have Christ, you have everything.” The opposite is also true. If you do not have Christ, you have exactly — nothing.


EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW

Warsaw Christian Church, Easter, 2020, Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: Philippians 2:1-11

Today we celebrate Easter, Part 1. As soon as we can come together again, we will celebrate Easter Part 2. I have mixed feelings about those churches who say they will never close their doors on Sunday. Admirable, in a way, but also fool hardy. In my mind the health and safety of the congregation trumps all. 

I want to begin by sharing a story I have shared before, one of my painful memories.  What was the most humbling experience you have ever had? One of my worst moments occurred when I was the starting guard on the Minneapolis Washburn High School Sophomore basketball squad. I thought I was hot stuff. I was the Justine Barb of the 1950’s, at least in my mind. I was particularly adept at stealing the ball from opponents. Yes, I weighed a few pounds less than I do now. On one occasion we trailed by 1 point with about 10 seconds to go. I am bringing the ball up the court, and when I cut to avoid a defender, I dribbled the ball on my toe out of bounds. The result? We lost the game. Even worse, at the next practice the coach announced to the team that I was the reason we lost the game. It was a very humbling experience, especially for a sensitive high school sophomore. It happened 68 years ago, but I have never forgotten that experience. 

In our Easter text, we find humility beyond anything we can imagine. Paul’s great

hymn to Jesus is one of the most powerful sections in the entire Bible. Jesus was not humbled by others or by His own folly.  He humbled Himself. Who is this man we refer to as our Lord and Savior? Paul says He was in the form of God, but He did not consider His equality with God something He had to grasp tightly. What does it mean to be in the form of God?  If you are in human form, what are you? A human being. If you see an animal in the form of a dog, what kind of animal is it? A dog, of course. So, if Jesus is in the form of God, what is He? He is God in human flesh. That is the astonishing revelation that confronts us in the New Testament. 

The Disciples Study Bible says this: “The foundation for understanding the one God as trinitarian–three Persons in One–is built on this verse. Jesus existed as God. His very form–the essential nature and character–identified Him as God. In every way He was and is God. As such, He did not defensively latch onto His God-ness, nor did He aggressively exploit the powers of being God. Instead, He revealed the true essence of being God–self-giving love. All this means the Son cannot be placed in any category below or less than God. He, the Father, and the Spirit share God-ness. This is clear. Our difficulty comes when we try to use human logic to define how the three Persons we know and experience as God can form one God. That is the glorious mystery of Trinity.” (Note from Disciples Study Bible).  The historic church has always affirmed the deity of Jesus. 

Paul tells us that Jesus made Himself nothing, a person of no status or reputation by taking the form of a servant. This movement Jesus made from heaven to earth is unlike anything in our normal experience. Your pew Bible says that Jesus “emptied” Himself. The Greek word means to make empty or neutralize. What we are told here seems plain enough, albeit mysterious.  Jesus, who is eternally in the form of God, emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives and entered into our world as a man. 

As eternal Son of the eternal Father, he had been the coequal of the Father from all eternity. As he lay in the bosom of the Father, he was “very God of very God,” in the language of the Nicene Creed. It was from the abode of absolute deity he began his pilgrimage to save us.

Jesus, who was truly God, became truly human. He did not cease to be God. God cannot cease to be God, but the Son of God can and did take on our humanity. Have you ever voluntarily given up some position? Were you ever offered a promotion and turned it down?  Have you ever refused a pay raise? We tend to cling to every advantage we have. We would think it strange if a minimum wage person was offered a position as head of the company with a million-dollar annual salary, but replied, “No thank you. I prefer working for minimum wage” 

Jesus did something far more astonishing. He laid aside His divine powers for one reason. He came to earth to die a humiliating death as an atonement for our sins. The Father had decreed that this would be His way of redeeming lost humanity, and Jesus, who is one with the Father, obeyed. The text says He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 

Possessed of infinite strength, he ‘emptied himself,’ leaning always on the Father’s strength.  Possessed of infinite wisdom, he constantly lifted up His eyes to heaven, and took counsel with the Father who dwelt there. Willing only what was right and good, having no wish but what was pure and true, he nevertheless submitted His will in all things to the will of the Father. “Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.”  He humbled Himself in ways difficult for us to comprehend. 

Many stumble over the cross as the God appointed means of salvation. Why would the Father submit the Son to such an inglorious death? Why did He not simply forgive people who asked for it? The answer is simple.  God had declared from the beginning that sin will result in death. That was true in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of creation, and it remains true today. In order to uphold the seriousness of His Law God cannot simply cancel the death penalty. The Father found a way to uphold His Law while also granting forgiveness. We sing, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him we owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”  God does not forgive us merely because we ask for forgiveness.  He forgives us for Jesus sake. Our request for forgiveness must be connected to our genuine repentance and our faith in Jesus. 

What is God like? When I think of God, I think of His awesome power that spoke this enormous universe into existence. Such power can be frightening to us. To have offended this powerful God is a horrendous crime. Jesus advised us to fear this God who has the power to cast us into hell (Matt. 10:28). When Jesus emptied Himself and took the form of a servant, He revealed another side of God to us. Yes, God has awesome power, but He also reached out to us with unbelievable sacrificial love. A powerful God can be very frightening.  God’s anger against sin is revealed with frightening clarity in the Old Testament. The Psalmist reminds us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). If you have no fear of God you are simply not very wise. 

Aren’t you thankful we have a New Testament where we learn that Jesus came to reveal another side of God’s nature, even His forgiving, sacrificial love? A God who is pure power scares me. A God whose power is finally revealed in His sacrificial, forgiving love encourages me to reach out to Him with faith. 

Death was not the end of the story for Jesus. We celebrate Easter because the Son of God rose from the grave. Death could not finally conquer Him. Paul says therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name. If you are a friend of the President of the United States that would no doubt open many doors for you. We Christians can top that.  We are friends of Jesus Christ, whose name infinitely outshines that of the earth’s greatest leaders. He has opened the door of heaven for us.  Friends of the President might end up with a high paying government job. Friends of Jesus end up in heaven. 

Did you realize as you read the text that Paul was quoting from Isaiah?   God is speaking in Isaiah 45:22, 23. Listen to what He says. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” God invites the ends of the earth to turn to Him to find salvation. Then He declares that to Him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is God. But Paul applies this to Jesus. Do you see what He is saying? The God of Isaiah is one with Jesus Christ. The words that describe the Father are applied also to the Son.  

The resurrection of Jesus is the turning point in human history. God’s plan of salvation is fully revealed. Do you realize that the day will come when you will bow the knee to Jesus and confess that He is indeed Lord? I assume most of you have already done that. If you haven’t, you will. We have the choice to submit to Jesus voluntarily now and receive of God’s mercy and pardon, or we will be compelled to bow before Him on Judgment Day. How sad to think that many will be forced to acknowledge Jesus only to be banished from His presence forever. 

There are really two major lessons in our text. First, we are to place our entire trust for time and eternity in this One who humbled Himself for our sakes. Second, we are to follow His example.  “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” says our Easter text.  Jesus did not demand that He be allowed to hold on to His divine prerogatives.  He humbled Himself, emptied Himself, and we should follow His example. Jesus was willing to stoop to our level in order to redeem us.  We should be willing to make great sacrifices for the sake of others and for the Kingdom of God. Paul does not rehearse this descent and exaltation of Jesus just to give us information. He wants us to think in this same manner.  “Let this mind be in you…”

Jesus humbled Himself, even unto death, for you. What are you doing to show that you are truly His disciple – – – that the mind of Christ dwells in you?  Those whose faith in Jesus Christ is mature will praise Him as Savior and follow His example as Lord. A faithful Christian is a humble Christian, willing to be a servant unto others. Jesus humbled Himself for our sakes.  Are you following His example? Do we hold tightly to our prerogatives – – – our status, our money – – – our whatever? Jesus laid aside His divine prerogatives to die for us. He humbled Himself, taking on the role of a servant. Is His heart beating in you?   “Let this mind be in you…”


WELCOMING JESUS

Palm Sunday, 2020 Warsaw Christian Church Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Luke 19:28-44

Today we focus our attention on Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. Sadly, we cannot meet together because of the Corona virus.  I hope this paper version of my sermon will bless you. It is a familiar story. The Jewish people knew that the Messiah would accomplish His greatest work in the city of Jerusalem. After all, the Messiah would come from the house and lineage of David, the greatest of the Hebrew kings who ruled from Jerusalem. The crowds believed that at long last, God’s promises to Israel would be fulfilled. We sense the great excitement of the crowd in the spreading of clothing and branches before Him, and the cries, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The people were pumped up, believing that finally their Messiah had come.

I like to discover bloopers in the movies. There is something amusing about catching others in mistakes. In a Jack Nicholson movie, we see him walking past an automatic teller machine. The problem is the movie is set in 1948, decades before the invention of ATMs. In the movie “Days of Thunder,” Tom Cruise has a strange eye injury. When he first goes to the hospital, he has a bruised right eye. Later on, the bruise jumps to his left eye, then back to the right eye. In a World War Two movie, a German female concentration camp guard is seen with her insignia on her left collar. In the very next scene, the insignia has jumped to her right collar. It is nice to know that other people make mistakes, isn’t it?

The Jewish people must have thought that Jesus triumphant ride into Jerusalem was a colossal blooper after He was arrested and crucified. He obviously wasn’t following the right script. How can the Messiah, the Son of God, end up on a cross? Many assumed that Palm Sunday was just one of those historical bloopers.  The people thought Jesus was the Messiah, but the crucifixion proved to many that He was surely an imposter.

Of course, Jesus was following the divine script. He went to Jerusalem to die. He made it clear to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. Today I want our focus to be on three positive aspects of the Palm Sunday story. We can learn something about how to properly welcome Jesus if we believe He is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God.

First, a proper way to welcome Jesus into our lives is with our obedience.  According to Zechariah 9:9, the long expected Jewish Messiah and King would ride into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, a prophecy made 500 years earlier. In our text, Jesus makes what must have seemed like an odd request. They were to go into the city and they would find a colt that had never been ridden.  They were to untie the colt, and if anyone asked what they were doing, they were to respond, “The Lord has need of it.” I think I might have said, “Lord, I need more information. Which colt are you talking about? There must be thousands of colts in Jerusalem. Can you give us a specific address? Who owns it? Won’t we be accused of stealing? Did you make arrangements for this with the owner?”

We don’t know anything about the private thoughts of the disciples. We do know that they did not always obey Jesus without question.  Earlier, when Jesus had told the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to die, Peter vehemently disagreed with Him. He also objected later on when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. On this occasion, however, they did not question Him. They obeyed Him.

What about us?  There are things said in the New Testament which puzzle us.  There are commands given which many choose to ignore. There are great promises given which sometimes call forth the response, “That can’t be true.”  There are things that happen (like Corona virus!) which we do not understand. Here is the point.  While we may struggle to understand how some things in Scripture apply to us, we need to develop an obedient heart. When we believe we have understood what God wants from us, we must obey, quickly, and without question.

This is the only proper way to welcome the Son of God into our hearts and lives, with unquestioning obedience. If I understand His will is for me to give 10% of my income to promote the Gospel of Jesus, how should I respond? Many Christians never experience the blessings that come to those who simply obey this command without question.

Thousands of Germans who joined the SS swore an oath to Hitler that included the promise, “Ich gelobe dir . . . gehorsham bis an den Todt.” I promise to be obedient unto death.  Many who made that promise did indeed end up dead, and their country ended up in shame and destruction. If human beings are capable of promising unquestioning obedience to an evil dictator, why is it so difficult for us to obey the One who loves us and desires only to bless us? On this Palm Sunday, let us all resolve in our hearts to obey Jesus, even if He should ask us to perform an act that confuses us, like going into a city and locating a donkey.  The only proper way to welcome Jesus is with an obedient heart. He expressed this plainly in John 14:15 when He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Do you love Jesus? We may say “Yes,” but He says “prove it — by your obedience.”

We can observe also in our text a second way to welcome Jesus, and that is with our unbridled praise and worship. They believed Jesus to be their Messiah King, and so they spontaneously threw themselves into a spirit of worship and praise. They laid their garments before Him, and cut branches from the trees to spread before Him as an act of worship. I can almost picture the scene. Arms are waving; people are jumping up and down for joy; shouts of praise rise up from the crowd. Does it remind you of the way we welcome Jesus in our worship service?

Well, I am not really suggesting that any of you wave your arms and jump up and down during the service. There may be occasions when such behavior is proper, but in our Christian Church tradition we tend to be quiet as we worship – – – and that’s okay. There are Scriptures that support an attitude of quiet reverence. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). “Be still before the Lord” (Psalm 37:7). In fact, if any of you start jumping up and down with your metal hips and knees and backs, I would probably have to call 911!

On the other hand, if Jesus came riding down Commercial Street in Warsaw, I would expect some noise and excitement from God’s people. When Jesus returns for His own people, I expect to do some shouting as I rise up in the air to greet Him. We certainly don’t want to be like the Pharisees who were present on that first Palm Sunday.  As they observed the crowd lost in wonder, love and praise, they said to Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples.” They were saying, “Jesus, your disciples are crossing the line. We can see that you are a mere mortal, and yet the people worship you as if you were a God. Tell them to stop.” I love Jesus response. If I tell my disciples to be quiet, the rocks will cry out in praise to me. Had He stilled His disciples, and the rocks began to sing His praises, it would have been the very first rock concert!  What an insult to these Pharisees to hear that inanimate rocks had more sense than they did. If the rocks around here ever start shouting and singing, it is going to be very noisy!

Here is the point. If we believe Jesus to be the Son of God, we will worship Him, whether quietly or loudly.  We will make an effort to be present whenever the church meets for public worship. (And we pray that will happen soon). We will worship Him with sincerity and integrity. Our praise will be sincere.  Our songs will reflect our desire to sing unto the Lord. Even those who cannot carry a tune (and I will mention no names) are encouraged to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  Because those present on that day when Jesus rode triumphantly into the city believed Him to be their divine King, they worshipped Him. If we are people who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, we will worship Him. Yes, God can cause the stones to cry out in praise to His Son, but He would rather have us fulfill that task.

Jesus desires that we welcome Him.  We welcome Him with our obedience, and with our worship, and lastly, with our faith. Notice verse 41. “As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it.” Jesus knew what was coming. He understood that few would stand with Him in the end. He knew His own disciples were going to forsake Him.  He knew that one would betray Him. He understood that those who were crying “Hosanna” would soon be crying, “Crucify him!” And so, as He nears the city, tears fall. He weeps not for Himself, but for the many that would finally reject Him and never come to a true faith. He knows who He is. He knows He is the world’s only hope.  He understands that none can come to the Father except through faith in Him.

He speaks a prophetic word as He nears the city.  “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.   Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” This prophecy was fulfilled in 70 AD when the armies of Rome ravaged Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the Temple. But wait, if Jesus knew all of this would happen, why does He weep? If His death was prophesied, why does He weep over those who refuse to believe in Him? Are they not simply fulfilling prophecy, doing what they were predestined to do? He weeps because even events prophesied by God do not exonerate the free decisions of wicked men. Yes, He knows He will be despised and rejected of men, even as Isaiah had prophesied.  He also knows that those who despise Him and reject Him are acting freely.  They are not compelled to unbelief by divine power.

He weeps because they did not recognize their time of divine visitation. He weeps because He knows that when people are given an unusual visitation from God, and then turn away, sometimes they become so hardened in unbelief that they become blind to the truth. He weeps because He knows there will be people in hell who could have been in heaven, if only they would not have closed their minds and hearts to Him. If only they had believed.

These final words and actions of Jesus in our text reveal an important truth.  First, His tears tell us that He loves those who reject Him. His one desire is that they would come to Him and be redeemed. Romans 2:4 reminds us that God’s kindness is meant to bring us to repentance. If you have not given your heart and life to Jesus, He weeps for you today. He wants to forgive you.  He wants to give you eternal life. He wants to shower you with His kindness. He can do none of this if we will not repent of our sins and turn to Him in faith. His Father had declared through the prophet Ezekiel many years earlier, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (33:11).  God takes no pleasure from the fact that many humans die without faith. And so, our Lord weeps. He knows that thousands of human beings are being visited by the Son of God, but they have become hardened against Him, and their opportunity for faith has passed. They will suffer the consequences.

I hope, as we look forward to Easter Sunday, that all of us have truly welcomed Jesus with our undying faith, our determined obedience, and our sincere worship. I hope, I pray, that He is not weeping for any of us this day because of our refusal to give Him a proper welcome. What could be worse than the Corona virus?  Dying without faith in the Savior,


WILL YOUR ANCHOR HOLD?

Warsaw Christian Church, Richard Bowman, Pastor

A sermon on coping with the Corona Virus.

Text: Hebrews 6:13-20

In that great chapter 13 in 1 Corinthians, Paul concluded by saying that the three great abiding principles are faith, hope and love. We speak often of faith and love, but we do not always hear much about hope. Our focus today will be on that often-forgotten word. The author of Hebrews describes it as an anchor for the soul. As we seek to cope with the Corona virus, we definitely need an anchor for the soul! 

We know what faith is, and we know what love is, but hope is more elusive. The basic idea behind the word hope is an earnest desire for some future good. We certainly do not hope for evil things. We dread the coming of evil. We certainly were not anticipating this awful virus. Our Christian faith leads us to hope for a glorious future when this life comes to an end. Hope always points to the future. We do not hope for things that are past. The past is fixed and settled, and nothing we can do will change it. Hope is a future pointing word. Paul writes, “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” (Rom. 8:24). We do not see heaven. It lies in the future, beyond our sight. It is our blessed hope, and our hope rests on the truthfulness of God. We have the “hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began…” (1 Timothy 1:1).

The object of hope must be achievable. I have no hope that the day will come when I will play with the St. Louis Cardinals. I once had such hope, but when I realized such a goal was unattainable, hope vanished. We only hope for things we can realistically obtain. 

Some things we hope for may be difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, if we hope for something it must be obtainable, no matter the cost. Our Christian hope for eternal life rests upon a solid foundation. We have numerous promises from the Son of God that those who trust in Him will live forever in His eternal Kingdom. No earthly obstacle such as the Corona virus can block the plan of God. Yes, there are difficulties along the way as we follow Jesus, but those who preserve in faith will obtain the prize. 

Our text describes hope as an anchor to the soul. This sea faring image has several meanings. 

1. The anchor is essential to secure the vessel in time of storm. I don’t know much about boats but I assume the anchor is useful in rough waters when you don’t want the boat to drift. There are days when life is not smooth sailing. We are living in such a time today. The winds of the Corona virus blow hard and we wonder if we can stand firm. While our trials hopefully will not match those of Job, we do experience hard times in life. Our text describes hope as the anchor that holds us steady amid the trials of life. What if I catch this virus? The vast majority of those infected recover, and if you are one who doesn’t survive, faith in Jesus will take you to eternal joy. We have hope no matter what. 

Our deepest hope is that we will abide in faith unto eternal life. When we lose a loved one, or become ill ourselves, or face a host of other temporal problems, we sometimes wonder if we can hold on to our faith.  Our text bids us to focus on our hope. The hope of an eternal future can keep us from drifting away when the winds of life are blowing hard. When Paul was awaiting death, he wrote, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him until that day” (2 Tim 1:12). Paul had absolute confidence in His Savior.  His hope in the Gospel of Jesus kept him steady when death loomed. Hope can do the same for us.

An anchor is only useful if held by a strong cable. If the cable snaps the anchor becomes useless. Faith is like the cable that connects us to our anchor. Hope fades when faith is weak. When faith and hope remain strong no wave that comes our way will be able to sink us. The Corona virus is no match for Jesus!

The anchor of hope must rest in something firm. An anchor imbedded in sand will not hold. Where does the Christian’s anchor rest? Where does our hope find a solid footing? Our text speaks of our great high priest, even Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Our anchor of hope rests firmly in His finished work on the cross and on His presence with the Father where He makes intercession for us. 

Does the hope of eternal life purchased for us by our Lord undergird your life? As we focus on our Christian hope as we go about our daily lives, joy will be an almost constant companion. Hope needs to be ever before us as we pray and as we work. It is an anchor for the soul. Paul saw the connection between hope and joy when he wrote, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Hope leads to joy and peace. The problems of life can sometimes move our attention away from our hope. The Bible encourages us to never abandon our hope. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). 

Our hope is certain unless Jesus is a charlatan and the Bible is not reliable. Jesus promised us eternal life and His promises are recorded in Scripture. If He is the Son of God, and if Scripture is the Word of God, our hope is solid. Hear again the words of Paul: we live “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began…” (1 Tim. 1:1). God intended and promised eternal life to His people before time began. In the hiddenness of eternity past God decreed that His Son would take on human nature, die for us, and grant to us eternal life. God, who cannot lie, made this promise. Our anchor of hope is fastened tightly to God and therefore our hope is certain. 

But what if our Christian faith is nothing but a pipe dream, a hope so fanciful that it is unlikely to be realized? Isn’t there a possibility and we who place our hope in Jesus and in eternal life are fools? There are those who think this way. Even Paul once reflected on the possibility that the Christian hope is false. He stated honestly, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (Romans 15:13). If this life is all there is, then we Christians are to be pitied. But if those who reject Christ later learn that He was truth incarnate, pity for them is hardly a strong enough word. 

I suppose the saddest word in our language is the word “hopeless.” Life has pushed some to such desperate straits that suicide is the result.  Others have been so frustrated by the injustice in this life that they have gone ballistic, killing co-workers and then themselves. What a dreadful feeling it must be to feel hopeless. Hopelessness arises when we are faced with a difficult situation, and there is nothing we can do to rectify it, things like the Corona virus. The Christian faces life armed with certain facts: he is loved by God; forgiven through the atoning death of the Son of God; he has the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Christian is confident of an eternity which will be blessed beyond anything he can imagine. Those who hold fast to those facts will never feel hopeless. They abound in hope.  Hope is the anchor of our souls that keeps us secure no matter what. Hope looks the Corona virus in the eye and says, “I will fear no evil.”  In Dante’s classic work “The Inferno” he postulates a sign over the entrance to hell. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Those whose lives are anchored in Christ and His Word will never abandon hope. 

I love this verse from Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” When God thinks of those who love and trust Him, no evil thought enters His mind. If you are one of the redeemed, God is thinking about granting you a grand future so that you will always have hope. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13). May your anchors hold fast in the storms of life. We sing a hymn with these words: “We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll; Fastened to the Rock which cannot move, Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” The Corona virus will fade away. We can do nothing about it while it is here except pray and trust. If we focus on the virus, fear will creep in. If we focus on Jesus, hope will lead to confidence, then on to joy and peace.  


WHERE IS GOD WHEN I NEED HIM?

Richard M. Bowman, Warsaw Christian Church, 8/10/14

I have preached on this theme in the past.  I am repeating it today because it is very relevant to me. I hope will also have some meaning for you. While I am basically preaching to myself, feel free to listen in.

Job declares that “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” When you stir a fire, what happens to the sparks? They fly upward. If you are a human being, what can you expect in life? Trouble — and lots of it. Trouble is simply part of being human. When the human race fell into sin, God indicated that in the wake would come lots of trials and tribulations. Sin has turned our world upside down and allowed Satan to enter the picture.  Wherever Satan operates, you can expect trouble.

The good news is that God has promised to help His people through their times of trouble. He has not abandoned us to Satan and to the troubles he brings into our lives. The Psalmist declared, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” God is still in control of this world and our lives. He is always willing to help His people, but He wants us to call upon Him when we are experiencing trouble or heartache. The God who made heaven and earth is willing and able to help His people. 

While we know that God is everywhere present (the theologians use the word “omnipresent”), the Bible refers to this truth by reminding us that no matter in what direction we look, if we look with eyes of faith, God is there. He is a very present help in times of trouble. One of our problems is that we tend to focus too much on our problems and not enough on God. When we are in difficulty sometimes all we can see is the trouble that lies before us. Our troubles can seem like a great mountain, hiding our view of God, robbing us of our faith. Nevertheless, God is everywhere present to come to our aid.

For example, if we look upward, Scripture tells us God is there. In Psalm 91:4 God is pictured under the metaphor of a great soaring bird, and we are invited to take shelter under His wings. “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge.” The simple truth that we must never forget is that God loves His people and wishes to help them in their times of need. One way He helps us is to give us refuge — to grant us His presence and His comfort when we are going through difficult days. Our trials become much more bearable when we realize that God cares and that He is with us. Just as an eagle might shelter her young under her wings during a storm, so God wants to comfort us through the storms of life. There is a place of refuge under His mighty wings.

When we look upwards, we may see many things — the clouds, the sun, the moon, the stars, and sometimes we can see nothing but the problems confronting us.  When we look up with the eyes of faith, however, we can also see the great wings of God stretching out towards us, to comfort and protect us in the midst of our troubles. Under his wings you may seek refuge.  Did you catch that word “may?” God is giving us permission to seek refuge in Him if we will but seek Him out with the eyes of faith.  He is always there for us if we will but seek Him out.

But sometimes the trials of life seem so heavy we can scarcely lift up our heads to look upwards. Our eyes are cast down; our hearts are heavy under the burdens of life’s trials. What do we see when we look down? Maybe the floor, or our feet, (or stomach!) or the grass, or again, sometimes we look down and see nothing but trouble.  But as we look down with the eyes of faith, again, we may see God. In Deut. 33:24 we read, “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” The image of God changes from the wings of an eagle to strong arms that wish to hold us. And note that the arms of God are everlasting — they are always there. The arms of God will never fail to enfold those who belong to Him. God’s arms are strong, and they are able to hold you and sustain you through every trial.  Through faith, we need to learn to fall into the arms of God and allow Him to minister to us. 

I love the picture we find in Mark 10:16 when Jesus took little children into His arms, “and began blessing them, laying his hands upon them.” When we were little children, and we fell and skinned our knee, where did we go? Most of us ran to mom or dad, and were received into their arms. Somehow the pain seemed less severe when we were held in the arms of our parents.

Jesus once opened His arms to receive the little children. His disciples tried to keep Him free from being bothered with the little ones, but He opened His arms to them and received them with His tender love.  Sometimes we may think like the disciples.  “Jesus is too busy to bother with all my problems. He surely has more important people to work with.”  In the mind of Christ, there is no one more important than you. He opens His arms to all who would come unto Him when He said, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  This is not an invitation given to those who have everything under control. This is not an invitation to those who are trouble free.  It is not an invitation given to those who are so spiritual that they never feel any pain or anguish. It is not an invitation given just to the shakers and movers of society.  It is an invitation given to those who are in the midst of struggle, and are burdened down with life’s problems.  Jesus says, come to me, and I will give you rest.

We are all little children in the eyes of God. His everlasting arms are always open to us. In your times of trouble when your eyes are cast down in defeat, look down with the eyes of faith, for “underneath are the everlasting arms.” By faith, run to Him and let Him receive you into His eternal arms.

When we look up — there is God; when we look down, there is God — if only we can learn to look with eyes of faith. And when we look round about us, again, there is God. We read in Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear Him, and rescues them.” We do not normally see nor understand these angelic messengers whom God has sent to the aid of His people, but they are all around us. Those who love and fear God and who have embraced His Son are sometimes rescued from their trials by unseen messengers of God. Indeed, our word “angel’ is from the Greek word “angellos” which means “messenger.” Occasionally God has allowed His people to see these mighty heavenly helpers.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories concerns the angels of God coming to the aid of Elisha the prophet. It’s found in 2 Kings 6:8ff.  The story is about a frustrated Syrian king. He wants to make war with Israel, but every time he plans his move, Israel knows in advance and is ready for him. The king gathers his officers and accuses one of them of being an Israeli spy. One of his officers explains what is happening. He tells the king that Elisha the prophet somehow knows every move the Syrians plan to make, and he tells the King of Israel. The Syrian king decides that the solution is to get rid of Elisha.

They learn that Elisha is at Dothan, and so the Syrian king sends his armies in the night and surrounds the tent where Elisha and his servant are encamped. The servant arises the next morning, steps outside the tent, looks around, and then quickly retreats in horror. Everywhere he looked he saw the armies of Syria. They were completely surrounded. He screams at Elisha, “We have bought the farm! We are dead meat!” (Or something like that). “We are completely surrounded.” Elisha calmly strolls outside the tent; he looks around in every direction; he re-enters the tent and declares to his servant.  “Relax, we have them outnumbered.” The servant scratches his head in disbelief. He looks at Elisha, at himself, and thinks to himself  “one plus one equals two; there are two of us and Elisha says we have them outnumbered. He must be suffering from heat stroke.” Elisha senses his servant’s confusion and prays quietly to God, “Open his eyes, that he might see what you showed to me.” Elisha says to his servant, “Go and take another look.”  His servant obeys, and now he sees chariots of fire everywhere. The angels of God have come to deliver them. The Syrian army is stuck with blindness and flees in panic. Elisha is saved.

What do you see when you look around at your life today? No doubt you see some problems; perhaps some sickness of a loved one that has you deeply concerned; maybe you are concerned about your financial future; maybe there are problems in your marriage, or with your children; maybe you have recently lost a loved one. If we were to list all the problems present in this congregation today, it would be a long list indeed. Yes, we can always see the problems — but I ask you to look again! Ask God to open your eyes! Do you see God’s presence?  Do you see Him above us, beneath us and all around us waiting to come to our aid? Do you see His wings of refuge? Do you see those mighty everlasting arms? Do you see the angels of God who are present to help us?

Dear Father, help us to cast all our cares upon you, knowing that you care for us. Help us to look at life with eyes of faith. When we look up open our eyes to see the great wings of God offering us shelter.  When we look down open our eyes to see the everlasting arms of God waiting to hold us. And when we look around open our eyes to see your glorious angels sent to minister to us in our times of need. In Jesus name, Amen.


THE SAMARITAN WOMAN, Part 2
(A first-person sermon)
Warsaw Christian Church, (3/15/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 4:1-43 (especially 4: 27-42)

(In this sermon I will assume the role of an unidentified Samaritan man who encounters the Samaritan women in John 4:1-43. She is not named either so we will assign her the name of Joanna)

There is a woman in our town named Joanna. After ruining the lives of five husbands she was living with a sixth man who was not her husband. Joanna was known in the area as a very promiscuous woman. She would marry one of the local men, tire of him and move on to someone else. She seemed to need a man but was never satisfied. Her last man, a live-in boyfriend, decided not to bother with marriage based on her reputation. He knew the relationship wouldn’t last, so he decided to just move in with her until she tired of him. That way there would be no need for a divorce. Of course, such behavior was contrary to our religion but that never seemed to bother Joanna. She claimed to be a believer but she seemed to be more interested in men than in God.

Of all the women in Samaria this was one you dared not trust. We Samaritan men did not put much faith in any woman, but especially this one. We men did all the heavy thinking, something women were not capable of. Women are to raise children, cook and submit to their husbands. Joanna did none of these. The men who lived with her complained often about how difficult she was to live with. She used her beauty and charm in such a manner as to cause many men to act dazed. They were attracted to her with promises of love beyond their wildest dreams. Then she would dump them and move on to the next fool. Joanna definitely did not fulfill the role of a good, submissive wife.

I will never forget the day she came running into town screaming, “I may have found the Messiah!” Of all the people in Samaria would couldn’t find the Messiah if He stood right before her, she was at the top of the list. “Oh sure, Joanna, you have found the Messiah. Is this some new lover you have met?” This is what most of us thought at first. Joanna had charmed another man with her considerable talents. What reasonable person would believe that the Messiah would reveal Himself to a woman totally lacking in character? If and when the Messiah arrived, He would surely reveal Himself to some respectable person, not a woman we regarded as a common prostitute.

She was so excited and insistent that several of us decided to hear what she had to say. We thought it might be worth a good laugh. She told of meeting a man at the well where she had gone to get water. He spoke to her of living water. What really piqued our interest was when she said that He knew all about her life. He knew of her five husbands, her live-in boyfriend, and many other details of her life. She said, “He told me all I ever did.” I wondered if Joanna was suffering from sunstroke. Several of us were at least curious about this stranger she had met. We decided to see if we could find Him and see what had made Joanna so worked up.

She said that while she was speaking with the stranger, the man’s disciples returned to the well. They said nothing, but she could tell by the looks on their faces that they were shocked that the prophet was speaking with a woman. Most of the Jews believed that trying to teach a woman anything was useless. No true Rabbi would waste his time teaching a woman. The fact that this “prophet” spoke with a strange woman and tried to teach her was a sign to us that this man was probably a false prophet. We thought of Joanna as a dim-witted prostitute incapable of learning. Joanna then left the prophet and returned to town and began to bear witness to this man she had met. She was so excited she left her water pot behind. This was highly unusual and did make us wonder about the man she had met. Instead of charming him, he must have charmed her.

Some of the locals believed this woman’s story. Others were not convinced. I was not sure what to think. Finally, a group of us went out to meet this man and asked Him to stay with us. We wanted to see and hear Him for ourselves and form our own opinion about Him. After all, can you really trust the testimony of a mere woman? A promiscuous prostitute? He agreed and remained with us for two days. This prophet, Jesus was His name, was very impressive. As He spoke with us about the Kingdom of God, to make a long story short, we became convinced that He was indeed the Messiah. What a joy it was to learn that the Messiah had come, not just for the Jews, but for the world. Sometimes our Jewish neighbors had the idea that God really only cared for them. Jesus convinced us that if we placed our faith in Him, even we Samaritans could enter into God’s Kingdom.

We did have to put Joanna in her place, so we informed her that we no longer believed in Jesus because of what she said, but because we had seen and heard for ourselves. We men, however, did earn a lesson from Joanna. I hate to admit that we learned anything from a woman, especially a sinful woman, but our personal encounter with Jesus rather changed our opinion about women. The fact is that Jesus revealed Himself first to Joanna, and she told us about Him. Why He did this I can’t really say. While we did want to hear Him ourselves, we had to acknowledge that were it not for Joanna we would never have known about Jesus. Frankly, she was normally the butt of our jokes and male gossip, but she was different after she had met Jesus. She radiated a new kind of love – – – the love of God just seemed to shine out from her.

When we encountered Jesus, we learned why Joanna seemed so different. Once we placed our faith in Him, we were also changed. The knowledge that our sins were forgiven and heaven was our destiny does change a man. It seemed as if God had entered into our hearts and made us different than we were before. The greatest day in my life was when I stood face to face with the Savior of the world. I hate to admit it but were it not for Joanna I would never have known about Jesus. Several of us had to swallow our male pride and admit that we owed our very salvation to a promiscuous woman.

Joanna became a respected person in the community, a woman who was always trying to help others. She never forgot her encounter with Jesus and spoke of Him to all who would listen. I had to apologize to her for my initial doubt about her. I concluded that God sees men and women as human beings of equal value in His sight. Indeed, I learned that we should never look upon any human being as inferior. If Jesus desires to save the world, then all people are welcome in His Kingdom. All people have value in the eyes of God.

I learned another lesson from Jesus. Those who have truly met Him cannot help but bear witness to the fact that He is the Messiah and Savior of the world. Joanna became very vocal in her testimony to Jesus. I know you have not encountered Jesus in the way that we did, face to face. However, I also know that His message has proceeded through the centuries from my day. By His Spirit men and women in every age have met the Savior and been transformed by Him.

Joanna couldn’t stop talking about that man who seemed to know all about her. He told her flat out that He was God’s promised Messiah. She could not keep that information to herself. Do you find that to be true in your life? When you came to believe in Jesus, didn’t you feel your heart transformed by the mysterious power of His presence? Don’t you find that you wanted to do whatever you could to share His message with others? Jesus encouraged us to share His name. He told us that the fields are white for the harvest. There are countless souls who will respond to His Gospel if we share it with them. He encouraged us to gather fruit for eternal life. Are you doing it?

Here is what I think. People who have truly encountered Jesus Christ, whether in person or by His Spirit, can’t really help doing whatever they can to spread His Gospel. I wouldn’t have expected to see the likes of Joanna in heaven, but she resides there at this very moment. She was forgiven. If you have also been forgiven and granted eternal life, I hope you are doing something to help others find the Savior. There are people in your world like Joanna who have ruined their lives through sin. They need to know that forgiveness can be found through Jesus Christ. They need to know that no matter how far you have fallen into sin, there is hope through the Savior. I implore you to do what you can to make sure that the name of Jesus is alive in your community.

While I was a more respectable citizen than was Joanna, when I met Jesus face to face, I felt dirty. His purity was so evident that I realized I was no better than Joanna. I often wondered what would have become of me if Joanna had not told me about Jesus. I was as lost as she was even though I didn’t realize it, but by the grace of God we both met Jesus and found forgiveness. If you do not know that divine forgiveness which Jesus brings in your own soul, it is available to you. All it will cost you is to turn to the Savior with faith. If you do know of God’s merciful forgiveness, please do as Joanna did. Share His name with others.


THE SAMARITAN WOMAN, # 1: LIVING WATER

Warsaw Christian Church (3/8/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 4:1-14

There is more to this story than the 14 verses I just read. The story of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman continues through 4:42. This is too much material for one sermon, so we will continue with this story next week. 

Jesus is traveling through Samaria, and stops at a well for a drink. He encounters a woman of Samaria, and an amazing conversation ensues. Jesus asks the woman for a drink. She is shocked by this brazen approach. For a man to speak with a strange woman was just not done, and for a Jew to ask a favor from a Samaritan was unheard of. We have gone over the reasons for this animosity between Jews and Samaritans before. Let it suffice to say that Jews and Samaritans hated each other. 

Thus, the Samaritan woman is shocked that a Jewish man would speak to her. She was more shocked when He promised her water that would quench her thirst forever. He told her that if she would ask, He would give her living water, a spring of water that would lead to eternal life. The woman is slow to understand that there are two kinds of water, physical and spiritual.  He offers her spiritual water, but she continues to think of physical water. She finally gets the point. 

It is clear that Jesus offers this woman, and us, eternal life.  Jesus mentions four elements involved in receiving eternal life. 

First, He says, “If you knew who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink.’” In order to receive eternal life, you must, of course, know who Jesus is. Anyone can say, “I will give you the gift of eternal life,” but only Jesus can actually deliver on that promise. Later on, the woman says, “I know the Messiah is coming…” (4:25). Jesus states clearly, “I who speak to you am He” (4:26). Jesus tells this Samaritan woman that He is the Messiah for whom the Jewish people have been waiting. He is encouraging her to believe in Him and receive eternal life. 

Here is one reason why liberal scholars reject the Gospel of John as being credible. While Jesus is revealed as the Messiah in the 3 synoptic Gospels by His disciples, in John Jesus Himself states clearly that He is the Messiah. Liberal scholar Maurice Casey concludes that John’s Gospel is mostly fiction. I was taught in seminary that John’s Gospel was clearly written long after John was dead by an unknown author who used the name of John to give authority to his writing.  John’s Gospel reflects the ideas of the early church and is completely unreliable. It is fiction, not history according to liberal biblical scholarship. 

Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God?  If you do, you are in a position to receive what He offers, eternal life. If you doubt Him, questioning His ability to grant eternal life, then you cannot receive what He gives. We saw in John Chapter One a clear description of the nature of Jesus. He is the one who is both with God, and who is God. He is the one who, with the Father, created the universe and everything in it. The Baptist described Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

It is so important to open our minds and hearts to the message of the New Testament and its witness to this unusual Man. We must come to the place Peter did in Matthew 16 when Jesus asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response must be our response. “You are the Messiah (Christ), the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). I cannot grant eternal life to anyone.  This church cannot grant eternal life. Jesus alone can grant this glorious favor to all who believe Him to be God’s promised Messiah. 

As the episode closes this Samaritan woman does believe that Jesus is the Messiah. She came to know who He was. I trust that all of you, deep down in your hearts, believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. You cannot receive what He offers unless you believe He is who He claimed to be, God’s promised Messiah, the Son of the Living God. 

The second item in our text is this: you need to ask Jesus for the living water he gives. To say you believe in Him, but then to fail to ask Him specifically to grant you eternal life, raises questions about the sincerity of one’s faith. Jesus invites the Samaritan woman to ask Him for living water. Perhaps it would help to imagine Jesus seating across from you. You tell Him you have sinned against God’s holy will. You express your sorrow over having offended the God who loves you. You say something like this: Lord Jesus, I ask you to forgive me and to grant me everlasting life. I know I don’t deserve your favor, but I believe in your love and forgiveness.  This act of being open and honest with Jesus is important. Asking Him to forgive us and grant us living water is part of the process of becoming a Christian. We should never take eternal life for granted. We must specifically ask Jesus to grant us that gift, believing that He is indeed able to grant our request.

The third element we must look at is that little word “gift.” What Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman was a gift, one that He was very willing to give. Was she deserving of such a gift?  Absolutely not! She had run through 5 husbands and the man with who she was then living was not her husband. She was an immoral woman. She was living her life in open violation of the will of God. Why would Jesus offer her the gift of eternal life? If you don’t know the answer you probably need to examine your own heart.  You and I are exactly like this woman. Our sins may be different from hers, but we are all persons who have violated God’s holy will. Jesus offered the gift of eternal life to this sinful woman because the reason He came into the world was to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). If you don’t think this woman was worthy of such a glorious gift, what about us? Are we worthy of eternal life? Absolutely not! 

This is a difficult aspect of the Gospel. We saw in the story of Nicodemus how hard it was for him to admit that he needed to be born again. He was certain his exemplary life as a Pharisee would earn him a place in God’s kingdom. In order to receive the gift Jesus offers we need to see the reality of our own rebellion against God. It is so hard for some people to declare, “I am a sinner.” Like Nicodemus we can get all puffed up in religious pride and not realize how desperately we need a Savior. Those who recognize their own sinfulness will gladly turn to Jesus and accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. 

You have heard me say it many times before, but the text before us requires that I emphasize it again. Eternal life is a gift. A gift, by definition, cannot be earned or deserved. You cannot pay for a gift.  You cannot merit a gift. All you can do is accept it with gratitude. Even after we become Christians, eternal life remains as a gift. Some understand that eternal life is a gift when they enter the Christian life, but then assume they will only keep the gift if they live a meritorious Christian life. Please don’t stumble here.  You will never live so righteously that you will earn God’s favor. God’s favor is always a gift. Receive it with joy. Christians seek to live a God pleasing life, not to earn God’s favor, but out of gratitude for already having received God’s favor. Christians also understand that living in the will of God will bring them greater joy and meaning. You simply cannot find happiness outside the will of God. Yes, as redeemed sinners we strive to be obedient disciples of the Master, but we must never think that our obedience (our good works) will either earn God’s favor or keep us in God’s favor. 

A Sunday school teacher wanted to explain to the six-year-olds in his class what someone had to do to go to heaven. To find out what kids believed about the subject, he asked a few questions. “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all my money to the church, would that get me to heaven?” he asked. “No!” the children answered. The teacher was encouraged. “If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me to heaven?” Again the answer was, “No!” “If I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved my wife, would that get me into heaven?”

Again they all shouted, “No!” “Well then, how can I get to heaven?” A boy in the back row stood up and shouted, “You gotta be dead!” Well, that is true, but the main thing is – – – you gotta believe in Jesus!

The problem is that the good news of the Gospel cuts against the grain of human experience. In school, you don’t get good grades because the teacher decides to be gracious.  You have to work hard and earn good grades. Those who play sports do not make the team because the coach decides to be gracious. You have to work hard to earn a place on the team. You don’t advance on the job by being lazy and coming in late every day (unless you work for the government!).  You have to work hard (or marry the boss’s daughter!). Merit is deeply ingrained into the human soul. A Samaritan woman who deserves nothing, who is a blatant rebel against the will of God, is offered eternal life as a free gift. That same gift is offered to you. I urge you to accept it if you have not already done so.  

There is a 4th issue in our text we need to address. When we think of gifts, we think of something tangible. Most gifts we can handle, touch, or taste and put to some use. People like to wrap up gifts in pretty paper. We pick it up from under the Christmas tree, or it is handed to us. The gift Jesus offered the Samaritan woman was different. It was not wrapped up in a pretty box.  It could not be experienced by her five senses. It is an intangible gift. How does one know one has a gift that cannot be seen or experienced? If I told you I am holding an invisible gold bar, and I will throw it to the congregation and whoever catches it can have it, would you believe me? I don’t think so. Invisible gold is about as useful as no gold at all! 

Jesus says to this woman, if you ask me, I will give you the gift of eternal life. He says the same thing to you. He does not hand her anything tangible. How does she know she possesses this gift? Does the word “faith” ring a bell? She can only know she has what Jesus offers by trusting in what He says. Have you ever had a conversation with Jesus that went something like this? “Jesus, my Lord and Savior, I do believe in you. I am so sorry I have sinned against God’s holy will. I need the forgiveness you offer to the world.  I desire the gift of eternal life. I am asking you to bless me with your wonderful gift. And now that I have asked, I believe you have given me that which I requested. Based on your promise I believe I am forgiven and I believe I possess everlasting life.” 

The words will vary, but something of that nature occurs in the heart of every Christian. We believe Jesus is who He claimed to be. We believe He wants to pardon us and grant us eternal life.  We ask for these blessings, and by faith we believe we possess them. How do we know for sure we possess the gift of eternal life which we cannot see, touch or smell? We know we have eternal life as a present possession because we believe Jesus. This kind of transaction is really quite common in everyday life. 

If someone says, “I love you,” how do you know that you really possess his or her love? Love is intangible.  You can’t see it. It doesn’t come in a box wrapped in pretty paper. You know you are loved because you believe the person who says, “I love you.” It is the same way you come to know that God loves you – – – by faith. By believing what He says. Jesus truly offers the gift of God’s love and eternal life to the world.  You cannot see it or handle it. It is intangible. The Samaritan woman finally believed what Jesus said to her. She accepted the gift He offered. Have you accepted that gift? The only way anyone can receive that living water is to believe that Jesus can and will grant it to those who ask. 

Let’s review the basics of our text. We need to be clear on four issues. First, we must have genuine trust in Jesus, that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Second, we must ask Him to give us eternal life. Third, we must believe that He offers us eternal life as a gift. Finally, we must believe that while the gift Jesus offers is intangible, it is nonetheless a genuine offer. A sinful woman in Samaria believed these four basic truths and she is now in heaven, forgiven of her many sins. If you believe as she did, perhaps one day you will meet her. 


NICODEMUS

(A first-person narrative sermon)

Warsaw Christian Church, (3/1/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 3:1-21(see also John 7:50ff and John 19:39ff). 

As a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, I thought I had my spiritual life in order. We Jews were God’s chosen people. Jehovah had revealed Himself to our fathers, men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the great prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. As a Pharisee, I was a strict observer of God’s Law. So many of the common people in Israel had, for all practical purposes, forsaken the God of our fathers. As a devout Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, I was confident that God was pleased with me. My excellent behavior had surely won over the heart of God. I hope this does not sound boastful, but there were not many in Israel as holy as I. 

There was a teacher by name of Jesus who was gaining quite a following. It was reported that this new prophet performed great miracles. I had mixed feelings about this man.  Part of me assumed he was just another false prophet, but on the other hand what if he was the promised Messiah? I made the decision to check him out for myself. I didn’t want anyone to know of my curiosity so I sought out this Jesus by night. I thought a secret meeting would be best.

One night I found Jesus alone, and I approached him.  I must confess I tried to flatter him. I referred to him as “rabbi,” but he was no rabbi. I said to him that if the stories of the miracles he has performed are true, he must be a teacher come from God. I wondered how he would respond to my flattery. 

His answer astonished me. It caught me totally off guard. After I spoke of him as a teacher come from God, I assumed he would clarify who he was. He clarified nothing.  Indeed, he seemed to pay no attention to my words at all. He said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  I wondered for a moment, “Now what on earth is that supposed to mean?” Was he suggesting that I, a man of God, a member of the ruling council, a respected religious leader – – – that I needed to be born again? What could that possibly mean? Is he suggesting that I know nothing about the kingdom of God? 

It was taught in our Mishnah that all Jews would enter the kingdom of God except for those who abandoned Judaism or those who were extraordinarily wicked. There would be no question about a man of my spiritual stature.  Of course, I can see the kingdom of God. My spiritual eyesight was excellent. I thought, “If he is suggesting that I am excluded from the kingdom, no one can enter because none surpassed me in piety and wisdom.” 

I responded somewhat sarcastically. “How can a man be born when he is old. Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Of course, such a notion is ridiculous. I was beginning to enjoy this verbal sparring. 

Jesus responded: “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I thought sarcastically, “Well, thanks a lot. That really clears things up.” I had no idea what he was talking about.  I decided to stop with the word games and just tell him I had no idea what was talking about. “Flesh, spirit, wind, born of spirit” – – – I was totally confused. Jesus spoke again. “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

I wrote down the words of Jesus and also committed them to memory. There was something about Him that attracted me. As I thought about what he said, I became a believer. God touched my heart and drew me into that Kingdom of which Jesus spoke. I thought, as a faithful Jewish Pharisee that I was already in the Kingdom of God. I learned that day that being religious is not enough. Following rules will not merit anyone favor in God’s eyes. Belonging to a certain group or race is not an automatic pass into heaven. There must be a new birth. I was born again that day, although I must confess that I was not as open about my faith as I might have been. 

The question I pondered that day is one we should all ponder. What did Jesus mean when He said, “You must be born again?”  As I reflected carefully on His words, I think I finally understood. When He spoke of the wind and the Spirit, I assumed He meant that God must be active to produce the new birth. Just as there is mystery in the blowing of the wind, so too there is mystery in the work of the Spirit. While we cannot always explain the wind, we do know when it is blowing. I think He meant that when the Spirit blows the new birth into a human soul, that person knows he has been touched by God.

It occurred to me that there is nothing we can do to force God to act.  I cannot demand that He grant me the new birth. We are surely on the wrong tract when we demand anything from God. Yes, we can ask, but we cannot demand. Is there anything God expects of us so that we are in a position to be born again?  Jesus said there was something we must do. He called upon me and everyone else to believe in Him. At first, I wasn’t sure what He meant by his reference to the bronze snake our fathers mounted on a pole in the wilderness. Poisonous snakes were attacking our people at that time, but all who gazed at the brazen serpent were healed. 

When later on He was lifted up on a cross, I understood. Jesus was healing us from the poison of sin at the cross. When our fathers looked at the brazen serpent with faith, they were healed.  When we look at the Son of Man hanging on a cross and believe that He is suffering there on behalf our sins, we are healed spiritually. 

He wanted me to understand that it was the love of God which sent Him into the world.  He was not sent to condemn the world, but to save the world. So great is the love of God that He has made a clear and simple way for anyone to enter into His kingdom. Whoever believes in Jesus, He said, will not perish but have eternal life. 

I came to this conclusion: the new birth involves two things. Faith in Jesus on our part, and the work of the Spirit on the soul on God’s part.  I am not sure how those two work together. All I know is that we must do our part, and that is to believe in the Son of Man. 

Jesus said one more thing that day that we must listen carefully. He said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 

Do not make the mistake we Pharisees made.  Do not assume that because someone is a member of a church, or claims to be a Christian, that heaven is his destiny. We all assumed that if you were a Jew and not terribly wicked, you were guaranteed a place in the eternal kingdom. The idea that a good Jew had to be reborn was a strange thought to us. The question we must ask is this – – – “Do I know that I have been born again?  Has the Spirit of God blown in my soul making me into a new person?”  If you are uncertain, you need to examine your heart to see if your faith in Jesus is sincere. 

Do you understand why some people will be condemned by God? It is not because they have sinned against God. That is true enough, but the Son of God atoned for the sins of the world. Jesus stated to me clearly on that day long ago, the condemned are lost because they have not believed in God’s only Son. In my day the Romans affirmed many gods, and there were strange gods to be found in the nations around Israel. Some thought, “Well, if you sincerely follow your religion, whatever it is, God will honor that and save you.”  Listen carefully, Jesus said the one and only reason for condemnation is the failure to believe in the name of the only Son of God. 

Jesus taught that there is but one road leading to the Father’s Kingdom, and He Himself is that road. I thought I was on the right road as a faithful Jew.  I learned that day that we must all be born again if we are to enter heaven. Jesus is the only road that leads us safely into God’s Kingdom. Make sure you are on it. 


JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE

Warsaw Christian Church (2/23/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text John 2:13-22 (cp Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-46)

The episode in our text is recorded in all four Gospels. John records it at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, while the other 3 Gospels record it as happening towards the end.  We simply need to remember that ancient writers were not always concerned about chronology. They had a story to tell, and John in particular does not seem to concern himself with the chronological sequence of events. 

This episode in the life of Jesus is troubling to some. Some look upon the Savior as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and this event does not fit that picture.  He seems to be acting with anger, and for some Christians the idea that Jesus would act out of anger is inconceivable. Our texts tell us it was zeal for God’s House that moved Him to act as He did. 

The occasion is the Jewish Passover. It is a very special day in the Jewish calendar, commemorating their escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. It was one of three Jewish holidays requiring every male to go to Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16). Jesus is careful to follow the Law of Moses. On this occasion, he encounters a situation that displeases Him. In the very courts of the Temple is a bazaar like atmosphere. People were selling oxen, sheep, and doves, etc. that were to be used as sacrifices. 

Also, only currency from Tyre was acceptable as a medium of exchange. Jews who came with other currencies had to exchange their money for coins from Tyre. There was a reason for that which need not concern us. So, we have people selling animals, and booths for the exchange of funds in the Temple court. 

There was nothing wrong with making animals available for sacrifice, or having a currency exchange, but there was no necessity to set up in the Temple. It could have been done outside the Temple but somewhere in the vicinity. Having noisy, smelly animals and the cries of vendors in God’s house was too much for our Lord to ignore. The traders were so eager for business that they sold their sacrificial animals in a place dedicated to the worship of Jehovah. 

This is the first public act in the ministry of Jesus, according to John. The act of turning water into wine was done at a private wedding. Now Jesus strides into the Temple of God. The crowning event at Passover was the eating of the roasted lamb. Jesus, the Lamb of God, appears and foretells His own sacrifice. 

But first, Jesus makes a whip and begins to drive out the animals and the people selling them, and the money changers. He overturns the tables of the money changers. He speaks, “Do not make my Father’s House a house of trade.” In the synoptic Gospels he adds, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).  This suggests that those selling and exchanging money were not always honest. 

The scene is almost unbelievable. The court of the Gentiles was the entrance to the house of the Most High God. Instead of being put into the right frame of mind to worship God, worshippers encounter a cacophony of animal noises and the cries of vendors. Jesus responds with righteous indignation. Fashioning a whip, he drives men and beasts out of the Temple. I suspect everyone was so stunned they didn’t know what to do except to get out of the way of this “mad man.”  They fled the Temple “pell-mell like a lot of naughty boys” (Lenski’s Commentary, p. 207).  Some of those learned in the Scriptures may have thought of the words of the prophet Malachi: “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:1). 

What application can we make of this episode? One thing is clear. Houses of worship are to be treated with high respect and honor. What would you think if, upon entering this church, you were confronted with tables where bulletins were sold for profit, or you had to purchase a special token to partake of the Lord’s Supper?  Or maybe I had a booth set up to sell previous sermons for $5 each? (I bet that would not go over very well!). I believe you would be stunned and offended, even as Jesus was. 

I believe some of you may, be wondering about our annual FCW bazaar where our sanctuary become a place for selling goods. I have mixed feelings about it. I would prefer we do the bazaar apart from the sanctuary. I also understand that we have limited space in this building. Apart from a financial miracle that would allow us to expand our building, our ladies do not have much choice, and there is one large difference between what goes on at our bazaar and what went on in the Jerusalem Temple. Our ladies are not working for personal profit, but to raise money for various outreach causes. It is an entirely different situation. For me it is kind of a gray area where I hesitate to be dogmatic on the issue one way or the other. 

Sometimes we say, “The church is the peopleThis building is just to keep the rain off our heads.” It is true that the church is the people, but this building is also important. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, it is a building set aside to worship God. We should afford to our church building high honor and respect because of its purpose. We come here to worship and grow in our faith.  To be sure, we do not worship the building itself, but we try to keep it clean and beautiful so that those who enter here are put in the frame of mind to worship God our Father. 

I must say a word to persons who say, “I don’t need the church in order to be a good Christian.” Well, that is sort of a half-truth. It is true, it is not the church building and your presence therein that makes you a Christian. It is faith in the Savior that qualifies us to bear the name “Christian.” On the other hand, Jesus established the church for our benefit. Those who see no need for the church are surely insulting the Lord of the church. Why would anyone profess to believe in Jesus and then turn away from the church He established for our benefit? Jesus was incensed when He saw God’s House being abused. We should have the same attitude. We honor Christ when we not only keep our house of worship in good repair, but also by our participation in the life of His church. 

As the story continues, the Jews ask Jesus for a sign. It is as if they are saying, “If you are some kind of prophet, prove it by doing a miraculous sign.  How do we know you are not just some crazy man?” Jesus’ response only confuses the Jewish leaders even more. He says, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” You want a sign, here is my sign. They assume He is speaking of the Temple building that took 46 years to build.  They are incredulous, and now assume that this man is indeed a lunatic. The disciples who are with Jesus also do not immediately understand what He means. They remember this statement later, when He was resurrected three days after His crucifixion. Then they understood that the temple He would raise in three days was His own body. 

It is interesting to me that Jesus often gave cryptic responses to those persons He knew would not believe in Him. His parables were often meaningless to unbelievers, but made sense to His disciples. There were times when the disciples were also confused, but they remained with Jesus and in time they understood. 

I can certainly testify to this in my own experience. I read the Bible some before I was a Christian.  It was the most confusing, nonsensical book I had ever read. I joked about how stupid people were who believed the Bible.  It was like a vast picture puzzle, but the pieces just didn’t fit together. When I came to faith, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and now the Bible is the most sensible book I have ever read. God grants understanding to those who trust in His Son. To those who stubbornly cling to unbelief, confusion reigns supreme. “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them” John 12:40). “The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”   This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:10, 13). Faith opens our eyes to divine truth. Unbelief blinds us to divine truth. 

Right at the beginning of His public ministry Jesus predicts His own death and resurrection. He knew what His mission was from the very beginning. His body would be put to death.  He would suffer for the sins of His people. His vicarious sacrifice would be validated by His resurrection. He said later, Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17,18).

Anyone claiming to be able to raise Himself from death is, according to C.S. Lewis, either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. In order to raise yourself from death you have to be alive even when you are dead!  Dead people cannot do anything. What we are confronted with here is the mystery of the Incarnation. As we saw earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus has two natures, human and divine. Jesus died in His humanity, but deity cannot die. Thus, in His deity He was able to resurrect His human body. I can’t do such a thing, nor can any of us. If we are to be resurrected a power outside of us must act upon us, namely the power of God.  When Jesus in fact rose from the grave, He gave infallible proof that He was and is the Son of God, Savior of the world. He chose to lay down His life for us, and He had the power to raise Himself from death. If you are able to believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, eternal life will be yours. 

Earlier, Peter had said this: You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—  how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:38-43)

Forgiveness of sins and eternal life are within the grasp of every human being. All it takes is faith in the Son of God. At the very time when Jesus demonstrated righteous indignation over the desecration of the house of God, He also prophesied concerning the best news any of us will ever hear, His own death and resurrection.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Do you believe that? If you do, your sins are forgiven and heaven will be your final home. Those who will not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God will leave this life without hope. FAITH IN JESUS! Don’t leave this life without it. 


WHERE’S THE WINE?

Warsaw Christian Church, (Feb. 9, 2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 2:1-11

John tells us in verse 11 that this was the first miracle Jesus performed. Cana was a very small, obscure town, probably about the size of Tightwad or Rackett, MO. Nothing is known about this town outside of this wedding event. Archeologists are not certain where Cana was located, but it was probably near Nazareth. The couple being married are not named; like most people who live in small towns they were unimportant.  Important people did not normally live in small towns. 

One of my commentaries told of a New York bank that issued clean, fresh, untouched bills to important customers. The bills are in books separated by tissues. To qualify for this service, you need to keep a minimum balance of $25,000. I would not qualify and must be content to handle dirty money. Our wedding party in Cana would not have qualified either. It would seem they were so poor they could not provide enough wine for the wedding celebration. 

John tells us in verse one that the mother of Jesus was there.  Perhaps she was a friend of the family and was helping out in some capacity.  Maybe she was helping with refreshments. A strange mystery in the Gospel of John is why he never uses her name, Mary. John uses other names, but he always refers to Mary as “the mother of Jesus.” Why does he not write, “Mary, the mother of Jesus?” We don’t know. 

Jesus must also have been acquainted with the couple. He is also invited to the wedding. At this point He has not embarked on His public ministry, so He is just a local carpenter. Outside of Mary, no one knows that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Mary, of course, would never have forgotten the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. She knows who He is, and informs Him that the wine is gone. Jesus gives a cryptic response. Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.(John 2:4-5). I recently heard a Christian comedian commenting on this verse. He pointed out that it seemed kind of inappropriate for Jesus to address His mother as “Woman.” If my mother said to me, “Dick, clean your room!” and I responded, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me,” I probably would have been in trouble! Maybe His response was appropriate in Jewish culture. 

She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says, and He turns lots of water into high quality wine. I know there are churches that look upon drinking any kind of alcohol as a sin. I have heard some pastors say that Jesus turned the water into grape juice. However, the writers of Scripture knew the difference between grape juice and wine. Wine, by definition, is fermented. It is an alcoholic beverage. 

In ancient Israel you had two choices for beverages.  Water or wine. There was no Coca Cola, no coffee, no root bear – – – just water (which was not always pure), and wine. Well, I guess they also had milk but that was not what you served at a wedding. 

How does one go about turning water into wine? For us, it is an impossible task. For Jesus, it was a simple matter. Remember, He created the heavens and the earth. He spoke the vast galaxies into existence. If you are God the Son, a mere thought or spoken word, and water becomes wine. Apparently, when Jesus made wine, he made the good stuff.  The guests commented that normally you served the good wine first, and when the taste buds were insensitive, you brought out the cheap stuff. They were astonished that this wine was so superior in quality. 

What does John want us to learn from this episode?  I think there are several practical lessons. First, it reminds us that our Lord cares about our temporal needs. While His main ministry is to redeem us from sin, death and hell, He also cares about our daily life. This lack of wine at a wedding celebration is not a great problem in the grand scheme of things. There were serious issues like Roman occupation, natural disasters, crime etc.  I suppose Jesus could have said, “Don’t trouble me with trifles. My goal is to save people for eternal life. I can’t be bothered with the lack of refreshments at a wedding.” However, his very first recorded miracle is an act of provision and kindness for an unknown wedding couple. 

I have heard people say, “I don’t think we should pray over minor, temporal matters.” I do not agree. If we have a real need, even if it is nothing more than providing refreshments for a wedding, we should pray.  We may not always see a miracle, and we may not always receive what we ask for, but God wants us to trust Him. He loves us and wants to bless us, and He is not stingy. Should we ask for God’s help with minor health issues? Yes, we should. Should we pray over temporal matters that may not seem very important? Yes, we should. Our prayers indicate that we do indeed trust our heavenly Father. As we learn to trust God in small matters, our faith will grow stronger enabling us to better face the larger issues. Jesus stressed this principle in Luke 16:10: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much…” As we learn to trust God is small matters our faith grows and we are able to trust Him in larger matters. If you can’t trust Him to help you find your car keys, how will you ever trust Him when you are faced with a major problem? 

     The second lesson I see in our text is simply that God makes abundant provision for us. The six stone jars each holding 20 to 30 gallons was surely more wine than was needed. 180 gallons of wine for a small wedding party was way more than enough! This would be enough wine to serve the entire stadium at a Chiefs football game!  We saw this same phenomena in the feeding of the 5000. More food was provided than was actually needed. When God meets a need He does not do so in an economical manner. Jesus stressed this principle in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:9-11).  Do you enjoy giving good things to your children? Would that not also be true of God, even more so?  God not only provided far more than was needed, but it was also of the highest quality. 

     Does this mean we can get whatever we want from God? No, because God always acts in our best interest. His highest will for us is that we would enter into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. If what we ask for will be a hindrance to this higher goal, He will withhold the requested blessing. If what we ask for is in harmony with God’s highest will for us, and if we ask in faith, it will be granted. If your ten-year-old son asked for a Glock handgun, I suspect you would say no because you realize it could do serious harm to him or others. If your son was hungry and asked for bread, I suspect you would grant that request. God loves us and desires to bless us with good things. Here the Word of the Lord, first from Psalm 34:10: “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.” And from Psalm 84:11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Under the New Covenant, those who walk uprightly are those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and live as His disciples. Our text from John’s Gospel should encourage us to believe that God will grant our requests abundantly, as long as they will promote our spiritual good. 

     One of the obvious lessons in our text is that it proclaims loudly the deity of Jesus. Mary knew that, but the disciples were just becoming acquainted with Jesus. Up to now, they were attracted to Jesus but had not seen any manifestation of His divine power.  Verse 11 in our text says, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”  They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah. Now any lingering doubts were removed. They understood that no mere moral man can change water into wine.  Only God the creator, God the Son, can perform such a mighty miracle. 

     I want to mention one final very important lesson from our text. We saw in Chapter One of John’s Gospel that Jesus can change us. We read in John 1:12 these words: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right (or power) to become children of God.” How can we find forgiveness from God and become His children? Who can change us from rebels into disciples? Who has that power? The answer of Scripture is – – – Jesus. Those who receive Him into their lives and hearts by believing in Him are transformed into children of God. How does He do it? I don’t know, any more than I can explain how He turned water into wine. I don’t know how He does it, but I do know that He does it. He changes hearts; He transforms lives. He who turned water into first rate wine changes sinners into first rate disciples. 

     The problem some people face is simple, but deadly. Many are content with a superficial Christian experience and have no desire to be radically transformed. We may think all we need is a little remodeling, while Jesus plans to tear down our old way of life and give us a brand-new life. The Christian musical, “For Heaven’s Sake” (1961) had a song that speaks to this issue. It’s called, “The Repair Job.” The first verse goes like this. “I asked God to do some repair, and He’s making the whole place over! My bungalow was modest, with a simple one floor plan. But all its quirks and foibles, satisfied this simple man. I knew the drains were leaking, the gutters rusted through. The shingles had been warping, and the paint was peeling too.  I knew it needed fixing and I thought I could afford, Some sort of small repair work—then He went overboard. He kept on saying what could be, and how the place could look— He said He’d take me over, and now I’m being took. ‘Cause He’s making us over, He’s making us over, Nothing’s the same since that house wrecker came.” Jesus is not interested in doing some slight repairs in our lives. He is making us over into brand new creatures in Christ.

     As we read this episode where Jesus transformed water into wine, we are not to say, “Wow, that was quite a trick.” Rather we should respond, “Lord Jesus, change me too.” Those who sincerely ask the Lord Jesus to touch their sinful hearts and turn them into the pure wine of faith and discipleship learn that He honors such a request. To turn water into wine is a great miracle. To turn a sinner into a saint is an even greater miracle.  I pray that His grace will touch us deeply and turn our watery Christian lives into first class wine. May the Lord grant this unto us all. 


WHO ARE YOU?

Warsaw Christian Church, (2/2/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 1:19-29 (see also Matthew3:1-12)

When John the Baptist arrived on the scene, the entrenched religious leaders wondered who he was. The scribes and Pharisees, high priests and Levites, had basically institutionalized Judaism. John did not fit into the institutional mold. John’s father was a priest, and so the assumption was that John would also be a priest. Instead he is wandering around in the desert, eating weird food and dressed like one of the prophets of old. The leaders are suspicious of him. 

This is a very typical reaction. We all tend to fall into religious ruts and are suspicious of things going on outside our comfort zone. Sometimes new pastors are viewed with some initial doubt. “What is he like?” “What will he change?” “Will he fit in here?”  John arrives on the scene preaching repentance and baptizing people in the Jordan River. He just doesn’t fit in, and so the leadership is sent from Jerusalem to find out about this guy. 

It is like a game of 20 questions. They wonder if he might claim to be the Messiah, but he says, “I am not the Christ.” Well then, they ask, “Are you Elijah?” They knew that the last writing prophet, Malachi, had prophesied that Elijah would return before the day of the Lord (Malachi 4:8). John denies that he is Elijah. (Later, Jesus did indicate that John fulfilled the prophesy concerning Elijah because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17; see also  Matt. 17:10-12). Finally they ask if he is “the prophet” (See Deut. 18:15-18). John gives a simple “no.” Finally they ask the question they should have asked in the first place instead of engaging in a guessing game. “Who are you?” they ask. 

John gives a somewhat cryptic answer. “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah” (Isaiah 40:3). The interrogators do not inquire as to his meaning. They have one final question for John, wondering about the significance of his baptism.  John then states emphatically that another is coming after him, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit (this detail is not mentioned by John but is found in all three synoptic Gospel: Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16). 

John knew exactly who he was.  Others wondered about him, but he knew he was called of God to serve as the forerunner to the Messiah. There are several lessons we can learn from John. We certainly see here his humility.  He is not going to claim to be someone he is not. He might have said, “Why yes, I am the fulfillment of the Elijah prophesies, so you had better honor me.”  John is not interested in recognition, nor should we be. He will not accept any honors that do not belong to him. Yes, he had been called to fulfill a special role in redemptive history but he did not become puffed up with pride.  His focus was simply on doing what God called him to do. That should also be our focus. 

I was reading recently about a hot shot fighter pilot in WW Two, an ace who won many dogfights. He was an excellent pilot, but very arrogant and puffed up with his own abilities. He was so obnoxious that his commanding officer had him transferred. His recommendation read as follow: “Splendid officer at 5000 feet.  He should never come lower.” John the Baptist had a very different attitude. 

We all have different callings. I have been called to serve as your pastor. Some of you are called to teach school.  Some are called to the medical profession. Many of you are now retired. Whatever your particular station in life, if we follow John’s example we will turn aside from recognition and status, and simply strive to do our best to serve the Lord. John identifies himself by pointing to a prophecy found in Isaiah 40:3. His task is to prepare the nation to receive their Messiah. He is often referred to as the forerunner.  That raises a question. Why did the Messiah, Jesus, need a forerunner? Why was the ministry of John included in the plan of God? 

Part of the answer is seen in the fact that the Jewish people had developed some wrong ideas about the Messiah. Few understood what Paul later clarified that the “seed of Abraham” was not a reference to the entire Jewish nation.  It was a reference to one person, the Messiah (see Gal. 3:7-8, 16).  Jesus is the seed of Abraham, and all who trust in Him, whether Jew or Gentile, will receive the promises made to Abraham. Furthermore, the Jews rightly saw the Messiah as the Son of David. They assumed the Messiah would restore Israel’s glory, even beyond what David had achieved. Many anticipated that the Messiah would severely punish the hated Romans. They saw themselves as the objects of God’s salvation, but Gentiles were the subject of God’s wrath. 

John had to begin the process of dispelling these false ideas. The salvation that Messiah would bring was not a Jewish phenomenon.  It had nothing to do with national heritage. Jesus would call people to a personal faith in Him. It was a call to repent of sin and turn to Him in baptism and faith.  The majority of the Jewish people rejected Jesus because He did not meet their expectations. They did not grasp the fact that their problem was not Rome, but personal sin. 

Some things never change.  There are people in the church today who distort the message of Jesus. Some preach that faith in Jesus will guarantee health and wealth. Others tell us that Jesus is merely one of many paths to God.  In seminary, I was taught that since one cannot verify the deity of Jesus by rational-empirical methodology, we must deny that He is the Son of God. The distortions of the simple Gospel message are legion in today’s church.

Matthew 3:6 tells us that those who came to John for baptism came confessing their sins. John declared, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11; cp. John 1:30-34).

The Pharisee’s ask John why he is baptizing, and they are especially curious as to why he is baptizing Jews. In their thinking, they were the religious experts. They are probably wondering why John has the audacity to preach at all. The only baptism performed in the Jewish faith was the baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism. Gentiles were seen as morally and spiritually corrupt, so when a Gentile converted to Judaism he was baptized as an act of moral cleansing. Jews, however, did not need baptism. They were automatically in God’s favor by virtue of their Jewishness. Why would God’s chosen people need baptism, and who does John think he is to proclaim such a message?  

Yet here is John, calling upon Jews to repent and confess their sins and be baptized. Who is this wild man who eats bugs in the desert? Why should anyone listen to him? Nonetheless, John thundered forth his message loud and clear.  Jews as well as Gentiles need to repent and receive forgiveness. John calls upon the Jewish people to prepare for the one who will come after him, one mightier than John. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

Once a message is proclaimed it places upon those who hear it a responsibility to respond. You can accept the message, reject it, or ignore it. John said the Messiah would soon arrive on the scene. He would have the authority to grant the Holy Spirit.  The Jews would have been thinking, “Only God can grant the Holy Spirit.” John is probably thinking, “Bingo!”  Well, John would not have known about the game of Bingo, but he would have used a comparable Greek or Hebrew phrase. Most rejected John’s message, and also the message of Jesus. 

Our text ends with the powerful words of verse 29.  Jesus approaches John and John cries out “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This idea that Jesus is the Lamb of God finds its way into the ancient liturgies of the church. If you have spent any time in the Lutheran Church you have said or sung, “O Christ, thou Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” 

To the Jewish mind, the idea of a lamb being sacrificed for the removal of sin and guilt was a common idea. This was a communal practice in ancient Israel. But this was no ordinary Lamb. Lambs had to be sacrificed repeatedly under the Old Covenant. John proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world, once and for all. 

John declares that Jesus is unique.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Who is it that can take away the sin of the entire world, past, present and future? In John 1:34 Jesus is further described as the Son of God. Whose death would have such merit so as to remove the sin of the world?  No ordinary lamb could do that. The Passover lamb could not do that. Only the Lamb of God who is the Son of God can accomplish such a momentous task.

We need to grasp the fact that Jesus, in one great act, has removed the sins of the world. That means that all your sins, past, present and future, have been removed, forgiven. As long as faith in Jesus is alive, along with repentance (see last week’s sermon), we need not be anxious or fearful that our sins will cast us into hell. There is only one sin that will separate us from God, the sin of unbelief. Notice John 3:18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, took upon Himself the judgment of your sins and my sins. He asks of us but one thing – – – a life of repentance and faith. He asks us to believe that He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. Faith connects us to Jesus and His forgiving grace has removed all our sins. John the Baptist introduced the Messiah to Israel, and then took a back seat. He had no interest in promoting himself. His one interest was to persuade you that the Messiah had come.  If you believe what John declares in our text, your sins are removed and will never condemn you. Those who refuse to believe John have also rejected the Messiah. They have committed treason against their Creator who reached out to them with love. Their just fate is an eternity in outer darkness. How much wiser it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. 

We wonder, why would God go to such extremes to redeem us? Yes, because He loves us, and perhaps this story from everyday life will help us understand. It was the year 2007. In New York City a man had a seizure in the subway and fell onto the tracks with a train car bearing down on him. A construction worker saw what was happening and jumped onto the tracks and dragged the man into a drainage ditch between the tracks. The train roared overhead, but neither man was injured. The hero, a man named Wesley Autrey, was given the city’s highest award by Mayor Bloomberg. Donald Trump heard the story and gave the man $10,000.  The Metropolitan Transportation Authority gave him a year’s supply of Metrocards. His boss even bought him a “hero” sandwich. When asked about why he risked his life for a stranger, Autry said, “I just did it because I saw someone in distress. Someone needed help.” That is what Jesus did for us. The train of sin was about to crush us. He saw that we needed the help He alone could give, and He jumped into this world to save us. 

John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God, and then stepped aside. That is an example for us to follow. We are to proclaim the name of Jesus, and then get out of the way so He can work in the hearts and lives of others. But before we can do that, we must be clear in our own personal declaration of faith in Jesus. He is not looking for reluctant followers. He is not looking for half-hearted disciples. He is not looking for occasional disciples who tip their hats to Him now and then but live as though He matters not. He is looking for disciples who both express their faith in Him, and back it up with actions. Do I fit that description? Do you? 


IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD

Warsaw Christian Church (1/26/20) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 1:1-14

We are going to spend some time over the next few months in the Gospel of John. This morning we are going to look more closely at John’s prologue to the story of Jesus. It is probably the most spiritual and the most theological of the four Gospels. In John we encounter material not found in the other Gospels.  Do you know how many of the parables of Jesus are found in John’s Gospel? Zero, none. John contains lots of narrative, a few allegories, but no parables. This is why scholars speak of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in contrast to John. The synoptic Gospels tell the story of Jesus from the same basic perspective. John adds all kinds of materials not found in the three synoptics. 

We begin with John’s prologue. It is difficult to read the Prologue to John’s Gospel without saying, “Wow!”  Matthew and Luke tell us of the miraculous virgin birth of the Savior. Mark begins his Gospel with the baptism of Jesus. John takes us back to the beginning of time, and what he says is truly incredible. He is speaking of the man Jesus. He says of Him, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Let’s take a closer look at these profound words from the hand of an inspired Apostle. John’s statement reminds us of the book of Genesis which also commences with “In the beginning.” John tell us that “the Word” (Jesus Christ) was present when the universe was created. The early church faced a problem when writing to Gentiles. The Gentiles were not familiar with the Old Testament.  When preaching to the Jews, the early Christians used the Old Testament, pointing out how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. That approach would not work with Greek Gentiles.

The idea of “word,” however, was familiar to Greek culture. The Greeks looked at the universe and saw order everywhere. The seasons were orderly, the stars and plants moved in an orderly fashion. When a farmer planted wheat, the end product was always wheat. Cows gave birth to cattle; humans gave birth to humans, all of which was predictable and orderly. They wondered, why is there order and not chaos in the universe?  They concluded that there must be a mind – – – rationality behind the universe which caused the universe to exist. This they referred to as the logos, or word. 

John declares that this creating “logos” or “Word” was in the beginning.  This “word” was with God. Later he says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He states the Gospel in terms that Gentiles can grasp. If the Word was present “in the beginning”, the Word is eternal. The only thing that existed before the beginning was God. Jesus, the Word, was with God the Father at the dawn of creation. Jesus has existed from all eternity. 

Then John makes an astonishing claim. “The Word was God.”  Jesus Christ is both with God, and is God. God, by definition, is an eternal being. If Jesus is God, He is an eternal being. There was never a time when Jesus did not exist. There was a time – – – long centuries – – – when I did not exist. I came into being in 1936. Jesus never came into being but is an eternal being. 

John does not explain how Jesus can be both with God, a separate and distinct person, and also be God, the God who is One. I suspect the explanation is beyond our ability to understand. That God is one in essence, yet three in person, is never explained in Scripture.  It is merely stated. 

For example, Jesus is described as “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus said to Phillip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” He also declared, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). 

Several implications flow from the amazing revelation that the man Jesus is also eternal God. As we carefully study the words and deeds of Jesus, we grasp a clear understanding of what God is like. God the Father is exactly like Jesus the Son. Jesus reveals God perfectly, and from Him we learn that our Creator is most magnificent. 

There are those who say that God is unknowable. The Christian message reveals that God wants to be known. He does not want to hide in the heavens with no interest in our lives. If God is like Jesus, we have every reason for hope. Jesus reveals God as a loving and caring deity. He reveals a God full of goodness and truth. He reveals a God who extends to us total and complete forgiveness through the sacrifice of His Son. He reveals a God who offers eternal life to us as a gift on the simple condition that we trust in Jesus. Primarily, we learn from Jesus that God is love. Yes, Jesus also reveals a God of judgment who will not tolerate the violation of His will. Those who will not respond to God’s forgiving love and grace with faith will face eternal doom. 

In our text, we learn also that Jesus Christ, the One who was with God and who is God, created the universe from top to bottom. John says in 1:2, “Without Him was not anything made that was made.”  Jesus, in harmony with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created this planet on which we live. He spoke the sun, moon and stars into existence. He created human life in the image of God. He then walked on the very ground He created. 

Paul agrees with John in Colossians 1:16,17:  Speaking of Jesus he writes, “For by Him (Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  Paul wants to make sure that we understand the power and nature of Jesus. He created all things, things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, all powers and authorities. Everything was created by Him and for Him. He even now is sustaining the universe by the power of His will. 

According to a 2006 Newsweek poll, people in the United States said they believed in God by a margin of 92 to 6. Only 2 percent answered, “I Don’t know.” Still, many people are practical atheists. Some profess belief in a supreme being, but they live as though God did not exist. 

Astronomer Carolyn Porco believes science is a better system than God. “Science itself should attempt to supplant God in Western culture by providing the benefits and comforts people find in religion: community, ceremony, and a sense of awe,” Porco says. “Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity — the force that binds us all to the earth, and the earth to the sun, and the sun to the Milky Way.” Porco admits there are limits to finding spiritual fulfillment by exploring the universe — namely, our innate desire to understand what is beyond the universe. She writes, “The people who want to know that they’re going to live forever and meet Mom and Dad in heaven? We can’t offer that.” If you are spiritually satisfied by thanking gravity for keeping you from falling off the earth, go for it! Yes, science is wonderful, but science has no access to God. 

When John states that all things “were made” (Greek, egeneto) he is saying that the physical universe made up of atoms and molecules, matter and energy, came into existence by the creative Word of the Son of God. The Triune God created the universe out of nothing, as the theologians put it. Matter, energy, time, space did not exist before the first day of creation. God simply said, “let there be…” and there was. 

It is truly astonishing to think that the Creator of the universe once walked among us as a man.  Moreover, we remember that Jesus was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). Why would the Son of God allow Himself finally to be nailed to a cross? This is His world and He had the right to demand that we obey Him. Why did He not call those 10,000 angels to come and rescue Him, and destroy the world and the sinful inhabitants (see Matthew 26:53). 

Wonder of wonders, He submitted to the Cross and used it as the very means to redeem us.  It was the love of God that led Jesus to the Cross. It was love that held Him there. What is God like? He loves us so much that He was willing to endure the Cross for our sakes. God is not a remote God, but a personal God who acted in a very personal way to reveal His love to us. The one who made all things came into the world He created, and revealed the astonishing, amazing love of God to us. 

The next point in our text is this: Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the creator of life and the bearer of everlasting life. Unfortunately, darkness had so enveloped the mind of fallen humanity that when the Light of the world appeared, the human race stared at Him without comprehension. His own people, the Jews, did not recognize their Messiah.  When I read the story of Jesus in the New Testament, it astonishes me that so many refuse to believe in Him. Then I recall that time in my life when I did not believe in Him. Some people are so caught up in the darkness that they cannot see the light. The good news is this. The ones who did believe in His name were given the right to become children of God. They were born again, not through human power but through the power of God. In union with a simple act of faith, the power of God moves in the human soul creating the new birth.  

John says it was his privilege to have known Jesus personally. He heard the wonderful words of Jesus and saw His mighty works. He concludes that the glory of God is present in Jesus. He is the only Son of God.  There is no other perfect revelation of God to be found anywhere. Those who seek God outside of Jesus will never find Him. I realize that such a statement is politically incorrect. Some affirm there are many paths to God. If you believe that you might as well discard your Bible which declares unequivocally that there is but one path to God, Jesus. 

Later John will devote chapters 13-21 to events surrounding the crucifixion. This is the heart of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ came into the world to redeem sinners.  He accomplished this by His vicarious death on the cross. But how can the death of a single man atone for the sins of the world? That cannot be, unless that man is also God. Luther explained that the Savior must be God.  Only if He is God can His death have the merit needed to atone for the sins of the world. But, explained Luther, He must also be man, one with us. Man has sinned, and the redeemer must be human as we are. John wants to make sure at the very beginning of His Gospel that we understand this important truth. We need a God-Man to save us, and that is what we have in Jesus Christ. 

Tedd was five years older than Janet, finished college before her, and was working in a city hundreds of miles from her. They always seemed to be at different places in their lives. But they had been dating for seven years. Every Valentine’s Day Tedd would propose marriage, and Janet would say, “No, not yet.” Finally, when they were both living in Dallas, Tedd reached the end of his patience. He bought a ring, took Janet to a romantic restaurant, and prepared to give her the diamond. Another “no” would mean he would get on with his life without her.

After salad, entree, and dessert, Tedd was ready. But realizing Janet had a gift for him, he asked, “What did you bring me?” She handed him a box the size of a book. He opened the package and slowly peeled away the tissue paper. It was a cross-stitch Janet had made that simply said, “Yes.” It was the word Tedd longed to hear. It’s also the word that God, in his tireless pursuit of the sinner, longs to hear. If you believe in Jesus you are a child of God, destined to live eternally in the presence of God and all the redeemed. That is God’s promise. Do you believe Him? Have you made it clear that your response to Jesus is a definite “Yes?” 


RESTORING THAT WHICH HAS BEEN LOST

Warsaw Christian Church, (1/19/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Psalm 51 (Especially verse 12)

Have you ever lost something that you later found? Doesn’t it bring joy when the lost is found? I may have mentioned before several years ago when I was at the Walmart “bank.” I made a small purchase but my real purpose was to get cash. I punched in that I wanted $100 cash back. I gathered up my small purchase and walked away leaving my $100 in the machine. It was about an hour later when I realized what I had done. Without much hope I returned to Walmart. I assumed probably some fortunate customer found my money and I was out of luck. I returned to Walmart feeling hopeless, and broke! I told a clerk what had happened. She said, “Oh, you are the guy who left $100 in the machine. We found it and have it for you. Here is your money.” Joy flooded my soul! I could not believe I had been so stupid, but also so blessed by an honest clerk at Walmart. 

In Psalm 51 David had lost something far more valuable than $100. He had lost the joy of his salvation. He prayed, “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” David had known the joy of salvation.  He was in a right relationship with God. We see that joy bubbling over in Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He leads me to green pastures…  He restores my soul… goodness and mercy follow me . . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” David is full of joy as he recalls all the blessings of God. These are abundant reasons to fell joyful. 

But something has happened. David’s joy is gone. He has not lost his salvation, but he has lost his joy. He prays that the joy he once knew as a redeemed soul could be restored to him. We know what happened to him. He is standing on the roof of the palace looking down on a neighboring roof, and what does he see? A beautiful woman taking a bath. He is dazzled by her beauty. “I must have her” he thinks. “After all, I am the king. I am entitled.”

In order to possess Bathsheba, he has to deal with the pesky problem that she has a husband. David has her husband, Uriah, killed.  Uriah served in David’s army and was very loyal to David, He is rewarded by death. David marries his beautiful neighbor and she bears him a son who dies. Later she bears him another son, Solomon, who becomes king when David dies. Solomon’s rule turns out to be a total disaster leading to a dividing of Israel into north and south. David was forgiven, but his heinous sins continued to have negative consequences throughout his life. 

So, David gains Bathsheba, but what does he lose?  The joy of his salvation. You cannot blatantly disregard the will of God and feel joyful. It was impossible for David, and it is impossible for us. 

David was in a precarious position. What would have become of Him had he decided, “Oh well, I’m the king and I can do as I wish. God loves me even when I disobey Him, so my disobedience doesn’t matter. I can take any woman I like. David lost the joy of his salvation. The question I want us to think about is this: Can one ever lose his or her salvation? We can certainly lose the joy of our salvation through disobedience, but can a real relationship with God ever be lost? 

One opinion on that question is to affirm “once saved, always saved.” Certain Scriptures are quoted to support this position.  I want to quote a single Scripture which clearly states that redeemed Christians can lose their salvation. 2 Peter 2:20-22. “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Notice this language. Peter speaks of those who have escaped from sinful pollutions. They escaped from the pollution of sin because they came to know and believe in Jesus. They then become entangled in sin once again. They make the choice to indulge their sins, which means they have turned away from Jesus. They have known the reality of salvation, but then turn away from it. They are like a washed sow who is clean but prefers to wallow in the mire. First, those described by Peter lose the joy of their salvation. Then, because they prefer their sins to Jesus, there is no repentance and they lose their faith and their salvation. 

How is it that we enter into the family of God? We are not born into the family of God when we emerge from our mother’s womb.  We are born estranged from God and His kingdom. The Bible is clear that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It is equally clear that the wages of sin is death, eternal death; eternal separation from God. It is crystal clear that we enter into the family of God through faith in Jesus. Jesus is the only Savior, and apart from faith in Him there is no salvation. As long as faith in Jesus is alive in our souls we belong to God, and nothing can separate us from His love. 

David had chosen to be a man of God. He trusted the God of the Old Covenant. He had made that choice. Along came Bathsheba and David acted in ways totally contrary to the will of God. Now he was faced with another choice. His joy was gone. Again, you simply cannot blatantly defy the will of God and expect that you will continue to have a joyful relationship with Him.  His choice now was to continue to defy God, which would have meant that he lost not only his joy, but his faith as well. David could have destroyed forever any chance of having a relationship with God. That was one option he faced. David chose a second option, the path of repentance. In Psalm 51 he pleads for mercy. He prays that his transgressions may be blotted out (vs. 1). He knows he has offended God (vs. 3). He asks God to purge him, to wash him clean from his sins (7). He prays for a clean heart and a right spirit (10). He asks that God not cast him away from his presence (11). He knew he faced possible eternal separation from God. 

In other words, David knew the seriousness of his sins. He knew that God could justly cast him away from his presence — forever. Knowing his precarious position with God, David sincerely repents.  He pleads for mercy. If God will forgive him, he will know joy once again, and he will become a strong witness to the forgiving grace of God (13,14). 

What do we learn from Psalm 51? When we disobey God what is the first thing that happens? Our joy vanishes. When you are in a faith relationship with God, joy is one of the consequences. One of the questions we must ask ourselves when we experience long term sadness, a long-term lack of joy, is whether or not we are perhaps offending God in some way, but not facing up to it. Of course, there are other medical and psychological problems which can lead to sadness and depression. Sin which abides in us can also cause depression. 

David learned that when he approached God with sincere repentance, there was forgiveness, and a restoration of lost joy. That is also true for us. When we step outside the will of God, we also have a choice to make.  We can remain on the outside; we can abandon our faith; we can say, “I want to live my life as I chose without any interference from anyone, God included.” Or, we can make David’s choice.  We can repent, turn away from that which displeases our Creator, and have the joy of our salvation restored. If we continue to walk away from God, we lose not only our joy but faith itself dies, and when faith dies salvation is lost. Again, Peter describes this experience as being like a sow that is washed clean, but prefers to wallow in the mud. 

If you have lost the joy of your salvation, repentance is the key to restoration. Sincere repentance, however serious our transgressions may be, leads to the return of joy. The Protestant Reformation was founded on this principle. You may remember that Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. This was the usual method of inviting debate in the middle ages. His first three points dealt with repentance. Listen to thesis 1 and 3.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ —-willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance 3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh. 

Luther here states two very important truths. Since we struggle against sin all our lives, repentance is always present in the life of a true Christian. He also stresses that repentance is not merely an inward feeling of saying to God, “I am sorry.” True repentance, says Luther, leads to outward behavior changes. David was not only sorry that he had offended God, he was also determined to do better. 

If David had said, “I am sorry God,” and then decided to look around at other nearby rooftops to see if there were other attractive women bathing, his repentance would not have been sincere. He was determined to do better. I am sure he learned as Luther did, that since we struggle with sin throughout life, we live lives of repentance. He also learned that true repentance always leads to changes in behavior. 

God takes our sins very seriously. He allowed His Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh, then to offer Himself as an atonement for our sins. God allowed His Son to suffer a horrible, humiliating death on the cross as the only way to offer forgiveness to the human race. Jesus absorbed the judgment that you and I deserve.  That is how seriously God takes our sins. We better take them seriously as well. 

If you insult your wife, calling her fat and ugly, and then you say, “I am sorry,” but the next day you throw at her the same insult, and that continues days after day, week after week, what do the words “I’m sorry” mean? Absolutely nothing. As Luther expressed it, inward repentance always leads to outward changes in behavior.  

Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week? Yes, it was a tradition established by our founders. But more than that, it serves to remind us that not a week goes by when we can say, “I committed not a single sin this week.”  Maybe we did not tell a big lie, and maybe we did not commit murder, but not a week goes by when we are free from sin. It may be nothing more than bad thoughts, or unkind words. It may be admitting that we have left undone things we ought to have done, those pesky sins of omission. We take the bread and the cup each week and we say, “God, I am sorry. Please forgive me for . . . “(whatever sins come to mind). But then we add a second prayer, “Father, I am determined to do better, to serve you more faithfully. Please help me.” True repentance means we find again the joy we have lost, and as repentance becomes a way of life, we will never lose our faith relationship with the living God. 

Nisswa, Minnesota, is known for its turtle races. I have never attended this exciting event. Every Wednesday afternoon in the summer, the people of Nisswa and the surrounding communities gather at a designated parking lot for the races. Vendors rent turtles; others sell “turtle products.” And the fans gather early, seeking the best viewing sites. The announcer calls the turtle holders to the mark and gives them the “Go!” — and the crowd goes wild as the handlers release the turtles and scream at them, jump up and down, wave furiously, and throw water, trying to urge the racers to the finish line. The winners of those heats then race their turtles in the championship race. The winning handler receives $5 — along with a turtle necklace. It’s an uncharacteristic frenzy of emotion for the normally reserved folks of northern Minnesota. If people can get so excited about a turtle race, should we not feel great excitement and joy over our salvation? I was very happy to recover my lost $100. I am even more happy to know that if my joy is gone, there is a way to recover it. You will never lose your relationship with God as long as faith and repentance are active in your soul.


SAVED BY THE LIGHT

Warsaw Christian Church (1/5/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Isaiah 60:1-6

Our lesson today from Isaiah begins like this: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you . . .”

Recently we celebrated Christmas. We celebrated the manger and the shepherds and Mary and Joseph and, most of all, we celebrated the babe in the manger. According to tradition, however, three of the men we usually include in our celebration of Christmas didn’t actually make it to the stable for that amazing event. These men—following a star that they had seen in the East—came sometime later when Mary and Joseph were in a house. Jesus is not even referred to as a babe in their story, but as a young child. But the important point is that these foreigners . . . and we don’t actually know that there were three of them . . . but these foreigners knelt down before this child and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is the event we celebrate on the Day of Epiphany, the day when the Magi came and knelt down before the Christ child.

Seeing God more clearly is what the season of Epiphany is all about. Last Sunday was the Day of Epiphany, but it is only the first day of the season of Epiphany, a season in the church year that lasts until the beginning of Lent. The primary symbol of Epiphany is the star that led the Magi to the place where the Christ child lay.

The Bethlehem star is a vivid reminder to us that, with the coming of Christ, light has entered our dark world. Jesus is the light of the world. He came to bring spiritual light into a spiritually dark world. Sin had created spiritual darkness.  Jesus came to bring light by the forgiveness of our sins, removing the darkness from us by His sacrificial death on the cross. John the Baptist in the wilderness quoted from Isaiah the prophet, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light . . .” That great light is the light of Christ. John in the prologue to his Gospel put it this way: 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .” 

Light has entered our world. In a sense we can say that the two most significant events in the history of the universe were that time in the distant past when God said, “Let there be light . . .” and physical light came into being. Then two thousand years ago when God said, “Let there be spiritual light” and Jesus, the Messiah, entered our darkened world. For without Christ all of creation is enveloped in spiritual darkness.

But I am excited about a light that points the way for all humanity to be saved. That light is, of course, Jesus Christ. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it . . . The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” 

The light of God entered this world when Jesus was born. It is true that many do not recognize Jesus as the light of the world.  Many reject Him. Nevertheless, while the darkness can choose to remain darkness, the darkness can never extinguish the spiritual light which Jesus brought into the world. The good news is that when we recognize who Jesus is, and place our trust in Him, we become children of God. Jesus enters into our hearts and lives and we become the light of the world, little lights which reflect the saving light of Jesus unto others. 

Dr, Gardner Taylor taught preaching at Harvard Divinity School. He tells about preaching at a black church in Louisiana during the depression. Electricity was scare in that black congregation. Their sanctuary was lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling in the center of the sanctuary. While Dr. Taylor was preaching that single bulb went dark. The sanctuary was enveloped in darkness. Dr. Taylor wasn’t sure what to do. Suddenly a voice spoke out of the darkness. “Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark!” Indeed, physical darkness cannot extinguish the spiritual light of Jesus. 

We use darkness is a symbol for bad things that happen to us. The death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, the loss of a job —- many things happen to us which plunge us into darkness. But if you have Jesus you are never in the dark whatever problems you face. He is the light of the world, and no darkness can ever extinguish that light. Trust in Him and He will be a perpetual light unto your path. 

The Bethlehem star is a vivid reminder to us that with the coming of Christ, light has entered our dark world. Darkness, of course, is also a symbol of sin and estrangement. It is a symbol of a world without Christ. 

The sad nation of North Korea has been in the headlines in recent years. One writer has said that, if you want to really appreciate the contrast between darkness and light today, all you have to do is view nighttime satellite images of North and South Korea. South Korea is bathed in light, with its cities gleaming in the blackness, while North Korea, still primitive in so many ways, is dark. Communism does not shed light into a country!

But it’s more than just the lack of visible light that makes North Korea a place of darkness. The North Korean government is one of the most repressive governments on earth. Radio and television sets are hardwired to receive only government propaganda. In 2004, the government banned cell phones. North Koreans still have no access to the Internet—a source of information readily available in almost every other country.

There is another significant contrast between the two: The North is officially atheist—the last remaining “Stalinist” communist society. The South, on the other hand, has known Christian influence for more than a century.  In fact, one of the largest Christian churches in the world is in South Korea. 

We know that many people in our society live in spiritual darkness. They live without God in their lives. Quite obviously it is our task to take the light of Christ to them. 

Followers of Jesus are, indeed, as the Master said, “the light of the world.” And we are to shine our light into all the dark neighborhoods of this world. You have probably been in a cave when the tour guide turned out the lights.  Darkness is total. You can put your hand in front of your face but you see nothing. That is what it is like to live without faith in Jesus. Our spiritual darkness is total. 

Jesus is the light of God that gives life and vision. Without light, there is no life. In Genesis 1:3, the first thing God creates to fill the heavens and the earth is light. God didn’t have to create darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Darkness has no power and no purpose, except to obscure what exists. Light has both power and purpose. Light can nourish, it can illuminate, it can provide power and warmth. And repeatedly, the Bible equates light with the presence of God. 

Where there is light, there is life. Where there is God, there is life. Where there is God, there is both power and purpose. Light is essential for vision. You could be surrounded by dozens of different dangers and delights, but if you are sitting in darkness, then you would be ignorant of all of them. My recent tumble was on a cold, dark night. Eager to get out of the cold I turned too quickly and caught my foot on the edge of the patio and down I went, crashing my head into the concrete creating a lovely goose egg, breaking my glasses, and saying to myself, “Now why did I do that?”  It would never have happened in the light of day. 

The light of God that came through Jesus Christ helps us see the world the way God sees it. This light is both a source of wisdom and of love. The Bible tells us that before we received salvation in Jesus Christ, we were spiritually dead and walking in darkness. Sounds like the opening to a great zombie movie. But what does John say in verse 9 of our text? “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

A customer service agent for a utility company in Rochester, New York, wrote about working during a horrible storm, when thousands of customers were without power and utility crews were working 16-hour days to repair the damage. One customer called the customer service line and complained about the power outage, then stopped raging long enough to ask, “How will I know when my lights are back on?” The customer service agent remained silent for a second, debating about the best way to answer such an obvious, even ridiculous question. How will you know when your lights are back on? Finally, she just said, “Um, it’ll be brighter than it is now.” The customer hung up on her.

We were made to live in the light. You know that’s true if you’ve ever had the power go off for a few hours. No one has to tell you when the lights come back on. Your eyes, your mind, your very being is instantly aware when even the tiniest sliver of light enters your darkness. In the same way, when you understand that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God, you have a new vision for a life that reflects the reality of God. But how can I know that I have received the spiritual light which Christ brings? I don’t intend to offend anyone but that makes as much sense as asking, “How will I know when my electric lights are back on? When the Light of the World enters your life, you will know it. You can see and understand life more clearly. You suddenly understand that your sins are forgiven and you are now a part of God’s eternal family. The spiritual light that Jesus brings shines into our darkness, and as we follow Him, we walk in the light. 


HAPPY NEW YEAR? IT ALL DEPENDS.

Warsaw Christian Church (1/5/2020) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: John 1: 1-4; 14; Matthew 28:18-20

I have a personal question to ask you this morning: how many of you would consider yourself to be socially awkward? Socially awkward people feel out of sync with those around them. They find small talk very difficult. They often feel they don’t belong. Could that describe you or someone you know? 

Some people don’t have this problem. They are at their finest when they are in a new social situation. But some of us are a little awkward around people we don’t know, and we don’t look forward to that initial moment when we have to go up to strangers and introduce ourselves. 

Years ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Membership includes the brightest minds in the conservative/evangelical world. I am a member, but a junior member since I do not have a PhD.  I attended a lecture by Dr. William Lane Craig, one of my favorite theologians, a super intelligent man. I wanted him to sign my program but I am very shy around important men. He reached out to take my hand and asked, “And who are you?” Mustering up my brilliant response I said, “I am no body!” Dr. Craig laughed and said, “Well that’s not true. You are definitely somebody who is important to God.” I don’t remember what happened next. I handed him my program book which he graciously signed. This was before I knew Marie. She walks up to speakers and strikes up a conversation like they are old friends.

But some people have another problem. They like to brag about who they are. Their self-introduction is so amazing that it’s hard to believe. Here is a true story. There was a Chinese billionaire who made a bid to buy The New York Times a few years ago. What was interesting was this man’s business card. It listed him as “Most Influential Person of China.” But that’s not all. The card also listed him as “China[’s] Moral Leader” and “China[’s] Earthquake Rescue Hero.” No wonder that it also listed him as, “Most Well-Known and Beloved Chinese Role Model.” I don’t even know this man’s name, but that’s quite a business card. 

Of course, anyone who is in the public eye is, at some time, going to get an introduction from an emcee that is slightly extravagant. Speaker Evelyn Anderson once had an emcee introduce her with so much over-the-top praise that she began her speech like this: “After such an introduction,” she said, “I can hardly wait to hear what I’m going to say.” 

Here we are in another New Year. A wonderful goal for the year 2020 is to get to see God more clearly, with 2020 spiritual vision. We want to know God and God’s purpose for our life and for this world. Will the new year be a happy one, or a sad one? It all depends. There are two truths I want to share with you this morning that will guarantee a happy new year. Let me state them, and then expand a bit on each one. You will have a happy new year if you know Jesus.  You will have a happy new year if you share Jesus with others. Last week I spoke on how we can come to know Jesus through the Scriptures. I will say more on that later, but for now let’s focus in on sharing Jesus with others.

In our Bible text for today, the writer John is charged with a monumental task—that of introducing Jesus Christ to the world. Imagine yourself in John’s shoes …. or sandals. You are introducing the world to Jesus. How would you introduce him to people who didn’t know Him and weren’t expecting Him? 

That’s not just a rhetorical question. For you see, that is our primary purpose as followers of Jesus—to introduce Him to others. In Matthew 28:18-20, this is the responsibility we are given: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” That’s the task of every follower of Christ.

There is a delightful story about a young Asian girl named Yi (pronounced “Yee”). Yi first heard this verse at a Vacation Bible School, but she heard it in the King James Version, which begins like this, “Go YE therefore, and teach all nations.” Yi didn’t understand that in King James English, the word “ye” just means “you plural.” This young Asian girl thought her name was in the Bible! She became truly excited that Jesus was telling her— “Yi” to personally go spread his message to the world.

Wouldn’t you sit up and pay attention if you heard your name in that verse? “Go [David], and teach all nations.” “Go [Whitney], and preach the Gospel to all nations.” Even if your name isn’t in that verse, it is implied in that old word “ye,” you plural…all of you who believe in Jesus. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations . . .” If you claim Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then sharing your faith is not optional. It is essential. So how do you introduce Jesus to others?

At some point in every person’s life, they consider whether there is a God, and what that God is like. These are the two most basic questions of human existence: Is there a God and what is God like? Even people who rarely think about God will often cry out to some higher power for help in times of trouble, or will feel the urge to thank some higher power when they are overwhelmed with gratitude. 

So how do we answer those two questions? Is there a God and, if so, what is He like? Are we doomed to just spend our lives wondering and guessing? No. The Bible says that Jesus is God in the flesh. That is who Jesus is. And this is what He did:  He came to walk in our shoes to show us what God is like. He came to make God known. Finally, He came to die on the cross as our Savior, providing us with the forgiveness of all our sins. In fact, the whole book of John can be summed up in one sentence, found in John 20:31: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  How do we receive life— eternal life? By believing that Jesus was the Messiah God promised to Israel and to the world, the very Son of God. 

John believed Jesus was God in human flesh, the source of life, and he didn’t want anyone to miss out on that awesome truth. John chose two words to express the inexpressible character of God in Jesus Christ: grace and truth. He writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is FULL of grace and truth. He is bursting at the seams with grace and truth. When He acts grace comes pouring out.  When He speaks nothing but truth is spoken. 

The word used here for grace can also be translated as “loving-kindness” or “merciful kindness,” or “undeserved favor.” Here’s the Gospel truth: God, who knows every single thing about you, looks at you with loving-kindness. Isn’t that wonderful? God, the Creator of this world, the Source of all life, the One who knows the beginning and the end of time, is full of loving-kindness. He loves even me, and He loves you. What is God like?  God is love. Look at Jesus and you learn all you ever need to know about the nature of God. God is like Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. 

So, grace is the character of God toward us. And truth is the reality that God is the sure foundation for our lives. The Greek word for truth that John uses here (aletheia) literally means “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.” In other words, John is urging us to trust God/Jesus with our lives because God is utterly true. God is completely trustworthy. God’s character and purposes are completely faithful and honorable and evident. There is nothing hidden in God’s character or God’s motives. So, when you were introduced to God through Jesus Christ, you were given a choice: trust in God/Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, or continue to trust in yourself or something or someone else as your god. Let me tell you about a man who was forced to make that choice.

By his early twenties, Viktor was making big money smuggling drugs throughout Central Asia. He lived for money and adventure and pleasure. But in 1996, Viktor was arrested and sentenced to a long prison term. Viktor’s cell mate in prison offered him a book to read. It was the Gospel of John, a gift from the man’s mother. Viktor began reading it, and even though he didn’t entirely understand it, he just couldn’t shake the idea that this Jesus he read about might be the revelation of God. 

One night, he knelt down in his prison cell and he prayed to Jesus: “You know I am not sure that you exist, but I want eternal life and I want to be born again.” After that prayer, Viktor continued reading the book of John. One night, another inmate smuggled some drugs into prison and offered them to Viktor. And at that moment, Viktor knew he had to make a choice. He said he looked at those drugs, and he knew they were the path to death. Viktor said, “And looking at the Gospel I knew that it was life. I made the decision to choose life. I sent the drugs back.” Viktor discovered the grace and truth of Jesus, and it dramatically changed his life.

Soon afterwards, Viktor was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Everyone expected him to die, but he didn’t. His health began to improve. In gratitude to God, Viktor started a church in the prison. He began teaching the other inmates and leading them in prayer. When he completed his prison sentence, he went to seminary and became a pastor. Today, Viktor pastors an underground church in Tajikistan, a country that is on the World Watch List as one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians. 

So, as we begin this New Year, the question is, have you met him yet? Have you met Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth? If not, I hope you will meet Him soon.  He is very willing to have a relationship with you. And if you have been introduced to Jesus, have you surrendered to Him as Lord of your life? And if you know the reality of God’s grace and truth through trusting in Jesus, what do you intend to do now? You can’t just meet God and walk away. You can’t have a relationship with God which you then ignore. 

God’s grace and truth change lives every day. We look for God in great miracles or shows of incredible power, and God sends a poor carpenter who looks like you and me, to tell us about God. It’s as if John is saying in this passage, “God stripped away all his power and pyrotechnics and made His message as simple and low-tech as possible so you couldn’t miss the meaning: Jesus is God made flesh. Jesus is full of grace and truth, so God is full of grace and truth.” It’s not always easy telling others about God. So, let’s start there. There really is a God. God really does love you. Jesus has opened the gates of heaven for you. He bids you to enter. Then He wants you find someone and share the story with them.

Will you have a happy New Year? It depends. If you have a living relationship with Jesus, kit will be a happy new year. And if you do what you can to share Jesus with others, it will be a happy New Year. You can find temporary happiness through money, fame and pleasure. Permanent happiness is found only in one place……. In Jesus. 


GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Warsaw Christian Church, (12/29/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Texts various, especially 2 Tim. 3:15

I assume all of us desire a living relationship with God. How does such a relationship happen? I want to speak to you this morning on the theme, “Seeking God in the Scriptures.” It is a theme that is dear to my own heart and my own spiritual journey.  I suppose the basic question to ask at the outset is this: Can one find a vital, experiential relationship with God through the right use of Scripture?  Not only would I respond in the affirmative to that question, I would add that Scripture is the foundation upon which our relationship with God must be built. 

Let me be Captain Obvious for a moment. How do we come to know God?  Of course, through faith in Jesus Christ. But where did we learn that fundamental truth?  In the Bible! We know God through prayer, but where did we learn about prayer? In the Bible! We know God through the various ministries of the Holy Spirit, but where do we learn how the Holy Spirit operates in our lives? In the Bible! Most of us came to know God because of the church. But where do we learn about the church? In the Bible!

My thesis is simply that the Bible is the foundation upon which our relationship with God is built.  Remove Scripture from a person’s life, and the possibility of knowing God intimately is also removed.  If you will saturate your mind with the truths found in Scripture, the living God of Scripture will become alive in your own mind and heart. How do I know? The Bible tells me so, and when I put it into practice my experience also tells me so.  

Let’s allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves on this theme, beginning with the question of how we enter into a relationship with God in the first place.  The relationship begins when we place our trust in Jesus only, forsaking all others and cleaving only unto Him. Does Jesus normally reveal Himself to us through direct revelation, or do we come to know Him initially through the testimony of Scripture?  Paul wrote the following to Timothy: “. . . from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). “Able” in this verse is a translation of the Greek word “dunamis,” a word which, I believe, is a bit stronger than “able.” It is the word often used for power, suggesting that there is an inherent power in Scripture which draws us to faith in Jesus as we are exposed to the gospel. Thus, the Scripture “has the power to make us wise unto salvation.” You can tell that our word “dynamite” is derived from the Greek word “dunamis.” Dynamite if powerful. It moves mountains. The power inherent in the Word of God is like that. Instead of blowing things up, it blows Jesus into our minds and hearts. 

The Scriptures first draw us to Jesus, and then they make us wise about the nature of our salvation. They do that when we study the Bible regularly, seeking both to know the content of Scripture and to put it into practice. If you do not study the Bible regularly, how will it be able to make you wise unto salvation? If I may make a personal reference, in my own case I knew about Jesus in the Bible for years before I was converted. I knew what the Scriptures said about Him.  I simply rejected most of what they said. When a neighbor’s witness opened my eyes to the truth of the gospel, it was the Jesus of Scripture who suddenly and indelibly became alive in my soul. The very first impulse which grew out of that encounter with the living Christ was a desire to read the New Testament. I read it for the first time through the lens of faith, and the Scriptures began their work of making me wise unto salvation. I might add, the job is not yet finished! I still need much exposure to the sacred writings.

We normally think of the new birth as taking place when we trust in Jesus. John writes, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him…”(1 John 4:15). It is that glorious moment when the living and resurrected Christ becomes real in the human spirit. So closely connected, however, are the written words in the Bible and the Living Word, Jesus Christ, that being born again is also attributed to the word of God. In 1 Peter 1:23 we read:  “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” Jesus, the living Word, becomes our Savior and Lord when we encounter Him in the written Word and exercise faith. 

But how can words on a page have such wondrous power? The Bible, according to its own testimony and the testimony of millions of believers, is a unique book. Hebrews tells us that the Word of God (the Bible) is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). As we handle the Word of God with faith, the God revealed on the pages of Scripture also becomes real in our hearts.

When God speaks it is different than when we speak. I may read the words of Aristotle, Cicero or Herodotus, and gain information, but reading their words does not bring about a personal, living relationship.  I enjoy reading Martin Luther, and while my soul is refreshed by such reading, and I gain new insights into biblical truth, Martin Luther does not jump off the page and into my soul. And, to be honest, Luther said some things with which I do not agree. When we read the Bible with humble faith God does leap off the page and into our heart, because God is always living and present in His Word.

I have written some words in sermons and in Disciple Renewal and Disciple Heritage Journal over the years. Again, you might gain information from what I have written, but I am detached from my words. I do not live in my words; you can know something about what I believe from my words, but you can’t know me personally.  You don’t read what I have written and then exclaim, “Richard Bowman lives in my heart!” But when you read, for example, the biblical words “Christ dwells in our hearts through faith,” (Eph. 3:17). and believe what you read, Jesus Christ does indeed live in your heart. 

People search for God in strange places. People hope they can find Him in the new age movement, or in the latest strange cult. Many hope they will find God in one of the eastern religions.  In Romans 10 Paul speaks of people who are looking for God in the wrong way. He writes in verses 6-8: But this is what the Scripture says about being made right through faith: “Don’t say to yourself, ‘Who will go up into heaven?'” (That means, “Who will go up to heaven and bring Christ down to earth?”)  “And do not say, ‘Who will go down into the world below?'” (That means, “Who will go down and bring Christ up from the dead?”) This is what the Scripture says: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” That is the teaching of faith that we are telling.

Notice Paul’s thought process. The basic idea is, “Where is Christ to be found?” Do we have to somehow ascend up to heaven to find Him, or perhaps descend into the bowels of the earth? You might expect Paul to say next, “Christ is near you,” but instead he writes, “The word is near you.” When the words about Christ are read and mixed with faith, the living Lord Jesus draws near. 

Thus, I conclude based on the teaching of Scripture that the living God is present in His word.  But is it not true that many read the Bible and never encounter the living God? We remember the writer of Hebrews telling us that without faith it is impossible to draw near to God.  Of course, reading the Bible without faith will not bring the living God into the life of the reader. I read the Bible for years (occasionally!) and managed to keep the living God at arm’s length.  But if you will read it, believing what you read, you will find the living God stirring about in your soul.

And, of course, we must briefly address the matter of motive. Why do you want to know God? Why do you wish to have a relationship with Him? I have heard pastors and other church leaders speak with pride about their relationship with God.  I have heard Christians testify about how they carry on a running conversation with the Almighty. I have occasionally suspected the presence of pride in the lives of persons who claim to be full of the Spirit. I have sometimes wondered if some are so full of the heavenly dove that one of these days they will sprout dove feathers! (to paraphrase Martin Luther). If your relationship with God breeds a sense of pride in your heart, you may be in touch with that one who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

We need to always bear in mind the spiritual truth we examined recently that God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. If you are seeking God with the notion that the presence of the living God in your life will be a boost to your own ego, a means to attract attention to yourself, your spiritual train is running on the wrong track.  Faith and humility are the tracks that lead to the living God. If we seek God with an improper motive, we may encounter “the god of this world (Satan) , but we will not encounter the true and living God.

Mentally, you might try completing the following sentence. “I want to know God because . . . .” While our words will vary, I hope in your mind you were thinking something like this: I want to know God because He is my creator and my salvation. I want to know Him so that I may express to Him my love, and that I might serve Him in harmony with His will for my life. I want to know Him because, wonder of wonders, He loves me.  I want to know Him because, in the final analysis He alone matters. 

Finding God does not always mean that we are going to go around shouting “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord” for the rest of our lives, with a Christian smile pasted on our faces.  Many of those in Scripture who came to know God suffered persecution, and even death. 

Jeremiah found God and learned that his job was to proclaim judgment to Israel. He learned that such a message did not make him popular, that God’s people preferred the false prophets who were forever saying, “God loves you. God will bless you. No evil will befall you. All is well.”  Jeremiah went around proclaiming divine judgment, and the people said, “We don’t like you, and we refuse to listen to you.” 

Yes, we can come to know the living God in the pages of Scripture as we read with faith, and with humble motives. We also have to make sure that we are willing to pay the price such an encounter may bring. For Jeremiah, it meant proclaiming an unpopular message and facing personal rejection.  And for the one who knew God most intimately, Jesus, it meant the cross. Are we willing to pay the price of drawing near to the living God? 

The Bible is not God, but it is a unique book which reveals the one true God to us. Read it with faith. Read it with humility. Read it with an eye to doing what it says.  Read it in a spirit of submission to the author. You will find that it will lead you into the presence of the living God. It will draw you to faith in Jesus Christ and make you wise unto salvation. Let it be your daily companion, and it will lead you into a lifetime of fellowship with God. 


HIS NAME IS WONDERFUL

Warsaw Christian Church (12/22/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text: Isaiah 9:6-7: For unto us a child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

There is much food for thought in our text.  Our focus this morning will be simply on one phrase: AND HIS NAME SHALL BE CALLED WONDERFUL. Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah and gives several descriptions of Him, including the name “wonderful.” We have watered down that word in comparison to its meaning in the Hebrew Bible. We speak of pizza as “wonderful.” Or “Silver Dollar City” is “wonderful.” The word in English means that something is very good. The Hebrew word (pele) refers to something miraculous; a wonder, a marvel; something unusual or extraordinary. Jesus is not just a person who is wonderful like pizza! He is miraculous — extraordinary — astonishing! He is WONDERFUL!

I saw on the news a few years ago that there is a new company that will consult with you to find the appropriate name for your baby, and the cost is only $100 per name. I am $500 richer because we came up with five names for our children without any help! Perhaps a professional could have done better than “Cindy, Michelle, Gary, Daniel and Jean” but personally, I would rather have the $500. 

The language in Isaiah Chapter 8 is ominous, dark and foreboding. People are rejecting God’s ways and are walking and living in darkness. Despair is rampant in the nation.  Distress is common and the pressure of an enemy attack is a clear and present danger. The people are anxious and full of fear. Why are they afraid? Was it because they had an enemy poised on their border, the nation of Assyria, powerful and violent? Is that why they were afraid? Perhaps that is what they thought, but the real reason behind their fear was that they had totally lost sight of God.  That is why God sent Isaiah, to help them recover their spiritual bearings.

In their desperation where did they turn? Unfortunately, their thoughts did not turn to God. Listen to Isaiah 8:19-22: And when they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the teaching and to the testimony! Surely for this word which they speak there is no dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry; and when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their God, and turn their faces upward; and they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.

Looking for answers, they thrust themselves thrust further into darkness. They sought direction by having their palms read or by checking out Madam Jezebel’s astrological charts. Where was God in all this?  He received curses from His people! God says in verse 20 that all they need do is return to His teaching. In other words, just look in God’s word! That’s all they needed. There they would find the truth that would enable them to get their nation back on track.

What about our society? Are we a nation looking to God’s Word for our instructions? Thankfully, that is true for some. There are Bible believing churches all over this land. But it is also true that our nation is filled with people who look to palm reading, witchcraft, séances, horoscopes, Ouija boards, Tarot cards and psychic fairs for direction. You probably heard about the psychic who stopped his car and yelled out to a nearby policeman, “Can you direct me to the hotel where they are holding the psychic fair? The policeman responded, “Oh, are you a psychic?” The man responded proudly, “Yes I am.”  The policeman said, “Then you figure it out.” How sad. The occult is not only Satanic and evil; it exemplifies the total lostness of so many people around us every day. This was the culture of Isaiah’s day, and how little things seem to have changed today! 

Others in America may not turn to the occult for wisdom, but they rely entirely on human wisdom to solve the nation’s problems. Billions of dollars are donated to politicians who promise they will solve the nation’s problems. Many people in our nation are afraid of Iran, or Russia, or China, or North Korea – – – and the ever-present possibility of another terrorist attack. Perhaps the source of our fear is not these potential threats, but the widespread lack of faith in God. When a nation forgets God, fear comes rushing in.

The next several verses in Isaiah indicate that God was going to do something new and significant for His people. These are the exact words that many people in America need to hear today. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light—a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow. Joy will replace despair.  Israel will again be great, and its people will rejoice as people rejoice at harvest time. They will shout with joy like warriors dividing the plunder. – The enemies power will be broken.  For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the army of Midian with Gideon’s little band (Isaiah 9:2-5).

And then Isaiah says that this will all be fulfilled because of the birth of a Messiah whose name will be called, WONDERFU (Isaiah 9:6). We could spend time on the importance of each of these names, but I want our thoughts to be focused only on the first name listed: WONDERFUL. We don’t actually see this is a common name. We don’t pray to God “In the name of our Savior, Wonderful.” It is a name describing who Jesus is and what He does for us. 

When you think of Jesus does the word “Wonderful” ever come to mind? It really should. He is beyond any and all human expectations. He is amazing, beyond anything we can imagine; extraordinary, so much so that we can never probe fully the depths of who Jesus is.

It began with His birth in Bethlehem. How can God take on human nature? It is a wonder to us. How can a virgin conceive and bear a son? It is an inexplicable wonder. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see” we sing during the Christmas season. If you try to fit the birth of Jesus into your brain so that everything is neat and tidy, you will fail. His birth is truly WONDERFUL. It inspires wonder and awe.  

What began at His birth continues throughout His life. Jesus, the Son of God, understands our plight and cares about us (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 5:7). Why does God care about people who have rebelled against His will?  It is too wonderful for words. Why does Jesus choose to guide His people? John 10:27 assures us that if we are sheep in the Savior’s pasture, we will hear His voice and follow Him. Why does He do this for us? It is too wonderful for words. Why did Jesus endure the Cross for us? He is the glorious Son of God. Why did He humble Himself in this way to redeem us?  It is too wonderful for words. 

As Son of God He has the right to say, “If you want forgiveness you have to get it the old-fashioned way. You have to earn it.” Instead we hear that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. By grace we find favor with God, through faith. It is difficult to find the words to describe this reality. It is too wonderful for words. 

Of course, we know there are those who do not think Jesus is so wonderful. Isaiah predicted that He would be despised and rejected of men, and so He was. But that, too, turns out to be wonderful! Would any earthly ruler allow his son to be abused the way Jesus was if he had the power to stop it? God certainly had the power to prevent Jesus from being abused, tortured, and crucified. Why did He allow it to go on? Why didn’t He step in? Because Jesus was making atonement for your sins and mine.  At Calvary, God’s plan to save us was enacted. When we try to put it into words, we can only stammer – – – His name is Wonderful. 

As we look into the future revealed for us in sacred Scripture, we see another wonder. Jesus, who came to Bethlehem in weakness and humility, will one day appear in the heavens as He returns to earth to usher in the eternal Kingdom. When He comes in glory, we read that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10). This does not mean that everyone will be saved. All will be resurrected, believers and unbelievers alike. Adolf Hitler, who loved to be referred to as “der grosste Führer aller Zeiten” or history’s all-time greatest leader, will be resurrected. When he stands before the glorious Savior, Jesus the Jew, he will be compelled to fall on his knees and declare “Jesus is Lord.” He will be joined by all the reprobate thugs in history who never came to faith, and all will cry out on bended knee, “Jesus is Lord.” Those who have not repented and come to faith will then be cast into the outer darkness forever. Those who declared “Jesus is my Lord” in this life will enter into the glories of heaven. When I think of the future resurrection, all I can say is, “His name is wonderful.”  

John had a vision of the risen Christ. He saw Jesus in a new way, not as the humble carpenter he had once known, but as a glorious Lord. He saw, “One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death (Revelation 1:13-18).

This description was an attempt to put into words that which is beyond words, the appearance of the glorious, resurrected Savior.  Truly, when He appears at the end of time, His appearance will be so stunning, so glorious, so magnificent, that every person will be compelled to bow before Him.  Isaiah was correct: His name shall be called WONDERFUL. Silver Dollar City may be “wonderful” in our use of language, but it pales in significance to the wonder of Jesus. He is miraculous, extraordinary, fantastic! Those who place their faith in Jesus will gladly join in with the prophet Isaiah and declare, “His name is wonderful!” 


SIMEON: AN OLD MAN’S STORY

Warsaw Christian Church, (Dec. 15, 2019) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Text:  Luke 2:25-35

22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:  29“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace According to Your word 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Well, you have just heard everything there is about me in the Bible. My name is not a household word. Most of you probably don’t even think of my name when you think of Christmas. You may think of Mary and Joseph, or the angels, or the shepherds keeping watch, or the wise men from the east, and, of course, Jesus. I doubt that very many of you think of my name… It is Simeon. I appear briefly in the biblical story, and then fade from history. 

I can’t blame you if you never heard of me. I was a very ordinary person. I suppose you could say I was a good Jew. I was a believer in the God of Abraham; a man who tried to live by Ten Commandments. I never did anything important. I was no Moses, or Joshua. I was no Isaiah or Jeremiah, thundering God’s prophetic truth to Israel. I just worked at my trade, raised a family, and grew old, and older, and older. 

Do you know what it is like to be ordinary?  Some of you look kind of ordinary to me, so we have something in common. Maybe I was not a prophet, priest or king, but I did have one brief moment in history at the time when Messiah was born. These old arms held Him, and that was a transforming moment for me. My name was recorded in the Bible, and even a few of my words were recorded.  I guess they were not really my words. They came from God. For one brief moment I was indeed like the prophets of old. 

Do you know what it is like to feel old and useless? You can’t work anymore because of infirmities; your physical body grows weaker and begins to fall apart; you outlive most of your friends; you feel like you just don’t belong? I felt useless, unwanted and unneeded in a world where the young and strong are the important ones. Sometimes I would talk to myself. “Simeon, you old coot, there is no place for the likes you.” Sometimes we old folks have no one to talk to, so we talk to ourselves. Some of you gray heads out there know what I am talking about.

Faith in God kept me going. Whenever I got down on myself, I would say to myself, “Simeon, you belong to God, and therefore you are not useless.” I used to read the Scriptures often. I especially liked to read about the coming Messiah; those great passages in Isaiah and the other prophets, and in the Psalms.  Israel had been promised a great redeemer. I wondered if I would live to see His day. Isaiah said that He would be born of virgin. His name would be called wonderful, counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace. I wondered what He would be like, a child born through a miracle and given names that belong to God alone? 

Isaiah also spoke of the coming One as a man of sorrows; one who would be despised, and rejected.  The Psalmist spoke of one whose hands and feet would be pierced. It was confusing to me. How could He be called “everlasting Father,” and yet despised and rejected. What kind of world is it if men will turn away from God’s anointed? Surely the world would welcome God’s Messiah with open arms.  That seemed logical to me, but I am just an old man. 

I wanted more than anything to be alive when He came, to see Him with my own eyes, just as some of you hope to be alive when Messiah comes again with power and great glory. If I could just see Him, I would die in peace. But, the years moved on relentlessly, and I was getting older and older.  I wondered if I should give up hope of ever seeing the Messiah, but it gave me a reason for living. Everyone needs a reason to get up each day. My motivation was simple; perhaps today Messiah will come, and I shall see Him.

Do you know what I used to do all day? What do you do when you don’t work; your children are grown and gone? I had nothing important to do, so I would hang around Temple thinking, “maybe I shall see Him today.”  I would approach the mothers with babies and wonder, could this one be Him? The older kids used to laugh at me and call me names. “Hey crazy old Simeon, do you think I am the Messiah? Get your nose out of the old scrolls and live in real world. You surely don’t believe those old prophecies will really come to pass, do you?” They said other things I can’t repeat. Their words hurt, but I would ask Jehovah to forgive.  After a while I became accustomed to their mocking and insults. I occasionally wondered at times if perhaps I was crazy, thinking that I might live to see the Messiah? 

But then I would remind myself.  The Messiah had been promised, and God does not lie. I knew He would come, but when? When I was home, I prayed a lot. Now that is something we old folks CAN do. You are never useless if you can pray. Jehovah is real, and He hears the prayers of His people.  One of my prayers went like this: Baruch hotaw adonai melech ha olam … Oh, excuse an old man. You probably don’t know Hebrew. “Blessed art thou O Lord our God, king of universe.” “O Lord,” I would pray, “send the Messiah; send the deliverer; send the Savior to your people; deliver us from sin; restore your kingdom in Israel; send the Messiah, send, send the Messiah.”  

I don’t know if God got tired of hearing that same prayer, but one day a miracle happened. One day God spoke to me, an ordinary, useless old man. God spoke to me, just like He did to Isaiah and the other prophets.  Do you know what He said? It’s in the Bible. He said, “Simeon, the desire of your heart will be realized; you will see the Messiah before die.” 

“Hot diggety dog,” I said, or something like that. I ran to the Temple (well, it was more of a fast hobble), and I was so excited. I was praising God, almost dancing (or as close to dancing as these old legs could accomplish!). My taunters thought I was drunk. “Hey, old man, better lay off the wine.” I couldn’t help it. I was going to see the King! Well, I didn’t see Him that day. It was a week or so later when God spoke to me again…”This is the day.” Again, I ran to the temple filled with excitement. Many parents were there to have their children circumcised. I wondered how I would know Him? Suddenly I saw a young mother and her husband. She carried a beautiful baby in her arms. God whispered to me, “This is the one.” I approached cautiously and introduced myself. Her name was Mary. Her husband’s name was Joseph. They were very kind to a strange old man, so I dared to ask, “May I hold Him?” She gave Him to me and as I held Him a spirit of praise overwhelmed me, and once again I spoke the word of God: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

Mary and Joseph were astonished at my words. I was pretty astonished myself! I was speaking, and yet, not I, but God was speaking through me.  I was ready to die in peace. I had held the Messiah. God spoke some unpleasant things to Mary and Joseph that day. Their Son, the Son of God, would bring salvation (that was the good news), but also many would stumble over Him and reject Him. Mary’s heart would be broken because of this child.  Later, when He was nailed to a cross, Mary understood my prophecy. 

Why on earth did God reveal His Messiah to me? Why not to the high priest or to other religious leaders; why not to the Pharisees, or the learned scribes?  I guess it means that God can speak to ordinary folks; even to old ones. Now, this is just my opinion and I could be wrong; but some of those professional religious types are so full of themselves and their book learning that they wouldn’t recognize God if He walked right up to them and said “Good morning.” 

I am not against education, but I do think you are much more likely to encounter God in an hour of serious prayer than an hour with your nose in book. I hope I haven’t offended your preacher. I noticed he has lots of books. It’s just a thought. You may take it or leave it. After all, I am just an ordinary old man.


PRAYING IN THE WILL OF GOD, # 5

 (FORGIVENESS)

Warsaw Christian Church, (12/1/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

SCRIPTURE READING:  Matthew 18: 21-35 

When we think of praying according to the will of God, I can think of no word that has greater significance than the word “forgiveness.”  Again, I have preached on this subject before. However, I want to use this text again because it is so important to our theme: praying according to the will of God. Although the Christian message is filled with numerous insights which cover every phase of human life, the heart of the gospel message is the good news that our sins have been forgiven through the cross of Jesus Christ.  In view of the fact that we have been forgiven, the Bible places enormous emphasis on the fact that we must forgive those who have wronged us. The failure on our part to practice forgiveness is so serious that it cancels out our claim to be counted among those whom God has forgiven. I believe that the sin that may keep more people out of Heaven than any other is the sin of an unforgiving heart. 

John Wesley once preached a sermon on forgiveness. A man approached him after the service and announced, “I never forgive.” Wesley replied, “Than, sir, I hope that you never sin.” Wesley understood our text. 

When Jesus taught “The Lord’s Prayer” to His disciples in Matthew 6 he elaborated on only one phrase of that prayer. He expanded only on the phrase, “forgive us our debts,with this further clarification.  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt. 6:14,15).

The words of Jesus are unambiguous. There is no mistaking His meaning. Clearly, we cannot pray according to the will of God if we are harboring an unforgiving spirit.  Before we begin listing all our needs as we pray, we might want to ask ourselves, “Is there someone I need to forgive?”  There is no point to our praying if we have someone in our lives whom we refuse to forgive.  Indeed, the matter is even more serious than that. Jesus says we will not be forgiven by God if we do not forgive others, and if we are unforgiven that means we have no hope of salvation.  This matter deserves our utmost attention.  

A soldier serving overseas received a Dear John letter from his girlfriend back home in the states. To add insult to injury, she wrote, “Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself.  I need it for my engagement picture in the local newspaper.”  The poor guy was devastated, but his buddies came to his rescue. They went throughout the entire camp and collected pictures of all the guys’ girlfriends. They filled up an entire shoe box and sent it to the girl along with a note from the guy saying, “Please find your picture, and return the rest; for the life of me, I can’t remember which one you were!!”  We smile, but of course if it is a true story it is sad. It is an example of getting even, of refusing to forgive.    

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18 to help us grasp this truth.  We owe an immeasurable debt to God. We have offended Him times too numerous to count.  The listing of the sins of the average adult would fill a large book. God is under obligation to condemn us, having warned us that the wages of sin is death.  How is this great debt of sin to be canceled? Can we cancel out our sins by doing good deeds, by joining a church, by saying our prayers? Such activities have no effect on our past sins. 

Our only hope is to embrace the suffering and death of Jesus, to receive Him as our Savior and Lord.  When we are born again after hearing and believing the Gospel, our sins are forgiven. All of them! As far as the east is from the west (an infinite distance from our human perspective) so far has God removed our sins from us in and through His Son (see Psalm 103:12).  In Christ we are completely, totally, eternally forgiven of our sins. This is the meaning of part one of Jesus’ parable. 

Part two of His parable has to do with how we relate to others after we have been forgiven by God.  The point is simply that we must forgive others even as we have been forgiven. The offenses others have committed against us are infinitesimal when compared to the mountain of offense we have committed against our heavenly Father.  How foolish is the man in the parable who will not forgive a small debt after having been forgiven such a large debt. It is unbelievable!

One man was telling about an argument he had with his wife. He said to his friend, “I hate to argue with my wife. Every time I do she gets historical.” The friend responded, “Don’t you mean hysterical?” No, the man responded. I mean historical. Every time we argue she drags up every offensive I have ever committed.”  What about you? — and me?  Is there someone in your life you cannot forgive?  Is your case so unusual that God will change the rules for you and allow you to be an unforgiving person? 

When we demonstrate an unchanging hardness of heart against others it can mean but one thing.  We have never really understood and accepted God’s forgiveness. We must think carefully about what it means to be unforgiven by God.  Is it so important to cling to an unforgiving spirit that you are willing to go to hell rather than practice forgiveness? According to Jesus that is precisely what will happen.  Will those in hell declare, “It was worth it! I’d rather be in this place of misery than to forgive those who wronged me.” Hell is a place of weeping and wailing caused by the realization that we rejected God’s grace in order to continue to hate someone who wronged us, or because of some other trivial matter.

Jesus admonishes us to forgive first, then pray.  If we ask for a list of items we must forgive and a list of things we need not forgive, the text tells us to forgive ANYTHING. If we think there are surely persons we need not forgive, Jesus says ANYONE (See Mark 11:25).  If you have anything against anyone, first forgive them, and if you cannot, then pray for grace to enable you to forgive. If we pray to the Father who allowed His Son to endure the cross to secure our forgiveness while harboring an unforgiving spirit, we only anger God. He might say to us, “What is wrong with you? I forgave all your sins. I rescued you from hell. I allowed my Son to suffer for you. And now you insult me by refusing to forgive others? Don’t you realize how utterly foolish you are?”

Often when churches are not growing, or individuals are drifting away from Christ, an unforgiving spirit is the problem.  Congregations full of grudges (justifiable ones, of course!) and resentments are often “cold” because the warmth of God’s presence is absent.  When the God who knows our hearts sees an unforgiving spirit lodged there, He has but one thing to say to us: IF YOU WILL NOT FORGIVE OTHERS, NEITHER WILL I FORGIVE YOU. 

Before deciding to ignore God’s Word to us concerning forgiveness, please weigh carefully the alternative.  One need not be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that forgiveness, however painful it may be, is far less painful than the alternative.

Some who hear these words might find them troubling.  Is Jesus saying that we are not saved by grace after all?  If we forfeit salvation by our unforgiving spirit does that mean we earn salvation by practicing forgiveness?  If we are saved through the atoning death of Jesus, how can we lose that through an unforgiving attitude? 

Jesus is not contradicting the abundant biblical material which assures us we are saved through Christ, through grace, by faith, and not be the good deeds we do.  He is not saying, “You be good and forgive others and then God will reward you by forgiving your sins.” I believe He is saying, “If you cannot forgive others you have never really received God’s forgiving love and mercy.  You are a hypocrite claiming to be a believer.” We do not earn God’s favor by anything we do. However, what we do demonstrates whether or not our hearts have been transformed by God’s grace. If we truly “see” the enormity of God’s forgiveness towards us — if we truly have received that forgiveness, we will be quick to forgive others.

Here is another factor we need to consider. Someone has hurt you deeply. You refuse to forgive. But answer this question: Is God willing to forgive that person who wounded you so deeply? Yes, because God will forgive anyone of anything through Jesus Christ. What does it mean to say that God is willing to forgive, but we are not? I guess it means we think we are wiser than God. 

Can we ever pray “according to the will of God” while holding on tightly to a spirit which refuses to forgive others?  Scripture is clear; it is impossible to pray to God and cling to an unforgiving spirit.   Someone put it like this: “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.”   

A South African woman stood in an emotionally charged courtroom listening to white police officers acknowledge the atrocities they had perpetrated in the name of apartheid. Officer van de Broek acknowledged his responsibility in the death of her son. Along with others, he had shot her eighteen-year-old son at point-blank range. He and the others partied while they burned his body, turning it over on the fire until it was ashes. Eight years later, van de Broek and others arrived to seize her husband. Hours later, van de Broek came to fetch the woman. He took her to a woodpile where her husband lay bound. She was forced to watch as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed his body. The last words her husband said were “Forgive them.” Now van de Broek stood awaiting judgment. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked the woman what she wanted. “I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him, too. I would like someone to lead me to where he is seated so I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.” As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, van de Broek fainted. Someone began singing “Amazing Grace.” Gradually everyone joined in. That is a story of forgiveness in spades! 

We have a saying, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” I hope we can change that to “I don’t get mad, I forgive.” Eternity hangs in the balance.


PRAYER: ACCORDING TO HIS WILL, # 4
(Gratitude)
Warsaw Christian Church, (11/24/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Texts: Philippians 4:6,7; Colossians 1:12-14: Psalms 100:4,5: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7). 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:12 – 14). Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalms 100:4).
Our focus the past several weeks has been on praying according to the will of God. We have seen that if we are to pray according to the will of God, we must be persons who seek first the Kingdom of God. We must not be persons who cherish iniquity in our hearts. We must be persons who are humble toward God and man.

On this Thanksgiving Sunday I want to point out the importance of a thankful heart if we are to learn to pray according to the will of God. Since God has promised to answer those prayers which are in harmony with His will, it behooves us to learn how to pray in that spirit. It will open the doors of heaven for us. We are admonished frequently in Scripture to include prayers of thanksgiving when we lay our prayer requests before the Father.

Why this emphasis on thanksgiving? A thankful spirit demonstrates our faith and confidence in God. Perhaps we are thankful as we recall the many times and many ways God has blessed us in the past. This causes us to thank Him “in advance” regarding the matters we lay before Him. A thankful spirit demonstrates our understanding that God is good, that He is forever loving and faithful to His people. And because we understand this about God, we cannot help but feel grateful when we pray.

When thanksgiving is absent in our prayer life it demonstrates that we do not see the hand of God at work in our lives. The Psalmist admonishes us to enter God’s presence with thanksgiving in our hearts (Psalm 100:4). When we pray, we do well to follow this divine direction. When you pray, do you approach God with a heart overflowing with gratitude? Is there a song in your heart that sounds something like this? “Oh boy! This is great. I am going to pray to my heavenly Father, and He will bless me, and this fills me with a sense of anticipation and gratitude?” If you approach God in that spirit His ears are open to you.

Some folks pray with a different spirit. “Lord, here I am in church again to endure another boring hour. I really don’t expect to encounter the living God. I am bowing my head in church as we pray along with the others, but it is just a meaningless ritual to me.” Some people pray out of a sense of duty, having no joy or thanksgiving in their spirit when they pray. When we seek to enter God’s presence, whether individually or corporately, lacking a sense of gratitude, we are not praying according to the will of God, and we will not usually see answers to our prayers.

Okay, so we need to enter God’s presence with a thankful spirit, but what if I don’t have such a spirit? Maybe you are here today feeling overwhelmed with life’s pain and burdens, unable to muster up a spirit of thanksgiving. Maybe I am a person who should abandon prayer because I lack a thankful heart. There is a better option, and that is to learn the true source of gratitude. Listen to these verses from Col. 1:12-14. Paul says we should be . . . “giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Verse 12 begins with a spirit of thanksgiving to God, and then Paul explains why we are to feel perpetual gratitude towards the Father. Notice that real gratitude has nothing to do with material blessings, or their absence. There is nothing wrong with thanking God for material blessings. We should thank Him for such benefits. Paul is simply reminding us that a thankful spirit goes deeper.

Why is a Christian able to go through life with a thankful spirit? How is it that we are able to pray and worship God with an underlying sense of gratitude? Listen to Paul’s litany: Reason #1: We are always thankful because God has qualified us to enter the kingdom of light. We are not qualified for heaven in and of ourselves, but God has qualified us through the gift of His Son. Reason #2: We are always thankful because we have been rescued from the domain of darkness through Jesus Christ, whose death at Calvary removed us from darkness and placed us into the light. Reason #3: Jesus was redeemed us, securing for us the forgiveness of all our sins. Paul gives a wonderful summary of the Gospel. If you face life and death with faith in Jesus Christ, you are a child of God with an eternal future. Through Jesus Christ you are forgiven, redeemed, rescued, qualified for heaven.

Now if you understand and believe all of that, you will feel a sense of gratitude whenever you think of God. One cannot help but have a grateful spirit, even if material things are lacking, when we reflect upon what Christ has done for us. Yes, we appreciate our material blessings, but if we focus only on them what impact does that have on those around us who have very little?

Of course, we are thankful for God’s material blessings and for family and friends, but those things can be taken from us. Parents die; husbands and wives die; sometimes parents have to watch their children die. The stock market which is soaring today could tumble tomorrow. Health may be taken away in an instant when the doctor says to us, “It’s cancer.” Those who have learned to cultivate a thankful attitude which abides even when possessions and family are gone are those who have learned to focus on spiritual blessings – – – blessings which can never be taken from us.

While it is certainly true that material blessings can and will be taken from us. Yet, we are among the most materially blessed people on the planet. We, of all people, should be thanking God daily for the abundance of blessings we enjoy. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world who have endured such hardships. If you can attend church meetings without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion in the world who lack these blessings. Whenever we pray our hearts have abundant reasons to overflow with gratitude.

But if you have absolutely nothing in the way of material blessings, there are still abundant reasons to thank God if you are a Christian. The greatest reasons we have to be thankful are spiritual. God loves us, and that will never change. Jesus Christ died for us, and that will never change. We can find everlasting forgiveness and eternal life through trusting in Jesus, and that will never change. We are God’s beloved children, and that will never change as long as faith in Jesus Christ is alive in our hearts.

It seems so difficult for we humans to hold on to a thankful spirit. Japan experienced a terrible earthquake in 1923. The losses were enormous: Death estimates varied from 100,000 to 300,000; 43,476 missing; 103,733 seriously injured; 1,500,000 homeless; 60% of Tokyo and 80% of Yokohama destroyed.

The New York Tribune called this earthquake “undoubtedly the greatest disaster in recorded time.” The New York Times described the havoc as covering about 45,000 square miles which contained five big cities and a population of 7,000,000. Other dispatches reported that virtually every building in Yokohama was destroyed. Perhaps three-fourths of Tokyo was burned and the entire city with its 5,000,000 inhabitants was shattered by the earthquake. Disease and despair rode throughout the island empire.

Almost immediately help came from the United States. Food, clothing, medical supplies, and volunteer workers came by the shipload. The American Red Cross collected ten million dollars from people of the United States for the suffering and homeless people of Japan.

Those who lived through the awful earth tremors, the gigantic waves, and the tongues of fire would nevertheless perish, it seemed, from starvation or disease. But they didn’t. Why? Because America remembered; remembered their need, their suffering, their hunger. The Japanese were grateful. They even put their appreciation in writing. Walter Kiernan, correspondent for the International News Service, recalls their words: “Japan will never forget!” But Japan did forget! American ships of mercy were forgotten, and in less than 20 years Japan sent planes of destruction in return. On December 7, 1941, Japanese airplanes brought death and destruction to Pearl Harbor.

But are the Japanese the only ones who overlook past mercies? Long ago the Lord said of Israel, “My people have forgotten me days without number” (Jer. 2:32). God blessed them, but they forgot God! What about you?

Have you ever given a gift to someone and they never bothered to say, “Thank you?” Children and grandchildren can be so forgetful! How do you feel when you give a gift and receive no thanks? I wonder how God feels when we are surrounded with His blessings, especially the blessing we receive through Jesus Christ, and we seldom say to Him, “Thank you?” I have seen Christians attack their food like a pack of wolves without bothering to say, “Thank you.” I am ashamed to admit that I have done it myself.

General Charles Krulak told this story at Wheaton College (Oct. 2000) “In December 1965, my friend John Listerman and I went to war. John Listerman’s war lasted one day. While on patrol moving through the jungle, we came around a corner in the trail and ran into an ambush. John took a 50-caliber round in his kneecap. As his kneecap burst, he was thrown into the air. The second round hit him below the heart and exited out his side. I was wounded also, but not as badly. I crawled about thirty meters to John, but before I could ask, “Are you OK? Can I do anything?” he said to me, “How are you doing, Chucker? Are you OK?”
When I said I was OK, he said, “Are my men safe?” I said, “Your people are OK.” He turned his head and looked to the sky and repeated over and over, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you for caring for my people. Thank you for caring for me.” Krulak later became a Christian. His friend’s thankful spirit in a time of terrific suffering made a great impact on him. I wonder how many would be thankful while suffering severe mortal wounds?

Are you remembering to pray with a thankful spirit? Are you remembering all the blessings you have received from the hand of a loving and merciful God? If not, remind yourself regularly, “I have more material blessings than most everyone else in the world. Not only that, I am a child of God, redeemed through my Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven is my destiny, and no one can steal these blessings from me.” As we remind ourselves of these great truths, a spirit of thanksgiving wells up within, and abides with us. May God grant each of us a grateful heart. When we approach God with gratitude in our hearts, He listens.


PRAYER: ACCORDING TO HIS WILL
(Humility-Pride)
Warsaw Christian Church, (11/17/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: 2 Chronicles 7:13-15 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

We are considering what it means to pray according to the will of God. We have seen God’s great promise that we will receive whatever we ask for if we pray according to His will. We have also seen that praying according to the will of God involves much more than the requests we make in prayer. We have seen that we cannot pray according to the will of God unless our personal life is in harmony with the will of God. We saw initially that means we are persons who seek first the Kingdom of God. Last week we saw that we cannot pray according to the will of God while we cherish some sin, clinging to it in defiance of the revealed will of God.

In today’s sermon we will examine a fundamental attitude we must possess when approaching God in prayer, the attitude of HUMILITY. The principle is very simple. If we approach God with humility, we are in a position to receive from Him. If we approach Him with pride, the only thing we can expect to receive from Him is opposition. A basic text is found in Proverbs 3:34 where we read, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The verse is repeated twice in the New Testament (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) because of its central importance in the life of a Christian.

If we cannot pray in harmony with God’s will unless we are humble persons, we must understand the meaning of this common word. What is humility? A case can be made that humility is the foundational virtue upon which all other virtues rest. We certainly understand the importance of faith, but now we must see that faith can live and thrive only in a humble heart. Humility is like rich, black soil in which one can grow beautiful flowers. The flower of faith grows and flourishes in the rich soil of humility. Pride is like the sand of the desert where nothing can grow. Pride in self and faith in God are antithetical.

The Greek word we translate “humility” carries this meaning. It denotes a person who is submissive before God. It is an attitude of realizing our utter dependence upon God. It is the recognition that we are created beings who owe everything to our Creator. A humble person understands that life itself – – – our talents, wealth, family, vocation – – – all that we have and all that we are comes from God. Therefore, one must live life seeking to bring glory and honor to God.

Humility is first of all an attitude towards God, but it is also an attitude we must have in relating with others. A humble person is also humble before other human beings. This is manifested in a desire to serve and help others, especially in the spiritual realm but also in the physical realm. A humble person seeks to promote the well being of others even when this means a denial of self.

In contrast, the proud person foolishly believes that he should always gain recognition for his accomplishment. He takes pride in wealth, achievements, personal attractiveness, intelligence, etc. Pride is the exaltation of self over God, and is therefore a form of idolatry – – – self-worship rather than God-worship. It should be clear that a person lacking humility cannot pray according to the will of God.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this issue. If pride is directing our lives, we cut ourselves off from the heavenly Father. God always resists the proud. If humility is directing our lives then the heart of God is open to us, and the grace of God will be manifested continually in our lives.

Jesus declared that the one who humbles himself will be exalted, while the one who exalts himself will be humbled. Sometimes we may fail to recognize this principle even when it slaps us in the face. Sometimes when tragedy strikes it is the hand of God working to humble those who exalt themselves. Certainly, this is not true of every tragedy, but when things aren’t going well for us, we ought to at least examine the state of our heart to see if pride is lurking there.

The classic biblical episode illustrating this truth in relationship to prayer is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9ff). It was the text for a sermon I preached several years ago, so please excuse the repetition. Jesus introduced the parable with these words: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.” Here is pride at work. The Pharisee believes he has made himself righteous and is proud of his achievement. Of course, if he can make himself righteous what need does he have of God? Indeed, Jesus declares that he is praying “to himself.” He has become his own “god.”

I can imagine the Pharisee praying in this manner. “Lord, aren’t you proud of me? I am very faithful in the tithe. I fast twice a week to improve my prayer life. I have a chest full of church attendance awards. I am a student of Scripture. I live a good, clean life. I should change my name to ‘Dudley Doright’ because I am so faithful in keeping your laws. Oh, and Lord, I apologize for this tax collector over here. I have no idea how he managed to sneak into this holy place. I suspect you plan to strike him dead with lightening, so I better move farther away from him. Lord, did you hear what the tax collector just said? ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Well, he got one thing right. He definitely is a sinner. What a joke, for him to be asking for your mercy. Doesn’t he know that you hate sinners? Well, Lord, at least you have me on your side, and I know that must make you feel proud, even as it does me. Amen” God does not listen to this kind of self-serving drivel masquerading as prayer. As soon as we begin to feel pride about how spiritual we are, we cease to be spiritual.

According to church folklore, a Sunday School teacher read the story of the Pharisee and Publican to her class. At the end of the session she said, “Now children, let us thank God that we are not like that awful Pharisee.” Do you see pride in that statement? Pride can be very sneaky. Someone said, “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it”

Religious pride is especially heinous to God. What we need to understand is that we may be more like the Pharisee than we are the tax collector. We are active in church. We are persons who pray, who tithe, who work in various ways in the church. We are the pastors, elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, etc. The point is not that we should give these things up. What we must resist is any sense of pride concerning who we are and the greatness of our spiritual achievements. We must never look at others with the thought of how superior we are. The moment we begin to look down on others we can no longer look up to God.

I have known Christians over the years who used the church as a platform to promote their own importance. I have mentioned before one elder years ago who was a classic case of pride in the church. I was a very young minister, and during the first week I was at the church he took me aside, went through the church directory with me and told me dirt about every member of the church — including his own wife! The only person who escaped his scathing criticism was himself. He was tragically full of pride.

I like the story of the Amish gentleman who bought a new pair of coveralls. He looked at himself in the mirror and exclaimed, “These new coveralls look so good I feel a sense of pride welling up.” So, he removed the new pair and put on his old pair that was stained and torn in various places. Again, he looks in the mirror and exclaimed, “Wow! I look good in anything.”

In our Scripture reading this morning from 2 Chronicles, God relates humility to prayer very directly. “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray . . .” then God will hear their prayers and pour out His blessings…” If we will humble ourselves and pray, then God will hear. Then we are praying according to the will of God. Remove humility from the equation and effective prayer becomes an impossibility.

One of the problems we must overcome is seen in the fact that in the secular world humility is hardly regarded as a virtue. Humility is seen as weakness, and in order to succeed in life one must be strong and assertive. Our whole society is based on the principle of merit. Work hard, achieve much, study hard, and you will be rewarded. And so, we may make the mistake of the Pharisee and think that is how it works with God. Serve Him, do well, tithe, attend church, pray, etc. and God will say to you, “My child, you have obtained answers to your prayers the old-fashioned way. You earned it!”

Listen! That which works in secular society does not work in the Kingdom of God. Those who obtain answers to prayer admit they are sinners, persons without merit in the sight of our holy God – – – persons who ask for mercy through Jesus Christ. The application form to the Kingdom of Heaven has written on it in large letters, “Only the humble need apply.” If you can sincerely and humbly say to God, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner,” you will find the gates of heaven will swing open for you. The heavenly Father will bless you with answers to your prayers.

Sometimes parents can swell with pride over the brilliance of their children. Generally, this can be a harmless form of pride. However, the following story does illustrate another biblical truth: pride goes before the fall. Sitting in the doctor’s office, a mother was trying to entertain her four-year-old daughter. She found a Bible story book with pictures in it. Flipping through the book, the mother would point to a picture and ask the little girl if she knew the story. Imagine the mother’s delight as her daughter identified Noah and the Ark, Moses and bulrushes, and the three Hebrew children. The mother noticed that two elderly women were closely watching them. Swelling with pride, the mother turned to the very first story of the Bible and pointed to the picture of Adam and Eve. Honey, the mother said, who are these people, hoping her daughter will continue her stellar performance so Mom can feel pride. With a thoughtful frown on her face, her daughter replied, I don’t have any idea who that woman is but that man is George of the Jungle! So much for parental pride!

Is pride a problem in today’s church? Sadly, the answer is “Yes.” Racial and economic prejudices continue to exist in the church, yet many pass it off as a trivial matter. If you look down upon black persons, or other ethnic minorities, or welfare recipients, seeing them as inferior to yourself, please note carefully what you are doing. You are manifesting a spirit of pride. If you take pride in your big bank account, or your achievements, or your spirituality, watch out! The only business God has with you is to knock you down in the effort to dislodge you from your pride. If you tend to look down on others and look up to yourself, pride is lurking in your heart.

Pride absolutely quenches the spirit of prayer. If you want to pray according to the will of God, practice humility. If you want to see God’s grace poured out abundantly in answer to your prayers, practice humility. If you want to walk daily with God, practice humility. We Christians need to swallow our pride. I promise you it is non-fattening!


PRAYER: ACCORDING TO HIS WILL # 2
(Dealing with Sin)
Warsaw Christian Church, (11/10/19) Rev. Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Texts: Psalms 66:16 – 20; Isaiah 58:1-11
The main focus of this series on prayer is to seek to grasp what it means to pray according to the will of God. We have seen that prayers meeting this criterion are always answered with a divine YES. We have also considered that not only must the requests we make to God be in harmony with His will, but the heart of the one who prays must also be in harmony with God’s will. Many Christians spend too much time wondering if their petitions are according to the will of God, and too little time wondering if their hearts and lives are in harmony with God’s will. An acceptable petition coming from an unacceptable heart will not bring the desired results.

We begin this “heart examination” with these words from the Psalmist. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me” (Psalm 66:18-20). The Psalmist is rejoicing because God has heard and answered his prayer. As he praises God, he reveals for us an extremely important principle. We cannot pray effectively and at the same time cherish sin in our hearts. Even if what we are seeking from God is according to His will, He may not answer our prayer because even as we pray, we cling to a beloved sin in our hearts.

The Hebrew word translated “cherished” in our text is “ra-ah.” It means to gaze upon something with approval or respect. It creates a picture of a man about to pray who first examines the state of his own heart. He is aware of a particular sin, but he convinces himself that the matter is unimportant. He might think to himself, “I enjoy this sin; everybody does it; it is really no big thing, so I will continue to cherish this sin and God won’t mind.”

How sad it is to see a person broken down by the burdens of life crying out to God in anger because God did not come to his aid. Such a person may not understand this basic prayer principle. Yes, they cried out to God, but at the same time held on lovingly to some favorite sin. This impurity in the heart created a barrier between them and God, cutting off their access to the heavenly Father. If we desire access to God there is only one proper attitude to take towards our sins. There must be heartfelt repentance and confession, asking God to grant us the grace to lay aside our beloved sins. Cherished sins and answered prayers are spiritually incompatible.

On one occasion Isaiah had to explain to Israel why their prayers were not being answered. The problem was not a failure to pray. They were praying daily, and earnestly, for God’s help. They even fasted in their desire to hear from God. Listen, as Isaiah points out the problem:

“Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. . . Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?. . . Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. . The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail” (from Isaiah 58:1-11)

We see here a picture of a religious people. They seem to genuinely want to draw near to God. They make requests which they believe are in harmony with the will of God. It seems we are reading a description of a very devoted people. The problem is that their hearts are not pure. While they pray, they also oppress the poor. They do not feed the hungry. Their daily lives are marked by self-centered evil. They do not seem to understand this inconsistency. God tells them in essence, “Get your moral act together and then I will answer your prayer. Then you shall know my perpetual guidance. Your life will blossom forth like a watered garden, but not until you see the connection between prayer and morality.”

We should perhaps begin our prayers with these words from Psalm 139:23,24. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me …” Are you cherishing some sexual sin? God will not respond to your prayers until there is repentance. Are you indifferent to the needs and sufferings of others? God will not hear you when you cry unto Him until your behavior changes. Is there some duty God has called you to do (evangelize, tithe, or whatever) and you refuse, cherishing your “freedom” to disobey God? God is under no obligation to hear your prayers. Are you a skilled manipulator who uses others for your own personal gain? Are lying and deceiving a way of life for you? Don’t waste your time praying to God as long as you continue to cherish any sinful act or attitude.

Solomon understood this principle when he wrote, “The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous” (Prov. 15:29). You simply cannot turn your back on God’s Holy will, and then ask for His help as though you and He were on the same wave length. We must make certain that we are not clinging to some cherished sin when we pray.

Let’s examine a possible solution to the problem. When God warns us against an impure heart, He is addressing our attitude more than our actual performance. If God were to answer our prayers only when our performance met the divine standard perfectly, none would ever hear from God. While we must ever strive to please God, our sins create a problem when we cherish them. If we have a heart attitude of repentance, and if we truly desire to please God, then His heart is open to our prayers even though our performance is forever less than perfect.

An everyday example may help us understand this important distinction between performance and attitude. I have used this example before but it fits in here so pardon the repeat. I remember one of my basketball coaches saying to the team that he would rather play his five worst players if they really wanted to play, rather than his five best players who did not care about the team. If you did your best and really wanted to play and worked hard at following the coach’s instructions, you would play over a superior player with an attitude problem.

The very best basketball players miss half their shots or more, commit foolish fouls, and turn the ball over to the other team from time to time. There is no such thing as perfection when we are speaking of the performance of a basketball player. However, every coach expects his players to try and make each shot, to try not to commit fouls, and to try to hold onto the ball. Good coaches look for the proper attitude in a player even as God looks for a proper attitude in His children.

I can never forget playing point guard for the Minneapolis Washburn High School Sophomore, team. We are one point down with time running out. I am dribbling the ball up court rapidly (nervously, because time is about to expire) and I dribble the ball off my foot out of bounds. Time expires and we lose. Did I feel awful? Of course. Was I kicked off the team? No, because the coach knew I was trying to win the game.

God understands that our earthly performance will always be sub-par. He is looking for hearts with a love for His will and His Word, and who confess and repent when failure happens. Remember the language of Psalm 66? He did not say, “If I commit sin, God will not listen.” His words are, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” A sincere Christian does sin and fall short of God’s expectations. None of us are qualified to cast the first stone at other sinners, because we ourselves are not without sin. On the other hand, neither does a sincere Christian cherish sin. A sincere, mature Christian has a heartfelt aversion to anything contrary to God’s will even though this opposition to sin is not perfectly reflected in the arena of performance.

As we read through Scripture, we note that God has always been exceedingly kind and gracious to His people whose hearts are in the right place, even though performance was imperfect. We note also how God turns His back on those who claim to be His people but who cherish their sins and show no signs of remorse or repentance. It is an attitude revealing that some love their sins more than they love God.

There is a logical and understandable truth behind this principle. A Christian, by definition, is a person who recognizes what fools we humans are, a foolishness which leads to despicable sins as we move ever farther away from the Father. A Christian understands all this, having been enlightened by God’s Word and Spirit, and having accepted God’s offer of pardon through the cross of Jesus Christ. Those who come to Jesus with true faith agree, in principle, to return to God’s standard of truth and morality. A Christian, by definition, willingly submits to the authority of God the Father as He is revealed verbally in Scripture and personally in Jesus Christ, God’s one and only begotten Son.

Those who cherish some favorite sin might hear from heaven, but it will most likely be in the form of divine chastisement designed to lead us to repentance before it is too late. Persons who are having difficulty in their prayer life may need to spend some time reflecting on their attitude towards sin. As long as one cherishes sin — any sin — prayer cannot be offered “according to the will of God” (to be continued).


PRAYER:  ACCORDING TO HIS WILL

(Introduction)

Warsaw Christian Church, (11/3/19) Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Text: 1 John 5:14 – 15 (NRSV) 14And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.  

Today I want to begin a series of sermons on prayer. I have to confess up front that I am not an expert practitioner. I am sure many of you have a much richer prayer life than I do. My aim is not to proclaim what a great prayer warrior I am, but to share with you important truth from the Word of God. My task as your pastor is not to flaunt my own prayer life as some kind of model for you to follow, but to proclaim the Word of God, even when I fall short of what it says. My hope is that together we can deepen our relationship to God as we focus on great prayer principles.  

God has given us great and mighty promises concerning His willingness to answer our prayers, yet there are some who are Christians who seldom pray.  Some testify that they tried prayer and it just doesn’t work. What is the problem? I believe part of the answer lies in the fact that we have not reflected much on the major condition we must fulfill before God will answer our prayers.  That condition is to pray according to the will of God. Our text is clear. God hears and grants the requests that are in harmony with His will. 

Some might respond, “I frequently do not know God’s will on a matter so why should I even ask?  I know God won’t act contrary to His own will, so often I simply do not pray because of this problem of human ignorance concerning the will of God.” 

It is, of course, a certain and unchanging truth that God will never act contrary to His own will.  If you ask God to help you keep your infidelity a secret from your spouse, the requested help will not be forthcoming.  If you ask God to help you cover up a malicious lie, He will not come to your aid. These are clear and obvious cases, but there are times when the situation is not exactly black and white. Knowing God’s precise will in every situation is never easy for fallen human beings.  Nevertheless, the first principle of prayer is to make sure your prayers are in harmony with God’s will. John’s statement is staggering in its implications. He declares, with no apparent other qualifications, that when we ask God for things according to God’s will, He will always respond with a “Yes.” 

Based on our text we can say there are two kinds of prayers in Scripture.  First, there are prayers spoken or thought which are out of harmony with God’s will. The answer will always be “No.”  God’s “No” often comes to us as divine silence.  We pray and there is no answer. God does not speak. The silence of heaven is deafening.  This can only mean that something about the prayer is not in harmony with God’s will, and all our pleading will be of no avail. There is no power anywhere in the universe that will move God to act against His will. 

When God’s will and the human will are in sync then the only answer you can hear from God is “YES.”  God could never say, “Your prayer is right in line with my will, but today I have decided to act contrary to my own will.”  If God could act contrary to His own will He would cease to be God.  We humans are always saying, “I shouldn’t have done that.  I know better.”  God never speaks in that manner.  When we pray, if we know our prayer is in harmony with God’s will we should persist until the “YES” answer stands clearly before us.  Of course, there might be a waiting period before the answer breaks forth into our experience, but the answer will always be “Yes” when we pray according to the will of God. That is His clear promise in our text. 

This leads to the obvious question, “What does it mean to pray according to the will of God?”  Our first response may be too shallow.  We may think that if our request is in harmony with God’s will, He will grant the request. Of course, the thing we ask for must be in harmony with God’s will but that is just the beginning. God’s will refers not only to what we ask of Him, but also to whether or not our personal life is in harmony with the will of God.

God has revealed several conditions which must be present when we pray if our prayers are to be “according to His will.” We will be examining these conditions in more detail over the next few weeks in this series. 

Thus, there are two sides to this matter of praying according to the will of God.  On the one hand, we must have some basis for believing that what we ask of God is something He is willing to give. On the other hand, we must pay attention to the manner in which we ask.  It will not help to ask for something God desires to give to us while we ourselves are outside the pale of God’s will in the way we live.  In the sentence, “We must ask according to the will of God,” the emphasis is not simply on the word ASK.  It must also be on the “WE” who are doing the asking. 

Two simple illustrations may help to clarify this point. When I worked as a counselor for the State of Illinois, I was once asked by the number 2 person in the agency to supply services for a friend of hers. The services requested were in clear violation of state policy. I reminded the Assistant Director of that fact and she said, “I am ordering you to do this.” I responded, “Please put your request in writing,” something she refused to do. Was I supposed to violate the law because some high official requested it? Sometimes doing the right thing is a bit complicated. While I lost favor with Mrs. Uppity Up, I felt I did the right thing.  What if I had compromised my integrity, and then asked God for His blessing on some other situation? The request might have been valid, but the one asking would have been out of harmony with God’s will. 

An employer may be quite willing to give his employee a raise.  But what if the employee asked in this manner: “Mr. Boss, I know you enjoy being mean to me and never giving me what I ask for, and as a result I don’t even like you or trust you, but may I have a raise?”  The manner of asking may cause Mr. Boss to withhold that which he was otherwise willing to give.  There are deeper problems to be resolved before the specific request can be addressed. To approach God with a critical, demanding, doubting attitude is to ask in conflict with His will, even though the specific request may be in harmony with His will. The relationship problem must be resolved before God will address the specific request. 

I recall visiting with a man who was once active in church but hadn’t attended for years.  His father had grown ill. The son prayed for his recovery, but his father died. The son said to me, “I am mad at God. I have given up on him. I will never again darken the door of a church” In the next breath he said he is still a Christian and he still prays daily. But to what end? If you are mad at God and have no interest in serving Him, you are personally out of harmony with the will of God even if God were otherwise willing to grant the request. If you turn your back completely on God and His Church, how can you ever pray in harmony with His will? We must bear in mind that there are two sides to the will of God when we pray. What we ask for must be in harmony with His will, and we ourselves must be in harmony with His will.

With this distinction in mind we turn our attention to God’s will in reference to our specific requests.  God has said to us that He will meet all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).  Thus, anything falling under the category of “real need” may be the subject of our prayers.  At the present time I cannot honestly say I need a new Porsche, and so I have never asked God to provide one.  Nor do I really need to win the lottery, so I haven’t made it a subject of prayer.  God meets my physical needs through the income I receive along with Marie’s income and the rent-free housing she provides! My automobiles, food, clothing, and many other things are provided because God has graciously given me the opportunity to earn a living.  While there are many things I might want (let’s be honest!) I can’t say that I lack any material need. Yes, I would like to tool around Warsaw in a Porsche, or BMW, but in no way is that a “need” in my life. If I did show up in church behind the wheel of a Porsche I am sure the board would say, “Cut his salary!” God has already met all my material needs, so my prayers ought to be prayers of thanksgiving rather than trying to persuade God that I need things I really don’t need!

Jesus helps us get our priorities straight in Matthew 6:33 where he tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the other things we need (food, clothing, etc.) will be provided.  Anytime our prayer life is focused on “gimmies” we are probably on the wrong track.  Our focus must be on the kingdom of God and our service in that kingdom, trusting God to provide for our needs.  In this way our lives are in harmony with God’s will. 

It is at this point where many Christians encounter an obstacle.  This is an obstruction we must face and remove before progress can be made in our prayer life.  In observing not only myself but others in the church, I find few Christians who seem to be “heaven-bent” on serving the kingdom of God.  I see a lot of time and energy devoted to laying up treasures upon earth by persons who were warned about the futility of such behavior (see Matthew 6:19). Until our commitment to the kingdom of God is our highest priority, we shall remain kindergartners in the school of prayer.  If we are not seeking first the kingdom of God, it is impossible for us to pray according to the will of God.  Our request may be legitimate, but we ourselves have an attitude problem. Please, don’t bring a consumer attitude into your prayer life.  Don’t be always thinking, “What’s in it for me.” Rather, come before God with an attitude which says, “Father, I want to seek first your kingdom.”

I hope it is becoming clear that praying according to the will of God is a bit more complicated than it might appear at first.  Prayer is not an isolated task. It is intimately related to our total response to Jesus Christ. We cannot learn “rules of prayer” which are unrelated to the rest of our Christian life.  Prayer is not magic. It is person to Person communication with our heavenly Father.  It becomes ineffective when the kingdom of God has a low priority in our lives. Prayer becomes effective as we grow in our commitment to God’s Kingdom.

As we think about God meeting our needs, we need to understand that our greatest needs are spiritual. Let me ask you to think about this: How much of your prayer life is devoted to your spiritual needs; asking God to help you grow in love; to increase your faith; to give you boldness to share your faith? Many seem to think our greatest needs revolve around having good health and plenty of material blessings, but this is a distorted perspective.  If we can ever understand that our greatest need in life is to seek first the kingdom of God — to grow in Christ, to work hard at extending God’s kingdom on earth — and if our prayer life is centered on these things, we will find little need to be concerned about material and emotional needs. God will meet these needs in our lives once we are moving in the right direction spiritually.

The focus of this series will be on the issue of whether or not we are in harmony with God’s will. The request we make may be 100% in harmony with the will of God. Here is the point we will be exploring over the next few weeks – – – am I, the one doing the praying, in harmony with the will of God? The first question we must ask ourselves is this: is there any sense in which I can say that I am laser focused on seeking first the Kingdom of God. Is my life kingdom focused, or do I focus more on this world? Do I understand that my greatest needs are spiritual, not physical?

If you aren’t having much success in your prayer life perhaps there is a need to examine the focus of your prayers.  Fill your prayer life with kingdom matters and watch how quickly God moves to answer your prayers. (To be continued).  


THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT
(The Holy Spirit on Today’s Church # 7)
Warsaw Christian Church, (9/23/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

I am going to talk about some doctrinal issues today as we continue our study of the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to respectfully disagree with our Pentecostal brothers and sisters concerning their doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and then give some discussion to those usually called secessionists, or those who believe that all supernatural gifts ceased once the Scriptures were completed in their final form.

It has already been established from Scripture that we receive the Holy Spirit when we are converted to Jesus. Some of our Pentecostal friends teach that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is a second blessing” we may receive after conversion. They teach that we are born of the Spirit at conversion, but then receive spiritual power and gifts when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit. It is commonly taught that the gift of speaking in tongues is the initial evidence indicating that one has received Spirit baptism.

My own conversion to Christ came through the witness of a Pentecostal believer, so I have a great appreciation for this movement. However, I must respectfully disagree with the manner in which they present their doctrine of “Holy Spirit baptism.” I want to test everything by the Word of God. Does the Bible teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second blessing evidenced by speaking in other tongues? Based on my biblical studies I would have to say “No.”

My initial observation is that the Pentecostal theologians and pastors use language which cannot be clearly related to Scripture. For instance, we find no reference in the Bible to a “second blessing,” nor does the Bible speak of “initial evidence” for the baptism of the Spirit. This language is based on inferences drawn from biblical passages which are clear enough to Pentecostal folk, but are not at all clear to me.

Let’s begin our analysis with the idea of a “second blessing.” While it is certainly biblical to say that we can grow in faith, I dislike the second blessing idea when it is presented as a higher state of Christian experience. Having spent considerable time in Pentecostal churches over the years, and having been invited to preach at Pentecostal churches in the past, I noticed those who have not spoken in tongues are regarded as being at a lower level spiritually than are those who have had this experience. It could not be otherwise once a distinction is made between conversion and Spirit baptism, the latter constituting the second blessing. I have known persons who have sought this “blessing” for years, but in vain. They lived in a spiritual environment where they were surrounded with persons who had received “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” evidenced by speaking in tongues, while they existed as “have nots” who prayed regularly seeking to gain this lofty status, yet without success.

While the New Testament does use the word “baptism” in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, it is by no means a common phrase. Jesus made this promise to His disciples — “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Later on, in reference to the conversion of Cornelius and his household, Peter used similar language. “Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ “(Acts 11:16).

John the Baptist had earlier stated that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit, in contrast to John’s baptism in water. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). This prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost.

Based on these Scriptures we can affirm that the baptism of the Spirit took place at Pentecost, and was repeated on a smaller scale with the first Gentile converts. Our Pentecostal friends affirm further that the experience of Spirit baptism with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues is normative throughout the church age. I find this to be an enormous leap which cannot be supported by the biblical evidence. If that were the case, I would expect to find that phrase throughout the writings of Paul. In fact, the phrase “Spirit baptism” is not found at all in his writings.

Those who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost and embraced Jesus, did not speak in tongues. Rather, they were promised that if they would repent and be baptized, believing in Jesus Christ, they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their receiving was quite different than that of the apostles. We are told nothing about outward manifestations such as those experienced by the apostles. We assume, based on the text, that they received the Spirit as did the apostles, but in a less spectacular manner.

Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12:13 supports this idea. “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Speaking of Christians in general, he states that we have all been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. I conclude that conversion and Spirit baptism happen at the same time. To make a distinction between receiving the Holy Spirit at conversion, and then later being baptized in the Holy Spirit, does not seem to be warranted by the text of Scripture.

What about the idea that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit? While we must acknowledge that speaking in tongues (speaking in languages not previously known by the speaker) is a spiritual gift in the New Testament, it should not be made into a “requirement” for Spirit baptism. In Pentecostal circles it is common to refer to persons who have spoken in tongues as “Spirit filled,” while those who haven’t spoken in tongues are never designated in this manner. I believe this to be a tragic error, a distortion of what it means to be Spirit filled While I thank God for the gift of tongues and the role it played in my own conversion, I am uncomfortable when others refer to me (or others) as “Spirit-filled” simply because I received that particular gift.

I believe the designation “Spirit-filled” has more to do with Christ-like character and empowered witnessing than it does with speaking in tongues as I indicated in the previous three sermons. However, once tongues is seen as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism, the conclusion is inevitable that those who speak in tongues are Spirit-filled while those who don’t are not.

It seems that Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians completely rules out the idea that speaking in tongues is the “initial evidence” of Spirit baptism. In his discussion of the variety of spiritual gifts he asks rhetorically, “Do all speak with tongues?”, the implied answer being “No” (1 Cor. 12:30). Pentecostal theologians have to make an arbitrary distinction between what they call “public tongues” and “private tongues” to escape the force of Paul’s words. They say that while not all have the gift of tongues for public use in the gathered church, all may have the private use of tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism. While I have to admit that I once embraced this doctrine, I can no longer do so. I simply cannot when I look at Scripture alone.

Again, I make these criticisms with a deep love and appreciation for my Pentecostal brothers and sisters. Were it not for their belief in a living God whose Spirit acts mightily in the world we now live in, I would probably not be a Christian today.

Speaking in tongues (the ability to speak in languages not learned) is clearly identified in Scripture as a spiritual gift, one of many, but certainly not the most important. I believe the Pentecostals and Charismatics have given it a status way beyond anything justified by Scripture. It is a gift which brought great blessing to my life, and to countless others, but often to the neglect of less spectacular gifts. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are like a beautiful bouquet of roses. Each gift has its place, and all are needed for the church to function effectively. No one gift should be exalted above the status it has in Scripture. Their power and beauty are not seen clearly when focusing too much on any single gift. We need to appreciate all of the gifts. I do not want to say to a Spirit-born believer who wonderfully manifests the spiritual gift of encouragement, “You are not Spirit-filled because you have not spoken in tongues.”

The church must always stay close to the text of Scripture in order to live by the will of God, and this is especially true when we speak of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We can and must affirm what Scripture affirms, but we must not add to or delete from Scripture in formulating our understanding of the Holy Spirit.

There is another common view concerning spiritual gifts which has been advanced for centuries in the church. It is almost the exact opposite of the Pentecostal view. It was the viewpoint of most of the Protestant reformers, and also of our own Alexander Campbell. There are many who argue that miraculous spiritual gifts were present in the founding era of the church, but are not present in the church today. Gifts such as speaking in tongues, miracles, healings, etc. are not present in the church today, at least not in the same manner they were in apostolic times.

I have read several theological works advancing this viewpoint. Again, however, I find it difficult to accept the idea that God limited His miracle working power to the first century of the church. If that were the case, I would expect to find explicit passages in the Bible stating that miraculous gifts were to come to an end after the apostolic era. The passages used by those who argue against miraculous gifts today are not very convincing. I find it difficult to understand why God would have preserved all the teaching concerning spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians, if these gifts had no relevance beyond the first century.

It should be restated here that God is in charge of spiritual gifts. There were times under the Old Covenant when He ceased manifesting His presence because of the corrupt spiritual condition of His people. There have surely been times in the history of the church when He chose not to grant spiritual gifts because of the unbelief of His people. There is precedent for this viewpoint in the ministry of Jesus. When He went to His home town we are told, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith (Mark 6:5,6).” Unbelief thwarted Jesus in His desire to minister to the needs of others, with a few exceptions. Note the language — “He could not do” — suggesting that at least in some situations God limits what He will do depending upon the faith of His people.

Again, I must add that I have great respect for those who advance this viewpoint (the idea that some or all miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased). Conservative theologians who argue for this perspective are striving to be faithful to Scripture. Many (Benjamin Warfield, Dr. R.C Sproul, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, for instance) are giants in the faith whose writings have helped me immensely. I am simply not convinced that the attempt to justify their position biblically has been successful. Has God ceased working through miraculous spiritual gifts today? While such gifts may not be as common as they were in the first century, I see no biblical evidence that would lead me to conclude that they have ceased entirely.

To return for a moment to my earlier sermons in this series, I believe our focus must first and foremost be on asking God’s Spirit to transform our character so that we are ever growing in Christ-likeness. We should then ask Him to work in us and through us by His Spirit as we seek to evangelize the lost and minister to the saints, leaving it to God to grant us whatever gifts He determines we need for the situations in which we find ourselves. As we walk humbly with God, seeking only that His will be done in us and through us, His Holy Spirit will be at work, operating according to the will of God.


THE HOLY SPIRIT GIVES GIFTS OF POWER

(# 6 in series on the Holy Spirit)

Warsaw Christian Church (9/15/19) Richard Bowman, Pastor

Texts: various

Just as the Holy Spirit works in us to change our character, He also wishes to work through us in various ways to touch the lives of others through spiritual gifts. God has chosen to manifest His divine power in and through human lives to touch other human lives for good.  These gifts are often referred to as “the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” or “charismatic gifts.” 

The principle of God working through human beings is established throughout the Bible. Under the Old Covenant God did not speak directly to the people, but through Abraham, Moses and the prophets.  When God wanted to reveal Himself clearly to the human race, He sent His only begotten Son into the world as a human being. When God wants to bring salvation to others, He does not call them directly, but through the gospel which He has entrusted to believers.  We are Christ’s ambassadors, appealing to the world to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).  

This common biblical principle applies also to the realm of spiritual gifts and power. While God can and does sometimes manifest Himself directly to others, normally the Holy Spirit works in and through the Body of Christ, manifesting His presence in one life to touch another life.  As we move into this area of spiritual gifts certain ground rules are revealed in Scripture. Those who wish to walk in the Spirit and bless others through spiritual gifts will take note of these rules and observe them scrupulously. Those who ignore or by-pass the ground rules will most likely end up spiritually deceived.

Rule #1

The Holy Spirit is in charge of spiritual gifts.  We do not inform the Holy Spirit concerning which gifts we wish to have operational in our lives.  He decides, when, where, and through whom His gifts will come. This is clearly stated in 1 Cor. 12:7 in these words:  “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”  Note that the manifestation of the Spirit “is given.” That phrase, “is given” is repeated or implied over and over in the verses that follow.  Christians can and must be in a state of mind to receive from the Spirit at any time, but we cannot dictate to the Spirit, demanding one gift or another, or announcing ahead of time when and how the Spirit will work.

This important concept is underscored in the Book of Hebrews. “ We are all given spiritual gifts for common good.    God testifies to the great salvation He offers to the world through signs and wonders, through miraculous gifts which are distributed as God wills.  There is a widespread error in the church today which suggests that we can receive and use spiritual gifts whenever we wish, if we just have enough faith. This puts the emphasis in the wrong place.  It causes people to look within themselves in the effort to muster up strong faith, the very worst place to look! The human heart is a cesspool of treachery and deceit, hardly the place to look for spiritual gifts.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We do not look inward to find spiritual power.  We look outside of ourselves, in the revealed Word of God and in the face of Jesus.

Pride and arrogance (part of that deceitfulness in the human heart) abound in the church today where an emphasis is placed on spiritual gifts.  Beware of advertised “healing services” where human beings presume to have the ability to determine when God shall heal.  Beware of “miracle services” which promise that God will act in miraculous ways.  I see no indication in the New Testament that God ever announced to Peter or Paul that He was going to work a few miracles on a certain day, and thus to gather a crowd by advertising the coming miracles. 

Spiritual gifts are under the control of God the Holy Spirit who gives them when and where He will.  We must be ready at all times to be used of God in this manner. If we have given a high priority to Christian character, we are much more likely to be used of God as a vehicle for Him to manifest spiritual power unto others for their spiritual benefit.

Rule #2

The verse just quoted also gives us our second principle.  All Christians can expect to be used of God in the realm of spiritual gifts. “Each one,” says Paul, is given spiritual power for the common good. There is no elitist class of Christians who are spiritually gifted above others. While Christians are used of God in different ways, there is no such things as an ungifted Christian. This is why I worry about those who claim to be Christians but who do not make any effort to be a part of the church. How can you use your gifts to help others if you are seldom or never there? Christian “greatness” is seen in our service to one another.

Since this concept goes against much ingrained human thinking, we need to make sure our thinking is in harmony with God’s Word.  In the secular world we certainly find the “haves” and the “have nots.” There are various “classes” (racial, economic, social etc.) which embrace some and exclude others. Sometimes this thinking invades the church although Jesus warned us against it.  Notice His language in Matt. 20:25ff — “Jesus called them together and 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.”

Christians who claim to have many spiritual gifts, and who thus lord it over the less gifted, are acting in a manner condemned by Jesus.  Christian “greatness” is evident in service one to another. Mature Christians do not seek the limelight, but instead seek paths of service.  Christians do not boast of being more gifted than others, but strive to use the gifts they have received from God to build up others. Christians recognize the giftedness in others more than in themselves. Those who take pride in how magnificently they are used of God need to recall that God resists the proud, while He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).  

One way to ensure that we will not be in possession of spiritual gifts is to allow pride in our hearts, thinking of ourselves as superior to other less gifted Christians, in direct disobedience to a command of God. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather th